My Yoke Is Easy

by Pastor Steve Schumacher

Consider Jesus’ instruction to love your neighbor as yourself. With this in mind, to be a disciple of Jesus means we try to live out that directive. And lest we think this is a difficult and inconvenient task we have been given, Jesus says, in the Gospel of Matthew, “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

Featured-2xc1791a8dhbp3uroakr2iThis is an invitation to, as you may have heard before, “let go, and let God.” We are invited to give up our struggles, and fears, and cares, and trade all that in for a life of discipleship, following Jesus Christ. And this necessarily means we do our best to love our neighbor. When we do this, Jesus promises His yoke is easy, the burden of life—lived His way—is light. But this seems so contrary to what we think. It is hard to trust Jesus on this. If I give to my neighbor, I might not have enough for myself.

The weekend after Easter I was involved in a Walk to Emmaus Retreat at the Methodist Church in Silverdale. There are four clergy working on these retreats and they were having trouble finding a fourth to fill out the roster. My friend Stephanie, a Presbyterian minister from Anacortes, and the ‘Spiritual Director’ for this ‘Walk,’ asked if I would be willing to join the team. She said, “I can’t believe nobody wants to take a break and go on this retreat after the rigors of Holy Week and Easter.” My response was, “I don’t really think of ‘working a Walk’ as taking a break.” But I agreed to join the clergy team.

A Walk to Emmaus Retreat is designed to shower, even overwhelm, the ‘pilgrims’—the intended focus of the retreat—with messages of God’s love in many and sundry ways. Those of us ‘working a Walk’ are the means by which God’s love is proclaimed and demonstrated. Along with us four pastors, there were people cooking, giving presentations on grace and on living the Christian life; there was a lot of singing. All of it is meant to say in a million ways, “God loves you, just as you are, before you have done anything to earn his love.” In other words, we seek to declare God’s love by loving our neighbor.

Despite my reluctance to spend the weekend after Easter working a retreat, I ended up benefiting in many ways from all that we did—the singing, worship, presentations, good food—all that we did contributed to a feeling for me, of walls being broken down, and a sense of renewal and refreshment.

For these retreats, there is a cost. We make a commitment of time, of energy; and there is a financial cost—we have to pay our own way to ‘work’ on a ‘Walk.’ Plus, we can’t take a shower for three days. But despite that it was a wonderful experience, as these retreats always are.

Each ‘Walk’ has a theme verse and a theme song for the Retreat. I’m still singing the theme song in my head a month and a half later.

The reasons for sharing this with you, is to make the point that while the life of discipleship to Jesus Christ is costly, it is not difficult nor inconvenient nor a hassle. To be a disciple there is something asked of us; there is a cost. But, it is not a burdensome life. In fact it is exactly the opposite. A life of discipleship is the source of joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction. It is true what Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This is the opposite of what we naturally think, and how we typically try to live. Thinking only of ourselves, as it turns out, is a heavy burden. It is a joyless existence. We think we will be satisfied and fulfilled, but we will always be disappointed when we only look out for #1, always put ourselves first, and are careless toward others.

What is freeing, satisfying, fulfilling, and joy producing is to care for others, and to put others and their well-being first, ahead of our own. This is the life of discipleship. This is where life and joy and peace are found.

Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to Me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (NRSV)

Rest for our souls, a joy-filled life, rather than a heavy burden—these are wrapped up in loving your neighbor.pastr32c

When you finally get tired of carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, of trying to win, to come out on top; to measure up, to be worthy; Jesus says you can come and give your burdens and your worries to Him. In exchange He will give you rest, peace; His love will breakdown your walls of resistance; will renew and refresh you; will give you life.

 

You Are My Reason to Sing

by Pastor Steve Schumacher

“An atheist walks past a church …” worship_4701c
The start of a joke? Nope, true story.

