A “Brite” Future

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Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.                                                                                  1 Timothy 4:12

All this week, I have been co-teaching a seminary class at Brite Divinity School as part of the January term. It is not your usual class. This class is called “Transitions in Life and Ministry” and is for students who are completing their last semester in seminary. The goal of the class is to help students make a smooth transition from their seminary experience into their first ministry job. Dr. Tim Robinson and I have had the opportunity to meet with 14 students and explore their hopes, dreams and excitement for the ministry to which they are called, as they also face the ending their time at Brite and the losses, grief and challenges that accompany this major shift in their lives. It has been an amazing week.

Included in the discussion of their changing lives we have also discussed the shifting waters of religious life in America. I’m sure you are aware, as our students are, that the population of people who regularly attend worship and are part of a faith community is dramatically shrinking, and has been shrinking for the last few decades. This means that opportunities for church positions are shrinking as well. Now, you might think that given those realities that these students would be discouraged and worried about their future. I think it is safe to say that all of them have some trepidation about the future and some of them are not at all sure where they are headed and what they will be doing. Yet their hope for their ministries and for the future is contagious.

I know that there are many people, including religious scholars, preachers, theologians and the average person on the street who are deeply concerned about the future of the church. You may be among them. But I want you to know that you don’t have to worry. I have spent this week with 14 incredible people who are passionate about their faith, committed to making the world a better place for all people and I believe that the church of the future is in good hands. In one exercise, we asked them to tell us what their “Why” is. In other words, what is the deep, passionate reason that they want to be in ministry. Here is what one student said, and is reflective of what they all said, “I am passionate about my faith and ministry because I believe that people live fuller and more abundant lives by encountering the Divine that calls them beloved.”

In another exercise, we asked them to share, in a TED Talk format, their Big Idea for ministry. One young man told us about his desire to help churches learn about Asset Based Community Development and how it can change neighborhoods into productive, healthy communities. Then a young woman told us about her passion for creating Women’s Health Initiatives in churches because Texas has a rising infant mortality rate, and if we can impact the health of women we can reduce that rate. Another student told us about how to change the lives of millennials by creating small communities, as he and his wife do in their home on a weekly basis, with what they call “Dinner Parties.” These students may be young in age or in ministry, but the words of the Apostle Paul writing to Timothy ring true in them as they will certainly, “set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

So, I invite you to set aside your worries about the future of the church. The generation that is emerging from our seminaries has enough vision and hope for all of us. Oh, and if you are hungering to encounter the Divine that calls you beloved, then I hope you will worship in a faith community this Sunday and perhaps encounter this kind of vision and hope. It will change your life or maybe you will be the change that church most needs.

Holy One, remind me once again that you are ever present and ready to meet me in life and in community and call me your beloved. Amen.

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#PrayForPeace

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May the Lord give strength to the people! May the Lord bless the people with peace!                                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 29:11

If you have ever attended a lunch or dinner at New Church or at our home you may have heard me end my blessing for the food with the words, “And may there be, . . . peace on earth.” In my family, we call that the “Kay Lin,” clause. My sister, Kay, will always add the words, “And may there be . . . peace on earth” to the end of every prayer, whether she is praying or someone else is. And in recent years she has been adding emoji’s to her texts that include a peace symbol and an earth symbol. She, along with many people in the world is serious about praying for peace, speaking peace and living in ways that promote peace.

As we begin this New Year, the Year of our Lord, 2018, I am more concerned about peace for our earth than I have been since I was in elementary school. I was in elementary school during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My school regularly held fire drills, but we also had bombing drills. We would go out into the hallway of the school, sit cross-legged with our backs against the wall and bend over at the waist covering our heads with our arms. Now that I look back at it, and now that I know what the destruction of nuclear bombs can do it seems silly that we did those bomb drills. No doubt you have watched as tensions have escalated between the United States and North Korea with threats of nuclear war and nuclear weapons hitting the United States. I’m pretty clear that if our world comes to that no country will win, all will lose.

So, I’ve been thinking about my sister and her prayer of “And may there be, . . . peace on earth.” I’ve also been thinking about how we make New Year’s resolutions. I wonder if you would add one to your list. Would you make a resolution to pray for peace every day in 2018? I believe if you and I do that, then we will become people of peace, we will become peacemakers and peacekeepers, something I believe the world desperately needs right now.

Throughout our holy scriptures we hear the prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and the apostles telling us to pray because prayers can change things. Our prayers can bring healing and hope. Our prayers can change others and ourselves. In fact, scripture tell us that our prayers can change the fate of nations. So, pray with me, won’t you? In all our resolutions designed to make us better people this year, perhaps we can add a resolution that could change our world, praying earnestly and faithfully for peace. Then the words of the Psalmist might be just the words we will hear that God would strengthen us and bless us and all nations, our children and all children of the world with peace.

         Holy One, turn your face to us and grant us your peace. Amen.

Join the Resistance.

