Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Boundary Breaking Stories from Union, #1

I've had Reality, Grief, Hope by Walter Brueggemann on my reading list for several months now.  I've had the copy out numerous time, even highlighting a few things in the first chapter.  It's been in my work bag for the last three weeks, in hopes that during some down time I'd be able to give it a shot.

It's ironic that the subtitle for the book is "Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks", because when I get the book out to read, reading it becomes anything but urgent.

There's this thing about working at Union Coffee that's unique compared to most United Methodist churches, outside of perhaps Wesley Foundations.  It's open to the public, 7am to 9pm (or 10) every day.  And my office is the shop itself.  There are quiet corners, sure, yet, every time I pick one of those corners, a couch or comfy chair, and get Bruggemann out, a neighbor asks me something.

And it's awesome.

Two of the major core values of Union Coffee are story telling and boundary breaking (the others are sanctuary, sustainability, quality, and generosity).  The picture above is of our most recent worship series ... Two short weeks to unpack the topic of privilege ... What we can do about it and what we can do with it.  This picture was out in the form of display cards on the tables of the shop.  Let me tell you, if you advertise a conversation on privilege, people are going to have things to say and stories to tell.

So, a story from last week that called me to check my privilege and marvel at the work God is doing in bringing this remarkable community together.

Last Sunday I got my book out an hour before it was time to flip the shop for worship.  I approached one of the corners near our stage with a couple of big couches.  I asked the man who would be sitting across from me if the seat was taken, and we proceeded to chat for an hour.  As I sat down, he asked me what the place was about, noticing our privilege cards on the table.  Things went on from there.

It was the first time he had ventured into Union.  His wife's nonprofit was meeting in one of our conference rooms and he was just hanging out.  Let's call him C, and his wife S.

I learned a lot about C during our conversation.  He's in the National Guard and just finished his history degree at UNT and is planning on shifting to a career in the army.  He'll be attending officers training school shortly.

He's also African American.  As is his wife.  He has a three-year-old daughter and another on the way this September.  He'll likely miss the birth of his second child due to a training deployment that he's being called to lead.

We talked a bit about the series on privilege that we were in.  We talked about the two weeks prior that Union spent sharing in a conversation on race and faith in the wake of the shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling, and the shootings of the DPD officers.

As we got deeper into things he shared with me a new truth in his life: he's afraid for his family, as a black American.

He said that he'd never, ever, felt this way.  This is an articulate, educated, soldier, mind you.  But, he's afraid for his family, when he looks at the current cultural divide in our country.

A couple of weeks prior to our meeting at Union, he and his wife had gone shopping at a nice little shop in Dallas.  He tried on a many things, putting back what he didn’t want (which is a gift to any sales associate).  He ended up purchasing over $200 in clothes by the end of things.  He was polite and respectful to the staff and had a great experience.  But, as he was leaving, he noticed a police officer pulling around the store.  C took note of it, but he and his wife got into their car and began to head home.  A few minutes later not one, but three, police cars pull him over.

Three police cars to pull over he and his wife.

The officer tells him that his turn signal is out and asks for his license and registration.  After running everything, the officer returns and C politely asks, “Why was I really pulled over?”

It turns out that the store accused C and S of shoplifting.  After a minute more, C and S were let off with a warning, the officer(s) knowing that it was a racially motivated report.  C didn't complain about the officers.  He said that they were respectful because he was respectful.  But ...

This would never happen to me, a white man.  It just wouldn’t.  If I had behaved and purchased as he had at any given store, there is no way the police would be called on me.

I thanked him for sharing his story.  I met his sweet wife just a few minutes later.  I’ve never heard a story like theirs told within the walls of another church.

I'm in a place, though, where I don't just hear those stories.  I am told them.  I'm checking my privilege. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Grace Like Fireworks

Sunday night we took our kids to see fireworks for the very first time.  In fact, it was the first time that my wife and I had been to see fireworks since before the birth of our son ... Some four-and-a-half years ago.

