Where does it say…This too shall pass.

Trouble – what a diverse word that has a clear meaning.  We all know what trouble is and we all want to avoid it.  No one wants trouble in their life and when it comes we want it to go away quickly.  Add to that the discomfort we feel when we encounter someone who is in the middle of trouble.  How many of you have felt at a loss for something to say or what to do?  How many of us have simply resorted to the response, “this too shall pass” as our words of comfort and support?  But really?  Can we guarantee that trouble will pass, end, or eventually go away?  I invite you to take time to re-visit last week’s readings, reflections and prayer focus.  Blessings for the journey.

Monday: read Matthew 6:25-34

Time spent worrying is a waste of time. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount encouraged the people to focus on the things of God, not of this world. While Jesus’ counseled against focusing on worldly needs like food, clothing and shelter we also spend time worrying about trouble. Are you wasting time worrying about trouble in your life or in the life of someone you care about? What would be the appropriate use of your time to address trouble?

Tuesday: read John 14:1

Jesus predicted to the disciples his own death and that it was near; this was troubling news for them. However Jesus did not resolve the trouble rather he pointed to God’s promise of provision and care now and for eternity. In the midst of trouble what do you focus on? Is it the trouble or is it the care and presence of God?

Wednesday: read John 16:6-7

Maybe one of the most troubling parts of being in trouble is feeling like no one else is there. In preparing the disciples for his departure Jesus told them that they would not be abandoned, isolated, or alone. God was sending the Comforter, the Holy Spirit to be with them. In the middle of your trouble, how do you sense or know that the Holy Spirit is with you?

Thursday: read Philippians 4:6-7

Often we find a person to share our troubles with hoping to find comfort and maybe even solutions. What we may not realize is that others may not be capable of providing what we need in the areas of comfort or solutions. The One who can listen and comfort is God. Paul believes that in naming our troubles to God we will come to know peace – not necessarily resolution. Is it possible for you to be okay with God who grants peace but maybe not a resolution to your trouble?

Friday: read I Peter 5:7

Many of us have several acquaintances in our lives and some of us close friends. We also know that many of them are extremely busy and not always capable of dropping everything to come to our aid. In the middle of trouble who can you depend upon 100% of the time? The writer says to “throw all” upon God because God cares for you. Do you throw all of your trouble upon God in prayer or just some of it? Why not all of it?

Saturday: read Psalm 55:1-3

The Psalmist was a person who knew trouble. Take some time to read the Psalms and listen to his plight, his woes, and his cry for God. The writer’s words might actually be what you would like to say to God about your troubles. But also take note of the other Psalms – the ones that speak of deliverance. God listens; God does not avoid; God pays attention. But also be aware – God may not resolve your trouble in the way you want it to be resolved; actually you may have to spend a long time dealing with it. Remember – God is with you the whole time.

Prayer Focus: the presence of God in times of trouble; seeking a community that will support when in trouble; patience to endure times of trouble.

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Where does it Say “Charity Begins at Home?”

Charity can be a costly proposition.  It can cost us in our time, our money and/or our relationships.  Because time, money, and relationships are a precious commodity to each of us we may become careful and narrow in our application of them.  Sir Thomas Brown, a physician, writer and theologian is cited as the most credible source for the phrase “charity begins at home.”  Combining this thought/belief with our guarding of time, money and relationships, we not only believe that charity begins at home, we may also believe that it stays at home.  However when we really look at the world around us we see and we know that charity beyond is necessary.  It is also the highest calling in Jesus Christ – to be charitable to people who are outside of our social, ethnic, and cultural circle.  In the journey to discover a new understanding and practice I invite you to take time to read and pray over the following “Going Deeper” devotional.  My hope and prayer is that God will grant you a fresh vision of charity and liberate you for a new practice.

Monday: read Matthew 25:35-45 and Isaiah 58:1-12

The gospel writer shares the command of Jesus to care for the hungry, thirsty, naked and those in prison. When we do this, we minister to the Lord himself. So how do we see the hungry, thirsty, naked and those in prison among and around us? The speech of God (as recorded by the prophet Isaiah) commands the people to fast in order to see the hungry, thirsty, naked, and those in prison. If you fast, for what purpose? Could this be a new objective of fasting for you?


Tuesday: read Acts 6:1-4 and I Corinthians 13:3

Sometimes our attitudes and our conflicts can get in the way of helping others. We can see people and judge them thinking they should take care of their own needs without really understanding their circumstances. There are times when our own needs become blinding to the plight of others. What is your attitude about helping others? Or is your need so great it is blinding you?


Wednesday: read James 2:15-16 and Proverbs 3:27-28

Almost every day you can see someone standing on the corners of a street holding a sign asking for help. Because we do not know their story we may restrain from assisting them. But how about those who we do know and whose story we are familiar with? Do we turn them aside? Do we restrain from helping them? Who do you know that is in need but you have restrained yourself from helping them?


Thursday: read Deuteronomy 15:7-15

The Hebrew writer proclaimed that the poor would always be among us. You might recall that Jesus said these words as well; “the poor you will have with you always.” Even though this is still a reality does it mean that serving the poor is a lost cause? If poverty in our world is incurable should we give up?


Friday: read Luke 10:25-37

Jesus tells a story that is intended to broaden the reader and hearers perspective regarding who is our neighbor. The unlikely and despised Samaritan is the one who responds as God desires us to respond. How can we do any less? If we claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ don’t we have an even greater responsibility to see our “neighbor” and help?


Saturday: read Romans 15:25-27 and Acts 11:29-30

The early church developed a practice of supporting one another especially with finances. Paul was the progenitor of the early missional movement. He was also one who would carry these gifts to other churches as well as do fund-raising for his missionary journeys. The needs of the local church are important and the needs of the world are also. How do you balance giving toward both?



Prayer Focus: seeing the needs of the community; seeing the needs of the world; encouragement and conviction regarding attitude and response; granting of a generous heart and life.

Blessings for the journey.

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Where does it say “God works in mysterious ways?”

We Christians are pretty good at our pithy statements about faith and about God. One of the dichotomies of life is our certainty and knowledge of some things and our uncertainty about other things. There are moments in life where we can explain exactly what happened and then there are moments that should leave us speechless. However few of us are ever comfortable with silence and the lack of an explanation so we offer up something. Maybe you have found yourself in an unexplainable situation and the only thing you could offer is “God works in mysterious ways.” But does God really work in mysterious ways or is that something we say to explain things we don’t fully comprehend? Take a moment to read Isaiah 55:8-9 and Romans 11:33-36. At first glance the scriptures seem to say something similar – there is a certain mystery about God’s ways. Now go back and read the verses before and the verses after and see if you gain a different perspective.

I invite you to journey with us this week as we seek to broaden our perspective on the so-called “mysterious ways of God.” The following is our Going Deeper devotional guide for this week. As we each participate in the daily reflections maybe together we will find some clarity and understanding of God’s ways.

Monday: read Psalm 136
The Psalmist recounts the many works of God on behalf of the Hebrews. He retells the story of Moses leading the people out of bondage – a living example of God’s way of salvation. God’s salvation is a real part of your life – have you praised God lately for it?

Tuesday: read Hosea 14:9; Psalm 75:1-3
The prophet Hosea proclaims that God’s ways are right. This implies that the prophet knows God’s ways personally and communally. The Psalmist declares that Israel experiences oppression as a result of God’s judgment but that God’s plans for deliverance at just the right moment. Do you see how God is at work sometimes through judgment and sometimes through deliverance? Is this evident in your life?

Wednesday: read Psalm 145:15-19; Psalm 26:3-7; Psalm. 111
God is the provider; especially for those who are hungry. God’s hand opens and provides satisfaction. The faithful acts of love are apparent, right before the Psalmist and so he sings a song of praise to God and about God. How have you seen or experienced God’s provision this week? Did you sing a song of praise?

Thursday: read Psalm 40:5; Psalm 66:5-7; Psalm 92:1-5; Daniel 4:37
God’s favor is boundless; it overflows and is beyond comprehension. But still it is a reality and the Psalmist invites others to come and see – to experience it. This causes humanity to praise God for God’s favor; even a pagan king praised God. Have you experienced the boundless favor of God recently? Have you invited someone to experience it as a reality in their lives so that they might praise God as well?

