Category Archives: 2012

The Main Thing

I think I lost a little bit of focus this fall. I didn’t even notice that it was happening until recently. Being sick has slowed me down enough to see it. For months I’ve been unsettled, complaining, and stressed out. Little energy. Wavering passion. Disheartened.

Half way through last night I woke up praying, “This is not about me! About forcing the issue, about making people believe, about theologically defending the cause, about growing a church. It’s about You… about knowing you more, seeing you more, loving you more.”  I’ve woken up with variations of this realization each of the last three nights.

I remember years ago, as God’s vision for NHC was starting to unpack itself.  All that mattered was the ever widening understanding and experience of God that it enabled. God was moving everywhere. My worldview was expanding exponentially. My faith was exploding. And then somehow I got caught up in the worldview…. the idea… the vision, and started falling short of the ultimate goal, the life-giving relational part, the God moment.

Disconnect yourself from the God moment and you get lost, your heart starts to harden, your strength is sapped, and your focus blurs.

I don’t want to do that any more. I want this to be more personal than its ever been. I want the power and intimacy of knowing You to overwhelm me, and sharpen me more than I’ve ever been.

 

 

 

Why I’m Sticking with New Hope Church

After two weeks of being physically wiped out by a virus, a couple of months of ongoing and serious financial strain in the church, a fall where the theological push-back has been more virulent than ever, and after 16 years of painstakingly trying to figure out what God wants this church to be, this is why I’m sticking with the project.

It was the faces and stories of those people at our leadership team meeting last night. They came to the meeting even as each of them was exhausted; carrying the strain of a broken relationship, a crazy school schedule, huge vocational stress, chronic illness, no contiguous sleep for weeks, a big part of their life upended… and yet they were there, passionate to serve and lead. Their commitment was so inspiring to me. They loved the church deeply and spoke passionately about the future, about how we need to keep growing.

It was so beautiful.

This morning I read these words in my time of prayer; “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God Reigns!” Isaiah 52:7  As I read those words I could still see those leaders’ faces.

A Gun that only Shoots in Self Defense

Two thoughts keep running through my (naive Canadian) mind as I struggle with the intractable gun control debate in the United States;

1. Pro-gun advocates are not for murdering innocent people.

2. Anti-gun advocates are not against the idea of self defense.

Surely even the strongest proponent of the freedom to bear arms is taking this position because they do not want to give up their right to defend themselves (and perhaps hunt). And surely, the most ardent anti-gun advocate, when faced with a life and death situation involving their child, would use any available weapon (including a gun) to subdue the enemy.

What I’m getting at here is that both sides mostly agree on the moral, ethical and practical right of self defense. Who can argue against self defense? And who can argue against having the best means possible for self defense?  If guns – any gun, from a hand gun to an ‘assault’ rifle – were only used in self defense, most people in the United States, most of the time would be okay with a person’s right to freely bearing arms. If.

If this logic is true, then isn’t the solution simple? We need to develop a gun that only shoots in self defense (relax, I know how stupid that sounds). Forget for a second about how technically impossible that would be – manufacturing a scenario-reading apparatus with a microchip conscience, built-in moral barometer and ethical sensors; some kind of advancement on the gun Q gave to Bond, the one that only fired when held in his hand. I’m sure it’s impossible to design… but if it were possible, if more creative minds than ours could figure it out, wouldn’t this be THE solution to the crisis we now face?

Of course, this idea is insane. But, as I backed away from it, I wondered about more practical solutions (all of which have their short-falls). What if all guns did have microchips that disabled the weapon in certain physical places – daycares, schools, theaters, religious establishments? (Aren’t there at least a few places we can all agree should be gun-free?)  What if bullets were not lethal, but instead contained a paralytic that instantly and temporarily subdued the enemy? (Would the NRA really want to argue for the right to ‘kill’ over ‘instantly paralyze’?)

There must be all kinds of technological ways to fully preserve the right to self defense, while removing the right to murder.

