Jesus and the Samaritan WomanYears ago I had the experience of being involved with some groups of churches who approached church gatherings as a time to “fill up” with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t the only things they saw these gatherings as useful for, but the “filling up” idea was a dominant feature and it was expressed most crudely in a particular phrase: “belly up to the bar”. As if one was to become quite literally “drunk”, inebriated by the Spirit. A gross misunderstanding and misuse of Ephesians 5:18.

Now, I have my own feelings about this particular statement and idea, which I won’t express fully here, but I have always thought about an understanding of corporate worship as a Sunday morning (or Sunday evening or Wednesday mid-week or…) “fill up” and how that affects some of us in our personal worship of Jesus, and how that effect then rolls out from the personal to the corporate in our churches, and into the public spheres of our lives.

Now, I don’t think that many of us have a “belly up to the bar” mentality about worship. I think that is an extreme expression of one particular segment of the charismatic/pentecostal population, but I do wonder if, in practice, many of us take for granted our Sunday gathering of worship and fellowship, and somehow think that we are, like a car, filling the tank for the week. We may stop to drop a couple bucks in at some point during the week if the tank runs low, but we may rely mostly on the fill-up once a week to get us through.

A friend and I were discussing years ago whether Sunday gatherings are meant to be an overflow of worship and gratitude as a result of the previous week’s work and experience, or whether our experiences of the week were to be an overflow from the Sunday gathering. What kind of mentality should we approach Sunday with? Is it right to even ask the question? We know the Sunday gathering is important, that’s for certain. The corporate gathering of God’s congregation has been a central influence on the people of God for millennia. But, yet, Jesus has this to say in John’s gospel: 

The woman said to him, “…Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
John 4:19-24

Did you catch it? Historically, worship has been tied to a time and a place. In this case, Jerusalem at particular times of the year. If it is still true that tying worship to a time and place somehow causes the worship to have more meaning, or be more right, or have more effect, then you and I should be travelling to Jerusalem.

But Jesus says that true worship has nothing to do with time and place. John’s gospel is the one which features the symbolic transmission of the Holy Spirit to the disciples (John 20:22-23), and the one which has the greatest passages about who the Holy Spirit is and what He will do (John 16). Jesus seems to be purposefully contrasting time/place worship with spirit/truth worship. He literally says that the day is coming when you will no longer worship in Jerusalem, but you will worship in spirit and truth. Time/place is antithetical to spirit/truth. That’s a huge statement. The centrality of Jerusalem to right and proper expression of worship, as far as the Biblical narrative is concerned, simply cannot be overstated. But then, Jesus is kinda known for making flip-the-world-on-its-head sorts of statements. He doesn’t seem to be bothered one wit that he’s just said something which could be considered blasphemous had he been talking to a committed and faithful Jew.

Jesus is dismantling the entire debate of location, style, accoutrements, time, etc. by throwing a trump card. It’s not about a special time and special place with special things and special people. In fact, any place is as holy and pregnant with the potential outpouring of the Spirit as his people worship him as any other place. Any other time is as good a time for God to be truly worshiped and to manifest himself and inhabit the praises of his people as any other time.

Here’s the deal. Acts 2 didn’t happen at the temple. It happened in the home, spilled out of the home and into the streets where no one expected anything to happen. This is Biblical symbolism at its clearest and best.

Remember the veil in the temple? Remember it was torn at the moment Jesus exhaled his last breath on the cross? A great missional transaction occurred in that moment; a great transaction which made possible two great realities. 

  1. God himself destroyed the wall of separation which kept us from his presence. Glory to God!
  2. God left the building, so-to-speak. And so every moment of every day, no matter where you and I are, no matter what you and I are doing can now be transformed into a moment of indescribable potential for true worship to occur and for the Spirit to break through.

Jesus paid for it on the cross. On a hill outside Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:12) where people were executed. It’s where he displayed the greatest single act of worship in history. Don’t let his purchase go to waste today.

This is a repost of the first post of a series I began nearly two years ago. Dusting off some cob-webs…

127 hours.

That’s how long it took Aron Ralston to fall into a cave, and hike back out.

127 hours.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, you’re missing out.

Firstly, the story is simply amazing; made even more so because it’s true.

Secondly, the visuals are mind-jarring in their ability to keep you engaged with what could have been a very long, very slow-moving film.

Thirdly, you get inside the head of someone who is desperate, and staring death in the face. This one facet alone was worth the time investment in watching this story unfold.

Without spoiling the movie (I think most of us are familiar with the story as reported by major media outlets in 2003), it struck me in thinking back about the movie how this story is a metaphor for the state of the church in the West, particularly in the U.S.

