40 bags in 40 days

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Lent has started. This year, for some reason, I’ve had a difficult time deciding what to do for Lent. I’ve given up, I’ve added, I’ve done lots of different things – all in an attempt to bring me closer to God during this 40 days of self-evaluation. 

This past year I’ve chewed on the idea of what it means to “simplify” in life. This came about after a church member gave me a simple pin that simply had the word “simplify” written on it. The thought of simplifying life is, well, not simple at all! In fact, I have found it to be a bit daunting.

But it’s been on my mind. A lot. 

As a United Methodist pastor who has moved across the country in the last 3 years, I think I have simplified a lot! I purged like crazy to get everything onto ONE U-Haul truck to come from NC to Oregon. But it is amazing how, in these past 3 years, I have managed to accumulate way too much stuff. And not only physical stuff, but emotional stuff too.

I found this idea about 40 Bags in 40 Days on Facebook and thought GREAT! This opportunity will help me start to simplify stuff and hopefully as I clean/sort/decide/purge, I can do the same in my spiritual life. I hate to clean and I’m not particularly fond of looking inward….but that’s the point, right?

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put within me a right spirit.” Psalm 51:10

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The Well-Played Life by Leonard Sweet (Book Review)

Book Review

“The Well-Played Life: Why Pleasing God Doesn’t Have to be Such Hard Work” by Leonard Sweet.

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I clearly remember the day after I had decided to follow Jesus. My mom said no one could erase the smile on my face. The joy that I felt was palpable and contagious. It was the joy of just enjoying God. In his latest work, “The Well-Played Life: Why Pleasing God Doesn’t Have to be Such Hard Work,” Len Sweet delves into how faith and pleasing God should be encompassed in play and joy.

Sweet points out that somewhere along the way, humanity forgot how to play – or at least relegated it to the life of a child. Life became about pursuing a 5-year plan rather than an eternal Promise; following rules and regulations rather than chasing relationships; avoiding learning from mistakes to striving to never make a mistake at all.  We have been so focused on successfully knowing/following God’s ‘plan’ for our lives (and in our churches) that we have forgotten how to enjoy God in every aspect of life.

This book is a refreshing look at an ethic of play in the life of a child of God. Sweet does an excellent job of explaining how play was never meant only for children and that no matter one’s age, playing in God’s playground will bring Divine joy and fulfillment. In an age where faith seems often superficial, Sweet goes deep into the roots of spiritual growth and discipleship.

An excellent resource for small group discussion, for sermon ideas, as well as for the reader who realizes that something is missing in their life with God, this book contains a lot to play with. 

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What Are We Waiting For?

As I come to the last Sunday in Advent 2013, I have realized that this story of waiting is never ending….at least not on this side of heaven. Here are a few things that I’m anticipating/waiting for:

  • for a world where guns and knives and tanks and bombs are made into swing sets and plowshares and items that will bring communities together.
  • for a world where no one is ever asked to put job before family.
  • for a world where Christ followers can be in ministry WITH and FOR all people – regardless of culture, age, race, sexual orientation, where they live or what flavor of ice cream they most enjoy.
  • for a world that embraces and encourages play in God.
  • for a world where status is not measured on how much one has in the bank, but rather on their character.
  • for a world where people take care of other people – not because of some institutional program – but because they understand we were created for community and flourish when a community is unified in love.
  • for a world full of respect.

My list is truly never ending but I think you get my point. In the midst of a world that seems to be so upside-down, the good news is that hope abounds! Hope abounds when we are given a glimpse of what these things (and more) look like. When we see God at work in our world, we catch a glimpse of the possibilities; we get a look at what God’s intentions are for us; we become a part of the Advent story as the Messiah breaks into our brokenness with love, joy, and hope.

This happens when we, God’s people, begin to actively wait. When we begin to make happen the things we are waiting for. God calls us to put people before doctrine, to see Christ in the faces of all we meet, and to love one another no matter what. Perhaps it is time for us to truly explore this question: What are we waiting for?

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Vampires, Zombies, and Ghosts – OH MY!

I’ll have to admit, I’m one who has been fascinated with vampires since I was a child. There was a soap opera that came on each day when I was a child called “Dark Shadows.” I loved that show and was only allowed to watch it with my mom present. That didn’t help me to not be scared. My nightmares were full of bats flying around my house; of vampires hiding in my upstairs, creaky bedroom; of what would happen if I was bit. One of the major tv networks is hosting a show tonight that explores our obsession with vampires. This really got me thinking….Image

Ask anyone. There is something that scares them. Some of us are scared by something and yet choose to continue to indulge in it (such as scary movies or vampire shows). I’m one of those people. I wonder why? It would seem reasonable that if something really scared me, I’d stop doing it! But there is something about being scared that is exhilarating. And so once a year, we dress up and celebrate the “Night of the dead.” We shout, “BOO!” and threaten tricks that scare. We walk around the neighborhood in the scary dark. As a Youth, we’d go hay riding out in the middle of now where and tell “ghost” stories of local lore. Scary stuff!

