Thursday, August 24, 2006

I'm away from the blog right now...

I'll be here until September 6th... And odds are I won't be online. That sounds pretty good to me right now...

My job as a pastor

According to Eugene Peterson (who I agree with fully):
"The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor's responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades."
Read the rest of the quote here.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Journey

A couple of years ago when I started this blog I called it "The Journey" because that has been for me the most meaningful metaphor for my own spiritual life. Just today I spent time reading a Newsweek article about Billy Graham called Pilgrim's Progress and I was reminded once again that we need to allow God to shape us for the whole journey. We never arrive, but are in a constant state of "arriving" as we allow the Holy Spirit to illumine the dark recesses of our hearts and call us to transformation. As a young man I thought that I "got" this Christianity thing. I knew the Bible, the answers, and anything else that you could imagine. I was quick to offer solutions. Christianity/Faith was a system to be mastered. The goal was to be spiritually mature and then to help others do the same. But as I have actually matured, I've realized that I often thought I knew a lot more than I actually knew. (My sister-in-law writes a perceptive blog entry on this idea here) I realize that it sounds like a cliche, but the more I learn the more I realize how little I know. I guess that's why I felt in good company today when I read this quote from Billy Graham:
"Much of my life has been a pilgrimage—constantly learning, changing, growing and maturing. I have come to see in deeper ways some of the implications of my faith and message, not the least of which is in the area of human rights and racial and ethnic understanding."

He talks about learning humility. That's a lesson that seems to be hitting me in the face all the time. I think one of the best explanations of "the journey" is something that I read by Brian McLaren in his book Finding Faith. He talks of four stages of spiritual belief. Daniel Clendinin writes about them saying...
In his book Finding Faith, McLaren suggests four stages of faith development, not as a linear movement from one to the other, but as an "ascending and widening spiral"— simplicity, complexity, perplexity, and finally humility.

When we first come to Christ we often enter into a stage of simplicity. Everything is simple. God loves me, Jesus died for my sins, and now I'm on my way to heaven. There is great confidence in these truths, as there should be. Everything is black and white and simple. The big question for the practice of our faith in life is simply. "Is this right or wrong?" But eventually, as we begin to weave following Jesus into everyday life we enter into "complexity". There are some questions that aren't so cut and dried. Sin seems to have complicated this thing that we call life and we realize that maybe our faith is a system that needs to be figured out. We look for pragmatic answers in Jesus in order to make life work. As long as we work the plan it will all work out okay. That seems to be okay for a while, but the Jesus moves us on into a place where we are forced to be honest that there many things about Him, His teachings, and how they relate to the world that we live in that we just don't understand. Welcome to "perplexity". It is often triggered by meeting someone who has no interest in Jesus and Christianity, but is living a moral life, filled with peace and fulfillment. At times this individual may be bearing more "fruit of the Spirit" than you are. All of the sudden you are confronted with the fact that maybe what you believe is only something that helps you to cope. In perplexity you often become so overwhelmed with trying to reconcile faith in Jesus and life in the world that you come close to the point of abandoning the entire process. And that's okay. Perplexity is were you grow. It's where your spiritual roots dig deep into the soil that is Jesus. It's a vital part of moving you onto "humility". Humility is the place where you acknowledge that Jesus is to big for you to completely grasp, but He is so true that you can completely trust. McLaren reminds us that this isn't a one time process and that it may be repeated several times in different areas of our lives.

I've seen it happen in mine. I wrote about it here, here, and here. And it looks as if this is what has happened in Billy Graham.

Following Jesus is a journey. And we have a more than capable guide. The important thing is that we keep following. Even if you haven't committed your life to Jesus yet, keep seeking. Humble patience is what is needed to keep moving in the right direction.

A little child shall lead them...

My sister-in-law Cyndi writes about something that my kids were a part of here.

The joy they found in doing this was an inspiration to me...and I hope will be to you as well.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Most Creative Music Video Ever...

No fancy camera angles, no pyrotechnics, no computer graphics, just good old fashioned creative entertainment in the form of a music video here. (Real Player required)

P.S. The band is called OK Go. Don't know anything about them, but their site is here.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Either/Or or Both/And

I've been reading alot by Parker J. Palmer lately. In his book The Courage to Teach he quotes Niels Bohr saying something that has challenged my thinking.
"The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth."
Now maybe that doesn't strike you like it does me, but let me tell you why I think that this is such an important idea. Far too often in our hurry to defend the Christian faith we kill the mystery that is God. The reality is that God is bigger than us (and we really should be thankful for that - I wrote about that here) and that often two aspects of His nature may seem to us to be opposites, at times even contradictory. In our struggle to eliminate the tension between two profound truths we often deny things that are visibly true.

