Goodreads Book Giveaway

Rock God by Robert C.  Pelfrey

Rock God

by Robert C. Pelfrey

Giveaway ends October 08, 2015.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

A New Kind of Tree

What is it to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Lk. 3:7-9)? It isn’t just to bear fruit at all or even to bear a new kind of fruit. It is to be a new kind of tree. John the Baptizer calls out the false piety of outward religion, the superficial or even genetic identification with Abraham. This isn’t enough for God. The ax is laid at the root—the root. Trees are getting cut down and thrown into fire. God wants a new kind of tree—the kind of tree that bears repentance fruits…God fruits.

“Only God can make a tree,” wrote poet Joyce Kilmer. And only God can change the kind of tree we are. But we must throw open our branch-arms and turn our leafy faces heavenward. We must absorb the sun and rain of the Spirit graciously falling on us, descending upon us like a dove. We must uproot ourselves and cast ourselves into the baptismal waters…and into the baptismal fire.

Following John the Baptizer, Jesus becomes very concerned that we bear fruit. But this isn’t like someone standing in front of an apple tree sapling yelling, “Grow, darn you! Bear fruit!” This is Jesus graciously offering the health and abundance that are the natural result of life with God—life fully with God. This life is the shalom—the universal well-being—all humanity and all creation were made for: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Fruits worthy of repentance are the life that results from becoming a new kind of tree, a tree deeply rooted in the nourishing ground of God and bearing the fruit of love.

So this tree we are becoming, this new kind of tree, turns out to be the oldest, ageless tree--a tree growing in the fertile Ground of our very being in God. This Ground is the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And this Trinity is the context of our new reality and worldview (see Matt. 28:18-20). So, we are a tree that emerges from the Ground of being, nourished by the waters of baptism and the body and blood of the Lord, and bearing the fruits of the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--fruits worthy of repentance.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Can He Get a Witness?

Jesus promises power to his followers, power to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). But witnesses to what, exactly? Luke is keen on connecting Acts to his “first book,” his Gospel. When we look there, we see Jesus commissioning the disciples to witness to his suffering and rising, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations (Lk. 24:46-48). But how can those of us who didn’t literally witness his suffering and rising still be such witnesses?

We continue to preach Jesus’ suffering and rising, of course. But our witness seems especially alive when we live and act in solidarity with those who suffer, especially when we do so in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. This is not just a sing-songy Christian happiness, but deep kingdom-bringing. It is justice-seeking, peace-making, and abiding contentment because of the presence of God. This brings the “rising” into the midst of the “suffering.”

This witness also includes disciple-making. This is taking up one’s cross in the spirit of self-denial and following Jesus. This sweeps in the message of “repentance and forgiveness of sins,” turning from self-glorification and worldly allegiances to humble service and freedom in Christ. Jesus’ commission in Mt. 28:18-20 fits here, with its new worldview of Christ’s authority, life with the Trinity, and obedience to Christ.

So this is the “power” we receive: 

  • To proclaim and live the message of suffering and rising; 
  • To herald the authority and liberation of the risen King;
  • To live and lead in the way of forgiveness and humble service. 

In a larger sense, the power we receive is the power to give up power, thereby witnessing to the
true King. Can he get a witness?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Come and See

Image from The Brick Testament
When Jesus turned and saw two of John’s disciples following him, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He said to them,“Come and see.”
--John 1:38-39

Jesus’ invitation to Andrew and his fellow disciple, and Phillip’s subsequent invitation to Nathanael, are the same: “Come and see” (John 1:39, 46). Though there are two different words being used for “see” (the first to do more specifically with physical sight and the second including the idea of mentally apprehending), the implications are the same. What is being described is the two-fold process of discipleship: 1) Leaving behind life as one knows it; and 2) Opening oneself to Jesus’ revelation. Come. See.

It begins, of course, with Jesus’ first words in John’s Gospel: “What are you looking for?” We must answer this question, to Jesus and to ourselves. What are you looking for? If we say to Jesus, with these two would-be disciples, “Where are you staying?” then we must be prepared for his answer: “Come and see.” He doesn’t settle for giving directions. The call isn’t to follow a set of platitudes and self-help principles. This is confrontation with the offense of the Incarnation.

