Then [Jesus] called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
What is worship? Is it just something we go to once a week, or possibly less? Is it something that you watch, as a spectator would? Is it something that you go to like a sporting event or a concert, looking to see how your emotions are changed, your needs are met?
My answer to that is that for some people, the answer is yes.
But I have to ask – is it worth it if that’s all worship is for you?
Why do you worship? What impact does it have on your life? How does it change you? Does it create an opportunity to encounter Jesus and have your life changed?
During the conference I was at last week, I heard the following statement:
Worship is a way of life, not something you go to and leave at the door on Sunday.
I love that statement. It sums up a theology of worship. Worship isn’t something you go to. It is a way of living.
St. Francis of Assisi was quoted as saying:
Pray without ceasing. And if you have to, use words.
Francis understood that worship goes far beyond just being in a church building.
Christianity isn’t a spectator sport. It’s a way of living. There is no off time for it. You don’t get to silo it or compartmentalized it to an hour-long time once a week and then go and do whatever you want to do.
Jesus wanted disciples, not spectators. I think the church does a disservice to itself if it focuses on just getting people to worship and not doing what Jesus called us to do – make disciples.
The sooner our churches move away from spectator worship and towards discipleship, the better we will be. Jesus wanted followers, not spectators. Jesus wanted people’s whole lives, not just a little time here and there when the schedule worked out.
Worship is an extension of discipleship and ministry. It also drives us out to do more ministry and discipleship.
This is what worship is to me.
I’m currently in Seattle, WA – at a training with mission developers. My focus is on poverty and homelessness. It’s been an interesting week so far. A lot of great networking opportunities, hearing about great ministry, and learning some great stuff.
A few things I’m taking away as we move towards wrapping up the training:
- There are some great people in ministry. People who are in mission development are a unique breed of people – very entrepreneurial. That’s not really a new insight. But it’s great to be around people like this. It’s great to be around people who come up with as many ideas for ministry as I do and not think it’s insane.
- Even while I’m away, ministry continues to happen – and sometimes there is no escape. Ok, often, there is no escape. As I was listening in to a conversation on homelessness and prison ministry, I was busy trying to help a friend find some kind of shelter for a few days. From three-time zones away. Technology makes this possible. Which is incredible and amazing. And it also is a constant reminder that there is no break for those caught in poverty and homelessness.
- We in the church need to have more fun. We get so wrapped up in our work and so stuck on being serious for worship that all to often we forget to have fun. Where there is life, there is fun. There is fun where there is health. Yes, the institutional church is in decline, but where are the things we can celebrate? Where are the things we can have fun with? There’s enough crap in the world to bring people down.
- There are plenty of things in the secular world that the church can learn from. I was in a bar last evening with friends. This was an incredible place. More than just a bar. It was a brewery. It was packed. I would estimate there was over 200 people inside. It was open and movement was easy. There were large tables, specialty groups (we saw a camera group, a medical group, a Birthday, and more). Dogs were welcome. And there was even a kids section. Games were available for guests – for free. Bathrooms were even different – one entrance with separate very private individual stalls, with a central hand washing station. It was packed – did I mention that? We sat and wondered what church would look like in such a location? Or if a church took on aspects of this. What would it look like? How would it be different? There was great life in the place, and a sense of openness and welcome. And it wasn’t forced. It felt natural.
As we wrap up, I come away with plenty more ideas and enthusiasm. I look forward to being back home, seeing my family, and trying out the ideas that have been learned. And seeing what God is up to and how we are creating environments where people will encounter God in unique ways.
I don’t want a comfortable Jesus. Comfortable Jesus is the type of Jesus that puts up with a lot of stuff because, well, he’s trying to be nice. Comfortable Jesus is about being nice above all else. Being nice means not saying things that would raise questions or point out injustices or hang out with “those” people. Comfortable Jesus is really just a nice guy you see at Starbucks every day on the way to work, but you really don’t know. Comfortable Jesus is a nice neighbor from down the street who you wave to when they are walking their dog past your house.
I don’t need a comfortable Jesus. I have all that already.
