Tuesday, January 25, 2011


that's what i think i'm gonna have after january 2011...a great big bewilderment, wondering 'where did that month go?'

everything has been full steam ahead, pedal stomped to the floor for about 6 weeks. youth center. permits. money. fundraising. 2010 fiscal year. 2011 budget. bill's jag. 4 doctoral students. carmel's new job. common time. lent. shane's hire. xp search. new after-school schedule. staff/elder retreat. paranoia. hypertension. mad pastor's disease.

thankfully, i find myself in a tiny little window of reprieve. i have this week to sort-of catch my breath, and then launch 200% into next week. next week i write the atlas on lent (which, btw, is the most horrifically boring topic imaginable...i've read almost 40 books on lent and not one, single sentence/paragraph/thought has expressed anything other than malaise and depression..."bright sadness" ha! says who? how about super-depressing-emo-weirdness-with-a-twist-of-catholic-guilt-and-sprinkled-by-antideluvian-liturgics?)

after i finish up with lent (hopefully offering something of marginally higher value than the drivel i've been reading), i'll be focusing on choosing our xp (down to just a couple of candidates now), and then ramping up the ww second campus which will eventually launch over at the youth center.

to clear up any confusion, the youth center is - and always will be - primarily a youth center. even once we start holding adult worship services there (which has always been part of the plan) that building will be primarily for teens. think of it as space we're renting...from ourselves...for free. we won't be un-youth-ing it, neither will we be limiting the youth-usage of it. but in the off-time for youth ministry, when it would otherwise remain empty (which is to say before noon) we will loan it to ourselves for church.

anyway, i'll get going on that soon enough. i really do need to chillax a little this week, though. i tore someone's head off this sunday in the lobby. it was ugly. they said "you guys don't care at all about jesus, all you care about is entertainment" then later "why do you need a youth center, the disciples didn't need $250 K to do ministry." i think at any other time, which is to say when i'm not feeling a little stretched thin, i would have responded graciously and calmly explained our rationale for why we're doing what we're doing and how. instead, i screamed at this poor idiot in the lobby.

bad form, davey...bad form.

so, yeah, i need to do a better job this week of recharging my batteries and managing my spirit; which, for me, ironically doesn't mean praying more or reading more scripture (i do that A LOT), but instead means wrestling with my kids, eating with my wife, playing mass effect 2, reading 'last argument of kings' in prep for 'heroes' and dreaming about 'game of thrones' on hbo.

alright - that's me, and that's all

for now


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

wrong religion (excerpt from "common time: living the life of christ until it becomes our own"

"It is a mistake to think that God is chiefly interested in religion."
- William Temple, 20th Century Archbishop of Canterbury

One of the first and truest clich├ęs that any Christ-follower learns is that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.

Sadly, the potency of that statement is diminished by the frequency of its appearance, especially on bumper stickers, bracelets, and t-shirts. (Nothing holy should go on a bumper, by the way. If you’re not ready to live it, you’re certainly not ready to weave it through traffic. If you are already living it, you recognize that brandishing it like a slogan sort of undermines it in the first place.)

We have difficulty living with God. That’s why religion is such a comfort. Religion compartmentalizes God, gives us clear rules for how not to tick Him off. It segments and augments the things we should be doing instinctively, turning our behavior into merits and demerits for glory or gore.

Though it has been pointed out before, our relationship with God can be understood as any other relationship. My relationship with my wife, for example, has “rules” of a sort: don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t mistreat, don’t neglect. But if I did nothing but follow those rules, our marriage would sorely lack romance. We wouldn’t be fostering love, we’d be cohabiting a contract.

Forgive us for wanting something more.

The sports world also provides an adequate parallel. Did you know you can successfully play a full soccer match without breaking any rules simply by standing at midfield and never moving? Technically, you’d be keeping all of the rules; you’d be on-side, you’d never tackle from behind, you’d never touch the ball with your hands. But in reality you wouldn’t be fit for the national team of Liliput.

There must be more to relationship than rules. There must be more to God than religion.

But we often fail to see it, and further fail to experience the thrill of living it. Jesus tried to demonstrate this with his numerous confrontations in the Temple, on the Sabbath, and against the religious powers of his day. He wanted them to know they were completely missing the point. They kept the rules, but they were playing midfield statue soccer. They obeyed everything they were supposed to, but there was no romance in their divine marriage.

For them, everything was legislation, a spiritual bureaucracy, an adventure in missing the forest for the trees.

In this section we will look at four episodes of Jesus’ life that placed him into direct conflict with the religious establishment of his day. These episodes demonstrate clearly that Christ understood the relationship between God and His people to be broken and in need of reconciliation. We need to be reconciled to God for our sins, but we also need a further reconciliation--a deeper and more holistic healing, if you will--of our basic understanding of how this relationship with God is supposed to work.

The first episode I’d like to examine is the famous Temple Tantrum, found here in John 2.13-22:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market! His disciples remembered that it is written: Zeal for your house will consume me.

The Jews then responded to him, What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?

Jesus answered them, Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. They replied, It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?

But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Let’s be clear: what Jesus did here was like attacking the Bank of America. He went right into the heart of the culture and economy of his own people and blasted them for exploiting and living unjustly.

