Thursday, April 29, 2010

You Get Worn Out

Where does the energy come from when you get worn out? 

What causes you to get worn out? If you are worn out, how do you change? If you get worn out, what hope is there for getting un-worn out? 

What keeps people from resting? Why don't we stop what we are doing?  How do you take a break without feeling guilty? 

How do you help someone who is worn out? How do you infuse them with the energy to stop wearing themselves out? What do you say to the one across the table, the one who is worn out but doesn't believe they can cease from their labors? 

You get worn out. I get worn out? What is it about life that wears us out? It's okay to get worn out once in a while. It can be a good feeling, especially after a hard day of work. But when you get worn out as a way of life, well, there's got to be a better way. 

You get worn out, and then people just pass you by faster and faster. You get worn out, and then others look at you with pity as they march on towards their dreams and goals and appointments. What can you do when someone you care about gets worn out? I know people who get worn out. How could someone help you when you get worn out?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When You Swim in the Lake, DO NOT Think About What's In the Water

What a beautiful day to work at the lake! Sunshine, blue sky, nice breeze, green grass, sandy sand and wavey lake. Each spring Jerm and I pair up with Dad to help get the cottages ready to go for summer renting. We put in the screens on the cottage porches, putting away the winter boards. Not a difficult job, just takes a while. Thankfully, Levi and Isaac came along to help. They were so eager to help, it was a lot of fun to have them there. Good times. Eli came along too, but he stayed upstairs with Grandma Rozer to play with Lydia. That was a very nice arrangement.

When we arrived at the lake, one of the first things we did was to walk over to inspect the neighbors new lakehouse. It is gigantic. And beautiful. I'm not jealous or envious, but the thing dwarfs our cottages! This led to walking around our property, checking out the grounds for standing water - three inches of rain over the weekend tends to flood the yard. It had drained away pretty well. After lunch, Jerm and I headed over to look at the neighbors enormous house again, this time with Dad. The contractor was there, so we chatted with him about the yard elevation and grading, since we're a little concerned about excess rainwater pouring onto our area. He assured us that it would all work out. We'll see.

The biggest chore of the day is to put on the waders and then set up the piers. They are long metal docks that have to get bolted together. Not hard, just takes a while. Since it's not a job that Levi and Isaac can help with, they got a little bored. Eventually they ended up with nets to catch fish. Unfortunately the little minnows never got close enough to the boys. Next they tried to catch the turtle. But the handle on their net was too short, and they weren't sure they wanted to wade four feet into the water to capture the turtle.  Much to my delight, they called for me to capture the turtle for them.

I waded over in my waders to the spot where the non-moving turtle was laying. I took their net and scooped up the turtle. It was very dead. Once I pulled it out of the water, we discovered that it was very stinky. Disgustingly wretched stinky. And decomposing. Some of the back foot was missing, only bone remaining. It looked like some of the guts were leaking out. Enough to make you gag.

I asked Dad where to bury it; he suggested I throw it on the neighbors yard (the neighbors with the great big gorgeous house). He insisted that it'd be all right, since they still had to grade the yard and seed it. I had my doubts that this was acceptable. I again suggested we bury it, but he didn't give me any ideas on where. So I dumped it out on the ground. Right by our next work spot. Fortunately the wind was blowing away from us. Jerm refused to gaze upon the rotting turtle. He turned pale every time I invited him to go look at it. I enjoyed bringing up the turtle-visit often with him!  The boys were curious, but they kept their distance.

Isaac begged me to let him wade around in the water. I said no, he didn't have waders like Uncle Jerm. He didn't care, he wanted to get in the water and walk around like what I was doing. No, no, no, no Isaac! He wouldn't take no for an answer. Finally I told him: "We just pulled a rotting, stenchy, disgusting turtle from the water, and you want to walk around in it?" He promptly replied, "Yes!" Ack! I could barely stomach the thought of even touching the lakewater.

Isaac is a very sly dog. His next question was, "Can we play in the sand?"Sure, I said. No dead turtle carcasses there. At this point Jerm and I started working on the sandpile, digging out grass and expanding the sandpile out, doubling it's size. And guess what that sneaky Isaac and Levi start doing. Getting buckets of water and dumping it in a sandhole. Within minutes they are soaked up to their knees. They're wading around in the water, right close to where I netted out that wretched turtle. It was enough to make my skin crawl. But they were having fun. Remarking to Jerm how I had to constantly NOT think about what was in the lakewater when swimming, all I could focus on was all the time I'll be spending this summer in that lake. As long as we're all having fun, what does it matter. As long as I don't see any other rotting aquatic carcasses, they don't exist, right?

