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Posts Tagged ‘Things I Can’t Do’

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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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.

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.

Double

April 24, 2011 4 comments

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

That’s how it started this morning.  We had two services today (Easter Sunday), and they were both pretty packed.  If I were pushed to give you numbers I would say there were 80 people in each service.  Here are the types of people we had:

Most all of our normal regular Embody types.  Then we had grandparents, siblings, and visiting cousins – these are the ones we won’t see again until they come to visit again in 3-6 months.  Which is cool.  But we also had the people who got our mailer and decided this was the week.  We had a single mom and her daughter who entered the front door and made it pretty clear that she was out of her comfort zone (she and her daughter had a great time).  We had a mom and grandma who lost a husband two days ago and didn’t want to be around her normal church friends because it was all so tender, and a little anonymity is helpful right now for her.  We had a good number of Chicago folks who make their summer weekend homes in a little community just down the street (think Dirty Dancing without the “dirty”).

God knows why they all came, and if they’ll come back.  Some of them left their info, and know I’ll contact them.  A few checked the box that reads “I want to be left alone”, and I will. 

We also had a choir.  Funny – for rehearsal we had about 7, but somehow when we stood up there this morning there were about 15 of us.  I don’t know.  Worked out.  There were also donuts the size of watermelons, an easter egg hunt that did two things: gave great photo ops and gave adults an easy way to talk and enjoy relaxing company together.  There was me, looking at the clock when everything was over and realizing I’d miscalculated how long things would go (better short than too long).  There was also a large-sh offering, a new “front” with a new platform so a short guy can be seen while preaching.  Oh, and there was Kathy who drew some really great artwork during each service (both were snatched up for some undisclosed donation after the service.)

Mostly, we heard the story – the love story with creation, broken relationships, God’s plan to fix it, a hero who arises, His death and resurrection, and our part in being the hands and feet of Christ to continue reconciling the world to God – oh, and the most important part…hope.

It was a win.  I feel good right now.  Tired, but really good.  Thanks to those of you who may have prayed for us.  Winner of a day.  Now, if you’re the type who likes to pray, you can pray that some of those people return to become part of our family of faith – and faith seekers.

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.

My Pitch To NBC

March 28, 2011 1 comment

I have a few shows I watch on TV (understatement).  Dana usually reads while I find out who’s voted out or find out who shot J.R.  But every once in a while Dana gets into a show, and I love it because it’s another shared activity we enjoy like brushing our teeth or not laughing out loud when Bis goes into a raging drama queen moment over something non-existent.  Happily, Dana picked up on a show called “America’s Next Great Restaurant”.

Ten people who have an idea for a new restaurant chain go through the preparation for starting a restaurant while four knowledgeable investors weed them out until there’s a winner who receives three of his/her restaurants in three prime cities in the U.S.  The investors give them chances to show off different parts of their plan: taste, look, name, menu, etc. in front of hundreds of regular people who vote on their favorite in a particular category.

Last night’s episode got me thinking about having a reality show of my own: “America’s Next Great Superchurch”.  Yuck!  Here’s how it would go: Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Kirk Cameron gather a bunch of church planters in their preparatory stage.  They give them the chance to finalize and hone their plans: look, feel, name, liturgy (or lack thereof), theology (or lack thereof), proposed leadership structure, financial plan, pastoral staffing plan, pastoral vacation plan, pastoral family plan, church values, church mission statement, location, space plan (facilities).  Then they give unchurched, dechurched and churchy-type people the opportunity to cast their vote on these individual aspects of the church plant.  Rick, Bill, and Kirk wittle down the contestants until they get to the final one who receives as a reward…funding for thier new church plant.

Ugh!  I can see this actually happening in our media-rich church culture.  Yuck.  OK, let’s stay with this for a minute…  This could really work for some of these planters.  They could really get a lot of kinks worked out and the expert advice of some people who understand the business of church and the culture of church.  (I can hardly continue this, it’s killing me)  Ok, keeping going, Jim.

The winner receives money to go along with his/her well-planned design for a new church plant.  They are like a hiker who is all packed up and exercised, stretched out, has their pack, water, food, maps, matches, and Swiss Army knife.  There’s a problem, though – at least I have seen that it can be a problem.  It’s this:

You can plan and think and prepare, but there’s one thing you can’t plan, understand, or prepare for: The Holy Spirit.  The Spirit blows where He wants and how and when.  A hiker plans for certain types of weather and the wind brings something different.  The hiker prepares for a temperature range and the wind brings El Nino (whatever that is).  The hiker brings water purification, but the wind dries up the spring. 

Embody Christ Fellowship started with a beautiful plan, and we’re still using most of it, but we’re finding that there’s a need to trust and wait and pray and lean on the power of the Most High God to pave the way into hearts.  Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and Kirk Cameron know something, but the Holy Spirit is the One who knows the hearts, minds, needs, and desires of His creation, the ones he desires to bring back into reconciliation.  Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 

Come Holy Spirit!