Category Archives: 2012

Pastor’s Pen for December, 2012

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  (Matthew 23:1-3) In last month’s newsletter, I discussed the three central functions of the Christian Life: Identity, Spirituality, and Mission.  You may have noticed that I did NOT mention anything about beliefs.  That was not an oversight, but the result of my growing conviction that beliefs are not the most important thing we should be concerned about. For one thing, beliefs change and evolve.  Most of us recognize (and rejoice!) in the fact that our childish ideas about life that we held in grade school have long ago given way to a more mature worldview.  As we grow, learn, and experience new things, our beliefs inevitably need to be reexamined and reformulated, over and over again. Also, beliefs may not tell us much about the person that holds them.  Some folks say they believe in Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor,” but don’t actually demonstrate that belief in the way they live.  In that case, does what they believe matter, since it doesn’t seem to shape their behavior in any significant way?  It is often those unconscious, unexamined or contradictory convictions that determine our actions more than the noble words we so readily profess. Therefore, a better approach would seem to be to focus, not on what to believe, but on how to believe.   Asking the “how” question helps focus our attention on what we actually do, rather than on just what we think or say.  If our words are consistent with our actions, then that harmony will be obvious.  But if actions and words don’t align, then the question of “how” we believe will help us to address faith issues at a more appropriate and effective level.  Although how we think about our faith is important, the way we live it is a much more critical concern. The implications of this change of focus can be significant.  The church can be less concerned with helping people acquire information, and focus more on helping people find appropriate practices that deepen their sense of God’s presence in their lives and results in behavior that effectively expresses God’s love for the world.  Membership can then become what it’s meant to be: not a matter of verbal acceptance of religious ideas, but a matter of participating in an ongoing process of discovering new public and private practices that allow us to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, energized by the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Today, more and more people are turned off by the institutional aspects of the churches they have known.  Petty conflicts, theological bickering, time-consuming and mind-numbing committee meetings, and endless financial appeals have driven many younger people to think that churches have nothing worthwhile to offer them.  While they may be longing for a more dynamic spiritual life, a greater purpose, and a richer sense of communion with others, they have serious doubts that churches can help them in their quest. Every week our bulletins proudly proclaim that “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”  That is a profound expression of the inclusive nature of God’s hospitality.  But people today are looking for more than just hospitality and a place where they will be accepted. They are also looking for a place where they can find the help they need to actually live the kind of life that Jesus lived – a life overflowing with love, compassion, and the mystery of the healing power of God – a quality of life they long to experience, not just talk about. My dream is to see churches like this one become places where people come, not only to learn what to think about Jesus, but to get practical support in how to live a Christ-like and Christ-centered life. We all know that churches today must change if they are to survive.  Shifting our emphasis from what we believe to how we believe may be an important first step. – Duane  

