Saturday, September 6, 2014

How do YOU read Scripture



All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  2 Timothy 3:16


How do you read Scripture?  If you are like the majority of faithful, church-going, hymn-singing, blog reading people...the most honest answer to that questions is, "Not very often."  At least, not very often outside of Sunday morning.  Well over half of people surveyed by the Pew Form a few years ago admitted that they don't read Scripture outside of church.  Let's face it, that makes some sense.  The Bible might not be nearly as compelling as the latest novel from your favorite author.  Not to mention the print is a bit on the tiny side, the pages a bit on a thin side, and a little to much emphasis on, "So and so begat so and so who begat so and so..."  And you thought Harlequin romance novels were only interested in sex.  Seriously, that is a lot of begating!

Each of us brings a perspective to Scripture.  At the church I serve, I have been talking about approaches to reading Scripture.  My hope and prayer is that by giving folks some tools for opening the pages of Scripture, it might pique the interest and cause/inspire folks to pick up the Good Book on a day other than Sunday.

There are six approaches to Scripture, you might think of these as six eye-glass lenses you might put on to read or understand Scripture through.

The first is Scripture as a chain.  Each verse in the bible is inter-locking, inter-dependent, and equally important.  Folks in this camp operate out of the cliche, that a chain is only as good as it's weakest link.  Often, this group defends the Bible as being the literal Word of God.  

The second is Scripture as concentric circles.  Think of dropping a rock in the middle of the water and watching the ripples go outward, further and further from the center.  Folks in this camp cling to a verse or idea that is their rock.  They might say Jesus' commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is the center or the claim that God is love.  Then, when people with these glasses read the Bible, they evaluate how close or how far way the passage of Scripture is from the center.  So, the Parable of the Prodigal Son would be close to the center of God is love, many verses in the book of Leviticus...not so much.  Maybe past the shoreline of the water.

The third is Scripture as a moral code or ethical guide.  Folks in this camp want to read Scripture and for every verse/story come up with one take home message, rule, idea to apply to their life.  So, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is...Don't have any kids!  Just kidding.  It is that we are suppose to forgive.  Of course, there are some passages this can take a great deal of mental gymnastics to try to find one kernel or moral lesson from.

The fourth is Scripture as a conversation.  The Bible is a record of a dialogue between God and humanity, we are invited to join the conversation.  Folks in this camp want to add their two cents in response to Scripture...maybe even debate Scripture.

The fifth is Scripture as embodied truth.  Whereas the above four work primarily at the intellectual level, what does my mind say in response to these words?  This way of reading works on the emotional level, what does Scripture make me feel?  What would my life look like if I took this seriously?  Folks in this camp read the Bible with their heart first.

The sixth is Scripture as story, that Scripture is a narrative.  By story I do not mean to minimize or discount the Bible's importance.  In fact, I believe that stories are the ONLY thing that make us change our life.  I can give you all kinds of facts about me...my age, height, weight, college and higher education degrees.  OR I can tell you a story about growing up in Iowa...God's heaven on earth.  You see the movie, Field of Dreams was a documentary.  Or, it was just a really good story about how our family relationships matter and our hopes for what is beyond our life here on earth.  "Tell me a story," is a phrase we never out grown.

That is it.  Six lenses.  Of course, you could you wear a couple different lenses at once, but just as in real life it is hard to focus!  Give this some thought and prayer this week.  Which one to you find yourself nodding as you read?  Which one gets under your skin?  Which one do you want to know more about?

May you sense MORE than a trace of God's grace this Sunday as you enter into worship and dwell with Scripture.

Blessings ~ 


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

At the Intersection



This week we celebrated Labor Day, a tradition that goes back more than 100 years. (Click here to read more about the history of this day.)  Work holds an interesting place in our lives today.  A generation ago, work was interwoven into your identity.  You were a doctor or lawyer or pastor.  Your job said a great deal about yourself.  Work offered you a pay check and, hopefully, a pathway to retirement.  But today, that story feels like a fairy tale of an age gone by.  Many today work without benefits.  Many today work for wages that cannot sustain the costs of housing, food, and raising a child.  What is the place of work?

For those of us in the Protestant tradition, work has an interesting place.  Some Protestant theology suggests that if you are successful at work, it is a sign of God's blessing or providence.  That theology, now often called Prosperity Gospel, is no longer preached in many mainline churches.  Yet the ripple effects are still felt; and waves of such understanding are still part of several churches today.  

