The Incongruity of the Kingdom

A post from Liz Gray:

On Monday Simon and I were in Nicaragua. Many people use horses and carts to get around — and as we were strolling down a side street we came across such a vehicle, with its patient but weary looking pony and a brand new fridge loaded on the cart. The incongruity made me smile … but it also made me think about how many incongruities there are in our lives. We worship the carpenter Savior, the foot-washing King, the Creator turned shepherd.

Somehow God is constantly suggesting that we take a second look at things and see them ‘for real.’

  • So we live in a world where success is seen to be all, but we know that the meek will inherit the earth.
  • We see disasters and we know that God can heal and bring wholeness
  • We see sin and we know God can redeem and forgive
  • We see death and we know there is life

I want to see more of the upside-downness of God’s viewpoint. Where have you seen it recently?

Monday thoughts from Texas

Hello from Plano, Texas!  I’m here this week for the annual synod of the Diocese of the Holy Spirit (which is the diocese in which I am “canonically resident”) and then for the Anglican1000 Summit, a meeting of church planters from all across the country. In addition to eating some fantastic Texas chili, I’m having a great time hearing about the work that God is doing in churches all across the country… and sharing what he’s doing at Restoration, too!

In lots of ways, Sunday’s worship exemplified much of what God is doing in and through our church:

  • True worship – Andrew invited us to ask ourselves what God asked Elijah: “What are you doing here?” And Matt led us in music that answered that question: joyfully praising the God of glory and love, declaring that we’d rather spend one day in God’s presence than countless others anywhere else.
  • Faithful leadership – David introduced and prayed for our vestry, the nine faithful men and women who provide spiritual leadership our congregation. Please pray for them as they continue to discern God’s vision for our church!
  • Joyful community – Yet again, the pews were packed, and it was so encouraging to see relationships being formed and deepened in this community that God has called together.  Just a note to those who thought there was a little too much community at 11:00: Come at 9:00!  There’s a little more elbow room!
  • Volitional sadness – It’s a little different from the other things on this list, but the title of David’s sermon captures the compelling, upside-down reality of the gospel. It’s by choosing to mourn — to enter into the places of our deepest hurt and sadness — that we find the blessing of Jesus’ comfort.

I do want to add a counterpoint, though, to the idea of the value of volitional sadness.  Entering into sadness isn’t always a good thing. For those who struggle with depression — and we are many — sadness is sometimes a place of stagnation or suffocation rather than of growth. So if you are someone dealing with depression, I want you to hear this: it can be just as faithful for you to seek and experience Jesus’ healing from your sadness as it can be for someone else to seek to enter into theirs.  It’s part of why I’m so grateful that God knows the needs of each of our hearts and meets us exactly where we are.

Where are you? And how is God meeting you there?

Not just for kids

Several of you have asked about the children’s Bible that I’ve referenced in the Jonah sermon series.  It’s The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago.  I love it.  Whether or not you’ve got a kid in your life, I heartily recommend trying to get your hands on a copy.

What’s so great about it?  For one thing, it’s funny.  (“Jonah went ahead with his not-very-good plan. ‘One ticket to NOT Ninevah, please!'”)  If your kids — or you — tend to think the Bible is dry and boring, this book is a great reminder of what a good sense of humor God has and of how ridiculous we humans can sometimes be!

The illustrations are gorgeous.  Full of color and expression, they bring new dimension to familiar (and not-so-familiar) stories.  I also appreciate that the people in these illustrations actually look like they could come from Palestine: no blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesuses here.

Most of all, I like that this Bible really traces the story of God’s redemption of his people throughout all the many different stories that are included.  As the introduction says,

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle — the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

That’s a reminder that we all need from time to time, as it really is the key to how we study and understand scripture. Even as I read through it, I had a few “aha” moments where I saw connections between Old Testament stories and Jesus’ story that I hadn’t considered before.  So The Jesus Storybook Bible doesn’t just get kids (or grownups) to read the Bible; it also teaches us how to read the Bible.  And that’s a pretty valuable thing, no matter how old you are.

so what if you fail?