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Wright View of Salvation

Two years ago I picked up N.T. Wright's controversial book, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. I read through it in preparation for Easter. Since then I've reread many chapters within it, there is much to absorb and contend with.

Essentially Wright is picking apart the common Western Christianity assumptions about salvation, heaven, and the role of the church by comparing it to the writings of the New Testament authors (and the Old Testament ones as well). A main point of contention: what is the Christian hope? Is it that I can go to heaven when I die? Or is it that I will be resurrected and live in the New Heavens and New Earth? This is not two ways of saying the same thing, either.

This theological conversation may strike you as uninteresting or picky or irrelevant. That's okay. I'm going to write down for my sake some of the paragraphs from chapter twelve: Rethinking Salvation - Heaven, Earth, and the Kingdom of God, which initiates part three of the book: Hope in Practice: Resurrection and the Mission of the Church.

We have now reached the point where we must ask: So what? Is all this talk about God's ultimate future, about "life after life after death," simply a matter of tidying up our beliefs about what will happen in the very end, or does it have any practical consequences here and now?

What I want to do is to show what the New Testament says by way of answer to the question, What's the resurrection of Jesus got to do with anything else? and to point to some conclusions from this for the life of the church and of Christians today.

Jesus' bodily resurrection marks a watershed. It may look like only a few steps this way or that to move from one side to the other, but if you accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus, all the streams flow in one direction, and if you don't they all flow in the other direction.

And, to put it kindly but bluntly, if you go in the other direction, away from the bodily resurrection, you may be left with something that looks a bit like Christianity, but it won' be what the New Testament writers were talking about.

Mostly, Jesus got himself a hearing from his contemporaries because of what he was doing. They saw him saving people from sickness and death, and they heard him talking about a salvation, the message for which they had longed, that would go beyond the immediate into the ultimate future. But the two were not unrelated, the present one a mere visual aid of the future one or a trick to gain people's attention.

The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing, close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future. And what he was promising for that future, and doing in that present, was not saving souls for a disembodied eternity, but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God's ultimate purpose - and so they could become colleagues and partners in that larger project.

How does believing in the future resurrection lead to getting on with the work in the present? Quite straight-forwardly. The point of the resurrection, as Paul has been arguing throughout the letter, is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. God will raise it to new life. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it.

Mention salvation, and almost all Western Christians assume that you mean going to heaven when you die. But a moment's though, in the light of all we have said so far, reveals that this simply cannot be right. Salvation means, of course, rescue. But what are we ultimately to be rescued from? The obvious answer is death. but if, when we die, all that happens is that our bodies decompose while our souls go on elsewhere, this doesn't mean we've been rescued from death. It simply means that we've died.

As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God's promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously embodied reality - what I have called life after life after death - then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence.

Salvation, then, is not "going to heaven" but "being raised to life in God's new heaven and new earth."

For the first Christians, the ultimate salvation was all about God's new world, and the point of what Jesus and the apostles were doing when they were healing people or being rescued from shipwreck or whatever was that this was a proper anticipation of the ultimate salvation, that healing transformation of space, time, and matter.

The future rescue that God had planned and promised was starting to come true in the present. We are saved not as souls, but as wholes.

The point is this. When God saves people in this life, by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope, and love, such people are designed - it isn't too strong a word - to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos.

What's more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate salvation; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future.

In other words - to sum up where we've to so far - the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us. If we can get this straight, we will rediscover the historic basis for the full-orbed mission of the church.

We have seen at several points in this book that the normal Christian understanding of kingdom, especially of kingdom of heaven, is simply mistaken. "God's kingdom" and "kingdom of heaven" mean the same thing: the sovereign rule of God, which according to Jesus was and is breaking in to the present world, to earth. That is what Jesus taught us to pray for.

This, as we have seen, is what the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit is all about. They are designed not to take us away from this earth but rather to make us agents of the transformation of this earth, anticipating the day when, as we are promised, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."

When the risen Jesus appears to his followers at the end of Matthew's gospel, he declares that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. When John the Seer hears the thundering voices in heaven, they are singing, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he shall reign for ever and ever."

And the point of the gospels - of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John together with Acts - is that this has already begun.

