05 September 2007


How, I wonder, is a church different from a country club?

Sometimes not very much at all.

If so, how is a church a better expression of community than a football team?

In theory, I can give you a lot of good reasons. Stuff about the body of Christ, the communion of the saints, and the work of the Holy Spirit always in our midst. In reality? Many times churches fall far short of the hopes and dreams we have for them.

And that's disappointing.

Some have been so frustrated by this that they've taken a radical position disavowing all that has gone on before and have left behind the congregations in which they have been a part. I recently heard of one such individual who's stopped attending any local church and simply taken to communicating via a blog and e-mailing and calling with fellow Christians around the country to create his own "community."

It sounds nice, I suppose...and I know this person's had a really tough time of it---but I'm afraid to do so is to take a dangerous step. And not because there's anything magical or automatic about church attendance.

I'm afraid because it's easy.

Easy to proclaim a desire for community over individualism yet to reject the community you've been given and fashion one of your own personal making. Easy because you don't have to deal anymore with Christians that frustrate you, only those of your own persuasion. Easy because there may be no more resistance to your ideas and hopes and dreams and mistakes and meanderings.

Sounds good at times. But it completely ignores the fact that this community, the Church, only exists through Jesus Christ. That means it should and must include liberals and conservatives, traditionalists and progressives, bores and ideologues, scholars and simpletons. All whom Jesus loves.

People we adore and people who frustrate us all smashed together in the same congregation. People who would never exist in the same place without Jesus Christ and whose continued presence in each other's midst is only by His grace.

What is meant by all of this? Well, I think it means we don't get to decide who's in our church. That's God's call...and something that I think we just shouldn't mess with.

03 September 2007

I'm a Conservative?

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Church History--a discipline with which I fear I have become far too familiar over the course of this summer--provides us with a number of examples by which we might compare the happenings of our contemporary lives.

One of these comes to us from the Reformation.

During that tumultuous time in the history of the Church, two men stand as examples of diverging ways of looking at the work of God in this world. The first of these is Erasmus--scholar, writer, Catholic churchman, satirist and much more. He believed in the cause of learning and remain faithful to his religious ideals throughout his life--questioning and correcting yet never bolting the great Church of Rome.

Then there's Martin Luther--scholar, preacher, Reformer extraordinaire. Though starting out deeply enmeshed within the Catholic framework, his efforts at reform were rebuffed by those higher up and subsequently bolted from the church of his youth.

Two men. One a classic conservative--staying close to the ways of the past yet working to correct abuses within. One a sort of liberal--freeing faith from the chains of the past and starting over with a new idiom and rallying cry.

It's the same choice many face today when considering the sometimes sorry state of our churches. And it's not an easy one either.

I've come down on the side of Erasmus. And I really think I'm right. There's just so much potential within the church and so much danger in doing away with the inherited structure altogether.

Some good friends, however, are starting to head Luther's way. They just cannot abide what they've seen and experienced in the churches they've been and feel abandoned and betrayed by the institutions of Christianity. We've debated, argued, talked...yet here we are--Erasmus and Luther--both agreeing changes must be made yet for all our differences just staring at each other across a room.

What now, I wonder?

12 September 2006

What I Long For

Today was the day for faithfulness. In some sense, like many of the other fruit it is a rather esoteric principle that contains little extra actions that need be taken. I mean, hopefully I'm faithful already. Or, at the very least, not unfaithful.

But it does make one think. What, after all, need I be faithful to? What is it in my life that requires my dedication? My long obedience? My steadiness?

My relationship with God. My relationships with others. My commitments as a student. My calling as a minister. My duty as a son. The list goes on.

Faithfulness makes me think of my grandfather...he was always a stickler for it. For being dependable. For keeping your word. Its something I'll always remember about him. It's something I believe in.

It's something I believe in so much that, as I thought about it today, one needs to be careful about how much they pledge to be faithful to. How much they commit. For if being faithful truly means being steadfast and fully present to the commitments we make, spreading ourselves too thin with a multitude of promises is almost as bad as casually ignoring them.

Turns out priorities are important even when deciding what to be faithful to.

Both lazy disregard for commitments and stretching our bounds with pledges too many runs the risk of being unfaithful. And that's something all of us--especially us overachieving pastors--need always keep in mind.

