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Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

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Some people say that church is a sanctuary to escape from the world. Others say that it is a place of activism. Some a place to make friends and others it is just what we do on Sunday mornings. It might be the feeling of peace you get when you walk into the space or something else completely. The church might be the only place you experience Jesus all week (hopefully not) or it might be the place you go to serve God. Probably it is a combination of all those things. What is it that makes church, Church for you?

It seems like Church is supposed to be a perfect place where all we talk about is God. The feelings of peace and joy are the only feelings we should experience. We expect it to be a place of comfort, reassurance and seek out God to help us during a difficult experience we are having in our lives.

Fortunately, church can be all of those things. But church can also be messy, imperfect, sad, difficult, frustrating, and sometimes hurtful. We are human and we don’t always treat each other the way we should treat each other. We fail to love our neighbor as ourselves. And we don’t always understand what God is doing in the midst of a really difficult moment in our own lives. And sometimes it feels too personal to share with our pew neighbor.

A friend of mine likes to tell the joke about a couple who goes looking for the “perfect” church. He meets with the pastor at a new church a goes through the long list of what he thinks is a perfect church which includes worship experience, Bible study, mission, community etc. The wise pastor sits back and says, if you find that perfect church, don’t join it because it won’t be perfect anymore. We all bring our life baggage with us. And if we are honest with ourselves, we all play a part in the perfection and imperfection of what makes church, Church.

As a pastor, I see the beauty of the church as a sanctuary, somewhere to go out from into the world, a holy place, and a group of beautifully broken people. Sometimes it is easier to see the brokenness than it is to see the perfection.

This past weekend, I saw perfection. At Pinnacle we begin our year with a Roundup and Activities Fair, a way to reconnect with folks who have been gone all summer, laugh, play some games and get to know the ministries of the church. It always is a fun event but not without its bumps in the road, and this year it felt like there were many. I don’t need to list them off because that isn’t why the story is important. What is important is how we made it through all the bumps into the perfect weekend event.

We did it with the help of church. Members and visitors who brought their pop-up tents for us to borrow that day. New and long-time members carrying tables and chairs out onto the green, committees planning and organizing fun booth activities for young and old alike, deacons active and inactive showing up to grill, set up, serve, and clean up, children baking cupcakes, friends sitting around tables laughing, teens showing up really early to get everything ready, leaders stepping in to solve problems, and flexibility. This is church.

All of the hard stuff got set aside. The grief, loss, frustration and struggles with church and the people in it got blurred and what came into focus was that we were church together. Amen.

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"...when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?"
~Matthew 25:37

It is practically impossible to turn on the TV and not see people in need. With Harvey and Irma topping the news, with billions of dollars in damage, it is easy to focus our attention to the last big thing. It was just over a week ago, when all we saw on television was how to donate money to Harvey, now Harvey seems to be a fading memory as we turn out attention to Irma, then Jose then…

For those who are following closely it isn’t just hurricanes, there are forest fires in the northwest,  monsoon flooding in India, Nepal and Bangladesh (1/3 of Bangladesh is under water), landslides in Niger and Sierra Leone, earth quakes in Mexico, and the list goes on. Last week in Jr. High church school we talked about these needs. As we were talking about them I asked, “What can we do?” to which one student said, we could have a car wash and give the money to those in need. That is a great idea, something simple and practical. So I asked, “So we get money from a car wash, who do we give it to? Harvey? Irma? School kids in South Asia?” To which one student said, “That is hard!”

It is easy to get overwhelmed with it all. When you are talking about billions of dollars in damages what does $10, $20, even $1,000 do? It can do a lot, depending on how you look at it. $10 could provide a case of water to someone who is thirsty, or meal to someone who is hungry. It might not seem like a lot, but for those in need, that meal or that drink can be the very hope that they have been looking for. 

However, it isn’t just our money, it is also how we treat people, how we respond to people, and how we take care of each other. Jesus calls us to be different than non-Christians in such away that people know to whom we belong by what we do. My son, Trey, had a teacher who would always ask, “How do you eat an elephant?”  “One bite at a time.” How do we help the world?  One person at a time. I encourage you to look for little ways to make a difference in someone’s life.  Maybe it is holding a door for someone. Maybe it is encouraging a parent of a crying child or children. We don’t have to wait for big moments to make our impact on the world. If we want to change the world we have to be willing to do the little things in our everyday life for those around us who are in need.

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I like the line-item veto, that red-pencil right to scratch out one line without rejecting the whole bill. The line-item veto can be dangerous in politics, interrupting the usual checks and balances; so in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. I don’t like it in government, though. I like it in life. Last month, Eugene Peterson experienced why, when LifeWay, a leading Christian bookseller, threatened to stop selling his books.

Peterson the venerable evangelical author and translator of the popular Message Bible, has for decades brought a sage voice in wisdom-starved times; but then, in an interview, he momentarily considered performing a gay marriage, and everything changed. Peterson’s tentative “yes” had barely moved from his mouth to Religion News’ website, when the Christian right hit back: “LifeWay only carries resources in our stores by authors who hold to the biblical view of marriage,” came word from on high. Peterson had to recant, or LifeWay “will no longer sell any resources by him, including The Message.” Peterson’s written words, which have helped hundreds of thousands of Christians, had not changed. But suddenly the books were damaged goods, because their author was impure.

The left does this, too. Some pro-choice leaders of the national women’s march last January could not fathom walking side-by-side with pro-life women. In spite of sharing the experience of being women and the hope that women will be treated more humanely, because they disagree on the abortion issue, they banned them.

Doesn’t this one-difference-and-I’m-done-with-you way of doing faith and life seem immature to you? More importantly, isn’t it short-sighted? If Peterson had stood by his brief “Yes” and LifeWay had stuck to their “No,” they’d have deprived myriad souls of Peterson’s wisdom and LifeWay of one of its best-selling authors.

Your pastors will remember having to learn the Donatist Controversy in their seminary’s church history class. During the 4th century, Donatus led a purist’s sort of Christianity in North Africa that believed sacraments (baptism and Eucharist) only worked if performed by righteous priests. If celebrants had caved before persecutors and temporarily renounced his faith, the sacraments they offered became worthless – fruit of the poisonous tree. No line-item veto for Donatus.

St. Augustine wrote the Catholic church’s reply: “Whether people receive the sacrament of baptism from a faithful or a faithless minister, their whole hope is in Christ.” Because baptism and communion come from Christ, not from the clean or unclean hands that perform them, the failings of the priest cannot compromise them.

The Catholic church got it right, I think, when they said no to Donatism. Persons and communities are complex collections of thoughts and actions. Throwing the whole set out for one disagreement is the stuff of middle-school social politics, not grown-up living. That church or preacher or member doesn’t ordain women (or does) or do gay marriages (or does) so we can’t learn anything else from them. Our neighbors voted for Trump or for Hillary, so we shun them.

Shouldn’t we rather pull out the line item veto, friends…then get a bite to eat together and talk about something else?

peace.
Allen

Music to Soothe the Soul

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“Music is an eloquent language that allows us to express what is happening around us in many senses, and to reflect the times and the situation in which we live. It is inseparable from our social, political, economic and cultural reality. At an individual level, it also permits us to communicate our emotions, sentiments, and life experiences . . .”  [1]

Think, for a moment, about all the important milestones in your life. Inevitably, music will have played an important role. Whether a baptism, birthday, high school dance, first kiss, party, holiday, wedding, or funeral, the event was made all the more meaningful through the power of music.

“Music is the language of the spirit.
It opens the secret of life: bringing peace, abolishing strife.”

Kahlil Gibran

Think about the times you were consumed in utmost joy. Recall those moments in which you were bereft with sorrow. Often, we rejoice with or take comfort in music during these times. Scientists have learned that when you listen to music that emotionally resonates with you, your brain releases dopamine, a common neurotransmitter that is released in response to rewarding human activity, and is linked to reinforcement and motivation. [2] These findings offer a biological explanation for why music has been such a major part of major emotional events in cultures around the world since the beginning of human history. [3]

 “Music... will help dissolve your perplexities
and purify your character and sensibilities,
and in time of care and sorrow,
will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Do you have a “special” song? Is there a singer or group whose music can soothe you?  Are you refreshed by the songs you sing and the music you hear at worship?  Music is an integral part of worship – of life – of our emotional landscape.[4] At these very troubling times, when it seems we have lost our moral compass and the world is upside down, it is a good and beautiful thing to be surrounded in “comfort music,” music that calms and soothes you. Music is one of the most powerful gateways that connect to our spiritual natures. It transports us immediately – beyond the limitations and stresses of our minds and physical bodies – to a higher state of blessed, peace-filled intimacy with God.

May you have peace. May you have music. May your souls be soothed.

“My heart, which is so full to overflowing,
has often been solaced and refreshed
by music when sick and weary.”

Martin Luther

 

[1] “Music and Peace,” by Alba Sanfeliu. A paper presented to the first meeting of the ICTM study group Applied Ethnomusicology, at the Historical and Emerging Approaches to Applied Ethnomusicology Conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 9–13 July 2008. http://escolapau.uab.cat/img/programas/musica/music_and_peace.pdf, accessed August 16, 2017.

[2] “Music 'releases mood-enhancing chemical in the brain’”, by Sonya McGilchrist, Health reporter, BBC News. 9 January 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-12135590, accessed August 15, 2017.

[3] “Why Music Makes You Happy,” DNEWS, January 10, 2011. https://www.seeker.com/why-music-makes-you-happy-1765157098.html, accessed August 16, 2017.

[4] “Songs that Soothe the Soul,” by Rev. Lisa Kay C. Smith. Blog written for the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Morehead KY, Rev. Lisa Smith, Minister. http://www.fccmorehead.org, accessed August 17, 2017.

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This week’s blog?  A bit unusual for me.  A simple call.  Or call it a simple encouragement.  It’s inspired by Romans 12: 9-21.

Rom. 12:9-13   Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 

Rom. 12:14-21   Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” [You’ll surprise them, for sure!] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing, if you’re doing it.

And if you’re not quite, or not yet, or have before, but have been too tired, or too distracted, or too overwhelmed with the worries of the day to do it (much like I am often) . . . I encourage you still . . .

And I encourage you to have courage . . .

. . . to give to the point where it hurts . . . in anticipation of joy;

. . . to pray to the point where it interferes . . . in anticipation of peace;

. . . to study and learn to the point where what you thought you knew about the world gets stretched, set upside down (or put rightside up) . . . in anticipation of new insight;

. . . to listen to the point where you can tell someone else’s story, even someone who’s lived something different than you’ve ever imagined . . . in anticipation of Christ-filled friendship;

. . . to not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all . . . in anticipation of blessing;

. . . to, if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all, . . . in anticipation of finding the true purpose of your life;

. . . if your enemies are hungry, to feed them; if they are thirsty, to give them something to drink . . . in anticipation of surprising them with God’s grace; 

. . . to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.