January 30th, 2014
The clock at the back of the sanctuary read–more like leered–10:37. Our gracious hosts at FBC like to be able to move into the sanctuary at a whisker past 10:45 to set up. There was more in my sermon notes than there was time to cover. So I had to cut some on the fly, (you say, “he cuts?”) even though I’d already succumbed to an affliction Mark Twain occasionally suffered from, yet succinctly summarized: “I didn’t have time to write a short [sermon], so I wrote a long one instead.”
That’s in part why we have the Backstory. Some stuff gets left out that needs to nudge its way back in.
We argued last Sunday that while Psalm 67 summarizes how Israel was to find her joy in the nations’ joy in God, a subtler but no less significant implication to be found was that where Israel was to find its joy is parallel to where God “found” His own. He seeks His own joy by inviting us to seek our joy in others’ joy in God.
We also said the implications that followed involved not a little repentance–from indifference, or from antagonism, from acting out of guilt, or lastly from believing that no one would listen, much less respond. (yes, you’ll want to read that whole story I referenced) Well, repentance is like marathon: the path is long, it requires much, and it’s sustained with much help along the way. But it also requires a first step.
So where might repentance take its first halting steps toward discovering joy where God finds his?
Start your pursuit of the nations by taking note of the “nation” next door to you. That’s right. The people who ironically are proximately closest to you but whom you likely know the least about. That guy who jogs by your house every day but whose name you don’t know. The family across the street whose kids seem nice but are maybe a bit too boisterous for your taste (know anyone?). The minority couple whose english is about as good as your grasp of Urdu. Yes, them. Those nations–the one’s who are as “foreign” to you as anyone on the other side of the planet. They are firmly within Psalm 67’s purview. How do you begin? We’ve sprinkled insights here before, but here’s two more comments from people you might respect:
Tim Keller lists ten simple, practical, and eminently natural ways (and isn’t the perceived unnaturalness of witness what most makes us blanche at the thought?) of creating a space for dialogue about matters deeper than your fight against crabgrass.
And Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today, clears up the historical record about something St Francis of Assisi was alleged to have said while deploying the real history of the jovial preacher to illustrate how, while the Gospel is manifested in 10,000 observable ways it is irreducibly heard.
Secondly, while you’re rediscovering the nation next door pray until you celebrate how CtK will in the years to come sacrifice for nations a world away, too. Among the many things the Session discussed on its prayer and planning retreat last weekend (more on that in a subsequent Backstory) was how our community would cultivate a vital connection to global mission. What we mean by “vital” and “connection” is our first order of business! You might think a church of our age and size should focus its energies closer to home first and then set out sights on a further horizon. But even fledgling churches can take concerted steps toward validating our sense of the gospel’s worldwide relevance. If we’re not thinking in that direction here at this stage in our existence we unwittingly facilitate the phenomenon common to most institutions: the drift toward operating solely for its own preservation. We’ll increasingly turn our attention to the world not mainly to forestall that drift, but mostly to fulfill our church’s outward-looking vision.
Finally, never dismiss the import of small efforts. Last Thursday at the Winter Conference on Church in Mission, a friend walked up who I’d not seen in over 15 years and with whom I’d only spoken a few times in the interim. We’d both worked at a computer firm in Austin in the late 90s, struck up a friendship, but then went separate ways. In the recapitulation of his life since, he explained how three men, of which I was the second, had each befriended him, while at the same time providing him a picture of faith he’d neither considered nor subscribed to. Our three separate but unified testimonies to trust in Christ in time led him to yield to the Gospel. By his telling of what I’d done for him, I was someone who’d lunched with him and listened to his burdened questions about faith; I apparently also bought him a bible. Today he’s a different man, with a very different vision for his life and family. Whatever we three did, it wasn’t dramatic. I can’t say it was sacrificial either. But as Zephaniah warns Israel of despising its small beginnings while rebuilding the temple, so we should beware thinking ostensibly insignificant overtures aren’t worth the effort.
And while we’re including what we had to leave out, here’s a little more in detail of what we kept in but didn’t have much time to expound on.
Miroslav Volf’s argument of how refusing to admit the very notion of a universal truth actually subverts the human flourishing it seeks to preserve is part of a larger article based on the book of 1 Peter, entitled “Soft Difference.” You can find that here.
The UNC sociologist who discovered a strong, yet unintended, impact by protestant missionaries on the flourishing of the cultures in which they functioned has his work summarized by Christianity Today here. Someone you may know has been part of this conversation for a good long while, answering in particular the caricature made of mission efforts as covert operations out to overthrow governments and exploit indigenous resources. Here’s one of his many responses.
Finally, if you’d like to cheer up those dark winter nights, here’s the 1964 version of Sartre’s short play about Hell, No Exit.
Over the Rhine is a band out of Cincinnati I’ve been listening to for close to 15 years. The band’s backstory, in particular that of the married couple who form the band’s brain-trust, is as engaging as its music.
One song of their’s is entitled “All I Need is Everything.” It’s wistful without being morose. You can read the lyrics here while you listen below. In some ways it may approximate more the tenor of Psalm 42 than the chorus we typically associate with that familiar Psalm of lament. There the Psalmist is utterly desperate–isolated, disoriented, unable to find his footing. His only recourse is to pray–improvisationally, desolately. We’re going to let him teach us how to pray this Sunday. Listen in. He prays what they sing: an unqualified cry for help.
One community quick hit we wanted to notify you of is something beginning next month. It’s something we’ve longed to do for quite a while. We’re going to be devoting one of our Sunday Night Fellowship’s to a time of guided corporate prayer. Our first two gatherings will be February 9th and March 9th, at our regularly scheduled time of 6-8, at the home of Mark and Rachel Kull. We know how many might feel a certain hesitancy to attending something like this. “I don’t like to pray out loud,” or “I wouldn’t know what to say,” are two thoughts that might make you opt out. But the night will go something like this: a time to show up and settle in, a time to frame and center us with a brief word of exhortation and encouragement, and then a time of guidance in what to pray for. We’ve spent several weeks now hearing the Psalms invite us to pray them back to God. Well here’s a golden opportunity to practice applying the invitation. We’ll also pray for the needs of our community, many of which we’ve shared in the Backstory. We hope you’ll make a point to attend and pray with us.
And as you and I learn to pray the Psalms back to God, might we also pray
- for David Noack’s father Raymond who had to be rushed to ICU late last week
- for Gary Doan’s as he continues to recover from back and neck surgery (and please don’t greet him with a hearty slap on the back!)
- for the evangelism seminar with Prof Mike Rasmussen this Saturday (for which you can still register by the end of the day Thursday)
- for all the ways the Lord might help us to be faithfully present to Him, one another, and wherever we find ourselves
See you Sunday at 9:30,