I Believe…Help My Unbelief

Doubts.  We all have them.  And we all have them concerning the faith as well.  Sometimes it is hard to “just believe” when you see so many problems in the world.  How can God be all powerful, but shootings such as El Paso, TX or Dayton, OH happen?  How can God be the God of love when His followers seem to hate each other over a multitude of issues?  And the list goes on.

But these questions are not new.  They are not something that just happened in the 21st century, or during the “Post-Modern” period of time.  They have been with us since the beginning.

In Matthew 11:3, John the Baptist sends a message to Jesus asking; “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  After all of Jesus’ teaching, Peter denies Jesus’ destiny towards the cross.  Thomas expresses his doubts (as did all the apostles, see Matthew 28:17).

Doubts are normal.  They are a part of the human experience and do not define us as Christ-followers.  And, doubts can lead to greater faith, for doubts force us to wrestle with the scriptures.  Doubts also force us to wrestle with the platitudes, Sunday school answers and other simple statements of the faith.  And wrestling is exercise – which makes us stronger.

Over the past few weeks some “prominent” Christian voices have expressed their doubts and claimed they have lost (or are losing) their faith.  As I read articles, blogs and social media reports, I seem to have missed anyone referencing the strength in doubting.  Nowhere does anyone mention “The Dark Night of the Soul”, in which Saint John of the Cross writes about his time of spiritual desolation (and renewal).  We forget about Jesus prayer in the Garden.  It was certainly a struggle for Jesus as he faced his death.  We forget about Ignatius of Loyola who taught that spiritual desolation is, in itself, a spiritual exercise, and a time to grow stronger in faith.  And there are countless others.

Brothers and sisters, doubts are okay.  Doubting can often be a sign of deep spiritual hunger, one that cannot be filled by your pastor (me included), your favorite musicians, writer, author or anyone else.  That hunger is only filled by God.  The doubts just mean you need to explore God more fully.

By the way, did you read Matthew 28:17 yet?  The Resurrected Christ is about to ascend into heaven.  He is gathered with his disciples and “they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Jesus didn’t respond by questioning their faith, or casting them out of the Kingdom.  He responded with these words:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

He gave them the Great Commission – a ministry for every Christian, and He gave them the ultimate comfort – His eternal presence.  Even when they doubted.

 

The Great Cloud of Witnesses

I recently returned from a mission trip.  It was five of our youth and four adults traveling to West Virginia to help do some home repair projects.  Our youth have participated annually for a while, but this was my first opportunity to go.  One of the best parts of the trip was the opportunity to talk with the youth – to work side by side with them and hear their stories.  And I got to tell mine.

Nobody expected the pastor to be very skilled at construction and home repairs, but they soon realized I could do a few things!  And there is a good reason for this.

When I was young, we had little money (and truthfully, little has changed!).  We could not afford to have experts come in and repair things, we did not have money for plumbers or electricians.  But we did have Uncle Bill.  Uncle Bill was married to my father’s sister, and he was the ultimate handyman.  Uncle Bill worked on aircraft during WWII, and held maintenance positions afterwards.  Uncle Bill would come over to fix the drain, replace a part on the dryer, or get the car to start.  And I would watch.

I learned how do to many things around the house that has helped us over the years (and saved us some money as well).  During the mission trip I truly began to appreciate Uncle Bill’s guidance.

But my dad also made an “appearance” during the trip.  I had the chance to tell some “dad” stories and jokes, and even his corny magic trick with a quarter.

This is part of the cloud of witnesses – those who came before us, who influenced us, who brought us up.  Uncle Bill’s influence gave me the skills necessary to help those in need.  Dad’s influence helped me to entertain our group.  Both are very much a part of who I am.

Who are in your cloud?  Who influenced you, taught you, mentored you?  Take a moment to give God thanks and praise for them.

 

Peace,

Bill

Spiritual Director not a Cruise Director

For a successful cruise aboard a ship, one of the most important people is the Cruise Director.  This person is responsible for all of the entertainment, activities, guest parties, lectures and shows.  The Cruise Director’s main responsibility is to assure each passenger has a great time on the cruise.  This means the Cruise Director needs to schedule different activities to meet different wants and desires.  For some it is a cocktail party, for others it might be “Coffee on the Lido Deck” (thanks, Love Boat). love boat

Overall, the Cruise Director tries to make everybody happy so they will tell their friends and more people will take cruises.

