Following.

It is ironic that it is this post about following is the one that stalled me out.  But it did.  Thank you to everyone who wrote, called and hunted me down at a Grind In to tell me to keep writing.  You guys are the ones I need in my life.

Following.

netsIn Mark 1:16-20, Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to be His disciples.  Through them, there is an implicit call to us as well.  We are called to follow.

All four were fishermen.  All four were parts of successful, family businesses.  All four heard the voice of Jesus calling them to follow and all four followed.

The call of Jesus for the disciples to be “Fishers of men,” has become a rallying cry for evangelism in the modern world.  I think it is more than that.  I think it is the further incarnation of Jesus.

Here is what I mean.

God who created humankind became a human.  He became incarnate.  He took on human flesh.  General, human flesh.  General human–a man–a person–a creation.  But when Jesus called the disciples and asked them to be “Fishers of men,” He was speaking the language they could hear.

Because they heard, they followed.

I listen to sermons, I listen to churches, I listen to Christians speak, and it is as if they are from another planet.  They talk about things like sin, salvation, atonement, predestination, incarnation.  They speak a language that is largely gibberish to anyone outside of their little church circle.  In fact, one little circle of Christians can talk about salvation using a particular set of vocabulary words used by another little circle of Christians and they mean very different things.

No one bothers to check to see if anyone is hearing what they are saying.

When God wanted to call disciples (hear the vocab?), He became one of them and spoke the language they understood.  Not just God to human, but God to human to a specific person whose life was about fishing.  He asked him to go fishing with Him, but they were going to fish for bigger fish.

And four guys understood they were being called for something greater.

Sometimes I think we forget all these god-words are supposed to mean something to the people who hear.  Sometimes we forget these god-words mean something to us.  Sometimes, they are just words spoken in some kind of foreign language.

That is part of my problem.  I need to hear God speak in words I understand again.  I need Him to call me from THIS life into something greater.  I need him to speak to THIS person and call me onward.

I will follow.

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Hey! Repent!

Mark 1:14-15

whomeJesus begins His ministry with a message of the Kingdom.  He announces the crashing in of the Kingdom of God on the Kingdom of the world and calls people to repent and believe.

What does someone do with this passage if he has already heard the news of and recognized the Kingdom of God and have repented and believed?  What do you do?

What do you do if you have already repented and are already walking the path of the Kingdom?  What do you do?

What do you do if you have left behind everything to follow that path?  What do you do?

What do you do if you already believe.  What if you believe every word?  What if you believe it and have taught it all your life?  What do you do?

I have been thinking about these two verse for two weeks.  What message does Jesus have for a guy like me?

I know my doctrine.  I believe the right stuff.  I live a clean life.  I am a part of a church.  I am a part of a small group.  What does Jesus say to me?

What is interesting to me is that, though I have all the right answers (just ask me), I am still lost.

My soul is wandering, Even while I am on the path to the Kingdom, my soul is wandering.  Maybe it is the arrogant assertion I have done all I need, I am on the right path, and don’t need to repent is the most telling clue as to what Jesus is saying to me.

Perhaps Jesus knows my path.

Perhaps Jesus knows my path is not the path of the Kingdom.

The path of the Kingdom is not one where I wander in the darkness wondering about light, or one where I sit in a tomb waiting for resurrection—the Kingdom of God is light and life and resurrection.

Perhaps Jesus would say something to me like, “The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.”

It is, gospel.  It is good news.

***The next passage : Mark 1:16-20***

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This is My Son

Mark 1:9-13

Jesus is baptized by John. The heavens open up. The Spirit descends like a dove.

God speaks.

“You are My beloved Son, in You, I am well pleased.”i-love-you-i-love-you

In the function of the book of Mark, this is the endorsement of Jesus. This is the stamp of YHWH himself on this rabbi. God is telling the world to listen to this man.

But I kept thinking, “I wonder if this is the essence of the good news.”

