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Living like Jesus, My Antioch, and S-E-X - Musings from Pastor Wes

It's Tuesday, and the second full day of talks here in Dallas.  We've just heard from Alan Hirsch, a guy who immediately sounds intelligent given his Australian accent (I need an Australian accent).  He's noted for imploring the Church to rediscover risky, adventurous, messy missions.  And there's a lot in what he has been saying that is resonating with me and our situation as a church.

Alan Hirsch has been pointing out a great challenge.  The world around us needs the ministry of Jesus in significant ways.  You all know this story.  This modern world is full of incredible benefits and a wealth of resources.  On Sunday, I was able to leave my home, travel about 1,000 miles in about two hours, land safely and was easily shuttled another thirty minutes to a clean, spacious and comfortable Sheraton hotel room.  Amazing.

But, there's another picture that captures this modern world.  And that is the reality of poverty hiding underneath the reality of consumerism, comfortability and a collected wealth.

Yesterday, for instance, I walked the two mile distance between where I am staying (the Sheraton) to the hotel where this conference is being held (the Inter-Continental).  By car, that trip takes you by visible signs of the positive side of the global economy.  There's a massive mall with higher-end retail stores (e.g. - Pottery Barn).  There's large corporate buildings for investment companies like The Principal Group and the digital economy (NetOrange).  There is Whole Foods and In-n-Out and AT&T ... all companies that would have seemed like the arrival of God's Kingdom to someone living a hundred years ago let alone five hundred.

But, on my walk, I had to see a different reality.  The pedestrian perspective gave me the experience of those forced to uphold this economy through their under-compensated and under-resourced work.  I walked by vacuous warehouses filled with "the stuff' of our consumption.  I walked by car lots full of thousands of newly produced vehicles.  And, as I walked, I realized that where the sidewalk ended, I was walking a path several other pairs of feet had already tread - likely by minorities serving this predominantly white community of Addison.  Along that path were the signs of the economy's underbelly:  empty bottles of beer and whiskey, broken glass, discarded plastic bags, graffiti and - in general - a few blocks embodying the reality of consuming, enjoying, and discarding.

This is our world:  a polarized, haves-and-have-not world.

And the question for the church is which side it is going to choose.

Will it take the risky step ... the Jesus-step, honestly ... to intentionally move out in mission to love, to serve, to disciple, to equip, and to bring the transforming power of the Spirit into these environments?

Or, will the church take the safer route and try to preserve its own life?  Will it become an enclave for those who want to live in denial of this incredibly rich, yet exploitative economy?  Will it try to make a place of like-mindedness where we can feel better or more comfortable about our place in this very disturbing post-modern world?

Just simple questions really.

But, extremely relevant questions for us as a church, and for me as your pastor.

It's relevant, obviously, as we explore again how we want to embrace our daycare ministry in a new way.

But, it goes so far beyond just this one conversation about our daycare.

We are at this beautiful fork-in-the-road as a community.  We can remain focused internally, which frankly is part of our tendency.  Or, we can continue to do something very risky and mischievous.  Oh, and it's kinda dangerous.  Walking on the surface streets up to the Inter-Continental yesterday didn't feel very safe at all.  And I was sweating like crazy by the end. Purposefully venturing downwards to bring the gospel to the hurting, the broken, the poor and the minorities is unsettling.  It sooo opposite of the refreshing, air-conditioned experience of walking through a high-end mall.  There's dirt.  There's brokenness.  You'll probably have to sweat a bit, and it will wear you out quickly.

I'm personally sitting with this disturbing reality today, which - I believe - is a good reality.  It's me having to face my own call back into a deeper discipleship, and I'm looking forward to trying to move missionally with you beyond ourselves.

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It's been extremely encouraging to reconnect with some old friends and mentors.  This connects with my little sermon above about missional living.  The only way I can really live a missional life is if I'm being challenged, enriched, and supported by others to live out that life by other Christians.

