You are not the Bride of Christ

At least, not you on your own.

I was talking to a pretty amazing friend, who was coming to me for some dating advice (like squeezing water from a rock, but anyway). I told her to avoid calling Jesus her boyfriend, and she responded "Well, I'm married to Him, but I won't call Him that." I was quite amused, and I told her I could never ever, at any point in the future, date her, because to do so would be to home-wreck God. Then she threatened to punch me.

Now, this was all in good fun, but it brings up something I am not sure we all realize.

See, the church is often called "the Bride of Christ" based on Ephesians 5:32. This is beautiful, the idea that Christ loved the church enough to lay His life down for her, and expects those of us who become husbands to do the same.

However, the trouble comes when people start taking that which refers to "the church" to be relevant to their lives in an individual context. The verse says this:
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Notice that Paul is not saying that this refers to Christ and each person. In fact, he speaks often of the "church" as a separate entity, the "body of believers" rather than the individual. This is important when we realize that God's most important call to us is to be relational, to love Him with everything AND to love others (Matthew 22:37-40). He does not want us to be isolated with Him, to be exclusively relational with Him... He calls us to a relationship with Him and with the people around us. We are not, individually, His bride. Rather, we are His very hands and feet, His ambassadors on this earth, and merely a part of that which is called His "bride".

What I will end this with, is a call to all of you, but especially the females; please do not call Jesus your boyfriend, your husband, or anything else with an exclusive romantic connotation. First, it is a misinterpretation of scripture, and second...

It's just creepy.

(I suppose I should add a third, that being the awkwardness in being a male and expected to act individually as the "bride" of Christ. I'm sorry, but Christ was a guy, and I don't wanna marry a guy. I will, however, love his bride and protect her, which I think is the right/less creepy approach to Ephesians 5)

The Sun Shines Through the Clouds

Well today has been a difficult day. The Elders of Central Christian Church through much prayer, thought, and God’s leading have given Cal Jernigan a mandate to reduce staff to align with our current budget income. The staff reduction (along with many others) included myself. So as of today, March 24, I will no longer serve on staff here at Central Christian Church. Please know that I will continue to pray for Central as they reach this community and lead the church through our economic crisis.

-Jon Moton, from his facebook note

This past week has been so hard. It feels like so much longer than it actually has been. My church is going through some incredibly hard times, trying not to go in the inevitable direction of staff reduction. By now, if you are a part of Central, you've heard the statements and probably know all of the facts (or you will after this weekend), and certainly there is no more information out there to be had.

My church had to lay off 15 people because of this economy and it's affect on our church, and because of a lack in the area of tithing. I'd always heard the words "lay off" and went on about my day, not realizing how much they could affect everyone. It's different, though, when it is a church that is forced to do such a thing. It hurts everyone...

from the leadership making the difficult decisions,
to those who are now without a job,
to those "survivors" who remain to continue God's work with a hole in their hearts.

It was so hard to focus this week... losing one of our inner circle, a brother and an amazing man of God, to this sad event. I am still left wondering how I will be able to lead worship with this weighing on my heart... but God is faithful.

He has shone through this like the sun shining through the clouds. I have never had more admiration for my church than at this difficult moment. In the first of those blog posts I linked to, Danny Dodson talks about having a "survivor's guilt" that I can totally relate to. It is Mitch (second link) who has been the most instrumental in keeping everything in perspective, and the honorable and eloquent way he has handled this situation. I have never had more respect for that man. That honor, the love for those around them being stronger than the pain of a lost ministry position, has been evident in every one of those 15 people I've encountered.

The leadership has been amazing through all of this as well, from the way they have taken care of each person let go, to the way they have disclosed the situation and left nothing to speculation (although people are people, and they will find a reason to talk), to the way they have not been above showing their own pain during these events... I can continue working for this church with confidence, because I know they can be trusted in the hardest of situations.

So the sun has shone through the clouds this week. On Tuesday there were tears, but by Thursday some smiles had returned. Surely the mood is not festive, but there is work to be done, and we are privileged to do it. We will continue on, and God will continue on, both in our lives and in the lives of those now looking for work. God will still use them, because more than employees, they were ministers and servants to those around them, and that doesn't change. The Father can use any of us, regardless of our position.

