Friday, August 30, 2013

This week's lesson: reformation (part two)


Some say it is like the North Pole; others, like the North Star.

Yes, some say perfection is like the North Pole: it is a destination that can be reached.

Others say it is like the North Star: it is a guide, but nothing more.

Myself, I say it doesn't matter which is true; no, it doesn't matter . . .

Not if you're traveling north.

And not if you know who travels with you.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

This week's lesson: reformation (part one)

There are two things I wish for my church:
1. I wish it was a church where anyone could come, and everyone was welcome -- a place where rich and poor, Republicans and Democrats, gays and straights, fundamentalists and fuzzy liberals could all gather around God's throne.  
2. I wish my church offered a radical alternative to the status quo -- that it wasn't just another social club, but a place where people could get a taste of what heaven will be like. In short, I wish it's people were holy, even as the Lord is holy. 
Unfortunately, I haven't figured out a way to get both wishes. A church that accepts everybody, after all, is a church full of hypocrites -- but a church that doesn't is full of Pharisees.

Ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda, said the Protestant Reformers -- "the church is always reformed, and always in need of reformation."

And if that's true of my church . . .

Then how much more is it true of me?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

This week's lesson: discernment

It's not always a good idea to "step out in faith."

Consider the first attempt to invade Canaan -- the one we read about Number 14:40ff.
  • Already, the spies have brought back their reports of the Promised Land.
  • Already, God's people have concluded from those reports that it's impossible for them to enter the Promised Land.
  • And already, Moses has said their lack of faith will keep them out of the Promised Land; instead, they will die in the Wilderness.
But God's people did not accept their fate; they refused to give in to negative thinking. No, they "stepped out in faith" -- and paid the price.
Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised. Surely we have sinned!”

But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and the Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.”

Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah (Numbers 14:40-45, NIV).
In short, faith gives us the courage to follow God -- but it is not enough to guarantee that we are following God. No, faith is good. Zeal is good. Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing.

But just like those Israelites, we still need to watch our step.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

This week's lesson: unity

If you want unity, then you need to find yourself some troublemakers.

Consider three examples from this week's lesson -- examples of "how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" (Psalm 133:1).

1. "In Acts 6, a small group of disciples met together to solve the problem of distribution of food to the widows of the Greek converts. They selected deacons to solve the dilemma. Church members respected the authority of these church leaders."

Yes, they did . . . after they'd kicked up such a fuss that church leaders were forced to respond. Then too, all of the deacons chosen were Hellenistic Jews -- the very group that  charged church leaders with favoritism. In short, unity came when church leaders were asked to share power.

2. "After Paul's baptism by Ananias, the Holy Spirit directed him to meet with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem in order to confirm his ministry."

Yes, he did . . . but those same leaders would have rejected Paul if Barnabas had not stood up for him -- and even then, Paul would have returned home and disappeared if Barnabas hadn't retrieved him from Tarsus and brought him to Antioch (Acts 9:26-29; 11:25-26). In short, unity came when church leaders were asked to reconsider their mistakes.

3. "The Jerusalem Council saved the first-century church from a serious schism. . . . Members accepted the decision of the Jerusalem Council and rejoiced that the Holy Spirit had guided them to an answer to their dilemma."

Yes, they did . . . but the Council would not have met to consider the ordination of women the baptism of Gentiles if local churches hadn't already begun this practice (Acts 15:1-2). In short, unity came when church leaders recognized that the world church needed to catch up with the Spirit's leading in local churches.
Unity is not uniformity, in other words. No, it is a messy, dynamic process that leads to unity with God . . . 

Even though it may put us at odds with each other.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

This week's lesson: repentance

My dear Loosestrife:

Your suggestion that you encourage clients to repent of sins they've not committed is good in so far as it goes -- but as usual, it does not go far enough. Neurotic guilt is useful, after all, but limited in its effect.

No, you should encourage clients to repent of sins they don't commit -- but others do!
  • If a client is conservative, for instance, then make sure they lament the personal sins they'd never do themselves, viz. smoking, drinking, and watching HBO.  
  • But if a client is liberal, then encourage their attacks on the institutional sins they already abhor, viz. racism, sexism, and watching Fox News.
  • And if you are fortunate enough to have conservatives and liberals in the same Sabbath School class, then make sure both focus on the elephant in the other living room, while ignoring the elephant in their own.

In short, encourage your clients to "judge others, lest they judge themselves."

This will help them take pride in the sins they don't commit.

It will keep them from noticing the sins they do commit.

And it will help us deal with next week's lesson on unity!

Warmly yours,