We find ourselves in a tense place with work.  We pay unimaginable amounts of money to people who can throw a ball in a particular fashion.  People live in homes that could have there own zip codes.  Yet, recent attempts to raise minimum wage have been met with fear and resistance, it is not likely to gain much traction, even after the election in November.  On top of that, the nature of work has shifted.  No longer do we want our job to be the only, or most important, part of who we are.  If you hang out with people under thirty, most interesting question is not, "So what do you do?"  Rather, we want to know what people are passionate about.   Yet, the reality is that many cannot pay the bills with what they are passionate about.  So, instead, many end up working for a paycheck.

This is not that uncommon.  I am sure there are many of our grandparents who would have preferred to not be a farmer or a factory worker, but that is what their dad did.  Many women who went to work during WW2 did not want to give up their job, but societal pressure was strong....Rosie the riveter had to let go of the tools and move to the newly constructed suburban, to live the "good life".  Before, we all start complaining too much or saying, "Woe is us", work has always brought positives and negatives.

Do you/or did you enjoy your work?  What about your co-workers?
If not, where do you allow what makes you feel fully alive find expression?

Work is important.  Our Protestant reformation has always affirmed the role of work in our lives.  Some say that even in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, had to tend the garden.  Work was not a punishment east of Eden, but a part of our life from the beginning.  Yet, work can be consuming.  Work can capture more of our energy than we'd like.  We work from home more easily now than ever (it is actually where I post to my blog!)  We can work practically anywhere...so we do.

The problem is that most issues surrounding work are so divisive (like the positives and drawbacks to unions, whether we can afford a raise in minimum wage, what benefits should employers provide) that people quickly pick a side and refuse to admit that there is a lot of room for compromise and common ground (perhaps two words rarely heard in any legislative body across our country).

So, maybe the church needs to be the new public square of reasonable, thoughtful, loving listening.  Maybe church needs to be the new common ground place for us to acknowledge that moving side to side going no where is only leaving us dizzy!  I am not sure exactly what that looks like.  But this Labor Day, I think I need and hunger for more than just another grilled hamburger.

May there be a trace of God's grace guiding us as a people to start talking about the role of work in all our lives.

Blessings ~

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The center of faith


And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Chances are pretty good that you've heard the above passage at some point.  Chances are more than pretty good that it was at a wedding.  I think 1 Corinthians has occupied the number one most requested Bible passage for wedding now for decades.  It is the crowd favorite.  And because of the setting, it is easy to miss that middle word, "hope".  When in the world did "hope" come into play?  When was the last time the minister at a wedding went off on a tangent about "hope" being an important ingredient in marriage?  Forgiveness, you bet.  That is a daily need in a relationship.  Love, well duh, why else get married?  Yet, hope not only under-girds our relationships; but ultimately our connection with God.  Hope is the chewy, caramel center of the faith candy bar.  

Wait...you might say...shouldn't that be love?  After all, Paul says above the love is the greatest.  Love is number one...love is number one...feel free to chat along with me.  Hope actually helps keep love grounded in reality.  If all we do is talk about love, it can be a slippery slope.  We can sound naive or easily fall into sappy sentimentalism.  Yes, it is true, all you need is love.  But a healthy dose of hope can help keep love going and growing.  Hope is like fuel.  Often, I think marriages fail as much because the couple falls out of love, as they fall out of hope.  Hope that they might rekindle the love or hope that out of this difficult time a deeper love might be found.  When we stop hoping that our best days are before us and instead are behind us, we've lost not only that loving feeling, but also our sense of hope.

Hope is (as Emily Dickinson wrote) a thing with feathers.  It is light and flighty...it is hard to pin down.  Love seems easier.  I either feel love toward someone or I feel indifferent or I feel hostility.  Hope, being like the Holy Spirit of Paul's trinity of words, holds out the possibility that I was wrong.  Hope teaches me that my first impression about someone can be way off base, especially when I learn an important truth about why the person seems cold or indifferent.  Hope teaches me to hold on and hold out for more understanding.  Hope keeps searching and probing.  Love can come and go in waves; but hope keeps asking us to hang in there.  

Maybe it does not need to be only hope at the center of the faith candy bar.  There is plenty of room for love too.  But the two seem to need each other in wonderful, even delicious, ways.  I think for love to last there needs to be hope.  At the great end, when God's realm is fully realized, I am with Paul, love will be the greatest.  Until then, I am hanging on to hope as equally as important for the living out of my faith as love.  Together, they may just help us taste more than a trace of God's grace today and in the days to come.

