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Saturday, June 26, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Timothy 4-5

I’ve made a sort of progression in my life when it comes to living in places that have a degree of health consciousness. I started my life living in Eastern Washington – a place where a breakfast of eggs and bacon was seen as normal and people described their dietary preferences with the phrase “meat and potatoes”. Next, I moved on to Colorado where people were much more physically active and conscious of what they ate. Finally, I in Southern California – a place where you drive for miles in some directions without running into a carbohydrate and physical health and beauty is at a premium. What a journey it has been!

At each stop, I’ve always remember the wise words of my mom when she reflected on one’s health. When it comes to maintaining your health, she said: “You get out of it, what you put into it.”

By that she meant there was a sort of natural accountability built into the process of getting/remaining healthy. If I wanted to control my weight, for instance, I would have to control what I ate. If I wanted more energy, I would need to find time to exercise and be physically active. That intimate relationship between what one invests and what one takes away from something has stayed with me in a variety of areas in life.

The author of 1 Timothy picks up on this very theme when he wrote: “Exercise daily in God – no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.”

A person certainly wouldn’t expect to be physically fit if she or he worked out for an hour once or twice a month. Likewise, a person probably wouldn’t be spiritually fit if they simply put in an hour at worship once or twice a month. The key to a spiritually satisfying life is to find ways to “workout” on a daily basis.

That spiritual workout can be done in a variety of ways: through prayer, through devotion/reading, through meditation, through worship/celebration, through service … the list of things with spiritual dimensions is nearly endless. The point, however, is that those activities should be regularly engaged if you want to see meaningful results.

Today I would ask you to consider the following question: “How regular and broad-based is your ‘workout’ routine?”

Til next time…

Friday, June 25, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Timothy 3

This Sunday – as a part of our worship service – we’ll be installing the newly elected leaders to their positions for the upcoming 2010-11 program year. Consequently, I found the timing of today’s reading from 1 Timothy particularly helpful – for in today’s passage the author addresses the issue of what it takes to lead in the church.

Most of the qualities the author lists are the sort of thing you would expect from a church leader. We are told, for instance, that a leader should be well thought of, committed to his [or her] spouse, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. Nothing surprising there at all.

It wasn’t until I got to the last item on the list that I found a quality that might surprise some. That quality said a leader should be “attentive to his [or her] own children and have their respect”.

“What’s that got to do with leading a church?” some might wonder.

The author gives one reason for including the item in the list. The author frames the reason with a question: “For if one is unable to handle his [or her] own affairs, how can he [or she] take care of God’s church?”

Being a church leader who doesn’t have children of his own, I couldn’t help but wonder if that provision had anything to say to someone like me. So I sat with that question for a while - and an answer came to me.

The call for a leader to be attentive to his [or her] own children and earn their respect is a call to attain balance in one’s life. Let me tell you why balance is important.

Over the years, I’ve seen so many pastors lose themselves completely in their work. At times, I’ve even BEEN one of those pastors.

At first, losing yourself in the work seems like the only appropriate response to one’s call to ministry. After all, there are so many needs and so many who make demands upon you that losing yourself in service seems like the only adequate response.

Over time, however, you come to realize that you and your family are a part of those whom you are called to care for. If you neglect yourself and your family, you are neglecting a part of your call. In other words, a good leader must know how to balance care of others with care for yourself and your loved ones. Balance... balance… balance… That’s what good leadership is all about!

So how are you with the issue of balance in your life? Have you found ways of engaging the world that allows you to balance different aspects of your being, or is your life too heavily weighted in one direction (either toward others or yourself)?

Til next time…

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Timothy 1-2

Having been raised in a small church that was VERY traditional, I was taught there was only one kind of prayer growing up. They never used the phrase “intercessory prayer” – but that was the only kind I was taught. By intercessory prayer, I mean the type of prayer when you spend your time talking to (or in some cases at) God.

Intercessory prayer is most meaningful when an individual believes in a God that is transcendent (i.e. “out there in the universe”). Over the years - as my belief in God evolved from a transcendent belief toward a panentheist belief (God is both within and beyond the created order) my prayer life began to be challenged. I no longer felt satisfied spending the bulk of my prayer time talking to/at God.

“What other choices do I have?” I remember wondering.

Consequently, my prayer life began to taper off dramatically.

It wasn’t until I took a wonderful class in seminary titled “The Life of Prayer” that I was exposed to a variety of ways to pray. Once that happened, my prayer life began to soar.

I found that one of my most satisfying experiences in prayer is simply sitting in silence – being open to the movement of the Spirit (what many would call meditation). I also enjoy a form known as walking prayer (repeating a simple phrase over and over under my breath in rhythm to my steps during a walk). I also use my piano playing as a means of prayer. Lately, I have found ways to experience conversations with others as a form of prayer as well. Each of these prayerful experiences has deepened my connection with God in very profound ways.

I suppose my expanded experience of prayer is one reason I appreciate the words offered in today’s passage from 1 Timothy – especially the opening words from 1 Timothy 2 where the author states: “The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how…” That encouragement to “pray every way you know how” is a wonderful phrase to invite all of us into expansive prayer lives.

Today I would invite you to take a moment to reflect on your own prayer life. Is your prayer life a meaningful part of your spiritual life? Do you use more than one method of prayer? If you are looking for an expansive approach to prayer, I would invite you to visit the following link: Vennard Interview. Jane Vennard, the UCC pastor interviewed in the article, was the professor (and friend) who taught the course I mentioned at the start of today’s entry. It might be a helpful resource if you’re looking for other ways to experience prayer.