Jesus’ action gave a clear warning, not only to his original audience, but to future audiences as well. He made it clear there is no place for those whose minds are filled with religion-for-hire or who seek to prostitute the gospel for the sake of position, favor, or authority.

Nehemiah, a 5th Century BCE Jewish governor, did much the same thing when confronted with Temple fraud. In his case, he learned that the high priest had been renting out rooms in the temple and skimming from the rations of the temple workers in order to curry favor with foreign dignitaries. In his anger, Nehemiah broke into the temple storerooms and cleaned them out, fired everyone responsible, and tore out the hair of the high priest.

Jesus followed in Nehemiah’s footsteps, modeling that same kind of single-minded devotion to God for us.

Jesus’ clearing of the temple took place in one corner of the large building. Though the story makes it seem like his temple cleansing was the main event, in reality, Jesus probably only interrupted a very small portion of the temple business that day. However, the aftershocks of his activity went far and wide. The area in question was the Court of the Gentiles, measuring roughly the size of ten football fields, contained within the temple complex which was about three times larger – and the likely commotion would have been equivalent to a cheerleader kicking a linesman in the shin at halftime. That’s not to say it wasn’t significant. Many people would have seen and been startled, and news would have spread fast. But it wasn’t on the scale of WWE Smackdown or the Main Event at Caesar’s Palace.

Jesus was specifically confronting the wanton slaughter and selling of animals for huge profits to the priests and their black market thugs. The doves mentioned in the story were the only sacrifices that the poor could afford, while the cattle were the more extravagant offerings available to the upper class. Since the Court of the Gentiles was meant to be the place where anyone could come and offer sacrifices in appropriate ways (and without inappropriate fees or interference), and since many of the people who came to offer those sacrifices traveled a great distance and would have arrived totally burned out and exhausted, it is easy to understand why Jesus was so intolerant of this criminal behavior.

Furthermore, notice that the first thing Jesus did was to scatter the animals and set them free (v. 15). Prior to Jesus’ Temple Tantrum, the road to redemption was paved with the blood of animal sacrifice and priestly intercession, but Jesus changed all of that for good. His compassion for the outcast spilled over into his passion for the animal inhabitants of the world. There is no biblical record that Jesus ever participated in animal sacrifice, nor did he advocate that his followers do so. Clearly, Jesus had in mind that the old system of killing animals would be replaced by a new system predicated on a sacrifice of a very different kind.

The blood of animals was replaced by the blood of Christ himself.

Jesus replaced one kind of sacrifice with another, also replacing the old temple with the new temple of his body (see verse 21). Now, instead of sacrificing animals and offering them to God, Christ has sacrificed and offered himself to God on our behalf, and it is in communion that we recognize the sacrifice of his broken body and shed blood.

"The meal where Jesus becomes bread for our bodies is the divine substitute for animal sacrifice."
- Len Sweet, 21st Century American futurist and theologian

The church is now the community in which the sacrifice of Jesus is embodied. We carry his sacrifice with us wherever we go (see 2 Corinthians 4.10), and in so doing keep a constant reminder that it is not our forms and functionality that make us holy, but our relationship with the God of the Universe who descended into the world to die for the world.

At this point it may be very easy to become smug, to look back at those temple servants and wonder how they could have ever missed the boat to such a degree. But I caution you against doing that, because the same sins that plague them--and that plagued the temple servants in Nehemiah’s time--plague us now.

We still commodify religion. We still prostitute the gospel. We commercialize religion and advance our own agendas over and against the mission of God to heal the world.

There are obvious examples of this to excess: TV preachers, political Protestants, denominational lackeys. But it is the less-obvious examples that deserve a little space and criticism here.

For my own church, I think we’re pretty careful not to co-opt the gospel for political or financial purposes; however, I do think we oft en run the risk of expropriating the gospel for social causes and anti-establishment rants and raves. Ours are the left -wing sins that mirror the sins of the right-wing infatuation with the military industrial and entertainment complex, but are themselves no less sinful.

We join churches because they stand up for what we already believe in: that people matter, that human rights matter, that human dignity matters, that ecology matters…and they do! But then we get impatient with the pace of the gospel mission and seek to short-circuit the plans and purposes of God.

Simply put, God’s mission sometimes takes longer than we would like. Our agendas are not oft en patient enough to wait for God’s mission to bear fruit. As a result, when we don’t see our churches doing enough social justice, or when they seem to be spending too much on frivolities like building maintenance, or wasting too much paper, or not speaking out loudly enough against whatever the current foreign military occupation has designed, we become nasty and mean-spirited. We treat others with contempt, and we ignore the movement of the Spirit in our own lives, thwarting the transformation that God wants to see in us in favor of the transformation that we hoped to see in the world through us. We justify our hate with geopiety. We comfort our intolerance with a shift less grace that allows us to feel safe from God’s judgment so long as we’re judging those who haven’t figured out what we already claim to know.

But we’ve really just traded one set of sins for another, haven’t we? We’ve polarized our unrighteousness and called it holy because it doesn’t look like the unrighteousness of those we feel privileged to have rebelled against.

The Democrat only sees the sins of the Republican, and vice versa.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
Matthew 7.3

This is why Westwinds has adopted a three-fold mission statement. We want to focus not only on the transformation of ourselves as image-bearers of God, not only on the beautiful community of God’s people in which His will reigns supreme, but also on the ultimate reconciliation of the world back into a perfectly ordered and harmonious planet.

