From Thanksgiving to Thank-focusing

There is nothing more traditional than giving thanks. And that’s above and outside of the day we’ve designated for it. This year, I’m aiming to discipline myself to be thankful for the truly best things, the things that cannot be taken away, things that are mostly invisible and thoroughly eternal. I am centering my heart and mind in the way of Jesus.

So, here is an attempt to “better” that for which I am grateful, that I might be thankful for the deeper beyond it. Join me if your mind takes you on down this road…

While I’m thankful for…I am focusing my gratitude on…

The laws of the land…The law of liberty.

My US citizenship…My citizenship in a better country.

Constitutional freedoms…The thorough-going freedom of grace.

My heartbeat, the life it ensures…God’s heartbeat, the meaning it beckons.

Relief from pain in all its forms…Pain, for all its forming.

Providential protection…Sovereign adventure.

My bride…My Groom.

The fellowship of the saints…The friendship of the sinner.

The written word…The Living Word.

My pastoral calling in life…The believer priesthood.

Convenient meeting spaces…The building, that we are, being built by God.

Power over temptation…That in sin, grace abounds.

The privilege of preaching…The strength of “each one has a teaching.”

The companionship of God’s family…The loneliness of God’s mission.

The creation and all it provides…The creator, himself, not what he provides.

I could go on, and, actually, I have. I won’t include it all here. Might this stimulate you in your thinking? In your focused thanksgiving? What else? We could let this common holiday come and go again, observing it as we have, in all of the goodness it has been before. What if, on the other hand, we advanced from “count your blessings, name them one by one…” to an examination of those profound gifts of God that are ours in Him?

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Let Not Your Soul Be Stolen

“It doesn’t shape character, as much as reveal it.” 

What used to be the apt description for the game of golf has a better home now. Two homes, in fact:

  1. This election cycle
  2. Television

We’re all feeling it. Those for whom we’d love to have the very most respect have acted, and continue to  speak and act in ways that engender suspicion and even disdain. Far from cultivating trust, our process is revealing the lowest expression of human nature. And now I’m not talking abut the candidates. There is plenty of fodder there, but has anyone else felt the robbing of our souls by the requirement that we pick one on November 8?

I invite you to check out a recent article by Tim Keller here.

He concludes with a pertinent question:

“Could the Christian church become one of or even the main factory where good citizens for a pluralistic society are formed? Yes it could. Who would have thought it?”

And then there is the entertainment industry. The new series, The Good Place, serves as an incredible study in current day spiritual perception. I can’t decide if it is more a satire on every biblical doctrine we hold dear, or the exact representation of the human condition, played out in full, forking color. Only the very, very good make it to the good place. It is very few. Careful score is kept throughout life, but the “good” people in residence are pathetic, each in their own way. Mistakes can be made, such as letting in a couple of “bad people.” But it is becoming clear that only one bad person in particular has eyes to see the farce that all of this is, gaming the system with worldly wisdom over the pathetic naivety of the divine characters in charge of “heaven.”

When our most dearly held beliefs and hopes are attacked with superior chuckles it hurts our hearts more than even the most vicious theological dissent. It’s almost subliminal. 

What to do? How do we live among? How do we engage? How do we keep our souls from wounding?

Keller issues an invitation, albeit sideways, for what Judy and I have been trying to live and model, and teach since our arrival in the Western District:

“There is another barrier,” he writes. “Face-to-face interaction—not video conferencing, email, phone calls, or social media—is the best place to recapture and practice these aspirations. It is much harder to caricature, insult, and denounce people as evil fools when you’re three feet away. But today fewer and fewer of our relationships are face-to-face.“

It is an invitation to intentional friendships. Our opinions, formed among people we love, as opposed to the anonymous enemy that can be held in theoretical contempt, will take on a very different shape. The tolerance, humility, and patience Keller defines in this article will become our reality, thus fulfilling the law of Christ!

