Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Shoot

An Inkling
A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots  (Isaiah 11:1).  So begins one of Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming Messiah, and the gospels describe its fulfillment.  But it is more than a prophecy specific to the life of Jesus.  It also typifies how life works in his Kingdom.
We’ve all seen the sight Isaiah described – a tree stump that looks for all the world like it’s dead.  But then comes the shoot from one corner, bending toward the sky.  In the Kingdom life is resilient, and the flourishing of one season soon yields to a different form in the next.  But always there is life.  The Branch who grew from the roots himself sees to it.
Our Elders got a reminder of that Kingdom pattern when Taylor Greene dropped by Monday evening.  Taylor is our Student Connector, a very part-time staff role.  He facilitates student relationships with each other and the adult leaders.  
Last summer our Student Ministry came to a stump moment.  Sarah, Scott, and Jake, the remaining core of the ministry’s last season of flourishing, were heading off for their freshman year in college, leaving just a handful of students in middle and high schools. 
But the Lord wasn’t stumped.  He brought forth a shoot through a student ministry partnership with our sister church, Christ Presbyterian.  Each brought a few students, and with some others brought by Jo and Tommy from their Highland Park neighborhood, a whole new mix of students has grown up – now with the critical mass necessary for student ministry.  They gather at Christ Church on Sunday mornings and here on Wednesday evenings.  And already there are buds and the signs of coming fruit – all the more robust because of the cross-pollination.
What makes for a flourishing student ministry?  Most churches seek the right mix of three ingredients:  a hip youth director, a cool space to meet, and whopping events.  And those can all be useful.  But as St. Giles has found, it’s hard to keep them all going in the right mix. 
So it’s all the more fascinating that for this new shoot all of those are secondary.  This shoot is flourishing through relationships, diversity, and a clear focus on the core of the gospel and what it means for teens.  Who knew?  The One who brings forth shoots in the right way at the right time.
The Elders rejoiced to hear what God is doing, and they concluded by laying hands on Taylor and praying for yet more of the Spirit to pour upon him, the adult leaders, the students, and our partnership with Christ Church.  Won’t it be fun to watch the Lord’s shoot grow?!


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Joy in Any Language

An Inkling

I got a lesson in joy Sunday evening – in Arabic!  And I learned that when it comes to joy, translation is optional.

The Christian Arabic Church worships on Sunday evenings, and this week they were ordaining their Elders and Deacons.  Their Pastor, Fakhri Yacoub, invited some of us from the presbytery to join in.  That happy invitation came to Larry Moffett, Sarah, and me from St. Giles, and to Steve Hartman and Corey Widmer (newly retired and newly commencing Lead Pastors) from Third. 

Our role was to provide the pomp and circumstance.  They needed no help with the joy, as you can see in the attached pictures (courtesy of Mark Sprinkle and others), and hear in their music, led by Emil Awad.  And such are their gifts for celebrating that they made even the pomp and circumstance come alive.

Fakhri did the heavy lifting of translating Arabic into English and vice versa.  That helped us capture some of the nuances of the moment and helped his congregation understand us as we carried out our roles.  But the joy needed no translation.

Someday, in the presence of the Lord, we’ll hear and understand each other fully – along with the Chinese, Swahili, and Russian speakers.  And in the meantime the Lord gives us these lovely previews, full of joy.

We thank God for our sisters and brothers in the Christian Arabic Church.



Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"You've Got Mail" -- and a Whole Lot More

An Inkling

I was reading through my 1995 prayer journal, and found that Sarah and I were going over to our friends, the Davises, to see something new they had on their computer – AOL.  That led to us debating whether it would be worth the monthly fee ($9.95/month for five hours of on-line time – but how could you possibly use that much time?!), whether email would catch on, etc.  We decided to go for it, and in a few weeks our home was sounding with “You’ve got mail.”  Twenty years later we’re still discovering the full impact.

And twenty years later, my iPhone has much more computing power and memory than my big box computer did in 1995.  With it I need not even type – I just tell it what I’m seeking, and it goes to find it, or makes a call for me, or reminds me that it’s time for my appointment, or….  And I carry it in my pocket!  Amazing.  E.g., it took me less than a minute to find out what AOL cost in 1995, and what you got for that $9.95. 

Many have said that the internet is having an even bigger impact than the printing press.  Twenty years later the world was still discovering the changes that all those books brought.  And we are certainly just beginning to discover the full impact of the internet.

So with the caveat of just twenty years’ experience, I offer these theological observations about the internet:
  • The difference between information and wisdom is all the more obvious.  The supply of information is now limitless and instant.  The supply of wisdom is no different than it has ever been, and is often even more hidden by the cyber-mountain of information.
  • All amplifications of human abilities (think arts, sciences, athletics, etc), magnify our capacities for both good and evil, and are ever-ready occasions for idolatry.  So, too, computers and the internet.
  • As valuable as cyber-connections are (I treasure Facetime with my grandkids, and keep up with scores of old friends through Facebook), they are not the same as face-to-face relationships (not as slow, not as challenging, not as rewarding, not as formative).
You’ve got mail, and a whole lot more.  And we are still discovering the full capacities of this amazing resource to serve the Lord!