Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The 1st question when they find out I'm a pastor...

My favorite time was after a round of 18 holes of golf with a friend, and his co-worker that I just met. The times, that is, when people find out that I'm a pastor. And, it tends to be people who barely connected to church (the Easter and Christmas thing), or who may have no religious background. This has been changing in the past 10 years, but with my generation and older, many people were uncomfortable around pastors and would act differently once they knew this.

I didn't want people to know I was a pastor because I didn't want them to act or try to be different around me. So, this beautiful summer day in Ohio I am with Larry, who is a member of our church, and his co-worker who never asked me about my vocation. This guy was funny. He was telling jokes the entire round- some pretty funny ones, then he would drop in a crude joke, and he was dropping the F-bomb and some other colorful language the entire round. I enjoyed being with him.

After the round of golf, we had a drink and something to eat. As we were eating, the co-worker dude asks me, "So, what do you do?" When I told him I was the pastor at Larry's church, he about choked on his burrito, gulped, and then said, "Thanks, Larry; why didn't you tell me earlier! Holy cow; I'm sorry for all the jokes...." Which is why I often don't tell people what I do so they don't try and be something they are not.

Which leads to another "pastor" conversation. Whether it is the person sitting next to me on a plane, or a neighbor I meet for the first time, or any stranger I meet- do you want to guess what the first question I am asked after I tell them I'm a pastor of a church? Almost always it is: "So, how big is your church?" Based on some of the comments and body language, I can often sense the question, and my answer, is the grid that is used to measure success. Big= successful. Small= unsuccessful.

You should see the looks now when my answer, over the past year, has been 15, 20 or 25!

Which then leads me to a comment Brad Cecil of Axxess church made about how they are measuring success. It was in the context of this newer, emerging church that has a deep commitment to community and relationships. "...we want to be a community of people committed to sharing life together...We don't measure our success by numeric growth. We have decided to measure by other means, such as, How long do relationships last? Are members of the community at peace with one another? Are relationships reconciled?" (p. 99, Emerging Churches by E. Gibbs and R. Bolger).

I track with that focus on community as it is part of our core values at The Bridge. I would also add other means by which we might measure our success related to our core values: What are we doing to serve the poor? How are we seeking social justice in our city/world? What is the nature of the conversations like in our community? etc.

It's a different way of defining success, which, ultimately, is the wrong question. Not to be cliche: but, it is about faithfulness in our lives personally, and in our communities of faith. I admit the ways in which I have succumbed to the voices and judgments of others about who we are. As Henri Nouwen has written succinctly and prophetically: the way we often answer this is, "We are our success, we are our popularity, we are our power." (p. 134, Here and Now) The deeper voice, however, keeps prodding me.

Being a community, in a network of relationships, is a central component of what we aspire to be at The Bridge. How and what this will look like specifically, as we journey forward, is unknown; but it will be community. Even as we have it anchored in the very nature of God in community/relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

"So, how big is your church?" My neighbor down the street might now get it. I do.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beliefs: more like a Scrabble game than jigsaw puzzle

There's a pretty strong resistance to beliefs in our time. What one believes, what beliefs seem to be essential, and what beliefs are critical in terms of faith.

If you consider the trilogy of beliefs, belonging and behavior, beliefs would be at the bottom of the list- at least, in the circles I tend to hang around. I understand why many have this resistance to beliefs for far too many have been immersed in church cultures where one must have the precise set of beliefs- propositional truths. Christianity was set up, in those settings, with the abstract truths that one must hold or one is out. As in, "I'm in and you're out!"

One of the wonderful things taking place among those who follow Jesus is a deep understanding of narrative. The Big narrative. The Story of God unfolding in history, with God at the center, with God Incarnate- Jesus, at the center, and finding where we fit in this Story. I love the line in "Emerging Churches" (Gibbs and Bolger), "Who wants to listen to abstract, contextless propositions when one can hear or watch a story unfold?" (p. 68)

Belonging and community take on much more meaning than beliefs, in our setting. Behavior is much more engaging than abstract truth statements- "How are we going to live?"

But, beliefs are not discarded, on the other hand. I've been pondering this recently: what beliefs are essential in this way of Jesus? I don't see this divorced from the larger framework of narrative and the story of God. I came across a nugget in a short book by James Reimer, "The Dogmatic Imagination," in which he takes on tough questions in seeking the "dynamics" of Christian belief.

In thinking about beliefs, and endeavoring to paint what beliefs might be crucial, he uses the metaphor of a Scrabble game vs. a jigsaw puzzle. The dynamic of beliefs is not like a jigsaw puzzle which is totally predetermined and there is no freedom. Each piece of the puzzle fits exactly in one spot. When I shared this notion with one friend, he said that for many Christians the metaphor is more like "paint-by-numbers." Good one! Robotic. No room to think. Just paint inside the lines.

In contrast, the Scrabble game gives freedom to the players, the outcome is not known until the end of the game, and reason and intelligence is involved. But, Reimer points out that there is a fixed component; "The cosmos is not entirely open."

This metaphor is compelling, for me. As we think of what beliefs are crucial (I want to include all three: belonging, behavior, and beliefs), there is freedom, we use reason, and it is not a rigid jigsaw puzzle or paint-by-numbers game. And yet, there is a fixed component- not all beliefs are the same and there is a broad parameter within which we are working.

So, there is room for diversity and differences of belief as we attempt to put words to the narrative- the Big Story of God. We can see things from different angles. We will differ with one another on some of these beliefs. And, yet "the cosmos is not entirely open." As we attempt to identify core beliefs, there is great freedom and yet there is a fixed game board that we are working with.

This metaphor helps me to see the folly of both extremes: on the one hand- a rigid view of abstract, propositional truths that allows no room for diversity; and on the other hand-a view that has no parameters for beliefs or places all beliefs on the same level.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The homeless guy who gave me $2

He was standing in line to get a warm meal, and I've seen him every week for the past five weeks. He was one of 72 homeless persons, or ones who are poor and really need a warm meal; the room can sit 72 at one time: 9 tables with 8 at each table.

His table was next to get in line, and I was standing close to the front where the buffet line begins. My self-appointed role, while people get in line for the meal is to say hi, look each person in the eye, and chat briefly. Some don't want to talk; some have a hard time looking at me, or anyone, straight in the eye. For different reasons. For some good reasons.

Since I just started going five weeks ago, I'm just getting to recognize some of the regulars. George, with his cap and ZZ Top beard, jokes each week. He loves puns. Ike is always the first in line for the Eucharist (for those who attend the service before the meal) and always picks up the lyric sheets left on the pews. Jim has a nervous disorder, always goes to the clothes' closet line, and asks for toothpaste- Sensodyne, to be exact.

So, Mark was standing in line. His life has been hard, from the look on his face, and while he looks older than me, my guess is that he is younger. It's hard for him to talk with anyone, I have noticed. I don't know his story; he doesn't know mine. But, we are in the same place each Tuesday evening at 6:00 p.m. for this meal that is served to those who are homeless, or nearly so.

While I don't like doing this (what I'm about to say next), it is necessary for the story. Gail and I have committed our giving to the church, but there are things we also want to support on occasion. We decided the week before to give a check to the ministry that prepares the meal each week, and we asked what it would be to support the meals for one week. So, earlier that evening, I gave that check to the deacon in charge. About 75-100 come in for a decent, three-course meal with dessert and coffee.

Back to the line. When I say hi to Mark, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a crumpled $1 bill, and picks at the loose change in his hand, pulling together 4 quarters. I wasn't prepared and I didn't know what to say when he hands me this crumpled bill and 4 quarters. I stuttered. "What's this?" He says, "I want to make a donation for the meal." Fumbling and thinking this may be about all he has on him, from what I can gather (did he get it from begging on the street corner when the light turned red??), I said, "No; it doesn't cost anything. The meal is free."

He said, again, "I want to make a donation." I realized I had it wrong at the moment. A voice within told me to shut up, take the money and thank him. And, I did. "Thanks, Mark; we really appreciate it. Thanks for your generosity." I took the $2 and gave it to the Episcopalian deacon.

Here I had another lesson in grace. Another lesson in giving out of poverty. Our giving seemed so small compared to that gift out of poverty. (You can read another story about this in the Bible: Luke 21:1-4).

I go each Tuesday night because that is something God has prompted me to do. It's in the same space where we meet on Sunday nights, where we, our church, have a meal together and another meal- Eucharist. Communion; a meal of "thanksgiving."

This is why I go on Tuesday nights, in part: so that I can be converted. My heart and life increasingly changed, in Christ, as we eat and pray and talk.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Resisting nationalistic idolatry

Since we talked about it a week ago at our church- my teaching followed by discussion and engagement with the issue, I've been thinking about nationalism a bit more in the past several weeks. Several things, rather independently, reinforced the significance of looking at this with respect to our faith as followers of Jesus.

A good friend of mine, Jeff Munroe, who is currently in Europe involved with a ministry, is in the U.S. on a visit and noticed a neon sign in front of a business where he used to live which said, "God Bless America." He wrote these words on his blog this past week: "To a European, God Bless America carries with it a certain arrogance that hints at feeling like God’s favorites. A European mentality would challenge us instead to put up a sign that asks God to bless our enemy – maybe a God Bless Afghanistan sign by the highway. Imagine the scandal that would cause."

