Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My Visit to LA, Part 2

I'm gradually getting over the jet lag--it's easier coming this way than it will be going home next week. Mostly I'm dozing off in the early evening, then waking up really early: 4am the first day, 530 the next, and hopefully a little later tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the event at Fuller. I went to the seminary today to look for some old friends, and maybe even to catch a glimpse of my book (I haven't seen one yet). In the bookstore there was a whole display devoted to George Eldon Ladd, with copies of his books on sale. There was also a flyer for the launch event, with a picture of me. I have to say that caught me off guard a bit, but was pretty fun as well. I asked for the manager--someone I used to know--and she came out to tell me some not-so-good news.

Oxford Press had a glitch at the bindery and the books hadn't been delivered yet. Since it was the day before the event they were already in Plan B mode, with order forms and other things to use to secure some sales of the book at the event. I was bummed at the news, I have to say. I was looking forward to seeing what the book actually looked like, and hoping the copies would sell.

After I left the bookstore I emailed the good people at OUP and asked what had happened. I hit or beat all my deadlines to have everything ready by this date, and flew here to help sell some books. One of the editors made some calls and said that the copies were finally done, and that they were shipping them overnight. That means that there's a chance they'll be here on time...we'll see.

Otherwise I had a fun lunch with the pastor of our old church in Glendale. He was a mentor to me as I prepared to make the move to London, and so it was good to chat about both of our churches. We ate at La Cabanita, one of my favorite places, and it was great. After that I hung out with my dad for a while.

This evening we all got together at my sister's house for my brother-in-law's birthday party. The kids ran around, we ate lots of food and cake, and we told old stories and laughed. It was fun to be back with all of them. I really love my family.

Tomorrow's the big day. Time for some sleep.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Visit to LA, Part 1

So I'm back in California for the launch of my book on George Ladd (see right), and it's good to be back in Southern California. My mom and aunt Rose came to the airport to pick me up yesterday--they visited us in London last year and have a good time traveling together.

Jet lag is still having its way with me--I woke up at 4am and by 8:30 I wanted to crawl back into bed--but I'm enjoying being in Burbank again. It's warm here--yesterday it was 96F, breaking the temperature record set in 1921 for that date (aren't you glad you tuned in today?). It's cooling off a bit, which is good, since the 70F we hit in London last week was on the edge of being uncomfortably warm.

I'll be connecting with some family and old friends while I'm here. It's strange to be doing that without Julie and Ian... The launch event is Thursday evening at Fuller, and I'm starting to feel some butterflies about that. I've been asked to give a 45 minute lecture, and my paper is titled: "George Eldon Ladd, Fuller Seminary and the Renaissance of American Evangelicalism." We'll see how it goes.

For those of you who are longtime readers, you'll want to know that I watched four movies back-to-back on the flight over here. Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, The Departed, and Juno. They were all pretty good, but Juno was the best of the lot. Good characters, sparkly writing and a sweet, wise story. Worth seeing again...

The other three combined to form a lesson in moral ambiguity and emptiness. Now I just might be odd enough to think that we need reminders of what that looks like from time to time. All three were sad in a way that I can't put my finger on just yet, and they left me feeling glad that there's a gospel to remind us of what life is supposed to be like.

That may be why Juno stood out. In the same way that Little Miss Sunshine showed how flawed people could do the right thing in a pinch, Juno introduced us to a blended family that loved each other without lying about who they really were. The scene where the young girl tells her father and step-mother that she's pregnant was touching and memorable and funny all at once.

Anyway, enough rambling. I'm off to do some errands and try to shake the fog. More news later.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Loving God: The Sequel

Acts 1:1-5

It’s almost a rule that sequels are never as good as the originals. Even a genius like Mark Twain got it wrong: Tom Sawyer is a great kids book—it’s aimed at boys who are 10-15 years old or so. But the sequel to Tom Sawyer was Huckleberry Finn, which is a major piece of literature, with a darker tone and more serious themes. Even back then they didn’t know what to make of it: it wasn't a bad book, it was just the wrong sequel. A lot of great books or films were diminished by lousy sequels—think of Gone With the Wind and the sequel titled Scarlett. Never heard of it? I rest my case.

