Anticipating Our Church’s 50th Anniversary

Twofold Primary Audience – The Church specifically my local Church (but I’m writing the post for those unfamiliar with our names and history).

This weekend kicks off our 50th Church Anniversary and there’s a lot going on for everyone from Fellowship breakfasts, to a time for previous and current pastors and elders to meet one another, a church-wide dinner at an offsite reception hall and of course, our Sunday morning worship service. Without any exaggeration this has been in the works for a over a year. Many meetings, numerous discussions, financial commitments, sacrificial efforts, and so many other things are culminating this weekend.

Many miles are being driven and flights taken by many who have moved away will be coming back for this. Pastors who have served MEFC will be in the same room for the first time and people who are fairly new to our church will trade stories with those who had been here for years (and used to be here for years) listening to their stories. It will be the greatest fellowship dinner this church has ever known (insert the booming echo here).

In last week’s sermon, our senior pastor, Sam, spoke highly of this reunion, celebration, corporate worship extravaganza. But being a wise pastor, he also mentioned many of our collective concerns. Using the comparison of the church being a family, he reminded us of the complexities surrounding such a day. He even went so far to say that some are dreading this day due to many factors. He talked about how heavily congested highways see their share of accidents and in our 50 years of traffic, we’ve had a few accidents too. Ripples of awkward laughter ensued.

If you know me, you know I love a pastor that isn’t afraid to mention the realities (and talking about the Church’s hardships and disunity is among what I appreciate most about the New Testament and Israel in the Old). There have been a few things that have surprised me in good ways and some, in not good ways. There are some critical comments that have been made, more will be made, and perhaps even should be made. They are likely similar to every mission trip taken, wedding, holiday celebration and anything extravagant and/or sacrificial that we do. May we not be angered, disappointed, or further jaded.

I have been to numerous celebrations of birthdays, weddings, and other remembrances, it will be refreshing to celebrate a church anniversary. Why not? In some sense, we are breaking the expensive perfume and honoring the feet of Jesus. I am excited, here’s why: First, a 50 year old Protestant church is a special thing here in North Jersey. Further, in the 50 years, we as a church have made some colossal mistakes and some incredible sacrifices. And because we are human and the Lord is good, MEFC has kept moving. In the stories I hear, it’s treaded at times, backslid at times, soared at times, and sojourned through. That’s a pretty accurate portrait of the Christian journey if you ask me. Second, i have always enjoyed many elements of a multigenerational church (it’s complicated too and I would love to see us become more multi-cultural but that’s another post for another day). For me and others, it will be a blessing to me to see others blessed throughout the weekend, I know many agree and I hope these words remain true.

And lastly, I am expecting for me as an individual and for us a church, to remember some really important lessons that we may have missed recently. I am eager to see what we will do in response to our special anniversary. I have joined many in praying for this. What will we do in the next season of our congregation’s life? Will we take seriously our anniversary theme of “Remembering the Past and Embracing the Future”? Will this be seen merely as an event or will it be a pivotal moment, a catalyst where we as a Body trust the Holy Spirit as follow Jesus to honor the Father as we labor forward in the Kingdom? We’ll see and may we believe that Emmanuel is near and remember that in truth, this is His church.

Reflecting on This Weekend’s Violence in Iraq and My Poor Fantasy Football Teams’ Peformance

Primary Audience – Those who play fantasy sports and enjoy other trivialities
Secondary Audience – Those interested in missional living

By now most have heard about the horrific violence in Iraq that occurred in the past few days. On Sunday there was a standoff between police and what is believed to be Al Qaeda militants inside the Our Lady Of Salvation Catholic Church.

Here’s a clip from a NRO post – “While this has been little-noticed in the West, it is an explosive issue in Egypt, where threats against the Copts, about 10 percent of the population, have increased in a year that began with a massacre of Copts in Nag Hamadi on Christmas Eve.” Part of the background is the increasing abduction and forced conversion of Coptic women. On April 19, 2010 … (more)

Today CNN posted this story … “All Christians in the Middle East are now “legitimate targets,” al Qaeda in Iraq announced Wednesday …”

And of course yesterday, (Tuesday), 64 more were killed in a series of explosions in Baghdad.

It’s pretty overwhelming.

I go through different seasons of how much I want to be informed on the affairs of the world. They take a toll on the human heart after a while. For instance, as much as I am grieved by the evils of human trafficking, I find it extremely difficult to read all the emails and RSS Feeds that I have subscribed to on a daily basis. This goes for other causes as well like clean water, hunger the AIDS crisis, etc. How does one respond to all of the pain in the world?

I got back to doing my church office work and it occurred to me thatI had not check how my fantasy football teams faired over the weekend. It takes me a little while because I’m in three leagues which is about what I need to balance all the reality of my life. (The truth is, it’s a great way to stay connected to friends. It’s funny that something so trivial has brought out some incredible life moments. In fact, last year, one of our leagues grieved a loss of a loved one. This league happens to be filled with believers and I have to say, it was an absolutely touching experience that brought us all closer. But I will be the first to admit, that a lot of fantasy sports is much game-oriented.)

Anyway, two of my teams ended up doing very poorly. I lamented (even tweeted), looked ahead to next week, deliberated some decisions and realized, “Wow, an hour ago I read about the loss of 100 people and now I am thinking about which RB to start”. In an act of guilt, I closed the browser and spent some time reflecting about this.

Life is filled with so many trivialities that consume us and so many tragedies that grieve us, again how does one respond? Further, for many of us, our lives are structured in a such a way that it becomes very difficult to make a consistent, profound change to the pain around us. Even further, some of us are in too much pain to offer any substantial help to others who hurt.

What does one do?

That said, here’s a little of what I do (feel free to contribute yours):
I keep myself connected to the pain because it keeps my heart broken and that’s a good place to be. I cannot read every email or RSS Update, nor can I remember the details of every story but I can remain broken because when I do, not only am I less egotistical and self-absorbed but it keeps me focused on some really important themes of life like mercy, justice, and love. I of course approach these from the Christian perspective.

I pray for my enemies, for the angry, for the hurting, for the apathetic, for the strangers, and for my loved ones.

I pray for the strength to resist the urge of saying, “What’s the use?” and when I am overwhelmed, I remind myself that I only add to the pain when I stop caring.

And among other things, I try maintain some balance in my life by spending time with my family, being diligent in my ministry responsibilities, trying to be a good steward of relationships and opportunities, exercising, and participating in silly hobbies like fantasy football.

Reflecting on Community, Celebration, and Corporate Confession (Warning – Alliterated Title May Be More Interesting Than the Post ;-)

Primary Audience – Not really sure, this is a kinda of a boring life post but it’s what on my mind so …
Secondary Audience – Still not sure, this is a … lol

Reflecting on Community, Celebration, and Corporate Confession

(Warning: Alliterated Title May Be More Interesting Than the Post ;-)

As an amateur blogger, I try to avoid certain things such as how terrible everything is or how wonderful my life is. Aside from posts entitled “Encouraged and Discouraged”, “The Bad, the Good, and Dylan’s 1 Year”, I have no idea on how I am actually doing on that .

That said, it was a pretty eventful weekend and I cannot stop thinking about it.

On Friday night, we enjoyed dinner with dear friends. There were 3 couples and all of us find ourselves in a time of blessing and a time of uncertainty. We all have beautiful, healthy children but we all also have needs and uncertainties that we share with each other and with others in our church community. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are extremely grateful for this in the midst of the stress and the frustration of particular circumstances.

I leave these types of evenings very grateful for the Church. I know there are millions of couples that get together with no/little religious context and there may be a different bond that brings them together. Whether it be work or a sports team or the arts or any other reason, many times there is this wonderful moment of unity from the commonality of living life together.

I know I have enjoyed this moment with some of my non-believing friends as well. For some, it may mean that just like that sports team or that art is the hobby/interest/passion that brings them together, “God” is the same/similar hobby/interest/passion. I used to wonder if there was any truth to that. Now I think it’s a reflection of God’s natural grace that is extended to all. If we are all created in the image of God it stands to reason that we have this divine capacity within all of us. People like CS Lewis would go further and argue that this is where our sense of morality comes from (Read Mere Christianity for more on that).

Pardon the rabbit trail. Like I was saying, we had a great time with our friends on Friday night. Saturday was fantastic as well. We had Dylan’s first birthday party with some dear family and friends. People keep saying it’s flown by and in some sense it’s true, but in a lot of ways it’s felt like a year should have. I may regret thinking this and in a few mornings, I may be waking up to the day of his high school graduation but I think my reflective nature slows some things down for me.

As far as one year old parties go, it was a pretty fun time. Good food, hot  cider, Charlie Brown Halloween Special (Susan is a big fan), pumpkin  and cookie decorating and gift bags filled with candy (which no one took  enough). In addition to being the proud father, we were honored to have  so many loved ones with us. Some dear friends made a pretty long drive to  make it – we are very grateful for all of them. And as if life could not have  gotten any better, Fox and Cablevision decided to settle their dispute (I’m  just kidding about this – it did not really add to the joy of the night but it  was nice cleaning up while finally watching the World Series.). It was  also cool that my dad and brother spent the night while my mom went over to her sister’s (“Girls Night” never ends).   (We missed you Lina! umm, and you too, Kim and Tony ;-)

Then there was Sunday. A quick bit of context here – Our church is undergoing a time of vision discovery as we celebrate and move through our 50th Anniversary. Sunday was supposed to be the pastor’s “proclamation” of the grand vision. Sam opened the sermon with the Mel Brooks illustration of Moses coming down the mountain and saying, “Hear me, the Lord Jehovah has given unto you 15 Commandme … (dropping one of the tablets and watching it shatter) 10, 10 Commandments for all to obey!” I laugh every time I think of that – could be one of my favorite movie moments ever.

Anyway as Sam shared more of his take on the process, he wisely said that although he has a vision that the he and the elders (the pastoral staff, and many throughout the congregation) have confirmed in broad strokes, we have too many unresolved issues as a congregation that we need to confess before we can move forward. By the end of the message, we had written our personal unresolved issue that has hindered us from God’s will, brought it to the front, and at the end of the service, the elders came forward carried the baskets of paper outside, where we gathered and watched them burn them in a fire.

We’re not an altar call type of church, and most our drama is conducted subtly (until it’s not), so this was a quite the expressive corporate gesture for us and it was beautiful. For those outside our church community, Sam isn’t a showman at all. And if anyone had any doubt, once the “corporate confession” burning was over, the final benediction he offered was, “Have a good week.” (I would have yelled something more Braveheartesque, like “Are you ready for a spiritual war???” or “Freeeeeeedooooooo ……mmm” then quickly inserting “in Christ” while the masses raised their King James’ and Hymnals. (yes, I capitalized the “H” in hymnals intentionally).

Getting back to seriousness for a moment, I really was proud of us as a Church in this moment. Depending on where we go from here, it could all be just an emotional go through the motions, campy throwback or it could be something greater. It could be a turning point that reflected something that many of us had already done individually but finally got to do together. May the Lord lead us.

I could go on and on about pictures, and opening presents, eating and giving away the left-overs, Susan and I taking the boys trick or treating but it was such a great weekend for me personally, for us as a family, and for us a church.

Happy First Dylan!