I'm in Sacramento with my parents, taking a few days of RandR with my family after the Christmas Eve marathon in Colorado Springs on Dec. 23 and 24. As you can see, I am writing this blog post on my I pad. I did want to take a moment and respond to the many people who have emailed me after my Christmas Eve message, with very positive responses to my message, and wanting further resources about the main focus of the sermon, that; "Christ is In Us.". The message can be found on this website under the sermon section if you didn't catch it. The primary basis for the sermon boils down to four main Biblical ground points;
Matthew tells us that God did not simply enter this world through some extra-terrestrial visit to our planet through a cloud hovering above our earth. God came into us. God entered, through the Holy Spirit, a 14 year old girl named Mary, and conceived in her a child. That child was and is God - Jesus, our Savior. God then entered the dreams of Mary's betrothed, Joseph, and told him in the deepest resources of his soul (a dream) that all was well, and to not be afraid. Finally, Matthew tells us that God was now Emaunel - God With Us.
It turns out that all Hebrew prepositions are fairly broad in their exact meaning. For example, the Hebrew preposition "beit" can be translated "in, on, with, over, under, next to.". Matthew does not really have a preposition connecting the two words from Isaiah, "Emanuel.". It's just People or "us" and God. Matthew defines Emanuel as "God with us.". It might be possible to define that withness, if you will, as a very very close with, as in, very nearly "in".
Other Biblical References;
In the book of Colossians, Paul talks about his ministry to "pagans" there. He says that, "It was Gods
purpose to reveal it to them and to show all the rich glory of this mystery to the pagans. The mystery is Christ In You, your hope and glory: that is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which
thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect In Christ." (Col. 1:27). In this passage Paul seems to point to perfection in Christ as a goal to be attained. And yet, at the same time there is a mystery inherent in this "In Christness," an in-dwelling, an inside presence.
Paul's reference to Christ in us, in this passage is actually somewhat unique. Most often Paul discusses the opposite dynamic, "us in Christ.". In Rom 6:11, 23, 8:1, 39, 9:1, 12:5, etc, etc, Paul mentions "Faith in Christ."
One of the great wonderful mysteries of our faith is Jesus' invitation to all believers to participate in
the sacrament of communion. Jesus invites the disciples and us to take this bread and this cup, to
"drink ye all of it," (take Christ into you), as a sign and symbol of God's eminent return in the world
and in our lives. This startling invitation, on the face of it, is an invitation to have Christ within us.
Of course, this huge theological leap in God's inherent relationship with humanity,beginning Some 2,000 years ago raises startling implications for our faith, not to mention questions;
1. First and foremost, is Christ in all people? Surely not. However, which people is Christ in and
Christ not in is not simply a question of our own choice to invite Christ into our lives, but Christ's choice to live in us. Our job as Christ followers is to share our experience of Christ in Us with all the world.
2. Because we have the potential of having Christ in us, does that somehow mean that we are God? Absolutely not. That would be heresy. However, it is God's work of perfection in us to make us as much like Christ as possible.
As I have reflected on the reality of Christ in me, I am not sure it is entirely comforting. How is it that God loves me so much as to not simply be with me, but to be in me? I am not worthy of it, nor do I reflect Christ
Monday, December 23, 2013
As I was listening to the Christmas Sunday messages yesterday, preached by John Stevens, my pre-predecessor, and Nate Stratman, our Director of Family Ministries, I was struck for the first time by the intertwined and convoluted messages of "Compassion and Control" found right within the Christmas story. You see Compassion and Control throughout the scriptures, but it was surprising to me to see it at the center of the Christmas story. Here's what caught my eye:
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. as soon as you find him, report to me, sot that I too may go and worship him."(Matthew 2:7-8).
Of course, Herod's form of worship would take the form of infanticide in the next chapters of the story. Herod hated the little baby. Herod hated what change the little baby would bring. What is fascinating to me is the way that Herod weaves language of compassion together with his deep seated hatred of the Christ child.
You see this at the end of Jesus' ministry as well. When Pilate questions Jesus before his death, here is almost a moment of compassionate connection between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate asks Jesus; "Where do you come from?" Jesus gives Pilate no answer. Then comes the language of control, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Don't you realize I have power either to free you or crucify you?" (John 19:9-10)
What is similar in both Herod's and Pilate's interactions? There is a veiled language of compassion wrapped in the desire for control. But perhaps it is more complex than that. Perhaps what is happening is that both Herod and Pilate are frustrated at not being able to bend Jesus to their own purposes. Perhaps both Herod and Pilate are ultimately worried about losing power and authority, as one who is stronger is in their midst.
There are several examples of this double combination of compassion and control in popular cinema. In "Lord of the Rings", Frodo has an encounter with his old mentor and friend, Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo asks Frodo for the enchanted ring. Frodo says, "No, I don't think I will give it to you. I shouldn't." Bilbo says, "Let me just look at it." All of a sudden Bilbo turns into a monster like character, and says, "Give it to me!!!!". What is observed here is once again, compassion laced with control.
In Hitchcock's famous movie, "Whatever happened to Baby Jane," (1962) with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, you see Bette Davis shroud the desire to control her sister Joan Crawford, in language of love and compassion. Bette pretends to love her sister, while at the same time holding her captive.
Sometimes without meaning to, we all have a tendency to say things that sound compassionate but are really a little controlling. Here are some quick examples that come to mind:
* Parents to children: ("I am only doing this for your own good...") and then punishment.
* Loved ones to one another: ("If you really loved me you would...")
