And this thing called “church”

November 10th, 2016

I don’t write particularly well but even with muddled language, I think, with a smile, that I carry strong convictions.

One such conviction is this thing called “church.”

The thought starts here…. What an election.  Many awoke yesterday distraught.  Other joyous.  As a Pastor, my role, is to with humility and tenderness, work with others in small ways to hold a space within this thing called church for both sides. And to hold with others and for others the lived Christian message, the lived Christian ideals.  Loving your neighbor, loving your enemy, caring, repentance, simplicity, contagious generosity, joy, servanthood.

The best of humanity and the best of Christianity joined hand-in-hand.

This thing called church can be that thing. Can be that third way.  That place, that institution, that movement, roots 1,000′s of years old. That place where the appearance of “very different” leans towards the deeper knowledge that “all are one.” That place where we LIVE it.  We don’t just post it or shout about it or demand it.  We LIVE it in the quieter, often overlooked folds of life.

Some days, candidly, I despair that this age of this thing called church has passed.  After all, as a quiet endeavor, we can’t compete with entertainment. With youth soccer. With individualism that enshrines personal choice over sacrificial living.

Then the election happens.  And people from many perspectives feel a call, a call to do something.  And what we can do this thing called church.

Church is neither pretty nor perfect.  Church is not always a place you will feel “fed.” It is not be easy or fun.  But I think we find this … a loving God.  An empowered way of moving towards the suffering of the world. Community. Our souls.

And this … HOPE.

Today that hope is Philly to serve dinner, food dropped off at the Ronald McDonald House, a coat drive for Reading Pa, small groups meeting to share in life’s breakings and blessings. And then Sunday… a grace filled time when we gather.  When we connect in this thing called church.

It is not for everybody.  I get that.  But if you are searching, after this election, for a place now to “do”, think about it.  Think about church.

 

 

Beyond the Politics of Outrage

November 3rd, 2016

How is church to fit into this week leading up to the election?

Maybe, humbly, there is a place for churches to be voice beyond the politics of outrage.

Yesterday, getting coffee, two pairs of people erupted in argument. One group, “Trump is the anti-Christ.”  The other group “See what Hillary has done to you!”  Both non-sensical. Both incredibly angry.

That type of outrage solves nothing, heals nothing, brings nothing.

What heals is love, care, compassion, listening, commitment.

I am so very sad by how much we are driven by outrage. By soundbites.  By 140 characters or less.

Churches have to stand up.  Not in a partisan way but as a calmly clear voice for a third way.  For a way to hold conversations.  For a way to move towards the suffering of the world. For a way to live in sacrificial, humbling commitments around love. For a way to simply be Christians…

… beyond the politics of outrage.

Thinking about Thinking in a New Way

October 27th, 2016

Thinking is our friend … and it isn’t.  Thinking is our friend when it helps us to serve wisely.  Thinking is not our friend when it is…

  1. Obsessive
  2. Compulsive
  3. Angry
  4. Self Justifying
  5. Self Loathing

Thinking can be … and consider this carefully … self-indulgent fantasy.

What if… what if we took time to choose?  Time to consider?  Time to get the choice? And here is the choice.  Am I thinking from fear or Am I thinking from love?

If we think from fear, fear will race out and grab all sorts of “evidence” to justify itself.  A sunny day becomes anything but.  An unnoticed comment becomes “evidence” of callous disregard.  An ask for help becomes “evidence” of nagging complaint.

If we think from love we will experience different outcomes even though life events may well remain largely unchanged. See love will find it own its “evidence” as well but this “evidence” more aligns with the simplest of all formulations: “These three things remain – faith, hope, and love.  And the greatest of these is love.”

Simple.  Please.  Lets all see each other from love.  Not from fear.

“Perfect love drives out fear.”  Thank you God!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is There Marriage In Heaven?

August 5th, 2016

I officiate at a lot of weddings.  A beautiful part of this work.  A marker of a young congregation.

And one thought – marriage can be an eternal blessing. It can last.  It is why we define marriage simply… two angels walking each other home.

That is not to sound cute.  A great deal of work there actually because it means we are called to make decisions with a much longer time frame than we usually do.

The concept of an eternal marriage – the broader concept of time – also provides room.  Room for growth.  Room for mistakes.  Room for change.

Does it mean that every marriage finds a renewed life in heaven? No.  Some marriages don’t. If partners are miserable, hard to see the blessing there.  However….

For people who desire true married love, the Lord provides a partner, and if they are not found in this life, He provides them in heaven. (Married Love 229)

That is beautiful.  There is indeed a “Happily Ever After.”  If not now, then.  And we can build it even in the storms of life.

Every human marriage has crisis times, moments of truth when one partner or both is tempted to give up.  Older married couples will admit that during these times they questioned the entire relationship.  Now, though, they retell the stories with humor and even nostalgia, for crises fit together into – indeed they helped form – a pattern of love and trust… The couple’s mutual response to stormy times was what gave their marriage its enduring strength. Phillip Yancy

 

 

Again….

July 15th, 2016

Our prayers go out to those families suffering following the Bastille Day attack in Nice France.

Overwhelming heartache yet again.

Evil does exist.  There is a darkness in the world.  There are dark places of our nature that strive towards cruelty.

And there is the opposite as well.  There is love and compassion.  There is a light in the world.  There are the better angels of our nature that strive towards kindness.  It is the message Christ lived.

Days like today are for simple messages….

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a great battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle ins between wolves inside us all.  One is evil – it is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, violence and lies.

The other is good – it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

The grandson thought about it for a minute then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”



The Painful Need to Respond to Violence

July 8th, 2016

We face an increasingly urgent and painful need to respond to violence.

Over the past few weeks…

  1. The largest mass shooting in American history in Orlando
  2. One of the largest single terrorist events in Iraq with over 200 killed in one bombing
  3. Serious concerns around the use of lethal force by police connected to race, the latest in Minnesota.
  4. 5 police killed in Dallas in an ambush style attack last night.
Our hearts break for all the above.
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These events … tragic. Conversations around them … polarizing.  And the issue of violence needs faced in meaningful ways beyond just a simple wish that the problems go away.
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The Christian response is both as promising as it is uncomfortable, as outrageous as it is hopeful.
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Such a response clearly calls on us to “love our enemies.”  Such a response clearly calls on us to do the work of repentance, not casting the problem ‘over there’ but doing the work we can do to bring healing, work that starts with ourselves and the communities we find ourselves in.  Such a response calls us simply to love even in the face of darkness.
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That is not a love bereft of accountability.  It is judicious and wise. It is a posture towards the world and its brokenness, a brokenness we witness in ourselves and others.  As such it is far from pain free.  Far from easy or safe.
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It becomes then a vocational love, vocational as in a calling.  A calling that we not only should but must care about others in tangible ways because a world where expanding cycles of violence proceed unchecked is too awful to contemplate.
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Remembering Orlando

June 14th, 2016

A sad week as many of us come to terms with the horrific shooting in Orlando that left 50 dead.

The hard part, for me, was the creeping, uncomfortable feeling that shootings like this indeed are the “new normal.” San Bernardino, Paris, Brussels, Charleston… one right after the other. And that list is without an even more horrific list for those caught in the violence of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Each new report of violence in some way – and hard words to find for this – somehow deadening us to the world around. Violence now the norm.

I don’t know but I can feel that slow shift in myself and I don’t like it.

This type of violence is not the norm. It is not what or who we are created to be. It degrades society, frays relationships, feeds ever widening spasms of hatred and retribution. All the things that we as Christians are called to stand against, allied with others from many faith traditions who hold to the same.

We are to stand. We are to stand against this darkness with love. Compassion. With a willingness to draw alongside of suffering in all its forms.

We are to speak. We are to speak of forgiveness. Of healing. Of a third way. Of moral imaginations able to chart new courses towards hope.

And that is what we can do.