Occasionally, though, someone gets it right. You don’t have to be a Trekkie to know that Wrath of Khan was better than the original Star Trek movie. Most film buffs would agree that Godfather II is not only a little better than the original, but that it might be one of the best movies ever made.

Sometimes sequels come out of a desire to hold on to a story that’s already ended. It’s a way to prolong the limelight—to keep some characters alive—to make more money.

But sometimes, and this is where the really good ones come from, sequels emerge because a great story isn’t quite finished. There’s more to say. There’s more to do.

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

‘In my former book, Theophilus’: Luke wrote his two-volume epic to someone with a very interesting name. It means, literally, God-lover. Whether there was actually a person by this name or not isn’t really known. It was a common name for children of religious families back then, so it wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. But it’s a great way to start this important book about the rise of the early church. As Luke moves from the story of Jesus’ ministry to the story of his church, this is who he’s addressing: those who love God—the God-lovers.

The point of these first few verses in Acts is to introduce the story that is about to come. It talks about the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection, how he continued to teach them about the Kingdom of God, and promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What Jesus was preparing them for, as Luke tells the story, was the rise and growth of the Christian faith—the explosion of the church into the 1st century world. As we’re going to see in the next weeks and months, Luke has a point of view for how the church should be defined. In Acts, and eventually in the rest of the New Testament, the church is a community of faith that is engaged in the culture, grounded in Scripture, and alive to the Spirit of God.

All of this is following Luke’s brilliant re-telling of the Jesus story in his gospel. From the birth of Jesus—we get a lot of our Christmas story from Luke—to his slightly different perspective on the Sermon of the Mount—to the parables and on to Jerusalem and the crucifixion and resurrection. Luke tells the story of Jesus like a pro—he’s called a physician in the text but Luke is also a great historian, catching important details and never losing sight of the main point.

Luke’s gospel is a love story—of God’s love for us and the call to us to return that love to God. We talk a lot about how much God loves us, but we don’t always mention the call on our lives to love God—to be God-lovers—and to share that love. One of my seminary friends, Tod Bolsinger, wrote a book called It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian, and in it he reminds us of how central our love for God is to the life we’re called to live. He writes that in the Bible,

‘Ministry begins with expressing the love of God to the family of believers. This is so elemental that 1John tells us to assume that if someone does not show love to Christian brothers and sisters, then we are safe to assume that they do not know God at all.’

Luke’s gospel is the story of how that love was taught and modeled by Jesus, but it’s a story that wasn’t quite finished, though. There was more to say. There was a lot more to do.

And so the Acts of the Apostles is a worthy sequel to Luke’s first book. It’s the story of how God empowered a weak, bickering, selfish and contentious group of people to become the catalyst for the communication of the gospel to every corner of the earth. The rest of the story of Jesus, that begins in the gospel accounts, is found in the Acts of the Apostles, the history of the church, the Body of Christ.

Paul Harvey was a radio personality in the States. He was known for his quirky delivery and his ability to track down interesting stories with surprise endings. He had a program called 'The Rest of the Story' that played in markets all over the world for years. The stories were great. Here are a couple of examples:

Al Capone’s lawyer was one of the wealthiest men in Chicago. ‘Easy Eddie, as he was known, kept Capone out of jail for years, and was paid an obscene amount of money to do it. Eddie and his family lived in a fenced-in mansion that took up an entire city block in Chicago. At some point in his career it occurred to him that he loved his son more than he loved the money and perks of working for the mob, and he had a crisis of conscience. He worried about what he could leave to his son that was of value, and realized in order to do the right thing for his son, in order to teach him what integrity meant, he would have to do something pretty dramatic.

