Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Let's hope Seattle doesn't have another sports year like the last. Let's hope 2008 stays "The Worst Year Ever":

But, thankfully, there are more important things. May God bless you as we celebrate Jesus' birth and the life He offers. And may you have a wonderful New Year as well.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Looking for the Map?

If you want to comment on "the Map" for Cypress Church, go down to the post from December 19th. It's a few posts down. Or, do it the easy way and click here:

Comments are closed on all but the initial discussion thread. Please follow the link or find the one called "The Map Discussion."

Just War?: Background, Part 2

As Christianity gained prominence a shift, but not a break from the past, in just war theory came with the church father Ambrose. He saw the state as subject to the church. The state was charged with wielding the sword (Rom. 13), but the church was responsible for making sure they did it the right way. David was the prototypical just warrior, in Ambrose’s eyes.

Ambrose was a proponent of virtue lived out in the lives of believers, including why and how they fought wars. The pinnacle of virtue was charity (love) and soldiers lived this principle of charity because all they did was for the common good. In fact, abstaining from force in certain circumstances can be the wrong course of action and is, ultimately, unloving. Ambrose uses Moses’ rescue of the slave in Egypt as his example. For Moses to fail to act would have been a failure in character. In some cases love does not just allow for the use of force; it demands it. This is where Ambrose, according to Cole, expands the tradition handed down to him without going against it. It is not a break; it is a development.

Augustine advances the argument by noting it is the purpose of the state to restrain evil and chaos in order to have a tolerable society. Love for the common good is what drives them to do so – even if it means war. Peace is the ultimate common good, but sometimes force is required to get there. Words are preferable, but sometimes a sword is necessary. Cole emphasizes that war is not the lesser of two evils. Rather, it is a virtuous act if done for the love of the other, seeking the common good.

Now the background and foundation have been set. The next posts will look forward to the just war system built by Aquinas and Calvin.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cypress Church Map

If you want to discuss, or view the discussion, on the "Purpose Map" for Cypress Church, scroll down a couple entries, or click here: I've closed comments here so we can keep them all in the same thread.

Just War?: Background, Part 1

A few weeks ago I finally finished a book with multiple views on the role of church and state. It was too long a process, but enlightening. I found Ronald Sider’s treatment of pacifism of particular interest as he was defending the Anabaptist position on church/state relations. As I was loitering in a bookstore a few days later a title caught my eye: When God Says War is Right by Darrell Cole. It is a brief book that lays out the theory and application of just war theory in a simple way. I’ll summarize his work and interact with it to a certain degree, but it seems like a good, slim volume that can help me understand this perspective. As a disclaimer, I think I am probably in the just war camp to begin with, but it is certainly not through much contemplation and reflection. Rather, it is probably due to tradition and our Judeo-Christian heritage. Regardless, here goes…

Let’s start with Cole’s definition of just war:
“The classic just war doctrine as articulated by the Church does not view all use of force as evil; rather, it declares that war can actually be a positive act of love entirely consistent with the character of God. Love of God and neighbor impels Christians to seek a just peace for all, especially for their neighbors, and military force is sometimes an appropriate means for seeking that peace” (p. 7).
Cole starts off recognizing the tension that exists when Jesus says to turn the other cheek and love your enemies and yet God, at other places in Scripture, instructs His people to kill – and even does so Himself. Rather than pointing to specific Bible verses (which I hope he gets to later), just war is theologically born – specifically from Aquinas and Calvin.

Sider, and I’m sure others, argue that the early Christians were all pacifists because war wasn’t an option for early believers. Cole, however, seems to give a compelling survey of church fathers who, while they aren’t wild about the idea of Chrsitian soldiers, saw that believers could follow God in this capacity. And those who thought clergy ought not fight still saw the role of Christians to pray for just war.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Map Discussion

Cypress Church Leaders,

Post your questions/comments on the map in the comment thread. Remember that there might be a delay because I moderate the comments so I don't post a virus for everyone to click on. If you can't figure out how, or you don't want to register to post, send me an email and I'll post it on your behalf.

I'm not sure if this will work, but it seems to be a better route than a massive "Reply to All"

Thanks for your service,

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Facebook Link

I put a post up about the tension I feel regarding facebook and in the comments, Lee put a link. It was really good. The author has given it far more thought than I have so I thought I’d post the link so you can get a more comprehensive discussion of the opportunities and perils of facebook.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Encouragement in Prayer from Eugene Peterson

Prayer is hard for me – and I know I’m not the only one. In his section on Christ Playing in Community, Peterson talks about prayer as the lingua franca of God’s community. And he walks through three parables in Luke that are helpful for a prayer-struggler like myself. These might make for a good week of devotions and prayer time. I’ll put the passage and Peterson’s lesson briefly behind it.

