Archive for March, 2012

A Second Conversion

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Church ended well.  The weekend started with a trip to the Pittsburgh Ronald McDonald House, wound through a Saturday night presentation to a gathered group on the changes in church functions moving forward, and ended with Sunday worship – a group of 85 of us in a small country church.

The congregation is going through all the pangs of finding a way forward in uncertain times.  Full time pastor?  Video services?  Traditional? Contemporary?

And yet the feelings underneath the “noise” are all true – true across churches small and large, growing and contracting, home and institutional.  Feelings that speak to God’s presence.

Many moments throughout the weekend left an impact – a testimony to that presence.  One in particular was a first time attendee to that church.  A middle aged man, he pulled me aside after the church.  Tears in his eyes, a tremble in his voice, – a man who had struggled with the concept of “God” – he told me he felt something cracking open in his heart.  We prayed.

There are few words to offer in the face of grace, in the presence of Spirit.  His face part of a phase many go through – a second conversion – a death and birth.  I smile at these well written words:

“The New Testament is a brutal destroyer of human illusions.  If we follow Jesus and don’t end up dead, it appears we will have some explaining to do.”

So I don’t know where this “second conversion” will lead him.  I don’t know what the future holds.  I do know once our hearts start to break open, there is no going back.  He may or may not realize it – but he is goner in a sense.  That breaking will grow.  The fissures will widen.  Eventually God will claim him to a new life.  A light that never turns Green, unexpectedly shifts.  Welcome to SURPRISE!

 

 

The Wider Project We Are Called To Is About Conduct Not Issues

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

This political season we have witnessed the distasteful convergence of Faith and Issues, a dangerous synergy that appears to add all too readily to caustic rhetoric and hyperbole.  And that is not to say that Faith and Issues are disconnected either.  What it is to say that our primary focus has to come from questioning what Christian conduct looks like and then allow that life in turn to shape responses to particular issues.   That allows Christianity to be compassionately curious vs. righteously certain.  And it allows for an expansive definition of conduct beyond what we tend to pigeonhole it as today, specifically sexual ethics.  Christ talks much more about a whole lot of other stuff – the “weightier matters” as He phrased it.

Reading the work of Paul is fascinating as he seeks to grow the Christian Church.  Note his words from Romans, words which clearly point to both primacy and definition of Christian conduct.

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. [fn3] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” [fn4] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I think this type of statement is the touch stone for Christian conduct.  Granted some of the language is perplexing – i.e. “heap burning coals on his head” – however can you hear the underlying song?  It is one of clear compassion, love, and acceptance.  That keeps first-things-first and allows us to collect ourselves into a centered perspective from which to view the issues before us.   Important to note in the New Church, this is why we avoid passing edicts on a particular issues.  At times unfortunately that is heard (and practiced) as disempowered detachment.  At its best however, such a caution should really be a call to go to first principles and from there approach issues with the overwhelming power of grace, compassion, and humility that is central to Christianity.  Then we are really on a mission!  Not “on the warpath”  but on a mission.

 

 

God doesn’t always use rules to get God’s plans accomplished.

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

God is more than rules.  Rules are helpful, functioning as guard rails as it were.  And God uses more than just guard rails to move us forward our journey Home.

He uses people.  That has been an epiphany of sorts for me, one coming clearer and clearer as an increasingly percentage of work here at NCL is done by others. Our ideas, many of which come from others, are rarely the sole possession of the Pastor.  Starting with Shada, an amazing volunteer, and filtering down’/ out/ around – that is how we build stuff.  Glenn with systems.  Dean with Marketing.  Jessica with Stewardship. Ruth with Leadership – the list goes on and on creating a self perpetuating momentum that is palpable when the Pastor no longer is the “choke point,”  limiting the congregation to just a few paltry “puffs” of work.

It is odd sometimes to observe because when I watch, at times, I realize I am NOT needed, and even may slow the work down!  And laity driven vs. pastor driven teams are how NewChurch LIVE will grow in service.  That is in God’s plan.  If we are to truly “step to plate” it will take team driven, volunteer centered, and impassioned engagement of all us bringing our gifts to the table. Like heaven, the more people the greater the perfection.