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Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

The Import of Story

I recently told you about a great a superlative book I read recently called The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson (pick up a copy here) (It’s the third in the Wingfeather Saga).  I thought I would let you know about how it helped me in a sermon and in a hospital visit.  As I was preaching on Sunday it came to me – a quote from the book.  I held up my finger (indicating that everyone should wait a moment) walked over to the piano and picked up a pen and wrote a note to myself in my notes…where I could use this quote.  I was preaching on the story of Joseph.  Actually, I’m trying to preach a spring/summer series on the larger story we’re a part of.  We started with Adam and Eve, hit Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and this week was Joseph.  Kind of hard to do.

You have to tell a long story and then land on one particular scripture passage in the middle or at the end and draw out of it what God has to say.  Anyway, it was Joseph this week.  I told his long up and down story: Up – Dad’s favorite, Down – Brothers sell him into slavery, Up – become slave-owner’s favorite, Down – thrown in jail for not sleeping with someone, Up – become head prisoner/warden, Down – have to tell someone that their dream means they’re going to die soon, Up – Become lord of all Egypt.

After telling the story we read the part where he was reunited with his brothers and says, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:8).  And in the middle of the story I remember this line from The Monster in the Hollows, “Evil digs a pit, and the Maker makes a well. That is His way.” ~Artham Wingfeather.  Dang! I wish I could write like that.  It fit well into the sermon, but then, on a hospital call it worked well, too.

The 6th floor of the hospital has a wing for mental health.  I was on the 6th floor of the hospital on the last day of May visiting a friend.  She asked me why all this was happening to her, and why God would put all this hardship in her life.  What possible good could come out of it all?  As is the case in many situations like that, I don’t have a good answer.  Not sure there is a good answer – at least not a good one that can come from people.  God’s got a lot of explaining to do in my opinion. 

With Joseph and Artham fresh on my mind we talked about the Bible story – one she had never heard.  Sometimes story is the only thing to tell in the middle of hardship.  Sometimes explaining things away only makes everything worse.  Take Job’s friends for instance: they did everything right until they opened their mouth.  So it was story for us on the 6th floor, and I let Joseph’s tale just hang there.

Thank God for story.  And thank God for storytellers.  And thank God for the larger story we get to participate in.

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Clarity with a Twist

I’ve mentioned before that I like to go to the chiropractor early on in the week because it gives me a few moments of quiet on the hydrolic stretchy table to think about next week’s sermon.  This week, however, what became clear to me was the sermon I had just finished preaching.

The doctor and I were talking about the passage I’d just finished on Sunday: Genesis 22 and the binding of Isaac – not my favorite story about God.  I told him we had come to the conclusion that sometimes God wants us to be willing to give him that which is close to us – even if God won’t take it…just willing.

We finish discussing it and he starts to work on my neck.  I’m laying on my back and he’s cradling my head in his hands.  He gently turns my head to the right and puts it at an odd angle.  Now, I’m not a fan of this particular chiropractic practice.  There’s something very unnatural feeling about having someone quickly turn your head like in the movies.  People die that way, man.

So, there I am, laying on the table with my head in his hands with visions of Jean Claude Van Dam running through my mind and obviously I’m tensed up about the whole thing.  I love my chiropractor.  He’s great (as good as Dr. Daron DeJong of Orange City – which is saying something).  And…I trust him.

He can feel the tension and resistance my neck muscles are giving him and in a gentle voice he says…almost under his breath, “Let me have it.”  And I do.  I relax.  And just as I do my head gets put in place with a quick, nonviolent twist.  Totally unnatural.  Totally worth it.  My headache is gone in an instant.

And in that instant the sermon makes sense to me…albeit after I preached it.  God cradles our heads in his hands and asks us to trust him.  He says, “Let me have it.”  And if we do, if we are willing to hand it over, if we can trust him with things we are…well…attached to, then everything gets put into place.

Categories: Kingdom of God Tags: ,

Stand!

Alex in Armor

It was cold out last night.  I mean, cold.  You would think that May 2 would be a little warmer, but…I’m not in charge of that.  What I was in charge of last night was Bis and Alex because Dana was at a small group meeting with some friends from church.  What to do with the kids isn’t hard to figure out when it’s baseball season.  Alex had a game.  Now, normally I’m a parent helper (I won’t call myself a coach).  I stand by the bench keep a semblance of order.  It’s like corralling cats back there.  You’re up to bat, you’re on deck, you’re in the hole. You there! Stop eating rocks.  You get the picture.

But I had Bis on my own so I couldn’t do that job.  Instead I was two halves of a parent: one half watching Bis on the nearby playground…making sure nobody creepy was hanging out near her.  The other half was watching the game.  Alex was getting his first opportunity to play catcher.  Now, if you know Alex, you’ll know that he’s the smallest kid on the field and the lightest, but probably has the highest confidence level, so it was good.

I know there’s no “cute” in baseball, but he looked darn close in all that gear.  He stopped almost every ball that the machine pitched that night (something the coach said hardly any little kid will be able to do – so I’m a little proud).  But here’s the thing I’m most excited about (and I got it on video for you) Alex blocked the plate.

You have to understand that at this level of baseball (half a step up from t-ball) the catcher does very little of import.  He’s a glorified backstop.  Until the last batter of each inning.  That’s when no matter who is up to bat, no matter what kind of a hit, no matter how many on base – everybody runs home.  It’s a train of skinny kids with huge helmets coming one after another into home plate.

