Sunday, August 8, 2010

Change Your Clothes: there’s much To Do.

(Shared with the Redwood Family Church, whose pastor is Todd Lundberg, and guest speaker last week was: Jim Henderson.)

It was because of Facebook that I heard who your guest speaker was last week… Since we don't really know one another very well… let me begin by telling you – you haven't heard me on the radio; and you haven't read my book. But perhaps you've had some of my "coffee".

Join with me in reading our Gospel text this morning, found in Luke 12:32-48 (NLT) "Don't be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

 33 "Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. 34 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

 35 "Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. 37 The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! 38 He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.

 39 "Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into. 40You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected."

 41 Peter asked, "Lord, is that illustration just for us or for everyone?"

 42 And the Lord replied, "A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 43 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward.44 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 45 But what if the servant thinks, 'My master won't be back for a while,' and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 46 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.

 47 "And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn't prepared and doesn't carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. 48 But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

In the summer of 2006 my wife and I moved to Seattle to join the staff at Seattle First Church of the Nazarene. While in college God placed this crazy passion in my heart to be involved in a coffee house ministry near a University. And the church in Wallingford – just a few blocks away from the University of Washington – had a similar hope and passion. We began tearing down walls (literal and metaphorical) in the fall of '06 to create space where the kingdom of God could be displayed.

The goal was to provide a coffee house for the community, where anyone, no matter their place in life, could come in and enjoy the space. We structured Mosaic on donations without fixed prices.

When we were in the planning stages – when God first placed the vision of operating without fixed prices on our hearts – we heard of another coffee shop, out in Kirkland, doing it – without fixed prices. The interesting thing about Tera Byte was that it was for-profit – owned by a former Google exec that had extra money and was simply interested in seeing if this alternate business form would work. And once we visited Tera Byte, we knew, if they could do it, so could we.

Mosaic has stretched my understanding of grace. Mosaic has forced many of us to look at our community through new lenses. Mosaic has opened the doors of our church in ways unfamiliar. An interesting aspect of Mosaic is that often guests who come in and order a drink – receive one which a pastor has made. I've heard more than once neighbors joke about the Pastor's being behind the bar – or the seeming irony of the pastors actually being there to serve them.

In Luke's text from chapter 12 we hear Jesus give some pretty powerful statements. And three I want us to wrestle with are: give to those in need, being dressed for service, and to those whom much is given, much will be required.

The verse at the close of this passage begs the question – What are we doing? What is required of us – us who have been given and have taken so much? Are we doing what is expected?

Luke tells us: "A servant who knows what the master wants, but isn't prepared and doesn't carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly."

I have really wrestled with this section all week. I've wondered what the flipside of this scenario would be. Jesus tells what happens to the servant who knows what the master wants and does it. That servant gets a reward. They are placed in charge of more; they are to take care of more, and to oversee more.

I wonder, what happens to those who do not know, yet do what's right? Those who do not know what our Lord, our God requires of his people, yet take upon themselves to do what is right.

Back in June the Seattle Times published a story about Bill Gates & Warren Buffett urging others to give at least half of their wealth away. The wealthiest people in the world were urging their rich colleges – to evoke social change through their giving.

I found an interesting blog on the Seattle Times website titled: "The Business of Giving." The author Kristi Heim shares how the list of billionaires pledging to give away their wealth has grown to 40. Forty billionaires have responded to the challenge evoked by Buffett and the Gates' six weeks ago to publicly pledge at least half of their wealth to philanthropy. Their combined wealth is estimated to be $250 billion.

In their letters of support, the billionaires talked about what they hoped their money could achieve. George B. Kaiser said he is concerned that America is failing its social contract as a land of equal opportunity. He says: "It is the most fundamental principle in our founding documents and it is what originally distinguished us from the old Europe. Yet, we have failed in achieving that seminal goal; in fact, we have lost ground in recent years."

His words ring true. They certainly ring true for America as a whole – and perhaps for many of us as well, who call ourselves followers of Christ!

    I love the title of the Blog – The Business of Giving. Here it is, a secular blog, a blog found on the local newspapers website, clearly promoting Christian principles. As this blog points out that the billionaires are planning to give their wealth away – how do we reconcile that many of them, if any, are not Christian. So what is drawing them to "justice for all"? What is compelling them to give to health care, to hunger, and eliminating poverty? What is compelling them to seek social change?

