Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category

Good Listening

January 15, 2018

Sunday Evening Happy Hour continues to grow into an eclectic gathering of people.  In addition to 20-something college graduates planning the next phase of their lives we have other people from the community.  One such category is people we know through the home school community.  Another is colleagues and work-mates of the people who have come to call Sunday nights at our house home.

A few weeks ago we had a co-worker of one of our regulars come.   She was surprised that it was mostly people younger than her, and while she seemed a bit awkward about this initially, I was able to sit with her and have an extended discussion that covered a lot of ground about her life.  And last night we had a young woman who works at the local hospital and is pursuing a career as a doctor come after many months of invitations by another of our regulars.  By the end of the night she told her friend I want to come back here every week!  She met some new people, played games around the table with the group that includes our kids, undoubtedly got drawn into some conversations, and of course marveled at the wonder that is our oldest son’s popcorn.  Mostly I hope she found a place where she didn’t need to prove anything, she could just be.

I guess I can understand the appeal.

Over the past two years we’ve also regularly had the international students who live with us participate in these events, and my family is always excited when they do.  Some of course have robust social lives of their own during their stay in our town, but others are on the quieter side and are often home on Sunday nights.  The Japanese girl who lived with us since September was a regular attender.  She got to experience American food and drinks, listened in on a wide-ranging spectrum of conversations and had the opportunity to ask questions as well as share about how things work in her country.  She also witnessed a very emotionally-charged theological discussion, and hopefully got a glimpse of how Christians try to make sense of the Bible in their lives and communities.  Coming from Japan she described herself as a nominal Buddhist, but like many young Japanese we’ve met, she really doesn’t know or understand much about Buddhism beyond the ritual level.  She goes to the temples or shrines on certain occasions, reflexively engages in motions of gratitude, but doesn’t have any real connection to the why of these things.  But as she lived with us and experienced larger community on Sundays, she at least saw that Christians her age are looking for ways to truly connect what they believe with how they live.  Not always perfectly, and certainly not always in harmony, but still searching.

But she’s no longer living with us.  And last night we had a new student with us – a 68-year old woman from Brazil.  She’s never been to the United States before.  Or Europe.  Or even anywhere outside of her home country.  She lives in a small town (8000 people if we understand her correctly) deep in the heart of the country and teaches English there.  Her accent is thick and it requires careful listening to understand her at times.

So in the swirl of people and laughter, eating and music and games, she sat on our couch with my wife, and they talked.  One of our regulars stopped me at one point and pointed.  She’s really good at that! I smiled and nodded.  She meant how my wife could sit and patiently listen and seek to understand and be understood with another person despite significant language and cultural hurdles.

Another regular told my wife later I don’t see how you can do that.  I don’t have the patience for that.  I used to, but I don’t any more.  It’s an honest statement.  While most people would like to believe that they are good listeners who are willing to take the time to successfully hear and be heard, the reality is that most  people aren’t.  It’s hard work.  It takes time.  It can be painstakingly slow progress at times.

But there is also the issue that many people come to conversation primarily for what they can say, and less so for what they might hear.  It’s not as though they have a pre-formulated agenda of topics they want to discuss (although some people definitely do that!).  But once a conversation begins to circle around a particular topic, they organize their thoughts, opinions, experiences, sift through them for the ones they think are most pertinent, and then wait for the first opportunity to insert them into the conversation.  These are not bad or rude people, but I think it’s how we’re culturally formed – particularly these days when we’re used to just shouting out our ideas at random people on bumper stickers, tweets and status updates.  We listen more selectively, and unfortunately I think more shallow-ly.  When we have time or inclination.  And even then we don’t necessarily listen (and are not necessarily required to listen based on the types of pronouncements people make), but scroll through rapidly.  Perhaps looking for something interesting that we can respond to.

These dynamics become clearer when dealing inter-culturally and through language barriers.  If the goal is to say what I want to say, such conversations rapidly lose appeal because the odds of me being able to say what I want to say and have it be understood quickly are pretty slim.  The emphasis is more heavily on the listening component because I can’t assume that I will or have heard the other person correctly.  And then I have to listen again to ensure that they’ve heard and understood me.  I have to study facial expressions and body language to help clue me in, since nobody (regardless of culture!) likes to look foolish or stupid and so we tend to nod our heads as though we understand even when we don’t.

