Archive for December, 2015

What Is Wrong With Church Today?

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

“What is wrong with church today?”  Whether a question or a statement, it leaves me feeling uneasy.

Recently I pulled a Podcast where the host ticked off his list of the current failings of churches, a list that ranged from a flawed theology to clubishness. And I get it. But to stop there seems premature.

For I know this … I am part of church that does many things right.  We are blessed with a theology that doesn’t trip on many of the normal places where contemporary Christian theology can easily fall.  We hold deeply to a loving God, manifested in Christ who shows us how to live in such a way that will return us to our truest God given selves, a self made in God’s image and likeness.  An angel.

We are likewise blessed with a congregation that shares a clear un-clubishness as well as a service orientation.  Rarely do we struggle with getting volunteers to help the many non-profits we are connected with.  And we are blessed with many wonderful and welcoming small groups.

We likewise have great music – if I do say so myself – maybe the best of any local church. And the preaching – because of its team-based approach – is highly relevant, God centered and maybe even on a rare occasion inspiring. :-)

There is little, if one goes by the Podcast list, not to like. We simply have addressed many of those flaws, flaws well known in the church world for the past two decades.

And yet growing this church is a constant struggle as a well as a constant blessing.  We have grown, slowly and steadily.  And it has taken immense work to do it.  Three steps forward, two steps back.

So what gives?  Why so hard?

What I think “gives” is this.  Churches and the pastors who lead them hold much responsibility for their demise, a demise that marks make growing a congregation challengning.  And that does not leave the other half of the equation free from responsibility either … society at large, congregations, people.

I love the way Miroslav Volf puts it. Volf notes that we act a great deal like the “last man”, a “last man” who in a completely secularized world has finally “invented happiness” and so is…

    1. Weary of great striving

    2. Obsessed with comfort and safety

    3. Dreaming petty dreams

    4. Enjoying unsubstantial pleasures

    5. Entertaining ourselves to idiocy while imaging ourselves the measure of humanity

Those are harsh words but maybe we need to hear them.  I can certainly say at the very least I need to hear them.  And maybe we need to hear them because part of all of us knows better.  Knows there is a focal point beyond the mundane realities where our souls soar.  Where love is present and forms the very ground of reality.  Where joy permeates lives in such a way that we feel the true freedom of lives both lifted beyond and at home with circumstances, circumstances that are often dark.
What is wrong with Church today?  We are.  As a whole.
And what is the remedy?  We are.  As a whole.
There is so much here folks.  Christmas Eve.  A divorced mom separated from kids for the Holidays.  Invited to dinner after the service by another family. That brings to tears.  That is caring and concern and sacrifice and love and joy. It is Christianity at its glowing best.   That small miracle – beyond an invented, entertainment-doused happiness. The real deal.
Join us in 2016.  We need you.

Our Money Story And A Few Lessons Learned

Saturday, December 26th, 2015

A truism working with couples is that the three greatest sources of stress are money, sex, and household chores.  Not that all arguments center on one of these three, but many arguments do.

So what about money?

Keene and I both turned 50 this year.  Our financial history is turbulent.  We got married, immediately bought a new car and rented a full 3 bedroom house way outside our means.  The low point came when I took out a loan to pay interest on a second loan.  That simply could not continue.

Change started shortly thereafter when I told my friend Brent I was nearly done with car payments was ready then to trade it in on a new car (and new car payments.)  He said very calmly, “You do realize Chuck you don’t need to buy a new car.”   That thought had NEVER occurred to me. I took Brent’s advice, and so began our journey to being debt free, outside of mortgage debt.

Debt free means just that.  We pay cash for everything.  Nothing goes on cards.  Nothing does on installments or layaways. If we want it, we save for it.  That includes car replacement. That includes vacations including a Disney vacation just a few years back.  That includes tuition payments for our kids.  (We pay for the first two years of college.  They pay for the last two.)

To keep us remain debt free, we put $500.00 a paycheck away into a savings account for emergency money.  We tap that account often.  We also have a third account where extra income goes from extra jobs.  Very, very simply, systems and restrained spending have had a huge impact.

  1. We have largely done it on my full time income and my wife’s part time income.  We are very average earners.  Most of your households make far far more than ours.
  2. We have 5 kids.  All of have gone to private schools and had/ will have 2 years of college paid for. Tuition assistance at the school has been an immense and blessed help.  And we had the $ to make up the difference.
  3. We have saved well about the national average for retirement.
  4. We have made enough to have an invest property that we rent.
  5. We are able to generously gift including tithing to our church and supporting other non-profits.
So what would I offer to couples?  Here is what has worked for us…
  1. Stay out of debt.  Cut up the cards.  Keep one for emergencies. Always pay off the balance.
  2. Pay cash for everything.  If you want to do something great.  Save for it.
  3. Shop at thrift stores for clothing.
  4. Earning more DOES NOT  mean “now we can spend more.” It means now we can gift more and save more.
  5. 10%: Put 10% per paycheck into an emergency fund, 10% into a retirement fund, and gift/ tithe 10% to a church, synagogue, temple, non profit.
Nothing complicated here.  Just a simple valuing of giving and saving over spending, priorities supported by a system to ensure that happens.




Why we need churches

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Why do we need churches? We need churches because we need options. Simple.

In the midst of one author termed the “whirlwind of postmodern deconstruction” those options, those ‘counters’ are so important.  The simple need evidenced dramatically during this Advent season.

Our tradition is this … 4 weeks of Advent means 4 weeks of parishioners sharing written prayers.  Again and again the prayers touch.  A desire for purpose, and healing.  Release from fear, from addiction.  A longed for hope to find love and joy. A reaching for God.  A reaching for others. A reaching out of or in spite of the “whirlwind.”

The “whirlwind” knocks down much.  Collapses many things often with the simple satirical bit that we have somehow “outgrown” church as a culture.  Evolved past it.

But I don’t believe that.  I need an option.  I need church.  I need connections with others who feel the same. And who act. Who serve. Who gather to support one another and bend to the suffering of the world. Who see in Christianity not something quaint or outdated or old fashioned but something creative, vibrant, meaning filled.  Something that maybe, just maybe presents a wonderful centering, a firm ground of purpose.

Even in the midst of a “whirlwind.”

Part in Heaven. Now and Always.

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Part of you.  Part of me.  That part is in heaven. Now and always.

Many days cloud that simple truth.  And many days, if even for a blessed moment, reveal it.

From the author Thomas Merton…

March 19, 1958: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness … I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate….”

Emanuel Swedenborg captured the big picture simply and well. “The spiritual world is right where we are, not distanced from us in the least…. as far as the deeper levels of our minds are concerned we are all in that world, surrounded by angels.”  (Divine Love and Wisdom, 92)

We may not often see it.  Often hidden in fog.  But at other times … there.


Knowing it loud. Knowing it clear.

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

I love old cemeteries. Such wonderful reminders.  Life is precious.  Life is short.  An eternal connection to God celebrated through hundreds of years.   History of our experience, right there. Heaven.

It is a place, for me, where I know things loud.  And clear.

We don’t build churches with cemeteries anymore.  We build them with parking. For traffic “flow.”  Something in that says something I think.

And what I know as well standing in those old places that feel like home is that we need voices.  Voices willing to gather and say that love is hard and challenging.  And in the end, the only choice. That the cause to speak is a cause for anguish as Martin Luther King put it.  But that speak we must.  And act we must.

Act in a way that brings healing to the world.  Act in a way that draws us closer to the suffering in the world – our own and that of our brothers and sisters.  Act in a way that brings its own form of revelation.  Act in a way that somehow draws from joy and draws from sacrifice.

We don’t counter the darkness in the world with more Sunday sports.  Or better Saturday football coverage.  Or more stuff. Or lower gas prices. Or easier lives.

We counter it by standing for light.  Humbly shepherding the light.  As best we can,a s God gives us to see it, in this short, precious life.

San Bernadino

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Our hearts break for the loss of life in San Bernadino.  What for many of us feel like a tragic new “normal.”

Yesterday I spent working on Christmas.  On sermons and messages.  And one message, crystal clear, in the story…

The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. (Isaiah)

Does this feel like a dark time?  Yesterday certainly did.

And that actually is the time Christ arrives.  Prophetically. In our hunger, in our emptiness, in our wondering, in our suffering.

We start this week lighting the Advent candles.  One a week for four weeks. Symbolizing Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. And we need to remember this … those 4 words were how Christians sought to capture the very essence of their faith. So significant that traditionally the first candle celebrated the beginning of the new liturgical/ religious year.

One candle. Of hope. In the midst of the darkest time of year.