John Wesley, I believe, would point us to, and speak of Prevenient Grace. When we think of Prevenient Grace, we often only delve into its implications in regards to salvation; how it speaks of the ways God is at work in all of us enabling, presenting his salvific will… But, I believe, when we as God's ambassadors, his disciples, when we don't do what's asked of us, expected of us, even required of us… God will find away for his will to come through. If we don't do it, if we don't cry out for change, for justice, for love… the rocks will. If we don't cry out, Scripture tells us the rocks will!

What do we do as the church when the world is essentially "doing" the things God has called us to? It's pretty clear throughout the Old and New Testaments that we are called, expected, required to take care of the poor and care for the sick. We are to take care of the orphans and this hurting, broken earth. Yet we have become so engrossed in our lives to the point that we are more comfortable sitting in a pew than we are stepping out, picking up our cross and following Jesus.

What does following Jesus mean? He lays it out for us in Luke! We are looking at Luke chapter 12, but let's jump over a few chapters to chapter 18 where we hear a story of a man running up to Jesus, falling on his knees and asking, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus answered. "Live the commandments." The man declared, "all of them I have kept since I was a boy."

But we read in Verse 21: "Jesus looked at him and loved him and said: "One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

    How hard it is! It's hard! Why? Why is it hard? Why is it hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God? Do we believe that it's hard? If so, share with me a few reasons.

    Jesus tells us three things in our passage from Luke 12, three things to ignite our faith. 1. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. 2. Be dressed for service 3. To those whom much is given, much will be required. He tells us in verse 32 that it gives our Father great happiness to give us the Kingdom. He immediately goes on to tell us: "Sell your stuff and give to those in need. And then come follow me." Following Jesus means giving up some of the luxuries our world (especially our North American twenty-first century world) affords us. We are a blessed, greedy, expectant people. And we're told to go and sell it, get rid of it, give to the poor, and then come and follow our humble King.

    I remember when Scion first was coming out – they were promoting their cars by saying all the features we want come standard. Features like Air Conditioning, Power Locks and Power Windows. I remember they said they were standard, because the cars are geared to the younger generation – and it was and is what we expect. They were right, it's what we expect. We are a blessed, greedy & expectant people. And in many ways, even within the church, we have bread this same consumeristic, egocentric mentality of the world which is, to be brutally honest, contrary to the Kingdom.

Isaiah 1:17 paints a clear picture of who we as Christians, Wesleyans, and Nazarenes are to be. We are to be people who: Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. We are to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans and fight for the rights of widows.

How do we do this? We do this by being dressed for service. In our White Collar desk job world many of us live in (me included) we pay other people to do the services needed; like changing the oil in our cars and grow our vegetables. We find ways to avoid at all costs any & all acts of service. Our society seems to look down on the service industry. In college, I went to Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, and there was a restaurant called Embers. One of my good friends worked there, and she confided in me that the staff hated working on Sundays. Why? Because it's the day all the Christians (specifically the Nazarenes) came in to eat after church. Why did they hate it when the Christians came in? Because they were terribly rude and horrible tippers.

We have a bad habit of looking down upon the service industry. Yet service is exactly what our Lord requires of us. Jesus came as a humble servant. Jesus came washing the disciples' feet. Jesus came – not on a chariot, but on a donkey – a service animal. Micah 6:8 shares with us what the Lord requires: to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

I believe the use of the word "to" is significant as it makes me think it's an on-going, progressive, always on kind of thing. And all these simple statements from Micah are action words. Act, Love, Walk. We are to be dressed for service. We are to be willing to get our hands dirty. We are to be willing to forgo our luxuries – and put on clothes which serve. Which empower! Which lift others up! Which exemplify the Love God has for the broken, the hurting, the poor.

As people concerned with Holiness – "whole-ness" we are to operate in ways contrary to the world. Holiness is not self-centered. Being like Christ is not a life of self-absorption! We say it often; the Kingdom of God is upside down. It's different. It's contrary to the ways of the world.

How is the Kingdom different? It looks out for those the world looks over; like the widow, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak and the oppressed.  These are exactly the people – the community – the family – whom the Church of the Nazarene is supposed to be about. Who we, as the Church, the global Church, are supposed to be for!

Over the past few weeks I have been reading an interesting book. Rich Christians in an age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider has quickly moved to the top of my suggested reading list. As an American, a Christian, and specifically a Nazarene, his words cause me to re-evaluate my world view as he clearly writes about poverty, the poorest of the poor, justice – and how we, as followers of Christ, are called to "justice for all."