But I think the same dynamics are often at play conversationally with people who speak the same language.  Some people like to talk.  Other people prefer to listen.  Relationship happens when these dynamics balance out, and that can take a long time – months or even years – to happen.  One of our regulars said to me the other day (after attending regularly for the past year or more) I don’t think I’ve ever really talked with you.  I don’t really know you at all.  But I’d like to.  I nodded and smiled.  They’re a talker and I’m a listener.  But given the proper time and space and motivation, our natural bents can be moderated.  Talkers can (and do want to!) listen.  And yes, listeners can (and do want to!) talk.  It might take a long time for those variations in personality to be identified and then consciously altered to accommodate the other, but they can be.  Deeper relationship can form.

But it takes patience on everyone’s part, and part of Christian community’s purpose is to be a place where patience as well as intentionality is modeled.  Where people can see when someone is really good at something, and then recognize that perhaps it’s an area they can work on in their lives, or at least praise and encourage other people in.  Listening is hard for some people.  Just like talking is very hard for me.  But together, each can learn and better appreciate the other and what they have to offer.  That’s part of the heart of Christian community, and an important witness to a world around us.

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A&tCL I

January 4, 2018

This is the first of what will likely be many entries, all introduced by this entry and focused on the topic of Alcohol and the Christian Life, which I will treat both individually and corporately as The Church.  I’ll use the same title for each one (A&tCL), incremented numerically so it should be easy for you to search and find the related posts.  Or you can read the next post here.

I’ve just finished combing through the entire Old Testament for references to wine as translated by 12 different English Bibles.  There are roughly different 20 Hebrew words in some way associated with wine or wine making, of which 11 seem to be pertinent to the drink itself (as opposed to machinery like a wine press, which I’m not addressing in this study) and occur in some form in the Old Testament.  There are at least 183 verses in the Old Testament that mention wine in some way.  Depending on which translation you’re using, there are roughly between 23,000 and 27,000 verses in the Old Testament.

Nearly every book of the Old Testament mentions wine.  Only the following books don’t:

  • Joshua
  • 1 Kings
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Nahum
  • Malachi

The first mention of wine is with Noah in Genesis 9.  So my first take-away is that wine is a prevalent part of Israelite/Hebrew/Jewish life, and by extension, human life.  It pre-dates the flood because Noah knows how to plant a vineyard and harvest and ferment grapes, which means he knew how to do that (likely) prior to the Flood.  The fact that it is mentioned throughout the Old Testament and spans roughly a millenia of divinely-inspired writing means that wine was a consistent part and presence of life for God’s people and therefore, by extension, just about all people.  This isn’t a judgment yet on whether that presence was good or bad, simply an acknowledgment that in some way or another it was present and being acknowledged in God’s inspired Word.

I’m using wine as the basis for this study because it is far and away (other than water) the most frequently mentioned beverage in the Bible and I believe that it is a good metric to use in determining what the Bible has to say about alcohol consumption in general.

The next stage is to examine each of the 11 Hebrew words that I’ve culled from the Old Testament books.  The goal is to understand any important differences or nuances between the words that might affect usage or reveal intent in choosing certain words for certain purposes.   Could it be that fermented/alcoholic wine is forbidden while non-alcoholic grape juice is not?  This kind of comparison of the words will hopefully enable me to pick up on this if it is the case.  I’ll be looking for patterns in the choice of words used by authors in similar situations.

I do this with no small amount of dread and trepidation.  I was required to learn Hebrew in Seminary (along with Koine Greek).  But I am by no means a Greek or Hebrew scholar.  In a decade of official ministry I can count on one hand the number of times where my knowledge of these languages has been inadequate or crucial to any particular ministerial or evangelical act or conversation, yet I carry a guilt that daily (or even annual!) study of these languages is not part of my ministry.  For the Hebrew study portion of this project, I’m referring to The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDAG) as my starting point.  I haven’t touched this book in over a decade.  It still smells and look new (if dusty).  I don’t pretend that my level of work is going to be very impressive, but I trust it will be good enough for my purpose.  I welcome (and will seek out to the best of my ability) wiser minds to weigh in on these words and their usage if it seems prudent or helpful.

I have two other resources sitting on my desk at the moment as well:

  • Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon – this appears to provide a more succinct definition of words, but doesn’t link to Strong’s Concordance numbers, which is the referent that e-Sword uses, so I likely won’t use this resource as much.  I inherited this from a retired pastor and it was the lexicon used by my seminary years prior to my time there.  I am gratified to see that his copy looks pretty new as well, despite being several decades older than mine!
  • A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament – again, very brief and not linked to Strong’s Concordance so it will be harder for me to use this because my Hebrew is so bad to begin with.  I picked this up at seminary as a companion to the BDAG and is in equally pristine condition.

Strong’s Concordance is shorthand for The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  First published in 1890 by James Strong, this has become the go-to open source for Biblical word study.  It is an index of every single word that appears in the King James Bible.  This means that it’s usefulness is limited, but it is a helpful starting place for me to get a handle on the Hebrew without having to reteach myself the language completely.  It functions as a link between my word search and the resources listed above.  It is integrated into e-Sword and I have a hard copy of it as well.

For what it’s worth, there are plenty of books I’m sure on this topic (though a brief survey of our denominational publishing house  was pretty disappointing).  But in order to try and ensure minimal theological bias (or at least a known theological bias compared to an unknown one!), I’m taking on this task.

All right.  Time to hit the book(s)!

 

Alcohol & the Christian Life

January 3, 2018

Last week I was called an alcoholic by someone who has never met me or spoken to me.  Based on circumstances of their life experiences with addiction (first and second-hand) and the fact that I drink alcohol and also serve alcohol to other people from time to time, and based on their interpretation of Scripture, they concluded that I’m likely an alcoholic and that I’m leading others (including my children) into alcoholism.

Today – at my request – I sat down and spoke with that person, as well as her daughter and mother.  I was informed initially that they agreed to the meeting only to share their perspectives and experiences with me so I would understand where they were coming from.  Fair enough.  I arrived prepared to listen to their personal experiences.  However when I arrived, I was informed that their purpose had changed, and that their intent was to convince me that alcohol is evil and an inappropriate thing to either enjoy responsibly personally or to offer responsibly to another person as part of hospitality and generosity.  Especially for a pastor, and especially if a congregation was supporting this activity in some way.   And then to demand that I agree to certain things and that the congregation I serve agree to certain things.

All of this not because anything bad has ever happened at Sunday Happy Hour.  Not because anyone who has ever visited has complained about the presence of alcohol  or the way in which I serve it.  Not because of any actual problem at all.  Simply because some of these folks are convinced alcohol is inherently evil, and some of the folks are convinced that a pastor and a church should never utilize alcohol in any sort of public ministry (other than Holy Communion, I assume) because of our larger alcohol culture.

It hasn’t been a fun week.  Hopefully your end off 2017 and start of 2018 was more enjoyable!

My denomination prides itself on refraining as much as possible from saying things definitively that Scripture itself is not definitive about, just as we strive very hard not to ignore anything that Scripture is definitive about.  We are imperfect in this to be sure.  But if you hold that all of Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) then you have to at least try.  So in dealing with the accusations and demands that have been made, my main concern is to go to Scripture and see what it has to say.  I don’t really care if a Happy Hour ministry is unconventional.  There are lots of unconventional approaches to ministry – ask any missionary.  Some mission approaches have elements of risk to them, but that’s not my primary concern at this point either.  Risk is not in itself sinful.  My primary concern is whether involving alcohol in a Christian function is sinful.  And to figure that out, I go not to personal experiences or popular practices or Twitter or Facebook but to the Bible to see what the Bible has to say.

And certainly on the issue of alcohol, Scripture has a lot to say.  Hundreds of verses that refer to wine in one way or another.  And we have to pay attention to all of it rather than just cherry-pick the few verses that support our position.  That’s how I’m attempting to deal with the things I’ve been called to my face as well as in other discussions that I’m not privy to.  I go to Scripture to make sure that I understand what it is saying to the best of my ability, so I can provide my congregation and family both corporately and individually with good theological guidance.  Any of you who wish to weigh in on this topic here are free to do so (including the folks directly involved with this who are likely still reading).  As long as you’re respectful, I want to hear what you have to say and I’ll post it in the comments section of the appropriate post so others can see and hear what you have to say and weigh in as well.

To start my study on this topic, I’m utilizing a basic multi-translation Bible tool called e-Sword.  I’ve been using it for years instead of paying big bucks for the more professional programs that I wouldn’t use very often.  E-Sword is available either as a downloadable program or an app (both free!).  I  think it’s a very good baseline tool for casual interaction with the original languages as well as multiple English translations.

I’m using a public domain derivation source for the Hebrew (Old Testament) verses, and the Textus Receptus and Westcott-Hort translations of the Greek New Testament in addition to the Septuagint (Old and New Testaments in Greek).  While these may not be the best translations, I trust that for basic word study purposes they’re serviceable.  If any of my colleagues out there have anything pertinent to share as a warning about these translations, feel free to let me know.

To start with I’m doing a basic search across multiple (12) recent and historic English translations for every occurrence of the word wine in Scripture.  I’m then going through every single verse individually to see what the original language word is that is being translated as wine.  Since different English translations sometimes translate differently (duh!), I’m getting an interesting cross-section of Hebrew words that are sometimes –  but not always – translated as wine by some, but not all, English translations.  I’m only through Isaiah but there are so far eleven different Hebrew words that are sometimes translated as wine and/or strong drink.  Some of them have only been used once or twice, but there are two that far and away have the most occurrences.  It will be interesting to see how many different Greek words are used in the New Testament!

Once I’ve done that, I’ll research each of the words, trying to determine important differentiations or nuances that govern their usage and occurrence.  That will help me when I attempt to clarify the use of the word within not just the single verse but the overall pericope or section of Scripture.  Sometimes the context is a warning.  Other times it’s a celebration.  Other times it’s a divine promise.  I want to be able to clearly lay out all the different contexts that wine and/or strong drink is referred to in Scripture.

Then it shouldn’t be too difficult to group these contexts into more general categories.  Does Scripture clearly and unambiguously prohibit wine and drink from God’s people?  If it doesn’t (which is my assumption and understanding going into this study), then what should God’s people draw from Scriptural discussions of alcohol?  If it does unambiguously prohibit God’s people from alcohol, I’ll have some major thinking to do about why my particular polity and a good chunk (if not majority) of Christian scholarship through the centuries has ignored or avoided talking about this.

Then the discussion becomes one regarding the role of God’s corporate people – The Church – with alcohol.  Is alcohol something that should be condoned in the lives of God’s people grudgingly or reluctantly, but strictly forbidden in the corporate Church?  All of which drives towards the ultimate question – is it sinful for a Church to sponsor or engage in a ministry where alcohol is served to people, even if it is being done in a prudent and careful manner?

As part of these discussions, there has also been an argument made that alcohol itself – the fermented byproducts of fruit and other organic materials – is inherently sinful in and of itself.  It isn’t part of God’s goodness in creation, but rather something the Devil has injected into the mix.  Again, what does the Bible say on this topic and how do we determine practice based on what Scripture says?

The issue of alcohol is a complicated one because, as I’ve often noted on this blog, it can be so destructive in people’s lives.  My working presumption is that rather than just avoiding the topic and practice completely, the Church can and perhaps even should model what responsible alcohol consumption looks like.  If our culture dominates the discussion about alcohol and dominates it with an insistence that it should be enjoyed to excess more often than not (legal disclaimers aside), is there a place for the Church to say not simply no, but rather not so much?   Again, my working practice has been to say yes, and Sunday Happy Hour is a place where this has and does happen.

There are certainly Christians who insist that alcohol cannot be partaken without sin, or that the odds of sin are so great that it should just be prohibited.  Some of their Biblical arguments towards this end rely on arguments that wine in Scripture isn’t wine like we think of today (fermented and alcoholic), but rather grape juice – negligibly fermented, essentially non-alcoholic freshly squeezed grape juice.  Just in my preliminary foray into the word study it’s clear that the Hebrew is able to make this distinction (but more often than not does not – or doesn’t appear to use it purposefully).  Do their arguments have linguistic merit?  Or is it an attempt to justify their theological conclusions and doctrines by reinterpreting Scripture to their liking?  Is that what I’m doing just because I enjoy cocktails?

