Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Election Season Wish

Here's the campaign speech that I keep waiting to hear...

"Hello, my name is (Name) and I am running for (office).

I would like to represent you because I care deeply about our community, our state, and our nation. I want everyone to live the best life possible, and be given every opportunity to flourish. I have a heart for public service, I have some thoughts about how our policies could be structured in such a way that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will be assured for all. And here they are:

(Insert accurate description of entire platform here.)

Furthermore, I believe that there is a clear choice to be made in this election between me and (opponent or opponents). However, I know that my opponents are pretty much just like me in that they too care deeply about our community, our state, and our nation. I truly believe that they want people to live the best lives possible, and be given every opportunity to flourish, just like I do. They also have a heart for public service, and some thoughts about how policies could be structured to ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But I’ll let you ask them about those.

Because see, there are some things that I’m just not going to do during this campaign.

The first thing that I will not do is draw caricatures of my opponent’s ideas and compare them to my own. That’s called a “straw man” argument, and I’m just not going to do that. You should go to their website, read what they have to say, listen to them speak, watch them debate, and decide for yourself what their ideas are. All I can do is let you know what mine are, as honestly and transparently as possible, then allow you to make your choice.

The second thing that I will not do is list off all of the things that I “do not believe” about my opponent/s, making sure to say them out loud as I do so and thereby trying to subconsciously plant them in your mind. That’s just inane. I have far more respect for your intelligence than to do that to you.

And the third thing that I will not do during this campaign is claim to have a truer understanding of my opponent’s motivation than anyone else does. Truthfully, the only person’s motivation I understand fully is my own. I will not waste my time (nor yours) by trying to reveal my opponent’s true agenda, but rather I will concentrate on sharing mine with you. And by the way, here it is:

(Insert true agenda here, including all sources of funding.)

Fourth, I will in no way shape or form claim to be the politician who will single-handedly change the culture in (insert city, state capitol, or 'Washington D.C.' here). To think that electing one person over another is all it will take to reform our government is naïve at best, and I know that you are not in the least bit naïve. It would be an insult to you to try to convince you of that. True reform will take a cultural shift the scope of which is almost greater than anyone can imagine, and will require years of concerted effort on the part of vast numbers of people in order to happen. I’ll do my best, but I’m not going to make any promises.

Please vote. It is important for us not to take that for granted. There’s a choice to make, and it is up to the voters to make it. If you have heard this speech, or read it somewhere, you now know what I think. To the best of my ability, I will operate from this perspective if you elect me. And please, seek from (opponent or opponents) the same kind of information that I have tried to provide you about myself.

It is only if you are truly informed that you will be able to make a good decision on election day. Thanks for listening!"

...as of today, I'm still waiting.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Balance In Discipleship

An interesting point raised by the Right Reverend Patrick Moore:
"My main question to you is: Is the congregation where we do our discipleship stuff or is it the world? Is it God-Church-World or God-World-Church?"

I had written:
"Your congregation is a community of disciples in which you have chosen do your discipleship stuff."

It may have been clearer for me to have written:
"Your congregation is a community of disciples with whom you have chosen do your discipleship stuff."

But it is an interesting distinction, isn't it? The answer to Patrick's question is really, "Yes." We do our discipleship stuff in the congregation, meaning in community with other disciples. And we do our disicpleship stuff in the world, meaing the community is an outwardly focused one.

Yes, disciples are supposed to be "out there" in the world as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, serving others, offering love and grace, sharing in acts of justice and mercy, and so forth. And at the same time, we are the ekklesia, called together to be the church.

It's the same with individual discipleship, I believe. There's always a balance to strike between personal holiness and social holiness. Too much personal holiness leads to a christology in which I carry my Jesus around in a little box, and would take him out and kiss, kiss, kiss, and put him back again. (I still cannot believe anyone ever thought that song was okay to teach to children!)

Too much social holiness makes the church just another political action committee, one more on the list of really good groups doing really good stuff in the community, and asking you for your money to support all of their really good work.

Christian discipleship is not "either inward or outward," it is "both inward and outward." Jesus invites people to come to him, then sends them out to serve others. When Christian discipleship tilts too much inward, the disciple begins to wither. When Christian discipleship tilts too much outward, the disciple becomes exhausted.

Likewise, when the congregation is too inward, it stops growing and slowly fades away. But when it is too outward, the people become tired and burned out. In reality, the former condition is much more prevalent than the latter, but we do well not to tip the scale too far in our corrective efforts.

The pattern we are going to be using at Campbell, LIVE-GROW-SHARE, asks people to balance all three of these aspects. "Live" is the worship component, both corporate worship services and personal devotion time. "Grow" is that inward focus and "Share" is the outward expression. I believe that all three must be in balance for healthy discipleship.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More On Discipleship

If anyone has ever said to you that Christian discipleship was going to be easy, allow me to apologize. They were misinformed. It is not.

