Moses Has to Beg God Not to Kill Everyone?!

I got a few days behind on my daily Bible reading in my Bible app and have been getting caught up today. I read Exodus 32 and was reminded at what a bizarre scene it is. We meet Moses on top of a mountain, pleading with God (who had just brought all the Israelites miraculously out of Egypt) not to kill all of his people.

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God goes to all the effort to get his people free from Egypt and then one moment later and he’s ready to kill them all?

Where is the patience? Didn’t he expect some slip-ups from these people?  Is this God really that naive?

And the only thing stopping God from wiping them out in an angry outburst is Moses’ convincing pleading? The guy who doesn’t talk so good?

What is going one here?

Maybe you should read Exodus 32 for yourself first:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+32&version=NIV

Okay, bizzarre right?

Let’s recap…  Moses goes up a mountain to talk to God. Meanwhile the rest of people stay behind. They get restless and tired of waiting and make an idol.  God sees it and is apparently so angry that the Israelite people have made a golden calf that he wants to destroy them. It takes Moses talking him out of it to get him to relent. Moses begs for him to pardon them. God eventually agrees.

But then Moses comes down from the mountain and sees their idolatry himself. His response is equally violent. He gathers a small militia and kills 3,000 of the offenders.

Moses then goes back to God pleading for forgiveness of the rest of the people. But oddly, God has already agreed to this before Moses had come down the mountain and killed 3,000 people. It doesn’t seem that there is any necessary reason for Moses’ violent actions.

What gives?

I think it’s possible that God (although angry) is not as angry as he first appears. (Are we really to believe that the perfect God who is merciful as well as all-powerful would so quickly give up on his plan to save all Israel and in an emotional outburst have them all killed?)

I think a better explanation is that God’s expression of anger voiced in wanting to destroy the Israelites is for Moses’ benefit. Perhaps he anticipates Moses’ violent response and tries some reverse-psychology to head it off before he heads down. Perhaps God takes on what he supposes will be Moses’ first response and allows Moses to talk him out of it to attempt to build patience and mercy in Moses. 

Perhaps this isn’t an attempt to evolve God (from anger to forgiveness) but to evolve Moses. God hopes that if Moses sees God relent in forgiveness that Moses will too.

In other words, Moses isn’t really convincing God not to kill the Israelites, rather God is trying to convince Moses not too.

(*Sidenote: It appears God has good reason to suspect Moses’ temper may lead to violence. Exodus 2:11-12 tells us of Moses loosing his cool and killing an Egyptian that is abusing an Israelite. Moses has a pretty hot temper.)

All this is confirmed at the end when God meets with Moses again and God basically tells him he doesn’t need Moses to be the arm of the law. He reminds him he is capable of handling all disciplinary measures.

 

Exodus 32:33-34 (NIV)
33The Lord replied to Moses, Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”

 

In other words, “Go do what I told you to do, Moses, and let me take care of punishment.” God doesn’t need or desire (and certainly never asks for) Moses’ violent response to the idolatry of Israel.

This story is not about the vicious anger of God but of Moses.

It also has a parallel in Jonah. In a similar scene, God tells Jonah he is going to destroy Nineveh. Is this really his plan? I wonder.

But of course, Jonah believes him. What’s more, so do the Ninevites. They repent and God spares them.

Seems like a happy ending, but the book ends with Jonah angry and pouting because he hoped God really would destroy Nineveh. There’s a little Moses in all of us, I guess.

Again, God appears to be concerned not just with the sin of the offenders but with the attitude/actions of his spokesperson.

Back to Moses, just moments later in Exodus 34 God describes himself to Moses as a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

 

Exodus 34:5-7 (NIV)
Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

 

God’s description of himself here doesn’t exactly sound like the picture of a God who throws a tantrum on a mountain at the first sign of his people misbehaving and threatening to kill them all.  It’s almost as if God description of himself here is a correction of Moses’ view of what he is like and what Moses in turn should be like.

Now interestingly, Jonah actually quotes this description of God at the end of his story (Jonah 4:2) stating that it’s why he knew God wouldn’t follow through on his threat.

 

Jonah 4:1-2 (NIV)
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

 

As Jonah sits on a hill overlooking Nineveh wishing it had been destroyed, does he become aware that God is using a similar approach on him as he did Moses on the steeper hill of Mt Sinai?

