Remember your Driver’s Training Instruction? Mine is largely forgotten save for one scary ride. Here’s a recap…filtered through 50 years. Picture four people in a car: one disinterested instructor (Coach Bennett) and three student drivers. Coach Bennett slumps in the front passenger seat; you weren’t sure he could see above the dashboard. We students sat up, focused on driving and praying!
Coach Bennett chewed tobacco. And to receive the expelled tobacco juices, he held a large cup just under his lower lip. This chewing/spitting process was unpleasant. At least, we surmised, the tobacco habit kept the otherwise barely conscious man….awake.
Even in the best of situations, confusion may strike
One of our fellow students confused the gas and brake pedals. This irritated the coach. Each time she pressed the wrong pedal, Coach Bennett, still semi-conscious, would utter, “It’s simple. Your gas pedal is on the right; your brake pedal is on the left.” That only made it worse.
This timid, pedal confused driver, while rounding a curve managed to drop the two right tires off the pavement. “Ease it back on the road. Foot on the brake,” muttered Coach Bennett between spits into the juice cup. She slammed on the gas. The ensuing jolt felt like a launching rocket ship. Coach Bennett applied his brake, grabbed the steering wheel and brought us to a halt. He was coughing, somewhat violently. Arrested from his slumber, Coach Bennett had swallowed his tobacco plug!!
Focus for the Ride Ahead
After that frightful ride, we noticed a new affect and posture in our instructor. He sat up. Attentive. Alert. Suddenly more focused. Our financial stewardship campaign is fast upon us. We can coast along, take this ride with little interest. Most of us, like that driving instructor, have done it before. Please don’t travel that way through our campaign. Rather, be alert, attentive, more focused. No brakes needed.
Some things about this campaign have caused me to sit up and take note.
- An emphasis on expanded ministry.
- A stated target for total congregational growth in giving.
- An invitation to be stretched by the presence of an anonymous Challenge Gift.
- An invitation by letter to consider growing your giving by a stated weekly increase.
I really don’t think this will be hard to swallow. Rather it will be inspirational, motivational, generosity provoking. Join me in sitting up. Focus on the wondrous view God is giving us through our upcoming Stewardship Campaign It can make for a very fruitful journey together in 2018.
Years ago I attached a welcome home sign on the exterior siding outside our kitchen door. I intended the sign to be a singular event. The sign expressed our glee that our son was returning home from Boston for Thanksgiving.
Now some 15 years later every visiting family member looks for a welcome home sign.
Several attendant rituals have emerged:
- The sign includes some loving jab at the new arrival
- They pretend not to read it
- I have to ask if it’s been read
- They begrudgingly acknowledge
Where is MY Sign?
I once decided to break ranks and didn’t create the usual sign. All I heard was, “Where is my sign!”
This family ritual has had great staying power… with one change: I no longer pen the intended message onto the exterior wooden surface. Why? That board is now so peppered with pen holes you’d think a wood pecker has attacked it. (Those messages now are gently taped to the window sill.)
I love seeing that holed board. Its dotted surface bends my heart. At times I’m even overcome beholding the breadth, length, and depth of loving connections represented there. If I ever move away that board comes along. Well, at least the tradition it embodies.
The Church With A Welcome!
All Are Welcome Here!
Find A Loving Welcome Inside!
What is Grace’s Church Slogan?
Church Slogans: Attempts to define the shape and substance of engaging the new.
Let’s hope that Grace Church is a community like that hole riddled board. That we never ever tire of welcoming those God is sending to us/we are reaching. Someone once defined church as ‘Grace Space.’ Therein, the shape of the community is so welcoming that people are set free; an expansive, burgeoning with love-and-grace-spirit pervades.
Imagine the quality and character of our welcome mirroring the very one we worship. Where I’d gladly want to become a signpost — my heart a hole peppered board!
Hoping to Be a Living Welcome,
Use the following yardstick to judge between two statements: One is more childlike; one is more childish.
1. In the midst of watering with a hose all adults run under it and get soaked.
2. At work a rubber band is placed around the sink hose spray handle insuring that the next person using the sink will, unknowingly, get drenched.
