This week I’m studying this passage that’s been haunting me a bit recently. As I’ve reached the age of 52, and as I feel the reality of a body that’s slowly sliding towards its graduation into eternity, I’ve been realizing how much I’m captured by the here far more than I’m captured by the hereafter promised to me in scripture. I have the most amazing marriage of 24 years, the most amazing children and friends, and church family. I mean I’m so blessed I really I don’t want this life to end. Oh, and it’s also hard for my pea-sized brain to fathom anything better than the goodness of this life. But then I read Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi when he writes “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.“ Philippians 1:22-24 I read what Paul writes and I just have to be honest with myself that I’m not all there right now. My preference today is to “go on living in the body” rather than “depart and be with Christ,” and if I got bad medical news that I was going to depart for my heavenly home sooner than expected, I would grieve. I simply don’t feel that conflict Paul writes about. And yet I long to live in the kind of freedom Paul describes, to be so eager to be completely set free of the limitations of the curse, and finally arrive at home in heaven that I could “take a bullet” for the sake of Christ and it wouldn’t be any big deal or any real loss.
So as I am aging, and as I get closer to my eternity, I’m beginning to ask God to do what He’s always done in my life; help me grow up. I’m asking God to help me grow into a freedom of so much trust in Him, and what He’s promised in my eternity, that I’ve loosed my grip on this life. I’m asking this because I’m beginning to see that to be that much more ablaze with the glory and grace of God in my life means living with that much looser of a grip on this life.
Right here in beautiful, wet, Santa Cruz we’ve had more rain than we’ve had a long, long time. According to NOAA we’ve received 23.5 inches of rain in just the first month and a half of 2017. That is only 6 inches short of our total average seasonal rainfall! This total saturation of our county has led to so much flooding, mudslides, and downed dead trees. I’ve been praying that God would give us rain, and He’s definitely been saying “Here ya’ go!” Now we have ridiculous, total saturation everywhere.
As I look at the standing water in my backyard, total saturation reminds me of what God wants to do in my life. God wants to completely saturate me with His love, grace and intimacy. It’s out of this ridiculous, total saturation of God within me that crazy stuff begins to happen outside of me. I begin to flood over and out into my community to share the mercy and love of God because there’s just no more room to just contain it within myself. I begin to see hillsides of stubbornness and sin give way and slide away to create new pathways of life. I watch the dead growth of bad habits, and compulsions uproot and fall over. All of these things, that seem so sad to my sin-cursed flesh, naturally happens when I’m saturated in the intimacy of a heartfelt relationship with my God.
I just got back from attending a ministry conference. Our missions conference was at the Long Beach Convention center right next door to the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Convention. Do the Plumbers hear people making speeches about selling more pipe with the same passion we heard pastors at our conference encourage us to pursue the mission of God? I was half tempted to walk into their convention to compare and contrast the Plumbers convention with a pastor’s conference. Do the plumbers have smoke and lights and big screens? I didn’t sneak into the Plumbers convention, but the conference that our leadership team attended definitely made us think. In many good ways it challenged us to lean into the mission of God for this world. In other ways it challenged us to think critically about how we do what we do as a church.
One of the observations I made to our team was this – “I wish the people who put on these conferences would pay closer attention to the setting of these things. The conference hosts., worship leaders and speakers say God uses anyone who is available to God’s purposes, but they say it surrounded by throbbing lights, smoke machines creating in-door ‘God-rays,’ and boom cameras that zoom into their faces on large screens. They don’t realize that the context they’ve created affects the content of their message.” This forced us to talk quite critically about our own ministry. Is the context of our worship gatherings congruent with the content of the Gospel? Is the way we gather, and the space where we gather screaming something that doesn’t match what we’re saying? Are we a bit more concerned with being impressive to believers and unbelievers or are we just being real about the Gospel and the reality of ourselves as we’re confronted by the Gospel? These are all good questions to consider. Sometimes the value I get from these conferences has more to do with what I question and disagree with (examining why) than from any new idea I hear from up front.
My Johnny Cash cover band, Man in Black, is learning this song because it’s not only funny, it also makes a point worth considering right now. After two pretty serious posts on politics I thought I’d lighten it up a little. Enjoy.
