Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jesus and parables

I have been reading, thanks to a commendation by Internet Monk I once read, Klyne R Snodgrass's Stories with Intent: a comprehensive guide to the parables of Jesus. This book is, in a word, wonderful.

Growing up it was hard to think of any segment of biblical literature more apt to abuse than Jesus' teaching. I once heard a person argue that because Jesus said nothing about homosexuality that meant there was nothing wrong with it. An exceptionally popular parable to abuse is that of the good Samaritan. Many people have taken up the parable as a way to argue that "my neighbor" is the poor, the oppressed, the outcast. One fellow said almost literally that his neighbors are whomever the Republicans persecute. Nice. I told him that his neighbors are obviously Republicans since those are the people who doesn't WANT to have as neighbors. He disagreed. I said he just proved the point of the parable both as Jesus tells it and as Luke framed it. So much for that. Some people like to frame "my neighbor" as whomever they feel they are already helping as though that gets them in on the good side of Jesus. jesus' parable about the Samaritan demolishes our right to ask who our neighbor is.

I would say quite bluntly that if someone left mars Hill in a tiff about things that that person must recognize the people at Mars Hill are their neighbors. Ditto to Mars Hill. The people who leave and are bitter are also your neighbors. This is just a matter of taking Jesus' teaching seriously. For a Republican Obama should be considered the neighbor. For Democrats McCain should be considered the neighbor. Find the person you hate most, the person you least want to be your neighbor, the one who has done the moost to harm both you and the people you love. That's still your neighbor. Jesus didn't sidestep any issues about what terrible things Samaritans had said and done. The Samaritans were still a group that sold out any confession of faith in Yahweh when it was more convenient to claim otherwise to avoid a military annihilation. The Samaritans still worshipped in ways not prescribed by or forbidden by the Law given through moses. They were, in a word, still messed up. But Jesus chose teh Samaritan to reveal to the man who sought to justify himself that he was NOT justified for defining who his neighbor was the way he had.

Snodgrass makes a great point early in the book, that we are often like generations before us tempted to spiritualize parables to avoid the sharp end of conviction they would bring to us. Another equal and opposite reaction is to strip parables of any allegorical or metaphorical function and make them just little aphorisms about moral teaching rather than stories that reveal the nature of God's reign now and in the age to come. There are two equally deadly ways of atomizing the teaching of Christ. In generations past the social gospel was often the clearest way of distorting or misrepresenting the teaching of Christ but it is surely not the only way. We can all too often view the Pharisees as the only group which came under jesus' criticism and forget the Zealots and the Sadducees. But we are often among those, too.

a general ramble on gratitude, work, and Ecclesiastes 2:24

I have come to the end of another year of my life, however long that life may be. And I have considered advice or exhortation or what-have-you from people over the years. I have considered how in my twenties I wanted to have and be what I am most certainly not now. The amibitions of youth are often futile but they seem like the surest thing to build a future upon when you're in your teens and early twenties ... or at any other stage in life. You can dream what you will and plan what you will but your future is in the hands of the Almighty.

I was reading Ecclesiastes recently and found it quite sobering for a variety of reasons. I love the book, by the way. I was reading about how two are better than one and I am most certainly one and likely to stay that way for a while. I considered the observation of the man who had no companion or descendent yet worked and worked and did not ask himself, "For whom am I doing all this work?" Truthfully I am that sort of fellow and yet I have no wealth amassed at all, nothing that means anything.

The Preacher says that there is nothing better for a man to do than to enjoy the work that God gives him to do under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:24). This is not a proposal to go find work that you love and enjoy and THEN be thankful to God for it. This is a suggestion that you enjoy the work you ALREADY have as a gift from the Lord. This is not some "What color is your parachute" or "do what you love and the money will follow" injunction. We are told that we should find pleasure and enjoyment in our work because that is the work God has given us, not because it is the work we want or the work we think we deserve.

We are in an economic situation that does not look like it will get better. I feel as though I have so little that I have much to lose but it doesn't feel like much to lose. I have a job and I have a home. The rest of the things are things that, honestly, I crave having in my life but do not truly need. If I were to lose them tomorrow I would grieve. I would cry, I would be angry and I would shout. Seriously, I would. But I also recognize how little is actually needed for life, especially for a single man. It is not that I don't want things at all but that I also realize that at some point I'm going to die and those things I have will not go intot he grave with me. God has given us life to be grateful for now, not later.

A living dog is better than a dead lion and yet we see mto be a generation that craves the histories of dead lions. We so often would rather be the dead lion than the living dog. While there is life there is hope but hope in what? In the dreams of youth? It is the easiest thing for a young man to dream of being a rock star or an important man. It is easy for a man to drea mof being a great artist or writer, great at something that society frankly does not really need more of. This is not to demean the arts at all. I love the arts a great deal. I have blogged plenty here and elsewhere about my love of the art of music. Far be it from me to say there is no value whatever in the arts.

But I'm hitting the middle of the 30s next year and I am realizing how in the grand scheme of things the arts really don't mean anything in the end. It is not food, not shelter, not friendship, not safety, not family, none of these things. Hindemith once remarked that the greatest artists tended to be people who didn't obsess over their work mattering. Hindemith fell pray to this temptation as he went on in life, which is too bad because it was his earlier works that were the greater works, by and large. When we wish to make much of ourselves we reveal how small we are but if Christ lifts us up then we are able to comprehend our worth in light of Him, not ourselves.

