Tuesday, October 31, 2023

I Wonder--October 31

At some point tonight, pallets of Christmas decorations will finally come out of their hiding. Shrink wrap will be cut away and boxes opened. Any last vestiges of Halloween candy, costumes, and decoration will go on clearance; room must be made for Christmas. 

Now I am one who loves Christmas and the joy that comes with the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. But I wonder. . . have we not forgotten something? 

And no, I don't mean Thanksgiving (which is also important). By rushing past Halloween, and headlong into Christmas, perhaps we are missing what All Hallows Eve truly means. It is not about unlimited amounts of sugary candy and it is also not about haunted houses or smashing pumpkins on the street. That is what the culture has taught us. Instead, All Hallow's Eve (better known as Halloween) literally means "the day before All Saints Day"--which is November 1st. 

All Saints Day celebrates the lives of the saints of Jesus' church. It celebrates the known, and the unknown, those who served the Lord faithfully before entering into the Resurrection. November 1st is a time of memory and reflection. It is a time where the church comes together reflectively and considers the faithful of every time and place who served the Lord. 

On All Saints Day I will call to mind members of my family who have returned to be with God. I will remember the lessons that they taught me about faith.  I will choose to remember. . . 

I will remember the church my grandparent's, Len and Carol, helped found in Cleveland and how I can still see grandpa's labelling in every church cabinet. I will remember singing around my grandmother's piano--sometimes in tune with her (often not) from her red hymnal. 

I will remember my father teaching me about the importance of church attendance and how my faith would grow if I listened. I will remember the Bible that he bought for JonMark when my son was first born. He told me to give it to him when JonMark was ready. 

I will remember my Nana, Adeline, talking to me about the saints of the Catholic church and how important her little parish in Pennsylvania was to her faith. And I will also remember how she whispered when she came to grandpa Frank's grave as he let him know that she was there and gently pulled the weeds out from around his stone.

There are many others that I will remember. . . and I know it is a practice that the Lord will be with me in.

Tomorrow is the day that we can intentionally remember the saints of our church. As you sneak a Reeses cup tomorrow, I wonder who might you remember? Maybe take some time on All Satins Day to practice remembering and see who God calls to your mind. 

Monday, October 30, 2023

I Wonder--October 30

If the Church is not careful it can become too practically-based, or too praxis-oriented. In doing so, the church can move away from its primary calling to dwell in Christ. If we become too practical in our mission work, we could lose the theological underpinning and the call that motivated us to leave the church grounds and care for the community.

From my perspective the temptation is real and we need to pause and consider how we move forward with Christ.  

I witnessed this temptation firsthand here at Bethesda recently in the number of mission programs that we began recently. Bags of food to our community, lunches to children who are out of school for a week, candy at Trunk or Treat, Grief Share support, we could become so focused on the practice of mission that we miss the Christ who walks with us into the community. We could miss the Christ who dwells. 

At Trunk or Treat I saw a familiar face come around the corner. This person, whose name I do not know, received several lunches from us during the second week of October. During that week, I walked to this family's door and handed them a couple brown bag lunches each morning. I handed them a full sack of food on one day. On the final day of the lunch program, we included an invitation to Trunk or Treat which was coming soon. (Seriously who does not like a little Halloween candy!) 

And this family came. 

Did they come for free candy or did they come because we displayed Christ's love for them? 

The only one who knows that answer for certain is God. 

This family and I made eye contact--but in a quiet way. They did not acknowledge me or anyone from the church who brought them food that week. But they did smile ever-so-subtly as their daughter came up for candy, a pumpkin, and a cross necklace. 

Stanley Hauerwas wrote: 

"The most important social task of Christians is to be nothing less than a community capable of forming people with virtues sufficient to witness to God's truth in the world." 

I wonder how often our social practices as a church, or your personal practices, seek to 'witness to God's truth in the world?' 

Maybe take some time and reflect with the Lord about this. . . 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

I Wonder--October 25

This morning while preparing for the day, I took my eyes off my task and sliced into right thumb on the outside. (If you want something to slow you down, try cutting the thumb on your dominant hand and see how productive you are). 

Although it bled and bled, the cut was nothing a band-aid and some peroxide couldn't handle. Honestly, as I write these words it's that thumb that keeps tapping the spacebar on my laptop. I think I will live through this one. 

But then I noticed something else that I want to share. . . while cooking my breakfast I felt an odd pain radiating down my thumb. JonMark walked by and I told him about the incident and he chuckled--perhaps he made a comment about my eyesight failing and me getting old. . . (cue my eye roll). 

I told him the cut was not deep but that my knuckle hurt. Shrugging I went back to the stove and flipped my egg over before putting it on my bagel to complete my breakfast. 

