Friday, December 30, 2005

Missions? or Mission?

One of the most powerful driving texts for missions is the charge coming from Jesus just before his ascension in Acts 1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy spirit has come upon you; and you will be my wintesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
That four-fold grid is a helpful map for local churches and denominations to plan and evaluate missions. It should be taking place in our "Jerusalems" eg: right here in our back yards, in our "Judeas" eg: our region, easily accessible and known, in our "Samarias" eg: those different and strange places we do not regularly go to, people who do not share our language, customs, history and values, and our "ends of the earth" eg: the far places on the planet, remote, distant, totally other. The church ought to be deploying "witnesses" in all those arenas prayerfully and strategically according to both spiritual giftedness and divine calling.
In an interesting conversation I had recently, I proposed that missions belongs everywhere: from here at home to far away. Missions should be the "driving engine" for all that we do in the church. When we gather to worship our holy God, he calls us (Isaiah 6:8 "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?") So, whether it is a call to work with AIDS children in South Africa or serve food at Transition House, it's all misisons.
"No" my friend responded. Missions is by definition always cross-cultural. Missionaries have always been those called to leave their culture and bring the gospel across cultural lines to other people-groups. So while the Mission of the church has local and regional manifestations, Missionaries are those who go out, head across, and reach into other cultures with the Gospel. Missionaries can be right here in Santa Barbara if their ministry is across cultures.
That thoughtful response got me thinking. I know that cross-cultural understanding is historic in Christian and most powerfully, Protestant circles. But is it biblical? Is missions (or witness in Acts 1) across human cultural lines of language, ethnicity, and geography, or is missions primarily across faith-lines, to those who do not know Jesus, either next door or far away?
I have written to Dr. Ralph Winter about this, asking for his feedback and am waiting his reply. Now I'd like to know yours. What do you think? Where do you sense a missionary call? What Bible texts drive your understanding? What experiences have shaped your thinking?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Sacred Space

On Sunday January 8 I will be teaching a series of adult Sunday School classes on "Sacred Space" based on my sabbatical studies from 2000 that morphed into return trips, research and writing. Why should this be of interest to anyone?
All people have an innate awareness of the "sacred". In Romans 1:20 Paul writes "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible thhough they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse." You know it when you encounter it. You also know it's not there no matter how hard people try to fabricate it. The "holy", the "sacred" is something we were made to participate in. So, what is it?
My studies were based on three disciplines. The first was to visit as many Romanesque churches in southern France as we could find. Romanesque defines that period in architecture and church history around the 11th century. These churches were constructed relatively free from the influence of the wealth of royalty and reflected more the intention to establish the Christian faith. So we (Martha, Liz and I) wandered through about 29 churches (more since then on our return trips). I would photograph, sit, read, pray and reflect on how these churches told the story of the sacred (or not). The other discipline was to read the entire Bible in those 2 months, cover to cover, underlining all that I could find about sacred space. The third discipline was to write every other day in a journal, charting my heart and observations.
Over the past few years the journal turned into a paper and the paper became a manuscript of eight distinct aspects of the sacred. It will be those eight dimensions that I will reflect on and explore in the Sunday School classes at Montecito Covenant Church. I am really enjoying exploring the distinctly California nature of the sacred, by visiting the Missions and other churches in and around Santa Barbara.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Essentials and Optionals

What essential for your Christmas? Is it the "Merry Christmas" greetings you give and receive to each other? The lights on the house? A tree, either cut or manufactured? How about the Creche? Does yours have the baby Jesus in it or is it hidden until Christmas? How about the music? Do you have some special cd's you put on or concerts you regularly attend? Do you wait for that one song that strikes you deep down and makes you well up with tears?

Being in a new sanctuary this Christmas means that we are importing old traditions and making our own new ones, like "Christmas in the Field" that was held in the sanctuary last Sunday night. What a delightful night to see the wandering sheep and the regal wise men being born to the front on litters carried by modern-day "servants." I especially enjoyed seeing Baby Jesus' "brother" peeking out from behind the Creche, neither wanting to dress up in costume or be left out of the whole thing.

A unique ornament out on the market is of a bald and cap-less Santa kneeling in prayer over the Baby Jesus. Does that help your Christmas theoloy or confuse it? This year, as Christmas falls on Sunday and a great debate goes on around the country whether to cancel Sunday services and stay home with families in quiet worship or to go ahead and gather as a church, take a look at what is really essential for your faith at Christmas? What kind of place does Christmas play in your own discipleship? How do special days and seasons impact your faith? Hmmm.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What about Bob?

The idea of a blog site for members and friends of Monetecito Covenant has genuine possibilities, but there are some bugs to work out; like how to let you know this is here and how to make your comments easy to receive. Bob Ludwick ( saw the first posting and added a couple of ideas for conversations:

1. Decorating/Lighting the Redwood Tree in the entry area of the main parking lot. Bob has lights to donate for a good group project. Any takers?

2. Direct mail(marketing) database. The Cold Spring School database is about 1,000 properties in the vicinity of the school (and MCC!) Why not access this as our main mailing database? While newspaper ads are a good start with a circulation of 70,000 subscribers. Is this our primary target (Bob thinks NO) Is focussing on folks more than 3 miles from us, while neglecting those close by good missions? Hmmm. Jesus used the model of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. How's our Jerusalem doing?

3. Saturday or Sunday Evening service. What would another (second) worship service be like for MCC? Are we doing a good job with "vertical integration" taking the core of the gospel message and "re-packaging it" for a different community. What would that look like? Bob's got ideas! What are yours?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Idea Exchange

It's time to open-source some of the discussions that are happening around us. God is moving from the ground up in all sorts of ways in the community. But unless you happen to be physically present at an event, you just hear about it 2nd hand or 3rd hand. I spend time each day visiting blog sites of churches conducting open discussions about direction and shape of ministry, mission, worship, service, fun, caring and laughing. It's time for us to have such a site.

I'm not very good at managing this sort of technology, so right away I'll need some help from you geeks out there to make this smooth and accessible. What I'd be most interested in hearing and reading is where God is urging you to get involved and commit for his kingdom work? Where is it happening with you? Where does your heart break and your eyes tear up? Where does your energy intensify?

Let's start the talk.