Thursday, June 19, 2014

What is the Kingdom of God?

Ok, so here's a little thought piece...

I'm sitting down to write this with no book in hand, no goal in mind and very little forethought. I want to try and give my best answer to the question "What is the Kingdom of God?"

Let's go...

I think that, in its essence, the Kingdom of God is about connectedness; not necessarily some well-planned, formal relationship as one might expect to find at a church or small group, but something more natural, more raw. The Kingdom of God happens when two people connect on a metaphysical level; it's when good beats evil in any given situation; it is light.

wow...this is harder than I thought. Let's try this route: I'm going to list things that are red flags, indicating that the Kingdom of God is at work.

1. There is always humility involved. The Kingdom of God is marked by the way that people purposefully lower themselves in relation to others. When someone decides that another person's wants or needs should trump their own in any given situation -- even in a small way, like conversation -- there is the Kingdom of God.

2. The Kingdom of God is peaceful. As a pacifist, this probably resonates with me more deeply than my non-pacifistic brother's and sisters but regardless of our feelings on the matter, one can't get around the fact that Jesus taught and demonstrated unto death a lifestyle of peace. Thus, his rule and reign is apparent when peace is made in any given situation, be it civil, professional or internal.

3. The Kingdom of God looks like sacrifice; specifically, God's reality looks like the creator of all existence being brutally murdered like a political revolutionary even though he was the most innocent of men. When we give a bit more than we can afford to, when we stick our necks out for the undeserving a bit more than makes sense and when we choose to lose we reflect our maker. Martyrdom is the Kingdom.

Well this was my quick attempt at what would probably take a doctoral dissertation to flesh out. My hope in this weak endeavor is to stimulate your mind; think, reflect and tell what you think the Kingdom of God is like. You may be one who finds that you need to do a little research in order to start answering this question. You may be one who has begun already (and likely found that there is a long way to go). In any case, my conclusion is this:

Our life is to be about learning how to answer this question and we do so with our lives.

I'd love to hear from any and all who read this. What is the Kingdom of God?


Monday, June 9, 2014

On Worship and the Freedoms Therein - Part 2

Continuing my thoughts from yesterday...

What does freedom look like in worship?

 In my last post, I talked about how true worship necessarily leads to freedom in the inner person and (in our context) this should manifest itself in our outer worship practices. So what does this look like? In what way do we see the inner develop outward? In order to stay focused, I will avoid listing specific practices. Instead, I'll elaborate on one observation:

When one has experienced God, one realizes how trivial many traditions are.

Again, I feel the need to say that I love tradition; there is a very healthy and vital place for traditions in religion. The word tradition basically means "to be handed down" and we would know nothing of Christianity if it weren't for the traditions of (mostly) the Roman Catholic Church. So, I'm not saying that traditions are bad at all. What I am saying is that, in terms of worship, our specific reactions to the realities of God may look differently than what has been most commonly accepted as "the way to do it".

So, we should not only feel free to physically worship how we will (within reason and orthodoxy, of course), but we should also not feel the need to impose on others any specific form of worship. I would never ask a brother in Christ to pick up a guitar and play it well for God though this is one of my favorite ways to worship. Worship, remember, is attributing worth to God and, as such, can be any activity throughout our day (if you haven't read The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, you should; he gives multiple expositions on this idea). 

The benefit of freedom

The immense benefits of the freedom of worship are found both internally and externally. The former of the two are manifest in a final laying-aside of mental and spiritual hindrances. There are some who aim heavily at this point, like this company. People who experience God in their lives often are more able to overcome addictions and self-loathing and finally see beauty in life where they once saw only darkness. Attributing the utmost worth to God is about justice - about homeostasis in our soul. It is finally recognizing things as they truly are.

This freedom can also be seen externally in the development of church history. Starting with the Hebrews, we see animal sacrifice as normative. Then, there is foot washing and selling of possessions for the benefit of the poor with the New Testament Church. Moving forward in history, there are the highly ritualized practices of the ornate Coptic Church; hymns, tent revivals, organs and rock music have all found their way into our worship practices throughout the years. My point in this is that we ought not be too concerned with a change in practice when the heart of why and whom we worship remains the same. True worship happens in the spirit - our spirits - and is only sourced in truth (otherwise it is no true worship). The truth is that Jehovah alone is worthy and, sandals on or off, this holds true.

