Returning to "Normal?"

Today I’ve switched my blog colors back to the blue and green of the Piedmont. Everywhere you look you will see those colors. There is a small hill not too far from home that has a beautiful overlook; green in the front, the blue mountains next, set against the blue sky. Slowly things are returning to “normal” around here. The last week in memorial to Virginia Tech, my colors were maroon and orange. It’s been interesting to see how God has using this forum to help me work through various topics. I posted on the value of singing as a spiritual discipline, and am really beginning to see the value of journaling as a spiritual discipline. It really helps change us.

Singing as a Spiritual Discipline

Hmmm! Thanks to my friend Mark at revitalizeyourchurch.blogspot.com I came across this interesting article from Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed. I’d like to explore this topic in more depth, but it’s late and I’m tired. We are looking at the corporate disciplines right now on Sunday Nights and we’ve covered prayer, scripture, and the move of God, along with other topics, but perhaps we will take a look at this idea of singing as a spiritual discipline. As a musician I love the idea and I can see that it has possiblities. Spiritual disciplines are designed to transform us — both as individuals and as a church. This is worth taking a deeper look.

Sunday Night Thoughts — April 22

Today was quite a day and really helped put the wraps on a very interesting week. The Virginia Tech tragedy had an impact on many in our congregation. We used today’s service to help the healing process along. Our call to worship was Psalm 18:1-3, followed by the Tommy Walker arrangement of “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” This was done several years ago by Promise Keepers. I’ve included a link to the song, so you can hear it. I’m real proud of my girls. Our congregation then sang, “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” After the Invocation, we sang Chris Tomlin’s “Forever” and Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name” and set up prayer with Walker’s “He Knows My Name.” We had a wonderful time around the altar praying for our college students, especially those attending Tech. I preached a sermon on Why? As part of the sermon I challenged the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus. If you want to see more, click here. We finished with “It Is Well With My Soul” and then pronounceds a responsive benediction.

Following the service, we had a fellowship luncheon, but before that we had a short meeting with our Assistant District Superintendent. He was here for an observation visit and had good things to say about how we are doing. We settled in for lunch and the ladies of the church did a great job. But there was one more thing on our agenda and that was our Local Church Conference. The whole day built on itself and God worked even as we had our business meeting. We finished our business meeting with communion and the Lord’s Prayer. That was a special time and was a highlight of the day.

Last week I wrote on what a good day we had on Sunday and then it was a little crazy on Monday. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again, but even if it does I know God is with me and it IS well with my soul. Blessings and have a great week.

Why

This past week has been an interesting week. We have all dealt with the event at Virginia Tech in different ways. There has been a lot of finger-pointing and blame, but most of all many were asking, “Where is God in all this?”

Today’s sermon was more a collection of thoughts than anything else. I offer it in its outline form, not a polished manuscript.

“Where is God in my suffering?” This is a good question to ask. God does not mind honest questioning.

This morning, instead of hearing people’s words, we are going to let God’s Word speak. We are going to let God speak for himself. We are going to look at three scriptures from the book of Hebrews to answer the question and find out what our response should be.

Hebrews 4:14-5:10 (New Living Translation)

14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins. 2 And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. 3 That is why he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as theirs.

4 And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was. 5 That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him,

“You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.”

6 And in another passage God said to him,

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

7 While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. 8 Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. 9 In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. 10 And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

The writer of Hebrews says that we have a great High Priest in Jesus who can identify with us. He went through everything that we did. We often have difficulty in making Jesus human. The Christmas carol “Away in a Manger” has the line, “But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” Do you think so? He was a baby in human form just like we are. He experienced life just as we did. I’m sure as a boy, he had many experiences with cut knees and bruises. Mary and Joseph had to change his diapers. He experienced pain when his followers didn’t understand. Jesus can identify with what we are feeling this morning. God gave his only son to die for our sins. If that is the case, do you think that He can identify with our suffering and our pain? The scriptures say yes, God can identify with us.

