Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ascenscial words...

I know "ascenscial" is probably not a word. But there is an assumption within the "ascension" that can lead to all sorts of other messes, if we don't sort it out ahead of time.  Of course, it could also simply be interesting speculation...

In Luke 24:51, "While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven."

and in Acts 1:9-10, "When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them."

The word used in the Luke passage for "taken up" does not automatically mean "up" as a direction. Anymore than when my 2 year old "swallows up" her food, does it mean she took it in a direction opposite the floor.

In Acts, we find a similar situation, with Jesus being taken out of their sight as literally "a cloud received him".

These are human attempts to describe something that doesn't occur on a regular basis. Something "science fiction" authors hadn't yet developed easily-grasped modes of describing yet  (if we can consider todays common sci-fi terminology "easily-grasped").

To put it simply, if Jesus went "up" from one spot on the world into "heaven", that means he went "down" from another spot on the world.  We have seen the galaxies and solar systems beyond our own a bit more than they had in the early Church, enough to understand "heaven" is probably not simply "up there somewhere".

It seems more likely, especially with things like Christ entering the locked room after the resurrection, that "paradise" as Christ called it on the cross, is a realm that is not far from our own. The resurrected Christ seems to be physically going in between "paradise" and our world in a way no one else can. Recent science fiction might even refer to it as "another dimension" occupying a space very near to ours.

So what does all of this mean for us?  Why does it matter?

It may not be a big deal.  But it definitely offers to give us hope, as we look forward to a New Heaven and New Earth being married together.  Perhaps someday we will all share in the resurrected existence we see in Christ, crossing back and forth between the two dimensions.  We do not have to believe in a moment where Jesus, like Superman, looks up and thrusts his fist into the air - blasting off from the surface of the earth.

Is it any less fantastic to believe that Jesus is simply "taken into" another dimension?  I suppose not.  But at least I don't feel as silly.  I guess it also makes me feel like God is a bit less removed than some would believe Him to be.

Monday, May 30, 2011

a new badge.

It was one of those experiences that seem to define you as a parent. One of those long, perspiration and prayer filled moments that other seasoned parents watch you go through and smile, saying something like "ahh, NOW you know what parenting involves.". One that you would rather fast-forward through, but at the same time can't help but realize God wants to use this to help you grow.

I was knee-deep in a youth group graduation party, when our Childrens' Pastor came downstairs. "Your wife is taking your daughter to the ER, and you need to go. I don't know what's wrong." It was a blur from there until arriving at the ER before they even got there. Waiting to see what could be wrong. Finally they pulled up, and Sarah handed me Ruby. A faint smile as she recognized me, and no blood. But it was around 7pm, and this one year old that usually bounced off the walls was laying heavily across my arms.

She continued to lay, on the edge of consciousness, as Doctors examined her. Poking and prodding, listening and asking questions, she disregarded them as if a gentle breeze. The list of tests was seemingly endless. Urine samples (who knew a little girl could pee on the nurse that far away?), cotton swabs, blood samples, CT Scan, Spinal Tap, and an EEG. The first tears rolled as they began the IV. Her bottom lip pouted out as if to catch every tear that traced her cheeks. In the midst of her cries, she looked up at me as if to ask "Why are you letting them do this?" As drops of blood stained the sheet beneath her, I asked myself the same thing. Her temperature had spiked to near 103 since arriving. I kissed her sweat-covered forehead with all the love I could convey, whispering it would be alright.

As every test came back healthy, we were glad she was fine in that regard, but confusion continued to mount. What was this?

Over the next couple days, she returned to us. Her temperature stayed down for longer periods. She grew restless, wanting to be held at first, and then wanting to walk a bit. We were stored neatly in a closet used as a room for infants in the pediatric hall. It was no small miracle that the tube emerging from her arm held to the tape that seemed just as painful as the needle itself. My wife volunteered (read "required") herself to stay with Ruby each night, sacrificing comfort to provide loving presence. Time passed with prayers, walks down a short hallway, and visits with love. It's hard to imagine someone enduring this in the midst of tornado damage, as some have done recently in other areas. We remain thankful for all we have.