I have often wondered if my job is really worth doing and some have advised me that my talents and abilities are wasted at the job that I have. But when I survey the condition of the city I live in and consider the number of friends I have who don't have jobs I realize that it is best to be grateful for the job I have. There are plenty of things I could complain about if I wished and often I wish to do so!

But I realize at the end of each week that I have a job, a job that many may look askance at, that many may think is not good enough for a man of my knowledge or abilities. More and more I have come to feel that is not a scriptural attitude about work and more and more I feel that it is best to be grateful for the job that I have than to pine for jobs that I don't have, let alone jobs that I think I deserve. I don't really deserve any job as far as that goes. Work is a gift from the Lord, though it has a lot of sorrow added to it. I have the job I have because the Lord gave it to me.

I have a job that affords me enough to live on by myself and to in a small way be a help to others. I have a job that affords me enough time to spend with friends when I have gotten home at the end of the work day, a job that not all people have. Those who work swing or graveyard shifts either have friends from that life or rarely see their friends. I have a job that allows me to live, not two jobs. Some people have to work more than one job to support themselves or their family. I am grateful that I have one job and do not have to work two.

Would I like my life to be different? Sure, you bet. But God does not owe me anything, even if I were not a Christian I would still say that the world does not owe me anything.

Mark Driscoll's thoughts on a low Sunday, a few thoughts on the value of proofreading for content as well as style

http://blog.marshillchurch.org/2008/12/22/final-thoughts-from-pastor-mark-at-1237am-after-the-lowest-sunday-in-many-years/

I consider this a great object lesson that no matter how good you think your material is or how inspired you feel you should, if you're a blogger that anyone knows or cares about, have someone proof read and copy edit your work. Don't just post without thinking through as many of the implications of what you've written as you can. Because if you don't, well, you come off as saying things you probably never even thought you'd come across as saying. If I posted at 12:37am after hours of talking in front of people I'd do worse, no doubt, but there's stuff here that reveals some logical gaps that I think wouldn't have happened had Mark waited a day or so.

After more than 12 years at Mars Hill I have found days like today are great learning opportunities and I want to share them with you before I log off and start to focus on the holidays:
1. We learn who sees Mars Hill as a calling and who sees it as a job.
Those who see it as a job are the first to call in and cancel their duties, not show up, dog it, or leave early. Those who see their service at Mars Hill as a calling go beyond the call of duty to cover for everyone else. Today, for example, we had a staff guy walk a few miles to work in the snow as his car was totaled by a drunk driver. We also had a volunteer catch a ride many miles in to serve the evening services and worked both evening services even though he had no way home and was just trusting that God would allow him to catch a ride with someone.


These sorts of snowy days in the Emerald City are great learning opportunities. Learning about waht? We seem to have learned that staff and volunteers will make big sacrifices to come do the jobs they feel called to do. A staff person and a volunteer are people who probably see Mars Hill as both a calling and a job so holding them up as a contrast to the people who didn't show up during the weekend of a snow storm seems problematic. People who don't show up to church because of snow are not dogging it, leaving early, cancelling their duties or the like to a job because church isn't a job. Because they don't HAVE to be there (which I'll get to in a moment) they don't go.

Mark is assessing the situation as a professional minister first and somewhere along the line as a shepherd, maybe. The staff guy who walked a few miles to work is walking TO WORK. He sees it as a job. That volunteer caught a ride and worked both evening services with no way to get home and was just trusting God would allow him to catch a ride with someone. I've sometimes been that guy in some settings and what happened was no one was going my way and I rode public transit. It's easy to praise someone else's sacrifices when you don't have to make any reciprocal sacrifice to make sure the guy who sacrificed gets home safely. Not saying people shouldn't make sacrifices but I am saying that it's just sloppy thinking to use staff and ministry volunteers as examples of people who DON'T see attending church as a job. Clearly they do.

2. We learn about our own heart.
If we are depressed, complaining, or secretly wishing we could be home there is something wrong with us. Days like today are opportunities for us to love our volunteers, pour extra appreciation on those who come, and make sure that we do not neglect those who join us. Charles Spurgeon once said that when you pay attention to the seat that is empty, you are paying a disservice to the one that is filled. This fall we got as high as nearly 8000 people.


Point 2 is where it is most apparent someone wasn't proofreading this for things even as simple as paragraph breaks. It's too bad because with a few paragraph breaks this would have read nicely.

This must be a message for the staff and leaders and not for the congregation or anyone who simply didn't show up. This is solid stuff for pastors and staff who might be resentful for going out to serve when the attendence isn't what they hoped it would be. Of course it should be noted that for all the people who didn't show up, they don't have any problems at all that we can presume. Mars Hill does such a great job of making it possible to download sermons and give on-line that plenty of people who could not safely drive to the services could still hear teaching, give to the ministry, and download a few songs or put on a CD and have some corporate singing and prayer where they can.

Resentment is not only a disservice to the people who ARE there it is also a disservice to the people who AREN'T there because they want to be cautious and safe for the sake of themselves and their families. If a guy's car got totalled before ths snow storm and he walked miles through the snow to get to work I hope someone offers to give that guy a ride.

