Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Time is it Right Now?

WhatWhat time is it right now?

Don't look at your watch or your computer. They won't give you the answer we're looking for. Read on:

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace...

He has made everything beautiful in its time." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11)

Probably nearly every one would agree with the premise. But the key is not in agreeing with the concept as much as it is in understanding what time it is.

Think about it.

Your car won't start. Is it time to buy a new one or fix the old one?

Your child hasn't done what needs to be done. Time to correct a mistake or stand up to disobedience?

You see an accident beginning to take place on the highway in front of you. Is it time to hit the brake or the gas?

You have some extra cash. Is it time to make that big purchase or build up the savings account?

Things aren't going well in some area of your personal life (church, marriage, exercise, etc.). Do you let it ride or chart a different course?

1 Chronicles 12 gives a list of key people in the life of King David, warriors who came to his aid. In verse 32 there is an interesting description of the men of Isaachar. We read that they,

"understood the times and knew what Israel should do..."

What a gift to have!

I've sat in enough meetings and been on enough committees to know someone like that is invaluable. When a big decision, often a crisis, is being faced, there can be a flurry of ideas and suggestions.

It can feel like you're on the interstate, far from home, and there is a blizzard. You can't see ANYTHING just ahead of you. You're ready to pull over. The meeting is out of control. One person says "hang on" and another says "let go" and the now you're totally confused.

But at that exact moment, a voice of reason, a seasoned, well-respected member, the person everyone has learned look to in moments just like these, says just the right word, heads begin to nod in agreement, and the group comes to a consensus before that individual has finished speaking.

Why? What happened?

They knew what time it was.

They knew when it was time to be quiet.
They knew when it was time to speak.
And they knew what we needed to do at this moment.

Some people think there is only 1 season; that it is ALWAYS time to speak.

Or ALWAYS time to laugh.

Or ALWAYS time to give up.

Or ALWAYS time for war.

But that isn't the wise way to live, is it? We need other tools in our toolbox. We can't always use the sledghammer. Or a hug. We need the right tool for the right job. We need the right response in the right season.

I'm trying to learn that lesson.

And this passage in Ecclesiastes makes us a promise:

He has made everything beautiful in its time.

Be patient. Be listening to The Voice.

Be in relationship with The Spirit.

Be still and know HE is God.

May we allow God to show us what time it is today.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

She's Having the Wrong Baby!

"She's Having the Wrong Baby"

That was the headline from the Detroit Free Press dated Thursday, September 24, 2009. The story goes on to describe a mix-up at a fertility clinic in which one metro Detroit woman's embryos were mistakenly used to impregnate an Ohio woman. Maybe you've seen the story.

I thought of another story which has some parallels. But this story has a different cast.

The birthing mother, in the second story, is The Church. The babies are those of us who call ourselves Christians.

The Apostle Paul writes, "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you..." (Galatians 4:19 NIV). But instead of being a mother carrying around this potential "bundle of joy", Paul is in the morning-sickness-phase. "I know what you can become, but right now you make me more than a little ill!"

Do our spiritual mentors, leaders and those to whom we are accountable ever think this about us? (I'm sure people have thought that about me more than once.)

In the Free Press story there seems to be a pretty good chance the baby birthed will look nothing like the birthing mother. I wonder if occasionally those of us who call ourselves "Christians" look nothing like the One after whom we are named. (Certainly there have been times in history when the Church has not lived up to its name.)

In another passage Paul tells us "the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" (Romans 8:22 NIV). Things aren't right in the world, in our community, in our family, in my life. We are hurting and longing for Someone to come and set them right. We long for all of "creation (to be) liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God".

Certainly the two families and the fertility clinic have unwillingly become examples of one part of creation that is groaning through human error. But they are just one small part of a much larger world. You and I could easily list any number of other places where this world groans, where life is broken and bloodied because of choices, both intentional and unintentional. Times and places where people have been careless, stupid, selfish.

I recently saw an episode of Ken Burns' latest documentary, "National Parks: America's Best Idea." They were discussing a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt, known as someone who appreciated God's creation in a variety of ways and through a number of activities.

After seeing the Grand Canyon, he warned people who lived in the area the best thing we as a country could was to, "Leave it alone. People can only deface it." And then the President set off on a crusade to begin to mark off various parts of the country that ran the risk of being defaced, commercialized, and scarred beyond recognition.

