“Often we pass beside happiness without seeing it,
without looking at it, or even if we have seen and looked at it without recognizing it.”
Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Monte Cristo

There is a softness that threads its way into our spring- time hearts.  The ground softens, the earth awakens, and our souls dance in the season’s awakening.  There is such a mystery to the world.  Certainly science explains much of life’s truths, and yet there remains the realities of the unknown.  Could it be that perhaps by design there are not answers for everything just yet?  Could it be that there is a priceless gift nestled within that mystery which allows our very spirits to cling onto AWE and WONDER?

For as long as I can remember I have reveled in the joy of awe.  By design or by default I am a girl who loves God’s great earth and His creation.  For as long as I can remember my soul has felt tethered to His world, to His creatures, to HIM.

Pastor Kevin (or as I fondly call him, “PK”) asked me to introduce myself to his Calvary family.  It seems as if I am a bit of an unknown to his people.  Honestly, it is a bit of an awkward task, to talk about oneself, and yet the inquiry has produced in me all kinds of questions. What would you like to know about a small town country girl? How would I best paint a picture of myself, and what would satisfy your curiosities?  I began to wonder about such things, realizing that my not knowing you produces an unknown of how I might best introduce “me”.  Nevertheless…

I am 5’9″.   I weigh anywhere from 150 – 160 pounds, more or less depending upon if Dairy Queen is open yet or not.  I grew up right here in Rochester, Minnesota.  I have two older brothers who tortured me as a child, but, alas, love me as a friend. I have amazing parents and a wild quirky family with whom I fit in quite well. Our household consists of two leggeds and a delightful herd of four leggeds.  I am a grease – to – glitter kind of girl.  I work hard, I play hard, and I try to find happiness anywhere I can.  I have walked in the valley and discovered that lilies indeed do grow there, and I have climbed to the mountain tops to sing and to dance on high.  I have sojourned my way along God’s great earth and I have tried my best to really live and to really love.  I love Kevin Barnhart.  I love Mitchell, I love Alex and I love Grace.  I am certain that I will grow to love each of you as we are able to know one another.

All that being said, if there was one thing that I would want you to know about me, if all the other details were washed away, if it didn’t matter at the sunset of a day if I was 5’9″, 5″11″, or 5′, if it didn’t matter where I worked or for whom, if it didn’t matter what my favorite color was or the size of my shoes, if it was of no consequence the length of my horribly long run – on sentences, my terrible grammar or miserable spelling skills, if what you were really interested in was knowing my heart, well, the most succinct snap shot I could give you of me is this:  there is only one thing in this world that my heart beats for faster then your one and only Pastor Kevin, and that is our one and only GOD. I love Jesus more than anything else in all the world.  I am not perfect.  I am fallible and I am small. I am profoundly undeserving.  And yet God chose me. He chose you. He chose us!  And that, my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, that is a mystery that renders all of my words insufficient and brings me to my knees.  The details might be interesting, but the heart of the matter, the foundation of all things “me”, rests in my heart’s deepest desire to love, to know and to serve Him.

I love so much of Scripture that I am bound to say, “Oh! That is my favorite!” more often than not.  Allow me to weave one of my many, many, many, MANY favorite texts into this small story: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on his height or stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks at the outward appearance, but The Lord looks on the heart.”  (1 Samuel 16:7)

Of course, I understand that all this being said, you still may be interested in more of my nooks and crannies and may be even a little curious about all things boringly Bekah.  So if you want to know more, just remember, nothing says, “Let’s talk,” like a German chocolate blizzard from DQ, basically any kind of sugar, or Pastor Kevin’s pop- corn.  I mean, who wouldn’t give up their life’s secrets for something as delightful as that?

“No man is an island entire of itself,
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.” — John Donne

During Pastor Kevin’s sermon, “Waiting on God” based on the Acts 1:12-26 passage, given on Sunday, January 18th,  Pastor Kevin mentioned the different biblical accounts of how Judas died.   For those who are interested in more detail,  this is an additional explanation about Judas’ death and the related problems.

