Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina and Christianity

When I was young, there was an earthquake in the central California valley, and in the wake of the earthquake came the stories, filtering through the same Jesus grapevine that told us about the hitchhikers who, once they got in your car, would say, “Jesus is coming soon!” and then disappear. The stories were about the homes of Christians that were spared while the pagan house next door was leveled. From living in Los Angeles I’m familiar with many such stories firsthand. But the stories that don’t make it on to the Christian gossip highway are the ones about Christians losing everything in the earthquake or the storm, while the ‘wicked’ are, whether miraculously or arbitrarily, spared. We’d rather not face such problems; better to keep telling ourselves that as long as the blood of Christ is on our doors we’ll fare better than others in the storms of this fallen world.

We’re kidding ourselves. Bullets don’t care who they hit. Avalanches don’t have feelings. Drunk drivers don’t check your doctrine before running a red light. And Katrina turns a corner….why? Yes, God intervenes and spares miraculously…sometimes – but not always. So when your house is hit by storm or unemployment or crime or cancer and your neighbor’s is spared, is God good? An important question in an beautiful, uncertain world. This is what I’m wrestling with in Psalm 73 as I prepare for Sunday. But I’ll tell you what I’ve learned so far: The Bible is brutally honest! It asks the tough questions, and deals with the unpleasant realities that we evangelicals don’t often hear about in our ‘family safe’ environments with ‘feel good’ music. We need to lean into the questions; wrestle with them. For it is there that we’ll find, not easy answers, but the face of God.

Last thing: We’ll be taking a special offering this Sunday for Hurricane relief, and those interested in going to Louisiana to help will be provided with details on how to do so.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More Favorite Sayings...

Ray Harrison and I met for the first time ten years ago. He is the founder, and for several decades was the executive director of International Needs, a fantastic mission organization committed to sharing Christ through nationals. He’d spoken at Bethany and I was deeply impressed with how his passion for Christ bled through all his words. One felt that he wasn’t promoting a mission work, but instead exalting Christ and calling all of us to the great adventure of living generously and joyously in His service.

We met the Monday morning after he preached at a coffee shop for our first face to face conversation. He is many years my senior and yet still seemed full of energy and as he talked about the work he led, I began to realize that the scope was much larger than I’d originally thought. There were leaders scattered across Asia, even in the unlikeliest of places, and it was the same in Africa; so many workers, so many various ministries ranging from Bible Schools, to medical work, to vocational training centers, to church planting, teen work, to government partnerships on various AIDS projects, and much more.

I asked him how he decided where to invest money. I’ll never forget his answer. He said that he just looked for leaders, and where there was a proven leader with vision, commitment, and passion, and when he found them, IN would pour their life and resources into that leader. Then he said this: “Richard if you have a million dollars, but no leader, you don’t have a ministry. But if you have a leader, you have a ministry, even if there is NO money.”

That has never left me. It’s tempting to think that more resources are the key to success in a ministry or in our personal lives, and there are people scattered across America who think that they need the next curriculum, or a coffee house, or a better speaker system, or plasma screen TV’s and X-boxes in order to reach youth. Rubbish! Start with what’s in your hand, and get on with the opportunity in front of you. This paradigm doesn’t mean that money is irrelevant. As leadership is confirmed and ministry grows, stewardship of the resources that come your way become an important aspect of leadership and ministry. But it’s vital to avoid the trap of thinking that more resources are the key to ministry. The leader is the ministry…the vision is the ministry. If we start there and keep that focus, we will have a better chance of stepping into the stream of God’s activity in our lives.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

'Daily Dig' - A Great Resource for the heart

The Bruderhof Community offers readers a 'daily dig' - quotes from many different sources that will encourage, provoke, inspire and challenge. I think I stumbled upon this because of a friend at Bethany and it's the only daily e-mail to which I subscribe. If you're interested in giving it a try, click here, and then post a comment and let me know what you think!


