Saturday, December 29, 2012


e·piph·a·ny n. pl. e·piph·a·nies
1. A Christian feast celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.
2. A revelatory manifestation of a divine being.
3. a. A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something.
    b. A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization

My faith family has gotten a little off of the beaten path with our Advent/Christmas season in following the sermon series "A Different Kind of Christmas" as laid down by Rev. Mike Slaughter.  In keeping with this study, this Sunday we'll be observing Epiphany, that day when the Magi, those wise men from the east found who they long travelled to see - the Christ Child.

From the East they came, following the star that led them to Bethlehem.  The journey may have taken them years - but still they came, bearing gifts to the King.  The arrival of the Wise Men was another sign that this Messiah was special, a Messiah sent not just to save Israel, but the whole world.

On Christmas Eve, as part of our worship we heard from the adult Christ.  As we read from Matthew 25, we listened to Jesus tell us what was at the top of his "Wish List" - for us to love one another and take care of one another.  Christ wants us to treat others with the respect and love one would offer to King; he wants us treat others as we would treat him.  Of course, there's a certain amount of irony here - by Matthew 26, Jesus has been given up to the high priest and then to Pilate, by Matthew 27 Christ is on the cross.

Where do we begin to meet the command of the Lord, "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."?

It first starts with commitment to Christ, as the Magi traveled from afar to see the Christ Child, many of us come to Christ after a long faith journey.  But when we arrive before Christ, what do we have to offer?  We can't give him gold, frankincense, or myrrh...

At this point, I find inspiration in stanza four of  the hymn In the Bleak Midwinter, by Christina Rossetti:
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.
As you get ready for Sunday worship, what  will you bring Christ?

Friday, December 28, 2012

And just how do you think Jesus would drive?

When I see a Jesus Fish on vehicle on the road, I avoid that vehicle at all costs.  On the road, it's not a sign of a believer to me - it's a sign of doom.

It's a sign of driving down multiple lanes.  Sometimes even three lanes simultaneously.  It's a sign of changing lanes without a turn signal, while I occupy the very space being turned into.  It's a sign that I'm going to be tailgated in the fast lane, and also a sign that that I may have to drive 20 mph under the speed limit in the fast lane - and those two things also may occur simultaneously.

In the parking lot, it's a sign that you can take up as many parking spaces as humanly possible.  It also may be a sign that I'll never ever get to park my own car, as that symbol means you'll wait for ever in the parking lot traffic lane for that sweet spot that that family of five is about to vacate.  Here, you may or may not use your turn signal - but probably not until I'm too close to you to get around you.

The Jesus Fish (or Ichthys, if you want to get technical) is an ancient symbol of Christian believers, that also makes a fantastic sticker for the car, where everybody can let everybody else know that they believe in Jesus.  Showing your faith on your vehicle is not the problem here - it's showing your faith and then driving without care for others that is.

Just think about it ... Christ calls us to live like Christ all of the time ... That means maybe not driving like a Jesus Fish bumper sticker gives you a free pass to drive like a (fill in the blank).  So if you have a Christian symbol on your car, maybe you should think about how you drive.

Have you ever thought about how Jesus would drive?  He probably wouldn't drive at all.  He'd probably take the bus.  More people to talk to that way.  And he could avoid the Christians driving like maniacs.

Drive now in peace.

Monday, December 17, 2012

God Weeps

In the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut, this hymn has been speaking to me. 

How does God feel in the aftermath of such tragedies?  If we look at the Gospel, at Christ's ever-repeated directions towards caring for one another - God Weeps, by Shirly Erena Murray may give us a glimpse.  The tune used in The Faith We Sing was composed by Carlton R. Young, HIROSHIMA, was inspired by a visit to the Hiroshima memorial site.

God weeps
                   at love withheld,
                   at strength misused,
                   at children's innocence abused,
and till we change the way we love,
                                                              God weeps.

God bleeds
                   at anger's fist,
                   at trust betrayed,
                   at women battered and afraid,
and till we change the way we win,
                                                              God bleeds.

God cries
                   at hungry mouths,
                   at running sores,
                   at creatures dying without cause,
and till we change the way we care,
                                                              God cries.

God waits   
                   for stones to melt,
                   for peace to seed,
                   for hearts to hold each other's need,
and till we understand the Christ,
                                                              God waits.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ah, Email ...

Is there anything that can get us in trouble in ministry more than email?

I think half of the conflicts I've been involved in in the last 8 years of professional ministry can be traced back to email.  From typos, to misunderstandings, to copying the wrong person ... Email is just a trip.

Just this morning our youth pastor asked me to send out a quick email to our choirs to plug a youth fundraiser dinner coming up this weekend.  No big deal, right?

I send out the harmless thing, and then I start getting the bounces, from an email address of one choir member who's email I know is incorrect.  I get 15 bounces.  Then I get an email from my assistant:

I don't know if you are aware, but you just sent 14 concurrent emails with the same text.
Awesome.  I check my Outlook, and the darn emal is still sending, 30 minutes later.  I scramble and cancel the thing ... Which is no easy task, frequently met with an "I'm busy doing important things" look from my Outlook.  And while that's going, 5 more bounces.  While I've been typing this, there has also been at least 3 more bounces.

Good times, right?  I hastily write an apology email to all concerned and press the send button.

I pray.

It only sends once.  Bounce total: 27 emails sent.

I thankfully get no angy emails in return, but I did recieve this gem of hilarity from a choir member's husband:

Those were great emails.  It took all of them for me to decide what to do.  Then it finally dawned on me that I had purchased the tickets and [my wife] had already made my decision.  So-I deleted all 27 emails.  Ha

No Big Deal!
There are good people at this church.

Any email bloopers you would like to share with the world?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sorrow + Joy

I've heard the Season of Advent frequently described as a time of 'already here, but not quite yet'.  Advent is the great in-between time; the 'already here' being that Christ has indeed already come, but the 'not quite yet' meaning that we're still waiting for him to come again.

Just think a moment on the opening line of our great Methodist Advent hymn Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
The hymn calls on Christ to intercede for us on a couple of different levels - that we'd need Christ to come again into our hearts right now, but also that we're looking towards that second coming of Christ.

Last night, we lost a dear friend of mine (and many, many others), an "Uncle" to my boy, to a heart attack.  It reminds me that even as we walk this earth, we're already in an in-between time before joining the Saints above.  Even as our church family mourns, we're also called to rejoice - a time that mirrors the paradoxical nature of Advent.  I'm sad in my heart, but its because I knew a great man who lived a wonderfully full life of family and ministry that I can rejoice.

I have to remind myself again of the truth - death has lost it's sting through Christ Jesus.

