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...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

thursday... and nobody home

It's been one of those weeks when nothing went as planned. Disappointment and dashed expectations are strewn over the memories of the week, and they're spread out so well that there's not a single area of my life where I can look and say: "Yes! This is good. This is the way it's supposed to be." The care of the church started the week. Then there was the trip to nowhere, and although I said 'no thanks', it still cost me a day and 400 miles. My mom's aging and it's hard to watch, even from a distance as this time it was my faithful wife who was down in California to offer care. Work days that I felt needed uninteruppted time to prepare some large projects have consistently been interupprted. The cat has fleas, and they're everywhere in the house. I've taken up the battle cry and am obsessed with killing them. A new window in the house has cracked for no apparent reason. Some logs are rotting in the writing cabin.

I'm not certain what I'm supposed to do when everywhere I turn things seem bad, but here's what I'm doing tonight. I turn the TV off and listen to the new Sigur Ros CD, while I do the dishes. The cat, who is getting over the flea bites because I've slathered some sauce on her neck, sits on the counter beside me the whole time I wash and dry, purring so loud I can hear her over the music. She's happy to be with me, or so I think in my biological naivete.

I finish the dishes and sit in the living room, darkened except for candles. The cat follows me and finds my lap. I listen to the music that transcends language, transcends mind, speaks to spirit even though I'm not even certain it's a real language I'm hearing. I pray for my mom. I pray for the church I lead. I pray for peace, and for the families I know whose financial woes make my week look like a rich holiday by comparison. I know people who could lose everything in this economy. I pray for a man who I've grown to love who lives in Los Angeles and is suffering from a stroke. I pray for strength to serve and lead... and then the words end.

In the silence, the cat is purring, the candles are lit, and there is beauty and peace in the room. Tomorrow I'll need to finish a powerpoint presentation, write two articles, and deal with some property problems - but for a few minutes, there's peace. It's funny - in this peace, this shelter of a few moments of silence with Christ, I realize that this is enough, realize that these moments of grace are nectar, manna, strength for the journey. The journey must still be travelled, and along the way there will be hassles, stresses, disappointments, and joys as well. But it's this peace that sustains. It's more than a purring cat and candles, though the life and light in those two are significant symbols: it's the deep seated assurance that comes when we pour our heart out - an assurance that, no matter who wins Tuesday, no matter the price of gas, no matter... we're moving towards a better world, a world where Jesus will fill everything; and all shall be well. In the meantime, forestastes are a gift of grace, and I thank God for them when they come.

Shalom... it's time to go to the airport.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

He Descended into Heck...

Sermon: He Descended into Hell
Text: Ephesians 4:710
Date: November 2, 2008

Hell, it seems, has fallen on hard times. Back in the days when Jonathan Edwards preached about "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", the fear of hell was strong enough to scare people into righteousness. But times have changed, and now we like to talk about the love of God more than His wrath. I'm glad things have changed, because the fear based approach doesn't seem to be that to which we're invited today, as I'll share below. Still, while it seems that Edwards had some misguided notions about God's wrath, the reality of God's judgment is supremely important, because it declares two things:

1) there is both good and evil in the universe
2) evil will not be forever tolerated

Of course, there's much more to the gospel than these two statements, and when the gospel is reduced to these two statements, we end up in some sort of fear based approach to God, exactly the opposite of what we're invited to enjoy.

But we make a severe mistake when we try to erase those two important points because they too are part of the good news. I quote CS Lewis at length in order to make the point:

Blake wrote, "The marriage of heaven and hell" some sense or other the attempt to make that marriage is perennial. The attempt is based on the belief that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable 'either-or'; that, granted skill and patience,and time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain. This belief I take to be a disastrous error.

Lewis goes on to declare the reality of hell, and the reality that those who are there, are there by their own choosing, not because an angry God condemned them to this against their will. As I'll share on Sunday, this is in keeping with what the Bible teaches hell to be, and what the Bible has to say about God's judgment.

Hell is the English word we use to describe several different things in the Bible: the grave, the abode of the departed, and the lake of fire are all referred to by the same word 'hell' in English, though they're different words in Hebrew and Greek. So when the creed says, "he descended into hell" there are lots of questions about 'which hell' is meant: the grave? the place of departed souls? the lake of fire? Commentators and scholars argue about it. I'm not sure it matters.

