We need a holistic approach

photo (51)

Last weekend I attended a two day event about young people and their engagement in the church. It specifically looked at the Hemorrhaging Faith report which looks for the reason behind the mass exodus we the church in Canada are experiencing. I say mass exodus and I’m not joking. According to the report, 70% of children who grow up in the church will leave the church. It’s scary to look at these numbers and wonder what will become of us. I believe there is hope if we start to address this issue and get to the heart of why people are not engaged with the Gospel, which I think we can agree as a message is pretty engaging.

One of the things that was discussed at this event was the need to include young people in the life and activity of the congregation beyond collecting offering and handing out bulletins. We heard stories of engagement and experience. We discussed opportunity and purpose. Ultimately at the heart of everything I heard was a cry from the youth for a relational church. A church where people engage with one another not just politely but intimately. There was a sense that the faith was not being passed down but instead being hoarded. I think if you’ve seen an episode of Hoarders you know how devastating hoarding can be. It isolates you from your family and friends. It builds up walls and prevents contact with others. This is completely opposite to what we see in Jesus’ life and hear in his teachings. When we keep our faith to ourselves and fail to build up the next generation we are prohibiting any kind of connection that could be made.

Connecting with one another across the generational divide is essential. The youth are our future and we are charged with the responsibility of caring for them, teaching them and encouraging them on their walk of faith. We aren’t doing this as well as we should and this conference couldn’t have come at a better time. Coincidentally I was also recently sent a book entitled Connecting Church & Home by Dr. Tim Kimmel to read and review. It is all about family and connection. It speaks to the heart of our problem. The book places a strong emphasis on the investment of family not just in bringing their children to church but also teaching them at home. When you think about it, the church gets one hour a week to impact the lives of these children. The parents also have a responsibility to pass on the faith at home and encourage spiritual discipline and growth. It is a holistic way of looking at church. If one part suffers, the whole body suffers so all must be engaged and connected.

Statistically we see this represented in the Hemorrhaging Faith report. Parents with low personal spiritual discipline only had 10% of the children who remained within the church whereas those who had high personal spiritual disciple brought up 75% of the children who remained. The more engaged in their faith the parents are, the more likely the child will be as well. This goes back to to the relational component that youth are craving. If we value something we are more willing to talk about it and share what we know. Do we as Christians value what we have? Are we willing to build relationships and share our experience with those around us?

Dr. Kimmel really addresses how important grace is in the process of life and the necessity of engagement on all sides in order for it to be a success. I really found the book to be an interesting read. It encouraged something we often forget in the Church, the notion that we must be bold enough to try even though it opens us up for failure. If we never try we will not know what we could have become. I encourage you to take a look at both of these resources if you are able to get your hands on one. If we are to truly look towards the future we must look at what our young people need and require. They deserve the opportunity to engage with the Gospel in a real, relational way. We need to start looking for ways to make that possible and open ourselves up to new possibilities.

I was provided a copy of Connecting Church & Home by Dr. Tim Kimmel and asked for an honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and have not in any way been influenced.

The yeast…

I’ve been experimenting with bread making this week.  It’s not as exciting as you think.  My husband went into our back room and dug out my bread machine so I only have to layer everything in a precise way and press a button.  It’s pretty easy, or so you would think.  Here is my first attempt.

failed bread
It looks awful, right?  It was even worse inside.  Uncooked and mushy, we couldn’t even make croutons out of this loaf.  What went wrong?  Lots of things I believe.  The first of which was the temperature of the liquid when it connected with the yeast.  You don’t want boiling hot and you definitely don’t want cold.  I think my liquid was too cold.  I also think the recipe I used didn’t call for enough liquid so the bread didn’t mix in the machine correctly.  Nevertheless I persevered and look what happened.

Bread again

This loaf worked.  I made sure that the water was exactly the right temperature.  I watched it like a hawk to ensure that the moisture level was correct and then I ate it smothered in jam.  It was definitely worth the effort and I realized something very important. Yeast is a little picky but when added at the right time, to the right mix amazing things can happen.

Because of my failures and final success with yeast, I started to think about Jesus and what he says about yeast.  Having a better understanding of how yeast works and the multitude of ways it can fail, I realized something important. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that is worked into flour. When yeast is worked in and the right setting is there, amazing things can happen.  If however the setting is wrong, there’s nothing the yeast can do and ultimately the bread will fail.  It would seem to me that as God’s people we should be trying to keep ourselves open and ready for the spirit to move within us, to be the yeast in our lives and help us expand and grow.

