Archive for the ‘Personal reflection’ Category

What does it mean to follow Jesus in 2010?

On the church calendar, today is the lesser festival of Andrew, Apostle. According to John’s gospel, Andrew was one of the first disciples. John’s account (1:35-37, 40-42) is less than overwhelming:

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. … One of the two who heard John speak and followed [Jesus] was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Is it just me, or does this passage concentrate more on Simon/Peter than it does on Andrew? Happy St. Andrew Day, everybody. <wink>

So what does it mean to follow Jesus in 2010?

Andrew, the other (unnamed) disciple, and Peter all dropped what they were doing and followed. What clues does this story offer for us about what it means to follow Jesus? (more…)


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I need some help. I’m having an intriguingly hard time wrapping my mind around the many themes and predictions that Phyllis Tickle unveils in The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. If you’ve read the book skim or skip the next three paragraphs, which are provided for those who have not yet read this small book of big ideas.

Tickle’s metaphor is that every 500 years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. She briefly traces this pattern in Judaism, but she is most concerned with the pattern in the Christian Church. The first Great Transformation was marked, of course, by the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, when even the calendar was reset. The next change happened with Gregory the Great in the sixth century, with the founding of monasticism. The Great Schism occurred around 1000 AD, dividing the Eastern Church from the Roman Catholic Church. The Great Reformation took place five hundred years later, and now, she concludes, we’re due for another rummage sale, which she labels the Great Emergence.

It is significant, she contends, that every 500 years “the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity…become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered (more…)

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I heard the story of a pastor who was cloistered in his office for prayer. A member of the congregation stopped by, looked in the office and saw the pastor, hands folded, head bowed. He knocked on the doorframe as he entered, saying, “Oh, good, Pastor, I’m glad to see that you’re not busy…”

Someone also told me about a curious difference between Americans and Tanzanians. When we part company, our farewell is often, “Take it easy.” When Tanzanians part company, they often say, “Work hard.” Neither farewell seems to be effective. Tanzanians continue to struggle with productivity, and Americans continue to struggle with an addiction to busyness.

A couple years back I was invited to work with a church council in a small town in rural Iowa. To give you an idea how rural this town was, my cellphone could not pick up a carrier. We’re talking seriously off the beaten path. In the course of our meeting, congregational leaders complained that they couldn’t get members to participate in ministries because—you guessed it—”everybody is so busy.” After the meeting, I remarked to my wife, “Since when did the culture of busyness invade (name of town withheld) Iowa?”

“I know you’re busy, but…” How many times have you heard (or used) that introduction to an invitation to talk or to do something? Have you ever wondered why we assume that everybody is overly busy to the point of not being able to pay attention to us?


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I’ve been mulling recent stories (namely our denomination’s decisions regarding sexuality) and old stories out of my life and ministry. I’m troubled. And I’m hopeful. I’m troubled because of unfortunate effects that I see coming about. And I’m hopeful because I know—I hope—there are better ways to approach difficult issues.

An old story out of my life: In a congregation I once served, there was a small group of members, led by one really zealous member, who felt the congregation ought to take a stance on a current issue in the church. This group brought in fliers, held meetings, and brought in speakers to help educate others on what they felt was a critical issue. The trouble was this: (more…)

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El SalvadorIt has always been my experience that, whenever I stand in El Mozote, I am standing among the children who were massacred there. I feel them calling me to speak out against violence; to ensure that—as the plaque there says—El Mozote, Nunca mas! (never again!). I feel accountable to those children, whose names and ages are listed from 3 days old to 18 years, numbering at least 300 victims. To me, those children are the saints with whom I am called to live accountably as a person of faith. The communion of saints—living as if victims matter.


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I need your help!

I’m preaching this Sunday. The central theme I’m working with is “No one can encounter God and expect to resume life unchanged.”

Then this morning, the devotions I use directed my attention to Acts 21:

A prophet named Agabus…took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”  When we heard this, we and the people there urged [Paul] not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.”

After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem.

And the prayer in the devotion says, in part, “teach us what it means to follow you. Resuscitate our bodies with fire of the Holy Spirit and conform our lives to do your will, whatever the cost.”

This is where I need your help: What does it mean for the average person to “conform our lives to do God’s will, whatever the cost”?

If Paul’s example is any indicator, I don’t think this passage or prayer is talking about “being nice,” treating others like we would like to be treated, or even giving 10% of our income.

In my own life I have had some (limited) experience with letting God direct my path. (I never expected or desired to live and work in Des Moines! 😉 ) I know something of the control that pastors give up in order to be pastors—though I wouldn’t dare equate it with Paul’s unflinching willingness to walk into the lion’s den. But, and I ask again, What does it mean for the average person to “conform our lives to do God’s will, whatever the cost”?

Seriously, I need your help, and I need it fast! Leave a comment here to tell me what you think!

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Throughout El Salvador there are skeletal remains of a water project that was once carried out by the government. I don’t know much about it, but it was called the ANDA project, and every now and then one can find a pipe or an old pumping station with ANDA still visible on it. For the people in the countryside, ANDA was a failure—too many pipes lay on top of the ground and needed constant maintenance; pumping station were needed to get the water up the mountain; pumping stations needed generators because there was no running electricity, generators were often scavenged by people who needed the parts for their own use; and government commitments tend to change over the life of a long-term project of that sort.

So, the big government project failed and (see my last blog) the local well project failed. What next? (more…)

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