All of this being said, this week sucked. And I think it's okay to acknowledge that. I don't know many in our family who would disagree. I hope I never have to go through this again, but I thank God for the graciousness He bestowed upon us through it all.

Stalling Out

"I keep stalling out
I just can't keep up
There's alarming doubt
Am I good enough?
But You keep coming around
To convince me
It's still far from over, oh"

Mute Math - Stall Out

Do you ever feel like you've stalled out?

Like you've been just coasting on your own momentum?

You ever get to that point, where you don't have any more momentum? That point where it seems like everything is on the brink of falling, like something has gone horribly wrong... have you been there?

I am there. I feel like I've stalled out, like I'm no longer flying... simply falling. I am tired and it feels like I can't do anything right. I am being sucked into pointless arguments, taking offense at perceived slights, and just overall becoming someone I don't like.

And it is now that I realize it's time to look for help again, and I rejoice at the thought that there is still help for me, still hope for me. This fall... it may not be huge to anyone else, but it is terrifying to me, and the thought that His hand is willing to catch me if I just call out...

It's enough to destroy all of my doubts. It is the perfect love that casts away fear.

"we are still far from over"

(For those of you who haven't known me long, I post what God is doing in my life at my weakest points, because I know there are others out there going through the same thing. To those, I say... you aren't alone.)

How "The Shack" is Like Coffee

(note: this applies, I think, to any book written by human hands, and was originally a response to my fellow blogger Mark)

“test everything; hold fast to what is good.”-Paul, 1 Thessalonians

"A common theme amongst the advocates of the book is to read it with your heart and not your head, It’s a bit of a mantra... but here’s the catch: this book cannot be read with just one’s heart and not one’s head because the story is transparently a metaphorical wrapping for the author’s true intent: a presentation of God. Who He is. How He acts. And how we should react to Him." -Mark
I feel that "The Shack" has been so divisive because it has been read wrong.

I believe Mark is correct. I surely don’t agree with that mantra of reading with heart instead of head, because there is a filter you must use with this book; that of holding fast to what is good.

It’s like my coffee press. I let the grounds mix freely with the water for a little while, but to have properly drinkable coffee, I must then push the grounds down, leaving only the brewed coffee.

What is sad is, it feels like I’ve heard only from those who would either have us chug the ground/water mixture straight up, or those who would leave the coffee out altogether and simply drink the hot water (all figurative, I assume you get what I mean).

Surely scripture alone is our basis, the nourishing water our souls thirst for, Jesus in book form.

Books like The Shack are simply things we flavor the water with from time to time, like a coffee or a tea, to get a new taste. Our thirst is still quenched, and there is a pleasant new flavor (which I think we also get from talking about God to others).

Obviously some didn’t like that flavor of coffee, finding it either too strong or too weak, or simply unpleasant to their palette, and that’s okay. As long as we are all still drinking the water, we will live.

It is, in fact, the coffee drinkers who must be sure to keep including water, rather than just eating the grounds and assuming they will be quenched.

Now with that caveat, I offer my opinion of the book. I recommend this book to anyone with the spiritual fortitude to not take it as inerrant truth in and of itself, because more than being a theologically flawed presentation of God, it is a story of the healing power of an encounter and relationship with God.

And that, my friends, is a "good" that we can all hold fast to.

Defending Your Pastor

I have always been taught that unity is most important when one of your own is under attack. My friend and pastor Jeremy Jernigan has been under fire from those who have revealed themselves to be former members of the church (in a military force, they'd be known as deserters), for his review and support of author William P. Young and his book, The Shack. Streetfisher Rob has posted a video which indicates his concerns as being about the views of God

Now, I realize some people are just out to pick a fight, and some are truly sincere about their desire for the defense of truth. However, the fact that he used the guise of concern and love to hide his treasonous words makes me incredibly confrontational. Also, he kinda stole my signature (Soli Deo Gloria) and posted it as a Wikipedia link, but that only makes me laugh.

Here is my response to his post, and I must say I gained a measure of respect for ol' Rob for approving the comment for his site:

Well sir, first of all, I find it hilarious and flattering that you have suddenly began using "Soli Deo Gloria" as a signature. What does it mean to you? I surely hope you didn't just start using it because I did, although I do appreciate your educating the uninitiated on it's meaning and origin via Wikipedia.

