I awoke this morning to two very different bits of news.
The first was on CNN about another senseless and seemingly random murder…this time in my own city. We’ve finally made the top story on CNN. Unfortunately, it was for reprehensible reasons. Two teens beat a World War II vet to death yesterday not far from my home. An 88-year-old man! This is immediately on the heels of the similar senseless shooting of an Australian youth living and going to school in Oklahoma by 3 other teens, apparently because they were “bored.” Although, there does seem to be some race motive behind that act. Many in Australian at this point are measuring whether coming to the U.S. is a reasonable venture because of fear of this type of violence. There is even gestures of a “Boycott” of the U.S.
Honestly, I am taken aback by the motiveless anger and violence that these two events represent. I was saying to Robi this morning that for the first time as an adult I feel like my own land is incredibly unsafe. I know violence has been present forever. I know that. I don’t live in a cave. You can also say that I am over reacting, but MY feelings are real. An aside: Isn’t that what the goal of terrorism is? To create fear?
The other bit of news I received this morning was on a site that I listen to often while laying in bed – Pray as you go. The message this morning was from Matthew where a Lawyer questions Jesus about the greatest of all commandments.
Here it is:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus is in essence saying that the most important thing His follower can think or do is love! Love God and love others. Unrestrained, unafraid, intentionally love.
Talk about a dichotomy of messages: Random hatred and unmitigated love!
Two things come to my mind:
Can we love when treated poorly? What does that even look like?
Can we respond with kindness, instead of vengeance?
Can we step fearlessly toward others, who are wounded and hurt...and violent with something other than retribution?
Will we hide out in superficially safe environments to avoid the people that Jesus died for because of love?Could it be that this is the time for the church, Christ's followers to rise and provide the only remedy for the emptiness and hurt in the world that is behind these acts?
Is it possible that the very symbol Jesus challenges us to display will be what we are actually known for?
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16
My mom has had cancer for almost five years. She prays that she will live to see her three daughters get married. Last summer, the first one of us daughters had her wedding in our front yard. My mom wept: It was like God was giving back, gift-wrapped, her deepest desire that she had surrendered fully to Him.
One of our friends who had been battling brain cancer died last week, leaving her two sons without a parent. One of her sons has Asperger’s syndrome and will need to live with and be cared for by her other son. She told me once her prayer to see her first grandbaby…God didn’t grant her request.
I don’t know why God hasn’t healed my mom from cancer, and I certainly don’t understand why He would take this mother away from her young sons, never realizing her dream of seeing a grandbaby
Yet “sometimes the only way to understand is fall on your knees and say you don’t…Because God knows sometimes there is suffering beyond our knowing.
When we want to know answers, God simply wants us to know Him.
The answer to our suffering is so incomprehensible that it has to be incarnated — the Word must come to us as flesh…He came – because in all our pain, we don’t want some answers like we want a Someone”
J.J. Heller echoes this belief in her song lyrics: “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who you are.”
Yet again, we hear the reverberations of this faith in the powerful words of Oswald Chambers: "Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”
This I know with all my heart: The character of God is trustworthy and steadfast.
And I know He knows our pain: He loved enough to lose a child so we could live.
“Since the children
have flesh and blood,
[I] too shared in their humanity –
so that by [my]
death, [I] might break the power of him who holds the power of death—
that is, the devil—
and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
“There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” ~ Corrie Ten BoomJessica
Today as I sit
in my house in Portland, sipping coffee, and listening to the sweet sound of
rain fall on the ground outside, I am thrust into waves of peace. I am
reflecting on a month of learning, laughter, increased friendship, sorrow, and
deep joy. The past three weeks I got to spend listening to amazing classmates
(who I now consider friends) discuss and grow in what it means to be the
church. I again learned that there is no perfect church, mostly because there
is no perfect person. And in my most vulnerable moments, I have to remind
myself that the church is people. Beautiful, broken, alive, and challenging
We read the Gospel and understand maybe a tenth of what Jesus was trying to teach and model to us. Reading through Mark 10 and 11 a few minutes ago, I am in awe of how little I seek the Kingdom of God and instead seek the opinion of the world. How often do I stop and listen? How little do I remind myself that joy is a gift and a choice? How terrible am I at thinking of myself as a little child, hopeful that God redeems and saves? How often do I care more for my possessions than I do for my present relationship with God?
