Friday, December 08, 2006

Two Good Posts

Brian blogs about he and Bobby's trip to visit the nuns here.

A post on being incarnational and the matter of having a building here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why We Need a New Way of Being the People of God

One of the greatest needs I see for our current situation, is for a new ecclesiology. That is hard on my own denominational heritage (back to the roots idea of the last post) because so much of that identity was in matters of ecclesiology. The emphasis ended up, even if no one originally intended it to be this way, on forms concerning church gatherings for worship and church polity.

So when there arises a need for a new ecclesiology, that shakes the foundations of a denominational identity that is rooted in how to structure a church, what to call it, and what to do in its plenary gatherings. Put all your eggs in a basket of how the church is expressed (even effectively and redemptively) in a particular time and place, and you are likely lose all your eggs when the times change.

But the need for a new ecclesiology is not, in my opinion, due to the shortcomings of my own particular heritage. The problem stems from the fact that modernity and its monolithic confidence in objective, scientific data is losing out to something that is not modern. Instead, this new world is pluralistic, less certain, and thankfully less shallow. Little is as shallow as the empiricism and humanism of modernity. I remember the Time article several years ago that explained all human love and our appreciation of human beauty as a drive to find the most fertile and healthy mate to bear our genes.

We are determined by our chemistry. Modernity has no room for poets. Modernity is a type of scientific hyper-Calvinism devoid of human creativity, choice, and asthetics. Choice is illusionary. We do as we are forced to act by our genes and chemical processes. The anthropology of modernity is miserable and dehumanizing.

So why a new ecclesiology? A few initial thoughts come to mind . . .
  • We need to be more humble.
  • We must learn to be less certain of ourselves, though still certain of God.
  • We must avoid slapping simple answers on complex problems.
  • We have to find ways of being more communal in a less communal world.
  • We must offer an alternative to consumerism.
  • We can no longer trust the social sciences to handle all but "spiritual" matters.
  • We cannot use leadership models that are not Trinitarian and thrive in God.
  • We must learn to co-inhabit this world with others as aliens rather than rulers.
  • Our evangelism must be less imperialistic and formulaic.
  • We must not agree to be a figurehead chaplain who words meaningless invocations and benedictions at our culture's events.

It is not having a new ecclecsiology for its own sake, but finding how the ways in which we are the church may reflect a clearer sense of our real mission.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Church Roots

Leroy Garrett writes about changes within his denomination, the Churches of Christ, a group with which I once identified exclusively. I say exclusively because it is not that I do not identify with those churches today, it is just that I also find my identity with many others as well. I am not finding my home with fewer churches, but with more.

However, due to the demands of exclusiveness that are intrinsic to much denominational thinking, and very true of Churches of Christ, having a Christ-identity which embraces many denominations is sufficient to have one excluded from many groups.

In discussing what is happening among some Churches of Christ, Leroy praises one congregation in Fort Worth for not leaving that particular heritage "and becoming rootless." He talks about other congregations taking generic names and leaving the restoration.

However, I would suggest that there are not only these two options: 1) persisting in a restoration tradition, and 2) going generic and becoming rootless. In other words, is every congregation which doesn't keep a particular name and identify with a certain line of teaching and thinking necessarily rootless?

I am not accusing Leroy of believing in only two options. I don't know what he would say, but I am merely reflecting on my impression of his thoughts. I agree that many seeker-sensitive, mega-church wannabes do opt for a very generic and lowest common denominator type of ecclesiology, if not theology. Many do try to cater to people's consumeristic desires and apparently become rootless, even if unintentionally.

But let me say that I do think that there is another option - becoming rooted in historical, creedal, orthodox Christianity in a way that is not exclusive. Rather than becoming a rootless community, perhaps some congregations might leave the more distinguishing externals of Churches of Christ (or other denominations), not in becoming what some have called a-historical, but to move more thoroughly within historical Christianity.

If there is at least this third option, it is the one I aspire to follow. I certainly do not want to say that to preserve my "roots" I have to adhere to certain particulars of denominations in which I may have grown. I also do not want to simply reject those roots and be the church of now.

What if sometimes staying rooted means losing some exclusive aspects of an identity that comes with that particular heritage? Certainly seeking renewal within a denominational identity is admirable. One may also seek renewal within Christianity as a whole, and embrace the largest history of all believers.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Incarnation and Understanding

A synopsis of Sunday's meditation:

God did not become man so that he could understand what it is like to be human,
but so we could understand what it means to be like God.

God did not become man so that he could understand what it is like to be human,
but so we could know for certain that God has always understood us.

I suspect that God is not more understanding of our condition after the incarnation than before. I think being the Creator and Sustainer of all things enables God to understand intimately our condition, and that of the whole creation.

However, we would likely doubt God's understanding had we not the clear demonstration of the incarnation to prove God's empathy. Having been tempted in all ways like us, can we argue God doesn't understand?

Conversely, can we claim that we don't get what it means to be called to live on this earth like God?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's Only Worthwhile If . . .

I am very glad that many of us at Desperate-for-Christ Fellowship were able to participate in Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan's Purse.

I wish my memory served me better on this, but it seems that the promotional video we watched this year had more of an emphasis on how each child would receive a Gospel tract and now 1,000's had commited themselves to Jesus, than in pervious years. Maybe we just watched a difference segment.

It seemed from the presentation that the value of giving these gifts must be measured by how many children confess Jesus as a result. I am all for coming to trust in Jesus, and actually am concerned that in certain circles that seems to be intentionally left out- as if we are going to help people with their real needs . . . like food, shelter, education, medicine.

Can I reject both camps? I don't want to be kind only to convert, but also not to only do good and never tell what is good.

To treat people as whole beings is to bring the good of God to their whole life. What good to do first, or how to serve others in what order, must be occasioned by the person, circumstance, and moment. Some interactions that Jesus had with people seemed to be devoid of any concern toward their physical well-being (and who has no needs to be addressed?), while other times he seemed to address a physical need with little gesture to other matters.

I believe that ultimately the whole person is addressed by the good news. The good news should not be reduced to apply only to certain parts of a person. Helping someone with a physical need has value . . . not more and not less value than telling someone about their inward journey toward God.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sin and Sanctification


I used to have a clear and simple idea of sin:

1. Sin is doing what God forbids, or failing to do what he instructs.
2. Sin separates us from God and so is what makes us lost.
3. Sin is willful disobedience to God.

Addressing our problems of sin was equally as straightforward, and corresponds to the previous three statements:

1. Learn what God wills.
2. Receive forgiveness in Jesus.
3. Choose to stop sinning.

Get knowledge, get saved, make new choices. Anyone who suggested anything different was usually seen as "soft" on sin.

Now . . . enter complexity.

Concerning point two, sin does separate us from God . . . sometimes. I say "sometimes" because it is unforgiven sin and an unrepentant attitude that makes sin something that separates us from God. Since God has taken all the necessary action in Christ to forgive our sin, when we are people of faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, our sin (though still here in the old style of life that we all inhabit to some degree) no longer separates us from God. Having been justified, the sin which still needs to be rooted out through sanctification is no longer separating us from God.

Becoming saved and forgiven is extremely easy; how difficult is it to receive a freely given gift that one must only accept?. Having received grace, sin no longer separates us from God (making us lost) but does separate us from the life of God (making us unholy).

Very quickly the "problem" that sins presents to us changes. However, most people seem to think of sin only in the what damns me mode. Sin is exclusively tied to being in a state of lostness, which then gets in the way of dealing with the reality of sin. The old fears of being lost make them grasp for salvation again, rather than resting in salvation and moving toward sanctification.

If the simplistic ideas of point two keep us focused on being saved rather than moving on to maturity, the simplistic idea that sin is wholly a matter of choice puts the final block in the way of growing in holiness. This idea makes being sanctified a stoic endeavor. To overcome sin I need to steel myself to just make better choices.

However, my expereinces show that while there is often willfulness involved in our sinful actions, there are often other factors as well. If it were simply a matter of will, we could always say "Stop it!" and a person could choose to cease committing sin.

Here's where the charges of being "soft" on sin really enter in. If I suggest that besides the will, there are often aspects to sin over which we are powerless to simply "choose" to do differently it sounds like we are absolving people of responsibility. That is not the case.

The assertion that the will is all one needs to eradicate sin is sure to drive people to hopelessness - because when one tries by will alone to deal with sin, and fails, then one often concludes that there is no point in trying. They suppose that they cannot do what they believe others can. They resign themselves to sin, thinking that for some reason of personal failure they can't be sanctified. They hide the sin, and the guilt and shame grow. The sin grows too. And the they continue to be told "just choose to be different, what's wrong with you?

No one tells them that they powerless over sin. No one says that as only God can pronounce justification, only God can work sanctification. No one says that it is not only a matter of one's choice.