Conclusive thoughts

Like most of my posts, there are many more things that we could say about the freedoms that come from true worship, but I like to leave room for thought. If I were to extensively spell out all of my thoughts, I feel I'd be robbing the reader of the chance to work some of this out on you own and discover your own conclusions.

Worship is a dynamic thing; we should never assume that it is over or we have done it perfectly. As Christian leaders, we need to hold ourselves (and each other) responsible for communicating true theology and right praxis but we should keep it in perspective. If we hinder others from expressing their worship to God the way that feels most natural to them, we are guilty of misleading. Now, this doesn't excuse us from correcting and guiding Christians in knowing when it is appropriate and inappropriate to express in that form (think exuberant worship that is disrupting others from worshiping), but we should never crush a person's worship - this is detestable.

If you have ideas or elaborations, please share. If you disagree with me, say why, I'd love to discuss :) In all things, I hope that this blog benefits your faith and gives you a challenge that you might grow.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

On Worship and the Freedoms Therein - Part 1

This morning, I have managed to carve some time to write again; I do feel like I've been slacking on this as the summer has rolled in so this is my attempt to regain my momentum. Thank you for your patience if you are one who follows on a regular basis.

So a few months ago, I wrote a blog post which seemed to garner a lot of attention; I guess it hit a nerve in the church to some degree. It was about what kind of music ought to be played in a corporate worship gathering. I don't want to fully recap my ideas on that since you can read it here, but the jist of it was that

Our theology ought to drive our worship

in all situations but especially in the corporate gathering where there may be others who are younger in the faith than ourselves and looking for guidance on proper practices of a Christian worshiper. So, in thinking about worship and how we conduct our corporate gatherings, I'd like to continue my thoughts about that so to speak. 

Today I want to write about the freedoms (or lack thereof) that we find within a worship setting. From a theological standpoint, our worship ought to necessarily lead to freedom - of heart, of soul, of mind and of strength. Worship is simply attributing a measure of worth to something and when we attribute worth to something, we lend energies of our will and affections, our mind, our emotions and actions to the object of worship. Logically, it is only right that we attribute the most worth to the greatest of beings, namely, Jehovah, Yeshua, Jah, Christ, etc. This is why the command to worship God with all that we are is a necessary command; by definition of worship, it would be illogical to do otherwise. 

So why freedom?

 In the past (and I do hope to keep the issue in the past), I have been told multiple times that I cannot lead a congregation in musical worship with my flip-flops off. Now, I feel the need to pause here for a disclaimer: this blog is not a rant, nor is it a bashing session of any kind. The Church leaders whom asked me to replace my sandals are brothers to me and I love them both dearly; I could never wish any ill towards them and I know that their decisions are based on a pastoral care for what God has entrusted to them. My being asked to not go barefoot does not offend me in the least, but it does concern me because of what is lacking in the decision-making process. Similarly, I'm fairly certain that I've been turned down for at least a few pastoral positions because I had long hair, tattoos and a handlebar mustache.

Freedom of the inner and outer person is a necessary end to recognizing the Creator for what/who he is; specifically, supreme. When we recognize our true state and condition in front of a loving and just God and truly keep this idea at the forefront: 

God looks like Jesus dieing on a cross.

Then we are liberated from the trappings of rote or tradition for tradition's sake. We are free to worship God how we will. We are able and empowered to act on the pastor's call to worship God however you feel led. We are truly free even if we are not. This is why Paul and Silas can sing in prison; their prison does not define their freedom. This is why progressive Christians who feel trapped in non-progressive churches can labor on; their freedom is not strictly external, but it is a condition of the soul. Their service is more important than their comfort and this is more often true than not of the Kingdom of God.

A Soft Conclusion
Having run out of time to write, I will continue this thought in another post. Before I go, I would like to remind the reader of my purpose in writing this blog at all. This is my epistle. This is where I write to the church, the bride of Christ. I pray that anything I write here will be received in love as that is where my thoughts are sourced: in Christ himself.

As Christians, remember to let our worship yield freedom and let our theology drive our worship. What we know about God should lead us to a conclusion about reality. I pray that our conclusions never hinder another believer. Lead in love and humility.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Church Authority and Excommunication

If there is one thing that has not changed over the whole course of Church history, it is that there will always be a tension between the Church and the world. Christ clearly tells us via his words and example to engage the culture around us, not flee from it. On the other hand, there is clear admonition from the Bible to take care to keep the Church holy and set apart from the world. By way of a case example, let's look at 1 Corinthians 5 in which Paul is rebuking the church in Corinth because of their embracing of some who are clearly "living in sin" (to borrow a churchy term). Take a second, if you can and read this 13 verse chapter...go ahead...

