Tasting Death?

“And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 9:1, NRSV)

“Then he drove it home by saying, “This isn’t pie in the sky by and by. Some of you who are standing here are going to see it happen, see the kingdom of God arrive in full force.” (The Message)

Here’s what Kent Brower says in his commentary on Mark (“Parousia” refers to Jesus’ return or second coming):

“In isolation, this statement seems to suggest that Jesus’ mission leads to the glorious appearance of the vindicated Son of Man. Through his coming, God’s rule will come in power within the lifetime of some of Jesus’ original audience.

“But if this refers to the Parousia, the prophecy fails: the Son of Man did not come before the death of some of Jesus’ listeners.

“Many scholarly proposals have been offered, including seeing it as predicting the resurrection, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the recognition that the kingdom has arrived in Jesus’ life and ministry, the miraculous growth of the church, the transfiguration, or the crucifixion. Each of these proposed alternatives has strengths and weaknesses. The preferred solution should be the one that makes the best sense of the saying in its narrative context.” (Mark: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, p. 237-8.)

These are all valid ideas and legitimate conclusions, certainly, but let’s set the stage for what is going on before reaching conclusions about Jesus’ prophecy.

After a long, 25-mile journey to Caesarea Philippi from Bethsaida, and even impatience and an acted-out parable on Jesus’ part because the disciples are just not getting the big picture, Jesus steers the conversation toward the Messiah.

It was evident from the conversation, though, that there was some confusion about Jesus’ identity, so Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter responded, “You are the Messiah.” Here, with the backdrop of Rome and Greece at Caesarea Philippi and their glorious pantheon of gods, a simple wandering rabbi and tradesman is revealed to be Israel’s Messiah. And when Peter names him as Messiah, Peter believes he’s the one who will unseat Rome and all of the other pagan influences that have corrupted Israel for so long.

But Jesus, in fact, turns things upside down, and talks about how he must suffer instead. Many believed, based on Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:13), that the “Son of Man” would make things right. Now, Jesus doesn’t deny his coming kingdom; the kingdom is coming, and Jesus will make things right, and fulfill Daniel’s vision, but it’s just not in any kind of way that disciples or Israel expect!

Here’s what Jesus does say about the Messiah, from the end of Mark 8:

“…the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

And this – if you want to actually follow this Messiah who just ends up getting himself killed:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

He makes the same point three different ways: We must die to ourselves in order to have true life in God.

In the eyes of those with power, those who have indeed gained the whole world, and those who have first saved their lives, it is shameful – like carrying a Roman cross and being crucified for all to see. Not only is there physical pain and anguish, but there’s pain and anguish in the embarrassment of it! There’s shame, pain, and anguish on multiple levels. You have to deny everything that the world puts in front of you that distracts you from God and focus on Jesus first and foremost, pushing everything else away.

Pause and ask yourself: What are those things in your life, and are you willing to risk putting those things aside, even to the point of carrying humiliation like God carrying a cross to death, to follow Jesus? Jesus casts aside the temptation of Satan in the desert and the temptation of Peter, his new accuser in this chapter, to have a worldly, militaristic, and powerful kingdom, in favor of his true Godly kingdom: an upside-down power that comes in the form of humility, meekness, and selfless love.

And what about tasting death?

At first glance, it does look like a potential failed prophecy of Jesus if we think it refers to his second coming, as Brower discusses. But looking at the context of the verse, we can see that there’s more going on.

Consider that the Pharisees earlier in this chapter asked for a sign, and Jesus responded, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” He unloads on the disciples in the boat when they are not getting it. And he talks about death on a cross to the crowds, and says to them, “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Perhaps, on a different level than all the other ideas – Parousia, resurrection, Pentecost, fall of Jerusalem, Jesus’ life and ministry, the church, transfiguration, and crucifixion – Jesus is implying that it will take an incredible miracle or sign, maybe one of the above events, before some people get the point about the kingdom of God, Jesus’ identity, and dying to one’s self. After all, one of the themes of Mark up to this point, and highlighted in this chapter, is people not seeing and understanding clearly the first time around. On the other side of the coin, however, is judgment: if it takes a sign like the Pharisees are asking for and depending on the motives, the consequences may be more dire than we expect.

