Monday, April 28, 2008

A Year of Java

Sometime back in the spring of 2007, a couple of guys went to a Starbucks late on a Monday night, just to discuss theology and church and whatever was on their minds.

The next week, they went back again.

Over the following months, a core group of people were showing up late on Monday nights. These people were passionate about God and about the church. They were passionate about changing the church into something more Godly and more effective for the 21st century.

We've been getting together pretty much every Monday night for over a year now. No agenda. No "teaching" or specific lesson plan. We just get together and talk. We debate scripture, philosophy, and "how to do church." Sometimes there might be more than a dozen people, sometimes there might be just four or five. The common denominator is that all of the guys (yes, it's mostly guys, but we're always looking for some female input) are passionate about God and about church and about relationships.

And now, one of our core group members is leaving. Darin has resigned from his ministry position and his family will be relocating near Atlanta in a few weeks to begin serving at a new church.

This blog is intended as an open discussion and debate among anyone on the Internet, but it grew out of many of the discussions that we've been having in person on Monday nights. This Monday night group consists of a number of church ministers, elders, and people heavily involved in the matters of God's church. We often speak of a collective "Church," but the majority of us having these discussions are all a part of one local church body. And the majority of us are eager for some change.

It's sad to think of Darin leaving. And it's sad to think of the others that are considering leaving, as well. When we aren't happy with "how things are," we push and push for change. If the change doesn't happen, if it is refused or if it can't happen under the present structure of the church, then eventually, some people are going to decide they need to go in a different philosophical direction.

This isn't just about Darin. I would guess that a large percentage of us, whether paid pastoral staff or just church members, have considered whether or not we need to part ways with our church over matters we consider to be of vital importance. And this isn't just random church shopping over petty issues of worship style or how padded the pews are. As I said, these men are passionate about God and about church, and when passionate men see problems that refuse to be corrected, they will eventually consider the costs of moving on.

So here's to Darin, and his passion, his sense of humor, his teaching, and his push for Christian community. Starbucks is going to miss him greatly.

*Edit 4/30: I'm hiding comments on this post for the time being.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We Eat These Chicken Wings in Remembrance of You

Our discussions of prayer and creationism have slowly moved into some dialogue on communion. What is communion? Why do we do it the way we do? What does the scripture really say, and is some of it misunderstood? And what about the Catholic "method of communion" -- do they have some aspects more "right" than many Protestants?

On one end of the spectrum, you have people taking a sacrament (a sip of juice/wine and a little cracker) as a means of individual reflection, and remembering Christ's death. On the other end of the spectrum, you might have a group of people having a communal meal together, fellowshiping around the table, in a sports' bar or wherever... and remembering Christ's death.

What "makes" something communion? Why do we do it with wine or grape juice, other than the fact that it's what Jesus did? Could we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus with any food that we're eating around a table?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Where DID Cain get his wife?

A plausible, but radical, alternative to standard Six Day Creation theory is what I call "Second Creation" theory. It will freak people out, but it elegantly harmonizes a lot of difficult details in Genesis. I want us all to break out our scripture sticks and give it the “pinata treatment.” Or, prop it up and see if it fits into the panorama of scripture. Let’s see how it holds up to scrutiny:

A few folks suppose that Genesis 1 says that in a six-day period, God created a world full of light and sky and fish and sea and animals, and…men and women. But at some point (in Genesis 2, either on Day Six, or maybe ages later) God separately and specially “formed Adam of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils so he became a living being." Eve was taken and fashioned from Adam himself, so she too was a “living being.” As were their sons. Get it? Adam and Eve were not the first and only people created, rather they were the first of a CHOSEN RACE of people. All the other men were of God’s likeness, but not of the same God-breathed character, since they were not “inspired” in the same personal way, with God blowing up their noses. So, man began in Gen 1, but "humanity" began with Adam in Gen 2, when God breathed life into him.

This does several things. First, it asserts a literal creation and a literal Adam and Eve. But it also can accommodate a scientists' claim that the Earth is a zillion years old, and that some human remains appear 10x older than Adam. It also accounts for several problems in Genesis:

(1) Whom did Cain fear would kill him if he left the vicinity of Eden? (4:14)
(2) Where did Cain get his wife, or why was incest God’s design for the first generations? (4:17)
(3) How is it Cain was building a city when he had just a wife and one son? (4:17)
(4) In Gen 6:1-4, who exactly are the sons of God, the daughters of men, and the Nephilim ( “the "fallen") and what do they have to do with anything? (In this theory, the sons of God are Adam and the sons of Adam, also called "sons of God" in Gen 6:2, who went out from Eden and took the "daughters of men". Pretty slick.)

