Archive for September, 2011

Moving Beyond a Church of Personal Salvation and Traveling to Reading Pennsylvania

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

“The Church of Personal Salvation” represents the Siren song of religious endeavor.  The focus centers on the individual – on my view, my perspective, my need to “feel” spiritual.   Very easy to do and a trap I believe most if not all people interested in the spiritual journey can quickly fall into.  I certainly have on more than one occasion.

The religious experience can intoxicate.  It readily lifts us to heights of beauty and grandeur.  And there lies the temptation.  The mountaintop experience, in isolation, may well be important as a centering, a grounding, a moment of inspiration but it is NOT the Christian life.   If we fall prey to seeing the mountaintop experience as the Christian life we readily turn to a “Church of Personal Salvation.”  We will then search for churches that fill that self absorbed need to feel good versus churches that call all of us to do good.  From a Biblical perspective, this may well explain that just as the crowds form and grow, and adulation swells we find Jesus in the New Testament often simply moving along, going on His way.

Are you aware the poorest city in the entire country, as measured by the percentage of citizens living beneath the poverty line exists approximately an hour from where NewChurch LIVE is headquartered?   Read the article.  Reading Pennsylvania just surpassed Flint Michigan.

So the question, is who will hear a call?  How can we serve?  Are you the person who wants to organize a coat drive, food drive, dinner at a homeless shelter?   Maybe you are.  God needs us and He needs us to get it is not about us.   Show us the way!  chuck.blair@newchurchlive.tv

What As A Pastor I Really Want To Share

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Last night my son Gannon, aged 11, volunteered to quit school in order to save the family money.  (He attends a New Church elementary school.)  The year has not gotten off to an easy start for him so this bright fellow felt that it would (a) help him and (b) help the family finances.  I told him that though he might be happy with me now, he would surely be disappointed in me 10 years down the road.  And I believe that.

And I believe that there are things a Pastor needs to share that may actually be uncomfortable to share.   That discomfort comes from my ego frankly.  I want to be “liked” and saying challenging things means running the risk of being “disliked.”  What are those things that require sharing with this amazing congregation that in turn might put us in a good place maybe not today but maybe 10 years down the road?

Church Is Not Always Fun

We live in a consumer economy, one that creates an atmosphere of hyper-attentiveness to whether or not something “sells.”  Faith is a hard “sell” so many churches slowly, over time, and out of a legitimate concern for self preservation frankly lean towards “entertainment” over “engagement.”  Church offers environments of hope, healing, prayer etc… none of which frankly are all that sexy.  But they are real.  That means the simple act of showing up for the good series/ sermon as well as the bad series/ sermon is laudable.  It is a simple discipline.  Preaching requires a reaching to both ends of the spectrum – to those whose lives are in a place of celebration and those whose lives are in a place desperation.  Showing up for both supports both.

The World Is Changing

37% of all families in the US now live beneath the Poverty Line as compared to 5% of retirees.  The number of Americans living below the Poverty Line is now at all time high.  Global warming is real.  Governments in the Western Hemisphere are facing increasing stringent budget demands which in turn will limit government’s ability to address various social and economic issues.  We are approaching finite limitations.  These are real facts – structural limitations – and as John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things.”  And, the joyous blessing, is that we can be part of the answer.

We Can Be Part Of The Answer

We can part of the answer.  The success of NewChurch LIVE does not depend on the right music, the perfect sermon, the internet, funding from the General Church or foundations.  It depends on us.  We get to choose. We get to choose if we support the endeavor with our time, talent, and treasure.  If we as a group do that, we will be successful.  If we don’t, we won’t.  That is a very different perspective than that of church-as-entertainment.  As a congregation and community, we are not working for tips for a good performance.  We are working to be part of the answer.

New Church Christianity as a life style can be integral to a new framing.  Christianity offers a perspective, a way to hold the challenges moving forward.  It does not give specific programatic answers but Christ clearly addressed how to hold poverty – spiritual and physical – as well other issues facing us in 2011.

New Church Christianity calls us to stretch in pursuit of those answers.  Emanuel Swedenborg wrote in the book “True Christianity” that the failure to stretch means “our mind collapses in on itself” – a collapse we unfortunately experience as a narcotic, creating a happily detached sleep.

That being said, we can choose to stretch, to be awake, and in that stretch we will find joy, a joy that in turn provides a far greater “rest” and “peace” than doing nothing.

Closing

I read a recent article titled “What Your Congregation Most Wants You To Know.”  Loved the title and loved the first thing the article listed.  What a congregation most wants the pastor to know is that church is not the most important thing in their life.  I say to that – thank goodness!  My relationship with God, my spouse, and my kids all outrank my relationship with church.  I would imagine that should be true for all of us.

We should not then sacrifice our most important relationships to serve church.  And, that being said, church deserves our attention and financial backing.  With that help it in turn can support and enhance those relationships as well as lives of grace, meaning and beauty here on earth.  I imagine a day where Christianity flourishes anew, a flourishing that grows not out of an “entertainment” orientation but out of a candid, sober acknowledgment that Jesus actually knew what He was talking about, what He was living, and that His words guide, comfort, and heal in uncertain times.  This is what we can discover in one unique place – church.

What can you learn in 20 minutes?

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Returned this weekend to our old “home” – the Pocono Mountains.  We spent our first years as a couple and family here – teaching at Pocono Mountain High School.  It was the birthplace of friends and connections that last to this day.

We have so much impact on one another.  At times the blessing of that simple fact almost overwhelms.  This has been a week of it.  The 9/11 service gave birth to over a 100 connections.  And these connections -  many are very real – including grateful thanks as well as requests for prayers and just simple reaching out. Paulette, for example, sent a beautiful prayer for peace for her parents, one that just sang in my heart this morning.

And then there are the old Pocono Mountain students and swimmers from days gone past.  They are now often getting married (congratulations to Jenn and Pat who are getting married today!)  or now have children of their own.

Spent time last night with a dear family.  I used to teach Theresa – over 15 years ago. Her and her husband Neal are doing an incredible job raising a rather outgoing young son, Brayden, who is courageously moving forward through health challenges.  As a fellow Star Wars fan, I can safely say, “The Force” and “The Phillies” are with this crew!

And all of this just brings me to my knees.  Because the fact is, no matter how many times as a teacher or pastor I get thanked, I KNOW in an absolute way that I have received infinitely more than I ever gave.  You can’t be around the Walsh’s of the world and not think “courage” and “grace.”  You can’t be around Jenn and Pat and not think “joy.”  You can’t read Paulette’s prayer and not think “peace.”

So what can you learn in 20 minutes?  I sat by the lake for 20 minutes in simple prayer.  Of course my brain skittered away from the task at hand – distracted by silly in-my-brain debates and construction noise – but there were a few moments of quiet clarity, times where the beauty and majesty of God’s handiwork in this world gently spoke to a world far deeper than words.  It is a world that connects with Neal, Theresa, Brayden, Jenn, Pat and Paulette – with Life.  It breaths into that place of depth – where “deep meets deep.”   My normal hampster-wheel of ego driven noise is silent there.  And what do we learn in place?  Do you have 20 minutes?

“Honor the fallen by challenging the living.”

Monday, September 12th, 2011

We spoke on 9/11 about living into the 9/12 world.

The world is faced daily with “9/11′s” – acts of horrific violence perpetrated on innocent bystanders.  How we remember those events is critical to who we are.  We can build our memories and our lives around anger, hatred and revenge.  Or we can build memories and lives around love, compassion, and sacrifice. This is a stark choice in many ways.  And, we need to fully acknowledge that we get to decide.

We also get to decide what world we choose to live in.  What is that choice on 9/12/2011?  With deep humility I ask all of us to allow time to consider a question.   Imagine taking 15 minutes to write “The world I choose to live into on 9/12/2011 is ….”  There is no power that can keep us from answering that question and living into the answer as best we can.

At NewChurch LIVE, our hope is to create with God’s help a clear call to action, one in which we use Christianity not as a “membership” system but as a framing system for holding the world and moving towards a future in which we navigate via love, compassion, and sacrifice – which is the Christian model, and the footsteps of Jesus.

The invitation and yes, the challenge … Join us on that endeavor.  There are many opportunities just this week alone for starting that journey.

Women’s Vespers: On Tuesday night, September 13th, our Women’s Ministry is hosting a BBQ dinner and Vespers service at the NewChurch LIVE offices, 2790 Huntingdon Pike in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.  (Please park at the Mitchell Performing Arts Center if you are familiar with the area.)  Dinner is at 5:30.  Vespers is at 6:30 PM.  Feel free to attend one or both.

Strength: On Wednesday night, September 14th, join us at the NewChurch LIVE offices for our “Strength” program.  ”Strength” is a Christian New Church program oriented towards the 12 Steps that is designed to help those us with bad habits, hurts, and hangups.  Dinner begins at 5:45.  The program starts at 6:30.  Come for dinner or just the program.

Open Houses: We are offering a series of Open Houses to discuss mission, vision, as well as your dreams and stewardship of NewChurch LIVE.  The dates for the Open Houses are September 18th, September 22nd, September 27th, October 2nd, and October 5th.  Please contact angela.cooper@newchurchlive.tv for more information.

Do we know where we are going? Absolutely not.  We are a process church and as such our focus is on finding a way forward together as God gives us to see it.  That is not a “soft” call because to be a process church means engagement is of the utmost value.  Restated we must shift towards being creators not just consumers.  We do need to live into a 9/12 world.   Older models are reaching their natural limits and it is time to start asking the question “Is there a brighter future out there and am I being called by God to help form it?”  Let’s dream!  Let’s explore!  Let’s create!

A New Church View of Leadership

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

What kind of leadership should we exercise?

From a Christian New Church perspective it begins with a first-things-first approach.  That means a focus on service, plain and simple.  Leadership is not about self engradizement, self esteem, self discovery.  It instead centers on serving God through serving others.

As we step out in service and step into leadership roles as a way to accomplish that end what will we find over time?  Simply put – joy.  As the New Church theologian Emanuel Swedenborg phrased it, that joy grows from “shared experiences with others.”  As we serve into those service oriented “activities we love, our love for them grows, and along with that love comes wisdom about how to involve others.” (True Christianity pg. 192)  A little taste of heaven!

A Two Minute Sermon for the Pocono Mountain Class of 1994

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Wrote this for a great group of young people I had the privilege of teaching/ coaching at Pocono Mountain Senior High School:

Thanks for the kind comments.  You guys are out to make me cry!  Look, my two minute sermon … “You matter.  Make it count.”  Doing a baptism on Sunday and that is what I tell parents to whisper to their kids every night.  And we should whisper it to ourselves.  We are in the middle of such a big sea change.  The American dream is getting redefined away from defining “quality of life” in terms of stuff (or should I say “cheap plastic crap.”)  As we reach certain natural limits, it is going to take a lot of courage and idealism to shift.  And – ready for this – that shift may be one that is deeply blessed, deeply profound – transformational.  Speaking on it this Sunday.  You can listen live (I will give the class of ’94 a plug) online at www.newchurchlive.tv – 10:30 AM.  As I tell everyone we need to stop worrying about being “saved” and start concerning ourselves with the question of being “spent.”  Did we spend the few precious years we have on this planet to really make a difference in the worlds we touched?  How is that for an answer to a “So What?” quiz?  Wish all of you great blessings as you move forward in your lives.  Thanks for all you did for helping me and my family on our journey.