Monday, September 30, 2013

Actually, "The Reason" is ...

What would Hoobastank say?

Lately, my drive to work has been blown asunder by one of the many songs of my college years, "The Reason", by Hoobastank.

You might say to yourself, "Jarrod, what's the big deal?  Your radio is often tuned to the alternative music channel of yesteryear frequently loaded down with throwback tunes from the 90s and early 2000s.  Hoobastank is like their #1 band, next to the Foo Fighters and Cake."

And you would be be correct.  Except for the other times when I'm listening to Christian radio, which is mostly ads and pledge drives.  So, most of the time, my radio is switched away from the local Christian radio channels, because I love Christian music, not commercials.

I was surprised to be taken back to my college reverie by the Christian radio channel.  After some quick Google work, I find that a Christian band covered the song word for word, riff by riff, beat by beat without so much as a deviation from the original.  The 'cover' was actually recorded years ago, but over the last several months has picked up speed on the radio.

This might be a problem.

Hymns have been robbing the music of the secular world since there have been hymns, in content and in style.  That's not new news, and it's certainly not a bad thing.  Church music should speak the musical language of the people.  But it's lyrical content should point to the deeper truths of the faith.

I'm a modern worship advocate.  I haven't always been, but it's been through ministry in the church that I've found the importance of musical language speaking in the vernacular, that it should meet people where they are.  But, take this lyric from "The Reason":

I've found a reason for me
to change who I used to be
a reason to start over new
and that reason is you

In the grand pantheon of modern hymnody, lyrics like this have been a common criticism against praise and worship music, and the praise and worship genre is riddled with them.  Songs that could be more easily equated with a love song to a girl as opposed to God, for the fact that the name Jesus is never mentioned.

I will say, that I'm cool with using pop music in worship - as long as it has a clear purpose in line with the message of the day.  Just because playing Mumford & Sons in the narthex is hip, doesn't mean it works in worship.  Composers decide the meanings of their tunes, listeners don't.

So, in conclusion I'll leave you with the original 2003 music video, where you see, the song isn't about Jesus.  It's about robbing pawn shops to give rubies to a pretty girl.  That's "The Reason."  Just ask yourself, "Can't we do better?"

Hoobastank:The Reason from Scottie Kuo on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Do You Want to Be Faithful in Much?

My sermon from Sunday ... What's with the tough stuff from Jesus in the Lectionary lately, right?  Oh, wait ... It's all supposed to be tough and challenging.

The Gospel is not supposed to be easy to follow through with, even as it's challenging just to read and understand.

September 22, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Methodists Didn't Carry Bibles Back Then ...

Yesterday I was given an amazing opportunity ... I was told I was teaching one of our most senior adult Sunday school classes.

It was a just a tiny bit outside the scope of my ministry, but I'm on the staff at a large church now and a lot of people still don't know who I am.  And I guess being a pastor on staff means I get to go to Sunday School, really for the first time since I was called into ministry as my vocation.

Directing worship for the last eight years didn't really leave a lot of room for Sunday morning Bible study.

So, generally, if it's possible in the Sunday morning schedule, I accept invitations to teach class.

Except, I don't really like to teach, per se - I really like to chat.  I like to get people to tell me their stories.  I was given the lesson I was to teach this class, and it was pretty good and all, but I figured it was a great opportunity for a few senior members of the church to tell me what was what on their faith journeys.

As we started our conversation, one of the members of the class, a widow of a former preacher of our church shared this interesting tidbit from her time growing up Methodist (and I'm talking before there was such a thing as United Methodist):
"Methodists didn't carry around Bibles growing up, the Baptists did that.  I walked into class one day with my Bible and people asked me if I was teaching the lesson."
Now, here was a lady that was convicted that walking, literally, daily with the Word was the right thing to do.  It's an interesting story.  Do you carry around a Bible with you on a daily basis?  If you're like me, you know you have an internet of translations at your fingertips within your phone.

But that's not necessarily something people are going to catch you reading.

