Monday, January 30, 2012

The Body of Christ and Decision Making

I continue to “introduce” myself with blog posts describing my spirituality.

Last week, I shared about my faith rooted in Paul’s theology of the Body of Christ. I wish I could put into words how much this mystery means to me. How do we let this simple idea of Paul’s become the “operative theology” of the church?

We are not an organization but an organism, a living and breathing body. That means two important things. First, all of us have an important part in the whole. Secondly, the health of the whole system is the key to growth.

My favorite line in the communion liturgy was phrased by my friend Dick Esslinger, professor of liturgy and contributor to the hymnal. The pastor presiding at the table says, concerning the bread and juice, “make them become for us the body and blood of Christ, that we might be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.”

The adage “we are what we eat” applies strangely to communion. We live what we take into our being. We don’t always get it right, but are always becoming the body of Christ.

Paul’s metaphor of the human body helps me to understand how to be the body during decision making. It’s inevitable that there will be opinions and even disagreements in God’s church. This is not because there is something about being the church that leads to disagreement. It’s because there is something about being human that is prone to conflict.

Being the body of Christ means embracing the truth that conflict is not a problem but an opportunity. This is how we learn. Just as the human body is always dealing with challenges, building a strong immune system is the key to growth. Strong churches are not measured by whether or not they have disagreements, but by how they deal with them. Learning the ways of grace - effective, direct, and loving communication - is what makes a church great!

There is no “us and them,” no winners and losers. We are all discerning God’s will together. On the front end of a decision, this means a lot of listening and transparency on the part of leaders. On the far end of a decision, we foster an atmosphere of trust in the process, and we let it go when things didn’t necessarily go our way. In the body of Christ, the process is more important than results.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Spirituality of the Body of Christ

Over the last few months, I have been posting occasional articles describing my spirituality. You may have noticed some dynamic contrasts that developed along the way. My spirituality is one of both retreat and creativity, of both risk and roots, of both longing and incarnation.

Recently, I shared of my spirituality of mystery, one side of another dynamic contrast. The other side is experiencing, here and now, the self-giving love of God as revealed through the Body of Christ. God is mystery, but Christ is mystery revealed.

When Jesus said “where two or three are gathered in my name, there will I be,” he meant it. This amazing idea that he is present in our midst, that he is not only “around here somewhere” but that he is here in US and that we are his body redeemed by his blood, changes everything.

When this simple idea becomes the core of our operative theology of the church, it is life-giving. So I share today some of my spirituality of the Body of Christ, and I may continue with a couple of reflections in future posts.

The “Body of Christ” is one of Paul’s central themes in the New Testament. He used the metaphor of the healthy systems of the human body working together to describe the church. Yet we so often impose our secular understandings of “how to get things done” on church. We forget that this profound assertion in Paul’s writing leads us to a way of deeper love.

In short, I don’t think of the church as an organization. I think of it as an organism. Embracing the church as a body, rather than thinking of it as an institution, has changed my life. There is nothing wrong with using good business sense to help the church run smoothly. But the New Testament gives us an entirely different way of thinking than “us and them,” “get-er-done,” and “how to win friends and influence people.”

The church is a workshop for learning the ways of love that will only be fully realized in heaven. This is what church administration is all about.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

No Lie Can Live Forever

This week, our nation paused to remember the life of a man who was a symbol of change in a time of turmoil, a symbol of courage in the face of the sin of racism. For me, Martin Luther King, Jr. has also been a hero I have looked up to in ministry, because he was passionate as well as articulate about the kingdom of God. He had embraced a vision from Jesus that compels us to change hearts and lives as well as address injustice everywhere. He was a magnificent leader, a great peacemaker in the spirit of Christ.

On Monday, I listened to the speech Dr. King made on the steps of the state capital in nearby Montgomery, Alabama. His “How Long?” speech was at the conclusion of the third March from Selma to Montgomery in March of 1965. The marches were to address the restoration of voting rights and the injustice of “legal” practices such as literacy tests that exclude.

I was moved to tears. This is in part because it occurred to me that this speech took place less than a month before I was born. I have literally grown up in a culture of change, and the change has not been easy. One phrase from his speech that rings into the depths of my soul is “How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.”

