Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Little Bit of Kingdom Come

People sometimes think that God *causes* bad things to happen in order to bring other good things out of it. Most of us, I think, have a problem with that as an "ends justify the means" kind of thing. But among Christians I think it gets currency from various directions.
  • Some people read Romans 8:28 in that way, as if it said "we know that God is the cause of everything and no matter how awful it seems it's actually good because of the good that comes out of it."
  • Our tendency to recite the Lord's Prayer as "Thy will be done, (hard stop) on Earth as it is in heaven" as opposed to "Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven" plays into a kind of resignation in the face of tragedy rather than an appeal for God's *good* will to actually be realized on Earth.
  • Plus, there's that sense that if God is "omnipotent" then it would seem that everything that does happen is ultimately because God wants it that way.
  • The kicker is the story in John 9 where most translations literally say God caused a man to be born blind in order to heal him later. (I think Eugene Peterson gets it right in his The Message version.)
I don't buy any of that stuff, but it's out there and feeds into the notion that God works evil to obtain good and we just have to deal with it.
At any rate, what I do believe is that in every situation - regardless of how it came about - God is present and is an active force to bring good forward.
And here is a very beautiful and touching example of what that can look like.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Burnt Over District - video reflection

This is a seasonal reflection I created on video a couple years ago. The music is "The Burnt Over District" by Hem. I I slowed it down somewhat for time and effect.

video

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Done With Church but Not With Faith? You're Not Alone.

There's a large and growing group of people who have left traditional church life (buildings, budgets, programs and pastors) but are decidedly not walking away from their faith in Jesus. Or from their desire to follow him and bless the world. Or from their hunger to be in community with others. In fact, many of them have "left the church in order to save their faith."

Sociologist Josh Packard has coined the term "the Dones" to describe this group in his book Church Refugees. He finds the term "refugees" particularly apt because it speaks about people who didn't really want to "leave home" but felt they had no other choice and often flee out of a sense of self-preservation.

I highly recommend the book. Below is my own summary, drawn largely from the book, about who the Dones are. If you would like to download a copy you can find it here.


Key Research Findings on the Dones
Timothy Thompson, 4.4.17, FeralPastor@gmail.com

Unless otherwise noted, observations presented here are from Packard and Hope, Church Refugees, (Group Publishing, 2015); Joshua Packard, Exodus of the Religious Dones: Research Reveals the Size, Makeup, and Motivations of the Formerly Churched Population (Group Publishing 2015); and “Meet the ‘Dones”” by Joshua Packard (Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2015/summer-2015/meet-dones.html)

1.       They were highly active in their churches.  Dones are not disgruntled consumerist Christians whose preferences were not met, or controllers who stormed off in a huff when they couldn’t get their way. Neither are they marginal members who drifted away over time.  Rather, they were typically very active and highly committed members in their congregations, frequently having served in leadership roles.

2.       They didn’t want to leave. Dones often worked for years to reform the church from within and address the challenges they were encountering.  This is a key insight, and why Packard refers to them as “Church Refugees,” evoking the plight of people who desperately wanted to stay “home” yet felt compelled to leave as an act of self-preservation, suffering a deep sense of loss as a result.  One person interviewed described it this way; “At first it was just survival, man. Spiritual survival. We had to get out.”

3.       They felt stifled by church structure. A key factor in why the Dones left is not that the church was flawed, which they expect to be true for humans and their institutions, but that the structures in place prevented them from helping to address the flaws. “I don’t think the institutional church is filled with bad people. I think the church in America is an inherently flawed structure that compels people to make poor decisions” said one person interviewed. This distinction between the structures of the institution as opposed to the people and the faith itself is what is expressed by the saying; “They are done with the church but not with their faith.”

4.       There were four key desires that they found frustrated by life in the conventional church:
a.       They wanted community in the form of an extended spiritual family of care with shared life and substantial intimacy.
b.      They wanted to be able to affect the life of the church.
c.       They wanted spiritual conversation that invited exploration rather than doctrinal teaching that squelched it.
d.      They wanted meaningful engagement with the world.