Saturday, August 27, 2005

A full day - in the heart

Some days there seems to be this convergence of revelation, where Christ breaks into life at every turn. Yesterday was one such day. In the morning, during a time of reading and Yoga (don’t worry – you can follow Christ and stretch your hamstrings too), I was touched by the hint of fall in the air, enjoying an early morning crispness that I hadn’t felt in a while. Such beauty! I spent some time reading Narcissus and Goldmund, and towards the close of the book the questions of good and evil, suffering and healing, death and life come to the forefront. Goldmund nearly explodes as his sensitive heart makes him vulnerable to both beauty and suffering, and he struggles to live with the contradictions of it all. I’m sitting reading this in our young forest of a backyard, mindful that only two miles away there are children living in motels that most people who read this wouldn’t let their pets stay in, and that poverty, and hunger, and crime, and drugs converge to create a tempest of human suffering. The beauty of God’s creation, the tragedy of man’s; the beauty of intimacy, the darkness of isolation; the joy of simply enough, the fear of want – it’s all here and we need to live with honestly with all of it.

Then I go to west Seattle to perform an outdoor wedding for some good friends, and I’m struck by their hope and love, and I charge them, in Jesus name, to give meaning and depth to words like commitment, sacrifice, celebration, service, beauty. They need to do this because words are being so abused in our age. They will give meaning to these words… I believe it. And just because of who they are, their sphere of influence will go beyond familiar circles, spreading out into God only knows where, and there they will be a blessing. The party after the wedding was more of the same – beauty and hope and celebration. It was as if God was hosting a party to celebrate His gifts of love, and invited broken people like me to be there. I was overwhelmed.

And so it was a day of profound reminders that our fallen hearts still have places in them that ache for joy and intimacy, that we still have the capacity to know love and celebration, even in the midst of suffering. And it was only a ‘day off’. I wonder what tomorrow will bring, as I return to regular teaching ministry after a summer of so many other things?


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Favorite Sayings...

I've been mentored over the years by a number of different individuals. Each of these people have contributed to my own growth and development in numerous ways. But it's also strangely true that I could sum up each person's influence in one, crystalized, unforgettable phrase.

For example, I've read many of Francis Schaeffer's works, and the ministry to which God called us for a number of years in the North Cascades ended up being a ministry very similar to that of L'Abri, the ministry he founded and directed. But for all the hundreds of pages I've read by this man, there is one phrase that stands out above all the rest. It's this:

"If you insist on perfection or nothing, you'll get nothing every time"

All of us are men and women who bear God's image - but we're fallen. Though some measure of wholeness and redemption is possible, the effects of the fall are never completely inescapable. When I say this to some people they accuse me of 'going light on sin' or of offering license to mediocrity.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus sets the bar pretty high when he invites us to pursue wholeness, and holiness, and perfection. The goal must always be nothing less than the fulness of Christ. But here's the problem: It's quite tempting, in the face of our shortcomings, to simply quit going after Christ's goal, because we realize that we don't reach it, so 'why bother trying?' And the result is disengagement; from our pursuit of Christ, our pursuit of fellowship, and our pursuit of service. The disengagement is nice because we don't need to worry about the messiness of sin, and fallen humans, and fallen churches. How clean and neat. How boring.

Schaeffer practiced what he preached. Reading through his own personal letters, now published, I realize that he didn't wait until he'd arrived before he began serving. He served in the midst of his own transformation, his own doubts, his own issues. He served people with doubts, and issues too. He once wrote about how important it is not be romantic about relationships and hospitality, and talked about people throwing up on the nice rugs in the Scheaffer house, and the drapes getting burned up by a stray flame from a careless match, tossed by a guest. Insist on perfection? Rubbish. The reality is that we just need to get on with it... in the midst of our own falleness and the falleness of our world, recognizing that God uses us on the basis of our avialability, not our perfection.

