Thank God It’s … Thursday

I shouldn’t be blogging today. It’s Thursday, and on most Thursdays, I don’t work. It’s the one full day I try to step away from church stuff. But today is different. I had a meeting today, and so I switched my day off. And I can feel it.

I felt it last night as I finished a long day, and my body said: Hey, tomorrow is a day of rest. Yeah!!!

But then my mind immediately kicked in. No, it’s not. Our goofball guide has decided to swap off-days this week.

Taking a Sabbath Snooze

Still, my body rebelled. When the alarm went off this morning, my fatigued frame said, No way. I’m not getting up. And it wasn’t kidding. Man, was it hard to get moving today.

Perhaps my body was trying to tell me something? I wasn’t made for constant activity. Faithful living isn’t equated with frenzied living.

In the New Testament, Paul is clear that salvation does not come through doing the works of the Law (evidence #1: the second treatise he wrote that we have in our Bibles, his letter to the Galatians). But there is a difference between being saved by doing things, and doing things because we have been saved. If salvation is wholeness – and I believe it is; true wholeness that only comes through Christ – then it changes me, body, mind, and spirit. And while I do not do things to earn wholeness in Christ, when I am given the gift of saving wholeness, it changes what I do – and how I live.

And one of the changes is that I no longer have to try to earn my way – as a minister, as a Christian, as a parent, or as a good American citizen – by simply doing more. The idea of sabbath isn’t a matter for legalistic rule-keeping; it’s a life-giving principle. I am not in charge. My work does not define me. The kingdom of God, or the church, or my family, or my wholeness are not dependent on how hard I work, or how much I do. It is not a badge of honor to work my butt off.

My body already knows this. My mind is continuing to learn this. And my spirit is renewed by this truth. For I am not God. I am not in charge. The church is not dependent on me. And sometimes the most spiritual thing I can do is to not do. But to rest, and remember this truth: He is God.

The Generosity Challenge

The Church is not about money. It’s that simple. But it is about life – all of life – which, for most of us, involves at least a little bit of money. And what we do with what we have says a lot about who we are – and who we are growing to be.

And while the Church so often gets money wrong (think: TV hucksters, or celebrity pastors known most for their popularity and their paychecks, or church leaders who misuse church funds), this doesn’t mean we stop talking about money. To do that would mean we would have to stop talking about life.

So, last Sunday, I challenged our church to live a joyfully generous life. And if our lives have been changed by the love of Jesus, how can we be anything but? generosity word tag

I understand that talking about money makes some of us uncomfortable. Especially when the talk turns to my money. Even so, all of us need, on occasion, challenges that are both specific and clear. Ones that say exactly what is being asked, and describe how to take that step. Even when it makes me uncomfortable, I need to be stretched in specific ways. And so do you.

So that is why I am challenging you, if you are a part of Fern Creek Christian, to take the next step in living a generous life. (For that matter, if you are not a part of Fern Creek, you can certainly do this at your church. I’m pretty sure they won’t mind.) To stretch yourself in your giving, I am asking you to do one of these three things over the next three weeks:

  1. If you are not giving anything, or just giving occasionally, will you plan to give something, intentionally and thoughtfully, over the next 3 weeks? Would you allow God to grow you and teach you by planning to give to God’s work at your church for the three weeks of Aug 24, 31 & Sep 7?
  2. Some of you are giving regularly, but from the leftovers of your income. If this describes you, would you commit to giving from the top of your paycheck? This means that you sit down and intentionally set aside an amount of your income, before you start tackling bills and “me money.” Again, try this for three weeks, and see what God teaches you about faith, money, and you.
  3. Finally, some of you are giving regularly and thoughtfully. But maybe God would stretch you to give sacrificially, in a way that says your first priority is going to be the work of God. Even if it hurts a bit. Even if it means you cut back on trips to Burger King and baseball games and the beach. So, I am asking those of you who give regularly, but are not currently setting aside 10% of your income (a tithe), to step out in faith and try that during the next three weeks. As I said on Sunday, this may feel crazy – even impossible. And you’re right. Unless … unless, you remember who you are and who you belong to.

If you are a part of the Fern Creek church family (or any community of believers) – what would it look like for you to take your next step in faithful giving? Will you take that next step during these next three weeks? If you do, be ready for it to be about so much more than money.