The more important matter, by far, is to note the depth of Jesus sacrifice and love for us. Philippians 2 speaks of this, and Ephesians 4:7-10 speaks of Jesus ascent being tied, of course, to His descent into 'the lower parts of the earth.' Here are some questions to spark your thinking as we look at Jesus, hell, and our callings to follow Him -

1) Tim Keller's excellent book: "A Reason for God" talks about the doctrine of hell as being one of the more offensive points for many who are considering the faith. Keller's reply is that if God didn't intervene and confine all evil to some specific place, God's intent for the universe as a place filled with life and beuaty would never be realized. Furthere, he'd argue, like Lewis, that God doesn't send people to hell; people choose hell because of their condition. Read the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 and share your own thoughts about this.

2) Whatever you think of hell, most of you would agree that hell is hell to the extent that it is the absence of God. By this definition, Jesus experienced hell because He experienced the absence of God when he died on the cross. Read Philippians 2 and ponder how Jesus life intersects with the convential wisdom we have today about putting limits on our compassion (a word which means 'to suffer with'). If Jesus had learned the language of limits, would He have continued to the cross?

3) Based on your answer in #2 above, ponder the reality that we're asked, in Philippians 2, to empty ourselves in a like manner as Jesus did, following in His example. What does this mean? Can you share an experience of this in your own life? What were the results?

We need to ponder the thought that Jesus carried all the guild, all the absence of God, and that these were the judgments of God poured out on one who absorbed them willingly so that we'd be able to become not only forgiven, but transformed. But our way of transformation is no different than His - we ascend by descending, we gain by giving away, we really live by being the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies. Let's ponder that as we prepare for the Lord's table this Sunday

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

further revelation needed...

I drove 400 miles yesterday and ended up back where I started. The whole event was a comical series of miscommunications. Scheduled to teach for a week long intensive at a Bible School in Canada, I'd made my way north and was waiting at the float plane dock on the Frasier river, pondering why the airline had no reservation for me. I'd checked my e-mail before leaving, and confirmed the dates, but also had heard from the school that they'd reserved my flight. I decided, just before boarding the plane to call the school and confirm that I was supposed to be there this week. "Nope" came back the reply. "You're scheduled for next week."
"But my e-mail says it's this week"

"Here's the one I sent you" she said, and proceeded to read a note confirming that I was to begin teaching, not tonight, but one week from tonight.

Thankful that I didn't get on the plane, I turned around and drove home to Seattle in time to watch one inning of the world series before it was called due to rain. Then I checked my e-mail and sure enough, the one I read, said that I was to be in Canada THIS week. Sadly, another e-mail had been sent subsequent to that, changing the dates. I'd only saved the original though, and my rejection of further revelation cost me four hundred miles. I'm glad gas is cheaper now than in July!

REJECTION OF FURTHER REVELATION... maybe you're busy reading NT Wright's book about Hope, and you come across some teachings that challenge what you once thought regarding the rapture and 2nd coming of Christ. What do you do with that? Maybe someone challenges your view on divorce and remarriage, or economics. Problems will come our way if we toss any challenges to our existing views too quickly, or embrace new views too readily. What's a pastor to do?

Read everything
- I think I tossed the e-mail that had changed the date without ever reading it, and it cost me. Sometimes we're quick to categorize someone we're listening to and put them in a box, and when we do this we end up tossing them in some bin, liberal, conservative, fundamentalist, post-modern, presuming that we know what they're going to say before they say it. We do this to our own loss my friends. In the blogging world, in the church, in the neighborhood, and in the classroom, I've continually been amazed at how people defy categorization, and even more amazed at how much I can learn from those with whom I disagree.

Consider the source - Had an e-mail come from a total stranger, indicating that I was teach a different week than the scheduled one, I'd have tossed it. Had it come from a friend who was unrelated to the school, I'd have considered it a joke. We're not invited to put people into box, but we are invited to consider the source. When I read NT Wright, I'm convinced that this is not a man who's trying to lead me to the doors of hell, and so I listen. I still might not agree with everything he says, but his command of the Bible and church history mean that I'll trust his propositions more readily that some other people's.

