Advent is my favorite time of the year. Stepping just a bit out of the madness that accompnies the holiday season to reflect weekly on the Story of faith and the implications of what living in the continuing Story means brings a deep peace in my soul. Today marks the first week of Advent, the season of waiting and expectation married to each other to see how God will come. How will the light of God enter the darkness of not only our world but the places of darkness in my own soul. Expectant waiting, O Come O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel…come to all the places that are held captive in our world, in the violence, in the greed, in the hate.
Today we light the candle of hope. Help us to offer the “gift of hope” as we go about our week in all our interactions.
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
The Assisted Suicide bill passed in Washington State. Last night I was with 8 women. When asked how many voted pro and how many against it was equally divided, 4-pro, 4-against. A discussion ensued as to why we voted the way we did. I thought a lot about the bill before I voted “against” and thinking more about it this morning. I think this is a very complex issue but for me boils down to some issues I can’t resolve. The main issues being my belief that God is the giver and sustainer of life. I consider the sacredness of human life in all of life; i.e., war, violence, the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia and biotechnology. My fundamental belief as a follower of Christ is that the kingdom of God consists of peace with justice, of life unmarred by killing. (Kingdom Ethics, pg. 147). The good news of the gospel brings life and invites us to participate in bringing life and resisting death. Simply put, (even though without a doubt these are very complex issues) kingdom ethics resists killing, as Jesus did, and strongly affirms the value of human persons, as Jesus did.
When we talk about assisted suicide or euthanasia, I believe we are talking about the difference between “killing” and “letting die.” I believe the role of the health care professional is to cure if possible, and to care always and to never harm or hasten death. The way to meet the legitimate needs of the suffering and dying is through enhanced pain management (palliative care), hospice care and other efforts to assure, as far as possible, a good process of dying.
The fear of dying a long, agonizing death is perhaps the fundamental driving force behind the drive for euthanasia. This seems to disregard the advanced pain management treatments that help to allow a person to die well.
As a Christ follower, I believe that until Jesus returns and brings an end to illness and death at last, God’s will is that every sick human being be treated with dignity and compassion, receive needed curative treatments, benefit from pain relief and die only when their time has really come. The need to offer compassionate care that meets the need of the ill and dying, and their families is what our society needs to focus on. My conclusion is that “letting die” is the correct response, “killing” in the name of “my right” or “compassion” is the wrong response.
Holiness isn’t a word I use often and honestly not a word I think of often because something in me could not resonate with holiness being defined only in terms of morality. The following explanation from Brueggemann’s An Introduction to the Old Testament of “holiness” from a biblical viewpoint makes much more sense to me:
Speaking of the Book of Leviticus Mary Douglas has proposed that chapters 18 and 20 provide a deliberate framework for chapter 19 so that the whole is arranged to show that love of neighbor has become the key component of a vision of holiness. Pg. 72
…in Douglas’s interpretation, the arrangement of the materials serves to subordinate holiness and purity to justice. Pg. 73
This view of biblical holiness makes sense to me as I reflect on the overarching Story of Scripture.
How does the Church witness to Christ in the world? First and foremost by giving visibility to Jesus’ love for the poor and the weak. In a world so hungry for healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and most of all unconditional love, the Church must alleviate that hunger through its ministry. Wherever we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, listen to those who are rejected, and bring unity and peace to those who are divided, we proclaim the living Christ, whether we speak about him or not.
It is important that whatever we do and wherever we go, we remain in the Name of Jesus, who sent us. Outside his Name our ministry will lose its divine energy. – Henri Nouwen
I think Henri Nouwen may have been meditating on Matthew 25 when he wrote this.
Yesterday was my 52nd birthday. I actually love to celebrate birthdays, including mine:) It is a natural time for me to take some time and reflect on my life. My birthday began the night before when I got a bunch of Facebook birthday wishes and then an 11:00 p.m. phone call that our daughter-in-law, Hyemin was in labor. I knew there would be a good chance that our 12th grandchild would be born on my birthday. I thought, “what a beautiful gift” the gift of life, another person to welcome to our family and add to our ongoing story. I was in and out of sleep and prayer for Ben and Hyemin all night long. In the morning I woke up to Rich and Alex’s happy faces giving me a whole bunch of kisses and love. Then got to the office and I was greeted by Myra and Max with happy birthday wishes. On Thursday mornings I pray with a group of women. They brought a cake, coffee, cards, gifts and we had a fun little party and a good time of prayer. We found out on the way to the office, via a text from Ben that Daniel Haesung Cho Swetman was born around 7:00 a.m. We met him in the afternoon, he is gorgeous! I received lots of phone calls, texts, email and FB birthday wishes throughout the day. We went to dinner with some of our kids and grand-children. Then home exhausted and to bed.
Today as I take a few moments to reflect on my life at age 52 I sit in amazement and gratitude. Here are the words that come to mind:
There is of course sadness that has to do with broken relationships. In the sadness I find great comfort that at some point, maybe not even in this life “all matter of things will be well.”
