Sunday, May 22, 2011

Judgment Day Sermon

I had the opportunity to preach at Windsor Heights Lutheran Church this weekend.  The sermon is based on John 14:1-14 and addresses topics including the rapture, salvation, grace, and works.

You can listen to the sermon by downloading the audio file.

Here are the images of the homes that are referenced in the opening few minutes.

Also, I mentioned Brant Clements' Saint and Cynic blog during the sermon.  It's worth checking out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

LIFTing at Synod Assembly

Today I had the opportunity to talk about the LIFT Task Force with the Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly during a general plenary session.  A few people asked for a copy of what I said, so I thought I'd post it here on koinonia.

Slide presentation (PowerPoint)

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I am grateful for the opportunity to share with this Assembly the work of a Churchwide Task Force known as -- Living Into the Future Together: Renewing the Ecology of the ELCA...or “LIFT” for short.  

What Is LIFT?
This group of twelve people represents a diverse cross-section of leaders within our denomination.  We were called together in November 2009 to study the evolving internal and external factors surrounding our church.  After 18 months of engaging a broad conversation across this church and its many partners, the LIFT Task Force concluded our work with a “report & recommendations” document.

What is meant by the word “Ecology”?
Craig Dykstra, Senior Vice President in Religion for the Lilly Foundation, referred to the ELCA as an “ecology of interdependent eco-systems.”  The unique structure of the ELCA (now in its 23rd year) means that all aspects of our church (in a broad sense) are interrelated and lean on each other for support and accountability.

LIFT Process Update
The 100-page report and recommendations document was submitted to the ELCA Church Council in April.  From there, the LIFT planning team will develop implementing resolutions to be voted on at the 2011 Churchwide Assembly in August.  

As Reverend Malpica-Padilla mentioned in his report yesterday, the LIFT Task Force was guided by two main questions.

What is God calling us to be and do in the future?
In other words, how is the identity we have in Christ calling us to act in the days ahead?

The second question is - “What changes are in order to help us respond most faithfully?”

This question sometimes makes people nervous because assumes that things will need to be different.  But as people who are attentive to the living Spirit of God, if anything is certain, it is that things will be different tomorrow than they were today.

From the many pages of the LIFT report and recommendations, some key outcomes can be extracted.

  • We are called to be in regular, ongoing discernment about God’s will for the church.
  • We are empowered to claim our identity in a time of rapid societal change.
  • We urge all aspects of the eco-system to produce leaders for mission - not just rostered leaders, but for all people to live out their vocational calls as followers of Jesus Christ.
  • We identified synods as essential catalysts and agents of mission.  The task force spent a great deal of time looking at the role of middle judicatories in such a broad eco-system.
  • We lift up congregations as centers of ministry AND mission.  This church needs congregations to be healthy in order for the church to be healthy.  Congregations are the common denominator for almost every aspect of our eco-system...and it is our hope that the eco-system will continue tending to nurturing, supporting, and challenging congregations to be about vibrancy and vitality.
  • And we will continue studying about what it means for a denomination to function as a network.  
One of our suggestions is for congregations, in conjunction with existing support networks, develop a mission plan.  This plan will affirm the specific contextual assets that are germane to a congregation...and will make connections with other aspects of the eco-system to live out that plan.  More resources will be developed to aid congregations (and their partners) to consider this Mission Plan.

One of the helpful tools that the task force utilized in our work is something I’ve had the chance to replicate with a variety of groups in the last few months.  It begins with Bible Study from the 2nd chapter of Acts, and moves into three critical questions.

  • What items are essential for church to exist?
  • What items are helpful, but not essential?
  • What items are neither helpful nor essential.
From there, we consider what a congregation would look like if it focused on just the essentials and were sent into the world - a nimble, faithful, community of faith - passionate about sharing the gospel with a world in need.

Over the next few weeks and months we will be sharing suggested ways to help congregations that wish to engage in their own LIFT process - a conversation that brings renewal to a congregational eco-system by focusing on communal, contextual discernment.

You can find these resources through a web site, Facebook, and Twitter.

This is a fascinating time to be the church.  I am grateful that our church body has engaged in a process like LIFT, and I am hopeful that we will continue to rely on God’s guidance to help us live into the future together and renew the ecology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Take a Walk

Last night at youth group we took a step (actually, several steps) outside our comfort zone.  We took a walk on the "rough side of town."

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First, a bit of backstory...

When our church used to make an annual trip to Jackson, MS one of the things we would do on our first day was to walk around the neighborhood in small groups.  The purpose of this activity was to become familiar with our surroundings, see some of the work our mission partner was doing in the community, and address our pre-conceptions about "poor black people in the South."

The only thing that was awkward about these walks was the Tourist Factor: the peculiar feeling of observing your surroundings without gawking.  Let's face it, if a group of young people came trolling through my neighborhood -- looking, talking, and acting differently than my neighbors and me -- I would wonder what was going on.

