Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Are We Really Safe to Hang With?

This week's Watchword, Easter Four:
Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!
Revelation 7:10.

The "salvation" Rome offered the hearers of Revelation came at a grim expense: the denial of Christian baptism and community, the repudiation of anything having to do with Jesus Christ, betraying anyone in the church. And you still might not escape with your life. It makes you wonder how the churches survived the persecution described in sometimes horrific detail in the book.

I have to think that Christian gatherings become known as a place of safety and refuge. That hanging with them was safe in the practical and everyday, not just forever. Hence Revelation also teaches about the rewards, as well as the potential consequences, of patient endurance in hard times. One of those is that the hand of evil and persecution is actually limited by the goodness and faithfulness and integrity of Christians.

That is, the extremely difficult times are made more bearable whenever we are who we say we are- followers of Jesus. Whenever we are, in Jesus' owns words, light. (Matthew 5:14) From Heath and Kisker, in Longing for Spring, p. 58: according to Unchristian, "over 80% of people 16-29 have a negative view of Christianity and church because of, in part, the hypocrisy and self-serving swagger of Christians."

Yes, salvation- peace, safety, restoration- all belong to our God in Jesus. And because of that, we are safe to hang with, in God's love and grace.

Teacher, bring angels to us today, and give us the wisdom and depth of faith to show them hospitality and friendship. As we do to the least of these, we do to you. Let us freshly hear those words. Amen.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Measure You Give...This Week's Watchword

Revelation's for all Christians if it's for anyone at all. It's time to own that.

The church- we Christians- are really good at using texts that were written for us on someone else. It's the art of projection. Especially when it comes to the Bible, we'd rather apply its judgments to the amorphous unbelievers. But if we keep the unsavory stuff for others, does that mean that we're saying "NO THANKS" to our own blessing and healing through God's love in Jesus?

Admit it- we prefer to use God's justice on others. How else can you explain why so many read the Revelation as a condemnation for all those who disagree with their slant? That somehow our secret decoder pin is the only one that really works and if you try for another interpretation, then you must be on the side of the beast?

Why is it that we're so concerned about avoiding pain with pretended raptures* when all we're called to do is trust and love God alone and move on with our lives? And so, the word of saints and martyrs, those who endured all for Love, haunt us, as well they should:

" Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" Rev. 5: 12

*John Nelson Darby, a 19th Century English clergyman, was one of the pioneers of the rapture theory, which he extrapolated from mostly New Testament texts. In part, Darby forwarded the idea of two returns of Jesus: one for saints, the other for sinners. My observation is that his extra-biblical ideas are explained by his disaffection from and critique of the church of his day.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Courage to Be Renewed

Some in the church wonder why a leave-taking could be courageous. For a pastoral leader to take a leave may be considered courageous for several reasons, but first let's talk about courage.

I see courage as a nexus between fear and love. It's the point at which I'm willing and able to sacrifice because of my love for others in my unit, family, team, or community. Love is the underlying motivation for any act of courage, large or small.

Many of the barriers to taking sabbatical are wrapped up in our fears: uncertainty over how renewal leave or sabbatical will impact me and others in my life-- my family, spouse, or church. What about career? Will opportunities to move up be missed? The other barrier is frankly, a mix of demigod, super- human delusion, and ego: will I be seen as weak and ineffective because I've admitted the need?

Here's what the guide Clergy Renewal says: "Discerning the season in one's own life may be among the most difficult tasks. It will require moving through one's own exhaustion, disillusionment, and pain. In order to craft a realistic and refreshing plan, it will mean honestly examining the hopes, dreams, and expectations one has."

The season of discernment, testing the spirits, and even facing your demons, implies a willingness to let go and see in ways that are impossible on the 24/7 schedule of church. The biblical renewal we preach and teach does require courage. I believe those who take sabbatical are helpful examples for the rest of us. They are stepping out and saying to all of their clergy peers that there's no excuse for self-neglect and burn-out. And losing that excuse may require the most courage of all!

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Undercover" Is a Good Teacher

The lesson from last night's Undercover Boss: If you know what people value, then you can recognize, reward, and affirm them in a way that matters to them. It doesn't have to work for you. What truly motivates others may surprise us- so what? What the chiefs are learning in this series is that leadership is strengthened and not sacrificed when you start with appreciating what others value in their job. For one of the better books on this topic, see How Full is Your Bucket.

An effective method of doing undercover church is to send your first impression team members (and go once yourself if possible) to churches they have never ever been before and to have them share their experiences of being the guest or visitor. Instead of doing a long questionnaire, just have them remember two things about it: what they did and did not appreciate.

Not only will they return with a new found appreciation for their spiritual home, but also, they will have a sensitivity and compassion for what it feels like to be in a strange place. It's hard being a church guest, or if you will, a church shopper; looking for the right fit could last several months. The journey itself requires an honest look at yourself and your spiritual needs, and looking beyond what the regulars cannot see: our difficulties and limitations in offering Christ's hospitality.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On Seeing Loved Ones Again

A colleague's question chilled my spirit when he asked, tongue-in-cheek, "What happens if there's people I don't want to see?"

When it comes to resurrection, none of us can know based on experience. The Bible says lots of things about resurrection and the afterlife but not that much about the details. Biblical talk of who we're going to see doesn't really answer my friend's question, because Scripture's main theme concerns living again, seeing God and being with Jesus in a whole new way.

I think one of the great chasms which we will negotiate is the difference between the way we fashion our lives and even speak of building God's kingdom in the here and now- and the receiving of God's kingdom is gift and grace in the hereafter.

Toward this end, I find the 12th Century mystic Aelred of Rievaulx's description based on Revelation 21:1-22:5 very helpful:

What the kingdom of God will be like we cannot even think, let alone say or write. But this I know, that nothing at all will be missing that you would wish to be there, and nothing at all will be there that you would not wish to be. So there will be no discord, no envy, no tribulation, no temptation, no variable weather, no overcast skies, no suspicion, no ambition, no adulation, no detraction, no sickness, no old age, no death, no poverty, no darkness, no need to eat, drink, sleep, no tiredness, no weakness.

What good then will be lacking? Where there is no mourning or weeping or pain or sadness, what can there be but perfect joy? What is there further for us to seek? To be sure, what surpasses all these things, that is the sight, the knowledge and the love of the Creator. Who can say anything of its beauty, of its light, of its sweetness? For God will be seen as God is, fulfilling the promise which tells us: “Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and show myself to them.” From this vision will proceed that knowledge of which our Lord says, “This is eternal life, that they should know you are the one God, and him who you sent.”

Oldies but Goodies