The Advice Generation Gap

There are a lot of religious ghosts in this article.

The article is a short cute story about “kids these days” and how they don’t value the oldsters advice like they used to. The 4th commandment (5th if you go by the Reformed count) is Honor your Father and Mother. Luther’s explanation, like all his explanations, enlarges the domain. Father and Mother are the stand-ins for any authority figure. The trick is of course what does honor mean? Do exactly and everything they say? Or do the Democrats of four years ago with “protest is the highest form of patriotism” have a claim to honor? In either case a certain respect for experience would seem to be needed. And the church, that entity that likens itself to a mother, is in many ways the real oldster on the block. Some of its advice goes back 4000 years.

Now read this clip…

“Age is no longer the qualifier for being the go-to person for advice,” says Jason Dorsey, 32, a cross-generational consultant who helps companies understand Generation Y. “Yes, if I go into a hardware store, I want advice from someone over age 60, because he could build my house with a screwdriver. But if I walk into an Apple store, I want the young person with blue hair and stretched earlobes, because he can talk to my computer.”

In short, “if we want to learn how to tie a tie, change a diaper, mix a drink, or cook a lobster, we can go on YouTube and find a video,” says Mr. Dorsey. “We don’t call mom and dad.” …Now an actuarial analyst in Atlanta, Mr. Borg says he often challenges advice he receives from older people. For instance, they’ve counseled him to buy a house because prices are low. “Older people think renting is throwing away money,” he says. “But I think owning a home is throwing away financial freedom. I couldn’t pick up and move to a new city. I couldn’t go back to Japan to see my old friends. I’d be tied to the house.”

What do Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Borg both have in common? They’ve both replaced mom and dad or lets just say family with something more nebulous or distributed. YouTube and financial freedom. Is that form of freedom really the way to thrive? The church says no, honor your father and mother. And that is the only commandment with a promise – that is will go well with you and you will live a long life.

The advice of the church runs smack into the conceits of 20 – 30 year olds. Now that is always the case. The church is always confronting sin and stubborness. But, this is a generation that does not take advice. Just because the church has been around 2000 years, its teachings have born out time and again, and your parents say its good for you does not mean that the kids will listen. The mode of teaching has to be more experimental. The church does not put down its claim to authority, but it probably needs to wear it very lightly, and make arguments for it where it didn’t in the past testing its own virtue of patience and hope.

Mysteries in the Spirit

Text: 1 Cor 14:1-12

Looking at the passage for today those in Corinth are hungry for what Paul calls spiritual gifts. If you read closer you realize that these spiritual gifts are not the list of love, joy, peace, patience, etc but are manifestation of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues. Paul directs them instead at two things: 1. prophecy and 2. building up the church. I could be wrong here, but that word prophecy is not the popular imagination of telling the future, but simply the speaking of the Word of God. At a minimum, that is supposed to be the guy in the pulpit. Now I’m sure there are many times when what that guy says sounds like he is talking in a tongue, but it should go beyond that. We should not be looking at speaking the Word to God alone in showy babbling tongues, but speaking the Word to each other. Instead of being foreigners to each other, we are to be brothers and sisters. Instead of looking for ways to look holy without saying anything, look to build up the place where we meet prophets and hear the Word. Is there some way that you can share the Word of God and prophesy to your brothers and sisters?

Being a church

Text: 1 Cor 5:9 – 6:11

The text is about how people get along with each other and about making judgments. Underlying it is a much different and healthier view of what the church is. For most of the 20th century in the West the church was thought of by its people as an institution, and one of those institutions freely joined or left. That placed the individual in the position of judge or magistrate. One could freely choose which church to be a part of or freely choose to not be a part.

Paul has a much different thought. The church is those people called by God to follow Jesus Christ exemplified by sanctified lives together. In that western institutional church the goal is numbers alone. If someone is living immorally, but claiming to be part of the church, the institutional church turns a blind eye. Or it might go so far as justifying and supporting the behavior. You don’t chase away numbers. In Paul’s church, the church drives them out, and leaves them to God’s judgment. The purpose is not numbers, but in helping people live sanctified lives. Which one is showing love, the one that enables immorality or the one calling you back into relationship with Jesus Christ?

Living sanctified lives together as the people of God. Do we always get it right immediately? No way. Does that body take a painful amount of time to see the right? Often. If you act like the church is a called people in a world that treats it as a come and go institution are you going to be taken advantage of? Yep. So, do we complain about that. Not according to Paul. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? Being church is not an easy calling.

