Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent/Christmas resources

A few resources I have found enjoyable/useful over the last few years:

Books:
In the Days of the Angels - Collection of short stories and poetry by Walter Wangerin, jr. that dig right into the heart of Christmas. A mainstay in my Christmas library.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas - Daily readings for advent and Christmas that call the reader to pause and consider the Incarnation and its effect on the world around them. Includes articles and poetry from a diverse collection of men and women from modern to ancient.


The Christ of Christmas: Readings for Advent - Calvin Millers musings on the scriptures telling the Christmas story, and the people caught up in that story.


I Saw Three Ships - New to my library this year, a delightful tale of a little girl awaiting the wise men on Christmas Eve. Elizabeth Goudge crafts the story around the Christmas carol of the same name.

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation - A collection of Luci Shaw's poetry reflecting on the coming of Christ into our world.


Startling Joy: Seven Magical Stories of Christmas - James Calvin Schaap's unique look into the darker side of Christmas, in that each story places the reader into the midst of a crisis, a relational breakdown, a troublesome time in the lives of men and women struggling to survive the holiday season.





Music:
Folk Alley - Live streaming Americana and folk music, good any time of the year but especially lovely during the Christmas season. (note: the Christmas stream isn't up and running yet as of this writing)


Grace Cathedral - Follow the Advent worship of this church in San Francisco, renowned for its glorious music of the season.  (click on the 'Choral Eucharist' link on the right side of the page)

St. Olaf Choir Christmas Festival - Always majestic, reverent, holy and fun. Nothing tops a live choir with orchestra. This is their 2008 Christmas concert. 





Alternatives:
BuynothingChristmas.org - What it says. An organization started by Canadian Mennonites, calling people to change their world and return to the heart of Christmas.


Advent Conspiracy - Calling people from consumption to compassion, encouraging less spending and more giving.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

You 40

In which we come to the last song on Dan's Ipod, thus bringing this little exercise to a close. Just in time to switch all the music over to Christmas songs. I should mention that "You Never Let Go" has been hammering me for the last few months. Not sure why, but God has been using it to speak to me.


You Are My Sunshine - Norman Blake (from the 'O Brother' soundtrack)
You Can't Handle the Truth - Infamous Stringdusters
You Can Close Your Eyes - James Taylor
You Just Forgot - Mindy Smith
You Know I Love You Baby - Mindy Smith
You Never Let Go - Matt Redman

You Say the Battle is Over - John Denver
You Were On My Mind - Nanci Griffith 
3x5 - Infamous Stringdusters
40 West - Infamous Stringdusters

Speaking of 'that day' yesterday

Okay, we caved. We stopped by Fred Meyer around 11:00 and bought some socks. (for non-locals, Fred Meyer always has a 50%-off-all-socks sale the day after Thanksgiving). And I bought a candle for my office to carry me through the Christmas season (candied apple spice).

Other than that, we had a wonderful visit to Manchester State Park, with a walk through the woods and a pause to watch the Seattle-Bremerton ferry pass by. The sea lions were barking on the south shore of Bainbridge Island, and Seattle stood tall and clear across Puget Sound. Many other families were there, many were out walking their dogs, all seemed to be in a friendly mood.


And we had a nice early dinner (or late lunch?) at Amy's in Port Orchard, celebrating Karina's parents' anniversary. The Olympics were shining over Bremerton, the cormorants were sunning themselves on every log and private dock along the road into Port Orchard. All in all, a nice family outing on a beautiful, sunny fall day.


And yes, we caved again, and stopped by Goodwill on the way home. Where we bought Clara a coloring book. And Olivia bought a present for me.

We did not 'celebrate' the idolatry that is Black Friday, although we didn't exactly follow the mandate of "Buy Nothing Friday,' either. But it's the spirit of the thing, right? 


