Thursday, February 28, 2008

WalChurch or ChurchGreens, neither is very catchy

My church is on the virge of completing our new facility. We'll be moving next week, and indeed, already are to some degree.

Across the street from our current building, there's all sorts of new construction, and in passing by I asked my friend what was going in: "A Walgreens from what I understand."

My scoffing reation was that we already had 7 Walgreens around, see:


View Larger Map


Wikipedia says this:

"There are 6,179 Walgreens (as of January 31, 2008[2]) in operation with a current goal to have 7,000 stores by 2010...In its current business model, new Walgreens locations are most commonly set up as freestanding locations at the corners of busy, intersecting streets -- literally making it a "corner drugstore"

Well that is exactly what they're doing. In fact two of the Walgreens very close to me are actually replacing existing walgreens that were located in a strip mall. Walgreens has bought property literally a stone's throw away from the current store, demolished an older building, and built a new store.

To me this seems sort of silly, especially when you see the big mess being made and the sign hanging up in the store window that says "We're moving" and they're really only moving about 70 yards.

So it got me thinking: I wonder if this is how some people feel about my church moving?

Is "Do we really need another Walgreens?" equivalent to "Do we really need another church?"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sharks With Freaking Laser Beams Attached to Their Heads!

So, this article came across google today:

"Material Could Repel Laser Attacks"


From the article:
"If you have a ship being hit by a laser, and it was made of this metamaterial, you could reflect the laser beam," said Simin Feng, one of the study co-authors and a researcher at China Lake.

Whoa whoa whoa, WE HAVE LASER GUNS!!?!?!?!? WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME

The Kingdomf of God > Post 5 (Last one Daniel, I promise)

8. The Kingdom of God is a Mystery

Luke 17: 20 & 21: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."

Here we see Jesus being asked a very specific, concrete question by the Pharisees, and Jesus answers their question on a higher level. Perhaps the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into saying something they could convict him with. We need to keep in mind that the first century Jewish expectation of the Messiah was a very literal Kingdom. The Jews were expecting governance: a social, economic, and political delivery from their enemies and for the once mighty nation-state of Israel under King David to physically become a Kingdom again. But that is not what Jesus delivered. He came to announce a Kingdom bubbling up from the past, available now, and extending into the future. A Kingdom “not of this world” a Kingdom that somehow is within those who follow him and love his Father.

It is towards this end that we pray as Jesus taught us: Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. I have done my best to discuss the many facets of this one small part of the Lord’s prayer that:
• The Kingdom is born out of love
• The Kingdom is essential
• The Kingdom is counter-intuitive
• The Kingdom is at once past, present, and future
• The Kingdom is total
• The Church must embody the Kingdom, and Christianity can actually oppose the work on the Kingdom

But all my words and quotes from other authors are but a drop in the bucket. The Kingdom of God as revealed by scripture and through the holy spirit to us personally is something that cannot be summed up by a single sermon or even a lifetime of searching. The Kingdom of God defies a singular classification, it is very much a mystery- we don’t exactly know how it works; yet we can feel its impact in every aspect of life. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Jesus talks so much about seeds or plants or things that grow. Consider the parable of the sower:

Mark 4: 1-8: Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: "Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times."

The seed growing into a plant is something that on the surface is so familiar to us- if you haven’t personally then maybe you can remember your kids coming home with a Styrofoam cup full of dirt with a seed in it. We see the diagrams in our science textbooks and we think we get it. But do we really? Do we really know what makes the seed grow? It is like this with the Kingdom of God- all we can do is try our best to make ourselves and our church “good soil” and keep sowing the seed of the Kingdom to the world around us. But the growing of that seed is still very much a mystery. I pray that this weekend tills the soil of your heart. I pray that we can all work together to better understand and more faithfully pray and live the Lord’s prayer. I pray for God’s will to be done through our church for our immediate community and beyond. I pray for God to reveal to us the mysteries of his love as he sees fit. Lord, your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Well, there it is. I hopefully said some things not all of you agree with, so lemme hear what you got!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

05.02.08

The Kingdom of God > Post 5

7. The Kingdom of God must be embodied by the church; but Christianity can also oppose the work of The Kingdom.

We then embody this Kingdom as a collection of individuals- the Church as Christ’s body here on Earth. Pastor Michael talked about this just last Sunday, using Paul’s beautiful description from 1 Corinthians. We as a church must stand in opposition to the ways of the world as we ask God’s will to be done and his Kingdom to come. Let me again quote from Schaeffer’s “How Shall We Then Live?” In this chapter he is discussing the decline of the influence (and even commitment) of the church in society:

“As the more Christian-dominated consensus weakened, the majority of people adopted two impoverished values: personal peace and affluence. Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city- to live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity- a life made up of things, things, and more things- a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance.” (Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live?, Chapter 11)

Schaeffer wrote this in 1976. This amazes me in part, but I’m also not too surprised because these are not “new” problems. I believe he’s hit the nail on the head. In our American culture, especially in West County, personal peace and affluence are the idols our culture worships. Again, as the church we are to embody the alternative to this way of the world with the Kingdom of God. Personal peace- we don’t want to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city. Think about what sets us off- famines and AIDS in Africa, oh that’s sad. Gas at $3 per gallon, that’s an outrage! Do you think it’s any coincidence that Metro Link doesn’t run out further west? We don’t want “those people” out here! Our children attend some of the best schools in the state, meanwhile only 17 miles away the St. Louis school district is in such a sad state it has been taken over by the state of Missouri and is currently considering closing some schools. The Kingdom of God beckons us not to just ignore these problems, or merely be thankful that we’re not facing them; we’re called to be agents of change, to see God’s will being done SPECIFICALLY outside of our church community.