    Sider asks a question "How Generous Are We?" Do you know how much the average person in the U.S. gives to all charitable causes? 2.1 Percent. But to set your mind at ease, that's the number for the average person… the church member does better. We give 2.66 percent. Sider goes on to say that perhaps even more disturbing is that for most of the past thirty-plus years, the percentage we give kept falling even though our income kept climbing. (pg 198)

    We live in a bubble of affluence. Yet we struggle with giving. We struggle with following Jesus' example and his expectations. We have been blessed, yet are blinded by consumerism.

Are you familiar with the world Gross National Income? Economists and sociologist break it down into 4 categories, low income, lower middle, upper middle, and high income. The Low income people, they operate on $735 or less while the High income work on $9,076 or more. Perhaps to your surprise, these figures are not what people bring in a month! If they were, many of us would find ourselves right where we think, in the middle class. But these figures aren't for a month, they are for an entire year. The low income people (an estimated 2.5 billion) bring in $735 or less a year and many of them live on one dollar a day.

Isaiah tells us to: Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. And Luke reminds us – that those whom have received much, much will be required. These are heavy words. Much is required of us… and it is not going to come natural. Which is why Isaiah's call is so important, we must learn. I'll say it again, we must learn to do good! We must seek justice – justice for all.

Jesus, daily stretches our boundary as we are no longer able to simply rest on the great commandment: to Love the Lord our God with all our Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength. But we must also carry the second – which is to love our neighbors as our selves. In our ever shrinking global world – our neighbors now calculate into the billions. We have local and global neighbors, brothers and sisters, for whom we must – live a life of action; a life of motivation; a life of love.

What is God calling you to? What do the clothes of service, the ones God is asking you to put on, what do they look like? Your clothes can and should look different than mine… but we must change. We must put them on. Our suits and ties, they no longer bare the image of the humble king. Our luxuries, the Mustangs and Bentleys, they no longer speak to the love and compassion, the grace and mercy our Liberating King came riding in on.

We must do a few things. We must take back the business of giving. We must, according to scripture, according to the Gospels, according to Luke, according to our Christian ethos: we must recognize who we are in the world economy, and step up to God's expectation of what is required. We must buy and consume less, so we can generously give to the poor. We must be dressed for service and involved in action; God's loving, grace-filled, justice for all, hopeful, restoring, action of love.

As you go, put on your clothes of service, learn what is good, seek justice and be God's ambassador's to this broken world. Go and Love.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

books to read

Here are four books I've recently read and would suggest you read.

  • Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity, by Ronald J. Sider
    • This book has the potential to change the worldview of each and every reader & how our faith is lived out. "What does the Lord require? To do Justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God."
  • The Kingdom Experiment: a community practice on intentional living
    • This is a great book for those interested in practical ways to explore Biblical calls of Christian expression. How do we live the B-Attitudes? Walk through the Kingdom Experiment.
  • Jim & Casper Go To Church: Frank Conversations about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians, by Jim Henderson & Matt Casper
    • Ever wonder what your church says to guests and those visiting? Jim & Casper visit several and share their experiences. What does your church say about your beliefs and community?
  • Secrets of the Secret Place: Keys to Igniting your Personal Time with God, by Bob Sorge
    • I first read this book as a discipleship book with a student at KU. I have loved reading it, chapter by chapter, alongside the Gospel of Matthew.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

ABSORBED; justice, mercy & humility

Old Testament Series – Micah & Zephaniah

This morning our primary text is perhaps a familiar one. As we journey through our Old Testament series book by book – today we pause on two books: Micah & Zephaniah, whose heart beat stems from a call to covenant living. Micah 6:8 reminds us of what God requires: "O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Another translation puts it this way: "What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!" Do what's right (justice). To love kindness (mercy). Walk humbly with your God! Justice, mercy, & humility.

When was the last time you stood in a long line? I'm talking one of those lines where you wait and wait and wait… an hour or more, standing and waiting. I've got a picture of a line. When was the last time you stood in a line like this?

I'd like to draw our attention this morning to two sections of Micah. We'll look at chapter 2 and chapter 6. Chapter 2 starts by saying: "What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out, simply because you have the power to do so.  2 When you want a piece of land, you find a way to seize it. When you want someone's house, you take it by fraud and violence. You cheat a man of his property, stealing his family's inheritance.  3 But this is what the Lord says:  "I will reward your evil with evil; you won't be able to pull your neck out of the noose. You will no longer walk around proudly, for it will be a terrible time."

