Work and Wait

May 21st, 2015

Perseverance.  A gift.

With all things we love, we can expect those very things to be attacked.  The greater the love, the greater the attack.  That I believe is why so many of us struggle in marriage and struggle with family.  Imagine it this way … hard to get upset about those things where we are at best indifferent.  Easy to get upset about things around which we care a great deal.

Enter perseverance.

Perseverance simply says “Stick with it.”  It calls us to trust in God’s bigger story, in God’s larger truth.  It moves us beyond the fog of emotion, distortion, anxiety, and obsessiveness and simply says “work” and “wait.”

Perseverance brings us home.

The Decline In Christianity And What We Can Do About It

May 15th, 2015

A recent study by the Pew Foundation noted a widely commented on phenomena – that Christianity is declining in the United States.

None of the results of the survey surprise.

So for those who find in Christianity a life giving faith, humbly pointing outward in service, embedded with the ability to not only transform lives but society, what is there to do?

Some would answer – time for church to change. Agreed.  There is much to change.  Andy Stanley’s poignant line, “Most churches are answering questions people are not asking” summarizes neatly the bedrock claim to change. Churches tend to wed themselves to a certain liturgical approach well divorced from the needs of the congregation.  That approach in turn becomes the reason d’etre for the church’s existence as it seeks to define itself not by its interface with the world but by its form of worship.  So churches and the pastors that lead them bear a degree of responsibility to change.

Others would answer – time for parishioners to change.  Time for us to reclaim that Christianity is a religion of service and of sacrifice.  Sacrifice is a hard claim given our cultural penchant for consumerism and a desired “ease-of-use” Christianity where there is little behind the curtain.  Where little is asked and the easiest way to build a church appears to be the greased and easy way of the prosperity gospel.  So parishioners bear a degree of responsibility to change.

And what would I answer?  What do I believe we can do?

Lets live it.  Lets live this faith.

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. (Matt. 5:41)

 

Can we trust God?

May 14th, 2015

Obviously, the simply answer is “yes.”

But how?  What does trust look like?  How can we trust when much of our world and much of lives appears so deeply broken?

Maybe part of the answer is understanding trust differently.

Starts, possibly, with this.  Trusting and testing – two different things.  Trusting God is not a matter of laying out our “case” and seeing if God comes through.  That speaks too much of our agenda and leaves too little room for God’s.  It also makes God’s love a completely conditional endeavor.

Trusting is more then a matter of the heart.

Swedenborg, in writing of Christ, held that He completely trusted in an ultimate victory.  However that trust was not built on a case.   It was based on intention. The intention … “salvation of the entire human race … motivated by pure love.”  (Secrets of Heaven 1812)

Fascinating.

So trust can be felt, trust can come come alive when we turn, when we recenter our lives around purposeful love.  Recenter our lives on extending care. Extending care out into the world.   A movement away from testing and towards trusting.

There is so much as a pastor for which there are no answers.  And even where answers fail, trust still lives.

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

The Nature of Failure and Ministry

May 13th, 2015

Much is being written today on the nature of failure and ministry.

One author, after attending a church growth seminar, noted how the presentations were “flawless and the drive home crappy” because the polished and glitzy nature of those very presentations left him feeling guilty, insecure, and an utter failure.

Through bruising loss and set back upon set back, this pastor came to see that the goal should not be “success” but “faithfulness” – faithfulness to the mission regardless of outcome.  What occurred in turn for him was a rather profound transformation where the dominoes of (a) failure followed by rejection followed by shame were replaced with (b) failure that led to yielding that led to acceptance that led to an honoring.

Pastoring, in the end, at its best, is about helping us all to value the right things, to heed and hear God’s voice, to do the work God has given us to do.  First things first.  Remembering why.  Why we are here – a loving faithfulness to God and other. Calling us to faithfully do this thing called “church.”

 

 

What if it were really all that simple?

May 8th, 2015

How does God see different faiths?  The New Church perspective …

God does not differentiate religious movements by their doctrine … but by the way their members live what is taught.  All doctrine – if it is true doctrine – looks to a life of love as its fundamental principle.  What is the point of doctrine but to teach us how to be human?   [If we put] love for God and serving others as the chief concern of faith… one church would come out off all the different churches … and the Lord’s kingdom would come on earth. (Secrets of Heaven 1799)

What if it were really that simple?

Unrest in Baltimore and “Us”

April 28th, 2015

Upsetting to watch the unrest in Baltimore. Hard to hold.  These events readily pit us against us.  The need for law and order.  The need for racial justice.  Are those demonstrating thugs or demonstrators?  Are the police oppressors or protectors? We line up very easily on either side of the divide, well armed with labels.

And I believe Christianity again and again calls for a third way, a place beyond simple labels, where we return to seeing each other again.  A way between the poles.  It is a way of gentleness and mercy.

My mercy will not withdraw from you, and the compact of my peace will not recede. (Isaiah 54:10)

Emanuel Swedenborg noted that this “mercy and the compact of peace are the Lord and everything he is.” (Secrets of Heaven, 666)

There is clearly, for the safety of all, a need to reclaim order in the streets of Baltimore. There is clearly a need to search candidly for truth in the death of Freddie Gray while held in police custody.  There is clearly a need for a broader conversation around why so many cities appear to be such tinderboxes.

And there is clearly a need to speak to mercy and to peace.  Without it, there is no “us.”

25 “Cues” For The Week That Will Come When You Hear “I just….”

April 20th, 2015

God speaks.  Speaks all the time.  Rarely in the form of the clouds parting and visions of light but often in quieter forms of simple conversation.  This week that means paying attention, paying attention to God’s voice in the voice of others.  It might well come in the form of a quiet request for connection, at times of joy or times of grief, with the words “I just….”

  1. I just can’t handle what is going on in my life.  I need a break.
  2. I just had a baby
  3. I’m just concerned.  I know I will miss this congregation if we move out of state
  4. I just lost my job
  5. I just want some balance in my life
  6. I just miss my child
  7. I just feel like I am done
  8. I just want to feel SOMETHING
  9. I just feel so alone
  10. I just want to be a good person, can’t do it any more, appreciate everything I have, want to find peace within myself, learn to love myself.
  11. I just can’t hold on anymore
  12. I just had a good day
  13. I just like Pizza (:-))
  14. I just want peace
  15. I just feel helpless
  16. I just need a hug
  17. I just need a break
  18. I just want to know why
  19. I just want to know how
  20. I just don’t know how to do this
  21. I just wanted to help
  22. I just need somebody to talk to
  23. I just had hip surgery
  24. I just lost my dad
  25. I just got married
Hear these words.  Pay attention to the clues.  Be the church!

Monica Lewinsky Has Something Important To Say

April 17th, 2015

Monica Lewinsky has something important to say.

We live in an era where technology and the human proclivity to simple cruelty have combined in ways overtly toxic.  And we get to choose differently.

That choice clearly carries with it spiritual overtones as we seek to find ways to love, as we seek ways to embody mercy. That bedrock level of mercy must be the “vital essence” of all truth, the vital core of all we do.  Why?  Because….

If divine truth were all there was, not a soul could be saved, since eternal truths damn everyone to hell.  Divine benevolence, which is merciful, lifts everyone from hell to heaven.  (Secrets of Heaven 1728)

So take a look at her TED Talk.

Have a conversation.  Pass it on.

Grace For The Season We Are In

April 14th, 2015

Thinking much about Peace. How do we discover, uncover, live in Peace?  I love the idea in the midst of broken lives somehow we can find “the grace of the season we are in.”  That peace is discovering grace in that season, whatever season that might be.

Weeks fill this way … moments of deep blessings.  A new baby arrives.  A couple calls about a wedding. A son texts a message of sweet connection. And weeks fill this way… moments of deep breaking.  Someone dies.  A couple calls about divorce.  A daughter texts a message of broken heart.

And if I am honest, I am addicted to one season, and one season alone. Summer.  I crave clear skies and warmth and relaxation. Away.  Away from it all.  Loving only in bounty.  And that is not the truth of human experience, your’s or mine.   Nor is it as much a gift as I would imagine.

All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. (Anne Lamott)

So the journey is to find the God given grace in the season we are in.  That I imagine is more than the silver lining.  More than the “one good thing.”  More than is the glass half full or half empty.  It is grace. In every moment.  God’s good gift.  Sweet and vulnerable.  And somehow always pointing to love.

Always Suffering. Always Winning

April 10th, 2015

Always suffering.  Always winning.  Two “always” that maybe, in some way, form a key to understanding the Christian life.

It is a life of suffering.  Hard for it not to be.  The call is – really is – to place ourselves as outliers within the broader culture. Not as warriors against common culture but, as Shane Claiborne phrased it, as “a peculiar alternative” to common culture.  ”In the world but not of the world.” That means placing ourselves away from the comfort and self-reinforcing walls we tend to erect in our pursuit of what is safe, what is secure. And placing our full and undefended lives in areas of need.

It is life that is always winning as well.  Hard for it not to be.  The call is – really is – to accept that there is bigger plan beyond ours.  And rest there.  Rest in the peace that “passes all understanding”, a peace not based on circumstances but based on a soul-level, grounded peace that simply knows.  Knows God’s presence.  Knows God’s enduring love. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:23)

Words may well fall short in describing how suffering and peace come together.  Maybe all one can say is this … they do.  And that is the holiness of the struggle.