Just dreaming…

 

Knowing God through the Bible (from the right perspective)

“Because the Narrator is expert, he gets to say how we conceive of the story,” writes Biblical Studies professor Dru Johnson (in a COMMENT article on how we read our bibles, Fall 2012). “Knowing begins with the voice to which we submit,” he writes, “the process by which the [bible] brings us to know the Creator and creation involves the systematic submission to the narrator, the authoritative guide in coming to know the world as a creature of it.”

What Johnson argues in the article is that knowing God via the bible is as much about submitting to the Narrator, as it is about getting the point being made by the Narrator (through the history, wisdom writings, gospel stories, etc…).  The point is very important (of course), but how we get to the point is equally important.  A real time experience of God comes in hearing his voice, trusting it in our listening, fully submitting to his narration. Makes total sense. In fact, I wonder if it’s only as this happens that God’s presence can be known; “Beyond the sacred text it’s your authoritative voice I’m listening for… and submitting to.”

When Adam and Eve fell into sin in the garden, Johnson argues that God’s concern was not with the content of the knowledge of good and evil they gained. His concern was that Adam listened to his wife’s voice (before God’s), that Eve listened to the serpent’s voice.  When caught in their knowledge of their nakedness God “does not ask the man, ‘How did you deduce his knowledge of your nakedness?’ Rather he asks the man, “Who told you?”” (pg 45, COMMENT).  In the Exodus story Pharaoh’s problem was that he didn’t know the Narrator, “I do not know YHWH…” God’s response with every plaque? “So that you [Pharaoh] will know…” (p45).  Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”. Those who could really hear and see, heard and saw Jesus for who he really was; the Narrator of all things.

“All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.” Jesus in Luke 10:20, MSG

Makes sense. Submission to a narrator evokes an awareness of a Presence. We’re not the story tellers, God is. I love this understanding of how we know via the bible.  It reminds me of the iconic truth of ‘reverse perspective’ that I wrote about earlier.  I want to bring these ideas to bear somewhere in my book on Knowing God at Work. It’s not about us taking our vocational texts and trying to read them as through we were the narrators. Its about submitting to what God (The Narrator) is saying through the work/employment that we’re now living out.

This truth, of course, applies to all of the creational texts we engage… we are caught up in… we’ve been spoken into.

 

What desire does The Hobbit whet in you?

In his essay ‘On Fairy Stories,’ J.R.R. Tolkien writes, “Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded.” (page 41)

A few sentences later Tolkien talks about how these desires can be universal or particular. Using himself as an example, “I had no desire to have either dreams or adventures like Alice, and the account of them merely amused me. I had very little desire to look for buried treasure or fight pirates, and Treasure Island left me cool. Red Indians were better; there were bows and arrows (I had and have a wholly unsatisfied desire to shoot well with the bow), and strange languages, and glimpses of an archaic mode of life, and, above all, forests in such stories. But the land of Merlin and Arthur was better than these, and best of all the name-less North of Sigurd of the Volsungs, and the prince of all dragons. Such lands were eminently desirable.” (Page 41)

My sermon research questions for you? Three of them;

1. What desire does The Hobbit connect to and whet in you?

2. Why do you think God put that desire in you?

3. How is that desire ultimately satisfied by God?

A Tough Saturday Night (made new)

Saturday night I was suffering; awake from 3:30 – 5:00 am, fretting about Sunday’s sermon, reliving some of the hard pushback from high places I’d encountered this fall, worried about New Hope’s health and finances, wondering (again) if all of this was right, and struggling with whether I had the strength to go on. All I could pray – over and over again – was, “I trust you…”

And then Sunday came.

First thing I did was read these words from my devotional, “I trust in you: do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame.” (Psalm 25:1-2) I was renewed!

When I got to church a woman from the setup team pulled me aside and proudly told me about how her son was the only kid in his Catholic school classroom who knew what baptism was (I baptized this boy 13 years ago, his parents weren’t church goers, but they pledged to become church goers; to me, and to God via their baptismal vows).

