Starting this Wednesday at Midweek (weekly discussion with our young pros), we’ll engage in a new conversation guided by YOUR questions about faith, the church, Christianity, God. No question is off limits. We’ll gather, pray, anonymously write the questions we have on index cards, and then discuss each question one by one! Questions? Email Kollin at email@example.com.
Last week at our weekly First on Chatham small group, in the midst of the usual amazing food and conversation, we chatted about the current condition of the church. My father (visiting from Texas) is a previous Catholic, non-denominational Christian and church-goer, and spurred the conversation of going to church, the difficulties, the pleasures, and so forth. We landed on the fact that many people are leaving the church, and how many younger Christians are either running from denominations or the church in general. This conversation stuck with me for a while, and made me think.
I knew a lot of these kinds of people while I was in college in Houston. Heck, I even used to be one! I like to call them ‘Renegade Christians’ – those who claim Christ and refuse to claim the church. I recall talking with an individual years ago who would get up on Sunday mornings for ‘church,’ only he wouldn’t leave his dorm room! I asked him once what ‘church’ was like alone in his dorm room. He told me he would listen to one of his favorite worship albums, pray, and watch a youtube sermon from one of his favorite speakers. He liked it because it was church on his terms, on his own time and comfort level, and most importantly – it was church without the hypocrisy of those churches he used to be apart of that “burned him.” I was on staff at a Baptist church at the time, and was always amazed at how many kids my age had taken to this philosophy, this Neo-church, by the individual, for the individual. At the time, I was intrigued, as his description of ‘church’ was much like my ‘quiet times’ but the older I became, the less I favored the idea.
My buddy was right – the church has burned people, many people, myself included. The church is also full of hypocrites! But I find myself perplexed at how someone can claim Christ, and not claim the church. Such an idea is a theological oxymoron. For one, Genesis 1:26 (NRSV) says “let US make humankind in our image.” Many theologians believe this to be an inner conversation of the trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit having a little chat. Since we are MADE in the image of God, and the image of God is communal, should we not also be communal in our Christianity? Maybe that’s not enough of a reason for some, so what about Christ specifically – what did he say on the matter? Ephesians5:25 says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and GAVE HIMSELF up for her.” Ultimately, according to Genesis, and the apostle Paul, to love Christ IS to love the church. You don’t get one without the other. Trust me, I get it – the universal church has problems – but the good churches don’t hide this fact or claim perfection, rather – they offer an imperfect community access to a perfect God, and in so doing offer this perfect God to an imperfect world. Maybe you have been one of these Renegade Christians in the past, or maybe you are one now, and if so – please know, it is a good thing to be apart of a church, based solely on the fact that it is a Christ-like thing to be apart of a church, to give yourself to one’s church, to love the church.
peace and love,
Last week I was tossed in a 12ft wave off the coast of Nantucket, MA, and was left with a lisfranc fracture (5 fractures total – I essentially broke the arch in my right foot). I had a surgery adding some plates and screws, and will be off my foot and on crutches for about 8-12 weeks. Total bummer right? The day I got home from surgery, the anesthesia and the nerve block from my right leg started to wear off, resulting in the most painful 24 hours of my life. The Doc even okayed me to up the normal 1 Oxycodone every 4 hours to 3 pills every 3 hours. Still hurt…badly. Every hour I was cringing my teeth as I felt the newly acquired metal settling into my bones. I’m not much of a cryer – but I will admit, there were tears. As most humans probably do in moments such as these, I pondered why. What is God trying to teach me?
My first lecture at Duke Divinity came from Will Willimon in which he lectured/preached on Acts 9 – the conversion of Saul. Saul, an intense and unfortunately successful persecutor of Christianity is confronted on the road to Damascus (by JC himself) and blinded, left completely helpless and sketched out – without sight for 3 days. Cue Ananias, a local disciple, who is summoned by the Lord to go and cure Saul – to go and cure this man who has persecuted the church for so long, a man which Ananias is familiar with! The Lord comforts Ananias in saying that Saul will be an instrument, and continues saying “I myself will show him (Saul) how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” At this point in the lecture Willimon interjects, saying “I’m not sure who the conversion of Saul was harder for – Saul……or Ananias.”
