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Green Light

May 9, 2011 Comments off

The Hope of All Travelers

One morning I travelled from my home to the Boogaart residence.  Usually Dana drops off the Bis in the mornings, but on this day it was my pleasure to do so.  So…I turn on to 32nd and head East.  Their place is on the other side of town, and it takes between 8 and 12 minutes depending on how you hit the lights.

On this particular morning things seemed to align and the lights seemed to be timed out just so, and it was as if every driver on the road had been notified that I was on my way and to make way for me.  I hit every light at normal speed – not even having to slow down for cars that were picking up from a red light.  The lights in our town have a countdown to yellow, so you can tell how much time you’ve got.  I went through each light between 1 and 7 left on the countdown.  Amazing!

I was pretty sure that God had set up the timing.  The real test was at the very end because there is a left turn.  Now to make this perfect here’s what would have to happen.  First, the light has to be green and second, either: there is a perfect gap between cars coming the other direction…or…there is a train on the far side of the street keeping any traffic from coming the other direction.  On this day: perfect gap – didn’t have to really slow down at all (just enough to keep me from flipping over – per the usual turn).

I even met another parent dropping off their kid at the same home and we turned in perfect choreography.  Like in the movies – the whole thing.

There seem to be rare moments when everything aligns and it’s like you’re in a bubble of angelic guidance.  I get those every so often, and really enjoy it.  And I don’t want to do anything to mess it up (like speeding through a light or being impatient to keep it going just so).

When my life seems smooth I enjoy it.  When it seems I’m in God’s perfect will (whatever that means) I try not to mess it up, but rather let things happen or rather let God make things happen at God’s own pace.  Keeping in step with the Spirit is not the easiest thing.  I know there will be red lights, and even worse – I’ll be the one stuck behind the train.

Switching from cars to boats for a moment (Mr. Wallenberg, my high school English teacher, would hate my mixing of metaphors): When the wind has died down sometimes you’re just dead in the water.  The only thing to do is hoist the sails and wait for God’s next gust.  To pay attention and pray for some movement.  Eventually, the heavenly light turns green and things start to move. 

Sunday we had 12 guests in worship – 8 of them returners.  We hoisted sail in dead air for months and now it seems God is kicking up the air.  Weigh anchor, my friends, and hold on.  God may be up to something new.

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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.

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.

God On The Bumper

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Two weeks.  I’ve got two weeks.  Well, at the time of this post I will have 10 days (which encompasses 2 Sundays).  Definitely not the amount of time I need to do the important thing that needs to be done.  I’ve got to find a replacement for my friend and worship leader, Lee.  It’s not that I’m lazy.  It’s not like I’ve had months and months and just haven’t done it.  Lee and I were both well prepared and prayed about it, but the timing jumped up on us.  We were planning on having more time than this, but…he’s leaving earlier than expected, so…I’ve got 10 days.

We’ve got some talented musicians at Embody.  They are great, but they are the essential spokes in the worship tire.  We need the hub, the one who can hold together the sound and lead the group to produce an atmosphere that is worshipful and honest.  I don’t want to take anything away from them, because they’re exactly what we need for the fullness of the worship team.  But we need that one leader.

So, I’m utilizing resources at my disposal, or at least in my general area.  I asked the regional church planter guy for some names and he came up with a good one.  I met with the guy over a…let’s call it an adult beverage.  He was a wonderful guy, sensative and creative.  He had a beard, too, which is always nice.  But after listening to him talk for a while, I could sense that our theology was not going to line up well. 

Lee gave me a name of a guy, so I called him.  We’re going to have lunch on Monday.  Serendipitously, I met him at a Western Seminary chapel service yesterday.  I got to hear him play and lead worship, then saw that he’s friends with people I respect and enjoy.  Plus, he’s got Lee’s stamp of approval, which is supreme.  We’re still having lunch Monday.  Problem with this guy is that he’s committed every other Sunday at another church.  So…not sure if I want a band aid – no matter how wonderful.  I may need to take what I can get.

Then there’s Hope College.  They’ve got loads of students who are probably qualified.   But the problem is that Hope just started up and it’s crazy there.  The fella who is my best connection there (whom I haven’t met, but have been directed to by a couple of great friends), the guy who has his hands on all the handles and reins of these young, energetic, telented, God-seeking people (I’m hoping they’re that way).  I can’t get a meeting with him until next week.  It will be really late in the game.

So, I have every right to be a little nervous.  My anxiety level should be through the roof, but it’s not.  I’m sitting in the Way Cup Cafe, eating a french toast bagel with waaay too much cream cheese and a glass of juiced carrots and apples (the healthy choice that made up for the bagel), listening to some feel good rock and roll over the radio and thinking one very clear and comforting thought: our God is sovereign.

I’m only 34, but I’ve been paying attention long enough to know that God’s active when I can’t see it.  Just like I know there is someone who’s heart is finally ready to receive the mailer that should be landing in their mailbox today, just like I know that there are young couples, elderly singles, middle aged parents, and tweens who need to experience God’s grace and some good news, just like I know that there is a way that we will reach capacity in our building, just like I know there’s a smooth and Spirit-filled answer to what to do with our space when we reach capacity.

