Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Salvation Doesn't Trickle Down

Last night I wrapped up our latest online/season/pastor's Bible study with a great group of young adults.  The scripture was The Annunciation, Luke 1:27-38, the fateful passage where we learn of Gabriel's approach to Mary and her acceptance of the Lord's will to bring Jesus Christ into the world.

We were reflecting last night on what it meant that Christ, the Son of God, would be born into such humble circumstances - by God's own choosing.  It's a topic that's been mined for meaning for centuries, and at times it's been avoided by the church (the empire, rather) altogether.

In my prep for the message on Christmas Eve I've gotten fairly stuck on this topic.  What does the humility of the holy birth mean?  Better yet, if Christ came today, what people would he be born into?

I think a lot of American Evangelicals assume Christ would be born in America.  Because, why not?  Right?  So, think about how Christ came the first time ... He came to the Hebrew people.  The Hebrews weren't exactly well-to-do folk in the Roman Empire.  For sure, there were wealthy among them - but they would always be under subjugation to the Romans.  So, they were second class.  And Mary and Joseph were Jewish AND poor.  Poor folk among poor folk.  Doubly poor then, to get to the point.

Who would that be today?  For sake of the American argument, you gotta go for the poorest demographic around here.  In Texas, where I'm from, you'd be looking at illegal Hispanic immigrants.  There are wealthy among them, there are educated among them, especially those able move into citizenship.  It stands to reason that Christ might come from somebody such as them.  Or perhaps a Cuban family that has come in under the radar in Cuba?  Or an African American family in Ferguson still trying to overcome a world that ignores white privilege?  Or from a Native American family in Oklahoma?

I wonder if we expect Christ to come again today the same way as those who were originally waiting for the Messiah ... As a triumphant and conquering king.  When are we gonna learn?

Something that we came up with in our study last night just really took me by surprise ... Why did Christ come to the poor of the poor?  Maybe because God knows a lot about how the world works from God's vantage point.  If Christ had come to the rich, would the salvation message have trickled down to the masses or stayed at the top?

Yes, salvation does come from above, from God's glory to us.  But the humbleness of the Holy Birth tells us that in the world, the message bubbles up from the bottom.  It tells us where we should be looking for Jesus now.  Because God is for everybody.  This is the good news of the Incarnation.

Mmmmmhmmm.  And Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014 Advent to Christmas Series "The Promise" Worship Helps

As promised, here are the candle lightings, calls to worship, and corporate or pastoral prayers for our 2014 Advent to Christmas Series "The Promise".  Everything is designed to get the point across for each particular Sunday and is free to use.  Let us know me the comments if any of this is of help to you!

This year, I decided to go with the traditional names for the Advent Wreath Candles (perhaps for the first time since I started writing original lighting liturgies).  I'll have a graphic for worship guides in the next couple of days!

November 30 (Advent 1) - “A Promise and a Plea” Isaiah 64:1-9

Lighting the Candle of Hope
Long ago the prophet Isaiah cried out for God’s mercy to be shown to God’s children – all of us.  God heard that prayer, though God came in God’s own time.  Even though God may not move in the way we expect or as quickly as we would sometimes like, God still keeps the promises that God makes.  God hears our cries for mercy, even today.  This morning, as we light the Candle of Hope, may this small light be a symbol to all of us that waiting and hoping for God to come to us again.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.  Hope is here!

Call to Worship
Lord, hear our prayer!
Listen to your children praying!
Hear your people crying out for mercy this morning, God of our Salvation.
May the hope of Jesus arise in us this morning!

Prayer of Confession
Merciful God, we have much to confess.  We lose our focus.  We forget the reasons we’ve had for the holiday season.  We get caught up in being busy, caught up in ourselves, caught up in the world.  Help us to focus on you, and in so doing becoming more like you.  The world around us needs you, needs people focused on you and ready to meet the needs of those that are hurting and lost around us.  Focus us God, lead us with your Holy Spirit, so that when the Hope of the Nations does arrive, we are ready.  Amen.

December 7 (Advent 2) - “Passing the Baton” Mark 1:1-8

Lighting the Candle of Peace
John the Baptist’s ancient words, calling us to prepare the way of the Lord were more ancient than he was.  He learned them from Isaiah.  But in John’s time, Jesus did finally arrive.  The Hope of the Nations walking among the people.  This morning, we light the Candle of Peace.  May we carry the Lord’s peace with us this holiday season, as we remember that Jesus was, and is, real.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.  Peace is here!

Call to Worship
Peace of the Lord be with you today!
Peace of the Lord be with you!
We have work to do to prepare the way of the Lord!
May Jesus make his true way into our hearts, today.

Prayer of Confession
Everlasting Lord, we confess that Advent is not a peaceful season, and that it is our own making.  We forget that your incarnate love in Jesus Christ wasn’t just meant for the church or the people that call themselves ‘Christian’ … It is for everyone.  Can you help us be peace-bringers this season?  Can you open our hearts and minds to those that need us to bring your healing touch?  To those that need to be introduced to your son, Jesus Christ?  To those that need the way to you made plain?  Calm our hearts and steady our minds, dear God, that we may find your peace and show it to others.  Amen.

December 14 (Advent 3) - “A Mother Sings” Luke 1:46b-55

Lighting the Candle of Love
Mary’s song reminds us that God’s love is truly for everyone, that we are all God’s children, and God’s mercy is equally given.  Mary helps us to remember that God’s view is different from ours– that those we might consider the lowly, the outcast, are equal in God’s eye to the powerful and the strong.  This morning we light the Candle of Love, reminding ourselves that God’s love is without boundary, it is timeless, it is free to all.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.  Love is here! 

Call to Worship
This morning, we are called to sing!
To sing of the Lord’s everlasting mercy!
To sing of the Lord’s faithfulness!
Thank you God for keeping your promises from generation to generation!

Prayer of Confession
God on high, we know you love us, but we confess that we forget to return that love.  You give us everything and we squander our resources.  We spend on ourselves, we pour extravagance on ourselves, all while those around us, in our neighborhoods, communities, and families struggle just to keep healthy food on the table.  Let us hear Mary’s song anew this morning, may we be reminded that the ways of the world, where the strong forget the weak, are not your ways.  Your ways are higher, God.  Help us to bring your Kingdom more fully onto this earth.  Amen.

December 21(Advent 4) – “Yes!” Luke 1:26-38

Lighting the Candle of Joy
As the angel tells Mary not to fear, we hear that call on our own hearts this morning.  Because we know that the promise of God, delivered by an angel, and received by Mary, is true.  When the world cried out for a savior, that savior did come to us.  Not as a king, but as a baby.  As we light the Candle of Joy this morning, may we be reminded, with joy, that the Lord loves us so much, that the Song of God came into the world like one of us.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.  Joy is here!

