Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

A prayer for the new year:
Lord God,
in whom I find life, health, and strength
through whose gifts I am clothed and fed,
through whose mercy I have been forgiven and cleansed,
be for me Guide, Strength, Savior, and Lord,
all the days of my life.
I offer my prayers through Christ. Amen.
(From Hymnal: A Worship Book)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

End of the year

The end of the year is naturally a time of reflection. What happened? What was God up to? What blessings were poured out? What struggles were entered into?
Reflecting I have to say I am very blessed. There were so many opportunities to be a part of God's mission in this world.
However one of the most shocking discoveries that I made this year was how hard my heart is. I realized that I am so lacking in compassion and love. Too many times I have avoided people instead of loving them. And as I made this discovery I have been amazed to witness people around me having huge hearts, loving so much, showing so much compassion.
My prayer for the next year is that Jesus would capture my heart and imagination and fill me with so much love that it would flow out to the people around me.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

A prayer for Christmas:
Almighty God, you made this holy night with the brightness of the true Light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus' presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
(from the Lutheran Book of Worship)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ReJesus - Question 4

The fourth question Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch say we need to always be asking in their book ReJesus is:
In how many ways do we domesticate the radical Revolutionary in order to sustain our religion and religiosity?

62. Ok, Michael and Alan are not actually looking for a number. But I couldn’t resist.
Personally, I feel that this question is a little loaded. It implies that we most certainly do domesticate Christ in order to sustain our religion and religiosity. Do we? Alan and Michael make a strong case that we do. They say rituals (religion and religiosity?), which do have a vital purpose in sustaining faith, often become a way in which we avoid God.
“Although genuine faith is born out of direct encounters with God, it cannot survive and prosper without some form of stability and order. Viewed positively, rituals, creeds, and organizations can help people structure their relationship with God. In fact, we believe this is what they initially were designed for. But unless the worshipper is very wary, the glory of the God encounter will fade and the ritual, creeds, and rules intended to preserve the encounter will take its place.”

Encountering God is a little bit scary. It is beautiful and glorious and amazing. And he is full of love and grace and mercy. But he is still God – the creator of the world – and often the encounters with him end up changing me (which is scary). So often we want someone to meet with God on our behalf (Moses to go up the mountain and let us know what God said). And this is what we do with our religion and religiosity, we use it to keep Jesus away from us, to make sure he is tame and does not challenge us. Instead of going to God personally we do rituals. For example we go to church Sunday morning to hear what the preacher discovered in his encounter with God instead of meeting with God during the week ourselves. Instead of reading the bible we read what others have written about the bible. Now please understand me, I do believe that going to church and reading books is a good thing – but it should never replace our own encounter with God.

What rituals, creeds, organizations have you found help give structure to your relationship with God?
What rituals, creeds, organizations have lead you to keeping Jesus at a distance?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas thanksgiving

The Christmas season is a time where we naturally give thanks. We say thank you for the great meals that we enjoy. We thank people for the gifts that we get. We say thanks to God for sending his son. We have so many things to give thanks for.
I encourage to be very intentional this week about saying thanks to God and to people around you.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I have a fascination with surfing. The couple of times that I tried to surf I spent most of my time eating sand. It still is a lot of fun and I really wish I could surf.
Here is a video with a guy talking about how lucky he is to be alive after wiping out surfing - Greatest Wipe Out

Also check this video of surfing:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

ReJesus - Question 3

As we continue to explore Alan and Michael's book ReJesus let's look at the third question they say Christians should always be asking:

How do we assess the continuity required between the life and example of Jesus and subsequent religion called Christianity?

Alan and Michael give three ways to assess the church: right thinking (orthodoxy), right acting (orthopraxy) and right feeling (orthopathy). We need to have all three not just one.

One the greatest strengths of this book is that it takes theology seriously. Alan and Michael do not water down theology. In fact one of their biggest arguments is that the Christian religion has believed in a Jesus that is not theologically correct. We have the right doctrines often enough. The problem is too often the churches seems to have really believed something other than what they say they believe. See the post that examined Question 2 to get an idea of this. They also state that we don’t take the bible seriously enough. What they mean is that too often we read the bible like we are in charge (the bible is an answer book to our questions). Instead the bible should be in charge (it should be allowed to ask us questions).