11 September 2006

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

I'm not perfect. Like so many others, I falter occasionally and give into my own selfish desires and casual laziness. I'm neither the nicest person nor the kindest, and I know it.

That said, I feel that in general I'm a pretty good guy. Though imperfect, I do try my best to focus upon the right and do the good thing. Which is, I suppose, why reflecting on the fruit of the spirit known as "kindness" and "goodness" has for me been a curious thing.

You see, my problem has not so much been that I've been bad or unkind these past two days...but rather that my actions in this direction have stood out too little from my baseline behavior. As a Christian and a pastor, these traits are often a part of who I am and how I comport myself (however imperfectly). Trying to be "extra kind" feels a little like forcing the issue when there are no such opportunities.

Yet in the midst of all of this, I was able to reflect a little more today on goodness and kindness through a set of circumstances. You see, today I had decided to spend my time fasting (something I haven't done for a little while and felt that I should). This went alright until I ran into a friend from college who had just moved to Princeton.

Having forgotten to help them move in earlier in the day and wanting to welcome this friend to town, I considered offering to take them to dinner. Though aware of my previous commitment to not eat, I knew that the kind and good thing to do would be to forgo my fasting in favor of greeting an old friend.

So I made the decision.

As I was doing so, I was reminded of Jesus' teaching and call to remember the true life of faith...and wondering if through this experience He was reinforcing in me God's call to make sure nothing came in the way of "true religion" and a loving faith.

It will be something to think about as I turn my attention tomorrow to....faithfulness.

"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6

09 September 2006


The more I think of it today, the more I believe patience is not simply about waiting around for what we want to happen. Despite what it might seem, being patient has relatively little to do with wasting time.

Rather, its about not wasting our time and energy on worry. Not being caught up in the concerns of the future and perhaps failing to pay attention to the present.

From a certain point of view, maybe patience is just about learning to appreciate each moment and living them to the fullest.

And I like that.

"Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!" Luke 12:24

08 September 2006


Peace was the order of the day during my little tour through the fruits of the Spirit.

Yet for some reason I found it a bit hard to actually "practice" peace today.

Not that I wasn't peaceful...I think I was. It's just that I don't know if there were many opportunities for me to be at peace beyond the occasional squelching of common irritation or impatience at the smaller stressors of life.

I thought perhaps that I might try my hand at being a peacemaker...yet there too I found little opportunity beyond the exigencies of my life's normal course.

I suppose the from a certain point of view today should be characterized a success. Problem is: it just didn't feel out of the ordinary.

Maybe that's a good thing. Perhaps I'm just normally a peaceful person. Perhaps God has created me this way and His Spirit has worked in me in this manner.

Whatever the case, probably the most important thing for me to remember is that any peace worthwhile doesn't come by our efforts alone--the worlds' efforts. They come from God.

How does that work? That's something to think about.

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." John 14:27

07 September 2006

Down In My Heart

In this day focused on joy, I found myself sorely tempted to be angry. You see, my senior pastor had asked if I could help a lady in our church move some of her possessions. A quick job, I thought...so myself and a man from the church traveled to her apartment to move what was needed.

Apparently, I thought wrong. What had been described as a "shed" was rather a large closet stuffed to the brim with tons of stuff. Old toaster ovens. An open bottle of detergent. A school desk. Clothes. Heavy boxes.

My friend and I had to move the things from the storage room, down the stairs, into a van, across the street, and into her new apartment. Not exactly what I had planned on.

Two and a half hours later, we were done. In that time, I had sure opportunity to be less than joyful. And at moments I was.

Yet for the most part, I had what I felt was a certain joy. Not happiness, mind you....but joy. A trust and thanksgiving to God for what he has provided and a kind of satisfaction with the work he has given me. It's been a bit of a theme today in all I've been doing. Just, well....a kind of peace and rejoicing in the place God has put me. And that's something I should dwell upon more often.

This morning I read from Psalm 4. Verses 6-8 helped me see--and learn, I think--what I did today.

"Many are asking, "Who can show us any good?"
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.

You have filled my heart with greater joy
than when their grain and new wine abound.

I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O LORD,
make me dwell in safety."

