I am a poor pilgrim of sorrow, I'm tossed in this wild world alone,No hope have I for tomorrow, I've started to make heav'n my home.Sometimes I am tossed and driven, Lord, sometimes I don't know where to roam.I've heard of a city called heaven, I've started to make it my home.My mother has reached that pure glory, my father's still walking in sin,My brothers and sisters won't own me, because I am tryin' to get in.Sometimes I am tossed and driven, Lord, sometimes I don't know where to roam,I've heard of a city called heaven, I've started to make it my home.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Saturday, February 10, 2007
I also realized two things: first, that the disciplines drawn on by church leaders over the years have radically changed. "Back in the day," church leaders drew on the disciplines of academics (Eugene Peterson). In the 80s, etc. (I know my timeline is not precise here), church leaders drew on the disciplines of business practice (Robert Schuller). Today, at least in this conference, we seem to draw on sociology. Which works for me, because that's my background! None of these draws are inherently "good" or "bad" but they do signal significant shifts in how we're doing church.
Which I will talk about later. Don't worry, never fear, I have a CD of Pagitt's presentation for everyone. You won't be left out. And now, we're off to the zoo, to LA, to let all this sit and digest. It's been fun. God bless you!
Friday, February 09, 2007
Last night it was Salvation. I don’t think either of us would claim to understand the mechanism of salvation – how or when exactly God pulls us into God’s Jesus-centered embrace, or what else God may be doing in the human story apart from pulling us close in that particular embrace. I think both of us believe salvation through Jesus to be real, tangible, and reliable (okay, at least I do). I think we both believe though you can recant, you can choose to intentionally step away from that embrace, you can’t sin your way out of it (at least I do). The heat of our discussion had more to do with the shades and emphases – how to describe salvation as both decision and lifelong practice. The tricky bit is in describing both/and – not either/or. If there is an either/or, we stand on opposite sides.
We’ve matured a little over the years. While there was heat, there were no tears, and we both ate well. And this morning I woke up with a new clarity. For me, the description of the both/and, decision and practice of salvation, boils down to what will get you there. In order to come to faith, I needed to be given a complete change in mindset – a reordering of priorities, of frameworks, of thought – and I needed to play with that in my mind and heart, trying it on, thinking about it, wrestling with it, talking about it. That’s the leading towards decision. I needed someone to try and describe for me what the new world looked like, in order to choose to step into it. Others need to experience little portions of the larger whole in order to take little steps forward towards it – to start by living a small thing new, then seeing how that is and moving a little closer. That’s practice. Some people need to begin to live like people of faith, in order to know deep in their souls that their faith is real.
Luckily, God creates for us a both/and world, full of people who might just have that missing word, or action, or tear, or laugh to lead you to embrace more fully the one embracing you. Just remember to eat first.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
I spent the afternoon session in “The Gospel According to Electronic Culture: Why Changing the Methods Always Changes the Message” by Tim Condor. It was like I had gone back in time to my brief stint at the
Mostly, it was a discussion about how we are moving and have moved from a print culture to an image culture, a linear, sequential and left-brain culture to an amorphous, right-brain culture, from a modern culture to a post-modern culture, from an Evangelical (big-E) church culture to an emergent church culture, from a more-concerned with “in” and “out”/“saved” and “not-saved” culture to a only concerned with following Jesus culture, from a Paul culture to a Jesus culture. Having come into the church in a post-modern culture, all I could say was, “Amen!” I mean, while I understand what the big deal is from a historic and sociological perspective, I have nothing but kudos from a personal and theological perspective.
Except… well, there’s one, tiny, niggling little thing that keeps cropping up. When we dumped the didactic approach to salvation (say the sinner’s prayer and you’re good to go), did we also take away the certainty of God’s grace? Personally, while I take no delight (and not much interest) in whether God has marked anyone else as His eternity-wise, in the dark of night (after all, we are called in scripture to tell the Good News, never, ever, are we called to judge what that will mean) I take great comfort in the fact that I believe he has marked ME. I take comfort, when this world is dark, that the promise of scripture is true – that “whosoever” means me too, that I am good enough, right now, even in my failures, even in my sorrows, even when I am not deserving. It is, in fact, what enables me to get up again when I fall. God asked, I said yes, and it is meaningful, forever. The waters of baptism are not fleeting.