The other idol Schaeffer describes is affluence. I know everyone’s most hated sermon topic is money, but Jesus sure talks a lot about it. Again, this is not a new problem: Mark 10: 23: Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" Ouch! Jesus teaches us that we should not run after material things as the pagans do, and that ultimately we cannot claim to be in the Kingdom of God yet still have a foot in the world: Luke 16: 13: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." So we as the church cannot measure “success” on purely economic terms as the world does. We must reject the notion that things bring happiness. Now, understand that I typed this sermon on a laptop and I listen to iPods and just registered at target and bed bath & beyond. However, I must refuse to allow myself to be deluded into thinking that the stuff is where life’s worth is found. I registered for kitchen items- but it’s the meals I share and relationships forged in my kitchen that matter, not what brand of knives I’m using.

The problem is not that comfort and possessions are problems in and of themselves, but that excessive desires of personal peace and affluence come at the expense of others. The problem is with putting your will above God’s. Our culture teaches us that we are somehow entitled to whatever we decide we want- like the child who learned the concept of “mine” only now that child has an American Express card and a resume. So the church has to stand and proclaim that we seek first the Kingdom of God, and that means our personal peace and affluence will be most certainly be disturbed in challenging to the ways of the world.

However, there are many streams of Christianity who have become strange bedfellows with the ways of the world. Try this sometime. Go to Borders or Barnes and Noble. Get a Tony Robbins or Donald Trump book about self-motivation. Then go get one of Joel Osteen’s books, or another big Christian author, and try and determine any real difference. There isn’t one. My friends Christianity as an “organized religion” can actually oppose the work of the Kingdom of God. One of these manifestations is called the Prosperity Gospel. The prosperity gospel says that Jesus wants you to have everything you could ever dream of- a big ol house, a boat, and even a benz! It equates happiness to material comforts: Name it and claim it, health and wealth. They have hijacked the gospel and made it just another means of telling people what they want to hear with a little Jesus for good measure. Book titles like “Your Best Life Now” or “Become a Better You” give us a clue to the prosperity gospel- it’s all about you. If nothing else, we have gone to great lengths to show that the Lord’s prayer orientates us as secondary to God, the focus is definitely not on us!

The church must be different from the way of the world around it. How are we to witness to an alternative way of life in the Kingdom of God if our lives our no different? If it is impossible to tell any real difference in the lives of two neighbors one Christian, one not, what’s the point?

In the same way the church cannot simply exist for itself. The whole point of the Kingdom of God is to advance, Jesus tells parables about servants being entrusted with the master’s property, and the master expects them to be used shrewdly:

Matthew 25: 14-30: "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents[a] of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money."After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' "The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' "Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.' "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. "'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

The church must be instrumental in advancing the Kingdom of God in the face of personal peace and affluence, and sometimes this will mean righting itself and its members for the sake of the call of Jesus to share the good news.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Genius!

The Kingdomf of God > Post 4

6. The Kingdom is total.

In praying “Thy Kingdom Come thy will by will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” we are asking God to do a profound thing. Thus, the Kingdom of God should invade every area of our lives- “a personal and social obligation: make thy kingdom come through me.”
We already heard Jesus telling us to seek first the Kingdom, again he tells us that it is worth forsaking all else:

Matthew 13: 44: "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

The Kingdom of God then becomes the lens through which we view everything else. It is a complete vision for life. We can re-orientate ourselves socially, spiritually, economically, and politically. As Americans we are taught that we can separate our lives in to different sections, a compartmentalization of the different arenas of life. A presidential race illustrates this issue of privatizing and divorcing faith as it’s played out in the public eye. In a recent msnbc.com article, the faith of different presidential candidates was discussed with Mitt Romney being the focus as a Mormon. The article stated: “Religion has not played so prominent a role in a U.S. national election since 1960, when John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic to be elected president. And it’s not only Romney under scrutiny. All the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls have been grilled on their religious beliefs.” Now, the article is obviously a couple months old as Romney has dropped out of the race. But a little further into it Rudi Guiliani’s Catholic upbringing was brought up, and it was noted that the former Mayor claimed “one’s relationship with God is a private matter.” I believe Mr. Guiliani is mistaken, and I think it’s odd that this issue of faith lived out in public is highlighted almost exclusively in election years.

Your faith should give shape to everything else- your priorities, your decisions, the way you participate in the relationships; everything in total. When we chop up our lives into unrelated pieces, we’re left without a consistent way to allow God to shape us in all the different aspects of life, since we limit his presence to just a private faith or just a couple hours on Sunday. If you’re beliefs ARE NOT driving your work life, family life, financial life, and political life then I’m afraid you have are the product of a shallow understanding of what it means to fully be in the Kingdom of God. Now consider that sentence a case in point. Did you find it odd that the word “life” followed so many sectors of existence? I do. We even talk like this at church sometimes- with our prayer life, devotional life, or our spiritual life. The problem is we’ve got ourselves living so many lives! The Kingdom of God is the foundation for our whole LIFE; singular, not plural. Professor of Philosophy at USC and acclaimed author Dallas Willard says this in his book “The Divine Conspiracy”:

“(the) Kingdom is not something confined to (our) hearts or to the “inner” world of human consciousness. It is not some matter of inner attitude or faith that might be totally disconnected from the public, behavioral, visible world. It always pervades and governs the whole of the physical universe…So when Jesus directs us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” he does not mean we should pray for it to come into existence. Rather, we pray for it to take over at all points in the personal, social, and political order where it is now excluded: “On earth as it is in heaven.” With this prayer we are invoking it, as in faith we are acting it, into the real world of our daily existence.” (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, Chapter 1)”

Now it’s easy for me to sit up here and quote these books most of you would never want to read, and we can all nod while I try to impress you with some big word or thick theological concept. But what am I trying to say? What does this REALLY look like? What do I REALLY mean? We’ve discussed how the Kingdom is counterintuitive to us and opposed to the ways of the world. To illustrate how the Kingdom of God is total let me again use an experience with my wonderful bride-to-be.

When it came time to look for engagement rings, it was quite exciting. But as a young man fresh out of school with some debt; a brotha was on a budget. Well, to be honest if I would have been on a budget I would have been in much better shape, but the point is I didn’t have a ton of money to spend on a fat rock to put on Sarah’s finger. The pressure on young men to buy their ladies an elaborate ring is tremendous. Some of you may feel the same pressure in buying jewelry for other occasions; the expectations don’t get any easier! You guys know the slogans- “every kiss begins with Kay”, the Shane Co. commercials on the Radio (“now you have a friend in the diamond business”), the old DeBeers theme song, I could go on. Also, you need to know that thanks to the magic of the Internet many girls have been designing their dream rings online since high school! Ultimately, the message that is communicated is that your love for your bride is directly proportional to the amount of money you spend on the ring, because after all, a diamond is forever. You see the world wants you to literally buy in to the idea that your fiscal investment is equivalent to your commitment. Well, this is complete and utter crap. My financial investment is not equivalent to my investing in a relationship with Sarah, because I’m not “investing” in Sarah. You “invest” in something to get something in return at a higher rate! We do see Jesus using this imagery in parables, but I don’t view Sarah and I’s relationship in economic terms, and this is what I mean: My sole reason for being with Sarah is not for what is in it for me. My motivation is to love her for her sake, not because I secretly just want attention from a beautiful woman. Now, do I get that anyway? Of course! But my primary motivation is love, not investment. You see as a part of the Kingdom of God, I understand that the amount of money I spend on Sarah’s ring does not determine the worth of our relationship. I am not validated by how much money I spend. I am validated by being created in the image of God and by Jesus Christ dying for me so I can live for him and his Kingdom. Luckily I have been blessed to be in a life-altering relationship with a woman who believes the same- neither of us could be with the other unless they believed that. Almost as luckily, I’m blessed with a beautiful and dainty woman- who has small fingers so even a small rock looks big!

My friends we have to let the Kingdom of God inform our understanding of what is important and what is worthwhile. Anything outside of the Kingdom of God will only lead to despair. We must give our total selves over to living and serving in the Kingdom of God, in all aspects of our life- when we seek first the Kingdom of God, all the other things will take care of themselves. Let me close with the words of one of my favorite authors Francis A. Schaeffer from his book “How Shall We Then Live?”:

“As Christians, we are not only to know the right world view, the world view that tells us the truth of what is, but consciously to act upon that world view so as to influence society in all its parts and facets across the whole spectrum of life, as much as we can to the extent of our individual and collective ability.” (Francis A. Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live?, pg 256)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Kingdom of God > Post 3

(just got back from our Men's Retreat this weekend. It was great. Here's the continuing posting of what I talked about, this is a long one)

5. The Kingdom is at once past, present, and future

The Kingdom of God extends back throughout history, is present among us today, and goes on towards eternity. I want to show how we must hold these three together otherwise our faith and participation in the Kingdom of God becomes distorted at best and worthless at worst.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is talking about who will be a part of the Kingdom of God in response to a question. He names those who have come before as part of the Kingdom:

Luke 13: 28: "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.

Jesus also said that he did not come to destroy what had gone before, but rather to complete it:

Matthew 5: 17: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Indeed we can trace the Kingdom of God all the way back to the Garden of Eden, where God’s will was perfectly done on Earth. The Old Testament is comprised of laws, wisdom writings, and prophets trying to restore Israel back to following God’s will. In my reading of the Bible, I find sort of a weird comfort in the fact that people really haven’t changed- so the past provides a guide for us. We can read the story of Israel and still see the truth meant for us today. We can see God calling his people through Abraham who was “blessed to be a blessing” and know that we are the heirs of God’s promise to faithful Abraham fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But there is a fine line between letting the past be a faithful guide and being stuck in the past. Tim Keel is Pastor of a church in Kansas City, in his book he says this:

“God’s activity in the past can be a stumbling block in the present, especially when life is hard and confusing and filled with the pain of transition and loss. We get in trouble when we say, ‘This is what God did, and God will do it again.” (Tim Keel, Intuitive Leadership, chapter 4)

