Sunday, December 16, 2012

Worship and Belief in Tragedy

I’ve written before about my conviction that we should mean the words we utter to God.  I’ve shared that when I’m in a worship service, I try to think about and to mean each word.  I don’t sing words that I don’t mean; that means sometimes I keep my mouth shut in worship.

Today I’m making myself form the words with my mouth.  I’m making myself sing words that I know to be true.  Even though tears stream down my face.  Even though it is hard to say them.

Today, we gather to mourn and to grieve the tragic loss of life, especially of life so young.

And I’m making myself say, “Holy.  You are holy.”

And even more difficult, “It is well with my soul.  Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’”

I’m intentional about what I wear when I’m part of leading my church in worship.  My clothing choice today is intentional.  I’m wearing a shirt today that reads, “I wanna believe.”  (It’s a Christmas shirt that actually refers to Santa.)  But today, I’m choosing to wear it to worship with some words from the Bible in mind,  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

I do believe.  I wanna believe.  Holy God, help my unbelief.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Unstuck, Part 2c

Once again, my message for today is "switch it up."  I've talked about switching up what you're reading about your faith and what you're reading in the Bible.  Now I'm talking about what you're doing, how you're serving God.

One of my seminary professors, Dr. Bagby, used to say that we'll never fully utilize all the gifts God has given us.  When he first said that, I didn't believe him.  I thought I knew which gifts God had given me and had shown me how he wanted me to use them for his glory.  But I was naive.

My spiritual gifts and inherent talents haven't changed.  But the ways I utilize them have. 

For example, I felt gifted in the area of care, listening, and being with people who were struggling.  I thought I used that gift to its max in caring for students.  That was great, but putting that gift to use in new ways has revitalized my spiritual journey.  Now, I get to care for parents of students, for people who serve with me, and others.  Today I was blessed to spend time with a woman I'd not met before who was in need of a pastor.  My time with her has impacted me, my heart, and my faith in dramatic ways.  It's the same gift, but I'm using it in new ways.

Another example is that I felt gifted in teaching.  I enjoyed (and still enjoy) teaching small groups of teenagers about faith, the Bible, and life.  I thought that was the best use of my teaching gift, and it fulfilled me.  It still does.  But then I was invited to be one of the Teaching Pastors at church, as in preaching to the adults and teenagers.  At first I declined the invitation, saying I didn't have the emotional energy to pursue an intense venture like that.  Then I reconsidered and accepted the invitation.  And it has transformed my spiritual life.  The five opportunities I've had in the last 18 months to teach have been significant moments in my spiritual journey.  It's the same gift, but I'm using it in new ways.

Changing up how I've served God in those two ways has challenged me, blessed me, and changed me.  The challenge part is key for me.  I can write a small group lesson for teeangers in about 10 minutes.  It's fun, fulfilling, and easy for me now.  Writing a Blue Christmas message, one to minister to people who are grieving this time of year, was a huge challenge for me.  Sometimes, the challenge is what we need.

So, if you're serving God in a way that is a good fit for you, that you love, that is pretty easy for you, then consider switching it up.  How else could you use that gift, in a way that would honor God, challenge you, and draw you closer to Him?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Unstuck, Part 2b

Yesterday I advocated switching up what you're reading if you find yourself spiritually stuck.  I was particularly referencing books about faith, Christian living, etc.  Today's post is about switching up what you're reading in the Bible.

When I first fell in love with reading the Bible, I read the book of Philippians.  And it's been my favorite ever since.  Philippians was understandable, accessible, and it helped me begin re-orienting my life.  Verses from Philippians pop in my head easily and often, and I can recite whole chunks to you.  I can even do a little of it in Greek.  If I just read whatever  I wanted in the Bible, then I would read the book of Philippians several times a year.  

I'm okay with re-reading Philippians every year or so.  But that cannot be the entirety of my Bible reading.  If I only read Philippians, then I will be stuck.

So, here are a few approaches that have helped me.  No, I'm not advocating a read-through-the Bible plan.  My husband can do that, and does do that, regularly.  It works for him.  It doesn't really work for me.

About this time last year, I read the book of Hebrews.  (I've done this with other books, too.)  I wasn't very familiar with the book.  I hadn't learned much about it in seminary.  I needed a challenge, something new, to get me unstuck.  It now rivals Philippians as my favorite book.  I go back to it regularly to re-read passages that are now foundational for my life as a Christ follower.  

Early in my endeavor to read Hebrews, I was puzzled by the Christology (the theology of who Jesus was) in this letter.  So, I did some research.  I'm not talking about reading the footnotes in the Bible kind of research; I'm talking about some serious digging in commentaries and academic texts.  And it was fascinating, and it got me unstuck.  I didn't camp out in the commentaries and read them cover-to-cover (like my husband does), but spending time in significant research was what I needed to do to love God with all my mind.

