Oct 25, 2012

All Saints

Because Halloween is coming soon enough, sometimes it is good to explore the authentic Christian celebration of which Halloween is simply a secular offshoot. I want to walk around the concept of All Saints and see what some of our scripture tells us about the saints.

Revelation’s author, known to Christian tradition as Saint John the Divine, finds himself in the heavenly throne room. To this point in the Apocalypse, John is earth-bound, but now finds himself transported to the throne of God. John writes, “At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne” (Revelation 4:2). Our text furnishes a description of but one of the many things John sees in the throne room. Among the visions is “a great multitude.” When John suggests that these are those “who have come out of the great ordeal,” John implies those who have been faithful to Christ’s ministry with their lives—they are martyrs. In this sense, they are the convincing stewards. These stewards have offered everything to God’s Realm.

All Saints Sunday is the day that the church celebrates those believers who have died in Christ. It is a day of remembrance. On occasion believers ask, “How does a person become a saint?” All Saints Day and Revelation bring this sort of question to mind. Earlier, chapter six details the opening of six of seven seals. In the prophecy of the seals, we notice war horses, God’s altar, and natural disasters plaguing earth. After the sixth seal’s opening Revelation furnishes us an interlude. Perhaps readers need a respite after the horrors of the first six seals. The sealing of the 144,000 begins chapter seven. This image furnishes us with a picture of the church militant, that is, the church struggling for life among earth’s principalities and powers. John’s next image is the church triumphant—those who rest from their earthly labors.

Chapter seven provides strangely contrasting visions of the church militant and the church triumphant. First, there is a specifically calculated throng of 144,000 contrasted to “a great multitude that no one could count.” Second, John contrasts the twelve tribes of Israel to “a multitude from every nation.” Third, John describes the church militant as a company prepared for threatening peril and distinguishes it from the victorious and secure counted in the church triumphant. Whatever this chapter wants to impart, above all, it is John’s attempt to describe a vision of heaven.

Over the centuries the concept of heaven has fueled much speculation—regularly confused and confusing to those on this side of death. A cartoon once appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. It showed a group of heaven-bound saints lined-up just outside the heavenly gates. Saint Peter stood at a podium; reading off the answers to the most frequently asked questions on earth, now finally and decisively answered in heaven. Saint Peter reads the list: “# 48, true; # 49, false; # 50, William Shattner; # 51, yes; # 52, the Ponderosa; # 53, every other Tuesday . . . .” People have inquiring minds and we want to know. John’s heavenly apocalyptic vision offers us one such image.

“How does a person become a saint?” For stewards this is a controlling question, for we all believe that our response to God offers us a just “reward.” But however we conceive of heaven, John writes at least this much: heaven is the place where saints or believers—they amount to the same thing—commune with God.

Our efforts do not make us saints. Rather, we become saints when God confers on us “gifts and graces” to handle as stewards. When we use God’s resources for shaping God’s Realm, then God develops us into true saints. God bestows sainthood at the point where God’s grace encounters our stewardship. There, we find God and God’s saints.

Oct 17, 2012

Living as Children of Light

Let everything you say be good and helpful,
so that your words will be an encouragement 
to those who hear them.
Ephesians 4:29

This picture was taken at Sanctuario de Chimayo 
It's so easy to let words slip out of our mouths before we think about the impact they may have on someone else.  This is true in how we speak to our families, our closest friends, acquaintances, people at the store, and strangers we may never see again.  There have been times in my life that I just wanted to grab those words back because I didn't know the damage they would cause.  

Words were the topic of our devotional this morning.  In the new testament, there are many teachings about words and how they impact other people.  God gives us specific instructions to build each other up and not tear each other down.  Everyone....not just those we love or who are Christian.  What a reminder this is, as we navigate modern life with words all around us—on phones, TVs, computers, face to face, iPads, billboards and newspapers.  

Our words have the opportunity to change the world and make it a better place.  We have been reminded of that often on this mission trip.  The staff and faculty are in a transition in their ministry from a private Christian school to a public charter school with supportive Christian ministries.  As a team, we are choosing to use our words and our actions to support and build this school up so that they have the strength and courage to continue to face their changing outreach possibilities.  We also recognize that these students do not know why we are here.  Yet they see us each day working hard on their campus and offering them free smiles and greetings that hopefully will encourage them to pass on the same type of hospitality to their classmates and teachers.  

Words can cause a chain reaction.  Make sure the ones you let come our of your mouth today glorify God and affirm the worth and dignity of those around you as God's creations.  Amen.

