Nate Loucks

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Nate Loucks is the pastor of State Street Community Church and the President of the Pax Center in downtown LaPorte, Indiana. These are thoughts on faith, social entrepreneurship, and the beauty of life.

Posts in Theology
The God Who Risks

Last year at State Street we did a series on theodicy called, "[Skubala] Happens." In that series, we discovered that because of conflicting wills in this world (the divine will, your will, my will, the wills of the past, etc.) bad things can just happen. Without reason or explanation, they just do. Not everything happens for a reason, though it is much easier to believe in such a world. The biblical witness doesn't give us much reason as to why bad things happen nor did the Christian community really try to answer 'why' for many years. The hope of the Church has always been that resurrection happens in the midst of the chaos, darkness, and sin of this world. Bad things are a part of this world. Christ has made a way that the bad things of this world do not have the final word. That though we can choose sin, and at times darkness may happen to us (by a biological cancer that we cannot control), our unique Christian hope is for resurrection; in this life or the next. I no more believe that God has given (and by implication caused) me an illness to battle than I do that my mother died when I was young so that I would have a powerful testimony when I became a pastor (as was once suggested to me). What a moral monster God would be if He was sovereignly picking winners and losers in life so that a sermon would preach well on Sunday morning. God has brought redemption and resurrection out of darkness, a business that He works miracles. However, to implicate God of the darkness of this world would be to suggest that He is not who He claims to be as the arbiter of love and life. 

I was re-reading a great book by Dr. John Sanders called the God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. It has meant a great deal to me over the years. Since I will be in a biopsy and drugged this morning, I'll leave you with some quality reading. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. 

"According to the fellowship model of sovereignty God does not have a blueprint that we are to follow. God has a goal for our lives, but there are numerous open routes to its achievement. This is not to say, however, that God never desires a specific individual to do some particular act. After all, God requested certain people in the Bible to perform specific acts (for example, God asked Gideon to tear down the alter of Baal, Judg 6: 25). Yet for most of us there is no such specific guidance. The will of God for our lives is not a list of activities regarding vocation, marriage and the like. Rather, it is God’s desire that we become a lover of God and others as was exemplified in God’s way in Jesus. “When people talk about God’s leading,” says van de Beek, “it is usually not rooted in the way of Christ, but in a general concept of omnipotence and protection.” The way of Jesus is a way of life not concerned about blueprints but about being the kind of person God desires. God’s major goal is to renew us in the likeness of Jesus (with all the attending individual and social implications). [emphasis added by Nate] In this sense it could be said that God has a specific will for each and every situation: to live as Jesus would. This is not, however, what people usually have in mind when they seek specific divine guidance.

It is God’s desire that we enter into a give-and-take relationship of love, and this is not accomplished by God’s forcing his blueprint on us. Rather, God wants us to go through life together with him, making decisions together. Together we decide the actual course of my life. God’s will for my life does not reside in a list of specific activities but in a personal relationship. As lover and friend, God works with us wherever we go and whatever we do. To a large extent our future is open and we are to determine what it will be in dialogue with God. God does not simply turn us loose to do whatever we please. Rather, we are to seek God’s wisdom for our lives ( Jas 1: 5). For example, there may be a variety of vocations available to me with which God is pleased, not just one that is “best” or “perfect” in comparison to the others. I am free to make my choice in consultation with God and others in whom I detect godly wisdom. In my opinion, God is concerned about which vocation I select but is much more concerned about how I live my life in that vocation. Whatever vocation I choose God wants me to do it Christianly. [emphasis added]

Furthermore, according to the relational model explored in this book there are “chance” happenings and genuine accidents that God did not specifically intend. God has granted humans significant freedom such that we may do things to others that God does not intend us to do. An employer, for instance, may harass and fire Jane without good reason. Jane should not view this circumstance as a “sign” that God’s will for her life has changed. She may, however, be confident that no matter what others do to her God is working in her life to redeem the situation. Since the broad range of circumstances that we experience in life, from being in a train accident to meeting an old friend on the street comer, are brought about by human freedom, we should not typically think of them as divine pointers for guidance. God resourcefully works with us in any and every situation, but God is not causing all our circumstances because this would imply a great deal of manipulation of humans. God has sovereignly chosen not to practice that sort of providence as his normal way of dealing with us. Though God can (even unilaterally) bring certain circumstances about, God normally works with us in whatever circumstances we experience. Hence, according to the risk model of providence Christians should not attempt to read all circumstances as signs of God’s will for their lives. [emphasis added]

King Saul, for example, made this mistake when he had David trapped, exclaiming that “God has given him into my hand” (1 Sam 23: 7). Of course, God had done no such thing. When those who murdered Saul’s son told David that God had avenged David of Saul, David rejected their interpretation of providence and had them killed (2 Sam 4: 8-12). In the risk model it is possible to mistake a divine action and misconstrue guidance."