Right belief needs to be mixed with right feelings. Our hearts and passions are important in following Jesus. “We cannot be disinterested spectators when it comes to Jesus. In fact, in the encounters described in the New Testament, the desire of people to remain neutral observers is in a real sense the real sin.” “Essentially what we are trying to say here is that we have to engage our heart to truly understand Jesus, but also to become like him and to follow him over the long haul.”

And finally we need to have right action. Right beliefs and right feelings lead to right action. If there is no action then the beliefs and feelings are wrong. “In the Bible, the real test of what you know is how you live.”

So if we want to know if we are successful at following Jesus we need to examine our beliefs, passions and actions.

Does the church truly study the word of God? Doe the church allow God’s word to study us?

Is the church passionate about the things of God? There is a song that prays “break my heart with the things that break yours.”

Do Christians live like Jesus?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What is your favorite Christmas song?

The 4th Sunday of Advent is "music morning" in my church. There is no sermon just music. My favorite Christmas carol is "O come, O come Emmanuel":

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel!

What is your favorite Christmas song?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ben - the coffee guy

On Saturday one of my friends, Ben, died suddenly. I am going to miss him. I was first introduced to him as the coffee guy for Christian Growth Class. Every week Ben would come to class and make coffee and arrange snacks. He did this for years (I often wonder if he attended Christian Growth Class more times than I have). Ben also taught Sunday school for many years (where he would often bring snacks).
Over the past couple of years (ever since he retired) Ben was a part of the church coffee break (as staff at the church we have coffee every day at 10 and 3 and people in the community are invited to join us). He would come several times a week and would always make coffee and bring snacks - cookies, oranges, home baked goods.
I will miss talking with him and hearing him laugh and watching him and Bill give each other a hard time. I am going to even miss Ben's stubborn streak.
Ben was part of our community and this Christmas season we grieve his death.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

ReJesus - Question 2

The second question that Alan and Michael, in their book ReJesus, say the church to ask is:
How is the Christian religion, if we could legitimately call it that, informed and shaped by the Jesus that we meet in the Gospels?

Michael and Alan argue that the Christian religion has been shaped too much by a Jesus that we have created rather than the Jesus the Gospels declare. They illustrate their point by directing our attention to popular portraits of Jesus.
They begin off with William Holman;s painting “The Light of the World” – which they call “the bearded-lady Jesus”. They describe it saying Jesus has “flowing blond locks swept back from the face, high cheekbones, groomed eyebrows, full lips, with heavenward gazing, gentle eyes – he’s beautiful.”… “He is wearing a silk ball gown (we’re not sure what else you’d call it).” And they sum up the shaping power of this image by stating “This is the inoffensive Messiah, clean and tidy, pleasing to the eye. This is no disturber of our souls. This image of Jesus reflects a spirituality that is anchored in an adoration of the wonderful Christ, the unattainable Jesus.”
Next painting is Pompeo Batoni “Sacred Heart” – this type of depiction of Jesus is called “the spooky Jesus”. This painting portrays Jesus “as an otherworldly being, swathed in swirling haloes and unearthly auras.” Jesus is divine but not really human. These kind of images focus solely on “the intangible, wise, ethereal, otherworldly, composed aspects of Jesus.”
On the flip side there is the image from BBC’s "Son of God" – they call this the “ordinary Galilean Jesus”. Michael and Alan use this image to emphasize the group that believe that Jesus is only human and not divine – “an ordinary itinerant storyteller and religious guru”.
The next images of Jesus examined are called the “revolutionary Jesus”. The authors point to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film “II Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel according to Saint Matthew)”. Here Jesus is seen someone who came to destroy and lead in a great revolution. Michael and Alan say that Jesus’ “work was to transform Israel, and beyond that the world, not by rejecting or abolishing Israel’s faith but by embodying it and calling Israel back to its true belief.”
So we have, the bearded lady Jesus, spooky Jesus, ordinary Galilean Jesus, and the revolutionary Jesus. They briefly mention a few more (and we can add some) like, German Jesus (a Jew with blue eyes?) or William Wallace Jesus. Alan and Michael say that these imagines of Jesus shape the Christian religion more than the Jesus in the Gospels.
Are they right?
I heard Michael speak the other day and he asked how well we knew the Jesus of the Gospels?
Have we moved beyond the Sunday School understandings of his stories and teachings (these are good for a 6 year old but aren’t we a little older and wiser)?
Do we know his teachings?
Do we quote him?
Is he our hero?
Do we strive to be like him?
Does the Jesus of the Gospels shape our church or just our safe distant images of him?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Advent Conspiracy - it is happening

