Sunday, January 07, 2007

A blessing for the New Year

This blessing was read as the closing prayer at the recent George Fox Evangelical Seminary graduation that we attended. We were there in honor and support of Andy's mom who graduated with a master or arts in Spiritual Formation. I think it makes a great New Year's prayer.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.


- Fourfold Franciscan Blessing

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Word and Light

I read an article last night that caused me to reread the words from John 1. Listen anew to these, perhaps familiar, words.

"In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all people might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

The Word became human and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:1-15

Here are some thought provoking words about these verses from an English bishop named N. T. Wright.

"We're always in danger of domesticating Christmas and think[ing] it's only about comfort and joy. In truth, it's also about incomprehension, rejection, darkness, denial, stopped ears, and judgment. Christmas is not about the living God coming to tell us everything's all right. John's Gospel isn't about Jesus speaking the truth and everyone saying "Of course! Why didn't we realize it before?" It is about God shining his clear, bright torch into the darkness of our world, our lives, our hearts, our imaginations—and the darkness not comprehending it. It's about God, God as a little child, speaking words of truth, and nobody knowing what he's talking about.

You may be aware of that puzzlement, that incomprehension, that sense of a word being spoken which seems like it ought to mean something but which remains opaque to you. If that's the point you are at, the Good News is that along with this theme of incomprehension and rejection is a parallel theme of people hearing and receiving Jesus' words, believing them and discovering, as he says, that they are spirit and life (John 6:63). "As many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God's children, who were born not of human will or flesh, but of God" (John ?:?). "If you abide in my words, you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:?). "If anyone keeps my words, that person will never see death" (John 8:51). "You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you" (John 15:3).

Don't imagine that the world divides naturally into those who can understand what Jesus is saying and those who can't. By ourselves, none of us can. Jesus was born into a world where everyone was deaf and blind to him. But some, in fear and trembling, have allowed his words to challenge, rescue, heal, and transform them. That is what's offered at Christmas, not a better-focused religion for those who already like that sort of thing, but a Word which is incomprehensible in our language but which, when we learn to hear, understand, and believe it, will transform our whole selves with its judgment and mercy."

If you'd like to read the full article (it's a long one) you can read it here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Advent Audio Reflections

I just discovered a great resource and want to pass it on. It is a webpage of five audio Advent meditations. When the kids are in bed and you can be alone, turn on the Christmas tree lights, turn off the room lights, sit comfortably with your eyes closed, then click here.

My favorite one is "Have I missed Advent?" because it gives words to many of my feelings.

It's not too late to "get" Christmas this year; to be present to the Baby.

Friday, December 01, 2006

"A Magnificat Christmas"

I don't think I've mentioned how much I love the Relevant website and their magazine. I just read a great thought provoking review of the movie The Nativity Story.

Check out this excerpt from Scot McKnight's review.

"I have a claim I ask you to consider. Here it is: I claim the first Christmas, the one experienced by Mary and Joseph, was a Magnificat Christmas. The Magnificat, Mary’s famous song that begins, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47, TNIV), expresses the yearning of the pious poor for God’s redemptive justice and for the day when the world will be put to rights. The themes of the Magnificat, which express what Mary thinks God is doing in her son, are ending injustice and establishing justice, bringing peace and ending poverty. Those are the themes of a Magnificat Christmas."

Another voice calling us to see the clear themes of the first Christmas. How have we drifted so far from these themes in our celebration of Christmas? I'm reminded of something Rick Warren said when describing his aha moment: "How did I miss the one thousand verses about the poor?!"

Read the entire review here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Advent Experiment

So the Advent experiment that Imago Dei and four other churches are engaging in is this: What if we took what we normally spend on Christmas gifts and instead give it away to those who need it most? What if we gave oursleves relationally to our loved ones, as Jesus gave himself relationally to us, rather than give each other material gifts that we don't even remember the following the year?

You can already hear the "devil's advocates" (more on that term later) saying, "But the wise men gave gifts!"

Yes. To JESUS! Not to each other. In his sermon Rick McKinley illustrates the re-imagined magi scene like this:
(First wise man) "Oh look at the baby." (Pause. Turn to Bill.) "Bill, here's some frankincense for you."
(Second wise man, aka Bill) "Oh thank you, my wife will love this. And here's some mirh for you."

People make things.
Other people convince us we need them.
We buy them.
"That's how the empire works," says McKinley.

McKinely goes on to say, "We can almost hear the economists responding to this crazy idea with, 'Well that won’t be very good for the empire.'

And if we actually take our faith seriously and start redistributing our wealth instead of buying junk for each other, we might hear the economists say, 'We should probably get rid of the baby and keep Santa, that would be better for the empire.'”

Giving and receiving IS part of the advent story. God is giving himself and we are receiving. We don’t serve a God who just gives us stuff. He's not like one of those busy, detached dads who doesn't have a relationship with his kids so he gives them a big check at Christmas to try to make up for it.

This experiment isn't about not giving gifts. It's about trying to immitate Christ by giving ourselves as gifts to others. It's about learning how to do this. It's about trying to point to the Christmas story in the way that we give.

The average American spends $300 – $1100 on Christmas presents each year. Imago Dei and the four other churches that are partnering together have figured out that if two-thirds of their congregations take on this experiment (based on the low end of the average mentioned above) they would collect 1 million dollars! 1 million dollars of our wealth to redistribute to those who need it most. (Click here to see where the $1 million will go.)

And this is only 5 churches! What if every church participated in this experiment? What if we all decided that this just might be a gift that would bless and honor the Baby more than giving stuff to each other?

(Most of this post was taken from notes from Rick McKinley's Advent sermon.)

