Thursday, May 31, 2007

Time for a Makeover...

Today starts a four day event called Xtreme Makeover, Church Edition. Our national churches are gathering for a fun and relaxing, yet focused and intense long weekend. Tara and I are looking forward to the event, to hanging out with our friends, enjoying the worship services, and joining with other like-minded Jesus followers to keep moving our churches forward in mission.

There are plenty of great churches that share our heritage, I think it will be great for all of us to get together and remind ourselves of why we exist and who we want to keep growing up into. It'll be fun. I hope it is transforming for us as a gathering of churches.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Kierkegaard on Suffering and Obedience

Kierkegaard cites this Scripture, Hebrews 5:8 "Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered."

He then makes this observation: "Now, if obedience directly followed suffering, it would be easy to learn. But learning obedience is not that easy. Humanly viewed, suffering is dangerous. But even more terrible is failing to learn obedience! Yes suffering is a dangerous schooling, but only if you do not learn obedience - ah, then it is terrible, just as when the most powerful medicine has the wrong reaction. In this danger a person needs God's help; otherwise he does not learn obedience. And if he does not learn this, then he may learn what is most corrupting: to learn craven despondency, learn to quench the spirit, learn to deaden any noble fervor in it, learn defiance and despair."
- pg 162, Provocations

The past few months have included many conversations with couples that are struggling to stay together, some are on the brink of dissolution, others are trying to stop the pain, and a few are just trying to figure out how to be happy together. What they all have in common is suffering, and they also include heavy doses of disobedience. There is this tenuous and beautiful moment available to each couple: in the suffering they have inflicted upon themselves and each other, they can gain wise insight into their own life and surrender their situation to Jesus. To obey is to love God more than the other or even themself, and to obey is to love the other like Christ loves the church, and to submit to one another like the church submits to Christ. To obey is to love with unending patience, generous kindness, avoidance of arrogance and boasting, death to envy and jealousy. To obey is to yield your will to the desires and wants of God.

The suffering that these couples are enduring could produce in them an obedient, yielded spirit to Jesus - which could bring about an end to that kind of suffering and make possible a kind of joy with each other that is both mature, wise, and lasting. But every couple needs to take stock of their contribution to the ongoing suffering they experience in their marriage, and consider who their disobedience is fueling the pain, and how the suffering could be used by God to bring about obedience and joy and redemption.

Kierkegaard goes on to write: " Without suffering you cannot really learn obedience. In the school of suffering...we learn the difficult lesson that it is indeed God who still rules, despite the suffering. This is the key to finding rest in your suffering. There is only one way in which rest is to be found: to let God rule in everything. Whatever else you might come to learn only pertains to how God has willed to rule. But as soon as unrest begins, the cause for it is due to your unwillingness to obey, your unwillingness to surrender yourselrf to God."
- pg 164, Provocations

Are you suffering? Be rigorous in your self-examination of how your disobedience has contributed to your pain. And then surrender to God's will.

I Have Sinned Greatly

2Samuel 24 is the final chapter in this two book account of the rise and decline of David's kingship over the twelve tribes of Israel and the surrounding nations. It includes one final sin of David that results in the death of innocent people; David is a man with much blood on his hands, that of his enemies, that of his friends, that of trusting soldiers, of wayward family members, and unsuspecting citizens. But not only did David sin greatly, he also would be conscience-striken, he would cry out to God for forgiveness: "Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing."

It's refreshing to hear about a man who knows when he sins, is willing to admit it, and cry out for forgiveness and reconciliation. But just because David cries out for forgiveness, it doesn't mean that God is going to avert the consequences. David received pardon from God, but David had a miserable life as a husband, father, and leader. He wasn't that good of a king, but he was a great warrior; he wasn't that great of a man, but he was passionate about God. The Scriptures honest account of David's success' and failures serves us as a warning and encouragement: be warned that your sins have consequences that have to be lived/worked through; be encouraged that repentance and forgiveness are gladly given by God to those that desire it.

Whether you have sinned greatly or just a little lately, don't shirk from the consequences; let the resulting pain be both a source of character building and an incentive to resist the sin stronger next time. We can't stop sinning, but we can stop refusing to repent and request forgiveness and reconciliation. If you feel like your sins are keeping you from God, a wise step would be to confess your sins to God and take the humiliating step of requesting forgiveness, and then strength to work through the consequences within the community of believers you belong.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sunday Sermon Notes - 5.27.07

Matthew 5:3-11

Sunday is Baptism Day, as well as Pentecost - also known as Whitsunday, since on that day traditional candidates for Baptism wear white robes.

We'll be at Stillwater Retreat Center, a beautiful wooded campus on the south end of Allen County. The Stopenhagens are part of a great ministry in that sacred outdoor space. We are glad to support them, and enjoy the land God has given them to use for his kingdomwork.

