Town Common

Let’s be honest . . . People don’t need church anymore.  At least they don’t think so.

There was a time when church was a gathering place on a Sunday morning, a place to meet others and network, a place to be healed, a place to turn to when you needed help, a place to learn. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. In fact, in early U.S. history the church steeple had a prominent place in what was the most visited area in towns and cities – the town common. Alongside of the general store, bars and restaurants and occasional doctor and attorney offices, the church claimed real estate that said “We matter to you. You need us. We need to come together.”

Not so much today.

Want to hear a sermon or learn more about issues of faith? Google it.

Want to hear inspiring Christian music? YouTube.

Want to network with others? Facebook.

Need financial help to get you through tough times? GoFundMe.

Want to join others to share in a common interest? Sports leagues and clubs.

What can the church really offer when each of us has so many options for things we used to have to come to church for, when even taking Communion can be done online? Isn’t “church” so last century?

Let me offer two ideas. They’re about community and mystery.

At Ascension we call ourselves “a caring people.” Inherent in that claim is that Ascension is where people tackle both the wonderful and the ugly stuff of life together. “No person left behind.” “We’re all in this together.” That kind of stuff. That’s what we’ve done at Ascension for more than 70 years. We’ve helped one another through financial setbacks, deaths of loved ones, illnesses, parenting and grandparenting. And we’ve done it face-to-face in the trenches together. Like a church on the town common. That’s community. I’ve been blessed by that. Chances are that you have, too.

Last time I Googled “Help me” the only response I got was a link to an old Joni Mitchell song.

We’ve also engaged together in the mystery that is God. Even on our best days, we encounter God and realize that we still have more questions than answers about who he is, his plans for us and even how deeply he really loves us. We soon realize that everyone has questions about God and his plans. Church provides us with a community to grapple with the big questions of life and faith. Although a lot of the mystery remains, we learn to grow comfortable in it and even engage more deeply with this mysterious God. We learn to trust him even though we can’t answer all of the questions. In fact, accepting the mystery of God is part of the fun, especially when it’s part of our weekly worship experience.

Some say the church is dying. But some things are worth saving.

© Ed Klodt, 2019 (Views from the Pews is written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension.)

The Grove

“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.” – Rudyard Kipling

The world’s largest organism is found in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. It’s an aspen grove called the Pando, Latin for “I spread.” It has one massive root system spread over 106 acres. It’s made up of 47,000 tree trunks, and it weighs more than 13 million pounds. While individual trees in the Pando are as old as 130 years, this community of aspens goes back at least 80,000 years.

Life isn’t all sunshine and chlorophyll for the trees in the Pando. They grow where avalanches and landslides, heat and freeze endanger them. A solitary aspen wouldn’t survive. Wildfires also provide risk. But it turns out the grove requires occasional fires to keep pine trees from invading this ancient community. When an individual tree dies, another one grows in its place.

And, all the while, the Pando keeps flourishing.

I could have been describing the Christian Church, couldn’t I? Except for the “flourishing” part. While the Church continues to grow south of the equator and in parts of Asia, not so in the U.S. and Europe)

As Christians we are 2.18 billion strong. We are rooted through Christ in the Church. We need each other. Our history spans millennia. We’ve survived false prophets and persecution. In fact, hardship only causes our community to grow, often dramatically. Our strength comes from individuals united in love for our Lord, the world and for one another. We gain strength from our Creator and from each other.

That’s how Paul can so boldly declare, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free . . . Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:12, 13, 27).

The law of the jungle proclaims survival of the fittest and we’re all on our own. The rule of the grove is that we’re all in this together and that we need each other.

Some say the church is dying. But some things are worth saving.

© Ed Klodt, 2019

(Views from the Pews is written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension.)

The Dandelion Effect

Christianity isn’t a solo sport.

Jesus sends out the apostles “two by two” (Mark 6:7). They gather together in the upper room following his crucifixion (John 20:19). And thousands come to faith in the book of Acts because the disciples were in “fellowship,” “all the believers were together,” they “meet together,” and “ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:42-47).

Clearly there’s something important about being in the company of other believers.

In fact, what is the most commonly spoken prayer in the Christian community, regardless of denomination? . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . That’s right, the Lord’s Prayer, found twice in the Gospel accounts, in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. This is how Jesus teaches his disciples and others to pray – and he assumes they would do so alongside of others. A community in prayer.