* Friends to one another: Do something wrong then say, ("All I ever wanted to do is be your friend,")
The take away that I am learning from this human tendency is to simply make sure the words that we use really represent what we are feeling. What if Pilate had said to Jesus what he was really feeling, "I don't know who you are Jesus, I don't want to kill you, but these people are calling for your head, please don't force me to do this." Herod could have been more honest, "I am trying to run this city and state but nobody gives me any help or assistance, and now this child comes along, and he threatens my power, and I'm mad about it." The more we separate what we are really feeling from what we are saying, in authentic ways, the healthier we will be, and so will the lives of those around us.
Jesus said it better. Let's let our yes be yes and our no be no. Let's let our compassionate statements be truly compassionate, and at least admit our controlling ones when they arise. At least that's what I will be working on...
All For Now,
Monday, December 16, 2013
I hope you will allow me to stray a bit from the strict confines of religion and matters of God, to reflect for a moment on the passing of two film legends, this past week; Peter O' Toole and Joan Fontaine. Peter O' Toole died on Saturday night in London, England from ongoing complications with his health. He was 81. Joan Fontaine died at her home in Carmel, California. She was 96.
Why write a blog post about the passing of these two acting legends? Well, it just seems like a momentous occasion. And it also seems sad. It seems like the passing of an epoch in world history. That I (as a 41 year old American male pastor), know so much about the work of both actors, tells me that their gifts and their craft suspended and transcended the generations. Also, their style of acting, their entire persona of acting - they were truly movie stars - seems to have passed along with them. Sometimes accused of being overly "dramatic" in their acting style (sometimes even syrupy), seen through the lens of history, they both had a style all their own, which isn't at all contrived when understood in it's proper context. They were stage actors who became film actors. Film was just being invented when they were born.
I have seen the movie, "Lawrence of Arabia" more times than I can count. Literally, I have seen the movie hundreds of times. Simply put - I LOVE it! Last week when I was teaching my Bible study, I made a reference to the beginning scene of that movie, where Lawrence (TE Lawrence) is riding a motorcycle through the backroads of England. And then the movie pans backwards many years to the barren sand swept oases of the Middle East. The movie runs it's course, and the whole picture ends with Lawrence back on a motor cycle, and then he crashes. A life lived - a life over. That, I said in my study, is what it is like to read the story of the crucifixion, as we are doing (gospel of John), in the middle of Christmas season. The entire study understood instantly what I was saying. Lawrence of Arabia is truly epic!
My favorite movie of Joan Fontaine's was, "Rebecca," an Alfred Hitchcock movie set in an old house/hotel, where there is a brooding house keeper. Fontaine plays the role of a brand new bride who marries a man that she doesn't really know, and who's wealthy lifestyle she is completely foreign to.
The two actors actually bore more in common than you would think. Peter was born, as the papers have reminded us, to a bookmaker (bookie) from either Connemara, Ireland, or Leeds, Yorkshire. His parents were both working class. Joan (born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland) was born to British parents in Tokyo, Japan, where her father, Walter, was a patent lawyer. Both had hard scrabble British roots. Joan later moved to Saratoga, California (where my grandpa was a pastor). Peter became a modern day real life "Austin Powers," living wherever his fancy free and carefree life would take him.
I really am trying to glean something deeper, something theological from the living and the passing of these two actors. But it's not easy. Here's a try...
God is a creative God. He loves beautiful things. He made life to be fully enjoyed, and to be fully experienced. These two people were deeply creative. They were beautiful. They both enjoyed their lives as much as any two people could. Later in their lives, they became reflective of their younger (more gossamer like) selves. Peter, in an interview just before his death said, "When I look back at pictures of myself as a young man, I say, 'I'm glad I knew that young man once.' He was a little crazy, but he wasn't all bad. And he cared deeply for acting. He always wanted to be a serious actor.'"
Perhaps that is what the world will miss more than anything. These two people, they were just people after all, were serious actors. They took their God given talents, and worked as hard at them as any two people could. Perhaps they never got to know the God who actually gave them those talents. Perhaps they did. Who are we to know. But, I am glad and grateful that I got to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
All For Now,
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
It was a Saturday night. The claret had been flowing all night long. Dyson and Tolkein were talking with Lewis about faith. At one point, the conversation turned to story telling and story writing (myth). All three men loved writing myths and stories ("The Hobbit", "The Lord of the Rings"... are only a few examples). Tolkein then said to Lewis; "You know Jack, God is the great myth maker (story teller). When we write stories, we tap into God's essential being, in some mysterious way." Just then a breeze blew through the trees on Addison's Walk, at Magdalene College, and the rest, as they say, is history. The wheels began turning in Lewis' heart and soul about how God had made him, C.S. Lewis, a unique and special being, to write stories about God, that were, in essence, truer than factual accounts of God. Four days later, Lewis accepted Christ as his personal savior. Again, the primary argument of the paper is, vocation (what we do for God) actually precedes belief (what we think of God).
Vocation was a precursor to many of the apostle's faiths as well. When Jesus saw Peter and Andrew, James and John out fishing, the compelling factor in following Jesus was not an intellectual argument that "Jesus is God." No, the disciples were not really ready for that. What they most needed was something to do. Jesus called them to "follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
In my own faith and call journey, I did not become a pastor because of some deep theological argument. Actually, at the time that I decided to go into the ministry, in many ways, my faith was not all that deep. But then, I was offered a job at Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah. I taught New Testament to sophomores, Old Testament to juniors, World Religions to seniors and Ethics to freshmen (Ethics to freshmen in high school has always been a contradiction in terms for me...). Nevertheless, I loved it. I couldn't wait to do more teaching. I went to seminary because I found out what God wanted me to do (vocation), more than because of any deep heart change or lofty intellectual arrival.
