I Give Thanks for the Presence, Example, Leadership, and Gift of Women

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This is a post I’ve been thinking of writing for a LONG time. I’ve waited, and waited, and waited. Not because really because of fear, though I have felt it. Not because I wanted to stay on the sidelines, though at times I did. Not because I wasn’t sure, though I have long wrestled. I waited, because I honestly haven’t even known where to begin.

But, to not begin; to not speak, I now realize is one of these things I confess each evening in my prayers: “I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and what I have left undone.”

Without equivocation or qualification, I give thanks to God for the presence, example, and gift of women pastors, ministers, elders, professors, mentors, leaders, and teachers. Not just for those in my own life, but for those throughout time. We are better because of you. I would not be more whole and healed in my life without you. In short: we need you.

While this post may feel like a bit of a hot-take toward certain articles and posts that have been circulating recently, that is not really my desire. And, I do not desire to rehash tired arguments. I will leave that to others. I will simply say that I believe that the full-inclusion of women in places of leadership, authority, and gifting in the church and the world (and fruitful partnerships of mutuality between men and women) is the more faithful response to the full story of our Faith and a more beautiful witness to the world of God’s kingdom.

I was recently in a meeting with a group of women who are working to serve and love some of the most marginalized and vulnerable in our region. I had a moment as I was sitting at the table where I just realized how blessed I was to be in their midst. These are some of the most passionate, smart, strategic, gifted, and hard-working women (and people!) I have met. I felt overwhelmed by the fact that I got to work with them; that I had a seat at their table. That I was being led by them. This feeling of blessing was then commingled with sadness for others who are missing out on this opportunity for reasons of belief or institution or otherwise.

But rather than parse out the reasons for my support and belief (which again, others have done very well) I wanted to take the space to honor and thank some of those women who have had such a profound impact on me. They have led me and modeled for me what it looks like to be fully human and a lover of what is good in the world. Note: ***I will inevitably leave far too many out, and I commit to taking more time to share consistently how women continue to challenge and bless me. Forgive me and grant me grace, especially if you are left out. But this is a start. I’m beginning…

My mom helped to instill a vibrant and intellectually honest and curious faith in me from a young age. She took note of my needs while in middle school to homeschool me for a couple years to help affirm my thirst for learning and affirm the mind God had given me. She modeled faithful service and imaginative ways of using her gifts and talents in a variety of jobs and places of service in the church and community. She created space for my questions, she entertained my wonderings, she endured (endures?) the harsher edges of my idealism and fundamentalism with grace and love.

I think of my seminary professors who have profoundly impacted me. Dr. Rebecca Hancock, my Hebrew Bible professor who opened up the beauty and significance of these texts in a way that still challenges me, and who led discussions around the Psalms which have shaped my own prayer life. I think of Rev. Amy Richter, whose deep love for Scripture and pastoral heart gave me a renewed imagination for my own vocation. I still remember hearing her preach and seeing her interact with every single one of her parishioners after the service. I saw, in a fresh way, how robust preaching and faithful shepherding can go hand-in-hand.

I think of Dr. Tracy Radosovic who helped me rediscover the Gospels as stories to be told, not simply texts to be studied. Her fervor for seeing the proclamation of these texts as fully embodied, dramatic moments has influenced my own preaching to this day. And, of course, Dr. Pat Foasarelli, the “Double Doctor” as I call her, as she hold both an M.D. as a pediatrician but also a D. Min. as a professor, Associate Dean, and trainer of seminarians (yes, all-male Catholic ones, too!). Her depth of experience in pastoral ministry in her parish, her stories of working children living with HIV and AIDS, and her way of pushing us into deeper questions about practical ministry, continue to serve as a fuel for my journey. Her matter-of-fact personality and her sensitivity to the work of God in others as a spiritual director is a gift to so many.

I also think of my own spiritual director, Jackie, who helped guide me as a sort of surrogate grandmother, helping me make sense of the rublmings in my heart around vocation and life direction. The times with her, sipping coffee at her kitchen table and listening the Spirit together will continue to shape my life for years to come.

And there are the countless women pastors and ministers who have taught me (personally or from afar) in one way or another about God, ministry, preaching, and self-care (And I will inevitably leave someone out!). Sandy Boone, Toni Draper, Cathy Oatman, Christine Parker, Michelle Rader, Christa Burns, Mandy Smith, Barbara Brown Taylor, Fleming Rutledge…gosh I could go on.

And, of course, in my work now with HopeSprings, I have learned and grown so much under the leadership and direction of Erin Donovan. I am grateful for her philosophy of leadership, her passion and compassion for those we serve, and her faithfulness through challenging times.

(I have chosen not to include my wife here, because 1) that deserves its own post and 2) she is not fond of public attention from me like this! But, at the risk of violating my reasons, Kara, you are a gift, a means of God’s grace, and a wonderful life partner to me! And to my sister, Amelia…I will save my words for the endorsement or foreword on your first memoir or book, should I have the honor of being asked to write them! ;-))

So, at the risk of a reductionistic and overused phrase, I say again: thank you. And for all those women not named here who are wonderful friends and sisters: we need more than just your competence. Your competence is a given. Your qualifications are evident. We need your presence and your example. And I commit to doing all I can to honor you and open any spaces I can for you to continue to bless and teach us all. Not because you need my help, but because we need your voice.

