Easter Expectations

When I was a child, I expected to wake up on Easter morning to find a basket, mysteriously delivered by a rabbit, filled with chocolate bunnies, peeps and miscellaneous candy waiting for me. I also expected to wear sometimes new “Easter clothes” or at least the very best Mom and Dad could dress me in. I expected to go to worship twice – once at sunrise and then later at the regular time. There I would be greeted by the smell of lilies, all my friends, and we’d sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” And, I expected a special dinner with ham and potatoes at the center. It wouldn’t be as big and well attended as Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it would be special. It was these expectations and the anticipation of them that made Easter Sunday when I was a child.

As I’ve started looking over the lessons, thinking about liturgy, and anticipating Easter Sunday worship, I’m wondering what you will expect when you come to Messiah Lutheran Church — or wherever you might go on April 16th. It will be so good to see many of our Messiah family – those we see all the time, those who we see less often, and those who surprise us by showing up and putting big smiles on our faces.

As everyone comes in the doors, I know they will come with expectations. But what expectations? Certain songs? Distinctive smells (lilies and/or sausage?) Maybe it will be the expectation of a fuller than usual worship space. But what else?

This year we will read Matthew’s account of Easter morning. Mary and Mary are coming to “see” the tomb. Not just to see it visually, although I’m sure that was part of it – to see the final resting place of Jesus, to see the end of His story – but they also came to “see,” as in to understand; to try to make sense of what had happened. And they “see” so much more than they ever expected! There was an explosion of activity and sights. There was shaking and lightning-like angelic messengers, there were live people acting as if they were dead, while those thought dead are reported alive.  And not only that, it is all happening so fast! “Suddenly,” “quickly,” there was telling and hearing and going and worshiping and fear and joy….

It is all a wonderful account that invites us to bring our imaginations to enter into this incredible event. A life-changing event. Is that what you expect? Not because we will be able to replicate that first Easter with fog machines, strobes, and light shows — because we won’t — but because, just as God was there that first Easter, God will be here this Easter, right here, right smack-dab in the middle of Messiah’s sanctuary. Are you expecting to encounter the living Christ? The one we worship and follow? Are you expecting to leave with fear and great joy?

As I and all our staff and volunteers prepare for Easter Sunday, I hope you will be preparing as well. Whether it has been a while since you’ve come to, “see” God, or if it is where you always are on a Sunday morning, I hope you are considering and praying about your encounter with the risen Christ on Easter morning. History and the Word tell us chances are it will be more than you can imagine!

Between now and Easter, I’d love to hear from you! What are you expecting this Easter? You can leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Discipleship as Apprenticeship

Jesus is risen!

An angel tells the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to meet up with Jesus. And then, Jesus himself runs into the women and tells them the same thing – “Tell the guys to meet me in Galilee. It must be pretty important. Jesus must really want to talk to them.

They meet and as the now risen Christ, authenticated as the Anointed One of God, Jesus gathers them on a grassy hillside and says, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: …as you go, make disciples…”

Has someone, who is a disciple of Jesus, made you a disciple? Or, to ask another way, “What have you been made into?”

I was just having a conversation with a disciple of Jesus about their upbringing in the church. He recalled being told to memorize certain articles of church doctrine and teaching: Creeds, Prayers, meanings. He was even “tested” by the entire congregation. “Did he know his stuff?”

Back then, we agreed, we made something. But it may not have been disciples. It was the “blender” method of making: open up the head, pour in information, stir it up with testing and intimidation, and out came a church member. Someone who knew what to believe, and was sometimes a disciple, but sometimes (and I would argue from my experience, most of the time) not.) There were and are no guarantees that what came out of the process was a disciple of Jesus.

Maybe it would help to take some time to decide what we mean by a disciple. I like Dallas Willard’s definition: A disciple is an apprentice of Jesus. I like the word apprentice. It is more than a student or follower. A “student” of Jesus may be how we got the “blender Christians” I mentioned above. A follower… well, anyone can follow someone else, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been authentically impacted by the one they follow. At one point Jesus noted how many followers had fallen away when it was no longer easy or popular.

But an apprentice… There’s a lot in that word. It implies learning knowledge, but it also implies a commitment to imitate and to master the craft. Seems like apprenticeships use to be more prevalent. We do have internships, practicums, and such, but in our hurry up world, they are often too short, not allowing someone time to truly imitate a master. A woodworker was sharing how he learned the intricacies of his craft after apprenticing for four years. That’s somewhere around 8,000 to 10,000 hours of learning (and the number of hours usually considered needed to become proficient at something)! No school or university can do that!

