Transformed Vision

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

 Ephesians 4:11-13 (Emphasis mine)

 Over the past seven years that I’ve served as pastor of this community of faith, God has been transforming my eyesight. Not in a “healing the blind” kind of way. I still need corrective lenses to see with any clarity whatsoever. The transformation God has been patiently undertaking is in the way I see, or understand, the world and the things that happen to and around me. Actually, as I reflect on the transformation, it has been going on for much more than seven years. But, serving as a pastor has helped to accelerate the process.

In my pre-pastoral life I would have to say that most days I didn’t pay much attention to God, or what God was doing in, through and around me. I lived my life with the assumption that God existed, but the God I knew then was probably most like a High School Principal. You know they are around, but unless you are one of the few students who get to know the principal on good terms (student government, etc…) they are someone you really don’t want to visit. I wasn’t one of those students who would have a good reason to see the principal in High School, nor was I one to be called into the office for disciplinary reasons. And that lifestyle continued through college and into the early years of my marriage with Jennie and starting a family. I knew God was there, but I certainly didn’t want to get called into the divine “principal’s office” for doing something wrong, and I really didn’t have the desire to be a leader. After all, how could anyone expect God to use someone like me, with all my faults?

I don’t know for certain, but my sense is that most people live their lives in very much this same way. God shows up at our pep assemblies and to call us out of class when we’ve done something wrong. But that’s about the extent of God’s interaction with the world. Sure, we believe in God, we know we are supposed to do good things and we hope that at the end of it all we’ve made the grade and can walk the eternal graduation line and enter into heaven.

When Jennie and I found a church home at First Christian in Lebanon, we made some friends and began to get involved. But not “too” involved. Even through our time with Journey Christian Church in Lebanon, we didn’t take on leadership positions. That all started to change for me when I was introduced to a different way of thinking about God. For me this happened with an event called “Camino.” The best way I can describe Camino is a weekend church camp for adults, where participants are guided to experience God’s grace in a powerful and transformational way. It is not un-like Men’s Encounter or Ashes to Beauty. But, even after attending Camino and serving during several weekends, God was still very much that detached principal in the sky.

Though my vision correction began with that experience, it was my involvement in the local church, the community of faith which has enabled me to see the world differently and more clearly than before. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t see God working in my life and in the lives of everyone I know. When a life ends too soon, I see God at work in the lives of the community. When there is a joy to celebrate, I see God working in the lives of the faithful. And when it is business as usual, I’ve begun to see the subtle ways in which God is working for healing and restoration.

And I think that is due to my involvement with the church, with a community of faith. I believe it is a direct result of my willingness to answer “Yes” when asked to serve God. Most of you will not be asked to quit your job, go to seminary and enter into full-time vocational ministry. But it is my hope and prayer that you will take a leap of faith and say “Yes” when asked to serve the church (because you probably will be asked.) Or if you can’t take a leap of faith, at least you will take time to truly and deeply pray about how you might serve or lead as we journey together.

The Power of Prayer

 If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  (2 Chronicles 7:14 NRSV)

I need to start with a disclaimer; I do not believe that the United States represents “God’s People.” We are not the “new Israel.” This passage from Second Chronicles is not about the US. God was speaking to Solomon in a very specific time in history, but that does not mean that there is not great truth in these words. Truth that I find especially meaningful in light of the current situation in the governance of this country we call home.

I do my very best to stay away from making political comments in my role as pastor. That is not to say that I don’t have convictions. It also does not mean that my political “color” doesn’t shine through from time to time. I believe that our understanding of politics is potentially as meaningful as our understanding of theology. They are both lenses through which we see the world.

However, there are times when I feel that, as a religious leader, I am called to more than silence, more than ambiguity. When there are injustices that need to be addressed, sometimes it is not just good, but essential for us to deal with those issues. Even if they are politically  charged.

I was reading an article in the New York Times that described one way in which a pastoral leader was attempting to shine the light of faith on the government shutdown. The article would have been interesting if it had been written about a pastor of a local congregation, but I was captivated because it was written about the Senate chaplain, Barry Black.

During one of his recent morning prayers before the senate began business, Mr. Black prayed, “We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness and our pride” He continued, “deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”

I was moved by this man’s willingness to step out and take a stand. He didn’t chastise one party or the other, he simply called the Senate to hold themselves accountable for the decisions they make. It is interesting to note that as a result of the shutdown Mr. Black is not being paid, and that many of the studies he usually holds are not meeting as a result. Yet, he still offers a prayer seeking God’s presence in the lives and business of the Senators each and every day they gather for session.

I have begun to wonder, what might change if I were to spend some time each day in prayer for the leaders of our country? What would be different if I was specific in my prayers, if I prayed for members of congress by name? Or, if I prayed for specific issues that are important to me? What might happen if we, God’s people were to humble ourselves, to pray, to seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways? Might just see this land healed? If not, would we be more fully transformed into God’s people? I intend to do my part. Will you join me?