>This was the first thing I read.
After a financial meeting this morning.
This is it.
>photo © 2010 Joel Montes de Oca | more info (via: Wylio)
I feel like I’ve been on a roll lately with sermons. Or, perhaps to say it more faithfully, God’s been on a roll through my sermons. I think there has been more dialogue about preaching with the congregation and I’ve been going out of my way to include more visual presentation material — powerpoint slides, images, even movies. It’s been a challenge and the way our church is set up presently, it means that I’m manning the computer/projector along with the sermon. But I’ve been getting good feedback and some constructive criticism. It hasn’t all been sugar-coated.
But yesterday was awesome. I’m not sure the sermon text or my presentation was all that great, but the topic and the sermon as a whole seemed to really resonate with people. It was on GRUDGES and was called “LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO HOLD A GRUDGE.” And so we talked about the fleeting nature of life and the abundant life that God intends for us. Then we talked of how grudges keep us from being the people God wants us to be and how it accomplishes nothing but making us slaves to our past and how grudges keep us from any hope of reconciliation and, beyond that, even civility with those for whom we carry the grudge.
Three people told me that they thought I was preaching directly to them. One person asked for a copy and proceeded to text portions of my sermon to their family members. Another person emailed me and said that the sermon led them to have a heart to heart with someone who had wronged them and that they wanted further conversation about it.
I think I preach pretty well. I think I’ve been blessed with a fairly good ability to communicate, although I would never classify myself as a “great preacher.” “Pretty good” seems fair. But, I guess I wasn’t prepared for God to work through today’s sermon the way God did. I’m humbled. I’m awed. I pray that God is able to work this way again…maybe next week.
I’m also kind of nervous that I might have “peaked.” What if next week is a dud and the pieces just don’t come together?
I guess I better start praying now.
>Image via WikipediaOK, I admit. I’ve not read Rob Bell’s book. I don’t find the topic of universalism all that threatening to me or my faith…not that I’m a universalist. But…if God were to choose to save everybody or nobody at all, I really leave that up to God. But I’ve been fascinated by the discussions about Rob Bell and his book Love Wins. I’ve read stuff on the left and right of the issue and I’ve sort of found a home somewhere in the middle. And I’m sure that’s either weak or upsetting to some folks. But, alas, that’s where I am. I’ll let God be God and trust in his grace and mercy and the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, whose death and resurrection we remember this week.
But, again, it’s the discussion about this issue that’s kept me fascinated. Is Rob Bell a false prophet? Can God save those outside of the Christian faith? What is hell like? Where is it? Who will be there? What is the proper Christian response to false teaching…or to diverse belief? How much diversity can we have within the faith and still keep the faith? THIS I find interesting.
Perhaps the big issue is not Rob Bell, but about Christianity as a whole.
Jason Boyett, who writes over at “O Me Of Little Faith” has a nice post addressing the latter issue…diversity within the church, within the faith.
Right now, Christian theology is broader and more diverse than most Christians are comfortable with. In fact, over two thousand years of biblical interpretation, the Christian religion has proved to be ridiculously flexible, able to tolerate significant theological and practical differences without, you know, us having to say “farewell” to people who land on a different interpretation. Consider:
There are Christians who believe they are saved exclusively through grace, period, full stop … and Christians who believe some manner of works are involved (those “works” may be as basic as an acknowledgment of Christ’s lordship or as complex as to what extent we cared for the “least of these”).
Some Christians believe salvation is eternal. Others believe it can be lost or cast aside.
Some Christians believe the elect are predetermined by God, chosen for either salvation and damnation. Others believe God gives mankind real freedom to make his or her own choice.
Some believe salvation occurs at the moment of baptism. Others believe baptism to be an important, public confession of salvation — but only symbolic.
And he goes on, with some pretty stark differences, diversity we can find within the Christian Church. I know, every time I lead a talk at the Walk to Emmaus spiritual retreat or even preach on Sunday morning, that there are people who are going to disagree. Maybe they come from a different background. Maybe they think it’s unbiblical that I practice infant baptism. Maybe they question my interpretation of Scripture. Maybe they’re offended that I talk about my female (gasp) clergy friends.