Would comfortable Jesus be willing to mix it up, get in people’s face, question things, point out injustice? Risk death? Of course not.
What I need is a Jesus who is willing to go through death and hell and come back. It’s not a matter of wanting it. It’s a matter of needing it. Because if things rely on me, then I’m screwed. I’m going to fail and fall. Over and over again.
I need a Jesus who is willing to act out what he claims. I need a Jesus that is willing to stand beside me in the worst of circumstances.
Thankfully, then I read Scripture I see that Jesus. I hear Jesus tell his disciples to follow him. This isn’t an invitation to a BBQ. It’s an invitation to drop everything and follow him – he is the Lord of our lives.
I hear Jesus tell those who would follow him:
‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
Take up your cross. That’s not something like a hang nail that is bothersome and a burden. That’s pick up the thing that will kill you and follow Jesus. Willingly. Jesus is talking about death here. Not avoiding it. Walking right into it. Why? Because Jesus knows that death doesn’t have the last say.
I want a Jesus who gets in my face and asks me:
‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you?
Yes, a Jesus who won’t make nice and settle for me only wanting to follow him some times.
I want a Jesus who talks about gnawing his flesh and drinking his blood and then pointedly asking me:
‘Does this offend you?
‘Do you also wish to go away?’
He might as well be asking me this – are you all in on me? Or is that a bit too much for you?
Simon Peter responds to Jesus question by saying:
‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life’
Right on Peter. I’m with you Peter. Where else are we going to go? Certainly not some politician or political party. Certainly not to money or work. Certainly not to patriotism or capitalism or socialism or any other ism that exists. Certainly not to sports or health. Nothing else offers salvation.
And what will carry me forward and give me a course of action when I see a homeless person in need, or a hungry person, or someone who is sick, or dying, or in prison, or in need of clothes, or a listening ear, or who is in a broken relationship, or anything else.
Where else can we go?
This is the faith that I need. It’s the faith that is offered to each of us.
I keep hearing how great our economy is. But I keep running into more and more people who are struggling to survive. I hear about how people have more money in their pockets, yet I find more people who have none.
Yesterday I was able to help a mother and her daughters have shelter for a night. They needed one night as they were working on their trailer to get it ready for tomorrow. I don’t know all the details, but I know this was a family in need. This was a time I could do something.
I also helped serve food to the homeless and poor in the nearby city. While there, I was approached by two individuals for help. One, a woman, was seeking transportation to Manhattan to “go home.” She was homeless and said that she had no money. There was no waiting until tomorrow – she had no where else to go. What was I to do? That kind of ticket is beyond my means. I gave her directions to a local shelter and prayed with her. I felt helpless.
The other gentleman approached me while he was in line getting food. He seemed upset. He inquired if I was the pastor at the church where the food was being given out. I wasn’t, I told him. He asked if the church would help him get a tent. He was currently sleeping under a tarp in the woods and it was starting to get a bit cold at night. While we talked, it seemed as though the church had let him down before – not necessarily this church, just the church in general. The snark in his voice gave it away. Would I be just another church person who would let him down?
Yesterday when I preached I talked about the child sex abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church. I have struggled with this story all week-long. So many victims. So many abusers. So much cover up. And for what purpose? To protect an institution? When the truth comes out like it has, how has the institution been protected? And why is the institution more important that young boys and girls? This isn’t just a Catholic Church problem either. It’s a human problem.
So many in need. Yet I keep hearing about the great economy. As if that will make it all better. It won’t. Don’t bother telling me about how great the economy is. The economy of the people I have been with is crappy. It’s poor. It’s broken their trust. It’s let them down. It has left them homeless.
So many in need. And yesterday I got to participate in a different economy – the economy of salvation. I presided at our regular worship services and offered something with great savings – Jesus, the living bread of heaven. I also had the privilege of offering communion to the poor and homeless before the meal they would eat. Many took the bread and ate it. I have no idea how many understood what they were doing. But taking communion isn’t about understanding it – as if it’s really understandable when you get to the core of it. Instead, this bread was life-giving bread. It was a reminder of the promise of Jesus to be with us until the end of the age. It was a reminder of the forgiveness of sin. It was a reminder that Jesus offers true food that fills us beyond our stomachs. It is food for the journey for these men and women – the journey of living on the streets.
