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Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

Too Bright

One of the great advantages of being a pastor is the over abundance of junk mail.  It is amazing how much advertising is done in the name of Jesus… or in the name of church growth.  I should also say it is amazing how much bad advertising is done in the name of Jesus.  I don’t know if we are trying to advertise Jesus or legitimize our junky product.  Did you know that there is a dance class in Texas called “Pole Dancing for Jesus”… seriously, it’s an exercise class. But as my relatives in Jersey say, “Whaddaya gonna do?”

Most of the junk I receive goes in the trash or I slip it into my youth ministers inbox. But, a few times a year I get the coveted free pen.  Usually they are junk, but once in awhile there is a nice balanced shiny writing pen.  Today did not disappoint.  Today’s pen had a flashlight imbedded in its end.  Yes, I am a sucker for free flashlight pens.

I noticed something though.  If the light is on it shines in your eye when you are writing.  The pen cannot simultaneously work effectively as a writing utensil and an object of illumination… some might argue that is the problem with most writings in our world.  I thought wouldn’t it be great if the light shined the other way so I could write in the dark.  Light actually revealing what I am doing instead of hindering what I am doing.

I wondered at the numerous illustrations of the goodness of light in our life.  We are told to “go to the light”.  Let the “light of Christ” reveal your path.  The “lights” came on and I could see clearly.  The list can go on.  But how many times are we “blinded by the light”?  How often do we come out of that dark restaurant (Mojo’s BBQ) and are hit with a hint of sunlight and feel like Paul getting knocked off his horse  with blindness cowering to the ground yelling “my world, my world”… what, only me?  How many times does light seem to work against us?

During this period of fasting, I have found myself too often faced with the blinding light of God.  At first I am like my daughter who says “it’s too bright for me daddy” and the little gremlin that I am wants to shy away.  They say there is no insult like the truth.  Is that how I take God’s light?  Is it an insult?  How arrogant and self centered I am to think that anything contrary to me is insulting or harmful.  I have Dennis Hopper yelling “Perspective, Man!” in my ear.

Coming face to face with the light of Christ, the revealing nature of God’s love, is not his condemnation.  He is not even insulting me.  God is in the business of revelation, truth, and love.  His light isn’t to blind me at all.  It is revealing a better way.

There are a couple of ways in which to protect your eyes from a blinding light.  You can cover your eyes and keep walking, in which case you are still blind and stumbling.  You can endure the pain and eventually be permanently blind.  You can turn around with your back to the light and have the light wash over you and reveal a shadowy path ahead of you.  In which case you will see shadows of yourself blocking a clear path. Or, you can get next to the one holding the light and see what they see and step where they step.

His blinding love is not an insult, but an invitation.  If I want to see clearly, I have to start walking with the one who has the light.

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The Odd Art of Fasting

Fasting.  Why do we participate in such an odd thing?  We work all our life to obtain, and here we are declaring our fast from those things we thought we were looking for.  Our very act of fast seems to denounce the hard work we have put in to the consumption we were previously engaged in and will soon take up again. No matter what your reason for fasting, frankly, it’s weird.

However, maybe it is not our fast that is weird, but our own behavior.  We fast for 40 days during lent for various reasons.  Some have discovered that they are addicted to certain things, so in order to move away from those things they refrain from consuming said things. At least for 40 days.  Why is that weird? Because we admit that these are things not healthy for us, yet we go back to them after 40 days.  We spend our fast longing for that which is unhealthy.  Honestly, it is like a spiritual bathing suit diet.  I don’t really want to be healthy, but I’d like to at least look good once in awhile.

But the Biblical fast was less about abstaining from and more about focusing on.  Fasts were called for in order to focus and pray intently on a serious matter, to prepare for different tasks.  Biblical fasts generally were about moving toward God to hear his voice, to see his face.   The most famous fast we have is Jesus’ fast.  He wasn’t fasting to abstain from sins in his life, but in preparation to follow and depend upon every movement of the Father.

The other thing about Biblical fasting is that it always involved food.  I doubt Jesus was a glutton.  (Judging by all the paintings, he was either a competitive swimmer or a troubadour singer from the 60’s.) What Jesus was doing was living by the real essence of fundamental living; the truth of God. Even before shelter, food, and clothing, we need the presence of God in our life and to feed on that presence.

I don’t know about you, but that is a reality I need to revisit often and put to the test.  This lenten season I have decided to fast from lunches everyday and a full fast once a week.  I have learned several things about myself.  1. I snack a lot.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have slapped my hand as I have mindlessly reached for a cookie or cracker or my daughters PB&J.  2. I can justify about anything.  My first full fast was very tough in the beginning.  Missing dinner while making dinner for Sydney was a true test.  I kept coming back to the prayer of “let me feed on your presence in my life, Lord”.  I almost caved several times.  3. God is faithful.  In those moments of weakness, I was able to look to the Lord and find strength and even joy.