We set out, three hours before the show, ready to see the awe and wonder on our children's faces as they observed exploding showers of sparks and light.  After the wait, with tense moments, but also dancing, snow cones, and pretending our stroller was a rocket ship, the lights in the field went out and the show began.

I put my arm around my boy whose jaw dropped open at the first flare, while my wife held our girl who insisted over and over again that it was scary.

Neither kid took their eyes off  of the explosions in the night sky.

Fireworks like supernovas.  Fireworks like dandelions.
Vivid colors of magenta, blue, violet, red, green, white, and yellow.

We had no idea when we picked our spot in the ballpark complex that we would be mere yards from the launching pad.  I can't understate the nearness of the fireworks - they were literally just over our heads.

Yet, even then, even though we felt we might be able to stretch out our hands and feel the heat of the flames in the sky, there was something noticeable in the proceedings:

No matter the closeness, as each firework went off there was a clear delay from the explosion to the sound.

Whether it was the sound of dynamite.
Or the sound of a drizzle on pavement.
Or popcorn in a microwave.
There was a delay between the light and the noise.

Sometimes for nearly a second ... Astonishing.  The spreed of light and the speed of sound in stark, colorful, contrast.

And as I spent that hour huddled down with my family enjoying the festivities, I felt that I was learning something about grace.  There's something to be said about how God is moving to us, all around us, before we hear God's voice in our lives.  That God is within us, drawing us near to God, before we acknowledge God's presents.

That THE God, before we were knitted together in our mother's wombs, knew us - and still knows us.

What if it's the mission of us who follow the Son of God to call others to listen to the lightshow booming all around them?  And sit with them as they listen to the sound?

Grace like fireworks.
Every second.
Of every day.

Monday, July 4, 2016

For the Liturgy Nerds: Worship Series through November

My Dear Liturgy Nerds,

One of the final 'gifts' my senior pastor at FUMCA asked me to give him before starting my new appointment were worship series to get the church through the end of the year.  I took the task as a gift to myself more than anything else.  Nothing in the last three years made me as happy as creating new worship series and then watching them come together in worship.

But, here's the thing ... I've headed to a context where traditional worship series planning isn't the norm - a thing that I'm super excited to participate it.  So, I won't be preaching and teaching the worship series I put together any time soon.  Therefore, it seemed that sharing them with my fellow liturgy nerds would be pertinent - especially as I know that the average pastor is working week to week.  Why not plan the rest of your year out, friends?  They won't have my usual notes, but, I hope that they are helpful in triggering ideas for your church.

You'll find four worship series to follow, in successive blog posts, linked here:

The Hospitality of Jesus (begins July 10) - following the Lukan stream in the RCL

A Prophet's Witness: From Grief to Hope (begins August 21) - following the Jeremiah stream in the RCL

A Disciple's Decision - Stewardship Series (begins October 2) - hops around in the RCL, using The Stewardship Companion written by Dr. David Mosser, my former Senior Pastor

This We Believe - Essential Values of the Christian Faith (begins November 6) - again, hops around the RCL

My prayer is that these series are a blessing to you and your faith families.  As always, if you use any of them, let me know in the comments!

Worship Series: The Hospitality of Jesus

This worship series is one of a set written from mid-Summer to the end of RCL Year C in November. Notes are sparse, but I'm hopeful that it's helpful to pastors during a season of the year that can be ... Dry.  Ordinary time, which we are in the midst of, can be a time of rich teaching and following specific narratives in the Bible.

This series follows the Gospel of Luke stream in the Revised Common Lectionary for six weeks, beginning on July10.  In each of the readings given, Jesus is answering questions, telling stories, demonstrating what the Kingdom of God is like and offering the welcome to that Kingdom that only Jesus can give.

Ask the question: what is the hospitality of Jesus like?
It should lead to another: do I (pastor and church) offer hospitality like Jesus in my life?

The Hospitality of Jesus


July 10  (Eighth Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  What must we do?
Scripture Lessons
    Primary: Luke 10:25-37
    Secondary: Col 1:1-14
Themes
    The Good Samaritan ... Jesus expects us to welcome the 'other.'