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Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.           Philippians 4. 4-6

Perhaps you know that in some traditions of the Christian church this Sunday is Gaudete Sunday. The third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete, in the liturgical calendar of the Western church is most often celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and other mainline Protestant churches. The day takes its name from the Latin word Gaudete, meaning, “Rejoice.” The passage of scripture above, is the first word spoken in the third Sunday of Advent Mass, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.”

The historic theme of Advent focuses on the coming of Jesus in three ways: Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ presence with us now, and Jesus’ final Advent, and was originally conceived as a penitential season, a time of prayer, fasting and giving of gifts to the poor. However, the readings for Gaudete Sunday deal with rejoicing in the Lord. On Gaudete Sunday, the fast is broken, rose-colored vestments are often worn and rose-colored paraments decorate the altar and chancel of the church, instead of violet or blue that are the traditional colors of Advent. In churches that have an Advent wreath, the rose-colored candle is lit in addition to two of the violet or blue colored candles, that represent the first two Sundays of Advent.

As I think about a Sunday called “Joy,” it seems to me that to proclaim “joy” in the face of struggle, heartache, hatred, judgment, sorrow and so much in our world that would make us believe that there is no reason for hope or peace, is to do two things. First, it is to proclaim faith, faith in something greater than ourselves. When we say that we have profound joy even in the midst of fear and doubt, is to say that we trust the promise of Christmas, that Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. Secondly, I believe that to speak joy, sing joy, proclaim joy in the darkening days of winter, the darkness of our broken world is to participate in courageous resistance, resistance against hate, resistance against hopelessness, resistance against war and violence.

Theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness writing that while happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing, sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death, can take that love away.” Consequently, we have reason to rejoice.

So, this Sunday, whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, I invite you to join with others who believe that there is more hope, peace and joy yet to break forth into our world. Trust the promise. Join the resistance.

Holy One, in you I will be thankful. In you, I will rejoice. Help me to look to you and not be afraid. Help me to lift my voice, rejoicing because you are near and are always with me. Amen. 

 

Finding Hope & Light in the Darkness

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Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.                                                             Romans 5. 1, 3-5

Last night, Thursday, December 7, at 6:33pm New Church launched a new mid-week, worship experience that we’re calling Re|New. I have to tell you that it was the most wonderful spiritual experience. We were a small gathering, yet the Holy Spirit was very present among us. Our Brite Divinity School, Student Minister, Avery Belyeu, and our Associate Pastor, Rev. Eve Gorrell, and Disciples of Christ Commissioned Minister and Musician, Nathaniel Cook led the service.

The service was simple, the music was beautiful, the interaction between the worship leaders and the gathered community was rich. Avery used as her text the passage above in which the Apostle Paul speaks of the things that create hope. She invited us to remember that hope is often born in the midst of difficult times and asked us to spend the remainder of the worship experience and the week ahead looking and waiting for light in the midst of the darkness of our world and of the season.

If you’re like me, you may feel that our world is shrouded in darkness. Oh, I don’t just mean the growing darkness as the earth turns on its axis away from the sun in the northern hemisphere as we await the Winter Solstice. I mean the darkness that is born of hate, judgment, injustice and oppression. It just seems to me that those things that steal our joy and wrench our souls are running rampant in these dark days. So, as I tried to discover the light in the midst of the darkness, the hope that comes out of struggle I had great difficulty. The searching has stayed with me through last night’s worship experience and into this morning.

Then it dawned on me, “dawned” being the intentional word I choose since it has to do with the coming of the light. As I contemplated our worship experience last night I realized that my hope was in the three, young people leading our worship. There they were, on a Thursday evening, at a church in the city of Dallas, when they could have been anywhere else. There they were singing, listening, waiting, and proclaiming the presence of God in our midst, the hope that is born out of suffering and endurance, and the light that is there even when we cannot see it. Because of them I have hope for the future, not only of New Church, not only of the Church of Jesus Christ, but hope for our country and the world now and into the future.

If you are desperate for hope and light in these dark days, then I encourage you to find a place to worship, to experience the presence of others seeking what is holy with all the mystery that comes with it. I encourage you to find a community that is seeking the light as much as you are. I encourage you to live into the hope of the love of God that “has been poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Holy One, open my heart, open my heart to see your light, to experience your hope, and to be your love in the world. Amen.

 

Wait, Watch, Wonder

Have you not known? Have you not heard? God does not faint or grow weary; is understanding, is unsearchable. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will  fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall  mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and       not faint.                                                                                          Isaiah 40:28-31 NRSV – Adapted                                                

If you’re like me you may find it hard to believe that Christmas is just around the corner. For our culture it means that we are in the final throes of decorating, parties and shopping before the “big” day. Of course, that is not how the church has prepared for Christmas. Instead the church has invited people to wait, watch and wonder as we prepare for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. We are invited to wait in the waning light of our days and the growing darkness of our nights for the Light of the World to, yet again, be born into our world and our hearts.

What that invitation to wait, watch and wonder doesn’t mean is that we are to forego all the parties and celebrations, all the lights and gifts of the season. God, nor the church, is asking us to become dower, ascetic monastics. But what it does mean is that God and the church, invite us to slow down a bit, stop occasionally, look around and see, really see what is happening around us, in creation, in our relationships, in our communities. It is a tall order this time of year especially if you have children.

Still, I want to encourage you to remember what the prophet Isaiah shared with an ancient people and is still relevant to us today. The prophet tells us that our God is an everlasting God who does not grow weary in loving and being with us. Then the prophet goes on to tell us that it is in waiting that we gain strength. Notice that we do not gain strength by going faster. We gain strength by waiting on the Lord.

The Season of Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas, are all about waiting on the coming of the Lord, the birth of Jesus. It is also a season about watching for the coming of the Light. And it is about wonder, the wonder about our God who is both understanding as well as unsearchable. My greatest hope for you this Advent is that you will take a moment, wait, watch and wonder about the Christmas season, about life and love, and especially about a Child, born in a manger so very long ago, Emmanuel, God with us. In that, may you find your strength.

Come to me yet again, O Christ. Help me to know. Help me to hear. Remind me to wait, watch and wonder. Help me to discover again that I am yours and you are ever with me. Amen.

Wonder

Think on these things.

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Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

                                                                                                                                   Philippians 4. 8-9

Every morning I wake up and the news is enough to send me back to bed. The national and global barrage of information about natural disasters and human hatred is mind-boggling, and our unending political disagreements and disarray only adds to the stress in our lives. That, of course, doesn’t include the personal challenges of family and friends. I actually believe that many people today are living with a persistent low level of depression that causes them to feel constantly overwhelmed. I believe the decline in worship attendance, participation in civic organizations and voting is the result of the state of our current cultural malaise.

What is a person to do? Well, as you might imagine, I have a few suggestions. Mind you, I am writing to myself as much as to you.      First, I suggest that we limit the number of hours we spend watching the news. I believe that we should be informed about what is going on in our world, but when the 24-hour news cycle is broadcasting into our minds and hearts for 24-hours a day, then we cannot help but be anxious. So, watch the news for an hour then, turn it off.

Second, I recommend that we walk away from our computers and put down our phones. Many of us are reliant upon our computers for our work and our phones for communication. Still, taking a few minutes throughout the day to take a walk, listen to some music, write a note (I am here assuming that we still know how to write) or read a poem will surely restore our souls.

Third, let’s add some type of prayer or meditation to our day. It doesn’t have to be a long amount of time, five or ten minutes. That brief amount of time will not take away from our work, but will give us energy.

Of course, long ago the Apostle Paul gave us the best advice of all. Calling us “Beloved” he wrote, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Why? Because to do so means that the God of peace will be with us. Can you believe that? Our God is ready to infuse you and me with peace. Why not try it? We have nothing to lose but our despair. May it be so.

Holy One, refocus my heart and mind and soul. Remind me that you are ever with me. Teach me to think on the things that are true, and just and pure. Show me the way to your peace that I may serve you well. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: A Heart of Peace for 10 Minutes’ Time

Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.”                                   —  Matthew 7. 24 & 25

Okay, I’ll confess. I am a big fan of HGTV, and I am especially fond of Property Brothers. There is so much I like about their show. I like the brothers and how they interact with each other and the people whose homes they renovate. I also like that they don’t have one style, but that they truly listen to their clients and then develop a renovation and design plan that is creative and unique. But I think the thing I most appreciate is that whenever they begin a renovation project and discover that there is some bad thing in the walls or under the floor that is going to cost their clients more than they planed, the brothers are honest about it. They are committed to safety and good construction, and while they empathize with their clients, and try to find other ways to stay within the budget, they do not compromise on the basics that will keep the house safe over time.

As I was watching an episode of Property Brothers this week I realized that the commitment to paying attention to the unseen repairs by the brothers is much like Jesus’ teaching about those who hear his words and are like the wise man who built his house on rock. It seems to me that Jesus is trying to get us to understand that our attention to the inner workings of our spirit and soul, and our commitment to listening to God and developing relationship with God will be what sustains us over time.

This week we introduced a new column in our New Church Worship Guide entitled, “New Church Spirituality – What you can do!” The goal is to provide our faith community simple ways to “build their house on rock,” by practicing daily spirituality. This week we suggested that we spend 10 minutes in the morning or evening praying for peace. I have been practicing this prayer time this week and the wonderful outcome of sitting in silence and praying for peace is that I discovered my own heart at peace.

Of course, it does not escape me that many people in the wake of hurricanes and earthquakes have lost their homes to these natural disasters. But the thing that is so often inspiring is how resilient so many of the people are, and how often they speak of relying on their faith to get them through the storm.

So, I encourage you to try it. Set aside 10 minutes in the morning, at noon or in the evening and sit silently, listen to music, take a walk, or whatever it is you do in order to focus your mind, and pray for peace. Then when the rain falls, the floods come, and the winds blow in your life, you will not fall, because your life will be founded on rock.

Holy One, help me, strengthen my resolve so that I may faithfully spend time in prayer with you. Then let me turn to my day knowing you are ever with me. Amen.