The atheist in question, new to the neighborhood, walked past the church one Sunday on his way to Starbucks, and he overheard the choir singing, The Old Ship Of Zion. “I can’t remember the words,” he said, “but the soloist sang something like ‘Join me on the old Ship of Zion, and you’ll find peace in the Lord,’ …it stopped me dead in my tracks. I just stood in front of the church and let the music surround me.”

He said the gospel hymns he heard that first day reverberated in his head for hours. “I found myself humming Mary Don’t You Weep and Move On Up A Little Higher and all these other songs,” … “It made me think how amazing it is that a historically oppressed people [hearkening back to slavery] can continue to persevere and derive strength from its music
and its faith. I was very moved.”

And it wasn’t just this one Sunday. He confesses to being moved by the singing “that pours forth each Sunday” from the church choir and that he wished he believed in God. He lives two blocks from the church and passes it most Sundays on his way to get coffee. He said, even though he has rejected the existence of God, the “exuberant singing of the church choir often produces in him a feeling of longing.”

This article was written in 2002. I don’t know if in the years since he has come to faith in God, but it seems possible, even likely. That sense of longing he spoke of; God pursuing him; his resisting; but I can see his resistance weakening and eventually this atheist giving up the fight.

Think of Pilgrim as this church. No, I’m not suggesting we ask our choir to be more like an African American Gospel choir. I was thinking more about the part where the atheist was moved by what he heard coming out of that church he walked past.

I was on a retreat in April, the weekend after Easter. The theme for the retreat was, “You are my reason to sing.” This statement was directed, of course, to God. The person explaining this theme said he is a musician and so this was very meaningful for him as he thought of singing and playing music in praise to God. But, he said, we can sing to God with any of our gifts—the gift of teaching, the gift of business, of caring for others, or whatever.

So think about that guy walking past the church; what if that church is Pilgrim? Or, how about if it’s the other way around and we are the ones out walking in the community in some way—serving a meal, visiting someone, helping a neighbor, or singing at a place for senior living. What would it mean for people to be moved by the music (in whatever form it takes) they hear coming from us; to be moved by any number of ways we sing our praises?

Jesus urges us, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

What if people are moved when they come in contact with what we are doing, whether that is walking past the church, coming inside, or when we go out into the community?

If a vision for the church is something we all buy into, that this is what we, together, are about and trying to accomplish, then how about this: when people look at Pilgrim, they see God’s love. That is, as a community, within these walls, we love one another in Jesus’ name and to his glory; and, at the same time we extend God’s love beyond these walls, out into the community around us—loving our neighbors.

There are a lot of problems in our world, both locally and globally. There is a lot of evil, hatred, and violence, both locally and globally. What is the Church’s voice and presence in this troubled world? For our part, what is Pilgrim’s voice and presence locally in this community, and also extending nationally and even globally?

When people look at Pilgrim, when they think about us, we want them to see and think of the love of God. We want people to be moved by what comes out of Pilgrim, to the glory of God. We want people stopped in their tracks, and maybe even to decide to come inside. Wouldn’t that be something?

Our voice and our physical presence are about moving people with the love of God. We testify that God, in Jesus Christ, has overcome the world and all the problems, evil, hatred, violence. And even now God is making all things new, is bringing his kingdom into being. Pilgrim’s voice and presence is to proclaim this good news in thought word and deed. Lord, you are my reason to sing. And we sing in many ways, to God’s glory. Amen.

Hallelujah! From Head to Foot

By Pastor Steve Schumacher

In March there was an adult class offered Sunday mornings at Pilgrim where we discussed one of the psalms each week. One week we talked about Psalm 150, the last one in the “prayer book of the Bible.” One of the discussion questions was the following:

Augustine claimed that a “Christian should be a hallelujah from head to foot.” Are you? Do you want to be? What needs to be done to get you there?

What does it mean to be a “hallelujah?” Hallelujah means “praise,” specifically, “Praise the Lord.”

