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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Renewal

The past few weeks have proven to be emotionally and physically exhausting for me.  You've had those weeks right? Where it seems every time you turn around there is more need, more sadness, more problems.  

Last night I led a bible study on Jonah and his attempt to flee from God's call.  I felt great sympathy for Jonah, for if the call to rescue Ninevah was going to be as burdensome as the call to serve a church, then I'm not sure I blame him for running.  (ok, I exaggerate in my weariness)

Today, I woke up and drudged back into work. I found myself trying to prepare a worship service when my mind was anywhere but in worship.  I was weary and quite frankly a little put out with God for making this call so burdensome.  Finally, I decided I was getting nowhere in my work so I headed out to my favorite park to take a prayer walk and have a little "discussion" with God on the weight of the call.

As I trudged through the parking lot and down the road, I began to unload on God for the emotional toil that this calling was taking on me.  I lamented that perhaps I had missed something vitally important, maybe I was not cut out for this after all.  But then the road finally gave way to trail and I entered the refreshing shade of a lush forest.  There, surrounded by vibrant green trees and scurrying squirrels, I began to call out to God...how can you be the giver of such life and abundance in nature and not in me?  A gentle breeze tickled the trees and answered, "I am the giver of life and abundance, but the world is the thief of energy and motivation."

Of course! How could I have not seen it more clearly?  The burden and weariness I am feeling does not come from God's calling upon my life but it comes from the demands of a broken world.  God is refreshing and joyful, life giving and renewing.  It is life that is draining and demanding, burdensome and exhausting.  

I walked on and came to the horse pastures; there are yellow flowers everywhere, the horses ignore me for the sweet grass they have found.  God is renewing my soul as we walk together. For the next hour I walked, past meadows, ponds, and pre-schoolers playing on the play ground.  By now I am past my lament. God has renewed my strength. The sermon I had been struggling with has suddenly burst to life. The weariness is replaced with excitement to get back and write it all down. My circle is almost complete as I approached the horse pasture. This time, to my surprise the horses look up from their sweet grass and coming running to the fence, looking at me expectantly.  It seems all of God's creatures need a loving touch sometimes. I stop and visit each one, whispering gently in their ears and giving them a good rub on the nose. I wonder who needed that more, me or them?

I return to my car and know that I am ready to work now for I have been caressed by nature, renewed by God. This world has great power to steal away our energy and desire to do God's work, but this world is not the greatest power.  The greatest power is found in the love of God, surely that is where I want to dwell all the days of my life.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hope less = Hopeless

It has been one of my biggest shocks as a new minister.  A development I was not at all prepared for.  I have always believed that Christianity was almost synonymous with Hope.  Can you be a Christian and have no hope?  Well, our church's appear to be abounding with people who believe just that.  The longer I am in ministry the more I realize that people hope less than they should.  I'm beginning to see that this is one of the major faults of our church today, for when we hope less, then our faith becomes hopeless...where is the point? Where is the vision? Where is the expectation?  When there is less hope, there is less vision, less expectation and in my opinion, less Christ following.

I am continually frustrated by those who hear a new idea and immediately respond, "it will never work" or "they will not come" or "we've never done it that way before" or "our people will not like that."  I've heard it my entire ministry and quite honestly, I'm losing my patience with it.  Where is our hope that God is still present and active in our church?  Where is our hope that people really are looking for God and ways to experience God's presence?  Where is our hope that in our worship, God will transform us and in turn transform our world?  When did we decide to hope less?  Have we truly been that disappointed in past failures that we no longer feel like putting forth the effort of reaching out on God's behalf?

Psalm 71 comes to mind, "Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth...But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long..."  If we truly are a people of hope then should this Psalm not speak to us?  With each new idea, each potential ministry, every opportunity of evangelism, should we not jump at the chance to "tell of your righteous act and your deed of salvation all day long."?  Why then do we say, "ah, it will never work!" 

Folk's, God's Word has ALWAYS worked when someone was bold enough to proclaim it and audacious enough to hope in the glorious results possible.  Let us open our minds and hearts again and dare to hope more in the opportunities of ministry.  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.   Romans 15:13 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A question of making the right introductions

Networking has been a big buzz word in the business world. The concept being that you want to be introduced to the right people that can help you further your goals.  Too often, Christians and sadly, even our ministers, have a tendency to treat the church as if it is a business. Meaning that evangelism has seemingly become a form of Christian networking. Our thinking seems to be that if we can just meet the right people and make the right introductions then BAM! Goals will be met and our churches will be full.  Not a bad concept I suppose but something has been bothering me about it...something is off and I'm really been struggling to define it but in the past new weeks I think I have narrowed it down.  It is all about the purpose of the introduction.

