March 25, 2016
The Perfect Church
As I was driving to my church last Sunday morning, I noticed the people coming and going from a local café. I had seen people there before, but this time I was struck by two groups greeting each other, with many smiles and warm hugs all around. I imagine they are good, kind people, who were obviously happy to see each other.
The scene reminded me of one that would be played out at church in a couple of hours, for there too many of the people would arrive and exchange both warm smiles and abundant hugs. So, I wondered, would the people at the café be going to worship at a church after breakfast? Perhaps, but not necessarily. For there are a great many good and kind people who never attend church. Of course, some of those people are adherents of other religions. But what about others? There are many who just don’t do religious things. Sometimes people are described, or describe themselves, as “spiritual but not religious.” Religious sociologists have begun to use the term “Nones” to designate those people who have no religious affiliation and choose not to pursue one. And yet, churches desire to reach out to all people, even those who claim to have no interest. So, why are they not interested?
I imagine some people feel no need for God. Some of course feel there is no God. Both situations are difficult for me to understand, because God is so real to me and such an important part of my life. But I am certainly willing to engage in conversations in order to better understand people who feel far differently than I do.
For some people, I suppose, the church is just irrelevant. That one I can understand, because there is much that happens in churches that does not try to respond to God’s current urgings, and only seeks to maintain what was significant fifty years ago. I do believe the church needs always to evaluate its relevance for people.
There are some people who, I believe, stay away from churches because churches are not perfect. Some of those people have been hurt, often deeply, by churches and the people who were a part of them. I understand their reluctance or fear in seeking out another church.
But sometimes people just have this view of church as being perfect, and if anything big, or small, happens that bursts that perception, then they cross church off their list of acceptable places to go. There are certainly those life-changing events that can, and should, drive people away from particular churches – cases of child abuse, adult sexual abuse, rejection because of sexual orientation, condemnation for not holding to that church’s rules, and you can both imagine and name many more. These are things that should cause someone to leave that particular church, though I would hope that a person who leaves that church would seek out healing and grace within another church community.
But there are also people who have never been through a traumatic situation with a church who stay away from churches because they are not perfect. There is somehow the idea that because churches seek to live and act in God’s name, that they are going to be perfect, and that anything less than perfection shows that they are not worthy of consideration.
Yes, that is a worthy goal, to be perfect. I don’t expect that I will ever achieve that perfection in this life. I do keep that goal before myself. I do strive to live into that. But I know that I will still make mistakes, will still say and do things that are less than what God asks of me, will still sin, even though I am focused on that perfection.
That being said, I am so thankful to be a part of a church community that knows the power of forgiveness and grace, while at the same time understanding what it means to get back on the track of faithfully following the way of Jesus. Jesus, after all, made it clear that he came to gather together those who had fallen short of where God would ask them to be, not to spend time with those people who already felt they were perfect. Jesus came to offer forgiveness, but then to point out a new direction, a course set on a pathway that would lead to abundant life, both for the person and for all whom they encountered.
None of us are perfect, whether we are part of a church or not. The difference as I see it is that within the church we acknowledge that we have fallen short at times, that we have tried and failed at times, but that we also live in a relationship with God and one another that is based upon forgiveness, grace and a view toward living more faithfully. And maybe that last one, living faithfully, is what distinguishes the church. Our goal is to be as faithful as we possibly can in following the way set out by Jesus. Our goal is to live life by emulating Jesus as closely as we possibly can. When we succeed we celebrate. When we fail, we re-collect our selves and set out again, following Jesus. The church is not perfect, but there is a perfect pathway laid out for us, and we keep returning to that pathway, doing so together.
March 18, 2016
We recently bought a box of solar lights for our home yard. The lights came with instructions, of course, although when the steps are in the wrong order they aren’t as helpful as they could be. That being said, I have never had an item that was easier to assemble and activate. By that evening the lights were giving off a beautiful array of light in the various places where I had set them.
A couple of nights later I had a lot of trouble sleeping. We have all had those nights on occasion. But as I wandered through the house a few times during that night, I noticed the glow from those solar lights slowly diminishing, until toward dawn they were almost dark. It certainly makes sense that the daytime charge of the internal battery would gradually wane as the light is put forth, but I had never seen it happen in such dramatic fashion.
These solar lights then got me to thinking about us, and how our energy gets charged, discharged and renewed again. Generally, while the solar lights are doing their thing, and the batteries are being discharged, we are sleeping and recharging our internal energy. But what about other kinds of energy?
What helps you to get up in the morning and to look forward to the day? Or, do you turn over and wish you could just stay in bed all day?
What fuels your energy for relationships with family and friends? Are you uplifted by the very people you are in relationship with, or do they drain your energy further?
What is there that nurtures your passion for life?
These are important questions, ones that we need to take time to reflect upon. Our energy, or lack of it, affects not only us but everyone around us. And sure, there are always times when we will be tired no matter what, but the question is about where we are in energy on a consistent basis.
And we need to discover, and regularly nurture, what it is that fuels our passion for life. It may be giving to others. It could our church or our bowling league. It may be the arts and literature. Whatever it is for you, seek after it continually and allow it to recharge your daily life.
March 11, 2016
Gateway Performance Series
Our church will begin its seventh season of the Gateway Performance Series on March 19th. This series has had an interesting development over the years. It actually began when I approached our church pianist and asked if he might consider presenting a concert for the church. He came back with a proposal to initiate a series that would feature newer musical artists and newer compositions.
The church gave its support to the idea, and we began what has become an annual series of concerts. As the series has evolved, we have continued to feature newer artists, but have also expanded to include many others. We have also invited visual artists to participate in several of the seasons, and have included poetry and multimedia as well. In one year we not only displayed the works of a photographer, but engaged that person to work with our youth in developing their photographic skills and in preparing them for their own exhibition of some of their photographs. The variety of concerts and activities that have filled these past years has been truly amazing.
Each year, during each concert, I sit and marvel at the incredible artists who grace our series. We are a smaller church, and yet we consistently present amazing concerts for our members, for people in the community, and for those who sometimes travel quite a ways just to share in the experience of an evening with talented musicians. I don’t know that I would have thought this was possible in the years before we began, but it has become a beautiful part of our church life.
If you are part of a smaller church and are interested in doing something similar, I would be happy to talk with you about it. You can also check out our series website, gatewayperformanceseries.org , for more information about the current season and to get a fuller idea of past seasons through the archives.
The arts can be an important part of church life. They can also be incredibly inspirational.
March 4, 2016
One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is when Jesus is in someone’s home, and some men come, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed, hoping for Jesus to heal the man. But as one might imagine, the house where Jesus was teaching was so full that the crowd was spilling out the door. The men could not even squeeze themselves into the house, let alone carry a bed, and so they improvise. They go up to the roof, which would have been a flat roof where people even slept when it was too hot to be inside at night, and they remove enough of the roof to let the man on the bed down right in front of Jesus. And, as the story goes, Jesus both forgives the man’s sins and heals him such that he walks out of the house, carrying the bed he had been lying on. You can read the story for yourself in Luke 5:17-26.
One of the things that always strikes me about this story, in addition to Jesus’ wisdom in responding to those who question his actions, is that I wonder about the response of the homeowner when the roof is opened up. In our day, most probably, there would be an insurance claim or a lawsuit. But I wonder, did the homeowner jump for joy that something so powerful happened in his or her home. Did they say, “Oh, don’t worry about the roof, we’ll fix it tomorrow”? Or did it pose a problem that they expected Jesus to take care of, as in having some of his disciples fix the roof? Questions without answers, but I enjoy the thoughts about it all.
The story came to mind this week as we were in the process of having our church re-roofed. That is a noisy proposition, especially the part where the workers are tearing off the old roof, which in our case was the legal limit of three layers thick. This was not a simple process, and it was time consuming. Of course, if you don’t like the smell of tar, then the noise would have been the least of your concerns.
Then there is the cost. It is a hit to one’s budget, as a church as well as when homeowners go through the same process. But we had a great company do the work, one that we have used in the past, and I knew going in that the money would be well spent.
Of course, when it rains in several days, as is projected to happen, then nothing beats have a new, waterproof, secure roof. It is essential, and appreciated. And the cost will seem highly worth it.
This all got me to thinking about what we do to take care of ourselves. What are the essential things for you and me to do to provide a metaphorical roof over our heads? There are many things that we do to enrich our lives, but what are the essentials? I’ll leave you to provide the answer for your life.
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