Intertwined

•April 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I thought to myself: Am I ready to give up my position on the school board? With consolidation under consideration, I knew that in a new consolidated district, I might not have an elected place. Am I willing to let go of the power and influence that I have attained?

Unbeknownst to the Judeans in John 10, the good shepherd not only predicts his death, but also calls out the imposters of the ruling religious and political authorities and predicts that they too will be shown for what they really are (not shepherds, but hired hands uninterested in the well-being of God’s people). When the swift and brutal paws of Rome comes sweeping through Jerusalem in AD 70, these ruling elites are nowhere to be seen. They leave the people of Israel to be scattered by the wolf of Rome, yet not long before, they ridiculed, tortured, and crucified a young Rabbi, who claimed to be the shepherd, the good shepherd spoken of in their scriptures.

Peter and John, in Acts 4, can’t help but speak of their personal transformations from seeing, experiencing, and hoping in the resurrected Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. God has vindicated the true ruler of Israel, the true King of the world, and again the religious and political imposters fear their loss of power and the possible swift retribution of Rome as they did in the book of John, so they tell them to quit speaking. They do not believe that Jesus could have been resurrected, but they are uncertain of how to handle what appears to be the obvious work of God  (the healed man alongside Peter and John). This situation brings Jesus back to their minds. Jesus had pleaded with them that even if they cannot fully embrace his message, at least, they can embrace the work that he was doing and the work that his disciples have now undertaken. But what are they to do? They know that if word gets out that the Jews are speaking of another King other than Caesar, things could get out of hand as they did when Jesus was walking the streets of Jerusalem. They fear Rome and their loss of power more than they fear the work and power of God in their midst. They prove their lack of shepherding ability

So then, in the book of 1 John, the author uses Jesus’ death as the ultimate example of love, humility, and hope for all people who claim to be shepherds in the world, not shepherds like the ruling authorities in Jerusalem, but shepherds like the true Messiah, a ruler that lays down his entire existence for the sake of the people. I ask you then: Who are the shepherds that we can trust in this world? Do these intertwined New Testament texts reveal something to us about the way that power and influence schews the work and decision-making of ruling authorities, no matter where or how close to us they are? Am I willing to let go of the power and influence that I have attained, or am I more interested in protecting it at the expense and possible detriment of the people?

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Congerville-Eureka-Goodfield & Roanoke-Benson Reorganization Study

•February 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

If you would like to read the Congerville-Eureka-Goodfield and Roanoke-Benson reorganization study in its entirety, you can download the pdf below and look through it. It’s about 250 pages but it might clear up more questions that people have had about the information that was presented last Thursday evening and the evidence that led to some of the consultants’ conclusions.

 

Eureka Roanoke initial Study. FINAL

This past Sunday…

•February 20, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The following snippets are pieces of the worship leading (leading of the liturgy of the service) that I did this past Sunday:

Opening Prayer –     Great and self-sacrificing God, you desire relationship with your creation, a reciprocal relationship of love, peace, self-sacrifice, and hope. We pray this morning that we would be reminded of the covenant that you made with Noah and how it continues to this day and speaks to us of your love for your universe. We pray for listening ears, that we would be present to this moment and the people around us, not to what may be happening later or to what has already happened. Amen

 

Confession from our bulletin at church (I found this quite meaningful) –

God of creation and salvation, too often we fear there is not enough

      And we want to keep what there is for ourselves,

           Including your love,

             So we build barriers

We want to decide to who’s in or out.

        We fail to see the impact of our selfishness.

Help us to value all of your creation-

       The earth, air, water, and all living creatures,

              Both the tame and the wild – the way you do.

Help us to preserve and not destroy them.

             Forgive us for making your love too small.

                    Teach us to act with humility, grace, and mercy.

As we seek to make things right.

