Category Archives: Current Issues

What does JOY look like in a suffering world?

ORLANDO CANDLES C0014124821--720160614231037000Last Sunday’s services followed the 6.12.16 shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. We began a new teaching series, The Heart of Worship, a bit different than originally planned. The music and liturgy reflected our collective lament and our common humanity. You can listen to the sermon here. It’s called, Worshiping in a Broken World.

 

We explored 3 facets of JOY, which are at the heart of Christian worship based in Hebrews 10:11-25:

“Joy because” which is rooted in the assurance of our Faith;
“Joy in spite of ” based on the  confession of our Hope;
“Joy against” motivating our Love in action.

 

You can listen to a moving song called “Pulse,” written after the shootings, along with the pictures of those who died.

Is Jesus Vision really OUR vision?

logoIMG_8474Beginning at Advent, we are preaching through the Gospel of Luke this year at Christ Church. We are taking the first 3 weeks of the new year to explore the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry recorded in Luke, chapters 3-5. We’re asking the challenging question, “Is Jesus’ vision OUR vision?” Listen to the first sermon, If Jesus Came to Town, here. 

Our statement of vision goes like this:

Christ Church will be a diverse community that lives the
Good News of Jesus Christ for the flourishing of all people
throughout our region and around the world.

In this first teaching, we discover:
/ The vital ministry of John the Baptist as the “hinge” figure between the Old and New Testaments; pointing to Jesus through whom “ALL humanity will see the salvation of God!”

/ The importance and hope that comes from true repentance and asking the Lord, “What shall we do?”

/ Why discipleship is for everyday. “Faith at Work” matters to God! (One of our Mission Priorities is to become and make committed disciples of Christ who glorify God and embody our faith in every area of life.

/ How the baptism of Jesus reveals the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and foreshadows Christ’s death and resurrection.

/ How the genealogy in Luke proclaims Jesus as the New Adam!


Jesus has indeed “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14) Does He find us turning to God? Eager to follow him as a true disciple? Living the Good News of Jesus’ reign? Working for the flourishing of ALL the people God loves?

Part 2 will come from Luke, ch. 4, “If Jesus Came to Church!”

“Few are Guilty…but All are Responsible”

heschelI’ve decided to turn a Facebook post into a blogpost with additional links based on response to this important point. It’s something I have found helpful in our often defensive conversations around racial tensions and efforts at reconciliation. These words come from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (d. 1972), the great Jewish theologian and sometimes activist: “FEW ARE GUILTY, BUT ALL ARE RESPONSIBLE.” (from his book, The Prophets.)

Michael Bernstein, commented on these words in a 2013 article around the Travon Martin case…

“In one brilliant stroke, Heschel is saying that there are some who willfully cause injury to others because they fail to treat them as fully human, but the vast majority harbor not malice, but insufficient concern. We are not a country made up of racists, in the stark ideological sense of the word, but a society that is still yet to come to grips with how corrosive it is to become indifferent to the lives of those who are regarded as other.”


Self-examination of my indifference is a challenging step that the love of Jesus compels me  to take.

Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

praxis_encountering_godThis sermon in our Praxis series begins with a pastoral statement I made re: the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. You can listen to the entire sermon here. I also am including the written version of the statement as some have requested. It was helpful for many and I trust it will continue to set the tone for further gracious dialog and Christ-like ministry. Continue reading Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

Encountering God in Lament

praxis_encountering_godWe had some web issues that delayed our posting of last Sunday’s sermon. I also wanted to include part of the liturgy we used in praying with our brothers and sisters in Charleston.  Here is the sermon from Psalm 42-43.

The words from One Church Liturgy:

A Call To Worship for the Tragedy In Charleston

[Leader]
We stand before you today, oh Lord
Hearts broken, eyes weeping, heads spinning
Our brothers and sisters have died
They gathered and prayed and then were no more
The prayer soaked walls of the church are spattered with blood
The enemy at the table turned on them in violence
While they were turning to you in prayer

[All]
We stand with our sisters
We stand with our brothers
We stand with their families
We stand to bear their burden in Jesus’ name

[Leader]
We cry out to you, oh Lord
Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, heads spinning
The violence in our streets has come into your house
The hatred in our cities has crept into your sanctuary
The brokenness in our lives has broken into your temple
The dividing wall of hostility has crushed our brothers and sisters
We cry out to you, May your Kingdom come, may it be on earth as it is in heaven

[All]
We cry out for our sisters
We cry out for our brothers
We cry out for their families
We cry out for peace in Jesus’ name

[Leader]
We pray to you today, oh Lord
Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, souls stirring
We pray for our enemies, we pray for those who persecute us
We pray to the God of all Comfort to comfort our brothers and sisters in their mourning
We pray that you would bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes
We pray that you would give them the oil of joy instead of mourning
We pray that you would give them a garment of praise in place of a spirit of despair

