From the Pastor
"An Antidote for Anger"
Everyone sure seems mad these days. Turn on the television and you’re going to see two talking heads going at it. Go on social media and you’ll find even worse. Everyone has an opinion, and it’s a strong one. They simply know that they are right, anyone who disagrees with them is wrong, and if you don’t like, well…
Of course, this isn’t a new problem. People have been fussing and fighting with each other ever since Adam tried to blame Eve for that whole fruit incident. The church is, of course, no stranger to these arguments, fights, and disagreements. If you spend much time at all in the New Testament you’ll find this out, but you will also find some pretty good advice on better ways to deal with conflict.
Take, for example, Ephesians 4:1-3: “I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
We can tell, of course, that these are instructions for how we, as Christians, are to behave toward each other because the passage begins by talking about our calling and implores us to live a life worthy of that calling (which is probably worth a sermon or two, but I’ll save that for another day). But then it goes on to lift up several qualities that should define our relationships with each other. Qualities like humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, maintaining the unity of the Spirit, and the bond of peace.
The question, of course, is this: are these the qualities that we display in those moments of disagreement, those moments when we are sure we are right and the other is wrong? Do we “look” like the people described here, or do we look more like those talking heads on television?
It’s difficult, of course. It’s not easy to live this way. But maybe if we did at least our little corner of the world might be a better place.
"Misfits and Messes"
I sometimes wonder what it must have been like for those early disciples in the days between Easter and Pentecost. Waiting, wondering, and watching, not sure what to expect, what their future might hold. I’m sure there were doubts. Were they up to the task of building the church? How could a messed up bunch of misfits and societal outcasts really do anything for God? At every turn, it seems, they had done little more than mess things up. In other words, they were a mistake waiting to happen.
Perhaps, at times, we feel like that too. Our best intentions, our strongest attempts to be the kind of people Christ wants us to be, winds up leaving us, beaten, battered, and bruised. We are so often Christian misfits as well.
One of my favorite Christian misfits is Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. In her book “Accidental Saints,” she speaks about this:
“I keep making mistakes, even the same ones over and over. I repeatedly attempt (and fail) to keep God and my fellow humans at arm’s length. I say no when I should say yes. I say yes when I should say no. I stumble into holy moments not realizing where I am until they are over. I love poorly, then accidently say the right thing at the right moment without even realizing it, then forget what matters, then show tenderness when it’s needed, and then turn around and think of myself way too often. I simply continue to be a person on whom God is at work.” (Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Accidental Saints,” Convergent Books, 2015)
It’s the last line there that really speaks to me. “I simply continue to be a person on whom God is at work.” It speaks to me because, in the midst of the messes, doubts, and fears in which we live, this is the part that we so often forget. Yes, we are misfits, yes we will stumble and fall and hurt ourselves and others. But God is not finished with us yet. God is still working on us.
And because God is still working on us, that also means that God is still with us in the middle of our messes. Sometimes, we need to remember that.
Yours in Christ,
"What Does Easter Mean?"
We often forget that Easter is not only a day in the church year, but is a season as well, a season in which we remember and focus upon the resurrection of our Lord, and what that means for us and for the world.
But what, exactly does it mean?
To be honest, I’m not sure we always “get” Easter. Perhaps we get bogged down in Easter baskets and bunnies and colored eggs, and somewhere in the middle of all that we know that there is something more, something deeper, and more real, and more powerful than all of this. But what, truly, are we speaking of here?
Well, simply put, the message of Easter is this: Christ has risen. Christ was dead, he was buried, but the tomb could not hold him, and because of him the tomb cannot hold us either. It cannot hold us when we die, but note this as well: it cannot hold us now.
This indeed is what Jesus promised before he died, a promise that seemed at the time totally incredible, a matter, at best, of metaphor, and hyperbole, but which, because of the first Easter morning, we now know to be true.
I want you to think about this: What if, on that first Easter morning, when that stone was rolled away from the tomb, it wasn’t just to let Jesus out? After all, God could have brought Jesus out of that tomb any way God wanted to. What if instead that stone was rolled away from the tomb to let us in, to let us see in there like those first disciples so that we, like them, might know that the tomb is empty, and that death is not the end — but rather a new beginning.
A beginning that proclaims the victory of life over death. A beginning that allows us to turn our backs on the grave and set our faces toward a future with faith and hope, joy and love. A beginning that allows us to even now in this place to live lives that have been resurrected by the power of God.
That is the truth of this day and this season: The tomb is empty. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.
Yours in Christ,
“We want to grow!”
That’s a phrase that is heard around many, perhaps most churches. There is no surprise in that, after all I don’t think there are many churches that are intentionally trying to get smaller! I wonder, however, if we have really taken the time to think about the “what” and the “why” of church growth. So I’d like to take a moment or two and unpack these ideas a bit.
First, the “why.” Why do we want to grow? Sadly, in many churches, the answer has to do with numbers. In other words the thinking goes something like this: “We are running out of people and money so we had better do something before it’s too late.” The problem with this thinking is that it is too pragmatic, it lacks a spiritual component. While this kind of thinking might be fine for a club or social organization, it’s not for the church. The why behind church growth must rest on our desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world. In other words, we have a message so wonderful that we want others to hear that message.
That still leaves the question however of “what.” What do we mean when we talk about a church growing? I think the answer lies in the idea of growing “deep” and “wide.” By deep I mean that if we want to grow then we must place a strong emphasis on spiritual growth. We must be growing deeper in our walk with God each and every day and we must make that a priority in our individual lives and in our life together as the Body of Christ.
By wide I mean the welcoming of new members through the sharing of the good news. Again, this is not numbers for numbers sake, but rather the reaching out and welcoming of a broad range of people - people who are hungry to hear some good news for a change, inviting them in, and making them a part of our fellowship.
Is this easy? In a word “no.” To do this we must examine all our actions to see if they are working to facilitate this growth. By actions I mean everything from decisions of the Session and Committees, to individual decisions we make, conversations we have, and so forth. We must ask if these actions are serving the goal of building up the Body of Christ or are they tearing it down? Are our actions helping to grow the church or reduce it?
A simple way to put this is the following question: Will this action help our church to grow deep and wide? You will be hearing more about this question in the coming weeks and months. Also you may have noticed that there are already a couple of signs posted around the church with this question. I want to keep this question front and center for our congregation as we look toward the future God has prepared for us, and I believe that it will help us to more clearly discern that future.
In closing, please allow me to take a moment and thank all of you for your Christmas gift to me and my family. I was very deeply touched by your generosity and the love you demonstrated through this gift. I hope that we will have many more holiday seasons together!
Yours in Christ,
“I hate New Year’s Day”
That’s what a friend told me recently. I greeted their words with a healthy dose of incredulity. After all, who could hate a day given over to non-stop football and the copious consumption of pork products? I wish everyday could be like that!
“No, no, that’s not what I’m talking about,” they said. “It’s all those resolutions. Every year I start out with a list of the ways that I am going to be different, the ways that I’m going to be better, and every year, usually only a few days in, those resolutions have long gone.”
Well, it’s a familiar problem, isn’t it? Most of us have been in the same place. Big promises! Bold decisions! New Year! New me! We start out thinking that we will reinvent ourselves this year but somehow, each time, those resolutions slip away one by one, leaving us right back where we started from. Instead of New Year, new me, we end up with same old, same old.
As someone once told me, “If I had lost all the weight I had set out to lose I’d be invisible by now.”
All of this makes me wonder if we might be looking for “newness” in the wrong place. It seems to me that all this business about resolutions too often focuses on what “we” can do, what “we” are capable of, what “we” are able to achieve. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to be said for self-improvement, self-discipline, and hard work. But none of that will produce a “new me.” I might end up with a “better me,” a “thinner me,” a “happier me,” but a “new me?” I’m not so sure.
In Isaiah 43:19 God says this: “I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” I like that. First of all, I like it because the focus is on what God is doing, the newness that God is bringing into the world, into the church, into our lives. That’s a very different kind of newness than what we can bring. Second, I like it because God is bold enough to ask if we have even bothered to notice. Most of the time I don’t think we do. We don’t because we are so wrapped up into ourselves that we lack the vision, the perception, to see what God is doing, even when God is acting right there in front of our noses.
You know what I think would be a great New Year’s resolution? To fully embrace, look for, and actively seek the new thing that God is doing. To set aside past hurts, past grudges, past failures, past brokenness, and embrace the “new” that God brings. Not just once a year on January 1st, but each and every day.
Yours in Christ,