Posts Tagged ‘church

09
Dec
19

Does it really matter?

Lutheran crossWe interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this breaking news: Joan and I attended church yesterday.

But not just any church. We attended a (wait for it…) LUTHERAN CHURCH!

And after the service, we turned our heads, looked at each other, and said, nearly simultaneously, “Hey… that was really nice! We should come here again.”

The reason this qualifies as headline breaking news is that I have considered myself a dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool United Methodist for as long as I can remember. It is the faith I was born into, confirmed in, married in (twice), and ordained to preach in.

The origin story of the Methodist movement – midwifed into the world by brothers John and Charles Wesley – speaks to my soul. Its liturgies and worship styles comport with my ecclesial leanings perfectly… just enough ritual “pomp” to signify the gravitas of the worship moment, but not so much as to be suffocating. Its heritage of social justice advocacy resonates with the guidance of my own conscience.

There are so many things about the United Methodist way of being a Jesus follower that strike exactly the right tone with me. And yes, I am of the generation to whom denominational labels actually mean something.

And yet… the recent behavior of my “home” denomination has caused me to question whether the United Methodist Church really deserves my permanent allegiance.

Faced with the destinal (and yes, I am declaring that this IS a real word) moment of planting itself wholly on the side of justice and letting the institutional chips fall where they may, United Methodism waffled.

Rather than choosing to forge a polity that said, “All means all,” leaders of the church instead chose to say, “Let’s just fashion this really big, morally beige umbrella where those who support inclusion and those who oppose it can all exist under it together. Let’s keep the family together, no matter what kind of pain that inflicts on the children.”

So that is one HUGE reason I am a lot less infatuated with United Methodism these days.

And honestly, I am also still stinging from a world of hurt that was inflicted upon me at the end of my next-to-last appointment. If you know anything about church life, you know there is always a lot of pain being inflicted at any given moment… some intentional, some not. For me, the wounds were deep and lasting and still bring a sour taste to my mouth when I think about the place where it all happened.

I guess the question I find myself faced with in the end is: does it really matter?

That is, does it really matter if I call myself a United Methodist follower of Jesus, or a Lutheran follower of Jesus, or a Seventh Day Adventist follower of Jesus, or a “Frisbiterian” follower of Jesus (this is a sect invented by a Frisbee-throwing friend of mine who posited that when we die, our souls just fly up and get stuck on the roof)?

I think we can all agree that the answer is no… it really doesn’t matter.

In fact, if we look closely at the evidence in scripture, it would be hard to find evidence that Jesus himself had any real preference for how we might choose to follow him. When he said (in John 14:6), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” I believe he was more inviting us to emulate his relationship with God rather than subscribe to a set of formal religious doctrines.

Our journey from “the one Church, apostolic and universal” to today’s eleventy-billion shades of the Christian faith does a lot to promote the understanding that choosing a faith community is all about finding the right “fit”.

But is “fit” really “it”?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But it sure is hard to stay on the journey when you’ve got blisters on your feet.

31
Oct
19

“Nope. Not you.”

rejectedRejection hurts.

“Don’t take it personally,” they say. But sometimes personally is the only way you can take it.

It’s like the time I was cut from the eighth-grade basketball team. The first three practices were the tryouts. The day after the third practice, a piece of paper was thumbtacked to the bulletin board outside the coach’s office. On the paper were the names of the 10 boys who made the team. If your name didn’t appear there, you had been cut.

I remember standing there with the other guys in front of the bulletin board, searching and searching to find my name. One by one they each called out in delight as they saw their names listed.

I got to the bottom of the list and hadn’t seen my name. I went back to the top, convinced I had somehow just overlooked it and went S-L-O-W-L-Y back to the bottom.

It wasn’t there.

I had been cut.

Rejected.

And yes, it was very personal.

Or there was that time in the ninth grade when I called Marsha Westbrook to ask if she wanted to go to Alan’s party with me. I didn’t call it a date, but that’s exactly what it was.

