The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Posts Tagged ‘Jesus

Church for a new era

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Those of you following the life of New Oaks Church may find this story encouraging. Here’s Donnie Miller (pastor of the Trinity Family Church in Gardner, KS) telling of a change of direction:

A New Era begins for TFC

Donnie Miller

There was an energy level among the congregation on Sunday that I haven’t experienced for a long time. People kept telling me, through smiles and hugs, how much they love the changes that have just happened.

These changes have been a long time coming. Last spring, we began a numerical slide that has resulted in our Sunday morning worship attendance being between 2/3 – 1/2 of what it was a year ago at this time. Toward the beginning of that slide, after a very lowly attended Sunday in March, I spent a sleepless night talking with God and wrestling with my fears and hopes. My fear was that if we continued to “do church” as we were at the time, we might not continue to exist. That fear lead to a hope, a hope that TFC could stop focusing on “doing church” and become more intentional about “being the church.” At about 4 AM, I got a pretty clear picture of the changes we could make.

I began sharing those changes with staff, the board and then ministry leaders; everyone was on board with the ideas. Last summer, we polled the congregation to find out approaches were working and to gauge their openness to the potential changes. The surveys revealed an almost unanimous support of the structural changes our leadership was considering.

Discussion groups

In August, we took a big first step in introducing Discussion Groups to Sunday AM worship. To say these groups have been a success would be the understatement of the year. Every Sunday, over 90% of the congregation participates in discussion groups. This past Sunday, only ONE person skipped discussion groups and that was because of a family emergency. It was almost hard to hear the other members of my group over the dull roar of the conversations happening all over the commons. The introduction of Discussion Groups, as well as “Ask Anything” Sundays, have all been a part of our effort to take a more dialogical approach to Sunday morning worship.

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Tantalized by the writing of N.T. Wright

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Mm-mm. . .

I just read a first chapter full of promise.  Know the feeling?  A chapter that makes your heart beat faster, for you catch a glimpse—as if peering through the woods—of what you’ve been looking for? Many of you know.

The book is N. T. Wright‘s The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. A few (of many) quotes that have left me tantalized:

We have been taught by the Enlightenment to suppose that history and faith are antithetical, so that to appeal to one is to appeal away from the other. [...] When Christianity is truest to itself, however, it denies precisely this dichotomy—uncomfortable though this may be. [...]  Actually, I believe this discomfort is itself one aspect of a contemporary Christian vocation: as our world goes through the deep pain of the death throes of the Enlightenment, the Christian is not called to stand apart from this pain but to share it. [15-16]

I am someone who believes that being a Christian necessarily entails doing business with history and that history done for all its worth will challenge spurious versions of Christianity, including many that think of themselves as orthodox, while sustaining and regenerating a deep and true orthodoxy, surprising and challenging though this will always remain. [p 17]

Many Jesus scholars of the last two centuries have of course thrown Scripture out of the window and reconstructed a Jesus quite different from what we find in the New Testament. But the proper answer to that approach is not simply to reassert that because we believe in the Bible we do not need to ask fresh questions about Jesus. [...] And this process of rethinking will include the hard and often threatening question of whether some things that our traditions have taken as “literal” should be seens as “metaphorical,” and perhaps also vice versa. [17]

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A letter from Guido

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Sometimes you come across a story so holy that your only concern is not messing it up.  This is one. Guido is a friend of a friend, Donnie Miller.  Donnie writes at One Church Planter’s Journey, where this note from Guido was published.  If you want a little background, follow Donnie’s “Love Wins” tag here.


As I get older I realize that a lot of my views on life seem to change. One of them is the subject of religion. I grew up thinking that religion was all about control of the people and if you didn’t fit the mold you were thrown to the other side of the line. Either you’re a good person or a bad person. Most of my experiences with churches have been bad ones.

Guido (at right)

I believed you don’t bother me and I won’t bother you. They criticize you if you don’t follow their rules even if you didn’t know the rules. From what I know of Jesus I thought he talked to all people and did not judge them but explained what they should be doing and let them figure out what they needed to change.

