Monday, June 30, 2008

Is the Husband the Priest of the Home?

I had a conversation recently in which someone said, "What is with this 'priest of the home' stuff that I keep hearing?"

What a good question! All right then, where is the scriptural basis for the husband serving as priest of the home? Have I missed it?

I am about to run the risk of being considered an arrogant feminist witch at worst, or a misguided and nitpicking female at best. I am speaking to my relatively conservative peers of an "evangelical" persuasion who pride themselves on being biblical and holding scripture in a high regard--our "all sufficient rule for faith and practice."

I must confess that I once taught this "husband equals priest of the home" idea. Actually I blush to recall that one of my "best" sermons included this concept. I preached that particular sermon in more than one place. Oddly, it was a long time before I noticed that this particular point of my sermon (about marriage) had no scripture reference. I am ashamed and embarrassed to note how easy it was to simply teach what I had been taught.

I just did a search for the topic of husband as priest of the home. I found numerous articles that stated "The Bible teaches the husband is the priest of the home" and NOT ONE listed even one scripture for this assertion. Is this "rightly dividing the Word of Truth?" Hardly!

The Old Testament speaks of the Aaronic and the Levitical priesthood. The priests were appointed to serve the Israelites. There is one instance of a priest in a home, but that is a rather bizarre story that shows just how mixed up things were during the time of the judges, a time when "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" (sounds like today). In Judges 17 a man named Micah appoints himself a young Levite to be his personal priest. The two men speak of "the Lord God' but Micah also casts an idol to worship. This is the only instance in scripture that speaks of a priest in the home. It did not go well.

In the New Testament, Peter writes about a holy priesthood that offers up spiritual sacrifices (I Peter 2: 5) and a royal priesthood that is a chosen generation and a holy nation - the Lord's own special people (2:9). In both passages it is clear that the writer is speaking of all believers, not just the husbands. The introductory words of Revelation speak to those who were " loved and washed from sin...made...priests unto God..." Wouldn't you say that includes more than husbands?

When I ask about this concept of husband as priest, I am never given a scripture that states such a thing (because there isn't one), but I am usually told, "The Bible says the husband is the head of the home" or "God's plan is that the husband is the spiritual leader in the home." Those are questionable concepts, but I'll let it go for now except to note that the idea of husband as head of the home comes from Ephesians 5 where the husband is spoken of as the head of the wife.

I highly recommend "The Head of the Epistles" by Berkely and Alvera Mickelsen.

We from the "free church" tradition can be vehement in our denunciation of the idea that we need someone to stand before God on our behalf, usually citing the Epistle to the Hebrews for our belief that their is one mediator between God and mankind, and that is Jesus Christ. Since, as the author of Hebrews so eloquently demonstrates, we have Jesus as our High Priest, is there any need for a single priest in the home representing the family to God? Why should a husband functions as a "priest" for his wife and children? Can they not stand before God in the same way as he can?

A pastor friend recently remarked that he tells husbands that they should expect to be the first to have direction from God regarding family decisions or changes, since they are the priest and the head. Clearly this places the wife in a secondary and subordinate position. To place a wife in such a position threatens her growth, both spiritually and personally.

As Christian apologist Cheryl Schatz noted in an article on her blog, Women in Ministry: "By believing in the faulty doctrine that men are the sole priest in the home, many women have been taught that their husband is spiritually responsible for them. They think that if they love God and follow their husband’s spiritual lead that they will have no responsibility in the decisions made by their husbands.

Can we find an example in scripture for this? No!

Ms Schatz goes on to note something interesting about accountability. "In two of the best known examples of a husband not making wise spiritual decisions, Adam and Ananias (Acts 5:1), the wife was judged for her actions equally with the husband. There is no example of a husband called to account for his wife’s actions or a wife freed from spiritual responsibility because her husband made the original decision... God did not ask Adam what Eve had done even though Adam was there with Eve during her temptation (Genesis 3:6) and Sapphira was held equally responsible for her acceptance of her husband’s plan to deceive the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:9).

Christian wives are adults, not grown-up children. We need partners who will together guide the home and make decisions. Many tired and frustrated wives have said to me over the years, "I wish my husband would take his place as the spiritual leader." Upon further questioning it often becomes clear that the wife doesn't so much want a leader as a partner--a husband who will stand beside her as joint heirs of the grace of God (I Peter 3:7), a husband who is not afraid to be a strong man--in the best sense of what that can be. That doesn't mean she needs to be constantly led--as though being friends and lovers and partners is not enough.

A Christian husband has a responsibility to his wife. If he is a father he has responsibilities for his children. He is instructed to love, to be gentle and understanding, to be a man of godly character, to be sober and wise and to provide for the needs of his family.

Being the family's priest is not part of the biblical job description.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Bracelet: a Lament, and Some Thanks

It has been a time for lament. That sounds a bit more dramatic than I intend, but I suppose it is true. The last few weeks--indeed, the last few months-- have been sorrowful.

A number of things have occurred. Some things I saw coming, and some things took me by surprise. With each new experience I grew increasingly sad (and questioning). I am, once again, grieving.

2008 seems to be my year for grief. I hope it ends soon.

I am grieving losses, and I am envisioning a future different than what I had expected, waiting for what comes next with dread. It does seem that when difficult things happen it is all too easy to forget that, to quote the blog title of one of my fellow Rev Gals, "any day a beautiful change" could arrive. Good news can come unexpectedly and suddenly, just as disappointment does. Why is that so difficult to recall?

Today I am struggling with a headache that just will not go away. (A good side of this is that it makes me pray for Sue who has suffered horrific headache pain for years.) I suspect that the throbbing in my head is the cumulative effect of recent events and revelations. I also have a pervasive sense of loneliness that seems to have a stubborn mind of it's own, one which longs for my company! Nothing seems right. Everything seems off kilter, twisted, not as it should be.

As I usually do when feeling distressed, I turned to the Book of Psalms. That is my hand, my petunias, and my Bible in the picture, as I sat reading on my deck earlier today. More about that in a moment.

Today I read Psalms 74. Here is a part of Asaph's song.

O God, why have you rejected us so long? Why is your anger so intense against the sheep of your own pasture? Remember that we are the people you chose long ago. We no longer see your miraculous signs. All the prophets are gone, and no one can tell us when it will end. How long, O God, will you allow our enemies to insult you? Will you let them dishonor your name forever? Why do you hold back your strong right hand? Unleash your powerful fist and destroy them. [God's enemies, as Paul notes, are not flesh and blood but principalities and powers and rulers of darkness.] You caused the springs and streams to gush forth, and you dried up rivers that never run dry. Both day and night belong to you; you made the starlight and the sun. You set the boundaries of the earth, and you made both summer and winter.

