Jibstay

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Weather Conditions


The day was gray and overcast. It was our daughter's last day in California and the weather did not look good. We hoped to get up into the mountains behind the house and see the sights. We had the time set aside so we decided to head up into the hills anyway. The weather got worse the higher we drove. Clouds turned into pea-soup fog. But we kept driving up the 3,900 feet. Soon the sky seemed to brighten from above and there were hints of blue. Before we knew it we broke out of the fog into a brilliant blue-sky day. We drove above the clouds and oh what a view (see photo).
My spiritual life is too often like our day before driving. All I see around me are the clouds at sea level. I view my weather from too low a vantage point. This morning I was reading Donald Miller's "Blue Like Jazz" and it was a heart-ride up the mountains, though the clouds and into the sun. I need outside help to get above the weather and see the blue sky. When we used to live in Muskegon, Michigan, the prevailing westerlies would "pile up" moisture laden clouds over Muskegon for weeks at a time, giving us continual snow called "lake effect." We would get so desperate to get out of the gloomy weather of cloudiness, we would drive the 50-some miles east to Grand Rapids, just to see some sunshine.
What gets you above the clouds? I find my individual devotional practice and routine does the lion's share of the work, and I'm not sure that's all that good of a thing. It's all so dependant on my individual work. Where does the community fit in? How does worship work when it's my job? I do find that walking up in those hills with an ipod tuned to different sorts of music lifts my spirits. I guess that living in California is giving me a new appreciation for the value of elevation, a term not normally used in the midwest. Maybe too many evangelicals just aren't used to elevation after getting rid of the mysteries post-reformation. I need spiritual elevation so I can see the real view of things, and not life in the fog.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

PodCasting...

With the help of my son, Isaac, I now have my first two podcasts... See the links on the side to dl my sermon from Christmas Eve as well as this mornings' Sunday service.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Willow Wimping

I know that I promised to not get cynical or sarcastic during Christmas (and the rest of the year). But I just finished watching the network evening news shows and both ABC and CBS featured spots on the mega-church decision to not hold services on Christmas Day. The networks were amazingly hard on this decision, calling it based on marketing more than theology. What impressed me was Rev. Gene Apple from Willow Creek. He stood there and took the heat as the spokeperson for Willow Creek. Who is Gene Apple? Where is Bill Hybels?
The absence of the big names, standing in front of their decisions struck me as singularly wimpy. Send out a staff person to speak for the organization and take the heat off of the head guys. That's cold. The decision to cancel services is their decision. But the way the founding pastors are ducking the spotlight is telling. Oooops.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Gift


As a Dad and husband, I have been active searching for just the right presents for my wife and adult children. That process gets tougher and tough as kids become adults and go off and purchase what they need when they want something. It is also more of a challenge since this year they are traveling long distances by air to spend Christmas with us in California. So our gifts have been very selective and intentionally easier to transport.
Today as I was driving around I heard a radio show about relationships that hit me hard. The speakers contrasted the difference between holding grievances and grudges and giving compliments and grace. They spoke freely about how much one single compliment can mean to a person for a whole day and, how errosive criticism and complaints can be.
I'm going to try to give positive words and avoid my more natural orientation to cynicism and criticism. I'd like to be able to spend one whole day without a negative word. What difference would that make to my wife, my kids, my staff and church members?
As I go wallking in the hills behind our house, I have noticed the array of splendid flowers on the hillside that just grow there and bloom and splash the world with colors; no analysis, no debate, no justification, just beauty. May our words be flowers along the road this Christmas.
Peace!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

View from the Top

This is no Christmas view I've ever been used to. Last week Martha and I were driven up into the mountains overlooking Santa Barbara and we came to the highest point, called La Cumbra peak. At about 3,900 feet look straight south into the Pacific ocean we could see the barrier islands that shelter Santa Barbara from storms and the slim section of land that so many people want to live on, driving home prices through the roof! But getting this perspective so helps me see the community I am called to live in and serve.
Too often we don't get above the everyday stuff to see the bigger picture of where we really live and who we really serve. We get stuck in the ruts of routine and tedium, maintenance and mollification. Soemtimes life in the church seems more like life in a fox-hole, ducking for cover from shots coming from the enemy in front and allies behind. The only thing we might see is the sky above, but no grand vistas and awesome views.
Christmas time is the time to get some views from the top, celestial sounds with brass and harp, full throated singers and magestic pipe organs. It's a time for gold lame' and brocaded rope, it's a time for lavish feasts and deep wines and candles and fires. It's a time for great art and long stories. It's a time to really ponder if angels really hovered over those shepherds, and if they hover now.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Spiritual Ronin II

