An “Aching Back” in the Body of Christ

Have you ever had a back problem?  I have had that unpleasant experience several times in my life.  Most often for me it didn’t happen because I lifted some extra heavy piece of furniture or four bundles of shingles rather than three 😊 (I’m lucky if I can pick up one!)  No, most often it happens as I bend over to pick up a piece of paper on the floor or carry out some other routine task I do several times a day.  But this time I feel the crunch of muscles behaving badly and I know it’s time to start the heat and ice routine as the next several days are not going to be fun.

If you’ve had this “spine tingling” experience you know it’s awful.  The thing about it that’s most distressing is that when the pain is at its most debilitating, there is no comfortable position.  It seems that every way you shift your body a new shot of pain erupts.  Everything within you tightens up to try to protect your back and that only makes it worse.

As I thought about this experience recently, it reminded me of the behavior I sometimes see in churches.  Perhaps the congregation has been through a recent conflict.  Perhaps they have tried something new that didn’t work out so well.  Perhaps they’ve been dealing with the loss of significant givers either because folks have left or because they have died, and for the first time they are facing significant financial difficulties.  Perhaps they are just watching their membership decrease year by year and are wondering what the future will hold.

In many of these scenarios the church begins to “seize up.” People become more and more fearful and try to hold on more and more tightly to what isn’t working, hoping it will somehow just get better.  It feels like everywhere they turn there is pain.  And it is literally paralyzing.

So as we find ourselves in a place like that, how can we − the “Body of Christ” − discover the path to moving more freely in the Spirit when we are “locked up” by fear, dysfunction, or a focus on pain?  How can we move beyond ourselves when all we can think about is how much it hurts?  So many churches I see are living in this situation.

What is the “ice and heat” that brings healing and hope for a future that is good and filled with promise?  What is the treatment that brings curative wholeness?  Well, I think it begins when a willingness to risk starts again, as a disposition to trust the Spirit one more time and seek to follow where God is leading begins to sprout.  It begins as we choose forgiveness and let go of the stone against another that we’re holding in our hands.  It begins as we seek and see a vision for health.  For we must believe that we can get well.  And we must be willing to do whatever it takes to move towards that place of well-being.

Sadly, sometimes folks see no other option but to lay on the couch languishing in the pain.  They don’t dare move for fear the sharp stabbing pain will still be there.  I get that.  But if we are willing to treat the injury, as we take the steps towards healing, ultimately there comes a time when we need to get up and walk.  We need to engage health, or health will forever elude us.

So, if any of this resonates with you in your setting, if with all you’ve tried you still find yourselves stuck on the couch, perhaps it’s time for you, for your church to as Jesus put it “take up your bed and walk.”  Who knows what good things await you and your community if you do.

Peace,
Bill

A Snow Day!

Snow Day!!  Oh, I loved those two words when I was a kid.  The opportunity to turn off the alarm, roll over and sleep until I wanted to get up.  It was a wonderful gift.  This past Monday was a snow day for most kids in lower Michigan.  The various school district names scrolled across the TV screen all Sunday night into Monday morning as kids (and teachers too!) got the day off.

Snow Days are a surprise, they are a gift in the middle of the usual routine.  It’s a regular week and then the snow piles up and we get a day off, a break we hadn’t planned on.

As I was watching Monday’s snow day unfold, it got me thinking about Christmas and the coming of Jesus into the world.  I mean think about it, while there was anticipation, while there were indeed prophesies and promises, life was going on pretty much the way it always had.  People went to work, politics were politics and the Temple activity carried on as it always had.  But then, as Luke tells us, one night, into the usual routine of caring for their sheep, some shepherds receive an announcement from angels in the heavens.  A remarkable star shone in the sky and wise ones took time off from their usual routines to follow that star.  And the Good News ─ he had been awaiting for many years ─ came to a devout man named Simeon.

So, what I’m wondering as I enjoy this opportunity to work at home ─ rather than drive to the meetings I would have been attending had they not been cancelled due to this snow day ─ is what Christmas surprises are in store for us this year?  What is it God wants to show us, to help us see, to enable us to experience this Christmas?  My guess is that whatever it is will not show up on the crawler at the bottom of our TV screen!  We will need to look for it.  We will need to pay attention so that we don’t miss it.  But I do believe that God does want us to receive a gift this Christmas.  God wants us to receive the precise gift that God has for us whatever that may be.  And God knows what that gift is.

It may be a fresh vision for our ministry. 
It may be a new awareness, a deep reminder of just how much God loves us. 
It may be the gift of another snow day so we can rest! 

But whatever it is I pray that we will receive it, that we will find in it the gift God intends, and we will be blessed.

Peace,
Bill

P.S.  This will be my last Castings for 2016, so have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year!!

Thanksgiving Blessings

I remember as a teenager listening to Arlo Guthrie talking about the comparisons we make with others when we are feeling bad.  For instance, when we say to someone who is having a bad day or a difficult time, “Well, don’t feel so bad, at least you aren’t like so and so who….(you pick the appropriate difficult circumstance).”  While I’m not suggesting this is a very helpful way to comfort a person feeling low.  Arlo took the concept a little further.  He wondered aloud, “But what about the last guy?  Nobody’s got it worse than that guy.  Nobody in the whole world.”  It was kind of a provocative thought for me to take in, (especially at 16!).  Who has it the worst?  Who is the last guy, the last person?

