The law you use to accuse

41 “I do not accept glory from human beings,42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.44 How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God[d]?

45But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

John 5:41-45 NIV

The above passage came up at Missio on Sunday, and I was struck in particular by the words in bold. Specifically, I came across the idea that the law of Moses was the law they used to justify their place in society, it was the law they used to accuse. And yet Jesus says very clearly: this law you accuse with is a law you can’t meet yourself. You cannot hold up the standard you hold others too.

How amazingly true for us today. The church’s main message to society seems to ultimately be one of condemning the sexual ethics of the world and yet it is undoubtedly the sexual failings of clergy and church-goers that has torn so many communities and marriages apart.

The challenge then is not to sit back and hurl abuse at the sins of the church, but instead to ask: what is the law “on whom your hopes are set”. I’m not sure I’ve even got the self-awareness to know that for myself, but it’s a haunting and challenging question.


Be in the light

1 John 1:5-9

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all [b] sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

I had a bit of an Inigo Montoya moment with this one (you know the bit where Vizzini keeps saying “inconceivable” and then after a while Inigo says “I don’t think it means what you think it means). Well I don’t think this means what I thought it meant.

The book of the month for our Missio Dei crew is in actual fact all three of the numbered Johns, so in a moment of procrastinating from writing reports I started reading and didn’t get very far at all before I found something I needed to blurt about. For all my life: whether through poor teaching or (more likely) through theological laziness, I’ve assumed that wherever the Bible talks about “being in light”, I’ve equated that with some form of sin-management style “righteousness”. So being in the light means doing the good things, not doing the things from the dark-side, and mostly just being a nice guy.

But that’s not what I read here when I have another go. Because this does talk about sin, but it talks about says that when you’re in the light you “have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all [b] sin.” If “being in the light” was about not sinning then the sentence is farcical: when you don’t sin Jesus purifies you from sin.

Instead, what I’m reading here is closer to this: being “in the light” is about vulnerability with one another. It’s about being real about where we are: not “claiming to be without sin” and making Jesus a liar, but instead opening ourselves up to the harsh reality of light – letting the people you are in fellowship with see who you really are – warts and all.

So maybe this is not a new thing for most people, but I can’t remember hearing this taught on like this. Regardless, this represents a huge challenge for whatever brand of faith community you are a part of: being really honest with one another, genuinely transparent. In a similar vein, I wanted to share something from Pete Rollins’ “Ikon” community who have just done a thing on this theme:

Most of the time when we are with each other we are covered.  We have so much technology now – technology that shrinks the distance between each of us and makes all sorts of new communication possible.  And yet a lot of the time we still feel far apart from each other.  It is almost as if our virtual selves have become just that – almost selves hovering around our lonely and disconnected interiors.  Almost selves covered in the salve of technology bravely telling ourselves that we are showing our real selves for the first time.

But one of the amazing and frustrating things about being a human being is there is always the OTHER and nothing can get rid of it – nothing can span the space, nothing can take away the distance that exists between the OTHER inside and the OTHER in those around us.  That no matter how many beautiful words and liturgies we construct, no matter how warm and inviting the atmosphere we provide, no matter how much we want it that we will always be in a state of lack.

And what happens when we set down our props – our candles, music, multi-media and set pieces.  What happens when we only have our eyes, our ears, our mouths, our guts, our bodies to know each other with?  What happens when we sit down with our lack and the OTHER and try to speak?  What would we say?

PeterRollins.net – Naked

Hope that helps you think, anyway.


Soul Survivor 2010 – Hope

Soul Survivor 2010

We interrupt this complete lack of posts, to remind anyone and everyone that the Soul Survivor Festival is less than a month away, and if you’re in Melbourne-ish between April 7 – 11 you’d be mad not to at least drop by for a couple of days. Plus if you’re registering for the whole time you should get on down to http://soulsurvivor2010.eventbrite.com and register yourself today to save a cool $20. (Unless you’re reading this after the 19th of March, in which case I can’t help you).

And if you’re the sort of person who would be keen to lend a hand here or there, let me know and I’m sure we can find a job for you!


Scot McKnight hates sermons

OK. Maybe that’s not quite true. But he’s certainly advocating a fairly dramatic reconsideration of how we do “teaching” in churches, and specifically the place of the sermon in that.

