Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Visioning forward

Ok, so... yeh. been a while since I've posted. And granted, a lot has happened in the almost year since I've posted. Dad died. I graduated from seminary (again). Got appointed to a new charge (this time a two point charge in Lincoln, MO).

But anyway, I digress.....

I started reading the book for my next Pastoral Leadership Development class that is coming up here in a couple of weeks. For me, to get started on a book this early before I have to have it read is HUGE, and I'm glad I started this early. Said book is "Preaching for Church Transformation" by Bill Easum. The point of the book, from reading the back cover and table of contents, is that by reading this book, a pastor will be able to use preaching to help the congregation move forward. I'm all for that. Yeah! Then I read the first little bit.....

"You can't begin this series until you have a clear vision of where God wants your church to go, because somewhere in this message, you will need to share that vision with the congregation. If you don't have that vision, put this book down, take your Bible, and go off to a place where you can listen to God. Pray and ask God for a vision for the community he has called you to lead." That is page 1, paragraph 1.


Glad I got an early start on this sucker!

I thought of going into the sanctuary, which is where I go to pray a lot, but for some reason I felt I had to go out to the cemetery. That would be outside of town. I thought I'd drive, but for some reason I felt I had to walk. I've had feelings like this before, and I learned early on in my ministry not to question them. So I walked.

The question I thought I was supposed to ask when I got there and started walking around the graves was "What are some of the dreams you saw unfulfilled in your lifetime?"

Did I really think I would get a response? Apparently I did think I would get a response, and it felt weird walking out there (it's just over a mile outside town), but I knew that if I get "one of those feelings" I'm just supposed to obey. We did, after all, sing the hymn "Trust and Obey" this last Sunday!

I started walking around the grave markers, some of which were family names I recognized, and some were of people who are still in the congregation who have done their advanced estate planning. Good for them! I knew they were still well alive, but were planning ahead.

After wandering around for a bit I started asking "so, what do you hear?" The answer...."NOT A F***ing thing!!!!!!"

Seemed a bit brash for my inner voice to cuss me out like that, but then another voice came into my head.

"I am the God of the living, not of the dead. You can never take the church back to what it was because the people from that time are here, in the cemetery, not in the church. Go forward, not back. That is THE ONLY way to go."

So I started walking back to the church.

On the way back, I started thinking about dad and his death. In the months since he died, there have been times where I could feel his presence with me, and it has comforted me. In the cemetery, it felt like I was so totally alone. What happened to that "great cloud of witnesses" we talk about on All Saints Day? Is that just a bunch of baloney, or is it something we say to make ourselves feel better? If I say that we have to move forward and can't go back, is that dishonoring our loved ones, including my dad, who have gone ahead of us?

I think in that internal conversation on the road back from the cemetery to town, I felt a sense of release from the past. I don't think my dad ever lived in the past, and I also think that he would be proud of me for coming to this realization that I need to lead the church forward. This is something my head has always known, but I don't think my heart ever got the memo. And while I write this, yes, I can still feel his presence, and yes, his presence still gives me comfort, but I know that God will help me lead the congregations into the future. And dad will still be there with me.

Now I just need to get that vision!

In Christ,

Rev. Rob

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lenten reflection March 12, 2011

Acts 28:23-31

After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah, ‘Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (NRSV)


I can be REALY stubborn sometimes. Those who know me right now are saying “NO!!!! SAY IT AIN’T SO!!!!!!” But yes, I can dig my heels in with the best of them when I am pushed in a direction I don’t want to go. Sometimes the results of such stubbornness isn’t pretty for either party, but hey – I’m still standing. I have the scars to prove it though, but mostly they are emotional and not visible to others.

Paul had to deal with stubborn people, and I’m sure that he is also speaking to me in this passage at different times of my life. Sometimes it is difficult for me to really believe that the Good News being talked about is really for me. I hear of miracles in other people’s lives, but don’t trust they can happen to me. Or when something great or even miraculous happens it isn’t what I’m expecting, so I feel let down.

