Monday, February 25, 2013

Lent: Becoming a Collectable or Just Claimed

Have you ever collected coins, or trading cards, or dolls, etc?   If so you know what makes an item especially worthy of collecting.  It is best if nobody has touched the item since it left the factory.  The fewer the finger prints, dings, scratches the better.  The item is even better if still in the original packaging.  A true collector will keep the item behind glass or on a high shelf.  My piece of the basketball court from Purdue University is secure in a cabinet in my home office where it sits just behind the glass door.

It would be tempting to make our Lenten journey toward Easter into a quest to be a collectable.  We would hope our repentance removes the dings and scratches of our transgressions.  We would image our return to a pristine state of being, maybe the innocence of childhood.  We would wish to be perfect for our Lord to greet upon leaving the tomb.

A more meaningful journey through Lent might embrace those dings and scratches.  While I keep that piece of Boilermaker history in my home office, I have it because of the memories of the ball dribbled on it, the sneakers squeaking against it, the diving defense played on that piece of wood flooring.  Maybe our acquiring the dents of life is part of being claimed by Jesus.

Nancy Rockwell shared the following reflection upon Jesus’ words in Luke 13:31-35: “Part of the way Jesus spreads his wings over us is that we, too, find in our work courage to face ugly dangers,  to let life bite deeply into our flesh and shelter those in our care.  Work is for us what it was for Jesus, a compass in the midst of the devouring days in which we walk, pray, open doors, share bread, speak, weep, call out to one another, write something in the sands of time.”

Preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter is not about becoming perfect to meet our risen Lord.  Preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter IS about receiving the forgiveness that sets us free to meet and to follow Jesus.  Forgiveness is about moving forward as a person freed from past transgressions rather than a return to undo what has transpired.  Undoing what has transpired may be necessary to repair a broken relationship.  Imagine how deep a relationship that holds fast even the wounds of our transgressions and greets us with a smile.

So here is to a journey to Easter that includes the mess of life, the relationships of trust, and the facing of fears that give us grey hairs.  The opportunity of the journey is for those given the breath of life and the spark of soul.    Journey well!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Transmogrifier and Transfiguration

Transmogrifier and Transfiguration

If you have read much Calvin and Hobbes, the comic, you may recall the great transmogrifier.  It was a device (upside down cardboard box) that could change you into anything you wished, instantly, if you climbed inside.  In addition to the great potential for many hilarious episodes of Calvin and Hobbes, the transmogrifier is the dream of many on a spiritual journey.

How many with a terrible hangover have lead to a promise to “never” drink again, and felt they truly and instantly became a person who would never make the mistake of partaking of too much beverage?  How many in crisis have attempted to make the deal, “If you will save me, I’ll never miss another Sunday of church (or some other dramatic promise) with the belief that they can fulfill that promise?  How many have simply desired enlightenment and chased every fad or trend in a quest for instant results?  

It is not only diet pills that offer immediately change.  We seem to be vulnerable to many a quick fix.

This coming Sunday is known by many on the planet as Transfiguration Sunday.  My church will be reading from Luke 9:28-43.  Jesus and a select few disciples travel up a mountain where Jesus is seen with Moses and Elijah (who are both long ago religious heros and both passed onto to heaven) and Jesus is “transfigured” appearing in sparkling white.  That is the very quick version.  I encourage you to read the text from the Bible.

I find it easy to become obsessed with the “moment” of transfiguration.  It reads as if in a flash that Jesus’ divinity is revealed, that he is changed from whatever he was before into a something even more glorious and spiritual.  In truth, it might have taken a long time on top of the mountain.

What I do know is that my obsession with the immediacy of the moment of transfiguration distracts me from the long climb up the mountain.  Skipping an academic discussion of which mountain it might have been and the true height of that mountain, I want to lift up that all mountain tops require a climb to reach.

My experience of spiritual renewal, personal improvement, church revitalization, relational restoration, systemic reconciliation is that they require a journey of many small steps, trips, dances, and sometimes pure slogging through the muck of brokenness.  

Very true that there are opportunities for leaping and skipping when great distances can be traveled in few moments.  The opposite is of course true.  And if this were a linear process we might be able to find an average and maybe even a quick fix.  However this is not a linear process.

I am reminded of a recent conversation with a new friend colleague where I referenced some work by Dave Ramsey.  Ramsey made the reflection that money is never static but always in motion -- growing or becoming debt.  I believe the same is true of our quest for change, improvement, wholeness.

Fascinating how many of us think the perfect vacation is the beach.  I assume from listening that it is a holy place of rest.  And yet, it is a place of continual change as surf alters turf, tides both hide and reveal.

My reflection is not that life is hard so buck up.  My reflection is that life is full of potential for amazing experiences of God and God’s love with God’s people - again demonstrated in the transfiguration of Jesus.  Would the story be remembered had not friends traveled with him up the mountain to witness the glory?

What is your favorite mountain top experience?  What did it take to get there?  How much was your effort, the effort of others and or pure happenstance?  Life is continual motion.   A stick in the mud suffers the tide and a suffer rides the wave.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Purpose Points: Counting our Blessings

I have always felt that a healthy practice is to count our blessings, from time to time.  I keep a file in my office of notes that I have received which encourage me.  It is a lift on cloudy days to pull that file and review so many gracious notes from over the years.

We have recently counted the blessings from our shared ministry in 2012.  On our website ( you can find a one page snap shot of our past year of ministry.  Without reviewing the numbers you can readily examine, I want to lift up a couple of trends inside the numbers that require a bit of explanation.

Financially speaking, I want to thank the congregation for being so amazingly generous!   The cost of ministry continually rises.  From salaries for a growing staff to the cost of energy, we have experienced an increase in the cost of ministry.  I am ever thankful that we have continually supported our growing ministries with the funds necessary.  I know that your giving is meaningful to the life of the congregation and pray that it is as meaningful in your personal faith journey.

Within our worship numbers are at least two points of celebration, beyond the joy of worshipping with more people on average than the year prior.  I looked at the number of people who attended only once in 2012, who attended more than once but not monthly, and those who attended more than once a month.  

At our Traditional Worship service, we are blessed by the participation of family and friends who celebrate the holidays with us.  These are part of the number who attend more than once but not monthly.  We see those numbers staying fairly steady which is a sign that group continues to chose to travel and to worship with their parents and family we who see the rest of the year.  What a blessing!

At our Contemporary Worship service, we note that the number of those who attended more than once but not monthly declined from 2011 to 2012.  In the same period, those who attended more than once a month increased dramatically.  We celebrate that people have chosen to increase the frequency of their worship with the church.  We claim the opportunity to invite more people to avail themselves of this worship more than once.

The way we educate people is changing.  A decade ago, the majority of our education ministry happened on Sunday morning and with adults.  Inside the numbers, we find that our Sunday morning education ministry is reaching more children and youth than adults.  We also find that the majority of adults engage education ministry outside of Sunday morning, such as small groups.  What a blessing that we have nearly doubled the number of people reached by our educational ministry in a decade!

I believe that if we continue to engage ministry with God and neighbor so as to share the Good News that entices us to worship and praise, we will be unable to count all the blessings discovered in the year to come.  What a joy to be in ministry with you!