That’s why we tell our people we’re here to shadow God, build the church, and heal the world.

Shadowing God reminds us that we must stay in step with God’s plan for us as individuals. We are never fully formed; we are always works-in- progress. That work progresses only by staying in step with the Spirit and being constantly malleable to and edited by God.

Building the church means we recognize Christian spirituality is not an individual sport. Church is plural, and God’s purposes for reconciliation involve us sorting out our relationships with the people around us.

Healing the world connotes the fact that our salvation is neither merely privatized nor communized, but expressed most faithfully in mission. We invite the Spirit to change us and to create a holy community of similarly simultaneously changing people, so that together we can effect change in the world.

Shadowing God protects us from either just being content to remain crappy people but have lots of church-y friends, or just being involved in some kind of social agenda with no real ethic of personal transformation.

Building the church protects us from either just focusing on our own spiritual experience to the exclusion of those around us, or just diving into random projects as a means of escaping human interaction, laughter, learning, or solidarity with those in pain.

Healing the world protects us from either being really great moral examples who are so ‘heavenly minded as to be no earthly good,’ or creating little ecclesial communes who focus only on those with club-member elite status, content to let the pagans, or their forests or their ozone, burn.

There’s a trifecta at work in the ministry of the church, a three-legged stool that simply cannot function well while balancing on only two (or, God-forbid, one) leg. What God really wants from us, His people individually and corporately as the church, is that we come to Him in open relationship, embody the sacrifice of Jesus, and work to reconcile ourselves and others to Him and His mission to heal and to save.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, January 10, 2011

westwinds youth center

yesterday we announced that we will launch out ww youth center in march of this year. it's going to be a significant push forward for our church, but a crucial one. we believe in the power of the gospel to change people's lives, and this feels like the right next step to do that at scale.

looking for some html that incorporates audio into blogger

i often use a dictaphone (an iphone app) to process my thoughts. it records your voice, like an answering machine message to yourself, and allows you to review and store your ideas.

i use mine 5-8 times a day.

i wish there was a way to upload those audio (.caf) files to blogger, so i could 'audio blog.' there must be. tumblr has a widget for that, and i've made use of it in the past (http://guerillahost.tumblr.com), but i wish blogger had easy access to one.

any help out there?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Common Time (a preview)

I can probably think of six exceptionally spiritual moments in my whole life:

Johnny Markin praying for me at an altar in a Surrey gymnasium. I was so overcome by emotion that my nose turned into a faucet and my mom had to bootleg Kleenex to me at the front of the church.

A youth retreat in Whistler. I got my first glimpse into the invisible world…and learned about girls.

Meeting Rocky Tannehill and staying up all night at his place talking about God. When I got home, I collapsed in my front hall, crushed by the guilt of my rebellion.

Holding my children, newly born and still covered in gloop. I realized I knew nothing about God at all because I knew nothing about fatherhood.

Dancing in worship with my friends, Barry and Erika Crocker, from Australia, soaking my Fender Jaguar guitar in olive oil, laughing and singing.

Grieving with Jvo over the staff cutbacks at the Winds, my first massive failing as a pastor, followed quickly by the death of our friend Randy.

That’s it. Six exceptional moments. Thing is, I count myself lucky. Not everyone gets moments like those, let alone a half-dozen. And, I don’t mean to suggest those were the only times of spiritual consequence in my life – far from it! It’s just that those were exceptional experiences that marked and shaped me forever. They were times when I felt the veil between heaven and earth thin out and I was alive in glory.

But those moments are rare.

I might not even have another six before I bite the biscuit, pay the piper, or wake up dead for the long goodbye. But herein lies an incomparable spiritual truth:

Our spirituality is not forged in the exceptional,

but in the average.

It’s not founded on the extraordinary,

but the ordinary.

The infinite truths of God

are most often expressed in the everyday.

Yet somehow, spiritual people often forget that the biblical model for transcendence is more holiness-as-usual than rapture, climax, and abandon. Thankfully, our Christian heritage has established sound rituals for reminding us that ordinary time matters.

In the liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time is the season during which there are no feasts or festivals. It is the Time between Times during which we refuse to be overwhelmed by the distraction of celebration and lamentation, pomp and poignancy. Life, after all, is more ordinary than not, more business-as-usual than ecstasy, orgasm, and peril. Ordinary Time is for us to live like we normally ought, governed by the driving truths of the faith – therein lies enough spirituality for a lifetime.

Strictly speaking there are two seasons of Ordinary Time:

the first, Common Time, occurs between Epiphany and Lent;

the second, Kingdom Tide, occurs after Trinity and before Advent.

They are both lengthy seasons, and they both concern the foundations of the church.

Kingdom Tide is about the birth of the Church. Common Time is about the episodes during the life of Christ that influence who the people of God will later become.

Christ came to reconcile and to heal. He provides the source material for what it means to be the church.

Allow me to explain:

The church is an agency of healing. By that I really mean something like a place for healing – but not a place like a park or, even, a hospital. I mean something more like a headquarters, a place with a mandate or a mission – more CIA than Hollywood Boulevard. When I think of the church as an agency of healing I think of it (as I’m convinced the Bible does also) as a collection of people committed to one allegiance with one mission: to heal the world. I define this healing rather holistically as, again, I’m convinced the Bible does. It is spiritual healing, emotional healing, psychological healing, social healing, physical healing, relational healing, counteracting the effects of the all-encompassing corruption brought on by sin.

