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...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Marriage... away it goes...

new post about the future of marriage on the new blog:

see you there

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Bible as an Idol?

There's a new post, over on my new blog, about the danger of the Bible becoming our idol. It has to do with how both liberals and conservatives often seem to reshape the Bible to fit their ideologies, rather than allowing the Bible to reshape them. Read more on the new blog here.

I'll be moving the blog permanently soon, so mark your RSS feed, or bookmark, or newsfeed, to new address. Thanks

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sojourners and Shalom in Ingrid Michaelson's Music

I'm slowly moving my blog over to a different site, so forgive my archaic technological limitations as I simply point you to my most recent post, which is available in full at

I'll be double posting for a while, as I learn wordpress, taking your feedback, and then making the full switch at the end of this month. Please post your comments on the new site rather than this one. Thanks much...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Obama and Isaiah... why He won the prize

"God has placed eternity in the hearts of men..." is one of those mysterious verses in the Bible that is best explained through illustration, by pointing at something and saying, "that's what it means". Now that Obama's been awarded a the Nobel Peace Prize before actually doing much of anything substantive to contribute to world peace, I think we have an example of Ecclesiastes 3:11.

Don't go all "Rush" on me, and scream about liberal conspiracies. Your tirade will cause you to miss something valuable.

Don't preach, either, about how Obama deserves this award, and how his presence at the table as someone who tries negotiating before bombs is enough of a cause for him to triumph over these candidates. He doesn't, and it isn't.

If we step back though, and take a deep breath, we might realize that Obama was granted this award, not for anything he's done, but for what his style represents. Rightly or wrongly, the committee was impressed with the removal of the defense shield, and his willingness to engage in dialogue with enemies with whom the previous administration refused to converse. Did you get that? They were impressed that he was reducing weapons and talking with his enemies.

Why be impressed with that? I'd suggest that the committee was impressed with that because our hearts long for the kind of world that will exist when Christ reigns. He will say, "come let us reason together", and when justice rules perfectly, He's promised that we'll melt our weapons down and turn them into tools of agriculture. Hmmm... Christ's reign looks like what again? Reason and dialogue, and a reduction of weapons. No wonder people like Obama. I'm not defending O's political strategy, nor challenging it. I am saying that people like reducing weapons and talking for a reason, and the reason is because God put it in their hearts to like it - we're made for peace and dialogue.

Oh, and there's a giant warning here too. Humanity's greatest failures have come whenever people have promised the fruits of the kingdom without the reign of the True King. History has shown that there's only One who will be able to bring this about. Like or don't like O's strategy. But don't confuse it for the kingdom - to do so would be disastrous.

PS -- I'm gonna' be moving my blog.. so I'll double post here for a week or two, but the new address is THIS ONE. Check it out, bookmark it, and give me feedback. Thanks much

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Christianized" - A word in search of a definition

My studies of Acts 18 and 19, along with a conversation this past Sunday evening, have reminded me of the great tragedy often happens in the church because of our failure to proclaim the "full gospel".  No, I don't mean speaking in tongues; I mean the earth shattering power and priority of Jesus power to reconcile us, not only with God but with each other.  Miss the human reconciliation and the gospel is hardly the gospel at all.   Here's what I'm talking about...

Rwanda's been in my world a fair bit this past year.  This past week, and old friend was in town who has travelled to Rwanda and been the Genocide Memorials.  When I spoke near Boston last winter, I had the privilege of meeting some Rwandan Christians and hearing, first hand, about the genocide that occurred in the mid-nineties.  You can read about those thoughts here, or skip straight to this article that explains some of the situation.  But if you're in a hurry, just consider this quote from the article:  

Of course, the mystery question is this:  Why would the most intense genocide in recorded African history occur in the most "Christianized" nation in Africa?   The answer to the question seems to hinge on the meaning of this verb, "Christianized".  When I was in seminary, back in the 80's, there was a big debate about what it meant to be Christianized.  

At the time, the prevailing definition indicated that someone was "Christianized" if they'd received Christ as their personal savior.  "No", the missions professionals were telling us back then, "that's not enough.  They need to not only know Christ as their savior, they need to share Christ, and be following in the footsteps of Jesus guiding other people to become followers of Christ.  Until that happens, people are "Christianized."  

No, I don't like the word Christianized either  (it sounds like people have had some sort of chemical treatment or medical procedure, like sanitized, or sterilized), but don't miss the point because you don't like the word.  The missions pros said that replication of one's faith was the determinant of faith's reality.  

