This post is from Me...Rob
I wanted to put this out before it moved from the front of my thinking. A few of us have been very concerned about the increase in violent activity in our city (here is a different recent post about this). The question I have been grappling with is what is the church’s response to such issues. To be honest, the complexity of urban violence is beyond me. What can be done? What can I do? I am not sure.
What we concluded was we wanted to publically grieve and passionately intercede. In real time, that meant that we would go humbly stand in front of “The Hop” (the location of a recent murder) and do a Liturgy of Peace. It wasn’t against anyone or even to gain some attention for our activism. It really was for us (because our hearts are broken) and for God (because we believe that prayer is more than just aligning ourselves with God’s way – it actually is efficacious). We wept…we interceded and we marked the spot with the sign of the cross.
I have to admit, I am a person of great inner tension. Sometimes I come from some activity and wonder what it was for? Was it for me or for Jesus? Was it healthy or stilted. In short, I’m a bit of a tortured soul. But I want to testify that praying for our city on Monroe St. on Friday at 5:30 with two fantastic ladies might have been one of the “purest” acts of Christian service I’ve been involved with for some time. I’m grateful.
Christ have mercy! May shalom rest on Spokane.
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
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Lk. 5:16)
I think the word “often” is there for a reason.
Catholic theologian and mystic Thomas Merton writes, “My life is a listening, His is a speaking. My salvation is to hear and respond.” What a unique and fantastic approach to salvation and communication.
For Merton, the goal of life is to listen to God and then act. Not just in his communication with God. His goal in life! Listen then act.
Just as Jesus did, we ought to listen to God and then launch into his mission, wherever that takes us. An yet, even after we’ve jumped into the mission we ought to pray more, we ought to pray often just as Jesus did for God is moving.
We make millions of decisions each day. (You’re making one right now by continuing to read this!) How many of them do you ask God to be a part of?
Listen then act. It will change everything. (Sounds like Jesus doesn’t it…)
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.
There is something heartfelt and immediately piercing about praising God with
movement. There is a part of ourselves, our physicality, that we have neglected in our
worship. And because of it we have lost touch with our emotional souls; our movement
and our emotions are intricately linked. It is hard to lie and keep the world out when you
are engaged in authentic movement. I have found that some of my most honest and
vulnerable moments have been when I have used movement as a form of worship.
Our bodies, our movements, I think, are that last piece in our worship; the piece
that connects it all together. I cannot express how freeing it is to use dance and
movement to pray and worship God, and at the same time, I cannot express how hard it
was to get to that place. It is not natural for us to be open and vulnerable with each
other. It is not natural to be uninhibited in our emotion and movement. So we have
learned to worship unnaturally: keeping everything inside locked up tight. But I don’t
think God wants us to worship only with our voices; I think we glorify Him most when we
are authentic and honest with each other. And I think that we could do that better if we
all learned to move a little more; to dance a little more. David danced, after all, as did
Jesus. So why can’t we?
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?
Relationship. This is the word I keep coming back to the more I learn about the true calling of the Church and the people of God. Everything centers on the idea that to be a “city on a hill” we have to have relationships with the people around us that will allow them to see what the family of God looks like and what being a dedicated disciple of Christ really means. And, yes, I love the idea of “doing life” with fellow Christians and living in a way that shows what the gospel is about.
BUT, I am terrified at the idea of relational. I’m not kidding; I am not good at first impressions, holding coherent conversations, making small talk, meeting new people, etc. Don’t get me wrong, God has given me a heart for people and I love being around those whom I already know, but for some reason God also made me a person that would rather stay in a corner than engage others. So when I think about starting conversations with strangers and putting myself out there with other Christians, it scares me.
At times it is easy for me to tell myself that God must have a more “behind-the-scenes” plan for my place in the Church, since He made me an introvert. However, I have realized that in some way or another Jesus calls everyone to radically change who they are and how they act when they join the family of God. He asks us to lay down idols and sins and our old selves in order to abide in Him and rescript our stories to include the fullness of life that He wants to give us. Jesus says to us in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” What if, for me, denying myself means denying the part of me that would rather not talk to anyone? It might be that being missional will kill that part of me, but I am called to die to myself anyway; “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Reaching out to strangers and engaging the world might scare me, but if stepping outside of my shell and into Christ’s power allows me to be a part of the work of the Kingdom of God, then it will be entirely worth the pain of death.Kate
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. (*****)