Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lenten Challenge - Read John

I hope you’re planning to join me in reading through the Gospel of John during the Lenten season this year. We’ll get started on Ash Wednesday on February 10 and read together for 40 days.
To guide you through John,  we will be using Adam Hamilton's new book, John: The Gospel of Light and Life. This book is divided into 6 chapters to help you explore the major themes of the Gospel and is meant to be read alongside the Scripture.
With that in mind, the entire text of John is included. At the end of each chapter you’ll find a portion of the Gospel, and if you read each portion after you read the chapter, by the end of the book you will have completed the Gospel of John.
What if our entire church committed to read the entire Gospel of John together this Lent, and to take an in-depth look at the major themes in the gospel?  Even if you can't come to worship or to the small group, I greatly encourage you to buy a copy of the book  and read on your own.

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction to John: The Gospel of Light and Life
Introducing John: The Gospel of Light and Life
John is unique among the Gospels.
We call Matthew, Mark, and Luke the Synoptic Gospels. Synoptic is a Greek word that means “to see together,” and it is appropriate here because these three Gospels are very similar.
They share much of the same material and general outline of Jesus’ life.
John’s portrayal of Jesus is markedly different from that of the Synoptics. Many of the events recorded in John are not found in the Synoptic Gospels. John’s Gospel is largely set in and around Jerusalem, whereas the Synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee. Jesus sounds different in the Synoptic Gospels, where he speaks in parables and in a straightforward, plainspoken way. But in John, Jesus speaks in metaphors that are more obscure.
In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus describes the kingdom of God and the ethical imperatives demanded in the Kingdom. (The Kingdom is mentioned seventy-five times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.) In John’s Gospel, the focus is not on the kingdom of God (only mentioned twice), but on Jesus himself as the one who reveals God. The author of John presents Jesus as the source of life, and he wants to be sure we “get” this.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus calls people to follow him. In John, Jesus calls people to believe in him and to abide in him. Both following and believing in Jesus are important dimensions of Christian discipleship.
Clearly, we need the insights and invitation of both John and the Synoptics. None of the Gospels are, strictly speaking, biographies of Jesus. But John’s Gospel, more than any of the others, is something of a spiritual or theological commentary on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We’re not meant to read it as a journalist’s or biographer’s account of Jesus’ life. In John, details of events and even the words of Jesus are not so much about what actually happened, though clearly they are rooted in what actually happened.
Instead they are about the meaning—the spiritual significance—of Jesus’ life. For this reason, I believe, Clement of Alexandria (a.d. 150–215) described John as “the spiritual Gospel.”
To find out more about why John wrote his gospel, how it differs from the Synoptic gospels, and the spiritual significance he hopes his readers will see, check out John: The Gospel of Light and Life and read the Gospel of John this Lent.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Faith & Politics: Immigration

We're worshipping this January around the idea of faithful engagement in politics.  How do we, people of faith, engage in political discussions in ways that help us build bridges and understanding?  Too often, political discussions get bogged down into Us versus Them, winner is right and losers are idiots, ranting.  But our faith in Jesus (who listened and didn't give easy answers but engaged persons who though differently from him) calls us to be better.  Jesus teaches us to love each other, listen, and work together to make our world, our nation, our community, better.

So lets talk politics.  Lets talk about what we have in common and what the deeper issues are so we can find better solutions.

Immigration has become one of the hottest of the hot-button issues in this election cycle.  First, lets remember that we are talking about people.  Human beings like us.

Who do you know has immigrated?  All of us are children/descendants of immigrants.  We are all here because someone in our family tree left home and came to this place to find a better life.  We owe our country to immigrants.

I've been privileged to know many immigrants in my life.  Let me tell you about a couple.
Ian is a friend of mine who came to the USA from Great Britain in the late 1990's.  He was big in Boy Scouts and wanted to pursue camping ministry - something that is pretty unique to the USA.  He spent more than 20 years as a green card/permanent resident but then when back to the UK when he no longer felt called to that special ministry.

Harvey is a friend who came to the USA from Togo, a teeny tiny country next to Ghana in West Africa.  Togo had a political coupe and the new regime clamped down on free though, freedom of speech in the the media and other basic rights.  As a university student Harvey participated in some protests, his father was a professor and helped organize the protests.  Harvey and his father were both in prisoned, beaten and tortured.  His father died from his injuries, Harvey was released but then fled to the USA.  He now lives in Omaha with an Iowa-native wife and they have a son.  Harvey has never visited home because he still fears for his safety if he would return to Togo.

There are many reasons that people come to the USA.  And they come from many places.  They are people, like us who want a better life.  I talked to an Iowa DHS worker who worked with many immigrants in Storm Lake.  She told me that men come to the US to get higher wages, they want to work and provide.  Women focus on their kids and education, they want their kids to have a better life.  Aren't these universal human concerns?  We have to come to every immigration conversation remembering that we are talking about people like us, who just want the best life for them and their families.