I read the words again. Yeah, God, when are you gonna step in and make things right? How can I complain when people in many places (like Zimbabwe) are suffering so terribley? The thought did not help. Then I thought of the God who causes springs and streams to gush forth, the God who is the maker and sustainer of all. I prayed for that sustaining strength as I absentmindedly reached toward the petunias to pluck off a dead flower. The morning sunlight caught in a tiny flash from the silver chain on my wrist.

Recently a friend gave the delicate little bracelet to me in an impulsive gesture of love. As we talked together, she took it off her wrist and put it on mine, fastening the tiny clasp and saying, "This is a prayer bracelet. It is to remind you that you are loved and prayed for."

I prayed for my friend. Then I remembered a recent email from a long-time cyber buddy who has never met me in person. The email was to tell me she had been praying for me for many days, feeling deep grief and shedding many tears for me--with no idea why! Next I remembered a conversation with a woman from my church who has recently found herself with renewed hope, renewed passion for God, and renewed love for others. She told me that she has been praying for me every morning. She added that when she does she always has a mental picture of the two of us in which I have my arm around her shoulder because she is helping to support me.

Something that I have gained from Rev Gal Blog Pals is an awareness of how alike we are. We come from differing churches and traditions. Our theology occasionally clashes, our beliefs and our practices and our lifestyles and our politics collide, our expectations and our prayers and our music and our sermons are sometimes worlds apart--and somehow in it all are still so much the same. I mentioned Sue. I first read her blog, "Inner Dorothy," when I was becoming uncomfortably aware that I could read John Maxwell till I am 100 and I, just like Sue, I will still be a leader who is a lot Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. All of us have pain and disappointment and questions. All of us have moments of joy and insight and laughter. All of us are longing for God. Most of us know it. Some know it profoundly and deeply and even painfully, and some of us are just realizing how deep the longing is, and some of us are surprised by it. But I see it in blogs and prayers and songs, and even in Friday Five postings. How individual and unique are the humans God created and yet how much the same.

I am thankful that the Bible speaks to us in many ways--sometimes with commands, sometimes with love, sometimes in poems or parables, sometimes with instruction, sometimes with questions and laments. No matter what comes, we are not alone in this human condition of ours. We are not forsaken, we cannot escape the eyes and the ears and the loving heart of God. To me that brings comfort, not fear.

Asaph goes on:
Don’t forget your suffering people forever. Don’t let the downtrodden be humiliated again. Instead, let the poor and needy praise your name. Arise, O God, and defend your cause!

Thank you, my friends. You know who you are. And God, I feel rather poor and a lot needy, and I will praise you.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Scott McKnight's Hermeneutics Quiz

Long ago and far away at Trintiy Bible College, on the windswept praries of North Dakota, Hermeneutics was my favorite class...taught by Dr. James Hernando...and I got a B and I was not happy about it...and...well:

Here is a quiz that might shed a bit of light on your view of scriptural interpretation. I scored a 56 which puts me in the "moderate" camp.

No surprise! Middle of the road....on a fault...that's me. I have no idea if that is good or bad.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Into the Water

Into the Water

Down he fell, trusting, falling backward
into the tank, immersed by the waves
down into the cleansing waters
of the baptismal pool
telling the people
this was his
way, his
He rose
out into the
joining family
newfound church
His place of belonging
Where he can drink the word
heed the call to service to action
to change in his life, be born anew
Reclaimed by the sustainer, redeemer
the living God, creator of all, savior of all

by Raymond A. Foss

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Down in the River to Pray

Tomorrow I am preaching/teaching about baptism. During the summer months we are meeting in the lower level of church and will be sitting at round tables sharing coffee and donuts, etc. The upstairs sanctuary is not air condiditoned, but the basement is nice and cool. If I can manage to figure out how to mute the swearing in this clip, I'm showing it in church! And yes, there will be a point.
Poor Delmar's theology is lacking at some points. :-)

I LOVE this song, and I love the movie ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?") It is going to be a fun day at Jubilee tomorrow, I think, as well as an instructive one.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Word Association Friday Five

I get to host today's Rev Gals and Pals Friday Five.

I am feeling like playing hooky, and I'm putting off finishing sermon prep till tomorrow. It is a beautiful, sunny day at my place. So come on outside and let's play a summer Friday Five!

This post is loosely based on previous "wordy" Friday Fives from Reverend Mother and Songbird. I liked the results, and so we are doing another word association . Theirs were based on words from a lectionary text. Mine comes from the Lovin' Spoonful song, "Summer in the City."

Think summer......are you there? Below you will find five words or phrases. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem, a memory, a recipe, or a story. You get the idea:

1. rooftop

The teenaged, pink bathing suit clad me, getting out the ladder and climing up to the back porch roof where I'd spread a blanket and sun in relative obscurity from the neighbors.

2. gritty

The beach. The only thing I don't like about the ocean is gritty sand in the bathing suit.

3. hot town (yeah, I know, it's two words)

When Ken and I we were young parents we lived in base housing at Camp Lejeune, North Caroline. Air conditioning? For enlisted personnel? Uh, nope, not in those days. It was sooo hot in the summer it was sometimes nearly unbearable. When Baby Kris and I had our fill of strolling the aisles at the local Winn-Dixie store, we'd run a tub of cold water and sit in it with a fan blowing on us.

4. night

Last evening I sat on the deck awhile and looked at the almost full moon. It was actually warm--one of the few warm nights we have had here so far.

5. dance

Dancing on the beach at night, to a tinny-sounding transistor radio. Ah, good old days. :-)

Here is the Joe Cocker version of the Lovin' Spoonful song.

The Lovin' Spoonful version (which I like better)is here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Things I Don't Want Anyone to Say to Me - Part II

There is actually a much longer list of comments and phrases that I'd be happy to never hear again. I picked these 7 because they have all been said to me in the last two weeks. So, you may be asking, why are all those comments to part one "bleching and yucking?" I mean, aren't these things correct? In some sense, these things may be true, but only in certain circumstances and a limited sense. A couple actually are more like Hindu thought than Jesus' teaching. I'll be brief, and I will try not to rant.

1. Church is a living organism. Healthy living things grow. Healthy churches grow.

I have already recommended an article from Rich Tatum (The Blog Rodent). Here is a snippet. He said it better than I could.

