December 2017 INTERIM PASTOR’S PONDERINGS
Here we go again. The annual “War on Christmas.” I’m not sure exactly when or by whom there was a declaration of war, and I find myself increasingly disturbed by the use of the term “war” to describe what is happening in our culture. Real wars, with real casualties, abound in our world this Christmas season. Refugees in the millions. Starvation. Hatred abounding and destruction everywhere. Suffering and hopelessness. That’s real war. The so-called War on Christmas in this country is not even an inconvenience. As a people, we are very good at fighting shooting, bombing, killing wars. Not so good with wars fought in some other way. Consider, we declared War on Poverty. Poverty has won. We declared War on Drugs. Drugs have won. We just don’t seem to do very good in a war that’s fought with ideas and relationships and won by enhancing life rather than by dropping bombs and firing missiles. Just consider the battlefields of the so-called War on Christmas. It’s primarily words. Do we say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? To say the latter is to launch a battle in the war against Christmas. Christmas tree or Holiday tree? Do these really deserve to be called battles in a war?
The reality is that there are two Christmases celebrated in our culture every year. There is the secular Christmas of Santa and winter wonderlands and exchanging cards and gifts and family gatherings. These are not evil things and bring great joy to many people. Then there is the Christmas that is a spiritual remembrance of God’s entry into his world. And a reminder that he comes into our lives and our world over and over and over again for those who are looking for his appearing. We really need to keep the distinction clear in our minds. The secular Christmas is part of our culture, and it is celebrated by many people who are not Jesus followers. Many of us who are Jesus followers also participate in and enjoy this secular Christmas. That’s not a problem, unless we also try to insist that the secular Christmas celebrations also affirm the values of the spiritual Christmas. That is the boundary along which the war clouds quickly gather.
It is not possible for anyone to win a war against Christmas. The reality of Christmas as a spiritual celebration exists in us totally apart from anything those who celebrate only the secular Christmas can say or do. No one has the power stop you from saying all the “Merry Christmases” you want to share. An employer, however, does have the right to instruct employees who are representing the business to greet shoppers with a “Happy Holidays” in order to include all the business’ customers in the secular celebration of Christmas.
While no one has the power to rob us of our spiritual Christmas, it is possible for those of us for whom Christmas is a truly spiritual journey to surrender its significance. We do that when we allow ourselves to be drawn into behaving in ways that reflect the culture and not the Christ. That would include the concession that someone, anyone, can somehow steal or destroy our spiritual Christmas. We can always find – or be – God appearing once again! So if you really want to make this a spiritual Christmas, thus keeping Christ in Christmas, the only person who has the power to stop you from doing so is yourself. Feed the hungry. Comfort the grieving. Soothe the hurting. Welcome the stranger. And support those who are doing that in ways and places where you as an individual are not able to do so. Even if they don’t claim to do it in Jesus’ name sometimes. As our text last Sunday from Matthew 25 made clear, when you do those things, you are doing the work of Jesus even if you don’t realize it. So have it! Make this the most spiritual, Jesus-like Christmas of your whole life. Merry Christmas! And Happy Holidays!
November 2017 INTERIM PASTOR’S PONDERINGS
Next week I will be attending an Intentional Interim Ministers Workshop sponsored by the Center for Congregational Health in North Carolina. It will give me the opportunity to be with others who are also actively involved in Intentional Interim Ministry. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to pick some brains and to ask some questions.
I’ve been looking forward at where we are going in our journey together. I’m asking myself what do I need to do that I’m not doing now or not doing well enough. We all want to get to the same place. That time when your new pastor joins you to begin your journey together. And we all want it to happen as soon as possible. But even more than that, we want that new relationship be a long and successful one. And that, in turn, means continuing to work through the IIM process in a way that will confront the issues that might keep that from happening. And we will.
But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do now toward the end we all want. There are several things that will be required if that new relationship is as successful as all of us want it to be. So here are some things that you can begin doing TODAY to make preparation for that day.
Accept the fact that change will be required. Change is the one constant with which we have to deal. It is literally true that not to change is to die. But most of us prefer to be able stay just like we are. After all, we are here because we like what’s here. We are living and ministering in a time of transition, and the change is coming faster than ever. To try to hold on to what has been in such a time is an invitation to disaster. Accept this and be ready to move forward and explore what will make tomorrow better than today. You don’t have to wait. You can begin today.
There are fewer of you now than there have been. That means that you are going to have to accept more responsibility for what happens. If you care about Calvary Hill’s ministry and future in this community, you will be called on to be a bigger part of making that successful. Each one of you. You will need to give more of all those things that are required of followers of Jesus. More of your gifts. More of your time. More of your resources. Yes, one of the needs is for a stronger financial base to deal with the expenses facing you with building issues that need attention. God’s abundance is shared through people and will only meet the needs when God’s people are good stewards of the gifts and are sacrificial in their giving. This is also something that you can begin to do today.
Everybody wants more people to be part of Calvary Hill, and the Mission statement adopted includes welcoming all to join the journey. But you cannot welcome others by seeing them as in some sense those who will help pay the bills. They are people with whom you need to build relationships and help them see and experience what you see and experience in Calvary Hill. You can begin to do that today.
And the best thing you can do is to reach out in love to your community by growing together in Christ-like love, sharing God’s love with the community and the world, along with welcoming all to join you in this journey. I believe that to the degree you actually make this your mission in your life, you will begin to impact the community in ways even greater than what you are doing today. If you want to do the best thing you can do to strengthen Calvary Hill and increase the odds for a successful result in the search for a new pastor, then begin to live out this mission. And you don’t have to wait another day. You can begin today.