Call to Worship
The Lord is with us this morning!
Yes, indeed.  The Lord’s joy is here!
Are you prepared for miracles?
Nothing is impossible with God!

Prayer of Confession

God of Compassion, we are a fearful people.  We carry so much with us … hurt, pain, disease, strife.  We confess that we forget that you are with us, often in the hardest times.  We confess that sometimes this season of joy is less than joyful, because we lose track of you.  We need you to heal our hurts God, we can’t make it on our own.  Heal us God so we can be prepared to say “Yes!”, as Mary did.  Yes, to your call to lift up each other, to carry each other and lift burdens for one another, not just for our friends and family, but to everyone.  Help us to receive the gift of your healing, and joyful, love in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

December 24 (Christmas Eve) - “The Promise is Kept” Luke 2:1-20

Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light the Christ Candle, we remember that long ago God’s promise to us was kept!  We called on the Lord for salvation, and not only did the Lord bring it, the Lord Our God appeared to us as a baby.  A baby to be loved and nurtured in a human family.  A baby Messiah that would grow up to preach the good news that all are welcome and loved in the Kingdom of God.  Today, we welcome Jesus Christ!
Welcome to you, Lord Jesus!  May this light remind us of the hope, peace, love, and joy that can only be found in you!

Call to Worship
Let heaven and nature sing -
Joy to the world!
Oh come, all ye faithful –
Joyful and triumphant!
The herald angels sing –
Glory to God!
Jesus is here!
Jesus is here!

A Christmas Prayer
God, we welcome you here.  We have been waiting for you, anticipating your arrival, expecting you to visit us today.  We need you God, and we are so grateful that you love us so much that you came to us in the form of a child.  You place so much trust in us, even trusting a humble family to raise your own son.  On top of that, you gift us with care over one another.  Yes, it’s a care that we often fail to give.  Thanks be to you God that no matter how often we forget to take care of each other, to love each other as you love us, your forgiveness knows no end.  Forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love that became incarnate in Jesus Christ.  A promise of salvation that is kept.  Welcome to the world, Lord Jesus.  May singing your songs, sharing in your gifts, and looking to your earthly life bring heaven closer to us this Christmas.  Amen.

December 28 (1st Sunday After Christmas) - “Seeing Salvation” Luke 2:22-40

Call to Worship
In our church, today it is still Christmas!
Merry Christmas!
The angels are still singing!
Glory to God, and peace on earth.

Prayer for After Christmas
Lord Jesus Christ, another Christmas Day has come and gone.  How did we celebrate your birthday?  With family and friends?  With food and gifts?  Did we remember that you are the true gift of Christmas?  You are the agent of our salvation, the light in our darkness, a fulfilled promise of God.  And we, whom you would call friends, are called to share these great gifts, that only you can give, with the world. Remind us that the gifts we’ve been given aren’t ours to keep.  Remind us that there’s more than enough food for none to go hungry.  Remind us that through you everyone we meet is now a brother or sister.  Thanks be to God for the family of faith that began on Christmas Day and continues to grow into the future.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Advent to Christmas 2014 Worship Series: The Promise

This Advent season at FUMCA we're following the thread of messengers, the people who prophesied and proclaimed the good news the culminated in a fulfilled promise with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Our Advent journey will take us from the heartfelt prayers of Isaiah, to the rugged preaching of John the Baptist.  Then to the tender joy of Mary, mother of Jesus, as she sings her song of thanksgiving after the angel Gabriel gives her the news that God has chosen her to bear the Son of God into the world.  Finally, after the long wait, the promise of God, Jesus the Messiah, comes to us at Christmas.  A promise fulfilled.

Here is an outline of our plan, with liturgy resources and graphics to come.  This is all shared freely, but if you use it within your faith family, just do me a favor and share that in the comments!

Advent to Christmas 2014 Worship Series:

The Promise

November 30 (Advent 1) - “A Promise and a Plea" - Isaiah 64:1-9

Isaiah prays, "Oh, that you would tear the heavens and come down ..."

This lesson is a heartfelt plea for mercy, which is unlike many of the iconic Advent scriptures we pull from this prophet's deep words.  Where is the Holy Mountain, or the Great Light?  Isaiah is speaking for a world that needs a savior, a messiah, a rescuer.  Do we not cry for this still today as we wait for Christ to come again?  We wait still for the great intercessor to appear.

We remind our people though, as evidenced by the Incarnation, that God does hear our prayers.  That God does move towards us.

December 7 (Advent 2) - “Passing the Baton” - Mark 1:1-8

John proclaims, "One who is more powerful than I is coming after me ..."

A rough and tumble prophet, John wasn't into the pretensions of his time.  He wanted to get down to business, declare a season of repentance, and get people right with God.  However, he wasn't the Messiah, he wasn't the endgame ... Jesus was/is.  John, the way-maker, is preparing the people to meet Christ, for real.  John starts the race, but Jesus finishes it.  So, the question may be, still today, how are we making the way for Jesus in people's hearts right here, right now?

December 14 (Advent 3) - “A Mother Sings” -  Luke 1:46b-55

Isaiah had cried out to God for mercy (as had many Israelites), and here mercy is, gifted to Mary to bring into the world.  The special thing, though, is that God is buying into the human experience.  Not only will God come down to earth and to our rescue, but God will do so by coming into the world the way all humans do.  You might say, "God has skin in the game."

And, of course, this is Mary's song.  It's a riff on Hannah's song from the First Samuel, but Mary makes it her own.  She's prophesying in a way, singing the themes that are the Gospel of Luke's central message: the world as we know it is upside down from here on out.  That is, God's heart is for the lowly, the tread upon, the outcast, the ill, those who have no way out in society.  Mary is one of those people, and here she is, soon-to-be Mother of God.

December 21 (Advent 4) – “Yes!” - Luke 1:26-38

"Nothing is impossible with God ..."

God makes it happen for God's children.  The world needs a savior, and a savior is sent.  Not on a flaming chariot with an angel army as backup, but as a child.  However, the approach to Mary needs to be made, and Gabriel gets to make it.  Angels in the OT aren't bringers of joy, on the whole.  The Israelite history with angels is pretty scary stuff, so it's no wonder that Gabriel first tells Mary not to fear.

The Lord is with us, we don't need to fear.  Do we fear things this time of year?  Loneliness?  Money problems?  Brokenness in our families and relationships?  Are there things in our lives that we find impossible?  Is God there to help us find a break through?  The Incarnation is proof to us that God is ready, willing, and able to work miracles.  Mary was brave enough to say "YES!" to God, what about us?

December 24 (Christmas Eve) - “The Promise is Kept” - Luke 2:1-20

This sermon is so easy, but so hard.  How do  you bring something new to the Christmas story?  Do you even need to?  The awe, wonder, and praise wrapped into these twenty history-changing verses are timeless.  The joy of the angels, the shock to the shepherds, the love of the holy family.

