Archive for September, 2010

September 27, 2010

A God Who Invests

In a times of online everything, the art of staying in relationships through times of conflict and disagreement grows harder and harder it seems. Misunderstandings about just about anything can erupt easily. Break-up over text messages are a reality.  When we are dissatisfied with a person, we can “de-friend” our Facebook friends, not return phone calls, and ignore messages,  as if relationships were that disposable.  

With all of this being true, it’s easy then to begin to think that God has similar patterns of relationships too.  That God could like us one day and hate us the next. Or, God could stonewall us if we start getting too annoying. Or, that God could grow tired of us and disown us eventually.

This past Sunday, we continued our series on the character of God taking our cues from the lectionary readings from Jeremiah.  I have my friend, Abby of Broadneck Baptist for the inspiration for the series. I was listening to her talk about preaching through the prophet books over the summer and it struck a chord in me as something I thought we as a church should explore together. 

If you are like me, often when you read the prophetic texts, they seem quite removed from our modern experience and harsh. “How could God say those things?” “How can I reconcile this God I read here with the gospel of Jesus?” 

But what I found as I stayed in Jeremiah for several week is some obscure and difficult passages became to me beautiful stories of a God who loves us so much that there’s nothing God won’t do to stay in relationship with us. God loves us so much to abide with us in good times and bad, to mourn with us when our hearts are sad and to keep giving us signs of a hopeful future.

Here’s a portion of the God Who Invests sermon about Jeremiah 32. It’s the crazy story of Jeremiah being asked by God to buy a plot of land with exile on the way soon. It was a story about Jeremiah preaching God’s faithfulness with his actions. If you want to hear the rest, check out our website tomorrow for the audio version.

 . . . . The object lesson can be summed up by the Message’s paraphrase of verse 15 reads like this, “The God of Israel says, ‘Life is going to return to normal. Homes and field and vineyards are again going to be bought in this country.’” It’s a parable come to life.

 Yet, while shocking, a message of unbelievable hope emerges.  In spite of the judgment and the exile that the people would still and soon endure (all the chapters between last week’s lection and today’s), the purchase of this land was God saying loud and clear to the people: “I love you so much. I will never let my investment in you wane. Your future is too bright for that.” And such a statement had nothing to do with whether or not Israel deserved the attention. . . . .

And,  while the cultural norm IS about applauding the gifted, the self-motivated, and the hard-working, this is not what God’s investment policy is about. It’s not what hope is about. 

We proclaim a God today who made investments in a nation and in a people, like us, who don’t deserve it. We worship a God today who doesn’t ask us to come prepare to talk to him about the qualifications on our resume.

We edify a God today who doesn’t pick out only the best, the brightest and the best for blessing.  We proclaim a God who shows us through tangible acts of love that we are chosen, yes, every one of us. Even in spite of all of the things that we can do in our life to mess things up, this is one thing that we cannot mess up, says the Lord. God’s investment portfolio is always about us and the forecast is always looking up.

Theologian Dennis Bratcher puts it like this, “This is really the heart of Jeremiah’s message. He knew that someday people would need to know that God had been with them creating a future for them even in the darkest hour when they themselves saw no need for it.”

Thus, the buying the land was so important not because it was earned, claimed as reward or given as a merit scholarship to save for later. Rather, it was hope saying, “I’ve been investing in your future all along. Trust God to see things through.”

Yet, if you are like me, such an audacious hope is hard to believe. We are way too controlling for all that trust business. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the fact that God would love us that much. It’s hard to believe that such love and faithfulness poured out for us not just on our finest days, but on our darkest, especially our darkest too. It’s hard to imagine that when all our accolades are stripped away God would still love us the same as we think Gods with them.

Maybe then, this is why we need symbols of hope so badly. We need something to hold on to remember, like Jeremiah gave the children of Israel, to know that God sees the big picture and is making a way for better days.  We need symbols that others might call strange, but remind us that God’s investment in us is not something we could ever control or mange.. . .

What good news of God’s investment this is for our today!

September 22, 2010

A Congregational Church

Baptists are a crazy bunch. Just because you know one doesn’t mean you know them all.  We tend to think that we are a little less crazy than most at WPBC, but I digress.

There’s a set of standard principles that make us unique (this is where types of Baptists like the Southern Baptists drive me crazy because they’ve seem to have forgotten this).  The list includes:

-separation of church and state (politics and religion don’t mix in worship)

-priesthood of all believers (we can pray directly to God and interpret scriptures as individuals)

-believer’s baptism (we don’t baptize infants, but confessing Christians as older children, teens or adults)

And the one that trumps them all is autonomy of the local church. Each church community has the rights to make its own decisions, elect its own leaders and plan its services as the community thinks is best.  And, thus, no larger Baptist group can tell a local church who it can hire, what it can read, etc.

At Washington Plaza, we seek to faithfully live by these historic Baptist principles. We do better at some of these than others. Overall, though, we seek to govern ourselves as a congregational church.

Many begin to wonder if the pastor of a local congregational church is the chief decision maker for the congregation since there is not pope or bishop to report to? When many meet a pastor for the first time, it is usually assumed that they are the “head” of the church, functioning like a CEO over an organization.

While this is true in some churches of large membership and those that call dictator like leaders, in the Baptist church this is not true (or shouldn’t be true). Pastors don’t rule the church any more than any of the members do. Based on the idea of the priesthood of all believers, we believe that all members should be included in important church matters. We hold congregational meetings a couple of times a year where votes are taken on decisions that shape the church priorities, goals and financial resources. 

So, am I the chief boss? No.  Do I have a boss? Yes, I have an entire congregation. They all hired me and I guess if they wanted to, they could all fire me one day if they felt I was not longer a good fit for the congregation.

It is impractical though to think that every church member would weigh in on every issue. We all lead busy lives and we’d get nothing done if no one had the authority to do anything on their own. This is why the congregation calls a pastor and elects church leaders to guide ministries within the church.  On any given week, I’m consulting daily with church leaders (the trustees, the chief lay leader: the moderator, and other members of the church council). I never make decisions or speak on behalf of the church without consulting with the lay leaders first. Washington Plaza is OUR church, not mine. Together we make plans about upcoming activities, projects and services. We pray God’s discernment is present in our leadership and that the decisions we make are in the best interest of the congregation (because we know if they aren’t, we’ll hear about it!)

However, this does not mean I am without a role. Though I’m not the CEO, I recognize the weight of the position I have. There are countless ways to lead even when you aren’t “in charge.” I represent a lot of really fabulous folks as the pastor of Washington Plaza and seek to do my best each week to spend my time in away that best serves them and the community.

In a week, if you are affiliated with Washington Plaza, you’ll be receiving a mailing about our stewardship campaign this year. I ask that when you receive this brochure you’ll carefully review it and consider what God might be calling you do in the upcoming year with your gifts of time and finances to the church. This is what being a congregational church is all about: we must ALL do OUR part. We’d cease to be a church without it, no joke.

September 21, 2010

Thanks for Reading

The funny thing about blogs is that folks can keep up with your life without even letting you know that they are doing so.  Can I say blog stalker? Even though this can be a little weird sometimes (I’ve had the experience of people who I don’t know walking up to me and saying, “hey, I read that on your blog”), blogging is something I’m committed to because of the community it creates and because I just love writing.

I started this practice in January of 2006 when blogging wasn’t cool and since then I’ve been blessed to have some loyal readers. These folks have followed alongside me through my last year of seminary, my first call, ordination, marriage, and now being “Preacher on the Plaza” in Reston.  Some have even joined me in keeping up with both my blogs, this one and my new writing adventure called, Re-Imagine.  Though many of the regular readers don’t comment, I know they are still reading and am thankful for their supportive interest in my life.  It’s such encouragement to me to know that my random musings means something to somebody and that hopefully I’m contributing something to the larger conversation of life and faith.

With this said, one of my faithful blog readers got to visit Washington Plaza on Sunday. Lawren, a friend from college,  has been following the story of Washington Plaza and I from the beginning and it was great for me to be able to show her and her husband, Jamin in person what I’ve been up to instead of her just reading about it second-hand. Lawren said she couldn’t leave without a photo and I wanted to share this she sent me this morning.

Thanks, Lawren for reading and all those others of you out there (you know who you are)! I appreciate you and look forward to sharing much more of the journey together.

September 20, 2010

Modern Music and the Psalms

There’s some new exciting buzz around the church at 9:30  now. We’ve added to our adult faith formation classes offered with what is not your typical Sunday School class.  Now, not only do you have the choice of attending a discussion group in the Plaza room based on William Barclay’s commentary on the book of Acts, but there’s also a class called “Modern Music and the Psalms” meeting on the third floor.

It’s taught by one of my most favorite people, my husband along with some assistance from time to time by Jane Tatum and others.

Originally this class was designed to draw in some of the young professionals to the church, but this class has expanded to include members of all ages.  The choir has even changed their regularly scheduled Sunday morning rehearsal time so that they can attend (Thanks, Ken!)

Special thanks to our friend, Amy over at Calvary Baptist for directing us to this great curriculum where each week a modern song is played and compared to a particular Psalm from the Bible. So far the group has studied artists such as the Indigo Girls, Tori Amos and I hear Kanye West is coming up soon.