Perfection or Nothing? Thank God there are other options. Thank God Schaeffer demonstrated them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Earth Stewardship - unpacking the "WHY?" of it

Because I’ve been coming to the island where I taught last week at least once or twice a year for the past 15, I know a few of the locals beyond my friends who serve at the Bible School. One of the old time islanders had recently died, and since my morning takes me through the small cemetery here, I stopped and looked at his grave this past Friday. I was reminded of that little phrase from the Bible, ‘the way of all the earth'.

I think the human body and our care for it seems to me to be a good illustration of why we’re called to steward the earth. We know, by the testimony of all who have gone before us, that no matter how little or much we eat, whether we spend our days running and drinking anti-oxidant smoothies, or sitting on our butts watching television and eating Ben & Jerry’s, either way we’ll still die. Our motive then, for stewardship of the body isn’t it’s eternality – it’s the quality of testimony that we’ll be able to offer while we live.

Likewise, it’s pretty hard to get around the Peter passage, and the reality that God promises a new heaven and new earth. But it doesn’t follow that we should therefore trash the earth with callous disregard. Our calling, for our bodies, and for the earth, is to steward. So yes, it matters what kind of car I drive, and what I do with the space allotted to me, whether I make it a place of beauty or a wasteland. It matters whether I consume with blatant disregard for the effects of greed and waste, or conserve as part of my testimony that I care about my calling to steward the earth and live in such a way that others are drawn to life.

This earth won’t last forever. Something new and better will someday ushered in. The same is true for our bodies. In the meantime, I’d like the whole package (body, soul, spirit, earth, place), as much as possible in this fallen world, to testify of His glory.

On another note - Pat Roberston's comments are what make it so difficult, so embarassing to use the words 'Christian' or 'Pastor' freely. His thoughtless, fearful, vindictive, and adversarial comments paint a picture of Jesus that is a little different than the one who advocates loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, and going the 2nd mile. But rather than throw up our hands in disgust, I'm convicted to get on with the real work of Christianity - getting more fully connected with Christ who is the head, and actively loving my neighbor, and neighborhood, and culture in His name. There's plenty to do, and when I'm getting on with it, I've little time for railing against others.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Ways to be...

I'm just thinking of two quick things as I take a break in the middle of the day to write. The first is something shared at last night's board meeting regarding a woman who enters the Danskin Triathlon every year (my wife, who had a blast doing it for this first time this past Sunday, is on the left). Every year this woman enters and makes a point of finishing last so that nobody else will need to face that condition. What a wonderful way to be - concerned with others to the point of emptying oneself of personal prerogative in order to bless others. Jesus had a great deal to say about servanthood and this woman, whose name I don't know, seems to me to be the embodiment of Jesus words on the subject, as well as Paul's. May I learn from her to take up the towel and put down the sword, for only then will the Life of our Lord be seen. Be a servant

2nd, and I don't usually pump church events on the blog, I'm excited about tomorrow night because we're teaming up with Greenlake Presbytarian church to do a "Prayer Walk" on Aurora. This strip of industry, prostitution, drugs, homelessness, and low income housing has, for too long, been neglected by Christ's church. But in His timing and mercy, there is a stirring, and our two churches will join together tomorrow night to walk and pray, offering ourselves together to Him, and believing that He will guide is into the privilege and messiness of serving. I'm excited for two reasons. First - this is a chance to unite rather than divide the body of Christ. Second - I received an e-mail from a resident of the neighborhood where we'll be walking. She caught wind of the prayer walk and assured me that she's telling everyone she knows about it, and expects that others will join her in turning out for the event. Even before doing anything, it seems that the light is beginning to shine in the darkness. If you're local and have a heart for the neighborhood, join us at Bethany at 7PM. If not, pray with us, for we'll be walking into a place of darkness, intent on letting light shine and open to Jesus' direction regarding how to do that. Be Light.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Benefits of Aging

I woke up this morning with some kind of back problem, making movement difficult, especially after sitting. I don't know why, or if it has to do with aging, but today had been one of those days when I've been aware of my age.