But perhaps the greatest thing of all: God was always on the move to bring us Jesus, and God is still on the move in the world today.  Karl Barth wrote of the incarnation, not just that Emmanuel means "God with us", but also that "God does not want to be without us."

That is the Good News of Christmas!

December 28 (1st Sunday After Christmas) - “Seeing Salvation” - 2:22-40

"My eyes have seen your salvation ..."

The Song of Simeon rounds out the three songs that open the Gospel of Luke (Mary's Magnificat and the Song of the Angels being the other two).  Most people may know the Nunc Dimittis, 'Let your servant go in peace', set to music, but it doesn't give much of the scriptural context.  Simeon had been waiting, and waiting for the arrival of the savior, having a witness that he would meet the Messiah from the Holy Spirit.

What a gift Simeon received - to have tangible proof that God's promises are true.  We humans, some 2,000 years later have to take to these stories on faith.  However, the point should be made more often that while we don't see the Human One in the flesh before us, we, the church, are the Body of Christ - baptized to love and serve others as Christ did.  In other words, others should be able to see Christ in us.  In the aftermath of Christmas and before the New Year, what can we do to better show people that we know Christ was/is real?  Do we bring good new to the poor?  Let the oppressed go free?  Help people shake off their spiritual blindness?  Proclaim the time of the Lord's favor on the whole wide world?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Good Reasons Why I Haven't Written Lately

Friends, ministers, nerds,

It's been a crazy few months!  This school year we made the decision to go full-time at Perkins.  Nine whole hours of big work.  Systematic theology, moral theology, and evangelism are on the menu this fall, with a Jan-term class on soteriology, followed up with more systematics, Old Testament, and maybe, I dunno a little world religions or preaching for a little flavor.

It all adds up to crazy town for my family, because, hey, I work full-time in pastoral ministry as well.  I'm not complaining, I'm certainly not the first person to do this, and we aren't the first family to go through it.  But we're trying to wrap things up - we see the light at the end of the tunnel, where all daddy has to do is ministry.

However, this isn't even the biggest thing that has kept me from writing at the pace I had been for so long in this space for nerds of liturgy.

This happened as well:

One of the best days ever.  That little girl being held by a happy judge?  She's officially ours, as of that blessed day.  Four months earlier than she had to be.  I've come to think of our short fifteen minutes in court as something very sacramental ... Other adoptive parents would probably feel the same.

I don't remember all of the questions our lawyer asked us under oath.  I remember her asking us that we knew we were waiving a six-month waiting period that was there for our protection as much as the child.  Yes, I said.  She's been ours since she was two minutes old (literally, the cord was cut and she was brought straight to us, kicking and screaming ... one of the best moments ever, ever, ever).  We were never going to give her back if we had a choice in the matter.

I remember her asking me, first, if I would love our daughter always and forever.  Covenantal language, if there ever was.  I answered in the affirmative, as well as other perfunctory questions.  Leanne also answered them.

It was so short and sweet,  And she was ours, for real, forever.  Little man has a little sister, and things couldn't be more beautiful and God-blessed.

Having two kids has dramatically changed our family ... In amazing ways.  But writing for fun has gone down the list to be sure.  Unless people want to start reading portions of my impending Credo for systematics?

Didn't think so!

However, because it's my favorite thing I get to do in ministry, I do have a couple of fun sermon series I'll be throwing out here for Advent/Christmas, and for Epiphany and the following Sundays.  Those will arrive here shortly, complete with graphics and worship helps for Advent.  It's always fun to share!

So, that's the news and I look forward to adding a little more here as I get a chance!

Grace and peace to you all, my fellow nerds!  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The One Where We're Adopting a Baby

It's been quiet out here, and for good reason ... In the middle of summer school (six weeks of intensive Methodist-centric study at Perkins), our baby girl was born.  We've been in the adoption process for about a year now and were about to pause things for a little while when a family was brought into our lives, just after Easter, with a need we were called to meet.  Our baby girl is now six weeks old (she's been with us since she was about two minutes old) and it is just amazing to have such a tangible witness in our home to God's goodness.

God has blessed us every step of this journey.

On July 6 I intended to offer a sermon, but it ended up being more of a testimony on the amazingness God worked to bring us our baby girl.

July 6, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Visions and Dreams

"Responsible change is a far more faithful pattern of obedience to Christ than the most devoted immobilism can ever be." - Albert Outler, "Visions and Dreams", sermon at the Uniting Service, April 23, 1968.

It's been a while since I've been able to write here in this space.  I haven't even had time to check in ... It's been a crazy summer.  I just finished the UM History/Doctrine/Polity block of classes at Perkins.  A pretty intensive run of course work, four hours a day, four days a week.  It was like moving to some foreign, Methodist country, learning a new language ... The Way of Salvation ... Boards and Committees ... MEC to MPC to MECS to EUB to UMC to ... to ... to ...

Am I supposed to have a mind like Christ Jesus?  Or John Wesley?    Board of Ordained Ministry here we come.

Annual Conference was in there.  An amazing full-time pastoring job was in there.  A grace-filled family that understood the level of data daddy was loading into his brain causing things around the house to just 'not compute' sometimes.  More on that particular facet the of craziness later.

It was a fascinating journey this summer.  I think I love our UMC a lot more than I did before.  I certainly understand it better.  Of all the things I read (and there was a ton, as you might expect), perhaps that most engaging and challenging read was Albert Outler's sermon at the the uniting service that created the United Methodist Church out of the union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren in Dallas, TX on April 23, 1968.

Entitled "Visions and Dreams", Professor Outler made a few bold statements towards the future of the church, comparing this new (at the time) UMC to the new Christian church at Pentecost, not so much as there was a specifically brand-new thing beginning - but that it was time to start a brand-new way of doing ministry in Christ's church.  A call to be a church fully catholic, fully evangelical, fully reformed.

The meanings of the terms catholic and evangelical are well-known.  By catholic, Outler called for a fully 'inclusive' and 'open' church.  Dialogue in our church today suggests we aren't there yet.  The call to be evangelical was to be a church "radically Christ centered", to spread the word that the "Gospel is the good news that is God’s love that pardons, heals, and reconciles, God’s love that demands that we be fully human and opens up this possibility, for us, God’s love that can sanctify our memories and our hopes."

It's when Outler gets to being a church "truly reformed" that makes me pause and reflect.  He's not telling us to be Luther or Zwingli or Calvin.  He means something different and entirely relevant to us today:

A church truly reformed is one that is open, intentionally and on principle, to creative change of every sort (in teaching, discipline and administration) – not haphazard or reckless change but not timid and grudging either.

Ah, so a church that is truly reformed is completely open to being re-formed.  Get it?