This passage is, of course, first about Jesus. Jesus is the firstborn of all creation. He is the firstborn of all His brothers and sisters—of us.

Firstborn and the One who makes way for us to hear the same words from God.

“These are My children, and in them, I am well pleased.”

The good news is, God has not abandoned us.

The good news is, we are His children.

The good news is, God loves us.

God is pleased with us.  That is good news.  That is Gospel.

I know, at some level, this offends my evangelical brethren (and sisteren), but I believe God is pleased with us. Not in some performance sort of way. Certainly, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, to be sure, but isn’t there more to God’s being pleased with us than our performance?

My own daughters have broken my heart, but over and over, I have called people around me, put my arm around their necks and said, “These are my daughters, whom I love and in whom I am well pleased.” Well, maybe not those exact words, but words to that effect. It doesn’t mean I endorse everything about their lives, or that they have never let me down, or that they don’t frustrate me at a very deep level, but it means they are my children and I am crazy about them.

I really am crazy about my children.

I would crawl across broken glass for my children.

So would God.

God would crawl across broken glass for His children. Why would He do such a thing? Because He loves us.

The Gospel is that God loves us. Mark is telling us the story of the Spirit descending on humanity and the voice of God saying, “You are My children.”

Me? God loves me?

***Next Passage Mark 1:14-15***

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The Beginning of the Gospel

Mark 1:1-8
The GospelMark begins with “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The beginning of the gospel.

Gospel is good news. The beginning of the good news.

That is actually where I am. I am at the beginning of the good news. I am on the cusp of good news. I am longing for good news. I am begging God for good news.

The voice of God fills the Old Testament with with gospel. It was good news. God loved His creation and, over and over God told Israel He loved them. His people rejected His love, then they embraced it, then rejected, then embraced.

Then at some point in Israel’s rejection, God stopped pursuing them. The voice of the Bridegroom stopped calling to the Bride. His voice was silent. For 400 years it was silent. Not a peep.

400 years there was no sound of the voice of God. No good news. Israel was hungry for good news. They were ready for some gospel.

That is me. I am ready for the gospel. I am tired and dry and ready. I am ready for the gospel.

Not just any gospel. I am ready for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, who’s very name means YHWH saves.

Even His name says, “I have not forgotten you.”   “When you are lost, I will find you.” “When you are distant, I will come to you.” “When you are dead, I will raise you.” “I am YHWH and I will save you.”

The Jewish idea of salvation was the bringing of Shalom. It is the righting of wrong. It is the re-creation of all that is fallen in creation. It is God saying, “I take you broken and will make you whole.”

The crier cries, “Prepare the way.” And YHWH comes.

YHWH save me. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. Make me whole.

***Next Week Mark 1:9-13***

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It Begins

I just got off the phone with my friend I asked to join me on the journey and he agreed.  (I hadn’t asked him before.)

The plan is to work through the book of Mark.  We will work through it one, small segment at a time.  I am not in a hurry, just going to work through the gospel.

My plan, and the plan I would invite you to join is to read through the whole gospel at least once per month.  Each week, I will start a new text.  Each day I will read the text and let it sit with me for day.

Through the week, I will ponder the text.  Through the week, I will listen to hear what God has to say to me.

At the end of the week I will take some time to write up my thoughts on the text.  Hopefully, I will be able to share places where God interjects himself into my life.

YOU.  I invite you to interact with me regarding the passage.  I will work to interact back.  I don’t make any promises of timing.  I am excited we are going on this journey together.

Week 1: Mark 1:1-8 – The beginning of the Gospel

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Stubborn Stone

Today is Easter. Resurrection Sunday.

I have never, actually, been much of an Easter guy. Sounds odd coming from someone who used to be a pastor. People say Easter is “Superbowl Sunday” for pastors.

I suppose.Sealed Tomb

I always faced every Sunday like Easter. Every Sunday was a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. I really approached it that way. I was thoroughly Christocentric and it is impossible to have your life, ministry and preaching centered on Christ and not have it find its natural center in the resurrection.