During the heart pounding, teeth grinding pain from my complexly fractured foot, I was reminded that there is a cost to following Jesus……and I am not sure how or if this specific event is related, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Christ was tortured and nailed to a cross, so maybe me holding my broken foot and crying is the most Christ like thing I will ever do. There is a cost to following Jesus. This cost is great. Jesus tells us to “pick up our cross and follow him” (Matt. 16:24). Saul was blinded and terrified, Ananias was forced to heal this punk who was dissing the church. Anyone who claims Christianity boasts an absence in suffering or sacrifice, is lying. It is not easy, the road is narrow – but I can promise you this: there is no greater joy. Paradoxical? You bet. Welcome to Christianity.
Peace and Love,
In preparation for a sermon I will be delivering in a couple weeks, I have been meditating on the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24. For those of you who are like me, and need the spark notes on this rather long bible story, here they are:
Abraham is on his deathbed, and makes an oath with his servant to make sure his son, Isaac, marries a woman not from Canaan (Abraham’s current home), but from Abraham’s hometown – the city of Nahor. So the servant travels to Nahor. Upon arriving at the city well, where the daughters of the townspeople are drawing water – the servant says: “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham,” and continues to ask God to reveal Isaac’s future wife as the one who agrees to give both he and his camels a drink. The servant approaches Rebekah who does just this – and Rebekah even welcomes the servant to her house – to which the servant in Gen 24:27 says “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the way to the house of my master’s kin.”
Fast forwarding through some of the details, arrangements are made, Rebekah AGREES to go and marry Isaac, and the two become one. The reason I find myself writing about this passage today is not because of the clear story of God’s provision of a husband for Rebekah, or a wife for Isaac, or even Abraham’s oath. Rather, I find myself writing about this story because I was amazed at Abraham’s servant’s obedience and respect for God. This servant, who finds himself communicating with Yahweh only because his master has given him orders to, is a pretty amazing follower of God! He communicates with God, asks things of God, obeys God, and worships God multiple times through out the course of the story. Oh how much I have to learn from this servant – oh how much WE as the church have to learn from this servant.
Back to Basics: Dismantling the Mecca of Modern Worship
There has been a lot of talk on the problems of worship in Contemporary Christian communities recently, primarily in discussing the lack of congregational participation. There have been many theories of blame circulating. As a contemporary worship leader, and lover of the contemporary Christian genre, I feel compelled to jump in on the conversation. Rather than contributing to the blame game, I want bring us back to basics in asking: what is the foundation of worship? I ask because I think we have forgotten. Spiritual amnesia has forced us to stray from the reason for why we worship. So, if worship isn’t about fog machines, drum loops, catchy choruses, MacBooks, or in ear monitors, what is worship about?
I had a church music professor in college, (Dr. Jonathan Blackmon, currently teaching MBU in St. Louis), who used to define worship as communion with God. By this definition, the function of worship leading is to lead others into communion with God. So I ask, are worship leaders (who are first and foremost ministers) doing all things possible to lead people into communion with God? Additionally, are we as followers of God first seeking communion with God, in order that we might bring others into this divine communion for which we are familiar?
According to Blackmon’s definition of worship, some of the best worshipers in the bible are hidden! I’m not talking about the mainstream, radio-friendly worship leaders like Moses, King David, or the Apostle Paul, I’m talking about the lo-fi, undiscovered, b-side nameless bible characters who do whatever they can to commune with God, to worship. I was having lunch with Jason, one of the youth ministers at my church, when he recounted the story of Jesus healing the paralytic who was lowered through the roof of the house Jesus was teaching in (Mark 2:4 and Luke 5:19). Jason talked about how the men got to Jesus in the quickest possible way. They were so eager to be in communion with God that they went through the roof (which Jason cleverly suggests was pretty sketchy, given that property damage was probably a crime), but they didn’t care! They were not concerned with the cost of communion with Christ, and they were definitely not concerned with themselves (as they stayed on the roof). We as worshipers and worship leaders have much to benefit from this story. Are we so concerned with protocol, our personal preferences of worship, or the spotlight, that we have forgotten that its about communion with Christ? Sometimes I feel like I could buy contemporary worship service tickets onticketmaster.com, as the environment screams “praise the good-looking, talented musician,” rather than the bloody Jew on the Cross.