Time will tell, but I’ll keep all of you informed as I move along the process.

 

 

Don’t Get Cute

December 21, 2017

Someone – someone I’m not sure I even know – sent me a hard copy of this missive today.   What a great Christmas present.

Because of course pastors are stressed out about Christmas Eve service.  As my buddy notes, there is an added pressure to this service, perhaps more so than any other service the entire year.  Additional people present.  And not just extended family of current members, but others as well.  Perhaps estranged former members of the congregation.  People that had a falling out with a pastor some years ago – or perhaps with me! – might show up for some reason they can’t even define well themselves.  People injured by the Church in the past, stepping their toes back in the water after years or decades away.

To have the perfect message – witty, sparkling, engaging – could mean so much for these people and my congregation!  Old faces returning and new faces showing up on Sunday mornings.  Is there a better feeling as a pastor to be told that you’re the reason that someone has decided to return or come to church or the faith?  The monstrous pride that lurks within many preachers and pastors, sometimes masquerading as pious humility – that monster gorges itself on those sorts of comments.  It’s not that the comments are bad, or shouldn’t be shared.  It’s just that the sin within me wants to lead me down dangerous, dark roads of self-congratulatory ego-caressing.

But the perfect message isn’t mine, it’s God the Holy Spirit’s.  And while the Holy Spirit deigns to work through imperfect pastors that fall out in different places on a dizzyingly broad spectrum of speaking skills and writing mastery, the message that counts is the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.  The baby in the manger and the God on the cross.  I should care about delivery and about making it enjoyable for the people festively attired in the candlelit pews, but only towards the end that the Holy Spirit’s Word might penetrate the heart, might strike the lethal blow that leads to the death of the old Adam within us, and raises up a new creation in Jesus Christ.  I can’t do that, only the Holy Spirit can.

So I will endeavor, as I like to think I always do, not to be cute.  To make sure the full message is delivered, and that the results of that are to God’s glory not mine.  On Christmas Eve and during every other worship service of the year.

YFA – December 17, 2017

December 17, 2017
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday: Reflect Upon Today’s Sermon & Service
  • Monday: Old Testament Lesson – 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
    • What does David intend to do for the Lord (v.2)?
    • What does the Lord intend to do for David instead?
  • Tuesday: Epistle Lesson – Romans 16:25-27 
    • Who will strengthen us, Paul or God  (v.25)?
    • Who receives the glory for working out his plan through us (v.27)?
  • Wednesday: Psalm 89:1-5, 19-29
    • What is our proper response to the blessings of God (v.1)?
    • Who is the primary actor in these verses?
  • Thursday: Gospel – Luke 1:26-38
    • Why does Luke mention Joseph’s lineage (v.27)?
    • Why do you think Gabriel is gentler with Mary than with Zechariah?
  • Friday: Luther’s Small Catechism – The Third Commandment
    • Do you agree with Luther’s definition?  Why or why not?
    • Read Exodus 20.  How is worship or the Lord’s Word mentioned here?
  • Saturday: LSB #356 – The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came
    • How is Mary blessed and honored still today (ST 2)?
    • Is Jesus’ birth completely unexpected (ST2)?

 

 

Choosing Exile

December 13, 2017

I had the privilege of sitting with a group of congregational leaders last night.  They weren’t my congregational leaders.   This congregation is nearly 100 miles away from me. I didn’t know any of them before last night, and I had only met the pastor via phone and text last week.  Yet here I was sitting in on their council meeting as they grappled with exile.  When a Seminary prof began one of my first Sem courses by emphasizing the noble task – a kalou ergou in the Greek – we were aspiring to, I had no idea that this could also apply beyond the realm of purely pastoral parish ministry to the less defined world of polity organization and hierarchy.  Yet here I was, functioning as a pastor to another pastor and another congregation, being with them and encouraging them in a hard moment to choose exile.

That’s how their pastor described it at one point.  The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years.  We won’t be wandering nearly that long.  It was a good analogy, though perhaps not an overly comforting one in the moment.  They’re saddled with a building in desperate – perhaps mandatory – need of repair and renovation.   With bills they aren’t able to pay.  They have struggled and clawed to keep their ministry alive and moving, but are up against walls they cannot avoid or break through.

