Monthly Archives: September 2013

Assured… sort of… and completely

I regularly hear from people that “God will never give you more than you can handle.” People usually say this when things are pretty tough and it is sort of a personal pep talk. The problem I have with it is that it’s not in the Bible and I don’t believe God ever promises that. As far as I can find God never promises we won’t be overwhelmed by life, just that no matter what happens he will never leave us or forsake us. I trust in that. I recognize I can come to the end of my rope. But I put this together with the assurance from Romans 8:28 that God works all things together for the good of those who love him. Not all things are good, but God uses all things for good.

So, instead of God having some plan for my life that I have to study, plead and seek to discover it because God isn’t just going to tell me, God actually can handle all possibilities. I visited a friend’s adult Sunday School class one day where he was explaining this single line of direction that God had laid out and that we had to find in order to stay within God’s will and plan. “God wouldn’t leave anything to chance.”

The trouble with this is if God was a big human being it made sense, he’s got to narrow things down to a form he can handle. But what if God was actually GOD, not having our limitations?

Imagine a loom… Loomyou know all those hundreds of threads that get interwoven into tapestry. Now imagine your life choices as a million, billion threads where every choice imaginable is also possible. Your turn to the left or right at any given moment, stopping to look at something, hurrying faster instead of taking your time – a little faster, a lot faster… consider the immensity of the amount of choices you might make at any moment of any day and what if that didn’t matter to God. What if any random choice we make doesn’t throw God off his game? What if he can still “use all things for good for those who love him?” Isn’t that image a bit more like God?Loom1

In the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus says, “by chance…” a priest came down the same road on which the robbed and beaten man lay in his despair. It just so happened? Sure. Not like God is getting this guy beat up so that I will have the chance to help, but like I happen to be going down this road where these things have taken place and I have to make a choice. What if I get jumped trying to help this guy? God will use that. What if I find out it’s a scam and all my money is taken? God will use that. What if I find this guy is going to take me out of my way and make me late for my appointments and plans? God will use that. What if it turns out that I get to help, care for and change the future of this poor, beaten individual? God will put me in a story. (Well, God will use that as well.)

I am assured that no matter where God leads I can follow. I may wander around a bit but, ultimately, that doesn’t worry God.


How do I confess… I don’t believe this stuff

I’ve been at First Lancaster for about 9 months now. My first Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent last December. When I got here I realized that in following the previous pastor’s 16 year ministry, the church was receiving a new pastor and leadership with no interim ministry in between. “Interim” ministry is important for churches because it allows them to reacquaint themselves with their strengths, their understanding of faith and with a perspective on their direction in ministry. got-faith_t_-_Copy2
So, the preaching staff started the new year with a series of “worship studies,” where the congregation could sort of walk through worship that focused on the basics of faith and kind of emotionally regroup as it considered what comes next. The elders, the other pastors and I set out an extended time frame in which to study and to re-envision ministry in this great church and city. We’re not looking for anything to really be in place until the fall of 2014.

Meanwhile, the series of studies or preaching themes moved in this manner:
• I can’t/I can – a study of moving from the perspective that I can’t be spiritual to I can be spiritual (How do I grow in faith?)
• Weakness – focused on Jesus’ example of relying on God and not his own power (What does a faithful life look like?)
• Holy Spirit – realizing that the strength we need to grow in faith comes from God’s Spirit taking up residence within us, rebuilding us from the inside out and learning (What’s God’s Spirit all about?)
• Living in Abundance – how do we tap into the resources God provides?
• New Society – what does it look like for a crowd of people to be in community and growing in faith under God’s leadership (What’s Church?)
• How do Human Beings Work? – The message we bring to the world from this new community and the practical nature of the work God does in the lives of human beings (What’s the outcome of the Gospel?)

At the same time we’ve shifted our intentions in our children’s ministry to give them more of a tangible expression of faith than just book knowledge. So our children are studying praying, listening to each other and to God, playing and fellowshipping with each other, caring for each other as a community, singing and praising God in artistic expression and learning the heritage of faith that supports all this… like what does the Bible say about how these things have been done in the history of God’s people. So instead of learning just the Bible stories, we’re learning the practice and life that is revealed in Bible stories.

One outcome of all this is people coming to me to share a particular personal struggle. belief2
They come revealing something they haven’t been able to say before… they don’t believe. People who have been in the church or coming to church for a while are confessing that what we’re talking about here, knowing Jesus, obeying Jesus, hearing the voice of God… they just haven’t believed that was possible for them. So, although they like being here, they don’t believe in it. They don’t know God. But then, and this is really the thing, they’re coming now because they want to believe in it. They want what they’re hearing about.

It’s pretty cool and it is what we’re all about… giving people room, letting them tell the truth, giving them the chance to grow. Lots of big conversations happening now and it is great to be part of them. If you can be in prayer for those who are coming and for me and others who receive them, that would be very cool.


