Friday, April 23, 2010



These words from the ancient prophet Micah boldly hang over the entrance to the headquarters of FOOD FOR THE HUNGRY where my son-in-law Ryan works. Those who work there are reminded each day that God's purpose and desire for his people is not to blithely or routinely go through the external motions of worship without a sense of our call and responsibility as God's people to serve others in the world.

Mark Labberton, in his book "The Dangerous Act of Worship" suggests that most Christians and most churches today have mistakenly focused on avoiding "false dangers" when they worship. In our consumeristic culture, for example, we tend to worry a lot more about managing a safe, relevant and comfortable worship that salves our hearts. The result is that the Church has fallen asleep to the purposes of God and the needs of the world. Instead of being a factor that strengthens us to go out into the world to be the church, worship has become a "one-hour martinizing" to take care of our individual spiritual needs for the next seven days until we can come back in to get another dose of spiritual balm.

There is no doubt that being in the presence of God should and does remind us of God's saving acts through Christ and his unquenchable love for us as individuals. But somewhere along the way we have lost our way. Like the children of Israel wandering through the wilderness on their journey to Caanan, the Church (large C but also small c or local church) has lost sight of God's call to be a transformational covenant people blessing others. Instead, we have focused on self and on safe worship.

Dr. Labberton challenges that view in his book. And I knoow that he will challenge us this weekend when he speaks at Calvary at both our Saturday night and our Sunday morning services. Someone once said that the goal of preaching is "to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." I am sure that there will be a little of both as we hear this prophetic call to service and to justice.

This morning, as I was anticipating our weekend services with Dr. Labberton, I was reminded of a quote from the essayist Annie Dillard in her book "Teaching a Stone to Talk."
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

I had always read that quote with the perspective that worship should be exciting and energizing; that is should just really pump up and encourage the believer through a dynamic liturgy of singing, prayer and preaching. Today, however, I thought of it more in terms of this call to look outside the walls of our weekly church service. It is a reminder that true worship is an encounter with the living God and it is something explosive and dangerous because when we truly worship, we are so transformed that we will also be a transformational force in the world.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

FAITH IN ACTION - A phony platitude or the real presence of Jesus in our community?

There will not be a regular sermon to post this week unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective). Instead, the members, friends, partners, and children of Calvary are once again joining with Christians from a number of other churches on the Enumclaw Plateau to serve our community in a tangible way. To my disappointment, this spring's FAITH IN ACTION Sunday falls on a week when I am in Chicago (Wheaton to be precise) at a conference entitled "JESUS, PAUL, AND THE PEOPLE OF GOD: A theological dialogue with NT Wright."

As I often do when I am at a conference like this, I have to once again say "I feel like I have been trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose." Lucky for you that even though my brain and heart are full to overflowing with stuff I have been thinking about for a long time, I am too mentally exhausted to write about it all.

There are three reasons I chose this conference to use up my study leave and study allowance for this year. First and foremost, it is within a short driving distance - albeit one frought with heavy Chicago traffic and tolls - to my daughter Melissa and family's house in Des Plaines. More than just a place to stay, playing crosswords and Guesstures with Davis, having lunch with Melissa, going to Wisconsin to see Jerry at work with his church's Jr. High Youth Group are all wonderful, fun, exciting additions to my itinerary.

Second, it is at Wheaton College. The past three days have been a trip down memory lane as I have walked around the campus. Even though it has grown and changed dramatically, waves of warm nostalgia have washed over me continually as I walked the halls of the Conservatory, sat on a bench, soaking up sun on front campus near where Judy and I spent many a romantic moment "studying." On Thursday, during the afternoon session of the conference I actually sat in the very seat in Edman Chapel I had been assigned as a Junior. I had to keep looking back up to the balcony to see if there were still monitors taking attendance for required attendance. I bought a cap in the College Bookstore (used to be the dining hall) and peered in some of the classrooms of Blanchard Hall and walked into the lobby of Smith Tower. Wow! Just talking about it brings the feelings to the surface. I wish Judy were here to share it with me.

Third, and ostensibly the real reason for taking in the conference, is that it has centered around the scholarship, writing and theology of NT Wright. My library now includes 5 of his books and that number is sure to grow. He is, perhaps, the brightest star in Evangelical Christendom's sphere of scholalrship and thought as far as lucid articulation of the Gospel. In particular, his book SIMPLY CHRISTIAN is, in my opinion, a wonderful and readable apologetic for the faith. His newest book AFTER YOU BELIEVE is on my "to buy" list as soon as I get home.

What does all this have to do with FAITH IN ACTION (which is what today's blog is supposed to be about? Namely this. During today's afternoon panel discussion two questions arose in relation to Wright's theology of resurrection and eschatology. The first question is "so what?" (or what difference does the resurrection make?). The second question was "Where is Jesus now?"

Wright's answer to the second question went something like this: Jesus is in heaven. period. But it is wrong to assume that heaven is some place far away. Instead, Jesus is in heaven and heaven is very close to our world. In fact, they intersect. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," Jesus taught. That didn't change when Jesus rose again and ascended. Instead of being in some remote, distant celestial "place" the reality of heaven is just beyond our sight. The Gospels, Paul and all the prophecies draw back the shades that help us to see that the reality of Jesus' lordship and kingdom is more real than thinking of it as being in some cloudy, pearly-gated, golden-streeted locale billions of miles away (In a galaxy far, far away to quote Star Wars).

In particular, heaven intersects the realities of our earthly existence at numerous levels. Of course the Holy Spirit is present with us daily. But, according to Wright, and I agree with him, Jesus is relly present in the worship gatherings of the community of faith; in the observance of the sacraments; and whenever God's people are in the world serving the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captives and healing to the sick persons and systems in our world that he (Jesus) will one day set completely to rights when he comes again.

