Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Circumcision

I cringe every time I think of Zipporah flicking her son's foreskin at Moses' feet. "Bridegroom of blood," she called him, because he compelled her to wield the knife.

The scene in Exodus 4:18ff is confusing. Moses and family, donkey, staff of God set out from Midian to confront Pharaoh with the news that YHWH is reclaiming His people. Suddenly, God stops this family vacation and tries to kill someone. In a classic version of Hebrew narrative, the details are limited. We don't know if God was trying to kill Moses (majority position) or his son (my view). What is unquestionably vivid is the stain of blood on Zipporah's left hand, and the tiny heap of flesh caught between Moses' toes.

The issue was Moses ignored the sign of Abraham's covenant. Circumcision marked God's relationship with the father of Israel. Every son of Abraham, on the eighth day, was sealed with a scar (Genesis 17:12). This was an everlasting covenant that Moses overlooked, I suspect, out of deference to his wife. And when God interrupts their travel and attempts capital punishment, Zipporah owns up and surgically intervenes.

The scene is both comedy and tragedy. We grin at the mother doing the messy work of parenting; we cringe at the father standing passively by. We laugh and cry because we are not watching an isolated event, but a paradigm for father/mother roles. Mothers eternally intervene. Fathers eternally withdraw. And I blame this on circumcision.

Timothy, a bi-racial disciple of Paul, underwent the knife to pursue vocational ministry. Converts to Judaism were expected to do the same during both the Old and New Testament eras. Conversion was costly, painful, emasculating. It is no coincidence that Timothy's spiritual guide was a Jewess believer, not a Greek dad (Acts 16). Fortunately, the early church remedied the debate as to whether or not Christians should undergo the knife (Acts 15). We can keep our blades above the waist--our hearts are the new target.

Nonetheless, I suspect men have never recovered from the sight of blood and the shine of a blade. Circumcision has incapacitated many a man. So I am thankful for ladies like Zipporah, who have iron stomachs and nimble hands.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Women in Ministry (with Men)

Why are women so often relegated to auxiliary ministry roles?

The question was asked during the morning session of my Equip09 class. The title is Women in Ministry, which envisions knitting circles and kitchen crews. To be fair, the title was a shortened version of another proposal: Women in Ministry with Men. But the latter was too edgy, offensive, complementarian.

Everyone knows that women with teaching gifts must go over seas and disguise their theological acumen in the guise of another tongue. Everyone knows that women who lead are limited to classrooms of infants, toddlers, and their own four kids when daddy's not home. Everyone knows this.

Well, that's not quite right. Eight people in the Fellowship are wondering otherwise, asking questions, searching Scripture. And here, perhaps, is a better question: What is an auxiliary ministry? Most of us likely define it in terms of profession (i.e. the pulpit) and preference (i.e., whatever we don't do is auxiliary to us). To echo my mentor, this issue may be less about model and more about mindset.

How can we change our minds about women in ministry (with men)? Stay tuned tomorrow for my theory behind why men are spiritually passive.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Refreshments

Whenever I have special speaking engagements on the horizon, I either develop twitches, fatigue, or an indulgence for chocolate. Throughout the morning I worked on a two-day lesson for Momentum students entitled The Pre-historic Jesus. Please note, this is not some trendy new packaging for Jesus in which he appears in the guise of a dinosaur or caveman. Rather, I'm tying Old Testament covenants to the New Testament Jesus.

But cramming this lesson into two forty-five minute sessions with illustrations, interactions, punchlines, and theatrics was more than I could handle today. By the end of my preparations, I was exhausted to the point of boredom. A quick ransacking of the church kitchen, and my sole comfort was an expired bag of chocolate chips. They were extra soft.

The whole time I chided myself, saying, "God be your comfort, not external things." I tried playing a few songs, but songs, too, are external. As is espn.com. As text-messaging and e-mailing. (Blogging?)

The last half hour, though, I set aside for reading and reflection. I considered the concept of calling and 2 Timothy 4:1-5. I pondered the role of preaching, the immanence of Christ's return, the reality of judgment, and the role of the body of Christ in correction, rebuke, and exhortation.

When handled improperly (merely to preach to others or defend a point), the Word of Christ can just as easily become an external thing. When it 'richly dwells within,' the Word of Christ provides the ultimate comfort. And it never expires.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ice Cream

People worship everything: animals and athletes, architecture and herbage, gods and gigabytes. Tozer wrote, "There is not a tribe in all the world that does not have some kind of religion and some form of worship. Men and women have an instinct toward worship."

In the spirit of worship, I encouraged folks from my church to attend the opening night of the county fair. As part of the free family night, a community worship service was scheduled. I could not attend; I was busy serving ice cream from one of many concession stands.

If offerings and attendance are a fair indicator of worship, I would suggest that The Church of the One-Dollar Milkshakes lambasted the Community Praise Tent. People race to the ice cream booth, itching to get to the front, laying their cash down, and opening their mouths wide for
the solid milk of indulgence in a sixteen-ounce cup. Fair attendees love ice cream. Boys buy large chocolate shakes. Girls get vanilla. Moms and Dads buy separate swirls that they do not share. Everyone walks away from the Church of the One-Dollar Milkshake with a smile.

Folks from my church left the Community Praise Tent early. Ice cream is often more compelling than song. Choruses are less appealing where Elephant Ears, Blooming Onions, and Pork Bar-B-Q are available. Then again, the right diet is an act of worship--the Catholic and Jewish faith figured this out long ago. And for some, ice cream is worship, too.

'What is worship?' is the wrong question. Everyone worships something; some worship everything. The better question is: 'What is acceptable worship?'

Worship requires the proper alignment of object, form, and disposition. Raised hands and a humble heart are worthless if the object of adoration is a 4-H sow. Not much better is the prayer to the Heavenly Father from a bitter and grudge-holding son.

Thus worship is tricky business--three elements properly ordered toward the Three-Person God. Jesus answers the question: worship aligns God, spirit and truth (John 4:24). Simple to state, but tricky to maintain. Unfortunately, too often worship is simply business... and ice cream tastes better.