Growing up Baptist, I can attest to her analysis ... A phone, which is a symbol of connectedness, is also a symbol of detachment from the world around you.  Carrying around a Bible and actually pulling it out to read might invite controversy into your life, it might invite conversation with those around you, but that might be worth it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Advent Sermon Series - "Hope is On the Way"

A couple of months ago, my senior pastor, knowing my liturgical nerdiness, tasked me with putting together our sermon series for the season of Advent through Epiphany Sunday (this year December 1 - January 5).  At our church, for the most part, we follow the Revised Common Lectionary and build our sermon series out of that, following at least one Gospel/Psalm/OT/NT stream for a month or more.

Looking through the Gospel lessons for the season going into Year A, I knew the Gospel's would be the way to go.  After all, while all years of the Lectionary justifiably spend time with Mother Mary, year A is the only one to truly spend time with Joseph, Jesus' adopted earthly father.

To break down and explain the plan for each Sunday, I've included the scripture chosen, key verse from that scripture, and key words and key themes to aid in hymn selection and sermon preparations.  As a nerd for the church year, I'm not too crazy about including Christmas hymns at the start of the season.  I think it's okay to build those in as we lead to Christmas Eve, but it's important to note that this is a season of anticipation as we spend a lot of time with prophecy from Christ and John the Baptist.  So, when it comes to building up the Christmas theme - pace yourself.  Remember, Advent is a season of past and future collision in the present ... A time of already here (as in Christ did come and is here) and not yet (Christ will come again.  If you focus on Christmas too early, you miss the point of the season.

To aid in worship, I've also included a Call to Worship, Candle Lighting Liturgy, and Prayer of Confession for each appropriate Sunday.  At our church, we'll have a family light the candle and a liturgist follow that with the Call to Worship.

Feel free to use any and all resources.  If you do use them in worship, please leave a comment!


Series Plan:  Advent through Epiphany Sunday
“Hope is On the Way”

Overall Themes:  Watchfulness, Looking backwards and forwards in time (at the same time), joyful repentance, trust, hope

December 1: “Managing Un-expectations” Matthew 24:36-44

Key verse: Matt 24:44 - “[Jesus says] Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Key words: prophecy (Jesus prophesies his own arrival!!), watchfulness, readiness

Possible Theme:  Jesus, close to the end of his earthly life, prophesies another beginning.  Jesus, the Messiah, tells the people to watch out for the Messiah.  Jesus goes meta.

Lighting the Candle of Expectation 
It was Jesus Christ himself that told us to be ready at any time.
So, today we remember that call.  The call to look for God in unexpected places, at unexpected times.
And even though we wait, we can expect Our Savior to show.
This morning, we light the Candle of Expectation.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
We gather this morning as a people waiting for the Lord.
The one who died, rose, and will come again.
Yes, this is the truth, and the great mystery of our faith!
Yes!  Lord Jesus, come into our hearts again this Advent Season!

Call to Confession
Everlasting God, we confess that we haven’t been watching.  We haven’t been looking out for you.  Like a thief in the night, you could pass us by and we would never know.  We have forgotten to look for you in the faces of our children, of the homeless around us, in the immigrants who struggle as they serve even us.  Forgive us, we pray, and make us ready to greet you in everyone we see on the street as we leave this place.  Amen.

December 8: “We Work While We Wait” Matthew 3:1-12

Key verse: Matt 3:2 - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

Key words:  Promise, strength, hope, readiness, repentance

Possible Theme:  We journey backwards to before Jesus’ baptism, to John the Baptist prophesying the Messiah’s coming – a Messiah already here.  Now is the time to get right with God.

Lighting the Candle of Prophecy
John the called on God’s people to repent, for the Messiah was near.
The people had prayed for it, yet they didn’t see the one they had been waiting for was truly among them.
That prophecy was being fulfilled in their midst.
This morning, we light the Candle of Prophecy
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
Today we to turn to God.
Lord, have mercy on us!
The Kingdom of Heaven is near.
Lord, help us to spread the good news!

Call to Confession
Merciful God, though your prophets still call out to us, millennia later, we still don’t change our lives.  As John the Baptist shouts to the people, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven as come near!”, we know that you are here, and still we don’t change.  Still we don’t hear the cries of the needy, still we don’t prioritize serving the poor, and still we refuse to meet the needs of those who are truly hungry and thirsty around us.  And yet, merciful God, you still count on us to carry out your mission, you still encourage us to follow you, you still are near.  Help us, Lord, as we seek your way.  Amen.