Twenty minutes before church began, two seniors walked into the gym; Vera and Ida. “I was here on Christmas Eve last year,” Vera said. And now she’d brought a friend.

Preaching my sermon on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks I felt again, what I so often feel when preaching these kinds of sermons; so right, fully human, a voice for God’s today-spoken truth, lost in the power and beauty and glory of it all. This is what I was made for.

After church I had a long talk with Kim. It was her first time at New Hope. As she spoke about who she was, what she believed, and her disillusionment with church, I kept thinking, “I feel exactly the same way you do… most of us here do.”

A few minutes later I was talking to another New Hope newby. He was in tears at the news that church finances were as strained as they were. “This church saved my life… I’m a better dad and husband than I’ve ever been… We just bought a new house, and we have some money set aside for that…  Here we are buying a new house and our church is in trouble.  I don’t know how much we can help. but we’ll figure something out.”  As he shared his heart, I couldn’t help but recall a bible reading from the previous day’s devotions; “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it… Give careful thought to your ways… “What you brought home I blew away, Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.” (Haggai 1:5-9) As this man stood crying before me, I felt as though his tears were reflective of God’s grieving heart.

They guy’s only been around the church for a year. He didn’t know better than to cry.

As I was talking with another new family, fielding more questions about what this church is all about, the dad mentioned he was an accountant. Referring him to an old sermon on accounting, I remembered an email I’d gotten last summer, from a Seattle Pacific University post-grad professor, asking for permission to use that sermon for a course he was teaching. That was encouraging.

When I finally got home, I read a new email reporting on a healthy offering that morning (we’re not dead yet). Totally exhausted I then spent an hour helping decorate our Christmas tree with my family. My son Edward’s joy was palpable, as was mine.

 

God’s truth in a Midwife

On December 23rd, as a part of our ongoing God at Work series, I’m going to be preaching a sermon on the vocation of a midwife. I just sent a few exegetical questions to the sermon research team – a midwife, a mom who used a midwife, and a friend who wants to be a midwife one day. These were the questions (directed primarily to the midwife);

1. What’s do you love most about being a midwife? How would you describe moments where midwifery is “just right”?
2. How would you describe the essence of midwifery? In a sentence, or two… :- )
3. (Not sure if you’re into the faith thing C, but I’ll ask this next one anyway)  How does your work image how God works? Are there elements of what you do that are similar to the kind of things God does?
4. What are the things that a good midwife can’t accomplish/do? Describe those times where things were out of your control.
As soon as I hit ‘send’ on that email, an image came to mind (similar to the Andrei Rublev icon of the nativity scene shown here). And I recalled a few of Swiss theologian Gabriel Bunge’s comments on another of Rublev’s works, The Holy Trinity.  Sometimes Rublev painted in reverse perspective – where the viewer is not the central point from which the perspective is drawn, something in behind the painting is (i.e.: God)!  The source of light in the icon is also comes from a different place – it doesn’t fall upon the image’s characters, it’s exuded from them, through them, from something or Someone in behind them.
The basic gist of this technique is that the icon becomes something through which God shines his light upon the viewer.
As I had this image in mind, I imagined a midwifery/birthing scene. Mom in labour, midwife doing her thing, dad doing his… and the light of a universe birthing God shining out through all of them. The scene filled me with anticipation… what are you revealing about who you are through this vocation God?

The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

Fifty-eight pages in and I think I’ve found my ‘big preaching idea’ for this modern day parable. If you’re unfamiliar with the HeLa story, here’s a great primer from the Globe and Mail from 2010.

