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Archives for 145 – Left-Brained Church in a Right-Brained World

I have some great news to share with you! Heather Heflin Hodges is now on board with Wineskins as our newest Featured Author! Heather brings so many talents to the table and I cannot wait for you to benefit from all that she is going to share here at Wineskins.org and at her new site – HeatherHeflinHodges.com

Feel free to Favorite or Bookmark her site, subscribe to new posts, or do whatever you do when you find good content because that is what you are going to find on her blog.

Heather is off to a great start on her new site. Her first three posts highlight some of her art illustrating the three “Losts” of Luke 15.

Lost Valuables: Part 1

Lost Valuables: Part 2

Lost Valuables: Part 3

She has followed those posts up with A Renaissance of the Arts for Churches of Christ , Where are the Artists? and Art and Aesthetics in the Stone-Campbell Movement.

It is time Churches of Christ found a home for our artistic people and that we reclaim the gifts of those who have long gone neglected in our fellowship. Heather is going to help us understand how to do that in her articles and her art. I am very hopeful that this is just a start into something beautiful in our congregational life and ministry. So follow along with me and be blessed.

Every year as I read through the Story of God, I come to the heart of the matter in the Gospels, Jesus. Jesus amazes me more every time I look at him. Fresh from the reading of the Hebrew Bible, there is much in the Gospels quite familiar. The infancy narratives remind us immediately of Sarah, Hannah, and even Judith.  The people constantly mumbling, testing and even rejecting Moses are doing the same to Jesus. The people of God, less than receptive to Jeremiah and Ezekiel and even responded physically are doing the same to Jesus. These anointed ones by God were viewed as disturbers of the peace.  The four Gospels present Jesus of Nazareth as one who was deeply molded by these images of God’s called ones.

But we often sanitize Jesus just as the Pharisees scrubbed the Hebrew Bible. As I reflect on seeing Jesus in 4D there are some things hit me pretty hard as a person who takes the Bible seriously. Sometimes it seems like Jesus just blows up our religious point of view. We need to come to grips with the truth that Jesus was not murdered because he was nice or because he told people to love.

Jesus and the Doctors of Doctrine

Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for doctrinal error. This is rather shocking given the stereotypes we cast of the Pharisees. But Jesus is on record as saying that for the most part the Pharisees were biblically correct (Mt 23.1-2).

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘the scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, therefore do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do what they do, for they do not do not practice what they teach.

Jesus did not disagree with the content of the Pharisee’s doctrine. Indeed, the Pharisees were the doctors of “precision obedience.” Yet Jesus condemned these outstanding doctrinal teachers as “children of hell!” (Mt 23.15). Jesus condemned the Pharisees for three primary reasons:

1) their failure to distinguish between the weightier matters of the Bible and the insignificant matters;

2) He condemned the Pharisees for their self-righteousness;

3) He condemned the Pharisees for their lack of compassion, mercy and grace.

It was not the sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors that hung Jesus on the Tree. That infamous honor goes to the proclaimers of precision obedience to commands.

Jesus, Mercy and a Divorced Woman turned Preacher

This is personally good news because I am divorced. Jesus knew the Bible as well as the doctrinally correct Pharisees. The Nazarene however drank deeply from Exodus 34.6-7, Hosea 6.6, Jonah, Micah 7.18-19, God “delights” to show mercy.

For I desire HESED [steadfast love] and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings …

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity …
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing mercy.
He will again have compassion upon us …
He will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea

When Jesus encountered a woman that had gone through multiple divorces and was currently cohabiting with a man (her life was obviously a train wreck!) he did not lecture her on the Ten Commandments. He did not tell her that she was “living in sin.” He did not tell her to unscramble her eggs (as I have heard and at one time even taught). Jesus did not shame her.

What Jesus did with that woman at the well is astonishing. It was, and is, scandalous. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus told her to go to church. Go worship in “Spirit and truth!” And the Gospel of John tells us she became preacher.  The woman, the multiple divorcee, became very first preacher of the Gospel according to the Bible in fact. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he? … Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4.29, 39).

Jesus allowed Scandal

Jesus often did things because he wanted to, not because he had to. And sometimes he did things, seemingly, to make a point. He did them to rub our noses in our hypocrisy. In one of the most scandalous stories in the Bible, a woman of a well known bad reputation, came in caressing and rubbing her hair all over his feet. Jesus allowed this to take place. There is not an iota of protest from Jesus toward this woman.

If this was not a story in the Gospels but was a story about Bobby Valentine, preaching in church and some woman off the street sat at my feet and was rubbing them I can promise you, church folks would be aghast. But Jesus looked at this woman, who never says a word, and said “your sins are forgiven!” She did not even ask for it! (Lk 7.36-50). And Jesus pronounced upon her the priestly blessing of Numbers 6.22-24, “go in peace/shalom.”

It does not take much imagination to see how an episode like this would ruin the career of any preacher.

Jesus Gave to the Poor

In a little detail about the Nazarene, lost in the drama of the Last Supper and washing of dirty feet, we learn that Jesus’s little band of Israelites practiced the spiritual discipline of giving alms to the poor. John writes “Some thought that because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him … that he should give something to the poor” (13.29). The only possible way the disciples could have imagined that Judas was being directed by Jesus to share from the “common purse” with the poor is if that was something Jesus and the disciples were in the habit of doing. Jesus practiced the the commands of the Torah.

