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What Easter Morning Sounds Like

April 19, 2011 1 comment

Hi.  I’m Jim, the pastor here.  Glad you decided to join us for worship this morning.  If you don’t go to church on a regular basis, or maybe even haven’t been to church at all before, let me introduce you to how things tend to work.  See that guy behind the other mic? That’s Soulinh.  He’s going to play some music and we’re going to sing.  The songs tend to be directed to God or about God or, sometimes, directed at the rest of the people in the room…encouraging them in a certain direction – upward, usually.

After we sing a few songs, we send the kids upstairs to continue worshiping in a way that’s a little more accessible for their young ages.  It’s not that they’re incapable of understanding that God loves them, but the way they need to hear it can be a little more appropriate upstairs.  When they head upstairs we’ll open the Bible and take a look at what God has to say to creation.

If you’ve never heard a sermon before, it can take all kinds of forms.  Sometimes the preacher will talk for a long time, or a short time.  Sometimes it’s even a conversation of sorts between you and the preacher, but the most important thing is that God gets to speak through the Word of God (that’s what we call the Bible here sometimes).  We believe that God speaks through the Bible and the preacher gives some insight into what God has to say to us, here, today.

Now, if you’re new to the Bible, let me give you a short overview: it’s a story, a love story about a God who created a world full of beauty and wonderful animals and the most complex of all: humans – who dwelled in a garden with God and each other.  We were created in God’s image for a relationship with God, to love God, to walk with God, to glorify God and to have a friendship with God.  Being human involves a relationship not only with God, but with other humans in peace and equality.  But things broke.  These relationships were ruptured and separated when people decided to break the trust and attempt to take God’s place, disobeying the only rule God layed out for creation.

Like any good story, especially a love story, there needs to be a problem – a break in the relationship that is overcome.  This is it.  The relationship is broken through the actions of humans, and there is nothing they can do to restore that relationship.  What’s worse, is that the brokenness isn’t just between creator and creation; the rupture goes deeper – into how humans interact with each other, and with the rest of creation.  But, like a good love story, a hero arises who will reunite the two separated parties.

God wants to bring things back into the peaceful wholeness (there’s a great word we use for that – Shalom) that we had in the Garden of Eden.  God wants to reconcile, wants to walk again, talk again with us – this time with the even deeper knowledge of love; the love that reconciles and moves forward.

So, back to the hero who arises.  Through time God raises up a people who represent all that God stands for.  They fail miserably to be God’s representatives in the world, but the Creator continues to bring them back and forgive them.  His plan is to raise up out of them a Messiah (a person who will bring them to salvation – or a restored relationship with Godself).  In time, God did just that – he sent a hero, a Messiah.  But not just any person – God came himself, put on flesh and dwelt among us to be the perfect reconciler.  It’s tricky and simple that he was born to a virgin named Mary – a simple and faithful woman.  The child was named Jesus.

Of course God showed what a human is supposed to look like, what they used to look like: full of love, and in an unbroken, unsevered relationship with God.  It’s something people haven’t seen in thousands of years, and they didn’t quite know what to do with this picture – a picture that showed their own frailties, foibles, and faults in such an nonjudgmental way.  So just when we, the readers of the story, start to get ready for the wonderful resolving of conflict, there is a plot twist.

Jesus is killed by those he came to reconcile with.  And the reader of the story is crushed.  And those who followed Jesus were crushed until the beauty of the whole story becomes clear.  All along God had planned on the death of Christ – reconciliation is not inexpensive after all.  And after three days of death, God overcame death with the power of love and life and brought Jesus back to life and with Him our relationship…all back to life.  At last, in the death of Jesus, the price is paid and a dying, broken relationship is finally put out of its misery.  And in the resurrection life is breathed into Jesus and at the same time breathed into the dead relationship.  Life.  Real and unhindered.  Renewed to the garden we walk and converse freely.

All this was free – the grace God showed free for the taking – a relationship renewed.  It’s when we recognize this that we are free to be truly human again.  And, inevitably, when we try again and again to sever our relationship, Christ’s death and resurrection covers it over and again so that we are reconciled again and again.  Life without end.  What a love story: pure love, broken relationships, a costly reunion, and a renewed passion and relationship more vibrant than before.

So, that’s what a sermon kind of sounds like.  After that we’ll respond.  Because, really, after a love story like that – one that involves us – who wouldn’t want to respond in some way.  Maybe a “thank you”.  And there are a lot of ways you can do that…primarily God wants us to respond with our lives – to give back our lonely self to God, but not just a little of us, the whole self.  That is, after all, what God gave for us.  Here at church we tend to pass a plate where you can respond monetarily, if you’re prepared for that.  If you’re not prepared to give a gift today, let this worship service be our gift to you.  We’ll sing a song, too…usually a praise to this reconciling God.

After this we go out into the world to be God’s representatives: the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  To help the continuing restoration of the relationship between humans and humans, God and humans, and humans with the rest of creation.  God sends us out into the world (like God did so long ago with Jesus’ lineage) to represent love and righteousness and mercy and justice.

More

April 18, 2011 1 comment

I ordered 30 palm branches for Palm Sunday.  I thought that would give us enough to hand out to the few kids who didn’t make their own last week and then give some to the parents out in the congregation as the kids sang “Clap Your Hands All You People”.  But when I went to the flower shop, my friend Pat threw in an extra bundle.  This made 45, and should have been a hint that God had more in store.

The firemarshall would have been unhappy.  Fortunately, we gathered around a bowl full of water for part of our worship service on Sunday, so if there were a fire, we would have been just fine.  During the baptism of Jonathan James Albin I looked out to see a sea of people and the extra chairs we set up in the back to fit them in.  Our worship space is under renovation (hoping…praying to be done by Easter), and it should allow us to fit 110 or so more comfortably than they were squeezed in on Sunday. 

Would you like to know the secret I’m harboring?  I’ll release it to you, but only if you promise to be gentle with it.  I’m holding it and keeping it safe in my heart of hearts.  If I tell you, you have to place it in your heart and put it in the place where you and your Maker converse, where it’s just the four of you sitting near the warmest part of the secret place – near the fire tended by the Spirit, where the Son brings in wood and the Father lets you sit on His lap and listens, and asks for you to do the same.

Here it is:  I want more.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t talking about numbers, but I’d be lying if I said that was all I wanted.  I want more.  More listless wanderers, more hurting, broken aimless, more faithful without a church family, more hungry, and more hunger.  I want more than I’ve had, and more than I’m expecting.  And I don’t want it just to be financially solvent (because we all know that the more I want is not the more who have more or know how to be stewards of more…yet).  I want to see what God can.  I want to see what God will.  I want to see and glorify and magnify and proclaim – for the burnt and hopeless, for the publican, for the Elijah, for the tired – what God wants to and is willing to and is waiting to do.

O God bring more this Easter.

Countdown to Easter

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

If I’m playing by the “church planting rulebook” then I’ve got about 8 months to make things happen. 

The rulebook, which nobody likes to invoke or even think about has a lot to do with numbers and money.  On our current trajectory we will need to double our offerings (whether by doubling our attendance or our giving) by January 1, or… well, let’s say the trajectory will need to change.  Outside funding covers roughly 50% of our budget right now, and we’ve bumped up against the very common 75 person wall.

New churches tend to hit a plateau at about 75.  It’s where people start to feel really comfortable.  They like the people they’re worshiping with, they enjoy the size, knowing everyone, feeling like afamily.  It’s really nice, and it can lull you into a comfort coma.  The comfort coma ends up ending a lot of church start-ups because people get stuck and can’t move to self-supporting.

At the same time, the “church planting rulebook” kind of makes me nervous, if I’m honest, because it doesn’t feel very “organic” or “authentic” or whatever catchy word you want to use that actually does carry a meaning that jives with me.

