A Letter to my Congregation: Pastoral Reflections on Yesterday’s Election

Dear Christian–

We wake up this morning to a new world. Some people are excited, some are saddened and some are devastated… but nearly everyone is shocked. And, ironically, I probably could have written this email regardless of who won last night.

I will leave it to the pundits to try and understand how this happened, what it says about the state of the American public and American politics. But as your pastor, my deeper concern is for the fracturing in our country. Each of us has friends and family (and maybe this even describes you) who are hurting and angry. Half of our country feels disenfranchised, scared or completely betrayed by the system.

So what will we, the church, do now?

The church must walk in integrity. Never has the world needed our faithful walk of obedience more than now. May we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be full of character and known for our honesty and kindness to all people.

The church must be a beacon of hope in the midst of darkness, confusion and instability. People are going to be looking for something firm to hold onto, and initial indications are that even the financial markets will experience significant turbulation and uncertainty. Politics may fail and finances may falter, but we have the hope of the risen Christ as our foundation.

The church must demonstrate peace and unity. Of all the words to describe our nation right now, words like polarized, fractured, broken and angry come to mind. Not peace and unity. In the coming days, there will be a lot of talk of unifying and drawing together. But it won’t work, not apart from the Spirit’s help anyway. Peace and unity are only possible if they start with the church and are modeled by the church.

The church must pray for wisdom for our leaders. We, as a nation, have a long road ahead with internal and external challenges facing us. All of our elected officials will need the wisdom of Solomon to govern well. So let us pray for that wisdom.

The church must honor and dignify those whom God made in his image. We have a President-elect who has successfully offended and angered women, immigrant, Muslims and many more. Racial tensions are high. Into this brokenness, we can be known as those who build up those who feel most disenfranchised and devalued. And maybe for you, dignifying and honoring God’s image-bearers means respecting our soon-to-be president.

The church must model compassion to the least, the last and the lost. May we be known for our radical generosity and love for those who feel like the system has failed them and need help. Julian the Apostate, the 4th century Roman Emporor, once famously said,”These impious Galileans [Christians] not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their fellowship, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.” This pagan emperor’s biggest problem with Christians is that they were so generous in caring for the poor. May the same be said of us.

The church must be a prophetic voice of truth to the world. Into a world of empty words, deceitful words and false words, we are to speak truth with grace. Because Jesus is truth.

Friends, the world is changing right before our eyes. We could get swept up in the changes. But that is not what the world needs right now. We have the incredible opportunity to be a calming presence to an anxious nation. And we can do so because our hope is not in the president, but in the High King. Let us rest and hope in the words of Revelation 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

For Christ,
Steve

You Bled: A Good Friday Responsive Reading

goodfridaybloodIn preparation for our 2015 Good Friday service, I wrote the following responsive reading as part of a service that will call our congregation to reflect on blood: its importance Scripturally, its unique role in God’s story of redemption and the preciousness of the blood of Jesus Christ.

Leader reads L / Congregation reads C

L: When in the earnestness of your prayer, sweat formed on your brow, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: When you were arrested and beaten, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: As the nails drove through your hands and feet, hanging you on the cross, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: When they pierced your side, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: While I was your enemy, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: Even when I denied knowing you, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: For the sins of the world, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: For my sins, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

A: By your blood we are forgiven. By your blood we are saved. We cling to the blood of Jesus. Amen.

A Prayer for Reconciliation in Ferguson and throughout the US… but mostly the Church

Lord of peace, give us peace (Jn 14:27; 2 Thess 3:16).

Prayer2Lord, we want to believe that racial tensions are in the past and that racial issues have been resolved. Yet we have seen this week just how shaky the racial ceasefire is that still exists in our nation. We don’t know, maybe nobody knows, all that happened in Ferguson on that fateful day. We don’t know the details that led to the grand jury’s decision, but we do know that a young man’s life was tragically lost, that a police officer is afraid for the safety of he and his family, that many are hurt and angered, that justice feels out of reach and that there is no win for anyone in this situation, that rioting and looting only amplify the angst of the moment… and we know that the present circumstances are merely symptomatic of a racial divide that goes way deeper than we want to acknowledge… or maybe are even willing to acknowledge.

