Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Faithfulness of our Guests

[this was a short article I wrote to and for my congregation in my most-recent weekly email to my church. feel free to read, but it may or may not interest you or be helpful to you if you're not part of our little group]

Maybe we’re not special. Maybe every church has the same thing happen. But, for one reason or another, our church gets a lot of guests that walk through our doors on Sunday mornings. Maybe it’s our downtown location. Maybe it’s that we are a Baptist church. But there’s rarely a Sunday where we don’t have a few first-time visitors for our weekly worship gathering.

And in the summer, it’s even more frequent. It’s tourist season!

I’m always amazed, however, that tourists would take time to find a church to worship with on a Sunday morning. Partly, I want to say to them, “It’s okay to miss a Sunday; just go enjoy Yellowstone or Glacier.” Some of those guests are likely showing up for worship out of duty and obligation to church attendance, even while on vacation.

But I also really appreciate and respect the faithfulness of our vacationing guests.

They wouldn’t have to show up. They have a pretty legitimate excuse for missing church. But they faithfully attend. They’re committed to the routine of faithfulness, they refuse to allow anything to interrupt this significant weekly practice, and that faithfulness is to be celebrated.

So, cherished vacationing guests (who will probably never read this): THANK YOU! Thank you for your presence with us. Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for reminding us of our need to always make worship and church community a priority. You are appreciated and we have much to learn from your devotion to your faith.

You Keep Using That Word...

There’s a word that is used over and over again throughout the Bible that has also become incredibly popular in our contemporary culture over the last decade. It’s the word FOLLOW. The word follow is used over 250 times in scripture—and Jesus himself says the phrase ‘follow me’ twenty-one different times in the Gospels. And it makes sense that the word ‘follow’ is used so frequently in scripture, because following is central to a life with God.

The word follow has also become a regular part of the contemporary lexicon through the advent of social media. Facebook uses this word as the primary way to use their product and network with others. You want to use Facebook…you follow someone. To follow on Facebook means you will receive regular updates about what they are doing and what they choose to share with their followers.

The irony of the Bible and Facebook using the same word so often, however, is that when they each use the word follow, they mean almost the exact opposite thing as the other. As Bishop Curry so astutely pointed out in his sermon during the Royal Wedding, social media is a socially dysfunctional way to connect with each other. So, when Facebook allows me to follow someone online, they are only guaranteeing that I will know some information about that person (whatever the person chooses to share). But following someone on Facebook in no way guarantees that I will actually be in relationship with that person. In fact, research shows that a Facebook relationship may actually stunt a relationship. Following, on Facebook, is shallow, impersonal, and often fails to result in any actual relationship.

To follow Jesus, however, is the exact opposite. To follow Jesus means you have moved beyond a surface knowledge of Jesus and entered into a deep, abiding, day-in-and-day-out commitment to walking the way and path of Jesus. Following Jesus is costly and demands our dedication and intentionality. Following Jesus means I will actually know Jesus—in a deep and abiding way—and our actual relationship will result in a change in lifestyle and behavior. Where following someone on Facebook is superficial and detached, following Jesus is profound and personal.

But the temptation is out there to follow Jesus in a Facebook sort of way—to know a few things about him, show up to church once in a while, and never allow his radical message of love, inclusion, hospitality, and holistic salvation to soak into our being and impact us at the core. We can even attend church weekly while still not following Jesus the way he invites us to.

But, while following Jesus is challenging and daunting, it is a good and beautiful way to live and is worthy of our efforts. May we be willing to take this challenge of following Jesus—abandoning the easy, comfortable, Facebook way of following—taking up our cross daily to follow Jesus into lives of radical humility and sacrificial love.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Learning By Doing

You would think I'd know how to read the Bible. I grew up in the church, was raised in a scripture-reading family, have two theology and biblical study degrees, and have served as a pastor for the last 15 years.

But I just now feel like I'm learning to read the Bible well.

These last 3 years of preaching on a near-weekly basis, combined with the weekly rhythm of teaching Bible study, has done wonders in my ability to read the text well. I'm asking better questions of the text, I'm more curious than ever, and I've loved the grind of hunting for answers to these queries.

I'm finally experiencing what I always knew to be true: that you learn best by doing.

For years, I spent innumerable and invaluable time in classrooms and study sessions, learning about the mechanics and technique of reading the Bible. But I rarely, actually read the Bible. I wasn't practicing what I was learning. It's only through diving deeply into the rich, sacred text of scripture that I have walked away with its rich, sacred meaning for my life. I've finally given the Bible the room to work in and on and through me, and it's most-certainly doing its work.

So, may we all be people who take scripture really seriously. May we wrestle with scripture, diving deep into its truth and significance, not surfacing until we've wrangled blessing from its pages. Let's not just be a 'Bible-believing church,' but a Bible reading church. But, more importantly, let's allow our time in scripture to actually mold us into more committed followers of Jesus.