Notice the plural throughout the Lord’s Prayer – Our Father . . . Give us . . . Forgive us . . . So we can forgive others . . . Lead us.

Sure, prayer can also be a solitary endeavor. There are plenty of examples of Jesus and others throughout Scripture praying by themselves. Yet, look at how Jesus lifts up the importance of group prayer. He knows the power of prayer in assemblies. So that’s how he teaches it.

Almost 30 years ago a small group of us started a Bible study, sponsored by Ascension. We called it a Care Group. It still gathers every Tuesday evening in Ascension’s library. It’s actually a Bible study on steroids. While pondering the Scriptures together has been an important element, many of us have experienced incredible breakthroughs in our faith journeys during our prayer time together. Even members who were initially hesitant to join in the open prayer at the end of each gathering, have, years later, remarked about how transformational it was to pray out loud in a group that numbered as many as 30 people.

Part of that transformation has come from seeing how the prayers of the group were impacting the individuals. They saw how God worked even in those prayers that weren’t answered directly. I would argue that the fellowship of prayer has changed more lives in the group than the Bible study everyone originally joined the group for.

And just like the seeds of a dandelion carried in a breeze, members of this prayerful Care Group over the years have gone out into the world to become even more effective pastors, executives, teachers, shuttle drivers, entertainers, parents, lay ministers – all sharing Christ’s love in their churches, companies, schools, roadways, television shows, homes and communities.

There’s something about praying in community – a church – that changes us, changes others, changes the world.

Some say the church is dying. But some things are worth saving.

© Ed Klodt, 2019

(Views from the Pews is written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension.)

The Multiplier

When Jesus prayed, he was conscious that, in his prayer, he met the Presence, and this consciousness was far more important and significant than the answering of his prayer. It is for this reason primarily that God was for Jesus the answer to all the issues and the problems of life. When I, with all my mind and heart, truly seek God and give myself in prayer, I, too, meet His Presence, and then I know for myself that Jesus was right.”  – Howard Thurman

Not many of us are familiar with the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman. He was an African American theologian and mystic who served as spiritual advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the American civil rights movement of the 1960s. Dr. Thurman played a vital role in developing peaceful resistance as an alternative to violence in the struggle to overturn racial injustice in America. (To learn more about this fascinating man, join us at the August 18th adult education classes taught by Paul Evenson.)

Reflect on his statement. Let it wash over you. What does it say to you? Does it change the way you think about prayer?

So many of us resort to vending machine prayer. Drop in some change; press the button; pull out a candy bar. Our prayer life is our personal list of needs and wants and grievances, and it diminishes God to the role of Divine Butler.

Dr. Thurman tries to shake us out of that kind of moribund prayer life, introducing us to a vibrant, life-giving way of engaging with God. And, as it did for him and other civil rights leaders in the Sixties, it empowers us to go out and do the tough stuff our faith calls us to.

As always, Jesus provides the model.

But notice that Jesus chooses different settings for prayer – alone (see Matthew 26:39, 42) and among others

(Matthew 26:26). He shows us that this prayerful

engagement with God and entering into God’s presence is both solitary and communal. It may be about me, but, more importantly, it’s about us.

Weekend worship at church offers communal prayer on steroids as Christ’s disciples come together to give themselves in prayer to God and to one another. How life changing is that! We begin to understand that worship is more than a sermon, songs, receiving the Eucharist and then visiting with friends over a cup of coffee

afterwards. It’s a way in which we join our hearts with one another and with the Almighty.

The result is life- and culture-changing, as it was for those civil rights leaders.

Talking with a friend a few weeks ago he observed, “When the sermon isn’t good, you’ve wasted a good Sunday morning.” I pointed out there’s a reason why that hour is called “worship,” not “sermon.” And praying together is a vital part of that worship.

In the communion of prayer we become emboldened to become Christ’s ambassadors to a world that badly needs more Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20). Prayer feeds the spark that the Holy Spirit plants within us. And not even police batons, fire hoses and attack dogs can stop those who have

become ignited by that spark.

But it takes a church – a community that joins hearts in prayer, song, reflection and, yes, a good sermon or two – to embolden us to be Kingdom bringers.

Some say the church is dying. But some things are worth saving.

© Ed Klodt, 2019

(Views from the Pews is written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension)

The Journey

Few succeed when traveling alone on a journey.

Meriwether Lewis needs William Clark to help settle the American West. Edmund Hillary relies on Tenzing Norgay in conquering Mount Everest.  And Barnabas accompanies Paul to help bring the Gospel to far-off places.

It’s that way in our faith journeys, as well. We need each other to navigate the steep peaks and plunging slopes that inevitably confront us as we translate our faith from mere words to powerful action.

And a church provides the perfect platform to equip us with those who will journey alongside of us.

I am Exhibit A.

When my family and I joined Ascension more than 30 years ago, my intent was to be a casual participant in the life of the church while our children went to Sunday school. Maybe a couple of Sundays a month and whatever pocket change might find its way into the collection plate. I was clueless to the idea that one could live out a Christian faith in ways that could be life changing and world changing.

But I couldn’t embrace this new Christian life on my own, not even with family and friends alongside. I needed others to teach and encourage me. A multitude of other Ascension members have come alongside of me over the past three decades to help shape and challenge me. Turns out Proverbs was right – “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another” (Prov. 27:17).

I have been burnished by countless pastors, lay people and others at Ascension who saw my faith journey as an important part of theirs.

That notion became an important part of my first book, The Jonah Factor®: 13 Spiritual Steps to Finding the Job of a Lifetime (Augsburg Fortress, 2006). In it I explored the notion of how church can play a vital role in helping us discern our vocation, regardless of what season of life we are in.

I continue to leverage my engagement with Ascension and its pastors, staff and members, especially now that I enter the season of retirement from fulltime employment. They continue to show me things I didn’t realize about myself and provide me with countless opportunities to grow. Maybe that’s why we call ourselves a congregation, which is defined as “a body of assembled people.” Did you catch that? A body. Assembled. United. Each part looking out for the other parts. All interested in the health and success of each of those other parts of the body

Like you, the success of my faith journey requires others to come alongside of me. And Ascension provides me a steady stream of people who love me and want me to keep growing and succeed. This church can do the same for and with you. I promise.

Some say the church is dying. But some things are worth saving.

© Ed Klodt, 2019

(Views from the Pews is written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension.

Roots

Who are you?

You might respond with a description of your physical attributes, your hobbies, your vocation, the school you attend, your job.

Nothing wrong with that.

But notice how your description centers only on you.

It’s a reflection of our culture, where individualism is prized, where each day we go out into the world to make our mark, to get the best deal for ourselves, to do things that make us happy.

We carry that me-first perspective into our spiritual lives. In fact, most of us Jesus People think the reason for our faith is to get us into heaven – a personal get-out-of-jail-free card to an eternity with God. “Outta my way; I’m getting into heaven. The rest of you are on your own.”

Yet Scripture points toward the importance of us.

While Jesus did spend brief periods in solitude, most of his ministry was spent among his disciples and others. It was in community that Jesus did his greatest miracles and shared his most profound teachings. Ministry was never intended as a solitary pursuit. It was always done alongside of others.

The Rev. Billy Graham, arguably the most effective preacher of the 20th Century, built his ministry on an important concept. He believed that those who answered the altar calls at his massive rallies had to connect with other Christians for their faith to take root. Right away! So, at his rallies across the U.S., he always partnered with local churches to make sure that those new to the faith could be planted in those churches and flourish in their newfound relationship not just with Christ but with other believers, as well. Graham knew that a faith journey was most fruitful when traveled with others.

We are in danger of losing that.

Hopefully that doesn’t surprise you. In fact, you saw the fruits of this Christian individualism during the Easter season, where attendance at most church services during Lent was marginal, only to swell on Easter Sunday, and then settle back into marginal on the following Sundays. It’s difficult to build community at a church when most of us are Christmas/Easter Christians.

Aspen groves are said to be the largest organisms in nature. These groves – many of them covering miles – have massive root systems that interconnect the individual trees. In fact, these aren’t individual trees at all. They are offshoots of that one organism. If the root network dies, the trees die. If it flourishes, they all flourish.

The physical root system for Christians is the Church. (Importantly, the spiritual root system for us is Christ himself. Remember his vines and branches analogy?) Despite all of its imperfections and the sin that exists in parts of the Church, this institution is the cradle in which all of us can learn and grow and serve a loving God who wants to be in relationship with us and for us to be in relationship with one another. We need each other in our journeys of faith.

Some say the church is dying. But some things are worth saving.
© Ed Klodt, 2019
(Views from the Pews is written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension.)

Alone

“You’re an interesting species; an interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone – only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.”

“Contact” (1997)

In the movie “Contact,” scientist Read more