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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Thanksgiving Break


An end and a beginning

The last week was a little strange for me as I started by leaving for Minneapolis to be at the funeral of my best friend's, and longest friend, mother. I did not have a lot of aunts and uncles around when I was growing up, and Barb was often an adult who offered advice and humor (mainly sarcasm, as we were teenage boys) to our schemes and plans. The week ended, however, with another friend getting married, and a party in which the couple seemed genuinely happy. Like most of life...we just trundle on...

I ran into a woman though who wondered if I was worried about the end of the world. A new movie has come out in which the world is supposed to end in 2012. (Just my luck...right when the kids all leave the house, God ends the world.) But I don't really worry about that though. Here's why.

First, our own unique worlds can end at any ill-timed step off a curb, and the bus becomes the last thing you inadequately masticated piece of beef, and the taste of death is upon general, death does not worry me. But the main reason I do not worry much about death--my own or the world's--is because I realize my life is not mine to own. God made me, God owns me, and God has to deal with me. (Not easy, as my children can attest to.)

Because my life is in God's hands, its length and vivacity are not concerns of mine. God is good enough for me in this life, and God will be good enough for me in the next. (Thank you for that Joe Sittler.) So I enjoy as much of this world as I can...whether it's a good bourbon, or a healthy hour of exercise with Chris, or even a planning meeting with a council...we try to enjoy the beauty, and serve the people, and the world around us.

I can't remember my beginning much...and who will I tell about my end? I figure if anybody knows that, it would be the guy who died on a cross 2000 years ago just so questions like that can be answered...because the purpose of life is not to worry about death and destruction, but to the beginning and all the way until the end.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Asking the Obvious Question

I can remember the day as if it happened just yesterday...

My colleague and I went to lunch at Pizza Hut. Of all the times we went to breakfast or lunch, this is the only time we ever went to a Pizza Hut. So we are sitting in the booth, and the waitress comes over to take our order. Mike, looking up from the menu, asks her, "Do you ever get to church?"
The woman looks down at him, and smiles back, "No, not too much anymore. I used to go when I was young, but not since then."
I was struck by her response, so I asked the obvious question, "If I may ask, how old are you now?"
Mike handed her his card, and said, "We'll have a large pepperoni, and you should stop by our church some Sunday. We try to have fun."

Since that lunch about 19 years ago, I have always tried to remember to ask the obvious question when meeting people for the first time. My brother's wife ("What do you see in him?"); potential employers ("What do you want me to do?"); potential employees ("What are you good at?"); my daughters' friends ("Did you know I know a lot of cops in town?"). And, of course, when I find myself meeting new people I usually get around to asking if they've been to church recently. The age question is optional.

One of the things I've always appreciated about Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, is his penchant for not being embarrassed at asking obvious questions... Who touched me? Do you want to be healed? Why are you coming to me at night like a bandit?... Unless he was completely obtuse, he must have known those answers long before he asked the question...yet, he asked, and somehow people trusted and befriended him. Maybe that's the secret to relationships, the power of ask the obvious question...not because you need to know the answer...but just to show you care.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"She put in all she had..."

Now, one might think from the title, that this going to be a story about "all-in" bet of sorts...but those who know their Bible, know something else about this phrase...and it just so happened that I saw it once...long a big-city congregation I once served...

Another pastor and I rotated preaching on Sundays every other week...she was one of the most gifted preachers I've ever had the pleasure to hear...and her words at times were some of the most poetic musings on life and God...but it was my turn to preach, and I looked up and saw a few rows back from the front a friend of mine who was visiting that day. He had recently received a promotion at his law firm, and we were going to have breakfast after worship...on him. (He did get the big raise after all!)

Now, sitting next to him was a woman whom I knew pretty well. She had been a widow for these last twenty years, and she was a retired school teacher, and her health was not so good anymore (she has since died.) Anyhow, the worship service went as planned, and my friend joined me in my office as I was arranging things for the week, and Chris and the girls were getting their coats. He leaned into me and said, "You know Scott, I got kind of embarrassed at church this morning."
"Why? Did you forget to cross yourself during the benediction or something?" (With many Lutherans that's always a hit-and-miss type thing.)
"No. It was during your offering. All I had was 20s."
"OK." (Nothing to get too committed to here, I had two daughters and was starting a family, all I had in my wallet was debt.)
"Well, I gave you a twenty, but I felt embarrassed, so I kind of slipped it under the other envelopes."
"Why, be embarrassed about a twenty?"
"Well, it's sort of over kill, isn't it?"
Here's where it gets interesting. You see, unless you make less than $200 a week, $20 isn't overkill. It's average. "Did you see the woman sitting next to you?"
"Yes," he said, and by my tone I'm pretty certain he knew he was in for a lecture. (I am known for that.)
"Well, I know for a fact that she's eighty-six, retired school teacher, and that every week she puts a $100 bill in the offering plate. I'm sure when she saw your twenty, she wasn't embarrassed for you, she probably felt sorry for you, and if she was stronger she'd have probably invited you to lunch because you obviously couldn't afford it."
My friend nodded, and in apology reminded Chris, and me, and the girls that lunch was on him. As we entered the restaurant, I whispered to the girls to be sure and order dessert...

Living with the God of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit is not about how much money but about how much heart you have...and as I learned long ago from Maybelle, in the end it's only your heart that matters to God.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Aspired Life

Last week Paul Manz died. Unless you are hooked into the highly specialized field of Church music, the name nor the man might not mean much to you. But he did mean something to me. In the course of a half-hour, he once taught me what it meant to praise God. Not bad, as I had a whole bunch of other teachers over the years try to teach me that, and they were not as successful. Here's how it went...

We gathered that day for class in the Board Room of the seminary, usually reserved for meetings telling us future pastors how to behave. As we entered, Paul Manz sat at the grand piano in the middle of the room. By this time in his career Dr. Manz was already a famous church musician, composer, and conductor of sacred chorale and organ music, and as Church Musicians go, he was about at the top in Chicago in those days. But most importantly...he was rather vertically challenged.

It was always interesting to be in a conversation with Dr. Manz because for all his energy and passion, he was never the tallest, even though he was often the highest respected, person in the group. So there he was, legs dangling from the piano bench, and inviting us with almost Jim Carrey-like enthusiasm to have a seat around the piano. He began to play one of his compositions, and a few of my classmates who knew the piece started singing along. (It wasn't Bob Dylan or Van Morrision, so I was not privy to the lyrics...not that I ever understand lyrics from Dylan or Morrision!) After a few minutes of explaining music to me, he taught us a hymn, entitled "It Happened on that Fateful Night" set to the tune of "Bourbon." (And yes, that is part of the reason this is one of my favorite hymns, Dr. Manz nonewithstanding.)

What I learned that afternoon about choral music and hymnody changed how I listen to every piece of music, from Morrison and Dylan to the Eagles to Frank Sinatra. Because music is not just about what it does to the listener or the musician, what it means to the writer or the composer, music is about what it aspires to...lifting the troubled soul, celebrating another year in a life, caressing a grieving heart, connecting a melancholic spirit in the presence of God...those are the gifts of music...and I learned that from Dr. Manz.

Thank you, Dr. Manz, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Requiescat in pace.