And please, would you let this blogpost serve as an invitation to “District Leadership Development,” March 6, 2017. We’ll gather, once again, for our annual district conference and training around the subjects of Human Flourishing; Common Grace for the Common Good; and faith, work, and economics. Specifically, how do we equip the saints in our care to use the bulk of their waking hours to glorify God in the marketplace and neighborhood? In the public square and the social media environment? If we’re already living and working in a pluralistic environment, how might we do so with more intentional, and accurate gospel grace on display and in friendship?

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Reflections on Easter of Another Kind…

This year I spent Easter in a way like no other…with friends, at a bay area campground. Apparently Anthony Chabot was a pretty special guy in the day. His name is all over the place. Of course thoughtful evaluation would now condemn him for bringing civilization to this area by commandeering native lands for the US government. Still, here we all sit in our blissful hypocrisy: carnivores and vegans; parents and grandparents; atheists, buddhists, ex-Mormons/JW/Catholic, a couple of evangelicals; English spoken as a first and second language. We sit in our diversity united by the odor of campfire clinging to our clothes and hair. We’ve enjoyed presence, conversation, amazing food (two professional chefs among us) and a toddler’s poop through the folding chair, on the dog bed, in the dirt. Smoke (and other odors), and much laughter waft upward through the towering eucalyptus above us. 

On Sunday’s crisp, sunny afternoon my friend sits down and asks the question on everyone’s mind at some point. “So, what’s a professional like you doing in a group like this on the biggest calendar day of the Christian year?”  Ok, actually, he just said, “So is it weird for you to not be in church on Easter?”

We’ve been here before, he and I, in different versions, at different locations, usually imbibing one of our favorite adult beverages. He, actually, is my best and most free sounding board for re-thinking accepted 21st century, North American, evangelical norms. Our mutual respect allows us to own our flawed thinking, in process. He keeps me honest while I keep him moderately mystified around my ability to be critical of Christian tradition, even before he is. I think he senses honesty in me, and grace.

But it got me thinking, as did the morning walk with G-o-d (my pilot), and D-o-g (my co-pilot), as did the second morning hike with G-o-d and w-i-f-e and d-o-g on Easter morning. Where two are gathered, Jesus is present. Two members of the body, with the Head. Perhaps very little of what we’ve defined as “essential church,” is. Yet all over the world my heart is united with those exalting a risen Savior, who is High King, worthy of exclusive worship, and my only source of life and truth of the ultimate variety. We prayed for all our Western District churches, felt one with them, and our children’s churches in the midwest, knowing we were joining them in worship of the risen One! 

My friends have been driven from these truly life-giving hopes. Generational and cultural skepticism because of a politically-driven culture has resulted in the mis-applied enthusiasm of a legislative focus on the family. Today’s evangelical is perceived as something less than gracious, something mean-spirited, something immoral. As an evangelical, I may want to argue with their perceptions of me, and conclusions about my believing family, but this Easter I was struck with my responsibility for an inaccurate view of the gospel. If Jesus refused to defend Himself for the sake of the salvation of those who “…know not what they do…” then would it not be to be like Jesus to reconfigure my disposition for my friends?

Our group was genuinely and universally surprised that the Greek word for “evangel” is translated “good news.”  Instead, they’ve surmised that evangelism, evangelicals, and the evangel itself translates to “bad news.” It occurred to me that our culture is moving toward a godless existence, in part prompted by my own mis-conveyed gospel characteristic. 

This Easter we spent good time with some of our favorite people. It occurred to me that we’re hitting an historic reset button. The people Paul encountered in Athens are much like the people I encounter. They had not heard such good news, had no categories for a risen Savior. When they invited him to hang around for some more conversation, it became clear that our news is really very good, when understood clearly. That delivery, in our day, is best received in a context of respectful and loving relationship.

I think it was, for Judy and I, Easter as Jesus would have wanted it.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Easter Eyes

Perspective is everything.

If it can’t be set at Easter time, when can it be?

Palm Sunday’s Perspective: “Public testimony concerning Jesus was never more right!”

Good Friday’s Perspective: “Once and for all.”

