Monthly Archives: March 2013

Understanding

Trying to emulate him

I’ve been asking a lot of questions lately and listening for patterns.  I am finalizing my investigation of where God would lead us to begin a new church and trying to process the past three months of research, prayer, and conversation.  With all this work, though I feel like I’m still at the beginning of understanding.  As I’ve written in newsletters and said in various presentations Worcester, MA is at the top of our list for the place to begin.  Though I have a growing feel for this place and its people it is just the outline.  I want to color it in with rich deep hues.  Part of this is me.  I like to understand, to grasp, to unwind the riddle of who people are and what identifies one place versus another.  I know that there is no single answer for any place but there are substantial pieces that connection geography, people, and culture.

Behind my desire to understand is God’s description of humanity as similar but unique.  There are commonalities we share and can’t escape, but every person and place is in some manner its own.  When I read the bible there is a God who interacts with these unique people and places in ways that reflect and transcend their world.  It astounds me that one of the overarching themes of the bible (covenant) is related to types of treaties and agreements common in the Ancient Near East.  When God shows up and explains himself he uses language and forms from the times.  In all sorts of ways God acknowledges the uniqueness of people, places, and times.  At this point some jump off and see that God is bound by such forms or tied to cultures and times but I think such a perspective doesn’t take into account the way God reshapes these cultural artifacts.  When God makes a covenant with Abraham he turns the treaty system on its head by committing to bear the penalties of infidelity without such a commitment from Abraham (see Genesis 15).

The culmination of God entering and yet reshaping our a place is seen in Jesus who is God in the flesh – in a particular time and place.  God comes as a first century Palestinian Jew with a lineage that can be traced and a life rooted to a place and a people.  Yet it is God who comes – not some especially spiritual person, but the God who is beyond us.  How wild is this?  So when I think about Worcester, I think about God himself, coming to this place in this time, I want to understand what that would mean.  Here are some initial thoughts:

Encountering incredible diversity: We acknowledge the good and bad that we all bring from our different backgrounds and find unity in Christ who undoes our prejudice through his love.

Dealing with the chip and the pride:  I’ve been told that people in Worcester carry a chip on their shoulder that Worcester isn’t Boston and are also proud that Worcester isn’t Boston.  This is an interesting combination and part of the solution is resting in an identity that God gives.  This frees us from envy of others and the need to justify our existence.

Loneliness and the pained soul:  Though few will admit there is an isolation that is especially acute in the winter.  There is a privacy and tendency towards being reserved that characterizes all of New England.  There is incredible power to a faith that is both individual and communal.  God gives wholeness to the individual through the presence of Christ, but also unites us to each other at the same time.  There is both personal and social healing.

Two books I’m working through:  one for a book club and the other for fun, but both to understand.  I’m almost done with both and will share my thoughts…


the Party

Hooper Humperdink, Not him

Don’t tell me about the party unless you want me to come.  I understand why schools have rules against passing out invitations unless everyone is included.  Our son would fall apart and for a preschooler, that is a fairly reasonable response.  Read the Dr. Seuss story of Hooper Humperdink for some perspective.

Parties and invitations are on my mind as I wrap up four weeks of my reflections on communicating the Christian faith.  This continues to weigh heavily on my mind as I wrestle with the words, seeking faithfulness to a historic message and clarity for a contemporary audience.  Looking back at my writing last week, I’m not sure I’ve done the job.  It is amazing how easily specialized language worms its way into “clear” communication.

The story so far:  God is a person, who exists outside of us.  He made a world of harmony and beauty which we have fractured.  Each of us is a victim and perpetrator in a cycle where we cannot stop damaging ourselves or each other.  This ruin springs from rejecting God and filling his place with lesser things.  The bible calls this sin and says that God himself comes to set us free.  Jesus, who is God united to humanity, though whole and without stain dies on a cross to take our place.  He suffers the consequences that we deserve for rejecting God yet on the third day rises from the dead.  His death and resurrection mean forgiveness, freedom, reconciliation, and the conquest of death for all who believe.