A recurring command in the Hebrew Bible, connected to all the festivals, is sharing of our means with the powerless and poor. To “give alms” was an essential Jewish practice (one of the “Three Pillars of Judaism”) and this little side detail in John gives us a brilliant window into Jesus’s personal practice of righteousness. In his own poverty, the Messiah was generous with those who were even poorer.

Jesus Attended Worship

Jesus was fully immersed in the corporate worship of his people. Not only did Jesus keep the festival of the Sabbath but the liturgical calendar of the Hebrew Bible. We know little of this from the Synoptic Gospels but the Gospel of John is a different story. The Torah required Jewish men to make a pilgrimage three times a year to the Temple (Passover, Weeks/Pentecost; Tabernacles/Booths). John tells us that Jesus was in the temple for various festivals in 5.1; 6.4; 7.37; and in 10.22. The last festival is that of Hanukkah. Hanukkah was not required but celebrated the Temple and Jesus loved his “Father’s house.” For Jesus to voluntarily make the difficult trip to Jerusalem indicates his “dedication.” If Jesus was there it was because he wanted to be there. Public worship in the Temple was, according to the Gospels, important to Jesus.

Jesus Begs Disciples

Jesus is constantly begging his disciples to have “eyes to see and ears to hear.” He says this in a myriad of ways. For instance he may say “have you understood this” (Mt 13.51). Or “have I been with you this long and you still do not get it?” Or he will say “go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Jesus did not doubt many could quote scripture, but he doubted that quoting was equivalent to understanding it.

Jesus said and did many things that offended good, decent, religious people to the core. They could quote the same Bible Jesus did. They could go to the same worship assemblies that he did. They could be scrupulous about precision obedience to technical matters.  And never see and never hear but instead become so angry that good and decent law abiding people conspired in the most horrific crime in history.

These are just a few things that I noticed going through the story of Jesus again. Some I already knew. Some impressed me all over again.

If we look at Jesus in 4D he is going to challenge us.  He is even going to offend us.

By and large our fellowship, Churches of Christ, are a brainy bunch. We are typically highly analytical and linear in our thinking and approaches to just about anything you can think of. One approach to conceptualizing this kind of thinking that became popular a number of years ago was to call these kinds of thinkers “Left-brained” and the more creative, holistic types “Right-brained.” While the brain doesn’t really divide itself so neatly as the terminology suggests it is a way of describing the way different people think and operate that can be helpful in assessing how our systems and ministries operate.

If there ever was a Left-brained thinker it was Alexander Campbell and from what I have read from Barton Stone and about Barton Stone he at least leaned more right-brained than Campbell did. At least in the South, the Campbell side of our movement and thinking stuck more so than the Stone side and that left us with leadership that is typically highly analytical, all about the facts, and less to do with creativity, the big picture or feelings.

You can think of a Left-brained thinker as a microscope thinker. They are always zooming in on the smallest discernible unit of something and pick it to pieces. Right-brained thinkers are more like binocular thinkers. They aren’t looking in, like the microscope, they are looking out to see the whole of what is out there…emphasizing the journey and experience as much or more than the process.

It is important that we consider this facet of our fellowship for a few reasons.

  1. There are some people who just fit better with us than others. These are the ones who think like we do.
  2. There are some people who struggle to find their spot. They have some pretty amazing gifts without a tapestry in the scope of the ministries of the church on which to express and demonstrate their giftedness.
  3. This can put unnecessary restrictions or limitations on our evangelism as we call people to discipleship without any discernible place for them to do what they are best at (the arts, creative thinking, etc.)
  4. We reward and foster what is most like ourselves. If our leadership is Left-brained they will tend to perpetuate like-minded leadership in the generation of leaders who follow in their footsteps. This can have a generational affect on the life of the church that isn’t necessarily good or bad in and of itself but can be.
  5. Our fellowship can be a hard place for “feelers.” It can be hard for them to find their place and it can be especially hard if they are the ones who have to feel for those who for whom that doesn’t come as natural.
  6. By not utilizing the gifts of all of our members we hamstring our evangelism. When new people come they don’t readily see where their gifts fit the body and so we inadvertently erect unnecessary and arbitrary walls for new people to find their fit.

A church that is moving full speed ahead is a church that is utilizing and leveraging the God-given-giftedness of its members. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, the diversity of functions amongst the parts of the body is congregational strength, not weakness. The problem seems to be that if your leadership doesn’t think like this they don’t understand that need (keep in mind, I don’t think like this!).

What is more, our education system for those who fill our pulpits and ministry positions leans in favor of analytical people so we perpetuate a smaller skill set need in the church body partly because this is the list that is important to those who run the ministries.

What would it look like if we better utilized the gifts of all of our members? What would it look like if we leveraged our artistic, creative people? Here is the bigger question, how might God be glorified through this and the church body edified by opening these doors?

I don’t have a lot of answers for these questions and that’s okay. In moments like those, I turn to people with an expertise and giftedness in these areas to help blaze the trail and let me tag along with them to learn from them in areas where my skill set is weakest. I am just now beginning to question whether or not comic sans is a perfectly good font, if that gives you any idea of the problem. If you have used comic sans in the last 6 months then this post is for you.

Later today, there will be a follow up post with some exciting news here at Wineskins that I cannot wait to share that will help us better speak directly into these issues on an ongoing basis!

Welcome to September at Wineskins!

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