When Dreams Collide

 

Recently my wife and I saw the movie, LA LA Land. I may have to forfeit my man card for this: I thoroughly enjoyed the movie! Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, in my amateur opinion, did a fabulous job inhabiting the characters drawn for them by the writer. The music was exceptional and the story was intriguing.

Reflecting on the movie I am still struck by how our dreams change in the various eras of our lives. As young adults we dream of making huge changes in our world. The character played by Ryan Gosling dreams of reviving jazz – not by adapting it to the current culture – but by recovering the essence of jazz music as a creative art. The character played by Emma Stone has a dream of changing the world through her ability to tell and act out a story. The interplay of these dreams and their relationship drive the story.

I remember as a very young pastor attending the Southern Baptist Convention in the mid-1980’s. The meeting was in Kansas City, MO and I distinctly remember ‘dreaming’ about one day serving as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. That dream has collided with reality. Pastoring a small church in a rural part of Oregon, at least according to recent Southern Baptist history is not a place from which to launch a ‘presidential campaign.’ Besides, my dreams have changed.

Just a few miles from where I live I can observe what is known as ‘Colliding Rivers.’ Wikipedia writes

The Colliding Rivers is the name of the confluence of Little River into the North Umpqua River at Glide, Oregon, approximately 12 miles (19 km) east-northeast of Roseburg. It is known as Colliding Rivers because of the nearly head-on angle at which the streams meet,  the only place in the state of Oregon where a river meets its tributary in such a straight angle. Prior to the point of the Colliding Rivers, the Little River approaches from the south and the North Umpqua has completed a sharp bend and intersects the Little River.

The intersection of these rivers is a dangerous place. The two meet with force that is breathtaking to watch – even in the non-rainy season.

Whenever dreams collide, whether it be with other personal dreams, the dreams of a spouse, the dreams of other family members, conflict is inevitable. Whose dream wins? Do dreams merge and morph into another dream?

Many of my dreams have changed either by reality intruding, or by the dreams of another colliding into mine. Colliding dreams is not always a negative. In the case of the Little River and North Umpqua, the result is a more powerful, larger river that itself later merges with the South Umpqua and becomes even larger and more significant as it becomes the Umpqua River. Colliding dreams may create momentary confusion and conflict. But properly channeled, properly managed, colliding dreams can result in an even more fulfilling and more influential dream.

Room for the Sacred?

A recent article in The American Spectator asks the question: Is there still room for the sacred in the city?[1] Exactly what role does a church play in the everyday affairs of any community? Perhaps a definition might help. Church is not simply a building, a piece of architecture, though there are many examples of beautiful buildings called ‘churches.’ Church is merely a word identifying a community of believers, people who share a common faith and a common way of worship and expression. Church is simply a community in the midst of a community.

So, is there room in a secular community for a gathering a people who have faith? What about for people who claim to have faith in God as expressed throughout the Bible? What about a community who believes that Jesus meant what He said when He said that He was the only way to the Father (see John 14:6)?

Matthew M. Robare cites a study done in Philadelphia estimating that “religious congregations contribute over $100 million to their community annually.” This value includes social services such as food banks, warming centers, clothing donations, and soup kitchens. In a world where state supported social services struggle to keep up these services are invaluable. But are these communities of faith merely present to fill in the gaps that federal, state, county, and city services cannot provide?

What happens when a faith community is no longer able to provide the financial and physical assistance to maintain a building? What happens when property once occupied by a faith community is turned into apartments and shops? What happens to those services that could have been provided?

I have no definitive answers to the questions posed. Other authors (see recently published David Fitch, Faithful Presence, IVP Books; Jonathan Leeman, Political Cbhurch, IVP Academic, and I’m sure there are dozens of others as well) are writing seeking to answer these questions.

Is there room for the sacred? Before a ‘church’ can be present in a community individuals need to be alert and aware of God’s presence in their own lives. Making room for the sacred is not easily done, it is not the result of a 5 – 7 minute ‘quiet time’ every morning. Making room for God’s presence in our lives requires a disciplined approach to waiting on God, nourishing our heart and mind with His Word, silence, and taking the time necessary to attune our hearts and minds to Him.

As a group of individuals come together – people who have spent time individually making room for God – we share our lives, we surrender to the authority of God’s Word, we seek to understand and apply God’s Word in the community in which we live. Then those living around us, those sharing our community, can truly begin to understand that there is room for the sacred, there is a place for God’s people to be God’s hands, God’s heart to the community.

[1] Matthew M. Robare, From Chapels to Condos, The American Conservative, January/February 2017, 6-following.

A CHRISTMAS MEDITATION

As I see the Facebook and Twitter posts of friends with full and overflowing churches on this Christmas morning I realize that – at least in my corner of the world – the opposite is more often true: overflowing empty seats, lots of space for guests that were invited but likely won’t attend. And yet…

The lostness of our community is not surprising nor is it unusual. According to our International Mission Board there are still over 3,000 people groups who have never heard the gospel, the Christmas message. And yet…

The emptiness of our buildings is not a reflection on God’s absence, for as we gather for worship on this Christmas morning we acknowledge that indeed, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, has been born! With shepherds and with angels we rejoice, knowing that God is not distant and far-off but that “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, HCSB),.

May your Christmas worship and celebration be filled with the joy that only God provides through our relationship with Him as we come to know Jesus Christ!

Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” (Luke 2:11, HCSB)

ThIS CHRISTMAS…

Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent more time than normal in the urgent care facility while my wife is being treated for pneumonia and the flu – all together! Maybe it’s because I am more acutely aware of aging and the challenges just since I turned 60 this year. Maybe it’s because more of the families I share life with as their pastor are sharing the painful side of their Christmas stories of step-children, step-parents, grandchildren, and the ways which family members have of hurting one another.

Whatever the reason, I have been more attuned to the painful side of Christmas. Mary and Joseph were simple, normal young adults living in Nazareth. And then…. Mary is pregnant – though she and Joseph are only betrothed and not yet married. A hastily arranged marriage because an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. A long trip to Bethlehem because some foreign ruler wanted to impose a new tax. A birth in an animal stall because the guest houses were filled with other travelers. Shepherds arriving to see the new born child because of some otherworldly angelic appearance.

A trip to Egypt to escape the wrath of a brutal and murderous tyrant. A return trip home to Nazareth with all the gossip and shame of Joseph and Mary’s predicament.

While we sing of joy the truth is Joseph and Mary may have not felt very ‘joyous’ very often. Probably they felt stress, anxiety, fear, and loneliness.

We gleefully and joyfully attend holiday parties, we exchange festively wrapped gifts, we ooh and aah over magnificent decorations. We eat special food associated with childhood memories and we diligently try to create lasting memories of a special holiday season – one that we can declare as the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year!’

Maybe it’s just the pastoral concerns – families enduring surgeries, families facing mental illnesses, families struggling with losses – but this season the ‘JOY’ we are told to experience is different. Instead of finding joy in the material and commercialized vision of Christmas – where true love is always realized, where the perfect gift is always under the tree, and where the challenges are resolved so that all live happily ever after – let us seek for joy in the promise of God’s presence, in His intervention in our lives through the year, and in the building blocks of hope: Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and return.

JOY TO THE WORLD! THE KING IS COME!

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Steve

Waiting…

Sunday our church celebrated the third Sunday of Advent. Advent is from the Latin word, adventus, which means ‘coming.’ Advent is a season of waiting, waiting for the coming Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of David, the One who will be scarred by the serpent but who will destroy the serpent.

Waiting is not something in which we are skilled. Hurry seems to better describe our patterns of life. Waiting seems like a waste of valuable time. And yet…

In the scheme of God’s creation, He built in a day of rest every seven days. In six days God created all that is. On the seventh day He rested. In the 10 Commandments, the ‘constitution’ of God’s people, the seventh day is to be recognized as holy, set apart to the Lord. Over the centuries we read how God’s people drifted into busyness, into patterns of life that had no margin for rest. The gospels record that even Jesus withdrew from the crowds from time to time, that even Jesus admitted to weariness and the need to just sit and rest (see John 4).

Why then do I struggle with the idea of ‘rest,’ ‘waiting?’ I could blame our culture. Since the invention of the microwave meals can be ready within minutes instead of hours. Fast food restaurants are visible at almost every intersection of the highways that we fine necessary for travel. Even the words ‘highway’ and ‘freeway’ point to our constant striving to get somewhere in a hurry. Now we have app’s on our phone to show us the quickest and most direct route to our destination (I admit that last time I was in Southern California I relied heavily on WAZE to navigate traffic slowdowns!)

I could blame our current practice of how to do ‘church.’ Busy-ness = success, right? Or perhaps I could blame the economic climate – higher costs for goods create a demand for more income which leads to a pressure to work more hours, to seek out additional ways to create income.

I could also just be honest. The problem is not fast food restaurants or microwaves; travel demands or economic challenges. No, the problem is me, myself and I. Though Jesus Christ lives in me by the power and promise of the Holy Spirit I still find myself stuck in patterns of thinking that undermine the truth that in Christ God has fully accepted me. I still try and earn my place in God’s family by working harder, longer, and ignoring the simple pleasure of just being in Christ.

I don’t think I’m alone! As we ‘wait’ for Christmas, as we await the unveiling of all that God is for us in Jesus Christ at the final trumpet, let’s live unhurried lives filled with anticipation as John, one of Jesus’ earliest followers, reminds us, “Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are!” (1 John 3:1, HCSB)

 

The Missing Ingredient

Christmas is near – I know that because my wife’s birthday in December 7 and she is wonderful about reminding me! But I know Christmas is coming because my email inbox is stuffed full of ‘Special Offers’ for special customers (it’s nice to be special!).

