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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.
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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?

Seeing behind the curtain

Pastoral ministry is the call to faithfulness. It’s the call to press on and keep going. It means sometimes not really knowing how God is using you, but trusting that he is honored by your faithfulness. But, sometimes, God, in his grace, allows us a sneak peak behind the curtain. Tonight was one such night.

The last four days I have been in class as I start of my last semester of my Ph.D. program (which, by the way, is cool. Can’t believe I’m at the last semester). Then tomorrow there is an open house and the moving truck comes on Monday to move us to Florida. Tonight, in the midst of all that madness of school and packing and prepping to move, some dear friends invited us and some other families over to their house for dessert. Tonight, I got a sneak peak behind the curtain.

As we leave Delaware and head to Florida, what difference have I made as a pastor? Has God been pleased by my work? At the party tonight, had a chance to see and interact with several families from the church, many (most?) of whom went to us with New Orleans over the last couple of summers. Talking to them and hearing their stories, God allowed me to see how he, in his pleasure and for his glory, has used me to serve his church. And maybe the coolest part of the whole thing is that this was not only about me as a pastor, but Kim and I serving together. Through our faithful service, God used us to reveal his grace and his mission to these families. They are grateful for us. We are grateful for them. And I am grateful for those times when God allows me to see behind the curtain and capture just a glimpse of how he is using me to lead the church and grow the kingdom.

Leading ministry in the next decade

In an interview for Church Executive Magazine, church consultant Kent Hunter (commonly known as The Church Doctor) was asked, “What common issues do churches most seem to have that you encounter in your consultations?”

Hunter response, in which he puts forward five key issues he sees many churches facing, is insightful…

  1. Identifying methods and strategies to deliver the Gospel effectively in the 21st century mission field that America has become.
  2. Communicating to postmodern young adults, eager for spirituality, but turned off to the institutional church.
  3. How to activate members for ministry in the backdrop of soaring costs for staff.
  4. The best practices that provide a model for staffing today.
  5. How to change direction from getting people to church to getting the church to people.

You can read the whole article here, but I’d like to briefly interact with each of these points.

Identifying methods and strategies to deliver the Gospel effectively in the 21st century mission field that America has become.

In many ways, this is the umbrella concept that lays on top of all the others. David Wells has written, “It is the task of theology, then, to discover what God has said in and through Scripture and to clothe that in a conceptuality which is native to our own age.” We, Christian leaders, need to rethink how we are going to effectively communicate the unchanging truths of the gospel in a changing culture. For example, missions has become and “everywhere to everywhere” reality. Not only is the United States a large sender of missionaries, but other countries are now sending missionaries here! Our own backyard might be our biggest mission field.

Communicating to postmodern young adults, eager for spirituality, but turned off to the institutional church.

This idea has been explored in depth in books such as unChristian by David Kinnaman and Lost and Found by Ed Stetzer. People want to be spiritual, but not religious. They want conversations, not one-way monologues. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:6). Learning how to engage conversations with this type of radical grace is the first start to communicating to spiritual, but not religious, people.

How to activate members for ministry in the backdrop of soaring costs for staff.

LeadNet, in their biennial report on  the economic outlook of churches, reports that in 2006, of the churches that participated in the study, the average staffing ratio was 1:59. That is, for every 59 people who attended the church, there was one F.T.E. position. By 2008, that ratio had changed to 1:45. Churches are becoming more staff heavy, depending upon staff, rather than lay servants volunteering their time, to accomplish the work of the church. How can the church more efficiently and effectively mobilize the whole body to serve? When this happens, we will see the power of the priesthood of all believers.

The best practices that provide a model for staffing today.

As part of a seemingly fundamental shift, I am seeing in churches today a great thing – real staffing plans. Instead of hiring when the money is available or when the need is obvious, many churches are proactively looking at their ministry plan and then aligning existing staff with the ministry plan. When gaps are found, those become the positions that the church will look to fill with either paid or volunteer workers. I am excited about this trend.

How to change direction from getting people to church to getting the church to people.

This is where that “seemingly fundamental shift” I mentioned above comes into play. Being a missional church is all the rage in the conversation, but it is a lot harder of a paradigm shift than most people recognize. Instead of telling the world, “come to us,” we are telling believers to “go into the world.” This shift requires rethinking everything a church does from its facility use to its staffing to its programs. We can tell people to be missional, but does the church’s budget reflect this priority, or is money primarily spent on maintenance of facilities and keeping insiders happy? Do the programs support this priority or are people so busy with church, that they don’t even have time to have their neighbors over for a cookout? Missional is a great concept, but changing directions here is tough.

Interact: This is a good list Hunter provides. Which one provides the greatest opportunity for your church? How will you pursue making that priority a reality?

Reprioritizing

Early this morning, I was reading an article on espn.com when a text message came in from a good friend of mine.  His pregnant wife had been in a car accident and he was asking for prayer.  We’ve since found out that she and the baby are both okay (she’s already been released from the hospital), but such an incident has a way of quickly reprioritizing.  Instead of reading about Manny turning down $25 million or new evidence that Barry used steriods (he did? who knew?), my heart was moved to pray.  

As fast as my eyes could read that text message, my day was reprioritized.  My prayer is that today, each of us would have a moment where we are reprioritized from the mundane and everyday and instead challenged to share God’s heart for the hurting and to trust in Christ alone as their help.