Sin is also rooted in the body, which has a willfulness of its own. The desires of our bodies are not always the desires of our spirits. Dealing with sin means that simply having the sincere will of heart might not be enough when the body has other desires. Also there are emotional dimensions to sin and cognitive dimensions as well. We cannot simply will ourselves into new emotions, new thoughts, new actions of the body . . . though willingness of the heart or spirit is essential. Essential but not sufficient. Food is essential to the body for life, but not sufficient for life. Alone, food cannot sustain life. Willingness is essential but not sufficient to lead to sanctification because sin is not simply our unwillingness to follow God.

We are right to call people to will to do good, but the work of overcoming sin is not done in that alone. I am not powerless to will with my spirit, but I am powerless over the emotions and thoughts that come to me. I am not completely powerless with how I will to deal with them, but I cannot control their appearance by all the willpower in the world.

Okay . . . the post is getting too long. But I will continue.

Monday, November 13, 2006


If my blogger homepage is correct this is my 200th post since beginning this blog in September 2003. Actually I should add the 76 posts to the Contemplation blog for my total blogging output.

Would that be considered a blogthology, or blogorpus? Maybe its my blogistory. It is certainly the most tangible part of my webdentity.

I guess this should be a notable post . . . something memorable to mark the event.

Untortunately, I'm not feeling very 'notable' right now.

I remember in the early 90's when all the correspondence from Africa was sent by two-week airmail. A month minimum for a reply . . . three to four months for a package.

Then there was the twice-a-day email from a satellite in solar synchronous orbit through a network for medical workers in the African interior. I helped configure their Macs for free access to their email system.

Today workers in Mwanza have blogs. But they still don't have reliable electricity.

Here I sit, writing my 200th post. A lot has happened.

I wonder what might be happening when I write a 400th post . . . if we still have blogs then.

Friday, November 10, 2006

An Emerging Adventure

The previous post was a little sarcastic . . . .

I was sincere about what the prayer said, but wanted to highlight how I think we truly ought to pray "in celebration of our existence".

A friend was telling me about the prayer he heard at a celebratory day that basically recounted the congregation's glorious history. I thought that a proper prayer in such a situation should not laud our efforts, or even accomplishments, but point in a different direction. Thus, the irony.

Which leads me to what I've been thinking. It has recently come back to my attention that when I left Africa I was convinced that my mission was to share with the American church a new ecclesiology - based on my experiences in Africa.

Alot has happened since then, not all of it particularly pleasant. Church life can often be brutal. But as I look back, I have really been an evangelist for a new ecclesiology. This started in 1999 - before I every knew anything about emerging churches. This was also before I had heard talk of being missional.

However, it's interesting that my own journey has involved a new ecclesiology (like the emerging conversation proposes) out of a mission perspective (as missional thinking promotes).

In Emerging Churches, by Gibbs and Bolger, they list 9 characteristics evident in the newer ecclesiastical approaches that take seriously our current context. These emerging churches that are within the emerging culture often:

1) identify with the life of Jesus
2) transform the secular realm
3) live highly communal lives
4) welcome the stranger
5) serve with generosity
6) participate as producers
7) create as created beings
8) lead as a body
9) take part in spiritual activities

From my thoughts (not Gibbs and Bolger) it might be possible to contrast these characteristics with the tendencies of more traditional congregations to:

1) take their identity from the teachings of Jesus and beliefs of the apostles
2) separate from the secular realm
3) interact with one another primarily at worship services or within planned programs
4) welcome the members, or prospective members
5) serve with the intent to convert
6) participate as consumers
7) ignore the creative arts
8) lead from a hierarchy
9) take part in worship services, seminars, meetings, courses, and other programmed, group events.

This comparison is not to suggest that emerging churches have no interest in the teachings of Jesus, or that what has been modernity's more prevalent traditional church has had no interest in living the life of Jesus. But I do believe that the comparison is helpful in showing where the emphasis lies - in emulating the daily life of Jesus or believing the teachings of Jesus. What makes us Christians - the beliefs we affirm or the way we live?

I do not present those as a hard dualism where these are mutually exclusive. However, sometimes deciding how we would rank these helps clarify our own ecclesiology.

This new ecclesiology is not simply the result of modern and postmodern differences, but also Western versus Eastern differences. In my thinking there is a wholistic versus compartmentalized dynamic influencing our ways of being Christians.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Prayer for Anniversary Sunday

We need to celebrate the existence of our congregation. Many churches plan days to commemorate their tradition, history, and legacy. We are nearing the fourth anniversary of the beginning of this marvelous adventure, and so a prayer of thanks is in order:

O Lord, we praise you for the mighty ways in which you have worked among us, bringing us together as believers committed to Christ to live out our common faith as Disciples' Fellowship.

We thank you that a number of Christians met initially to begin this ministry without clear ideas of what to do, and that we have remained, by your grace, in that state ever since. May your Spirit, rather than our wisdom, shape our walk as a congregation.

Your provision has been evident in the two places that we have used for our gatherings. You have allowed us to use both vacated offices and an old car dealership. May our uncertain leasing situation keep us mindful that we are aliens in this world.

We praise you for the Hispanic Ministry that we attempted to begin, and which failed to materialize. We praise you for the Angel Food Ministry, DF Housing Ministry, service to veterans, ministry to Jessie's Place, Honduras mission, and other good works that have continued, and may we always remember that only you give the increase.

We are thankful that you have kept the theft of items from our worship place to a minimum, as we continue to live openly as a community. May those times in which we lose something remind us not to put our trust in material things but rather in you alone.

You have been gracious, O Lord, in that we have never had a serious incident when we've gathered and some of us have been under the influence of something other than your Spirit. May we continue to practice an acceptance of one another however we come in search of you, and may we gently and humbly help one another to grow in holiness and devotion.

We thank you for all the disagreements that we have had, many of which remain differences among us to this very day: whether to have signage, whether to have formalized leadership structures, worship styles, wine for communion, etc. Through these we have learned, by your grace, to be patient with one another, to allow for others' consciences, and to keep Christ central.

We praise you, God, for smashing any aspirations we might have held for Disciples' Fellowship to become a large, attractive, and prominent church in Birmingham. Obviously, that's not going to happen. Continue to teach us humility through our unpretensious existence as a congregation.

As we celebrate our unflattering past and look forward ot an uncertain future, be our All in all. Your hand of grace has transformed us through every difficulty, according to your mercy.

Glory be the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Last Week and This Sunday

Bobby moved his sculpting work into our space . . . which gave us a great opportunity to have regular morning prayer each day at 8:30 am. We gather in the sanctuary, light a Christ candle, and pray the hours. Anyone is welcome to drop in to pray with us. I believe that I need the rhythm that such discipline produces.

Father William presided over our holy communion last Sunday, and was such a blessing. His presence and manner completely deconstructed any sense of pomp that one might have assumed because of this vestments. He had a distinct joy and lightness of spirit in leading us through the breaking of bread.

Last Sunday morning I spoke on this text: I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. John 17:26

I focused on the promise of Jesus to continue the work of making the Father known to us, encouraging us to open ourselves to this ongoing work of Christ in us. The end, of course, is that the love of God will be rooted in our hearts, and Christ himself will be formed in us.

This Sunday, I plan to take up this word of Jesus: the one who feeds on me will live because of me. John 6:57. Christ was no steely logician. He was not an empiricist. He did not look at life, God, and the world through a modern perspective. Jesus was a mystic who spoke about the mystery of coming into real union with God.

With the discrediting of the scientific worldview as a sufficient and adequate way of interpreting reality, and the corresponding epistemological shift, Christ's mystical sayings take on more of their original depth and mystery, eschewing the flat meanings modernity imposed. Jesus is certainly not saying pray a sinner's prayer or believe in me and you will go to heaven as a reward. He says I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. Our life in Christ is the same essentially as his life in the Father. There is mystery and spiritual union here . . . divine stirrings and grace that modernity can never grasp.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Faith and the Coming Elections

Christians who view their political choices as a simple matter of faith have a problem.

A president that is anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage, but pro-torture, detention without trial, and mistreatment of the nation's enemies seems to deeply challenge the idea that this administration is any more Christian than previous ones.

Can we call for respecting the humanity of fetuses but not of terrorists? If it is wrong to abort a fetus, is it wrong to treat full-grown humans inhumanely? Seems to me like being "pro-life" means being pro all life. All life is sacred - even the lives of my enemies.

On the other hand, this president isn't more non-Christian than previous ones. Chavez is wrong. To say that Bush is a Christian is accurate. To say that his presidency is Christian - that would associate God with some things I know God to abhor.

The fact is that Bush is head of state, not head of a church. Bush isn't a Christian president. No presidents have been. No president will ever be able to run this country by the Sermon on the Mount. The country is run according to the Constitution.

