Monday, December 22, 2008

Do Not Be Afraid!

“Do not be afraid,” they say. “I bring good news,” they say. That’s easy for them to say. Can you imagine being one of those people who were visited by angelic messengers in the beginning chapters of the Gospel of Luke? Unexpectedly and extraordinarily God breaks into your life through these remarkable messengers, and you are asked not to be afraid; good luck with that!

On the other hand, can you imagine being one of these angels? You could never just walk into a room or a shepherd’s field and say, “Hi.” Your mere presence would freak people out so much that the first part of your proclamation always had to be, “Yeah, I’m an angel; now settle down and listen.” That seems to be the way they introduced themselves, and perhaps it was out of necessity: if they didn’t at least try to calm their hearers down, the rest of the message would likely be lost.

But I also wonder if there was more to this opening proclamation than that; perhaps there is more to the command of, “Do not be afraid,” than a futile attempt to help mortals in getting their heads around the presence of God’s heavenly messengers. What if these words give meaning and shape to these proclamations themselves: what if, “Do not be afraid,” is really the whole point?

I went skiing with some church members the other day and they tried to play a little trick on me: I had been following them all day and they took me to the top of an ugly looking slope – full of moguls and very steep. They told me we were going down it and it would be fine. I think their intent was to get me to say something like, “Are you kidding? I’m sane and I have a lot to live for; I’m not going down that thing,” (which would have been the sensible thing to say). Unfortunately, I said no such thing because they made the mistake of telling me that it would be OK. They had been skiing with me for hours; they knew what I was capable of and I trusted them. When they said I could do it, I believed them! (Fortunately, we then went down a different way.)

When the angels appear in the beginning of Luke, they begin by proclaiming that we should not fear, and they knew what they were talking about. But this proclamation has value beyond how their appearance was making the shepherds quake; their proclamation speaks to our fears as well. They had insight into how this story ends. They knew for a fact that this child they were proclaiming would be the end of all our fears, not just the fear of angels.

Note that in Romans 8, Paul lists angels as one of those things that won’t ever be able to separate us from God’s love, shown to us through this baby born (see Romans 8:37-39). But note also that his list starts with death. His list starts with the most dreaded and ominous of our fears and it is the first thing that we have conquered in Christ. The rest of those fears – angels, tumultuous economies and governments, menacing ski slopes, and so on – fall in line accordingly in the list of worries that can no longer hold us captive. Because of this baby born in the middle of nowhere to a couple that no one had ever heard of, we no longer have to be afraid again.

And so I believe the proclamation of the herald angels has become our proclamation to the world: do not be afraid! We are now sent, this season and throughout our lives, to proclaim this good news of great joy to all people: a Savior has been born! And this Savior is the end of fear.

Merry Christmas and be at peace.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Clearing the Way

I think in metaphor when I’m shoveling snow. My mind tends to wander whenever I’m doing anything that doesn’t require much active thought: taking a shower, going for a walk, and things like that. But since moving to Bayfield, I’ve been trying more actively to let my meandering thoughts settle on the lessons that these seemingly mundane activities might tell. Lately I’ve been shoveling snow and thinking about its parables.

I think shoveling snow is a lesson on repentance; and I can always use a lesson on repentance. Not that I have more to repent about in my life than anyone else, in fact that’s partly the point: repentance is the act of turning back to God; of taking note of where we are in our relationship with our Savior and doing what we can to put our actions and our thoughts back in line with God’s will.

Often we think of repentance in terms of last resort. We think of and seek repentance because we no longer have a choice; we’ve been caught – if only by the Spirit’s nudging within us – and we know we’ve got to seek God’s mercy and get back to the business of building Christ’s Kingdom. This is the repentance we know the best, and certainly any repentance is good repentance, but it isn’t the only kind. In fact, it may not be the best kind.

