just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Friday, March 31, 2006

Psalm 51:1-13

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

The I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mark Palmer is Gone

Mark Palmer died on Monday in Ohio. The memorial service was today at Columbus Mennonite Church.

I met Mark in Cincy the other year at a regional gathering hosted by Vineyard Central. Some got to know him through his blog where he allowed us into his life and his battle with cancer. I remember being struck by his peaceful, anchored demeaner even in the valley of the shadow of death.

May the souls of the faithful by the mercy of God rest in peace. AMEN.

May divine help always be with us. And with those who are absent from us. AMEN.


"Joy is the essential proof that we are living in the Resurrection, and only by living in the Resurrection, fully and joyfully, can we follow Christ, for Resurrection is the journey's destination." Ivan Kauffman

An in the school of conversion there is joy because I believe in the Resurrection. Even though I am not fully what I shall be, there is joy. Even in the struggle to work out our salvation, to resist the powers...there is joy. There JOY. There is JOY.

"The greatest act of love any individual can offer the world is to become the person she or he was created to be."

The Prophetic Voice

It's Lent. I live in a Christian community that attempts to live with some level of mutual accountability...confessing our sins one to another, that we may be healed. I sense a need to be real (to confess) as I am being confronted by the Gospel and by prophetic voices living a radical lifestyle of following Jesus.

Our reading from Baptist Roots this week was a selection from the writings of Muriel Lester. I found myself convicted by her radical vision of Christian discipleship and the passion and integrity with which she lived her life. With her words, she may not be as clear as some would like in her confession of Christ. With her actions, her love for and solidarity with the poor, and her life...I find her witness to be very clear--perhaps more clear than some who confess Jesus very clearly with their words (myself included).

As we read the Scriptures, we are clearly called to respond to a Gospel that transforms. A way salvation that is both immaterial and material. A conversion that leads to discipleship. It's like the Apostle James says--"you say you have faith...show me your works." (James 2:17)

The Scriptures are clear in this regard. Jesus said to his disciples, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life." (Matthew 16:24-25)

And again in the gospel of Luke--"Great crowds were following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 'If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be disciple." (14:25-27)

People like Tom Fox, Muriel Lester and Shane Claiborne challenge me deeply...unsettle my comfortable Christianity. The witness of their life penetrates my soul...and what I hear is Jesus' call to follow him. The call to countercultural living that makes visible the Kingdom of God is ever present. Their witness calls me to allow the gospel to go deeper in my life--to continue in the school of conversion. I feel a need to confess to someone that I really don't see the same costliness in my own following of Christ. Not trying to beat myself up...just trying to be honest as the Gospel speaks to my situation.

"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is." Romans 12:2

Shane is a member of a community called the simple way in Philadelphia. He has written a book entitled, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.

Sometimes I think there is really only one Christian denomination in America: American Civil Religion—a consumerist, militarist, therapeutic, colonial, nationalist chaplaincy that baptizes and blesses whatever the richest and most powerful nation on the planet wants to do. But then I hear a voice like Shane’s, I know that at least a few follow another leader on a less-traveled road. Read this book and let it make you uncomfortable, as it did me. We need this kind of discomfort more than we know. – Brian McLaren, author, Generous Orthodoxy

"It's clear that Tom Fox gave a faithful witness. We're talking here about something that falls under the category of the foolishness of the cross. Tom had that cross foolishness that Corinthians tells us is the power of God."

Rich Meyer, CPT Palestine project support coordinator

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Heaven and Hell

What does the Bible really say about heaven and hell? Is hell a literal place...separated from God? These are questions that Brian McClaren raises in his fictional, nevertheless theologically grounded, book, The Last Word and The Word After That.

I found the essay by Peter Chopelas, entitled "Heaven & Hell in the Afterlife, According to the Bible" , to be resonant with the views that McClaren weaves into his theological novel.

Peter Chopelas opens his essay with the following thesis:

The idea that God is an angry figure who sends those He condemns to a place called Hell, where they spend eternity in torment separated from His presence, is missing from the Bible and unknown in the early church. While Heaven and Hell are decidedly real, they are experiential conditions rather than physical places, and both exist in the presence of God. In fact, nothing exists outside the presence of God.

He goes on to work with the Scriptures, with historical-textual analysis, and supports this quite well I believe. Here are some of the points he makes in the essay followed by a few comments of my own:

For the Jews and early Christians, even Sheol was not separated from God. Translating directly from the Greek of the Septuagint Palms 139:7 and 8 "Where can I go away from your spirit? And away from your presence, where can I flee? If I go up into heaven, you are there. If I go down into Hades, there is your presence."

