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...

Monday, September 29, 2008

No surpise. But WWJT

Here's the quote of the day: "We're all worried about losing our jobs," Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican, declared in an impassioned speech in support of the bill before the vote. "Most of us say, 'I want this thing to pass, but I want you to vote for it — not me.' "

What else could you expect from an economic system predicated on the notion that everyone acting in their own self-interests will always lead to a win/win situation. Somehow, I wonder: WWJT. What would Jesus think?

He'd think that we should put the interests of others before our own. He'd think we should put the interests of the kingdom before our own. He'd think we should live generously. He'd think we should open our homes, share our food, and care for those who can't care for themselves, and that these kinds of things should be our priorities.

We've been trying to reconcile Adam Smith and unregulated economics with the gospel for a long time. Can we please stop? What's needed is a new model where the government rewards, not self-interest, but service and sacrifice. This might be an opportunity to build a new energy and technology infrastructure. Maybe America can begins producing goods again, rather than trying to live off fabricated wealth. Maybe, but I'm not sure. If Christians, who have the very words of Christ about money refuse to altar their view of self-interest economics, how will the rest of world do?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sermon Discussion: God the Father Almighty

Study notes and Questions for 08 - September 28
Title: God as Parent: Growing Pains and Gains
Text: Romans 8:12-17

Like any good parent, God is wanting to bless His children. Further, God is able to bless His children, along with nurturing and fortifying us so that we grow into our full stature as heirs with Christ, doing our part in running the family business. Yet, the notion of God as Father is off putting to many. These questions are designed to begin the conversation about what it means to live in relationship with God as our Father. As we consider these things it's vital to remember that we're invited to rethink fatherhood by looking at God, rather than rethinking the character of God based on what we see in human fathers.

1. What adjectives describe your relationship with your father?
2. How easily do those adjectives transfer over to your relationship with God?
3. Is it easier for you to think of God as deeply personal, or as all powerful? Why?
4. What helps you build trust in God when things don't turn out as you'd hoped, or prayed for?
5. What kind of elements in one's life contribute to building our relationships between children and parents? Do any of these carry over into building our relationship with God?
6. What do you to in order to overcome your tendencies to disengage from relationships: with others? with God?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sermon Discussion- a new wednesday 'regular'

I'm happy to introduce this regular Wednesday addition to the blog: notes that will help you discuss the teaching that's coming up at Bethany. The notes and questioned will be centered on the upcoming sermon, so that you'll be able to prepare if you'd like and discuss prior - or debrief and discuss after.

Enjoy... and if you're just visiting for the first time today... don't miss the entry from earlier in the day about the economic meltdown. It's just below this one.

Study Notes and Questions for 08 – September 21

Title: All for Believing

Text: Hebrews 11:1-2

Over the doorway to our chapel there’s a marvelous wood plaque which reads, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” It’s a wonderful sentiment and has been instrumental in providing the wide tent that is Bethany, for nearly one hundred years. Still, the frequently asked question is: “…but what are the essentials?” Throughout the history of the church, fractures between God’s people have occurred precisely because one group viewed something as essential and another group disagreed.

As people carrying the name of Jesus become increasingly fractured and antagonistic towards one another, the very unity for which Jesus prayed, the unity which he declared would be the validating testimony of His reality, becomes elusive. We who gather within the walls of Bethany don’t gather in name of John Calvin, or Martin Luther, or even in the name of Peter the Apostle, but in the name of Christ. And though the global church has been fractured, and re-fractured down through the ages, we stand in the life giving and healing waters of Christ’s life to the extent that we believe and live our lives on the basis of the most foundational doctrines which have contributed, not to the church’s division, but its unity. It is those beliefs that are found in the Apostles Creed. Dating back to the earliest days of the church, this simple declaration of the faith clearly articulates what the “essentials” are which becomes the basis of our shared fellowship.

  1. What’s your response to the charge that “creeds are divisive”. Do you agree or disagree? Why not, instead, “imagine no religion” as the Beatles did?
  2. In the past, when scientific methods held absolute sway in the Western World, people were less willing to hold any convictions requiring faith. With the unraveling of scientific certainty, there’s now a general sense among all people that faith is required in order to hold any conviction, whether concerning the resurrection or the laws of aerodynamics. What is the relationship of faith and evidence in your convictions regarding Jesus? What kind of evidence do you respond to?
  3. If you buy a certain car, you suddenly see that car everywhere. The Bible seems to teach that the same dynamic comes into play with God. Those who believe God is active in history see God’s activity; others don’t. Is such ‘seeing’ wishful thinking or are the skeptics blind?
  4. The word “belief” must be taken to mean more than mental ascent. Our culture is filled with examples of presuming that intent is adequate. We ‘intend’ to exercise. We ‘intend’ to begin saving. We ‘intend’ to give, serve, reconcile. Yet, it’s often the case that intention never comes to the fruition of real action. Why is this? What can be done to help with intentions?
  5. The last point of the sermon is that the object of our faith is more important than the quantity of faith. Agree or disagree? What are some common false objects of faith in our culture, in the church, in your life?