We can be paralyzed by wishing for the “good ol’ days” or just expecting God to keep doing what he’s done before. We can get a little too cozy with the past and lift it up to a place where it doesn’t belong. One of the things that cracks me up is when people talk about not liking all this new fangled worship music, and that the old time hymns are the “real” music of the church. Well, guess what? Those “old time hymns” were once new too. Think about the way we classify our worship services: “traditional” and “contemporary”. Using labels fixed to time is actually kind of silly because time is relative. Let’s try this, how many of you guys remember what you were doing in 1984? Does that seem like a long time ago? Well, it does to me because that’s the year I was born. Time is relative, and as the church we ignore that. What we mean by a “traditional service” is really worship the way it was done around the 1950’s, and the elements of our contemporary worship really aren’t that contemporary as our style took its form in the late 1980s and early 1990s. If we REALLY wanted to be “traditional” we might greet each other with a “holy kiss” instead of shaking hands (2 Corinthians 13: 12), or maybe women could cover their heads (1 Corinthians 11: 16), or maybe we shouldn’t use electricity since for “traditions” sake we could be like the church for the majority of its 2,000 year history. As far as “contemporary” worship goes, if we sing songs at the GAP service that are 8 years old, how contemporary are we? If our instrumentation isn’t using the most current modern technology (think computer powered synthesizers and laptops onstage to make all kinds of cool noise) then is it really contemporary? Ironically, a lot of the new “contemporary” worship focuses on re-discovering ancient “traditional” practices, so does that blow your mind?

Please, don’t hear me bagging on our church worship or think that I believe one is more valid than the other. I grew up worshiping in very traditional environments and play in our contemporary band, and really would prefer a blend of both sort of like our recent Ash Wednesday service. But worship wars aren’t the point. I only employ the example of referring to our services as “traditional” or “contemporary” to show that using the past to define your identity will always lead to irrelevance. I could go on and on and on about this topic, but must move forward; in closing we must look backwards and treasure our past as a guide, but friends, “the way we’ve always done it” is stifling to the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is also present among us here today. Biblical scholar William Barclay offers the following definition: “The Kingdom of God is a society upon Earth where God’s will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven.” Clearly in praying the Lord’s prayer we are asking for God’s will to be done in the here and now, not just in some other undisclosed time and place. One of the strengths of the Christian tradition is it is rooted in time and space- stuff actually happens in history and in our midst today; we don’t just follow some vague collection of ancient stories but rather follow the living God who created the universe and continues to sustain his good creation.

Clearly Jesus tells us that life, right now, today, matters. In speaking about his future coming, Jesus uses very tangible criteria for who will be saved:

Matthew 25: 31-40: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Jesus tells us to pray for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. I don’t think I can put it more clearly than that! We have a responsibility to take an active role in God’s will right now, today, in human time/space/history. Theologian and Pastor Leonard Sweet says the following:

“Far to many of us are trying to keep our hands clean when the question at Judgment Day is going to be “Show me your hands. How dirty and wet are they?” (Leonard Sweet, Out of the Question- Into the Mystery, chapter 8)

Christianity is not a religion of intangible moral principals. Our goal as Christians is not just “not sinning”. Christianity is about making visible the will of an invisible God, and we as Christians must always lift up this beautiful part of the Lord’s prayer: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”. Paul writes to the church in Corinth: “We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5: 20) Jesus tells us that we "are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5: 14) We are called to make a difference by taking part in doing God’s will here on Earth, life matters. Making the Kingdom of God a reality here on Earth, in the present is our goal.

At the same time, if we’re too focused on our deeds, we can think that we can work our way up the ladder into heaven! We can’t be fooled into thinking that we are “carrying our weight” in the Kingdom of God! Let us listen again to Paul’s famous words:

Ephesians 2: 8 & 9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Just like we can become over-dependant on the past we too can be sort of self-centered in thinking that it is us doing the work, and not God- as if it were by our own merits that we were saved! This tunnel vision of works based righteousness and focus on the present can make us myopic in continuing to search for and follow God’s will. Sometimes this can be a struggle for me as I immerse myself in ministry, wanting to work hard but also enjoying the comforts of my routine. Jesus warns us not to get too comfortable, not to get lazy or complacent, and his words are very stern:

Matthew 24: 42-51: "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

So clearly the work of the Kingdom is here on Earth, but also is not complete, there is still an element of anticipation, a certain lack of resolve to The Kingdom of God. We can, indeed, live in that Kingdom in the Here and Now, but the total, utter fulfillment of the Kingdom is Yet to Come. As Paul says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13: 12)

The future is our hope. We do not see this world as doomed, but as the Psalmist says “Wait on the Lord more than the watchman wait for the dawn” (Psalm 130: 6). Our hope does not come merely from Presidential elections or the bankrupt humanist concept of progress, or better living through chemistry or technology. We do not deny God working in those things, but our hope for the future comes in the return of Christ, to “put the world to rights” as N. T. Wright says. Look at Paul’s words from Acts:

Acts 3: 19-21 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

Now, it is at this point I believe that modern Christianity suffers from it’s greatest fault: an unhealthy addiction to the future. I believe I’ve heard Pastor Michael say that “Christians can be so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” My take on that is, “If all you’re worried about is heaven, what the hell are you gonna do now?” Remember, Jesus teaches us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. But much of today’s preaching, programming, teaching, and publications focus on just heaven and the end of the world as we know it. You would not believe how much the Left Behind series has influenced Christian thought, especially among our students. Friends hear me, THE LEFT BEHIND BOOKS ARE A WORK OF FICTION. They do not contain any Biblical revelation, and frankly, I think they were done in poor taste. One of the main criticisms of the series was there were entirely too many books- hey, you gotta milk the cash cow right!?!?! Guys, this is not a “new” issue at all. The disciples and others asked Jesus about the end of the world over 2,000 years ago, recorded in Matthew chapter 24. In the interest of time I’m going to not use the entire text, but please, see for yourself!