By that definition Rwanda was a smashing success story - until all the Christians started slaughtering each other.  The genocide memorial in Rwanda includes this church building.  If you want the straight truth, pictorially, you can find that here.  The fact is, families fled into the church thinking that there they'd find safety, but the reality of tribal hatred and loyalties ran deeper than the blood of Christ.  

And therein lies the problem.  When the gospel we preach declares our hope for reconciliation with God, but ignores the explosive truth that God invites, even requires, our testimony of reconciliation with one another, we emasculate the message, stripping it of it's life changing power in the here and now.  It was, many believe, this truncated 1/2 gospel, that explains the "Christian genocide", an oxymoron if ever there was one.  

Let me make this clearer.  It's not enough to get people to accept Christ as their personal savior.  It's not enough to teach them how to get others to accept Christ as their personal savior.  Ultimately, the gospel as about far more - it's about granting us, by virtue of our own transformation, the power to live differently, as instruments of reconciliation rather antagonism; peace rather than war.  This was, and IS, the offense of the gospel, because it demands of us a laying down of human loyalties, and an appropriation of Christ's love, enabling us to love those who we wouldn't otherwise.  Thus are the walls broken down between black and white, slave and free, rich and poor, Tutsi and Hutu - or that's as it should be.  

But when all I have is a 'personal savior', I can keep my nationalism, my lust for power, my resentments, as long as I've prayed the prayer to accept Jesus.  We'd never say it that way, but look at our own history of slavery and racism, look at Germany, look at Rwanda.  What we say doesn't matter.  It's how we live.  

Did you know that if you go to Rwanda today and ask a person which tribe they belong to, Rwandans are forbidden, by law, to answer the question?  "I'm Rwandan" is the answer you'll get.  Yes, what Jesus said is true, "the world puts us to shame sometimes".  (That's my paraphrase of what he said here)

O Lord of Reconciliation... 

Forgive us for reducing the gospel to nothing more than appropriation of your death, while failing to allow the realities of your resurrection life affect our politics, relationships, sexuality, buying habits, and so much more.  Shepherd us, that we might increasingly represent, in all these areas, the fulness of what you came to bring.  And may our understanding of the scope of your salvation continue to grow until the end of our days.  


Monday, October 05, 2009

Generosity Requires Resources -

It's a general principle, right?  You can't give what you don't have.  A second, and equally important principle, is that real life is found in giving what we've received, as Jesus reminds us here.  I speak of the necessity of both receiving and giving in my o2 book, showing how God invites us to freely receive from the wellsprings of His life, AND to freely give out what we've received by blessing our world in tangible ways.   Learning to do this is like learning anything:  it takes practice.  o2 can help you develop the kinds of habits that will make your inhaling of Christ and your exhaling of blessing more real and consistent.  

I'd like to depart, for the purpose of this post however, from the spiritualized implications of this and note that the principle applies, not only to our life in Christ, but to the realities of this physical world.  An example of this was paraded before our eyes this past weekend, if we listened to the President's radio address, and the Republican response. 

In listening to Obama, I realized that the challenge before him is that he's trying to lead us into the kinds of social safety nets many Europeans have, but failing to mention that most Europeans are taxed at a higher rate than us (when personal income tax, VAT, and business taxes are all taken together).  To have these kinds of services, all of us would need to ante up, and that won't happen anytime soon.  So the deficit spirals out of control, which will lead, inevitably, to a tanking dollar.  Obama's plea this morning was that we needed his health care reform in order to save businesses, a legitimate concern, but he's calling for a reform that can't be paid for without either raising taxes and inflating the deficit.  

How do the Republicans respond?  Their senator from Michigan responded to Obama's radio address by calling for (hold your breath now, because this is really radical coming from Republicans):  TAX CUTS!   Yes, tax cuts will make everyone healthy, and solve the deficit. I'm growing weary of the pattern here - entrenched politicians shouting at each other across the aisle while unemployment goes up, the dollar goes down, and we continue to fail in our attempts to find solutions to real and entrenched problems.  

Could someone please stand up and say to both sides:  Generosity Requires Resources.  Both sides are trying to gain votes by being generous with money that doesn't exist.  It's dangerous and irresponsible, but the charade will continue until we begin to the price.  We'll pay the price soon enough, in one or more of these ways:  interest rates will rise, inflation will become an unquenchable fire, the dollar will decline.  Of course, in all this, the people who'll be hurt most are the poor.  

Both parties are entrenched in the paradigm of being generous with resources they don't have.  How should we, as followers of Christ respond?  

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Twitter... and breathing

Interested in twitter?  I'm here now.  I found myself enjoying keeping up with what other people are doing, and thought it would be fun to join the party... it really is just as simple as that.  

