Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two doors

I have just finished grading 16 sermons from my intensive preaching course.  Hence my zero posts recently. One of my students said: "I am glad to be among the first students to take this experimental course but I know there are improvements you can make."  There certainly are, though I see no way to avoid the crunch grading of each preacher which has taken hours these past days!

Overall, the standard of preaching has been high but I have noticed a common tendency to focus sermon outcomes on our own limited concerns.  It reminds me of the contrast drawn between two doors in Revelation. Famously, Rev. 3:20 describes the closed door outside which Christ stands and knocks for he needs to be invited inside.  I guess this picture (aided by Holman Hunt) has been a dominant one in much evangelism because it encourages a faith response of will to Christ the Savior.  "Let him into your life as Lord and Savior".

However, Rev.4:1 describes a very different door: 'After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven' and a voice spoke like a trumpet: 'Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this'.  This is the door that is now gloriously open and which must be entered by God's grace.

Rev. 3:20 invites the Lord into our world, to become the center of our lives;  Rev 4:1 invites us to become part of God's world and his big story from creation to consummation.  The first puts Christ central to our small world of thinking and living, which is so often trapped in culture that it relegates Christ to the margins of our ethics, finances, and relationships.   This is much safer because we set the expectations and keep them comfortable.  The second, places Christ as supreme, reigning over a new reality called his kingdom which recasts our little lives into his bigger purposes, turning on their head most cultural assumptions.  This is, what one writer calls, 'the dangerous act of worship' where loving God and loving neighbor overwhelms selfish living.

I embark on the next round of intensive teaching shortly (so shall probably be incommunicado again) but I long for more dangerous worship in the sermons I hear and, much more difficult. the life I lead.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Listening to high schoolers

Yesterday's gathered worship was a youth service led by middle and high school students from First Baptist Wheaton. Shaped around Romans 5:6-8 its core involved several young people sharing with us from their personal experiences of God's work in their lives.

It was challenging and immensely refreshing.  How transparent were their stories in which they shared their struggles and joys!  A senior who spoke first asked for help coping with peer pressure, especially keeping himself pure sexually.  Another, a daughter of missionaries, spelt out powerfully her tension of living between continents, yet expressed the strength given by the youth 'family'. A range of issues tumbled out from wrestling with insecurity and loneliness to guidance about the next steps towards college. There was such honesty and vulnerability.

I loved what happened next.   We were given copies of their stories so that we could identify names clearly and colored cards on which we could write specific prayers of support and love to individuals.  I know Carol was particularly touched by one girl's needs, and I felt compelled to write to one of the boys.  But, then, the young people stood along the middle aisle and all the congregation reached towards them, some close enough to touch their shoulders, as the whole church prayed for them. To my surprise, they then turned and prayed for us, reaching out and asking for God's love and support.  It was profoundly moving.

The youth pastor, spoke about the need for continuing to build relationships between the older members of the church and the younger.  He's right, and yesterday I saw again how much we can learn from each other, especially us older folk from their transparency and honest trusting in Christ. Thank you, young people!   

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Stillness (2) Two ways

I was intrigued by the assertion that there are two ways to get through life.  People generally opt for one way or the other.

One way is to stop thinking.  To approach life with the minimum of thought, dismissing big questions about who they are, what life is about and what purpose they might have.  Some who reject Christian faith work out a pattern that gives enough satisfaction with friends, entertainment, family, interests that they can get by adequately.  Of course, pain and suffering will interrupt but they move on as quickly as they can past it to make the most of what they have.  Someone once said: 'I've heard you preachers talk about all of us having a 'God-shaped hole' in our lives.  That just isn't true for me.  I'm really satisfied with my life as it is.'  

But, interestingly, Christians can also share something of this philosophy.  With a surface level of Christian acceptance, they can actually work out a similar pattern that gives enough satisfaction with friends, entertainment, family, interests that gets by without too much serious thinking open to big questions and their significance for living in God's kingdom.

Thinking back to the last post, the classic way to stop thinking is to fill up every hour with stuff - Christian or not.  No stillness or silence possible with God.

The other way is to stop and think. To make time for the soul to be still and know God.  To take time out for thinking through big questions with God.  Listening for the still small voice (1 Kings 19:12).  In Scripture, in fellowship, in worship, by his Spirit he wants to help us live knowingly as his children, yet  within stillness we can go to very deep places with him. 

This remains a great challenge to me, a born activist. How much more does God want me to be? In this Fall term of intensive teaching at Northern Seminary,  I want to approach the days not in a constant rush but with more stillness.  I don't know what you face, but perhaps this makes sense for you too?