The church is an agency of healing, a people called to fix what’s broken.

The church, also, is an agency of healing doing the ministry of reconciliation. Meaning, the primary ways in which the church heals are relational (i.e. reconciling two parties back together again). That ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (which Paul speaks about in 2 Corinthians 5) can be traced back to the initial relationships that God ordered in Genesis 1 and 2 – our relationship with God, our relationship with others, our relationship with our true selves as image-bearers of God, and our relationship to Creation. Though Paul explicitly refers to only the relationship between ourselves and God in 2 Corinthians, he speaks explicitly about the reconciliatory nature of the other three relationships in many other places throughout his letters (more on that later). The church is an agency of healing that is working to reconcile us to God, to other people, to our true selves (how to live the way God intended for us to live), and to Creation (everything that has been made by God).

The church is in the business of healing and reconciliation. We fix, and are fixed ourselves.

Based on the life of Christ between Baptism and Transfiguration (the traditional scope of Common Time), we gain insight into who we are as the people of God and what we’re collectively supposed to do as the church.

If Kingdom Tide is about the birth of the church, then Common Time is a sonogram showing us the church in the Gospel womb.

In his life, Jesus showed us what we must later do ourselves. Imagine him explaining football to an eager group of athletes as they sit together in a diner. Jesus can take out a napkin, and draw all the positions on the field and explain all the rules of play. He might even get rambunctious and jump up from the table, kicking an orange around the restaurant, jovially showing his young friends how it all works. Later, those athletes will go out and play the game for themselves, on a full-sized pitch with teammates and uniforms.

But for now they watch Christ and learn what they are expected to do.

That’s what Common Time is.

In this book about Common Time, we will look at 6 episodes from the life of Christ to figure out [1] what he did and why he did it and [2] what we’re supposed to do as a result. During Common Time we live the life of Christ until it finally becomes our own. Together, we must become an agency of healing in the ministry of reconciliation just as he worked to reconcile and to heal.

The transformation from Christian to Church is explored through episodes of baptism, Sabbath, blindness, storms, outsiders, and transfiguration. By examining these lodestones of Christian spirituality, we will come to a clearer understanding of Christ’s life and mission, and his mandate for the life and mission of the Church.

Christianity Under Siege in the Muslim World

Christianity Under Siege in the Muslim World

Monday, January 03, 2011

Christmastide, part five


In Luke 24.13-35 we read about two disciples (not among the 12) walking along the road who are joined by Jesus after his resurrection. The disciples were lamenting about Jesus’ death and about all their washed-up hopes for a messiah. But Jesus gently pushes back against their negativity and, over dinner, finally reveals who he is and how much power there is in his resurrection.

In many ways, the Emmaus Road story is very similar to Christ Among the Doctors. In both stories, people have lost Jesus and despair of finding him again. And in both stories the same people are surprised at how and where Jesus is found.

Jesus, it seems, is a little more elusive than we might first have thought.

I’ve often found Christ to be a bit slippery. Every time I think I've got him figured out, every time I think I really understand him, he seems to slip away from me – either because I’ve read something new in the Scriptures or I’ve read something old in the Scriptures in a new way and understood it differently through prayer or conversation or meditation – and I have to drop everything and eagerly pursue him.

Mary and Joseph and all their friends and family had made the pilgrimage for Passover, but as soon as the holiday was over, they hit the road anxious to get back to their normal lives. But young Jesus refuses to let his relationship with God be regulated according to some culturally contrived calendar.

They left, but he stayed.

Therein lies an important lesson for all of us: We mustn't assume Christ is accompanying us as we go off on our own business. Sometimes, we get eager and jittery to get back to “business as usual,” but Christ wants us to stay rooted in his Father’s house and in his Father’s mission to heal the world. If and when we sense the lack of his presence, we must be prepared to hunt for him – in prayer, in the Scriptures, in worship, in community – and not to give up until we’ve got him back again.

And let’s be careful that we don’t idealize sitting around and praying and studying at the expense of active participation in the world around us. Remember that even though he started out in the Temple, Jesus finishes this episode of his life by obediently following Mary and Joseph back out into the world, where he belongs.

* * *

Taken together, these key features are reminders that, through his Advent, Christ has come into the world to save and to heal. As we’ll see in the following section concerning Common Time, he demonstrates the manner of saving and healing by the way he lives and interacts with others.

Christmastide, part four


We sometimes forget that in the time before Christ entered the world, God’s presence was congealed within the Holy of Holies in the Temple. So it was with great religious ardor and spiritual significance that pilgrims journeyed from all over the ancient world to reach the Temple and offer sacrifices there. Jesus understood the holiness of the Temple, just as he understood that the Temple was where he would learn to please his Father.

We ought not forget that the Temple was special.

Entering the Temple was like entering God’s secret lair

hidden behind the bookcases,

holding the original Torah,

accessed by pressing a hidden switch

beneath a fancy lamp.

Despite the fact that the church and the Temple are not the same, I still cringe a bit when I hear people speak derisively about the church. If nothing else, the church is a spiritual kind of Temple-descendant, and I think we’ve allowed our awe to erode whenever we treat it so lightly.