As I close this post and as you consider these ideas, I encourage you to watch the following clip about Jesus and Barabbas. We watched it this past Sunday in the church community I am a part of. Jesus carried his cross and tasted death for each one of us because of his unconditional love and grace, even if we don’t deserve it or don’t even want to pick up our crosses in response to Jesus.

But if we are going to truly call ourselves his disciples, understanding the point of God’s kingdom and Jesus as Messiah, then we must be willing to do the same. When we taste the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ and follow in it, we find life and we find God’s kingdom in all of its power and full force.

The Wild Horse

An analogy on the nature of the Spirit:

The Holy Spirit is like a wild horse.

So often the Church has attempted to tame this wild horse. Unfortunately, many times we actually believe we have.

And still, many more times, and to our detriment, we affirm this horse’s wildness with our words but still treat the horse as if it were a tame animal by our actions, doing an incredibly foolish disservice by this doublespeak.

Many times we’ve attempted to put reins on this horse as we try to control its wildness and make the animal subservient to our desires, wishes, and direction.

And sometimes we’ve even convinced – deluded – ourselves that we as the Church have finally successfully corralled this horse that is the Spirit of God to our bidding, rather than the vice-versa it should be.

It’s time to take the reins off.

Or, at least, confess that we’ve never actually had any reins on this wild, majestic, and beautiful horse in the first place.

We must stop our attempts to manage the Spirit – God will not be managed by his Church. God – Father, Son, and Spirit – will lead; wherever that horse will run, his Church has no choice but to follow.

Momentum Conference: October 22, 2016

This October 22, I’ll be teaching two workshops at the Philadelphia District Church of the Nazarene Momentum Conference at Fairview Village Church of the Nazarene in Eagleville, PA. Both of my workshops will focus on simple church life. I hope you can come! Here is the link with more information about the conference and how to sign up: http://www.philanaz.org/Momentum_Conference

And some more information about my workshops:

Session One: Empowering Disciples through Simple Church (9:30-10:40 a.m.)

What if Church doesn’t have to look the way we’ve always thought it had to look? Your paradigm will start to shift after this session as we focus on weekly Church gatherings, what it means to be led by the Spirit, incorporating complete participation through scripture discussion, testimonies, and prayer throughout worship, and how leadership facilitates Church life. While it will be a different experience of Church for many, every aspect of Church life can be an opportunity to disciple and learn to be led by the Spirit. All of this will make effective, capable disciples who are empowered and live by Christ’s Spirit. Sometimes we just make things more complicated when they really need to be simpler.

Session Two: Practicing Simple Church (1:10-2:20 p.m.)

In “Empowering Disciples through Simple Church,” we discussed a paradigm shift for Church life and weekly Church gatherings. Join us as we actually go through a weekly worship gathering and submit ourselves to be completely led by the Spirit in every aspect. But be warned⎯this time together won’t look like a typical Sunday morning at a traditional community church. *You do not need to have come to the first session in order to come to this session.*

The Spirit’s Wind and Fire

On Sunday, September 18, 2016, I had the opportunity to preach at Riverview Christian Fellowship in Reading, PA.

Are you willing to follow the direction of the Spirit’s wind?

The text is John 3:1-10. I pray that God’s Spirit challenges you as you listen. May Christ be with you.

Wineskins

This is what Jesus said to his disciples and the people around him:

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22, NRSV) “He went on,

“No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.” (Mark 2:21-22, The Message)

Over the past several months, I’ve read through several books that have challenged me and the way I think about church form greatly. Not particularly function, but form: there is a difference. In a sense, it is a challenge to the traditional ecclesiology (a theological word that has to do with church form) that so many have become accustomed to and take for granted. These thoughts aren’t by any means intended to be a dissertation on ecclesiology, so don’t read this expecting all your questions to be exhaustively answered. However, these are some thoughts on wineskins, as Jesus discussed above.

(The books are: “Church 3.0” by Neil Cole, “MegaShift” by James Rutz, “House Church” edited by Steve Atkerson, and currently “The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church” by Alan Hirsch. I don’t agree with everything the authors say, but each raises excellent points.)