The Beatitudes are our text for this Sunday, our third lesson in our series of the Anchor Mission. We want to answer the question: who is Anchor for?

Our first text: Hebrews 6:19a, our theme verse, "...we have this anchor for the soul..."
Our second text: James 1:27, a key verse, "...religion God our father finds faultless is this: too look after widows and orphans in their distress..."
Our third text is a series of verses that serve as a summary of Jesus' major sermon. If one were to simplify this sermon, one could say: God blesses messes.

If you are a mess, you can still get blessed.

If you've made a mess of your life, if some one has messed you up, if you're in a mess, if you are messy - God can still bless you...with Himself. If you want Him.

The Beatitudes aren't so much a description of charater traits, so much as descriptions of the kinds of places people find themselves in...often very messy places. The Beatitudes battle against the belief that material blessings are a sign that God is pleased with you; against the belief that only people who have it all together are most pleasing to God.

Jesus preached in a land where only 2% of the people held power over the other 98%. Almost everybody was in a mess, destitute for enough material blessings, and quite unable to keep the Torah perfectly. And the 2% kep promoting the lie that they were the most blessed by God, that they deserved their power and prestige and wealth, for they had worked hard to be perfect in God's eyes.

But Jesus counters their assertions: blessed are the poor in spirit, not the rich in possessions; blessed are those who mourn, not the ones who feast; blessed are the humbled ones, not the powerful ones; blessed are the justice-stared, not the rulers and judges.

It's not that there is anything inherently wrong with abundance of possessions, feasting, power and ruling/judging; it's just that when one uses them as measurement tools for one's standing with God, one distorts and undermines God's work. God's kingdom has come to set people free from exile, to restore the land and its people to be full of His glory, shalom, and love. And all people are invited to come into this new kingdom, not just the ones who have it all together.

Have you made a mess of your life? God can bless your mess and bring good out of you and it, if you will go His Way.

God has come to bless us, to make us a blessing, and to bless all nations through us...if we go His Way, if we listen to his instructions, if we assent to his directions, if we trust his commands. The Beatitudes remind us that no matter how much we have not listened, not assented, not trusted...we can always start doing so is the day of blessing. Today you could let God begin undoing your mess, if you will Go His Way.

Anchor is for messy people. Anchor can be a messy place. Because we believe that messed up people have a special place in God's heart and kingdom. We believe that God wants to bless messy people, and make them into a blessing, and through them bless the nations. At Anchor, you're blessed when you're messed, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Those Sex-Crazed Corinthians

1Corinthians 1-6 introduces us to a contentious congregation, founded by Paul, but now out of control. It's a fascinating letter, full of personal issues, raw power-struggles, gossipy sins, tender love.

These first six chapters deal with two basic issues: authority and sex. Funny how these are such modern themes for our churches. Which is what makes these letters so enduring and helpful.

With the issue of authority, Paul addresses a major quarrell that has developed amongst the house-churches in this major Greek port city: some follow the teachings of Paul - the founding pastor; some follow the teachings of Apollos, a brilliant itinerant lawyer and preacher; some follow the teachings of Peter, the brawny and folksy follower of Jesus. The Jews that have converted to Christianity assert their man as superior based on the signs produced alongside the teachings (think Paul and Peter); the Greeks that have converted to Christianity assert their mas as superior based on the wisdom and philosophy imbedded in the teachings (think Paul and Apollos). Paul, in a humble yet aggressive manner, takes on this ridiculous situation. "Is Christ divided?" he asks?

Look, he says, "What, after all, Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to beleive - as the Lord has assinged each task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow." Isn't that beautiful? Paul puts everybody on a level playing field - with God we are his co-workers, so don't look around you and smirk at the people who aren't as good as you.

When there is arrogance - whether it be moral, intellectual, or authority - there tends to be some kind of sexual immorality that also infects the community. The two seem to go hand in hand. Paul opens up chapter four with this salvo: "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind tha teven pagans do not tolerate: a man has his father's wife. And you are proud!"

Paul recognizes that the authority issues, the power struggles have daze the conscience of these Corinthian Christians, they are doing crazy things to each other: suing each other, applauding egregious abuses of "freedom", and judging those outside of the church. So the sex-stuff is just one more crazy sin of which they are guilty. A famous Corinthian saying: "I have the right to do anything" (sounds like a Burger King commercial...), but Paul says, "...but not everything is beneficial." Paul wraps up his admonition to these sex-crazed Corinthians: flee sexual immorality. Corinth was a sex-crazed city employing thousands of prostitutes for its temples. The sex-sins had infected the imperfect church, in this case in a brazen and gross manner.

