Tag Archives: church

What the High School Students Taught Me

This past Sunday was our celebration of graduating high school seniors at church. We are graduating our third child on Thursday and about to have an empty nest. We have had a child in our home non-stop for 29 years, so yes, an empty nest is going to be fun/strange/sad/happy/quiet; so many things to feel. Seriously. Imagine all of those feelings at once wrapped up in this graduation week.

On Sunday three of the graduates spoke in the worship services, including our son. As they spoke, they taught me about the power of the community of faith. All three had been members of that particular church most of their lives.

Here’s what they said, summarized:

-They were grateful and could now see the many people who helped raise them and show them faith. For all, it was a long list beyond their parents.

-It wasn’t any one thing, it was all the things. It was cookies and snacks; the many Sunday School lessons and Bible studies. It was singing in the children’s choir and serving as acolytes in worship. It was Vacation Bible School and Mission trips. It was pastors preaching, people loving them and speaking to them, hugging them and recognizing their milestones. It wasn’t any one thing, it was this tapestry woven together by the community of faith with them and around them.

-They saw the church for what it is, imperfect, ever-changing, filled with real-life loss and challenges. They all had families that hung in there despite the messy imperfection of the whole thing. They had families that made them attend when they didn’t want to. They had families that invested, served, modeled faith.

-They noticed that the more you invested in the community the more you received.

At the end of this happy/sad/milestone morning, I wanted to grab the microphone and preach or at least give a mom’s rebuttal but it didn’t seem polite.

I wanted to say to every single person, child, tween, teen, young adult and older adult…”Can’t you see this happening before our eyes? This is an illustration of the God-infused super sloppy church. Where it is never one thing, it is all the things…embedded with prayer, worship, life, death, sickness, ritual, grace and forgiveness.”

I wanted to say to everyone. “No matter how old you are, join up. Attach yourself to a community of faith and do not let go. Don’t let conflict or imperfection or that piece of music, or preaching or person you don’t like sitting next to you stop you. Invest. Show up. Show up again and again and again. You may not see results for 19 or 190 years. Show up anyway.

Sunday I sat in the pew and saw it. It was a real-life, people-I-love example of the power of the community of faith to shape lives. 19 years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and we inserted him right in the middle of an imperfect community of faith from the time he was 2 weeks old and the pediatrician said he could go to the church nursery.

On Sunday, a confidant young man walked to the pulpit in that same church and shared his faith, his values, his future plans and his gratitude for the cloud of witnesses who loved him into that.

Everyone deserves to be loved and shaped like that. Everyone.

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Leaning

When I was a little girl the church we attended had a children’s church. It was not at all like children’s ministry today with colorful murals, indoor playgrounds, kid-friendly music and cool video based Bible lessons. It was called “Little Church” and it was literally a tiny child-sized sanctuary with little pews, a little pulpit and little hymnals. I remember attending Little Church when my legs were too short to allow my feet to touch the floor. I was too little to find the hymn number before the song was over so I just had to remember the words. I doubt I could even read yet. We sang songs like “Come to the Church in the Wildwood” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” We didn’t do the leaning motion during that song in Little Church. We were a little too formal for that. I learned that later at church camp. As we sang, we’d actually lean…as far as we could lean without falling.

All my life I’ve been practicing leaning: leaning on friends and family for help sometimes; leaning into tough challenges; leaning into school and study; leaning into marriage and parenting. I talk a lot about leaning into seasons because it took me so long to figure out how to not fight a season rather to lean into it. I’m not talking about actual seasons of the year but those are fun to embrace too. I’m talking about realizing the season you are in and leaning into it. Maybe it is a season of grief or a season of parenting.  Maybe it is a season of illness or a time of healing. Maybe you are in season of caring for a loved one or a tiny baby. Maybe it is a season of intense work or major projects. Don’t fight it.  Lean into it. Declare to yourself “this is a season of ….” and lean.

I once heard a therapist say “We must lean into that which is difficult.”  That’s a new idea, isn’t it? Instead of running from that which is hard for us, lean into it. Have that tough conversation. Bring up the subject no one talks about. Lean into facing what is hard to face. Do that thing that terrifies you. Lean into it.

This morning, my favorite devotional book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young had a line that jumped out at me. “Go gently through this day, leaning on Me and enjoying My presence.”  I guess we had it right way back at Little Church, our little voices singing about leaning.

 

Crunch Time

Holy week is crunch time for pastors.  Crunch time is defined as a critical period of time during which it is necessary to work hard and fast.  I don’t know why I count up such things but at our place, Holy Week equals 16 worship services, 2 egg hunts, baptisms, a lot of communion and some foot washing.

Then, of course the peak times for Christianity also parallel peak family times for meals, celebrations and gifts.  I’ve often wondered what CPAs would do if their crunch time, tax day, also had big dinners, egg hunts and festivities attached.

Being a pastor and a mom has accelerated the challenges for me during crunch time. Our three kids took it in stride all these years that the Easter bunny miraculously stopped at our house on the Saturday evening before Easter.  They believed they were the first stop because the Easter bunny liked them best and not because mom had to be at sunrise services the next day.  We won’t even discuss the time my husband brought our daughter to church with her Easter dress on backwards because I wasn’t home to guide that process.

Now that they are older, thankfully, the celebrations are simplified. One egg with substantial cash in it plus a few Reece’s Easter Eggs seems to satisfy just fine.  Our Easter meal, too, has become easier, a low-key, easy-to-prepare event that leads to a great Sunday nap after all the worshipping of the week.

But, what I love about crunch time is that God still finds a way. In spite of the sheer volume of it all, God shines through a song, a story or an interaction to bring wonder and resurrection, even to the pastor.

This year, it happened fast, at the 2nd worship service of the 16 of crunch time week.  I saw a little girl, born a few years ago; fragile, diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and heart problems. Dressed for spring, adorable with her long blonde hair and little pink eyeglasses, joining the other children in the Palm Sunday parade.  A precious one, with a palm branch, proclaiming new life, God’s grace, hope and joy.

God is good, all the time, even in our busyness, distraction and tendencies to do too much. I can’t wait to see the other ways God will shine in this crunch time week.

Confessions From a Pastor

Soon we will begin a new sermon series at church, Confessions from the Pastors.  I told my clergy colleagues I wasn’t comfortable confessing things before God and everybody.  One mentioned, “Isn’t that what a confession is?  Something you are uncomfortable admitting to God and others?”  I hate it when one of them is right…it is so rare it actually stuns me sometime.  Just kidding, kind of.

As I get ready to preach, all kinds of confessions are emerging on my part.  A few I’ve admitted before:

Many, many times when I’m sitting up front in worship, looking pastoral, I’m guilty of thinking non-pastoral thoughts like “I’m hungry.”  “A nap would be good right now.”  Sometimes I even do what you do, I wonder why someone is wearing that.  Or, if one part of the service is going long, I secretly will whoever is talking just to put a lid on it.  I do.  I confess.

I’ve confessed before that I have a big problem with Christmas.  It is overdone….way overdone and it makes me want to go to St. Lucia and look at the water for the whole month of December.  I confess.

But, the biggest confession I have is the one I will try to include in my sermon.  I confess that I have a problem with many, many Christians.  I have a problem with the ones who think they know everything like who’s going to heaven and why.  They seem so darn sure.  I don’t like the judgmental Christians who have figured out which sin is worse than the others and will tell you about it and what you should be doing. I ran into one of those early on, when I was in college.  She knew everything about God’s will.  She confidently told me that it was absolutely against scripture for me to be a pastor…she even showed me in the Bible.  Luckily, God’s voice was louder than hers in my spirit.  I just past the 25th anniversary of my ordination and so far it seems like it just might work. 

I confess that I have a problem with Christians who act badly.  You know the type, they act in mean, hateful and destructive ways and then post a Bible verse on Pinterest causing the world to say “Whaaaat?”   

Some Christians even make me want to hide the fact that I’m a Christian.  A recent book, Unchristian, surveyed thousands of young Americans and they said Christianity has an image problem, we appear hypocritical, judgmental, anti-homosexual and a few more things I won’t mention here.  And to that I would say, it is not an image problem Christianity has, has a real big giant problem.  Christians don’t just seem to be that way, many really are.  And, my big confession is that I don’t care for those Christians.  They make me want to turn my cute Christian t-shirt inside out, lest someone thinks I feel that way too.

It hurts my heart that I’m so distracted by others.  It hurts my heart that I’m not somehow holy enough to let that stuff just slide by. 

Here’s my problem, I really, really like Jesus.  I like the forgiving, surprising, God-embodying Jesus.  I like what he talked about.  I like what he stood for.  If it wasn’t for him, I’d never hang around the church.  I’m just confessing.