Pastor’s Pen for November, 2012

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  (Matthew 23:1-3) In last month’s newsletter, I discussed the three central functions of the Christian Life: Identity, Spirituality, and Mission.  You may have noticed that I did NOT mention anything about beliefs.  That was not an oversight, but the result of my growing conviction that beliefs are not the most important thing we should be concerned about. For one thing, beliefs change and evolve.  Most of us recognize (and rejoice!) in the fact that our childish ideas about life that we held in grade school have long ago given way to a more mature worldview.  As we grow, learn, and experience new things, our beliefs inevitably need to be reexamined and reformulated, over and over again. Also, beliefs may not tell us much about the person that holds them.  Some folks say they believe in Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor,” but don’t actually demonstrate that belief in the way they live.  In that case, does what they believe matter, since it doesn’t seem to shape their behavior in any significant way?  It is often those unconscious, unexamined or contradictory convictions that determine our actions more than the noble words we so readily profess. Therefore, a better approach would seem to be to focus, not on what to believe, but on how to believe.   Asking the “how” question helps focus our attention on what we actually do, rather than on just what we think or say.  If our words are consistent with our actions, then that harmony will be obvious.  But if actions and words don’t align, then the question of “how” we believe will help us to address faith issues at a more appropriate and effective level.  Although how we think about our faith is important, the way we live it is a much more critical concern. The implications of this change of focus can be significant.  The church can be less concerned with helping people acquire information, and focus more on helping people find appropriate practices that deepen their sense of God’s presence in their lives and results in behavior that effectively expresses God’s love for the world.  Membership can then become what it’s meant to be: not a matter of verbal acceptance of religious ideas, but a matter of participating in an ongoing process of discovering new public and private practices that allow us to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, energized by the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Today, more and more people are turned off by the institutional aspects of the churches they have known.  Petty conflicts, theological bickering, time-consuming and mind-numbing committee meetings, and endless financial appeals have driven many younger people to think that churches have nothing worthwhile to offer them.  While they may be longing for a more dynamic spiritual life, a greater purpose, and a richer sense of communion with others, they have serious doubts that churches can help them in their quest. Every week our bulletins proudly proclaim that “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”  That is a profound expression of the inclusive nature of God’s hospitality.  But people today are looking for more than just hospitality and a place where they will be accepted. They are also looking for a place where they can find the help they need to actually live the kind of life that Jesus lived – a life overflowing with love, compassion, and the mystery of the healing power of God – a quality of life they long to experience, not just talk about. My dream is to see churches like this one become places where people come, not only to learn what to think about Jesus, but to get practical support in how to live a Christ-like and Christ-centered life. We all know that churches today must change if they are to survive.  Shifting our emphasis from what we believe to how we believe may be an important first step. – Duane  

Pastor’s Pen for October, 2012

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.   (Ephesians 4:11-13) In recent months, I have been thinking a lot about the Christian life and what makes it unique.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it has three distinct but interrelated parts: Identity, Spirituality, and Mission.Identity” refers to how we understand ourselves as a result of God’s activity in our lives through Jesus Christ.  The New Testament consistently maintains that a person’s life is significantly different after they form an intimate relationship with Jesus.  As Paul says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)  It may take some time to fully grasp the extent of that change, or to find the right words to describe it, but it’s clear that things are no longer the way they used to be.  This change is more than just a shift in what doctrines or religious ideas we believe, but a change that makes a noticeable difference in how we think, feel, and act - a change that has taken place in us that others can’t help but notice. “Spirituality” refers to the specific practices we regularly engage in to keep our relationship with God alive and well.  These are the things we do on a daily and weekly basis that keep us attuned to Jesus’ presence in our lives.  Just as a marriage suffers when a couple fails to spend enough time with each other, so our spiritual life suffers when we fail to cultivate a personal relationship to the Divine.  Some of these activities will be personal and private, (e.g. prayer, devotional reading, contemplation, etc.) while others will be public and interpersonal (e.g. worship, singing, conversation, etc.).  Both public and private aspects are essential, because Jesus the whole person, not just our hearts and minds. “Mission” refers to how we go about sharing God’s love with others.  It has to do with how we join together to help those around us to experience God’s gift of new life in some concrete way.  Whether it’s in our families, our community, our workplace, our recreational activities, or in the church, every faithful disciple of Jesus is given a mission in life.  While the particular mission may change over time, we are always called to serve others in Jesus’ name.  Sometimes, it will take a lot of prayer and the insights of other Christians to help us figure out what exactly God wants us to do, but we can be sure that God always has a mission for us, no matter who we are or what our circumstances may be. Many of us find that some of those aspects are easier to deal with than others.  But like a three-legged stool, they all need to be firmly in place if our faith is to be stable, mature and effective.  For that reason, the church needs to be prepared to help people strengthen and coordinate these three aspects of the Christian life. Over the last several years, I have been gathering tools that I think will be useful to help people do this.  The Deacons and I are currently exploring ways to help every person in the congregation assess, strengthen, and integrate their Christian Identity, Spirituality, and Mission.  I hope you will find our efforts welcome and effective.  The goal is not to judge anyone else’s behavior or theology, but to enable people to assess their own needs and to help them discover the resources that will keep them moving forward in their faith development.  We also want to help people identify others who can partner with them in their journey toward the fullness of Christ. Whether you are already a church member or whether you are simply someone searching for spiritual growth, I invite you to contact me about learning more about the kind of “spiritual health check-up” that I’ve been describing.  You have nothing to lose, and much to gain! - Duane  

Pastor’s Pen for August, 2012

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  (Hebrews 10:24-25) According to a study that came out earlier this year, Vermont and New Hampshire are two of the least religious states in the country.  People in these parts seem to see the Church and what it stands for as pretty irrelevant to their lives.  Yes, they want a church to be married in and for a place to have their funeral, but for the rest of the time, the church seems pretty extraneous to the things that matter to them in life.  It’s not so much that they’re openly hostile toward the church, but just indifferent (or at least ambivalent). As I’ve listened to people’s comments about the church over the years, there are two major misconceptions that seem to be responsible for people’s avoidance of churches.  The first myth is: Getting involved in a church means that you have to go to worship every week.  It’s hard to know exactly where that idea came from, since there is nothing in the Bible to support it. When the Torah bids us to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” it means much more than just attending a worship service.  Jesus never made it one of the criteria for faithful discipleship, and there’s no indication that he and his disciples attended services in the Temple or synagogue every Sabbath.  (And it’s certainly no secret that even the most dedicated church members often miss services for weeks or even months at a time!)  In other words, this myth seems to be a “straw man” – i.e. a flimsy excuse – used to justify one’s reluctance to change or to get involved or to stand up and be counted. The fact is that Sunday worship is not what the church is all about.  Attending worship once a week does not define the life of faith.  Christianity is a way of life that seeks to follow Jesus’ leadership every hour of the day, every day of the week – not just for an hour on Sunday.  It is a lifestyle that rejects the materialism, the violence, and the self-centeredness of our modern culture in favor of the healing, sacrificial, and reconciling values of Jesus.  It is a way of life that isn’t easy to practice.  It’s hard to resist the seductive influence of our secular world.  We can’t seem to ever get it quite right.  We fail to achieve his level of faithfulness to God over and over again.  Our own resources just aren’t enough, and we need to keep coming back, again and again, to strengthen our resolve, refocus our attention, and draw support and insight from others who also are trying to walk in Jesus’ ways.  It isn’t that Sunday worship has all the answers we need, but that in sharing our lives and our struggles with one another, we find the Spirit of Christ revealed in our midst, no matter what day of the week it happens to be. This leads us to the second myth that is subverting the life of the Church: The only thing that matters is what I believe in my heart.  This one is subtle, because our inner life obviously is important to the life of the Spirit, but only to the extent that it expresses itself outwardly in our behavior.  Private beliefs are only as good as the quality of life they enable us to live.  It’s not about our moral purity or about being good citizens, but about our ability to love enemies, embrace misfortunes, and offer healing to those who wound us.  Most of us find that our private beliefs aren’t enough to generate those qualities, but that we need abundant doses of God’s help to bring them into the light of day.  And in most cases, the help God sends our way comes through the broken, humble, ordinary lives of other people.  Without the support of a compassionate community of faith around us, our noblest beliefs are nothing more than pipe dreams and good intentions.  There can be no spiritual life without a spiritual community.   The “Church” isn’t just a building, and it isn’t just the people who gather on Sunday mornings.  The Church is the group of people whose lives are inextricably woven together by their commitment to follow Jesus through the twists and turns of daily life.  If we try to follow him individually, we tend to get distracted or to lose sight of him as he turns this way and that way to minister to people we don’t even see.  Only in the company of other disciples can we keep him constantly in view, and signal one another as to which way he’s headed now.  But watch out!  As he makes his way through this needy world of ours, he tends to move pretty quickly, so if you wait till Sunday, he may have left you completely in the dust.  And if you wait until Christmas or Easter, well . . . God help you! – Duane