Paul's plea to them, and to us: be One with Jesus; go His Way. To be one with another out of sexual immorality, or to associate with another in an attempt to increase your power, or to spout the teachings of another to make yourself look smarter...that is not what it looks like to be One with Jesus, that is not how we go His Way. That is what we used to do, but we are leaving that Way behind. Leave it behind.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Toodles to the Trudells...they're only moving to Michigan!

Saturday evening Grandma Karen hosted a little party for Dave and Dawn to celebrate their move to Michigan. Dave took a new job within GM a few months ago, and now the family is ready to move on up with him. So we had some cake, family came over and we played and had a grand old time. We're happy for Dave's new job and the family's new adventure, but we'll miss having them around here. Here's some pics of our frolicing, and other antics.

Josh, Alia, Emma, Madison, Isaac and Levi - the gang of the few moments they all stood still.

Uncle Dave had fun with Josh and Levi; they would take turns sitting under the tub, and then Uncle Dave and the other kid would knock on it and laugh!

When Uncle Dave wasn't looking, Madison and Emma took over the duties of putting kids in the tub...

Maddie and Emma...the crazy cousins! They always have alot of fun together.

When the kids weren't posing or putting each other under the tub, they were chasing me around the yard. Occasionaly they would tackle me and they'd all pile on. Oh what fun!

Levi and Isaac like to sit and spin in Grandma K's patio chairs...

Grandma K and Eli...chillin'!

Count 'em, four generations...three beautiful women and one handsome Eli!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sunday Sermon Notes - 5.20.07

The Anchor Mission: Part Two
James 1:27 (TNIV)
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

This verse doesn't incapsulate everything that a local gathering of Jesus-followers are to be about, but it brings to the forefront a major theme. Jesus fed orphans, placed them on his knee and blessed them. Jesus loved widows, bringing their dead sons back to life and honoring their sacrificial giving. Jesus loved the poor in spirit, those who mourned, those who hungered and thirsted/for righteousness. Does our church love who Jesus loved? Do we look after who Jesus looked after? Jesus didn't look after himself or his own family or even his own disciples. Not that Jesus didn't love his family, his disciples, or himself. But his love was generous enough that it didn't stop with the people that were always around him, he sought out people who had no one around them to give them generous love.

One does not have to be wealthy to look after orphans or widows. It's not a matter of how much money you have, but what kind of love do you profess to have been forgiven by? Jesus tells a story that makes this point: those who have been forgiven much give much, those who have been forgiven little give little. I think of Micah 6:8, which I am sure James has in mind when he makes this point: God does not want our fat tithe checks as a substitute for our big hearts towards him; God does not want our missionary service as a replacement for our merciful love in His Name. God wants us to Love Mercy, to Act Justly, to Walk Humbly with God...or as James puts it: to look after orphans and widows...who need mercy, justice, and humble Jesus-followers.

A book I worked through this week by Shane Claiborne called "The Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical", unnerved me, challenged me, provoked me, inspired me in regard to this theme of Jesuswork: looking after those on the margin of society as a true example of belonging to our Father in Heaven.

Here are some quotes (I typed out five pages worth, I won't paste them all here...though you don't know how hard it was for me to restrain myself...) from Claiborne's book; I highly recommend you go to and purchase your own copy.

As Mother Teresa would say, “We are called not to be successful but to be faithful.” That sounds good, but it was the beginning of my years of struggling with the tension between efficiency and faithfulness. I remembered Gandhi’s saying that what we are doing may seem insignificant, but it is most important that we do it. Pg 78

While the temptation to do great things is always before us, in Khalighat I learned the discipline of doing small things with great deliberation. Mother Teresa used to say, “We can do no great things, just small things with great love. It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it.” Pg 78

But what had lasting significance were not the miracles themselves but Jesus’ love. And the incredible thing about that love is that it now lives inside of us. Pg 85

Mother Teresa always said, “Calcuttas are everywhere if only we have eyes to see. Find your Calcutta.” I was ready to come home. I knew that my Calcutta was the United States, for I knew that we could not end poverty until we took a careful look at wealth. I was to battle the beast from within the belly. I learned from the lepers that leprosy is a disease of numbness. The contagion numbs the skin, and the nerves can no longer feel as the body wastes away. In fact, the way it was detected was by rubbing a feather across the skin, and if the person could not feel it, they were diagnosed with the illness. To treat it, we would dig out or dissect the scarred tissue until the person could feel again. As I left Calcutta, it occurred to me that I was returning to a land of lepers, a land of people who had forgotten how to feel, to laugh, to cry, and land haunted by numbness. Could we learn to feel again? Pg 89

According to Mother Teresa, it is among the wealthy that we can find the most terrible poverty of all – loneliness. Pg 93