We'll be working out arrangements for his Celebration of Life this week, and I always feel it to be such a privilege to join in the planning.  I'm so thankful for the life my friend.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Eve Evangelism

'Tis the season ... for planning!  If you're anything like me, and I have no illusions that you are, you've been thinking about the Advent/Christmas season since June.  Really, I start visioning and planning for the season in June.  And my pastors love me for it...

A few months back I had heard of this idea, Christmas Business Cards for the church.  It's all pretty simple, draw up a business card with your Christmas Eve service times on one side and generic info about the church on the other (regular service and Sunday school times, website, contact info) and then scatter them to the wind in your local community.  Super simple evangelism ... But not particularly intentional.

A theme that I've been following in conversations lately is the true importance of Christmas Eve in the life of families, and not just in the churched - but also in the unchurched.  For many, Christmas can be a hard and lonely time, and a time of big questions.  Even in our secular understanding of Christmas, it's a time of gift-giving, family meals, and taking stock of our blessings.  Has it become ultra-consumer driven?  You bet.  But I'm of the mind that the heart of the season hasn't drifted so far off course that it can't be put back on track.

But what's the track it needs to be put back on?  That the reason Christ came to the earth was to bring the Good News of Salvation to the least, the last, and the lost.  God started things off with the very family Christ was born into ... a blue-collar, working-class family.

Most of our congregations have an influx of visitors on Christmas Eve, people looking for answers.  Sure many of those visitors are family members who've travelled in for a visit, but if we look around, our first-time visits are way up.  But what if we didn't wait for Christmas Eve to get people inside our doors?

This year our Evangelism and Worship teams will be partnering to do something big.  The idea is building off of something that the Downtown Campus of Church of the Resurrection began a couple of months ago with their E.P.I.C. idea to simply, intentionally, share random acts of kindness around the local community - through simple business cards.  And if you know anything of the Church of the Resurrection evangelism model, they do a lot of work to bring their A-game on Christmas Eve.  As a faith community they make themselves ready for their guests on this special night, making sure everyone knows about the faith community before leaving worship and they are so very welcome to come back to their regular worship services - even going so far as to advertise the upcoming sermon series and studies in the New Year (imagine that).

So what are we at FUMCD going to do to make the season special?  We'll have our simple business cards made, with the Christmas Eve services on one side, and generic info on the other.  Then, on December 16 we'll hand them out to the congregation, ask each member to take just one card and give it to somebody they know that is unchurched.  It's kind of hard in today's climate in our churches to remember that the idea of the Gospel is to spread it, and in our increasingly secular time, we are growing up more unchurched than churched people.  And yet - through our retail-based lives Christmas is still relevant.  So why don't we take it back?

The idea here is to be intentionally invitational ... And that will make a lot of people uncomfortable, but there's another term here we need to take back for all Christians, and that is evangelical.  It's the job for all of us who call ourselves Christian to be evangelists - it's not meant to be a political term.  I'll get off my soapbox on that one now.

But, what if we encouraged each member of our congregations to seek out one person or family that they know to come to church on Christmas Eve?  And not only that we encourage them to invite that family, and then sit with them.  It's so simple, and God will reward us even if we just try.  Just imagine that good that could happen.

As I've gone around a few turns in the road here, here's our Christmas Eve Evangelism plan in a few easy steps:

  1. Draw up the Christmas Eve Business cards.
  2. Early in the Advent season, encourage the church to pray for the unchurched in the local community and even to think of a few people they know.
  3. On December 16 (just early enough) hand the business cards out to the church, encouraging them to invite one unchurched individual or family to Christmas Eve worship with them.
  4. On Christmas Eve - be ready to welcome the guests with a little gift and plenty of info about the church.

It doesn't have to be hard ... Sometimes we just have to do something.  What is your local church doing to bring people to Christ during the Advent/Christmas season?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

We Pray to Christ the King

Today is Saturday ... Which makes tomorrow Sunday.

What if we took a little bit of time today to get ready for tomorrow?  What if we took just a few minutes right now to pray, to prepare, to get ready to experience something amazing. 

Tomorrow is Christ the King Sunday - the last day of the Christian year before we enter that great in-between time known as Advent.

As many of us of given thanks this week and shared wonderful meals, let us give thanks today for our one true King and leader.

Christ the King

Almighty and everlasting God,
it is your will to restore all things to Christ,
    whom you have anointed priest for ever and ruler of creation.
Grant that all the people of the earth,
    no divided by the power of sin,
    may be united under the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.*
*UMH 721, from the Book of Common Prayer

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks Be to God!

This hymn gets to me every time we sing it in worship.  From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

For the fruits of this creation, thanks be to God;
for good gifts to every nation, thanks be to God;
for the plowing, sowing, reaping, silent growth while we are sleeping,
future needs in earth's safekeeping, thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labor, God's will is done;
in the help we give our neighbor, God's will is don;
in our world-wide task of caring for the hungry and despairing,
in the harvests we are sharing, God's will is done.

For the harvest of the Spirit, thanks be to God;
for the good we all inherit, thanks be to God;
for the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us,
most of all that love is has found us, thanks be to God.

-Fred Pratt Green, 1970*

*UMH 97

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Christmas Miracle Offering

In case you hadn't heard, my church is taking on the challenge of the study A Different Kind of Christmas.  I'm looking forward to seeing our faith family rise to the occasion in worship this Advent, but not just in worship, but in how we live out the gospel this season through our giving.

In order to properly live out this study the worshipping body has to take on what's named as the "Christmas Miracle Offering".  This is a chosen cause by the church to support through giving the entire season of Advent, culminating on Christmas Eve, and celebrated the Sunday after Christmas.  It's a call to sit back and think on the charity of God in loving us and live out that charity in supporting our neighbors world-wide or locally.

I'm excited to say that our church has decided to support the Duncanville Outreach Ministry, a ministry that our church actually started sometime ago.  They provide a variety of services to our local community - a community we're right in the middle of.  Last year, they had to shut down early in the holiday season as they were lacking in funds and food supplies during the time of greatest need in the lives of the working poor families in our area.  Every Sunday of Advent, beginning with our communion rail offering on December 2, we'll be taking a love offering for the DOM for which the organization will have immediate funds.  At our annual contemporary worship concert we'll also be taking non-perishable food items as 'admission'.  All in effort to meet the needs of the local community.

On the flipside, it will also accomplish something that was talked about quite often at the COR Leadership Institute when discussing reaching the unchurched - it's a way for my local congregation to become indispensable in the community that we call home.  That's not a bad thing at all.