The concept of understanding vocation (from the Latin word Vocatio - to call) before a person makes an actual decision to follow Christ has groundbreaking implications for the way we share faith with people. For years, the most effective way of sharing faith, and getting people to believe in Christ, has been to have huge rallies at football stadiums or public arenas. Great evangelists like Billy Graham and Joel Ostein share the gospel to thousands, as the talk moves closer and closer to a decision for God, the tone of the evening becomes more somber. Then, at a dramatic moment in the evening, the question is asked, "Do you accept Jesus as your savior?" The speaker then says, "This would be a good time to do that." Music is played. People come forward. Now, don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with this approach. I went to a Billy Graham Crusade in 1979 in Boise, Idaho, and I will never forget it. The point is that this type of decision at a rally approach doesn't work for everyone.
For very many people, it is the connection between what they do (vocation) and how God uniquely made them, combined with what God wants them to do going forward (a calling), that makes the biggest difference. As Lewis said, "God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. But I feel my decision was not so important. I was the object rather than the subject in this affair. I was decided upon. I was glad afterwards at the way it came out, but at the moment what I heard was God saying, ‘Put down your gun and we’ll talk.’”
Actually, what God might have said was, put down your gun...and let's write!
All For Now,
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
So, the word of the year, according to Oxford International Dictionary is (Can you restrain your excitement?)...."Selfie." What is a selfie, you are asking yourself? I didn't know either (which says more about my age, 41, and my lack of connectedness to all things hip or cool). A selfie is, "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken on a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website." For example, here is a selfie that I took of myself after 23 hours of flight time to India, about to land in Bagdore, India. It's hard to know what is actually worse, the picture, or my appearance after so many hours without sleep. According to Oxford International Dictionaries, a group who actually charts such things for a living, the use of the word selfie has increased by 17,000 percent over the past 12 months. The word now has a permanent place in the hallowed halls of verbiage and definitionalism in the Oxford International Dictionary. It's hard to know if Dr. Samuel Johnson, who wrote the first Oxford Dictionary in the early 1700's would have been dismayed at the new choice or simply mortified.
The reason I have chosen this new word for my blogpost this morning, however, is because the new addition to the Oxford Dictionary may, selfie, may in fact say more about modern day culture than it does about verbosity in general. Isn't it interesting that the newest word really is focussed on "Me." Not, me as in Graham Baird, but you, and you, and you and you. Selfie may actually be the most selfish word ever to enter the Oxford Dictionary. Not only is the word inclusive of the word self, but it is a word used to describe a picture of ones' self. The word of the year is not, notice this, "youie." Wouldn't that be wonderful? Wouldn't it be wonderful if the word of the year was focussed on another person..."you." But it's about - Me. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the word of the year was chosen because so many people took pictures of other people, that they had to come up with a word for it..."youie." But here's my main question. Is the word selfie really a good description of what the thing is, actually? I mean, it's just a picture of yourself, it's not really yourself. The word of the year should perhaps be, "picie," since, as Freud would surely agree, a selfie is not really your SELF in the picture, it's just an image of you., it's not your SELF.
What would Jesus think of our word of the year? Jesus said, "And here is my command, that you should love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends," (John 15:12). Jesus' thought for us is powerful. What he is saying is that loving another person (you) is actually a more powerful love than we can have for ourselves. If selfie indicates the focus of the love we have in our modern era, what Jesus may say is that, "loving yourself is actually less of a love than loving another person." Loving ourselves is incomplete. Loving ourselves actually leaves a hallow space in our hearts. We must allow God to love us, and if we want complete love, we should love one another. Loving ourselves is not as great as loving another person. So, Jesus may say that we live in a world which is ultimately incomplete in it's expression of love.
On the other hand, perhaps the reason that the word selfie is the word of the year is not because we love ourselves so much, but perhaps it is the opposite. Perhaps we don't love ourselves these days at all, and therefore, in our vanity, and insecurity, we send pictures of ourselves to others, hoping that they will love us, as much as we really want and need to be loved. Maybe the word of the year is akin to the word mirror. We see reflections of ourselves in the pictures that we take of ourselves, but we don't find love there either.
Or maybe, to quote Freud again; "sometimes a picture is just a picture. Sometimes a selfie is just a selfie."
All For Now,
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
I literally tried to take around 20 photographs of the mountain. I attempted a photo from every angle. From the airplane that landed in Bagdora I tried to take her picture. To no avail. The mountain looked like a tiny speck of a cloud. No breathlessness. I tried to capture the mountain from the balcony of the tiny rural, rough, hotel room where I was staying. No effect. I even drove up to the foot of Kanchenjunga and tried to take a picture as close away as a 49 miles from her base. Nothing. No power, no drama, no breathless feeling. Again, the picture looked like a bad postcard at a freeway gas station. Grant you, I was taking pictures of Kanchenjunga from my 5S I phone, but still, no powerful effect whatsoever.
What's the larger point I want to make here, for this week's blog post?
Some things are simply too big to capture!
It occurred to me that our God is also way too big to capture. God, and God's glory, and God's son Jesus Christ, are WAY too big to capture in any which way. Artists have tried for centuries to capture the magnitude and the multifacetedness of God in art. Michaelangelo attempted to paint God touching the hand of Adam in his famous Sistine Chapel rendering, "The Creation of Adam." Michalangelo's painting is great, but it does not capture God. Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of, "The Last Supper," is an incredible rendering of the peace of the moment before the crucifixion of Christ, but it does not capture the scope of God. Handel's "Messiah" is an entire symphony dedicated to the nature of God, but it does not capture all of God's facets.
And now I'm going to say something a little bit controversial. Even the Bible does not capture the entire magnitude or scope or size of God. The Bible is a 2,100 year epic depiction of God (Yahweh, Adonai, Messiah, Ruach, El-Shaddai, Son of God, Son of Man, Yeshua, Jesus), and yet it does not even begin to capture the entire scope and size of God. The writers of the Bible, inspired by God Himself (Jeremiah, Isaiah, John Zebedee, John Mark, Matthew, Peter, Paul, Moses) must have stood back after writing their books and letters and said to themselves, "Gosh, that doesn't capture the entire scope or size or magnitude or beauty or power of God at all."
