Thursday, September 30, 2010

Grape -shaped lenses

I had a chat to one of my friends and fellow - elders last night. We were talking about the many good and glorious things that God was doing in the church, and a few fairly substantial challenges that we face too.

Musing on the passage where the 12 spies come back from the promised land with a giant bunch of grapes, and tel of a land flowing with milk and honey, but a land full of giants too, (Numbers 13) I commented that in our season, there were many grapes and a few giants. He responded with these words. "I guess what we need is grape-shaped lenses." Profound.

The story, very commonly told, but fairly uncommonly practiced, goes like this. All of the spies come back with the bunch of grapes so big that they have to be carried on a pole between two men. However, out of the 12 spies, only Joshua and Caleb focus on the grapes. The rest are fixated with the giants, and begin to spiral down into panic. All the people in turn begin to panic too. The spies brought a bad report, and it came with brutal honesty. It wasn't even how big the giants were. It was how small they felt.'We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes and we seemed the same to them."

It took Caleb, who's name means 'little dog', whose life displayed the courageous tenacity of a bull-terrier, to quiet the people. He shifted their focus from the giants, who were surely becoming monstrous in the people's imaginations, to the massive bunch of grapes right in front of them. He was giving them grape-shaped lenses.

Moses later described Caleb as a leader with an opposite spirit.
God help us to be Caleb - spirited as leaders. Not just leaders, but people who see the greatness of God, more than the greatness of giants. People with a humble,'can -do'spirit, because the'same Spirit which raised Christ Jesus from the dead lives in us.'
People with grape-shaped lenses.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Redlining on Reserve

Here in the Wild West, many of us, in our desire to serve God and His mission, are redlining on reserve. The needle of our rev counter is far right, while the needle of our gas tank is far left. Either we blow a gasket or run out of gas. One of the two.

Acts, by definition, is action-packed. The author, Luke the doctor, begins,"In my former book, Theopholis, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach." His former book was the the Gospel of Luke. Acts is a continuation of this Gospel, describing what the church, the spiritual body of Christ, continued to do and to teach after Christ ascended to heaven.

Acts 1:1 warns us that its going to be a busy book. But if we listen closely, the narrative has an ebb and flow to its rhythm. Its more waltz than techno. It begins with 40 days of convincing proof, mainly around the dinner table. Much eating, touching, and teaching about the kingdom. And a command to 'wait until the Holy Spirit comes." A book of action begins with a fish supper and a command to wait. Go figure.

And then at last some action. From waiting to walking. A 3/4 mile walk to be exact, to the Mount of Olives, for Jesus' astounding ascension, and then a question from two angels, "Why do you stand there looking into the sky? Go back to Jerusalem." Again, the ebb and flow of waiting and walking.

Followed, of course, by a 10 day prayer meeting if you do the math. 10 days of waiting in one place. Waiting for the promise of the Father. Waiting for power to witness. Excruciating. I sometimes wonder whether casting lots for the 13th apostle wasn't just because they were bored and had run out of words to pray.

When the Holy Spirit does come at Pentecost, it is dramatic and fantastic. Pentecost. Babel reversed. A church united in its diversity. The glorious destruction of self reliance. The church birthed out of the 'Let Us' of the Trinity.
A new-born church thrust into a world of witness and work. But empowered by the womb of waiting. The ebb and flow, the rhythm of waiting and working.

I am persuaded that the only way to sustain our work for the Lord, without blowing a gasket or running out of gas, is to find the rhythm of waiting on the Lord of the work.
So? Are we willing to wait?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Our picket fence dream part 2

Last week we talked about how Jesus stayed with the disciples 40 days, giving many convincing proofs that He was alive. Jesus was intent on his disciples being convinced eye-witnesses of his resurrection. This was the foundational truth on which the church was built – and it had two outworkings – it caused them to look back with confidence at the cross – Jesus really was their Savior. He really did pay the debt they could not pay. It really was finished. They really could stop trying to obey the Mosaic law which had been fulfilled. He really had been forsaken by His Father so that they could find Him. Like the Israelites in Egypt, the cross had dealt with their two problems - slavery and death. They were no longer slaves to sin, and no longer had the death penalty of God’s wrath hanging over them.

