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...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sex and Money

I was teaching today from two stories; encounters between Jesus and rich people. As the day comes to a close, I'm pondering why it is that we are more prone to get enraged over sexual sin than economic sin. Why, for instance, does discussion about homosexuality elicite a fairly large response, while entries about justice and ecnomics receive barely a whimper?

I speculate that sexual issues are easier to talk about because we who are North American Christians are so wedded to our economic system that it's difficult to face those kinds of issues head on. Sexual sin is, for most people, a safer topic because its either something we don't struggle with, or if we do, it's something we struggle with privately. Our economic issues, however, are so public, so universally accepted, and so tightly woven into the fabric of everything we do that they are, perhaps, more threatening, and thus more difficult to see.

Does anyone have thoughts on this: Why would someone be more upset that a company such as Nike offers 'partner benefits' to its homosexual employees, than that the same company exploits its overseas workers, paying them an unlivable wage, while enjoying enormous profits for themselves. That we would be up in arms about the former while virtually ignoring the latter says something about evangelicals. My question to you is: What does it say?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What do you want me to do for you?

I’m teaching this week at Forest Home, a conference center in Southern California with a rich history and tradition; a place where thousands have met Christ and thousands more have met Him again, having drifted away, carried along by the powerful cultural currents that so easily draw us elsewhere.

I was enjoying a seminar on the practice of prayerfully reading the Scripture, and we were actually doing it, not just talking about it. We were told, as we listened to the scripture being read, to listen for a particular word or phrase that might jump out to us, realizing that this might be the Holy Spirit’s way of getting our attention and speaking to us about something important.

The phrase that jumped out to me was Jesus saying to a blind man: “What do you want me to do for you?” I pondered why this phrase was speaking to me and it slowly dawned on me that, to my shame, I needed to confess that, in that moment and many moments leading up to that moment, I didn’t want anything at all from Jesus. It’s not that I don’t have needs – we’re searching for an Executive Director for our church – we’re searching for a Youth Pastor – we’re about to break ground on a 7 million dollar project – I’m working on a writing project – and we’ve other things going on as well for which I KNOW…KNOW I need the direction, empowerment, and intervention of Christ.

And yet my mind had been too self-sufficiently busy to ask. Whirring quickly, my mind had been creating task lists, and spending the free moments of the day in mountains of correspondence, study, writing, interviewing, e-mails, and more. No time to ask Jesus for anything – I’m too busy. It was a good word, and I’ve opened my prayer notebook again and am praying for people and issues once more. But I wouldn’t have even heard the word telling me to stop and ask – unless I’d stopped. Thank God someone invited me to do so. I’d invite you to do so now… maybe read slowly the same passage I read, and see what jumps out to speak to you. Read S-L-O-W-L-Y… perhaps more than once. Our minds are hyper-caffeinated, even if we don’t drink.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Eat this Book: The Answer to Moral Authority

I think Eugene Peterson in his book, “Eat this Book” (which our staff and board will all be reading – and discussing – very soon) articulates this crisis of moral authority (see previous post) very clearly when he writes: “What has become devastatingly clear in our day is that the core reality of the Christian community, the sovereignty of God revealing himself in three persons, is contested and undermined by virtually everything we learn in our schooling, everything presented to us in the media, every social, workplace, and political expectation directed our way as the experts assure us of the sovereignty of self. These voices seem so perfectly tuned to us, so authoritatively expressed and custom-designed to show u how to live out our sovereign selves, that we are hardly aware that we have traded in our Holy Bibles for this new test, the Holy Self. And don’t we still attend Bible studies and read our assigned verse or chapter each day? As we are relentlessly encouraged to consult our needs and dreams and preferences, we hardly notice the shift from what we have so long professed to believe."

The way out of this is neither a reduction of the Bible to some sort of legal code, from which we extract mere precepts for living, nor a post-modern skepticism that resists articulating meaning. Instead we need to recover the elements addressed in the book: exegesis and lectio-divina (among other elements) as the means of growing continually in our understanding and living.

Moral Authority? We who call ourselves ‘believers’ are saying (if we stand in the stream of history) that we believe this authority comes from the God whose story and heart is revealed in the Bible. So let’s learn together to read it, pray through it, be shaped by it. It’s a great need for out time.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Moral Authority: Vitamins for the Body of Christ

Imagine a basketball game where people whack each other until they’re bleeding, and there’s no authority in place to intervene and stop the nonsense. Imagine a hospital where people in the waiting room are mutilating themselves with knives and banging their heads against each other, as the medical staff looks on and commends them for their open mindedness.

Such is the state, I fear, in many churches around the world. In our legitimate desire to make church a safe place for exploration, discovery, conversation, grace, and understanding, I would argue that it is possible to go too far; possible to become a community whose only basis of fellowship is our use of the word Jesus – and even that name becomes meaningless because the real person attached to the name is perceived in so many different ways that he has come stand for both war and peace, indulgence and abstinence, and so much more that is contradictory.