[Post]-Sermon Notes: The Reasons for Parables

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Note: I am posting a more manuscript version of my sermon because of technical issues with the podcast this week. This was delivered this past Sunday morning during our 11am gathering. Enjoy!

“The Reasons for Parables”
Text: Matthew 13:10-17

On a Sunday similar to this one, in the early fall of 1946, the English novelist George Orwell stood at the front of a church, honoring the enduring legacy of one of the leaders in the Church of England who had recently passed away. Many don’t know this, but Orwell (his real name being Eric Blair) was a very committed Anglican, his faith influencing his writing.

Before he came into the church, he noticed a large tree out front; one that had just started to show its maturity. Some children were climbing in the branches and playing under the shade.

It caused him to share these words:
“A thing which I regret, and which I will try to remedy some time, is that I have never in my life planted a walnut. Nobody does plant them nowadays—when you see a walnut tree it is almost invariably an old tree. If you plant a walnut you are planting it for your grandchildren, and who cares a damn for his grandchildren?” 

Setting aside Orwell’s loose lips and candor during a memorial service, the truth is a powerful one. We do not think to plant seeds for a future we will not get to experience. We are doing work, planting things which we will not see grow or mature.

I first shared this quote almost two years ago in this very room as we jointly celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Patterson Park Baptist Church (and their final Sunday as a church) and the first official Sunday morning of Gallery Church Patterson Park. It was a beautiful time and we gave everyone a walnut seed as a way to remember that we are both beneficiaries and builders of the kingdom; a kingdom that did not begin and will not end with us.

The disciples in the first century find themselves in a very similar place. The idea of the “kingdom of God” is not new to them. It has been in the collective conscious of the Jewish people for centuries. It is reawakened every generation with people who attempt to bring in the kingdom politically or militarily by force. It is anticipated as religious leaders come to gain power and influence with the occupying government, in hopes that they will one day plan a sort of coup to overthrow their oppressors. Yet, success would always evade them, and the consequences were not just loss, but death and often a tightening of the shackles on the people: more taxes, more oppression, more laws, more military.

The prophetic words of Isaiah have become painfully true for the people of Israel. Isaiah’s call was to go to speak to a people. We love to read Isaiah 6 up until verse 9, because it paints a picture of the greatness of God and the incredible response of Isaiah to God’s call. “Here am I, send me!”. We love to use this to talk about missions and obedience. But you know what comes after Isa 6:8? Isaiah 6:9!

The LORD tells Isaiah that he will be going to a people who would not understand or repent. As a result, they would experience the judgment of God.
(Read Isa. 6:9-12)
Verse 13: “And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
Judgment and destruction for a people who would not turn to the God that loved them. But also hope…
(Isa. 10:33-11:2)

So, not only had Isaiah’s words come true (in a not so good way), they were also coming true (in a beautiful way!) in the person and work of Jesus. And the disciples are seeing this, but they want to understand why Jesus is speaking in this very strange way to others.
So their question is this: Why did Jesus speak in parables?
For us to seek to answer that question, we will talk about what parables are and what they do.

Parables are an exposition.

(v. 11)
Jesus is telling the parable about the sower, seed, and soil in order to communicate something that is happening in the kingdom right now. Again, we will deal with this more fully next week as to what this parable reveals, but Jesus says that these parables have to do with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

Parables are not simply just nice, cute stories that use something concrete to explain an abstract reality. On the surface they do that, but Jesus is not simply teaching to convey information. He tells parables to do something: to reveal the kingdom and who is in on it.
As we will come to see more next week as we talk about the meaning of this particular parable, Jesus is describing something that is happening right now.

So, I know some of you have struggled a bit this week with the questions I asked last Sunday, because I didn’t answer them for you. Someone asked me, “Are you going to answer all of those questions this week?” I’ll tell you what I told them: not yet, and I doubt I can answer all of the questions for you. Remember, we need to sit with our questions! We need to engage with Jesus teachings and allow them to do their work, not simply be problems for us to figure out!

But our main question is this: what does the parable expose or reveal about life and God and me? If we seek to answer that, we are working within the given framework that Jesus has given us. But parables don’t just expose reality, they also reveal something else.

Parables are a revelation.
(v. 12-16)
I mean this more than just that they reveal something about God and his kingdom (that is covered in the exposition). They reveal something about the hearer (or better yet, they reveal who is a hearer).
Jesus says that this way of teaching helps to fulfill the prophecy (and in some ways, the ministry) of Isaiah. Jesus chooses to teach this way in order to reveal who is really paying attention and who isn’t.
The hidden aspect of the parables’ message is thus both a cause of and a response to people’s unwillingness to follow Jesus.
Simply put, not everyone who hears the words of Jesus will understand them, abide by them, or follow them. And, of course, the disciples have a great advantage, having had the Sermon on the Mount given to them specifically.
But parables in some ways are a very practical tool that allows Jesus to see who is really desiring this kingdom. Those who show interest, who understand the parables are showing that they are a part of this movement. But those who do not, reveal that they are not followers of Jesus or his kingdom.

