I’m just working on a sermon here from Mark 8:27-33 – that famous passage where Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is – and I was struck by the insights of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.  Now they may not strike you as the most insightful of western theologians, but there are some stunning similarities between the life of Jesus and the life of the character in their song, “Mama’s don’t let your babies grow up to be Cowboys.”

Cowboys like smokey old pool rooms and clear mountain mornings,
Little warm puppies and children and girls of the night.
Them that don’t know him won’t like him and them that do,
Sometimes won’t know how to take him.
He ain’t wrong, he’s just different but his pride won’t let him,
Do things to make you think he’s right.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect fit, but just let that sink in for a minute.  Jesus loved spending time with the base people of society (pool rooms and girls of the night).  Jesus often retreated to early morning mountain tops, and embraced the children (clear mountain mornings, puppies, and children).  The part that caught me the most from this song and this passage was the middle two lines: it seemed no one knew quite what to do with him, and even his closest friends were often shocked and mystified by what he did. Them that don’t know him won’t like him and them that do, Sometimes won’t know how to take him.

In this passage from Mark Jesus asked his closest friends who they thought he was and they were far from sure.  They offered the opinions of others and stared at their feet for a while before Peter piped up and called him the Christ.  Even then only a couple verses later it becomes obvious that Peter didn’t really even know what he meant by calling him the Christ.  The Sanhedrin didn’t know him for who he was and didn’t like him, and even the people who seemed to know him didn’t really get it.

Now obviously, I don’t think it was Jesus pride that kept him from trying to win people over.  It was more his holiness and focus on his mission that kept him from begging people to love him, but even there there are deep similarities.  As with any metaphor explaining Jesus, it ultimately breaks down at some point as nothing can fully explain God.  The cowboy in this song is kind of a sympathetic character.  Jesus often doesn’t get the credit he deserves for having lived such a difficult life.  He was constantly misunderstood, derided, and wrongly accused in public and even his closest friends didn’t really get him until he came back from the dead.  That was a hard, lonely, life I’m sure and today I’m thankful he didn’t just ride away.

The past couple weeks have been sick ones for the family, and not in a cool X-Games kind of way.  My personal battle with strep throat has taken me into seven different prescriptions now to try to get it under control, and thankfully it seems to finally be working.  I have been very thankful for a doctor that’s willing to work with me and prescribe things that will work to make me better.  This, along with my current reading of “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola, has had me thinking a lot about prescriptions.

I am only about a quarter of the way through the book, but I think it is safe to say the author thinks the institutional church has gone completely off the rails in its practices and does not reflect the Christianity of the New Testament church in its worship and practices.  He regularly cites places and accounts of what New Testament churches functioned life and points out how the church incorporated “pagan” practices which now shape the majority of its worship practices.  I will not disagree with him on any of historical observations or even his observations of New Testament worship practices.  I think if anything I agree with a lot of the assertions he makes about it being unhealthy when only a few people lead worship services instead of the whole church being involved.  My question is more about prescriptions.  Should we really take what the New Testament Jesus followers did in their worship services as prescriptive or are they just descriptive?

It is quite obvious that many of our churches do not take everything in the New Testament as prescriptive.  If it were so we certainly would never eat meat anything other than well done … ugh.  We would all wear sandles like Paul.  Or maybe we should all eat locusts like John.  We do not do everything that the New Testament believers did and we should not feel compelled to.  Some things are descriptive of the realities of life, not prescriptive about how they should be.  When it comes to methods of worship and church organization I am far more of the mind that God did not say a lot about how they need to be to give people freedom to express worship through their own cultures, not just in one homogenous method.  In truth I really like the idea of organic house church.  It feels good to me.  I am certainly not willing to write off institutional churches as being unfaithful to God’s desires just because they take other cultural influences into their formation and not just first century Judaism.  I think it is more than possible to incorporate all the same important values into institutional churches as can be in organic house churches, although it may take some work.

In the end the I think the question is how prescriptive do you really think the New Testament really is about worship practices and church organization?

So all the theologizing, reading, discussing, and name calling (not on my part) lately have got me wondering about some of the questions that are at the heart of the matter.  All these matters of who is saved, who gets saved, how they are saved, and saved to what are all fair questions worth consideration but in the end it boils down to us all trying to determine who is with whom and who is on who’s “team”.  I also realize that over the last decade or more it has become far more popular to talk about the Kingdom of God in terms of an “open set” as opposed to a “bound set” when discussing who is or is not a part of the Kingdom (a matter of direction of your life as opposed to a one time decision), but the matter still comes down to who’s on Jesus side in the end.  So these are the questions I have been wrestling with:

– What does it mean to be with Jesus?

– What are the bare minimums to be a part of his kingdom?

– How off do you have to be in belief and action before you are no longer “with him”?