Jonah doesn’t have anyone killed (as Moses does), but probably only because he doesn’t have the power to do so.

Exodus 32 (and the story of Jonah) are a good reminder to be cautious in assuming that our violent inclinations find any correlation with God. And we see that even in the Old Testament the picture of an angry God is more likely a “mask” put on him by others (a term used by Martin Luther) than the reality of his nature.

So let’s confess with Jonah a belief in the goodness and patience of God: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

And let’s be aware of when our own temperament and response is anything but God-like.

To Pledge or Not to Pledge?

I don’t pledge allegiance to the flag.

“What? Why not, Daddy? We have to do it every day at school. Didn’t you do that at school when you were a kid?”

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Yes, I did. I learned it that way too. I said the pledge, while crossing my heart and staring reverently at the flag.  I was an earnest young boy. I really loved my family and the land I lived in.  And when I said the words, it sort of felt sacred.  Almost religious. 

“I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America. And to the republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

When I was a kid, I remember having a conversation with grown ups about the pledge too. When I was in late grade school, I had some reservations.  Pledge allegiance?  To a country?  But, shouldn’t I only pledge my allegiance to God?  What if the two aren’t the same?

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I was told then, what many are told now. It’s okay to pledge allegiance to both. Of course if one conflicts with the other, we understand that our allegiance to God supersedes country.  But how often will that really happen anyway?  This is America!

Sounds good. And for a long time I believed that settled it.  But the problem is I really don’t want the two to conflict with each other. So even when they clearly did, I  would go out of my way—through lots of intellectual and theological gymnastics and justifications—to pretend they didn’t.  I didn’t want to ever have to make the choice, so my mind helped me never see the conflict. 

Many of us find ourselves living in a weird tension in life. We know that certain things like national defense, border security, economic policy etc are best for the good ole USA (or at least certain sections of it).  But deep down, we wonder, are those things that Jesus would prioritize . . . or condemn? 

What would Jesus do about illegal immigrants looking for a better life?  

What would He think about economic policies that boost American affluence, even at the exploitation of others? 

What would Jesus think about a ballooning budget for military expansion while benefits for the poor are cut? 

We are so often caught in the tension of self-interest and Jesus’ call for radical other-centered love that requires self-sacrifice. 

America First!! But wait . . . would Jesus say that?

I don’t think it has to be this way. I think it’s a false tension.  We’ve convinced ourselves we can pledge allegiance to two masters.

We’ve convinced ourselves that we’ll have the objectivity to know when the interests of empire and kingdom don’t match and the courage to choose Jesus’ way (the cross) over the way of the empire (self-preservation).     

But I don’t think we are nearly as objective or courageous as we give ourselves credit.  So instead we end up syncretizing our commitment to Jesus and his call to “pick up the cross” with our empire’s convenience of money and its self-protective use of the sword.  

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So how do we get out of this pickle?  

Well, I know this is unpopular in many evangelical circles today, but maybe we begin by refusing to pledge allegiance to America’s flag.  

“What? It’s only a flag! We are just expressing our love of our country.”

Perhaps. But I think when we “pledge allegiance” it really means something.  It affects us. It shapes us.  Words have meaning. And as Christians, when we pledge our allegiance to anything other than Jesus, it inevitably creates conflict and tension. 

Now, please don’t misunderstand.  I don’t mean that we stop loving our country or its people. I don’t mean that we stop doing our part to contribute to our societies and neighborhoods.  I don’t mean that we stop cheering for the stars and strips in the Olympics or taking pride in the good our country can do.  I’m not suggesting we become anti-American and burn flags.   

I’m simply wondering…  What if we stopped saying the words and pledging allegiance and loyalty to a worldly empire?  What if we took more serious our allegiance to Jesus as our one, true king and his way of life as our true kingdom?

Words we say matter. Pledges we make matter.

Perhaps limiting our allegiance to only Jesus might change us.  

“What might change?”  Glad you asked.

We may begin to EXPECT conflict between our empire and Jesus’ kingdom.  This is a massive change in our perspective.  Our current split-commitment makes us less likely to objectively see the obvious conflicts.  We don’t look for them; in fact, we actually try to avoid seeing them!  But giving up our allegiance to a worldly empire frees us from the (self-imposed?) blindness to the conflicts between it and Jesus’ kingdom. We now expect that they will at times conflict, rather than that they won’t.  This happens because in making a choice to refuse to say the words of allegiance, we’ve already made our commitment to expect and look for these conflicts.  So we become more observant and sharp and less prone to idolatry.  

We also become more bold.  When we have the courage to stop saying the words of allegiance to a country and only to Jesus, it gives us resolve to speak up about many other things.  One small step of courage leads to greater clarity.  The tension between competing values and allegiances often paralyzes us and stills our voices.  But now we don’t feel pressure to defend every aspect of a worldly kingdom that is inevitably flawed.  There is freedom to have a truly prophetic voice in the midst of consumerism, corruption, selfishness, exploitation, discrimination, and greed of the empire. And our voice has more legitimacy, validity, and perhaps conviction, because it isn’t tainted in the minds of our hearers (or ourselves) with a political or nationalist agenda.  

We are more likely to think of others first.  When we refuse to pledge allegiance to any human construct based on race, nationality, or artificial lines drawn on a map, it frees us to see Jesus’ kingdom as global, universal and expansive.  This new perspective moves us beyond selfishness to stand up for things that don’t benefit us personally but help the least of these.  We become more true advocates for our fellow kingdom citizens inside other human-made borders, systems, or governments.  When God’s kingdom is global, why should we care whether America is first?  Abandoning our pledge of allegiance to country is an excellent antidote to our own selfishness and pride. 

We’ll be better ambassadors for the gospel too.  When our commitments are split between God and country it becomes difficult for the world to discern whether we are promoting the gospel of Jesus or the gospel of America (or at least our version of it).  Split commitments make us more likely to become colonialists than evangelists.  And we end up having to defend things like American foreign policy and military action as part of our apologetics of Jesus.  This is all unnecessary.  As missionaries, both foreign and domestic, we have enough work on our hands as ambassadors of Jesus’ kingdom without adding ambassador to the United States onto our job description.  

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Someone asked me last week what I thought the biggest theological issue facing the church is currently.  I think this might be it. 

It can hardly be denied that Christianity as a whole has lost a great deal of its relevance in Western culture over the last few generations.  I don’t believe this has happened because the gospel of Jesus is less powerful today or because modern people have less need for it.  I think instead it’s lost its vitality because it’s been diluted and compromised with political and nationalist allegiances. 

I pledge allegiance to the flag . . . 

The way back to relevance isn’t better social media or more conservative laws.  It’s not gonna happen by electing officials or more Christian films.  It will happen when we take serious our radical allegiance to Jesus alone. That’s what will turn the world upside down.  Indeed, it’s what the early church discovered already did. 

Again, please hear me, I’m not suggesting we hate our country or do less than our best to make it a great place to live.  I think we should enjoy and appreciate this country we live in and the people that make it great.  And we should contribute to our neighborhoods and country in meaningful ways, inspiring it to be a better, more compassionate and more just society than it is now. 

But, I think Christians will do a much better job of all of that if we stop pledging our allegiance to a flag.  

It’s time to remember that Jesus himself and his way of life, is the ONLY hope of the world.

So let’s pledge allegiance to that alone.  

He Told Me to Buy a Kayak

glideblueThe only thing I never did that he told me to do was buy a kayak. 

When my kids were born he suggested that I give up golf and spend the extra time with the children as they were young. It might be because I’m a bad golfer (which I am), but he said it was more about the irreplaceable early years with kids. He said there would be time for golf (and other time consuming hobbies) later when the kids were older and didn’t have as much time for me. So I gave up golf and several other hobbies. And he was right, I’ve had the privilege of being more involved in my kids lives than most other dads.

vacation-circled-on-calendar-jpgHe told me to always have a vacation planned, even if it was a small one, so that I’d always have something to look forward to when work seemed overwhelming.  He encouraged me to have it on the calendar as soon as I got back from a vacation so it would be ready as the next motivation.  So I planned breaks just like he suggested. And it’s always worked the way he said it would.

He told me to be more careful in my social media posts and in my writing.  I made a lot of hurtful mistakes early on. He stressed to me that written word is so much more forceful than spoken word and encouraged me to always go have a conversation with a person instead of writing them a letter or a Facebook post.  And so I became more conscious of what I posted, and more committed to face-to-face discussion.  And while I still make mistakes, my relationships are so much better because of his advice.

When I was wounded and mistreated by another leader I was supposed to follow, he cautioned me against bitterness and against rash decisions to leave. He advised me to work toward forgiveness and peace before deciding to move on, so as not to jump to something that wasn’t ideal just to get away from conflict.  And so I stayed another year. I let God work on my heart. And finally made a move that was healthy in motive and opportunity.

median-home-price-house-on-mney-stackHe told me that a house costs more than just a mortgage payment. He told me roofs need replaced and furnaces go out and that I should set aside a capital items savings each month as part of what it costs to own a home. And now my roof needs replaced and my furnace is on its last legs and I’m glad I have a savings account.

When I wasn’t sure what I should be doing with my life anymore, he told me it didn’t matter as much what I did as who I surrounded myself with while doing it.  He told me that a person could have fun doing anything if they were doing it with people they loved. And so I stopped looking for the right job and found joy and contentment with my teammates.  And I started to love my job.

He even told me what to listen to on my iPod. He would often come home from a big conference all excited about some speaker that had taught him something new.  He’d hand me a thumb drive with the talk loaded on it and tell me “just listen.”  And reluctantly I would listen to it and discover it was just exactly what I needed at that moment.

But most importantly, when I was scared to take a big risk professionally, he told me to trust who God made me and lead out boldly.  He himself had so much faith in me that I couldn’t help but take the risk to trust God’s work in me too.  And it was scary, but it turned out to be the best risk I ever took.

15356623_10154758601636944_1635425140574694767_nEverything Rob Cizek ever told me to do was better than a good idea; it was great.  It was wisdom.

I’ve had many bosses, mentors and friends in my life. But none who’s advice I respected more than Rob’s.  And it was easy to accept his wisdom because I knew he genuinely cared for me.

It’s often been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  And Rob knew much more than most.  But he also cared even more than that.  

Every person who worked with or for Rob has the same story.  We all trusted what he said because he showed us how much he cared.  He always had our back. We’d rotate through his office and lunch meetings with our problems and frustrations, and he’d patiently listen and offer support. There had to be days that’s all he did.  It must have been overwhelming at times. It’s amazing one man could handle all the burdens we laid on him.

And when those long days were done, he’d often head out of the office to Silver Lake.  He’d put his kayak in the water, push out and relax.  He told me it was his own place of reflection. It was where he found peace.  He told me to buy a kayak, because everyone needs a spot like that.

Today, I know he’s in a real place of peace.

Rob, I’m going to miss you awfully.  There’s so many things I still wanted to ask you and learn.  So many things I still don’t know about being a dad, pastor, friend and human.  I’m going to miss our lunches, texts, laughter and friendship. There’s a bit of peace missing now in me. Today, I could really use that spot on the lake.

So I think it’s time I do the one thing you told me to do that I never got around to.  I’ll buy that kayak.  And maybe I’ll push out into Silver Lake one day soon.  And when I dip that oar in the water, I’ll think of you.  And I’ll remember what you taught me and I’ll pray that somewhere over that water I’ll find the strength that made you such a remarkable man.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Blind Spots

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Every car has a blind spot. An area, usually over your shoulder where the mirrors and your line of sight just can’t quite see. They are the cause of many auto accidents, even for careful drivers. We look over our shoulder, check our mirrors, and change lanes. But hiding in the blind spot is a car we never saw because it was in the one place hidden by the frame of our car that mirrors and windows didn’t give access to. We never even saw the crash coming.

People have blind spots too. Things we don’t recognize because they are too inconvenient or too uncomfortable to acknowledge. Or sometimes things that we don’t notice because our circumstances are privileged enough not to make it a visible problem to us, though it’s obvious to others. Even those of us checking our mirrors diligently, miss it.

I was recently invited to be a part of a group called the “Superintendent’s Key Communicator’s Group” in my local school district. Each school in the district sent several representatives to hear information from the district administrators and become liaisons to other parents and community members.

In our first gathering today, the Superintendent laid out the changing demographics of our area. In just 15 short years the racial/ethnic demographics in my community have changed a great deal; from a population that was 76% white to only 42% white. It has become a much more racially diverse community, with Hispanic, Multi-racial, Asian and African-American percentages rising as quickly as the white community has declined.

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In the elementary school I was representing, we have changed from 41% non-white population in 2003-04 to 67% non-white population in 2013-14.

fullsizerender-jpg-1And to the credit of the school district administration, they presented this data as an incredible opportunity for our children to learn the cultures, languages and values of different types of people. There was an embrace of this change that I was jealous the church would have for these same sort of statistics.

And the data showed that as we had become more diverse, so our schools were doing an even better job of increasing graduation rates for all racial and ethnic population groups.

At the end of the presentation I was feeling a great sense of pride in my community that had not only embraced cultural diversity but had helped elevate the success of white and non-white sub-groups.

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It was at this point that the administrators had us turn to someone sitting next to us and discuss our “aha’s” from hearing this data. So I turned to the young, professional lady sitting next to me. We introduced ourselves and shared our thoughts.

I shared first, telling her how I had felt encouraged that the district seemed to value diversity so much and was doing a good job working to ensure that kids in all demographic groups could succeed. I assumed she would say something similar.

But instead, she helped me see my blind spot.

My new friend just had one question based on the data, “Does the staff and administration of this district match the changed demographic of the people being served in this community?”

Hmmmmm….

I looked around the room. From a quick count, I could see that at least ¾ of the room was in the “white” people category. Strange. We were chosen to this group to represent our local school. But if the statistics just given were accurate and people like me, in the “white” category were in the minority, why were we the dominant voice in such an influential group? What about concerns that parents of color might have that I might not understand or be aware of? Why wasn’t a more racially diverse group chosen to more accurately represent the populations of the schools?

Then I thought about how I was invited to this group. This group is invitation-only after all. I was invited by the principal of the school my kids attend. The principal who is also in the “white” category. And now that I think of it, I’d say the vast majority of teachers (all who seem very sweet, well-intentioned and excellent) in our school are notably white. I wondered how many non-white principals there were in the district? How many teachers? Paraeducators?

And as I glanced up from my notes, I took an inventory of the district administrators on hand for this meeting. Most of the major players in the district administration (including the superintendent) were present. And not a one of them was in the non-white category.

Now I want to make sure at this moment to reiterate that I think all the teachers, paraeducators, principals, and district administrators I’ve met are incredibly capable, well-intentioned and caring people. I don’t perceive any intentional slight or prejudice on their part. In fact, they seem to truly value diversity of people and want the best for the community.

But what if they have a blind spot too?

You see the thing about blind spots is that you can’t see them. It’s very hard to recognize them on your own. In fact, as the discrepancy between leadership and population demographics came to my awareness I was shocked I didn’t notice it before. I try to be sensitive to things like this. But I’m not sure I would have seen it had it not been for my new friend sitting beside me.

So, why did she see it?

Well, she’s in the “non-white” category. She saw instantly what the majority of us in the room were blind to. She read the data that she was in the racial majority of the community, but vastly under-represented in this community group, in the hands-on teaching environments of the schools, and in the leadership of the district. She was worried that many of the legitimate concerns of a racially diverse community wouldn’t be addressed or even acknowledged if we don’t have diversity all the way to the top.

And she was right.

If we have a big blind spot in this crucial area, what else are we missing?

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What we often forget about “white privilege” in this country is that it doesn’t have to be overtly racist or bad-intentioned. Sometimes people are under-represented not out of a nefarious reason but because we just can’t see our own blind spots.

So, how do we notice the blind spots?

Well, we are going to need people in the “non-white” category to lead us. Those of us in the “white” category need to do a better job of inviting the “non-white” voices into the room and hearing their perspective. We need to allow them to shine the mirror on our blind spots. And then we need the courage to trust it and make changes.

And maybe people like me need to give up our spots on the invite-only superintendents group and make sure more people of color take our place.

The Death of Religion

Jesus doesn’t really like a lot of what passes as religion.  Even religion with his name on it.  Maybe especially that kind.  In fact, he is so disturbed by the religion that was devoted to God during his day that he flat-out curses it (Matthew 23).

We recently started a series entitled “How To Kill a Religion” at church. (You can listen to them as we go along here: https://soundcloud.com/pathwayschurch).  We’ve been looking at the things from Matthew 23 that Jesus says will kill a religion.

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And while there are many fatal pills that religion can swallow that will put it six feet under, there are three that seem especially deadly:

A lack of sincerity.  Not practicing what you preach.

A lack of compassion. Prioritizing rules over people.

A lack of humility. Practicing religion in order to be noticed by other people.

Religion that lacks sincerity, compassion, and humility is dangerous. It hurts people and Jesus thinks its should die.

Probably many of us who have been hurt by that kind of religion agree. In an unexpectedly weird way, many people who are wary, skeptical and against religion are to some degree on Jesus’ side. And it has been freeing to learn this.  It’s been relieving to discover that Jesus isn’t as petty and oppressive as much of the religion we’ve seen. Sometimes I just wanna cheer, “yea, Jesus! You tell ’em!”

If I’m honest though, it’s also been a little convicting. I’m sure I am guilty at times of lacking any one of these key ingredients to religion that truly honors God.  It’s caused me to examine who I am, what I do and most importantly WHY I do it.

Am I sincere in actually living what I believe?

Do I really prioritize people over rules and rituals?

Would I do this particular thing if no one ever knew about it?

 

I’m finding that I can even do the right thing, but for the wrong reason. And when I do, rather than honor God, I drink the poison that kills religion.

But more than conviction, this series and these words of Jesus have caused me to dream more about the identity of our particular church community.  As we have discussed the things we DON’T want to be, it has inevitably had the side-effect of forcing me to ask “what DO we want to be?”

And what DO we want to be?

After all, while there is religion that is dangerous and hurtful, not all religion is bad.  Jesus’ own brother, James, reminds us of this:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.  (But) religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

(James 1:26-27)

Now I know that defining ourselves by what we are NOT is not of itself adequate. But what if it adds some clarity to us as a community of things we want to avoid and prompts us, like James, to discuss what we really DO want to be about?  Saying “no” to some things may inspire us to say “yes” to what’s better.

This week we celebrate “Orphan Sunday” at Pathways Church.

We’ll be discussing ways to get involved in protecting the most vulnerable in our global society.  There will be ways to get involved that are more immersive than maybe we’ve ever been involved with before.

I don’t know what will happen with all this, but it feels big.

It feels like it might be defining for us.

Maybe there is more here than just a simple Sunday.

Maybe there is the beginning of identity.

Religious community starting to be reformed around the right things.

I’m praying that this series will be more than just a few shots at the religion God hates but that it will call us forward into the religion God delights in.  Could be this Sunday is the first step in that calling.  Join me in praying for that vision and identity to come bubbling out of these moments.

 

The Core Values

Here is what I’ve been meditating on lately.  Seems like every day I re-read this list multiple times.  I think I’ve almost got it memorized.  Hahaha.

They are the “Core Values” of Pathways Church (Mill Creek, WA) that I have recently accepted a call to help lead.

In fact, it is these values that really drew me to this community.  I love the choice of terms and the almost poetic language in which they are described.  There is honesty, reality, grittiness, hope and beauty described here.  They remind me of the best of what church can be.  And I pray that they are a source of refreshment, hope and inspiration to you as you read them.

Struggle

Personal depth is developed by asking tough questions, by struggling. Those who abandon the struggle either come to believe that they have gained all of the answers or quit caring about those answers altogether. Life is not meant to be lived in either of these extremes. Life is a struggle. Following Jesus does not alleviate our struggle, give us the answer to every question, or enable us to conquer every difficulty of life. But it does make the struggle worth facing by tying it to something greater than ourselves. It is in this wrestling that we learn to trust and draw closer to the heart of God.

Meaning

Because we have been purposefully created, everyone seeks meaning and truth. The desire for purpose is built into us. Satisfaction of this inner hunger will only be found by exploring why we were created. Jesus claimed to give “life to the full.” As we gain an understanding of His teachings from the Scriptures, our eyes are opened to the ultimate meaning of life. This fullness is not only found beyond this life, but it can exist in how we live our lives right now, everyday.

Redemption

To “redeem” is to buy back something that you originally owned. All truth and beauty belong to God. Unfortunately, selfishness, pride, and hatred have twisted and marred much of it. Christ came not only to reclaim individual lives, but all of creation as well. Redemption can occur in the simple beauty of art and creativity, the profound redirection of a life consumed by self, or the overwhelming task of tackling poverty, hunger and sanitation in third-world countries. We partner with Christ to recover the sense of beauty, renewal, and justice which He intended for our lives.

