Monthly Archives: June 2009

Yesterday’s Gospel lectionary reading was Luke 22:39-51.  After Jesus prays in the Garden, Judas comes to betray him.  Then comes this amazing scene:

49When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (NRSV)

Think about it: One of Jesus’ closest disciples (John says it was Peter), severely wounded someone who wasn’t a disciple.  Peter had good intentions:  He wanted to defend Jesus.  He wanted to show whose side he was on.  He thought he was doing the right thing – after all, Jesus had just told him to make sure he had a sword on him (22:36). 

How often do well-intentioned Christians end up severely wounding those outside the church?  They want to defend Jesus.  They want to make their message heard.  They think they’re doing the right thing.  But they end up slicing off ears instead of being faithful to Jesus.  I have a number of friends who have been wounded by Christians.  In turn, some blame the Church for what individual Christians have done.    To be fair, it’s not the fault of “the Church” or of Jesus himself, but of individual Christians like Peter who thought they were doing the right thing but did more harm than good.

I think this passage provides two words of encouragement to those who’ve been wounded by Christians:  (1) Jesus wants to heal those wounds.  Just as Jesus touched Malchus’ ear and healed it, so he can heal the wounds of those who’ve been wronged by his followers ever since.  Whether it was a relationship gone wrong, abuse, injustice, or any other unfaithful act by a follower of Jesus, Jesus wants to heal those wounds.   (2) Jesus’ followers aren’t perfect.  We’re not Jesus.  We’re just as much in need of Him as those outside the Church.  Even the most devoted disciples, or the most bold in demonstrating their allegiance to Jesus, will inevitably screw up like Peter did.  And when that happens, Jesus says “No more of this!”.  We have to pause and ask ourselves, “What are we called to repent of in our own actions that have wounded others?” And then we pray and trust that Jesus will heal the wounds we’ve caused.

Today is Father’s Day.  I’m in Telluride, CO, where I’ve spent the weekend at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival with my dad.  We’ve come to the festival together off and on since I was a child – the last time being four years ago, before I got married and moved to Pittsburgh.  It’s usually on Father’s Day weekend, so I’m grateful for the chance to celebrate Father’s Day here with him again.  In fact, thinking about my gratitude for sharing Telluride with him inspired this list of other reasons why I’m grateful for my dad:

  1. I’m grateful for the love of good music that he gave me.  Not only have we come to Telluride numerous times together, but we’ve been lots of concerts together: Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris.  On long drives when I was growing up, we always listened to Tom Petty together in the car.  He bought me my guitar and my mandolin. Thanks for the gift of music. 
  2. I’m grateful for my dad teaching me how to ski.  (He also taught me how to golf.  Given the infinite frustrations of golf, I’m a bit more grateful for skiing.)
  3. I’m grateful for the work ethic my dad instilled in me.  He works hard.  I learned to work hard from him. 
  4. I’m grateful for the example of financial stewardship that he is.  As a teenager, I whined and complained about the fact that I didn’t get the expensive clothes and shoes my friends did.  Now, I’m grateful – my dad’s reluctance to spend money frivolously imparted financial wisdom to me.
  5. I’m grateful for the education my dad gave me.  Yes, he paid for my college, but he also did a lot to make me value the education I received to. I’m grateful for the way provided for me in other ways, too.
  6. I’m grateful for the travels my dad has shared with me.  We used to spend my middle-school spring breaks driving throughout the southwest, visiting national parks like Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon, and Arches.  We also took a family trip to France.
  7. Along the same line, I’m grateful for the experiences of the outdoors that my dad gave me.  From fishing during summer weekends at our family’s cabin on Grand Mesa, to hikes and Jeep trips in the San Juans, my dad taught me to appreciate the beauty of creation.
  8. I’m grateful for the fact that he was at every school play, every basketball game, every show choir concert when I was growing up.
  9. I’m grateful for his personality.  The more I find myself turning into my dad, the less I mind.
  10. I’m grateful for the fact that he always said “Love ya” when dropping me off at school or ending a phone conversation.  I’ve only recently begun to realize how important that was.

Thanks Dad.  Happy Father’s Day!

Almost a year ago, I asked the question Can Introverts Plant Churches?  I was curious, mostly because I happened to be an introvert, working with another introvert, about to embark on the journey of the highly extroverted task of church-planting.  Eleven months later, here’s what I’ve learned from my own personal experience:

It’s possible if:

  • I practice Sabbath.  Sabbath for me is solitude.  Starting in January of this year, I made every Monday a sabbath from church work.  Usually I spend the entire day alone, often at home reading and resting, only leaving the house to exercise. It’s so refreshing!  Last fall, before I committed to practicing this, I was much more tired, and had a harder time concentrating.  One day a week of pure introvert time does wonders.
  • I balance my schedule.  I remember one Wednesday back in February that was hell for me: early morning meeting over coffee, followed immediately by “staff” meeting, followed immediately by another lunch meeting, followed immediately by an afternoon of phone calls and emails, followed by a full closing shift at the cafe.  I was wiped out.  Now I intentionally schedule my time so that I alternate times of people-intensive work with times alone.  As a result, my mood is much more stable.
  • I keep my intellectual life alive.  The times when I’ve been most excited about getting out there and doing ministry have been the times when I’ve been able to nourish my mind with a good book that motivates me for ministry.  Give me a day to read about missiology and I’ll have energy for a week of church work.
  • I have an “in” for talking to strangers.  Like most introverts, I find it intimidating to start a conversation out of nowhere with a random stranger.  But give me any sort of structure – such as being the barista making them a latte – and conversation flows much easier.
  • We try to minimize triangulation.  Triangulation is when Person A tells Person B something they should have told Person C directly.  I think being Person B is especially exhausting for introverts.  Thankfully, we recognized early on in the church-planting process where this was happening and have tried to avoid it. 