- John Sanders, from the God Who Risks

 

Shauna Niequist on the Pedestrian Life

Since I can't do much right now because of the cancer/illness (no driving, working, or tom foolery in general), I try to read as much as possible. I met Shauna Niequist once through my friend Jason Miller. She's such a terrific writer that I want everyone to read her words. They just taste right when reading them. Here's a bit of what she has written about appreciating the pedestrian life. We are doing so much waiting right now, that this has been a good reminder to not forget that this is life. My cancer is my life right now. And, I don't want to miss these moments as well. They will shape me like every moment in the past has as well. Here's Shauna: 

“I have always, essentially, been waiting. Waiting to become something else, waiting to be that person I always thought I was on the verge of becoming, waiting for that life I thought I would have. In my head, I was always one step away. In high school, I was biding my time until I could become the college version of myself, the one my mind could see so clearly. In college, the post-college “adult” person was always looming in front of me, smarter, stronger, more organized. Then the married person, then the person I’d become when we have kids. For twenty years, literally, I have waited to become the thin version of myself, because that’s when life will really begin.

And through all that waiting, here I am. My life is passing, day by day, and I am waiting for it to start. I am waiting for that time, that person, that event when my life will finally begin.

I love movies about “The Big Moment” – the game or the performance or the wedding day or the record deal, the stories that split time with that key event, and everything is reframed, before it and after it, because it has changed everything. I have always wanted this movie-worthy event, something that will change everything and grab me out of this waiting game into the whirlwind in front of me. I cry and cry at these movies, because I am still waiting for my own big moment. I had visions of life as an adventure, a thing to be celebrated and experienced, but all I was doing was going to work and coming home, and that wasn’t what it looked like in the movies.

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” For me, life is what was happening while I was busy waiting for my big moment. I was ready for it and believed that the rest of my life would fade into the background, and that my big moment would carry me through life like a lifeboat.

The Big Moment, unfortunately, is an urban myth. Some people have them, in a sense, when they win the Heisman or become the next American Idol. But even that football player or that singer is living a life made up of more than that one moment. Life is a collection of a million, billion moments, tiny little moments and choices, like a handful of luminous, glowing pearl. It takes so much time, and so much work, and those beads and moments are so small, and so much less fabulous and dramatic than the movies.

But this is what I’m finding, in glimpses and flashes: this is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, that adventure, that move-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets – this pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of use will ever experience.”

― Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life

The 5 Books I [Re-]Read the Most

I love to read. I try to read a new book every two weeks on top of the multiple commentaries and sources I read preparing to teach at State Street. I love reading with other people as well. This is why we started our book club at State Street where 10+ other State Streeters wrestle through different ideas and theological opinions together. 

But, I often find myself re-reading books that I really enjoy. When I find something I like, I tend to be dedicated to that source for life. There are certain movies and music that I have listened to consistently for the last 15 years. I liked them then, I still like them now. So, what are the five books that I re-read the most? Here's my list:

1. Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong by Stanley Hauerwas & Will Willimon

--> When did I first read Resident Aliens? I read it for the first time in 2005 upon the suggestion of my friend Dave Cramer (who recommends most of the great books that I have read)

--> Favorite quote?  “The basis for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is not what works but rather the way God is. Cheek-turning is not advocated as what works (it usually does not), but advocated because this is the way God is — God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. This is not a stratagem for getting what we want but the only manner of life available, now that, in Jesus, we have seen what God wants. We seek reconciliation with the neighbor, not because we feel so much better afterward, but because reconciliation is what God is doing in the world through Christ.”

--> Interesting fact? This was the first book I ever read by Stanley Hauerwas. Since this time, Hauerwas' writings have had a profound effect on my theological convictions. 

2. The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright

--> When did I first read The Challenge of Jesus? 2005. I remember reading this book sitting outside at Lamb's Chapel. You know it's a good book when you can remember the exact place you were sitting when you read it. This isn't my 'favorite' Wright book, but it's the one I re-read the most. 

--> Favorite quote?  “The radical hermeneutic of suspicion that characterizes all of post-modernity is essentially nihilistic, denying the very possibility of creative or healing love. In the cross and resurrection of Jesus we find the answer: the God who made the world is revealed in terms of a self-giving love that no hermeneutic of suspicion can ever touch, in a Self that found itself by giving itself away, in a Story that was never manipulative but always healing and recreating, and in a Reality that can truly be known, indeed to know which is to discover a new dimension of knowledge, the dimension of loving and being loved.” 

--> Interesting fact? The first Wright book I have read. Like Hauerwas, he has had tremendous influence in my life. I also bought this book at a Bargain Books in Mishawaka. 

3. The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? by David Bentley Hart

--> When did I first read Doors of the Sea? 2012. Another book recommended by David Cramer. I was preparing for a series on theodicy and the problem of pain/evil. Dave strongly recommended that I read this book by Hart. Hart is an Eastern Orthodox scholar that really brought some clarity to a difficult topic. Though the subtitle is about the horrific tsunami in 2004, this book is about so much more.

--> Favorite quote?  "For, after all, if it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God."

--> Interesting fact?  I read this three times last year. Fortunately, it's not long.

4. A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

--> When did I first read A Grief Observed? 2012. I read this upon the suggestion of my friend Ben Mannix. He suggested that I engage more with Lewis as he believed that I would enjoy his writings. This was another book that I referenced quite a bit in our series on theodicy; [Skubala] Happens.

--> Favorite quote(s)?  "Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’" AND "Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand."

--> Interesting fact?  I sat in Rocky Mountain Cafe and bawled my eyes out as I read this book. For those that haven't read it, this is Lewis' thoughts about the death of his wife and the subsequent accompanying grief. Heart-wrenching! But, so good. 

5. Journey to the Common Good by Walter Brueggemann

--> When did I first read Journey to the Common Good? 2008. Not sure what brought me to Brueggemann. I just remember being entranced by his writing. Brueggemann consistently challenges me to believe and practice the peculiar vocations of the church. 

--> Favorite quote?  "The most elemental passion of the prophetic tradition assumes that evangelical faith has little to do with private piety and everything to do with the systemic maintenance of a humane infrastructure."

--> Interesting fact?  I actually used some of the ideas of scarcity in a series on Acts 2:42 from this year. This book is referenced quite a bit in my teaching. 

So, what about you? What books (outside of the scriptures) do you find yourself reading over and over again? I have a few more I could list but this is probably the most accurate top-5 I could name.

Sermon at State Street: Acts 2:1-41
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Over the next few months at State Street, we are going through Acts 1-8 in our weekend gathering times. This last Sunday was our second week; Acts 2:1-41. Here's my outline: 

TEXTLuke 2:1-41 [Kingdom New Testament]
1When the day of Pentecost had finally arrived, they were all together in the same place.2Suddenly there came from heaven a noise like the sound of a strong, blowing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3Then tongues, seemingly made of fire, appeared to them, moving apart and coming to rest on each one of them. [unique, this won't happen again] 4They were all filled with the holy spirit, and began to speak in other languages, as the spirit gave them the words to say.

5There were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem at that time. 6When they heard this noise they came together in a crowd. They were deeply puzzled, because every single one of them could hear them speaking in his or her own native language. 7They were astonished and amazed. “These men who are doing the speaking are all Galileans, aren’t they?” they said. 8“So how is it that each of us can hear them in our own mother tongues? 9There are Parthians here, and Medians, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judaea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya that belong to Cyrene; there are people from Rome, 11proselytes as well as Jews; there are Cretans and Arabs. We can hear them telling us about the powerful things God has done—in our own languages!” 12Everyone was astonished and perplexed. “What does it all mean?” they were asking each other. 13But some sneered. “They’re full of new wine!” they said.