Invitation:   Each person then is summoned and invited to ask God for rescue from sin and all of its consequences based on what Jesus has done.  By believing that Jesus died to take God’s curse we can ask God to bless us.  By believing that Jesus died to take all the punishment for our sin, we can ask for God’s forgiveness.  By believing that Jesus died experiencing God’s rejection we can ask for God’s constant love.  By believing that Jesus rose to give new life, we can ask God for freedom from sin’s power.  By believing that Jesus rose from the dead we can ask God to give us life that will transcend death.  Each person is summoned to turn from their paths of ruin and rejection of God to the life that Christ offers.  Believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection is the beginning of a total reorientation of life.  This reorientation happens in connection with others on a similar journey and the name of this new community is the church.  Where are you, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning that you have no interest in God’s summons to a new life in Christ and 10 meaning that you are full ready to take the plunge?


With healing in his wings

I look at this painting by Bridget Riley and think of peace despite discord. Even in the fractured blocks I see water and wind descending to cleanse.  I think of the scripture “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.”

In reading through my previous post, I was verbose.  It is funny when you work on something, trying to communicate and instead confuse.  So, how do I summarize by wandering, “translation” of sin?

The world is not right and each of us is a victim and perpetrator.  We cannot stop damaging ourselves or each other.  This ruin springs from rejecting God and filling his place with lesser things.  Our selfish pursuits fracture this world, offending God himself.

What is salvation then?  God takes the initiative to rescue us according to ancient promises.  Since the world went wrong it has been his purpose to set it right and does so be entering this world in Jesus Christ who is both God and man.

Jesus, unlike us, is whole in all aspects.  Jesus whole heartedly serves God and loves man, teaching a radical ethic of goodness to which only he lives up.  Yet, instead of being favored by God and man he is rejected and unjustly executed, dying a shameful death on a cross.  Yet, death is not the last word.  On the third day, Jesus then rises from the grave.

In dying and rising Jesus choses to take the place of sinful man to set him free.  When Jesus is scorned by God as he suffers on the cross, he takes upon himself our alienation and God’s just anger at us.  When he rises Jesus  demonstrates that the power of sin and death has been broken.  Those who believe Jesus’ diagnosis of sin and his work of salvation are freed and forgiven, by virtue of his death and resurrection.  Furthermore, the inner ruin of sin is healed through the presence of the Holy Spirit, God himself, whom Jesus sends to live in the heart.  Instead of destroying ourselves, each other, and this world we are befriended by God and his restoring hand touches every area of life conforming us to the high ethic Jesus himself instituted.


Something is not right

Even in children’s stories, we find the world out of tune. Whether there are sharks swimming the bath tub, pretentious engines who will not help the stalled train full of toys over the mountain, or unkind badgers who refuse to share, good stories address the difference between the world that is and the world that ought to be.

I’ve been thinking about communicating, even translating, the essentials Christian story for the people I expect to encounter as I serve here.  Last week was the initial foray and as you may guess, installment number two tries to capture what is wrong in the world.  This is an ambitious goal for a three paragraph blog post.

(reminder # 1 – God is person outside of you.  He made a world of goodness and beauty in which we are meant to love him and serve each other.)

2.  The world is messed up and we can’t seem to make it right.  The status quo of ugliness, degradation, and ruin is both inherited and chosen so that we each end up being victims and perpetrators of wrong.  No one comes through life with their hands and conscience clean.
The polluted stream that is humanity originates in our rejecting God himself and substituting smaller things in his place.  Instead of loving and serving the very source of life and meaning, we center our lives on ourselves and whatever we desire.  Placing anything less than God at the center of existence twists us and breaks the harmony for which this world was intended.  Due to this inward sickness our lives do not conform to the standard of goodness for which God has made us.  Instead of bringing God delight and joy we are offensive and ugly in his sight.  Even worse, we cannot make ourselves whole.  This is nothing in our power to reverse the sickness and turn us from the complete ruin that awaits the close of this life.
This is bad news.  It is followed by good news, but this good news can only be understood in the light of the bad.


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