The awareness has to do with this men's retreat where I'm speaking. Last night, on the first night, I looked around the room before getting up to speak and realized that there were men here from the island where I pastored for about 7 years, starting in 1984. We sat around tonight and talked together about all kinds of things - our life in Christ - life on the island - 'how is so and so doing?' and the state of the churches on the island. Somehow when it ended, we were all a bit choked up with the realization that, through all that each of has experienced over the years, in spite of our failures, God has remained faithful to us, and here we were, islanders and former islander, sharing Christ's life together for the weekend because Christ has been faithful to sustain us all these years.

It was dark when I left the other three guys and walked, alone, out onto the dock on the waterfront. The moon had just risen, in the glory of fulness, and her reflection was dancing on the water, as stars hung in the cloudless night. I walked, and looked up at the stars and thought of S, the crazy kid who was in about 8th grade when we arrived on the island and is now a school principle. And 'Father L' of the Anglican church, and oh that glorious building, when all 35 of us that were our church would gather there on Sunday nights for worship. Since it was 'Father L's' building, he and I become friends. How gracious he was with me! I thought of many many people from the island, and many stories - people coming to Christ, marriages healed, people walking away, marriages melting, joyous times, sorrowful times, hugely meaningful conversations with D as he battled cancer, and times of pettiness that drove me nuts. So many stories! I realize how little I knew back then, and how much I thought I knew; how foolish I was and how wise I thought I was; how afraid I was and bold I thought I was. Remembering brought this strange blend of joy and sorrow. There was joy because here we were - singing, praying, worshipping, serving, after all these years. There was sorrow because Christ's church, his body, of which we all are a part, is too much disconnected from her own head - too much taking her cues from prevailing cultural values. There's too much spiritual carnage out there as evidence that we're not doing a good job. There's a longing for fresh wind, living water, the bread of life, and the best wine to flow through us into our darkened world.

I sat on the dock and thought about what I'd been doing over the past 21 years. What a ride! So many stories of God's provision. So many people passing through our lives with whom we've exchanged so much. So much joy. So much celebration. So much sorrow. So much mourning. And somehow, these men from the island crystalized it for me so that I was feeling all of it at once tonight. I thanked God for the stories He's written in my life, thanked Him for lessons learned and wisdom gained, and offered myself afresh to Him, because if I've learned anything by looking back over the past 21 years, I've learned that the stories He writes are the best stories of all. I'm hoping He has a few more to write before it's over.

OUCH!!! Sitting to write this thing sure pains my again back.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Running my race

It's been a good week here on the island, teaching and spending time with people during the mornings and evenings, and working on church administration in the afternoon. Since I've been absorbed in the book of Hebrews this week, I've been thinking a great deal about the race God has given each of us to run, mindful that we are often tempted to covet the race of another. As with any race, there are stretches of immense challenges and stretches of blessing. This week has been one of those times when I'm profoundly grateful for being able to do that which I love. My race, this week, has taken me here to the Gulf Islands, where my friend and mentor runs a Bible School. It's like a second home, and will always have a special place in my heart, not because of the beauty, (although the place is spectacular) but because of the shared commitment to proclaim Christ as THE single source for life, calling, meaning, strength - all that we need in order to become all we're meant to be. Last week I attended a conference whose speakers were the super stars of church life. It was a good conference, attended by 54,000 pastors. But I'm glad God has given me this race - teaching mostly small groups of people from many parts of the world and all walks of life about Christ and only want to be found faithful in that which He's given me.


Further Upstream in search of good water

I wonder if, when Dentists talk with their patients about flossing, they go home and floss. I wonder if mechanics preach about changing the oil and then realize that the oil in their own car needs changing.

I can’t speak for other Bible teachers, but I can tell that this is my story on a regular basis. I become convicted by my studies and teaching, and realize that there’s something in my life that needs to change.