All this is to say, you don't have to be taking on this study to do something great for your neighbors this Christmas season.  It's time to rethink what the holidays are all about and give thanks to God by giving to others - and that doesn't just mean our own families.  Be a miracle for somebody!

In what ways are your faith families reaching out and giving in the name of Christ this holiday season?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lighting the Advent Wreath: "A Different Kind of Christmas"

This Advent Season, our worship and education teams have chosen to take on the "A Different Kind of Christmas" study, based on the book Christmas is Not Your Birthday by Rev. Mike Slaughter.  We're all very excited because it will be an opportunity to bring the whole church family together under one message for the season in worship, small group study, youth and children's Sunday school curriculum ... It's going to be fun. 

And the message of the book is radical ... At least it will be to today's culture.  It's all tuned to make us an outwardly focused body, focused on charity, focused on the ministry of Christ. 

Ministry Matters has a great breakdown of the Sunday's of Advent/Christmas using the study, giving main ideas for each week to work through our worship services.  I went ahead and wrote out our Advent wreath liturgies to correspond with the purpose for each worship service, going through Christmas Eve. 

Here's what we've come up with for each Sunday (I purposefully changed gears for Christmas Eve to be a more 'traditional' call to worship).  Feel free to use anything and let me know how it goes!


Advent Wreath Liturgies for “A Different Kind of Christmas” Advent Series
December 2 – The Candle of Blessings
R1 - We are a people accustomed to waiting.  Waiting in line.  Waiting in traffic.  Waiting for that call.
R2 – But are we waiting for the right things this December?  Are we waiting for the Lord?
R1 - Advent is a season of waiting, but this year let it also be a season of giving.
R2 – Long ago, God saw his children had a great need for a savior, but even now there’s need for Christ to come down into our lives. 
R1 - But as we wait for Christ to be revealed to us again, let us not wait to do the good Christ has called us to do.
R2 - This day we light the Candle of Blessings, for as the Lord has blessed us with so many gifts, we are called to be blessings to others.  Let us pray: 
Lord God, reveal yourself to us again.  Help us this Advent season to focus on your son Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.  Help us not to serve ourselves this December, but to serve you as we serve others.  Amen.
December 9 – Candle of Miracles
R1 - More than 2,000 years ago the Glory of God was revealed to us through the birth of Christ Jesus.  A glorious miracle, sent down from heaven.
R2 - But many people refused to believe in this miracle, even though they had been waiting for it for so long.
R1 - That night, the Lord came to live with a humble and poor family – a family with room in their hearts and faithfulness to the Lord.  A family who was ready to receive a miracle.
R2 - This morning, we light the Candle of Miracles.  This light reminds us that not only do miracles happen around us every day, but that every day we are called show God’s miraculous love to others.  Let us pray:
Lord God, we need your help today.  Help us to make room for the miraculous in our lives that the light of Christ might shine through us again.  Amen.
December 16 – Candle of Hope
R1 - As a family here today, we come together in a celebration of hope.  But what do we hope for?
R2 - As we head towards Christmas we often hope that we can find the perfect gift to give, the perfect outfit to wear, the perfect tree to decorate.  But the first Christmas was far from perfect.
R1 - The Hope of the Nations came to us on a night of messy circumstances.  The Light of the World was born in a stable, laid to bed in a feeding trough and was attended to by field hands.  They were messy circumstances, and yet it was just right for Jesus Christ, a perfect child, surrounded by all of the love two parents could give. 
R2 - This morning we light the Candle of Hope, as we pray for Christ to come into our hearts again:
Lord God, help us not to be so focused on finding perfection in this season that we miss out on the hope that only you can bring to us.  Amen.
December 23 – Candle of Love
R1 - God’s chosen people often turned away from the Law and were less than faithful, yet, they were still God’s chosen people.
R2 - Long before Christ was born, God made a promise to King David that his throne would be established forever through God’s faithful love.
R1 - On the night Christ came to earth, that promise was fulfilled – out of the house of David the savior arose, a savior given to redeem the whole world.
R2 - God’s love for us truly does endure forever, and in remembrance of God’s mighty acts through Jesus Christ we light the Candle of Love.  Let us pray:
Lord God, help us always to remember that we are redeemed through our belief in your Son.  No matter how far we stray, you’re always right there waiting for us, loving us.  We rejoice in your steadfast love for all the people of the world, fulfilled in the birth of your Son, Jesus.  Amen.
December 24 – The Christ Candle
A mother and a father finally find rest in a barn…
The birthday boy is coming!
Angels sing and shepherds run …
The birthday boy is coming!
The stars shone bright and the Wise Men began their journey …
The birthday boy is coming!
This evening, we joyfully light the Christ Candle, remembering the night when God’s love came down at the birth of the King.  God loves us!
The birthday boy is here!

All content property of Jarrod Johnston, unless otherwise noted, copyright 2012
Local churches: feel absolutely free to use anything here!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Serving the Poor

As I searched for a prayer to pray today, I feel that simple is good.  Ask yourself this:  what would the world be like if Christians lived out the Gospel?  What would your life be like?  How blessed would your church family be if it took the Life of Christ unto itself and gave it all? 

Tomorrow we will follow the story in worship of the Widow's Mite (Mark 12:38-44), and I find these words of Mother Teresa (UMH 446) to be a heart-filling way to prepare and receive the message:
Make us worthy, Lord,
    to serve those throughout the world who live and die in poverty or hunger.
Give them, through our hands, this day their daily bread;
    and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.  Amen.
Don't underestimate the power of prayer to change the world.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Prayer of Thanksgiving - For All the Saints

This week in my faith family, as in many of yours, we will be observing All Saints Sunday.  It's a special day, set aside for us to remember the Saints, those who have died in the faith and gone before us to show us the way to the Father.

It is for them that we pray and give thanks this weekend, and as we remember them, we remember that we to are victorious in Christ Jesus.

We give you thanks, our God and Father,
   for all who have died in the faith of Christ -
   for the memory of their words and deeds
      and all they accomplished in their time,
   for the joyful hope of reunion with them in the world to come,
   and for our communion with them now;
      in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Family Spritual Disciplines: We Read the Word Together

Earlier this week I posted my sermon on Mary and Martha, focusing on how to bring heaven down to earth and into our family homes.  As I was writing that sermon, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to get a book's worth of material into a less-than-25-minute message.  So I filed a few details for later and decided that this would be a good start to a series on Family Spiritual Disciplines.

Really, I'm just going to tell you what my wife and I do to make sure that we're not only in touch with eachother, but that we're always sure that we're inviting Christ to be a member of the family as well.  I'm kicking things off with a recent addition to our life together, and one that has been more fun than I ever thought it would be: reading scripture together on a daily basis.

