Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fifty Years

What happens to the power of an idea as fifty years pass by? How does it change?

As time mixes into it, does it become blurry, diffuse?

As the distance between now and then lengthens, does sentiment and emotion add a pretty border and a rosy tint?

You know how, when you have a vivid dream at night, then you wake up in the morning and it almost immediately starts to fade?

The only way to hold on is to tell someone about it. To share it. In the re-telling, the mixture becomes more concentrated, the picture becomes clear, the details sharpen.

An idea changes over time, but we get to decide how it changes. We have power to determine if the idea will flow and grow and pick up speed, or just drift into a stagnant pond of empty nostalgia.

Anyone can co-opt anyone else’s idea. Anyone can punch and twist and abuse and confuse. But some ideas are tougher than others, surprisingly so. And some ideas have champions who will not allow them to be used so poorly.

I am a champion of the idea that all human beings are worth something. As much as hatred and prejudice and war and poverty and violence have tried to knock it around, that idea has proven to be a whole hell of a lot tougher than anyone ever thought.

You matter. Whatever color or age or sexual identity, whatever country you’re from or language you speak or religion you practice or don’t, whatever the demographic, you are worth something.

Fifty years ago, that idea was proclaimed by a champion with a dream. May we never ever allow it to blur, become clouded, tinted rosy and hung up on the wall to admire.

What happens to an idea over time?

Well I guess that’s up to us, isn't it?

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Grace Embassy

I have frequently heard people say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t need the church.” It is a trendy notion these days. A video titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” was posted in January 2012; it has over 25 million views and people still leave numerous (mostly rude) comments every day.

It is illuminating that a response video titled “Why I Love Religion, And Love Jesus” has a mere 760,000 views. Clearly not quite as virally popular as the original. (Although this video also has similarly rude comments being posted daily.)

To tell you the truth, I often sympathize with the Pro-Jesus / Anti-Church point of view. Many times the one who holds such a view has been hurt, ostracized, judged, or otherwise treated quite poorly by someone in the church. This genuinely painful experience is then projected onto “the church” as a whole.

At the same time, I know that there are people who use the idea as a rationalization to perpetuate their own comfortable lives. Often the one who does so will use terms like “irrelevant” and “old-fashioned” to describe church. Following Jesus is relegated to a consumer-driven search for what works for me, what fits into my calendar, and what’s the latest fad being shared on pinterest.

In the first chapter of John, Jesus calls Andrew whose immediate response is to go and invite Simon to follow him, as well. Jesus then calls Philip, who immediately goes to Nathanael and invites him along, too. It seems to me that “the church” started forming pretty quickly after Jesus started calling. Maybe there’s something to the notion that Jesus didn’t really intend for us to try to follow him all on our own.

It is when the church forgets that we are supposed to be helping people follow Jesus and becomes something else - ANYTHING else - that we get into trouble. The church is neither a self-help group, a community action agency, a social club, nor a status symbol. And I would add, the church is not a disciple making factory, as many seem to think.

The church is the embassy of God’s grace in the world, and members of the church are Christ’s ambassadors. The church doesn’t have a mission; God has a mission. And it is for the sake of that mission that we are the church.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Be Extraordinary

The tag line for our current worship series is “Ordinary People - Extraordinary Lives.” The idea is that God calls and equips ordinary people like you and me to be extraordinary for God’s sake.

Sometimes I’m afraid the church sells itself short. We tend to let our ordinariness rule the day, and settle for “just fine” when God is really calling us to “amazing.” God operates in the cosmos of miracle and eternity and omnipotent, and much of the time we’re stuck in the muck of relevant and popular and trendy.

Imagine Mary, in all her ordinariness, called by God to give birth to the Son of the Most High, who would be great and inherit the throne of King David, ruling over a never ending kingdom … and what might have happened had her response been, “No thanks. Joseph and I are just fine here in Nazareth.”

The truth is, they were just fine. And they would have been just fine had God not called her to be the mother of Jesus. They would have remained just fine their whole lives, and even been quite comfortably content with Joseph carving and building, having a family, raising their kids.

To hear Christ’s call is to understand that there is more to life than “just fine.” To be a part of the church means you have a deep desire to be extraordinary, to connect to a power that is immense, to be a part of something that is bigger than you alone.

The paradox is, the church is extraordinary precisely in its inherent ordinariness. We are Mary, an ordinary young woman called to participate in a miracle. It is daunting. It is scary. It is humbling.

And yet it is who we are called to be. It is the church. Just us ordinary people, called to live extraordinary lives.

Monday, August 05, 2013


You might call it the call that started it all - the call of Abram. He would become known as Abraham, which means in Hebrew, “The Father of a Multitude.” In fact his story is a part of several different world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Baha’i.

Into this one life, which was by all accounts a rather ordinary one, God spoke. God called, and Abram heard. The call was to go to the place God was sending him. God gave no further detail than that.

“Go, Abram. Pick yourself and your family up from where you are now and go to where you will be when you get there.”

God’s portion of this call would be to bless Abram, make his name great, and through him extend the blessing to all the families of the earth. God wasn't very clear on the details at this point, either.

“I will bless you, and through you, bless the world.”

It was so fuzzy. No flowcharts. No five year plan. No specific, measurable, attainable goals, much less any means for reporting them to the conference office. Just a call to go, and a promise to bless.

And you know what the most extraordinary thing is? This: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”

The call that started it all was a call to trust, to humility, to a faith that had to be at peace with uncertainty. Abram followed without knowing the details, or even the desired outcomes. He was called, and he went.

An ordinary person, an extraordinary life. The call was, “Go.” And Abram went.