Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Devil in Disguise

I decided not to go in this direction for my sermon, but it was a good page or so of information. If it sparks anything or fires the ole imagination, cheers!

We probably have diverse viewpoints about this figure in our faith tradition. Many of us probably don’t believe that evil has some personification, that perhaps Satan is some psychological projection of the evil inside us. Some of us no doubt believe in a real and tangible Devil who is actively trying to upend God’s designs for the universe. Perhaps you don’t believe in the Devil or even evil as a reality at all, but instead simply consequences for not aligning our will with God’s will.
I’m not sure there are any requirements for orthodoxy on the Devil. We don’t focus our beliefs in that direction. In some ways it really doesn’t matter. We pray to be led not into temptation, but delivered from Evil, but we don’t define what that Evil is like. Satan is a number of things in the Bible—and much of our scriptures were written in a time when the Jewish imagination had not yet conceived of “The Devil.”
But the Devil makes an appearance there in our scripture today. We hear about him and what the early Christian mind thought was his authority. In several places in the New Testament, the Devil, some spirit trapped between heaven and Earth, has jurisdiction over much of the world as we know it. Satan tempts Jesus with the power to rule over the entire earth in a political fashion, much like the people of Israel were expecting the Messiah to do. The Devil takes Jesus up on a high mountain and says to him, “I will give you all their authority and power, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I wish. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Elsewhere, in 1 John 5:19, we hear “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of Satan.”
This must have been pretty apparent to the early Christian church people, who were hunted down by the authorities and tossed to the lions. It wasn’t hard for them to imagine who was behind it all, pulling the strings—it must’ve been the Adversary. The rulers of the nations seemed to be in collusion with the Evil forces of the Universe. They were to be feared and opposed as diligently as the Devil himself. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world…”
I mention these things today because I believe it is important for us to examine our evolving relationship with Evil. The early church drew the battle lines—it was the Kingdom of Heaven against the Kingdoms of Earth. Have we evolved as a society? Have the Evil forces behind the governments of the world simply evaporated, moved into easier to identify realms? If one judged by the focus of the televangelists and Christian radio wonks, it would seem that Christians believed nowadays that Satan had changed address to Hollywood or the Halls of Science and Jesus himself had taken up residence in Washington!

Monday, February 26, 2007

I'm a geography geek, okay?

This is a version of the world map proportional to wealth. Cha-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-eck it and more by clicking on the map.

Who will save your soul?

In a previous ministry setting, I heard that a minister who had served in my position had organized a mission trip to Mexico. On this particular mission trip, a house was constructed and participants took part in a Vacation Bible School. Also included in this mission trip was a nightly contest where the participants from the church where I now served would gather together and tally how many “souls they had saved” that day. A prize was given each night to the person who reported the highest number of “souls saved” by inviting the Mexicans to “accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.” I must confess that hearing this story made me want to run to the bathroom and throw up.
This kind of contest provoked such a visceral reaction from me because I believe that it confuses God’s action with our own, and in so doing it amounts to idolatry. We are used to thinking of idolatry as bowing down to worship little figurines of Greek and Roman gods, as Paul encountered and wrote about in his ministry. However, we are in a much more subtle and deeper danger of idolatry. We are subject to a new cultural false deity—the Self. Any time we are engaged in mission, our work is to be a conduit for God’s action. It is impossible for humans to save their own soul, much less anyone else’s soul. That is instead God’s gift of grace. When we share the life changing power of the Gospel through work or word or song or prayer, the Spirit moves through us and creates the opportunity to open eyes to God’s grace. Far from being a “tally” that we can name and claim, our action on behalf of God should only be attributed to God, never to ourselves. If we confuse this issue, we risk idolatry.
This is one reason I am glad our church’s mission committee has planned a mission trip to Camp Egan this month. On March 22-24, we are going to be engaged in refurbishment and construction around the camp where so many district and conference activities take place. Participants in that mission trip mentioned above would, I suppose, need to find some other evening entertainments since there aren’t going to be any other people there at the camp to “witness to” besides ourselves—there wouldn’t be any souls to “save” and then tally in order to win a prize. But, this is probably a good thing. It allows us to learn a little bit about how we are used by God in mission.
The following weekend, Camp Egan will host the District Confirmation Retreat, when young people from all over the Muskogee District will gather to learn about God, the church, discipleship, grace, and their decision to follow Christ. The work that we will do the previous weekend will contribute to and enhance the ability for those kids to gather and learn. Who knows, a 13 year old kid may make the decision at that retreat to give their life to Christ and follow him, and our work will have contributed in some way to that kid’s experience—in short, Christ will turn our water into wine. This is no different than having an in depth conversation with someone who doesn’t know Christ and at the end of that conversation “convincing” that person that a life of faith is essential and life giving. In both examples of mission, God allows us to be conduits of His Grace.
I understand why the people on the mission trip to Mexico had such pride and sense of ownership involved in their experience of “saving souls.” It is an exciting and energizing experience to be used by God. If we refuse the temptation to put ourselves on a pedestal while involved in mission, we may see that God is saving our own soul through our work in mission as well as others.