I had to let go of one frame of mind and grab on to another.  I had to let go of one dependence and find another.  When I looked at this fast as a task, as something to simply complete, I would think, “I need to eat a big meal so I can make it through missing my next meal”.  Then, when the Lord kindly reminded me why I was doing this I changed and thought, “He has food for me that will satisfy the depth of my being”.

I won’t lie, I am very hungry right now, but giving this hunger to God I find that he fills me with a comfort and strength no steak every could.  I’m not fasting in order to appreciate more what I have an abundance of, to abstain from unhealthy behaviors, to prove my strength of will, or even to obtain some mystical experience.  I fast so that I might focus more clearly upon the presence and reality of God and to take him on his word that he sustains all my needs and that they begin with him.  I fast, not to be deprived, but to feast. The absence of food in my life doesn’t make me miss food because fasting is not about the absence of a basic need, but about the presence of the primary need;  God in my life.

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Lent is traditionally a time for self-reflection with an emphasis on the distance we put between us and God through our sin.  Fasting is one discipline we use to help us receive God’s reconciling grace in order to close that gap.  I have been thinking about that hymn, Solid Rock  “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less”…”  and wondering where my hope rests, wondering what are the foundations that widen the distance between me and my God.  Here is a video introduction to my sermon series exploring this question.

To hear this weeks sermon click here. This weeks sermon is titled, How Firm a Foundation.

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Tombstone Trophies

The clutter of life piles in pillars.  Monuments to my insatiable appetite. They are prophets of emptiness.  These pillars, these statues, these tombstone trophies of perishing reminders that I have not found what I seek. Yet I still listen to their comforting whispers and warning shouts.  Despite the collection of dust that rests on their muzzle, I hear their words as wisdom.  Why else would I spend vast amounts of life being consumed by my consumption?  Why else would I listen to these false prophets; these dogs of desire?

The creeks, cries, and calls of my life no longer sound dissonant.  Their familiarity breeds content.  I rest in denial though I’ve been denied nothing.

Fast. Fasting. Cross. Cross Bearing. Die. Dying.

These are the dissonant words I hear.  An ill struck chord that shakes my teeth. A sound I mistake as out-of-place.  Discovery is disconcerting.  Truth unwavering.  Moving past the rattling in my mouth I hear my weariness.  I hear my weakness.  I hear my salvation.  These new words, these monumental words, these trying words are not dissonant.  They are not new.  An echo through time of symphonic bliss. A river of truth, inviting winds of change, reveal that what I had called comforting whispers before was but a crying baby in a symphony hall.

Fast. Fasting. Cross. Cross Bearing. Die. Dying.

These are not elements of a bleak life.  These are not elements of a suffocating religion.

These are the means of grace in which I am purged of my addictions.                                                                                                                                                              These are the means of grace in which I am cleansed of my consumption.                                                                                                                                                     These are the means of grace in which I find what I am looking for.

It is not death to die, but to Live is Christ.

To Live Is Christ.

to LIVE is CHRIST!

I once denied nothing, yet had nothing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I now deny all, and find what I seek

Life. Overflowing life. Abundant life.

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Palm Sunday March 28, 2010

  • Season: Lent
  • Sermon: The Only Hope
  • Scripture: Matthew 26: 14- 27:66
  • Songs:

9:30AM Service

  1. First and The Last
  2. Hosanna
  3. Faith Finders (children’s choir); Hands and Feet & Firm Foundation
  4. offertory:  The Only Hope
  5. Communion: My Jesus I Love Thee
  6. Greatest Love: Solo Deb Felts
  7. There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood
  8. The Power of The Cross

I had great pleasure worshipping this past Sunday.  Several years ago, while I was in seminary, I helped lead worship at an anglican church.  On Palm Sunday of that year, we did not have a large Palm Sunday production but simply had people read the scripture that described Jesus’ last days.  There was something very powerful in listening to different people read the different dialogue in scripture and it made it abundantly clear that our Holy Word, is not simply a historical account of the past, but a living testimony to a living God.  When I have my choice, I generally prefer this kind of presentation for Palm Sunday.

The goal of any worship service is to draw people into the presence of God and to interact with God corporately.  This is one of the reason churches use liturgies with songs and responsive reading.  My hope this past Sunday was to create an environment in which we could participate together in our worship of God.  Now, I could share with you what I wanted to happen, but let me, rather, share with you what I experienced.

