Monday, March 30, 2015

The Youngest of Four

Back in March, my wife and I made a trip to Iowa for a family wedding. Who gets married in the middle of March in Iowa? My nephew, that's who! His wife is an engineer, and she really wanted to get married on Pi Day (Pi is the number 3.1415..., and so March 14, 2015 was that day!). We were blessed with 70 degree weather, and we were thankful for safe travels and on-time planes and connections.

Family events like this are the only time I get to see my three big brothers. Yes, I am the baby, the spoiled one, the one who got away with everything. I tell everyone that Mom and Dad just kept having kids till they got the perfect one! I can say that, but the truth of the matter is that I was the unexpected child. When Dad heard another child was coming, he mixed himself a martini! And when they found out they were having a fourth child, I know they were hoping for a girl. When the doctor came out of the delivery room, he said, "Fred, it's a boy." My Dad responded, "Oh my - Pat is not going to be happy with you." The doctor said, "Ah Fred, I think Pat is not going to be happy with YOU."

My brothers teased me something awful growing up. Mom said that they wouldn't tease me if they didn't love me. I guess they loved me a LOT! One of their favorite things to tell me is that when they were younger, they were all girls. And when they reached a certain age, they all became boys. It always happened to be my upcoming birthday was going to be the year I became a girl. I guess it is now when I turn 54 that it's supposed to happen.

I love getting together with my brothers and their families. Mom and Dad have been gone for some time now, so this is where I am able to touch the past and remember. It is also a time for us to see each other as parents and grandparents. All of my brothers are grandfathers, and I love to see them in that role. The love and joy they pour out on those children is great to see. In them I can see my Dad's gentle nature and caring attributes.

I know that family members can sometimes drive us crazy, and sometimes the things that we do or leave undone cause rifts that can last a lifetime. But I believe there are blessings from God we receive through family. Support, nurture, love. These are the people who have seen us at our best and our worst, and still call us brother or sister. These are the ones who often are there when everyone else has left us, These are the ones with whom we learned life's lessons. And these are the ones who an influence in our children's lives too.

My brothers - I give thanks to God for them!

Pictures from 2011, 1979, 2012 and 2015 (we are in the opposite order in the last one!).


Pastor Charlie

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Caring Community and a Loving God

The story is told of the famous and saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta who gave an interview during the last few years of her life that illustrates the point well. The reporter noted that religious orders in the west and many churches, for that matter, had been losing numbers. But the reporter also noted that Mother Teresa's order was growing by thousands, so she asks "Why?"

Mother Teresa answered without hesitation, "I give them Jesus."

"Yes, I know, but what strategies do you develop? How do you manage it?" asks the reporter.

"I give them Jesus" is the reply.

"Yes, I know, but can you be more specific?"

"I give them Jesus."

"Yes, we know of your fine work, but there must be something else," says the exasperated reporter."

I give them Jesus. There is nothing else."

This holy woman describes and defines the role, the purpose, and the mission of God's church. To present the love of God in real ways, to present Jesus as a human friend, companion, and guide. To do it in word, yes, but equally, if not more so, to do it in action.

A prime example of this is Epiphany's incredible outreach ministry called Operation Prom Dress. This year, over 170 girls were served by over 80 volunteers who welcomed them, loved on them, helped them find a dress, did up their hair and make-up, took pictures of them, offered food and beverages, and made sure they all knew that they were the reason we were here. One mother said to me, "What I love about this ministry is that there is more than enough." It was a great day, and a great opportunity to share God's love not just in word but in action.

Channel 2 - WDTN came out to do a story on the event. Pastor Jay and I stood behind the camera as they interviewed Tonya Johns, who is the coordinator of Operation Prom Dress. I had tears in my eyes when she told why we do what we do. 

A community that cares about them. A God who loves them.

That is what it means to be the church!