Some things are simply too big to capture!
All for Now,
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Two weeks ago, our church celebrated our second annual Kirkin of the Tartan. For those of you who don't know, Kirkin of the Tartan was started by Peter Marshall in Washington, DC in the 1930's as a way of bringing a new worship concept to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. The church, as was illustrated in the book by Catherine Marshall, Peter's wife (A Man Called Peter - later made into a movie), was deeply entrenched in social networking structures of Washington, DC high society. Peter hoped that bringing the bagpipes into church, along with a strong dose of the Scottish Reformation, was a way of helping to change up the rigidity of the system, and to bring some much needed change to a church that hadn't changed in a long time. And so, on that first Kirkin of the Tartan (literally, "blessing of the families"), bagpipes were played in the sanctuary, kilts were worn, banners and flags were unfurled, and Scottish Reformed Theology (sovereignty of God, Grace, Salvation through faith in Christ alone) was preached from the front in a rich Scottish brogue. The sanctuary was packed. Change was beginning to happen in a place that nobody thought change was possible - New York Avenue Presbyterian Church!
I have organized 12 different Kirkin of the Tartan worship services in my ministry. And
literally every time I have organized such a service, the attendance and the overall church growth has nearly doubled on that given Sunday. Kirkin has served as a rich distinctive of Presbyterianism in a world and miasma of different religious traditions and the sometimes blandness of pure non-denominationalism.
* We organized a Kirkin in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a culture that was very collegiate, and academically astute and constant - steeped in Midwestern values. The sanctuary was filled.
* We organized a Kirkin in San Antonio, Texas, where a rugged individualism of cowboy-ness and a rich Hispanic cultural heritage flows through the streets like the river at the very heart of town. Kirkin in Texas very nearly helped to turn the tide of a struggling new church development.
* We organized a Kirkin service in Red Bluff, California, a semi-rural agricultural and ranching community in Northern California. People traveled from all of the neighboring cities to attend. Our weekly attendance on that Sunday literally went from 130 to 250.
* We organized a Kirkin service at the ultra edgy (at least for Presbyterians) new Church development that I founded in Paso Robles, California - Highlands Church. The bagpipe band came in the back of the room, and then the worship band joined in with, "You are the Everlasting God." Kirkin literally was the single most important catalyst early on for Highlands going from one weekend service to two.
* As I mentioned, this is the second annual Kirkin at First Pres. Colorado Springs. In the first year, Kirkin Sunday grew the church on that day from an average of 2,200 to 2,600. This year, not only did the attendance go up, but the entire congregation have been abuzz ever since about the excitement it brought to the community. One woman commented, "I never thought any worship service could be better than Christmas and Easter, but this year, Kirkin was."
Look, I can't explain it, but Kirkin is a catalyst for change in all kinds of congregations (ranching, rural, collegiate, society, urban, edgy contemporary). Is it that Kirkin helps a Presbyterian church to tap into it's core identity as a cultural heritage? Who knows. Is it that Celtic stuff is just popular right now? Maybe. Is it that Kirkin actually reaches back into something primally Spiritual in our souls? Might be. Is it that the latest trend in church development and growth is a kind of high/low, new/old, shabby/sheek? Possibly. All I know is that wherever I have served, Kirkin has been more than a "blessing of the families" - it has been a blessing to the entire church and community.
All For Now,
Monday, October 28, 2013
I often get asked what being a pastor of a large church is like. No other professional enterprise quite compares to being a pastor of a large church, but I sometimes say, "being a pastor of a large church is like being the General Manager of 'The Old Vic' in London." Then they ask me, "What's the Old Vic?" "The Old Vic," is one of Europe's most storied theaters. It was founded in 1818, and has had many of the biggest names in acting and theater and drama attached to it. Sir Lawrence Olivier often played (acted) at the Vic. Douglas Fairbanks also played there. But here's the interesting twist. Where most theater companies have a separate director and General Manager from the main lead actor, "The Old Vic" doesn't. At "The Old Vic," the same person that acts in many of the shows also directs the shows, manages the theater, produces the shows (develops the money for them), and does advertising to the public for the shows. Throw in general maintenance of the theater itself (custodial, refurbishment, expansion, safety measures), and you get an idea of how much the lead person does.
Most recently, Kevin Spacey, the actor, has been the General Manager of, "The Old Vic" (his official title was the 'new artistic director' but he basically runs the place). Kevin would act as a main actor in the lead role, Kevin would run the board of directors, Kevin would hire the other actors in the theater, Kevin would make sure the patrons were taken care of, Kevin would talk to big investors about financing shows, Kevin would keep the name and reputation up of, "The Old Vic." And theater isn't what it used to be. Back in the day, going to a show at a theater was the best form of entertainment on the weekends. Today, people are more likely to go out to a movie in a cinema, or better yet, stay at home and watch a video on Netflix. So, there is an evangelism component to being the GM of the Old Vic as well. Kevin spent most of his time actually convincing people that theater is/was a valuable medium, a worthwhile enterprise, a good use of time. Most recently, the great Shakespearean actor Kenneth Brannach has been approached about the position of "new artistic director"( General Manager) of "The Vic." If he takes the job, Kenneth will have an equally large responsibility and evangelical outreach component to his job.
Now...of course being the Head of Staff of a large church is very different than running a theater. In a theater there are no bedside calls from patrons who are dying, there are no ministry discipleship efforts, there are no programs throughout the week, there is no outreach to the poor, there is no interface with other theaters, there is no need or desire to remain Orthodox in a particular approach, there is no mixing of many multiple voices and theological perspectives, there is no real desire to change the world or have eternally consequential conversations with clients (although perhaps there should be!). There is no desire to serve God, and ultimately if God is served then none of the rest of it matters a whit. Theater is very different from church in many, many important ways.