I once heard the saying, “God comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.” In my suburban comfort, I increasingly felt disturbed by God. I became very uncomfortable in the comfortable suburbs. The beautiful thing was my discomfort aronse not from a cynical judgmentalism but from a longing for something more. I did not want to settle for comfort. I did not want to settle for a life detached from the groaning of the slums or the beauty of playing in open fire hydrants and having block parties in the inner city. I wanted to see the community of Willow Creek shared with the lonely suffering masses that needed it so badly but would never make it to Barrington. The more I read the Bible, the more I felt my comfortable life interrupted. Pg 107

We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore the cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor. Pg 113

It is no wonder that the footsteps of Jesus lead from the tax collectors to the lepers. I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end. Pg 114

If you ask most people what Christians believe, they can tell you, “Christians believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that Jesus rose from the dead.” But if you ask the average person how Christians live, they are struck silent. We have not shown the world another way of doing life. Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus in along the way. And doctrine is not very attractive, even if it is true. Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death. Pg 117

In fact, if our lives are easy, we must be doing something wrong. Momma T used to say, “Following Jesus is simple, but not easy. Love until it hurts, and then love more.” Dorothy Day of the Catholic worker movement understood this well. She said, “Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer.” This love is not sentimental but heart-wrenching, the most difficult and the most beautiful thing in the world. Pg 136

Vocation comes from the same root as voice, denoting the hearing of a divine call. Beyond knowing that God has a purpose for our lives, most of us spend little energy seeking our vocation, especially in light of how the needs and sufferings of our neighbors might inform how we use our gifts for divine purposes. There are plenty of people who are miserable in their jobs, for they have not listened to God’s call. And I would add there are many Christians who are not fulfilled in their spiritual lives because they have no sense of their gifts or purpose, and they just run to the mission field to save souls rather than transform lives and communities using their gifts and those of the people they live among. Both lead to emptiness and burnout. Pg 138

Some may leave their jobs. Others will redefine them. When we truly encounter Jesus and the poor, we may still be a tax collector, but we will be a different kind of tax-collector. We may still be a doctor, but we will be a different kind of doctor. Pg 140

So not everyone responds in the same way, but we must respond. We must seek our vocation listening to the voice of God and the voices of our suffering neighbors. Pg 142

What the world really needs is not more churches but a Church. Pg 146

Hear the word of the LORD...

Hosea 1-4 introduces us to a prophet with a painful assignment: marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for "like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD." Hosea and his wife Gomer have two sons and a daughter together, the names of their children reflecting the coming vengeance of God against the wickedness of his people. The oldest son, Jezreel, is given that name because at he Valley of Jezreel the Ten Northern Tribes will meet their fate; the daughter Lo-Ruhamah bears a name which means "not loved" for "I will no longer show love to the house of Israel; the youngest son bears the name Lo-Ammi which means "not my people", for you are not my people and I am not your God."

As I read through chapter four, I was reminded of the three stories I had just finished contemplating in Luke 10.
Hosea 4:1 "Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites..." reminded me of Jesus' sending of the seventy-two with a message: "the kingdom of God has come near to you." Jesus' message is truly good news, especially in light of Hosea's prophesied doom which was still reverberating in Jesus' day. Hosea 4:1 goes on to say, "...because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land..." No wonder Jesus' proclomation of the coming Kingdom was good news!

Hosea 4:6 "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests..." This text reminded me of the Martha/Mary story...the one who sought to gain God-knowledge was the wise one receiving life. No wonder Jesus told Mary that she had chosen what was better.

Hosea 4:9 "And it will be: like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds." It brought to mind the Samaritan story, for the two other men that this hated half-Jew was contrasted against was a priest and a Levite-servant of the priests; what the priests did was as a representative to God on behalf of the people - as went the priests, so went the people. Jesus had a way of nailing people with the truth...nailing as many people as possible in one brilliant story.

Heed Hosea: hear the word of the LORD, get God-knowledge, don't be like other people or priests but be faithful to God through Jesus.

Mary has chosen what is better...

Luke 10 contains three stories: the sending of the seventy-two disciples, the parable of the scandalous Samaritan, and the account of Martha and Mary's tiff. Interesting, but the Martha/Mary story contains the thread-point, the idea that runs through the whole chapter: Mary has chosen what is better. Here's how that story goes: Jesus comes to town and Martha opens her home to him. But while Martha is making preparations, her sister Mary sits at the feet of Jesus instead of assisting with cooking. Martha insists that Jesus command Mary to help her, but guess what Jesus says...

Jesus makes the same point in the Samaritan story: the social outcast has chosen what is better. And he makes a similar point in the sending story - the seventy-two disciples are instructed to travel to cities and enter a home with the phrase, "Peace to this house." If the homeowner "loves peace, your peace will rest on that house" - or, Jesus could say...he has chosen what is better.

With the sending of the seventy-two, the choice has to do with announcing peace; with the Samaritan it is a choice of giving mercy, and with Mary it is a choice of listening. Announcing the peace of Jesus, giving the mercy of Jesus, listening to the words of Jesus.

