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Category: Church

Hope – The Church in 10,000 years

clockIn the Winter 2000 issue of the Whole Earth Magazine I came across an article about Long Now Foundation’s work to create a 10,000 year clock.

The following comment in the article caught my eye. “Danny Hillis’s idea was that by slowing down the usual speedy movements of a clock, he hoped to slow us down and have us think about the long term. The purpose of a clock that runs for 10,000 years is to encourage us to create things that require 10,000 years to measure. A great civilization for instance.”
This intrigued me because it stands in stark contrast to the pessimism for the future of civilization found in the pop-culture church today. Apocalypticism has been a popular theme throughout history, as showcased through Christian History Magazine’s excellent issue on the topic. Thus the appeal of such books as “Left Behind” should be no surprise.

But it is my contention that such hopelessness about the future is not only unbiblical, but does great harm to the ministry of the church. Yes, Jesus will return, as is told in the scripture. And yes, he judges and will judge individuals and governments for their complicity in sin. But you cannot find one text in the Bible that will say He is coming today, or tomorrow, or in a decade, or a century or a millenia. Only that He will return soon, for which we have no calendar to measure. So, our calling is readiness, rather then speculation.

The unfortunate by-product of apocalyptic thinking is a lack of hope for what the Holy Spirit will do through the Church today. In his book “Learned Optimism,” Martin Seligman documented his research that both animals and humans responded in the same manner to helpless situations. They gave up trying to change their environment. I believe that the same happens to congregations when they believe that they are helpless to change the world around them.

By contrast, I believe that we are called to live hopeful of the work that the Holy Spirit wants to do through us as believers and through our congregations.

Also, the following two short and excellent articles, Cultural Pessimism and Cultural Optimism are excellent reading to further grasp both what destruction is done through this hopeless thinking, and a further understanding of what the Holy Spirit can do through the Church.

And so, rather then limiting ourselves to the end-times apocalypticism prevelent today, I call upon the Church to wonder at what a culture could come if we were to live expecting His soon return, while simultaneously wondering at what the Holy Spirit could do through us through 10,000 years.

Originally published in 2009


Someone has to blaze the trail

Last week I had the pleasure of being the pastor of the Idaho Mennonite church’s Junior High camp. While some around me said things like “good luck with that,” I have a soft spot in my heart for Junior High students. I spent two years teaching 5th and 6th graders music. I did my student teaching with a class of 5th and 6th graders. And I have been pastor at many Junior High camps. These students are just beginning to awaken from the innocence of childhood but have not quite yet hit the open road to rebellion of the teen years. They are questioning, but they still have a respect for authority.

A hallmark of the Camp Palisades experience is hiking. We did two hikes: Harder’s Hole, and Lower Lake on two consecutive days. These were exhausting to say the least. I had been looking forward to Harder’s Hole because I didn’t think it was the steep ascent of the cross hike from hell. Unfortunately, it disappointed me. The beginning was incredibly steep, and then it was steadily uphill for the rest of the way. Even coming down was work.

Lower lake had my anticipation because I was told it was more of a steady incline. And sure enough it was. But it still was a lot of work. It was a very hot day so I was thankful to have packed a lot of water in, but still it was nearly not enough as I was down to my last drops at the end. Frustrating to not have a water filter, as the entire hike was next to a rushing river of cold water.

Harder’s Hole was very out of the way. There were no rivers next to it. So I pondered as I traversed the great hill the first people to make the trek. Because someone has to blaze the trail. Mr. Harder was the one who discovered the crater that he is now named after. But it is deep in the bush and up a steep incline. What was he doing up there? It took a lot of work with no apparent destination.

And yet others came after him. After the first hike when he discovered it, we can imagine that the path was nothing more then kicked over dirt and bent grass. But as he took more up to see his discovery, the trail became more apparent. Until today when not only can it be followed clearly, but there a few alternate routes to the same destination. We all follow in his footsteps because he blazed the trail.