The Dones are a large and growing group. Barna and Kinneman (Churchless, Tyndale Momentum, 2014) argue that the “dechurched” comprise about 33% of the American population and are the fastest growing segment as well. Packard estimates that about half of the unchurched - roughly 30.5 Million people - would qualify as Dones, no longer attending church services but retaining their faith in God and Christian identity. An additional 7 Million still attending church report that they are “on their way out the door” as Almost Dones.  Beyond the sheer size of the group, it should be stressed that the impact of these people leaving congregational life is greatly multiplied by the fact that Dones tend to come from among the most active and committed members in the church.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Illumination Conflict Sermon

Conflict in the community?
Family bonds strained?
Division among religious leaders?
People disputing the facts?
Personal attacks on the sources?
Beliefs impervious to evidence?

I had the opportunity to preach at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church yesterday and those are some of the themes I found playing out in the story of the man born blind in John 9. And amidst all that furor, there's a story of a man who receives his sight, finds his voice and comes to faith as well.

If you're interested in hearing the sermon, I've provided the audio for you below.

It's a call to action in challenging times with a word of comfort to take along with you.

Blessings!

Tim

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Scripture as Song, with Sampling

Thinking about different ways we use and value stories this morning especially stories in Scripture:

The stories themselves have value and that’s one reason why we learn them. Stories in Scripture; history of the Church; stories from ancestors, parents, friends and very much so stories from our own lives.  

Stories also have value as a kind of lexicon, a dictionary of images, ideas, themes, emotions etc. that are able to catch our attention and strike theological, experiential and emotional chords. 

In the first, we are often looking for what God said to people at the time, which may also apply to us today. In the second, we are listening for what God is saying now. The current word may be the same, similar, or quite different from what we find in the original setting. (And students of Scripture will readily point out how written Scripture itself sometimes re-purposes things from earlier times to make a point that may be VERY different from the original sense. A stunning example of this can be seen where Paul re-purposes the foundational Jewish story of Isaac and Ishmael in such a way as to reverse the original meaning, presenting all the Law-abiding Jews as children of Hagar rather than Sarah.  See Galatians 4.)

It’s an odd analogy, I think, but works well to compare this to the way that contemporary musicians use sampling. Jesus "samples" Scripture to sing us new tunes today along with the old ones. (By "sampling" here I'm thinking about
occasions like having an image of Scripture come to mind in conversation or during private devotions... these may be times when we're hearing the Lord speak in the present moment, catching our attention with the familiarity of the "sample.")


Scripture as song – there’s more that could be done with that. We value the original compositions very highly. The “old time” versions often have special, deep emotional resonance (e.g. The Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23 from the KJV). But old songs can often find new richness with a different arrangement, or worked into a medley. From there It’s a short step to incorporating just a verse, refrain or chorus as a counterpoint, and from there to sampling to refer to a theme.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 Devos in Review

For many years I've used a simple journaling format with my daily devotions: writing down a passage or verse of Scripture; noting what it is in that reading that catches my attention; writing down how it applies to me that day, and writing a short prayer. The whole thing is usually about half a page long. It goes by the acronym SOAP for Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. (If you'd like to learn more about it, check out this post.)
I also make an index as I go of the scripture passages I've written about with several keywords that point to the theme of the reflection. One fun side-benefit is that at the end of the year I can collect all of the keywords and display them in a Wordle  where the most commonly used words show us in larger font size. The three images attached show what my devotional keywords were in 2015. The first one below uses all the words, the second just the 20 most common words, and the one above has the top 5 words by frequency.
(You'll notice that my most common keyword this year was "pipe." No, I've not been moonlighting as a plumber, "pipe" is just my personal shorthand for a core metaphor for faith and life. Briefly: to be human is to be like an L-shaped pipe, connected to God at the top, with love, joy, peace, forgiveness and all good things flowing *down* into us from God and *out* from us to bless our neighbors.)
I wanted to share this with you to encourage you in your own devotional life. (New Years... fresh starts... resolutions and all that.) First of all, of course, just to spend some intentional time each day with the Lord. And in addition, I highly recommend some kind of writing practice that lets you see your faith life over time and find good words again at a later date - for yourself or for others!
And while you're at it... and annual spiritual "year in review" is a pretty good practice too.

