Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Post Script to Church Without Walls

"Now why are you doing this?" (merchant on Cole Street after having had their sidewalk swept and powerwashed and their windows washed)

"I think that is so cool. I have never heard of a church doing this." (a barista at Starbucks)
"Sure you can have food. I know what it's like to be hungry." (neighborhood man when our young families group came to his door to collect food for the food bank)

Those are just some of the comments received from members of the community on Sunday when our church family went out to serve for our FAITH IN ACTION SUNDAY.

Some people did yard work at the Senior Center. Others wrote letters to soldiers in Iraq. Some took food to a campground where several homeless families are living. Some collected food, others bagged bulk food into smaller portions for the food bank. People wrapped presents for teen moms, some prayed in the sanctuary; one family went out and picked up trash in several of the city parks. In all over 200 people participated in this.

As we gathered for a send off service of prayer and singing, the sanctuary was alive with anticipation and excitement. One of our own members said that there was a feeling of electricity pulsing through the place. There were small children and many elderly members - all there together to affirm that we are a church without walls, a congregation that doesn't simply want to talk about serving, but wants to join in one heart to be a transformational influence on our community.

More than one of our own members was moved to tears at the thought of such a concerted effort to give up on weekend of worship services for ourselves so that we could go and serve in Jesus' name.

Despite some of the fears and apprehensions that people had, it turned out to be a great day. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 100:2 "Worship the Lord in gladness." Some of the translations have "serve the Lord in gladness." The truth is that serving is worship and worship is serving. A believer cannot worship without serving and vice versa. And that worship takes many different forms. Paul said "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the father through him." (Colossians 3:17)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Church without Walls

I've been reading a book recently. The title is UnChristian and its given me a lot to think about. It is a researched look at the views that 16 - 29 year olds who are not part of the church (called outsiders) have about Christianity and the church. It's pretty discouraging. We have not done very well - the research shows that most "outsiders" see the church as intolerant, closed, and out of touch with the real world. I don't know - maybe the outsiders are right. Maybe we in the church has spent so many years focusing on our own stuff, we have become out of touch and unconcerned about the world outside.

I've also been reading and rereading the accounts of the early church in Jerusalem in the days and months right after Pentecost. Those Christians were the outsiders; the aliens. They were the ones whose lives and faith didn't match the world in which they lived but began to transform it anyway.

Guess what? They turned their world upside down without the aid of big sanctuaries or big church campuses. Instead, they met in each others homes for meals, for worship, for prayer and fellowship. Yeah, they also met regularly in the temple courts. But the real action took place away from there. Doctor Luke tells us that these first Christians "enjoyed the favor of all the people.

Is the church a building? Is it pews, stained glass, or church organs? Or is it people; people who are so committed to Christ and each other, that not only do they like to gather together in one place to worship, they are committed to living out the faith each day in places of work, neighborhoods, schools, parks, stores - wherever they happen to be.

That conviction is what has propelled our church family - Calvary Presbyterian - to step outside its comfort zone and its sanctuary to be the church in the world. We call it Faith In Action Sunday. Over 150 people are participating by collecting food for the food bank, doing yard work and window washing for the local Senior and tutoring center, writing letters to soldiers in Iraq and serving lunch to folks living in a homeless camp.

Will anyone come to our church because of this? I don't know. I guess that's not the point. Will anyone become a Christian because they saw us serving? It would be cool. But that's up to the Lord. What is awesome is that so many of us in our family of faith see the church as not just a service we go to once a week but a way of life that exhibits itself out in the world.

St. Francis made a famous statement once. "Preach a sermon every day. If necessary use words." So I guess I won't worry about the fact that I don't get to preach to a group of congregants this weekend. Instead, they get to preach an even more powerful message to the world by modeling the faith through service.

So for tonight, I will sign off. It's time to go grab another cup of coffee and enjoy a Saturday night without a church service. Tomorrow we experience "the church without walls."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

These are a few of my least favorite things

Dark dreary days that become even darker when the sun goes down earlier and earlier;

walking into a meeting or a building feeling like you've just been hosed down because of the hard, steady rain;

having to do year-end personnel reviews for staff;

"Dancing with the Stars;"

having to head home after a relaxing, but too short, trip (especially on our boat)

being so far from grandkids (and their parents)

60 hour work weeks that still leave you with the realization you could have done more;

such busy schedules that Judy and I don't get much time together;


three putting;

rain gutters clogged with wet, soggy leaves;

stock indexes whose declines look steeper than any downhill ski course;

going to a meeting and realizing you have a greasy spot on your shirt from something you spilled at lunch;

writer's block;

These are a few of my least favorite things!

Oh, oh, wait a minute. The sun just came out and warm rays of light are streaming into my study. Maybe my list was a bit of overstatement. Maybe I am not that "down" as I thought. maybe I do have something positive to say.

Maybe those of you who don't live in the Northwest during the winter months have a hard time relating to what has been termed SAD or seasonal affective disorder. I guess I didn't realize that light and sun and warmth were so important to me.

I really have a lot to be thankful for. Last night's study and discussion at the MINT was invigorating as usual; I had a great "theological discussion/debate" with a friend in Starbucks this morning; I got to attend Rotary at lunch and hear a great program; I have a wonderful staff that are colleagues with whom I find great joy in sharing ministry; and I have scheduled a rehearsal of our Jazz septet this evening. Those are all just a few of my most favorite things and they outweigh the other list by far (not to mention the fact that Judy is really good about not ever making me sit with her to watch "Dancing with the Stars."

I still wish I had more time with her(Judy); that I could be on the water more; that I could spend alot more time with our families in Chicago and Phoenix and that there could be warm, long, summery days even in November. But on the whole, my life is really pretty good and when I think about all the good things, in the words of Lerner and Lowe in the musical "The Sound of Music," then I don't feel so bad.

I think I'll step outside for a few moments and soak some of that sun up before it disappears again for several days!

"Summing it all up friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious- the best not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse...and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies." (Philippians 4: 8,9 THE MESSAGE)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Six Degrees of Separation?

We just got back from Gig Harbor - one of our favorite, close in cruising destinations. It seems that, with our trip to Africa this summer, we really haven't gotten out on the boat much this summer. The weather wasn't supposed to be very good but we ventured out anyway. The water was calm and deserted for the 90 minute cruise. Providence ran like a champion. There were just a few sprinkles of rain and there was plenty of room to maneuver and tie up at Arabella's Landing.

It is amazing that we can be so close to home but feel like we are far away - far away from phones, from yard work, from responsibilities, from our respective jobs, from our normal routines. But that is exactly how it feels.
After getting our lines secured, power hooked up and giving the boat a quick scrub down, we began to settle in for a relaxing evening. Our tradition is to pour a glass of wine, have some chips and salsa, listen to some jazz and just let the cares of life begin to wash away. While we were settling down, a beautiful 50 ft. Symbol Pilot House pulled in next to us. We always are so grateful when someone is on the dock to grab a line and help us in. We like to "pay it forward" so we went out and met our "new neighbors for the night."

Steve and BJ Hull (yes, that is actually the last name of some avid boaters - crazy huh?) looked familiar to us when we were making introductions. They told us they were from Yakima but keep their boat on Lake Union. They were curious about good locations in the South Sound so we filled them in on some of our favorite places - Fair Harbor and Long Branch - and how to locate them on the charts. Then we headed off to dinner at the world famous (well not maybe world famous but certainly famous in these parts) TIDES TAVERN. Great meal. Great atmosphere. Great choice.

We always sleep well on the boat. The gentle rocking caused by incoming tide and gentle breezes lulls a person to sleep - sound, deep sleep. I slept in til 8:00 which is a real odd thing for me. Judy slept til 9:00. We always feel like time moves in slow motion when you're on a boat.

This morning, we re-connected with Steve and BJ and found out they are active in their Presbyterian Church in Yakima. Westminster Presbyterian is a church that I once had been asked to interview for. It is also a church where a friend has been the Associate Pastor for several years. We compared notes on churches - theirs also is struggling to reach generation next. Their church also is active in sending its members on Mission Trips. They told us of their experiences in Haiti and we got to share some of our memories of Zambia. Great fellowship and an even greater surprise to meet people who know people you know (if that makes sense).

Some people say that there is a factor called "six degrees of separation." That is, you only have to go six levels of relationships before you realize that there are common acquaintances among you. My experience is that, because of being a Christian, you don't even have to go that far. What a privilege it is to be a part of the Body of Christ and to know that wherever you go, there are Christians who share your faith and passion for Christ. And, they most likely know someone you know or at least someone who knows someone you know.

Well, we had a great cruise. We were just gone for one night but we came back feeling like we had been away from it all for much much longer than that. Tomorrow, Judy has the day off for Veteran's Day but has to work on report cards. I will be back to my normal Tuesday duties - early Bible Study, staff meeting, annual year-end personnel reviews. But in the short period between the close of worship yesterday and now (8:00 pm Monday) we have been physically refreshed and spiritually blessed by the fellowship of God's people in an unexpected place. We are undeservedly blessed.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sheep and Goats

How often have I walked past that homeless man panhandling? How often have I driven by the person sitting on the curb at the busy intersection? How often have I automatically dismissed the person calling the church asking for help with rent or overnight lodging? Too often I must confess.

And the times when I have tried to help, it seems, I feel like I have been conned - taken advantage of.

So I read passages like Matthew 25 where Jesus speaks about judgment when he returns in glory and I am reminded that the response I make to the poor, the hungry, the weak, the lonely and homeless, the sick and the imprisioned are more important to the Son of Man than the number of times I have attended church. The Lord is more aware of the help I give in his name to those who really need it than he is of how much I give to the church.

I don't like passages like this. They slap me in the face like icy, cold water; they shake me from my complacency and self-righteousness...especially when I have to preach them to others. One thing I have learned in my years of ministry is that the Lord never lets me preach a lesson he has not given me clear opportunity to learn for myself.

Once again this week, as I prepared a message about serving others in Jesus' name, I re-luctantly answered a phone call from someone calling, asking for help with housing, and mainly, to express frustration with all the avenues of help they had tried and been denied or passed on to another agency. All the regular excuses went through my mind: "I'm too busy. After all I am preparing a sermon exhorting my congregation to serve sacrificially" or the ever popular, "I am being conned. This couple just wants help to support a bad habit or to bail them out from the bad choices they have made."

But I listened anyway. And the longer I listened, the more my heart was softened to the frustrating plight of those - especially in our difficult economy and crumbling mortgage/foreclosure atmosphere - who are struggling to keep their families just one step ahead of homelessness or hunger.

As it turned out, this couple mainly wanted someone to listen; someone to care. I am not sure our conversation helped. I know my attitude was less than Christ-like as the conversation began. Hopefully, as we talked, my skepticism loosened and the strategies we discussed will be helpful to their getting real, systemic help - the help that they need.

Last night at church, I was humbled as I listened to the stories that cascaded forth from congregation members who wanted to share stories of how they had reached out to others in need. Two common threads were clear. 1)There is more blessing received when we help than that which we give, and 2) one of the most important things we can give is ourselves. A listening ear, a personal contact, a relationship - no matter how cursory - are the ways God uses his people to bless others.

Another thing became clear. Not only are we Christians the hands and feet of Christ in the world, the Lord shows himself to us through the faces, names and needs of "the least of these his brothers and sisters. When we feed the hungry, or welcome the stranger, or look after the sick and imprisoned, it as though we are really doing these things for Christ. The "least" become Christ to us, to stretch, challenge, and soften us.

Am I a sheep, one of Christ's flock who follow him unconditionally? I'm working on it. How about you?