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War on Advent

Perusing Facebook recently I came across an interesting thought regarding our Advent/Christmas celebrations.  It read, “As for me, I am more concerned about the War on Advent.”  That brief sentence shed light on what I have been feeling for years.

Our so-called, “war on Christmas” seems to always amp up this time of year as believers lament just how oppressed they are made to feel regarding the celebration of Christmas.  Heads explode over secular holiday television programs and plunge us into the depths of despair if anyone wishes us, “Happy Holidays” over our pious and zealous mandate of repeating, “Merry Christmas”.

Now mind you, we believers stand by, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at our toes”, but don’t you dare wish me to be happy during these holy-days as I would rather be merry during the Mass of Christ.  I find irony in our race toward Bethlehem, which Wall Street is banking on,  while the John of Advent is in the wilderness pointing the way.

Pastors will stand in front of packed sanctuaries on Christmas Eve where many gathered will never have heard the advent call of repentance, to change and forgive.  Before all of us, that evening will be the lighted candles of hope, love, joy, and peace which serve as stark reminders of the one who points the way toward them all.

On Sunday following Thanksgiving Pastors are often asked, “when will we sing Christmas hymns” and serving in a denomination whose two major hymnals offer a paltry 2% of its content as advent selections, I for one am not personally concerned on the “War on Christmas” waged from the outside, as I am on the “War of Advent” being waged from within.

How about some good news?

I am struck by the constant stream of negativity that seems to dominate our world.  In our 24-hour news cycle, it is easy to become cynical and surmise that the world must be crashing around us and that evil has an upper hand on goodness, generosity, and love.   However, if we are able to free ourselves from the “Breaking News” which so often is the previous news hour rehashed, and look around us, we do see goodness, justice, and peace.

Locally, last weekend hundreds gathered to pack over 100,000 meals for hungry children around the world.  Yesterday we celebrated the 20th anniversary of our Monday Night community dinner that offers a free hot meal to anyone that works in concert with several other community meal programs.  160 brown paper bags were also handed out and will come back next Sunday filled with food and delivered to a local food pantry for the upcoming holiday needs.  The good news is that outreach like this happens in almost every community but never as “breaking news”.  Just quietly, concerned and loving people filling the most urgent of needs.

So while our political leaders spend most their time investigating each other to position themselves for re-election and our news sources continue to be funded by private interests, let us resolve to continue doing good and working for peace and justice.  While our work together may not make the evening news it may very well be a lead story for those we serve.

Life and death Wisdom

As we discussed the essence of wisdom this past Sunday, I was left with the impression that nothing makes sense absent from wisdom.  When God appears to King Solomon and asks,  “what would you like me to offer you,” the young king’s response was discernment, wisdom, to know the difference between right and wrong.

While we yearn for many desires and needs in our life it seems that only aligned with wisdom do they ever foster wholeness, thankfulness and abundance.  If wisdom is the gift and/or ability to make correct decisions, knowing right from wrong and understanding, then it seems our desires and needs ought to be guided by true wisdom.

So here is where I humbly stand before you at a loss.  With yet another tragic mass killing yesterday how do we apply “wisdom” to such tragedies so that they do not simply become the “new normal”?  As people of faith, hope, forgiveness and mercy, how do we offer wise solutions to this political/mental health firestorm?

Perhaps a Pastor’s greatest gift is to know when to step aside and in this moment I do so.  I humbly stand alongside you all as we share wisdom in the spirit of grace, integrity and love because all I know is that what happened in Texas yesterday and continues to occur across this great Nation, can not continue to be the new normal in that we can no longer kick the can down the road waiting for the right time to make wise decisions between life and death.  In loving wisdom, let’s share.

 The Dance of Worship

This past Sunday we explored 2 Samuel 6 with David dancing as the Ark of the Covenant was brought back to Jerusalem!  He simply could not contain his joy as he gave thanks and worshiped!  What an amazing story as we live out our lives of worship.

I shared that the worship model is often a (3) fold dance:

  1. Worship leaders as performers.  These may be preachers, choirs, soloists, organists, acolytes, ushers or anyone leading worship.
  2. Congregation as audience.  In this model the people come to be filled, comforted and at times, entertained which can often lead to over ambitious expectations which leads to criticism.
  3. Then there is the prompter, God.  The Holy One prompts the preacher to the holy text, the choir director to the appropriate anthem and the other worship leaders to inspired responsibilities.

But what if we rethought worship and approached it with a different understanding:

1. The performers are the congregation.  I am not a big fan of the word performer but work with me.  The people gather to sacrifice, offer, pray, sing, wrestle, doubt, believe, recite, remember, etc.  This is the very essence of worship as verb.

2. The prompters then are the worship leaders.  They encourage the congregation to find their voices and spirits so that they might better express their worship.  At the same time they too are performers who offer gifts to empower God’s people to express their most authentic worship.

3.  This leads us with an audience of ONE, God.  There is only one spectator, a single audience in whom we gather to adore, glorify and praise.  God then searches the intentions of our heart as we gather to either watch or worship.

So what is it about worship that lights you up?  What is it that makes you dance?  If worship is our response, prompted by inspired believers so that everyone can please God, then what is it for you?  Let’s share the journey and see where it takes us.

 

Authentic Church

As a Pastor, I am inundated with emails and Facebook posts outlining the perfect path toward church growth.  Every day I receive the precise formula for stemming the tide of decline in church vitality.  Many of these messages begin with taglines such as, “10 things your church is doing that destroys growth”, or “the 7 steps of doubling your attendance in the next three years.”

It is not my intent to impose dispersion on the authors who publish these articles even though 99% of the time they are selling a product.  Most have interesting insights and offer thought-provoking concepts to consider but how truly difficult is it?  If we are created by the one God who loves us enough to offer his Son as a sacrifice for our sin and empowers our work through the Holy Spirit, how complicated is it then to be the true church we are called to be?

If the above statement rings true, we then only need scripture to fill in the blanks.  Let me give it whirl:

  1. Love God with all we are. I admire the suggestion that asks, “Is there enough evidence in our life, to convict us in the court of law, that we truly love God?”  Here lies the difference between, “believing” in and “loving” God.  Is God in all our thinking, speaking, and actions and is it God’s will and Kingdom we seek to honor?  Do our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness all point toward Jesus?

 

  1. Love each other. Paul emphasizes that because God first loves us we then can love each other.  Our love of God and each other then become one.  When I speak of love, I am not referring to the mere absence of hate but rather an intentional, authentic, risk-taking, inclusive and on purpose hospitality, generosity, and kindness.  The action that seeks out others, embraces our diversity and welcomes brokenness.  If the mantra of any church is, “I don’t know many of the new faces here on Sunday”, are we really the church?  Do we really love each other?

 

  1. Be the Church. In United Methodist circles, we call it making disciples where its genesis is the relationship.  I believe that a futile misconception rests on the understanding that we invite anyone “to church”.  You and I are the church every second of every day.  In the spirit of grace, we serve God, love others and model that whom we worship.  The invitation and discipleship making rests in our authentic and genuine representation of what we say we believe.  If we witness gossip, ill intent, negativity and blame we will repel others but by sharing hope, patience, grace, and love we then offer a genuine invitation to the Body of Christ.

Right and Wrong

Here is a discussion starter; why does it seem that everyone must be in agreement with everything in order to be in relationships with one another?  It is my humble observation that our society is becoming more and more polarized as we disagree on more and more cultural issues impacting our life together.   This sentiment is voraciously expressed within the safe veil of Facebook, tweeted behind the discomfort of face to face expression and Instagrammed in the hope a picture speaks what we are not willing to.

I am not sure exactly how we have come to this point of easy disagreement and using this as the litmus test for relationships.  Somehow we have bought into the idea that one must agree with our politics, religion, and morality in order to confer the honor of being deemed a friend.

I would like to offer the contrary as some of my closest relationships have been with those who hold starkly opposite beliefs.  I have found that they have stretched my understanding of truth while expanding my concept of acceptance and love.  Perhaps the lesson God is teaching me is to constantly seek those different than myself and love them, period.  I wonder what our lives would become if our disagreements were no longer deal breakers and we agreed that our shared humanity blesses life?

Thoughts anyone?

Just Like Us

As I write this article, I watch in amazement as the preschool children are playing on the new playground. As I observe, I notice the many different personalities among these 3 and four yr. Old children. Some are more aggressive than others are, many are seeking others to play with, and others are content with themselves, several are daring as they climb the ladder while others are more comfortable with both feet on the ground.
As they play, I ask, “Isn’t this a microcosm of life and even the church we love?” Not only do these children live in their world, but they also represent our world where some are comfortable leading and others would rather follow. Some are risk-takers while others are risk-avoiders. There are those who are introverts while others are extroverted and the life of every party! We are a diverse community of seekers, doubters, believers, disciples, coverts, and cynics all loved by God as we make our way through the playgrounds of life.
The ah-ha moment happens when a child who was afraid of the ladder begins to climb through the encouragement of a classmate. Another child faces the fear of the slide and now runs to do it again, even faster. The teacher reaches down to take a lonely child to play with others and becomes the BMOC (Big Man on Campus); even if just for that moment, are all reminders of what we might become when we face our fears, receive encouragement and trust ourselves.
So while one child sits on the bench and cries comforted by his teacher, two others are off by themselves swinging on a swing and as the majority experience free play with lots of screams and laughter; it looks and sounds like the Church of Jesus Christ!
Have to close, as the whistle just signaled the end of playtime, nothing left to watch!