Thursday, January 31, 2008

Living Together – Being Disciples

Note: This is an excerpt from this week's church newsletter.

We live today in a world of growing isolation, frantic activity, and desperate violence, where paradoxically, we find ourselves longing for both solitude and companionship, intimacy and community. Some of us may look back to times when life seemed to make sense and relationships were more certain. Whether or not such times ever existed, we nevertheless long today for relationships that acknowledge who we are and who we want to be. We want someone to hear us, to hear our hearts beating, to hear our deepest longings—even longings of which we dare not speak. - Sondra Higgins Matthaes, Faith Matters

I am proud of you as a congregation.

This weekend, I mentioned to you by email that there was a couple who had visited our church a few times who had had a death in the family, and that it would be an extension of hospitality to let them know that we were grieving with them, as they had no church family.

Many of you went to the funeral home. Some stayed for the funeral. I want you to know as your pastor, I am very proud. More importantly, your Lord is pleased. The only warning I will give you is that disciples often beget disciples. Never underestimate the power of even small actions.

Then Jesus came to them and said, "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." - Matthew 28:18-20

As I shared with you Sunday, the Greek word for disciple is mathetes, and a good definition would be this one: “an adherent, a learner, a pupil, a follower, someone who pays close attention to and attempts to implement what they have been taught from their teacher.”

So you see – a disciple isn’t just a convert or someone who puts their name on a membership roll. A disciple is a devoted follower of Jesus. If Jesus comforted those who mourn – then so should we.

Again… I am very proud of you.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pooling Their Gifts - No Sacrifice At All

Just when I think something can't be improved...

Hint: If you're not a fan of Eric Clapton, Mark Knofler, and Elton John - you won't like it. And shame on you. Put your headphones on or turn up your speakers.

If you'll look throughout the video, Clapton messes with John the whole time... and at about 2:45-3:00 of the video, you see that even Elton gets tickled by Knofler's riff, and then blown away by Clapton's guitar playing. Man o man o man... simply awesome. What gifts God gives us!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gravel, Mud, Muck, and Redemption

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I hate this time of the year. The cold, the increased darkness, the dreary gray days – it all adds up to depression for me. Add to that the fact that the stock market is lousy, Kentucky basketball is struggling, and that there is mud and gravel all around the church because construction is at a standstill... and depression just sinks its yellow, nasty teeth into my skin. Deeply.

I prayed for about 3 inches of snow the other night. Snow always seems to whitewash the landscape, and I wanted to see how the church and reshaped grounds looked like without all the gravel, mud, and muck. But all we got was a little frozen rain… that just made the mud and muck worse.

So where does redemption come in? Maybe it is helpful to think about winter (or any seasonal phase) and construction as temporary seasons that give us time to envision where God wants us to go. During the winter, you really can’t do much yard work, or work outside on the house. So maybe it is a time to wait for the warm weather and construction to conclude, and while we’re waiting, we can use the time as a time of preparation: what is the work that needs to be done on the inside?

There is plenty to do on the inside: programs to be started and expanded upon, spirituality to be explored, discipleship and leadership to be assumed. Just as God is pleased with us in reworking the outside, I suspect He is also pleased that we’re willing to rework the inside, too.


Friday, January 18, 2008

A Cynic’s Guide to Voting

The political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation. – U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Election Guide, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”

I do not place much stock in voting guides, even if the Catholic Church is putting them out. But I have to agree that our choices, even our political ones, do affect our salvation.

I’m not talking about if you vote for so-and-so candidate that you’ll go to hell. But if we are to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” as the Apostle Paul advised us, our choices are important.

Putting your faith in an American political party is increasingly not an option for a great many people. While there might have been a time that party ideals and platforms might have represented a great number of us, our parties have become extremes that only represent the extremes. The problem is… they’re all we have.

Christians have always wrestled with how to handle politics. The Catholic Church in the above statement gives us some good spiritual advice. Martin Luther gave some practical advice: “I’d rather be led by a competent Turk (i.e., Muslim) than by an incompetent Christian.” Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar, but render to God the things that are God’s.” Confused?

I share your confusion. I have always felt very strongly about abortion and capital punishment; ethically and morally, I can’t defend either from a Christian/New Testament point of view – they’re both premeditated and deliberate actions that lead to death. If I were to “vote the party line,” I’d have no candidate I could ever elect. Some say, “You have to choose the lesser of two evils.” To me, that’s still a vote for evil.

So what do you do? If you were expecting me to advise you who to vote for, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. But I will give you some old-fashioned advice: pray about it. Listen to what God and the Holy Spirit might be saying.

Hey… maybe I’m not such a cynic after all.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

In for the Long Haul

We all make New Year’s resolutions that we usually end up breaking. Diets, television habits, being more involved in something, spending more time with loved ones. They, like the things we say we will give up for Lent, are often temporary or short term.

But what about for the long haul? Our faith walk and discipleship require more than just temporary or short term sacrifices and actions. It’s life long. And we choose to keep the resolutions we make, just as we consciously choose how to live out our discipleship.

We have seen witness to that in years past. Our church has been actively involved in mission work to Alabama and Mississippi the past two years to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. Yes, that was two years ago. Had some folks not been committed for the long haul, the victims that are still homeless and in despair would now be receiving no help at all.

As human beings, we are very short-sighted and our memories are short-term. We often choose to ignore or rationalize the challenges and opportunities that confront us daily on our walk with Christ. These were the very things the Apostle Paul warned us about when he shared with us the costs of discipleship.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:7-8

But being in for the long haul has its rewards, too. There is joy in finding that God can use us as a part of His plan. And there is peace in knowing that our sacrifices, just as Jesus’ sacrifice, are not in vain, and that we are redeemable people.

So make some good resolutions this year. But make some that will stick. And more importantly – make some that will, in the long haul, make a difference in God’s Kingdom.