Holy Week: Remember

Having a good memory is not something I am blessed with.  I have a really hard time remembering specific details.  I can’t remember important things that my doctor tells me from the day before or how much my dosage of Enbrel is that I take for my skin disease psoriasis.  It’s pretty frustrating.  My wife gets frustrated at me too and she on the other hand is much better at remembering more specific details.  A few days ago, Rachelle reminded me that on that day exactly one year ago, we found out that we were having a boy!  That blew my mind.  How do you remember those things!? I guess I need to just try harder.  But some things just seem minor to me. 

The other day, my older sister put a throwback picture collage on Facebook from when we were all in elementary school.  There was a girl that commented on the picture that said she remembered babysitting us and was genuinely excited.  I couldn’t share in her excitement because I had absolutely NO idea who she was!  That was memory was gone!  Sorry Janette.

But there’s one thing I can remember very vividly from when I was a kid — Christian holidays and their accompanying Church services.  At Christmas time I remember attending the lengthy Lutheran services and thinking they were quite boring at the time.  But there was always something that drew me in.  It was not all the standing up and sitting down however!  I remember staring at the beautiful stained glass in the old sanctuary building my mom grew up in and eventually married my dad in.  I remember going down in the basement for the refreshments.  I remember my grandma singing in the choir.  I remember not being able to participate in the Lord’s Supper because it was closed communion.  I remember not understanding why.  I still don’t understand why some churches have closed communion.  

I also vividly remember my own local church’s Easter cantatas.  This is mostly because my mom was the choir director and planned and led these services and we had to listen to the songs over and over again!  But I loved it.  I remember transforming the basement of the 1st Baptist Church in Mound City into our version of Jerusalem with live sheep and goats brought in to add to the experience.  I vividly picture in my mind the final scene in the cantata when the man playing Jesus would appear in his beautiful white robes with the light shining on him (Although I honestly can’t remember his name!)  

The story of God from Christmas to Easter and everything in between has sunk deep within my brain.  It has always been the most important part of who I am.  I have been able to remember these experiences much more than many other things in my life.  Why is this?  I believe it is because God has truly instilled this in me.  God has given me the gift of the church and ministry and is today why I am a pastor.  It is also because I have experienced this story over and over again through the years.    

Being able to remember God’s story and then to immerse yourself into that story is what all of us are called to do.  But if church isn’t a priority.  If the story becomes something you hear only once in a while, it begins to fade into the dark spaces of our memories.  The stories of Peter and the disciples, the story of Lazarus and his sisters, the story of Abraham and his family tree become a vague memory if not forgotten if we don’t consistently hear them and participate in that same story!  They become like Janette has to me.  The weekly gathering of God’s people is so important to remembering who we are and who God is.  In the Lord’s Supper Jesus commands us to participate in it to remember who he is and what he did.  It also re-members us into that story, that body of Christ.  Not only the weekly gathering, but also the weekly re-enacting of God’s story in the things we do and the stories we tell is so important.  This is why I think following the church calendar and the church seasons is so vital to remember the whole of God’s story.  So on this Maundy Thursday before Easter, we remember the central aspect of our faith: The mystery of Christ’s death, resurrection and hopeful return.  

Let us remember well!  

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Lent Week 4

So I’ve moved from a daily Lenten Journey now to a weekly Lenten Journey.  At least my numbers are still in line! :)  

This past Sunday was the Fourth Sunday in Lent.  We are right in the middle and I honestly can’t wait till Easter.  I saw on Facebook or Twitter where someone compared the Season of Lent to being like a really really long Monday!  I think that’s right on.  Nobody likes Mondays.  The weekend is over where fun and games and parties have been enjoyed.  It’s going to take another 5 long days to get to the weekend!  Everybody loves weekends.  Unless of course you have an oilfield type job like so many here in Lovington, NM and work never seems to stop even during the weekends.  But weekends are fun.  It’s a chance to stop working.  It’s a chance to get away from the daily grind of work.  And so if Lent is like Monday, “Monday Monday, can’t stand that day”.  Then Easter is like the weekend.  I love Easter, as it really is the foundation of our Christian Faith!  

So many people go to church on Easter.  Just the other day, I saw someone from our church who hasn’t been in a while.  She said she will definitely be there on Easter.  Why?  Why is this the case with so many people?  Why even come on Easter????  When I think about it, it doesn’t even make sense.  What spiritual significance does Easter have if you haven’t journeyed through Lent first?  Can there really be a celebration if we haven’t taken time to reflect on our brokenness and sin; to reflect on what God might be trying to do and say in our lives?  

If someone never went to work for 5 days, the “weekend fun” doesn’t seem like it would be as enjoyable.  If every day was a day off, it begins to lose its impact and significance.  We need to go to “work” first to truly embrace and celebrate the resurrection of Christ and to understand really what happened on the Cross and the empty grave!