Two passages:

Matthew 27:3-10

3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” [1]

Acts 1:16-19

16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)[2]

Main idea in Matthew Main idea in Acts
Who bought the field? V.7 “they” = chief priests and elders v.3. Judas 1:18
Who did Judas die? Judas hung himself 5b Judas fell and his bowls broken open 1:18
What was the field called? “field of blood”v8 Field of blood 1:19

Questions:

  1. Why does Matthew say the chief priests and elders bought the field but Luke in Acts states Judas did?
  2. Why are there two different versions of Judas’ death? Is it hanging as Matthew states or falling as in Acts.
  3. Why does the prophecy call it the “potter’s field” when both Matthew and Luke call it “field of blood”?
  4. What prophecy is Matthew quoting? Many study Bibles have Zachariah as the foot note, but Matthew mentions the prophet Jerimiah. If it is Zachariah than why does Mathew mention Jeremiah? Is this an error?

Proposed answers:

  1. This might appear to be a discrepancy at first glance but looking deeper the verbs used in each passage are more nuanced. They are not the same words and each carries with it a different meaning.
    The summary: Judas provided the funding for the purchase of a plot of land when he threw the money into the Temple, however the actual transaction was effected by the chief priests and elders.
    As this money was blood money it could not be included in the normal Temple treasure as is stated in Matthew 27:6.
    The verb in Matthew 27:7 translated “bought” (
    ἀγοράζω.) means to effect a financial transaction. Also From ἀγορά, “market,” this means “to buy,” and is often used in the NT in relation to commercial life.[3]
    Where as in Luke’s description in Acts the verb he uses in 1:18 translated by ESV “acquired” is more particular, it can mean to gain through another. However for Luke the emphasis is not on how the transaction took place, rather the focus is on what it accomplished. Dr. Carson’s explanation is helpful: “The money bought him a burial place; that was to him the sole financial outcome of the iniquitous transaction.” [4]See also Broadus’ work. [5]
  2. The most likely answer extends all the way back to Augustine and it simply says both are true. That is Judas hung himself using a dead tree branch reaching over a ravine. He died in that act of hanging and then his body fell as the branch broke, at which point his bowls gushed out. It should be noted that many such ravines have been found in the area.
  3. Potter’s field seems to be the proper name most likely because it was a field which was used for clay. Once the clay was used up the field would be sold. The subsequent naming of the field – “field of blood” was connected to Judas’ death. Matthew’s statement “to this day” indicates the label stuck. Locals often do name things based on memorable events. This does not change the official name or a name by which it was known prior to the traumatic event. There is no contradiction here.
  4. Who Matthew is quoting is a much harder question. At first glance it appears to be a quotation of Zechariah 11:13. However a careful examination of the passages relative to the quote produces some differences. If this is a quote from Zechariah how could Matthew have made such a mistake? Wouldn’t his own familiarity with the prophets and he keen interest in fulfilled prophecy have prevented such a mistake, not to mention the dual authorship of the Holy Spirit? This question force us back to the prophet Jerimiah and search for a passage there. Dr. Carson suggest there is a good fit for Matthew’s point in Jeremiah 19:1-13. This seems for fit for several reasons the Potter’s field connection is strong. In 19:6 an additional connection is made as a burial grounds which fits the context with Judas’ death and using the field for burying foreigners. [6]
    For these reasons it is better to see Matthew as making an allusion to Zechariah while directly appeal to the prophet Jeremiah. This sort of treatment is far from uncommon among rabbinic sources.

 


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 27:3–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ac 1:16–19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964–). Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 1, p. 125). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

[4] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Matthew by D.A. Carson 1984. Grand Rapids MI, P. 564.

[5] http://www.amazon.com/Commentary-Matthew-John-A-Broadus/dp/0825422833

[6] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Matthew by D.A. Carson 1984. Grand Rapids MI, P. 562-566..

During Pastor Kevin’s sermon, “Blessed to Be a Blessing”  given on Sunday, October 19th 2014,  Pastor Kevin mentioned the different examples of giving.   For those who are interested in more detail,  this is an additional explanation about Storehouse Giving vs. Giving to Need.