Spiritual Ronin are fascinating types of people. For all sorts of reasons they do not join a local church. I had some excellent comments and observations about some of those reasons. Often they become "masterless" due to institutional failure and infidelity, they were betrayed and absued by their "masters". Where is there a pastor who has not heard painful tales of spiritual abuse by pastors, teachers, youth leaders, parents, etc.?? It's truly awful and painful to witness. I have served churches that were known as "safe places" for burned out staff from mega-churches to come for healing. Often I would see them slip in the back door toward the end of the first hymn and leave during the second stanza of the last hymn. And during the service they would weep. They were hungry and afraid; afraid to ever let themselves become vulnerable again to church leaders (especially senior pastors) but they could not deny their hunger and attraction for the church. These became some of my best friends, though never leaders and seldom members....for all the right reasons. I think these ones need love and compassion and lots of space and time in which we can listen to their stories and repent on behalf of the body of Christ for the abuse they suffered.

But then there are some other Ronin. They are the worshipless Ronin. These are the ones who have advanced degrees, have authored books, teach classes and lead retreats. The are bold experts in all sorts of areas of spirituality. In front of a crowd they are excellent speakers. They bring brilliant insights and hold your attention. But when their class is over they do not follow you into worship, but they go home. Unless they are up front and leading, they aren't there. They don't worship with anyone. They worship alone.

Is worship either singular or plural? I have heard strong arguments for the strength and vibrancy of the interior life. I love the devotional classics and time alone in my room with my candle and cup of coffee, deep in the word of God or words of a'Kempis. But is that enough? Do I not also need to be in a gathering with other believers young and old, mature and beginners because that too is essential? In the church I serve now there is no "Pastoral Prayer". I miss publicly praying for the local church and interceeding for the body. I count it a high privilege and honor and I love carefully crafting the very best words to speak to God on behalf of my people. Instead it rotates among the memebers. Sometimes they miss mentioning an important concern and critically ill member. And other times the windows of heaven open and I am ushered into the throne room of grace because in an unguarded moment I let a brother or sister pray for me. I am discovering I need them to pray for me. I need not only to lead and preach, but I desperately need to worship with them. So that's why I am having a harder and harder time asking bright folk to come and teach if I don't see that they also come and worship.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

What's The Big Deal?

The shadow of C.S. Lewis's "Screwtape Letters" seems to have more influence than the recently released "Chronicles of Narnia." I don't recall exactly the specific letter, but I remember the sentiment of the elder demon to the younger that real success for their dark cause was to get christians exercised about non-issues, trivia. If christians can exert their best effort on fluff, then there is no time for the big isses, the big deal.

This week's news has been an interesting toss-up of petty issues. Issue number one is what to call this time of year: Happy Holiday or Merry Christmas? Are the secularists winning if the word "Christmas" is removed from greetings and signage? Does saying "Merry Christmas" mean that subtle evangelism is happening? Jerry Falwell and other big hitters are going after stores that instruct employees to say "Happy Holidays", encouraging christians to boycott these places. Isn't the word "holiday" a derrivation of "Holy" "Day"? And Christmas means "Christ's" "Mass" or presence? ARen't Holy Days those days where God is particularly present among people? Is there a difference here?

Then there is Christmas Day service cancellations. On Friday's New York Time's front conver was an article about the mega-churches that have cancelled Sunday morning services on Christmas Day because they were not family-friendly. A number of big Covenant Churches (Life Church in Normal) and smaller (Ocean Hills in Santa Barbara) have followed suit; deciding to focus on Christmas Eve outreach services instead of Sunday morning worship. Now is this a big deal? I don't agree with cancelling Suunday worship because I think the bery best family-friendly way to honor Christmas is with other christians in a church setting worshiping God. I mean, isn't that the whole point of Christmas? God decided to take on human flesh and he arrived among us. I want to celebrate that in a big way, not with a dvd in my living room in my bathrobe and pajamas.

The amount of time and energy going in to these issues is sad. How does Darfur fit into these conversations? or child abuse? or hunger and poverty? or peace and justice? There is no great Aslan roaring here, only screwtape and wormwood smirking.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Spiritual Ronin

The movie "Ronin" is one of my all-time favorites, starring Robert DeNiro as the anti-hero loner battling against forces of evil along with some really sweet car chases in southern France and Paris. Ronin are, by classical definition, master-less Samurai warriors who roam the countryside sometimes doing good deeds and sometimes creating trouble, but always independent and self-directed. There is about them the Clint Eastwood kind of loner who figths the system and bureacrats above and the bad guys below.