When Leanne and I first were married, really back to the start of our engagement, reading scripture was a big part of our routine.  On Leanne's very first visit, actually, she brought with her to Louisiana a copy of Stookey's This Day devotional guide.  On our first date we took the time to read scripture and pray together.  It was a bit of a make it or break it moment for us ... When she pulled that book out and suggested we pray I had to either decide if I was in or out.  Was a I really ready for this?  I mean, praying together?  And reading scripture?  Well, I took the plunge.

We kept it up as often as we could, following the lectionary reading plan in the book.  But soon after we were married, the daily reading went by the wayside.  I'll take a bit of blame for it ... The devotional plan in the book is amazing, but it does take time.  Leanne would bring it up every once in a while, and I would promptly change the subject.

A couple of months ago, we were both thirsting to add reading daily scripture to our routine, we just weren't sure where to start.

Enter, the Youversion Bible ap.

At the start of the summer Leanne took on a 90-day Bible challenge.  It was very difficult and it was easy to get behind on with our crazy schedules.  She had to give it up - it wasn't exactly soul-filling to be stressed about getting in 12 chapters every night.  But it stuck in my mind.

A couple of months ago we were talking and decided together that we would take on a Bible reading challenge as partners.  Except, rather than 90 days, we're following a year-long plan to get us through the Word.  I'm happy to say it's gone real well, with only a couple of delays a long the way.  In 2 months, we've gotten up to Deauteronomy, and it's actually been ... fun ...

We do read the Bible out loud and take turns reading chapters.  It never takes more than 10 minutes as you're only reading 3 to 4 chapters per night.  The plan that we've chosen also closes with a Psalm to pray after the readings, and that's a beautiful element.  The fun element, though, is really getting a sense of the narrative of our salvation story.  Reading it this fast, we're not reading it for details, but we do get a sense of the different voices involved in the writing of the Word.  It's fascinating study and a blessing to my wife and I.   We've started a journey together with this, and because we're doing it together, we hold each other accountable to make sure we finish.  For us, we needed a system to keep us on track and we're thankful for a tool - one that breaks the boundaries between my Android phone and her iPhone.  It reminds me of the peaceful kingdom.

Does your family read scripture together on a regular basis?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

God of Heaven Come Down - Into Our Homes

On September 30, I was given the opportunity to preach in worship, for the first time in several years.  I've given talks, read devotionals, and lead a lot of worship in public, but this was the first time in a long time I'd been given the opportunity to preach the word.

Several weeks back, I wrote a post on the new mission statement we were rolling out as a church family and that I was tasked with the second Sunday, bringing heaven down to earth - in our homes.

I had high hopes for the content of the message, but my outline set the bar pretty high in the time-consuming department.  I wasn't ready to give, nor was the congregation ready to hear, an hour long message dealing with my limited experience in the marriage/dad department.

So, I took some advice from Gospel Lesson for the day and focused on the one thing: dinner.

Before going any further, pull out your favorite translation of the Word, and read Luke10:38-42.
Lord God, steady our hearts this morning.  There's so much to be worried about, so much to do.  Help us at this time, to settle down and listen.  Help us to know what you would have us do, right now.  In your son's precious name we pray, amen.

You may have heard that we’re launching a new mission statement for our faith family … As we’ve been listening and praying for discernment in the way forward for FUMC Duncanville, we chose to get back to the basics of the faith, the reason Christ came down among us to begin with … to usher in the Kingdom Time, to come down as the incarnate Word of God and bring heaven down with him.  The new vision for our church family is the same vision that Christ laid down before us when he taught the disciples to pray that night, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven …”  As we seek to do the Lord’s will together here, to bring down the Lord’s will into this place, we’ve broken down the goal of what it means to bring heaven down to earth in five ever-widening and interconnected circles – starting with ourselves, then to our families, to our church family, our community, and then to the ultimate goal, the transformation of the world in which we live.  Today we bring our focus to the family, families that come in all shapes, and all sizes. 
The story of Mary and Martha is one that often comes to mind when I’m in my own home.  Spend five minutes in our house on a normal day and it won’t be hard to guess who in our home has tendencies towards being Mary or Martha.
I’m not going to lie here … Much of my day is geared towards getting back to my couch, putting my feet up, turning on the TV, and chilling out.  I especially love my Fridays, my day off, my time for me and me alone.  Time to catch up on the DVR, all those that I don't have time to get to during the week … I should say though, that changed a lot when I got married, and then changed again when Wesley came along.  I feel like I’ve adapted pretty well along the way, though.
But there was no time more evident that Leanne and I had different takes on relaxation then a certain Friday, about six months into our marriage. 

A little background is necessary here ...  After I graduated from Perkins in 08, I didn’t have anything holding me back from doing something crazy with my life.  I had worked at my home church in Farmers Branch for three years, and as I was wrapping up my Masters studies I was interviewing for the Music Directors job at my church as my boss and mentor was retiring after 25 years in ministry with my church family.  I was brought in to learn the ropes in Farmers Branch, but then an opportunity came up in Slidell, Louisiana and when the job in Slidell was offered, I took it.  It was an opportunity to get out on my own and have fun.  I had no girlfriend at the time and my family was supportive, so I made the big move.  And then, Leanne and I connected back in Dallas. 
Long story short, as soon as Leanne and I got started, we knew that this was it.  Even though we had known each other for a couple of years, circumstances had never lined up for us to get to know one another.  Between her having a boyfriend when she came to seminary, to my frequent naps in the basement of the seminary library, things just hadn’t come together for us.  We reconnected before a friend’s wedding, started talking non-stop, and next thing I know she’s visiting Louisiana.  Two dates, an evacuation, a Halloween party, and a change in my phone plan because I kept running out of minutes and text messages, and I asked her to marry me. 
And then, here's the real magic, I somehow convinced her that moving to Louisiana was a good idea.  She wasn’t too happy about it at first.  My career was just getting started, so I needed to stay put for a bit.  As she was just finishing seminary, she had a little bit more career flexibility than I had, but she knew no one in LA beyond my circle of friends.  We settled into our new life together after we were married, but the first job she landed wasn’t the best fit for our family.  Happy wife, happy life, right?
After a hard couple of months at that first job, we talked, argued, and eventually prayed together – we knew she needed to quit it.  In the following months, Leanne made work for herself – putting together 3 or 4 part time jobs during a bit of an in-between time.
It was during that time that we had to have little come-to-Jesus meeting regarding our Fridays.
One of the jobs Leanne worked was out of the home, taking customer service phone calls out of our home office in the morning.  It was all good Monday through Thursday while I was in the office, but things got a little hairy when I was home on Fridays.  Like I said, I need my chill out on the couch time.  Leanne, however, is a mover.  She’s always on the move during the day.  That’s not to say that she doesn’t know how to relax, but she took a little offense to my sitting on the couch while she worked.  In between calls Leanne would do chores, cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming, putting things away.  So of course, I needed to be doing that too.  Which of course, I didn’t.  That’s not to say that I don’t pick up after myself, but clutter does tend to follow me around.
One day things came to a head.  Things got heated.  Big time.  But when things cooled off we sat and hashed things out.  You see, we had competing sets of expectations.  I expected to get my Sabbath time in on Friday, my time of rest.  And she expected not to do all of the housework on her own.  So how do we deal?  One night a week we take 30 minutes and do our chores, clean the bathrooms, really clean the kitchen, vacuum and pick up the house.  Her Martha, and my Mary (I guess), coming together to peacefully coexist.  That’s not to say it’s not a lot of crazy hard work, but we prayerfully work as a team.  I’m of the thinking that bringing heaven down into our families looks like teamwork.
And I tell you what, it’s good that we had these debates early on, because bringing a baby, even a baby as good looking and happy as Wesley has further turned our life on it’s head.  I mean that in the best possible way.
To bring it back to Mary and Martha, I know that there are probably a lot of moms, and dads if you like to cook as much as I do, that would probably raise their hands and say, “Well, Jesus, who’s going to cook dinner if I don’t?”  And I would say that that’s not necessarily the point here … In speaking to Martha, he offers words like ‘distracted’ and ‘worry’.  He’s not saying that offering hospitality isn’t important, but that here at his feet, Mary is learning how to be a disciple.  He wanted Martha to join them. 