Here’s what one academic, Dr. Kent Brower, writes in regards to this passage in Mark: “This is a new day that cannot be contained by the old system” (Mark: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, p. 92).

I think Jesus’ analogy works regarding church form as well. I’m not the only one either and these aren’t particularly novel ideas. Jesus has given new wine – his new covenant – and it doesn’t work in the “old system.” The whole system had to change for us to drink and enjoy the new wine of his new life!

But regarding wineskins and church form – with a current society that is increasingly post-Christian, we’ve continuously been attempting, perhaps vainly, to use the wineskins, systems, and church forms that have been adapted for Christendom.

For the past 1700 years, church form has been operating with the same wineskins. It has been, more or less, the same liturgy or pattern in regards to ecclesiology: a church building, a pastor or leader up front, the professional clergy and laypeople distinction, the “service” or “mass,” etc. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

In terms of what Jesus said, we’ve taken his new wine and his new wineskin, and poured it into another wineskin after about 300 years – a wineskin that looks similar to the old wineskin of the old system Jesus was referring to – and we’ve been attempting to patch that same wineskin for a really, really long time. We’ve been continuously taking the same cloak or jacket that we’ve washed a thousand times before, putting a new piece of unshrunk cloth on it to repair a tear, and wondering why the cloak or jacket continues to look ragged after we wash it again. The new cloth tears away once it shrinks in the wash! And then we repeat with just a different brand of new cloth to see if that’ll work.

But it doesn’t really work to just patch a jacket like that, does it? And it definitely doesn’t work with a wineskin, though I’m afraid that’s what we continue to try – the church really loves the wineskins of Christendom. But to try to patch a wineskin really does demonstrate major denial of a situation because we know the wineskin could just burst completely even as we try to fix it! Nor does it really work to repair the crack on a bottle, as “The Message” translates, and then try to pass it off as a new bottle or a still functioning bottle. It might function for a little while before the glass has to be repaired again, but eventually the glass wine bottle will just break completely.

To be clear, there is no issue with the wine; the wine is better than it’s ever been! But I think it’s time to pour the wine into a new wineskin that might look more like the early church, before Constantine. In terms of Neil Cole’s book, “Church 3.0”, it’s time to stop trying to update version 2.0 to version 2.1, 2.2, or 2.9.6.8.2, or whatever version of 2.0 we’re on now, but go to 3.0 completely. I understand that’s a dangerous idea, because it means saying goodbye to church buildings and the traditional service and everything Christendom has become accustomed to and been familiar with over the last 1700 years. And it’s definitely a threat to people in church life who are accustomed to authority, wealth, and power afforded to them due to Christendom.

But are you willing to pour the wine into a new wineskin? In a world that looks like the pre-Christian, pre-Constantinian world in terms of ideology, now is the time to pour into new wineskins. And I’ve got a feeling that they look like wineskins the church has seen a long time ago – about two millennia ago.

The Spirit is blowing life in a new direction and will be shaping the form and the body and the wineskins. Are you willing to surrender everything – even sacred, patched, cracked, and bursting wineskins and bottles that we’ve come to know and love – and follow God’s wind to wherever it leads?

I understand that we, especially in North America, are in the midst of a transitional period and a reformational period. On one hand, we see some traditional churches of the type of the past 1700-year era having great success. On the other hand, we see other churches of the same type dying, with new life being breathed into ministries that look nothing like the traditional church. But 100 years from now, the landscape will look completely different than what we’re accustomed to.

Ultimately, where God’s wind is blowing is where God’s life is and it is where he will be breathing into a resurrected and brand new wineskin of the Church. And with that knowledge alone, we can be encouraged to be willing, have faith, and not fight against the Spirit’s direction.

Christ’s Power

Do we allow ourselves to be in awe of God? What about being in awe of Jesus and the power that he is capable of? Or even the Spirit – do we let the Spirit’s power amaze us even to the point when we may be scared of what happens next?

