To belong in the church is not just to belong to a community of believers who come together to ‘get something out of’ a church service, to be ‘fed’ and ‘blessed.’ It is to belong to a community of people who come together to be renewed so they can go back into the world to serve God as they serve others.”
I’ve been thinking about these words by Shirley Guthrie a great deal these last few weeks. They aptly describe what it means to be part of a family of faith. It isn’t about “coming or going” to church, but rather about “being the church” each and every day.
We all use the phrase “going to church” and that isn’t likely to change, but I do want us to understand the privilege of being part of a group of believers is more than showing up for an hour or two on Sunday morning. It is about allowing our relationship with Christ to impact every aspect of our lives.
Our church continues it’s discipleship discernment process. Rev. Muriel Johnson has been an invaluable resource and consultant. She’s maintained her interest and involvement, guiding us through an intentional period in which we seek God’s direction as it relates to growing His church.
The next step in the process is that Muriel will be meeting some selected “young people” from our church in a few weeks. In our deacon retreat several weeks ago, the refrain regarding what “young people” wanted or needed kept coming up. So, it makes sense to actually talk with people who have a personal stake in the future of this church.
The Lord is giving evidence of His work through meaningful worship experiences, the guests and new members who are coming through our doors, and as we as continue our life together as God’s people.
This Sunday offers another great opportunity to be together. We will celebrate the Lord’s Supper in morning worship–a tactile reminder of our shared faith and unity in Christ.
On Sunday evening, we’ll enjoy a GREAT concert with “Southern Raised” at 6 pm. This family band is extremely talented and you won’t want to miss it. There’s no charge for admission but a love offering will be taken. Bring a friend!
Indeed, church isn’t something we go to or primarily strive to “get something out of.” It’s more than that. It’s about contributing through our prayers, participation, and service to God and others.
I appreciate so much your faithful in your prayers, financial support, and participation in the life of this church. I’ll see you soon.
“Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts.”
These words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer are from his book “Life Together.” Even though he penned them decades ago in a different time and culture, they have meaning for the church today.
I’ve known about this book for some time, yet have only now been able to work through its pages. This has had additional meaning for me as I’ve been leading a group of men in our church through a discussion on Bonhoeffer and this classic book on Christian community.
It’s a small book, but going through and sorting out the implications of Bonhoeffer’s words for the 2018 church has been a challenge. Perhaps the central lesson thus far from reviewing these pages is that the American church has a whole lot to be thankful for, not the least of which is the freedom we have to gather and worship as the people of God.
I admit I can’t comprehend a context in which the church couldn’t meet freely and without fear, yet Bonhoeffer did and indicated the value of community especially in a culture where persecution existed and could be expected. When he wrote “when Christ bids a man come to him, he bids him come and die” this was not merely a “spiritual” kind of death. It was very real and personal for him, and Bonhoeffer’s bravery in the face of his arrest and ultimate execution is something that should convict all of us.
I’m not a Bonhoeffer expert by any means, so it’s been rewarding to work through this work alongside of men who have a similar viewpoint of this theologian and martyr. We’re learning through the reading and shared time together that the church doesn’t do a very good job of celebrating little victories or expressing gratitude for what we have been given.
I’ve still unpacking his challenge of “giving thanks for the little things” as a precursor for being given larger blessings. But, it rings very similar to Jesus’ admonition to “be thankful in the little things” in order to be granted access to the greater things.
It can be frustrating being the pastor of a local church. There are any number of complaints, criticisms, and unmet expectations voiced from unhappy churchgoers. Sometimes, I admit, these unpopular critiques can weigh on me, especially when there is so much (in my view) to be thankful for as God’s people.
I’m reminded that the church needs to distinguish between being inconvenienced and being persecuted. There is a lot more of the former and very little of the latter. And, I wouldn’t count going through another round of “the war of Christmas” in a few months to qualify as being persecuted.