December 15: “Hope in the King” Matthew 11:2-11

Key verse: Matt 11:3 - [John in prison asks] "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

Key words:  Joyful repentance, fulfillment, hope

Possible Theme:  The ministry of John the Baptist is validated in Christ.  The hopes in John’s heart are fulfilled in the statements of Jesus, the one the world had been waiting for – who was, who is, who is to come.

Lighting the Candle of Hope
Even John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for?”
All of the hopes and dreams of God’s children were wrapped up in that question.
And the answer was, yes, the Hope of the Nations was there, and is here.
This morning, we light the Candle of Hope.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
Together, let us be a people unafraid to hope!
Christ comes to us in the unexpected!
Let us keep the faith together – that Christ will come again.
Lord, keep us on the straight and narrow path that leads to you!

Call to Confession
Our Lord and Our Hope, we know that we often fail you.  We forget to watch.  We forget to wait.  We make the holiday season more about ourselves than sharing the hope that only you can bring.  We get so caught up in what we’re supposed to get this season, we forget what we’re called to give.  Help us to remember that this season is about the message and ministry of your son, Jesus Christ, the one who came to heal, liberate, and share the good news of your faithful love.  Call us to be faithful only to you this season.  Amen.

December 22: “A Surprise Adoption” Matthew 1:18-25

Key Verse:  Matt 1:20 - "But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."

Key words:  Trust, Faith, Christmas
Possible Theme:  What about Joseph?  Here we have the rarer-read birth narrative from Matthew, focused on the choices of Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph.  What can his awkward circumstance tell us about keeping the faith?

Lighting the Candle of Joy
As we wait for Emmanuel, God with us to arrive, we remember the fears of his earthly parents.
We remember the commitment of Joseph, we remember the commitment of Mary.
We remember that the Lord sent angels to comfort and to guide – with joy.
In that spirit of joy, of expectation and hope, we light the Candle of Joy.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
With joy we call Emmanuel down to meet with us this morning!
Christ be with us!
Through the birth of Christ, we know God’s love for us.
Thanks be to God!

Call to Confession
God of our salvation and author of our hope, it’s hard for us to see the blessings you have for us.  We think that our plans are better, that the things and desires of the world are higher than your ways.  You, Lord, are the great interrupter and sometimes we can feel inconvenienced by the calls you put on us to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you.  Remind us that this season that leads to Christmas wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for you loving this world that you made.  Thank you for loving us, God.  Amen.

December 24: “Hope Has Arrived” Luke 2:1-20

Key verse:  Luke 2:10-11 - “But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Key words: Christmas, watchfulness, peace, love, hope, joy

Possible Theme:  The shepherds were awake to receive the good news, while the rest of the world was asleep.

Lighting the Christ Candle
With this lighting of the Christ Candle we rejoice with prophets, angels, and Mary and Joseph in welcoming Christ!
Our hope has arrived!
Thank you God, for sending us your Son.
May this light remind us of the hope we all carry because you love the whole world!

December 29: “We Are Family” Hebrews 2:10-18

Key verse: 2:17 - “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.”

Key words: Family, Christmas

Possible Theme:  In Paul’s writings, he looks at Christ’s life, Christ who called us brother and sister with him as we are children of the Father.  Christ our teacher, also called us family.

Call to Worship
Through the birth of Christ …
… God stands with us.
Through the raising of Christ by Mary and Joseph …
… God shows faith in us.
We are all family in Christ, and with Christ.
Thanks be to God, for this amazing news!

January 5 [Epiphany Sunday] “What gift did God bring?” John 1:1-18

Key verse:  John 1:16 - From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Key words: Giving, New Year, Beginnings

Possible Theme:  Since the beginning of all things, God has been giving to us.  And God hasn't stopped giving to us.  So what do we do with that?

Call to Worship
The Word of God has been with us from the start!
Praise the Lord!
The Word of God is with us even now!
Praise the Lord!
May the Lord’s grace and peace be with us in the start of this New Year!


