Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Church We (Are) Meant to Be

Next month marks 10 years for River Valley Community Church. WOW. Ten years....sounds like a looonnngggg time in some respects; in a lot of ways it is not really that long.

For instance...the fact that I was ONLY 32 years old back in the summer of '97...well, that was sweet.
But...as a churches go...ten years is nothing---compared with some congregations that have been meeting continuously for SEVERAL HUNDRED years!

As a spiritual community it seems like we are, in a lot of ways, just learning to "walk". Just beginning to hit our stride, spread our wings, get our bearings...(ok, enough cliches)

So...on Sunday mornings this month...we'll discuss the kind of church we MEANT (intended) to be. Is that the same church we have become so far? Well, Yes and No. Just like my 17 year old Senior son mostly resembles that seven year old boy that headed off to second grade in the Fall of 1997, River Valley has grown up in ways we anticipated and recognize...with a few strange twists and turns along the way that we never saw coming for sure.

How about you?
If you are a part of the RVCC family now....Who were you/Where were you/and what were you doing in September of 1997?
What changes have marked your life these past ten years?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What WE Believe

During the remaining four Sundays of July, we will be discussing the significance of the Nicene Creed---one of the earliest attempts to summarize the essentials of Christian Spirituality. The modern English translation of the creed is this:

"We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen."

According to Wikipedia...'The purpose of a creed is to act as a yardstick of correct belief. A creed is an epitome, not a full definition, of what is required for orthodoxy. It was hoped that by memorizing this summary of the faith, lay people without extensive theological training would still be able to recognize deviations from orthodox doctrines based on the Bible as interpreted in Christian Tradition.'

We will be especially discussing the one line near the end of the creed:
'...We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church...'

This week we will focus on the word, "ONE" and discuss the issues of unity (and disunity) that are demonstrated in the Church (Universal and Local)

I'm wondering...what are some of your experiences with Creeds?
Have you been a part of a faith community before that used/recited the Nicene or Apostle's Creed on a regular basis?
If so, did you find that practice vital or strange or just plain boring?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Jesus...and Kingdom Come

In his Gospel, Matthew quotes Jesus using a phrase 32 times that occurs NO WHERE ELSE in the Scriptures. What is the phrase?
...(wow, so glad you asked)...the unique expression in Matthew is: "the Kingdom of Heaven." The other Gospels (Mark, Luke, and John) all prefer the phrase "Kingdom of God." Why the difference?

Most commentators point out that Matthew's original audience were primarily Jews; Jews with a long history of reverence for the name of God---Jews who went to great lengths to steer clear of even the appearance of misusing the name of the Lord. Thus, one plausible explanation for Matthew's unique term is simply an effort to eliminate possible confusion and offense by using the word "Heaven" in place of the name "God." Plausible indeed.

But...unfortunately FOR US...that favorite phrase of Matthew...often creates a great deal of confusion. Many of us read Matthew's Gospel and attribute Jesus' comments about "the Kingdom of Heaven" to be referring to some far-off destination after we die. But take a moment to look closer at such passages as:

Matthew 6:9-10
Matthew 6:25, 32-33
Matthew 10:5-8
Matthew 12:22-26, 28
Matthew 13
Mattthew 18:2-3

These make a strong case for "Heaven" (our eternal destiny with God) and "Kingdom of Heaven" to be two distinct topics.

Have you heard many sermons that point out such a distinction?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

As it was in the beginning...

As we jump into chapter 10 this week in Mark's Gospel, Jesus gets "set-up" by the religous folks with a controversial topic:

"Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

Hard to believe, but, the issue was FAR MORE of a religous-political debate than it is in 21st century Western culture. I'm sure that everyone at the Celebrations on Sunday at River Valley will have been impacted, directly or indirectly, in some significant way by divorce. I'm really hoping that God's Spirit can speak truth to each of us in an atmosphere of love and grace.

Grab your Bible and read it: Mark 10:1-12. I'm wondering what some of your thoughts and questions are about this passage.

By the way, it may be helpful to also read Matthew's parallel account of this encounter (Matthew 19:1-12) and Paul's words on marriage and divorce (1 Corinthians 7). Might be interesting to compare and contrast their words.

Also...as you read Mark 10:1...what clue is buried in that verse that speaks to context (in this case: Location/Location/Location).
Hint: What else (or WHO else) had significant activity in the area of the Jordan river?