With all due respect, this is the Driscoll who admitted he overworked himself to the brink of adrenal failure and had to start delegating a lot of things to other people because he was destroying his health. Driscoll is probably not the best person to consult about what a reasonable sacrifice should be for the sake of a job. He's admitted he's not so good at taking sabbaths here and there over the years. I'm glad he is grateful for the people who showed up but he also doesn't sound like he'd be all that good to work for unless you share his similarly workaholic nature. If I were married and had kids during a snow storm I'd dust off the guitar, play some songs and sing them with my family, read some Bible with them and stay home.

But, today we dropped down to a few thousand for the worst snow and ice I have ever seen in Seattle. But, we were still statistically a mega-church today (around 2000 people) which only roughly 1500 churches in America are. Of that, about 2/3 of the attendance was at the video campuses and I spoke live to the campus with the greatest percentage decline. The total attendance at Ballard where I preach live was…666 people of all things. I preached to 80 people at the first service in a room that seats 1300, and the best attended of the four services today was about 250 people. But, those are people who Jesus loves and our attitude toward them says a lot about us. Even if there is one person, that one person is someone God has brought for us to minister to and if they are willing to come we must be willing to love them with Jesus love. I walked the floor acting as a greeter today, thanking the volunteers, and one kind woman asked me if days like this bummed me out. I said no and explained that I can still remember the days when even having 80 people at one service would have been a huge win. When you’ve pastored a church from your living room onward you learn that your job is to love everyone that God brings and search your heart if you cannot do so wholeheartedly because the attendance is not high enough for you to feel that so few people are worth your time even though Jesus considered them worthy of dying for. So, on days like this I try to get up early, have four contingency plans to get to work, work hard all day, and pray the Psalmists plea for God to search my heart. I know this can sound proud. I’ve failed at this for years. And, more and more this is a lesson God is teaching me. As I learn it bit by bit, I love our people more and appreciate that I get to pastor anyone.

Since 2/3 of the attendees didn't hear you live anyway this underscores my observation that they could download sermons from home and give on-line. The thing we should be careful about is that Jesus said some things about who we are called to love. We're not just called to love the people who brave the snow among God's family. We are called to love and serve the other people, too.

Jesus said "if you only love those who love you what credit is that to you? Don't even the Gentiles do the same?" Any godless person can be thankful for the two thousand people who show up at a megachurch on Sunday after a big snow storm. Can a person be thankful for the people who have been members or attendees of the church who DIDN'T show up but are still part of God's family?

Considering the great lengths to which Mars Hill puts content on-line for people I hope that next time Mark remembers to not just thank the people who did show up but also even those wh0 didn't who are otherwise faithful participants in the community. This is progress coming from him, it really is, but I would also like to encourage Mark to be thankful for the people who were wise enough or prompted by the Lord to stay home with family and not head out in the storm. That Mark seems to feel that those who didn't show up dogged church like they dogged a job suggests that he's still got some ways to go. But he's being honest about it even if he may not be aware of how this abundance of the heart spoken from reveals he's in process.

And, not meaning to seem just nitpicky, paragraphs dude. They are handy for organizing thought. Don't post after midnight no matter how good your insights seem. If you're learning that you need to be grateful for things you wouldn't have been grateful for or struggle to be grateful for now then that's cool.

#3. We learn about the deep love some people have for our church.
Today I met, for example, a couple who drive in nearly every week from over three hours away and they left very early in the morning before the sun was up to be at the morning service. Last week I met a couple that is from Virginia and listens online. They were coming to Portland for a Christmas break with their extended family and they so wanted to attend Mars Hill that they braved the snow and drove from Portland even though the wife was pregnant. On a good day it takes about three hours to make this trip and my guess is that it took them maybe 10-12 hours round trip to attend one Mars Hill service as they drove in, worshiped with us, and drove out. The commitment of some people is completely humbling and noble. The fact that they love Mars Hill is infectious and encourages me. Even if there are 80 instead of 1300 in a service, if they are 80 people who want to love and worship Jesus and are willing to do whatever it takes to get to church then those people are the hardcore of the hardcore and from what I heard they out sang crowds ten times their size because they were determined to fill the room with worship to Jesus.


Thing about this I have to ask is about "the deep love" part. "We learn about the deep love some people have for our church." That's not necessarily a good thing. Churches can be idols, after all. Spending hours one way just to attend a service may speak of devotion but is it devotion to Christ or devotion to a church or devotion to you, Mark? Only the first of these is any good and the goodness of the others follows only from that first devotion. Any Christian knows this but it bears repeating. If people can make it to Mars Hill and they believe the Lord has called them there then that's what it is. That could be great, but we had also best not simply assume it is great.

Not too long ago, during the snow storm, in fact, I walked about twenty blocks through the snow storm to deliver things I promised I would get for a friend. This friend is disabled and couldn't get out into the snow to get things he needed and his aide had bailed on him because of weather warnings. I didn't PLAN to walk twenty blocks through the snow storm, believe me, but since I realized the bus system wasn't working as it needed to and since I knew the neighborhood like the back of my hand I hoofed it with the things I promised.

The Psalmist says that a godly man keeps a promise even to his own hurt ... so I walked through the snow storm to drop off things. I tried walking back and it was, suffice it to say, not the smartest move to try to walk back. Fortunately God was kind and had someone call me when I realized I was really stuck in the middle of the snow with no great odds for a bus ride home and I got home.