That calls us to more than entertainment. To more than the next adventure. To more than the next must-have thing. It calls us to a deeper love, to, as the Greek in the Bible reads again and again, “agapé love”, a self-sacrificing love willing to embrace the greater good. The “we.” Serving there.

So this Sunday, we will light candles at the end of the service. We will gather. We will pray. We will remember.

Finding a Place of Peace in Growing a Church

June 10th, 2016

I love the concept of “The Stockdale Paradox”….

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.

AND at the same time…

You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Very similar to the concept of the prophetic voice, The Stockdale Paradox (a) grounds us in what is and (b) pulls us with hope to what can be.

So what is?

What is is that church growth is HARD.  There are few statistics out there that paint a rosy picture.  A recent article on the largest evangelical denomination, one centered firmly in the Southern “Bible Belt”, the Southern Baptist Convention, recently noted the following

  1. Last year, the SBC baptized about 295,000 people, down from about 305,000 baptisms in 2014.
  2. 2015 was the 9th year out of 11 that the SBC reported declining baptisms
  3. At the same time, SBC pastors planted almost 300 new churches, bringing the total number of SBC churches to about 46,800.
  4. Church membership dropped by about 204,000 people to 15.3 million, and average weekly attendance dropped by about 97,000 people to 5.6 million.
What is an equal reality is that some churches within denominations like the SBC are finding a way forward.  Every city has a least a few congregations that have hit on a formula that allows them to serve people and serve God in healthy, sustainable ways.  A few I have enjoyed in person or online are Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, North Point in Atlanta, and Watermark in Dallas.  All give reason to hope.
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The challenge is that these models grow out of deeply talented pastoral leadership, leadership able to both build viable structures and preach.  Not an easy combination.  And one that frankly leaves me often feeling bereft at my limitations.
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The Stockdale Paradox would say even those limitations are part of what is.
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The hope of NewChurch LIVE thriving is likewise a part of what is.
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It seems we can find peace there.  A peace in living with reality and with hope. And peace in living with those we love. Serving as best we can.  With reality and hope much closer than we might imagine.
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The Gift of Being Disillusioned

May 10th, 2016

It does not take long to search the Bible for examples of disillusionment in its many forms … person-to-person, and with God.

So what might be the gift of disillusionment?

Look at the word.  ”Dis” and “illusion.”  Disillusion is what rids us of our illusions.  That sure is neither a pretty nor pleasant process. But it is necessary.

St. John of the Cross based an invaluable Christian theology around it when he wrote of the “Dark Night of the Soul.”  Those “dark nights” as he held it were not there to crush us but were God’s endeavor to free us, to free us from views of God that were simply inaccurate, or in a softer holding, views of God that may have served us for a time but no longer serve us.

That may not make times of disillusionment easier to navigate through.  But maybe it does this … maybe it gives a sense of meaning and purpose to what can feel like a very dark time.

 

A Different Kind of “OK”

May 6th, 2016

Much of current culture is based on “Project Self” as described by Alan Mann in his book “Atonement for a Sinless Society.”

“Project Self” focuses myopically on self realization without any reference to Other/ others. As such it gravitates to the language of rights and away from the language of responsibilities.

The tools in that construction project are simple … (1) therapeutic liberation and (2) self-satisfying consumerism.   Both point back towards our own individual desires and tastes for their fulfillment sans the disruption of connectedness.  ”If I feel good about myself, all is well.”  ”If I get what I want, all is well.”

Inevitably “Project Self” fails as we come to feel increasingly estranged and divided, faced with the growing shadows and doubts around the apparent meaningless of it it all, insufficient relationships, and alienation from our fell man.

And, free as we are, we can choose differently. To simplify, imagine a “Project Connection”, a counter narrative, characterized by an enlivened self forgetfulness, in which we invite each other to that focuses on God, the world, others, and self.

The tools in this construction project are likewise simple … (1) Deep, humble, open connection and (2) Contagious, service-oriented generosity.

What results is shame free self-coherence. The image and likeness of God now alive, now moving through us.  A different kind of “Ok.”