The most important difference, to coin an idea from the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, is that worship/church should have God as the congregation as the main actors, the choir and the pastor as the conductors, and God as the audience (I think I have that right...). And church isn't a show!
But sometimes, my budding pastors in the making, church is (I am afraid to say) like theater. I know it isn't particularly "missional" or even "christianal" to say. But it just is. And to coin the thoughts of another great theater manager/director/writer, from another era - William Shakespeare:
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances"; ("As You Like It")
All For Now,
Monday, October 21, 2013
The mistake has prompted a whole tide of slightly blasphemous, but a little bit funny, jokes about how the new name of God might be applied to our modern day church music and hymnody. Consider the following names of songs and hymns as alternatives;
"What a Friend We Have in Lesus"
"Lesus, Lesus, Lesus, There's Just Something About That Name."
"Lesus Loves Me, This I Know..."
And the list goes on and on...
But what I think was missed in the often times self-satisfied coverage by the media of this major printing debacle, was how deftly and smartly the Vatican responded to this crisis. They didn't try to cover up the mistake. They didn't attempt to shove it under the rug (though, 6,000 coins under a rug is very probably hard to hide). They didn't sound defensive or reactive. "Everybody mades mistakes," said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, "Even people who make coins." And in being utterly transparent and mia culpa-ish (dare I say - Lesa culpa-ish), the Vatican was able to turn a major mistake into a life lesson, and a chance to model humility and non-perfection.
All of us, especially church leaders, should learn from the Vatican here. For a denomination that has been steeped in alleged cover-up for so long, of childhood sex scandals involving priests, not to mention other coverups, this is a very refreshing new direction for the entire world to observe. Pope Francis could not have engineered a lesson on "admitting mistakes" from the pulpit in a more effective way than was demonstrated by the admission of the misprinting on the coins.
On a more personal level, I can say that admitting a mistake as a pastor is one of the most effective things I can do to model Christian behavior and practice. Often, in the middle of a message, if I make a verbal blunder or a mis-statement, and I say, "Gosh good one Graham," the whole room lights up with laughter and a more healthy sense of lightness. It's as if they are all collectively thinking, "Hey, he's just like me...he's not perfect." Of course, larger mistakes need to be admitted to as well, when they occur. And in a similar fashion, public contrition and better understanding almost always ensue.
Pope Francis seems to be setting a pace for leadership in which he would appear to be able to do no wrong. However, it is because he has admitted to doing something small and wrong, that he is able to be such a great leader.
We should do the same!
All For Now,
Monday, October 14, 2013
Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement in Costa Mesa, California, and throughout the United States and World is dead. Chuck, as he liked to be called, was 86.
In the words of the New York Times obituary about him from this past week; "The Rev. Chuck Smith, a Southern California minister who shepherded flower children and rock 'n' roll into the conservative wing of the evangelical movement while building a religious wing of the evangelical movement that grew to encompass 700 congregations and hundreds of radio stations has died."
Chuck came up through the Four Square movement in Southern California, in the 1960's and 1970's and often had many connections the brand new Vineyard church. After becoming dis-enamoured by the politics of the Four Square church, Chuck joined a struggling congregation in Costa Mesa (basically Newport Beach), that had 60 members, called Calvary Chapel. Mixing a combination of a genuine love of many who were a part of the "Jesus movement of the 60's and 70's, and a practical, non-flashy (expository, "line by line through the Bible"), style of preaching, Chuck attracted hundreds and then thousands of followers. Chuck was never critical of the fashion styles of his counter-cultural congregants. Chuck was never condescending about their taste in rock 'n' roll music. Where many main line denominations threw the members of the "Jesus movement" out, Chuck embraced them (literally embraced them...hugged them each week). His approach seemed to be that as long as people were following Jesus with their lives, it didn't matter how they dressed, or what music they listened to. It would have been quite common in the early days to see someone at Calvary Chapel in bell bottoms and a tangerine colored orange tank top, standing right next to a senior citizen wearing a suit and tie. There was a healthy mix of all generations and styles in the early days of Calvary Chapel.
There are so many things that I agree with Chuck about. Chuck's desire to lower the inherent barriers for people who want to worship God, without throwing the proverbial, "baby out with the bathwater" was revolutionary. Chuck's embracing of rock 'n' roll music in church began an entire movement of Christianity in America that would eventually include Willow Creek, Saddleback Community and Northpoint in Atlanta. Chuck's genuine love of people from all backgrounds and walks of life was palpable. Chuck's orthodox theology in the midst of his acceptance was transformative.
There is also a great deal that I heartily and strongly disagree with Chuck Smith about. Chuck's dis-inclusion of women in ministry, his oft times ill-informed sentiments about the sin of same sex relationships (Chuck claimed that Sept. 11 was caused in large part by homosexuality in this country), and his unending but never actualized predictions about the end of time (Chuck believed that the end times would come in 1981, and then almost every year thereafter he made similar predicitons) put him squarely (perhaps FourSquarely...no pun intended) in a very different evangelical camp from my own. However, Chuck's contributions to opening up the Christian church to people who have long hair, and pony tails can never be overlooked.