“Praise the Lord” may be what your Bible says at the beginning and the end of Psalm 150. And actually the last 5 psalms (146-150) all begin and end with “Praise the Lord” or “Hallelujah.” Psalm 145 doesn’t include that phrase, but it is a psalm of praise all the same.

2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.

The Book of Psalms, the “prayer book of the Bible,” seems to be emphasizing praise as the way we relate to God, calling us to praise the Lord; even giving us the words to say and sing if we adopt these psalms as our own prayers.

So, what does it mean to be a “hallelujah”? What does that look like?thanksgiv_9747c

Here is one answer. There is someone who has been worshipping at Pilgrim lately. They are not a member, but have been here nearly every week in recent months. This person has also been inviting and bringing friends with them—a one person evangelism committee.

Observing this has been wonderful. This person has, we hope, been hearing God’s Word, and we hope has felt God’s Spirit to be present among us. As a result, they are excited to be here worshipping with us, and to share this experience—hearing God’s Word, experiencing God’s Spirit—with friends, bringing them here so they, too, can hear God’s good news.

It seems to me that is a good description of “hallelujah” and “praise”—of being a “hallelujah from head to foot,” simply being a witness to Jesus Christ and to the good news of God, and inviting others to come and see; to come and hear.

So, again, Augustine said a “Christian should be a hallelujah from head to foot.” And the questions are, “Are you? Do you want to be? What needs to be done to get you there?”

Certainly we cannot require praise, or try to legislate it, write it on stone tablets—“thou shalt praise”—or post it on courtroom walls. That is not the point, and it wouldn’t work anyway. Instead, praise is what springs from gratitude and thankfulness. When we are truly grateful to someone for what they have done, and for who they are, then we are moved to praise.

Trying harder to feel grateful, telling ourselves to be thankful, lifting our voices in praise because we know we should, or that we feel it is required of us—these are not pictures of a person being a hallelujah from head to foot. Praise is not something we can muster by trying and working at it. It’s a response, naturally, because of what someone else has done. The initiator of praise is actually someone else, they draw it out of us.

The thankful person—that person moved by gratitude—is the one who will share the good news with others of what they have found, a hidden treasure or a lost coin or a pearl of infinite value in some of the parables Jesus tells.

As we celebrate another Easter and our risen Lord and pastr32c
Savior, may this be our prayer, to be able to truly see Jesus Christ and to know his grace and mercy. Grace and mercy that gives us life and hope, that restores us in good and right relationship with God and with one another through the forgiveness of our sins. And then realizing all Jesus has done for us, our prayer is that we are moved to gratitude. And finally our prayer is that we, in our grateful hearts, are moved to praise. Then we don’t have to worry about it, or strive for it, we will be a hallelujah from head to foot.

Success

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said…cross.it is finished

“It is finished,”

and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30, NRSV)


“It is finished,” as in completion of work, job well done, success.  Jesus is God come into the world – God incarnate – and His mission is now accomplished here on the cross.

But this success is not success the way we usually think of it.  If the cross is not enough evidence, consider also the donkey in the story of  Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.  Look, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:12-15, NRSV)

John is quoting from the prophet Zechariah:
“Rejoice greatly, …  Shout aloud, …  Lo, your King comes to you; triumphant and victorious is He, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the  foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9, NRSV)

The crowd meeting Jesus with palm branches was thinking of the first part “triumphant and victorious,” and they thought they knew what that meant and would look like.  They apparently overlooked or ignored the second part, “humble and riding on a donkey …”  Because they missed the part about the donkey their expectations for Jesus are soon disappointed.

The people expect that their liberator, their coming king, is riding into Jerusalem, and they have expectations of what that is supposed to look like, and what is supposed to happen.  They have suffered much under Roman oppression, had their freedom and autonomy taken away.  Here was the One who was going to set them free in a way they were expecting, how they envisioned it would look.  They should have paid more attention to the donkey.

Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem on a stamping, snorting stallion – a war horse.  He was not riding in a chariot, a la Ben Hur.  Instead He rode in on a humble beast of burden, and an inexperienced one at that.

banner.it is finished3They say, “You are what you wear,” image is everything.  It could also be said, “You are what you drive.”  Our cars are every bit as much a sign of status as our clothing.  But Jesus chooses to ride in on a donkey, the colt of a donkey.  What does that say about Him?

We would have chosen the stallion of course, the steed and chariot dashing headlong into battle.  And we would have chosen a warrior king riding that stallion.  But if you think about it, when there is a general or a king are they out in front leading the charge on their imposing, stomping, snorting, war horse?  Maybe that is the case in the movies, like Mel Gibson leading the charge in Braveheart, or Gandalf, Aragon, and Legolas in Lord of the Rings.  But that’s Hollywood.

In real life where is the general or the king in a battle?  They are sitting on their imposing war horse, way at the back on the top of some hill overlooking the battle.  They are too important to be down in the midst of the battle mixing it up, risking their life.  They’re giving orders, directing traffic, orchestrating the events taking place down below in the battle as it is played out before them.

Before riding into Jerusalem, Jesus was on the Mt of Olives, looking down on the city.  But He does not remain there overlooking the battle being waged down below.  He rides into the midst of the battle.  He rides into Jerusalem and to what awaits Him – the cross – humbly riding a donkey.  That is the point of Jesus, He is God with us, coming into the midst of the battle against sin & death, violence & hatred, and winning the victory.

His success is won through sacrifice, giving, love, the cross; again not how we would measure success. But He has won the victory, which is the redemption of the world, by humbly laying down His life for the sake of the world.

Distress

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), …

“I thirst.”I Thirst.Cross.3

John 19:28


When we say, “I am thirsty,” we can mean physical thirst. I remember a hot & dusty ride in the back of a pick-up visiting cousins in South Dakota. The Pepsi when we got to town could still be the best tasting drink I have ever had.

But, when we say, “I am thirsty,” we can also mean something else, another desire that is as strong as physical thirst – a longing, a desire. We thirst for something lacking, yearn for something we don’t have, or having tasted a little we want more.

Brian Doyle is a writer living in Portland. He wrote a story called The Room in the Firehouse. He relates attending a meeting early one morning with a friend of his. The friend didn’t want to be there and didn’t get anything out of the meeting, didn’t feel he belonged there, couldn’t wait for the meeting to be over.

But Doyle relates how moved he was by the meeting and the people who spoke about their brokenness and what a mess they had made of their lives. They were struggling mightily trying to put their lives back together, which he compared to “staggering like a new foal.” His friend referred to them as “those poor people.” Brian’s own take:

It seems to me that those poor people are the wealthiest people I ever saw in honest humility… It seems to me that they are great because they know they are not, healthy because they know they are ill, admirable because they know they are not admirable at all by all the measures of the real world…”

In trying to resurrect their dead lives, they are reaching “for that crack of light, shyly, shaking a little.” Consider this reaching for “that crack of light” as a thirst, a deep longing, and desire for something they don’t have, but desperately want and need. Then consider Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” They are reaching “for that crack of light” … thirsting after it. Jesus says He is this light.

Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me.” He says to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water [from the well] will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

I thirst.banner.2Jesus is saying, by knowing Him we will not be thirsty… in fact will never be thirsty again. That is a bold claim. As we come to know Him, that is the end of our thirst. Amazingly, surprisingly, mysteriously, this is the promise of Jesus, and what Jesus came to accomplish.

But, in this scene on the cross, Jesus is the one who says, “I am thirsty.” And undoubtedly He means He is physically thirsty; hanging on a cross, dying, throat parched, tongue sticking to the roof of His mouth, lips cracked and bleeding. And so someone runs, dips a sponge in some sour wine, and lifts it up to His lips.

Consider that He also means more than this physical thirst. Consider that this is what John means when he says, “knowing all was now finished” and to “fulfill scripture” – that His thirst was also wrapped up in these. The purposes of God are being carried out even here in Jesus’ crucifixion.”

Jesus was thirsting for the completion of His work in and for the world, which was taking place here on the cross. His suffering, including thirst, and death on the cross was how Jesus was fulfilling God’s purpose. He took our sin on Himself. He was thirsty to take away our thirst. He died to take away our death. And He was raised to new life so that we would live.

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty;” an amazingly bold claim… and promise.

Abandonment

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, …

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:45-46

We can imagine how Jesus must have felt – he had plenty of
reason to feel forsaken and abandoned:abandonment cross1

  1. a time of darkness which we usually associate with fear of the unknown, what we can’t see, or control;
  2. the extreme pain of a gruesome death – beatings, crucifixion;
  3. being alone in the midst of all this – nearly everyone had fled, and certainly no one was there to help. Jesus had been left completely and utterly alone,
    and based on the evidence that included God.

So, we can understand how Jesus would feel forsaken and abandoned.


Last summer we were in Rome with a group of 19 people. One morning we all went to the Colosseum. Imagine The Tacoma Dome without a roof and 19 people wandering around on two levels with several hundred of your closest strangers. After a couple of hours my wife couldn’t find any of the rest of us and decided that we had left, going next door to the Forum, and left her behind.

In her own words, she was afraid we had left her there by herself. She didn’t trust that we would not do that, and so she left the Colosseum to look for us. When we rounded up the group to leave, all were present except for my wife. I looked around some more but could not find her anywhere. We decided the rest of the group should go on ahead to the Forum and I would stay behind to continue searching, with an agreed time to meet.

I continued my search, but of course with no luck. Finally I left the Colosseum to go over to the Forum at the agreed time. And, what do you know, there was my wife with the rest of the group.

The point of this story is we too know what it feels like to be forsaken and abandoned. And certainly Jesus had every reason to feel this way. But the truth is He was not. Even though He felt that way – despite darkness, pain, alone, God was with Him, had never left Him. And the proof is the resurrection. God did not abandon Jesus to death and the grave as Peter says in Acts 2, but has raised Him to new life.

It is the same for us – despite times when we feel forsaken or abandoned we are not. It may seem that way, we may feel all alone in the world; we may be experiencing a ‘dark night of the soul,’ or life may be falling apart around us. But come what may – the death of loved one, the breakup of a relationship, or loss of job, sickness, even death – that is not the case, God does not forsake or abandon us. God is always there.

abandonment banner1The point is – certainty and confidence, hope and trust are not found in or based in our feelings, or what we can see or touch, but in the promise of another – the promise of God. In Hebrews (13:5-6), God says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And so we can say with confidence, “‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’”

The proof for us too is in Christ’s resurrection. He is the first fruits. And we have the same hope in God’s promise, that we too will be raised to new life just as Jesus was.

Just as Jesus could feel forsaken & abandoned, so we can too. But God’s promise, delivered to us in the person of Jesus, is that will never happen.

Relationship

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother,

“Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”

relationship.bannerAnd from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. John 19:26-27


Jesus’ entrusts his mother to the care of the “beloved disciple,” following Jewish practice in which a son was expected to provide for his mother who would otherwise remain alone. But why was this not the duty of Jesus’ own brothers? They were brothers by blood, but not by faith. Jesus therefore creates a new community, a new family, based on faith. Mary and the “beloved disciple” are representative of this new community.

This new community was the ‘fruit’ of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the new covenant given & received through the cross. And the cross shapes the ‘life together’ of this new community.

The community of faith – faith lived out in this community as:
1. “love one another, as I have loved you”;
2. the willingness to lay down your life for another;
3. “take up your cross and follow me.”

If we in this faith community are to love one another as ‘I have loved you,’ Craig Koester says, then we must love one another with a love that derives from and is shaped by Jesus’ gift of his life on the cross. If the fullness of God is revealed in the incarnation and the crucifixion brings the work of the incarnation to fulfillment, then for Jesus’ followers to love as he loves means to embrace the cross.”