We should be doing everything in our power to commune with God, and lead others into this communion. The reality is, everybody worships something. Whether its a significant other, a possession, or even yourself, we all worship, because we were created to. But we weren’t just created to worship anything….we were created to worship God, to be in communion with God. For this reason we are all worship leaders, and while the Chris Tomlin Passion songs, the 15 electric guitars on stage, and the light show equivalent to a KISS concert are fun and helpful resources, the best worshipers, and thus worship leaders, focus less on themselves and more on communion with Christ. Do everything in your power today to commune with God. Leave everything else behind.
I preached at church this past Sunday, and mentioned the story of Jesus walking on water from Matthew 14 (starting in verse 22). This has always been one of my all-time top stories in the bible. I was preaching on how Christ guarantees his presence in our lives, significant not only because he says so in Matthew 28:20 (“and surely I am with you always till the end of the age”), but because it is the last thing he says as well. The story of Jesus on water solidifies just how sweet the presence of Christ can be.
If you are having trouble remembering, here are the highlights – Christ walks on water to meet the boat of disicples. Upon approach, the disciples claim it is a ghost. This always made me laugh. These are the same people who have seen Christ employ supernatural acts, one of which is the feeding of the five thousand placed directly before this story! (Matthew 14:13-21). The fact that they LEAP to the conclusion that this person walking on water, defying physics, must be “a ghost,” is hilarious! Jesus reveals his identity, and then calls to Peter to affirm it. Peter walks on water with Christ (which brought a tear to my eye the first time I read it), then sees wind, and starts to sink. Christ grabs him, prevents Peter from sinking, and tells him he has no faith and asks him why he doubts?
As cool as it sounds on surface level (follow the pun there?), what hits me every time is not the story of a lack of faith, but the illustration of the strength that comes with the presence of Christ. Christ’s footing on the “unfootable” surface (water), was so strong that he could support not only his weight, but the weight of Peter as well. That is sweet, and should bring a smile to your face. Remind yourself that Christ has your back, and you can grab onto him just like Peter did. Keep your eyes open to Christ’s presence in your life. It may not look the way you want it to look. You may not even realize that you are walking on water, achieving the unachievable, until Christ grabs you to keep you from getting wet. Christ is with you, always.
For those of you who do not already know, my name is Kollin Baer, and I am the worship leader of the 1st on Chatham campus. I’m from a place called The Woodlands, TX, and moved to Durham, NC about 9 months ago. I am heading into my second year in the Masters of Divinity program at Duke (wow – I can’t believe the first year is already over). I am madly in love with Jesus Christ, and called to ministry! I love music, both creating it and collecting it. I also love film and black coffee, and if you deem it necessary to abandon the intended flavor of black coffee with sugar or cream then we can no longer be friends. I am kidding – I also like to joke around.
Joking aside, I am a Baptist. I was raised by the Baptist church, groomed by the Baptist church, and was introduced to Jesus by the Baptist church. For this, which I firmly believe is the best part about me, I am a Baptist! Yes, I currently work in a Methodist Church. No, I do not think that is wrong. Yes, I know there are people who would disagree with me, and No, I would not like to meet them, because I probably already have. While I am Baptist, I know that God is non-denominational. He is not a Baptist..or a Methodist…or a Catholic….or Presbyterian….or an Episcopalian. I believe God is too big to be constrained by one denomination. Rather than looking at the variety of church denominations as a depressing illustration of the divisions in the church – a constant tug-o-war of right and wrong, I chose to view the diversity in the church as a fractioned illustration of a diverse God who is always expanding and creating. It is my life’s calling to share this diverse God with the world!
On that note – in the closing of this brief introduction, you should know that if you chose to continue reading my blogs, theology will be discussed! I had a professor in college who used to say ‘theology is the study of God and everything in relation to God.’ Due to my love for God, I often discuss God and everything in relation to God. I say this now, and I will say it again: my theology is a work in progress. I am often wrong, but do my best to avoid poor theology based not on pride, but on a genuine attempt to provide an accurate depiction of God. Please ask me questions, and question me often. Learning and growing is why I chose to attend a challenging seminary in the first place. If you are reading this, introduce yourself to me! I look forward to seeing you after a worship service, or maybe over a meal that you offered to buy meJ – wow, that was so kind of you! See you soon,