America isn't a Christian nation and never has been (ask the native Americans). The presidency is a civil office, and America is a nation.

Some of our presidents have been better statemen, wiser, better servants of the people, than others. Sometimes America has acted well in world affairs, and sometimes acted poorly.

I am not an advocate of Christians having nothing to do with society's governance . . . of being aloof. We also cannot afford, as believers, to baptize certain candidates, a particular party, or exclusively focus on a few issues. People of faith and careful thought will differ on how to participate and address what is happening in our society and the world.

I think that Christans will have much to weigh, many subjects to consider in the coming elections, and won't be able to simply vote for candidates who are Christians or a particular party.

And after we vote . . . we will still have much to do in our world that governing authorities can never do.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Either/Or ways of thinking assume, maybe correctly, that ideas or thoughts can be stated carefully enough to be either correct or incorrect. I know God can certainly be that precise. However, I truly doubt that I am ever able to reach that level of clarity and comprehensiveness in what I say. You should take that as a warning about this post!

Typically, when I say anything I am acutely aware that so much more could be said, and that I am leaving some things unsaid.

When I am teaching, often someone will raise a point that they believe contradicts what I am saying. I know it may appear that I just want to agree . . . but rarely has anyone ever said anything that didn't have some element of truth - usually describing part of the subject that I was not and could not address. I can usually affirm such statements, because the complexity of everything means that either/or is rarely the case.

I had that type of discussion last night about the reality of evil - is there a definite evil being called Satan? To some this might seem clear, there either is or there isn't . . . and scripture definitely talks about such a being.

But here's the complexity: we know scripture is truthful about God's nature and our realities, but how literal is it as it talks about existence, God, and humankind? The language used is often representative and may more or less be literally true. We recognize that in talking about God. God is no rock, though He is called one.

I am comfortable with evil being personified in a being, a fallen angel . . . but am also sympathetic to those who would think of evil as more the absence of God, and think less that there is an actual being who is the leader of darkness. Such people might think of Satan as a useful way of understanding the way evil besets us . . . as if there is a malevolent being who acts like a roaring lion trying to eat us.

I am comfortable with anyone who believes firmly in a definite, personal being called the Devil. I am also comfortable with those who might not. I can be comfortable with contradictory ideas because there is enough complexity to make me uncertain absolutely of either option.

My concern is that neither understanding lead to a lite view of temptation, our own vulnerability to fall into temptation, or the reality of something that is most definitely not God. How we live with regard to God and what is not God is more important than how we conceive of the darkness - as absence or malevolent presence.

There is an either/or reality on this matter . . . but I am okay knowing that God knows it even when I don't. This is why I believe that all Christian community is based on a unity that God gives, not on a unity of understanding that we achieve.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sex: Legalistic or Formative

Okay . . . it is way too easy to point out imperfections. Since the worst expression of my own character is to be overly critical, I have to guard against that.

Maybe this can be redemptive and not merely harsh.

I was sent a link to a preacher's comments on how Christians ought to be having 'hot sex'. The article and a video clip from his appearance on a morning show are there for anyone interested.

My concern is that his approach is a legalistic one - he identifies what is banned, and then encourages everything that is 'legal' biblically. The reasoning put in Aristotelian terms is like this:
1. Strong marriages are good.
2. 'Hot sex' contributes to strong marriages.
3. Therefore, Christians ought to be having 'hot sex' as long as they don't do one of the no-no's (no one but your spouse, no animals, and no one gets hurt).

This leads to some interesting places, such as his assertion that vibrators are good. No animals, but machines are okay. What about blow up dolls?

I think the approach is spiritually legalistic and shallow. What if sex is spiritually formative, and our guide to sexual relations is not merely what is legal, but what is transformative and expressive of God's nature?

One real danger is the pursuit of more and more pleasure and excitement. At some point, everything legal becomes 'boring'. His 'hot sex' is only 'hot' because at least some of those he is talking to haven't been doing some of what he advocates. But his 'hot sex' will cease to be 'hot' after a while, and then only something new will spice up the relationship again.

Maybe 'hot sex' isn't about positions, machines, techniques, but spiritual connection - with God and one's spouse.

Some were excited to see one of "their" preachers on a national TV show, but actually I am embarrassed at the legalistic thinking displayed. I am also concerned over the direction that is encouraged - more excitement rather than deeper spirituality. Actually, nothing is 'hotter' than spirituality.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What's Coming

Mondays are always "pull together the pieces" days - time to figure out what happened and seems to need to happen next.

On Tap: Adam Ellis will be sharing a meditation with us next Sunday. I'm looking forward to meeting Adam, Dana, and Emma. They're going to be in town visiting family and so we've invited him to help us look to God this Sunday.

We are going to be exploring in coming weeks practices of contemplation, ways of expressing reverence for God's holiness, and how we might practice this in our Sunday morning gatherings. Don't ask me more because I don't even know what it will look like. Just seems several threads are coming together in this way . . . and so we will see how to develop our sense of awe in the presence of God - in the belief that this will be formative for us.

New plans for the spiritual formation of our children and students have been through December - and on line resources gathered. Now if we just finish the ceiling in the high school room . . .

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Today and the Weekend

Confessional lasted about an hour this morning. I hear confessions only because no one can tell me anything that in its root isn't something I'm all too familiar with.

But confessional time isn't just one way; it's also a time to give spiritual disciplines - new actions and practices of faith that address the root causes of sin. The confessional is a time to clarify the real matters that are driving the sin, rather than the more periphal manifestations that look like "problems" or "difficulties" rather than inward diseases.

Of course, it simply looks like a bunch of guys sitting around talking in real terms about what each is struggling with. No matter, this really is a confessional practice within community from which I benefit as much as any other.

The Weekend
My weekend was an interesting experience of roaming about the Kingdom. Got to visit Fellowship Bible Church, join in an evening worship time at another congregation, attend a university chapel service, and just move about God's world.

God's world is an incredibly beautiful place. His people are varied in their expression of faith . . . but it is all faith nonetheless. To move about with a type of freedom to participate in all that is good, without having to obstain from anything that is flawed (what isn't?), is a blessing.

To see the flaws and not have to say anything about them . . . that is the way to move about the Kingdom.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sunday's Rock Liturgy

This week's communion liturgy is intentionally eclectic. In the middle of a formal responsive liturgy, we will listen to All is Forgiven by the Canadian rock group Default. This band is not a "Christian" band (I dislike the use of "Christian" as an adjective!) but their song about feeling unforgiven, and accepting forgiveness seems appropriate once we have confessed our sins to God.

To include it within a formal liturgy is one way of reclaiming and redeeming, and erasing the false distinction of secular and sacred. A solemn liturgy is certainly stylistically different than the rock song, but when liturgy is understood as the "people's work" this song is no less liturgical than my free adaptation from the Book of Common Prayer.

For all you who won't be here to experience it, here it is (the bold parts being the congregants' response) and the words to the song are found within the liturgy.
Let us prepare ourselves for our holy communion of thanksgiving with God.
As we contemplate our humble state, let us remember God’s Word to us:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27).
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Gen. 1:31).
Lord, we know that the heavens and earth are full of your glory, that your goodness and beauty have been woven into your creation. We confess that we alone, as men and women, have abandoned your purpose and corrupted your creation.

We have sinned against your holiness, and against your image that you gave us.
We petition your forgiveness,
For every selfish and unloving act;
For every prideful and unholy thought;
For every way in which we have rejected You;
Forgive us as we prayerfully confess, and repent, and seek to reform our lives through the power and direction of your Spirit . . .
Those who desire may kneel

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We admit and lament our many sins and evil ways, which we have committed in thought, word and deed, against You.
We earnestly repent, and are truly sorry for our sins. The remembrance of them is grievous unto us. The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father, for your Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all that is past. And grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please you in newness of life, to the honor and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Everyone may be seated . . .
Let us embrace your forgiveness God,
And accept your grace which teaches us to live holy lives.

All Is Forgiven
As if the wait was not enough
And one can only take so much
You broke into pieces seems hopless now,
but at least you know the tables can turn around,
And time will repay you

And the rain comes and goes, and all is forgiven, can we learn to let go, so all is forgiven

You're on your knees reaching out
reaching for someone to lift you up right off the ground,
is anyone out there?
You can't breathe, you're chokin', you'll make it through, just keep holding on,
I know that it won't be long, til somebody saves you

And the rain comes and goes, and all is forgiven, can we learn to let go, so all is forgiven

And the times burn away, and all is forgiven,
Let the night turn to day so all is forgiven,
Don't stop the rain from pouring down
Let it wash the pain where it can't be found

And the rain comes and goes, and all is forgiven, can we learn to let go, so all is forgiven

And the times burn away, and all is forgiven,
Let the night turn to day so all is forgiven
All Is forgiven

We praise you for your grace and mercy on us,
For we are sinful and unworthy of forgiveness.
Teach us new ways, and discipline us to be conformed to the life of Christ. Let us not cowardly refuse your instruction, but in trust and thanksgiving welcome your work in our lives – whether it be sweet or bitter to us. For your ways are higher than our ways, and we cannot judge what is truly good.
May we humbly accept your work of recreating us into your image.
May it be so,

We know that we celebrate in this communion a oneness with God, won by Jesus Christ for our sakes, and given to us by grace.
All the works of God are beautiful in our eyes.
Let us receive the gifts of God for the children of God, the bread of Christ’s body and the cup of his blood, as we receive Christ with all thankfulness.

