Showing posts from 2011

Why the manger is not a quaint scene

"When God chooses Mary as the instrument, when God wants to enter this world in the manger in Bethlehem, this is not an idyllic family occasion,  but rather the beginning of a complete reversal, a new ordering of all things on this earth." -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
So the manger isn't such a quaint scene after all. It is a picture of the beginnings of a very quiet revolution -- an undermining of everything considered normal in circles of human competitiveness, where people climb over each other in order to "succeed." To everything that represents the old world order, the manger means danger.

May we live in the "complete reversal" and the "new ordering of things" this Christmas weekend and in the coming year!

How Jesus' home life shaped who he became

What characterized the home into which Jesus was born? 

Over the last three Christmas seasons, I have reflected more and more on this question. Joseph was upright and merciful. Mary was humble and obedient. Both had courage to follow the very costly path God laid out for them -- raise the savior of the world but be perceived by everyone to have "hooked up" before they were married.

Today I am thinking about the stigma of "sinner" that both Joseph and Mary carried. Jesus was born and raised in a house stained with the scarlet letter. Who does he connect with later? The "sinners" of Jewish society.

God used Jesus' home life to prepare him for his messianic ministry. Both the damaged reputation and the virtues of Jesus' parents would be relevant. Upright, merciful, humble, obedient, and courageous -- this describes the adult Jesus. Perceived by many as being a sinner -- this does as well. Both were key parts of Jesus' home life.

Celebrating the light of the world in spectacular fashion

All through the Advent season, we at Sanctuary Church have been focusing on finding stillness in a busy season. We enter the Christmas season with a desire to draw close to God and show love to others. However, the hustle and bustle of our December schedules can thwart our ability to be still with God. What can we do to create and protect stillness in our lives during December?
We have noticed in the Christmas story, that God visits people in quiet places at quiet times. We saw in the story of Mary that God visits someone with a quiet heart -- that is, Mary is not clamoring to have everything her way. She is ready to receive whatever God wants to give her.
Ah, stillness. It is delicious any time of the year but especially during the Christmas season... And then one of my friends sent me this. Stillness, be gone! :-)

In light of all we have talked about at church, I got a kick out of the Christmas lights video. I like it! It's just such an in-your-face juxtaposition from the theme …

What the blues have to do with postmodern culture and preaching

Delta blues music from the 1920s and the postmodern culture we currently live in -- what do they have in common? And in what way does blues music resemble good preaching? Here is what I discovered tonight.

In his book on the history of the blues entitled Deep Blues, Robert Palmer explains that black music underwent several fundamental changes in the 1920s. One of the most important involves the standpoint from which the music is written. Older black music tended to be written from a detached standpoint. A song might be about a possum or a train engineer. Blues, on the other hand, was an expression of the singer's own experience. It told a story from one man or woman's perspective. The blues meant a transition from objective to subjective. (Deep Blues, p. 75)

Interestingly, Palmer connects subjectivity to freedom. "Only a man who understands his worth and believes in his freedom sings as if nothing else matters [than his subjective experience of events]."

Now how does…

Doing church with shock and amazement

Last night I dozed off during a tv show about Pearl Harbor and drifted, half awake, into a show called Decoded. It was about finding secret messages in the artwork of Leonardo DaVinci. I found the analysis of DaVinci's work mildly interesting. What really caught my attention was how the show is filmed. It gave me a vision of how can do church (tongue in cheek!).

In Decoded, there are three investigators who go out and interview "experts" (I wonder about their actual expertise) about the subject in question. Every conversation goes like this:

Camera shows the investigators talking with the expert. One investigator asks a question.Expert gives an answer.Investigators give a surprised look to one another as if to say, "Did you hear that?!?"Repeat several times... Never mind the fact that a lot of the answers the experts give are interesting but not really that earth shaking. It doesn't matter. The looks of shock and amazement are exchanged after almost every c…

Breaking poverty through education

A recent Tweet by Brian Fikkart, one of the authors of When Helping Hurts, confirms what we have been talking about at Sanctuary Church: one of the best ways to break cycles of poverty is to get kids into school. In Haiti, we know dozens of children right in our neighborhood who are roaming the streets all day because there is no public school available, and their parents don't have money to pay for a private school. These kids who don't go to school are almost guaranteed to grow up perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