Sacrifice

Here the teachings of Jesus become very unpopular. True love transcends self and ease and therefore requires sacrifice. God first demonstrated that love to us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, on the cross. As an act of worship, and in response, we give our lives, sacrificially, to Him and to those around us. To follow Jesus is to reflect His giving nature; to take more interest in the needs of others than of ourselves.

Community

We struggle, but not alone. We search for meaning, but others walk the path alongside us. We partner with God to redeem creation, but we do so in conjunction with others. We sacrifice of ourselves, but must have others to whom we give. The New Testament is filled with teachings on how we are to live with “one another”. We laugh together and cry together. We celebrate together and grieve together. We were not meant to journey alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Wherever you are tonight, may you find struggle, meaning, redemption, sacrifice and community as a core experience in your faith journey.

Goodbyes, and other things…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I realize that I haven’t blogged in a while.  And I hope that my lack of effort here will soon change.  Today, however, I wanted to let you know of a big change happening in my life and the life of my family.

I have decided to resign my position as high school pastor at Northshore Christian Church and accept a new position with another church.

I’d prefer, of course, to let everyone know this in person and have tried to have as many of those conversations as I can the past week.  However, because it is Summer and many people are gone traveling, I knew that some of you would have to find out this information in this form.  I apologize for how this may seem impersonal.  I do hope and pray that I will have the opportunity to have many of the personal conversations as the Summer finishes.

My family and I are very excited about where God is leading us next, but we are also quite sad about all the relationships, memories and the church body we are leaving.

Here is a letter that I wrote to students this last week and discussed with them at our Sunday night gathering. If you are a student who has not yet heard, please read this as a personal note to you. I’ll miss many relationships at Northshore, but none more than the amazing students I’ve been blessed to serve beside the last five years.

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Dear Students:

 I don’t really like goodbyes. I don’t like them because they suck. They are hard. They hurt. They sometimes seem too sudden.  They seem too final.

 It’s why I hate graduation every year, as you all move on to college, work, or still living at your parent’s house full-time (hahaha!)

 But this year, it is my turn to say goodbye.  

 I have officially resigned as the High School Pastor at Northshore Christian Church.

 Now, here’s what that DOESN’T mean:

  1. I did not resign as your friend. Many of you are more than students to me; you are friends.  And that doesn’t have to end. 
  2. I did not resign because I don’t like Northshore.  I love Northshore.  My family and I have been so blessed by our time with this church.  We have made life-long relationships with people here and we will always consider it our “home.”  And I hope that it continues to be that type of community for you too.
  3. I did not get fired.  Wow, seems like a miracle, right?  Hahaha!  But I have no problems with the leadership of NCC and I fully support and trust them as leaders. I am leaving in good standing and healthy relationship with them and of my own choice.
  4. I’m not moving.  Yay!! We are staying in this area!  Actually the exact same area… as in the same house.
  5. You don’t have to stop “babysitting” for us.  Hahahaha!  But, seriously… you don’t have to stop.  We still need babysitters. 🙂

 Now that stuff is out of the way, here’s what it DOES mean:

For a long time now, I have been feeling like God is calling me help lead a church in a different way than youth ministry.  I have absolutely loved and been committed to serving with you these passed 5 years, but just haven’t been able to shake the feeling that God keeps calling me to something else.

So, last week, I accepted the “Lead Pastor” position at a young church plant in this area.  Those of you who know me really well will probably understand that it seems to fit me well.  

You should know that I didn’t seek out this position.  Rather, it sort of feels like it sought out me.  It is a remarkable story of how God was orchestrating things I wasn’t even aware of and I’d love to tell it to you in person if you are ever interested.  

Some practical stuff you should know:

  1. Youth group will still go on at Northshore.  I will be continuing to help as I can in the transition and Blaine and Brandi will be working to keep things moving as smoothly as possible.  Please show them grace and help them with the load.
  2. My last day will be August 31, 2012.  It’s the end of the month, so make sure you get back from vacation to say goodbye to me please. 🙂
  3. I believe in you.  I’m still committed to seeing this youth group grow into all it can and should be.  I only feel license to chase this next adventure because of how much I believe in you as students to carry on and create the atmosphere of grace and love that is needed to grow your group.  

Goodbyes suck. 

So let’s not consider this a goodbye.  Let’s just say that our High School Pastor finally graduated!  Hahaha!

I love you all deeply and can’t wait to see what God does in your lives and in your group.

your friend,

Nick.