July 17  (Ninth Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  Listen and Learn
Scripture Lessons
    Primary: Luke 10:38-42
    Secondary:  Col 1:15-20
Themes
   Mary and Martha - are we just preparing to meet Jesus?  Or do we expect a visit to actually happen?


July 24  (Tenth Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  What are you asking for?
Scripture Lessons
    Primary:  Luke 11:1-13
    Secondary:  Col 2:6-9
Themes
    Jesus, himself teaches us to pray!  And reminds us that God is always available.

July 31  (Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  True Abundance
Scripture Lessons
    Primary:  Luke 12:13-21
    Secondary: Psalm 107:1-9
Themes
   On building bigger barns ... Now, where do I store my treasure?

August 7  (Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost)

Sermon Title:  Always Ready
Scripture Lessons
   Primary:  Luke 12:32-40
   Secondary: Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
Themes
   Are you ready to greet the Messiah?  Or do you cower in fear?
   Who does your heart belong to?

August 14  (Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost)

Sermon Title:  What Christ Offers
Scripture Lessons
   Primary:  Luke 12:49-56
   Secondary:  Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
Themes
What does it actually mean for us to follow Christ?  It may not be pretty, but it’s worth it.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Next Adventure

For the last three years, I have served as an associate pastor at an unbelievably gracious church - FUMC of Arlington, TX.  The church took a risk on me.  While I had a great resume in worship ministry and leadership, I hadn't preached a whole lot yet.  I was a young adult, passionate about young adult ministry, but I hadn't built a lot of small groups.  I loved Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but had no proven expertise in using them to reach new people for the kingdom.

So, why not make me a Pastor of Young Adults, Communications, and Modern Worship?

And, let's help me get my Master of Divinity at Perkins while we're at it.

This church has helped me to learn.  It's pushed me to grow.  It's critiqued me in life-giving ways.  It's helped me to fulfill God's calling on my life to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church.

Yet, and this is the definition of bittersweet, it's time for the next adventure in my ministry journey.  Two months or so ago, an opportunity to apply for a church planting residency fell into my lap.  Or, appeared in my Facebook feed, as things are wont to do these days.  I filed it away as something that would be awesome to do, but sounded hard to pull off.

But, then I get a text from my wife ... "Did you see that?"

And, as a person who often hears the Holy Spirit nudge me through my spouse, I messaged the pastor of the church sponsoring the residency, wondering if they'd take an application from somebody outside of their conference.  The response was that as long as I got the OK from my District Superintendent, absolutely.

I'm paraphrasing all of this, of course.

Well, one thing lead to another, and I'm now free to share some rather large news in the world of my family:



Beginning July 1, I will be a Path 1 Church Planting Resident at Union Coffee, an amazing UMC church plant across I-75 from SMU.  Union is indeed a coffee shop, called to reach the young people in the area, the unchurched, the dechurched, a generation that the church earnestly wants to reach, but often doesn't know how.  The coffee is delicious, the worship is quirky, the community is amazing.

I'll be pastoring at Union with the hope of aiding in their efforts to go multi-site and bring a branch to the Central Texas Conference the following year.  There aren't any promises in this; it's yet another risky ministry move.  But, in the Kingdom of God, as in many things, where there's no risk, there's no reward.

I'm beyond excited to accept a new role in ministry.  FUMCA has been family to me, but it's time to strain forward to the next step.  Thankfully, my wife, Leanne, will be able to keep going in her own ministry at another church in our current area.  My kids go to preschool there and we often worship there as a family.  In a way, we'll be building ourselves a new/old home church and keeping our home in Central Texas, where we're so looking forward to continuing our ministry.

Trusting in the providence of God has taken my family and I in so many amazing directions and we know that God will be with us, and our faith communities, through this next step and beyond.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

An Easter Season Worship Series: Revealing Revelation

For the last three Easter Seasons at FUMC of Arlington, we've studied the Book of Acts, focusing on the building of that first Christian community after the resurrection, leading to Pentecost.  The Book of Acts is an important book  for the church to study, as it chronicles the early problems, oppression, and successes of the early church and the apostles.

