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Steven S. Billings

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Friday, August 24, 2007

IDENTITY CRISIS

Did you ever wake up one morning and wonder: "What am I doing with my life?" Or go to an office you've worked in for years and ask: "Why am I here?" It's disconcerting to be confused about your reason to exist, to be uncertain regarding your purpose in life.

What's true for the individual is true for organizations as well. Christian congregations are no exception. From time to time we get confused about our purpose, resulting in misplaced priorities, waning interest on the part of the members, and a prevailing sense of lethargy.

A number of years ago there was a company in Texas that distributed electricity and natural gas through the construction and operation of power plants and pipelines. They were a very successful company with a clear grasp of their role in the marketplace.

But then somebody decided they should be more than that. They began to market and promote power and communications commodities as tradable financial instruments, including exotic items such as "weather derivatives." At first this seemed amazingly successful. They were named "America's Most Innovative Company" by Fortune magazine for six consecutive years. They were among Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work for in America," and had offices that were stunning in their opulence. They were hailed by many - including their employees - as a great company, praised for their large long-term pensions and benefits, and lauded for their extremely effective approach to management. That is, until they were exposed for corporate fraud. The name of this company? Enron!

Did Kenneth Lay and the other executives at Enron begin with the intention to defraud the public? Probably not. They simply lost sight of who they were. They had misplaced their priorities.

What are the priorities for a Christian congregation? Never one to over-emphasize the application of business principles to churches, I believe we have to be careful how far we take such things. But years ago our congregation adopted a Mission Statement, which was intended to help keep our priorities in focus. From time to time it's good to remind ourselves what it is we're here for, and how we should be living our congregational life.

Mission Statement: "In response to God's great love in Christ and in obedience to His command we will build Christ's church in our community and beyond through Word and Sacrament. For this purpose we will gather together for worship, prayer, Bible study, and acts of loving service."

It seems to me that often our continued existence unto perpetuity has become the central goal of our existence proper. Is it a commendable goal to continue to exist? It surely can be. But if that becomes the primary goal, then we've lost our purpose. For it ought never be the purpose of a Christian congregation simply to exist, and to do so for as long as it can. Rather, our expressed goal as a congregation is to gather together around the Means of Grace through worship, prayer, Bible study, and acts of loving service.

It also seems to me that the goals articulated in our Mission Statement have among themselves a logical order. We respond to the great love of God in Christ by gathering for: a) worship, b) prayer, c) Bible study, and d) acts of loving service. Do you see the order? Worship is first, followed by prayer, Bible study, and acts of service. And I think it should be noted that nowhere in our own list of stated goals is it mentioned that we should make continuance a top priority.

Now, please don't misunderstand. I believe it is good for a congregation to remain in service to the community into which God has planted it for as long as that service bears the marks of the Church - which Lutherans have historically recognized as the Word of God taught in its truth and purity and the Sacraments rightly administered according to the Gospel of Christ. (See articles VII and VIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession). So the question may be: "How do we continue in this ministry for many years to come?" But when we begin to answer that concern by focusing mainly on our material needs as a congregation, we betray our misplaced priorities. In other words, we ought not respond to our perceived material needs simply by storing up treasures on earth (Luke 12:16-21). We ought not comfort our material fears simply by a quick check of our ledger, so that if stocks are up we feel secure and if stocks are down we begin to tremble and fret. No profit and loss report will ever provide true security for the Christian congregation.

What we ought to be asking is: "How may we provide the most Godly teaching of His Word and the most laudable administration of His Sacraments?" And then let God respond to our faithfulness as He wills.

By the same token, if the concern is to draw people into the Divine Service, we ought not answer that concern by asking what "style" of worship people are seeking. We don't take opinion polls to see whether we should continue to worship Christ according to the Godly liturgical heritage handed down to us from antiquity. The simple reality is that neither a "rock" band thumping away in the chancel or a "gospel" group shouting at us from the choir loft offers any guarantee that the neighborhood throngs will suddenly stampede into our nave and fill our pews. Is it a commendable goal to fill our pews? It certainly can be. But if that becomes our primary goal, then we've lost our purpose. It ought never be the goal of a Christian congregation simply to "pack the house." All manner of worldly places fill their seats regularly. Shall we imitate the world simply to attract bodies? In other words, should we give up the Mass in favor of the masses? God forbid!

Rather, our response to this ought to be the same as our response to material concerns: "How may we provide the most Godly teaching of His Word and the most laudable administration of His Sacraments?" And then let God respond to our faithfulness as He wills.

Most of us recall how Enron fell. Many people lost a great deal of their retiring savings. For some, their future was put in great jeopardy. Lawsuits were filed. Kenneth Lay, former Chairman of the Board, and Jeffrey Skilling, former Chief Executive Officer, were indicted for securities and wire fraud in 2004. Lay was convicted on all six counts and Skilling on 19 of 28 counts in May, 2006. Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison in October, 2006, and ordered to restore the Enron pension fund with $26 million out-of-pocket. In July of that year Kenneth Lay died at age 64 while vacationing in Aspen, Colorado, having suffered a heart attack.

Today Enron is, once again, a successful company, having returned to its roots as a distributor of electric power and natural gas, having left behind its grand scheme of being an energy commodities broker. The moral of the story? Know who you are. Be true to yourself. Never lose sight of your priorities. And if you find yourself drifting off track, do what you must to get back to your roots. Enron went through great turmoil before it finally regained its footing. How much better would it have been if it had simply stayed on track in the first place! God grant this to our congregation and yours - indeed, to the whole Christian Church on earth!

11:09 pm edt

Thursday, August 9, 2007

CD BOOKLET - Page 19

CD Booklet Page 19

Page 19 has copyright information, plus additional production and session personnel.

I took the photo myself, using my digital video camera, which has both a "still" function, and a remote control! I did a little clean-up and processing with Adobe PhotoShop, adding the "glow" effect.

7:08 pm edt

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

VACATION REMEMBRANCES - Final Installment


VACATION REMEMBRANCES
Summer 2007

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Woke up about 8:30 with ideas for a song I started a couple of weeks ago called "Crownbearer." By 11:00 or so I had it done.

When I finally emerged from my room, I learned that Steph had gone to the beauty salon. Later she called to say she was going to have lunch with Jim. So I spent time with the kids. I played Sims with Nathaniel and Chanel. They enjoyed seeing their characters.

In the evening, Steph ordered Chinese food and Jim and I played PS2 baseball. He whooped me good!

We all hit the sack pretty early. I've really enjoyed my visit, but I'm feeling the call of home.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Woke up to my alarm at 7:00. After I got dressed and packed, Jim and I went to breakfast. We ate at a typical New York diner. Good food, good service, good time spent with my brother.

After dropping him off at his office, I hit the road. I intended to drive a good portion of the day, stop over somewhere, and finish the trip tomorrow. But I made better time than I expected, so I just drove straight through. Got home about 8:00.

So ends my trip. It was one of the best I've taken. I saw a lot of people I've wanted to see and did a lot of cool things. I think it will take awhile to absorb it all. I had a great time. But I am glad to be home.

1:26 pm edt

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

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