To be honest if people risk their safety or spend a huge amount of time dealing with snow just to attend a church service I don't see that as having any inherent spiritual value if it is first and foremost a reflection of a person's love for an individual church. I was willing to trudge through the snow to help a disabled brother in the Lord and that in itself is no credit to me, really. However, I would be willing to say that I believe that, of the two risks to safety, it is better to risk your possible safety to help a brother in the Lord than to just go attend a service. In truth I am sure the Lord sees Himself glorified either way but I am here merely professing my preference.

And since as I have sometimes heard "it is all about Jesus" I ask, admittedly a rhetorical question, of the things Mark Driscoll has learned from one of the "worst days" what lessons has he learned about Christ? Jesus has given Mark the primary pastoral role over a little network of churches that collectively constitute a megachurch, even on a snow day when attendence was a mere fourth of what it was earlier in the year. A church that big it would be no surprise that the attendence would drop that much and no surprise if it was still a large attendence.

But how grateful might Driscoll be if the rest of the 8,000 simply didn't come back? I hope he would be immensely grateful, not because they represent the hardcore of the hardcore but because he gets to be a pastor at all. Let's not be thankful only for the hardcore of the hardcore but also for the hardcore and even for those who aren't hardcore at all. Why? Well, a reason to note be thankful for the hardcore of the hardcore on principle is because in the days when Jesus walked among us He had his harshest words for the hardcore of the hardcore, who were often referred to as Pharisees. Doesn't mean the hardcore of the hardcore (or just the hardcore) at Mars Hill are Pharisees at all, let me be clear about that.

But substitute "Jesus" in this paragraph of Mark's with "Mars Hill" and it becomes clearer what I think needs to be a perennial concern at a church like Mars Hill. Are they coming for Jesus or are they coming to hear Driscoll? The two are unfortunately often equated by well-meaning people. I don't equate them but I don't assume the two are separate. I trust the Lord has Driscoll where He wants him but I also don't know what that means. I've read too much of the Bible to assume that just because someone is raised up to a leadership position by the Lord that that's only a good thing. The Lord raised of Pharoah, after all, to destroy him and make an example of him for future generations. In this case I think we've got a guy who loves the Lord and just needs a copy editor because he's written some things that I really think if he were to have looked at them a day or so later he wouldn't have published.

I'll admit that after helping a disabled friend by trudging through the snow last weekend I read this thing from Driscoll and it made me angry because equating people who don't show up to a church, specifically Driscoll's, with people who dog it at work suggests an attitude that is problematic. Mark, as a pastor, is not an employer first but a pastor first (or a missiologist or whatever spiritual office he considers himself to have).

But I have to keep in mind that Driscoll was not running on all cylinders and that he said things that reveal areas where he really needs to grow. There are all sorts of areas where I need to grow and I think the area where both Driscoll and I probably need to grow by our own respective accounts, is in the realm of showing gratitude. So if anything I realize that while I believe Driscoll has said some stupid stuff that he wouldn't have said if he had thought things through he and I are (I trust) on some parallel paths.

I am not a pastor so I admit that I'm not sure why just a couple thousand people could ever be construed by anyone as one of the worst days. Two thousand people is still a lot of people for a Sunday across six or seven church campuses and 2/3 of those people were people you never even saw, Mark. If just a couple thousand people the day after one of the nastier snow storms the city of Seattle has seen in a while is one of the "worst days" there must be things much worse than just a few thousand people showing up for a church like Mars Hill.

What would a better candidate for "worst day" look like? A lawsuit. Someone getting killed in an accident during a holiday paegant. A pastor getting arrested for breaking the law. A pastor being convicted of a crime to do with money or sex or property or misuse of confidential information. A while back a pastor was removed on the charge of fraudulently using another church tax ID number, a really huge level crime. Think of local church debacles like, say, Overlake from the 1990s. Think of Ted Haggard. Really, considering all the things that could happen in association with Mars Hill just a few thousand people showing up hardly constitutes a "worst day" given the circumstances at any level. Obviously Driscoll's idea of a "worst day" for Mars Hill isn't anywhere near as bad as a "worst day" I could imagine for the church. May the Lord grant that only Driscoll's idea of "worst day" is what happens to the church.

And, Mark, should you or any of your church staff read this, please do consider having someone proofread and copyedit your blogs no matter how good they seem. I'm a nobody with an unimportant blog that no one reads. You're a celebrity pastor doing a lot of pulpit teaching at a megachurch. If I write something stupid few people read it so it doesn't matter as much. If you write something when you're exhausted it doesn't read as nicely as you might think. So that's just a suggestion to anyone who blogs, too. Take it or leave it. Given the way of the blogosphere most people will leave it. :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

At one point I touched upon comics

Don't have the patience to do so now except by way of a link since Frank Miller, who once wrote fun and funny stories has made the mistake of trying to transition into film.

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/on-screen/Content?oid=878213

Now years ago I saw another author attempt to transition into film. Business of Fancydancing was basically a noble failure. But at least it looked like it was attempting to actually do something. Failing by attempting to do too much is still something.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

snowed in blogging

As any of you may notice, because there's a lot of snow in Seattle, we're all vaguely snowed in here, some of his very much snowed in. Not me personally, mind you, but I have friends and family who are. I listened to a sermon on the iPod today since I knew I wasn't going to bother to head out to an actual church service on public transit in this kind of weather.