That morning, early, as I'm reading/reflecting/praying, I read these words by Eugene Peterson about the prophet Jeremiah, "...Jeremiah was designated 'prophet to the nations' [Jeremiah 1:5]...The title 'prophet to the nations' is a deliberate rejection of any understanding of the life of faith that is identical with a single nation or a particular culture...Biblical faith always has and always will have this global dimension to it." (p. 182, Run With the Horses)

Then, that same day, I led to these hard-hitting words with respect to the sin of nationalistic idolatry, "People just know that God (or the gods) is on our side and against our enemies. It’s obvious, right? Nothing in history has caused more bloodshed than this arrogant and unfounded assumption. Nor, I submit, is anything more contrary to the Kingdom Jesus brought than this assumption." (Greg Boyd in an October 9 blog entry)

That led me to one of the sentences I remember from seminary days. (Funny- some of the things you remember.) I remember not expecting to hear it from this prof. He was the oldest faculty member at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and about ready to retire. Plain. Nothing fancy. Not a dynamic teacher. Not hip. He said something very close to this, "The greatest sin we find in the Bible is that of nationalism." He was an Old Testament prof and he would cite examples during my three years of Jonah, or Jeremiah, or the nation of Israel, etc. and how it was destructive for humanity. He said it often. You may or may not agree with him.

These were reminders to me that we must resist the pull of nationalism. We say "no" to it. It has caused, and continues to cause, untold harm.

And, we also say "yes" to what it means for followers of Jesus to live in ways that demonstrate that any theocracy is tossed out the window. That we, followers of Jesus, sojourn with those who are from all languages and nations and race and tribe. That we display a love and acceptance and compassion for all people, knowing the every person bears the image of God.

I'm glad for these voices again this week.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What are you against? Or, what are you for?

I'm against having an American flag in the sanctuary of a church where I would serve as pastor (or be a member). I'm against the death penalty. I'm against human sex trafficking. I'm against the Florida Gators football team (oops). I'm against...

Do you find it easy, like me, to blurt out the things you're against? That it might be even easier to say the things you're against rather than the things you're for?

From a faith standpoint- and mine on this path with Jesus, there are times when one must say "no" when we're moving forward with the "yes." In our church this fall, we're using the term Greg Boyd has used in stating things we believe we must "revolt" against as we are attempting to embody the good news of Jesus and his kingdom. Revolting against things like violence, individualism, judgmentalism, greed, nationalism, etc.

So, we sometimes need to say "no" to the things that harm or derail us from the good and true, light and wholeness.

But...There is often a "but." The priority is on what I'm for. What I believe in and will give my life to. This I'm for.

In attempting to start this church in Denver, it is easy to say what we're against, what we don't believe, and what we do not want the church to be or look like. But, that is not the focus and cannot be the focus on what will bring energy and life.

What am I for? I can't put it into a few words, but it includes things like: authentic relationship with God, family, life, forgiveness, genuine relationships, loving others (including enemies),...where do I stop?!

What are you for? It doesn't diminish the things you might oppose, but who wants to spend one's life living out what one is against?

There are times when we ought to say "no," and loudly, at times. But, front and center will be the "yes" that moves us, and with it will be the path it carves saying "no" to what we oppose.

When we help serve a meal to the homeless, it says no to poverty. When we take steps to forgive someone who has wronged us, it says no to hating enemies. When we listen with love to my next door neighbor who is Muslim, we say no to building walls with people. When we respect and look for ways to serve our spouse, we say no to dominant/subordinate relationships. When we...

What are you for?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Pledge of Allegiance

I don't recall saying The Pledge of Allegiance since my school days. I did it automatically, didn't think about it much as a child, and we didn't really talk about it at home. Although, the combination of my home church not having a flag in the church building, and the emphasis on serving others around the globe, did have a subtle impact on me growing up.

About the time we stopped saying it in school is the time I started to think about what it might mean to recite this pledge.

Fast forward to 1999: I'm the director of a faith-based, non-profit that helped lower income persons start or reinforce their own small business. As part of the networking and building of relationships in the community, I was invited to join the Rotary Club in that city. It was a huge one. 500 members. One of the top ten in the world with the number of members.

My first meeting, a luncheon on Mondays, I found myself faced with a decision: should I recite the Pledge of Allegiance, a practice I wasn't aware of? I didn't want to offend the friend that sponsored me to become a member, or those who were doing great things in the community, or those who had a different understanding of the Pledge. But, I didn't believe I could recite it in good conscience.

Why? It is tied to my understanding of my faith in and commitment to Jesus. It goes along two lines...

First, I see myself, and the church I'm part of, as "resident aliens" with respect to my posture in any culture or nation state. (The term that Stanely Hauerwas and Will Willimon that caught on for many.) I'm respectful and seek to be a responsible citizen of the country where I reside; but, I'm not anchored in, nor is my allegiance with that country.

My allegiance is to the transnational Kingdom of God, and to the King of this Kingdom. That's where my loyalty and allegiance resides. It embraces followers of Jesus spanning every tribe, language, race, and nation.

Second, I see everyone as a bearer of the image of God as Creator. Everyone. Not just those who choose to follow Jesus and believe in God. When my allegiance is to my nation (whichever nation that would be), that can begin to impact how I view others.

What did I do that day in Rotary? Maybe I was a bit chicken. I ended up putting my hand on my heart, as the rest of the 250 in that room did that day, but I didn't say the Pledge. I prayed. I prayed my allegiance, in a whisper, to Jesus. I prayed for others around the world in those seconds. (Which is what I did each week at Rotary.)

Maybe the Pledge isn't the main issue. What I do hope is that our churches will pledge allegiance to Jesus, envision a church where "in Christ there is no East or West," and that we will live and love in ways that view each person as a bearer of the image of God.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Part II of missing the point: "I hope you come back in a body bag!"

It seems like everyone is getting a word in on the question of civility, or lack thereof, in the likes of incidents in Serena Williams threatening words to a line judge at the U.S. Open, Kanye West ego-drive to the stage of the MTV awards and grabbing Taylor Swift's mike, or Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst smack dab in the middle of President Obama's speech. I chose to say something about Wilson's outburst in my last post.

To say it again: I'm appalled by Wilson's disrespectful outburst. But, this is not about partisan political or philosophical viewpoint. It has to do with character, how we treat one another, whether we listen to each other, and how we talk to each other when we have disagreements.

Story #2: during the first Gulf war, I felt compelled to join some people to express our sadness, as well as our opinion that we disapproved of going to war and advocated a different approach to dealing with this conflict. So, one very cold January morning, on the corner of the busiest intersection in Toledo, I joined 25 people or so with signs and standing together in solidarity with our desire for another way. I'll have to admit, I was nervous yet felt this is something I needed to do.

I was with some people I knew and others I did not know. At this one moment, I was standing next to a woman who I did not know when the light turned red and a man in a white pick-up truck rolled down his passenger window. He was wearing fatigues and started yelling at us. Cussing. Calling us cowards. The woman next to me decided to take him on.

He said things like you guys are cowards, that we should be happy that we'll start killing crazy people in Iraq, that we should have something better to do than this.

She yelled back things like you don't know what you're talking about, we are the ones with true courage, the problem is with people like you, etc.

He: "Well, I wish I could be over there right now fighting for the U.S.!"

She: "If you went, you might end up in a body bag!"

He: "Well, I'd rather come back in a body bag than to stand there doing what you idiots are doing!"

And then...her line. The peace activist. She said, angrily: "Then, I hope you come back in a body bag!"

What?? What did I hear? That you hope he comes back in a body bag??

At that moment, after being stunned, I decided to leave. I shook my head and said "No. No." to her, and I left. We, who were advocating for peace and non-violent solutions, cannot take that approach, for it completely nullifies the message we want to communicate. I want no part of this. One bad apple was spoiling the whole bunch of us gathered that day.

What we say and how we say it is part of the message.

Now, I did not agree with the particular viewpoint of the man in the pick-up, but I'm called to love, not just those I agree with, but even my enemies.

For those who take up the name "Christian," and say we are followers of Jesus, must show a different way in our discourse and actions. Part of that is cultivating a character that is open to questions, will ask questions, and enter into respectful dialogue.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Part I of missing the point: "You lie!"

A heads-up from the beginning: this is not about partisan politics. In fact, far from it.

It appears, far too often, in the arena of politics that a game is being played and you toss out the rules that guide behavior in other walks of life. (I'm referring to "politics" in a specific sense- that of the halls of Washington, state capitals and local municipalities.) It gets nasty. It's increasingly partisan. A game. Posturing.

If you've been around this blog some you will know that I don't place my emphasis, hope or focus in this sphere. My focus is on the call of Jesus of what life as a transnational citizen of the kingdom of God looks like, and seek to embody that in the world. But, there are times when you just have to "name" things out there.

What Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina did during President Obama's speech last week was appalling, in my mind. Reprehensible. To call out, "You lie!" to the President, during his speech, is stunning. This is one who is elected to serve in congress?

Flat-out rude.

This is not about the issues at stake in a discussion about health care; there is a setting for that discussion. (And, you can argue, well, in fact, that there's a great deal of more maturity needed in the halls of congress when issues get debated in this or any issue!) You can totally disagree with the President's viewpoint and direction, and there should be informed and compassionate debate about the issues. But...but, you don't yell out in the middle of a speech the President is giving.