The other approach to the Bible that has been huge for me in the last year or two is word and phrase studies.  I'll get captivated by a word like "incarnation" or "remember" or a phrase like "with you," and I'll go on a hunt.  I'll look for where the word and/or idea shows up elsewhere in Scripture.  I look up lots of references and make lots of notes.  Then I attempt to consolidate what I've learned, often in a poem.  Last week I went on a journey through the idea that God was "with us," God is "with us," and God will be "with us."  I took some other people on the journey with me.  (You can see the sermon at  Personal study like that sucks me in, captivates my mind, and eats up my time without my even knowing it.  I'm absolutely NOT stuck when I'm doing a study like that.

So, switch up what you're reading.  Try something new.  Tackle a new book of the Bible, one that may require a little research.  Try a different approach to reading the Bible.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Unstuck, Part 2

This is on my blog instead of the Unstuck blog I had been authoring, because these are my words and my ideas; they are NOT commissioned by PCC.

As I mentioned yesterday, we just finished our "Stuck" series in which we presented five tools to get someone unstuck spiritually.  For people who are new to church, new to faith, who decided to follow Jesus and just didn't know how to start, I think the five tools will be extremely helpful.

But the people I've talked to over the years who are painfully, ashamedly, dishearteningly stuck are ones who are serving, reading the Bible, praying, giving, and participating in community.  They've obeyed the rules.  They've followed instructions.  And yet, they find themselves stuck.

A conventional response to such people is that there is an unconfessed sin, or there is an area of their lives that's off-limits to God, and that is the problem.  That certainly can be the problem.  That should be investigated.

But there are other possibilities, too.  I'd like to share some of what I've learned with the chance that maybe someone else out there will extend themselves some grace and keep their faith.

First, I recommend Renovare resources.  These have helped me experience Christian spirituality in new-to-me, rich ways.  James Bryan Smith and Richard J. Foster are two authors associated with Renovare who have been of significant help to me. 

I found myself in a place where some of the "popular" Christian Living books were just not reaching me where I was.  Those books have their place, and they are certainly effective for people; that's why they're popular.  But, if they're not working for you, try something else.  Try Smith and Foster, or Nouwen, or go for some classics like Practicing the Presence of God or writings by St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Thomas a Kempis, John of the Cross, etc.  We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  We can lean on them and learn from them.  Sometimes when we're stuck and out of words for God and to God, we can use the time-tested, time-honored words of those who have gone before.  Sometimes these readings can catalyze us back to the spiritual life we are accustomed to.  Sometimes these readings (as has been my experience) take me to a place that feels more solid, more steady, more sacred.

And, if you're stuck, I recommend Barbara Brown Taylor's When God Is Silent.  In a time and place of Christianity when we hear preachers say, "God told me," "I heard God," almost every week, this book, by a preacher, acknowledges and speaks into another reality.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The "A" Team

We recently finished a series at church called, "Stuck."  We presented five tools that can prevent one from getting spiritually stuck or get one unstuck.  One of those tools--serving--we presented by acknowledging a few servers each week and then by having an army of servers go onto stage, demonstrating how many people it takes to make PCC happen.

We didn't have a service specifically donated to serving because of scheduling with Christmas.  I'd like to share a few thoughts about serving from my perspective.

First, I just finished writing 16 thank you notes for a student ministry event last night.  I coordinated the event, and even I didn't realize how many people it took to make last night happen until I started writing the notes.  Those 16 people (and their spouses in some cases) gave of their time and energy, and in some cases risked the security of their homes, to let crews of junior high and high school students have fun celebrating Christmas and building relationships.  

It takes people to make ministry happen, and not just those called to vocational ministry.  The service of all those people last night made a difference to the students who work hard, by my side, to make student ministry happen; they got to relax and to enjoy for once.  It made a difference to the student who was with us for the second time, still working to form relationships, still deciding if our student ministry is the place for her.

Second, I get to work with some amazing adults and students on a weekly and monthly basis.  I could write a lot, a whole lot, about them!  But I'll summarize today by saying that as we work side-by-side, me an ordained pastor with a Master's of Divinity, them responding to God's call on their life to reach and to guide students in our area, we do more than just make ministry happen; although that's certainly enough.  We encourage one another, listen to one another, have fun with one another, extend grace to one another, and love one another.  We are the body of Christ.  We are friends.  We are brothers and sisters.  

The people who partner with me to do ministry are people I can count on, in every area of my life.  They have my back, and I have theirs.  They care about me and my family, and I care about theirs.  They seek God and his direction with me.  They share successes and disappointments with me.  

A few of these people help me discern God's leading for our student ministry, from a place above the week-to-week and month-to-month programs.  I think of them as my "A" team; not just because their names are Aimee, (the other) Angie, Amanda (Mandy), and Erik...well...just go with it.  They are amazing at what they do.  Their commitment to God and to his teenagers is steadfast and fierce.  They make me better, and they have made countless teenagers' lives (and their families' lives) better, too.  They make an impossible job possible.  They make it more than possible; they make it a blast.  I'm convinced that the fun, love, and support we show one another sets the tone for the students, too.  With this team by my side, I'm willing to tackle lock-ins and 90 people on a mission trip, and letting some of them take students out of the country without me, and other missions and ministry opportunities that I otherwise would not attempt on my own.