Friday, January 20, 2006

The 24 of the Gospels.

Most Monday nights, you'll find a handful of friends and me gathered in the village of Stone Mountain, Georgia looking to study scripture, wrestle with questions, and be friends in the midst of all the "stuff' that comprises life alone and together as part of the body of Christ.

This week we launched a study on the Gospel Mark that really stands out amongst gospel accounts. Wow - what a fast paced narrative of the life of Christ. It is absolutely action packed! It's a bit like the "24" of the synoptic gospels.

From the start of His public ministry to the start of the passion in 10 short chapters and with a lesser focus on the words of Christ and a heightened underscoring of His action as the Suffering Servant, the theme verse seems to be Mark 10:45. " For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." NIV

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said,“ What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Often true, don't you think? So, in light of that thought, the study in Mark is promises to be insightful and speak loudly to the person and mission of Christ.

Anyway, enough for now. It's time to wrap up my coffee and head back to the office. As I do, I envision some of the interactions of Christ (The Servant) with the demoniac, the self-righteous, the sick, the hungry, and the faithful and I rejoice in His example and authority. May I learn from His life and live in His way.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Growing Up Southern: Was it Really a Dream?

Growing up in the South, bigotry is not unfamiliar to me. I saw it much of my life and, sad to say, I am convinced it is still with us today. Moreover, I am grieved to think that our society - and especially the church of Jesus Christ - could somehow go about their business (certainly not the whole of His purposes) whilst giving a "don't rock the boat" nod and tacit approval to the sin of racism woven deeply into the fabric of our society.

I do not remember "Colored Only" and "White Only" water fountains. Born in 1961, I missed seeing them at an age that could register in my memory; however, I do remember segregated waiting rooms at the doctor’s office and “Colored Only” lines at the theater that entered the side entrance and led to the balcony. (Ugh, can you believe it? )

At the time, I was naïve and clueless as to what I saw. It was a cluelessness due, at least in part, to the absence bigotry in my upbringing and home. Also, since primary school (Grade 1), I had always had black friends and it wasn't until later - High School to be exact- that I began to see that this was the exception and not the rule for some in rural South Carolina.

I remember the telephone call to my parents when some people in my hometown saw me riding around town after track practice with one of my close friends - who happened to be black. I also remember hearing of a different call that Joe, my friend, received from his grandmother when she saw me give him a ride home the same day. How absurd - two friends enjoying their friendship yet rippling the waters in a pond that we had nothing to do with creating. This was not OK; nonetheless, it was clearly real.

I'm happy to say that I saw Joe again recently. He brought a smile to face and there was sincere joy for us both as we remembered the days and our many friends (both black and white) at Wade Hampton High. In fact, it was a class reunion and I delighted to see Louis, Lester, Sonny, Yvonne, Deborah and others whom I count as friends and can name amongst those, with whom I share good memories, which never made color as a hindrance to friendship.

Thank God that we were too naive to listen to "older and wiser" around us. Today, I feel God's smile as I remember those days and -although I must repent of many sins in my youth - racism and hatred is not among them.

What follows is an excerpt from the I Have a Dream speech of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. from 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. For the complete text and links to the complete audio and video, you can visit Doug's Digs. It is clearly worth the read.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream ….With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Plastic People and a Smiling Shepherd

"A happy heart makes the face cheerful." (Proverbs 15:13a NIV)

OK. I admit a moment of weakness; yet, the resulting chuckle was good for my spirit when a close friend sent this photo via email this week. (Slide Show Here)

It just so happened to arrive to my inbox right on the heels of a reasonably tough pastoral challenge in the life of our fellowship. (Things are working out fine; however, the progress is not without a bit of pain, humility, body life, and restoration.) Nonetheless, I must admit seeing the photos of a LEGO congregation sparked a thought....hmmm.... plastic people in a LEGO gathering there's a church that's easy to pastor..

OK enough. Last I checked, easy isn't the objective. Presenting one another complete (mature) in Christ - that's the aim. So, humor aside, I continue to purpose to love my brothers, sisters and friends as Christ has loved me and all others. By God's grace, may we love one another ferventlyand for real.

"We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." (Paul, Col 1: 28-29, NIV)

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Hatching Eggs in a Dingy at Sea

Recently, I’ve been grappling with church, life, discipleship, and integrating ministry to the whole of my life. This is a good thing.