I’m very sad this morning about this.

My first response:  ‘Are you kidding, me?’  Not because he is a particularly great guy or because he is a ‘Christian’.  I don’t know him.  And I’m enough out of the loop that I wouldn’t even recognize him on the street.

I’m just sad and frustrated that another family gets devastated and another marriage gets blown up.

He’s right about this:  MY COMFORT IS THAT GOD IS A GRACIOUS AND FORGIVING GOD TO THOSE WHO SINCERELY SEEK HIS FORGIVENESS AS I DO.

And he’s right about this:  BUT I AM SO ASHAMED TO HAVE HURT THOSE I LOVE.

I’m very disappointed.

On Sunday

I talked about sexual immorality.

Let me emphasize 3 things:

1.  Sexuality is hard no matter your demographic.  It is difficult to be outside of a marriage covenant and to have sexual desires (ie, to be single and to choose the discipline of self-denial).  It is difficult to be inside a marriage covenant and be faithful to one person forever and to grow deeper in intimacy and serving each other (see 1Cor 7: 1-5).  This is why it matters first and foremost what you believe about Jesus, the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit living in you.  We can only approach sexuality the way the Bible describes if we are fully convinced about what God has done in us and for us through His Son.  If you are not fully convinced, the behavior is merely rigid moralism.  But even with the Holy Spirit, the teaching of 1 Cor 6 is challenging (to be clear, it’s not confusing, not culturally mitigated, not obtuse– it’s challenging. It’s difficult.)  It really is hard to follow Jesus and it really is choosing to lay down your rights and it really is letting parts of you be put to death (pruned!) so that real life can happen.

2.  ALL of us have a ‘past’.  We all have stuff we have done that brings shame and condemnation. What do we do with our guilt and shame? There really is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.  Ps 32.5 says that God even forgives the ‘guilt’ of our sin.  He can wash away guilty feelings and shame.  Only God takes seriously the depth of our wrong.  He doesn’t flinch at what we have done.  And only God moves commensurately to provide forgiveness and new life.

3.  Many of us have a ‘present‘.  We have stuff we are doing, stuff we are mired in, that feels like it has a real hold on us.  We might like to stop it or do something differently, but we don’t know how.  We just feel despair.  In two weeks (May 30) we will look at Galatians 5 and think about the freedom that Christ brings for those who are in Him, for those who have the Spirit.

There is hope.

Answering the most important questions

12 Cities | 12 Conversations from ConversationGatherings on Vimeo.

This will inspire you to think a little more about the one life God gave you to live. There are some extremely important conversations that are happening this year about the intersection of Gospel proclamation and Gospel demonstration. Restoration’s own Bethany Hoang (look for a quote in the vid) is a key representative of the American church as we engage in this dialogue. Read more about Lausanne.

Don’t close your eyes. Listen with your heart. The one who has ears to hear, hear!

This is life in the Kingdom

And it came to pass in those days…

Chinese_Nativity-782935 We’re gathering this evening at 4:00 and at 7:00 to hear the great good news of God’s love for us, from the beginning all the way to that manger in Bethlehem.  Come hear the story and join in singing some of the great Christmas carols!

Whether you can recite Luke’s gospel right along with Linus or this is all brand new for you, come!  We’d love to have you.

Merry Christmas!

(PS — Nursery available at the 4:00 service only.)

Kids and Communion

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This week (Oct 25) we will begin a special 4-week communion class for children 3rd grade and older.  We are doing this for several reasons:

  1. Those who take communion need to be baptized believers who want to follow Jesus.  Many of our kids are in a place where they have decided to make Jesus their forgiver and their leader and they need to know what is happening during the Eucharist.
  2. We want all our kids to see communion as a tangible reminder of the Gospel.  Jesus died for our sins:   The body of Christ was broken for us.  The blood of Christ was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.  This is GREAT news and we want our kids to know the Gospel and to understand why we celebrate this special meal of remembrance every week.
  3. We want to come along-side parents who are discipling their children to love God, love people, and participate in the worship life of our church.  This class is a chance for kids to get age-appropriate teaching about communion.  Ultimately it is the parent’s decision for when it is time for a child to begin taking communion.