I am one very grateful person. I could not have imagined the gifts that are given to me daily and for which I am most thankful!
Could you hold 4-year old Max in prayer the next few days? He has contracted ecoli, has been in the hospital for days and is not doing well. They discovered it has gone into one of his kidneys and his liver. He is being transferred to Children’s Hospital today. Please pray for healing, strength and that he will not have kidney failure.
Max is the grandson of our good, good friends, JR and Nancy. Please keep them all in your prayers as this has been an exhausting week. Thank you.
It is Sunday around 3:40 in the afternoon. I have just come home from a baptism. This afternoon four VCC’ers were baptized in a pool with family and friends there to witness, pray and celebrate with them. Before I go on, let me back up about one year.
Our home is located in a neighborhood in a suburb just north of the city of Seattle. I live in a cul-de-sac that is reflective of the ethnic diversity and religious pluralism of our time. Across the street is an Asian family, immigrants from China that practice Buddhism. Next door to them is a family that immigrated from Bangladesh and are practicing Muslims. Our neighbors to the west are a retired couple from Japan. In the eight years we have lived here, the church next door showed very little signs of life. The only person we would see during the week was an elderly man that kept the grounds. On Sundays during their worship gathering, we would see at the most six automobiles.
Last summer we noticed activity. Even the church sign board came to life and was changing every week. The messages seemed to be following a sequence of Scripture verses from the book of 1 Peter. The first one I noticed said, “Judgment must begin at the house of God”; the second, “Elders, feed the flock of God”; then, “Your adversary walks about seeking whom he may devour.”
I began to ask myself, “I wonder who this particular church is hoping to serve”? I found out that a new pastor had come in to restart the church. The church sign had a website address. Out of curiosity I looked at the site. Here are a couple of excerpts from the website:
A little about us…
• WE ARE A CONSERVATIVE, family-oriented fellowship desiring to serve God in our families, in our church, in our community, and everywhere else that God leads.
• We are evangelical in our practice of faith and are in substantial agreement with the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.
• We are traditional in our approach to worshiping God and we praise Him with hymns, choruses, played and sung in a non-contemporary style, and other inspirational music.
• We are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention through the Northwest Baptist Convention and the Puget Sound Baptist Association.
Philosophy of Ministry
The admonition by Paul to believers in Ephesians 5:19 is to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts to the Lord. The music in church, therefore, can and should be varied. However, the heart focus of our music and singing must be on the Lord, on what would be pleasing to Him. An admonition found in both the Old and New Testaments is for Christians to be holy as our Lord is holy, to be in the world but not of the world. While there is no guidance in Scripture that prohibits a specific music style, clearly the Audience of our praise and our obedience to God in the matter of holiness must be reflected in our choice of music and singing. Rather than guess what or what is not acceptable music for the church, the church should purpose to exclude those forms of music that are easily recognizable as worldly. Therefore, contemporary Christian music that incorporates the different forms of rock and roll should be avoided. In my view, unacceptable contemporary Christian music is identifiable by its dependence on drums with a significant back beat and driving, repetitious, or sensual rhythms. A blend of hymns, sacred music, and melodious praise choruses that do not incorporate the rock style are certainly appropriate in the church.
In all the years we lived next door to this church the parking lot was used by us and the neighbors for parking when we had company, the kids rode their bikes and played ball there. After the new pastor came to revitalize the congregation, towing signs went up in the parking lot and the kids were told they could not play in the parking lot.
We met the new pastor and talked with him a few times. I think he felt sorry for us because we were not KJV only Christians.
A few months ago, Rich noticed several trucks moving stuff out of the church. He asked the pastor what was was going on. The pastor said they sold the building, that they were merging with another church. When Rich asked who they sold the building to he said he couldn’t say and that we would know in about one week. We were curious…
About a week later a new sign went up:
The Seattle Meditation Center
For the past few months we have watched cleaning, remodeling and a ton of landscaping going on. We have had several conversations with our new neighbors who immediately took down the towing signs and welcomed the kids back into the parking lot. It is a Thai Buddhist congregation.
This last week they have had an “Open House” invited all the neighbors. Here is part of the invitation we received tucked in our front door:
You are cordially invited to join us for an open house celebration of the Seattle Meditation Center. The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching meditation as a means to relaxation, stress reduction, peace of mind and numerous other benefits.
For guests who are interested in meditation, we will offer 3 meditation introductory sessions in a non-religious manner for beginners.
We are looking forward to meeting you in order to know each other, build up our friendship and be good neighbors. We hope that you will kindly accept our invitation and come to see what we are doing and what benefits we will bring to the community.
Here is what their sign looks like:
We wanted to check out the open house but couldn’t. We talked with them and they said it went great. They had an authentic Thai buffet. Almost the entire congregation is from Bangkok. There are five monks with this congregation. They live in a house a few blocks away.
Today they were having their Grand Opening Ceremony. When we left for our worship gathering this morning, Alex and I went out the door and I heard Alex say, “whoa” because the parking lot was more than full, cars were lined up and down our street, we have never seen so much activity. The Grand Opening was from 9:00-3:30.