Spiritual Ronin are on the loose. I see them more and more these days and don't quite know what to make of them. They are men and women, committed Christians, who run solo or in groups, but not under the direction of the church. These are persons who reject or avoid church membership, keeping their options open for more pure spiritual pursuits. The assume spiritual leader independent of larger church confirmation of gifts and skills. They offer individual mentoring and retreating unconnected with local body-life, though the local church does benefit from Christians who grow in theri faith.

I met a man in Minnesota some years ago who described himself as a spiritual coach. That was an intriguing term to me, so I asked for some clarification. He said he worked with pastors. That was good, I thought. I asked him what he did with pastors. He said he shepherded them and trained them in biblical skills, care, prayer, spiritual discernment. I interrupted and asked him if that wasn't what the seminary was supposed to do. He said, yes, but I do it more intensively. Hmmm. Accountable to no one and running alone. Sounded like a Ronin to me.

The troubling trend of the spiritual Ronin is not their integrity or energy, but the unwillingness to submit to any authority other than themselves. Clearly the institutional church has "blown it" over the years by focussing on petty and trivial matters. But it is still the church and like like the Roman Centurion, we all (myself first) must be under authority in order to validly practice authority. That seems to run counter to the grain of much in our culture of vaunted individualism, independence, and selfishness. I like having my choices and the freedom to choose from a menu of options. I think committees are boring, nurseries are noisy and messy, and paying insurance and utility bills is not exciting. But that's body life; caring for everyone from the cradle to the grave.

When I approached a committed young Christian the other day about applying for membership in this local church, he said that he had not ever heard a good argument for membership and thought it wasn't really all that necessary. So this is my first attempt at assembling a spiritual rationale for membership versus Ronin.

1. Membership affirms I Corinthians 12 and the presence and necessity of the Body of Christ.
2. Membership affirms the validity of Ephesians 5:20 and "muutual submission" beyond the marriage relationship but in the body-life context.
3. Membership affirms the truth of Acts 2:44 in that beleivers "were together and had everything in common"
4. Membership believes in the promise of Ephesians 2:19 that we are no longer strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of the hosuehold.

Membership affirms the importance of incarnational ministry. Jesus took on a fleshly body that existed in time and space and so does the church. It is mystical, universal and eternal, but it has concrete and local expressions. Membership puts my life in the context of servanthood to something larger than me. Membership says that I am committed to a community of believers, imperfect as they are (and I am), to love them. That community can count on me. It's the transition from dating to marriage. I invest myself in the life of one woman(or man as the case may be). Membership says that all people count, not just the ones of my cohort, age level, or interest area. The gatherd body of Christ is a rumply thing, made up of crying babies, stressed parents, Down Syndrome adults, happy and sad, rich and poor, liberal and conservative. It's the real thing!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Sharky Water?

The transition from Minnesota life to California life is a pretty easy one to make. I don't think the reverse is true; moving from temperate to extreme must be tougher. I realize now how insensitive I have been all these years to my friends from the West Coast who hit the midwest in the throes of winter. I smirked at them and called them "wimpy". Those of us from Minnesota would try to out-cold them with stories of falling through the ice, driving on frozen lakes, throwing boiling water into the air at -20 and watching it turn into a cloud. "Top that!" we'd say. Earthquakes and mudslides and forest-fires were too sporadic to really compete with "tough-guy" weather stories.

Yesterday I was talking with a couple from church who are ardent surfers. They were going on a retreat up the coast towards San Francisco for the weekend. I asked them if they were taking their surf-boards, because in the Fall the surf is stronger and better. "No" she said casually, "Those waters are a little too sharky for me." SHARKY!! Does that mean what it sounds like, I aksed? "Yeah," she said, "Surfers are getting BIT there all the time." Give me COLD WEATHER any day over Sharky waters!

Sharky Water?

The transition from Minnesota life to California life is a pretty easy one to make. I don't think the reverse is true; moving from temperate to extreme must be tougher. I realize now how insensitive I have been all these years to my friends from the West Coast who hit the midwest in the throes of winter. I smirked at them and called them "wimpy". Those of us from Minnesota would try to out-cold them with stories of falling throuogh the ice, driving on frozen lakes, throwing boiling water into the air at -20 and watching it turn into a cloud. "Top that!" we'd say. Earthquakes and mudslides and forest-fires were too sporadic to really compete with "tough-guy" weather stories.

Yesterday I was talking with a couple from church who are ardent surfers. They were going on a retreat up the coast towards San Francisco for the weekend. I asked them if they were taking their surf-boards, because in the Fall the surf is stronger and better. "No" she said casually, "Those waters are a little too sharky for me." SHARKY!! Does that mean what it sounds like, I aksed? "Yeah," she said, "Surfers are getting BIT there all the time." Give me COLD WEATHER any day over Sharky waters!

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