So, how do we still manage to come to the one table to eat and drink Christ’s body and blood together? How do we work together as the Body of Christ in the world? How do we act in love, welcoming and not excluding the other?
Girdwood Chapel has been a great model of this for me because we have such great diversity in our midst. When we stand together in a circle at the end of worship singing “On Eagle’s Wings” I see it as a foretaste of heaven, when the walls that divide us come down.
We need to approach these discussions with, probably, more humility than we want to. Jason Boyett closes his post wonderfully…with such humility…and a lot of perspective.
Though we base our beliefs on the same source (the Bible and the last couple thousand years of tradition), we Christians are a fantastically diverse people. Some of our core beliefs are not just very different from another, but frequently at odds with one another.
Most of us think we’re right. But we can’t all be right about everything.
Which is to say: almost all of us are wrong about something. Regardless of what we believe, there are Christians somewhere in the world who think you are dead wrong. Dangerously wrong. Maybe even a heretic. Why? Because you are on the wrong side of what they consider a core belief.
For all our talk about narrow roads, Christianity has become a broad, gushing stream. Acknowledging that, with humility, ought to give us pause before we start all the in-fighting and name-calling. I need to remember that the next time I decide Rob Bell is wrong…or John Piper is wrong…or I am right.
>Image via WikipediaWe have had some ongoing dialogue at Girdwood Chapel this year about worship style. This is because we have some folks who would really prefer some more contemporary music–music which may be unfamiliar and of a far more different style than some of our more traditional folks are used to. I, frankly appreciate a wide range of music styles. Our limiting factor has usually been instrumentation. We just don’t have musicians who can handle contemporary Christian music at the level which is needed. If you’re going to go contemporary, it has to be done well.
This brought about good conversation of music style and worship and congregants “getting something out of worship.” I understand…I really do…that attending a “high church” worship service when you’re a “low church” kind of person can make it hard to experience God fully in that place. I understand that. I also understand that, if you’re a “high church” kind of person some contemporary Christian music, the latest by Steven Curtis Chapman or Third Day or Michael W. Smith or Chris Tomlin, can seem less theological and too “touchy feely.” It can seem shallow. I understand that.
But, theologically speaking, isn’t worship about God and not “what you GET” out of it? Isn’t God worthy to be praised, and, whether that’s in a language or style that’s comfortable to you, the act of worship is more important than how your spiritual batteries feel charged from that experience? By catering to every experiential need of persons churches have turned the focus of worship to the individual worshiper and away from the God who should be at the center of the worship. We have churches who are beginning worship design by asking what the churched or unchurched persons in their communities want, rather than beginning with the assumption that, no matter how it’s done, it is a right an good thing to offer praise to our most Holy and awesome God. It also forces smaller churches to try to keep up with the customer satisfaction of their bigger church neighbors, which may be completely impossible for them given limitations.
Mark Altrogge over at Blazing Center had and interesting article yesterday, about how we turn Scripture and religion on its head, making it all about us. I’d never say out loud what he says about worship. But I can remember a time when the thought may have crossed my mind.
Ever heard someone say, “Worship didn’t do much for me this morning.” Awww, we’re sorry your majesty wasn’t entertained and enthralled today. Maybe we should get Paul McCartney to lead worship next Sunday. Sorry the smoke machines didn’t fill the room and a few of the explosions were softer than normal. Maybe we should ask Jesus if he got anything out of our worship this morning.
And, this is not a critique of EITHER contemporary or traditional worship, a least from where I’m coming from. The same words could apply either way. I think it merely gets to the backwards way we sometimes think of worship, beginning with US and not GOD. It’s all about MEEEE !
Well, here’s what we’re doing at Girdwood Chapel. We are using more contemporary music. And, yes, it’s the Third Day, Casting Crowns, and Steven Curtis Chapman variety. But, in order to have pretty high quality music, we’re using worship videos from YouTube that have already been designed by others. The videos yesterday were for these two songs:
The Third Day song was to lead us into our discussion about prayer. “I Will Follow,” by Chris Tomlin is being sung each week as our sermon series theme is about following Jesus…and our folks seem to be appreciating the song.
