Apr 24, 2010

The Irony of It All

Recently, I was reading a book re-recommended to me by Estee titled The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene H. Peterson who readers best know for his paraphrase of the Bible called The Message. Some of our church’s pastors had a reading group for about six weeks in which we discussed the book’s core content. In a nutshell it reminds pastors that just being busy is not a faithful answer to God’s call. We know that for example that doing the right things is as important as doing things right. Because we can never be “enough” for our congregation guilt and regret too often lead us down a path on which we would rather not travel.

What Peterson tries to help pastors with, and I suggest all of us can take a clue from him, is to return to the essentials of faith. For ordained ministers this simply means returning to prayer, scripture study, and having holy conversations with believers who are seeking spiritual direction. Clearly, the tempting distractions that surround us constantly we cannot simply ignore—they press us down on all sides. Yet it is good for someone like Peterson to remind us that we are more than those who run an institution—we are people set apart for God’s serious work of making broken people and a sick world whole and healthy again.

Imagine after reading this kind of “heavy stuff” I noticed an article tucked in the back of the Peterson book that someone had anonymously (I now know why anonymously) slipped to me. Here is the gist of a much longer commercial notice:

Many people in the U.S.—perhaps 20 million to 40 million—believe there will be a Second Coming in their lifetimes, followed by the Rapture . In this event, they say, the righteous will be spirited away to a better place while the godless remain on Earth. But what will become of all the pets?

Bart Centre, 61, a retired retail executive in New Hampshire, says many people are troubled by this question, and he wants to help. He started a service called Eternal Earth-Bound Pets that promises to rescue and care for animals left behind by the saved.

Promoted on the Web as “the next best thing to pet salvation in a Post Rapture World,” the service has attracted more than 100 clients, who pay $110 for a 10-year contract ($15 for each additional pet.) If the Rapture happens in that time, the pets left behind will have homes—with atheists. Centre has set up a national network of godless humans to carry out the mission. “If you love your pets, I can't understand how you could not consider this” (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine).

When we lay bare, side by side, Peterson and “pet salvation in a Post Rapture World,” I can understand that non-believers might be a little hard pressed as to what to make of this religion business. This suggests that people like us may make all the difference.

Apr 16, 2010

I’m Just Saying . . . .

Last fall as our congregation had our maiden voyage into the teeth of the new stadium and I addressed all the parking and traffic issues we might face, I got some random grumbles about me preaching about football. For those of you who do not have the spiritual discernment of irony or careful reading, I want to tell you the following article is about Sunday school and not professional football! Savvy?

In 1969 Joe Namath, alias “Broadway Joe,” turned the football world upside down by leading his New York Jets to victory over the legendary Johnny Unitas [and Earl Morrall] and the Baltimore Colts.

Joe Namath had a reputation as a party-guy and man about town. When he purchased a restaurant in New York that was frequented by unsavory characters and big-time gamblers, no one was surprised. At the time, the commissioner of the National Football League was Pete Rozelle. Rozelle told Namath to sell the restaurant because it tarnished the image of the NFL.

Namath refused. Rozelle, however, would not relent in his insistence that Namath sell. A confrontation was inevitable. Suddenly Namath called a news conference. He announced, “I have changed my mind. I will sell.”

The media-types were dumbfounded. They insisted on an answer. “Why are you selling?”

“I remember a lesson my Sunday school teacher taught me,” was the reply. He then left the interview room.

This article is seriously about Sunday school and the impact you teachers have on youngsters!

Apr 10, 2010

Worship (Third in a Series on Revisiting 2005 Goals)

A few weeks ago I ran across a piece that I wrote titled “Some Things to Ponder in 2005.” We ran that article as a response to those who had asked me to record my personal goals for our church mentioned in that week’s sermon. Now five years later I have gone back to see how we have done. In evangelism we have been okay meeting our arbitrary goal of 150 new church members two out of the five years. Yet we are on track to realize this self-imposed goal with a new group of folks and under Rev. Valendy’s capable leadership.

In terms of our mission goal with the “One Mile Mission” and our “Go the Second Mile” we have all the missional direction we need to continue to push our best piece of ministry forward. Michelle Clark continues to inspire our congregation and offer solid leadership with her passion for reaching out and helping our church connect with our immediate community.

Thus for today I want to revisit the third of my personal goals for 2005 now that it is 2010. Our worship is solid but has too few people participating for the size of our church. Some of the reason is that many of the people I have celebrated funerals for were immovable about attending worship. We have not replaced with new attendees these several hundred people. It seems that in our modern culture worship is not as essential as it once was. Maybe an implosion of a stadium kept some away; maybe it was a soccer tournament; maybe it was a vacation; perhaps it was brunch with our Sunday school class. Whatever the reason, worship is not as vital to us as it once was—and this hurts the Body of Christ here known as FUMC, Arlington.