Secondly, I believe that there is an inherent bone of contention between your style of reading and that of Jeremy Jernigan. I would attempt to explain yours, but you have already taken that upon yourself, so I will endeavor to help you understand where he is coming from, as one who has seen value and beauty in both styles.

See, you worry about Jeremy getting "any of his own nourishment from man-made wisdom", and the video would indicate that you are are alarmed by the way The Shack (which is a fiction, by the way) offers a picture of God as a stereotypical large black housewife.

However, the large black housewife is most likely an allegorical reference to one of the names given God in the old testament, Jehovah Jireh (God, our provider). As far as the problem he has with The Shack's version of Jesus... I don't see how you could get much more accurate than a middle-eastern, outdoor-loving carpenter.

As far as the cussing at God... I'm pretty sure there are words in the Psalms that are translated in a much more tame manner than the original Hebrew. Even the ESV has the excessive use of a word some consider cussing (whore) in Ezekiel 16 and Hosea. In Philippians, Paul tells us that he considers everything else "shit" (yes, the dirty form of the word excrement, the strongest form in the original language) compared to Christ.

God is huge, and His majesty knows no bounds. He is worthy of our complete and utter devotion, and His perfect nature can only be reconciled with our sin nature by Jesus Christ.

That being said, Jesus Christ humbled himself (Philippians 2) to the form of a suffering servant, and even God has lowered himself to such base emotions as jealousy and anger in dealing with us, because He has allowed us relationship and the type of love C.S. Lewis refers to as Charity, wholly and completely undeserved.

Therefore, I posit that God is not at all hurt or put out when one of his children is hurting to the point of using words out of character, knowing that he made us with a capacity for anger and emotion. He has allowed us to come to Him as little children, and forgiven us already for the words that may come from a hurting heart yearning for Him. You can agree or disagree, but my prayer of ignorance two days after I got saved included a plethora of words that would make George Carlin blush.

Finally, your comment on the church shows me more of what I have seen since I got here six months ago, that being a complete lack of appreciation for the beauty that is in this church. Every week I hear about lives being changed more and more, and the nearly 1000 baptisms since I got here amaze me, especially those in Third Format, which have occured for higher than 15% of the congregation within the larger church.

I come from small churches where one baptism per month would be cheered, where the idea of church growth on this scale is almost unheard of, and where the range of personalities and theological views within the church is much, much smaller. I can't help but feel that those vocal people leaving this congregation don't know what it's like to be truly stuck in the mud as a church, and are in fact quite spoiled.

When people dare to use "concern" and "love" as a clever disguise for their treasonous tounge, it hurts me. This is what causes division among us... a desire to be right, and thereby to gain a sense of our own worthiness where we should be satisfied with Christ and Christ alone.

I urge you, brother, to be careful with your tongue, with your words and ideas posted in the markeplace of ideas. I heard once that Christianity is like an army that kills and eats it's wounded. Please do not prove that true.

Soli Deo Gloria,

All of the Cool Christians Cuss

Or drink. Or smoke. Or all three.

At least, that's the way it seems sometimes. Every modern progressive Christian author seems to gain attention and credibility by talking about his penchant for booze or the f-bomb. I almost feel like I should join in, like I should say something cool involving booze so that everyone will comment on my blog.

"As I was sitting in my Humidor, with an exquisite whiskey, cussing out my hampster and sharing the gospel with the meth addict I hired to organize my TWLOHA shirts, this thought came to me..."

You know you'd read this more often if I started every post like that. And you'd do it for one of two reason. Either you'd think I was super cool for living on the edge and bucking the tired old establishment, and want to leave a comment so that everyone would know how much you love TWLOHA (a worthy cause, indeed), and by association, how cool you are...

Or you'd want everyone to know that YOU are still standing for TRUTH among all of this APOSTASY and COMPROMISE. That, and you'd get to CAPITALIZE a few words in EVERY sentence, to make sure YOUR POINT is made and the TRUTH has a chance to cleanse my HERETICAL soul. Or something like that.

All kidding aside, I feel almost as if there is this new counter-legalism among the more progressive Christians. It is like we are creating our own set of rules for people to follow, a new orthodoxy that centers around drinking and/or smoking (or insert alternative non-homosexual vice here) in an almost excessive moderation.