If we’re honest about it, the idea that numeric growth reveals a church’s health and its members’ own spiritual health has infected the American church for decades. The idea is captured in this syllogism:

Healthy organisms grow

Churches are like organisms

Therefore, healthy churches grow

But what this three-step logical tango fails to take into account is that healthy organisms stop growing when they reach maturity and a size appropriate to their nature. In fact, an organism’s failure to experience a growth plateau is one evidence of sickness. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. (Think: obesity, cancer, acromegaly, gigantism, etc.)

It's not that I don't want the church to grow. I do. But I've been hearing this well-meaning phrase for a few years, always felt something was not quite correct, but couldn't quite express it. Rich did it for me, and a large weight fell off my shoulders.

I recommend "The Emotionally Healthy Church" by Peter Scazarro for excellent discussion of this and other issues.

2. When the prayers go up, the blessings come down.

Scripture says, " Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." James 5:16

I passionately believe this. Prayer is essential to the Christian life, is essential to spiritual health, is perhaps the most significant thing the Church can do--and without it everything else we do becomes our own efforts, empty of the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. (We say this. We don't necessarily act like it.) But prayer does not automatically equal blessings--or at least not the kind the well-meaning sister who said this to me had in mind. Look at the first part of that verse! Are we willing to do the hard stuff first? Are we ready to admit our flaws and weaknesses to one another? To become "authentic" as the emerging church folk urge us? Are we willing to expose our own need for healing so that we can pray with greater power? Are we willing to pray with desperate honesty and then have all our superficial structures, our superficial spirituality, our superficial holiness revealed for what it is so that we can truly see "wonderful results?"

3. God will not take you where his grace cannot keep you.

This assumes a sort of Pollyanna-like Christian life. Do the right thing and everything will be all right. Am I discounting the grace of God? Oh, no! Just go to Bible Gateway and do a search for the word "grace" and after you read for a while you may well feel like dancing around the room, or at least thanking God! Grace is amazing, wonderful, marvellous and unfathomable. All that we have, all that we are, all that we will be is by the grace of God. How many times I have found it true that the grace of the Holy Spirit comes to me when I am most in need.

Here is just one passage, Eph. 1:6-8: So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. God gives us freedom, forgiveness, kindness, wisdom and understanding! What gifts! But are we guaranteed that things will always go well?

Take a look at Acts 13:49. "The word of the Lord spread through the whole region [Pisidian Antioch]. But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region."

What? They stirred up problems? How can that be? Did God not bring Paul and Barnabas there? It is clear from the context of the chapter that the grace of God is indeed with Paul and Barnabas and yet they have to leave this place, not by choice, but because they were driven out. I did not say I could explain it, I just said that God's grace might indeed lead you somewhere that will end up being challenging and troubling and you even might have to leave.

4. God will never give you more than you can handle.

Once again, I did not say I could explain all this, but to blithely say this to someone who is broken hearted or depressed or feeling like a failure is a sort of cruelty that does not please God. It ignores the reality that we live in a sin-saturated, broken, twisted world. In the end, God is victor. But in the short term, people often do suffer under the stresses and strains of illness, grief, or disappointment. This will not be the case in our next life--praise God!

Another assumption here is that everything that happens comes from God. SO NOT TRUE! God does not "give" us sickness or death or rape or disaster, etc. God gives good things. Am I saying God cannot deliver, or heal, or make things right? By no means. I am just saying that as long as we live in this earthly place there will be things that we cannot understand and that will cause pain. God will be with us through it all. But bad things will happen. Sometimes bad things will happen in such an array and in such a short time that we "can't handle" it and our bodies or minds break under the strain. Even Elijah, the great prophet, experienced deep depression.

5. If you just love enough, all things are possible.

I believed this until recently, and I still believe it in part. After all, (see I Cor. 13) love hopes, endures and believes. I still believe that love works miracles. I think love is the most powerful thing we have and the most amazing gift God gives. I wish I could help everyone I know find the love of God. I'll probably die trying to do this! Love is transforming, redeeming, and eternal. Sometimes love transformes the impossible into something possible. But it will not break the heart of one who refuses to be broken. It will not reveal truth to the one who refuses to look. It will not speak healing to the one who continues, with hands over ears (figuratively speaking), to choose to listen to lies. Jesus was love incarnate. And we all know how some people reacted to him!

6. God's plans cannot be stopped.

In the end, God is Victor and the King, Eternal. But if God's plans (short term) cannot be stopped or hindered, why would Jesus instruct us to pray, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven"? If God's plans are always going to succeed unhindered, why would Paul instruct us in Eph. 6 to put on the armor of God, and when we have done all we can, to stand? We are part of bringing God's plans to life. God may have a wonderful plan, but if the people of God do not walk in obedience and love and forgiveness and peace--lots of things can happen that bring misery and grief and death (not God's plans).

7. Someday it will all work out. It has to.

Okay, I agree with this. Sort of. I do not claim to understand the book of Revelation, but I understand these glorious words from chapter 19: Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting, "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!" Christians do not believe that the battle in which we are engaged is some sort of tug o' war between equal and opposite powers, one good and one bad. God is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, and God will be victorious in the end. The LIGHT will overcome darkness. But things in this life do not always "work out." Oh, they do change. Things resolve, one way or another, but not always happily. Hebrews 11 makes that clear, don't you think? Take a look:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.

Hey, I'm liking this a lot! Aren't you? Read on.

Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect

I am not liking this all that much. Destitute? Persecuted and mistreated? Wandering homeless?And my least favorite phrase, "...none of them received what had been promised." Too bad these folks were born too soon to read Joel Osteen's books. (Sorry! I couldn't help it!)

The words of hope here do ring out, in the middle of pain and heartbreak and loneliness. "Together with us they would be made perfect [complete and whole]." But do you suppose that when the faithful ones were about to be torn asunder someone said, "Don't worry. It will all work out"?

Yes, it will--glory be to God. But not usually in the way we think!

And, seriously, if I am missing something important, or I have it wrong, please comment. I promise not to whack you. I'd like to be wrong about some of this.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Things I Don't Want Anyone to Say to Me

Not that they might not be least in part...sometimes. I just don't want to hear them. I've heard all of them in the last two weeks. When you say them it just feels to me like you don't want to listen. Do you see a problem with these statements? I'll be back to tell you what I think. I know, you can hardly wait.

