I do some of my best thinking on a rainy day. I know people who find rainy days to be a terrible burden to endure, but I find them a blessing. I always have. Rainy days, such as the one we are having in Cranberry today, remind me of my time in Nepal. As you know that was a life changing trip. The service team members and I were up so high that instead of the fog rolling in each morning, we were in the actual clouds and the rain seemed to come from all around us. It rained so much, and that rain was so cold, that it chilled us to the bone. But in our ‘chilled’ state, we still found the glory of God with us. So that is one thing that happens in my mind when I find a rainy day outside my window. . .
Thursday, October 29, 2020
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Today I want to share the words of Political Science professor Thomas L. Dumm. I believe that his words can be helpful to the church as we consider our culture and how we remember, and stay in contact with, others.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Today I am working from my home office. From time to time this practice becomes necessary. While my “church" office contains most of my library and pastoral resources, my home office has a different feeling. This is a more ‘informal’ space and I enjoy working from it when I need to.
Monday, October 26, 2020
As you know, this weekend we will celebrate worship from a different perspective—one of memory.
Thursday, October 22, 2020
After a month and a half of working on a project for the Presbytery, today was the day that my work was finished. I was presenting what I learned in my doctoral program to the Encouraging Churches to Flourish Skill Building Event. And if you have followed along with my “Pastoral Thoughts” this week, then you probably guessed that I was anxious about the whole thing. I know my material well. It took me 5 years to accumulate and finalize it. My conclusions are my own, and I am proud of what I learned.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Since I was a little boy, I regularly have been attacked by bouts of worrying. Worry, and the anxiety it produces, are both constant companions in my life—even to this day. Self-talk, affirmative actions, deep breathing, recalling events where I was successful, and other self-help practices are only so effective. I still face and address worrying often. Now though it is not as debilitating as it was when I was younger.
Now I have Jesus to help, and a family to re-affirm me, when I worry too much.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Have you ever had one of those days. . .Don’t roll your eyes now. It's a fair question to consider. Have you ever had one of those days?
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.”
Monday, October 19, 2020
As a parent sometimes there are moments when, despite our best intentions, there is just nothing that we can do in the moment to fix the situation. Certainly pain is present in what we witness, but that pain is unreachable at times. So, our only choice could be to dwell in the silence of the moment with the other person. I had that experience this weekend. Let me explain. . . .
Thursday, October 15, 2020
When it comes to reaching out as an evangelist, few individuals have had a greater impact on missionary work that James Hudson Taylor. Born in England in 1832, Taylor founded the China Inland Mission—it would later be changed to OMF International. As we know reaching out to people we are unfamiliar with can be challenging—to say nothing about reaching out to people we encounter every single day. But Taylor would not stop working for God and neither should we. Historian Ruth Tucker said of his work:
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Monday, October 12, 2020
I want to share with you a poem by Nigerian Poet, Ben Okri that I read this morning. The poem’s themes and structure necessitate a re-reading for many people. So I invite you to consider these words, and then perhaps, consider them again. We have the time today to do this—if we will make it. For although Ben does not reference God, or God’s mission directly, it is easy to find in this passage. For we know that we live in a world full of people drifting from one task to another, from one project to another, without stopping to consider God.
Sunday, October 11, 2020
As Paul finishes the letter to the Philippians, we begin to sense a level of finality in his words—as if he knows this will be all that he can say on the topic. After completing this letter, Paul will only have personal letters, like the ones that he writes to Timothy, left to pen.
The ministry that God began in Paul’s life on the Road to Damascus is coming to its end. Therefore, Paul’s tone sounds different as he concludes the letter.
Gone are the strong rhetorical devices that he uses to teach and admonish the people to follow God. Gone is the systematic theology that Paul is perhaps best know for penning—a theology we refer to often in the church today.
Now he has something different to say.
Now Paul reminds us as the listener that “The Lord is near” which is a clear and strong statement because Paul knows that we are often anxious in our lives and in the ministries we participate in.
Today I am focussing on verse 5 of this chapter because those words address our anxieties as the church and offer us a solution to those same struggles.
Move 1- anxiety
Let’s start by reflecting on pacing and productivity of our lives. . .
During the day we have the narcotic of busyness to satisfy our hearts and minds. We can, and many of us do, become so busy that we no longer notice the things which will later nag at our hearts; the issues, or persons, or events that refuse to be removed from our minds. During the day, they don’t matter as much because we are so busy.
As the cliche say, ‘time flies when you’re having fun,’ we might want to amend that by saying, ‘time flies and so we don’t notice.’ That busyness serves not just a distraction, but it is simultaneously the first-line of defense against our anxiety.
But as the day comes to its end. . . things change.
At night, when we are not busy, when we cannot sleep because of a racing, frenetic mind, we are undefended. . . and those same anxieties, which we did not address because we were so busy, grow and grow. They germinate in our minds because they are unchecked—nothing keeps them at bay when we are trying to sleep.
There aren’t just monsters that live under the bed for our children, but some of those same symbolic monsters reside in the minds of mature Christian men and women.
You see, you can’t argue yourself out of being anxious or being afraid about what is going to happen next. It is a cycle that feeds upon itself. The more anxious I become, the greater the feeling of anxiety becomes in direct relation. Then as the feelings live unchecked, we begin to wonder if our lives are completely out of control.
This is because anxiety is not rational so I can’t rationalize the fear away. The more anxious I become, the more I find myself powerless to address it, then the more it grows in my heart.
For instance, what parent stands at the door when their child is afraid of the monster in the closet, or the rumbling under the bed, and says dismissively, ‘We’ve talked about this, it isn’t real. So let’s go to sleep. . .” and then walks off??