Believe it or not, a pastor is not a Cruise Director.  A pastor is not in a church to make everyone happy.  A pastor is not to develop each and every fun event, lecture series and party so that those on the cruise those in the church are “satisfied”.

What then should a pastor be you may ask?  A pastor is a Spiritual Director.

A Spiritual Director helps us see God in all aspects of our lives.  A Spiritual Director assists people in the quest to grow closer with God.  A Spiritual Director helps people assess their lives while guiding them through Christian formation.

And this is so much more important than satisfying people’s desires.  A Spiritual Director guides people to satisfy the “God-shaped hole” residing in each of us precisely because a Spiritual Director points us towards God.

Why are pastors running around so busy yet the church is in decline?  Because the expectation is that we satisfy customers rather than perform soul-work.  It is an unfortunate result of a capitalistic, market based, competitive church environment; “Come to my church where we offer the best coffee.”  “No, come to my church where we do sermon series on how to exercise and eat better.”  “No, my church offers great programming.”  And the list goes on.  Yet the church is in decline because we are missing the point.  It is about God, not us. But to truly structure the church around God, we need to seek God.  To seek God, sometimes we need to be pointed in the right direction.  For that, we need Spiritual Directors.

My desire is to do more Spiritual Direction than Cruise Direction.  And for some people, that is really what they want – to discover God’s will, to become more Christ-like, to satisfy their hungry heart.  And that is a worthy call.

If you seek God in your lives, if you are searching for more than a Cruise Director, feel free to contact me.

A New Pentecost

I’m excited.  Today is Pentecost Sunday, the one day a year mainline denomination pastors get to preach on the Holy Spirit.

Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little, but often in our world, the Holy Spirit is the “red-headed stepchild” of the Trinity.  We invoke the Spirit and we mention the Spirit, but we don’t always embrace the Spirit.  We even diminish the power of Pentecost by relegating it to a children’s sermon of the church’s birthday.

So where is the power in that?

The Pentecost experience was not a one and done thing.  Read through the book of Acts and see how the early church depended upon the Holy Spirit.  And nowhere does Jesus ever say “I am going away but I will send an advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who will teach you all things, give you power from on high, then disappear forever, but you can mention Him on one Sunday a year.”  pentecost 2

Truthfully, the church needs a new Pentecost experience.  We need to embrace the Holy Spirit.  We need to ask the Triune God to guide us daily and listen as the Spirit speaks.  When we pray it should be in the Spirit (which does not necessarily mean in tongues, rather fully expecting God’s Spirit to pray with us and do things).  And we need to know that the Holy Spirit is with us.

Even if it isn’t Pentecost Sunday.

Holy Week

It has been nuts lately.  Actually, I’ve been pastoring in “Crisis Mode” since the beginning of the year –  we’ve had a lot of emergencies, pastoral care issues, funerals and the like.  And some of them have been real doozies (but I cannot tell you because they are private, personal things for people).

And now it is Holy Week.  On Palm Sunday my wife and I led the worship service as we journeyed with Jesus into Jerusalem and through Holy Week.  The service was powerful.

We ate lunch during Coffee Hour, had the Easter Egg Hunt and then went to my wife’s ministry setting to do the service there.  After that service we visited my moworkther (with end stage dementia), headed home and stopped by a congregants house to pray with them because of an illness.

And now I’m finishing up Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.  And there are still people to visit.  It does not let up.  But there is a reminder in all of this.  Jesus, while on the cross said “it is finished.”  Were all the sick healed?  No.  Were all the souls saved?  No.  Were all the faithful renewed?  No.  But Jesus’ earthly ministry was finished in one way – and continued on in another – through His followers.

I am but one man.  And while I strive to do all I need to do, I must realize that my call is not to be Jesus, rather His follower.  I cannot get to every visit.  I cannot get to every piece of paper on the desk.  Not every detail will be handled.  Rather I will, with God’s help, do the best I can this week to proclaim the Good News to all I encounter.

May your Holy Week be a time of blessing,

Bill

 

Wait For It…

Wait for it…

We are waiting for the snow.  The forecasters are so sure about it that schools closed last night, appointments have been changed, schedules disrupted.  But so far, no snow.  We wait.

On one hand, it is kind of annoying – having to wait.  Wouldn’t we all rather wake up to see the 5 inches of snow already instead of trying to outwit things.  “Do I go in to work, only to have difficulty getting home?” “Do I cancel that Doctor’s appointment?”  “Do I…?”

And we wait.

It’s not like I don’t have enough to do, in fact I brought home plenty of work.  There is Lenten worship planning, a book study to begin with the Session, upcoming Sunday school lessons, the Safety Team, and lots more that needs to be done.  My wife and daughter also have plenty of work to do.  We are well prepared for the storm.

But we wait.

It seems like people wait a lot in life.  We wait for something to happen to move us forward.  We wait for test results.  We wait for appointments.  We wait in the waiting room for those appointments.  We wait for the next cashier to check us out.  We wait.

And waiting can sometimes be uncomfortable.  But we must face the wait with patience and grace.

The rhythm of the church year is similarly filled with waiting.  The church year begins with Advent, a season of waiting for the celebration of the birth of the Messiah, and a recognition of our wait for His return.    We wait for the great Christmas celebration, and then we wait until Epiphany to take down decorations.

And we are about to enter into another period of waiting, Lent.  Lent is a time of penitence, a reminder of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.  During Lent many give up something (and wait for Easter to take it back up again).  Others spend extra time in prayer and bible study.  Lent can be a time of waiting – until we reach Holy Week with the Triumphant Entry, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the real wait – the sometimes painful wait from Friday until Easter Sunday and the celebration of the Resurrection.

Holy Week can be a reminder of our own lives – times of celebration, times of sadness, times of death, and then that time when we stand before God face to face.  For that we wait.  With hope and expectation.

Today, as you wait for the snow to begin, as you do whatever you need to do, take a moment in prayer and meditation.  Consider everything God has blessed you with, including those things worth waiting for.

Peace,

Bill

The Sunday That Kept On Going

November 11th 2018 was a packed worship service.  There were so many things going on.

The service started with a touching tribute to our veterans.  The Deacons worked with the children to give cards and pins to our vets in a very nice, very moving inter-generational way.

But that was not enough.

A family stood up to proclaim their desire to have their baby baptized.  The children promised to help guide this child as she grew up in the church.  The adults again reclaimed their baptismal promises, to reject evil, to embrace Jesus, to support the church, and to be spiritual mentors to this child.  We then prayed over water, an ordinary substance transformed to something holy, and baptized her in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  As the choir sung a touching song, the baby went for a walk with the pastor around the room.  As every eye was upon her, she was looking to the ceiling, perhaps at the angels in attendance, or the “Great cloud of witnesses”.  Baptism always makes me emotional because I can really feel God’s presence as God marks the child.

But that was not enough.

The worship leader read the Old Testament scripture and sat down.  I approached the pulpit and stood in silence as a Trustee rang the bell eleven times.  You see, it was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the one hundred year anniversary of the end of the first world war.

But that was not enough.

I preached an impassioned sermon on the Widow’s Mite and the Widow of Zarephath, calling out the fact that God sees our plight, God sees our situations, and God responds through people.  People like us.

But that was not enough.

We again have experienced a tragic shooting in our nation.  As pastor, I wrestled with my response, writing a second sermon, going back and forth between which sermon to preach, and finally deciding to make a special time of prayer.  I called the congregation to pray, and then to be the answer to prayer, because the church is the most effective and powerful force on the planet – when we work together with God.

But that was not enough.

You see, we still had the prayers of the people – that time when we lift up the needs of the congregation, community and world.  We prayed for people having surgery this week.  We prayed for a woman that nobody knows, but she needed prayer.  We prayed for loved ones who are sick, loved ones who are recovering and loved ones who are dying.  We prayed for victims of the California wild fires, and we prayed for the leaders of our nation.

By the benediction, I was completely drained.  Emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally drained.  And I’ll do it again next Sunday because worship is that important.

It is not every Sunday that we baptize someone.  But each Sunday we are called to remember our baptism and charged with living it.  It is not every Sunday that we honor our veterans, but each Sunday we are reminded to give thanks for their blessing.  It is not every Sunday that we ring the bell, but each Sunday we are called to gather to promote peace, justice and the forgiveness of sin.

And every Sunday we hear the gospel proclaimed.  Every Sunday we lift up people in prayer.  Every Sunday we experience the forgiveness of sin and the call to live as followers of Jesus.

If you really stop for a moment and think about it, every Sunday is packed with lots of life-giving things.  If you haven’t been to worship in awhile, this is a great time to return as we approach the Advent season.  We will explore the themes of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy and how we, the baptized, can embody those themes in our daily lives.

I hope to see you Sunday,

 

Bill