This brings us to the metaphor of snow-shoveling: shoveling snow, like a renewed desire to be right with God, is never futile. Whether there are three inches on the ground or a foot, there are always good reasons for shoveling it (I might as well point out that the parable begins to fall apart if you prefer a plow or a snow-blower). If nothing else, shoveling snow and repentance are good exercises… and like any exercise, it may not always be fun. When I’m finished with the driveway, I hurt in places I forgot I had. I’ve used muscles and joints that don’t get pushed that way too often. My heart gets pumping and I end the chore tired, thirsty, and a bit achy. So too repentance might hurt, especially if we’re working in spiritual places that have been neglected for some time. The good news is, by God’s grace the pain does pass and we might even find ourselves stronger for the process.

Sometimes I feel a little silly when I’m shoveling snow. I feel silly because I’m the only one on my street who’s doing it. Yesterday there were only a couple of inches on the driveway; it wasn’t going to impede anyone. Before I left for work I cleared it and I felt very self-conscious in doing it. But I did it for two reasons: first I thought, “If it’s not going to snow any more today (and it didn’t) then I will come home to a clear, dry, and non-slushy driveway.” But I also thought, “If it does snow some more today, that’s two less inches I’m going to have to move this afternoon.”

Although this non-rock-bottom brand of repentance may also make us feel a bit self-conscious – after all, we may be the only ones on our block engaging in it – I also think it’s superior. Like gently falling snow, those things that turn us from the will of God might seem innocent enough… until they begin to settle in and harden on our hearts like ice on a driveway. On the other hand, the practice of clearing the way on a regular basis both lightens the work of repentance and may even help us to avoid more serious problems that follow.

As I look back on my career so far, I have not preached heresy, I have not embezzled from anyone, I have not hurt children, I have not been unfaithful to my wife, and I have not even raised my voice in anger toward one of my siblings in Christ. But where I have failed as Christ’s under-shepherd has been in a lack of regular repentance. I have not always sought God’s correction as I should and thus I have let down the people of God and myself.

Let us all be always attentive in clearing the way between ourselves and God and one another. Let not even a light dusting keep us from seeking the face of God as we strive together to be Christ’s Body in this place.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Feeling at Home

For any who haven't heard, our lives have been a bit tumultuous lately. We almost bought a house... well, I'm not sure "almost" is the right word. We put an offer on a house and the current owners took it off the market the next day. I guess our offer wasn't "in their neighborhood."

All that happened last week, so this week I'm thinking of home. Not so much of the houses I grew up in or of the house we're renting now, but the idea of home; the idea that a person can (and perhaps ought to) have one accepting and stationary place that they call "home." The idea of home is that almost mythical notion that gives us the ability to explore and to grow, yet always remaining able to return back to the security of that immovable and constant "home."

It's that notion of constancy that has my gears turning today. I don't think I've looked at any place I've lived in as permanent since I was a child: it dawned on me as an adolescent that my parent's house would not always be my house and, ever since then, I have been living in places that have belonged to other people. That was fine while I was in school; it even made sense in what I consider the early part of my calling, but I'm ready to be done with that now. I'm in a place in my life where I need to belong; I need to develop an identity that is about more than just what I do, but about where I am and about the people who are there with me. My wife needs to see the fulfillment of her dreams, my children need the security of living somewhere for more than a few years, and I need to feel "at home."

As I say this, I recognize that there may be some who only understand this idea of "home" in an abstract way, if at all. I feel fortunate in that I grew up in a secure and unshakable home that I can look back on fondly and strive for, but perhaps the idea of home is only best understood abstractly (at least it's less easily muddied up by a "family values" debate). Besides, if we talk about "home" in a less tangible way, then we can also talk of how the church can help to meet that need.

I was speaking
the other day with someone who was church shopping. As she put it, she was looking around for a church that was like the church she grew up in. Although eventually I suspect that she'll have to "settle," what she said resounded with me. I credit the church I grew up in with having a tremendous impact on the path my life has taken. In a sense, I look back on my early church experience in the same way I look at my early home life. In fact, the idea of home and the idea of church are to me the same idea in many ways. And just as I have this drive to live out the idea of home I also desire to create a church that lives up to the image of "church" as I idealize it. When that church shopper told me that she was looking for the church she grew up in, my response was, "That's one of the reasons I got into ministry: to re-create the church I grew up in."