For in the night in which he was betrayed, he took Bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you; Do this in remembrance of me. Likewise, after supper, he took the Cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins; Do this, as oft as you shall drink it, in remembrance of me.

1 Corinthians 10:16
The cup of blessing which we bless,
is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?
1 Corinthians 10:17
Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.
All are invited to come and share in the Bread and Cup

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


You've filled my plate with the practice of humility toward self and love toward others. What need do I have to perform miracles?

I've not mastered my tongue, and the world of my thoughts needs constant discernment and correction. Should I desire to have marvelous and exciting experiences?

When I read the stories of Jesus, what do I do with his teachings? With his miracles? What forms me?

We want to learn his prayer that moves mountains, but not the one we need: "not my will, but yours be done."

What is the proper expression of the life of a Christ-follower? What are our expectations?

Do we have a misguided longing for the ostentatious, the impressive, and the gratifying? Will we wreck spiritually on the rocks of what appears grand, while missing that to which we've been called?

I wonder.

Monday, August 21, 2006

New Worship

Monday morning.

First task on Mondays is to write contemplations for the week. Today writing those went very quickly . . . so thought I would take a moment to post.

I think yesterday we discovered a new way to worship . . . starter kits, CD's, seminars, and instrucitonal books and vidoes ought to be available soon . . .

Seriously, Chuck had this great idea of worshiping our way through a book of the Bible. So we read all of Ephesians, and worshiped as a community through the letter. When Paul prayed, we prayed. When he reminded us of our unity with God, we broke bread and shared in the cup. When he wrote about singing psalms and spiritual songs, we sang. When he told us to pray on all occasions with all type of prayers and requests, everyone had an opportunity to pray.

I am always amazed at the creativity of my fellow travelers . . . and thankful to be in a fellowship of believers where we are free from human constrictions to be able to try whatever might edify.

This was definitely a way of worshiping in a gathering that we will try again.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Obviously we corrupted Tyler . . . he'll never be able to minister in a "real" church again. How will he ever finish his MDiv and interview to be a professional minister at some "nice" church? How will he get invited to speak at all the big venues if he's as screwed up as we are?

Our apologies to everyone who had high hopes for Tyler becoming the next superstar preacher.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I'm here alone . . .

The usual suspects are absent.

Bill's at the VA this morning.
Gordon is on his way to Decatur for some business appointments.
Tyler and Lindsey have gone after a summer of being co-conspirators.
The Thursday morning study group wasn't here . . . guess most weren't able to make it.
Steve is working at his mother's.
Tom won't be back until the weekend.
Bill even gave away his pet snake (the one I was hoping to raise to sufficient size to have that snake-handling service everyone is anticipating) to one of the kids from the apartments.

I'm sitting here alone . . . which doesn't happen often. Listening to Bob Marley and waiting on an email so I can start on the powerpoint for Sunday.

Thinking I might as well read a little of Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis and enjoy the break.

I am starting some regular prayer time on Monday with Father William Wilson.

Planning some prayertime tonight with our family as Aaron and Adrienne start a new school year tomorrow.

Being alone to reflect for a bit is good. God is good. Life is good. Having fellow-travelers is good.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Worship Assemblies

Some ways of looking at the Sunday morning worship assembly:

1) Since God is very exacting and demanding in how he wants to be worshipped, it is of utmost importance that we get it right and please him so his wrath does not descend on us. Every Sunday is an exercise in appeasing (pleasing) God.

2) Being a good and faithful Christian means attending each and every Sunday to fulfill the requirements so one stays "saved." Each Sunday is an act of self-preservation through punching a card.

3) Sunday mornings are the time to share God's message with a lost and dying world, so we need an event that communicates in the language and context of 'the lost' so they will be attracted and taught as well. Sunday is a time for attracting seekers on their terms.

4) Sunday mornings are another moment in a lifestyle of following Jesus, neither more or less important, but a significant moment because of the gathering of believers. Sunday is an assembly time for believers that reflects their daily walks and feeds those journeys as well.

I know there are more options, and variations for viewing the Sunday assembly, than just these four, but these will serve to illustrate my thoughts.

I don't like the first because it is worship out of fear and a flawed view of God. I don't agree with the second because it is self-serving and ultimately empty. It has no daily-life dimension.

The third, though popular in many churches today, strips Christian worship of anything distinctly Christian if it is also not culturally popular. It is consumer-oriented worship; pop-culture worship for a pop-culture world (or whatever worship for whatever world).

Of course the fourth option is the one I prefer. Sunday isn't more important than other days, but it is an important event - to get together with others. We don't focus on appeasing God . . . we share in whatever has to do with our faith and our journeys. Because it is not elevated to a more important time than other times, we are free to do whatever is helpful to our daily walks.

Sunday mornings are not a time to please God, nor to please people. No order is arranged to satisfy God, nor is something planned to satisfy people's desires. Our gatherings should be meaningful and speak to our daily experiences - giving us opportunities to reflect on what has happened in our daily lives, and to prepare us for what will happen as we walk daily with Jesus.

The 'evangelistic' dimension comes not in having a very comfortable 'relevant' worship experience which is a vehicle for communicating a 'how to be saved' message, but in speaking boldly and authenically about life as lived in faith. As believers gather to have real conversation about real life and faith, the Good News is inherent in that discussion.

Rather than assemblies stripped of anything unfamiliar to a person unacquainted with Christianity, our assemblies ought to contain testimony to our faith . . . no matter how foreign that might seem to some. I heard the rationale for a new church start-up in the 80's where the celebration of communion was relegated to Sunday night small groups because the Sunday morning assembly wasn't to have anything that might make the unbeliever uncomfortable. The logic is sound if one's goal is consumer-friendly Christianity.

I hope we continue to spend time planning our worship gatherings, not to appease God, not to entertain or attract people, but to deal authenically in whatever way possible with how faith and life in our world intersect. We are free to be rich in Christian meaning and free to be adaptive to ways of communicating with no other goal than to be truthful about how to live in the Kingdom of God.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Catching Up

For anyone interested - here's what's been happening:

I survived a week without my laptop (while it was repaired) and was made acutely aware of how much of what I do depends on it.

Went to a Taize prayer service last night and was thoroughly blessed. For me it was a perfect sense of peace and quietness.

Been listening to Peter Gabriel lately - and Matisyahu "Youth" today. Nothing like a hasidic reggae/rapper to give a change of pace.

Have thoroughly enjoyed working with Lindsey and Tyler - our student ministers this summer - and am going to miss them greatly. Fortunately Lindsey is in school here, so she will still be around!

Our "monastic" community is growing - and I need to begin a practice of daily prayer with the brothers. We might need to work out our own version of Benedict's Rule.

I think we are closer to God . . . and further from religiosity than ever before.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How we come across to others . . .

Zidane, the French soccer superstar, lost his cool in the World Cup Final and got ejected from the game. I found an interesting post about that incident here by a Yahoo writer on health.

I've read a few pieces by this writer before, and there is a holistic spirituality in what he writes - but always, as in this article, he takes his wisdom from eastern sources.

Actually, I have no problem with his sources. I think everything he quotes is true. The wisdom is real wisdom about human nature and life. It's Truth.

It also just strikes me how different it sounds when this writer gives a Zen proverb, and how if a Christian writer were to pen a similar piece it would sound when that writer would quote scripture. I'm guessing here, but I suspect that the "Christian" writer would be heard differently.

The writer from a Christian perspective would be suspected of being authoritative and exclusive - of trying to make a definitive, deny-all-other-truths truth statement. I think many people see Christianity in that way - not helpful, but belligerent. Someone who doesn't play well with others, who only wants his own way. Who dictates and never listens.

I think many would see a "Christian" article to be subtlely calling for a conversion, to accept the Christian view. Of being implicitly "against" other views.

I doubt that anyone would read the article by this writer and think that he's out to convert his readers to Buddism or Hinduism. It's non-threatening, non-confrontational, because it seems like he's just trying to help. He seems to be helping people understand the problems of anger, and help them live differently. Actually, that approach may result in readers becoming very interested in Zen proverbs and the teachings of Hindu gurus.

