Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What is a Church Community?

I've been thinking about this question lately.

I beleive that, in the future, it'll take more intentionality, but as of today I am starting to answer the question.

Here's what I think a church should look like:
  • It should focus on Jesus
  • Everyone should participate
  • It should meet the needs of the people
  • The people should be active
It should focus on Jesus

God sent his son to be the sacrifice which saves us from the punishment of sin. The church should focus on this and the miracles that we see in our lives because of this.

Everyone should participate

It's a community and everyone has a part. I think it can be as simple as asking and answering questions:

What scripture speaks to you this week? 
What has God done in your life this week?
What do you need God to do in your life?
How can we help?

It should meet the needs of the people

All of them. 

The people should be active

Church can only meet so much. You have to apply what God shows you to your life and your actions must reflect it. 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

John 5

After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.

An important note here is that an angel of the Lord went down into the pool at certain seasons to make the water healing water.
A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, "Do you wish to get well?"

The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me."

Jesus said to him, "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk."

Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.
Jesus heals in any season because Jesus is higher than the angels.
Now it was the Sabbath on that day. So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet."

But he answered them, "He who made me well was the one who said to me, 'Pick up your pallet and walk.'"

They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Pick up your pallet and walk'?"

But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you."

The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working."

For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
Ah, so many rules to limit the power of God in the lives of men.

Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.

"For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. 
"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 
"Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth;those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

"I can do nothing on My own initiative As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.
"You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 
"But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish--the very works that I do--testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.

"And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. 
"I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 
"For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's For those That Aren't

The Christian message is for those that aren't, not for those that are. It's a message of hope and freedom to the oppressed. It's a message of salvation to those trapped in sin. It's a message for the slaves, not their masters.

Of course, everyone is included in God's salvation. No one is excluded by virue of status. What I am speaking of specifically is the tranformational message. The Word of God - action and voice working together to bring change.

The power of the message is lost on Christian cultures. That's why we work so hard to build up the outward show of faith: the buildings, the speakers, the sermons, the worship teams, the magazines, the books, the faith-espousing T-shirts, the flip flops, the mints, the visible "proof" of our salvation.

The persecuted don't waste their time, they're too busy actually having faith. The secret believers don't put on their Jesus clothes, they praise Him in the quiet secret places. The Lord's servants among the children and the widows don't boast about the size and glory of their church or the education of their pastor, they boast of the glory of the Lord as He provides.
And someone came to Him and said, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?"

And He said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There isonly One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep thecommandments."

Then he said to Him, "Which ones?"


The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?"

Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property
. (Matthew 19:16-22)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Our Shared Life and Other Thoughts

This idea has been rolling around in my head for a few weeks – some pieces much longer – and I’m going to try to put it into words. I’m not sure if I can make as much sense of it as I want to. For me, this is a starting point. Once these ideas are out, I will refine, explain and define them more as I see fit and necessary.

At the core of everything is the truth. By this I mean God and the story of God; his being and his essence and just his stuff for lack of a better word. I will refer to it as the truth to keep it simple. This truth exists beyond our ability to describe it with language. This leads to our inability to understand it in any real way, or at least in any way that comes close to the actual truth.

It’s the idea that we can only know a shadow of the truth. I don’t think shadow is the right word, though. It’s not that we’re not looking at the truth. We are, but we can’t understand fully what we see.

This relates to the post-modern idea that words have no inherent meaning. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in post-modernism or certainly the ideas associated with deconstruction, but I find it fascinating. Any word I choose to use has no meaning outside of what I (or more rightly my society/culture) choose to give it. It’s most easily seen in the difference between languages. I call a dog a dog and you know what that means, but I could say that in Iraq, and people wouldn’t recognize it.

Moreover, once we decided on a way to communicate and understand the word we both use to describe the animal, the cultural association with the meaning of the word is very different. One of my favorite examples of this is that Kurdish people use the word Communist. It turns out, though, that the connotations of the word are very different. In Kurdistan a communist is someone who doesn’t believe in God, any non-religious person. The term is not necessarily used to describe one who believes in the communal ownership of the means of production and/or the inevitable rise of the proletariat.

Our languages are inadequate for communication in general and are woefully inadequate as a means to describe the divine.

God existed before the creation of the world. God existed before the creation of human language. God created language, but is, in fact, pre-language. Knowing this, we must also admit that God and his creation must be more than language.

God never said “Let there be light.” Of course we can’t know with absolute certainty that God didn’t utter his words of creation in English, but it seems highly unlikely. We, in fact, have no real idea what god said. We only know that he said something - insofar as we understand the idea of speech, that is.

We know that the Bible says God spoke. John tells us the word of God was with him from the beginning. The word was with god and the word was god. John tells us that the word of God is Jesus and that by that word, God created the earth.

We don’t know God’s words, but we know the outcome: creation. Action. The speech of god equals the action of god. There seems to be no difference. This means that Jesus, too, is the action of god. The word and the action.

Knowing this, then what do we say of the Bible? The Bible isn’t the word of god, right? That’s Jesus. It’s god’s own action. The Bible is a language-based representation of the story of God. God exists outside of the book. Certainly we know that God is known to people who can’t read and to people who have never heard the words of the Bible only the story of Jesus and the action of God. (Like everyone who believed before the Bible). I don’t mean to sound critical of the Bible. I’m not trying to be. I am trying to be critical of our limited understanding of the Bible and our limited understanding and use of the words therein. The power of the book is God.

We, as a culture of Christians, often argue over translations and meanings, but the book itself really has no inherent meaning. The words mean nothing outside of our context of understanding. It only means what someone told us that it means.

And most of us are okay with that. Someone else’s understanding of the story of God is good enough for us. Or the reverse is true. We’re okay with someone else’s criticism of the story of God.