But the Temple is no longer standing, for it was destroyed both figuratively (see John 2) and literally (by the Romans in AD 70). Furthermore, the clear teaching of Scripture is that we are now the Temple – the secret location of God’s Presence – both individually (see 1 Corinthians 3.16-17) and corporately as the church (see Ephesians 2.19-22). Which means that the Holy Place is in you. When we come together as His church, that holy Presence is once again manifested in us (see Matthew 18.20).

While he may have declared that "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Luke 9:58), Jesus was never truly homeless. God the Father was always in residence in Jesus' heart. And, after his twelve-year old truant-trip to the Temple, Jesus learned to take his Father's house with him wherever he went.

Jesus could never be lost or alone:

even when he argued with the scribes and Pharisees

he used to learn from,

even as he endured the cluelessness

of his uncomprehending disciples,

even as he separated himself

from his confused and doubting family,

even as he felt the heat of the political power's anger,

even as he faced betrayal by those he loved most,

even as he hung on the cross.

Jesus' human parents taught him how hard love will search for the lost.

Len Sweet, 21st century American futurist and theologian

Always and everywhere Jesus was at home with God's presence and love. As an adult, Jesus took the knowledge of this intimate, unbreakable bond between himself and the Father on the road. Everywhere he went was home. Everyone who loved him was family. Jesus isn’t the only one that experiences this kind of everywhere-at-homeness – all lovers and followers of Christ do too.

Let me give you an example of how this works in real life:

Have you ever traveled for business or school and met people meant to be your chaperones or hosts or guides? They’re usually polite and hospitable, but things are always a little awkward. You don’t want to impose and they don’t really want you to overstep your bounds, and everyone is always concerned about the event or situation, whatever it may be – meeting, concert, etc.

But things aren’t like that when you travel with church groups. In my travels all over the world – 27 countries, 18 trips, 12 teams – I always experience exuberance and joy, laughter and love and celebration right away. Why? Because I’m home when I’m with them. Because when we get together it’s a reunion, even if we’ve never previously met. We hug and sing and tell stories late into the night, and it’s often better than it is with most of our natural and biological families because there is something deep binding us one to another.

That’s the family of God. That’s the Temple for today.

We experience that in church, too – oh, not to the same degree since many who come to church are coming for the first time and are unsure about where they stand with God. But for those who know what team they’re playing on, every Sunday is like a picnic or a graduation or an open house. There are always plenty of jokes and someone usually sneaks in food or an inappropriate comment. Then many go out for the after-party, lunch at Applebees or something. And like any good party, there will be a few folks huddled in corners trying to get over a broken heart or speaking words of comfort to the needy.

But it’s all family, and it’s all evidence that God is at work in His people, in His church, and in the world.

When Jesus tells Mary and Joseph he was in his Father’s house (or, in some translations, “about his Father’s business”), he was not only referring to looking after the Temple and to the business of learning and applying Scripture, but he was equally in the business of being part of the People, the community, of God who would later become the True Temple of God’s Presence.

Christmastide, part three

God honors authority

Christ Among the Doctors is an important story in the life of Jesus, displaying both his full humanity and his full claim to divinity. It is the episode in Jesus’ life in which he discovered who he was, and yet this discovery didn’t make him proud. It begins with his disappearance from his parents, centers on his discourse with the Sanhedrin, but ends with him meekly returning as an obedient son.

In fact, he is an obedient son in two ways – to Mary and Joseph, and to God who gave him to Mary and Joseph.

Knowing his “real” Father didn’t make Jesus rebellious to the earthly family God had given him, but extra submissive to that family. God does not despise earthly ties. It is our godliness that requires us to be fully invested in this world and its inherent responsibilities with supreme fidelity.

When I was little and would hear my dad speak about this piece of Scripture, I always had a secret little voice in me that said: Please don’t let him apply this story in some way to honoring your mother and father and obeying your parents. It was like I understood that obeying my folks was a spiritual endeavor, and that my obedience to them was representative of my obedience to God, but I didn’t really want to make that connection. I wanted a free pass. I wanted to ignore the authority over me and yet still claim to be a “good” Christian.

Don’t we do this all the time? We flaunt the law and our employers, our spouses and our families but think nothing of it so long as we feel good about our spiritual relationship with God.

Religious people do this often when they protest at political or social gatherings,

thinking that the urgency of their cause is so great that it allows them to circumvent the process, to mistreat others, and to do whatever they please in service to their cause.

Christian people often do this if they are married to non-Christian spouses, just as devout believers do when they are married to lapsed or backslidden Christians,

thinking that “they” are often wrong or limited in their understanding in every capacity simply because they are blind to the spiritual reality of the world around them.

Christian teenagers do this when their parents don’t profess to be believers,

thinking that their parents are inherently base and foolish and have no real love for them because they don’t care to serve Christ, forgetting that Christ gave them those parents to begin with. Of course, there are some parents who are base and foolish and hurtful and those parents should be ignored, but on the whole we cannot simply disregard our parents and families merely because they do not share our faith.

Just as we cannot disregard our government

or law enforcement

or judiciary

or employer

or professor

or counselor

because they do not share our faith.