Fikkart refers to a New York Times opinion piece in which Nikolas Kristof writes,  "One common thread, whether I’m reporting on poverty in New York City or in Sierra Leone, is that a good education tends to be the most reliable escalator out of poverty. Another common thread: whether in America or Africa, disadvantaged kids often don’t get a chance to board that escalator." If you want to do something about the problem, a place to start is helping fund ou…

Two signs that someone is humble

I am working on a book chapter on humility, and as I was beginning the chapter, I realized that humility is pretty hard to define. And yet we tend to know when people are humble and when they are not. So I asked on Facebook, "How do you know when someone is humble?" The responses helped me clarify things in my mind on a couple of points. I'll quote a handful of the responses that consistently focused on two signs of humility.

Humility involves a certain kind of self-forgetfulness. Humility liberates us from self-obsession and frees us to focus our energy on others. The humble person "goes unnoticed much of the time," and that's okay. Humility means being willing to go unnoticed. 

When a humble person circulates socially, there is quiet peace about oneself and boisterous joy in the accomplishments of others. For humble people, "it’s not all about them all the time. They give credit when credit is due and don’t worry when credit for themselves …

What going to Haiti is all about

This photo pretty much sums it up. It was taken when we were meeting with Lena and talking about getting a house built for her and her family. After we chatted for a while, we all prayed -- our teammates, Desir (the Haitian who will be the project manager), and Lena. The joining of hands says "we are in this together," the roughness of the table suggests earthiness and simplicity, and the posture of our hands expresses that before any shovels get picked up or hammers get swung, we stop to thank God for his generosity.

A Haiti postscript -- little things do matter!

Sometimes in a place like Haiti, it is easy to think that nothing we do will ever make a difference. Two encounters happened on our way home that I believe were God's way of saying to us, "It might not appear to you that you are helping, but you are." We didn't do anything spectacular on our trip. We didn't serve thousands of people. We didn't solve wide scale problems. What we primarily did was strive to be a blessing to people. Our greatest gift was to be personally present with people and pray with them. Sometimes it feels like that kind of activity can't put a dent in the problems Haiti faces. Or maybe it helps more than we think.

On the plane going from Port-au-Prince to New York, the flight attendant who was passing out the customs forms was Haitian. Just to be nice, she asked me a couple of questions about why we were in Haiti. I replied that we have friends there, and we are working with an orphanage and a school, and generally trying to bless the…

"Stupid Friday" in Haiti

Our last day of the trip was aptly named by my teammates “Stupid Friday.” None of us wanted to leave Haiti, and we had been dreading our last day. However, while it was stupid in that sense, it was still full of the things that make Haiti great.
While I sat at the guest house writing a blog post and uploading photos, the rest of the team went to Friday chapel at the school. They came home raving about the songs performed by the girls. It seems to be common at Haitian church services for women to sing for the congregation. In the services we held after the earthquake, there were many such songs performed. At chapel they do this too. The singers are not necessarily the most talented vocalists. I have never seen men sing, only women or girls. It is an expression of worship. The songs done at the school on Friday morning really touched the hearts of my teammates.
We then went on a field trip to find some candy to take to the Ben’s for the school recess at noon. On Fridays, the kids gath…

Thursday: A Thanksgiving in Haiti

Thursday was Thanksgiving! For all of us, it was a different kind of Thanksgiving observance. Since it is an American holiday, the Haitians don't celebrate it. For us, it was a Thanksgiving to remember.

In the morning, Jim worked on a door he built for the family we had visited earlier in the week. The front of their little block hovel is just a piece of plastic hanging in the doorway. The door that Jim made should help keep out the cold at night and then some. He did a great job! Unfortunately, we had to leave before the new door could be installed. It will probably go in next week.

Also in the morning, the ladies from our team went to volunteer at the kindergarten class at MDL school. They came back with several funny stories from the classroom.

Before we ate lunch, we went over to hang out with the school kids at their lunchtime. I particularly enjoy this because this includes the kids from the Claireville Ravine. They are nice kids -- good natured and lots of fun.