I once heard Fred Craddock say something to the effect that in our world today the “criteria questions” used by people to decide whether or not to do something were these:

Will my friends be there?
Will I have fun?
Will I make some money?

If there are any “no” answers to these three questions then the person will not chose to participate. I would hope that we might understand worship as the time that the church most fully “gets together.” This means that we put aside the “utility aspects” or “functional facet” of fun and money for an hour. Rather we sing and pray and listen as people who want to become friends with our fellow church members and believers in worship.

We in worship practice perhaps internally what it means to be a church. We cannot offer to others what we ourselves have not received. Someone ask me recently why I couldn’t get more people to attend worship. Curious, I discovered that over the past decade our worship attendance has not been much better or much worse than it is now—with the exception of course of the people we have lost to death and miss very much.

I hope and pray that we as a church (the whole assembly) address this worship issue and not simply lay it at the feet of someone else. We as a church need to accept our part of our own historic vows to support the church with our prayers, PRESENCE, gifts, service, and witness. This issue of worship attendance is our issue as a church. Historically we have performed remarkably poorly in this area of being stewards of our worship presence. We are much stronger as a congregation when guests and visitors sense that worship is important to the life of our congregation. And of course, saying this, the wrong 1000 people usually hear or read this news—and for that I apologize.

On a brighter note our worship numbers for Easter this year were strong as we compare them with previous years:

2005 2081
2006 1947
2007 1833
2008 1668
2009 1658
2010 1969

Thus for the past five years we have the strongest Easter worship numbers this year and 311 more people attended than the previous year. This is encouraging.

As we begin our seventh year together as congregation and pastor, I cannot thank you affectionately enough for the potential that we have as a church. I pray we continue on the path which we have begun, and with God’s providential guidance, perhaps we can continue to become a community of love, a place of forgiveness, and a beacon of hope.

Apr 3, 2010

It is Great to Have a Mission (Second in a Series on Revisiting 2005 Goals)

If it is great to have a mission, then it must be greater still to have a vision by which to fulfill the mission.

A reason I press our church (FUMC, Arlington, Texas) so hard for mission is because without purpose we sooner or later end up living hollow lives—not the hallowed lives to which God calls us. As believers we make meaning from God’s grace and sharing it—not only to the world but to our own immediate neighborhood too! Our community is both near and nearer. So we offer you mission areas of either the one or two mile boundary variety. Perhaps some of our people weary of “good-deed-doing,” but those folks do not even know I have a blog so . . . .

It is hard for me to understand how one can believe in Jesus and not be in mission to God’s world and people. J. Howard Edington once said: “People who don’t believe in missions have not read the New Testament. Right from the beginning Jesus said the field is the world. The early church took Jesus at his word and went East, West, North and South.” There is a command and a direction for us.

This urgent business of mission, vision, and meaning came to me the other day when I read an on-line web article by Judy Rushfeldt. I do not know Judy or where she is from, but her words struck me as especially fitting for people like us who are in “mission.” She wrote:

Last year, I attended a seminar where the attendees were asked to define their personal mission or purpose in one sentence. Out of about a group of about three hundred people, fewer than a dozen were able to articulate a mission statement.

It’s not that living with purpose is a low priority for most of us. Research by Richard J. Leider and David Shapiro, authors of Repacking Your Bags, found that the number one deadly fear of most people is “having lived a meaningless life” (from an on-line article http://ezinearticles.com/?Writing-a-Mission-and-Vision-Statement&id=24990).

We do not need to look back in the year 2050 and say “We once had a chance to be a great church.” Rather Jesus’ command to make disciples is one we can fulfill today. We have now the opportunity to do faithful and effective ministry both as a “One Mile Mission” and as we “Go the 2nd Mile” (see Matthew 5:41). In fact we fuel our mission by our vision. This vision comes from God and Jesus who assigns us to make disciples. We are making inroads into our neighborhood. Those who passed out Easter egg publicity flyers clearly demonstrated these inroads. When not a few neighborhood folks came, we made them welcome at our Easter egg hunt and picnic. We welcomed/loved the stranger (Deuteronomy 19:19)!!!

Accordingly, as a church even if we cannot agree on every theological point of view; or even as modern Americans we cannot agree on definitions of the family, media, the arts, law, and electoral politics; we can agree that our mission is to be instrument of reconciliation as God has reconciled the world to God’s-self.

Reconciliation brings us to our mission and to our peace. We work in Russia, in Haiti, and in Africa—why not work right in our own neighborhood in Michelle’s community garden? Use your God-given imagination and seize your own mission in Jesus’ name.

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