I want my faith to come across that way . . . that I am simply trying to help. I hope that when I share the wisdom of scripture I don't seem confrontational, but open and helpful.

Which all makes me think about how Jesus came across when he was teaching . . .

Friday, July 07, 2006


Somehow, by an act of God's grace, everything seems to be getting done that needed to happen today. You have no idea how unlikely this seemed at 7:30 this morning. And it's only 12:30!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Statements of Belief

Any statement of what I actually believe would simply be a snapshot of a moment on this journey of seeking God. It might be useful for helping someone put me in a convenient pigeonhole . . . and it might be helpful for my own personal reflection. But to make a belief statement of "here I stand" might also tend to hold me back from where I need to stand.

God knows where I need to be standing. Sometimes I know where I am standing. I am never certain how much those two places overlap or share space.

I would like to have a statement of what I aspire to believe, rather than a statement of what I currently believe. Something like . . . I hope to believe in the mysteries of God, of Christ, of faith, of the Holy Spirit, of the resurrection, of baptism, of the second coming of Christ, of the Church, of righteous living . . . of loving God first.

But all these are mysteries in that to God they are fully known, and to me they are partially known. I don't even know how much (25%, 50%, or 80%?) I actually know.

I want to believe in all that God is, and stand firm on the pursuit of Him. I stand hopefully and humbly on my understanding of any of the mysteries of God. It seems that what we Christians share in common are not statements of belief as much as aspirations of belief. When I see others in terms of what they hope to believe rather than what they actually might articulate as belief today or tomorrow, I can certainly be gracious.

Being gracious is good. I hope to stand firmly in my belief in graciousness.

Monday, June 26, 2006

This is it!

Organizationally we may be suspected of incompetence, doctrinally we may be too diverse to qualify for "sound in the faith", we can certainly be accused of lacking a distinct vision for the "enterprise" (that's what one church consultant told me pastors should do - build an enterprise), and we don't always seem to attract the right kind of people . . . but this email today about the ladies' get-together last night is what being Christian means:

I wanted to thank you for a great evening. I've never been with that large a group of women who exchanged differing views and ideas with as much grace and respect, kindness and consideration and just good 'ole laughter as you all exhibited last night. From my perspective God was glorified.

God was definitely glorified - because love, kindness, gentleness, mercy, patience, joy, goodness, forgiveness, humility, grace, and respect were evidently present within that gathering last night! This is godliness. This is what it means to follow Christ.

Some might counter that this is not a zero-sum game. That we could embody all the first things I mentioned and still have the fruit of the Spirit, as in what I remarked was evidently shared last night.


I do tend to think that choices must be made. Emphasis has to be put in certain places, and not in others. Some values have to take precedence - and I do believe that institutional efficiency often is at odds with loving community. Maybe we can't have it all. Maybe structured efficiency is somehow less than merciful, patient, and gracious - and so when cultivated hinders the others' growth.

Could it be that a distinct "entrepreneurial" vision will at some level undermine respectful, diverse, and kind dialogue? Could it subvert the practice of loving my neighbor? It just might be that we can't have both as equal emphases.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Visitor's Comments

This last Sunday was Corpus Christi - the feast focusing on the Body of Christ. The morning's worship centered on the meaning of Holy Communion.

I'm going to post an email that I received from a fellow-believer who joined us for worship last Sunday morning. The PCUSA general assembly was here in Birmingham last week, and three adventurous Presbyterians decided to find an emergent-like place to worship . . . and our website scored the best . . . so they came to worship with us.

I hesitate to post this because he says some complimentary things about me . . . and it's not because I am so humble that I usually don't usually share this type of stuff, but because pride is such dangerous enemy. The truth is I would love to share things like this for all the wrong reasons!

But while I'm confessing this to hedge against being self-promoting, not sharing it would keep others of you who share in this congregation from being encouraged and blessed. What I find in his comments is a testimony to God's work - that someone can come among us and they do see what I hope we are living out. This is a glory to God . . . he is helping us to live the life of community and faith that we hear Jesus talking about.

So here is his email to me on Monday - note particularly the insightful postscript about how a dismembered world is being re-membered in holy communion.


You had to go off to other responsibilities and we were mobbed by more of your members (that we found out weren't really members, since you don't have members), so I didn't get to speak with you after the service. [I was the one you didn't put to work.] I want you to know that the moment of transformation you described in your sermon/message/whatever YOU would call it happened for me. I told my new friends that you gave me ideas for about six communion meditations. (If those were "random" thoughts, I would like to hear you speak when you are really focused.)

I know the service was not about you, and it was designed to make that very clear, but I think you should know how very deeply the experience touched me, in mind, heart and spirit. Both sides of my brain and that part of me that is beyond thought were thoroughly engaged.

Your community is well named. I felt like I was among people seeking to live as disciples and who exhibit what true fellowship in Christ is about.

It was not MY design that brought the three of us Presbyterians together in the first place, surely not my effort that discovered your fellowhip, nor my inclination to drive to the other side of town; but God knew what needed to happen, and I am grateful.

Maybe even some of us stodgy Presbyterians can trim our sails to this move of the Spirit. Thank you for showing us what can be.

Grace and peace,
(name omitted)

PS: one communion idea your sermon triggered: If the opposite of remember is not forget, can the opposite of remember be dis-member? It is in re-membering that what is torn apart by the world is brought back together in Christ.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Theology and Children

I am reading some of Children Matter. I say "some" to be honest, because I am much more of a scimmer who jumps around and gets the gist, then a reader who starts at the beginning and goes to the end.

Sunday morning after next I am supposed to help a reading group discuss the chapter on Theology and Children. The authors talk about three distinct traditions - though certianly not the only ones - sacramental, covenantal, and conversional and how each tradition tends to handle the spiritual formation of children.

Which of course makes one think about one's own experience. The churches I grew up in were definitely "conversional" - children aren't Christians until they convert. The trick was, of course, to get us to convert in that narrow window of "old enough to make a personal decision, but still young enough to not be into full-blown adolescent rebellion."

Ten to twelve seemed to work well. Much beyond that, and many didn't seem to convert - having already having decided to blow off as uncool any type of repentance. If you miss that window, I guess it often means waiting until they are somewhere into college years or later. But college age seems more like a time when kids who didn't grow up Christian turn to it, rather than those who did, but opted out, come back. They usually seem to do so later.

Anyway - makes me think, and realize how different my children's experience has been from mine. I don't think they ever had the idea they weren't Christian and needed to convert, but more like they've always been Christian and took another step, a personal one, in continuing in that direction.

I just don't think they grew up with as much fear of hell (and of God) as I did. I count that a blessing. Which puts me somewhere more in a sacramental/convenantal world in practice with my own children.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Questions About Being Church

God is love. That is clear. God's love is the condition of the inter-relationship of three distinct persons who are one. Even if this is a mystery, it is still clearly the case. When only one thing is what we choose to say about God, love - the dynamic of the trinitarian existence - is what we would name.

What does it mean for us to be the church of this God? If we were to try and deduce the nature of God from churches that we see today, what would we conclude? What would be the outstanding and striking characteristic?

If people were trying to deduce what is important to God from what is important to us, what would their view of God be?

Like it or not, some value trumps other values. Choices have to be made. Those choices are not always between good and bad or holy and evil. Often they are between better and best; between high and highest. What does it mean for love to trump everything else?

What happens when we are church because of love, and through love? What happens when love is the first and greatest concern, the agenda that has first priority? What would we have to be like as church for people to conclude by looking at us that love is the chief characteristic of our God?

What would be important, and what would not be important?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Religion Test

I just tried taking a religion test but couldn't make it through to the end. The choices were lousy, limited, and cliche. I wanted to find out how suitable I am for Christianity - but they didn't say anything about what "failure to complete" might mean.

It would not have been very valid anyway since I was having to fudge too many times in choosing one of their limited possibilities. The "Christian" answer was usually obvious but many times I cringed at the characterization it inferred.

I guess one thing it does say: I'm not a Christian in terms of the test-makers' definition.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Living true in Love

Last night in our discussion we looked at the familar statement in Ephesians 4:15 commonly rendered in English translations as: "speaking the truth in love".

Naturally, we have often read the English as if the instruction is about preaching or proclaiming truth, with "love" being the way we go about telling others the truth. In other words, we need to tell others what is true, but do it lovingly. The "truth" in this reading of the verse comes down to facts, information, or doctrines. That is what we've heard this verse saying.

But the original Greek has a whole different meaning. The Greek uses a verb form for truth, in essence saying something untranslatable into English - truing in love. The Pulpit Commentary remarks that this word is hardly translatable in English - "it implies being true as well as speaking the truth and following the truth. Truth is the element in which we are to live, move, and have our being."

