Pancakes Every Day!

Elijah providing pancakes for the Darfur Duo is undoubtably one of the great under-told stories of the Bible. No, Elijah doesn’t flip the flap jacks, but he does give daily bread to a hungry widow and her son. And no, the story doesn’t take place in Darfur, but in Syria (currently Lebanon). Still, note the coincidence, Darfur and Syria, two misery riddled war zones led by (unrelated) dictators named Bashir. In both places, hunger walks among the innocents stealing children from their mother’s arms.

But, I Kings 17:9-16 has enough handles to be relevant without my fictionalizing it further. Jesus, himself, makes use of the story in his inaugural sermon in the Capernaum Synagogue (Luke 4:24-27) to battle his peoples’ prejudice against foreigners. Jesus has just announced that God is bringing peace, justice, healing, and salvation to all peoples. The crowd responds by saying, “Yes, yes. Now stop sending all of that to far away places and give us some magical pancakes, too.” The good people of our churches and synagogues often act as if the suffering that occurs in other countries is not their concern. They ignore Darfur, Syria, Bangladesh, and East LA. They somehow think that they don’t need to feel pity for those who starve there. It is convenient to think of these people as being somehow different from ourselves.

Pentecost 4
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Nike Spam
Good blogs generate fun and helpful comments. Your comments are appreciated, but you need to register first. Recently BillKemp.info was hit with a rash of robots trying to sell shoes in the comment box. To remedy this, I added a captcha and some additional requirements to insure that users are human. From now on User Names must be your real name. Church affiliation and general location are now also required.  Please allow a day or so for me to validate your registration. - Bill

Do Clergy People Age Like Fine Wine?

In last week’s blog I speculated on how productivity varies over the thirty odd year career of the average clergy person. Let us be blunt; the United Methodist church, and other mainline denominations, are moving towards a system that reduces professional productivity down to one factor, the capacity to add members or grow a church (sometimes called ‘metrics’). Elsewhere I have cautioned that we need to read this as an institutional concern, which may have little correlation to God’s calling on a particular pastor’s life or the God-given vocation of the church that they are serving.

 

Three Kinds of Faith

+ I have not found such great faith even in Israel +

“The Great Gadsby” is really about faith and character. Nick seems to be searching for something to believe in, a guiding-principle for his life. He has left the stable confines of his mid-western upbringing. New York is chaotic in its rebellion against prohibition. New York is problematic in its failure to deal with social issues or provide an examples of great persons living noble, charitable, lives. Nick begins the book (or the movie) in need of a Christ-figure. This is what makes it a good launching off point for discussing people like the centurion, and ourselves, that put their faith in Jesus. 

 

Nick’s first New York friends are Tom, Daisy, and the golfing pro, Miss Baker. He observes with horror their lack of faith and their failure to develop anything that approaches an ethical system for life. In a great quote, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes:

 

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made"

Pentecost 3
Sunday, June 2, 2013

Age Appropriate?

The life cycle of a congregation is often described a bell curve, mapping out membership growth over time. Martin F. Saarinen (The Life Cycle of a Congregation -Alban.org), and others, chart how a congregation is born with enthusiasm, has significant yearly growth for a decade or so, enters into a long period of stability, then falls into decline, leading in time to death. My first response to seeing this curve was to ask, what about Canterbury Cathedral? Obviously there are outliers, that is churches whose lifespan is so unexpected that it skews the chart.

The Value of Suffering

We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. +

This passage gives us the great equation of life; suffering leads to perseverance, this persistent patience then leads to our having an improved character, this, in the end, leads to hope. The three terms of the equation can be variously translated and this is one of the passages of the Bible that becomes more transparent when you look at a variety of translations. There is a form of group wisdom (mass Holy Spirit group-think) when you lay the various words side by side. Paul is reaching to describe something that is so universal that a single English or Greek word cannot contain it. Yet each committee when they translate brings some aspect of the jewel to light.

 

Suffering is probably the best word for the first term. Though some Bibles use tribulation, troubles, or trials, suffering is universal. As the Buddha would say, the human condition is defined by suffering and we only become enlightened when we face it head on. I like Scott Peck’s bluntness, “...you must be willing to meet existential suffering and work it through. In order to do this, the attitude toward pain has to change. This happens when we accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth.” I think we need to be honest and open about the indispensable role that suffering has had in our personal lives.

Pentecost 2
Sunday, May 26, 2013

Consider the Lilies

Jesus said, “Consider the lilies...” (Matthew 6:28) Why?  Please note that these flowers have three strikes against them:

A Community of Individuals

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place... tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each of them +

I went to a large used book sale this past Saturday. Reading is such an individual thing. I usually get in trouble when I read over someone’s shoulder or read my book out loud when others are trying to sleep. So, when I shop for books, I shop for my personal enjoyment. Yet, as is often the case, my book shopping this weekend was very communal. I had four other family members with me. As we rambled through the aisles we kept separating and coming back together in little clumps of twos and threes to compare finds. Together, apart. Apart, together. The mix and match of the Kemp family’s communal love of books.

