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Saturday, June 19, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Thessalonians 4

Have you ever noticed that sometimes we offer things to others with the very best of intentions in mind, yet the things we offer are not received in the way we intended?

I know that has happened to me a number of times over the years. In past jobs, for instance, there were times I jumped right in and did something for a co-worker with the intention of making their job easier. A little while later, however, I sometimes learned that my co-worker was upset because I had stepped on their toes.

Through these experiences I learned to be careful about what I did/said in order to make sure things were received in the spirit I meant them to be.

I wonder if Paul might have had a similar experience in writing today’s chapter from 1 Thessalonians. In the second half of that chapter, for instance, Paul offers words that talk about the afterlife and the “one huge family reunion with the Master” that will take place after our deaths.

I’m sure that Paul intended those words as a way to comfort individuals who had grappled with the loss of a loved one. He hoped those words would carry folks through the tough times and give them a sense that our lives would not end in complete darkness and isolation.

In reading those words, however, some have taken those words literally and turned them into a rigid, doctrinal portrayal of the afterlife. They have told others that you are a Christian if you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection from the dead and the notion that you live on with some connection to the same identity and web of relationships that you live with in this life.

Because of that strict doctrinal interpretation, folks who have taken this approach have taken Paul’s words of comfort and twisted them into words of exclusion and judgment for those who read the words in a more metaphorical way. How sad.

Today, I would invite you to get in touch with your own words and behaviors to see if there are things you are tempted to offer to another with the very best of intentions in mind that might be received in a different spirit.

Til next time…

Friday, June 18, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Thessalonians 3

You don’t have to be around me for very long before you figure out I am what many would call an eternal optimist. That part would be hard to debate. The reason why I am a wild-eyed optimist, however, is open to debate.

Lots of people think that a person is either optimistic or pessimistic by make up. I certainly understand that there are a number of biological and chemical factors that tend to make a person more prone to either being an optimist or pessimist. Depression would be a great example of something that would make a person prone toward being pessimistic. I don’t, however, think biological and chemical factors are the only reason a person is an optimist or pessimist.

So what other features play a factor?

There are several. One feature would be a person’s background or environment. That would definitely shape a person’s outlook. Another feature might be a person’s pattern of thinking. Some people develop (and nurture!) the “glass is half empty” lens through which they see the world while others chose to embrace the “glass is half full” lens. Each of these is important parts of why I am an optimist. None of them, however, are the primary reason.

So why am I such an eternal optimist?

Because of my faith. You see, during my eight years of ministry I have walked with people through some of the gravest sets of circumstances known to humanity. I have walked with individuals as they’ve wrestled with consuming addictions, death, disease, broken relationships – you name it. I’ve seen things that would give me every reason to give up on life and God. And yet I haven’t.


In every difficult circumstance – no matter how dismal and dark - I have seen seeds of new life and resurrection. Not all of those seeds have taken root and blossomed. But in every circumstance those seeds have been there. Knowing that any sense of suffering opens the door to the possibility of new life makes me the eternal optimist that I am.

Perhaps that’s why I can relate so well to Paul’s words in today’s passage when he wrote to the believers he left behind: “So when we couldn’t stand being separated from you any longer and could find no way to visit you ourselves, we stayed in Athens and sent Timothy to get you up and about, cheering you on so you wouldn’t be discouraged by these hard times.” I relate to those words because I too am that perpetual cheerleader. I don’t call myself a cheerleader because I fit the (inappropriate) stereotype that cheerleaders are superficial and out of touch with reality. Like Paul I am the perpetual cheerleader because I AM in touch with reality – a reality drenched with God’s presence. That sense of reality gives me the ability to see not just the hardships in life – but what lies beyond the hardship as well.

Today, instead of offering a question for your consideration – I offer something else: myself as a resource. If you ever get in that place where are you can see if the “half emptiness of the glass”, feel free to reach out for an encouraging word. Know that you – like the people of Thessalonica – have a cheerleader behind you cheering YOU on 24/7!!

Til next time…

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Thessalonians 2

Like many people I tend to get a bit nostalgic on holidays and special days. That’s because a flood of memories come rushing back to me concerning the wonderful times I’ve spent over the years with families and friends. Since today is one of those special days (my birthday), you’ll have to bear with me as I share a few of those memories.

On this day, I remember my sixth birthday when my parents got me a “new” bike (okay, technically it was a hand me down from an older sibling) and my dad and brothers helped me learn how to ride it. I also think back to the 13th birthday party my friends Dana & Debbie threw for me when I finally got the skateboard I had wanted for several months. I remember the night of my twenty-first birthday when my three siblings and cousin took me out to my first comedy club (where I had the opportunity to present my ID and get into a club for the first time). I also remember my thirtieth birthday party that was used to officially kick off my campaign for the Washington State House of Representatives. What wonderful birthday memories those were!

Some might wonder why I would give up such wonderful times with family and life-long friends in order to move across country (not once, but twice!) and devote my life to ministry.

For those who might wonder that, I could give a very simple explanation. An explanation so simple, in fact, that it could be captured in one four-letter word: l-o-v-e. Love of God, and love of God’s children!

Paul wrote a beautiful explanation of what motivates a pastor when he wrote: “Even though we had some standing as Christ’s apostles, we never threw our weight around or tried to come across as important, with you or anyone else… We took you as you were… We loved you dearly. Not content to just pass on the Message, we wanted to give you our hearts. And we did.”

Today, I give thanks for two things. All the love I have received over the years from those who have touched my life at each step of my journey; and the opportunity to give the folks with whom I’m in ministry the one thing that matters most: my heart.

