Prodigal Christianity Part 2

Fitch and Holsclaw seek to describe reality today in North America. One term they talk about a lot is Postmodernity. For 500 years, the West has been fascinated with science and ideas. Logic, proof, and argument have ruled the day. But somewhere along the way people began to tire of this. As I read the early part of the book my memory was jogged. I realized there had been a day I discovered postmodernism. Nobody had ever used that term in my presence. I had never read a book by anyone who knew the term. It was the Spring of 1986 and I was finishing up my freshman philosophy class at the University of Iowa. I was a religion major with vague ministry goals. My own faith was growing quickly after a detour in my middle teen years. Jesus was tremendously real to me. We had to write a final position paper for this philosophy class. Of course, I wrote mine on the “proofs” for the existence of God. I eagerly headed to the Graduate Assistant’s office to pick up my paper and receive my final grade. I was sure I had nailed the paper. Terry smiled and handed me my paper with a B- on it. I frowned. “B-? Why did you give me a B-?”
He said, “I gave you a B- because you didn’t take the other position seriously enough.”
I said, “I don’t take it that seriously because I don’t believe it. I believe God truly exists.”
He said, “Yes, but for the assignment it’s about whether that could be proved.”
“I think I did prove it,” I said. So he took the paper back and looked it over again. He told me that I did as good of a job as anyone has at defending the viewpoint but that the consensus has been that you can’t prove God’s existence. I couldn’t resist, so I asked him if he believed in God. He said, “Not really. I’m sort of an agnostic.” Snappy young fellow as I was, I asked him if his bias might be causing him to downplay my position. Maybe he wasn’t taking ME seriously enough!
Terry smiled again. He said, “I have to admit, I’ve never had a student with such a strong conviction about this before.” And then I knew that our conversation was not an accident. I looked at the clock on the wall. In exactly five minutes the parking meter was going to read: EXPIRED. I also was going to be cutting it close to make it to work on time. But something told me not to go.
Terry, said, “Tim, you have my attention. You seem to have a very deep and personal conviction about God. In the philosophy department they tell us to check our theological hats at the door. (I’ll never forget that phrase.) It’s actually refreshing. Since I haven’t met many people like you, I’d like to hear your story. How are you so certain? How is God so real to you?”
I went down the logical arguments I had covered in the paper. But for each one he was able to come up with some sort of logic that could challenge it. I realized that these answers weren’t all that satisfying to me either. Logic just wasn’t cutting it, but it was mostly what I had heard from others. My mind raced backwards. Although Terry was probably 10 years older than me, just a couple years before I also had been doubting like him. I began to tell him about how things were then.
“Nothing could get through to me for over a year. But along the way I met a girl who had a lot of spiritual questions. Frankly, I found those questions quite irritating at first. She was seeking what I was running away from. But she was so beautiful I wasn’t going anywhere… (Um, shallow, I know but I was 16) Eventually, her seeking awakened my own spiritual center. Something so pure was at work in her. And through her, something began to soften my heart. (By the way she is now my wife!) One night in February 1985, I became aware of a holy presence, something completely “other”. Whatever the past had been, this was the present. I was aware of this holy presence and my own sinful, selfish ways. This holy presence was offering me a fresh start.” I looked Terry right in the eye and said, “I had a personal confrontation with the holiness of God that required a choice.” I could see a path leading toward light if I said yes, but out into darkness if I said, no. I said, yes and my life began to change.

At this point in talking with Terry, I felt like I was on fire. I hadn’t felt so alive since the moment that I was telling him about had first happened. I was now officially late for work but I didn’t care. Terry leaned back and said, “I guess that’s what you’d have to say…”
“Terry, it’s real. Can you feel it? I feel God here  just like I did that day.”
He said, “Tim, I actually believe you. Now that I understand how firmly you believe this I understand what you were saying in the paper. I’m changing your grade to a B+. But more than that you’ve affected me. I shared with you that I’m an agnostic. But I do actually wonder about God. If God is real I’d like to be able to know it like you feel you do. Whenever I get the chance to watch a sunset with my girlfriend, I take a bottle of wine and we think and talk together about ultimate things. I open my heart to the possibility of faith. I promise you that the next time I do that, I’ll be thinking of your story and considering all that you said to me.”
I told him not to wait until then, but to reflect on it anytime it came to mind. He thanked me for taking the time to share my story.
I floated back to my car… I now had two parking tickets and was already 45minutes late for work. I called and explained the odd situation. Miraculously they understood. I couldn’t believe I didn’t lose my job. I was still on fire. At age 18, I knew the purpose of the rest of my life. I also understood that the world had shifted. I wouldn’t know the word postmodern for several years. But I knew people were much more interested in my story than in logical arguments. And I loved hearing more about Terry’s story. Those were precious moments spent with him. I was transformed a bit by the process and Terry was, too. God was at work in a way I hadn’t realized before. And it was more compelling than any religious idea or argument could fully capture. Make no mistake I believe there is truth that will set you free. But from that moment on I knew the truth had to be lived and shared before I could fully know it or be completely free.