While doing these walks I thought it would be fascinating to do a similar thing back home.  Des Moines isn't a big city (500,000 people in the metro area), but it certainly has distinct ethnic and socio-economic pockets.  A majority of the young people in our congregation come from upper-middle class, white households and have parents with a college education.  For whatever reason, I never remembered to do this kind of activity upon our return...

Earlier in the week, I had a conversation with a friend who had lived in Des Moines for 25+ years, but had never been in neighborhoods on the east-side of town.  I found it strange; and yet I realized that there was never a need for him to go anywhere outside of the western suburbs...aside from an occasional trip downtown for a little cultural excursion.  All of his needs and wants were met within a three-mile radius of his home.

* * * * *

Which brings us back to Sunday night youth group.

Three days of rain made it difficult for us to carry out our original activity (tending to a garden), so I asked if the group of six freshmen and one senior if they would be interested in taking a walk in a part of town they hadn't been before.  They were up for it, especially once I told them that food would be involved.  We drove down University Avenue, up M.L. King, and east on Forest Ave. to 6th Ave.  Throughout the drive, I asked the young people to pay attention to their own emotions in the midst of our journey.

We parked at St. Vincent De Paul, walked past the Salvation Army and Bethel Mission, then by the Catholic Worker House, and around the vacated Top Value Foods.  There was lots of good conversation about these organizations during our supper at McDonald's.  We then walked up 5th Street past several homes in need of repair.  We (understandably) received strange looks and a few horn honks from passers by as we completed the loop back to St. Vincent's.

There was more discussion on the way back to church about what they observed and how they felt.  One lamented the condition of the streets in the neighborhood.  Another noticed lots of litter around businesses and homes.  Yet another articulated they felt out-of-place.  I was grateful for their honesty and for their willingness to try something new and uncertain.

I don't know that it was a major, life-changing experience for these young people.  Maybe it will lead to a desire for individuals (or our entire group) to volunteer one of the organizations we talked about.  Hopefully it will humanize "those poor people" on the other side of town.  Like most things in youth ministry, it will take time to see what, if any, fruit comes from the seeds that were planted.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tweeting the Death of Osama Bin Laden

When my wife told me Sunday evening that Osama Bin Laden was killed, I immediately went to Twitter. I knew the President would eventually make a speech that would deliver the details of how it all went down, but I wanted to see what the folks in my social network were tweeting. Here are a few of the more interesting tweets (or re-tweets) that my friends posted shortly after the first report:

@mclanea - Chuck Norris & Geraldo tracked and killed Osama Bin Laden

@chadholtz - Trump will want the long form for the death certificate

@chrisjonesuw - Ten years, trillions of $$, millions of lives lost. But at least War on Terror is over now, Right?

@andydaglas - If bin Laden is dead, I want the announcement to be followed by Obama dropping the mic and strutting off stage.

@revmelissa - Yet, I still cannot rejoice in killing.

@michaelgraham - 2nd time in two nights that Obama crushes Trump on live tv.

@thelepper - I have a hard time celebrating anyone's death, regardless of the circumstances.

@brianstelter - NBC's Richard Engel: "This ends a chapter in the global war on terrorism which has defined a generation."

@tiredkate - wonders if Bin Laden's death will actually change anything or if we will just think it does...

@andrewkarrmann - Usama? #reallyfoxnews?

@bobpowers - "I loosened it." -Bush

@benbadler - You're next, Carmen Sandiego

@muiz - "Bin Laden...forced a generation of young Muslims inc myself to publicly justify our identity - his death will not change this."

@jimgaffigan - Hey @BarackObama please start talking. CNN is embarrassing themselves.

@theimageoffish - Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble -Prov 24:17

@blakehuggins - the vile compulsion of american jingoism never ceases to amaze me. nor do the orgasmic reactions, we've willingly sacrificed our imagination

@stevenash - sicne we caught Osama do I still have to take my laptop out at security?

@ohxjulie - President Obama: "The United States is not and never will be at war with Islam" This is the message Americans need to hear the most.

@makeesha - I prly will not mourn for Osama bin Laden but I will not celebrate his death either. I hope our response as Americans elevates our humanity.

@jimgaffigan - Nice job @BarackObama, CIA, and armed forces. Pakistan, I'd like to talk to u in my office.

@jakebouma - "And so his death should be welcomed by all those who believe in peace." Uhhh... #cognitive dissonance

@choptedallen - Does this mean I can wear my effing shoes through TSA security again? ;)

@Adam_Jacobi - CNN reports Obama wrote the address himself. Just something all y'all congratulating his speechwriter might want to know.

@jonathanstegall - If Obama wins re-election, I think it will be more for this than for trying to give universal healthcare. We are a country of revenge.

@clarkekant - Fox News reporting Barak Hussein Obama authorizes the killing of a homeless man with kidney disease.

@gtal13 - Ps 139:21-2 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred.

@ohxjulie - Very rarely am I so conflicted in regards to what it means to be truly faithful.

Would you like to add your thoughts?