I know there was a small slap on the wrist that the House of Representatives gave yesterday, but I'm still shocked that there would not be overwhelming rejection of this type of action from all political parties. Then again, maybe I shouldn't be shocked.

So, I'll call it from my end: rude, disrespectful, immature. This is not how you engage the issues.

Is it a surprise, then, that lack of decorum and respect will be accepted by others in society if this is not denounced?

This does lead me to the fact that in our communities seeking to follow Jesus, we must be good models of how we talk to one another, discuss issues with which we disagree, and dialogue about tough issues. "Agreeing and disagreeing in love," as we say in some circles.

Perhaps that's the main point: that we must model this in our churches and communities of faith. We say "yes" to this way of dealing with our differences; and we say "no" to the "You lie!" outbursts and ways of engagement.

It applies to wherever one is along the continuum of beliefs, politics, philosophy, etc. That's why this is Part I. Part II is another story to follow...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Safe place to ask hard questions

I had lunch recently with a 29 year old guy in a Thai restaurant on a fun street in a popular neighborhood. A good Thai restaurant and my first time there. Great yellow curry dish. Have you had a yellow curry chicken meal recently?! Ok, that’s beside the point…

In the course of the conversation we talked about The Bridge, this church that is a year old today. He asked me about the church, how it started, the vision, and where I see it going. Does he know what he’s doing by asking that question? For one, it means he’ll finish his food and mine will get cold while I relish the opportunity to talk about this stuff!

And I did. Imagine that.

And I asked him about life and what he’s looking for and church and community. Those things. It was a great conversation. I learned as I listened. I plopped down my jotter on the table and took notes on my 3X5 cards. Is there ever a time when one doesn’t learn from a meaningful conversation?

In response to my question of what ideas he would have for our church, he said: “One of the most important things you might offer is a safe place for younger adults to ask the hard questions.” And then he went on to talk about that a bit.

A safe place to ask the hard questions.

I’m with you! A safe place to ask hard questions, and to engage and have dialogue around those questions; that is built into the intent of The Bridge as it began.

I pick up this polarization that is floating around. On the one hand, questions are encouraged but there is a notion, whether implicit or explicit, that there are no answers. Only questions. On the extreme other end, answers are given for everything and you might as well not ask questions. For, either there is no point to asking questions or you might be judged and looked down upon for your question or doubt.

There is a third way. As I find to be the case with rising frequency, we don’t have to choose between these two poles. One of the things I hope that we can convey in our church community, is that we believe there are some answers. Some important answers to significant issues related to meaning, life, the quest for truth, about loving God and loving others (enemies included). We are not left with only questions.

And right on the tail of that…we also do not have answers. No one person or group has answers to all questions, dilemmas and doubts. There is a ton of, to use a well-worn word these days, mystery.

So, bring on the doubts, questions and search for truth and God. We will not come out on the same page when wrestling with these questions. We do believe there are some key beliefs and ways of living that we believe to be true, and centered in Jesus as the fullness of God revealed to humanity. But, there are many questions that will keep us searching and in dialogue as a community.

Come to think of it, that yellow curry dish is not beside the point. Enjoying great conversation over great food in a fun neighborhood is part of life. Part of this search for joy, life, truth and meaning.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I don't want to die...now

I don't want to die. Gail doesn't want to die. I don't want Gail to die. Not now.

Fact: I am going to die. Gail is going to die. Some day.

I don't think about this a lot. But, that changed on July 23 when we ended up in the emergency room, and through a series of tests (CAT scan, MRI, etc.) we were told Gail has a brain tumor. After the numbing jolt to our very being- body, mind, soul, spirit- that thought consumed us for the weekend: dying.

As I wrote in my last post, things have changed since our July 23 ER visit (being told this mass is very likely a malignant tumor and inoperable due to its location) to our subsequent visits to a new neurosurgeon.

In the two visits, and with some further tests (ophthamologist and endocrine tests), he has consulted 3 other neurosurgeons and his neuroradiology team. They all believe this: that this "mass" in Gail's skull is not malignant, that it has likely been there for quite some time, and that the best course is to monitor this closely. The next step: a follow-up MRI in October to see if there has been any change (he tends to think there will not be a change). If there is no change, then there will be MRI's at 6-month intervals for a year.

Of course, if there are any symptoms that would indicate some possible changes, we would meet with Gail's neurosurgeon. During these past four weeks, with the exception of Gail's last day on staff with Young Life (a very painful/stressful day), she has had no symptoms. We have been grateful, and continue to pray for this to continue down this same path.

Thinking about death...

That first weekend was horrible, the weekend after the ER visit. Everything is going through your mind- the fear, terrible grief, unimaginable life without Gail, the loss of a very part of me. Each moment, each hour was pregnant with meaning.

We all know that we cannot determine when death will reach our door. I might help the odds, and even fool myself into believing that I can somehow determine the length of my life; but, I am not in control of this. I eat my share of fruit, vegetables, grains, healthy cereal and grab those 23 almonds daily for a snack. I drink enough water. A glass of red wine for my heart (and taste). I exercise regularly. And so does Gail. And we can't control the day we will die.

I know this. I know that I have lived, at age 54, longer than many in our global village. I know that far, far too many in our human family suffer and die daily due to inequities and injustice. I know I could live to be 95 or I could die tomorrow. But, I'm not ready to die nor am I ready to think about my closest friend, lover, intimate companion, and partner on this journey in life and ministry dying.

I have also pondered this, frequently, over the past 5 weeks: heaven. More specifically, a "new heaven and a new earth." Or, as N.T. Wright calls it, "life after life after death."

What has troubled me about the "heaven" thing in some religious circles is that it is the only thing that matters: you're born, sometime you believe that Jesus died for you, and then you go to heaven when you die. Period. That's it. All there is to it. And, I don't believe it- that is, this is all there is to it.

I believe, from my standpoint as a follower of Jesus and a faith in a God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that this life matters. Life now. Life that is robust with meaning ("eternal life"). Joy and beauty and wholeness. And, living in such a way that loves and cares about the marginalized and the "least of these." Living life to the fullest and seeking justice where it is absent. Seeking even to love one's enemies. This new realm, this new reign, this new "Kingdom" that has broken into our world...NOW.

I believe that. I want to live my life aligned with that truth.

And...I believe in life after my life has ended in its current state. That there will truly be a new heaven and new earth (whatever that will look like) that will not be this huge dichotomy between the physical and spiritual being.

I have thought much more about this in the past 5 weeks. It's not an either/or: this life or life after death. This is where history is headed, where God will redeem and restore and bring all things to completion. That gives me great hope even as I walk through life on this earth. Another one of those both/and deals.

While I'm not ready for that today, I know that much more awaits me, and Gail. It will be the fullness, completeness and perfection of the Kingdom of God that we are already beginning to experience now.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Our personal world turned upside down

I am crying a lot these days. We, Gail and I, have shed a ton of tears.

Two huge happenings in our lives.

Today is Gail's (my wife) last day on staff with Young Life. That may not sound so startling; people change jobs/ministry quite a bit. This is different than a more typical job change. Gail has served almost 32 years in this ministry, the past 10 as one of the senior vice presidents for field ministry.

So, this is a time of grief. Loss. Deep grief. I can't begin to describe what it has felt like over the past several weeks, and I certainly can't fully understand what it feels like for Gail.

I do want to say this: I am totally proud of Gail in the way she has led and leads, in the way she empowers others to most fully use their gifts, for the tremendous impact she has had on kids and Young Life, and her powerful relational style-full of love-she exercises with her staff.

She will be used in significant ways in the next steps of her life. (Gail would be embarrassed for me to write these things.)

But, it is still grief. And, then, more grief, coupled with shock...

A week ago yesterday, we ended up in the emergency room after Gail was experiencing some headaches and some other symptoms. The shorter story: after a battery of tests, and several MRI's, and waiting hours for the physicians to report back...

...a radiologist and then neurosurgeon come into our room and say that they've spotted a brain tumor. Brain tumor. Do you know what that sounds like when you hear it? Brain tumor. I can still see the look in Gail's face, and feel the numbness that ran through my body. Surreal.

Not only that- he said that he is pretty sure it is a malignant tumor, is in a position deep in Gail's brain, and is likely inoperable. He said that a biopsy is what he would recommend and then we would know for sure. Not only were we in shock, terrified, and numb, but we felt little hope. We wept in each others' arms. Then, that night, and in the days that followed.

For a number of reasons, we decided that we were getting a second opinion and that next day, Friday, we searched high and low for any connections with a reputable neurosurgeon.

It's a longer story, and maybe I'll write more about it at some point, but we got a call out of the blue late Friday afternoon from a top neurosurgeon in the Northwest. A gift. He said his brother called, after hearing about Gail's situation from a prayer network in the Northwest, and wondered if he might call us. I could tell immediately this was a brillant neurosurgeon, confident, resourceful, and had compassion. I cried. An angel? (One friend said, "I think it was Jesus calling!")

We were put in touch with an amazing, exceptional neurosurgeon here in Denver who has been marvelous. After looking at the MRI, and consulting with others, he has said it is tricky, uncertain if it is malignant or benign, and is pursuing various tests to help diagnose this mass.

It may be malignant or benign. It may be operable or inoperable, or partially removable. It may or may not need to be removed. We are waiting.

We have been given so much more hope, even with the uncertainty facing us. We are so grateful for competent, compassionate medical professionals.