I think ultimately we would say we want this but it’s scary to contemplate. When you look at bread, when you look at what yeast can do, how it changes and shapes the dough, that kind of change is frightening. Do we really want to double in love, in service, in devotion and commitment?  Do we want our churches to double in love, in service, in devotion, and commitment?  I think if they did amazing things could happen but our lives and church and worship would look very different from how they do today.

Are we ready to open ourselves up and prepare ourselves to do God’s work in the world or are we frightened of what that means?  Do you think you’re ready for yeast to be added to the mix?

 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  Matthew 13:33 NIV 

Are we ready for Christmas?

Joy

Today day was simple and quiet.  I am still in recovery from a nasty virus but I figure by the weekend I’ll be 100%.  I’ve pleaded and begged with my husband not to bring anything home with him from work and am drinking my greens every day so I feel good and ready to celebrate Christmas.  It’s kind of funny when you think about it.  How ‘ready’ we get.  My dress is ready and waiting, I just need to pick out a scarf to go with it. I’m in decision making mode about whether I should wear a gown or just keep doing my ‘naked preaching’ thing.  I’m getting a hair cut tomorrow and have new makeup for the holiday parties I’m going to attend.  Overall my preparations far exceed those of the original participants.  I wonder if I’m missing the point somehow.

Maybe the point isn’t getting myself ready but just living in a state of readiness.  Like the shepherds who just happened to be there and Mary who said yes when asked without really thinking about the consequences.  Maybe readiness is how we are supposed to be living.  Always looking, seeking, searching for something more.  Never ceasing in the effort to be experience and see. Perhaps I need to work on being always ready instead of living to prepare.

It seems as though sometimes in the Church we live to prepare.  There are seasons and struggles and constant preparation as we wait for things to happen.  We have emergency budgets and slush funds {many of which are falling to dangerously low levels} and for the first time in memory it appears we are reaching a point for which we can no longer prepare.  We cannot possibly expect what will happen next and for that I am grateful.  We need a little chaos.  We need to be thrown off our game and ripped away from the rules and regulations that define us.    We need to exist as God created us to exist, in loving relationship with him and others.  Our obsession with preparedness is not helpful as it prevents us from living to our full potential.

Jesus himself was an inconvenience and at times if we’re honest still is.  He entered the world at the most inconvenient time for his parents coming into their lives while they were sleeping in a stable.  As he grew he continued to push people of balance taking them beyond where they were comfortable.  At one point he sent his disciples out with nothing, completely unprepared so they would be forced to rely on others and build relationships with them.  When he died he left his disciples with no plan and when he came back he was vague and they continued their wait for answers until the Holy Spirit descended. With Jesus it wasn’t never about getting ready but always living in that state of readiness to accept whatever mission one was called to.

Jesus comes unexpectedly in the night asking us to drop everything and there really isn’t any preparing for that.  Are we ready for Christmas?  I’m not sure it matters.  It’s coming like a tidal wave and there’s no stopping it.  Maybe the better question is are we ready for Jesus?  For that inconvenient intrusion that inevitably shakes us to the core and forces us to evaluate everything.   Are we ready for his entrance into our lives, our faith, our churches?  Are we ready to hear how we’ve got to drop all we know and follow him where he’ll take us?

His peace he leaves with us.

Candle

I remember sitting around campfires with my Dad when I was younger. Together we would sing in the darkness and the light from the fire would keep us warm and feeling safe. One of my favorite songs he taught me resonates inside me today. I remember it well. “His peace he gives to us. His peace he leaves with us. Not for us alone but that we might give it again to all men.” I have no idea who wrote this song {and Google doesn’t either for that matter} but whoever it was has my thanks.  This verse is a constant reminder to me of John 14:27 and Jesus’ assurance that he offers peace and a reminder that we should not be afraid.

It’s hard not to be afraid, isn’t it? Even with Jesus’ reminder that we don’t need to be afraid there are days when this world is a dark, lonely place. Days when all we see on the television is devastation and despair. When we discover that humanity can do horrible things. When we learn of children and adults lost in a dreadful shooting.  How can we possibly wrap our heads around it? Our hearts break for the people involved and the temptation is there for us to withdraw and hide, to sneak away from the world which hurts so many.

In this temptation I am again drawn back into John. His peace he gives to us…not for us alone but that we might give it again to all men. We are called to share his peace and bring light back into the world around us. Matthew 5: 14-16 puts it another way “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (The Message).  