 

Offering prayer (that I wrote) –    God of this world, who created this universe and imbued it with great value and potential. Guide us as we steward it and care for it. Forgive us as we abuse it for our comfort and security. Let us continue to look with eyes that see and listen with ears that hear as you call us to be better, more trusting image-bearers. Help us to share our “more than enough” and give up our lust for more than what we need or can even use. Remind us that our value and purpose come from a lasting relationship with you, not from our cars, our homes, our retirements, our bank accounts, or our connections. We pray that your spirit would fill us with the power to trust you more in each passing moment. Amen

A Change of Everything

•January 29, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I wrote the following article for our church weekly newsletter. See what you think

“But how could Jesus be nonviolent when it says in Revelation that he is going to come back on his white horse and wipe out everyone?” I responded, “Well, it depends on how you read and understand Revelation.”

I had finished talking about the climax of the Gospel of John when Pilate unknowingly crowns Jesus King with a purple robe and a thorny crown and nails him to his throne (the cross). He hangs an announcement on his cross saying, “King of the Jews.” I had said that all of Jesus’ life and ministry had led to this point, meaning nonviolently walking to his death at the hands of his own people and the Romans because Jesus knew that violent revolution was not how God’s kingdom was going to sweep the world. But what about…

I had spent the previous three weeks studying the gospel of John. Being Jewish, John requires us to read his story through the Old Testament story. Without that context, we often reduce his gospel to its third chapter and sixteenth verse, but John was telling more than how we go to heaven when we die. But what about…

At the very least, John is persuading us that the Almighty God, the God of Israel (YHWH), was doing something new in, through, and as Jesus of Nazareth. God was changing the entire Israelite religious paradigm. In order for people to understand, they would have to experience a rebirth of heart, mind, spirit, and body. Most importantly, the people who saw Jesus most clearly (had faith) were not the religious, educated elite, but instead were the female outcast, the blind man, the wilderness-wandering, beheaded baptizer, the adulteress (notice not adulterer), the royal official, the disabled man, and the dead (Lazarus). But what about…

How did you find yourself asking, “But what about…” as you read this? How is Jesus calling you to change your paradigm, thinking, worldview?

The Coronation of the King of the Universe

•January 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

As I was teaching from the book of John this past weekend, I was blown away by the symbolism and the irony in the final moments before Jesus’ crucifixion.

The Pharisees and chief priest have handed Jesus over to Pilate, the Roman governor. In this situation, Jesus represents God and all of his purposes in the world, while Pilate represents Caesar. Ironically, Pilate finds nothing that would warrant crucifying the supposed King of the Jews, and while interrogating him, he crowns him King with a crown of thorns and a purple robe. Pilate is baffled that Jesus won’t defend himself and even threatens him, saying that Jesus should speak up because Pilate has the power to kill him or save him. Then Jesus asserts himself, telling Pilate that Pilate would not have any power if it were not for the power that God gave him and holds him responsible for. Jesus says, “You think you have all of the power, but you are really powerless. You wish that ruling with violence and oppression were as simple as you make it out to be, but you don’t realize that a new Kingdom and its King is slipping in right under your nose, quite literally right in front of you. You are the one crowning the new king.”

Pilate gives the Jews one more chance to stop trying to kill this innocent man, but they call for his death all the more. Pilate asks again if they truly want to crucify their king, to which the crowd responds that they have  no king other than Caesar. The Jews have sealed their role in the story as the people who missed their king, even with all of the signs and teachings. Again, just like in the OT, they are convinced that they still need a king other than God, who has led them through thick and thin throughout their history.

Finally Pilate, persuaded by the crowd, enthrones Jesus on the cross as King and even puts a sign over his head, hailing him as King of the Jews. The Jewish leaders are enraged at the sight but can do nothing about it because Pilate refuses to change the sign. Again, the story is reeking with irony as Caesar crowns the son of God as King and proclaims it to the world as he sits on his throne, the cross.

Up to this point, though, his followers still do not understand that this was the natural ending of Jesus teaching of peace, justice, equality, and renewal. Everyone thought the the Messiah would gather his troops, march on Jerusalem, and take it back from the evil empires that made a mockery of the Jews and their God. And yet, Jesus, throughout the gospel of John, has warned and forewarned that this new Kingdom that he was leading into the world was nothing like anyone was expecting. The poor, blind, weak, lame, dead, and marginalized are welcomed, healed, honored, respected. The King is no better than his followers, and the followers are no better than their king. Love is the new rule and it is most powerfully seen, not only in the cross, but in the powerful reversal of power seen in the practice of foot washing. Hierarchy and oppression are thrown out the window, those tools most readily available to the world’s kings and leaders

In the end, God vindicates Jesus in his suffering by raising him from the dead and making him the first of the renewed people of God, a sign of what is to come for all people.

Mission as a sign of privilege

•December 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Those moments only come to me every once in a while. Those moments when my wounds are reopened, when my trauma is re-experienced, when life’s most disturbing moments are revisited in vivid, visceral detail. Those moments that bring me to my knees as I cry out.

Those moments came to me during a meeting as someone described his or her perception of God’s provision in the midst of raising money for what could be an expensive mission trip. Another person replied that the money amount is a concern, to which the other person responded that being concerned about the money amount should be reason enough to move forward with planning the trip or experience because God will provide the needed monies.

And I found these feelings sweeping into my heart/soul/emotional self/amygdala as I attempted to explain what I find myself calling the American privilege of mission work.  I explained that our use of money in any situation is a sign of privilege no matter how we spend the money because each transaction is a conscious decision/value judgment.

Many people in the world will never have a single opportunity to travel internationally, let alone several opportunities to travel internationally throughout one’s lifetime. On top of that, travelling to other countries is much easier for Americans, which means that the ability to travel wherever one wants to go is another sign of privilege. People in developing nations have great difficulty travelling to America because of our stringent visa and immigration standards. My host mother was rejected three different times at the American Embassy in Lesotho (though she had all of the necessary paperwork and flight schedules) before she was finally given the visa.  I remember hearing staff in the SALT/IVEP program talk about how difficult getting participants in the IVEP program to the US or Canada can be, while having many fewer issues with getting SALT participants to their perspective countries.

So my concern grows as I consider the privilege that we actively use and rarely acknowledge because we too easily act on our world as if the playing field is equal for everyone, though even within the American economy, the playing field is rarely equal, let alone when we compare across international boundaries. So we almost always should consider the processes/notions of privilege that we are using in any decision. We must realize that privilege is masked in every moment so that we do not notice those structures and powers that maintain themselves through hierarchy, oppression, and injustice. We must realize that even in the midst of good intentions like mission work, we can fully and unapologetically use our privilege and then with that, enhance the meaning of our actions by claiming that God is calling/leading us to do whatever we might be doing and that God is working on our behalf to pave the way for our involvement. What we fail to see is how privilege might actually be the god that is paving the way for us to influence/shape the world in ways that are good and bad and that the God that we claim to serve has nothing to do with it. We use all of the structures available to us and then claim that we are trusting God in the midst of our experience to provide for us.

So then in the midst of my reflection, cynicism, and turbulent emotions, I found myself tearing up and unable to fully express all of the thoughts and feelings running through my brain. I gave my point of view in the meeting with conviction, and at the end of the meeting, I did not hold my hurt against anyone who spoke. I left, only reflecting on my feelings and attempting to unpack all that was happening inside me, which led to this blog post.

 

An Offering Prayer

•December 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

So I serve as a worship leader at my church, which means that I lead the liturgy of the service. I wrote the following prayer for our offering time. The ushers come forward to pass the plate. I (as the worship leader) pray, and then they pass the plates around to collect the offering while someone plays some music. This is the prayer:

“God of all good gifts, we pray that you would give us the bread that we need for today and that we would be content with it. We pray with repentance and hope for transformation, for we know that our money is not clean or non-violent. We know that Caesar helps protect our money and way of life and that we trust that Caesar will continue to do so. Forgive us. We know that violence and oppression are built into our free-market system. We know that we can only use our money and save it the way that we do because our neighbors, here and around the world, do not have enough. We pray for a continued change of heart and mind about our stuff and the meaning that we think that it gives us. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.”