I was watching 60 Minutes on Sunday night. (Yes, I'm an old man.) There was a segment on an upcoming documentary about Pope Francis. 60 Minutes interviewed the unique choice for this project, German “art house” director Wim Wenders.
Wenders is a lapsed Catholic. He’s known for his eclectic body of work which includes U2 music videos and “Buena Vista Social Club,” a documentary about a group of aging Cuban musicians. I was interested in Wenders' perception of the Pope, for he would not be enamored like a devout Catholic. Nor did he seem to bear the stinging criticism of an anti-religious secularist. He made two observations of Pope Francis that struck me.
The reception desk was staffed with a team of bright, smiley 27-year-olds when I walked into Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, CA. They were hip, casual, and optimistic. After receiving credentials, we met Alex, a friend of a friend, and our "in" to FB HQ.
Accompanied by a small team from my church on a mission expedition to the San Francisco Bay Area, we followed Alex to a corral with rows of bikes. To traverse the complex of buildings, we gleefully biked like kids, calling them "Mark's bikes," a shout out to CEO Zuckerberg.
Like it's own city, the Menlo Park hub has everything, and it's all free. An employee will find:
A sense of optimism permeated the grounds. There was a feeling that "we're changing the world." It seemed less a company and more a cause, nearly religious in nature.
A man has risen from the dead, and now all history is altered. Resurrection makes the Christian daring and defiant. We taunt the forces of evil, as Scripture often does. I've brushed off an old poem I wrote for those facing the hellish. Beware of the mighty and risen King.
"Holy Week is when the s#*! hits the fan," a pastor and friend told me. It was not a gratuitous application of a cuss word. He was strategic in his use of a vulgar reference. From a pastoral perspective, it always seems that Lent and Holy Week come with an increase of funerals, crises, and tragedies.
In our church, Holy Week has come with plenty to hit the fan. My colleagues and I are responding to multiple traumas (on top of 14 services). A man in hospice care is breathing final breathes. A young father died of cancer, leaving a wife and two girls. A member was murdered over the weekend, her family left in shock and misery. A young man is in significant legal trouble. Add to these the list of ongoing issues: divorce, troubled youth, addiction, kids without a dad, unemployment . . .
You should never pray the Lord’s Prayer without considering what you're asking. It’s the most dangerous prayer you can pray.
Consider “Thy will be done.” Jesus prayed this in a dark night of agony in a garden called Gethsemane. Staring down the danger of devil and death, he fell to his knees and pleaded, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
We often pray, “God, I want this . . . Now help me get it.” Jesus’ prayer is the opposite, “Father, not what I want. What do you want? You have your way. That’s what I want.”
“Thy will be done.” It’s a most dangerous prayer because Jesus prayed it and it got him killed.
“Short cuts make long delays.” - J.R.R. Tolkien
“Convenience decides everything,” said Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. Modern man is fixated on doing things faster, cheaper, easier, and more efficiently. In his article, “The Tyranny of Convenience,” Tim Wu writes:
"In the developed nations of the 21st century, convenience . . . has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies. This is particularly true in America, where, despite all the paeans to freedom and individuality, one sometimes wonders whether convenience is in fact the supreme value."
We live in an instant society. The rate of our travel, communication, and access to information spoil us with their immediacy. We’re frustrated with long lines. We’re annoyed with delays. This is a problem for Christian discipleship.
A prophet gives us focus for the day of ashes. “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart . . . ." (Joel 2:12).
Lent is a season for turning and returning. We've been going the wrong way. We must orient ourselves anew. The Bible calls this repentance - a turn of the heart.
Joel offers us a word - three letters - that make repentance appealing.
After all you've done.
Even though you deserve what you have coming.
Even though you got yourself into this mess.
Even after what you did last night.
Even after all the lies, gossip, and anger.
"Yet even now" . . .
God makes a way.
God doesn't give up on you.
God wants you back.
Ash Wednesday reminds us that "dust you are and to dust you shall return." And "yet," the man Jesus Christ has come to call us from dust to live and breath again.
Our church recently hosted a leadership immersion class for Concordia Seminary, St Louis. For a week, Professor Ben Haupt brought 30 young seminary students "in residence" with us for hands-on learning about congregational dynamics and the pastoral vocation. During this intensive course, two things struck me.
1.) I’m not a young pastor.
2.) These young, soon-to-be pastors will enter a turbulent time in the history of the church. They will enter ministry during the the great decay of Christendom in our country. The challenges of a changing relationship between church and society will serve as a furnace. Churches and pastors will be tested and refined.
“A pig is most vulnerable when it’s fat.”
The Dow Jones industrial average recently topped 26,000 for the first time ever, just seven trading days after it blew past 25,000. The run between 1,000 point milestones was easily the fastest in the index’s 121-year history.
We live in a time of growing economic optimism. A new tax overhaul. Low unemployment. Incredible stock market growth. I'm pleased with my IRA statements. At the same time, there’s something perilous about the prosperous state of affairs.
You've seen the signs and bumper stickers: "Keep Christ in Christmas." It's a rebuttal to the growing secularism of Christmas in our culture.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that while nine in 10 U.S. adults celebrate the holiday, that celebration is heading in a more secular direction. Three years ago, 51% of U.S. adults said Christmas for them is more a religious holiday than a cultural one. But according to a Pew survey out last week, that number has slipped to 46%.