Well at 60, I still don’t know if I could identify Arlo’s “last person.”  I’m not sure who that person might be today.  But the sad reality is that there is no shortage of candidates.  There are millions of children who are hungry, there are millions affected by deadly diseases, and even more tragic, millions more affected by diseases that are treatable, but who find themselves in places or situations where the medicines to help them are simply not available. There are homeless, lonely people all around us.  There are lots of “last” people in need.

At our house this week we with gather with 20 or so family members from a variety of places in the world, to celebrate Thanksgiving.  A wonderful and appropriate thing to do.  We will feast and laugh and have, what I trust will be, a rich time together.  And again, that’s a good thing!  Jesus feasted and celebrated at times, and it is my sincere hope that you will have some opportunity to be together with some special people in your life, sharing some level of feast and thanks giving for the gifts and the blessings of your life.

But as we give thanks, may we do so remembering the needs around us. May we do so with an eye towards those who find themselves, for a variety of reasons, and from a variety of perspectives, in that category of “lasts.”  May we take the opportunity in the days ahead, to find ways, as individuals, as congregations, as people who follow Jesus, to make a difference in the lives of the folks in need around us.  May we choose to engage the needs of those in all our spheres of influence with practical resources and with the love of Jesus Christ.  May we do it all so that our giving thanks tomorrow will not simply be an exercise in celebrating our blessings, but rather a fresh reminder that we are always blessed so that we might be a blessing to others.

Thanksgiving blessings to you all,
Bill

Jesus Taught us a Third Way of Thinking

A third way. It’s a concept that I like. Third way thinking says simply that very often there aren’t just two ways to go. There isn’t just a right or wrong, forward or backward, this way or that way option, but rather there is very often a third way we might follow as we deal with a given situation. The interesting thing about third way thinking is that most of the time it requires us to work a lot harder.

Two sided thinking is easy. It is clear. I’m right, you’re wrong. This is the way to go or that is the way to go and those are the only options. Two sided thinking by definition creates opposing, conflicting, perspectives. It is either this or that. Third way thinking requires us to go beyond the easy course of two sided conflict to discover a new alternative. It requires creativity and often humility. It demands that we push beyond what is easy to embrace that which may stretch us and cause us to find a way we never considered before.

Jesus taught third ways all the time. His culture demanded that one was either Jew or Gentile with all kinds of rules around what that meant and how one lived out that reality. Jesus found ways to embrace the humanity in everyone and widened the circle beyond the two sided cultural construct. The culture says there are enemies and friends and everyone is treated appropriately according to those categories. Friends you treat well and enemies you seek to hurt or kill. Jesus invited a third way that called us to love enemies as well as friends and end the circle of violence both real and emotional, that always seems to accompany the way enemies are treated. Jesus third way invites us to see again the humanity even in the enemy and treat them accordingly, giving the best opportunity for a change in the relationship.

Two way thinking says that evil, anger, and violence can only be defeated by a stronger force ─ greater violence ─ that overcomes the violence first perpetrated upon us. My mother invoked this thinking when I told her that my friend had gotten angry and hit me. Her response was, “hit him back.” Jesus’ third way thinking invites us to resist evil and violence differently. He invites us to resist it to be sure, but to resist it without engaging in it, to resist it without falling into its cyclical spiral, to resist it in ways that actually defeat it by pointing out its futility and evil through creative non-violent means.

I suppose that the ultimate third way is seen in the reality of Easter. Until Easter, there was life and death. Jesus invites us to see a third way which is life through death. That reality really changes everything and opens up all the avenues of third way thinking.

May we be those as individuals, as congregations, as a Denomination, who choose not to settle for two sided thinking, but who instead seek to discover third ways, ways that often only come through humility, prayer, and the guidance and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Peace,
Bill

December 9, 2015

The day before Thanksgiving we had two new babies born into our family.  One to my niece on my wife’s side, one to my niece on my side of the family.  It was a great day!  Lots of Facebook activity and celebrating and pictures.  A wonderful day for rejoicing over the gift of these new lives.

Both children were very healthy.  Each mom received the good nutrition we would expect for pregnant women in our country.  Both had excellent medical care facilities where they gave birth.  It was just as we expect for those of us who live in this part of the world.

And while I’m very grateful for those wonderful gifts, and the multitude of other benefits we have as citizens of this wealthy nation, I am dismayed at times by the fear and unwillingness in some circles to offer even the basics of life to those most in need.  This is still true for far too many who live within our borders, but it seems especially true as we allow fear and greed to keep refugees from entering “our” country.  I can’t help but wonder what God must think of our behavior.  As we bask in the glow of our warm homes and abundance this Advent Season, millions are in need of care around the world.  Many refugees need safety, health and hope but instead are finding closed doors and the threat of a lengthier process than the already very lengthy and ineffective process that’s in place.

Scripture is very clear about the responsibility we have as Christ followers to care for the least and most vulnerable among us.  Scripture is very clear about the need to risk and even to give up at least a portion of what we have for the benefit of others.  In this season when we are preparing to receive again the gift of the Christ who let go of the glory of heaven for our sake, it is a sad state of affairs to see the firm grip with which we are seeking to grasp our own glory.

So may this season of Advent turn us, as individuals and as a nation, toward the goal of welcome and hospitality.  May we choose to let go of fear and overcome evil with good.  May we share out of our abundance with those in need, down the street and around the world.  May we be those who live up to our calling as followers of Christ to love actually and not just in theory.

Peace,
Bill