The day of Pentecost was a group experience with an individual dimension. As you read Acts 2, you bounce back and forth between the communal and the personal. The first Christians are all together, yet the spirit falls upon each individual as a personalized tongue of flame. The disciples go out on the balcony to speak to the crowds on the street. Yet each hearer experiences the Holy Spirit’s communication in their own language. This really should be known as the gift of individual ears rather than as the gift of a common tongue.

Pentecost 1
Sunday, May 19, 2013

Understanding precedes action

Most things that fail in the church, do not fail for lack of trying. They fail because the groundwork was not done to prove the project worthy of the required effort.  Here is how it goes; one or two leaders become excited about a new program for their church. They work hard to get the votes needed to initiate it. There are stories told about how well this program worked elsewhere. It sounds like fun, and perhaps a little mysterious. The vote passes through council and money is set aside for it. The innovators wipe their brows, thinking the hard part is over. The new program now requires broader support. The various church leaders who ‘liked the idea’ before, back away. They didn’t think this thing would require anything from them. Who understands the next step?

When is a sequel, not a sequel?

In my former book...

What if Luke had really wanted to only write one long book, instead of the Part 1&2 of Luke-Acts? There were serious publishing restrictions on written works in the first century. A single book the length of Luke-Acts would be too long for standard scrolls and  create problems for copyists. If it were really intended to be one book, then is it possible that it really has one plot, one theme, and a single central element. I want to propose that the focus is Church, with a capital ‘C.’ 

 

The center passage in a combined Luke-Acts is Acts 2:42-47, where we see the ideal first fellowship of Christians. They are gathered into ‘Church,’ in Jerusalem in the days that follow the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Like Adam and Eve in Paradise they live a short paragraph without sin. They do all the things that Church will do everywhere; they study, they pray, they live in community meeting the needs of the weakest among them, they witness by their simplicity and charity towards those outside the faith. Never again will a church be so purely Church.

 

Easter 6
Ascension
Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Desires of a Congregation's Heart

An important promise in the Bible reads, "Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." - Psalm 37:4  But, where do the desires of my heart come from? I suspect the significant ones come from God. When He promises to give me my desires, He is not agreeing to buy me a Porsche. He is instead agreeing to fulfill the very impulses that He has already wired into my being. Something has to change in me so that I delight in God, however, before I discover the deeper desires of my heart. I have found in my own life that there is a circularity to what is being promised here. God is glad to give me the things he already wants me to want. If my deepest desire is to communicate, God helps me to learn how to write.

How are churches made?

“Come over to Macedonia and help us...” +

Before thinking too hard about Acts 16, it might be good to look up your current congregation’s history and reflect on it. Every church has its own founding story, but most are similar to the story of Paul and the people of Macedonia. PS: Since this was the first congregation birthed in Europe, most American congregations should see themselves as distant descendants of the Macedonians.

Packing for a New Reality

This week my new Reality Check 101 book became available. The back cover reads:

As a tightrope walker alone on her path, so each church must discern a way forward. Reality Check 101 provides a process for congregational dialogue and a dozen exercises for implementing change. Five years in the making, this workbook follows Bill Kemp’s Ezekiel’s Bones and The Church Transition Workbook as a practical guide for lay and clergy leaders.

 

Tightrope walker by Segal

What Church Means

+ Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another... +

Did you know that the dictionary definition for church doesn’t contain the word love. It goes as follows: “Church is a particular Christian organization, typically one with its own clergy, buildings, and distinctive doctrines.” (Apple dictionary)

 

I don’t like this definition. Not only does it exclude the love that Jesus says will define us, it includes three institutional words: clergy, buildings, and doctrines. The trouble is that this is exactly how most people in the world around us see the church. In fact, it may be the way most church people view the Church. It may also be the reason most people today say they can be religious perfectly fine without the Church, thank you. This past week, less than 18% of Americans went to church. 

 

Easter 5
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tightrope Walking

You may have noticed that problems in the church have a tendency to cascade. An idea that someone has seen working elsewhere is tried here. It falls flat. The initiator(s) is then criticized for wasting church resources. The initiator(s) comes away from this experience wounded and more hesitant about sticking their neck out in the future. The council and/or clergy leadership also wants to prevent future failures and protect church resources. So, they renew their commitment to micromanaging and the rigid enforcement of standing policies. Without realizing it, they stifle creativity. This leads to less enthusiasm in the church. Young people depart. Stewardship falls and budgets go unmet.

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