After all, I'm pretty sure Jesus DID have long hair, though the pony tail might have been an invention of the 1960's and 1970's in Costa Mesa, California,
All For Now,
Monday, October 7, 2013
The Space Between
is a phrase that also carries great theological depth as an understanding of our God. This past week, I offered a message on being 1% more trusting of God in our lives. The text we looked at was of the Roman soldier (centurion) who had a servant who was dying. The Roman soldier, you will remember, asks Jesus to come and heal his servant. When Jesus is just outside the door of his house, the Roman soldier stops Jesus and tells him not to come into the house, because he is not worthy of Jesus' presence. "But say the word, and my servant will be healed." In short, this soldier believes (TRUSTS), that God can heal the servant not by laying hands on him, or by touching him, but that Jesus is powerful enough to heal the servant in;
The Space Between
the Roman soldier's house and Jesus in the street. This past week, my 1 year old daughter, Sheena, took her first steps of life. I was actually not there to witness it, (which sort of bumbed me out) but the person that did told me that Sheena was a little nervous at first. Sheena was standing, and then, somewhere within her 1 year old heart, she decided to put one leg in front of the other. She took a step. Now, most of us take for granted or we don't think about the fact that when we walk, one foot will sustain the weight of our bodies, while the other foot shifts the weight of our bodies. But Sheena trusted that in;
The Space Between
two steps, she would be ok on the other side. And, of course, she was. One of the seminal concepts of our faith is covenant. The exact Hebrew notion of covenant is that a covenant must be, "cut." The Hebrew words for covenant are, CARAT BAREAT, and it means "to cut a covenant." I will never forget this phrase since when I learned it, I thought of a carrot being cut in two (pneumonic association is the only way to memorize Hebrew). Now, when an object is cut, say a piece of meat (lamb) or a dove for an offering to God, the Jewish notion is that God will bring something new and Godly into;
The Space Between.
Remember Gideon? He made an offering to the Lord, on a rock. Then, the offering was cut in two. A flame of God appeared in the middle of,
The Space Between,
And God spoke. Here's my question for you this week. What space are your giving God, between this and that in your life? What space, between driving kids to practice and making dinner are you giving to God? What space between your last job and your new one, are your giving to God to speak to you? What space between retirement and professional life are you allowing God to speak to your heart and give you a deep peace? Like me, I hope you will find, that upon reflecting on this question that,
The Space Between
Will be more than just a good song. That it will be the main way that God speaks to you!
All For Now,
Monday, September 30, 2013
My question for Mel Glazer, however, was not about particle physics, but about the word - Shalom. "What is Shalom?" I asked Mel? "Why did you name your synagogue in Colorado Springs Shalom - Shalom Temple? Why does every self respecting Jewish person in Israel greet one another on the street with the words, "Ma Shalom Cha," (for men), and "Ma Shalom Eck" (for women). Why does the apostle Paul begin nearly every one of his letters with "Grace and SHALOM," and why does he end nearly all of his letters with, "Grace and SHLAOM." What is Shalom?"
"Shalom," said Mel Glazer, "is related to the Jewish/Hebrew word SHALAME..."
"Wonderful!" I said..."What is SHALAME?"
"Shalame," said Mel, "is the Hebrew word for completion, completeness, wholeness, perfection." When God created the heavens and the earth, God said, "SHALOM," "It is complete." "Completeness is only found in our lives when we are connected with God, and when that connection is demonstrated in our every day lives with each other."
I have been thinking about the notion of completeness, perfection, wholeness, completion ever since. "Am I a complete person?" I have wondered. The short answer is absolutely not. I am so far from complete, I daresay, I am incomplete. I am half-made in so many ways. I am not-there. I have missed the mark of perfection, completeness or completion. I am not done being the person I feel God wants me to be. I am not finished trying to grow into what I think God needs me to be. I have a long way to go in my life before I am a true person of SHALOM.
Then, why, I have wondered, is SHALOM a greeting in Jerusalem? Why is SHALOM an affirmation that Paul gives us again and again. Why is SHALOM held up all the time as something we should strive for, even as all of us are so far away from completion, completeness, perfection, and wholeness?
As I have contemplated this question, I have thought about Jesus Christ. Jesus, in essence, is SHALOM. Jesus is completion itself. Jesus is perfection and healing and wholeness. We must strive for SHALOM, but not as a result of anything that we might do, or attempt, but only through God - through Christ.
Shalom, Paul tells us, is the result of Rejoicing, Gentleness, God's Nearness, and Thankfulness. I think about the recipe for Shalom (or mathematical formula, since we are tracking Einstein at the moment):
R + G + GN + T = Peace (SHALOM).
And Paul goes on to tell us that when we have these four things, we will be blessed with the; "Peace (SHALOM) that passes all understanding that guards our hearts in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:4-9)
Christ is our SHALOM
Jesus is our PEACE
So, SHALOM to you!
SHALOM to me!
All for Now,
Monday, September 23, 2013
You have probably read it too. Two Sundays ago, at a church (All Saints Church), a church potluck to be precise, in Peshawar, Pakistan, 78 people were killed in a celebration that immediately followed the Sunday worship service, in a park across the street from where the service was being held. According to eyewitnesses, two twin suicide bombers killed 78 Christ followers and injured hundreds more in a senseless act of hatred and prejudice against the Christian minority there. Officials say that the bombs struck the church just as the benediction was being said, and just as people were meandering out the back door, shaking the pastor's hand, and heading to the potluck.
Obviously it goes without saying that such a bombing is completely evil and goes beyond all bounds of human decency, or even common sense. Such incredibly tragic news events of discrimination against Christians reminds us that there really are living martyrs in our midst, and that faith, following Jesus with our lives, is not something we should take lightly. People still pay high prices for believing in the things that we hold so dearly, but which we also sometimes hold so lightly. To say, "Jesus is my savior," or "Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life," or "Jesus is the Light of the World," may seem like simple sentences of declaration and faith for us, but they are also the kinds of things that can literally get you killed in certain parts of the world.