Double Check - I should have called before I left the house. If some new discovery or revelation (new for you anyway) is going to require that you live differently, it would be wise to consider if there are others who are living on the terrain you're heading. Are you moving towards a position of non-violence? Read Bonhoeffer, and perhaps CS Lewis piece, "Why I am not a Pacifist" before going there. Are you changing your position on divorce and remarriage? Read from some who think like you do now, and some who espouse the new position you're considering. This is how we grow.

400 miles between Seattle and Vancouver on a crisp fall day is really not that big a deal. But the lessons learned, if applied to how I live out my faith in all areas of life, could be priceless.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Building Teams...

I was privileged this past summer to share Christ on the east coast for a week at a family conference, and when my flight landed in Philadelphia, I bought a paper and discovered that Phillies were in town, playing a night game, and Jamie Moyer (of Mariner fame back in the days when we were good) was going to be pitching. Being the visionary that I am, I pictured myself sitting among Philly fans, eating a cheese steak as I watched my old friend from Seattle pitch.

I arrived at the ballpark, and waited in line for a ticket, disheartened that everyone in front of me was leaving empty handed. But when I told the teller that I only wanted one ticket, she smiled and said, "Good, because that's all we have left - one ticket. Will 10 rows up behind the first base dugout work for you?" I smiled, and soon was enjoying the ambiance of an east coast ball game, as Moyer, an ancient 45 years old, pitched brilliantly for six or seven innings, before leaving to cheering crowds with a solid lead.

Later, at the conference, I discovered that nearly everyone was a fan in same way that everyone was a fan here in Seattle back in the late 90's and early 00's. I discovered that this was a team with a low payroll, and high output. I discovered that this was a team had all the marks of genius assemblage, having been built not just through consideration of talent, but also chemistry and leadership. It was similar to the glory of days of Seattle. I discovered that this magical blend of chemistry and talent had created winners and energized a city, just like Seattle was energized. And then I discovered that they had a new general manager: Pat Gillick - the same 'behind the curtain' guy who built the Mariners during their glory years.

It's Monday, so I'm not going try to build this into some metaphor for the body of Christ. It's enough to just note that, unlike tennis, or cross-country, or golf, baseball is a team sport and in the world of teams, raw talent isn't enough. Just ask the Yankees. There needs to be support, interdependency, and a confidence that, even when a team member is struggling, he'll snap back (as Ryan Howard did last night in best possible way). I'm presently reading a book about how teams can function at their highest level, and realize that I've much to learn. So I'll keep learning, and draw my inspiration for old man Moyer, and genius Gillick in the meantime. Go Phils!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

Study notes for: October 26th sermon.
Text: John 18:28-19:16

We live at a time in history when there's a huge disconnect between Jesus and His followers. People like Jesus... a lot. There are all kinds of bumper stickers, pins, bracelets, t-shirts, and flags available that will let you show your loyalties. At same time, though, lots of the same people who claim to be tight with Jesus can't stand other Christians, and really can't stand the church.

My question this coming Sunday is this: If Jesus is so wildly popular, why did everyone, religious and secular, patriotic and rebellious, from the right and left alike, conspire to kill the man? What was it about this person that made His death a necessity from the perspectives of such wildly diverse people as Romans and Jews?

The second question: What's the value of Jesus death? What was gained by it? To understand the framework for this question, you might want to pour yourself a cup of coffee and take a look at the atonement theories that have been cast by theologians down through the ages. If you're bored with that, just read I John 2:1-3 and II Corinthians 5:21.

1) According to these two passages, what's the value of Jesus death?
2) What does Paul mean in Romans 6 when he says that we died with Christ? What does this look like in real life?
3) When you think about Jesus death, are you supposed to be glad that he died for you, sad that he suffered so much, intent of being willing to suffer more for him? What is response as you recall the death of Christ through the Lord's Table and Baptism?

Now...on to the reasons people killed Jesus -

1) Jesus proclaimed a different kingdom and told his followers that, while they should 'render unto Ceasar..." the reality is that their loyalty to Christ's reign supercedes any other kingdom. Can you think of Christians who've paid a price in America for placing their loyalty to Christ above that of country? What would that look like here?

2) Jesus' teaching was, eventually, an offense to everyone - but in His physical absence, the church has the luxury of re-interpreting His sayings, and thus runs the risk of lessening both the offense and impact of the gospel. If Jesus were to walk among your church today, what might He tell us that we're misrepresenting? Please use the scriptures to support your thoughts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

She's gone and gotten herself pregnant

The Readings: Matthew 1:18-25; Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 5:30-32; John 15:4-5

"Every birth is a cause for celebration." I remember hearing the words from the mouth of a 50 something woman when on her peers shared that her unmarried daughter was pregnant. Yes. This is surely a truth for the ages - life is a blessing!

Yet it's also true that, even in the best of times, carrying new life also requires pain and sacrifice on the part of the life givers. There's that pesky child birth pain, followed by sleep deprivation, hormonal fallout, curtailment of sexual intimacy, stinking diapers, and an exponential increase in the amount of time it takes to go anywhere outside the house.

Why bother? Because life is a blessing: a blessing to nurture in the womb, bring into the world, share with serve, suffer with, rejoice with, love. A bother? Sometimes, for certain, but more so a blessing. Pain and priceless asset. Source of grief and gladness.

Of course, we're not just talking about babies. Paul's passion for the church is that Christ would be 'formed in us' and he uses a word picture to describe this that indicates our spiritual formation is like childbirth. Jesus Himself uses the similar imagery when He calls His church the "bride of Christ" and invites us to be fruitful (read, "give birth") by living in union with Him. Allowing jesus to fill us with His life will no doubt have the effect of disrupting our lives in some very big ways.

There are two important reasons that I won't whine about all this disruption. First, the joys of fruitfulness outweigh the burdens every time. My children, now grown, plaster the walls of wherever it is that I study, write, live, because they are my great joy. And so it is with the fruit that comes about in our lives by virtue of union with Christ. Such union has meant travail, interruption, frustration, conviction, and the loss of my isolated, autonomous self. It's also meant meals, laughter, tears, and prayers, shared with new friends in far flung places around the world. It's meant healing where there was only ugliness and self-pity before. It's mean a whole new set of eyes, helping me to find joy in simple things like a sunrise, candlelight, fresh fish, a good sweater from the thrift store, and merlot with Vivaldi or Cold Play. Best of all, it's meant participating in God's story and seeing lives become more like Jesus in ways large and small. Fruit is disruptive, there's no doubt about it. Intimacy works that way. Union with Christ means the Jesus will challenge my tiny, fearful, indulgent life, asking more of me than I think I'm capable of. And this fruitful life is costly. People die every day because they love Jesus. But even those who die young would never trade a second of life united with Christ for decades of the barren altrernative.

The second, more important reason to enjoy spriritual maternity as the bride of Christ is because Jesus 'broke trial', (if you'll forgive my shift to different metaphor for a moment) by allowing Himself to be disrupted. He's the one who had the most to lose: heaven, status as deity, perfect union with God, freedom from guilt, all were tossed aside because of love, in the pursuit of intimacy with us, precisely so that His bride, the church, could become the bearer of fruit in our desparately barren world. He was disrupted first. Now it's our turn.

Does Christ live in you? How awesome is that! This is, after all, the mystery of the ages. If it's true in your life, congratulations! You're pregnant. Maybe hand out a few cigars. Throw a party. And prepare for the glorious disruption that inevitably comes as Jesus expresses life through you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sermon Discussion: Born of the Virgin Mary

Date: for sermon of October 19, 2008
Text: Luke 1:25ff

Rather than speculate about how a virgin birth could or could not happen, or defend God's capacity to perform miracles, our focus will be on placing the significance of the virgin birth (and I believe it was a literal virgin birth) in its historical context to understand some of the significance for the early church.

It's important to understand that the virgin birth is the culmination of a long line of unlikely births occuring among god's chosen people. Abraham and Sarah gave birth to Isaac in their old age. Isaac and Rebekka praying for a child and received Jacob and Esau. Jacob's favorit wife, Rachel, was barren for many years while his 'lesser' wife was fruitful. There are several other stories in the Old Testament that carry this same theme: God is the source of fruitfulness. The fullest expression of this truth is seen in the Holy Spirit coming upon the Mary the virgin so that she becomes preganant and gives birth to Jesus, for there is no greater assurance of an empty womb than virginity!

The meaning of these things for us has to do with our call to be fruitful as the bride of Christ, allowing His life to so fill us that we become not only recipients of His life, but so that we allow that life to be born into the world through us. Giving birth is where the greatest sacrifice and greatest blessings meet - and it because of the sacrifice that some resist receiving and imparting life.