Easter Sunday’s Perspective: “Resurrection is unique among world religions.”

Sure, there are many angles from which to weigh the significance of these events, but allow me to make this singular observation: If Jesus rose again, then all concerns, inside and outside the church, pale in comparison to the hope His life provides. Why does anything else wrestle our hearts away? How could anything, given its relative insignificance, distract us for even a moment, from this good, empowering, and focusing news?

My fellow believer-priests, I invite you into the freedom of an Easter perspective on life.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Building Bridges

There are so many things I could be writing about this week. One feels like it matters most: Building Bridges in a climate demanding Racial Reconciliation. We are, by grace and identity, Ambassadors, Ministers of Reconciliation.

I know the “balanced perspectives.” Please set the argument aside. I simply invite us to ask a risky question or two:

1. In what ways might I unconsciously harbor racist attitudes/perspectives/frames of reference?

This is a tough one for me. I authentically, humbly, don’t think I hold any racially related animosity toward anyone. I think people, in their uniqueness, precisely because of their uniqueness, are absolutely fascinating! Created in the image of God, I KNOW they are inherently valuable, cherished, loved, precious. Still, humility nudges me toward honest introspection and I invite you to it as well. It is unconscious for most of us. Courage invites us to acknowledge the conscious bigotry we have, and risk thinking long and hard, laying open and bare before the piercing word and spirit of God to see if there exists hidden thoughts of anger, fear, devaluation, resentment…

2. What is one step I might take toward building bridges?

We’re going to take three steps this week in response to this article.

The author, Joshua DuBois, has invited “white people” to initiate conversations, so we’re going to do that. On Thursday and Friday, at 7:30pm, and Saturday at 10am, we are hosting a conversation in our apartment on the personal nature of our unconscious racism. We’ve invited 30-40 of our friends and neighbors in San Francisco to join us for one or all of these gatherings. It is an “open house,” that is, anyone can bring anyone, and an invitation is not needed. 

I’d love it if you would read the article, pray for us these three days this week, and prayerfully consider following our example and doing the same. Two short term benefits are 1) Getting together with people in and out of “the church” to build a bridge and find some oneness concerning lives that matter to Jesus, and 2) Embracing just a bit more personal humility in a climate often void of enough.

This step is grace. This step is gospel. Please step with me.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Ascension: Why all this works

The miracle of the ascension is more important to my mind, than ever before. The more I understand and appreciate the gospel, the more I realize it is not about me. I can’t save a soul. But this is precisely what God does: save souls. The plan was laid down before creation, and executed by God made flesh. 

Jesus’ words on the cross are famous. Many of us have done the “last words of Christ” sermon series around Easter time. When he said “If is finished,” He was certainly referring to His atoning love demonstrated in His life laid down. But it was also something of a fore-runner to the most significant implication of the ascension. 

Jesus ascended, yes, but then He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. This is a final symbol of the finished-ness of redemption. 

Jesus worked to perfection…in the sense of “completion,” I mean. Then He sat down. Nothing could now, or ever, be added to it. It was done. He didn’t sit until the work was done. Body broken, Lamb slaughtered, atonement made; prophecy fulfilled, salvation purchased, death defeated; forgiveness given, grace lavished, inheritance assured. It IS finished! So He sat down. He now reigns supreme. He has only to come as judge. 

Now the Spirit can be given to Hs church and He can fulfill His promise to be with us always and to the very end. 

Because He sat down, you and I can relax. Take a deep breath. Enter our sabbath rest, and align ourselves with praying and watching for the names written in His book. Respect them, love them, collect them, according to His design for our purpose on earth.

This is the gospel: incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, commission, ascension.

It is finished.

And one day we will be.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

It isn’t the full gospel without a commission

Jesus gathered “us” all together for a talk. He did so in the upper room prior to his death, and then again on the mount of ascension prior to that fifth gospel element. I say “us” because of one of my favorite verses in the Bible. I love it when I literally find myself in the Bible. 

John 17:20

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word….”