And, we are so grateful for the flood of emails, calls and cards (and other expresssions of love) from people coast to coast. We are empowered by the prayers of thousands (one friend has kicked in a network of prayer in West Africa where he said there are 1,000 people each hour praying for us!). We do not take this lightly. This prayer for healing and for us as a family.

So we wait. We plead for healing. I know God wants us to pray what is on our heart and mind.

Our world has been rocked. But, I know we have the Rock and Refuge, and as one in our new church has said, "We will be your rock!"

That has been taking place and we are blown away by the love of others and people who are praying fervently. As we wait, and find our hope in God, I'm so thankful for this.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I don't want a "Christian" America

I'm not looking for a "Christian" nation. That's not my hope as I live in this country.

And, if I lived in Iran, I would not want a "Muslim" nation.

In other words, I would not want to live in a theocracy. The recent protests in Iran, after the most recent Presidential election, has brought this to the table more forcefully. The Supreme Leader, in that setting, is powerful with regard to politics and the direction of the nation.

Many in America find this theocratic rule, in Iran, to be unsettling. It creates anger in many. I wonder: would Christians in this country be equally upset if we had a theocracy here if it were Christian? I'm not so sure what the reaction would be. "Perhaps it would be ok as long as it were Christian," some might think.

Not me. For, neither did God intend this to be the case (nation states run theocratically), nor do I believe it to be good or what is best for nation states or governance. God did not intend for Christians to take over a country, rule it, and then impose that faith on others (the Constantinian error, i.e. Constantine becomes Emperor in 303AD and makes Christianity the "officical" religion of Rome). Faith in and relationship with God is always voluntary. We live with pluralism of not just socio-economic, ethnic, and racial dimensions but of religion, as well, in our nation states. We seek to respect those differences, live side-by-side, and work for the common good.

But, we do not impose religion on others- Islam, Christianity or any other faith.

So, I don't want a "Christian" nation. Besides that, it's a myth- that notion. I want to live in friendship and with respect for my neighbors and fellow citizens regardless of their religious beliefs.

And, what I really want is for the church to be the church. To live as faithful communities within this nation (or any nation), seeking to follow Jesus as counter-cultural communities. We don't impose; we invite. We don't coerce others with morality; we endeavor to live what we believe is moral and true.

Forward as groups of "resident aliens."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd, Jim Wallis and Mennonites

We just returned from a week at the biannual Mennonite Convention of Mennonite Church USA. If you were in a Mennonite church in the past 20 years, and attended the youth convention (coincides with the adult gathering), you know what it's like- about 5,000 high school kids with speakers like Tony Campolo, Mike Yaconelli, Yolanda King, etc.

If you are not in a Mennonite church or know nothing much about Mennonites you might go, "So...?" Or, "What's the big deal?" Or, "Sounds like a happenin' time!"

Speakers for the worship sessions included Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd and Jim Wallis. You might be interested in Boyd's blog entry, "A night with Mennonites and Jim Wallis," http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/

So, here's the deal for me...we have started a new church, The Bridge, in this emerging/missional stream that has roots in an Anabaptist/Mennonite vision and spirituality, and connects to a more progressive Evangelical stream. What I heard from the speakers and the conversations with others in Columbus, Ohio only reinforced the vision for this church. Others, including Claiborne and Boyd, said, "Go after it!"

These speakers pointed to the theology and vision rooted in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition that intersects with what many are talking about and looking for as we begin the 21st century. Frankly, I don't know where the Mennonite Church will go- if it will be able to adapt in some of its settings to connect to this growing hunger. We'll see. I hope so.

But, I come back to Denver energized by the voices of Claiborne, Boyd and Wallis. Some great things are bubbling around the world with a renewed vision for the Kingdom of God.

Count me in!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father’s Day reflections

My absence from this blog has ended…with a few reflections on Father’s Day.

Among the times we take a look backward and forward, and evaluate what is indeed important, are milestones, beginning of a new year, crises and special days. So it is with Father’s Day, for me, this year.

Perhaps it is because we have just come off a wonderful vacation that included my two children. Perhaps it is just this arbitrary day on the calendar: “Father’s Day.” But, my thoughts came around to a few of the things that matter most to me.

I have some goals and hopes and dreams that are beyond my immediate family. And, I think about those quite a bit and endeavor to live my life and use my gifts focused on some of those core values and goals. It’s part of my life each week.

But, in the old what-would-you-want-said-about-you-at-your-funeral deal, here’s what really matters: that my son and daughter can say that they respect me, that they have been a priority in my life, and they know without a shadow of doubt how much I love them; and, that Gail, my wife, can say the same thing.

What matters to me is how I live my life with integrity as a dad and husband. If that isn’t there, then the other goals and dreams lose their meaning.

On my anniversary I tend to focus more deeply on gratitude for the wife I have. On Father’s Day, I’m prompted to reflect, with gratitude, on how blessed I am with two wonderful children.

If Wade and Megan happen to read this, they might be embarrassed. Sorry…

On the recent trip we were fortunate to have had (for several reasons), I don’t hesitate to say, without question, the best part of the trip. It was the last night when we were all together before Wade, Megan and Aaron, her boyfriend, had to fly back to the U.S. We were at a hotel on the side of mountain in Southern Switzerland- Locarno. It overlooked a lake and the mountain next to it.

Instead of going out to dinner, the consensus was to buy some groceries and wine at the local store and sit out on the terrace for our meal. Good choice. Fantastic choice. For the next hours of daylight, sunset and then evening hours, we had a fabulous time enjoying the beauty, laughing, telling stories- a ton of family stories from our extended family that will get passed on, and enjoying each other.

As a dad, you couldn’t buy those things and times from me. Not for any price.

In gratitude this Father’s Day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The fall of "Christian" America??

The idea that we are in a post-Christian America or that the religious landscape has changed dramatically in America is not a new notion. It has been bantered about for quite some time. A recent article in Newsweek (cover story) by Jon Meacham, "The Decline and Fall of Christian America," has prompted reaction from various circles.

I want to say more about this in a future post(s), but I'll add this note for now:

I'm not alarmed. In fact, it could be a good thing to acknowledge: America is not a Christian nation.

It's important to distinguish "civil religion" (of any country- those values, stories, mores, etc. that link people together from a variety of faith traditions) and the "kingdom of God" (for followers of Jesus, this is our priority).

The church (followers of Jesus) was on the margins of society following Jesus and continued in that form for the first 300 years...and it had a powerful impact on society and grew tremendously.

A lot of fear will get tossed around in Christian circles with this idea ("what is happening to our nation??!!"). I do not live with fear regarding this. My goals, or the purpose for the church of which I help to lead (The Bridge), do not change.

Carry on.

(More later)

Spring, Cincinnati Reds and hope

The itch comes each spring. The baseball itch.

I've long given up the dream of setting foot on a major league field and playing in a major league game. My body aches thinking about it. The last time I played baseball (not softball, but baseball) was when I was 42 in an Over-30 yr old baseball league in Toledo. Holy cow, Harry Carey, those reflexes change drastically!

But, I still love spring and the opening of the season. Box scores when I open the Sports' section in the morning. Baseball Tonight on ESPN, catching some Reds' games with my son, going to Coors' Field and cheering on the Rockies (they still don't have the same status as the Reds yet), and living with hope.

My Reds are 4-4 as of today. Some say they are the "dark horse" this year. Optimism- they might do it this year! They might end up in last place...in the middle of the pack...or in 1st. Right now, it doesn't matter. This is the beginning of the season and anything can happen!

Easter, mimosas, community and a feast

Easter was different this year. I have memories of many wonderful Easters in my past, and there are numerous ways and forms in which the Resurrection of Jesus can be named and celebrated. This year was different from previous Easter celebrations...and it was good.

It was a celebration with our new church, The Bridge. The one glaring absence was not being able to be with our two children, but that is now part of our life when you live in three different cities.

This was also something we had in common with most of the 25, from The Bridge, who showed up at our place for a day of celebration: their immediate family didn't live in Denver. Part of what made this a special celebration is that there was an obvious warmth and genuine sense of community as we were together. And, we were together, most of us, for about 6 hours.

Here's what kicked off the idea: a study group of 8 from the church went through N.T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope, this past winter. It's about the Resurrection of Jesus (yep, just that: Jesus was dead and buried, and he was resurrected back to life...a body- not a disembodied spirit), and about hope, and about rejecting an escapist view found in some circles of Christianity (in that view- we live, "accept Jesus," die, go to heaven and don't give a hoot about this world/earth because "we're outta here!"). It was a wonderful study and had impact on us- thinking about how we live and function in the world. In Denver. In our neighborhoods.

So...Wright says Easter needs to be a time when we "take things up" in the same way Lent is a time to "give things up." Easter should be our highest celebration! "Champagne for breakfast!" One night, a member of the study group said we ought to think about our Easter celebration: "why not have mimosas!" We did.

We had coffee, rolls, casseroles and other breakfast foods starting at 10:00 a.m. We talked and laughed. We had mimosas and a tasteful, meaningful toast (not a cheesy affair) acknowledging the Risen Christ, that our lives our changed, that we want to follow him as Lord, and celebrating our community being built on Jesus....We had four "testimonies" about the meaning of the Resurrection for personal lives and for The Bridge. (I had tears as I listened to these representative voices.) I shared a proclamation of why Easter matters. We prayed and read Scripture....And, we had a feast- everyone contributing to this great meal.

