Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Go Tara Go!

I'm so proud of Tara!

She ran - ran, mind you - the four mile in Saturday's Fort-4-Fitness Event.

This is pretty amazing considering when we first got married I did all the running for soccer or for exercise. As she says it, she couldn't run around the cul-de-sac without getting winded. Now she brags about running for 50+ minutes! I've never been able to run for that long without stopping. She is the woman. Of course now the dare is on - if she can run a four mile event, so can I. And now she has her sights set on a mini-marathon in the Fort-4-Fitness next year. I CANNOT let my wife be the one to run something like that before me. Now we're both going to train for it. I have a hunch, though, that she'll be better prepared for the event than I.

Nonetheless, Tara got a cool medal for finishing the race, and according to her statistics, she did pretty good: out of 972 participants in the 4-mile run/walk, she finished 285! Out of the 102 runners in her division, she placed 32, and out of 742 women she was number 176. For her very first four mile race, she did very good, very good indeed. The official time for Tara: 43:45 (which is a 10:57 pace/per mile)!

Now she's hooked! And now she's inspiring a bunch of other people to join her next year to either walk or run. This fall in Huntington is a Turkey Run that we're thinking of doing together. That should be fun!

Here's Tara showing off her runner's number! I'm just so impressed she is doing this race!

Tara's friend Jen picked her up in the wee hours of the morning to get downtown for the 7:30am start time.

They ran the race together too! They also have kids playing on the same soccer team, who also had a tourney that morning.

Tara and Emma with their respective medals! Emma had a soccer tourney that I took her and Levi/Isaac to - so when Tara showed up after the race for the second game, they had fun comparing their awards!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stop Stereotyping Super-sized Churches

In this recent article, Baylor University released a study showing that megachurches can often be a better place to make better friendships. Often the stereotype goes like this: people go to big churches because of the big show on Sunday mornings, but they don't really get to know anyone. People then go to small churches if they want to make real friends, and they have their priorities straight since they don't go to church to be entertained.

Of course there are real churches out there that support these stereotypes, but apparently they are the exception, not the rule. The super-sized church at its best keeps growing because it does a few of the right things right: people do make really good friends at large churches, which attracts more people looking to build great friendships, and on it goes. People do want to serve in a cause greater than themselves, and the larger churches often do a better job getting more people involved in more service projects that better align with people's gifts and schedules. They do this well, and then more people want to join them, and so it goes.

A small church ought not to focus on being small or large. A church ought to think of itself in terms of doing it's best to help build a strong community of Christians who love their neighbor, who worship their God with a whole-heart, and who are salt and light in every area of their world. The better a church does this, the more people will have life-change, and the more people will join the Way of Jesus.

What hurts small churches is their lack of commitment to doing their personal best/aka excellence. By taking a "relaxed" attitude, or overspiritualizing how a church grows, small churches sabatoge their efforts to make a difference in someone's life in the name of Jesus. The Spirit of God can use anyone anytime, but it seems throughout history that the Spirit likes to use humble hearts who do more than is required of them to do justice and mercy, who serve out of their giftedness and who work harder to get better at what they do.

Monday, September 22, 2008

1776 - Year of Perseverance

It's been a long time since I took my US History class in high school. The details of the founding of our country are a bit hazy to me. So it was with glee that I got my hands on David McCullough's brilliant retelling of that difficult year in which we proclaimed independence from England. My goal is to read McCulllough's other books - especially on John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt.

I was surprised to learn how many times the Contintental Army was on the verge of defeat - and yet somehow Washington and his generals were able to either draw back in retreat, or survive a defeat only because the British forces didn't know how badly beaten were the Americans. It was also revealing to learn more details about Washington's life. I only know that he had a beautiful home on Mt. Vernon (thanks to the movie National Treasure 2), and that he confessed to cutting down his father's cherry tree (as legend has it). Oh, and I think I knew that he later went on to own many parcels of land. But I really knew nothing about him as a general - except for the famous picture of him praying in Valley Forge.

Here's one of the closing quotes on him that summarizes his legacy as a general:
He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, Washington never fort what was at stake and he never gave up.

Again and again, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he had called for perserverance - for "perseverance and spirit," for "patience and perseverance," for "unremitting courage and perseverance." Soon after the victories of Trenton and Princeton, he had written: "A people unused to restraint must be led, they will not be drove."


