Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Crowd Response

Reading through the Gospels is always an inspiring experience for me. I gain great strength from the disciples and their tendency to miss the point of what Jesus was teaching them. It gives me hope for my journey. I am also inspired by the response to Jesus when he enters a new area. As soon as Jesus is recognized people run throughout the streets bringing all the sick, demon possessed and in need. The flocked Jesus knowing he was the source which could help.

Now most of the time today the church enters the town and people are suspicious. They do not go running through the streets gathering people. It seems the church of today has the exact opposite response as Jesus on a community. I wonder what it would be like of the church began to function in a way that the community responded as they originally did to Jesus?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Greater Things

I was introduced to this song while in Ohio this last weekend. The words haunt me and give me some great direction. God longs to do more right in our midst. Even if God has been doing great things, greater things are yet to come. I cannot wait to see what God wants to do.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Disconnected Reality

At the conference I was at last weekend, a long held truth was greatly reinforced, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was not primarily about salvation. Before you brand me as a heretic, let me say the work of Jesus on the cross is crucial, and without it our faith is empty and pointless. Having said that, if the importance of Jesus ends with the cross we are missing the point.

The power of Jesus is the transformation initiated in our lives. Once we respond to the radical call of Christ, our lives should begin to be lived differently. We should have a heightened care for the poor and those who are going without the basics of life. Our lives should take on the trajectory pointing us to increasingly be living the way Christ showed us.

One of the many labels around this is missional. How tragic is it that we must use a word like missional to designate the church, as that has always been the point of the church. We are designed and created as people and as the community of Christ to be people of mission. Somewhere there was a disconnect with this. The people of God lost site of what really matters. The thought was it was about church gatherings, buildings and meeting the needs of the congregations. In reality it is about being on the mission of God, and all the other stuff should feed that mission.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Standing on The Edge of Possibility

I am off at a conference in Ohio this weekend hosted by Ginghamsburg Church. It is great to be in a place where my mind and soul are nourished and refreshed. While this is good, this is a dangerous place as well. I look at the landscape of the church, and in particular the church I serve in Cortland and know that something must be done differently. The options are great, the choices are plenty, but remaining the same is not an option.

So what is it that is next in my life as a pastor and therefore, for the church in Cortland? It is time to move in to the reality which has been being painted. The time has come for me and us to make living outside of the church, simply what we do.

This will involve a radical shift in how I as a pastor spend my time. I am not sure what the shifts will be at this time, but change is in the winds. It could be easy to see the days ahead with great apprehension, and anxiety. It is just as easy to see it as a time of great opportunity. To say it another way I feel as though I am standing on the edge of possibility.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Citizenship Matters

I am continuing to read through the book of Acts and rediscovering passages which send me thinking for a while. Today was the passage where Paul and Silas are in the inner dungeon, in chains, praying and singing songs to God. For some reason that is not what sent me thinking. What got me going was later in the story when Paul and Silas are told by the guards they are free to go, and Paul replies I think not. The reason for Paul's objection to being let go quietly, his citizenship. Paul and Silas are Roman citizens. They were beaten and imprisoned without a trial, well outside of the rights of a Roman citizen.

Paul could have gone off about the work ahead of him with out further incident, but he couldn't there was a justice issue to be addressed. Paul's citizenship gave him the unique responsibility to address what was happening to many others. I wonder how often we disregard the responsibilities which come with being an earthly citizen of the United States, and eternal citizens of the Kingdom of God? Our citizenship in the USA, affords us the opportunity to speak out against injustice, oppression and any other form of devaluing a human being. Our citizenship as children of God gives us the responsibility to do so.

Our heavenly citizenship is not so we can merely celebrate being 'saved'. Rather it allows us to be connected with God to continue the work of God since creation. What is that work? To draw all men and women into close relationship with Him. To help all people know their true and deep value to God in more than words, but with actions consistent with the call of God.

Are we using our citizenship to the fullest?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Venting on Issues

This fall seems to be full of really challenging and interesting happenings. There is the presidential race. How anyone could think that one individual has the capacity to "fix" what is broken in our country is beyond me. If we are going to talk about the failings of a president we have to talk about the work of the congress. Not many are reporting that the approval rating for congress has been below 15% from Jan 1 to the end of August according to a Rasmussen Report. But we thing that a new president, whoever that would be will fix the problem.

The economy is on the minds of most. Again we expect a government to fix the problem. I might add a government which operates at a nearly trillion dollar debt annually. Once again a deeply consumerist solution is being waged, throw money at it, even if it is money we don't have. Isn't that how we got to this place. Many do not want to look at some real solutions, like changing their lifestyles, or living with in our means.

It seems that those are the two issues which dominate our airwaves. There are always things like, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, and other hot spots in our world. There are the issues on energy consumption and our treatment of the environment. In the midst of all these challenges there are many voices crying out with answers, who do we listen to?

Some have offered religious answers, most of those sound nice but are empty. In fact even the religious answers leave God out of the equation. Sure prayer is important and we should all be praying more than we do. Reading our Bibles is important. However, the importance of prayer and scripture reading is lost if we fail to implement the results of our time spent in our daily life. Whether it is the government, or the church, right down to each individual the answer to many of the issues we face is not the president, not the right pastor, it is not the right God. It is the willingness of humanity to look at their lives and make the changes necessary for the health and well-being of all earth's citizens not just ourselves.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Simply Follow

Reading the book of Acts always get me going and encourages me to walk more closely with God. It is important not to romanticize the happening in the book of Acts, yet it is important to notice the ways in which the early believers followed God and stayed connected. There is swift action when God speaks, and it seems there was a constant conversation between God and the followers.

The easiest explanation is to point out that our world is very different. In some ways yes, but in many ways there is a strange similarity. As the book of Acts unfolds the number of believers is a relatively small, possibly insignificant percentage of people in the world. Wherever they live, they are in the minority and the majority is trying to keep them quite at best and silence in the goal. There are world superpowers who run the world, and the average person works hard just to get by. Not as different as we would think.

Somewhere along the line, a cumulative effect possible, the followers of Christ began to let the dominant culture push them around. Keeping quite and silencing seemed to be working. There were some who spoke up along the way, still many returned to a life on the sidelines. As I look at the followers in Acts, not once do they consider the ramifications of society, they follow God. Not once do they worry about what the religious leaders say, they follow God. They do not get caught up in the rhetoric of the day, or get side tracked by personal agendas, theirs or others. they simply connect with God, and do what God instructs them to do.

I wonder. What would it be like if we stopped spending all our time try to put our agenda in God's mouth, and put God's agenda in our actions? We must understand and interpret our culture. Yet, we do not need to wonder what is it God is calling us to do, what people group does God show preference to. God prefers people, and wants us to be obedient, moment to moment. Let God figure out all the details, we must simply follow where God leads.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


As I sit and tap away at the keyboard I am challenged by the thought of boldness. Reading through the book of Acts we find the accounts of the early Christians living out the life God had given them. I keep looking for the message which allows me to feel more comfortable. Each account I look for words like kind of, or almost, but they are not there. I realize we are not given a moment by moment account of what took place, yet timidity did not seem to be a part of the equation.

How often do I live a kinda-sorta, almost kind of faith? I confess that all too often I exchange boldness for personal comfort. Boldness does not always mean hostile confrontation, nor does it mean always getting in someones face. It could mean being like Phillip and interpreting Isaiah for the eunuch. I could mean being like Barnabas and presenting Saul to the Apostles. It could mean not engaging in a debate when God is not the center of concern.

Boldness comes in many forms, and is in short supply. Timidity and cowardice are abundant, and more comfortable. I believe it was written, we are not given a spirit of timidity... May we all return to a God centered boldness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Case of Fire

Anyone who is in California does not need to be told about wild fires or forest fires. They are intense and cause total devastation. In the world of being a pastor, I often hear many of my colleagues claim most of their time being consumed by putting out fires. Now most of these "fires" are nothing compared to the wild fires on the west coast, they none the less demand our attention.

I once had a conversation with a Forest Service Agent regarding forest fires. He said something which was shocking to me. He said Smokey the Bear was the best and worst thing to happen to the forests of our country. My quizzical look helped him to continue his explanation. Smokey the Bear worked very well, people listened and were more careful, however many forests need fires to be healthy. With the success of Smokey the fires were less frequent, but more tinder built up so the fires were more intense. In the end the forest was not as healthy. Additionally some trees need to have the temperature of the forest fire in order to have their seeds germinate properly.

So not all fires are fires which need putting out. I wonder if there are fires in my life and yours which need to be left burning. Could it be the only way that new life can emerge is if the fire we want desperately to put out needs to burn.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Are We Hanging Up On God?

One of the great challenges of our Journey with God is being in conversation with God. More specifically the part about hearing form God. Most of us struggle with hearing God or think that hearing God is reserved for a select few. Left unchecked we can begin to make the assumption that God is not in the business of speaking with humanity anymore.

Classically there have been people who say that God is always speaking, only we are not always listening. Could it be the challenge is far more profound than we can imagine. Not for one moment do I question or wonder is God is still speaking. I do not think it is even a matter of our listening or hearing. No, I wonder if we have not hung up the phone.

We call God and present our needs, wants, hopes and desires. Then we hang up. To further our audacity of hanging up on God, we turn around and claim that God is not speaking. It is time for us to stay on the line. Not just listening for God, not just listening to God for the answers we want. Rather, listening for God on God’s terms.

I wonder if we were to stay on the line with God, if we would hear from God on a moment to moment basis.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Resisting Retreat

As I look at the CNBC website I see that the financial markets continue their downward trek. Honestly I did not need to look at the website to know that. I did not even need to turn the TV on. All I needed to do was pay attention to the conversations around me. It seems that many people are greatly concerned about the state of our economy. I understand why so many are concerned, but I must say that I am not. It could be just me being naive, it could be me just being flat out clueless, but I just do not see the need to let panic set in.

A secondary issue is beginning to set in with regard to our economy which is of greater concern to me than the stock market. It seems as though many are in retreat mode. Holding tight to what we have, and not wanting to risk being without. This kind of thinking only serves one purpose, to further the economic slowdown. When people stop spending money, investing money, taking chances, the slow market comes to a near stand still. This is a time to resist retreating, and go on the advance.

This is especially important for the church. Contrary to common thought it does not matter what is happening to the world economy for the church. The church will be resourced for all it needs, not by an earthly checkbook, but the accounts of heaven. The financial waters of the church may look uncertain, but at are we people of faith or not? This is not a call to be foolish, but it is a call to advance for the sake of the Kingdom of God. It will get scary, there will be times when it seems we have run out of resources, but do we believe God to be God, or do we think our help is needed in having God understand the realities of our world. You know the one which God created, is redeeming and sustains.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

For or Against

If Jesus were to physically walk in the earth right now, would we be for or against him? The quick and religiously appropriate answer is yes. I wonder though if we in the church might be found in the same category as the Pharisees? It is easy to thing we have it all figured out, and can boil it down to a few phrases and actions. Yet, I am not always convinced we would be found on the side of Jesus.

To get more personal, one of my greatest fears is that I would be in the mob at the Garden to arrest Jesus and take him to his death, not one of the disciples with the sword in hand ready to defend my king. This is not something I am proud of, yet it is the battle I think we all face. For most of my life I have been connected to the religious system of the church, and for some of my life I have found a way to follow Jesus in spite of the church. There is still a gnawing fear that if I am not careful and cautious, I can become a new breed of Pharisee.

So what is a person to do? There are many options, some better than others. I could just give up. Not a good option. I could just press on without a concern for what I am becoming. Honestly an attractive option as it on the outside is the easiest. Or I could press ahead with constant vigilance and examination of my life. While I am convinced this is the proper course, it is not the most attractive road, and it is by far the most uncomfortable and difficult. Still, it is nothing less than what the one who calls me His own expects of me. I do not walk this road alone, I know there are others who walk this road.

Thanks Sarah, Bill, BJ and Alan for walking this road with me. I must drive you all nuts most of the time, yet you love me and walk with me. Most important if I am becoming a new breed of Pharisee, you all will do what it takes to bring me back to the First Love of my King.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In What Do You Trust?

It seems everyone has the economy on their minds lately. It is completely understandable. Pensions are shrinking, and daily living in radically changing. Before this is said and done every aspect of life, and every person will be impacted by the events unfolding. As I have been watching and listening, the overwhelming thought coming to my mind is, who do you trust?