Before the service, life was chaotic for me.  I was out of breath and tired and anxious.  The band needed to run through the music and deal with slide and sound issues, the children needed to rehearse their music for the same reason, and I had yet to find time to meet with those who had so wonderfully volunteered to read, in order to let them know when and where they would be reading.  I was running short on time and I was really concerned to create a worship service that would enhance and not distract from worship.  The good news is that with God, showing up and letting go is sometimes the best thing we can do.  So that is what I decided to do.  This is all I have Lord, here you go.  The reality settles in.  This is worship and not a performance.  The difference, worship is not a production but comes from what we bring to the table.  If my best is horrible and I give it to God, he makes it wonderful.

Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  People threw their coats down and they cut down palms.  I am sure it was loud.  I am sure many were ecstatic.  I am sure many ignored it all together.  Ministry was offered to all, but only those paying attention, got it.  You see, God was there before we were on Sunday morning.  There was chaos around, sure, but God always speaks into the chaos and brings order.  We sang together.  We celebrated together.  We delighted in the talents of others.  We delighted in the presence of our neighbors.  Do you know why so many people were here Sunday morning?  Because you were here Sunday morning.  We paid attention to one another and to God.  I could hear the sound of ministry in the words of scripture, in the movement of feet as you shuffled forward to receive communion.  I certainly heard it when nails were being hammered into the cross.  One of the discussions we had in planning the service was if hammering would interfere with the delicate song we were singing called “there is a fountain”.  I hoped it would.  Christ’s forgiveness should never be ignored. The sacrifice is to loud to drown out, but if we listen closely enough the clanging hammer becomes the song of our soul. It is a song of freedom.  Tragic to be sure, but that is the glory of it all.  As tragic as the crucifixion was, its work was left void because of the resurrection.  We hear the hammers blow, but we also hear the stone roll.  Did you hear yourselves sing the “Power of The Cross”?  Well, you sang it like you believed it.  I hope you believe it. That is what I experienced on Sunday morning.  I hope you enter Easter knowing the stone has been rolled away.

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I have sent in the request, but I have my doubts that the Olympic committee will introduce diaper changing as a new sport.  I am constantly amazed at the advanced martial arts skill my 2-year-old has.  She doesn’t have the motor skills to draw a square, but can perry every move I make in an attempt to change a diaper.  Not strong enough to lift a toaster, but is able to keep me at bay with a little kick.  Sydney has 2 arms and legs just like most kids, yet somehow on that changing table, where it would appear I have the advantage, she grows extra appendages that move with speed that surpasses that of a teenage girl talking about who’s dating whom. Forget reasoning, she’s too young and what does she care if it takes a few minutes longer?  She’s been covered in “whatever” all night anyway and where does she have to go? So here I am, almost 40, and losing to a 2-year-old.  My intention is to clean her up and sometimes the only way that is going to happen is if I get a little dirty in the process.  Now, my precious heart is dressed and pristine as I move to the process of cleaning the wonderful aroma of A&D ointment and Poo off me and everything else, all the while Sydney grabs my hand and says, “Play?”

The beginning of the Gospel begins with the declaration to make our paths straight for the coming of our Lord and the beginning of Jesus’ last days give picture to many people preparing a path for Jesus as he enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  On Palm Sunday we remember the story of the Passion of Christ rehearsing the scene of welcoming Jesus by throwing down coats and palms.  But we also have the advantage of rehearsing the palm processional on this side of history.  What we know is that the preparation for those in Jerusalem was incomplete.  As soon as they welcomed Jesus, they then fought him every step of the way.

If I ask my 2-year-old if she wants to be changed, she says, “ok”, leads me to the changing table, and that is where the cooperation sometimes stops.  I wonder how many times in our life we know we want to change, we know it takes Jesus to create that transformation, and we even go so far as to make a path straight for him to enter our world; yet, that is where our cooperation ends.  We want to be “changed”, yet we fight and even resent the intrusiveness of what is involved in that process.  To allow God to renew our lives, it means allowing God to get personal with us.  Our religious practices help us prepare the way, but it is our relationship with God that actually creates the transformation.  How close do we let Jesus get to us?

The other thing I thought about was the length that God has gone so that we might be “cleaned”, so that we might be given life to live today.  The only way for our lives to be cleansed of sin is for Jesus to get a little dirty himself.  I don’t mean to say that Jesus sinned for us but that he took responsibility for our sin upon the cross.  This is the other image we find on Palm Sunday, the image of Christ being crucified for sins he did not commit.  This is a theme I plan to explore in more detail next week, but for this weekend, as you find yourself thinking about Palm Sunday, reflect on what you really expect from Jesus in your relationship with him and what you expect from yourself.  Maybe you have gone so far as to “prepare a way” or embraced the idea of Jesus in your life, but have you gone so far as to trust him in a relationship and to trust him with all of your relationships? The goal of Palm Sunday is not so that we feel guilty about our lives but to see the opportunity God has created for us.  God’s goal in his passion is not to lord what he has done over us, but so when we get down off the changing table we can look at our Heavenly Father and, as my little girl does, grab his hand and say, “Play?”