We reject Jesus when we refuse to make peace with those who have wounded us. We reject Jesus when we refuse to give mercy to the abused. We reject Jesus when we refuse to listen at the expense of serving him.

But Jesus sends us to bring peace, to give mercy, and to listen to him; the world needs more of us to go...and choose what is better.

The Way of Anchor and Newbigin's Thoughts - Part Two

In Lesslie Newbigin's thoughtful book, "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society", he enters a chapter called The Congregation as Hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Gospel".

In it he asks: "How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last wordd in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross?"

And then Newbigin states: "Jesus did not write a book but formed a community. This community has at its heart the remembering and rehearsing of his words and deeds..."

So now, the question is what kind of community lives out the words and deeds of Jesus such that a credible gospel becomes believable in a society brimming over with competing religions, allegiances, and beliefs?

Newbigin lists six characteristics that are true of this kind of Jesus-community; the first: It will be a community of praise. He notes: "Praise is an activity which is almost totally absent from 'modern' society', thus this is a distinctive characteristic. He makes two distinct points about this idea of a praising community. The first is that in our cynical, doubt-filled, skeptical culture, their is suspicion towards any dearly held belief. Thus it is nearly impossible to believe in a God, or hold a belief about Himm that matters, thus making reverance and worship impossible. Thus for Christians to praise God, they are rebelling against a suspicion-filled society and expressing their true dignity, freedom and equality in revering "the One who is worthy of all the praise that we can offer."

The second characteristic: "...the Church's praise includes thanksgiving...a community that acknowledges that it lives by the amazing grace of a boundless kindness." We have "gratitude to spare, a gratitude that can spill over into the care of a neighbor." This is in contrast to our national pastime of claiming grievance over lost rights, violated rights, abused rights. Rather than exerting our rights, "we confess that we cannot speak of rights, for we have been given everything, and forgiven everything, and promised everything (aka Martin Luther)." Finally, " is tof the essence of the matter that this concern for the neighbor is the overflow of a great gift of grace and not, primarily, the expression of commitment to a moral crusade. There is a big difference between the two."

Amen and Amen. Newbigin states well, though a bit academically, my perspective and attitude towards praise on our Sunday morning gatherings, and on gratitude as expressed in our ministries to one another and our neighbors. For example, we are planning to relandscape five homes on 3rd Street on Saturday in the name of Jesus as a gift of grace, in an attitude of gratitude. We are partnering with five other neighborhood churches to lead a four day VBS - not so we can jockey against each other for who is the superior church, but so that with one clear voice we can express praise together with the children of the neighborhood to our generous God who's coming Kingdom brings grace, forgiveness and gratitude with it.

Okay, so that sounds too poetic, but it is my articulation of my perspective.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Happy Mommy's Day 2007

We had fun on Mommy's Day this year. Our gift to Tara this year (like last year) was a day to Scrapbook. So on Saturday we let her get her room ready and then spend some time scrapbooking. Part of her gift also included a big roomy closet to store lots of her stuff in such a way that she can scrapbook for ten minutes or ten hours. We love the scrapbooks that Tara creates, so now she can get more done, and we'll all be happy. Like these pictures of Emma and Tara at her preschool event called Munchies with Mom (or something like that...I went to Donuts with Dads, but their were no donuts, just cookies...major disappointment...)

Earlier in the week I tried to take a picture of the kids as a gift for Tara, but it didn't quite work out. I couldn't get Levi to lay down with everyone else. The day before he had hit his head on the hard kitchen floor and had a huge/tender goose egg, so I couldn't really fault him for not participating.

Sunday was the first day that Eli came to church, and the first for Tara since Eli had been born - so it was a special Mother's Day. Tara had fun with her camera in the Nursery at Anchor, and with Kids Sunday School. Rozal, Ger and Mary do a splendid job in the Nursery; and Jody, Annie, and Donnie are wonderful with the kids. We're so thankful for our fantastic volunteers!

After church we took pictures of the kids with Tara, and then did a little picnic in the living room. For desert we did Dilly Bars from DQ, and then Tara opened her card. Then it was naptime (oh glorious sleep!), and then we headed to Grandma Karen's for a fun evening. Good times, good times.

Have You Not Brought This On Yourselves?

Jeremiah 1-6 begins a sad string of stories, lyrical poems, potent laments, prophetic lambasts. Jeremiah is called to be a prophet while yet a young man, and he served till he was an old man. During his ministry Israel was overrun by Babylon and the citizens of Israel were hauled off into exile. Jeremiah was told up front that he would be ignored, would constantly need to be rescued, would be wounded deeply in his soul.

It seems clear that God is deeply wounded by Israel's rejection of him: "Has a (pagan) nation ever changed its gods - which aren't really gods - But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols."