The Neighbor (Lk. 11.5-13): Prayer should be weaved into daily life. It isn’t a formalized ritual thing with its own vocabulary and protocol. Peterson states, “Prayer is not ritualized language composed ceremonially for an audience with heavenly royalty. Our relation with God is as unpredictable, unplannable, and unrehearsed as life with our neighbors” (p. 276).

The Widow (Lk. 18.1-8): Everyone is on equal footing with God in prayer. Peterson: “…after a lifetime of being ignored it is hard to ‘pray always’ … Get used to being listened to by God” (p. 277). I love that. Get used to being listened to by God. Beautiful.

The Sinner (Lk. 18.9-14): The bottom line of prayer is that we are sinners in need of mercy and prayer should flow out of a deep need and desperation. Peterson: “Prayer is not casual. Prayer is not a whimsical nod upward. Prayer is urgent, nothing less than a life-and-death matter: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (p. 278). This is set in contrast to the Pharisee whose prayer consists of “I, I, I, I.” Peterson asks, “Where is God in all of this?” It is preening self-approval, not prayer.

I found these to be encouragement for my prayer challenges and yet helpful reminders that I’m far more desperate than I think I am.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christ Plays in Community

The church continues the resurrection life of Jesus, but it isn’t done according to our preferences (which is what we often prefer and try), but according to the community that God wants to make – one of all different kinds of people. If we don’t honor that diversity, we are not honoring God’s desire for a community of undesirables (people different than what we’re comfortable with – whatever that may be) that He will put together, unified in the life of Christ. Luke’s gospel is full of Jesus going after people on the margins.

The way to cultivate the fear-of-the-Lord in community, according to Peterson, is baptism and love. We are baptized in the name of the Trinitarian community. We are brought into a community that includes the Triune God – as well as others in community and we, just as the Trinity expresses love within its being, so we are called to love our community. Not called, commanded. Baptism includes saying ‘no’ to our selfish ways – that’s repentances. The flip side is saying ‘yes,’ which is following Jesus – and that means loving the community.

Community doesn’t happen just between us, the Bible (or any other book, including Peterson’s), and God. It happens in relationship with others people. Love is exercised on the vertical and horizontal axes. There’s nothing better than enjoying great friends and family in community. But God is, I think, particularly honored when we love those we find unlovely (and when those who find us unlovely love us as well).

Don’t post it, but think about who you find difficult to love. Why not love them in some tangible way this Christmas season?

Friday, December 12, 2008

God's Salvation

I'm preaching on the cross this Sunday - for Christmas. Jesus is the Hero who saves us from our sin. It was good to review Peterson's chapter as a reminder of the centrality of God's work in salvation. Peterson moves, in this section, from the life of creation (previous section) to death that permeates creation. It is a depressing beginning, but then we're reminded that Christ Plays in Salvation in the theater of death and despair. His main objective in this section (far greater than a chapter - 100 pages, give or take a few) is to remind us that God is the main player in salvation and we need to avoid moralism, thinking we add anything or contribute to the process.

He uses Exodus as a grounding text. Israel eats and responds. God tears down the mental, demonic stranglehold that Egypt had on God's people and leads them out. It was his work, not theirs. They eat, leave, and sing in response to salvation. Likewise, the gospels (he focuses on Mark) point to the death of Jesus that secures salvation in history. Again, we don't add anything to it. Rather, we give up. We die to ourselves and enter into the Jesus story as His followers. We don't contribute.

As we were to cultivate awe in creation via Sabbath in the last section. In this one we are reminded that salvation is Christ's work as we take communion. It is a regular reminder of what Jesus did to secure our salvation. I remember listening to a podcast by Jim Gilmore (The Experience Economy) a while ago. He was at a conference at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He talked about how communion is an experience where we, in a small way, re-enact the cost of salvation. Powerful.

I'd encourage you to remember the next time you take communion, but that's kind of redundant. That's why we do it. But remember, I guess, that it is Jesus' work. You aren't adding anything. He is central in salvation so eat, respond, and sing with gratitude for God's great salvation.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Whole New Team

The Mariners, yesterday, were part of a 12 player trade with three teams involved. They're quite a different team. I'm not sure what to think of it because I know there's so much I don't know about the different players coming and going. But besides facebook, my primary internet addiction is USS Mariner. Here are some links on why they think this is a good deal for the Mariners - even if they're sad to see JJ Putz leaving (as most M's fans are).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cultivating Awe in Creation

Peterson’s book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, focuses on Christ playing in three places, primarily – Creation, History, and Community. He spends many pages articulating the importance of being thankful and awe-filled when it comes to creation. Then he looks at the life of Jesus in John’s gospel as building on the creation narrative of Genesis (at least Jn. 1 & Gen. 1). But this time it is the overflow of life that comes from the Creator stepping into creation. Beyond this, we’re called into relationship with this Creator who is very much grounded in our creation. There is no room for Gnosticism here. Creation is God’s good gift and His means of revealing Himself in Christ.