Rather than being about telling truth in a loving way to others, it is about us being true in love. It's why Paul then talks about the body of Christ building itself up in love - rather than truth.

The focus is not propositional truth statements told in a loving way, but love lived in a true way.

Through it all Tim brought up the concept of truing a tire, which is shaving rubber off an uneven tire until it is perfectly round again. We couldn't think of another English use of true as a verb - but this one works well.

We are to be trued in love.

Then we will be like Jesus, who is truth - not just has it or spoke it, but is truth.

Being true in love.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Holy Communion

I grew up in a Christian tradition that observed the Lord's Supper frequently, but from where I now stand, didn't do it well or with much meaning. We were doing it because we were supposed to . . . and dutifully partook and tried to think the right thoughts in order to please (appease) God. Our thinking didn't go much beyond "we were commanded to do this, so here we are."

Andrew Jones shares a bit of his dialogue with some others in a post when he says:

"so let me get this straight. after examining the last supper of Jesus and the historical accounts of the early church, you have come up with a communion service that: - excludes children, swaps a full meal for a sample, avoids any technology, forbids joy or laughter, happens in a hall with men on a stage, dispenses with conversation, has no wine whatsoever . . and you think that is more biblical? more godly?"

I have the same question - how'd we get here? How can we with a straight face claim that what we have done is anything like the early Christ-follwers? Face it . . . we can't.

However, try to make holy meal more meal-like and authenic and you'll find out how uncomfortable many would be if they were transported back to one of the early churches. Actually, I really don't want a codified observance in any format. It's not like I believe that we must make it more like the original meal. I just wonder what's the problem if we do?

Monday I was sharing a meal with a Roman Catholic brother who expressed his confidence that the Eucharist, in the western tradition, would continued to be celebrated a 1000 years from now. I don't doubt that. I actually enjoy such a solemn, content laden, personally formative, and God-is-present observance.

What I don't get is why it has to be that way. The early Christians didn't have a formal, lengthy, prescribed celebration. They also didn't have a pinch of cracker and sip of Welch's.

Don't get me wrong- I'm not favoring a mode. I am wondering why we've become committed to modes, one way or the other. Give me formal and reverential. Then give me informal and conversational. Tell me when to stand, kneel, and sit. Next, let me do whatever I want. Let's have a full meal, and then let's have a pinch and sip.

No longer being a "patternist" in my thinking, I don't believe that we must celebrate communion in the exact mode of the earliest believers, but I also do not want to become exclusivistic about any later traditions associated with this sacrament. Those modes are not sacred unless we believe some era of the historical church after the first century achieved a level of perfection not realized among the apostles and their congregants.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

This irreverant (be warned) satire on evangelism is too true.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Finding Direction in the Missio Dei

A God-is-Distant Beginning
For me, and some others with similar journeys, we started out with a very removed God. He worked closely with his people in "Bible times" - miracles, prophecies, inspiration, and direct guidance - but in our day had drawn back, no longer doing anything "supernatural." Fortunately, God had left us a manual, the Bible, which we were to follow carefully, mining it for clues about how to please him by doing the right things.

Obviously, though we wouldn't have said that God was an impersonal force, practically our interaction with God was very impersonal because all we had was the Bible. We lived with and by a set of documents. God was passive and an observer while we worked hard to please him according to the instructions he'd given.

A God-is-Near Discovery
Something world-changing happened when I was found by the reality of a near God, who was not only known distantly through texts, but immediately by his continued work and presence. Obviously, I didn't throw away my Bible. I did, though, need to discover how to live within the presence of God, interacting moment by moment.

Now I can change my verbs to present tense - and I am still learning how to live with God as a person. This is not easy, because besides the old view I had, there are other ideas about what it means for God to be real and active in our world, and for us to shape our lives to his reality.

A God-is-Leading-Me View
See, some would tell me that since God is living, active, and present - I can expect constant and daily guidance in everything. Walking in the Spirit means taking every matter to God and looking for divine help - answers, direction, or whatever is needed. Being a spiritual person means being in touch with God's voice, and his word is personalized to me and directs me each moment to do His Will. We learn to hear God's voice and to faithfully respond.

In it's best aspects, this view takes seriously God's involvement in our world and encourages constant reliance on Him. I am to think of God always, and trust Him for everything. That is good.

One of the possible problems with this approach is the assumption that there is personalized divine direction for everything. Will God tell me specifically which car to buy? I don't mean does he establish principles of moderation, of propriety, of extravagance, and of stewardship under which I look for how to be godly in my decision, but will God pick the Toyota over the Ford for me directly? Am I to look for a sign of God's leading when I am in the dealership?

It may sound as if I am making fun of this view, but I am not. These are real, practical questions for how I am to expect God's Presence to shape me. These are faithful questions. Do I look for specific, addressed-to-my-question answers?

An associated problem is how to know whether I am getting that direction from God, or is my "impulse" coming from somewhere else? It can become too easy to be certain that all my urgings are from God. If I adopt this approach, at least let me be hesitant with my "readings" of God's Will lest certitude close me off from God's direction which may not always come from within me. A good question is whether God's direction is regularly or only occasionally a matter of an "inner" message laid on the heart.

A God-is-at Work View
I actually like another understanding of God's immediate action and presence, and a different expectation of what it means for me to receive direction - and this is the Missio Dei, or Mission of God. This is a different starting point: God is at work with his purpose or mission, rather than God is at work guiding me. Let me try to unpack the difference.

Starting from the Missio Dei we would say that God is not distant, but as throughout history, intimately involved in his creation. God is near and active. What God is doing is completing his work. His constant activity is not attending to me (answering my questions, directing each decision) but attending to his purpose. This doesn't mean I have no direction. It doesn't mean God is leaving me out. On the contrary, my work is to join God in his mission! He has shown us what is good . . . act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

I do have constant direction from God, but it is not centered on me and my questions about this or that in life, but centered on Him and his purpose. My direction is not what car to buy, but how to be about God's purpose. Ultimately, with this view, I do have to bring my purchase of a car under God's direction. I do not expect God to make something happen to direct me to the right car dealership, and choose the "right" model, but I do have to ask how my choices might be in harmony or out of harmony with God's purposes.

The spiritual life, walking in the Spirit, or however you want to describe this God-centered life . . . is not learning to be a "sign-reader" of all God's personalized messages to me, but how to conform myself to what God is really doing. God is not attending to me; I am learning to attend to Him. There is a world of difference here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

We wrestled in prayer this morning . . . and God delivered. Malevolent presence was replaced by comfort and peace.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Weekend Update . . .

Had a great time in Dothan, AL yesterday with Christians of The Journey. Two of us went to spend Sunday with them, and were blessed by their gracious hospitality and encouraged by their community and focus.

I told them that it reminded me of being in Africa - where every Sunday was a 2-4 hour drive to a church to teach, discuss, and reconnect with Christians I hadn't seen in a while.

We get to experience the same in reverse next weekend, as Christians who've started a house church in Auburn travel here and we'll have some time to sit down and discuss how God leads in being his people in our respective situations.

Should be a blessing!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Idealists and Intuitives

I am quite clearly an idealist. That is to say, I try to live out of ideas . . . principles that are as true as I can make them to my own understanding. I guess it goes with being an idealist that one then tries to order life according to those ideals, which means that integrity is the consistent application of those truths. For an idealist, to lack integrity is to not aspire to the truths one knows. In other words, to know, but to ignore and do otherwise.

One thing I have learned, that has tempered my idealism, is that my hold on truth is flawed. Furthermore, the exact nature of where my perception is flawed is hidden from me. So my idealism is for me the way I must go, while I must also be constantly ready to adjust that idealism to new understandings of truth.

We had a guest last Sunday, a Roman Catholic scholar who spoke (among other things) about Aristotle's view of man. One of the fundamental characteristics of man is his desires, which is quite different from the mind. For me it is natural as an idealist for my desires to be for a life ordered more about the mind seeking truth - and as a Christian truth is the person of God.

However, I see that others order their lives around their desires, and the mind for them works to support their desires. I am not talking about sinful, fleshly desires, just that they seem to want, not as the result of thinking, but just out of who they are. I am also not suggesting that their desires are selfish. Perhaps I could contrast their approach as more intuitive versus my idealism. This is, I assume, as natural for them as my idealism is for me. But it sure drives me nuts!

So here's the confession . . . being with those who think and live this way is work for an idealist! I just don't know how to do this well (at least "well" in the way I think of it). But that's another whole subject . . .

So here's what happens: I think about how we should be based on seeking truth, my desires not being as important as finding truth - at least as well as I can grasp it at this moment. These other people, most unlike me as they can be, seem to desire a way to be. I am not saying this is wrong, just talking about how foreign our processes are to one another.