There I am. There you are, in bold italic. He thought of us that day. Even better, the first followers took him seriously, eventually, that they were indeed the light of the world after the departure of the Light of the World. Their faithfulness in telling their story of having been with Jesus, resulted, down through the ages, in my salvation!

It also resulted in my commissioning.

A central, not auxiliary, but primary facet of the gospel in its fullness is commission. There are five elements in my mind. We’ve been taking them one at a time:

1. Incarnation

2. Crucifixion

3. Resurrection

4. Commission

5. Ascension

These five form the fullness of what Jesus accomplished to ensure the good news and human flourishing, hope, life, purpose…redemption, and the completion of his kingdom.

Here’s why I think this is a big deal: we are saved to save. We’ve been loved in order to love. We were harvested to be thrust into the harvest. Every one of us was made a priest, royal at that, and an ambassador. We are the hope of nations. Saved into kingdom labor. 

There is no graduation ceremony or certification process or earning or proving for this. Look no further for examples of the immediacy of kingdom labor than all he healed, even those he told to be quiet! That he can and does use the weak is clear and compelling. We are his choice ones, not in spite of our fleshy weakness, but because of it, and that slathered in grace. The perfect story displayed. 

In fact, I love the woman at the well for precisely this reason. She was chosen by the Savior to open a formerly closed mission field prior to herself being saved. Can God speak through Balaam’s ass, or what? “Could this be the Messiah?” she implores of her city leaders. And they believed in him before she was sure. In fact we’re not even told, are we, that she did believe. Surely it is so. 

A torn, blemished, reputation-less, uneducated, female, in every way unqualified in today’s hyper-credibility culture, save her genuine encounter with Jesus, and Samaria was flooded with the gospel!

Our commission is great. Yet how simple and small it is. If grace has been offered to me, then I have it to offer to all on my pathway. This overlooked gospel-element just might be the one, from this world’s vantage point, upon which time and eternity hinges. Set it aside and the very death Jesus conquered reigns.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

It’s Easter, and I have no place to go…

So much of our church identity is centered on gathered worship. THE one date Christians most gather the world over is just a few days away. I’m feeling the “loss” resulting from living as we are. It’s Easter this Sunday, and we have no place to go.

Now, let me be clear, we have a home church. District Superintendents all do. Some are even the preacher. In our case, Judy and I have been welcomed by many…our Chinese fellowships scattered around the city and the peninsula; our Albany church, to name a few. Geography certainly plays a role. So does our calling. Given the fact that I’m used to being the guy on the platform, it all feels different no matter what. There are a few “good churches” outside our denomination here in SF that have welcomed us.

Our “home” is both literal and figurative. We will gather at the abode of our “missionaries,” Brent and Sarah Kompelien, in the Pacific Heights district of SF this Sunday evening, as we do each week, with a dozen very special people. This is our place. These are our people. But for an old guy like me, as you might imagine, there are some features of “church” that won’t be present, and that is highlighted on Easter Sunday somehow. 

This opportunity has invited me to realize, and celebrate, more of the core values of “church” this year:

1. Resurrection Sunday, like any Sunday, is not about me.

2. My hope is not in easter-ish human ingenuity (a little bigger, a little louder), but in a silent, fan-fare-less, nearly unnoticed emptying of a tomb.

3. The wealth of my faith is accounted in loneliness on this earth…in this flesh…and that is an unspeakable privilege.

4. My faith’s apex may be celebrated this Sunday, but the gospel’s promise of life is rooted in a fully incarnational, crucified self, alive to my commission, its power resting in the finished work of my ascended Jesus. 

5. Prayer is a lonely reminder that our best work is aligning ourselves with the power of a gospel that is bearing fruit in our world.

