Tuesday, April 23, 2013

the Spirit will lead...

...the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God...
 — 1 Corinthians 2:10
           Most Americans consider themselves spiritual people.  But what do they mean when they say this?  That their lives have been changed by a profound encounter with God?  That they have turned away from a life of gathering possessions and consuming the products of our culture?  That they have dedicated their lives to helping the sick, poor and outcast of the world?  Hmmm.  Somehow I doubt it. 
           Research suggests that for most people being “spiritual” means that they have a certain respect for religious values.  Maybe they believe in higher principles of morality and see the order in the natural world as a sign of a plan behind creation.  Perhaps they have felt powerfully moved by a piece of music or been put at a loss for words by a beautiful sunset, and made to feel a part of something bigger than themselves.  Many even feel an inexplicable “guiding hand” upon their lives, leading and protecting them through difficult times.  In that sense, we’re probably all “spiritual” people because, whether we know it or not, whether we use it or not, we all have to some degree an inborn sense for God.
 For some that sense is ignored, repressed, or put aside as a childish fantasy.  For others, it takes center stage in their life, pushing all else out.  Even in the early church “super-spiritual” people were a problem because they believed they had the only hotline to the Lord.  They refused to examine their beliefs or actions in view of others.  Spiritual experiences became more important to them than love or discipline.
           In her book about spiritual gifts called In Our Music, God, our own choir director Ruby Agnir has an engaging chapter on that phrase, “the Spirit will lead me.”  She writes, “Don’t get me wrong.  I firmly believe that we need the leading of the Spirit in everything we do.  However, if we use the phrase ‘the Spirit will lead me’ in the context of ‘I don’t have time to prepare,’ or ‘I don’t have to train to do this,’ then it’s merely an echoing of the third servant’s decision to keep the talent given him and not do anything about it [see Matthew 25:14-30].  It’s just another way of saying, ‘Come what may.’”
          I love the season of Pentecost, because it shows us what mystery and mighty energy can be experienced in God’s presence.  The Spirit does lead us and guide us, as it does even for people outside the Church, and outside the Christian faith.  Pentecost brought people together and got them communicating, speaking each others’ languages so that the source of that Spirit could be named and praised.  Being part of a church, we experience that Spirit together.  We communicate, help, feed and encourage each other, share our ups and downs, pray for one another,  and work to bring all that love and care out into the world.  We know the source of that Spirit and we name Him with joy in our hearts — He is Jesus Christ. 

           But we don’t leave it at that.  We also GROW in the Spirit.  One of my greatest passions is to see individuals and congregations grow in Christ.  I love seeing people discover God’s love, and then seeing it change them into more loving people.  I love seeing people off doing their own thing coming together, communicating, cooperating, and making things happen that they could never have done on their own.  I love seeing people open their hearts to realize that, not only the spiritual things, but ALL of life’s blessings are gifts from God.  And I love it when we become more clear in our mission, more dedicated in our discipleship, more focused in following Jesus.
           The Spirit will lead us, of course.  We know that.  But we also know WHAT that Spirit is and WHOSE Spirit it is that leads us.  So we go back again and again to the waters of our Baptism, to the words of Scripture, to the bread and wine of the Holy Supper, and to the House of God where His people are gathered, growing, learning, and preparing to share God’s love in new ways.
Pastor Scott


Friday, April 5, 2013

My life a prayer

Just as you excel in all things - in faith, speech, knowledge in utmost eagerness and in our love for you - so we want you to excel also in this grace of giving”
     -- 2 Corinthians 8:7

Friends of Atonement,
            Alleluia!  CHRIST IS RISEN!!!
            Praise is in the air…  We praise great artists or athletes for great achievements.  We praise children when they get good grades or do something extra nice.  We look for praise from our spouse, friends or a boss.  But the most pure and perfect praise is the amazed and awestruck reaction we make to God’s incredible love.
              One of my favorite Christian songs is by the great Keith Green, who sang:
                           I want to make my life a prayer to you,
                          I want to do what you want me to,
                        No empty words and no white lies,
                       No token prayers, no compromise.
  What an amazing concept – to make our WHOLE LIVES a prayer to God!  Is it possible to make everything we do a response to his love?  I know you’ve sung the song Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, and Easter tells us he loves us so much He came back from the dead.  But how does Jesus know we love him back?  The answer of course, is praise.