Summary:

This document is intended to concisely summarize what each position states and then look at relevant Biblical precedent pointing to a balanced approach.

Storehouse giving can be described as view that emphasizes the leadership function in allocating resources to needs and opportunity based on the best information at the time. The spiritual leaders of a church prayerfully and mindfully consider the opportunities and the needs and then call people to give as a lifestyle and or spiritual discipline. The giving appeals are not tied specifically to needs, but rather are “laid at the apostle’s feet” (Acts 4:37, 5:2). The spiritual leaders make the decisions regarding where the funds are used. Storehouse giving would see these instances in Acts as normative for the church today. Likewise, this view emphasizes that the local church should receive these funds, not parachurch ministries. Many combine the storehouse view with the idea of tithing. A tithe goes to the storehouse/church while offerings (over and above) go to parachurch ministries (Malachi 3:10).

Need-based giving is a response often motivated by some apparent need. To pretend that responding to need is not a part of the giving decision is a fiction. Even when giving is done out of discipline and habit, there is nevertheless some aspect of responding to need. In fact, compassion is a response to need. Mercy is a response to need. To ask people to give without this fails to cultivate these essential outworkings of the Holy Spirit.

Major cultural factors that influence the conversation:

  • IRS laws that state a 501c3 “shall demonstrate control of the funds.” That is, when funds are given to a church or a non-profit, that group must demonstrate control of those funds and where they are allocated. The donor cannot exercise exact control over how those funds are spent. The donor might think of their gift as doing this or that but in financial terms, if the linkage is very direct this is seen as outside the bounds of what the organization can receive. Grey areas include: benevolence, targeted giving and very specific projects.
  • Sometimes organizations will demonstrate the power of a dollar, but these are not to be taken as a promise to use the funds exactly that way. Example: “For only $10 you can send fifty Bibles to Africa”. Your $10 donation might actually buy an appetizer to take out a million dollar donor to lunch. Now that doesn’t sell, so they don’t present it that way. People often confuse “power of a dollar” statements with a promise to use the funds for only that purpose.
  • Massive culture of marketing – We are bombarded with thousands of images every day designed to produce a response. We become resistant to this, which requires more and more imaginative ways to get around our defenses. Over time this produces a group of cynical individuals who are accustomed to see things as “marketing” and therefore readily ignore them without much thought.
  • Desired control – One way to control an organization is to control its money. We vote as consumers with our dollars. Many feel that voting politically is a waste of time, whereas voting with our feet and with our dollars almost always produces results. Some may desire to control systems through the introduction or withholding of resources.

Biblical precedent for giving based on discipline:

• The OT tithe is based on a discipline which had little to do with how the resources would be used. It is considered irrelevant if the individual identified with the end use or not. This concept of giving is taught as a duty rather than an emotional appeal to do the right thing. Basing spiritual disciplines solely on feelings is a dangerous thing and has eroded a principled-duty-based decision-making framework. The Bible strongly advocates a duty-based system which also connects to the heart.
• Not giving as we ought is described as robbing God (Malachi 1). The rationale is that God is owed our giving. If the appeal is primarily to give in response to need, then it could be argued that when we fail to give, we are not robbing God, and that what we do choose to give is “extra.” We may prefer to think of things this way, but if God sees it as robbing Him, who is right?
• Train the heart by calling for the action, and your heart will follow. The Biblical model is calling for the behavior and the heart will follow. Basing giving only on the need asks for the effect prior to the cause. Jesus says that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. By giving our treasure to God we move our heart in the process. The emotional basis assumes a set of values that is so often not present.
• Giving is a way to honor God which is not based on need. (Genesis 14:20)
• Giving confirms the idea that we are not our own; we are purchased at a price. This has nothing to do with need. (Numbers 3:51, I Corinthians 6:20)

Biblical precedent for giving as response to need:

  • People gave as a response to a need for building the tabernacle and the temple. This was a willing response that greatly edified everyone.
  • Giving to a need allows someone to feel personally connected to something in ways that “laying it at the Apostles feet” doesn’t. There was a higher level of investment and identification when they gave to a specific need. (Exodus 25:1-8, 36:2-6)
  • Paul repeatedly raised money for relief and support efforts on behalf of the believers in Jerusalem. (I Corinthians 16:1-3, Romans 15:26-28, Acts 15, Gal 2:10)
  • From everything we can tell of these efforts, they were very need-focused. In one case, there was a famine that was predicted and that occurred during Cladius’ reign. (Acts 11:18)

Key Passage: Paul uses need as a motivator in presenting a giving opportunity. (II Corinthinans 8:7-15) Even in this presentation of need, Paul calls for regular and systematic giving.