Today the team spent doing several tasks including pruning trees, mending fences, cleaning out basements, organizing materials, processing Campbell soup labels and box tops, gardening, working in the cafeteria, and much more.  Our bodies are tired, but our spirits are strong!

Last evening, we traveled roughly eight miles up the road to the community of Chimayo.  We visited the Sanctuario de Chimayo and ate dinner at a traditional New Mexican place Rancho de Chimayo, which featured cuisine such as flat enchiladas, chile rellenos, and sopapillas.  Yum!

Oct 15, 2012

McCurdy Mission Trip

As the sun began to rise this morning over the Jemez mountains and our mission team of 15 rolled out of bed in Espanola, New Mexico, we knew it was going to be a great week of outreach!  

We are staying and working at McCurdy school, which is located in the Rio Grande valley just 25 miles north of Santa Fe and has been a haven of safety and quality Christian education for numerous children in its 100 year history.  As we walk among the buildings and talk with the staff and missionaries, it is apparent that God has been at work on this campus and continues to have plans for its future.  

This year, due to financial constraints, the school faced the realization that it would have to close its doors or do something radically different.  So the administration and trustees prayed about it and decided to go back to the schools roots by applying for Charter school status through the state and separating the educational component from the ministry component.  This allows the school to receive state funding and accept more students—matter of fact, they have doubled in size this year.  

But with any change comes a range of emotions and tasks to be completed.  Because the school was founded so long ago and many of the buildings were built in the early 1900's, several of them cannot be  used for the Charter school and the others have to be brought up to current codes and ADA compliance.  The plan is for four of the buildings to be demolished and a new building put up in its place to take the school into the future.  In terms of ministry (mental health counseling, bible studies, Christian education, etc.) it means they have to be creative to reach the students before and after school due to the separation of church and state.  But the ministry staff's dedication to Christ and to the students has given them renewed hope that they will keep the McCurdy vision alive.

So what does that mean our team is doing all week?  Well....each day will hold something new, but we have begun our week with team members working in the cafeteria, cleaning out some of the buildings to be torn down or repurposed, purging documents, organizing school supplies and generally helping out wherever needed.  Everyone is choosing to show the students Christ through our actions and presence, even when we cannot use our words.  

We look forward to sharing our days and insights with you as we minister to and with the people of McCurdy school.  We also hope that you are inspired to reach out and touch those that are in your presence this week as well.  

I leave you with a quote on the wall of our dormitory this week.  It is a great reminder of God calling us each and every day.  AMEN

I am only one,
but yet,
I am one.
I cannot do everything,
but I can do something.
And what I can do,
I ought to do.
And what I ought to do,
by the Grace of God,

Oct 5, 2012

What Exactly is Stewardship?

 One area of Christian theology which most believers need guidance is in the province of stewardship. Too often, when the church says “stewardship,” the Christian hears “$teward$hip.” For example, as I glance through catalogues from religious publishing houses, when I come to the pages concerning stewardship it amazes me how many of the books have to do with money alone. Some titles are instructive: More Money, Big Money, New Money; How to Develop a Tithing Church; Speaking of Stewardship: Model Sermons on Money and Possessions; and many more. Clearly, stewardship does concern what Christians do with their money, but stewardship is a much richer theological concept than we usually confer upon it. Stewardship is an abundant and vital Christian notion. We do the term an injustice when we equate it exclusively with money.

The word “stewardship” is a Greek word, from which we derive the English word for “economy.” Stewardship fundamentally means “to manage the household.” Unfortunately, the household we think of first when we hear the word stewardship is the household of money. In reality, however, anything Christians manage is a household. For example, we are Christian stewards over our influence, faith, vote, spiritual life, listening, cooking, love, encouragement, good will and so on. Indeed, anything we manage is a stewardship “household.” Clearly, our households includes our money, but stewardship is also much more than money.

Christian teachers and exemplars can help believers understand that stewardship is not just a “money word,” but is rather the deep reservoir from which people may draw to respond in faith. To help new givers learning about stewardship appreciate the term, I divide this theological concept into four cardinal principles. These four principles or standards are not exhaustive, but suggest ways we can visualize Christian stewardship fundamentals.

Here are my four principles of Christian stewardship:
  1. Everything belongs to God.
  2. God includes people as partners in creation.
  3. Each believer has a task that he or she is gifted to do.
  4. God’s realm will remain steadfast with or without our participation.
We could say that these principles not only guide individual Christians, but they might be used to further the church’s mission to God’s created world.

As you contemplate how you will respond to our 2013 campaign Do the Right Thing! Remember that our response to God includes much more than our money—and yet it does include that too!

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