It was interesting to watch the blogosphere this week. One of the best writings I saw all week was from fellow blogger and Wesleyan pastor Rod Pickett. Here is what he wrote:

  • God created a good world in which his creatures were given the freedom to submit to his authority or to rebel against it.
  • Because God made humans in his own image and granted them a degree of freedom, they have the ability to make real choices with real consequences that affect others as well as themselves, for good or for ill.
  • Yet in the midst of this creaturely freedom, God remains in control.
  • He accomplishes his purposes in human history without fail.
  • He showers his grace upon even those who are rebellious and temporarily protects them from the ultimate consequences of their choices.
  • He even uses the very acts of disobedience and rebellion to accomplish his purposes.
  • God does not remain distant and detached from human suffering, saying “I told you so.”
  • Rather, he participates in our suffering, offering comfort and healing.
  • Earthly life is about more than just “getting signed up for heaven.”
  • God opposes evil in every form in which it appears and calls his people to do the same.
  • Our choices really matter. They affect us and the people around us.

God has given us an oath and promise that there is hope.

Hebrews 6:16-20 (New Living Translation)

16 Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. 17 God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. 18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. 20 Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

The scriptures tell us that God has given us an oath and a promise. This is a double binding. It is impossible for God to change it, because God does not lie. God’s oath is binding – God can be and God is our refuge – God is our anchor – God is our sure thing. God has given us a sure thing in Christ – Christ is our high priest – He leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary – Christ gives us direct access to God – Christ gives us hope.

So? — What difference does that make? What is our response as believers to those who have gone through suffering?

Hebrews 10:19-25 (New Living Translation)

19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Let’s see if we can pull all theses thoughts together:

  • Because of the price that Christ paid for us – he identifies with us.
  • How do we identify with the hurting around us?
  • Because Christ went to the cross – we have full access to God through Christ.
  • How can we be Christ to those around us? Do the people that we come in contact every day have full access to God through us? Let’s make sure that we are meeting the needs of those around us.

Where is God when it hurts? He is right there with us, he identifies with us. When it hurts, here’s what we must do so that we can be Christ to others.

  • We must hold tightly to the hope of Christ – there is a world out there that desperately needs hope. The only hope that they have is Christ – We need to go out among them and give them that hope.
  • We must think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. – This is putting our faith in action. James tells us that our faith without action is useless – so let’s help each other do this.
  • Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do – continue to be the church in the midst of trials – but encourage one another – this is the purpose of the church – Spirit FM has done a great job with this over the past week – they have been a great source of encouragement for me – that is what we need to do – that is what the church is here for – especially now that the day of his return is drawing near – We need to be at the work of building Christ’s Kingdom.

A Benediction Prayer

The following is from www.challies.com.

It ended on a powerful note when the Rev. Keith Allen, of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Blacksburg told us of his email from his archbishop, Emmanuel Koliny of Rwanda, who reminded him of the large-scale massacres in his own country a decade ago, and told us he was praying for Blacksburg. He then reminded Keith of the African Benediction, which Keith then paraphrased and blessed us with:

Minister: All our problems . . .
People: We send them to the cross of Christ!

Minister: All our difficulties . . .
People: We send them to the cross of Christ!

Minister: All the devil’s work . . .
People: We send them to the cross of Christ!

Minister: All our hopes . . .
People: We set on the risen Christ!

Minister: Christ, the Son of Righteousness, shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path: and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you, forever and ever. Amen.

Thanks to my good friend Mark at www.revitalizeyourchurch.blogspot.com

I may even use this to finish the service on Sunday

Third Sunday of Easter

Part of a series of post, based on the Revised Common Lectionary. This reading is for April 22, 2007.

Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

With the events of the past week, David’s song is a great source of comfort.

1 I will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me.
You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you restored my health.
3 You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.
You kept me from falling into the pit of death.

4 Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!

Praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

6 When I was prosperous, I said,

“Nothing can stop me now!”
7 Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain.
Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.

8 I cried out to you, O Lord.

I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
9 “What will you gain if I die,
if I sink into the grave?
Can my dust praise you?
Can it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.
Help me, O Lord.”