Lord, we come to you now because it is here, in the midst of tragic circumstances that we don’t fully understand, that we cling to the promise of your sovereign goodness and crying out for your help.

We, your church, come confessing that we have been quick to judge not knowing all the facts. We confess that we have been quick to speak, but slow to listen. We confess that we have not been as grieved as you have at the loss of the life of a man you handcrafted in your own image. We confess that maybe we haven’t even thought this was that big of a deal. We, your church, confess that we have not been the agents of racial reconciliation that you have called us to be. And we confess that in our own hearts and lives we have not valued one another as those made in the image of God and those for whom Jesus died.

Lord, we cry out. We need your help. And we need you to start with us, your church. We need you to change us, to forgive us, to sanctify us. We need you to make us, your church, more like Jesus right now for the sake of a world that is broken and hurting. Give us ears to listen to those who feel like they have no voice. Enable us to love even as, in Christ, we are loved by the Father. Embolden us to recognize and attack the systemic issues of race that divide us. Give us the courage to repent to those we have harmed by our actions or by our failure to act, maybe without even knowing. Strengthen us that we might come alongside those who are hurting, sharing their heavy load. And grant us the yearning to seek a reconciliation that only you can accomplish.

Lord, our nation is hurting and needs the hope of the gospel. Our nation needs the church. So Lord, please, build your church. And start with us. Overwhelm us with grace that we might radiate hope and healing to those around us. May grace flow through us. May the church be known as a place of racial healing. May the church reflect the kingdom of God as racial barriers are torn down and people of “every tribe, tongue, people and nation” (Rev 5:9) gather together to worship Holy God.

Lord of peace, we don’t want another ceasefire. We want healing. We want reconciliation. We want peace. So please, give us the peace you promised in your Word (Jn 14:27).

In the name of the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father… in the name of the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6) – Jesus our Lord, we pray, Amen.

Good Friday: The day Christ fell is the day Mercy stood!

How is it that a day of such of evil and pain…

ever got the word “good” in its name?

The Space Between: A Good Friday Reflection

We call it Good Friday, yet it is marked by death… the death of Jesus. We may know that Sunday’s coming, with its promise of hope and resurrection. But the space between death and resurrection is a place of pain, heartache, loneliness and sorrow. The following is a poem I wrote as a reflection last year for Good Friday entitled, The Space Between. Special thanks to Steve Brown of Key Life who recorded the audio.

[audio http://www.covenantlifepca.com/clients/73/media/TheSpaceBetween.mp3]

The Space Between

The space between Sunday and Friday
Is more than I grasp, more than I can say
What started on a high note has turned into an awful week
Let me share the story of how it got this bleak

It all began on Sunday as Jesus came riding into town
For just the chance to see him, people gathered from all around
“Hosanna” they shouted, “Won’t you be our king?”
“We’ll put a crown upon your head and on your finger, a ring”

As Sunday turned to Friday, all joy began to disappear
The celebration ended, replaced by doubt and fear
Walking through that week and all that did unfold
The air, like my heart, grew heavy and cold

For 30 pieces of silver he was betrayed by a good friend
Then Peter said he didn’t know him, or so he did pretend
They hurled baseless accusations in that sham of a trial
Still he did not defend himself, not even a denial

Pilate was gonna set him free, but he gave into the crowd
He was gonna let him walk, but that’s when they got really loud
His enemies riled the crowd ‘til all you could hear was “Crucify!”
So he was beaten, bruised, spat upon and hung on a cross to die

As he breathed his final breath, he cried out “It is done”
That’s when darkness covered the land, swallowing the sun
The One who at creation declared “Let there be light”
Died a violent death and was buried on that scandalous night

For years I had followed him wherever he went
Never could I have foreseen this dramatic turn of events
My God, my King, my Jesus was laid in a grave
The hopes and fears of all the years… Buried with him in that cave

The space between Sunday and Friday
Is more than I grasp, more than I can say
Sunday’s triumphant parade of victory
Has given way to Friday’s agony

His friends all forsook him, they all began to flee
I ran too, so that list includes me
Our once-so-close knit group has been all strewn and scattered
After three years of following him, I wonder if any of it mattered

The space between Friday and Sunday is a terrible place
It’s an ugly, dark and unjust land of fear and disgrace
The brokenness and the dread, the heartache and the pain
Here I stand all alone, my faith has begun to wane

