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    Elders' Blog - Entries from June 2017

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    ThuThursdayJunJune22nd2017 Bringing Perspective into Focus
    byBill Davis Tagged Encouragement Faith Suffering 0 comments Add comment

    When I’m in the thick of it, and really desire help or a resolution to my circumstances, where is my focus? Almost always it’s also on “the thick of it.” That’s a very natural response. But like many aspects of the Christian life, God’s economy is paradoxically inside-out. When our problems are directly in front of us (or all around us), God often calls us to a different perspective.

    God calls us to a far-range focus. To focus on the distant horizon, if you will, essentially looking out as far as you can see and be reminded that the Lord has a perspective beyond that.

    Some years back our family made the nearly 1,200-mile drive from Lafayette to the Rocky Mountains. If you’ve ever made a similar trip then you’re familiar with the experience. While yet two or three hours away from the mountains, the horizon stops being flat and it dawns on you that you’re seeing the Rockies. Your perspective of merely looking at the road in front of you shifts to the mountains on the distant horizon.

    Psalm 121 is a classic example of this perspective shift. The first two verses pack in a powerful perspective change.

    “I lift up my eyes…”

    This encourages us to stop focusing exclusively on our present circumstances. Eyes up means eyes aren’t down. It means we can see things we can only see when our eyes change focus, perhaps even things we’ve been missing. It just might be an opportunity to stop looking in the wrong direction, and (re)start looking in the right direction.

    “…to the hills”

    Just like looking to the Rockies for those of us native to the Indiana cornfields, this is a call to look farther than we’re used to looking and navigating. Using a longer timeframe, a broader scope, or a bigger picture changes my outlook. Seeing the Rockies on the distant horizon doesn’t necessarily help me navigate the road immediately in front of me, but it does give me a fresh sense of anticipation on what is otherwise a pretty long trip.

    “…from where does my help come?”

    Ahhh, now here’s a great question. Let’s not let this be merely a rhetorical question with a quick Sunday-school answer. Let us actually stop and ponder this. Usually, I’m all too hasty and operate by default without asking this question. I don’t think I’m unique here. Personally, I usually fall into one of two camps: either help is going to come from me (“git ‘er dun”, right?), or else I silently lament that others aren’t proactively offering help that I think I need (or for which I haven’t asked).

    But this is a solid question to ask myself: where will my help come from? Is it really me, or my unspoken expectations of others? Will I stop long enough to take inventory to realize I’m a poor source for my help? It is well established that we learn and grow most through pain and trial. Stopping to see how limited I am is a key step in shifting my perspective.

    “…my help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

    This is the answer worth our pondering and our worship. This identifies the whole focal point of my new perspective. I may not know how the Lord will help. It remains a mystery of when God will bring his help. But the anxiety of these lingering questions can be overcome by my focus of who will be my help. The “maker of heaven and earth” is on the job. No one can match that résumé! And as we’re reminded that he’s on the job, we refresh our hearts to worship him on the throne.

    To be sure, our Heavenly Father reminds us he “is a very present help in times of trouble” (Ps 46) and lovingly desires to “draw near” (Hebrews 10:22, James 4:8), but he also encourages us to shift our focus. This is not a call to an ignorant hope that everything works out as we wish. This isn’t a recipe to follow so that we get all we want (God is not a cosmic vending machine). This is a deeper truth that our focus is often misplaced, and especially so when things are hard. There’s much for me to learn about waiting on, trusting in, abiding with, and expecting from the Lord; but it’s an appropriate start to first respond with my gaze and focus.

    If Jesus is our example (and he is), we can learn from considering his perspective at the uttermost point of his enduring, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12). His focus was forward, and was beyond the horizon of that thing that was the greatest point of suffering for all time.

    What are you enduring these days? Allow me to encourage you to start with changing your perspective to beyond that thing which you’re enduring. Honestly ask yourself: where are your sources of help? Then consider how those, including your own strength and capabilities, stack up against the one “who made heaven and earth.” 

    ThuThursdayJunJune15th2017 Hospitable Worship

    Have you ever been enjoying a meal with an old friend only to be interrupted mid-bite by someone passing by who knows your friend but not you? As they engage in a lengthy conversation, you sit and observe and toy nervously with the eggs and bacon on your plate.

    Such a situation is not bad but does feel awkward. We’ve all been there. We’ve also been the ones who instigate the feeling of a third wheel in others.

