Casserole

The definition according to Wikipedia – “A casserole, from the French word for “saucepan”, is a large, deep dish used both in the oven and as a serving vessel. The word is also used for the food cooked and served in such a vessel, with the cookware itself called a casserole dish or casserole pan.”

I don’t know about where you live, but in the area that I live (the West half of Michigan) casseroles are very common dinner choices.   There are a multitude of different ways that one could make a casserole – but the important things are:

  • They are typically relatively easy.   You “dump” all of the ingredients together and cook it.
  • They come in one dish – no multiple pans, just one simple pan and it’s complete.

A while back, the Elders at my church were talking about the needs of the congregation and how it’s very easy to meet the needs that  you can see, but the needs that aren’t as visible are significantly harder to address – even when we know about them.

One of my fellow elders summed it up with a phrase that has stuck with me,  “If we can fix it with a casserole, we’re great.   Otherwise, not so much.”

If the church can meet someone’s need by a nice neat and well organized simple approach, great.   The church does that well.

But if it’s not simple.

If it’s not clean and neat and make a big mess.

If it’s hard to see.

If it’s hard to understand.

Then we (the church) don’t do so well at meeting those needs and being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Rather than being the nice simple neat and well organized main dish, we need to be willing to be the ones out weeding the garden where the tomatoes are growing.  

Or the ones willing to do the dishes while everyone else is sitting around visiting.

Or chopping up the onions in spite of our tears.

Lord, help us be willing to address the difficult situations, the situations we can’t solve easily and the quiet situations with grace, sensitivity and compassion – but also with persistence.  Amen

Tom

The Main Thing

You’ve all heard the saying, I’m sure:  “The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.” 

Let me paraphrase that – “The most important thing you can do is to make sure that the most important thing in your life remains the most important thing in your life.”

In other words, stay focused on what matters and make sure that your priorities in life remain focused on what matters.   Don’t get side tracked by the frivolous things that waste time.

Now let’s paraphrase that one more time – “The most important thing a church and its members can do is to keep the most important thing,  salvation and God’s mercy on those who don’t deserve it, the most important thing that drives everything they and their particular church do.

What does that mean?

  • It means that what someone wears to church doesn’t really matter.
  • It means that whether you worship under a tree in Uganda or in a stuffy room in Haiti or in a multi-million dollar facility in the United States doesn’t matter.
  • It means that whether there are drums or not doesn’t matter.
  • It means that whether there is an organ or not doesn’t matter.
  • It means that what kind of cookies are served after church doesn’t matter.

So what does matter?

  • That we, the church, are extending the hand of salvation to those who haven’t heard or who have heard but don’t yet believe.
  • That we, the church, are living out what James describes as true religion – “caring for orphans and widows in their distress.”
  • That we, the church, are demanding from our leadership (and helping them meet that demand) the type of worship and preaching that feeds and nourishes our souls so we can have the strength to battle the devil for another week.

Too often, we, the church, get caught up in worrying about things that aren’t the main thing.   We need to keep Jesus, the main thing, the main thing.

A story that I think illustrates this quite well.   A friend of mine who is a missionary told me that they received a call from a church that was looking for a place to do a mission trip.   “Could you use a team of 10 to 12 people next spring? “– this was many years ago.   

“Sure we could, but I have to tell you, I don’t know much about the Mennonite church.   Can you tell me about your denomination?”

“I’d be happy to – the Mennonite church was founded in _______ and we believe that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins.   (continues to talk).

My friend interrupted him – “Thanks, I’ve heard enough, when do you want to come down?”

The main thing needs to remain the main thing for the church to come close to what God wants it to be.

Tom

Do Something? Me?

So, last night, we’re on the way back from football practice and this song comes on the radio.    My 13 year old interrupts conversation and turns it up “LOUD.”    So, naturally, we all started singing along……

Then, this morning, in my personal devotions, I come across Judges 6:11-16. 

God comes to Gideon and says, “Do something!”    He says, “Me?   I’m nobody, I’m nothing! I can’t do anything.”

And God’s response? 

“I have sent you.   I’ll be with you.   Believe in me.”

And go do something!

Tom

First Date

Remember that first date?   When time moved so slow that it seemed like the absolute longest day in the history of man?

When you spent an hour figuring out what to wear?

And you practiced conversations in your head for days in advance?

Excitement, nervousness, wanting to look your best and wanting to sound like you’ve got it all together.   Trying to hide your faults, your weaknesses and your failures.   

And then jump forward a few years.    You’ve been steadily dating, having open conversations, sharing dreams and talking seriously about a future together.    By then you know that he has that annoying little habit of ___________________________ and that she can do ________________________ which really drives you nuts.

You know each other’s faults but feel God is leading you toward a path together, so you go with it and attempt to work with/overlook those faults.

And then jump forward an other 10 years – you’ve been married for 9 years, you’ve got 2 kids with a 3rd one on the way.   You know each other very well, you share your insecurities, you share your struggles and yet you are partners – you work together, you laugh together, you love together.

There are many churches and many people in many churches throughout North America (and others I assume) who are hurting.   And why are they hurting?

They are hurting because they are stuck at the first date phase.

And have been for many many years.  

Too much time spent pretending all is well, pretending that everything is perfect and that you’ve got the perfect house, the perfect well behaved children, a great job and wonderful in-laws.

And you don’t.

All is not well.   You hurt.   Your children are struggling.

Your house is worth less than what you owe on it.

Your spouse is worried about losing their job.

And when you go to church on Sundays, no one is willing to talk about pain.   Everyone acts like they are on a first date.   Everyone acts like their kids are doing just fine, business is wonderful and all is well.

It’s not.   We live in a fallen world.   We live in a world full of problems.

And if the church ignores the problems, hides the problems or isn’t willing to deal with the fact that there is pain in this world – and much of it is pain you can’t see,  then the world is going to look at the  church and say,

“Why do I need you?”

“Why are you relevant to what is going on in my life?”

“Where were you when I needed help?”

We aren’t on a first date any more, it’s time to be real.

To acknowledge real pain.

And to help each other deal with the pain.

And to heal from the pain.

Tom

Church? What’s That?

To start this 31 days of blogging about church, I thought I’d start out with some thoughts about what I mean when I refer to “church.”

Do I mean the building that a church meets in?    It could be, but not very often.    Where a church meets isn’t that important.

More often, I’ll be referring to church to mean one of the following:

  • An individual group of believers – people who  routinely gather together to worship God.    This could be a group of 5 or 500 or 5,000.   It could meet in a beautiful multi million dollar facility or it could meet under a shade tree in Uganda.   
  • A group of churches that together form a denomination – Baptist, Reformed, Catholic etc.    They are a group of churches who all believe the same things when it comes to certain aspects of Christianity – i.e. adult vs. child baptism, Christian education vs. public schools to name a few.   There are certain differences that are “important” but in reality most of them are relatively insignificant in the big picture scheme of God’s plan for the world.
  • The institution of “the church.”    By this, I mean the entire collective body of the church – this could be “the church in Africa”   or the “church in the United States.”     That would then include all of the people in North America or in Africa or wherever who believe in Jesus and consider themselves to be part of an individual group of believers who regularly gather for worship.

I know that’s not all that exciting but look at it that I’m laying the foundation for some of the deeper and more thought provoking (hopefully) topics I’ve got planned for the month.

If there are any particular questions you have or things you would like me to talk about, let me know.

Thanks!

Tom