Matthew 24: 3-8, 36-39: As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains...
..."No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, or the Son, but only the Father.” I don’t know how to explain that any more. It is so funny to me that people try to use the Bible to forge some false, fear-inducing forecast of the end times when really that whole practice is un-Biblical! There is this stream of Christianity obsessed with the end of the world, and it’s wrong. Just as the past can paralyze us, the future is even more dangerous as it can not only paralyze us but also derail us from our mission and prayer to help build God’s Kingdom. If Christianity is merely about an escape from Earth into heaven then we become like rats from a sinking ship, and the worse things get the better news that is. There was an album by a band named Modest Mouse a couple years ago called “Good News for People Who Love Bad News”. Christians are not those people. We are the people who pray for God’s redemptive work on Earth to be done through us. We are people of Good News, the good news that the Kingdom of God is real.

The Kingdom of God, past, present, and future. The past is our guide, the present is our goal, and the future is our hope.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Kingdom of God > Post 2

3. The Kingdom is essential.

It is important for us to understand that The Kingdom of God is crucial to the mission and message of Jesus. In fact, this is his first act in his ministry- not that he would conquer the Romans as the Messiah the Jews anticipated, and not that we need to utter a prayer for salvation like many modern Christians think- but Jesus first public act is proclaiming this “good news”, this alternative to the way of the world:

Mark 1: 14 & 15: After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

Over and over and over he tells parables to illustrate what the Kingdom is like, in the Gospels the phrase Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven (which I will treat as synonymous) occurs over 100 times. Jesus made bold claims which ultimately led to his death and also the deaths of his immediate followers:

John 18: 36-38: Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

The understanding of the Kingdom of God is essential, because it makes sense of everything else. In light of the Kingdom of God, we can know what is important, what is worthwhile, and what will last. From the same chapter in Matthew as the Lord’s Prayer:

Matthew 6: 31-33: So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Again, we see Jesus drawing a difference between God’s Kingdom and what the pagans run after. We see a difference between the way of the world and the way of Jesus. This has been the fundamental divide in all of human existence. In his book “The City of God” St. Augustine frames our situation in a story of two opposing cities:

“There is a city of God, and its founder has inspired us with a love which makes us covet its citizenship. To this founder of the holy city the citizens of the earthly city prefer their own gods, not knowing that He is the God of gods, not of false, i.e. of impious and proud gods, who, being deprived of his unchangeable and freely communicated light, and so reduced to a kind of poverty-stricken power, eagerly grasp at their own private privileges, and seek divine honors from their deluded subjects…”
(St. Augstine, City of God, Book xi. 1)

In praying the Lord’s prayer, we are articulating our citizenship in God’s Kingdom, essential to participating in God’s way vs. the way of the world.

4. The Kingdom is Counterintuitive

From birth we have the way of the world ingrained in us. Have you ever spent much time around a small child and noticed the frequency of the word “mine”? If left on our own, the world would have us believe that we are entitled to whatever we want and when ever we want it. But again, the Lord’s prayer shapes us into putting others before ourselves, making God’s ways our ways; and this is a lifelong adjustment!

Indeed, the ways of God are quite often what we would not expect. C.S. Lewis sums up this counterintuitive-ness of Christianity:

“Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 7)

Think about it- so much of Jesus life and ministry goes against what would be our “natural” assumptions. The very son of God wasn’t born into nobility and privilege but rather, a barn. He didn’t choose the best and brightest as his disciples, he picked a rag-tag bunch blue-collar fisherman. Jesus didn’t make his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a warrior on a mighty steed, but a teacher on a donkey. Jesus conquered death by dying on a cross, the rising from the dead! Following Jesus has almost an annoying quality to it in that your instincts must be reversed. The first will be last, loving those who hate you, turning the other cheek, praying and giving offering not so others will be impressed but doing so in secret, and maybe worst of all Jesus tells us that its not enough just to refrain from doing certain things- that it’s the condition of our heart that matters! For example, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

So it’s not enough to just “not cheat” on your wife, you can’t even harbor lust in your heart even if you do manage to keep your pants on! To a pragmatic society- where the only thing that matters is results, Jesus tells us that it is also what motivations are behind the results that make the difference. Do you remember as a little kid, looking at acorns and wondering how they turned into a giant tree? Jesus employs this imagery to illustrate the counterintuitiveness of the Kingdom, as what was small and seemingly insignificant becomes mighty:

Matthew 13: 31 & 33 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

Jesus turns all the worlds ways of assigning value upside down- as the citezens of the Kingdom of Heaven are outcasts from society: prostitutes, tax collectors, poor folks, the weak, the ignored, the marginalized, and the unimpressive, and most of all the humble. Once the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest in the Kingdom, and Jesus pointed out a little child:

Matthew 18: 1-4: At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Although earlier I said even little ones may be selfish, one thing they are not is prideful. This humility is key in the Kingdom, a humility that calls us to get over ourselves and assimilate our instincts away from the world toward the Kingdom of God, a humility that is counterintuitive.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Kingdom of God > Post 1

Alrighty. I'm speaking at our men's retreat this weekend, so that means I've got a massive document to put on the blog for a public roasting! Our theme is the Lord's prayer, and I wanted: "Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." Here's a rough outline of what to expect:

-The Kingdom is born out of love
-The Kingdom is essential
-The Kingdom is counter-intuitive
-The Kingdom is at once past, present, and future
-The Kingdom is total
-The Church must embody the Kingdom, and Christianity can actually oppose the work on the Kingdom

I start with an overview. So here is said overview and the first section:

1. Overview:

My time this morning is going to be focused on answering the question brought on by praying the Lord’s prayer, “What is the Kingdom of God?” My intentions are to show what “The Kingdom of God” means to us each personally, and all of us as a community, and how our community (the Church) can relate to the world around it.