About 3 days later, they'd tested everything possible. Still no idea. They determined it had been a virus of some sort, and that she had sufficiently fought it off. We could go home. A quick lunch, and then we laid all 3 girls down for the first "family nap time" in quite a while.

Waking slowly, we noticed our 2nd born had grown a fever during her nap. At least this time, we could skip the hospital involvement...

Monday, May 23, 2011

stones and flags

1 Peter 2:4-5 "As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

We are told that Jesus is "THE living Stone". Peter continues to tell us that we, "like" living stones, are being built into a "spiritual house". This comes as an important reminder in a world of flag-like faith.

I believe we generally approach faith, and our lives, as if we were flags for the Kingdom. We will wave, often vigorously, advertising the Kingdom. Declaring it's existence. We will even allow ourselves to become so large, decorated, and adorned with all sorts of extra stitching, under the guise of becoming attractive to those looking for the flag. Parents, and grandparents will even invite the next generations to wave their flag along-side of us. But this analogy was never offered to us in scripture. Instead, we are given the connection of "stones", and not just any stones you find on the side of the road - but stones for BUILDING upon.

What if we truly lived as those who desire to be built upon? If life was less about what I can advertise and wave to those around me and those generations to come - and more about what foundations I can help lay for those who will be built upon me?

It's easy to become a flag. It's enjoyable. We can enjoy moment after moment of waving. Enjoying the pleasures of life as God's gifts, without much thought for what comes next. But to be a stone that will be built upon - this requires sacrifice and obedience. Words we tend to shy away from.

Maybe you have the ability to be a spiritual stone for others. Maybe an economic stone. Emotional stone. Relational stone. Creative stone. Maybe some sort of blend of gifts and abilities to offer the building WE are becoming (not only "we" pointing around the room, but "we" as in all who have come before, and those generations to come).

As we offer ourselves to others, recognizing Christ as the ultimate "cornerstone" (v.6), and giving our lives to the building...we are becoming the temple where God chooses to dwell. We carry His presence into a world parched and dry for this Living Water. We invite our grandparents. We actively lead our grandchildren. We join together...not in waving, but in becoming what those after us will need to continue building God's dwelling place...

Friday, May 20, 2011

the what of the when...

Lately there has been a lot of focus on the "when" of God bringing His work to completion.  Thanks to a small group of people (many of which who seem to be trying to follow Jesus) tomorrow has been advertised as a possible "beginning of the end".  It hasn't received much credit in actual "Christian" realms, but atheist and other non-faith-oriented places have held it high as an example of the ludicrous ability of God-followers to believe in  hooey.

So what do these believers declare will happen tomorrow?  It seems to be "The Rapture".  The basic belief that God's desire is to remove the "souls" of all who love Him to another place (usually this place is thought of as floating somewhere in the sky, and contains a lifestyle of golden streets and jeweled castles).  From their website, "He will close the door to salvation on May 21, 2011 when He returns to take his elect children to heaven "

There are enough websites, youtube videos, and other scriptural explanations out there dispelling the May 21st deadline.  But the entire topic hitting the media as it has, makes us think about how important the "what" of this "when" can be.

I recognize that there are people I love who believe God intends to do something similar to the "rapture" linked above.  There are a few who hold this belief, and seem to still be actively working out the Kingdom on Earth, and inviting others to do the same.  But even more popular are those who have gotten their rapture passport stamped, are waiting for the big trip...and maybe inviting a friend or two to get their passport stamped also.

I do believe God will move again to finish what He began at the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Bible points us to God bringing together Heaven and Earth in a marriage that makes both completely new, joined by a New Jerusalem.  A very physical existence in the full presence of God, someplace a lot more like "here" than a distant floating "somewhere up there".  This will be mysteriously connected to the Kingdom work we are involved in even today.  This isn't simply about "getting more people on the rescue boat while the world continues to sink".  This is about a Love for God's creation (including humanity) that lives and acts out His Love and desire to bring about healing, righteousness and redemption.  That includes living a life as revealed in Christ, not because "obedience = trip to heaven", but because living this way is how God will be revealed and move in a world already begun to be made new. 