This is the economy I know. This economy far surpasses any human economy and what it has to offer. In the economy of salvation, there are no recessions or depressions. There is only an abundance of the Bread of Life. So many in need. And more than enough of Jesus to go around. Better than any economy this world could ever offer.
Last evening was a Flying J night. There’s a core group of half a dozen or so people from our congregation who go over to Flying J truck stop twice a month to make sure people can get showers, get their laundry done, and get a meal. We work with individuals and families who live in the parking lot, who are homeless, struggle with poverty, live in motels, and more. Many work and are doing what they can to get from one day to the next.
Last night there was a total of 22 people. That’s the total between people from the church and our guests who come each Thursday we are there.
We know each of these people by name. Often, we know a portion of their stories too. In many instances we have been working with them for a few months now – trying to assist them in ways that they want help and how we can actually help. We aren’t the savior of these people though. We’re not there to fix them or solve all their problems. We can’t.
We go to Flying J for a reason. We go because these are people we are called on to reach out to, get to know, spend time with, and offer what we can. This is what ministry is really about. It’s not fixing others. It’s about being with people. It’s about reminding people of their humanity. We do that when we listen to people, when we hear their stories. When we eat with people. When we talk. When treat people with respect. When we can offer dignity.
In many places, the church is re-learning that ministry can be hands on. In some places, the church has been doing this for a long time. In some places, the church is learning this for the first time. Regardless, ministry is messy. Anything involving people tends to be that way.
But there are times to rejoice too. We rejoice when we experience joy with a family whose life together changes for the better. We rejoice when a family went from living in their vehicle months ago to securing employment and moving into an apartment. That is a joy not just for them, but for us too. We rejoice when we hear another one of our friends finds a job so that his family can start to look for a place to live.
Flying J has become more than a truck stop for me. It has become a place where I see friends and catch up on their lives. It’s a place where ministry happens. It’s a place where joy is shared. It’s a place Jesus shows up for both our guests and ourselves. And we get to encounter Jesus.
James 1:22 states:
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
I’m keeping it short today. No need for a lengthy post here.
How are doing in relation to James 1:22? Are you a doer of the word, or merely a hearer only?
According to James if you are only a hearer, then you are deceiving yourself.
Time to get honest.
Beliefs and ideas about politics are often really no more than theological statements dressed up in secular terms.
Maybe you disagree with that statement. But consider this, often politics offers something that theology has been about for a long time – a vision of salvation. In theology we have terms for this – soteriology and eschatology.
Bad theology is often deadly and destructive. It focuses on wrath, compliance, anger, and makes people suffer as a result. Bad theology allows for abuse and violence. Often these bad theologies find willing partners in political ideologies – a partnership of convenience.
When we hear politicians and others talk about salvation and a savior, it’s politics using theology. Now, you may not think that politicians talk in theological terms but let me point out a couple of recent examples. Remember when Obama was described as being like a savior? Or how about people saying that Trump was put here by God. How about every president invoking God’s blessing on the nation. Or that we are a special nation ordained by God. Those are theological terms that are hijacked for political purposes. When we hear about being a great nation (or great again), it’s no different from what the crowds were expecting from Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. People were thinking politics, but were really doing theology. They had an expectation of what a savior was. But Jesus had a different definition.
Don’t tell me to have theology stop at the border of politics especially when politics tramples all over theology all the time and has for centuries. As if theology shouldn’t have any effect on the public sphere. It does, which is why politics is often trying to use it for its own advantages.
Which is the foundation of the other? Is politics and ideology the foundation of life or is theology the thing that guides our decisions in both public and private life? Does politics and ideology inform our theology or does our theology inform our politics?
I would argue that most people place politics as the foundation of their lives. We seem to invest a great deal of time on politics, ideology, party loyalties, and politicians. Do we invest the same time, energy, emotion, and resources in to our theology? How many times do we hear about a political leader being like a savior who is going to save the nation or make it great again? Democrats and Republicans are both guilty of this.