Glenn McDonald, my pastor growing up, used to explain this need as the "Antioch-Corinth" reality.  Every Christian needs an "Antioch" community:  a place where they can be nurtured in God's grace and where they can mature as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Second and concordant with that is the calling each of us has as a Christian to go to a a "Corinth":  into a community that is pagan or secular and that will stretch us, challenge us, even taint us.  The Christian journey is a journey of living between these two places, our Antioch and our Corinth.

And this gathering here in Dallas is allowing me to remember some of my Antioch places and some of the Antioch pastors who were formative in helping me discern God's grace and call upon my life.  Here with me is my former youth mentor, Scott Shelton, who was in a lot of ways Jesus to me during my high school years and who gave me space to start living out my faith in service to others and in the church.  Here with me is Bob Jordan who came over to DePauw University when I was a senior in college to listen with me and to me about this sense I had about actually being a pastor.  And here in this place is Steve Oglesbee who exemplified in his life what it looked like to live intentionally as a disciple first and foremost, even as the head of a church community.

It makes me realize how critical it is for me to maintain these friendships.  It is essential.

It also makes me realize that part of God's calling upon us as a church is to make sure we take definite steps to get connected with the wider Church in the world.  We are a wonderful church community, full of God's grace and love and clearly demonstrating the love of Christ in rich ways.  But, our fellowship is anemic because we have in some ways withdrawn from the larger Christian community into ourselves.  So, we need to step out again and build relationships with local churches in our area.  And we need to step our and start getting connected with our brothers and sisters beyond Putnam County.

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Alan Hirsch's wife, Debbie, opened this conference yesterday with an incredible ... incredible presentation on "God, Sexuality, and Orientation."  I so wished I could just bottle everything she said and say it directly to you.  In fact, I've got this prayer right now to God to open some door for Debbie to come to Greencastle (I'll settle for Indianapolis).

My plan at this point is to try my best to pass along her teachings to all of you.  I'll probably do so as a conversation about sexuality in general ... because ... well, we all know that if there's anything Presbyterians feel comfortable talking about ... it's S-E-X.  Okay, maybe not.

The short of Debbie's talk though is this ...

#1 - Sexuality is a very complicated thing that we too often reduce to just the act of sex.  The church makes this mistake.  It's a conversation that is hard for people in the church.  So, we avoid it.  The wider Western world, meanwhile, is fully immersed in the conversation.  Sex is synonymous with Western culture, and most of the messages we get about sexuality around us amount to one enticement:  dive into it.  [A side article from today's USA Today:  "32% in study say 'hookup' led to marriage"]

#2 - Sexuality is just one expression of these deep, deep desires God put into us in the beginning.  And those deeper desires were meant - in the beginning - to lead us to find satisfaction in God or satisfaction in appropriate, God-ordained relationships.

#3 - We all have a broken sexuality.  Everyone.  When we actually look at our sexual history, we realize that every single one of us has been both hurt and has hurt another human being through our sexual desires or acts.  So, we don't get to judge.  "Woman, who is here to condemn you?" Jesus asks.

#4 - We need a chaperone to help us (re)learn a healthy sexuality - a person who seeks to lovingly watch over us, care for us, guide us into healthy sexual expressions and relationships.  Jesus is this chaperone for us, and the Church is the place where we can be transformed by God's grace, truth, and love.

#5 - We need a mediator to cleanse us and repair our brokenness - including our broken sexuality.  This too is Jesus.

#6 - The Church, as Jesus' agent, needs to lead with an embrace, not its theology.  It needs to follow Jesus' example and meet human beings where they are, not create doctrinal positions to put their own minds at ease.  Jesus didn't insist on perfect disciples who had completely healthy sexualities (there are none), but rather went out intentionally to forgive sinners and to call them to repentance after meeting them where they were.

There, that wasn't so bad, was it?

I fly home tomorrow.  :)

Wes

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