Marsha was a pretty and popular girl. Most of my friends would have agreed that I was punching WAY above my weight limit by asking her out. I took a deep breath as I picked up the phone and dialed her phone number.

It didn’t take her long at all to come up with a response. Without skipping a beat I heard, “No, I don’t think so.” She offered no excuses, no false dodges or made-up conflicts like, “Oh sorry… I have to wash my hair that night.”

Just NO.

Rejection in the most personal way possible.

Becoming an adult has not inoculated me from rejection as I once hoped it might. I have heard, “Nope. Not you,” at job interviews, community theater auditions, attempted bar pick-ups (during my footloose single days between marriages), and in response to grant applications.

All rejections sting. All of them feel deeply personal.

And as other pastors will readily testify, few rejections sting as much as the rejections we sometimes receive from the churches we serve. As the spouse of one pastor I knew once said so eloquently, “Ain’t no hurt like a church hurt.”

I suppose it is partly because the church is the LAST place we would expect to experience rejection. “Surely,” we think to ourselves, “… a group of people committed to following the Lord of Love would refrain from the use of knives and daggers and cudgels in their relationship with their Appointed Shepherd.”

But alas… sometimes we find out that is not the case at all.

I can’t tell you why the topic of rejection has floated to the top of my consciousness so prominently today. Right now I am in a good place physically, mentally, and spiritually. I haven’t had a door slammed in my face for at least two weeks.

It might be that I am reacting to recent stories about people experiencing the sting of rejection on the basis of some God-given aspect of their identity. This kind of torment still happens today much too frequently and seems to perpetuate from one generation to the next.

It could be that I am still smarting from my personal rejection episodes. I have discovered that rejection is not a wound that heals quickly. The cut goes all the way to the center of your soul.

And so if you are in a season of rejection right now – for whatever reason – I am really sorry. It hurts and it takes a long time to heal.

You also need to know that the rejection you received is often not about you at all. Sometimes it happens for irrational, unpredictable reasons. That company might have known the person they were going to hire before they even placed the ad, but protocol required that they “go through the motions” of searching anyway.

Often the rejection you received is much more about THEM than it is about YOU. It is born from some deep insecurity that can only be assuaged – they believe – by belittling someone else.

My sister… my brother; if you have been rejected, take heart. The only way we ever escape rejection completely is by staying out of the arena completely… by sealing our heart up in an airtight chamber to keep it safe, secure, and utterly dead.

And so at the risk of sounding trite and potentially dismissive, I close with this: never forget that the One who holds the universe in the palm of his hand loves you more profoundly than you will ever be capable of understanding.

As Paul once said, long ago;

 “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”(Ephesians 3:16-17, NRSV).

16
Sep
19

Rubber, meet road

Attending churchWorship is weird.

What I mean is, for me these days the act of attending a service of worship in a local church is a bit of a strange, unsettling experience.

I feel a little bit like Will Ferrell’s character Ricky Bobby in that scene from Talladega Nights. You remember the scene: Ricky is videotaping a public service announcement and suddenly finds his hands floating up awkwardly in front of him. He stares at them in consternation and says, “I don’t know what to do with my HANDS!”

Before my retirement from pastoral ministry on July 1 of this year, I knew exactly what I was supposed to do in a service of worship. I had a clear list of tasks and responsibilities that had to be completed to ensure the effective execution of gathered Christian worship. I was the tone-setter, the ice-breaker, the chief cheerleader, the deliverer of the carefully-crafted message, the MC.

Yes, I usually had a team of people who helped make it all happen, but the buck always stopped right HERE… with me.

But now, Joan and I just ATTEND.

We walk in through the main doors, return the warm smile and greeting of the greeter(s), accept the proffered paper bulletin, and make our way to our seats. Not too close to the front, but not all the way in the back row either.

And then we just WORSHIP.

It is so weird.

But in a way, it is also incredibly freeing.