But underneath that again, when we stand back, is the meaning of God's kingdom, to which the hope of Israel was designed to contribute - or, to put it another way, the meaning because of which God called Israel in the first place. Faced with his beautiful and powerful creation in rebellion, God longed to set it right, to rescue it from continuing corruption and impending chaos and to bring it back into order and fruitfulness.

God longed, in other words, to reestablish his wise sovereignty over the whole creation, which would mean a great act of healing and rescue. He did not want to rescue humans from creation any more than he wanted to rescue Israel from the Gentiles. He wanted to rescue Israel in order that Israel might be a light to the Gentiles, and he wanted thereby to rescue humans in order that humans might be his rescuing stewards over creation.

That is the inner dynamic of the kingdom of God.

But when we reintegrate what should never have been separated - the kingdom-inaugurating public work of Jesus and his redemptive death and resurrection - we find that the gospels tell a different story. It isn't just a story of some splendid and exciting social work with an unhappy conclusion. Nor is it just a story of an atoning death with an extended introduction. It is something much bigger than the sum of those two diminished perspectives.

It is the story of God's kingdom being launched on earth as in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus's followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice.

Atonement, redemption, and salvation are what happen on the way because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers To put it another way, if you want to help inaugurate God's kingdom, you must follow in the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus's saving death, you must become part of his kingdom project.

Heaven's rule, God's rule, is thus to be put into practice in the world, resulting in salvation in both the present and the future, a salvation that is both for humans and, through saved humans, for the wider world. This is the solid basis for the mission of the church.

With these excerpts, I've highlighted thoughts I found to be intriguing, provocative, and illuminating. They have been helpful to me in digging through Scriptures again, putting pieces together, seeking clarity in my understanding of salvation, the kingdom of God, and the work of the church in the world.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I Want to Smoke a Pipe

Conversation at lunch today took an interesting turn. Eleven of us were dining at Richards thanks to Emily's suggestion (Ceballo's had a forty minute wait...). Shirley was at one end with all the kids, Faye, Dad and Mum and I were at the other end. A nice arrangement.

Ordering the food prompted an interesting conversation about beets. What restaurant serves beets as a side-order? Well, Richards does - Harvard Beets no less (though it's not on the menu...). Mum and Faye were quite delighted at the opportunity to add beets to their lunch. Faye came back from the salad bar with pickled beets, which were kind of tasty. But they leave an after-taste of dirt. Mum insisted I try some Harvard Beets, I was a bit hesitant. After taking the boys out for a restroom break, I came back and both Faye and Mum had scarfed down their Harvard Beets! They told me I took too long in the restroom!

Well, then the really interesting conversation began. I don't even know how it started, but Faye and Mum began reminiscing about the good ol' days when they were P.E. teachers. They waxed nostalgic about smoking pipes at the end of the school-day as they drove home from Angola to Huntington. What??? My mum smoking a pipe? Oh yes, Faye said, we even smoked cigars! Yes, my Mum insisted, on the way home from school we'd rip off chunks of bread and eat it with swiss cheese.  This all makes for a very interesting picture in my head. And it makes me want to smoke a pipe. And eat some Italian bread and swiss cheese!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who You Are...

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. [Galatians 6v3-4/ the Message]

Uncertainty seems to be the constant experience these days. Everybody's story is a little different, but uncertainty seems to be the common thread. Work seems to be the headline story for uncertainty these days: will I get a job, will I get to keep my job, can I find a better paying job, can I find a job I like better?

Just having a job isn't enough anymore, though. We need a job to help provide for our family, but we also need our work to be fulfilling, to flow out of who we are, to contribute to a better world. A job helps pay the bills, but work is an extension of ourselves. When we can find a job that lets us work out of who we are, and through that we can care for our family and bless the world - well that's a true gift.

Since life is uncertain, it permeates our work. Everything is always changing. Just when we hit a groove, find our sweet spot, feel like work is going great, life changes. Change and uncertainty require, apparently, that we are always working to adjust ourselves to the new reality. We are prone to nostalgia, to predictability, to routine, to comfort. We remember the "good ol' days" and wince. Things seem so much more complicated now. Whatever.

The words of Saint Paul of Tarsus, written to his friends who had made the change from paganism to Christianity, still resonate today with us. Life had become very uncertain for these families and communities that had embraced the way of Christ. In their new way of life, they still had to find a job, still had to work to feed their kids and elders. But apparently even way back then, in the midst of the imposing Roman Empire, the challenge still resonated: work to bless.