So, my singular prayer for all 50 of our district churches (by this, I mean each believer-priest that makes up your church) this Easter is this:

Father, set a profoundly quiet awareness of a deep and irresistible power at work in invisible places of the hearts of people visiting this Sunday, and those who would never visit. Haunt us with the faces of the perishing, and may their new life in You overwhelm the status quo of what we all now know as “church” in our context. In the name of the risen one, Jesus. Amen.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Resurrection…What Sets Us Apart

Every world religion has at least two things in common, in my surface observance. Each has a version of good works and obedience to systems that earn the favor of its higher energy, that grants future rewards. The second is that they lay no claim to a living leader, prophet, teacher. 

Interestingly, some, even in so-called “holiness” circles, ironically, have reduced Christianity to a moralistic performance. Obviously tragic. 

But we claim a risen Savior. To be specific, we claim a pre-existent, incarnate, crucified, and risen Jesus of Nazareth, who Himself claim to be the very Son of God!

This claim is singularly unique. Yep, redundant for emphasis. It is the core of our hope, sure, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. It is a faith claim. A standard, lifted high, of belief. So I’ll leave others to the proofing, that I’m assuming none of my readers (ok, potential readers) even need. And the resurrection ties everything together: creation and the pre-existence and eternality of the Son; incarnation now makes an essential bodily resurrection, reasonable. And crucifixion: we can’t have the need for a resurrection apart from a death.

Of course, there’s the catch. To those that are perishing, none of this is “reasonable.”  

So I’ve found that, among my post-Christian friends, there is an ability to believe and embrace all manner of unreasonable faith tenets, save one: resurrection. How is it that otherwise intelligent people can choose belief in reincarnation, for example, without blinking an eye, yet that same person feels resurrection is laughable? Or, on a more personal, relational level, that intellectually contradictory elements of faith can be held in tension while maintaining respect for basic intellectual superiority.  

In the divine working of God in the human spirit, there is a “tipping point.” It is resurrection. That one claiming to be God could actually act like God and conquer death in so personal a way is beyond intellect alone. And so, as Paul told the Romans, verbalizing one’s surrender to Jesus as Lord of all, and believing in one’s heart that Jesus is risen, isn’t just a formulaic mantra, but the very touchstone of the human condition. It is pride and faith that must come under God on God’s terms.

Resurrection assumes human eternality, that there is life after death. This too, is counter to our materialist friends suffering from “here-and-now-ism.” Resurrection to eternal condition, whether to beauty and bliss, or to sorrow and suffering, also, is repulsive and ignorant to thinkers of today.

Resurrection is the distinguishing trait of true, biblical faith, for there is no other religious system created by man that centers on it. And I have decided that for all the utilitarian brands (that is, how to make my life here on earth better) of religious practice held by my now hundreds of San Franciscan friends, there is one invitation that best clarifies our biblical faith that I will be quietly and clearly offering: Jesus was a good teacher and compassionate man who was killed for claiming to be God, and then rose from the grave to prove it was true, and make risen life possible for me. This sets apart our faith from all others. This is what sets apart our former life from our transformed life.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Crucifixion…Jesus Paid it All

Creation, our first point of “a full gospel,” implied the fall, if linked with incarnation. It is the fleshly nature that must be redeemed, restored. It’s not so much that we sin, but that we are by nature sinners. At conception. Imputed. Inherited. As through one man’s sin, sin enter all men.

So, then, death entered and now life, which is in the blood, must be bought back. The unblemished sacrifice, qualified through virgin conception and verified through sinless living, propitiated, satisfied the wrath of God against all ungodliness. The fulfillment of so many prophecies is not as important, though amazing, except that law and history reached its apex just as had been told us through those prophets. 

We started with creation, though, because if humanity can reason its way to the top of the spiritual food chain, then forgiveness for sins committed is unnecessary, much less transformation of nature. But both were paid for, on the cross that day, in full. This is the turning point for today’s post-Christian environment. Our language, in a context of love, must be plain, pointing humbly and transparently to our common brokenness as evidence of this sin problem. Practically speaking, I wonder if we could abandon the recent value of portraying a strong and sinless image for an honest admission of the specifics behind our desperation for a crucified Savior. Otherwise, all we’re communicating, perhaps unintentionally, is that none of us really need one.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment