I used to be in a top-ranked World of Warcraft (WoW) guild back in the golden days of what we video gamers like to call “Vanilla.” Those were simpler days, we played a ton, and created some epic memories. The leaders of that top world guild eventually went their own ways and it ended up disbanding. A friend and I started a couple of guilds and we achieved best alliance guild on both of the servers in which we started. I used to spend hours upon hours chatting with just about every player on the servers.
Whenever someone wanted to join our raid team they actually had to fill out an application on our guild website. It was such a thorough application process that would put some job applications to shame. After you submitted your application you had to have a voice interview. Then, if you were accepted into the guild, and we had thousands of applicants, you had a two week trial period where both parties had to see if it was a good fit.
There are some guilds that invite everyone. For those types it’s a numbers game. There could be 300 people online in that guild but they don’t raid, they don’t hang out with each other, they are just in it and that’s it. In our guild, if you were online, we required you to hang out in voice chat, you could be on mute but we wanted anyone who was playing to feel like they weren’t alone. 'Cause that’s what WoW was in the first place. Yes, it is a video game but the game is just the medium. The game provided the place that gave all of us this sense of a community, we were proud to be in the guild we were in and we, for the most part, all got along. Everyone knew we needed each other if we were going to be a successful end-game raiding team.
I look at the church now and see so many similarities between that old guild and where the institutional church now finds itself. It is almost like we’re one of those guilds that let anyone in. Those guilds had so many people “offline” kind of like our directories that are filled with names of those who once attended. Having built two top gaming guilds I know what it takes to create a vibrant team with a concise vision. Everyone has to be on board. If you were on the team, you were on the team. Ours wasn’t a guild we just let everyone into. We allowed everyone to apply but we had only had 25 spots to fill.
Unlike that guild, the church has unlimited spots to fill but are we just letting everyone in without explaining what the expectations of joining are? Check out this parable found in Matthew 22:
‘Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’
And I’m with you, we have been beaten up too much with that old school fire and brimstone preaching but there is some sense to it. When you played with someone on our team, the guild tag they had attached to their name told you something about them. You knew you were playing with certain type of player. With so many attaching ‘Christian’ to their name, you don’t necessarily know what kind of player you are getting. Is that Christian highly involved in a community of people are working towards a certain goal(s)? Is that Christian representing the people in their community? Does that Christian participate in church activities, programs, and services?
If the Northeast was the realm that WoW took place in, then I’m afraid I’d simply just see a bunch of churches spamming to find people to join their guilds. If WoW guild leading taught me anything, it's that you shouldn’t expect much from those kinds of teams. I’d rather be a part of a team that requires me to participate. I’d like to be a part of a team that challenges who I am, pushing me to be better. You’d find just about the best way to build a team in the Book of Acts, in the Letters of Paul.
I found it in a video game. I think I’m gonna apply it to real life or what we gamers call, “irl.”
If I don’t pray constantly I will get sucked into the ways of this world in the blink of an eye. So each day I try to plan a strategy that will remind myself that I have been called to live by the spirit.
By Prayer and the reading of Scripture do I feed my inner being so that it is my spirit who, in communion with God, can run this earthly flesh that it inhabits. If you are looking to fulfill that holy calling I share this with you to help. I am the first one to dive into the pool of sin, lust, and desire. I have a huge appetite for this world but so it is with my spirit and the world to come. And so I, like Paul, will try and beat my flesh so that the spirit may prevail.
Here the word of Jeremiah...
Jeremiah 4:23-27 (KJV)
I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger.
For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end.
One need only look our planetary neighbors to see what would happen if God took his gaze from our planet. To be placed where we are, to be protected by atmospheres, to be held in place by magnetic forces, to be spinning and circling the way we do...how delicate everything truly is and how much we take it for granted.
God has placed life on this planet and has charged that life to us. May we become better stewards to ourselves, to our neighbors, to our environment, and even those we call enemies.
God found us in chaos and ordered all things. May we not undo what the Lord has set in place. Here is how would can bring immediate change:
If you want the rewards of the spirit you are going to have to give up the desires of the flesh...I know, it sounds tough because it is. It doesn't make sense but here is how I learned when it does.
I've been kneeling down while praying lately. I have been through that whole, "you can come before God anyway you want" phase. Kneeling is uncomfortable, it hurts, especially on hard floors. For me though, thats becoming the point. Prayer is acknowledging that this vehicle in which you inhabit, the flesh, is temporary. My flesh wants what it wants and rarely, if ever, it wants nothing to do with spiritual things. My flesh would rather listen to five hours of Christian history on Audible to justify that I can play video games for hours, be rude to others, drink too much wine, and overeat to my hearts content. Yet when it comes to prayer, even for just thirty seconds, my flesh will fight me for hours. The flesh knows what happens when you start to move into that place of dependence on and submission under God.
The flesh loses ground.
And that's what is in the best interest for all of us. Jesus came to earth to remind us that we must not store treasures up on earth, He came to remind us that the flesh will not have a place, not even a say, in the kingdom to come. I think Islam has a great practice in praying five times a day to drill this truth in and I think Jesus was right for us to not get hung up on what we are to say in prayer but it is rather how we, in the words of Paul, "punish our body and enslave it" so it does not disqualify us from the our reward.
What is the reward? Why would anyone choose to live in such a way?
When you live by the spirit you no longer need to overeat, you no longer need to over drink, you no longer need to lust, you no longer need to be frustrated...you no longer desire any other reward for you have received the greatest reward of all.
You have submitted to the great I am, the great Tree of Life to which all of us will be grafted into or pruned from. All are welcome to be grafted, all we need to do is just be still and let the Spirit bind us into itself.
Evensong is our Saturday night service that we do here at Second Congregational Church in Greenwich. We have an amazing worship band that leads us each week and sometimes I'm able to record these gems. All are welcome to join us each week at 5pm as we come together to worship God.
You should never say, “come to church.” You should be saying, “come to my house” or “come spend time with my friends an I.” After a little bread, after a little wine, after some sharing, praying, singing, and enjoying one another you will find that had been at church the whole time.
Happy New Year everyone!
I hope that your holidays went well and that you were able to wrap up all of 2017 loose ends. As we move into the New Year we are often thinking of ways how we might improve ourselves, adopting good habits whether they are related to our physical health, emotional, or spiritual health.
Did you know that being part of a community group leads to better results in all of these categories. I continue to come across articles that encourage and promote people to work against this epidemic of loneliness that seems to be creeping into our lives. Here is one of those articles: [The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health - The New York Times](https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/well/mind/how-loneliness-affects-our-health.html)
This is why I think all of us should make an effort to come to church. Church is more than simply worshipping God, it is a safe place for people to come together and connect with other human beings walking this journey of life we’re all on. Whether it is having a chat with an retiree who can offer some advice to a young professional or having a fellow parent in share the trying times of raising a teen, church is that place where relationships like these can be cultivated.
And so feel free to take advantage of church as a resource. Doing this will set a good example to your children and to the people around you. Church, the events, the programs, these are just the means to an end. The end being that we all acknowledge that we have a God who is walking with us and who is calling us together to love, support, and do what we can to make the homes, jobs, schools, and communities in which we participate better places.
This January we will begin doing one service project a month at our Evensong services. We will be starting a Bible study bi-weekly gathering at our new place in Greenwich (yes, the Garan’s are coming to town!), we’ll have our traditional Sunday morning services, and many more events and programs for all to take part in. That is what we can do. Here is what I ask on your end. That maybe you can calendar in two activities a month, whether it is church, youth group, confirmation, Bible study, or a service project.
This will help our church get the year off on the right foot and I believe in the end, will become a huge blessing to you in turn.
Please pray for our church as we pray for you.
With much love and many blessings I write you,
Reverend Shawn Garan,
Associate Pastor at Second Congregational Church of Greenwich.
I knew she would ask me one day and I promised I’d never lie to her about it. I was picking Molly up from school and as I lifted her up into her car seat she asked me,
“Dad, is Santa real?”
She caught me off guard.
“Um…” I blurted out as I now was facing a question I thought I was prepared to answer.
Should I tell her? Will she understand? Will people think I’m some kind of Scrooge for ruining her childhood? I did what any good pastor would do, I quoted the Bible. Molly, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child I reasoned like a child; when I was a became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11). It worked. I was proud of myself but it triggered a thought about the way people wrestle with Scripture today. When they approach Scripture as adults using the logic they held as children, the story of Scripture becomes as silly as Santa. I hear it all the time,
These were stories that were told to us as children but for many they lost value for us as adults. It’s likely this is the reason a book we consider handed down to us by God often becomes an untouched accessory on our bookshelves and in our pews.
And so we are left with a choice. Do we continue to tell these stories in the same way we were told growing up? Or, do we dare to have the courage to face the narrative of Scripture as adults. We may be uncomfortable with what we find but I believe it’s in that discomfort that we can hear Scripture no longer as children but as adults. When I face it now I see a new story in Scripture that prods my understanding,
All Christians are called to spiritually grow, to spiritually evolve, and to spiritually adapt. Peter expresses this in his first letter by saying, “grow up in your salvation.”
For now, I’ll tell Molly that she can believe in Santa, that Jonah was in the belly of a whale, and that an apple is why there is bad in the world. But as she grows I’ll teach her that the story has a deeper meaning. That Santa embodies a spirit of giving and even though Old St. Nick doesn’t come down our chimney, that spirit can come forth out from her soul.
Let us dare to see what others cannot see, to hear what others cannot hear, and to allow the Spirit to provoke our imagination from the stories we find in the Bible.
O’ the wonders Jesus still has yet to do through his people. He proclaims “you will do greater things than I.”
Be wrapped up in the gift of Christ as we move into Advent.