Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Napkin

This was forwarded to me recently.... -E

The Gospel of John (20:7) tells us that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes. The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded and was placed at the head of that stony coffin.
Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, 'They have taken the Lord's body out of the tomb, and I don't know where they have put him!'
Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb to see. The other disciple out ran Peter and got there first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there , but he didn't go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus' head was folded up and lying to the side. Is that important? Absolutely! Is it really significant? Yes! In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day.
The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table until the master was finished. Now if the master was done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers and mouth with that napkin and toss it on to the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, 'I'm done.' But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant knew that the folded napkin meant, 'I'm not finished yet.' The folded napkin meant, 'I'm coming back!'

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How Should We Then Grow Facial Hair?

I just read an article called "What Can We Learn From Francis Schaeffer?" on The Pearcy Report
and found it to be very fascinating. I became a Christian when I was 18 and it was just a few years after Francis Schaeffer had passed away.

My early mentors (Scott's church as well) were big fans of his work and so I was quickly getting up to speed on his books and films. I still like to go back and read his words as they seem all the more relevant today. I'm curious to know what you think--especially the author's claims about Schaeffer's relevance pertaining to Modernism and Post-Modernism today.

Oh, and this is my first official post on Java Jesus. Scott told me about the $50 membership fee that you all paid and I sent him my check. Who would have thought it was that easy. He also told me that my Java Jesus Secret Decoder Ring is in the mail along with instructions on how to correctly do the Super Secret Java Jesus Hand Shake and Break Dancing Moves.

--Rog (Big Doofus)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Church Model

Since this is originally a blog on Church models, growth, etc., I figured I'd throw this out as a valid design which we should all consider.

I present to you, the Church of the Jedi .


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Do not touch

Colossians Chapter 2, verses 20-23
20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, 21"Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!", 22 which all pertain refer to things destined to perish with use--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

Fascinating verse. What do you make of it? What does its teaching include, and what does it not extend to?

Read it in context here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Then Peter Stood Up and Said, "If You'll Take a Look at Slide 3..."

Who are we as a church? What is the ratio of men to women? How old are we? What is our median income? How racially diverse are we?

What about our community? What does the community "around" our church look like? Who are the people we are trying to reach, trying to serve?

These are all questions we ask on a regular basis, especially if we belong to a large church. Surely it helps to know who we are, right? And if we want to reach people in our community, it can only help to know who THEY are. Even if we are focusing on relational evangelism, it still helps to know who we are trying to develop relationships with!

This might be one of the not-so-subtle differences you'll find between the 21st century, suburban Midwestern church, and the 1st century church you'll find in the Book of Acts. You didn't see Peter handing out demographic surveys on the day of Pentecost. I'm not sure Paul and Phillip were necessarily putting together PowerPoint presentations to show who their "target" was.

Yet surely it existed to some extent, right? Obviously they didn't have the same tools that we do today, but did they at least THINK about the kind of people that made up their local churches, and the kinds of people they were trying to reach?

One problem may be that our Bible, as authoritative as it is, doesn't contain ALL the facts from the daily lives of the apostles. There were, no doubt, things going on that were not recorded.

My thinking is that they just forgot to assign someone to take minutes in all of their elder meetings.

Anyway, the "demographic target" discussion is one where I'm torn, because let's admit it: The more time we spend looking at statistics in databases... The more time we spend breaking down our "constituency"... The more we look like an institution! A corporation!

The very thing we're trying so hard to avoid.

Like so many other issues, I just don't think it's completely avoidable in today's society, with the current setup of how our churches function. One problem may be that we want to emulate the early church, yet at the same time, we tend to view that same church as a bit of a fluid hippie commune, a bunch of excited young Christians living together and telling everyone they know about Jesus. With anarchy reigning.

But that's deceptive. Sure, it was new. They didn't have 2000 years of history and assumptions to fall back on. It was small, they were persecuted, and they weren't meeting in $14 million buildings, with worries of mortgage payments and electrical bills.

Yet they did have some structure. They did have a semblance of a plan. There were certain demographics (stereotypes?) associated with each city where people were sent to spread the gospel. Isn't that sort of the same thing?

So then: How important is it for us to know how many Hispanics, blacks, and Asians are in our churches? How important is it for us to know which ones make six (or seven) figures, and which ones are just scraping to get by?

How important is that information?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

$500 billion of ministry

George Barna recently reported that over the last decade, as apercentage of the population, there was zero gain in the number of Christians in America. This zero growth came despite that $500 BILLION was spent on domestic ministry during that same period! Think about it. For all of our spending on buildings, programs, and outreach... zero! This sobers me, but it also awakens my resolve to find an approach to Christian faith that is NOT an abysmal failure. I truly believe that if advancing the Kingdom of God is that hard, it's because we are making it hard.

Does that $500B for nada qualify as a failure of the prevailing norms of church?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Dark Side of God

Living in a foreign country has helped me to understand a little bit of how Christians think outside America. And for better or worse, I´ve discovered that culture cannot help but flavour your faith.

For example, I have berated the health-and-wealth Gospel for years, although I sprang from that particular fount. The truth is that it sprang from the baby-boomer years of the 1950s when certain Tulsa-based evangelists began to declare that you can be a Christian, AND be rich! Their message found a strong following because America began to flow in that vein. That strain of faith is re-heated like bad microwave food in Joel Osteen´s "Your Best Life Now." I call it Hyperfaith-Lite.