It’s certainly been happening this week as I’ve been teaching through the book of Hebrews here. Last night the discussion was about Melchizedek, the bizarre, obsurly referenced priest in the Bible. It’s a rather complex topic, but the point in Hebrews 8 is that people were giving away their liberty in Christ by enthroning and empowering men as priests and kings in various roles. This was the Hebrew Christian’s way of creating a strange blend of following Jesus AND adding a dash of dependency on spiritual specialists. After all, spiritual specialists preceeded Jesus, so if we really want to get ‘primitive’ about our faith, we need the guys with pointy hats and crowns. We’ll just add Jesus to the show.

Of course, it’s been a tendency every since. “In God… and a strong military defense… we trust.” “The truth will set you free… through your counselor.” These are just two of dozens of ways we either idolize or come close to idolizing sources other than Christ in our lives. We erect human systems, which we come to depend on as sources of deliverance and transformation, and too often these systems have the side effect, intentional or unintentional, of diminishing the role of Christ in our lives. We’re not sure any more if He really is the source of living water. The amount of time invested in prayer and reading the Bible in contrast to the pursuit of other self-help operations would indicate that we think the source is elsewhere.

Anyway, these Hebrew Christians, for whom life had become really tough, thought the source was further back in history, and so were reverting to the priesthood once again, (and conveniently avoiding persecution from a testy Jewish community in the process, a people not too pleased that this Jesus spelled the end of the religious industry for them).

The author’s point in this great, though technical book: You Hebrew Christians are right; you do need to go back further to find the source, but going back to Abraham isn’t going back far enough. Because even ancient Abraham acknowledged, through the offerings he gave that Melchizedek (whose name means king of peace and righteousness) was a greater priest than Abraham. And then the punch line: Christ is of the same bizarre priestly line as Melchizedek, like him in that Christ is eternal, a king, AND a priest. So why are you Hebrews settling for Abraham’s system, when Christ represents the system that even Abraham acknowledged was superior?

Put it this way: What therapist do you know whose life is indestructible? What pastor do you know who holds the power to both declare the path (way/truth) and impart the power to enable you to walk the path (the life)? If your answer is, ‘nobody’, then my question is this: Why are you enthroning specialists and systems and kings in such a way that you think them to be your source of deliverance. Go to the doctor yes. But Christ is the healer, so pray too. Live as a citizen yes… but Christ is your king, so don’t compromise with His ways of reigning. Go to the counselor – fine. But develop the disciplines of seeking the One who promises to set us free. Read, pray, be silent, develop habits of the heart that seek Christ.

Go to the real source… the headwaters. That’s where you’ll find the Living Water that will so satisfy that you never thirst again. We sometimes wonder if the water is really there because our lives are so complex and polluted. I sometimes think I just haven’t gone far enough upstream.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Appetites and Idols

The convergence zone of reading about Samson in my devotions, and reading Narcissus and Goldmund by Hesse, has me thinking a lot about the relationship between body and spirit. It seems that Samson’s choices to live by his appetites led to his destruction. And one can consider David’s sins of adultery and murder, or Solomon’s wives and concubines, and see similar fruits that come from living by one’s appetites.

It seems that the church has reacted to this at various times down through history by vilifying the senses themselves, especially our sexuality, with the result that we end up investing great energy in crushing that which is a very real part of us (for some brief thoughts on this you can read the cliff notes interpretation, jaded though it is, of Augustine’s Confessions).

These imbalanced views fail to acknowledge the reality of our longings and desires, with the result that huge amounts of energy are spent seeking to kill the longings, when the scriptures have reminded us in many places that this is not where life is to be found.