So it is a gulf that exists in the heart, a spiritual gulf that causes us to experience God's loving presence as paradise or torment. A gulf that was not placed there by God, but rather created by the choices and actions of the sinner.

In many places God's presence and appearance is described as fire in the New Testament as well as in the Old. Examine for example, Matt 31:10-12, 25:41, Mark 9:49, Luke 12:49, Act 7:30, 1Cor 3:15, Heb 1:7, 12:29, Rev 3:18 and in numerous other places.

So clearly everyone experiences this fire caused by the presence of God. The Bible tells us there is no place apart from God, that he is everywhere and fills all things, so how can He create a place apart from Him? Moreover, why would He create a place just to punish the ones He says He loves unconditionally? That is not the nature of a loving God.

Unfortunately, because of the political expedience of controlling an often rebellious population, corrupt rules in the West, in collusion with corrupt clergy, and adopting ideas from non-Biblical yet popular fantasy novels such as Dante's Inferno, corrupted the use of this word during the middle ages. Eventually turning a verb into a noun by popular usage, even if theologically insupportable from the Bible.

Clearly, when you read the Bible in the original languages you learn that there is no place apart from God, and there is no place that God put you to punish you. What scripture reveals is that all eventually will be in the fiery presence of the Lord, and this presence will be either "eternal torment" or "comfort and glory". Judgment and paradise both come from being in God's presence.

Also totally absent from the scriptures is any hint that demons are tormenting sinners. This again comes from Dante's Inferno and other pagan concepts, not from the Bible. Because any "sinning angels" in the presence of God, are also in torment, and their power is made ineffective.

It is not God's intention that his love will torment us, but that will be the inevitable result of pursuing our own selfish desires instead of seeking God.

So "hell" is not a "place" but rather a condition we allow ourselves to be in, not because of God's "justice" but because of our own selfish and sinful disobedience. In other words, we put ourselves in "hell" when we do anything other than seeking God's will. It is not that God wants to harm us; He loves us unconditionally, but torment is the result of coming into His pure presence when we are in an impure condition.

Why would a God who loves us unconditionally torment us for eternity, because of an equally unbiblical notion of Divine Justice? In fact nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly state that it is God that punishes the sinners. If you put your hand in the fireplace, is it the fire's intention to punish you? Or is the torment you experience caused by your own foolish action? It is merely the nature of the fire to burn your unprotected skin.

Calvin further rationalized if God is all knowing, then He knows who will be saved and who will not even before they are born, so therefore He must have created some people just so He can torment them in Hell for eternity. This is the infamous "predestination" of Calvin, which makes God the author of evil. This is not Biblical and certainly not Christian. Ultimately this doctrine denies free will, the choice that all humans have to either pursue righteousness, or selfishness.

This view of heaven and hell not being two separate places, but rather two different experience of God's presence as a result of our response to his love now is not something I have been presented with until recent years. It resonates with my understanding of God revealed in Scriptures. In my view, it seems to provide a way of understanding the eschaton and God's judgement that does not impugn God's unconditional love and mercy, and on the other hand doesn't besmirch his righteousness and holiness.

My one question is where the new heavens and the new earth fit into Chopelas paradigm (which is that of Eastern Orthodox Christianity). If all are present to God in the future outside of time and space, how are we to interpret passages such as Revelation 21:1, Romans 8:20-22, and 2 Peter 3:13. Perhaps it is something beyond our grasp, another dimension, but I think I have been moving toward the understanding that God is going to make all things new--even creation. So that which is to come is not so much some mansions, on streets of gold, up there in heaven...but also a renewed (recreated) creation.

Our view of heaven and hell, of how the Kingdom of God comes, has a huge impact on how we live and bear witness to the Gospel in the now of history. The fundamentalist view tends to write off the here and now...preaching a gospel that is primarily focused on getting people saved and made right spiritually...but little time for seeing the redemption of humanity and creation worked out in specific ways now (stewardship of environment, social justice issues, peace, feeding the poor, looking our for the alien, refugee, immigrant...). The reign of God is primarily understood as something in the future, when God will sort everything out. In the meantime, this perspective bides its time until God raptures the Church out of here and the rest of godless humanity is Left Behind to suffer.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Action steps from sermon

It has come to my attention that I failed to give all five action steps out of the message on Jesus clearing the temple. So here they are.