However, this year, Year C in the Revised Common Lectionary, the epistle reading was ... well ... too good to pass up.  In six weeks, which is rather quick, it takes us through the Book of Revelation.

Now, I know that many of the United Methodist variety might take to the famous perspective of Martin Luther ...

"I can discover no trace that it is established by the Holy Spirit."

Or, still others might pour over the details of the book, looking for prophecies of the end, trying and trying to apply the details to the world of today.

It's a provocative book.  It's imagery and literary content transcend the Christian faith.  So, we should talk about it.

At FUMCA, from April 3 until the Sunday before Pentecost, we will be.  Here's a breakdown of the series, for your use and perusal.  As always, post in the comments if you're taking this on!

___________________________________

Easter Season Worship Series:
Revealing Revelation


The Book of Revelation has been controversial since its inception.  Its vivid imagery, depictions of violence and empire, and cryptic allusions to the return of Christ have made it a book that is easy to misuse and misinterpret.

But, what if we took Revelation and refused to get caught up in picking apart its symbols … Trumpets … Dragons … Numbers … And read it as a letter to people, to churches, in trouble and losing their faith.  What if we took this book and realized it was from a servant of Christ to fellow servants of Christ that said this:

This is hard right now.
And it might get harder.
But hold on to Christ - 
God is with us.

This Easter Season we’ll take on the mysteries of the Book of Revelation, and wonder together of the life God calls us to as people of God in the world that longs for the Kingdom of God to break through.

April 3 - Revealing Revelation
Revelation 1:4-8
So ... Christ is coming again?

April 10 - Worthy is the Lamb
Revelation 5:11-14
What did Christ give himself for?

April 17 - Bigger than Us
Revelation 7:9-17
Do we, humans, prefer a limited offer of salvation?

April 24 - City of God
Revelation 21:1-6
Does God want to replace?  Or redeem?

May 1 - No More Night
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
What if it's really all about holding fast to Christ in the most difficult times?

May 8 - Benediction
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
Can we stay thirsty for Christ's living water?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Our Lenten Worship Journey - The Path

Greetings to my brothers and sisters, worship planners and leaders, liturgy nerds and readers!  Lent is fast approaching ... It starts next week!  So, if it's helpful, I thought I would post the series we'll be going through at FUMCA.

This year, we're taking things on as a journey ... a hike ... a marathon ... Lent is a time of trial and perseverance that Christ calls us to and carries us through.  The series follows the Gospel stream of the RCL.  I've included, as always, scriptures, sermon titles, a description of the series for websites/worship guides, and a few ideas to start the sermon.

If you find it useful, please let me know in the comments!  An Easter Season Series is on the way1

*****

Our 2016 Lenten Journey:
The Path


Welcome to The Path, FUMC of Arlington’s 40-Day Journey of Lent.  It is a time to accept the call to set aside more time than usual to cultivate our faith lives.  Where, in the end, we have deepened our relationship Christ, deepened our relationship with the church, and centered ourselves on the call God puts on each of our lives to be better, do better, love more.

At least, this is the hope and the goal.

The Christian life could be described as a marathon, a lifelong journey, of study, praise, and service.

It could also be described as a treacherous hike, where peaceful streams travel down into dangerous valleys.

We are called to exert effort in our life journey with Christ, in our personal journeys, and in the way we bring others along with us.  But, as always, when we jump into the race we have Christ as our trail guide, our coach, and ... our map, as the Word of God made flesh.

From our start on February 10, Ash Wednesday, to Easter Sunday on March 31, here is a vision of The Path:

  • February 10 - Ash Wednesday
    • Scriptures - Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
      • 2nd … All of them, but especially Psalm 51:1-17
    • Sermon Title - Before We Start, We Practice
      • Themes
        • Are there ‘Lent experts’?  Are there faith experts?
          • 10,000 hours
        • “Give me a clean heart”
  • February 14 - Lent One
    • Scriptures - Luke 4:1-13
      • 2nd - Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
        • The Lord delivers ...
    • Sermon Title:  The Starting Line
      • Themes
        • Jesus’ temptation …
          • Testing God?
        • Practice of fasting …
          • What’s holding us back in our relationship with Christ?  
          • What are we filling our bellies, minds, and hearts with that create barriers?
  • February 21 - Lent Two
    • Scriptures - Luke 13:31-35
      • 2nd - Phil 3:17-4:1
        • Citizenship of heaven, standing firm
    • Sermon Title - Getting off track
      • Themes
        • Jerusalem kills prophets?  Foreshadowing Palm Sunday.
        • Jesus’ (Son of God) desires to gather all children together
        • Perseverance
  • February 28 - Lent Three
    • Scriptures - Luke 13:1-9
      • 2nd - Isaiah 55:1-9
        • Come to the waters … My ways are higher ways.
    • Sermon Title - Traversing obstacles
      • Themes
        • A call for repentance
          • Yes, we do need to do it to follow Christ.
        • The practice of confession/repentance
        • When bad things happen …
          • Bad theology … Defining ‘God’ is hard.  We should, however, know ‘not God’.
  • March 6 - Lent Four
    • Scriptures - Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
      • 2nd - 2 Cor 5:16-21
        • New creation ...
    • Sermon Title - Don’t look back
      • Themes
        • Eating with sinners … Communion, anyone?
        • The Prodigal Son
          • God desires all to repent and return home.
          • The center of Luke’s story.
        • Practicing hospitality
  • March 13 - Lent Five
    • Scriptures - John 12:1-8
      • 2nd - Phil 3:4b-14
        • Press onward to the goal … Resurrection
    • Sermon Title:  Almost done, but not yet
      • Themes
        • Anointing at Bethany
          • For burial, but where is Christ going?
        • At the home of Resurrected Lazarus - a foreshadowing of Easter
        • Tie in to washing the disciples’ feet
        • Judas vs. Mary
          • Practicing generosity
  • March 20 - Lent Six: Palm Sunday
    • Scriptures - Luke 19:28-40
      • 2nd - Phil 2:5-11
    • Sermon Title - Not the finish line
      • Themes
        • The irony of Jerusalem's Welcome.
          • Back to the killing of prophets …
        • The Reality - Jesus is going to die, for our salvation.
          • Practicing self-sacrifice
        • Breaking down whatever At-One-Ment means.
      • Hope

Holy Week


  • March 24 - Holy Thursday
    • Scriptures - Luke 22:14-20
    • Sermon Title - Fuel for the Marathon
      • Themes
        • Jesus calls us to remember him in a meal - a meal that’s free to us, but comes at great cost to Christ
        • A symbol of sacrifice, that at the same time causes us to pause, rest, and give thanks
        • Communion is for the Community.
          • It binds us together, in the good and the bad, reminding us that we are equally given the grace of Christ.
  • March 25 - Good Friday
    • Scripture - John 18:1-19:42
    • Sermon Title - It is Finished
      • Themes
        • Don't be afraid to read the whole story, break it up throughout the service, and intersperse hymns and anthems.  This might be the only time all year that people read/hear the Passion Narrative at one time.
          • Reading the Gospel is much more than preaching it in this instance.
        • Christ did die to save us from our sins, our selves.
          • Do not shy away from this fact by bringing in a happy ending.  We need to wait for Easter for that.
        • I would recommend you conduct your worship in the traditional way and not have any kind of postlude or dismissal.  Directions can be in your worship guide, but the more abrupt the ending the better.
  • March 27 - Easter Sunday!
    • Scripture - John 20:1-18
      • Sermon Title - Love Wins
        • Themes
          • The Disciples had all of the information they needed, but still the doubted the Resurrection would happen.
          • Our lack of faith doesn’t determine the faith God has in us.
          • Love wins out for us, but it’s just the start of another journey.
*****
The banner for the series is designed my super creative Director of Design at FUMCA, Mary Gibson.  Feel free to check out her work here.