Holy Habits Reconsidered: Worship Acts 2: 36-47

How many of you have been part of worship and had a genuine encounter with God; producing lasting results?  We usually think of revivals when we think of those kinds of experiences.  Unfortunately, the word revival comes with some modern baggage.  The word “revival” is a good word.  It comes from a Latin word meaning “to bring back to life.”  The image is a person wandering in the desert and they stumble upon an oasis and they’re revived.  The history of faith is a series of revivals.  God gave the world life at creation.  Sin chipped away at that life and we grow stale in faith.  Along comes someone or something to remind us it is God who gives life.  That reminder revives new life by the power of the God.

The Spirit of God has been at work since Genesis.  Yet, it seemed the Spirit had taken a 400-year hiatus prior to Christ coming.  The time was ripe for a revival of the Spirit when Jesus made his exodus from the grave after Passover.  The Jews were gathered in Jerusalem for the festival to celebrate the giving of Law on Mt. Sinai to Moses.  At Pentecost, the Spirit revives a slumbering generation as they were thanking God for the external guidance system of the Law.  God’s Spirit becomes the internal guidance system.  This was a moment revival and things changed dramatically.

The disciples were huddled together in a upper room again, and a sound like a hurricane blew through the room.  Tongues of fire rested on each head; they spoke in other languages.  They begin to tell of what God had done through Jesus.  People thought they were drunk.  Peter denies it.  Using no theater, he tells the history of Israel in sermon lasting no longer mine;.  He concludes by telling Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s history.  It must have seemed like Peter was trying to pin the blame when he delivers his punch line; accusing each of them of being guilty of the death of Christ.  These people were not in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus death.  They accept judgment; their past makes sense and they have reason to trust in their future.  They ask, “What should we do?”

“What should we do” is the Pentecost question  It is also the question we ask in worship as we re-enact the story of salvation.  Each week, we speak and sing of the rhythms of life, death and life again.  Each of us should ask the Pentecost question-“What should we do?”

People think the worship question is “What is in it for me?.”   Worship is not about our personal preferences.  There is no evidence at Pentecost they griped about not knowing the hymns or understanding the preacher’s sermons.  We do not enter into this place daring worship leaders to make us feel good.  Those who plan and lead worship do their part to make worship as meaningful.  In the end, each of us is responsible for the worship experience. There is a church in Houston decided they would take serious the word liturgy, which means “the people’s work,” and decided that even when worship did not suit their personal preference they reminded each other each Sunday, someone else may be being saved.

Worship asks for a response to the activity of God’s saving work because we’re telling a scandalous story.  We’re declaring something fundamentally has changed in our existence because of the story of salvation.  We believe anyone can be changed who hears and responds to the old, old story.   It happens in worship when we take responsibility for what we do upon hearing the story again; placing our lives under the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.  None should leave here after hearing again this life changing story and say “Not much happened in church today”.

We like to tell stories that locate us in the broader stream of history.  When something big happens, we share where we were and what we felt.  These events cause us to regale others with the story.  We have done recently; telling again where we were when the towers went down.  Will you regale others with tales of the morning worship while we’re downing Sunday lunch.  Or will we leave here having gone through the motions of worship again, unable to on Monday to remember what happened on Sunday.

Things happen each Sunday that look similar to any day.  It’s not unusual to see people gather in large groups all over our city.  It is a little unusual to see people singing in a large group, but we see it when national anthem is sung or at a concert.  Preaching is its own form of discourse, but it can look like a stump speech.  The reason outsiders wonder why we waste our time here on a Sunday morning is sometimes we make it look like what we do each week is no different than what we do the rest of the week.

So how do we claim what happens in worship is dissimilar to what happens in a public gathering.  We can’t make that claim if we make worship a showcase for the activity of the church; celebrating more about what we are doing than what God is doing.  We can’t make that claim if treat worship as a tool for attracting lots of people; like filling the seat of a football game.  We can’t make that claim if we expect worship to make us feel better about our lives; denying the reality that real growth comes from facing real truth.  Worship that is about congratulating us for great activities, jamming halls with people, or making people feel good is not unique.

At times I don’t think we fully consider the power we blithely invoke.  There are Sundays, when I feel like we’re children who don’t realize we’re playing with a batch of TNT that could blow us up.  We wear straw and velvet hats, when we should be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers, signal flares; and lash us to our pews if we fully appreciate the life-changing power in this story.  We should ask, what are we to do?

Watch this video and consider what should you do in worship as you respond to the retelling of salvation’s story?