Friday: read Psalm 86:8-10
God is a wonder-worker; human works cannot compare to what God can and does do for us. What marvelous work has God preformed for you? How did you give thanks and praise to God for what God did or is doing?

Saturday: read Habakkuk 3:1-19
The prophet Habakkuk lived and preached during troubling times. Still the prophet knew from experience that God would not let the people continue in exile. Instead God would once again rescue God’s people because God is a deliverer. If you find yourself in a time of trouble, stress or anxiety what is your prayer? Maybe instead of focusing on why, try praying that God will be present in delivering you from this time.

Prayer Focus: praise God for being active in this world as a deliverer; in troubling times God is not mysteriously absent or working behind the scenes; God is a real and present help for those in need.

Blessings for the journey.

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Where does it say ‘God helps those who help themselves?’

Our culture is replete with colloquialisms that we think are from the Bible but actually aren’t.  ‘God helps those who help themselves’  is rooted in Greek philosophy and was coined by the English political theorist Algernon Sidney.  It may serve as a motivational saying but it is not the portrait of God that I read in the  Bible.  Actually the God that I have come to know in scripture is the God who helps those who cannot help themselves.  Whether you read the Exodus story, the Psalms, or the exile stories we see God working on behalf of the poor and oppressed.  In Jesus we see the manifestation of God who ate with sinners, healed the sick, and raised the dead – all people who could not help themselves.  And I believe the biblical mandate is for each of us to live as Jesus did.  The writer of Ephesians said that “God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.”  The Colossians writer encourages us to let our words and deeds be a true representation of Jesus – the one who commanded his disciples to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.  As modern agents of God’s kingdom we are invited to do the same thing for those who cannot help themselves.

The following is a daily reflection with a prayer focus for this week.  I invite you to be in thought and prayer as you consider how God is inviting you to help those who cannot help themselves.

Monday: read Deuteronomy 10:18-19

God commanded the newly liberated Hebrews to remember that they were once mistreated foreigners in the land of Egypt. God demanded they love foreigners, widows and orphans as they would their own family verses mistreating them as they had been mistreated. When you see someone in need do you despise them, look down upon them, or do you love them as you would your family?


Tuesday: read Deuteronomy 33:27-28 and Psalm 28:7-9

Both writers proclaim that God is a deliverer. God does not ignore the poor and needy; rather God hears and responds with the strength only God can muster. In God is shelter, safety, and refuge. What is your role in portraying this activity of God in the world today?


Wednesday: read Isaiah 41:17-20

In a time of destruction and exile the prophet reminds the people of their relationship with God. As a chosen people God promises to take care of them even when they are the poor and needy. Once they realize it is God, the people will know that God is once again planning for them to experience God’s goodness. Are you feeling poor in spirit or weak because of sin? Do you see that God is working for you to experience goodness?


Thursday: read Hebrews 13:5-7

So often we try to get ourselves out of the trouble we have created for ourselves. We rely upon wealth, talent, or intellect only to find that they often come up short. God invites us to be a people of faith whose witness to others demonstrates this faith. How are you relying on God today and is it noticeable to others?


Friday: read I Timothy 5:3-8

The Apostle Paul reminded Timothy and the community he was leading of their social and familial responsibilities, especially to those who could not provide for themselves. We live in a society that allows us to make care facilities responsible for our senior adults instead of the family making them a priority. Do you have a senior adult that needs the care of their family? How are each and all invited to do their part in providing for the needs of your widow/widower?


Saturday: read Matthew 25:34-45

Jesus leaves his followers with a very specific example of what it means to “love God and to love your neighbor.” The example is a lived expression of charity to the hungry and thirsty prisoner who was sick and without clothing. By caring for these persons, we express our love for God. Have you been in contact with someone this week who needed your help and did you respond in a way that shows you love God?


Prayer Focus:  loving God by daily helping my neighbor who is in need; recognition of experiences of God’s helping hand in moments when I cannot help myself.


Blessings for the journey.