In this theory, Adam, Cain and his brothers were not the genetic fathers of every person on earth, they were the men from God who would rule and subdue the Earth and its inhabitants on His behalf. In Gen 4 we see the sons of Cain introducing agriculture, art, industry, and government into the earth. No wonder they might be called "the heroes of old, men of renown." This gives a great significance to the otherwise strange Ch 4 closing verse: "At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord" seems perhaps that Adams race, the sons of God also introduced the men of the earth to the One True God. This also gives an interesting slant on The Fall, very much in sync with Jesus’ teaching: perhaps the sons of God were “sent into the world not to judge the world, but that the world through them might be saved." But Adam chose the fruit of judgement instead of the tree of life.

In many respects it fits neatly into the whole Bible story line: A chosen but fallen race whose mission of subduing and ruling the world for God is always thwarted by their sin until Christ, the Last Adam (a half-breed God man, himself) comes to redeem their lives, to lead them in a reconquest of the Earth, to rule them in justice, and to share the fellowship of eternal life with them.

The Second Creation theory has never been in the main stream of thought so far as I know. So here is my question: Is this theory soundly debunked by the scriptures? I mentioned that Adam named the woman Eve because she was the mother of all living, but it was pointed out to me that “living” is defined in Gen 2 by having God blow up your nose. So that wouldn’t necessarily K.O. the Second Creation theory. Let’s get critical and see if it stands or falls.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Prayer: Just Do It?

We've had a couple of interesting discussions over the last week concerning prayer. Some of us apparently have a slightly skeptical attitude about prayer -- we know we are supposed to do it, and we know it's important to be in communication with God, but at times, it can be a struggle to have faith in prayer.

We live in a fallen world. We know that pain, suffering, evil, and death are inevitable. That problem of evil will always be a paradox for us on earth. Why does God allow so much suffering? Why do the prayers of the righteous go seemingly unanswered?

Because of sin, and because of free will, we think we know the answer to the above questions. "God knows best, it's part of his plan, etc." Or, as the great theologians Mick and Keith once wrote, "We can't always get what we want."

The issue of unanswered prayer becomes more of a quandary when we look at many of the passages in the Bible that seem to be so straightforward on prayer.

Matthew 7:7-11, the words of Jesus --
    "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
John 14:13-14, again from Jesus --
    "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
How about 1 John 5:14-15 --
    This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.
And of course Mark 11 --
    "'Have faith in God,' Jesus answered. 'I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, "Go, throw yourself into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.'"
There are a couple choices here, and we could take them as deeply as we'd like. First of all, we could look at these verses more in context, to find what they are truly speaking to. Eric suggested that in John 14, Jesus is speaking specifically to the apostles (and only to the apostles), as he sends them out to work miracles.

Secondly, we could say that everything here hinges on knowing what to ask and having those requests be in God's will. That's the easy answer, that's the "Sunday School" answer (nod to Soebs and Darin), but perhaps it's also the RIGHT answer.

But if it is, it begs a lot more questions.

First, let's be uber-Biblical today and throw out some more verses.

    When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)

    You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (James 4:14-15)

    "This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven...'" (Matthew 6:9-10)
The problem is that we don't KNOW what God's will is. We want to pray specifically, and we want to pray for what we think we need. Often, those feel like righteous prayers. We pray for a child, dying with cancer, to be healed. Surely that is a righteous prayer! We pray for a good job, to support our family. Surely that is a righteous prayer! We pray for a friend's marriage, that it would be reconciled. Surely, a righteous prayer!

But the young child dies a painful death.

The job we needed falls through, and a family has to declare bankruptcy.

The marriage breaks, a couple divorces, and a family is torn apart.

These are all realities of life, even sometimes when you have a huge group of Christians praying around the clock. We can't always get what we want. We tell ourselves that it just wasn't part of God's will. That it's part of some "master plan."

Maybe. But it doesn't make people feel any better. Nor does it do much to convince people of the loving nature of a God who wants us to bring our requests and petitions to him.

What DO we pray for? How do we know when our motives are "pure"? Do we just offer up vague "may your will be done" prayers? Do we make them specific, but then realize that it's quite possible that they won't happen?

Or do we need to change our entire prayer model, and make it more about God and less about us?