  • The early church based allocation of funds on need. (Acts 2:45)

A balanced approach:

Acts 4:34-35 — “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”

I think it is ironic that even in the passages which use the phrase “lay them at the apostle’s feet” also say the word “need(y)” twice. This verse itself points to a middle way. (cf Acts 2:45, which also uses “need.”) God has given both forms of giving for specific reasons, one of which is regular and predictable, protecting us from excessive preoccupations with our giving motivations. This form reminds us that we owe God honor when that motivates us and when it doesn’t. We are not our own and giving is an act of worship which is due God no matter how He or others might use those funds. God has also given us a form of giving to a known need. This allows us to grow in expressing compassion as we respond to needs. Even in this response to need we give systematically.

God’s word calls us to lay resources into the hands of spiritual leaders entrusted with the stewardship of faithfully using these funds to meet the most pressing needs. Determining what the most pressing needs are should be a collaborative process. Presenting needs and allowing needs to motivate giving is appropriate, but if that is the only motivation for giving, then this represents a problem. Our goal is more than fundraising. Our task as spiritual leaders is to grow the whole body into the full stature and measure of Christ. Enabling immature desire to control systems through targeted giving may be an effective fundraising strategy and yet fail to advance people into God’s vision for Christ-like character.

Conclusion:

God has given both regular/systematic forms of giving, and special response-to-needs forms of giving to help us accomplish all that God desires in our lives. Both forms are necessary and have their place. The primary form in Scripture seems to be regular giving, yet giving to need is never absent.

Want to blow up a social event?

Pull the pin with a few choice comments on religion and politics, then stand back and watch the opinions and emotions explode. Since the point of gathering together is to come together, we learn early in life to leave the tear-people-apart explosive topics at home.

When we gather together as a local church, one emotion-packed, explosive topic most people want left at home is money, and especially sermons on how some of that money belongs to God through the local church. There are many reasons for this. Some of us have been utterly church poisoned by our pockets being patted down in the name of Jesus. Others have happened by give-now-or-God-is-going-to-kill-me televangelists on cable. Still others have come out of churches that teach offerings are payment for services to God, or quarters in God’s slot machine of financial or physical blessings. Now add to these bad experiences Jesus’ warnings that money can replace God, or that the use of our money shows our heart condition and priorities, and let’s face it, it’s no wonder no-talk-rules have been put in place in many churches. In fact, for some churches, the very fact they don’t talk about money while other churches and ministries are abusing the topic suggests to them that their wise silence demonstrates their special trust in the provision of God.

moneyI have been processing and praying about this speak-up or stay-silent dilemma, and I feel I need to repent. I have been too silent on this subject for too long. I have tried to comfort myself that, in my commitment to primarily preach through whole books of the Bible, I just haven’t been in those books recently which speak much on God’s view of how we manage finances. But it seems clear to me that while some are growing in this area, others are not experiencing God’s blessing of aligning our treasure with our hearts.

The question how is how to strengthen this body. How I don’t want to do this is with guilt and pressure. It may surprise my church family in the pews, but as one who sits in the pew with my family two services each Sunday, I too, feel the reality of pressure and guilt when it comes to giving. Since Emma and I normally give in the second service, when the offering bag comes by in the first service, there is always that awkward moment I find this almost irresistible desire to explain to the usher why I am passing the bag by. I hope it will ease worries that I have been there and don’t like how that feels. I also hope it will help you to know how I long to create a grace-saturated environment, in which God speaks clearly about financial stewardship through the instruction of God’s Word, not through the condemnation of the Enemy.

