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For Advent this year our Advent Series was entitled “Hope Rising”, because we believe that in the darkest of times whether it be historical, spiritual, emotional, or mental – Hope Rises with the belief that with the Advent of Jesus he brought hope with Him. Hope of a new way to live that leads to the best possible life. This is the final sermon of our series that wraps up the series and introduces our new series for 2008. Click on the link to listen it might take a few seconds please be patient We’ve Only Just Begun

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I just started reading Brian McLaren‘s newest book, Everything Must Change and I am loving it. For the past several months this blog has acted as more of a message board than anything that even resembles an actual attempt at a conversation. So in an attempt to write with more substance I am going to start writing about what I come across in Everything Must Change.

I thought the format for this discussion might have three sections: (1) Excerpt from book, (2) Dialogue, mostly with myself, (3) Questions. My hopes are that we can dialogue together.

EXCERPT (the following excerpt was spoken by Claude a peace activist from Burundi, to a group of other peace hungry citizens from around the region of East Africa, Rwanda is one of those places)

“Eventually I realized something. I had never heard a sermon that addressed these realities(i.e. death, hatred, distrust, poverty, suffering, corruption, injustice). Did God only care about our souls going to heaven after we died? Were our hungry bellies unimportant to God? Was God unconcerned about our crying sons and frightened daughters, our mothers hiding under beds, our fathers crouching by windows, unable to sleep because of gunfire? Or did God send Jesus to teach us how to avoid genocide by learning to love each other, how to overcome tribalism and poverty by following his path, how to deal with injustice and corruption, how to make a better life here on earth-here in East Africa.” (19)

DIALOGUE. When I read this I was using the stationary bike at a local gym, and I had to stop just so that I could process this. What I have observed of the Christianity of the Western World is that it has become nothing short of a self serving life philosophy. We look for churches that fill our needs, and when that church no longer meets our needs we move on to the next one (and sometimes as pastor’s because we have at times been fooled into thinking that numbers are important we keep trying to fill those needs and in doing so perpetuate the never ending cycle of self-serving Christianity). The thing is that if that is the case, that we are always looking for a church that meets our needs, or rather “feeds us spiritually” we will not have any time to look beyond ourselves, unless we are forced to. I think that it is only when we look beyond ourselves that Christianity becomes real and authentic. When I read the above section, and tried to put myself in that situation hearing the crys of children and the sight of mothers hiding it was terrifing to me. It wasn’t so much that the visual of this happening was terrifing, but rather that this was and is happening in the world, while I have for the past several years enjoyed my white chocolate lattes, supersized meals, entertainment on the silver screen just to be distracted from the hustle and bustle of our everyday.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if we were the ones experiencing the above mentioned, our first responses would be to pray. We read the narratives of scripture, like Daniel in the lions den, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and we read ourselves into those narratives because we believe that God cares. For them their prayers is a sign of hope and faith, but for us in the western world their prayers have become our permission to wash our hands of any responsibility to help. Because after all if they have prayed then God will handle it. The words, “What can I do about something happening half way around the world” become our non spoken motto. Our Christianity must be anything but that. I write about his because I see what is happening and I cannot help but feel helpless. What can I do, a pastor of two small parishes in the desert? What can we do? Seriously I could use some answers!

QUESTIONS. If our Christianity doesn’t have an effect on the society around us, does it even matter? What is a Christianity that doesn’t affect society, really about? What is our personal hope for heaven at some point in the future, if people are experiencing hell every single day all around the world?

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If you are from the Imperial Valley we are starting a new teaching series at our Seventh-day Adventist churches, in Brawley (Worship Service at 9:30 AM) and El Centro (Worship Service at 11 AM). The series is called “Learning to Live Well” – we will be looking at what it means that Jesus was resurrected, and what it means that we are a “resurrected” c0mmunity. “Learning to Live Well” will go back to the message of Jesus and what it means for us to day.

This past Friday we held a memorial service for Carl, an elder in my church. He was a great guy. He always had a smile on his face, always had a joke to tell. His prayers were passionate and his singing joyful. We miss him already.

After the Memorial Service a group from the church wanted to eat lunch so we headed down to our local mall. I had mixed feelings about going, given that I was on crutches and in pain from my ACL surgery just days earlier. One of my parishioners, Linda (a nurse) had the bright idea to get a wheel chair from the mall customer service desk. So we did. So on i hopped and it was a great relief for my knee that by this point in the day was throbbing with pain.

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As I was wheeled around the mall, a mall which by the way I have been to countless times. I noticed that people starred, or at least tried not to stare. They looked on as though having sympathy for my situation. The ice cream vendor wanted to give me free ice cream, not just a sample but a free scoop. After finally choosing a place to eat, while standing in line a lady with a big smile asked, “Is the food good here? I have never eaten here.” She continued to talk. Never before had anyone engaged me in a full conversation. I think the wheel chair, or what the wheel chair represented moved the lady into a conversation with me.

As I thought about this incident over the weekend, I kept wondering what the wheelchair represents. A loss of life, less independence, sadness that I could not walk. I dunno. But it seems to be the case that for those that were looking at me being wheeled around thought something. The thing that got to me the most was that it took me being in a wheelchair for people to begin to care about others. What does this say about us? What does this say about me? When was the last time I took the time to initiate a conversation with a perfect stranger?

I read Samir Selmanovic’s essay “The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness: Finding Our God in the Other” from An Emergent Manifesto of Hope edited by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It is not for the (religious) light at heart. What I mean is that if you have been a part of organized religion this book offers brave new insights into life in the Kingdom of God. These essay’s provide glimpses of hope of how life could be, how life is for missional communities all around the country.

In this essay Samir thinks aloud,

“The Chominas and the Marks(to really understand these references you need to read the essay) aroud us leave us wondering whether Christ can be more than Christianity. Or even other than Christianity(Pg. 192).”

Samir marks a distinction between those that “take the name of Christ” and those that accept Christ on a deeper level that lead them to be “Christlike”. The difference is a significant one. One with important ramifications.

“Can it be that the teachings of the gospel are embedded and can be found in reality itself rather than being exclusively isolated in sacred texts and our interpretations of these texts(Pg. 192)?”

The substance of what it means to live Christ rather than merely accept the name of Christ. The substance of a life that lives Christ is exhibited in their interactions with others, what they do for them, and live with them. Life together.

Which leads me to this. This past week a girl by the name of Samatha Brown passed away. She had just graduated from high school. I didn’t know her personally but some of the youth from my church in Brawley were friends with her. I received a text message telling me that Friday (yesterday) a big group of her friends and classmates put together a car wash to help raise money for funeral expenses and related costs. There are pictures below of this car wash. I showed up to get my car washed and support the fund. I stayed for a couple of hours helping with the washing of cars. I stood their looking around and thought, “Christlike” as I saw what these teenagers did. A car wash doesn’t seem like much. But to me it spoke volumes of the goodness in humanity. The Kingdom of God hard at work. The temperature that Friday was about 110 and humid. In the two hours I was there I was drenched in sweat. These teenagers were there from 9 Am to 7 Pm.

The words that come to mind are amen, amen, amen.

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