We talked, laughed and enjoyed each other.

While I don't want to make this more than what it is, I also don't want to minimize it. This was a significant day for us as a church. It was both a culmination of the past 7 months (when we started the church); it was also a launch into the future with zeal, joy, hope and energy. Empowered by the Risen Jesus.

This was also important: 2 attended as guests for the first time. They were welcomed and it was also symbolic: there is always an open space for new people in this community. As new people have joined these past 7 months, more will join in the months and years ahead: joining this Resurrection band seeking to follow Jesus, live this out in Denver, and endeavor to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others who seek, are lost, poor, suffering or cast aside by society.

And, I mean this in any way but cheesy: Easter- it's all about Jesus and I'm full of joy!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hanging out and inviting (Week 6:4)

Topic: Week 6- The new community: the body of Christ
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Matthew 9:9-13

Yesterday, our church, The Bridge, hung out in the west side of Denver for four hours. It was a significant event and time for us, another step for our church. (That’s another story, which might work its way here at some point.) Related to the thought today, it was time for this body of Christ, this new community, to be with “outsiders.”

Whether it was helping Delen, the cook, prepare and serve the meal for the seniors at lunch, or chatting with the seniors who come to the Denver Inner City Parish for meals and community, or listening to Allyson tell about the programs and outreach of the center, or going on a neighborhood walk with Jason, Hector and Hector, Jr., or staring at the graffiti art or gang signs, or making a decision to take steps to partner in both an urban garden and with the food bank, it was about “outsiders,” in many ways.

Not outsiders from the viewpoint of God toward humanity (some of you are insiders and some outsiders), but from my/our standpoint. Not “outsiders” as in us and them, and we’re here to help you. But, outsiders with respect to our community, our current make-up of The Bridge.

It’s easy to get comfortable with insiders and those who are in our group. And, Jesus wants us to break the mold and comfort of just being with our group. In that sense, the outsider can be the one who is without a relationship with God or following Jesus. In this story, Jesus calls or invites (v. 13) the “sinner.”

Or, the way of relating to outsiders may be to hang out with them (v. 10)- hang out is my translation of “sat at dinner in the house,” which is the meaning of sharing a meal in the home in that 1st century setting. Jesus hangs out with the “tax collectors and sinners,” clearly outsiders.

Invite and hang out. That’s part of being the body of Christ. Whether that might be rubbing shoulders or relationships at The Irish Rover on Thursdays, or coffee with a friend, or serving a meal to lonely seniors, or handing out food at the food bank to those struggling to make it through the month without being hungry, or planting an urban garden with others in the neighborhood in honor of our Creator God, building relationships, and providing some healthy food for those who need it. Or, you name the ways you might invite or hang out with those on the outside, broken, lost or in need.

These two words stand out to me today in one aspect of being the body of Jesus in the world: invite…hang out. With joy!

Question: Where is a situation(s) where you might hang out or invite (outsiders)?

Prayer: Gracious God, you sit down with me. The most profound way you have done this is by your Incarnation: coming to be with us in Jesus. You also continue to do that today; you continue to “hang out” and “invite” me. My Lord, show me the ways you want me to do that very thing with others as the body of Christ. In your name I pray, Amen.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Characterized by love (Week 6:3)

Topic: Week 6- The new community: the body of Christ
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read John 13:34-35; Matthew 5:43-48

The idea we are thinking about this week is the “body of Christ,” which is, the church…or, new community (if “church” has a bad ring to it). We- this new community- are the body of Christ.

What are the characteristics of being the body of Christ? I’m noting only several; yesterday it was serving “the least of these.” Today, love. During these six weeks, I’ve mentioned love twice. Today, I’d like to see it from the framework of how this, love, let’s people in on knowing we are followers of Jesus.

How might people know that we are followers of Jesus (or have their curiosity heightened about faith and life in Jesus)? In this passage in John, Jesus says it is “when they see the love that you have for each other” (v. 35, The Message). This love for each other is something people can see, as Jesus notes.

I don’t know how you see it, but that appears quite true from my experience. People can tell if love is present.

Distinguishing mark #1: love for each other in the body of Christ- the new community you are part of.

Mark #2: love for enemies. Ouch. Here’s how Jesus calls his followers to also indicate they are his followers, i.e. the body of Christ: “You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. …If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.” (v.43-44, 46-47 The Message).

It’s easy (most of the time, at least!) to love those who love you. The distinguishing piece, in this area of love, is loving our enemies. That’s the work (a spiritually, disciplined life) of a lifetime and being connected close to Jesus (he “in us”).

So, another characteristic: love. And, two aspects, when lived out, point to Jesus and let others know that we are followers of Jesus: love for each other, and love for enemies.

This is part of our call. In a call to be this kind of community (body of Christ), Greg Boyd says, “This is what we are called to be: a community characterized by radical, revolutionary, Calvary-quality love; a community that manifests the love of the triune God; a community that strives for justice not be conquering but by being willing to suffer; a community that God uses to transform the world by providing it with an alternative to its own self-centered, violent way of existing.” (p. 122, The Myth of a Christian Nation).

So we might experience a more robust life and that others may see Jesus.

Question: How do you see yourself, today, in your “love life?”

Prayer: Lord, may your love in me continue to grow daily so that I display this more completely to my community of Jesus-followers. And, may it grow even more deeply that I display it to my enemies in whatever form they take. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tom- a “weekly sacrament of grace” (Week 6:2)

Topic: Week 6- The new community: the body of Christ
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Matthew 25:31-46

The guy on the other end of the phone line appeared to either have a speech impediment or some type of mental disability. He called and asked for the pastor, and when I picked up the phone, he proceeded to tell me that he lived three blocks away and wanted to know what time church was on Sunday and if he was welcome. He and his friend, Norm.

He also wanted to know if we had potluck meals at church. In the years that followed, it was evident why he asked that question: he was usually first in line at our monthly potlucks, went back for heaping servings of seconds, thirds and more, and he left potlucks with his bag full of plastic tubs of church-potluck food that the hospitality committee members always prepared for him.

Tom was 52 yrs old when I first met him that Sunday after his first phone call to me. He was overweight, wore clothes that didn’t match (as in, striped shirts with double-knit plaid pants), he smelled of stale sweat, it always seemed he had a 3-day beard, and he had poor social etiquette (he would walk up and interrupt a conversation you were having with someone else). He was in church almost every Sunday and he never missed potluck Sundays!

He carried a paper bag with handles to church each week which contained his Bible, a picture of Jesus, a picture of his friend Kevin, and odds and ends. He was often annoying. It wasn’t the prettiest sight to eat across the table from him at potluck meals.

He had a mental disability and was in a group home, with Norm, three blocks from our church. More importantly, in my view, he had an emotional and spiritual vacuum that was with him, perhaps, since he was a small child. And, he loved Jesus. Yes, I believe he loved Jesus in the way he could best understand it. And, he hugged people. He hugged members of the church. I got a hug every Sunday from Tom and I hugged Tom each week.

Here’s the thing: in the years before he died, he was a member of our church, and I’m grateful to say, that church community loved Tom. They picked him up and drove him to church when our church location was moved. They packed food for him after potlucks. They hugged Tom- smell and all. They listened to him when they were bored to tears. They listened to him tell the same stories about Kevin over and over again.

He was annoying and it was frustrating more than once. But, he became a “weekly sacrament of grace” (as one member called Tom- profoundly, in my eyes). He was accepted here. This was the church being the body of Christ.

Shane Claiborne reminds us of being the body of Christ in this, “We are literally to be the body of Jesus in the world. Christians are to be little Christs- people who put flesh on Jesus in the world today. You are the only Jesus some people will ever see.” (p. 228, Jesus for President). We, the new community, are the body of Christ.

Included in that is the posture of serving others, especially the poor and broken. Jesus comes as and is a servant; he has called us to be servants. This is being the body of Jesus in the world: serving.

And here is one of those apparent puzzles: this new community (“church”) is the body of Christ in the world today; serving is one essential characteristic of this body. And, when we serve others (the hungry, poor, homeless, suffering, broken, etc.—see the Matthew 25 passage today), Jesus says we are doing this to him- Jesus himself!!

We, the body of Christ, when serving the poor, hungry, stranger, etc. are doing it to Jesus. For, Jesus, the one who has suffered for us in his love for us, is in the broken and poor (as we see in this passage). I don’t have a clean way of resolving this tension of these two aspects; I merely live with the truth Jesus shares with us in this mystery.

We are called to serve each other, and especially, the Tom’s of the world. And in doing so, we meet Jesus in new ways even as we do this as the body of Christ. My life has been changed as a result of Tom who came into my life- messy, smelly, annoying, and broken to the core. A “sacrament of grace.”

Question: Where might God be calling you/us to serve the poor and broken?

Prayer: Oh Lord God, you have called me to be part of the body of Christ and to be the body of Jesus in the world. Make me more like your Son Jesus so that I reflect him to the suffering and poor, abused and wounded. In your name, Amen.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The new community or something like that (Week 6:1)March 31, 2009

Topic: Week 6- The new community: the body of Christ
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Ephesians 1:20-23; 1 Corinthians 12:27

Bring up the word “Christian” to some stranger in a conversation and you’ve got decent odds that she might roll her eyes or you get a sarcastic smirk or maybe even initiate a tirade against those hard, judgmental, hypocritical, and pious folks who want to tell me how to live my life. Say the word “church” to anyone who is not a part of or member of a “church” and you might find the “church” written off or worse.