But even then, there’s a lot to unpack here in these five verses.
Number one being that Jesus really knew this family.  These are the sisters of Lazarus, the one whom Jesus loved, his friend.  He took his lumps from these sisters when their brother died, and he wept for their brother before calling Lazarus out the tomb, foreshadowing Christ’s own mastery over death.  Mary is also the wise one who anointed Christ’s feet with perfume and her own tears, as if anointing him for his own burial.  These women, this family, they knew Jesus.  So it’s not out of the realm of understanding to see the familiar way in which Martha addresses, to Jesus, her problems with Mary.  She knows who he is, teacher, healer, Son of the Most High, but she still speaks to him as if he’s her own brother. 

The part that was missing here, though, the step that Martha didn’t take before getting upset was to take a moment herself and ask Christ, “What should I be doing right now?”  It’s not that she was doing anything wrong, and we know that Christ doesn’t see anything wrong with what Mary’s doing either.  But Martha didn’t take the time to ask, “What does the Son of God need from me right now?”  Jesus needed her to take some time, and chill out, and listen – as family.
Christ wasn’t just an honored guest in her home, he wasn’t just there as teacher, either.  He was there as a member of the family.  And much like for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Christ wants to be a member of our family, and a presence in our own households.
So how do we know that we’re keeping Christ a presence in our home?  How do we know that we’re seeking his will for our families?  As a friend in ministry put it to me, “How do I know that I’m living in God’s perfect will for my life?”
Do you pray as a family?  Do you read scripture as a family?  Do you break bread together as a family?  Do you support the church’s mission with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness as a family?  It’s the challenge before us to seek the Lord’s will together as families.
I could spend all day speaking to you of family spiritual disciplines, and as I was discerning a way through this message, I nearly planned a sermon that would have.  But I’ll take a little advice from Jesus on this one, and focus on one thing …
Is there a room in your household that you consider to be it’s heart?  That room is usually the kitchen.  If you’re like Leanne and I, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  And when we were looking for a place to live when we were moving here, having a good sized kitchen was high priority, but we were also seeking an open floor plan (like many of you, I’m guessing) where the kitchen, dining room, and living room were all connected and open to one another.  We love having people over, so having a large space to host our family and friends was high on the list.  After moving in the first major purchase we made, after buying the first couch for either of us that wasn’t a hand-me-down from college, was a large outdoor grill to make sure I could grill for the neighborhood.  Gathering as a family with plenty of food to share is our very favorite things to do together.  Our kitchen is truly where the heart of our home is.  It’s a place where we can model Christ’s love for one another, Leanne, myself, and Wesley.
Would it surprise you to know that in households that eat dinner together fewer than three times per week, teens are 3.5 times more likely to abuse prescription drugs and to have use illegal drugs other than marijuana, 3 times more likely to use marijuana, more than 2.5 times more likely to smoke a cigarette, and 1.5 times more likely to try alcohol, according to a recent study done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.  In families that eat dinner together fewer than three times per week, teens and children are 20% more likely to have C’s or lower on their report cards.  In households where families eat together at least 5 times per week, teens are 81% more likely to actually tell parents what’s going on in their lives.  With fewer than three dinners per week that stat drops by half*.
I know a lot of parents out there can get out the family calendar on the phone and say, "There’s no way we could eat more together!".  But the stats are what they are.  And parents, it might surprise you to know, but of the 2,000 teens that were interviewed for the CASA study, 60% said they wanted to eat with their families more often.  When you look at statistics, wouldn’t you say it’s worth the time?  They say that especially for young children, family meals are essential to learning how to interact with adults and building their vocabularies.
The family meal creates a time for holy conversation.  It provides an opportunity to get off the spiritual milk that Pastor Josh mentioned last week in his message and move toward the spiritual food that the Lord wants to nourish us with.  I asked you earlier, Do you pray together as families?  Don’t many of us, when we’re gathered at the dinner table, first say grace?  It is at that point that we’re inviting the Lord down to take a seat with us, much as Christ was offered a seat at the table of Mary and Martha’s house.
I like even better how Eugene Peterson translates our lesson for today in the Message:
38-40 As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”
41-42 The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”
I would challenge us as families not to underestimate the power of the dinner table.  We can find nourishment there, not just for our bodies, but our souls as families.  It’s a place where we can live out the Gospel with one another, to talk with one another, to pray with one another, to dig deeper in the faith with one another – to get to the spiritual food that will grow us into our faiths.  But we can’t also forget to make sure that we invite Christ to that table.  We can’t forget to ask Heaven to come down and dwell with us – because when we ask for heaven to come down to us, it will.