Pastor Charlie

Monday, March 16, 2015

Saint Patrick

Tuesday was St. Patrick’s Day. While it is true that the Lutheran church does not hold the saints up in the same manner as the Roman Catholic Church, the saints can still be examples of faith for us, and we can benefit from their witness and example.  Patrick was born in Britain near the end of the fourth century to wealthy parents. At the age of 16, however, Irish raiders attacked his family estate, captured the teenage Patrick, and transported him to Ireland. Like any person taken away from a loving family, however, Patrick was lonely and afraid. It is at this point in his life that he turned to God for comfort and guidance, becoming a devout Christian.

After six years as a slave, however, Patrick began to hear a voice which he believed was God's voice telling him it was time to leave Ireland. Considering he was a prisoner, this was no easy task. But God created a means of escape, and Patrick snuck away from the marauders, walked nearly 200 miles to the Irish coast, and sailed back to Britain.

Years later, though, he received a second revelation from God telling him to go back to Ireland as a missionary. He listened to the voice once again, and the rest, as they say, is history. His mission lasted nearly 30 years, up until he died on March 17, 461.

I came across this hymn/prayer attributed to St. Patrick entitled St. Patrick’s Breast Plate. These words are like the breastplate of righteousness that protects what is at the core of your being and what you hold to be true.   These words emphasize the power of God with us and I find comfort and strength in them. I love these words.

If you are looking for a prayer to start your day, might I suggest this:

I arise today 

Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism, 
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial, 
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension, 

I arise today 

Through God's strength to pilot me: 
God's might to uphold me, 
God's wisdom to guide me, 
God's eye to look before me, 
God's ear to hear me, 
God's word to speak for me, 
God's hand to guard me, 
God's way to lie before me, 
God's shield to protect me, 
God's host to save me.

From snares of devils, 
From temptations of vices, 
From everyone who shall wish me ill, 
Afar and anear, 
Alone and in multitude. 
Christ to shield me today 
So that there may come to me 
abundance of reward. 

Christ with me, 
Christ before me, 
Christ behind me, 
Christ in me, 
Christ beneath me, 
Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, 
Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, 
Christ when I sit down, 
Christ when I arise, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, 
Christ in every eye that sees me, 
Christ in every ear that hears me. 

I arise today 

May the witness of the saints shine light on our journeys of faith.

Here's a short video about St. Patrick.


Pastor Charlie

Monday, March 9, 2015

Subtle Shifts

Greeting to you today! We finally made it to the month of March, and there is hope that spring will soon be here! Humorist and fellow Lutheran Garrison Keillor wrote that every year in Minnesota (and we can relate that to our winter here in Ohio this year), nature makes a couple sincere attempts to kill you, and then we get the month of March, which God designed to show people who don't drink what a hangover is like! I will confess that I took a few days of rest and rejuvenation in a warm climate, and my wife and I have tried our best to bring the warmth and sun back with us.

This week, I want to share with you the following article from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - Elizabeth Eaton. This appeared in the February issue of the magazine "The Lutheran."

We are in the middle of Lent — the season of spiritual warfare, or at least really good intentions. Many of us now engage in some form of Lenten discipline. We give up something: chocolate or coffee or FreeCell. Or we add something: Scripture reading, midweek worship or service projects. This seems normal and familiar to us just as the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday or crossing ourselves has become normal and familiar in many of our congregations.

I remember a time when none of these practices would be considered Lutheran by large segments of our church. Too works righteous, too showy, too … Roman Catholic! We didn’t need to, nor could we make ourselves holy or righteous. That was the whole point of justification by grace through faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:21-28, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession).

We over-corrected. Fasting, prayer, Scripture study, acts of service, imposition of ashes and making the sign of the cross are classical spiritual disciplines that not only have an ancient history in Christian practice but also serve to engage our whole selves in devotion to God. These practices serve to draw us closer to and make us more aware of the love of God shown through Jesus’ death and resurrection that justifies sinners, but they aren’t what justifies us.