As followers of Christ we are called into open lives, lives which allow the light of God to shine through. We are called to live in love, for love, spilling love out to others as we go. We’re to shine so that others may see God in us and isn’t that what the world needs right now? A light, a shining light to direct them to the ultimate comfort giver. This world needs people willing to fight for things like peace and love. As we sit here in Advent, waiting for answers that might never come we must help bring peace and security into this world. As we wait in Advent hoping for a champion to save us from ourselves, we must remember Jesus came to us as a baby, as a child who would show us what it was to truly live life. As we sit together waiting, wondering we must live as he showed us, unafraid to share his peace and light, unafraid to reach out into the world with love and hope.

Beginning now let’s live the life he taught us to live, boldly sharing his light and peace with those around us.  We should pray for the the families in Connecticut and for those around the world who have experienced darkness and terror but let’s not stop there. Together we will funnel our energy into good, harnessing the love we’ve been given and then spill it out into the world.  We will reach out to those we know, to those who are hurting in our own communities.  We will discover ways to serve and make a difference in this world. In times like these we cannot hide, we must push forth and live completely in this world.  We must now find a way to be the change that is needed, to make this world safer and provide hope for those who feel hopeless.  Let’s be the light this world needs.  Let’s shine together and see how the darkness lifts.

An Open Letter to Rod Stewart.

Bethlehem Nativity
Dear Mr. Stewart,

I just have to open this letter by saying I am a huge fan of your work. In particular I’ve adored ‘the Great American Songbook’ series. As a result I found myself delighted when I discovered you had released a Christmas Album this year. I immediately downloaded it from iTunes and added it to my Christmas playlist. I was however a little surprised by the song ‘Red Suited Superman’. It seemed very out of the ordinary for a Christmas song. Catchy but definitely not a usual Christmas number.

I think what really struck me about this particular song was the sentiment it carried regarding Santa. It seems to me that the song lifts Santa from a fun part of Christmas to a superhero savior figure. Throughout the song there seems to be a belief that Santa can bring joy, peace, love and miracles. Now I love Santa as much as the next person but this seems to me to be a bit of a stretch. Since I’ve known of Santa he’s been the bringer of stuff at Christmas not the Savior. Year after year kids write their lists and send them to Santa for the things that they desire at Christmas. Santa works very hard all year with his elves making tons of toys and then brings them around the world to kids. Santa brings joy that is temporary and wonderful, I won’t deny that but it is temporary. Santa’s joy is not everlasting. He does not impact people in permanent or life changing ways. If the things Santa brought were truly fulfilling would the malls be full on Boxing Day with bargain hunters?  Things don’t satisfy, as people we need something more.

I’m certain you’re aware of this but the origins of Christmas lay in Jesus. It was a feast day to celebrate Christ’s entrance in the world. Christmas is about the moment God entered the world to be with us and offer us hope. It was a day of miracles, joy and overflowing love. Jesus brought us the gift of God’s presence and new possibilities. I think this is where the true miracle of Christmas lies.  It lies in the knowledge that God lived with us, loved us and showed us what it meant to bring peace into the world. Jesus’ life shows us the radiant joy one can find when they live for others and not things. He showed us what it is to spill love into the world and how great an impact one can have on a community by simple caring enough to pay attention. In Jesus we see what it is to truly live a wonderful life and at Christmas we celebrate his entrance into our world.

On Christmas Day in my home we will hear once more the story of Jesus and Santa will have undoubtedly paid a visit. We enjoy the day and all it’s parts but we know the true meaning behind it. Christmas music will be playing and your album will be part of my playlist as I do enjoy it. I would just like to ask one favor. Would you think, really think about who the superman of the story really is? A real superman is someone who changes lives. It seems to me there’s only one person at Christmas who does that.

Merry Christmas,

Becky

Are we ready for God-with-us?

 

When I look at the nativity scenes scattered around my house and throughout the stores I wonder at the tidiness of it all. It seems too serene, too perfect. Something is not quite right. The nativity that speaks to me isn’t the glass set I brought home from Mexico or even the one I made years ago with my grandmother. The one I resonate with most this year is the Little People nativity set my son has.  I bought it two years ago so he could grow with it and learn hands on who each person was in the Christmas story. I wanted him to see Jesus, to touch him. I wanted him to learn who the wise men were without me telling him to keep his hands off.

As you can imagine a three year old playing with his very own nativity is quite a sight. After a session of play it looks as though a nuclear bomb has exploded in the quiet town of Bethlehem. Animals lay strewn across the floor. Mary and Joseph get mixed up in a pile with wise men and the innkeeper. I’ve even seen the Angel sleeping off the effects of a long night of celebration in the inn on a bed. It’s a mess, a beautiful wonderful mess. My son is learning and discovering what this story is and what Christmas is really about.

