Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’

Primum Non Nocere…or…The Hippocratic Christian

April 29, 2011 1 comment

My friend, Chris, is a pastor in town.  His church has a building with a gym in it.  It’s medium sized, but very useful and they use it.  On Tuesdays about 30 guys from the community show up.  3-4 of them go to his church, 3-4 others go to other churches, but the rest have no connection to the body of Christ…except of course that they gather every week in the church building for fun and fellowship: pretty close.

Chris is one of my heroes.  He showed up in town about the same time I did and started serving a church that has been around exactly 100 years.  This church has tons of tradition, and they are just down the road from an alternative school…a school with no gymnasium.  You see where this is going, right?

Church reaches out to school of troubled kids, basketball team has a place to play, troubled kids do better in school, school starts to trust church, kids start to look up to pastor who shows up frequently to mentor kids, kids tell their friends about the gym, friends…older and a little rougher…show up on a weekly basis, pastor communicates to congregation what God is up to with their building, people start praying, pastor asks the question: “What am I supposed to do with these guys?”

Primum Non Nocere.  That’s the latin for “First, do no harm.”  These kids now have, perhaps, their first connection to a church, and are really skeptical.  The whole thing is tenuous at best, and my friend, Chris is wondering how far do I go with the whole “Don’t look now, fellas, but you’re in a church building” activities.  I say first do no harm. 

There are a lot of well-meaning Christians who feel the need to immediately present the gospel message to anyone and everyone.  I understand this impulse.  There is a certain immediacy to responding to Christ.  But.  But what if God’s not in a hurry? What if your neighbor or your brother-in-law or your friend at work needs to experience Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God in you and your life before they are anywhere near able to hear the message?  What if your immediate words are lost on someone who is skeptical, and your anxiety-laden pleadings will make things more difficult for them?

Why not get Doris and Philbert to pray for these basketball-loving twenty-somethings?  Why not invite some more church guys to come and just play…just play.  Why not get Sara to bake those award-winning pies and surprise the guys with goodies – no strings attached – just pies because it would be nice?  Why not be there when there’s an inevitable crisis?  The pastor who is there every week and plays ball shows up in the emergency room to be present and offer a prayer.  The lady who baked a pie brings by a meal while someone heals up from surgery.  Doris and Philbert drop a card in the mail saying that they are praying for a quick healing.

Let things happen.  Let life happen and let Jesus show up in His own timing.  Do no harm.  Be a Hippocratic Christian.



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.


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.

Getting Ready

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment

The weather prognosticators are giddy and jumpy.  You can see their “nerd” level go up with each hour.  It’s in times like these when you realize that these weather forecasters are really just photogenic science geeks whose hearts go all a flutter for an upcoming storm, or better yet for the technical jargon they studied in meteorology classes.  I’m not putting them down…just the opposite.  I think it’s actually pretty great how they get psyched for the jet stream that brings a water-filled cumulonimbus across the lake and drops “lake-effect” snow on West Michigan.  (If you’re a weather nerd, please don’t respond with all that is wrong about what I just wrote…just smile at my ignorance…thanks.)

I’m feeling the same way as Sam Champion, my morning national weather guy on Good Morning America, who can hardly contain himself.  I’m not geeked about the snow, though.  I’m hyped over three new small groups starting this week: a men’s group, a Bible 101, and a Christianity Explored group.  For many people, this will be their first experience in a small group, and there is a lot riding on it.  If they have a bad experience, they might write off the whole experience of experiencing community in this way.  If, however, they keep at it, I believe they can have an extremely significant beginning to spiritual growth.

I’m leading the Bible 101 group at my house on Thursday.  I’m expecting 2 Embody friends to join me.  That would be nice.  We can really delve into the specifics of where they are and the questions they have.  There is a possibility, however, that Brett and Jaimi will bring some friends who have a lot of questions and don’t attend a church.  I pray they decide to commit to it, or at least try it, right?

Kathy is leading a Christianity Explored class.  She’s led it before at a previous church, and has just the right demeanor for a class like that.  She’s straight forward and thoughtful, but at the same time not pushy.  She has characteristics that are key in a church plant: patience and a willingness to allow people to be where they are while slowly encouraging them to move forward.  Super grateful for her!  I won’t be able to attend that group, so I have to be able to trust her (and God, I guess) that it will go well.