Christmastide, part two


My daughter, Anna, has discovered something about me she doesn’t like. Truth be told, I’m not sure how she arrived at the conclusion nor even why her mind works the way it does. But she’s discovered a horrifying reality about her dad: I love God more than anything.

That, in and of itself, doesn't seem so bad. In fact, it even seems quite noble. But my daughter is no slouch and she’s come to realize that if I love God more than anything – or anyone – then that must mean that I love God more than her.

I’m not in the business of ranking my loves. I don’t have a list somewhere that places Anna and Jake and Carmel just above my friends and slightly further above my Gibson Les Paul. My daughter does, however, and will often rank her toys and her friends depending on her moods. I’ve tried to help her see past this kind of love – especially when she feels less loved because I love God. I have told her repeatedly that it is precisely because I love God so very much that I am able to love her that much more.

But she’s not buying it.

I hope that, in time, Anna will come to understand the truth of those words. My love for God is the fuel for loving everyone else. The more I love Him, the more I love her. I want her to love Him more, so she better knows and understands His love and is filled and defined by that love.

Jesus, in this episode, demonstrates that he loves the Father more than anything and, as a result, has prioritized his Father’s business above every other concern. Jesus is single-minded in his devotion, almost baffled by his parents’ concerns, and (in the universal manner of both zealots and adolescents) gently scolds them for not knowing this automatically.

This episode in the Temple is only the first of several in which Jesus prioritizes love for God over every other love. Later in his adult ministry, Christ often spoke of the unparalleled love his followers must have for his Father:

I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (see Matthew 10.34, 37)

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?...whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (see Matthew 12.48-50)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind…(see Luke 10.27)

But Christ doesn’t leave these words alone. He clarifies and accompanies them with encouragement and promise. He makes it clear that the reason our allegiance to God must come before all other allegiances is that it will last and ultimately validate all other allegiances:

Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Matthew 19.28-30

I know Anna doesn’t understand this now, but I hope that she will understand it later just as I never fully understood the choices my parents made when I was young but now much more greatly appreciate them.

For example, my dad (a pastor) was often criticized in our church and refused to fight back. He was sometimes criticized for his leadership style, and sometimes for his teaching style, and sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Maybe we had a really contentious church when I was younger, but I tend to think it’s just the nature of the business that people get worked up and say mean things because they care so much about their spirituality. Any perceived threat is seen as something having far-reaching repercussions and they don’t have the necessary skills to deal with their emotions properly. Anyway, the point is, my dad never fought back.

One time, I had been on an overseas trip and I had been badly hurt by some of the leaders (one in particular). Afraid to take their criticisms to my dad, they chose instead to treat me to their accusations, claiming that dad was wholly evil and it was his fault that God’s will wasn’t being done or some such nonsense. As a young kid, that hurt me so badly. I told dad all about it in the car on the way home from the airport. I wanted him to pull the car over and drive to the leader’s house and scream at him. But dad refused to do that. After some time, he had a private, calm, conversation with the leader in question and challenged him on his behavior, but it was never the thrashing I thought should have happened.

As a kid, I wondered why my dad would allow me to be hurt by this leader and not defend or avenge me. Dad told me it’s because he understood that that wasn’t what God wanted from him. God didn’t want him to take vengeance, or to give himself permission to hurt someone else in return for injuring his son.

There was a gospel message in there somewhere, but I didn’t recognize it until many years later, when that leader (long since gone from our church) asked permission to confess to our congregation on a Sunday morning. He publicly repented and publicly affirmed dad in his leadership. There was a great reconciliation between this leader and our church, this leader and dad, and this leader and myself (he also sought my forgiveness privately).

None of that would have happened had dad put my need for angry revenge ahead of God’s desire for calm confrontation and reconciliation. And because dad loved God more than me, I got to see reconciliation instead of martyrdom, victimization, or a deepening rift among our church leadership.

Hopefully Anna will someday get a front-row view of the privilege of her father’s love for the Father. I hope that she will follow my example, and cultivate that love in her own spirit, so that she can know the joy of putting God first and reaping the just rewards for her commitment to Him.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Christmastide, part one

One of the few things that people from various Christian traditions seem to agree on is the central text for Christmastide, in which the boy Jesus travels with his earthly parents to the Temple in Jerusalem. This episode in the Life of Christ is commonly referred to as “Christ Among the Doctors.” It is the episode that best connects Advent to Common Time, and it is the only credible story we have concerning the childhood of Jesus during the time between his Nativity and his Epiphany.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the Temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.

Why were you searching for me? he asked. Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house? But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2.41-52

I don’t know what it is about little kids, but they all seem to love to run away. When my kids were little, I used to love going with them to the mall so we could walk around during the winter time and get a little energy out. But, guaranteed, the moment I turned my back on either one of them they would bolt for the door to the parking lot. They do that at church too, and I remember one horrible day when I couldn’t figure out which door my daughter had tried to escape from, only to find her perched at the top of a long, steep flight of concrete stairs getting ready to do her first big dive.

Once during those mall-walk sessions, I lost sight of my son for about a minute. I guess I’m over-protective, but I normally didn’t let him out of my sight for three seconds, so this minute seemed like an eternity. I got the sweats and that ache you get in your spine when dread comes over you like a shroud. And when I found him sampling ladies perfume, I wigged out and scolded him for being so careless.

As if he was the careless one.