While my thinking is toward discovering how we should be, their thinking seems to run toward finding ways to say why we should be as they desire to be. I can see all sorts of inconsistency in their thinking. What is put forward to "support" a desire would be disowned by them in an instant with regard to another of their desires that it would not support. But I realize that "consistency" in thinking is important for me in ways it is not likely as important for them.

This drives me bonkers. For me, living by my thinking (flawed as it is, but what else do I have?) is my end; for them, thinking is a means to support the ends they desire.

The weird thing for an idealist to realize is that their desires have as much a chance of being "right" as my grasp on truth. Since my best efforts to order life around a search for God, in a particular manner, is always flawed, their desires might be as true or even more correct. Whose to say?

So we are left to muddle through, living as inscrutable creatures to one another. And so here is God - creating space for the practice of grace, patience, love, acceptance, and all other aspects of his nature by shaping some of us as idealists and others as intuitives. That we live in this tension is likely more important than sorting out our different approaches - which probably will never happen anyway. There isn't much chance of me ever not being an idealist. I can't expect to turn intuitives into people like me.

An intuitive probably wouldn't have spent the last hour trying to sort out a cognitive framework for understanding this dynamic.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I watched a PBS presentation on Bonhoeffer last night. The show was really well done with interviews with his students, his best friend from when he was teaching in the seminary in northern Germany, the sister of the young woman he proposed to . . . and of course they included many of his own words from his books and letters.

His understanding that faith had to have concrete expression in the world - which did not allow him to ignore the Nazis' actions - is compelling. His willingness to identify with the hurting and marginalized people, abdicating his position of safety to risk death with even those who did not share his faith, is truly a story of the presence of Christ.

He obviously wrestled with the meaning of faith - pursuing with sincerity what he believed was truly faithful, while struggling with profound questions.

As much as he believed that his faithful duty was to oppose Hitler, and even to try and kill him, the events show that it was not God's will that Hitler die by another's hand. I don't intend to defend God's choices . . . God has mercy on whom he has mercy.

I have no doubt that Bonhoeffer was faithful and pleasing to God even though what he tried to accomplish God did not wish to do. Instead of bringing a tyrant to the grave, God gave the church a martyr . . . and a clear voice that needs to be heard today.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Recent Blessings . . .

Had a visit from Eddie Rogers last week. Eddie and his wife Kathy were missionaries in Kenya when we were in Tanzania, and I hadn't seen him since before they left Kenya in 1997. It was so good to see him again . . . and to talk.

They have recently moved out of their denominational heritage and are discovering what else they've been missing. It's never all good, but there is more good in Christianity than is contained in any of it's denominational manifestations.

We remembered conversations long ago about such matters . . . while sitting in their home in Sotik, and later Kericho. They lived along the road we would take for the 13 hour drive from our home to Nairobi, Kenya for doctor's appointments and to stock up on supplies.

We were talking then about a journey which continues now in different circumstances - but it is the same seeking of God that we were about then. Today we are still being formed more by the Misseo Dei than pragmatics, economics, career opportunities, denominational structures, or such.

I was also blessed last week to hear Brian McLaren speak at Samford University on the subject of interfaith dialogue. His sense of needing to be generous and respectful, truth-seeking while not fearful, open, careful, and nuanced in dialogue, and to be true to convictions all resonate powerfully with me. It was a reminder of what I have sensed is so needed.

In one week, these two events reaffirmed to me the journey which I first understood in Africa, and the difficulties of pursuing it where civil religion and the lure of respectability and practicality demand other choices. This Easter we need a resurrection of simple faith, discipleship, obedience, and love in a Christian world too enamored with its economic weight, media inroads, political initiatives, and institutional efficiency.

I guess, like Paul, I want to say "I was not disobedient to the vision" (Acts 26:19). It is not an undestanding that I force on anyone, but concerning which I will speak to everyone who is willing to listen. Ironically, it is a vision which includes room for those who don't share it . . . which is the posture Brian was talking about.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Being gracious.
Exuding love.
Patience which is long-lasting.
Unpretentious kindness.
Deeply rooted humility.
Ready forgiveness.
Self-sacrifice for others.
Promoting peace.
Generous assumptions.
Loving what is good.
The uncommon manifestations of the presence of God in us.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Free-Market Christianity?

Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has a book out about free-market small groups that someone showed me a few weeks ago. He also has one out entitled the Jerusalem Diet for how to reach your ideal weight . . . but I am trying to avoid my less-than-gracious urges to say more about that one.

Back to the first book: though I appreciate the desire to be relevant, I worry that we are too often treating Christianity like a belief system that can be communicated by any "effective" means. The idea is that Americans, who are people raised in and accustomed to a free-market society, must have their church small groups conform to that model . . . in order for the small groups to be effective. The belief is that the way to form our spiritual lives is along the lines of the economic models of our society. Economic theory becomes the guide for how to pursue spiritual formation.

I actually applaud the creativity, wholism, God-in-everything, and anything-can-be-holy concept that Ted is promoting, but I don't like the idea that we ought to pragmatically do life in whatever way our society endorses. Aren't there theological reasons for being creative, wholistic, seeing God in all of life, and reclaiming all sorts of activities as God-honoring? Do we do this only because it fits the free-market economics of our nation? Do we encourage creativity in forming small groups because our economy endorses the idea of a free-market, or because God is creative and our human diversity is by his design and ought to be encouraged?

Obviously, I think there are compelling out-of-the-nature-of-God reasons for what Ted talks about. But when we say we are encouraging people to be creative, to find God in everything because they live in a free-market society and like things that way . . . we put our economic system in the guiding role.

I know . . . we have to communicate the message in ways people can relate to. However, do I want to tie the message of the Kingdom of God to the principles of a free-market economy? Do I want to say that these two go together like hand-in-glove? Do I believe that these are wholly complementary? Is there nothing about our free-market economy that God's Reign questions?

This is actually a much bigger problem of the people of God losing their identity. It is the belief that all that is "good" about America is consistent with being the people of faith. Being a "good" American - supporting democracy, a free-market economy, free-trade, opposing big government, advocating low taxes, and such ("good American" as understood by the conversative right) - is part of being a good Christian.

The church that sells itself to people with the message of how appealing, satisfying, and relevant it is, and tries to build customer loyalty so expand marketshare is following the American ideal. The prevalent model of church in a free-market society where the competitive capitalistic values have become the norm for how the people of faith pursue a life of faith, has lost its identity. No longer can such a church call people to what is unpopular, uncomfortable, unaccustomed, or unlike the status quo. A free-market culls out whatever doesn't sell.

Don't assume that I am opposed to free-markets, or democracy, or that I like big government. I don't and I'm not. I just know that such things stand under the judgment of God, and are imperfect. I know that as the people of God we will never be completely comfortable nor in harmony with our society - whether we live in communist North Korea or in the Bible belt of the southern U.S.

If we stop being theologically-driven, and become pragmatically-driven, becoming the advocates of national political or economic policies and equating those with our faith, our identity in God is compromised.

I really don't want to take Ted to task, for I assume his motives are nothing but good. I want to offer a critique of an approach that his book perhaps exemplifies, in the hope that we might be formed by who God is rather than the ways of our culture.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Good blog post by Creech

I was reading Creech's blog today ( and felt a kinship with him.

Though I was planted in different soil than him, I've think I've come to the place of not wanting to be stuffed into religious boxes anymore-which is what I see him saying. I don't want to choose a label, a flavor, a limited expression of faith and make it my norm. Of course, whatever I actually do will reflect some flavor or branch of the Christian Church . . . that's obvious.

I also don't want to try and be ahistorical, pretending I'm somehow able to transcend the realities of being a follower of Jesus in a time and place. I can't be a Christian without a context. In fact, only within a context (a real circumstance) can we be Christians.

Strangely enough, the heritage I grew up in once said things like "Christians only, but not the only Christians" and somehow lost that sentiment. Now trying to be "just a Christian" gets one in trouble with the very denomination that once sought to be only that.

Of course my own heritage has no monopoly on being denominationally-minded. It's the disease of denominationalism.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A short note . . .

To someone who is struggling and asked for my prayer, I wrote . . .

I certainly will be praying. Sounds, though, like a regular day for most people – that is, to struggle with all sorts of thoughts, impulses, and temptations. Sometimes we become more aware, and sometimes the struggle is greater. I do not say that to downplay what you’re feeling, but only to remind you that it may be more typical than atypical. In other words, of such is the nature of our journey.

For whatever reason the struggle is increased, or your awareness has been deepened, I pray that you will find the grace to practice simple obedience – following carefully the way of Jesus through submission to God, humility, full dependence, honest confession, and above all love. This I have great confidence you will continue under God’s strength and blessing, though the immediate difficulties may be apparent as beyond your abilities – as truly they are.