Here's the final quote that sums up the story of the book, of the war, and specifically the year 1776:
The war was a longer, far more arduous, and more painful struggle than later generations would understand or sufficiently appreciate. By the time it ended, it had taken the lives of an estimated 25,000 Americans, or roughly 1 percent of the population. In percentage of lives lost, it was the most costly war in American history, except for the Civil War.

The year 1776, celebrated as the birth year of the nation and for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was for those who carried the fight for independence forward a year of all-too-few-victories, of sustained suffering, disease, hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that, too, they would never forget.

I finished the book with an emotional thud - what? this is the end of the year? already? After a year of loss after loss, retreat after retreat, they finally get two victories in Trenton and Princeton that turn the tide. I suppose it's a story worth remembering about perseverance, about how long it takes to get that first victory, about believing in the rightness of your cause, about leadership and it's loneliness, about being in the fray, about loyalty to those who follow.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Apocalypse of Christ - Part Four

Sardis is city number five in this little sermon series of mine - and a fascinating city it is. According to my sources, the city was perched up on top of a 1500 foot plateau, accessible by only a single winding road. The wealthy capital city of the ancient Lydian empire found it's downfall in their King Croesus: he vainly went to war against the king of Persia and was beat back into retreat to his fortress citadel. In his vanity, he chose not to post guards on the walls - they chose to go to sleep instead. In the meantime Cyrus figured out how his select soldiers could scale the cliff walls - and what do you know but they ambushed the snoozing sentinels. So goes Sardis. Funny thing is, the story played out similarly about two-hundred years later when two Greek generals were fighting each other. The one general hides up in the Sardis citadel, and chooses to let everyone catch a few winks instead of standing guard. The rival Greek sends up his soldiers via the sheer rocky crags: down falls Sardis again.

The Christians of Sardis have been watchful, they've been generous to the poor, they've sought to undo oppression and care for the suffering. That's what they used to do; now they're living off the glory of the past. Their falling asleep to the cries of current crisis, they've become soft and indulgent. No wonder Christ calls out to them: WAKE UP!

Christians are forgiven of their sins, and then they are given instruction on their new way to live under the rule of our Father. But when we forget about the freedom that comes from forgiveness and take it for granted, and when we take the instructions lightly instead of as a roadmap to great joy, well it's easy to fall into the same sins again and again...it's easy to fall asleep to the needs of the suffering and impoverished.

Christ promises to come to Sardis - but because they're snoozing, he's coming will be like a thief, a disturber of their slumber; Christ would rather come as a rewarder, with great welcome and joy. But when he does come - often as a stranger whom we don't recognize, he wants to come and walk amongst us - as one who needs compassion, attention, presence, direction.

Are you falling asleep to the suffering around you? Do you only have attention to give to your own problems? Maybe you've become like Sardis in a way? Your repeating the same mistakes, hoping for different results. When Christ calls for repentance, it's mostly an invitation to freedom, to a new way of living that brings joy and renewal; repent is a word of judgment, but then Christ must often offend us before he can deliver us.

Don't be a Sardis - don't be dying while you're still drawing a breath.

Wake Up! Repent! Live! Walk the Way of Jesus! Give yourself away!
Do the Good Works God Made You to Do!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Graduation Party Five Years in the Making

This is my fourth graduation party - but it's the one I had to work for the longest and hardest. It was a very fun party, good to have so many of my family and friends over to hang out, eat pickle and peanut butter sandwichs, party-pork, and tasty Starbucks Coffee.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Apocalypse of Christ - Part Three

My sermon series on Revelation is started up again - I'm getting ready to preach my fourth sermon in the second part of the series. The first three-part series dealt with general themes of how to read and understand Revelation. The second seven-part series was going to be a week by week look at the seven churches to whom Revelation is addressed.

I've had fun doing the series, and I know at least a few people are learning something each Sunday, as well committing to live out the Way of Jesus because of what is being heard. So that's good.

But it is frustrating in that I don't have enough time in the week to learn all I want to learn about the letter. There is way too much content out there to cover, and even if I spent forty hours a week just on my sermon, there'd still not be enough time. So alot of my struggle in sermon prep is sorting out the information that I find fascinating but that is kind of not relevant to the preaching point. Each week there is so much I want to say, and there is so much insight, so many layers to the message in the Scripture text, that it is hard to know what not to say. So, this series has been fun, but also frustrating.