So back to the task given us by Jesus. Jesus spent three years with his disciples, and since they basically lived together, they had much more than the 10,000 hours of apprenticing under him. So now he says, “…as you go, make disciples.” In other words, “As you have apprenticed, make an apprentice of me who will live with me in a kingdom life.”

Ok, so that’s what we do, now how do we do it?

Glad you asked.

Jesus has that covered too. Before he died, he told them – and actually all he did was tell them what they already knew from the scriptures: “Love the Lord your God with all you have and all that you are; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

The Great Commission; “as you go, make disciples,” fulfilled by the Great Commandment, “love God; love your neighbor.”

Be an apprentice of Jesus. Apprentice others by loving.

Pretty simple. Pretty hard. In those instructions from Jesus is the foundation, the source, the hope, the answer. From Jesus is life.

Now here comes the challenge for us moving forward:

We got work to do. Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying there aren’t disciples out there or that we don’t have disciples at Messiah! But we do more by accident than intent.

To be a disciple is to be in relationship with our God and with one another – other disciples and those who are not yet disciples.

So here is the deal. Jesus wants you to be his disciple, his apprentice, an imitator of him, living out the Kingdom of God in your life. Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus (not a follower, not a student, but an apprentice)? Someone asked Dallas Willard why he was a disciple of Jesus and he replied, “Who else did you have in mind?” We all have been apprenticed someone (come on, even you self-starters, picker-uppers-by-your-own-boot-straps people learned that from someone!). You have someone better in mind to imitate than Jesus?

– Thinking you can be spiritual without being connected to Christ is like thinking you can sail a boat and get to your destination without a rudder or a compass.

– Coming to sing and snooze through a sermon won’t do it.

– Dropping your kids off for Sunday School won’t do it – for them or you.

– Reading a book about discipleship won’t do it.

– Gaining more knowledge about what’s in the Bible won’t do it.

It’s about imitating someone who is imitation someone who is imitating someone… who are all imitating Jesus.

Be watching! Be anticipating! Soon we will launch Life Groups from Messiah. These will be groups framed by a desire to help you be and make apprentices of Jesus, who live as if Jesus’ words are true – that the reign of God, the Kingdom of God, the promises and reality of God are real and here, right now, for the taking and experiencing. The Kingdom of God is here! Turn your life toward the King and live in the Good News!

Is It Enough?

What is our goal?
What are we, the people of God trying to accomplish in our life together as Messiah Lutheran Church?

I think that Paul in his letter to the Philippians gives us a pretty simple, big picture answer:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,…. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:5, 9-11)

To make Christ known to the world as its Lord and Savior.

And just how are we supposed to do that? Organize a church? Form a committee? Hire someone to do it for us? How about a “Making Christ Known Campaign”? Well, frankly, we’ve tried all those ideas and they have met with minimal success.

“How did Jesus tell us to do it?” You might very well ask. Good question! Let’s see…
“Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 – The Message

And Jesus also says, “Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:29-30 – The Message

So, it seems that we make Jesus know to the world by taking on the character of Christ, then making disicples who take on the character of Jesus, who make disciples, who make disciples. And this way meets with huge successes – every place the church is growing (and not just swapping sheep), that’s what they are doing!

Is that what we do?
Well, yes, hmm, sort of, kind of, sometimes. Well, mostly, no.
Think about it. What do we usually tell people to do?
Join a church
Go to church (meaning worship)
Go to Sunday School/Confirmation (but once you hit confirmation, learning isn’t so important)
Pray
Serve in your church (we’re just happy if people sign up to usher or read a lesson… and if they sign up to actually serve outside the building, we are giddy!)
Invite people to church (if we can muster up the courage, and then we expect the “experts” to take it from there)

There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but does doing them really make people who live their whole life seeking to be Jesus to make Jesus known?

Think about it – again. We may do really good stuff like go on work trips and hand out food and let people meet in our building or serve meals or donate leftover clothes and furniture, but do we make Christ known? The people we serve may be fed and clothed and have a dry bed and really appreciate our kindness and care, but do they know Jesus? Do they know what Jesus has done for them, what He is doing in them and what He wants to do through them for the glory of God the Father?

Is it enough?

For quite some time we have bought into the education model that says if you give them knowledge, eventually they will be a disciple. Wrong. More information does not make a disciple. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for learning about Jesus! But all my learning does not necessarily cultivate more love for Jesus and for God’s people. Sorry, but intellectuals don’t transform the world, disciples do. Paul said something about that on more than one occasion – foolishness of the gospel, wise deemed fools…

However, the converse is not any better. We may say, “Well, I don’t know much about Jesus or the Bible, but I work hard at giving a hand to others and that’s enough.” Well, it is certainly great to help and serve others, but no, it’s not enough. Again, do they know Jesus? Do they know that what you did for them is so that they may know the One who has done so much more for them?