How much time do we devote to opening the sacred scriptures of politics (news sites), listen to the religious authorities of politics (spin doctors on TV who tell us what to believe), give our tithes and offerins to the religion of politics (campaign contributions), listen sermons of politicians (speeches, tweets, etc)., and partake in apologetics of the faith of politics (defending the ideology from all attacks on social media, in person, or anywhere)? Do we give that kind of investment of ourselves into our faith? When is the last time you opened Scripture outside of church to read God’s word? Want me to go on?
If you believe that theology and faith are only a personal matter and they have no impact on the social or community, the polity, then I have some questions for you?
How do you square that belief with the Great Commission of Jesus? Matthew 28:18-20 states:
And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Jesus says “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” As in all. Not a separation between personal and the political. “Make disciples of all nations.” Do you think that might have an impact on policies that are implemented?
How do you square the belief of theology and politics being in separate realms, not impacting each other, with the whole idea of the kingdom/reign of God? How do you square it away with the image of Revelation 21. How do you square it away with the prophets of old telling kings what God’s words were? How do you square it away with the time before kings in Israel where God was the head and they had no need of a king?
How do you square it with Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey at one end of the city in contrast to Pilot entering at the other end on his horse with his soldiers? How do you square it away with the titles given to Jesus that had been reserved for Caesar, the Roman emperor – King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Savior of the World, Prince of Peace?
How do you hold onto the belief that theology and faith have no impact on politics and living in community when the bible shows that the idea is false through out it?
If our theology and faith don’t guide our whole life, including our politics, then what good is it?
How is that faith and theology going to bring about the kingdom of God? And do we really want the kingdom of God to come at all? The kingdom of God is all-encompassing, not just affecting your personal life. Throughout the Hebrew Bible we hear about God restoring the entire world, not just individuals. We hear about the salvation of Israel, not just individuals. In the Gospel of John, we hear that God so loved the cosmos, that he gave his Son. Not God so loved individuals – no, the entire cosmos, all of creation.
Which god do we lay our lives out in front of to determine how we will live – both personally and communally? Which god invites us to participate in the unfolding of a kingdom? God or some earthly kingdom and ideology and politician?
The book of Daniel is full of examples of politics stepping all over theology and faith. And there are consequences of this because God doesn’t care about these human made imaginary boundaries that we construct. They are human inventions.
Jonah is sent by God with a message for the a secular city and it’s rulers to change. Elijah flees for his life from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel because theology and faith are foundational for personal and public life and the politicians don’t like being put in their place as servants of God rather than gods over people.
The Apostle Paul, over and over again, suffers at the hand of politics and politicians, eventually being killed by politicians. John the Baptist is jailed and beheaded by politicians because he dares to speak faith and theology into the life of politics. Jesus suffers at the hand of politics, eventually being crucified by politicians because he is offering an alternative kingdom in contrast to the empire.
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 states:
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Hebrews 13:1-5 states:
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’
When we read Ephesians 4:25-5:2 and Hebrews 13:1-5, do we only see these as personal suggestions on how to live life? Do we put up walls to prevent them from being carried out publicly? Or at least have higher expectations for our elected leaders? Why? What is it about these passages that is so dangerous to our political system that we make excuses for behaviors, rhetoric, and policies that are in opposition to what is in Scripture?
Before you level the charge that I am suggesting or advocating a theocracy, I am not. Theocracies often end up being abusive, dangerous, full of violence, focused on compliance of action and thought. Theocracies are all about using absolute power over people. That’s not what the kingdom of God is about at all.
The questions I am raising are this – What does it mean to claim to be a follower of Jesus? Does it only affect our personal life? Is it acceptable to put Jesus on the side when it comes to our politics? Why is that acceptable? Why doesn’t our theology inform our politics, our policies, and our rhetoric? That doesn’t mean we need a theocracy. Far from it. It means we need to live out what we claim to believe in into all aspect of our life, whatever our political structure is.
