Saturday, 20 August 2011
Okay, before I leave, here's a snippet from sermon on John 14:1-14 ("I am the way, the truth, and the life") that I've recently been reminded of...
"You and I live in a liberal society. By that I don’t mean a society run by the Democrats and progressives, although some of you may feel like that, for good or bad. By liberal, I mean that we place the individual at the center of life. In a liberal society, the individual is king or queen, the individual is sovereign. Not God, not government, not family, but the individual. That’s why we talk about individual civil rights and individual freedoms. That’s the foundation of the American, and Canadian, way.
But in a liberal society, what happens is that everyone starts to really believe it. We start to believe that we are our own self-made gods. We start to believe that we can say and do whatever we please. We get to make up reality. The only limitation is that we don’t infringe upon other people’s rights to say and do whatever they please. So we make up reality for ourselves, but we are not so sure that our reality can be reality for others in their self-made world of thoughts.
Stanley Hauerwas said it best when he said: “I’ve long argued that cynicism is the primary virtue of liberal social orders. You can find it most clearly determined by parents thinking that they ought to raise their children to make up their own minds.” You see, when a parent says to a child, “Honey, you believe whatever you want to believe,” what the parent really says is, “I’m not so sure that what I’ve built my life upon is all that worthy of passing on to you.”
That’s cynicism. We say stuff like, “that’s just my opinion” or “believe whatever you want,” believing that we are less responsible for others and what they believe and less responsible for what we believe. We hope that we can somehow distance ourselves from our words if they someday prove to be completely wrong. So we become people who are not willing to stand up for much of anything when push comes to shove.
Now, if there’s one area of life you have to be able to hold firm and stand up for what you believe is when it comes to making a bet. Any gamblers in here? (Don't lie.)
When you make a bet you have to be confident in what you say. You have to be willing to put something on the line. You have to count the cost, knowing whether or not you want to pay for dinner if you lose, and then stick to the plan. None of this, “that’s just my opinion” stuff.
In reading our text for today, I wonder if some of us would feel better if Jesus said things a bit differently. What if Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. But that’s just my opinion?”
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it. You see, Jesus made some very strong claims. He claimed that in order to know and be with the Father you have to know him. That when we see Him, we see the very character and will of the Father. But Jesus wasn’t just some idiot spouting off stupid statements to get attention for his self.
Jesus wasn’t a talk show host, just trying to get ratings. He meant what he said. He meant for us to listen closely. And he was willing to place a bet on the things that he said. The wager, the wager would be himself.
Jesus’ words made the religious leaders mad. “Blasphemy!” they screamed. “He claims to be the way to the Father. He claims to be truth. He claims to give life.”
See, if Jesus wasn’t sure of his words, if he was as cynical about his words as you and I can be about ours, then he wouldn’t have walked into Jerusalem knowing that they would kill him. He wouldn’t have suffered through the beatings, carried the cross, and hanged upon it.
Jesus meant what he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And to show you that I know what I’m talking about, I’m going to live as the Father would live (loving, serving, and welcoming the sinners to me). I’m going to die as the Father would die (sacrificially and offering forgiveness). And I’m going to break free the chains of sin and death, by coming back to life, rising to a new powerful life on the third day. You will know that I am from the Father and that I mean what I say.”
This is offensive to our modern ears. How can anyone claim to know truth, let alone be truth? How can anyone claim to know how to know God, let alone be the way to God?
Could you imagine if the early church shared in our cynicism? They’d all be gathered together reciting the Apostle’s Creed:
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
But that’s just our opinion. Amen.”
Church family, it is really easy to be cynical. People have wronged us. Our parents have lied to us. The world is a lot tougher than most people are willing to tell us. We live in a society in which individuals are told that we can’t trust anything. That we are ultimately alone in this life. But we as the people gathered in Jesus’ name cannot fall into the world’s insecurities.
For us to say, “I really believe Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, but that’s just my personal opinion,” is just as silly as it would have been for Jesus and the early church to have done so. What’s more is that when we make the Christian faith an overly private and personal affair, we do a disservice to the gospel. The gospel is to be preached and heard. It is God’s call to us to recognize that we are not in charge.
You see, Jesus, being sent by the Father came to earth as a man. He preached the good news of salvation. He taught his disciples how to live radical lives in the face of evil. He was charged for crimes against God and the human conscience. He quietly, without fanfare, took upon his self the weight of the whole world as he hanged upon the cross. He died, was buried, and rose to life on the third day. He revisited with the disciples, promising that though he would leave soon, he would sent his Spirit to dwell with them.