These are the memories that come to mind when I think of Mary and Joseph forgetting Jesus at the Temple. Only Jesus wasn’t missing for a minute, he was missing for 4320 minutes.

Knowing a little about the context, though, keeps us from calling Palestinian Child Protective Services.

The Holy Family were in Jerusalem for Passover, an eight day celebration, held about 70 miles from their hometown of Nazareth. All good Jewish families participated in Passover – especially those with boys 12 years and up (they had special duties and privileges during the feast) – and so there were often large groups of people traveling together, much like a caravan. Since this tedious journey took several days and you were accompanied by friends and family (many of whom had children), it was common for the children to run around and play with each other, visiting their cousins and the other members of the family. If you’ve ever been a chaperone for a school field trip, you know how this kind of thing goes. Every time you stop for gas at a service station, all the kids get out and run around and buy candy and swap seats and it’s mayhem, complete madness, trying to get back on the road.

Well – that’s not how their ‘stops’ went, that's how the entire journey was.

After Passover, on the journey home, Mary and Joseph each likely thought Jesus was with the other. The women typically went well ahead of the men (since they walked more slowly), and historians tell us it often took an entire day for someone from the back of the caravan to reach the front of it. Since the departure was such a big deal, and since it would have been so obvious that everyone was leaving, it’s no wonder that Mary and Joseph supposed Jesus to have been there – and indeed it’s quite possible that he started out with the group and then wandered off into the Temple later.

And, of course, their world was quite a bit different than ours. The dangers of child-snatching and pedophilia were less pronounced, and – particularly in such a close knit extension of neighbors and kin – the degree of trust in other people was exceptionally, and justifiably, high.

Once Mary and Joseph realized Jesus wasn’t with them, the panic would have set in quickly and deeply:

Where is he?

Is he ok?

Has he been kidnapped?

Has he fallen and been hurt?

Has he run away?

Had he gone on ahead of them and by heading back to Jerusalem they were further distancing themselves from their son?

Maybe he wanted to live in the big city and foolishly decided to try to make it on his own.

Lo and behold they found their twelve-year-old son in the Temple. Luke mentions that it was after three days that they found him – one day to head home and then (at the end of the day) realize Jesus isn’t with them, one day to scramble back to Jerusalem, and one day to search for him in Jerusalem and ultimately find him in the Temple.

These “three days” are significant, by the way.

Just as the story of Jesus’ birth subtly rhymes with the account of his burial (the swaddling clothes are like burial clothes, the frankincense and myrrh are used in preparation for internment, etc), this account anticipates his resurrection. Notice the timeline (‘after three days’), as well as the connection between Jesus’ question to Mary (“why have you been seeking?”) and the angels’ question to the women at the empty tomb (“why do you seek the living among the dead?” see Luke 24.5). There is also a connection between Mary ‘treasuring these things in her heart’ and the tomb-women ‘remembering these words’ (see Luke 24.8).

Obviously Luke intends for us to make the connection between what happens with Jesus as a boy, cooperating with his Father’s mission to heal the world, and the price he will pay for that mission later on at the hands of the very people with whom he is now learning.

During Passover it was common for the Sanhedrin – the mucky mucks and learned men of Second Temple Judaism – to gather in the Temple court and dialogue with anyone who wanted to stretch their theological muscles. It was the ancient equivalent to a town hall meeting, when politicians show up in small venues to get face-to-face with their constituents, or – maybe even better – when a DJ broadcasts their radio program from a mobile booth in the park.

While many famous paintings and works of art show Jesus wowing the crowds with his pre-teen understanding of Torah, it was much more likely that Christ was learning from the Sanhedrin rather than one-upping them. “Listening to them and asking questions” was the normal Jewish way of learning; so, rather than thinking of the boy-Christ educating the educators, we must understand that he was coming under their intellect and studiously applying himself to the Scriptures.

Some might wonder about this.

Since, they might ask, Jesus was (and is) God, and since God is all-knowing, doesn’t it stand to reason that Jesus would have already possessed his supreme knowledge? Wouldn’t he have shared it with the Sanhedrin, exposing them to their ignorance and showing his worth as Messiah?

Simply, no. Remember that Christ came into the world and emptied himself of his divine privileges (see Philippians 2.7) and so lived (and grew and matured) just as any common person would have. He did not “cheat” with his divinity, but fully invested himself in the human condition.

Anne Rice, famed novelist and noted Christ-follower, conceives this self-limitation as a kind of knowledge and power that Christ had but refused to access.

I like this way of conceptualizing Jesus’ divine-human duality, because I can relate to the experience of suppressing memories.

Anytime I counsel someone, for example, I try and later suppress what I’ve just heard and learned so they don't feel stigmatized.

Anytime I learn of a scenario in which one person has wronged another – say a husband to his wife, say – I willfully dismiss the knowledge I have so I can be available and present to others without judgment and - perhaps more importantly - without circumventing the natural revelations that people want to share themselves, without me supplying all the answers or claiming to know everything which then makes then shy and afraid, lazy and even belligerent.

Jesus lived and learned and loved as any other human child. He was eager to be trained, though, and showed promise to such a degree that Mary and Joseph were both astonished at his development. That word “astonished” in Greek means something like “hit in the face” and causes us to recognize that, despite his supernatural birth, Jesus was in many ways just a normal boy. Obviously the uniqueness of their son and his divine calling and nature had faded somewhat from their memory, and in this moment that realization came crashing back to them.

