Pulpits, Pews, & Presidents

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It’s a new year. And it is an election year. As a lead pastor, this will be my second time navigating the political obstacle course of pews and presidential campaigns. As a church planter, my congregation is filled with people from all walks of the political spectrum; republican, democrat, libertarian, green party, Ralph Nader…it’s colorful to say the least. And, therefore, my position from the pulpit is less about evangelical rhetoric and more about reminding the people that we are to extend grace in the coming months, even more than normal.

I confess I struggle with the traditional evangelical stance myself. I am pro-life. Now wait. Before you delete me from Facebook or applaud my stance, I should clarify what I mean by pro-life.

I believe that God has created all people in His image and all life is precious to Him. And, as a believer, life should matter to me. I believe the life of an unborn child is precious to God. I also believe the life of a person on death row is equally precious to Him. I believe that if I am going to be pro-life, then I should be so across the board.

Therefore, I am against the death penalty and war and euthanasia. I’m against human trafficking and slavery. I’m against oppressing the poor and I’m for assisting the marginalized. I believe we should care for the widow and the foreigner and the exile/refugee. I believe the newborn infant and the teenage mom are precious to God, too.

But here is my problem; I see each candidate and political party and none of them fully reflect my values. The politician that claims to protect the unborn, threatens the life of the refugee. The one who appears to stand for rehabilitation over the death penalty, threatens to bomb my brothers and sisters oversees. The candidate who speaks out against euthanasia, cuts funding from programs to educate the poor. And I am left asking the question which are the lesser of all these evils?

So, in November, you and I will be asked to choose. We will put pen to paper to make a decision about what is most important to us. And we will be forced to choose one good thing over another. Therefore, I don’t think it is fair for us to say that one of us is right while the other one is wrong, as tempting as it may be. Instead, you and I, as believers in Christ, are called to be people of prayer over the next several months. Ask God for guidance when you step up to the polls to choose. Then, when you choose, trust God.

Trust God that, in the end, His plan always prevails. In the meantime, remember that the one sitting in the pew next to you is also praying and trusting God. And we would do well to keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of our faith rather than the politics of Man.

How Can This Be?

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Triumph. Is triumph possible in the midst of suffering?

It has been a roller coaster of a week. Last Saturday I officiated a funeral for a woman who lost her battle with cancer. Claudia was one of “my list of 10”. Our church had committed to praying for 10 households in the month of December. Ten families for 30 days. At the end of the 30 days, Claudia’s husband called to tell me she had gone home to the Lord.

It was a bittersweet moment. She was out of pain and she was in God’s presence; her suffering was over. Yet, her family was just beginning the journey of grief, loss, and their own suffering.

At the funeral, Claudia’s 5 year old granddaughter sat in the front row with her little feet dangling over the pew. I think we all wondered if she was comprehending any of what was happening. When the pallbearers carried the casket from the sanctuary, little Emma began to weep. They were big tears with sobs coming from the depths of her soul.

We don’t need to know all the details of a situation to experience the pain of suffering. Suffering is an equal opportunist that way. As Christians, we understand the WHY of suffering better than we think. We know…in our heads…that sin entered the world when Adam and Eve fell from grace. And when we ask “why”, it’s really a cry asking ourselves and God “when”.

When will the suffering end? When will You send Your Son to end the pain for good? When will I feel joy again? When will I feel safe again? When will I know…in my heart…that all this is truly working together for good?

The Virgin Mary was visited by the Angel, Gabriel. He told her she would be the mother of the long awaited Messiah; Jesus; Emmanuel; God with us. We have made that story so beautiful. For Mary, it was a terrifying announcement of a life of suffering. She would be mocked and ridiculed. She would be talked about and shamed for her “unwanted” pregnancy. She would hear the cruel words spoken about her “crazy” rabbi son. And she would hold his limp, lifeless body in her arms before they laid him in a borrowed tomb.

We know the end of the story. We have read the Book. Jesus is victorious and Mary’s suffering ends in triumph.

The same is true for you. The promise of Christ’s victory is for all people, and it extends into our time and place. During your season of suffering, hold on to this promise. Good always wins. God always triumphs.

Shift: Wilderness

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And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. – Mark 1:4

If we live long enough, we will experience some significant shift in our life. Some of them are simply part of growing up; starting school, graduation, marriage, children, a new job. Some are more startling, like the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one. And sometimes a “shift” is more of an awakening.

In Mark’s Gospel, the world was on the verge of a major shift; an awakening. They were about to experience something they had never known before. And, at the on set of this shift, there would first be a wilderness experience.