Pastor’s Pen for July, 2012

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’  (Luke 8:43-46) We never know for sure what sort of influence our lives are having on other people.  Over the course of my ministry, people occasionally come up to me after a worship service and tell me about something I said that was particularly helpful to them.  Often, when they tell me what it was that they found so meaningful, I realize that what they “heard” was not something I actually said!  Nevertheless, what they “heard” had made a positive difference in their lives.  Was this a case of they’re having misunderstood something I said, or was it a case of them hearing God speaking to them in a voice they thought was mine? On the other hand, I’ve also had people accuse me of personally “attacking” them in a sermon, even though that was never my intent.  Was this a case of poor communication on my part, or were they hearing the voice of God telling them something that they didn’t want to hear? In the passage above, Jesus found himself having an unintended healing impact on the life of the woman with a hemorrhage.  He didn’t know who it was that unexpectedly touched him, but he realized that it had a more profound meaning than just random jostling from the crowd.  He may not have immediately realized what results that gentle touch had produced, but he knew that some divine energy had passed between himself and that particular stranger. Similar things may happen to us without our knowing it.  God may touch others through us without our realizing it.  Our simple act of thoughtfulness and compassion may bring healing to someone hungry to receive it.  Likewise, our insensitivity or careless gesture may bring all sorts of unintended harm.  For instance, simply coming to church on Sunday may give an enormous lift to your fellow worshipers, while your absence may bring pain and discouragement to those who long for the touch of God, acting through your presence and support. Jesus could have such a powerful impact on the woman with the hemorrhage because he cultivated his relationship with God so that his life simply flowed with the energy and love of God.  Our lives have that potential too . . . but we will need to be just as intentional as Jesus was about cultivating our relationship with God if that’s going to happen.  The Church isn’t about our becoming perfect people – it’s about us becoming God-saturated people.  Worship isn’t about participating in archaic rituals – it’s about opening ourselves to God’s love for us . . . and experiencing it through the touch of the people around us! So how will God’s power leak out of your life today?  Who will you draw near enough to so that you can feel the full force of it?  What crowd will you have to wade through to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment and find the healing you so desperately need?  That healing energy is what draws us into the Church, and it is our desire to become better conduits of that life-giving energy that keeps us coming back.  Join us – you never know what sort of power may flow into your life . . . or out of you and into the life of a stranger! – Duane

Pastor’s Pen for June, 2012

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’  (Matthew 18:20) Although Jesus spent a lot of time and energy showing even the most discouraged individuals that their lives were infinitely important to God, he never minimized the important role relationships play in reshaping people’s lives.  His healing miracles were never impersonal or mechanical, but always conveyed his sensitivity to the uniqueness of the individual, thereby establishing a relationship with them through which God’s power could flow. When it came to developing disciples, his took a similar approach.  His method of spiritual formation was to invite them into a special relationship with himself and with each other.  He also made it clear to them that he expected those conversations to continue, even after his death and resurrection. Those  first disciples didn’t start out as spiritually giants – they were just a bunch of ordinary folks, (some of whom had very noticeable character flaws!) most of whom were pretty slow to catch on to what Jesus was trying to teach them.  In other words, they were just like most of us!  But Jesus never lost confidence in their potential to become spiritual leaders if they would just keep the conversation going with him and with each other. Conversation is the life’s blood of relationships, and if we let Jesus be part of our conversations, our relationships can be transforming – even something holy.  If the right spirit is present among us, even mundane, everyday topic can open us to something divine.  It doesn’t matter whether the participants consider themselves “religious,” “secular,” or “agnostic.”  It doesn’t matter whether they agree with each other or not – God can use the conversation to lead everyone into a deeper appreciation of what respect, compassion and love can mean. Contrary to popular opinion, the church’s job isn’t to convert people to their way of thinking – Jesus says that’s God’s job (John 6:44).  Instead, our job is to initiate conversations about things that matter to people - to engage them in a process of discovering deeper levels of meaning than they were able to find on their own. Therefore, in order to foster such conversations, the Sharon Congregational Church will be sponsoring a new adventure we’re calling “The Lighthouse Café.”  On the second Thursday of each month, you are invited to join us in Steele Chapel for a time to spend an hour or so exploring a topic of current interest.  Join your friends and neighbors over a good cup of coffee to share insights, questions, and experiences related to the topic of the day.  The goal is not to reach consensus, but to deepen our appreciation of each other’s perspectives. This adventure will begin on Thursday, June 14 at 7:00 p.m.  The topic of the evening will be: “Caught Between Parents and Kids” – a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “sandwich generation.”  Please mark your calendars, and plan to join us for some meaningful conversation. Duane