The Money Pit: Gospel Revisited

The Headlines are pouring in from around the world: "500 point market 'adustment' evaporates billions." "Major banking institutions disappear overnight." "Government bails out major insurance company." Global Economy. Foreclosure crisis. Consumer Debt. Energy Consumption declines with economic downturn... etc. etc.

"Yes, yes, all very interesting, author, but you're here to talk about spiritual things, So please, a little Bible study?" Since you asked... here we go:

James 5:1 tells us that we who are rich will have our own share of miseries so that, rather than rejoicing in our riches, perhaps we should acknowledge that they've often come at the cost of unjust treatment for those who live elsewhere, far away from our sight lines, working for wages that fail to provide adequately, and lacking access to clean water, health care, or basic education.

I Timothy 6:10 reminds us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and that those who leave their love of Christ behind in the pursuit of riches fall into a ditch somewhere along the way, finding themselves filled with grief. The might just mean that all that speculative buying of real estate, rooted as it is, in the desire to get rich quickly, might actually be as serious of a spiritual problem as sleeping with your neighbor's wife. Of course, we evangelicals don't see it that way because we've often elevated workaholism and the acquisition of wealth by any legal means to high art, so that men and women guilty of these sins are put on boards, honored for their wisdom, and courted for their donations. This is not to say that all wealth is evil, but Timothy pleads with us to avoid the pursuit of more than we need, and you can learn about that in I Timothy 6:8. My desire to acquire more than I need might just be making a contribution to the present global crisis... might just be sin.

Jesus had a lot to say about money too; in fact, he spoke more about money than heaven or hell. He told us to live like birds and flowers, intent on declaring and displaying the glory of God, working at our callings, and leaving the results and provision in God's hands because, as He said, God will take of us. You can read about all that stuff here.

Before Jesus, John the Baptist was on the scene offering a foretaste of Messiah's coming. Interestingly, when people asked what they should do to be saved, he said nothing about praying the sinner's prayer, nothing about atonement, nothing about getting to go to heaven when you die. These elements of the gospel aren't illegitimate, but they're only part of the story. John the Baptist told people that if they were going to follow Jesus they needed to change their financial priorities. You can read about that here

Shall I continue? We could talk about caring for the poor, speaking to the power structures that oppress the poor, assessing our own lives to see if our economic ethic of operating in our own self interest by always paying the cheapest price for a product is in keeping with Jesus pirorities, or Adam Smith's, whose economic gospel has framed our buying and selling in America for two centuries.

It turns out that this present economic crisis is, indeed, not only a crisis, but a spiritual opporutnity, if we will but open our eyes to see the economic implications of Jesus kingdom ethic, adjust our own lives towards generosity, and see that when core values of a culture are shaken, there's a glorious opportunity to rebuild on a better foundation. It's an opporunity that many might take advantage of if the church is able to offer an alternative to the gospel of Adam Smith. For some of us though, we'll be unable to offer an alternative until we see our complicity with the structures that are presently melting, and repent.

I've written more on this subject in the chapter on generoisity, offered in o2: Breathing New Life into Faith. May we pray for eyes to see and hearts to respond in the midst of these amazing days.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Like a child?

Yesterday, in completing a sermon series in the book of James, I spoke of the necessity of having a childlike faith. To 'become a little child' (which Jesus indicates is needful if I'm to participate in His kingdom), I need to develop certain attitudes:

1. Dependency - Little children can't do anything on their own. They need nurture, provision, direction, intervention, training, and so much more. Of course, in the physical and emotional realms of life, it's critical that we move away from dependency so that we can be fully functioning adults. But our relationship with God our creator is intended to be a relationship of dependency throughout our days. It is childlike faith which realizes that, underneath the superficial relationships of education, connections, and employment to our daily bread, there is a God who is the true source. Economies will change (by, say, 500 or more market points in a single day), but the truth of the matter is that we're invited to look to God as a source of provision. This isn't an invitation to passivity our laziness, but simply an acknowledgment that, 'unless the Lord builds the house', all our striving, education, connections, plans, and hard work will never bring kingdom change, daily bread, or satisfaction to our lives.