Blessings!

All keywords:
Top 20:

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Message 100 - Book Review

I was very pleased to receive a copy of The Message 100 by Eugene Peterson for review a while back.  I'm happy to recommend it, first and foremost because The Message version itself is hugely beneficial for reading, and second because the new arrangement of the books of the Bible that you find in The Message 100 has some valuable features as well.

A quick word about the translation itself. I like to refer to Peterson's excellent work as a "rendering" of scripture. Though based on the original language manuscripts, Peterson allows more freedom in bringing it into English than one would use in a formal translation. His rendering is at least a paraphrase, and at times makes moves that I would have to call interpretations. But the vitality and vibrancy of his version is so helpful in "hearing" scripture that I am always enthusiastic to recommend it to people for general reading and as a companion for formal Bible study. Reading The Message has improved my "scholarly" understanding of scripture, but more importantly, helped the Lord shape my heart in wonderful ways.

This new version makes two significant changes in how a reading Bible is organized. First, it divides the text into 100 readings. That simple change gives you an encouragement to read the whole Bible (who doesn't want to get to 100?) while at the same time avoiding the problems associated with so many other "read through the Bible" plans which is simply this: failure. I don't know how many times have I gotten behind in some daily reading plan and faced the decision to either skip a batch of readings and "press reset" to (FAIL!) or binge-read as fast as possible in order to "catch up" (faking success = FAIL!)  The 100 version invites you to keep at it and take your time. It's a grace goal... one that comes with a finish line but without a deadline.  How cool is that?

The second change in the 100 version is more significant, and more subtle.  In many places, the books of the Bible have been re-ordered.

Finally, Acts follows Luke as the sequel it was written to be! But that's just the start...

Anyone who's ever tried to read the Bible "cover to cover" has run into the Kings-Chronicles issue. You work your way through 1st and 2nd Kings and then here comes 1st and 2nd Chronicles going back over the same territory you just finished. It's confusing and a bit frustrating to feel like you are "re-reading" all that stuff, even if you are aware of the significant differences between Kings and Chronicles.  Some reading plans deal with this by interweaving the two tellings, and that helps especially if you read the various Prophets along the same timeline as well. (Wayne Cordeiro does an excellent job of this in his Life Journal materials.) In The Message 100, Peterson leads you through Kings first, and then introduces Chronicles after you've gone through much of the prophetic literature and spent time in Exile with Daniel. That brings you to the point in the story when the Chronicles were written as a way to re-engage the people's history in a new situation. That one change actually gave me a new appreciation for the first eight, tedious, chapters of genealogy in Chronicles. (Actually, not so much a "new" appreciation as a "first ever" one.) After all they've been through and the ruin they brought on themselves as a people, the listing of ancestors up to the present survivors returning from exile has a way of saying "... and we are still here!  After all this, all these generations, we are still here!"  The placing of Chronicles helped me to catch that.

Another notable re-ordering is placing the Gospel of John in a final section along with the letters of John and Revelation. With the similarity of voice and vision in these books, it's intriguing to think about the way that reading them together will cast light on each of them.

I'm also intrigued by the decision to put Job in between Genesis and Exodus as part of the section on "Beginnings." No explanation is offered, but to me it helps to suggest a similarity in genre of the two books as something different from what we moderns think of as "history."  And I think it also works as a way of "setting the stage" for the story of Scripture as both Genesis and Job get us thinking about the challenge we face in the human condition.

Each of the 100 readings has an introduction written by Peterson.  They are very helpful in keeping you oriented towards what's going on and what the readings are pointing towards. Especially here in these introductions can you hear the voice of Peterson the pastor, and some of the material is even drawn from his sermons. Another great gift he offers us.