Parables are an invitation.
(v. 17)
This, for me, comes back to the walnut seed. Jesus is exposing the place of privilege and responsibility that the disciples have in being able to see and hear and understand what Jesus is doing.
To me, it is amazing that most commentators focus on this parable and ask questions about the previous verses in relation to the age-old questions of predestination and human responsibility or free will. I will not wade into those waters this morning for a variety of reasons, except to say this. Divine providence/election and human responsibility are both held in tension in the Scriptures. And, at the risk of over-simplifying things, when it comes to divine providence and human responsibility, by definition we are responsible for only one of those things! What I want us to see is that the idea of election: being chosen for a specific task by a specific person (in this case Jesus and his disciples) does not signify simply a privileged status. It is a “blessed status”, meaning, there is a great responsibility place upon you now, because of what you see and hear.
What is most incredible to me about this passage is that Jesus looks at this rag-tag group of followers and says: “You need to understand: your spiritual heroes would have given anything to be able to be in your sandals right now! Isaiah wrote about this ‘shoot of Jesse’ which would spring up out of the burned out stump of a tree of this nation, and you are looking at him, in the flesh!”
Implicit in that statement is a “so what are you going to do about it” sort of question. Will you jump into the story that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, Isaiah, and David is fulfilling now? Will you find yourself in this story and be changed by it? Will you be a part of this kingdom? Will you listen to me so I can tell you what it means?
This invitation is ours today as well. We are inheritors of a legacy not our own; a kingdom we did not build, but we can join in and belong. This is historically significant! Jesus is looking to us and saying, so many people would have loved to be where you are now, but it wasn’t time. But now it is time.
This is how Jesus began his ministry, calling people to him because the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world. That is happening right now, through the work of the Spirit in the church that Jesus started.
So, do we hear this? Do we hear what Jesus is up to in the world? Are we seeking to listen to him? We will be moving from hearing to understanding next week as we (finally) talk about what this parable means.
But let’s just take time to listen to the Spirit of God, right now in this moment.
What is he exposing to you right now about himself and the Kingdom?
What is he revealing about you?
How is he inviting you into his work in the world this week?
Benediction:
May we have ears to hear and eyes to see all that God is accomplishing around us in his kingdom. May we respond to his invitation to join him in his work, and may we realize that we are the inheritors of a past not our own, and co-stewards of a future that God is pulling most wonderfully into the present. May his kingdom come and his will be done, in Baltimore as it is in heaven.
Grace and Peace be with you.

[Post]-Sermon Notes: Authenticity and Covenant Sunday

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Note: This Sunday was incredible! We had kids singing with tambourines, a Shofar being blown as a call to worship, testimony, songs in Spanish and Korean,
authentic clothing from other countries, a parent-child dedication, communion, and a pot-luck lunch! Needles to say, I’m exhausted but my heart is full. A huge thanks to all my brothers and sisters at Gallery Church Patterson Park who helped us celebrate the renewal of our covenant membership to one another. It was beautiful!

Text: Acts 2:42-47
Iif we are to properly covenant with one another, we must understand and commit ourselves to this final value. We have saved it for last, largely because it is key to fulfilling and honoring the others. It is the relational context in which we work through these values together.
We value authenticity. To be authentic is to be who you really are with those around you. It is to be vulnerable, to share yourself with others, warts and all. There are no perfect people, and we don’t want to waste precious time and energy trying to convince others (or even ourselves), that we are better or more put together than we are.
At its best, the early church got this and modeled this for us. As we see in our passage today, we can learn from their authenticity in a few ways. First, to be authentic…

We must be together.
(v. 44a, 46)
This word together, is a phrase of a gathering of people, with the emphasis being on unity. This is more than going to a concert together or working together. It is about fully being with and for one another.
Remember, we talked about the triangle and how our “IN” relational dimension is not in to ourselves, it is in with one another. As Mike Breen says, the indivisible unit of the kingdom is two. We do not and CANNOT follow Jesus alone. We must be together.
And that takes time. More than just a couple hours once a week.
I could say a lot about this, but our lives culturally work against us in some ways. We, through technology, have been given a substitute for community through TV shows and social media. Community is already naturally hard because of rampant individualism, and that is reinforced everyday by how we engage with the world (another conversation for another day).
Community takes time and effort and sacrifice. Some of us will have to think, is it more important for me to spend time with my community or to take that extra trip out of town. Should I go be with that friend or brother or sister or should I just stay in and watch 3 episodes of my favorite tv show.
All I can see is that the early church was drawn to spend much time together. More than 2 times a week. It was a lifestyle of consistent engagement. What could that look like? We will come back to it.
But for the time being, let’s just see at this point that authenticity happens when I chose to be together with others. This is about quantity of time and who you are spending it with. We don’t get to know each other through short, casual interactions.

We must share fully.
(v. 44b, 45)

  • Share what you have and share what you need.

The early church shared their possessions. They even sold things to make sure others had what they needed. Their sharing was based on an understanding of what others need. How did they know what others needed? They told them! They were honest about their needs and did whatever they could to help meet those needs in the family. The big question about generosity and giving to those in need is a conversation about those outside the walls of the church. And this is important. We ask whether we should give to someone who is panhandling or believe the stories of some people or only give away food. These are important conversations and it is important to obey God in these moments.
We receive quite a few benevolence requests from people outside of our church family. People will call the office or stop in and ask for help with rent or food or bills. One of the very first questions I ask is whether or not they are involved in a church. And there is a reason for this: I want to know what their church family has done to help their own brother or sister.
These believers shared what had been given to them in order to meet others needs because they ultimately understood that what they had did not belong to them.