"So What?" It is legitimate to ask. By living in right relationship to God, we live in Christ. And by living in Christ who has brought all things together in him through his death and resurrection, we, who have been declared right with God, bear a responsibilty and privelege of radically and really bringing the righteousness and justice of his kingdom to bear. Jesus is wherever His people are living out the reality of our faith and salvation in a needy and hurting word.

Even if you can't be a part of our official FAITH IN ACTION Sunday, as a "Christ-one," you can live everyday by putting your faith in action. And in doing so, the Kingdom of heaven will be near - nearer than you realize.

Time to finish my caramel latte and wander back for the evening session. More when I get back to Enumclaw later next week. Blessings!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

YOUTH SUNDAY @ Calvary Presbyterian April 11, 2010 preached by Ben Auger, Calvary's Director of Youth Ministry

You should know that I’m a teacher by trade. I was in English teacher for years, I’m currently a substitute teacher in our schools, and even in our church it’s my responsibility to teach young people about Jesus. So as a teacher, I usually don’t give speeches, but lessons. So try to think of the next 20 minutes as an interactive lesson.

Let’s start our lesson with an exercise. I’m going to show a series of quotations. Think about each one and which one best describes your views on God and salvation.

"To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath God promised forgiveness and a great reward," (Surah 5:9).

“Salvation is reached through acts of worship, based upon devotion and love for God.” – Bhakti Hinduism

“Through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” 3rd Article of Mormon Faith

Before we get to your answers, I have one more question:
How many of your have heard the phrase: “God helps those who help themselves.”?
Which book of the Bible does that come from?

Now, back to our exercise. The question was: Which statement best describes your view of God and salvation. I hope the first one didn’t describe your viewpoint. That’s a quote from the Koran; it’s what Muslims believe. So if you chose statement two then you’re … in full agreement with a lot of Hindus. So congratulations to those who trusted statement three … because you’d get along just fine with our Mormon friends at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

So we’re left with this: “God helps those who helps themselves.” Did anybody flip through and find where this quote is in the Bible? You might have found it under the Book of Hezekiah on the list of things that aren’t actually in the Bible. This is a quote from Ben Franklin.

Sorry to play such a mean trick on you all. I promise no more tricks – just truth from now on.

So how is the story of Jesus unlike any other worldview?
What would the Bible say about Ben Franklin’s quote?

Romans 5:6 – “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” So does God help those who help themselves? Not according to this Bible verse.

Regardless of whether we knew it was in the Bible or not, I think we all try to live by this motto. I think we’re doing all we can to be worthy before God. We’re working hard to make sure our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds by the end of our life. As if it’s a matter of willpower, we try really hard on our own to make it to heaven.

If this describes your approach to life, I hope I can convince you to give it up. It’s time for us to give up trying to earn our spot in heaven.

This month we’ve been talking about Mormons in youth group on Wednesday nights. We’ve learned so much about all of these rules and regulations they must keep. It’s a life of slavery to a set of rules: no caffeine, modest dress, frequent church attendance, and no less than 10% giving. We learned that to be saved, one must obey a set of laws and ordinances. If that describes you, then we need to change from the Mormon approach to life to the Christian approach.

In the Middle East I talked with some Muslims about God, salvation, and the afterlife. A Muslim explained to me that to be saved, you must give complete obedience to God, following all his commands. On the day of judgment, God will weigh your good deeds and weigh your bad deeds. If your good outweighs your bad, that you’re good to walk through the gates. If you have too many bad deeds on your resume, then the other thing happens. If that describes your way of thinking, then we need to change from the Muslim approach to life to the Christian approach.

In Thailand, I stumbled upon a bunch of picnic tables full of Buddhist monks, offering their wisdom and insight. They explained that life is so full of suffering. I agreed. He said that if we eliminate selfishness, greed, and wickedness from our life, then our suffering will end. He said if we concentrate hard enough, we can eliminate these bad things from our life, then we can achieve salvation. If that describes your way of thinking then we need to change from the Buddhist approach to life to the Christian approach.

You should know that I asked this monk, “Do you know anybody who has escaped suffering through this method you describe?” His answer was straight up “no.” I was too polite to respond, “Don’t you see a problem with that?”

What does the Bible tell us about our approach to life?

First, we’re told that we’re utterly helpless. We don’t have the willpower to be good. We can’t do enough good to outweigh the bad. And our spiritual bank account is so dry that we’re bankrupt.

What’s so unique about the story of Jesus?

That while we were utterly helpless, he helped us. That while you were a slave to sin, you were set free. That while you were bankrupt, your debts were cancelled. That while you were held ransom by Satan, you were purchased at a great price. That while you were dead in your transgressions, you were made alive in Christ.

Have you ever admitted your helpless? Have you ever admitted you’re bankrupt. Have you ever realized that your spiritually dead in your wrongdoing? If so, then why does everybody have a bookshelf full of self-help books? We can’t call ourselves sons and daughters of God and live life with a self-help approach.

I’m going to show you a video, and I want you to guess which guy is Jesus, and which guys are the other people I talked about.

***Show Video***: A man fell in a hole

Pray: Father, we recognize that you are the master of everything, and we – the masters of nothing. We used to be helpless in this hole, yet you helped us out, and still we live like we have to do enough good, or else we go back into the hole. Or, Father, some of us have never left that hole. Even though we’re helpless, we try to dig our way out on our own. God today we admit that we need your help and when you ask us if we want to be free, our answer is “yes.” Yes, we want you to save us from the hole and we want to live life with dependence on you, and not ourselves. We love you, and we commit our lives to you.