Numbers, members and disciples

William Willimon is a great preacher. And somewhere along the way he decided to give up a cushy job as the Dean of the Chapel at Duke and become the presiding bishop of North Alabama Conference in the UMC. That is roughly like giving up a job that has no accountability where people praise you all day and you get plenty of time to fly around, give a talk and hear more people praise you to take a job where you get all the responsibility with little power and have to deal with all the crap that an institutional church throws up the ladder and hear people complain about stuff all day. In short, this guy is putting his life where his words have been at.

Every now and then he throws up a blog post here (roughly weekly, but with some longer stretches). This particular post seems important. Dr. Willimon is in the midst of making a argument that the church of the very near future (i.e. the day after tomorrow) better be fundamentally one concerned about Theology. In building or re-building churches there are a lot of techniques and a bunch of ways to talk about them. There is even an entire “movement” dedicated to these techniques called appropriately “the church growth movement”. Most of what is in that movement is nothing more than applying to the church the best practices of institutions in the world. Now the church is supposed to be different – it is not only an institution of this world – but can you really complain about things that boil down to “if its important measure it, track it and hold people responsible”?

The problem is that a church reduced to what it measures and tracks is a church without the gospel. It is also one without disciples. You can be a member of such a group. That place might claim to sell all kinds of things with that membership. [Joel Osteen promises you – your best you now!] But that mentality of buying and selling or of being a member is really anathema to the message of the church. The church has a message – Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The church is not selling that message – it is proclaiming it – this is real, believe it, come and see, follow me! Members get charged at the door. The church gives away its proclamation. It does not have any secret wisdom that it is hiding for those who buy the premium package. But what the church wants is tougher. It wants disciples. It wants people who will change their lives in accordance with what Jesus taught. Members receive fair product in this world for their dues. Disciples are guaranteed nothing in this world, but are formed for the next. In a membership metality, the disciple looks like an idiot. The Church is in that sense to be that gathering of fools for Christ.

The big question is how do we as a church that is re-building make disciples and not settle for members? How do we remain true to the vision points shared earlier for St. Mark – teaching the apostolic faith, encouraging growth and depth in the faith? Are we currently memebers or disciples?

The edge of the cliff

Text: Hebrews 6:1-12

Hebrews is not a book for the lighthearted or the new Christian. Its argument is the centrality and sufficiency of Jesus Christ and it assumes a large background of knowledge about the OT and How God interacted with his people. The ultimate purpose as I’ve read it is to argue apathetic or stagnating Christians to a fuller living of the faith. Our text quickly reviews just what the writer takes as basics of the Christian faith: 1) Repentance, 2) Faith, 3) Baptism (i.e. ablutions), 4) Laying on of hands (ministry?), 5) resurrection of the dead and 6) eternal judgement. When you think about those things, they can all be intellectualized or made point in time events. A person can give assent to them (i.e. express belief in them) without attempting to live out that belief.

The background to the next portion is Israel on the verge of the promised land. They send out 12 spies. These are people who witnessed the Exodus and who stood at Mt. Sinai. They expressed belief in God and took part in the ritual life of the community, yet when they came back from spying out the land, they did not live out what God intended. (Numbers 13 – 14) And the punishment was death in the desert. Not a single person of that generation would enter the Promised land. The writer of the Hebrews says be careful that you do not receive the same fate. If you have been to the promised land, tasted the heavenly gift (forgiveness of sins), and turned away, there is no restoration.

This does not speak of sin and repentance, but the sin against the Holy Spirit – calling God a liar in his promises. Just how far can one go in apostasy before committing that sin? We don’t want to know. If you walk up to a cliff, do you want to find out where that tipping point is that throws you over it? Instead son’t be sluggish,”but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Press on in the faith. Live and grow in the faith. Don’t map out that cliff edge.

Irony at the Cross – Lent 6

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I am a member of my Generation. We are finely tuned to irony. The gulfs between what one person says and what another, or the reader or God observes. When we read Mark’s account of the crucifixion (Mark 15:25-32), the weight of the irony is amazing.

An exerpt from this sermon…
…Coming off the cross, would only prove there are limits to God’s love. It would have been a sign of a lesser God. But we have the great God, the God, whose love was not limited. Jesus saved others, by not saving himself. While the establishment was demanding signs of a lesser God, the Father saw the greatest sign of love and belief imaginable. His son gave his life to save the lost world, and He entrusted all to the justice of the Father…

Don’t look inward, look outward for our salvation and our mission

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Text: Mark 14:32-42

Two poles – 1) It’s about Jesus and 2) He’s got a mission. That has been the core summary of this series through Holy Week in Mark’s Gospel. Our spiritual adversary tries to push us off that second pole. The last thing he wants is faithful Christians actually sharing the Word that frees us from his kingdom of chains. He will shoot us a variety of lies: You don’t measure up to the saints, you don’t talk well enough, you aren’t a perfect person. Gracefully, it is not about us. If it were, the devil would be right. We aren’t enough of anything. But it is about Jesus and what He has done for us on that cross. Peter, the leader and example of the disciples, is our great biblical example. The disciple who fell asleep and denied his Lord at the hour of great distress, is never told by Jesus to go away, but is always invited along. Peter, after all that betrayal, is told to, ‘feed my sheep’. If the devil has you looking inward, you will never get the mission. Our salvation and our mission come from outward. They come from the one it is all about – Jesus Christ.