I hinted at this in my last post but I’d like to weigh in with a social media word about social media words. All social media are on fire about political issues in America right now. Just last week I was talking with a pastor friend of mine and we were amazed at the level of bitterness, rage and stereotyping we’ve seen coming out of Christians we know on social media. I thank God this has not yet been the case at our church, but he admitted to me that he had to have to private conversations with his own staff members about what they were posting online. I won’t get into details, but in general one staff member was somewhere in the conservative stream and made their views known in quite colorful ways on their social networks. Another staff member was somewhere in the more liberal stream and also made their views known in quite colorful ways. They both had been reading each others posts, and then finding themselves have a difficult time working with each other in their church! This is ridiculous. Thankfully my friend is a good pastor, and his team heard what he had to say and did the work of reconciling. But my friend’s story reminds us that we all need to think about what we are posting online right now.
Allow me to share some simple thoughts on social media for those of us who love Jesus, and are using social media at this incendiary time. First, what we post is not private. So many of us post stuff online as if it were this safe little place -like a diary- for us to express our rawest version of ourselves. Perhaps it’s because the more raw, the more likes we get. Something to think about. Whatever the case, what we post has the potential of being viewed on the world-wide-web (please repeat those last three words). Second, what we post is online will be there permanently. Sure, the techies who read this blog will tell me there’s ways to block your feed and probably even some way to remove your existence online – but essentially what we post is permanent. Third, especially for those of us who serve Jesus, we have been asked by our Lord and Savior to use our words in such a way that they edify and build others up rather than tear them down. This means we’d be doing well if we all used the Thumper school of communication – “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all!”. Finally, there is little substantive discussion taking place about our country online. There are many “I’m-rubber-you’re-glue” kinds of diatribes, but not meaningful conversations. If we want to have a conversation where we might be heard, and where we might learn something by listening to the other person, then we need to have an actual chat and not be a troll hiding behind our social media account.
Here’s why I care in my little corner of the American wilderness. I am privileged to serve as a pastor of a local church body that I love dearly. The current content in social media runs the risk, in the near future, of dividing people in my church simply because they forgot to be thoughtful and kind and turned their position, and the positions of others, into monolithic caricatures. Please, let’s all be thoughtful about: A) even choosing to post an opinion online right now, B) if we choose to post, do the hard work of saying something that lends itself toward healing and unifying, and C) simply choosing to take our disagreements and concerns, and invest our emotional energy into prayers for our leaders and our country rather than unnecessary opinions online. Amen?
Yep, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna talk about politics because the atmosphere in our country is roiling with the realities of politics in America right now. But even though I’m gonna “go there,” I’m not gonna talk about it in the way you might think. I’m not gonna take a particular political point of view – right or left – and then demonize those who don’t share my view. What I want to do is ask the people of God to please be voices that do not define others far too simplisticly – what’s called stereotyping.
In this post I’ve put up a picture of the monolith made famous in the old 2001 Space Odyssey movie. Here’s why I post this picture. It’s sad to me that Jon Stewart, the former host of a Comedy Central show, The Daily Show is a greater voice of reason than even some Christians right now. Right after the election Jon Stewart made the basic observation, “Don’t make people into monoliths.” Sadly I’m hearing too many Christians, and reading too many Christians in social media making people into monoliths. If I told you that I voted for Hillary Clinton do I immediately become a monolith to you – this person who is automatically pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage, pro deceptive governance and more? If that would be your reaction you need to be careful. If I told you that I voted for Donald Trump do I immediately become a misogynistic, homo-phobic, anti-Mexican and Muslim, white supremacist monolith to you? If I told I didn’t know what to do when I voted for president and I wrote in “Mickey Mouse” do I immediately become an irresponsible monolith who handed the election over to people who shouldn’t be president in your mind? My friends, and readers, we must be so careful to move forward without isolating ourselves from each other by defining others who didn’t vote like us into monolithic monsters. We who believe in the Lordship of Christ must be, of all people, those who listen first and do not turn people into stereotypical monsters. In addition we who believe must be very careful that we do not create division within the balance of unity with the very people we worship with and serve with in our own local church. Please understand that the monolithic opinions we express in social media forums run the risk of creating distance between us and our brothers and sisters in faith in our own local church.
I recently stumbled on a terrifyingly accurate quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote this passage toward the end of his life in a Nazi prison.
“In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things, the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is, at best, an object of pity. The world will allow itself to be subdued only by success. It is not ideas or opinions which decide, but deeds. Success alone justifies wrongs.” – Ethics
There exists this extreme allure, and worship, of success in our Western culture. Our willingness to “be subdued only by success” has tainted our politics, our business, our local communities and even so much of how we think about church and participate in the mission of the church. Ouch!