The next day, we celebrate All Saints Day – a day set aside to remember the saints (all Christians) that have gone before us in the faith. Those who are dead. I’ve thought deeply and fondly about my grandparents, aunts, uncles, my best friend Valerie who left way too soon, and folks from my hometown church and churches I’ve pastored who were mentors to me. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be where I am in my spiritual journey without each one of them and others who have touched my life in some way. But isn’t there something about this day that is a bit scary as well? I mean those folks are dead and yet somehow that doesn’t scare me. I don’t “see” them “dead.”  I remember them as if they were just here. I don’t picture them dead in my head. I don’t see them with sunken hollow eyes. I don’t see them in tattered, flowing white grave clothes. I see them just as I remember them – beautiful and full of goodness. And although I’m not scared, I’m still exhilarated!

Why? Because I believe in the resurrection. No, I do not know how we will be resurrected and that really doesn’t concern me. What does concern me is how easy it is for us to believe in (or be so obsessed with) the “almost dead” or “undead” but we have such difficulty with this basic Christian belief. When God created humankind, God said it was “VERY GOOD.” The world we have been given to occupy is stunning. The beauty around us is often so amazing we cannot even comprehend it. The beauty in creation, including humanity is “VERY GOOD.” So why would God bring us back from the dead as anything other than something of beauty and goodness? When God raised Jesus from the dead, people were scared at first – until they heard him speak and knew that it was really Jesus. It was as if they saw him but couldn’t really comprehend him – his amazing beauty and goodness perhaps? I just know in my very being that even in “death” I will be taken care of and loved; I will be beauty and goodness just as God sees me now. Death is a “this world” issue and truly is not scary to me. 

That may be why I continue to indulge in vampires, zombies, and haunted houses. Maybe that’s why I can still watch “Ghost Hunters” in the dark and sleep at night (even if I have weird dreams!). Because the most scary stuff in this world has little to do with physical death and more to do with the death of our spirituality, with the death of relationships, and with the death of unconditional love. The good news is that I serve and worship a God concerned with resurrection – restoring our spirits, revitalizing relationships, and building up our ability to love others unconditionally. What exhilaration! What joy! What hope!

So go, have fun with the scary stuff of Halloween….but never forget the love and care of the God who created and continues to create “VERY GOOD.” Remember that the real work of resurrection is done each and every day in us – the living – and will continue…in a way that may just be too beautiful and good for us to fully understand now. And yet, that isn’t scary at all.

 

 

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Live Churches

Found this as I was perusing for illustrations on spiritual growth. Source is unknown but the words are powerful…Image

Live churches’ expenses are always more than their income; dead churches don’t need much money!

Live churches have parking problems; Dead churches have empty spaces!

Live churches may have some noisy children; Dead churches are quiet as a cemetery.

Live churches keep changing their ways of doing things; Dead churches see no need for change!

Live churches grow so fast you can’t keep up with people’s names; In dead churches everybody always knows everybody’s name.

Live churches strongly support world missions; Dead churches keep the money at home!

Live churches are full of regular, cheerful givers; Dead churches are full of grudging tippers!

Live churches move ahead on prayer and faith; Dead churches work only on sight!

Live churches plant daughter churches; Dead churches fear spending the money, time, and talent!

Live churches outgrow their Sunday School facilities; Dead churches have room to spare!

Live churches welcome all classes of people; Dead churches stick to their own kind!

Live churches’ members read their Bibles and bring them to church; Dead churches’ members seldom do!

Live churches’ members enthusiastically support the ministries; Dead churches have no ministries only functions!

Live churches’ members look for someone they can help; Dead churches’ members look for something to complain about!

Live churches’ members reach out to share their faith in Christ; Dead churches’ members don’t have enough to share!

Source Unknown

 

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(10) Commandments for the 21st Century

In no particular order….what could you add?

(10) Commandments for the 21st Century 

When someone says, “The Bible is really clear.” Do not lose heart. Love them anyway.

Be in love with God.

Get out of your head and into your heart.

Remember, it’s not about you.

Don’t just know who your neighbor is….be in a relationship with them.

Love first. Period.

Listen to someone’s story every day.

Aim for simplicity rooted in love and relationships.

Share God’s story within your story.

Regularly take time to BE FULLY PRESENT with God and with others.