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Disciple’s Journey – Service

Pole Steeple trail

I have noticed over the last decade or so a shift within the protestant church.  For years our work in the world had been simply about individual salvation – bringing the gospel to the world one person at a time.  Our goal was to see more sinners become saints and even our mission work had that as its primary objective.  But more and more the shift has been toward serving people in Christ’s name.  We have come around to the understanding that a person cannot hear the gospel when their stomach is growling, when there is nowhere to rest their head, and no place to find security.  Maybe we’ve simply realized that people are hurting in a variety of ways and the hurt has to be addressed so that spiritual healing might follow.  Or maybe it is just my imagination running away with me…

One of our fundamental beliefs is that every professing and baptized member of the church is endowed by the Holy Spirit with a spiritual gift.  This spiritual gift is intended by God to be used in service to the faith community and in the world beyond.  The key is for each of us to know what our gifts are and to be aware of the moments where our gifts can be put to use.

Not long ago ABC News had a series on television titled “What Would You Do?”  It was hosted by John Quinones and the idea was to put people in ethical dilemmas and through a hidden camera film their response or lack thereof.  They tested the unknown public to see how they would respond when thrust into real-life situations of racism, teen trouble, homophobia, bad parenting, elderly abuse, obesity and weight issues, bullying, and on.  The question was “how many people would witness an injustice and actually be bold enough to confront it?”

We don’t need to watch a television show or the news to see injustice in our world – it is around us day in and day out.  There are ample opportunities in our little worlds to witness and respond to situations that are wrong and harmful – if we are moved to do so.

Have you ever wondered why so many people aren’t moved to respond to injustice in the world?  Here are a couple of reasons that I thought of; I’m sure there are more.  Maybe the issue of injustice is simply too big – because of its global nature it is too far spread, in a land that is too far away, or at a scale that it seems insurmountable.  Or it could be that the issue is so deeply rooted that it is incurable (such as poverty, disease, national or interpersonal hostility).  Or maybe we are moved because it doesn’t fit within our religious or political worldview.  There are ample reasons (or excuses) that we can muster up for not getting involved when we encounter injustice in the world.

And yet I would say that our efforts, no matter how great or how small can and would make a difference in the world around us, in the lives that we would encounter.  Bonaro Overstreet, an American poet, wrote these words:  “You say the little efforts that I make will do no good:  they never will prevail to tip the hovering scale where justice hangs in the balance.  I don’t think I ever thought they would.  But I am prejudiced beyond debate in favor of my right to choose which side shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.”  I believe the ethical call of all people who claim the title “Christian” is to let the stubborn ounces of our weight fall on the side of justice.  This is our daily act of acceptable worship of God!

Many of us are under the impression that acceptable worship applies only to the hour we are together on Sunday.  Acceptable worship is the right dress, the right code of conduct, in the right worship style at the right time.  We’ve boiled it down to a particular form and function based upon preferences for a particular group of people and when the leaders uphold the expectation and standard, worship is acceptable.

But the author of Hebrews reminded his audience that acceptable worship is not based upon our judgment but rather on what God finds acceptable.  And that acceptable worship is how we live every second of every minute of every day.  The Hebrews author lists 13 exhortations – a quick list because the original audience knew them well; they were customary things, traditions for them and so they did not need extensive teaching on them.  But they did need reminding because they were missing the mark on acceptable worship.  They were not using their gifts to serve others and thus their worship of God was unacceptable.  The Hebrews like others before them and billions after them were given spiritual gifts to show hospitality, help those in prison or being mistreated, and for doing good while sharing with those in need.  But like so many they had failed to do so, forgotten along the way and needed to be reminded what holistic worship of God is.

So how many of us are living a life of worship that is acceptable to God because we are also using our spiritual gifts to serve when and wherever needed?

John Wesley was a member of a holy club while studying at Oxford.  They were a group who had a particular regimen when it came to reading scripture, praying together, having communion, and holding each other accountable for confession of sins and repentance.  But they also went beyond these acts of personal piety; they were known to have visited the sick at the local hospital, to go and be present with children who resided in the local orphanage and they visited those who had been imprisoned.  This was not normal in Wesley’s day – these were not the activities of the people of the Anglican Church but he and his companions felt that it was all a part of their worship of God.  In the Wesleyan tradition we have a saying – “there is no personal holiness without social holiness; there is no social holiness without personal holiness.”  They are two sides of the same coin and they cannot be divided.  The weight of our stubborn ounces should be generously given to “loving God and loving our neighbor.”