He will come to complete the works begun in Christ and the Church.  But until then, we know He has given us His Spirit for a purpose that is much larger than "saving souls from hell after death".  We are involved in freeing captives, sharing love, sacrificing, healing, creating beauty, caring for creation, bringing justice, etc., and declaring Jesus as Lord with our lives, in a creation that is heading that direction.

That purpose has begun, and will not end.  May we join in the work of Christ in such a way that the day of His complete revealing will come as the natural celebration of what our lives are already directed toward...and not like a ship coming that we hope our tickets are good for.

(wait, that almost sounds like there's a purpose to "Church" beyond a motivating message and emotional worship each week...:)

See you there...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

unhealthy church.

Recently the "Harpers Index" included a statistic that more than caught my attention:

"Percentage by which young adults with high religious participation are more likely than their peers to become obese:  50 "

Yowsers.  As someone in ministry to youth and young adults, I have to take some ownership of this statistic (full source here)...and call many of my readers to as well.  Young people who are regularly involved in our churches are 50% more likely to become obese.

It's not the first time we've heard this.  Anyone who's been in ministry to young people have heard the argument in regards to a young person justifying alcohol consumption or tobacco use:  "But over-eating can be unhealthy too!"  In fact, all the way back to the 4th  Century, God's followers have acknowledged "Gluttony" as one of the primary origins of other sins. 

But how do we approach "gluttony" in a culture that is gluttonous in itself?

One step at a time, for sure.  It's not about "redesigning" everything we do as a church.  It's not about canceling potlucks, pizza parties, and locking up the toddler snack cabinets (though we may change what's in them).  Much of it could be changed from the very foundations by churches taking a more holistic approach to ministry.  Many churches are starting garden co-ops, and educating families on improving nutritional intake/activity levels (yay Kara!).  Here's a quick "high five" to our own Parish Nurse also, who regularly talks/educates on making healthy choices as important to our faith.

As youth pastors, how about throwing out that unlimited fountain soda machine, and getting a machine that you can put your own, stocked, limited supply that includes healthy choices?  What if we made sandwiches instead of ordering pizza every time? (wow, that hurt to type)

I don't like vegetables...or exercise a whole lot beyond dancing with my girls and running from teens in dodge ball.  I've probably actually gathered an invisible list of adjectives unfitting for a man who is thankful for the body God has given.  I'm not jumping on the "all natural, etc." bandwagon, and I'm not too worried about how much corn syrup I take in....but I'm saying there's gotta be somewhere healthier than living comfortably with the above statistic.

It may even be connected to our churches actually being a healthier Church.  Pun intended.

Monday, May 16, 2011

morning without her.

I awoke as the natural alarm clock within me suggested, without offering a chance to press the snooze button.  It was 5:15am, and the mental post-it note from the night before reminded me I'd not yet taken the garbage to the fence.  I was still unsure what time the morning men came and gathered refuse, but I did not want to find out after it was too late.  I quickly came to find myself with shorts and flip flops on, crossing the dewy grass toting a giant wheeled garbage can over a yard in need of mowing.  Wiping my feet on the kitchen carpet, I patted myself on the back for a responsible use of morning, and paused to decide my next course of action.

Should I wake her?

I decided to make some coffee, and she continued to slumber.  In our old house, the kids would have heard dad walking just outside their door, but here I had the privilege of tip-toeing around the first floor while they completed their sleep cycles in peace.  A few roads waited passively ahead of me:  I could enjoy a bit of uninterrupted reading, wake her up, or begin to prepare for the day; among other things.  I chose to wait until just enough coffee was in the pot, to  pour myself a tall hot mug of focus (You have to love a coffeemaker that will continue to brew patiently until you return the pot.) and find my book.

I was reminded briefly of important things I needed to get with her about today.   But they could wait.