I’m sure this is some of what the people Paul was addressing were experiencing, and that is why some of them left. I can only imagine this is what Isaiah was being told in his vision in Heaven’s throne room Paul was referring to (see Isaiah 6). We get hard hearts, and when things start to get difficult, but someone is telling us that God is on our side, that God loves us, that Jesus forgives our sins by having died for us….. the message is difficult to hear.

Yet God wants us to hear.

We’re still very early in the Lenten season, and the journey has only just begun. This is a long haul. With my dad undergoing cancer treatments, this is an especially difficult time for me and the family. Yet our faith is getting us through. We are trusting God. I am trusting God to show me the way in how I am to live out my call. There is hope, and by going through this journey together, we know that God’s healing will happen one way or another.

It just may not be what we expect or want.

Keep an open heart.

In Christ’s love,

Rev. Rob

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lenten reflection March 11, 1011

Acts 13:44-52

The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (NRSV)

So much I could write about this passage. When I read this my mind went down so many rabbit trails it was hard to keep up!

I think one of the risks we have to avoid in reading this passage is thinking or preaching “silly Jews, rejecting the message of Jesus!” Unfortunately, this attitude has been taken and preached all too often during the course of the Christian tradition. When I see passages like this and witness this attitude being presented, I have to ask myself “in what ways have I MYSELF rejected the good news that Jesus has to offer?” It is way too easy to point the finger about how bad someone is for not accepting Jesus into their lives, or pointing out that other faith traditions who don’t follow Jesus are wrong somehow. But debating the “right”ness or “wrong”ness of a particular faith is not the point here. The point I bring up for all of us during Lent is “how, as a Christian (assuming possibly falsely that everyone reading this is Christian) am I working to make sure that I live in a way that is constant with what Jesus calls me to live? Am I truly working to feed the hungry, free the captives, restore sight to the blind, proclaim the coming of the Lord (see Luke 4:16-24)? Or am I ‘blaming’ others for a lack of faith?”

Lots of tricky questions pop up for me in this reading. I pray that this passage and meditation will lead you and me to a greater understanding of our place in the world and our faith in God.


Rev. Rob

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lenten reflection March 10, 2011

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. John 10:1-6 (NRSV)

The theme this week in my devotional book is "Listening to Jesus." This is based on last Sunday's passage on the Transfiguration. As we move through Lent, we continue to guided by the voice of Jesus and we examine our relationship with God, ourselves, and with each other. On this first day after Ash Wednesday, it is very comforting to hear these words of Jesus from John's gospel where we are reminded that Jesus is the one who guides us in our lives. If we try and do things ourselves, we will not do nearly as well as when we listen to our shepherd.

Yet when we pray (and I am certainly guilty of this myself!) we tend to go to God with a list of things we want God to do for us (the image of a Cosmic Santa often comes to mind) instead of us just shutting up and listening to God. Or we tend to think of our walk with God as being something where we have to constantly be DOING SOMETHING!!!!! I think the point of Lent is for us to shut our logical minds off long enough to allow the "still, small voice" of God to penetrate the very core of our being long enough to truly get in and work on us instead of us "working" on God.

I pray continued blessings to you this Lenten season.

Rev. Rob

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday 2011 (repost)

Hebrews 3:7-15

7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works 10for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.’ 11As in my anger I swore, ‘They will not enter my rest.’” 12Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. 15As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (NRSV)

Ash Wednesday is a time when we enter into purposeful and intentional reflection on our lives with God. It is a time to open our hearts and minds to what God has to say to us about our relationship with ourselves, with each other, and with God. On Transfiguration Sunday (this last Sunday), Jesus' glory and divinity was revealed to us on the mountaintop. God's voice broke through and said "this is my son, the beloved. Listen to him!" Sometimes when we hear God's voice so directly, we freak out, just as the disciples who witnessed this event did, and yet Jesus gently tapped them on the shoulders and said "Get up. Do not be afraid."