The film begins with Aron leaving to go do some cave climbing by himself. He has a great time getting out to the area where he is going to climb, several hours from his home. The next day as he first bikes, then hikes, into the wilderness, he has a lot of fun. It’s almost comical the level of enjoyment and the shear rush he gets from the adventure and the anticipation of the climb. Being a hiker and novice climber I can appreciate his exuberance. It’s as natural a high as anyone can have.

Later in the day, as Aron negotiates a descent into a cave he’s familiar with, everything goes terribly wrong. In the end, 127 hours later, he did the unthinkable, cutting off a full third of his own right arm in order to escape that cave and escape death. That’s right. He cut off his own arm.

How is this story a metaphor for the Church of God in the U.S.? Here’s how:

For some time (nearly 500 years) the Christian Church held a place of massive influence in most spheres of both private and public discourse and development. This time-span is commonly known as Christendom.

We were just sort of loping along through the years, enjoying the status that we had (gained through both holy and unholy methods), the prominence we enjoyed in society at large, the wealth we amassed as people willingly gave of their time, talent and treasure to see the Church continue to flourish. The Church was the seat and center of community experience, and it frankly never occurred to anyone that this might ever change.

But change it did…

…to be continued…

We will not fear…

Psalm 46:2

I think most people, including myself, get pretty freaked out at times. The world can be a scary place. The things that happen to us through the course of life can, at times, cause enough fear that we freeze; we freeze at a time and moment in our lives where we no longer progress, no longer move forward, no longer keep building and growing. We more or less quit. Stasis. Death.

I think this is more common than most of us even realize. At some point in our lives we can begin to play it perhaps too safe. We learn that we “can’t do it” and so we stop trying. The reasons for this are many, but I think most of them have to do with our fear of getting hurt. Hurt physically, hurt emotionally. Its the very few who actually keep moving forward. Many of the few who move on and keep risking, keep building and growing, etc. can be categorized as the very brave, the very ignorant, and even the very dysfunctional.

The Very Brave

Some people just have that thing in them. You know the thing I am talking about? It’s a kind of moral compass that brings them into situations and circumstances which require them to be brave. Bravery only happens when we fear something and when that something we fear threatens the well-being of ourselves or others. These kinds of people stick their necks out when others won’t. I’ve known a few people in my lifetime who fit this description. When others run away, they run toward. It’s just who they are. And though they share the same fear, uncertainty and anxiety that everyone does, they are not deterred by it.

The Very Ignorant

These people just don’t know that what they’re doing is even risky. They move through life with a kind of blissful obliviousness about them. They aren’t motivated to do hard things or to face danger because of some internal moral compass, they just don’t realize that there is a struggle going on around them. They don’t know that they should be afraid. These kinds of people can actually BE dangerous themselves because they tend not to take regard for the well-being of those around them. They simply assume everyone feels as they do. They often don’t measure the risk.

The Very Dysfunctional

Then there are those who gravitate toward risk and danger because they need to. The risk and danger they face at any given time represents something else for them. A war they are still waging. They need to risk. They need to feel the anxiety and experience the chaos. It’s a kind of therapy. A high. It reminds them they’re alive. These types of people are most dangerous because they don’t fight for a noble cause; they fight only for themselves.

A Fourth Category – The Very Faithful

These are very general descriptions, of course. Notice the reasons for facing risk and danger for each type of individual move in a progression: from self-sacrificial to no reason to self-centered. Outward > neutral > inward. But there is a fourth category. One that transcends the others. Psalm 46:10 says:

Be still (have no fear) and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

This is a totally different reason for “not fearing”. The motivation comes from another place. It doesn’t depend on our internal moral compass and our ability to pluck up the courage. It doesn’t require us to be ignorant. It also does not require that we possess some kind of weird internal struggle which motivates us to find danger and chaos and crisis. What it does require is for us to know Who is in charge.

Psalm 46 is a Psalm about conquering fear. It grants the first premise of courage which is:

There are things which are worthy of fear.

Courage (literally, strength of heart) is not the absence of fear, but the presence of faith in the midst of fear. And if the first premise of courage is true, that there are things which are worthy of fear, then it stands to reason that what we then require is a catalyst. Something that, when introduced into the mix, produces a sort of steadfast faith or unconquerable hope. That thing is actually a person; the God of Jacob.

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (v.7)

What we need is Someone who fears nothing. Someone of whom all others in fact should be afraid. Someone whose faithfulness and character are such that to know Him is to stand upon a Rock which cannot be moved.

We will not fear…

“But the oceans are roaring like a typhoon!

We will not fear…

“But the mountains are crumbling into the depths of the sea!

We will not fear…

“But your world is falling out from under you!

