Monthly Archives: August 2013

It was 50 Years Ago Today

Nothing anyone says about it can be as inspiring as the words themselves said by the man himself at the moment and so here’s a link to that…

It’s so amazing that we can do that now… just tune into history. But there it is. And it speaks of content of character and freedom and faith. It will be important to have these recorded words soon because they do talk about faith. With the removal of all things “faithful” from the common conversation, it will be very important.

Martin taught the nation the truth of equality from the basis of faith, his faith. Inequality was the expression of humanity. Equality was the expression of God. It was God’s vision. And Martin echoed that vision in his speech. It will be important to have these words recorded, learned and heard.

It will be important because people don’t know what to do with faith and faithful conversation. Recently “42” came out… great movie that told the story of Jackie Robinson. jrobinson42 What it didn’t explore was the basis of faith and its play in the lives of both Robinson and Branch Rickey. Each man was devout. Each spoke plainly and in their regular lives about God and faith. There was a reason the effort to integrate sports burned into living flame in their actions and it wasn’t just because of their character or their sense of fairness. It was because of their faith.

I am not for preaching that we’re a Christian nation and I’m not for prayer in schools. I’m not an advocate for Theocracy. I am completely in favor of E Pluribus Unum. I like having a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country. At the same time I’m completely in favor of conversion and of people coming to know Jesus. I just don’t need them forced to know Jesus.

What does worry me is the removal of faith from conversation. One of the things my daughter Carrie recently taught me was that peace advocates that she’s met in her travels in the world all say the same thing about faith. Not only do we need to talk seriously of peace we also need to talk about it as people of faith. We need to talk with people who don’t believe the same things we do about God, but we must do that with clarity and assurance in our own faith or we will be useless. I’ve chewed on this a bit. We must be clear and assured of our own faith if we will be of any use in discussing how we will deal with the problems we face as human beings.

This says to me that if we water down our faith, remove it delicately from the conversation, or attempt to placate others by squashing the essentials of what we believe we will be of no good. It will be like saying that Martin Luther King was for equality because he thought life should be fair. It’s like trying to play “We Shall Overcome” with one note. It’s not true. It’s not real. So, it’s not about life.


The Wrath of God… and why I believe in it

I realize that this is a space where I explore my own theology and consider God’s work in the world. It’s sort of like just talking to my soul and walking my way into my own thought instead of trying to communicate with others.

Lately, I feel prompted to consider God’s wrath. There are books against hell and different views on the atonement. The PC(USA) has left out a very popular contemporary hymn (In Christ Alone) from its most recent hymnbook because it speaks about “the wrath of God” being satisfied by the death of Christ. And recently I heard a suggestion that people who intellectually want their faith to make sense are having new trouble with Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.

There was a clear understanding for many people that God is furiously angry in the Bible and these was an equally clear understanding that he was angry at sinners. Attempts have been made to modify that, but the idea that sinners didn’t want to end up in “the hands of an angry God” was pretty sincerely intertwined in our general theology.

But that’s not what I see in the Bible. Let’s start with Sin and Holiness and let’s think of them in relational terms. Sin is evil’s greatest weapon but how does it work. Sin separates us from God and from other people. It removes our connection and our communication from others. Holiness is being in intimate relationship, set apart as special and for special purpose. Neither one of these is initially focused on “good” and “bad” as their point. The point of them is being in sound relationship or being in broken relationship. They are about worth. The worth of God, the worth of ourselves, the worth of other people and the worth of creation are all involved in the issues of sin and holiness. The issues of what makes life work and what blocks life are the fundamental issues of holiness and sin. The ultimate work of sin is death. We are separated from those we love and separated from God in spiritual death. That would make death the final enemy.

When Jesus arrived at the moment of death, he spoke these words from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me…” What if God never did? What if Jesus wasn’t forsaken but was quoting Psalm 22 on the cross, reminding himself that God would triumph and that God would stand with his servant, as that psalm concludes. The Bible never says that God turned his back on Jesus on the cross. That’s an old pastor’s fanciful description. What if the truly human Jesus lived through the truly human circumstance of painful death in order to defeat all the things God hates, including death? What if God went with him through that all? What if God really was the one who was dealing with our whole issue of existence and its fundamental separation from him? Well then, one thing other human beings could never do is claim that God could not stand with them in whatever circumstance they face, they could never be so bad that God would not love them, they could never be the worst of sinners.