For modern Americans, the word “Kingdom” is a bit odd. Sadly, when Americans think of a “kingdom” or “The King” my guess would be that Elvis or Disney or Burger King to mind far before any political entities. Even the Queen of England really holds no political authority to speak of as the functions of royalty have devolved into pomp and tradition. However the concepts of Kings and Kingship have still largely influenced the American ethos. In our system of government and throughout American history the idea of a King and subsequent kingdom is precarious and archaic at best and a high offense of treason at worst. Indeed our nation was founded by those who broke out from tyranny and forged a new way of government distinctly separate from the Monarchies of Europe: Kingdoms who waged wars upon one another for hundreds of years, often with religion helping to fuel the fire; sometimes as an afterthought or used like a pawn for political gain. But make no mistake, the separation of Kingdoms (or “the state”) and religion was a novel one in the days of our nation’s founders. In modern America the notion of authority (be it political or otherwise) resting outside of the hands of the people might have gotten you slandered or imprisoned as late as the mid 20th century; and even to this day if you check out the right books from the St. Louis County Library you’ll be put on a list which might require a little extra travel time at the airport! It is through this suspicious lens that we, as Americans usually see the concept of a Kingdom, so let us recalibrate our minds to the the Kingdom of God and consider the following statements.

2. The Kingdom is brought out of love, personified in Jesus Christ.

This might sound sappy to some of you, but whatever. I’m getting married in June. I have been with my fiancĂ© Sarah for about 3 years now. As some of you may notice, she is entirely out of my league! In addition to many strange looks at the mall and people saying “You are with her!?!?!” many times I have been asked “How did you know when Sarah was the one?” or “When did you know that you wanted to marry Sarah?”. I think I can answer that fairly difficult question pretty easily: I knew that I loved Sarah when I didn’t have to cognitively put her needs before my own. In other words, when it wasn’t a problem to consider her before myself, when I could somehow manage to not be prideful and egocentric, when my instincts lead me to serve instead of focusing on myself, I knew it was love.

Friends that is what I gather from this portion of our Lord’s Prayer. Because implicit in saying “your Kingdom come, your will be done” is the idea that there exists another Kingdom and will beyond our own! Putting other’s “wills” before your own is what love is. So in praying the Lord’s prayer, we are actually already doing what we are asking God to do- mold our will to his. There’s a wonderful song by Shane & Shane titled “The Answer”, the chorus says: “I have found the answer is to love you and be loved by you alone”. At the heart of Christianity is devotion to and love of God; and this was personified in Jesus Christ, who himself taught us not only how to pray but how to live:

1 John 3: 16 (note the difference, not the Gospel of John, but the first letter of the apostle John) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

So the Kingdom is not brought about through billboards or church signs or even just by well-meaning intentions. We do not advance the Kingdom through coercion, guilt, or worst of all force. The Kingdom is brought about by love- we know this from Jesus’ example long ago, and by his fulfilled promise of the holy spirit with us today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kingdom Blogging

Ok, so I have lots of "churchy" friends who should be all over this question:

What does the Kingdom of God mean to you?

I'm speaking at our men's retreat this weekend. No, I'm not waiting until the last minute. But the thoughts of my friends/blog readers would be great!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Saturday. On the way to St. Louis from Illinois (after picking up Sarah). I experienced the latter part of this lovely phrase.

Thats right. I got a ticket for not having my seat belt on. $55.

The worst part is I have zero excuse. I know it's insane not to wear a seatbelt. It's not like it's particularly uncomfortable. I've been in accidents, and a seatbelt has prevented me from being seriously harmed. I have no good reason for not wearing the seatbelt.

I've been on a real roll lately!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More confessions


After admitting that I enjoy two pretty cheesy shows, I had a great conversation with a mentor of mine last night.

What is the Christian assessment of entertainment?

Entertainment is probably the biggest idol in our culture (pun somewhat intended), and I'm afraid that I buy into it a lot, and I don't really like to think about that.

I could sit down and watch 3 NFL games in a row EASY. I could play Halo for 6 consecutive hours EASY (and, last week, I might have come close!). But then I talk about not being to find time for people like my mentor, or I talk about how worn out I am, or I talk about how it's difficult to find time to devote to prayer and study.

That's crap, I just choose having fun over doing stuff that matters!

So there we have sort of the first principal in the question, how do we balance work and entertainment?

The second, and I think more difficult question, is what sort of things are innappropriate to be entertained by? If I believe that war is wrong, should I really be spending hours shooting at pretend spacemen on Halo? If I believe that marriage should be the context in which two people become one through sex, is it wrong to watch The Office; where Michael Scott and Jan have a sexual relationship outside of marriage? Am I in a really small way, lending support to these views that are not what I say I believe? Am I being honest with myself in saying that I enjoy the commradery of playing online with my bros, and love the witty humor in the office apart from the afforementioned issues? Or is that like the classic: "I don't listen to the words, just the beat" that no body ever believes?

Worst of all, I feel like such an old fogey saying all this!!!! Help!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What is happening to me?

