Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why are you still a follower of Jesus?

Recently, a friend and colleague posed this question on social media.

It’s a great question and one that isn’t asked enough. Particularly with all the misuses and abuses of Jesus and Christianity for causes which are harmful, hateful, and opposed to the very message of the Gospel. These are not new misuses and abuses, they have happened over the centuries, but it is particularly troublesome now as we see a new brand zealous nationalism, white nationalism, and growing economic injustice dressed in religious clothing.

And it is a good question because it caused me to think. I’m not often asked this question. I wish I was, to be honest. Not because I can convince people to believe like me, but because it opens a rare but very meaningful conversation. One that I don’t often have because I am, most certainly, the world’s worst apologist. (Well, at least in the modern evangelical/fundamentalist militant apologetic style).

My faith includes reason and critical thinking. For me, faith includes seeking understanding with the mind as well as the heart. I also agree that we must “Always be ready to make your defense [reply/answer] to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you.” (1 Pet 3:15). At times, many of have overcorrected from this aggressive evangelistic style and have declined to talk about Jesus at all. Neither of these poles are helpful, we must find a middle space. A space which can hold difference, and a space where the Christ can still make an appearance.

But the first cause, the root, the answer of why I am still a follower of Jesus has little to do with logic or reasoning. I wasn’t argued into the faith, backed into a corner so I had to accept it because I couldn’t come up with a better counter-argument. It is true that I was born into and raised in the Christian faith, but I’m also not a follower of Jesus simply because it is how I was raised. Indeed, many of my understandings of Christian faith are different (or at least nuanced differently) from the church of my formation.

Everyone who asks me this question and is expecting an argument, or logic, or an irrefutable set of propositions will likely be disappointed.

I am a follower of Jesus because I don’t know where else to go.

That’s pretty much it. I don’t know where else to go. I don’t know what else gives life, I do not know what else can help make sense of things, I do not know what else can comfort and challenge in the same way.

I am reminded of the story in the Gospel According to John.

…many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

(Jn 6:66-68)

I am a follower of Jesus, because I don’t know where to find life. I don’t mean simply life after death, I mean life here. I don’t know what else can bring life to the world.

Has the message of Jesus been twisted for money and power and oppression? Yes. I will be the first to admit that all too often, people who claim the Christ fail to reflect his teachings. But when you look through that–life, liberation, peace, and wholeness is the resounding song. And this is a song that I need, that the world needs. And I don’t know where else to find the music to sing it.

On the Death of a Church

It was the first time that I had walked into the doors and sat near the back for the duration of the worship service. Being a pastor, I am typically at the front. I usually have tasks to do, responsibilities to which to attend. But today was different. I was not there as their pastor, I was a member of the congregation. I had no particular responsibilities. Nothing to read. Nothing to preach. Nothing to say. I could pray with my own words, not words for the congregation. I could sing without having to think about what is next. I could listen to the sermon instead of delivering it.

“Closing worship service” was written on the front of the bulletin, which was white today, although it is usually ivory colored paper. The images which are usually black and white prints of woodcuts now bears a color image of the church building.

I came in after the service had already started, and I simply pulled myself into a pew in the back, not wishing to make a scene. How would the people reäct to my presence, I wondered to myself. After all, it had only been a month since I delivered my farewell sermon…

 

I’m over at That Reformed Blog today, come on over to read the rest…

Number Worship and Strategic Salvation

“The church is dying!”

In my corner of the the last remnants of Christendom, I hear this or something similar regularly.

There is concern because our denomination, much like most North American mainline denominations, has a numerically declining trend. There is a fear that because the church is losing the privileged position that it has enjoyed since Constantine and thus this grows to fear that the church is dying.

However, when we are afraid that the church is dying, we become obsessed with numbers. We make goals to plant a specific number of congregations and gain a specific number of confessing members. We point to big and/or growing churches as successes and small and/or declining churches as failures. We make the implicit (or explicit) assumption that faithful churches will be large and will grow continually. The shadow side of that assumption, though, is that churches which are small or are not growing at a steady pace are dysfunctional or unfaithful.