Bonhoeffer didn’t know what it was like to live in a free church in a free state. He risked and ultimately lost his life by leading the confessing church rather than compromise with the Nazi government. The church at that time sacrificed its prophetic voice in order to secure its existence, and as is always the case, anytime the church becomes associated with the government, the church loses every time.
We can’t wait until things get better or more to our liking in order to make a difference for Christ. The only time we have is the present, and now is the most important time that we have because we aren’t guaranteed another day.
Based on what I’ve read so far, it is evident that Bonhoeffer recognized a time of persecution and crisis as an opportunity for the church to be a witness for Christ. The American church doesn’t have that hardship to be concerned about, so it’s entirely possible and likely that we don’t realize the little things that are given to us each and every day.
The church definitely needs renewal, and a good step in that direction would be revisiting the value of practice of being thankful. It would transform us as the body of Christ. We would appreciate more our unity in Christ rather than our political biases, and there would be less grumbling about “not getting our needs met” and more gratitude about the time we have together as the people of God. There would be less critique about the kind of music or preaching we experienced in worship and more celebration that we had the freedom to be together in the first place.
Life Together. It really is a challenge, but it truly is a gift. And it’s worth it. Let’s not take it for granted.
Last week a group of friends of mine from college days spent a few days in Branson (#Branson18). It had been decades since I’d seen many of them, and thanks to the ongoing efforts of a core group, we were able to secure a time and place to pull off a reunion.
For a bunch of 50 year olds, we didn’t do too bad on the activity front. We spent the day at Silver Dollar City and rode the rides, ate the food, and took in a few shows. I have to say that I fared pretty well until getting on “The Time Traveler” which I’m glad I did, but I found myself unable to speak for about an hour afterwards. It was pretty intense. It was also pretty great to spend a day on Table Rock Lake riding around on a pontoon boat.
Those few days with some lifelong friends refreshed me. In a way it was like time travel back to the 1980s to see people I knew at a school (formerly) known as Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, LA. It was a time of flag football, spades, working at a dry cleaners, and forging what would be life long friendships.
I especially enjoyed being able to re-connect with two mentors who had a profound impact upon my life. Charlie was my BSU Director and Gene served on staff at a church known for its ministry to college students. Talking with Gene reminded me of that Sunday I came forward during the invitation portion of the worship service to publicly acknowledge the Lord was calling me into vocational ministry. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but that experience along with the others in the BSU were vital to providing a spiritual foundation for the kind of work I’m in now.
There’s an old adage that says, “Life is good, but it isn’t easy.” I’ve found this to be particularly true over the decades I’ve been involved in church life. It’s easy to be blown off course by the ongoing comments, criticisms, and critique that are directed at those who serve in leadership positions in congregational life. Getting a way for a few days helped reorient my thinking and reconfigure my spiritual compass.
Eric Black provided a great editorial entitled, “Remember Who You Are” from the Texas Baptist Standard. He writes, “When the news is chaotic, bad or frightening, knowing your primary identity will put all other things into perspective. Being pulled in different directions won’t move you if you are rooted and secure in your primary identity.” Black explores the various identities that are available to us, emphasizing that what is primary is a relationship to Jesus Christ. The others relate to political, social, and economic variables. What is noteworthy, is that no matter what happens in our country and world, if we are rooted in Jesus Christ, we won’t be unduly frightened by the changes that are going on around us.
I’ve tried to teach and model this important truth, but events in the church and world sometimes cause me to wonder if what I’m doing is really making a difference for Christ. There are times I think about the course my life has taken and need a reminder that “my labor for the Lord is not in vain.”
A few days in Branson with some college friends helped me gain some perspective on life. Regardless of what happens to me professionally, I know that those formative experiences we shared still serve as my spiritual roots and remind me that my future remains in Christ. It has been helpful to revisit where I’ve come from so that I know that I’m still on the right path.