So what does this mean for a congregation like Messiah? It means we have to get off our pews and apprentice ourselves to someone who has taken on more of the character of Christ than we have AND it means we invite others who haven’t taken on as much of the character of Jesus as we have to apprentice themselves to us. And that is all so that we may grow in reflecting Jesus, grow in our relationship with Jesus because simply put, the better we know Jesus, the easier it is to introduce him to others. In case you did notice, that’s not a program, a class, a campaign… That’s life on life. Going to work, raising a family, taking vacations. It’s how we make decisions about money, time, and career paths and letting others see it. It’s living together in community, as an extended family. You can’t get that from sitting in a pew. You can’t get that from a program.

I know how hard it is to break out of old patterns, habits. We’ve done church the old way for so long, it’s hard to imagine that it ought to be different. But mark my words, if we don’t change, we will stop being God’s Church – the body of Christ, making know Christ. People will stop coming. People will deem us irrelevant at best or judgmental and negative at worst. People will look at us and say, “If that’s all there is to this God thing, then I’ll look elsewhere.”

Oh, wait, they already are…

You don’t have to stop going to church or praying or serving or going to Sunday School, but you do have to stop believing that is enough. That that will get you to the goal. Find someone to learn, “the unforced rhythms of grace” from and go out and train others in this way of life.

For a quick, more concise and clear statement of what I just said, go to this link from Alan Hirsch:

(My thanks also to Derwin Gray, http://www.derwinlgray.com/)

More Generous, Less Judgmental and Let Go of Stuff

I read several devotions every day just to give God a variety of “windows” through which to speak to me, encourage me, grace me, forgive me, or to knock me up the side of the head. Some devotions I read are like a nice glass of water – refreshing, quenching, and even life-giving. Sometimes a devotion will be like piece of chocolate – sweet, tasty, devoured quickly, but not really of any lasting value. And other devotions are like a thick, juicy, well-marbled, grilled to perfection steak, meant to be savored, each bite a little experience of heaven. It is a meal that stays with you all day.

This morning’s devotion from the Moravian Daily Texts has stayed with me. But not like that savory steak. It is more like a bad meal of high fat and spices that stick around. You keep belching up taste and it isn’t pleasant!

It was based on James 5:1-6. After reading the devotion and subsequent prayer, it’s like God’s not going to let it go until I do something with it. Hence, this blog. God said, “Here Greg, hear this… now, what are you going to do about it?

So here it is:
And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament because you will soon be suffering. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment. All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived an easy life on earth. You have given yourselves everything you wanted But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons. And they weren’t even opposing you. James 5:1-6

Allow me to go through this verse by verse.
v. 1,2 And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament because you will soon be suffering. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink.– Nothing lasts forever. If you put your sense of value and trust in what you have, you will be disappointed. That includes not just stuff, but relationships where we have unrealistic and unhealthy expectations. No Thing and No One is our all in all, our life, our hope and salvation, except Jesus. If it is, prepare to lament and suffer – and stink!

v. 3 Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment. It is clear from scripture that having riches isn’t evil or wrong. It’s what you do with the riches that matters. Notice James addresses to the arrogant rich. Arrogance is about an overbearing sense of self-worth. As the old saying goes, Jesus really doesn’t care about how big your house is or the model of car you drive or how much money is in your account. He is interested in how you use your house as a place of hospitality, your car for serving others in need and your money to be generous and joyful.

v. 4 All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Lord Almighty. “the groans are a roar.” Let that sink in a bit… “But I’ve exploited and cheated no one.” Think again. What about the workers in a truck farm, picking vegetables you eat who aren’t making enough money to buy their own food? What about the worker in the store, at the parking garage or your favorite concert venue who makes minimum wage, a minimum that won’t even let her care for her children?

v. 5 You have lived an easy life on earth. You have given yourselves everything you wanted But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. Some of us would argue that we haven’t had an easy life. We had to work for everything we have. But “easy” is relative – Even if your life was “tough,” it may be easy compared to someone who hasn’t had a meal in several days, or can’t get a place to sleep… And what about the second part? How many things do you have because you want them? James didn’t say need them, but want them? And what will you have to show for it? James says just a fatter corpse. Ouch.

v. 6 In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons. And they weren’t even opposing you. A few weeks ago our youth lined our sanctuary with clothes pins. Around 800 of them, signifying how many children died during our worship from starvation and hunger related issues. That’s blood on the hands of anyone who has more than they need. And James asks, “What did they ever do to you?”

Okay, so what am I going to do about this? Here’s some things:
1. I’m going to be more generous, more sacrificial (giving where you give up something, not just from your extra) in how I give.
2. I will be less judgmental of those who ask for help. Why is it we are so worried about somebody getting something for nothing (like freeloaders on welfare)? Maybe if we were more concerned and spoke out more against those who receive way more than they need for the work they do (corporate executives, celebrities, athletes, etc.) and those who receive too little for the work they do (minimum wage earners, underpaid factory workers, etc.), it would balance out a little better.
3. I will let go of stuff that I think I need. I can always go through the garage, my closet and other places and find things I don’t need but others might.

More generous, less judgmental and let go of stuff. There it is. A plan. Hold me to it!

And the devotion prayer: Lord, often we easily ignore those who work for what little they have; often we eagerly admire those who have much, but work little. Your mercy O Lord, must prevail. Grant us this mercy that we may work for your justice. Amen.

Lenten Midweek Worship

Messiah Lutheran

2014 Lenten Midweek Worship

Prayer Around the Cross

Wednesdays, March 12th – April 9th, 6:30 pm

 
The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:5b-7)

Prayer. It is the gift God has given us through which we have the inexpressible joy and privilege of sharing in the most intimate relationship with the one who created, sustains and redeems us. Prayer comes in a variety of expressions and forms, each offering us a unique perspective not just of prayer but of the avenues of communication available to us as children of God.

This coming Lenten season, on Wednesday evenings after Ash Wednesday, we will gather for Prayer Around the Cross. Our prayer worship on those evenings will be shaped by the tradition of Prayer Around the Cross of Holden Village, a Lutheran center for renewal of faith and life. Since 1995, there have been only a handful of Friday evenings when that community hasn’t gathered for prayer. This prayer service will share quiet, meditative prayer, scripture readings, a reflection, silence, simple music and songs, and an opportunity for those who wish to come to the cross, light a candle and pray.

To accommodate literally gathering around the cross to pray, we will gather in the fellowship hall for worship. This also gives us a more intimate setting for prayer and worship (Remember how wonderful it was to gather in the fellowship hall for worship during the sanctuary remodel? So many have commented on the feeling of closeness in worship that space offered.) After soup and sandwiches, there will be a very brief rearranging of a few chairs (most chairs will already be around the cross in the center of the room) and then we will dim the lights and experience together the presence of God through this prayer time.

This will be a fantastic time to invite friends to come with you! It will not be a typical worship service, but rather a time just to relax, enjoy simple quietness and the powerful presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

St Paul reminds us that we do not know how to pray as we ought. Rather we trust that the Spirit will help us in our weakness and intercede for us. We pray that as we gather for worship this Lenten season the Holy Spirit will flow like rivers of living water from our hearts through prayer as we thirst for life in God!

(for more information about Holden Village: http://www.holdenvillage.org/ )

For An Uncertain Future

Recently a member brought to me a survey tool entitled, “Will Your Congregation Still Exist Ten Years From Now?”1 So I filled it out. Want to know what it said about Messiah? …..Uncertain.

Uncertain. At least it didn’t say, “Unlikely to Exist” – that was one option. But it didn’t say, “Likely to Exist” either. Uncertain.

An uncertain future. That’s what’s facing most mainline protestant faith communities. The uncertainty isn’t just in the church. An exponential rate of change is impacting our vision of the future in all aspects of life. Churches and businesses alike no longer think in terms of ten or seven or even five year strategies. Being able to anticipate what will happen even two or three years down the road is a stretch.

So what is certain in an uncertain future? For Christians it’s easy. Jesus. Yes, that age-old perfect Sunday School question answer still applies! Jesus. Jesus!

Do you use GPS to navigate? It’s a great tool and can really help you get to your destination – until the roads change. We were driving in Wisconsin last summer and the road had been moved. My navigation system was sure I was driving in a corn field and insisted I make an immediate left turn to get back on the road. If I had, I would have been stranded in the ditch. One time I was riding with a friend and we were driving on a road that had just been opened. The lovely lady’s voice in his phone was trying to persuade him to make an immediate u-turn. Since we couldn’t, she said more than once, “Recalculating route.” She, the GPS, was lost.

In our day of rapid change the maps we have used in the past are little help. The roads we use to travel in the Church of great programs, longevity together, old, majestic buildings, shared expectations don’t exist anymore.

Compass_pocket_Watch So when the maps are no longer helpful and when even our GPS is lost, what do we do? You navigate with a compass. Those who are skilled with a compass will not get lost because they always know where true north is and can orient their journey accordingly.