I have some confessions to make...

Maybe it's because I've been without cable for so long but I have been watching...and secretly enjoying both American Gladiators and American Idol.

Un-related side note: You can send American Gladiator Valentine e-cards from nbc.com

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Retraction

Here was a line from one of my recent blog posts:

"No-thanks to my Dad, who never emailed me any feedback!"

After conversing with said Father figure, it was brought to my attention that I failed to attach said sermon in said email. Thus, no attachment, no sermon, no feedback.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer the most sincere apologies to J. Brent Mustoe. It just goes to show that no matter how old I get, he will always be right. Lets recap some of the more famous "Dad was right" moments over the years shall we?

-In 8th grade, it's moving day from St. Charles to Cape Girardeau. I forgot to pack my bb gun (ironically, Dad's old copper Daisy, it was sweet). As I'm loading it into the trunk he says "Now Adam be careful with that it might still be...." and is interrupted by the sound of me accidentally shooting him.

-Sometime in Middle School Kelly, Dad, and I are at the Mid Rivers Mall food court. I of course go with Taco Bell and am applying hot sauce to my tacos. I tear the corner of one, but not deep enough; pressure starts to build as I try to persevere with my insufficient tear. Dad warns me to rip another corner because it'll all squirt out, and then as he finishes that sentance I accidentally squirt hot sauce all over his shirt from across the table.

-My parents explicitly banned me from riding my bike on Mid Rivers Mall drive. Boy were they right, and it was wasn't fun to explain to them how I had got hit by a car while on my bike.

-Dad warned me about credit cards. Nuff said.

-and probably his all time favorite: After repeated warnings but a very "I'll let you make the choice" policy on prom party, I went. Everyone ended up getting hammered (just like he said) and my prom date hooked up with a Southeast Missouri State cheerleader named Hoss. I had a terrible time just like he said I would, but he let me have the freedom to find out just how right he was.

So, Pops, Sorry, and you were right, just like always.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Election 2008>www.glassbooth.org

Many people say politics and religion are two sensitive conversation topics. I definitely focus a lot on the latter, so why not talk a little bit about the other one.

Here's a site I've found that does a great job of "matching" you with a candidate, as well as provide you with some good information on where they stand on "major" issues. It's informative, succinct, and seemingly neutral.

www.glassbooth.org

I'll also post a link on the left.

The Office: Keeping Us Waiting until April?

According to this TV guide article, the Office will be shooting 5-10 new episodes to air in April/May.

The good news is, it's coming back. The bad news, it won't be for a while. Do you think they'll still charge full price for the season 4 DVD set? I have a sneaking suspicion that they will...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ash Wednesday Continued

As part of our service yesterday we had prayer stations incorporated into a time of silent prayer. My message was about 12 minutes long, and placed toward the beginning of the service. I think we can sometimes make all the other elements of worship a "warm up" to the "real" point of the service,the message/sermon/talk/whatever else you want to call it. So the message was really more of an effort to explain some things, and set up the rest of the service, so that the "meat" of the worship service was done by the actual people- praying and the imposition of ashes.

Here's some pictures of the stations. The first couple are of tackboards we covered in sackcloth and encouraged people to write down their response to some prompts we had given them. The prompts read:

1. What unresolved sin in my life needs to be confessed and repented of so that I can truly feel God's love for me just as I am?

2. What lies from our very affluent culture have I incorporated into my life, so that I no longer see them for what they truly are- IDOLS?

3. What seemingly good goals am I working toward, that have crept up from acceptable second place desires to first place priorities?

We then encouraged folks to write them down, and tack them up. We did not collect a monetary offering that night, but rather, the "rending of our hearts" was the offering.

The last one is a shot of our prayer stations, with scrolling scriptures on the screen and a kneeler so that people could meditate on the word and be in prayer.

I hope it's clear that the point of these isn't just to be cool, or have something hip to put on my blog. If doing some more experiential orientated things made last night "emergent" then I guess we were. But the point isn't to be emergent, the point is to try and make set it up so that people can faithfully engage God.

I was so proud of our congregation- this was a little out of the ordinary for an Ash Wednesday service. The response was beautiful. Everyone from 5 year olds to 85 year olds were participants. It's so great to be a part of a congregation that doesn't just give youth 1 token Sunday a year to lead the service and do their best to put up with it, or think it's cute or something. (sorry to be so pessimistic)

So, as I have stolen from many people, please, use in your own context.



Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wed. Sermon

The youth are leading worship at our church tonight, for those of you far away- here's the message I'm giving tonight. For those part of the same community as I here's a sneak preview I guess, because I know that the anticipation is so palpable...

Thanks to my friends and co-workers for reading it and helping me iron it out. No-thanks to my Dad, who never emailed me any feedback! I've tried to slim down how much is actually written here by linking to all the Bible verses.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I remember going to see the movie “Titanic”. I leaned over to my sister and said- “Hey, betcha I know how it ends…the ship sinks!” She didn’t think that was very funny. It’s a little bit like that with the season of Lent. I don’t mean to make light of anything with a Titanic reference, but we know how the story ends don’t we?