I do not have large sums of money tied to the stock market, but I do need to function day to day and take care of my family. I enjoy the privilege of being able to feed my family, give them a place to live, and do some special activities from time to time. I know that some of these regular activities are going to be impacted by our economy, but is there really cause for all the panic? The panic and fear sweeping across the airwaves and country seem to highlight a truth I have long held. Americans trust in their finances and stuff more than they trust in God. Don't miss the irony of our money saying in God we trust.

If our lives are defined by our checkbook and stock portfolio then these are times of great fear. If our lives are defined by a deep and abiding connection with God, then we can find peace and rest while others panic. I might one of the few who think the shattering of our economy could be a good thing. It might be just the thing to move us from self-reliance to reliance on God. I often feel so trapped by the finances of my life, and that is because I have spent time chasing the wrong dream and wrong values. There are plenty of times when those values and dreams resurface. Still, more often I am able to remember that God is the most important thing in my life.

The stock market can crash, and the money in my pocket can disappear or have no value. One thing will remain, I am a child of God, and my Father in heaven is watching over me, and will care for my needs. The question is not will I make it through, that was never in question. The question is will I abide in God through Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Less Filtered View

There is a strange challenge which exists in the mind of every person. When we approach a situation, challenge or even idea, we all bring our collective life experience to that moment. As much as we might try to disregard that, the task is impossible. Every aspect of our life will be informed and shaped by the previous experiences we have had.

Thus enters the challenge. What do we do when our life experiences eschew our perception to the point where we misinterpret what is right in front of us. When was the last time you reflected on the lenses through which you view the world? How do these lenses impact the way you understand who God is?

For some they have seen the ways people have used God to justify horrible tragedy, and decided God is not for them. Others have used their understanding of God to shape the ways they function in this world. Still others Have given up on God all together and see no reason to ask the question. The most dangerous group however are those who think they know God because they participate in religious activity, but in reality are missing the point all together. I realize that in this writing I am exposing the lenses through which I see the world and God. Yet one of my greatest fears is that I have a faulty lens.

Perhaps it is time to identify the lenses in our lives, and recognize the lens for reality. Maybe it is not God who allowed the tragedy, but the lens through which the tragedy was viewed. God might not be the problem, what people make God to be might be the problem. I wonder if it is possible to remove enough lenses to get a less filtered view?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Community First

It is good to be back in the saddle. I took a few days to visit one of the most beautiful places in all of creation, the Adirondack Park here in New York. It was a time of refreshing for my mind, soul and spirit. Now I am back to the ministry God has given to me here in this place.

This morning I re-engaged the book Amish Grace. The main point of the book is investigating forgiveness. In the midst of that discussion I am overwhelmed by the Amish understanding of community. Their dedication to place the community first over the individual flies in the face of all that is held dear by American society. As I read the pages, I am in a constant battle of admiring the Amish and dismissing them as being clueless to the way the world really works. At the heart of that is individualism.

So ingrained in our culture is the idea that the individual overrides the needs of the community. There is much discussion about personal rights, and the rights of the individual. It seems to me that the rights of the individual only carry any importance if placed in the context of a community. Therefore without a community the individual is truly lost.

I wonder what would happen in our culture if people, small pockets at first, began to live primarily as a community, and as an individual last?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hands of God

Yesterday morning I enjoyed the sun's appearance above the eastern horizon at Casowasco Camp and Conference Center. I was sitting next to Owasco Lake reading my scriptures and talking with God. One of the members of my church Debbie said it best, it seems as though the connection with God is very strong early in the morning. I wonder if that is because we have not had much time to confuse the issue yet.

Anyway, as I sat there praying I began to place the concerns of my heart in the hands of God. This is nothing new and a regular practice of mine. In the midst of this process I had a realization. These things were already in God's hands. Every portion of my life and being is in the hands of God, even if I do not recognize it. I have often used the phrase of placing something in God's hands as an act of surrender, and it is. I wonder however, if there is a next step?

It is one thing to place our whole being in the hands of God, it is another thing all together to be prepared for what God will do with it. I have some ministry hopes and desires, which are not something I am making real public. The only way for me to reach these ministry opportunities is through the action of other people. I placed that in God's hands yesterday. I went one step further. I asked God to help me be prepared for whatever it is that God is going to do with my hope and my life.

When we place our life in God's hands, we must be ready to be and do who God shapes us to be. If it is truly and act of surrender, our only decision left is obedience.