Jesus is our compass. He points us to what is true, what are the most important things to know. If you follow Jesus, you won’t get lost. This means the faith communities like Messiah become training centers for using the compass, of orienting lives around the way Jesus journeyed, the way he did life.

So what does that look like in a faith community? Back to the survey. Those most likely to exist in the future are faith communities that are willing to create a culture where Jesus is more likely to be followed and imitated. I’ve laid out the ends of the spectrum on several issues the survey measured. More Likely to Exist in 10 years to Unlikely to Exist. As I said, Messiah landed somewhere in the middle, although according to my responses, we were leaning a little to the right:

Most Likely                                                                                                                UnLikely

Empowerd by spiritual vision                                          Empowered by controlling management

High expectations of discipleship                                           Few to no expectations of attendees

Average age less than 50                                                                                Average age over 65

Deep, authentic relationships with a few                                                “Face familiarity” with all

Worship that is true relationship w/ & praising God                Worship about celebrating tradition

More than 30% of Mission Plan for ministry outside    Less that 20% of Mission Plan for outside

No debt                                                                                                              Overwhelming debt

Building that requires only routine repairs          Buildings in disrepair and in need of major repair

And one I would add:

Focused on equipping leaders                                                        Focus on staff doing programing

As we look to the future, it is vital that we are discerning God’s will, asking the right questions and making decisions that will move us into a culture that is focused on following Jesus instead of relying on old maps and forms. Yes, I know the old is comfortable, our structures have served us well for many years. The idea of change is hard. We may be uncertain of the changes. But to not change… well, it means we move closer to not existing at all. Sound crazy? Think that’s too extreme? Overkill?

I don’t think so. God is up to a new thing. The Spirit is blowing through God’s people and kingdom here on earth. But just to “be a church” doesn’t guarantee you/we will be a part of God’s new thing. God has shown more than once that He will move on without you if you are not willing to follow. It takes obedience, it takes faithfulness. It takes letting go of the old road maps and orienting life to Jesus, the compass.

Uncertain. It need not be! We can be certain – that God will make us new, that we will continue to exist for the sake of The Kingdom! What will it be? What will we do?

  1. Rev. George Bullard, D.Min. www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org

BE Christ This Christmas

Is it just me, or has the holiday season started even earlier? Doesn’t really matter, I guess, the religions of commercialization and consumerism are as strong as ever. Shelves stacked with Halloween candy went right to Christmas candy and the pressure is on. Buy, buy, buy. It’s our capitalist duty after all – “For the economy!” becomes our battle cry.

And of course, the “other” voice is raised in response. Merchants are being applauded for keeping their doors closed on Thanksgiving (by the way, I understand it is no longer Thanksgiving. It is now known as “Brown Thursday” – Really?! We are so desparate for an extra dollar that we’ll turn a day of pausing to give thanks into another “color day” for shopping??) I saw my first counter culture magnetic sign on the back of a pickup today, “Keep Christ in Christmas” and I’m sure we can count of the banner being flown, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” (I always look for those kind of signs are cars competing for a parking space at the mall – just seems a little ironic, doesn’t it?)

 

In the end, as I said before, I’m not sure all that matters. For all my smugness and cynicism, does it really make a difference what happens this time of year? In the end there will be kids who get everything they want and more and there will be kids who ask for one toy knowing that it isn’t going to happen. There will be excess and there will be want. It is the world we live in.

Before I drain all the joy and fun out of the season for you, what can we do about it? “God’s Work, Our Hands” is the vision statement of our ELCA. “God touches us so that we may touch the lives of others.” is Messiah’s. What does that mean in the midst of our confusion and “messiness” of what we call the holidays? It means simply this: We honor Christ, we proclaim the Good News of forgiveness and salvation. We put what we confess into action.

Is Christ honored by a bumper sticker? Is Salvation proclaimed by throwing spare change into a red bucket or is it just our conscience being soothed? Is Christ honored in excessive giving? Are lives touched by standing in line on Brown Thursday or Black Friday?  I’m not answering these questions. You have to do that for yourself. Just be careful how you “rationa-lies” your actions!

And ask yourself these questions as well: How will I bring hope to those who have no hope? How will we bring dignity to a child of God who is looked down upon or ignored by a world caught up in itself? How will you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely and imprisoned, heal the sick? Who will know that God loves them more than they can ever imagine or hope because you told them? Will someone experience “God with them” – Immanuel – through your presence?

You see, the power of the Kingdom of God is found in our actions of love, mercy, justice and grace. This holiday season BE Christ in your neck of the woods!

Merry Christmas!