I'm quite certain that I'm not the only one who does that. In fact I'd love to hear from you on this: please drop me an email or leave a comment below and tell me about your ideal church. Tell me about the church or churches in your life that you'd like to re-create. What are the common traits that you currently see in your church and what could be done to make it feel more like "home" to you?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Up-Side of Presbyopia

Last night was our monthly Session meeting. I usually begin each meeting with a short devotional, seeking to center us on our Savior and ground us in why we have gathered to serve him. Lately the church’s mission statement has been on my mind so I used it to get our meeting started. If you don’t have it memorized, here it is:
We are a congregation
centered in the Good News of Jesus Christ,
seeking in our lives and our life together to be
obedient to and
shaped by the Scriptures,
growing in faith and service
as a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
There is also a longer version on the church’s website, but this is the one we’re all supposed to be familiar with. Sure, it’s a little dated as purpose statements go (it was written in 2005) and sure, it could use some revision, but it is a rather good description of us as a congregation and what our intentions are in this community. Frankly, as we were reading through it last night, the only thing that I bristled at was the last line.

I’m not big on brand loyalty. Just because a thing has a recognizable name on it, doesn’t mean I owe it any special consideration (with the obvious exceptions of things like my family). I have spent most of my life as a Presbyterian. I married a Presbyterian. I serve Christ in the Presbyterian Church. And that’s just the thing: I serve Christ. I know firsthand that the PC(USA) is not perfect. We are a flawed institution made up of flawed individuals that somehow seeks together to overcome those flaws by the Spirit’s help. I see the same Body of Christ reflected in the ministries and insights of my Baptist, Foursquare, Catholic, Assemblies, Congregational, etc. friends that I see in my Presbyterian friends.

But that being said, as I reflect on last night’s Session meeting – especially in light of our mission statement’s last line – I am reminded of why I will probably be a Presbyterian at least as long as I am a minister. I came into that meeting feeling burdened and insufficient for the call that God has been placed on me. I left that meeting feeling re-energized and enthusiastic for all the things God is doing here. And as I think on this transformation this morning I am aware that this is not the first time this has happened. I seem to find this same revival about the same time every month. About the same time every month, I start becoming overwhelmed by the work and worries leading God’s people in proclaiming the gospel in a relevant and transformational way. And about the same time every month I gather with these amazing women and men that you call Elders and the Spirit uses them to build me up. When I gather with them I am led by a wisdom that is beyond my own. When I gather with them I am encouraged by a common mission. When I gather with them I am strengthened by the knowledge that the work of this church does not fall on my shoulders alone. Please continue to pray for and encourage our Elders as they are a tremendous gift of God to all of us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Christians Shouldn't Vote

I was recently listening to a pastor friend of mine preach about the responsibility of Christ’s followers to be involved in the democratic process. I appreciated that he didn’t tell me how to vote – as some pastors do from time to time – only that we ought to vote and that our vote should be an expression of our relationship with Christ. Of course he was right; who would argue with that? Aside from the fact that faithful Christians cast opposing ballots out of their relationships with Christ in every election, every one of them would probably tell you that their choices were at least inspired by their faith. It seems that one way or another Christ will have cast votes both for and against our next president.

But my pastor friend also encouraged us to pray. He encouraged us to pray for the process and for the people we elect. This got me thinking: which is more important for American democracy? Which really makes the difference: is it the “rightly” filled out ballots that we put in the box or is it our petitions to God on behalf of those leaders and issues?

Clearly we ought to be doing both; God has entrusted both of these profound responsibilities and privileges to us and to neglect either is simply disgraceful stewardship. But what if it were one or the other? Which would you choose? Which would be more beneficial to our nation? What would happen to American democracy if the followers of Christ simply gathered in their “precincts” to pray instead of vote? Would the “wrong” issues and candidates be approved? Would our nation become less of a “Christian Nation” than it is?

When it comes down to it, these are ridiculous questions in the sense that we are unlikely to lose either of these privileges any time soon. But I don’t think that asking which is more important to our society is at all ridiculous. Christians don’t always agree on the people our votes should go to, but we all agree on where our prayers should go. So if your choice today is to pray or to vote, then I think you should pray.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Let's Try This Again

I just realized that I haven't written here since September. Ugh. That's actually one of my pet peeves: people who put up a blog and then never write anything. It isn't as though my brain's been inactive for over a month, I just let myself get out of the habit of writing and posting. I will try to throw at least one thought a week up on this electronic canvas from here on out... but like I said yesterday, "I'm not perfect."
As always, if you have discussion topics you'd like me to hit, feel free to drop me a note.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Brother's Birthday

I have said in sermons lately, “There are some members of the Family of God who are no longer receiving Christmas cards from me.” Just one of my patented cheeky little comments; just something I threw out there to let you know that I understand all too well the divisions that happen in the body of Christ. But today I regret saying that because today is my brother’s birthday.

For clarity, I have two brothers; I am the middle of three boys, born about a year apart from each other. I am very close to my younger brother, but my older brother and I have not had a meaningful conversation in years. My older brother is the one having a birthday today. I think the last birthday card I sent him was about ten years ago. There was no fight. There were no hateful or angry words. The conversation just kind of stopped. After another year of unanswered gestures I decided to let our relationship simply drift away. It was a decision I felt I had to make to keep my hurt from turning into anger; a decision that hasn’t always worked out like it should. On days like these the feelings are like being sunburned under your shirt: no one knows that anything’s wrong until someone pats you just a little too hard.

On days like these it occurs to me that my brother may never meet my children. On days like these I remember how close we once were. My older brother was the one who dragged me to church when church was exactly what I needed in my life. I remember the two of us standing in our kitchen, talking for hours about faith and life and whatever else came up. I loved to make my brother laugh. Now we don’t even talk.

I have done my part in punching holes in the Body of Christ. And although I might make light of it in an effort to hide my own guilt and pain, I know as well as anyone that it isn’t funny. It isn’t funny, it isn’t inevitable, and it isn’t God’s will for us to be separated from one another. I will do all I can to keep our disagreements from turning into divisions. When the Spirit shows us the way, I will seek our reconciliation. And in those times we cannot even speak, I will pray for you and look for the day when nothing will separate us again.

Today is my brother’s birthday and I am particularly conscious of all those who are absent from my life.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Lois

As a pastor, I learned a long time ago that there is no “right” way to deal with loss; Kübler-Ross gave us some stages that we ought to expect during the grieving process, but we all face our pain in our own way. That being said, Lois Rodriguez died last night and I find myself wondering if I'm feeling what I'm supposed to feel.
Sherry and I adopted Lois from the pound when she was a kitten. I chose her because, unlike the other kittens, she came to the front of the cage and attacked my finger. Through the years I would come to identify that behavior as “feisty” rather than “playful.” She was not a lap-cat, she abhorred being held, and would usually hide when company was over. It isn't as though she was necessarily mean – she would sleep on the bed and enjoyed being brushed – it's just that she wasn't what most people would consider affectionate.
But Lois was a part of my life through some of the biggest moments of my life. We got her a few months before we were married (I often joked that we got married so that Lois would be “legitimate”). She was around when I was ordained. She was a bit annoyed at the birth of my children. Many people are affected by the loss of a pet in much the same way people are affected by the loss of a family member. I understand this: in many ways pets are members of the family. But that's not what I'm feeling right now. Lois and I didn't really have a member-of-the-family kind of relationship. It was more like Lois was a slightly irritable roommate who was forced to reluctantly move with us every time we did.
Things had been good between us lately, which makes me happy; I might feel a little guilty if we weren't on good terms when she passed. Our latest move had given her a place of her own and I think she appreciated the freedom. And as it turns out, Sherry and I had both spent some quality time with her last night. Her health had been declining for some time now and it seems she went peacefully.
Still, I have a Lois-shaped hole in my life now and I think it will be a while before I know how to feel about it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Big Table

The Scripture lessons for the next couple of Sundays have got me thinking a bit about worship. To say that worship is a potentially divisive issue is to understate the matter almost laughably. If you have been associated with any congregation for any moderate amount of time, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t, just wait a bit; it is a powder keg that virtually every congregation must tiptoe around, attempt to defuse, or risk detonation.

The ironic tragedy is that this time in our lives, meant to physically gather as God’s people, is so often and needlessly marred by conflict and hurt feelings. Seemingly miniscule issues like musical accompaniment, responsive prayers, and the length of a sermon have torn congregations apart, disrupted the church’s mission, and undermined the reputation of the Body of Christ. Why worship is such a lightning rod for division is complicated and clearly a spiritual struggle… and I cannot promise you that we will not argue over worship.

But that does not mean that these differences of opinion will necessarily lead to the kinds of conflict that most of us have seen elsewhere. If we obey the rules of direct and loving communication, there is no reason why these important and difficult discussions need to divide us. In fact, utilizing some helpful imagery regarding worship might even serve to unite us and renew our devotion to one another even through these conversations.

There are two analogies of worship that I find particularly helpful. The first (most clearly articulated by Kierkegaard) is the image of worship as theater. Although I think many of us enter into a sanctuary in the same way we enter a movie theater, this is not at all the intent of this image. In fact it is quite the opposite: rather than our being the “audience” in worship, we are actually the “performers.” What we “act out” in worship is directed solely for God’s pleasure. I appreciate this imagery because it draws us into participating in worship and not simply seeking to be entertained by it. However, worship as theater is not my favorite image for two reasons: theater is not a readily available biblical image and, by definition, theater is not real life.

So my favorite way to look at worship is as though it were a dinner table. First, there are plenty of biblical examples of worship as family gatherings involving food. This isn’t surprising; eating is a universal human experience and sharing food together is an experience that binds us together in a unique way. I believe that, whether positively or negatively, each of our spiritual journeys has been directed somehow over dinner tables.

The dinner table is where we give thanks to God for what we’ve been given. It is where we are more than physically nourished. The table is where life’s lessons are reviewed and preparations are made for the next new day. We laugh, we cry, we learn, we teach, we debate, we commit, we create, we consume; we may or may not have had anything to do with preparing the meal, but we all certainly participate in it.

Of course, like any analogy, there are limitations to thinking of worship as a dinner table, but I think it’s a good way to start: it frees us to remember that different kinds of meals have different table manners (i.e. there is rarely ever room for a food fight, but we may not always need a separate children’s table) and that almost all of the business of being a family that is done around the dinner table can be accomplished by the Family of Faith during worship.

For now, I think only one other thing remains to be said: at the dinner table which is our worship service, you do not need to ask permission before you invite your friends over. There is plenty for everyone and this table always has room for one more.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Good question

My father, who was a high school teacher for almost forty years, used to tell his students the same thing most teachers tell their students, "There is no such thing as a silly question." I'm not sure that's universally true, but the point is well taken: if you have a question about something, the odds are good that someone else does too. To that end, I was emailed a not-so-silly question this morning and perhaps you were wondering the same thing...
  • Q: The top of yesterday's bulletin had the title "17th Sunday in Ordinary Time." What does that mean?
  • A: It refers to the date on the Revised Common Lectionary, the three-year cycle of Scripture readings that takes us through most of the Bible. Unless otherwise noted, the text or texts that I preach from come from one of the readings from this schedule (there is generally an Old Testament, a Psalm, a Gospel, and an Epistle reading). I like to use it for preaching because it helps me to look at the whole of Scripture as I listen for God's voice. I think it's good for us as a congregation because the seasons of the church add a different spiritual dimension to our worship life. Different people and denominations give these seasons different names, but the one I follow generally goes: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, a few special Sundays like Pentecost and Baptism of the Lord, and the rest are called Ordinary Time.
If you have questions that you fear might seem silly, go ahead and email them to me. If I think it might be a question that others might share, I will post it with your name withheld.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

And speaking of chatting...

I've heard from several folks who have told me they have had a bit of trouble commenting on this blog. Of course if you can't comment, it kind of misses the point. So here are the steps that should make it possible to add your comment:
  • Click on the word "comments" in the lower right beneath each post
  • After typing in your comment, type in the nonsensical sequence of letters in the space provided
  • Click the circle next to "Name/URL" and put in your name (you don't have to put in anything for URL)
  • Click "Publish your comment" and that should be it
Again, I hope that this will be one of many ways that we can talk to one another; these conversations help us greatly as we seek to be Christ's Body in this community.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Let's Chat...

To all of you who have let me know that you've stopped by to read this blog, thank you! I'm glad to hear that people are reading this and I hope that it will continue to become a useful tool for us in communication.
Speaking of which, I want to expand on something I said (or tried to say) on Sunday during the announcements: I want to be as available to you as possible. Whether or not you take advantage of them, there are a number of ways that I am available to chat:

  • You can comment on this blog.
  • You can email me (especially if you have topic ideas for this blog).
  • You can stop by the church and chat with me during my office hours (Mon-Thur, 9-4). (You should call ahead because the work of a pastor is not exactly a "regular hours" kind of job, but I try to be as consistent as I can be.)
  • You can set up an appointment when we can meet for coffee or even invite me (and if you're adventurous, my family) over for dinner.
  • You can contact me at my various phone numbers: at the church, on the cell phone, or for an urgent need, at the house.
  • You can corner me after worship or in the grocery store or whatever else our paths might cross.
The point is, I want to talk to you. I want to hear your life stories and learn why the people of Calvary are your church family. I want to know why you love this church and what about it makes you crazy. I want to know about it if I hurt your feelings and I want you to hear me say, "I'm sorry." I want to hear from you when I'm wrong and I want you to hear from me if it turns out I'm not. I want to hear about your hopes and dreams for our future and even about your disappointments from our past. I want to make myself as available to you as I can because I want to know you and I want you to know me.
So remember you are invited! I want to hear from you. I enjoy hearing from you. I believe I am a better pastor to you because I've heard from you. I hope to hear from you soon.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Jumping Off

For several years after my high school graduation, I worked at a summer camp in the mountains of central California. Sometimes on Saturdays, after the campers had all gone home, we’d pile into our cars and go to a place called Angel Falls. There was a river that ran over a series of tremendous boulders, creating waterfalls, pools, and other amazing formations. It was a beautiful and relaxing place to spend the day; one might imagine that it was the tranquil beauty of the place that gave it its name. But no, it was because the river’s current and the unusual rock formations had taken so many lives over the years.
I came close to death at least one time myself at Angel Falls. My buddy Darren had led us to a rock and pool formation that was simply made by God for jumping. The pool was wide and deep and the rock was nice and flat on top, perfect for the running start we would need to get over the small outcrop between the rock and pool. Darren showed us how, pointing out the slick, mossy spot that we should avoid.
After Darren it was my turn (I always followed Darren and this was neither the first nor last time it would lead me into danger). Off I ran toward the edge and, although I had been warned, stepped right on that mossy spot. Suddenly this jump was not going at all as I had planned it; I found myself in one of those slow motion moments. I was keenly aware of the outcrop I was supposed to be jumping over, now quickly rushing towards me. I managed to turn my body in mid flight, as to bounce off the thing with my body’s more squishy spot, and I headed down into the water.
As Darren rushed over to me to see if I was all right, I realized that I was not immediately sure. After taking inventory I found that my body was not broken, but I could have just as easily been one of those angels that gave that place its name. I felt the simultaneous emotions of elation, as I realized I was not hurt, and of sobering humility, as I realized I could have just as easily died. Rest assured that I was much more cautious of that mossy spot on my following jumps.
Lately I feel I’m on that rock again. The leadership of this congregation has done so much to keep this church on track: there is a good sense of who we are as the people of God in this community and a wonderfully well-focused vision for how we are to live out that identity. In a sense, all I need to do is jump in. And yet I can’t help but wonder about those mossy spots; one misplaced step and I could find myself having to choose which body part I land on.
If Darren were here he’d call me names that question my manhood and suggest I, “Just go for it,” and Darren’s taunts aside, that’s probably the right thing to do. Yes, I might (and probably will) slip up from time to time. And yes, the fall might (and probably will) hurt. But Christ has called us to jump: For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7, NRSV). The Body of Christ has not failed the world through lack of planning; we fail through lack of jumping. We slip once and expect that we will always slip. Or even worse, we see someone else slip and determine it’s just too risky. May we be a people who dive in fearlessly and joyfully wherever and however our Savior calls us.

Moving Part 3

(Sorry it's been so long since my last post. I had actually written this one about a week ago and hadn't had a chance to post it.)

OK let's face it, moving is horrible. For all my talk about the spiritual lessons related to moving, let's not forget that there's not much good that goes with the move itself: I have aching muscles, a stubbed toe, and I have no idea where my can opener is. As of today, we have unpacked quite a number of boxes... but you'd never know it by looking around the house or garage. Slowly, we are beginning to get settled into our new environment, but we have a long way to go.
Yes, the move is rough, and yet God has blessed us tremendously through it. God has brought some wonderful people into our lives lately, making all this turmoil so much easier to bear.
One of my favorite stories related to this happened last Friday, the day after the Big Move. My daughter and I were walking over to the mailbox to see if we had any mail yet and a woman drove up and stopped in front of us. She introduced herself as a neighbor from up the street and commented on the crew we had at the house the day before. (If you weren't there, it really was quite amazing. I didn't personally do a head-count, but I think at least half the church was at the house at some point. We barely needed the dollies; people were lining up to take boxes before they could make it into a stack.) She said to me, “What a wonderful testimony to the neighborhood that so many people from the church would come help you move!” And then she said one of the best things anyone could say about a church: she said, “I want to be a part of a church like that.”
I told her, “So do I!!”
I doubt that any who were carrying boxes last Thursday realized that they were evangelizing to my new neighborhood, but I think that's how the proclamation of the gospel works the best. Sure, we need to remain diligent to take the extra step of making that invitation when field is ripe, but most of what we do to call others to Christ is simply by making him look good. I thank God for this wonderful church, which has been making Christ look good for over a century. May we continue this work for many years to come.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Moving, Part 2