What does God want from us in giving? Why does this matter? Beginning in June, I want to start to robustly explore God’s view of the heart-treasure principle – that there is a strong relationship between our heart and our treasure. Where one goes, the other goes. We will fund what we value, and we will value what we fund. I am praying that God will continue to transform us as we break the silence in this important area of our lives.

Dividing to Multiply Beauty

Last Spring Emma and I bought a bank-owned property “as-is.”  Those two words, “as is” must have been very important to our bank because they made us sign about 15 separate “as is” documents. After “as is” document #10, we got a little nervous about what was waiting for us.

The landscaping was “as is,” that’s for sure. My girls were brimming with ideas. But when they got to the flowerbeds, well, let’s just say the flower beds were suffering from perennial neglect.  Emma put out the word, and two friends who love beauty and who love to grow things said they would love to loan us their green thumbs and help. For them help meant making a mess. They called it “dividing,” though digging seemed a more apt description. Gardeners reading this know that these friends were practicing “tough love” – providing space for cramped roots to grow.

It was a lot of work. Theydug them up, moved them to the spot we busted in the sod with a sod buster and a temperamental tiller, and dug them in. It also looked painful. Throughout the process, the plants drooped. I’ve heard you should talk to plants, but if plants talked back, I am almost certain I heard these say, “Why did you do this? We loved it where we were!” One of Emma’s friends assured us, “It will take a little time, but they will do wonderfully here.”

On October 6, Calvary got to see first-hand what it is like to multiply by dividing, as a half dozen Calvary families were transplanted to a freshly cultivated setting downtown. I know the words “dividing” or “splitting” are bad words when it comes to churches. Who wants to be a part of a church that splits? Well, we do, if the reason for splitting is to spread beauty to another location for the enjoyment of other people. The difference is in the purpose.

Some people look at their church and say, “It’s beautiful, let’s enjoy it!” Others see the same church and say, “It’s beautiful, let’s share it!” Again, the difference is in purpose. As with our plants, dividing or splitting is a lot of work. The Gathering Church flows out of almost a year of prayer and planning and training within its core. In the case of several core families, they have literally had to uproot from another location to plant themselves in Rochester. And we should not be surprised if we see a little drooping. In time as we stay the course, God will restore the roots, helping them to flourish and giving us room to grow, too!

Has it worked? Yes, in both our flowerbed and our church. Consider these two transplant families, Mark and Barb Fisher, and Adrian and Melissa Dingley. Mark and Barb have been very active in various ministries at Calvary. Barb has helped run the library for many years, but now that she is leaving three separate women stepped up to fill the gap. See, remove one plantand three sprout up! Space was created and now a bouquet of flowers fills the same space. Mark used to create the missions board that features our missionaries and partnerships. When Mark stepped out, another family stepped in to take this on as their sweet spot. Adrian resigned from our Leadership Board to provide key leadership for The Gathering, and Kevin Zemanek re-enlisted to take his place.
God’s transplanted beauty is blessing lives through The Gathering Church. How does The Gathering multiply beauty? An out-of-town Mayo patient hears the worship service in the Holiday Inn Ballroom, enters and is sustained. A man studies the Scripture with Mark Fisher and trusts Christ. Then he is baptized, along with another new believer, in the Holiday Inn pool down the hall.
But you may say, “What does gardening have to do with doing church?” Well, after all, this whole God-and-us-story thing did start in a garden. Jesus answers that by saying He is the Vine and we are the branches and that we are appointed to go and bear much fruit that will last – beautiful fruit that comes as we make room for growth and multiply beauty by taking the hard and messy steps of multiplying by dividing.
Calvary has prayed and talked about a church plant for over 10 years. This fall, we are thankful God has helped us to now have a perennial problem. He has multiplied beauty and brought immediate fruit through transplanting.