Say the name “Jesus” to that same crowd and the odds of a positive response go way up.

Which brings me to Jesus. The Christ. And here is where I’m going this week: the body of Christ in the world today. The “body of Christ:” this is what the church is called. “…the church, which is his body…” (Ephesians 1:22-23) This Pauline phrase you will find again and again in his letters in the New Testament.

Ok, I don’t know what to do about some of the semantics; do we find other names for “Christian” and “church” and the like? I don’t know; perhaps. I think about it often because of all that has become associated with those nouns, and how it clouds being able to have a conversation without some of that baggage. For now, I’m still using “church” as well as some new language. Maybe, the “new community” as some are doing.

But, whatever word, or words, we use the reality is this: the church is the body of Christ. Robert Webber says it this way, “The church is the continuation of the incarnation…There is only one actual incarnation of God and that is Jesus Christ, but the church, being his body, sustains an incarnational dimension.” (p.95, The Younger Evangelicals). This new community is the body of Christ.

Ok, we’re talking about you and me. I’m thinking of my context and time: The Bridge, our “new community” in Denver. But, this is any of us in this new community(ies) around the world.

Over these six weeks of thinking and praying and reflecting on “who is Jesus,” this is part of it: the body of Christ in the world today. I find the words of Stanley Hauerwas compelling and accurate, “The work of Jesus was not a new set of ideals or principles for reforming or even revolutionizing society, but the establishment of a new community, a people that embodied forgiveness, sharing and self-sacrificing love in its rituals and discipline. In that sense, the visible church was not the bearer of Christ’s message; it was itself to be the message.” (cited by Tim Keel, Intuitive Leadership, p. 156).

To many of you, these words- “body of Christ”- are not new. They may be familiar and worn. But, I would invite you to consider the reality and potency of this concept: the new community as the body of Christ in the world. That…that is something which has the potential to foster deep joy, energy and to even make small ripples in changing the perception of “church” to those who are on the outside.

The rest of this week I’d like to consider some of the ways for us to be the body of Christ.

Question: What first comes to mind when you think of yourself as part of the “body of Christ?”

Prayer: Our heavenly Father, may I consider anew what it means for me to be part of the body of Christ in the world today. May I be captured by what this means for me and for us to be this new community. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Monday, March 30, 2009

New post tomorrow...

Hey folks,

Just a short note: we are in Kansas City visiting a church, Jacob's Well, and Tim Keel, the pastor. Our days are full and I haven't had time to write my daily blog/meditation. I will be back on tomorrow- Tuesday.

The peace of Christ!

Friday, March 27, 2009

A new creation (Week 5:4)

Topic: Week 5- Christ in us
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it m

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Is it, “There is a new creation!” or “he/she is a new creature?” (v. 17). While not to minimize the hard work of textual critics attempting to give us the best guess at the most accurate text, my answer is: both. The NRSV and NIV translate this differently.

My response: when Christ is “in us” or we are “in Christ,” there is a whole new creation! Yes! And, one is a new creation when Christ is in us. That is what can make the difference in how we seek to have our lives formed more in the likeness of Jesus, living it out in our personal lives, our families, among our friends, among and with the poor and suffering, and among those who push our buttons, who want to hurt us, who want to tear down instead of build up, i.e. our enemies.

I find Lewis Smedes’ words helpful in thinking about Christ in us and us being a new creature. “ ‘Christ within us’ is a reality of the new creation. Jesus Christ is Lord. The Lord is the Spirit. The Spirit is Christ in effective action within the present time, leading, enlightening, calling, and pulling us from within, shaping our lives to the pattern of Christ and His way. The power, or the Spirit, is at work within us and on us, in our inner man [being], in our hearts, ‘on our spirits.’ This is Christ within us.” (p. 133, Union with Christ)

This new creation is from God (v.18) and this is the work of God.

Without this, and I consider this a vital issue, we are merely trying to follow the teachings of Jesus on our own strength and without the power of the Spirit at work in us. But, with the Spirit, all things are possible.

We see it. And, it’s in ordinary folks like you and me. Yes, we see it in St. Francis, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr. But, sometimes that litany can almost paralyze us and not realize: “Christ in us” applies to all of us who surrender our lives to Jesus- ordinary folks like you…me.

Walk in that power that is shaping your life into the likeness of Jesus!

Question: What might the power of Christ in you do to make an impact in your sphere of influence?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you that I can live as a new creation because of your reconciling work. Make me an instrument of your reconciliation and love by the power of your presence within me. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

“Do you not realize…!” (Week 5:3)

Topic: Week 5- Christ in us
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:20

“Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?!” In the midst of this letter Paul writes to the Corinthian believers asking them to examine themselves, he asks this question. We could ask that same question, perhaps rhetorically.

It’s pretty startling if we step back from it and ponder the question. It reiterates what is said in Galatians 2:20 about Christ living in those who acknowledge him as Lord.

When we ask, “Who is Jesus?,” this is part of the answer: Jesus Christ is in us.

This can get a bit confusing: who, actually, is living within? Christ? The Holy Spirit? The Spirit of Christ? The Spirit of God? (see Romans 8:9-11) We can only allude to it here and it embraces an understanding of the triune God- this mystery and truth, and the oneness of God and the various ways God is manifest.

I believe it’s worth noting a lengthier quote from Lewis Smedes, the late theologian/ethicist who taught at Fuller Seminary, in his book Union with Christ, “The Christ within is the Lord Jesus…History moves on in redemption. The specific person of Calvary becomes the specific Lord of heaven and earth. And his modus operandi changes, not to fit the changing epoch, but to create the new epoch. He is now the Lord who operates effectively through the Spirit. This is not merely a change in title; it is not only an elevation in status. It is a shift in the kind of work He does and in the manner in which He does it. Being the Lord Jesus within us, He is at work within us in the freedom of His lordly power.” (p. 134)

Jesus is Lord, operating “effectively through the Spirit,” living within. We, in our bodies individually and collectively (next week’s topic), are the temples-the locus, of where the Spirit dwells.


Question: What might transpire if you listened to (and prayed) this question over and over again this morning (evening or whatever): “Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you have promised to never leave me. Do I realize that you, operating ‘effectively through the Spirit,’ live in me? I want to live in your kingdom way this day, this week, living in that revolutionary kingdom by your presence within me. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Connecting who Jesus is and ethics/living (Week 5:2)

Topic: Week 5- Christ in us
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Matthew 5:1-2; 28:20

How do I demonstrate value and significance to the student in my class who is constantly angry and annoys me? How do I take the Jesus’ way with my neighbor who tosses his cigarette butts over in our yard? How do I demonstrate Jesus’ life and not hate Mr. Road Rage, cutting in front of me and slamming on the brakes? How do I forgive her when she has hurt me so badly by what she did? How do I love my enemy, praying for him and returning good for his evil?

In other words, how do I follow Jesus in the hard ways that come our way just in the course of going about life? How do I live the Sermon on the Mount and all the ways Jesus taught and modeled for us to live? Matthew 5 begins with these first two verses telling us this is what he taught his disciples then, and teaches us today, as well.

In a slightly different focus from the “Christ in us” theme for this week, I want to bridge the person of Jesus with the practices of living for the follower/disciple. In theological terms, it is the bridge between Christology and ethics.

It’s the person of Jesus that makes the difference. The things we have been considering over the past weeks with the question, “Who is Jesus?” The one who saves. The one we follow as Lord. The one who came announcing and embodying the kingdom of God- that which he talked about more than anything else. God Incarnate- God among us.

And further, the one who said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Always.

This is what Dale Bruner had in mind with his introductory words to the Sermon on the Mount in his Matthew commentary, “Matthew taught us in his four-chapter preface that Christology (who Jesus is) is the key to the mystery of Christian ethics (what Jesus teaches). Without the Son of God, the Sermon on the Mount is not only impossible; it is impertinent. But since the Sermon’s Commands are accompanied by the Sermon’s Commander, there is something very exciting ahead!...With this Commander, all things are possible (19:26), even…the practically impossible Sermon on the Mount.” (p. 152, Matthew)

It’s with Jesus, the one who is with us always, that we are empowered to deal with Mr. Road Rage dude, love our enemies…

Question: What’s the area, right now in your life, where you most need the person of Jesus to help you live the way of Jesus?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for your promise to be with me always. Empower me to walk in this joyful, yet often very difficult, way of compassion, forgiveness, and loving others, even my enemies. In your name I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Spirit of Christ in us (Week 5:1)

Topic: Week 5- Christ in us
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Romans 8:9-11

I’d like to begin this week with the “big picture” idea of the Spirit of God living within us. We not only have God revealed to us, in Jesus, when he came to live and be one of us (the Incarnation). But, we have not been left alone for we have been given the Spirit of God to be within us (the Indwelling).

In this passage Paul says that the Spirit dwells/lives within us. He says that: the "Spirit…Spirit of God…Spirit of Christ…Christ" lives within those who are in the Spirit, who have given their lives over to follow Jesus. This Spirit can be said to be the very Spirit of Jesus living within- Christ lives in me! (Galatians 2:20).