All of these questions I examined this past term and found that there is no greater answer than the person of Christ. And for me, that begins by being thankful and being disciplined enough to listen wholeheartedly to God. So today, I don’t have any huge theological answers to how the church should function better, serve God more, or be wholly united. But I am able to live into the posture of being thankful. Thankful for a class who tested me, encouraged me, and put up with me. Thankful for a Creator who is infinitely more able and loving than I.
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)
The great eighteenth-century hymn writer and ex-slave trader John Newton marveled at the far-reaching impact of these words spoken by Jesus in Luke. “One would almost think this passage was not considered part of God’s word, nor has any part of Jesus’ teaching been more neglected by his own people. I do not think it is unlawful to entertain our friends” he says, “but if these words do not teach us that it is in some respects out duty to give preference to the poor, I am at a loss to understand them.” Looking at the current state of the American church, one can’t help but wonder if the “luncheon or dinner” Jesus was referring to could be what we call our church service today. We spend so much time catering our churches to our friends, brothers, sisters, relatives and neighbors, that we completely disregard those Jesus is calling to invite join us in our “banquet.”
It’s not that Jesus commands us, his Church, to disregard those who we consider being friends, peers or of high economic status, for Jesus himself often ate with his peers and people of wealth. However, his mission was still for the poor. Jesus commanded that his disciples should share their homes and build relationships not with people of their class or higher, people they could profit from or that would pay them back, but with people who were poor and without influence. I believe he is calling his church to do the same; to be for the poor, with the poor, and in pursuit of the poor.
Although I am unaware of any churches that actively turn the poor away, I am also unaware of many that actively seek out those in extreme poverty as being a part of their community. Most church facilities and services seem to be catered more to the middle-class who drive in from their different neighborhoods to come together with like-minded, similar looking people of their social class for once, maybe twice a week, fellowship and teaching. Although I’m sure many of these churches do really wonderful things to help the underserved and poor, it’s not as easy to make the case that they are designed “for the poor.” The Bible speaks of God as being “a refuge for the poor” (Isaiah 25:4; Psalm 14:6). Therefore the Church, as the body of Christ, is called to stand with the poor as a physical and spiritual place of refuge for them in this world. Is your church a banquet for your friends or a refuge for the poor?
I walked in the front door of my church at 9:55 and headed to a college bible study class. We pored over Romans 6, prayed together, and dreamed about how to serve our church body and the surrounding community. Then, at 11 we wrapped up and joined the congregation in the sanctuary for worship and the sermon. We sang, heard the message, and prayed together, and if the church part of my day had ended here, I wouldn’t have been disappointed in any way. I had learned, praised, and fellowshipped with my church family and now I would head back out into the world renewed by some time with God.
BUT WAIT! DID SOMEONE SAY IT WAS POTLUCK SUNDAY?!?!
Heck yes! We all headed for the food and sat in the church basement as delicious scents wafted by. I sat at the table with older couples, young families with toddlers, teenagers, and widowed grandmothers around me, and we ate homemade lasagna, meatballs, salad, and cookies, laughing and talking about whatever we wanted. I heard stories about war, about shoveling the snow, about grandchildren and children, and I told about my family, my home, and my hopes. And as I sat there I realized that it was in this context that I truly interacted with this new family of mine. Yes, we had all listened to the sermon together and spent this Sunday and others sitting in adjacent pews exchanging hugs and handshakes, but here we could love each other in a tangible way over a good meal.
As I left, an older woman I had been talking with walked out with me. She had told me about her husband who had recently died, her daughter who owned a bakery, and her beautiful granddaughter, and as we pushed past the door she turned to me. “I’m going to be your grandmother here in Spokane, Katie,” she said as she hugged me. We said goodbye and all I could think about was how much love she held in her heart for a college girl she met barely an hour before. At times it is easy to forget that our one to three hours on Sunday isn’t always true fellowship. When we invest in the lives of those around us and love our many brothers, sisters, and grandmothers we experience the joy of family. That is why I love the Church; they are my family in the best sense of the word.Kate
The following is a letter I drafted to the crew who pray for us and help support us financially. It is related to a huge change that is happening in the Fairbanks' lives. I thought it might be a good note to drop in here as well to keep the readers of this blog in the loop, just in case your not on my email mailer. I will be filling out more what we are doing as things get clearer. Pray for us, will you? Peace.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness
and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I am writing to inform you about a weighty decision that I have made concerning my role with Christian Associates. After much prayer and ample counsel, I have made the decision to step down as president of CA. It was a very difficult decision because of the opportunities that the role presented and the need that is still very real, but after over three years in the role it became apparent that my heart was being re-drawn back into local ministry.
