Friday, August 28, 2009

Conversations about faith

As I traveled to Chicago this week, I tried to practice what I preach.

As I drove out to the airport, headed for the economy parking area, I decided to pray. "Lord I want to be open to your leading. Help me hear your voice and be sensitive to your promptings, and show me if you want me to talk with anyone about Jesus. I am open to pray with them or serve them or even speak with them." That last part made me nervous.

So, I am the only passenger on the shuttle at Houston Intercontinental airport and somehow a conversation ensues between me and the driver. We talk about a variety of things and then she asks where I am going and why. I tell her I am part of a national team helping churches become more multiethnic. She mentions church and how she freaks pastors out when ever she shows up at their church. I ask how and off we go about Jesus and church and at the end I tell her I am a pastor and I won't be freaked out if she visits our church.

I'm on the plane and seated next to a woman who I noticed has a Honduran passport. I want to say something but she won't look my direction and mostly keeps her eyes shut. I'm thinking I need to create an opening and finally without any natural opening, I just say loud enough to be heard, "Did your day start in Houston?" (She seems tired to me and a bit troubled and I'm thinking she started the day in Honduras.) And we talk for the next two hours, mostly in English and a little in Spanish. We end up talking about the importance of knowing Jesus and the need for community. From her experience Americans are cold toward foreigners and don't tolerate their struggle with English. I apologize on our behalf tell her how our church loves people from other countries and cultures and consider it our mission to help them feel welcomed and valued and we even sing in English and Spanish. In the end she introduces me to her husband in the next row, and gives me their contact information. Though she is Catholic she is intrigued and wants to know if there is a Vineyard in Honduras.

One thing that amazes me is that both conversation involved things of great interest to me that made me able to speak naturally and have something to offer to Mary and Georgiana. It seemed to me that God guided me to speak with people that I could relate to and as a result boosted my confidence and my desire to stay open for spiritual conversations.

Tell me your stories!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Should We Celebrate Good Friday?

First, I want to say that I appreciate our history of Good Friday services at the Vineyard Church of Houston and that our Good Friday service gives us room to focus on the death of Christ without having to act like he wasn't raised from the dead. The video, "It's Friday but Sunday is Coming" was a fitting conclusion to our worship.

It is also true that Good Friday always creates a tension for me. I appreciate, no I am extremely grateful, that Jesus died for me and you. This is something worth reflecting on as it increases my gratitude to God, reminds me that I am forgiven, and that I am now free to live a life that is not ruled by sin and death.

My problem with Good Friday is that there always seems to be this pressure to isolate Jesus' death from his resurrection. It seems like in an effort to do justice to his death, we try to feel as badly as possible about the fact that our sin necessitated Jesus' suffering. I can appreciate that and am capable of feeling as bad as the next person.

However, it was brought to my attention many years ago, that outside the Gospels' description of the event, the New Testament simply does not focus on the pain and agony of Jesus suffering and death. This is not a point of reflection. The focus is on what was accomplished by his death and in that light is hard to separate from the resurrection. We understand that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, his death would have been meaningless in terms of our salvation. We also understand that in our union with Christ we died to sin and are made alive to God. And that again brings us to this cross/resurrection combination. We just can't get away from it.

I am not saying that we should not gather to worship and pray and share communion on Good Friday. I am saying that we don't need to try to make ourselves feel bad about Jesus death - the Scripture does not attempt to do that, and that we don't need to worship or pray in a manner that tries to conceal the fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

We can use the word celebrate in relation to Good Friday because it is a celebration of God's love and his victory over sin and evil. This has resulted in our rescue and freedom. As we celebrate Good Friday we will find joy seeping into our worship and that is really okay.

Good Friday allows us to focus on the love of God and the power of the cross for salvation - something we should do. But we observe Good Friday in the light of the resurrection and that brings a smile to our face and that too is okay.

Happy Good Friday!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Monsters...Shadows and Ninjas

What does a Monster, Shadow, Ninja, Bluebonnet and a Vineyard have in common? They are all part of a motorcycle ride to Chapel Hill Texas on Saturday April 4. This past Saturday, David rode his Ducati, Monster, Brad - his Honda Shadow, Richard - his Kawasaki Ninja and I rode my Suzuki GZ 250 to see the wildflowers along the Bluebonnet Trail. We followed the trail from Chapel Hill to Navasota, riding along route 1155. We are all from the Vineyard Church of Houston and looking for anyone from the church (and anyone we know) who would like to ride together periodically.

The Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush and Primrose are in their peak along these country roads. (I know you don't think Bluebonnets and motorcycles go together.) Let's just say we are nice riders like most people who own motorcycles. Anyway, what better way to see wildflowers, than from a motorcycle. And it was fun just being together for about 4 1/2 hours and 150 miles. This was the longest ride for me and Richard. Let me tell you by the time we got to Chapel Hill my left hand and butt were numb from the vibration of the bike.

We stopped for a short break and a little candy at the corner of 290 and 1155. On the way into the store we were admiring several Triumph motorcycles in the parking lot. On the way out of the store, the Triumph riders were standing around David's bike taking pictures. They thought it was the coolest thing they had ever seen. David has done a lot of customizing work. I should have a picture of David's bike here but none of us brought our cameras.

Our final stop on the trip was at a small Taqueria along Highway 6 in Navasota. Nothing like an enchilada and a Tamarind soda for the road.

The hardest part of the trip was the ride home. Winds between 20-30 miles an hour and a 250cc engine don't really do that well together. I have to tip my helmet to David and Brad. Their 750cc bikes could have flown home. But they waited with me and Richard as we worked hard to squeeze 60 miles/hour out of our low capacity engines. I think I need a bigger bike. Don't tell Donna I said that.

We made it back fine and of course feel like we gained much needed riding experience. I have only been riding for 6 months, although I have clocked 2500 miles during that time.

Stayed tuned for our next trip in about a month.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Christians in Politics and Public Life

As you go to the polls today, I want to encourage you to remember the following things - from my sermon series, Christians in Politics and Public Life.

Far as the Curse is Found
We serve a King who is Lord of everything and nothing is beyond his reach. Christ is relevant to every sphere of life - public and private; secular and sacred. As Abraham Kuyper says, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, “This is mine. This belongs to me.”

The reach of God’s kingdom extends “as far as the curse is found.” Therefore as followers of Christ we seek to apply the work of Christ in every arena of life – personal, relational, societal, institutional and yes political.

Love Your Enemies
We live in an upside down kingdom, which requires us to love our enemies! Christ died for democrats and republicans. At the end of the day, winner and loser alike must be treated with respect and love and that goes for their supporters.

Understand Biblical Values
Philippians 1:27 reads, “Live out your citizenship in a manner worthy of the gospel.”
Our citizenship is measured by our faithfulness to the gospel not our loyalty to a political party.

We are committed to a biblical agenda that seeks to identify the core issues of the Bible and to engage politically, guided by those values. A cursory study of the Bible tells us that these values at least include the sanctity of human life – born and unborn, compassion for the needy, social justice, peace among all peoples, protection for the powerless and the removal of divisions. Your own list might be a little different but what matters is that you have developed one from the Bible and attempt to consistently live and vote by it.

Remember, we must apply these biblical values in a fallen world. Life is messy and our candidates, like us, are imperfect. It is unlikely that you will ever get to vote for a candidate that embraces all the biblical values to your satisfaction. So you will have to choose. You must weigh the values and decide in this election which is most important to you, to our country, to the world and to God. It is inevitable that true Christians will decide differently.

And we also must admit that Biblical Values won’t give us the answers to everything. There are political ideologies and values that are not inherently Christian or unchristian. Things such as top down or bottom up economics, big business or big government, public or private education, gun ownership, federal Vs state rights, and private or national health insurance. Christians will find themselves divided over these issues.

We Are a Colony on Earth
But in the end, as citizens of heaven our greatest obligation and responsibility is to represent the colony of heaven and to challenge everything that contradicts it. Anyone can be a Democrat or a Republican. Only God’s people can be the church – a colony of heaven that embodies the life of the future here on earth now. This isn’t easy. In fact, the hardest thing to do as an alien is to keep your identity and yet live it gracefully within the dominant culture. But our country needs us to maintain this colony existence and to be a sign to the truth and a prophetic voice in our day.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Way of the Towel

Lately, I have been thinking - and preaching - about our way of living in the world. As we have seen in the book, Heroic Leadership, the Jesuits refer to it as nuestro modo de proceder- our way of proceeding, or going about life. I would like to say, our "way of being in the world."