These discussions have been seen lately regarding the natural disasters we have been confronted with in the world. The question always seems to surface - "Did God cause these hurricanes/ earthquakes?" Automatically we jump to God's defense. We assume that if He is a loving God that these types of things must come from some other source. And maybe they do. But I'm just not sure that we can assume that everything that we think is good comes from God and everything that we think is bad doesn't. One of the things that I'm "re-learning" recently is that we have to be skeptical of our own assumptions. I talked a bit about this in my sermon yesterday - one of my "subpoints" was that we need to learn to question our questions and stop accepting our assumptions as infallible.

Maybe when something difficult or "bad" happens in our life our first reaction needs to move from questioning where it came from to seeking how God wants to use it to make me who He is calling me to be. Maybe it's an opportunity to show forgiveness to someone else. Maybe it's an event that allows you to visibly show the compassion of Jesus. Maybe we need to begin to consider the possibility that God can transform even the most horrible of events into something beautiful and amazing. Maybe somehow He encounters the evil, soaks it up and transforms it into good. Seems like I remember something about an innocent man and a cross...

The more I understand the more I am aware that I really understand very little. But that's okay. The realization puts me in a place where I am slow to speak for God but hungry to listen to God. And maybe that's where He wants me to be anyway...

Friday, August 04, 2006

You have to read this book

I love books. I read a lot of them, sometimes up to two a week. And I recommend books. I think they are very important to stretching our thinking, exposing us to ideas that we need to be shaped into the person that God is making us to be.

And while I always recommend books, I usually do it with a disclaimer. I usually tell people that books are much like shoes. They are made to fit. At times in your life you may pick up an excellent and worthy book, but for some reason it just doesn't fit you at that time. I always tell people not to stress about that or feel bad that I loved a book and they didn't. Reading is often a matter of timing.

But today I'm throwing all of that into the wind. I just finished a book that you have to read. It's called Same Kind of Different as Me, and you have to read soon as possible. I'm not kidding. This is an amazing book.

Amazon says this about it...
A dangerous, homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery.

An upscale art dealer accustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel.

A gutsy woman with a stubborn dream.

A story so incredible no novelist would dare dream it.

It begins outside a burning plantation hut in Louisiana . . . and an East Texas honky-tonk . . . and, without a doubt, in the heart of God. It unfolds in a Hollywood hacienda . . . an upscale New York gallery . . . a downtown dumpster . . . a Texas ranch.

Gritty with pain and betrayal and brutality, this true story also shines with an unexpected, life-changing love.
And I say this...
This book is a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God as it moves into the hearts and lives of several individuals, setting them free, making them more like Christ, taking them places they never thought they would go, and proclaiming a powerful, real, and captivating Jesus to a world who needs to know Him so desperately.

You need to read this book.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Three quotes that bring some perspective...

The miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine — which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.
- Wendell Berry

If Spring came but once in a century, instead of once a year, or burst forth with the sound of an earthquake, and not in silence, what wonder and expectation there would be in all hearts to behold the miraculous change! But now the silent succession suggests nothing but necessity. To most men only the cessation of the miracle would be miraculous and the perpetual exercise of God's power seems less wonderful than its withdrawal would be.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A sermon illustration from my office manager

I found this story on my desk today - a gift from the office manager at our church. She prefaced it by writing, "This is very moving, and would make a great sermon illustration."
In 1986, Mkele Mbembe was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from college. On a hike through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air.

The elephant seemed distressed so Mbembe approached it very carefully. He got down on one knee and inspected the elephant's foot, and found a large thorn embedded in it. As carefully and as gently as he could, Mbembe worked out the thorn with his hunting knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down his foot.

The elephant turned to face the man and with a rather stern look on its face, stared at him. For several tense moments Mbembe stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled. Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned and walked away.

Mbembe never forgot that elephant or the events of that day. Twenty years later he was walking through a zoo with his teenaged son. As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Mbembe and his son Tapu were standing.

The large bull elephant stared at Mbembe and lifted its front foot off the ground then put it down. The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man. Remembering the encounter in 1986, Mbembe couldn't help wondering if this was the same elephant. Mbembe summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder. Suddenly the elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of the man's legs and swung him wildly back and forth along the railing, killing him.

Probably wasn't the same elephant.

You see what I have to endure at work. Feel bad for me yet?

I think that this is true...

A great quote from Carl Jung, shared by Darren over at Thin~Spaces
"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves."

That's why the "church" and the relationships that being the "church" forces us into are so important in our own spiritual growth. We need a little irritation every now and then to force us to deal with our own life. What do you think?