Plastic Ocean

You can tell LA Times put a lot of work into this series on garbage in the Pacific. It is from last summer, but I was just recently reminded of the reality of the Eastern Garbage patch (floating plastic debris covering area twice the size of Texas). Give this some time:

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lenten Funnies

Because we need a little chuckle to start off Lent....(identities obscured to protect from utter damnation)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pushing the Pulpit

The following post is from a blogger in CA who went to the same seminary as I did. I came across her post, and thought since I spent so much time responding to it, I should put it on my blog too.
From Endangered Species: Church
This morning I came across something in the United Methodist Newscope that caught my attention. The New York Times published an article on January 27, 2007, about how seminaries are having a tough time getting young graduates to go onto local church ministry. Apparently, students are not necessarily going to seminary to become ordained pastors. This has put the onus on seminaries to do more vocational counseling and might I say--nudging.
''We need to lead the horses to water, as it were,'' Dr. James Hudnut-Beumler, the dean of the divinity school at Vanderbilt University, said of what has become a common effort across faiths and denominations for seminaries to lean on their students -- ever so slightly -- to consider a pulpit job." (from the New York Times Article)
If students are not going to seminary to be a part of the pulpit-pastor mill, what on earth are they spending all that money doing?
This was something I had the pleasure of talking about with CST president Jerry Campbell. As we talked it became clear that many in my generation and younger are going to seminary to get the kind of faith training and exploration that used to happen in the local church. In fact, because the Church does not seem trustworthy, young people go to a place of trust (learning institutions are that for us) and spend thousands of dollars receiving high quality Christian Education.
While I do not believe that the sole purpose of seminary education is to pop out trained church leaders (that's a lofty goal!), I do think that as we examine a changing and emerging church, we need to challenge the seminary to do the same kind of examination.

Here's what I added to the discussion....

Good topic! A friend and I spent a few hours the other day wondering what it would be like if the church expanded the orders of ministry to include a "teaching" order. This could possibly be a way to keep a connection with all the young adults getting MDIVs and then pursuing more education in order to teach. The church could validate their calling and ask them to contribute in some way to the life of the church through a special "Rabbinical" order (that terminology may be confusing, so something else might be more appropriate) You get the idea. A possible "dollars and cents" impact of this idea could be more participation in the pension plan, insurance programs (that might end up killing us as the baby boomer pastors begin retiring) and who knows what else.
I was a student at CST and was encouraged to pursue my calling into a PH.D by one of the professors there, even though it was my intention to go into parish ministry (or perhaps campus ministry) This professor did have a keen awareness of my passion for teaching, but I decided that the parish probably needed ministers who felt called to teach as well. (Plus another 4-6 years of school didn't fit into my "family plan" at the time, nor will it ever, perhaps....though I'd really love to go). As it is now, I put "gasoline" in my tanks by offering frequent Bible studies, taking sermon prep and construction very seriously--and the fact that I'm appointed to a smallish parish gives me plenty of time for study. (Though I tend to end up playing with my son---hell, will I regret that on my deathbed? Yeah right!)
Basically, in a nutshell--Seminaries should be selling the idea to MDivs who are considering jumping ship into other degrees or careers that with the flooded field of college educators, they have a greater chance of teaching in the parish than in the academy anyway! And sooner! The idea that the parishioners dont' want serious and critical study opportunities is bunk. I find teaching in the church to be ultimately rewarding, even though I too felt the pull of the Ph.D instead of a pulpit.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The coolest would be 62 year old ever

Happy Birthday!

As we do every year, today is the celebration for our brother Bob. He was a beautiful spark of humanity--One who was enraptured with the Spirit. He was authentic. (Just watch the attached video for the soul he lent to his performances.) he was unique--none like him at the time or since. He did what he could to make the world a better place. He left great music for the world to love for centuries. I am convinced that in 200 years, the world will love him as much as the world loves Beethoven now.