Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thoughts on Gratitude

Thoughts on gratitude that I gave at a campus-wide staff meeting last week.

Lately, the theme of gratitude has been coming up in my life.  And, even though Thanksgiving is still more than a month away, I decided that gratitude would be my topic for this morning.

It’s easy to think of gratitude on Thanksgiving, but it seems that once that day has passed, it’s even easier to fall into not being thankful until the next Thanksgiving.

But then I thought of people like Nic Vuijic, an Australian man with no arms and no legs who travels the world giving inspirational talks.  I watched a video of him on YouTube recently in which he talked about not giving up.  He demonstrated how even though it should be impossible to get up to a standing position from his stomach, he could do it.  He said that even if he failed 99 times, he’d still try.  And through this video he talked about how every day that he lives life, he is happy.  Happy.

And I thought, how many times do we repeat the same thing, thinking it is worthless?  It could be a task we find meaningless or mundane or even just  getting up every day, thinking we will be repeating many of the same tasks as the day before:  get ready in the morning, go to work, go home, eat dinner, deal with children if we have them, clean the house…so many things that can make it seem as if each day is mundane.
But can’t we find meaning in the mundane?

A few weeks ago at the If Jesus Were a Sophomore book discussion, we talked about where we can find God in the most ordinary of circumstances.  The author was surprised to find baseball being turned into God-activity and it altered his point of view.  He saw that what this church had done—starting a baseball league for inner-city youth, was just as much—if not more—of a way to see God at work than attending a church service, because it was meeting a desperate need for these children that would hopefully help to keep them off the streets.

Another person in the book wanted desperately to find God in the doing of life –working with youth, driving them to choir practice in a van, at the Laundromat.

So when I think about how Nic Vuijic is happy every day that he lives, it inspires me to be thankful for everything that I have and to look for the positive things in the most mundane aspects of life and even in the bad things that happen.

One thing that I have been trying to remind myself lately is that each day is brand new.  Each day we have is a new beginning, and each day we can look for things to be thankful for, no matter how small they are.
It could be things like being thankful for a working dishwasher, or thankful to have a conversation with a good friend, or thankful for dinner cooking at home in the crock pot.  It doesn’t have to be some big, grandiose thing.  The point is simply to be thankful.

And so here is a challenge for us all—what can we find, every day starting now, to be thankful for?  Keep a journal, scribble it down on a piece of paper, post it on Facebook, but be intentional about it.  Live a life of gratitude not just in November or on Thanksgiving Day, but every day.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sometimes, I Think Church is Boring

Waldorf College Chapel
September 28, 2011

You know, we often hear the phrase “God works in mysterious ways”, but sometimes, it actually is true! I’d been planning this message for about a week or so and even though I knew most of the content, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to start it. It reminded me of when I’d write the ends of my college papers before the beginnings of them. But then when I went to Monday Night Worship this week, and listened to Kenny Olson speak, and some of the things that he said were just a great segue into what I wanted to speak about today.

One of the things that Kenny mentioned was about the temple curtain being torn in two. No longer was God’s presence, what was called the Shekinah, limited to being experienced by one person—the high priest—going to a specific place—the holy of holies—once a year. God’s presence had broken out of the box it had been put in and was available to everyone, everywhere. There was no need to come to the temple; the temple had come to the people.

But today, when we hear the words “worship” or “church”, what comes to mind? Usually, a place we go on Sundays. Something we go to once a week to encounter God, and then we leave, and often any message we’ve heard is forgotten.

Sometimes, what we DO can be boring and routine, no matter what kind of church service we go to.

Some people think organ music is dreary. Other people get tired of singing the same praise chorus over and over…and over and over again.

Part of the problem is that all too often, our reasons for coming to chapel or church or any worship service is to GET something. We expect to be given the music we want and a message to inspire us. Putting it in the language of “Christianese”, we expect to be “fed”. And the only time we really think about giving something is at offering time, and that is often done grudgingly.
But is that really what church should be about?

Think about what we call church on Sunday (or whenever, since here on campus we have a variety of opportunities): we say “worship” or “service”. But what are those about—worship is about doing something for God. Service is about serving—either God or others. But too often, we make our worship services about me, me, me. We don’t really think much about how we are connecting with others.

A couple of summers ago I went to a conference in the cities about simple or organic church, and in the sessions that I attended, the guy leading the sessions said that church is messy, but never boring. Well, that has not been my experience of church. Messy? How could church be messy when everything is always “just so”. There’s an order to worship, and things that are orderly are not messy.

Matthew 18:20 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."

Do we believe that? Do we really believe that Jesus is present right here, right now? And not only right here and right now, but any time that 2 or 3 of us are gathered together. Think about that for a minute. It could be here, it could be any time two people are sitting in a dorm room having a discussion about God or the Bible or getting to know each other better on a heart level. When people are rejoicing together or when people are weeping together.

Romans 12:15 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Last week, Mary Mathiasen spoke about listening, not just with our ears, but with our eyes. I want to add to that and say that we shouldn’t just listen with our eyes, but with our hearts, and we need to listen to one another’s hearts and share those joys and troubles with each other.
Sometimes, it seems as if we still act as if we have to go to the temple to experience God’s presence. But Jesus changed all that. He told people that “something greater than the temple [was] here” (Mt 12: 6). And besides, what happened when he did show up to a scheduled worship experience?