The Israelites smeared blood on the doorposts , the disciples drank wine and broke bread in remembrance of, and participation in the death of Jesus. We still do that today. This past week I witnessed two men settle a dispute like real men.
Not with fists, empty threats or broken bones, but with an empty cup and a broken loaf of bread. It was absolutely glorious.

Secondly, the fact that Jesus was alive meant that the disciples called Him not only savior, but Lord - a King, a Leader and a Bridegroom – who demanded their allegiance, challenged their idols, required their followership, and called for their their devotion. To profess "Jesus is Lord," was in effect high treason for the disciples, because Caesar demanded political and religious allegiance. In fact, a common Roman greeting was, "Caesar is Lord." To say that, "Jesus is Lord" was in effect to say,"Caesar is not Lord."

Today we have a weak understanding of Jesus' Lordship. We ask new believers, “Will you accept Jesus as Savior and Lord?" like he is some insecure freshman cowering in the corner of the cafeteria and you give him a seat at you table. Like we are hoping they will do Jesus a favor by accepting Him.

A recent Princeton survey (although I would have believed it more if it had come from Cal State Fullerton) on young evangelicals who professed to be Christians concluded that most were fake, possessing very little understanding of the gospel,the exclusive claims of Christ, or the call to discipleship - and termed them MTD’s. Moralist Therapeutic Deists. In other words young people thought that being a Christian meant you were moral, and had had some experience with Jesus – "Accept Jesus and he will make you a bit nicer, and a bit happier." I am sorry if we have sold you that story. It’s just not true. It‘s, “Jesus, thank you that You have accepted me, and because of your mercy I turn my life over to you, as King, leader, and Bridegroom.”

We looked at how today, professing Jesus as Lord gives him permission to rearrange our picket fence dream. That we reinstate Him as our ultimate desire, so that good things which have become ultimate, get placed in proper perspective. This is part of what it means to live distinctively and radically in Pleasantville.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our picket fence dream

So, we spent the summer looking at the epic of a dreamer called Joseph. One of the truths that we explored, was that God was shaping his dream to be less about him, and more about God and others.

This fall series is a call for us to share in God’s dream for the church as a whole, and the church in this city in particular. Stanley Hauerwas describes the church as being like "Resident Aliens" - distinct, yet not distant. Through history the church has often swung between being monastic on he one extreme, totally detached from the world and therefore innefective, to being syncretistic, possessing no real difference from the world at all. However, there must be another way of living, and we see this in the book of Acts.

In Acts 17, Paul tell the philosophers in Athens that God has determined the exact times and places for each of us. He is expressing a truth that many of us feel - it is no mistake that we are where we are. A theology of place gives us permission to enjoy where we live, engage our communities relationally with patience, and overlook aspects of our geography that we do not naturally like. Paul continues that God determines time and place "so that men might reach out for him though he is not far away."

We have been placed here in Pleasantville, Orange County, not just for our own peace and comfort. We are free to enjoy all that our city has to offer, but we are not to be lulled by the sunny orange peel exterior of OC. We have been planted here to offer the hope of the God who is not far away, to many who are reaching out to Him. God is not far away. He drew near to his creation through Jesus, and he is near to the world through Christ's body, the church.

So we love the people and place of the white picket fence dream, but we are a distinct people who dream a distinct dream. We have woken up from the dream of the house with great curb appeal, the 2,5 kids with $3000 smiles and $50 000 college trust funds. These dreams are not wrong in themselves. They are simply too small. We have begun to dream bigger, to share in God's dream of a city which reaches out to Him and finds that because of the cross, He is not far away.