How is God calling us to action...to be transformed through the story of Jesus clearing the Temple?

The challenge would be that sometime in the next two weeks you would:

1. Sit and talk with someone you wouldn't usually sit and talk with when in a group setting.

2. Look for where your path crosses with those who are different than you (racially, culturally, socially, economically...).

3. Initiate a conversation with someone who is in some way represents an "outsider"--someone who speaks a different language, has different views, different experiences. (Don't like the insider/outsider language!)

4. Ask someone who does not attend church (regularly) what God is saying to them...and LISTEN.

5. Ask someone, what is particularly difficult or challenging in their life right now...and LISTEN.

Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Hotel Rwanda

I watched Hotel Rwanda for the first time yesterday. I have been wanting to do that for some time, but knew that I had to be emotionally prepared to do so. It's not the kind of movie you watch for something light. It is powerfully moving. I highly recommend the movie.

The whole Rwanda crisis came to my attention again when we discussed it in class the other week. The inhumanity of genocide is beyond comprehension...disturbing.

Add to the picture the fact that Rwanda was considered "the most Christian country in Africa." Lee Camp, in his book entitled Mere Discipleship, writes:

The breakdown of Rwandan Christianity, unable to stem the tide of mass murder, is all the more puzzling.

"In fact, the Rwandan genocide highlights a recurrent failure of much historic Christianity. The proclamation of the "gospel" has often failed to emphasize a fundamental element of the teaching of Jesus, and indeed, of orthodox Christian doctrine: 'Jesus is Lord' is a radical claim, one that is ultimately rooted in questions of allegiance, of ultimate authority, of ultimate norm and standard for human life. Instead, Christianity has often sought to ally itself comfortably with allegiance to other authorities, be they political, economic, cultural, or ethnic. Could it be that "Jesus is Lord" has become one of the most widespread Christian lies? Have Christians claimed the lordship of Jesus, but systematically set aside the call to obedience to this Lord? At least in Rwanda, with "Christian Hutus" slaughtering "Christian Tutsis (and vice versa), "Christian" apparently served as a faith brand name--a "spirituality," or a "religion"--but not a commitment to a common Lord.
(Camp, 2003).

Ten years after the genocide in Rwanda that took the lives of 800,000 people, the country's children continue to struggle with the lingering impact of the atrocities (2004)

Rwanda is home to one of the world's largest proportions of child-headed households, with an estimated 101,000 children living in 42,000 households.

It's heart-wrenching to consider the impact that living through these traumatic atrocities has on the lives of children. I came across this site that has the artwork of children who lived through the genocide. My heart grieves for the children whose tender lives were devastated by the dark acts of evil.

Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Jesus Clears the Temple

Some questions I'm chewing on as I work with the text for Sunday:

How and why have we "domesticated" Jesus into a meek-n-mild savior?

To what extent did Jesus use violence in cleansing the temple?

Consider how some of our deepest religious impulses and places (in this story the Temple) lead us astray.

How might we avoid all forms of false religious security?

Consider the ways we "sanitize" the Jesus story.

Monday, March 13, 2006

West meets East

The final writing project for my class, Conversations with Anabaptist Theology Today, will be a paper that engages the Anabaptist tradition in conversation with another tradition on one theological issue. Undoubtedly, my paper will be a conversation between Anabaptism and Eastern Orthodoxy--as this is the conversation that my journey has led me to over the last number of years.

I found the article on MCC's work in Syria to be fascinating. Interesting to see this bridge of experience between Mennonites and Orthodoxy.

I also find that this article does a masterful job of comparing and contrasting the divergent trajectories Christianity in the West and in the East has taken because of various historical/theological influences. I am intrigued by the possibilities of engaging Eastern Christianity as one who has been formed within the radical reformation wing of Western Christianity. This offers both joys and challenges. Yet I press on.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Tom Fox

Just saw the wire that confirms the killing of CPTer Tom Fox. I was caught aback by the news. May his life, witness and martyrdom bring about a more peaceful and just reality in the Middle East.

How long will the violence go on? How long must there be wailing in the streets stained with blood? When will the lion lay down with the lamb, neighbor embrace neighbor, and the nations study war no more? When will hope overtake fear, when will life overtake death? When will the hatred that leads to suicidal missions of terror be replaced with dreams of a life worth living?

Jesus, Lord have mercy.