But, if anyone has ever neglected to say to you that Christian discipleship is the most joyous, grace-filled, wonderful thing a person could ever do, allow me to apologize. It is!

And finally, if anyone has ever told you that the job of a disciple is just to make more disciples, allow me to apologize. It is much, much more than that.

I think the biggest problem with myopic insistence on “make disciples” as a mission statement for disciples is quite simple. We really don’t want to limit ourselves to that alone. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but a lot of people simply believe there’s more to it than that. Wait, now! Before anyone freaks out, let me explain.

I guess what I mean is, if the mission statement was “love people” or “help people” or “serve people” or something like that, now we’re talking! Because a lot of people believe that loving people has inherent value, and that we do not need to tack on the additional agenda of making them into disciples in order for our action to be worth something.

See, when many of us hear “make disciples,” we hear “I don’t want to take the risk that I myself might be transformed or anything, so I’ll undertake it as my mission to change other people so that they are more like me.” Yes, it is an unfair characterization. I’m just saying, that’s how it comes across sometimes.

The problem is, discipleship requires risk. Discipleship means sacrificial, unconditional love for strangers. Discipleship asks us to love like Jesus loves, which means being willing to die for someone who doesn’t “deserve” it. And no, we do not get to decide who “deserves” it or not.

Discipleship is a response to the gift of salvation, and salvation is a gift from God that humans uncategorically do not deserve. I do what I do as a Christian disciple not because I am better than anyone, but because I am a sinner saved by grace, and I am so unbelievably grateful for that, I choose to be a disciple of Jesus. And my discipleship is lived out as a part of the church.

Your congregation is a community of disciples in which you have chosen do your discipleship stuff. You have made this choice because the congregation is where you feel like you will be able to flourish most effectively in your discipleship calling. The congregation you become a part of is your “spiritual home” because your unique gifts and graces, your personal strengths, your very identity, make the most sense there. Some people say that “it just feels right,” which is a beautiful way to express this idea. And how important it is to remember two things: 1) Just because a congregation doesn’t “feel right” to you doesn’t mean it won’t “feel right” to other people and the corollary: 2) Just because a congregation does “feel right” to you doesn’t mean it will to others.

The church, as a community of disciples, both supports disciples and holds them accountable. That means a congregation has got to offer disciples opportunity to practice discipleship. At Campbell, we identify those practices as worship, faith formation, fellowship, mission and service, generosity, and hospitality. (That’s Bishop Schnase’s book plus one.) What we try to do is make sure that the people who call Campbell home have opportunity to engage in all six of these areas of discipleship. What we do not do very well yet is hold people accountable to doing so, but we are working on that.

The mission of a congregation, as I see it, is to make sure that the disciples who are a part of that particular community have ample opportunity to engage in discipleship, and then to hold one another accountable to doing so. Yes, a part of that is inviting people to become disciples themselves, but only a part. To reduce discipleship to merely making more disciples is an oversimplification that we do well to avoid.

When a disciple of Jesus is fully engaged in a balanced life of discipleship, including worship (identity), growth (inner focus), and service (outward focus), a life pattern begins to be imprinted upon them. This pattern liberates the disciple; there is a life of joy and peace. When the pattern is out of balance, meaning the person is spending a disproportionate amount of time in any one of the three aspects of discipleship, there is often discontentment, an unsettled feeling that something isn’t right.

Although attaining that balance is hard, once you get it, it seems to become easier and easier. As the discipleship pattern becomes more and more deeply imprinted in your life, it releases you from the pressures of this world and sets you free to truly live as the person God desires.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Children's Church?

How many times has someone said, “I am so glad to see all of these children, because they are the future of the church”? I know I have. And on the surface, that is an accurate statement. I am indeed hopeful that the children in our congregation today will still be the church in the future.

But with that said, it must also be noted that children are more than just the future of the church, they are also the PRESENT of the church. They are here now, and are vital and vibrant members of the congregation in the present moment. We have to be careful not to relegate children to the future alone, for to do so denies their sacred worth in the here and now.

What would happen if we all decided to honor the inherent worth of children, instead of trying to mold them into smaller versions of ourselves? What would happen if we began to value children for who they really are, instead of considering them to be charming accessories to our community? Would we perhaps take more notice of, and work harder to alleviate their suffering?

The prophet Jeremiah has written, “In those days they shall no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’” (31:29) Although it is no longer a common theological perspective that believes God punishes children for parental sins (see John 9), it is hard to deny that children often suffer for bad decisions that adults make.

The United States of America ranks #1 in the world in the number of billionaires.
In the United States of America a child is born into poverty every 32 seconds.