– What beliefs would get God to look at you and say “Ya, thanks but no”?

I also realize that it is not up to me to determine ultimately the matter of final judgment – that is up to God thank God – but I think it is pretty disingenuous for us to act like we should not think about who we are actually working alongside of in this life in the name of Jesus.  Different matters of contention have risen and fallen over the years, some being smoothed over and some causing splits all over who is with Jesus or not.

If someone believes women can/should be pastors is that okay?

What if someone prays to Mary?

What if someone believes in evolution?

What if someone thinks and endorses same-sex sexual relationships?

What if someone verbally believes in the work of the Holy Spirit, but denies his power by the way they live and worship?

What if someone holds a different view of heaven and hell?

What if they only believe one of these?

What if they believe all of these?

How far off can we be and still be followers of Jesus?  I ask these questions not necessarily to say each of these are wrong or right so much as to point out the issues we tend to divide ourselves over and openly wonder: How different from you does someone have to be before you believe you can no longer serve Jesus together even if you both claim to follow Jesus?  Do we let ourselves be more influenced by Jesus words from Luke when he said, “49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” 50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.””, or do we look at Paul’s many admonitions to rebuke false teachers and prophets?

I do not have an answer to it all yet obviously or I would not be asking the questions, but I think this is one of those things you cannot just leave as a mystery because it affects your life and ministry opportunities from moment to moment.  Oh the things we unearth when we begin to wonder.

I may be a city kid that enjoys the comforts, noises and business of civilization but that does not mean that I do not have a taste for the outdoors as well. I grew up the son of a farm kid turned civil servant and thus spent some time out on the farm too and was raised with an appreciation for nature. I still remember going camping as a family in the musty, canvas, tents that would make up our home on the range for a couple weeks each summer – although in full disclosure we did switch to camping in a trailer in my teenage years. The tent was never permanent. It was not particularly water proof. It smelled funny with a combination of dirt, mold and water damage. It did not provide much security. It was home though. It was okay for a while for a change, but ultimately we all longed for the ability to settle down into the four solid walls of our house again.

I feel like I am living in a tent again. I do not have real place to set down roots in a safe, secure, defined environment. Every few days it seems someone else comes by to tell me that I cannot stay in the same place I have been making camp and that I need to move on to different places. Places that are full of trees without much level ground and that seem generally pretty lonely without much other human settlement around. Even if I realize there are other people in the same spot as me it is tough to really connect with them because we all live in our own tents and do not really get to stay in the same spot long enough to stick together. Honestly, it is getting a little tiring.

I guess it is not much different than the spot that God’s people have been finding themselves in for millennia now. The Israelites wandered around living out of tents for a long time until the settled in the promised land, and God himself had only a tent for a dwelling until Solomon built him a temple. Even later after Jesus came, the son of man did not have a place to lay his head. Should it really be much of a wonder when it feels like I do not have a really solid place to make camp right now?

It seems like the city that the neo-reformers like John Piper and Mark Driscoll have built and reside in is pretty sturdy – maybe too sturdy.  The walls they have built up are way to tight for me and keep so many wonderful people out that I would really like to have the chance to get to know and share this journey with.  On the other hand the village that the Rob Bell‘s and Brian McLaren‘s of the world have constructed seems to have so many holes in the walls that it can barely be called a village at all.  There is no comradry or security in a camp seems to allow anyone in or out, but clearly condescends to anyone who might choose to live elsewhere. I do not think I can really feel at home in either place.

Like I said, I realize there may be more places to set up camp than these two and that there are likely many people who feel just as torn and lost as I do in the wilderness between these two waring factions right now: not belonging to either and feeling like inevitable collateral damage. I fear for the others stuck out in the cold like me and hoping and praying that we might somehow be spared and find a way to set up camp together. I do not know where that ground in between is yet, but I certainly hope to find some people to travel with and set down roots with eventually. It is getting a little lonely out here.

In the interest of full disclosure I am a born and raised in the church type that is now a pastor.  I say this to let you know where I’m coming from before you view the videos below because honestly, if you haven’t been in the church long enough to get a little cynical these probably will not be funny to you and you can just move along.  If however you have ever had awkward conversations about your faith, tried awkwardly to invite someone to church – or been awkwardly invited for that matter – and if you know something, ANYTHING about Calvinism, this post may well kill your productivity make your week.