When fishing on the flats, the tide can go out quickly and you are stuck in the mud.  Humans cannot budge the boat.  Not until the tide returns is the boat freed.  The tide accomplishes what human power can’t.

The spirit can accomplish what humans cannot in worship.  We have to be willing to be shaken out of our mundane ways of worship.  The spirit of Pentecost can blow into our worship if we come ready to hear the story of salvation; expecting God to unleash power.  We can experience God transforming lives in worship if we will set aside our preference and take personal responsibility why we are here.

The first way we take responsibility in hearing of salvation’s story is to spend our week making strangers friends; telling them about the power of Christ’s story in your life.  It begins with a  witness.  The second way we to take responsibility in hearing salvation’s story is by devoting ourselves to word and fellowship.  It continues as we nurture our faith.  The third way we take responsibility in hearing salvation’s story is by letting go and generously sharing our lives with all in need.  It always ends with stewardship.  We will reconsider those next two habits in the coming weeks.  None of us this just happens.  It occurs when we take serious our personal responsibility in worship each week.

I was playing golf and came up on a par three requiring a perfect shot to a green surrounded water and growth.  A marshal said hit one more club than we might think.  I thought his advice was misguided.  I used an eight instead of seven.  I hit a good shot but it fell into a watery grave.  I tried his advice on my third shot and hit a seven iron, and landed squarely on the green.  The marshal shot back: “I can’t hit’em for you, that is your job.”

Worship is the job of each of us. It always involves answering the Pentecost of question:  “What should we do?”  If we will take that seriously, then when someone asks at lunch, “What’s happened at a church today?  We can say, “Let me tell you; something life changing happened today at First United Methodist Church Irving today!

Holy Habits Reconsidered: Witness Acts 1:6-14

I experienced family troubles when my girls were adolescents.  The best and worst part about having family troubles as a pastor is you live in a glass house.  The worst part: a few people watching inappropriately exploit your vulnerabilities making it more difficult to negotiate the difficulty.  The best part: most people watching want to help you do your best in this vulnerable time.  You may ever know the benefits of people watching if you maintain privacy or chose isolation in a difficult situation.

The blessing I experienced of people watching was it motivated me to employ all means of due diligence during this difficult time.  I sought counseling.  I learned my practice of parenting was the root of my problem.  I had resisted taking the full responsibility of parenting because I wanted my kids to like me.  It was when I reconsidered my habit of parenting that some of the family troubles begin to resolve.  I make it sound easy in describing it, but was hard work and still is to this day.

We will spend the next four weeks reconsidering Holy Habits.  It is very easy for our holy habits to become routine; that they are no longer holy, just habits.  The first and most important Holy Habit we find in our text today.  He said they will receive Holy Spirit power to be his witnesses.  Jesus gives weight to these words by including them as a part of his will and testament.  The holy habit of witness needs reconsideration in this 21st century because we have become a people more concerned with the fellowship inside the church than our witnesses to outside the church.  This imbalance has occurred as we have become preoccupied with money and ministry among the faithful; silencing our witness to a world in need.

Jesus didn’t say create great worship so everyone is happy.  Jesus didn’t say create relational small groups so everyone feels connected.  Jesus didn’t say create financial campaigns so everyone learns the joy of giving.  Jesus said the Holy Spirit will give power to speak to the needs of people, which can be met by the grace of God.  The essence of being a Christian is expressed in our witness.  Our witness will make strangers our friends by crossing lines of class and language.  This happens when we reconsider how we will engage a common mission to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.

Even Jesus had to refocus those first disciples to insure they considered what it meant to be his witnesses.  They want a word about the future, which they cannot know.  He speaks the commissioning word for the present, which they can do.  They ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Jesus answers the question by telling them that was not their business.  Jesus gives them power to be busy being his witnesses as they were about to encounter new and unfamiliar ways.  He leaves them staring slack-jawed into the sky.  Two beings in robes comfort them, saying, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you, will come in the same way you saw.”  As you standing there, do as told-Witness!

These disciples were about to go through rapid change.  All of the familiar intellectual and emotional landmarks were about to be washed away.  Jerusalem, the temple, and the synagogues would shortly lose significance.  They would no longer live according to the cultural taboos of the Jews or the Greeks.  Their lifestyles, priorities, and decisions would be based on the will of Jesus in their lives.  Their faith couldn’t be peripheral; it would become the most vital ingredient in their lives.  They had to be intimately and passionately connected to Jesus or they would not survive.  Their witness required an authentic story from real people.

Jesus’ demonstrated in his ministry how to be a witness.  Wherever he went or whoever he met he looked deeply into all things and saw what was really happening.  A witness is not walking up to a stranger and asking: “Are you saved?”  (I do not making fun of that zeal, because people have found saving faith in stranger ways.  I am more worried about our reticence to be bolder, than about those who are bolder than I prefer.)  The witness Jesus commissions is for his disciples to get into the line of sight of people so they and we are changed in the way we both see the world.  Before we speak, we’re to witness what’s happening in people’s lives and in our world.

I play golf better when people are watching.  I want to do better when I feel the eye of an instructor or spectator watching.  It matters to know we are being watched.  We readily claim Jesus is watching over us when we’re in need or feel blessed.  Could Jesus also be watching our watching?

The holiest habit shows up among neighbors.  The more we show up, the more opportunity the Holy Spirit has to work on us and them.  There is no guarantee something visible will happen.  Our showing up allows the Spirit to make a difference to people who need a graceful witness that speaks to their hurt, grief, shame or any other soul sickness that can be made whole by Christ’s redeeming offer.  There-ness radically changes and gives life.

The way a church activates the power of the Holy Spirit is to make what is happening in people’s lives a priority.  When we witness, we expand our understanding of worship because we expand our view of God’s world.  When we witness we better relate to each other and understand the scriptures because we experience new things.  When we witness, our “offering plate” mentality is challenged as we consider new ways of giving ourselves.  Most importantly people are given opportunity to respond to the amazing grace of God because we showed up.  Our presence assures people the world is not falling apart, and a gracious God is holding things together.  Without saying a word, we invite them to enter into that world.

I live in a nice neighborhood in the middle of an urban area that does include some risks, somewhat like the location of our church.  I intentionally choose to drive by Section 8 housing and other low-income high crime areas where my neighbors live in poverty.  I want to see.  The more I see, the better I am able to relate to my neighbors who live in conditions, without the option of avoidance.  It starts by showing up.

We say we witness with our lives; that’s never enough.  We must speak our witness.  The gift of the Spirit is not for our own personal experience; our private reserve.  We may claim we have a difficult time speaking up; fearing we will mess things up by what we say.  When we don’t try, we don’t give the Spirit a chance.  A witness is a real gospel stories from real person.

I love to hear how you love this church and her people.  When was the last time you told a person who needs a church what a difference Christ can make in their lives in this Body of Christ?  It is time again for you to have a heart to heart chat with someone who needs your witness.  People need to hear an account of your hope in Christ.  People want to know why your life in Christ is transforming.  There is no limit to what the Holy Spirit can do if you will quit holding our breath, use the gift of the spirit, open your mouth and speak the good news.  Trust the Spirit to do with your words what you cannot do; translate them and transform a life through your witness.

Last this world needs eyewitnesses, which is redundant; there is no other kind.  The word witness is the root word for the word martyr.  It cost something to be a 1st century witness.  It may not cost the same to be a 21st century witness, but there is a cost.  It may cost our time, money, or reputation.  We can do no other because we are commissioned to be witnesses for Christ.  We are to show up, see what’s going on, act in Christ’s name and speak good news to our neighbors and friends.

When you get in your car, look around the landscape of our church.  Ask each other what you see.  Send me an email this week or write it down how you think we might speak or act to our neighbors around FUMC.

Published in: on September 18, 2011 at 7:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Hope, Over our Head Luke 21: 25-36

After Annual Conference one year a man offered a strange congratulation for my reappointment.  He said, “So you are still here.”  I had a quizzical look on my face, so he said, “Every time the Apostle Paul told the gospel truth they ran him out of town.”  So, at the risk of packing my office, I must speak these things in our gospel text.  As long as we believe heaven hasn’t come down and glory filled our souls, we have to speak of what is to come.  It is the church’s job to tell the truth so we are ready for whatever is coming.

Jesus is speaking words of the world as we know it will come to an end.  He says none will escape: it will come upon all who live on the face of the earth.  Jesus also says: We should pray we’ll have the strength to “escape” these things.  He doesn’t say we will avoid trial and tribulations by some lucky rapture.  The word in the best manuscripts for escape is “prevail”.  We will have strength to make our way through it.

We prefer relishing in good times rather than trying to prevail through the difficult times.  Give us gospel light with two artificial teaspoons of sweetness.  Travail is as much of a part of the gospel world as triumph.  Just as Jesus entered into the world through travail, so does the kingdom of God.  Yes, all will be made well; but the old must pass away before the new comes and that will come with travail as it comes to pass.