As scrupulous as we have been in proclaiming grace and eschewing works in our faith practices, I’ve noticed the not so subtle shift to works righteousness in the work we do as the church. This exists in all three expressions — congregations, synods and churchwide — and all across the cultural spectrum. Jesus’ invitation to repentance and discipleship have become a kind of transaction between us and God where we figure out what we have done wrong, promise to work really hard to be better people, and then God forgives us. What we see as the moral wrongs that must be repented depends largely on our place on the cultural spectrum. The cultural right is preoccupied with private mores and behavior and the cultural left is preoccupied with political rights and the activities of government and business institutions.

Here’s how that plays out. While driving through the Smoky Mountains on a family road trip, I saw a billboard that declared: “No smoking, drinking, card playing, dancing, movie going, swearing ... there is no sin within 7 miles of our church!” Wow. There must not have been any people within 7 miles of that church. That is the works righteousness of the right.

The works righteousness of the left plays out a little differently. If there are enough sit-ins or protests, or boycotts or enough petitions, we could inaugurate the kingdom of God. Then we could extricate ourselves from this bondage to sin. We could build a perfect world.

There is a purveyor of high-end, organic, locally sourced groceries that is the temple of this persuasion. You can buy veal there without guilt because its source of veal is the little calf that, after gamboling across the fields, turns itself in to the butcher and declares (quoting Charles Dickens): “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.” No. Something has to die so we can live. We are complicit in the world’s brokenness.

We may work for justice or righteousness with the best intentions, and God knows there is plenty of work to do. But Jesus didn't die to change behaviors or political systems or institutions. Jesus died to end the fundamental brokenness and estrangement from God that is the result of human sin, our rebellion against God that infects every aspect of our lives.

Just as Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel of John are called signs that point to the new thing God is doing in Christ, so should our work for justice be signs that point to the new life we have in Christ. We’re pointing in the wrong direction if our work becomes the new life instead of a sign of the new life.

Lent can be a time to ponder this priceless gift. The death and resurrection of Christ has changed everything, a change no human effort could ever bring about.

Subtle shift to works righteousness
by Bishop Elizabeth Eaton - February Issue of The Lutheran


Pastor Charlie

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Peace Be Still

Ah - that is easier said than done, isn't it? There is so much going on, and so many distractions and things that fill our lives and our minds that it seems like trying to find time to be still and silent and at peace is just another thing to add to our daily agenda. I don't know about you, but I find those times of peace to be a blessing. I wish they would be more frequent.

In this season of Lent, we offer this invitation: "Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." (NRSV Joel 2:13)   I believe prayer is the avenue by which we come to be present with God and learn of God's graciousness, mercy and love. And while it is not a requirement, I believe that peace and silence and stillness can greatly enhance our time of prayer. A quote from Mother Teresa: 

The fruit of silence is prayer 
The fruit of prayer is faith 
The fruit of faith is love 
The fruit of love is service 
The fruit of service is peace. 

My wife and I worked for a year at Koinonia, a Lutheran Church camp in New York State before we headed to seminary. One of the disciplines we had there at the camp was Taize' Prayer every morning and evening. This form of prayer is centered around a good 15 - 20 minutes of silence. At first, this drove me crazy. There was so much to do, and so little time, and here we are spending time in prayer? And during the first few weeks, that time of silence was filled with going through all the things in my mind that needed to get done. It was frustrating. 

But over time, I came to appreciate that time. It became time for me to stop. Yes, there were many things on my mind, but that time became time to empty those things from my mind, place them before God and seek God's guidance for the day to come, and a sense of calm for a night of rest. 

In his book, "Learning to Pray Again," Bishop Michael Rinehart writes this:

Silence is prayer. As a child, I often thought of prayer as talking with God. Even if we embrace this metaphor, if one is talking with another, shouldn't it be at least 50% listening? Furthermore, if the other with whom one is talking is God, shouldn't it be more like 60% or 70% listening? If you were getting golf coaching from Tiger Woods, would you spend most of your time talking or listening? 

