Monday, February 20, 2012

A Fickle Soul

Most of us will acknowledge that our hearts are home to faith and doubt, hope and disappointment, clarity and confusion, victory and defeat, life and death, strength and weakness, or belief and absurdity.  Active followers of Jesus often mislabel the existence of these counterpoints as spiritual immaturity.  Individuals investigating Jesus often over-interpret the existence of these counterpoints as barriers to faith.  Both miss the mark.

There is a gracious way to understand these coexisting, competing opposites that occupy us.  To frame this as a question, what if one expression of God’s work in us is the mysterious morphing of these counterpoints from competing noise to beautiful harmony?  In other words, we should not live our lives in anticipation of spiritual achievement that finally and permanently removes doubt, disappointment, confusion, defeat, death, weakness, or absurdity.  Rather, we should live energized by curiosity as we eagerly anticipate God's intertwining work of our cohabitating counterpoints.  In this sense, to mature in Jesus is to be eternally curious and in awe of the beautiful, harmonic sounds God is able to produce from our conflicted souls. 
Classical musicians are familiar with this kind of phenomenon because a similar occurrence exists especially in Baroque music.  This is referred to as contrapuntal sounds, which are melodies played against one another (counterpoints) that surprisingly produce harmony not chaotic noise.  If music can do this, than how much more can God, the creator of music, do this in us?  He is the Master Producer who is constantly shaping the contrapuntal sounds that flow out of our fragile lives.  

This spiritual truth is supremely illustrated in Mark’s Gospel (chapter 9) where a father brings his son, suffering from a violent spirit that makes him unable to speak and inflicts episodic seizures, to Jesus to be cured.  The father cries out the following to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  The father’s honest confession of coexisting opposites residing in his heart probably resonates with most of us.  But incredibly, Jesus receives both exclamations. He does not excessively credit the father for the statement of belief or excessively penalize him for the statement of unbelief. For Jesus, the two counterpoints are interdependent producing an harmonious expression of faith rather than being an indication of a fickle soul.  In the end the father’s son is graciously healed, and the father leaves probably full of wonder as to the events that just transpired.

 Jesus is a true ambassador to a universe of other options.  Just when we think we have him figured out, he surprises us.  Would you want it any other way?

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Content Conundrum?! - Part IV

When does a traditional church become merely a well preserved time capsule functioning as a silo of nostalgia in a changing world?  Maybe when...

  • Memories trump Mission - The rowboat is an interesting metaphor for Christian faithfulness.  In order to move forward efficiently, the rower must be in a posture of looking back.  I love the balance in this.  But what happens if the rower stops rowing and becomes content gazing back from where he has come?  His mission or destination is not only halted but devalued in comparison to those places already navigated.  When our memories paralyze us from God's future mission, we jettison the Great Commission and turn nostalgia into an idol.         
  • Malcontent trumps Mutation - Some Christians have a penchant for proclaiming all that is wrong in the world.  They get an "A" in frustration and disgruntledness.  But, sadly, they have lost a sense of co-laboring with God to be change-agents in this world.  They no longer believe or chant confidently with the Psalmist that "we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."  Churches full of these kind of parishioners find themselves retreating weekly into their safe silos while the rest of the world goes to Hell!  
  • Meander trumps Mandate - It is one thing to meander through a project due to an unclear mandate.  It is an entirely different matter to meander in defiance of a mandate.  In this case meandering is an expression of disobedience.  Tragically, a church can possess good orthodoxy and yet exist in a constant state of disobedience due to meandering.  Here are a few qualifying statements to this point:
    • Mandate is not necessarily connected to pace.  Both a sprinter and a marathon runner are compelled by winning.  However, they engage their particular race with different speeds. 
    • Mandate does not mean action without thought. The Bible has much instruction regarding wisdom.
    • Meandering is chronologically neutral.  Both the young and old can be found guilty.
    • The "new idea" does not necessarily reflect a mandate attitude, and the "old idea" does not necessarily reflect a meandering attitude.  New is not always better.
  • Maintenance trumps Multiplication - Jesus is clear in Acts 1:8 when he says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be by witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  Pentecost brings power for the multiplication of the Gospel to the entire world.  When the ethos of a church shifts from multiplication through the power of the Spirit to maintenance mode, a slow and painful death begins.  A church that multiplies has no interest in being a time capsule.   
  • Mourning trumps Magnificat - The Magnificat was birthed out of a state of confusion.  Mary had received the overwhelming news from Gabriel that she was "with child" followed by Elizabeth's prophetic proclamation over her.  It is in this context that Mary sings, "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior..." Much of the radical changes in our culture over the last three decades has occurred during my "coming of age" years.  While I have viewed most of it through the youthful lens of excitement, I admit to moments of personal confusion and lament triggered by cultural chaos.  If I have experienced this, I cannot imagine how it must feel to folks who have lived many more decades than I.  However, in this hour of cultural confusion the Church, with multi-generational unity, must stand together as Mary did proclaiming and glorifying the Lord.  Let's allow morbidity of thought to give way to a marveling heart of worship even in the midst of uncertainty and lamentation.  May we declare to our cities, "Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory?  The Lord Almighty - he is the King of glory."  

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden