Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
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
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;
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
Sunday, November 2, 2008
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?