Alex got the ball and positioned himself in a place where he knew he would tag out any kid running home. And he did. My son, small of frame and large on confidence, stood in the face of the enemy without flinching. I was bursting with pride. And here’s what I got to thinking: When we cover ourselves with God’s armor we can stand in the face of the enemy’s attacks knowing that we are fortified, protected, and covered. Small though we may be, and however large the onslaught, there we can be having confidence in the One who goes before us and stands at our side and has our backs covered. Don’t be afraid.

Osama Response

May 2, 2011 13 comments

10 hours after hearing about the death of Osama Bin Laden my response is rather confused.

I see the television scenes of crowds gathering in significant settings (Ground Zero, White House, Etc.).  They are jubilant and full of joyful celebration over something.  I think the confused part of my response comes from the question: “What are they jubilant about?”  Is it the death of a mass murderer?  Is it the completion of a national goal?  Is it the adrenaline rush of revenge?  Is it the breaking of an emotional dam?

Laying in my bed, watching the initial report last night, I heard the news and had an instant response of adrenaline and was confused by it.  You see I recently preached through the book of Esther.  Toward the end of that story the bad guy, Haman, gets trapped and is hung on his own gallows while the man he built the gallows for watches.  In that particular sermon we explored the feeling of joy we have in the execution of justice.  I felt odd about it then, too.  Why am I happy about the death of another human?  Deserving?  I can’t deny it.

I don’t begrudge anyone who is excited and feeling happy today in light of the completion of one of our nation’s longest manhunts.  I can’t imagine the relief that must be felt by those who have lost a loved one in one of this man’s terrorist attacks.  And I DO feel like some justice has been meted out.

I guess it comes down to this: I think I’m sad.  Sad that it has all come to this.  Sad that men turn to bloodshed over words.  Sad that humanity has strayed so far from our original purpose.  Sad that I feel some happiness over someone’s demise.  Sad that I can’t jump up and down with the throng.  Sad that I’m of two minds instead of clear-headed and unidirectional in my emotions.  I think I’m sad that my initial response is to picture Osama on a brimstone elevator heading downward.  Sad that I don’t hope mercy upon him.  But I don’t.  I’m conflicted.  And in the middle of all the sad there is one happy note:

I’m happy that I’m not in charge of justice.  I’m happy that I’m not the judge.  I can pass that buck up the ladder to the One who is clear-headed over the whole matter.  I feel relief that I can trust this whole matter (and the matter of what happens to me at my end) to the One who is an incomprehensible combination of Justice and Mercy.

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.

Easter Invites

April 15, 2011 1 comment

I’m planning on having  little improvisation on Sunday morning with Brett VanderBerg my seminary intern.  I can see that making an invitation to a friend is scary for some people.  I can understand that.  It’s not so with me because…well…it’s part of my job and natural for me, but it’s not for other people.

So, we’re going to do a little improv before we part ways after worship this week.  I’m sure it will go well.  Brett is really good at stuff like that, and I’m not too horrible myself.  My hope is that it will give people some picture of how it can go.  “Hi Bill, wondering if I could borrow one of those funky wrenches that are specifically for replacing kitchen faucets.”  “Sure, it’s the kind of thing you only use once or twice.  Otherwise better to borrow than buy.”  “Definitely.”  “Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No, we’ve been meaning to ask around a bit, but haven’t gotten to it.  When’s Easter this year?”  “The 24th.  We’d love it if you two would join us at our church.”  “I’ll check with Jen, but…yah, sounds good.  Thanks for the invite.  Here’s that wrench.”

See, that wasn’t too scary.  But…I do know it can go the other way:

“Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No, you know, we just don’t really get into church that much.  I think we’ll be heading up north that weekend.”  “Oh, that sounds relaxing.  I hope you have a great weekend.  If you’re ever interested, you know the invite still stands, right?”  “You bet, man.  Hey, here’s that wrench.”

That’s not even that bad.  It’s certainly not what people are afraid of.  And you might be thinking that people are afraid of the angry response:

“Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No, and dammit, you’re like the 5th person to ask us.  We aren’t interested in church, Ted.  Jeesh.  We think it’s a bunch of hypocrits trying to make themselves feel better by making others feel like they’re on the outside.”  “Here.  Here’s that wrench.”

True, that stinks, and can happen, but more than likely people you would invite are your friends and wouldn’t blow up.  People aren’t really afraid of that.  What they’re really afraid of is this:

“Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No.  Actually, I’m glad you brought it up.  Jen and I were having a discussion about church the other day and I was hoping you could answer a couple questions we weren’t able to figure out.”

Now, I can understand that fear, but if you are so fortunate as to get that kind of response, then you are in the BEST of places.  It means your friends trust you, and are seriously primed for a season of exploring faith.  You don’t have to have the answers.  Heck, they don’t have the answers.  Here’s a great response: honesty.  Try it.  They’ll love it, and it frees you up completely.

“Wow, Bill, I’ve never thought of that.  Want to explore that over a beer (or coke, if you’re friend has alcohol issues)?”  Or “Good question, Bill.  I’ll have to ask my pastor about that.  She tends to have studied enough to give her a jumpstart on some of those good questions.  I’ll ask, or better yet, you can ask.  She’s really easy to talk to.”

Bottom line.  If you’re feeling like you should invite a friend to Easter…better do it.  Could be the Holy Spirit has prepped the whole thing.

Blessings and bravery to you.

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.