Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Three, Tres, Trois, Drei....No Matter How You Say It, There are Three...or One.

Some things in life are just mysteries.  For example, how does an airplane that weighs tons fly into the air taking along with it numerous passengers who weigh a lot combined?  Or how does a ship weighing tons go off into an ocean and float even though each of its individual parts would sink like a rock?  Or how does electricity get from the wires attached to the poles outside my house and get to the switches that I can just through at my beck and command to light up the rooms and cool down the house?

You may say that those things can be explained with aerodynamics and buoyancy and electricity  explanations to which I cannot give name but to me they are still mysteries.  Even if you were to try to explain to me why these things work, I would still wrinkle my forehead and grunt, "Huh?" in a Scooby-Doo kind of voice.  Your explanations do not make sense to me because I do not have a working knowledge of the dynamics and concepts with which you may make your explanations.

The idea of the Trinity is also a mystery, to me and everyone else alive, regardless of how one may try to explain it.  The concept of the Godhead being Three in One, Three separate beings residing in one form, but serving with three functions unique to each is mind boggling.  I have heard preachers try to explain it by giving comparisons to eggs having three parts but still being one (shell, white, yolk) or water being in three forms (water, ice, steam) even though it is ultimately just water.  All of these pale in comparison to an explanation of how God can be three separate beings but also be one being combining all three into one.

Those in the Early Church formulated the Doctrine of the Trinity and tried to explain it and when they put together the Nicene Creed in 325 or so, they tried to say what they thought about all three members of the Godhead, giving lots of type to Jesus and several lines to God and a few to the Holy Spirit.  Most likely, they only knew what they knew about God or the Holy Spirit because of the life of Jesus Christ.  That is what Jesus told his disciples about the roles of the Trinity also.  He said if you had seen Jesus, you had seen the Father.  Then he said that if you listen to the Spirit, it will tell you about Jesus.  So, Jesus is in the center and is the glue holding the Trinity together.  We cannot really know much about either of the other two unless we know who Jesus is and what he taught that was important.

When I was growing up in the fundamentalist church that I grew up in, the concept of God presented to me was one of a terrifying being that wanted to do me harm and it was only because Jesus stood between me and God and prevented God from seeing me that spared me from eternal damnation.  God was always ready to throw a lightning bolt at me and wipe me out, but Jesus stood there ready to present God from harming me.  No wonder we liked to sing, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."  He was like our big brother trying to protect us from that big bully named God the Father.

Once I left that church and had a few years of counseling under my belt, I sorted out the truth about the Trinity and found out that the God of the Old Testament (that fearsome, awesome being out to get us) was actually a God of steadfast love showing mercy to the 1000th generation.  God was like someone who would hold an infant to his cheek.  God was like an eagle that would spread its wings around us to protect us.  God was like a good parent wanting to do good things for his children.  God was not a big bully but was actually just like Jesus, trying to take care of us and show us he loved us.

So, the doctrine of the Trinity may be hard to explain but the ones represented in it are not.  God is merciful and kind.  God is loving and forgiving.  Jesus is just like God.  The Holy Spirit reminds us of all this.  Maybe it is not that hard to explain or believe when you break it down into understandable parts.

Now, trying to understand how that big jet can fly.....that may take a while.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Finding a Source of Strength

There are a lot of reasons why people join churches.  Some are born as part of a church with family ties dating back to its founding.  They were baptized, confirmed, and married in that church and consider themselves lifelong members.  They may not attend often but they have an idea that some pastor serving that church will bury them when they die.  Some come to a church because of marriage.  They marry a person who is part of a church and adopt that church as their home church because of the ties they have through marriage.  Some actually choose a church.  They have done their share of "church shopping" and finally found a church that they feel comfortable with and enjoy attending.  All of these are part of most local churches.

The puzzling thing about church membership to many pastors is why some who are part of the local church due to all the reasons stated above decide to intentionally separate themselves from the life of the community of faith.  Some members simply choose to not attend worship services or go to church events.  They become inactive members by their lack of participation.  Others may have been hurt by someone in the community of faith and rather than talk to the offender and try to find forgiveness and healing they just stop attending.  Still others find a multitude or reasons to do other things, considering themselves to be "active" members even though they rarely attend.  These members show up for funerals and weddings and the occasional baptism, but not much more.

So, why do people intentionally separate themselves from the very thing in their lives that will give them strength when difficult times come?  When people find themselves ill or experiencing the death of a loved one or they have lost a job and do not know that the future may hold for them, where do they turn?  If they have distanced themselves from the Christian community, then they rarely return when circumstances bring them distress.  A few do find their way to the church during times of stress, but most who have become independent from the church just muddle through and try to make it on their own.  The pastor may hear about their circumstances from others in the church who know them but they will usually not share what is happening in their lives with the pastor.

I think about this situation in practical terms.  I compare it to the need for proper nutrition in our lives.  If I follow a good diet for my life, eating those things that I know will give my body strength then I will have the energy and stamina to face most of my daily challenges.  If, however, I intentionally begin to not eat healthy food, either by just not eating or by eating the wrong things, such as junk food and food high in fat and sodium and calories, then my body will begin to give me signals that all is not well.  I may feel weak and out of sorts and not able to cope with stressors because of my lack of nutrition.

Being an active part of a Christian community gives us strength in our spirits just as nutrition gives us strength in our bodies.  When we worship regularly with the Christian community we receive spiritual food that our spirits need to grow and thrive.  When we fellowship regularly with others in the Christian community, we receive strength from our interactions because we assist each other as we share our joys and sorrows together.  Being an active part of a local congregation equips us with the skills and tools we need so that we can face the future unafraid because we gain confidence that God's presence will be with us at all times.  We remind each other of the grace that is available through faith in God because each of us have a measure of faith to share with one another.

I need you.  You need me.  We need each other.  When we begin to think that we do not need others and we can be the Lone Ranger in life then we will find that life will be lonely and unfulfilled.  When we admit our need for fellowship, friendship, and spiritual companionship then we will find there are many just like us on their journey of life.  We are not enough in our own selves.  We need each other.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Time to Go Home to See Mom

Mother's Day....every year we celebrate Moms on the second Sunday of May.  Millions of sons and daughters buy the gifts and make the trek to see their mothers or at least call them on the telephone and/or send a gift if they cannot be present physically with them.  The stereotypical mother on television and in the movies is always being controlling and whines if her children do not come home often enough or if they never phone.  Mother's Day is perhaps the day when restitution can be made by adult children who seem to have their own lives to live and fail to recognize their mother's contributions to their lives often enough.

Have you ever considered how much the Church is like a mother?  Actually the Church (if it is like the ideal mother) is like a good nurturing mother.  The Church brings a child into its fold through baptism and then nurtures the child through all the years, teaching the child what she feels is important so that he or she can survive in the world.  Children are confirmed when they are young adults and begin to be a little more independent and soon they are off on their own into the world, making a living, finding relationships, and having children of their own.  Through all of this process, the Church remains faithful and supportive, allowing children to find the places in the world, but letting them know that she is always there to help in case they need her.

The Church is a good mother and she does not complain when her children do not come to see her often enough or even if they do not phone home and let her know how they are.  She simply stands ready to be there for them if they need her.  And one day they will.  They will call home and Mom will answer the phone and hear the news they have to share.  They may be distressed because of ill health or a tragedy and need the Church to bring them comfort.  They may be joyful because of a job promotion or the birth of a child or grandchild or a celebration in their lives.  The Church, as a good mom, will celebrate with them and comfort them through all of their losses, always ready to meet the needs they have, without imposing her will on them or demanding that they come home more often.  She is simply there, watching and waiting for her children to come home and visit when they can.

Our children turn into adults and we have to give them room and space to grow and become themselves as they venture out into the world.  We cannot control them or rule their lives.  We have to give them freedom to experiment and support them when they fail or fall.  We have taught them all we know so that they can make good choices in the world.  If they forget what we have taught them and make unwise choices, we are there to comfort them and give any advice they make seek, without being intrusive.

The Church is that that kind of Mother.  She is there for her children when they need her.  She is always looking out of the big picture window from the living room, for the car lights as they come out of the darkness.  She is always waiting with welcoming arms and a meal prepared to nourish their spirits.  She is always welcoming any strangers they may bring with them when they come home.  She is the kind of mother we all wanted our own mothers to be like, full of grace and truth and love.

Isn't it time for you to come home and see your mother?  She waits to wrap her arms of love around you and welcome you just as if you have never been gone.