Category Archives: Fellowship

How the Flock Grows!

I have a pigeon coop that houses six adult white homing pigeons named Snowflake, Snowball, Snowstorm, Snowman, Snowfall, and Snowbank (OK, I’m kidding about the names.  They all look the same to me).  The birds have the freedom to fly, which they do during the day, always coming home to roost at night.  I had a pleasant surprise recently when I entered the coop at dusk.  At first I thought one of the pigeons was soiled, as if it had rolled in the dirt.  Then I realized it was a new bird, we’ll call him (her) Dusty, definitely a bird of a different feather, color-wise.

Apparently Dusty met the flock out on one of their flights and decided to follow them home.  I hope the same for my other flock, the flock I call Mayfair-Plymouth Church where I serve as pastor.  My prayer for my church, and every church, is that each and every one of us would invite someone else, who may not necessarily be just like us, to come join the flock at our church.

Watching more closely, I noticed that Dusty keeps a distance from the other birds.  When I shooed Dusty over to the others so I could take the group photo you see above, the white birds began to peck at the newcomer.  It occurred to me that we can invite someone to join the local church flock, or they may just show up on their own, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel welcome!  Are we so comfortable with our little group of friends that the newcomer feels unwelcome?  Do we so protect our corner of the roost (usually a certain pew or chair) that if someone new dares sit in our spot, or even near enough forcing us to move over, that they feel picked on?

I hope Dusty eventually feels at home with my flock.  I hope the same for any who come to join my “other” flock.


The Publication of a Novel — Not a Solitary Effort

Michael Phelps and Michael Phelps alone is the all-time gold medal winner.  He, alone, had to swim fast, faster than anyone else, to win those medals.  Then someone sent me a link to Mart De Haan’s article on his blog about how Phelps really didn’t achieve greatness all by himself.

I thought of how true this is when it comes to writing.  A couple weeks ago I received my first advance copies of my novel, Kathryn’s Fountain.  As you can see in the picture, I’m quite happy to hold a copy in my hand!

I wrote the novel, a solitary endeavor in the early morning hours last year.  Then again, it wasn’t a solitary effort!  My wife Diann has edited the manuscript as has Susan, our church’s secretary.  Then Hannah, my editor at Cladach, did major editing on the manuscript.  Catherine, my publisher, gave some additional input as well.  Together, they’ve made my writing much better than it really is!  I also think of someone way back 25 years ago, Marilyn Chinnis, a member of my church, who typed an entire book manuscript for me, a manuscript that never was published.  What an encouragement she was by her belief in me that she expressed by many hours of work typing my dream!

No, I have not written my novel all by myself and Michael Phelps didn’t win all those gold medals all by himself.  None of us really do much of anything of value all by ourselves.  We need each other.  Only when we are humble enough to ask for help and to admit we’ve been helped, and only when we are compassionate enough to offer help and committed enough to follow through with the help do we do great things for God!

Disillusionment with People

Are you ever disillusioned with people? Silly question, right? Of course we all have been disillusioned with people at one time or another, perhaps even today! 

I’m reading through Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest, and today’s reflection was all about dealing with disillusionment when it comes to other people. Chambers references one of the most intriguing statements about Jesus. Jesus was near the beginning of His ministry and the miracles He had done were drawing large crowds who liked Him. Speaking of these large and largely adoring crowds, the gospel writer John states, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.” (John 2:24) 

Most people would have felt honored by all of the positive attention, but not Jesus. He had a realistic view of people (“he knew all men”) and realized they could be fickle and could easily do a 180 in their opinion of Him. Jesus was not cynical of people, but on the other hand He didn’t have a Pollyanna view of people either. It was a wonderful balance that we too should adopt. 

If we feel people can do no right then they sense we don’t believe in them, that we are always suspect of them. Such an attitude will certainly poison our relationships. On the other hand, if we expect perfection out of people we are going to be bitterly disappointed. They will, sooner or later, disappoint us. We need to adopt Jesus’ view of people for, as Chambers writes, it is He who “brings us to the point where we see people as they really are, yet without any cynicism or any stinging and bitter criticism.” 

Part of our problem is that we want people to satisfy our ultimate need for someone totally trustworthy and so we expect perfection from them. Chambers writes, “We are demanding of a human being something which he or she cannot possibly give. There is only one Being who can completely satisfy to the absolute depth of the hurting human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

So, when it comes to those we work with, recreate with, live next door to, go to church with, or live with — let’s lighten up! Let’s cut them some slack. Sometimes you just have to whisper a prayer upward with rolled eyes, “People, ya gotta love ’em. Help me to do so, Lord.”

Removing Ourselves from the Judge’s Bench

Every morning I reflect on the day’s reading in My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Each day’s reading is good but I feel prompted to share with you my thoughts on a recent reading (forJune 17). Chambers wrote about criticizing others. 

It’s an easy habit to fall into, criticizing others, and it’s a bad habit! I’m not talking about the times it’s our responsibility to think critically. If we’re responsible for the performance of other people we are required to view things objectively and sometimes that will require us to talk with the person about changes that need to be made. These times, it seems to me, are far less frequent than we’d like to think! 

My experience has been that when I get in the rut of thinking critically of others I end up feeling miserable myself. It’s difficult to throw mental mud at someone within your own mind without it getting all over yourself! 

I’ve done a great many funerals and one of the nicest things I’ve heard people say of the deceased is that “He/she never said a bad word about anyone.” Wow! That certainly is high praise. I’d like to be more like that, hopefully before I’m dead! 

Of course the main reason we shouldn’t be so judgmental is that this is the way Jesus wants us to be. Oswald Chambers writes, “Jesus’ instructions with regard to judging others is very simply put; He says, ‘Don’t.’ OK, let’s hear it in Jesus’ own words. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) There’s not much room for flexibility in interpretation in that is there? 

God has put a call on each of our lives but that call does not include being judge of the world, or even the little piece of the world around us. So, it’s time to lighten up, extend a little more grace and mercy to people, cutting them some slack. I’m feeling better already!

Stoking a Holy Fire Within

How do you put out a campfire? You kick the sticks, the logs, and the embers to spread them out.

How do you stoke a fire? You pile up and push together the sticks, the logs, and the embers.

Remove one of the sticks or logs from the fire and it will quickly go out. Pieces of burning wood need each other to keep burning.

This imagery of how to put out or build a fire has always helped me appreciate the value of other people to my own spiritual pilgrimage and faith walk. We live in a time when individuality is valued, perhaps over-valued. More and more we watch movies in our homes on DVD rather than going to a theater with a hundred other people. More and more we watch sports on TV with our wide screen TVs rather than going to the sporting event and watching it in person with thousands of others. Personal listening devices with the ever-present earphones allow us to be in our own little world with our music. Faith Popcorn, a trend forecaster, coined the phrase “cocooning” to describe this phenomena of going it alone.

We can do the same when it comes to our faith. We can content ourselves with watching a TV preacher, checking out a faith-based web site or reading a faith-focused blog like this one!

I know, being a part of a church, or even getting together with two or more other people who are serious about God can be messy business! People are so imperfect, so annoying, so hurtful, even so-called people of faith! Having pastored the same church for 33 years I know it’s not always easy getting along with others. But the price is worth it!

God created us to ultimately be social creatures. People need people. Jesus called twelve disciples to follow Him, and He didn’t call them to follow Him alone but together!

There are some spiritual realities we learn and some some spiritual ways we grow that can only happen when we put ourselves in close proximity to other people who also claim to want to learn and grow spiritually. If we want to catch fire spiritually and have a burning, passionate faith, we’re going to have to find some other people to do it with!

One of my favorite verses that applies to this subject is Hebrews 10:25. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…”

People Need People, Even People of Faith!

Some people say they want to be spiritual but want nothing to do with religion or church. They’re missing the whole point, that our greatest spiritual growth comes from being a part of a spiritual community, as imperfect as it is.

Let me share with you a thought concerning this far-from-perfect thing we call Christian fellowship from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together. “The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams….By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world…Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight…He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.”

And here’s a thought from Thomas R. Kelly and his book A Testament of Devotion on how we’re to focus on the perfect Christ, not the imperfect other participants (you and me). He writes of “this amazing group inter-knittedness of God-enthralled men and women who know one another in Him…The final grounds of holy Fellowship are in God. Lives immersed and drowned in God are drowned in love, and know one another in Him, and know one another in love. God is the medium, the matrix, the focus, the solvent.”

Blind to What Others See

Ah, the joys of last summer when floating down a northern Michigan river with some friends!  One of these “friends” just handed me this picture yesterday in church.  He was laughing.  I was wearing a t-shirt with an image of a very stressed chicken (I raise bantam chickens for a hobby) with the words, “Save a chicken, eat a pizza!”

As you can see, the water line on my t-shirt is in such a place that it appears the chicken is drowning and has come up for air!  Here I am, smiling away, unaware of the humorus implication of the whole situation.

I suspect this happens often, that I’m unaware of others’ perception of me.  That can be good.  I don’t want to be so self-conscious that it ruins my day and everyone with whom I come in contact.  On the other hand, this photo’s a good reminder that it might be wise at the beginning of each day to pray something to the effect, “Lord, help me be true to who you want me to be.  May people see what would be helpful for them to see and glorifying to You.”

Next time I’m going to take a little more careful note of what I’m wearing when I go floating on a river.  Then again, worse things could have happened.  I could have drowned with my drowning chicken t-shirt on!


Yesterday I Was a Time Traveler

I lived in two different times yesterday.  The first time was a conversation between Rupert, Ron and myself (Rupert being our associate pastor, Ron being our music minister and me being myself).  We were grappling with how to reach the late teens and twenty-somethings.  How do we “do church” in such a way that it connects for them?  On the whole, this generation doesn’t like to have things be too organized or polished, it speaks of being inauthentic.  Nor do they like being told things in a formal teaching or preaching situation but, instead, prefer dialogue.  We want to reach this generation, for there are far to few of them in our churches today.  HOw?  We’ve started a unique Saturday night service for them, and we’re just trying to figure out how to do it right.

The second time (the second destination in my day of time travel) I visted Aileen in an extended care facility.  She’s 101 years old, the oldest member of our congregation.  She and I, we go way back.  I’ve been her pastor for 32 years.  I’m not sure she recognized who I was, though she was very glad to see me.  I shouted to be heard.  You often shout prayes when visiting the elderly.  They too, can be a challenge to connect with.

I’m called to pastor both groups — the twenty-somethings and the shut-ins.  Going from one group to the other, that’s time travel!  It’s always been a challenge for the generations to relate.  After all, we’re coming and going at different times here on earth and can easily be ships passing in the night.

Some reading this blog are part of what’s called the sandwich generation.  You’re giving some kind of support to both children (or grandchildren) and parents (or grandparents).  That’s a challenge!

It seems to me that part of the richness of life comes from accepting this challenge of relating to people of another generaion.  God has so much for us to gain from having relationships with those both younger and older than us.  It’s the kind of time travel that stretches you!

“Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” Ecclesiastes 1:4

“One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4


We’re All Priests

I’m a firm believer in the concept from the Reformation called “The Priesthood of all Believers.”  1 Peter 2:9 is often quoted.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal preisthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…”  The “Priesthood of all Believers” usually refers to the belief that any follower of Jesus Christ can go to God or understand the Bible without any human intermediaries.  But I think it’s larger than this.

At a retreat mentioned on a blog by Mark Roberts  (click on the name to go to his blog) the retreat speaker, Greg Ogden, asked the group…..

How do we help people have expectations that ministry received from fellow gifted members is equal to ministry received from the pastor?

As a pastor I make many hospital calls and don’t mind doing so.  But I also know that those hospitalized also appreciate a card, call or visit from others in the church.  My hope would be that we are all close enough to some other followers of Jesus that their visit would be as comforting and helpful as that of the pastor’s.  I’m not sure this is always the case.  Yet, this is what we’re all to do.  The scripture says to bear each other’s burdens. “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.“(Galatians 6:2) 

Pastors are not to be the only burden bearers!  When you think about it, it’s rather exciting to know that God calls each and every person to be there for other people, to be a “little Jesus” to the other person, as I sometimes refer to it.


This Conversation Is Good

This blog is new, but I’m already enjoying the conversation it’s stimulating.  I believe God reveals Himself in four ways — (1) through His Word, the Bible, (2) through His creation, (3) through His Holy Spirit, and (4) through people.  It’s this fourth means of revelation that we can enjoy on a blog such as this.  God never intended for us to be solo Christians.  We need each other!  So, to anyone reading this blog, please join the conversation.  It’ll be better with you being a part of it.  Here’s a question — Who has God used in the past to speak a significant message to you?  Let’s talk!