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Archive for February, 2012

2nd Psalm for Lent – selection

Psalm 22:22

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;

in the midst of the congregation I will praise you….

 

I grew up in a church – the Mennonite Brethren – who emphasized evangelism, offering church, conversion, changed lives, to the “un-churched” around us. I never wanted to sign up for any of the activities: tracts, outdoor singing, talking to people about Jesus. I was shy of random encounters, I thought the activities were intrusive, and the message did not flow from my heart.

 

Recently, I have realized that I love evangelism. It’s just that I had to reapproach it from a inside a perspective of love and a community that has love on offer. So now, I am quite pleased to invite folks to come visit our community of love (First Mennonite Church of Denver), and to see for themselves if this is or is not a place of loving transformation in the Spirit of Christ.

 

For me, that is the work of “I will tell of your name” in a way that flows from my heart.

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2nd Psalm for Lent – selection

Psalm 22:24

For you did not despise or abhor

the affliction of the afflicted;

you did not hide your face from me,

but heard when I cried to you.

The most characteristic expression of God’s nature may be God’s faithful companionship with us. There is a persistent religious impulse to find a God who cures, fixes, and resolves. In my experience, this isn’t the nature of God. Rather, it is God’s nature to offer us transforming love in all situations.

If God were a divine “fixer” the world would be fixed! Perfectly orchestrated, we would move through life with no responsibility, challenge, or work. Rather, we find ourselves in a world full of hard times and good times. When fear rules, we “turn our faces away” from each other. But with love, we, in the image of God, may also offer ourselves in all situations. Love flowing “through it all” does not offer solutions, but rather seems to connect to the deep purpose and life and joy of creation, no matter what we face.

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6 Lent 2012 (We)blog vkr

One way of talking which I think is “just talk” rather than action, and is deeply woven into the question of fear and the capacity of love, is the importance of speaking in the “1st person singular”. I was just chatting with Ted Haggard again, my Pentecostal friend from Colorado Springs who is in a new chapter of his life and ministry. I was exploring with him a meeting I wanted to pull together that would not have “we” talk but rather something more like “here’s what I’m experiencing, here’s how I’m getting stuck, here’s what I love: what insights do you have in connection with those thoughts?” I was thinking of it as meeting that stays in the “personal confession” zone.

He immediately related to this and said he’s thought about it as staying in the “first person singular”. Rather than chatting about what “we” might do or say or think as a church or Mennonites or ministers or Christians, it’s about what I’m working on.

My impression is that “we” talk is often a dodge from taking responsibility. It’s exhorting others, calling on others, etc. But if I say “here’s what I want to do”, “here’s what I’m struggling with”, “here’s what I long for and pray for”, and “What does this spark for other folks?”or “Would anyone like to join me?”, then there’s a chance for real action.

It reminds me of the Church of the Savior in Washington D.C., which I had the privilege of visiting a few times, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. For new mission or for seeking discernment, folks would stand up in the course of their worship time and essentially say some form of those latter three questions. And there would be response. Out of this model, great and enduring ministries in the city have come to life.

 

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5 Lent 2012 (We)blog vkr

For Sunday, Lent 1. Still one day late!

Just a brief excerpt from my Sunday’s sermon:

Fear…

Fear says – the only thing they understand is:

1) death

2) force

3) pressure/lobbying

The problem is death, force, pressure are exactly

what the enemy understands

the principalities and powers of the air

-as the apostle Paul puts it –

the principalities of powers

eat death, and force, and pressure for lunch

they see you coming with your agenda

and they say “lunchtime!”

the powers are masters of taking any lobbying, any force

and spinning it to their ultimate victory and control

will you spill blood for your cause?

it goes down into the earth and springs up

with more bloody-mindedness

will you push through the great agenda?

it gets filed in the filing cabinet of the powers

the one that’s labeled “stuff to bring out next year

and use against the very people who brought it last year”

death, force, pressure are the way things work for the powers

falling prey to their seductions in fear

is already a loss of the battle

But love….

but love

the powers cannot process it

cannot even see it coming

and cannot prevail against it


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For Saturday – one day late!

Ach, I’m such a Protestant – can’t stick to a daily spiritual discipline. So I forgot to offer a blog post yesterday for Lent 4. So here’s a brief one, one day late.

 

The Arabic poet Hafez writes:

Fear is the cheapest room in the house.

I would like to see you living

In better conditions.”

 

Henry Nouwen writes that there is a House of Love, and a House of Fear (Lifesigns). We tend to live surrounded by fearful questions. But the Spirit has much more for us, something much better – questions of love. Love does not save us from suffering or hardship, but it places us into a web of shared joy, resource, mutual care which gives all good times a place of strong celebration and support and all bad times a place of strong sharing and support so that whatever our lot, we discover that eternal and abiding love flows in us, through us, around us.

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Psalm 25 selection

8 Good and upright is the Lord;

therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

9 He leads the humble in what is right,

and teaches the humble his way.

 

In a culture in which education is so much about imparting information, “inputting”, and even exhortation, and even worse than that, “shaping” and control in all its subtle and non-subtle forms, it may be exceedingly difficult to read this passage with a full sense of what is on offer. The Psalmist is not thrilled because he receives a good “lesson” from the the Lord. He is not thrilled by being made aware of a good bit from Leviticus (one of my favorites – Leviticus 3:16b “All fat is the Lord’s”).

 

No, what David is singing about, what is so thrilling for him, I think, is that thing that is true of all great education. He has discovered new capacities in his heart and in his life. He has discovered new capacities for goodness, for love, for all the “ways” of the Lord.

 

“Good and upright is the Lord!” This is not a bit of received information. It is a celebration of a wonderful and even surprising relationship of goodness. And David finds his life transformed. Should education (instruction and teaching) ever offer anything less?

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Psalm 25 selection: “For you I wait all day long.” It reminds me of the joke: “don’t just do something, stand there.” In the vibrant 21st century western nation in which we live, we have reaped considerable rewards from going after things. In our national mythology we “go west.” In schools we “race to the top.” In so many ways, we pursue, seek control, grasp for possession, hunger for glory. While these may all seem like negative realities for a good person of faith, my experience is that they have shaken out some good discoveries and rewards for many of us.

On the other hand, they are very much like alcohol – only good in moderation. So easily, we can become distracted, fragmented, and frantic. And in so doing, we “run ahead of our souls.” We may be moving so fast that the Holy Spirit has a hard time catching up to our hyper-kinetic souls. The price of this is alienation, perpetual dissatisfaction, a loss of a solid sense of deep purpose and meaning. We find that we slip through our days with “nothing to show for it.”

If we join the psalmist in waiting for the Spirit “all day long!” we may find that there is One who loves us who is in fact pursuing us, who embodies a kind of knowledge that is infused with deep love for each one of us. So it is not only what we pursue, but Who pursues us. And the marvelous embrace of love when our souls can be found by the Holy Spirit.

In what ways can we follow the wisdom of “don’t just do something, stand there” long enough for the Holy Spirit to connect with our hungering souls?

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