But I maintain that Christianity tends to mirror the culture that hosts it. I became more aware of it since being in Spain, because the Church has no similarity to the American Church. The mentality is different. The approach to faith is different. The expression of the Christian walk is a stark contrast. The Spanish church has its own issues, no doubt it. We are human, after all.
I am more qualified, however, to address the severe case of Plankeye we suffer from in the American church: The commonly-held belief that God is here to work nothing but good in our lives.
Let´s be honest. Our cultural filters portray God as the benevolent Creator of all, who is here to love and shepherd us, to comfort us in our darkest hour, and to provide all of our "needs." The truth is, this distorted view of God is a very Americanized view of Him. At His core, God is love. He IS all of those wonderful things.
And yet, He is the righteous Judge who can destroy our lives at any moment. He is bound by no promise to make us rich or prosperous. He cannot have his arm twisted to protect us from all harm. No man can thwart His purposes or stay His hand by quoting the latest "happy verses" from the Bible.
Let´s face it....God has a dark side.
Not evil. Dark. Threatening to our happy little American worldview.
He destroyed nations in the Old Testament. He ruthlessly decimated Pharoah´s army in the bottom of the Red Sea. He instructed the Israelites to "utterly destroy" several people groups. These are accounts that we gloss over by claiming "that´s Old Testament." But I say that God remains the same. Grace? Yes, I´ll have as much as I can! But let´s make no mistake: God is both Savior through Jesus Christ, but He is the Righteous Judge of all. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is the blessed Comforter, but He is also given to us to root out the stubborn wickedness that remains in our hearts. It´s grim stuff.
God may destroy me. I may lose all that I have in the blink of an eye. My family might be taken from me. And God is completely justified in doing it all.
And in the end, we can only repeat Job´s prayer: "The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord."

Friday, January 4, 2008

No comments necessary: tidbit of high-brow trivia

I love the blog name Java Jesus, you'll see what I mean. Sorry to pollute this blog with something like this. Don't read it if you don't wanna.
Below is the origin of the term "the public sphere", coined by Jurgen Habermas in 1962. It is directly from the concept of "public sphere" that the term "Blogosphere" emerged. Read from the Wikipedia article:
"J├╝rgen Habermas wrote extensively on the concept of the public sphere, using accounts of dialogue that took place in coffee houses in 18th century England. It was this public sphere of rational debate on matters of political importance, made possible by the development of the bourgeois culture centered around coffeehouses, intellectual and literary salons, and the print media that helped to make parliamentary democracy possible and which promoted ENLIGHTENMENT IDEALS (see below) of equality, human rights and justice. The public sphere was guided by a norm of rational argumentation and critical discussion in which the strength of one's argument was more important than one's identity.
According to Habermas, a variety of factors resulted in the eventual decay of the
bourgeois public sphere of the Enlightenment. Most importantly, structural forces, particularly the growth of a commercial mass media, resulted in a situation in which media became more of a commodity – something to be consumed – rather than a tool for public discourse."
Oh yeah, ENLIGHTENMENT IDEALS? This is what Habermas concluded late in life:
"Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than a mere precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in the light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk."
CAFFECCLESIOLOGY? Habermas was also a driving force in deeloping the linguistic school epistemology (particularly, applying it to society and government) whence sprang our current theological notion of a "divine conversation". From which, of course, comes the trendy Emergent buzzword "conversation."
I RECOMMEND: Eugene Peterson's "Christ Plays in Ten-thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology." It is magnificent. It plays out the divine conversation, God's symbols and Man's praxis.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

One True God?

What significance is there to the reality, easily demonstrable, that our biblical faith has some serious overlaps and parallels with pagan religions contemporary with the Bible?

What does that say about the faith of “pagans”? Can there be such a thing?

What does it say about the Bible, the apostles, and the fathers?

What does it say about our claim of the "one true God"? Does he have rivals out there?

What does it say about exclusivism/inclusivism (that is, is "being a Christian" in a certain way the only way to be spared the wrath of God?)

Consider Luke 4 and Jesus’ statement where he compares favorably the faith of the widow at Zarephath to the faith of his Israelite contemporaries. See three themes?

1. God wants Gentiles to know Him. Exod 14:4 is a good example:”But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” God wants to make himself known to Gentiles. An example I think we need to study more carefully is Acts 14:17: in his comment to the Gentiles, Paul says of God: “yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” What's that mean?

2. Some came to know God or truth about God who were Gentiles: Melchizedek (Gen 14), where Abraham uses the name of his God for YHWH.Pharaoh’s magicians (Exod 8:19)Balaam, Rahab, King Huram of Tyre, Naaman, NebuchadnezzarActs 17:28 where Paul quotes Epimenides and Aratus, showing revelation of truth to Gentiles. What's that mean?

3. God’s people's religious culture and customs overlap mightily pagans/Gentiles/etc in ways that predate Jesus, Moses, & Abraham. Circumcision, sacrifice, temples, singing, moral codes, etc. The names for God in the OT are found among pagan religions: El as “God.”Cornelius in Acts 10 and this powerful statement: “but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34-35). What's that mean?

(This is plagiarized from Gordon McDermott's "God's Rivals" as it is quoted by Scott McKnight on . )

The Word became flesh, then paper...then mere words

“The centrality of the community to the gospel means that the message is never disembodied. The word must always become flesh, embodied in the life of the called community. The gospel cannot be captured adequately in propositions, or creeds, or theological systems, as crucial as all of these exercises are. The gospel dwells in and shapes the people who are called to be its witness. …If there is good news for the world, then it is demonstrably good in the way that it is lived out by the community called into its service… The lived out testimony of the Christian community is to become a witness, visible and audible, given in and to the world, so that the gospel will spread.” — Darrell Guder

Some might say that is what we already do when we "do church." It sure doesn't feel that way to me. What do you think?