Easter didn’t matter to me because resurrection was the breath in my soul.  I lived and breathed it every day, every week.

It was resurrection that moved me. Resurrection inspired me.   The stone rolled away that first resurrection day and two thousand years later, my own tomb was empty. Resurrection made me alive.

Four years ago I served in a very difficult ministry. In the middle of that ministry, we discovered a brain tumor in my wife, Wendy. A couple of weeks after she was released from the hospital, the church said, “We don’t want you to be our pastor any more. Go away.”

At that moment, I was mortally wounded. I didn’t know it at the time, but the betrayer’s sword cut much deeper than I realized. It set in motion my death. It was a terrible infection that began to eat away healthy flesh and left a path of necrotic tissue.

Inch by inch, I died.

The tomb called to me, and with my last strength, I answered the call. The stone was rolled in place and death won. The faith that, for decades, was my life, was dead.

Today is Easter. It is resurrection Sunday. At church, we sang songs about empty graves. We celebrated the end of death. I along with everyone else.

But my own soul is dead.

I have prayed, “Please awaken this sleeper. Please bring resurrection into my death. God, please roll away this stone from in front of my tomb.”

I want. I really want to live. But death is strong and this stone is stubborn.

Seriously?

I am not trying to be overly dramatic.  I don’t want sympathy or platitudes. Neither moves stones for me.

So why am I writing this?  I guess I spent my whole ministry opening the blinds on my soul so people could see me and know me—the real me–with faith and faulters. Authenticity was one of the marks of my ministry and of my life. So I am tipping the blinds a bit one more time.

I had a time in my life when I wasn’t sure I believed all this God stuff. This is not that time. I believe. I believe it all. I believe in Jesus. I believe He sits at the right hand of God. I believe He loves me.  I believe He died for the sin of humanity.  I believe the stone was rolled away.  I believe Jesus was resurrected.  I believe.

The problem is not one of belief.  The problem is, I am dead. The tomb is sealed.  The stone will not roll away.

Moving Stones

I don’t like being dead, so I am going to begin a journey of faith. A journey from death to resurrection.  I am trusting there is a way to move the stone.

Here is what the journey is going to look like.

I am going to reacquaint myself with Jesus. I am going to wander through one of the Gospels like I did when I used to preach. I am going to watch and listen to Jesus. Over and over, I am going to ask Jesus to move the stubborn stone on my tomb.

Along the way, I am going to try to journal the journey—reflecting on the life of Jesus and on my own soul as well.

Do You Want to Help?Taking a Journey

This is going to be a long journey and I would rather not go alone.

I am going to ask a friend to commit to walk the journey with me. I am going to ask him to hold me accountable to write and think and pray.  But there is room for more on this path.

I would love for several people to go on this journey with me. I can use all the help I can get and it might be valuable for you as well. This blog can provide a way for you to join me.

If you want to walk beside me—maybe you are on the same journey, or maybe you love me and want to help me find my way out of this tomb—take some time and read my blog and interact with the ideas. Write comments. Share insights. But mostly, just let me know you are reading.

That will help me.  That will encourage me.  This stubborn stone needs to move.

I am hoping to begin this journey soon. Stay tuned. Thanks for reading.

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You Can Call Me…

I was writing an email to a guy who ran some tests on me.  We spent a day together, laughed together and shook hands at the end.  When I write, there is a distance.  I began my email, Dr. Bryan.the-godfather-a-powerful-man

If I were to have the honor of meeting Barak Obama.  Regardless of the setting.  Regardless of how he addressed me.  When I address him, there would be distance.  I would say, Mr. President.

Distance.  It is what those in power have earned.  They have earned arm’s distance.  They have earned a little breathing room.  They have earned being a cut above.

The more power, the more distance.  Dr. Bryan.  Mr. President.

And then there are the people who come between us and them.