We accept conventions as the truth and we settle for shallow understanding of the truth. We use words that don’t mean anything to describe our sacred faith and assume that everybody knows what we mean. We say, “ I met with my small-group for fellowship and we decided to do some servant evangelism to he non-churched.” Those words don’t mean anything. “Oh, I feel so blessed. Hallelujah.” That doesn’t mean anything either. “The worship service was followed by an alter call.” Nothing.

This all really a jumble of two ideas: the message/story/truth of God is more than the words Bible and our current use of language in reference to God is shamefully cheap and meaningless.

We use important words to describe things we don’t understand anymore. The church uses jargon as a crutch to stop thinking. What if we stopped? Or better, we talked about it. Let’s discuss our language. Tell me what salvation means. Tell me what it means to be blessed. Tell me what fellowship is. What does it mean to worship? What’s a worship service? What’s church?

After we discuss it let’s evaluate if our meanings hold any fidelity with the way we actually live. That’s the part that’s missing most, I think.

A couple of months ago, I discovered the Kurdish word for fellowship. I don’t remember the actual word, but it translates to “our shared life.” Not shared life, not a shared life, not the shared life, but our shared life. Our. I love it.

You may say so what? Who cares? That’s not the Greek word. I like it because it means something in a way that fellowship doesn’t. Fellowship is an idea, but our shared life is a description.

I guess this is really beside the point, but, like I said, there’s a lot swirling around my brain tonight and I wanted to get it out.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

John 4:31-54

Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."

This makes me think about my time in Kurdistan. The Kurdish for "Rabbi, eat" is "Mamosta, bixo." Although in Kurdish it would be followed with the equivalent of "Eat! Why aren't you eating? Don't be shy! Eat."

In Kurdish, mamosta means teacher (like Rabbi in Hebrew). It helps me remember the intent of the word Rabbi whener I see it used. In Kurdish, mamosta is a common title used to show respect for someone who has knowledge (actual teachers and otherwise). Drawing the link between mamosta and Rabbi helps me remember that Jesus is being held up as someone who has knowledge to give rather than as a member of a religious institution.
But He said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about."
So the disciples were saying to one another, "No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?"
Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.
The water that Jesus has to offer is everlasting life and the food that he eats is to follow the will of God and do His work. We seek to be as Jesus, so we must eat the same food.
"Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. "Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. "For in this case the saying is true, 'One sows and another reaps.'
"I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor."
The food to be eaten is the will and work of God. It is ready to be harvested and eaten. There is no waiting. It is being harvested now. We don't have to plant the seeds, someone else has already done that. We are not at the beginning of the cycle, but at the end - it's not even the beginning of the harvest, the workers are already hired and working. We are eating the labor of those that have come before.
The Samaritans from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all the things that I have done." So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world."
The Samaritan woman becomes an early missionary. She spreads Jesus to her people and she gets a quite a reward in return: the people begin to believe of their own faith, no longer relying on her!
After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast. Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.

So Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." 
The royal official said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies."

Jesus said to him, "Go; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off.
This is more positive fallout from the miracle of water to wine. The royal official knows that Jesus can perform miracles from either being present at the wedding or hearing the stories and he asks Jesus to save his dying son.
As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."

So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives"; and he himself believed and his whole household. This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

John 4:1-30

I want to preface the following post with a little bit of context for me as the author - where I am, what I'm doing, how I feel.

I am sitting in an office, a call center if you will. I am the only one here because it's 6 am on a Sunday morning. I've been here since 5.

I hate it. I don't know another word that quite describes how I feel about the job I currently work. I could go into all the reasons why I hate it, but it doesn't much matter.

On the other hand, I am grateful to have a job that pays money and I prayed pretty hard for a job to get us through. I am waiting for a clear sign from God that I can quit.
Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went away again into Galilee.

And He had to pass through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob's well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink." For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.

I think it might be hard for many of us to understand why the woman reacts the way she does in the following passage. I don't really understand it, but I have been in situations where it would have been impolite or even rude to speak directly to a woman (in conservative Muslim-Kurdish homes), but never in a situation where the rules were based on race or ethnicity.

The woman is fairly brazen here, I think. She's not the one in the power position - she's Samaritan and a woman - yet, she doesn't simply do as she's asked. She calls Jesus on his people's ethnocentrism.

Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."

She said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?"

Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."

The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw."

The woman is interested in what Jesus is offering, but I'm not sure she's convinced that he can deliver what he's offering.

He said to her, "Go, call your husband and come here."

The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."

Jesus said to her, "You have correctly said, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly."

The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."

This is the second time that Jesus has spoken a simple truth that led to belief. The first was when he told Nathanael that he'd been sitting under a tree.

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.

The promise of being accepted into God's Kingdom for all, not just the Jews, spoken to the woman becasue she was brave enough to ask the question "Why are you even talking to me?"

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us."

Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."

At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or, "Why do You speak with her?"

So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men,

"Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?"

They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

John 3

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."

Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?"

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?"

Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.

"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will n Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

Do you notice what Jesus just said? Those who beleive in Him are not judged. I think of the cultural imagery of the final Judgement Day. Jesus suggests that day may not be as we expect; everyone's already been judged. We've chosen light or darkness already. The light saves us and the darkness condemns.

I've already written about the serpent in the wilderness.
"For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."
After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized-- for John had not yet been thrown into prison.

Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John's disciples with a Jew about purification. And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him."

John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent ahead of Him.' He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice So this joy of mine has been
made full.

"He must increase, but I must decrease.

"He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives
the Spirit without measure.

"The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Here John restates what Jesus has just explained to Nicodemus. I imagine that the followers came to John hoping to stir a little jealousy in him or a bit of anger, but John responds instead with the truth.