Without being asked he went to the police and offered to testify against Capone. It wasn’t long before he was gunned down—in his pockets he had a crucifix and a poem to his son about integrity and the preciousness of life.

In the same show Harvey told another story: This one was about a WWII hero, a pilot named Butch O’Hare. He was out on a mission when he realized that his fuel tank hadn’t been topped off and so he turned around to head back to his aircraft carrier. On his way he found a squadron of Japanese bombers heading for his ship, and he took them on alone. He was so disruptive to them that they turned around and he saved the USS Lexington. He was the first Naval pilot ever to win the Medal of Honor. He was killed the next year at the age of 29.

This is where Paul Harvey would step in and say, and now for the rest of the story. You can see Butch O’Hare’s medal in the airport that’s named after him: O’Hare Airport in Chicago.

But the real kicker is this: Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son—the one the father loved so much that he gave himself up to show his son a different way of living.

Those stories remind us of the redemptive possibilities in every life. From disgrace and humiliation and despair, the people in these stories—real life people—changed direction and experienced a measure of redemption in the process. These stories remind us, especially in these weeks just after we’ve celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus, that we have a God who gave himself up, to show us a very different way of living.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of second chances—of redemptive possibilities—of changing direction—of really great sequels. These are the kinds of things that happen in the real world, and in a real-world church. God works in us to give us a new way of seeing our lives—a new way of living our lives, and we a drawn to change—to live differently, to spend differently, to serve in new ways.

In his new book, Everything Must Change, Brian McLaren writes this:

‘A revolution of hope is not just a matter of reading a book or hearing an inspiring sermon. True, a book or a sermon or personal encounter may be the vehicle through which hope wins our hearts. But a revolution of hope makes radical demands of us. It requires us to learn new skills and habits and capacities; the skills of a new way of seeing; the habits of a new way of thinking; the capacities of a new way of living.’

In our lives we’re always on that border between our past and the sequel, the rest of the story, a new way of living. As the saying goes: it’s not over until it’s over. As long as we have life and breath and a sense of God’s call in our lives, we can grow and change and serve and improve. The good news of the Christian message is that it’s never too late—no matter what we’ve done or said or even believed—God waits for us, ready to help us start the next chapter—the next volume of our lives—our sequel.

The key—as individuals and as a church—is to be a true community of faith—to be engaged in the culture, grounded in Scripture, and alive to the Spirit of God.

What’s the rest of your story? What’s the sequel to the journey of faith you’ve lived so far? That may sound like a sort of abstract question, but it’s rooted in the very heart of what it means to be a real-world Christian—a real-world church. The story of this place isn’t anywhere near finished yet—there’s more to tell—there’s more to do.

We start with the challenge to be like Theophilus—to be lovers of God. To care and share and participate and serve, and to listen for God’s direction in all things. We build on that foundation—we create a church that’s listening to the world around it and to God—and waiting on the Holy Spirit to empower us and lead us where we’re called to go.

I heard someone described one time as being so heavenly minded that he was no earthly good. That’s not what we’re talking about here. The adventure we’re about to see in the Acts of the Apostles is as real-world as it gets. We’ll take this journey together: engaged in the culture, grounded in the Scriptures, and alive to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

My Day to Make Breakfast

I like to make breakfast on Saturday mornings. Usually I'll make some kind of fry-up in the English style, but this week we have special guests with us and they deserved a little something special. My mother-in-law Carol, Mary Matthews and her daughter Carly are staying with us, and it's a ton of fun.

Last week in the Guardian there was a special section on the best breakfasts in the UK, and there were recipes in the back. I tinkered with one and came up with what you see below. Eggs Benedict with English bacon and asparagus, fried potatoes and baked beans (try the beans with breakfast--they're great). It was my first Hollandaise sauce--I made it from scratch--and even my chef mother-in-law said it was pretty good.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Who Are You Wearing?

