Posts Tagged Pastor’s Box

Tell Everyone, “Taste and See!”

Fig Tree

Please help me. This Sunday (11/15/2009), at the Society Building (600 Tomlinson Rd, Bryn Athyn, PA 19009) between 12 and 3 p.m., you have the opportunity to participate in an important experiment.

I believe that doing good deeds—“benefactions”—while not the highest form of charity, is nevertheless necessary for the introduction of new people to the Lord’s church. The Lord’s disciples wanted to know when He would come again, and in response He said, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:29-31) This is explained in the doctrines: “When a new Church is being created by the Lord, the good of the natural shows itself first of all, that is, good in external form together with the affection belonging to it and with truths.” (AC 4231) “Good of the natural” is not just the natural good we are born into, but rather is that good we do because of spiritual principles. So as the church is created (as a community, or within an individual) a vital step is doing of good on the natural plane, from a spiritual principle—doing good, not just to “be nice”, but as an act of worship of the Lord and love to the neighbor.

I believe that we cannot evangelize merely by sharing truths. Truth must be wed to good, like oxygen to blood, and so to be heart and lungs to the larger world around us, we must offer not just doctrine, but opportunities to bring doctrine to life. More than once the Lord described the growth of His kingdom using parables about inviting people to a feast, and eating represents making good a part of your life. So it is my theory that the world will be much more receptive of the Lord’s new revelation if it is presented hand-in-hand with opportunities to serve the neighbor. We must not only share the truths of the church with people, but invite them into the life of the church right from the start. Is it a coincidence that the emerging generations of young people in our increasingly “vastating” world say they believe in God but reject churches because they don’t seem to do any good?

Our doctrines say loving the neighbor is serving the good in others. When asked “who is the neighbor”, the Lord didn’t say the person left in the ditch was the neighbor, but the good Samaratan who stopped to help. This Sunday, we have a chance to support a group of Good Samaratans in a natural, powerful way. In developing nations in Africa and elsewhere, people are dying of AIDS. In many of their villages and towns, there are local caregivers who help relieve their pain, help prevent infection, assist with household needs including childcare, etc. Many of them are children themselves. World Vision supports these good Samaratans by providing them with kits of basic supplies that are cheap in this country but dear in theirs.

This Sunday, as an experiment in outreach, as a good deed of charity, as an act of worship, the Bryn Athyn Church and Charity in Action are inviting you to invite everyone you know to help us assemble 1,000 of these kits for World Vision. It takes only a few minutes to assemble a kit, plus maybe one more minute at the end for you to add a personal note of encouragement to your caregiver’s kit. I did this myself a year ago, and can report that the Lord does indeed reward good behavior with delight.

So tell everyone. I hope to see you there.

[This is also appearing as this week’s “Pastor’s Box” in the Bryn Athyn Post. For additional information, see my previous post about this event.]

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Reflections on “Charter Day” 2009

Ethan Daum Band rehearsing, Charter Day Sunday

Ethan Daum Band rehearsing, Charter Day Sunday

As I write this, it is the Monday morning after Charter Day weekend. I am still feeling very happy from my experience at the ANC Charter Day Sunday Worship at 10 a.m., yesterday. In particular, the music from that service has been echoing in my heart, reminding me of how wonderful I felt as I opened the Word, having heard great music from the Ethan Daum band, Malotte’s version of The Lord’s Prayer by the high school choral group, and Psalm 62 sung by the entire congregation. By the time I opened my mouth, it felt to me almost like I could just read from the Word, say a prayer, and be complete.

But I really enjoyed the topic, too. We kicked off the second week of Living Courageously with the story of Elijah being fed by the Widow of Zarephath. Elijah told the widow to feed him first, and only afterwards herself and her son. She obeyed, and rather than hastening her starvation, it ended it. Sometimes it feels as if we, too, cannot afford to serve the Lord first, when in reality, we can’t afford not to! In the Old Testament, the Lord commanded that the first tenth be given to Him, not because He needed to receive it, but because people need to give it, so we could be reminded that everything good–all of it–belongs to the Lord.

True Christian Religion 746:1 begins with the statement, “To live for others is to perform useful services.” When we live for others, we are living for the Lord; what greater gift can we as a church give our heavenly Father than to usefully serve His children? Every parent wants their children to be loved, the Lord more than any other.

I talked a little bit about how the Academy was a movement before it was an institution. And a selfless movement, at that. A handful of people determined to serve the Lord, the world, and future generations through the growth of New Church schools and churches. The Academy was founded for the sake of training a new priesthood, translating and publishing the Writings, writing and publishing related books, furthering New Church education, and establishing a library. And not for themselves alone! I challenge you to count up the number of lives transformed by the Academy movement since its start. Or the number of people positively changed as a result of the planting of a church here in Bryn Athyn.

Creating institutions and planting churches are selfless acts. These things take sacrifice and hard work that can never show a “return on investment” for those who do them. And now, how can we repay those who gave us what we have–the Academy of the New Church, the General Church of the New Jerusalem, and New Church congregations scattered across the world?

All movements fade in time, and successful ones leave behind communities, institutions, and other organizations. Our churches and schools are good things, gifts from the Lord through the agency of people no longer living. I believe it is time to “pay it forward”–to recognize what we have freely received and find new energy for passing even more on to the next generation, and to the larger world around us. It is time for a new movement.

Just something to think about this week, as we contemplate what it means to put God first, and to live for others.

[This is also appearing as this week’s “Pastor’s Box” in the Bryn Athyn Post.]

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Last Week of August: The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul

Well, Summer is dying. Okay, maybe that’s a bit morose. But it’s always how it feels to me. I know many people love the coming of autumn, and I understand those who are tired of the heat and humidity which, believe it or not, really will soon come to an end. But for me, the last week of August has always been more bitter than sweet. Partly because I would rather sweat than shiver, but partly because I have been trained most of my life to mourn when August ends.

“Back to School” ads always made me angry as a kid, and frankly don’t please me much even today. I associate the end of summer with the end of freedom, the beginning of anxiety, and a significant uptick in the number of meetings I have to go to. Every night the cicadas grow louder as they play their requiem to joy, and before we know it, all the plant life around us will begin to die. Bleh!

At the same time, I am very aware that I am actually (to me, surprisingly) in the minority in this regard. So normally I keep these feelings mostly to myself. And I respect the fact that others quicken at the thought of buying new trapper keepers and look forward to the air eventually becoming “crisp”. I respect them, because I have learned that it’s okay for other people to be wrong, sometimes.

In all seriousness, there are plenty of things going on around us this week that could make a person smile. I just thought it’d be a rare treat for you to read a Pastor’s Box written from the perspective of a curmudgeon. The Lord promised in Genesis that we would never see an end to “seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night”. Hidden within this statement is the spiritual truth that even angels in heaven go through fluctuating states of spiritual summer and winter. So although the state of a spiritually reborn individual is generally that of an optimist, they nevertheless have their better and their less good days, attitude-wise. So hopefully you’ll permit this sinner his moment wallowing in the dark tea-time of the soul, now and then.

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The Ocean

James at LBI, 2009How’s your summer going? Been to the beach? The mountains? Visit with relatives? Have you tried a “staycation”, taking the phone off the hook and shutting down your internet connection and pretending you’re not at home? Whatever you do for relaxation in the summer, I hope it’s working for you and that you’re finding the time to do it. Recreation is an important part of living.

Last week I and my wife and kids all went to the Jersey shore for a low-key getaway. Lots of miniature golf and sitting in the sand and reading books together. I am not, generally speaking, a nature person. I get as much inspiration watching people in airports and crowds rushing around on a city sidewalk as I do walking through a forest or watching a bird build a nest. Some might think I’m weird, and I suppose I probably am. But the one aspect of nature that I really find puts me in touch with the Divine like nothing else is the ocean.

I am an ocean guy. I love the waves, the crash of surf, the infinite variety of ripples upon waves upon swells upon currents. I’m not too hot about mysterious pointy things that stab your ankles, but that’s beside the point. I just plain love the ocean. And on this last visit, I had an experience I’d like to share with you.

I was standing on the edge of the surf, looking out at the waves, and beyond them at the seemingly infinite horizon. My four-year-old son’s little hand was gripping my right hand, and he stood there with me. Occasionally he would get a little more adventuresome and take another step deeper into the water, and I’d step with him. Sometimes he’d back out a few quick steps, and I’d calmly retreat with him. However deep he wanted to go, I would go, and no deeper. And holding my hand, he felt totally free to explore safely. And I got to thinking.

First, I reflected that my own father probably did the same with me, although I cannot remember it. I prayed that my son would remember this somehow. Then for a moment I felt a yearning pang, thinking, “Who do I have to hold my hand and guide and protect me as I stand at the edge of the ocean?” Of course, I immediately realized that I had my Father in Heaven, who was always willing to hold my hand. And then is when it really hit me.

The Word of God is an ocean of truth. We first approach it unable to swim, unable to fathom its depths, unable to cross it. It is an immense mystery that draws us. We spend much of our time just playing in its surf. Even as we get older and go deeper, we still are only just splashing in its edges. We can build boats (construct a studied understanding of doctrine) with which to cross it, but even then we are only just on its surface. We can swim in it, and explore its depths, and yet we are still only just barely comprehending it. Put on a mask and dive deep, and you may think you are seeing everything down there, but the reality is you can only see a short distance. You could explore it forever. Read Secrets of Heaven, and it is not hard to get the same sensation one gets when gazing at the ocean.

I shared this thought with my ten-year-old son, and he added another angle that I love: when you look inside it, you see fish and realize that the whole thing is full of life.

It has been said by many that God wrote two books: the Bible and Nature. Isn’t it delightful that a knowledge of correspondences gives us a key to understanding both. At least a little.

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