“What is most needed is a complete spiritual formation approach to the entire church and for each person; outcomes need to be formulated by the leaders and the church so that the whole approach is embraced. Within the overall approach to realizing outcomes, which I would say are loving God, loving others and a life of holiness, sermons play a role and sometimes an important one. But serious formative changes occur when the individual and the group participate in, activate, and integrate what is being taught. (By the way, that last sentence requires pages of discussion.) And these formative changes take place within a set of outcomes. And, perhaps most importantly, they take place with spiritual directors, pastors, teachers and friends who come alongside to help a person.”

via Third Way Preaching: A Proposal – Jesus Creed.

There’s little doubt that this represents a fairly radical departure from the way that churches work: there’s still very little support for any model of discipleship that doesn’t include Sunday morning (or Sunday evening, or blah blah we’re so original on a Thursday) at the center, whether explicitly or just demonstrated in the way a church runs. The sermon has become sacred, a pillar of Christianity rather than a medium of communication.

Interesting thoughts at least.


What if the rest of the world gets it?

“I can never come to terms with a person who claims to be a man of God, spewing forth the hatred which we have seen this week in the USA….

The hate-filled pastor’s website claims he has no college education but he does have a good memory – by way of his committing to memory well over 100 chapters of the Bible, including almost half of the New Testament.

He might well remember that Christians are encouraged in the Gospels to love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Off Air: Hate from people who should know better

The quotes above come from ABC journalist Tony Eastley, talking about the bile that’s been coming from a number of “pastors” in the states. I was left with this disturbing thought:

Maybe the rest of the world understand Christianity better than the Christians do.


Soul Train – an event from Soul Survivor Melbourne

Soul Train - click to enlarge

Soul Train - click to enlarge

Some of you would be aware that both Rebecca and I are involved in Soul Survivor Melbourne, and Soul is putting on  an event for youth leaders and anyone interested in youth leadership. Basically, Soul Survivor UK head Mike Pilavachi (who is tweeting here if you’re so inclined) is out for the night, and it’s a great opportunity to hear from and pick the brain of someone with an enormous collection of experience in youth ministry. Plus it’s free and there’s likely to be some food, so what have you got to lose.

Details:

Tuesday 13 October, 6:30PM – 9:30PM

Melbourne City Conference Centre, 333 Swanston St Melbourne (Opposite the State Library).

Thanks for your attention, you can now expect a return to your regular service of advertisement free, mindless drivel.

(Actually – before we do return to regular programming – does anyone know of a good event registration service? Doesn’t matter too much if it’s hosted or not, but we’re looking at a possible new one for Soul and would love to hear from anyone with experience in that area…)


How do you punch God in the face?

You’re looking for explanations
I don’t even understand
If you need someone to blame
Throw a rock in the air
You’ll hit someone guilty
U2 – Dirty Day

There are absolutely times when it borders on dishonesty to try to pretend that you don’t want to throw a punch at God, to make him see that you’re really not happy with how things are going down here. To show some solidarity. Make him feel it.

Last Sunday a close friend’s mother died, from complications after undergoing chemotherapy. She’d barely been sick a month, and it was all nice and manageable and then suddenly it was over. These things aren’t supposed to happen. News reports have been centred around a 16 year old kid who was killed in a fight at a school. All reports indicate that the kid who was killed wasn’t even involved in the original fight, but got enveloped in the ensuing brawl.

In amongst all this, I’ve just started reading John Shore’s blog, and he’s dealing with the news that his wife has cancer. Below is an excerpt of his conversation with God on the issue, but have a read of the whole thing.

Me: I don’t expect to be exempt from the ravages of death and its ugly cousins.

God: I know you don’t.

Me: But dang, man.

God: I know.

Me: Yeah, you know everything. That’s great for you. Meanwhile, all I know is that my wife might have cancer. If that’s part of any freakin’ plan of yours, count me out. Skip me. I’ll pass.

God: I can’t do that.

Me: I know. I know. I know.

God and I Discuss My Wife Having Cancer >> JohnShore.com

Words fail. Platitudes fail worse. The vast majority of my theology fails. Bah!


Taking credit for calamity

I’m feeling very displeased. There are few things that make me more frustrated and annoyed than seeing Christians sink to wanting to use some kind of disaster to prove why their point about theology is true and accurate. Even worse: the man participating in these actions is not an easily ignored wacko like the (God hates fags) Westboro Baptist guys, but instead it’s coming from John Piper. Now whether you agree with most of what he says or not (and I certainly disagree with a decent bit of it), at least I’ve always felt that you can respect Piper: and respect that his positions are based on an honest interpretation of God’s word.