It seems so fitting to me. Jesus enters the world and chaos ensues. God-with-us appears to turn everything on it’s head. And it does, doesn’t it? God-with-us pushes and tests, pokes and prods. God-with-us forces us outside of that which is comfortable. It means that God is with us. The God of great expectation is with us expecting things, accepting no mailed in answers. Always wanting more and pushing us to become who we were created to be.

In truth I prefer the messy version of events. The version that’s never talked about where the carpenter becomes a midwife and he panics because the baby is coming and once a baby starts to come, there’s no stopping it. The one where the baby comes out crying and his teenage mother isn’t quite sure what to do so she begins a never ending stream of attempting to feed, checking his diaper and holding him tight to her chest. The story where the young couple with a new baby are greeted by shepherds covered in dirt who want a glimpse of their new, finally sleeping child. Imagine the panic this young couple might’ve faced. Entering a town with no room only to end up delivering in a stable. It’s beautiful and messy.

As a people we often speak about wanting a revival or wanting God’s spirit to stir us in some fashion but I have to ask the question, do we really mean it? Because meaning it invites chaos and confusion into the mix.  Meaning it means God might enter in his way, not ours. Meaning it requires surrendering control to his plan, not ours. From the surface the nativity scene looks fresh and clean but in reality the situation was anything but.

In reality we find Jesus entering the world in a spectacularly messy way. In a stable, with no attendants and people with no real idea of what to do. There were no midwives or doctors. There was nothing sanitary or orderly about it. In the end this entrance helped to set up who he was to become. A man of the people who loved and served even the least of them. A man who challenged and changed the status quo. Who loved so fully that he gave up his life for the sake of all.

To invoke the spirit of God is to invite in that which is messy and say yes to chaos. To invite God in sets us up for a great change and unexpected outcomes. Do we really want God-with-us?

I know I do. What about you?

Like a piano sometimes faith needs tuning.

My piano was recently tuned and I find myself playing it more.  I always find this.  After each tuning I am drawn to it, ready to sink my fingers into the keys and hear the melody as it pours forth.  As time passes and the strings loosen I find myself playing it less and less.  When the pitch is not perfect and the note not as sharp I find it more irritating than enjoyable.

As I sat today at the piano I realized how much my faith is like this.  I find myself more drawn to God when I constantly stay in contact through prayers and reading.  When I let that aspect of my life lapse it is difficult to get back into it because my faith is not as sharp and I become easily distracted.  I need a constant connection, a dedicated time set aside to maintain my faith.  My faith needs tuning regularly.

It can be hard to find the time to do this especially now with the mornings so dark and evenings darker. How do you settle in to time with God when it’s hard to drag yourself out of a nice warm bed on frosty mornings?  I manage most days with the promise of hot tea or coffee and a warm blanket to wrap myself in while I do my reading.  I’ve begun baking oatmeal in the morning so that I can enjoy the aroma while I do my reading.  Any little thing to convince myself of it’s value I’ve taken advantage of.

The thing is I really shouldn’t need convincing.  I can see the difference when I slack off.  My mind is less sharp and I am not as focused as I might like to be.  When I start the day with God I carry God with me through the day and that is as Martha Stewart would say ‘a good thing’.  Over the next 25 days I will continue getting up early and doing my morning readings.  In addition to those readings I’ll be doing The Advent Project, a study that I worked on to help people explore their faith as they travel through the season of Advent.  The study is free, flexible and you can do it at your own pace.  I think it’s good whether you’re in need of a tuning or would just like something to help you focus on the season of Advent.

It is my hope that as we meet God daily we’ll find ourselves more drawn to God.  Throughout the busyness of the holiday season it can be easy to let faith go as we have mountainous to-do lists and many gatherings to attend.  Through daily readings, prayers and meditations we will journey through Advent and allow ourselves to sink into the true meaning of the season.

I hope you’ll join us.

The Advent 2012 Project

It’s that time of year again.  That time of year when we put up the lights and string garland on the trees.   The Christmas Carols play in the background and the smell of cookies lingers in the air.  Christmas brings with it an intense stream of activity and movement.  Sometimes things get so busy and overwhelming we forget what it is that the holidays are all about.  For that reason I took the Advent Project in a different direction this year.

This year it’s not just a list of activities, it now incorporates a study/reflection component.  It is my hope that together we will journey towards the manger and make sense of what the holidays are truly meant to be.  Some days are more reflective than others and some incorporate some action. I hope we can use this as a chance to embrace the holidays and not allow them to overwhelm us.  I want this to be one way we can embrace the holidays, our faith and really sink in to what it means to have God meet us here on earth.