God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Matthew 5:9-10

Rhythm of Life

There is a strong current to life in our North American culture. It is like standing in the waves at the Jersey shore at the right time of the day. The crashing waves, followed by the forceful undertow, combine to toss a person around like a helpless manequin.

Other tasks have taken me away from blogging for the last week or so. I am working on the next issue of Missional Compass, our church newsletter among other things. How important it is for me to have influences in my life that run counter to the dominant current of the culture in which I live. Among these are the practice of Christianity in a tradition that emphasizes the community of believers in following Christ. I must confess, there is much in me that resists community. It is easier (at times) to be independent, to be self-directed, self-determined-- in many areas. Theology, Church, vocation, material....

I also am grateful for what Arthur Paul Boers has called "the rhythm of God's grace." The practice of praying with the church--fixed hour prayer. Don't be fooled, I am not perfect in keeping the hours. But this discipline is a grace to me as I find the practice of fixed-hour prayer consistent, even when I am not. I re-enter and discover the stream of prayer that is flowing, even beyond my own willpower and discipline. It's like there is a cadence, a rhythm that helps me find my rhythm--a rhythm of prayer connected with the current of God, not just the chaotic, spirit-withering pace of culture.

Let me seek the Lord while he may still be found.
I will call upon his name; while he is near.

Lord and Master of my life,
Take away from me the will to be lazy and sad,
The desire to get ahead of other people,
And to boast and brag.

Give me instead a pure and humble spirit,
The will to be patient with other people,
And to love them.

Grant Lord that I may see my own sins,
And keep me from judging the things other people do.
For you are holy, now and forever.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


When I was five, we lived in Dallas, Texas. Didn't get too much snow.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Problem with Women's Ministries (and Men's)

I have a lot of appreciation for Frederica Matthewes-Green. I have read a number of her books (The Illumined Heart and Facing East)and essays. She writes from the context of the Eastern Orthodox church, I read her from the Anabaptist context. Nevertheless, I find her insights and analysis to bridge both traditions.

She wrote an essay entitled, The Problem with Women's Ministries, that appeared in Beliefnet, July 6, 2004. I really resonate with many of the observations she makes in this piece. I would say her points are well made and should cause us to think about how ministries that focus specifically on men or women are framed. What is the thrust and integrative motiff of the women's or men's ministry? What are the theological views underlying the type of spirituality that is prevalent? How are men and women being called to maturity in Christ and spiritual depth? How are the ministries taking their cues from Scripture and how are they a reflection of the cultural understanding of gender and gender roles?

Matthewes-Green states:

Not only is there no "women’s ministry," there’s no "women’s spirituality." No lofty ephemera about women’s unique spiritual sensitivity, like we’re delicate canaries sniffling in a hallway. No giving Hildegard of Bingen the kind of gushing adoration she’d prefer we gave her Lord. No sour, resentful whining about how women’s unique contribution to the faith was trampled by the bad, bad patriarchal church.

"Women’s ministry" and "women’s spirituality" appear to come from opposite poles of the Christian compass-one is mostly evangelical right and the other more liturgical left.

And she hits a homerun in the analysis that follows:

Women and men just aren’t that different. Oh, we’re different in some intriguing ways, and it can be fun to band together for all-gal or all-guy projects. But when it comes to the tragic mess Christ came to heal, we’re pretty much the same. Men and women stand on level ground at the foot of the Cross, "working out our own salvation" in repentance and humility and without a lot of self-centered blather. Women don’t need to have our own little corner of the church where we can feel precious or, alternatively, cranky. In every essential thing, as far as life in Christ is concerned, the differences between men and women are irrelevant. So why make a big deal over them?

So on the flip side I also tend to look with suspicion on books or movements that focus exclusively on "men's spirituality" (i.e. John Eldridge, Wild at Heart) Is it helpful to understand spirituality through gender? How might the Gospel call us to confront the unique aspects of gender with the common tools of humility and repentance, of prayer, study, community, hospitality and silence? I tend to see these tools as applying equally to both genders and sometimes see gender specific spirituality as making unhealthy distinctions in how we interact and respond to the living Christ. I think these gender-specific approaches can sometimes reinforce immature and culturally determined patterns of the masculine and the feminine. For example, while women may more easily express emotions, it is just as important that men connect with the emotional part of their being. Dominant culture does not reinforce this. Real men aren't in touch with their emotions. This is counter to the image of men as strong and independent. I could go into much greater depth, but I will leave this post for now.

This would be an interesting topic to hear from others.

I invite your responses.