One of my favorite moments during our worship service is during the distribution of communion.  If a child is not taking communion, they put their arms over their chest and I (or another server) say a prayer over them.  I love those prayer moments. Sometimes I offer a simple blessing, sometimes I will pray that they know how much God loves them– that they are drawn to trust in Jesus, that they grow in courage, that they love Christ with all their heart, soul, and mind.  It is a brief moment of intimacy that I cherish.  I say this because your child might be clamoring to take communion, but you are not sure he/she is ready.  In some ways, this little prayer might be more effective–  more of a remembrance, more of a reminder that God cares–  than the bread and wine at this time.  I love that our children are so tangibly included in our worship.

So parents, let us know how we can serve you as you build up your kids to be life-long worshipers.  We look forward to sharing this class with them over the next 4 weeks.  See ya on Sunday.

La Misma Luna

Picture 3
Laurel and I saw a fantastic movie last night, under the same moon. It portrays the struggle of an illegal immigrant mom trying to make her way in LA while her son is still in Mexico.

I appreciated that it increased my compassion for immigrants.  It made me want to listen to their stories, to look for ways to help them find work, to be patient, to admire them for their courage.

I am far from doing any of this.  I have a long way to go.  But the sojourner in our midst has a special spot in the heart of God.  I want to know that part of God’s heart.

The Gospel according to Clint

552Movie Spoiler alert–  don’t read this if you want to see the movie.  I’m going to talk about the end.

Just finished Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.  It has gotten a lot of acclaim because it is so well done.  I totally agree.  The language is rough and there are topics/ images that are violent (rated R for a reason).

What struck me is the end. Walt Kowalski wants to set Thao and Sue free from the life they are destined/trapped to lead.  In order to set them free, Kowalski gives up his own life so that the bad guys who keep Thao and Sue trapped will be put into prison.  He publicly arranges to have himself murdered in order to free his friends from the life that enslaves them.  As Kowalski is gunned down, he falls to the ground in a cruciform shape.

Why does the Gospel haunt our culture?  At our core, there is a story that speaks to something deep within us.  There is a hero who will rescue us from our slavery by giving up his own life.  Do we dare hope that there is one who loves us enough and is powerful enough to defeat the bad guys and rescue us?

There is a Kowalski who came for each of us.  He set us free from the things that hold us captive by giving his innocent life.  The story is not just wishful thinking.  It resonates so deeply within us because it is so profoundly true.

By the way…  hated the priest in the story.  He’s a pretty accurate portrayal of some dude in his late 20s who is trying to pastor a tough situation.  But why does he have to be such a sally…

A Giant Falls

The bankruptcy of General Motors: A giant falls | The Economist.

I am struck by how similar the prosperity and ‘golden age’ of American Car Manufacturers and American Mainline Protestant Denominations coincided.  In the 1950s everyone drove their Buick to the local United Methodist Church (my Grandpa Hanke being the posterboy for this).

That time is over.

For both.

The article gives some great history and some reasons for the collapse of GM in particular.

In my world, I am curious about now–  60 years later.  American cars are pretty much dead.  Mainline denominations are pretty much on life support (not being pejorative, just looking at the numbers).  But there are still strong American companies that dominate–  Apple, google, movies based on Stan Lee comic book characters…  What have they done to build a brand, to meet people where they are at, to give them what they want?

What is the corresponding church of 2010?  Restoration is a young church with an old soul.  We speak lots of words during our service.  We compel people into smaller communities during the week.  We love ancient liturgy and nights of Wii.

The Gospel hasn’t changed.  We believe that it is the only means to true life here and everlasting life there.  What’s a church look like now?

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