For further help, I've partnered with the GBOD to offer sermon starters for the series!  Just go here for a few ideas to start your sermons and get your whole worship team thinking about the season.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Discovering Discernment

Last Saturday, the fruit of nearly a year-and-a-half's work finally came to be - the first ever Central Texas Conference Discovery and Discernment Retreat.  The brainchild (and heart-child) of my wife and many others in a strong team of young adults and mentors, the retreat was set up to be a time to help young people discern where God was calling them to be in ministry.  And not just ordained ministry.

The UMC is great at discerning people into ordained ministry (kinda...) or out of ordained ministry, but as an organization, we're not as stellar at affirming the call to any and every ministry out there.  This retreat was set up as a time to embrace the call given to each of us at our baptisms; we are all called to ministry by the sacrament, sometimes we just don't know what to.

I was given the task of organizing worship for the event.  I currently don't have a band of my own as I'm into the preaching and teaching gig now, so what did I do?  I called in some of my closest and most talented friends to lead an epic-level, affirming the call event.  The last phrase being the ethos of the worship we would craft together - affirming our common call to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God together.

Again, we brought this event together not to tell people that they are called, we brought 70 young people to Waco already acknowledging this.  We expected them to know that they were called - probably just what we should expect from every person who claims the name Christian, but that's another conversation.

Our key song for the day was Here's My Heart, by David Crowder, this chorus being a driver for the worship:
Here's my heart, Lord.Here's my heart, Lord.Here's my heart, Lord.Speak what is true.
It has a modern "Here I Am, Lord" vibe that really captured what we were going for in worship, and what our preacher Lance Marshall, pastor for an emerging community in Fort Worth spoke to - we're not called to be members of the kingdom of this earth.

Obviously corporate worship was a major part of the event, but the bulk of the day was spent in break out sessions for our group of 70 or so.  Speaking of 70, isn't that the number of disciples Jesus sent out in the Gospel of Luke to love and serve their neighbors?  Hmmm ...

Our 70 young people (late high school to mostly college students and a little older) spent time in sessions talking with an assembled group of experts in youth ministry, children's ministry, college ministry, apologetics, spiritual gifts assesments, going to seminary without pursuing ordination, ordained ministry as elder and deacon in the UMC, and even Bishop Mike Lowry was on hand to discuss his call to ministry (he also presided over the table during morning worship).  Each of our 'discerners' was able to attend three sessions of their choice throughout the day as they saw fit, with plenty of time at lunch and in between events just to have conversations with eachother and make connections with the leaders.

A great many of our conference staff were on hand to support our young people, from District Superintendents, District Administrators and support staff.  Many of our breakout session leaders also traveled across conference lines to support the event - and isn't that so UMC?

It was more than a year of work from beginning to end, but I left the day with so much hope.  The Holy Spirit moved in mighty ways the whole day, my wife described it as if she felt "she was sitting next to the Holy Spirit" during worship and in the holy conversations held with young people.

I'm telling you, there's hope in the UMC, if you haven't heard already.  And young people want to be a part of it.

But here's what I would ask: what are other conferences doing to call young people to ministry?  Are we telling young people that a call to ministry is just for the ordained?  Are we building up young people and telling them, "Yes, you can be a lifelong youth minister - and we'll pay you a living wage so you can."?

Our calls are as unique as the people we are, and I think it the CTC we're starting to build a church that will affirm that.  I can't wait to see where all of this goes.  The Holy Spirit is on the move in Texas, and I pray that it is being allowed to move in the universal church, that the Kingdom of God will come that much more near to us.

If you'd like to check out the social media conversation from DDR, just check out #ctcddr on Twitter, FB, and Instagram.  You can find Leanne's  write-up on the Central Texas Conference website here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Eating: Hospitality and Humility

My sermon from 9/1/2013 ... More tough advice from Jesus.

How hospitable is your dinner table?  How hospitable is your church?  Is it as open as the open table should be?

September 1, Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Litany of Affirming the Call

This weekend I've been gifted the task to help lead and structure the worship for a conference-wide discernment retreat for young people in Central Texas and abroad.  It's a different kind of retreat, focused on vocational ministry in many ways, but the flip is that we're not fixated on ordained ministry as the only option.