I have been reading an interesting book over the past few weeks. Rich Christians in an age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider is a provocative, convicting read as an American, as a Christian, as a Wesleyan, and as a Nazarene. In it's now fifth edition, Sider clearly writes about poverty, the world's poorest, Biblical principles (found both in the Old and New Testaments) of justice – and how we as worldwide Christians are called to "justice for all"

An interesting addition to this current edition is the look at micro loans and how they have the potential to radically transform lives within the poorest of the poor. Do you know about micro loans? They are tiny loans of $75, $200, $500 to desperately poor people to start their own small businesses and thus provide a better living for their families. Sider notes in the preface that $500 to help a poor family can improve their standard of living by 50 percent in a year.

He goes on to ask: "Could that really change the big picture of massive global poverty? Christians today have a total annual income of more than $16 trillion. On the average, a loan to help a family of five costs $500. Let's suppose Christians of the world gave just 1 percent of their income for micro-loans. Do you know how long it would take to improve the lot of the poorest one billion by 50 percent – using just 1 percent of global Christian income? Less than one year!" (pg. xvi)

Now jump over to chapter six with me.  Starting in verse ten: "What shall I say about the homes of the wicked filled with treasures gained by cheating? What about the disgusting practice of measuring out grain with dishonest measures?  11 How can I tolerate your merchants who use dishonest scales and weights?  12 The rich among you have become wealthy through extortion and violence. Your citizens are so used to lying that their tongues can no longer tell the truth.  13 "Therefore, I will wound you! I will bring you to ruin for all your sins.  14 You will eat but never have enough.  Your hunger pangs and emptiness will remain.  And though you try to save your money, it will come to nothing in the end. You will save a little, but I will give it to those who conquer you.  15 You will plant crops but not harvest them. You will press your olives but not get enough oil to anoint yourselves. You will trample the grapes but get no juice to make your wine."

Micah tells us we will eat but never be satisfied, we'll have a gnawing hunger within us. We'll store and put away, but we won't save. We'll sow, but never reap. We'll tread, but we won't anoint, we won't drink. We will eat but not be satisfied.

He's saying this to the wealthy, to the rich. It's kind of discouraging, especially when you realize who Micah is speaking to today.

Economists and sociologist break the world Gross National Income down into 4 categories, low income, lower middle, upper middle, and high income. The Low income operates on $735 or less while the High income works on $9,076 or more. Now let me remind you – those figures are not what people bring in a month! They are for an entire year. The low income people bring in $735 or less a year! That's not very much money!

I heard of "a state senator from Pennsylvania who once argued that his constituents were so poor that they simply could not afford to pay another cent in taxes. He cited a letter from an irate voter as proof. This good person had written him announcing that her family could not possibly pay any more taxes. Why, she said, they already paid the government income taxes and sales taxes – and besides that they bought licenses for their two cars, summer camper, houseboat, and motorboat!" (Sider 183)

Jesus shares a parable with us in Luke 12 "A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops.  He said to himself, 'What should I do? I don't have room for all my crops.'  Then he said, 'I know! I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods.  And I'll sit back and say to myself, "You have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!" "But God said to him, 'You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?'   Jesus says "a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God."

Justice, Mercy & Humility. "O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Another translation puts it this way:" What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!" Do what's right (justice). To love kindness (mercy). Walk humbly with our God! Justice, mercy, & humility.

So what does this make you think? What thoughts or emotions are going through you right now?

We live in a consumeristic society. As much as we don't want to admit it – we do! Our culture drives us to buy, spend, use and dispose. Ya we have great campaigns to recycle, but they often come in the form of "when you're done with this or that – put it in the correct disposal bin." Our products are not designed to last. They're created for a minimal amount of time. Our media is designed to spur us on to the next great slightly modified new version of the same product.

Take for instance our automobile industry… each year every car has slight modifications to it – to attract new and return buyers. The director of research labs at General Motors from 1920-1947, Charles Kettering, decided that business needed to create a "dissatisfied consumer." And so, he instituted an annual model change – planned obsolescence. His solution was for the cars to change, to become obsolete.

Our society, our culture, we thrive on self-indulgence and instant gratification. We mock frugal and simple living. We convince ourselves that we need. We want more, need more, we have to have more money to buy more stuff. Success, according to advertising historian Roland Marchard, came to depend on the virtue of qualities like wastefulness, self-indulgence, and artificially making things obsolete. (141)

Micah 6:8 speaks of justice, mercy and humility. An interesting fact: in one year in the 1990's, Michael Jordan earned as much for promoting Nike shoes as approximately eighteen thousand Indonesian workers who made those shoes.