Is it any wonder that one of the most important ways in which we remember Christ is to join together in the Holy Supper that Christ instituted?  He calls on us to remember him in simple foods of bread and wine, things that are staples of the dinner table.  Christ reminds us through the sacrament that he is an essential part of our lives and he is meant to be shared with the family, as a family.
I would be missing an important opportunity if I didn’t share with you one more important way that we, as families in the faith, can make sure that Christ is front and center and supported with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
When we were first married, Leanne and I went through a pretty lean time financially.  But we felt convicted, even during that tough time to tithe to the church of which we were members.  The Lord taught us that, and told us of the requirement in the Holy Word.  Giving a tenth of our income, from our first fruits, is part of being a member of Christ’s Own Body.  We worked our way up to that tithe over the first few months of our marriage, making it a budgetary priority.  And now that tithe is a non-negotiable part of our budget.  When we sit at the table to chat about the budget each month, the tithe is one thing that we don’t need to talk about – that 10% of our income isn’t even ours.  It belongs to the Lord.  It’s not a tax, it’s a requirement of the Lord.  We give it up to the Lord, to the faith family of which we’re a part to make sure that the Lord’s work of bringing heaven down to the earth is able to be sustained.  But, this isn’t a sermon about tithing, so I’m going to prayerfully leave it at that.
You may have been wondering during this time, “What’s the music guy doing giving a sermon?”  Well, a couple of months ago I let Reverend Marie know that if there ever was a time that she needed a break, and Josh or Jim weren’t available, I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to preach the message.  It’s been since then that Leanne and I, and the rest of my family have been doing a lot of praying together and doing some call discernment.  It’s with great joy this morning that I get to share with you some good news – God has put a new call on my heart and I’m now a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church as an Elder.
God has been working this on me quite a while, and you never know what can happen when you turn yourself to God and say, “Lord, here I am, what would you have me do?”  I did that 10 years ago when I first felt my call to ministry, and as a musician I’ve had wonderful opportunities to live out the Gospel and share God moment’s with people of the faith.  But as I’ve asked the question of the Lord again, I feel God calling me to seek out people that aren’t of the faith, people of my generation who don’t know that healing touch that Christ can bring to our lives.  People who don’t know that they need the Lord.  As I’ve felt out the candidacy process for the last several months, Leanne and I know that we’re called to do church in new ways, through church planting.  The UMC is waking up to the needs of the local community, to meet the needs of the world block by block if necessary.  We don’t know what the future holds, we’re just beginning the process as a family, but we’re so excited to see what the Lord has in store for us, here at FUMC Duncanville and abroad.
Leane and I, with Wesley, are in constant prayer with one another, praying for the Lord to show us the way to give God the Glory through our life together.  Our families goal is to join with God in bringing that Kingdom Time to pass, to help God in bringing that heavenly, peaceful, kingdom down to earth.  It starts in our own hearts, and then it takes us working together as one, keeping Christ in the family to keep things on track.  Our deepest desire is to aid God in making disciples for the transformation of the world, and God’s desire for us is to work together as a family to make that happen.  It’s hard work to make sure we’re keeping Christ as a member of our household, and from our family to yours, we give thanks to God that we have a church family to help us along the way.
Thanks be to God, Amen.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!  How do you bring heaven down into your home?

*for more information on these stats, check this out

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Christmas Prayers of Intercession

I've been planning this year's annual Christmas cantata since last December.  Literally.  It's one of my favorite things to plan, our annual big-choir event, a chance to dwell on the music and message of the Christmas season.  I love putting things together, but as a student of Perkins School of Theology, I'll never be able to put together a simple concert.  We always strive together to put on an evening of worship, with a point threaded through from beginning to end.  Sermons in sounds to celebrate the birth of Christ.

This year I felt convicted to bring a message of peace, to sing for it, to pray for it - to remember Christ's purpose in coming down among us to begin with: bringing down the Kingdom time with all of the peace, love, hope, and joy.

In planning for this year's program, I came across the following prayer.  If you haven't heard of the Iona Community, I highly suggest you Google them to see what's what.  Our prayer for this weekend comes from one of my favorite resources of the community, Cloth for the Cradle.  When we offer it in worship during the cantata, we will be singing (praying) the Taize chorus Jesus, Remember Me between the stanzas of the prayer.

It's not to soon, even in October, to pray for Christ to come down and intercede on our behalf just as he did at Christmas.  Let us call Christ down to us again, and show us the meaning of the incarnation, to bring the world the healing and wholeness that we have always longed for:

When the World Was Dark
When the world was dark
and the city was quiet,
you came.

You crept in beside us.

And no one knew.
Only the few
who dared to believe
that God might do something different.

Will you do the same this Christmas, Lord?

Will you come into the darkness of today's world;
not the friendly darkness
as when sleep rescues us from tiredness,
but the fearful darkness,
in which people have stopped believing
                       that war will end
                   or that food will come
                   or that a government will change
                   or that the church cares?

Will you come into that darkness
and do something different
to save your people from death and despair?

Will you come into the quietness of this city,
not the friendly quietness
as when loves hold hands,
but the fearful silence when
                    the phone has not rung
                    the letter has not come,
                    the friendly voice no longer speaks,
                    the doctor's face says it all?

Will you come into that darkness,
and do something different,
not to distract, but to embrace your people?

And will you come into the dark corners
and the quiet places of our lives?

We ask this not because we are guilt-ridden
or want to be,
but because the fullness our lives long for
depends on us being as open and vulnerable to you
as you were to us,
when you came,
wearing no more than diapers,
and trusting human hands
to hold their maker.

Will you come into our lives,
if we open them to you
and do something different?

When the world was dark
and the city was quiet
you came.

You crept in beside us.

Do the same this Christmas, Lord.
Do the same this Christmas.
My prayer is that we give ourselves the freedom to be bold in our prayers, not just in the time of Advent and Christmas, but at all times.  Peace be with you as you worship this weekend!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Looking to the Door

My boy first stood himself up a little over a month ago.  It was a crazy experience.  We had some friends over for dinner, and one of the families at our house has a one-year-old little girl - who's a walking maniac.  So, my boy, stood himself up for the first time while she was looking - you know - showing off for a chick.  We all cheered and cheered for him.  Which then got him upset.  Too many loud noises.

Of course, now my wife and I know that our lives are over.  He's standing all the time now, and is even shuffling a long the couch a little bit.  Walking isn't too far away.

Just after he stood up for the first time in our living room I had to lower his crib mattress, because it wasn't two days later that he was standing up in his crib.

But he, of course, has never missed an opportunity to use his new skills to manipulate mom and dad.  What's sadder than a sobbing baby standing in his crib and clinging to the rails wanting us to come in and get him out?  Invariably he's facing the door to his nursery - crying with the assurance that we'll come to door, feel sorry for creating this silly thing called 'bedtime', pick him up and take him to play all night.

I say invariably - but there was one exception.  A heart-breaking one.

My wife and I try really hard to let him cry it out.  Once the door closes on bedtime, we do our best to wait out the sobs.  But one night he just wouldn't stop with the crying.