Til next time…

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Thessalonians 3

Some of you might wonder where I get my daily reading schedule. I use Eugene Peterson’s “The Message: Remix – Pause”. That edition contains the daily reading schedule that I follow.

In that edition, Peterson often has a question at the end of a passage that he uses to draw the reader further into the reading. Sound familiar? It must be a Peterson thing. Anyway, the question Peterson raised at the end of today’s passage was a provocative one. Let me set up – and then share – that question for you.

The author of today’s passage wrote: “Don’t you remember the rule we had when we lived with you? ‘If you don’t work, don’t eat.’ And now we’re getting reports that a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings are taking advantage of you. This must not be tolerated. We command them to get to work immediately – no excuses, no arguments – and earn their keep.”

Peterson then asks this uncomfortable question: “Does refusing to feed a hungry [person] who refuses to work contradict godly compassion?”

It would be easy to answer with a resounding, “Yes.” As I sat with Peterson’s question, however, I found myself asking a follow up question. “In that circumstance, what is it that would draw out our compassion? Would it be the individual’s hunger, or would it be the individual’s slothfulness (assuming the individual were capable of working, of course)?”

How one answers the question would go a long way in determining one’s response. If it were the individual’s hunger, then we would feel compelled to provide food. If it were the individual’s slothfulness, then we would feel compelled to try to motivate the individual to take action (i.e. withhold the food). In other words, how one assesses the problem goes a long way in determining one’s course of action.

Perhaps you have been wrestling with a problem in the context of your own life for awhile. You might even have been frustrated that the response you considered to be a “no-brainer” hasn’t worked.

If that’s the case, perhaps you should step back from the problem and ask yourself what the underlying issue really is. In exploring alternatives, you might stumble upon an overlooked aspect of the situation that could give you a new perspective on what the real issue is – producing an exciting (and perhaps unexpected!) solution.

Til next time…

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Thessalonians 2

Those of you who have read my blog for a while now, know that I have a deep interest in politics. I’m not sure exactly what it is that fascinates me about politics as I was raised in an extremely apolitical family. I can put my finger on at least one thing that captures my interest when it comes to politics: it represents one area in our society where we get to see whether individuals (and nations) actually live by the values to which they pay lip service.

Living by the values one professes sounds as if it ought to be an easy thing to do. In reality, however, it’s a much more difficult endeavor. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

As a progressive person, I’m someone who believes very strongly that there should be a separation between the church and state. That has been a given for all of my life.

Over the weekend, I saw a movie titled “8: The Mormon Proposition”. The purpose of the film was to expose the way the Mormon Church violated the principles of the separation of church and states by pouring millions of dollars (and thousands of volunteers) into the effort to pass Proposition 8 here in California.

It’s easy to stand back from the film and think to oneself, “That’s horrible! It was wrong for the church to get involved in that campaign. They should have stayed out.”

In the next moment, however, I wonder how many progressive churches participated in some way in the process to defeat Proposition 8. How many had sign up sheets for “No on 8” volunteer opportunities in their Narthex? How many sermons were preached that told members to vote against Proposition 8?

In other words, I wondered what disturbed me about the film. Was I upset because the Mormon Church got involved; or was I upset because I didn’t agree with the Mormon Church’s position on the issue? Those are two VERY different questions.

Further, if I want to take a firm stand on principle saying “It is always wrong for a church to get involved in politics” then what are the implications for the way I as a pastor act when faced with burning issues like health care reform and immigration legislation? Tough questions with which to wrestle.

So why am I talking about this today?

Well, in today’s passage the author of 2 Thessalonians wrote: “So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by letter.”

My question for us to consider is this: “How do we do that? How do we take a firm stand in ways that are not only legal but compassionate and Christ-like as well?

Til next time…

Monday, June 21, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Thessalonians 5-2 Thessalonians 1

Over the past few months, I’ve had a growing realization about one of the challenges progressive faith communities face these days. This challenge had flown under my radar for the last several years as I focused my attention on other things.

What is that challenge?

The challenge is this: many progressive mainline churches have organized their life together by making the assumption that the people who arrive at their doorsteps have a lifelong background in Christianity. Therefore, they talk and act as if the folks who arrive have been in church all their life.

There’s a problem with this assumption. As I noted a few weeks ago in my blog, one UCC official said that 80% of 18 year olds have never set foot inside a church before. As that generation of 18 year olds grows up and arrives in our churches, there is an emerging need for progressive mainline churches to find ways to challenge their long-held assumption – and begin to engage/educate people who have no background in the faith whatsoever. That means finding ways to do a little Christianity 101. If we don’t, we’ll be talking and acting in coded ways that will mean nothing to younger generations.

That means congregations have a special challenge. How do we construct our life together in ways that account for the needs of those who have been in church all of their lives - who have decades of background in the faith - as well as those who just arrived who have no background whatsoever. That is the challenge!

On the surface, it would seem impossible to simultaneously address both sets of needs. Below the surface, however, Paul gives us some insight in his culminating words in today’s passage from 1 Thessalonians. “Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your own part,” Paul begins. “Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person,” he advises, “attentive to individual needs.”

The key lies in being patient with one another. Those who have spent years in church will need to find ways to allow opportunities for the basics of the faith to be meaningfully addressed and incorporated into the life of the community. Those who have just arrived will need to find ways to engage rituals and traditions that are meaningful to those with a long history in the faith. In other words, individuals will have to realize (and respect!) the fact that the community must be attentive to needs other than one’s own. That is the challenge for each of us living in Christian community.

So how are you with this sense of balance between what some might call competing needs? Are you willing to extend patience to others as you live in community, or are you focused on your needs?

Til next time…