But this is beyond the pale. Basically, while the “Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s national convention” was going on, a tornado went through Minneapolis (where the conference was being held),  ripped the tents around the convention centre to pieces and broke the steeple on the church being used by the convention. Apparently this all happened while the convention was discussing “Consideration: Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality.”

So John Piper decides to “venture an interpretation of this Providence with some biblical warrant.” He goes on to make 5 points which lead him to his conclusion. The first three I’ll leave alone: they’re basically just Piper reinforcing his theology (homosexual acts are sinful, churches shouldn’t be advocating sin). While I’m not comfortable with the exact language used there (because I’m all namby-pamby liberal like that), I’d hold a similar position in terms of the content there.  But then it gets a little bit crazy.

4. Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:41)

My parents have a dog called Dood. He’s a good dog, so when I tell him to sit: he sits. Friends marvel, and say to me “Who then are you, that even your dog obeys you”. However, that doesn’t mean that everything Dood does is because that’s what I told him to do. Likewise: the quote above is in reference to the disciples wondering aloud after Jesus has calmed the storm which was making life difficult for some seasoned fishermen. There’s no implication in the story that Jesus made the wind and waves do that in the first place. None.

5. When asked about a seemingly random calamity near Jerusalem where 18 people were killed, Jesus answered in general terms—an answer that would cover calamities in Minneapolis, Taiwan, or Baghdad. God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment.

Jesus: “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

Maybe I’m just crazy here, but let me tell you what I hear happening in this story and I’m more than happy to be told how wrong I am. First, lets pull a few more verses so we’ve got something like context:

13 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  2 And he answered them,q“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  3 No, I tell you; but unless you rrepent, you will all likewise perish.  4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  (Luke 13:1-5)

Jesus has people tell him about a couple of recent disasters. He asks if they think that because bad stuff happened to these people that they were any worse than them. If they do, they’re wrong, because we’re all in need of repentance. So in other words “don’t read into a recent disaster that those people must be wrong about something”. Surely that’s what Jesus is saying here, isn’t it?

6. Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand how you get there from here. It’s when you do stupid things like this that make me want to agree with the liberal theological standpoint just because they sound less crazy.

There’s got to be someone out there who wants to tell me why I’m wrong, and I’m in just the mood to hear it.

4. Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:41)

5. When asked about a seemingly random calamity near Jerusalem where 18 people were killed, Jesus answered in general terms—an answer that would cover calamities in Minneapolis, Taiwan, or Baghdad. God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment.

Jesus: “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

6. Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.


Ethics of Beauty

Mark Sayers has a great story on his blog that demonstrates something I’ve been thinking about a bit before:

Not too long ago after one of my talks, I was approached by a graphic designer with an ethical question. The designer did a lot of work for Churches and Christian conferences; the designer asked me “Is it right for Christians to use stock photography of attractive people in order to promote churches, ministries or Christian events?”

via Stock Photography, The Ethics of Beauty and the Early Church « Mark Sayers.

It’s a fascinating question, and for my mind it strikes directly at a part of the culture’s gospel that we’ve often accommodated into our own. The association between a person’s worth and their physical attractiveness is such a violent and damaging lie, and there is little doubt that the vast majority of preachers would reject that link from the pulpit. But when we feature exclusively attractive, well dressed in marketing for events, churches and cds – we sing the same song as the rest of the world. More from Sayers’ post:

The Pagan worship of the Greco-Roman world was marked by an emphasis on status and physical attractiveness. The civic pagan festivals featured parades of prominent citizens, renowned athletes and well to do young people who were known for their physcial perfection. In short the parades would feature the beautiful, the rich and the famous. However in contrast, the early church totally subverted this status based, superficially obsessed religious system.  The early church lived by the following,

11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:11

28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:28

This radical equality was almost unimaginably offensive to the Greco-Roman world obsessed with status and physical perfection. Yet for the millions within the Greco Roman world who were ordinary women, slaves, servants, manual labourers and generally not part of the elite, this radical new Christian concept of equality regardless of social status, looks, and economic position could not be more relevant.

What an important message for this shallow world.


Best definition of “parables” ever

Adrian Plass - the man with the quote

Adrian Plass - the man with the quote

Saw this on the Jesus Creed blog and knew I had to share it: it’s from Adrian Plass:

Parables: stories that entertain you at the front door while the truth slips in through a side window and sandbags you from behind.

via Plass-isms – Jesus Creed.

Very good.