There is more “seeing” in Jesus’ subsequent discussion with Nathanael, who is too easily impressed with Jesus seeing him (47-51). “Don’t just believe because I saw you,” says Jesus. “You must begin to see, to see great things, including the angels coming and going around the Son of Man. Come out from under your fig tree and see heaven on earth.” Come out from the blindness of tepid trivia (Where are you staying? Can anything good come from Nazareth? How do you know me?) and see God revealing himself in the world. Come and see.

We try so hard to reverse the order: See and come. Even in our attempts at spiritual quests and seeking God we want answers and direction before we follow. And to some degree, just hearing the invitation of Jesus is a way of beginning to see. But we often leave it there. “I’ve heard Jesus’ invitation. I recognize that he is the Savior, that he loves me, that he wants me to repent and believe his good news. It is enough.”

But recognizing Jesus and following him are very different. Even seeing that he is God’s revelation is not the same as actually seeing what God is revealing. In order to truly see—to see God, to see heaven on earth, and to know Jesus as teacher and lord—one must first come. Come…and see.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Church Millennials Need

Maybe I’m just bitter because my generation, the so-called Generation X, never made quite the splash of the ones around us, the Boomers and Millennials--at least according to the media. Cultural pundits basically looked at us for a brief moment, shrugged, and labeled us with an X indicative of the indefinable lostness that surely defines a generation of slackers. So maybe, a product of my generation, I’m jaded and cynical. Whatever the reason, I must confess: I’m sick to death of the articles, conference presentations, blog posts, and even entire books that show up in my newsfeeds almost daily telling me, a pastor: The Kind of Church Millennials Want.

So, I’m wading in. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? In fact, I’ll go ahead and be a good Gen X-er and cynically push past the pandering and production value of talking about what Millennials want from a church. Who cares? In fact, who cares what kind of church Gen X-ers want? Or Boomers? Or Builders, the so-called “greatest generation”? I think it’s time we talk about something more substantive: The Kind of Church Millennials NEED.

1. One
Millennials need a church that is one. A part of Jesus’s “Great Commandment” (love God with all your heart, etc.) that we often neglect is the beginning, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29; Deut. 6:4). God is not many. God is not divided or scattered. The God of today is not different from the God of a previous generation, beholden to the whims of tastemakers or shifting cultural mores and preferences. God is one—three Persons, one God.

And God’s church is one. Today’s cultural fragmentation—which, by the way, is only exacerbated in the church as it gloms on to generational trends—is nothing new. The first generation of the church dealt with the same issue. Thus, we have Paul’s eloquent and powerful hymn-of-a-reminder, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). One.

Beyond language and styles of music and dress and uses of technology, etc., all of which surely and necessarily change as years pass, Millennials need a church that will do everything it can to remain one. We too easily split. We are too quick to take our football and go home. We are too eager not to be part of a group with people who are different from us. We are showing Millennials and the world a church that is indignant in the face of offense. But the offense toward which we are indignant is often coming from the Gospel itself. So we must commit ourselves to be one for as long as we possibly can. Disputes come and, despite the church’s best efforts, necessitate separation. It’s a fact. But even such separation should be a desperate, heart-breaking last resort. And it should not be at the expense of the church’s oneness in Christ. This is the church Millennials need.

2. Holy
Millennials need a church that is holy. Again, every time we retreat from the offense of the Gospel—even if we do it in the name of “relevance”—we are retreating from God’s call to holiness. Now I’ve seen the lists of do’s and don’ts. I’ve even made up my own. This is not holiness. I’m talking about the holiness that all creation is waiting for (Rom. 8:14-22)—the holiness of humans growing in and reflecting the likeness of God, of chip-off-the-ol’-block children made in God’s image.

Imagine Moses ascending Mt. Sinai, into the cloud of unknowing, into the fiery darkness of the holy presence of YHWH (Ex. 19). Imagine Moses experiencing the unfathomable radiance of the Lord’s holiness, receiving God’s holy law and the meticulous instructions for the holy tabernacle, the sacred space where God will meet with his people (Ex. 20-31). Down the mountain the people are tired of waiting and have given up on Moses. They’ve retreated into the company of the surrounding pagan gods, making a golden calf, an idol to worship that is more tangible and malleable than this vast, demanding God.