Our Thanksg…

Wednesday in Haiti

Wednesday started slow, but it ended up being a great day. In the morning, Jim and I accompanied Andrea, Rose, and DeAnna as they walked to the house that hosts the Apparent Project. The Apparent Project is a business run by an American family who is employing Haitian artisans to make jewelry, purses, baskets, and other goods. Andrea, Rose, and DeAnna wanted to check into the possibility of bringing back some of the products to sell at home parties.

Jim and I waited outside the gate while the ladies went in to shop. We thought it would take a few minutes. We had accumulated three street boys along the way, so we started talking to them. I was also carrying a bag with donated items for the Maison de Lumiere school. We did our best to talk to the boys with our limited Creole. A few minutes went by. Looking for something to do, I started fishing around in the bag to see if it held anything that might interest the boys. There was a box with a puzzle inside. We went through the names of al…

Tuesday in Haiti -- visiting families and other adventures

Tuesday was a much better day than Monday. Our whole team felt like the blessings of Tuesday made up for the trials of Monday.

In the morning we interviewed Lena, a Haitian woman who lost her house in the earthquake. She is married and has four children, and they are currently living in a tent city in another part of Port-au-Prince. Her name got passed to the Manasseros, and she is at the top of the list to receive a prefab house. This is one of the things we came down here for. Funds were donated for us to hire Haitian work teams to build two houses. Lena is supposed to be the recipient of the first one. At this point we don't know whether any building will start before we leave, but at least we got to meet her. We mentioned that at different times in our lives, all of us need help from others. In other words, we didn't want Lena to feel embarrassed. We could imagine how hard it must be if you lost your house, and your husband lost his job, and most of your things had been st…

Lows and highs -- Monday in Haiti

Monday was a challenging day. We are getting more and more connected to the realities of life in the streets and tent cities, and it is difficult to deal with. 
In the morning we met with Ivens, school principal and general caretaker of many people in the neighborhood around the orphanage. We wanted to ask some specific questions about what it would take to sponsor kids in school. When kids grow up in poverty, they are likely to remain in poverty throughout their lives. They have children who live in poverty, and on the cycle goes. One of the ingredients in breaking those cycles is to get children as much education as possible. Ivens explained that even if an adult has only had a few years of primary education, they are more capable of reasoning through what it takes to make a family business run. 
In the neighborhood around us, many children don't go to school at all. There is almost no public school in Haiti. President Martelly has made it a priority to make education more widel…

Head over heels for Haiti

We're head over heels for Haiti! 

The group (Lauren Beck, Rose Adamson, Andrea Himmelberger, DeAnna Gallardo, Jim Quayle, and me) arrived yesterday after a very long travel day, highlighted by one of the roughest flights I have ever been on. The first leg of our trip was from San Francisco to Las Vegas, and we bounced our way through some pretty severe turbulence. 
We arrived at Maison de Lumiere, received our orientation briefing, and then made our way immediately to the boys' home to hang out with the kids. There were many happy reunions! I especially enjoyed watching Lauren, my daughter, reconnect with kids she loves but hasn't seen for two years. I also got to spend time with nurses Ashley and Brooke. I formed close bonds with them during the time I spent at the orphanage following the earthquake in January 2010. 
Today has been a very full day! We went to church this morning at Port-au-Prince Fellowship. We all got something out of the sermon. Following church, we went t…

How many Facebook friends is too many?

How many Facebook friends is too many? The answer may surprise you. In a post on social media, Jay Deragon says this: "According to Oxford University’s professor of evolutionary anthropology, Robin Dunbar, after you have amassed 150 friends on Facebook, any more are meaningless because the human brain can only remember 150 meaningful relationships anyway." The rule of 150 has also been documented in Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point.

Should you "unfriend" people until you pare your friends roster down to 150? I don't think so. However, Deragon challenges us to think about meaning and meaninglessness when it comes to social networking and how we do relationships.