Someone once called this the dark night of the soul
If only someone could come and make my aching heart whole
Jesus is the only one who could do that, but alas, he is dead
Trapped in that gloomy moment, I hold on to something he once said

He made a curious comment: “Three days and I will rise”
If that is true, my friends, I must see it with my own eyes
I count the days till Sunday, I long for it to come
If Jesus does rise, a mighty victory’s been won

Caught between the grave and resurrection, between death and life
I want to believe, but in this place I’m torn between hope and strife
Right here, right now, that coming victory hardly can be seen
So until Sunday I’ll wait, in the space between

 

Lord, Silence the Noise

Lord, silence the noise
Let me please hear your voice
Lord quiet the crowd
And the sounds that surround
Lord, come near
So I can hear… your voice

Lord speak, for your servant is listening
Lord speak, for your servant is willing
Lord speak, for I will obey
Whatever you say
So Lord speak, for I long to hear… your voice

Lord, still me
Teach me to be quiet before you
Lord speak, your spirit to mine
All to you I offer
That I might hear your whisper
So Lord speak, for I long to hear… your voice

Eager Anticipation… Misplaced.

The highly anticipated iPhone 4 hit the shelves one week ago today. Apple announced sales of 1.7 million phones in the first 3 days alone and will likely announce surpassing the 3 million mark in the next week or so. And this is with the phone only being available in 3 countries. Wait till it hits the other 88 countries around the world where it will be available over the next few months. The buzz that Apple can create with a product launch is amazing. Is there a better, more streamlined way to launch the product that would include fewer lines and less waiting? Certainly. But those lines create the eager anticipation and buzz that push Apple to the front pages and lead news stories.

The church where I formerly served has been gracious to allow me to keep my previous iPhone until this new one was available. But, I do need to return it to them, so I had pre-reserved a phone to pick up on launch day. Yes, I was one of those crazies waiting in line. Pictured here is the line at the mall where I had reserved my phone. And for the record, I was waiting in line for 4 hours before I got to this part of the line! That day, I arrived at the mall at 4:45pm. After a quick bathroom break and picking up a drink in the food court, I got in line at 5:00pm. I walked out of the mall, new iPhone 4 in hand, at 10:53pm.

That morning I woke up particularly early. At 6:00am, I was already wide awake. At that point I was thinking, “Hey, I wonder if the Walmart down the street will actually have any units available for walk-up purchase? Maybe I could get mine this morning rather than waiting till after work today to get it.” That is how bad I wanted the phone.

Now, that particular morning I made a good decision. And, to be honest, one that I, unfortunately, don’t always make. Instead of rushing out the door to Walmart, I picked up my Bible to read. Like I said, I’m not always that disciplined. That day I did make a good decision. Anyway, I’ve been reading the Philippians and wanted to share what I read that morning as it has still been on my heart, working me over since that day.

“Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Crazy lines of eager anticipation swarm an iPhone release, yesterday’s release of Eclipse (the third movie in the Twilight series) and even many sporting events. I have, as with the iPhone, even been part of some of those swarms of eager anticipation (for the record, I wasn’t part of the Eclipse crowd!) But this short passage, taken from a hymn that Paul records in his letter to the Philippians, begs the question, “Why don’t I [we] live with this type of eager expectation for the glory of God to be revealed in me [us]?”

Why is it that I put other things first in my life? The answer is one that I don’t want to hear and involves a word that we avoid at all cost: idolatry. Yeah, maybe I made a good decision that day to read my Bible instead of race to Walmart in hopes of being one of the elect who got a phone at 7:02am, but I somehow thought that I couldn’t wait till that evening. I had to have it and had to have it now. At that point, I’m not any different than the Israelites in Exodus 32 when they built the golden calf. I am hoping for life, meaning and satisfaction from a phone rather than in Christ, whom God has exalted to the highest place. That is the definition, par excellence, of idolatry: putting hope and trust in something rather than in Christ.

Thank you, Lord, for the mountain of mercy where I can come and find forgiveness and where Christ is exalted forever as King. Make him King – exalted above all else – in my life today.

Interact: What do you exalt to the highest place in your life? What do I?