But the real danger is never the appetite, or the desire. The real danger is when the appetite, or the desire, or thing that is desired becomes that which controls our lives. Today we call that addiction. The Bible calls it idolatry. There’s nothing wrong with food. There’s everything wrong with gluttony. There’s nothing wrong with sex. There’s everything wrong with sexual appetites having free reign in our lives. The same Paul who wrote against the dangers of false asceticism wrote a word of warning that we not take as our role models those whose ‘god is their appetites (or stomachs)’

I went for a run this morning and was overcome by joy as the sun peaked through the firs trees, and the humid air hung heavy with the scent of ripe blackberries, horses, and sweat. The visuals, the scents, the capacity to run and be alive in the midst of His creation, and to take it in, really take it in as a gift from God; this is good. To demand the same tomorrow – this becomes idolatry. It’s good to enjoy His gifts – good food, the beauty of the trees, fine conversation with friends old and new, freshly roasted coffee, and beauty in art or music or humanity. But the gifts need to be held in an open hand, for to insist on them, to seek them unduly, to become addicted to them would be idolatry.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Size Matters?

So I'm at this pastor's conference this weekend put on by the Willow Creek Association. For those who don't know, Willow Creek is a gigantic church in the suburbs of Chicago. The pastor spoke, along with Rick Warren, also the pastor of a gigantic church in California (I don't keep track of statistics, but these guys probably have 15-25 THOUSAND people come through their community on any given Sunday).

I was entering this conference against the backdrop of a pretty intense period of teaching on ethics issues, issues which have opened my eyes to just how dark and broken our world is. Somehow, I'd presumed that these big churches didn't get it; that they were only concerned with getting folks into their 'flocks'; that they were giving tacit approval to the upwardly mobile, individualistic lifestyles that are so often hallmarks of modernist Christianity. I had them boxed; politically, spiritually, sociologically, and economically.

What a surprise then, to hear the first speaker share how his heart has been broken by the AIDS pandemic in Africa, and that his church was diverting increasing resources to this issue. And then the 2nd speaker spoke of his work with pastors in Africa and how his church is planning on having every small group adopt a village in the developing world and invest in education, health care, church planting, and economic/public health issues. Then, after lunch, a pastor from South Africa shared about his commitment to changing his neighborhood through education, public health, and preaching Christ.

I was humbled. And encouraged. Can someone please explain to me how this blend of preaching Christ and manifesting His Kingdom is 'clear evidence that the established church is dying'? (as one person has said about large churches)

I watch from the sidelines as emergent pastors criticize movements like Willow Creek. Now I have a high regard for some emerging churches, and think they've seen some things that are lacking and are working to build models without the previous deficiencies. May their tribe increase. But please, can we lay down the weapons? Can we all stop thinking that our way is the only way? Can we stop presuming that bigger is evil? Paul laid this kind of stuff to rest in his word written from jail. He didn't care about the motives of people preaching. He stopped judging that a long time ago. The only thing that mattered was that Christ was preached. In this he rejoiced. And so do I. I rejoice that a big church is making a big difference in the AIDS crisis. I rejoice that a little coffe shop church is reaching people who would never walk through the door of a big church.

Too big? Too small? That is completely irrelevant. The real issue is whether or not Christ is being SEEN through our words and actions. The real issue is whether a church is being challenged to seek the kingdom and step into the work that God is doing to bring hope and healing and redemption and mercy, and clean water, and education, and economic development, and marriage help to those who need it - across the street and around the world.

This is an important issue as we grow. We need to quit worrying about our size, and continue to get on with the work of shining light into this dark world.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Working Out Salvation

Dinner in the backyard beneath the redwood tree. Good food – and drink – and conversation. The whole family's together. Now, sitting on the deck reading Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton. My daughter lights up Vivaldi on her stereo and the sounds leak into the yard. The weather is perfect. The sun is setting. The landscape is quiet. These are moments of grace and mercy.

I’m thinking about the end of the ethics series, and contemplating what it has done to me. I began knowing that these things needed addressing. I finished knowing that talking about them isn’t enough. By the end, the daily juxtaposition of news and Bible study was undoing me. My heart was heavy enough that I would come to tears, whether watching the news or reading the Bible. Our world is so broken, the needs so vast, our own hearts so divided. We are in need of transformation, in need of a faith that moves out beyond the arguments about election and free will, and into the streets with the good news that Jesus life and death changed everything. But it is folly to declare that good news with words alone, just as it is, I believe, follow to declare it with actions alone. To the extent that Christ’s Lordship is real in our lives, His reign will be real; not only in our hearts but in the whole of our lives – and in our life together as a community.