The words of the prophet announce with boldness that this is not God’s desire. “In those days” is a phrase that points us toward the fulfillment of the reign of God, at which moment children will be released from suffering the consequences of their parents’ (and other adults’) decisions.

For the next two weeks in our worship services, we will celebrate children – not as the future of the church, but as the here and now. “…For it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ephesians Blows My Mind!

As I wrote my sermon today, on Ephesians 3:14-21, I realized that the book of Ephesians is already a sermon. So how would it be if I just stood up and read the book of Ephesians during the sermon time on Sunday morning?

That's what it was written for, wasn't it? The way I understand it, Ephesians was written not as a letter to a specific church dealing with a specific issue, but rather as an encyclical letter, meant to be read in a many different churches.

It is a remarkable book, and the brief section I'm focusing on for this week is a prayer for the hearers. The prayer has some truly amazing phrases:

"...from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name."

"...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love."

This one totally blows my mind:
"...that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."

Really? "All the fullness?" And how are we supposed to know something that "surpasses knowledge?" WHOA!!!

But the line that grabs me and will not let me go is this one. The end of the prayer affirms that God "is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine..." YES! Amen to that. And lucky for us that's true, huh? I mean, what would the world be like if God was limited to only the things we ask for? How would it be if God was defined by our meager imaginations?

This passage gives me hope. In the midst of contention and strife, disagreement and bitterness, it is ever so important to affirm that God is not contained by human understandings. Even our fundamentalist-est sisters and brothers who claim to have access to the absolute truth of God know deep down that they have their own lenses, as well. We all do. In a beautiful, paradoxical and one might say ironic way, Scripture itself makes that very clear.

God is more. God can do more. God is bigger than all of our biggest dreams multiplied together.

How big is the space that you are creating for the possibilities of the future that God has in store for you?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Miraculous More of God

First, in October, I will ask the congregation to make a 3-year long promise to an “above-and-beyond” capital campaign, the goal of which is 1 million dollars.

Then, in November, I will ask the congregation to renew their promise of discipleship giving, the regular, week-by-week giving that supports the ministries of the church.

Next, in December, I will ask the congregation to keep track of the amount spent on Christmas gifts for family and friends, and contribute an equal amount to the town of Mellier, Haiti.

Sometimes it wears me out to think so much about money, and to ask people to give serious, prayerful, and intentional consideration to how they use their money. I sympathize with people who say, “All the church ever talks about is money!” I certainly understand why they feel that way. Sometimes it feels like that to me, too.

Part of why it wears me out is that I fear people will misconstrue my intentions. I don’t really care so much about the money; I care about the ministry the money makes possible.

First, the congregation needs this capital campaign in order to free up the thousands and thousands of dollars we are currently paying on interest, so that money can be put to work supporting ministry instead.

Then, the congregation needs to renew our promises of financial discipleship in order to continue and grow the wonderful ministries that are ongoing.

And next, the congregation needs to affirm that Christmas is about the presence of God, not the presents stocked on the shelves of the local Stuff Mart.

So none of the things I’ll be highlighting over these next three months is really “about the money,” although it surely seems that way on the surface. I believe that what we do with our money matters in the same way that what we do with our time, our talents, and our energy does. It’s about values. How we use our resources ought to reflect what we value.

To be honest, I don’t know exactly why talking about money makes me so nervous. In the Bible, Jesus was talking about money all the time. Money seemed to be one of his favorite topics, in fact. He quite obviously cared deeply about how his followers used their money, and so it makes sense that we should continue to do so today.

I’m reading (over and over again) Ephesians 3:14-21 in preparation for this week, and feel the power inherent in this brief passage. It is reminding me of what’s important, what the priorities are. It is truly an inspiring, amazing passage of scripture.

I am comforted by the thought that, wherever my mind might be at any given time, that God is “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” Personally, that means all my talk about money shouldn’t freak me out so much; God’s got it covered! As a congregation, that means "we are limited only by the size of our imagination;" sometimes clichés say it best, which is probably why they are clichés.

In other words, we might not make our million dollar capital goal or increase our discipleship giving for the upcoming year or gather as much money as we might have hoped to be able to send to Mellier. But to get stuck on that would miss the point. The point is that whatever we give, God will use it to do something good.

And knowing that should call us to increase, not decrease, the space we create for God to work in our lives. Knowing that God can work miracles with my meager gifts inspires me to give more, not less! Just as, knowing that God will forgive my sin inspires me to sin less, not more. Just as, knowing that God loves me no matter what I look like inspires me to dress up for church, not go all scuzzy.

See if this works for an illustration: I’m in a musical with Springfield Little Theater the next two weekends. When a scene crashes, the actors find a way to go on somehow, ad libbing until everything is back on track. But knowing that we’ll make it work somehow doesn’t mean that we’ll just go up there and wing it every show. On the contrary, we will work our tails off in rehearsal so that will not happen.