He told me that it was probably sore because there is very little skin and tissue on the thumb around the knuckle. He said, 'you probably bumped the bone.' As I walked to my office I thought about that for a moment. . . something so little, seemingly so insignificant, caused pain in an unexpected way. A 2-inch nick of my thumb isn't significant in itself, but the impact it has on functionality could be. 

So I wonder, each of us have little wounds that we carry with us. They are small (like my thumb-cut), but yet the ache (like the knuckle of that same thumb). You can still go about your day, and you still be productive. But the ache, even if it is small, it is deeper than you might realize. 

I wonder what that wound you are carrying around with you looks like? 

What does it affect? How is it limiting you? And if it is limiting you, perhaps you could think of someone who could use some grace because of their wound? I bet it is limiting them in the same way. . . 


Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I Wonder--October 18

Today is a day of distractions for me. It is every year. And I imagine that it will be in the future as well. 

10 years. . . I can't believe it has been 10 years and I also can't believe that it has only been 10 years. Looking at pictures from 10 years ago seems like a lifetime ago--and in many ways I suppose that it is. Yet I keep looking at them and remembering. . .  

Compound this idea with the struggle that has come into our home this week, and wow, I feel dislodged from my anchor points. 

My office has become my kitchen table. The soft jazz that normally plays on my laptop is drowned out by the rumbled of the washer and dryer and by a certain puppy leaving his toys on my lap so that I will throw them for him, then dutifully, he will bring them back.

Oh to be a puppy. . . Today is a day of distractions for me. . . 

But I suspect that I am not the only person who gets distracted. So I wonder how you do you handle your day when the distractions get the better of you? I wonder how do you make sense when the distractions of life seem to overtake you and you find yourself gazing out the kitchen window in the vain hope that something out there will inspire you to continue progressing? 

The struggle is present for all of us. 

I know that God's word will help. I also know that prayer will help. I know that community will help. But yet sometimes those foundational things don't seem available to us. And again, we gaze out the window wondering what to do next. 

So today, if that is you, if you know what it feels like to have the challenges of the day overtaking you, then take a moment and dwell with God. Speak to the Lord honestly and deeply about those things which could take you away from him. 

Maybe as you speak to God, you might reconnect with your anchor. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

I Wonder--October 17

Sunday evening I was on the campus of Duke University to listen to a talk by two individuals who have shaped my theology and ministry. The primary speaker's work influenced my doctoral work greatly. 

As Sam began to speak he told his family's origin story. He spoke about how they escaped from Stalin-led Russia only to settle in late 1930s Berlin. The family finally crossed the border into the Netherlands eventually making their way to the UK. It was a hard story to hear. 

I have heard Sam's story before. I have read it in his books. But sitting in that auditorium listening to him re-tell it in person was powerful. It had a profound impact on my heart. The rest of Sam's talk was good. Frankly I have always found his works and words inspiring. But to watch Sam, in-person, tell his story got me thinking. 

At Bethesda we have just finished a week-long program where we offered lunches to children and families living in adjacent communities. We did not know what to expect when we went out on Monday, but God showed up. Along the way we met some community members and we shared time with them in their driveways, on their porches, and sitting side-by-side in vehicles in front of their homes. 

Each day, as we handed lunches out, the potential of our relationship with our community grew. I can think of one particular older woman who I spoke with as an example. 

On Tuesday, she told us about the two granddaughters she kept during the week. 

Wednesday, we learned that she was struggling to feed these two girls--and she did not say it directly. Our listening and dwelling helped us learn this. 

Thursday, she asked us for help in making ends meet at home. 

Then on Friday, the veil dropped and we learned something profound that allowed us to care for her deeper. 

All of these truths came out in the story that she shared with us each day. She shared a tough story; a story where I shook my head when we pulled away silently. But so was Sam's story from Sunday night. But God can, and God does, use even the tough stories to help move us toward Him. 

And so I wonder what story is God asking you to tell today? Who could benefit from listening to you and who could you pause with and listen to? 

Thursday, October 12, 2023

I Wonder--October 12

As I climb back into the truck this week, smiling as I wave back to another family who received a free lunch from Bethesda, I take a moment and I wonder. . . 

Once again God has exceeded our expectations. We loosely held this program and did not overdo our process or our expectations. We let God have the room in our hearts and we believed that God would move--and God moved. God came. 

Each day as I tally up our figures I am amazed by what I am seeing. More and more people are coming out to see us; some even are waiting on their porches for us. Every house and every family makes me smile.  

So what response can I give? What can I offer to God? 