11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.

You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
12 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

The other three passages deal with various subjects. The Acts passage deals with Saul’s Damascus Road experience. It is a great story of transformation. I’ve said this before, Saul went from an all the way Pharisee to an all the way follower of Christ. All of that was a result of an encounter with the risen Christ. Has that happened to us? Has your life been radically changed as a result of an encounter with the risen Christ? My prayer is that it has been. Even Saul’s name was changed to Paul and he became a great leader in the early Church. Are you a Christ follower the way Paul was?

The John passage also deals with encounters with the risen Christ. After the resurrection, it appears the disciples, just went back to what they had always been doing. They had spent three years with Jesus. This is the third appearance of Jesus to the disciples. They already know that Jesus is risen and yet they go back to what they have already done. Perhaps this is why Jesus questions Peter after breakfast. Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Peter responded that he did. Jesus replies to feed the sheep. This happens three times. Perhaps repealing the three denials. Jesus makes it clear what their mission is; to be shepherd/servants as He is. That is what God has called me to. The disciple’s encounter with changed them.

The final passage deals with John’s letter that we call The Revelation.

11 Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. 12 And they sang in a mighty chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—
to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and blessing.”

13 And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
belong to the one sitting on the throne
and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

14 And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.

This is just one of several “hymn” snippets found in the book of Revelation. Last week I started a series that will look at these hymn snippets in depth and I will continue that next week. We have a hope because of the risen Christ. That is the hope alluded to in the Psalm. It is what changed Saul to Paul. It is what changed the disciples lives. Because of the risen Christ, we have a hope that we can be with Him and worship Him forever.

This Week We Are ALL Hokies!

The last few days have been difficult to process. There are always the questions of why. There has been the constant finger pointing by the media and others. I finally had to stop watching the news coverage this morning, because of the “blame game.”

The title of my blog is Virginia Transplant. I take a lot of ribbing being from the north. This past Christmas, one of the couples in our congregation got my daughter a VT t-shirt to go with her Michigan and Penn State t-shirts. This tragedy supercedes rivalries. Even though I am not an alumni, I do plan on finding some maroon and orange for Friday. I have been in prayer constantly for the families, the students, staff, and faculty of Virginia Tech. My children made cards for some of the students. Pastor Rod wrote this great (I think) response to why things like this happen. Here’s a summary.

  • God created a good world in which his creatures were given the freedom to submit to his authority or to rebel against it.
  • Because God made humans in his own image and granted them a degree of freedom, they have the ability to make real choices with real consequences that affect others as well as themselves, for good or for ill.
  • Yet in the midst of this creaturely freedom, God remains in control.
  • He accomplishes his purpose in human history without fail.
  • He accomplishes his purpose in the lives of those who trust in him and depend upon his grace.
  • He showers his grace upon even those who are rebellious and temporarily protects them from the ultimate consequences of their choices.
  • He even uses the very acts of disobedience and rebellion to accomplish his purposes.
  • God does not remain distant and detached from human suffering, saying, “I told you so.”
  • Rather, he participates in our suffering, offering comfort and healing.
  • Earthly life is about more than just “getting signed up for heaven.”
  • God opposes evil in every form in which it appears and calls his people to do the same.
  • Our choices really matter. They affect us and the people around us.

So, this is sort of the way I feel at this moment…I believe God has already changed the course of Sunday’s service and I am working at processing all as I prepare to preach Sunday. Thanks to Joy and Mark for your comments and your prayers….Continue to pray…

We Pray

By now most of you have heard of the tragic events in Virginia today. I have few words to describe how I feel. We had Spirit FM on the radio when I got out of work today. I was impressed that they decided to postpone their Spring Share-a-thon today to minister to the community. As I listened to the broadcast team, tears came to my eyes as I thought about two young men in our congregation who attended there. Fortunately, they are safe and ok. I thought about what the other students were thinking; how were parents feeling; and so on. So what do we do? We pray. We pray for comfort for the students, faculty and staff of VT, for the families of those who lost students. We pray…