During the season of Epiphany, I am continuing my sermon series “Your Light Has Come.” I have a passion for the idea that Christianity pervasively changes our sense of who we are, of how we approach ourselves and how we approach each other. This enlightenment comes layer by layer in the journey of life, as we behold the light of who Christ is.

We have looked so far at the themes of “Living the Light” and “Remembering the Voice of Your Baptism.” It occurs to me that Martin Luther King, Jr. lived out his baptismal calling and claimed that voice that spoke when Jesus was baptized. He believed in the kingdom of God as one in which everyone is beloved, everyone is a child of God. And he certainly walked as a child of the very light that shone brightly into his own soul.

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Don't Forget the Glow

Here is a poem my Granny wrote and pasted inside Grandpa Hamby’s preaching Bible. The Bible was given to me by my Uncle Warren when I was ordained twenty years ago. It is a priceless treasure.

My Uncle C.P. is also an ordained minister, and she wrote this poem for him. It blesses me when I ponder ministry. It’s also dear to my heart during the season of Epiphany.

We are called to be people of the light, following the star of enlightened magi and being pervasively changed. 


I stood beside him proudly,
So much he’d learned to know;
And yet I dared to whisper,
“Son, don’t forget the glow”.

The glow that feeds the hunger
Of restless human breasts.
The glow that gives the answer
To life’s long, ceaseless quests.

The glow that’s so rewarding,
When through the preach’d word
They breathe a prayer of “Thanks, Sir”
For the won’rous things they’ve heard.

Always put it in your message.
Hungry hearts, of God’s lost sheep,
Reaching out for strength and courage,
Need soul-food to climb the steep.

The glow by which your father
Led countless souls to see
The “glow-ry” of the gospel
As it’s surely meant to be.

A diamond studded highway
Whose end is sure reward.
So keep it bright and shining,
The glory of His Word.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Spirituality of Mystery

It is exciting to see a new year come. It’s a great time to look forward to what God might do as well as a personal time of starting off the year with anticipation. For me, it is not so much about typical New Year’s resolutions. I do have ideas about next year’s adventures, but what really delights my soul is not thinking of the things I want to do. It’s imagining the surprises the year will bring, the mystery that will unfold.

Mystery. It’s a word we crave because it gives us hope that there is meaning beneath the surface and adventure to discover around the bend. Yet we are uncomfortable with mystery at the same time. It can be disconcerting when we are reminded that life is beyond our control.

In recent months, I have been sharing some of my spirituality on blog posts from time to time. As we move into 2012, I would like to share about my “Spirituality of Mystery.” I believe there is so much more we don’t understand than what we can hope to fathom. Life is a great mystery to be explored, and ultimately God is mystery. God does not spell everything out. God beckons. God coaxes and calls. And when we respond to that magnetic yearning God has for us, we enter more deeply into the vast ocean of grace.

In today’s technological culture, we tend to keep our faith “above the neck”, an exercise in the head instead of letting it descend to the heart. We reduce our religious affections to the realm of politics, morality, or philosophical exercise. Since a deep encounter with God transforms us, this is a defense mechanism, another way of keeping God at bay. We search the scripture for ideas that support our pre-conceived notions, and we approach the Bible in hopes of mastering its information.

But what the heart needs is not more information. It’s FORMATION. There is a beckoning call for us to grow comfortable with mystery in an age fixated on certainty. When we encounter God as mystery, God’s love transforms us in a way that delights the soul.

In Christ, God is mystery revealed. Jesus did not come to reveal information about God. He came AS the revelation of God. God is mystery, and the mystery is love. I light a candle at many church meetings because I am passionate about the mystery of Christ’s presence. It changes everything about our life together when we recognize it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Your Light Has Come

Join me in traditional services at 8:30 or 10:45 at Saint Mark starting January 8 for my new sermon series, “Your Light Has Come!”

What difference does Christmas make if it doesn’t change us? Are we really living our "true self"? How does Christ show us the way to who we really are?

My series will explore our core identity as children of the light. It makes all the difference in how we treat God, treat each other, and treat ourselves.

Associate Pastor Don Cross will also be sharing an exciting new series at The Hillside (in the gym at 10:45) on the movie "Soulsurfer." All are welcome at any of our three morning services. Start the year off right. We hope to see you in worship.