The God of Jacob is our fortress.

It’s not a fearlessness born of bravery, ignorance or dysfunction, but a fearlessness born of faith in a God Whose will cannot be resisted, Whose plans are holy, perfect and good, and Whose love casts out all fear.

Have no fear. The God of Jacob is your fortress. He will be praised among the nations. He will be exalted in all the earth. Selah.

I was once asked: “Isn’t it disingenuous for a Christian to develop a friendship with someone if there is an ulterior motive of leading them to Christ?”

The suggestion being made was that the value of the person and the friendship itself should be the driving force. Any ulterior motive for the friendship necessarily subverts and devalues both the friendship and the person being befriended.

At the time I was asked this question I wasn’t sure about what I thought, but thought that it was an interesting point being made.

As I’ve thought about it over the years though, I’ve come to the conclusion that the point being made is a red herring. Here’s why:

People do not have what might be called “intrinsic” value, actually no created thing or entity has intrinsic value. People have value that is conferred value. It is a value that is conferred on them due to the fact they are made in the image and likeness of God. This is what fundamentally drives a desire to appreciate, understand and get to know other people; we actually see something of the nature and character of God which attracts us to them or piques our interest in getting to know them as friends.

But there is a problem: this value, which has its origin in our invaluable God, has been marred by sin. And any and all relationships I might build with other people, any friendships I may pursue, are actually marred by this same sin. They can never know me rightly and I can never know them rightly due to the infection of sin. It is as if a great cancer has ravaged each of us so that we do not see who we actually are, but only the husk of what we were. The effort then is to remove and kill the cancer so that life in its fullness and relationship in its fullness can be restored and enjoyed.

If, in any friendship, we are trying to pursue the knowing of a person, it seems reasonable that we would want to remove all barriers in getting to know them and in our appreciating and understanding them.

This is quintessentially demonstrated in marital relationships where there must be no “fig leaf” of separation if the married couple hopes to develop a lasting, fulfilling, honest, beautiful relationship over their lifetime together. The couple must both be getting know Christ better and better and be expressing this knowledge of Christ more and more in order for this to occur. As Christ is pursued more and more, as He is glorified in the marriage, the relationship becomes deeper, richer and truer. Back to friendship.

If I am going to cultivate a friendship with anyone that gets better, that improves; becoming more open, honest, loving, giving, etc., it only stands to reason that it is essential to the dignity of the person and the friendship that I, as a follower of Christ, be in the friendship with an ulterior motive, actually a primary motive, i.e. that they may come to know Christ. That is my purpose. Why? Because this is what serves the friendship best. This is what preserves and improves the friendship best. This is what recognizes and appreciates the dignity and value God has placed in the person most vigorously.

In fact, the relationship cannot progress beyond the level of pleasantries if Christ is not the goal. It is the image of God which is under restoration in this other person and in me, therefore to pursue a friendship absent Christ would actually be a disservice, a dishonoring of the conferred value which God has bestowed on both me and this person.

Would I wish to see this dignity, image and value ever fully restored and redeemed? Would I wish to fully experience who this person is in all their conferred God-like-ness? Would I wish to know them as God has meant for me to know them and visa-versa? Then I cannot enter into any relationship where this pointing them, leading them, introducing them to Christ is not the goal. Anything less, and this relationship can only become a sin-marred perversion of what it was meant to be. Dishonoring to them, to me and to the God who lives in perfect triune relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. Rich, beautiful, joyful and good.

The purpose of friendship then?making sure that Christ stays at the center; that He remains the primary motive. Once we have come to know the truest friend, we will then be released to be a true friend.

So, the election is over. The commercials have, thankfully, ceased. The rhetoric is slowly decreasing from its fevered pitch and we are entering that relatively peaceful political space known as the lame duck session. I don’t know about you, but I have, for the most part, tuned out of the 24-hour news cycle, and am sort of in the process of crawling back into my little hobbit hole in the Shire, perfectly content to allow the world to begin to pass me by. I am tired, worn out, ALL of my people lost. You get the drift.

It is in times like this, in the midst of cultural and political upheaval, that Christians must continue to remember those things that are most important. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)

How, why are we to walk this way with one another? Why would Paul urge us to walk this way? Well, I’m glad you asked, Paul continues:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
(Ephesians 4:4-7 ESV)

Grace was given to each one of us. I forget that sometimes.

Fortunately, grace was given to me in my forgetfulness. Grace is a gift. It is given to us from God who is over all and through all and in all. Will I choose to look past political differences, even those I believe to be important, those that keep me up at night repenting for our nation, and choose to find the one Spirit in my brother or sister with whom I disagree?