Seeking God's will in big decisions, post 4

Continuing with a process for making big decisions with God. Here's the basic roadmap:

Seek God in prayer and fasting.See God in your story.Feel God's Fire in Your HeartKnow Your Strengths (and Face Your Challenges)Listen for God's VoiceDecide and Move Forward This is post #4 on knowing our strengths and facing our challenges. Under "strengths", we are talking about spiritual gifts, talents, and expertise. The bottom line is that we are looking at what we are good at and love to do. When we make a big decision, we usually don't want to head off in a direction that doesn't emphasize our strengths. I say "usually" because we don't want to limit God to working exclusively within the strengths we know we already have.

In 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, Paul essentially said that all of us are good at something. God gives everyone gifts to use for the betterment of everyone else.

In order to follow Paul's teaching that we should operate in ou…

Advice from a hospital chaplain

I attended a lunch gathering today where Susan Cosio, a friend who's a hospital chaplain in Sacramento, talked about what's important to know if you ever need to visit someone in the hospital. She deals with illness, injury, trauma, crisis, and death on a regular basis. What do you do if (or when) you need to care for someone who is facing these situations? I thought this was useful not just for pastors but for anyone. Here are my takeaways:

You can never be completely prepared for a situation of crisis. Don't even pretend that you are or can be in control of the situation. Instead, let the complexities and intense emotions drive you to depend on God.Jesus got to the hospital room long before you did. He is with the broken, hurting, sick, and broken. When you go into a situation of crisis, you are getting to hang out with Jesus.People in the hospital often wonder whether anyone really cares about them. The best place to start is to simply let them know you care.Let your wor…

Book review: The Truth about Leadership

Whether it's at home or work or church or in other contexts, we have a desire to influence others. Influence is also called leadership. We are all leaders (or want to be leaders) in one way or another. The question is, will we work on getting better at it?

If your answer is yes, I have a book recommendation: The Truth about Leadership by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. They have been researching and studying leadership issues for 30 years. They have found that although the context for leadership has changed a lot (cultural shifts to postmodernism, globalization, multiculturalism, economic downturn, etc.), the content of leadership has remained the same. In other words, what people considered important about leaders 30 years ago has remained the same through all the changes in cultural context. The primary question of the book is: what are those enduring qualities of leadership that stay the same no matter what else is happening? What is the real truth about leadership?

The result …

Missional meditation for 11/3/2011: Prayer is the source of mission

A lot of us know Mother Teresa as a social activist. She lived most of her life in the slums of Calcutta, India, forming a religious and charitable ministry to the poorest of the poor. What we might not appreciate is the depth of her prayer life and relationship with God. Here are some comments about her as she was preparing to take her final vows in 1937. She was not yet "Mother Teresa," and she was not yet in Calcutta. At this time she was "Sister Teresa," and she was teaching at a school for girls elsewhere in India. This quote is to give a window into her spiritual life that had already developed:
After nine years in Loreto, Sister Teresa was approaching a very important moment in her life -- she was about to make her profession of perpetual vows. Her superiors and her companions had by now become acquainted with her prayerfulness, compassion, charity, and zeal; they also appreciated her great sense of humor and natural talents for organization and leadership. …

Seeking God's will in big decisions, post 3

It's one thing to make big decisions. It's another thing to make big decisions with God. Here's an outline of the process we are working through at Sanctuary:

Seek God in prayer and fasting.See God in your story.Feel God's Fire in Your HeartKnow Your Strengths (and Face Your Challenges)Listen for God's VoiceDecide and Move Forward This is post #3 on feeling God's fire in our hearts. 
When Jesus called Saul (who became Paul), Saul had no idea he would one day be preaching the good news about Jesus to the Gentiles. However, some years later, Paul wrote to the Christians in the prominent Gentile city of Corinth, "I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" In other words, "If I don't preach the good news about Jesus to the Gentiles, I feel like I am going to die!"
God creates us and fashions us in just the way he wants. He crafts our inmost being and knits us together (Ps 139:13). He indwells us (1 Cor 6:19) and if we…

Missional meditation

Mother Teresa set the tone for the spirituality practiced by the Sisters in her community. Here is something she taught them:
Let us remember that Jesus always praised the faith of people -- therefore, often during the day we will pray: "Jesus in my heart increase my faith, strengthen my faith. Let me live this faith through living, humble obedience."