Pastor’s Pen for May, 2012

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16) New Englanders in general, and Vermonters in particular, are known for being fiercely independent.  They like doing things their own way, thinking their own thoughts, regardless of how others may regard their “peculiarities.”  They’re not lemmings who follow the crowd, or “joiners” who need to be part of the latest craze or movement.  I suspect that it’s this independent streak that lures many Vermont transplants to this area where they can feel free from the chains of cultural conformity. Unfortunately, even the greatest virtues can be taken to an extreme where they become negative and counterproductive.  Independence is no exception.  Excessive preoccupation with independence can lead to isolation, lack of intimacy, and reluctance to make a firm commitment.  It can lead us to underestimate our need for other people.  It can lead us to hide our vulnerabilities and come across to others as superior, hostile, or aloof.  Too much independence can destroy a relationship or ruin a marriage.  The result can be loneliness, depression, conflict, and unspeakable pain. This obsession with independence has had a particularly destructive impact on churches.  It has led many to the heretical conclusion that a person can faithfully follow Jesus apart from the company of other people of faith.  There are far too many people today who suffer from the illusion that what they privately believe about God or Jesus makes them a Christian, and that they have no need to associate with other Christians or participate regularly in the life of a church.  While it is common these days to refer to such folks as “spiritual-but-not-religious” (or SBNR), I suspect that in many cases a better description would be “spiritually lazy” or “spiritually irresponsible.” From the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry, he never called people to follow him apart from the company of other disciples.  He knew that spiritual maturity requires not only a committed relationship to him, but also to the others who traveled with him.  While he knew that their discipleship would be flawed and filled with misguided blunders, he also knew that suffering through that process together would be an essential part of their spiritual development.  Love can only grow in community, not in isolation.  Forgiveness and redemption can only be experienced in the context of a community where our vulnerabilities and flaws are exposed, acknowledged, and absolved.   Such a faith community requires regular participation in order for the experience to be transformative – Christmas and Easter appearances can’t provide the formative context for genuine spiritual growth. The “light” that Jesus speaks of in the passage above will never be seen if we hold on too tightly to our independence.  That “light” is not our good deeds or moral accomplishments, but the light of God’s presence shining through us into the lives of others.  It’s not a light that we generate or that we can always see in ourselves, but it’s a light that is much more easily seen in each other’s company.  The light is God’s Spirit residing within you and is not your private possession, but God’s gift to those with whom you associate.  That light was never meant to be contained exclusively within the church, but to shine into every dark corner of Life.  But it is only within the community of the church, as we stand together in the presence of God, that our egos become transparent, and we are reminded that the light is really there, and still burning within us.  Only with that regular reassurance can we possibly dare to believe that we are what Jesus said we are: The light of the world! Please don’t allow the light God has invested in you to be hidden from the rest of us. – Duane

