Prayer Based on Belgic Confession 19

seekinggodsface“Lord God, you defy all my tidy categories for understanding you, especially at Christmas.  What a paradox the incarnation is – true God and authentic humanity knit into one person, your Son, Jesus Christ.  I worship you for this marvelous mystery – as true God you conquered death by your power, and as a real human you died for me in the weakness of your flesh, Amen.”(BC 19)

Prayer comes from “Seeking God’s Face: Praying With the Bible Through the Year

Advertisements

Big Dreams, Small Beginnings

 “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” –  Isaiah 11:6

 Compassion-Day-2-LaticiaMost of us dream big.  I never hear my five year old son say that when he grows up he’s going to become an entry level mail clerk at the local office of the department of National Defense (never mind the fact that he has no idea what that means), he talks about becoming an astronaut who flies rocket ships.  When we think about justice or injustice for that matter, so often we speak in the same lofty tones, big talk about the eradication of poverty or the elimination of social injustice in foreign countries.  These are good dreams to hold onto and pursue, but so often their achievement begins…in the mailroom, one letter at a time.

C.S. Lewis, in an essay written in 1940 entitled “Why I am Not a Pacifist,” (included in “The Weight of Glory” and Other Essays) said,

I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can…just as the dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race.”

One could argue that Lewis’ definition of ‘limited objectives’ was still quite lofty, but his point is good.  Our Christian calling begins with small and tangible contexts as a means to a larger end.

It is an advent approach to justice.  The Bible tells the story of God and his redemptive ‘dream’ for the world and for his people.  But inside that story, the crux of salvation began not with a grand overture but with a baby born in a stable.  The first recipients of the news of God’s grace were not those living in the palace of Jerusalem but the local farmers (shepherds) of Bethlehem.  To this end our calling today begins on the street we live on, our places of employment and among the people we meet every day.  May we with God during this advent season dream big, but begin small.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, may we embrace the humility you embodied as we live into your redemptive ‘dream’ for the world.  Amen

note: this devotion was first published in the Advent devotion series “A Light Shines in Darkness” by the CRC Office for Social Justice on December 14, 2012

Advent Time

Two weeks ago one of my favorite woodworking writers offered up his Stanley number 4 type11 smoothing plane to the reader who submitted the best woodworking haiku.  Longing for this well-tuned machine and feeling inspired one evening I came up with this:

Bring down the pillar                                                                                                            The wedge bears the years to tell                                                                                    Giving shape to time

I was trying to capture the way woodworking deals with something that has lived through sometimes a century of seasons.  We woodworkers go crazy over the tight grains in boards that show lots of slow growth.  Some of the best wood comes from trees that have had to struggle for years under the canopy of other trees.  Each growth ring comes nice and close to last year’s ring–making for strong and beautiful boards for things like boats and furniture.

Sadly, I didn’t win the no. 4.  I was beat out by a guy who compared the handplane to a woman.  Figures.

Yet, thinking about trees and time has given me some perspective on Advent.  In 2 Peter 3 the Scripture reminds us about God’s patience in delaying his coming.  His patience is meant to allow room for repentance.  It’s meant to bring more people into his salvation through Christ Jesus.

It makes me think about growth rings and grain.  God’s after that old-growth heartwood.  It looks good now.  It’s going to look stunning in the age to come.

Not Okay

Jake slumped in his chairs, drummed his fingers nervously on the table in front of him. He was in my office, trying to explain why church–especially this church–wasn’t for him. It wasn’t the music. Or the coffee. The people were friendly. The preaching tolerable. So what was the problem?

“Well, Pastor,” he said. “It’s just that the people here are so…so…so good! I’ll never fit in!”

I tried to laugh his comment off. Told him he only needed to get to know folks a little better–then he’d learn the truth. But the fact was, Jake’s words got to me.

Six and a half years ago–when I was fresh out of seminary and looking for a job–a professor told me First Denver would be a great place to go. “That’s a place,” he said, “where it’s okay to have a problem.” He meant it as a compliment. After all, as Richard Foster says somewhere, the church is a fellowship of sinners (albeit forgiven ones) before it is a fellowship of saints. The heart of our message is that we are not okay–but God loves us anyway.

I wonder what we might do as a church to make sure people like Jake don’t miss that. How can we communicate that really, none of us are “okay”? In particular, how can church leaders (pastors, staff, elders and deacons) model that this is a place where it is “okay to have a problem”?*

This is not the message we usually want to send. It may be okay for others to have problems–but not us! We are the religious professionals, after all. We get paid for this! We want to project an image of competency. Professionalism. Wholeness. Holiness! And like anybody else, we have our pride. So we’d prefer to keep our sins–and even our simple mistakes and screw-ups–well hidden.

But the truth is, they are always there somewhere. The truth is, we are not okay.

So: how can we help our congregations be okay with that?

____________________

*I’m trying to think beyond the so-called “homiletical strip-tease”, in which pastors air a little too much from the pulpit.