In our new, emergent, post-modern, flowing, glorious, Jesus-following experience of God, are we losing the permanence of salvation?
Before I left for the conference, a colleague of mine asked if it was the kind of conference where you get “swag.” For those of you who haven’t attended a professional development conference recently, “swag” is that stuff that vendors and companies give away free to get you to buy more (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swag). I laughingly replied that they probably would be giving out t-shirts with “Zondervan ROCKS!” plastered across them. (Again, for those not “in the know,” Zondervan is a very large Christian publisher, and the primary sponsor of the National Pastor’s Convention. They don’t, in my experience, give t-shirts.)
It turns out, we got swag! Sure, it’s no magic-8 ball to give you all the answers you need to your common technical problems (“reboot”, “user error”, “it’s a new feature”), but it is swag nonetheless. So far, I’ve collected a book on Spiritual Marriage, a classic from William Wilburforce, a kids story-bible, a CD of collected hits from Todd Agnew. We were too late for the limited number of Contagious Christian kits (don’t worry, it’s an evangelism primer – interesting points, not for our context).
It’s the last of those that I will chew on more, and not just tuck into my growing good reminder pile. What is the difference between servanthood and providing service? I think it’s something about attitude, relationship, and heart. The service provider serves the people above all. The servant serves the master, and in so doing, serves the people. The service provider gives of what he or she has, or owns, or controls. The servant is sent with that which the master has. The service provider is responsible for what is provided. The servant is responsible for serving the master.
I believe it is part of our call to use our hearts, minds, spirits not just to follow Jesus, but to help others experience the joy of doing the same. But sometimes its comforting to be reminded that at the end of the day, when we are the best we can be, as classy, as articulate, as polished, as sincere, as relational, as caring… well, we’re still just the swag, enticing others to invest in the creator.
We pray in the large context of God’s creation and salvation. Prayer is answering speech.
Beginners and all of us “wish upwards”; this is the beginning of prayer.
I’d like to be remembered as man who demolished all the perfectionism in prayer. God is generous with his children learning (forever) how to pray. We don’t know how to pray, and yet we pray.
You never really learn how to pray – like climbing a mountain: you never learn to do it, but you learn to make your way.
One of the advantages we have is a textbook for prayer, used by Jews and Christians forever. For us, the Psalms are in the center of the Bible. If the five books of Moses are the starting place – the basic word of God – and the Gospels are the starting place – the revelation of Jesus – the Psalms, our textbook for prayer, are right in the middle.
Prayer is a response to the word of God – the word we get in Scripture and as individuals in our daily lives.
One of the problems of the American church is that we have prayer groups and Bible study groups, as if we could be specialists.
For 18 centuries, the church prayed the day, which orders the day. Regular set prayer rescues us from the tyranny of circumstances and of emotion. It forms our lives around and in God. (We lost a lot in the post-enlightenment after the first 1800 years.) They become the calisthenics for faith.
Zechariah’s prayer is just what I’m after today. There are five prayers in Luke – in church order (the order assigned in the hours)
- Mary’s prayer: “Let it be with me according to your word.” (a prayer of acceptance) (early morning)
- Zechariah’s prayer: “Blessed is the Lord, the Lord God of
.” (morning) Israel
- Angel’s prayer: “Glory be to God in the highest” ()
- Mary’s prayer: Magnificat “My soul magnifies the Lord.” (evening)
- Simeon’s prayer: Nunc dimitis “Let it be with me according to your word.” (nighttime)
You can tell from Zechariah’s prayer he’s been praying the Psalms all his life – 19 allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures in his prayer; 10 from the Psalms. The HS didn’t give him a new prayer on the spot; but he had soaked himself in God speaking our lives into being through the prayers of the Scriptures.