But who would want to do this, or who even could?

Barbara Brown Taylor talks about how the crowds around Jesus vanished once it became clear where he was headed. He had twelve disciples the night he was arrested; three days later, only one was left. Where did the others go? To save their lives as best they could.

Most of us are more concerned with saving our life than giving it away.

This is not a choice most of us can or will make. In the end though, it’s not a choice after-all. But this is where Jesus saves us – from death to life. The call is to turn to him and believe this is true; and as we believe, to care for others in the ordinary relationships of life, and especially those who need most to be cared for and loved – therelationship.cross1 widow, the orphan, the poor, and the alien.

Where do we find the strength for this kind of life, or even the desire to pursue it? Faith. Faith that Jesus gives life. Faith is the only way, because of the road to life, or else few would take it.

We are called to love, “Woman, behold your son”. We are called to see (to notice & not just walk on by) the widow, the poor, the orphan, and the alien. We are called to love in Jesus’ name, just in our ordinary daily relationships.

We don’t do this alone, and by our own strength, but in the community of faith (where we strengthen, uphold, and encourage each other in this life of faith), with a love commissioned at the foot of the cross.

Salvation

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying,
“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43


This guy doesn’t deserve this, this salvation from Jesus.  So, we set out trying to fix his image, make him someone worthy of Jesus’ notice.    We first clean this guy up so Jesus can save him; make him presentable, make him one of “us” – or at least how we see ourselves.  We’re not so bad – sure we’ve got our faults, but we’re basically good.  I know I’m not perfect, but I’m at least trying to be a good person.

This is what we do to this thief – clean him up.  He came to Jesus, asked for repentance – sure he made some mistakes, but that’s all in the past, now he’s met Jesus and turned his life around – sure it’s the last minute and we don’t really like death bed conversions – where they get in at the last second rather than the life-long Christian who has worked so hard to get in.  But this guy made it in the end, he got his act together, finally, and now Jesus can save him.

The other thief – nope; the religious leaders, Roman soldiers, Herod, Pilate, the people calling for his crucifixion – nope.  “Father forgive them?”  Not unless they repent first.

But thinking this, we miss the scandal of grace.

It’s a shock to us, that Jesus grants this guy salvation.  If it’s not a shock, if we’ve first cleaned this guy up, domesticated him, then we miss the good news for him, and for us.  God’s grace is a scandal.

Jesus’ death is not about bad people getting better, being cured of their badness.  Instead it is good news – God’s grace – for bad people unable to fix what they have done, who they are, or have become.

The Bible is the story of the good news of God to a broken world with broken people living broken lives – not loving God, not loving each other.  Look around, it’s obvious.  But Jesus Christ comes in love to redeem and make whole … to make all things new … to make us new.

When dealing with addiction, the view is someone has to hit rock bottom before they can begin to turn their life around.  Until rock bottom, they always think they can figure this out somehow.  But with our broken world there is no way out of this.  There is no turning the corner, hitting rock bottom, and turning our lives around.

salvation.crossJesus meets this guy at the worst point in his life.  He’s hanging on a cross – judged, condemned, dying; there’s no escape, this is it.  And it’s right here, when there is no hope, that Jesus meets him and saves him.

And this is good news for us, because we are this guy.  Instead of making him one of us, we would do better to make us one of him.

No, I’m not a thief, at least not like this guy; or an insurrectionist; murderer; or whatever his crime is.  But to claim that I’m somehow better and more deserving of salvation completely misses the reality of my unworthiness and God’s grace.

“Today you will be with me.”  This is about God’s grace; God come to us, not us to God.

Ready, Set, Grow

By Pastor Steve Schumacher

This is a quote I found online. It is from 2007, but still applies today:

“Willow Creek Community Church located in suburban Chicago has become one of the most influential evangelical churches in America. Giving birth to the “seeker-sensitive” church model with its emphasis on attracting large numbers… Willow Creek has also been the recipient of much criticism from many fellow evangelical leaders. Critics argue that this “seeker-sensitive” approach has produced the proverbial church that is “a mile wide and inch deep,” referring to its lack of spiritual and theological depth.”

As I remember Bill Hybels himself, pastor of Willow Creek, confessed this about his own church—that they had created something a mile wide, but only an inch deep, in terms of the depth of faith and discipleship.

Coming out of our semi-annual congregational meeting a month ago, there is energy and motivation toward growing our church. By the time you will have read this there will already have been a meeting of interested persons seeking to address the question of how will we work to grow as a church. I applaud the enthusiasm and energy and the desire to grow.

We are a part of Christ’s body—the Church in the world, and the desire is to grow and expand Pilgrim’s part of this body. In recent years, we have lost some members for a variety of reasons, some moving, others seeking a worshipping community that is a better fit for them. That is the nature of a community, change happens.

At the congregational meeting, several people spoke up, recognizing the need for replacing those folks with new people and hopefully adding more, to continue the work of the Church—that is, proclaiming Christ’s good news. And so this committee was born from that meeting and that desire.

I don’t know if “spiritual and theological depth,” as stated in the quote above, is really the end goal for a church; but that this depth should lead to lives as disciples of Jesus who witness to his good news.

At Pilgrim, we have identified 4 areas of focus for us as a community: Vibrant Worship, Bible Centered Growth and Teaching, Nurturing Congregational Care, and Intentional Outreach and Evangelism. We have also identified 8 practices of discipleship we want to pursue: Worship & prayer, Bible study & faith conversations, fellowship & encouragement, serving & giving.

These 4 focus areas and 8 practices of discipleship are the means by which we seek to come to meet God, and to be transformed as God’s people, doing God’s work in the world.

We should use all our God-given talents and resources to further God’s kingdom and grow God’s Church in the world—the body of Christ. That includes skill in all the ways we can get the word out, invite people to join us, and work to connect with them so they stick around and share with us in our call to witness to Jesus Christ. That is the task this new committee is wrestling with.

My prayer for Pilgrim is that we are a place and a people that proclaim Jesus Christ; that people, when they come in contact with us—either here or as we meet them out there—will hear the gospel through our words and our deeds, the way we live our lives.

My prayer is that Pilgrim will grow because when people come in contact with us, they pastr32ccome in contact with Jesus Christ, and with his love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace, and they want to join with us.

My prayer is that God’s Spirit is present among us as a community and in each of our hearts; and when people come in contact with us, they come in contact with God’s Spirit, and they want to join with us.

Forgiveness

As he was being crucified, hanging on the cross:Forgiveness

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,
they know not what they do.”
Luke 23:34

What is it to forgive?

  1. let go, send away, give up one’s spirit, cancel,
  2. cancel, remit, pardon – predominately of divine forgiveness, “to err is human; to forgive is divine.”

We recently watched a Rob Bell video – “Breathe” in his NOOMA series from a number of years ago. It seems to fit well with Ash Wednesday, and then this coming Sunday as we enter into Lent. Ash Wednesday is about, “you are dust & to dust you shall return.”

God breathes life into this dust – “Then the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”  (Gen. 2:7)

According to nurse Cindy, exhaling – letting your breath out, is actually the important part of breathing – the part that is most important for life.

You have to breathe out before you can breathe in – you have to get rid of the old air before you can take in new air.  Try it: take a deep breath & hold it.  You can’t breathe any more in until you first breathe out.

To forgive is to breathe out. If you refuse to forgive, it is like holding your breath and not letting it go – the bad air, the used up air, the air that does not give life.

Refusing to forgive is to refuse the breath of life.

But once you forgive … once you let that go … once you breathe out … then you have room for God’s breath of life.