Wednesday, January 20, 2021

We are one body. Your success now is our success.

One of the traditions neatly tucked inside a desk drawer of the American democracy is the writing of a note from the outgoing President of the United States to their successor. On January 20, 1993, this how the hand-written note, from the 41st person to hold that office wrote to the one who bested him in the election just a few months before, ended:

Dear Bill,
....You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you.
Good luck — George

I heard this read over the airwaves earlier this week and it prompted me to think of the scripture from this past Sunday. We are all one body, the Apostle Paul declares in Romans 12. But, that was not the only place he invoked the analogy of the church as the body of Christ. He writes the church in Corinth, at a time marked by divisions, and says this:

Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or f
ree, and we all were given one Spirit to drink. 14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many.... so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 25-27

President George H. W. Bush captured this part of the Gospel. We are created to be in relationship with each other. When one has success, we all do. The world pushes the agenda of scarcity, while heaven offers abundance. May this be our note to each other, as well. Grace and peace, Scott

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Essential Reading for Humanity - updated

   A friend of mine once asked me to share the titles of some books that I have read and appreciated. I’ve long held that a small list of books has influenced my life significantly, based on the ways they’ve shaped my thinking, my actions, and by how often I quote them aloud or refer to them in my mind. Here they are, in no particular order, with a note about their publication. I’ve read a few books over the years, but these are the ones I return to most often.

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck (Arrow Books, 1978)
- I've read the first section over and over again. This book is brilliant. 

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (originally published in 1945)
- A super story about heaven and hell, salvation, redemption, restoration, the communion of the saints, and how we can live even better on this side of heaven. 

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (originally published in 1942)
- Straight out of hell, this collection of fictitious letters from one demon to his nephew offers a stark look at how we are made and how the forces of evil and wickedness are working against us.

The Will of God by Leslie Weatherhead (originally published in 1944)
- This is so very good. It helps me to put words to both the good and bad of this world and find God's love for us in the midst of both.

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary D Chapman (Northfield, 2009)
- I ask every couple I marry to read this before the wedding, but believe every person should know their own love language in order to communicate and thrive in life. 

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler (McGraw-Hill, 2002)
- This book helps to reduce tension and anxiety in order to get more done and be kinder doing it.

Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom (Paulist Press, 1970)
- This is a gift; written by an orthodox priest, it offers those who would follow a path toward the love of God. I revisited it a month into sheltering in place during the pandemic, and found it to be as enlightening as previous reads.

Brain Rules (Updated and Expanded) by John Medina (Pear Press, 2014)
- Written by a neuroscientist, this is the layperson's guide to the real science of how our brains work. Every page is filled with stories and truths to apply right away. This book is transforming.

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr (Jossey-Bass, 2011)
- A deep look into the truth of the Gospel: we are made to rise and fail, win and lose, conquer and fail. It is an affirmation of our wins and triumphs and being exposed as vulnerable. Shouldn't be read until age 35+.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller (John Murray Press, 2011)
- This has become the second book I give to every couple I sit with to prepare for their wedding and marriage. I love their approach to marriage - a sacramental gift from heaven intended to grow our faith and trust in God.  

The Holy Bible 
- The true story of the God who made us and is saving us. Start with Mark and then try reading it from beginning to end. You have my permission to skip some lists and genealogies in the Old Testament your first time through.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Love in a global pandemic

   The world needs love. 
   I give a copy of Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages as one of two books for study to every couple preparing for marriage with whom I meet. I've been doing this for nearly twenty years, and the truths he offers in it are still being received with sincere delight by a second generation of couples. He proposes that each person is built the same: to be loved. However, each person receives and experiences love in one of five broad ways, or languages: quality time, physical touch, acts of service, giving & receiving gifts, and words of affirmation.
   Earlier this week, as our staff was talking through how we could extend the love of Jesus out to our congregation and to our community, in particular to healthcare workers, we came to the realization that expressing love through the first two of these languages is essentially taken away during this global pandemic. Quality time and appropriate physical touch are not safe, outside of the relationships we have at home.
   For our staff, it meant more brainstorming of ideas on how to care and keep people safe. For our homes, it makes me think that it is even more critical now that we express love to each other in this upside season. Everyone is off their routine and that includes some of the places and relationships from whom we receive love.
   The world needs love. And Christians are called to provide it, through the abundance of the love we have received from God. John 13:34 says, "I give you a new commandment: Love each other." 
   Grace and peace, Scott

Saturday, July 13, 2019

These Enduring Tasks remain Essential for All of Us

   While the sound of fireworks can still be heard all around my house most nights, the official celebrations have ended. Everyone knows July 4, 1776, the day that the Continental Congress finalized the formal Declaration of Independence. But, what about July 9? Here is the background... 
   In the summer of 1776, as many as 32,000 British troops were gathering on nearby Staten Island. They were preparing to engage their enemy - the rebels of the American colonies. Knowing that the first official battle of the American Revolution was coming, General George Washington conveyed two direct orders to the Brigade Majors who commanded the troops. 
   First, he ordered that the brand new Declaration of Independence be read out to soldiers of the Continental Army in Manhattan. He believed reading the Declaration "will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms." He wants them to be inspired.
   Second, he passes along the news that the Continental Congress has made funds available to hire a Chaplain for every regiment! He writes that the "Commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure Chaplains accordingly; persons of good Characters and exemplary lives - To see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and attend carefully upon religious exercises. The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger - The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country." He wants them to be spiritually cared for.
   Similarly, these are the primary tasks of the local church: to be a place where people encounter the God who inspires us and cares for us. I am humbled to serve a church that lives this out. God wants to connect with us and does that best through our relationships with others. 
   Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The God who remembers