So this Lenten season, we must repent of being afraid to approach God and repent of our fear of letting God into our lives. We must put away our rebellion, encourage each other on this journey we are on together just as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews instructs us, and become parters WITH Christ and OF Christ. Open our hearts to the voice of God.

I cannot see very far into my future right now. It is like I am looking into a black fog. But I am not afraid. I know that God has magnificent things in store for me and is guiding my footsteps. It is my fervent prayer that you will open your hearts up to God and let God guide your footsteps as well, even if they lead into a place where you cannot see.

In Christ's holy name I pray for each of you.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Shrove Tuesday!!

Hey everyone. Ok, Ok, I know.... it's been well over a year since I've posted on my blog. I'm not the best at this blogging thang (obviously) but with Ash Wednesday being tomorrow, I figured this would be a good time to fire up the blog o' rama and share some thoughts on Lent. BTW, a colleague of mine and I had to look up Shrove Tuesday today at lunch on my phone. Here is the link to what we found:

Last year at Lent I had the blessing of being in a covenant relationship where my prayer partner and I promised to pray three times a day and hold each other accountable by texting each other. I am very happy that we have re-established that relationship this year, and there are some very specific things we will be in prayer about for each other.

Also starting tomorrow at the church I serve will be an 11 week bible study on the Gospel of John. I taught this class at the church I previously served and it was a true blessing to be able to get a glimpse of Christ's divinity through these writings. There has also been a request for scripture passages to be read each day and some reflections to be shared. So... here goes the holy reading schedule for this week beginning with tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. Reflections will follow on each day. I won't make a promise as to what time a day I'll post these just because I know myself a little too well and know that "SQUIRREL!!!" is alive and active in my life. (See the movie "Up" if you don't get that reference....)

Ash Wednesday (March 9, 2011) Lectionary for Ash Wednesday is Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 - or - Hebrews 3:7-15.
Thursday March 10, 2011 - John 10:1-6
Friday March 11, 2011 - Acts 13:44-52
Saturday March 12, 2011 - Acts 24:23-31
Sunday March 13, 2011 - Lectionary passages: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11 (I usually preach from OT and NT and the liturgy for the worship service draws from the others.)

Blessings to each and every one of you in this Lenten season!

Rev. Rob

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Grace and Redemption - "You have to move on"
Some of you know that I am a big fan of REAL football, or what people here in the US call "Soccer." ;) Last night during the Kansas City Wizards game, a real life example of grace and redemption showed itself.

Jimmy Conrad, the captian of the Wizards and one of the most respected players in the league, committed what were really the only two mistakes in the game for the team, but those mistakes lead directly to the other team's two goals. After the second goal for FC Dallas, every time the camera showed Jimmy, his face looked worn and defeated. There were visible bags under his eyes. In the paper this morning, he said it felt like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

How many times in our lives have we made mistakes that have been costly, either to ourselves, our loved ones, or even to someone we may not know? Sometimes these mistakes make it feel as if the weight of the world were on our shoulders, and that the entire world is going to wait and watch, anticipating and even rooting for us to make another mess of things. Sometimes it seems as if the only one on your side is the devil, waiting for you to make one final mistake that will cost you everything.

Thankfully, God is always on our side, cheering us on, granting us the grace that we do not deserve, but that we so sorely need in order to be able to move on with our lives. And thankfully for Jimmy Conrad, he was left in the game. In the 80th minute, a ball was delivered toward the Dallas net that one of their defenders tried to direct over the crossbar for a corner kick, but it was too low and the keeper had a hard time handeling the ball. Jimmy was there to head in what would be the game winning goal for the wizzards. He had been given another chance and he took advantage of it. He was the first one after the game to admit that he was not happy about the way he had played the game that evening, but he was also the first to be glad that he had made up for his errors.

God gives us all second chances. While I usually don't care for sports metaphors in sermons or using them as preaching illustrations, the way Jimmy played last night shows, I think, how we are all called by God to use the multiple second chances we are given to turn our lives around. To God I give thanks for grace and redemption.

Rev. Rob