God's covenant with the people of Abraham was made very clear - repeatedly - by Moses and then by Joshua: if you love God and keep his commandments, you will be blessed, you will become a blessing, and through you all the nations will be blessed; but if you do not love God and worship worthless idols, and if you do not keep his Torah, you will be cursed, and you will be punished, and experience the same fate as those were driven from Canaan when the Israelites made their home in the promised land.

So the punishment being preached by Jeremiah is not a surprise, is not reactionary, is not a violent act of passionate rage; it is the long-delayed result of constant betrayal, abuse of the poor, oppression of the foreigner, dishonoring of the elderly, apathy towards the weak, and disdain for God and his Torah-way. God sent prophet after prophet to turn his people away from their wickedness, but the prophets were put down. And so the brutal battle with Babylon will begin their exile: "Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!"

The punishment is both a natural consequence of a nation's wickedness and the divine intervention due to a long-held, and now long-violated covenant. At any point Israel could have returned to their God, but they wouldn't. God would have forgiven them and restored them and blessed them, had they repented of their sins, admitted their guilt, and walked according to the Torah. But for all the reasons that we find today amongst people caught up in patterns of behavior that infect and wreck lives, on their own they couldn't change their deadly momentum: "My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good."

God has Jeremiah proclaim this plea to the people: "Return, faithless Israel, and I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful, I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt - you have rebelled against the LORD your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me."

What seems so hard for me and so many others: to admit that I am guilty of wrongdoing...against God or others. It was a mistake, a misunderstanding; it wasn't my fault, I didn't have a choice, it's not that big of deal, etc. But oh the devilish power of pride which cripples our ability to be honest with ourselves and God.

Yet the proclamation of God continues to fall on listening ears and penitent hearts. And so we continue to proclaim through our life and lips the faithful forgiveness of God which cures us and restores us.

Monday, May 14, 2007

They Ate, They Drank and They Were Happy

1Kings 1-6 transitions from the David Story to the Solomon Story. It is "R" rated material, full of carnage, violence, and invocations of God. It is a story rooted in a way of life three thousand years ago. It doesn't make all the deaths easier to stomach, but it should make us reconsider how we approach the material: keep it in its context. Though we have honest accounts of events, they are presented to give particular perspectives of how God is fulfilling his promises given to Abraham.

Take for example this text (4v20-21), which should remind you of God's conversations with Abraham in Genesis 12, 13, 15, 17, 22. "The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore (Gen22); they ate, they drank, and they were happy (Gen12v2). And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt (Gen13, 15). Note the odd designation of "Judah and Israel"; there has been no split yet, however Judah is the line of the kings, so the author is noting the equality of the peace and prosperity. But it has been bought at a bloody price. Which reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes, which refers to the desired life of eating, drinking, being merry; but it also recognizes the fleeting nature of these moments, as well as the cost to the soul of attaining it.

God's promise to Abraham: I bless you, I will make you a blessing, and all nations on earth will be blessed through you. The blessings constituted of numerous descendants, a prosperous and powerful nation, and shalom with God and neighbors. But Abraham had to send a son into exile, Isaac had to send a son into exile, Jacob had to escape from exile, Joseph was sent into exile, the nation of Israel had to escape from exile through Moses, the nation of Israel forgot the laws of God and did what was right in their own eyes, they rejected the rule of God and lusted after the trappings and prestige of a king, and they sought to become like the nations around them. King Saul was a mistake, according to God; David was a man of blood; and Solomon - even with all his wisdom - couldn't tame his lust for beautiful women, buildings, and horses.

God's people are still waiting for all the nations on earth to be blessed through them, at the time of this story of Solomon. And that is where Jesus comes into the story - for us. Jesus instructed us on how to be blessed (Matthew 5); he invited people to follow him, and thus make them a blessing; and through his death and resurrection, he has been blessing all nations on earth through his imperfect (think Abraham, Isaac, etc) people. Nothing wrong with eating, drinking, and being happy; just don't do it at the expense of another's life, dignity, or blood. But being blessed by God, becoming a God-blessing, and being a conduit for God's blessing upon the world is more than food and drink, it is joy and peace, righteousness and reconciliation, the restoration of a Creation groaning for redemption.

Solomon ruled, but not like Adam was instructed, and not like Jesus demonstrated. Oh that we would rule wisely, like Jesus.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sunday Sermon Notes 5.14.07

We start a new Sermon Series this Sunday, it's called: The Anchor Mission.

We're going to examine some classic Scripture texts that have shaped the being and doing of Anchor over the past eight years. We'll be retelling some good God-stories, remembering what He has been up to in us and through us.

The text for this Sunday is Hebrews 6:19a, our church theme verse: We have this hope as an Anchor for the soul, firm and secure (TNIV).