I'm also working to figure out how to make a separation between what I need to hear from the text for me, what I need to hear from the text for the congregation, and then get a sense of what are the many things the text is/could be saying. How one chooses to interpret the text greatly impacts what you will hear it say. But what if the text is designed to say more than one thing? How dogmatic can one be on what the text is saying? One can only be really sure of what the text is saying to me. But that can be dangerous - the text does have an implicit meaning(s), it's not meant to mean anything I want it to mean.

I'm sure by this point you're ready to quit reading this post. Boring.

Welcome to my world. This is stuff that I find fascinating.

I'm sure there are things in your life that you find fascinating that I would find boring. Like who wants to be an accountant? Or who would want to be a doctor? Or who would want to work as a manager in a restaurant. Yet there are those of you who find that kind of accounting/doctoring/managing work to be quite fascinating. Ugh.


With the text for Sunday - Revelation 2v18-28 "To the church in Thyatira"
- an interesting piece of text.
Here we have a Jesus that has eyes of fire, will cast an unrepentant woman on a bed of suffering, as well as inflict all who follow her teachings with great affliction. And he promises to kill the children of this woman.

What a nice Jesus.

Also, he describes his requirements for his disciples as a "burden", and he threatens to repay them for their deeds.
If they pass the test, he will give them authority to rule over the nations with a rod of iron by which we can dash people to pieces. And he'll give us a star for a gift.

What a nice Jesus...NOT.

A straight-reading of this text will definitely leave someone a bit baffled as to what to do with what they are reading. What happened to the Jesus of the Gospels? Even the Jesus of Paul and Peter for that matter. What kind of Jesus are we dealing with here in this text to Thyatira?

Either the congregation has to wade through a bunch of disclaimers as I explain away all the obvious meanings for the underlying text, OR they have to trust me when I give them what I think the "real" explanation, but then if they read the text for themself they may not be able to make the connection between what I explained and what they read.

Even explaining the meaning of the title of the book "revelation = apocalypse = unveiling" can leave people confused.

What was I thinking picking this series? However, people have been asking me for years to preach a series on Revelation. And I was reluctant for the longest time. Until this summer when I was energized to dive in. Now I'm reluctant again.

The message to Thyatira: consider how your use of food and sex brings upon your own suffering; when you consider food and sex a gift from God to be used as a way to bless the world, you will find yourself following the Way of Jesus.

Food and sex are the basic stuff of life - it's how we stay alive and how we keep life going. Food and sex are central to life, which is why Jesus has such strong instruction on how to consider them rightly.

Consider where your food comes from, under what circumstances it was produced, how it was transported, and how much of it you consume?

Consider your desires for sex, what is your motivation for sex, who do you want to have sex with, what are your desires for sex doing to you and others?

If Christians could hearken to this message of food and sex directed to the disciples of Thyatira, our God would grant us more authority to show the world how to carve out a life that sustains a truly good life. We would be like the morningstar - a sign of hope, a light that pierces the darkest of night, a harbringer of the coming dawn.

Bet that wasn't the most obvious message to be gleaned from the Thyatira text. Still not sure how to deliver it as a sermon on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Food, Family, and Politics

Touchstone is a magazine I've subscribed to for years - here are a few quotes from this month's issue.

In this world joy cannot be perpetual.
However, it is possible for joy to return, over and over again.

The possibility of happiness and joy rests, of course, within a larger matrix of sacrifices, sorrows, forgone opportunities, and trials that also mark family life.

Living together in families requires that persons confront and overcome their own selfishness.
- page 3

Do not eat the kind of food that "injures a man, deteriorates his spirit, and renders his body prone to disease," but "eat that you may live."
~ Clement of Alexandria, early third century - page 33

Eat food.
Not too much.
Mostly plants.
- Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

By speaking of "food", for example, Pollan means to exclude the vast majority of the "edible goods" that crowd our supermarket shelves - we are to regard as food only the things that our grandmothers or great-grandmothers would have recognized as such. Similarly, "plants" mean fresh ones, unprocessed and grown locally in nutrient-rich, pesticide-free soil.
- page 33

For more information on food, eating, and our life/faith, see Polyface Farms - they have a great index of books to read and ponder.

For Augustine, membership in a political community, is, then, and event of participation that orders a people by attuning their desire and drawing them towarad those loved things held in common.

Put simply, politics is the collective act of ordering human desire. It is at root a question of love (that which orders our desires) rather than one of justice (that which orders our actions).

History becomes both an account of that ordering and the source of that ordering.

What does a man or a society love? That is the key political question as far as Augustine is concerned.
- page 14