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Archive for September, 2010

Radical Reformission

September 29th, 2010 No comments

I just finished reading Mark Driscoll’s Radical Reformission. He’s right on about the missional character of the church and some of the things that prevent us from being faithful to that calling. It’s also very enjoyable reading.

The problem with my pastoral job is that I don’t really know what I’m doing. So I read every book I can find and I cling to the Bible like a kid who can’t swim but somehow found a life preserver in the middle of the ocean.

I feel that way. A lot.

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Here I Walk

September 27th, 2010 No comments

To commemorate its 500th anniversary, Andrew and Sarah Wilson are retracing Martin Luther’s journey from Erfurt, Germany, to Rome. Almost daily (or even several times a day) they post something to their blog Here I Walk. I’m finding it fascinating. Here’s a taste:

The people of the Middle Ages were not fond of mountains. It takes a leisured class with energy to waste and life to spend to appreciate inaccessible rocks where nothing grows, places where it is always cold and snowy and things can fall upon you unawares and smash you. Frequent lightning, the creaks and groans of glaciers, the crashing of falling rock, icy-cold gush ing rivers: these were unnerving to a people who weren’t likely to reach 40 years of age even staying on the farm.

(from “Crossing the Alps with Nothing but a Cloak, Staff, and Sandals,” posted September 25.)

I encourage you to take a look at it. (In the interest of full disclosure, or name-dropping, or both, I should mention I took a class at Princeton where Sarah Wilson was a preceptor (“graduate assistant”), and for a couple of weeks they lived in the same building as we did.)

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One Hundred Years

September 21st, 2010 No comments

A hundred years ago, leaders of the major Protestant denominations and missionary societies met in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the World Mission Conference. Historians of the church mark this conference as the beginning (or rather, the formal recognition) of the modern ecumenical movement. Churches had come to see that if they could cooperate on the mission field overseas, they should also be able to do so back home.

The theme of the 1910 World Mission Conference was “The Evangelization of the World in this Generation.” Everyone in the world would have the opportunity to learn about Jesus and choose whether to become a follower before that generation had passed away.

Well. Two World Wars later, after a Cold War and a Great Depression, after decolonialization in the developing world and societal upheaval in the developed, that goal may be somewhat closer, but we seem, a hundred years later, to be in no danger of attaining it in a single generation.

One thing has changed for the better. Today, we know who the target is. A hundred years ago, they said “the world” but they meant “distant lands full of heathens.” Today, we know better: Christendom is dead-if it ever existed-and the mission field is just as ripe next door as it is across the planet.

During that same year, 1910, the United Presbyterian Church of North America (a predecessor of our denomination) adopted what it called the Great Ends of the Church:

The great ends of the church are (1) the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; (2) the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; (3) the maintenance of divine worship; (4) the preservation of the truth; (5) the promotion of social righteousness; and (6) the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

It’s not a bad list, but we sure can be selective in advancing those ends. For example, the greatest part of our budget goes to #3: divine worship, led by myself and our choir director. The bulk of your volunteer effort goes to #2: fellowship and congregational care. The 4th and 5th ends — truth and social righteousness — need not be in conflict, but it’s a very rare church (or denomination) that is able to hold the two in balance. Generally, what we do is choose one or the other, and then say bad things about Christians who pick the other one.

And that leads us to #1 and #6. How serious are we about proclaiming the gospel to people who’ve never heard it? How much thought to do we give to exhibiting the Kingdom of Heaven to the world?

Especially since we now realize “the world” is next door. It’s across the street and down the block. It’s the grocery store and the gas station. It’s all over. “The world” is everywhere. How well are we doing in evangelizing it? Does it even know we’re here?

Those conferees in Edinburgh a hundred years ago wanted to evangelize the world. They didn’t realize how much of the world needed to be evangelized, but they were willing to try.

Let’s try, too. Let’s not let our church be defined by just one or two of the Great Ends of the Church. Let’s maintain divine worship and nurture the children of God, by all means. But let’s not forget to tell people about Jesus, or to exhibit his Kingdom to them, either.

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Eye Contact

September 7th, 2010 No comments

There’s something shocking in Song of Songs.

I know, that’s kind of a commonplace these days. “Song of Songs says things you’d never believe were in the Bible.” For example, one of my favorite parts of scripture is Song 7:7-8, which I can’t link because then this blog would be NSFW.

I understand: if you’ve heard enough spicy sermons out of Song of Songs, it might not be as shocking to you as it would have been otherwise. But wait.

Because, traditionally, Song of Songs has been described as a picture of Christ’s love for his Church. Let’s suppose that’s true. It might also be a how-to manual for godly sex, as it certainly seems to be in places, but let’s just suppose that fifteen or seventeen centuries of interpretation isn’t hopelessly 100% wrong.

Are you with me? “Are we tracking?” Okay. Then consider what we read in Song of Songs 6:5. The man says to the woman:

Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me /
Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.

I’m not sure what the bit about goats and Gilead says about hair — something extremely flattering, I’m sure — but the rest is pretty clear. Anyone who’s been in love — or even infatuated — knows that feeling. It’s the “I want to ask you to the dance but I have to look at my feet when I do it” feeling. The “I really like you, or think I do, but I’m so overcome by the butterflies in my stomach I can’t actually look you in the eye to say so” feeling.

But consider: this verse is the man speaking to the woman. That would make it Christ speaking to his Church. Can you imagine Jesus the same kind of feeling looking at us — at you and me and the rest of the church — that we’ve experienced in our relationships? The sweaty palms, the stomach doing flip-flops, the stealing-looks-then-looking-away-before-eyes-meet? Jesus? Nervous?

How many of us look at Christ’s church the way he does? Wow.

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A famous preacher

September 6th, 2010 No comments

Buried amid all the stewardship material in 2 Corinthians 8-9 is this little tidbit in verse 18:

With Titus we are also sending one of the Lord’s followers who is well known in every church for spreading the good news. (CEV)

Some thoughts that passed through my mind reading this:

Who is this preacher? Apollos? Apollos was apparently an excellent preacher, but the Corinthians knew him by name. Timothy? Luke? Someone else?

Why isn’t he named? Fame is fleeting: this preacher was famous in his time — remember, this is Paul describing him this way. But today we don’t know who he was. Which is fine, because the only fame that really matters is that God approved of his preaching.

We still need preaching. We could have become a Christian 30 or 50 or 75 years ago and still need to hear the gospel preached. Not because we haven’t heard it, but because we need to hear it again. C.S. Lewis says, “We need to be reminded more than instructed.” Paul (Paul!!) had nurtured this congregation for 18 months, and was still corresponding with them to help them grapple with tough doctrinal matters. There aren’t many churches that have heard the gospel as well as this one. But they still needed to hear the gospel, so Paul sent them a famous preacher.

We can hear preaching just as excellent. I’m assuming it was excellent preaching, because Paul endorses it, so it was done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Who is still at work today.

If, like most people, you attend a church that doesn’t have a famous preacher, don’t worry about it. Fame isn’t important. Instead, ask yourself if the Holy Spirit is speaking through them.

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Vacation Winding Down

September 1st, 2010 No comments

Today, our vacation starts to wind down. We’re going to hike around Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. We’ve had a great time at the beach, Disneyland, San Francisco, and the Marin Headlands. I’m looking forward to being back at church on Sunday, but it’s just that I don’t want the vacation to end yet.

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