In my Living By the Word
column on this week’s readings, I comment on Paul’s readiness to boast
of suffering, because it “produces endurance, and endurance produces
character, and character produces hope. . . .” Suffering is a signal
doorway through which the Holy Spirit enters our lives.
My contract as “intentional transitional pastor” or interim with East Bay Community Church (not its real name) had expired, and I was working on a month-by-month agreement. By the grace of God, the church and I had moved through five developmental tasks proposed by the Intentional Ministry Network. Healing had taken place, and a sharpened vision statement had been communicated. I was feeling affirmed by the church and knew that its leaders valued my expertise and contribution, as well as me as a person. Then one morning I heard the news: the pastoral candidate would preach the next month, with a congregational vote to follow on the same night.
Short-term mission trips continue to rise in popularity. In leading such trips and researching their impact, I’ve found that they can have a profound effect on the faith and life of participants, and good work is often done: people living in poverty have their needs addressed by energetic and caring people.
Acts 2 tells of those who, while seemingly drunk with the new wine of
the spirit, actually understand one another’s native languages. What if
we saw here a parable for listening to one another’s viewpoints? So
often, others’ native languages not only leave us bereft of
understanding but perpetuate our dislike and distrust of one another.
My dad and I fought constantly when I was a teenager. In my adolescent
mind, every boundary set by my parents was evidence that they did not
trust me or see me as the adult I obviously was. From my dad I inherited
the need to always be right, thus ensuring regular escalations of
arguments into legendary yelling matches.
From Britain to Denmark, Europe has hundreds of empty churches. The closing of a church is painful—especially in villages where the church for centuries served as a community anchor, even for unbelievers. Efforts are often made to adapt the buildings for a community service, such as a library. Because they are very expensive to maintain, empty churches are more frequently turned into some kind of commercial endeavor. The Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, still owned by the Catholic Church, has been turned into a skate park. The Netherlands has the largest number of idle church buildings. Roman Catholic leaders in Holland estimate that within a decade two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be closed, and 700 of the country’s Protestant churches will likely close over the next four years (Wall Street Journal, January 2).