1. Church is a living organism. Healthy living things grow. Healthy churches grow.

2. When the prayers go up, the blessings come down.

3. God will not take you where his grace cannot keep you.

4. God will never give you more than you can handle.

5. If you love enough, all things are possible.

6. God's plans cannot be stopped.

7. Someday it will all work out. It has to.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Five: Beach Trip!

Mother Laura from Rev Gals is settling in to a "cozy cottage by the beach": a tiny rented condo on Pacific Coast Highway with her family. So she asks us, in honor of summer, to share our beachy memories, plans, and dreams with a "Beach Trip" Friday Five.

1. Ocean rocks, lake limps? Vice versa? Or "it's all beautiful in its own way"?

Well, anyone who's read this blog more than twice probably knows that I was once a girl from Southern California. The ocean is not the mountains. The mountains are what I really miss about the west. However, the ocean does indeed ROCK!

2. Year round beach living: Heaven...or the Other Place?

Year round? Um...a bit of both. I love the smell of the sea and the sound of waves, but sand in the living room all the time? Nope. Not for me. I'll live in the mountains and take periodic trips to the seashore to my little summer condo, thank you.

3. Any beach plans for this summer?

Not for the summer. Hopefully we will be able to visit California again in the fall. And we, transplanted to the cold country as we are, will swim in October's Pacific surf and think it is lovely!

4. Best beach memory ever?

The beach is best at night. The people are gone, except for occasional walkers or neckers...ha! I love the sound of surf at night. Even though I lived near the coast for the first 20 some years of my life, I have a lovely memory from just last year. Not being around the ocean makes it more special when it does happen. I sat on the shore and listened to the swish of the incoming waves. A few wispy clouds hung in the sky, and behind them was a full, silvery moon. The reflection of that enormous, just-risen moon on the ocean was stunning. The sense of peace, which I badly needed at the time, was timeless. I could have sat like that for a very long time, but we had to get back to the condo for games with the family--which was also good.

5. Fantasy beach trip?

Doesn't matter where it is as long as the water is warm and clear and I am a lithe and limber swimmer who is about a size 10.

Bonus: Share a piece of music/poetry/film/book that expresses something about what the beach means to you.

I grew up in the sixties, so it's the Beach Boys. I would like something more profound, but there it is. Here you go--takes me right back to cruising down Malibu Canyon towards the beach.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why is the Church So Messed Up? or "What the 'Reveal Study' Shows Us"

This, from "Blog Rodent" Rich Tatum is a must-read for church leaders. Since it relates the the big changes at Willow Creek, the post may seem a bit late in coming, but read on. Thank you, Rich, for nailing it. What do we do about it? Can we do anything?

You Aint Jesus, Preacher

There is a very popular clergyman/blogger known as "Real Live Preacher." He began his blog anonymously and he let it all hang out, so to speak. Boy, did he ever. Along the way a lot of us found him, and we logged in, and we commented, and we chatted, etc. Eventually RLP revealed his identity--what do you know--he was a small-church pastor with many questions and a few answers. If you click on the link in this paragraph you will see Part One of "You Aint Jesus, Preacher." It saddened me, and it relieved me, to read part one.

Listing Straight posted part two at Rev Gal Blog Pals today.

I am posting it because perhaps other pastors will see it and lay their burden down a bit today. Or perhaps someone who is mad at their pastor will read it and find the grace to forgive. Or perhaps someone will stop and pray for pastors, or for one pastor. Sometimes people wonder why in the world a man or woman of God would tell someone that if they "can do anything else, do it." It is because we know that being a pastor will challenge a person in a way nothing else does. We know that being a pastor who IS authentic and loving (as RLP talks about in Part I) will break your heart, and just might break your spirit too. I don't think I quite came to the level of "I'm Jesus" that RLP speaks of, but then again, maybe I'm just kidding myself.

You Ain’t Jesus, Preacher
Part Two: Losing The Language of Love

This is the story of how ministers find out they're not Jesus. This is the story of hitting bottom.

You start figuring out you’re not Jesus when you begin to unravel and lose the details. And if you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking you’re Jesus, there are a lot of details to keep straight.

One day your act starts to fray around the edges.

There's the family whose son is in jail. Did you send that letter to the chaplain? Clay seems depressed again. When was the last time you had lunch with him? Remember that little girl who told you she wished you were her daddy? Weren't you going to do some serious thinking about how to respond to her?

Did you pick up that book for Susan's husband, like you said you would? He doesn't feel at home at church. A little gesture like that could mean a lot. Hey, remember Bob and Linda? Jim's children? They haven't been to church in quite a while. They were moving to Hondo, right? Or did Jim say they weren't moving after all? Holy Sh**, you forgot to call Kay. Her grandmother is sick, and her mother just died. How could you not call her?

Is that wedding THIS week? What's the groom's last name again? Did you visit Joan in the hospital? She was there for three days. Wasn't there a little girl who wanted to talk to you? Weren’t you going to have lunch with…um…that one guy?

The voices in your head come together as one pounding headache of an entity and boldly name themselves Legion. The details are knotted into a dirty crowd, like starving kids on TV. There are so many of them, each precious, and you aren’t keeping up.

You CAN'T keep up, but you MUST keep up, because how can you NOT keep up?

You swear to God that you'll try harder, but God doesn't want that oath. God wants you to find a quiet place, sit down, and remember who you are.

But you want to try harder, because down inside you think you’re supposed to be like Jesus. So God stands aside and lets you have your way. The details rush into the void like giggling demons, and everything starts to fall apart.

Calendars blur before your eyes and become your greatest enemy. You know you wrote something down in a Monday square, but later it’s in a Friday square. You would swear on a stack of bibles that there is another week this month, but there isn’t. All the weeks are gone, preacher. Time’s up, and you’re on. Weddings and speaking engagements skate furiously out of the distant future, pulling up short on the tomorrow square, spraying ice in your eyes.

Even your beloved words begin to fail you.

The blessing you have quoted every Sunday for eight years disappears from your mind without a trace, leaving you speechless before the congregation.

The people at church think your absent mindedness is kind of cute. Maybe they think that’s what comes with a creative personality. You hope they think that. You wonder if something might be wrong with your brain.

You develop a little tick. You start needing to squeeze your eyes shut tightly and jerk your head to the side. It occurs to you that it must look like you're saying, "NO!". You consider seeing a doctor, but that's another detail you leave hanging.

Then one Sunday a woman raises her hand in church to share a prayer request. You know this woman. You were there the night her baby was born dying. You held his premature body and watched his final heartbeats through the waxy skin of his tiny chest. YOU KNOW THIS WOMAN. You know her husband and their boy, but her name is gone from your mind. Her name is nowhere. The pause gets too long so you just point at her, and she knows you forgot her name. You can see it in her eyes; you can see it hurt her. She’s the saddest person in the world, and you hurt her.