They are secretaries who you later find out are also the wives.  They say to you, “Dr. Bryan will see you now.”  It is as if their role is to remind us of the distance.  It is their role to stand between us and push that distance just a bit further.  Make the power a little more ominous.

They are chiefs of staff who come before and make sure only the right people are in the room.  They inform you that you will have 3 minutes with the President.  You will stand when he enters.  You will sit only after he sits.  You will keep your distance.

He stands between, stretches his hands and pushes us a bit further away.  He is the President and you are not.

Almighty God.  Elohim–God of gods.  God is a big and powerful God.  He created the world and all it contains.  His power is unmatched.

Sometimes we feel like it is our job to stand between God and people and push them a bit further apart.  We start talking about Holiness.  We point at little specs in eyes.  We sort out the right kind of people.  We shake and shout, reach out our arms make some distance and demand that people give God the respect He deserves.

But isn’t it interesting that God works hard to say to us, “Hey, you can call me, “YHWH.”  It is my name.”

It is like God nudges us and says, “You can call me, “Emmanuel.”  I am with you.”

What does it say about God?  He says, “Call me Jesus.  YHWH saves.  I am here for you.”

And the one he has placed between us?  He is called the “Advocate” whose job is not to push us apart, but to indwell us and be God in us.

The God whose power is omni–the God who calls to the morning and it dawns, says to us, “Call me “Abba”.  Call me “Daddy.””

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What the Fuck?

Today, a friend of mine shared with me the story of a girl who was raped by a deacon at church. Her father was the pastor of the church and, for the sake of the deacon’s reputation, did nothing and went on as if nothing happened.

c16

What the fuck?

I have had first hand experience with a church that actively covered up multiple sexual assaults. They wanted to “protect the reputation of the church.”

What the fuck?

I know the language is harsh. We have to hear it. The world understands how wrong this is. They look at us and say, “What the fuck?”  The church doesn’t seem to get it.

What is wrong with us?

When did we forget that our job is to fight for the oppressed? When did we forget our calling was to care for those who could not care for themselves? When did we forget our role in opposing evil?

We can stand up and oppose homosexual marriage. God forbid that two consenting adults would commit their lives to one another and have sex.   But we are silent when church “leaders” have sex with children.

What the fuck?

We can preach and pound the pulpit about family values. We march against pornography. We write letters about dress codes and dances. And we cover up the sexual violence that happens in our own buildings.

What the fuck?

We can be outraged that someone says, “Fuck” on a theological blog while , but until we get serious about protecting people—protecting children—from those oppressors within and without, the world will continue to hear our message of “Love,” and say, “What the fuck?”

I’m not so sure Jesus wouldn’t say it too.

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Permit me…

Permit me for a moment to veer from theological reflections to a personal one.

A year ago was the last time I preached at Village (the church where I attend). My sermon was not received well and I was not asked to preach again.

Even though I met with our pastor every week to help work with him on his sermon.  Even though he is very encouraging of the “help” I give to him.  Even though I am fully invested in the church.  Even though I have preached for 25 years.  Even though…I wasn’t asked to preach again.

The reason was that my sermon challenged those who heard in a different way than they were accustomed.  (It was the prodigal sermon a few posts below)

A couple months ago, we announced we were moving for business reasons.  I didn’t really think about it, but my last preaching experience–and my last “official” service at Village left a bad taste in my mouth.  It was discouraging.

Then a few weeks ago, Renjy, the pastor in charge of the chapel service, called to ask if I would preach for him.  It changed everything.  I preached and that very week, Renjy called and said, “People really resonated with your sermon.  Would you preach again before you leave.”

Thank you, Renjy.  Thank you for affirming my gift.  Thank you for loving me and allowing me to serve.

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Shining Justice

I was so blessed to be able to preach in the Village Chapel.

Here is the coolest part.  2 days after I preached this, the pastor called me and asked me to come preach again.  #BlownAway

Here it is.

http://spilledwine.org/sermons/?sermon_id=29

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