I am considering the issue of "being fed" or what self-feeding looks like in a personal context. Earlier you may have noticed I wrote about how I have been dramatically reassessing my understanding and attitude toward the psalms. I was reading a bit of Athanasius on the topic, actually, and it struck me how much self-feeding I'm likely to have to do on the psalms. The church I have been part of has never once gone through psalms from the pulpit, which is pretty astonishing the more I think about it. I hope this may be rectified soon but I am not sure if I am sticking around for that or not.

Now when I wrote earlier about self-feeding and the pastoral buffet of teaching I was not consciously mulling over what I am consciously mulling over now, what may genuinely be grace to one man may be nothing but a damning law to the other. At this point a pastor must consider what may be a law of averages. You can preach for the 90% of the congregation who you believe needs to shape up and repent of X sin but doing so means that the 10% who are left who have a different or opposite struggle hear the rebuke for the others and either sense that it is not for them or feel worse about where they are already at for not being the other 90%

There are few issues in evangelicalism where this gets more prominent than not being married. I know of a church that dealt, dare I say, obsessively with the topic of marriage and dating for a few years and it tended to be from a set of assumptions that 1) everyone ought to get married at some point because 90% of people will marry 2) we're focusing on getting all those singles into that 90% 3) the net effect was to tell singles that their goal was to get out of their single status but paradoxically singles might be enjoined to serve more and thereby find people whom could get them out of the singleness phase of life.

Now if I find myself in a situation where the things I most struggle with, things like fear that my life is stagnating at a respectable but nevertheless dead end job in an economy where my skills don't seem all that marketable and I most certainly could not support a family on the income I have but I believe that for a wide variety of providential and rational reasons that I have the job God wants me to have where I am at ... of what use is teaching about marriage and dating to me in a setting where for years dating was considered bad? I have had well-intentioned friends say I'm not ready to be married. Yes, I knew that quite a long time before they did, thanks.

On the other hand, I am probably not that cut out to be a monk. I do not have a confessional tradition where being a monk really interests me. There are no evangelical monks, are there? Where are they? Evangelicals are busy telling people that 90% of people will marry. That 10 percent that won't marry or maybe aren't marriage material? Who cares about them? They don't matter that much, they're just the ones with lots of free time to serve ... in some formal capacity.

And that IS a distinct advantage, isn't it? But if the chef provides food for all but the lactose intolerant what are those lactose intolerant people going to do when they see tons of cheese being ladeled on to the plates? This is where the paradox of self-feeding returns. A person who feeds themselves what they know through experience they can handle suddenly risks being the jerk who doesn't go along with what the chef is spooning out for the others. The most respectful thing would be to not show up for the meal if you know no concession is being made for what you can and can't digest, but then people want to know why you're not showing up for the weekly meals. Well, uh, you can't exactly spin that and you can't say what's what without the risk of steeping on people's toes when that's the last thing you want to do.

And so it has been from that perspective that I have not attended a certain place for a few months. I am also at a stage in my life where to hear months of preaching on that topic would not be a benefit to me where I am at. I already feel a sense of anxiety that I am neither cut out to be married nor to remain single the rest of my life and rather than this motivating me to somehow "prepare" for married life ... as if anything on earth really does that ... it has put me in a place where I feel that since teaching on married life seems academic and useless to me and since I in my single state frankly don't need to know now the stuff that was apt to be discussed for the sake of my own conscience I skipped out. Not that I have no struggles with lust or anything, far from it, but knowing how things went last time these topics were broached by preacher X I know better than to put myself in a position where stuff that is meant for the 90% is stuff I actually need to hear again. I've heard from plenty of preachers that that special book is in the Bible and it would be wrong not to preach from it. I'm at a point in my life where me hearing preaching from that book ... eh, not so sure I need to. So if it is a blessing to others, awesome. I just skipped it.

So if that is what food is being put on the table and I don't feel that I can in good conscience partake of that food should I be at the table? Should I not be at a church because I'm either not being fed or the food on offer is food that I feel I shouldn't eat? Is being part of God's people about ME being fed to begin with? If by fed a person means understanding the Gospel in new and life changing ways I'm not sure I've been fed since about 2005, to be honest, and I don't like to frame things in terms of it being just a pastor's fault that I don't feel I have come to a great appreciable understanding of the Gospel of Jesus in three years' time. I've got a lot of problems, a lot of problems, in comprehending what the grace of God is. If I am in a church where it seems like other people get it and I don't does that mean it's all my fault? Somehow I don't get that sense either because no one is righteous except Christ when the chips are down.

So I have taken a break from a place and from any regular church attendance. I used to hold firmly that membership in a church was vital and necessary to one's Christian walk but over the last few years I have had my confidence in that shaken. I like the idea in principle more than in practice. Spenser's axiom that the more real you are the less likely you are to feel welcome "may" apply or it may be that what is genuinely grace for person X may come off as law for me. My best guess as to why this is is that there are things that I feel I ought to be and do and since I see myself as unfit to be and do those things I judge myself as wanting in the scales that other people seem to be obtaining.