The one thing I wish for that's not in the book is some commentary on his decisions for re-ordering the books of the Bible. But aside from that it's another wonderful piece of work from a man who has made a great contribution to the faith and life of many people, myself included.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Blog In Review - 2015

Fellow blogger and ELCA Pastor/rabble-rouser Clint Schnekloth invited folks to offer a year in review blog post and offered to compile them on his own blog so here goes!  

The Church Isn't Dying, It's Just That The Bubble Has Finally Burst (The end of inflation.)

(Church) Life Can Be Different (Imagine one service per month?)


Maybe the "dones" are done with the "form" of church we offer them.  (Walking away can also be walking towards.)


Is the Kingdom of God a Gated Community? (No key to the Pearly Gates?)


2014 in Devotions (Common themes and helpful tools.)



And a perennial favorite from years ago that still gets traffic...

Luther on House Churches (It's time we acted on his proposal.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Church Isn't Dying, It's Just That The Bubble Has Finally Burst

I was talking to a family member about what "the end of Christendom" means and came up with an analogy I thought would be good to share.

After the burst of the housing bubble and the great recession, I think the whole "bubble" idea is pretty familiar to folks. You have something - like home prices - that has a normal, reasonable level but then gets super-inflated way beyond that point by other stuff. So when the "other stuff" gets removed, the bubble bursts and things drop back to where they would have been all along. What makes this tough is that the "inflating" process can go on for a long time and people get used to it, expecting it to go on, but the "burst" is sudden and wreaks havoc on things.

Similarly, the Christian church has been inflated - arguably for about 17 centuries - because the culture has "pumped people into it" in various ways. But now we are experiencing the burst of that bubble and while it's pretty traumatic and sudden (by historical standards) it's not really the case that the church is "dying" any more than the housing market died. Rather, it's simply returning to something more in line with what it would have been *without the cultural subsidy to inflate it.*

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

House Churches and the ELCA?

There's been some house church activity in my ELCA denomination over the years and now there's a one-day conference coming up to explore this direction October 23-24! If you've followed this blog much, you know that's a topic near and dear to my heart. I've got 55 posts with that tag... so far, and pretty much started this blog in April 2007 in order to advance this conversation. I'll be there. Care to join me?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

(Church) Life Can Be Different

What if.... you had a community that gathered once a month for "the show" and three times a month to *unpack* all the amazing goodness from that gathering? Hear the hymns and songs again and pour over the *words* in them to share how it touched their hearts... Chew on and really digest the message from the preacher and "work the words into your life" (The Message, Luke 6:48-49)...

What do you think... would we see people growing *more* as disciples with this pattern, or would we see *less* discipleship than we are getting now?

And as icing on the cake, would we see more exhaustion from the very people we look to to help feed and lead us, or less?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Christians are not called to be "good people."

For my daily devos this morning I wrote a longer reflection than usual. It's based on this verse from Romans 12:2

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect."

In a nutshell, what I came around to is simply this: Jesus does not call Christians to just "be good people" and "live good lives." He calls us to give up our lives.  That's counter-cultural, not only for a corrupt culture, but even for a culture that's basically "good."

Here's the "long version" from my devotional journal.




Saturday, July 4, 2015

Maybe the "dones" are done with the "form" of church we offer them.

This is something I wrote, pulled from a different online conversation about the "dones" (people who are still believers but are "done with church") but I thought I'd drop it here as well. Apologies for the lack of context.

"I wish I could attribute this quote, but I've forgotten... "Many people are leaving the church, not because they have lost their faith, but in order to preserve it."  Might be Reggie McNeal or Brian McLaren. (What's up with those McGuys?)   

Faith and community are not to be separated.  But the *form* that a faith community takes can vary hugely.  Like water taking on the shape of it's container.