We'll have break out sessions with leaders in ministry from our conference and many others to discuss with our young adults ministry in careers in youth ministry, children's ministry, and ordained ministry.  We'll talk about the need for educated lay people - that may even want to go to seminary just for that.

The point of the whole extravaganza is simple: we're all called to ministry, and our ministry call is as unique to each one of us.  What if ... we truly treated all members of our churches as the ministers we call ourselves?  That's the point of the weekend as we'll meet, pray, and discover where the Lord is guiding us.

At the close of the afternoon worship session, we'll be reading this litany together, as we affirm the call in one another.

A Litany of Affirming the Call

The discernment process can be a long one
     But thank God it’s not meant to be done alone
We stand here in community and we affirm together that the Lord has called each of us to ministry
     By our baptisms we are claimed by God to do good work in the Lord’s name
Our call is personal, and it is unique to each one of us
     And it is communal, as we live out our callings with those around us
Lord God, thank you for being with us as we discover who you are calling us to be
     Who you are calling us to be as a people of faith
     Who you are calling us to be as ministers of your word
The Spirit has brought us together in this place, by pulling on each of our hearts
     Maybe others have nudged us here, some have been shoved
But yes, God, we are here wondering at the plans you have for us
     So, Lord, we pray for the call put on our neighbor on our left
     We pray for the call put on our neighbor to our right
     In front of us.
     Behind us
We give God our thanks
     We thank you, God, our Creator for gifting us with our calls
     We thank you, Jesus Christ, for teaching us how to walk in the Way.
     We thank you, Holy Spirit, both for disturbing us into realizing our call, and comforting      us as we follow it.
May our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer fill us up, as we are sent out.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Unity of the Church

I'm in the thick of my first week's reading for my first semester of Christian Heritage.  I'm really digging these readings going back to just after the Book of Acts.  Getting a glimpse at our early church fathers and mothers, many of them on the road to martyrdom, is fascinating.  Just reading the scripture quotations alone in the writings of Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, and Cyprian is enough to bless me to be where I am today.

I'm currently reading Cyprian's The Unity of the Church, a treatise on what binds us together as the church.  Cyprian (c. 200 - 258) was the elected Bishop of Carthage for the last ten years or so of his life until his death as a martyr, during a time of much persecution of Christians.  While there's a lot to be said of his life, a driving force in his writing and ministry was keeping the unity in the church and encouraging followers to hold on during a time of trial to the love of God.  So much so, that he was apparently against granting mercy to those who would leave the church for fear of persecution and then ask to return when things got easier ... His ministry wasn't without controversy and he had a knack for strong words.

Here's a bit from Unity, regarding the Holy Spirit, the beauty of doves, and what to do with wolves in the church:
 Therefore also the Holy Spirit came as a dove, a simple and joyous creature, not bitter with gall, not cruel in its bite, not violent with the rending of its claws, loving human dwellings, knowing the association of one home; when they have young, bringing forth their young together; when they fly abroad, remaining in their flights by the side of one another, spending their life in mutual intercourse, acknowledging the concord of peace with the kiss of the beak, in all things fulfilling the law of unanimity. This is the simplicity that ought to be known in the Church, this is the charity that ought to be attained, that so the love of the brotherhood may imitate the doves, that their gentleness and meekness may be like the lambs and sheep. What does the fierceness of wolves do in the Christian breast? What the savageness of dogs, and the deadly venom of serpents, and the sanguinary cruelty of wild beasts? We are to be congratulated when such as these are separated from the Church, lest they should lay waste the doves and sheep of Christ with their cruel and envenomed contagion. Bitterness cannot consist and be associated with sweetness, darkness with light, rain with clearness, battle with peace, barrenness with fertility, drought with springs, storm with tranquility. Let none think that the good can depart from the Church. The wind does not carry away the wheat, nor does the hurricane uproot the tree that is based on a solid root. The light straws are tossed about by the tempest, the feeble trees are overthrown by the onset of the whirlwind. The Apostle John execrates and severely assails these, when he says, “They went forth from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, surely they would have continued with us."
It's just kind of interesting, our God is a God that will go after the lost sheep, but what to do with those that just leave?  What do with those that are just angry?  How would we be called to stand by one another if we lived in a country that persecuted Christians?   Hmmm ...