No, that’s not how it works! . . . We rush to the child’s bedside. Taking their hand we reassure them that there is no monster waiting to get as soon as we leave the room. Their fear is an irrational fear they are dealing with, and so we have to respond differently.
Paul knows this to be true also as he writes his final parts of the letter to the church, and that is why he says, “the Lord is near.” That is a deliberate phrase for Paul. As we read it, we can feel something changing in our hearts because of those words.
When he says, “the Lord is near,” Paul is inviting his readers to remember their Hebrew heritage whenever their anxiety grows. And as they remember that heritage, and the God who heard their prayers in the Egypt, they remember their Hebrew worship practices which reminded them of the God who is present.
Their minds gravitate back to the words of the Psalms where the promises of God’s presence abide in written form. Paul is echoing for his listeners the idea that David and others spoke about, that God hears the prayers of the broken, God is present with those feel isolated and anxious.
“I am not going to rationalize it for you. I want to comfort you with these words,” Paul is saying. For Paul there is no greater ideal to fall back upon when fear could be the response to the issues of the day besides the aspirational words that comforted us as we read them: The Lord is near.
Move 2- Gentleness
From “The Lord is near,’ we are lead to Paul’s next concept from verser 5—the idea that we translate as ‘gentleness,’ or also, as the translation I read stated: ‘magnanimity.’
Let me say at this point, that we are not talking about gentleness as you could define it as one of a fruit of the spirit from Galatians. Once again, Paul is going deeper for us as he ends the letter to the Philippians.
Instead, this words refers to:
“A person of compassionate nature who is willing to be living above and beyond what is strictly fair. It amounts to showing concern and respect for the integrity of others and giving them the benefit of the doubt. In other words, it is the sort of quality necessary if there is to be unity among a diverse group of people.”
Again, not the fruit of the spirit. This gentleness brings us together as God’s people. It offers grace and kindness to the other person—especially if we do not agree with them.
For Paul, as we practice this ‘gentleness,’ this ‘magnanimity,’ we become aware of the fragility of the other person and their spirit, and rather than tread them down because we are too busy to dwell with them, we take the time, we make the time, to “be with” them. To listen to them. To let them teach us as we teach them—does iron not sharpen iron??
Patience is applied, then, in these relationships when we might want to apply judgment and cynicism because we are too busy, too quick to judge the other person, rather than take the time to listen and be. . . gentle.
This is Paul’s gentle, magnanimity, and it combats the anxiety we feel because it offers grace-filled space, from person to person, to grow and to learn together. It is literally translated, ‘fitting fairness,’ which is a far greater thing than ‘demanded fairness,’ or ‘blind fairness,’ or even, ‘political fairness.’
Paul wants the church to faithfully apply the correct amount of gentleness because we are giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, and because that person is so important to us that we would have it no other way.
Paul understands that as we practice this posture, as we become aware of the needs of each other, it helps us address our anxieties, and reach out to God in response to that learning.
One of the trickiest aspect of anxiety is that it can cause us to think that we are alone; that no one empathizes with us. As we wrongly believe that we are alone, we begin to believe that the church is not present to help us grow and heal.
But Paul reminds us that as we practice gentleness, as he described it, we are able reach and speak to God. This builds community. And as we speak to God, a letter that we thought was written to the body of Christ only in the 1st century, becomes a word to us personally in this context.
For we know churches and congregations whose attitude seems anxious today. . . Paul says, be gentle with them, be fair to them, remind them that the Lord is near.
I too know people, as I am sure you do, who do not worship with us at Plains, but they too are unable to sleep at night because of the stress and anxiety that the world puts on them. . . What would it look like to remind them that the Lord is near?
That is the work that Paul is leaving the church in Philippi to attend to as he finishes this letter and it is also what we are left with as this church today. . . “I urge you,” Paul begins as he speaks to just 2 people, to care for all of them, to pray for all of them, to rejoice with them, and listen to them without judgement or cynicism.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Today was a very early morning for Jennifer and I. We had an appointment downtown at the doctors’ office to attend to, and so the alarm clock was set for an usually early time. I groaned in response to the alarm as I sat up. But the morning went smoothly. . .
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
These words spoke strongly to me today as I thought about the work of the church in a community that is conflicted. We encounter so many people in our days whose defining traits are large doses of both cynicism and criticism. Hope is hard to muster for them. These people often carry their cynical ideas around ready to thrust them upon anyone who does not agree with their point of view. There is no longer space available to disagree and converse.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
At the time of this post, I have read the story of the Jesus feeding the 5000 to five of the seven CNS classes. The Half-pints, nursery, and Pre-K classes are filled with wonderful children who listen so well. This afternoon will be the final two times, for this month, to read to the children. Overall, I am happy to say that it has been a wonderful experience to read and listen to them. Watching them, watch me, read blesses my soul in a way that I find hard to quantify in this email. It is beautiful. Their innocence, in a world that is not innocent often enough, is refreshing.
Monday, October 5, 2020
So what do we focus our attention upon, and how does that choice impact us throughout our daily lives?
I wonder if you would pray with me for someone you have not met? Today I had my yearly physical with my doctor and it went very well. Heart...
I just had the most wonderful experience that I want to share with you. And as I share my story, I wonder if you can find your own way to sh...
As Vacation Bible School wraps us for another year, I find myself feeling blessed. . . and a bit tired. It has been a great week. I have wa...
I just returned to the office from visiting with some members of the church in the hospital. Their health is compromised, and as I leave the...