I’VE BEEN THINKING…about ‘diversity’. At the VISION night discussions, one of the ideas that surfaced in my table group was the hope for more diversity in our congregation. I’ve been hoping for that too. After all, we’re a pretty ‘vanilla’ bunch – mostly white, middle-class, middle-management. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…!
Still, as Burlington evolves, it’d be kinda nice to morph along with the population demographics… welcome a little more colour and ethnicity, maybe also be radically inclusive to all socio-economic groups. I actually think as a congregation we’re spiritually wired to successfully do that. The overall attitude, and spiritual DNA of this place seems to imitate Jesus’ role model of welcome and acceptance extended to all peoples. Even those different from us.
Having said that, we acknowledge the flip-side. Most of us are most comfortable with people like us, and people who do things the same way as we do. At an extreme that can lead to a church that is rigid and intolerant of different tastes.
“ Only music played on the organ is suitable for worship… guitars and drums are of the devil!”
Thankfully that’s not an opinion you’ll hear around here. Nor should we hear the flip-side, that stately hymns and anthems are lame & old-school, and true worship has gotta be ‘real’ with the latest tunes and technology. Because the truth is, if a church has genuine diversity, there’s going to be something going on that isn’t to your taste. And there’s going to be people around who aren’t part of your demographic circle. Thank God.
Jesus’ early team was astonishingly diverse – breaking all the boundaries of previous religious practice: men alongside women, the Roman slaves amongst the rich, racial and ethnic groups blended and united.
Philip Yancey says: “Given a choice, I tend to hang out with folks like me- people who have college degrees, drink only Starbucks dark roast coffee, listen to classical music, and buy their cars based on the gas mileage ratings. Yet after a short while I get bored with people like me.” AMEN.
So let’s truly act like Jesus’ team – next time someone ‘different’ sits down in front of you, or stands nearby at ‘coffee hour’, give ‘em a smile, and tell them you’re glad to see them. Then see what God might make of that…
Grace & Peace to you,
I’VE BEEN THINKING…I wish someone with the writing talents of Milton or Dante (OR John Grisham, or J.K. Rowling?) would render the scene that must have transpired in hell on the day that Jesus died. No doubt an infernal celebration broke out. Evil had destroyed good. God’s Son, sent to Earth on a rescue mission, had ended up dangling from a cross like some ragged scarecrow. Oh, what a diabolical victory!
Oh, what a short-lived victory. In the most ironic twist of all history, what Satan meant for evil, God meant for good. Jesus’ death on the cross bridged the gap between a perfect God and a fatally flawed humanity. On the day we call Good Friday, God defeated sin, routed death, triumphed over Satan, and got his family back. God took the worst deed of history and turned it into the greatest victory.
No wonder Jesus asked that we never forget; No wonder the symbol of the cross never went away.
It took time for the church to come to terms with the grotesque shame of the cross. Not until the fourth century did the cross become a symbol of the faith. (Scholars note the crucifixion did not become common in art until all who had seen a real one died off.) Now though, the symbol is everywhere – it’s shaped into jewelry, baseball players cross themselves before batting, and candy makers even concoct chocolate crosses for the faithful to indulge as Lent ends and Easter arrives. Christianity has become a religion of the cross.
Because of the cross, I have hope. The prophet Isaiah said, It is through the Servant’s wounds that we are healed, not his miracles. Nothing – not even the murder of God’s own Son – can end the relationship between God and human beings. If God can snatch such triumph out of the jaws of apparent defeat, what might God do with the apparent failures and hardships of my own life?
The fatally wounded healer came back on Easter, the day that gives a sneak preview of how all history will look from the vantage point of eternity, when every scar, every hurt, every disappointment will be seen in a different light. Holy Week, with the cross and then the empty tomb, gives us God’s great promise for history: Hope for the world, and Hope for each one of us who lives in it.
The Lord Jesus be your companion & guide, this Holy Week –
(edited & adapted from writings of Philip Yancey)
I’VE BEEN THINKING…about the remarkable Mr. Graham. One of my lifetime hero’s, for his integrity and his unceasing openness to adapt and grow, died this week, at age 99. Billy Graham’s life started on a dairy farm in 1918. Over the next 90+ years he spoke to more people face-to-face than any other person in history, 215 million at last count. He was trusted and admired. Even people who disagreed with his theology respected him. On the Gallup polls list of ‘Most Admired Man in the World” Billy was named 59 times – twice as often as anyone else, ever. I admired three things about Billy. He avoided all scandals – moral or financial; He grew and matured in his theology and practice; Yet at the same time he maintained his core faith beliefs. They included the Bible’s importance & authority, God’s sovereignty, humans’ sin, Jesus’ saving death, resurrection, and return, the necessity of new spiritual birth followed by moral growth, mission to others, and a final eternal destiny. That list is a core of the essentials for all of us.
What I realize I admire most about Billy, and what I want to adopt into my life is his openness to mature, even to change his positions and practices. Although he grew up in the south, and was used to racial segregation, in the early 1950s he took a succession of bold stands despite withering attacks. He would not allow segregation at the worship services he preached at. Black and white were to sit together, wherever they chose. He also became a strong advocate of peace and against militarism. In 1982, speaking in Moscow, Graham said he had undergone three conversions in his life: to Christ, to racial justice, and to nuclear disarmament. That made him unpopular with many right wing Americans. Billy held firm, saying his positions were based on the love of God, and being a follower of Jesus.
It is said that Graham’s most important legacy lay in his preaching about Christian hope. Over the years millions of people wrote him for advice or support. They described lives twisted by sin, marriages on the rocks, kids gone astray, fears of death, and aching loneliness. No matter how badly you have messed up your life, Billy urged, Christ offers forgiveness and a new start. He confessed and apologized several times across the years, whenever he misspoke or saw that he was wrong. He proclaimed the God of a second chance, not only for individuals but also for the world.
So Billy Graham is gone from this earth. It’s not a bad, or sad thing. The first book Billy published (back in the 50’s) was titled ‘Peace With God’. The last book he wrote, just a few years ago was ‘Nearing Home’. The titles sum up the truth and strength of his faith, and of our hope. Thanks be to God for great leaders and role models. We are blessed.
Grace & Peace to you – ORVILLE
I’VE BEEN THINKING…we all know that the world is going to hell in a hand-cart. Except it’s NOT. Given the risk of nuclear exchange with North Korea, civil wars in Syria and Yemen, atrocities in Myanmar, and several world leaders who may be cuckoo, you might think it’s all bad – worst time ever. But you’d be wrong. In fact 2017 was probably the very best year in history. A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell.
According to calculations by an Oxford University economist, every day, the number of people living in extreme poverty goes down by 217,000, and the number who gain access to electricity and clean drinking water goes up by 300,000. Granted that the world seems to constantly face mortal threats and dangers. But it also is registering important progress. It’s important to step back periodically and focus on more than just what is wrong. Those of us who live with Faith, need to remind ourselves that there is a God who has a track record of acting in history. And God does that through people – individuals (from Moses to Martin Luther King), and through a People – All people of faith and good will. So sure, at times the world can be seen as a dangerous mess. But people of faith trust God, and listen for God’s whispers of perspective, encouragement, and challenge. The most important think happening right now is not a Trump tweet, but children’s lives saved and major gains in health, education, spiritual maturation and human community. Pray for Peace; Keep the Faith (& pass it on) ORVILLE