1. What are some of the costs that came to Mary because of the timing and manner of her pregnancy? What are some of the costs that came to her by virtue of being Jesus' mother?
2. In spite of all the costs and challenges, Mary's response is one of trust and availability, resulting in her outpouring of praise for the privilege of being chosen to carry Christ's life. Why do you think she saw her out of wedlock pregnancy as a gift from God, rather than a bother? What in her attitude is instructive for us today?
3. Name a time when the presence of Jesus in your life has been disruptive. What was your initial response? Why?
4. In what area of life are you longing for God's fruit to be seen? Is there an area where you're resisting, hesitant to allow Christ's birth for fear of what it will mean? Pray for one another about these things.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


This is a long post... pour yourself a beverage, read, pray, and cheers!

My entry from one week ago was about whether we should make our voting decision on a single issue, multiple issues, character and leadership ability, the faith of the candidate, or some other criteria.

I'm both encouraged and troubled by the collective response. To the extent that there has been thoughtful dialog, with the goal of increasing understanding, I'm encouraged. Sadly, though, there has also been some disturbing rhetoric, like, "if you don't think the way I do on this, you're not a Christian, or you're not a mature Christian, or you're..." Can I encourage you to allow your conversations to be, as it were, 'with grace, as though seasoned with salt'.

The reason we need grace in our speech opens the way for a response to the more important thread running through the comments, which is: "how can people who go to the same church have such different beliefs about these things?" (though nobody wrote exactly those words, I paraphrase a common sentiment). Further, we wonder if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I spoke about this recently when we did a quick overview of the church in Acts. Looking at that book from the telescopic view, one can see that from the very earliest days of the church, healthy churches have had ongoing issues, disagreements, decisions. First it had to do with whether those of Greek origin were receiving as much care as the Jews. Then it had to do with the question of "just how Jewish is Christianity?" The answer created such an uproar that the church was scattered, out from Jerusalem. Then it had to do with whether Jews were relieved from ceremonial law and could eat unclean meat. Next the issue was whether Gentiles with absolutely no ties to Judaism could become Christians? Once that was settled, the question was whether or not they needed to be circumcised, and they decided only to impose an abstinence from meat sacrificed to idols. Later the church changed it's mind on it's own ruling.

Paul had a bitter disagreement with John Mark at one point, and they split. Later, Paul asks for John Mark to come visit him because he's profitable for ministry.

Is this a picture of a church that is always of one mind on everything? I'd suggest that it's a church in process of growing towards the mind of Christ by addressing issues prayerfully, respectfully, as they arise. The beauty of the early church is that when disagreements arose believers had nowhere else to go. They were stuck in a community with people who thought differently than themselves and this led, of course, to inevitable problems. But if you read I Corinthians, you'll find that the problems themselves are the context for our growth and transformation.

Sadly, in our consumerist faith world, we can easily gather only with people who will think exactly the same way we do on every issue. Then, in our self-referential pride, we can decide that we've got it: we've got the truth. Our doctrinal fence determining who's in and who's out is perfect.

Of course, this would be lovely if it were true. But it isn't. Perfection isn't an option this side of heaven, because we don't see with perfect clarity. Even the great Paul, towards the end of his life, didn't consider himself as having yet arrived. So what then, are the signs of a healthy church:

1. A commitment to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ - The church is nothing less than the visible expression of Christ's life on earth, and because of this there's no room for discussion here, because you can't reject Jesus and be His bride, His fruit bearer, His visible expression. You've seen previous post where I ponder the question of whether or not someone who's never heard the name of Jesus can be saved, and this might be open to misunderstanding, as if there's more than one way to be saved. Far from it, the reality is that it is the work of Christ on the cross, and that work alone, which is the source of all salvation, from Adam to the end of time. The only question is whether or not some who, having never heard the name, still look to the light they have received (and all have received light)with a faith response, rejecting the animism, or polytheism, or atheism, of their own culture, and calling out instead to the One true God. If such a person is saved, they're saved by Christ. But don't miss the main point here: a healthy church will never diminish or compromise the centrality of Christ.