   The earth has circled back to Memorial Day. What does it mean to set aside a weekend, or even a day, as a memorial? It is a fair question. Some would argue that to spend time dwelling on the past is a waste, and not a good use of the most precious present. I would tend to agree when it comes to many of the ways we memorialize the past. Time spent on regrets, grudges, or perceived wrongs is a waste. Spending time asking 'what if' about a thing we should have moved on from, is also not the best use of our time. There is value, however, in revisiting the past if neglecting to do so diminishes us. 
   Elie Wiesel was a survivor of the Holocaust in Germany that murdered his family, along with 17 million others. He once said, 

"Without memory, there is no culture. 
Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future." 

Wiesel went on to say that, "After all, God is God because he remembers." He remembers promises to save and provide, and he remembers our suffering. That is powerful. To be the church that seeks after God, we must also be dedicated to remembering. 
   May we set aside time - truly dedicate time this weekend - to remembering those who have offered their very lives for freedom. May we honor everyone who has served. 
   Grace and peace, Scott

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Act Like You Love People and You Will

   I have been thinking about actions and in-actions. Like many Christians, and many people within this church, I have given something up for these 40 days leading up to Easter. My Lenten observance involves not doing something that I normally would do everyday, and the amount of time saved has been a delight.
   The saying goes, "You are what you eat." I think it is also true that we are what we do. "Actions speak louder than words," would be the phrase to capture that. I think our actions, and inactions, have the power to steer our lives. Which is probably why the early church started suggesting that we "do" something or stop doing something as a way of preparing for Easter.
   This power of what we choose to do and not do extends to our relationships with others. C.S. Lewis even suggests acting lovingly has the power to change our feelings towards other people.

The rule for all of us is perfectly simple.  Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did.  As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.  If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more.  If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.
- C. S. Lewis

   How we act has the power to influence how we feel. So often, we believe that only the opposite is true. He is saying that if we act like we love people, we will.
   No wonder we find a mysterious power in laying aside things, or fasting, during Lent that draws us closer to God. The actions have the power to change us from the outside inward. May you continue to find God's power at work in what you do - and choose not to do - this Season. Grace and peace, Scott

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Out of Balance

   I had been running on Monday long enough for the sharp pain in my ankle to subside, and the burning of my lungs to be dulled, that I was almost enjoying it. Through the tears my eyes landed on something shiny ahead and I scooped it up to see what treasure I had found. It was a wheel weight and I immediately thought of the Season of Lent.
   As most people know, when the an automobile tire rotates at a high speed, asymmetries can cause it to hop or wobble. They are often felt in the entire vehicle. When tires are fitted to wheels at the shop they are balanced and corrective wheel weights are applied to counteract the effect of the unbalance. Put another way, even well-made tires often have some imperfections, magnified when spun around quickly, that need to be adjusted and corrected periodically.
   I think this is true of disciples of Jesus Christ. We need, from time to time, to come in for inspection and correction. Our lives often feel like they are spinning quickly, maybe even close to out of control, and the vibrations make it difficult to steer. The Church offers us the Season of Lent for introspection and re-balancing. Every year I hear myself saying, "Put something down in order that you can pick something else up." This is the very language of rearranging and finding balance, again.
   Somewhere down the highway is a car that needs to be balancing, since this missing weight is sitting on my desk. I pray that they get help before the vibrations do damage or cause harm. I pray the same for you and for me. Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Without failure, who would you be?

   Allow me to pass along a powerful word that I heard earlier this week. The value of the lesson extends far beyond the football field. Nick Foles, who nearly quit football 18 months ago, began this season as a forgotten back-up on a team most considered to be a long-shot this year. He shared this after his Philadelphia Eagles beat the Patriots and he was named the game's MVP:

"I think the big thing is don’t be afraid to fail. In our society today, Instagram and Twitter is a highlight reel. It’s all the good things. When you look at it, you’re like ‘Wow’ when you’ve had a rough day and thinking your life is not as good as that. Failure is a part of life. Without failure, who would you be? I wouldn’t be up here if I hadn’t fallen thousands of times and made mistakes. We all are human. We all have weaknesses, and I think being able to share this and be transparent — I know when people speak and share their weaknesses, I’m listening, because I can resonate. So, I’m not perfect. I might be in the NFL and we may have just won the Super Bowl, but I still have daily struggles. That’s where my faith comes in and that’s where my family comes in. And I think when you have a struggle in your life, just know that’s just an opportunity for your character to grow.”

   It has been widely shared that Foles is a student in a Christian college and intends to become a minister with students when he finishes his career. I can see why! The depth of his understanding of how God uses the struggles of our journey to bring about the holy-making work of sanctification is beautiful. Lisa Klug shared how she finds this very truth in James 1:2-6:
My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.
   May God be glorified in the words he shared and may we all take them to heart. Grace and peace, Scott