With the debates going on in our church today over human sexuality this single statement calls me to wonder: do people think that the Church of Jesus Christ, the United Methodist Church in particular, has arrived?  That we are as a church body entirely sanctified as we are today?  That we are as inclusive as we need to be?  In Outler's time, the church was struggling through the real matters of desegregation.  It was stipulated in the union of the new church that the segregated African American central conference in the US would be dissolved into existing conferences.  That was a real struggle for the church that would mostly be done by 1972.  It actually wasn't until 1972 that any Book of Discipline had a statement on homosexuality.


This isn't to belittle either side of the debate in today's church.  I just think we have bigger fish to fry.  It's time to move towards the vision set back in 1968.  Can we still be a fully catholic, evangelical, and reformed UMC?

This week the lesson in worship will be on the often told encounter at Bethel between Jacob and God - in a dream.  A dream where God lays out the plan for Jacob and his descendants, a prosperous dream whereby all of the people of the world would be blessed by Jacob's descendants.  It's an awe-inspiring text, but it wouldn't be until Jacob would wrestle with God at Peniel (much later) that Jacob would accept God's plan for him and his family.  I just wonder, are we following God's dream for this church?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Numbers Weren't the Focus

It's been a little while since I've actually had time to write something over here ... School, work, family.  Sometime these worlds collide and something has to come off the list!  I'm in the midst of prep for finals, final paper writing, all of these things to wrap up my first year of MDiv studies.  It's been a good year, but there've been quite a few hurdles to overcome in terms of making it all work together and be in full-time ministry.

We're in the midst of our preaching series on Acts right now, where we'll be until Pentecost Sunday.  This Sunday's reading comes right after Peter's Pentecost sermon, Peter preaching for conversion of the multitudes in Jerusalem to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  3,000 would be baptized into the new faith, knowing that their lives would need to be completely different in light of their profession.  That they would be the first church, the first community of believers.

What were their membership vows?  It wasn't really written down in that way.  No specific talk of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  But all of those things do happen.  Our reading for this week, comes at the end of Acts 2:

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. [CEB]

They were devoted to Jesus, devoted to one another.  They at together, shared so that everyone had enough.  They praised God, they prayed.  And the Lord went to work with them, bringing new people into this fold of radicals daily.

It just strikes me that numbers weren't their focus.  A holy life of praise, prayer, and community was.  And in living that way, numbers came.

When the Methodist movement got off the ground, there was a desire to be known as a People of the Holy Spirit.  People that would listen to God's call and then go a do.  To go forward with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into the world in love.  Numbers weren't the specific focus, but numbers came.  Numbers that spanned continents, and still do.

But, it would seem that the focus has shifted.  There's less focus on a holy life, and more on the numbers.  People want to talk about biblical faithfulness and what that looks like all day.  I wonder, however, if the church looked back to the model of the original church as spelled out in the Book of Acts, I wonder what would happen?  If all people just ended up in the same pot together.

I'm just riffing here.  I save outlines and bullet points for sermons and papers.  But I go to classes that feel like small groups, and I attend small group studies that feel like sermons.  Because numbers aren't the focus, finding our faithfulness to God's call to the community is.  It's not something that can be set apart in the busyness ... It's a constant pursuit.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Wednesday 2014

Today's Gospel Reading - John 13:21-32

Announcement of the betrayal

After he said these things, Jesus was deeply disturbed and testified, “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”

His disciples looked at each other, confused about which of them he was talking about. One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was at Jesus’ side. Simon Peter nodded at him to get him to ask Jesus who he was talking about. Leaning back toward Jesus, this disciple asked, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It’s the one to whom I will give this piece of bread once I have dipped into the bowl.” Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. After Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” No one sitting at the table understood why Jesus said this to him. Some thought that, since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus told him, “Go, buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So when Judas took the bread, he left immediately. And it was night.

Love commandment

When Judas was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Human One has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Human One in himself and will glorify him immediately.

Let us pray:
Is it I?  Am I the one who betrays you?
Am I the one who doesn't notice the poor in our midst?  Or am I the one that does notice ... and does nothing.
Who sees starving children and does nothing.
Who sees those who are vulnerable around me and keeps going on my way.
How can I live a life that glorifies you, God? 
I need your help.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Tuesday 2014

Today's Gospel Reading - John 12:20-36 - Jesus Teaches About His Death

Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus. 
Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me. 
“Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. Father, glorify your name!” 
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 
The crowd standing there heard and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.”
Jesus replied, “This voice wasn't for my benefit but for yours. Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (He said this to show how he was going to die.) 
The crowd responded, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Human One must be lifted up? Who is this Human One?” 
Jesus replied, “The light is with you for only a little while. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn't overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going. As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.” After Jesus said these things, he went away and hid from them.
Let us pray:
Majestic Jesus, shine a light in our hearts today as we walk with you towards the cross.  Can we give our lives over to you?  Can we walk the path that you've set before us?  Speak into our lives today, strengthen us to overcome the ways of this world that we might magnify your light for those around us.  Amen.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Monday 2014

Today's Gospel reading - John 12:1-11 - Mary anoints Jesus’ feet

Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table.  Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume.  Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained,  “This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn't it sold and the money given to the poor?” ( He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)
Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it.  You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”
Many Jews learned that he was there. They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  The chief priests decided that they would kill Lazarus too.  It was because of Lazarus that many of the Jews had deserted them and come to believe in Jesus. [CEB]

Let us pray:
Almighty God, the world tells us not to believe in miracles, that they can't be, that you can't be.  The world also tells us to look out for number one, to focus on our own gain.  God, help us to show the world that the miracles of Your Son were just a foreshadowing of glory divine.  Help us to show the world that the extravagant generosity of the life of Jesus, not an extravagant life focused on self, is the true call of Christ.  We seek a holy life, closer to you this week especially, as we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the good of the world.  Amen.

Friday, March 28, 2014

7 Last Words - "My God, my God ..."

Last week we continued our journey through the Passion Narratives of the four gospels with the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross.

We pick things up with Christ shouting to God, in pain.

It brings up questions of what the atonement of Christ means ... What does it mean that he died for us on the cross?  What is actually happening?  Which of course means we have to talk about the Chronicles of Narnia.

March 23, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

7 Last Words - "Woman, here is your son ..."

For our 2014 season of Lent, our faith family is following the prescribed order for the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross, a special way of observing this season by drawing out the final words of Christ from across the Gospels.

I picked up the series with the third word, from the Gospel of John, "Woman, here is your son ... Son, here is your mother."

Who was Mary to Jon the Evangelist?  Who is the beloved disciple?  Why do they matter to John?

March 16, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Millennials and the "Age of Individualism"

As a young adult pastor (and as an an official YA by UMC standards for the next 3 years), I tend to soak up writing and research on millennial issues.  As we all probably should.  I find it fun to drop a little bit of new knowledge when I have the opportunity to go to one of our older adult Sunday School classes - and they eat it up.  Most of our classes have a real desire to figure a way forward for the church, seeing tangibly the way that young families, college students, and youth have drifted away from the church over time.