When the responsive reading time comes, I can just engage my heart and soul in my assigned part… not worrying about whether I am projecting my voice well enough for Olive there in the third row from the back to hear me, or when the last time the batteries in my microphone were replaced.

When it comes time to sing, I can freely bounce back and forth between the melody and the bass line, really reading and absorbing the text. I don’t have to fret about the accompanist’s pacing, or whether I should have chosen to sing all five verses instead of just three.

The pastoral prayer time offers an opportunity for… PRAYING, of all things!

And since discovering firsthand what a struggle and joy and deeply soul-searching journey it is to write and deliver some kind of coherent weekly message, I try to be sure to give my entire, undivided attention – including engaged eye contact – to the pastor as she (or he) teaches from the pulpit.

And yes, while I do have those occasional moments of, “I probably would have said that a little differently than that,” I keep those quietly tucked away in my back pocket.

But I will confess… the hardest part comes for me when the service concludes and we are on our way back out to the parking lot. No, I don’t have any trouble with the chit-chat time or finding the coffee and donut table. A homing device chip for that must have been implanted in my brain long ago.

No, the part that I now find most challenging is the, “OK… what do I now DO with this?” part.

Back then – B.R. (before retirement) – the answer to that question was simple: after this week’s worship service, you get busy crafting next week’s. There is music to choose, special bulletin inserts to design, a sermon to pray over and write, graphics to choose, and special worship elements to incorporate.

But now?

I have to go figure out how I will go live out what I just heard.

 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35, NRSV)

(GULP!) OK. Here goes…

03
Jun
19

Hearing the Call

unknown caller“Who is calling, please?”

Remember life before there was such a thing as Caller ID?

We just blindly answered the phone whenever it rang, trusting that the person on the other end was someone we knew. It never occurred to us that it might be a stranger trying to scam us or sell us something we didn’t need.

Today things are different. If a name does not appear on the screen when my phone rings, it automatically gives rise to my suspicious nature.

 

I instantly wonder; “Scammer? Telemarketer? Wrong number?”Because it is almost never my long-ago high school buddy who just happened to be in town for a convention and wanted to have dinner and catch up on old times.

A call is especially unnerving – I’ve discovered – when it comes from God.

The bible backs me up on this; it is replete with stories of people who ran AWAY when God called (Jonah), who were suspicious when God called (Gideon), who dug in their heels and flat refused (Moses), and even one who was so hard-headed he had to be hit upside the head with a big ol’ bolt of light (Paul).

It took a whole lot of persuading back in 1997 to finally convince me that God was indeed calling me into the ministry. I was – after all – not a young guy by any means. Besides which I already had a good job, and had already seen the trials and tribulations my father went through when he answered the call to ministry later in life.

“Sorry… wrong number,” I wanted to say. “Not interested.”

But wiser friends and family members prevailed and persuaded me to take that call.

So now here I am… 20+ years later, preparing to leave professional ministry altogether… and find myself asking the whole “calling” question all over again.

I wonder: is God still calling me?

Actually, I’m pretty sure the answer to this one is “Yes indeedy, Gomer. If God can call Abram at the age of 75, God can most surely call you at your tender age of 67.”

But if that is true, I am still curious about what God might be calling me TO exactly?

I know the call is not to golf course ministry. I made sure of that by selling my golf clubs in our recently-completed garage sale.

I am pretty sure my call is not to a life of Netflix binge-watching and bon-bon eating, or gardening and telling the neighbor kids to “Get off my lawn!” That just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing God would have a hard time finding volunteers for. (Incidentally, what is a bon-bon exactly?)

I know part of my new vocation will involve spending more time with Joan, more time with grandchildren, more time in creative pursuits, and more time experiencing the wonders of this big blue marble. 

But still… what do you do with a guy who still has health (knock wood!), a passion for Jesus, a willingness to speak up and speak out and very soon a WHOLE lot of new time on his hands?

Surely there is something God can do with all of that isn’t there?

In the meantime, pass the sunscreen, please.




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