Sometimes we become so influenced by the idea of a cultural “hippy Jesus” that we forget the raw power that Jesus is capable of. The same applies to our understanding of the Spirit.

I’ve sometimes said that many Christians, though not agreeing with cessationism, are functional cessationists. We do not always want to be confronted with the power of who God is and the miracles, signs, and wonders he is capable of. We will even deny God’s power when it is directly in front of us.

It’s because God is a being that is beyond our control. God can be, at many times, beyond our understanding and our knowledge. Seminaries and other academic institutions have advanced degrees up to the doctoral level so that people can gain a grasp of who God is through knowledge – and when God does something incredible and surprises us, it can fly in the face of decades of effort of learning and attaining knowledge. Just when we think we know who God is, we realize we barely even know the first thing. It can terrify us.

Yes – God, Jesus, and the Spirit can be a threat to the religion of a visible church living in, and often influenced by, a fallen age. So we take steps to gain control, or at the very least, make it appear that we have some resemblance of control over God, even if that is just through knowledge.

Only five chapters into Mark, we already see the disciples, several times, in utter awe of Jesus – even to the point of terror. He exercises authority over demons in a way unlike any other exorcist. In the middle of a life-threatening storm on the Sea of Galilee, he directly commands nature, and it obeys. The disciples are terrified. And afterwards, the Gentiles are scared of Jesus after 2,000 pigs run into the sea and the previously crazed man, the demoniac, inhabited by a “legion” of demons, is sitting in a right mind, dressed, normal, and healed. The gentiles are rightly afraid and ask him to leave.

God, Jesus, and the Spirit are a power that can be foreign to us. Sometimes, and even Christians do this too, when that power is revealed, we ask Jesus and his Spirit to leave. It may not be done explicitly, but perhaps implicitly through the actions we take. The visible church of this age does not always want a God, Jesus, and Spirit whose power is revealed to be beyond our control, but unfortunately a God that we can manipulate into doing our established religious bidding.

I encourage you to seek after Jesus and his Spirit in a way that is revealed in scripture. Jesus reveals incredible power, but through that power incredible acts of love are also revealed. It is not one or the other, but both. When he called his disciples on the mountain in Mark 3, he gave them the responsibilities to be with him, share his message, and cast out demons. There is awe-inspiring power in Christ for his followers to do incredible and powerful acts, such as healing the sick and casting out demons. With his Spirit in you, there is power to do what we may even think is unthinkable or impossible! We will be surprised at the supernatural acts God is capable of through us.

But first, we must recognize that awe-inspiring power that is in Christ to do the miraculous. And though we may be terrified, and though it may even be a threat to many, but not all, visible churches influenced by a fallen age, it is who God is. Being with him, as he commanded, means recognizing his power, even if we don’t understand it or can’t wrap our heads around it with decades of knowledge.

So go, spend time with Jesus, ask for his Spirit and his gifts, share his message of a powerful, Godly love, cast out demons, command healing in his name, and do what the world, and even the visible church, may think is impossible.

Jehovah Reigns

As we consider the significance and impact of the death of Jesus on a cross, awaiting the resurrection that Sunday will bring, may the words of Charles Wesley be an encouragement and reminder to us of who God is.

This Easter weekend, may God bless you and encourage you by his Spirit and by his Son Jesus Christ.

Jehovah reigns on high
In peerless majesty;
Boundless power his royal robe,
Purest light his garment is;
Rules his word the spacious globe,
Established it in floating seas.

Ancient of days!
Thy name And essence is I AM;
Thou, O Lord, and thou alone,
Gav’st whatever is to be;
Stood thine everlasting throne,
Stands to all eternity.

The floods, with angry noise,
Have lifted up their voice,
Lifted up their voice on high;
Fiends and men exclaim aloud;
Rage the waves and dash the sky,
Hell assails the throne of God.

Their fury cannot move
The Lord who reigns above;
Him the mighty waves obey,
Sinking at his awful will,
Ocean owns his sovereign sway;
Hell at his command is still.

Thy statutes, Lord, are sure,
And as thyself endure;
Thine eternal house above
Holy souls alone can see,
Fitted here by perfect love,
There to reign enthroned with thee.