The body of Christ is gifted by the Holy Spirit with all that is necessary for its full life together and for mission in the world.  All of us are exhorted to use our gifts to serve others rounding out our acceptable worship of God.  So, what is your spiritual gift?  If you do not know there are several on-line tests that you can take that will give you immediate results.  On the UMC.org website there is a test that you can use.  Then you can research the definition of your gift, what your gift is intended for and where it can be used to glorify God.

You might not think your gift matters to the church or the world but I would argue that it takes all of us participating in God’s kingdom work for the vision of God to unfold.  We are all a unique piece of God’s puzzle portrait – without our piece in the place God designed us for, there is a gap that no one else can fill.  Your spiritual gift and its presence in the community and world is vital to God’s purposes.  Combined the weight of all our stubborn ounces will make a difference here and beyond.  I know that I want my worship of God to be complete and acceptable; I am confident that you desire the same.  So what are you going to do about it?

Blessings for the journey!

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Disciple’s Journey – Gifts

I am amazed and perplexed at the amount of freedom that we have, especially as a 21st century person who is a citizen of and lives in the United States.  We are free to speak, to pursue our interests, to utilize our time the way we want, and to move about the country and world pretty much as we please and are able.

As Christians we are a people who are free to worship God and as United Methodists we speak of this in relationship to our time, our talent and our treasure.  For those of us who exercise our freedom to generously give of these three elements we do so because we believe that God’s vision and mission emerges through our participation.  We are free to be a part of what God intends and is doing in the world.  But not all of us are convinced of the need personally or globally for generosity and so we exercise our freedom in other ways – many of them focused on ourselves.

A few weeks ago we celebrated the anniversary of our independence as a nation.  In June of 2015 we will mark the anniversary of the ratification of the constitution that was written in 1788.  In this document we are granted freedoms as citizens of this country.  One of those is the freedom of religion (not from religion).  The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law restricting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  The framers of the constitution included this amendment in response to history, notably European history.

Here is an example.  In 1685 the Edict of Fontainebleau was issued making it illegal to be a protestant in France.  The religion of the king was Catholicism and thus it was mandatory that all subjects to the French king convert and practice his religion.  For the next 100 years thousands of protestant men who refused to convert were sentenced to row in the galleys of the French navy.  Thousands of protestant women who refused to convert were sentenced to life in prison.  The children of protestants who refused to convert were sent into foster care to be raised in the home of a practicing Catholic family.  In 1787, the same year the constitution was finalized, affirmed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification, the French Reformed Church finally gained recognition and the freedom to practice its traditions after 100 years of persecution.

Now don’t get me wrong – this is simply one example out of many and the persecution crosses both ways.  It was not just Catholics persecuting protestants – the protestants had their turn as well.  There is a phrase that describes this time in European history regarding church and state – “the religion of the prince was the religion of the people.”  And no other religion was tolerated.

It was this and hundreds more years of the history of this practice that may have influenced our founding fathers in the writing of the religion clause – so that we might have freedom of religion regardless of which political party was in charge.  What I hope we gain is a sense that we should not take for granted a right that our fore fathers intentionally designed for us.  And that we have the freedom to accept God’s invitation to live intentionally for his mission and purposes.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus addressed a large crowd of people and during his teaching he addressed a number of topics – one of them was the focus on treasure.  Ben Worthington, a biblical professor and author suggests that we look at Matthew 6:19ff in light of the prayer that Jesus had taught to his followers; the prayer is an outline for what was taught and 6:19-24 serves as an amplification of the first 3 petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

1) Hallowed by your name

2) Thy kingdom come

3) Thy will be done

I would posit that Jesus’ point of emphasis is to answer the question, “what are you focusing on in life?”  Here is a key idea for you to remember – focus defines purpose which defines action or as Matthew records Jesus as saying “whatever your eye focuses on becomes your ‘master.'”  For many of us our treasure is what we are focused on and it is our master and we use our freedom to pursue whatever our heart desire is.