The Lord of heaven and earth needs nothing. He aspires to nothing. But I know in my heart, as I climb back into Jimmy's truck and head for the next stop where another polite child will thank us, I know I need to respond. Yet I struggle with how to do this. . .

Perhaps in your life you have been in this same spot. God has come into your midst and done something and whether God's movement was subtle or dramatic, God moved. As you felt God move, you knew that something was needed on your part. You might have heard the call to respond begin in you. 

But maybe, like me, you struggled with how to manifest it in the moment. You wondered: "What am I supposed to do now?"

I wonder if it is possible to believe that all God wants from you is something small, something personal. I wonder if right now you could take a moment, maybe even bow your head, and whisper whatever comes into your heart. 

I bet that is the exact response God would like to hear. . . .

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

I Wonder--October 10

Today is Day 2 of our lunch program for the children who live around the church. On Day 1 we went out with some general uncertainty--would anyone come and pick up a bagged lunch from us? Where would be find them? Would they feel comfortable taking food from us? 

All of those questions were answered by God in ways that we did not anticipate. We met our community; we cared for them. And it was good. . .  

As we set up the tent and divided up in cars to travel the area, our questions outnumbered our answers. 
But with the Lord, all things are possible. God exceeded our expectations and a great number of families learned that Bethesda will care for you. The work was based on Hope. 

Today I have been thinking about what hope looks like and how we might define it. We throw terms like 'hope' around often when we are together. We apply it to sporting events, social causes, and eventually, religious experiences and encounters. But I believe hope is a spiritual discipline and practice that God calls us to engage in. 

Hope is why we met to pack lunches in the first place.  

Hope carries a sense of wonder to it; of expectation and anticipation. When I hope for something there is a sense of belief that takes shape in my heart. When I practice Christian 'hope' I am asking God to come into my situation, come into my life, and act. 

I might now always know how my hope will be manifested--like prayer I do not always know what the fruit of my prayer might look like. So when I hope, I am asking God to step in do what only He can do. 

And so, I am about to walk out to the lunch program. I am about to see how many kids will come today and receive. I hope a lot of kids will be fed and I hope those who need a bag of food will come and receive. But that is up to God. And so I continue 'hoping' in the Lord knowing that God has never let me down. 

I wonder where is God asking you to practice hope? 

Thursday, October 5, 2023

I Wonder--October 5

As any church prepares for its next mission project a temptation arises that could derail the entire project. This temptation can be defined as a lack of culture and community. 

We see this in many places. . . Some individuals work at a task or project alone, and by being alone, they become jaded and frustrated and could feel any host of negative emotions when they think about the work. In the church we must constantly strive to be the Body of Christ together for when we are together, God does something profound. 

Simon Sink thinks of it this way: 

"The strength of the culture, and not its size or resources, determines and organizations ability to adapt to the times, overcoming adversity and pioneer new innovations. When the conditions are right. . . We do what we do best. We act in the manner for which we are designed. We pulled together." 

Simon is speaking to an audience that is primarily business leaders but he might as well be talking to the Church. Our resources do not matter as much as our sense of community matters. 

When our culture aligns with God's words, when we dwell together as the Body, we do our best work for God's glory. Even if we are still a bit worn down from the last mission project or task, when we come together, when we pull together, God shows up. 

So I wonder, when the next project comes into our community or church, what steps could you take to pull together for His glory? 

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

I Wonder--October 4

I wonder how tired do you feel right now? 

The answer to that question, for me, is 'very.' I am very tired; I am very sore. 

The benefit that we had at Bethesda this weekend was a tremendous blessing. Regardless of the metric that is applied to it, this was a successful event. Spiritually. Relationally. Fiscally. Saturday checked all the boxes. 

I feel like I was everywhere all at once and my body still aches. And as the days have gone on, I still feel tired and worn out. But the next project is just over the horizon and it needs my attention as much as the last one did. This is not a uniquely 'pastoral' feeling. I wonder if you, as a member of the Body of Christ, have felt so worn out that you don't know how you will address the upcoming program/project/task? 

Perhaps the words of Hannah Whitall Smith might help? 

". . . What is needed for happy and effectual service is simply to put your work into the Lord's hands, and leave it there. Don't take it to Him in prayer, saying, "Lord, guide me; Lord, give me wisdom; Lord, arrange it for me," and then rise from your knees, and take the burden all back and try to guide and arrange for yourself. Leave it with the Lord; and remember that what you trust to Him you must not worry over nor feel anxious about. Trust, and worry cannot go together."

If you feel tired and worn down by the requirements of life, give them to the Lord. Leave them there. And trust God to care for you in the midst. 

I Wonder--November 29

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...