I was going to say something about Black Friday, but then I read Beth's diatribe, and decided she said it best. So let me just quote her:


The world, in its arrogance, can only ape what God has already brought into being, but in doing so, it twists His good gifts. Black Friday is the world 's answer to Good Friday:

Instead of sacrifice, there is greed.
Instead of isolation, there are crowds.
Instead of vinegar, there are lattes.
Instead of whispers, carols blare over loudspeakers.
Instead of receiving grace, people go deeper in debt.
Instead of darkness, there are wildly blinking neon lights
Instead of forgiveness, there are fights.
Instead of atonement, there is shoving; disagreement; defiance; loss.

Instead of a tomb ready to explode with new Life, there are empty wallets and empty hearts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving

Karina's parents are here. Today we're going out to lunch to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday. Tonight is our annual Thanksgiving Eve Supper and Liturgy of Gratitude at Lakebay Community Church (one of my favorite events of the year). Tomorrow the whole family (hopefully. . .still waiting on word from my sister) will be gathering at our place for the a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday. . .we're doing our part to save the soul of America by NOT going shopping, with the one possible exception of hitting up Fred Meyer to get some new socks. We're thinking of doing something special with the in-laws, like going over to Manchester Beach, or up to Port Townsend for the day. But the point will be about spending time together, rather than feeding the idol of consumerism in our land.

To all of you, I wish a blessed Thanksgiving, wherever you may be. May God's presence be felt in your life, his love and mercy overwhelming you with hope and joy for this coming Advent season and beyond.

Stealing a tradition from my friend Lori's blog, let me close with a Gratitude list. I am thankful for:

1) A warm house, with clothing in the closet and food in the pantry
2) An incredible family, a loving wife and two adorable girls who always fill my heart with joy
3) A 'job' that gives me satisfaction and meaning
4) A community of friends and acquaintances who keep my life interesting and fun
5) A large stack of firewood, cut and split by friends who care about us
6) Clean air and pure drinking water
7) The deer that come into our yard, the eagles that nest in the trees overhead, the sea lions that park themselves in the bay below our house.
8) People with whom to celebrate the holidays
9) Brothers and sisters in Christ who take their walk with Christ seriously and soberly
10) Multiple opportunities to shine the light of Christ into dark places
11) Good health
12) The ways in which God still surprises me, pushes me, challenges me, and grows me
13) The fact that I'm but a branch attached to the Great Vine
14) A turkey in our fridge waiting to be cooked
15) Advent and Christmas coming upon us once again
16) Good books I've been reading and conversations surrounding them
17) Opportunities to re-engage my musical gifts, with the Gig Harbor Symphony and the Down Home Band (and a couple of local jam sessions, as well)
18) God's Word, that still speaks to me
19) Parents who modeled (and still do) faithful Christian love and commitment
20) Egg Nog

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Somebody needs to say it

In the capacity of an official representative of the Body of Christ, I would like to make the following statement:


The "Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8" bumper stickers that certain cars are sporting do not, in any way, reflect the attitude for which Christians are to be known in the world. Putting it simpler: You cannot justify the use of these stickers from a Christian viewpoint. Putting it simpler: These stickers are horrible and should not be used by any who call themselves followers of Christ.

Or, put it this way: If you truly are a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, and if you attempt to live your life according to God's Word, then DON'T GET ONE OF THESE STICKERS!



Also, if you're none of the above, then I apologize for this blatant misuse of scripture to make a foul political point. This is deceptive, it is not 'cute' as it purports to be. This is just plain wrong. And it's nothing to joke about.

Christians are told to pray for those in authority over us. But this is what our attitude is supposed to look like:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. - 1 Timothy 2


Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. - Romans 13

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. - Titus 3


Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. - 1 Peter 2.

Seriously. . .is it all that difficult? You don't have to like the guy; you don't even have to agree with, nor support, his policies. But this is what we are called to do: Submit to him, pray for him (pray that he comes to a knowledge of the truth), be thankful for him, be obedient and humble toward him, refrain from slandering him, honor him. All those things are right there in the Book. Right there in the New Testament.You may not feel like doing any of those things, but you don't really have a choice. You either do those things, or you stand disobedient before God.

