Friday, January 28, 2011

Sermon on the Mound

She scans the small crowd like a pitcher sizing up the next batter at the plate. What are they looking for? Right now she has them in the palm of her hand, expectant. What will she throw at them today? She knows she only has a few minutes. If she is wild she will lose them. Soon, they will be looking out the window or making faces at the baby in the chair in front of them, or responding to a text or checking out the scores on an iphone. She does not want to lose them. Yet, even with all the times she has stood on this mound she knows she has control problems. Some times she winds up throwing a curve when she really wanted a fastball right down the center of the plate. You see, unlike a pitcher she wants the batter to get a solid hit, right out of the park. She wants them to see the ball just as clearly as she does as she delivers it. She does not want to lose this one and give up a walk. It seems to her like she has done that all too often. They move on and she really has no clue how she lost them. Was she too academic? Or, did she rely on a Biblical memory which was not there? Or, did she choose stories and examples that did not connect? She knows the first few minutes are critical. Soon and very soon, she will know whether or not this pitch was in the zone or not. If it was not, there is not much she can do to regain the momentum. She has to finish the game. There is no one warming up in the bullpen. No relief in sight. She prays silently for someone to save this outing. It can be a struggle just to finish. The only good thing sometimes is that she can say it is over. It is always hard to leave behind though. Her mind plays with the pitches she threw, over and over. What could she have done differently she wonders? How did the new batter, the one she has never faced before, what did he think of her offerings? Will she see him again and have another chance? It's a mental thing and it's hard to turn her mind off when it is all over. But, there is another game next week. Fortunately, she can't dwell on this one too long; she has to get ready for her next start. Although she has been doing this a long time, the next one always feels brand new like it's her first. She is excited for another chance. Those first few minutes hold such promise, such expectation. It's a thrill. For now, she wonders, will she have that control, will they like her offerings; maybe she will be pitch perfect (or close) and they will hit it out of the park. All she can do is wait and see, and pray for the conditions to be right. Just Right.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I just read the 100 Thing Challenge by Dave Bruno. Bruno lives in San Diego and works at Point Loma U. overseeing their website. He's about 40 and thinks about being "stuck in stuff" as he puts it. So, in 2008 he came up with the idea to see if he could reduce his stuff to 100 things. Of course, he is married and has kids so this was his personal challenge. They were not buying in. He still lived at home and had the advantage of "using" their stuff, ie, the couch, kitchen, bed, etc. He went through his stuff and got rid of tools, sports equipment, clothes and other assorted personal items. He whittled it all down to 100 things. He made some rules for himself to live by during his year of the 100 Thing Challenge. Like, if he bought something it had to replace something on his list. Some might wonder why would he do this? Why would he impose such suffering on himself? Actually, Bruno does not seem to have suffered much. In fact, he learned a lot about himself and his relationship to things. His challenge came as a response to some reflection he had been doing about the American Consumerist Culture. He chose this challenge as a way of putting some action to his thinking. Here is what he says about contentment: contentment is a virtue we can aspire to, not a state we can achieve.. Who is the satisfied person? The one who has it all, the one who has done it all, the one who has gone further than anyone else, or gotten more than anyone else.... there is no such person. We know that... yet in the heat of the moment it's not easy to remember contentment is an attitudinal choice not a buyable product. We all gravitate to more and more trying to achieve satisfaction. I go after more unless I choose to rest content in what joys can be mine. So, at a certain point, I said stop. Dissatisfaction is built into the fabric of consumerism; we are a country of retail malcontents. No store can sell ultimate contentment - we are always a little disappointed with what we buy/own/have. We never have the best of the best but we continually strive for it.

I liked Bruno's book a lot. I liked that he wasn't preachy or setting himself up as some kind of simple lifestyle icon/saint. He does not advocate this challenge as some kind of new spiritual path, although it certainly had spiritual implications for him. He is honest and funny. It's a good story in which he shares many lessons learned. Whether you agree with his thesis or not it's a good read. It did not inspire me to do my own 100 Thing Challenge but it got my wife and I talking seriously about getting rid of one item a day and if we buy something it has to replace something else.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fixing Church

Ok. So it's a new year and there is a new marketing push for a new book and program to revolutionize your church. In the beginning there was Jabez, and then followed Purpose Driven and then.... and now Radical. There is a book ($5 on Kindle) and a website (, and a year long plan for small groups and worship services including suggestions for songs to sing. And a lot of it is very good. The author, a megachurch pastor in AL, was uneasy with his megachurch as he traveled the world and experienced other places and churches struggling with fewer resources and smaller facilities. So, he decided to make some changes and invites others to, as well. I admit I have not read the book carefully although I have read reviews and browsed through it. I know the genre quite well though having read books like it and bought into the programs to "change our church" making it more Biblical and more discipleship oriented and, thus, more vital and relevant and growing. It is a uniquely American tendency to want to "fix" the church. If we apply our acute analysis of the problems facing the church and then come up with a creative plan to meet those problems, we can get the church back on track. And we are creative and entrepreneurial so we can easily march out a new program ( with books, and studies, and resources that all cost money - it is not cheap to get your church where it should be). Then, you marshall the forces: getting people to serve on committees, and coming to small groups and reading the books, and implementing the changes in their lives and in the church. What worked in AL will work in whatever place and whatever church you are in. If it doesn't well maybe you didn't do something right or maybe you are just in one of those churches that cannot be fixed. Been there, done the programs and wound up feeling guilty, discouraged, and out of energy for the other things that come up in church and life. And wondering what is wrong with me, and this church I am at because I failed to fix it.

Maybe churches are not supposed to be fixed, at least, not by us. Maybe that is not our job. Maybe there is no "one program that fits all" for revolutionizing the church and changing the world. Maybe we have got this backwards.

Eugene Peterson ( Practice Resurrection, is the book) says: the American church is understood almost entirely in terms of function (what we can see). We think the church is an instrument that has been given to us to bring about whatever Christ commanded us to do. That the church is a human activity to be measured by human expectations is a way of thinking we pursue unthinkingly. The whole reality of the Trinity already at work in our churches and our world is benched on the sideline while we call timeout, huddle together with heads bowed and work out a strategy by which we can compensate for God's regrettable retreat into invisibility.... we can no more understand the church functionally than we can understand Jesus functionally... we have to submit ourselves to the revelation and receive the church as the gift of Christ as he embodies himself in our world. The church simply is, it is not what it does. It is. We do not create the church. We enter into and participate in what has been given to us. Of course, we do things, and there are jobs to be done, and service to enter into but church is more than us. There is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and most of what the church is is invisible. It cannot be measured, or defined, or evaluated or judged by what we think it ought to be. (that was from Peterson, ch 6 of Practicing Resurrection).

What is the church supposed to be, I am asked? That's right, I say. What? It is to be. What is your vision for the church, I am asked. I don't know but let's find out what God's vision is for our church by entering into the life of the Body of Christ, here, together. Can I join you?