In Remembrance

September 11th.  It is a day fixed in our minds forever.  It is a date such as December 7th is for those who grew up in the “Greatest Generation.”  It is a day we remember where we were, such as that day in Dallas in 1963.  It is a day we remember.

But what is it we remember?  Is it all about the attack?  Is it about the evil perpetrated on our land?  Or do we remember the heroic emergency workers trying to save as many lives as possible?

One leads to bitterness while the other leads to healing.

Now I’m not saying we should not remember the attack, and in fact, we must be always vigilant.  We need to take steps to keep our nation, our schools, our houses of worship and our homes safe.  As a person who lives with the memory of my home being robbed – of my place of safety being distorted – I understand this.  Places once thought safe are not anymore.  We hear of churches, synagogues and mosques attacked because of hate.  We hear of home invasions.  We hear of school shootings.  And we remember.

Every time one of these tragedies occurs we remember.  We remember heroes who ran into the smoke to save others.  We remember people who stood up to the aggressor.  We remember those who gave all so others may live.  And we remember God.

Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, instructed us to remember.  He said “do this in remembrance of me.”  And that word “remembrance” has power.  It is more than just thinking of the events of old, rather it is an ongoing act.  To celebrate the Lord’s Supper is to not only call to mind what happened, but to experience for ourselves His presence as we remember.

And God was very present on that eleventh day of September in 2001, as God is present today.

Psalm 46:1-3 – “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

On this eleventh day of September 2019, remember.  Remember those who lost their lives, remember their families, remember the emergency workers, the police, fire department, the soldiers and all who did (and continue to do) so much for our nation.  And remember our Lord who promises to be with us…always.

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