With the rare exception, churches do not know how to throw things away. Of course, I don’t yet know anything about Calvary in this regard; this is just my experience to date (stirred by my current context of packing). For the most part, we are hoarders; we pack things away in our attics, basements, garages, and closets in the delusion that, “We might need this someday.”
Take for example, the slow cooker I personally threw away earlier this year. A remarkable woman in the church had managed to put together a church clean-up day without causing a church-split, so I used the opportunity to get rid of the slow cooker that had been staring at me for about four years. Another pillar of the church tried to stop me, but I would have none of it. Its time had come.
For years this cooker had sat useless in the corner of the kitchen, seemingly begging me to put it out of its misery. The cooker had long ago lost its power cord and I was done looking at it: without a power source, it was more of a planter than a cooker. There are spiritual analogies in that alone, but my point is that we kept this useless cooker in the ridiculous hope that the cord would one day be found or – even more unlikely – somehow replaced.
Now as silly as our hoarding behavior may be, there are good reasons for why the church should be reluctant to simply throw stuff away. First of all, in some ways the church is where we keep our faith. Sure, when we’re doing it right, our faith is something we take with us at all times and everywhere we go. But where do we go when we don’t have a faith of our own or our faith becomes misplaced or our faith becomes too heavy for us to carry on our own? We go to church. The church is where we keep the symbols of our faith, it is where we are reminded of the saving work of God on our behalf, and it’s where we keep the people we’ve entrusted to hold on to our faith “just in case.”
But even more than that, in the end the church is really about people. Following Christ’s example, we are infinitely more interested in saving people than slow cookers; but you can see how the saving of a slow cooker has parallels to the saving of people. Christ had no intention of letting any person “just get thrown away.” When someone begins to seem less than useful, how ridiculous would it be if we put them on the curb? No, at best we hold out hope that they can and will be restored to usefulness or at least we appreciate what they have done for the Kingdom and let them have a rest.
Which brings me back to the slow cooker that I threw away because it had no purpose because it had no cord; the slow cooker I was asked specifically not to throw away because of the vain and misplaced hope that the cord could be found or replaced. Well of course I found that stupid cord a couple of weeks later. I found that stupid cord and I have vowed to keep with me always as a continual reminder. I keep it, not as a lesson on how I shouldn’t throw things away, but as a lesson on why the church should throw things (and never people) away only reluctantly. As annoying as I may personally find our senseless hoarding to be, it does say some wonderful things about us.
May our gracious Savior renew in us that blessed hoarding spirit for the people of this world.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Of course Sherry and I are currently getting ready to move. We’re packing up boxes and deciding what needs to be handy, what needs to stay in boxes for a while, and what we’d rather just throw away. There are a lot of metaphors that go along with moving, some are church related and some are simply personal. In short, you will likely hear from me on this subject again.
By the way, if you happen to be one of those kindhearted souls who are interested in helping us unload the truck, pay no attention to all the booze boxes. Liquor stores are a great place to get moving boxes. Although I’m no teetotaler, I did not empty any of those boxes… I just filled them with our stuff.
In the first few years of our marriage, we moved about once a year. There were a variety of reasons for it, but the end result was that we didn’t accumulate much stuff. If it didn’t fit into a mid-sized U-Haul truck or if our friends, who were willing to work for pizza and beer, considered it too heavy to lift, we’d get rid of it.
There isn’t much I miss about those days – broke and semi-transient – but I do appreciate the process. I believe it’s good for us to look at the stuff that we’ve collected over the years and ask the hard questions about their usefulness. Please note that I’m not talking about disregarding old things or sentimental things for the sake of the process. I confess that I get a charge out of throwing things out, but I long ago learned to give that process its due time.
But on the other hand, there is something healthy in picking up all of your stuff and moving it somewhere else. It forces us to ask more than “Do I need this?” It forces us to ask, “Do I need this enough to carry it with me wherever I go?” It compels us to evaluate all of our baggage (metaphorical and otherwise) as to its usefulness and its weight.
Between the time of Moses and David the Ark of the Covenant lived in a tent. It was thought that this was where the earthly presence of God could be found… and it was in a tent: portable, temporary, and comparatively light. A tent; not a very noble place to keep God, but God never complained. God didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, I think God may have preferred it that way!
You see, our God is always on the move. God cannot be kept in a box any more than God can be kept in our sanctuaries. My hope for us as the people of God is that we learn to travel light. We don’t have to have worship in a tent, but I hope that it can be a time of repacking our faith in a way that taken on the move with God.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Get to know me!

As of the morning of Sunday, June 1, I am the newly elected pastor of Calvary Presbyterian Church in beautiful Bayfield, Colorado. But chances are, if you’re reading this, you already knew that. If you’ve found your way to this blog, there is a good chance that you’ve met me or at least read my profile on the church’s website. My hope for this blog is that it be a place to get to know me in a different way than simply through the facts of my life. My hope for this is that we will be able to have ongoing conversations about who we are as Christ’s Body here in this place. I want this to be a place where I can share my thoughts and hopes for this congregation and this community and you can enrich those musings as we seek God’s will together.
I have set this up so that anyone can comment on anything I write. All I ask is that you refrain from commenting anonymously; I don’t believe that our conversations are as valuable if we don’t know who we’re talking to.
As we begin this journey together, I know that God has amazing things in store for us. I am looking forward to sharing this journey with you and I thank you in advance for your contributions.