I drop in with the latest material from Barna, Pew Research, Relevant Magazine ... And they listen.  They want to know most of all how they can fix things as I'm the age of their children and grandchildren in some cases.  It's always a ton of fun to chat.

But where do I often meet resistance?  When I put the onus on the previous generation for the problems of the current one.

Case in point - this article The Age of Individualism, by NYTimes columnist Ross Douthat.  It's pretty cynical stuff, based on a fascinating report from the Pew Research Center that I dare everyone to read.

Douthat discusses the Millennial generation's penchant for going out on its own.  Becoming more and more individualistic.  No political party is good enough.  Being left wing and right wing at the same time.  Limited trust of leadership.  Not so much the marrying types.  Less patriotic.

It's all kind true, I guess.

But in a way it's super not.  We didn't just enter into an age of individualism - it's been here for a very long time.

Speaking as a Christian, the church is my chosen wheelhouse.  I'm not an expert at much, really.  But I do know this - the individualistic nature of the millennial generation (the 'me' generation as I hear it lovingly called in the church) is a learned behavior.

My faith is my faith.  I don't want you in my business.  Don't hold me accountable.  Tradition is trash.

Some millennials say these things.  Truly however, I can't speak for all millennials, we have no time for a faith that doesn't want to build community.  We have no time that's going to help us do anything that isn't going to help build a better community, better lives for others.  Among the young adults I'm in ministry with on a daily basis the term accountability is something that is longed for.

It's happening in spite of what our parents taught us.  I admit, however, that my parents have gone against the boomer grain - they didn't just go to church when I was a kid, they sought to be the church.  I am who I am very much because they are who they are.

If people want millennials to grow to be less individualistic, less about 'me', it starts with people not just saying this things, offering these bits of analysis.  It starts with conversation.  Conversation, communion, is a tradition that's being trashed.  Time to recycle.  

I'm not saying that the current crop of young adults is totally absolved of the sin of thinking that they can go it alone.  However, ministry happens in community, and community happens in outreach.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Method: Our Wesleyan Way - "Free Grace"

Here's the wrap-up to our 8 week series on Wesleyan beliefs, ending with the big one - GRACE.

It was a lot of fun to dig in here, it's a bit of a lecture on the four steps of grace - prevenient, justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying.  We crammed a lot in, but it was great to end things on a high note!

March 2, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why I'm giving up my time for Lent

In the last few months it's been a little hard to maintain this blog to level I'm used to.  My time is being eaten up lately, by school, work ... but not as much by family.  At least not as much for my family as it should.

Last week I had two mid-terms.  Two weeks before that I had two major papers due in the same week.  I will say this - I'm blessed to have a wife and kid who understand when dad needs to study rather than play, read rather than go out, write rather than sit back on the couch with a glass of wine.

Although we make time for all of these things, it's tough, and we have to literally schedule everything in.  Leanne and I have a family meeting every Sunday night after the kid goes to bed just to walk through the week's schedule.  It's crucial time.  We're both spread out, both trying to bring excellence to our careers while I'm also trying to win at school.

We're doing a whole lot of thing at once these days.  And trying to be awesome at it.  But sometimes we come up short.

A lot of that has to do with time, which there's just not enough of.

So, as a family, and it just kind of happened, we're giving up time during Lent, or rather, giving time to each other as a family, and to our friends.  We're hoping to find renewal, that calm and quiet center, that the season of Lent is calling us to.

Three things have come together in just the last week where we'll be focusing more time for team building, toddler raising, and good discussion.

  1. Leanne went to see author, speaker, and UMC clergyperson, Rev. Leanne Hadley last week give a seminar on family prayer.  Leanne, was pretty fired up about it, so we decided during Lent that we'd give her model of family prayer time with little ones a try during Lent.  The first time was last night.  We read scripture, colored, and prayed as a family, giving little man a chance to share what he could.  All in about 20 minutes.  It went pretty well!
  2. After the kid is off to bed on Sunday nights, Leanne and are reading Love to Stay, by Adam Hamilton together.  We haven't done any kind of book study together since pre-marital counseling.  We figured this was a good one to do together, and the church had everything we needed.  Every marriage needs 'regularly scheduled maintenance', so we're setting aside about an hour to go through a chapter a week.
  3. We're hosting another online Bible study for young adults during Lent.  Sure, this one is technically work ... but, any time devoted to discussion of the Word is good for the soul, and something I don't do enough of in my church context.  Bible study only done at seminary doesn't lead to a balanced theological life.  We kick things off tonight, tying our study to our sermon series on the Seven Last Words of Christ.
Time is at a premium in all of our lives, but it's through the giving of our time that we can not only make room for the friends and family around us, but make room for the Lord to come in and stir things up - which as I understand it, is the whole point of the season of Lent.

How much time do you devote to your people in the name of Jesus?  Maybe rather than giving up caffeine, or chocolate, or Facebook, it's time to think of what we're called to take in during this wonderful season of prayer and introspection.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Health Kits and Worship

When the earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, the church I was serving in Louisiana did something monumental.

We cancelled Sunday school.

We cancelled Sunday school  the following Sunday and took a mission trip as a church to our fellowship hall where we, as the church, packed UMCOR Health Kits to be shipped to Haiti, via UMCOR's warehouse in Sager Brown.  In one hour, 400 people came together to back a 2,000 kits or so.

For that church, offering an opportunity to provide that kind of relief was second nature.  When Katrina hit their area of LA, UMCOR was quickly on the scene with a trailer of bottled water and flood buckets, essentials for nourishment and hygiene when all of those things most people take for granted were nowhere to be found.  In response to the generous outpouring of God's love through God's people it became one of the most mission-oriented churches in the area.

That morning three years ago was the genesis for our worship service this last Sunday.  I offered up the preaching time for our contemporary service to take on a missional experience in the fellowship hall where we worship every Sunday morning.  Our missions committee gathered supplies over the last several weeks, getting buy-in from nearly every small group ministry of the church.  We had the supplies to back 300 health kits during worship, and that's exactly what we did together.

It's special to have a multi-use worship space, where we have the ability to create a hybrid experience of worship and mission in the same place.  We began with the elements of our normal worship, with song, prayer, and offering.  I offered a short devotional and then we moved into packing the kits, children, youth and adults walking down the assembly line together as a family.  A multi-generational mission activity, and it took about 30 minutes in total to pack the 303 health kits.  It was slow to start as people found their rhythm, but completely worth it.  People didn't get impatient.  People helped our children.  People got to work, bringing together service and worship.

After all, don't we call it the worship service?   Don't we refer to our orders of worship as 'the liturgy' - the work of the people?

We had to pause in the middle of the packing to offer Holy Communion and formally conclude the worship service, but by the time I'd gotten through the benediction, all supplies had been packed and worship clocked in at just over an hour.  It was epic.  It was moving.  It was fun.