There are very few significant shifts in life that take place without a wilderness experience. I’m not sure if it is possible to have a shift or awakening without a wilderness experience. Yet, we work hard at avoiding the wilderness at all cost.

Many people have asked me for prayer over the years. And one of the longest categories is people asking me to pray for God to remove them from the “wilderness” experience. I am faithful to pray for them, but, I confess, I rarely ask God to take them out of the wilderness. Instead, I ask God to take the wilderness out of them. Our wilderness experiences are the most significant parts of our lives. They shape us, prepare us, and make us the people God wants us to be.

Sunday we begin a new series called SHIFT. I hope you will come ready for a new awakening. And I hope you will come prepared to walk through the wilderness experience. September is a season of new beginnings. Spend some time this week in prayer and fasting. Ask God to prepare your heart for a new awakening and come ready to SHIFT your perspective.

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The Wind Blows

The wind blows wherever it wants

 

It is a windy day in Michigan here. I sit and watch the trees swaying and remnants of autumn’s leaves rustling in the wind.

There is a bush in our front yard near the road. The deer have been nibbling at it all winter long. I’m not sure it will survive the spring though. I think they may have stripped it of all life.

The wind and the signs of spring remind me of a verse in John’s Gospel. Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Spirit of God is like the wind. We cannot see the wind. We don’t really know what it is or where it comes from. All we can see is the effect it has on its surroundings. And so we see the trees sway. Paper and leaves move over the ground as if on their own accord. And petals drop to the ground.

So it is of those born of the Spirit of God. We don’t really understand how it happens. It just does. And we see the affects of His Spirit as it moves upon the person. We see them change; become more like Christ; we see them desire the things of God.

And so we see what we want, but we do not know how to get there. It is a frustrating place to be. We see it. We want it. But we cannot reach out and touch it. And we certainly cannot control it.

So we wait…and we seek…and we pray. And we are reminded it is not by power or might, but by the Spirit of God.

Today, pray this prayer with me…

Come, Holy Spirit, come! Amen.

The Mission of St Patrick

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My in-laws are of Irish decent. And March 17th is filled with all sorts of festivities. Many of the cultural celebrations of St Patrick’s Day are unappealing to me. These have more to do with getting drunk and seeing how many shades of green we can layer upon ourselves. It’s not that I am a prude or opposed to having fun. I just find fun in more “sobering” ways.

But St. Patrick’s Day is not about green beer and corned beef. And I’m not sure it is even about a man from Ireland. It is about a man taking the Good News about the Good Shepherd to the lost sheep in a foreign land. I am reminded that there are still lost sheep today. Some are living in foreign lands and some in our own neighborhoods. Men, women, and children who need to hear there is hope. They need to hear there is a Shepherd Who longs to heal their wounded soul.

As we celebrate today (and, for some, all week long), let us remember the lost sheep around us. Invite them in. Share a drink and a laugh. Tell them there is still hope in this crazy, crazy world. And love them like the Good Shepherd would.

Fight Fair

Boxing is a sport I can appreciate. Two men beating the snot out of each other, and the last one standing wins. I can follow that strategy. There are very few rules; no hitting below the belt, listen to the referee, and take breaks.

It would do us well to follow these same principles in our relationships. Saint James and Saint Paul give us similar rules to help us.

1) be quick to listen
2) be slow to speak
3) be slow to become angry
4) if you get angry, at least don’t sin
5) do your best to resolve the issue, preferably before bed

I don’t always remember these. And, my guess is, you don’t either. I suppose that’s why Jesus also commanded us to be quick to forgive. Forgive those who neglect these principles, and forgive yourself when you also fail.

Here’s to a year of learning to fight fair. But remember it may take a lifetime.

Creating a Church Nursery Space for Crawlers

Here are some updates to our children’s department. We are overjoyed with God’s many blessings.

Jennifer Noricks

I lead Children’s Ministry at my small church. Our youngest children are in a large classroom; they range in age from birth to Pre-Kindergarten. It was impossible for our workers to find a safe spot for newly mobile infants. Thanks to a donation, I was given a budget of $900 to create a Crawler Zone. When I started looking into the project, I was overwhelmed by the choices that are available.

First of all, I had a hard time finding the products I’ve seen in crawler zones at libraries and children’s museums. I didn’t know what they were called. My advice to you is, do a Web search for “soft play toddler.” You can go to the company websites and request catalogs if that’s your preferred method of browsing. Wesco brand products will come up quite frequently. I ended up selecting Wesco floor mats, wall mats, and “tiny tot module”…

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