In other personal news, I'm working in earnest on my 2nd book right now, just as the O2 book is beginning a blog tour.  You can learn about that over here.  

Finally... had a great conversation last night after the service about the nature of the gospel, which led to discussion about the primary purpose of God's redemptive purposes.  It was all very rich, and I'd love to blog about now, but on Sunday night's my brain's a little mushy.  I'm off to compline, but wanted to simply post quickly and let you know about the twitter thing...  

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Fork on the Road...yesterday's post with real links

Are you wrestling with deciding on a major?  Are you at a vocational crossroads?  Have you been downsized?  Has a relationship turned sour?  Are you goals eluding you?  If you answered yes to any of these questions read on... I have a story for you:   

My son took a trip to Austria several years ago.  He was going to meet up with me because I was over there teaching in a wonderful Bible School.  This was the travel plan:  Plane/Train.  He was 19 and it was his first time out of the country.  Instead, here's what actually happened:  plane delay (24 hours), plane, train (but a 100 year storm that dropped trees on the tracks in Europe), back up the train to try another track; same problem on the second track; be told (in German, which you don't speak) to get off the train and wait for a bus instead; get on the bus; be told (in German) that buses don't cross boarders from one country to another so this is the end of the line; watch as everyone gets off the bus; get off the bus; call your dad (it's 11:45PM) and say, "I'm in a town in Germany, the name of which I can't pronounce.  What do I do?; wait while your dad calls a friend who lives in Salzburg.  When your dad spells the name of the town she says, "O, that's only 15 minutes from here, across the boarder in Germany - I'll be right there"; get picked up in a car by an Austrian woman; spend the night with her and her husband; catch train to destination, arriving 72 hours later than planned... 

"Later than planned".... "Other than planned" - These are the realities, not only of travel, but of life with Christ.  Read Acts 16 and you get this eery sense that Paul has no idea what he's doing or where he's going.  Look at verse 6: "forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia", and then verse 7: "the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them".   Paul had plans, strategies, goals.  But Proverbs 16:9 exposes God's little secret, because that's where He says (in my paraphrase)  "Go ahead and make your plans.  That's an important part of living.  But I have the trump card.  Love, God"   

As I read through this story, which reveals the interplay of Paul's plans and God's sovereign overruling, several truths jump out at me:  

1. God uses our desires.  As you read Acts 16, you discover the simple truth that, when Paul met Timothy, Paul wanted to Timothy to join him on the mission, so he invited him along.  Again note the simplicity of the statement:  Paul wanted this man to go with him.  We're suspicious of desire sometimes, secretly believing that if we enjoy something, there's no possibility that it will be God's will.  That's rubbish.  Of course, it's true that God has the freedom to call us into contexts that we'd never choose, and all of us will find the path of the cross in our lives.  But along the way, there are "good and perfect gifts".  I LOVE Seattle, because of the mountains, music, coffee, and rain.  That God has called me here gives me great joy, and this joy is important, because this same calling is filled with monumental challenges as well.  Don't despise desire.  Instead, express it to the Lord.  

2. God says no because there's something better.  Though we have both plans and desires, the reality is that God says no.  He said no to Paul preaching in Asia.  He said no to Bithynia.  He said YES to Macedonia.  Within this "NO" principle, I find something beautiful:  God doesn't punish Paul for trying to go to Asia or Bithynia, as if Paul should have been isolated in a cave somewhere, fasting and praying in order to find God's will.  In fact, the reality of the Christian life is that we find God's will, not by surfing the web or watching "The Office" but by getting off our butts and doing "whatever our hands find to do".  

 My own journey towards finding God's will was a little bit like my son's trip to Europe.  I was going to be an architect and so attended Cal Poly.  God spoke and I changed my major to music and attended Seattle Pacific University, thinking I was going to be a musician.  Then I taught a Bible study, loved it, and headed to seminary to become a teacher of the Bible.  Along the way, I accepted an interim pastor position on an island in Washington state, which turned into a six-year gig, where God shaped my heart to be a pastor, which I now am in Seattle.  

 Looking back, I could never have fabricated this script.  There have been desires granted, desires denied.  There have been doors opened, doors closed.  It's unfolded though, as the great adventure that the Christian life is supposed to be.  So if your plans aren't unfolding perfectly, can I encourage you in Jesus name:  You're in good company.  Abraham; Joseph; Moses; David; Jeremiah; Isaiah; Mary; Peter... need I continue?  You're in the company of great adventurers who learned to hold desire and plans with an open hand, allowing God to shape it all uniquely into the calling He had for each one.  May such be your story as well as you follow Him. 

 Note:  a podcast of this develops these themes more fully if you scroll down and hit play on the podcast available here.