Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Voice of Reason...

Today's Life Journal readings are Malachi 3, Malachi 4, Psalm 148, and Acts 5. 

Scripture: Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)
"Therefore, in the present case, I advise you: Leave these men alone!  Let them go!  For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."

Peter and John are at it again.  They got out of prison, went right back to doing what they were doing, were caught again, and brought back in front of the Sanhedrin.  This time, the Sanhedrin wanted to put them to death, but Gamaliel was the voice of reason in the room and talked them out of it.

If I had a dollar for every time something similar had happened in a church board meeting...well, I'd have several dollars.  One would think, that among disciples, there would be a lower propensity for folks to act solely out of emotion or some kind of knee-jerk reaction.   Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

I have been witness to church board meetings that I had to shut down before they came to blows, and can totally understand the danger Peter and John were in during this interrogation by the ruling council.  I would like to think they were just that passionate about maintaining the integrity of their faith, but more than likely there was something else going on.

Every church needs to have at least one Gamaliel, and it doesn't need to be the pastor.  There should be someone who can step back, and with a level head and cool emotions, look at the big picture.  Without that presence in church meetings, things can go bad in a hurry.  In fact, that is the first person I start looking for when I arrive at a new appointment.  It takes a few meetings to begin to see who it is, but once I find my Gamaliel in the church, I put them to work.     

If you want a better pastor and/or a better church, become the Gamaliel among your ranks.  If you can be the calming presence in a heated discussion, you will be a bigger help to your pastor, to your church, and to the kingdom than you can ever imagine.

O God of our worship and our business meetings, thank you for those folks who can step back and see you at work through a wider lens.  When our discussions become heated, remind us that passion is a good thing, but that we are also flying the same flag.  Keep our thoughts, our words, and our deeds holy as we work together to build your church.  Amen.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Take Authority...

The Life Journal Readings for today are Nehemiah 13, Malachi 1, Malachi 2, and Acts 4.

Scripture: Acts 4:19-20 (NIV)
"But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'"

Peter and John have been called in front of the Sanhedrin, basically the church board, and told to stop doing what they were doing because it was against their laws.  The Sanhedrin didn't know what to do with them, because, even though Peter and John were going against their laws, what they were doing was working.

As I stood up, after kneeling in front of them, and after they laid hands on me, I was given this charge: "Take authority as an elder in the Church to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments."  It was a huge moment for me, and one that I had been working toward for nearly 12 years. 

As I think about Peter and John, and as I reflect on my own ministry, I think about the times that I have been told that I needed to be or do something different than I was because who or what I was didn't line up with the image folks had of who or what they thought I should be.

The image I have in my mind of the scene described in Acts 4 is of a group of long bearded old men in fancy robes, who have always had their way in the Church, scratching their heads and trying to figure out where they lost control of this new generation, because these two yahoos standing in front of them are actually getting things done. 

It makes me chuckle. 

It also makes me a little sad.

Right now, at 41 years old, 13 years into my ministry, I'm still one of those yahoos, and I give God thanks for that.  Some folks still look at me, and the way I do what I do, and scratch their heads thinking, "Where did we lose control?"

I know, however, that there is always the risk that I could, at some point, try to take ownership of God's Church because I have been trained, and I have been ordained, and I have the experience, and yada, yada, yada. 

God forgive me if I ever get to the place where I think my way is the only way.  I know that there will be countless other yahoos, just like me, who will have a bishop look them in the eyes someday, hand them a bible, and say, "Take authority as an Elder in the Church to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments."  And that, whether I understand their ways or not, they will have the gifts and graces to do greater things for the kingdom.

O God, who calls and strengthens us, remind me of the gifts for ministry that you have given all of us, and when I see someone who is doing something different than I, teach me to celebrate with them the fact that they may be reaching people that I cannot.  Amen.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Let's Get Busy...

The Life Journal readings for today are Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah 2, Psalm 133, and Luke 22

Scripture: Nehemiah 2:18 (NIV)
"They replied, 'Let us start rebuilding.' So they began this good work."

Nehemiah has asked the king for permission to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall.  As he surveys the damage, and let's a few folks in on his plans, they take the lead and begin doing the work Nehemiah told them needed to be done.