Choosing exile is a hard thing.  Stepping into the unknown.  I’m not sure if I’ve really thought about that aspect of the Biblical exodus.  The descendants of Abraham had a choice to make that dark and terrifying night.  In the midst of inky blackness and the Egyptian wails of loss and mourning, they could either get up and trickle into the alleys and streets, meeting others shuffling through the darkness with their bread troughs on their heads and sleepy children in arm.  They didn’t know where they were going, only that they were leaving.  They couldn’t imagine what it would mean, what life would look like from day to day and week to week.  All they could do was decide whether to head out the door or stay huddled inside.

Many congregations can’t handle that decision.  They put it off and put it off and put it off until there really isn’t a decision to be made.  Until the choices don’t exist any more, or until there is nothing left but bad options.  When the neighbors are gone and there is nothing but the sound of crickets and the waiting to see who will be the last one left to turn off the lights when all is said and done.  When there is nothing but bitterness about how things have worked out and a scrambling search for someone to blame.

But last night a sat with a group who, amid tears chose exile, an uncertain future  In so doing, they opened up all sorts of unseen doors.  Possibilities they have no way of knowing about and yet to be revealed.  But it’s hard to leave what you know, even when what you know isn’t really all that it could be.  It meant a great deal to them.  It had impacted their lives in various ways and created a sense of loyalty that made their vote last night seem like betrayal and treachery on the scale of Judas.

But in exile, step by step and day by day they will learn by new means about the Lord they follow and the myriad ways He works – always for the good of those He calls (Romans 8:28) but not necessarily in ways we would like or even want.  Day by day and step by step the inky darkness and the wails of loss will give way to a new day and new possibilities.  New challenges as well.  My prayers are with them as they move down this road together but not alone.  The hardest part always seems to be the choosing, at the moment of the choosing.  Only later do we realize that was perhaps the easiest part of all, and the most necessary for all that would follow.

My prayers are with them as they prepare to enter a wilderness they’ve never known, trusting in the Lord to lead them, providing them what they need and when they need it, forming them continually more and more into his people and his image.  May they serve as guides and inspirations to the many other councils struggling with similar choices and fears.

 

YFA – December 10, 2017

December 10, 2017

Your Family Altar

A Weekly Devotional Resource

 

  • Sunday – Reflect on Today’s Sermon & Service
  • Monday – Old Testament Lesson – Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
    • By what power will the speaker accomplish these things (v.1)?
    • What should our reaction be to the promises of God (vs.10-11)?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
    • How are we to test things of the Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?
    • Who do we trust for our sanctification (v.24)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 1:6-8, 19-28
    • What was John the Baptist’s purpose (v.7)?
    • How did John accomplish his task (vs.19-28)?
  • Thursday Psalm 126
    • What great things would people say God has done in your life?
    • What things from God are you glad for in your life?
  • Friday Luther’s Small Catechism – The Second Commandment
    • Other than profanity, what are other ways God’s name could be misused?
    • What are some appropriate ways to use God’s name?
  • Saturday – (LSB #344) – On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry
    • How can you listen to the Baptist’s cry today (Stanza 1)?
    • How can you prepare your heart for Christ today (Stanza 2)?

 

 

Closing Church

December 10, 2017

I just had a call from a parishioner asking if we were having Church this morning.  She heard that another congregation in town had cancelled worship due to the fires raging in the mountains nearby and threatening some of our outlying communities and nearby towns.  I assured her that while we might have fewer folks that decide to venture out, we would indeed be meeting for worship.

I understand that some folks won’t want to come out with it raining soot and ash and the air filled with smoke.  Some of our members with frailer health or breathing issues should stay inside.  But I also know that most of our folks will still venture out for groceries and other necessary errands, and if they’re able to do that, then they can probably come to church as well.

And frankly, should.

Not out of some sort of holy obligation, but as a tangible means of coping with the fear and dread we’ve all been dealing with at one level or another for the past week.  People have been anxiously wondering and watching.  How close will the fires get?  Will I be evacuated?  What will I do if I have to leave my home?  What would I take with me?  What if I lose everything?