  • Share who you are.

Example of Gen 3 and Adam and Eve hiding from God because they were naked.
When they saw things as they were, they responded by seeking to cover themselves and hiding from God, our of fear and shame.
Who told you that you were naked? Who told you that being naked was a bad thing? God created you that way…
Notice that the reason for hiding is not, explicitly, that they disobeyed God. Their sin, their disobedience, is not the reason they give. They have a completely different perspective on who they are. They are ashamed of who God made them.
Who told you you should be ashamed of who you are?
Kara and I went to a friend’s wedding this past Friday night. It was so much fun. I love people watching, seeing the dancers come out of their shells. There is always that one guy that just owns the floor, right? I mean, he is drenched in sweat and has all the moves. This past Friday, too, there was the flower girl, right in the middle of the floor and she was owning it. And I’m over being a wallflower freaking out about what people will think of me! Many of them were my friends, and many who weren’t my friends were halfway drunk anyway and wouldn’t remember the next day! So Kara and I tore it up!
I think that this is a core part of the result of the entrance of sin into the world; we have this inherent shame about who we are and how God has made us. As a follower of him, you are a gift to this church. The Spirit has empowered each of you with gifts. Those gifts are not for you. They are for the church! And if you allow fear to keep you from sharing who you are, we are missing out on what God has for us. We need you to share all that you are and all who you are!
Which leads us to this last idea…

There is always room at the table.
(v. 46-47)
As the early believers shared themselves, their lives, and their stuff with one another, they found themselves drawn together in worship and in meals.
Here is the thing we can miss: who was at the table.
Acts 2:5-11
Imagine what those meals must have been like! Imagine the foods, the conversations, the languages, the cultures, the differences….but all worshiping together and all eating together.
I guess, in a moment, we won’t have to imagine!
In our context, think of how we would be described if Luke was writing about us and the different people who were there: Mexicans, native-born Americans, Guatemalans, Koreans, Salvadoreans, Colombians, Africans, African-Americans, recovering southerners, Yankees, Balmers, mid-westerners, Californians, Orioles fans, Ravens football fans, Real Madrid “football” fans, and yes, even Steeler’s fans (who we can pray for to be sanctified!).
Jesus wants his table to be diverse, and there is always room for more.
How many of you grew up having family dinner as a kid? We had certain meals that we ate because different people in our family liked them. We also would eat burgers so that mom didn’t have to cook. I like to think of our times together in worship as a family dinner. We are all gathered because we need to eat, but we get to celebrate each other’s tastes. Today has been a wonderful mix of different languages and styles. It is like the meal that we are about to have. I love that! And this is coming from a guy who could eat the same 5 meals every week for the rest of my life! But this is fun! I don’t expect you to like everything that we do here, just like there will be some dishes downstairs that you won’t like. But we will have it as a part of the meal, because Donna made it, and we love Donna and Donna loved making it. We will eat it because we love Lorena and Lorena loved making it.
And this honors God. And it is attractive to others, because it says to them “we value people for being authentic: for being themselves and bringing what they bring to the table.”
And so, we are about to come to the table of Jesus. Jesus’ table is a diverse table. When he first gave us this holy meal, it included the loud-mouths and the nobodies. The self-focused and the swindlers. The betrayer and the “one whom Jesus loved”. The hot-heads and the opposing political parties and the back-woods rednecks. This is what Jesus’ table looks like. Because as different as we are, and as much as we disagree and debate, we come to the table because of one simple truth: we are hungry. We are people who need the sustaining grace of the flesh and blood of Jesus. We are bound together by his blood and his love.

Benediction:
This week, may you say no to fear and shame. May you take time to be “in-with” the family of God. May you share yourself and your stuff with others. And may you seek to expand your table, all for the sake of our King Jesus and His Kingdom. May you be more fully you this week to the people around you.
Grace and Peace be with you…

[Post]-Sermon Notes: Prayer

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Texts: Acts 2:42-47, Matthew 6:9-13
(this is a summary of the sermon I have this past Sunday. If you prefer, skip to the bottom for additional resources)
If we’re honest, prayer freaks us out. It feels mystical or magical or strange. It seems like something that is only for the elite. It doesn’t make sense to us. It feels awkward or like our words are bouncing off the ceiling.

I don’t know about you, but I need to be taught how to pray. Jesus’ disciples felt this and it compelled them to ask Jesus to teach them to pray. And he responded by telling them to say the Lord’s prayer.

Prayer begins with direction. It is about relationship

With whom are we speaking? “Our Father, in heaven.”
I know we all approach this idea of God as father from different places. I know it can affect how we see who this God is. For a further piicture of who this Father is, see Luke 11:11-13.

However, the fact that Jesus would instruct his followers to address God in this way was very controversial! “Father” as a title for God was rarely used in the Old Testament (only 14 times I can count) and always used with reference to the nation, not to individuals. Thus, where “father” does occur with respect to God, it is commonly by way of analogy, and not used to directly address Him (Deut 32:6; Ps 103:13; Isa 63:16; Mal 2:10).

