Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What the?

Today's Weather Report:
Mostly Sunny High


Wind: SW 10 mph
Max. Humidity: 54%
UV Index: 6 High

Sunrise: 7:23 AM ET
Avg. High: 73°F
Record High: 90°F (1939)

Anything there seem out of the ordinary? How 'bout the end of September in Ohio having a high of 90 degrees! I mean, are you serious? I woke up this morning a good 40 minutes before the sun rose (6:45am) and was blown away when I looked up the weather report to find I would, yet again, be sweltering in heat. What happened to the Fall?

I love the warm weather like everyone else. I don't want to wear a parka & tuque all year round, but come ON. Bring on the crisp cool air of Fall. If I've got to wake up to the darkness, at least I can have a little cool air - especially as I sleep!

Hmmm... maybe the truth is inconvenient...

UPDATE - Today's Quote

"Humans, I discovered, need stories the way we need air."
-Sue Monk Kidd

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I was asked to preach at my friend's Installation Service up in Northern Michigan. We made a weekend trip out of it, which except for arriving and returning at 2am, was a blast. For the sermon, I chose to preach on Ephesians 3:16-19:

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth adn length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

As part of my sermon, I cited Eugene Peterson's, Working the Angles, which is by far my favourite book on pastoral theology. Interestingly enough, the two retired ministers who gave the chargs (one to Andrew, one to the congregation) ALSO cited Eugene Peterson. It was particularly interesting since we had no knowledge of what each of us were going to say ahead of time. It's pretty cool to see God work like that.

When Bridgette and I were returning from the service, I was reminded of something very interesting. As Petereson talked about, and I had mentioned, being merely a professional minister, or posing as a pastor is not what we are called to do and not what people need. But it is very easy to do. That is why we must not only strengthen our inner being but also plumb the depths of God's love in Jesus Christ. But as we were driving home, I was reminded of how intoxicating preaching can be - it's almost like meth. Not that I would know what meth is like, I'm purely guessing here... Anyway, I can totally understand the pull to the ministry that can get ahold of our flesh. When you stand at the back of a congregation or whatever and receive all that praise after a "good" sermon - heck, the rush of adrenaline that kicks in as the "Spirit" (and I can only hope it's the Spirit) moves through you as you preach - it's like drinking 3 cups of coffee. An hour later in the car I still felt hyped up. It's stuff like this that reminds me of how careful I need to be. I think it's another reason why I've begun my pastoral ministry as an Associate Pastor. Yeah, I could be at a church of "my own" right now, preaching every week, getting all the accolades (and taking all the heat of course), but I still think I need preparation. Some people, and some of them are my close friends, were ready right out of Seminary. I on the other hand was not. Maybe, I'll be ready after serving a number of years in this congregation. Maybe, I'll be ready after serving in a few churches as an AP. Maybe I never will be. But in any case, I'll always need to beware of the intoxicating fragrance of the pulpit...

Monday, September 17, 2007

THIS is Ministry!

Just a quick note to share with everyone how I spent last Sunday, at church. September 9 was Rally Day which included, among other things - pie the pastor. It's not a particularly theological endeavour. But it's great fun for kids to be able to throw heaping plates of whipped cream at a "pastor." Everyone laughs and appreciates you when you take yourself a little less seriously. Except for the small lacerations on my face because we were using aluminum pie plates - it was great fun. I'll share tomorrow how I spent this past Sunday...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Problem with Evolution

Maybe I should have titled this "A Problem..." I'm not trying to debunk the theory or anything and I really should begin with 2 caveats. First, this is absolutely not some kind of "flat-earth, fundamentalist propaganda, anti science rant." I'm not trying to prove or disprove anything about the theory of evolution, the age of the earth or whatever. Second, the degree to which this is coherent and valuable is based on the degree to which I can recall my musings of yesterday evening.

I don't exactly recall how I got thinking about Evolution - so is the way my mind works. But I realize there is a fatal flaw in the theory - or at least in its extrapolation into the rest of our spheres of knowledge and ideas about our world. But in truth, it's not so much the theory itself that is particularly flawed - well, that is not exactly what I'm concerned with here. Whether or not macro evolution as well as micro evolution occurred/s, whether or not all life originated as the descendants of single-celled micro-organisms that through millions and millions of years of accidental mutations got to humanity - well, I'll set that aside. What I want to raise up is something slightly more foundational - something that I can only believe was planned in the mind of Darwin, well before he ever ventured onto the Galapagos Islands.