As I drive around our area making hospital visits and attending various parties and functions during the season I know Christmas is near because of the lights on people’s homes. The shopping centers are lit brightly, inviting me to stop in and browse merchandise that will certainly bring happiness to those in my family and give me joy as I give.

But as I see the lights, as I see the shopping centers I also see people. As I find parking spots in the places I visit I see people drifting in and out of the stores, the places of business. As I see their faces I see a hopelessness. I overhear bits and pieces of conversation and wonder – what happened to hope? Oh, I hear it – ‘I hope he/she can use this,’ or ‘I hope this fits.’ But the hopelessness I sense is deeper than that.

Can a gift, can an invitation to a party or an open house heal the deep wounds of brokenness that have been created by the selfishness of 11 months and 24 days? Can one day – Christmas – or one season – “the hap-hap-happiest time of year” heal the hurt of loss? Behind the smiles, behind the masks people wear is a deep sense of hopelessness.

And yet the answer for hopelessness is the One whose birth is the very reason for the celebration. Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of Mary who had been wed to Joseph, is the bearer of hope. In Him we see unveiled the ability of God to fulfill His promises – in spite of generations of failure by His people. In Jesus we see before us the possibility that God will reverse the curse of sin and death. In the birth of Jesus we hear good news for all people – all can enter into a relationship with God through the gift of life in Jesus Christ.

May your Christmas season be one of hope! Hope in knowing that God will finish what He has begun, hope in knowing that nothing can break a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, hope in knowing that no sin is too great, no failure is too large for the love of God given us in and through Jesus Christ!

10 DAYS OF SIMPLE AND STRATEGIC PRAYER IN PREPARATION FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

We have ten days left in November, and then only one month left in 2016. These next several weeks are often some of the busiest ones in the life of a church, especially as we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s birth. Think about using this post to guide your church’s praying for the rest of this month.

Day 1Pray for your church staff and leaders. Pray that all will be holy, passionate, and evangelistic.

Day 2Pray for your church’s small group leaders. Ask God to give them a caring heart, a teaching ability, and a prayerful spirit. Pray they will willingly reproduce themselves and multiply their groups.

Day 3Pray for the children in your church. Pray your church will give them such grounding in the gospel they will always think about Christian faithfulness when confronted with the world’s options.

Day 4Pray for the students in your church. Pray they will be vibrant witnesses in their schools. Ask the Lord to give them strength in temptation. Ask God to raise up a next generation of missionaries from your church.

Day 5Pray for the couples in your church. Lift them up by name, and pray for their marriages. Pray that each husband will love his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25). Intercede especially for those couples you know are struggling.

Day 6Pray Ephesians 6:18-20 and Colossians 4:2-4 for ten leaders in your church. Ask God to give them boldness in sharing, clarity in message, and others ready to hear. A few members with a thirst for evangelism can spark an awakening.

Day 7Pray for new believers in your church. Ask the Lord to raise up disciplers for them. If your church does not have any new members, ask God to give your congregation a renewed heart for evangelism.

Day 8Pray for your church to be a Great Commission-minded church. Prayerfully consider committing to interceding for an unreached people group around the world. If your congregation is already going to the nations, pray for more members to go.

Day 9Pray for more laborers in your church (Matt. 9:35-38). Jesus told us to pray that way, so be obedient to His command. You may find you seldom struggle in finding workers when you pray this way.

Day 10Pray for your church’s work during the Christmas season. Ask God to make Himself known in such a powerful way that your members, your community, and the nations see His glory.

 

COPIED W/ PERMISSION FROM

10 Days of Simple and Strategic Prayer in Preparation for the Holiday Season

 

The Day After…

In 1983 ABC aired a made-for-tv movie, The Day After. The premise was to show the reactions of everyday Americans to a nuclear attack. I don’t remember much about the movie, but I do remember a great deal of discussion about whether children should be allowed to watch (my son was just a few months old) and whether it would be too graphic for the average tv viewer.

Today is the day after one of the most contentious and divisive presidential election cycles in recent American history. Donald Trump pulled of a victory that is still reverberating through the mainstream media, the political elite, and the evangelical community. Few experts saw this coming. Many evangelical leaders counseled believers to be stewards of their vote and demonstrate wisdom by either abstaining from the presidential contest or voting for a third-party candidate. At least report some 86% of self-identified evangelicals voted for Trump showing an interesting divide between evangelical leaders and the evangelicals in the pews (or more likely, chairs).

Now that President-Elect Trump begins the transition from businessman, citizen to the highest office in the land we as believers are to continue to pray for those in authority over us. Yes, that includes our current President, Barak Obama. Yes, that includes a multitude of other Democrats (in Oregon a Democratic governor, Kate Brown, won handily) in a variety of state and local offices.

Finally, as we pray let us never forget that our ultimate allegiance is not to an ideology or a country, but to Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of the Father!