The death of prayer is generalization, abstraction – or just praying for whatever happens. The death of prayer is also overdetermining, functionality. Prayer is intimacy with God.
The prayer begins with Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit; it ends with John being strong in the Holy Spirit.
Luke is the only gospel writer who wasn’t in a face-to-face conversational relationship with Jesus. He’s very aware he’s in on the 2nd phase of Xn life. As a result, he’s very aware of the power and necessity of the HS – and that the way you get in on the face-to-face with Jesus as a 2nd phase Xn is through prayer.
Salvation is not merely saving us from our own sins, but saving us into the vast “country” of God, into God’s glory creation. We are saved into the kin(g)dom of God. It’s not just knowing where you are on the map; it’s taking in the fragrance of God. (Being & becoming in God.) It’s not about getting to the top, getting to heaven, getting to the end. The Way is about living, memory, etc.
Zechariah is praying his whole lifetime in the moment of holding the baby Jesus. It’s not the end (– it’s the wholeness, fruition, fullness).
Then he speaks to John: the prophet, the one – we! us! pastortypes – whose work is to be identified as a prophet, preparing the Way of the Lord for others. Not a historian, but telling people what’s going on, which has to do with the forgiveness of sins.
Then he speaks to Jesus: the dawn, the dayspring, from on high, breaking upon us to give light to those who are in darkness. The word “break” is related to scope – like someone seeing everything and noticing. Us. We’re suddenly in the world of God’s revelation in a fresh new way.
The conclusion of the prayer: Zechariah has been speechless since the conception of John in Elizabeth’s womb, and when he gets his tongue back -- his words have been nine months gestating in his womb – the first thing is that they burst out in prayer. He prays us into the company of those whom God has used in the world.
Prayer keeps company with the multigenerational (ancient, global) followers, faithful, pray-ers.
The center of the prayer is, “and you, child, shall be called the prophet of the most high. You shall go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” You, John. You, Eugene. (You, Elane.)
Who am I? I am the prophet, to given the word to prepare the Lord’s way. It’s not my way, it’s not my word, it’s not my agenda. It’s not my world. And the conclusion is not mine, but the light, the Lord’s – this country of salvation that I walk in, live in.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Being a post-modern, pro-queer, evangelical Jesus-freak is not always easy. In this time in which the Christian world divides sharply and often destructively around issues of sexuality (let alone gender identity!), I often arrive at primarily conservative Christian conferences with some fear in my heart. What if someone brings up “the issue”? What if I have to take a stand? What if I fail to take a stand? What will people think of me? What will I think of me? It has been said that it’s easy to ignore the elephant in the room, unless you’re sitting under the elephant. From my elephant-impaired vantage point, it was easy this morning to project my worst fears on my fellow van-rider. His cheerful (and probably standard) response of “I’m blessed” to our “how are you” became a comparison rather than a thanksgiving. The slight movement of his head (we were sitting behind him) at the sales peoples chatter about favorite bars became an exaggerated rolling of the eyes rather than a simple stretch of the neck. By the time we disembarked at the hotel, I had already put a hundred divisive exchanges in our history. His smile and “enjoy the conference” did nothing to heal the rift between us.
Thank God for music. It was somewhere in the second praise set at the opening session that I started to actually let go. It’s hard to think the worst of those with whom you are singing grateful praises to God. Looking around the room amidst the music that reminded us of the One who thought of us above all, even upon the cross, I could think only about earthen vessels and precious treasure. All of us are broken, and all of us are beautiful. In the big picture, there is no one great dividing line, there are only all the little cracks each one of us bears, each one of us brings humbly to the feet of the Master for healing. Any person at this conference, (or anywhere, for that matter) may dislike me, and that is painful. But I know the deepest wounds we feel are those between brothers, brothers who have forgotten how alike they truly are.