It would seem then that people the world over, for centuries and centuries and centuries have had to adapt to uncertainty and change. The world is not getting worse, it has always been littered with tragedies and atrocities, heart-breaks and break-throughs. With the days that we have now, what kind of work will we do?

The challenge of Saint Paul resonates deeply with me. It's like the Spirit is stirring up uncertainty within, to prompt me to explore who I am these days. Not only that, but to carefully examine the work I have been doing, and the work that I am being given to do. These words are so pertinent to me when I am honest with myself: Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others.

I can sense a greater sense of freedom and possibility when I consider the challenge: ...take the responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your life. The work I am to do in the world flows out of the work I do within. The same Spirit that directed the heart of Jesus is the same Spirit at work within me and you. As I let the Spirit do his work, and as I hesitantly adapt my work accordingly, maybe some new kind of fruit will appear.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

That's What Easter Is All About, Charlie Brown!

What? You missed that holiday special? Me too. :) But if there was one that didn't focus on bunny rabbits and chicken eggs, what would it be about? It's all fine to have a nostalgic Christmas story about a baby being born in adverse conditions. But can you make a popular Easter cartoon show for a national audience based upon the supposed resurrection of Jesus? Umm... no. Which is fine, we don't need Charlie Brown to spread the good news.

Easter is obviously all about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But what is the resurrection really all about? When the apostles went around Palestine announcing the good news of Jesus' resurrection, what was the good news? That a dead man lived again? Or was there something more to the story?

To get behind more of the impact of the resurrection story, it helps to be familiar with the Exodus story of the Israelites. Jesus was an Israelite, as were all the apostles and almost all the first Christians. As Jews they immersed themselves in the Exodus stories of the Passover and Passthrough. The meals where they remember God sparing them from the angel of death, and again sparing their lives with the parting of the Red Sea - this all shaped their sense of identity and destiny.
God had delivered them once, when would he deliver them again?

This is where Jesus came into the story: he claimed to be the one that God was going to send to Israel to deliver them once and for all from the great empires of the world. One problem: the way of Jesus clashed with the dreams of the rulers and elites. Jesus got crucified before he could fulfill the deliverance they thought he promised. And here is the great irony: in Jesus' crucifixion was a re-enactment of the Passover, and in his resurrection was a re-enactment of the Passthrough. Jesus did bring deliverance... just not the way everyone imagined.

Jesus was recognized as a king, though he was quite unlike any king we would ever imagine. Which is fine, since most kings we have recognized turn out to be violent and corrupt. So Jesus is a new kind of king that gets killed because he won't be violent. And then this Jesus is resurrected - a king you can't kill! Yikes!

And what does this resurrected-king-Jesus do when he gets together with his disciples? Forget revenge and retribution, he goes for announcements of forgiveness, directions for peace, commands for continuing the work of God's deliverance for the world.

So here we are today, having "celebrated" another resurrection Sunday. What can resurrection mean for us today? If it means anything, it means we can have deliverance from the powers that wreck us in this world, it means that God can bring good out of anything, it means that trusting God's way results in unpredictable outcomes that we all look back in hindsight with gratefulness and awe. 

Resurrection today has meaning for us when we recognize our need for a modern-Exodus. What oppresses you or those you love? What are the burdens that hang around your neck or those of your neighbors? What are you enslaved to? When you need deliverance, the resurrection becomes necessary. 

The resurrection promises that if you trust God for forgiveness and direction and power, the old you will die, and a new you will be emerge. This is what happened with the Red Sea Passthrough: the Israelites were afraid of death on one side, but once through, were forever (albeit imperfectly) marked by gratitude and awe. Resurrection prompts us to be thankful and full of awe: what God did once for Jesus, he will do for all who trust Him. 

The resurrection was God's way of continuing his original work, yet beginning something new in the world through Jesus. The resurrection continues to be God's way of delivering the world through those who trust and follow Jesus. Without the resurrection there is no Jesus-story worth telling. But with the resurrection story of Jesus, and the promise of our resurrection someday, we have a powerful incentive to love boldly, to forgive profusely, to make peace courageously, to deliver unceasingly. 

The resurrection reminds us that God can bring good out of all the evil stuff humanity does to one another. God is never the author of evil, but he is always subverting it, undermining it, and rescuing us from it. And more than that, through those that are willing, God is overcoming evil with good. 

For those with a weak belief in the resurrection, we're reluctant to let God use us to deliver the world from evil. We are scared of what might happen to us. But for those with a strong belief in the resurrection, in our moment of decision, we choose to pray and breathe out, "your kingdom come, your will be done...." 

