Monthly Archives: April 2016

Choose You This Day…

 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites,in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:15 NIV

Last evening I posted this on Facebook:

Facebook

I am, I must admit, prone to regret. But I have learned over the years that the one thing we have in our power, the one superpower every human has is choice. Many of us may feel powerless at times. And often our circumstances are beyond our control and our power to change.

But in every situation… in every challenge… we can make a choice. We can choose our reaction. We can choose to move. We can choose a different path.

In Joshua’s narrative, the people are ready to move into the land of promise. To realize God’s dream that carried them through two generations and finally was at its end. But not THE end. The end of the journey and the start of a new adventure. I think they were paralyzed by what faced them.

Right now there are choices within our power. Adventures waiting to begin. New life God wants to bring to birth. But it takes our choosing for it to be. Not even God can overcome our lack of choosing. So choose!

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Church of American Express

When I worked for The University of Cincinnati, I had a corporate American Express card. What I remember most about that card was the marketing line that came to be it signature – “membership has its privileges.”

Sadly this could also be the motto of some churches in my experience as a pastor and nearly life-long church member. Members have privileges for their membership: personal care and attention from the church’s pastor, provision of various services such as use of the church building for personal functions, the right to have the worship style he or she desires, personal attention from the church secretary who acts as a kind of concierge for member services.

In his book Power Surge, mainline Protestant pastor Michael W. Foss writes this about the “membership model” of church:

The changing cultural context, with its displacement of Christianity from the center of individual and community life to the periphery, has caused a mutation in the membership model of the church. In the Protestant explosion of the 1950s, membership implied obligation. In today’s cultural context, membership has come to imply prerogatives.

Mostly what this membership model creates in today’s context is dissatisfaction. No church, however well-staffed, can meet the expectations of even a homogeneous church membership. Someone will be unhappy. And pastors in these churches, who are little more than personal chaplains, are burned out and miserable. They either face conflict for their unwillingness to accept the model or they are exhausted from trying to keep such an unsustainable model going.

The challenge (as Foss and others observe) is that this model worked in the 1950’s and 1960’s in part because the sense of obligation was greater than the sense of entitlement. Yes, members had expectations of the staff and church community. But the sense of obligation (to give, to serve, to participate) was overwhelmingly greater. That balance has shifted.

Some churches, however, are filled with people who came to the church with this model in place. They see it as the right way to do church. And even those who give sacrificially to the church in terms of time, money, and energy will guard jealously the rightness of this model. I once had someone say to me “We know how to do church and you need to learn from us what that is” when I suggested we consider looking at a model for church vitality and evangelism. What this person meant was the membership model.

There is another way, a better way. One built on, centered on somethign other than privileges. But that’s for next time.

 

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Waiting Why’s

In the days after Jesus’ resurrection, he appears to various people including so-called Doubting Thomas. For reasons not explained, Thomas is absent when Jesus appears to the disciples in John 20 on Easter evening. When they share the good – perhaps too good?  -news, he says he won’t believe until he sees with his eyes and touches with his hands.

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.”
(John 20:26 NRSV)

An entire week later Jesus appears once more. A week. Not as soon as Thomas lays down his challenge. Not the next day. Seven days later.

Why does God do thisWhy wait to do what God plans to do? Why an entire week? 

I have no idea. None. Oh I have read and even written about God’s seeming delayed response. I am sure most of what I have read and said has some value. But for the most part God neither explains nor apologizes. When the time is right – whatever that means – God speaks. God acts. God appears.

This is my deepest spiritual struggle right now. I live in the certainty that God wants me to do several things, make several changes. Some are dramatic – others matter to no one but me and to God. Why doesn’t God move things along for, well, God’s sake????  Why not show me the next step with clarity? Why not? Why not? Why not?

As noted I know the various reasons offered for this interminable waiting. But explanations don’t make the time move more quickly.. Logic and feeling are complementary but not interchangeable parts of our lives.

I don’t doubt… but I do wait.

 

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Not Enough Easters

One of the memorable moments of seminary was in a class on worship. I can still remember all these years later the professor saying “Every Sunday is a little Easter.” I had never heard it before. If I had, it had not left an impression. Every Sunday a little Easter. Wow.

Today is one week or so after Easter. I have been off work all week  and have had some time to think. Is this true? Is the church’s central conviction on Sunday morning (or for that matter whenever the church gathers to worship) that this day – this time of worship – is a little Easter?

I am unsure. And I am unsure how faithfully I have lived into that epiphany in my own life and faith and ministry.

One of my favorite quotes about the church comes from author Annie Dillard. I have written and spoken about it previously. But I share it anew as part of this reflection on the power of the Resurrection about which she is ultimately writing:

“Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

—Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.

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