Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A moving experience

Well, the day has finally arrived. The packers came on Monday to get our house ready to go, and the shipping container is in front of the house waiting to be filled with our furniture and clothes and other things (see the pics). It's very strange watching other people pack your stuff. We've made some discoveries--things we'd forgotten we had, and sentimental items we hadn't looked at in a long time. My first thought was that as American consumers we certainly accumulate a lot of material things. I found DVDs still in the wrapper--I'm sure at the time I really 'needed' them. The list goes on: clothes we haven't worn, special foods we never ate, books that were never read. Moving is a great time to re-think our buying habits, and that's what we're doing.

But apart from that, this process of packing and shipping is bringing us one step closer to our new lives in London. I woke up at 3am last night with a sermon idea. Ian is mapping out his favorite museums again, and Julie is talking about this restaurant in our neighborhood that we visited in June. I said in an earlier entry that this is gradually becoming real to us, and this week is a huge step forward.

We're going to 'camp' in our house for the next week, doing minor repairs and saying goodbye slowly. Then we're moving in with my Mom about a mile away (thanks, Mom!). She's been making a temporary home for us, and we're grateful. I'm working at the Foundation until the 22nd of December, and Julie will be cutting hair through the 23rd (I'm her last appointment).

This Sunday some friends from church are throwing a goodbye party for us. I'll post pictures on Monday.

We leave exactly one month from today.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

To Nashville for some more goodbyes

I was in Nashville this past week for my final management team meeting with the Presbyterian Foundation (that's all of us in the picture at a restaurant called The Stockyard). I think it occurred to me while I was flying there that I was really going to miss these folks. The meetings were fairly typical--some planning, some assessing past work, some, er, spirited debate. On Wednesday night four of us went to Roberts Western World, an old time club on South Broadway. It was raining but I really wanted to see a band play live in Nashville, and my colleagues were good sports about finding a place. We ended up seeing the Travis Mann Band, a great rockabilly quintet. I got a good picture of them.

I suppose I left reminded that even when this group is at its most conflicted, there is something to be said for being in the company of people who want to do their best work--who are willing to fight for their vision of how we can best serve the church. I'll miss them a lot, probably more than they'll know.

That was my last business trip for the Foundation. When I got home Ian ran to me and hugged me with more strength than I thought he had. I've traveled a lot in the past two years, and it's ironic to me that the move to London will mean less time away from Julie and Ian.

We leave in 40 days.

Monday, November 13, 2006

...but for the grace of God...

Ted Haggard is on my mind this week. After the shock of his admission that he’d been leading a secret life, after the press had a field day with the news during the week of the elections, after seeing the reactions of my Christian and non-Christian friends… Mostly I’m sad for his family and his church and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), but I grieve some for him as well.

Some background: The NAE has been damaged by Haggard’s behavior, and that’s very sad to me. Among evangelical coalitions, the NAE are the good guys. Here's how they came about. In the early 1930s a man named J. Elwin Wright got frustrated that Christian groups spent so much time fighting each other that they didn’t get much Christian work done. He started an organization called the New England Fellowship, and virtually invented the movement known as cooperative evangelism, which allowed evangelical churches to work together based on their agreement on the big issues (who Christ is, the belief that the Bible is inspired by God, etc.), even if they disagreed on some of the small things (how churches are governed, details about the ‘end times’, etc.). This movement was successful with all but the crankiest of fundamentalists, and by 1942 it went nationwide in the form of the NAE. Wright said this at the first meeting of the NAE:

"We must speak out with courage against apostasy and apostate movements, but we must, at the same time, be wise and gracious enough to recognize that there are differences of doctrine among Bible-believing members of the Church of Jesus Christ upon which there is little hope that we will see eye to eye until the day when we no longer 'see through a glass darkly,' but face to face with our Lord."

The point is that this group was founded—and has continued—to be a faithful witness to the Christian message without being divisive or militant. In our present climate of vicious attacks both within the Christian movement and from those who watch us from outside, the NAE has been faithful to their original model of being faithful, courageous and humble in their interaction with the culture. This is the group, let’s not forget, that came out with a strong pro-environmental statement earlier this year because they recognized that care for the Earth was a central doctrine of our Christian faith.