06 September 2006

All You Need

Today I attempted love. Attempted to reflect upon it and actually live it out. That was the goal.

I started reading a little 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John...I prayed a bit, and then headed out into the day.

Along the way I learned a little about myself. Or rather was reminded.

It all happened during a lunch meeting I was having with some fellow ministers. Near the end of our time, one of the fellows there was sharing about his mother's cancer. He indicated that the prognosis was not good (only four to six months). A tough situation--and one that I was attempting to give attention to.

The trouble was, as time ran on I began to be distracted. To be impatient. To want to be elsewhere. And as that was beginning to happen, I came face to face with my own apparent lack of love.

Why, after all, was I so impatient? Where was my love? What kind of a person am I?

I share this not to show how horrible I am...because there are certainly other ways in which I have loved today. Rather I say what I say because it shows me how far I have to go in love. How much I need to let the Spirit work in me.

Because in this day devoted to love it still took conscious effort for me to do so.

It's something to pray about--and keep in mind even as I turn tomorrow to...joy.

05 September 2006

There Is No Law

Tomorrow I am--together with a friend--going to begin an experiment. No chemicals or mathematical equations involved here, but rather the inner workings of mind, action, and spirit.

You see, tomorrow I'm going to begin to really think about the "Fruits of the Spirit" found in Galatians 5:22-23. There, Paul lists what he considers to be nine essential characteristics of the Christian alive in the Spirit:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

I've been a faithful churchgoer and believer for some time now, and I can tell you that we Christians hear about this fruit a lot. We learn it when we're in Sunday School. We read it every time we pass through that part of the Bible. It's a part of the Christian vocabulary...and a good part.

But as with so much else, I feel like I haven't necessarily given enough attention to these spiritual traits. Haven't really focused on what they mean. Haven't really seen them as more than a nice list. Haven't taken the time to think about how they would really be lived out.

So that's what I'm doing now. Starting tomorrow, for each of the next nine days I am going to attempt to live out the fruit listed in Galatians 5 one by one. I do this not to try to prove I'm better than anyone else nor to attempt to make myself into something that only God's Spirit can make me, but rather so that I can understand more about what God calls the Christian to be and hopefully allow Him to work something new in me.

That's the plan. Join along if you like. Tomorrow is: Love.

31 July 2006

Misplaced Hope

Last night I finished reading That Hideous Strength, the final part of C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. Its an interesting set of books that seek to retell the story of God and His work from a more cosmic--and lively--perspective. In the final volume, the forces of science ally themselves with more sinister spiritual powers in an attempt to achieve their nefarious ends, while a stalwart band of humans find themselves guided by angelic beings to offer the necessary resistance.

Its an engaging book, and one I understand much better now than when I initially read it in my high school days.

One of the characters that jumped out to me during this readthrough was Mark Studdock. Simply stated, he is a scholarly man torn between his desire to be identified with the "in crowd" (in this case those allied with the forces of darkness) and the more simple and authentic life he left behind long ago.

While in some sense his dilemma is nothing more than the old spectre of peer pressure writ large, I still can't help but identify with it. For though age has given me some distance from this stereotypically teenage plight, from time to time I can't help but get the twinges of desire for my own increased social mobility, standing, and respect. I get the feeling that I want to be something more in everyone else's eyes and that if I just try a little harder or politick a little more it can be so.

It's easy to fall into that trap...to want so badly the approval of our peers--or of a single person--that we'll bend and fold and shape ourselves into all sorts of contortions to arrive at that desired outcome.

Reaching beyond ourselves for something more is understandable. It's human. But denying who we are while doing that puts us in the gravest danger--the danger of losing ourselves and becoming a flat and lifeless parody of those around us.

And if we're really willing to do that? Then we're in quite a bit of trouble.

How much better the final fate of Lewis' Studdock, who in the end decided against the foolish path of comfortable accomodation and quickly felt "the relief of no longer trying to win these men's confidence, the shuffling off of miserable hopes...the straight fight, after the long series of diplomatic failures, was tonic."

Some days we all could use a bit more of that tonic as we begin to fight for who we're really supposed to be--regardless of the shifting sands of popular opinion or public approval.

Its true whether we're teenagers or not. And that's a fact.