Historians who study culture, practices and beliefs have determined that the idea of “heart” had a much different meaning in Ancient Near Eastern Semitic anthropology than it does today.  The heart was not used to talk about how we express feelings alone; it was understood as the center of thought, conscience, will and the control center for personality.  Jesus point was that whatever your “heart” focused on would define your purpose which would define your actions.  Thus his additional comment that you cannot serve God and treasure simultaneously makes sense.  You can only focus on one or the other – not both.  Jesus invited his audience then to focus on God who is to be honored (hallowed is thy name), whose kingdom should be sought after (thy kingdom come), and whose will should be given preference (thy will be done).  I think the invitation is the same for us – to freely choose to focus on God and to utilize our time, talents, and treasure as an expression of this choice.

I can see how John Wesley might have been influenced as well by what was transpiring in the world during his time.  Wesley lived and served in the Anglican Church of England during the time of the protestant persecution in France.  Maybe he understood the value of being free to choose and teaching on many different subjects he also taught on treasure.  Wesley is noted for saying “gain all that you can, save all that you can, and give all that you can.”

Wesley believed that we should be fully employed in our lives; he did not believe in wasting time or energy.  But that does not mean that we have to be workaholics in our field of endeavor.  Pastor James Harnish adds three notes to this maximum to be diligent in your employment.

1) Gain all you can without hurting your health – try to be balanced between work and rest

2) Gain all you can without hurting your mind – don’t cheat, lie or do anything illegal to get ahead

3) Gain all you can without hurting your neighbor – always consider how you impact others

Wesley also believed that we should save all that we could but he was not talking about having the security of a nice pension, 401K or savings account.  He believed that we needed to be conscientious about how we used our treasure; thoughtful about our purchases.  When he spoke of saving he meant from waste and inappropriate use.

Finally Wesley also taught that we should give all that we can – to take measurable steps in our lives to be generous.  As a pastor and leader I take serious the need to teach committed Christians the discipline of routine giving starting first with a percentage commitment and then working toward the tithe.  (The tithe is an ancient Hebrew model of giving 10% of your income to God’s mission and offerings are anything you give over and above the tithe.)  Unfortunately this is a discipline that is lost on many of us mainly because we are free to choose to do something else.

I would like to encourage you to see this freedom in a different light – that the heart of the matter is that God has blessed us so that we might be a blessing to others.  Our generosity should help transform the world around us into the vision God intends.  Whether it is through helping to pay for pesticide treated bed nets so that we can eradicate malaria in Africa, or to help fund a missionary in Mongolia, or to help a local agency in their efforts to stomp out the commercial sex trade and human trafficking, our generosity is intended to make the world a better place.

I hope that many of you have come to better understand the practice and discipline of generosity and a narrower group of you from our Methodist tradition.  My desire is for this to be a time of reflection and invitation – for you to focus on God’s kingdom and will for this world and to let your generosity be a reflection of the priorities in your life.

You have the freedom to focus on what you want, for that to define your purpose and your actions.  My prayer and invitation is that you will focus on being generous with your time, your talent and your treasure – generous to God’s vision and mission for this world.  May you see God’s name honored, his kingdom come and his will being done through your generosity.

Blessings for the journey.

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Disciple’s Journey – Presence

I believe that the central part of our identity as Christ followers is that we belong to a local expression of the body of Christ.  It is an image that we gain from the writings of the Apostle Paul that shows how we are linked or connected to one another and that we cannot deny or do without one another.  Thus our presence is vital to the health and well-being of the body of Christ globally and locally.