It is ridiculous to say a single event like 9/11 determines the fate of world, or something to that nonsensical effect.  Our history is filled with wars and rumors of war and promises to usher in peace and prosperity in every age.  No matter how much our fear makes us build walls of security or how passionate we are about doing good; keep Jesus’ words in mind-we are not going to get it right with our walls or our will.  We are applying Band-Aids on the world’s sins and improving some people’s lives by our actions.  God expects us to insure the safety of all, particularly the least and honors any witness that points to what the world should be.  At the end of the day, an end is coming and the former will be judged as all things are made new.

The future isn’t what we make it; it doesn’t grow out of the present.  The world is not going to mature one day and then God starts the applause in heaven before making a grand entrance because we finally got it right.  The ultimate future is not about what becomes of us, but what comes to us; not about the worlds becoming, but God’s coming.

Jesus speaks of the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory; using an image to make us look up.  God comes from above us, not from us.  Our hope is over our heads.  We are over our heads if we think we can bring to pass any degree of certain hope by getting it right.  We cannot offer firm assurance this side of heaven, any more than we can control the weather.  The weather comes to us and we prepare for it.  Jesus says the “redemption is drawing near”; look up and get ready.

When people talk about their life of faith they often speak how faithful they been to a church or how they always try to do the right thing.  I often hear in their voice an anxiety whether what they have done will be enough.  I must tell you the truth as best as a pastor can: It will never be enough.  None of us is going to get to heaven on our Sunday School pins good moral living.  The question is if we trust Jesus to do what Jesus said he would do.  The Our Savior promise of is he will take our hands and lead us to God.  The issue is not whether we know how to get to God, but whether Jesus knows how to get us to God.  It’s not by our power; but by his.

Christ’s coming is a happening in progress and we ready ourselves by raising our heads.  We are not to cower; the terror that has consumed us in this last decade doesn’t have the last word.  We will never know the power of hope if our heads are down in fear and foreboding.  We cannot see Christ coming into our world if our anxieties are so local we fail to see beyond ourselves.  Lift our eyes; our hope is ahead and above us.  Real life comes to us from above us not within us.  Real hope places trust in one who is in control, not we are trying to take control.  The gospel is good news because the outcome of history in general and our lives in particular don’t depend upon us getting it right in our world of terror and uncertainty.  We hear good news when we know our hope is over our head. 

The first thing they teach in dance lesson is keep your head up; don’t look at your feet.  Your instincts say if you dance with your feet you ought to keep an eye on them.  You have to keep your head up and trust that your feet will follow the one who leads.  So if I want to dance well, I will have to allow Terri to take the lead and direct our steps.  When she keeps a firm hand on my shoulder, and gently pushes me around the dance floor, I can dance.  I must keep my head up and stay connected to my leader.

Jesus is saying in this text: Don’t try to do it yourself.  Trust me.  Keep your head up.  Stay connected.  I will lead you through to the end of times.  Our future is based upon the faithfulness of Jesus Christ who disappeared into the clouds and draws our head up so our imagination of our faith can live as if we can see his coming on earth as it is in heaven.  Stand up and raise your heads, people; live as if our redemption is drawing near.

The United Church of Canada’s Affirmation of Faith, A New Creed

We are not alone, we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.


Published in: on September 11, 2011 at 6:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Random Thoughts Throughout the Week of 9/11

I have been posting a daily thought on Facebook as I prepare my message on the decade remembrance of 9/11. As I reviewed them, it made sense to they were worth stringing them together

-All of us has to go through tribulations. As long as we believe heaven hasn’t come down yet and glory filled our souls, we have to speak of these things like: People fainting from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Luke 21: 26. May we read on to our Teacher’s “prevailing” words? v. 36

-We prefer gospel light with two artificial tablespoons of sweetness. We forget even Jesus entered into the world through travail. The birth of a child comes through painful labor. Might the kingdom of God come through travail?

-The ultimate future is not about the worlds becoming, but God’s coming. It is not like the world is going to grow up and mature and then God stands up to applaud in the heavens because we finally got it right. That makes all the difference to us in two worlds.

-When weather forms ahead of us and moving toward us, we are to get ready for its impact. So, when Jesus says the “redemption is drawing near”; he is saying get ready for hope is ahead and over our head.

-We are not to cower; the terror that has consumed us in this last decade doesn’t have the last word. We see life from above, so we might see who is in control and where to place our hope.

Published in: on September 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment