Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lenten Journey 1

Wednesday, February 29 • Leap Year 2012

We are now one week into the season of Lent. As a baptist Christian from the southwest, Lent took a while to catch on in my life, but it has in the last 10 years. This year, however, Lent has taken a twist for me. I am taking Matthew 16:24-25 as my cornerstone verses for this year's Lenten journey:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

This seems like an appropriate verse for Lent, traditionally a time of self-denial in preparation for the reflection and trial of Holy Week. But as I have reflected upon it, I realize that self-denial is not something one can undertake out of a sense of obedience or even out of fear, necessarily. So what is it that drives our denial of self?

I believe Jesus gives us the clue in verse 25: "for My sake"…

I believe that "for My sake" means love. It is our love for God that drives our Lenten denial. It is God's desire for us in Jesus, overflowing into our lives through his own self denial on the cross that impels us, by His love and consequently our own, to deny our renegade self, take up the cross and follow Him.

Love is the heart of Lent.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

February can be the cruelest month…

First, a confession.

My dear blog-o-philes: I have been terribly remiss in not posting recently and for that, I truly apologize. The last three months have been more than difficult - they have been excruciating in the intensity of spiritual and physical struggle. It is still tough at this moment and so I ask for your prayers on my behalf. I write from a hotel room in Portland, Oregon. My back is a constant source of pain and I am just burned out. Too many things happening too fast and I am not taking care of myself as I should. Have I lost my faith? No, absolutely not. I just know that I am deep in a spiritual struggle and could use your prayers. I could name all of the 'powers' that confront me, but I don't know if I need to do that. Let it be enough that I know what's going on and need your prayers for strength, wisdom and rest.

Second, an observation.

This weekend, I am attending the second annual "Justice Conference" in Portland, OR. (See: ) Although I still have back pain, I felt The Justice Conference was an opportunity to learn and experience a bit more in the area of a rapidly developing ministry area. I admire the principal speakers (Miroslav Volf, Walter Brueggeman, Shane Claiborne, Francis Chan…) and have heard a bit about the secondary speakers. Some of my colleagues from academia are attending. So you will understand when I say that I was a bit dismayed to find that TJC has become a "destination event."

The intention is good. It seeks to make Christians, and really, people in general, aware of the nature and need for justice in our world, and, impel them to action. It does this in a number of ways. First, it has a variety of exhibitors - all of whom are attempting to 'do justice' in some field - who seek to become visible and recruit support and personnel for their mission. Second, it has a variety of speakers who address the topic of justice biblically, theologically, sociologically, psychologically, etc. These speakers are nationally known authors, pastors, academics, practitioners, etc who seek to communicate effectively about specific justice issues.

The problem is, as I see it, that once you identify and commodify a concept or thing, then package it for sale, it runs the risk of simply becoming another "product" in our consumerist society. The Justice Conference runs the risk of becoming an end in itself. Cool people plus cool music, plus cool atmosphere, plus cool exhibits, t-shirts and give away stuff all add up together to create an event that people want to which people want to continually return. But will the event itself result in the inculcation of the need to 'do justice' in its attenders? I don't know. That is yet to be seen. I hope so, but what I have experienced so far would suggest that the conference is becoming an end in itself. Only time will tell. My sense is that the conference organizers need to have more 'hands on' and 'how to' workshops and projects.

My hope is that the Justice Conference rethinks and restrategizes how it does, what it does in order to become more than the sum of its parts. Then the conference will empower people to change the world. I am grateful for the opportunities at the conference. I have been spurred to think and to imagine how we can cultivate the ability to do justice in my local context. Now to make that a reality. I look forward to next year's conference, assuming that some changes are made.

More again soon. God bless you my friends.