Ok, so now that you're back, we can stop and think through this critically.

Now, to be honest, Paul comes across really strong here with his rebuke. He says that the members of the church should be "mourning in sorrow and shame" for the behavior of some among them who were being sexually promiscuous to a degree that even the Roman pagans would not go to. While it would be easy to take this first section and write off a number of people for their sins (homosexuals, those living with their bf's/gf's, those who sleep around, etc.), let's read the rest of it and keep it contextualized.

The key conditional that Paul sets up in this section is whom exactly he's talking to. If you read verses 9 through 13 he is adamant and clear that the people he is talking about are not unbelievers. Get that? He specifically says that

it is not the place of a church leader to judge those that are outside of the Church. 

It is, however, his job to be concerned with those who claim to be Christians and to those - whom he is writing about - he says that the righteous Christians who are in fellowship and the leaders in Corinth are to disassociate with them. So why the harsh words, Paul?

If we read verses 5 through 8, we see his concern. It isn't so much that he doesn't want them to be a part of the church but that he is worried that their lax morality will become a new standard for Christian righteous behavior and that would be a degradation to the legacy of Christ who held his followers to the highest of standards (Sermon on the Mount, anyone?).

So what are we to do with this? What does the modern Church do with a passage like this?


We need to remember that our hermeneutic key is Jesus; all Scripture points to him and is a testament of his reality of God and what the Kingdom looks like. If we forget that Jesus is our starting and ending point, then we can read a verse like this and start to think of the church in exclusivist terms instead of universal terms. Christ came that all should be saved, not some. "God's people" are no longer limited to a small genetic pool but instead are characterized by the indwelling of God's Spirit and known by their love for one another.

If this is our truth, then we must immediately throw out the idea that this passage of Scripture supports in any way a practice of shunning or kicking people out of the church permanently. Instead we need to look at the heart of what this passage is concerned about which is the degree of influence that those intentionally living in sin have in our churches. To be more clear, it isn't so much that we should disassociate with those who know they're doing wrong as it is right that we ensure the safety of other Christians who might mess up also because of their poor example; this is done by being careful and stringent about who is allowed to lead or be influential in our churches, not by simply cutting them off or preaching against them (no ad hominems now).

The Church is to be a people who are about love, not hate; inclusivity, not exclusivity; nurturing and growth, not cutting off and excommunication. 


We also need to realize the context that this was written in; that is, there wasn't a church building on every other corner like there is in most American cities. In the U.S., if a church wanted to follow a literalist interpretation of this passage, they would run into a major problem of logistics. Specifically, if one were to be excommunicated from church "A" by Pastor A, then there is nothing stopping the excommunicated person from going down the street to church "B" who has little to no knowledge of Pastor  A's decision.

These are different times and the church look's differently. Does this mean that we're off the hook from keeping people accountable to the standard of Christ? Absolutely not! Verse 13 in this chapter comes to the sound conclusion that God will take care of the judgement of those who are outside of the Church, but it is the job of the Church to care for those within it's influence. So this means that Christians ought to feel free to speak truth in love about another person's life but not to condemn or cut off.


I would be selling this post short if I didn't give some clear direction as to what the modern Christian ought to do in response to brother's and sister's of the Church who are intentionally maintaining a life of sin.

Be Christ to them

This is much easier said than done, of course. It is, however, likely the only way that their heart (will and emotions) might be won back to Christ in the fullest way possible. So how do we treat them as Christ would? We love, we befriend, we affirm their immeasurable worth and after we've built up a reputation of love with that person, we can correct them and they will accept the correction because they know that it is only out of love that any correction comes.

It is not our job to be accuser (that's Satan's gig) nor judge (that's God's job) much less executioner. It is our job to love them and allow them to see the Kingdom in our lives; only in this way will they see that their intentional choice to live out of sync with Christ's Kingdom is an impoverished way of life. The Church is solely the people who make her up; the Church's authority lies in it's capacity to love the broken of the world.


For a couple more points of view on the same topic and passage check out this blog and this blog.