Luke 24:45-49

There is a village in the mountains of France called Le Chambon. It’s not very big, but the people there accomplished something enormous during the Second World War. A minister and his church there managed to lead the entire village—everyone who lived there—to participate in hiding Jews from the Nazis and French collaborators for most of the war. They shared their food, their homes, and their lives with these strangers—because it was their calling—because it was the right thing to do.

When the pastor was ordered to give up the names of any Jews hiding in the village, he said:
“Even if I had such a list, I would not pass it on to you. These people have come here seeking aid and protection from the Christians of this region. It is not the role of the shepherd to betray the sheep.”

The soldier laughed at him and said that he would be punished if they found proof of his crimes. “Besides,” he said “your resistance is useless.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

Now it may seem strange to start a series on the Acts of the Apostles with a story from World War Two and a passage from the Gospel of Luke, but there’s a reason for that. Luke and Acts originally went together—it was Luke’s two-volume account of the ministry of Jesus and the rise of the church. Our text this morning comes right at the end of volume one—it’s a sort of cliffhanger ending before the rest of the story unfolds. Le Chambon is one of those powerful reminders of what the church can do and be, when it lives out its faith in the world.

Besides, it’s too easy sometimes to see the church as useless in the face of the real world, just as that soldier said, and that’s just not right.

So what happens in Acts, and why is it relevant for us today?

Acts is our record of the explosive growth of the early church. It gets started with Pentecost, and moves into the first real evangelistic sermons of the Christian era. Peter, who blundered his way through Jesus’ ministry and was left crying on the beach, all of a sudden can preach sermons that bring people to faith by the thousands. There are trials, beatings, imprisonments—in one powerful story the first deacon of the church is hauled before a court and ends up being stoned to death, but not before one of the great closing arguments of all time. We’ll see how the Apostle Paul came to faith and took the gospel to the Roman Empire. Mostly what we see is how the church learned to connect with the culture in a way that shared and lived the good news of Jesus.

Acts is important because it’s the historical foundation our church is built on. There are lessons there for how our church—every church—should behave and teach and serve and grow. Acts is a reminder that the church is designed for service, for the calling of sharing the message of Jesus with the world.

The Book of Acts offers us a profile of what the church should be. Over the next weeks we’ll define the church as a community that is engaged in the world, grounded in Scripture, and alive to the Spirit. That’s what a real church—a church that is firing on all its cylinders, looks like.

That’s why the bravery and goodness of the people of Le Chambon are so important for us still—they show what a church and community might do when faced with some intense real-world situations. They were a community of faith that was anything but useless.

There are other examples from church history. Not many people know that the three most important social revolutions in 19th century America were led not just by churches, but by evangelical churches. The abolition movement, feminism and the fight for voting rights for women, and the development of programs and institutions that serve the poor. All of those were led by churches that had a biblically-grounded faith in Jesus Christ, the belief that the gospel had something for every person on earth, and passion for making society a fairer, freer, more Christ-like place.

But it’s not even major social movements. Just before we moved to London we had a celebration at our home church for a missionary who was retiring from the field. Our church had supported her for 25 years while she translated the New Testament into a tribal language that hadn’t even been written before. We dedicated that Bible to God’s service, and three young people from that tribe came to Southern California to thank the people of our church for bringing them the good news of the gospel.

These churches aren’t perfect—not one of them. But what they have in common was their desire to be engaged in the world, grounded in the Scriptures, and alive to how God’s Spirit wanted to work within and among them. What made these churches and gatherings of churches special was their desire to be God’s arm—Christ’s body—in their cities and towns and nations. These churches saw the needs of the world around them, and acted.

We’ve just survived another awards season…did you notice?

Oscars and BAFTAs and Emmys and Grammys. Every industry gathers at various times to pat themselves on the back—entertainers just do it in front of the world. One of the required questions as people walk down the red carpets is strange the first time you hear it, but later it starts to get familiar and even sound normal. The celebrity is walking toward the theatre, trying to look aloof but secretly praying that the cameras will find them, until a reporter sticks a microphone in their direction and asks: Who are you wearing?

It’s a very strange thing to ask. Who are you wearing? Of course we all know that what they’re after is the name of the designer who created the dress or the suit or the tuxedo. Who have you partnered with to look the way you do? What are you trying to say? Who are you trying to be? Who’s getting the glory here?

In our passage today Luke tells the Christian community to gather together, to remember the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, and to be witnesses of these events to the world. They were confused, but he encouraged them by saying that they should wait—not forever, but until they were ‘clothed with power from on high.’

In the sequence that brought about the early Christian church, the ministry of Christ was followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit—God’s comforter, the one that gave the early believers what they needed to spark the faith revolution that became the church. But in between those two great events, they waited for the Spirit to fill them and push them and strengthen them in their work.

In both of our passages today we see the image of a garment, of clothing, used to describe how God’s power makes us into the people he calls us to be.

My friend Cameron preached an amazing sermon a few years ago. He was talking about the passage where Paul calls the church to ‘put on Christ’: there’s that garment image again. He talked about that everyday moment when each of us stares into the closet to see what we’re going to wear for the day. That it’s important—but that it’s also routine, something we do so often that we might not even think about it all that much.

But in the spiritual sense it is important. Choosing to put on Christ—to be clothed with power from on high, is a part of being a Christian—part of being the church. In that spiritual sense, choosing what to wear—choosing how to look—says a lot about who we choose to serve.

Over the next weeks and months we’re going to be looking at the Acts of the Apostles to see what that book can teach us about who we are and how we look and who we serve—what it can teach us about being a real-world church.

During this time the working definition that we’ll share about the church is this: A Real-World Church is a community of faith that is:

engaged in the culture,
grounded in Scripture,
and alive to the Holy Spirit.

That means we’re going to continue to do some things around here that are challenging and hard. We’re going to pay closer attention to what God is teaching us about the church in Scripture. We’re going to step out in faith a bit to see what God’s spirit might want to be doing in this particular church. We’re going to continue to learn new songs, even when it’s hard for us—because it’s important to stretch ourselves and learn new language for worshipping the eternal God.

And we’re going to continue to incorporate current events and history and politics and movies and the arts into what we do together, because that’s what it means to be engaged in the culture.

In our Old Testament reading today Isaiah said:

I delight greatly in the Lord,
My soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation,
And arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.

Who are you wearing today? Who are we wearing as a church, as a community of faith? My prayer for us is that as we continue to grow and come together as a church—as we continue to hear God’s call in our lives individually and as a community, that we will be clothed with power from on high, with garments of salvation and robes of righteousness, and that we’ll take our place in the line of churches that have made a difference. Churches with a real message about a real savior who has good news for the real world.

Who are you wearing? Who do you want to wear? Let’s take that journey together over the next weeks and months. And through all of it, to God be the glory for the great things he’s done. Let’s stand and sing that together. Amen.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

It's Here...

Today I received the cover art for my book on George Ladd. It will be released in late-May, but you can purchase it on Amazon, Target and some other retailers already. Enjoy!

Friday, April 04, 2008

In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the murder of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In commemoration of that sad date you can click on the link below to see his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from August of 1963.

Our Trip to Rome

Not a lot of words this time. We took a short trip to Rome right after Easter with Ericka and Neil and had a great time. It rained a little, but that just made us duck into more places for pizza and coffee.
It was early. Leave us alone.
This is the street where we stayed.
We toured the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, then walked through St. Peter's Cathedral.
Ian strikes a pose in front of the church.
Some serious bling in this place.The Colosseum was a highlight for everyone. We ended up in Rome during Culture Week, so most of the best places were free of charge.

Ian preparing to meet a gladiator.
Some random ruins around Rome.
Ian in one of our favorite piazzas.
Getting ready for a night on the town. That's Neil's leg in the foreground...he was sleeping while Julie and Ericka were dolling up.
As usual, Ian fell in with a rough crowd...