Yes, there is still work to be done. But even out here in the wilderness, these are things that you can begin to do right now. Things that will make an impact on you personally, on Calvary Hill as a community, and on those who experience Christ in you and your ministry among them. You can do it. God will bless it. Will you start now?
October 2017 PASTOR’S PONDERINGS
What is happening here? “Blood moons.” Earthquakes. Heat waves and wild fires. Major hurricane after major hurricane. Blood running in our streets. Fifty-nine peope dead from a gunman in Las Vegas. What does it mean? Some say it’s God judgment on us for … well, for something. That “something” depends upon the perspective of the speaker. Most recently, Pat Robertson opined that the Las Vegas shooting was the result of the total lack of respect for President Trump. Others say these judgments are for having elected President Trump. Is God responsible for everything that happens? Nothing that happens? Some things that happen? Each of us has to wrestle with that question. And I’ve heard it asked in several forms over the last couple of weeks. There is nothing new about this question.
I’ve wrestled with it on a personal level. Do I blame God for deafness of my sons? Do I blame God for the death of my 3-month-old grandson? I recently heard someone say of a young father who died tragically, “God needed him more than we did.” Really? More than his wife? More than his young son? God took this young father in order to fulfill His own needs at the expense of a young wife and their son? What kind of God is that? At the least, a very needy God! I fully understand that there are some people who find comfort in believing that everything that happens is part of some master plan of God – a plan which we are not supposed to question. I am not one of those who believe that. If I believed that God “took” the life of my grandson, or that young father, or that God caused the death and suffering in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Mexico by sending hurricanes and earthquakes, or was somehow responsible for the shooting of the people in Las Vegas, then I would walk away from what I do and from any association with that kind of God. That is not the God enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth.
Here is what I do believe. God has shared the gift of life with us. He offers to join us in that journey, but will not force His presence upon us. And life can be messy. And painful. And sometimes very random and cruel. Where is God in all of that? Right there with us. But that’s not what we want. What we want is for Him to make it all go away, to fix it. Cure the cancer. Raise the dead. Right the wrongs. Punish the evil doers. Instead, the cancer often metastasizes. And the dead are still dead. And evil seems to flourish. And we are told not to ask any questions. Instead, accept it all as God’s will, because we really want to believe that there is some meaning to it all. I find myself unable to do that. Instead, I ask the “Why?” question. And I stand next to Job and shake my fist at God and struggle to understand what is beyond my comprehension. I weep. And God weeps with me. I search for God’s face amidst the pain and suffering, and I find it in the tears of those who share my suffering. Those who are there with me, even if they can do nothing to change the circumstances. They are for me exactly what God promised to be – with me. Some say that’s not enough. In my experience it’s all I’ve got – and, somehow, mysteriously it’s enough.
September 2017 PASTOR’S PONDERINGS
We’ve talked a lot during the last month about the power of silence as we have tried to hear God’s whisper in that silence. I have found it to be a meaningful experience and hope you have, too. I plan to make it an ongoing part of my life.
Silence. Sometimes it is a pleasant respite from the usual noise of contemporary life. Sometimes it is so loud that it drowns out all the normal sounds of living. It can be renewing and refreshing. It can also be depressing and even devastating. For me, it really isn’t about the physical sounds -- the sound waves that move through the air and stimulate our ear drums, which in turn sends electronic signals to the area of the brain designed to and charged with interpreting the meaning of such signals. God (and my wife) know I have enough trouble with those sounds. That’s why I wear hearing aids, which do help but which also cannot take the place of the kind of natural hearing I’m losing. Many, but by no means all, of those sounds aren’t worth hearing.
The sounds I do miss when they grow silent are those internal voices of mind and spirit. Sunday morning is coming and I will step into the pulpit and must have something to say. But what? Where are the voices when I need them? Could it be that the voice is actually in the silence and not in words? In such cases, I usually start thinking, talking, writing and see where the process takes me. Like now, in this space. I begin without knowing where I’m going or where I will end up or whether the journey will even be worthwhile. We’ll see.
There is a kind of silence, however, that is actually painful. Noise can be physically painful when it is loud enough, but silence can be emotionally, spiritually painful when it seems to be complete in the face of life’s challenges. When a hurricane devastates an area, taking lives and leaving chaos in its wake. Why did God make hurricanes? Silence. A parent is abusive toward a child and there is no one there to prevent it. Why not? Where is God? Silence. Jesus said that the meek shall inherit the earth, but it seems to me the earth is already firmly in the hands of the greedy and powerful. Who will stop them? Silence. I’m asked by people I love and care about why people treat others so mean and with such cruelty. I know the theological answer, but that’s not enough. I don’t know an answer that can still the Silence. Cancer. Alzheimer’s. HIV/Aids. Malnutrition. People suffer. Good people. Praying people. People who make the world a better place. Why? Silence.
There are plenty of folks out there who seem to have their answer. Just in the last 24 hours I’ve learned that Hurricane Harvey was God’s judgment against the State of Texas and its elected representatives. And that it was God’s judgment against Houston for having elected a gay mayor. I’ve heard many such pronouncements made in the aftermath of such disasters and I have noticed that the judgment is always aimed at someone who the speaker already doesn’t like. Additionally, a lot of seemingly innocent people always seem to have to pay a terrible price by sharing in that judgment. I’ve never heard anyone proclaim that such a disaster is God’s judgment on me or my side. Never! Isn’t it interesting how God works to punish my enemies?
Here is where my journey brings me. In silence is mystery. In mystery is God. Or not. Does that help? Of course not. But it’s true. Those times when the silence overwhelms and challenges us can be times when we are thrust deeply into the Mystery that just might give us more than answers. If we can learn to trust the goodness and grace of what we cannot understand – but have seen in Jesus – maybe we will have heard much more than we ever thought possible. A holy presence for our entire journey. Just maybe. Or not.