[All]
We pray for our sisters
We pray for our brothers
We pray for their families
We pray for their comfort in Jesus’ name

[Leader]
We declare together, oh Lord
With hearts breaking, eyes weeping and souls stirring
We will continue to stand and cry and weep with our brothers and sisters
We will continue to make a place of peace for even the enemies at our table
We will continue to open our doors and our hearts to those who enter them
We will continue to seek to forgive as we have been forgiven
We will continue to love in Jesus’ name because you taught us that love conquers all

[All]
We declare our love for you, our Sisters
We declare our love for you, our Brothers
We declare our love for you, their families
We declare our love as one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism
We declare they do not grieve alone today

An Ebola Doctor on ‘True Neighbor Love’

aug-11432LR-P-005-Dr.-BrantlyListen to this short interview with the Samaritan’s Purse doctor, Kent Brantly. A wonderful reminder of “compassion trumping fear.” He closes with these words which, I believe, are deeply relevant to many other complex issues that can challenge and divide us.

A lesson I’ve learned is – we need to worry about the people we don’t know just as much as the people we do know. We all have the tendency to have compassion on the people we know, on the people we love. When we can get to a point where we feel that same sense of empathy and compassion for people who are suffering even though we don’t know them – I think that’s what Jesus is talking about when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Three Ordinary Radicals

Carlson pic TimeIn our series, ALL IN! we come to the 8th Commandment against stealing. I called it, Who are you Robbing?  which you can access here. We highlighted three doctors – ordinary servants of Christ – who have freely given their lives out of love for God and their African neighbors. Their stories teach us the depth of what it means to not waste our lives and to live with radical generosity.

This month is the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Paul Carson, Evangelial Covenant missionary, in the Congo in November 1964. He became known as the “Congo Martyr” – killed by insurgent rebels. The story was featured on the covers of both Time and Life magazines. His tombstone, bears the inscription “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Shortly after Carlson’s death, his wife, Lois and others formed the Paul Carlson Medical Program with the goal of raising money to support the hospital and local economy. Since 2000, it now operates under the name Paul Carlson Partnership out of Chicago with a mission that focuses on investing in health care, economic development, and education in Central Africa. Read more here about this remarkable life and the on-going work in Congo.

FAST FORWARD to Afghanistan, April 2014.

umanos-follow-up-241x300Dr. Jerry Ulmanos was a pediatrician, a life-long member of a Covenant Church, who was one of three Americans slain by a member of the Afghan security  force in Kabul. His widow, Jan said, “Jerry always wanted to serve underserved populations. Afghanistan was just one of them. He always had a desire to be the hands and feet of Christ. He was always a light for Christ, and he had a love and commitment that he expressed for the Afghan people because of that love for Christ.”

She added, “We would really like for all of our friends and family and anybody else to please honor Jerry’s memory by opening up your heart to the Afghan people as well as any other populations around the world that need to see Christ’s love.

One of Jerry’s heroes was Dr. Paul Carlson. His story motivated Umanos to pursue a career in medicine and in missions. On his medical school application, Jerry wrote: “In conclusion, I want to underscore clearly that my desire to be a medical missionary is not some command of God against my wishes…On the contrary, I believe God wants me to serve him and has left the manner by which I do this up to me. And becoming a doctor and a missionary is what I truly desire. Dr. Umanos embodied what it means to be an unreserved disciple of Jesus Christ. You can read more of his story here.

Nancy WritebolFINALLY – on the front lines of the Ebola crisis in Liberia

Dr. Nancy Writebol was the first Westerner to contract the Ebola virus this July. She is a missionary doctor who was serving in Liberia. Read her story reflecting on why “Risk is Right,” in an interview from Nov. 8th. It is a powerful read! 

I ended the sermon that included these stories – with an excerpt from Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poem (1993 I)

Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes…

Every day you have less reason
not to give your life away.

‘You’re killing me!’ – the many faces of destructive talk

Death and life are in the power of the tongue…!  Proverbs (18:21)

The 6th Commandment against murder guards the sacredness of human life. In our series, “All In” I called this teaching, “You’re Killing Me: The 6th Commandment and the Sacredness of Human Life,” which I encourage you to listen to here. 