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Festival Lessons

Each August in Junction City, OR, the town transforms into a Scandinavian Village of sorts. There are Scandinavian singers, dancers, vikings, and food delicacies from the “Old World.” This is my third summer of involvement with the festival and here are some observations – ones that I believe contain valuable lessons for the Church.

scandanavian_festival_smA Bit of Background:  In 1955 Dr. Gale F. Fletchall and his wife moved to Lane County, where he opened his own medical practice in Junction City in 1956 and became the town’s doctor. After the opening of the I-5 corridor, Fletchall watched his beloved town slowly die out as businesses closed up due to lack of traffic. That is when he had the idea that would define him for the rest of his life. After some thought as to what would bring people off the interstate and into his small town, a festival that unified the community, that brought friends and family together, as well as people into the town, seemed to be the perfect idea. A four-day festival built on the culture of the four Scandinavian nations: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, was accepted by the Chamber of Commerce and underwritten with a modest financial guarantee to cover initial expenses. The decision plunged the community into a frenzy of activity. Community classes in Scandinavian dancing and singing were organized and church and civic organizations were persuaded to operate food and craft booths. In August of 1961, the first Scandinavian Festival began. Of course, some things have changed over the past 53 years. Here are my observations as an “outsider” looking in:

  • Community Unity: While this was one of the goals for the initial festival, and while the “community” continues to come together, there appears to be little unity. It’s lots of small groups all doing their own thing (albeit with a “theme”). The goal now seems to be performing for those who come so that vendors can make money.
  • Community Participation: Over the past 53 years, it has been expected that generations would continue to take over the tasks involved with putting on such an involved event. Sadly, few of the “grey hairs” have been relieved of duties by the younger folk. Because of what seems to be a shift from a community coming together to have fun and share a cultural heritage to groups of people determined to make money, many locals leave town during the festival. Others stay home.
  • Community Focus: The intent of the first festival was to bring people into a cultural experience. A community came together to celebrate a heritage and pass along some of the history from the heritage that had shaped many families in the area. Although this is continued in some ways, the focus of sharing a heritage seems to have shifted from sharing to making sure everyone gets a piece of the pie.

I do want to make it clear that many of the non-profit organizations who have “booths” set up at the event are hard-working groups that are passionate about their causes. I helped work in two different booths this year; each one raising money for worthy causes. Festival goers seemed to have fun. But let’s look at the big picture.

The story of this small town festival is the story for the modern-day church. Heck, it’s the story of “Church” almost from its beginnings! When followers of The Way started out, the goal was pretty clear and not all that complicated – share the story of God’s love for humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. This good news of God’s love and grace for all changed people’s lives as they began to participate in living in a different way. Cultural changes, persecution, classism, racism, discrimination – all of these and more contributed to the life of Jesus followers in those first years. These descriptors (and I’m sure you can think of others) tend to do one thing very well – disrupt community. Early believers really wanted community, they attempted to live community, but it was difficult. It still is for most of us.

For 53 years, those who have bravely sought to lead the Scandinavian Festival have wanted community. Many issues however, have threatened to disrupt the original intent of a community coming together to share the story of a heritage. As an outsider looking in, perhaps it is easier for me to see these disruptions, but I don’t think so. Many of the observations I’ve made have been from the gathering of information from those who work so hard to put on the festival. They know what is going on. And yet, they don’t seem to be able to effect the change needed to return to their origins of story-telling rooted in community unity, participation, and focus.

As a life-long United Methodist, I have watched the same thing happen in my denomination. I am a part of a church that cannot loose itself from the time warp it is in on one hand, and on the other hand wants to be synchronous with the current cultural environment. I guess this is the struggle within many institutions today. But wait a minute! The Church is not an institution – or it was not meant to be. The church was (is) about community, about sharing a story, and passing the good news of that story down generation to generation. And yet disruptions of many kinds have taken us away from this original intent. Sure, we struggle on day after day, and we are aware of what is going on, but are we able to effect the changes needed to return to the origins of story-telling rooted in community unity, participation, and focus?

I believe we can, but it will mean a total shift in everything we do as a church – except tell the good news story – that never changes. Dream with me for a moment….What if each local church began to pay less attention to the worship service and began to pay more attention to service as worship? What if we truly worked with our communities rather than just for them? What if churches stopped telling people what to believe and started being story-tellers and story-listeners? And I’m just getting started! Many of you have already started shaking your head. I didn’t say it would be easy, but the good news of God’s love for humanity was never meant to be an individual proposition. This love story is meant to be shared with others.  Shared in a community of different ages, different cultures, different beliefs, different households, different economic situations….shared as we live the love story that has changed our lives. Will there be disruptions? Absolutely. Will everyone believe like we do? No. Will we fail at things? Of course. But we are failing now – failing not only to tell our Christian heritage story, but failing to live it in community. It is time to fail quickly and learn how we can get back to sharing a heritage of greatest worth. It is time to retell the never-ending love story that is for all of humanity. It is time to tell the story in art, in dance, and in play as we spend time together, “breaking bread together with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people (Acts 2).” Diana Butler Bass wrote, “We live in a time of momentous historical change that is both exhilarating and frightening. Christianity itself is becoming something different from what it was.” Perhaps the “different” the church is being called to is as simple as returning to what they already know.

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