Knowing that We Do Not Know

Walking to work the other day I was enjoying one of my little habits. I have a notebook in my office with the label “Overheard” on the front. I walk and listen to the tidbits of conversation that float around me. A dad and daughter walking together conversed about the end of the day.
“So I’ll pick you up and when we get home you’ll unlock the door.”
“I don’t have a key.”
“Mama said she gave you a key. How are we to get in if you don’t have a key?”gnp-1007-walk-1
He seemed serious, but she was smiling broadly which made me think that she wasn’t worried and that she was enjoying her father pretending to be worried.

A mom and daughter discussed her social skills. “…and did you have a napkin with your lunch?” “Nope.” “What do you mean you didn’t have a napkin? Did you take a napkin?”

A bus pulled away from the curb and as it swung into the road it revealed a man running across the street behind it, waving, but the bus kept moving. A woman, walking across to our side, started swearing at the bus driver, and then said, “That was wrong! She seen you. She even made you run for the bus. That was ignorant.” (and then looking up at the steeple of the church we were beside) “God, you seen that? That was these ignorant people in this ignorant world.”
man bus
I just jot down these little phrases or bits of conversations and think through what I can tell or not tell about them. Can’t ever tell completely what was going on. Sometimes there’s a hint, like the little girl’s smile, but what if she was just unaware momentarily that her father was telling her, for real, that they were locked out? You just can’t ever tell completely.

Conclusions help us deal with the world. We make up stories that fill in the gaps, help us make sense or even bolster our opinion. Unfortunately they can also become gossip or rumor that rest on nothing more than the little bits we make up. It’s hard for me sometimes to not make up complete stories to go with the words I hear. I think it must be for most people and that’s why I think it is important for us to know that we don’t know. And also to know there is something better than figuring out our own story-lines for our experiences. There’s a filler that completes our relationships, ties together so many loose ends of our ideas or just makes them unimportant. And it always works.

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.” 1Corinthians 13:8-10

The stuff we proclaim, the stuff we expect to be part of worship, the stuff we claim as the way everyone should understand life… all of it will fade. And that’s because there’s all this stuff we don’t know. So, right now we only have part, like snatches of conversation. But there will be a day when completeness comes. Until then the closest thing we get to completeness is loving others, whoever they may be.
Man! When does this stuff get easy?


A Passionate Perspective

For some reason “passion” has come into my day and I take notice of things that repeat themselves to me. passionA friend is writing a blog on living a passionate life. Another is talking about being passionate in the way she expresses her faith that’s different from “those fanatics.” Another is finishing a study of the words of the prophets of the Bible and trying to take in the level pathos expressed.
I believe that one of the claims of the whole Bible is that God is passionate, and I also think God calls us to be passionate. Whether he’s telling us that the blood of Abel is crying out of the ground or he’s telling us that he is creating a new heaven and a new earth for people of this earth, God’s heart is revealed as engaged.elijahwithstick
Most people are a bit unsure about passion, but it is where life is found. “Life” like that abundant, flowing, jubilant, exciting and demonstrative element in living a life worth living… has this fountain of passion at its core. In different cultures, societies and at different times in the history of humanity passion expressed has felt normal and appropriate. At other times there has been a movement toward reservation, control and moderation in all things. Where are we now? I’m wondering if we’re in a time of people trying to regulate passion – like we can make a call on whether it was appropriate or not in other people’s lives. That’s too much.
There may be a lot of ways to describe passion but for my money there’s one primary expression of passion – showing up… and doing that regularly. I don’t believe we have to be emotional gushers to express deep passion. I find that with God as well.
I don’t think there’s any more revealing expression of the heart of God as an outpouring of a shredded heart than the words of the prophets. God’s broken heart is verbally displayed throughout. But I also think there nothing more true in revealing of God’s heart than the act of Jesus. He came. And that’s the depiction of the God we serve. He shows up and shows up and shows up again.
In one of Jesus’ parables a widow shows up to a corrupt judge begging for justice and without the wherewithal to bribe him. I’ve heard all sorts of concocted notions of trying to explain this parable, including Luke telling us that it’s to teach us to be persistent in prayer. What this suggests is that God is like a corrupt judge. But what if God is like a passionate widow without the resources to bride our corrupt hearts into hearing her pleas. Persistent Widow What if we’re like a corrupt judge who thinks we have the right to decide and really want to receive a prize for doing it regardless of what’s justice? The parable makes a lot more sense to me in that direction. God shows up and shows up and shows up and we get the chance to provide God with justice.
God is the one who is persistent in prayer, in requesting justice, help and hope. God is the one who provides us with the example of seeking a bending of our heart and will. God is the one who expresses her passion by simply being at hand and not letting go.
Makes me think about the lives in which I need to be seen so that those people can know my heart.