As a 19th Century intellectual, Charles Darwin was brought up under the enlightenment ideals - of which the linear movement of human progress was one. Whether incrimental or exponential, everyone understood that we were moving forward as a species - to a better place, one that was to be more prosperous and more advantageous. New worlds were literally and figuratively opening up (at least for white-European males). Progress was obvious. You might say that nothing much has changed a century and a half later. We still believe in the limitless possibilities of our intellect and our ambition - if we just try hard enough we will eventually be able to cure cancer, vacation on the moon and eat whatever we want and still look like Hollywood actors.

In Darwin's theory particularly, there is the idea that through genetic anomolies, members of different species will inherit traits that will be advantageous for their survival. And hence, Surivival of the Fittest. It's hard to argue that in a "natural" environment, where the laws of said amorpheous being/entity/book as nature is followed, the strong - or well equipped will survive and those weaker - less equipped will eventually die. But I believe there is an assumption here that is not being admitted - one that we all might be making equally without admitting to it - one that if we are to be intellectually honest, we must accept as an apriori assumption.

The assumption is this: Life, and life in our environment on this earth, in this situation is good. The idea of course, if we are the supreme example of evolution - the height of natural selection, is that we - as we exist now - are inherintly good because we have been able to adapt to our surroundings. This is an assumption - and one that can be thrown on its ear with this question:

What if our world is NOT good. What if the environment we inhabit is corrupt, dying, decaying. If natural selection is true, and again, my goal in this post is not to refute the theory but to expose a fundamental flaw in its foundation - which leads us to believe something that is quite possibly very far from true - If natural selection is true, and our world is NOT good, then we are actually breeding the fruit of corruption, death and decay. If those of us (and I'm talking both about humans and animal/plant species) who have survived, who have been selected by nature for fitness, are being bred to survive in a - well, "bad" environment, then we too must by extension be bad. We would actually be breeding the very things that we would not want, should we take this to another arena - like ethics.

But in our fragmented world, these kinds of connections do not take place. All we need to do is look to the news to see that the 19th Century Liberal (I'm not talking politics here) idea that the world could be perfected, that we are moving towards that now, is all wrong. Do I need to name Rwanda, Somalia, Hiroshima, Auchswitz, 9-11 or the myriad of sensless violence we see on the news every night? But we still cling to some idea that eventually - through technology or medicine or sheer force of will - if not collectively, at least individually, we will wake up tomorrow better than we go to bed tonight - we will evolve into something better.

I think Charles Darwin was right - natural selection occurs. What I think he failed to see, was that evolution by natural selection, instead of leading towards a better place, is breeding creatures that are adept at surviving in a fallen world. And maybe, just maybe Jesus was right when he claimed, "Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it." (Lk 17:33)

*This is an aside*
I couldn't find anywhere else to put this, but there is one more unintended consequence that is particularly troubling in the whole idea of progress - and that is the infatuation of the new and the denegration of the old. There is the belief - felt if not always uttered - that if someone said it today, it's probably more accurage or valuable than if someone said it 100 years ago. Even worse is that an opinion held today is more valuable than tens of millions of people who had an opposing view 100 years ago. Somehow, by virtue of our continued evolution into more intelligent beings, whatever trite we propose now is surely more advanced than what one believed a century ago...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Elijah, Part III

Elijah replied,
"I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I alone am left, and now they are trying to kill me, too."
1 Kings 19:10

A couple weeks ago, I preached on this passage. I gave a message that was a simple reminder - you are not alone! Here's Elijah, warn out, burned out and depressed. He pretty much sets aside his mission, goes off by himself, and ends up in a cave. He's not impressed with the wind, rain, lightning, fire - only in the silence of a small voice does he emerge from his cave to encounter God, and repeat this message of his own despair.

What God follows with though, after his commissioning of a new task, is to remind Elijah of this - "YET I will preserve seven thousand others in Israel who have never bowed to Baal or kissed him!"

