Joy

December 13, 2016

I write a monthly column for our Church Newsletter. Below is the short essay I’m including for December.

I think I was about 5 years old…. It’s clearly one of my earliest memories, anyway. For Christmas, my parents got me one of those pedal cars. Do you know what I mean? Now days they are electric but back in 1959… well… It was a Fire Chiefs car. I know because it said “Fire Chief” right on the side! Was I excited? Um…. YEAH!! I remember being in our living room surrounded by boxes sitting inside my shiny, red car. It occurred to me that I was like a “real” driver. I had to negotiate my way around the boxes strewn about the room without hitting anything. The only problem was, I was in a tight spot. The boxes were randomly spread about and were very close to the “fire chief.” Honestly, I may have spent an hour in that room by myself slowly inching forward then backward. Turning the wheel first right and then left… backward… forward… backward… forward…

Eventually I pedaled my way out of the living room and into our dining room without touching one thing. I DID IT! No one else seemed to notice the herculean effort I had put in, but I did. I was a REAL driver!

I am not a fan of “tedious” things. I never have been. I despised “mechanical drawing” in high school for that very reason. Little straight lines over and over again. I’m not good at crafty things either. I have thought many times over the years about that hour in my little car. How could a 5 year old spend that much time going one inch and then another and then another? Then it occurred to me… JOY!

It’s remarkable… the things we can do when our hearts are filled with joy. Do you know what I mean? We can fly faster than a speeding bullet, be stronger than a locomotive and we can leap tall buildings with a single bound. Well okay maybe not those things, but you know what I mean, don’t you? When our hearts are immersed in pure joy, life is just different. We are different.

Here’s to praying for joy unspeakable for you and those most special to you during this Christmas season and into 2017.

Blessings,

Bill Little

Luke 2:10

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

John 15:11

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Philippians 1:4

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

Philippians 4:1

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Psalm 16:11

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 19:8

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

Psalm 27:6

Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Psalm 43:4

Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.

Pastoring

December 8, 2016

No doubt most “jobs” or “professions” have elements that are awesome, while at the same time duties that are… shall I say… undesirable. Even celebrities who make loads of money and are in many cases doing what they love still have to deal with paparazzi and the public.  They can’t leave their homes without being followed.  They can’t eat in a restaurant without being assaulted.  Everything they say and do is examined and published.  I’m thinking all of that would get old REALLY FAST!

So, what would you guess is the most undesirable part of pastoral ministry? Well, it probably depends on the pastor but…, speaking for myself, somewhere near the top of the list has to be functioning as the “attendance police.”  Do you know what I mean?  You’re going to think I am exaggerating but… I have had conversations over the years that go something like this.  I run into someone in the grocery store who has some history with the church; maybe they are or were a member.  They say (awkwardly with no eye contact), “We have not been to church in a while… we have… um… uh… had some sickness in the family.”  I understand that… well if it were not for the fact that it has been 10 years since they have been to church!  Seriously I kid you not.  Those conversations are always accompanied with the feeling from them of “Why did we turn down this aisle!  And why did we have to run into him!”  You can imagine how much I love being the guilt producer in people’s lives.

Can I be very frank here? Your involvement in worship is between you and God… not between you and me or any other pastor… period.  If you choose to not attend church, then that’s your choice.  Learn to live with it and take responsibility for it.  Don’t make excuses or blame others, i.e., the pastor, the music person, some member who offends you.  You don’t go because you choose not to… period.  (Do I need to mention that there are surely instances where folks are physically, emotionally or even spiritually unable?)  But having the flu for 10 years… well… seriously?!

I have mentioned on a number of occasions that I wish we would use the phrase “going to worship” rather than “going to church.” It just lends a different “feel” to what we are doing.

Clearly there are many references in the Old Testament to worship. In some cases we’re told that God doesn’t like us hypocritically going through the motions.

Hosea 8:13

Though they offer sacrifices as gifts to me, and though they eat the meat, the Lord is not pleased with them. Now he will remember their wickedness and punish their sins: They will return to Egypt.

Malachi 1:14

“Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

 Malachi 2:3

“Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it.

Do you get the impression that God is not a fan of insincere and false worship? Uh… yeah.

However in Hebrews 10, the author says:

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Clearly we are called to come together and – here is the key phrase – WORSHIP GOD! DON’T GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS!

So for those who do not see the need to worship God regularly, maybe it’s best that they don’t place themselves in peril by faking it. Or at least wait until they get over the flu so they don’t spread it around.  I’m not saying people should be made to feel unwelcome in worship.  I’m just saying I understand why they are not there.

Let me finish by saying this. To the degree that I am able I take responsibility for my part in all of this.  What do I mean?  I think we clergy have not taught worship well.  I think I have not taught worship well.  Probably because we/I don’t know how.  And we have portrayed a boring God who sits on the edges of our lives waiting for something dreadful to happen so He can show up riding in on His white horse; rather than teaching about the personal, loving God who cares about every aspect of our lives.

“God forgive me for leading your people astray. Forgive me for teaching them how to faithfully work through a bulletin, to do their religious duty, but to never find the Living God.”

That is a deeply sobering prayer.

See you in worship… maybe.

-Bill L

Creation

December 1, 2016

I hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving! Well now it’s on to Christmas…

As some of you know I am diabetic and have been for well over 20 years. Like many diabetics, I take various medications and several shots a day to control my sugar levels.  Low carbohydrate diets are required as well, but that’s something I struggle with daily.  In order to keep sugar levels where they are supposed to be, diabetics “test” their blood several times a day.  It’s fairly easy… a pin prick to a finger (with a devise designed to do that) and a dab of blood onto a special strip inserted into a small hand held tester.  If one is doing what they are supposed to do in regard to meds and diet the levels will range from 80-120.  Anyway it’s the little pin prick that I want to mention briefly.  Because of the constant jabbing it’s wise to vary the finger from which one draws blood.  Diabetics learn quickly to draw the blood from the side of their fingers, not from their “fingerprints” or from the tips.  If not, our “digits” become tender and it’s uncomfortable to touch things after numerous pin pricks.

All of that to say this… did you know that each of your fingers “feels” differently? I don’t mean they have a different texture I mean they all “sense” things differently.  Not unlike our tongues that “taste” diverse things at varying locations… sweet, bitter, sour etc.  Did you know that about your fingers?  I’m going to guess that you have an instinct about that.  If I said I am going to prick your finger to draw blood you might very well have a preference over which finger but you might not know why.  For me… my little finger is much more sensitive than the others.  And since diabetics use all of their fingers they would also tell you that each of them “hurts” differently when they get stabbed (not that it really “hurts” that much).  I can’t describe the differences, but they are very real.

The question is… why? I mean, why do we have to have 5 different subtle differences in our fingers (and thumb)?  I’m going to guess that it helps give us a heightened sense of touch.  If they all “sensed” the same things in the same ways, we would be that much more limited in our ability to feel.  But now we have 5 different variables working together when we sense things with our fingers thus making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

I suppose for those who espouse some form of evolution (without a creator), they would make an argument for how this “touch” evolved. No doubt it has something to do with early “man” having a greater ability to protect himself, thus enhancing the survival of the species.  I’m a little simpler and maybe naïve about these things.  I say this – AINT GOD GRAND!

I am often struck by the complexity and the artistry of creation. I understand the “bajilloins” of years approach to how this all could have happened but it seems to me that it takes as much faith to believe in NO Creator as it does to believe in THE Creator. Seriously!  The things of nature are so complex and sometimes “instinctual” that it seems there are no explanations that make sense for many things outside of a very intentional decision to create beings with innate abilities (Innate meaning “wired into the process” with no particular way of explain how or why).  Why do generation after generation of swallows come back to San Juan Capistrano about the same time each year… from Argentina?!  Or watch the movie “The March of the Penguins.”  Why do penguins in the Antarctic all walk (waddle) hundreds of miles from different locations to the same spot on the same day each year?  I assure you it’s not because they all stay in touch via cell phone!  Nor do they consult a GPS to find the same location in the vast wilderness of that desolate place.  There must be millions of these sorts of examples of the inexplicable complexity and wonder of creation.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not just a lover of His creation.  God is an artist!

If things have not already begun to pick up in your life as we inch toward Christmas… well they likely will! Take some time in the hustle and bustle and look at what God has made.  Appreciate the beauty and the complexity of the life that swirls around you.  Smell the roses… because God gave them their aroma.

Blessings.

Genesis 1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.