2. A commitment to the historical orthodoxy derived from the centrality of Christ. Church history is our guide here, as the church sought to refine, and further refine just what it means to 'believe'. Our church is presently studying "the apostle's creed' because we believe these to be the non-negotiable elements of our faith, the things that require, not only mental assent, but life commitment. Anyone is welcome to attend a worship service, but to be in a covenant relationship as part of the church, one needs to subscribe to these truths because these are the truths that have defined the essence of the faith for 20 centuries (approximately)

3. A commitment to transformation. We're told in II Corinthians that our transformation is proportional to our fixation on Christ, His life, teachings, kingdom, and invitation. This, of course, is the danger of thinking I've arrived, and must then only 'defend' my doctrinal turf. To only 'defend' is to abort the process of transformation. And of course, from the responses to last week's post about the election, I'm certain nobody wants abortion (LOL)

4. Patience. There's a little passage in Ephesians 4 that speaks of the 'unity of the faith'. Sometimes we take this and run with it, thinking that this unity can be acquired by a decree from the pulpit on every issue. And there are surely times and places for such decrees (see Luther, see Bonhoeffer, see Wesley). But the word that is often forgotten in Ephesians 4 is 'until', which implies that our unity and maturity is a goal towards which we are reaching, as we bring every area of heart, mind, and body under the Lordship of Christ. Until we reach this perfect state, we will continue to have untidy disagreements. That's OK, probably even healthy, if Proverbs has anything to say about it. What's not healthy is to simply walk away from those who don't think exactly like you do, surrounding yourself with the comfort of like minded souls, strong where you're strong, blind where you're blind. Such 'group think' caused a nation to shout "crucify Him", when they encountered the Messiah for whom they longed, and about whom they read in their Bibles. Such presumption has happened countless times in history and should give us pause.

"Until" means we're not of one mind yet. So let's keep talking, praying, reading, challenging one another, because this is what it means to be a church. There's more to say about Obama and McCain, but I've rambled long enough... for now.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Negating the Fear Factor

We who know Christ are in the midst of an incredibly opportune season. Economic stories have completely overshadowed all others because of both the breadth and depth of the crisis. As markets meltdown globally, fear and anxiety are evident everywhere. People have lost paper wealth, and as the crisis deepens the number of people losing real assets like cars and homes will increase too. No matter what your view on either the source of the crisis or the solution (and I know we won't all agree on these matters), one thing is certain: we are called to confidence and boldness, not fear. Here's why:

1. Our calling is simply to allow the resurrected Jesus, who lives in us, to find expression through our lives. If I'm confident that Jesus is alive in me, confident that He has a good measure of freedom to express His life through me, then I'm able to walk into each and every day with the assurance God will be at work. As I've encountered fear among people in this past weeks due to economic matters, I've realized that there are many ways to be paralyzed be fear. For some, in the present, it's money matters. But numerous fears paralyze: fear of confrontation, fear of rejection, fear of intimacy, fear of being alone, fear of rejection, fear of ideas different than our own, fear of people who are different than us. And here's the thing: If I live my life with the primary goal being to avoid that which I fear, I will lose my capacity to display Christ. "Fear Not" is a governing theme throughout the life of God's people, and we can clearly see how God's people lost their light because of fear.

2. Times of upheaval have the great effect of helping us sift through our priorities and determine what really matters. In 'normal' times, many of us allow a great deal of chaff into our lives, as we squander moments and dollars on things that either don't matter, or are terribly destructive. But when shaking occurs, the things that matter are things to which we are instinctively drawn. As a result, times of shaking often have the effect of clarifying and purifying our lives. Job, at the very end of his journey of trials, said that before his trials, he'd heard God, but now he sees God. Periods of shaking are a small price to pay if the fruit of them is a greater capacity to see God!

3. We're not here to build private little comfortable lives. We're here to embody the hope of Christ, and history tells us that this light will shine brightest in the midst of darkness. This is why Habakkuk's questions about why God's people would need to go through suffering ultimately vanished. Habakkuk's bold, fearless conclusion can be found here.