When we go around behaving silly and stupidly, misusing the Text to make some sort of political joke, we sin against God, we disobey the Biblical mandate before us, we make a mockery of the Bible in front of the world, we make fools of ourselves, we damage our credibility, we sacrifice our witness and mission on the altar of political tomfoolery.

Is this clear enough for you? Come on, Christians. Let's be smarter than this. Let's do what the text actually calls us to do. Let's be above the mud-slinging and cynicism. Let's pray for the man. Better that he come to follow the wisdom of God, than something terrible happen to him and cause more chaos in the land. Better we be models of peace and humility than we lose any shred of respectability we have left.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Anything to make a sale

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .

Evangelistic-minded youth ministries hit upon a genius idea. Create events that are cool, hip, attractive, amazing, get kids in the door, and then hit them with the gospel. Young Life is the master of this strategy, but it has impacted the entire world of youth ministry. In small ways, it looks like 'throw a pizza party, invite your friends, then we'll tell 'em about Jesus." In larger ways, it looks like "Hire a band, have some fireworks, break some bricks with your head, then tell 'em about Jesus." Either way, entertain 'em, entice 'em with coolness, then tell 'em about Jesus.

One problem: no matter what the Church does, the World does a better job of offering Cool options. While the Church was offering pizza and goofy games, the World invented Wiis and Hip-Hop. So the Church is always playing catch-up, trying to find ever hipper and cooler ways of enticing 'worldly youth' into our doors, so we can tell 'em about Jesus. Or, maybe just to keep our kids in the doors, trying to make it just cool enough that they won't run out there where the World offers all that other stuff.

So, to recap, the strategy is: do something fun/cool/outrageous to get people in the door, then tell 'em about Jesus.

Let's be clear about one thing: the motivation is great. Telling people about Jesus is our highest calling. Creating opportunities to tell people about Jesus is a wonderful task.

But there was a dark side that very few people really wanted to talk about: this 'wow 'em and tell 'em about Jesus' strategy doesn't do much in the way of creating disciples. Instead, it creates instant flash with no long-term impact. The fact that even 70-80% of Christian kids leave the church after high school ought to tell us we're doing something wrong. That we're not growing Followers, that we're not raising Disciples. Instead, we're creating Consumers who will always chase after the next big fix, wherever that comes from. We're not raising young people who understand such basic tenets of Christianity as sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy. We are, in fact, temporarily distracting young people with smoke and mirrors, sneaking the gospel in there, assuming that, since they 'said the prayer' following the pizza and root-beer gorge, they're 'in.'

And here's today's problem: those raised in this world are leaving their youth ministry days behind and moving into senior leadership in churches across America. . .and they're using the exact same strategies in the larger church.

Like the Church over in the Seattle area that decided to perform live tattooing during their worship service.

Again, the motivation is probably good: create some buzz (no pun intended. . .maybe), get some people in the door, tell 'em about Jesus. Young people are into tattoos. So, bring tattoos into the Church, get people interested, tell 'em about Jesus.

But is this anything more than the same strategy that has failed so miserably in our youth ministries over the last 60 years?

One might also spend a few minutes talking about the nature of worship itself - a holy people gathered to lift up the name of God in adoration and praise, to listen to (and apply) his Word in their lives.

It has always struck me as odd that we have to do all this in the first place. After all, the Church has the most amazing package ever to be offered - eternal life, hope, love, peace, joy, a relationship with the God who created the Universe, redemption, acceptance, friendship. . .For some reason, so many have decided that's not enough, so instead they re-package all that into pizza parties, goofy games, church coffee shops, the never-ending pursuit of 'relevance,' tattoo services.

My hope, as I've stated before, is that people will be drawn to Lakebay Community Church not because we're cool or hip or relevant or edgy, but because they've heard it's a place of hope, a place of joy, a place of acceptance, a place where Christ's light shines into the darkness of our lives. It makes you wonder what would happen if the Church across America would decide to give up this striving for relevance, and get back to the real work of the Church, which, as I pointed out in my sermon yesterday, comes down to two things:
1) being a community of grace and mercy and love
2) going out into all the world making disciples.