More on the "Vision of Advent"

I took notes on the sermon I mentioned in my previous post and wanted to share some of them.

An underlying theme of the sermon is that a defining characteristic and call to Christ-followers (ie. "the Church") is to live prophetically in a culture, which sometimes means critiquing it.

When Jesus entered the culture as a poor baby, it caused an upheaval in the society. So much so that the king had all the baby boys two-years-old and under murdered out of fear of this newborn king.

As American followers of Christ we have somehow married our capitalist consumerism culture with Jesus in an attempt to smooth out the tension that exists between the story of Christmas and the values of our culture. But by doing this, we’re missing/changing the Christmas story.

Paul sums up the story of the incarnation in 2 Corinthians 8:9 when he says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

The Christmas story is a story of the redistribution of wealth – that Christ who had everything in heaven become impoverished and entered into a world of poverty so that we might enter the blessing and wealth of His life.

Jesus didn't cling to his status or his wealth. He layed it down and gave it away so that the world could be blessed. Does our celebration of Christmas reflect this? Do we who are rich lay down our wealth and give it away so that others can be blessed?

Check out these statistics:
The U.S. spends $7 billion on Halloween
The U.S. spends $450 billion on Christmas

Then we read about the $20 billion that needs to be raised to solve Aids problems and the $100 billion that the UN is trying to come up with to solve the water crisis (lack of clean water is the cause of a huge amount of disease in developing countries) and we think, "How can we ever come up with the money to solve these problems?"

Hmm...any ideas?

"Vision of Advent"

I recently listened to a sermon from a church in Portland called Imago Dei. (You may have heard of this church through Don Miller's books.) I am so challenged by this sermon and their vision of advent that I can't stop thinking about it or talking about it with people. I've copied and pasted the sermon summary from Imago Dei's website below. (I don't think they'll mind.) You can also listen to the sermon here, which I highly recommend. I'll share some more thoughts on this vision in another post.

"The gospel is not bound to any given culture. It is a-cultural. It can enter any specific culture and engage with different redemptive windows of that culture. This is our philosophy of ministry at Imago Dei in a nutshell. However, when the gospel enters a culture, in addition to redeeming aspects of it the gospel also critiques pieces of the culture that are opposed to the values of God’s Kingdom. This is what it means to live a prophetic life. We see this type of critique in the incarnation itself. Herod’s Kingdom (the culture in which Christ literally showed up) was one driven by the values of mass wealth, power of military force, greed, and personal gain. Christ enters this culture through poverty, weakness, dependency, and sacrifice. This is the biblical picture of advent.

How does our current celebration of Christmas reflect this incarnation? That is, does our experience of the advent season match the biblical values of the gospel? What can our advent season look like this year if we intentionally choose to be a prophetic voice in our culture? The last thing we want to do is be obnoxious about it. But if we choose to reflect the Kingdom values in this season, we probably will be looked at funny. Are you willing to be looked at funny this season for the sake of the gospel? Here are three themes we see in the advent of Christ that we would like to pursue as a congregation:

God became poor so that we could be rich.
What are the social implications of this for us? How can we choose not to waste what we have but give it away in ways that meet significant needs of those around us? Can our gift giving feed hunger instead of greed?

God gave himself relationally.
First and foremost we desire to give gifts to each other this season that are relationally driven. We desire to learn what it means to give of ourselves and not just give stuff. We will be resourcing you with many ideas on how to approach this.

When Jesus showed up, people worshipped him.
What would it look like if Jesus was actually the focus of Advent? Can we respond like the shepherds and Magi, who celebrated the first Advent by praising God and worshipping the Son?

When we receive, we receive Jesus, not stuff.
If Jesus became poor that we may be rich, are we truly receiving the riches that he has given us? Are we receiving Him? How do we as a community ultimately embrace Jesus this Advent season and not be distracted by all the hype around us?"

Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Women Of Vision"

Andy and I just heard Renee Stearns, wife of World Vision President Richard Stearns, speak in Lake Grove. It was a "speaker event" for Women of Vision, a volunteer ministry of World Vision that is a "partnership of Christian women who are called to invest their time, intellect, compassion, creativity, and finances to meet the needs of impoverished and oppressed women and children throughout the world."

As of now there are only 13 Women of Vision chapters in the world and one of them is in our backyard, the Columbia-Willamette Chapter. I am excited about this group and wonder if anyone else might get excited too. Check out the links. If you only have time for one, go to the local chapter's website. I'm particularly interested in their Advocacy page and the Contact Your Representatives page.

Seven Ways to Pray in 2007 (from an insert in World Vision Magazine, Winter 2006)

When You
1 Take a shower - pray for clean water
2 Go to work - pray for child laborers
3 Eat lunch - pray for hungry and malnourished children
4 Watch the news - pray for education
5 Arrive home - pray for displaced children
6 Take a vitamin - pray for medical access
7 Go to bed - pray for orphans

"And prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. ... The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." - James 5:15-16

One other great resource that I want to check out is a bible study they've put together called "The Heart of the Matter: Touching the Lives of Women in Poverty."

I think I'll save their "Five Ways You Can Be an Advocate for Children" for another post. If anything in this post tugged at your heart, pray, and then let me know. Let's open ourselves to whatever God has for us.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Meal Time Prayer

I just wrote out this prayer and put it on our table. I found it in Sojourners magazine. My daughter has enjoyed trying to recite it at meal times.

"Lord, to those who hunger, give bread.
And to those who have bread, give the hunger for justice."
- Latin American prayer

I'm still trying to find time to blog again. I'm hoping that after MOPS gets up and running in the next couple of weeks, I'll have more free time to do so.