The question may be asked, why would I include a picture of my daughter Haley and I on a blogpost that is so depressingly full of violence and hatred. Well, the thought occurred to me that there were also fathers and daughters at the church potluck in Peshawar two weeks ago. There were also little girls who were dressed in their Sunday best, and dad's who were brimming with pride about their daughters and their lives. There was likely dancing and mirth leading up to the bombing, and there were pictures taken on cell phones (like the one that I have included here), that were about to go out to family members around the world to say, "Wow, look how beautiful our little girl is." In short, let us remember that these people who were killed in Peshawar were just like us. They were JUST like us. They weren't distant foreigners or people in a strange land...way over there. They were JUST like us.
So, what now? Well, let's start with prayer. Will everyone who reads this blogpost pray for All Saints Church in Peshawar Pakistan sometime today? That will at least be a couple of hundred people who's prayers get heard by God on this tragedy. The prayer doesn't have to be deep, or long or profound, but just a few words sent up to God in the midst of this tragedy. Also, send those words with the strong hope and the knowledge that we believe in a God who is so much bigger than these emblems of hatred, and that our Jesus really did die on the cross to make all things...even these things...NEW!
All For Now,
Monday, September 16, 2013
I get a lot of questions about prayer: "How should I pray?" "How can I pray more effectively?" "Does prayer really matter?" Well, I can indefatigably say that prayer definitely matters. There was a time in my faith life when I believed in prayer, but I didn't really BELIEVE in prayer (after all, I am a fourth generation Presbyterian...we Presbyterians believe in committees, but prayer is sometimes a stretch). However, after pastoring two New Churches, having two kids, being married for 13 years, and overcoming many, many personal and spiritual obstacles, I can tell you that PRAYER MATTERS.
I am not an expert prayer, by any means. I know of some people who can pray for hours at a time, and not even notice that five seconds has passed. I know of people who pray deep theological prayers, and I know of people who pray deeply for the world. I am neither of these. I am not a great prayer. But I do pray every night with Star, and have done for the past 6 years of our marriage. After that, I pray every night, sometimes on my knees, when all the family have gone to bed, and I am alone contemplating my life...(in the world of the invertibrates). But here is my big insight about prayer. I have noticed that:
The Moment After...
prayer is more important than the moment before. So often I have had the experience of worrying about something, or being upset about a matter. Then, I go to God in prayer, and the moment right after is the moment that God speaks to me. For example, just last night, I was praying about a topic that Star and I have been praying about for some time. We prayed for about five minutes. Immediately after the prayer was over;
The Moment After...
I had extreme clarity about the matter. My problem was that I was not thinking big enough. I wasn't praying large enough. I wasn't praying for enough of a breakthrough. I was going to God with a particular small matter, but really God wanted me (and I wanted me), to pray in a much more comprehensive way. I went to Star and said, "I have the answer," She said, "What?" I said, "We need to pray larger. We need to pray not just for the one small thing we are praying for, but we need to pray for ten other things around it, that can immediately solve the one small thing we have been praying for. We need to pray much bigger!
Often in the middle of a meeting, or a counseling session, I will stop and say, "Why don't we pray about this for a moment." And then,
The Moment After...
I ask the person in counseling, or I connect with the individual in the meeting and say, "What do you think now?" Almost always that person has new insights and new vantage points about a particular matter.
So, I have begun a new type of prayer in my life. It is to think about something to pray about, then to have a...
Then, I go to God about that thing that I received wisdom about in,
The Moment After...The Moment After
And then, I know what God wants me to pray about, verses simply what I think is the thing I should be praying about.
What about you? Does God speak to you, like me, in...
The Moment After?
All For Now,
Monday, September 9, 2013
In an interview that First Pres. conducted with Alvy, before he sang in a concert at our church this past weekend, he was asked what the secret to his success is/was. Alvy, without flinching said, "Well, it isn't that I have the greatest voice. Believe me, there are better voices out there. I think it's that...(and then he paused), when I sing, I open my heart, and my soul to people, and I open my heart and soul to God, and it is the intersection between being open to people and open to God that allows me to do what I do." After pausing for a moment again, Alvy said, "Yeah, I think that's what it is...."
Alvy's honesty and openness about what his real secret to success is, about what really connects with people and audiences is rich and so humbly honest. And Alvy's stated secret is, if one is to be honest, what makes all performers great. It is also what makes all preachers great.
OPENNESS to God
OPENNESS to People
There is a moment in every sermon or persuasive effort, when reality sets in. When the words that a preacher is saying are either the truest, realest things that have been said in a long time, or they are not. The congregation knows this moment. But in order for these words to be effective, the preacher has to be vulnerable to the congregation. The preacher has to be open.
Yesterday, in church, I was two feet away from Alvy as he sang. The words of his song were as if he were speaking them himself. They did not seem like words from a piece of music. It seemed like a conversation between Alvy and the congregation. They were natural, but they were also rehearsed. They were ordinary, and yet they were transcendent. The words were permanent, and yet they were fleeting. As soon as the song began, it was over. But Alvy's openness stayed with us.
Jesus had a open soul. I wonder what it must of have been like to see Jesus preach. Jesus (human of humans), was eminently real. Jesus could not have looked like anything out of the ordinary, his voice was nothing special, his speech was nothing lofty or elevated. He was normal. And yet, many who listened must have felt and known that Jesus was so much more than a rabbi or even a prophet. Those who listened to Jesus must have know, for a brief and shining moment, that they were encountering God. God was here, and then he was gone. But Jesus' openness stay with us.
And allows all to enter in...
