Monday, June 27, 2011

Cooks must Cook

This past weekend, at Highlands, we just started our new weekend message series called "Table for 2". In this series we are looking at the social gatherings, dinners, wedding feasts, and food metaphors that Jesus invokes and participates in throughout his ministry. Jesus came to teach, to preach, to heal, to do miracles, to die, to come back to life again, to SAVE us - and to eat.

What's fascinating about my research as I have been preparing for this series, is to notice that whenever Jesus wants to highlight abundance, joy, intimacy and life, He tends to participate in or tell a story about a large meal, a dinner party, or a successful vine or tree bearing fruit (ie: the parable of the wedding banquet, the wedding in Cana, Matthew's dinner party, Zacheaus' dinner party, "a good tree bears good fruit"). Contrarily, whenever Jesus wants to focus on death, legalism, scarcity or despondency, he tends to invoke the image or, or experience the under-abundance of food (ie: the pharisees focussing on Jesus' fasting, a withering fig tree, the devil tempting Jesus to turn a stone into only one loaf of bread..). What we have tried to be clear about, at the outset in this series, is that the main theme isn't food or drink, it's God's "brimming-over" dynamic of life and love.

In preparation for this new series, I just watched an HBO documentary on the two star Michelin chef named Paul Lieberandt (See Lieberandt's picture above). I totally recommend the documentary. Paul's story is an incredible one. He began as a cooking protege in London, studying under the best chefs in the world. Then, Paul moved to New York and started a gourmet restaurant in a middle range hamburger-type restaurant. The middle range restaurant appreciated Paul's expertise, but didn't feel it was a perfect match. Paul then moves to another restaurant, "Gilt" (maybe the name needed work...) that strove to spend lots of money and exude flash in attracting patrons -That restaurant also failed. Finally, Paul makes his mark on the food world with an experimental restaurant called "Croton" in Tribecca. The famous New York Times food critic, Butin, finally gave Paul a mark of three stars. The key to the last restaurant is Paul's hand in glove-like relationship with the owner - and commitment to excellence, creativity and success (ie, the chef and the owner both had the same goals...)

The main theme of Lieberant's career and success revolves around one single theme: "Cooks must Cook." In Lieberandt's own words, "You wouldn't believe the number of chefs who never cook. They are never even in a restaurant. They are never around food. They just come into the restaurant once a day, look around, and then go home. If you are going to cook, you must cook. Simple as that!"

I have been thinking that this same maxim "Cooks must cook" as it applies to ministry. If you are a pastor, you must pastor. If you are a preacher, you must preach. If you are a minister, you must minister. If you are a leader, you must lead - hands on. From my own standpoint I will say that Lieberandt isn't the only one who notices that "cooks don't cook". I have known many, many pastors through the years who get to a certain point in their career, and they stop pastoring, they stop preaching, they stop studying, they stop ministering, they just stop..."Cooks must cook - pastors must pastor".

And, of course, Jesus - God, would have agreed with Paul Lieberandt. If you are going to God, then God. If you are going to Save then Save. If you are going to Minister, then Minister. Jesus, fully-God, fully-human, came into the world, to not just play at being God, to not just lord over people but to be the Lord of people. He came to actually be God. To intervene, to interact, to inter-relate with attend dinner parties, where he rubbed shoulders with young men like Paul Lieberandt, who then became fully devoted followers, with or without their Michelin stars ...

All for Now,

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Walking on Devils

The other day a man came up to me on a Sunday morning, meeting me at the back door after worship serivce - and he looked down. I initially thought he was upset, so, I put my arm around him and I asked, "what's wrong, my friend?" "Nothing," he said, "I am just looking at your shoes. They're nice." Over the years I have gotten used to the fact that my wardrobe as a pastor, especially on Sunday mornings is an appropriate subject for public discourse. So, I responded by saying, "they are new...I think they are called Mephistos." A look of horror and shock came over his entire aspect. "They're called Mehpistos?" he gasped - his face looking like the the man who peered straight into the ark of the covenant in the first Indiana Jones movie. I couldn't have made my poor friend more upset if I had threatened to sell his children into slavery. "Don't you know what 'Mephistos' means? It means Devils. You are wearing shoes called 'Devil Shoes.' How can you call yourself a good pastor?" With that he walked away in disgust and incredulity.

Now, the truth be told, I didn't know what the brand of shoe that I had recently purchased meant. I had simply purchased a pair of shoes that fit nicely and that worked for me. But the more I thought about my shoes, the more I worried about them. Maybe I shouldn't have a pair of shoes called Mephistos. Maybe my ministry would be less effective, and my power as a preacher-teacher would be diminished, with this pair of shoes in my wardrobe. Maybe the end of my ministry was eminent. I wondered if Nordstroms, where I had bought the shoes still had an adequate return policy. (Did I mention that I am occasionally superstitious? - must come from my Scottish mother...). But then, I came up with a brain wave.

* # 1 - I don't think it really matters. They're just shoes.
* #2 - If it did matter, my God would be bigger than the name on my shoes.
* #3 - most important, I enjoyed the the thought that every Sunday, while I was proclaiming the Word, while I was giving my weekly message of the Good News, while I was striving to channel the will and the thoughts of the Holy Spirit, while I was preaching, while I was wearing these shoes, I would actually be WALKING ON DEVILS. Graham Baird - "Devil Treader", what a nick name!!

The Bible says, "You have been made a little lower than God, and crowned with glory and honor. You have been given dominion over the work of your hands; GOD HAS PUT ALL THINGS UNDER YOUR FEET." (Psalm 8:5-6).