It was my turn to calm him down, so I went in, expecting to see my boy grin when I opened the door. 

But this time he was facing the back of the room.  He was clinging to the back rail of his crib and sobbing.  He was stuck - standing was still really new to him, and he didn't know yet how to get out of it.  So he was stuck, crying, and facing the wrong direction.  He couldn't face the door - he didn't know how.  He couldn't face the door that his help comes from.

God taught me something about God's parental love that night, though.  I went and picked him up, rocked him, calmed him down, and put him back down to bed.  But it's stuck with me ever since.

I hope that when I get stuck, crying, and facing the wrong direction, I can remember that I do know to face the door my help comes from.
I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
   Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
   the maker of heaven and earth.
                                   Psalm 121:1-2

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fling wide the gates!

Mighty gates:
   lift up your heads!
   Ancient doors: rise up high!
      So the glorious king can enter!
                            Psalm 24:7, CEB
I've been thinking a lot about open doors lately ... and not the philosophical ones that we UMCers claim are open.  I'm thinking of the actual, physical doors that open up to bring the people into our Narthexes and Sanctuaries.

My wife has taken on the responsibility of co-chairing our new hospitality team, and if you've been following along with me the last few months, you know that hospitality is a frequent subject of mine.  I wrote about some of the issues of my faith family here, and then again here.  I am so excited to see her taking on this vital ministry of the church to help oversee how we welcome the strangers in our community and guide them along the path to making them part of our faith family.  It's a large undertaking, but it's exciting because the team is starting from scratch for the most part.  We've had some things in place, but now their team is working hard and debating their way toward a real layout for the hospitality system this community needs.

But there's one starting place where we're having to be the most critical right off the bat - and that's the aforementioned front door.  For a visiting family, our new guests, the hardest step they'll make is actually parking in the parking lot and getting out of the car.  It's daunting.  Imagine you're a visitor for a moment - that first step is crazy hard.  So it behooves us as faith communities to be there to greet our guests from the second they arrive on our campuses - and yes, the parking lot is absolutely where the campus begins.  But the next crucial place, a hospitality choke point, is the front door.

Do you have somebody on your hospitality team there to open doors and let people in?  Seriously ... do you?

I often get the front door report from my wife at lunch after church.  Like many clergy/ministry spouses (husbands, too)  my wife is a single parent on Sunday morning.  After I leave at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, she's all on her own.  Feeding the dog, feeding our boy.  Getting everybody out the door in time at least get a little bit settled in the Sanctuary before the celebration of worship begins.  And, I tell you what, she does a great job.  Her service of choice is at 9am, and it's no small feat for any parent in my book to make it to worship that early and have it all together.

But I'm always shocked to hear her tell me that no one opened the front door of the church for her, which wouldn't be so bad, except that the Narthex is always full of people before worship. 

So there she is, 9-month old in hand with a diaper bag and a purse - and most of the time she has to open a door for herself to come in.  There is in fact only one greeter who ever opens the door for her, and if he's not there, she's on her own.

It just makes me wonder - she's not an anonymous guest in our midst.  She's the wife of the worship pastor.  If she doesn't get the door opened for her, what happens to the guests?  She's prayfully tackling the issue as I write, and not just for her - for the community we serve together.

Psalm 24 is one of our great scriptures of the Advent season.  It's a call to get ready for the glorious king, the powerful one, who's coming to bring heaven down to us.  I'm not saying that my son is the king of the church or anything, but didn't Christ say something like, "When you serve the 'least of these', you serve me?"

Who's holding open your ancient doors on Sunday morning?  Have you thought about it?  When you hold that door open, you have an opportunity to do something really great - don't miss the moment. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Prayer for True Singing

As we prepare ourselves to worship, let us remeber that we were never called to be pew-sitters.  As those who call ourselves Christian, we are called to model the Way of Christ - a way of love in action.  Let us pray that we can put that love into action during this weekend's worship - that the Body might pray together in the songs that we sing and wholly engage our hearts and minds to hear the Spirit's call:
We are people who must sing you,
    for the sake of our very lives.
You are a God who must be sung by us,
    for the sake of your majesty and honor.
And so we thank you,
    for lyrics that push us past our reasons,
    for melodies that break open our givens,
    for cadneces that locate us home,
    beyond all our safe places,
    for tones and tunes that open our lives beyond control
        and our futures beyond despair.
We thank you for the long parade of mothers and fathers
    who have sung you deep and true;
We thank you for the good company
    of artists, poets, musicians, cantors, and instruments
    that sing for us and with us, toward you.
We are witnesses to your mercy and splendor;
    We will not keep silent ... ever again.  Amen.
                                                    -Walter Brueggemann*
*pg. 185 in Worship and Song

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Prayer for Strength in the Midst of Change

My faith family is in the middle of something, of course, who's faith family isn't?

We're in the process of reestablishing our identity has a community of believers.  We're asking hard questions, and preparing to hear the hard truth.  I offer this prayer today, reminding us that no matter where we are today, God does have good things ahead for us, for those who wait, for those who work:

Almighty God, change is bittersweet.  In order to change we are forced both to leave something behind and to embrace something new.  Grant us the grace on this day to do both with humility.  Help us affirm the good things of our past as we lean into a future where there will also be good things.  As we contemplate the changes that will come, remind us that all good things come from You.  Today we commit ourselves to the necessary work ahead.  Be present with us, work in us and through us, we pray.  Amen.
-Safiyah Fosua

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

One-liners from #li2012

I went back to school last week.  Or should I say - I got schooled. 

I'd heard of the Church of the Resurrection Leadership Institute, but it wasn't until this year that I really felt the need for a real continuing education experience.  I'm very grateful that my church gave me the resources to make the trek from Dallas to Leawood, KS.  My mind is still reeling in mighty ways from the week, and I've found myself regurgitating random tidbits into conversations.  I've already posted once on the week, but I thought here I'd just share some of my favorite quotes from the institute.  The institute is broken up by workshops, general sessions, and a keynote session.  It was a wicked lot of info.

My apologies to Revs. Hamilton and Acevedo if I didn't write down your stuff exactly right, but you both talk pretty fast. 

"Leadership starts with a radical commitment to Jesus Christ."  Rev. Adam Hamilton

On how they plan at Resurrection ... "We need to think of everything we do from the perspective of fishing for people."  Rev. Hamilton

On evangelism and hospitality ... "Are you intentionally reaching out to people and then are you following up?"  Rev. Hamilton.

