Friday, April 28, 2017

BEAUTIFUL THINGS

Since my youth I have always heard that you should give your best to God. In my early church years it was an argument for dressing up in a suite & tie but then I always wondered why those same persons had formal attire they only wore to weddings and balls.  I guess giving their best to God had limits . . . ?

Nonetheless, there is some actual truth behind giving God our best that exceeds church cultural hang-up. It is that we should not give God our leftovers, or our half-hearted efforts, or sloppy craftsmanship, but to give and do our best to the glory of God. In the medieval period 90% of art, music, and theater in Western society was considered to have a Christian worldview. Now less than 10% of the arts are Christian in worldview and often times those are substandard in quality. Many Christian recording artist settled on a Christian music label because of a lack of quality rather than a conviction to make Christian music. Today most Christian art falls into the "Jesus Junk" category of bumper sticker religion.

When you study the Old Testament the commitment to craftsmanship in the building of the temple was impeccable. Likewise if you look at some of the grand old cathedrals of times long past, the artwork is incredible. While I am not an advocate of ornate church buildings, preferring the more minimalist architecture of modern church buildings, I still believe in giving our best to God. The words I am looking for are quality and excellence but often times we do not associate that also with beauty. Somehow beauty is all too often thought of as frivolous or as shallow. In contrast we have the creative God who made the mountains, the sea, the valley, and everything in them, along with everything in the heavens all the way to the stars; these things are beautiful.

I imagine that in the midst of all of our failures that God's view of these things that bring us such joy when we gaze upon them must also touch the heart of God who made them, and bring continual pleasure to him. In reflection of this we added to our values statement something I once read 17 years ago: God is beautiful and his creation reflects his beauty: God created man and woman in his image and likeness who also create works of beauty. For this reason we value the arts, expression, and creativity. Often times we neglect the value of beauty or make light of it as an extra expense or as unnecessary but as we seek to imitate God we remember that he is the author of all things beautiful, so part of imitating him comes in this expression also.

In very practical terms it means that I do all that I do with this value when I paint a wall, or I create a business report, or make a presentation for school, or suture a wound, or cut the grass, or make a website, or any other job I do, that I bring glory to God by doing beautiful work or creating a sculpture, or writing beautiful songs. These all glorify God and go against the tide of "good enough" or worse yet, cutting corners because it's cheap or more convenient.

The Bible says, Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

When I read that passage I feel compelled to give God my very best, and when I say that, I don't mean that it must be expensive, or ornate, or that I should compare my work with others. I simply mean that I would not slop my way through it or only give God my leftovers. And furthermore, that when others go the extra mile to make something truly beautiful we would not disregard it as frivolous or shallow, but see their  craftsmanship and give glory to God because of it.

God makes beautiful things and you are one of them. So when you give God your best you make beautiful things because you are created in his image.




Thursday, April 20, 2017

JUST LIKE JESUS

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be like Jesus. All too often I think we limit "being like Jesus" to acts of kindness, to praying for people, and doing "church stuff." We might even think of it as being good. This year during lent I was re-reading Dallas Willard's amazing book, The Divine Conspiracy, when something stuck in my head. I grabbed my Bible and opened it up to Hebrews 5.8: Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Suddenly it hit me hard that being like Jesus meant learning obedience. It wasn’t like I had never thought of that before, or that I had never read that text before, but in that moment it hit me that learning to be Christlike meant learning to be obedient.  

For you this may seem overly simple, or maybe in your thinking this should be obvious, but the idea that obedience is more than a great suggestion in how to become Christlike, that it is more than just good for spiritual formation but rather it is essential to being Christlike grabbed my heart. It means that becoming Christlike is more than being helpful, kind, and thoughtful. It means that being Christlike includes a costly decision to obey. When Jesus was in the garden he did not want to suffer the agony of the cross but rather he was pursuing the joy that would result from his obedience (Hebrews 12.2). The Bible never says Jesus wanted to hurt, that he wanted to leave his beloved disciples, or feel the weight of the world’s sin. But he did! Jesus obeyed, even to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2.8).     Then it occurred to me that the model of Jesus obedience was even when you don't feel like it, and even when the price is high, even to the point of death. It is better to obey, than to offer another sacrifice. It is better to obey than go to church, it is better to obey than offer a song of love or to confess my faithfulness, because obedience is the ultimate expression of love for Jesus and the Father.

Read Jesus' words in John 14.23-24: Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me. When everyone is preaching about how God is love, and pontificating about what love is or isn't. When the world shouts down the church for obedience to God, it is not our obedience that is out of step but rather the common misuse of the word love. Love does not do whatever it wants, demanding its own way, it is not self-seeking, it is not rude when it defends the truth or when it finds people falling short of God's standard but neither is it disobedient. No matter what the price, Jesus loved the Father enough to obey. So if we are choosing to be students of Jesus, followers of the Way, then we are also choosing obedience; not just convenient obedience but the costly kind.

Monday, April 17, 2017

HAVE I BEEN BAPTIZING PEOPLE THE WRONG WAY?

I am sure that most people will be thinking about modes of baptism when they read the title to this article, but I am not speaking about modes of baptism at all, nor the connection between forgiveness of sin and baptism. I am thinking about discipleship and parenting. I am thinking about the role of spiritual parents and physical ones. As I have been processing the things we do in church and the role of discipleship I have seen a gap between form and function. Often times what we do, and the things we teach don't line up; Not in a hypocritical way. I mean we accidentally un-teach everything we just taught. I think one of the ways we do that is through church culture.

In the American church (and probably most western churches) we have those who have been ordained to do most of our baptisms. I have regularly told people that it is not required but I have not resisted the preference for ordained clergy either. Then it occurred to me one day, am I inadvertently teaching people to rely too much on me? Am I inadvertently teaching people to trust in the ability of the ordained more than learning to obey God for themselves?

I am not saying that pastors should stop baptizing people, but if I want parents to be responsible for their children's spiritual formation rather than depending on youth group to save their children, shouldn't I ask them to baptize their children, by getting in the baptismal tub with me, and doing the actual dunking? When someone in our church leads their friend to Christ wouldn't it be sweeter to have them in the baptismal too, physically participating?

Nothing in the Bible requires the person doing the baptism to be ordained clergy, so rather than just saying everyone gets to play, why don't we let everyone play? I want more people making more disciples.

Would you like to baptize your child? Would you like to baptize the friend you led to Christ? Are you nervous? Can I help? I can say the words for you if that will help, but will you do the baptizing?

I think I am going to start asking some new questions.