I’d love for you to join me as I journey towards the manger.  I’ll be blogging a bit about my progress and the study in general throughout the Advent season and I’d like to hear how you’re doing with it and what you’ve discovered while doing it.  I’ve uploaded it here in PDF form for you to download to make it easier to read and handle.  Let’s do this together.  Let’s set aside some time in our day to really sink into the Christmas message.

What does it mean to have God meet us here on earth?  Join me and we’ll find out together…

 

God-as-man

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…if you go shopping that is.

While I may be not-so-secretly listening to the occasional Christmas tune I have not yet begun to really think about Christmas celebrations. I’ve planned all my services and have outlines at the ready but that’s different I think. That’s just working ahead. I haven’t begun buying presents or decorating. The retailers however would like me to start. Christmas is the holiday for retailers. There is no other holiday that rivals it’s mass consumption. Easter is trying but Christmas takes the cake. Every year around Christmas we see the constant advertisements and hear the music and get swept up in the season that is Christmas.

For those of us who are Christian, Christmas is about more than a jolly man in a red suit with 8 flying reindeer. Christmas is about a baby who comes and changes our world. Christmas is the beginning of God’s journey on earth with us. It’s a beautiful beginning with angels and shepherds and a little later on some wise guys who bring great gifts. Christmas is a beautiful, easy beginning to a difficult journey. Why do I say it’s easy? That’s simple. God comes in the form of a baby. A baby who can’t say anything or contribute anything. All he can really do is sit in that manger and look pretty.

Christmas is the easy holiday for Christians. It’s the reason there are 50% more people in the pews on Christmas Eve than any other time of the year. A baby cannot ask anything of you. The baby who comes with a promise but has not actually got the ability to challenge you personally as he lives out that promise is a lot more agreeable to most people than the man that baby grew up to be. None of us like to be challenged and none of us really want to be told we need to change.

When you begin preparations this month remember you’re not just celebrating a baby, you’re celebrating the birth of God-as-man and he would change the world. The entrance of God is something to celebrate. The entrance of God may be easy but the presence of God is not. Invite God in this month. Invite God in before Advent begins and meet God as God is. Read a little about the man this baby would become. One of my favorite places to read about this man is in the book of Matthew. I am particularly fond of chapter 6 if you’re looking for a starting point as every time I read it I find it challenges me to think about things differently. That’s the thing about Jesus, he challenges and he changes you.

Are you ready for change?
Are you ready to be challenged?
How do you plan to prepare for the advent of God-as-man on earth?

As the winds blew.

The winds were fierce around my house last night.   The windows shook and large trees were uprooted in my neighbors yard as we huddled together upstairs in the dark.  It was wicked and wild and nothing at all like what the people of New Jersey or New York went through.  I am grateful to be safe here in our house.

It’s amazing how well a few candles light up a room.  We had a flash light and crank radio on hand but I lit a few candles and found the room had a lovely soft glow.  I was able to write a bit and there was no distraction in the form of the internet or the telephone.  I was able to just sit with my thoughts and express some thoughts on the page.

As I sat in that softly lit room listening to the wind swirl around us I thought a little about what it means to be the light of the world.  It’s not something we really think about now as we’ve got switches and lamps in every room.  We have light until we don’t want it any more and can duplicate the outdoors almost perfectly.  There is almost always light around us.  Even in our bedrooms we have the neon lights of our alarm clocks flashing so we’re never truly in the dark.

What does it mean to be the light of the world? 

“You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16 NIV

What does it mean to be the light of the world when there are neon signs and florescent lights everywhere? 

I think perhaps we shouldn’t try to compete with the neon signs and florescent lights.  When we need to be like the light perhaps we should turn off the lights to get perspective.  It would seem to me that we’re trying to compete, to grab the attention of the world by being like the world but Jesus says we’re to be the light of the world, not the world itself.  If we are to be the light, to show people that there is something better out there than perhaps we should be different from what is out there in the world.

I want to be a soft glow.  Something that is noticeable and warm.  Not sharp like a florescent light but soft like a candle.  Perhaps we need to rethink our approach.  Maybe we shouldn’t look to the world for ideas but instead should look inwards and find that light, that soft glow from the message that needs to shine.  Maybe it isn’t all about production value but is instead about the message we wish to send.

What does it meant to be the light of the world?  I’d love to know what you think. 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers:

%d bloggers like this: