September 25, 2015
Signs of Hope and Promise
It is both my privilege and my joy to serve on my denomination’s Regional Committee on Ministry. As we gather each month to do the work entrusted to us, we meet with candidates for ministry. Sometimes these are seminary students who are pursuing their education in preparation for ordained ministry, and sometimes these are dedicated folks who are commissioned for ministry in a particular setting. In both cases, these are individuals who have felt the call of God upon their hearts and are responding to the great needs of people in their communities and beyond.
It is inspiring to me to hear the stories of these individuals, both of where they are coming from and where they see themselves going. Each one of them has a desire to serve. Some have a clear vision of what that service will look like, but many are exploring new directions, opening doors to see if one of them is the one that God is using to invite them into the future.
Uniformly though, there is an excitement and a passion for ministry. It is exciting to see, and it is infectious. It is a passion and a joy for life that we would each do well to embrace, in whatever our own calling might be. It is a passion that can be a challenge to hold on to as the years go by. It is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day details and challenges of our job or profession, and what began as a passionate journey can turn into a grind. But contact with fresh voices and fresh energy can reinvigorate us. I find this to be true every time that I meet with these candidates.
There are times when people wonder about the future of the church. Worship attendance numbers are declining in many cases, and life can seem to be ebbing in the church in general. But as I meet with these men and women, some of whom are on the verge of being ordained into ministry, and some of whom are just beginning their journey with us, I experience signs of hope and promise. When the time comes for me to retire from full-time ministry, I will be excited to turn things over to people such as these folks. They have that fresh passion and energy, a vision of renewal of the church, and hearts that are ready to welcome all people. These are gifts offered to any who are open to them.
September 18, 2015
Milestones on our Journey
The congregation of the Gateway Christian Church, where I am privileged to serve as pastor, celebrated its 65th anniversary last Sunday. I first encountered this church at about the age of seven, was baptized by the minister (now a treasured colleague) at the age of ten, and was a part of the congregation until the time that I left to attend seminary. Ten years later I returned to pastor this family of God’s people.
I perhaps know more about this congregation, and its life and history, than anyone else. I have a clear sense of the past, of the traditions and the people, and the wonder that has made this a special place for six and a half decades. And yet, each year when we celebrate another milestone as a church family, I urge all of us there to move from the celebration to a new sense of call. For God is always calling us into the future, attempting to bless us with a vision, a purpose and a desire to walk together into that future.
When we each observe or celebrate milestones in our own lives, it is certainly appropriate to reflect upon who we are, where we have come from, and what we have accomplished. But I believe that God is also reaching out to each of us in those moments, to invite us into the future toward which God would have us move. We are certainly bombarded with other invitations into the future, those coming from a multitude of voices. And the challenge is in deciding which voice to follow.
As I approach my own milestones, I attempt to be honest with myself about my own desires, hopes and dreams. At the same time, I ask myself afresh what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ as I move into my future. In the end, I trust that the direction I discern from God is also the one that will fill my heart with joy. And I journey on, always grateful for God’s presence and God’s peace.
September 11, 2015
I remember so distinctly what I was doing on that fateful September 11th in 2001. I was preparing to go and attend a Board meeting, of the National Conference for Community and Justice, when the first jet was flown into the towers. After it became all but certain that this was a terrorist attack as the second jet hit the towers, as I watched the events unfold with a mixture of confusion, horror and disbelief, I wondered whether or not I should even be going to the meeting.
Since there was nothing I could do about the events in New York, except to sit and watch the television and pray, I finally decided that going to a meeting of a group that had as its mission to draw together people of diverse backgrounds, and to promote understanding between people of differing religions, cultures and upbringings, was exactly what I needed to be doing that morning. It was an act, however small and pre-planned, that sought to move in precisely the opposite direction of those who had planned and implemented the attacks.
I remember nothing of the agenda for the morning, but I do vividly recall the shared sorrow and reflection, and the common understanding that the work we were engaged in with the National Conference for Community and Justice was perhaps even more vital than it had been an hour earlier.
My time of service on that Board ended a while back, but it was my privilege to work with wonderful people in those days, and that work has forever imprinted within me the necessity of such work and the beauty that emerges as we get to know one another across all of those barriers that we tend to place between ourselves.
September 4, 2015
On Prayers Working
Prayer is such an interesting phenomena. It is something we believe in, or perhaps don’t believe in. It is the act of having a conversation, but it can often feel like a monologue. We ask for something, plead for something to happen or not happen, and give thanks in various circumstances. Sometimes we feel that prayers are answered, sometimes we see or feel no evidence of having been heard, and then there are the times when we are told by others that the answer to our prayer may just have been, “No.”
What happens though when we pray, and it is answered immediately? A friend recently prayed that her father, who was suffering and near death, would die on that night that she lifted up the prayer. And, he did die that night. Her prayer was answered.
So, how do we interpret that? We give thanks for answered prayer, but that always brings into question why this prayer was answered and others are not, or at least seem not to be answered. Some of us choose to exist in the area of belief that this is just a part of prayer and that we don’t understand all of the dynamics of it. Others ask why God favors some and rejects others. Some are led to suggest that prayer really doesn’t accomplish anything.
In that last statement, I believe, is the key. Is prayer meant to accomplish something? We usually see prayer as either asking for something, for our selves or another, or of giving thanks for particular circumstances or even life in general. But I believe that prayer is much more powerful than simply the act of asking and receiving, and of being courteous enough to say, “Thank you.”
Prayer is about a relationship, an intimate relationship with the One who loves us beyond our own understanding. Prayer involves words, but can as equally happen without any words as we simply dwell in God’s presence. Prayer is about sharing life with One who is experienced as both the creator of the universe and as One who is so close to us that we are known even better than we know ourselves. Yes, there is a certain mystery to it all, even as there is in any relationship of deep intimacy. And I treasure those close human relationships, for through them I glimpse some of what I share in my relationship with God.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.