Scripture Tells us (From Leviticus 19)

 You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord . . . .33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

We should start on the issue of immigration as people who are called to love our neighbor, care for the alien and love them as ourselves - because God is the God of all and not just people like us.

So what are some of the issues:

Do we need a wall?   The media portrays this as a yes or no question.  But in reality we already have many walls in many towns that lie on the US/Mexico border.   The question is really: do we need to connect these walls into one giant wall that extends across the whole border, even in desert places where the cost effectiveness is doubtful?    You see how this question is not so "headline friendly"?
But its the real heart of the issue.  Walls are up, walls are being used.  There is broad agreement there.  The harder questions are about cost effectiveness in desert places - when there are many other places we can spend our tax money, is this the best place?

Vetting of Immigrants to keep our extremists
We have been scared (since 9-11) of the real motivations of immigrants among us.   We want to be sure we are safe, that every immigrant goes through a proper process and that we are sure they want to come to the US for the right reasons.  This is a place of broad common agreement from liberal to conservative.  We all agree:  we want to be safe.   The real struggle though is that the immigration system is a behemoth with many many entry points (because of air travel) into the US and many different offices processing information.   Think about it, we went from a half dozen ports of entry in the 1920's to a thousand points of entry in the 1960's.  This is huge change for a system, any system in only 40 years.  Democrats & Republicans agree our system is broken and needs fixing.  But changing a system this complex will be expensive and take a lot of time and focus -- things that politicians don't cater to.  Its so much easier to say "no immigrants" than to dig into the many details of fixing this system.  This is why both Democrats and Republicans need to come together around a common call to fix the system and encourage our elected officials to stop grandstanding on the issue but get to work together.   (in my humble opinion :)  )

Rule of Law versus Grace of Christ
So as Christians we are called to give grace, to welcome our neighbors and treat the aliens among us as citizens.  But a government is ruled by laws and is called to enforce those laws.  There is, and always will be, tension between the grace of Christ that we can extend one to one as people of faith and the the rule of law that governs broad groups of people.   We have to live in this tension.  We can't just give in to either side and say "they broke the law, kick them out"  or "all are welcome always".   To default to one or the other is a cop-out.   Again- we have to live in the tension.

So that means discerning how the laws of our country help us truly be safe, or are overly punitive and trying our best to find balance.  Let me throw out of few questions for thought:

-- a company recruits undocumented workers, takes advantage of their status and mistreats them.  The company is raided.  Who should have the most punishment and the most grace?  Scripture tells us the persons with the most power should be most accountable, but our laws don't always work that way.

--children of immigrants:  deported even though this is the only home they know?  Parents deported and kids left alone to the DHS system?   Deport children who are US citizens with their undocumented parents?  Jesus tells us it is better to have a huge rock tied to our necks and thrown into the lake then hurt his children.  Dealing with children should take our maximum grace.

--persons who come legally but become illegal.  The system is slow, expensive and hard to understand, so many illegal persons came legally but through a missed deadline or unpaid bill can become illegal at any time.  How do allow for persons to get back on the right path?

Immigration is a complex and difficult issue.  There are so many different aspects of the issue yet our media trains us to think only in terms of bold headlines and 2 minute sound bytes.  We people of faith have to call each other to a higher standard than our TV.

When we talk with friends and family around the table resist the temptation to give simple answers.  Live in the tension, talk about all the many issues and agree that neither party has all the answers.  Pray for our country and for wisdom.  Pray for people who are searching for a better life.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Looking good 2016

Last night was our yearly organizational meeting of our church.
I'm always excited for this meeting.  I love seeing all the leaders of the church gathered together, enjoying each other and getting ready to do God's work.  You inspire me.

Last night we had many reasons to celebrate where God is leading us in 2016.
First, we received word that Calvary is the Spring 2016 Builder's Call for the Methodists of Iowa!!  YAY!!!   This means our story will be shared across Iowa and Methodists will be encouraged to support our building project with a love offering.

Second, with the Builder's Call and a special gift given to our building project by one of our newest members,  we have raised $900,000 of our $1.2 million project.  This is AWESOME!!!!     Look at what we can do through God's Holy Spirit leading us!!!  Remember at one point we were going to limit our building budget to $800,000 because thats what we though we could raise - and now look how we blew past that!  WOW,  God is good and I am so proud of this congregation.

Third, we remembered last night how this building is not the end of the journey, but the beginning of a new journey of being able to do so much more ministry because we have a better tool.   The real focus of the church is not the building itself, but the people of our community and how we can minister to them.  As we look to 2016 we are on the down-hill of focusing on the details of building a building and the uphill of new missions and ministries that will utilize this space.  So, Christian education, missions and outreach ministry groups are critical at this moment!  We need to get ready and let God lead us in amazing new programs.

So it was an exciting and great night last night!  If you missed it, we will be sending you a packet of info that everyone received and dates of upcoming meetings.

As always, continue to pray for the leaders of Calvary that we might serve God and God's people.