The question I would like for us to consider is this: When we evangelize, are we doing it so that we can introduce people to church or are we evangelizing so we can introduce people to God?  A friend reminded me this week that we should never get the two confused - Church and God are not synonymous.  God is God and the church is a servant of God.  So, when we say we are "reaching out to the community" or "evangelizing the neighborhood" what do we really mean?  Are we providing them with chances to see what a great church we have and hope they will join us on Sunday morning? Or are we providing them with a real opportunity to meet God, to learn and experience God's love and provision in a real and life-altering way?  I think there is a huge difference between to two.

Programs, events, parades, picnics, festivals are good and fun things to do occasionally but last time I checked the great commission said, "Go and make disciples" not "Go and rent a bouncy booth for the neighborhood kids to enjoy."  I look at my community and what I see are lost and hurting people who have plenty of entertainment opportunities at their disposal but they do not know that a new and vibrant life is available and waiting for their embrace.  

Have you ever gone out with a friend and had the opportunity to meet someone important, but your friend dominates the meeting and you never even get introduced? Frustrating isn't it? God is here and waiting for the church to make the introduction to the lost and least - but the church seems too busy introducing themselves to point out that God is there.

The right introductions are important for success.  The question is, whose success is more important - your church? Or God's Kingdom?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Irony of it all...

Today I had one of those beautiful moments that seem to come way too rarely lately.  A moment of complete and utter fullness.  (No, I was not finishing the buffet line at Ruby Tuesdays!!)  It was a moment in which the great irony of life caught me completely off guard.  I was standing in the hallway of my church talking on the phone to a woman in need, looking at a smiling family there to plan a wedding, and knowing I had another gentleman in my office wanting help filling out a job application.  Three visitors - don't you love biblically perfect numbers? - at the same time...all needing something from me.  Normally, I would have been stressed and maybe even annoyed at all the interruptions to my day of planning and organizing...and for the briefest moment a scene from Jesus Christ Superstar popped into my head.  It was the scene where Jesus is praying, he's gone off alone for some down time and then the lepers come...all crying out in need, begging for him to help them...soon, they overwhelm him - I watched the play last Friday with my daughter and that scene haunted me...Jesus emptying himself completely for the sake of the poor lepers.  I was moved because, while I dare not compare my ministry with that of Jesus, I often feel like I am emptying myself completely for the sake of others in need...and sometimes I am afraid one day only a shell of me will remain.  But the image of the lepers only lasted for a second....then I heard the bride-to-be laugh and I watched her and her future husband look adoringly at each other...then I heard the woman on the phone sound relieved that help was on the way...and then I thought of the man in my office waiting patiently for my attention.  Am I emptying myself - absolutely - but the irony is, I've never felt so full.  Full of God's love and gifts and amazed all over again that I have the great honor of being called as one of His ordained servants.  There are no lepers pulling me down - there are only brothers and sisters pulling me closer.  Thanks be to God

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Would John Wesley think???

I've just spent a good part of my afternoon bedridden with a bad back.  This meant that I could either watch some mind-numbing TV or I could get on my laptop and do something useful.  Funny, I never considered the word "useful" to be quite so subjective.  Anyway,  months ago, my brilliant husband predicted that our churches needed to be more relevant in the world - and he used the idea of Facebook to prove his point.  He said, worship needs to be interactive, we need to be able to text and 'tweet' and whatever all those other things are...it is what the next generation is looking for.

And then, there is was today, on CNN...a church in California in which the congregation is encouraged to use Twitter during the worship service to share their thoughts and feelings with friends.  Finally, curiosity gets the better of me.  Within an hour I am signed up for Twitter and this blog spot...this in addition to my Facebook (sorry MySpace, found you way too annoying).  While I'm still trying to figure it all out I am amazed at the possibilities we have to connect with one another.

John Wesley left a legacy of connectionalism for his new movement called Methodism.  We people called Methodist are supposed to embrace our unity and strive to work together towards the common goal of sharing Christ with the world and strengthening our spiritual lives in the process.  While Wesley was hesitant to try new things he ultimately came to believe that sometimes we need to do some "vile things" to get out the word of Christ.  Of course, he was talking about preaching in the open fields instead of a church...but he did walk on the wild side of his day and open himself up to doing what had to be done for sake of reaching new people.

So, what would John Wesley think of this chance we have?  I can't help but think he'd be out purchasing his own laptop - no doubt fussing all the way to the Apple store (yea, he'd be a mac guy - right John?) - but within no time he would be posting his first tweet and his first blog.  Come on my fellow United Methodists - lets remember our fearless leader and take a walk on the wild side.  Yes it may seem 'vile' at first - or in the least it will just be downright bizarre - but what a great opportunity before us to not only connect our faith communities but to spread the good news to a new generation.