Grief seizes your chest, and all your energy drains into your shoes. You want to stop in the middle of the service, take a seat in the pew and say, "Someone take over. I can't preach or pray or talk. Someone put your arms around me because I can't do anything."

But you don’t do that. You don’t want to let everyone down, so you dig deep and find energy in a secret place. The price of this energy is putting the woman out of your mind. It’s a terrible price to pay. It's a quick fix, but in the long run you lose your soul.

This is what you’ve come to. Putting people out of your mind so you can finish the sermon. Is this what you call love, preacher?

You see, when you start forgetting blessings and names, you’ve lost the language of love. You can forget a lot of things, but you cannot forget a woman’s name and claim to love her. You cannot.

You tried to build a tower to the heavens, so God took away your words. It had to be this way. This was the only way you would learn.

Now you understand. You're not Jesus after all. You're a man who is good with words and who feels things very deeply. You’re a dreamer and a silly person, like all the other silly people at church. You cannot love everyone, and you cannot be all things to all people.

Welcome to the human race, preacher. Now you're ready to begin.

You will love some people deeply. Others will receive lesser kinds of love. Some will get a handshake and a kind word. Their journeys are their own, and they may have to get what they need from someone else.

Love the ones you can. Touch the ones you can reach. Let the others go. If you run out of gas, sit down in the pew and point to God. That might be the greatest sermon you ever preach.

You can't love anyone until you understand that you can't love everyone.

You can't be a real live preacher until you understand that you're only a real live person.

Merciful God, help us, your fragile sons and daughters in the pews and in the pulpits.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Getting to Know You

Fellow Wisconsinite blogger, Kievas, tagged me for a's been a while since I've done one of these, so here goes:

Rules: The rules of the game get posted at the beginning. Each player answers the questions/statements about himself or herself. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Ten years ago:

I was working for the State of Wisconsin. I was tired, burnt out, and wondering if I would ever find a place of full-time ministry. I was (once again) pondering whether I should call the District Office and say, "I quit." And it was about ten years ago that this happened (question number one of that post).

Five things on today's "to do" list:

Send letters to Sunday's church visitors.
Email the vision team and the deacon board.
Clean the bathrooms!!!
Find beginning notes for this week's sermon....what on earth happened to them?
Make motel reservations for upcoming vacation (upcoming means later this year).

Things I'd do if I was a billionaire:

Pay off debt, then invest part of the money for ongoing income.
Pay off homes of my kids.
Establish a fund for Trinity.
Use the rest to partner with two or three reputable missions/charity organizations that I would love to bless.

How many billions are we talking about here? :)

Three bad habits:

Hitting the snooze button and falling back to sleep.
Procrastinating when I have a job ahead that I dread.
Talking too much.

Five places I've lived:

I've moved much more than I like. I'll be very general.

Southern California
North Carolina
Washington, D.C.
North Dakota

Five jobs I've had:

Nurse's Aide
Computer Data Entry Slave
Social Worker/Paralegal (for lack of a more detailed explanation)
Husband's Secretary (never again!)
Long Term Care Ombudsman

I'm going to tag the following...if you've already played, I apologize. Others who want to join in the fun, please do!



A Different Iris


Auntie Knickers

Friday, June 06, 2008

Taking in the view Friday Five

Sally from Rev Gals shares this today, "This week I took some time out to stop and walk and take in the view; my son Chris is studying in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, too often we simply drive up there, turn around and come home! This time Tim and I took time out to take in the view. It occurs to me that we need to do that more in life...."

With that in mind I offer you this weeks Friday Five:

1. How important is the "big picture" to you, do you need a glimpse of the possibilities or are you a details person?

The big picture is what I live for. I am SO not a details person. I often find myself asking Gof for "juat a glimpse" of that may come from the work we are doing, from the times I am exhausted and want to give up. Details? I pay attention to them only because I must!

2. If the big picture is important to you how do you hold onto it in the nitty gritty details of life?

I find a place to be alone. I drive over to the shore of Lake Michigan, or sometimes Lake Winnebago, or I sit in a nearby park, or I drive out into the country and just park the car somewhere in nowhere. If there were mountains I'd head for them, but alas, no mountains. I take my Bible and sometimes I read or make a few notes. Mostly I just sit, or sit and pray and make a deliberate effort to remember why I believe I am in this world.

3. Name a book, poem, psalm, piece of music that transports to to another dimension ( one....what am I thinking....)

I am not good at ONE! But I will just pick one this time. Moonlight Sonata takes me somewhere peaceful. So does Rhapsody in Blue in a totally different way. Or, on a totally different note, so does "Amazing Grace/Grace Like Rain" by Todd Agnew.
Oh, see, I am not good at one.

4.Thinking of physical views, is there somewhere that inspires you, somewhere that you breathe more easily?

Mountains. I am in the wrong part of the country, aren't I?

5. A picture opportunity... post one if you can (or a link to one!)

This is from our California trip last year, driving up Mt. Palomar and watching the fog drifting in from the coast.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

F of H Part Four (there are no more) -- The Stranger in the City

Disclaimer: I do not mean to point any fingers in this post—not at my fellow ministers and certainly not at Central Lutheran. Any finger I point, as they say, would have three pointing back at me. I am sharing the story for two reasons. I think we preachers need to hear what the Minneapolis man said, and I want to give glory to the Holy Spirit, who I suspect arranged the encounter. The names are eliminated, but the conversation is completely real. The picture is not of the dad I met, but it made me smile and think of him. It is for sale here.
Once again, I was walking in downtown Minneapolis between Westminster Presbyterian and Central Lutheran among a crowd of Festival of Homiletics attendees. Conversation surrounded me as I considered whether to attend another session or take a break. My feet hurt badly. I had unwisely chosen this particular day to wear my cute shoes instead of my braces. I wondered if I would arrive at Central Lutheran early enough to snag one of the rockers in the church hallway for a while. Glancing up to my right at the blossoming apple trees that decorate the entrance to the Minneapolis Convention Center, I sniffed their marvelous aroma. I glanced down.
An African American man who looked about thirty years old was under a tree, leaning against a large corner flowerpot full of pansies. I figured he was just enjoying the long-overdue spring sunshine. “Hello” I said, smiling, continuing to walk. “How are you on this lovely day?” “I am just fine, ma’am” he replied with a wide smile. Then his expression abruptly changed, and he added, “Lady, can I ask you something?”

Oh, no. Why did I have to speak to him anyway? Now I will be late for the next session and it will be so crowded I might as well not bother. That is what I thought. What I said aloud was, “Sure.”

I made my way around a group of chatting ministers. The sun was warm on my back, but the rough stone of the cement flowerpot was cool. I repressed a sigh and leaned back, easing my aching feet a tiny bit.

The man inquired, “What is going on down at that big old church? I see lots of folk wearing name tags. Who are all you people?” I explained that we were attending a conference for clergy. “You mean all you people with the name tags are preachers? Like you are from all around Minnesota or something?”

“Well, we are from all around the nation, actually and some are from Canada” I replied, feeling rather proud. “Lots of different denominations and kinds of churches, and we are all here to learn how to be better preachers.” He was silent for a long moment. “Preachers?” His tone was odd.
“Um, yes, mostly, and church leaders.” I waited.

“What do churches do for people anymore anyway?” he asked, with an angry edge to his voice. I was regretting that I’d spoken to him at all and wondering if I might slip off my shoes. I answered that we share the good news, the gospel, of Jesus with those around us, and that the specifics of what we do for people often varied by denomination, church size, location, and so on.

After several minutes of questions, answers and conversation, he looked unconvinced and said, “Well, I went down to the office at that big church, because I could see it was open. I needed help.” He said this simply, clearly frustrated. He went on to relate that he was a brand-new father.  He was with a woman he loved. “I know I should marry my lady,” he said, glancing sideways at me, “And lately we have been talking about getting back into a church somewhere. I mean, we have a child to think about.  So today I am in trouble and I saw this big church open, and all these people, and so I went in. But church doesn’t help.”

Here it comes. I thought. Well, I’d stopped. Might as well carry it through. I said a quick, silent prayer and asked him, “Why did you want to go into a church?”

“I thought churches want to help.”

“They usually do want to help,” I replied, “But sometimes we are unable to do what we’d like. There are lots of reasons for that.”
“Well all I need is seven dollars! I went to the church office and told them why I needed help, and they said they do not do that. So I came out here, not knowing what to do and feeling ashamed. I had already been standing here for more than half an hour when you walked by. My lady is in the Hennepin County Hospital with a brand new baby girl, and I need to get them home. And I am out of gas, and I only need seven damn dollars! Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to swear. I am so ashamed I got angry at the office lady up at that church. But now I see all you people, and I’m trying to work up the courage to ask for help. But I am not a beggar. And all these people,” he waved his hand, “all walking by and smiling at each other but not at me. And not one even looked at me. Some looked away, or at the ground, or at their friends, or up at the sky. I got to thinking, 'Am I scary looking? Do I look like a druggy or a wino or something? Do I look like I’m gonna rob them? Is it because I am a black man and the preachers are mostly white people?' Do you think that's it lady?”

By this time the sidewalk was mostly empty. I assured my companion that he did not look like a drug addict, a wino or a homeless person, and he did not look particularly frightening. “But you are a stranger, sir,” I sad.” And these are scary times, you know?” “Lady, he sad sadly, you are the first person who even looked at me. And then you spoke to me. But you were the only one. It wasn't gonna hurt anybody to smile.”

“I’m so sorry.” I did not know what else to say.

“There were these two ladies going by. I guess they were preachers too, right?” They saw me, and they were talking, and both of them looked down quickly. They seemed like what they were talking about was really important. One said to the other ‘You have to let your text get down inside of you. You have to feel it and care about it deep inside before you can preach it right!’ You know what I thought to myself? ‘Lady, you don’t even care about people! You need a love for people deep down inside, and maybe then you can love your text.’”

“Ah, that could just as well have been me. It has been me, at other times. I think they probably were just in a hurry. Did you get seven dollars from somewhere else, or do you still need it?”

“No, I was trying to work up the courage to approach someone.”

I fished out my wallet, wishing the sidewalk were not so empty now. I mean, this could all be a ruse and he could grab my purse and run, after all. “Here is ten dollars. I’m running short, or I’d give you a twenty.”

After some more conversation in which I learned about his Jesus-loving mother who had passed on five years before, his lady, his baby and his job loss, I asked his name, and the names of his family. Then I asked if it would be all right if I prayed with him. He eagerly said yes, so I put a hand on his shoulder and prayed quietly (with my eyes open). A few remaining walkers glanced at us. I asked God to help him be the father he should be for his new daughter. I asked for a job for him. I asked for a church home, and that his little family would have divine direction in where that should be. I prayed for the new mother and baby to be healthy. I prayed for God to reveal love and grace that my new friend would know was from God. The muscular shoulder under my hand shook a bit. I thanked God that I had noticed him, that I had smiled and spoken, and that I had ten dollars to share with him.

He looked into my eyes at the end of this prayer.”What is your name?” When I told him, he shook my hand and said, “I thank you. Not just for the money. I thank you for seeing me, for smiling at me, for speaking to me. I think Jesus healed my heart a little bit. I left the church office feeling embarrassed and angry and thinking that I had been mistaken to even think about going back to church. But now I think God sent you by here to show me that some church people do care.”

“I think so too. Jesus loves you, and is waiting for you. God’s plans for you are good, and I know there are people of God somewhere who will welcome you.”

I turned to walk toward the church. He walked with me for a block, heading for the nearby county hospital. “Someday,” he said earnestly, waiting for the traffic light to turn green, “I bet I see you preaching someplace. You could be a great preacher someday at a big place here in Minneapolis maybe, a wonderful lady like you!” I smiled, thinking that if that was going to happen it had better be quick. “I won’t forget your name. It is kind of unusual. And someday,” he said quite seriously, “someday I might say, ‘Hey, that is the smiling preacher lady who gave me ten dollars after the baby came.” He waved, as he stepped into the crosswalk. “Thank you again, Ms. Preacher Lady.”

“You are welcome. Kiss your sweet new baby for me, and tell her mommy I will be praying for all of you.”

Will you take a moment to pray for this young father, his newborn daughter and the baby’s mother?

I did not make it to any more sessions that evening. I was very tired, and it took me a while to absorb the wonder of this experience. Do you suppose an angel was standing on the sidewalk with the frustrated man from the city and the sore-footed small-town pastor as we bowed our heads together?
between Central Lutheran and Westminster Presbyterian

F of H Part Three -- Conversations

I love this pin. It is United Methodist, and is one of a set that commemorates 50 ears of ordination for women in the UMC. The UMC has the best church logo (the cross and flame) out there, in my opinion.

