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Nate Stratman

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Theology

I Met A Leper.

I met a leper.

Really, I did. He said so.

I was talking to a friend who was asking me about the sermon I was about to preach. I told her I was preaching on Mark 1, a moving story of a leper who came to Jesus to be healed. As soon as I said the word leper, a voice from behind me said, “hey, I’m a leper.” I turned around to see five well dressed men sitting on a couch behind me. The spokesmen for the group said “I’m a leper and all these guys are as well”, pointing to his friends on the couches. “We are actually schizophrenics”, the man proclaimed boldly. “The bible refers to us as demon possessed and people today think we are whackos.” After the man made this statement, my heart began to hurt for him. I began to grasp what he was trying to tell me. He was begging me to understand that the leper in Mark 1 was viewed as a social corpse and he as a schizophrenic could identify. This man and his friends knew what it was like to be physically and socially outcast and misunderstood.

One thing I didn’t know is that I was talking to some famous, modern-day lepers. All of them had PhD’s and one of them was John Nash, the Nobel Peace Prize winning mathematician who was portrayed by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. These men and many others stayed where we live for a week as they were leading a symposium on schizophrenia and the flourishing life at my seminary.

So what did I do after this stirring encounter? First I went back to my room and cried for 30 minutes. I cried because these men represent multitudes of others who are viewed as “whats” and not as “whos.” The leper in Mark 1 was a “what”,  because we know nothing about him except “what” disease inflicted him. We know nothing about where he was from, what he was like or what brought him joy. We just know he had a disease. The men I talked to throughout last week made sure I knew they were so much more than “whats”; they were “whos.” You might be reading this and saying, “of course they are “whos!” My response would be, “then why are so many modern lepers still on the outside of the village, begging to come into our churches, homes and social circles?”

I think I took a step in conquering a fear I didn’t know I had. In my closing conversations I wanted to let these men know that they have helped shape they way I see life. One man asked me if he could quote me on that and I said, “yes.” He then said, “Can I quote you an every conversation we’ve had this week?” Remembering that I was talking to a bona fide genius, I said, “sure.”

Prayer: A Favorite and A Thought

The past few days have been tough for my family. Throughout this crisis, many have prayed or promised to pray for the situation. I have found myself offering prayers that range from fiery passion to moments where I don’t know what to pray and sometimes I don’t even want to pray.

Here is what I know; prayer doesn’t begin and end with me. I have found great strength in knowing that the Spirit intercedes for me when I don’t know what the heck to say. I also know that written prayers of the saints are helpful to me. I love when people pray from their hearts, with no notes and as the Spirit leads. But I am becoming more aware of the richness gained from prayer books, creeds and other written prayers. I need a diversity of prayer in my life.

Speaking of written prayers, here is one from Thomas Merton that I am marinating in today.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone.             -Thomas Merton

Thanks Tom!

Three Ingredients for Youth Ministry

I remember speaking to teenagers one time and I was using an illustration about a cookbook. I was explaining that we often treat God’s word as a recipe in a cookbook and if we don’t like an ingredient, we leave it out. I ask the group, “what happens if you leave out necessary ingredients when you are baking?”
The answer I was looking for was that the cake would be jacked up and not look or taste right. The answer I got from a 9th grade boy named Jason was “The cake will you burn and you will too!”  I’m not quite the hellfire and brimstone type of guy, but Jason got the attention of his peers that night.  read the rest here…..

I am now writing Youth Ministry articles for The Burner Blog, a great resource from Fuller Seminary currently featuring folks like Dallas Willard, Tony Jones and many more. Make sure and follow the Burner! I will probably have one post a week over at the Burner and will link it on my site as well.

I Know What You Believe By Looking at Your Church Building.

Father Anthony is an Orthodox Priest with a Young Life background who lives in my community. He shared some interesting thoughts about church buildings with me one day when I visited his church with some of my students. He described 3 major strands of the Christian church and how their buildings tell us something about their belief in God.
1. Evangelical  (Large/Contemporary)-  These buildings are made to fit as many people as possible inside so that all may be “saved”. The media and music create a non-threatening and attractive environment that encourages followers to bring non-believers to church and it helps that the buildings don’t look like traditional churches.

2. Reformed/Presbyterian –  John Calvin was known to preach for 2 hours. These buildings look like lecture halls, with all seats pointing forward towards the pulpit. This design makes sense for folks who put great emphasis on the study and proclamation of the Word.

 

 

 

 

3. Orthodox –  For an A.D.D guy like myself, the Orthodox church has all the smells and bells. The entire worship space is covered with sacred art, telling the story of God. The priest is not the focal point in these services as there are many places for you to look and ponder the works of God. The Orthodox priest appears to facilitate the worship experience more than lead it.

These descriptions have really caused me to think about the blessings and curses of churches around the globe. Think about a few of these comments and questions below and ponder the necessity and usefulness of bricks and mortar.

1. an Episcopalian priest friend of mine was facing losing his beautiful church in denominational battles. He said “I actually pray that we lose it, because our identity is too wrapped up in the building.” Erwin McManus, a pastor at Mosaic in LA, said that God led them to sell their building which caused ministry to flourish across Southern California. 

2. Of the three models above, is one more conducive to youth ministry than the others?

3. One argument for huge elaborate churches is that they draw in more people who then can pool their resources to be a larger collective blessing to the world. True? 

4. I have seen thriving churches around the globe who meet under tents and have beat up sound systems and chairs. Why aren’t their large churches in our country that look like that? 

 

What does your church building look like and what are the strengths and weaknesses of its design?

 

Should Jokes Be Told From The Pulpit?

