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“We can look upon everything we do as a gift to the Lord. If we hoe the garden carefully so that our family – or a neighbor’s family, or someone in need – can have fresh vegetables for dinner, that is an offering to the Lord. If we work a little more than is expected of us at something that benefits others, that too is an offering to the Lord. Everywhere, in every detail of daily living, it is not a question of quantity or expense that makes our offering acceptable; it is cheerfulness, enthusiasm, and the capacity to forget ourselves in helping others.”

~~Eknath Easwaran

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“There comes a moment
when there arises in your soul
a movement that you are
at a loss to describe.

It moves you to desire
you know not what,
only that it is beyond your imagining.

It is God at work within you.

Let God do his work.
Let him lead you, as he will.
He needs only your consent

Be content not to see,
and put aside your need to know.

Accept that someone is moving
lovingly within you,
even if you do not recognize
that it is God at work.”

~ An Excerpt from There Is A God, There Is No God: A Companion for the Journey of Unknowing by John Kirvan; a new translation and interpretation of the fourteenth century spiritual classic. Here is a passage on the spiritual practice of yearning.

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Blessed are the flexible for they shall not shatter into pieces.

~ Pastor Randy Olson, Chaplain at Tacoma Lutheran Retirement Community

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Someone doing a pastoral internship who was very frustrated by the need to have patience with a mentally handicapped man who liked to hang around the church finally asked the supervising priest how he managed so well.
“Well,” [the priest] said, “he’s Jesus.”

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Psalm 84. Happy are the people whose strength is in you! whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

Pilgrims are people on a journey of worship to a place where God has been seen to act. The destination is not what is most important; where God has been encountered may or may not be a famous place of visions or healing. What is important for us as pilgrims is that we have set our hearts on a journey toward God.
Our church can be a holy site for us. As we sit in the pews, we breathe in the years of prayer still in the air. We look around and remember how Christ has been present in our lives, in our neighbors’ lives. The ritual of praying, hearing God’s words, receiving gifts, and giving thanks nourishes us and provides the map for our heart’s journey outside the building.

But the church should not be our only holy place. At the end of the service we proclaim that we are going forward into the world, loving and serving the Lord with each step, guided by the Holy Spirit. As pilgrims, we continually travel and we worship God as we go.

~ Forward Day By Day Meditation August 26, 2012

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O God, I have tasted Your goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want You; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Your glory, I pray, so I may know You indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow You up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.
 In Jesus name.
 Amen

~ A. W. Tozer from “Following Hard After God”

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O God, bring new life
where we are worn and tired;
new love
where we have turned hard-hearted;
forgiveness
where we have wounded;
and the joy and freedom of your Holy Spirit
where we are prisoners of our selves.

~~John L. Bell

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A young minister interviewed for the pastorate of an older congregation. The Search Committee reviewed his resume’, education and credentials. They liked what they saw and asked the young man to preach a sermon so the congregation could evaluate his public speaking skills. He preached an impassioned message from First Corinthians 13, about love. Every part of his sermon was perfect. The toughest members of the congregation felt stirred and inspired. The homily was nothing short of sensational. The church hired him. But, after he was installed, he continued to preach the exact same sermon every week for months. Each homily was just as stirring as the first time he’d preached it, but the congregation began to grumble, saying they wanted a different sermon. The church board called their new pastor into a special meeting and asked him a number of questions, trying to discern the reason behind the repetition of his single sermon about love. They inquired: Do you have other sermons? Is this all you ever preach about? Do you know there are other subjects in the Bible?, and so forth. “Yes, of course,” he said, “I know there are other subjects in the Bible. You’ve read my resume’. You know my education and reputation. I have hundreds of sermons, and I am anxious to preach them!” And with a grin he said, “I can hardly wait to share them with this congregation.” Puzzled, they asked, “So then, why don’t you preach us another sermon?!” The new rector looked around the room, gave up an easy smile and with a gentle tone said, “Well . . . when we get this one down, we’ll move on to the next one.”

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Forgiveness
Is a thousand pains
Placed one by one
In small boats
Kissed tenderly
And sent out to sea
Sometimes a few float back
The exquisiteness of the pain
Remembered
Kissed yet again
Then placed in its boat and sent out
As many times as it takes
Will they ever stop coming back
I can’t know
I can only send them out again
One by one

-Laura S. Walters

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David Lose, a theologian and practioner of faith, several months ago wrote a blogpost title “Ten Things the Church can learn from the Apple Store”[i] He makes some interesting comparisons between Apple…the brainchild of Steve Jobs…and the church.

Stop selling Stuff

Apple Interpretation: Steve Jobs did not ask “how will we grow our market share from 5% to 10%”. No, he asked, “How do we enrich people’s lives?”

Church Application:
Stop worrying about membership and about whether people will join
We don’t sell stuff.
Instead, ask people why they’re here,
why they’ve come, what they’re looking for,
and how this congregation can aid them in their walk with God.

Enrich Lives

Apple Application:
Apple’s philosophy is to engage “kids” of all ages…to spend as much time with a customer as needed to help them see why Apple will enrich their lives. They do not work on commission.

Church Application: Strengthen faith.
What would it mean if before each action, decision, or vote you asked the question, “How will this help strengthen the faith of the people who come here?”

Hire for Smiles

Apple: The Apple Store cares less about your technical proficiency and more about how you love people

Church: People may decide in the first two minutes whether they’ll be back. Before the first hymn…before the sermon…people want to know they are genuinely welcomed and not feel like they are being recruited in order for the church to survive.

Celebrate Diversity:

Apple: Mohawks, tattoos, piercings are all acceptable at Apple.

Church: Have we created a place where our kids and their friends feel welcome even if they’re dressing differently than when we were young?

Have we created a place where neighbors who may look different, or have different levels of education, or dress differently feel welcome?

Look around – does everyone look the same? Then maybe we need to work harder at making room for all kinds of different people to find their place in our congregation.

Unleash the inner genius:

Apple: Teach your customers something they never knew they could do before coming to the store

Church: Everyone in your congregation has something of value to offer your congregation. (Now, say this 5x!)

So when something needs to get done at the church, don’t call any of the first 3 people that come to mind.

Call the 4th, 5th, or 6th person, because they can do it too

Empower Employees:

Apple: Employees are not pressured to make a sale; they are empowered to do what they believe is the right thing to do…even if it does not create a sale

Church: If it matters, don’t let the pastors do it!

Really. How else will our people be equipped and empowered to read the Bible with confidence, to connect their faith to their daily lives, and to share their faith with others if the only persons who ever do these kinds of things are the pastors. We learn by doing, so if it matters, invite everyone to do it!

(Okay, so pastors can do some of this too, but if it matters, don’t let them be the only ones who do it!)

Create Multi-Sensory Experiences:

Apple: The brain loves multi-sensory experiences

Church: The church is the original “multi-sensorial experience” – so let’s reclaim that.
We’ve got music, and words, and images,
and bread and wine,
and stained-glass windows,
and (lest we forget) actual, physical flesh-and-blood people around us.

Appeal to the buying brain:

Apple: Create uncluttered environments instead.

Church: What are we doing – in our meetings, in Sunday School, in worship – that we don’t need to do

I wonder what would of happened n
-the “dish-drying” church
-the “green-bean” church
-and the “forgotten members” church
If they had taken even one of these ideas into consideration?

Why church?

Why would you consider inviting someone to the ice cream social next Sunday at 6:30?

Why would you consider inviting a family with young kids to bring their kids to Sunday school in September…and invite them to stay for church?

Why do you come to church?

Do we come to church so we can call ourselves Christian just as they did in Antioch?
Do we come to church so that future generations will have a church?
Do we come to church so there is someone to marry and bury us?

I cannot answer those questions for you…
–and each of will have a different reason for “why church”?

The Wednesday evening group wrestled with the question:
“What would happen if this church ceased to exist?”

As we shared, it became clear…we would still worship
-it may be in a different way
-or it may be with different people
-but practicing Christianity was still the answer

We even went as far as to suggest
-that every person has an instinctive and inherent desire for God
-from the moment of birth
-this “treasure” in their heart
-for a relationship with God
-whether they ever recognize it or not

The paradox of the church is that while we plan and strategize for the future
-that future is not set in stone

Our Book of Order reminds us
-the church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.[ii]

I don’t know about you…but it helps me lose a whole lot of baggage…knowing that none of us is single handedly responsible for Christianity…thanks be to God.

We are only called to be faithful
-to prepare for future generations
-to tell our stories
-to treasure the love of God
-to love
-to forgive
-to always be moving forward…dressed for action
-to be a community of hope

If we have lived out Jesus’ invitations
-loved our enemies
-break bread with those who different from us
If we have worked on our own brokenness
If we have asked the hard questions
If we have shared the wealth of our time, talents, and treasure

We do not “go” to church
We ARE the church.

May it be so for each of us…this day and every day.