Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Opening up the possibilities

Ok, the dangers of posting once a week are catching up with me again.  Last time we spoke, Easter was a long ways off, now, it's already behind us.  It's interesting as the celebration comes and goes, to notice that it is one of a tiny handful of events in the New Testament we have a solid date on, with the events of Holy Week coinciding with the Jewish Passover celebrations.  For all the attention Christmas gets, there is little solid evidence presented in the Bible of it's date.  We know that the Bible tells us the important things we need to know, not always the things we want to know, so getting that detailed date on Christ's death and resurrection evidently trumps the need to know the date of His birth.  Continuing down this path, I started thinking about how very few dates, celebrations, and even rituals we were passed through the New Testament.  Reading through the Old Testament, we find a long litany of feasts, celebrations and rituals passed to Israel to properly worship God, while in the New, we have Easter and Pentecost for dated events, and we have communion, baptism and tithing for rituals.  One could count the Lord's Prayer as one of the few examples of liturgy.  Why the shift?

I'm not pretending to know the mind of God, but it's my two bits that the shift comes for several reasons.  By the available accounts, we see that before the Mosaic Law was handed down, it seems that worship was a bit more personalized.  Adam and Eve walked and talked directly with God in the Garden, without ritual, Cain and Abel brought the sacrifices of their own choosing.  While David wrote a long variety of psalms to praise and petition God, once we get into the years of the nation of Israel, the focus of worship appears to be almost exclusively to the Mosaic rituals.  This led to the legalism exemplified by the Pharisees and Sadducees whom Jesus spoke against.  Not everyone performed the rituals or sang the songs heartlessly, but most of us know that feeling of just not being into it on Sunday morning, or even in personal devotion time, and just going through familiar motions.    

The New Covenant not only opened up salvation for people outside the decedents of  Abraham, it also reopened the world of worship.  From the melodic chants of Benedictine monks to the tortured screams of the unblack metal band, from thumping beats of the hip hop Christian soldiers to the quiet tranquility of our favorite hundred year old hymns, they are all valid expressions of faith.  I've never been a fan of the traditional/contemporary split services that are very common on church signs anymore, (just seems to be dividing not bringing together, other activities and group work can eliminate that split, however, it seems to be adding a lot of uphill struggle) but I do understand the reasoning of letting people worship in the ways most comfortable.  That's part of the idea.  Instead of tailoring our heart to our worship, we have the freedom to tailor our worship to our heart.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Camping in tents, looking towards the city

I'm working my way through another book off the shelf (Finding Your Purpose In God's Plan, by B.R. Coombs, available on good clearance shelves everywhere, that's where I got my copy, at least) and I came to a quote from Hebrews that set my mind off in a different direction from the rest of the chapter.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Heb. 11:8-10, NIV

Some words and phrases jumped out at me.  "He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise."  "For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."  We are sitting here, living in this world in our tents, our temporary, physical bodies, looking forward to the city with foundations, Heaven, which is built by God.  If we go back to Genesis and read Abraham's account, it isn't an easy road he walked.  The man even threw several of the rocks onto his own path by his choices.  But he got through, not by focusing on the tent, or on the state of the land he had not yet received, but by focusing on the promise of God.

If you've been following me for a while here, you know politics is one of my favorite topics to debate.  While there are numerous good reasons for Christians to be active in the political world, we have to be very careful not to get hung up on the tent while losing focus on the city with foundations.  For example, are our words against political ideas and opponents in line with the Bible?  The shooting of abortion provider Dr. Tiller in Wichita Ks comes to mind.  Personally I abhor abortion and the abortion debate, for religious and political reasons (still haven't figured out how regulating a medical procedure falls under the federal government's Constitutional power, at minimum, on the legal side, the issue should be left to the states, instead of a federal mandate) but gunning the man down doesn't match our Biblical mandate, does it?  Ideally, the best way to deal with the issue is to put the abortion providers out of business through a lack of customers, instead of legislation.  That matches words like "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" much better doesn't it?  How many words and actions of "religious" people have been turned into fuel for nonbelievers, often with little to no twisting or taking words out of context?  How many of those were spurred by putting that focus on the fragile, temporal, dirty tents instead of that solid, permanent, holy foundation? 

It's not up as of this writing, but check www.kfaonline.org later this week for the April 17th sermon on the normal Christian life.  Pastor Dan talked a great deal about how even Christians have a tendency to get focused on the tents others are wearing, like skin color and sexual orientation, instead of focusing on that eternal foundation and treating others the way Jesus wants us to.  Yes, it's nice when the Church wins some of its legal and social battles, but what about when we individuals listen to the hurts of an unsaved friend?  What about when we break down those stereotypes and don't just beat sinners up with Scripture?  What about when we follow Christ's example and weep for the world instead of screaming at it? 