Ok...I am such a pushover...check out Mark 6:17-20...

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Upside-Down Kingdom

In Mark 9:30-37, Jesus challenges his disciples definition of "greatness."

And...I wonder....In our media-saturated world of "American Idol" wannabes, mega-million-per-year-earning sports stars, and the latest pop culture gods and godesses wooing the attention and awe of our world's youngest and brightest....

Has much really changed in 2000 years of trying to follow?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Missing Prayer

Here we are cruising through Mark chapter 9, headed back down the mountain...(did you catch how Messiah Jesus---recently "glorified" in the trans-figura experience---now comes down to engage humanity in its 'mess' in Mark 9:14-15?) Incarnation indeed...and then we happen upon verse 29. Wow. Jesus says: "These kind (the demonic kind he just dealt with)...can only come out by prayer. Some of the earliest manuscripts have it as..."these kind can only come out through prayer and fasting." That phrase is interesting to me because...thak about it...a prayer can happen in a instance, but...'fasting'...well, that can't be manufactured or microwaved instantly. Fasting speaks of a process bound in time and duration. Now, I'm not suggesting that those manuscripts have it right, but they do raise an interesting question. Which is...when Jesus frees the little boy from the demons...WHERE is "the prayer"? In fact, notice when Jesus does nearly any or all of his miracles...Where is the prayer?
Doesn't Jesus put a priority on prayer? He told the disciples in this passage that "by (through) prayer" was the ONLY way these forces of the Evil One could be dealt with effectively.

So..again...I ask: Where is the prayer? Where is the powerful, perfectly-worded, put-the-demons-on-the-run prayer?
Is Mark forgetting about the dynamic, hands-raised-toward-Heaven, thunder and lightening producing "super prayer" pronounced over the boy that sent the demons scurrying away?
Why don't the Gospel writers record those important words?
Wouldn't it be oh-so-helpful to have "that prayer" to recite when we need it most? Sort of like a theological light saber we could swing about in the midst of our spiritual warfare?

Well...I'm thinking that Mark and the other Gospel writers don't record the "magic" prayer that Jesus used in miraculous moments like the one in Mark 9:14-30...because there WASN'T one!

In his classic book, "The Divine Conspiracy" author, Dallas Willard, makes the statement:
"It is not enough to ask in a moment of need or temptation: 'What would Jesus do?' We must first consider the kind of life
that Jesus lived."

His point is...we cannot consistently DO what Jesus DID unless we live the (hidden) life that Jesus LIVED.

So...what if...THE PRAYER that Jesus is referring to has already happened...long before this encounter. More to the point, what if THAT prayer is the type of prayer that has already BEEN HAPPENING between Jesus and the Father for quite some time? Consider Mark 1:35 for instance. What if...the kind of prayer that "works" best with demons is the Mark 1:35 kind?

What if prayer is less about the emergency/magic bullet kind we frequently suppose it is, and more about this incredible dialogue (talking AND listening) we are having day by day with our Heavenly Father? What if Jesus easily casts out some demons which the disciples find impossible to handle---precisely because Jesus understands what it means to be alone with the Father and live "a life filled with prayer"? Hmm. I wonder.

I wonder if that is why the disciples soon come to Jesus and say: "Lord, teach us to pray." What if what they are really asking is: "Lord, would you teach us to pray LIKE YOU PRAY...(because your kind of prayer seems like what prayer is supposed to be like)?"

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus invites to put on his "yoke". He descibes it as "light and easy" and as "perfectly fitting".

What has your experience with prayer been like?
Does the passage in Matthew seem likely? Possible? Why?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Up and Down...the Mountain

This week's passage in Mark is...well..."amazing." Mark 9:2-13 is a timely response to the (possible?) doubt raised by all of Jesus' cross-talk at the end of chapter eight. Peter, James, and John get front row seats for an incredible encounter between Jesus, Yahweh, and a couple of their Hebrew heroes---Moses and Elijah. Sounds straight-forward enough, right?

I'm trusting you guys have some questions or comments...

"And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” Mark 9:1
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. Mark 9:2
His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. Mark 9:3
And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Mark 9:4
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Mark 9:5
(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Mark 9:6
Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Mark 9:7
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. Mark 9:8
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Mark 9:9
They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. Mark 9:10
And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Mark 9:11
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? Mark 9:12
But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”

Mark 9:1-13