My opinion has changed over time but more in the past couple years. A big influence in my thought change has come about because of a couple, who years ago I would have judged as those church people and avoided like the plague. It all started one day when my door staff guy at work called me and said some church ladies were there I thought “Oh NO here we go again”. (Several years before some church ladies had been in our parking lot picketing and handing out negative brochures.) He said they were leaving some gifts for the girls. I think he asked them if they had paint bombs in them because he was also leery. After talking to the employees and the staff I found it odd they would bring stuff to dancers and thought what’s their angle? So this happened again the ladies came to the door dropped off gifts, smiled then left. I thought that’s nice so I had my bartender put together a basket of nice things for the ladies and drop it off. I later thought to myself “wow I’m interacting with church people”. Read the rest of this entry »

When atheists come to church (sermon of July 5)

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C Vonaesch - Femme Touchant Jesus

C Vonaesch - Femme Touchant Jesus

Last week, Jesus, pushing through a crowd, was secretly touched by a woman who’ d been bleeding for 12 years; her bleeding stopped.  She who’d been untouchable by the rules of the day touched him; she was then well, and he became untouchable.  She gets well. He takes on her “uncleanness.”

And then he touched a 12 year old girl who had recently died. He was now “unclean” twice-over (touching a dead body made him so a second time), but the girl was alive.   She gets life. He takes on her “uncleanness.”

Magnificent.

And the next thing that happens is that Jesus, the now-famous, compassionate, but scandalously irreligious traveling teacher, goes home to Nazareth. And while he’s been amazing everyone, at Nazareth, Jesus is amazed.

What could possibly amaze Jesus? Read the rest of this entry »

Bible vs. homosexuality? Handle with care!

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UPDATE (June 4, 2009):  The 40-some page paper from the late 1990′s by Nazarene scholar/theologial J. Kenneth Grider, which is mentioned in the comments after this post, is now available here:  Wesleyans and Homosexuality by J. Kenneth Grider.  Grider, who died in 2006, taught at Nazarene Theological Seminary for 38 years, served on the translation committe of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, and wrote the 1994 book A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology. Many thanks to Lin Wells, who gave me a copy of the paper.

Further, my nephew Amos Patrick unearthed the link to Real Live Preacher’s exposition of the scriptures mentioned below: A Look at the Bible and Homosexuality. Thanks, Amos!


Caution Lights

Just how strong are those Bible arguments against gay marriage—and homosexuality in general—that we hear about?

It’s a critically important question.  Given  Jesus’ inclusion of despised people, seems like we’d want to stand on solid ground if we are to justify becoming ex-clusive.

In all the Bible, homosexuality is mentioned only six times—three in the Old Testament and three in the New.  And surprisingly, all of the six comments include tough challenges for Bible students.

Real Live Preacher sketches the problem in a challenge thrown down to those who would be judgmental:

Sit down Christian. You cannot wave your unread Bible and scare me because I know the larger story that runs through it beginning to end. [...] I am your worst nightmare, a Texas preacher who knows the good book better than you do. Show me your scriptures. Show me how you justify condemning homosexual people.

Show me what you got, Christian. The Sodom story? That story is about people who wanted to commit a brutal rape. Let’s all say it together, “God doesn’t like rape”. You could have listened to your heart and learned that, Christian. Move on. What else you got?

A passage from Leviticus? Are you kidding me? Are you prepared to adhere to the whole Levitical code of behavior? No? Then why would you expect others to? Move on. What else?

Two passages – two verses from Romans and one from I Corinthians. There you stand, your justification for a worldwide campaign of hatred written on two limp pieces of paper. Have you looked closely at these passages? Do you understand their context and original language? I could show you why you don’t have much, but there is something more important you need to see.

Though few I know are involved in a “world-wide campaign of hatred,” RLP has, in a few quick strokes, revealed the dicey-ness of Bible verses often proclaimed as open-and-shut cases.

Have we done the work required to truly understand?  Do we risk over-ruling the example of Jesus—and driving away millions—by interpreting a tiny set of difficult verses through cultural preference rather than Bible context?

Those are mighty high stakes. Gonna take a lot of love to work this through. What’s your thought?

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