The season of Easter was made for praise.  If we were could wrap up all the marvelous things God has done for us into one big package, there would be no way to say thank you for all of it.  Words fail, as they did for the women who stood gaping into the empty tomb on that first Easter day.
            The best we can do is stand back and thank God for one thing at a time.  We count our blessings, list off the gifts God gives us, thank the Lord for each loved one, each friend and family member, our pets, our property, each healed wound and every satisfied stomach.  We thank him with our prayers, our words, and our very lives.
            I can’t think of a better way to live than to make our lives a prayer to Jesus.   Your loving deeds, care for others and gracious generosity give praise to God as much as any spoken prayer ever could.  After all, the difference between a donation and an offering is the donation is for charity, the offering is for praising God.  When you give with your heart, thankful for your blessings and grateful to God, you are not just helping the church.  You are turning your gift into a prayer.
            Thanks as always for being behind the work that goes on here at Atonement.  I know that our Risen Savior stands behind you.  As we continue our ministries of worship and teaching, as we bring people closer to Jesus by feeding needy families, caring for the sick and homebound, supporting our community and sharing the joy of our Living Lord, I am grateful that God has made you a part of it all.  I hope with all my heart that through your involvement and participation in our mission to share the love of Jesus, you are inspired and enabled to make your life a prayer to Him. 
Pastor Scott

Almost dawn on a new day

But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners
Christ died for us.
       — Psalm 8:4

            The hammering, pouring, painting, stuccoing, fixing, cleaning and general constructioning will soon be over.  Things will soon be settling down to normal.  Not.
              If I’ve learned anything from working in the church, it’s that there is no normal.  Quiet never lasts long if your church is healthy and alive.  After all, we have a Living Savior who was so  discontented with quiet that He got up out of His grave!  Ours is a restless faith that refuses to let us sit back as long as there is still work to be done, still people suffering in this world, still hearts beating without hope, still people needing Jesus.
       And yet, God is good to us and knows we need a breather now and then, built into the rhythms of this life.  We can’t keep going, firing on all cylinders all the time.  We need time to stop and smell the roses, or as Jesus put it, to “consider the lilies.” 
      Worship is one way that this happens.   Gathering with other people of faith, praying together, hearing the promises of Scripture and remembering all we owe to God recharges our batteries in ways that golf or fishing just can’t match.  Plus, there’s that extra dimension that we actually get to respond to God’s goodness to us by giving back in our prayers and offerings, our time spent for others, a little of that amazing grace  He gave to us. 
        There is no law that says we must do these things, no rule that says we are obligated to attend so many services or put a certain amount into the plate.  God does not threaten to withhold
his love, or give us a slightly worse seat in heaven.  Instead, our participation in the work of the church is up to us as much as God’s decision to offer Himself for us was His.  These are acts that come from the heart, which more than anything make them works of love.
               How amazing, we say, that Christ died for us.  Easter happened for a dirty world, because God needed to do more than wipe a little smudge off of His child’s cheek.  It required a complete transformation of every human soul, but that’s not what happened.  Instead, God sent one clean Man to stand in for us, to give His blood for our own, to hold us to his breast and squeeze out our sin.  Not through our strength but through his sacrifice.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
So we worship to give Him thanks, to get a little transfusion of the soul and transformation of life.  It makes no sense in the economy of everyday life, just as it made no sense for that heartbroken maiden to pour all that expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet just before He went to the cross.  But God has given us so much and done so much for us, what kind of life would we be living if we didn’t go a little crazy now and then in our love for Him?  I mean, come on, He sent His Son… to die… for… us!
      So, all this work we’ve been doing, fixing up our yard, our building, painting the hallways and redoing floors, is about a whole lot more than making this place look nice.  We are pouring out a sacrifice on the feet of our Lord.  If we’re doing this right, it’s all for Him, and for the world He has sent us to serve.  We work to make this place attractive, not for us, but because it is our job to attract.  We have been commanded by Christ and blessed with a mission — to bring the world into the circle of faith.  The fresh, new life of Easter should shine from our faces and reflect down every hall of our church.  We’re not looking for anything fancy, just comfortable, warm, and inviting.  We are looking to create an environment at Atonement as friendly as the people.  Because it reflects the friend we have in Jesus.
      So let’s not forget, here on the verge of Easter,  why everything is so fresh and new around here.  We follow a Savior who got up out of bed on a Sunday morning, rolled away a stone and went out from the darkness of death into the dawn of a new morning.  Let’s go out with Him into this new day — after all, there’s still work to be done!
Pastor Scott