On criticism of leaders, reminding us of when Jesus' family and friends tried to throw him off of a cliff ... "Sometimes everything you said and did was good ... and still people won't like it ... Moses, Paul, and Jesus were all criticized, why do you think you won't be?"  Rev. Hamilton

On contemporary worship ... "We've got to get it into our heads that this is what's happening ... God chose this generation to bring is this new thing ... and its tough."  Lance Winkler, Workshop: The Future of Contemporary Worship

On intentional evangelism ..."Who are you inviting?" Rev. Scott Chrostek, Workshop: Creating a Culture of Invitation

"If Jesus needed to step away and pray, how much do we need to?" - Rev. Hamilton

"If you're supposed to make disciples, you should probably know what one looks like."  Rev. Hamilton

"Leading a church is dangerous work."  Rev. Jorge Acevedo, Lead Pastor, Grace Church in Southwest Florida, Keynote Session

On who Grace Church seeks, their prayer ... "Lord, can you send the people to us that nobody else wants and no one else sees."  Rev. Acevedo

"Vital congregations create an incubator for the Holy Spirit to work on people."  Rev. Acevedo

"Exegete the community."  Rev. Acevedo

On preaching your story ... "Are you telling your story for God's glory, or yours?"  Rev. Acevedo

"Have you created a safe place for dangerous truth?"  Jim Lucas, Workshop:  Ten Timeless Prinicples for Next Generation Leadership

"It's never the wrong time to do the right thing."  Jim Lucas

"Jesus has friends in low places."  Rev. Hamilton

On loving your neighbors ... "Who are the lepers in your community?  Ask yourself:  what will happen to me if I help?  Or [more importantly] what will happen to them if I don't do anything?"  Rev. Hamilton

On being indispensable in your community ... "Do non religious people see you as important in the community by the work that you do?"  Rev. Hamilton

"If we have this many people here, we ought to be able to change the world."  Rev. Hamilton

There's so much more.  Just the tip of the iceberg here.  But I got a couple of little (maybe big) ideas to implement and share.  I feel energized.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

#li2012 Benediction

As I write this out my wife and I are sitting in the Southwest Terminal of the KCI airport, decompressing from a long but wonderful continuing ed experience at the Church of the Resurrection Leadership Institute.

While there will be much to break down in future posts, I thought it would be great today just to leave you with the simple benediction that Rev. Adam Hamilton closed worship with at the final session.  There will be more to come, but for now, here's this:
Lord, I offer my life to you.
Help me to walk in your way.
Make me the person you want me to be.
Lead me in your path that I might lead your people.
In your name, Amen.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Big Announcement

I haven't been able to write a whole lot lately, mostly because I've been waiting to write this post.  I stress authenticity in ministry, and it's hard to be authentic when you're keeping something be to yourself.

This one has been a long time coming, but with joy I finally get to announce that I've begun the candidacy process to become an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church.  God has really been working on me over the last several years.  For a while, I genuinely thought that my call was towards being a Deacon and pursuing excellence in worship ministry.  But for a while now my focus has been moving away from a worship focus to a truer liturgy focus - really working with people and meeting them where they are in life.

To that end, I've chosen (requested, really) to focus on new church ministries.  I realize with all of my heart that the UMC's focus can't be solely on new church starts, that vital ministry needs to be cultivated and maintained in our established churches.  I do, however, feel a call towards the new frontiers in ministries, in communities that are brand new themselves and in communities that have been left behind by the church over time.

I feel blessed to have had the experience in so many ministry situations, and having a wife who has been active in many different ministry scenarios over her time in ministry.  All this has helped to form the call in me towards a new venture and opened my heart to seek the Lord's purpose for my life in ministry for myself and my family.

It was my wife who first pointed out something different in me.  I've been writing an awful lot about hospitality, how we welcome our guests, how worship is supposed to create encounters with the divine, my struggles with broken systems.  We were on a walk when she called me out - "Are you sure you're not supposed to be a pastor?"  It wasn't two weeks later that my father asked me the very same question.  I can't avoid the question, or now, the call.

I'm thankful that my ministry and seminary experience gets me pretty far down the candidacy road, but I do know at some point I'm going back to school!  For now, I'm in holy conversation and prayer with pastors, mentors, and wonderful cabinet members to help discern the way forward for my family.  There's no true time table yet, but I couldn't be more excited!

To God be the glory!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Prayer for Guidance

As we seek this day to be more of Jesus and less of ourselves, I find this Korean prayer, #366 in the UMH, to be something I need to pray:

O God,
   just as we look into a mirror to see any soiled spots on our face,
      so let us look to you
         in order to understand the things that we have done amiss.
   We are like a reed shaken in the wind;
      we are inexpressibly weak.
   Leave us not to ourselves,
      but dwell in our hearts and guide our thoughts and actions.  Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Prayer of Saint Patrick

Every once in a while, in true liturgy nerd fashion, I like to thumb through my United Methodist Book of Worship and search for prayers.  Sometimes it's part of my work, sometimes it's just because I need a few words for myself.

As we get ready to worship the Lord this weekend, I invite you to pray this prayer I found in this week's studies:
Christ be with us, Christ before us, Christ beside us,
Christ in us, Christ beneath us, Christ above us,
Christ on our right, Christ on our left,
Christ where we lie, Christ where we sit, Christ where we arise,
Christ in every heart of every one who thinks of us,
Christ in every eye that sees us,
Christ in every ear that hears us.
    Salvation is of the Lord,
    Salvation is of the Christ,
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.*
As we learn how to put on Christ in worship, may we put on Christ for the whole world around us.  Amen.

*Attributed to Saint Patrick, Ireland, 5th Century, UMBOW #529

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Prayer for the Church

Let us pray for Christ's Worshipping Body - the Church:
Most merciful Father,
  send your heavenly blessing upon this your Church,
  that all its members may dwell together in unity and love.
Keep far from us all self-will and discord.
Endue your pastors with righteousness,
  and enable them faithful to fulfill their ministry,
  to bring again the outcasts, and to seek the lost.
And grant to us so to receive their ministrations,
  and to use your means of grace,
  that in all our words and deeds
    we may seek your glory and the advancement of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.*
*From the Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Are You Ready?

As we prepare for Sabbath worship, may we tonight pray with John the Baptist, the one for whom Isaiah prophesied, and who came to be the Prophet of the Most High God.  He who was the voice in the wilderness, crying out:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
        make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
    and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
    and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.”*
As it was in John's time, it still is in ours: it is up to us to make the way ready for the Lord.  John called to the people of the time, and to us to repent, and make ourselves ready to meet the Lord.

Almighty and Merciful Lord,

On this day, we pray for readiness.  Readiness to hear the Your word preached and ready to sing Your songs. 

That we may then be ready to go out into the world and make the paths straight and the way plain for You, the Lord of Lords, to move into the lives of our loved ones and neighbors.