Learning from Robin Williams

Though I haven’t seen a lot of Robin Williams’ work, I did first watch him where he got his big break: Mork & Mindy. Somehow, playing the part of an alien who came to earth in an egg-shaped space capsule seemed to be the right start for Robin’s career in comedy.

But even though he was very funny, Robin was able to rise above the jokes. His work in the movie Awakenings pointed to hope beyond the human situation, and his role as John Keating in Dead Poets Society is a glimpse into the powerful role that a teacher can fill. Robin Williams wasn’t just about touching the funny bone; he was also able to touch the human spirit.

It’s never easy to see someone take his own life, but perhaps it is especially surprising when someone has achieved as much success as Robin Williams had. But depression was a constant reality he faced, made worse by open heart surgery and his personal struggles. The truth is, even though he had all kinds of success, Robin also faced numerous challenges – ones he apparently decided he could no longer face.

I wonder: how many like Robin Williams are out there? How many countless others find themselves at the uncertain edge, wondering if they can go on? Though their names will never fill the news, their hurt, like Robin’s, is all too real.

Earlier this month, I read William Styron’s Darkness Visible. It is, as the subtitle says, “A Memoir of Madness.” Styron writes movingly of his struggle with depression, a true disorder that can take over a person’s life.

Reading Styron and watching Williams reminds me of an important truth I hope you know. There are a lot of people hurting. And often there are not simple answers to the struggles. But there are important truths to remember. Let me offer three that I believe to be true:

  1. Life is hard. As Christians, we don’t have to deny this reality. In fact, we can’t.  Have you seen the news lately? I have a friend who monitors world issues, in an effort to alert folks who might be affected by them. On one day recently, he told me that he sent out 17 alerts regarding world problems. Seventeen. In one day.
  2. But in the midst of the difficulties of life, we hold onto this truth even more firmly: God is real. No matter what we face, we believe God is there. Faithful. And at work to show us His gracious love no matter what we face.
  3. So, if you believe life is hard, and that God is real, then make sure to Hold onto God, and share his love with everyone. Especially with those who are hurting.

The next time life gets hard, really hard, don’t deny that reality. But also wrap your arms around this even-larger truth: God is real. And reach out for help. And reach out to be a help. Because whether you are a famous writer or a high school dropout, whether you are a well-known actor or an unknown factory worker, whether life is overwhelming or just plain difficult – God is real. Let’s hold on to him – and be there for each other.

The Impossibility of Being Church

Church is hard. Really hard. Sometimes we act as if we can simply get people to read the Bible, pray, show up on Sunday, and then church comes naturally. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. Pointing people to Jesus is just the beginning. In some ways, the difficult work then begins. After coming to Jesus, we then spend the rest of our lives being shaped to look like Jesus. And we spend the rest of our lives doing that with other people. In other words, we are added to the Church, and we then spend the rest of our lives becoming the Church – together.

I am a fervent believer in the fact that the Church should be a place for all people. I’m not really interested in being a part of a congregation where we are only interested in young people … or old people. Men … or women. White people … or people of color. Rich people … or poor people.

As I read the New Testament, I see a picture of a Church that includes all folks who would respond to Jesus and seek to follow Him with others – who are sometimes very different. But this is hard. It is much easier to gather around me people I like, and who like me and look like me.

And what happens when you gather in one place people of different ages, backgrounds, perspectives, and interests? You get a bunch of different people with different interests and preferences. In other words, you get Congress. Or the Church. We all know how messy Congress is right now. Is it anything but the grace of God that Church is any less messy?

But I am passionate about being a part of a church that works its way through the mess – the challenge of finding unity of purpose and direction in the midst of the differences we find. This is what the New Testament talks about. And the truth is, it only happens when the Spirit of God fills the people of God, and empowers them toward a unity that is of God’s making, not ours.

So, whether you are young or old, male or female, white or not, rich or not, are you doing all you can to let God lead you to unity with those very different from you? In an earlier post, I mentioned three ways you can work to build unity in the diversity that is the Church. Can I add two more?

One: Be an encourager. Find ways to build others up, even those you disagree with – especially those you disagree with. Before you criticize someone, love them. And see that person as a brother or sister.

And two: Serve. It’s amazing how things look different when we get off the sidelines, and into the game. It’s surprising how we learn to appreciate and understand our differences when we aren’t simply noticing them from a distance – but serving together through them.

I am passionate about the unity of the Church in the midst of our diversity. But unity takes work. I am committed to doing that work by encouraging and serving with others. Will you join me?