It is the same principle at work in our faith life, I think. Knowing that God is who God is should not inspire us to “phone it in” because God is so cool and can take care of it all. On the contrary, it should inspire us to “comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

May we all be inspired to be more by the “miraculous more” that God is able to do with and through and among us!

Monday, October 04, 2010

MLB Playoffs

2010 Major League Playoff Teams Ranked by Payroll

American League
New York Yankees - - - - $206,333,389
Minnesota Twins - - - - - -$97,559,167
Tampa Bay Rays - - - - - -$71,923,471
Texas Rangers - - - - - - -$55,250,545

National League
Philadelphia Phillies - - - - $141,927,381
San Francisco Giants - - - - $97,828,833
Atlanta Braves - - - - - - -$84,423,667
Cincinnati Reds - - - - - - $72,386,544

So who am I rooting for?

My only criterion in rooting for the baseball playoffs for the past few years has been to root for the lower payroll. And so, of course, I’d like to see a Cincinnati versus Texas World Series, with Texas winning.

San Diego had a chance to make the playoffs, at a paltry $37,799,300 this year. I was really pulling for them. Sadly, Pittsburgh, the only team with a payroll lower than San Diego, never had a shot.

The team with the lowest payroll in the American League was the Oakland A’s, at $51,654,900. So the dream World Series this year would have been Oakland versus Pittsburgh, with Pittsburgh winning it all, and the Yankees contributing their entire payroll to eliminate global hunger.

On second though, let’s not get greedy. The Yankees could contribute just HALF of their payroll to eliminate global hunger. This move would, by the way, only shift them down to eighth on the list of thirty team payrolls.

Info from - http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/salaries/teams

Friday, October 01, 2010

Just the Way I See It:

Here’s what I think:

Every single time one uses the phrase “the Bible says,” one should precede it with “I believe that…” or “The way I read it…” or “According to my interpretation…” or some such clarifying phrase. Especially with issues upon which there is well-documented disagreement, like homosexuality.

Actually, I kind of thought we were past all of the “the-Bible-clearly-says-this” versus “oh-no-it-doesn’t-it-clearly-says-that” skubalon (Look it up – Philippians 3:8). But apparently not. I’ve read comments on a few online posts recently that are filled with it. Whatever comes after that phrase, the point is weakened because the author has demonstrated they are unwilling to hear any other perspective.

Question: How in the world am I supposed to take your point seriously if you are so blatant about your unwillingness to take anyone else’s seriously? Seriously.

Not to mention, there is a kind of arrogance in claiming to be privy to what the Bible clearly says or not. I am reticent to make such a claim myself; I take the Holy Scripture far too seriously to even remotely hint that I understand it completely. My wisest wisdom is utter foolishness with God. I believe that God’s Word is too big, too complex, too omni-everything to be codified or contained in a list of doctrines. And I know that the only interpretation I ever have is the one God has revealed to me, and spiritual maturity means learning how to deal with the fact that sometimes my interpretation is different than yours.

Looky here. Be clear about what you believe. Be firm in that belief. Claim it! And at the same time, be willing to hear reproof, rebuttal, admonition, and even affirmation. If your belief is really that strong, another perspective will be no threat to it! And maybe, just maybe, you will actually learn something and end up better for listening. That’s why we are supposed to do this Christianity thing together, as the church, just as “one body has many members,” because no single one of us, no single group of us, no single denomination of us, has an exclusive hold on the full truth of God.

(And now let’s get to the nitty and/or the gritty, whichever you prefer.)

Specifically, I am tired of being accused of not loving Jesus, or not regarding scripture as God-inspired, or not being a faithful disciple of Christ, and so forth, simply because I am in the group of Christians who do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. To be clear: I love Jesus. I believe scripture to be inspired by God. I am a faithful disciple who is working out my own salvation with fear and trembling. And so forth. And – I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. (Side note: Yes, there are a lot of Christians who feel this way.)

At the same time, I have dear friends and colleagues who do believe homosexuality is a sin. I do not think they are hateful people. I do not think they do not love Jesus. I do not think they are unfaithful or “wrong” or homophobic or anything like that. I think that they are faithful disciples of Jesus who love God and neighbor just like me, and who happen to have come to a different perspective on this issue than I have.

There are other examples, too. This one happens to be one of the most sensitive. I have written a lot about it before, and you are welcome to click around my prior blog posts to read what I’ve written at various times over the past few years.

The larger point of this post is to issue a plea that we might “provoke one another to love and good deeds” in the way that we disagree with one another, a plea that we might set at tone of grace and respect in every one of our conversations. Journalism is not setting that tone; politics is not setting that tone; business is not setting that tone.

And sadly, neither is the church. But maybe we could. Maybe we should! Please, “if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” At least that’s the way I see it. If you disagree, I just ask that you do so respectfully!