We must learn to apply dependency to more realms that simply material, for the truth of the matter is that we are invited to look to God as our source of strength, direction, meaning, and in fact, the source of our very life. Looking anywhere else is tantamount to looking amongst the dying debris of this fallen world for life.

2. Gratitude - Dependency on God, far from leading us down a path of eschewing the glories of this world, leads instead to the fullest possible enjoyment of this world. Romans 1 reminds us that the indictment on humanity in our fallen condition isn't that we have contact with all the glories of this world, but that we fail to thank God for these glories, and as a result end up worshiping the gifts rather than the Giver. Childlike gratitude gives thanks to God for sunshine, rain, music, food and drink, friendship and intimacy, beauty and peace, wherever they're enjoyed.

I'm wondering why we aren't more consistently wide eyed with wonder at this incredible world in which we live? Why are we so senseless?

3. Trust - In healthy families, children trust their parents, and this creates an approachability, so that the parent is where the child turns, not only in times of joy and gratitude, but also in times of need. We lose our way, we get hurt, we are easily frightened. This is simply the way of it for all people, at various times, and in various ways. We need to know that there's one who cares.

Of course, in a complex and pain filled world, this is exactly the rub for many people. "Where is this God who cares? What was he doing between '39 and 45, while six million Jews were executed? What about the Red Guard? Pol Pot? I'm not sure this God does care!" Ah yes... the great question of suffering and evil. While volumes have been spilled to address this, and still the question remains, I'll only offer this thought - if we're to hold up the suffering as evidence, we need to hold up the beauty too. And we need to hold up not just the story of these moments in history, but the promised end to the story, for these are all pieces of evidence with which we must deal. When I do this, I find it easier to come to God with my pain, knowing that though I might not get full answers, I will find solace and shelter.

4. Obedience - Children are invited to obey their parents because the parent knows the fuller story, the bigger picture. I've watched parents spare their children from running out into the street, eating endless m&m's, staying up way too late, and in each case watched the child cry, declaring without words that the parent doesn't get it, doesn't have their best interests in mind; is, in fact, an ogre.

I smile. "Go ahead and cry" I think to myself. Someday, if your little heart is teachable at all, you'll get it. And you'll be glad that someone was there to cross your will with a better, higher, fuller will.

I find this childlike posture lived out well in the Celtic Christian strain of church history. This book might get you started.

I think, right about now, I'd like some cookies and milk. Maybe a nap too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

You Need to Be here...

I'm sitting in the backyard, studying the Bible at the end of a week when I said good bye to a young man who diedof cancer, and am preparing to attend another funeral tomorrow, and still another on Saturday.

And yet... the fir in the backyard is ripe with cones, and the bees are celebrating their last hurray. The redwood is another green; the shedding parts are yellow, dropping to the forest floor while the living cling to the branch and dance in the wind. Cedars dance too, and wind gives voice to the hanging chimes. Behind it all is what one could best describe as virgin sky - sky untouched by any of we lesser creatures, leaving the blue of perfection to declare beauty and glory.

Though it's on shuffle, Sufjan Stevens begins singing right in this precious moment: "Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty!" and I know in this moment that beyond death, loss, senseless, injustice, mystery, and unanswered prayer, there is still goodness, still beauty, still glory, still holy. I know that all will be well.

I know because this beauty, this moment, is a sermon, the best kind of sermon for me on many days. It won't be captured by camera for the translation would vandalize the pure blue, the dancing wind, the air that smells of evergreen and sweat. I know all will be well because I spent the morning in the Bible, being reminded that the cross defeated Satan fully, finally, wholly, though we don't yet see the full fruits of that victory. I know because I've studied James today and yesterday and am reminded that we're farmers, planting seeds of hope and purity and justice, even though the harvest isn't instant, and even though things not instant aren't popular in these days when we're angry if our browser takes more than 3 seconds to give us our web demands. I know it... but I know because I'm here.

You're there. And no words, no picture, can let you enter the experience. Truly, you had to be here to know this wind, these trees, this blue. Maybe you even needed to know my friend who died, and to have also studied James. I don't know. But I do know this; I can tell you this much: God breaks through!! He does it in spite of our doubts and failures, and in spite of the poison and ugliness that pollutes everything from the atmosphere to politics to the arts, to our own hearts. God breaks through... and I only wish I you could hear what I hear, see what I see, smell what I smell... right now, right here. Then you'd be encouraged.

But since you're not here... these tiny words are the best I can offer.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hope: For Such a Time as This

I spent the afternoon yesterday at the funeral of a 32 year old friend, of whom I wrote last week. I was fine until I looked at the program and saw pictures of him on his jet ski, and playing with his kids, and read that he loved skiing and snowmobiling. Why, in God's name, does this person die?