In contrast, Jesus Himself addressed God only as Father (some 60 times in the Gospels), never referring to Him by any other name! Virtually all of Jesus’ prayers were addressed to God as Father (except when Jesus quotes Psalm 22 on the cross…my God, my God). So we, following Jesus’ example, get to call the God of the universe Father. The one whose name wouldn’t even be spoken by people for thousands of years, we get call him “Papa”.

When we say that he is in heaven (or rather, the better translation is “in the heavens”), we speak of something I will call his transcendent nearness. So we could pray: “Our Father who is up above, around, and near to us.” God is separate and other while being imminent and present.

So when we pray, we recognize that we are praying to the God of all creation who is our close and intimate Father, right there with us. We don’t have to hope that our prayers “get to God”.

“Hallowed be your name”
Or “may your name be kept holy, special, or set apart”. In the Ancient Near East and in many early religions, the name of a god (or a man, for that matter), was very important. It defined a reality. But men would sometimes use the name of a god to get what they wanted, or would curse them when they didn’t do something right. This prayer is one we participate in. It is saying, “we will seek to maintain the honor of your name”. And this is a difficult thing to do, is it not? We see the name of God defamed all around us, things done in his name, attributed to him. It is the cosmic version of that first bully telling us as a child that our Dad is weak or our mom is not the greatest Mom ever. That alarm that we feel pushes us to fight for the honor of the name of God. The Hebrew people, and even Jews today so revere the name of God, they do not speak or write it. They came up with Hashem, which lit. means “the name” (They ended up giving different names of God-all related to what he has done or his character).

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
So this is the first thing we seem to be asking/petitioning God for in this prayer. And I know this is where we get hung up sometimes, in the asking of God for things. We have these mental blocks sometimes.
Psalm 139:1-4 and Matthew 6:8 can become problematic for us. If God knows what we need before we even ask him, what’s the point in asking?
This question makes some big assumptions:

  1. That the need we are asking for is the same as the actual need that God knows.

    2. That God’s knowing is the same as God’s doing (just because he knows, does that mean he will act on it?
    3. That it is ok to rationalize away obedience. (if it doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t have to do it) If you have kids, you know this doesn’t work.

Let me say it clearly: prayer changes things. And we are commanded to do it. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
God has, in a mysterious way, chosen to tie his action in the world to the petitions of his people.
(2 Scriptures where God appears to change his mind in response to prayer: Exodus 32 [Moses] and 2 Kings 20 [Hezekiah])

I really like this example and quote from Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy that explains the relationship and differences between the “will/purposes” of God and the “action” of God. Some call this idea of God’s sovereignty his “relational sovereignty”.

“God is great enough that he can conduct his affairs in this way. His nature, identity, and overarching purposes are no doubt unchanging. But his intentions with regard to many particular matters that concern individual human beings are not. This does not diminish him. Far from it. He would be a lesser God if he could not change his intentions when he thinks it is appropriate. And if he chooses to deal with humanity in such a way that he will occasionally think it appropriate, that is just fine.”

And that is the heart of this line in the prayer.
When we pray Your kingdom come, we are asking God to be about his business in ways we know only he can do. We are praying for justice, for the world to be made right, Maranatha! (Come, Lord Jesus!)

When we pray Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are saying we want to be about our Father’s business. It is about our obedience. Just like heaven is the place where God is being obeyed and worshiped all the time, we work to bring that to earth in the way we live.

“Give us this day our daily bread”
There are only two things I wish to highlight here. The first is that the plural part of this prayer is emphasized again. It is truly our prayer. When is the last time you prayed for someone else’s basic needs to be met along with yours?

Second, this is a prayer that places our attention squarely on the present. We are not asking for things for tomorrow. We are focusing our trust on what God will provide today. Perhaps many of our prayers are masquerading as baptized anxieties about the future when God is calling us back to where he is: with us, in the present, providing what we need. (again, sometimes we need to have our perception of our needs realigned with God’s)

“And forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors”
There is so much to be said about forgiveness and how it affects our lives. Let me just say that we need a constant reminder of the pity that God has had on us when it comes to our condition. And I use the word pity on purpose, as mercy is a word that may have too much religious baggage to be as jarring. God saw us, way over our heads, upside-down in life-debt. He saw it and took pity on us. He felt for us in our awful state. And then he forgave, the word means to literally send away, never to return.
And this is the way we are supposed to forgive those who have wronged us. This is a transformative side to this prayer that moves us into right relationships. We must be reacquainted with our
“They owe me an apology.” Probably. Cancel the debt, place it on the cross.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
At its core, this is a prayer saying, “God, please don’t let bad things happen to me.” You may think this is too simple or childish of a prayer. Or perhaps its praying “wrong”. After all, doesn’t scripture talk about being called to suffer, to pick up the cross and follow Jesus?
God is a good Dad. He doesn’t willfully send his children into harm like a sadist. And the truth is, he does this A LOT. We tend to focus on the times where he doesn’t seem to, and think that he is being a bad Dad. This is shortsighted.
The idea of being delivered is that we are pulled through hardship, but make it on the other side. It is not praying: pull me out of this. It is saying, pull me through. Jesus, again, modeled this in Gethsemane. “Father, is there a way you can keep this from happening?” And ultimately, Jesus was delivered through and into victory.

So, this is a prayer we should repeat and a prayer we should model our prayers after.

Because engaging in prayer is like learning how to speak.

Have you ever thought about how you learned to speak? It is an amazing process. It begins with listening. We hear the voices of our parents and those around us and recognize their voices.
It continues with naming who these big people are that feed us. Mama. Dada. Then concrete words like milk, blanky, food. Then abstract like hungry, thirsty, and more. And on we go, putting words together, asking for things, talking about things.
But we can’t speak what we don’t hear. And we have to practice. Because our language changes over time.

Eugene Peterson speaks of 3 types of language that we use in our world:
Language I is primary language, the basic language for expressing and developing the human condition. It is the language of relationship: coos, giggles, gibberish,
Language II is the language of information. Everything has a name. Language II is the major language used in schools.
Language III is the language of motivation. We discover early on that words have the power to make things happen, to bring something out of nothing, to move inert figures into purposive action. This is the language used in advertising and politics.

In our world, languages II and III are the predominant languages of our culture. As we grow up, we tend to put relational language I to the side, it is considered inferior and childish.
We need to relearn relational language. And prayer exposes our deficiency in this language while seeking to change it at the same time!

We need to pray these words of the Lord’s Prayer, again and again. And this is not vain repetition. This is repetition on a mission! It is formative. It helps us learn the language of God! It resets us to speak relationally again.

Ways to engage in prayer different this week:
-Pray the Lord’s prayer, both individually and with others.
-Set times to pray the prayers of others/the Psalms/common prayer. Shoot for once or twice a day. Some great online resources for you: the Trinity Mission, Book of Common Prayer, Mission St. Clare, Daily Office,

[Post]-Sermon Notes: Relationships

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Guiding Texts: Acts 2:42-47, Luke 6:12-19
I don’t think it would matter who you ask, most people would say that relationships matter. However, we could also all name at least on relationship that has not gone well. Some of us are in the midst of relational struggle right now: a family member, a friend, a coworker…perhaps you are really struggling in your relationships with your neighbors or people in the city. Some of you have become hardened to those in need around you. And maybe some of us are really struggling with our relationship to God. We have questions and doubts. Some of you may be angry with God or feel slighted by him.
So, as much as we would say relationships are important, we would also be quick to say that we have a lot of struggles and room to grow in how we relate.

As we have said regarding our other values, it is not enough to simply say you value something: there is a way in which we must value them. Which relationships do you value? How do you value those relationships?

Our church’s website says this about our value of relationship:

Relationships matter first with God through His son Jesus and then with people. A relationship with Jesus is the only hope for a lost and broken world. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, His response was simple: “LOVE GOD, and LOVE PEOPLE.” We value the image of God in all people. We believe that we were created to live connected with one another: carrying each other’s burdens, sharing our possessions, praying for and confessing our sins to each other, and suffering and celebrating together. It’s in these honest, loving relationships that God transforms us and His Love is brought to full expression through us. The way of Jesus cannot be lived alone.

 

Our model for relationship is always Jesus, so we can use an example from his life as a framework and talk about some other scriptures on the way.
Relationships Exist in Three Dimensions
(the following is adapted from Mike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture)

UP 

(Luke 6:12)

In fellowship with the Father.
Jesus was in fellowship with the Father as a matter of priority and necessity. He prayed regularly. In this passage he prayed all night He always had sufficient time alone with his Father daily. Jesus was often at prayer before the disciples woke, he went out to lonely places to pray, and says he can do nothing by himself without the Father.
Prayer, praise and waiting on his Father were fundamental elements in the lifestyle of Jesus. Jesus was in constant contact with His Father, whom He spoke of in very personal and familiar terms. We do not get to the point of calling our Father Daddy (Abba) without spending significant time with him and experiencing the love and care that he has for us.
So how do we move UP?
When is that last time you enjoyed God? Not his gifts. Not his words. Not ideas about him. HIM?We immediately tend to think that we need to schedule all of this time and do devotions 7 times a day and read the Bible in 30 days and so on… I encourage you to recognize the fact that, as a follower of Jesus, God is with you and inside of you right now. Right now. And all of the time. What can you do to notice him, to enjoy life with him?
It may mean taking time to get up early. It may mean taking time to get away to hear his voice. We will talk more next week about prayer; how to communicate and commune with God. This is where I have the biggest room for growth. But I know it is necessary to be able to have thriving relationships.

IN

(Luke 6:13-16)
When I say “in” I don’t mean in to ourselves, I mean in with each other. This is about relationships with each other as a church family.
Again, Jesus is our example. If there was anyone who could have gone it alone, Jesus may have been the best candidate. But he didn’t. There was no such thing as “me and the father only” for Jesus.
After prayer (up), Jesus calls the twelve to become his disciples (in). Mark 3:13-14 says that he called to him “those he wanted” “that they might be with him”. Jesus was fully human; a social creature. He needed to be with other people. Jesus did not do life alone! He wanted to spend time and build strong relationships with them, which he did over the three years he lived with them.
Jesus came as a human being and showed us the way human beings are to live out their lives. We are not complete as individuals. We are creatures who need the Inward dimension. We need each other. As Mike Breen says, “the smallest indivisible unit in the kingdom is two”. Jesus never sent out people by themselves. As best as I can tell, the only one who did anything by himself was Judas…not a great example.
This is why the believers didn’t simply hear the message and then continue on as if nothing changed or embrace some sort of “personal relationship with Jesus” that included no one else.. The Acts 2 text shows us more about this communal life. They met together daily. They worshiped in the temple together. They shared meals together. They shared their possessions as each one had need. They sold their stuff and gave the money away to a brother or sister. This is a radical move toward community.
And, in general, we (as people) are terrible at doing this. The largest reason is because we do not know how to be authentic and vulnerable with each other. We struggle to share our lives with one another; our true selves. That’s why we are going to take an entire sermon to deal with this on the 30th. So, please do make time to be here that week. I actually think that if we don’t get the “in” part right, we cannot do mission well.

