Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Church Being the Church

What is the first image that pops into your mind when you hear the word, 'church'?

Maybe a brick building with a really tall steeple?

Maybe some one on television advocating a certain idea?

Or maybe that song from my years in Sunday School..."the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people."

Church is a complicated word. It is a gathering of people. But like any gathering, at some point there has to be a purpose or a reason so that people keep gathering. Just standing around drinking decaf coffee causally chatting about the weather or the local sports team isn't going to get many people out of bed on a cold Wisconsin Sunday.

The reality is because the church is made up of people it means the gathering has individuals who are wholly/holy made in God's image who don't always/fully live out the profound truth that each person in the gathering reflects God's fingerprints.

To claim to be the church is a lofty (maybe a bit crazy) goal. Trying to sort out our purpose as followers of Christ today is hard enough. On top of that we are dealing with/trying to live out our purpose along side humans (with all the possibilities and pitfalls we bring to the table) . And on top of that there is two thousand years of history that has piled up on the table where we are gathering. That's a lot of paper work.

Given that reality, I get why people have left the church. I get why people drive past the church I serve and the church down the street or across town and think it's all the same...just different music. I get why people after hearing two pastors argue on national television, turn it off and tune out.

And yet something within me will not give up on the church as a gathering of people prayerfully trying to follow Christ. Partly that is because I am stubborn. Partly it is because given the world we live in - with all of its economic uncertainty and anger and times when it is really hard to notice traces of God's grace - I still find God's promise and presence most evident in a gathering of people.

So, how can the church be the church? I pray over the next several posts to get at that question. But before I do, I want to encourage you to get your Bible.

Go ahead...I'll wait.

Or you can try these websites: www.biblegateway.com or http://bible.oremus.org/

And if you would turn to the Book of Acts, chapter 1, verses 1 through 14.

Take time to read these words.
Read the words... aloud....I know it makes me self-conscious too
Circle words that surprise you.
Circle words that frustrate you.
Read the words aloud again

What do you take away from that?

I'll share my thoughts soon.

But for now...may the traces of God's grace be with in this season of autumn. May God's presence swirl around you like a crisp fall breeze and God's love warm you like a cup of warm tea...or hot chocolate...or coffee...or cider.

Blessings and peace

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Marking Time

Eight years ago this week, I became a father.

And twenty months later, I became a father again.

Even though you have nine months to prepare to welcome a baby into your life, it is unfathomable how upside down your life becomes in the span of a few weeks. Those first few sleep deprived months of my son's life were a daze. You hold in your hands this vulnerable baby and the enormity of raising, shaping, caring for a life weights on your heart. The gospels tell us that Jesus came to us in the form of a baby. As much as we sing about a Silent Night and Holy Night when Jesus Away in a Manger, 'no crying he made,' there was an enormity of caring for Jesus that sat on the shoulders of Mary and Joesph that every parent can relate to.

It is too bad that the gospels don't have many stories about Jesus growing up. Luke 2:41 records a brief encounter Jesus had in the temple at age 12 with the leaders at Passover. But in some ways this is a foreshadowing of how Jesus will encounter the religious leaders at Passover when he came riding on a donkey at Palm Sunday and set in motion the holy drama of Holy Week. Luke's brief narrative ends with these words, "Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor." Which is a nice way of saying, he grew up.

Watching my son and daughter grow up is a blurry joy at times. Each child has a unique personality. My son is so serious at time and can be anxious about things (It is great when you see your own personality idiosyncrasies reflected in your child). He has a great sense of humor... that I don't always understand. My daughter is care free and has the ability to enjoy life deeply (It is great when you see personality idiosyncrasies you'd like to have reflected in your child). And every morning she has a slow....motion....mode...that...seems...to....take...for...ever...to...get... out...the...door...to...get...to...school.

Celebrating my son's birthday this week helped me realize that birthdays are a way we mark time. Both the passage of time as well as what is to come. My son already talks about when he can learn to drive a car or sit in the front seat. I am not someone who wants to pause time. I realize you cannot capture or contain moments in a bottle. I try my best to immerse myself in the moment, the joy of the moment. Even last night when I am standing on a hill freezing and can't feel my fingers from the cold watching my son play flag football. But, it takes practice to immerse myself in the moment. I can get caught up in looking back or looking forward. Marking time is less about the calendar than it is about noticing fully the present moment.

So, as the autumn air turns crisp around us. As more and more leaves swirl in the breeze, may you find ways to mark time in a way that opens you to traces of God's grace all around you. Blessings and peace and happy 8th birthday to my son!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Vacation

What would be your perfect vacation destination? If you had asked me that question a few months ago, I would have described some Emerson-like cabin in the secluded woods away from cell phones and noise and crowds. I would have waxed poetic about the joys of leisurely reading books or rowing in a canoe on a calm river. It would be peaceful and relaxing...at least in my imagination.

But last week I found another spot that was surprisingly filled with traces of God's grace.

Disney World.

It was not exactly the place I thought I would encounter God's presence. Amid dancing dolls from around the world singing, "It's a small world" or riding rides or standing in a line waiting for Buzz Lightyear's autograph. But there was a deep joy and peacefulness even in the midst of the crowds and the occasional crying child and being constantly on the go for ten plus hours each day.

Part of that joy and peace was discovered as I saw my daughter's eyes light up when she saw the Disney princesses or when my son became a "Jedi" defeating Darth Vader. Spending time with my family for one whole week was truly the best and my favorite part.

Part of that joy and peace was being in a place where happiness radiates. Walking down Main St. in the Magic Kingdom and seeing people wave at you is strangely refreshing. It gives you hope that the people who bicker on the nightly news might just be the ones living in a fairy tale land and that there is something about the human condition that can connect us to each other with a simple wave. Seeing people from around the country and the world gather together to share in the experience is renewing. It is a powerful witness to our need as humans to play and laugh together. Hearing my kids laugh was good for my soul. Eating ice cream on hot days was good for my soul. And sharing in the experience was good for my soul.

To be sure, coming back to the 'real' world is a bit of an adjustment. People no longer randomly wave at me. The streets are not as clean. And there is no catchy tune constantly playing in the background.

Part of vacation is to get away. To live another way. Part of vacation is to realize that our bodies and souls and emotional well being need Sabbath rest every week. Now, I am not one who think we will ever go back to everything being closed on Sundays with Blue Laws...as though Sunday is the only day for Sabbath. But I am one who believes that the pace of our culture and our lives today is unsustainable. Our constant on the go, busyness is wreaking havoc on us. The demands we place on our bodies, the food we feed our bodies because of our schedules and the stress and illness are pervasive. While every drug company promises us they have the magic pill to keep us going...medication alone will not make everything all better.

Part of my challenge is to not be (as Kirk Bryon Jones says) so addicted to hurry. So caught up in my own self importance and need to control that I miss the fact I was away from the church for a week and the church survived. The church of Jesus Christ will survive...it did so for thousands of years before me and will for thousands of years after me. Sabbath time is not just about collapsing after a frenzy paced day. Sabbath time is not just a convenient way of saying you don't want to do something.

Sabbath is at the core an affirmation that God is God...and you are not. God's grace is what sustains us...not the work of our hands. God's love is what fills us....not what we get at the Apple Store. God's presence is what is meaningful. Sabbath opens our eyes...even in places we were not sure we would discover the traces of God's grace. May that kind of Sabbath time be found in your life this week and every week.

Blessings