When I arrived home after the baptism I went over to check it out. I walked through the parking lot which was still full, there were Thai kids playing everywhere, from small children to teenagers. They were all dressed in white. There were several tent covers up with people scurrying to put food away. It looked like it was a full on Thai buffet. I walked up to the front door of the temple and took off my shoes (there must have been several hundred shoes) then went into the temple (which used to be the church sanctuary) and sat in the back. Here is what I observed:
It is a small building, probably holds a capacity just under 200. They had carpeted with an off-white carpet, there was a blood red runner running down the middle aisle. We sat on plastic white chairs (the kind you rent for a wedding). The room was packed with almost all Thai people all dressed in white. I stood out like a sore thumb! There were two other Caucasians in the room. One of which was sitting next to me. She asked me if I had ever been there before. I told her no, I was just visiting, that I live next door. She introduced me to the women sitting next to her, a Thai woman that traded places with her so she could explain to me what was going on.
In the front on what used to probably be the altar/stage (elevated about 5 feet) area were 15 monks dressed in an orange wrap around. They had a table in the front with microphones. The head monk was in the front and center. They were all seated. Above them (tall ceilings) was a gold plated enormous statue of a Buddha. To the right of the altar, stage area were seated another 15 or so monks. The rest of the room was facing them and did I say packed! At this point in the ceremony is was the offering time. Several young Thai women brought gifts to the monks on what looked like tall glass cake plates that were decorated with flowers. I asked my interpreter what was in the boxes, she said, “gifts for the monks, shaving cream, personal items and money”. The woman on the other side of her said to me, “you probably remember this was a Christian church, a dead Christian church, well this is different, all the work that has been done to renovate here came right from these people, they did it all and now they are bringing their offerings to the monks. Very different than Christian churches that are usually supported by endowments.” I nodded.
Next the head monk was saying something and then everyone brought their hands together in a prayer posture and all the monks began chanting something. My interpreter told me that the monks were praying a blessing. She said, “close your eyes and make a wish, as you make a wish the monks blessing will help it come true.” So, I assumed a posture like everyone else and observed the blessing. As the blessing came to an end, my guide let me know what was happening next. The young women were coming back with gifts on the platters for those that had been the most generous contributors. They called them forward, several people went up front and they were brought gifts. I asked what was in the boxes and she said, “framed pictures of (the head monk).” She said the name in Thai but I can’t remember what it is. Next she told me the head monk was going to give a sermon (in Thai) and then there would be meditation and chants.
The woman sitting next to her told me to come back on Sunday’s. They will begin with meditation at 9:30 and at 11:00 the monks eat and then at noon everyone else eats authentic Thai food. After lunch they then have a sermon, blessings and then more meditation. Sunday’s from 9:30 until about 3:00 there are activities. She told me to be sure to come. Then a man behind me leaned up and began to explain what the meditation was about, what the blessings were about and wanted to help instruct me on what was going on and to invite me to be sure to come back. He told me they were going to begin offering training for young boys and girls on Saturday’s from 9:00 – 3:00.
At this point I needed to go. I didn’t want to sit through a sermon in Thai so I thanked my guides and walked home. A couple of things I noticed:
1. Very, very kind people
2. The entire service was in Thai so I couldn’t understand
3. There were no kids or youth in the service
I have more thoughts about this but I have to get to something else and this post is getting way too long.
I wonder what it means to be faithful to Jesus in my pluralistic neighborhood. I will go back often to talk with my Buddhists neighbors. I wonder about a lot actually…
From “Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament” by Chris Wright
Power. The word, like the thing itself, is much abused…
Power, basically is neutral. It simply means the ability to do things. Power is needed if you are going to do anything good, as well as if it is used for evil. Power is the capacity to accomplish goals, or to influence the outcome of events and processes…
Power, then, is effective action, making a difference, influencing events, changing the way things are or will be.
What if we began to use our power to do good? What if we intentionally used our power to accomplish goals of making a difference in Jesus’ Name? What if we used our power to influence the outcome of events and processes that marginalize people, any people?
He goes on:
It is not surprising, then, that the Spirit of God in the Old Testament is commonly linked with power, for the biblical God is nothing if not effective in action in bringing about change! Indeed, when the Israelites spoke of the Spirit of Yahweh, it was often simply a way of saying that God himself was exercising his power on the earth, either directly or, more commonly, through human agents. The Spirit of God is God’s power at work–either in direct action or in empowering people to do what God wants done.
At VCC we are looking at the person of the Holy Spirit. Wrestling with what it means to be entrusted with the empowerment of the Spirit in our everyday life. With all the hoopla going on in the internet over Lakeland, what I don’t want to do is throw the baby out with the bath water. The power of the Holy Spirit has been life changing for me. The different expressions of a “Spirit filled” life is multi-dimensional. We would not be able to do the work we do without the empowerment, grace and life the Spirit gives.
If you want to assess whether your life or your faith community is living out a Spirit filled life, read and reflect on Luke 4.