Or, to be more blunt, if 90% of people marry and I am not only not married but have never even bothered to "he who finds a wife finds what is good and obtains favor from the Lord" (in other words actually date, which would have been weird because the church I've been part of has a colored history of being pro marriage and anti dating) what's my problem? Is it a problem that can be remedied or is it unfixable? If I don't think I'm selfless enough to be a husband or father or don't make enough money should I try to fix that or simply resign to that and then feel as though a lot of the preaching at the place I have been is simply not for me, never has been for me, and never will be for me? Or is it possible that people marry for reasons that are not that rational and I've been potentially sold a bill of good about how ready people actually are when they marry? I have had people tell me that people should marry because it is better to marry than to burn and what's my excuse for not marrying? Does pleading total lack of qualification to be married count? Nope. I have constantly felt like I'm in some weird double bind where if I don't feel like marriage material that's agreed to but that eventually I 'should' marry. And I have gotten some very clear indications from family and friends that married llife, particularly parenting, can be the measure of adult fulfillment. It's not on purpose .... but it can be unintentionally discouraging.

I don't know what I want, really. I'm told by a church culture and by some zealous friends what they think OUGHT to be the case. I am in a setting where I know what the "law" says, whether the law of averages or the law of Scripture or the law of expectations and I am starting to realize that what other people think is not very important. I am not good at ignoring the opinions of people I respect or care about. For a lot of my early years I was told I needed to know what I wanted and have a plan for my life. I did that for a while and it never panned out. Now I don't think it does anyone any good to have a plan for their lives because God thwarts our plans. We can commit our plans to the Lord and He can destroy them or uphold them as He sees fit.

I'll be honest, when I was in my late teens and early twenties where I wanted to be at this point in my life was to have a teaching position in literature or biblical studies at a college, be married, and have a kid or two and maybe have some time left over to write music once in a while or publish something in some form. I'm not a professor of anything, most certainly am not married, no kids (thank God, as I wouldn't want them except after the earlier conditionof being married had been met) and I haven't had anything published in the traditional sense of that term.

Instead I have a blog here on the internet that I know at least some people read. I started off this blog intending to write about music and cartoons and eventually deal with some theology and it seems to have inexorably shifted toward theology, but theology of an admittedly vague sort. I am most definitely single and have no, so far as I understand the term to have currency in this society, been on a date. I'm of two minds on whether I ought to or even want to go on a date. I am a boring fellow as my blog can probably attest, I tend to be obsessive about the topics that interest me, topics that I'm not sure very many people care about. Even within one of my fields of interest, classical guitar, my interest is often met with a sort of indifference or bewilderment. I am a very introverted person. Get me in a room with more than about ten people, especially people I don't really know, and I am apt to have an inversely proportional dynamic at work, the more people you put with me in a room that I don't know as family or friends the less likely I am to want to say things.

And the part where I feel like I must have a bad attitude on the subject of dating, marriage, and women, is that I often wonder who would be worth the trouble. Really, who would be worth the trouble? This is not tos ay I don't love women. There are women I love a great deal, as friends. The idea of there being any other element sorta repels me and not exactly because I plan it that way, either the feeling of anxiety about romantic attachment or, God knows, the slightest hint of romantic attachment itself.

So I can say that I'm not against the idea of having a girlfriend but am not sure it is worth the time, trouble, and effort to have one. But Ecclesiastes mentions that there is a man with no companion and no children and he works and works and he never stops to ask himself, "For whom am I doing all this work?" We can't spiritualize the topic to the point of saying "well, you work for God." We can, of course, but that's not what Koholeth talks about. You can't huddle up with Jesus to keep warm on a cold night. Make no mistake, it's pretty damned cold here in the Emerald City right now. Telling me I should be complete in Jesus and be warm ... thanks, I have my electric bill paid up and have baseboard heating. So I don't have anyone to help me keep warmbut I'm covered.

I have heard some Christians say over the years that is is important to have a legacy. This legacy has been most often framed in terms of kids. Kids are idols sometimes. The first born of Egypt were slain. Now at one level this indicated that children could be idols but at another level it's not what the point is. God destroyed the legacy of the Egyptians in one night but killing the firstborn in all the land. Our legacy is Christ, not the legacy that we spend our lives working to establish.

I could spend my whole life composing music and I could get published and perhaps in a century my music will actually be played or still be in print and perhaps I might end up getting mention in a footnote in a music history book. But that is not likely. My music is not that awesome and people who work on music primarily for their legacy or to prove things never amount to anything, not unless they happen to have already amounted to something and recognize that legacy is what you give to others for their benefit, not yours. Bach's music legacy is a gift to us and I believe that he recognized he rocked the house and also that it was his gift to future generations of an already musical family to continue serving by creating music. But as Koholeth put it, it is good to enjoy your work that God gives you to do. This isn't a caseof "do what you love and the money will follow" it's "love what you have been given to do because if you don't you probably can't bargain with God for a better deal."

And this is where the food for the 90% that is hard to digest for the 10% comes back. I have some idea what God wants me to do on the basis of the work that He has given me joy in doing. This is not stuff that makes any sense to people where I am at, and perhaps it is more accurate to say that the sort of music I feel God has given me time and inspiration to work on is useless to any church. I am too insecure a performer to want to put my music out in front of people myself. I prefer to give my music to other people to play. I tried a rock band thing for a while and musicians said positive things about the music and audiences, such few as I had, didn't resonate with it. I have often wondered if there is a basic problem in what I write, if it lacks emotional depth or connectivity with people.

but while I feel closer to the Lord when I compose, feel as though I am doing something He has given me to do when I compose, I do not sense that what I do as a musician or composer is something God's people will have any use for. I've tried a handful of things and nothing much came of it. A professional musician once told me that my music would be a challenge to market. She said that it's good music, accessible music, but that it is too complex and unusual to appeal to the usual church music crowd but it's not nearly strange enough to appeal to the academic musician crowd, not unusual enough. In other words I'm not John Rutter but I'm not Lutoslawski or Charles Ives.