Til next time…

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Thessalonians 1

A few years ago at the Annual Meeting for the Rocky Mountain Conference, I heard a statistic that has stayed with me ever since. The speaker – the head of the United Church of Christ’s Still Speaking identity campaign – said that 80% of 18 year olds have never been to church. Eighty percent!

So what does that statistic mean for those of us within the church?

It means that we live in profoundly different times than generations before. We use to be able to assume that young people who walked through our doors for the first time had some background in our faith tradition. We could assume, for instance, that they had heard the names of the Gospels before. We could also assume that if we used names like Abraham, Jacob, and Ruth that they would have an idea of who we were talking about. We can no longer make those assumptions.

So if young people no longer have an exposure to the faith through their participation in a local church, then how do they first encounter the faith?

In reflecting on how many people of his day were first exposed to the faith, Paul wrote to his early audience in Thessalonica: “The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore – you’re the message!”

The last three words of that phrase present the key to evangelism in Paul’s day – and ours! You’re the message… You’re the message… You’re the message… That simple three word phrase means that our call is to embody the faith in our daily lives in such a way that those who have never encountered the God revealed through Jesus have an opportunity to do so through us!

If our life is in fact the message for more and more people these days, my question for you is this: what message is your life conveying?

Til next time…

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Colossians 3:18-4:18

There are lots of things contained in Scripture that are more than a little unsettling by today’s standards. The portion of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where Lot offers his daughters to the crowd of men outside his door isn’t embraced by any person of faith that I know of as an acceptable (or even biblical) way to calm a crowd. And the prohibition against wearing clothing of two blends in Leviticus 19:19 is certainly not observed by most of the faithful these days. Such a standard would be viewed as either impractical - or perhaps unaffordable - by many folks these days.

The opening words from today’s passage present a similar challenge for many because it speaks to relationships in ways that would seem to diminish the egalitarian values we tend to hold these days. Let me give you two examples of what I mean.

In the section directed to wives, for instance, the author says that women are to “understand and support your husbands by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master.” Thankfully I haven’t been to too many weddings these days where the wife vows to submit to her husband. And in speaking to slaves/servants, the author instructs them to “do what you’re told by your earthly masters.” These words clearly validate time-bound expressions of relationships that are troubling by today’s standards.

So is there any value whatsoever embedded deeply within these words that can provide helpful guidance of any sort?

I can’t answer for you, but from my perspective the most helpful tidbit buried in the opening passage comes in the section addressed to the masters. In speaking to a group that enjoyed a disproportionate amount of societal power and privilege; the author of the passage brought them down a few pegs by noting: “Don’t forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master – God in heaven.”

Those culminating words in a difficult section remind me of one simple truth. The quality and context of our human relationships should be informed by the fact that they are expressions of our relationship with God.

It would be easy to minimize the power of that statement, but think about it for a moment. Think about, for instance, your relationship with someone whom you think of as difficult and uncooperative. Our first instinct would be to distance ourselves from that person, right? Yet how many times might God see us being as difficult and uncooperative? And what if God took the same approach with us as we take with those who are difficult and uncooperative? Scary thought, eh.

In your interactions with others today, watch your attitudes and actions as you interact with others. Are those attitudes and actions the kind that reflects the quality of your relationship with God? If not, it might be good time to try to bring those two in line.

Til next time…

Monday, June 14, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Colossians 3:1-17

If you were to watch my leadership style from afar for the purposes of evaluating it, you would probably come back after a while and say, “Craig, you are a complete contradiction. On one hand,” you might begin, “you run around encouraging individuals to do what they feel called to do (translation –passionate about!), and on the other hand get frustrated when individuals act like Lone Rangers in ways that are totally oblivious to the community. Which way is it?” you might ask.

I would then drive you crazy by answering, “Both.”

“But how can it be both?! How can individuals have permission to pursue their passions/calls AND be connected to the larger community?”

The author of Colossians gives us great insight into how to do this when the author wrote these words. “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with one another. None of this going off and doing your own thing.”

So how does that work?

Ultimately it’s a matter of what drives an individual’s passion/call that makes them act either like a Lone Ranger or someone living in the peace of Christ. If the sense of passion/call is driven only by the individual’s personal preferences, then chances are the person will act like a Lone Ranger. If the sense of passion/call is driven by a desire to express his/her passion/call in a way that is meaningful to others as well as oneself, chances are the person will act in ways that keep them in step with one another.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say a person loves to cook and wants to bring something special for the office potluck.

On the surface that sounds good.

Let’s say, however, that they have only one dish in mind that they want to make for the potluck. The dish is exotic, smells unusual, is exclusively meat-based, and takes hours to prepare and MUST be made fresh in order to be properly appreciated.

In the process of making that dish for the potluck the smell disturbs the individuals whose cubicles are close to the kitchen; the meat-based nature of the dish excludes all the vegans/vegetarians; and the time required to make the dish takes the individual away from his/her desk and forces the individual’s co-workers to pick up the extra work.

What started as a loving gesture meant to bring the group together degenerated into a divisive experience because of the self-centered way it was approached.

Now imagine the same scenario with only one slight change. Imagine that the individual who loves to cook sat down and asked her/himself a few questions first. “What can I bring that won’t unduly distract others while I’m preparing it, can be eaten by meat-eaters and vegetarians, and is relatively easy to prepare?”

By thinking those simple questions through, the individual can pursue her/his passion/call AND maintain the peace of Christ within the community.

As you go forth into a busy today, I would invite you to look for opportunities to pursue your passion/call in such a way that its expression doesn’t come across as self-centered but peace and unity-generating!

Til next time…