Fall Back (to Church) Sunday is THIS SUNDAY Nov 6!

I officially declare (as far as my meager role will allow) the following:

**November 6, 2016 shall be National Fall Back (to Church) Sunday!**

Here’s what happens: We get connected. We get enriched. We get spiritually formed. Then we get… busy.

We get busier. Next thing ya know, it’s been 3…4…7 weeks since Sunday worship together. Missed connection with God and others. Missed times of corporate prayer. Missed moments of encouragement as people around you seek the same thing as you.

Be there every Sunday of the year? Of course not!

Even the pastor pulls a planned no-show during vacations and big family events. But most Sundays? AMAP (As Many As Possible)? That seems about right.

Dish Network has a “guilt loop” that they used to broadcast only to people who were using unauthorized equipment.  By intercepting the Satellite signals with unregistered equipment, the whole billing process was (ahem) eliminated. A man would show up on screen and say “ya know… this is wrong… ya know…?”  Please don’t hear me like that. I’m not here to guilt anybody. That’s the complete opposite of the gospel, btw.

But… I am here as a pastor and a friend.

Truth: we need worship gatherings.

Even if we don’t think you do… we do. We have been programmed for spirituality, wired for community, and updated with the New Covenant. Nothing replaces worship together. To remember the story of God’s rescue. To lift up the name of Jesus with your brothers and sisters. To listen to the Holy Spirit together, like they did in Acts and throughout Church history.

Are you a Mountain Bike Sunday kinda person?  Is your favorite Hymn #3 — as in 3 under par?  Do you love the soft, luxurious preaching at Bedside Baptist? I get it. You don’t need to be in a church to connect with God. That’s true. But Father, Son and Spirit have revealed themselves as a community.  The scripture forms Christians within the context of community.  Think of it this way: even if you don’t need it (you do, but let’s just say you don’t), maybe someone else needs you. Maybe you’re the one who will make eye contact with someone in the back row this Sunday. You might even say “Hello”, which for you is a forgettable five seconds but for them is a reason to go on. Again, no guilt. Just something to think about. Maybe it’s not just about your personal experience.

Why not use this coming Sunday, November 6, as a time to reset clocks and reset priority, too?

Why not use the extra hour as a buffer for your family to readjust?  Why not make the most of a new month, where things start fresh and new, including the practice of making Sunday Worship a priority of our spiritual formation?   Please hear me: the challenge comes from caring, not from guilt.  This isn’t about numbers.  It’s a shepherd-y thing that we’re called to do.

Spring Belongs to Easter

Yesterday, amid sunny skies and 57 degrees, Zac asked if we could set up the little blue pool in our backyard.  I seriously considered it for about it for a minute but decided it would be a lot of water for a three second experience that would ultimately make me out to be the crazy one.

We’ve had a balmy Michigan winter compared to the last few, but it was still winter and the kids were still stuck inside for most of it. Though the calendar tells us Spring is here, the weather is still in identity crisis mode, frosting our car windows in the morning but demanding those same windows be rolled down in the afternoon. This is the time of year when precipitation waits until the very last second before deciding to land as either rain or snow or ice. Transitions are usually a bit awkward, but don’t worry.  History has taught us that Old Man Winter has a succession plan, and it’s to relinquish control to brand new Spring.  Spring is new at this, so they’ll be working in tandem for a few weeks.  “Please stand by,” says Old Man Winter.  “Spring and I should have this figured out by May.”  

Spring belongs to Easter because the change in weather helps our bodies align with our spirits in sensing a new season.  Like Christmas, Easter is one of those holidays with a somewhat arbitrary placement on the Gregorian calendar, though most historians feel more confident about the Resurrection happening around March/April than they do Christmas in December.  Easter moves around the calendar because of a rather involved formula of new moons, vernal equinoxes, phase cancellation and convection ovens.  Of course, all of this becomes more complex in an election year. Nevertheless, the Resurrection belongs to the season of early Spring.  Consider the unavoidable symbolism: cold and death release their grip, warmth and life swoop in.  New sprouts grow as snowbirds find their way back home.  The days are longer and filled with greater exuberance.  We live through Winter, but we become fully alive in the Spring.  The Resurrection, spiritually speaking, makes us fully alive after waiting through the long winter of bitter cold.  Christians are Easter people, oriented toward the season of Spring because of the reminder that we are made alive in Christ.  Our souls bloom and breathe again.  Finally.

No wonder Zac wants to set up the pool.

 

Lent: Some Notes on Fasting

I preached a sermon (tried to, at least) on Fasting yesterday at pfmchurch.  Using Scot McKnight’s excellent book Fasting as a guide, I pointed out four kinds of fasting:

Water Fast: That’s where you drink water but eat no food.

Juice Fast: That’s where you replace water with juice.  Still no food, though.

Partial Fast: i.e. the Daniel Fast — cutting out certain foods (like chocolate, caffeine, red meat) but still eating other foods. See abstaining, below.

Total Fast: No food, no water. Probably not a good place to start.  Best to check with the Doc.

Fasting is not eating, whereas, say, cutting out Facebook or giving up on sweets is called abstaining.  McKnight suggests – and I think I agree – that biblical examples of fasting are simply predetermined times of not eating any food, usually as a response to something that causes mourning.  Fasting helps our body be in sync with our soul/spirit.  How?  Most of us have experienced events in our lives that have totally killed our appetites.  The loss of a loved one, sadness, stress at work — all of these are times where eating food just seems out of place.   So it can and should be in our spiritual lives.  Sin is so destructive… God’s guidance is the only way to know what to do next… divine healing is the only viable option… that it seems proper to say “I’m in mourning.  I can’t eat at a time like this.”

I’ll give you a real life example.  Emily and I were hungry and on our way to lunch when all the sudden the ol’ Red and Blue lights started a’flashin.  “Wow,” I exclaimed, as I signaled to get off the road and into the parking lot.  “I’m being pulled over.  I wonder why?”  Turns out my plates didn’t match up with the car we were driving, which makes sense since we just transferred them to my new wheels on Friday afternoon.  I thanked the Officer for the work he does and we went on our merry way to lunch.  As you can imagine, when I was in the process of getting pulled over, the last thing on my mind was Hummus.  My body was in sync with what was happening.  In a way, that’s what fasting — and other physical practices of Spiritual Formation — does.  By the way, I basically just confessed that I’m not fasting today.

When we realize the gravity of sin, the dependence on God that we have (or need to realize), and the hurt in the world that needs God’s healing, we are wise to do something tangible like, say, not eat for a predetermined time.  We don’t fast to get God to do something.  That’s called manipulation and it doesn’t work, anyway.  Why fast?  Because it’s a fitting response to what God is already trying to stir in our lives.  Besides, when we put our appetites in check, something mystical happens.  Our spiritual senses become heightened.  Our thinking changes.  Our other appetites are chilled out.  It’s… it’s like nothing else.  Whether or not God does what we’re hoping for during a fast doesn’t matter nearly as much as the amount of spiritual formation that happens when we say, with our lives as testimony, that the food we need isn’t physical… it’s spiritual, and it only comes from Him.

 

 

 

 

 

Advent Wait, Wait…

I like Advent because it’s rude.

Advent rudely pushes back against our consumer culture.  Advent pulls the reigns back and says “not so fast, pal.”  I need something to slow me down.  Advent is rude enough to do just that, like a peaceful bossypants.

The Christmas we’re surrounded by go, go, go.

The Advent we’re entering into says wait, wait, wait… because the Christmas we’re hoping to engage is one of peace, joy, restoration, hope, and celebration.  I need Advent.  You need Advent.  We need to ponder, like Mary, what it means for the promised Messiah to be born in us today.  We need to tiptoe in, like the Shepherds, to adore the newborn King.  We need to bring our gifts, like the Magi, because a King deserves nothing less.  But this requires the soul to be running at a speed that is counter to the frantic Christmas pace around us.

How does one “reclaim” Christmas?  By living in Advent space.  On purpose.  By submitting to the directive to wait.  By simply choosing one thing over another.

You’d think this would be easy for a pastor.  It’s not.  I was talking with some of our church staff yesterday about how Christmas/Advent is a collection of tasks and deadlines, and not a celebration.  But I’m not off the hook.  I have to choose wait, wait, wait over go, go, go.  I choose it now, especially as we work our way toward the last Sunday of Advent.  I want Christmas Eve to be a relief, a breaking of the tension that naturally builds as we delay Christmas until it’s actually Christmas.

It’s still Advent.  Wait.

Their Part in Pentecost

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  Pentecost has been around for a long time – even longer than the New Testament.  Back in the Ol’ Testament days, worshippers would bring their offering of bread to the Temple in Jerusalem as a way of saying thanks to God.  Thanks for the bread which sustains us physically and thanks for your Word which sustains us spiritually.  All God’s people would hightail it for Jerusalem for this annual feast on the 50th day (Pente = 50) following the Passover.

The truth is that Pentecost was not new.  But God by His Spirit made it astonishingly new in a completely unexpected way. 

Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 2:1, we read that they were gathered in one place on the day of Pentecost.  Pretty normal, run-o-the-mill Jewish feast.  But then God does the unexpected in Acts 2:2, which is where the wind, the fire, the tongues, and the power all show up.  The world is forever changed.  3,000 people come to Jesus that day, and a new global and eternal movement is started.  We call it the Church.

But let’s not complicate the process.  Their part in Pentecost was simply to wait, which is exactly what those 120 believers did.

They waited because of a person — Jesus.

They waited because of an event — His life, death, and resurrection.

They waited out of obedience — simply because Jesus told them to wait.

United as one, in one space, in one Name, because of One God who is yet Three.

Mind boggling.  But not complicated.  I wait.  You wait.  We wait for the Holy Spirit.  Poured out once and for all on the church, we don’t need to hang tight until Pentecost 2.0.  Rather, we need to say “purify me and fill me yet more.”  That’s the prayer of the church.  It’s a prayer of waiting.  And that’s our part in Pentecost.

May every day be a day where the Holy Spirit has even greater influence in our lives.  May we yield to the cleansing fire and life-giving wind of the Spirit.  May we put our limitations aside and eagerly await the blessed Trinity to infuse our lives.

Spiritual transformation has many enemies.  People accused these 120 Spirit-filled people of being drunk.  Cynicism is the enemy of transformation in our world and even in the church.  Or maybe mediocrity.  Or pride.  Or spiritual disengagement.  You name it; the Spirit knows it.  Let Him tell you (not me).

Do your part today as you seek the Holy Spirit.  Wait.

Refuge is Quick // Trust Takes Time

[Ps 62:6-8]

consider:

It’s raining outside and I’m getting soaked.  “Come in or you’ll catch a cold!” and I do (come in, not catch a cold).  Water evaporates as I switch from wetting to drying.  I’m not getting rained on anymore, but I’m not instantly dry, either.  Refuge is quick but drying off takes time.

consider:

We took our kids to a new house to be babysat.  We trusted these people without a doubt and were instantly on our way to our hot date.   The kids were a bit scared as they slowly wandered into the place, finally feeling safe by the time we picked them up.  They cried when we left them; they cried because we were taking them home!

I think about how refuge is quick but trust takes time when I read Psalm 62:6-8.  Whenever a writer quotes a scripture verse, I usually skip over it and jump to the point.  Terrible, right?  You might do it, too.  So, instead of a nice italicized inline textblock for you to skip, let’s break this down.  I’m trying to make a point, here, and you need to be familiar with the verse.  When the Psalmist says that God is his rock and salvation, he’s describing refuge.  He found a good place to stand with no complaint because, well, it beats the alternative!  You would think that this would lead to instant and total trust in God, but it doesn’t.  Ps 62 goes on, saying that we need to trust in him at all times, you people! (I love that).  Trust is the willingness to pour out your hearts to God (verse 8b) because God is our refuge.

Refuge meets the need caused by an impending danger — sin — and is instant.

Trust meets the need caused by our busted up hearts — sin — and takes time.

Can I trust God with everything?  I mean, I’m glad to be safe and all, but can He really handle xyz?  That doubt, expressed by words or by inactivity, is what messes me up.  Refuge is instant, but trusting God all the way is difficult.

Remember when Grandma was looking for something in her purse?  After a minute of unsuccessful archeological dig, she’d exhale loudly and just dump the contents of her purse out on the kitchen table until she found that rogue tic tac?  That’s what it should look like as we pour out our hearts before the Lord.  That kind of vulnerability takes time, even though we’re safe and sound in His fortress of salvation through Christ.

Standing up is much easier than pouring out.  Yes?  Pour out anyway.  What’s to worry about?  You’re safe.

Be grateful for salvation but listen to the Psalm: trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. 

I Got “Emo Longwhisker”! What Kind Of Cat Are YOU??? (Ps 139 Devotional Thoughts)

I love those facebook quizzes that tell everything about ourselves by asking 5 or 6 questions. What kind of cat are you?  Who will you marry?  Which 60 Minutes reporter are you?   These personality tests tell us more about ourselves than they intend.

Meyie couldn't carrrrre less.
Meyie couldn’t carrrrre less.

Psalm 139 — You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.  Truth about humans: we want to be searched and we need to be known.  It’s all in good fun, but, as it turns out, taking quizzes that answer Which Character From Full House Are You?? (I always get Cousin Larry) feeds a deep need inside of us to be known & to understand more about ourselves.

When I go to the airport, my second most stressful part is having to fold myself into an airplane seat (Which In-Flight Snack Describes You Best??).  But the most stressful part is when I’m getting processed to go on the flight. Psalm 139:1 – you have searched me and you know me – might be a good life verse for the TSA, what with their questions and xrays and searches.  Though important, this particular kind of knowledge is not something we long for.  We want to be spiritually known.  Only God can truly know us this way.

So, in application of Psalm 139 and the reminder that we have a human need to be known, I suggest running to God.  He’s already got you hemmed in, anyway (139:5).  In fact, if you try running away, you’ll only find him in the place you eventually stop running (139:8).  Not only will He recognize you, He will love you with an everlasting love as He shapes you, which is what He’s been doing since your humble beginning (139:13).