It's hard to keep that focus on the eternal and not the worldly.  The world is here in front of us, in our faces, yelling at us, taxing us, sending us disconnect notices, telling us our loans weren't approved, apologizing for the pink slips, telling us that if we just let go of those old superstitions our lives will be so much more enjoyable, while the eternal tells us to wait, trust, and have faith.  Go back to Abraham, he listened to the world, took the world's route to answer God's promise, and the result caused numerous problems, even beyond Abraham's lifetime.  Compare that to the Apostles after the Ascension, who listened to Jesus' words and waited in Jerusalem and received the Holy Spirit, in spite of the possible threats against them there.  These are just two examples of the results, it doesn't take too much looking to find more, in the Bible, in history, and even in our own spheres of influence.  The question we have to ask ourselves is, which example are we making?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Change, change, and more change

Change came to my mind recently.  It's quite amazing how much change the last couple of generations have seen, experienced, and incited.  Technology is the easiest one to quantify, and we'll get to that one, but there have been many other changes as well.  Just in my lifetime, we've seen the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany on the international front, just for two major examples.  Shortly before my lifetime, homosexuality was listed by the APA as a mental disorder. (Not delving into that one right now, just using it as an example) The US economy has moved from production to service as it's major product.  Marriage has become more and more optional, whether people are starting one or continuing one.  People don't typically find a job and stay there until retirement, instead changing companies and often career paths frequently.  Those are just the tip of the iceberg on the social side of changes that have happened in the last thirtysomeodd years.  The social changes alone could take pages and pages to list.  Feel free to think of your own before we move to the next section.
Technology, like I said, is the easiest area of change to see.  When I was a kid, the telephone was attached to the wall, the receiver was on a cord that only stretched a couple of feet from the box, and it had a rotary dial.  A few years later, the phones had push buttons instead of rotors, multiple lines in the home became more common, and eventually wireless handsets let you wander around the house on the phone.  Now of course, we've moved from the house phone to the cell phone, which has grown in it's own leaps and bounds.  Early cell phones weren't cell phones, they were car phones, because you still had to plug them into something.  I've still got my first cell phone in a box somewhere.  It made phone calls, as long as the little plastic antenna could pick up a signal, send and receive text messages, and play Snake on the little green screen.  Now our phones make calls, play high end video games, take pictures and video, store gigs of data, read books, surf the web, track our global position..... you get the point.  The same has happened to computers.  Our first computer was an Apple IIc, with big old 5 1/4 in floppy disks that held a whopping megabit or two.  You know that old cellphone I was talking about?  It is a more powerful computing device then that poor old Apple. 
These are a lot of changes that have gone on in my short lifetime.  It certainly isn't a matter of things haven't changed before.  The difference is that the change seems to happen much faster now.  Way back when, it took months or even years for changes to disseminate into the culture, outside of small pockets like big cities.  I was watching a movie about the great Oklahoma land race, and started thinking about the years it took to set that up, and the years it took for the settlers to establish themselves on their new land, even though it became theirs in a very short amount of time. 
I think this tendency to change is one of the reasons why the last couple of generations have had such an issue in accepting God.  God is eternal, and in that eternal, He hasn't changed.  His plans haven't changed, from Adam and Eve to the nation of Israel to Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross to the wait for Jesus' return.  We have gotten so accustomed to change that the idea of God being the same, having the same values and plans and desires and expectations for us over all these centuries is hard to fathom.  We think that somehow, because the world has changed, God has changed along with it, and adjustments have to be made.  But that isn't how it works.  God isn't the one who has to make adjustments, we are.  I know changing that paradigm isn't going to be easy, but we have to do it, first in ourselves, then in the Church.  How do we make the changes?  Get back to the Bible.  Read those hard parts again, and see how they stand against our ideas.  Our pastor preached on Acts 5:1-11 this week, when Ananias and Sapphira were struck down for lying about what they had given.  Go back and read that, and think about whether that principle has changed any.  That's just one example of many where we have gotten ideas in the world and in the Church that somehow time has changed the way God works and wants us to work. 
Over the years, I've read lots of various commentators (of various degrees of talent) express how the Bible is full of old fashioned ideas that have outlived themselves.  Silly concepts like mankind is a special creation, not a random happenstance, or like we are naturally selfish, greedy, and sinful, not taught such things by society.  But I'd like to ask those folks, we've been living under those changes in mindset, along with others, for some time now.  How is that change working out for us?  Have those changes made a happier, safer, better world?  If not, maybe there's something to these old constants, no?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sumthin's better than nuthin, right

Ok, I've been a bit sick all day, and none of the things I've been working on have been clicking, so we'll cut the losses and give a short bit of wisdom.  There is an account that tells us Thomas Aquinas was in the Vatican, and Pope Innocent IV took him to his personal chambers, where they were counting the gold.  Innocent said "You see the Church is no longer in an age where she can say 'Silver and gold I have none' (Acts 3:6). To which Aquinas answered "It is true holy father, nor can she say to the lame man 'Get up and walk'.  A whole lot of thought there, I'll let you ponder it for a while.  It's one of my favorite stories, because it's disturbingly accurate, so I'll likely be expanding on it later.  Till then, enjoy.