Since then, I have earmarked DVDs of skits for the youth ministry (half-off from Zondervan! Woo-hoo!), found two “ah-HA!” issues in my coaching ministry about which to ask for support and accountability from the staff, tried on at least two different reframings of our church mission, reflected and wept in joy for what I have witnessed God doing with our ministry team leaders.
I have also committed to make at least one overture a day to truly connect with someone I don’t know. I’m here, Lord. And I’m listening.
… A leadership lesson: becoming a friend to myself
… How do I talk to myself as a pastor? Meaner than I would to anyone else?
… What do I expect of myself? Do I allow myself grace?
… How do I respond to my failures? Do I speak to myself with any kind of grace?
… If you’ve got a lot of people criticizing you, and you join them, you’ll be outnumbered.
1. Acknowledge your pain to God
a. When you take a lot of pain in, criticisms, etc., acknowledge how extinguishing it can be to the soul – and that you have a soul
2. Find some non-utilitarian friends, friends who aren’t dependent on your sermon, work, or care. Take hold of the power of generative friendship – it’s worth getting on a plane to spend an afternoon with people who help you rest in the grace of God.
3. Give yourself permission to create or find safe places – boundaries for protection from toxic people and situations, time and social space to think (plausibility structures). (Sometimes when people catch your faith, you catch a little of their doubt.)
a. Thinking is a social action … the more on the margins you are, the harder it is to think – you’re stretching and the margin is stretching… it requires connection and space. When you think with others, the center of gravity shifts (and then a countermovement happens).
b. Get a cohort. And if you burst from the pack, find a new cohort.
4. Know what recharges you .. and do it religiously. Beauty, laughter, rest, sport, art, stupid movies.
a. And when possible, delegate or drop what drains you.
b. Realize that ministry is not life – You have to “smoke what you’re selling” (Rob Bell). If you’re telling people to be grounded in God and care, if you’re telling them that work is not life: remember.
c. Being a pastor is your job, not your whole ministry, not your whole life.
d. Give yourself permission to have a life.
5. Do pre-emptive communication: communicate clearly and redundantly and wisely – even if you aren’t certain, communicate.
a. Do not answer a badly framed question: reframe them or deconstruct them.
b. Ask needed questions.
c. (“I have defended myself, but I have never regretted being kind.”)
6. Expect criticism
a. Prepare for it in solitude (with God)
b. Process with friends
c. Respond in solitude (with God)
7. Lean into God. Believe God is for you. Stay in touch, even in doubt, maintain first order disciplines (the praying, the reading, the giving, the serving, the friendships, even when your theology about it falls apart and you don’t believe anything you’re ever preached about it.). Rely on your friends’ faith while yours is in pain.
8. Admit what you must do, what you cannot do, and what you cannot not do.
9. Allow yourself to be human – boldly: strengths, weaknesses, work, rest, intensity, latency, public, private, sexuality, intimacy, money, family.
a. The great martyrs of the faith didn’t ask their spouses to go with them. Garrison Keillor
b. A special note to young men: there is something in us as men that wants to conquer and compete, to prove yourself. In the ministry that thing can get very twisted. So that what looks like passion for God is really just a passion for marking trees.
c. A special note to women: it’s still pretty closed to women (95/5 in evangelical churches, 85/15 mainline) – dropout rates for women are still high (and they’re higher for men than they used to be): the systemic stresses still get in the way.
d. It’s not all about me. It’s also people, systems, change.
10. Spend time, intelligence, money, or energy, you choose, in your professional development – consultants, good books, conferences, vacations, therapists. Invest in yourself.
11. You don’t have to do this – to be a leader in times of transition – and it’s okay to leave. It’s not evil to leave. But you are needed, and this is a great adventure. Challenging times can destroy us, or they can elicit from us actions and virtues we didn’t even know we had.
Our culture has been orphaned. But maybe the times have changed, and some latent sociability may be elicited from us to nurture the culture, the orphaned world.