As I’m preparing to preach this Sunday I am trying to put together a puzzle of scriptures, stories, quotes and anecdotes. I love humor. I love to laugh. I started thinking about the role of humor in preaching and I was reminded of a quote from a favorite book of mine. In Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner gives his thoughts on telling jokes in sermons, which caught me by surprise.
“There are 2 dangers in this (telling jokes in sermons).One is that if the joke is a good one, the chances are it will be the only part of the sermon that anybody remembers on Monday morning. The other is that when preachers tell jokes, it is often an unconscious way of telling both their congregations and themselves that the Gospel is all very well but in the last analysis not to be taken too seriously.

I think Beuchner has a valid point. Here is the rub, in most pulpits in our country we have competing values that are fueled by both actual and percieved expectations from congregations. We want both a scriptural message and a delivery that puts us at ease and makes us feel like our pastor is just like us. I admit, I am often one of these people. In my own speaking experience, if I try really hard to connect with a group primarily through humor, I run the risk of neutering the Message.

Is it possible to be both loyal to the scriptures and experience Godly emotions such as laughter and humor through a sermon? I hope so, but maybe not on every scripture. Have you noticed when you are watching a very dark and serious movie that somewhere towards the end of the film people will chuckle at sections that aren’t that funny? Why? We laugh because it is hard for many of us to handle a heavy emotion for two hours. The book/movie, Into the Wild is so painful to watch that I started giggling at the fact that the main charactar died from eating the wrong kind of plant. It really wasn’t appropriate to laugh, but I just couldn’t take the pain anymore! If I’m honest, I feel the same way about Lent leading up to Good Friday, which makes Easter so powerful.

Not saying laughter isn’t from God, but have you experienced humor as a scapegoat to aspects of the Gospel that are hard to hear?

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* Frederick Buechner “Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC

video: The Baptism Cannonball

In the coffee shop yesterday I found myself talking about Baptism with a variety of folks who think the Reformed way of (sprinklin’ kids) is a tad crazy.

When I think of “dunking”, this is what I think of!!!

Either this young boy really gets the excitement of death to life in baptism or he is just being a goober of a 12 year old.

We shall never know.

Rob Bell Comes Clean

I have learned several things about myself and people in general since Rob Bell‘s book “Love Wins” came out less than a month ago.

1. We scold our children all the time when they talk negatively about a person they don’t know. We say things like ” don’t judge a book by its cover”. Many adults dropped the ball on this one when it comes to “Love Wins”.

2. As a person who works at a church, I was approached by many people about my opinion…I should have read it faster in retrospect.

3. When I finish “Love Wins”, will I disagree with some of his theology? Perhaps. When I read some of my past writings I often disagree with what I have written as well.

4. I love Creeds. Rob pretty much blasted off a mix of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds in his own way. In the days to come, each of us as Christians would benefit (and so would the Kingdom) from knowing such creeds.

5. “Black and White” people tend to be frustrated by Rob Bell. Folks who are at ease with questions and ambiguity don’t wiggle as much.

Limitations to Young Life and the Church. Do we see them?

My friend Sam sent this article to me and I believe it paints another side to the many discussions we have hashed out on this blog about Young Life and the Church. (Symbiotic or Parasitic, Furthest Out? or Young Life, the Church and Maturity .)

I obviously highlighted the key sentence for me in this excerpt, but what are you hearing in Clowney’s thoughts?

Prof. Ed Clowney, from his book “The Church”
“The Marks of the Church” p. 107:

“The Church, shattered by denominational division, dare not label parachurch orginazations illegitimate.  In part, they are simply activities of church members.  In an undivided church, there would be ‘lay’ orgs, under the broad oversight of the government of the church but not the immediate responsibility of church officers.  In part, they represent shared ministries across denominational barriers.  That such ministries may be regarded as irregular in denominational polity may reveal more about sectarian assumptions in the polity than about violations of NT order.   Dangerous irregularities arise for both denominational churches and parachurch groups when they ignore their limitations. The limitation of the denomination (more serious than supposed) is that it does not give full expression to the body of Christ, and needs, therefore, the wider relations that parachurch groups help to supply.  The limitation of the parachurch group is that it lacks some of the marks of the church.  It needs denominations because it does not provide the ordered structure of office, worship, sacrament, and discipline that a denominational church offers. Because such groups are not churches, they do not dismiss members to churches or receive them from churches, and rightly find no difficulty in recruiting members of denominational churches.”

What do you hear from this if you are in Young Life or the parachurch?
What do you hear if you if you find yourself in more of a church context?

The missional church and our Youth.

Yes, I know. This reminds many of you of a Pink Floyd album, but that’s not what I’m going for here. Look at this and now come up with an analogy of the church. For those of us who have wrestled with the Christian buzz word “missional”, could this serve as a pictorial definition of the missional church?

This diagram draws my eye to the dispersion on the right side. Dispersion is a great word that we need to use with students more often and it’s fun to say. When we meet on Sunday mornings we are the “gathered church” and the benediction is like the “breaking” of a huddle in football where we become the “dispersed church”. I love the idea of gathering with a bunch of sinful saints as we focus on the power of Christ and then the worship service continues as we go out the doors of the church to work, school, the bar, Target and even the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Rub: “Neither the structures nor the theology of our established Western churches is missional. They are shaped by the legacy of Christendom.” (Guder)So if the rub is the challenge, then the goal is this definition: ” A missional church is a reproducing community of authentic disciples being equipped as missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim His Kingdom in their world.”

What are the systemic and theological barriers that tend to shut down the dispersion?
Furthermore, we have story after story in the scriptures of teenagers leading the dispersion, what would it take for this to happen in your youth ministry and mine?

How have you rethought youth ministry in these ways?

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