Words With Friends

I wanted to take this opportunity to either remind you or inform you about a great event that will be happening here in the Chicago suburbs on Monday, March 26th, at 7:00 p.m.  The event is called A Conversation on Unity in Christ’s Mission, and it is being held in Edman Chapel at Wheaton College.

In particular, the conversation will be around the opportunities for and challenges to shared mission among Catholics and Evangelicals.  Leading the conversation are Dr. John Armstrong, Executive Director of a ministry called ACT 3 (Advancing the Christian Tradition in the 3rd Millennium) which works to equip the church for unity in Christ’s mission, and Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago. There will be an open time for questions after Cardinal George and Dr. Armstrong speak and interact with each other.

I am so looking forward to this conversation!  Relationship between Catholic Christians and Evangelical Christians continues to improve, but there are many of us who still are trying to figure out what that means, beyond social acceptance.  How can we work together in our common commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ without feeling as though we have to leave some part of ourselves out of the mission?  What areas have we failed to recognize as fertile ground for shared ministry and mission?

The fragmentation of American culture into unending sub-cultures feels to me like a new way for an old problem to sink roots into the soil – churches find ways to disagree with each other, and then stay separate, with far more energy, enthusiasm and effort than they find ways to agree with each other.  I want to see the Spirit of Jesus draw us into deeper unity, not have to work in spite of our divisions!

So, I hope to see you Monday night at Edman Chapel; if you can’t make it, please pray that this would be a fruitful and spiritually generous time of Church community, to the glory of God alone!

Living in the Desert

We’re in the latter stages of the season of Lent, which is a season inviting us to reflect on Jesus’ time of being tempted in the desert by Satan.  His temptation season parallels both the time Israel spent between Egypt and Canaan, and our lives lived between being set free from slavery to sin and entering into the fully realized Kingdom of God.

Jesus’ victory over temptation is the event of the three which informs the other two: we see how Israel was meant to live, in faithful dependence on God, and how we are set free to live because Jesus is Messiah.

I’m thinking about all of this tonight because we are listening to Jeremiah 31:31-34 tomorrow morning (actually, now, this morning) in worship – a passage in which the Lord gives Jeremiah a word of hope to Israel about how they will live in yet another desert phase – the dry phase after exile from the promised land because of their failure to be faithful.  The other side of that desert is the coming of the Messiah, but they were little able to see that at the point Jeremiah comes speaking to them.  As we, too, can often barely begin to imagine what it is like to live free from the brokenness that besets our world.

But one day, that freedom will come.  Even in Lent, we rejoice on Sundays.

Life Together

This was a communion Sunday in our congregation.  We have traditionally taken communion sitting in the pews, passing the elements out to the people on trays.  Now, for a variety of reasons, we are frequently using the practice of intinction to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Today was one of those intinction Sundays, and so the members of the congregation came to the front of the sanctuary to receive the bread and dip it into the cup, which I was holding.

Many of our people have told me that they value this manner of celebration because they feel more personally connected to the sacrament, and I have felt that I understood this perspective.  This morning, though, I had a more vivid experience than I have previously had when administering the sacrament.  Today, as each person came forward to dip the bread into the cup, I was particularly aware of those ways that I have been privileged to be a fellow traveler with them as their pastor: sitting in a hospital room as a spouse returned from surgery; talking in their home or my office during a special season of trial they had faced; lunches spent discussing the gifts they were recognizing in their lives, and how they might use them; joining together in an exhilarating moment of shared ministry.  In each of these recollections, I was reminded of the presence of Christ Jesus with us, joining us together in those moments, making us one with Him and with one another.

I will only add that it was a sweet sensation to be caught by surprise, to be given a view of another layer of the way Jesus is at work in and among us.  It was a gift.  Thanks be to God.

The Beautiful Wound

I’ve been reminded repeatedly this week that we were made for community.  However, the kind of community we need most in our current circumstance (that is, living imperfect lives in an imperfect world) is the kind of community most of us are least likely to seek out or embrace when it is offered to us.  We need the friendship and fellow-traveling of people who are willing to tell us what we really need: where our blind spots are, and just how much danger lurks in them, and how we can change.

I’ve been in so many situations in the past 5 days where that sort of community was needed that there are at least a handful of people who might read this and say “He’s talking about me!  How dare he!”  I’m not talking about you; I’m talking about us.  Because I need that community as much as you do.  I need someone I trust to actually want the best for me who is also able to tell me where I’m accepting less than the best, and how it’s impacting all of us.  I need to know that person is going to keep loving me, even if I don’t change right away, even if I can’t change right away.  I need to know that person loves me unconditionally.

If we’re doing it right, the church is supposed to be that sort of community.  I hope you have that kind of community in your life.

Without a Doubt

Just a quick moment of celebration.

As we (St. Paul Church) are preparing to launch a new ministry that we believe will be a huge blessing to kids in our community, we have seen hurdles pop up several times.  And, time after time, God has lifted us over those hurdles: first, we had unexpected expenses, and God provided people with enthusiasm for the ministry who were willing to meet those expenses.  Then, we were unsure who would do the work, and God has been gathering his workers over the last 36 hours.

To see God provide the answer again and again reminds me that he is always the right one to bring my questions.