We live in a consumeristic society. We live in a world which is crazy, weird, and to be honest unfair. We live in a nation which claims justice for all – yet regularly promotes injustice. Injustice like one person earning as much as 18,000 people combined.

We strive for the newest and latest in such a way that we stand in lines, like the ones shown in the photos I showed earlier – simply to get the newest iPhone! Those pictures were from the release of the iPhone.

We have such a strong longing within us to collect that we tear down old barns to build new ones in order to store all that we have. Perhaps not surprisingly, according to the "Self Storage Demand Study of 2007" one in ten U.S. households rent a self storage unit.

We have a lot of stuff. We have so much stuff – that some people pay more to simply store their stuff than many in the poorest nations make in a year! We have a lot of stuff… and we live in a weird world!

These facts and stories make me wonder what covenant living really means, what it is really about. If Micah & Zephaniah's heart beat stems from a call to covenant living – what are the aspects of this covenant? What are the aspects of your covenant with God?

What does our covenantal call look like as Christians, Wesleyans, and Nazarenes?

It's interesting to me that we often, in the Evangelical movement, struggle to participate in social justice issues. We seemingly struggle with giving to those with the greatest need – yet it's what our Lord requires.

Having grown up in the church – I've heard it said that "the liberals do that, they do the social justice thing. They care more about the social issues than the gospel." But it seems to me that the Gospel, the whole of the Good News, speaks pretty clearly that we are to "love the Lord our God with all our heart soul mind and strength and our neighbor as ourself!" Our neighbor, our immediate, local as well as global – neighbors! Micah 6:8 reminds us of what God requires – To Do Justice. To love Kindness – and to walk humbly with God!

What does God require? Action. Movement. Intentionality. Passion. Justice, Mercy & Humility!

    This message is a hard one. It's not really uplifting. It doesn't offer a ton of hope for us, does it? I am certainly not up here proclaiming a prosperity gospel. This message is kind of heavy. It is like when Jesus told the young man to go and sell all his possessions, give it to the poor and follow him – and what did the young man do? He went away grieving, for he was rich, he had a lot of stuff.

    This message doesn't offer our lives a lot of hope does it? The Gospel can be hard and saddening to some, while offering hope to others. It does offer hope! The Gospel offers real hope!

Remember when I said what one percent of the all the Christian's income could do for the poor? In one year it could increase the lot of the poorest by 50%.

Holiness is not self-centered. Being like Christ is not a life of self-absorption! We say it often; the Kingdom of God is upside down. It's different. It's contrary to the ways of the world. The Kingdom looks out for the Widow, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak and the oppressed.  These are exactly the people – the community – the family – the Church of the Nazarene is supposed to be about. Who we, as the Church, are supposed to be for!

You'll notice in that list you did not hear the word, "rich." You don't have to worry about the rich, because the rich will be able to afford justice. We have to worry about the widows, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor, the hungry, the strangers, the needy, the weak and the oppressed; the disenfranchised. They don't have the resources to fight for justice. They don't have the means to hope for equality. But, it is these, whom God incarnate came to seek and to save!

There is a story from England some two hundred years ago when many twelve year old boys were working in the coal mines, down in the cold mine shafts. Their life was miserable but that is what was expected of the little boys in England at that time; hard, dangerous work at age 12.

The church would offer presents at Christmas time to the little boys working away in the coal mines. The church would offer charity and turkeys for the poor families during the holidays. The church would offer prayers for the little boys working away in the coal mines.

One day, the law was changed so that little boys could no longer work in the coal mines and the law insisted that they go to school instead of going to the coal mines to work. Justice rang through!

Charity is giving Christmas presents at Christmas for the disadvantaged. Charity is giving turkeys away at sacred holidays. Charity is giving prayers for the little hungry boys and girls. Justice is working to change the laws so that it is illegal for little boys to work in the coal mines.

We have two options set before us. We can either be self-absorbed or we can be others-absorbed.

What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!

As we partake of the bread and cup of Jesus. His body and blood, broken and spilt for us, may it speak of his compassion, his love, and his justice; reaching out to each one of us. As we break and drink, may we not forget our call to share in God's upside down kingdom of manna and wells that do not run dry, and cause us to thirst – no more!

As you go – be involved in social change, as the Kingdom of God requires. Go and Love.