Initially it felt like a risk, but then it just felt like it was something the Spirit was calling on us to do.  303 Health Kits were offered to the world, for the Glory of God last Sunday in worship at FUMC Arlington.  Is that radical hospitality?  Risk-taking mission and service?  Maybe both, but most of all, it was just right.  Think about it - we're always trying to find ways to get people to go somewhere, and that is very important - to go places and do good works.  But not everyone can do that.  Are there more ways to bring a mission experience to the people?  This was an easy one, and too easy not to pass on.

How is your church innovating ways to create multi-generational mission experiences?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Method: Our Wesleyan Way - "Upon Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount"

Last week we continued our sermon series Method: Our Wesleyan way with a glimpse into John Wesley's thought on the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel Lectionary stream right now.

Wesley published 13 of his own sermons on this great discourse from Jesus in Matthew's Gospel, which goes to show how much we could say on this one (or many ...) message from Jesus.

We tackled what it means to be salty, what it means to be light, heading towards what Wesleyan Christians refer to as 'holiness of heart and life'.

February 9, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Upon Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount

If you've read this blog at all lately, you know that my church is in the midst of a preaching series on Wesleyan beliefs, Method: Our Wesleyan Way.  It's been great fun to preach, mostly has it's been a call to dig into the sermons of John Wesley as weekly inspiration.

This week, the text is Matthew 5:13-20, which encompass sermons 4 and 5 of John Wesley's preaching series, "Upon Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount".  As it's a lot to get through, I've mostly focused on sermon 4, which has a lot of wisdom to share on our Wesleyan drive to bring together a holiness of heart and life.  To be salt and light.

Just a few quotes that I dig:

First, I shall endeavour to show, that Christianity is essentially a social religion; and that to turn it into a solitary religion, is indeed to destroy it.

 "Ye" (Christians, ye that are lowly, serious and meek; ye that hunger after righteousness, that love God and man, that do good to all, and therefore suffer evil; ye) "are the salt of the earth:" It is your very nature to season whatever is round about you. It is the nature of the divine savour which is in you, to spread to whatsoever you touch; to diffuse itself, on every side, to all those among whom you are. This is the great reason why the providence of God has so mingled you together with other men, that whatever grace you have received of God may through you be communicated to others; that every holy temper, and word, and work of yours, may have an influence on lo them also. By this means a check will, in some measure, be given to the corruption which is in the world; and a small part, at least, saved from the general infection, and rendered holy and pure before God.

A believer may fall, and not fall away. He may fall and rise again. And if he should fall, even into sin, yet this case, dreadful as it is, is not desperate. For "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins."
And finally ...
So impossible it is, to keep our religion from being seen, unless we cast it away; so vain is the thought of hiding the light, unless by putting it out! Sure it is, that a secret, unobserved religion, cannot be the religion of Jesus Christ. Whatever religion can be concealed, is not Christianity. If a Christian could be hid, he could not be compared to a city set upon an hill; to the light of the world, the sun shining from heaven, and seen by all the world below. Never, therefore, let it enter into the heart of him whom God hath renewed in the spirit of his mind, to hide that light, to keep his religion to himself; especially considering it is not only impossible to conceal true Christianity, but likewise absolutely contrary to the design of the great Author of it.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Picture of Why Facebook Matters to the Church

Have you seen this image before?  It's currently the cover photo on Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook profile.  Dated September 24, 2013, it shows the friendship connections made through Facebook on a global scale.  I'm sure it's out of date as I write this entry 6 months later, but I think it makes a serious case for the presence of the church on Facebook and other notable social media platforms.

But I'm not just talking about your church's FB page - which every church should have by the way, it's a free website for crying out loud - but I'm also thinking of how we-the-people-who-are-the-Body-of-Christ inhabit this "third space".

Sunday we discussed Micah 6:8, one of the easiest scriptures/commandments from the Lord to remember there is.  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.  Short, simple, to the point.  The Gospel in a nutshell, really.  But how do we do that on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like?  We Christians love to dispense various brands of justice on social media don't we?  We're quick to judge and share those judgement.

And people are quick to unfollow those that do.  A click and you're done.  That's it.  I have 871 'friends' on FB (I'm sure many of you have more), accrued over nearly 10 years of usage.  That's quite the potential reach, especially if you count the worlds of people that each of my FB friends also reach.  But we're all just a click away from being unsubscribed to if we're offensive, bully, or generally take things too far.

Right now, there are some 1.26 billion Facebook users out there, many of whom waiting to have the love of Christ to be revealed to them.  Facebook is a global fellowship, how are you like Jesus there?  Do you just seek justice?  Or do you love mercy as well on social media?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Method: Our Wesleyan Way - "The Way to the Kingdom"

Last week in worship we discussed heaven, or really, the Kingdom of Heaven (or of God depending on your gospel/version choice).

When Christ talks about Heaven, he speaks of it as if it was right next door to us, right now.  How do we find it?  When do we see it?  What does it take to get there?

January 26, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Praying Over a Stethoscope

I'm kinda new to the pastoring game, but I had a fun moment yesterday after worship - I said a prayer over a stethoscope.

A stethoscope.

A congregant just received her RN (I hope I'm saying that correctly) in October, and she's specifically felt called to be a minister of health to the aged in the Arlington area.  She asked me a couple of weeks ago if she brought her stethoscope up to worship whether I would say a prayer over it for her.  I was surprised by the request, but told her that it would be my pleasure.

She brought it to me yesterday, and we knelt at the altar and said a prayer for her ministry as a new nurse, for all of the people that the stethoscope would touch, and for the strength she would need in her new calling.

It was a great moment.  Some days this job is incredibly hard, but little things like this break through and show me what heaven can be like right here.

Just curious ... What's the strangest thing a person has ever asked you to pray over?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Method: Our Wesleyan Way - "The Difference Between Walking by Sight and Walking by Faith"

This week's message was the second in our sermon series Method: Our Wesleyan Way.  We're attempting to wade through the hot topics of our beliefs as United Methodist, turning to John Wesley and his sermons as inspiration in addition to the scriptures of the lectionary.

Last week was baptism, this week was faith.  We have a lot to learn from a few disciples that could just drop everything and follow, but I don't think we're called to that kind of blind faith anymore.  Faith is believing without seeing, but at the same time, can we not see Christ in one another?

I also briefly refer to a modern-day Saint of the church as we remember the life and message of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 19, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown

As we head into our third week of our series on Wesleyan Christian beliefs, this week we tackle John Wesley's thoughts on heaven, the Kingdom of God, and how to get there.  It's a tough subject to tackle, but in his sermon "The Way to the Kingdom" he's pretty clear that the Kingdom of Heaven is something that is meant to be enjoyed here and now.  It is meant to be pursued in the immediate, that we can experience heaven on earth.