We just came out of advent; a season of the church that centers on hope, love, peace, and joy coming to us with the birth of Christ. We had a wonderful sermon series continuing these things beyond just Christmastime. But during Lent we prepare for Easter not with wreaths and signs of life, but with ashes- signs of decay. The centerpiece of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus, so Easter is the culmination of the hope, peace, joy, and love. But before we get to the good stuff we need to remember that Jesus was betrayed by a disciple, and his closest companions bailed on him; among them the case of Peter’s denial. We remember that Jesus was tried as a peasant criminal, beaten mercilessly under Roman rule, executed as a heretic to the Jewish authorities and a subversive to the imperial authorities.

In a conversation with someone from another church once, I was relating to them some of the things our church has done to remember Good Friday; with a funeral type service to remember the Passion of Christ, the Earthly, bodily sacrifice of Jesus. She sort of frowned through what I was saying and remarked: “I just don’t like those types of services. I just think it should be a celebration. Where’s the joy?” Lent is not happy time. Easter is happy time. Lent is about remembering why and how Easter came to be. I hope to reveal some of the biblical images and concepts we’ll be incorporating tonight, first by hearing about them then by acting on them.

So what’s the deal with the ashes? We use Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of Lent. Ashes have two meanings: Repentance and Mortality. Neither of those are real causes for celebration are they? Here are some places in the Bible where we see ashes as a symbol of repentance:

Job 42: 6

Job uses ashes as a sign of self deprecation before God.

Nehemiah 9: 1-3

Note the first part of this scripture- they gathered wearing sackcloth and had dust on their heads. They gathered and heard the word and confessed their sins. Sounds a lot like what we’re doing!

Daniel 9: 3-11

Daniel is praying for forgiveness for his own sins and the sins of his people with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. Also note the inclusion of fasting to deny ones self as a sign of repentance, a tradition that many still observe during Lent by “giving up something”. We’ll come back to that later.

So clearly ashes are a sign of making one low before God, to be a sign of repentance before the God that we have sinned against. We are orientating ourselves to God as lowly in comparison to him.

The other thing ashes symbolize is mortality. Again, not a real fun topic is it? That we are all born and will all die. As my Dad says: “Death bats 1000”. Check these out:

Psalm 90: 2-3
Genesis 3: 19
Genesis 18: 27

So once again we see ashes reminding us that were are humans, and God is God. We are the pots, not the potter. God is marvelous, and we are dust. It is important to remember what ashes symbolize. We come tonight to be humiliated in being convicted of sin and assured of our finite state before God.

So then Lent becomes about the journey towards glorious Easter while remembering our sinfulness and acknowledging our need to repent and turn to God. Lent is a church wide reminder that we are not immortal or invincible, something you parents may have said to your growing children. This is a lesson not just for careless teenagers but for every human and for all times. Listen again to the words of Joel:
“Even now declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity (other translations read “punishment”).” Joel 2: 12-13

We are not without hope! Again, we know the end of the story! We can allow the season of Lent to transform us. We’re called to change! We’re called to repent, to turn from our ways and start living the way God intends us to. We can “rend our hearts” to God by taking time to examine our priorities, our decisions, our relationships in light of the Cross. Listen to what Paul says in the epistle to the Corinthians, Epistle is derived from the Greek word for “message” or “letter”:
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

We don’t need to despair, for God has made himself available through Jesus. Christ took our place on the cross, so that through the resurrection we are restored back to God. His sacrifice once and for all has made all those who believe in him collaborators with God! We are suddenly much more than just dust aren’t we? Yet the season of Lent calls us to be reminded of our sinful or mortal state so that we don’t lose sight of the resurrection on Easter.

Paul continues:
“We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (this and the above quote from 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6: 10)

So no matter what happens, we still remember who we are to God. We are still human and God is still God, but what was mere dust is now to be commended! Paul describes enduring lots of tough things, which he himself did. But notice at the end Paul sets up dichotomies of seemingly contradictory nature: “genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” What do I mean by “dichotomies of seemingly contradictory nature”? Things that are this, and yet also are that. Just like clay is clay, but is becoming a pot. It is at once formless but is being formed.
Could it be that God is transforming us from one to the other? The potter molding his clay? The mysterious is being made known. While we are yet dust and dying, we may live in Christ. We may suffer but we will endure. Seemingly having nothing but really possessing everything.

I invite you to experience Lent as a formative process, honestly looking at your priorities, decisions, and relationships. If you want to “give up” something, then please, go ahead if that will help you in being formed back in God’s image. Many times I’ve given up something like soda and said “Ok, every time I want a soda, I’m going to pray.” Then once Easter hits it’s like: “Fill er up!” So consider more than dropping something; why not take up something this Lent? A sacrifice of your time is probably worth more than a sacrifice of caffeine. Regular, intentional acts of service (notice I didn’t say Random Acts of Kindness). Take time for relationships that matter, whether that’s “dusting off” old ones or starting new ones. Find ways to remind yourself of your needy state, yet also finding encouragement in knowing the end of the story.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Ooops I Ripped My Pants!

Here's a story for ya.

I'm teaching around 15-20 adults in a confirmation class for parents. We're about 4 minutes into our time together. I'm using the dry erase board, and drop the eraser. I bend down to pick it up, and thats when it happens...

About a 3 inch tear along the right side of my zipper.

Thats right, in front of parents of students I help teach, I have a gaping hole in the crotch of my jeans. Awesome.

So, I did what anyone else would do. Gathered what little pride I had left and said: "Well, I just ripped my pants. I'm not sure what to do next. So there it is, let's just keep moving."

*shakes head*

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I need to change industries

Hey gang, did you realize Exxon made over 40 BILLION last year? Breaking their previous record of most money made ever by just under a billion!