I know that God is active when I can’t see it.  Here’s what I love: doing my part in the next 10 days, trying to get some traction in the muck, while keeping my eyes open for the moment when God sits on my bumper and all of a sudden the tires catch and we lurch forward into traffic at just the right moment with just the right people in the car.  It’s gonna be good.  No, better than that.  It’s going to be something I can’t explain that has wonderful outcomes.  I think you call that a miracle.  Or…you could just call it the way our God likes to work.

Passenger Jim

August 29, 2010 1 comment

Little Dade Schissler is 3; maybe 4.  He’s a sweet, generous – if not sticky – little guy.  He and his grandparents came camping with our church this weekend.  Before I saw him, I heard him.  I wasn’t sure he was talking to me because I wasn’t used to hearing my new nickname, but my ears soon became accustomed to it.  I held his hand and we walked down the road together in the afternoon on Sunday, and he seemed to enjoy being the only one who calls me this new professional name for a pastor:  “Passenger Jim!”

It seems to have fit…at least this weekend.  We had roughly 75 people camping at Tri Ponds campground; about 25 miles away from our church building.  Around 50 of them were Embody regulars, and 25 were friends or family of Embody regulars.  The idea was this: I like to camp, and if you like to camp…let’s do it in each other’s general vacinity.  It’s a lot about doing “real. life. together.” and it worked great.

I saw some cool things.  Let me tell you about about one of them.  While heading to the bathroom Saturday evening I saw, but the light of a campfire, 6 or 7 people lining up and being handed little pieces of paper and then, out of nowhere, there were about 20 people singing happy birthday and holding these signs that spelled out “Happy Birthday” all for Jen.  A cake with 24 candles started to blaze and there was Dade in the middle of it all seeing that these church people love his aunt Jen on her birthday.  One of the great things about it was that the people holding letters for the sign and many of the folks singing were Embody folks who, I’m pretty confident, didn’t know Jen really well until the camping trip.  But here they were joining in on a surprise birthday party for her.

And I had nothing to do with it.  I am coming to realize more and more that I really am along for the ride as this church gets its start.  God’s moving in individual lives and in our corporate life together in ways that I have no way of knowing about.  And this really is the best part because if I was aware of all that God was up to I would either mess it up, get in the way, or try to take over.  I am content to be “Passenger Jim” the happy camper.

My Slow Indian Friend

May 4, 2010 1 comment

John Paul Sundararajan is my Indian friend.  He’s from India.  We went to college and seminary together.  This morning we had coffee and he made a comment that helped me a lot.  He was talking about how he takes things slowly in regards to fundraising.  He’s not in the “business” to get tons of support.  He doesn’t raise funds, he builds relationships.  He knows that if he takes his time things work out how God has it planned.  He’s gotten good support from churches and friends because he’s taken the time to build relationships.

I’m encouraged by this because I feel like that’s me.  There is this small bit of anxiety I feel in being a church planter that says I need to push, push, push, ambition, drive, strategize, grow, explode…etc.  I feel pretty diametrically opposed to this…not because it’s wrong, but because it’s not me.  I feel like God will work out what will happen if I leave it to God.  The people God wants to bring and the money we need to be able to make it long-term will come in God’s timing.

John Paul (goes by JP) is slow about things (not that he’s slow.  I don’t want to sound like he’s mentally impaired.  That mixed with the fact that he’s Indian might make me sound racist or something…which I am, but not as much as most people…we’re all a little racist) and it works for him.  I think it works for Embody and for me.  I think God works that way, too, sometimes.  God’s timing…can’t beat it.

Communion

April 27, 2010 Leave a comment

In our denomination (RCA) the Lord’s Supper is watched over by the local board of elders.  We don’t have a board of elders.  Technically, we do: First Church’s elders.  I’ve asked them permission to have communion on a monthly basis.  They say, “yah, of course”.  I smile.  That’s more than they have communion.  They obviously love us and want us to have our own identity.

We do things differently in communion.  They allow people to come to the table if they have been baptized and made a profession of their faith.  It’s a process that goes through the elder board.  We welcome people who put their trust in Jesus Christ and have faith in Him.  We don’t have membership.  This means we don’t have “control” over who is coming to the table.

I am working under an understanding that God desires to have union with his people, and this is one of the primary ways we have union with Jesus…through the Lord’s Table.  He feeds us and nourishes our faith.  We are somehow caught up into heaven with Him and with the communion of saints. 

I suppose some people might take issue with how open our table is.  Here’s what I know, however: I have someone who is intentional about calling herself a “seeker”.  She’s courting Jesus right now and is a very “spiritual” person, but doesn’t necessarily believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  Sunday she came forward and took part in communion.  We didn’t have a conversation.  Don’t know if things have changed for her or not.  But she is meeting Jesus and she knows that He is welcoming her to His Table and to a life with Him.  I pray that she comes to faith in Jesus Christ, and that the Table is a main way she comes to know Him.

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