I was pointed to the following video by my body double, Leighton Penner, here in my church.  If I had no sense of humor or suffered with bouts of paranoia I probably would have just turtled in a corner and cried myself to sleep that he thought about me in sharing this video.  However, knowing that he is a guy that dresses in a blue full body stocking with a mop wig and dances like Beyonce and university volleyball games tells me he likely has a sense of humor.  I will admit fully that the similarities with the blue jeans and untucked shirt rings true for me, but the rest is a vast fabrication of my real life.  All that being said here is the video goodness:

Once you catch your breath from laughing after that one, or even if you have just put up with it enough to keep reading this I will point you to video number two below. I am now a happily married man with a couple of kids, so I no longer have a deep need for pickup lines. If however you are a single bible college student of some description as I want, get a pen and a notepad before you watch the video because the wisdom contained within its two minute span may well net you the prized woman of your dreams. I cannot guarantee success and in fact it may well instead result in public humiliation, but really to be known for taking a bold step like using one of these lines should be reward enough in itself. That being said, I give you the Calvinist pickup lines:

What would we ever do without the internets to teach us these things?

This past weekend much of the world’s chatter online and around town was about the Academy Awards and the seeming insanity of one Mr. Charlie Sheen as he seemed to appear on every major – and minor – media outlet in the world to spout nonsense and just generally get noticed again.  As I am a pretty regular talk radio listener I could not help but hear a fair bit of the discussion surrounding both those events and everyone’s uneducated opinions on both matters.  The major topic of discussion that interested me though over the past few days has nothing to do with either of these things, but has held interest and created discussion in Christian theological circles on a similar level: the as of yet unreleased new book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” by Rob Bell.  Rob Bell may not be adding Twitter followers at the rate of 500 per minute like @charliesheen is, but he certainly has pumped up discussion – and likely sales – for his upcoming work.

A lot of the opinion and tirades started here, then were rebutted here, and then finally found some balanced opinion and sanity here.  Just as quick reminder – this book has not even been released yet.  No matter where you wind up on the issue of the destination of people when they die – and there is a fair bit of leeway on that will let you be considered orthodox regardless of what some might say – I think the biggest story coming out of this issue is not even the issue itself but how it seems to be handled more and more often within the church and society as a whole.  People are quick to jump to quick and brutal opinions which they wield like a blunt object without ever feeling the need to fully explore a situation or contemplate the facts and what the best course of action is.

What ever happened to thoughtful meditation and consideration over a shock and awe approach to Christian discourse?  Digital media certainly enables a lot of great things to create and continue discourse among otherwise disconnected people, but I think this kind of infighting shows the dark side of what it can do and unfortunately emphasizes the things wrong with the church instead of what it can be when it is great.  I do not write this to express an opinion on the matter yet, I have not yet read the at this point still unreadable book, but I do right it as a call to grace and charity when any discussion of the things of God is to take place – especially if it is in regards to a topic held dear.

John 13:34-35 – 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This coming weekend marks my first foray into official MB Manitoba business.  After being a member of the Saskatchewan conference board for the previous two and a half years, meetings there felt pretty comfortable and I felt like I always had a handle on what was going on.  Going into my first meetings in a new province has a very different feel to it though as I do not have a board position, know few to none of the pastors attending the meetings, and generally feel like the new kid in class.

Beyond just the normal meetings and duties though this weekend, I have been asked to be a part of a panel presentation on sharing the story of Jesus in the context we live and minister in.  I’ll be one of three pastors from our conference that will have five minutes to share a story from this past year in which our faith community uniquely shared the message of Jesus.  I am glad to have the opportunity to share a little about my/our philosophy regarding sharing the message of Jesus with the world we live, and at the same time it is a pretty daunting task to think about sharing on that subject in five minutes or less.

I’m leaning towards sharing about how we handled advent this year and the great opportunities that came as a result of it, but even that will be hard to fit into five minutes.  This past year rather than do the traditional advent schtick (shepherds, magi, the star, and the Christ) we focused on laying out the biblical narrative over the course of four weeks in terms of The Problem, The Promise, The Waiting, and The Answer (creation/sin, covenants, exile, and the work of Christ and the Church).  I have not been a big believer in trusting Sunday morning monologue sermons as a great source of evangelism, but out of that advent season I know of a few people who were personally ministered to and decided to start following Jesus, and also a partnership was formed with a Spanish congregation in town looking for an established church to work with.

All this though I think raises a really important subject of how and what we share as the gospel.  When we share about God what is the content of what we share and what are the most effective means in your context to share it?  Many people would like to say the content of the gospel message should be never changing just the way in which it is presented should be tapered, but history shows us that this is never the case.  Our understandings of the message of Jesus seem to be a constantly growing and unfolding thing and every generation seems to focus to greater and lesser extents on different parts of Jesus message and what it means to be a follower of God.  What is the essential contents of the gospel to you and what are some of the most effective ways you have found to share it in your context?

I will admit that I have significant geek strains latent in my DNA that often unnoticed by the greater population.  I do not have a large comic book collection, do not frequent multiple message boards, and do not have an avatar on World of War Craft or Second Life.  I do however like to keep up to date on current nerd/geek news and read this post on io9.com today.