What a great idea: preserving places unlike anywhere else on earth. Planning on our country's well-being, not only for a few years, but for generations.

Can you imagine if there were no Grand Canyon to take your children to see? Or if Yellowstone National Park had become commercialized and Old Faithful had been named for some sponsor? (Go ahead, you can think of a clever company or two.)

For better or worse we are on this planet and we live with each other. And we will leave our mark, one way or another, on the places, systems, structures and yes, people with whom we live.

If you are or have previously been part of "The Church", whatever branch or brand of Christianity you might be or have been, then this next sentence is for you.

The children of God, God's sons and daughters, have not yet been fully "revealed".

So if you look at your own life and feel frustration at how far you are from who God has called you to be, take heart! Maybe you are still in gestation. Don't give up. Christ is still being formed in you!

Or if you have experienced a situation where those The Church claimed were the sons and daughters of God bore no resemblance to the Christ whose name they shared, be patient. Maybe she is having the wrong baby!

The update on the Free Press story was that the impregnated mother-to-be had decided she would carry the baby full term, give birth to the baby, and then give the baby away to the other family!

I wonder if there isn't a lesson there for all of us pastors and priests, deacons and deaconesses, chaplains, board members, teachers, preachers and leaders, about how we, "The Church," ought to view those to whom and with whom, we minister.

Much like that birthing mother, we are called to treat them with respect. We are called to cherish and protect them. Then we are called to give them away because they were never truly ours. We were birthing this baby for Someone else.

What might The Church look like if you and I purposed in our hearts to live life that way? I don't know about you, but I'd sure like to find out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

People with No Religious Affiliation Increasing

The following is from today's USA Today. I have a few observations at the bottom if you're interested.

Grace & peace


By Erich Schlegel, for USA TODAY
On a typical Sunday morning, Diane and Stefan Mueller don't go to church they often walk their dogs and take their son Kai to play in nearby parks.

Join the conversation on religion, spirituality and ethics here.
And catch up on interesting news with USA TODAY'sCathy Lynn Grossman.

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
Americans who don't identify with any religion are now 15% of the USA, but trends in a new study shows they could one day surpass the nation's largest denominations — including Catholics, now 24% of the nation.

American Nones: Profile of the No Religion Population, to be released today by Trinity College, finds this faith-free group already includes nearly 19% of U.S. men and 12% of women. Of these, 35% say they were Catholic at age 12.

FAITH & REASON: What's your religious path: Any, many, one or none?
"Will a day come when the Nones are on top? We can't predict for sure," says lead researcher Barry Kosmin.
But if Nones, now 22% of all adults ages 18 to 29, continue to gain among young adults, to draw more people "switching out" from denominations and to replace more religious older people, researchers forecast one in five Americans will be Nones in 20 years.
"Trends clearly favor this," Kosmin says. But he also notes, "There could be a Great Awakening (massive Protestant revival) or immigration may bring in more Catholic believers."
Kosmin and Ariela Keysar of Trinity College, Hartford, Conn., directed three editions of the American Religious Identification Survey over 18 years. The 2008 ARIS (pdf), based on a sampling of 54,000 U.S. adults, also burrowed in for a closer look at 1,106 Nones, who answered extra questions about their beliefs and behaviors and views on God.

ARIS: Most religious groups have lost ground in USA
'NONES': Now 15% of population

The report finds:
•Not all Nones are alike. Half (51%) still believe in God or a higher power.
•Nones also are the only major U. S. faith group that's majority male. Even when girls grow up with unbelieving parents, they're more likely to find a faith as adults than their brothers.
"Women are also less skeptical than men and less drawn to irreligious and anti-religious views. They are more likely to reject a secular upbringing," Kosmin says.
"There is a lot of 'churning' going on but Nones gain much more from switching (people leaving religion) than from natural growth (children emulating unbelieving parents)," he says.
•The percentage of atheist Nones — who say there's no such thing as God — hasn't budged in years.
"It's not as though dozens of people at the Methodist Church read (atheist Richard) Dawkins and suddenly decided God doesn't exist," says Kosmin.
"There are so many misconceptions about who the Nones are. They're not New Age searchers or spiritual or even hardened atheists," says Kosmin.
"They're a stew of agnostics, deists and rationalists. They sound more like Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine. Their very interesting enlightenment approach is like the Founding Fathers' kind: Skeptical about organized religion and clerics while still holding to an idea of God."
One quirky fact: 33% of Nones claim Irish ancestry, although the U.S. Census says only 10% of the USA does.