Growing up near Rosemount, MN, the Koch Refinery was always associated with a memorable smell.  To this day when I drive to the Cities, I shut off the vent as I drive by; but the smell finds a way of seeping through the windshield and the vent system. To drive by is to smell the chemicals. No matter what measures you might take, the smell IS coming through. Last month Josh Koskinen came and spoke at our Romancing Your City training event. Josh shared about his present place of ministry of Decatur, Illinois – aka “the armpit of Illinois.” Apparently, Decatur has won this reputation for its soy plant which produces a particularly unpleasant smell. Most people don’t like it and they seek to avoid the assault on their noses whenever possible. This rule has an interesting exception Josh’s son Sorien – Sorien likes to roll the windows down for the stink.

For some time I found myself thinking about what Josh shared with us that Friday. I began to think of all the things Emma and I loved about Ukraine that really weren’t very lovely. When we went back on our closure trip in 2009, both Emma and I asked ourselves how did we have such a particular love for this place? Part of the answer is that it’s the people, not the place. Yet there was a love which defied explanation; it was greater than the sum of the parts. How could Emma go to a burned out dirty train station and see a Dr. Zhivago scene as the train comes in through the fog? How could I see row after row of Soviet high-rise apartment buildings and see a harvest? It was not because it was lovely or loveable. No, this was missionary love – or missional love. This is the way God loves us. Before we were lovely or loveable, God loved us.

I began to wonder: what is the stink in Rochester? What are the unlovely and unlovable things about our city that God might call us to go after? Could we roll down our windows in Rochester for the stink? What kind of stink? The stink of broken lives, the stink of desperately medicating deep pain, the stink of deep dark abysses of the soul which reek from suffering.

I began to wrestle with a question – if we only love what is lovely and lovable: do we really love? How loved would we be if God loved us that way? I know in my heart that God is calling us to love the unlovely and unlovable with His missional love. So Calvary, can you roll down your windows to drink in the stink? Can you love the unlovable because Christ did that for you? Join us on mission as we find out how God is calling us to do just that.

It has been awhile since we sent out an accountability email.  How are you doing with your reading?  I am right on track and God has used His word to bless me in so many ways.  Let me share a devotional thought about consistency.

One reason we need to stay consistent is what I call the manna principle.  When the people of God were moving through the desert, God provided for them everyday.  Manna came down from heaven as a gift that was an everyday process.  Only on the Sabbath could you take extra for tomorrow.  Otherwise, if you took two days worth it spoiled.  In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus also teaches us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.”  And he tells us that each day has enough trouble and worry of its own.  So, if we pull these ideas together, we see that one of the reasons we need to be consistent with our study is that each day we have the opportunity to come to God afresh to receive what we need for that day.  Each day will present us with unique challenges; yesterdays’ manna is not adequate to face today’s worries.  We don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow, nor do we try to stretch yesterday’s lesson into today.  Each day we encounter the miracle of God’s love and provision for us in His word.

In our first missionary term we found a strange, soviet-style bakery but they made some good stuff.  They made these pastries our whole family loved.  They were baked every day; but when we would go to buy them they would say, “there are only yesterday’s.”  It always baffled me, they made them most every day and yet one could never purchase today’s! Even as day-old they were good, but I always wondered how much better they would have been fresh.  Some Christians do the same thing, they don’t seek today’s manna; but are satisfied with yesterday’s.

I find that God often gives me things in the morning that I am able to share with others throughout the day.  God wants not only to bless you; He desires to bless others through you as well. Be encouraged.  Stay on track with your reading program.  Imagine what life-sustaining piece of the bread of life God might give you tomorrow.  Go get it – each day.

I have something on my heart and mind this year that I just can’t shake. It is the kind of thing I can’t put down. I notice it, or the absence of it, wherever I look. This thing is the theme of community and connectedness. One day as I was musing over these themes in my devotions, I saw a parallel I hadn’t seen before.

Love Phases / Church Stages

One part of my job here at Calvary is to prepare couples for marriage and in the process I talk about how love changes over time. Many experts have observed different phases of love as it changes over time. There is an early phase that is marked by romantic and idealistic love. The honeymoon is not over, rather it is in full swing. The couple sees each other in very positive terms and are often blind to faults others clearly see. Of course, real life can burst the bubble of idealistic love.