In his book On Becoming a Magical Mystical Bear, Matthew Fox points out that most of us learned to pray as children, in a formative stage of our lives when we were dependent on our parents for everything. For this reason our praying can turn into a litany of all the things that we want. We treat God like a celestial Santa Claus. Then, somewhere in adolescence we become arrested in our spiritual development. We never learned to pray as adults. What if we began renewing our prayer life with silence? 

Let God speak. Listen. If you're stuck in your prayer life, then begin with silence. If listening is prayer, and if silence is prayer, then perhaps prayer is communion with God, not just talking. Go for a long walk. 30 minutes. Take no music or reading with you. Just walk. Notice your steps, your breathing. Look at the earth, the trees, the sky. Breathe it in. Let go. Let God be.

Peace. Be Still.

Psalm 46:10 - Be Still, and know that I am God.


Pastor Charlie

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lent Is In Trouble

Lent began yesterday - Ash Wednesday - with services to mark its beginning, and ashes to mark our brows. We are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. We enter into this season willingly, but why?

David Lose is the the president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He is a gifted writer and theologian. My entry this week are his words on Lent.

The Trouble (and Blessing) of Lent by David Lose

Let's face it. Lent is in trouble.

Let me explain. Most of us have favorite holiday seasons. For some it's Christmas, with the family get-togethers and presents. For others it's the Fourth of July and summer, filled by a sense of national pride and beach vacations to boot. But each year at just about this time, it strikes me that very few of us would pick Lent, a season that seems to most of us as grim as the weather that usually attends it.

Think about it: crossing off days on the calendar until Ash Wednesday; leaving work just a little early, saying "I've got to get my Lenten shopping done;" advertisements on billboards and television reading "only 12 more days 'til the day of Ashes;" or little kids going to bed, asking their parents, "How much longer 'till Lent is here?" It just doesn't happen.

The trouble with Lent, I think, is fairly clear. It's buried right in the heart of the primary reading for Ash Wednesday, from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6: "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Sigh) Actually, you don't have to read the whole verse, as the brunt of the problem of Lent is in the first four words, "And when you fast...." 

And when you fast?! C'mon. Except for the occasional crash diet before summer vacation, who fasts anymore?

And there it is in a nutshell, you see, the trouble with Lent: it feels like this strange, weirdly anachronistic holiday that celebrates things we don't value and encourages attitudes we don't share. No wonder that each year fewer and fewer churches observe this age-old (fourth century!) tradition -- it's too old-fashioned, too "Roman," too medieval for many contemporary Christians to handle.

So let's face it. Lent is in trouble. I mean, even among those traditions that do honor the season, rarely is there the same kind of enthusiasm or expectancy which greets Advent. Notice we don't sponsor Lenten Adventures for our kids; we don't have an Adult Lenten Dinner and Party. We don't pine to sing Lenten hymns ahead of time. Lent is in trouble.

I don't know, maybe it's that there are no presents at the end, and no fun and games along the way. Or maybe it's that Lent asks us to give up things. I mean, my word, haven't we had to sacrifice enough already to get our kids through college, to save for retirement, to put that new roof on the house, thank you very much. Why should we give up anything more for Lent?

Or maybe it's the themes of Lent that trouble us. Penitence. Sacrifice. Contemplation. These are the words of Lent, and I, for one, have a hard time believing they were popular even with the Puritans (you remember, the folks that actually held competitions to see who could resist the greatest temptation or avoid the most pleasure) let alone now.

Lent, I'm telling ya, it's in trouble. And so each year, as I listen to my non-Lent-observing friends knock it as "works theology" and my Lent-observing friends complain about it as a pain in the @&!, the same question inevitably demands loudly to be answered: Why Lent? I mean, who really needs it?

But you know what? Each year, whatever my feelings approaching Lent may be, the same answer comes whispering back: I do. Just maybe, I need Lent. Just maybe I need a time to focus, to get my mind off of my career, my social life, my next writing project -- and a hundred other things to which I look for meaning -- and center myself in Meaning itself.

Just maybe I need a time (is 40 days really enough?) to help clear my head of the distractions which any involved life in this world will necessarily bring and re-orient myself towards the Maker of all that was given for my pleasure and which I have let become merely distracting.

Maybe I need the opportunity (and perhaps deep down I crave the chance!) to clear my eyes of the glaze of indifference and apathy which comes from situation after situation where I feel nearly helpless so that I can fasten my eyes once more on the almost unbearable revelation of the God who loves God's children enough to take the form of a man hanging on a tree.

And maybe, just maybe -- and this takes the greatest amount of imagination of them all -- just maybe Lent really isn't mine to do with whatever I please. Perhaps Lent isn't even the Church's to insist upon or discard at will. Maybe Lent isn't any of ours to scoff at or observe. Maybe Lent is God's. Maybe Lent is God's gift to a people starved for meaning, for courage, for comfort, for life.

If it is, if we can imagine that Lent is not ours at all but is wholly God's, then maybe we'll also begin to recall, at first vaguely but then more strongly, that we, too, are not ours at all, but are wholly God's -- God's own possession and treasure.

Seen this way, Lent reminds us of whose we are. The "sacrifices," the disciplines, these are not intended as good works offered by us to God; rather, they are God's gifts to us to remind us who we are, God's adopted daughters and sons, God's treasure, so priceless that God was willing to go to any length -- or, more appropriately, to any depth -- to tell us that we are loved, that we have value, that we have purpose.

Yes. I need Lent. I need an absence of gifts so that I might acknowledge the Gift. I need a time to be quiet and still, a time to crane my neck and lift my head, straining to hear again what was promised me at Baptism: "You are mine! I love you! I am with you!"

I need Lent, finally, to remind me of who I am -- God's heir and Christ's co-heir -- so that, come Easter, I can rejoice and celebrate with all the joy, all the revelry, all the anticipation, of a true heir to the throne.

And so yes, I need Lent. And to tell you the truth, I suspect that you do, too. You see, if Lent is in trouble, it's only because we're in trouble, so busy trying to make or keep or save our lives that we fail to notice that God has already saved us and has already freed us to live with each other and for each other all the rest of our days. And so we have Lent, a gift of the church, the season during which God prepares us to behold God's own great sacrifice for us, with the hope and prayer that, come Good Friday and Easter, we may be immersed once again into God's mercy and perceive more fully God's great love for us and all the world and in this way find the peace and hope and freedom that we so often lack. 


I would agree - I need Lent. I invite you to join in the journey these next forty days.


Pastor Charlie

Monday, February 9, 2015

Proclaim The Gospel

This past Sunday, we heard Paul's message to the Corinthians, that he will do whatever it takes to proclaim the Gospel. In this translation, the term, "the Message" is used in place of "the Gospel." St. Paul writes:

Still, I want it made clear that I’ve never gotten anything out of this for myself, and that I’m not writing now to get something. I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or impugn my motives. If I proclaim the Message, it’s not to get something out of it for myself. I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t! If this was my own idea of just another way to make a living, I’d expect some pay. But since it’s not my idea but something solemnly entrusted to me, why would I expect to get paid? So am I getting anything out of it? Yes, as a matter of fact: the pleasure of proclaiming the Message at no cost to you. You don’t even have to pay my expenses!

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!  (1 Corinthians 9:15-23 - The Message)

Paul is dedicated to sharing the Message no matter the cost. Proclaiming the Gospel/Message is more than getting up and preaching every week. Paul suggests it is more than that. It is a way of life.

We are called to proclaim the Gospel - in what ways does that happen? A quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is, "Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words." I believe the Gospel/Message is proclaimed by our words and our actions as we live out our lives as children of God, reflecting God's great love and blessings to the world.

At our staff meeting last week, a member of the staff shared the following video clip. I am not doing this to endorse the movie (although I am interested in seeing it), but rather to share the message.

Powerful. I am not sure there is much more to say.


Pastor Charlie