When I think about what movements have best embodied this holistic vision for salvation, the Celtic Christians of the 3rd through 6th centuries surely come to mind first. Having little room for a firm wall of division between matter and spirit, sacred and secular, they had eyes to see Christ’s glory, and His heart, for all of life. That’s why I’m part of the fellowship of St. Aidan. Seeking to practice the habits of heart that lead to transformation, the values of this group has become an important part of my attempt to ‘work out my salvation’.

As I move into the fall, I'm praying for our community - praying that we will become increasingly open to the revolutionary life to which Christ calls us, willing to walk towards the cross so that we might, in our experience, know the mercy, hope, joy, generosity, and healing power that is His resurrection life.

A Creed and calling whose time has come

There are many creeds related to the Christian faith. The Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed are the most popularly used. Both of these have value because they articulate God’s purposes in the cross and Christ’s resurrection along with the nature of the trinity. But both of them are lacking in that they fail to develop a creation theology, and this theology is sorely needed if we are to recover our proper vocation in the world as stewards. There is creed, however, that addresses creation’s glory and God’s role in sustaining the beauty of the earth. It’s Patrick’s Creed: (leave it to the Celts to articulate creation theology!)

Our God, God of all men,
God of heaven and earth, sea and rivers,
God of sun and moon, of all the stars,
God of high mountains and of lowly valleys,
God over heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven.

He has a dwelling
in heaven and earth and sea
and in all things
that arc in them.

He inspires all things,
He quickens all things,
He is over all things,
He supports all things.

He makes the light of the sun to shine,
He surrounds the moon and stars, and
He has made wells in the arid earth, placed dry islands in the sea
and stars for the service of the greater luminaries.

He has a Son coeternal with Himself,
like to Himself;
not junior is Son to Father,
nor Father senior to the Son.

And the Holy Spirit
breathes in them;
not separate are Father
and Son and Holy Spirit

We have great tasks ahead of us in recovering our role as stewards of the God’s earth. What are some steps individuals and communities should take in order to recover our vocation as 'earth stewards'?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Christian Paradox

A friend e-mailed me an article from the recent issue of Harper's magazine entitled "The Christian Paradox". The material seeks to deal with the paradox that exists between America's deep profession of faith in God and Christ and it's behaviors in areas such as caring for the poor, infants, the aged, and living less violent lives. Why do we say we follow Jesus, and yet our professing fails to yield, as a nation, the fruit of that proclamation. At the same time, Europe, where church attendance and professions of faith are smaller, seem to exhibit more of the needed "Christ like" qualities (less homocides, more care for the poor and marginalized of society, lower divorce rates).

Whatever the reason, the article is a stark reminder that we are called to actions which will embody the two great commands: Love God and love your neighbor. And even the command to love God is, we are told, only verified to extent that we are showing demonstrable love to our neighbors.

McKibben writes a great article, truthful and challenging. At the same time, I'm concerned that we not try to articulate our calling in a way that bypasses a living relationship with Christ, substituting instead, our own attempts to do good things, Jesus' things, in Jesus' name, all the while avoiding the undoing and rebuilding of our own hearts, a work that will surely come when we encounter the living Christ. Doing it all 'in Jesus name' without ever really knowing Jesus might look great to the watching eye, but it deeply misses the point.

The point is that history is moving towards the day when every molecule in the universe will be shot through and saturated with the glory that is Christ's very life. That includes social and economic structures and the environment yes. But it also includes my heart. And it's that transformed heart that will enable any of us, and all of us together, to become the blessing outwardly that we're called to be.