14Then Peter got up, with the eleven. He spoke to them in a loud voice. “People of Judaea!” he began. “All of you staying here in Jerusalem! There’s something you have to know! Listen to what I’m saying! 15These people aren’t drunk, as you imagine. It’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16No, this is what the prophet Joel was talking about, when he said,

17‘In the last days, declares God, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy; Your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams;
18Yes, even on slaves, men and women alike, will I pour out my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy.
19And I will give signs in the heavens above, and portents on earth beneath, blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
20The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and glorious day.21And then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 

22“You people of Israel,” Peter continued, “listen to this. Jesus of Nazareth was a man marked out for you by God through the mighty works, signs, and portents which God performed through him right here among you, as you all know. 23He was handed over in accordance with God’s determined purpose and foreknowledge—and you used people outside the law to nail him up and kill him. 24“But God raised him from the dead! Death had its painful grip on him; but God released him from it, because it wasn’t possible for him to be mastered by it. 25This, you see, is how David speaks of him:

‘I set the Lord before me always;
Because he is at my right hand, I won’t be shaken.
26So my heart was happy, and my tongue rejoiced,
And my flesh, too, will rest in hope.
27For you will not leave my soul in Hades,
Nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption.
28You showed me the path of life;
You filled me with gladness in your presence.’

29“My dear family, I can surely speak freely to you about the patriarch David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is here with us to this day. 30He was of course a prophet, and he knew that God had sworn an oath to him to set one of his own physical offspring on his throne. 31He foresaw the Messiah’s resurrection, and spoke about him “not being left in Hades,” and about his flesh “not seeing corruption.” 32This is the Jesus we’re talking about! God raised him from the dead, and all of us here are witnesses to the fact! 33Now he’s been exalted to God’s right hand; and what you see and hear is the result of the fact that he is pouring out the holy spirit, which had been promised, and which he has received from the father. 34“David, after all, did not ascend into the heavens. This is what he says:

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
35Until I place your enemies
Underneath your feet.’

36“So the whole house of Israel must know this for a fact: God has made him Lord and Messiah—this Jesus, the one you crucified.”

37When they heard this, the people in the crowd were cut to the heart. “Brothers,” they said to Peter and the other apostles, “what shall we do?” 38“Turn back!” replied Peter. “Be baptized—every single one of you—in the name of Jesus the Messiah, so that your sins can be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the holy spirit. 39The promise is for you and for your children, and for everyone who is far away, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40He carried on explaining things to them with many other words. “Let God rescue you,” he was urging them, “from this wicked generation!” 41Those who welcomed his word were baptized. About three thousand people were added to the community that day.

At the beginning of the sermon, I use statistics from this book: The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark. 

Question we're asking during this series:  The question all must ask in a post-resurrection, Christo-centric yet broken world; What now?

look at the Galilean reputation: 

Acts 4:13 KNT 
13When they saw how boldly Peter and John were speaking, and realized that they were untrained, ordinary men, they were astonished, and they recognized them as people who had been with Jesus.

Galileans as "Boorish dolts in the eyes of sophisticated Jerusalemites." 

John 1:46 KNT
46“Really?” replied Nathanael. “Are you telling me that something good can come out of Nazareth?”

POINT 1: In our story, God does beautiful and redemptive things in the most unlikely places, often times in the places you’d least likely expect Him. 

POINT 2: Salvation is found in who you call "Lord".

POINT 3: Baptism calls people to death, so we might live. Baptism is the proper response to those that are witnesses to resurrection. Baptism engenders a new community of love, resurrection, and justice.

PRAYER:
O Lord our God,
you know us better than we know ourselves.
As we come before you now,
believers and doubters alike,
we all share a deep need,
for we are all lost without you.
Search us, O God, and know our hearts,
test us and know our troubled thoughts.
Give us true repentance.
Forgive us of our wrongs.
Transform us by your Spirit to live for you each day,
to learn to serve each other
and, through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord,
to come at last to the age to come. 
Amen.

TheologyNate Loucksacts, sermons
Marginality and Loving Your Enemy with Miroslav Volf

Some of my friends have been talking about the idea of martyrdom lately. It's really more a feature of a larger conversation on nonviolence and allegiance that has been fueling within me since college. Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School. In the last three years, his voice has be more influential in my life than most. I find him tremendously humble yet profound. In regards to nonviolence, Dr. Volf has a unique voice as he was born and raised in Eastern Europe in the 1950's; a region known for disunity, corruption, and oppression against the religious.

This [rather informal] conversation on loving our enemies and, specifically, marginality is an important one. Is the de-marginalization of the world an important feature to the kingdom of God? How should that affect the way we treat our neighbors?