While it’s clear that we need grace, and it’s clear that we can’t know everything with certainty, it’s also clear that to say one belongs to a community means, in some sense, that you share in the basic convictions of that community. If the community is a church, you’re saying that you share the basic convictions of Christ – at least as interpreted by that community of faith. I would argue that every church has the obligation to stand for the things they believe Christ stands for – and to do so in a sense that creates some accountability. This doesn’t mean a lack of grace and it doesn’t mean that the church is trying to become some sort of ‘sin-free’ zone. But it does mean that if I am willfully disregarding the ethic of the community and someone points it out – and I absolutely refuse to respond – then I am declaring that I’m not, in the truest sense a part of this family. I can visit – but I can’t really be a part.

Sounds harsh? It seems that the alternative leads to the church becoming nothing more than a reflection of the world in which we live: same greed – same indulgences – same addictions – same broken relationships. There’s more to the Christian life than just having an ethical structure; much more. But there IS an ethical structure, and when that structure is ignored, Christ’s body becomes anemic. In absence of action or authority, I fear that this anemia is inevitable.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Paradox of Praise and Mourning

My wife and I watched a French film last night (Clara et Moi), and I was struck once again by the writing of Rilke as an extended quote of his was central to the movie. In Letters to a Young Poet, he articulates the great value of living life fully, absorbing both the glory and the suffering, the beauty and the ugliness, the tears and the laughter. I find this to be an important words because it seems that we are increasingly pushed in our lives towards one dimensional living – whereby the mourners are blind to glory, and vice versa.

I love that the scriptures are raw in these things, with their authors expressing the full range of emotions, sometimes all present in one poem or prayer. It seems that those who have lived most fully have lived with eyes wide open to the world God created, and as a result they know both mourning and celebration.

I weary of faith paradigms that are always ‘on top of the world’, but I’m equally sickened by the endless negativism that dwells at the other end of the spectrum. We mourn because we know sin – we feel the effects of it (if we’re willing to feel at all) in our bodies, in the air we breathe and water we drink, in the poverty, war, and disease that mark the landscape and in so much more. Rilke (and Jesus) would invite us to enter into that suffering fully. And to do so, all we need do is open our eyes; stop living in denial, stop numbing our minds. Enter into the reality of suffering and mourning.

But we can lay on the ground at night and look into infinity, or ponder the fact that water’s density is just right: tweak it just a little bit and life on earth stops. We can see the glory of selfless service, whether in Mother Teresa, or the neighbors who care for someone on the block battling cancer. We can celebrate the intimacy and health we’re privileged to enjoy, and celebrate the vision God has caste for a world void of heartache, knowing that we are invited to be bearers of that hope, both with our lives and our words.

We should be people willing to ascend and descend, willing to receive and give, willing to mourn and rejoice. Knowing the full spectrum seems to be the stuff of real living.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

It's a go -

Tomorrow in our worship services we'll be making the significant announcement that Bethany Community Church has decided to proceed with the Share Life facilities expansion plan, with a groundbreaking expected in August, and a new parking lot for Bagley Elementary School expected right around the start of the school year.

We live in an uncertain world, and the events of the past week in the middle-east only serve to heighten our awareness of how tenuous everything is. And yet, we mustn't allow questions about tomorrow stop us from what we perceive to be obedience to God's calling today. For our leaders, who have invested countless hours of work and prayer into this matter, there's only one reason to build: we desire to be a better and clearer presence of Christ for our city - a place where people can discover Christ through teaching, relationships, and service to our city and our world. It was good news to me that the night our church leadership made this huge decision, by far the larger amount of time in the meeting was devoted to matters of ministry, as we seek to equip our community to more effectively serve.

Who knows what tomorrow will hold? But we do know that this is a step for the Bethany Community that is unprecedented, requiring of us prayer, and a commitment to serving that will both challenge and transform us.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Devil

Yesterday's teaching on the realm of the demonic brings up all kinds of questions and issues. It's incredibly damaging to teach on this subject in any way that ties all physiological and psychological difficulties to the realm of the demonic. We live in a physical world, and there are physical issues that are often the culprit or source of our problems. On the other hand, it's equally damaging to assign every physical pathology a purely physical source, when the reality is that our bodies are deeply intertwined with our spirits and souls. Thus the realm of the demonic can come into play. When our lives are bound up by addiction, anger, bitterness, hatred, lust - when our mode of coping with trials is escape from reality AND escape from God (be it into the realm of sex, drugs, sport, shopping, eating, TV etc. etc.) - we can suspect more is in play than just a pure biological imbalance.

A balanced approach, it would seem, would address both the spiritual and the physical when there are maladies to be addressed. Sleep disorders, strange pains, irrational fears, and more, need not only physical/psychological addressing - they need spiritual involvement. It's possible (though not necessarily true) that there is spiritual component to the affliction. Are you interested in learning more? I would suggest this book. I would add that someone once said "to a man with a hammer in his hand, every problem is a nail." I think this is Anderson's problem, so you need to realize that he overstates his case. But the principles of confessing sin, and standing in the truth of our identity in Christ are foundational to both our maturity and freedom in Christ.