In Matthew 12:9 he enters a synagogue, is asked about healing on the Sabbath, and when he actually does heal someone, “the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” (Mt 12:14). Or when he teaches in his own hometown, nobody believes that he really knows what he is talking about (Mat 13:54-58). Or when he reads from the scroll of Isaiah and tells them that he is fulfilling that prophecy, he gets them in such a rage that “they got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” (Luke 4:29).

Talk about church being messy but not boring. I think that was definitely the case when Jesus showed up.

Jesus’ real ministry happens more outside of the synagogues and the temple. It happens when he heals people, when he forgives people, when he lets them know that he cares about them and about their problems. And that was how Jesus made disciples.

At the end of Matthew, Jesus tells people “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

So let’s go DO that. Let’s not just go to a worship service—any worship service—and expect people to feed us what we want to hear. Let’s GO OUT and gather with 2 or 3 people at a time and know that the spirit of Jesus is with us. Let’s make disciples, not just believers. Let’s be the church in this world that we are meant to be. Let’s make sure that church is messy and never boring.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Waldorf College Chapel
August 31, 2011

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” --1 John 4:18
John 14:27 – Peace I give to you, My peace I leave you. I do not give to as you the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

What Are You Afraid Of?
Lately, I’ve had a couple of different conversations about fear and so I’ve done a lot of thinking about it. We all have fears, right? I think the number one fear that people have is public speaking, and quite frankly, I can attest to that fear. It can be scary getting up here and talking in front of people—and then when you add praying to it can be even worse! I also have a fear of pronouncing Mamisoa’s name incorrectly and so I always, always call her Sera even if I am thinking Mamisoa.

Many of you attending college for the first time may be experiencing fear and homesickness. You are entering a new world where you will be living with new people, experiencing new things, and that can be scary. You hope you will make good friends and be accepted and do well in class but college is a big difference from high school, and that fear of the unknown is always lurking.
Or maybe you are afraid because you aren’t sure what you are supposed to be doing with your life, or afraid of getting hurt when you play a sport, or afraid of forgetting your lines in a play.

Fear can grip us because we just don’t know what to expect. And if the outcome is not what we were hoping for, our fear can then give way to anger.

And when we are experiencing fear and anger and any bad stuff that is happening in our lives, it is SO hard to see how God can be at work. But sometimes, it is during those times when God is at work the most or when we realize we need God the most. These are the times when we can be vulnerable and open with each other.

And that’s really hard to do.

It’s so easy to pretend that everything is ok on the outside—think about how many times a day you see someone and they say “how are you?” and you answer “good” and the other person responds the same and you both go on your way. But is “good” the right answer? How many times do we respond that way when really, we are dying inside? We are afraid because a family member is dying or our parents are splitting up or we partied too hard on the weekend and don’t know what the consequences of that will be. Or we’re angry because someone we love lost a job or someone we love hurt us or the people in our lives just don’t seem to understand us.

We can’t let fear and anger take control of us.

When we do let them take control of us, it keeps us from really trusting God. And we have to trust him—in good times and in bad times—because unfortunately, we can only control so much of our lives, even though we want to control all of it.

Even though the book of Job in the Old Testament is a long book that can actually be kind of boring and very difficult to follow, Job makes a great point to his wife. When bad stuff happens to him, she tells him to curse God and die and he responds with “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" (Job 2:10). It’s really easy for us to say “Praise the Lord” when wonderful things happen to us but infinitely harder to do it when we are faced with the bad things in life, because that is when we ask “Why, God?” We don’t ask “why, God?” when the blessings come our way. Maybe that’s something we need to reverse at times—ask why God when the good things happen and praise him when the bad things happen.

Let’s go back to those verses that we heard earlier, particularly just one little phrase from the verse from 1 John. “perfect love casts out fear”.

What I love about this small phrase is that it tells me that God’s perfect love is bigger than anything I am experiencing (even though I don’t do a good job of remembering it). Also, the word “perfect” in our culture gives a connotation that goes along with perfectionism and we really need to make sure we don’t attribute that understanding here. In the Greek language that this was written in, the word there can also be translated as “complete” or “mature”. So the perfection that we haven’t reached isn’t about how good we are at love but our maturity in love. When we fear we are not loving as we should (and, love in this instance is agape love—the self-giving kind). So basically, we could potentially read the whole verse like this (I am nowhere near an expert in languages and translation; I can’t even read it well but I have tools to let me find out what the words are):

…mature, self-giving love throws away the fear…whoever fears has not reached mature, self-giving love…

And really…will any of us ever reach it? I think the only person who has accomplished that is Jesus. And so we can only rely on his love and strength to get through it. Which, if we back up a few verses, we see this:

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. --1 John 4:12

So it is God’s self-giving love that is made mature or complete in us…not our own.

We do not have to give in to our fear. This God that we believe in; this God that we believe is revealed in Jesus; this God that is present with us in the Holy Spirit, is the God that makes all things new, who can take that fear and turn it around into trust that we can have for Him…so that we do not have to be afraid, so that our fears can be cast out, thrown away, by His perfect love.