All For Now,
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
This past summer has been marked by the strangest weather patterns around the globe that I can ever remember. The East Coast was wracked with heat wave upon heat wave (not that unusual by itself). England and Ireland, where Star and the girls and I visited was record temperatures all summer (over 90 F). Here in the Intermountain West, we have had thunderstorms every night, and hail the size of grapefruit (...just tired of always hearing hail compared to sports balls, baseballs, golf balls). And of course, in the Midwest (particularly Oklahoma), they experienced more tornadoes of huge magnitude than any summer on record. After this Armageddon-esque summer climate change, the National Weather Service began to coin a new acronym that indicated that tough weather times lay ahead. It was:
PDS - short for - A "Particularly Dangerous Situation"
It strikes me that this new acronym, PDS, is too good to only be applied only to weather conditions. Lots of things could be PDS's. The next time you get a phone call from someone upset with you, who really wants to yell at you, say to yourself, "this phone call is a PDS, be careful." If you have to change a baby's diaper, and if you feel like the damage caused by the baby's nether-regions might be worse than usual, you could call it a "PDS." "Honey, come quickly, our daughter has a PDS - a particularly dangerous situation." Let's say you have a meeting that you are going to be encountering more than one difficult personality, and volatile topic matter. Tell yourself beforehand, "I am entering a PDS, be careful."
From a spiritual standpoint, I believe that Christ followers need to be extra aware of seasons in their life when they encounter more PDS's than usual. The normal term for this, in Spiritual parlance is, "Spiritual Attack." Sometimes calling a time period in one's life "Spiritual Attack," can be an apt metaphor, sometimes it can be an over-reach in verbosity. I love what Nicky Gumble, of ALPHA Bible Studies says about Spiritual Attack. Nicky deeply believes in Spiritual Attack, and also believes that when one is in a season of attack, the best thing is to be extra aware, extra bathed in prayer, extra listening, extra attentive to what's happening around us, and extra tuned into God.
My experience has also been that calling every challenge that comes along in our lives, "Spiritual Attack," can have the effect of giving the Evil one too much credit. As Lewis said, "We should not take the evil one too seriously, nor should we take him too lightly." Calling every challenge that arrises in our lives, "Spiritual Attack", can have the impact of over-spiritualizing normal everyday challenges that all of us face. So, let's call them a new name, let's call them PDS's. People who are always looking to pick a fight with you can be PDS's (or maybe it would be more apt to call them PDP's - "particularly dangerous people"). Particular types of meetings, where you have to be extra careful what you say, can be PDS's (or maybe it would be better to call them PDM's - "particularly dangerous meetings"). Areas of sin which are constant recurrences in a person's life could be called PDS's (or again, maybe better to call them, PDAS's - particularly dangerous Areas of Sin.
Sometimes simply the awareness in our lives that we are about to encounter a PDS, and then a quick prayer before it, can make all the difference.
All For Now,
Monday, August 26, 2013
I am sitting at my desk in my home-office writing this blog-post. To my left, not an arm's length from my keyboard is the window where a burglar broke into our house at 3:00AM last Monday night. The would-be thief used an ax-hoe to break into the house, then proceeded to knock over desks, rifle through papers, sift through filing cabinets, break other sundry locks and cabinets, and finally steal a car with a set of keys he found in my desk. The car, was then found wrapped around a telephone pole on the east side of town, later that morning. None of our family were harmed in any way, thanks in part to our one year old infant, Sheena, who woke up at 3:00AM that same night, crying out loud, sensing something was awry. To be honest, it has taken me about a week to begin to process this life-impinging event. But what I have been thinking about again and again is the close proximity we all experience in this life between;
* Utterly Sacred things and profoundly Profane things
* Transformingly Risen things and totally Fallen things,
* Sordidly Evil things and patently Good things.
The social theorist and the religious thinker Mircea Eliade has coined this dichotomy in his classic religious primer; "The Sacred and the Profane" (1987).
The window of the aforementioned crime (Profane) is arms length from my desk, where an open Bible on the desk (Sacred), awaited the man who stole our property.
Our entire faith is a mix of close proximity between sacred and profane, fallen and risen, evil and good things. In the Garden of Eden was the most bucolic, perfect place to live. In the middle of the garden was a tree. That tree wasn't inherently "bad", it was after all "the tree of GOOD and evil. The tree was simply something that was off limits to Adam and Eve. The beauty of creation sitting next to the luster of forbbiden-ness. Within that garden was also a snake, who was evil. The snake (profanity) convinced Adam and Eve (at that time perfect, sacred) to eat the forbidden fruit. Right at the beginning of creation is the closeness and proximity of sacredness and profanity.
The birthplace of Jesus was a similar mix of utter abjectivity and complete holiness. On a chilly Spring evening (most historians believe Jesus was actually born about the same time as the Passover, Spring), Mary and Joseph took a long mule-ride's trip from Nazareth, where they lived, to Bethlehem in the south, essentially the place of the polling station for their district, the place where they had to register for taxation purposes. Upon arrival in Bethlehem, the holy child within Mary's womb began to kick. A child would be born soon. Finding no other rooms available in town, the couple were forced to take up lodging in a barn/stable. Then in the middle of the night, the holy child was born. The God of the universe (Sacred) was born into the filthiest of stables (Profane).
The cross is an example of the exaltedness of God juxtaposed with the cruelest kind of fallen-ness by humans. The holiest of holies, God Himself, was hoisted up onto a cross by a rope and a handful of Roman guards, who had just rolled dice for God's clothes. They took the most profane of nails and banged them through Jesus' hands and feet, and Jesus (Sacredness itself) died on a cross (Profanity in it's purest form).
On Wednesday, two days after the crime at our house, I drove out to the edge of town to the Police impound lot to collect whatever was left of our family's possessions from the completely decimated car that we once owned. A law enforcement officer stood beside me as I gathered up baby prams, strollers, baby blankets, old bottles, and toys, now peppered with glass from the shattered windows of the car. Inside the cup holder was a picture of a little girl that I wasn't familiar with. It must have been the burglar's daughter, I told myself. Her toothy school picture gleamed at the school photographer (Sacred). Right beside the picture was the leatherman pocket-knife the criminal used to break into our house (Profane).
And somehow, God was in the middle of all of this...just as He always is!
All For Now,