Soulinh will co-lead with me for the men’s group.  That group has the largest amount of people signed up.  More than anything, I want these men to read a good chapter of the book we’re going through and hopefully come to the place where we can be honest with each other.  Best of all things would be if these men would, by the end of the book, be willing to pray for each other.  That’s my hope and prayer.

So, I’m giddy and a little nervous for the coming winds that will be blowing through our church in the next week.  But…like Sam Champion, I’m not in charge of what happens – the Spirit of God blows where he will and creates the changes he deems needed at the time for the environment (or the Kingdom of God).


January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

We had 95 people in worship yesterday!  I know.  Where did that come from? Right?  I’ll tell you:

Makenna Sue Slagh, one of our youngest worshipers, brought about 25 people.  She was baptized and brought the family.  It doesn’t hurt that her dad has 6 brothers.  We knew it was going to be a full day, so we pulled the chairs a little tighter and set up some wooden chairs in the back as well.  It was just great!

95 is terrific, but normally we’re not that large.  It was full, and a little crowded.  Felt wonderful and helped me see the future a bit.  It leads us well into this next week when we meet after worship for a church meeting.  We’ll be talking about our space issues and what’s next for Embody.  Here are some of the things that go into our conversation:

1. How we talk about it: this is our first big meeting and our first big decision. So HOW we make our decision is almost as important as what our decision is.  We don’t want our church to be a congregational church – meaning that all decisions are made by everybody (there’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not to be our way).  Also, we don’t want to be episcopal – meaning that one person makes the decision and everyone else just goes along with it (also good, but not to be our way).  We’ll be presbyterian in our “polity” – meaning that there is a leadership group that makes the decision after hearing the heart and mind of the congregation. 

2. Prayer.  I’m going to ask everybody to pray in preparation for the meeting and we’ll pray during and after.  God will point us in the direction.

3. We are preparing Embody to think about the issue by giving them a survey. It allows people to answer some questions anonymously and to think through their answers on their own.  We’ll also have the results to tabulate.  Hopefully, many people will participate.

4. We aren’t just “willy nilly” having a meeting.  This really is an important decision and we really DO NEED the hearts and minds of the church to be shared. 

5. We’ll be sharing important information about our finances that give rise to our need to have the conversation.

6. Finances aside, we need to keep our church growing.  We’ve reached a point where many church plants plateau and end up dying.  They get comfortable with the people they have and close off and end up closing the doors.  We want to grow (not for numbers’ sake) because we want more and more people to know the goodness of God and the difference God makes in lives.

OK.  So, now that you know that…please pray for us.  I’ll let you know how the meeting goes.

Prayer with Alex

December 30, 2010 1 comment

When Dana and I baptized our children we made a few promises.  One of those was a promise to pray for and teach them to pray.  We do the best we can to pray for them and model prayer as well as have them pray.  We pray around the table and at night before going to bed as well as when something particular happens that draws us to prayer (usually fear or sickness or someone in need).

Recently Alex and I were having a disagreement about something.  I can’t remember what, but I do remember that his voice was raised and mine was on the way to raised.  He made this statement, “Dad, sometimes I just don’t ‘get’ you.”  He nailed it.  It’s true, and it’s reciprocal.  I replied, “You know what, Alex?  Sometimes I don’t get you, either.  I love you, but I don’t always ‘get’ you.”  A nice honest moment.  Really diffused the situation, if I recall correctly.

So, the not ‘getting’ happens in a lot of ways and in a lot of settings, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to fulfill my promises.  We sat last night reading part of a book that talks about different images for God.  And when we were done I told him we needed to pray before bed.  Now, he’s not always willing to pray (something I don’t ‘get’.).  I said, “It’s time to pray and I want you to pray something real and honest to God…whatever you want.”



“I have a problem.”

“What’s that, Alex?”

“Whenever I pray I tell God that I love him and then this little voice in my head says, ‘that I’m kidding and don’t really love God’, but I do.  I do love him.  I hate that voice.”

“Alex, that sounds like exactly the kind of thing to pray about.  God knows what’s truly in our hearts, doesn’t He?”


So, we prayed.  And that prayer, the one he prayed after that conversation…that I get.