It’s also good to know that others care for me for who I am rather than what I do, and as a pastor, that’s a very freeing realization. These dozen or so guys from NLU each have their own lives, but taking a few days to tell some old stories helped me take a breath and step back from the ongoing demands of pastoral ministry.
I’ll have to get back to work and life in the church soon, but I’m thankful for people who knew me before I became a pastor and remain concerned for my well-being. I’m also grateful to be pastor of a church who appreciates investing time, money, and other resources into the lives of 18-22 year olds attending college right across the street from our building.
I’m proof of what happens in your 20s doesn’t necessarily stay in your 20s. And, I hope that I can encourage students of the 21st century to take advantage of the time they have now to forge meaningful friendships and deepen in their relationship with Christ.
In a sense, we’re all “time travelers.” Like that roller coaster, there are many ups, downs, twists, and unexpected turns that can come at us in this life. It can be disorienting not knowing what or why things happen the way they do. Yet, the entire process can be exciting and provide all kinds of life lessons along the way if we’re able to hang on for the duration of the ride.
It was good traveling back in time for a few days to catch up with old friends, and good to return back to the time and place where the Lord has placed me for a while. I’ll do my best to remember who I am and be thankful that my primary identity remains in Christ and that “nothing will snatch me from the Father’s hand” (John 10.28-29).
First Lady Barbara Bush’s funeral was Saturday. It was an inspiring and a for a brief moment refreshing display of a kinder, gentler time in American politics.
David Priess posted an amazing photo on his twitter feed of each of the presidents in attendance and their wives. He made this comment, “Each president in this photo did things I disagreed with politically. Quite a lot, in fact, for most of them. And yet I never doubted that every single one of them acted based on core values, including love of country—not, primarily, love of self.”
Several persons offered meaningful eulogies about the former first lady, yet it was a line from the rector of the church that stood out to me. In referencing Bush’s approach to others, Dr. Russell Levenson said, “Her generosity did not draw lines to keep others out.”
That’s another way of reinforcing the words of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s not easy being a pastor. One of the great challenges I have is interacting with people who have such divergent political views. Yet, it is also a privilege to learn from people who are different from me and not make one’s political (or theological) approach a basis for my having a friendship with them.
The level of discourse in our country has deteriorated to toxic levels, and while that might not be all that surprising, what has me deeply concerned is what is happening in our churches. Specifically, I am most troubled by the behavior of those who call themselves ministers of the gospel.
Pastors, ministers, rectors, and clergy of all denominations (or lack thereof) must take responsibility for setting a positive tone of civility in our nation. I’ve heard people say that pastors shouldn’t be political, but I’m more inclined to think that partisanship is more detrimental than being political.
Our church hosted the ChurchNet Spring Gathering on April 20th. The keynote speaker was Jeremy Bell, Executive Director of the North American Baptist Fellowship. During his remarks, he talked about the fact that church members needed to be able to explain “the damage that our votes are making” upon our society. Bell indicated that no matter who or what you voted for, there would be a certain level of collateral damage upon our society. That’s because there is no perfect political viewpoint or candidate.
What I inferred from those remarks is that our primary emphasis needs to be on the prophetic message of Jesus Christ in our communities. And this message needs to be communicated to all persons, regardless of background or viewpoint.
I’m working on practicing a generosity that doesn’t “create lines to keep others out.” Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but that’s the kind of generosity Jesus had toward those around him.
It would be wonderful if it didn’t take a funeral to bring people together. Most people are naturally more sympathetic and supportive during times of grief and loss, but wouldn’t be great if we could hold differences of opinion without hating one another?
Fred Rogers, host of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” for so many years will be the focus of a movie this summer. One of the most meaningful things he said was this: “Love is at the root of everything; all learning, all relationships. Love, or the lack of it”
May God help us to have a generosity that doesn’t create boundaries or lines. Let all us of us as church leaders take the lead on creating a more positive world with room for differences of opinion. We can be influential and prophetic with the gospel without excluding people from its message.