Blessings ~ 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

But WHY do we worship?



This is the third, and final, post about worship.  And our focus question is, why gather at all?  I suspect we have all heard someone say, "Oh, I can worship God in nature...or on the golf course." (although usually the way I heard God's name evoked in that particular setting does not seem very worshipful).  So why get together?  I recently heard Brian McLaren say that, "It is not as though God every seven days goes itching for an prelude."  Or a sermon either, I might add.  

I think part of the problem is that we think worship is only about at God.  But in some ways, worship is also about the participates.  Worship says a lot more about us and our understanding of who God is.  Consider the all-too-tired-now worship wars over "contemporary" music.  I put that in quotes because this debate has been going on so long, that some of the initial music is no longer contemporary at all!  Some find it easier to worship God with drums and guitars, others with organ and choirs, still others in silence and chants.  Too often, we approach this conversation as a zero sum game...one of the above options HAS to be right (or more right), so the others can only be wrong, right?  I actually think that approach is wrong.  Each of the proponents of the particular worship style, I think, has found something meaningful there.  People who like drums and guitars often say they feel this type of music reflects what they listen to in their car so it connects with their daily life.  Perhaps they feel more authentic singing along with such music in church.  Others believe passionately, that worship music should feel and sound differently, hence they gravitate more to organ and music that we are not surrounded by so frequently in our every day lives.  And still others say that what really speaks and sparks their souls is God's still singing voice, so we need extended quiet in worship.  And I am sure there are options D, E, etc... out there too.

So, the starting place is to accept that we like what we like.  And yet, if worship is about something other than just consuming a product, and I think many of us can agree that we want worship to be something other than a play we pay to see, one way we jar ourselves out of the consumerist culture is to make sure every worship service has elements we don't like.  You read that right.  If worship is not all about you, then at some point you need to say, "That particular moment does not get it for me, but I am glad that my friend here finds it meaningful."  And maybe even deeper, "The meaning of that prelude, is that it mattered so much to Sally."  Worship is a dance where we get to participate fully, and sometimes we sit watching as others dance.  There is a give and take.

Too often, I wonder if we have missed that.  We have made worship an "all or nothing" zero sum game.  Far too many meetings have been spent chasing this issue, when we could have said, "It does not get it for me, but I am glad, truly glad, it gets it for you."  And even more so, "Can you help me understand how this type of music, prayer, style of preaching and worship is meaningful for you?"  Then listen to the answers and thoughts the other gives...hopefully s/he will ask/listen the same of you.

One of the reason, I think we argue, is because we do want to be right and we want to feel our preferences affirmed.  Second reason is because worship is art.  Remember the last time you wandered around a museum?  Chances are good that you liked the Picasso, but not the van Gogh.  You cried in one wing and whizzed through another.  And did you go to the museum curator and demand they only have your preferences?  I hope not.  I hope you noticed that the museum was not only for you, it was for others.  And while you walked through one room quickly, you maybe saw someone else linger there for a long time.  So, here is my invitation to you; talk.  Talk and listen to others about worship more.  We cannot have this conversation enough with our friends inside...especially outside the church.  We need to move from arguing and trying to score points to coming to find the beauty in worship through a variety of styles.

If you can, ask why don't your neighbors...or children...or grand-children come to church?  What do they find meaningful and what kinds of music, prayers, sermons, and rituals would help each group feel alive?  Then how can you, yes you, work with the pastor and church to make that happen?  What is at stake is helping people connect on a deep level with the grace of God together, with each other and for the sake of each other!  I believe with my whole heart, the more we ask "Why", the more we sense a trace of God's grace.

God's blessings on your conversations with each other!

Peace ~

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Divine Drama of Worship


You arrive in the parking lot frazzled.  The morning had not gone according to your plans.  Maybe you are late because your children refused to get dressed or you got a distressing phone call or some how time just slipped away.  Now, parked out in the Boonies, you hurry trying to get to the sanctuary.

Stop for just a moment and consider the threshold of the sanctuary doors.  I know many people talk about the divide between the secular and sacred; as though the sanctuary is God's home turf and outside the four walls of the church is a playground of another sort.  But, how in the world is that in concert with Genesis 1, where God creates all that is seen and unseen?

Why does it feel like there is a gap between the world we live in Monday through Saturday and the world we enter on Sunday morning (or whenever you worship)?

One reason might be because of communal singing or organ music...not necessarily things I do on a daily basis.  Another reason are the pews...not exactly the most styling seating (or comfortable) ever constructed.  Another reason is the architecture.  Or the simple table set with an ordinary loaf of bread and cup of wine.  Or the task of shaking hands as you enter, putting on a happy face.

Most of the rituals surround worship happen only in worship.  That makes them unique and particular and peculiar.  Worship has a different vibe and that vibe grates at some people.  The rituals were emptied of their meaning for some people, not necessarily because of the church...but because we have sometimes failed to talk about why we do, what we do, when we do it.  We just assume that everyone knows why a call to worship is first and what an invocation is.

But the difference of space and rhythm and language is what creates a gap between Sunday morning and every other day of the week.  In some ways that is good.  It is good that worship has that feeling of other.  On the other hand, those differences can become obstacles too tall to get over for some.  Since worship is central to our faith and our identity, it is good to look at the movement of worship.

In the last post, I mentioned Soren Kierkegaard's vision of the divine drama.  If worship is a drama it needs to tell a story, it needs a beginning; middle; and end.  The beginning needs to introduce everyone to the cast of characters (which remember Kierkegaard said was YOU).  The introduction happens by passing the peace, by settling in with music, and through some entry prayer that I believe needs to provide people of God with a drawbridge between the world outside and inside.  Opening prayers that do not acknowledge we live in a beautiful and broken world in the majority of our life, are asking people to take a leap of faith to enter into worship.  The middle part of worship is engaging scripture and usually a reflection on scripture by a pastor.  You might think that is the climax of the drama.  But I believe the offering is.  NOT because I am interested in money and how much you put in the plate, but because I believe God is interested in our whole lives that you metaphorically place into the golden rimed plants as they clank by you.  When we offer all that is in our hearts, it is a powerful moment.  Maybe, offering could be first in that respect.  To offer your prayers, your gifts, your hopes/dreams for the coming week, could be the first part of worship.

Like all good stories, the point is not rigidity and that you always have to follow the same format.  Some of the most beautiful and creative stories, come out in fresh ways when you tell the story backwards, or start in the middle, or shake things up.  Story structures are permeable and our best worship is too.  So, let me ask you arm chair worship planners again.  Would you like the offering first and why?  Would you like the sermon last and why?

Obviously, what I am most interested in is your answers to "Why"?  I pray it causes you to reflect about what is at stake.  The  more we can do that, be honest, the more our worship can bless us with a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why we do what we do when we do it...Worship


26 What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. 1 Corinthians 14:26-32

Today is Sunday.  This morning, for a little over an hour, our church worshiped together.  We came together...as Paul says.  We sang a hymn...well actually three hymns.  But really hymns are like potato chips...you can't just have one.  We had a scripture lesson from Exodus.  Then...well, I am not sure if the sermon was a revelation or an interpretation?  I pray the words I offered were done for building up the people there and those who watch online. At this point, the rest of Paul's advice might as well been, "Talk to an alien, spin in a circle, and stand on your head."  Because we did not do anything else Paul suggests in worship today...OR ever!

What is it that we expect when we enter into church for worship?  Does Paul's words fit with our expectations?  We can start with an honest statement: when it comes to worship, we like what we like. For some it is a guitar.  For others, you just turned up your nose.  For others the sermon should last forty minutes. For others, you just rolled your eyes.  We like what we like.  

There is nothing wrong with that.  Except.  Except, well, the focus of worship is not really about us, which is really hard to accept in a culture of consumerism.  Everywhere else we spend our free time and give our money is about us.  And if it is not, well then, we just go somewhere else.  Which has happened more times that we can count in the church today.  Rather than trying to work through our disagreements, usually over worship, a faction breaks off and forms a new church.  It is a lot easier than dealing with those people who like (fill in the blank here).

But if worship is not about us, if worship is about God, are we assuming that God prefers one style of music or preaching or praying?  I think we all fall into that trap.  Over the next few posts, I want to explore worship.  Why we do what we do when we do it...in worship.  I will look at my own reformed style, but also other styles too.  But before we dwell with that...I think it is best to start with you.  I know this is a contradiction from the above, but stay with me here.

If you were in my robe/stole, what kind of worship service would you design? What is most meaningful in worship for you?  Would you sing a lot or little?  Would you pray?  How many times?  How much scripture?  What about a sermon?  Communion?  

