Rob Bell on the Divine Dance

H/T to Jim Parsons for posting this great video. The rabbi story, I think, points to a huge piece of our faith journey we often have not wrestled with in ourselves. It seems to me, one of the problems with western Christianity today is that most of us are more like the policeman than the rabbi but we fail to admit it or fail to do anything at all.

Watch and see what you think...

Broken: The church you never knew you wanted. Week 1

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: (10) "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (11) "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. (12) 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' (13) "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' (14) "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14 NASB

On the recommendation of one of the monks at the monastery in Conyers a few years ago, I began reading the book, “The Spirituality of Imperfection.” One story is shared regarding a lecture at Rutgers University for alcohol counselors. On the board, the instructor had written the words, “human – humor – humility.” He turned to the gathering of would-be counselors and challenged, “you all know what 'humus' is don't you?”

In the back of the room sat a gentleman you might have thought was from the state of Texas. Being that he was every bit 6 foot something 250 pounds might have given and indication. Or his cowboy hat, boots and belt buckle. Or maybe his nametag cut in the shape of a star that said, “Tex.” In any case, in a deep drawl Tex, bellowed (and I'm editing here), “Yeah Doc, humus is worm dung!”

The authors note that we cannot work on one without working on all the others. I've mentioned before that following my cancer surgery in 2000, I was later diagnosed with clinical depression. I swore I'd never go there again. Never say never. I was again diagnosed with depression recently. Sitting around the table, we were talking as a family and I mentioned I was trying to get better. Logan looked at me and asked, “does that mean you won't yell so much?” We can't work on our humanity, our humor, or humility without dealing with our BEING humus.

It is humiliating to talk about being worm dung and dust isn't it? After all, we live in Georgia and know too well that being crushed or broken is not a good thing as Larry Munson reminded us that Saturday afternoon when he said,"We just stepped on their face with a hob-nailed boot and broke their nose! We just crushed their face!" We don't do broken well or at least not in public. But I would submit to you the unpopular notion that the only successful church is a broken church, the only successful Christian is a broken Christian and the only successful pastor is living a broken life.

Being part of the Church universal and a church in general is a most contrary thing. It associates you with the one organization in the world that exists for others. It associates with the primary logo of the cross – a symbol of a torturous death sentence. Its primary practices of baptism and communion are also symbolic of death. It is no wonder churches have moved these symbols out of primary places – they remind us too much of our humus.

And yet, how often do we hear a song on the radio or in a motivational seminar a question like, “what would you do different if you knew you'd die tomorrow?” Is it not the church, in our vows of membership, that reminds us of this very thing? How will you live differently? We are called to live for something more than ourselves and to be part of a revolution – the very body of Jesus Christ by our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.

Like our humanity, humility and humor are tied together, so are the 5 vows. But I see these tied to each other in unique ways as well. Starting with Prayers and Presence – they make up the practice of Listening. To listen, we often have to give up myths, our own beliefs about people and situations. I think two apply here.

MYTH: I can worship God anywhere.
1) The Church creates Sacred Space where ever we gather and it is a place of prayer for all people – for the sinner and the self-righteous. I think it is significant that Jesus has the action of this parable play out in the temple. Other places in Scripture make the point of praying to God anywhere. Right here, Jesus could easily have done that but he does not. Instead, he puts the action in a sacred space where believers in Yahweh, God Almighty, are called to worship. It is here, that ALL people are invited (My house shall be called a house of prayer). We are a called people practicing presence.

MYTH: I've got to be perfect to come.
2) The Church, when creating Sacred Space, provides a place to break or be broken. The prayer of the tax collector has become known to the church as the– The Jesus Prayer - “Have mercy on me a sinner.” The practice of simple yet profound breath prayers is an ancient practice of the church stemming from this verse. Simple, one phrase prayers, remind us of our need to pray every moment, our need to be honest with ourselves and with God.

Prayer is a willing receptiveness to the power, presence and pleasure of God. To pray in this way means we must be willing to be present and actively listen. This is contrary to our nature that demands attention and a hearing. Jesus calls to the whole person – listen – in your prayers and presence.

