Friday, May 25, 2018

Grace in the Shadows

Our brother, Daniel Eguiluz, will be installed as a pastor among us this Sunday. Like a graduation, an ordination looks back as a celebration of sustained trials necessary to get to this point, as well as looks forward. After all, the ordination is really just a beginning with most of the story yet to be written.

So, we wonder what will the story look like? Being called as a pastor is to be called to carry out a role in a community of equals. In other words, there is no clergy/laity distinction as a pastor is not inherently more holy than a plumber or a stay-at-home mom. But, like each of us, a pastor has a particular role to play in the community to which he is called. They are to handle the Word, be diligent in prayer, enter the difficult places, seek green pastures, and always point to the finished work of Christ. Eugene H. Peterson, one who has reflected much on the nature of pastoral ministry, offers this reflection in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant: an Exploration in Vocational Holiness:

Pastors enter congregations vocationally in order to embrace the totality of human life in Jesus' name. We are convinced there is no detail, however unpromising, in people's lives in which Christ may not work his will. Pastors agree to stay with the people in their communities week in and week out, year in and year out, to proclaim and guide, encourage and instruct as God works his purposes (gloriously, it will eventually turn out) in the meandering and disturbingly inconstant lives of our congregations.

This necessarily means taking seriously, and in faith, the dull routines, the empty boredom, and the unattractive responsibilities that make up much of most people's lives. It means witnessing to the transcendent in the fog and rain. It means living hopefully among people who from time to time get flickering glimpses of the Glory but then live through stretches, sometimes long ones, of unaccountable grayness. Most pastoral work takes place in obscurity: deciphering grace in the shadows, searching out meaning in a difficult text, blowing on the embers of a hard-used life.”

Perhaps it is a good time to stop and pray for pastors and congregations. These are perilous times for pastors and we need your prayers, daily. It is so easy to deviate from the vocational calling Peterson describes above. But pray for yourselves too, both as individuals and as a community, for it is truly together that we seek grace in the shadows. May God give us eyes to see!

If you want to read ahead we will be exploring this pastoral ministry a little more through 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16.

Friday, May 18, 2018

What does this mean?

This Sunday we remember one of the most significant days in the history of the church, the day we call Pentecost. Most of you probably know the story as it is told to us in Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1–4)

But knowing the story is not the same as understanding the story. Those gathered during this outpouring immediately sensed the difference between observing and understanding — And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12)

So what does it mean? Pentecost is full of meaning. Let me make just a couple of observations. First, it means that God is true to his word. As we have seen throughout our study of the upper room discourse, Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the keeping of that promise. Second, Pentecost is the fulfillment of the journey that the Incarnation began. When God became flesh we experienced Immanuel, God with us. Now, in Pentecost, we are reminded that God continues to pursue his people, drawing even closer. One Jesus, physically located, was not his full plan. God's intent was to take up residence in each believer, God in us! The implications of this are rich and full.

I am looking forward to digging into this with you on Sunday. If you get a chance read Acts 2 as you prepare for worship.

God in us. Amazing!

Friday, May 4, 2018


As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. - John 17:18

What do you think of when you think of being sent into the world? Do you think of packing up your stuff and moving to a 3rd world country? Perhaps you have images of feeding the homeless in an urban setting? Maybe you think of street preaching on the corner of a busy intersection? Or, maybe it is something more ordinary such as going to school, attending a neighborhood picnic, or joining the local cribbage club (15-2, 15-4, and a double 3 card run is 12)? It could be any of these things (and many more), but it is never less than leaving our comfort zones because our love for the other is greater than our love for security. Sent, as Christ was sent. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). And in Philippians 2, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:5–7).

Yesterday Scott, Ruthy, Addison, and I had the opportunity to attend a forum for church leaders thinking through the opportunities and challenges presented to the church as we engage an LGBT+ world. I share this in connection with the above thoughts on being sent because surely this LGBT+ world is a world into which we are being sent. The “sending” in this case may not be as much locationally as ideologically. In fact, there is little doubt that you have people in your orbit that are on this LGBT+ journey. From those who identify with this orientation to friends whose kids do, and to those struggling with the social and theological implications of LGBT+ ideology, we all encounter this reality, maybe daily. The invitation (or if you prefer, the call) is to leave our ideological and relational comfort zones, equipped with the truth and grace of the gospel, to love those who find themselves on a different journey of faith and life than we find ourselves. Some of our “going” will look like educating ourselves. What does the Bible have to say? What is science telling us, or not telling us? What does love look like for those on this journey? Much of the "going” will involve listening. Almost certainly we will need to apologize for assumptions made, cues missed, or bad behavior of those identified with the body of Christ.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t send us on a mission doomed to failure. According to Andrew Marin*, who closely studied the relationship between the LGBT+ community and the church, 83% of those identifying as LGBT+ were raised in the church. Perhaps surprising only 3% left church because of the church’s belief in a historically Christian view of sexuality (i.e. between a man and woman). Overwhelmingly, people left the church because they did not feel safe or relationally connected, because there was an unwillingness to dialogue, or in some cases they were kicked out. Obviously, these kind of experiences make our “going" an uphill battle, but the good news is that truth engaged with humility and grace will get a hearing.

It really is an amazing journey that Jesus has us, his imperfect community, on! Left to ourselves it would be hopeless. But, our hope is not in ourselves. We can never forget the potency of Jesus’ prayer for us. We must never underestimate the Gospel’s power to heal, restore and renew. Armed with this hope we really can engage the sending both personally and corporately. And, as we will be reminded Sunday (in John 17:6-19), like the Trinity we can expand the circle of our love because the Gospel truly is good news.

*Marin, Andrew. Us versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community.