Enough about that.  Let’s just say this: Easter is one of the prime opportunities before us to get to meet new people.  Unfortunately, the best case scenario doesn’t help us much.  It’s this: Best Case Scenario: the church’s invitations to their friends, the mailers that go out bring in 70 more people.  20 of them stay and begin to grow in faith from wherever they are on the continuum.  This is really what I hope for ( and I’m remembering that God can do immeasurably more than I hope for).

These new folks have no reason to give to help support Embody.  Many of them won’t know Jesus yet, and, honestly, how could I ask them to or expect them to give in the offering plate?

Ok, here’s where this posting turns into a short rant:

The “church planting rulebook” stinks.  We encourage churches to start, but give them only 3 years to get off the ground and onto their own feet.  But the reality is something very different.  We’re not trying to steal sheep from other churches.  We’re trying to bring good news to people who haven’t been walking with Christ.  And any pastor will tell you that no matter what church they’re leading they see this: sacrificial giving…no, even tithing doesn’t come until someone is far along the path of discipleship.

Something’s not quite right about the whole system.  OK.  Enough about that.  I look forward to reading this posting some day and saying, “O me of little faith”.  God’s going to show up.  I just have to do my part, right?  Right.

Hope

February 11, 2011 1 comment

I am making a new friend.  She walked through the doors of the church building on Sunday – and it takes a lot of bravery to do something like that.  She was quickly befriended by two or three women.  I heard Claudia say to her, “Do you have someone to sit with?”  “No, I don’t.”  “Well, you’re welcome to sit with us.”  I was so proud.  I was so happy to hear it.  It’s exactly what I hoped for and what we need to be like.  Way to go Claudia!

Then brave thing number two: my new friend asked if we could get together and chat.  “Of course!”  And Thursday she joined our Bible 101 course.  Then tonight we had a cup of coffee and talked.  God is clearly up to something in her life.  She can’t explain some of the good things she’s feeling or the changes happening in her.  All of a sudden she feels like good things just might be able to happen to her.

“There’s a word we have for that.”  I said to her, “We call that hope.”  “Hope,” she said, “yah, I guess that’s what it is.  I’m finding some hope.”

THAT is why we’re here.  THAT is why we started Embody Christ Fellowship.  There will come a time when my new friend starts to understand the hope she’s finding, and when she does, she will be able to spread it around with power…her quiet, unassuming self will spread it with power.  Not because she’s powerful (which I have no doubt she is), but because hope is powerful.

Communion Police

December 7, 2010 1 comment

I’ve begun asking some questions about communion or The Lord’s Supper.  I know what my professors at seminary would say, and I respect them a lot, but is there something beyond what we can explain in textbooks?  I would venture a guess that many of my professors would probably say, “yes.”

In a church plant you have to walk some fine lines when it comes to church order and practical theology.  There are certain rules and ways of practicing the institution of communion that make good sense and make for a healthy life together as a church.  They can,  however, make things tricky in our setting.

For instance, when you create a welcoming space for worship where those who don’t believe are welcome to participate in the life of the body without believing, it can sound odd to then say, “everything but this.”  Now, you can say, it’s like a carrot, but at the very least it’s tricky.

There’s a part of the liturgy that invites all people who are baptized and members of a Christian church to participate in the meal together.  Confession time: I don’t say that.  I say something like this: “If you believe Jesus is the Son of God and put your faith in Him for salvation, you’re welcome to participate.  If not, that’s OK, because that’s where you are right now – you can feel free to come foreward also and receive a blessing.”

We don’t have communion police, and I don’t withhold the meal from those who I know to be questioning those very things.  I understand there are many who might say we are eating and drinking condemnation upon ourselves, but my hope is this: that there is something mystical in the elements or in the act of coming forward or in making the move with the feet and hands and mouth that creates a connection with Christ.  Is there something in the this non-Christian taking that step?  I think God blesses that and meets them there – somehow.

I’m holding the cup and as each person comes forward I’m praying for their faith and for the efficacy of Christ in their life.  What happens in holy Communion?  I’m not sure, but I’m praying for some miracle in the lives of those who participate.