What I am seeing with fresh eyes is that our "way" is defined by the cross and by the towel. I believe the monastics often referred to it as the "cruciform" life - one modeled after the cross. In John 13 it reminds us that Jesus had all power and knew his place as God and so he took off is outer garment, wrapped a tow around his waist and washed the disciples feet. Jesus said that in humbling himself and washing the disciples feet, he had given them an example and they should do as he had done. In Philippians 2, Paul tells us to have the same mind as Christ, who did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself and became a servant.

I am certain that we must hold the resurrection and the cross together in tension but it also seems that we are drawn to model our way of being in the world in two opposite directions - either based on the resurrection or the cross. Those modeling life after the resurrection tend to focus on victory, prosperity, conquering, Kingship, winning, while those modeling life after the cross focus on humility, service, sacrifice, and suffering with others.

Since I know they both matter - cross and resurrection, I would say at the moment that in our thinking one tends to beget the other. If our way of being in the world is modeled after the cross, we see the resurrection bringing us life, freedom and power to fully enter the world as servants and to enter the fray of human suffering in order to humble ourselves that we might lift others. If our way of being in the world is modeled on the resurrection, we tend to see the cross as liberating us from weakness, suffering and the world so that we can enjoy living the victorious, prospering life that is ours in Christ and we call others to enjoy it with us. I am inclined to think that the way of the cross is other centered and the way of the resurrection tends to be ultimately self-centered. Kind of like either Christ gave me power that I might serve or Christ served that I might have power. The difference may sound slight but I believe in the long run it is huge.

The fundamental question is, "Which does the New Testament offer as the model of our "way of being in this world?"

Monday, February 18, 2008

Overcoming Fear

Today, I had an insight about a way to circumvent my fear of failing. It started as I was reading the book, On Becoming A Leader by Warren Bennis. In chapter three titled, "Knowing Yourself", Bennis was relaying the perspective of Marty Kaplan on a learning attitude.

What occurred to me is that instead of seeing a situation as an opportunity to fail or succeed, I need to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

This is especially important, when I feel afraid to act, because I might fail to get it right or fail to meet others expectations. My fear usually produces high anxiety because my worth is threatened by the possibility of failing. But what if the outcome is not about if I succeed but if I learn. What if each decision or action were not a test of my ability to be right but an opportunity to get hands on experience in learning something new or improving my skills .

What if challenging situations no longer held the power to determine if I am a success or a failure but only the power to teach me. I feel much better being challenged in my ability to learn than my ability to succeed. If I don't get it right, I am not a failure, I just know what doesn't work, and the next time I will try something different.

In my mind this takes the power away from life experience to determine my worth and instead gives me the power to make life experience my teacher.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What makes us Vineyard?

I have been part of the Vineyard movement for a little more than 23 years now. In all this time we have continued to struggle to define ourselves. It seems important to us to know what we are and what we are not. We often speak in terms of identifying our DNA. In essence, we want to know what underlying beliefs, values, and practices define our “modo de proceder” – our way of proceeding – doing things – being in the world. It helps as we try to explain ourselves to others but even more important, as we try to reproduce ourselves in new people and new churches. I would like to suggest 7 things as foundational to the Vineyard.

1. The Kingdom of God is already here but not yet complete – This gives us a framework from the “future” to understand our present. Maybe, most of all, it allows us to understand the whole of the Christian life within the tension of success with failure; victory with defeat; wholeness with brokenness; joy with suffering.

2. The church as an eschatological community – Our way of living as a community of God’s people is determined by the future – a future that is becoming a reality in the present. What we will be shapes how we live now. It is God’s vision of the future that defines our life together today.

3. Real Presence – We expect the whole of our life and ministry to be enlivened and empowered by the real presence of God through the Spirit. We feel his presence; are touched by his love and hear his voice.

4. Everyone gets to play – Every person is important and has a valuable contribution to make in the church and in the world.

5. Servant Leadership – The opportunity and privilege to influence others is won by our service not by power. Loving others earns the trust to lead them in the fulfillment of shared vision.

6. Cultural authenticity – We are not Vineyard because of the commonality of our culture but because of the authenticity of our cultural expression to the context in which we are living.

7. Practice as a priority over Dogma – While the bible is authoritative for our faith, we are more concerned to live what we know than to know more.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what makes us who we are as the Vineyard.