This is what Easter is all about. Well, mostly. But you get the idea. I'm still working out in my own life the implications of Jesus' resurrection. This entry is one more step for me to come to terms with it. Maybe it's been helpful to you too. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Root of Your Plagues

Sometimes it is difficult to discern the connection between our sins and the undesirable circumstances that plague us. How does that famous law of science go? For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.

It's a truism for both the material world and the emotional/social/spiritual world. However, as is expected, in the world of emotions and relationships and spirituality - it's not nearly as easy to connect the reactions to the original actions.

A bat hitting a ball is a fairly simple connection. A cruel word hitting a wounded heart becomes a complex reaction spread through time and body and attitudes and choices and identity and values and faith. For most of us, we fail to understand the power of our words and actions - the power to hurt and wreck and derail.

We often fail to make the connection between the sins we've committed and the outcomes they produce in the lives of others. And the reverse is true: we often are mystified as to how the sins of others against us affect us.

And then we wonder what's wrong with our world. We even get upset with God for not doing more to prevent more "wrong" from wrecking our society and globe. When we see or hear about a terrible tragedy or a catastrophic weather event, we wonder why God would unleash such terror on innocent people. There is no simple answer for such complex situations. But before we go abstract, let's stay personal.

What about the plagues in your life? Where do they come from? Are they unexplainable curses by God upon you? Is God angry with you - and you have no idea why? What if the root of your plagues is connected with your sins and those that have sinned against you? What if what is wrong with you stems from the wrong you have done and the wrong others have done to you? The plagues of your life, and the plagues of Egypt, were intricately connected to the personal and societal sins of many, many people.

The plagues were not random acts of violence by a bloodthirsty God upon an unsuspecting civilization. Read the story carefully. Read your life carefully. God is not out to get you - but sins must be judged, they must be punished, and you must be set free.

As you begin to perceive the roots of your plagues, you have a couple of choices. You can harden your heart like Pharaoh, and refuse to deal with reality, refuse to accept your guilt, refuse to learn from the consequences. Or, you can soften your heart, accept forgiveness, and seek wisdom on how to make amends.

The roots of sin go deep into us. Some of the plagues may never completely be blown away. But accepting forgiveness of our sins, forgiving those who sin against us, cuts off the more of the roots of sins power in us. We create more room for love and new opportunities for good when we soak up forgiveness. At some point the plagues we cursed become the instrument for our freedom. If that's what you want.

As you read through the story of the plagues (or signs), and as you study the culture and religion of the ancient Egyptians, you can make more astute connections between the five sets of signs (or plagues) and the sins of the pharaoh, the people, and the religion against the Israelites they had enslaved.

Each sign/plague was both judgment for their sins, a shaming against particular gods and goddesses used to prop up a regime of enslavement, and a tool for bringing about freedom for the oppressed.

1. River of Blood
2. Multiplication of Frogs

3. Infestation of Vermin
4. Swarms of Dog Flies

5. Diseased Livestock
6. Scourge of Boils

7. Hailstorm
8. Locust Invasion

9. Descent of Darkness
10. Firstborn Deaths

God gave repeated opportunities for the Pharaoh, the ruling elite, the priestly class, and the people to repent, to change their ways, to let the people of God go into the wilderness to worship Yahweh. But the pain of letting the people go was greater than enduring the plagues. Until the end. Sometimes that is how change happens for us.

The root of a lot of your plagues is often a hardened heart, a stubborn will, a prideful spirit - and it will take much sorrow and afflictions for you to change. God is interested in setting you free from what plagues you - from the power of your sins which are rooted deep into your soul. Will you let him? 

Will you learn how to let him set you free to love him? Will you open yourself up to let God love the world through you? This is when your plagues become the instrument through which God not only saves you, but by which he uses you to save others. If you want.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

This is My Father's World

This Is My Father's World was one of our songs this morning for worship. It's one of my favorites, and it's a very familiar one to our kids. Every night after the hugs and kisses and cups of water, we press play on their CD player. Every night they hear this hymn as they fall asleep. It's not the most obvious Easter hymn, but lyrically it is profound:

This is my Father's world.
O let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!

The highlight of the morning was singing this hymn with Emma. She stood on a chair so that her head was leaning up by my chin. This was the first time that Emma and I have ever sung "together", and it was pretty special. She was belting out the hymn, I was singing and listening, and all was good in the world. Her little voice was so beautiful!

This is my Father's world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world:
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.