A question to ask yourself when making decisions

In her book Inner Compass (a great book about discerning God's will for your own life), Margaret Silf includes this devotional thought:
Recall a decision you made recently. Can you identify your reason for deciding as you did? Did you decide in the hope of gaining something, in the fear of losing something, or out of a state of inner freedom? If we are making decisions out of a desire to gain something or a fear of losing something, we might as well be locked up in a dungeon cell. We are trapped in a cycle of wanting to take from the world in order to satisfy our desires or sooth our fears.

If we are coming from a place of being able to give ourselves away without demanding to receive something in return, then we are in a state of freedom. That's like stretching out our arms in an open field.

I invite you to ask this question when you are making decisions. Are you approaching people and situations driven by the desire to take and possess them so you can fulfill your desires or…

Taize prayer and the resolve never to run away from God's call

Today I viewed a video on the history of the Taize contemplative prayer community in France, and one line jumped out at me. The community had grown and grown, even to the point that Pope John Paul II visited the Taize community in 1986. Reflecting years later on this momentous occasion, Brother Roger, founder of Taize, said,
"Ah! We became aware that God was expecting something from us." What a statement -- so simple yet a thought to stop and reflect over. "We became aware..." Becoming aware assumes two things. First, we are always catching up to God. Second, we do well when we pay attention to his movements.

"God was expecting something of us." Interesting way to put things! What is God expecting of us? I ask this question about Sanctuary Church. What does God expect? What is our calling? What has he put in front of us, and how can we respond as disciples of Jesus?

We can also ask these questions of ourselves. In fact, Brother Roger goes on to say,

Seeking God's Will in Big Decisions, post 2

Last week I posted the first installment on "seeking God's will in big decisions." In that post, I wanted to establish that we do first things first. And if we are going to make decisions with God, first things are waiting on God in a humble posture of praying and fasting. Once you establish that foundation, what comes next? For me, and based on my research, it involves looking at our history. Specifically, we seek to "see God in our story." Why? Because what God is going to do in the next chapter of my (or our) story is based on what he has already done in the previous chapters.

Look at the apostle Paul. He is commissioned along with Barnabas to begin a mission to the Gentiles in Acts 13. What we might not appreciate is that there was quite a backstory that led to his commissioning. Here are the highlights:
His calling (Acts 9:16): Saul is sitting in a room in Damascus, blinded and dealing with the shocking reality that Jesus really is Lord and master. Jesus co…

Starbucks -- to display your Bible or not?

In romantic relationships, there's an ongoing debate about how much PDA is okay. What's PDA? "Public Display of Affection." How much hugging, kissing, handholding, and so on is allowable in public? 
Today I noticed that I have an inner debate about PDB while I'm in Starbucks. What's PDB? "Public Display of Bible." If you're doing Bible study in Starbucks, how much PDB is appropriate? 
I work at coffee shops at least a couple of times a week, and often I am preparing my sermon for the weekend. Oddly enough, when I do Bible study like this, I feel mildly conflicted about putting my Bible out on the table. I often use anyway, so Bible display not an issue. But today I had to acknowledge to myself (and to God) that PDB is an issue in my conscious mind. 
I don't like to be too showy about public display of religious equipment, as if displaying my Bible might make make it look like I feel holier than other people in Starbucks. Als…

Christian fasting -- why not do it today?

Fasting is a discipline that has been around since Old Testament times, was practiced by Jesus and his followers, was recommended by Jesus, and has a long history in the Christian church. It is a "stock" Christian practice for Christians in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East. However, most American Christians do not practice fasting. Who's pattern should we follow? Even though it's uncomfortable, I want to follow the Jesus pattern. Therefore, I have asked the Sanctuary community to fast one day a week, especially while we are in this period of discerning God's unique calling on our church.

What is Christian fasting? Author Lynne Baab defines it this way: “Christian fasting is the voluntary denial of something for a specific time, for a spiritual purpose, by an individual, family, community or nation” (Fasting, p. 16). 

If you don't know which day to fast, Thursday is a good day (Sanctuary instituted Global Thursdays). If you wonder how long to fas…