The message for Elijah is simply that despite how he feels, he is NOT alone. And it's not simply that - God's there. I doubt Elijah ever questioned that. But knowing that God is there with us is NOT necessarily enough. I mean, isn't that part of why Jesus came? The "hand" of God, the "voice" of God, the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day of God, simply were not enough. We needed that physical, human example - FLESH. And now, we need the flesh of others, other Christians, the human touch so to speak, as a reminder that we are not alone.

I realized something today about this. I've always fancied myself as somewhat of an intra-extra-vert. Someone who belongs in the middle. I enjoy being with others and yet I also enjoy time on my own. What I've realized this past couple weeks, and especially today, is that this is not the truth.

I've always been told that you can recognize whether you're an intra or extra-vert by where you "gain energy from." After spending time with people, are you excited, or is it draining. Well, I always reflected on how tired I was after events and spending time with people and figured it was more evidence that I kinda have that balance. Yes, I enjoy being with people, but the truth is, I both gain and lose energy. But this week, I've struggled with that human contact. I've been looking to connect with more people here at the church and it's been a mixed bag. I didn't realize how proactive I'd need to be. It's taken more time than I had expected, and therefore, I've been drawn out longer than I expected and it's highlighted the fact that I NEED that contact.

Today, I had a wonderful lunch with another local pastor, a guy who has planted a church in the area a year ago. It was great. I then went straight into a meeting with our co-pastors. It's a "business" meeting in the sense that we plan, calendar and catch each up on our areas. But it's not all dry and boring. We laugh - it's enjoyable. And after 2.5 hours between those two meetings, and some looking ahead to continuing education events with other friends - I realize that I'm a DEFINITE extravert. I absolutely need those times of human interaction to keep from ending up like Elijah - wasting away in a cave somewhere. I need to be reminded sometimes that there ARE others out there to connect with, who WANT to connect. And people out there who God is calling me to connect with - who I am uniquely prepared to connect with. The fact that I also enjoy being alone, being quiet, doing my own thing - I think is simply evidence that I am a healthy extra-vert. But if I dwell on that too much, it can easily become unhealthy. That's where I think Elijah was, and I recognize in myself, that's where I need to be as well - connecting with people...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dancing to the Depths of Love

Catchy title, eh?

So, I was asked by a good friend, fellow PTS alum and Tigers fan, to preach at his installation service in a couple weeks. It's pretty cool. We used to swap our kids to get to our classes Fall Semester of our Senior Year. We're heading to Comerica Park to see the Tigers play in 3 weeks - they're actually the closest of our friends up in Michigan, now that we're in Ohio.

Anyway, as I was contemplating a text to preach on, I came across this from Ephesians:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner bgin, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and etablished in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Eph 3:16-19

I don't have a great depth to preach from when it comes to knowing what it is to be a minister. Heck, he was ordained before I was and will be installed 2 weeks before me. But I can at least echo the words of Paul in relation to what I believe is the meat of our message - the well from which we need to drink and derive our message - the music that must fill our ears and be the platform on which we dance together:

Knowing the depths of Christ's love for us - But is it even possible? Just sit there for a moment and contemplate on that.

How great is the Father's love, that we should be called Children of God?!?

NOTHING can separate us from God's love - not height or breadth or depth - or anything in all creation!

We know love, not because we love, but because Christ first loved us - because God gave up his son, his very SELF - to experience pain, humilitation, separation from Himself so that we could be brought near!

Is our problem today as the Church that we have laxed in our theology, or polity, or ethical standards? Or is it that we have FAILED to experience the depth of Christ's love for us - and therefore failed to be filled by the fullness of God!

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I want to be broken anew - engulfed and submerged in the depths of Jesus love, so that I might be able to declare to others the wonderful truth of the gospel - the good news that is found in no other place, and in no other person, than in the one who loved us before we ever even knew ourselves...

[by the way, the above picture is my friend, a couple years ago while starring in the PTS theatre production]

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Goodbye Lloyd!

There were a bunch of significant things that happened in my week - but none quite as significant, at this moment, as the debacle yesterday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My only solace is that this should be the final nail in the coffin of a coach who couldn't get his team up for ANY big game. Not Ohio State, Not USC in the Rose Bowl - even though it was billed as National Championship 1a.

Words cannot express my frustration at how this man has been able to ruin a once proud football tradition. He gets recruits - he just doesn't make them any better. Goodbye Lloyd - and GOOD RIDDANCE!