I am not sure where God wants me to be other than where I am at and I'm chafing a bit at where I'm at. I feel as though if I were to ask people where my life is going they'd say "nowhere". That's where I feel I'm at now. In earlier ages there was a popular understanding that how providence played out could sometimes means that things suck and you can be grateful you're not worse off. We live in an age now where even among Christians providence tends to only be invoked as a way of pointing out all the cool stuff God gave you that you SAY you don't deserve but secretly think you do deserve because, hey, God in His omniscience gave it to you so that means you must have been doing something right. And if you claim, "No, that's not the reason" y0u're probably lying because the first great liar was immensely blessed by God and moved from "I deserved this" to "I deserve more". If you think you deserve something you can't have real gratitude for it.

I don't deserve to be able to compose the music I write. My eyes are poor and my hands were injured working some menial jobs ten years ago. I don't deserve to be able to write or play music at all or to read. In earlier age, even if I had been born ten years earlier, I'd have died at childbirth or shorty there after. I don't really "deserve" to be alive at all. And I don't take that in the weird health-and-wealth speak to mean that "You were a winner before you were even born. Your sperm hit the egg first out of millions of sperm." Uh, great, Mr. preacher, that really proves a lot. Unlike you, who are married, I have never once sat down and thought about which one among millions of sperm of any guy's semen would be most likely to reach the egg in a woman's uterus first and thereby somehow prove that the resultant baby was a winner before birth. It just doesn't follow logically anyway.

A friend and I were chatting a while back and when I explained that I like the idea of marriage in theory and as an institution but am not sure it would justify all the junk attendent to it he joked (or half-joked) that I would make a great monk. Perhaps I would, but evangelical Protestantism does not seem to have any monastic orders. If you're a fellow like me who specializes in researching obscure contemporary classical guitar repertoire and enjoys South Park then I would probably make, I don't know, probably make for a truly terrible monk. What I know does not have much practical value and what I don't know could fill enough books that would require the deforestation of Brazil.

Boar's Head Tavern discussion of Piper's seven theses

You will have to go read a few pages of the Boar's Head Tavern for this entry to make any sense. Piper wrote a few theses about what he considered central to his preaching and key to understanding the message of the Gospel. Unsurprisingly he rearticulated points from Desiring God and the Christian hedonist regimen. God is in it for His own glory and as He is the most perfect and holy being self gratification is nothing less than the best He can be and do and pursue.

Don't even bother reading what I'm saying here unless you trawl through the BHT's last week of stuff and I recognize that may bore you immensely. But it's important to get this caveat up front and center.

I am the lurker who wrote to John H and pointed out that the problem with Piper's theses is that you can hold to all of them and have Arian theology. I'm totally serious. I don't say it to suggest Piper has Arian theology at all, but I point out that there's a colloquial saying that to assume makes an ass of you and me. Yes, it does, and there is no more dangerous place in which assumptions can make asses of us than in confessional and creedal contexts where instead of articulating the Gospel as handed down to us over the ages we eschew creedal language and attempt to reinvent the wheel.

Christian hedonism, properly understood, is a concept with a superfluous and potentially even harmful nomenclature. Anyone with an Augustinian understanding of how sanctification works will observe that as none of us can delight in the Lord as perfectly as Scripture may prescribe that anyone with an iota of self examination may find Piper's formulations cheap and depressing even if they get at things that are biblically defensible and true. THe problem is that, as Piper seems to have put it about acolytes of Bishop Wright, the fan club can move in dangerous directions the exponent does not. Ah, well, ditto Piper.

One of the lamest things I have seen said for Christian teachers is "if you just understand his heart you'll see h's totally right about this." Another variation is, "You just don't get where he's coming from and don't understand why he's really correct." Jesus said, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God." So, no, I do not have to suppose that any teacher is so good as to be THAT good and that means that neither Piper nor Wright, both of whom have written thigns I admire, are above some basic observation and criticism. I don't think it's unfair to point out that Piper's seven theses don't seem to mention the Holy Spirit at all and that you can epouse those seven points while not even holding a traditional orthodox trinitarian confession. If I'm a bad guy for pointing this out I'm guilty as charged. Reformed folks freak out about what goes unsaid that they think needs to be said but so long as it's one of their own people cut slack precisely at the points where if the teacher ISN'T one of their own the assume the worst rather than the best.

I have seen discussions in cyber-land where people have shot down contemplative literature as a whole genre and then went on to say "I would read a book on contemplative prayer if John Piper wrote it!" Respecter of persons, dude, the apostle James says to not be that. You may not discriminate against poor brothers in the Lord but if you refuse to read any contemplative Christian authors and topics unless John Piper writes it then you need to grow up. Period. Protestants who get like that have no right to complain about the authoritarian favoritism of certain teachers by Rome or Constantinople if they're going to be the same way.

Since blogger readers seem able to completely misread what I have written about on other topics--Piper's fine overall and I usually don't have problems with him when focuses on Christ, which he does a lot, all the time really. But the thing is that I have grown tired of Piper fans who overlook in Piper what they would consider terrible in other pastors and theologians. For instance, N. T. Wright got grilled by people when Jesus & the Victory of God came out because they thought he didn't affirm the resurrection. So many people misunderstood what he said in that book he realized he had to write a new book in the series he's been working on, The Resurrection of the Son of God. Since that book is awesome we're better off as a community of saints that enough people didn't get Wright that he set the record straight on what he affirms as true about Christ and His rising from death. The freak-out was about what Wright didn't say. I think it was fair to ask but I also think it's fair to point out that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Just because I like Wright doesn't mean I think Resurrection didn't need to be written to set the record straight on where he's coming from.