For the 8:30 AM (older, smaller crowd) worship we use more traditional hymns in their place. And at 10 AM we use the contemporary.
I’ve enjoyed it. I know I get something out of both styles and everything in between and I know that there will always be persons who don’t like this or that song…this or that style…this or that prayer…. I merely hope that the change is helping our folk praise God, who should always be at the center of our worship.
At church this past Sunday, one of my parishioners–a friend, a leader, someone whom I truly care for–came up to me after the worship service and asked, “Jim, can we find some time to talk this week?”
This is not a phrase I particularly ENJOY hearing. See, I do enjoy being involved in people’s lives and I do appreciate the fact that I can be with them as they are facing difficult decisions or walking more difficult paths than they are used to. I will be with them as they struggle with issues of divorce. I will talk with them when they a facing medical issues or parenting issues. I will talk them through hard discussions about moving out of state or business decisions or marriage or funerals. I will hold their hand as they struggle with pain and loss. But, this can all be very hard.
So, my heart sank, to some extent when I heard the words “Can we find some time to talk.” I was pretty sure this was either going to be one of the “medical” discussions or one of the “moving away from Girdwood” discussions, with an outside shot of it being related to children or spouse. It’s not that I had any particular indication that it was going to be these. That’s just where my heart and mind went.
And, as we sat in the coffee shop this week, making small talk, I kept waiting for the proverbial “bomb” to drop on the conversation where I would not only have to shift into “pastoral care mode” but would also hurt because of that this person was gong through or because they were leaving or whatever.
But there was no “bomb.”
This person really just wanted to talk.
Nothing was pressing.
We just shared life for 90 minutes or so. We laughed. We recognized some of the struggles we both face.
And then we went our separate ways.
The other person just really wanted to talk, to catch up.
And it was wonderful.
>Image via WikipediaLast week I sent the following e-mail out to the congregation. I sent it with some fear and trembling, recognizing that I was asking a lot when we’re having some economic difficulties (to say the least). But I sent it out believing that it was a faithful response a need from the community — that I really can’t say too much about.
Here it is:
We have a need in our community that has come to light just recently. This is a financial need in the amount of $1,300. In order to protect the privacy of those involved I cannot reveal much more than this. I know that my vagueness might make it difficult to get behind this request. I understand this. However, I hope that my 11 years here has built up some trust and you understand that I wouldn’t ask the people of our church to get behind a local mission need if I didn’t believe that it was the right thing for us to do as we try to faithfully witness to Christ in this place. This is so particularly in light of the financial realities we have as we live into our new facility,
I have been in dialogue with __________ and _________ (two of our financial leaders) along with some of my clergy colleagues in Anchorage. We have talked about how to best meet this pressing need while allowing the greatest chance of resolution of the current problem by maintaining the anonymity of those involved. We also talked about how best to phrase this very email, recognizing that it was a difficult thing to do. Please know that, beyond the financial component, other steps are being taken to help.
This is a leap of faith…faith in my judgment and faith that God can use our collective gifts to help bring healing to a troubling situation. The identities of those being helped may or may not be revealed at some point in the future. It will be up to them. This is hard. But, perhaps, as we try to pay off debt, as we make improvements to the building as required, as we look at heating bills and lighting bills, etc….perhaps this is a way for us to really BE the church.
If you can help in any amount, your gift will be well-used. It will be used to help a very local mission situation.
We’ll take up a special offering this week. Please pray about how you can help meet this very real need.
Remember our mission: “Love God. Love others. Change the world.”
Well, on Sunday, I made the appeal again recognizing that it was asking a lot of the congregation. I know persons are more inclined to give when they “know” where the money is going. I know it helps to see the faces and hear the stories to make it personal. But it couldn’t happen this time around.
And the congregation responded very well. I asked for $1,300. $2,150 was given. And the persons to whom the money will go are relieved…for now. There are other issues at hand and we’re trying to hook them up with the resources they need. And, hopefully, we can start to meet some of the immediate needs in the day-to-day running of the church (e.g. light bill, mortgage, construction bills still needing to be paid).
But this was a time “for the church to be the church” giving because it is good to give.
It was a good thing.
It was a God thing.