4. Paul could see, behind the twists and turns of both macro and micro history, that God was providing opportunities. Thus he was able to write from a prison dungeon that his circumstances were resulting in the furtherance of the gospel. The theme of 'rejoicing' permeates his letter from prison, as Bonhoeffer's letters from prison would do centuries later. For both, the proper of focus of being a voice of hope in the midst of troubling times allowed them to rejoice, right in the midst of meltdowns.
Our goal in life determines our anxiety level. If my goal is have my party win in November, or preserve my 401k, then I've got a lot of anxiety right now. Sure; I care about who wins. I care about my financial future. But my goal is to embody Christ's hope, live generously, and declare through my life, that of my family, and that of my church, that the kingdom of God is near. And this is a hope that no stock graph can shake!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Sermon Discussion: Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord

Date: for October 12, 2008
Text: II Corinthians 11:1-3 / Acts 2:36

1. The notion of "simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" can be hard to define. What examples, either personally, or through others, can you share that would help others understand how this devotion to Christ is practiced? What are your barriers to maintaining this devotion?

2. "Christ" means Messiah, which means the One on whom Israel has pinned her hopes. Yet the reality is that Jesus was overwhelmingly rejected as Messiah by the very people who knew their scriptures the best. "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." Why was He rejected? Is there a danger that we too might reject the true Jesus, and His true teaching, while thinking, like the religious leaders of Jesus day, that we're standing on the moral high ground? What is the best protection against this happening?

3. Saying "Jesus is Lord" could get you killed in the early church, because it meant that you had a higher loyalty than the state. Some material that might help you understand the historical significance of this can be found here. Do you agree or disagree with this article's notions regarding Lordship, as it applies to America? Why or why not? Does the author's article make enough provision for our calling to maintain a measure of involvement with, and prayer for, our nation and its leaders?

4. People often say, "I like Jesus - it's the church I can't stand." If Jesus is so wildly popular today, what do you think it was about His life that got Him killed in the first place?

5. The outgrowth of true devotion to Jesus as Messiah, Lover, and Lord is overwhelmingly positive, as seen in the Acts narrative, and the lives of the saints. Which of these three elements are most challenging for the church today? How about you personally?

6. Is it easier for you to make Jesus Lord of your decisions regarding your personal life or those more in the public arena, eg. politics, social networks, job-related? Can you explain why one is easier for you to surrender to Jesus than another?

7. In Philippians 3, Paul considers everything trash in order to know Christ, and to know him. Can you think of something in your own life that you have given up or sense a need to give up in order to deepen your relationship with Christ?

8. In Act 4:13, the Christ-given courage of Peter and John was a testimony to those who would condemn them. Can you think of an example of when your dependency on Christ made an impact on someone around you?

Monday, October 06, 2008

More than one issue?

Someone recently contacted our church, articulating a concern because, though they don't attend our church, a co-worker of theirs does and this co-worker told the concerned party that they were intending to vote for Barack Obama. Their tone was close to moral outrage because Obama is arguably one of the most liberal senators on matters of abortion.

I understand the concern about the abortion issue in a very personal way. Having been adopted as an infant, I wonder if I'd be here at all to bother you with another blog post if abortion had been easily accessible 'back in the day'. Like the person who contacted us, I view our collective failure to honor life in the womb as a great crime.

What's disconcerting to me though (and the shoe could have just as easily been on the other foot, with someone writing in concerned that one of our flock was voting for McCain because of, say, 'just war theory') is the reductionist mindset that boils down one's choice in this important election to any single issue. We're fighting two wars, not to mention trying to understand and deal with the threats of Russia and Iran, and are in the midst of the gravest economic and energy crises in generations, both of which are global in scope and terrifying in potential consequences. I won't even mention the environment, global poverty, and an impending clean water crisis that nobody is yet speaking of. Each of these issues demand capable leadership and the offering of principled and vision based strategies and steps. What will be needed for these times will be a leader able to impart that vision to our nation and our world.

No single issue: health care/ environment/ gun-control/ abortion/ or even the freedom to hunt wolves from helicopters, should be the basis on which we cast our vote. Rather, we should prayerfully consider both the overall vision and leadership potential of our candidates, realizing that there is not any candidate or party who perfectly embodies the ethic of the kingdom of God. As the rhetoric heats up in the blogosphere about which candidate has the deeper faith, it might be fun to remember that the debate rages to this day as to how deep or real President Lincoln's faith was. Be it real or not, he surely contradicted the prevailing faith ethic of the south when he dismantled slavery. Perhaps we would rather have had a genuine believer, a church going man, from the southern states as president? Nope.

I wonder the criteria you're using to caste your vote. Poverty issues? Pro-life/abortion issues? Economic policies? A general sense of who would make a better leader? Character? How Christian the candidate is? Trustworthiness? Previous failures and associations with disreputable people? What will make you vote the way you do? Feel free to post anonymously, but please post... would love a good discussion.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Relentless Waves of Mercy

It’s Friday. I’m driving back to the Eugene airport after teaching Thursday night and this morning for a small group of people who love to read and write. They’re the editing team for the book I wrote, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversations with them, from the moment I arrived yesterday at the airport, until I said goodbye this morning.

The rain is falling as I drive south on the Oregon coast, the road dropping off to my right offering glimpses of the waves crashing against the rocks. I see a sign for “Cooks Chasm” and impetuously pull off out of curiosity. There’s a sign at the far end of this tiny parking area and I walk over to it. From there I can stare straight down into the chasm, maybe 100 feet deep. Waves are crashing into this narrow gorge with explosive force, but nothing has prepared me for what happens next. As I’m looking down into the chasm, what appears to be a geyser suddenly shoots out from the rock, shooting sea spray about 50 feet into the sky. This is accompanied by a thunderous explosion, like the sound of thunder. This is called a ‘blow hole’, and it’s the result of the pressurized water of enormous waves shooting into the chasm.

I spend the next 20 minutes watching the blow hole perform, and each shot is pure delight. Between shots, I gaze across the landscape of wave and ocean, mindful that these waves have been crashing upon this share for generations, through the rise and fall of nations, wars, reformations, counter-reformations, and the rise and falls of political systems, economic systems, and world views. There’s something about standing in the face of that which points to power, eternality, and steadfastness that invites me into the Father’s arms. It’s good to be here, by the sea, with the Lord.

I ponder the working of sea on rock, ponder the metamorphosis of stone that comes because of water’s relentless caresses. This is how our Father transforms us as well. As we allow ourselves to be touched by His caress, we become, inevitably, shaped into His likeness. It happens through our renewal. It happens progressively. It happens so slowly. But like waves against the rock, it happens. Can we rest in this? Can we find peace in this? I hope so.

Learning how to pursue our God, how to allow that caress, how to embrace our long journey of transformation, requires discipline on our part, placing ourselves in the path of transformation so Christ can be seen. This is why silence, solitude, prayer, and Bible reading, and so vital in our lives. They are the waves that caress our soul, transform our mind, and shape our hearts. Little by little, as we show up, we place ourselves on the path of transformation. These are the ancient paths that lead to life. We keep showing up. The waves of His life, love, and mercy, keep transforming us.

We are rocks: Stubborn; resistant’ rooted. I pray that in these exciting days we’ll learn to place ourselves in the waves of His life.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sermon Discussion: Maker of Heaven and Earth

Study Notes and Questions for 08 October 4
Title: Creation - Stage Prop or Vital Player

Text: Genesis 1/ Psalm 89:1-11

This phrase was one of the last ones added to the Apostle's Creed and some believe that it was added in order to combat the encroachment of gnosticism into the church. Gnostic teaching, though offered in many forms and complexities, had the net effect of negating both the goodness and value of the physical world. The world was divided into two parts: physical and spiritual, or visible and invisible. Value, for the gnostic, always resided in the spiritual and the invisible. No wonder the dark ages happened!

These texts restore our understanding, both of the goodness of the created world, and of our calling in it.

1. Churches often fall out of balance with respect to their relationship with the physical and spiritual realms. It's easy to emphasize one at the expense of the other. What is most tempting for you to emphasize, body or spirit? Why?

2. Share a time when you encountered God's revelation through creation (music, art, nature)?

3. The global church is divided about the subject of 'the image of God' in fallen people. Some think that our image bearing capacity was completely lost through the fall in Genesis 3, basing their conviction on passages such as Psalm 51:5, and Romans 3:11-13. Others believe that image of God was marred through the fall but not lost completely based on passages like Psalm 8 and Genesis 9:6. What do you think? Why? What implications does this have on your life?

4. Holding the tension of living a glorious, yet fallen world can be difficult. Some of us live in denial of the fall by turning up the music, and medicating the pain, while others wallow in the fall, becoming dark and cynical. Talk about this tension in your life, and how you deal with it.

5. Our calling as 'joint heirs' with Christ (see last week, or listen to the podcast) means that we have responsibilities as stewards of the earth. What should be our goal as stewards? How do stewardship issues compare in importance with evangelism?