How?  By pursuing the love of God, which is also all around us, running amok in our daily lives whether we like it or not.

Wheresoever therefore, the gospel of Christ is preached, this his "kingdom is nigh at hand."  It is not far from every one of you.  Ye may this hour enter thereinto, if so be ye hearken to his voice, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel. (John Wesley, The Way to the Kingdom)

For me, it kind of strikes me that God has actually been in pursuit of us all along, that God has already done all of the hard work of reconciliation, and that all we must do is say "Yes" to the Kingdom's entrance into our hearts.

I've been spending time this week with the text of Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown, by Charles Wesley, a stirring and emotional text that describes Charles' own faith journey, mirroring the struggle of Jacob with God at Peniel.

Stanza one (UMH 386):

Come, O thou Traveler unknown who still I hold, but cannot see!My company before is gone, and I am left alone with thee.With thee all night I mean to stay, and wrestle til the break of day;With thee all night I mean to stay, and wrestle till the break of day

And stanza four:

'Tis love!  'Tis love! Thou diedst for me, I hear thy whisper in  my heart.The morning breaks, the shadows flee, pure, Universal Love thou art.To me, to all, thy mercies move; thy nature and thy name is Love.To me, to all, thy mercies move; thy nature and thy name is Love.

It's one of the few hymns that we have in the hymnal by Charles that actually includes the full text, UMH 387, it was originally published in 1742 under the title "Wrestling Jacob".  Charles was John's younger brother, but John outlived him, his partner in ministry and friend, by three years.  After the full text in the hymnal, there is a short piece of history given in our hymnal:

John Wesley ended his obituary tribute to his brother Charles at the Methodist Conference in 1788.  "His least praise was his talent for poetry: although Dr. [Isaac] Watts did not scruple to say that 'that single poem, Wrestling Jacob, was worth all the verses he himself had written." A little over two weeks after his brother's death, John Wesley tried t teach the hymn at Bolton, but broke down when he came to the lines "my company before is gone and I am left alone with thee."

I've gone on a little bit longer than I intended on this piece already, but that little story gets me every time I read it.  Love pursues us right now.  That's the narrative the church needs to be preaching, without putting stumbling blocks in front of it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Method: Our Wesleyan Way - "The Marks of the New Birth"

This week we launched our latest sermon series Method: Our Wesleyan way here at FUMC Arlington.  Since we began the series with Baptism of the Lord Sunday, we focused on the basics of our baptismal theology in the Wesleyan tradition.

Things turned into a little bit of a lecture this week, as I've been fielding a lot of questions on baptism, especially infant baptism lately.  Here's how things turned out for week 1:

January 12, 2014 - Celebation from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, January 13, 2014

An Awkwardly Good Baptism Remembrance

Yesterday we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord in all of our worship services.  Although my main assignment on Sunday mornings is to preach at our contemporary service, I also float around to our other (traditional) worship services as a liturgist and occasional preacher.

Our second traditional style worship service serves communion every week, it's a different layout than most traditional services to accommodate the sacrament and it was something we had planned around for our liturgy of baptism remembrance.  Yes, I realize that our Book of Worship liturgies highly suggest that you serve Holy Communion following the remembrance, but ... well ... logistics.

So, we stuck faithfully to the service of baptism remembrance in the UMBOW, nothing fancy.  Our pastor went through the liturgy and poured the water.  I then walked the basin up the center aisle, stopping every few paces, calling on the people to remember their baptisms and be thankful.  Pretty standard stuff!  I then walked the basin back up and place it on the altar table to proceed with communion.  

That's when and awkward miracle happened.

I had the center station and we were going through the line at a good clip.  No nonsense whatsoever.

But then, a woman who I'd never met before stepped forward in line.  I'd already broken off a piece of bread for her when she looked at me and said, "Can I go up and touch the water?  I just want to touch the water."

I glanced back up the stairs to the basin and then back at her and said, "Go right ahead."

She quickly, boldly, walked up the steps and touched the water, and walked back down to get back in line for communion.

The choir member serving with me looked slightly mortified while this was going on and asked me what she was doing.  I just looked at her and shrugged, "She just wanted to touch the water."

Sometimes the Spirit calls on us to drop the formalities for a second.  I would never say that our traditional services are too traditional or rigid, but they are 'high church' to be sure - and done very, very well.  But sometimes, we just need to let people touch the water.  I was proud to be this woman's pastor yesterday, even though this easily could have crept into worship blooper territory.  It was a bold move to walk up those steps and touch that water in remembrance.

Things like that can happen when a person is in the Spirit.  I'm thankful to have been a part of that simple, awkward, moment.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hope is on the Way Conclusion: What Gift Did God Bring?

Sunday marked the close of our epic journey from Advent to Epiphany.  It was a blessed time from Sunday to Sunday, my first sermon series to compose from scratch.  We concluded with the poetic and musical creation/birth narrative from John 1.

The questions we asked: What gift did God bring us with the birth of Christ?

And ...

What do we do with that gift?

January 5, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, January 6, 2014

John Wesley on Baptism

This week we'll be kicking off our eight week, lectionary based sermon series on United Methodist beliefs, Method: Our Wesleyan Way.

Searching through John Wesley's A Treatise on Baptism, it seems prudent when talking about baptism from a Wesleyan perspective, to listen to the man himself.

Just a few quotes from the document that strike me!
"What it is. It is the initiatory sacrament, which enters us into covenant with God. It was instituted by Christ, who alone has power to institute a proper sacrament, a sign, seal, pledge, and means of grace, perpetually obligatory on all Christians. We know not, indeed, the exact time of its institution; but we know it was long before our Lord’s ascension. And it was instituted in the room of circumcision. For, as that was a sign and seal of God’s covenant, so is this. 
The matter of this sacrament is water; which, as it has a natural power of cleansing, is the more fit for this symbolical use. Baptism is performed by washing, dipping, or sprinkling the person, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who is hereby devoted to the ever-blessed Trinity. I say, by washing, dipping, or sprinkling; because it is not determined in Scripture in which of these ways it shall be done, neither by any express precept, nor by any such example as clearly proves it; nor by the force or meaning of the word baptize. 
And as there is no clear proof of dipping in Scripture, so there is very probable proof of the contrary. It is highly probable, the Apostles themselves baptized great numbers, not by dipping, but by washing, sprinkling, or pouring water. This clearly represented the cleansing from sin, which is figured by baptism. And the quantity of water used was not material; no more than the quantity of bread and wine in the Lord’s supper. 
What are the benefits we receive by baptism, is the next point to be considered. And the first of these is, the washing away the guilt of original sin, by the application of the merits  of Christ’s death ...  By baptism we enter into covenant with God; into that everlasting covenant, which he hath commanded for ever ... By baptism we are admitted into the Church, and consequently made members of Christ, its Head ...  By baptism, we who were “by nature children of wrath” are made the children of God.
Towards the middle-end of the document, Mr. Wesley goes on a bit of a tear against those who would oppose infant baptism, after an eloquent justification of infant baptism.  He answers a few 'questions', and this response, as it also goes to the rights of women:
It is objected, Thirdly, “There is no command for it in Scripture. Now, God was angry with his own people, because they did that which, he said, ‘I commanded them not.’ (Jer. vii. 31.) One plain text would end all the dispute.”  
I answer, (1.) We have reason to fear it would not. It is as positively commanded in a very plain text of Scripture, that we should “teach and admonish one another with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to the Lord with grace in our hearts,” (Eph. v. 19,) as it is to honour our father and mother: But does this put an end to all dispute? Do not these very persons absolutely refuse to do it, notwithstanding a plain text, an express command?  
I answer, (2.) They themselves practise what there is neither express command nor clear example for in Scripture. They have no express command for baptizing women. They say, indeed, “Women are implied in ‘all nations.’” They are; and so are infants too: But the command is not express for either And for admitting women to the Lord’s supper, they have neither express command nor clear example. Yet they do it continually, without either one or the other. And they are justified therein by the plain reason of the thing. This also justifies us in baptizing infants, though without express command or clear example. 