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NRSV) states:
25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5:1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
This is a pretty good recipe for how to live if we claim to be followers of Christ – regardless of our calling and vocation. Would you agree with that statement? It’s easy to agree with that statement in a general sense isn’t it?
How do we measure up on this? How about those in leadership positions – both in the church in the secular world?
One argument I hear lately is that we didn’t elect this or that politician to be a saint, but rather to get a job done. The implication being that following Jesus’ way is a recipe for failure in the world. Instead, we apparently need people who are opposite of Jesus and his way to run things. We apparently prefer Caesar’s way to Jesus way of running the world. Who doesn’t love a guy on a horse brandishing a sword dripping with blood after all?
Considering that Jesus’ way got him killed, there is a valid argument for that. However, I don’t think Jesus really cared about the same things that our secular leaders do. Jesus wasn’t interested in accumulating power or wealth. He didn’t seem interested in making people fear him. He didn’t care about patriotism or raising an army and crushing the enemy with military might. He didn’t believe that the strong survive. He certainly didn’t believe in the ends justifying the means. He spent time with the lowest levels of society and the outcasts.
I suppose Jesus would never make a good president in America in modern times. But then again, his agenda isn’t about what is best for the nation, but rather the unfolding of the kingdom of God.
Often when I hear arguments defending politicians for their actions or words, some questions come to mind that I like to ask. Given what was said by a politician, would you defend the same words by a politician in the other party? Given the actions of a politician, would you defend those same actions if someone in the other party did them? If someone in the other political party got the same results, said the same things, acted the same way, treated people the same way, would you be defending this person the same way that you are for your favored politician currently? Be honest. Would you do that, or are your excuses really about loyalty to your political party and ideology over anything else.
I ask these questions because I think they relate to the Ephesians text. This passage from Ephesians is in direct contrast to how our world operates and has operated for centuries. This passage of Scripture, though, is radical in nature. It showcases Jesus way against and in opposition to Caesar’s way, the empire’s way. It comes down to this – where does our salvation lie? In Jesus and his way, or in some politician, political party, and their ways focused on strength and the ends justifying the means? Politicians and political parties come and go. But Jesus is eternal. I’ll take my chances with Jesus, thank you very much.
If you had to describe the Gospel, or church, or faith, how would you describe it?
Would it be described as something nice, or routine, or a given? How about church – is it something you go to or belong to? Is faith something you’ve learned? Is the Gospel just a book, or Jesus message?
These many be technically true, but they seem…lacking or ordinary. Maybe mediocre even.
Is that what Jesus is about – ordinary, lacking, mediocre? When you read or hear passages of Scripture, do you think of ordinary, lacking, and mediocre? Are you actually reading Scripture? When is the last time you cracked open the Bible on your own to read it? I’m not talking about what you hear at church either.
If you aren’t reading scripture, why not? Maybe Jesus, church, and faith just don’t have much impact on your life. Maybe they are nice, but that’s where it stops. Maybe you are afraid? Maybe you’re afraid that it will actually deliver on what is promised – a changed life. If your life changes, then you might not be in control. Here’s a promise – you won’t be in control.
The Gospel isn’t ordinary. It is extra ordinary. Anything that is life changing would be. Do you believe that the Gospel is life changing? Do you believe that it not only impacts your life, but changes it? Do you want that? Or are you too comfortable? Maybe you’re fooling yourself into believing that everything is going well. But I’m willing to bet a million dollars that something in your life is broken and not working. Something in your life is mediocre at best.
This doesn’t mean that the Gospel promises carnivals and blue birds on your shoulder. The Gospel doesn’t promise that your life will look and feel like a made for TV movie. Not even close.
Here’s what I know – Jesus wasn’t into mediocre and average. Jesus wasn’t into just surviving either.
He’s all about thriving. That’s what the Gospel is – thriving life, new life, death and resurrected life. That’s life that has changed. Life that is no longer in our own control.
If faith is only ordinary or routine, then it’s time to dump it. Only a faith that is extra ordinary will carry you through the difficult times that are coming for each one of us.