The first president of the NAE, Harold John Ockenga (also the first president of Fuller Seminary), closed that first set of meetings with this comment:

"It is my earnest prayer that all of us will demonstrate ourselves beyond the age of adolescence and in the full stature of manhood, with all the mutual respect, tolerance, and graciousness which a mature man gives to another."

Now apart from the cultural sexism of the language he used, do you see the wisdom in what he said? Wouldn’t our Christian faith find more willing listeners if we treated the culture—and each other!—with mutual respect, tolerance and graciousness? Evangelical Christians have spent so much time fighting with each other and attacking the culture that we have forgotten that our primary task is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with a world that needs so much to hear it.

But I digress…

Ted Haggard’s self-destruction has caught my eye and heart as I head back into pastoral ministry. The weight of expectations, the addictive drug of praise, the perception of wisdom and the granting of authority, all of these are minefields for those of us who step into church leadership. I don’t have to share Haggard’s specific problem to know that temptations are there, ready to trip any and all of us. Those temptations, and our unique sets of weaknesses in the face of them, are constant reminders of our need for God’s strength and protection, and also his grace when we fall.

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul says this: “To keep me from becoming conceited . . .there was given me a thorn in my flesh.” After pleading with God to take away this weakness, God refuses and says to Paul: “My grace is sufficient , for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Now I’ve always liked the fact that Paul’s thorn is never named—it prevents any of us who don’t share it from dismissing the point of the story. And what is that point? For all believers, it teaches us that God does not demand perfection, only that we are willing vessels for his grace to be made known. But for pastors and other leaders there is a different point. We get credited more often than not with strengths we don’t really have. When that happens—when we believe the flattery—we run the risk of forgetting that God is the source of our wisdom and vision and ability, and that only in our weakness and impotence can we model and communicate Christ’s gospel in all its fullness. Ted Haggard may have forgotten that, and he may have done irreparable damage to his family, his church and the NAE because of it. But if God is to be believed, it is at this moment—in the despair and guilt and feelings of failure—that Haggard may experience and share the true meaning of Christ’s mercy and love and grace to the people around him. For the rest of us on this path of discipleship, it’s a reminder that God’s work in us is precisely that. It’s his work, not ours, no matter what our fans tell us.

Just 45 days before we leave.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Moving and standing still

So much of our lives is in motion these days. Plasterers, painters, landscapers and haulers—they’ve all had us surrounded for weeks now. I’ve been going through files lately, shredding things we don’t need but that reveal our Social Security numbers to potential identity thieves. Julie is doing much better at this than I am. I find myself forgetting things that I said or did or learned just minutes earlier—my head is struggling to balance work, family, home repairs, preparing for shipping our household, and trying to think of what to preach and teach in my first 6 weeks in London. So much about this move requires me to be in constant motion.

So naturally I got into a car accident this week.

It was nothing too serious, as fender benders go. Someone 3-4 cars ahead of me stopped short, and I was the last in a chain of cars to bump. It was my first accident in 22 years (that one was even less significant), and only my second ever. My car is in the body shop for the next three weeks, and we’re out another $500 for the deductible. So…I’m stuck in the house for the second straight day. All this motion is going on around me, and I can’t go anywhere.

I suppose that I should be looking for the deeper meaning here, some sense of the value of stillness. But I think my brain is too busy for metaphors just now. I’ve got things to do, and I don’t have a car. That’s how native-born Californians envision Hell.

On further review, though, there is something to the idea that I’m going to benefit from slowing down. I’m getting some of the little things done that I had ignored for a while. I wrestled with Ian for a long time last night, and we played dinosaurs again this morning. I was here to show our house to a new prospective tenant. I won’t say that I’m glad the accident happened, but I will say that I needed something to take me off the track I was stuck on over the past month. I’ve focused on so many things that everything has become blurry. Slowing down has helped.

In Philippians 4:6, Paul advises his friends this way: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your needs to God.” So I suppose as Preacher Guy I ought to pay attention to that. It’s OK to be needy and thankful at the same time. I need more help right now than I ever have at any time in my life, and yet I’m also so grateful: to God for this new calling and adventure; to Julie for being so honestly willing and reluctant at the same time; to my family for taking this in stride and being so supportive. It is such a feeling of richness to need, and to see that need met by God and the people around me. It makes me almost compulsively grateful—Paul had it right in this passage. I’m thanking God and asking for his help all at the same time—the two are connected. Maybe I’ll stay home one more day.

We leave in exactly seven weeks.