Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Virginia - Money

"Money is the largest idol in American culture," said Scott Schantzenbach during a stewardship seminar. When churches talked about money, he continued, "they are looking into the eyes of the beast."

When we worship money instead of God, we become scared, shallow and slow - all traits of our larger culture, which specializes in often doing too little, too late resulting in frugal, timid, sacrifice free solutions to major problems such as Katrina, poverty, the Iraq war, global warming, education, etc.

Our God is a God of courage, of significance and of nimble response to problems and calls us to be the same. Our God could create a world where there was none, because all the molecules of the world are at his finger tips. Our God could create nations from the wombs of barren women because he has life at his abundance. Our God defeated death and sin because he has love beyond measure.

All these God gives to us. "Be strong and courageous," God tells Joshua as he takes over from Moses. Together let us take the bold step and fix our focus from our wallets (which feel empty no matter how much they contain) to our God of abundance and let ministry in God's name flow from our lives and our community of faith.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Virginia - Root memories

What are the snippets of your life that you remember, hold onto and that shape you now? How about those that shape your faith?

As I was challenged today by our speaker to consider this question, I thought of how the local Catholic priest in the town I grew up in always complemented me on how well the lawn of my (Protestant) church looked after I mowed it, and nobody from my own congregation ever said a thing. I thought of hymn sings, ice cream socials and Wednesday night dinners at another congregation when I was even younger. I thought of a semi-retired minister who put me to work within seconds of meeting me, keeping me from leaving the ministry before I ever got in. I remembered my grandmother's bedrock faith, lived out through handiwork such as blankets for premature babies, intricately stitched communion cloths for her church and more.

These root memories, or bedrock stories, provide us strength during times of challenge and remind us of God's presence throughout our lives and the lives of those who have gone before. And through bedrock stories we can project God's presence into the future.

Click on the comments link and add your bedrock stories.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Virginia - Stories

Since June 20, I've been at the Summer Collegium in support of small churches at Virginia Theological Seminary in VA.

Stories - For the past two days we've been talking about stories - our own personal stories of faith and the stories of our congregations. And last night we went to see an incredible presentation of the play Peter Pan - more stories.

Last week at coffee hour we put our stories on a great timeline of our congregation. Stories of confirmations, baptisms, weddings, funerals. Stories of pain and victory as a congregation. Stories of personal moments. Stories of faith regained. Put together these stories are, in part, our congregation's story.

"People become part of the congregation," Carl Dudley, our keynote speaker this week, said, "when they share and become part of our congregational story" - when they can tell some of our shared stories, when they contribute to our ongoing story. "Remember your story of faith," Karl, our collegium co-pastor, said," when you are facing difficult times. Your faith story sustains you."

When we live in faith, whether as individuals or as a congregation, we are living in our story. This does not mean that we live in the past. Rather our story is a wave and we are a surfer. We are on the front, breaking edge, moving with the water; but the wave is made up of the millions of memories, millions of experiences of our history and the history of faith. Just as millions of drops of water power a wave, our experience, our story powers our lives.

As I type this, the small congregation arts festival is continuing here on campus. The Hosanna banner from the sanctuary is on the wall, art from our children and Mary Hallam is on the table, all attracting many admirers.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Virginia - Evening Prayer

Earlier this year our congregation was selected to participate in the Summer Collegium for the Small Church at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA.   This is an intimate gathering of 25 small church pastors and many of their spouses to discuss some of the cultures of small churches and the challenges and opportunities for ministry.  It will also hopefully be a time of spiritual renewal for me.  Periodically I'm going to be posting thoughts and observations.

One quick observation:  Last night during a "get to know you" exercise we were each asked to name an exciting thing happening in our churches.  And a silence filled the room.  We've been so trained that exciting things happen at big churches with tons of cool programs that we forget to seek excitement from how God is working among us.   Elisabeth and I did mention program things - myself, the leadership training we are doing in October and Elisabeth the just completed food drive, but perhaps the most exciting thing is how everyone is lifting Mrs. Burns up in prayer and is supporting Joe with the death of his mother.  God works as we relate to one another.

Finally - an evening prayer:
It is night.

The night is for stillness.
  Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
   What has been done has been done;
   what has not been done has not been done.
   Let it be.

The night is dark.
  Let our fears of the darkness of the world
  and of our own lives 
  rest in you.

The night is quiet.
  Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
    all dear to us,
    and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
  Let us look expectantly to a new day.
    new joys
   new possibilities.

In your name we pray.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tuesday Thoughts

Wasn't it great to walk into church on Sunday morning and see all those groceries we collected during the food drive?

There's a tendency sometimes to be defeatist: oh, we're so small we can't do anything. People don't have time to help. No one will donate anything--no one really cares any more.

But guess what? With just a little bit of effort on our part, we accomplished a heck of a lot in the space of a week. We made contact with hundreds of neighbors through the door hangers, spoke with many more on the street while collecting the food, and touched the lives of everyone who will open one of those cans or boxes to feed their family.

Who'd a thunk it?

Well, Pete, for one, since the food drive was his brain child. Pastor Fritz, who encouraged and embraced that brain child, and everyone in the congregation who hung a hanger, prayed for the harvest, highlighted maps, stuck stickers, table sat, drove around collecting from door steps, and brought a bag of food themselves.

Seems to me that brain child has grown into a mature, generous, loving brain adult. We should be proud.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Door hangers!

Don't forget to wear your walking shoes to church tomorrow!

After church, as many of us as are able will spread out through the streets of Malverne distributing door hangers to our neighbors inviting them to join us in our annual food drive. If everyone pitches in, we'll be able to reach more homes than ever before.

We'll have goodies left over from the picnic this afternoon as motivation and energy boosters, plenty of hangers to go around, and good fellowship.

Let's make this a team effort and really get the word out.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Risky Christianity

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has been touring China and posting a series of columns from his travels. Here are some excerpts from a recent column posted from the North Korea border:

In an archipelago of safe houses [along the China/North Korea border] I met groups of peple who live every moment in sickening fear. These are North Koreans who have escaped to the "free world" - China - and are now at constant risk of being captured by Chinese police who hand these escapees back to North Korea.

Those returned by China are often sentenced to prison for several years, and repeat offenders or Christians can be sent with their entire families to labor camps for life. ne Christian I spoke to had been beaten so badly after his return by China that he tried to commit suicide by swallowing a handful of pins. The prison, not wanting to have to dispose of a corpse, freed him — and he eventually made his way back to China. Christian missionaries in North Korea can face execution.

Read Kristof's entire column. (Must subscribe to Times Select.)

If confessing Jesus Christ meant risking life in a labor camp for you and your entire family would you still confess?

Talent Night Pictures

Below are a handful of pictures from Community Presbyterian's talent night last April. More pictures can be viewed here. Thanks to Alan and Emily Weil for the pictures.

The Gagstetter Family Band

Daniel reading poetry

Kayla and friend dancing

Monday, June 4, 2007

Childhood Lessons are often the Best

A few weeks ago on Heritage Sunday, we sang lots of hymns, and each one was submitted by a congregation member as the first hymn he or she remembers learning.

We've also had several people in our church family, including our extended church family, who have suffered various losses, stresses, worries, or concerns, including the loss of family members; some of our young people preparing to leave home for the larger world (both exciting and stressful!); illnesses; and neighbors, friends, or family members being deployed to various hot spots.

This is the perfect time to remember a song we could easily have sung on Heritage Sunday: "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." It's a simple song, but in case you need a reminder, here's the basic verse:

He's got the whole world in his hands
He's got the whole wide world in his hands
He's got the whole world in his hands
He's got the whole world in his hands

The cool thing is that you can replace "the whole world" with just about anything you want. Some common variations:

  • He's got you and me, Sister [or Brother], in his hands
  • He's got the itty bitty baby in his hands
  • He's got the wind and the rain in his hands

And on and on and on.

Here's another cool thing: The whole world that God has in his hands is way, way bigger than just this little round ball we call Earth. It's the past and the present and the future. It's those who have left us and those yet to come. And yet, even the itty bitty baby isn't too small for God's notice and won't slip through his fingers.

This really simple song has humongous implications, doesn't it? Isn't it amazing that something we learn as children can turn out to be deeply theological?

What verse do you need to sing right now to help you with your losses and stresses? Leave a comment (anonymous or not) with your new words to this old song.