We are called to follow Jesus, but we are not left alone to do this. The very Spirit of Christ lives within and empowers us to follow in the way of Jesus.

Many have written off the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus as impractical; “You can’t do it!”- so, it’s written off. I will agree, but only in this way: you can’t do this merely on your own will power and determination.

And that’s the point: we aren’t alone. Jesus didn’t teach us to follow him, or call us to this new way and the kingdom of God, in order to frustrate us or just give us some theoretical teaching that was never intended to be lived out. But, neither did he leave us without power or alone; he came to live within and set us free to walk in this way of the “upside-down kingdom!”

That fills me with hope!

Question: Have you thought about the power that resides within you- Christ in you, enabling you to follow Jesus in your daily life?

Prayer: “’Have your own way, Lord! Have your own way! Hold over my being absolute sway! Fill with your Spirit till all shall see, Christ only, always, living in me’ (Adelaide Pollard). I pray this in your name, Amen.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who’s kingdom? (Week 4:6)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Mark 1:14-15

With a bias toward action and a commitment to following Jesus, there is a temptation for us to take control. It sneaks in the back door- the illusion: “We will bring in the kingdom!” The greater temptation is the opposite: sit back and God will do this on his own. But, the reminder this morning is in response to the first temptation.

So, here’s the reminder: this is God’s kingdom. “The kingdom of God.” What Jesus is announcing, teaching and embracing in his very person is the kingdom of God.

We do not usher it in. We do not control it. We don’t set the agenda. We don’t define the nature of it. God does. Further, it is the power of God that is infused in us even as we seek to follow Jesus in this kingdom that is counter to the kingdom of the world.

But…there is always a “but” here. But, that doesn’t mean we sit on our hands or say to God, “Go change that situation of poverty. Go help those refugees. Go and bring justice into the housing situation over there. Go bring peace into that conflict.” We are participants; we are God’s ambassadors of reconciliation. We are the instruments that God uses.

We are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Walking in and announcing this kingdom that Jesus embodied. And, that kingdom is the kingdom of God.

Thanks be to God!

Question: What temptation do you face most often: to take charge, be in control, and serve the needs of others on your own efforts (as if it’s your kingdom); or, to sit back and pray and hope God changes poverty, violence/war, an injustice, etc.?

Prayer: Lord God, this is your kingdom. I pray for your kingdom to come, your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. May I be an instrument of yours and your kingdom for healing, peace, joy, justice, freedom, reconciliation and life by your power and life within me. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My friend, Robby (Week 4:5)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Luke 22:24-27

This kingdom of God Jesus comes announcing, and embodying, is truly an “upside-down kingdom.” It’s certainly not always easy and it often defies logic among standards in the world, but it is good. Very good. The way and life with the King and this kingdom brings meaning, even as it is upside-down.

I’ve known Robby (as I’ll call him) since 7th grade. In so many ways, our differences would not have brought us together naturally. He was from a wealthy family, he was Jewish, and he lived in a huge, expensive home on the other side of town. I came from a blue collar, middle class family, my parents were Christian, and we lived in a small, modest 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom home.

Sports brought us together in junior high. I played on the same baseball, basketball and football teams with Robby. He was the second-baseman and leadoff batter; I was the centerfielder and hit behind him in the line-up. On the baseball field, basketball court and football field we became good friends. We often sat next to each other on bus trips to games.

Robby was “normal.” He made all “A’s” and “B’s.” He was our class president one year. He chose “The Age of Aquarius” for the theme song of his campaign for class president; it worked. (Trivia for the old dudes: what group made this song popular in the 70s?) He had tons of friends and was at the popular parties.

Then something happened. It’s a longer story, and not that pertinent to my point here, but Robby was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He’s been in “institutions” ever since the early 80s. I lost track of him except for an occasional call to me over the years. I haven’t seen Robby for 30 years, until this past month. He’s living in Colorado and in a nursing home. I hunted him down and we met last month.

I met Robby and we went to lunch. It was pretty startling to me, because, instead of the guy who you would expect to have a family and decent job, I looked into the eyes of a guy who looks a homeless man on the streets of Denver. At 5 ft. 9 inches, his 260 pounds slows him down. (Not the old Robby who was the fastest on the team.) He is sockless in beat-up tennis shoes. His pants and shirt are stained with food. During lunch, he gulps food and it’s sloppy. He’s balding, like yours truly, and his hair isn’t combed. He takes a break to smoke outside; he smokes three cigarettes, in rapid order, on the bench outside. His health can’t be that good. Messy.

But, here’s the deal: God has asked me to love Robby and take him out to lunch. I am to just flat-out love him. Hang out with him. That, and Robby in particular, is another sign of this upside down kingdom. In addition to my family and friends, and my church community, The Bridge, I need people like Robby in my life.

My friend teaches me grace. It teaches me how I don’t earn God’s love. Being with Robby is another sermon to me about everyone being created in the image of God and that God loves the world. And, it is a reminder to me of the kingdom of God Jesus embodied, announced and called us to: the great reversal. Up is down. The last are first. You enter like a child. The greatest is the one who serves. The greatest power is self-sacrificial love. The cross of Jesus is the greatest witness to all of this.

So, I’m thankful for Robby. When I bring him pictures and articles of our junior high basketball team, we recall how Wiggins used to have that sweet jump shot from the baseline, we laugh about an old girlfriend, or I see a full, body-laugh from Robby when we share a crazy story from the past, I experience joy and life within in a strange way. Over a messy, sloppy, cheap lunch I get another glimpse of what Jesus is talking about in the nature of this “upside-down” kingdom of God.

And...I want the "Robby's" of the world to be welcome in our church community.

Question: What are the ways you hear and see God speaking to you about the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God?

Prayer: Lord, it is easy for me to gravitate to the things that are comfortable. I give thanks to you today for all that you have given me- this relationship with you, relationships with others, and all that comes my way. Help me to have my heart open to ways you continue to speak to me, even in the uncomfortable things that come my way. In your name, Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

At the heart of it: love (Week 4:4)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read 1 John 3:16; Luke 6:27-36

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this on a plaque, framed picture, or wedding gift: “…and the greatest of these is love- 1 Corinthians 13:13.” It likely conjures up some warm, positive feelings. Usually tame, mild and maybe a bit syrupy.

It’s not that this isn’t true. In fact, love is central. But, love is sometimes very difficult, even if it is the “greatest,” and we may lose sight of the foundation for this love that is talked about in this letter.

“Who is Jesus?” That’s the question that we’re just scratching the surface with for these six weeks. And, one response is this: not only is the main focus of Jesus’ teachings the kingdom of God but he himself embodies the kingdom of God!

The heart of this kingdom of God, and Jesus himself, is love. But, not just any love. It is love that we see demonstrated on the cross by Jesus, and that love was demonstrated by him throughout his life- the way of the cross. Loving outsiders and outcasts, forgiving those who put him on a cross, loving enemies, and loving those who denied him.

And, it doesn’t just end with Jesus; here is where it is not just a simple reference framed in a picture or on wedding wrapping paper. We are called to this type of love- this “Calvary love”- in our lives as well. Greg Boyd says it this way,

“The love we are called to trust and emulate is supremely manifested in the cross of Jesus. The cross is the ultimate symbol of the kingdom of God, for it defines what the kingdom always looks like. It looks like Christ- self-sacrificial and loving. It looks like grace.” (p. 34, The Myth of a Christian Nation)

There’s that “upside-down kingdom” again. It was this love, in God among us in his Son, Jesus, that has defeated Satan and evil on the cross. This is the power that has overcome and transforms: Jesus on the cross. It has changed our lives.

This love is what we are called to as well, as Jesus tells us. It is that which has power to transform, heal, restore relationships, and break down walls. And, it comes from the power of Christ living within us.

Question: What situations and relationships might be impacted if I pray for this love of Jesus to be made more real in my life?

Prayer: “Lord, I know this is the way of life, freedom and joy- living out your love. I also know this is hard and I need your power and presence within me. Help me to follow you and your call: to love my enemies, to do good to those who hate me, to bless those who curse me, and to pray for those who abuse me. Show me who I am to love today. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What does the kingdom of God look like? (Week 4:3)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Matthew 4:17; Luke 17:20-21

If this kingdom of God is so important, what does it look like? If Jesus talked about it more than anything else, then our ears should perk up.

What does it look like? In a word, Jesus. Jesus, the Incarnation of God among humanity, embodies and incarnates the kingdom of God. At the beginning of his public ministry, he announces, “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” (Matthew 4:17, The Message) It is here and he embodies it.

“It is here! God’s kingdom is already here! It is here among you!” Look at Jesus, and all that he taught and preached about the kingdom, and we will get handles on what this kingdom looks like.

Followers of Jesus are kingdom people. The kingdom: the rule and reign and realm of God. The reign and rule and intentions of God: this is what Jesus comes announcing, and then incarnates in his person. And, we are invited to live in this way of Jesus.

It is already here…and it is not yet here fully. That is why we also pray “Thy kingdom come” since it is not completely here. We seek to live as kingdom people, to be signs of and point to what it will be in fullness some day in the new heavens and new earth.

What does the kingdom look like? Jesus. We take our cues from him, God’s final and definitive revelation. We look at his life and death. We listen to his stories and parables, his teaching and preaching. And, we open up our inner being to his rule and kingdom- and to his very person to come live and rule within.