Before I share a bit of what I am thinking about for the next step in our lives, allow me to accent a couple of things.
1) This decision had little, to anything to do with CA and everything to do with God’s beckoning. I love CA and it’s mission. Whenever stuff like this happens, people eventually conjecture about the back-story. Well, not to diminish the drama, but there is none except God stirring something in me.
2) I am profoundly grateful for each of you and the support you have given Robi and I over these years serving with Christian Associates. It has meant so much to us.
Ok, why then, you ask? Thanks for asking. Over the time I served as president of the organization, I had a growing realization that my personal call was first to the local community, the church. God has wired me to lead in the church, in a local context. I do not see that as a contradiction to what has been fleshed out in me in the more trans-local. It simply has to do with the directional flow that my giftings work best in (something I didn’t understand until I stepped into a more itinerate role). I have discerned that my gifting and personality work best with the directional flow of the inside-out, rather than the outside-in. I am not sure if that makes sense, but my leadership has always flourished through significant relational investment, investment that cannot happen in a trip or a conference, but over significant time of loving, sharing and investing. The local church is where, as Buechner writes, “…our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” So, what I know is, while not where yet, I will be headed back to local church leadership, with the more trans-local (or apostolic orientation) drafting in behind.
Some important details:
All right, that was a load. I am almost certain that I did not cover everything. If you have other questions, please, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d love to talk. You know I do. :)
Lastly, and once again, thank you so much for the love you have communicated to us over the 3 years we have been with Christian Associates. It is not an overstatement to say that we could not have done the good things that have been accomplished without your prayers and support.
Peace, dear friends,
31 years ago I tricked a naïve teenage girl into saying "I do." We were children, really. I am such a lucky guy to be in love with my best friend. Though I travel far and wide, she is the reason I always ache to be home. It seems like yesterday we got married, but now that we have walked together and loved together this long, I must say that I find no greater joy than to grow old with her!
I love you my dear – more today than ever. Happy Anniversary!
Easter was a very complicated and multi-layered holiday for me this year. There is a reason for this complication. This year three important events took place for me. The obvious is it is the day that the Christian church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. Another, a few years ago my mom died rather unexpectantly. Lastly, it is the day my beautiful daughter was born.
A death, a birth and a resurrection. Wow! One, I still grieve over…the loss. I still miss my mom like her passing happened yesterday. She was such a humble and devoted lover of her husband and her sons. The second, I wept and still weep over, only with sheer joy. Being a father of such a remarkable young woman is one of the greatest wonders and privileges this life has offered. The last, Christ’s resurrection, I celebrate its reality and hunger for its fulfillment in me. I literally quaked yesterday as I heard the story once again told of the Christ event, culminating with his grand rising from the grave. As Russ Davis proclaimed yesterday at our community gathering, it literally changes everything! I couldn’t agree more!
What an emotionally bewildering…and anticipatory day!
Debra Hirsch: Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality (Forge Partnership Books)
Not quite done yet, but at this point can confidently say that this book is amazing. So needed in the conversation about sexuality. It is highly recommendable. Well done, Deb! (*****)
Bryan Loritts: Right Color, Wrong Culture: The Type of Leader Your Organization Needs to Become Multiethnic (Leadership Fable)
An interesting book, written as fable, describing the nuances of attempting a multi-ethic church. Once again, I am reading it with a group and have found it insightful. (***)
Walter Brueggemann: The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Edition
I love Brueggemann's thoughts and writing. I read this book years ago and just finished reading it again with my Theo-Reading Group. One of the most helpful books on discerning how the prophetic works both biblically and practically. (*****)
Scot McKnight: Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church
An interesting book that works to restore the beautiful and undeniable connection between the Kingdom of God and the Church. (****)
Christian Wiman: My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
Reading with my group. Amazing insights, mesmerizing writing. (*****)