Of course, we tend to worry without actually doing much about it.  We’ve watched the news all week but haven’t packed any emergency bags yet.  We haven’t stocked up on food or water just in case.  We continue more or less about our daily routines, but we look out the window more often and we check the news more frequently.

It’s in just such a climate of fear and anxiety that the Gospel needs to be proclaimed loudly.  We are not to be people of fear!  It’s natural and reasonable to be worried but we are to take active steps against such worry.  We should sing and pray and gather together to offer encouragement and remember that we aren’t alone, and if worst comes to worst we will endure together.  We are to be people who point towards our Lord’s return, who live our affirmation of this reality in tangible, visible ways.  There are a lot of things that can and maybe should be cancelled during this state of uncertainty, but I don’t think Church is one of them.

Come and be uplifted and renewed.  Come to receive the assurance that your God is with you and will continue to be with you regardless of wind conditions and which direction the flames turn next.  He will be with you as you clean your car next week or as you sift through the ashes of your home.  He will be with you to death’s door and beyond.  You are his.  He has marked you in baptism.  He hasn’t forgotten you – not for a second!  And for these things it is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to him!

Keep in Mind…

December 9, 2017

I think this article does a good job of identifying some of the major changes in the post-Christian Church landscape.  It isn’t the congregation your grandparents grew up in, for certain.  Certainly the Church needs to emphasize basic Biblical and doctrinal teaching more than ever before since many people in the pew may not know – or agree – with the teaching and preaching from the pulpit, at least in all regards.

Fired Up

December 7, 2017

A good portion of the back country mountains to the east and slightly south of us is on fire.  The Thompson Fire has generated a good amount of publicity nationwide since it erupted on Monday night.  As of this morning they are beginning to evacuate people from the town where we used to live.  Not close to where we used to live – not that particular neighborhood – but closer.  And that means the fire is getting closer to us and where we are now.  Again, not terribly close, but closer.  If the fire were to reach the mountains around our town, we personally would likely be safe from mandatory evacuations, but some of my members wouldn’t be.

Getting information is difficult.  The official fire site (above) is not updated very regularly, and we often hear information that isn’t posted on the site so we’re not sure.  It’s frustrating that good information isn’t readily available in a more reliable way.  Still, we have as good an idea of what is happening as possible.

All of which has made for some interesting conversations with our kids the past couple of days.  They’re old enough to be aware of the situation, but not old enough yet to conceptualize how to respond and prepare.  We’ve had conversations about what we would do if it got closer or if we had to leave our home.  We’re working today to identify the important things we would need or want to take with us if we had to leave quickly.  All good life preparation stuff.

It has also prompted the discussion that if we were to have to leave, it would be the kids and my wife leaving, driving away towards safety with family in another state as opposed to cooling their heels for days or longer in a hotel or imposing on friends.  I would want to stay behind.  Most of our congregation is older.  Many of them have family and friends that could help them and ensure they had a place to go.  But not all of them.  I’d need to make sure that they were safely evacuated.  And then it would be a matter of trying to minister as best possible to those people in the area dealing with loss and uncertainty.  Emergency shelters.  First responders camps.

Frankly,  I can’t wrap my  head precisely around what I would need to do if I stayed, I just know I would need to stay.  There aren’t courses in Seminary about what to do in the case of natural disasters.  You sort of feel it out as you go, I guess.  But the first thing that’s clear is that I need for my family to know that I’ll be careful and that they should go when they need to.  I think we’ve communicated well.  I don’t think it will be necessary, at least I pray it isn’t.  But if the time should come, we’ll part ways just as we’ve lived our days together – trusting that God is in charge and watching over us, and knowing that we are safely in the arms of Jesus at all times.  Not that this means bad things can’t or won’t happen, but even if they do, we’ll be together again.  It isn’t the end.  There is  hope and it is in that hope that we make our plans and preparations.

It’s surreal, looking out the window at the thick smoke that fills the air.  Knowing that the dusting of white on the ground isn’t snow.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  In hell, perhaps.  Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death, I will fear no evil.  For Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

May He be your comfort as well.  In fires and earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, life and death, tedium and banality.