Something tells me we just might actually be healthier. We'd certainly be stronger. Promotional gimmicks might fill the pews, but they don't teach people to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God. Only the hard work of disciple-making does that.

Friday, November 20, 2009

In case you haven't read the news

It really is an incredible story. Distraught woman makes rash decision to jump off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, ending her life. But quick-thinking rescuers grab her just as she jumps, and then hold her for twenty minutes, until rescue personnel can come and pull her back up. And it was a windy, stormy day to boot.

A couple of our people saw it in progress, as they commuted home that night. Doug said he simply saw four people lying on their stomachs, arms reaching over the side, holding this woman tightly. I can't imagine the terror in those moments, waiting for help to arrive with harnesses and ropes.

It's the kind of story that needs to be told. Although once again it reminds me that too many people find themselves in desperate situations, feeling they have no way out. Society ought not to be that way.

Thank God for Good Samaritans who sometimes have the chance to intervene before it gets too late.

Wild You've

"Something's constant underneath this place, shape this prayer to sing with such a grace, for today, just today or someday what I'd really like is to wrap my arms around your name. . ."



Wild Montana Skies - John Denver
William and Maggie - Charlie Peacock
Willie Poor Boy - Laurie Lewis and Tom Rosum
Wings of a Dove - Nanci Griffith
Won't Be Coming Back - Infamous Stringdusters
Wondrous Love - Blue Highway
Wouldn't Be So Bad - Alison Krauss and Union Station
Wrap My Arms Around Your Name - Sarah Masen
Yarrington Town - Nanci Griffith
You're An Angel and I'm Gonna Cry - Chris Thile
You're Just a Country Boy - Alison Krauss
You've Got a Friend - James Taylor

(tune in next week when we finish out the ipod and bring this series to a close)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

new toys

Just got one of these:




That would be a Dell Inspiron Mini 10, with Windows 7. I got tired of lugging the Sony Vaio widescreen on plane rides. This should make travel much easier. Even that 10 minute walk home every night.

Monday, November 16, 2009

See? It Can Be Done

Lakebay Community Church held its annual meeting yesterday afternoon. We dealt with a number of potentially thorny issues, including passing a budget that is 40% smaller than last year (in most areas), making adjustments to our leadership structure, and amending the bylaws dealing with membership status.

And everbody got along. A couple good questions were asked, one or two issues were challenged, but in the end everything happened that needed to happen, and everybody stayed happy. We were actually all laughing at the end. Plus our bake sale raised hundreds of dollars to support the upcoming mission trip of one of our high school students.

Get that: no yelling, no accusing, no yawning, no passive-aggressive behavior. . .just God's people endeavoring together to move ahead in service and love for God and community. Concerned, careful, discerning - yes. But faithfully trusting that God is still with us, that God is providing, and that God has a purpose for us still. And trusting our leaders, trusting each other to make wise decisions.

Believe it or not, church is fun when God's people "Love One Another" and "Serve One Another" and "Consider Each Other Better Than Ourselves" and all those things we're supposed to do. And, if anything, the way this church conducts 'business' is one more reason I love this place.

Friday, November 13, 2009

So, the Feast

Since nobody seems to know what it is I'm working on out here. . .

The Feast is a spiritual life event hosted every three years by the Evangelical Covenant Church, preceding the denominational annual meeting. The focus of The Feast is to bring a representation of the Whole Covenant family (and all others who want to come) together for a few days of prayer, worship, rest, challenge, and growth. An emphasis this coming Feast will be the intergenerational aspects of Christian Life together, creating a space in which young and old, single and extended family are welcome and valued at the table. We also are working hard to continue the Covenant's passion for being a true multi-ethnic, multi-lingual family worshiping, learning, and playing together.

The next Feast will be in June, 2011, at Estes Park, CO, and that's what we just spent the last few days planning and dreaming and hoping and seeking. There will be a lot at the Feast - worship, recreation, Spiritual Life Experiences, relaxing, growing, eating, singing, creating, meeting, and primarily being met by the Spirit of God.

I've been given co-leadership of two particular areas, sharing the work with Deb Steinkamp from Bellingham. We are responsible for the early-morning activities (by early we mean 6:00 a.m), and the 'spiritual life experience' sessions (think seminars) later in the morning. Our hope is to offer multiple outlets for people to experience God in a variety of ways - through exercise, creativity, lecture, family experiences, prayer exercises, spiritual listening, early morning worship, dance, and more traditional Bible study. And a bunch of other stuff to which we trust God will lead us.

The Feast will offer more 'traditional' worship formats, as well as truly intergenerational worship times. There are a lot of outdoor activites, from horseriding to fishing to a high ropes course to swimming to a skate park, we're hoping to have open mic nights and music jams and an art tent and lots of time to relax and rest and enjoy the Kingdom of God.

That's it in a nutshell. . .expect much more to come.

When Wide

When Summer Ends (Done for Posterity) - Ken Burns' Lewis and Clark, the Original Soundtrack
When the Roll is Called Up Yonder - Mars Hill Music
Where Did the Morning Go? - Blue Highway
Where the Angels Sleep - Bebo Norman
Where the Streets Have No Name - Chris Tomlin
Whiskey Lullaby -Alison Krauss, featuring Brad Paisley
Whispering Jesse - John Denver
Who Showed Who - Dan Tyminski
Whole Again - Jennifer Knapp
Wholly Yours - David Crowder Band
Whose Shoulder Will You Cry On - Dan Tyminski
Wide Open Spaces - Dixie Chicks

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Truly Rocky Mountain High

Climbed a hill today. Realized we're at higher altitude here.

But it's been "Sunshine on my Shoulders" all week, snow-capped peaks all around. A herd of elk wandered by. Wandered over toward Rocky Mountain National Park today.

Good meetings, great discussions, a lot of fun and laughter, worship and prayer. The Feast is going to be pretty special, if this planning team is a reflection. The location, the plans, the people. . .I'm excited.

Tomorrow I head down to Denver for an afternoon and night with Joel and his wife, then back to Lakebay on Friday. Hopefully, I can bring some of this sunshine with me.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rocky Mountain High

I'm heading off to Colorado tomorrow, to join with the planning committee of Feast 2011. The Feast is the Covenant's once-every-three-years family camp, always preceding the denominational annual meeting. In 2011, it will be held at the YMCA of the Rockies, so that's where we're gathering for this first planning meeting. It's always a blessing to be a part of these things, meeting and hanging out with other good Covenant people, enjoying the excitement of anticipating the many ways God's going to use this group and these plans to touch people's lives. I think I know about 1/2 of the team already, and look forward to meeting the rest.

Before all is said and done, I get to spend a night with a friend and former youth group member, now living in Denver as well. So, really, this should be a good week.

Except for this little head cold, and the prospect of leaving Karina home with two sick kids. So if you get a chance to pray for all of us. . .we'd appreciate it.

In the meantime, they tell me there's wireless internet up there in the Rockies (what would John Denver have said about that?) so expect some updates from there.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Wayside When

"The walls of pride can't be knocked down when silence is the only sound. . ."


Wayside (Back in Time) - Chris Thile
We Win! - David Crowder Band
Wedding Dress - Derek Webb
A Week From Today - Blue Highway
What a Friend I've Found - Delirious?
What a Friend We Have in Jesus - St. Olaf Choir
What if the World Stops Turning - Mindy Smith
What Wondrous Love is This - Jill Phillips
Wheels - Dan Tyminski
When I Fall - Barenaked Ladies
When Nothing Satisfies - Jennifer Knapp
When Silence is the Only Sound - Infamous Stringdusters

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I suppose I should say something about Canada

A year ago, for pastor appreciation month, our church gave me a gift certificate to the Harrison Hot Springs Resort, up in the great white north of British Columbia, Canada. We finally found a couple free days to use that gift certificate last week, so with the kids safely at home watched over by their grandparents, we I hopped into the trusty Kia and took off for foreign lands.

Except for a lunch stop at a vegan coffee shop in Seattle's U-District. And another stop at REI in Bellingham to pick up some hiking boots. But, with those out of the way, we headed off to foreign lands.

Apparently, U2 had the same idea, and were playing in Vancouver the same night, so there was a little backup at the border. But let's just say we were thankful to cross at Sumas, rather than Blaine, and probably got across 30 minutes quicker.

Then, off through the fields and foothills of B.C., across the Fraser River, along foggy mountains dappled with the colors of autumn, and finally we arrived at the town of Harrison Hot Springs.

Lovely words to hear: "You've been upgraded to a room overlooking the garden."

A quick dinner in town and some TV watching, and a blissful night's sleep, then breakfast in the Lakeside Terrace - a delicious and nutritious breakfast buffet with everything from Eggs Benedict to Back Bacon to oatmeal to an assortment of fruits and sausages.

Then we hopped in the Kia and drove east to the town of Hope (fill in all the assorted jokes here, like "We were lost but then we found Hope," and "There's always Hope in Canada"). Turns out Hope is where the first Rambo movie was filmed. And they're still very proud of that fact. However, our attention was attuned to the Othello Tunnels, an abandoned railroad line turned hiking trail, complete with four tunnels and a series of bridges over a river crashing through the deep cut of a granite canyon. It was a lovely walk, the perfect crisp fall day, beautiful scenic vistas (there was snow falling in the mountains a few hundred feet above us), grottoes with overhanging mossy branches, the ground a blanket of fallen leaves. And the added interest of tunnels and trestles made for a wonderful jaunt, reminding us of days pre-children when we loved to roam the hills and vales near home.

Back to Hope to do a bit of shopping, then lunch at the homey Skinny's Cafe, and it was time to head back to Harrison. There were some hot springs awaiting.

The resort has a series of pools and hot tubs - a couple indoor, and a couple outdoor. We began in the hottest pool inside, but eventually made our way outside, where we sat in a Japanese-motifed hot pool, mist rising from the surface to blend with the gentle fall of rain, cold droplets dripping down from cedar branches overhead, the warmth of the water over our bodies offset by the cool air blowing into our faces. It was magical. . .until one of the other guests decided it would be a nice time for a smoke. Which basically ruined the idea of being out in fresh air. . .but we were thinking about dinner, anyway, so time to head in.

Dinner was at the Copper Room, a dining room reminiscent of swank dinner-and-dance clubs of the 1920s. They even have a dress code. The room was darkly lit, complete with a dance floor headed by a stage upon which the Jones Boys play 5 nights a week. Our food was fabulous (prime rib, oysters, a tomato salad, among other things), and the band was entertaining, playing a mix of hits from Glenn Miller all the way up to Michael Buble, with some Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow, and Elvis thrown in for good measure. They were just cheesy enough to keep it fun, but talented enough to pull multiple couples onto the dance floor. In the room sat many couples celebrating anniversaries, a couple engaged that night, a couple married 5 days previously. Next to us sat 4 ladies from the Vancouver Theater crowd, friends for the last 40 some years. Dinner was kept to a leisurely pace, so we all had a chance to enjoy the music, the atmosphere, the dancing. The Dessert.

Back to the room to watch some TV, then another relaxing night's sleep, breakfast buffet at the Lakeside Terrace, and then it was time to check out and head home.

But first, a stop at Tim Horton's in Abbotsford, so I could get a cup of coffee and Karina could experience the joy that is Tim's.

They let us back into the U.S. without much hassle.

A stop in Fairhaven at a snooty little cheese shop gave us the sustenance we needed to tackle Chuckanut Drive, one of the more scenic highways in the state of Washington. At the south end we happened upon a buffalo farm, and stopped to buy some buffalo meat, as well as take some pictures of said buffalo. They didn't seem to mind.

To extend things a bit we took the ferry across from Edmonds to Kingston, then finally were back home to awaiting kids, who greeted us with warmth and affection and "where's my present!!!!!"

All in all, a good trip. And one more reason to be thankful for this wonderful church that gives us gifts like this. And a wonderful reminder that there is life apart from kids, after all.

Oh, and we discovered the Olympics are coming to B.C. in another couple months. Who knew?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Book Review: Troubled Waters




The problem with creating a biblical theology of baptism is simple: ". . .no New Testament document addresses itself to water baptism for its own sake." As Ben Witherington sums up the issue in the closing chapters of this book, "it is no wonder that we have been debating baptism for two thousand years now, with no sign of the debating abating. The New Testament does not answer all of our modern questions about baptism, and it especially does not answer questions about what to do with Christian children when it comes to baptism."

Troubled Waters: Rethinking the Theology of Baptism is one of three 'little theological books' penned by Ben Witherington III, Professor of NT at Asbury Theological Seminary, dealing with issues at the core of Christian theology and practice - The Lord's Supper, Baptism, and the Word of God (see my earlier review of Making a Meal of It here). In this book, Witherington seeks to review our theology of baptism, and to move us forward in a healthy direction, by dealing with all the pertinent texts within the canon.

However, as already stated, the problem is the seemingly small sample of texts with which to work. In fact, much of this book is given to showing why many of the texts upon which baptism theology has been built do not, in fact, speak to the issue, and should therefore be kept out of the discussion.

For a true biblical mining of these texts, this book is a gem. For a solid exegesis of these texts, this book is essential. For any seeking to plumb the depths of baptism, its relation to the OT and its use in Jewish communities at the time of Christ, its connection to salvation and spirit baptism, this book is an important addition. For any seeking to have a 'biblical' discussion on baptism, this book deserves to be part of the conversation.

However, unlike Making a Meal of It, this book is dense and intricate, referring often to Greek nuance and textual variations; in addition, much of the book is carried on in conversation with, and reaction to, earlier texts on the subject (primarily Beasley-Murray's Baptism in the New Testament). Thus, anybody looking for an introduction or broad overview of the subject will find themselves quickly floundering. It is certainly a book for theologians and pastors eager to broaden their understanding; it is not a book for beginners looking for a primer on the subject.

13 years ago, when I was coming into the Covenant Church, I was challenged to do some reading on the theology of baptism. The theology of baptism has played a distinct role in the founding and history of the Covenant Church, and has caused no little amount of friendly bickering along the way. My own background was from a non-sacramental world, so they wanted to make sure I 'got' the sacramental nature of baptism. So I did some reading. I did some studying. I read Beasley-Murray's book, among others. And I came to an interesting conclusion: most of our theology is read into the text, depending on our pre-suppositions. In fact, one of the issues I recognized was that, in the days the NT was written, baptism and salvation were almost synonymous. People weren't 'born into' the faith - they all came to it later in life just by fact of the church being such a brand-new thing. Thus, people were saved and baptized within mere moments of each other; it was not a long, drawn-out process of discernment, nor was it an act for infants born into the church.

Which is almost exactly where Witherington comes to in this book. The NT writings are missional writings, given to a church still in its own birth; all converts were first-generation converts. There is nothing written regarding how to carry out ministry within Christendom, because Christendom didn't exist yet. Our troubles have been with the question "what do we do with further generations?" And the NT writing don't address that question, something I am glad Witherington pointed out.

So what does he conclude? Essentially, that believer baptism is the norm, but there is certainly room for infant baptism for children of believers. That baptism is sacramental in that it is an act of obedience; that it is a sign of a request for God's guidance and protection; that it is right to baptize even the earliest of converts or most serious of seekers, rather than forcing people to endure a months-long review of their faith; that baptism makes most sense in a missional context, in that it is a sign of dying with Christ into the Body of Christ; that baptism is NOT an act of God, but the act of the Body upon the believer, welcoming them into the community of faith, seeking God's forgiveness (judgment) upon the sin of the past.

As in Making a Meal, Witherington chooses a position that will challenge people on both sides of the issue, and does so strictly by wrestling with the texts. He himself admits that where one comes out depends on one's view of soteriology, and thus those coming from a higher church, higher-sacramental approach may just come out at a different place. However, he has done well to show us just how much of our theological position comes from places outside the texts, which ought to force us into a humble acknowledgment that, just maybe, we're not completely right and they're not completely wrong.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Surprises in Worship, again

Elaine had opened things up in her usual exuberant style, sharing about the "Support Sara's Thailand Trip" project. The worship team took it from there, launching into a peppy version of "He Reigns." A little faster than I would usually take it, but it seemed to be working - people were singing and clapping, hands raised across the sanctuary. It all pointed toward a wonderful morning together.

Somewhere about the bridge ("and all the powers of darkness tremble at what they just heard") I noticed a small commotion over there on the right side, about 1/2 way back. People jumping over pews, people clearing out space, people diving to the floor.

"Either a kid crawling around under people's feet," I thought to myself, "or we have a medical emergency on our hands."

Turned out to be the latter. Peggy was on the floor, having a seizure.

What happened next was quite amazing to witness. Right behind Peggy was Mike, a senior chief with the Gig Harbor fire department, a man trained in rescue response, a man used to dealing with just these situations. He was there in an instant. Across the aisle was Sean, a member of our own Key Peninsula FD 16, a man also trained in emergency response. He was there right after Mike. Peggy couldn't have asked for better medical care in that moment.

At the same time, Tracy recognized that this was no place for kids, and so quickly rounded up the children and herded them downstairs. While someone else was on the phone to 911. While Doug was on the phone with Peggy's brother. While Mike S. was out on the street to guide the EMTs in. While Duncan was leading the congregation in prayer.

And another blessing in the moment - Peggy had been standing right next to Harvey and Carla, two of the strongest prayer warriors I know. So while Mike and Sean worked to care for Peggy, Harvey and Carla and the rest were deep in prayer, seeking God's healing hand as well.

And, if I may interject my own self into the story. . .I found myself, the pastor, with pretty much nothing to do. The people were taking care of all that needed to be done, and it was to me to let them serve as God had gifted them all. It was a little disconcerting to find myself task-less, and yet it was beautiful to watch the Body in action.

The EMTs arrived (all friends and co-workers of Sean's), Peggy was loaded onto the stretcher and taken out to the awaiting ambulance, pews were put back into place, Duncan and I quickly conferred and decided to switch songs around ("On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand" seemed appropriate), and we carried on.

Between Mike and Sean, I ascertained that Peggy was stable and somewhat conscious on the way out, so it seemed the crisis had passed; thus, we were able to bring assurance to the congregation; still, coming back from such an emotional, shocking place took some time. I'm still wondering what our visitors thought about the whole thing.

The good news is that I visited Peggy in the hospital later yesterday evening, and she was stable and alert, so it appears everything ended as well as we could have hoped. Which is a relief; I must admit, even as I saw Mike on the floor working, even before I knew it was Peggy, even before that initial shock gave way to action, part of me wondered if somebody hadn't just died in our sanctuary, part of me started to go down the "what if" road. Wondering how, as a pastor, to handle that situation.

But, as I said, in the end I was impressed by the way our people reacted, the way the Body worked together to care for Peggy, to care for the kids, to care for each other. It was a blessing to witness.

And it was a good chance to see guys like Mike and Sean in their element. Pastors are trained to do a lot of things; emergency medical response is not usually one of those things. But right where my gifting and training come to a screeching halt, there were our guys, used to this sort of thing, trained and capable to manage the situation. And it was a thing of beauty to seem them in action. I thank God that they were in the service today.
Really, I was left even more thankful for all our people, their quick response of prayer and action, their hearts in carrying on to worship, their sensitivity and care for the moment. While I would never wish for this sort of thing to happen again, I was blessed to go through it with this group of Lakebay people. And I think Peggy would admit there was no better place for this to happen, no better people to have around her when this occurred. And a good God watching over it all, orchestrating a beautiful morning out of what could have been a disaster.