OUT

(Luke 6:17-19)

Relationships outside the family, as a family (Mission)
After Jesus prayed to His Father (UP), he created a team of people to work alongside him and be company with him (IN). He then moved into and amongst the crowd and embodied the kingdom, proclaiming the good news and healing the sick.
This pattern is revealed in the life of Jesus: in order to be obedient in mission, we first need to be in deep, abiding relationship with the Father, then with one another before being able to move out into mission.

So, moving out: what does that look like?
Acts 2:43, 47 Awe and favor with the people around us.

We do not go out alone. This is disobedience.The call is not to go by yourself. You will get hurt. Jesus sent out his disciples in groups of 2 for a reason!

I had someone say this phrase that really provoked some thought in me. He said, the church exists because God is Trinity. (This is from a lecture by Fr. Scott Detisch on “Communio Theology”)

Our relationships with each other and our mission in the world are rooted in the very nature of God.

If we go back to the triangle, and we will see that the Triune God is active in each one of these dimensions. Up (Father), In (Son), Out (Spirit).

To experience life in these three dimensions is to experience the fullness of the Trinitarian life and mission: a God who is constantly moving within and without. This the THE fellowship: it is the relational life that God creates by virtue of his love. The early church fathers had a name for this: perichorisis: the dance of the Trinity. His mission is to continually bring all that is not God into closer fellowship or communion with him.

So we cannot have relationships working at their best apart from God. We come to understand love and sacrifice and family as we are brought into relationship with him.

Benediction:
This week, may we devote ourselves to the fellowship: the relationships that God has created as an extension of himself. May we move up toward the Father in worship and communion, in with each other as the body of Jesus Christ, and out in mission, empowered by the Spirit to see the renewal and redemption of the entire creation under the Lordship of Christ.
Grace and Peace be with you…

Would love your thoughts and comments!

Recommended Reading/References:
Building a Discipling Culture– Mike Breen/3DM
Perichoresis and Personhood: God, Christ, and Salvation in John of Damascus – Charles C. Twombly
The Trinity and the Kingdom– Jürgen Moltmann

(Post) Sermon Notes: Worship

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As we continue on in our “Family Values” series, we talked through our value of worship.

Much like the value of Scripture, the value of worship can mean so much and so many different things. Seriously. Just Google it.

Using Romans 11-13 as a framework, we talked about how worship is at least 3 things: Remembrance, Action, and Anticipation.

To worship is to remember
(Rom 11:33 -12:1a)
This is related to Scripture as one of the main purposes of the Scriptures seems to be to remind us. The Bible is replete with phrases like “do not forget” and “remember”. Even Deuteronomy is sermon given over again; reminding people of the law.

And Paul is doing this all-throughout Romans. For the first 11 chapters, he is laying groundwork, reminding the Jewish people of their story and showing how the Gentiles fit in. Being so moved by it, he burst into song at the end of chapter 11

He then says, therefore, in view of God’s mercies

To remember is to put God’s mercies, his loving acts, back into our main view.
Simply put, to worship is to remember all that God has done.

To worship is to act.
(Rom 12:1ff)
Once we view God’s mercies, it prompts us into action. We must respond by offering our bodies as a living sacrifice to him. This is a very loaded term.

This word for body is “soma”. A couple things about this word:

  • It is word that means more than just our physical selves. It is a shorthand word for “all that makes us, us” (offer your self: body, mind, soul—everything)
  • It is used in the plural here while “sacrifice” is singular as well as all of the other adjectives that follow. It is a collective sacrifice made up multiple “bodies” all doing the same thing

So, my humble translation of this verse would be something like this:
“I appeal (encourage/admonish/plead) to all of you therefore, brothers and sisters, because of the mercies of God, that you all present your bodies together as one living sacrifice; a single sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to God. This will be your collective spiritual or reasonable act of worship/service to God.”

So there is an inherent togetherness of worship. It is not “my worship” it is always my part in “our worship”. When we come together to worship God, whether on Sunday mornings, or on Saturday mornings handing out food and clothes to the homeless, or painting a wall, or whatever it is: we are together offering one big sacrifice to God. We are a living sacrifice; a body of believers that is a living body. Paul “fleshes” this out later on the chapter by saying that each of us is a member of the body or a part of the whole. We all have our role to play. We all have our own gifts and talents. But we all belong to each other (more on this another time)

John Stott best summarized what this looks like when describing a living sacrifice:

“It is not to be offered in the temple courts or in the church building, but rather in the home life and in the marketplace. It is the presentation of our bodies to God. Then our feet will walk in His paths, our lips will speak the truth…our hands will lift up those who have fallen, and perform many mundane tasks as well…; our arms will embrace the lonely and unloved, our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed, and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God.”

Worship is to remember all God has done and to join Him in what he is doing.