Sometimes this comes with night after night of sleep deprivation doing 3:00 am newborn feedings. A husband can feel like he gained a child and lost his wife. A wife can feel depressed as post-partum imbalance hits and her husband seems so out of touch with the enormous changes she’s dealing with. Many divorces happen in this stage; but other couples cope and realign their expectations to the new experiences; they find their “new normal.”

Another group of people that experiences an increased divorce rate is empty nesters who find that they have slowly grown apart through the years. Through busy-ness and neglect they have not invested in the relationship. Other things have taken a priority for years and as the kids leave home, some couples look at each other and ask big questions: Who are you? What do we have in common? What is this marriage about now anyway? Some relationships cannot bear the weight of these and they divorce after many years of marriage.

So what does this have to do with church or the theme that has taken hold of me? I see the same things happening in church. When people come to a new church they are sometimes idealistic. They come from another experience and they want something different. Maybe they come to Calvary and find what they are looking for. It is common to see only the positives in this early stage; yet the longer they stay here, the idealism wears off and it starts to feel the like a “bait and switch.” As they begin to see the ways in which we are not perfect, they can be deeply disappointed. Some pull back and isolate themselves: they don’t get involved in serving together, they attend less and less frequently. Really, they begin to “practice” leaving by disengaging ahead of time.

I also see people who have been here for a while start to lose touch and they pull back. They are the “empty nesters,” figuratively. The mission they had in the earlier days is faded, and as they look at their church, they need to re-define the relationship. Some have watched as close friends have moved away, eroding a web of relationships.

Invest in the Relationship

What can we do about that? My answer is to carry out God’s plan for community and connectedness. God’s word talks about the church as a family that we are all part of together. I know that is a big stretch for some, yet I believe God desires for us to experience the one another’s in authentic and transforming community. God wants you to be known and to know others as we grow together. That is the function, now what is your form? How are you experiencing that? If you are not experiencing community, please try on two forms we have at Calvary. First, join a community group; Pastor Nate is your contact for getting plugged into a group. Second, try a mini-congregation on Sunday morning; some experience the one another’s in that way.

Do you have a realistic picture of Calvary? We are not perfect and we know it. Still, I deeply believe this is a good church. I so appreciate our heart for the hurting, our desire to worship God, to grow deep in the Word. We are trying to live authentic lives in healthy ways, even though we fail too. We don’t always live up to our ideals and we have areas that desperately need to grow. If you see something broken or lacking in our family, don’t run away to find another place where it all seems perfect. Roll up your sleeves and be a part of fixing what’s broken here. Don’t just allow yourself to slowly drift away. Invest in the relationship and build something that will last.

So where are you at in a life-cycle of love with the church? If you are in the young idealistic phase, I say as the reality of our imperfection becomes clear to you, let us help you transition well into a mature love that looks at all of our warts and wrinkles but chooses love anyway. Are you in that what’s next, what are we all about anyway, phase? To you I say, do not let something precious die through slow neglect. Invest in it and we will too. Reach out to me personally and we can have a cup of coffee together. I have already had some meetings like this and in each one, I see God at work. Let God draw your heart into love with Him, His bride, and your brothers and sisters more and more.

From the heart,

Pastor Kevin

 

 

 

I invite you to pour of cup of your favorite beverage and reflect a little on Christmas for a moment. I know it’s difficult.  The moment we sit still, our minds are flooded with lists of things that need to happen. It will take some discipline; but set aside the urgent for a few moments of the important. Will you come with me for a reflection on what that first Christmas was like for God?

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MozambiqueI remember once thinking that I would probably never go to Africa. Now, after two trips to Africa in as many years, I have left with many strong impressions. This photograph sums it up: there is such raw beauty. In Mozambique there is productive land, abundant flowers, and fruit. There is beauty if your eyes can see it; yet there is the barbed wire too. There is rubble and debris, reminders of war, insurrection, and violence of every kind. There is poverty and brokenness that tug at my heart. Life seems so full of contradictions and extremes. The extremely rich living very close to the extremely poor highlights the fact that life is very different there and yet very much the same.

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