After reading the story about the p53 cancer assassin gene, I read their story/opinion piece on what causes superhero story lines to get bogged down in self-referencing and inside jokes.  While reading it I could not help but immediately starting to draw correlations between this story about comic book narratives and what churches often find themselves dealing with: going in the direction of insider language and references versus going in fresh new directions with regards to the gospel and church life.

To summarize the post the author, Charlie Jane Anders basically states that when it comes to the stories in comics authors have two basic directions they can go: to either reference old stories and characters that current fans love to keep them pacified and on-side or to start exploring new angles and story-arcs to expand upon the lore that already exists but at the risk of losing some old faithful fans that enjoy the stories and at the risk of just rolling out old ideas in a new barrel.  If a hero just keeps fighting the same enemies and rehashing old plot lines it keeps the faithful interested based on sentimentality, but after a while the old faithful are the only ones who can understand the story because it is expressed in so many layers of insider language.  There is a need for new areas of exploration to keep things fresh and interesting and to reach possible new fans, but the base is what keeps the hero interesting to its original fans and lets the comic creator in business.

I think our treatment of the scriptural narrative undergoes the same tension.  The narrative that plays itself out through creation, fall, covenant, exile, redemption and even through today has often been wrapped up in much insider language and story to keep us faithful Jesus followers happy that we often leave the continuing narrative of what God is doing and revealing in the world today out of the “original” narrative and instead relegate it to the realm of testimony instead of being integral parts of God’s story.  It is true we could likely keep rehashing the same story over and over with new coverings and keep the base happy, but what about exploring the new angles to bring the great story of God to new people?  What angles need to be explored?  How much self-referencing is healthy and appropriate?

After reading the article, what do you think?

A Fork in the Road

Posted: February 28, 2011 in Random

For the past number of years this blog has been the home for all things Ben, however as of today that will change.  From here on out this blog will be the home of all things Ben that are non-sports related.  If you want my thoughts on sports you can instead find those here instead.

For the past number of months I’ve been struggling to decide what is worth posting about here and as such have wound up posting little to nothing.  Not because it’s not worth talking about, but mostly because I couldn’t decide what fit best here.  Those seeking ministry and theological posts may be turned off by sports opinions and those seeking sports thoughts may be turned off by posts of a theological bent.  After reading a post on Frank Viola’s blog a couple weeks ago that put forth the idea the only way to maintain readership is to be focused, I started toying with the idea of starting a secondary sports themed blog and today I took the step.

For those of you who really just want one or the other I hope this makes your time reading my blog(s) a little more effective and for those of you who want both I hope you will subscribe to the sports blog as well.  I’m not claiming either are worth scheduling your life around, but hopefully with things more sorted out my conviction, creativity and drive to post regularly will be more sorted out as well.

With the first week of the NFL playoffs finished and the Bears now knowing who their playoff opponent will be coming off their bye week, I give you the ten reasons that the Bears will prevail against the Seattle Seahawks this coming Sunday afternoon.  This list is especially for you Mitchell Blair and Jared Goertzen.  Enjoy your ill-earned week of joy and jubilation before the kleenexes get broken out in a weeks time.  So without further ado, the list:

10. The Seahawks went 7-9 in the worst division in NFL history while the Bears went 11-5 in a division that sent two teams to the playoffs.

9. The Saints lost because of a banged up and aging secondary and overwhelming crowd noise in Qwest Field.  Neither of these things will be an issue for the Bears on Sunday.

8. It is not possible for the Bears to go 0-13 on third down again as happened in their first meeting.  Since that game their 3rd down efficiency has climbed dramatically with a more balanced attack.

7. The Bears have fixed their offensive line woes since the first meeting with the Seahawks and have given up far fewer sacks since the embarassing losses to Seattle and Washington. Ugh.

6. The Seahawks are going to have to cross two time zones to get there instead of having the team have to cross three to get to them.  Matt Hasselbeck would barely be drinking his first cup of coffee when he’ll be getting swallowed up by Julius Peppers.

5. The Seahawks will not be playing in the mirror image amphitheaters that make up Qwest Field in Seattle.

4. The liberal media won’t allow someone related to Elizabeth Hasselbeck that kind of positive attention two weeks in a row.

3. The Detroit Lions previously cut their #1 receiver (Mike Williams).  Even Matt Millen knew this guy was unreliable.

2. The NFL won’t let a man with as many child support payments to make as Marshawn Lynch has tarnish their image in a Superbowl week.

1. We’ve seen this confident group before (make sure the volume is up enough to hear Hasselbeck’s famous last words):

P.S. – If you really want the Seahawks side of things I’m sure you’ll find all kinds of tin-foil hat crowd type Seahawks hype over the Mitchell Blair’s blog.  Sad really. 😉