My church experience growing up was different from today’s norms.  From late grade school through my first year after high school I attended a Baptist church in south Kansas City.  Attendance looked like this:  Sunday School at 10am, church at 11am, Sunday evening service at 6:30pm, Wednesday night prayer service at 6:30pm and visitation at 7pm on Thursday.  This was my routine week in and week out for several years.  Over the years that I spent at this church I surmise that I was present at the church well over 1,000 different times between Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

At one time in our society we thought differently about our social and religious participation.  I’ve been told that when you moved to a new area you did three things:

1) You found a place for you and your family to live

2) You found a bank to do business with

3) You found a church and you attended 50 Sundays a year, Ash Wednesday and Christmas Eve (if your tradition worshipped on these two days)

George Barna who is a researcher on all things church and culture related recently a survey of Protestant Christians asking them to quantify what it meant to be a “faithful” attender in a local church.  The category most widely chosen to answer this was 14-17 Sundays per year – the majority of respondents believe that attending worship a little over once per month is faithful participation.

I don’t believe that God is concerned about our numerical attendance record.  I’m not really sure that a perfect attendance record will count for righteousness in God’s kingdom now or to come.  Rather I would like to propose a different concept about presence and hope that you might agree with it.  Here is what I believe presence is:

“If you are in town, healthy and the weather permits it, there is nowhere else you could be on a Sunday morning than participating in the body of Christ as a worship community.  It is the place that you are drawn to by the leading of the Holy Spirit; it is the place you belong; the place where everyone – well at least someone knows your name!  It is the place to get away from the distractions of the world so that you might focus on being present with Christ and his people.”

So let’s think about this question for a moment and try to answer it – why is it important for us to be present week in and week out?

First response – people are searching for a place to connect and belong.  If we are inconsistent in our presence then it will be difficult for seekers to connect and belong and it will be difficult for us to connect and belong.  Author Elton Trueblood in his 1971 work titled The Future of the Christian said “individual Christianity is a self-contradiction!  Unless there is a sense of ‘one another’ there is no sense of the Living Christ.”  In order to feel the real presence of Christ we must find ourselves in the real presence of one another.  In order for seekers to find the presence of Christ they must experience our presence.

Second response – when the community is gathered together then the vision of God is expressed and the body of Christ set in motion to accomplish it.  United Methodist pastor James Harnish wrote in his book Journey to the Center that “Being ‘saved’ does not mean holding a solitary ticket for a solo flight to heaven.  It means becoming a part of the Body of Christ, living on earth in ways that are consistent with the rule of God that is already fulfilled in heaven.”  The gathered community is meant to be sent forth to express God’s will and ways in the rest of creation, but if we do not gather we cannot be sent forth.

I know that some are skeptical about the need to be consistently present in a worship community.  There is a perception that there is little of value to be gained by spending time in church.  I would agree – I’ve been to churches where I’ve wondered if it was worth my time.  Beyond just physical presence, here is what I believe is truly at the heart of being together – our emotional and spiritual presence with one another.  This is what speaks volumes to our guests and the world beyond – how we are present with one another.  How we encourage, exhort, heal and help to liberate as a community gathered in the name of Christ.

In the New Testament one of its writers confronted a post-ascension community of believers in an attempt to correct and encourage them regarding their practice of presence with one another and in the world.  This gathered community of Christians had fallen into some unhealthy habits.  The author says that they were telling lies about each other, angry with one another, stealing from each other, cursing and verbally abusing each other and had become bitter.  (Take a moment and read Ephesians 4:25 to 5:2)  This was how this ancient church community was acting toward one another – a church all of us would want to join!

The writer encourages them to act differently than the rest of the world; to live into a vision of a community whose presence with one another was marked by characteristics like kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness, and love.  These are the characteristics God had shown to them and they should imitate God by fulfilling the image of Christ’s living example.  What I take away from the words of this first century writer is that quantity and quality of presence with one another matters greatly:  it matters to God, it matters to the body of Christ, and it matters to seekers and guests.  Thus I believe that we should take seriously the instruction to consider our presence – that we should make physical presence a priority and the way we are present should imitate Jesus’ living example.

So will you make presence a priority?  The priority of presence is critical to the vitality of the body of Christ we call St. John’s.  It is important for us to be physically present so that we might welcome one another and connect with our guests.  It is important for us to be emotionally and spiritually present imitating the attitudes and behaviors of our Savior, Jesus the Christ (especially for people who are seeking a safe haven from a hostile world.)

Ultimately you have to be convinced of the priority of presence – that it will make a difference in your life and that it matters to others.

Blessings for the journey.

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