Perhaps such unsettledness of spirit is a nudge into healing those parts that still hurt, so it may be angels and not demons that stir these emotions. Either way, God’s goodness will be realized through your patient seeking.


Monday, February 27, 2006

Birmingham Today

Despite what I said in the previous post - I just looked at the Birmngham News' newly published civil rights era photos. So I am posting after all.

I look at those images and think that the people working non-violently for rights, for opportunity, for justice . . . won technically, but I am afraid that looking at Birmingham today, they really lost.

Bigotry and prejudice are always inventive, and ways were found to comply with the changes in law but to keep the evil going. New legal ways were crafted to separate blacks and whites, for the whites to hold onto wealth, and to leave blacks in poverty.

Here in the great "Christian" south where some champion putting the ten commandments front and center, we still fail miserably to do right by our neighbors. Some southerners will resent my assertion, but then you only have to go outside this area to see what life is like where racial prejudice does not continue to profoundly shape society.

To be fair, prejudice exists everywhere -it was Polacks when I lived in Iowa, wogs and aborigines in Australia, wetbacks in Texas . . . but there is something more prevalent where the separation continues in systemic ways.

What the bigots don't realize is that when any of us are impoverished, it affects us all. We are all poorer. You don't get ahead by stepping on others . . . you only sink down by trying to push them down.

Reusing Posts

Because I have too much to do to write another post today, or at least I think I have too much to do, I am including part of a post from my other blog, Contemplations.


Contemplation #111
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ . . .” Galatians 1:6

The grace of Christ tolerates no rivals and no exceptions. God’s grace is so all-consuming that it leaves no room for any other way of living. Therefore, any move to live by means other than grace is a desertion of God’s merciful action in Christ. This is why our abandonment of grace can come quickly. We do not slide gradually from living by grace, but at the first turn to something other we immediately abandon God and the way of grace. The nature of grace means, though, that my quick desertion of it is not the same of God’s removal of it. Paul instructs us to return to the grace that we so quickly leave, living intentionally once again in that which we left, though which did not leave us.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Another Voice . . .

Words from Ozzy Osbourne's Dreamer:

Gazing through the window at the world outside
Wondering will mother earth survive
Hoping that mankind will stop abusing her

After all there's only just the two of us
And here we are still fighting for our lives
Watching all of history repeat itself
Time after time

I'm just a dreamer
I dream my life away
I'm just a dreamer
Who dreams of better days

I watch the sun go down like everyone of us
I'm hoping that the dawn will bring a sign
A better place for those Who will come after us ...
This time

I'm just a dreamer
I dream my life away oh yeah
I'm just a dreamer
Who dreams of better days

Your higher power may be God or Jesus Christ
It doesn't really matter much to me
Without each others help there ain't no hope for us
I'm living in a dream of fantasy
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Truth Telling

I think that I (and I cannot say to what degree this may or may not be true for others) am still only slowly coming to understand how Jesus dealt lovingly with others - to nurture them toward God. I am convicned that I have not known how to be first loving, and only "right" within that framework.

Too often in the past I said what was "right" or "correct" on a matter, believing that being truthful in telling others what was right was to be loving. It makes good logic, but in practice I think it is actually self-satisfying. What I mean is that when I tell someone else truth to unburden myself, I am telling them out of self-love, not love for others.

Surely you know the same Bible stories that made me tend to do this - the lepers who had to tell everyone that the enemy army was gone. The watchman who isn't guilty of the people's blood as long as he sounds the alarm; if they don't listen, their blood is on their heads.

Many times I think I was like Pilate, washing my hands of other people's blood, by making sure I told them the truth. Now it was up to them - not me anymore. I was off the hook eternally.

Now when I look at the gospels - I just don't see Jesus telling others "truth" so he wouldn't be responsible. He seemed to say what they needed, not what "truth" demanded.

If you don't know what I mean by "truth" here . . . this is going to be long enough without explaining it completely. Maybe I can say simply, "truth" is something that I believe to be "right" but may have nothing to do with helping anyone. It's sterile, laboratory truth. It's truth about what is sin. That kind of statement.

Contrast this with Jesus talking to the woman caught in adultery. When he says "I don't condemn you . . . go and sin no more" he tells her three things, only one of which is new. She knew what she was doing was sin, and that she shouldn't do it anymore. It had been 1200 years since Moses received the ten commandments. She knew this.

What Jesus told her that was new was that he didn't condemn her. What if Christians stopped being those who tell everyone the "truth" of how what they are doing is wrong, and shared the truth of how Jesus (and his followers) are not in the condemning business?

We'll all be roundly labelled as soft on sin, of simply being pc, of being tolerant and reflective of a permissive age, and not believing in absolutes.

Oh, well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Order and Love

In part of our coffee conversation the idea was raised that in congregational life orderliness and love are at odds. Orderliness can have many forms such as to be nice and neat about beliefs and practices, about forms and structures, or about ways of simply doing community. Love is about acceptance.

Orderliness requires the exclusion of any who might not conform. When the dominant "order" is love, then there is the inclusion of diversity in belief and practice, forms and structure, and divergent ways of being a community.

The unavoidable reality is that there is a lack of orderliness in humanity, and in our spiritual condition. To love will mean not easing our discomfort concerning the orderliness of another that seems disorderly to me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Catching the Wave

We are glad to begin sharing the building we lease with another church, Tapestry of Hope. For anyone who's been missing going to two services on Sundays . . . well now at our Lorna Road building Disciples' Fellowship meets in the mornings and Tapestry of Hope in the evenings.

The really cool thing is that this is just one in several ways in which God has mulitiplied our participation with His people in the last few weeks. In my missions experience, it takes 2-3 years for a movement to really get started, to work through the start-up process, and then begin really moving as God directs.

Realistically, many who began this journey did so with a considerable amount of extra luggage - more like great weights and chains which shackled everything. Thorugh God's grace we've are being brought to where we won't bind our burdens on others - and have been freed to lay much down that was needless and the dictates of men.

To me this is a sign of God moving us into an exciting and uncomfortable adventure (uncomfortable if you like knowing what is going to happen) of being and doing what will be to God's glory.

It seems that some of that is going to be practicing a unity with believers and an acceptance of anyone struggling to come to belief.

When our work in Africa reached this point I likened it to riding the crest of a wave of the Spirit's working . . . just trying to ride it and knowing there is no controlling it.

Way cool.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Out of A Continuing Thought

Yesterday the lectionary text that we looked at duirng our meditation was 1 Cor. 8. I find that this is a difficult text because we are so distant from the type of circumstances that it is discussing, and we tend to equate much lesser matters - like how I feel about what you're doing or how what you do makes me uncomfortable or offends me - with what was at stake in dining in the temples of idols.

Something that came to me this morning is that we are not just looking at how to form people to be moral, but we are forming them to be like Jesus. For sure, being like Jesus means being moral, but it is possible to form people to be moral without them being like Jesus.

One of the scariest parts of the this passage is the radical freedom that Paul talks about - where he has no problem, per se, with believers eating food off the altars of other gods. The temptation for us is to quash such freedom to make sure that we form people to moral. But if we form people to be moral through legalism (and it certainly can be done - as Paul knew as a pharisee) they are not moral out of the love of God, that is, moral as Jesus was moral.

Morality through legalism is not the same as morality born out of love. To form people in the image of Christ we must talk about radical freedom.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Yesterday's Lunch

I was blessed yesterday to share lunch with Father William Wilson. We immediately have struck up a closeness that can only be in God, and is fueled by the similar ways that we have been formed - though we started from very different places and have come through dissimilar traditions.

I have much to learn from Father Wilson: his focus on the love of God through Christ's Passion and the Eucharist, what he's learned about spiritual disciplines in 25 years as a Trappist monk and seven years in silence, and his theological training (he is quick to point out that our lives are not about religion and orthodoxy, though there is a place for doctrine, but rather about the love of God).

He is so transparent about his struggles, and we share some of the same. We talked about so much yesterday - the power of ego, of the way in which scripture informs our lives in Christ but must not take center stage in our faith, about being open to what the Spirit is doing and recognizing that movement in so many diverse gatherings of believers, and Christian mysticism.

As he remarked yesterday, this is what being Christians is about - people getting together and having discussions about Christ, and sharing the good news of God's love - that it is given completely and unconditionally to each person, without preference or degree, but fully to every individual. Talking to one another about this gift and learning to live within it, this is so much different than being religious.

Because we come from such different worlds in Christianity, when either one of us references a movement or discussion, the other is completely unaware of it - which shows me how the Spirit is doing much of the same work in all parts of the Church even when those parts aren't in regular dialogue.

I am looking forward to Father Wilson, as he prefers it, having some conversation and dialogue with the gathering of believers at Disciples' Fellowship. How amazing - he prefers communal conversation to one person lecturing! Who would've guessed????