    Hospitality seeks to remove the awkward. It seeks to make everyone feel welcome, valued and a part of what is going on.

    I’ve become more mindful of this as it relates to our gathering on Sunday mornings. There is so much about what we do that is family. We are a family. We do what families do. We have rhythms and inside language and general know-how. That isn’t bad. In fact, it can be a sign of great health. But it can also create awkwardness in guests if we are not careful. That is something to be mindful of and to think about.

    One area of desired hospitality that has come to mind recently for me is related to the songs we sing. It came out of some very helpful conversations right here within our church family. It has to do with language, particularly well-aged pronouns and verbs – Thee, Thou, Thine, dost and the like.

    Now, before you react, let me say that I understand these words are very sacred to many within our church family and hold significant meaning in a variety of ways. I’m not attacking their use or their usefulness. But they can create a sense of awkwardness in some of our guests.

    So, I changed some of them. But there are some ground rules. Let me explain.

    First, as it relates to our entire gathering, we seek to blend preferences and honor a variety of perspectives. Rather than create different styles of worship gatherings (contemporary or traditional), we aim for one blended opportunity. This means that there is a portion of our church family present on Sunday morning that worships well and finds it helpful to sing Thee and Thou and similar words. It connects them (and us as a whole) to our history and the foundation of worship that they (and we) have rested on for decades. Further, when many sing Thy or Thine there is a sacred elevation in their heart as they praise God, so much so that even this type of pronoun relating to him is special and holy. For this reason, I don’t touch the most beloved hymns such as “Be Thou My Vision” and “Come Thou Fount.”

    Second, it can’t be forced. Some songs simply cannot be updated because the poetic smoothness is tainted. I find that usually is the case if the title uses any of these pronouns or if a line ends with one. The title is usually sung within the hymn itself so a change often throws off an entire line and thus, the whole song. Or, if the end of a particular line is changed then the subsequent line will not fit.

    However, even while mindful of these two ground rules, there are some songs that can be changed and allow us to be more hospitable to our guests who have no idea what such a word as dost even means. “Come Ye Sinners” has become “Come You Sinners.” Recently we introduced (though some were familiar with it) “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place.” In it were three occurrences of the word Thy. It is a lesser known hymn. There was no impact on the content. I changed them to Your. It served as an opportunity of hospitality to our guests.

    I know you may not agree. That’s okay. But I hope that the next time you notice a change and double clutch, that you can defer your preference to others in the room and exercise hospitality while you worship.

    WedWednesdayJunJune7th2017 Hypothetical Grace
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Forgiveness Grace 1 comments Add comment

    Have you ever participated in one of those group ice-breaker activities where you’re asked questions about far-fetched scenarios? Something like, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” Or, “If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one item with you, what would you choose?” Those questions can be fun, in large part because they’re unrealistic. Let’s face it, you’re not getting a superpower anytime soon. And you probably won’t be stranded on a deserted island this week, either. So you can answer these questions with a sense of detached lightheartedness, knowing that what you say really doesn’t matter.

    I’m afraid that I often treat grace in the same way.

    On certain occasions I think about my children and the various directions that their lives could go, and it often leads me to wonder about how I would respond to different scenarios that as a parent I could conceivably face. For example, “How would I handle it if I got a call from the police station telling me that my teenage child had been arrested for underage drinking and drug use?”

    After thinking about that for about ten seconds, I think I can come up with a pretty good answer. I figure that I would calmly go down to the station, pick up my child, deliver a great big fatherly hug, offer extravagant reassurances of my undying love, and promise to support and walk with my child through all the challenges ahead. After all, that’s what a grace-filled parent would do, right?

    But here’s the thing: I don’t have any kids being held down at the police station right now. I have kids who are at home spilling their milk and standing on the couch when they’re not supposed to and yelling at each other when they don’t feel like sharing. And let’s just say that my responses in those situations are often far less grace-filled than my imaginary response when the police call.

    All this leads me to admit that I’m much better at hypothetical grace than I am real grace. Put me in a (non-existent) situation where I have to (imaginarily) show love and forgiveness, and I’ll (theoretically) knock your socks off with my (make-believe) godliness. But how am I doing in the real-life, mundane, messy situations right in front of me? That’s a totally different story.

    Perhaps you’re like me. Perhaps you’re way better at the idea of grace than you are the practice of it. If so, let me remind you of one simple point: The grace you’ve received from God is anything but hypothetical. So the grace you’ve been called to extend should be anything but hypothetical, as well.

    For those of us who rest in Jesus, we don’t place our hope in the fact that God would be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love—in some theoretical or potential scenario down the road. We rest in the fact that he is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love—in the here and sin-filled now.

    The reality is that you and I have buried ourselves beneath mountainous piles of rebellious words, thoughts, and actions. As such, we’ve not given God the luxury of keeping things hypothetical. Either he must destroy us with his wrath, or else he can choose to forgive us in his grace. But the one thing he can’t do is wonder “if.”

    In the same way, we’ve been thrown into a world of people who mess up daily. People who gossip and slander and break promises. And it’s to these people that grace must be shown. Right now. In the midst of offenses that still hurt and sins that still linger. As Paul says in Colossians 3, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” There’s nothing hypothetical about it.

    ThuThursdayJunJune1st2017 Stay in Your Seat

    What do you do when you’re upset? When you find yourself in sharp disagreement with someone? When your voice doesn’t seem to be heard?

    Here’s one suggestion: stay in your seat.

    By now you’ve probably heard about the Notre Dame graduates who walked out on Vice President Mike Pence during his commencement address a few weeks ago. And if you’re like most Americans, you probably have strong opinions about it one way or another.

    I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s political feathers here, but from my point of view, the students were perfectly justified in walking out. It was their commencement, and they had the right to participate (or not) as they wished. That’s one of the many privileges of living in a free country.

    But if any of those young men or women who walked out would have asked me for advice beforehand (which unsurprisingly they didn’t), here’s what I would have told them: “Sure, you can walk out. That’s one way to make sure your disapproval of the current administration is made known. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Perhaps there’s a better way. Perhaps there’s an opportunity here to stay seated, to listen to a leader you don’t support, and to entertain the possibility that when people who don’t see eye-to-eye give each other the time of day, good things might happen.”

    The reality is that none of us can get very far in life before we cross paths with those we don’t agree with. Or don’t support. Or frankly don’t like. And when that happens, we’ll have a choice to make. How will we respond? Will we show our disapproval by refusing to engage? Will we turn around and walk out the door?

    As followers of Christ, we’re guaranteed to face opposition. And there’s certainly a time to respond to that opposition by shaking the dust off our feet and moving along. I recognize that.

    But more often than not, I think we’ll find that long before we get to that point, there’s an opportunity for us to stay seated. To listen. To question. To dialogue. To learn. To engage.

    This past quarter I enjoyed leading a “Theology Round-Table” class (although technically, there were several round tables involved) during our Sunday morning Connection Hour. Each week, we found ourselves disagreeing about things—from the logistics of divine election to the how’s and when’s of creation to the complex interworking of law and grace.

    And do you know what? We survived! Although many of us disagreed with points that other people in the class made, we listened, we asked questions, we made counterpoints, and we managed to make it through 12 weeks without becoming lifelong enemies. The whole experience was actually halfway fun.

    In retrospect, I can’t help but observe that this spirit of respectful, patient, honest engagement is increasingly countercultural these days. And it has left me wondering: What if the church could set an example for the world in this area? What if we could lead others on a middle path between passive acquiescence and hysterical outrage? What if we could show that disagreement need not entail disengagement?

    I believe we can. And I believe it can happen as simply as you and I deciding to stay in our seats.

    When a pair of identically dressed young men with name tags show up at your front door to share with you from the Book of Mormon…stay in your seat. Invite them in and have a discussion with them. Ask questions. Offer some counterpoints. Talk candidly and respectfully about your differences.

    When an adult son or daughter joins a church you wouldn’t approve of…stay in your seat. Figure out what it is about that church that is so attractive. Learn what theological convictions may have led to the decision. Express love for your child in spite of denominational differences.

    When a neighbor puts out a yard sign for a political candidate you find deplorable…stay in your seat. Don’t vandalize the sign in the dark of night. Don’t cast dirty looks at your neighbor from across the fence. Get to know each other. Build a friendship. Loan out a cup of sugar.

    We’ll always live with the temptation to walk away from people on the other side of the issues we care most deeply about. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

    Your seat may not always be comfortable. But don’t leave it too quickly.

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