Sad Times

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Photo: St Andrew’s – Mt. Pleasant Facebook page

Sunday morning, the ministry center for the church community I called home for seven years, who’s congregation prayed with and for me through some of the most difficult times of my life, the building I spent nearly three years, up until about 8 weeks ago, working to help coordinate and maintain, burned beyond repair. The exact cause has yet to be determined but is believed to be something electrical.

It wasn’t a hate crime or terrorists, it’s parishioners won’t be killed or sold into slavery. Insurance will cover the financial loss. Not one person got hurt in the fire or in the fight that extinguished it and saved the historic church building, mere feet away, from any harm. The loss is in the heart. The shock of seeing something you care about devastated by fire, the reaching in for the tattered remnants of things that look salvageable, often to find they’re not, it feels desperate and helpless. It’s saddening.

Despite the damage centered around it, the cross still stands, both literally and figuratively. Jesus promised difficult times and redemption. I’m reminded of the fragility and temporary nature of the material world, and the eternal and unchanging glory of God.

The good works of St. Andrew’s will continue and they will rebuild. I ask you to pray for the congregation and leadership of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church as they navigate the way forward.

Thankful

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A Google images search of nearly any word or phrase will give you a wide variety of visual representations of what the word or phrase describes. Thankful, will not.

The quick-tech flashy world we live in has a million references for almost everything.  A definition, an icon, logo, meme, gif, and different pictures for anything you can imagine can be referenced in an instant. You can type any variety of common words or phrases and get hundreds of different images to represent it. Thankful, a very common word only seems to have one. There are different angles and different people in them, but they are all essentially the same, a person standing alone in a natural setting with their arms raised as to heaven. Quotes and poems overlay some of them, all trying to express thanks or encapsulate what it means to be thankful. But why is this the image that represents it?

From our first steps to graduating from school, a job, promotion, even the number of friends we have, we measure ourselves and others by accomplishment. We’re taught our entire lives that being loved and celebrated requires something of us. We get help along the way, opportunities granted, mistakes forgiven, shortcomings accommodated. But still, we are expected to perform at some level to be accepted.

Few things in this world are just given to us, even fewer that we really don’t think we deserve on some level or have any sort of strings attached. So when it happens, it brings the best of our emotions together, and brings out the best in us. Welling up with emotions words cannot express compells us to voice our praise and reach up, reach out, try to make the giver and the gift tangible, and make them aware of our gratitude. There is a noticeable difference between someone who is grateful for what they’ve been given and those who don’t. Maybe not at first, the gushing and embracing may look the same on the surface, but true gratitude changes us. A gift we know we didn’t earn makes us step up. Not to achieve anything, we already have it. We step up to honor the gift and the giver.

Christ was crucified and defeated death for us. He gives us life and peace. We don’t deserve either, we can’t earn either. The greatest gift, the eternal gift. All we can do is accept or not accept. We can’t pay it back. There is nothing we can do to make it “square”. Being eternally grateful, in awe of God’s grace is our only possible response if we accept the way, the truth and the life that is Jesus Christ. Acceptance of this gift truly transforms us, thankfulness starts replacing pride, greed and power as the thing that drives our positive emotions until we no longer pat ourselves on the back, but reach up to heaven, overflowing with love, joy and trust.

Who’s Your Audience?

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The coliseum in Rome, The Sidney Opera House, Madison Square Garden, places designed and built for people to present a message or display the performance of some act in front of an audience. Stadiums and theaters, churches and synagogues of all sizes and shapes are in every city and town around the world. While these places are intentionally there for one or more people to share something with one or more other people, the fact is we are all performing all the time for someone. Whether we consciously think about it all the time or not, we are putting on a display for all to see any time we’re not alone. Anyone who practices or performs anything for the purpose of displaying it even when they are alone, is planning for their audience. Even the things we do by and for ourselves have an audience. But who?

“All the world’s a stage,…” William Shakespeare’s poem points out his seven stages of performance in a man’s life, regardless of who’s watching. “…know your audience.” Tennessee Ernie Ford and countless speech and performance coaches remind us to be aware of the perception others will have on our performance. An audience can be a single person, a group of people or even all people. Some things are for our own entertainment or pleasure, an audience of one. Some are for others to see, anything from the way we dress, walk and talk in public, to a particular act. Many things provoke a response from our audience, making us aware, (if we weren’t already) of our audience, and how our performance was received. While many people give great thought to their performances and the responses achieved, throughout the stages of our lives we all pay varying attention to our audience.

Everyday activities and world class performances all have an audience, both intended an unintended. Many authors and performers have recommended choosing a single person or character to focus on. People put on a certain attire or act in a certain way to draw the attention of a single person. ”Audience of One.” The Athletes in Action catch phrase recently re-made famous by Phillidelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz in creating the AO1 foundation, is about choosing and targeting our audience. Specifically, choosing Jesus Christ, as our audience for everything we do.

Long before the WWJD bracelet craze, my grandmother asked me during a particularly rebellious time in my life, “Do you think about what Jesus would think of the the things you do?” I answered yes, but up until then, I didn’t. Since then, I can’t help but be reminded that even in the performances that never leave the confines of my own mind, someone is watching. Whether we choose God as our audience and live our lives in a way that honors him or not, he sees us, and like any audience, he does respond.

Who are you performing for?

A Normal Christian

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I’m just a regular guy. Stop laughing. Ok, so I may not be your average guy in many respects. I’m taller than average, less patience than average, I have gray eyes, I’ve been told many times, “I’ve never met anyone quite like you.” Though I don’t know exactly what people mean by that, whether it’s good or bad, I take it as a compliment. I like to be seen as an individual, I think most people do. But if I take a look at my life, it’s much like the lives of countless others.

When I look at other people I tend to generalize, I think we all do to a certain degree. Not stereotyping or judging, just making associations, the kind I make about myself in seeing myself as regular guy. The more we get to know people the more individual they become as we discover the nuances that make them different than anyone else we’ve met. For years I had a general picture of a typical church going Christian, a sort of Ned Flanders type who in my eyes, was nothing like me.

Now I am a typical church going Christian. The more I get to know other church going Christians the less “Ned Flanders” they appear. I’d like to see pictures posted in the comments section from other individual but typical Christians doing things you do every day. Spend your week in a uniform? Let’s see it. Scrubs? Bring ‘em on. Filthy from head to toe and carrying a bit of an odor? Post with pride. The world needs reminded that Christians are just a bunch of individuals like them, made equal in the eyes of the Father by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Are You a Closet Christian?

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According to official sounding research companies, 50-60% of adults in America go to religious services regularly. Use of the term “regularly” is rather loose but it’s fair to say a little over half of us do so at least once or twice a year. (Church based estimates put about 18% of the population in church on a given week.) Polls of course suffer from several weaknesses, not the least of which is the total exclusion from their calculations, the positions of the population who don’t participate in surveys. Another glaring fault is the dependence on peoples honesty and\or self-perception. A lot of people who claim to do things regularly, in reality do them occasionally, or not at all but like to think they do or at least give the impression that they do. But, these are the best numbers we have so we’ll work from there.

On the other side you have 40-50% of the population who fully admit to never or rarely going to religious services. Polling the polls shows that roughly 4-10% of Americans don’t believe in God. (Unless you look at atheist propaganda, in which case the number grows to as high as 27%.) The same research says 70-85% of the population self-identifies as Christian leaving the remaining 6-21% divided among other religions, or part of the rapidly growing “nones”, who believe in God or a greater power but have no preferred religious doctrine or defined set of beliefs. Which means roughly 25-30% of the general population in the United States claims to be Christian, while never going to church.

So, every other person you see walking down the street, in the car next to you at the traffic light, or passing you in the aisle at the grocery store practices their religion among others of their shared faith. Approximately every third person you see believes in Christ, but chooses not to engage the community of their faith. Feeling the undeniable pull of spirituality while living in a primarily Christian society, they identify as Christians. Some because they are, whatever their reason for not gathering with other believers has not stopped them from believing. Others simply go with the flow, everybody else said Christian and they don’t want to be singled out.

If you are among the roughly one-third of the population who believes, or wants to believe in Christ but never consider going to church for whatever reason, I challenge you to go at least 4 times in the next two months. Even if you find no particular connection with that particular congregation, I’ll bet you feel more connected to your faith. If you are one of the regulars who isn’t so regular, slow down, remember the peace of God and share in it as often as you can.

 

Where are you?

I began this page to get people thinking, engaging and talking about the real questions they have about faith and Jesus Christ. It was never my intent to use it as a preaching platform and the articles I have posted thus far have been intended to give you a general feel for my positions on a few things, to know where I am coming from. So far there has been little to no action in the conversation-starting department.

For those of you who have taken the time to read my posts, I thank you. If the kind of articles I have posted are appreciated and you would like to see more, please like this post or let me know in some other way and I will continue. I also plan to begin posting more conversation starters. I know most of you have opinions or views which differ from mine and I’d like to hear them. If we don’t share, we can’t grow.