First of all, allow me to offer my apologies to a faithful reader of this blog, Dr. Cory Williams. I failed to approve a comment he made in response to my last blog post dealing with questions about Scripture. I am sorry, Dr. Williams. Not sure why I responded to your post personally and failed to approve it, but I did just that. I feel certain that if there were fines that could be written for “bad blogging techniques,” this mistake would have landed me a whopper of a fine – right along with my failure to properly spell check my posts and my occasional overuse of “however”! I’d be broke being these fines. Continue reading “An Apology, a Comment and a Response”
There have been three slightly related questions that have come in during our Ask Almost Anything series that I believe I would like to try and answer here, rather than take up time in worship. (Don’t worry, we will print some copies out so folks without access to the blog can read them as well.) Continue reading “Ask Almost Anything – Catching Up”
God, please send us the people that nobody wants and let us demonstrate your hospitality to all. Help us to see the people that live around our church so that our invitation will be with open hearts. Create a place of acceptance so that all feel welcome just as Christ welcomed us.
Well, we are up to it again at a Church in the Heart of Princeton. We are spending several weeks in worship doing a series called “Ask Almost Anything.” As the name implies, we are allowing people to anonymously email or drop off questions that I will then attempt to answer during our sermon time. (Some have referred to this as “Stump the Chump” but that name was already taken by a radio show.)
On this past Sunday I was able to address two questions. One was on observing the Sabbath and the second was on the theological idea of predestination. You can find my answers here.
We ended the time of AAA with a very thought provoking question that I promised to answer via this blog and in worship next Sunday. The question was: “Why does it seem that Christians can be some of the most judgmental people in the world?”
Let me point out that the first thing that struck me with this question is that it asserts that Christians ARE judgmental. The person who asked this question has found themselves on one end or the other of the judgmental tendencies of our faith.
Now, if you asked me if it were “inevitable” that Christians be judgmental, I would have to answer with a resounding, “No!” If you asked me if I thought Christians can be judgmental, I would answer (somewhat judgmentally, I must add as a disclaimer) that “Yes. Yes, we certainly can fall into that category at times.”
The assumed position of the question writer – that Christian are at times judgmental – led me to pause before I gave a full answer and reflect this question back to our congregation. I asked them to think and pray about this and even ask themselves: “How can I be less judgmental this week?”
I’m glad I waited to answer this.
On Tuesday a new video came out from “Chuck Knows Church.” If you are not familiar with this series, I invite you to check out any of these videos – they are both informative and entertaining. The new video that came out on Tuesday, however, is the first part of a longer series being produced that takes a hard look at how a church might turn itself around from the brink of closure. I have been looking forward to this series but was absolutely astounded at how much the first episode, not to be confused with the introductory episode, fit the answer I really wanted to give about this question.
I invite you to watch the episode before you read any further.
Okay, if you took the time to watch the video, and again, I would highly suggest it, then you might now understand the prayer at the beginning of this post. It is the prayer that ends the episode and points out that hospitality is not something we “do at church” – it is a lifestyle we have received with Christ. That’s right…along with giving us eternal life and forgiveness, Jesus gave us hospitality. Jesus chose to welcome us and imparted upon us that same Spirit so that we can be people of hospitality as well.
So, about this “judgmental” question…
I guess the best answer to give is that Christians become judgmental when they refuse the gift of hospitality that has been given to them. When we reject or forget or otherwise lay aside the welcome Christ gave to us, then we will very quickly become judgmental. However, if we hold on to the gift, well, that would lead us down a different path altogether. We would be accepting of those who disagree with us. We would be welcoming to those who are different than us. We would see each person as someone Jesus’ wants to welcome into God’s Kingdom and the judgment can then be left up to someone much more qualified.
I hope this answer helps!
Oh…and if you have any questions, ask Chuck. Tell him your pastor sent you! 😉
Unleashing the Scriptures
The room was small, one of those cramped “pretty” rooms found almost exclusively in churches. The furnishings were nice if not slightly, well, no actually, they were completely dated. A picture of Jesus hung on one wall and directly across was an even larger picture of some long gone saint of the church. It truly was difficult to tell who was watching over whom on those walls.
There were six souls in that room as well. Five of them in a state of restless listening and the sixth was just in a “state.” They were all pastors, but this sixth person was probably on the verge of finding some way out of that calling. The sixth pastor was hurt. The sixth pastor was angry. The sixth pastor felt abandoned.
One of the listeners eventually quietly offered a word of Scripture…something about a yoke being easy and a burden being light. Another of the listeners offered a word from the Word that reminded number six that a worker was worth what God had paid for them. Number six remained in a “state.”
In the silence that followed, a person already in the room would have heard hearts breaking and aching to reach a colleague. An observer walking in would have thought there was a death in the family but there was no one relative that united these six pastors – only a calling to serve. A stranger off the street – an outsider – might have sat among them and offered advice about finding a new path.
Eventually the painful silence was broken by the words of one of the listeners. It had to be one that was not only listening to the pastor in the “state” but also listening to the Holy Spirit. They said, “When I was being examined for ordination, the people on the Board used to say to one another, ‘Would I want this person to be my parent’s pastor?’ Well, Scott Sears, I want you to know something. I would not only want you to be my parent’s pastor but I would welcome you to be my children’s pastor, anytime. They could not ask for anyone with a better heart to lead them spiritually! You ARE a caring pastor no matter what anyone else says.”
The state of the sixth pastor…my troubled state…melted away in the presence of Jesus found in colleagues and friends and sisters and brothers.
Yes, there were words from the Scripture. These were words that I had read and heard on my own along with others like a passage from Isaiah that was shared by another friend – “’Remember,’ says the Lord, ‘remember that I have plans for you. Plans for good and not evil.” But on their own, these words just didn’t bring comfort…didn’t bring understanding.
It was only when I was together with a group of loving, forgiving, trusting Christians – a place where I could be myself and be loved – that the Bible and the very Word of God that is Jesus came alive.
Yes, I know that there are times and sometimes circumstances that keep people from being together in groups to study the Bible and to hold one another accountable. But the single most common reason people are not in some sort of Bible Study group is simple – they just don’t want to take the risk.
I speak from experience on this one folks – a painful yet wonderful experience that showed me once again that the greatest place to seek understanding of God’s word, God’s will and God’s way is with a group of loving Christians. (This was not the first time being in a small group made a difference in my life and faith and I am quite certain it won’t be the last.) If you don’t have a small group…build one. If you think you can’t build one…then call me and I will put together those that call so that they can have one another to help, to build up and to encourage in the Word. (And don’t worry about being stuck at home, or work or school…there are always ways for people to get together.) The group I met with and continue to meet with today drives hours to be together. Why? Because! Simply because.
One of the books I read in seminary which happened to be written by one of my favorite seminary professors, Unleashing the Scriptures, argued that Christians really should not be trusted to read the Bible alone – it was a book written in community and should be studied in community. Although I may not go to that extreme, the author, Stanley Hauerwas, is absolutely correct – Christians are a community…not a group of individuals. We must, must, must read the Bible together.
It’s been well over 18 months since that day in the room with that pain and those tears. But the words and the Word…well, nothing has dulled them from my memory. Thanks be to God.
How was there nothing in the beginning?
When I set out to do the sermon series “Ask Almost Anything” on the suggestion of our awesome Technical Director at First UMC, Princeton, I assumed I would get questions dealing with the burning issues of the day…abortion, sexuality, and as shown from the last blog entry – divorce. I assumed these questions would come up because, well, they are questions that are on the hearts and minds of people everyday. And yes, the majority of our questions fell into a category I would call “social” questions.
Yet, every once in a while, someone would text in with what I would call a purely “theological” question like the one I am answering today – “How was there nothing in the beginning?” [This question takes me back to Divinity School days when I studied such things as creatio ex nihilio (creation from nothing) and creatio ex materia (creation out of some external matter) and creatio ex deo (creation out of the very being of God). However interesting the arguments may be for each of these positions they end up being just that…positions in arguments that one person likes and another person doesn’t. Talking about them doesn’t usually get us anywhere fruitful.]
One of the very many things that I have learned in 20+ years of serving as a pastor is: “there is no such thing as a ‘purely theological’ question.” I keep this in mind whenever I am asked something like this. It keeps me from slipping back into one of those “positions” and into language that most of the time is just, well, boring. There is usually something more to the question than just wanting to know about the “beginning of things” and there is something more than just wanting to ask a question that might stump someone…or at least make them think really, really hard.
Since these questions were given to me anonymously, I really don’t have any way of knowing what the question behind the question might be but for the sake of this answer, I am guessing that this person, whoever they may be, was wondering about the truthfulness of Scripture.
Most translations of Genesis 1:1-2 have the two verses separated as two complete sentences. The NRSV – which I happen to prefer most of the time – does not. It reads:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Translation differences such as this one leads to the arguments about creation out of nothing, or creation being an “ordering” of chaos, or finally creation being something that came forth from God. The two sentence translations lean toward “out of nothing” and the single sentence translations lean toward the “ordering of creation out of chaos.” Either translation could be used for the idea that God created out of God’s own being.
What all these have in common and what ALL the translations of the Bible hold is that God was there in the beginning. So, there has never been a time when there was “nothing”. God has always been. God is. God will always be. (Perhaps that is why God gave Moses the name “I am” when asked! God simply is.) On a side note…it is hard for me to imagine the existence of “nothing.” Like “darkness,” which is really just the absence of light, “nothing” is the absence of “anything.” Therefore, if “nothing” can’t exist on it’s own. It’s just not logically possible.
So, even though the question of where this universe came from in the “beginning” is one that will be debated for a long time, the answer we choose doesn’t effect the Truth that Scripture is attempting to allow us to grasp – God created…therefore God was there in the beginning. Scripture can be trusted to impart to us Truth…even if it isn’t as clear as to how to understand the truth that comes from that Truth. (Yes…the use of capital letters is important here.) Our task is to concentrate on the Truth – for that is what points us to God.
(And yes…I intend to see Star Trek this weekend!) 🙂 “Live long and prosper!”
Nest question: “What is the best way, when reading the Bible, to grasp a better understanding if you are unable to go to a study group?”