Then he ascended into Heaven, returning to the Father who had sent him. He went, as our text says, to prepare a place for those who also take up their cross and follow him, trusting in his promises.
Church, this is what we believe. There is no equivocation. These are not just our opinions, but the very revelation of God.
Jesus placed a bet. He lay his life on the line for us, that we may join him with Father. The early church martyrs placed bets with their lives, leaving a rich history of testimony to the sacrifice of Christ himself. You and I are next in line. We are asked to place a wager. And truth is it’s not a small wager. We are asked to place everything, even our ideas and dreams and wishes and ways of living on the line. You and I are asked whether we believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Say it with your mouth, but more importantly, say it with your life.
So if you believe, or even if you want to believe but seem to be having a hard time getting there, I invite you to sing loudly. Sing from the very core of who you are. Don’t worry about your neighbor, don’t worry about whether you can stay in tune or carry a melody. Just stand up and sign.
Thursday, 18 August 2011
Hey old Xanga crew.
I've been absent from here since I got married last summer. Moving forward I'll be absent for the unforeseeable future, because as of July 31, 2011, I stepped down from my pastoral role. My wife and I are moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina for an extended adventure. I'm working as a web developer and she'll teach English.
I've kept my identity on here hidden, so I could have a place to write my thoughts about church life without worrying if someone from my congregation would see it. My wife and I have set up a travel blog which, of course, reveals who we are. I don't want to make the connection between the two sites. However, if you would like to follow us, just send me a private message and I'll send you the link. But no mentioning this site. I might use it again one day when I return to a church in 2-4 years.
Wednesday, 16 February 2011
Sunday, 31 October 2010
This week a very kind, patient, and inquisitive woman stopped by the church to offer me Sun Myung Moon’s autobiographical book as a gift. If you are not familiar with Moon there is a lot I could say, but for now it’s enough to say he believes he is the Messiah fulfilling the Second Coming of Christ.
I was hesitant in receiving the book because I already knew I do not believe that Moon is who he says he is. But after engaging her in a lengthy conversation about Moon, the Bible, and the church I pastor, I decided I would take the book and one day make my way through it. I took the book not because she was effective in wearing down my resistance, but because as we talked I realized that my knowledge of Moon and his Unification Church were minimal. I knew enough to reject his claims, but not enough to articulate what he and his followers really believe.
More to the point, I took the book because I believe it is important that as Christians we seek to speak truthfully, even about those with whom we disagree. The ninth commandment says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Ex 20:16). In other words, don’t make stuff up. There is enough good reason to reject Moon’s claims about himself that we do not need to manufacture lies about him.
The same goes for all other areas of life. There may be good reason to think that So-and-So should not date him, but we don’t need to make stuff up about the guy. There may be good reason to vote this way or that, but we don’t need to exaggerate opposing views to convince people. There may good reason to reject that group’s claims, but we don’t need to misidentify their motives.
What’s more, too often we speak in vague generalities about those people, using a broad stroke to speak about a variety of persons. For example, growing up in Texas I frequently heard some variant of, “Californians are loony!” We hear things on TV such as, “Republicans are racists,” or “Democrats are socialists.” Especially during this heightened political season, the false testimonies are endless. Vote this way or that and you’re allowing doom to come tomorrow! These words are not only intellectually lazy, but dishonest. Both of which are not virtues of Christianity.
As Christians, we must take seriously the task of speaking honestly. We must speak honestly of our God, of ourselves, of our family members, of our neighbors, and of our enemies. Go ahead and name the areas of contention and disagreement, but make sure you do it as accurately as possible. Present opposing views accurately and argue from there. Basically, know your stuff, don’t make it up. The alternative is not to speak at all.
Monday, 10 May 2010
I set out to read a children's book this afternoon: The Magician's Nephew C. S. Lewis. It is the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia series. I've never read them.
Novels are not typically engaging for me. I enjoy them. Yes, I do enjoy them. Yet, somehow they always make me fall asleep. Without fail. It only takes ten to twenty minutes before my head starts to nod. My fiance thought I was nodding in enjoyment. Nope. I was entering into my own world of stories.
This makes me curious. Is there anything that makes you fall asleep quickly. A baseball game? A certain movie? Does anything or anyone just send your body into a comatose?
Sunday, 09 May 2010
"The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them. Even the choicest words lose their power when they are used to overpower. Attitudes are the real figures of speech." -Edwin Friedman
Consider the nag-withdraw dilemma that defines so many relationships. I believe that if the nagging party stops nagging, yet doesn't run, the withdrawing party will eventually realize they are not being chased and will wonder why. In their wonder, they just might end up being the pursuer again or for the first time ever.
Read my previous post and see the connection there too.
Friday, 07 May 2010
My church hosted a neighborhood block party this past weekend. We had free food, ice cream and popcorn for anyone, plus some other activities for the kids. At night, we showed the Disney Pixar movie "Up" in our parking lot. It was a lot of fun. Not once, however, did we preach to our captive audience. A few people asked me why. Here's what I said in response.
Many of our neighbors joined us at the Block Party. For some, the early seeds of intrigue into "church" have been planted. After two Block Parties now, the questions that arise for several of our guests are: "Who are these people? What are they about? Why are they not asking anything of me?" You may be asking the same thing. Or more specifically, "Why are we not preaching to them?" I appreciate that question, so I want to offer a few words as to why we do the Block Party as we do. I share this with you because you should rarely participate in things for which you don't know why you are a participant, even at church. Nothing more than your integrity is at stake.
What we believe as Christians, but tend to forget, is that God uses us to reach people for Him. Our role as the message bearers is not neutral, nor should it be. What our non-Christian neighbors know about us will often matter in how they will respond to Jesus. If, when they interact with us, they encounter a love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that are rarely seen they might be more interested in what makes us this way. Their interest reveals a side of humanity we believe exists in everyone: a seeking for the Eternal. How different it is to speak about Christ to a person who is even mildly seeking than to speak to one or several people who feel trapped, duped or annoyed by our presence. No one enjoys unsolicited messages, even if it is The Gospel Message.
We have the amazing call of helping people to see that they are indeed seeking something they don't have. I believe that if the church is the church people will be interested.
Since God uses us, who we are is deeply important. We are not neutral messengers. It matters whether or not we've lost our "saltiness." It matters whether or not we bear the fruit of the Spirit. Mission is deeply connected with our own discipleship and maturation as Christians. I believe Christian discipleship is, among other things, the beginning of God's pursuit of non-Christians. And as such, we must focus on our own Christian growth before we seek to reach others for Christ. Once we begin to bear fruit, opportunities for sharing the gospel are not so much forced as they are naturally created.
This is why our Sunday morning Discipleship Groups are so important. These groups are intended to help us in our journey with God and each other as Christians so that we may be a light to our neighbors. I encourage you to care about your own discipleship and to get involved in these groups. I can't force your hand; I can only implore. This is my attempt at imploring.
Tuesday, 04 May 2010
This is a summary and reflection upon C. S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters. Currently, I am taking a class on the theology of C. S. Lewis. It has been very enjoyable.
The Screwtape Letters is a fabulous work of fiction. Yet, it is more than just an entertaining story. Readers, both Christian and non-Christian alike, might find themselves entrap in self-reflection, considering the ways they themselves have been convinced by devils or evil or whatever the real world name should be for the dear Wormwood and affectionate Screwtape. Before this book, Christians may never have imagined that a collection of letters from a devil could serve as enriching and challenging devotional material!
C. S. Lewis’ book consists of thirty-one short letters from Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, each filled with advice on how to tempt a human “patient” away from God, the Enemy. Screwtape is an experienced devil serving as some sort of upper-level functionary in the hierarchy of Hell. Wormwood is a rookie, front-line tempter eager to do well in “absorbing” the soul of his patient, a young man recently converted to Christianity.
At first, Screwtape is paternal with his nephew and tolerant. He covers the elementary education Wormwood needs with amazing patience. As Wormwood learns, so do we. For example, a basic in temptation discussed in letter three, which is very much still a problem today, is the advice is to keep the patient focused on himself, especially his own spiritual health, rather than on the things God would have him care about.
As the letters continue to arrive, Wormwood gains an education in how to subtly tempt a human being away from thoughts of God (and one’s neighbors) toward thoughts of self, materialism, doubt, cowardice, and denial of the existence of God. And here is a fine point C. S. Lewis makes through Screwtape to his readers: the most harmful sins are not always the grandiose sins, but the subtle modifications of thought that slightly, but surely, alter the person’s spiritual direction away from the Light.
Specifically, in letter twelve, Screwtape reveals to Wormwood that his preferred method of temptation is subtly, by degrees, without the patient really knowing what is happening to him. What seems harmless will soon overtake him. The closing words of advice in this letter are worth repeating:
You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.The big, major, life-unsettling sins are not usually what bring a person to Hell. It is the small, vague, unthinking habits of a lifetime, slowly increasing secularization and worldliness. It is the small sins, the small betrayals, which lead most inescapably to Hell. On this point, which is littered throughout the letters, Christian readers will recognize how more insight Screwtape has into human weakness than do we. This is what I meant that the letters are devotional.
Surely a literary device intended to keep the occasion for new, provocative letters, Wormwood proves to be less than a stellar student in the ways of subtle temptation. He makes many blunders. As a result, Screwtape becomes increasingly impatient, angry, and unforgiving as Wormwood’s patient grows in faith and sincerity. The man becomes engaged to a Christian girl—removing him from worldly friends and placing him more frequently in her charitable and loving circle of family and friends—and grows in his faith. He also participates bravely in a war. He is triumphant in both the physical and spiritual wars in which he engages. Screwtape scolds Wormwood with sarcasm and malice for his bumbling. Since Hell is a predatory place—as we’ve learned especially in letter eight: “To us a human is primarily food”—Wormwood’s failure will result in Screwtape consuming him. The final letter is signed, “Your increasingly and ravenously affectionate uncle.”
In a later edition to the original letters, we gain further insight into Screwtape’s mind (and Lewis’s) when he proposes a toast full of social commentary on the world and church. Screwtape rises to deliberate on Hell’s promising prospects for winning the war against God by capturing most of God’s children through mediocrity and church division. He claims Hell will be populated not so much with grandiose sinners as with ordinary people who, through conformity, materialism, worldliness, muddy thinking, and petty corruption, lose all sight of Heaven in their lives.
I have commented that never before this work did it seem likely that a devil could help a Christian move toward God. Screwtape and Wormwood hoped to keep the patient unaware of his true position. Yet, ironically, in reading these devilish letters, the reader will become more aware of our true position as well as the devils’ subtle sneakiness to hide it from us. Insight from Screwtape is intended to help Wormwood. Insight from Lewis is intended to help you and me.
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
If you boycott Arizona you could put financial pressure on state officials and residents to change their law.
If you boycott Arizona you could hurt the very people you are wanting to protect. They are the ones who work in the lower end jobs of tourism, hospitality and entertainment. They depend on your visits.
Which will be more effective in helping the people you hope to protect? Will you boycott Arizona or not?
Monday, 26 April 2010
A new Arizona law requires state and local law enforcement to question an individual if that person is suspected to be in the U.S. illegally. If the person cannot prove citizenship he/she can be arrested and charged a fine up to $2,500 among one or two other things. It seems that Arizona, however, cannot deport a person. Before this law, officers could check a person's immigration status only if he/she was suspected in another crime.
Opponents of the law argue that it will result in racial profiling by law enforcement. Racial profiling is illegal. Specifically, the fear is that a person who looks, smells, talks and dresses like a Mexican will be stopped by an officer without reasonable suspicion of any crime, except being an illegal immigrant. This will result in Hispanics who are legal citizens of the U.S. being harassed by officers to prove citizenship. Many African-Americans are showing support for Hispanics because, if for nothing else, they know what feels like. Proponents of the law, however, cite the law's clear mandate that race cannot be the "sole" reason for suspicion and so this should not happen. So, what is reasonable suspicion? That is still being detailed and will be on the Governor's desk in May.
On this particular debate of the day-to-day effect of the law, I don't agree with supporters. Racial profiling will happen, because they've already named that a large majority of the illegal immigrants are from Mexico. So...officers will be looking for Mexicans. Looking for Mexicans is racial profiling. And here's my thought on how to call their bluff. Racial profiling can be removed if Arizona requires officers to ask every person stopped by them to prove citizenship, even whites. Do you think whites, primarily, will be cool with that? "Do unto others..."
Or just give all Hispanics armbands. That tactic was quite effective for Germany.
So I ask many of those who approve this law, "Who the hell are we?" And I hear in response, "A Christian nation."