Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where Now Shall We Live?

My wife and I live in the city. It's just your run-of-the-mill city neighborhood; not terribly affluent, but not a slum either. It's a mixture of races and ethnicities and social/economic statuses. We live a mile and a half from our church and 2 1/2 miles from our jobs, so that's pretty convenient. Obviously, the neighborhood has it's down sides too. Our home is not one that's likely to skyrocket in value over the next few years. The school district we live in is not particularly good. We're frankly probably more likely to be victims of crime where we live than if we lived in the suburbs. But I still like it.

I'd like to say we moved to the city for some benevolent, theological, missiological reasons, but frankly, we did it because we were needed a home relatively quickly, and we wanted something that we could afford without stretching ourselves financially. It pretty much fit all of those criteria. But the longer I live here, the more I think there might be something good and right about what we're doing.

It seems to me the suburbs have taken something out of our society. In our desire to flee the crime and taxes and busyness of the city, we've lost something. I can't put my finger on it precisely, but I think any time you run away from something, you also lose something. Decades ago, the "respectable" people begin running away from the city, and I think it has hurt not just the city, but the suburbs as well. The suburbs have become so safe, so protected, so sterile, that we've lost some of the vibrance and diversity and community that comes from city living.

I think this is also a problem with our churches. We've convinced ourselves that the best life route is the safest life route. We don't think Jesus would want us to take any chances. We think that the most important thing to him is keeping our kids and our wives and ourselves safe from any kind of danger, whether it be the danger that comes from living in the city, or the danger that comes from sharing our faith to a hostile world, or the danger that comes from packing our bags and giving our lives for Jesus in a foreign country. This "suburban" mentality has crept into our churches ever-so-subtly, but it is there, and it is dangerous. Frankly, it looks a lot like the luke-warmness that Jesus promised he would spit out of his mouth.

I don't want to give the impression that I think everyone living outside the city, or even in the suburbs, is living in the wrong place. I know of plenty of sold-out Christians who aren't living in the city, and they are missionaries where they are. I'm speaking in generalities here, because I think what I'm saying is generally true. We've not just made living outside the city morally acceptable, which is certainly is; we've made it morally preferable, which I do no believe it is necessarily.

I will admit that living in the city has not made me immune from this "suburban" mentality. God has a lot of work to do on me before I'll completely get over my desire to remain in my comfort zone, to follow the safe route, and to do the easy thing. I'm not even sure we'll always live in the city. I'm pretty sure we won't always live in our current neighborhood. But I desire to raise my kids in such a way that the call of safety will have no hold on them, that the call to God-centered, Jesus-exalting danger will pull at them like the proverbial siren song. If God wants Reed to go overseas to call people to Christ in some previously unreached people group, it is my prayer that nothing I have taught him will hinder that call. But to do that, I'm going to have to do some things myself that are beyond my comfort zone.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Big News!

So I can finally let the cat out of the bag! I've been holding something in for several weeks now, because I wanted to let as many people know in person as I could before I put it on the blog. But we have done that now, and I'm glad to bring my glad tidings now into the blogosphere!

Baby #2 will soon be on the way! My lovely bride is pregnant! Pretty exciting news, huh? I'm not really an exclamation point guy, but they seem pretty appropriate for this news, don't you think? Crystal's almost done with her first trimester, and I can see some signs of life after several weeks of constant sickness, so that's great news. We've still got a lot to do before the baby comes in April, but we're very excited and anxious to do it all!

Funny story about all of this. Several weeks ago in Reed's Sunday School class, they were talking about babies. Well, Reed looks at his teacher and says, "My mommy has a baby in her belly." As you can imagine, the teacher, who is a good friend of ours, gets excited, runs across the hall to where Crystal's class was, and says, "I know your little secret!" One problem: Crystal didn't have any idea what she was talking about. She said she didn't have any secrets, that she wasn't pregnant, and that she didn't know where Reed to that from. We didn't even know she was pregnant until three days later! Crazy! Our son, the three-year old prophet!

Anyway, feel free to congratulate me. I'm pretty proud and excited right now, and frankly feeling pretty potent. So, it's a good day.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Letter to the Rural Church

I grew up in a small, rural church, in tiny Sebastopol, Mississippi. Sebastopol is tiny town, and Steam Mill Cumberland Presbyterian Church was small even for Sebastopol standards. We ran 50 on a good Sunday when I was growing up. But I cut my teeth on the Word there, heard the gospel preached faithfully there, and gave my life to Christ there. My grandfather ministered there in good times and bad, persevering to the end, for almost 40 years, and I believe his will be among the largest crowns given out in Heaven. There is much to love about small rural churches like that, and I do love them.

