Monday, October 21, 2013

Community: An Observation and a Question

First, community is inconvenient. Or maybe it would be more precise to say that truly loving others is inconvenient. We start out seeking to encourage Darren—checking in once in a while to see how he’s doing raising his young son all by himself. It’s initially on our own terms, and we feel good when he expresses gratitude for our concern. But there comes that point when he gives a call at 9:30pm, and we want to watch the Red Sox game instead. Helping him when it fit in our calendar was one thing; this is another. Thankfully God exposes the selfishness inherent even in our very acts of service, by allowing love to inconvenience us. Because when it’s inconvenient, there is potential for the growth of truly disinterested love. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we won’t establish healthy boundaries (lest we enable instead of truly helping others), but love is willing to experience discomfort for another’s good. As long as our acts of service are purely convenient, there seems to be limited potential for growth in love.

And a question: Do we love Jesus because He gives us community, or do we love community because we love Jesus? This question is related to the question of whether we actually love the actual community Christ has given us, or whether we love our ideal of “community”—and serve God inasmuch as His Church fits into our ideal. Real community is messy: Christians are not perfect people; we are first called to be repentant people. Yes, we are given the Holy Spirit, but sanctification is a bumpy road with lots of twists and turns. So our love for the community of the Church must be derivative of our confidence in Jesus’ love, and our love for Him. As Bonheoffer warns in Life Together, our ideals of community—if they aren’t soon shattered by the reality—can destroy the actual community around us.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October in Maine

Some news from the last few weeks at New Hope...
  • As the lead pastor at New Hope is currently on sabbatical for the next couple months, I have now stepped into a fuller role--also having been welcomed as a new member and ordained as an elder at New Hope two weeks ago. I will be preaching all except one Sunday each month, and am also working with a church member in leading a men’s Bible study through Genesis.
  • We will begin a new sermon series on Ephesians in a couple weeks, as well as a new Sunday School class on “Culture and God’s Word.” In this class, each week we will look at different advertisements or other cultural messages (such as Sprite’s slogan “Obey your thirst”), and then evaluate it against Scripture. I hope we can grow in discernment, so that instead of simply absorbing the messages of the majority culture, we can learn to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5b, NIV) Sprite’s slogan, for instance, reinforces our culture’s tacit assumption that we should first follow our own desires (“just listen to your heart”), as opposed to being ruled by God (which is actually the only way we find true freedom). 
  • As the soccer coaching season is drawing to a close soon, I am beginning to look into other options for part-time employment during the winter. I’m talking to the local tennis club, as well as looking into springtime coaching positions as well. So far, it’s been refreshing to have changes  in my focus each day—writing sermons or visiting in the morning, and then coaching in the afternoon. It’s a great mix, and opportunity to connect with others in the community!

Dependence and Prayer

When I was recently ordained as an elder at New Hope (allowing me to serve in more capacities as Intern Pastor), one of the charges given me was to “pray continually for the church.” This is a good reminder, and I’m also grateful for New Hope’s dedicated prayer team, meeting every Wednesday to intercede for the congregation and its mission.

Prayer is work—and central to all work. In the call to pray, we are reminded where the power to transform lives ultimately comes from: It’s not our words or programs or personality that ultimately grow the Church; it’s the Living God working through us—weak as we are.

And perhaps, as we begin to recognize more and more what it means to be called to serve in the Church (as any Christian is called to use their gifts), we will be driven more and more to prayer. We aren’t called just to preach a skillfully-delivered and amusing sermon, or just to sit in on a meeting and manage the church’s budget, or just to take an evening and visit someone in the hospital; in all these activities we are called to point others to the King of the Universe, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.

This is rightly intimidating, for we cannot do this on our own ability. So when we rightly estimate the weight of our calling, we grow in seeing our dependence on God. And that sense of dependence is fertile soil for prayer. It is ultimately on God’s shoulders to bring the growth; we are called to dependent faithfulness—expressed in fervent prayer and obedience. 

"Stop." (a poem)


Why once each week
                                and rest?
After all,
Letters yet to be answered
Litter the desk in layers;
Last week’s to-dos swelling,
Burst the banks of yesterday;
Recent meetings’ action items,
Chomping at the bit;

And you would rest?
There’s work to be done!
You would cease?
Idle hands…!

Why once each week
                                and rest?

Remember the Sabbath:
                Lest you think that you’re their only answer,
                Lest you live forgetting what’s been Done,
                Lest you do, and doing, neglect to be,
                Lest you, always shaping, scorn the Potter,
                Lest you thieve the throne of God.
So much left unfinished
And yet:
“It is finished.”