Christian Fellowship is a spiritual discipline. It should be challenging, but it should also be a force for good in the world. A force which reminds each one of us that we are moving toward something much greater than we could possibly imagine. We are practicing for eternity with God, and he has given us the responsibility of demonstrating the coming Kingdom to the world around us now.

How will Christians live in fellowship with one another in the eternity that is to come? I am not so sure about the specifics, but I am absolutely certain that it will not look like what many of us all just experienced in this last election season. I think it may be the fulfillment of Paul’s vision for the church, which is really God’s vision.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

May each of us who call ourselves members of Jesus’ body demonstrate in fullness this most lovely command in our lives, in our homes, in our churches, in our communities. By this all people will know we are his disciples.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of attempting to write an entire album, not just an EP or a couple of singles, but an entire full-length, 12-song album, thematically based around the writings of C.S. Lewis would frankly be unthinkable to me. If you’re familiar with Lewis, you may understand what I’m talking about. Perhaps writing a song or two about Narnia, or about Perelandra would be feasible, but to write a song based on The Great Divorce, or The Problem of Pain, or Surprised By Joy or his classic and perhaps greatest essay The Weight of Glory, would be something else entirely. Somehow, Heath McNease pulls it off. In fact, he more than pulls it off, this may be my favourite album of 2012.

It’s up against some heavy hitters too, to my mind. Considering Andrew Peterson’s 2012 effort Light For the Lost Boy, or Andy Osenga’s most recent full-

length release Leonard the Lonely Astronaut,

I would put McNease’s The Weight of Glory right up alongside these in terms of its musicianship, lyrical creativity and intelligibility, and album scope.

There is not one moment on The Weight of Glory where the listener feels like they are hearing the same thing over again. Each song is masterfully crafted both musically and lyrically. And instead of simply taking a catch phrase of book title and then throwing some esoteric words around it, McNease does a spectacular job of binding these stories together in a poignant yet accessible way. You can almost hear Lewis at moments, especially in A Grief Observed and Perelandra, both almost brought me to tears.

Give this one a try, you will not be disappointed. The Best Album of 2012? That’s for you to decide, but you can be sure The Weight of Glory by Heath McNease does not disappoint. Download it for free from Noisetrade!

I received this question this morning:

Hello, Andy.
This morning I was reading in 1 John 5, where it talks about a “sin that does not lead to death.” What does John mean by that if Romans says that the wages of sin is death?

Here was my response:

Great question! I hope the following answer is helpful.

The immediate context of 1 John 5:15 is concerning eternal things. In verses 6-12 John is writing about those who believe in Jesus and those who do not. Those who believe in Jesus have “the testimony” in themselves. What is this testimony? Eternal life in Christ (v.11). Those who DO NOT believe God (i.e. that Jesus is his Son) call God a liar, and do not have this testimony (v. 10). They have eternal death, not eternal life.

So, the “life” and “death” that John is writing about here are eternal life and eternal death (not merely physical). John refers to this death in the book of Revelation as “the second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 20:14; 21:8). He is referring to the same thing here.

Indeed, all sin leads to death. In Romans Paul is making the case that we die physically because death reigns in us through sin like a terminal disease. Yes, this is true.

John is not disagreeing with Paul, he is simply talking about something else entirely. What John was specifically addressing here were those people that were saying that they had eternal life too, but did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. John is saying that this is not so (v.13). The Christians John wrote this letter to were unsure how they could know that they indeed had eternal life because they were being confused by those who were worshiping idols and saying that no, THEY actually had eternal life, NOT these Jesus followers. Chapter 5 of 1 John is all about giving the Christians assurance that they have inherited eternal life, NOT these idol worshipers. It is why he tells them in the last sentence of chapter 5 to stay away from idols, because they were probably tempted to turn away from Jesus and follow these other “deities”.

There is a sin which leads to [eternal] death. And that is the sin of calling God a liar. Essentially disbelieving that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If you think about it, this makes all the sense in the world since this is the reason we do evangelism: so that those who do not yet believe might be presented with the truth concerning Jesus Christ and be saved from this [eternal] death and receive in themselves the testimony of eternal life.

Thanks for the question! Have an awesome day!

~a

Oh, I almost forgot!

“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.”

Every time you see the word death in this paragraph you should insert the word “eternal” in front of it. There are sins which do not lead to eternal death. These are sins which we commit in our everyday living, and which we seek forgiveness for regularly. We repent from these sins specifically because we know that Jesus is the Son of God and that we are forgiven through his blood. These sins do not lead to eternal death because they are sins for which we receive forgiveness.

A little theological fun first thing in the morning. Might seem mundane to some, but I sorta love it.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 642 other followers