October Headache and Medicine

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s October.  That means two things: 1. Creating a Budge. 2. Trees Change Color.

If you know me, you know that my math skills stop at about a 3rd grade level.  I rely upon my bride to keep us in the red…or black.  I don’t really understand those two colors in regards to budget – can’t remember which is which.  So, October is always the time when churches start putting together their next year’s budget (unless they have a different fiscal year).  Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Outside resources start to wean new churches as they get older.  The understanding is that you’ll be growing and raising up stewards.  This gives you a couple of years before you have to be on your own (as if God’s not really pulling all the strings).  This is the case with us.

I feel like we’ve been doing really well as a new church.  If we have to talk about numbers…let’s do it.  We have about 70-80 people in church on a Sunday morning (this includes 20-25 kids).  A good number of those people are followers of Jesus Christ and have given their hearts to him.  They are on the path of becoming deeper disciples of Christ and that means growing in stewardship.

However, we have a fair number of people who are not believers.  So…it only makes sense that they would not be as quick to give to the church.  Now, I need to say at this point that I could be completely wrong about this.  I have absolutely zero knowledge about anyone’s giving (except my own family’s).  Anyway, we’re not self-supporting (again with the thought that God’s really the support).

So, we’re cutting where we can cut and going to talk more about stewardship.  Perhaps we’ll ask people to make some commitments regarding their giving for 2011.

I have my annual October headache.

I live in Michigan, though.  And this means that God has blessed me with a headache-help.  It’s called the changing colors of the trees that line my street and leaves that fall on my lawn.  I guess it reminds me that it happens every year, and that God makes it happen, AND that it will happen again next year, AND that next year it will be God, yet again, who makes it happen.

I think he’s got the whole thing under control.  Whether we’re talking about green or orange – it all falls from above.

Trying to Live the 5th Commandment

August 11, 2010 1 comment

My father: George Daniels

Lunch at the Great Wall Buffet: Chinese Restaraunt.  This is pretty much par for the course.  Whenever I eat with him, it’s usually either Cracker Barrel or Chinese food.  Cracker Barrel is usually when it’s in the evening, and Chinese if it’s in the middle of the day.  I haven’t seen him in a couple of years.  I thought it might be nice if he got a chance to see the kids.

I haven’t lived with my father since I was 2 or so, and my memories of him are forged from short and intense visits with him during the summer.  Perhaps the intensity is because of the brevity and rarity of the visits or perhaps because of my father’s unbelievable and unwavering need to make sure I’m saved (and everyone else for that matter).

He just retired a few days ago and now has time to come up to Springfield to see us during the daytime (I usually only see him when I’m visiting my grandmother).  The lunchtime visit went pretty much according to our regular mode of operation: he doesn’t really ask me anything of substance, and never really tells me anything of substance about himself.  I think he’s fully focused on spending the short amount of time he has with me imparting pieces of wisdom and ways of being a good father and preacher and husband.  So, that’s what he does.

Most all of it is something he’s drilled into my head in previous visits or summertime stays.  This time, however, there seems to be a bit more intensity to the whole thing because he’s written down some notes.  He wants to make sure he passes along to me what’s on his heart.  It’s his way of loving me.  I don’t always agree with him, but I really appreciate it.  I really do, but my father has spent over three decades trying to share knowledge and wisdom with me, when all I’ve ever wanted was to know him.  Just him.  It’s all any child really wants.  Not things, not knowledge, not an inheritance.  Most people would trade ALL those things to have a deep and abiding knowledge of who their father or mother IS.

This is the kind of church I want to start…one where we don’t focus completely on knowing all about God, but in knowing God.  Being in God’s presence and letting our hearts dwell together with His: sometimes in silence, sometimes in rhythm, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in understanding, and sometimes in the middle of the large question marks – but no matter what – just knowing God and loving God and then trusting and following him with all our hearts.

Offer this gift to the one who loves you: spend enough time to know them.  Do the same for the One who loves you.