I’d vote for #1 as childlike and #2 as childish.
Voluntary Participation is Preferable
In one case the participation is voluntary; in the other case participation came without consent. Voluntary participation may not be the primary definer of childlikeness. It sure helps. Other markers for childlikeness include a trusting spirit, an openness to explore, a self-forgetfulness. These draw us closer to childlikeness.
I watched a toddler at the beach. He fell into his baby pool. In great delight, he got up and did it again. His father held him by his ankles and flipped this babe over his shoulder. The little fellow chased a seagull. He rolled in the sand. He splashed water wearing a two teeth smile. This youngster was being himself, demonstrating something of childlikeness.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Where do we find Jesus?
Jesus will be found among children and those who humble themselves and become like children. So often our tendency with children is to focus on their growing—growing their intellects, their values, their faith. We want to direct the young and nurture them.
That is all good. Is it possible that we should hang with children because they open us to the presence of Jesus? Children are a doorway into the company of our Lord? Welcoming a child is welcoming Jesus?
It’s tantalizing. It’s kind of hilarious. Here’s a group of children playing in a sandbox (hopefully without cell phones in hand!). One is building a castle. Another is filling a dump truck. Two others are holding hands watching a bird fly over. They giggle. They get sand in their eyes.
Welcome Jesus! I hope to avoid the temptations that come with being childish! I want more of childlikeness and Jesus!
Still a Child,
Some years ago, with the help of the younger generation, I secured a Facebook account. I didn’t use it. Never opened Facebook. If during that time people unfriended me, I was blissfully unaware. When I retired in 2013, I began to check out Facebook. About all I knew to do was press like. Even then I wasn’t sure where like was going in cyber space. Such timidity limited my being social on that medium.
Through art, we are able to break bread with the dead, and without communion with the dead a fully human life is impossible.
A Moment in Time
What draws me to stay on Facebook are pictures. I welcome seeing folks together, observing where they are, peering in on what they are doing. One day I opened Facebook and there to my surprise was a wonderful picture of someone celebrating another birthday. I was jolted. Although the individual was radiant, smiling, and effervescent, this person had died several years before. Unless someone intervenes, as long as Facebook exists, that picture, frozen in time, will show up each year, acknowledging another birthday—a birthday for someone who has ceased with birthdays. It’s happened several times now. May it continue!
Here is yet another way to connect with the communion of saints … on Facebook. Who would you like to show up on your Facebook page? Wouldn’t it be glorious to gaze upon a long gone loved one? To just one more time capture the gleam in their eyes, the color of their hair, the particular features which made them … them? And why stop there? Scroll back through the years, well before you and I were around.
We Lutherans observe the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this year. Let’s go back to Wittenberg and study there Martin, Katie, Phillip, the Princes and the Popes. “We have this cloud of witnesses around us,” declared the writer of Hebrews. We are surrounded by them. We are strengthened by them; bereft without them.
Cloud of Witnesses
Let’s be intentional about those deep, abiding spiritual witnesses. What fun it would be in worship, right in front of our brothers/sisters in Christ, to address such questions as these:
- Who from the cloud of witnesses helped you answer the call to love Jesus?
- Who in the cloud of witnesses is still encouraging you to run the race of
- What obstacles have you had in running the race of faith?
- Who might one day name you as part of the cloud of witnesses who encouraged
To answer such questions, is for us in the body of Christ, a real way to be … social.
This time of year we are granted a special treat — birds singing! Mornings are arrayed in sound — chirping, calling, crackling — as an aerial symphony fills the sky. Likewise, at dusk you needn’t switch on any technology to enjoy a good tune; just sit outside to absorb a free concert. Talk about surround sound!
Barbara Crooker in her playful poem Sanctus considers the gravity of listening to birds. She posits in the ordinary sounds of goldfinch, wood thrush and mourning dove the presence of more. These gifts from the sky become windows into the holy. Even the title Sanctus (Holy) turns us to reconsider what we hear.
That’s just a bird chirping, nothing more
Hearing the Holy Spirit
Sometimes we have our feet too firmly planted on the ground. What is….is just what is. “That’s just a bird chirping, nothing more,” we find ourselves demanding. The poet may not jolt us out of this ‘flat footeness.’ But, she is trying: a mourning dove as ordinary as daylight calling out to you, bearing the voice of the Holy Ghost.
I’ll tip my hat to the poet and the deep sense of life she witnesses. She’s not far from the empty tomb or the dry life suddenly restored or the myriad of people no longer imprisoned by sameness.
What a grace note indeed!
Picture a haggard old visor. It used to be blue, like the sky. Now it’s virtually devoid of color, long clouded over, obscuring any real color. The elastic band is bereft of elasticity. The metal adjustment clasp could use a dab of rust remover. What once snugly sat on a young man’s head could now fit loosely on an Incredible Hulk.
I’ve been unwilling to part with this visor. By reasonable estimates it’s been in my custody for some 50 years now. I wear it only once a year. It doesn’t fit. That doesn’t matter. Some things deserve a proper burial; not this dome appendage. Frankly, it has no real value. And that, at least to me, is the visor’s real appeal.
The potency of Christianity is it’s nevertheless against the givens of life. Jesus renamed the discarded blessed. He snatched a fearful few and built his church on their faith. He called those settled and safe to being born anew beyond their control. Jesus hung out with followers, detractors, and those identified as used up visors. He still does.
Seeking the Fullness of Life in Christ
I’m deeply honored to be the temporary shepherd of Grace Church, Raleigh. Thanks to your congregational council for entrusting me with this privilege. I hope to be among you for a time between Pastor Frye, who served here for some 16 years, and the as yet unknown new pastor called by the Spirit to lead you. Admittedly, I’m hooked by your mission statement: seeking the fullness of life in Christ for all people. It teems with depth…and grace! No one is a cast off visor.
I’ve got a lot to learn about you, Grace’s ministry and history, it’s culture/norms, hopes/hurts, joys/fears, challenges/opportunities. I think it will be fun. And I hope you will say the same.
By the way, I have a name for that old visor: Always being made new! And by the grace of our Lord Jesus the same can be said of you, Grace Lutheran Church.
Freed and Renewed in Christ,
Pastor David Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
The season of Epiphany encompasses the eight weeks between the festivals of the Baptism of Our Lord and the Transfiguration. During the final weeks of Epiphany we experience some of the most well-known texts in the Bible, from John the Baptists Here is the Lamb of God to Micah’s What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God to Jesus’ powerful Sermon of the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes.
People often consider this time after Christmas as a long hiatus before the season of Lent begins; but, if they do, they are missing some very important messages focusing on how Christ transforms our lives by calling us to experience the joy, the struggle, and complexities of the Christian life. The Gospel messages throughout this season finds Jesus hard at work teaching, healing, calling disciples, and preaching on the mountain. Again and again we hear the themes of light, baptism, cross, and discipleship.
We are also reminded during the season of Epiphany that the goodness and justice of God extend far beyond our community of faith into all parts of the world and among all people. We are not meant to just hear the words of these scripture passages; we are also meant to be advocates for applying them in everyday life.
Epiphany could well be called a growing season for the church and for its mission. How can each of us cultivate new and exciting ways of serving God and one another? What can we do for the sake of the gospel that we may never have done before. Can we leave our comfort zones in order to minister to the poor, the afflicted, the grieving, the dying, and the persecuted? I should hope so, and I encourage you to give this some serious and prayerful thought.
As the hymn says:
“Listen, God is calling, through the word inviting,
offering forgiveness, comfort and joy.
Jesus gave his mandate: share the good news
that he came to save us and set us free.”
On October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther very innocently posted 95 reasons for there to be debate concerning Roman Catholic doctrine and theology. The doors of the Wittenberg Church were pretty much the bulletin board of the university. Luther was calling for faculty and students to come together to discuss the direction in which the church was heading; a direction that he felt was contrary to scripture and the fundamental principles upon which the Christian Church was founded.
These Ninety-Five Theses were translated from Latin (which was intended for the university’s population) into the German language and widely distributed. Thus, an attempt at scholarly debate became an irritant among clergy, theologians, and heads of state, especially where the sale of indulgences was concerned. In his explanation to this document, Luther wrote that “the law is fulfilled not by our works but through faith, not by anything we offer God but by all we receive from Christ.”
In other words, God’s grace is a gift that cannot be earned by any human endeavor.
Although the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation will not officially be observed until October 31st of 2017, the ELCA is encouraging Lutherans and others within both Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church to utilize this intervening year as an opportunity for study and discussion. Long before he posted the Ninety Five Theses on the doors of Wittenberg Church, Luther had carefully studied the scriptures and written countless papers and letters in an effort to express his concerns.
I will be making recommendations to the Equip team in the near future for our providing opportunities within the congregation for study regarding Martin Luther and the impact of the Reformation upon the church and the world over these last five centuries. It is also important for us to view how Reformation history will continue to impact us far into the future. I encourage each of you take note of opportunities that will be provided in coming months within our own congregation, our synod, and among Lutherans and people of other denominations within our own community. It is also important for Lutherans to know, not just the history of where our legacy originated, but also how our understanding of justification by grace through faith impacts our mission, and our service as Christ’s disciples both now and into the future.
In the nineteenth century, Nicolai Grundtvig set these words to Martin Luther’s tune, A Mighty Fortress: “God’s word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever; to spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor. Through life it guides our way; in death it is our stay. Lord, grant while time shall last your church may hold it fast through-out all generations.”
Passing the faith from generation to generation is, indeed, an endeavor worth pursuing.
While having lunch in a nearby restaurant last week, I was aware that the two people at the table next to me were engrossed deeply in conversation. I wasn’t really aware of the topic of their conversation until one person asked with a raised voice: “Well, what are the marks of a true Christian?” At that point I was completing my transaction with the server and on my way out of the restaurant. But, that question lingered in my mind.
How would you answer that question, “What are the marks of a true Christian?” Saint Paul certainly had no problem giving his opinion in his letter to the Christians in Rome:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:9-13).
Paul’s answer certainly leaves the impression that one’s Christian identity is lived out, not off to oneself, but in relationship with fellow Christians and with others in this world. That is one reason Christians seek out communities of faith in which we can worship and be fully engaged. Our vision for Grace Lutheran Church is that we are fully committed to proclaiming Christ as Savior and Lord by sharing the very things that Paul was describing in those few sentences.
Christian discipleship involves growth – spiritually, faithfully, prayerfully, and in our generosity of our time, our personal gifts and talents, and in our financial support of our ministries in the congregation and in our community. You will be hearing shortly from the Stewardship Team about “Celebrate Generosity,” our fall commitment program. There are many innovative and exciting components to this program, and the team is looking forward to sharing through video, temple talks, and printed information the story of Grace congregation’s discipleship and outreach. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the far-reaching impact our congregation has beyond 5010 Six Forks Road, as what we are capable of accomplishing through faithful witness and generosity.
“God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (II Corinthians 9:8).
Yours in Christ,
Whenever the month of July comes around, our thoughts certainly go to the Fourth of July and our appreciation to our ancestors for bravely establishing the foundation upon which our nation has been built for these 240 years. We also remember the countless number of brave individuals over the decades who have placed their lives on the line, as well as those who have given their lives, to preserve the freedoms and rights for their generation and the generations to come. We owe them our gratitude, our respect, and our commitment to continue living by the principles of justice and freedom established so long ago.
As Christians we are also aware of God’s call to be faithful to the Gospel and to our call as Christ’s disciples, both in our communities and in our world. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, proclaimed
For freedom Christ has set us free
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself
As a dual citizen, both a Jew and a Roman, Paul lived within the laws of both nations. As a follower of Christ, Paul also knew that he must never relinquish the law of love to which Christ had called him. Following Christ allowed him to make some tough decisions in his life and in his ministry, even though doing so brought him into conflict with powerful forces that took issue with where he stood. Martin Luther later took similar stands, based upon his knowledge of the scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Both placed the will of God above all else.
Whenever we are faced with making decisions in matters of conscience, let us also remember that we, too, are citizens of two kingdoms while we live on this earth. Therefore, as ones whose lives are guided by God’s Holy Spirit, let us also remember these words of Paul: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another….let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
Yours in Christ,