Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Renewing the Mission

Gordon-Conwell Seminary
South Hamilton, MA

I'm not sure how I ended up here. Some months ago I received a flyer in the mail for a conference and I mat the speakers list, "I've never really been to a conference before and here are a bunch of cool speakers; I should go." I drive everywhere it seems, so I drove...23 New England. It's very pretty here...and cold.

I have been struck by two of the talks especially so far. The first was a talk by Miroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian. He spoke on the relationship between human flourishing and the pursuit of pleasurable experiences. In one sense, as he described it, there is little substantive difference between an obsession with classical music and the most degraded drug addiction. Both are the pursuit of experience instead of the pursuit of God. I couldn't even come close to writing quickly enough. I am sure they will publish a book from this conference, but I don't know if I can wait for it.

The other talk which struck me somewhat surprised me. J. I. Packer was to give a talk on the renewal of catechesis (the act of catechizing). He is ill and not allowed to travel, so his co-author (Parret) presented some of Packer's paper. Two of the very helplful things that he read were a description of the outline of ancient and Reformation catechetical content and the relationship between the rise of Sunday Schools and the decline of catechesis. Two of the greatest periods of the Church were the ancient pre-Middle Age church and the Reformation Church to the Puritan times. Catechism was prominent in their church life. Catechism tended to center on three areas: Nicene (or Apostle's) Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. These areas correspond to teaching Christian Truth, Christian Behavior and give a roadmap for Christian Communion with God. Sunday School programs, which are a recent development in the Church, were a successful outreach to unchurched children which ended up supplanting the formal training programs for covenant children. Since the Sunday School unions were inter-denominational the material quickly began to focus on the things which did not intersect so much with doctrine - Bible stories. This is the hallmark of most Sunday School curricula today.

I'm going to blog more on this later, but it is back into the Sessions.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Belated Praise

From South Hampton, MA (Panera)
(Pastor Travis is attending the "Renewing the Evangelical Mission Conference" this week)

I struggle constantly with getting certain types of tasks done. There are things which I intend to do which I seem either to not get done or encounter monumental struggles in doing so. A friend of mine, unnamed but easily identifiable, is a citizen of another country. His mission board has encouraged him to obtain health insurance but he cannot purchase insurance from a US company as a foreign national whose residence is in another country. He's here legally, but not permanently.

Well, earlier in the year he got a terrible stomach/side ache. It became apparent quickly that this was not some stomach bug and I and his other friends ordered him to the hospital. The long and short of it was a night at Memorial getting his appendix removed and him going home the next day. When the surgeon came by to check on him and heard his story, the doc just wrote off his fee.

I told my friend I would work on the bills for this thing and all of the applications for aid. And I did...for a while. But in the back and forth with the hospital (always wanting another piece of information) and the plethora of other providers, I set the whole thing aside until I had more time. Days rolled into weeks and weeks (to my shame) became months.

My friend paid off the smaller providers, but he was left with three big bills: the hospital ($10,000), and two other docs ($1500 total). I finally got all of the paperwork back out, organized it and saw a line that made my heart sink: "This application must be turned in within ten days or it may be denied." Swallowing my pride and dreading what I was going to find out, I picked up the phone. I told the lady at the hospital that I was a lousy friend and that I had this paperwork still to finish. "Just send it in," she replied. So I did.

A week later we get a "Final Notice" from the hospital. Knowing that this means we need to cut a payment deal before this thing goes to collection, I called the hospital. I should also say that by this time I had explained everything to my friend and instead of sharing (very deserved) disappointment, he told me how much he appreciated what I was doing (a VERY charitable point of view).

The account representative at Memorial looks up the account and says, "I show a zero balance." I told her the situation and she read through the file, "The hospital has reviewed your friend's situation and decided to waive the entire bill." I started crying on the phone. I could barely get out, "Thank you, thank you so much." I think she was a little uncomfortable with this man crying on the phone. I called my friend and cryed again.

Several things have occurred to me as I have thought about this. First, my indwelling sin being what it is, there is always a plausible reason for not doing things I need to do. The lazy man in Proverbs (22:13) says, "There is a lion in the road! I shall be killed in the streets!" Second, we often "do not have because we do not ask." James 4:2 And often we cancel out our prayers by not acting as if God will (or even may) answer our prayers. This is called "doublemindedness" in Scripture. God was waiting for me to finish asking and he was ready to provide. Third, my failure to ask is almost always rooted in a defective view of God (lack of faith). I don't believe God will answer my prayers because I often don't see him as my gracious father. Matthew 7:7-11 Fourth, our health care system is not full of evil-baddies. Most people involved with health care are in it to help people and struggle with how to do so and stay in business. It gives them joy to be able to do something kind for someone. Fifth, just as our heavenly Father loves us more than we can ever understand, our friends often love us more than we give them credit for as well. Their love "covers a multitude of" our "sins."