Pastor’s Pen for April, 2012

And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’ (Luke 4:6-8) Over the years, it’s happened to me many times, and I never know quite how to respond.  I will meet someone at a store or public place, and we get talking.  Eventually, they find out I’m a clergyman, and they say: “Oh, I’ll have to come and hear you preach sometime!”  While I realize that their statement is meant as a compliment (i.e. that our conversation was enjoyable enough for them to want to continue the relationship), it still leaves me with an uneasy feeling.  Though I would be delighted to see them at a worship service, it makes me a little uncomfortable to think that their primary motive for coming would be just to hear me preach.  Like most preachers, I know how nice it is to have people interested in hearing what I have to say.  A lot of work goes into preparing sermons that we hope people will find meaningful. But sermons are NOT what worship is all about!  Worship is about God’s activity, and our desire to celebrate it and participate in it.  Hopefully, a sermon will contribute something to that process, but without lessening the importance of:  the prayers we say and sing; the scriptures we read and explore; the music that arouses and expresses feelings too deep for words; the practice of offering God our hearts, hands, and resources; and the reconciliation and communion we feel with one another when we gather in the spirit of Jesus.  Worshiping isn’t just hearing a sermon or going through the motions of a familiar ritual.  Worship is bringing ourselves into the presence of the Holy Mystery that lies at the center of Life and connects us with other people and the rest of God’s Creation.  Whether the sermon is good or bad; whether the music is uplifting or discordant; whether the hymns are familiar or unsingable; whether the prayers are inspiring or boring; whether you are surrounded by friends or strangers, loved ones or enemies, worship is always more than the sum of its parts.  Worship is a conscious, intentional act of being in God’s presence together. Though having a rich private devotional life is important to cultivate, something happens when people gather to worship that simply can’t happen when people worship alone.  For all the benefits of private worship, miracles of transformation like reconciliation, community, and mutual ministry can only happen when we’re together.  They don’t just happen to us automatically by walking into a church building on Sunday morning – an attitude of reverence, openness, and anticipation are all necessary as well.  But when those ingredients are all present, God is more than likely to be revealed in wonderful ways that no one can predict. So while it may be personally gratifying to have you come to hear me preach, I’d much rather you came in order to worship God.  There’s something much more important going on in worship than just me flapping my gums.  I’d hate to have you come and fail to notice it . . . especially on Easter! --Duane

Pastor’s Pen for March, 2012

It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me. – Colossians 1:28-29 Sooner or later, you’re going to hear someone say: “This church needs to grow!”  I suspect that the first thing that will come to your mind will be a picture of more people attending worship, more money in the collection plate, and more fresh faces on boards and committees.  But while those would all be desirable outcomes, I don’t think those are the kinds of growth that the church should be most concerned about.  Rather, as indicated in the passage above, our focus needs to be on the cultivation of spiritual maturity.  Attendance figures, bank balances, and membership rolls may be useful measures of institutional success, but they tell us nothing about the maturity in Christ being fostered within the church community. In my 40 years as a pastor, I have seen numerous examples of churches whose members readily acknowledge their biblical illiteracy, have no sense of God’s presence in their lives, and have grave doubts about whether Jesus is anyone they really need to pay attention to.  I have seen congregations repeatedly elect officers who know how to run a successful business, but who have no idea how to discern God’s will for their church.  I’ve seen churches who are zealous to maintain their buildings and their endowment, but indifferent when it comes to building up the Body of Christ.  Yet I’ve also seen tiny churches, teetering on the edge of financial ruin, that are vibrantly alive with God’s love for each other and for their community.  Secular measures of success can be misleading when we apply them indiscriminately to the life of the Church. The future of local churches will be determined by their commitment to help people achieve maturity in Christ.  It won’t be our buildings, our social events, our children’s programs, or our fundraisers that will insure the church’s survival.  It will be our determination to help people work through their doubts and misconceptions, and introduce them to the life-giving power of God that can offer them a more meaningful and satisfying way of life than our materialistic secular culture can provide.  It will involve showing them a faith that is more than doctrines and ideas, but a lifestyle that can turn each day into an exciting opportunity to find God’s Spirit working within us.  It will mean helping them access the bottomless well of spiritual energy hidden within them that they never knew existed before.  The growing numbers of people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” have turned their backs on churches precisely because we have failed to offer them the tools they need to grow into the kind of spiritual maturity that Jesus offers us.  If we fail to respond to their longing for spiritual nourishment, the exodus from churches will only accelerate. But if we, as churches, rededicate ourselves to cultivating spiritual maturity, then that process won’t begin in our church sanctuaries or classrooms, but in living rooms and across diningroom tables.  Like the Early Church, faith will sprout and grow healthy roots in those safe, intimate, comfortable environments before it is ready for exposure to a more impersonal, institutional setting.  Healthy sharing of personal faith experiences will be needed before a person will be ready for liturgical expressions of such transformative events. Obviously, if we are to cultivate spiritual maturity in others, we ourselves have to be engaged in such a process ourselves.  Many of us would like to grow, but don’t know where to begin.  It is my hope that our current Lenten program called “Discipleship 101" will be that starting point.  Your participation and feedback will be a valuable step in our becoming the kind of church that will be known in our community, not only for its Food Shelf, but for its success in feeding the spiritual hunger of those seeking maturity in Christ. –  Duane