Why do so many of my friends in the medical world grow weary of prayer, precisely because they see disease winning?

Why does there seem to be so much confusion about death, the after life, and the meaning of resurrection, both in the culture at large and in the church?

All of this is the backdrop in which I began reading this morning, in the quiet and incredible beauty of a clear, crisp, September Seattle morning, "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church". I already know that much of what Wright says will not be new to me. I also know that much of it will. But most of all, I know that I need to wrestle with what it means, precisely, to live as an 'artisan of hope' in a world where 32 year olds die of cancer and leave a widow and four children less than six. I know all about our notions of heaven being a better place, but I'm wrestling right now with the meaning of Christ's life as it effects this earth, this life, this day.

I'm neither discouraged nor disappointed by what I've read so far, though I've just begun. This, it seems to me, is deeply vital material with which to wrestle, and I hope to know dialog, both with friends and face to face, in the days that are ahead. In the meantime, if you've read the book, or want to, and live in or near Seattle, let me know. We can all meet somewhere for food, drink, and discussion of the hope of the gospel.

Clinging to His Hope ...RD

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

world cup of ideas... enjoy

Monday, September 08, 2008

Who's got change?

I taught yesterday from the book of Acts, as our church begins to consider what God has for our future. I pointed out the reality that things were constantly changing in the early church, as she moved from uniformity to diversity (Jews + Hellenist Jews) to greater diversity (Jews + Hellenist Jews + Samaritans) to greater diversity still (Jews + Hellenist Jews + Samaritans + Romans). Along the way, not only did the demographic of the church change, as new people were added who brought different cultural views and perspectives to the table, but the rules changed as well. Circumcision was dropped as a requirement for salvation, as was abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols.

At the end of the sermon, I mistakenly declared, in a concluding bullet point, that 'the only constant' is change. Someone replied to this in following manner:

"...were does God's truth play into this? Are His Word and 'the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints' mutable just as, apparently, His Church is? The main point I took away from the discussion of Acts was that nothing is lasting - let alone everlasting - not even God's decrees concerning His Church in the New Testament."

I appreciate the feedback, and felt that it would offer a good basis for some discussion. I'm interested in hearing your opinions regarding the following questions:

#1 - What is it about God that is 'unchangeable'? Covenants seem to come and go. The Bible says that, in response to Moses' prayer of intercession, God changed His mind. God moved from revealing Himself through a gathered nation (Israel), to revealing Himself through a scattered people (the church). So what are the parts of God that are 'changeless?'

#2 - How would answer this person's question: "Are His Word and the 'faith which was once for all delivered to the saints' changeable?"

This is an important discussion because it centers on issues of sorting out that which we must hold to tightly (like the virgin birth, the death and resurrection of Christ), and that which is mutable (like what kind of music we'll have in our churches). I've chosen easy examples... but of course, the rub will always come with the harder examples.

I welcome your thoughts!

Thursday, September 04, 2008


I'll post pictures later, but wanted to check in as vacation comes to a close. Tomorrow my son and I will fly to Fairbanks, and then home to Seattle. Labor Day weekend was a wonderful time of rest with friends and family in the mountains, and on Monday my son and I were off to Alaska.

As good as the travels were, the week has been subdued, tainted even, by the reality of a great loss, a young man whose wedding I performed years ago who died of cancer, leaving his wife, and 4 children under 6 years old. He died today, just as I was descending off a mountain on the outskirts of Anchorage through wind and fog. Somehow, the fog seemed appropriate this week as metaphor for so much that is life: a glimpse of glory through answered prayer and gifts of beauty and intimacy, friendship and laughter, and then the fog rolls in. God's presence becomes muted, distant, and we wonder what, if anything we actually saw, when we thought we saw clearly. Yet we hold on to the memories and the memories become the stuff of faith, of hope.

My friend took a nasty turn very quickly, and what appeared to be the road to recovery suddenly became the pathway of heartache and loss. His last words to his family were imploring them to make certain that his children would know Christ, as he wouldn't be around to raise them.

The loss, the fog, the uncertainty - these things effect us all differently. For some, they cling the more tightly to the hand of the shepherd. For others, they give Him the finger and walk away, never to return. Others conclude that there is no shepherd. Others weep, but fling themselves into the arms of the shepherd as a wounded child runs to her mother. I think Jesus longs for the latter... if we'll let him care for us.

Lord, as I return to everything, I'm wrung out with the juxtaposition of beauty and loss, hope and confusion, longings and longings denied, laughter and tears. May you be shepherd, father, friend... as the leaves turn and another season of life awaits. Amen...