Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Faith Matters

Before falling asleep last night I was flipping through channels and I came across a Nightline report, that struck me. It was a report about what heaven looks like. I don't know if I agreed with a lot of it, but it struck me that they were talking about it. The title of the segment, I think, struck me more. It seems they have created a series of reports titled, "Faith Matters." Naturally, my cynical side kicked in and I began to wonder, "Why does a network news program get it, and so many of us in mainline congregations don't?" Again, I can't say that I'm thrilled with some of the topics they've covered there, but honestly faith does matter. I just wish more of us lived it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Kids? How about all of us?

Last night there was a good report about raising kids to spend and handle money in a healthy way. I would encourage you to watch it here. I think it might just be something ALL of us could learn, not just kids. The expert they spoke to is Nathan Dungan and I would also recommend his website found here, it's loaded with all kinds of great thoughts around money. It's time that as a society we change our thinking to share, save, and then spend... instead of the other way around.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Apathy & Making a Difference

This last week I had the opportunity to sit at the feet of a couple of great thinkers in the ELCA. First I attended a class taught by Dave Daubert who was working with the ELCA largely with planting mission start churches. He now works with A Renewal Enterprise, an organization dedicated to helping people and congregations connect with God's mission in the world. One of the most striking comments he made was that the predominant emotion expressed in the ELCA is apathy. We just don't seem to care, or maybe it's believe, that God is present and active in our world, much less that God is inviting us to join in this great mission.

Then on Sunday, I attended a workshop along with several other council members where the keynote speaker was Bishop Mark Hanson. He had some rather interesting, and provocative, things to say as well. One of the things I walked away with was that this generation we often lament being missing from our congregations, 18-35 year olds, want to join organizations where they can make a difference in the world. What does that say about us as a denomination if this generation is by and large missing?

These revelations kind of make me sad. It makes me sad that we are missing the mark so badly as a denomination. It makes me sad that there appears to be such a large number of people missing out on the exciting, glorious things that God is up to in the world.

Oddly, though, there is also excitement. While, we might be currently missing the mark a bit, we are also poised to make a tremendous impact on our culture which could probably use a good hug right about now. We have a theology that embraces the amazing things that God is up to in the world, and does so in a helpful way, with a realistic perspective. We have a theology that recognizes that there are just gray areas in life and embraces grace and forgiveness. We have a theology that understands that it is God at work and it's not up to us, but that we are invited to participate along with God who embraces those who find themselves at the margins of life. Consequently we have some of the best social service organizations in the world. We have the structure and people power to make a difference in the world like no other organization in existence. We can change the world!

Are we going to allow apathy and fear to rule? Or are we going to embrace the exciting things that God is up to in the world? There is a lot to be exciting about! We have only just scratched the surface of the impact we can have in the world through the power of god.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Eeyore Be Gone

Our journey back from Arizona yesterday turned into a bit of a disaster. We got to the airport and our flight was delayed. Not a problem, until we landed in Chicago and couldn't get on the next flight. That became a bigger deal when their computer indicated that I had a printed ticket, which turned out to be false. We ended up spending the night in Chicago and not our own beds as the schedule originally indicated. To put it lightly it brought out the inner Eeyore in me.

As I was catching up on some old e-mails today I came across a great article about leadership and hope. The premise was that you can delegate a lot of things as leader, but the one thing you can't delegate is hope. When hope leads along with the leader then the group doesn't have to worry about "if" we can overcome our current challenge. Instead they can worry about the "how" we will overcome. The problem is that often the Eeyore's of the world want end up leading and then we focus on the "if" instead of the "how" and we don't get real far. I think that's unfortunate because as people of faith hope really should lead the way. If there is a commodity that we should have in abundance it should be hope.

I confess, though, more often than not the inner Eeyore in me sneaks out. I try to put up a front of hope, but Eeyore lies beneath the surface and that can't be hidden. Or the other problem is that in trying to lead with hope I end up appearing to be blind to the reality of the situation, which isn't necessarily the case but if it is perceived then I think we all know it's reality for others. So it becomes a delicate balance. One that I continue to work on.

So I encourage you as you find yourself in a position of leadership, lead with hope. In the meanwhile, I also encourage you to take a look at the article here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Getting Away

In just a short while Dawn and I will load up on a plane and head out to Anaheim, CA. We'll be there for about four days of continuing education. After that we will head over to AZ for some vacation visiting my parents. I've got to say there is something refreshing even about the thought that we are getting away. Not that it's bad being where I'm at, because it isn't. Yet isn't it nice to get a change of scenery? I anticipating getting recharged for ministry this weekend. I anticipate getting recharged for life next week. I am also quite sure that the 70 degree temperatures won't hurt either. If I get a chance I'll share updates from the conference, but we'll see... I'm getting away... and it feels good.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What Are You Going To Do?

It's here, Super Duper Fat Mardigras Tuesday. What's your plan? Are you going to get involved and join in your caucus or primary? What's going to lead your decision? What role will your faith play in the vote you cast? I know people want to say that we shouldn't mix religion and politics and from a governance standpoint I suppose they are right. I don't want some politicians telling me how to run the church, we've messed it up just fine on our own. Yet on a practical, realistic level how can you not mix the two? When faith grabs hold of your life it becomes a part of all that you do. Politics also influences all corners of our lives. How do you keep the two separated? Why should we separate the two?

Here is my hope. I hope that your faith leads as you go and support your favorite candidate. Then I hope that it is your faith that continues to lead you through these 40 days of lent that we have ahead of us yet.

Bad Math

The devotion I read this morning talked about how we live in world that understands living by law, or as he put it "ungrace." We all know the rules: "No pain, no gain", "You get what you pay for," etc. We live by these rules every single day. Then you sit down and you read the parables of grace that Jesus talks about. You get images of people who have built up such a debt that it is simply impossible for them to repay their debt (kind of sounds to me like that's us), yet they end up being let off completely scot-free. In world of money, bank foreclosures, and a tit-for-tat attitude that is just plain and simple bad math. It is outrageous, ridiculous, and scandalous.

Yet if we slow down and listen we start to hear it as wonderful. If we listen carefully we just might hear the gentle whispers that we, also, did not get what we deserved. The debt of my sin has built up to a point that there is simply no way I could ever repay the price. Yet there is a banquet being prepared for me as write (as you read). These are the whispers of grace that wash over us and sustain us.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Give Up

Here is something that came through my e-mail today. I thought it was fitting with the start of Lent right on our doorstep....

GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, "In everything give thanks." Constructive
criticism is OK, but "moaning, groaning, and complaining" are not Christian

GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible
study and personal devotion.

GIVE UP looking at other people's worst points. Instead concentrate on their
best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook
our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.

GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and
understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Why
not check that sharp tongue at the door?

GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of
love. "Love covers a multitude of sins."

GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is
spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like
tomorrow! Live today and let God's grace be sufficient.

GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit some lonely or sick person.

There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in
front of the "tube?" Give someone a precious gift: your time!

GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money
to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet
basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God's riches, not consumers.

GIVE UP judging by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead,
learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to
judge, Jesus Christ.

Rev. Craig Gates, Jackson, MS, "WHAT TO GIVE UP FOR LENT"