Now imagine Moses dragging the golden calf up Mt. Sinai and telling YHWH amidst the wind and fire, “Lord, this calf is the language of the culture. Let’s use this and some of the other pagan trappings to attract the crowd. Then when they come, we’ll gradually help them get to know you. Also, we don’t want anyone to feel left out. So let’s tone down the fire and darkness and mystery and some of the stuff about you we don’t like. Instead, let’s say you’re like…oh, I don’t know…some kind of shiny farm animal.”

Millennials need a church that refuses to dumb itself down, a church that will not shrink from or shrug off God’s holiness but will rush headlong into the fiery mystery of this holiest One—no matter how strange he has revealed himself to be or how odd we, growing in his likeness, must become. Millennials need a holy church.


3. Catholic
Millennials need a church that is catholic. Surely we know this does not mean Roman Catholic (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Catholic literally means “universal,” and that’s the church Millennials need. This is the church that encompasses time and space, the church that spans both history and the globe. The “style” may be contemporary, but the church Millennials need is one that is thoroughly grounded in and informed by its history and tradition. The “latest thing” can be just as much an idol as a golden calf, especially when it leads the church to be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching…” (Eph. 4:14). Orthodoxy (and, to some degree, orthopraxis) is what connects the church not only historically, but also globally.

The catholic church is the body of the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord, who is its exalted Head. Crucified, he has conquered sin. Risen, he has conquered death. Ascended, he has conquered all powers. He is at “the right hand of God,” the place of power and authority, from which he is everywhere present to bring the reign of God throughout history and across the earth. And the chief means for the implementation of Christ’s all-encompassing (catholic) reign is the Spirit-filled church.

Check out this picture of the catholic Christ and his catholic church: “God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence” (Eph. 1:20-23, The Message). Millennials need a catholic church.

4. Apostolic
Millennials need a church that is apostolic. First, this means the church of the Apostles, the ones Jesus called and sent out, whose teaching was basically the aforementioned catholic faith—Jesus the Christ, crucified, risen, and ascended.

And, second, an apostolic church is, literally, a “sent out” church. Jesus’s so-called “Great Commission” connects apostolicity with oneness, holiness, and catholicity (Matt. 28:18-20). “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [catholic]. Therefore go [apostolic] and make disciples of all nations [one, catholic, apostolic], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [one, holy, catholic], and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you [holy].”

But it’s somewhat trivial to parse the Commission out like that. The whole thing is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, because the whole thing is the church—rooted in the authority of the risen and ascended Christ, globally present, immersed in the reality of the Triune God, obediently following Jesus’s commands. This is the church that is both Apostolic and apostolic. And this is the church Millennials need.

But there’s one more line. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Generations come and generations go. Millennials, large as they are and influential as they’re increasingly becoming, will give way to another generation. Surely there will be articles and books and speeches made about dressing up your church and even your beliefs to attract that next generation. So what is it Millennials need? What do X-ers and Boomers and Builders need? What does all humanity and all creation need? It’s simple: Jesus. “I am with you,” he promises. “At all times, from age to age and trend to trend, I am with you.” If we cling to metrics and fads and shifting cultural mores, we are building a house on sand. And great will be the crash (Matt. 7:24-27).

Only Jesus—crucified, risen, ascended, and returning—can promise to be with us always, forever. And only a church that clings to him—one, holy, catholic, and apostolic—will find itself in the divine embrace and eternal dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the God who is Love. This is the church Millennials need.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Many Scars

Pastors have moments of utter exasperation with some church members sometimes. The power-plays, the self-centeredness, grown men and women acting like selfish toddlers who simply won’t understand why they can’t have everything their own way. Plenty of church members get exasperated with such fellow members too. So much infighting and bickering over who’s in charge, over which factions get the power. Very little discussion of mission, of how to reach others with the Good News of God’s love and kingdom coming in and through Christ and, supposedly, his church.

I’ve had to confront church folk at times. This isn’t because I enjoy such confrontations—I don’t…at all. But for one, I am ordained to the ministry of Word, Sacrament, Service, and Order. That Order part means that it is my job to humbly order the life of Christ’s church, which includes confronting and correcting such power grabs and factions. And two, these people have no idea what they’re dealing with.  Read the rest at