On a different note... went swimming in Greenlake this morning with my wife, who is training for the sprint triathlon. So here we are, on the water at 7AM, bathed in sunshine as we're doing our laps, and then coming home to cook pancakes and enjoy good coffee. I have to say, Saturdays like this one, in August, in Seattle are amazing. All this and heaven too! Thanks be to God.

Enjoy the day

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Word Stewardship

Yesterday was my study day, and because it was I went surfing a little bit and came across this:

There is, for most humans born on earth, just one mother tongue, and a given tongue at a given time consists of only so many words. These words can absorb only so many abuses before they cease to mean. America's spiritual vocabulary—with its huge defining terms such as "God," "soul," "sacrifice," "mysticism," "faith," "salvation," "grace," "redemption"—has been enduring a series of abuses so constricting that the damage may last for centuries. Too many of us have tried to sidestep this damage by simply rejecting the terminology. But the defamation of a religious vocabulary cannot be undone by turning away: the harm is undone when we work to reopen each word's true history, nuance and depth. Holy words need stewardship as surely as do gardens, orchards or ecosystems. When lovingly tended, such words surround us with spaciousness and mystery the way a sacred grove surrounds us with peace and oxygenated air. But when we abandon our holy words and fail to replace them, we end up living in a spiritual clearcut.

The recovery of words seems like an important aspects of the church's vocation in this age, for even the word church has been so abused and misrepresented as to have lost all meaning. I have a friend who, when in New York (he works in theater) doesn't tell people he's a Christian, but rather 'a follower of Jesus.' He does this because, for his friends there, the word Christian has come to mean 'those who hate gay people and who are opposed to art, and who trash the environment, and who don't care about the well being of our city because they're so convinced that the end is near that they've disengaged from real life'. How's that for a working definition of the word Christian?

It's for this reason that, in coming to end of the ethics series, I pray that we will look back on this time as something more than 'a little blip on our radar screen and now isn't it good that we can get back to the safety of less controversial issues.' Rather, I hope we look back and find that this series was the harbor from which our ships set sail, and that the journey ahead will include God guiding us into new waters of generosity, love for neighbor and enemy, commitments to the poor and justice, commitments to community and beauty, to compassion and celebration. For it is on just such a journey, where our lives are continually challenged and where our calling to embrace the cross is continually before us, that we will become 'word stewards', tending the meaning of words like 'discipleship' and 'Christian', 'justice' and 'mission'. As our community continues to be formed by Christ we will, all of us, be called to the cross, called to lifestyle changes, and called to engage in our culture in order to be a blessing. In the process, words that have been lost might just become found again.

I've already seen a little bit of this, as neighbors express surprise to find that our church is talking about poverty, and the environment, and violence. The surprise comes because the word Christian, especially when coupled with the word evangelical, means (in America) loyalty to a political party, and disengagement from such 'earthly' matters as environment and economics, as people are pulled into the heaven bound life boat in order to be saved from this sinking ship known as mother earth. Perhaps God will use us to infuse a different meaning into these words. I hope so, because God knows the words need to be recovered.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Justice and Poverty: Resources and Questions

Here is World Vision's site regarding justice issues.

To see Sach's article (referenced in the sermon yesterday) go to UN's "Millenium Project" web site.

Here's a great site to be educated on the vital issues surrounding poverty and wealth globally.

Here are some video clips on the subject. In particular, check out the "Orphans of Nkandla"

(Thanks to Penny for her kind sharing of these resources)

Here are several thoughts looking for response.

How does the standard economic model, which states that everyone looking out for their own self-interest serves the good of the whole, square with the gospel's invitation to follow Jesus in his example of self-emptying? These seem contradictory.

It seems that there are a variety of responses available to us, ranging from simplifying our lives in order to give more, to working at discernment in our consumerism, to using our political and economic voices to work for policy change, to co-housing and greater intentionality in moving away from the individualism that characterizes our culture. How are some of you processing these things?

How can and should we process these things as a community?