Archive for March, 2010

The power of resurrection

Posted: March 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” — Phil 3:10-11

I believe with all of my being in resurrection and I believe that it’s an ever present reality.

If we truly believe in resurrection, we never see a lost cause. We never see someone that’s too far gone that they can’t be redeemed by God’s love. It means there’s not an individual, a group or a people that we give up on because our God is a God who raises people from the dead — both physical and spiritual death.

I’m only in my first few years in ministry, but I’ve already had a chance to witness lives that were seemingly gone brought back to life through the power of knowing Christ and experiencing resurrection. I’ve seen the spiritually dead breath again.

It’s happening everyday. It’s happening in lives that many might have even written off.

And it happened in the life of a man named Saul who wanted to spend his energy arresting and torturing Christians. Saul experienced the power of resurrection on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. It changed the course of his life forever and “Paul” went on to become one of the biggest reasons that Christianity spread out from Jerusalem.

How have you experienced the power of the resurrection in your life? How would it change your approach to others around you if you truly believed that God brought people back from spiritual death?

The journey of salvation

Posted: March 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

During the season of Lent, the sermons for Sunday have focused on a “journey” from Ash Wednesday until Easter. Really, it’s even more of a journey than that. It’s the journey of faith.

I know that sometimes Methodists differ from other denominations in our thoughts on salvation. First and foremost, “salvation” is not an event. By following through on what it means to be Methodist, I can’t look at a particular time and date and say, in that moment, that I “was saved.” Even the Bible shies away from the wording of “was saved.” Instead, the focus is on, “I am BEING saved.” It’s a process, a lifelong journey, to become more and more like Christ. We believe that we are being saved each and every day!

Sometimes we are accused of not having “altar calls.” Just because I, as a pastor, don’t play Just as I Am repeatedly until someone comes forward and turns their life over to God doesn’t mean that I’m not asking people to show what they believe. As a Methodist, the way I do that is through Holy Communion. Holy Communion is a celebration and when someone steps forward to participate, they are making a statement of belief in Christ. Wesley called Holy Communion a means of grace for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that he believed it is possible to experience salvation through the Lord’s Supper. That’s why the table is open to any and we place no age requirements on participation.

Don’t get mad — speak up!

Posted: March 11, 2010 in Uncategorized

There was a point in my life when I regularly listened to talk radio shows on AM stations. Mainly, it was because I worked inside a building that was obviously FM-proof and these AM stations provided the only signal that was clear enough to hear.

But I could only take so much of the constant negativity of these shows. There was just nothing uplifting, nothing prevailing. What was celebrated was often something that was wrong with someone else. The hosts reveled at the misfortune of others, provided that they were on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

A couple of weeks ago, I was flipping through the TV on a Saturday night and I came across what I thought would have really been odd just a few years ago. FOX News was running a “breaking news” alert on a partisan speech at a meeting of conservatives. That’s their business and their news and they do what they want. But, what seemed so odd to me about this situation is that the person giving this speech was one of their own employees — Glenn Beck. I remember that standard I was taught in my journalism days. Journalists aren’t supposed to be the news; they are supposed to cover it.

Glenn Beck resurfaced in my life earlier this week. He advised his audience to run from churches that have “social justice” as even a part of their Web site.

At first, I just thought there those pundits go again, taking shots at the church. But the more I thought about it, I realized that it made me mad. It’s a swipe at the essential meaning of the message that God calls me to preach and proclaim.

Now, I was thinking, how many people would this imperative actually impact? I know that my denomination, the United Methodist Church has a long and outstanding history in the area of social justice. Of course, more could always be done, but I am proud to be associated with a denomination that thinks that way.

The Roman Catholic Church, the largest denomination in the world, openly states it believes in social justice. Numerous other denominations use these very words.

Even the Mormon Church, which Beck is most often associated with, has a group devoted to social justice.

Is Social Justice then, just another code word? Or, is it something more?

In Luke 4, in one of his most famous sermons, Jesus gives us the “talking points” of the Gospel. We are anointed (set apart) by God to preach Good News to the poor (a group that’s often on the receiving end of a lot of kicks from upper classes), to bring freedom for prisoners, to restore sight to the blind, to release the oppressed and to declare this the Year of the Lord.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement, was preaching social justice when he ministered to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the death row inmates and everyone else he came in contact with. Wesley and others were preaching social justice when they fought to abolish slavery.

Many, including Martin Luther King Jr., preached social justice when they stood in pulpits, on street corners and anywhere else that they could and declared that segregation is not moral. They changed the world.

A church that opens its doors and creates a soup kitchen to feed the homeless is preaching social justice. A church that sponsors a free clinic is preaching social justice.

A church campaign to bring water to those who desperately need it in Africa is another way of preaching social justice.

Christianity is more than just a personal decision and a lone-ranger approach to faith. It’s about the people of God, members of the Kingdom of God, working together in communities of faith to transform the world. If that’s the social justice you’re running from, exactly what are you running to?

Surprised by worship?

Posted: March 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

When’s the last time that something in worship absolutely surprised you? When have you been blown away by the presence of God?

I hope that there are times that the congregation at Lupo Memorial gets to experience that. Not because of anything that I do or say but because God is there, at work, and we have the opportunity to experience that presence. Sometimes I hear it from those who are there — something that happened that morning struck a chord within a heart.

But I wonder, why doesn’t it happen more often than it does at churches in general? Why doesn’t it happen every Sunday? Maybe it begins with the way that we approach the service. To begin to experience God in this way, we have to step into the church on that Sunday with an expectation that it’s going to happen. We should look forward to worship. We should want to be there — not out of a sense of duty and obligation but because on this day, we have the opportunity to see and to hear and to touch God through our community of faith.

I once heard a sermon from my mentor that really struck home with me and I walked away with this expression. “If you’re bored in worship, it’s not my fault.” Now that might not be exactly what he said, but that’s what I heard that day (thank you Holy Spirit!). The meaning of that is that worship is not a passive, spectator activity. Worship requires our active involvement. We are praising and worshiping a real and living God when we join together in song, in prayer, in fellowship, when we listen to the Scripture reading and hear the word from a pastor, and when we celebrate the Sacraments.

If we’re bored in worship, maybe it means that we are boring worshippers.

Life is a highway

Posted: March 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

I loved this song when it came out a few years ago, and I’m not talking about Rascal Flatts version that was part of the Cars soundtrack.  I’m talking about the gritty version of the song performed by Tom Cochrane.

Life’s like a road that you travel on/ When there’s one day here and the next day gone/ Sometimes you bend and sometimes you stand/ Sometimes you turn your head to the wind.

The song gives us this image of being on a journey.  Sometimes that journey takes a lot out of us. Sometimes it knocks us down and sometimes it seems as if the goal is simply to be “survivors.”  But it’s also interesting in this song that contains those same images of a tough journey that there’s a reference to wonder and beauty —  From Mozambique to those Memphis nights/ The Khyber Pass to Vancouver’s lights

For the Season of Lent, I’ve been using the lectionary passages to focus on the idea of a Spiritual Journey.  I’m calling it our Spiritual GPS and it’s a look at how our spiritual lives are a road we travel.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, so profoundly stated that salvation is not an event, but a journey.  He went so far as to not use the labels of Christian and NonChristian (today we might say Churched and Unchurched!) because he believed that all of us are on the same journey — some of us just might be a few more steps ahead of others. 

Why is that an important distinction?  It leads us know that in our journey of faith and salvation, that we should never look down upon those who aren’t as far along as we are, nor should we be jealous of those who seem to be a few steps ahead.  And, by viewing it this way, it also shows us that there is always hope that anyone can take the journey!