February 5th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

“The Holy Spirit orchestrates the events of our lives with the single aim of making us disciples of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives in subtle ways, ways we cannot often discern. But the Spirit is at work nonetheless.” – James Bryan Smith, The Good & Beautiful God

 

 

January 24th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

Writing turns out the be one thing we can control in a world where much feels beyond our control. Most of us will not be spearheading protest marches against the World Trade Organization, masterminding boycotts against sweatshops in China, or leading the charge against oil exploitation in Nigeria. We won’t be building orphanages for children in South Africa. But we can do what we can do.

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Posted in quotes, reading, words, writing
February 3rd, 2010 | No Comments »

As we continue to examine preaching and the preaching imagination, let’s turn again to Mark’s announcement in Mark 1: “…after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news (1.14-15 NRSV).” Previously we took a brief look at what it means that Jesus’ proclamation occurred, “after John was arrested,” but the next statement is equally as thought-provoking. It is a statement about location and speech; “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news….”

I note here that Jesus began his teaching in a place of His own choosing, but more importantly, He began His preaching to an audience of His choosing. I have noticed that a great deal of contemporary preaching is aimed at people and populations that are not present in the room. I once had a mentor tell me about a 25-year standing men’s prayer group. Early on the group decided to talk only about themselves. At no time were they permitted to talk extensively about their wives, work or children. The rule: Don’t talk about people who aren’t in the room. Another way of saying this is “take responsibility for you own stuff.” It is a move to end the deflection and obfuscation that all too frequently occurs within groups. While keeping the world outside of church building ever-present and a pressing concern of our worship, I’m arguing that the preaching event should address the people in the room.

Preaching should announce the good news with which the present hearers must deal. Too much preaching talks about “those people,” the people that “aren’t us.”  I recently heard a TV preacher railing against federal, “activist” judges. I immediately wondered: How many federal judges are members in his congregation? In the end, preaching that launches attacks or feigns “concern” for people not in the room is largely useless and oftentimes far more reveals the self-righteousness of the preacher and the perceived “goodness” of the congregants than announcing the good news of Jesus.  Unfortunately, this move contributes to the divisions and distance between those inside the church and those not yet inside; adding to human nature’s “us-versus-them” tendency.

Jesus announces a public word! No person or population is excluded and/or targeted. God’s will for the one is God’s will for all. No “us” and “them.” He is not trying to scandalize “them,” He’s scandalizing us “all.” He’s not offering freedom and hope to “us,” but freedom and hope to “all.” Therefore those within the room, should hear in the proclamation a call to make those outside the room both their destination and ally, rather than the opposition and enemy. The word is for all, entering the world through the ears of those who have already heard the word.

What if modern preaching approached its task as Jesus did, reversing the typical, “us-versus-them” orientation and called the church to deal forthrightly with her call – which is to announce “good news” to the all rather than proclaiming bad news just for the people we don’t like? Nietzsche commented, “the harm the good do is the most harmful harm.” He meant that good people, coming to believe that they possess goodness – by contrast, those who differ must be preternaturally evil – do violence because they do not consider the potential for their own evil. This, to me, is why, preaching must resist polarizing narratives that target and divide those within the ecclesia from those without. We are all, and at all times, in need of “the good news.” That, this Sunday, is what you should preach.

March 17th, 2009 | No Comments »

I’ve been attempting to pray the daily office with Thomas Merton’s book, A Book Of Hours. Rochelle gave it to me at Christmas. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my life in no way is arranged to pray the hours. So I’ve been doing what I can when I can.

This past Sunday morning after I did final sermon edits, I sat down with Merton and read these words: “The most wonderful moment of the day is that when creation in its innocence asks permission to “be” once again, as it did on the first morning that ever was.”

This struck me for a lot of reasons, the least of which was the fact that at that moment the dawn was just breaking, the sun beginning to rise. These words reminded me of the complete dependency of creation on the will of her Creator — myself included. I was humbled again by humankind’s feeble, immature and useless attempts to reduce God into something quantifiable; something that we can control and/or master. People have tried to control God with doctrine, particular denominational practices, oppressive congregational authority, and any number of hurtful ways. Yet God defies these attempts. How silly to imagine that any of our hermeneutical or theological systems could contain the very God from whom permission to exist must come.

Perhaps when the Scriptures remind us that creation sings the glory of God there is a not-so-subtle reminder for us that God is simply too grand, too big for us to manage or manipulate. After all, most of us cannot manage our lawns, much less the God of creation. And, perhaps, in the face of all our prideful blubbering, boasting, and grasping for power, influence and control, we too, should rejoice in God that He has given us breath and “permission to be once again.”

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Footnote: For those of you checking back to read my review of Edward Fudge’s upcoming commentary on the book of Hebrews, the publisher has asked that the review be held so that it will coincide with the release of the book. This is standard. I the same thing when asked to review Dear Church: Letters From a Disillusioned Generation and The Voice: New Testament. As the publication date draws near, I will post the review, as well as an interview with Mr. Fudge regarding the commentary.

March 10th, 2009 | No Comments »

Tomorrow night I continue a series I’ve been teaching called, The Sacred Way. For 8-weeks we are looking at some of the ancient spiritual disciplines. I call them “ancient” for two reasons: (1) They were all conceived a long time ago and (2) Most people in American Evangelical churches don’t practice them (out of ignorance or willing abandonment, I don’t know). At any rate, our community here in Northern California is attempting to recapture them. Were coming to better understand that knowledge and narrow readings of scripture alone do not produce the Life that Jesus promised. We’re also learning together that our brothers and sisters throughout the ages have something to teach us regarding drawing closer to God.

This week’s reflection is prayer. In particular we will be looking at The Jesus Prayer, Breath Prayer, and Centering Prayer. This is scratching the surface, but it is enought to get us started. While we will be exploring these ancient disciplines, our time will begin with C.S. Lewis — a comparatively contemporary figure. Though most of us know Lewis as a writer of prose, we are going to begin our discussion of prayer with one of Lewis’ poems, and I want to share it with you here. This poem — IMHO — is deeply powerful and provocative.

Footnote To All Prayers…C.S. Lewis

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow,
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou.
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart.
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme.
Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address,
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless,
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense.  Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

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