At the end of the course, each group member’s assignment will be to submit their own modern song with a corresponding Psalm.  The hope is for each student in the class to better see how faith and life merge in more ways than they realize in a given week. And furthermore, it will be the curriculum that keeps on giving to other churches like Calvary did with us!

What I like about the buzz I’m hearing out of this class is that really community seems to be forming. People are sharing their lives with each other as they talk about the songs. There aren’t discussion topics off-limits and scripture is seriously probed in light of our modern context.

From what I hear, the group is excited already about what to study next. They have already been throwing around ideas about movies with scriptural themes and tv shows that have much to teach about life in Christian community.

If you are looking for a place to grow in faith and community with ours, consider joining the “Modern Music and the Psalms” class next week. There’s coffee and pastries waiting for you! All are welcomed.

September 14, 2010

Dreams for the Future

There’s a sign that sits in my office that I found at a flea market last year. It reads: “There’s nothing like a dream to create the future.”

Such is the season that Washington Plaza is entering this fall. Stewardship month is coming soon in October or otherwise known as the time of year when we are all asked to consider anew what our contributions of time, talent and finances will be to the church in the upcoming year.

This year, however, the focus is just a little bit different. Our theme will be “Building a Legacy of Faithfulness.” Our hope is to build on the legacy of service, justice and love in this church so to inspire more in the future. We are being asked by our finance committee to speak aloud what some of our dreams and visions are for the church as we turn our glaze to what is ahead. We’re taking our cues from Joel 2:28: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.” All with the hopes that as we begin to speak to one another the good realities of God in our midst, our future’s paths will become more clear to all of us.

This is where you come in “What are you dreams or visions for the church in 2011?” Feel free to share them here in the comment section or shoot me an email.

We’ll be using all the responses we collect in our worship services in October, and thanks in advance for your participation!

September 5, 2010

A Teaching Pastor

Recently, I’ve heard congregation members talk about my preaching or introduce me to friends as a “teaching pastor.”

And my first reaction was “What? What on earth do you mean? That can’t be right!”

It’s funny how our life experiences trigger certain understandings of langauge, isn’t it? Because when I hear the words “teaching pastor” my thoughts immediately envision an evangelical male, nicely dressed in a suit standing before a congregation of large membership with listeners writing down his every word.  These type of sermons given with a “this is right” and “this is wrong” theology with no room to question the in-between.  Teaching messages such as “The Ten Ways to be a Good Father” or “How to Love Your Children in a Godly Way” with an expository style. I see projectors on a big screen with fill-in the blank outlines found in the bulletin for listeners to write-in the correct answers. (I attended churches like this in college, in case you were wondering . . . )

While I’m sure there is something to learn from these “teaching pastors,” (several WPBC members, in fact, have come from churches like this after learning a lot about the Bible before coming to us) I don’t have a high opinion of such.

Now that I’ve had some time to develop my own theology of preaching, I fear that such images of “teaching pastors” give the art and craft of preaching a bad name.  They take away the craft of it all. I fear they boil down the beauty of  scripture into only its usable parts. I fear they lead their people to miss out on some of the most interesting parts of the Bible. In an effort “to teach” they often fall prey to proof texting instead of wrestling with one particular witness of God in a lection.

Do my people think I’m like this?

But, when I inquire further from those calling me a “teaching pastor” I hear:  “You aren’t the type of pastor that tries to give us your political beliefs or personal rants from the pulpit. You get into the text and then try to teach us something about how to understand it, just as it is. I learn something from you and always get to hear your conviction about the point you are trying to make at the end.”

So, I’m worried a little less.

Call it whatever style you want, but to me, preaching is about having a conversation between a congregation of faith seekers, God and the pastor who happens to be the spokesperson for the day. It’s about the proclaimer’s careful study of the ancient text in an effort to make what seems old, new and relevant for modern experience. It’s about bearing witness to the  good news:  there is more to this world than meets the eye, Jesus is Lord of all.  It’s about drawing listeners into a narrative that has been going on for generations and will continue to go on long after us.

It’s harder than it looks, but rewarding beyond all imagination when done well.

So do I want my congregation to feel like they are learning more about scripture? Of course I do which is why I pay careful attention to giving the context of the passage I am speaking about and sneaking in any tidbits of Biblical literacy I find as I go.

But, ultimately, I hope the Sunday morning sermons are not merely an  intellectual  exercise, but about an experience of God.  Such is nothing that I can force or falsely create through beautifully designed PowerPoint and handouts. Such comes no matter if I give the sermon with a manuscript or use only an outline.

Experience of God comes when the Spirit is present in our worship and the word of God becomes a living word in our hearts and minds.

Call me a teaching pastor or whatever you want. Just know my ultimate hope is that through the words and the presence of my sermons, you receive more of God in your life– the transformation that we all crave.

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