This is the cultural landscape I believe Fitch and Holsclaw are talking about in their book- Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier. This post-Christendom Far Country is logically frustrating for Christians. But we can navigate through this territory without losing our way. In fact, as Fitch says, God has already gone before us as we travel. He is already there, already at work in others’ lives. It was good to be reminded of these events as I read these compelling early chapters…

Prodigal Christianity Part 1

The new book by Fitch & Holsclaw is called Prodigal Christianity. It uses Luke’s Prodigal Parables (Luke 15) as a metaphor for Christian ministry in a postmodern world. I attended a conversation about the book at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. The authors presented a brief outline of the text and then took questions from those present. (Yes, I asked a question…)
The book presents 10 Signposts for the Missional Frontier and shares 7 Behaviors the church should engage in as we navigate these signposts. Certain chapters look like they will be very exciting. David Fitch has been part of the missional church conversation for a long time. Like me, he found some really good energy in the early Emergent conversations as well. However, the last several years have seen the Emergent group head off in directions which are no longer satisfying. In so many of those models, the church and the gospel seem to collapse into Postmodernism. There’s no good news and no reason for the church to gather. So Fitch has come back to the Missional term as more descriptive. He believes strongly in the church as the place where the Spirit is most active. The community formed there is God’s agent of change in our world. I couldn’t agree more. Fitch also rejects the extreme neo-reformed overreaction to Emergent and other groups. These folks have locked down the gospel so tightly, they’ve reduced it to a particular view of the atonement which is a fairly recent arrival in church history. The gospel is bigger than this. It’s more than a set of religious beliefs to be argued. It is an experience, a way of life, a vision of justice, an agent of healing, and a transforming journey. For Fitch, this is a journey into what he calls the Far Country. As best I can tell the Far Country is a metaphor for this postmodern, post-Christendom world many North Americans find ourselves in. A world where fewer and fewer people give automatic authority to the Bible, to the Church, or to Christian positions on social issues. Christians have tended to just get absorbed into the Far Country, leaving the gospel behind, or have built enclaves where we hide out from the world until Jesus shows up to beam us up.
I like how Fitch doesn’t want us to accept either one of those. Like the Prodigal God who leaves the 99 sheep, sweeps the whole house, and looks longingly for the return of his son, we can choose to “Go” like Jesus taught us to. But our “going” will look differently since we’re in the Far Country and not 1957 Churched America. I like the questions Fitch is asking at the beginning of this book. I like that Ecclesiology (what we think about the Church) is at the forefront of how he’s doing theology. It’s the lens through which he understands the gospel and how to live it out. So, preaching and the sacraments are central to his theology and missional outlook. I love great theological conversations. But this is a piece that has been absent for some time… I’m excited to dive in, with no imagination that I won’t find lots to disagree with along the way. But the Holy Spirit spoke to me at that gathering that there are some important things in this conversation which will speak directly to me and my church community as we also navigate uncharted territory in our culture…
Fitch is a CMA pastor (Wesleyan denomination similar to my own Nazarenes) teaching at a Baptist Seminary, who has Anabaptist leanings in how he views community, justice, and discernment. Now that’s a lively mix. I’m also a pastor who teaches at a Christian university and enjoys dialogue. I’m intrigued to read on…

The Last Great Cathedral of Hope

Tom Ricketts committed to Wrigley – ESPN

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Tom Ricketts says he’s committed. Here’s hoping he really means it. Wrigley is one of baseball’s last great cathedrals of hope. Part of me laments a shift to a “winning” model. There’s a reason why I’m not a Yankees fan. But I’ve been a Cubs fan since the last time we had a player named DeJesus. I remember 1984, 1989, and 2003. I was there when Wrigley had no lights, hoping a game wouldn’t be called due to darkness. I was there when it was only $20 to give your keys to a shirtless fat guy who promised your car would be the first out! (Now try $60). I was there when bleacher tickets were $4.50 and full of kids and well, yes, shirtless fat guys. I was there to see Dave Kingman, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, and the disgraced Sammy Sosa hit game changing or game ending home runs. I was there when Lou Boudreau and Vince Lloyd Skaff called the games in my earpiece and Jack Brickhouse brought the Cubs into my living room.
And I was there yesterday, for the first time on Opening Day. I found a free spot in a neighborhood many blocks away to park, so I could afford it. I saw ad space in 4 cutouts in the Ivy. Dozens of banner ads were tucked here and there. A cool new electronic scoreboard is integrated into an existing wall. Nice. I thought, “This is different, but it’s still Wrigley.” The view to my right and left told me this was still home. 40,000 of my closest friends there not really expecting a victory. Just glad to have some sacred space to watch a game we love in a beautiful garden of historic baseball delights. As God would have it, I sat next to a really nice young father who was new to Chicagoland and the Wrigley experience. It was fun to talk about the history and point out the lovely features of the friendly confines…
I hear talk of JumboTrons and luxury hotels across the street. Fine. The future must come. But please don’t spoil what is most sacred to every Cubs fan.
I would love for the Cubs to win a World Series. Believe me I would!! But honestly, we’ve all come back year after year after year because the Cubs and Wrigley symbolize something much more important: stories of hope handed down to each generation. I was sitting right there when it happened! I hope we never trade what is best about that for corporate franchise success.

Spring Module Course

This May, I will be teaching a 1 week intensive course on sermon delivery for Olivet Nazarene University’s Spring Module. Special Delivery: Living the Experience of Preaching. Contact Kate Burkey at kaburkey@olivet.edu 815.928.5670 by April 19th to register!
This course is an excellent opportunity to develop a key area of ministry: communicating God’s Word to people. The course will help you build on your strengths and improve your growth areas in sermon delivery. It deals with your vertical connection to God in the preaching moment, as well as your communication skills.
The class meets daily for a week and guides you through the process of writing a spirit-led biblical sermon and planning for spirit-filled delivery. Feedback is very individualized and presents a unique opportunity to grow in your preaching ministry.
You may audit the course for only $100 or take it for full credit toward your degree. Don’t miss this opportunity to develop your preaching gift!

New Sermon: That You Might Come to Believe

Ashes2FireCover

http://www.discovernewhope.org/04-07-13-that-you-might-come-to-believe/

Ashes2FireCover

http://www.discovernewhope.org/3-31-13-easter-sunday-go-in-3d/

Ashes to Fire series continues as Tim preaches on John 20:1-18 about living the resurrection reality in our world today.

(one correction: Rabbouni is, of course an Aramaic word, NOT traditional Hebrew)

A new kind of love…

I feel challenged to continue to understand and live out our ministry in the world as defined by the Gospel and the Missio Dei (mission of God), not by every cultural debate and divide. Regardless of any Supreme Court decision, how will the church embody God’s righteous reign in and for the world? Jesus is Lord, not any political or cultural mindset. Both justice and righteousness matter intensely to God. Like Jesus we take our stand with and among real people where they live. But we actually kneel, submitting to God’s kingdom, confessing our own shortcomings as we profess a clear faith in God and enter into loving relationship with our neighbor. We cannot compromise God’s revealed vision of morality (but must confess that we, too, have failed) and we dare not compromise God’s revealed vision of love (even as we admit that we have in the past).
Jesus on the cross was demonstrating the incredible power of a new kind of love. Violently abused, he suffered for the sins of others. Tortured by an ancient military Empire, he suffered with conquered and marginalized people everywhere. Hanging on the cross he asked the Father God to forgive his enemies, for they did not understand what they were doing. Can we rightly live with anything else in our hearts?
In this week Christians call Holy, as we remember Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, may we join Jesus’ continuing mission to embody the righteous rule of our loving God. May that be a surprising sign in our world of something better yet to come…
www.discovernewhope.org

A New Kind of Kingdom

Luke 19:28-40
Palm Sunday 2013 sermon on living with Jesus as our King, a sign of something better yet to come…

A Holy Week

www.discovernewhope.org
Palm Sunday worship: 10:30am 
Good Friday Communion Service: 6:30pm
Easter Sunday- Fellowship Breakfast: 10am, Resurrection Celebration: 10:30am

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, beginning Holy Week. Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the last week of his earthly ministry. Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time to shouts of praise and prayers for the deliverance of God’s people. Hosanna is essentially a Hebrew prayer for deliverance: something close to “Save, I pray!” The people longed to be delivered from Roman cruelty. And Jesus was arriving to set them free. But it was a different kind of freedom he came to bring. Jesus experienced the political problems that every resident of Judea and Galilee experienced. But he knew he needed to attack evil at its source: the stain of sin in the human condition. There would always be another conqueror, but there will only ever be one savior. Jesus was a king of a different kind, a king who would lay down his life, absorbing the full violence of an empire to set his people free from sin. Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord to bring full salvation to everyone. From slave to emperor, from laborer to President, everyone needs Jesus. Thank God, he came to save us!

Passover, basketball, Rob Bell, and church…

Yesterday was an interesting day. My first destination was interesting: the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana. A Jewish man who is a follower of Jesus and a member of our church invited me to a luncheon with an introduction to the Passover Seder meal. I felt extremely welcome as perhaps the only Gentile in the place. They were all interested in my ministry and family. It was a very meaningful presentation on the events of Passover and a sacred meal which remembers God’s mighty acts in delivering His people from slavery. Then we shared a lunch together loosely based on the elements of a full Seder meal. Nice. God’s theme of redemption did not begin in the New Testament and I gained a richer appreciation of God’s early redemptive work as recorded in the Old Testament. Everything in the New Testament builds on this foundation.
I got up from my chair and drove 4 hours to watch Iowa defeat Indiana State in the first round of the NIT. All the while, I was sitting next to one of my best friends. Lon is a Christian Counselor with ministry training who has a keen interest in theology and happens to be married to a girl my wife and I grew up with. It’s endless what we have to talk about. Our discussion turned to Rob Bell and the controversy surrounding his new book. If you know theology, my opinion is that Rob Bell is trying to be like Paul Tillich, a theologian from the 1950’s. He wore big plastic glasses and started writing a series of popular theology books. The most famous was The Courage to Be, which, in my opinion was very similar in topic and impact to the new What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Bell. Tillich’s book was not really aimed at academics. It wasn’t full of long footnotes because it was trying to have a conversation with the thinking public. He went on tours, gave lectures and became a pop culture icon. When he visited the campus of the University of Chicago it was pretty big news. TCtB focused on the sense of God that all of us have in common. It became part of a larger conversation. Frustrated many, encouraged others. So I think Tillich is Bell’s template. He’s talking past the academics, trying to speak to a different audience. Now that would be fine, but here’s the problem.
Since Bell left the pastorate he never mentions being part of a community of faith.  A lot of Bell’s recent public comments seem to be based on how the church needs to keep up with the world “just because.” In talking about gay marriage he said “that ship has sailed” and the church needs to affirm people where they are. No biblical justification offered. So, while I’m not one of these alarmist people who freaks out every time Bell does something new, I am a bit more concerned about the foundation of his ideas lately. I would like to hear some public comments about how he’s attending a church and serving others and in conversation about the stuff in his books somewhere besides book signings. I’m not actually going to purchase and read this book until I know more about Bell’s context. But the man does know how to come up with fresh language for talking about what he believes. Preachers should take note of that.
This brought me to reaffirm a couple things I’ve always believed. First, what Christians believe has to be grounded in what we understand the Bible to be saying. We need to give the Bible authority to speak into our lives no matter what year it is, or we’re just making up our own religion. Second, what we believe has to be continually lived out with others in the church. We are called by Jesus to be a community. I’m naturally held a accountable knowing I’ll have to see my friends there who may ask me how it’s going. If I fail to attend, someone will notice and check on me. We all need that encouragement to be faithful. By being present and caring, I do the same for others. And when we have disagreements we can talk about it based on the Bible until we get it right.
You can’t really get Jesus in a package that doesn’t include the church. That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about God with my faith community.

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