But after all this talk of creation, gratitude, glory, incarnation, and life, the question is raised, “How do we cultivate the appropriate awe?” The answer: Sabbath.

Peterson notes it is a time where we do-nothing so we do our God-honoring. It is a time to remember that the world does not revolve around us. As competent as we may be doing our God-given work, we remember that God really holds it all together. We need to put the tools down and rest in Him. Not just rest; worship. Adore. Be filled with awe.

Is your Sabbath filled with awe? I know my Sundays are filled with to-dos and church responsibilities, but I get a semi-Sabbath on Saturday mornings. I rest, read what I want, relax. It is wonderfully recharging (and thanks to a fantastic wife who makes it happen), but do I cultivate awe? And, how does not being in a corporate setting affect that ability to cultivate awe?

What’s your Sabbath like? Is it awe-filled? May it be increasingly so, particularly during this Christmas season.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Beyond Practical

Still reviewing Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Now I’m at the beginning, but it seems to be a common theme for Peterson – at least he touches on it a few times in this book. We can’t over-program life or people. Rather than programs, we need an awe of God. Listen in:

In dealing with God, we are dealing in mystery, in what we do not know, what we cannot control or deal with on our terms. We need to know this, for we live in a world that over-respects the practical. We want God to be ‘relevant’ to our lifestyle. We want what we can, as we say, ‘get a handle on.’ There is immense peer pressure to reduce God to fit immediate needs and expectations. But God is never a commodity to use. In a functionalized world in which we are all trained to understand ourselves in terms of what we can do, we are faced with a reality that we cannot control. And so we cultivate reverence. We are in the presence of One who is both before and beyond us (p. 46).
I think, as I communicate the gospel, that this “peer pressure” of which Peterson speaks is very real. It isn’t all bad, but there’s a temptation to simplify things so there’s a “take home” step. In many ways that’s good … if the text leads them there. But there are some times (probably more than I communicate) where the “take home” is to stand in awe of God, to cultivate a “fear-of-the-Lord” in Peterson’s language.

Are you looking for a “take home” when you hear a sermon, or even read your Bible, or are you more interested in entering into the mystery and sitting with an “impractical” sermon that gives you a grander vision of God? I admit being torn on this one. You?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Facebook, Relationships, & Eugene Peterson

I just finished Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson. A few weeks ago I linked a Scot McKnight article on Peterson’s new book. He mentioned how difficult it is to review Peterson because he’s more conversational than developing a thesis in a systematic manner. I can’t say I disagree, though I’ve never really thought about it (that’s why I blog … so I pay better attention to what I read!).

Anyway, the next few posts will be different highlights from Christ Plays that I found helpful or thought-provoking. Nothing systematic. This one’s from the epilogue and talks about the danger of technology making us less human, less relational. Peterson describing the teaching of a philosopher friend:

“We have permitted a technology-saturated way of life to disengage us from what is essential to our humanity, whether in relation to things or people. As a result we live at secondhand: relationships atrophy, enjoyment diminishes, life thins out. Borgman places the ‘culture of the table’ – the preparing and serving and cleaning up after meals – at the center of the well-lived life. …Used without discrimination, technology discarnates our lives, the polar opposite of what takes place in Jesus in his incarnation, the em-body-ment of God among us. We can’t live a life more like Jesus by embracing a way of life less like Jesus” (p. 336).
I’ve been wondering about this for a while since Facebook has become a moderate addiction for me. For starters, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. My mom, too. She actually gets to see pictures because I upload them to Facebook – where I would never email them to her. Go figure. I can stay connected in fun, simple ways with friends that I see all the time. And my favorite part right now is that I’m finding out what God is doing in the lives of high school friends. People who weren’t even believers are now going to be missionaries in Muslim nations. Crazy. I love it!

But I wonder, and this may only be my introversion speaking, but is it possible to keep alive too many relationships? Not that we should have a relationship “cap,” but are we built for a certain amount of relationships prescribed by the amount of time we have to attend to those relationships? Family and best friends (regardless of location) aside, do Facebook (or other) relationships take away from those relationships I should be “present” with here in SoCal right now?

I honestly don’t know. I know I enjoy Facebook. I don’t think it is adversely affecting my “present” relationships, though it may be. I suppose I need to give it more thought. Any thoughts on Facebook or technology in general?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Which Bible for 2009?

I try to read through the Bible each year. I just finished the King James Version for 2008. Any suggestions on which version I should tackle for 2008? I’ll be reading my Greek New Testament, but I need another translation for the Old Testament. (Notice that I’ll be reading the NT with English on the facing page. I’m reading it because my Greek is weak, not because it’s strong).


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Good Sign

M's sign Russel Branyan. Doesn't reveal much for long term plans or being instant contenders, but a good sign of things to come.