Life


When Job’s life is about to be taken away from him, he can say one of two things. He can curse God, as he is tempted to do, and say, “God, why not fifty-one years of life?” Or he can surrender to love and say, “God, why even fifty years?” Why did I deserve life at all? When we take on that attitude, we’ve made a decision for grace.

“Naked I came into the world, and naked I will leave,” Job says (Job 1:21). What do we have, brothers and sisters, that has not been given to us? All is grace. All is given. Who gave me this hand? Who wiggles these fingers? Who created these eyes which I cannot explain or understand? I cannot even make this hair grow. It is all gift.

From beginning to end, everything is grace, everything is given. There is nothing that we have a right to or that we deserve.
– Richard Rohr

I read this Richard Rohr quote last night on Facebook.  It was both what I wanted to read and what I didn’t want to read.  It was probably what I needed to read. In the midst of a difficult week, month, year, I needed to be reminded that my life is full of gift, full of grace.  That is the beautiful reality that all of us live in.

So I enter Thanksgiving this year with both an honest recognition of the difficulties in life, and a renewed realization that my life is full of grace. My life itself is a grace. I have a tremendous amount to be thankful for … far more than I deserve. It is all gift.

Thank you.

Today Robyn and I celebrate the tenth anniversary of our wedding. I am thrilled!

While that probably sounds like an obvious statement, let me tell you that I struggled with our anniversary a little this week. You see, we are currently facing a number of challenges in life (This is not just the Gen Xer in me whining … there are some real challenges.). In many ways, this is not what I wanted life to look like when we celebrated our tenth anniversary. I was disappointed, and a little angry about the circumstances.

Then I remembered two pieces of advice that we give couples in pre-marital counseling:
– You will have challenges in life, that is not your choice. Those challenges will drive you together or drive you apart, much of that is your choice.
– On your wedding day you give yourself to your spouse, and they give themselves to you. There is not a greater gift that you can give. There is not a greater gift that you can receive.

Robyn and I have weathered some storms of life over the past ten years, more storms than either of us would have anticipated, many of them outside of our control. While we always have the choice of how we will respond, and we do not always get it right, the storms have strengthened our bond. We are in this together.
The point of today is that we are in this thing together.
That is reason for great joy!

Ten years ago Robyn and I exchanged vows of commitment to each other. We did not lay out a business plan for a worry-free life. There were no powerpoint slides with life graphs always going up and to the right. We gave and received something even greater – self. We continue give ourselves to one another. There is still nothing more valuable that we could give or receive
The point of today is we continue to give and receive the most precious gifts possible.
That is reason for great joy!

The current challenges of life have allowed me to focus on what Robyn and I are really celebrating today – our union together. Today we celebrate the existence of “us.” That is it, and that is reason for great joy!

In the years to come, we will have anniversaries with more favorable circumstances. We will also have some anniversaries with less favorable circumstances. The circumstances are not really the point. The thing that we remember and rightfully celebrate today is our sacred promise to each other.

So today I take joy in the mysterious reality that when the question was asked,
“Do you intent to have Jim as your wedded husband. Do you pledge to love him, honor him, comfort him and protect him – through good times and bad times, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want as long as you both shall live?”
Robyn answered, “I do.”

Robyn I love you. Here is a link to take you back in your memories to our first home together – that apartment made out of a boat factory – complete with strange pipes and mysterious bulges in the wall.  We sang this song about being together in the midst of challenging circumstances.


So … long time no blog post. Let me explain briefly what has occurred in the last few months.

The week of my last blog post I discovered that I was going to transition out of my pastoral role at Elmbrook church. In December a new senior pastor arrived at Elmbrook. Those of you familiar with the church world will know that it is common for a new senior leader to restructure ministries and often reassemble the staff. That has happened at Elmbrook. The ministry that I led was integrated into the broader church, and I am one of a handful of pastors who have left staff.

It has been a difficult few months. Closing down the ministry was one of the hardest things that I have done in my vocational life. Being out of the role of pastor, at least in the official sense, has been both odd and painful. Being unemployed is stressful.
At the same time, we also see this transition as an opportunity. We have confidence that God will provide for our needs. We believe that God can work in this situation to bring us to the next chapter in a life of calling. There is always hope, so we cling to that. I will let you know what happens!
As far as the blog – I hope to get back to posting once or twice a week. I have a several drafts from the past few months. These are crazy days, looking for work takes a lot of time, but I will post when I can.
Grace and Peace,
Jim

When Jesus taught his followers how to speak to the God he said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We often miss the power in that phrase. We simply recite the line without thinking. We view it as merely a request for Jesus to “come back.” We remove any meaning from God’s Kingdom and God’s will by treating them as unknowns. We make this into a prayer that we say with nothing to do with how we live.

But Jesus did not intended for this to be a throw away line. Jesus wanted this prayer to mold and guide us.

God has given us the Scriptures to reveal God’s character and God’s will. We have been given teachings on the Kingdom of God, and creative writing on what God’s Kingdom will look like when fully established on Earth. God’s will and Kingdom are not completely fuzzy concepts. Scripture reveals enough about God’s will and Kingdom for us to recognize when they are being realized in the world.

In addition to the Scriptures, the Spirit of God guides us in our understanding of God’s will and provides relational knowledge of God. The more that we know God, the more we will know what God wills in the world.

When we pray we are not just asking God to take care of everything, though there are situations when that is all that we feel we can do.  When we pray we are both asking for God’s intervention and aligning ourselves with God. As beings created in the image of God we have the ability, and responsibility, to act in a manner consistent with the will of God. While there are some glorious times of supernatural intervention, the answer to prayer normally comes in the form of a person. In other words, when we pray for God’s will to be done and Kingdom to come on Earth – our actions need to join with our request.

That brings us to a cup of water…  a fitting case study on World Water Day.

Chances are if you are reading this blog, you can easily get a cup of water in the next 10 minutes. That is not the reality for many people in our world. In fact, somewhere around one in three people alive today do not have access to safe drinking water. I do not mean that they have to wait in a line for it – I mean it is not an option for them. That reality translates into several tragedies, including around 4,000 children dying each day.

Does that look like the will of the God that is revealed in Jesus and the Spirit? Is that the Kingdom of God that we see revealed in the Scriptures? I think not.

When this currently reality does not fit the Kingdom of God we are called to pray for God’s will to be done, for there to be a new reality which reflects the Kingdom of God. We need to pray for God to intervene on behalf of people without water.

In addition to praying for the Kingdom, we are called to act according to the Kingdom. We are called to discern what direct actions we can take for the sake of God’s will being done on Earth.  There are other times when we are called to take a supportive role for those who are taking direct action. We need to intervene on behalf of people without water.

Act today! Follow this link to bring water to thousands of people by repairing existing water wells: The Adventure Project

 

In addition to living in Wisconsin, one of my favorite things about serving at Elmbrook Church is working with Scott Arbeiter.

Scott recently gave our pastoral staff a list of observations on walking with the congregation in times of transitions and conflict. I thought that there was a wealth of wisdom in his observations – and not just for pastors, but for anyone who wants to build healthy relationships.  Scott gave me permission to post this list.

Some things I have learned regarding what people in the congregation need from us:
1.) Ready access (not just begrudging acceptance)
2.) To be genuinely heard (not just listened to)
3.) To find common ground (know that we care about what they care about)
4.) To know that we understand that they are not always able to articulate their concerns well. We must “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
5.) To know that we value them and want them to be part of the congregation
6.) To hear of our struggles to find the best path forward in the situation
7.) To understand the principles involved in our decisions
8.) To be trusted with the information discussed in private
9.) To be challenged to do the right things; even (especially)when in disagreement
10.) To hear that we were wrong and are sorry (when we are indeed wrong and sorry)
11.) To know that we hear many conflicting opinions about topics (often diametrically opposed)
12.) To know that we will decide on principle, not pressure
13.) To be well received even when we leave in disagreement
14.) The goal is not to have them feel good about us; it is to elevate truth and find unity in diversity. In doing this there should be no defensiveness; nor cowardice.
15.) Do not make false promises.
16.) Warn a divisive man once then have nothing to do with him.

A man in a bright orange jump suit has picketed our church several times over the past two years. First, I found him mildly amusing because he was protesting government policies that, while our church does not take an official stance,  many in the congregation were against (OK, I also laughed at the grammatical errors on his signs and his outfits!). Then one spring morning his protest took a different tone. One side of his sign equated expansion of health care with the end of the nation. The other side of the sign simply said‘ “Load ‘Em.”
After getting the OK from my boss (And telling the security team!), I took a cup of coffee out to the Sign Guy. I was a little afraid, but it seemed like the right thing to do.  Sign Guy was thrilled – clearly equating the coffee with support. I did not tell him my views. I simply asked him questions. We had a long conversation, more like a monologue by him, that taught me a few things.
1. He was calling people to arms. Sign Guy really wanted people to rise up in a violent revolt, killing those who disagreed with him. He believed this was God’s calling for the “faithful” – to cleanse the land of the “sinners.” He defined those terms entirely on political positions. He was sure that our church was full of people who God wanted executed!
2. He was crazy. There was something off with Sign Guy’s grip on reality. He created outrageous conspiracy theories, such as the  communists, British banks, and Anglican church planted our church to destroy God’s real America. He believed that his insights were infallible  – coming from inside sources, his own brilliant research, and God.
3. He was influenced by toxic political rhetoric. This man was deeply influenced by public statements of politicians and commentators. He quoted them eagerly … especially the militant language. He even used voice tones and patterns of a radio talk show host.
This experience increased my conviction that much of the contemporary political tenor is too extreme and militant. I have a number of friends who listen to such politicians and commentators, and to be fair they do not react like the Sign Guy. The reality is that his mental state did not allow for him to see the nuance in the rhetoric.
At some point, people who have been given the privilege of a public voice must look beyond the power and profit that comes from working people into a frenzy and take seriously the responsibility of the public good. Words matter. Public voices must weigh the impact of their words, and images, upon the public – even the mentally unstable.
Last weekend in Tuscon we saw a person, presumably with some mental illness and surrounded by a culture of toxic political rhetoric, move beyond holding up signs and literally take up arms against others.  It was a tragic event.
I believe that violent political rhetoric, especially the blatant militaristic language in recent years, was a clear influence on the shooter in Tuscan as it was on the Sign Guy outside of our church. While violent political language does not drive everyone to physical violence, it will be taken literally by some who are on the edge of mental health and it has an undeniable impact on the soul of a nation.
We would do well to stop and remember the teachings of Jesus:
You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’  But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.  (Matthew 5:21-22)
There is a connection between our hearts, our words, and acts of violence.

This fall I chaperoned my daughter’s junior kindergarten class to a farm. To make sure that it was an “educational” experience, there was a lecture on animals. The speaker told the class that the animals were very busy preparing for winter.

There are three different animal responses to a change in the seasons:

Adapt – Prepare for the cold weather by making changes in their body and behavior. Rabbits take this approach.

Migrate – Leave the cold by flying to a warmer climate for the winter. Geese are best known for migrating for winter.

Hibernate – Enter a state of inactivity and metabolic depression for the winter. Bats are experts at winter hibernation.

As the presenter continued, I thought of how we humans respond to change. People, both individuals and organizations, facing change often pick one of the three responses found in the animal kingdom.

Adapt – Make the changes needed for success, or at least survival, in the new environment.

Migrate – Leave the situation and head for a more desirable environment.

Hibernate – Check out of the new reality while physically remaining in the environment.

Animals don’t really have a choice in how they respond to the change in seasons. They simply act according their species.  However, we humans are able to choose how we respond to the changes that we face in life.

What is your normal response to change?

What changes are you or your organization currently  facing?

How should you respond to those changes?


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