What’s the good word? Sorry it’s been forever since I have been on here. I didn’t even realize how long it had been, but it looks like I’ve been busy since my trip to Ethiopia as that was about the last time that I posted something! BUT, here I am, and hopefully I will get back to normal blogging. It’s now the season of Advent, a season in the church year designed to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. In the church this looks far different from what we find in the world. Outside in “the world” we see people rushing around in a frenzy, fighting one another for that good deal. But Advent actually teaches that to prepare for the coming of Jesus that we should slow down, meditate, be still, and be alert so that we don’t miss the coming. I can relate. How many of us rush and hurry to prepare for something, like a child’s first birthday, or Christmas, and the next thing we know it’s over. We have to go back and look at pictures, as if we weren’t really truly present in the moment. I didn’t always like Advent, I wanted Christmas to get here and fast. But then I realized that many times I was present, but I really wasn’t PRESENT!
While I am on the subject of Christmas, I also want to talk about this whole notion of putting Christ back in Christmas. I’ve seen the signs, I’ve abbreviated Christmas before with the “dreaded” Xmas. But wouldn’t you know, that isn’t actually a bad thing. You see the New Testament was written in Greek. And in Greek the name for Christ is spelled: Χριστος. Uh, oh! Do you see what I see? (get it?) Looks like Christ begins with an X, or the letter Chi in greek. So does that mean we really aren’t taking Christ out of Christmas? YES! We are actually putting Christ in Christmas, only in Greek! Instead of always writing the full name Χριστος, we see in early Christian history a trend to abbreviate Χριστος as simply Χ. As Greg Carey, Professor of the New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary writes: “Early manuscripts of the Greek New Testament dating to the third and fourth centuries used “X” as an abbreviation for Christ…The abbreviation helped manuscript writers fit more words on a page, reducing the time and cost of producing the texts…”
Well there you go! Problem solved. Don’t need to feel bad about writing Xmas. Actually you should feel good, and smart! You now know GREEK! LOL! Be present in this moment my friends, and truly take in all that this season has to offer! And that’s the good word for today!
What’s the good word? I’d like to share another story from Ethiopia with you as it’s been on my mind lately. If anything, it helps me keep things in perspective now that it’s been a month since I have been back and life seems to be getting crazy again. Not only that, but this really helps keep in the forefront what ministry is really all about as one can get bogged down in the day to day stuff.
Meet Mambisto. She is a 37ish year old woman who came to get water from a 3′ wide and 40′ deep hole in the ground that sat in the middle of a field surrounded by cattle, goats and donkeys. She had walked her entire life to get this water and carry it on her back to her house that sat about 1 hour away from where we now sat.
When asked what this water well meant to her and you could see a small tear form in her eye, but a huge smile on her face. She proceeded to say that she could not really express everything in words, but that it meant health, sustainability, less work and less back breaking walks for her. She spoke of how her and her family had experienced many water borne illnesses from the water and that at times the children were so sick that she feared for them. She had at times had to leave her three small children behind unattended so that she could go get this dirty, contaminated water.
When asked if she was happy and before the interpreter could tell her answer one already knew from the huge smile that crossed her face that she was, but she went on to tell us that her children would probably be able to go to school now and her husband would not have to worry so much.
This is is ministry. This is what church is all about. This is the good word for today.
What’s the good word? Well, I’m back from Ethiopia, and I must say that the experience was truly life changing. My next several posts will most likely be about my time there and my thoughts on what I saw and heard. It seemed that every where that we went in Ethiopia the people were happy. As I walked into little mud and straw huts no bigger than the size of my living room, families were happy. Happy for me to be there, happy to show me their less than adequate (by our standards) home, proud of what they had. People suffering from lack of nutrition, lack of proper medical care, and lack of clean water, happy. Happy to see me. Not because I represented “money”, but because I cared enough to show up. It made problems back at home look petty and small. I began to ask myself, “Why was I upset again? Why did I feel that I had it so bad?” We often ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I wish I knew. But I place my hope in Scripture, that when Jesus tells his disciples that it isn’t God that makes those things happen, that it really isn’t God. I don’t think these people that I met blamed God, in fact I saw faithful and devote believers. More faithful and devout than many people I know who are here in the states who have it good, myself included. Then I came across a verse on my trip that caught my attention. It’s from Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk though the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Do you know that the word bridge doesn’t occur in the Bible? Not one time. Some say it is because God doesn’t build bridges, God divides seas. And others say that usually God’s people must pass through the difficult currents in life, not simply ride over them. Here’s what I find in Scripture, that God promises to be with us as we travel “through” rivers, and seas, and troubles. I don’t think I ever read a verse that talked about God promising to be with us as we travel “over” rivers, and seas, and troubles. God promises to be with us in life and in death. Through the good times and the bad times. When we were in the village of Robit we saw the bridge above. As we met with the elders and the village, they time and time again talked about this bridge. Every year during the rainy season, the river floods and the majority of folks on the other side are cut off from the rest of the village. Cut off from the water wells being built, cut off from medical supplies, and cut off from school and church. For days, the village is flooded and folks flee to their rooftops to wait it out. Once the river goes back down, they come down and proceed to pick up the pieces. I guess you can say that the people of Robit get the whole “God doesn’t build bridges” thing. For they have gone through the trials and tribulations of the river time and time again. And yet, they have faith. Faith in God, faith in each other, faith in their fellow brothers and sisters that they will help. Next time you are swimming through the floods of life, remember that God is with you, and that our God is in the habit of parting waters, not building bridges. And that’s the good word for today!
What’s the good word? This week found myself in Ethiopia. We came here to help finish the water well our congregation sponsored. It was great to meet the people of the village. so warm and friendly. Wednesday was a day of celebration, as the water well sponsored by Messiah Lutheran Church was to be finished. After waiting around for a little over an hour due to some difficulties, the well was finished. Words cannot describe the feeling of seeing the water come out of that well for the first time, and I really wasn’t the beneficiary of that water. I can’t imagine what was going through their minds as they saw that water. When the first bit came out there was clapping and yelling. Pure happiness. I myself, couldn’t help but tear up. As the pastor of Messiah Lutheran, I got to say a few words and I said a prayer over the well. Then it was the turn of the villagers. All gave thanks for the well and for those who donated for the well. My favorite moment and one of the most enlightening moments came when one man talked about the kids going to school. What would you think the link is between school and water? It is something you don’t think about probably at all. Today it was made real for me. As he spoke he talked about how the kids could now go to school. The parents were happy about this. Before the kids would spend too much of the day having to go get water for their households and couldn’t go to school. Now they could. We often think about the connection of water to life, but in this moment I was reminded that life is much bigger and wider than one could possibly imagine.
There was food and drink. The locals got out some of the local whiskey. It literally burned just to smell it! Others said words of thanksgiving and then we got to mingle with the villagers. Before we left, we gave the village children a soccer ball so that they could play with it. I presented it to one of the leaders, and got an equally enthusiastic response for that soccer ball. Something so simple. But wasn’t it Mother Teresa who once said, “None of us can do great acts, but we can all do small acts with great love.” That’s what kept ringing in my ear as I left. It was hard to leave. The waves from the people and the excitement on the kids who were already kicking that ball around was difficult to leave. But this is only a beginning in the relationship between Messiah and this village. I believe God has great things in store for us all!
We left there and then went to a local market. The market was busy with people. I instantly felt like a movie star. Everyone starring and kids coming up to us wanting to hold our hands. One is hesitant at first and then you are reminded of Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to me.” Jesus goes on to say that one must have faith as one of these. I know what he means now. There they are and they don’t know us at all and yet grab our hands as if we were their brothers or their best friends. Faith I guess has a little audacity to it. I get that now.
And that’s the good word for today.
What’s the good word? This Sunday I started a new series at Messiah based on Max Lucado’s book Grace. It’s the most important series I have ever done. It was the perfect Sunday to start this series, with it being Easter. Here it is:
And That’s the good word for Today.
What’s the good word? We are reading a book as a staff and right there, on page 8, the words stuck out at me: “As a scholar of American Religion, I believe that the decline and even the end of the Protestant establishment is an inevitable outcome of our religious history. The Protestant mainline is no longer mainline; establishment Protestantism simply doesn’t attract a large audience anymore.” What? Wait. Let me go back and read that. Yes, you can too. Let it sink in. That’s where my church is at. My congregation that I serve is a part of mainline Protestantism. We are coming to an end? Well, if you go to any synod assembly, if you read anything that comes out of the ELCA you will constantly hear about our decline. Been hearing it for years. So, could it be that we are nearing the end of that timeline?
As I look at my congregation, we don’t seem to be falling in line with his thoughts. In the three years that I have been here I have seen our worship attendance grow by 6%, 6%, and 13% respectively. But that’s here. What about the rest? As Paul Harvey would say, “What’s the rest of the story?” From the folks that are coming into our congregation, it’s an even split- some are from other Lutheran congregations, some are from other denominations, and some have been away from the church for a long time and are returning home. Here’s what I’m finding out: Those that weren’t Lutheran aren’t joining because we have “Lutheran” in our name. They are joining because of the community they find. It’s not until they are joining that they are asking the question, “What does it mean to be Lutheran?” For some, just learning to be Christian is a hard enough first step. But I think that is where we are heading. I don’t think there will be “an end” to the mainline Protestant establishment, but I do believe we are in for a seismic shift and change. It won’t matter if you have Lutheran, Methodist, or Presbyterian in your name. What will matter is what they will find when they come to your congregation, what your congregation is about, and if the message of God will touch their hearts. Will they be judged, or will they be accepted? Will they be welcomed, or will they be left to wander the labyrinth of a new congregation on their own? You see, I don’t think it matters if you have Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian in your church name or not. You can still be those denominations without them in your name. Because your theology, how you look at the world and scripture will still come through in your messages and in your studies. And I don’t think you will attract more people if you did take those denominational names out of your church names. However, I might argue, you might attract different folks from a variety of different backgrounds. A Majority of new members into denominational churches are strictly through church transfers. 80%. That’s not a whole lot of new folks. Just moving the chairs on the deck.
What about you? Are you a part of a mainline Protestant church? If so, what are your thoughts about that statement? What is OUR response? If you aren’t a part of a mainline Protestant denomination, do you see that as true?
And that’s the good word for today.
What’s the good word. This Sunday I begin a series at my church entitled, “The Least of These”. Following that, we will launch a series on Easter entitled “Grace,” based on the book by Max Lucado. Let me start this post with a statement that is sure to be an underlying theme of the 40 days of Lent and then heading into the Grace series: grace isn’t fair. We like to think about grace as this good and wonderful thing, and it is, but it also isn’t fair. Here’s what I mean:
When I was growing up there was this chair at my grandma’s farmhouse that I loved to sit in when we went up to the farmhouse during my summer break. It was an old recliner. Every morning my grandmother and I would go up to the farmhouse for a portion of the day and I loved sitting in that chair. Grandma didn’t like it so much that I sat in it, because technically it was her chair. I think about that chair often. I have a new chair in my movie room and while it gives me the satisfaction for a while of that chair at the farmhouse, there’s nothing like the feeling of those moments in that chair. It made me appreciate what I had.
In the book of Deuteronomy there comes a point when Moses is telling the Israelites that if they forget a sheaf they should leave it and not go back for it. They should leave it for the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. He goes onto say that after the olives have fallen they shouldn’t go back and beat the branches a second time because they should leave it for the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. He doesn’t stop there, he goes on to say that once they have picked the grapes in the vineyard they shouldn’t go back for the ones that they missed, but leave them for the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. Why? Why is that fair? How is that fair because I am the one who has done all the work and it’s my vineyard!
Perhaps Moses was letting them know that it wouldn’t always be this way. They wouldn’t always be in the position of want and need. That once they got to the promised land they would have vineyards, and olive farms, and have plenty of sheaves left in the fields. Perhaps they were not to forget those times. Because what happens is that we loose a sense of gratitude for what we have been given. Perhaps that’s why so many folks give up something for lent. When Jesus speaks all those times about serving and giving during his ministry, he’s not saying those things to give us a long list of things to do, but perhaps he is telling us to serve and give so we are reminded of what we have had all along. Rob Bell once said, “Your overflow is someone else’s necessity.” When we leave that corner of our sheaf we help someone else’s suffering and perhaps we too find ourselves being saved- saved from indifference, from the inertia of inaction, from taking what we have for granted.
Jesus said, “Whenever you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”
And that’s the good word for today!