One of the things I continually forget as a pastor, as a Christ follower, is that my authority (and yours) is the same authority that Jesus gave to the disciples of his day and age; "Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons." (Matt. 10:7) What Jesus was saying to his disciples, and to us, is that there is literally nothing to be afraid of; not in heaven or hell. More than that - not only are we not to be afraid, but we are to tread on the things that work opposite to God's ultimate plans. In this verse, Jesus is recognizing the existence of opposite powers, opposite influences, opposing leanings, contrary opinions, counter productive thoughts from God's plans. He is recognizing the existence of Mephistos. And he is, at the same time, empowering the disciples to walk over them, to deem them for the lesser things that they really are, and proclaim, through the power of the Spirit something bigger, something stronger, something more hopeful, something more loving and something more powerful.

Walking on Devils pun intended...part of the Christian WALK

So, for now, I will keep my Mephistos and, at Highlands Church every Sunday, I will walk on Devils, and even more loudly - offer Good News of Jesus Christ, which puts all things under my feet!

All for Now,

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Nimble Orthodoxy

One of my favorite movies of all time is, "Chariots of Fire." Yes, I know, I am becoming hopelessly old (on May 28th, I celebrated my 39th birthday) but there you have it. I remember seeing Chariots of Fire in the movie theaters, in Boise, Idaho, for the first time when I was about 12 years old (1980ish), and marveling at the music, the scenery, the 1920's British Empirial and the Scottish Presbyterian minister who was a runner - Eric Liddel. One of my favorite scenes was when Sam Masubini (an Arab-Italian running coach) who was coaching Harold Abrams (a Jewish-collegiate runner) and giving him instructions on how to run. Sam said to Harold, "If you want to win races, you have to be nimble. Your feet have to feel like they are hopping on hot coals. You have to be quick. Hop, Hop Hop, Hop," said Sam as he made Harold's feet quickly bounce off of the ground like a tennis ball on an atari video game system (I told you I was old!).

In 2003, I saw Brian Mclaren speak at a national conference on Campus Ministries. Brian had just written a book called, "Generous Orthodoxy." At the time I really, really respected what Brian had written in the pages of his book. A pastor of Anglican-Episcopalian leanings, Brian believed that orthodoxy - the core beliefs of our faith - must have a sense of grace about it. That orthodoxy must be willing to be flexible at times, around the edges of non-core issues. Orthodoxy is only powerful when it is relevant. Orthodoxy must be generous! (hence the title). When I went up to the front of the room to speak with Brian about how generous he was willing his orthodoxy to be, I was surprised to find myself to be the only one at the podium. Nobody wanted to speak with Brian - apparently his listeners weren't very generous in their approval.

Ten years into my calling as an ordained Presbyterian minister (only different from Eric Liddel in that I don't run very well - but when I run, "I do feel the Lord's pleasure") I have come to feel that generous orthodoxy isn't the answer. Generous orthodoxy is simply too generous. Orthodoxy's power doesn't lie in it's ubiquity (the ability to be everywhere at once) or it's camelionism (the ability to change shapes in different venues). But, what's needed next is stout orthodoxy, but something more....Nimble Orthodoxy.

Nimble Orthodoxy says:

- The 21st century world and it's core issues are fluid, our core beliefs have to be responsive.
-Irrelevance is the problem, and so, orthodoxy must stay orthodox and regularly strive to be relevant. It must be nimble in it's responsiveness.
- Technology, and it's advances (twitter, the blogosphere, facebook, i-cloud...), require us to apply our orthodoxy in innovative ways.
- If we are to win the race, our core beliefs must be able to hop across the ground of life, with an agility, and nimbleness that may in fact be counter-intuitive to the core of orthodoxy itself.

Most of all, "When we run, we must feel the Lord's pleasure,"

All for Now,

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Power of "One"

People just do better with - "One". If a person is mixed up, or confused, or not sure of the next steps, usually the reason is because of a confusion about one. Most of the time when people ask me for advice about a situation, they are unsure of one. They are struggling with multiple decisions rather than the peace that comes from one, multiple options rather than the wisdom that eminates from one, multiple opinions, multiple choices. We humans weren't made for multiple decisions (et al). We were really made for One.

The other day I was counseling a man who had just undergone the long process of a painful divorce. He was now considering whether or not to enter into another marriage. My friend was comparing the two situations, the two women, as if they were, in some strange way - equal. "The truth be told," he said, "I was pretty happy with my last wife. I could have been happy being with her long term. The idea of entering into a whole new marriage, a whole new set of experiences, a whole new thing is sort of daunting to me." "Do you mean," I asked "You would have been happy being married to just one person?" "Yes," he said, "I can't wrap my mind around another one. I don't have it in me."

In the year 1304 BC (give or take a millenium or so), the Deuteronomist wrote these words, potentially transcribed through the prophet Moses, to God's people: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Among the early religions of the world, this new faith system was unique. It espoused the radical idea that there is only One true God. That there are no other God's before that God. That people do best when they only worship one God

In 312 AD, Constantine won control of the Roman Empire in the battle of Milvian Bridge. After winning that battle, Constantine recognized the need for some sort of unison, some unifying element in the new faith - the faith that he hoped, beyond hope, would also unify his empire. The confession that followed a very prolonged debate and dialogue about the future of the faith expressed the deep desire that the entire empire, and the whole faith of the time, to unify around One. The words that followed were epochal. They were singular. They centered around One.:

We believe in One God...
We believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ,
of One being with the father...
We believe in One holy catholic and apostolic Church
We acknowledge One baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

My advice? Rid yourself of many, just go for one.

All For Now,