John Wesley is an awful fun read, and I'm so excited to dig a little deeper over the next few weeks into the foundations of our faith movement.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

An Online Bible Study Road Map

One of the things that we're blessed with at FUMCA is a diverse young adult program, with a lot to offer each generation of young adults.  From college students, to post college, to young careers and families, to business owners, we run the gamut of life change from the early 20s to mid-30s and beyond.  We have several small groups, but we figured it would be nice to get everybody together in one place for a study for the season of Advent.  But how do you gather people from different walks of life, with varying levels of real-life business, in one space without creating a burden?

Our answer was venturing in the online study realm.  It's not a new thing, but I noticed that not a whole lot of people are trying it in the UMC, so I thought I'd drop out a road map for what we did - because it worked.

I can't take credit for the whole thing.  Before committing to leading anything, I first reached out to a friend of mine and fellow candidate for ministry, Kyle Roberson, Online Community Developer of White's Chapel UMC in Southlake, TX.  Gotta give credit where credit is due!  Kyle has tried and researched multiple formats, so it was great to pick his brain on where to go.

In weighing options, I decided the best way to go was - free.  So, here's the who, what, when, where, why, and how of our online study.

The Why

Our church frequently facilitates seasonal, short-term studies.  They can be quite fruitful, as they can pull people from across generations and get people together that wouldn't normally study together.  But we needed something that wasn't typical, and wasn't at the church.

The Who

Young adults from 18-35, with all of the various generational changes therein.  We ended up with two college students, one graduate student, four families (all with young kids), one man without his spouse, and my wife and I.  All plugged into various small groups.

The When

We needed a time that was good for young families with kids and college students that might have a more adventurous night life.  So we landed on Monday nights during the season of Advent from 8:30 to 9:15 PM.  Short and sweet.

The What

We studied the Bible.  The focus was on the study being free and low-maintenance for participants.  It was built out of our Advent sermon series, with discussion questions generated from the message of the week.  The overall focus was on how God was calling us to turn away from the life the world calls us to into the hope we have in a repentant life in Christ.  We kept it pretty simple and focused on discussion, with three separate 'topics' each session.

Overall, the format started with gathering, prayer, reading of the scripture, discussion, and closing thoughts with motivation for the week.  We always ended with something to be thinking about or doing, some kind of response.

The How ...

We chose the Google+ Hangouts on Air as our meeting place.  It's free, and it has natural limitations that are quite helpful.  For one, it's limited to 10 computers participating in the chat itself, which is perfect for discussion.  Me, plus nine others seemed to go really well.  We had more than 10 participants on some night (several married couples), but it didn't seem to get too bogged down and people were able to participate in the discussion as they felt called to.  More people than that, however, and not everybody gets to join the discussion, which is the whole point.  Hangouts can also be recorded, which is also nice.  The Hangouts post to your Youtube account through Google (has to be set up in advance!), and they can be made private to only be shared within the group.  One thing to be careful of with the chats, is that if you don't take off the "Public" option, anybody can view the chats even if they can't participate.  We set this up to be a covenant small group, so we never wanted things to be viewed publicly.  Which brings us to the next major item for the format ...

I set up a private blog through Google Blogger as a place to post discussion questions in advance as well as the chat videos.  Blogger is very user friendly as a basic blogging platform.  You can set it up as an invite only space that can only be viewed by discussion participants.  This makes it a sacred space for discussion and sharing.  I found it to be an excellent place to post ideas, and our participants used it to prepare for discussion at their leisure.  I usually had up discussion questions the Thursday before the Monday night study, but they had the plan for the study itself (scripture and topics) before the study formally started.

Google has all the right pieces to make an online study work, but it all works best if participants have a Google account.  Again - it's FREE!

The Results

This study was a success any way you slice and dice it.  One of the things my friend Kyle counciled me on was having clear parameters for the study.  Date, time, beginning and end.  This was set up as a short term study, and people really dug that; it enabled us to dig into the themes of the season really well.  I'm seminary educated, sure, but any lay person can do what I've done to set this up and go with the proper preparation.

All in all, we had the full nine people/families participate.  I think there was only one date out of four when all were present, but many went to the videos (I posted them to the blog the day after) to get up to speed on where we were if they missed.

There were some technological hiccups along the way.  The first night we tried to use my laptop for the study, and it didn't have the processing speed to handle it.  So we had to quickly switch to my wife's Mac to start things off.  And I'll admit, even with practice, it took me a few sessions to get used to starting the chats off, for which my more fluent in Google+ wife was a saving grace.  Some had wifi issues, others had computer issues as I did.  I highly recommend doing a practice chat in advance, or having your people make sure that they have installed all of the necessary plugins for Google+ (if that's what you use) before the first chat.  I tried to be sure to put the invite out at least 5 minutes before starting to give people time to get in and settled.  You also have to have solid wifi and strong bandwidth to use this platform, but part of the benefit of sticking with the Young Adult niche was not having to do a lot of hand holding with the technology.

We concluded our run with a potluck at my house as a little family.  That was worth it in and of itself.  A lot of relationships were built that probably wouldn't have otherwise, and that's church to me.  But even if we couldn't gather in person, we proved through our time together that two or three or fifteen could gather in a space on the internet and the Lord was there.  Thanks be to God for being able to experience the Word of God and the Spirit of God in new and fun ways.

Have you ever led or participated in a study online?  How do you do it and how did it go for you?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Christmas Eve Message - Hope Has Arrived!

A short reflection after hearing Luke's Christmas Story.

What would life be like for you if you ditched fear as the angels tell us to?

December 24, 2013 - 4:00 Sermon from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.