Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 2010

Once again we are at the time when people stress about the presents, the stockings, and travel plans. And once again I wonder if people are spending as much time stressing about the presence which is the forefront of this thing called Christmas. As I celebrate the inbreaking of our Savior, it is also the time of year when I begin my annual reflection. What are the highlights and not so highlights of my journey this year. The overall summation is that it has been a difficult and wonderful year all at the same time. God is revealing the fruit of ministry here in Cortland, however it comes with a sacrifice. Even with struggles there is much to celebrate this year.

The year started out with walking with my mom as she beat cancer. That's right I said beat. The power of Christ, and the body of Christ in prayer coupled with surgery and follow up treatments, were no match. My mom proved to be a valiant fighter the whole way. A byproduct of the time with mom was also some extended time with my brother, including the three of us going to take in a game at Fenway. Quickly it was the celebration of Easter, and the refreshing of the summer. There was a great, but quick, family trip to Cleveland. Time with my girls at the zoo and science center were great. Once the calendar turned to September plans were in full swing for the trip to Haiti. October brought the trip to Haiti, as nine others joined in in watching God at work through the amazing people there. All along watching God develop the Cortland UMC into more and more of what He desires.

All the events and actions of ministry were and are wonderful and a blessing. However the relationships of my life continue to be the most rewarding. To the guys, Bill Mudge, BJ Norrix, and Alan Howe, I am not sure why you put up with me but glad you do. I know I would have given up many times without your support and care. To my extended family, thanks for your understanding and grace as my schedule messes up your chances to see Sarah and the girls. To my baby girls, Rachel, Leah and Hannah, I am so blessed to be called your dad. You make the effort worth it, Love you. To my wonderful bride. I am not sure most people know how much you sacrifice for the sake of the ministry. Sarah, I could not do this without you and I don't even want to try. I know the sign does not say it, and that the Methodist Church does not recognize it, you truly are the co-pastor of Cortland UMC. I still remember your sister singing Grow Old With Me at our wedding, that was the plan then and it is the plan now. Your stuck with me. Finally my God. You have continued to mess with my life and heart this year. Growing me into places and situation I either did not want to be in, or had no experience of. Thank you. I have so much to learn about you and about who you are shaping me to be. If all of it was taken away, I would cling to you no matter what.

As I close this most likely last entry of the year I have some questions for you the readers. First, should I continue to blog? This year I did not write as much, not for lack of things to say simple time choices. Second, what topics, issues or ideas would you like to read about? Please take a few moments to comment back. My human weakness seeks to know if what I am doing is being engaged, or is just more noise in the cluttered inbox of our worlds.

May you know the grace and peace of God in deeper and deeper ways. May you experience the inbreaking of God this Christmas. May you realize the gift is not Jesus, but you are the gift to him. May you know how blessed you are.

Grace and Peace

Monday, November 22, 2010

Obedience and Blessing

Wow it has been a long time since I posted anything here. I could give a long list of reasons/excuses but I won't. The lack of posts does not correspond to a lack of content, more of time and motivation. This morning the Lord really impressed on me to write today, so here goes.

I think most any of us would like to see God bless us. In fact there are times when we feel like we are experiencing just the opposite of blessing rather we face challenge after challenge. Before going too far we must realize there are times when challenge is brought into our lives to help develop us into the person we have been created to be. Struggle and challenge in our lives is not directly connected with sin, or lack of faith. Sometimes we just go through tough times. There are other times when our actions of lack their of do bring consequences we see as a struggle or challenge.

You do not have to look very hard of far to find a preacher on the TV or the Internet who offers the promise if we simply give our lives to Christ everything will be okay. That might not be the exact quote, however it is pretty close to the idea presented. Perhaps all of you are better followers of Jesus than I am, yet this is not the journey I have found with Christ. Following Jesus is hard to do. After all it would appear if we are to follow Jesus we must be transformed from who we have always been. No longer do we get to decide what is best and right, we are given the call of Christ to follow him. The result of this challenge in my life is often disobedience. What an old fashion word, obedience. God calls to us and gives us direction and hope, and the call looks difficult and filled with situations we do not want any part of. So we decide to modify the call a little to fit our view of the world. We expect the blessing of God to be exactly the same even if we have tweaked the plan a little. We expect even if we are disobedient, God will shower us with blessing just the same.

Another way of looking it this is to say we want all the reward without the effort. I love watching college football, and we are coming to the time of year when the national champion will be rising to the top. In early January one team will be crowned the champion, and a player on the team will more than likely be deemed the hero of the game and season. This person will be hoisted up on shoulders and be on the cover of magazines. That shoulder top ride did not come without a price. There was a consistent obedience over a long period of time which resulted in the great blessing. On our journey with Christ we often want the shoulder top ride without the effort it takes to get there. We want the blessing without obedience. Simply we expect God to bless us even if we follow our own understanding and desires more than the understanding and desires of God.

I am not saying if you are facing struggle right now it is the result of disobedience. What I am saying is you have an opportunity to work toward the blessing by how you respond to the struggle you are in. I have spent a large amount of time lately thinking about what it would look like if a group of people called the church began to live in radical obedience to God. What would happen if the people of God began to consistently be obedient to the call of God? Would there still be hunger? Would there still be poverty? The sick? The imprisoned? Children killed? Disease? Injustice? The blessing we receive from obedience is not always a personal blessing, it is a blessing to the people that we are a part of. What's in it for me is not the question of a follower of Christ. What must I do to follow God is the question.

We all seek the blessing of God. For some the vision of blessing is a little different than others. Still most of the time we want the maximum blessing with minimal effort. In reality it is not about amount of effort it is about obedience. We cannot and will not experience the blessing of God if we refuse to be obedient.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where To Set Up Camp?

Here in these United States we are people of place. Contained in our lives is a strong desire to find place, physical or otherwise to set up camp and reside. Not always a physical address but a state of existence. We like to reside in the same thought patterns, behaviors and activities. Even when these situations do not produce what we think they should, or what they once produced we do not like to find a new place to set up camp. This is the struggle of our life with God, not simply day to day living in America.

As I though about this the last couple of days I was able to verbalize it like this, we cannot live or camp in the past because it is gone. We cannot live or camp in the future because it is not yet here. However, we cannot live or camp where we are at because this passing moment becomes the past as quickly as it was the future. So, where do we set up camp? In this question we find the tragedy of the Old Testament Temple. Long before there was a temple, before Israel had a king, before the promise was ceased, the people of God followed encamping as they went. Where God lead them they followed for the most part. Along the way there was grumbling and rebellion which resulted in correction and teaching. The people knew they could remember what was, but could not live there, and they had not yet taken a hold of the promise of the future. Further they knew the place they were at was only temporary even if they liked the place.

The day comes when the people begin to settle in the promise land. Settle they did and from there the struggle of following God intensified. Many had gotten to the place they had wanted to be and wanted to stay there until they died. This went way beyond geography. Once in the promise land the relationship between God and the people of God was characterized by a growing staleness. This caused the people to look around to other nations and people for guidance than to God. Soon the cry for an earthly king went before God. Even with God warning them of the consequences they moved in that direction. From there David, the earthly king, wanted to build a residence of God on earth. At the outset God seems to be against the idea, and likes the idea of being a transient God who is free to move and invite the people to move. Yet the human drive kicks in and the Temple is build. All along the way people begin to move from camp to permanent structure in dwelling and thought.

What if we are intended to be people who live from encampment to encampment? What if the love of God is so great that we are constantly understanding God in different and news ways? Not that God is changing, rather that we are changing. Where we camped yesterday is part of our history and therefore it matters, yet we cannot camp there again. Tomorrow holds the promise of heaven, and therefore it matters, yet we are not there yet. Today is the gift of God, and therefore it matters, yet today will soon become yesterday. So where do we camp? The simple answer is where God is. Realizing this is harder to accomplish in reality it is still the truth. We must live in such a way that we are camped where God is at this moment and when God says its time to move, we break camp and follow.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It Begins With Me

There are pages filled with quotes about change and where the starting point of change rests. One of my favorite change quotes is attributed to Gandhi, "Be the change you want to see." It is not very often that I spend a large amount of time talking about individuals. As human beings we are designed to be communal beings, therefore our lives are not measured by ourselves rather by our context of community. To change all that up today I would like to address the "Me" in all of us. It is no secret community is hard, and dysfunction is not hard to find in community. Anyone who has ventured into community has been hurt at some point by that community, or more specifically by an individual from that community. It is a reality of community which may be impossible to avoid because communities are made up of a bunch of individuals, and individuals have issues which get played out in community.

All that might or might not be understood. What is understood is the number of people who feel disconnected from life, God, others and themselves. As the disconnection grows the attempts to connect become greater and greater. We begin to seek community after community hoping this will be the one where things fell right. Only to find this community has the similar problems of the community before. Perhaps the problem is not them, its you and I. Despite the face many put forward, I find a large number of people who do not like the life they have and do not like the situations they find themselves in. The end result is people who really struggle to like themselves.

If we are going to fell like the pieces which make up our live are coming together, we will need to first come to terms with ourselves. I will be the first to share I am not always thrilled about the way God has designed my body, and I am not always thrilled with the places God has lead me. However, if I do not find peace about my life and situation, I will not find peace in the places and people around me. Connecting with God, and finding community begins with me. Sure I can blame my unhappiness with my life on all kinds of things. I can give a list of rationalizations about why my life is the way it is. Another option is to do the really hard work and look at myself. I can already hear some of you, well I cannot be myself because of so and so or this situation or that situation, that is just crap. We will never be satisfied with the things around us until we come to terms with ourselves. It is impossible to change anything but ourselves. Our circumstances in life may not change, the way we deal with them can. The people in our lives may not change, the way we deal with them can.

We have become a people who move from place to place, church to church, relationship to relationship looking for something which cannot be found externally. All of us must come to terms with the life we have. If there are things in our life that need to change, and we can change them, make that change. Often I find myself not living the life I know Christ sacrificed to give me. Just as often I begin to give rationalizations as to why and who is to blame. Reality, I need to get my stuff together. Then I will begin to find connection with God, family, communities and creation. Then I will begin to experience a wholeness I may have never known. It all begins with me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Genuine Church

"Genuine church life is born when groups of people are intoxicated with a glorious unveiling of their Lord. Jesus Christ is the only foundation upon which an authentic church can be built" -- Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, Jesus Manifesto page 143.
I have just finished reading Jesus Manifesto and many times I nearly signed in and offered some thoughts along the way. I waited to complete the reading to gain a full understanding of the perspective the authors offer to us. The above quote is one of two which have captured my heart and mind. The other I will write on later.

I have spend years studying, going to seminars and conferences, picking the brains of those around me, and any other way to gain information about this thing called the church. Over the years I have come across some really great programs, and have used many of them. I have a long list of things which "successful" churches must do if they are going to be great churches. I have to confess there was even a time when I did the whole Rick Warren Hawaiian shirt thing. With all this information out there, and with a number of churches who seem to be successful at drawing numbers of people it seems the whole church thing should be simple.

One problem, anyone who has ever worked to see the church become all that it can be knows this is not easy work. Often the programs come up short and the church no matter the size seems to fall short of being the embodiment of Christ. Perhaps the goal is too lofty. Maybe it just is not possible to experience the genuine church as described by none other than Jesus himself. What if the problem is not the possibility, rather the problem is us. A quick study of the New Testament would reveal there was not a set of programs, or even conferences to attend. I am not sure there were even Hawaiian shirts in those days. Yet the church of Jesus Christ exploded onto the scene. What was it that caused the church to be the church in such a way? The people of the church had an all out intoxication with Jesus Christ. Jesus was the center of peoples every moment. There was no division of life, church and Jesus. I guess today we might say they were an organic whole.

Not a program. Not a technique. Simply Jesus. In the Western world we have become so intoxicated with all kinds of things. Unfortunately Jesus is often left off the list of intoxicants. We will never experience the fullness of Jesus, the genuine church, unless the people who would be identified by Jesus Christ return Jesus to the intoxicating center of their being.

"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

There might be a temptation to sent this along to someone in a church. Perhaps you might send it along to your pastor. Before you send it to anyone do your work first. Wrestle with the place Jesus has in your life. Are you intoxicated with Jesus?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Voice of God

I guess I have always thought of the voice of God to sound a lot like James Earl Jones, or after Bruce Almighty, I gave allowance for Morgan Freeman. All throughout the scriptures we hear see people saying the Lord spoke to them, and even in our day we have people using similar language. All along the way failing to describe what it is that God sounds like. How do we know the voice of God versus all the other voices which are swimming around in our lives? In our current age they tend to reserve special rooms for people who insist they hear voices. Is the voice of God like the movie Field of Dreams, or is it more subtle than that? Just how is it that we can know when God is speaking to us?

First we must recognize an audible voice is only one way in which God speaks to us. God speaks to us through other people, the the Scriptures, through our thought lives. We can have times when we keep seeing the same message showing up in various places and ways. God communicated with us through dreams and visions, as well as through movies and books other than Scripture. We must not limit the ways God can speak to us. Still we are left to ponder how do I know what is God communicating and what is something else.

Our great challenge is we might not ever know 100%. However, there are some activities we can employ to test what we think God is telling us. The most effective way to test is through the regular practice of spending time with God. Romans 12 instructs us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and then we will be able to test and approve God's leading. The transformation requires an investment of time and effort, training ourselves to be in conversation with God.

When there is a specific leading we want to test form our ongoing conversation with God, the first stop is the Scriptures. God will not call us in a direction that is contrary to what has been offered to us in the Scriptures. If we are feeling lead in a direction, yet it does not line up with the Scriptures, we can know this is not a leading of God, but from some other place or person. After the Scripture alignment test, we move to the test of community. While each of us must decide personally what we are going to do with Jesus, there is nothing private about our journey. Following God through Jesus Christ is always to be done in the context of community. When feeling a leading from God we are to test the leading with a community of believers whom we trust to speak truth and offer good counsel. This must be a group of people whom you trust and have an ongoing relationship with. If these folks reach consensus about the leading of God, this is another positive.

The next step requires the most risk, go. Once you have tested the leading or communication from God with the Scriptures, and have trusted your community, step in faith. At this point there is still no guarantee you have heard God or not. However, you have employed some steps which help increase the probability greatly. Once you take the step of faith it is imperative to remain in conversation and connection with God and your community. This will allow for mid-course correction or a complete all stop in the event it becomes evident our understanding of God's leading has missed the mark somewhere.

Many people get paralyzed waiting to be sure what they feel, think, hope and dream are from God. They will spend their entire live wanting to make sure they have it right before they take action. This is a great tragedy, and what is killing the witness of Jesus Christ in many places. We are going to get it wrong from time to time, possibly more often than that, yet it is easier for God to use us if we are in motion already. Take a step of faith, if it doesn't work, seek forgiveness where it is needed, repent when needed, keep seeking God, and keep seeking out. The more we engage the process, the more we have conversation with God, the more clear the voice of God becomes. The more clear the leading of God becomes.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What Are You Expecting?

There is a simple yet profound question which lies beneath most of American culture, "What's in it for me?" When we get a new work assignment we wonder what we will gain. If someone asks for our help somewhere in our minds comes the thought of what we might gain. Whether in direct and grand ways or in small subtle ways this has crept into most of our lives. Unfortunately this has happened with our journey with God. As we consider walking with God, and ways in which God calls us to follow we can often slip into a mindset which asks, "What is in it for me?"

This question first shows our very need for God, and we enter in to relationships thinking about what we can gain. It also highlights the fact the we are so prone to missing the point. There are amazing benefits to following God through Jesus Christ. The benefits are more numerous than I can list on this page, yet is that why we follow? It seems as though if we follow God for what we get in return we are simply in another consumer transaction. Our struggle is made deeper when God does not deliver like we thing God should. We feel like we have done our part and God seems to fall short on His part. Somehow we feel like we have been short changed by God.

This all comes back to one issue, the Lordship of God in our lives. On the day when God gave up his only son that we might have life it was not lets make a deal day. God did not say if I sacrifice my only son will you follow me? If you follow me, I will make your life all that you want it to be. it may seem absurd to even think about that, yet that is often how we live. We expect God to function the way we want God to function because we think we are in charge. Very easily we slip into the thinking that I have paid my dues to God now it is time for God to deliver the goods and services on my terms. Problem, we are not in charge. God is King, Jesus is Lord, that means God is in charge not us. If we are following God expecting certain returns we often will find ourselves disappointed. The only expectation we can have in following God is relationship. Because of Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection, we can have relationship with God. Not simply relationship but a relationship where nothing stands between us and God. We are not in charge of how that relationship works as we are the created and we respond to the creator.

What are you expecting from God? Are you following God expecting to get something in return? Are you obedient to the call of God expecting God to function in specific way that is to your liking and pleasure? Perhaps it is time for all of us to offer our lives broken and incomplete to God with our any expectations of what is in it for me.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Wow it has been a while since I have posted here. After an extended break I am back, so the rants, questions, challenges and theological banter will now continue.

This Sunday at Cortland UMC we kicked off a year long discernment process. We are seeking God to find what the next faithful step is for our community at this time. Often in the church when we speak about discernment, it is not discernment we are actually seeking. A normal pattern is to have the senior leader, of a small group of leaders have a mountain top adventure to hear from God what the vision is. Upon receiving the vision the individual, or small group return to the community and begin the process of selling the vision. This is not discernment, this is sales and marketing. Discernment is a much more difficult process to start and engage, however there is no sales pitch needed.

Discernment is, according to Webster's, the process of grasping and understanding that which is obscure. The end is not known at the beginning, rather there is a journey, or a process, to discover what God is reveling. All to often whether as a church community, or as individuals we get the end picture in mind and seek after God to make it happen the way we see it. The journey of discernment is one by which we engage a process of events and activities to hear better what God is speaking. The starting point is the Scriptures. From there we add prayer, and community interaction. Before discernment has run it's course there needs to be a testing of everything. This process will take much time.

Time is why I think most people and churches do not engage true discernment. The other significant reason is because of fear. We become afraid of what God might lead us to next. Once we know what that is we then must choose God's way or our own, to whom will we be obedient?

I am excited about what God is doing. I long to see what God will show our community as we seek together. Additionally, I long to see the ways in which God is going to mess with my life as I engage the process.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Rest of The Story

Monday morning after Easter. Many will look back at yesterday and celebrate a wonderful time at church coupled with quality time spent with chocolate bunnies and other confections of the season. There may have been some who had a profound spiritual experience yesterday which took Easter well beyond that nasty plastic grass, and a dinner fit to feed a neighborhood. In my time I have had opportunity to celebrate Easter 34 times, and over the last few years I have begun to wonder more about the Monday after.

Celebrations of resurrection are wonderful, and often is the church at its best. Many people come out to church, possibly the only time all year, to do what a good citizen would do. Even the hardiest church attender who has not missed a day of church since the Nixon administration attends and comments how lovely the church was and how nice it was to see the church so full of people. To the pastor who could mistakenly think all the people are there to see them. All the people gathered run the risk of missing the point. So you might ask what is the point?

The point of the whole thing is not Easter Sunday. The real point is found in the Monday after. Resurrection is not true only on this one day of the year. Further we are called by Christ to live as resurrection people everyday of our lives. Yet all too often we have a wonderful day celebrating Easter but when Monday morning comes around the option is there to return to a pre-resurrection life, or even worse life as usual. The resurrection of Jesus was offered by God to all humanity to so that everything would be changed.

So the real question is not how was your Easter. The real question is how is the rest of the story going to be written. I am not suggesting that we all know how the rest of our lives are going to be played out. I am suggesting we can know because of the story God has written through Jesus Christ, our story will be forever different. Will the story after resurrection Sunday look the same as before? I hope and pray that it will not. May God mess with our lives. May we be people of live and hope rather than gloom and death. May resurrection be the core of our beings not just once a year, but every moment of every day.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Holy Week, The Death of Church

The single most important week of the year is upon us. This week we track Jesus as he moves from the upper room, to the cross, to the grave, and finally to resurrection. Without these events which we celebrate this week, the Church would be pointless. This is also the week where many people who have filled in the box Christian on the questionnaire remember there is the place called the church where the Christians gather. The rest of the year with the exception of Christmas unless it doesn't fit the schedule, many live lives disconnected from Christ and the church which he founded. Then Holy Week comes and there seems to be a remembrance of being Christian.

It might seem that my tone in the above paragraph is sarcastic or condescending. This may be, however it is not my intent. There is no redemption is being condescending toward the way people have chosen to carve out their lives. Rather I want to offer another option for how we interact with Christ through the church. It begins with a confession. I am going to be so bold as to offer a confession and apology on behalf of the church. For far too long the church has not looked like its creator intended it to. There has been more concern over human developed rules and regulations than following the works and teachings of God through Jesus Christ. It seems as though more attention is paid to who is wearing what clothes, or if the people are behaving as is considered to be appropriate. Basically, the church has become stuffy, judgmental and missing the point. I for one say I am sorry to all the people who are turned off by the church.

It is a tragedy that we in the church have not been able to keep the life of Christ so visible in our community that we actually turn people off to God. It is not the fault of those who attend church once or twice a year that their memory of being a Christian is so short-lived. It is the church which has faltered. In many cases we have taken the most exciting invitation of hope, and made it mundane, boring, or even irrelevant to most people's lives. No wonder people have trouble remembering they are a Christian until the egg laying bunny shows up. Christmas and Easter Christians is the lingo used in church circles to describe the folks who only show up twice a year. I was taught all through seminary and my early years as a pastor to have a mild if not full out disdain for folks in that category. I am deeply regretful to say that for years I was sucked into such reasoning. Now, I see things a little differently.

I am sorry the church has so lost is way that it has become boring, and just another thing on an overloaded to do list. It grieves me to think the church has become a place where we talk about Jesus but never live like Jesus. People hold the church to be a optional part of their life because the church has allowed itself to become trivial to the day-to-day life of those who would follow Christ. Perhaps it is not the individuals who need to remember they are Christian. Perhaps it is the church which needs to remember what it is about.

I wonder what would happen if in the next few days churches all around the world used the events of Holy Week to truly follow Jesus. That on Thursday night, we would dine with Jesus at the table celebrating the God who brings people from captivity to freedom. Then of Friday as we reconnect with the death of Christ, we would nail ourselves and the church to the cross and let it die. What if we crucified the church and buried it Friday night? Then on Sunday morning allow God to bring forth new life. I wonder what would happen if churches didn't just talk about the resurrection this Sunday, not just experience it like a TV show. What if the church of Jesus Christ embraced new life and vitality.

May we the church die this week, so that we might experience resurrection. May we no longer serve the forces of injustice, and may we no longer trivialize the most important message for all of humanity. The life and work of Jesus Christ is too important to reduce it to human derived rules and regulations. It is time for the church to be free. A place where Christ is not simple talked about, or simply celebrated, rather a place where Christ is embodied. May the Spirit of God sweep through our churches, revive us, make us whole again.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care and The Church

So I wonder if there is anything else happening in the world other than the United States health care bill, Tiger Woods return to golf, or NCAA basketball? These three things seem to fill the news airwaves no matter where I turn. Tiger and basketball will pass within a month, the health care bill, that will take longer to work with. Many people have many opinions about the health care bill, and there is no shortage of people who are willing to share the opinion with great energy and certainty. Being the pastor of a church many have asked me what I think about the health care reform bill, and have left unsatisfied with my answer. My intention in writing today is not to offer my opinion on the bill, if you think you have figured out my stance could you email me and let me know what my stance is cause I am still sorting that out and could use some help.

Much in terms of resources and energy has been spend and will continue to be spent of the issue of health care reform in the United States. Left in its wake are the real issues of health care in our world such as eliminating preventable diseases in the developing world, or getting the care to people in areas of the world experiencing disaster. It is amazing to me how self-centered and Amerocentric, not sure that is even a word, the whole debate is. Whether we have private or state-run health care the fact remains we have a health care system. There is actually access to care and preventable diseases are not running out of control. The over whelming majority of people do not have their very life threatened daily by a mosquito. Once again our American arrogance is showing a little more than I am comfortable with.

What does this have to do with the church anyway? The title if the entry is Health care and The Church, when do we get to that? Right now. No matter what particular version of the church you are engaged in there are people who hold opinion as to the greatness of the health care reform situation. At the core of the divide is a common thread, the role of the government in the day to day life of an individual. There are certain ways people feel the government should function but at the core all sides of the issue are creating the same challenge. They expect the government to be the ultimate source of security, direction and function. Biblically there is a word for this, idolatry. The church of Jesus Christ in America is relinquishing to the government the role and responsibility that the church has been given since the beginning.

Governments will do what governments do. No matter what decision is made there will be people who agree and others who do not. A policy enacted today can be changes the next, or when those on the other side of an issue gain "power". The reality is the government cannot save us, nor can it destroy us. Through the centuries governments have come and gone, and the styles of government have come and gone, and come around again. In it all there still remains the church of Jesus Christ. Pilate couldn't stop it, nor could any of the early Roman leaders. Stalin, Hitler, or any other world leader has been able to stop it. Sure there have been times when it has been more difficult to be a follower of Christ, and yes there have been countless numbers of people who have been put to death for their faith. None of this has stopped the church of Jesus Christ. Through it all God has remained God, and the call of the people of God has not changed.

What is the call of the people of God? Love God above all things, with everything within and outside of you. To share the story of God and humanity with all people everywhere. To bring good news to the poor, naked and blind. And to not stop until as many people as possible experience the Kingdom of God in their midst. No matter what our national health care plan is, the calling of the people of God does not change. I wonder what would happen in people in the church of Jesus Christ spent less time debating a government policy or plan, and invested their resources, time, talent and treasure, into being good news to the poor, working to eliminate preventable diseases all around the globe? Is health care like we have in the United States a divine right? Do we have to carry a little card proving our health care coverage to be fully embraced by the Kingdom of God?

When it comes to health care and the church, what a government does or does not do should not change what we do. Let us stop worrying about a Republican or Democrat plan. Let us stop worrying about who has coverage or not. May we, the church of Jesus Christ, work to see all of God's children have the opportunity to have live. Whether in the United States or any place in the world, let us not rest until preventable diseases stop killing people.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why Either/Or?

It has been over a month since I have offered my thoughts in this way. This morning my heart is stirred by many avenues. I could take time to enter into the Glen Beck statements about social justice, already have given too many words to that. I could take about the luck of the Irish, and most seem to think that luck is simply found by getting drunk, again already spent too many words on that. Instead what about the guy behind all this green, shamrocks and poor Irish brogue attempts. St. Patrick is often lost in the midst of the day which carries his name. It is interesting that when so much discussion about social justice, and/or the Gospel are in the mainstream, we would come across St. Patrick. Before getting any further I want to recommend a book about Celtic Spirituality, " The Celtic Way of Evangelism" by George Hunter III. This book opens a window into the life and work of St. Patrick all should see and hear.

I am not sure there was much of a debate for Patrick when it came to the Gospel or Social Justice. The two seemed to be deeply connected by the way he lived his live and encouraged others to live. In fact there is much of St. Patrick's life which we find a sense of both/and living rather than forcing a choice which is a limiting choice. That is what happens when we force people or ourselves to choose between things like Social Justice and the Gospel. It can and has been argued by myself and others far smarter than I, that you cannot have a Gospel without Social Justice, and you cannot have Social Justice without the Gospel. To force a choice is to limit both.

Why is it that we as humanity, especially we in the church, like to force people into an either/or corner? Often doctrinal, or scriptural purity is lifted high as the battle cry. Problem, whose doctrine or purity of Scripture shall we use? There is so much more to God, and the Scriptures given to us by God than we as humans can fully comprehend. No, my impression is the enforcement of the either/or is truly designed to great exclusivity. If we can force someone to choose one way or another, we can know whether they are with us or not. Better said, we can determine if they are truly a follower of Christ or not.

The reality the One we follow was the master of the both/and. Jesus did not simply say commit verbally to following me, and hold pure doctrine. Likewise, Jesus did not say just go around doing good deeds and working for justice. No! Both things were deeply connected to the Kingdom of God, which by its very nature is a both/and kind of place. It is both present and future. It is both fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled. It is at hand, and yet to be embraced. I wonder what would happen if people who claimed to follow Christ began to see how broad, and deep God is. Life is not as easy as forcing a choice. Many messes are created by allowing room for both. Yet who ever said Kingdom living would be easy, and neat?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Looking Ahead

Today we begin with the Francis Chan quote, "People who are obsessed think about heaven frequently. Obsessed people orient their lives around eternity; they are not fixed only on what is here in front of them."

This quote presents to me one of the classic battles of our journey. As we are told in scripture we are not citizens of this world, rather we are citizens of heaven. However, as it has also been said we can be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. For example, right now we could look at Haiti and ignore it by saying well, in the end it will all work out for those folks down there. We know those who had made their commitment to Christ will join us in heaven. This could be the action, and might be the action some people are taking. While the premise is true, there is a significant flaw.

Our focus tends to be too limited. Now I know that is the whole point of a focus, to limit what we are looking at, nonetheless ours gets too limited. The problem is not found in our actions now directly, it is found in the way we view this thing or place called heaven. Often heaven is thought of as another place and another time. Somehow we disconnect our current reality from what is to come in the fullness of time. People who are obsessed with Jesus Christ understand we are practicing now for what it will be like when that time comes. The call is now to be a people who seek and work toward justice, people who bring comfort to the hurting, and are expressing the Kingdom of God in tangible ways. This gets much easier when we realize what we are experiencing now is not all there is.

When we are following after Christ with all we have it is easier to understand there is more to life than we can see right now. Because we can focus on the glory of Christ we can see how our actions today fit in with eternity. Our present struggle will pass, and the glory of God will enter in. Our actions are no longer limited to solving the crisis at hand, rather we focus on working toward the ultimate goal of the time when God sets everything right. We would now look ahead to what God is already putting into place. Obsessed people are not paralyzed by the moment, rather they are energized by what is to come.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The World of Give and Take

Francis Chan offers the following "People who are obsessed with God are known as givers, not takers. Obsessed people genuinely think that others matter as much as they do, and they are particularly aware of those who are poor around the world."

Right now it seems as though everyone is ready to give a little, or a lot, in the wake of the Haitian earthquake. I applaud the efforts people are undertaking. In moments of great tragedy, I find there is still hope for our world. Nations and people alike are finding resources in the midst of tough economic times to help out the people of Haiti. I wonder what the fervor will be like in a year? Well what was it like a year ago?

Tragedy highlights the needs of the poor, and Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere. While hope is highlighted as well another side of humanity is drawn into the light. In moments of crises we care, but in the day to day we tend to have a disregard for those who are poor. Sure we might see them, but we do not see them. We know they are there, but we do not know them. The average person only sees the need to be in ministry with the poor during times such as these. Our challenge as Christ followers is found in that we are not called to be average. We are called to be obsessed. Jesus went out of his way to be with the poor. Please note that is not to minister to the poor, rather to be with them. It would only make sense the followers of Jesus would do the same.

As we gear up and meet the demands of this tragedy, I hope and pray we will be the followers in full force. That there would be ab outpouring of financial resource and material resource. My hope is there will be a great number of people ready to be in ministry with the people of Haiti, both poor and not as poor. More than that, I hope we will become obsessed with ministry with the poor. Let us not wait for the crisis of our world, rather may we look daily upon those who need obsessed people to come along side for the journey. Anything less and I wonder if we are not fulfilling our calling to be obsessed followers of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Service To Others

After a New Years break we are now back at it. Today's guiding thought from Francis Chan's book, Crazy Love is, "People who are obsessed with Jesus do not consider service a burden. Obsessed people take joy in loving God by loving His people."

I have to confess this one hurt this morning. I was hoping for a quote that would allow me to convict others more than myself. Yesterday was one of those ministry days that started way too early and ended way to late. As the day wore on I was was wearing down. Once the mid-afternoon blood sugar low set in, I was ready to retreat to my office to preview a DVD for consideration of a future class. As I settled in they started coming. Our food pantry has hours on Wednesdays and the person who was working it was running late. Before I knew it there was a small crowd waiting to receive food.

I convinced myself they can wait, I have some really important things to do. I tried to focus on the project in front of me but I kept looking at the clock and seeing people patiently waiting for their opportunity to eat that night. Finally I pushed away the video and went out to serve the folks in need. My confession, I did it with an absence of joy. Here I had an opportunity to show love to people who God has sent my way, and all I could think about was not wanting to be doing it. This morning as I reflected on the words of Francis Chan, the cut was deep and true. I have so far to go before I can enter the ranks of the obsessed.

I find comfort and fear in the thought that I am not alone. I am sure there are many who are striving to live the obsessed life, but just cannot seem to get there. Along the way there are gains and there are setbacks, and the gains feel great while the setbacks hurt. Nonetheless the joy is not in the completion, it is found in the journey. Yes it is tragic I struggle so with being obsessed with the giver of life and being. More tragic is the number of people who identify themselves with God, yet are not even on the journey of obsession.

Whether it is professional ministry, or more importantly, the work of every baptized Christian, we all struggle in service. In moments which show our connection with God, we long to serve and be used by God. Other moments are perhaps neutral, and even more are an act of the will. We force ourselves to do what we know is the call of God to creation. The key is moving from and act of the will, to an act of joy based in our obsession of the One who calls us.

I wonder how many people, and churches do things out of perceived obligation? We must provide food for the hungry, clothes for the naked. We must do this or that or God will be angry with us and zap us. While we might not use these words, that is the sentiment I find in myself from time to time. What might happen if we, the followers of Christ, became obsessed? If we did things not do delay God's wrath, or because we should, rather because we live for it.

Serving others is not always easy. Whenever people are involved there will be struggle and conflict. Sacrifice will be required and, people will not always be happy, much less appreciate, the effort. We will grow tired and weary. The desire to give up will be more than we can bear from time to time. That is where the joy of obsession comes in. We can choose to persevere with joy. Service to others is the greatest form of showing the love of God.

May we, the church, become an obsessed people. May we serve people not out of obligation or fear. May we serve people because of the love God has infused our life with. May we be obsessed.