What are your thoughts regading the realm of demons, and life in Christ?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Notes for session 1 - ethics series

if you missed the class tonight and want the notes... here they are. If you don't know what I'm talking about - don't worry.

July 2006 – Summer Series -

Although the scribes could explain where the Messiah should be born, they remained quite unperturbed in Jerusalem. They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek him. Similarly we may be able to explain every article of our faith, yet remain spiritually motionless. The power that moved heaven and earth leaves us completely unmoved.

What a contrast! The three kings had only a rumor to go by. But it spurred them to set out a long, hard journey. The scribes, meanwhile, were much better informed, much better versed. They had sat and studied the scriptures for years, like so many dons. But it didn’t make any difference. Who had the more truth? Those who followed a rumor, or those who remained sitting, satisfied with all their knowledge? – the FAITH, the SEEKING OF JESUS… must change the way we live!! Otherwise it’s a sham. Søren Kierkegaard

I. The Value of Ethics –

  1. truth brought to the earth
    1. the incarnation of Jesus – John 1:14
    2. the carrying on of his Incarnation – John 14:12
    3. the priority of practice – James 1 – Matt. 10:42 – illus: either/or orthodoxy or orthopraxy
  2. lives blessed and transformed
    1. Luke 4:18; Luke 7:22; Matthew 25:34 – app: call to action, service, blessing

II. The challenge of Ethics –

  1. the source of authority has contexts –
    1. Old Testament theocracy –
    2. New Testament: powerless sojourners
    3. Historical illustrations across the spectrum – Augustine, “City of God”, Byzantium, early martyrs, Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer.

  1. The privatization of faith
    1. with respect to culture -
    2. with respect to our own community
    3. application: without community responsibilities, the ethics of Jesus become far less compelling

  1. The separation of Christ from Ethic – Matthew 7

III. The strategy –

1. an alternative community

2. building fences not walls

3. recognizing evolution

4. holding firmly to truth – including the truths of grace and humility


    1. recall a time when you’ve been impressed by an action carried out ‘in the name of Jesus’
    2. give an example of how Jesus’ vision for life on our planet is different than the life most people live
    3. describe a time when a wall has divided you from people of faith
    4. of the ethical issues we’re discussing (religion, politics, sex, art) – which one interests you most? Why?

BOTH/AND - A call for balanced assessments

Soren Keirkegaard's first book was entitled, "Either/Or", and one of his famous quotes falls out exactly in line with the title: I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations - one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it - you will regret both. Unfortunately, the either/or paradigm, so vital in the proper context, has moved into the realm discernment, with the unhealthy result that people feel forced to choosing polar opposites in a vast number of realms. Either you're a political liberal or you're a conservative. Either you believe that the Bible is inerrant in the original manuscripts, or you believe it is full of mistakes and thus open to private deconstruction and interpretation. America is either a country blessed by God, or a materialistic, self-indulgent, arrogant land imposing their will on the world. I'm going to argue that such either/or thinking is the death blow to civil discourse, community and fellowship, and personal growth in the vital skills of discernment needed for a person's spiritual and ethical development. Politicians have, for too long, been guilty of campaigning right along these lines, so that our political parties have polarized, offering only caracitures of the state of the union to the masses, rather than a thoughtful, humble, honese assessment. One can't read Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without realizing how far we've drifted from these kind of assessment. So I'm wondering if it isn't possible to begin speaking in terms of both/and, rather than either/or. For example, thinking about the great American experiment yesterday, I realized:

America is the most generous nation on earth, giving more to charity, especially through private donations, than any nation on earth. AND America is the most materialistic nation on earth, addicted to consumption at rates that are both unsustainable and unhealthy.

Our taxes are among the lowest in the developed world, giving investors the freedom to work hard, take a chance, and build something remarkable. That’s why so many life saving drugs and technologies come from here. America encourages innovation. AND if you’re sick, or weak, America isn’t the best place to be. We lead the developed world in the percentage of working people who can’t afford health care.

The American military has served vitally and sacrificially at crucial times throughout history to assure that the world would not be plunged into total darkness. AND America has used it’s military powers for selfish ends at various times, and has sometimes made the mistake of thinking that military power is the ultimate trump card in any situation.

Americans have resisted cooperation on the world stage with respect to environmental issues, and remains slow and obtuse when it comes to playing our much needed powerful role in reducing carbon emissions globally, AND America offers its own citizenry some of the cleanest water and healthiest air in the world, along with public health and safety standards we who live here take for granted every day.

The American Democracy is a form of government open to corruption and abuse of power, like any other form in the world. AND the American government has higher standards of accountability for it’s public officials, and thus less corruption, than most places in the world.

It’s easy to romanticize, wear blinders, and never see the tragic corruption, greed, abuse that remains part of our system, and results in so many people being harmed. It’s equally easy to vilify, and not see the good that comes from the generosity and service that run so deeply in the fabric of our nation, spilling out into the world at large.

BOTH/AND… can we live with that?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Summer Update

There's something great about getting outside. This link provides a summer update of family wanderings - from the beaches of Golden Gardens to the Cascade mountains. Living in this part of the world is certainly one of life's great blessings!