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.

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.

 

+ 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. 

 

For: 
April 23, 2013
John 13:31-35
Acts 2:42-47
Easter 5

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.

The Lord is my shepherd..

I did it again this past week. I quizzed a class of lifelong Methodists (average age 67) on how to get into heaven. One said she didn’t know, but hoped she that was doing OK. Two or three others nodded, as if to speak of our blessed assurance would be a sin of pride. One woman ventured to give the answer that she had been taught, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Yes,” I said, “But does that mean believing anything in particular, like the color of his eyes?” 

 

We had been studying Psalm 23, how the Lord is our Shepherd. I wanted them to see how deeply relational this favorite scripture is. It begins by saying that our relationship with God is not based upon believing certain things. We don’t have to say the Apostles’ Creed to get into heaven. Instead the relationship is what it is. No sheep ever thinks too deeply about how he ended up in this particular flock. Each believer speaks of a grace that they did not earn. The Lord is my shepherd, don’t ask me how I lucked into it. I wanted my class of good Methodists to answer that getting into heaven was a matter of having a relationship with Jesus.

 

For: 
April 21, 2013
Psalm 23
Easter 4

Paul warns Timothy about the dangers of loving money: 

“If we have food and clothing we should be content with that” 

                            - I Timothy 6:8 

What gain is it if I go down to the pit. Can the dust praise God?

Psalm 30 asks The Question, bluntly. If God has made us in his image (Genesis 1:27) and we experience our relationship with God as an interaction of respected individuals, then how would it benefit God to simply let us die? The whole of the Bible, and particularly Psalm 30, describes the human condition as a series of strange, beautiful, and often painful events, which only receive meaning when we gain spiritual eyes. When we are able to see, we look back on each moment of trouble and see how it connected us on a personal level with God. Life is a tale told by an idiot, unless God whispers into our ear the translation of each word. 

 

So in verse 1, David is suffering exile, defeat, and humiliation. The only thing that allows this wilderness to have meaning is the fact that God hears and lifts this measly struggling individual out of the muck. In verse 2, David is sick and God doesn’t just mumble a prayer for all who are on beds of affliction. God, in a specific action, heals David. In verse 5, David has done something that offends this friend. Like any tiff between two closely related persons, there is a period of disfavor. David is sleeping in the spiritual dog house. But in the next morning, all is forgiven. David sings, “His anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime.” Not every depressing event is solved by a miracle, but every downturn of life is given its meaning by the way it builds David’s on going relationship with God.

For: 
April 14, 2013
Psalm 30
Easter 3

The one fact that no one can dispute is that fewer people today are interested in organized religion. Most Americans don't want to pay for some religious monstrosity or attend a Crystal Cathedral. To put it in biblical terms, they have forsaken the Temple that Herod is building in the city, and gone looking for  the burning bush. They are a generation like the one that met John the Baptist on the border of the wilderness and accepted his casual dress. They long to gather on the hillside and hear Jesus tell them about the Kingdom of God and how it is relevant to daily life. 

[The women] came back from the tomb and told all these things to [the men]

I remember my first funeral, it was Flo Chisholm. I was a halfway through Dr. Zeigler’s dreaded Systematic Theology student pastor who had just been hired to drive the hundred miles from Bangor to Danville and bring the word. Flo was beloved by the whole congregation and they spoke her name in a worried tone during the morning prayers. I visited her as she lay upon her rented hospital bed, parked in the living room. For a month of Sundays, I chitchatted and she gave me wise insights into life as it is lived in a quiet Maine village. The last of those Sundays I arrived in a new three-piece navy blue suit with a reversible vest. She appreciated it and I said, “Yep. It’s my marrying and burying suit.” She raised an eyebrow and asked, “So, who’s getting married?” Then, when I stumbled for words, she laughed. 

 

From Flo I learned what I was there for. I needed both in her presence and at her funeral, to speak transparently about death and our shared hope for what follows. This is one of the few remaining gifts that our secular society still gives to clergy; the opportunity to speak frankly about death. If we can face it in all of its forms, and not stumble; then we are given permission to say what we believe about eternal life. 

 

For: 
March 31, 2013
Luke 24:1-12
Easter

Zig Ziglar says that every sale [of a product] overcomes five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust. This list deserves our attention; witnessing involves selling the church and our Lord. The five barriers translate easily into five problems that every congregation has to solve. For the average congregation trying to sell the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their unchurched neighbors, Ziglar’s list is in a rising order of importance. 

 

Let the same mind be in you...

The night before Palm Sunday, Jesus was in Bethany and Mary came to anoint him (John 12:1). In the novel that I am writing about Holy Week, I have Mary proclaiming that Jesus is King. Her perfumed oil wasn’t just given in thanksgiving for her brother’s life, but was a well timed political statement. She does this public act, just a short walk away from Jerusalem’s Eastern Gate, where the Messiah (anointed one) is expected to enter. She does it knowing that the thousands of pilgrims camping nearby, know of Jesus’ miraculous power and will rally to bring him to his throne.

 

Those who anoint kings, as Samuel did for Saul and David, know that they are doing prophesy. They are doing a dramatic act and speaking sacred words with the intention of revealing to all a previously hidden spiritual reality. Mary isn’t just voting Jesus king or liking him on Facebook, she putting before the court of human reason, the evidence, the smoking gun, of the fact that Jesus is, and always has been, the Lord of all. One word, “Messiah.”

 

For: 
March 24, 2013
Philippians 2:5
John 12:1
Lent 6
Palm Sunday

In his book “Leading Change,” John Kotter makes the point that nothing changes in an organization until a sufficient sense of urgency has been established. You can have the right people in leadership and a clearly communicated vision, but if a “plenty of time for us to consider this later” attitude prevails, needed change will never occur. This is the missing step in most church goal setting processes.

There’s an old story about a Maine Lobsterman who was caught in a bad storm at sea when the engine on his boat suddenly quit. Anxiously he fiddled trying to restart it. All the while, he heard the waves crash upon the rocky shore. Soon, he’d be dashed to bits. He prayed, “Lord, I have never asked you for anything in the past. If you rescue me this one time, I promise not to be bothering you again in the future.” 

‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’

Today I picked up a book about how blogs are changing the world. The book began with the story of 9-11-2001, as it unfolded in the blog-o-sphere. It was a day that changed many things in America. The day before 911, web pages that provided news content were valued less than the paper they weren’t printed on. In January of 2000, Time Warner had spent half a gazillion dollars to purchase AOL.  In March of 2000, the dot.com stock market bubble burst, making AOL practically worthless. Everyone associated with posting news on the web slinked off the stage in disgrace. On 911, all that changed. The real-time posting of events and commentary throughout the tragedy rolled away any shame the new fangled media might have felt. Before that day, no one would have expected the internet to become the dominant provider of news content that it is today.

 

Joshua 5:9 tells us how on a particular ‘Today,’ God rolled away the disgrace of the children of Israel. They had been slaves in Egypt. Then they became pilgrims wondering across the Sinai desert and depending upon quails, manna, and magical water bearing rocks to stay alive. But this day, this today, they became inheritors of a promised land. On that day, they celebrated the passover with joy and ate the first fruits of Palestine. What is more important, that day they stopped thinking like slaves. They stopped being homeless people. They start being ‘Israel,’ the people who God fights along side.

For: 
March 10, 2013
Joshua 5:9-12
Lent 4

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