The idea started to come to me last night after dinner, when this bible verse came to mind; “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20, ESV

And then this one;  “That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:28, MSG

And then I read this;  “The reason Henrietta’s cells were so precious was because they allowed scientists to perform experiments that would have been impossible with a living human. The cut HeLa cells apart and exposed them to endless toxins, radiation and infections. The bombarded them with drugs, hoping to find one that would kill malignant cells without destroying normal ones. They studied immune suppression and cancer growth…  If the cells died in the process, it didn’t matter – scientists could just go back to their eternally growing HeLa stock and start over again.” (page 58, TILOHL)

And then I wrote this; “God mysteriously transforms catastrophes – life events that we can only understand and experience as broken, hopeless and evil – into restored, hopeful and good things. Often these good things play out in other, larger, later, perhaps invisible to us, and sometimes never made known to us, contexts.  To the Lacks family, their wife, mother, sister, and daughter died a tragic death due to cervical cancer. But to the millions of cancer sufferers whose lives have benefited from HeLa cells over the past six decades, an inestimable good resulted. To Joseph (the protagonist in the Genesis 50 story cited above), his life was over. He’d fallen from favored son status to slave. Yet from a much larger, longer, and international perspective, God was looking to save tens of thousands, or more, from starving to death.”

So now my exegetical questions become, “How does the story of Henrietta Lacks co-illumine the story of Joseph (and vice versa)?  How does how God transforms evil into good in each of these stories inform the other?  And what does all this co-illumining questioning reveal about who you are God?

How our Work (collectively) images God

I just read this fascinating quote in Pastor Tim Keller’s new book on work (it comes from a writer named Lester DeKoster). Keller quotes him in the context of the idea that work is an act of love by which God provides for us. After I read the quote I thought, “The interdependent nature of all of humanity’s work, being collectively done now and over time, must reflect something of the providential, working nature of God.” Via work, throughout all of history, God is moving to bring his creation to ever increasing fullness. All of our work together says something about the nature of God.

Keller includes this quote to make the point that every job counts – no matter how ‘menial’ or seemingly ‘small’ or ‘insignificant’. And it makes that point well. But I get the sense that there is a lot more of God’s nature that is revealed by what DeKoster captures… about the perichoretic, interdependent nature of God.  I’ll have to think that though for my book… but for now, here’s the quote;

“Work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others… in which others make themselves useful to us. We plant [with our work]; God gives the increase to unify the human race…. [Look at] the chair you are lounging in…. Could you have made it for yourself?… How [would you] get, say, the wood? Go and fell a tree? But only after first making the tools for that, and putting together some kind of vehicle to haul the wood, and constructing a mill to do the lumber and roads to drive on from place to place? In short, a lifetime or two to make one chair!… If we… worked not forty but one-hundred-forty hours per week week we couldn’t make ourselves from scratch even a fraction of all the goods and services that we call our own. [Our] paycheck turns out to buy us the use of far more than we could possibly make for ourselves in the time it takes us to earn the check…. Work… yields far more in return upon our efforts than our particular jobs put in…. Imagine that everyone quits working, right now! What happens? Civilized life quickly melts away. Food vanishes from shelves, gas dries up at the pumps, streets are no longer patrolled, and fires burn themselves out. Communication and transportation services end, utilities go dead. Those who survive at all are soon huddled around campfires, sleeping in caves, clothed in raw animal hides. The difference between [a wilderness] and culture is simply, work.” (Lester DeKoster, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, p5,7,9-10)

The mystery of the synergistic greater good of our collective work speaks powerfully of the mysterious nature and workings of the Holy Spirit; authoring all truth and image bearing capacities, holding this world, keeping chaos and sin at bay. The mystery and complexity of our interdependent service for one another points to (and in some way illumines) Jesus’ dependence upon and service to the Father, the Father’s dependence upon and service to the Spirit, the Spirit’s dependence upon and service to Jesus, etc…

How does is meta-view of work affect our view of our individual jobs? How does is meta-view of God reveal who God is and how he works? How do these two questions inform and illumine one another?

This is the kind of approach I want to take in writing my book on work (continuing the process again this week). Every individual facet of good work reveals something of who God is (that idea I had already!). All of the facets of our collective good work also reveal something of who God is (that idea I just got!)