It was like they saw their son for who he really was.

And in response, perhaps with surprise and shame mixed together, Mary blurts out an accusation: Why have you treated us like this?

That reminds me of when I found Jacob in the mall, smelling perfume: How could you be so irresponsible? So careless?

Isn’t it funny how Mary and I both chose to lay the blame for the disappearance of our children on them instead of on us? Shouldn't we have said: I’m so sorry, I don’t know how I could have been so irresponsible?

Haven’t you ever done this? Shouted at your kid when all you really wanted to do was grab them and hold them tight? To burst into tears of relief and joy?

But Jesus sees right through Mary’s emotion, and refuses to accept any blame. He says: Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

Two things stand out here: first, that Jesus is under some kind of divine compulsion (‘didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’); and second, the subtle way in which Jesus takes the name ‘father’ from Joseph and gives it to God? That’s very significant, something no one else would have done. To everyone else, He was Lord (Yahweh), but to Jesus He was Father. And Joseph was not.

The gospel stories don’t tell us whether or not Jesus’ realization of his divine parentage slowly dawned on him over time or whether it came to him in a flash. But they do tell us that by age twelve he already knew his true Father.

But Mary and Joseph did not understand this – which, again, is remarkable. Even with all their prior preparation and messianic brooding, Mary and Joseph couldn’t fully comprehend that Jesus was meant to be the savior of the world. Or, if they did understand in principle, then they certainly didn’t get it wholly right.

Maybe that’s why Mary “treasured these things in her heart.”

Lots of parents keep little books in which they write down the funny things their kids say and do. My wife and I blog about them. It’s a nice way of going back and remembering who they were then, and being able to see – in the early stages – who they were becoming. Mary had no blog, and no scrapbook, but she held these episodes in her heart because she, too, could see who Jesus was already becoming and had already become.

Interestingly, one of the things he had already become was obedient. Luke says that Jesus went with his parents back to Nazareth and obeyed them. Although divine, it’s obvious that Jesus knew his parents loved him and were concerned for him, just as it was obvious to him that his Father had entrusted him to Mary and Joseph and He meant for them to be obeyed.

In that, as in everything else, Jesus grew. He “grew in wisdom (intellect and morality) and stature (physicality and charity), and in favor with both God and men.” This is a phrase which, in Greek, means something like persistent forward-movement, like what you’d imagine an explorer doing in the jungle – cutting and hacking a way forward, blazing a trail.

Later, as a grown man engaged in public ministry, Jesus would again cause his family pain and confusion and again they were chagrined because they failed to understand the fullness of who he was and why he had come. Looking back, it’s easy to see that Jesus himself always had a clear picture that he had been sent by his Father to heal the world.

Four key features of this text stand out to me:

God comes first

God honors authority

God is concerned with His Temple

God can be lost

I want to explore each of these in turn, because I feel that understanding them will help us to better understand the bridge between Advent and Common Time.

Was Israel the Birthplace of Modern Humans?

found this today, via theweblist.net

ScienceDaily (Dec. 31, 2010) — It has long been believed that modern humans emerged from the continent of Africa 200,000 years ago. Now Tel Aviv University archaeologists have uncovered evidence that Homo sapiens roamed the land now called Israel as early as 400,000 years ago -- the earliest evidence for the existence of modern humans anywhere in the world.

The findings were discovered in the Qesem Cave, a pre-historic site located near Rosh Ha'ayin that was first excavated in 2000. Prof. Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology, who run the excavations, and Prof. Israel Hershkowitz of the university's Department of Anatomy and Anthropology and Sackler School of Medicine, together with an international team of scientists, performed a morphological analysis on eight human teeth found in the Qesem Cave.

This analysis, which included CT scans and X-rays, indicates that the size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern humans. The teeth found in the Qesem Cave are very similar to other evidence of modern humans from Israel, dated to around 100,000 years ago, discovered in the Skhul Cave in the Carmel and Qafzeh Cave in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth. The results of the researchers' findings are being published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Reading the past

Qesem Cave is dated to a period between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, and archaeologists working there believe that the findings indicate significant evolution in the behavior of ancient humans. This period of time was crucial in the history of humankind from cultural and biological perspectives. The teeth that are being studied indicate that these changes are apparently related to evolutionary changes taking place at that time.

Prof. Gopher and Dr. Barkai noted that the findings related to the culture of those who dwelled in the Qesem Cave -- including the systematic production of flint blades; the regular use of fire; evidence of hunting, cutting and sharing of animal meat; mining raw materials to produce flint tools from subsurface sources -- reinforce the hypothesis that this was, in fact, innovative and pioneering behavior that may correspond with the appearance of modern humans.

An unprecedented discovery

According to researchers, the discoveries made in the Qesem Cave may overturn the theory that modern humans originated on the continent of Africa. In recent years, archaeological evidence and human skeletons found in Spain and China also undermined this proposition, but the Qesem Cave findings because of their early age is an unprecedented discovery.

Excavations at Qesem Cave continue and the researchers hope to uncover additional finds that will enable them to confirm the findings published up to now and to enhance our understanding of the evolution of humankind -- especially the emergence of modern man.