Pastor’s Pen for February, 2012

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’  (Luke 19:5) It’s a bit shocking to realize how few of the significant events of Jesus’ ministry took place in religious sanctuaries.  Open any of the gospels at random, and you’re much more likely to find Jesus out in the country, walking through some obscure village, or hanging out in somebody’s home, rather than in some religious sanctuary.  This wasn’t because he devalued public worship, but because he knew that what was going on in people’s lives the rest of the week was as important in nurturing their relationship to God as what they did on the Sabbath.  He knew that it was their homes, their workplaces, and in their social hangouts that God’s presence was most needed . . . and most often went unrecognized!  It was in all those places where people weren’t expecting to meet God that Jesus was most concerned with making God’s presence known. Despite the example that Jesus’ ministry gives us, churches unfortunately (and probably unintentionally) have given many people the impression that Sunday worship is the primary (or only!) place that we can foster our relationship with God.  Families no longer see themselves as responsible for cultivating spiritual growth and religious devotion.  The workplace often feels like an environment which God is forbidden to enter.  Even informal social gatherings and civic service projects seem like activities in which God is not welcome to participate. But Jesus knew that our public worship life will only be vital and meaningful to the extent to which our spiritual lives are nurtured throughout the week.  We can’t expect to recognize God’s presence on Sunday if we haven’t practiced recognizing it throughout the week! I suspect that the reason that so many people have given up on regular worship attendance is NOT because of what happens in the service, but because of what DOESN’T happen throughout the week.  If God is so absent from daily activities, how can God suddenly become a V.I.P for us on the weekend? If churches today are to regain a place of significance in community life, the place to start is to cultivate awareness of God throughout the week.   ∙           Instead of always meeting in church buildings, lets let restaurants, cafes, and other public spaces become venues for religious conversations. ∙           Instead of focusing on building a robust Sunday School program for children, let’s provide periodic workshops and ongoing mentoring for parents on how to become spiritual educators for their children. ∙           Instead of pretending that the workplace is a place God doesn’t care about, let’s gather in groups to support each other in coping with some of the soul-wrenching decisions and issues we have to deal with each workday. ∙           Instead of allowing sports, travel, and recreational activities become the enemy of our religious life, let’s embrace them and tease out their untapped spiritual possibilities. ∙           Instead of just volunteering for some worthwhile cause that excites us, let’s learn to articulate how we see ourselves joining in God’s redemptive activity by participating in this project.   Weekdays will always be hectic, busy, confusing times for us, where God will not always seem close by.  We will need each other’s help to reverse this condition.  Church growth will not begin by inviting someone to attend a church service, but by inviting them to join you in some form of weekday discipleship.  They won’t join you in worship until they can see how you have come to recognize God’s presence during the week.  It won’t be your words or your moral perfection that will be the deciding factor, but the warmth and power of Jesus walking beside you.  People won’t join us on Sunday until they meet Jesus during the week.  It’s up to each of us to help them find an appropriate occasion to meet. –  Duane