I am drawing no conclusions, I'm just reporting three conversations, for what they are worth. :-)

Conversation One, in the Pew

Clergywoman (known hereafter as CW): Hi! I'm Clergywoman. I'm from Southern State, and I'm Lutheran. Where are you from?

Me: I'm from Wisconsin.

The service began, and CW and I shared a hymnbook and enjoyed harmonizing together.
Periodically she or I looked at each other in agreement, or surprise, or admiration of a point--you know how it is when listening to a good speaker. CW listened intently, and periodically (to my surprise) said "Amen!" or "Praise God!" or so on. Lutherans of my acquaintance do not usually say "amen" as affirmation. Once she murmured, "Oh, thank you, Jesus." I was thinking she was acting more Pentecostal than I was. After the service our conversation briefly continued as we gathered our things.

CW: So what is your denomination?

Me: Assemblies of God.

CW: Oh! How wonderful that you are here! Big smile.

Me: Why, thank you. But why do you say that?

CW: I didn't know anyone but mainline people came to the F of H much.

Me: I heard about it from a blogging community, the RevGalBlogPals.

CW: I have heard of the RGBP! Tell me about them.

Me: Yada yada yada...

CW: Well, it was good to meet you. I wish more Pentecostals and "evangelicals" would come. We need to interact more and learn from one another.

Me: It was good to meet you too. And I agree with you.

CW: I was Pentecostal once. It's a long story how I became a Lutheran pastor.

Me: I wondered.

Unfortunately, there was no time to continue this conversation.

Conversation Two, in the Restaurant

Most of the time I did not sit with someone I knew, since the only people at the F of H that I knew (sort of) were cyber friends. Sadly, I rarely even saw a Rev Gal or Pal. One morning I sat by Mary, a Lutheran pastor from Minneapolis. Afterwards we went to lunch and had a great time of conversation. This is one small part.

Mary: So, are there many women pastors in the Assemblies of God?

Me: Sadly, no.

Mary: I used to pastor in Northern Town. I was the only woman in the clergy group. One of them was an AG pastor. He pastored in Different Northern Town." Slight frown. "He was the only AG pastor I ever met, till you."

Me: Something tells me it wasn't altogether pleasant?

Mary: No. He refused to acknowledge my presence in the group.

Me: Oh, I am so sorry!

Mary: He used to pointedly speak of ministers as the "men of God"--and he never missed a chance to let me know that he disapproved of my role as pastor. I was part of that group for four years, and in all that time he never spoke to me unless he had to. And I never called him on it. Others in the group did, once or twice.

Me: Oooh....

Mary: One day I had it. I said, "AG Manly Pastor, I am part of this group. You may not like it, but that's the way it is! YOU didn't call me to ministry. YOU may not approve of me. But I know GOD called me, and GOD approves of me! You don't have to like me but I expect to at least be treated with basic courtesy and respect as a sister in the Lord and a human being!"

Me: Feeling like crying. "I am so deeply sad and sorry! And HOORAY for you, Mary. I know I wouldn't have been able to stand it for four years!"

Mary: So I was surprised to see a woman AG pastor. My great grandmother was a Pentecostal woman, and a preacher, my mother said. I thought you had women pastors, but that guy made me wonder. How can he be like that and be part of a denomination that has women clergy, and has had them for many years?

Me: Ah, that is the question.

Conversation Three, On the Sidewalk

I was walking between Westminster Presbyterian and Central Lutheran. The sun was shining, it was pleasant, trees were blossoming. Two clergywomen passed me, and one commented to me about the sunshine. This led to the usual questions...where are you from, what is your denomination, etc.

Me: "I'm Assemblies of God. I pastor a rural church in Wisconsin."

Ladies 1 and 2: Surprised looks. "Oh. We are Episcopalian."

Me: "Nice to meet you, Episcopalians!"

Lady 1: "I did not know Assemblies of God people came to the F of H."

Me: "They usually don't. I noted there are a few Pentecostals, but I don't know what their denominations are. I haven't seen any AG people I know, but that doesn't mean there aren't some." (You know the drill, the moderator asks, "Any Baptists?" "Yay" from the crowd, etc. That is how I knew there were a few other Pentecostals.) Ladies 1 and 2 seemed to be expecting more, so I added with a smile (what in the WORLD possessed me to say this?) "I am having fun hanging out with the liberals."

Ladies 1 and 2: Knowing, slightly uncomfortable laughter.

Lady 1: "Are you sure you won't get in trouble when you get home and your superiors find our where you were?" (She was kidding.)

Me: "Naw. I'm just being me. I never quite fit anywhere."

Lady 1: "Well, I'll tell you a secret. I don't either. I'm one of the few Episcopal clergy who openly acknowledges that I speak in tongues."

Lady 2: "You are an Episcomatic?"

Me: LOL!

Monday, June 02, 2008

F of H Part Two -- Rev Gals and Pals

It was good to meet so many blogging friends, and sad to be able to have real conversations with so few! Just a few things here:

Questing Parson - No wonder his blog is all about telling stories! The man is full of stories. QP, I am so glad we met in person and I hope there will be a "next time." And thanks for picking me up outta the gutter. ;-)

St. Casserole - She is red headed and spunky! Spunky is good, especially when tempered by a soft southern drawl. Please pray for her and her church folks in Mississippi, still suffering the aftermath of Katrina.

Revs. Dave and Kim are the coolest clergy couple! Don't believe that old saw about Presbyterians, "God's frozen chosen." Dave saw me, said, "Ah, the famous SingingOwl!" and hugged me. You and Kim and Ken and I could be great friends if we lived closer. I can just tell. Thanks for letting me join you and your friend for lunch. And for sitting with me.

Diane and Sue are so gracious and kind! Blessings to you both, and I so wish we'd had more time to get acquainted.

And Cheesehead in Paradise gets my prize for the best outfit at the Rev Gals gathering. Whe says we don't know how to dress in this part of the country? Cheese does. But we knew that, right?

Finally Ready to Blog About the F of H - Part One

I just now managed to pull out my notes and agenda from the Festival of Homiletics and begin reviewing some of what I wrote. And I had lots of things to say, but it's old news. Ah well. I will just note a few things for those of you who may wonder whether you should attend at some future time--especially Rev Gals. I agree with the glowing review of many fellow bloggers.

And a few thoughts will follow in another post or two just because I want to--even though they have no great social or spiritual value.