The Church is not of our making

***

I’m at That Reformed Blog today, come on over…

Autumn

Tree in autumn

As I walk through Humboldt Park in my neighborhood in Milwaukee, I make the corner around the lagoon and before me is a tree which is ablaze but is not consumed. I have an impulse to remove my shoes. After all, I am standing on holy ground. Not because this sight makes it holy, but God created this tree, this ground, this moment, and therefore it is holy. I wonder what Moses saw. I wonder if the miracle that he saw is anything like the miracle which exists before me. Nothing about this is unexplained or unknown. I understand how and why leaves change colors and fall. But the presence of an explanation or understanding does not remove the fact that this is supernatural. It is miraculous.

God has given two books, the book of scripture and the book of creation, both attest to God’s transcendence and immanence. God cares about everything, and God cares about particular things. God upholds the universe and God upholds this moment.

Read the rest of this post at That Reformed Blog

Deep seated pieties

As I closed my eyes, I felt moved to a different time, and a different space.

In becoming familiar with our denomination’s new hymnal, Lift Up Your Heartsthere was a hymn sing at the annual gathering of delegated Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Elders from the entire denomination from around the United States and Canada.

***

My faith was nourished by a steady diet of rural Midwestern Dutch Reformed fare. We take religion and faith seriously, and we take the church seriously. We sang hymns. At the time I hated it. I loathed the hymns, I did not appreciate the simple faith of my farming community. The organ was ancient, the practices were dated, and nothing reflected what I estimated to be a lived Christian faith.

My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine;
for thee all the follies of sin I resign;
my gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Ever since I have gone to seminary, I have not particularly appreciated the personal language when it comes to Jesus, I have come to learn that perhaps the language of Jesus as “mine” is not always the best way to think about our relationship to God. I often find myself trying to avoid hymns like this, as I find them theologically lacking, and simplistic in piety.

The hymn-sing selections where chosen to represent different types of pieties, of which this hymn is one. It is a familiar hymn, it was a hymn that felt like Sunday evenings in my Christian Reformed Church.

I love thee because thou hast first loved me
and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

The hymn was being accompanied by a piano, and I could hear people behind me harmonizing. I closed my eyes, and I felt that I was moved to a different place and a different time. For a moment I stopped singing and simply listened to the intimately familiar words of the hymn.

I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death,
and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath,
and say when the deathdew lies cold on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I could hear the organ in my childhood church, and I could see the see the familiar faces who formed my faith. As I looked around my small country church, I saw a host of simple people, unrefined people, people of deep faith who loved God in their glorious ordinariness. At the time I wanted nothing more than to be rid of my church, but this hymn, reviled at the time, functioned almost as my heart language and brought me into deeper communion with the divine.

Despite how much I had desired to flee from my church of upbringing, rural Midwest Dutch Reformed pietism is so deeply imbedded into my very existence.

The piano began to crescendo in preparation for the final stanza

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

As I returned to my time and my particular place, tears streamed down my face as I knew not what else to do with my deep experience with God.

Waiting for the Mail Carrier

There is nothing like the excitement of waiting for a package to arrive in the mail. Internet tracking allows me to see exactly when it is going to arrive, and it is a day which brings eager anticipation.

The items in the package are not that exciting, simply utilitarian items. I know what they are, after all, I ordered them. But the excitement is not about the items themselves, it is about the experience.

The experience of hearing the knock on the door, or arriving home and seeing the brown cardboard box leaned up against the door, is an exciting one. Although knowing what is on the inside, seeing the box — sealed, opaque — there are endless possibilities for what it could contain. There is something, at least somewhat unknown, that will likely contain something good, something exciting, something new and fresh. Something with potential, with possibilities, something that has yet to wear out or break — something which can offer a new future.

***

As I was waiting for my package, however, the mail was late, and I had to catch my bus. I walked down the stairs to the sidewalk, and over to the bus stop. After all, what I am truly waiting for — hoping for, longing for — won’t arrive in the mail.