Soren Kierkegaard once observed that worship is a drama.  But rather than seeing the preacher or the choir as the actor/actresses, Kierkegaard said the CONGREGATION is the main actors/actresses.  The preacher and choir were like stage managers, prompters.  And God is the audience.  I also believe there are times when God moves in our midst and becomes the actor/actress in our midst.  Those are some of the most amazing moments.  

So, now is your chance to play armchair preacher.  How would you design a service?  And once you do, ask yourself why?  May there be a trace of God's grace guiding you as you do this...I know for me as I plan worship God's grace is what I lean into every single moment in planning...especially on Sunday mornings!

Blessings ~

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Frozen Part Three



This is my third, and final, post about Frozen.  The comic relief of the movie is Olaf, the talking snowman. Which by the way, is any movie not made better by a talking snowman?  I think not!  Olaf has but one dream...to experience summer.  We, of course, know the irony of this, even if we are full time Floridians.  The moment summer awakens around us, with its humidity and relentless sunshine and rain which adds more humidity to the air...snow does not stand a chance.  It starts to melt away.  

Yet, even as we laugh at Olaf's dream to some day experience the beauty of summer, how many of us cling to dreams that are far-fetched?  On the other hand, how many of us had a dream that we persistent, persevered and waited patiently until...wait for it...it came true!  When is a dream worth pour our sweat and tears into pursuing and when do our dreams have a snowball's chance in...well you know the cliche?

That is the rub.  Throughout Scripture God calls God's people to do unthinkable things and take huge leaps of faith.  Abraham and Sarah leave the only home they know.  Noah builds an ark when there was not an ominous cloud in the sky.  Moses goes back to Egypt, the very place where he is a wanted man.  Deborah, a great judge, uses her wisdom to thwart a foreign army.  Ruth bucks conventional wisdom and goes to a land that had just suffered a famine.  I could keep going, but God seems to be a God who nudges us toward what is difficult.  

At the same time, people do resist.  Every single prophet, starting with Moses, initially offers a reason why she or he cannot possibly do what God is calling her/him to do.  The best example is, of course, Jonah.  Who turns tail and runs in the exact opposite direction of where God called him to go.  Thus starting a long line of men who refused to ask for directions when lost.  The disciples are famous for this too.  Think of all the times after a parable they said, "Um Jesus, we don't get it."  Or Peter walking on water for a split second until he saw what he was actually doing and sank.  Or Peter denying he even knew Jesus in the middle of the night.  Or Paul thinking he knew exactly what to do with Christians, until he got stuck by a blinding trace of God's grace.

Yet, there are also moments when it is not wise for us to risk everything.  Think of the woman who put her last two coins in the temple coffers.  While most preachers really like that image, especially at stewardship time...I actually read Jesus words as condemning practices that prey on the poor and religious institutions that have unending appetites for more, more, more.  Despite what we may think, Scripture is not a divine rule book.  Or if it is, the rule book is about as clear as NCAA rule book is today.  The contradictions of Scripture are not there to disprove Scriptures' wisdom, but rather to invite conversation into the wonderful diversity of life. 

Too often today we want religion boiled down into simplistic steps we can apply to our life.  Yet, too often our lives are wonderfully complex and uniquely messy.  Such that, for some of you, I could say, "Risk, dream, get out of your comfort zone and do something different."  Others reading this, I could say, "Slow down.  Breathe.  Rest for your endless Martha-like tasks are making your soul restless."  And others, I might say, "Well, it is a little of both."  And still others, there might be a fourth way yet to be explored.  

Original Christians were not named after Jesus, rather they adapted the identity as, "The People of the Way."  While there was one destination (whole/holistically following Jesus), there were multiple and endless ways to reach that destination (which honestly most of us do not reach in our life times).  So we, like Robert Frost, stand at countless pathways and forks in the road.  Sometimes we need like Olaf and Rev. Dr. King and Bishop Tutu and others to dream impossible dreams.  Other times, we need to face reality.  And here is the good news that supports us no matter where we are in life's journey: there is more than a trace of God's grace found down ALL pathways.  Sometimes, even if we missed the road where we could have taken a leap of faith, there is always another exit ramp and another way the dream manifests itself.

By the way, eventually our good friend Olaf does experience summer with a little help from Elsa.  You will have to see the film to appreciate that fully.  Which reminds us that when we dream dreams, it is good to listen to the wisdom of the Beatles, we all "get by with a little help from our friends."

May the traces of God's grace in your life guide you this week as you listen to where God is nudging you to go.  And may our dreams and hopes and deepest desires find a taste of reality in our lives this week.

Blessings ~