Every single lecture, and all but two sermons, were outstanding in my view. I won't bother you with why I did not care for two. For the most part, I felt like I was at a banquet of spiritual food. Tom Long, Anna Carter Florence, Walter Bruggemann and Jim Wallis were especially notable. Jim Wallis of Sojourners is considered "liberal" by many of my relatively conservative peers, but I was profoundly moved by his lecture, "Good News and Bad News" and continue to ponder his remarks, particularly his thoughts about how people of faith are always involved in great movements of social change. "Politics" he says, "is broken." No great surprise there, but he added that it is in times such as these that genuine revival may happen. Renewal is not revival, he told us, until something changes in society. Genuine repentance will always bring upheavals. Revival ignites spiritual movements, and spiritual movements move mountains. Well, I won't try to tell you his lecture, but I recommend you purchase the tape if you are so inclined. You might not agreee with all he says, but he certainly will make you think.

Authors Barbara Brown Taylor and Nora Gallager presented workshops for writers. Nora Gallager's was worth the cost of attending for me. She set me free from some false ideas, in a sense, and I'm excited to begin trying some of her tips out as I begin doing more writing. As for Barbara Brown Taylor, for reasons I won't elaborate on, I was prepared to be unimpressed. She totally disarmed me, and I now know why she is a favorite of so many Rev Gals and Pals. I'm going to buy a book soon.

I've quoted William Willimon on this blog before, but have never heard him speak. Here's a quote from his lecture that I can't forget, "Preachers don't make the gospel all useful and understandable. We follow Christ. We do not understand him." He then quoted John Wesley, who said, "We are to offer Jesus in all his prickly mystery!" It never will all make sense, will it? There is freedom in that, preachers!

Just Too Cute Not to Share

Trinity is not terribly stable on her feet yet, but wants to run. She is so full of life and smiles and spunk. She is, at not quite one and a half, already quite determined.

These pictures are all from two weeks ago when we had a short visit with my mother at the nursing home. At one point her mommy scolded her, "Trinity, sit down" when she insisted on standing up in a chair. A few moments later she took my mom's little stuffed cat, plopped it on a seat and said "Sit down!" She even got a small chuckle from her Great Grandmommy Leta. Ah, the children at day care don't know what they are in for when Princess Trinity Ann is about six months older.

Earlier that day, Sunday, she was dancing and clapping in church as we sang (distracting all), and at the end of service she crawled up on the altar steps where I had placed a microphone, and she stood up and begain babbling into it.

Maybe she is a Rev Gal in the making. :-)

I also added some pictures to the post below about Sunday's worship service.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Seek God's Purposes

1:00 p.m. UPDATE: Church was wonderful today. Several visitors, a sense of joy and life and love, beautiful "living video/dance," uplifting music, humor and fun and inspiration in our OASIS 2008 video, and--even a short sermon! :-) The "Living Water" of God did indeed seem to be flowing among us today. Thanks be to God.

Monday Update: :-) I've added a few pictures to go along with the notes below. We had blue flags and streamers in the congregation (alas, no photos), and it was a very casual day, as you can see, but powerful as well.

Six weeks ago our church unveiled a beautiful new banner and I preached a sermon titled "How Deep Do You Want to Go" as we began a series designed to explore a theme based on Isaiah 43. In that beautiful prophetic chapter God promises to both "do a new thing" and to make places of water and refreshing in a dry land. Almost nine years ago, that passage came to my attention again and again as I served my new church as the interim pastor--and six months later the permanent pastor.

A while back, a vision team of eight began an intense process of discovering and then sharing a vision for our church. Along with that we were encouraged to find metaphors...and voila...the OASIS was laboriously birthed. If you care to look, I've linked to the previous topics.

O Offer Hope
A Advance God's Kingdom
S Share God's Love
I Invest in People
S Seek God's Purposes

Today's service is packed with wonderful things, the least of which is my sermon, so there's not much to it. I am mostly sharing scripture and adding a few things, as well as reviewing previous sermon themes with the people. I hope I will figure out how to share a video with you.

Meanwhile, this is not the video I am speaking of, but it is a You Tube version of the song the dance team was sharing with us.

Getting ready. The white crepe paper on the steps is supposed to represent a river bank, and that is also why all the trees and greens are on the platform.

In the dance, Aaron represents Jesus, praying for his people.
"Sometimes we don't see eye to eye" Kelly and Donna show us. They are dressed in blue and all are barefoot because they are coming down to "the river."

DeeAnna, one of our wonderful yong people, and Patti, invite us to
love each other and put our differences aside for the sake of Jesus Christ
Darren plays and Kelly sings a song she co-wrote, "I Lift My Hands to You, Almighty God."

"We are called to a life of purpose. You can't live on purpose by accident."


“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Westminster Catechism

Romans 8:28-29 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

It seems God has plans and purposes for us! How do we live on purpose?

Let's take a look at Philippians 3:7-14 from "The Message."

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.

Don't you love the way Eugene Peterson has rendered that passage?

And here are the same scriptures from "The New Living Bible."

6 I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.
8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ
9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death,
11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.

13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,
14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

To live a life "on purpose" or a life devoted to discovering and living God's purpose and plan:

1. We must know Christ (v. 8) John's Gospel, chapter one, tells us that Jesus Christ came to reveal God to us. Do you hear the longing in Paul's words to the Philippians to "know" Christ? Like him, as we journey onward, pressing toward the goal we discover our purpose by discovering our Lord.

2. We must let go of the the past (v. 13)
Whether your past is good or bad, you can’t focus on it.

Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

If your past is bad, you can’t let it keep you from doing the Lord’s purpose. If your past is good, you can’t depend on it!

3. We must have a worthy goal (v. 13-14)
Have you ever noticed that if you do not have an agenda for your life (or even for your day) one will be provided for you either by the events of life itself or by other people. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals. Actually, it is essential to a purpose filled life, but our ultimate goal must be to serve the Lord. When we see Him, will He say “Well done…”?

4. We must realize that our purpose is eternal (v. 14)
Pleasure won’t last. In Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, Solomon (speaking of pleasure) says “as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless. It was like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.”

Possessions won’t last. In I Timothy 6:7 Paul says “After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die.”

Prestige won’t last. In Matthew 19:30, Jesus says “... many who seem important now will be the least important then, and those who are considered least here will be the greatest then.”

I will never forget the cheap, plaster plaque that used to hang in our dining room when I was a child. It was not the beauty of the plaque that stayed with me. I think one of my sisters may have made it at a summer Vacation Bible School. It read:

Only one life,
'Twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ,
will last.

Those words had a lasting impact on my childish heart. Life had eternal purpose! What would my Lord Jesus have me do?

You can’t live on purpose by accident. Will you join me in the journey of discovery?