I have been hearing about some really cool things happening. People are really starting to embrace the Advent Conspiracy. Instead of just talking about focusing Christmas on Jesus rather than just stuff people are conspiring to do things, conspiring to demonstrate who Jesus is to our world.
My church is responsible for providing some food for the Christmas Day dinner that happens in our community. Over the past few years someone told me that is was almost like pulling teeth, not quite that bad but close. This year we have almost everything we need and it is only December 9.
There have been pails and pails of cookies coming into the church for Inner City. It has been hard to resist tasting these cookies (we have - Dolores guards them very well).
Angle Tree has been going really well. There are more gifts that need to be bought but the response has been great.
I even hear children talking about how to raise $15,000 to drill a well, instead of talking about what they want for Christmas.
I am so blessed to be a part of this community.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

ReJesus - Question 1

ReJesus: A wild Messiah for a Missional Church, by Michale Frost and Alan Hirsch.

Alan and Michael begin their book by exploring how too many Christian groups have (proclaim) a Jesus that looks radically different from the one found in the gospel.
There are five questions that they suggest Christians should constantly be asking. Over the next couple of weeks I want to explore these questions.
  1. What ongoing role does Jesus the Messiah play in shaping the ethos and self-understanding of the movement that originated in him?
Obviously, Jesus should play the ultimate and pivotal role in shaping the ethos and self-understanding of movement that originated in him. This is Alan and Michael’s major claim through out the book, Jesus should be central to everything.
However, the authors point out that too often the church has allowed others to play the pivotal role in shaping the ethos. That could be the founding fathers of a certain denomination. So for us Mennonites does Menno Simmons or Michael Sattler shape who we are more than Jesus?
I have to confess that I am a strong Anabaptist (a board term for Mennonite). Within my church right now there is a conversation about the emerging church. I tell people I have no desire to be “emerging church” I want to be more “Anabaptist”. Should I rather say that I want us to be more like Jesus? This is not to say that we throw out the theology of the Anabaptists. I really resonate with Anabaptist theology. But our ultimate reference point is not the early Anabaptists, it is Jesus.

Monday, December 07, 2009

3rd Sunday of Advent

We are in the midst of our advent series called Advent Conspiracy. It has been amazing hearing people talk about things they do to make Christmas more about being Jesus then just about getting presents.
One of the challenges is to buy one less present this year - and give the money you save to help someone who needs it.

This coming Sunday we are going to explore how Christmas is about relationships. Jesus came to bring us into relationship with God and to free us to live in right relationship with others. I actually think our culture understands this focus a little. Many of the Christmas movies are about families being together. It gives us a nice and warm feeling thinking about families being together.
However Christmas is also a time when families often experience a lot of pain. Either because someone died or because the family is broken. How does/should Christmas speak to this reality?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Jesus has AIDS

My wife found this article last night - Jesus has AIDS. It is worth reading. Here are a couple that stood out to me:
When we stand in judgment, we’ll stand, Jesus tells us, accountable for how we recognized him in the trauma of those who don’t seem to bear the glory of Christ at all right now. We see Jesus now, by faith, in the sufferings of the crack baby, the meth addict, the AIDS orphan, the hospitalized prodigal who sees his ruin in the wires running from his veins.

And so, if we love Jesus, our churches should be more aware of the cries of the curse, including the curse of AIDS, than the culture around us.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

2nd Sunday of Advent

This coming Sunday is going to be focused on issues of justice. The kingdom of Jesus is a kingdom of justice and peace. I do not believe that Jesus came simply to get us into heaven. In fact I am completely convinced that he came so that we may become like him (be his disciples) - getting into heaven is byproduct of being forgiven and changed.
So in keeping with our theme of advent conspiracy let me ask a couple of questions:
1. What things did Jesus challenge or change in order to bring justice and peace to this world? As his disciples what things are we to challenge or change?
2. Does Christmas promote justice? Or are things about Christmas that promote injustice?