A Message For Saints

Ephesians 1:18-23 NASB (18) I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, (19) and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might (20) which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, (21) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (22) And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, (23) which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

This week I was thinking about one of our conversations a few weeks back during our set-up time. For those of you who have never done set-up, you surely miss some great times and conversations! That week Rob had posted on Facebook about cleaning out his book collection of business leadership books. We talked about some of the titles that have made their way not just into business but into the church. Books like, “Who Moved My Cheese,” “From Good To Great,” and “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” that were forced upon us from managerial types who wanted to remake the organization.

Then I came across something written in 1756, where John Wesley remarked, “November 1 was a day of triumphant joy, as All Saints' Day generally is. How superstitious are they who scruple giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints.”

I thought about this quote of Wesley's regarding this day called “All Saints Day” and how little thought is given to such a day because of our superstitious nature or maybe we feel it is morbid. But as our conversation played out that Sunday, how much homage has been paid to those we have set-up to be leaders in the church – people who fail to recognize the One Irrefutable Law of Leadership that Paul makes fairly clear in his letter to the Ephesian church: It is Jesus, the Son of God who is over ALL.

It was a few months ago, I remember driving in my car and sitting at a stop light. I was totally discouraged and reflecting on my leadership. Sitting there, the Spirit of God reminded me that God gave Jesus, “as head over all things to the church (v.22).” Dr. Dan Allender, author of “Leading with a Limp,” would agree completely and then some. He takes it a step further with a cue from Paul's first letter to Timothy when he says that pastors are to be the chief sinners of the church!

When we try ever so desperately to gain control of things, we only move faster and grasp tighter. Trying to lead the church (or even business) is about leading people. Under the guise of modern leadership experts, we become “bulls in the china shop.” In our families and in our work and in our faith, the more we try the next principle or read the next book, the more we find things not turning out so right. We look at others and wonder how “they do it?” And we miss the wisdom of the grandmother who said, “The only completely happy people I know are the people I don't know at all.”

Now that is a funny little word, “ALL.” It gets kind of lost in our conversations. But Paul uses the word 5 times in these verses. I'm sure you're imagining there must be some Greek word of great significance behind this. Nope. It is the word 'pas' it means 'all'. In other words, it means what it means to us = everything; the whole; complete. And this is where Jesus sits, over it ALL.

It seems to me, this is ultimately what a saint is, someone who recognizes their position as a sinner/maybe even chief sinner and sees just how significant it is that Jesus is over it ALL. Jesus is over I-75 at 7am in the morning. Jesus is over homeroom and Advanced Math/English/Social Studies. Jesus is over babies with dirty diapers at 3am in the morning. Jesus is over the victim of the DUI at Grady Hospital. Jesus is over all the leaves that have to be cleaned-up and the HOA. Jesus is over Tuesday's elections and the results on Wednesday. Jesus is over abortion clinics and over the electric chair. Jesus is over AIDS and Jesus is over birthdays. Do you get it? Jesus is over it ALL and a saint comes to see that no matter what happens, no matter what you and I face, no matter how awful we feel curled up in a ball on the floor, He HAS been there and He is not merely over it but he is in it – ALL IN ALL.

God didn't come in Jesus looking for perfect people. He came looking for perplexed, pathetic people and it is those he wanted use to lead his church. The idea that saints are somehow a set-apart holy class is what some would like us to believe but the truth is that no Christian can be a Christian apart from Jesus Christ being who he in our lives as he is in the world – All in All.

There is a story about a conversation Jesus had with the archangel Gabriel when Jesus returned to heaven after the ascension. “You mean,” Gabriel said, “your whole plan to save the world depends on that ragtag bunch of former fishermen, prostitutes and tax collectors?” “That’s right,” Jesus replied. “But what if they fail?” Gabriel persisted with alarm. “What’s your backup plan?” “There is no backup plan,” Jesus said.

It makes no sense does it? None of us who have served as leaders in business or military or community would ever think of such a thing! But saints get it – no one could do it anyway, not with out Jesus. From Stephen, the first martyr recognized by the Church to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and all those unknown to us (but known intimately by Jesus), they got it – and it is them we recognize, those who have gone before us, those who have lived and died and know the one irrefutable law of leadership that the Son of God who is over ALL. But they not only know they see the author and know him face to face and on this All Saints Day, I invite you to pause, maybe for the first time, or maybe for 1,000th time. Recognize you're a sinner, that Jesus loves you and know there is no backup plan – you are the saints you've been waiting for.

(Pastor's Note: Yes, I know that according to the liturgical calendar, we're a week early. After consideration it seemed better to reclaim the day.)

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