Dennis Miller was the one who thought of this verse as the source for the name of our new church. When we on the Transition team heard it, we knew it was perfect. And since that time, we've been a church that brings the hope of Jesus to our friends, family, fellow-believers and neighbors; and we've worked to be an anchor in our community. Of course, we are not perfect, and we've blundered, missed really good opportunities, been preoccupied with unnecessary issues, and been too tired sometimes. And there are other reasons, but more than where we have failed, God has not failed us, and He has been an Anchor for us as we serve as an Anchor for our neighbors.

In the sermon I'll point out some fresh insights into the meaning of the text, and it will become clear to us how this text can move us into the future with a new energy and a new vision.

Know anybody that needs hope?

Know anybody that needs an anchor?

Are we going to be the church where Jesus brings hope and an anchor to those seeking Him?

I say yes. What say you?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

We too were: foolish, disobedient, decieved, and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures; malicious and envious, hated and hateful...

Titus is a Cretan, and as the philospher/poet/prophet Epimenides crassly crooned: "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." Paul quotes this Cretan lyricist and follows it up with: "He has surely told the truth!" Titus must have a sordid past of sorts, yet here he is, the receipient of a personal letter from the famed Apostle Paul. He's now the head elder of a church, overseeing a whole island of believers. Titus has come a long way, baby! Titus is now trustworthy, a one-woman man, a strong and respected father, an all-around good guy.

But what prompted the transformation? How do people change? For Titus, it was like this: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things things we had done, but because of his mercy." Titus was once a foolish, disobedient, deceived, etc. kind of man; now he is a foolish, disobedient, deceived, etc. kind of man who is saved by God's kindness, love and mercy.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that God has been doing Titus-work in us. We all are like Titus the Cretan in some way...we may not have all those vices attached to our identity, but one or two can be stenchy enough. And we all can be like Titus the Cretan - the Jesus-follower, who lives with and loves his fellow Cretans who are not yet following Jesus. Because of who Titus was, he can be Jesus with the Cretans as they are now. But having spent some time with Titus and the Jesus he follows, these brutish Cretans can become devoted to good and God as a blessing to their world.

How? Well for Titus, he experienced God through the hands and heart of men and women, a community that lived out God's kindness, love and generous mercy. And now Titus is raising up a family, heading up a church community, overseeing an island of disciples who do good, who are sober, honest, diligent, hospitable, delightful, disciplined, faithful, forgiving, reconciling, redeeming, etc. At some point hated and hateful people come into regular contact with loved and loving people. How do the hated and hateful become the loved and loving? By God's work through God's workers.

Right now, who are people that irk you greatly because of their subtle (or blatant) character flaws/sins? Now - consider that God has you in their life for a redemptive reason. Now - listen regularly for how God might want to use you to do Titus-work in their life. Of course you are not sure what to do, where to start, etc. That's why you have to listen to what God wants you to do everyday. You listen to him (and do what he prompts you to do/say) and he'll do beautiful redemption work through you.

As Paul writes to Titus and friends: "Grace be with you all". You'll need it, and so do they...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

We are the Clay, You are the Potter

Isaiah 63-66 completes the beautiful and terrifying prophecies of Isaiah.
In chapter sixty-four we have this famous plea:
Yet you, LORD, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, LORD;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.

The context: the righteous people of Israel are recounting their recent history with God...and it is not good. They know that as a whole, their nation has failed their role as a blessing to the world, they have rejected God, and abused one another. But they plead with God for mercy, and in the words given above, they point out to God that they came from His hand - so he bears some responsibiltiy for the outcome, and ought to show some mercy to his creation.

In the next chapter God goes on a rant - He, the generous, benevelont, loving, faithful One has been rejected, disgraced, forsaken, betrayed. He more than anyone feels the implications of being their Father, their Potter. Not everyone was mean to God, but for those who were, the LORD shouts out: Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day. I will not keep silent but will pay back in full; I will pay it back into their laps.

Who, today, is smoke in God's nostrils? Those whom God has predestined for destruction? Those whom God created only to hate? (Romans 11) Or those who have never heard of God and thus never have an opportunity as an individual to accept/reject him? Or those who have never heard good news of God, only ugly and distorted views of God? What's the minimum amount of orthodoxy that you have to understand, believe and live? Is there degrees of smokiness depending on how close you are to justification or how far along you are in sanctification?

God proclaims through Isaiah: These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit and who tremble at my word. He goes on about the unhumble and noncontrite: Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the LORD repaying his enemies all they deserve.

Apparently there are people who just don't want anything to do with God, and their rejection has nothing to do with irrelevant church ministries, bad preaching, hypocrisy amongst Christians, etc. They understand very well God's intent, and don't want it. I don't know those people, but if they don't want God in this life, they won't want him in the next. And in light of all that God has done for these rejecters, for how much he loves them and delights in them, it must hurt deeply when they reject him.