Ritual – Mark 14:22-26

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Wow, it was a busy week. This text was the core of my lenten devotion last week. Prepping for Mauday Thursday as well. It was Mark’s account of the Last Supper. In these lenten devotions, we’ve been walking through the Markan account of Holy Week. I’ve also been using a phrase to look at the events. It’s about Jesus, and He has a mission.

The cloud of biblical images around the last supper supports that bi-polar sentence better than many. The OT cloud is the passover. In the Last Supper Jesus redefines every element as pointing to him. A 1500 year old ritual is redefined in startling ways. Not the least of which is it becomes forward looking instead of a remembrance meal. The passover remembered when God acted. The Last Supper/Lord’s Supper recalls/longs for the day Jesus drinks again in the Kingdom. The NT cloud is all about mission and it is in parables. The wedding banquet at the end of time. In those parables the Kings says go bring everyone in. The city dwellers and the country folk, the crippled, the blind and the poor. That missional imperative is something we definitely know. We would often rather argue about theological points or fine shadings. We don’t know much of that for certain. What we do know – It is about Jesus, and He’s got a mission…and he wants us on that mission.

In finance there is a term – safe harbour. What it means is that there are gray areas of tax law and accounting rules. You can explore those grey areas, usually through the tax courts. If you lose, you will owe penalties. There is usually a safe harbour, behavior spelled out at appropriate. The tax courts may eventually rule the behavior wrong and change the regulations, but if you were in that safe harbour there will be no penalty. Theologically speaking there is a safe harbour – personally, believe and be baptized; as a church, be about mission.

Lent 3 – Two types of good, and a time to Break the Jar – Mark 14:3-9

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The text is Mak 14:3-9. The story is a woman’s annointing of Jesus with a year’s wages worth of perfume. Jesus praises her and he tells the disciples to stop picking on her. He does not denounce their version of good – counting the cost and helping the poor. Instead he denounces their lack of awareness of the time. There is a time to break the jar and pour everything out. The following is from the full text…

“…When the time was right, God broke the jar. He incarnated himself in Jesus and he did not turn back. He poured himself out upon this earth. The one through whom all things were made became a helpless baby. The commander of armies of angels, called twelve Jewish misfits who would desert and betray him. The author of life would taste death on the cross and be placed in a grave without burial preparation. At the right time God was a spendthrift. At the right time God so loved the world that he gave his only son. And that Son, Jesus Christ, revealed and incarnated the Father to us.

As disciples we are called to a similar spendthrift task. To incarnate the love of Jesus for the lost in this world. And that requires both types of good. It requires the hard flinty type to be intentional about sharing the gospel. It requires the good helping the poor. It requires the good of being leaders in the community. It requires the good of prayer and study for discernment and looking for that task that we as a people or as individuals have been given. And it requires the good of being willing to break the jar when we see that opportunity that God has given us to bring Christ to our community…”

Two Poles – It’s about Jesus and The Lord has a Mission

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Continuing the mid-week series started Ash Wednesday we are working our way through the Holy Week account in the gospel according to Mark. Below is the compressed devotion coming out of the fuller text. Please join us looking at The Mission of Holy Week.

Text: Mark 14:1-2 (“But not during the feast…”)

We like to think that we are in control. The Chief Priests and the teachers of the law wanted to kill Jesus, but they wanted to do it on their terms and in their time. “Not during the feast, or the people may riot.” How did that work out? We like to think that we are in control, but we are only in control as much as we are following the will of God. It was God’s will to endure the cross for our sins. It is God’s will that we should make disciples. He gives us his Word. He places us in situations. He wants us to walk in the good works he has planned out in advance for us to do. We can refuse. We can book passage to Tarshish. But big whales often get in the way of those trips. We can rebel. We can look for ways to kill the Spirit that lives within us. Unfortunately, that often works. Our hearts become hard. We no longer hear the Word. The better path is one of prayer and study and trial. We pray and we study to be able to discern the path God wants us to walk. We intentionally look for those God wants us to disciple. Discipleship can be a trial. It does not always work out. Our disciples can refuse and rebel just like we can. But do we want to find ourselves in the feet of the chief priests working against God?