But there is also much that needs to change. The church I grew up in does church almost exactly the same as it's done it since I was a kid. I went there one Sunday, realized they'd added a fourth song to the musical worship, and almost had a heart attack. That's how married to their traditions they are.

Nevertheless, I love the small church, even though I no longer attend one. That's why this letter I just read really jumped out at me. It's called Letter to the Rural Church, and it's patterned by Jesus' letters to the seven churches in Revelation. It's from the web site Building Church Leaders. I found the text of the letter at Les Puryear's blog, Joining God in His Work. Here it is:


I know where you live: in a nation ruled by the god of Business, where those who do not have the power to buy are shunted aside. The old and the very young are ignored. The few (who do not make up a critical mass, a niche market, a group worthy of attention) are dismissed.

Instead of a business, you rural churches have been a faithful family. You have refused to be professionalized; you have rejected the model of corporate effectiveness. Like me, you have chosen to be inefficient. You have lavished love and energy on the old and sick, on the isolated, on the very young. You have patiently waited decades for fruit. You ministers who spend your lives in the service of a congregation of 30, you teachers who pour out your souls for a Bible class of 5: you have understood what it means to be children of the Father and brothers and sisters of the Son.

You have also rejected those who claim to act in my name: those church-planting experts who advise that my people "target" only densely populated areas so that the largest number of people can be efficiently herded into the kingdom; the denominational leaders who have seen you as a useful training ground for inexperienced pastors who will soon move on to "better pulpits" in more worthy (and populated) places. You have endured this, and remained strong, and understood the truth: that size and efficiency are important only in the economy of hell.

Remember that 20 years spent in the service of a handful of faithful believers are as priceless to me as 20 years spent calling crowds to repentance. I will be with you in your long, quiet march toward the coming of the kingdom.

But I also have something against you. Like a family, you make judgments that stand forever. Just as the child who once stole is forever branded a thief by his family, so the poor and sick and despairing have been judged shiftless, no-account, congenitally drunk. You have been unwilling to admit that my light brings change. You give food to the food pantry, but in your hearts you believe that hunger and poverty happen only to the unworthy. In my eyes, you too were naked and hungry and filthy. But you have forgotten the grace you have received, and you have chalked up your relative comfort to hard work and sterling moral character.

And you have built again the walls that I once tore down. White and black and Native American, you have settled into your different rooms, content that you all live within my house. Rarely are the doors between those rooms opened; never have you mingled freely in my name. You white churches would not drive away a black worshiper from your doors, but you keep yourselves separate nonetheless; you make no effort to eat with and play with and babysit for and enjoy the fellowship of your black siblings. And you churches of color, who call my white children colorless, passionless, oppressive, cold: I call you also to repent, to put aside your resentments, both past and present. Remember that I also was beaten. And yet I forgave and gave life to those who did evil. I brought together the Jews and Greeks in uncomfortable union: they fought, and shed tears and blood, but when I looked at them I saw only my followers. I wish that the same were true of you.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I Am an Idiot

I'm living my Sunday School lesson this week. Sunday, our class talked about how life's difficulties are sometimes chastening from God, and how when we go through those difficulties, it's a good time to examine ourselves to see if there is something God is trying to tell us about our lives.

Well, I'm having to do that now. We've had an especially trying month or so here at the Phillips household, and it doesn't seem to be getting better. If Gustav wasn't enough to keep us stressed out, and me working nearly 24 hours a day, last night on my way back to work something happened.

I'm going through a four way stop about 9:00 last night. I'd just stopped, looked both ways and moved through the intersection when BAM!, a car slams right into me. It hit me so hard it jarred my whole body, and spun the car around about 180 degrees. She hit me hard. The crazy thing is, that when I got out, I noticed there was no damage to my car. Not a single dent! It was crazy. She only had a small ding in hers. We decided just to go our separate ways and not worry about anything. Big mistake! As I started down the road, I began to notice a squeaking sound, and I could feel the car's alignment seemed to be out a little. When I got to the station, I realized she had hit me in the back tire, and basically broken the wheel on it.

And stupid me, of course, I'd not gotten any of her information. I don't know why I didn't get it; maybe it was the shock of just having been hit, maybe my mind was cloudy because of the hurricane. Either way, it was totally the wrong thing to do. Now, I have a big problem with my car, and fixing it will have to come out of my pocket. That problem is the latest in a long line of financial issues we've had over the last few weeks, so things are very tight right now.

I say all of that not so that I can have your pity. I don't want that. I do want your prayers. And I am spending some time thinking and praying about why this happened, and if God is trying to tell me something with this round of bad fortune we've had over the last several weeks.