Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World

Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World
"You had better be a round peg in a square hole than a round peg in a round hole. The latter is in for life, while the first is only an indeterminate sentence." – Elbert Hubbard

Holy Week: What Does it All Mean?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy week is upon us once again. It's that time of the Christian year when we commemorate and reflect upon the week leading up to Christ death, burial, and resurrection. A time when we ponder what his death and resurrection means for us today in the 21st century. 

Recently, I've been reading Timothy Kellar's book Generous Justice. In it's opening chapter, Kellar does an admirable job of identifying God's preoccupation with the poor and disenfranchised in the world. Kellar writes of Psalms 68:4-5, "[r]ealize, then, how significant it is that the Biblical writers introduce God as 'a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.' This is one of the main things he does in the world. He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause." [p.6]

Upon reading this, my mind went immediately to a passage in the writings of the Apostle Paul that I've not always connected with. I was going to say that I've not always liked the scripture, but that's not really the case. Let me just say that I've not always appreciated what I thought it implied, but this just further indicates that I've not fully understood what Paul was saying. With that said, as I thought about what Kellar penned above in light of the Passion, new light was shed upon this passage.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (I Cor 1:26-31, NRSV) 

Every thing we know about the life of Jesus attests to the reality of what Paul is saying above. Let's take a few moments to reflect upon this: He had an ignoble birth, fraught with the suspicion of infidelity. Even the place of his birth was less than optimal: a cave. I mean, sure, I'm looking at it with 21st century eyes, but surely, had Joseph and Mary had the opportunity to choose, they would have much rather experienced the comfort of the Inn rather than a cold damp hollow in a rock, with animals all around to boot. Most of the poorest children in America's largest cities are born in hospitals. Think about it!

Lent Reflection 5: God is our Solution!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Psalms 130:1-8; Eze 37:1-14; John 11:1-45

I am trying to get caught up on my Lent Reflections. The past several weeks have been chaotic to say the least and I've not taken the time to sit down and write. But, it certainly isn't because I've not read the weekly scriptures or taken the time to contemplate them. I've sort of been walking around with my cheeks packed full from them. Like a cow chewing its cud, I've had the time and opportunity to meditate on these scriptures and they have deeply impacted me. 

I doubt there are few Old Testament scriptures more familiar to pentecostal preachers than Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones. Being a former pentecostal preacher myself, I have taken up this text many times over the years, preaching it from a variety of charismatic viewpoints. But, I must admit that when I read this again, nestled between Psalms 130 and the story of Lazarus' resurrection, I was tremendously moved. 

Sometimes I think we get complacent about scripture, especially those we've read over and over again. It's easy to feel as if we've mined a text for all its relevant value; we've learned all that a particular scripture has to teach us. It amazes me, however, how God can breathe new life into a passage and help us see things from it or through it that we've never seen before. In this sense, the idea that our scriptures constitute a living document is extremely true. Over and over again they prove to have a lively and engaging message.

So, as I read these passages, one distinct theme emerges: each situation is desperate and in each circumstance, God is the only solution. This theme weaves each of these passages together. Each predicament is dire, hopeless, and in need of divine intervention. The Psalmist has reached the tipping point and cries out in his desperation for God, knowing that only God can save him and his people. Ezekiel is taken to a valley and shown a horrific sight of death and carnage: the valley floor is littered with the bones of an entire army of men. Only God can make the bones live. Lazarus is dead, been dead for several days, his body already prepared and placed in a tomb. If he is to live again, Jesus is his only hope. Only Jesus can speak life into his lifeless body. 

I Don't Understand Mercy

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Over the past several years there have been some tragedies involving kids that I either know or were acquainted with through my kids or the kids of my friends. Several years ago, there was a girl in my son's senior class. She was an honors student, straight A's and she already had a scholarship to UNC Greensboro. She got involved with a boy that was a few years older and her parents didn't approve. They tried to keep her away from him to no avail. They finally asked her not to have the boy at their house when they were not home. She didn't listen. The mother came home one day to find the boy in the house with her daughter and an argument ensued. In the end, the daughter stabbed her mother to death. It will be 43 years before she's eligible for parole. There's not a week that goes by that I don't wake up thinking about that girl...
Six months or so ago, a kid (I think he was around 24) who was a friend of my best friend's children spent a day binging on alcohol and benzos. His father found him hanging in a tree in front of his house the next morning. He was a talented musician with everything in the world to live for, but he didn't think so. I don't understand that.
Yesterday, we found out that a 22 year old kid that my wife taught in children's church for years, a youth pastor's son, was involved in a an accident. He rear ended a guy so hard that he killed him instantly. The truck the man was driving went over the railing of the bridge they were on and it took crews 7 hours to recover the truck and the body. He sits in a local jail under a 1 million dollar secured bond, charged with vehicular homicide, fleeing the scene of an accident causing serious bodily harm, possession of narcotics and a host of other charges. The DA is considering second degree murder charges against this kid.
In church, we talk about mercy, but to be honest, I've never understood it. I started preaching when I was 11. Between that age and the age of 17 I had the privilege of preaching with some of the greatest preachers I've ever known. I gave it all up, though, and at the tender age of 18 I was sitting in a dingy bathroom in Ft. Wayne Indiana with a needle hanging out of my arm.. laughing as I watched a man who couldn't of been much older than 40 (although he looked 100) stick himself a hundred times between both legs because he didn’t have any usable veins... he'd destroyed his body with heroin and cocaine.
Thankfully drugs didn't kill me and I made my way back to the church at the age of 21 and immediately went back into the ministry. I preached and served as a pastor for almost 7 more years. Then divorce hit and I left again.... another 5 years of self-destruction ensued. I was driving drunk one night and ran a stop sign and down an embankment I went. When I hit, the front bumper dug into the ground and my truck flipped end over end, landing onto a guide wire that was supporting the electrical pole just several feet away from where I landed. I had dangerous tools in the front cab and acetylene tanks in the back. Just a few days earlier, a mother of three pulled out in front of a car and in what didn't appear to be a very bad accident, lost her life. I don't understand mercy. I walked away with a few scratches, she died... I don't understand mercy...
What is it? Did I have a brighter future simply because I could preach? I came from a broken home, none of these kids except one had to deal with that. Was it because I was cute and funny and people liked me? No... these kids were gorgeous and had everything in the world going for them. So why? I don't know. I don't even want to speculate. I just want to go on record as saying, I do not understand mercy. I really don't!