What if God does not carry wrath toward us, but is filled with wrath toward what separates us from him? What if the prophets were telling us over and over that God’s heart was shredded from our separation from him, that he was agonizing over our distance from seeing, knowing, understanding and loving him? What if the clear and uncompromising pathos of God was aimed at our society’s foibles, our narcissistic hearts, our apathetic choices and all the things that we’ve built to draw us away from him and his love? What if the father of the prodigal hated every aspect of life the son chose and was living in, but ached for the son so much that he kept looking for him to return?

What if the wrath of God is exactly what God should be filled with because it speaks to everything God hates, but it also speak about how desperately he loves us?

I have no problem with the wrath of God because I live in it. It surrounds me and reaches into my heart as I see so much I cannot change and as I realize what I haven’t chosen to help change. The life we live right now – God hates because it seduces us away from his love. As we are won over by God’s love, born into new sight, righted by the Spirit’s wooing and conviction, washed into cleansed and whole relationship where our worth, God’s worth, others’ worth and creation’s worth is experienced in reality, we walk into God’s rest.

I have no problem with the wrath of God. We needed Jesus to save us from it not because he was angry with us, but because it is about everything that separates us from him. We have no idea how distant we are from the heart of God, but we have the arrogance to think we can declare what is good and what is bad. Only God is good and God’s interest is not in making us “good” here on earth. His interest is in making us alive again in this life. And life and life eternally couldn’t happen without killing death and that’s what Jesus did on the cross.


A Season…

seasons “There’s a time for every season under heaven…” and life moves in seasons, doesn’t it. Someone just said to me, and a small group of others, that they felt like our church has moved through a season of crisis and into a season of confusion, but that there seems to be a heading toward a season of gradual clarity.
That’s the hope, right?
Right now we have people moving in a lot of directions and there may seem to be no coordination to it, but that’s not true. Our elders have adopted a short-term mission statement – “We will design a community of faith that recognizes the call of God and serves.” And what’s going on right now is the design phase.
The Mission Funding committee is studying “The Forgotten Ways – Handbook” by Alan Hirsch. A small group of a Trustee and two Elders is studying “The Equipping Church” and using “The Equipping Church Guidebook” to create a program to assist each member of the congregation in finding a ministry or an aspect of ministry in which they can establish themselves. The Elders have read through a book called “They Smell like Sheep” that teaches how the elders of the church are spiritual shepherds, coming alongside each member. The Trustees are part of an on-going study designed by Geoff Kohler on how trustees of the church act in a similar manner to Levites of the Old Testament, who care for all the accoutrements of the household of God and as investors of God’s resources. The Senior Highs are studying “The Good and Beautiful God,” in order to assist the church to gain a clearer understanding of who God is and how he lives in our community and in our personal lives.student-studying
And individual members are starting to just get these books and to start their own conversations, choosing to get themselves in the loop. As we move into the future the Deacons and the Stephen Ministers will start a study of being the “’Red’ and ‘White’ blood cells of the Body of Christ” (respectively). And there will be discussion groups starting up to explore the ideas and perspectives and opportunities that are starting to show themselves.
A new Youth Director is being sought and we hope will be chosen soon so that she or he can develop a strategy of incorporating the youth vigorously into the life of the church. The plan, at present, is to establish weekly youth group meetings at times during the week and to invite students into a spiritual formation experience on Sunday mornings. A new Confirmation program will also roll out in October.
An exciting Children’s program has been developed over the spring and summer that builds upon the programming that has been in place for years here. With a “hot off the presses” curriculum, children, parents and teachers will be invited into participation in the fuller life of the church and into spiritual practices that will nourish them deeply.
The point of all this is to create an environment where every person is given Spiritual tools and practical understanding so that they can grow deep in their relationship with God and in their relationships with the rest of our community.