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SundayMarch 14, 2010

9:30AM Service

  1. As It Is In Heaven
  2. Hosanna
  3. Everything
  4. offertory:  It Is Well With My Soul
  5. All Who Are Thirsty

11:00AM Service

  1. Come Thou Almighty King
  2. My Faith Looks Up To Thee

We have something new this week.  Because the vast number of 5 or 6 of you have requested audio of my sermons, I have given in to the mounting pressure and starting today will being posting them.  Above you will find the sermon highlighted and underlined, if you click on that it should begin playing in a few moments.  Now, if there is a dip in attendance, I will just assume it is because you are listening later in the week.  Feel free not to burst my bubble.  That being said, I will be working on ways to create a podcast and possibly in the future a live stream, just in case when you are home because you are sick and find yourself weeping and gnashing your teeth, you can tune in to a portion of our worship service.  All joking aside, I do hope that you find God working in your life through these messages.

This past Sunday we spent time looking back on how God brought the good news of hope to a people who were looking back and only looking back.  I remember watching a movie called “The Edge” with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin.  Hopkins played a billionaire genius and Baldwin one of his managing partners of one of his businesses.  The two of them and a couple of others fly into the Alaskan backcountry to hunt.  The plane crashes and they are cut off from the safety of any kind of close rescue.  Some of the people panic, but Hopkins character says something important.  He says, “do you know why most people die when they get lost?  They die of shame.”  I don’t think that every time we look back we are looking back out of shame, but many times when we find ourselves floundering in life, it is because we spend so much time looking back on what “could have been” or “if only I had” or “wasn’t it nice when things worked this way”.  We hear these same remarks regarding changing society and politics.  The fact is that you can do nothing to change the past or your present but we can change what we do in the future beginning now.

The big question is, “who do you look to to help you change?”  Sure, if you are reading this blog you probably have some idea of who Jesus is or expect me to answer “Jesus”.  It is the “churchy” answer after all.  Well the answer is… wait for it… ok, it is Jesus, but what Jesus are you talking about?  We have heard the religious answer for so long we forget to question what our religion says about Jesus.  By religion, I do not necessarily mean your denomination, but how does what you think about Jesus tell you about Jesus.  Clarify? Ok.  Here is a little story:

I was traveling out west when I was 20 years old.  I was somewhere in Oregon between Burns and Bend (towns, not states of mind) I picked up this hitchhiker (my wife will not let me do this anymore) and he saw that I had some Christian music.  He says to me, “God and I have this understanding.  I can do dope…) his vocal inflection indicated this was not the end of the sentence, however, that was the end of the sentence (I can’t understand why Amanda doesn’t want me to pick up hitchhikers).  My thought was that God said, “You can do dope, but it will cost you your brain” but that the dude left before God finished his sentence.  This man’s religion was that God was some passive “yoda” character meandering through the universe passing out wisdom to be used or not.  Many of us have an image of God not too unlike this one, maybe with out the pot induced flare.  God tends to be almost a good luck talisman that we run to occasionally without too much expectation that he will or can do anything.  God for many was like my view of Santa when I was 8.  I believed (spoiler alert for your children) that Santa had once been real, but in his old age tripped over his long beard (I really never took drugs, I swear) fell down a chimney and died, and now the spirit o Santa lives in the hearts of parents who like their kids.  There is no magic, just some generous reminiscing.

We do this we God.  We think, yea, once upon a time he may have done some great things, but that was then and this is now.  What is there to rely on?  The prophets told the Israelites then and we are told now, God is not done.  We get very trapped in what we think God did then and doesn’t do now.  We hear of these remarkable stories of parting water, big fish, big boats in the desert, Jericho, burning bushes, etc.  But think about that handful of giant miracles and the 12000 years scripture covers (I hold to a belief that Noah was around 10000 BC.) or even 6000 if you take to a hard line biblical timeline, there are not that many recorded.  There are, however, many smaller miracles of timing and healing, redemption, wisdom, courage, hope, new life, simply from many believing that God was not done yet.

I see miracles in my own life, things I have overcome through faith.  I have had many healing miracles; physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.  I have experienced these and witnessed these only because I believe that God is not just a God who did some great things at one time in history, but that he is still a God who desires to bring abundant life to us today and that not even death can stop his work.  This moves into an Easter story, but one that will have to wait.  But in the meantime, what miracles are you experiencing?  What new life is God bringing to you?  Do you believe in a God who can still bring these things to you or is your lack of trust in a living God, keeping you from experiencing life today?

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