To worship is to anticipate
(Rom 13:11-12)
When we remember and act, we are anticipating God’s future. This is actually the wonderful combination of remembering what God has said about the future and doing what he has asked of us.

There is a sense of preparedness and a future hope which can guide our current activity. This plays itself out in our singing and conversation, as we talk about what God has said he will do or about the future of creation. The fancy word for this is “eschatological”. For our worship to be most full, we must worship eschatologically; thinking of where this whole thing is going and what that demands of us. It’s remembering forward.

To complete our definition: worship is remembering all that God has done, joining him in what he is doing, and anticipating what he will do.

Benediction:
This week, may we realize that the work of worship continues as we leave this place. May we remember the mercies of our God, may we glory in his goodness, and may this push us into action. May we together be a good and right sacrifice to our God, and may our good works anticipate Jesus’ future kingdom by pulling it mightily into the present.
Grace and Peace be with you.

Would love your thoughts and comments below. 🙂

(Post) Sermon Notes: Scripture

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After some urging by a few people, I will be doing my best to post some notes and perhaps some additional thoughts from my teachings from the weekends. (not to mention make use of this incredibly underused blog o’ mine)

I would always welcome further engagement and discussion here, being that my desire in teaching is hardly to end a conversation but, rather to spur it onward. So feel free to read this, and perhaps listen to our podcast as well to get the most content.

I probably had the most fun reading/preparing for this past weekend’s sermon than I have had in awhile, simply because the Christian Scriptures fascinate me to no end.

Here are some of my notes from this weekend:

-Right belief about the Bible (as bound up in words like inerrancy, authority, inspired, etc.) is important but insufficient when it comes to how we use/understand/apply it. In the same way as claiming a map is the authorized map is insufficient in meaning you will get to your destination or that it is the most efficient or safe route (I borrow this analogy from Christian Smith [see recommended reading])
-If we want to model our church life after the early church, we must devote ourselves to the Apostle’s Teaching (as they did) amongst other things.
-To devote ourselves to something is a continual, intense, and ever-increasing “holding onto” and “wrapping around”.

This raises two questions:
-What is the Apostle’s Teaching?
-How do we devote ourselves to it?

The Apostle’s Teaching
This is not a shorthand for “the Scriptures” but rather a way of understanding and interpreting the Scriptures.
Teaching here is not a verb, it is a noun. They did not devote themselves to going to see the Apostles every day or weekend. They devoted themselves to their teaching; the substance of their message. So what was the substance of their teaching?
The previous part of the chapter to tells us in Acts 2:15-41

The Apostle’s Teaching is (at least)…
Jesus’ Life and Ministry (v. 22)
Jesus was a real man with a real life and a real ministry! And this is important! It is not just about his death and resurrection, it is about his life! This means all that is in the Gospels.
Jesus’ Deliberate and Undeserved Death (v. 23)
Jesus’ Triumphal Resurrection (v. 24, 32)
Jesus’ Receiving and Pouring out of the Spirit on All people (17-18, 33)
-Young and old, men and women
-Peter is explaining to the people their place in salvation history and is interpreting to them the events of what is taking place.
Respond to it in repentance! (v. 38-39)

Devoting Ourselves to the Apostle’s Teaching

So when we talk about valuing the Scriptures, the way in which we value them is by devoting ourselves to the Apostle’s teaching, which was Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit for the continued work of Christ in the world. So this is more than just believing that the Scriptures are true and having tons of Bible studies. This is about HOW we read, study, meditate, listen, and digest. We do it by continually pursuing the story of Jesus, seeking to find him where we look, and then asking “What do I do with this?”

Jesus is the interpretive key. We devote ourselves to the apostle’s teaching by trying to see Jesus as they did: the fulfillment of the long awaited hope of Israel and the future hope for the world.

A few supporting quotes:

“For a Christian, every part of the Bible must in some way point to Christ, to the living person of Jesus who is the Christ, and to the unlimited, liberating love of God which is revealed in Christ. To put it bluntly, it is not the words of the Bible that are ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ It is the person of Christ, to whom the Bible witnesses.” (Keith Ward, What the Bible Really Teaches: A Challenge for Fundamentalists (London: SPCK, 2004), 27.)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it this way: “In its entirety and in all its parts it is nothing but this witness of Christ, his life, his death, and his resurrection.” (No Rusty Swords, ed. Edwin H Robertson, trans, Edwin H. Robertson and John Bowden (1965; repr., London: Fontana, 1970), 312.)

John, an apostle, explains why he even wrote his Gospel and included what he did in John 20:31, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

So we devote ourselves to a teaching; a way of understanding the Scriptures, which is ultimately about Jesus. So we devote ourselves to the story, as fulfilled in Jesus.
Not to merely a book (or rather a collection of books).
Not to a theological system or “ism”.
Not to a certain pastor, leader, or author.
Not to a social cause.
Not to a philosophy.
To the ancient, apostolic teaching that Jesus is the full revelation of God himself, he has redeemed the world, and he invites us to join him.

What does this stir in you? Questions? Thoughts?


Recommended Reading:
The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith
The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
Surprised by Scripture by N.T. Wright
How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee
Coffee House Theology by Ed Cyzewski (his chapters on Scripture and Tradition are very thoughtful)
For those of you who struggle with the OT (like me), particularly the violence,this is an excellent article by Brian Zahnd.