I crafted what I called an Alphabet of Verbal Anger – OR – 26 Variations on the Theme of Murder. I’ve included some of the results of each here:

A – Abuse – yes, I said abuse that can’t be called anything less

B – Bullying that seeks to create fear

C – Constant Criticism that erodes respect

D – Dismissiveness that belittles 

E – Explosions that destroy any peace

F – Forcing compliance that takes away freedom

G – Gossip that ruins reputations

H – Humiliation that puts you down

I – Intimidation that controls and frightens

J – Judgment that criticizes and tears down

K – Killing the spirit that paralyzes

L – Lying – that kills trust

M – Minimizing that devalues

N – Name-calling that attacks your identity

O – Offensive, profane words that spoil

P – Put-downs that cover over weakness

Q – Quarreling that avoids the issues

R – Ridicule that erodes self-image

S – Sarcasm that reveals hatred

T – Threatening that manipulates

U – Undermining that can lower respect

V – Violating that creates insecurity

W – Wounding that weakens the spirit

X – eXasperation that urges you to give up

Y – Yelling that batters the senses

Z – Zeal that can include a false spirituality, covering over un-Christlike behaviors

NOTE: One husband suggested that he’d like to craft an Alphabet of Upbuilding Speech! You may want to work on that one too!

In the sermon, I seek to be sensitive also to those currently in abusive situations. There are levels of domestic violence, and physical violence is always preceded by verbal abuse. Our denomination has a ministry called Advocacy for Victims of Abuse with online resources here.

http://vimeo.com/72828129/download?t=1414461846&v=184757714&s=e0c26f94dea0db2b7ae84f2eee7e6d09

Beauty and the Beast

In an earlier post, “Beauty will save the World,”  I highlighted the last section of the poem by Czeslaw Milosz called One More Day. Milosz lived through the horrors of attrocities in 20th cent. Europe. He draws attention to the reality of moral absolutes built in by God. In light of the current raw evils that seem to  flood over us, I find the whole poem timely and poignant.

One More Day

Comprehension of good and evil is given in the running of the blood.
In a child’s nestling close to its mother, she is security and warmth,
In night fears when we are small, in dread of the beast’s fangs and in the terror of dark rooms,
In youthful infatuations where childhood delight find completion.
 
And should we discredit the idea for its modest origins?
Or should we say plainly that good is on the side of the living
And evil on the side of a doom that lurks to devour us?
Yes, good is an ally of being and the mirror of evil is nothing,
Good is brightness, evil darkness, good high, evil low,
According to the nature of our bodies, of our language.
 
The same could be said of beauty. It should not exist.
There is not only no reason for it, but an argument against.
Yet undoubtedly it is, and is different from ugliness.
 
The voices of birds outside the window when they greet the morning
And iridescent stripes of light blazing on the floor,
Or the horizon with a wavy line where the peach-colored sky and the dark-blue mountain meet.
Or the architecture of a tree, the slimness of a column crowned with green.
 
All that, hasn’t it been invoked for centuries
As mystery which, in one instant, will be suddenly revealed?
And the old artist thinks that all his life he has only trained his hand.
One more day and he will enter the core as one enters a flower.
 
And though the good is weak, beauty is very strong.
Nonbeing sprawls, everywhere it turns into ash whole expanses of being,
It masquerades in shapes and colors that imitate existence
And no one would know it, if they did not know that it was ugly.
 
And when people cease to believe that there is good and evil
Only beauty will call to them and save them
So that they will still know how to say: this is true and that is false.

(from  Unattainable Earth, and also New and Collected Poems 1931-2001)

Beyond Tolerance: Being the Church in our Culture

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.027How Christ-followers engage with the culture they are a part of is a crucial and sometimes complex question. I have been working over the last two years on three essential ingredients from the Scriptures that put ‘flesh’ on being ‘salt and light’ in the culture. (Matthew 5:13-16) God calls us to be people of CONVICTION, CIVILITY, and COMPASSION.  The audio of the teaching is here, and I’m adding the illustrations I use below. I’ve made some changes which I trust will be helpful. I welcome your comments.

Civility is becoming recognized as a public virtue far superior to an often mushy Tolerance – which does not even require love for the other as ‘neighbor!’

The apostle Peter put it this way:

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.  (1 Peter 3:15-17, ESV)

Let me take this a step further explaining why I believe God calls us to all three of these essentials…

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.024Without CONVICTION, we can be aimless or even compromising, not pointing people to ‘the Good, the True, and the Beautiful’ which come from God.

 

 

 

 

 

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.025Without COMPASSION, we can be impractical and just ‘live in our head’; or worse – be people without embodied love in action, and ultimately become invisible to the culture in need around us!

 

 

 

 

 

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.026 Without CIVILITY, we can become a limited Christian ‘ghetto’ that doesn’t engage the culture. Or, we can be only a marginalized subculture – unpersuasive and the opposite of the Good News aroma of God!

(Richard Mouw’s Uncommon Decency is a must read on the subject of civility with convictions.)

So, let’s grow in our biblical convictions of truth while embodying and proclaiming the Gospel of hope in Christ – all with a grace and respect among the sacred humans we live with every day!