We keep looking to Jesus, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), “the first and last” (Revelation 22:13). This is, literally, the journey for the rest of our lives- to continually learn and grow and be transformed into the likeness of Jesus. What we see in Jesus is the very kingdom of God- that rule and reign and life that is from God, and…which is “upside-down” from the kingdom of the world. More later…

Question: What do I see in the nature of the kingdom of God as I look at Jesus?

Prayer:O God, keep my eyes intently fixed on Jesus. I submit to your rule and reign, your kingdom; keep me focused on Jesus and what this life looks like that you so desire for me and the rest of the world. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world” (Week 4:2)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read John 18:36; 17:15-18

Jesus not only makes it clear in what he says but in the very way in which he lived: his kingdom, the kingdom of God, is in sharp contrast to the kingdom of the world. We see it splashed over the pages of the New Testament.

When Donald Kraybill used the title phrase of his book, “the upside-down kingdom,” it stuck with many of us. It is an apt description of the kingdom of God. Down is up. The last are first. Life comes from death. The cross is power. Servants are elevated, etc., etc.

Our Lord, the embodiment of the kingdom, rides in the parade exalting him as king on a donkey, not the victor’s horse. He gives his life in the greatest act of love and power in history. It’s the grand reversal of things. Flipping logic on its head.

This is a complete contrast in the way of the kingdom of the world. It’s that contrast that we see lived out and taught by Jesus, and then giving that call to us, his followers, the body of Christ in the world.

But, this is important not to miss: while the contrast of these kingdoms, in the way they operate and function, is clear, followers are not to opt out of the world! This is not a sectarian view: stay away from the “world;” don’t get stained by interactions with it.

Jesus says the opposite. In essence, he says this, “You are different. You live this upside-down way of self-sacrificial love, this servant love. But, I’m not pulling you out of it. In fact, I’m sending you into it! Penetrate the world, as kingdom-of-God-people. Let them see this type of love and servanthood, and I will empower you to live this way.”

Contrasts? You bet. So, do stay off to ourselves? No way! Go into the world, Jesus says, and he is with us.

Question: What are some of the main contrasts you see between the way the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world operates?

Prayer: “O God, go with me into the world, for you have sent me. May I be, increasingly, a light in the world of your ‘upside-down kingdom.’ And may we, as a community who follow Jesus, be a corporate light in this world. It’s in his name that I pray, Amen.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Jesus talked about (Week 4:1)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Mark 1:14-15

Here’s an answer to a Bible trivia question that someone throws out there at a party/summer cookout/bar: “What topic did Jesus talk about more than any other?” If you answered: Heaven and hell- wrong. Salvation- wrong. Belief in God- wrong. Faith- wrong. Eternal life-wrong. Sin-wrong.

Answer: The kingdom of God.

If Jesus says something, those who are followers of him pay attention. If Jesus says something frequently, we pay even more attention. If Jesus talked about something a lot, it must matter and be something he wants us to hear.

When asking the question of “Who is Jesus and what difference does that make?” the kingdom of God comes into the picture. You can’t talk about Jesus and not talk about the kingdom of God; it’s everywhere in the Gospel accounts of Jesus.

Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled; and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) If Jesus speaks so much about it, what does he want us to hear?

Question: Does this surprise you that this is the topic Jesus spoke most often about? What is it about the kingdom of God that Jesus wants me to learn about, experience, and live?

Prayer: Lord God, these words feel pregnant with meaning- the time is fulfilled…the kingdom of God has come near…repent and believe the good news. May you continue to open up to me what you would want me to know and experience about the kingdom of God. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Both/and: Jesus as example; Christ in us (Week 3:6)

Topic: Week 3- Jesus as Lord
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Galatians 2:19-20; 4:19

One of the more common ways I have come to describe this way of Jesus, a life with God, and this life in the kingdom of God is “both/and.” With every book or conversation or study we don’t need to include the “both/and.” Often we focus on a particular topic or issue in our life that needs to be addressed, and it may not have balance in terms of the entire message of the kingdom. And, that’s appropriate.

But, we need to continually remind ourselves of this balance or else we wind up with half of the good news or half of the Story.

This week’s focus on discipleship (following after, learning from Jesus) and imitation (just as Jesus, so we) is needed more than ever in our world by Christians, in my opinion. Jesus is Lord- not Caesar, not any ideology, not any nation, not any system, not any other person. We bow to Jesus as Lord now in what the entire creation will do eventually (Philippians 2:9-11).

We follow him. He is Lord, he is our example, he is The Way. The method matches the message. We are to walk as he walked (1 John 2:6). In doing so, this is where we find life and where others will see Jesus in us as we see Jesus in the ones we serve (Matthew 25:30).

But, I feel compelled to add the other piece of the whole at the end of this week: the “and.” It is the risen Christ, living in us, that is part of the whole. While it may appear strange to say, and garbled, this is our life: we follow Jesus and walk as he walked, and we do this as Christ is living in us (Galatians 2:20). It is Christ who is being formed in us (Galatians 4:19).

To take the steps in this radical way- to extend mercy, welcome outsiders, love enemies, live with simplicity, show forgiveness, resist violence- is to follow Jesus as Lord. To follow Jesus, God Incarnate. And, we are not left alone, for he has sent us his Spirit to point us to Jesus and to live within us.

That empowers me and gives me hope! Jesus is Lord!

Question: As you seek to follow Jesus, what does it mean for you that “Christ lives in” you?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are Lord. I acknowledge that now for my life, and the entire world will bend the knee and confess that some day. As you live in me, Christ, I seek to walk as you walked. May you be formed in me, day by day, so I may love as you loved. In your name I pray, Amen.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Love as Jesus loved (Week 3:5)

Topic: Week 3- Jesus as Lord
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read John 13:34-35; 15:12; Luke 6:32-26

I continue with this aspect of the Lordship of Jesus: imitation and discipleship. Imitate or mimic, the meaning of this word in Ephesians 5:1 and found throughout the New Testament. Discipleship: to follow after, to learn, to become a disciple/follower of Jesus.

“Just as” Jesus, “so” you and me. The center and essence of all of this is love. If we had to boil it all down to one thing it would be love. It is the first, and second, commandment, Jesus says (Matthew 22:37-38). To love is to fulfill the law (Romans 13:8).

This isn’t pulled out of the hat somewhere; we go to the words of Jesus. Jesus, who is Lord. He says it explicitly and it is implied throughout his life and teachings: how he lived and what he taught his followers.

Here’s the explicit call to us who choose to be his followers, the “just as…so you” language. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34) God has come down to humanity, become one of us; God Incarnate: Jesus. And, he has shown us, in flesh and blood, what God is like. God’s will for the world. What brings life, freedom and joy. Love is at the core.

It’s unconditional love. Indiscriminate love. We aren’t asked to love with conditions or to choose just to love only those who love us; it is even our enemies we are called to love (Luke 6:32-36). That’s how God loved us. That’s how Jesus loved us: when we were enemies.

Tough! How that gets worked out in specific situations is part of our life-long discernment and a dependence upon the very power of the risen Christ in us.

Question: Where, in my life, is the most pressing situation to follow Jesus in his call to me: “just as I have loved you, so you love…?”

Prayer: My Lord Jesus, our Lord Jesus; teach me more how to love as you loved me. And, I know how you loved me: even when I was an enemy and apart from you. With that power of your love, may I love those you have put in my path. In your name, Amen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jesus: “Follow me” (Week 3:4)

Topic: Week 3- Jesus as Lord
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Mark 2:13-14; Romans 6:4

For the next three days, we will continue this theme of who Jesus is with respect to the confession that Jesus is Lord.

The simple, and sometimes not so simple, call of Jesus is what we find him saying to folks along the way, “Come, follow me.” There’s more to it than some leader who might echo similar words (you pick the setting: a key leader of the company you work for, a political leader, etc.).

It might have some similarities- the vision sounds compelling, you like the direction where things are pointed, etc. But, with Jesus’ call the person calling is God Incarnate, the Lord. And with the follower, whether that is Matthew, Peter, Mary Magdalene, or any one of us, there is a way in which we participate in the Person of Jesus.

In this participation, we are invited, by Jesus, to follow. To imitate, in the words from yesterday. The idea of following after and imitating Jesus is pervasive in the words of Jesus and throughout the New Testament. John Howard Yoder cites at least 53 places in the New Testament where this language about Jesus- discipleship, following after, learning from and imitating Jesus- is used (p. 118-127, The Politics of Jesus).

As…So…That’s the tag David Augsburger gives to this discipleship. An “As-So Model of Spirituality:” as Jesus…so us (p. 32, Dissident Discipleship). There are many places we see this in the New Testament. For example, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Jesus saves. We cannot save ourselves. Jesus is also Lord of all. Master. And when we enter into participation with him, by his power, to follow him, we will enter more fully into the life he has promised. It will also be, equally so, for the benefit of others- for goodness, justice, forgiveness, compassion, love of neighbor and enemy, mercy. That is, in all the ways in which we are called to follow him.

Question: What are the “just as…so me” (as Jesus…so me…) ways of Jesus that are more urgent for me at this time in my life?

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you not only called Matthew and Mary, Joanna and James, but you have also called me: “Come follow me.” I cannot do this on my own strength, and you have promised to be with me through your Holy Spirit. But, I can choose to seek you and to walk in newness of life. I do so. Empower me. In your name I pray. Amen.