What scares me is that it seems like it is not only outright rejecters that get God's vengeance, it is rejecters of any kind. It seems like even if you are a nonaccepter (one who has not had the opportunity to reject, therefore they stand as one who could not accept what was not presented...) then you end up unredeemed. Thus, what is really hard to accept is that seemingly only a few people out of all of humanity that has ever existed will be redeemed by God: either by predestination or free-choice. If predestination, then why only a fraction of humanity? If free-will, why not work harder to woo humanity? It is a hard doctrine to digest, as Luther points out in some of his writings. What say you?

Paul uses the clay/potter text in his fundraising letter to Christians in Rome as he explains God's election of the righteous; and he draws this implication out of the poem: who are you, a mere human, to talk back to God! But Paul goes on, like Isaiah, to paint a beautiful, mysterious, compelling picture of the lengths God will go to redeem the world and bless the righteous. I find fascinating what God writes through Paul: For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. It is no wonder that this clay-Paul shouts out of his Potter:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Way of Anchor & Newbigin's Thoughts

A classic book on church and culture is Lesslie Newbigin's "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society". He helps answer questions that I am asking in one form or another: "What is the Christian message in a society marked by religious pluralism, ethnic diversity, and cultural relativism?" How do we be the church in the United States of America, Indiana, Fort Wayne, 3rd Street in the year 2007? What does gospelwork look like? How do we go the Way of Jesus - proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God, healing the sick and crippled, instructing on God's truth, and reclaiming freedom and beauty for humanity and creation?

In chapter 18 - titled "The Congregation as Hermeneutic of the Gospel", Newbigin provides brilliant insights and direction into finding answers for these questions and others I've not yet asked (by the way, "hermeneutic" means "interpretation" - as theory or method").

He writes on page 227 "How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic (interpretation) of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.

Also: "Jesus, as I said earlier, did not write a book but formed a community. This community has at its heart the remembering and rehearsing of his words and deeds, and the sacraments given by him through which it is enabled both to engraft new members into its life and to renew this life again and again through sharing in his risen life through the body broken and the lifeblood poured out. It exists in him and for him.

And this is the quote that resonates deeply with me: "Insofar as it is true to its calling, it becomes the place where men and women and children find that the gospel gives them the framework of understanding, the 'lenses' through which they are able to understand and cope with the world."

What kind of church do I want Anchor to become? A congregation of men and women and children who believe the gospel and live by it - at home, at work, at school, at play. For those who have trouble understanding and coping in this world, our gospel-life as a Eucharist becomes one of the means through which God calls individuals into a Jesus community. I don't mean for this to sound idealistic or academic, but I'm trying to work out in my mind and heart how I am wired and what that means for how I do ministry. I want men, women and children to walk out of darkness and into the light of the coming Kingdom of God - how does that happen through how I do life/ministry?

Newbigin lists six characteristics of this Jesus community that he has described as the hermeneutic of the gosepl: very illuminating and thought-provoking. I will examine them one by one in the next few weeks as I work my way through the next sermon series at Anchor concerning our mission and our becoming missional. The series starts Mother's Day and ends Father's Day. We'll see whether I can either get some good answers or get some better questions to ask.

Are you asking any questions about your church?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Eli's First Walk

April 16, a few weeks ago at this point, was a beautiful day. So nice that Tara decided to take everyone on a brisk walk around the block. Here's some pics of the kids prior to hitting the sidewalk. I'm not sure what they are doing in all of the photos, like this one, for example. I wasn't there for the walk, so I can only guess...maybe they are spelling the letter "E"? Or an "M"? Or a "3"?

They are supposed to drink their water during their walk, but Isaac (in blue) and Levi tend to do things their way...which means sipping and spilling their water before the walk.

Emma is very fashionable and picks out her own outfits. She really wanted to wear the red tanktop for her walk, but it was a tad chilly. The weather didn't stop her, though, and neither did her mother!

The other day we planted two daffodils and two tulips for each of the kids. On this day the daffodils were starting to bloom - and they were fascinated. They did a good job of putting dirt around the plants and watering them, so now they like to check up on them.

Levi is proud of his daffodils...and he makes sure they have a drink before the walk as well!

Isaac has disappeared. Which happens often. Levi is holding a computer game, which he does not know how to play, but it makes neat sounds when he presses the buttons over and over and over... what's a walk without toys?!

Unfortunately for Eli, he had to wait on his siblings to get gathered from the flowers and porch and the house. He did pretty good, as long as the stroller was moving.

Isaac has reappeared, and Levi is now giving his belly button a drink.

Emma rarely looks at the camera, so this is a special's not that she willfully looks away from the camera (unlike her brothers who secretly delight in doing the opposite of what you request), she just can't focus for that long, there is too much to look at.