It’s difficult if:

  • Your spouse is in the church-plant too.  It took us a while to figure out that after everyone else leaves, I just don’t have the mental or emotional energy left to keep talking church stuff with Eileen.  Usually we can get past this – by talking about other less serious things or just sitting next to each other reading.  But it was tough for a while.
  • Your tent-making job involves being around other people constantly.  I love my job at the cafe, but I have to make sure I have lots of time to myself in the afternoon before I spent a night closing at the cafe.  Otherwise I’m too people-tired to relate in any depth with my friends/co-workers/customers there.  And after all, that’s what I’m there to do.

There’s my assessment after almost a year.  Again, I’m grateful to Introverted Church for helpful insights and book recommendations – Introvert Advantage did wonders for our marriage – and I can’t wait to read Introverts in the Church when it comes out this fall.

Please allow me to take a moment for a personal theological/missiological rant:

Mike and I were talking this morning about how people from traditional Christendom style churches have trouble understanding the concept of church-planting.  He told me that sometimes people ask him when he’ll be a “real pastor”.  My response: “Maybe you should ask them when they’ll be ‘real Christians’.  Then you can explain to them why all Christians are called to service, to witness, to mission.  Ask them ‘Were you baptized for nothing?’ The answer would probably be ‘Yes.'” 

Yes, my judgment is harsh and exaggerated.  I speak in hyperbole.  In truth, anyone who believes Jesus is Lord is a Christian.  But we ceased long ago to believe that the Lordship of Jesus requires all who name Him as Lord to speak and act in His name, regardless of whether we’re employed by a church.  Mission is something that every Christian is called to.  But congregations would rather outsource that work to their pastor.  That’s cowardice.

We’ve been reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics IV.3.2 together with some other friends.  In the first few sections of this volume, Barth labors at length to make the points that (1) Christians are not “saved” for their own sake only, as though Jesus someone exists only to satisfy their consumeristic desires.  Instead  (2) all who have been “awakened” and “called” to follow Jesus are called to do so as witnesses for Him.  Witnesses bear witness to who Jesus is, what Jesus did, what He cares about in the world today.  Witnesses bear witness to the Kingdom of God by proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and by working to bring the justice and peace of His Kingdom into the world.   By this definition, very few of  our society’s nominal baptized-as-a-baby-because-the-parents-thought-it-was-magic cultural “Christians” are actually “real Christians.”

And yes, baptism matters in this discussion.  I have no theological qualms with infant baptism.  I’m a Presbyterian – a good old Reformed paedo-baptist.  I wouldn’t even say I have missiological qualms with infant baptism.  What I have a problem with is the assumption that anyonecan be baptized without (a.) clear commitment to Jesus (as for an adult baptism) or (b.) a clear understanding that one will be raised in a way that points to Jesus as Lord (as families and congregations covenant to do together in raising a baptized child in the church).  When we promiscuously baptize anyone out of social ritual rather than commitment to the mission of Christ, we perpetuate the notion that following Jesus means nothing more than enjoying the fact that one’s been “saved”, if one even believes that.  Instead baptism should be practiced in a way that clearly communicates a call to be born anew to Christ’s mission of redeeming the world.

Last night, while working at the cafe, a customer asked me how many people attend my church.  There are about 20 people who are in some way connected with Upper Room right now.  When I told her this, she responded, “Oh that’s too bad.  I’m sorry.”  Sorry? Why?  Because the cultural assumption is that churches neither start from scratch, nor grow – they just exist as institutions and buildings where people participate in their civil religion without it challenging the social order or upsetting the principalities and powers that be, much less proclaiming any good news that results in transformed lives and increased faith. 

No, I’m not saying every Christian is called to be a full-time church employee, pastor, or missionary.  That would be preposterous.  But I am saying that every person called to follow Jesus, every person sealed with baptism in His name, is called to be a living witness to Jesus in the world.  Doctor, social worker, teacher, engineer, secretary, parent, student, government worker, landscaper, fast-food server, barista, garbage man, businessman, accountant, lawyer, nurse  – in whatever sphere of influence one inhabits, that person is called to bear witness to Jesus.  Maybe it means doing your work in a way that reflects the beauty of creation, the justice God desires for the world, or the use and stewardship of Creation’s resources. It definitely means not being afraid to speak the name of Jesus when people ask why you do what you do the way you do. 

Maybe if we had this mindset, and connected it directly to our fundamental identity as Christians, the idea of mission would be less strange to cultural Christians.  Then not only pastors of large corporation-model congregations would be considered “real pastors”.  Instead we might actually practice a form of the priesthood of all believers.  Except, I might term it the “missionary society of all believers” among whom some are designated as pastors for the specific task of guiding the mission and ensuring its faithfulness through Word and Sacrament.