I know where the heart of this started, that there was a desire to break away from the legalistic mire that had left the church sinking quickly into perceived irrelevancy. I commend that desire, and what the resulting actions have done to bring Christ-centered fellowship and community into the lives of people who would have previously remained unreached.

But I wonder if this new emphasis on "freedom" is less like a liberation and more like a reaction, the creation of another option for those looking for a place to fit. Rather than being released from our old prison of legalism, are we simply moving to a nice new cell pretentiously named "liberty"?

Even more, I wonder if any of this is really "new" at all... or if this is an old problem in a shiny new package (made with 35% post-consumer materials).

I long for the day when we don't look down on the Christians who live differently from us, when we don't ridicule and antagonize the conservative rule-keepers or the liberal trendsters because they "just don't get it." I am tired of hearing a person, or a group of people, deride any one sort of Christian. I cringe when I hear that happening, as I think of the amazing friend who would be hurt and rejected if they heard the cutting and snide remarks aimed directly at their heart. I long for a place where everyone is welcome, where no one is taken lightly because no one takes themselves seriously.

I know that you, concerned reader, may have some sort of higher purpose for the things you say or do that come across as insulting to the untrained ear. Even if you don't, and you are just a jerk, who am I to talk anyway, since I'd likely join you in ridicule for fear of rejection? It's just that... there is something more out there, a new creation we are being called to, that could be truly beautiful if we'd just stop dragging our old problems into it. The only question is... how much do you want peace? How much do you want beauty? How much do you want the Kingdom to come, on earth as it is in Heaven?

Are you willing to fight for it, even if it means fighting your own self-doubt and desire for acceptance? I don't know if I am, but it's something to know that something isn't right, that life as we know it can, and one day will, change.

And I can sure drink to that.

Sorry... couldn't resist :-P.


I'm late for almost everything.

I don't know what it is, I just can't seem to get going on time very often. It is as if a voice inside my head were constantly insisting "You have more time, don't rush!" I can get up a little earlier, get dressed and be perfectly ready to go, with 10 minutes to spare, and I'll still end up late. I'll get occupied reading something or cleaning something or checking emails or having a conversation on facebook, and take 15 more minutes, leaving my apartment in a rush.

I never end up really doing anything important, either. I rarely remember what it was that made me late, just that I thought it was the best use of my time. I do the same thing with money if I'm not careful, spending it without even thinking, having nothing to show for it in the end.

This week we talked about "indulgence" and what we do with our resources. I haven't been given much money, so I've been forced to skip most "indulgences" in order to survive, but money isn't my only resource. I've been given musical ability, time... heck, even our bodies are resources that we can spend or waste with our actions.

So when I'm late, and I have nothing to show for it except a few extra minutes of sleep or a random facebook conversation, I have wasted a resource. When I don't make time to work out and I decide I can do McDonald's or Panda Express "just this once", I am wasting a resources. When I only practice guitar or singing enough to sound pretty good instead of excellent, I am wasting a resources.

Which leads me to wonder what exactly God could do with all of my time and ability? What could He do with me if I were in shape, if I wasn't tired too quickly or too self-conscious of my size?

This may seem a bit transparent, but I am posting this in hopes that I will not be the only one to ask these questions, that this will be a conversation, not simply a post. What could God do with all of us, with all that we are?

Hike for the Homeless (Do Something)

So we have this ridiculously awesome group of people (I think 13 so far) from 3F who are going to be in this year's Hike for the Homeless. If you haven't gotten involved yet, I encourage you to GET SIGNED UP WITH THE "3F" TEAM (a bunch of peeps mostly from 3F).

But other than that, there is so much more that we could be doing now. I know Central has ACTS ministry going on the first and third saturday mornings of every month, and there is so much more to be found out there.

I think our faith can get a bit inauthentic when we sit still for too long. We get disconnected from what makes us who we are, that desire to change the world for the better, for the cause of Christ. Occasional rest is a good thing, but our idle hands can become our greatest enemy.

Join us... I think a lot more stuff is gonna start happening, either through MIX or through other stuff here in Mesa and Gilbert, but of course there are things to do everywhere. Heck, if you need to find something, just tell me what city you are in and I'll google until I find something for you to do!

The point is, do something!