I think this is a helpful metaphor for us as we look ahead to new futures. Our destination is not clear. Some could ask “what are we doing up here?” There isn’t so much as a bent blade of grass to mark the path. And yet we continue upward hoping to find something worth the effort. It takes courage to mark a trail that others will follow after for years to come. But they won’t know where to go if we don’t do the work ahead of them.

Because someone has to blaze the trail.

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Moral authority

Prior to coming here I worked with a remarkable teacher. Together we built a choir department from 2 classes a day to 6. From 50 students to 200. More important then the numbers, students lives were changed. Not only did they get the opportunity to experience creating great music, we became a safe place for students to experience the joys and heartaches of life under the watchful loving eye of teachers who cared for them.

Periodically I reflect on what it was about her that created such a unique environment during high school years that are usually known for rebellion against authority.

One of the characteristics that I’ve discovered was that she exerted true authority rather then simply positional authority.

When I was in high school, there was a certain degree of respect we had to give to our teachers because they were given authority over us by our parents, by the principal and the school board. If we dishonored their authority, we’d wind up in the vice principal’s office and probably get detention.

But I remember that when the teachers would exert their authority, by speaking firmly, or raising their voice, our reaction was to wonder among ourselves “what’s gotten into him today? He’s in a bad mood.”

This is very different from what would happen when Chris lectured a class. Instead of wondering what had gotten into her, they felt ashamed at what had gotten into them.

I believe that was because she had true authority, rather then just having authority because it had been given to her by the school board. People trusted and respected she saw the world accurately so that when she spoke, she was revealing what was true rather then just a tainted personal opinion.

As I was reading Luke this week, I discovered that this was a key to Jesus’ ministry as well.

The people who heard Him were astonished at his teaching, for his word was with authority. Like us looking back on our high school years, they had teachers to compare Him too… they said “His teaching is not like that of the scribes.”

I believe that this is something as pastors and lay leaders need to learn to cultivate in our leadership.

I think the first thing we need to do is to instill confidence in our people so that when a leadership situation occurs, they trust us. One way we can do that is to give appropriate attention to the right things, and don’t get involved in everything. By doing so we help to demonstrate what the most important issues are in the body. Leadership is always a balancing act of being involved in the right stuff and letting the other stuff take care of itself. If we lose the center and either give too much attention to the minutiae of the church, or neglect important matters people lose their respect for the office of pastor.

Another thing we can do to instill confidence is to know the facts about what we are dealing with. Whether it is being knowledgeable about the intricacies of the text we are preaching, or the stories of our people or the demographics and needs of the community we are ministering in, people need to know that we know what we are talking about.

Another area to build trust is to be open about what we don’t know and to have avenues to find answers. Chris, the teacher I worked with was good at teaching German and Latin texts to be sung, but was very weak at French. So every time we worked on a French song, she would solicit the help of the French teacher at the High School. I have a circle of three people of varying ages and areas of expertise that act as my personal study group for subjects that I am unsure about. I reference them periodically to demonstrate that while I don’t know everything, I have people that can help.

Finally, I suggest that you pay attention to people around you or leaders in government, schools, or businesses that appear to have moral authority. What is it about them that gives them the authority to say and do the difficult things necessary when leadership is required. What can you do to learn these skills.

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Church is Wow!

I just picked up the new issue of Wired magazine. The cover story is about Steven Spielberg’s production of the new War of the Worlds. The picture of him shows that he is a mature elder in the world of filmmaking. He has a distinguished greying beard. He’s not the young buck who produced ET and Jaws. Following the Spielberg article are the new Xbox 360 gaming console and the digital animation competition between Pixar and Dreamworks. The combination stirs in me the excitement that it must be for these people to be making these new worlds and telling these stories. And suddenly it hits me that this is how I envision the church. Exciting! Creative! Wow! How much more remarkable then the $2 billion investment in a gaming console is the excitement of the Kingdom of God. We have allowed it to become droll. Hohum. But the landscape of the church is not a digital universe, it is the human soul. We need to not let the virtual reality that the media feeds us to dilute the awe that we should feel in the face of the Kingdom of God.

Church is Wow!

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