By analogy, Piper has his Christian hedonism and God is in it for His own glory. If Piper had articulated his points in a more robustly trinitarian way (as in did it at all!) I wouldn't have suggested to John H that there were some serious problems in how Piper formulated his ideas. If people think Piper is off the hook because the context should be assumed ... well, that's why confessional and creedal language is so handy. If Piper had spent some time articulating a traditional orthodox Christian understanding of the GOspel in an ordinary way instead of inventing a new nomenclature that has to be explained in a whole book some of this could have been avoided.

Without clearly articulating the role the Father, Son, and Spirit have together as the one true God Piper's "Christian hedonism" 7 bullet points that attempt to say that the greatest glory is for God to be glorified fails to account for what makes this a truly Christian view if, indeed, it is even remotely Christian at all. But if someone were to point out this and say that it shouldn't be presupposed that the 7 points Piper made are necessarily Christian in their theology I imagine the flames wouldn't come by fast enough.

What prompts to say this is not a doubt about Piper's Christian confession but a frustrated observation that a pastor who has been at it as long as Piper has ought to know better. Paul said, "I resolved to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified." The minimalist statement was not, "I resolved to know nothing except that God is holy and sovereign." The good news isn't really that God is sovereign at all! Frankly the good news is not even an appeal that God is holy. Why? Because Zeus was considered holy and sovereign and he was often a holy and sovereign asshole! We can never take for granted as Christians that when we talk about the one true God who made all that is it somehow goes without saying that we're talking about the Father, Son, and Spirit, that the Son came and lived with us in real, human flesh, died, and rose from the dead. Certainly Piper gets this but there is never a time when this can be so presupposed that in making a list of bullet points we can, say, glide over that.

The good news is that God is loving and gracious! The prince of the power of the air has plenty of sovereignty after a kind but he is neither loving nor gracious. The kings of this world lord it over one another but that is not what the king of kings did. If Piper doesn't articulate his views in trinitarian and incarnational terms all the time he is no less susceptible than anyone else to distorting the Gospel. Even Paul wrote that he had to be careful so that it would not seem as though he had run the race in vain. Guess what? Last I checked Piper isn't quite at the level of the apostle Paul. This is not really written as a rebuke so much as a reminder, not to Piper, but to anyone who reads Piper and bothers to read the blog. The best of us can still potentially go astray. I wrote quite some time ago Joash was a king who began well, it seems, but ended terribly. I don'[t care how good Piper may seem now, there's enough time before death to have run the race in vain. It's not him I'm particularly worried about as the dynamic Michael Spenser pointed out that any attempt to offer a friendly, practical critique of some of Piper's weak points is often met with "how dare you?" This may be the case even in situations where Piper, not to put too fine a point on it, is unknowingly asking for trouble by presupposing what he has an opportunity to preach.

when self feeding becomes a pastors nightmare, people thinking for themselves and not agreeing with you. :)

http://gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/2008/12/yet-more-on-self-feeding-part-two.html

One of the curiosities about self-feeding is that when it is prescribed it seems to come up in cases where you would think that self-feeding might actually be what you DON'T want if you're in church leadership. The paradox, the tension afoot in self-feeding is that if someone is a strong enough of a Christian with a strong enough of a personal walk with the Lord and knowledge of Scripture to feed themselves what do they need you for, the pastor? A pastor may understand his (or her, in some denominations) role to be putting the food and milk of the Gospel out there for people to partake of. That's the thing, if you are being like Peter and tasked with feeding the sheep then if the sheep can feed themselves who needs you? Certainly not God and arguably not the sheep!

If the sheep are smart enough to feed themselves (and I'll leave most of the humor and irony involved in this statement unexplored for now) then a pastor who aspires to have sheep who can feed themselves is aspiring to obsolescence, to not having a job. Think about it, if the role of the pastor is to tell people to feed themselves then the more they decide to feed themselves the less they have need of a pastor to tell them what is food or not. In churches that appeal to a common authority that must be agreed to on catechisjm/confessional grounds, then what is considered food and milk acceptable to eat and drink becomes clear.

For instance, what if a person studies the Scriptures and meditates on the Word and discerns that infant baptism is great and biblical and should be done but the pastoral leadership doesn't see it that way? Does the man who ascribes to infant baptism suddenly stop being a self-feeder and a divisive man who is dead weight to the local church? Pastors who want self-feeders should be careful what they wish for and Orthodox and Catholics might rush to point out that this is where most schisms tend to happen. I'm just cynical enough about church history that I'm not sure it's quite that simple, either, but the joke stands on its own. It is often the case that pastors want the flock to feed themselves just so long as everyone agrees on what food is.

Which is why confessional and creedal language is so valuable. If certain pastors did not feel a need to avoid confessional and creedal language in favor of reinventing the wheel then there would be less room for misunderstanding and for articulating would appear to be ostensibly orthodox Christian talking points in a way that is not as orthodox as first appears if one reads them without presupposing a staggering amount of doctrine.

Which I will get to in a different post.