I hope to begin posting again soon; however, I often find I need seasons of wrestling to sort things out. Sometimes I feel a tinge of guilt over less frequent posting. After all, I do want The Village Muse
to be a place others frequent to enjoy; yet, I do not think (unfortunately) I will ever find myself lingering long in the camp of those bloggers who post daily. And, for me this is OK.

My wrestling, these days at least, seems not to be with God or His will per se; for, He most certainly has my heart and I’ve been to the “woodshed” of Hebrews 12 often enough to cherish surrender and His embrace over rebellion and loving discipline. No, today I wrestle with what to do with the hurt I feel over seeing pain, loss, and damage in the lives of those around me who struggle and suffer, often needlessly, due to their own choices and the choices of others whilst we as the body of Christ seem pleased to insulate ourselves from those who suffer in need of hope.

I know there is a better way for Christ has spoken into the melee and that you and I (His church) are light bearers of the reality of His life and incarnation; yet, it seems we often choose to be uninvolved. Worst yet, we even, at times, opt to be
unloving, adulterous, spec picking and plank-eyed (Matt 7:3-5) in our tone and actions rather than behave as the beloved bride of a very loving, holy, and worthy of whole-life and being worship Bridegroom - who is Christ. If we are to be light in the darkness, then much about our present Christianity is not OK.

At the root of the struggle may be my own desperation and continuing reformation. I truly love His bride-second only to Him. In fact, I do not shirk from being named among her ranks. Moreover, I labor long, hard and joyfully (most of the time at least) to see her grow. I rejoice when she loves as Christ loves and cringe- even grieve with a gut wrenching groan- when she chooses to go her own hurtful way and damage the grain in the fields that are “white unto harvest” (Luke 10:2) whilst missing the aim of her Maker and Builder. I believe she is, in part, preoccupied with selfish- even empty- pursuits.

Often, she seems to be enamored with the shininess of her sickle or scythe whilst gathering together with others to impress themselves with the latest “mirror, mirror on the wall who’s the most comfortable of all” bride-growth strategy and in-the-field, work avoiding twaddle for appearing to harvest without tilling the soil or breaking a sweat or noticing the grain.

I don’t mind the discomfort and the struggle because accepting an unexamined or second hand Christian existence does nothing to further an honest life. Moreover, an honest Christian life is too important to half-heartedly pursue. The stakes are just too high and the potential losses are simply too great.

A Michael Yaconelli quote that comes to mind in recent days is “Desperate people don't do well in churches. They don't fit, and they don't cooperate in the furthering of their starvation. 'Church people' often label 'desperate people' as strange and unbalanced. But when desperate people get a taste of God, they can't stay away from him, no matter what everyone around him thinks.' " Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality

Am I willing – are we the church willing- to seek God for a broken heart to move us to continually abandon selfish ambitions and be a part of His heart and will to “heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18-19)? Too often, I think not.

If I look at much of the present church, it seems we want very little of God and a great deal more of self-fulfillment. Alas, that may be a subject for another day. For now, I must be about taking up my own “cross daily” and remaining a participant in the spiritual formation of others- whom God loves.

If a church or groupings of churches in the church (catholic/universal) of any culture seem content to sail headlong into what may be a misguided –even if well intended- direction towards impending irrelevance and anemia whilst propping up structure for structure’s sake, I grieve and care; nonetheless, I’m unwilling to lend a hand in re-arranging the superficial – even if cherished- chairs as the ice berg of a wake up call approaches. I prefer to be about repentance and reformation, instead. These are the treatments that seem needed.

If we can liken much of our cultural and religious (a contrast to scriptural, modeled, described, or prescribed) practices to “sacred cows”, I’m ready to lower a much smaller dingy into the throes of the sea and make a boatload of most excellent hamburgers for you and for me with the hope of presenting them-you see- to Christ (with all of the adequacy of a lad with “ loaves and fishes”) for the sake of His loved ones and love sparked quest.

”It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” C.S. Lewis

Last I checked hatching requires a struggle and time in the right conditions. Nonetheless, a disciple of Jesus I seek to be and to be so in the context of others- all others – including those who seek the same. The rub is, I’m simply no longer willing to tread lightly as if upon the “eggshells” of cultural Christianity to make it so.

So, don’t be impressed but don’t be surprised. This little dingy has sailed and there’s room for more. Truthfully, there are many who have already set sail. In fact, a splendid regatta precedes leaving shore. So, sacred cows…look out. You’re not the target but stay out of the path of ministry – or better yet- join in. Oh, that’s right. I forgot. You probably won’t notice… too many chairs…too many meetings…so little time.

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