Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Our Dysfunctional Family

An Inkling
It’s a sentiment I’ve heard many times:  “when I joined St. Giles, I joined St. Giles, not the Presbyterian Church (USA).  So I heard again last night at the Elders training meeting.  It’s a sentiment I frequently share, especially considering how dysfunctional our larger Church family is.
When we marry we do so for the love of our spouse.  But with our spouse comes a family, with all of the attendant banes and blessings.  It takes a while to sort the banes and blessings of this new family.  Likewise, it takes a while for the family to sort out the banes and blessings we brought with us into the family.  But over time we realize what we’ve gotten ourselves into.
God uses families.  It’s obvious how he uses the blessings.  Less apparent is how he uses even the banes.  This is not to say that bane is blessing.  There are healthy and unhealthy patterns of family life.  But it is to affirm that God is so powerful that he can bend even banes into blessings, a la Romans 8:28.  As he does, he uses the family to shape us, and us to shape the family, to the good of all.
So it is with our extended Church family, the PCUSA.  Through God’s providence, our immediate Church family, St. Giles, is joined with an extended family that comes with both bane and blessing.  And, of course, we’ve brought some of both into the union ourselves.  As with our “family family,” so with our “Church family” – it’s an area where God does his reforming work both in us and through us.
May God use us with our larger Church family, even as he uses them with us – and all to his glory!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Simple Truth

An Inkling
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.
If you were to pick a verse to summarize the good news of our approaching Holy Week celebration, which verse would you choose?  Many would choose the verse above, John 3:16.  It is about as basic as our faith gets.  Yet at the same time it expresses some central mysteries of our faith.
Often we think of “the basics” as something we do so that we can move on to more advanced levels.  We begin with basic grammar so that we can move on to competent writing; with basic math so that we can move on to calculus; with basic science so that we can move on to chemistry.  But the basics are not lost – they are just assumed.  For example, one cannot solve a problem using a derivative equation without the assumptions of basic math.
So it is with our faith.  We begin with the basic understanding that God so loved..., only we never really move beyond that.  We go on to study complex issues:  theological questions about the nature of God and humanity, and ethical questions about war, abortion, and so on.  Sometimes the complexity of such matters causes us to lose our awareness of the basics.  But if faith is a component of our understanding, then we can never move far from those basic truths.
In fact, one factor that persuades me of the truth of Christianity is that its deepest mysteries are found in its simplest truths.  It is not as if we ever move beyond John 3:16.  We need not, for it holds both enough mystery for a lifetime of pondering, and enough good news to make life worth living.  Thanks be to God!
Simply thinking,

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Living Stones in a Rocky Land

An Inkling
It’s great to be home from our Holy Land pilgrimage.  Thanks for your prayers.
We called it the “Stones and Living Stones Pilgrimage,” because our intention was to encounter not only the archaeological “stones” of the biblical era, but also the “living stones” of the land – i.e., our Christian sisters and brothers (see 1 Peter 2).  When I went to the Holy Land for the first time in 1995, I met only the stones, and determined that it was a shame to miss the very living stones who abide in the land that originated such living stones in the first place.  And now, having been several times, the stones are familiar, but the living stones continue to fascinate.
The Holy Land is a tough place to be a Christian.  Life is hard there for all Palestinians, but in addition to being on the downside of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinian Christians also suffer at the hands of the majority Muslim population, many leaders of which are increasingly militant.  Thus the Christian population is shrinking dramatically, particularly as young Palestinians go abroad to study (their university opportunities at home are severely limited), discover how good life can be abroad, and stay.  I hear that Messianic Jews also find life hard there, but I’ve not yet gotten to know any of them.
Here are some of the living stones we met (without names or exact descriptions, lest this internet posting inadvertently make life even harder).  The first Christian we met is a young man who runs a school for Christian, Muslim, Druze, and Jewish children.  These kids actually grow to like each other, giving promise of a rising generation that will be less divided.  But we found the young man himself to be so full of bitterness at how the Palestinians are treated that he gives a mixed message – idealism paired with seething anger.  The mixed message that arises from his mixed heart makes me wonder about the overall effect on the children, and about the future of his ministry.
We also met a 70ish couple in a mid-sized town.  He is the pastor of the church where we worshiped, and she plainly has an important part of the ministry there.  We asked them how life is for them there.  She told us that it is very hard, for the reasons stated above.  Indeed, their own children have moved to the U.S., but they feel called to stay and minister there.  They glowed with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and with the joy that comes with being where one is called to be – even if it is a hard place.
There were others, but that gives you an idea of the sorts of living stones we met.  Just like the living stones here, some are saintly, some are struggling, and all are worthy of our prayer support.  With Psalm 122’s direction, we will “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” and especially for those living stones whom God is using there.
Bless ‘em Lord!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Land of New Vision

An Inkling
Tomorrow we head to the Holy Land.  That means today is a scramble.  But in the midst of the rush I’m starting to meditate on this pilgrimage, and what the Lord might do with our crew of 32.
Traveling abroad is exciting.  It’s fun to see how people do life differently in other places.  Housing, meals, traffic patterns, schedules, commerce, TV – you name it, it’s amazing how such ordinary pieces of life can vary.  It’s that variance that gives us new eyes for how life works here too.
That travel benefit takes on a different flavor in the Holy Land.  People commonly refer to such trips as a “pilgrimage,” and not simply as a tour.  We tour London; we take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Why?  I think it’s the new eyes we gain for what matters most.  There’s something about seeing the topography and flora of the land that fills in the sketches of imagination as one reads the scripture.  That’s a great gift.  Archaeological sites do the same, as one sees the size and shape of biblical era buildings and walls.  And of course such sights bring a sense of awe – “Wow, Jesus walked here,” and so on.
But it’s not just new eyes for the scripture stories.  It’s new eyes for the wide variety of Jesus’ followers. Visiting the shrines at the various holy places, with their gold gilt, incense, and multi-lingual crowds of pilgrims, expands one’s view of the church.  Considering the decline of the church in western culture and its ascendancy in the developing world, that’s the very sort of vision we need.
And then there are the eyes one gains in the Holy Land for how desperately our world needs a Savior.  You can’t ride alongside of the security wall, pass through check points, see machine guns everywhere, and read the dueling graffiti, without being well instructed in just how difficult it is to make peace in that land.  If the Prince of Peace is not in the middle of it, it can’t happen. 
Of course you don’t have to go to the Holy Land to see examples of how much we all need the Prince of Peace.  Look around.  And while you’re at it, pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  There will be some pilgrims there praying for you.