I've been reading a book on hiking the Appalachian Trail.  This morning contained incredible views of nature, combined with interesting stories of locations off the beaten-path, but well worth a brochure - if not a movie.  Then it happened - I heard the patter of feet above me.  I listened as they quietly traveled the distance of the 2nd floor, down the stairs, and out into my area of the house.  Thumb still in her mouth, our 2nd born smiled and mumbled an excited whisper, "daddy!" as she climbed into my lap.

I was thankful I'd chosen not to wake her still.  Mornings with my daughters are much better without her.  We cuddled, and Sophie willingly recorded a new ring-tone for daddy, before her sister joined us in the moment.  It wasn't long before they returned upstairs to find something interesting from the previous night.  Again, I chose not to wake her.  Not just yet.

I went upstairs to find our 1 year old in need of changing, and sucking on a Ring-Pop her sisters had given her a moment before.  Apparently they felt sorry she couldn't yet hoist herself from her sleeping prison, and knew a sucker would quiet her from interrupting their morning play.

Oh, the things I would've missed if I'd woken her earlier.  Sure, there were enough compelling reasons to wake her.  Important things.  Unimportant things.   We hadn't seen much of each other the day before, and no doubt she had plenty of updates for me.

But as my three girls and I climbed back into our giant, queen sized bed with mommy to talk about the day ahead, and laugh a bit together....I was thankful I'd not turned on the computer yet that morning.

Of course, I had to use her eventually....or I wouldn't have been able to tell the story of my morning without her. :)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Why faith?

Recently I posted a few thoughts regarding "telos", a word with a rich background in the search for purpose/meaning of what we're doing here on this planet and life.  The "purpose/outcome/result/goal" word has come up once again in this past week's Scripture, 1Peter 1:3-9.

This time, it is not the "end/result" of a specific path over against another.  Verse 9 highlights the "telos" of our faith.  This is a pretty important declaration, for several reasons.  It's can also be a humbling/uncomfortable verse for us to read openly.

If we look at churches in Western Christianity, and asked "What is the perceived Goal of our faith?", we would probably get some answers that make us shift in our seats.  Influence, power, financial well-being, name recognition, growth in numbers, self-preservation, and oh yes...saving us from hell, and tickets to heaven.

But I didn't intend to critique the Bride of Christ here, plenty of other sources/books out there currently can do that.  Much of it is needed and helpful, as long as we are being pointed in a healthy/new direction.  I think the only "goal" in the above list that we may hear embraced out loud would be the goal of "going to Heaven someday" as the purpose of our faith.

Verse 9 declares "..you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  It does not say "You will receive...", or even "You have received...".  So what is being spoken of here?  This entire chapter seems wrapped up in a few messages to encourage those believers being persecuted in Asia Minor:

1. God has some great and eternal things in store for us. (salvation)
2. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we share in a taste of those things even now. (salvation)
3. Sharing in these things now is not automatic/passive, but requires faith and obedience, resourced/enabled by the Spirit of Christ that we have received. (salvation)

On the path to a wedding, there are many celebrations that occur.  Wedding showers are awesome, and any young couple that has traveled the aisles at Target with a laser gun knows how much fun it can be.  But no matter how many showers you have, or how incredible the gifts you receive at them are, a wedding shower is nothing compared to a wedding reception.

We are the bride of Christ.  We believe someday there will be a coming together of heaven and earth like never before.  The celebration that will take place, and "inheritance" we will receive is indescribable.  But while we wait, we have weekly "wedding showers".  We journey toward that wedding day, reflecting two who desire to become one.

We are freed from the confines, powers and bindings of a selfish lover.  The world that whispers how great things can be, and makes promises of wealth, security, happiness, and power...even when these things occur, they are found to be empty.  We are receiving the goal of our faith - the salvation of our souls.  The tastes of our ultimate inheritance.

The question is...do you wait for the wedding day to realize all of the shower gifts you could've opened?  Will we live as someone who is receiving the salvation of our souls even today?