Conventional, institutional church is a *form* that faith community has taken in recent generations. This *form* has become a barrier and a threat to the faith of many.  And even to those of us born in and *native* to the form, the burden of *maintaining the form* in the midst of post-Christendom has become too heavy to bear.  Hence the "dones" who are yet believers, and are "shaking off" the (current form) "dust" from their feet.

Fortunately, our most familiar form is not the only option.  House churches, Missional Communities and other things that don't even have useful labels/terms for them yet.

This is the road I am taking. Part of the shape of the old form is good professional incomes for seminary graduates like me and my wife.  That's not likely to be common in new forms. Oh well. So be it. Lay down your life and all that. It's what I signed up for.  :)"

Friday, June 5, 2015

Common Cause Communities and their LA Hatchery

Another group that's caught my attention is Spencer Burke's "Hatchery" in L.A. Their focus is on non-traditional church-planting and their core concept is "Common Cause Communities" which can be contrasted with teaching/attractional/Sunday morning mode congregations (and compared to 3dm Missional Communities for those of you familiar with that language.)

Common - Common faith in the way of Jesus
Cause - Outwardly focused on a shared cause to rally around
Community - to deepen relationships

If you're interested in new models or alternatives to traditional seminary, I encourage you to check them out.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Fired Up? Pentecost Sermon 2015

"Eldad and Medad are prophesying....
IN THE CAMP!!  
AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!"
I preached at Gethsemane yesterday for Pentecost. Had some fun interpreting the Eldad and Medad story and suggesting that we needed some fire not just on our heads and in our hearts but also... elsewhere.

Enjoy!



5.24.15 Sermon - Fired Up - Pastor Tim, Pentecost, 1002 Service from Gethsemane on Vimeo.

Friday, May 22, 2015

You Shall... Good News?

Here's a little something we Lutherans like to call "Law and Gospel" from my daily SOAP devos this morning:


Monday, April 6, 2015

Is the Kingdom of God a Gated Community?

One of the Daily Texts verses today includes the statement “I have the keys of Death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:18) It reminded me of something important about interpretation that I like to pass along when I get a chance, so I’m going to run down a rabbit hole here for a bit.
The little English word “of” can mean a LOT of different things and the reader/hearer is absolutely required to *interpret* the word and *choose* from different options. Most of us do that easily and subconsciously on the fly, so we’re not even aware that we’re interpreting.
For example: “house of sticks” means house *made* of sticks.
But “love of money” means love *directed towards* money.
And “love of your dog” means the love *felt by* your dog for you.
Except when it means the love *felt for* your dog by you.
Now, watch how this can have a huge impact on how you interpret.
In Matthew 16:19 Jesus refers to the “keys of the Kingdom. What does “of” mean there? The keys “to” the Kingdom? Could be. That would imply that the Kingdom is locked and you need the key to get in, though. Hmmm…
Or, it could mean the keys *belonging to* the Kingdom. That’s a whole ‘nother thing there. If you have these “Kingdom keys” what do you think you might be able to lock… or unlock? Might it be the “gates of Hades” that Jesus refers to in the previous verse?
“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Mt. 16:18b
You’ve got to admit… a gate isn’t likely to "prevail” against you if you have the key that can open it. ;)
Popular culture has latched onto the “pearly gates” image from Revelation 21:21 in a way that has even us thinking of heaven as a gated community. Seriously… a gated community!?!? If you don’t have a key yourself you better be on good terms with Saint Peter, right! After all he has the “keys *to* (?) the Kingdom” right?
Well, how about this instead. What if the only “gated community” that even exists is Hell/Hades/Death, and the *problem* is not “How can I possibly get *into* heaven when I’m locked out?” but rather, “How can I possibly get *out* of H/H/D when I’m locked IN?
Sit with that image for a minute, and then see how it feels to consider that the Kingdom keys have unlocked the gates and no one can ever be locked in again.
Pearly gates that are locked, or gates of Hades unlocked – which image resonates more powerfully with what you know as the message of Jesus?
It is, of course, a matter of interpretation. Gotta keep an eye on those great big theological words like “of.”