"We have no idea why," he says. "Maybe you could ask (Fox newscaster) Bill O'Reilly.
In some way, researchers found Nones are very much like the overall, largely religious, U.S. population. There's no statistical difference on education, or income or marital status. They are just as likely to be divorced as anybody else.

"Nones are not a fringe group anymore and are now part of Middle America. They're present in every socio-demographic group, Keysar concludes in their report.

Some observations:

HARVEST - In John 4:35 Jesus says, "I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." (We spoke briefly about this verse on Sunday as we discussed the "Days of Elijah".) Initially the headline may not seem like there are a lot of people who are ready to be introduced to Jesus. But...

ATHESISTS - the article said the number of people who don't believe in God has NOT increased in years. People may be leaving large denominations, but they are NOT deciding in mass numbers that they don't believe in God at all. Which means...

SEEKERS - there are a larger number of people in the U.S. than ever who aren't really sure WHAT they believe or are wondering WHO they can trust.

CONFUSED - Many are confused about where Truth can be found. (Interested in joining the next group meeting for the Truth Project from our church on Sun. PM's? See Terri Kalmbach.)

FAITHFUL & PASSIONATE - More than ever the Spirit is seeking men and women, boys and girls, who will be faithful to Him and passionate for people who don't know God.

Will you recommit yourself today to be such a person and to live that sort of life?

Grace & peace

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Days of Elijah & a Mexican Fiesta

Are you familiar with the song we sing at church by that name?

It is pretty popular.

The tune is catchy.

The beat is powerful.

And the words...

This coming Sunday we'll sing the song (TWICE)

...and we'll be looking at some of the words.

They come from a variety of passages in scripture and paint some very vivid pictures of God's work.

One of those pictures is from Ezekiel 37 (The Valley of Dry Bones). God tells the prophet to "prophesy to the bones". Seems crazy, doesn't it? To speak to a pile of bones and expect them to respond!?

You might as well talk to your toaster or your lawn mower.

But Ezekiel obeys. God moves. And things change.

What might God have in store for us this weekend if we obey?

Then following the service there will be a time of fellowship as we enjoy a Mexican Fiesta.

Hope you can join us. Maybe even invite a friend to lunch. And watch as God moves.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Good and Faithful

In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus describes the Kingdom of heaven as being like "a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them."

The property, or "talents" were handed out "according to (the) ability" of the servants.

I used to think of the application of this parable as challenging me as to how I use my talents, time, and money. And I think that is all appropriate. But I wonder...

What other gifts has God entrusted to me and how am I incorporating them into my life?

Think about it.

The Church is a gift God has given Christians. Do I make an effort to intentionally, regularly meet with other Christians? Or do I careless and easily neglect relationship with others?

Scripture has been entrusted to me. Have I made a commitment to get into God's word and get God's word into me? Do I meditate on it or do I do more of a "drive-thru" diet?

Prayer is something the Master has left with us. If my spiritual health depended upon how often God and I talk, how extensive those conversations are, what would my level of health be?

I recently read the following, "The penalty of not praying is the loss of one's capacity to pray!" (Edward J. Farrell Prayer is a Hunger).

But isn't the "penalty" not only a loss of "capacity" but a loss of "desire"? "I haven't been and I don't want to!"

I wonder if the same can't be said for other "gifts" God has given us, and other "disciplines" to which God has called us.

"I haven't been with other believers; I'm not really interested in meeting with them and talking about God."

"I haven't read my Bible. I don't see what the benefit would be for me to do so."

"I haven't been in the habit of praying. And I don't see any real interest on my part to change soon."

Later in the parable the Master tells two of the servants, "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things."

Is it possible if we are not faithful in the areas where God's Spirit is challenging us, we shouldn't expect any new insight or blessing in other areas?

The Master calls those who were stewards, "Good and faithful". I want to be faithful with the gifts God has given me. I want to be filled with faith and show myself faithful to God.

As I heard another recently say, "I would like to think God has learned He can trust me with certain things." I do too. How 'bout you? Will God be able to call you "good and faithful"?

Grace & peace