We are 4 weeks in to this “work” season of Lent.  I guess you could say it’s Wednesday evening (hump day).  The work has been hard.  But it’s been good.  We can see the weekend/Easter coming and we are ready.  But first we need to finish the week!  Only then will we be truly prepared and ready for the Weekend Party!

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Lent Day 3

There are many reasons to fast during Lent.  Yesterday I mentioned the fast that God really desires from Isaiah 58.  It’s a fast that includes action!

But fasting is definitely a practice of “giving up”.  This practice of giving something up is to remember and follow the time Jesus spent in the wilderness and tempted by Satan as he began his ministry to the cross.  It’s a practice that we engage in to show dependency on God and God’s provision.  At the end of Lent and our time of fasting, we usually go back to the thing that we gave up.  There is nothing wrong with this, especially if you give up a life necessity such as food.

But I also think one of the reasons we should and can fast during this season is to make this “fast” last for the rest of our lives, or at least for an indefinite time.  As I think about fasting my cynicism, this is definitely true.  As I find myself being cynical, I pray that God will take that from me and that it will never return.  It no longer is a fast, but a rule of life.

I pray that God will make this not just a fast, but a lifelong change in my life.

What is something God is teaching you and challenging you to give up for the rest of your life?

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Lenten Journey Day 1 and 2

I’ve always been the optimist.  I still consider myself to be an optimist but in the past few years I’ve become somewhat of a cynic.  I guess it happened as my eyes were opened and experienced new learning at theological seminary.  I’ve become cynical of many things, but mostly of the practices of the church, its ecclesiology.

I’ve become even cynical of my own optimism.  Ugh.

My optimism, however, mostly stands out in my view towards other humans.  I always see the good in people (usually).  I am always giving people the benefit of the doubt; sometimes to a fault and I have experienced a few relationships that have been strained or broken in hurtful ways.  But as the eternal optimist that I am, I don’t allow those experiences to affect my attitude towards them or future relationships.

So I am sort of at a tough place in my soul as I consider myself to be an optimist towards people; and as a cynic towards the church — which is the collection of people of Christ. How can this be?  It doesn’t really make sense!  You can see the struggle I’m having.

So for Lent, besides giving up something physical, I’m going to give up on being cynical, especially towards the Church.

In our local church sanctuary, we have a fairly large closet that we set up right on the platform.  It’s set up for everyone to see and will be an important visual/metaphor for our Lenten worship practices.  As we have begun the season of Lent, starting last night with our Ash Wednesday service, our church closet is crammed full of STUFF.  It’s a mess!  It’s hard to focus on anything and it needs to be organized.  But in the process of organizing the closet, there are many things that need to be removed to create space for God to enter.  I’m excited to see how our church engages with this image, but as I reflect on my own spiritual closet, the first thing I am removing is an attitude of cynicism.

What needs to be removed from your spiritual closet this season of Lent?  What needs to be removed from your overall living closet this season of Lent?  How are you preparing your life for the resurrection of Christ?  Is there even any room in your life for God or is it crammed full of STUFF?

Fasting or giving up something is a great way to practice suffering and journeying through Lent.  However, giving something up is really only half of what it means to live in the ways of Jesus.  We also need to actively engage in doing something during Lent.  It’s not enough to practice self piety.  The prophet Isaiah tells us the kind of fast God is after is “breaking the chains of injustice, not exploiting fellow workers, to free the oppressed, cancel debts, feed the hungry, clothing those who are cold, being available to your family…” Isaiah 58:6-9

Maggie Dawn has a great blog post on creative ways to engage Lent and Fasting in meaningful and creative ways that is active and others focused.  I’m going to attempt to engage in many if not all on the list.  I invite you to as well.
YouVersion Bible app also has the Lent for Everyone reading plan by N.T. Wright. Check it out.

God I pray and invite you into every area of my life, every secret place and closet.  Have mercy on me God.  Take away the things in my life that distract from you and serving others.  Prepare my heart, soul, mind and strength to worship you more fully than the day before.  Amen.

 

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Liturgy Recap

Liturgy, the work of the people in a worship service, is something every church has and does.  It doesn’t matter if it’s very formal and planned like many Catholic, Lutheran or Eastern Orthodox churches or whether it’s very informal/free like most evangelical protestant churches in America.  We all have a liturgy.  Of course many churches don’t have a lot of the people in worship services doing a lot of work.  Quite often, most people just sit in a pew or chair and watch others do the work.  We become spectators instead of participators in our worship gatherings.  This is not good!  The Nazarene church sort of falls in the middle of these spectrums.  Our denomination grew out of the Methodist church 100 years ago in which John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley started back in the 1700′s.  John was an Anglican priest and Christian theologian.  Charles is known for writing thousands of hymns and poems.  As Nazarenes, we consider ourselves to be thoroughly Wesleyan.  One of my favorite hymns by Charles is “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”.  (We do the David Crowder version)  :)  

Through singing, the people do participate in the work.  Through singing we are able to learn theology and doctrine because it gives us a great way to remember the words.  I love the music part of the liturgy.  I am blessed to be able to help plan and lead the music portion of the liturgy.  I am blessed to have such a wonderful team to participate with me.  Because I get to plan the music I often try to incorporate responsive readings and Scripture readings that allow the congregation and different people to participate in the liturgy.  I love to look out at the congregation and see a majority of the people singing!  

Our liturgy at LovingtonNaz doesn’t change much from week to week.  But we changed things up just a bit this past Sunday.  The sermon was from John 2:13-25 and so one of the aspects that we added was reading the corresponding lectionary texts that went with the preaching text.  The Old Testament reading was the 10 Commandments found in Exodus 20 and the Psalm reading was from Psalm 19.  In the Gospel we hear the story of Jesus redefining what the Temple was and is.  Jesus is always setting things straight and teaching the true meaning of God’s word.  The teachers of the law and the temple officials did not appreciate what Jesus did in the Temple that day.  It wasn’t what they wanted.  It wasn’t what they knew.  So Jesus explains it to them.  He says I am the Temple.  He says everything the Law and the commandments say are pointing to me.  He isn’t saying the law is bad or irrelevant, but that the law is fulfilled in me!  Pay attention.

The Psalm reading says this:

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.

                                           Psalm 19:7-9

As we move forward throughout this year, I hope to see more people involved in the liturgy.  We hope to recapture testimony time hearing the stories of God’s work in personal lives.  I also hope to incorporate more Scripture readings that help tell the story of God and for us to gain a better understanding of the Bible as a whole.

 

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Sermon Reflection John 1:35-50

I get to preach again this Sunday and the following Sunday.  Pastor Jaron and Elizabeth have traveled to the Holy Lands of Israel. I’m definitely jealous.  Israel is definitely one place I want to visit and experience.  Those who have gone have said it will change the way you read the Bible, preach, and experience being a Christian.  I’m looking forward to hearing the stories from Jaron and Elizabeth and the excitement they will bring back with them as they lead our church.  

I am preparing to preach from John 1:35-50 and the story of Jesus calling the first disciples. This is very different than the other three Gospel versions.  The entire Gospel of John is extremely different as a whole.  Jesus conversations are taking place.  Excitement is in the air. Early evangelism is happening where people are meeting Jesus and immediately telling others they have met the Messiah, the Christ, the Annointed One of Israel.  Imagine what it would have been like to be in that place and in that time.  To walk with Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God!  

So as I read this narrative of Jesus calling his disciples and the disciples then calling others and pointing them to Jesus, I can’t help but think how opposite I am from these early excited evangelists.  Who am I seeking to share this news that Jesus is the Messiah, the King of Israel?  Have I become so numb to the Gospel story over the years; the story that God, the creator of the Universe, who took on human flesh, the Incarnate One, changes the entire world?  Sadly, yes, it seems I have become so numb.  I don’t have a sense of urgency of telling the people I know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  

My typical thinking is, “If only I could experience Jesus in a fresh new way.”  Shoot, John Wesley experienced a strange heart warming of some kind.  Why can’t I?  This is possibly an accurate feeling, but I think in the end it’s just an excuse.  And in the end, it’s not even about me.  So often I get caught up in my own world and my own feelings; instead of continuing the work of the John’s: the Baptizer, the Evangelist, and the Methodist  — pointing to the Christ and allowing God to do what God does!

Let us all accept Christ’s call on our lives, to come and see what it’s all about, to follow Jesus.  This is discipleship.  Greater things are still to come!

 

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The Importance of Youth Ministry Workers/Volunteers!

I have some of the best youth workers/volunteers a youth pastor could ask for.  I have people who go behind the scenes that just make things happen!  They don’t desire to be recognized or put in the spotlight.  They just have an incredible heart.  In my first couple years here in Lovington, I would always stress out about having food for our kids on Wednesday nights.  Many a youth group night we didn’t have anything planned so we had chips and dip.  Teens love chips right?  I had chips piled high, some being months old; you know, just in case we didn’t have anything else.  It was stale.  It was bad!  It needed to be changed!

So I thought about who could take over this ministry.  It didn’t take long.  Right away I thought about Cynthia. She is a mom with a teenager and a pre-teen.  And from the beginning I could tell that she cared about what was going on in this youth ministry and what her son was participating in.  So I asked her if she would be willing to take over Wednesday night meals.  She didn’t think twice.  And she has been a rock star!  She knows all the parents of our teens, with many of them who don’t come to church on Sundays and she is getting them to make/prepare meals for our entire youth group.  Cynthia has been such a blessing to me.  I don’t have to stress out about it and the teens don’t have to eat stale Tostitos!  Thank you Cynthia for participating in what God is doing through our youth group in such a tangible and physical way!

I am continuing to learn the importance of volunteer workers for a healthy ministry.  Youth pastors should never work alone.  It’s impossible.  It’s unhealthy.  It’s bad for their teen’s stomachs and taste buds!  Cynthia is one example from my awesome group of adult youth workers.  Stay tuned to hear more stories of the others!

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