Posture

This Sunday I heard a great sermon about the posture that we should be in at the start of the coming year. Right on the heels of my forward-thinking, intention-laiden ambitious goal setting  for 2010, I was reminded of the important spiritual posture that we are to live out of if we want to ‘get anything done’ of importance.

As part of celebrating the baptism of Jesus this week, Pastor Phil reminded us that we are all living out of our baptism every day. Just as Jesus himself was baptized, as baptized Christians we each are living out of who God is, out of the gift of being baptized and receiving God’s grace and wisdom – not out of our good works, our hard focus, or our own energy (these are my words not his, but his message was along these lines.) Instead of tilting ouselves forward, in a position of being ready to run or to force ourselves into movement (a position that I am familiar with), Phil reminded us to tilt ourselves back, as at our baptism – a position that is more humble, receptive, and focused on the work of God instead of our own works. We are to tilt back, assuming the posture of a servant and a child of God – even at the start of a new year when the possibility of the future looms large and all that we long to become seems obvious.

This is a life lesson for me to be sure – ultimately to do more, to become more, to be who I really want to be, I need to rely more on God, tilt back and listen, receive, and put myself in a posture that God can work with; not run forward and push myself to change the world/myself. At the end of the sermon Sunday, the congregation was invited to come forward and look again/touch at the waters of baptism at the open baptismal font of the front of the church. A long line of us made our way to the small recepticle of water in the front, to touch a liquid that is everyday and ordinary – except for its purpose in our walk of discipleship. As I walked forward, I thought about Eva’s baptism not quite a year ago when we had a very meaningful service around this very same font of water. Our little baby, not yet able to do much on her own or rationalize her own precepts of faith, received her baptism from Pastor Phil. She looked up at his face as he talked about faith and community, and water was poured over her head as she was being held and enveloped in God’s grace. Infant baptism makes this dependence more obvious, but whether it is infant or adult baptism, this practice requires that we submit, lean back, receive, and depend on the church community and on God. It means we believe that something bigger than ourselves is at work in the water and in our prayers, that we are not in control but we are taken care of, that we do not know everything but will receive wisdom and support as needed. This is a hard posture for me to live in (to stay in and not just visit) – this tilting back – but it’s also such a welcome, important place for me to be reminded of… tilting back into God’s arms and grace. That is a really good goal for 2010.

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A Future for Evangelical Christianity

This article is by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, a former urban pastor and current professor at my alma mater, North Park Theologial Seminary. This article was first posted on the God’s Politics blog, and points out how the future of the evangelical church IS growing, but that it may be post-white, post-American in its fruitfulness. Read his prophetic reflection: 

Last month, in an issue of Newsweek, Jon Meacham describes what he perceives to be “The End of Christian America.”  Meacham asserts that “Christians are now making up a declining percentage of the American population,” leading to the “end of a Christian America.”  In the opening paragraph of the Newsweek article, Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, laments what he perceives to be a disturbing trend. “As Mohler saw it, the historic foundation of America’s religious culture was cracking.”  Mohler is particularly disturbed by the decline of Christianity in New England, as he states: “to lose New England struck me as momentous.”

As many lament the decline of Christianity in the United States in the early stages of the 21st century, very few have recognized that American Christianity may actually be growing, but in unexpected and surprising ways.  Let’s take for example the Northeastern city of Boston in a region of the country that Mohler believes we have “lost.”  In 1970, the city of Boston was home to about 200 churches.  Thirty years later, there were 412 churches.  The net gain in the number of churches was in the growth of the number of churches in the ethnic and immigrant communities.  While only a handful of churches in 1970 held services in a language other than English, thirty years later, more than half of those churches held services in a language other than English.

Between 2001 and 2006, 98 new churches were planted in the city of Boston.[1] In a city the size of Boston, 98 new church plants in a six year time periods is not spiritual death, it is spiritual life and vitality. Of the 98 churches planted during that six year time period, “76 of them reported the language of worship.  Of those 76 churches, almost half of them … [have] non-English or bi-lingual [services], 19 worship in Spanish, 8 in Haitian Creole, and 9 in Portuguese.”[2] The perception nationally was that Boston was spiritually dead because there was noticeable decline among the white Christian community.  In contrast, there has been significant growth among non-white Christians and churches.

When I was a pastor in Boston, I consistently heard the lament over the decline of Christianity in the city of Boston.  However, the Boston I knew was filled with vibrant and exciting churches.  New churches were being planted throughout the city.  Christian programs and ministries were booming in the city.  Boston is alive with spiritual revival, particularly among the ethnic minority communities.  But very few seem to recognize this reality, even as this trend begins to appear nationally.

As sociologist R. Stephen Warner points out, “What many people have not heard … and need to hear is that the great majority of the newcomers are Christians. … This means that the new immigrants represent not the de-Christianization of American society but the de-Europeanization of American Christianity.”[3] Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive and well among the immigrant and ethnic minority communities and not among the majority white churches in the United States.  As we enter into a new era for American Christianity, we may indeed identify this era as a post-Western, post-white American Christianity.  But we may also assert that this development may actually be the salvation of American Christianity rather than the decline and demise of American Christianity.

Instead of the collapse of evangelicalism, we are actually seeing the revival of American Christianity in a vastly different form.  Evangelicalism has been consistently portrayed in the media as a group of white, upper-middle class, suburban, Republicans.  Is it any wonder that the black church will oftentimes refuse this designation?  Or that other ethnic minority Christians feel marginalized from the very community that shares their basic values and beliefs?

But now there is a new era for Christianity in America.  A Next Evangelicalism — an evangelicalism that crosses across racial and ethnic lines with a shared value system rather than a political agenda.  Evangelicalism is not dead, it is being redefined by a new constituency – hopefully for the better.

Soong-Chan Rah is the author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity and the Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary.  www.ProfRah.com

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Good News as Life Over Death

The excerpt below is from a blog article by author and pastor Winn Collier (www.winncollier.com) and was published as part of a 50 days of Easter blog series on “What is the Good News?” It hit me squarely in the face today – as what Easter is really about, what life and death are really about:

“Most of us are aware of an ache, a sorrowful wondering if our world will ever be right. We know deep in our bones that something has gone wildly amiss. We know that the injustices and loneliness and social fractures rife in our world are evils we ought rail against. We might not all believe hell is a place where bad people perish, but I’ve yet to meet a person who disagrees that we encounter bits of hell in Darfur’s refugee camps, in terror and the wars terror spawns, in urban centers where young girls peddle their bodies on the streets.

And we know, somehow we simply know, it was not meant to be this way. But why do we know? My hunch is that we have this primal intuition because our story carries echoes of the good news. Might it be true that we were created for Eden? Might it be true that we gasp at beauty and are furious at evil because we were made for beauty, not evil? Perhaps Jesus’ story (God became human, died as a scandalous act of love and then walked out of his tomb as signal of God’s intention to resurrect everything death has ruined) tells us what our heart already knows: we are people of life, not death.

Perhaps Jesus’ story, rather than offering a Pollyanish fairytale, narrates why the world I experience collides so cruelly with the world I long for. For me, Jesus’ good news provides the one hope that I haven’t gone utterly mad.

A people of life, not death: this we know. And here we encounter the jaw-dropping good news. Death might be everywhere, but death does not have the final word. Jesus has come, and death (of every sort) will one day be emphatically undone. And life will dance free in the streets. As Frederick Buechner said, “What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”

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