This coming week I will celebrate my 13th anniversary in the ministry.  Over the past 13 years, I have realized that there are basically three types of people in the church: The first group is made up of the folk who show up pretty regular for worship and that's about it; They're usually quiet...they are there for any number of reasons...but Sunday morning is about all they need. 

The second group is made up of the complainers...They also are there most weeks...faithfully...and will do most anything that's asked of them... but nothing is ever quite right and it's always someone else's fault. 

Then there's the third group: This group shows up practically every Sunday as well...and sometimes Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday.  These are the folks who see that something needs to be done...and do it.

I'm thankful for all three types of folk...honestly...and each for different reasons.  As a modern day Nehemiah, I sometimes wonder how everything will get done.  Then out of the blue someone will come to me and say, "What do you need me to do?"    That's when I stop, take a breath, forget about the grumbling and complaining I hear on occasion, look around, and say to myself, "Ok, let's get busy."

God who calls all of us, show me this day the city wall that you would have me work on.  As I look around and begin to believe the lie that there is just too much to do, remind me once again that none of us go at our work under our own strength.  Amen. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

But It's Raining...

Today's Life Journal readings are Ezra 9, Ezra 10, Psalm 131, and Luke 21.

Scripture: Ezra 10:9 (NIV)
"Within the three days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain."

The people of Israel had evidently become sorry because some folks had gotten upset about the fact that the men of Israel had begun to intermarry with the peoples they had been sent to live among during the exile. 

It's really kind of funny when you think about it, at least it is to me.  There they were, standing accused of something so vile as marrying someone that wasn't good enough...but what really had them tore up was the rain. 

I mean, sure, I can see their point, I guess.  The people of Israel had been conquered and carried off into exile.  While they were there, they tried to be faithful to the God who created them.  The people they were living among worshipped idols and engaged in other activities that the Israelites thought were sinful.  Some of their men had taken wives from among those folks, and the Israelites were worried about it.  I get that...but...

...but it's just like some church folk to get tore up about the other.  So it's raining...ok.  So they get a little wet...in the big scheme of things it's really not a big deal.  So the music's a little different...so his shirt tail isn't tucked in...so the building doesn't look like a church...

At the end of the day, if disciples are being made, do those things really matter?

O God of the big picture, teach me to see as you see.  Remind me when I get tripped up in the details that being faithful in my call to make disciples is what's important and that, in most cases, the end really does justify the means.  Amen.   

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

We Had To...

Today's Life Journal readings are Zechariah 13, Zechariah 14, Psalm 147, and Luke 15

Scripture: Luke 15:32 (NIV)
"But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

Observation: Jesus' closing statement in the parable of the lost son is where we find ourselves most often.  This is wrapping up a series of parables on losing and finding.

He didn't say, "It would be a good idea if we did."
He didn't say, "Maybe we should."
He didn't say, "What would you think if we did?"
He said, "We had to..."

It's almost as if he were saying, "But son, don't you get it?  There was nothing else that we could have done but celebrate."  That's the way it should be with those of us already in the church.  It's not so much about us finding ourselves in the mud covered shoes of the prodigal, wandering aimlessly until we finally come to our senses and decide we've had enough.  Those stories are amazing stories, and I love hearing them...but...

...but, as Jesus was talking about the older son, the one who just didn't quite get it...he was talking about us. 

We are the ones in this story, many times, who sit back and pout because the church is doing ministry on the outside, instead of catering to our whims...we are the ones who want to spend the church dollars on programming and ministries that make us feel good, instead of spending those dollars outside the walls.  We are the ones who get upset when the pastor schedules lunch with a recovering addict who has just joined the fellowship, instead of sitting in our house drinking coffee. 

"But son...we had to.   I love you, and all that I have is yours, but when your brother came home, we had no choice but to celebrate because he was dead and is alive, he was lost and is found.  We had to...."

O God of the already found and the still looking, speak to me once again this day.  In those moments when I question the joy that heaven feels when one of yours turns toward home, show me where the party is so that I can celebrate with them.  Amen,