Behind the Pulpit: Holy Week Reflection

This is an important week in the Christian faith. It begins with the remembrance of Christ’s “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, goes through the week into Maunday Thursday and then Good Friday.

Many words are used this week and can I be honest about all of this word usage?

It gets exhausting from my side of the pulpit.  

Not because of the message of this week and this coming weekend but because I sometimes think that the wordiness gets in the way of the message of Easter.

Now I will freely admit that I am not saying much this week. In other words, I am not doing a lot of public pronouncements at various worship services.

What I am yearning for, and I pray that you who read these words would yearn for it too, is an Easter experience in which the Lord really makes His presence known in our hearts and lives.

For me, spending time reading through the gospel accounts of this week and prayerful reflecting on them  is what I am going to be doing.

There is a time to be silent and a time to speak  Ecclesiastes 3:7b

Il Signore sia con voi! 

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Faith (and Life) After 30: Keep the Faith! It makes a difference!

 

I recently read (and wish I could remember where) that a well known speaker said something to the effect that younger adults are looking to have conversations with older people who have kept the faith.

Do that! It is vital for your faith that you see and hear people tell their stories of faith lived day in and day out through their 20′s, 30′s, 40′s, 50′s, 60′s, 70′s, and beyond! There is life beyond all the conferences and concerts and retreats, important they are, in which the day to day must be made meaningful and missional.

Late January is the time of year when I remember my public profession of faith in Christ. I was child but I knew that I needed Christ in my life and my pastor helped me make that profession of faith at an altar. As I share that experience with others I also say, as a reminder to myself, “I have not perfectly lived out that profession of faith. I have failed many times.” That experience is now 48 years behind in my life’s rear view mirror. But it has worked! God has worked, again and again.

My mid to late 20′s were some of the darkest times of my life. I did turn my back on my faith though I kept up appearances which fooled no one. I had dug a deep hole and it was only God, with the aid of some others, and some very good counseling, that helped me climb out of it.

After 10 years of marriage my wife and I became serious about kids. After a year of trying, she said, “Go see the doctor!” (Why me?) Turns out that I need to have  fertility surgery and I remember telling the congregation I served, “I’m not sure that I will ever become a father.” One of the members said to my wife “I thought you didn’t like children!”

It worked!

Twice!

And now my oldest is at the tail end of high school and in two years, Empty Nest will become a reality.

A year ago I had just begun what became a four month journey with my mom as she underwent two major cardiac procedures. Being an only child and first being three and then two and one-half hours away made for a draining experience. God was present for me, mom, and the medical personnel who worked on her.

Every so often, I stop and think, “Where would I be without the Lord?”

Not here writing these words I think!

So, faith and life does not end at 30. It only is getting underway!

Keep the faith! It matters!

 

 

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Holy Monday Prayer

 

I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem
    and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer.
I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. Isaiah 56:7

 

This week Our Father is a week that causes us to stop and ponder

You

Myself

Salvation

Grace

Love

Death

Hate

Guilt

Shame

Sin

Life

Help us to enter our places of worship this week mindful of the inner realities of life which demand our attention far more than the packed schedules and preoccupation with outerwear and chocolate.

Amen

Sunday Sermon: Being Faithful not Famous

John 12:12-19

Palm Sunday Sermon, April 13, 2014

 

This is a time of year where there is a lot of overlap in sports. Auto racing has been running for a little over a month, baseball has moved into the regular season, pro hockey and basketball is beginning to head into post season, college basketball and hockey winds down, and pro football is taking a brief nap. Careers, legends, and champions are made and unmade, born or reborn, and begin or come to an end. Fame is elusively missed or surprisingly achieved.

 

And speaking of fame, how many here have ever personally met a famous person?

 

Were you impressed?

 

Tribute to the winners

Tribute to the winners (Photo credit: patentboy)

The most famous person I have personally met is Jerry Lucas. He played his college ball at Ohio State and was part of the NCAA championship in 1960. He also won a Gold Medal in the 1960 Olympics as part of the USA basketball team. He was a 7 time NBA all-star and was a part of the 1973 NBA Champion New York Knicks and was named one of the top 50 greatest players of the NBA in 1996.

 

But I met and heard Jerry Lucas, after his days of basketball. It was in the 1990’s at our national meetings. By this point had he become known for his unique memory system and shared it as it related to Bible memorization. I even got his autograph that day. His Christian faith was evident in his comments before and after and he seems to have had a quality life after fame had come his way.

 

 Have you ever asked yourself what makes a person famous?

 

Here are some famous people on the issue of fame:

 

John Wooden at a ceremony on Oct. 14, the coac...

John Wooden at a ceremony on Oct. 14, the coach’s 96th birthday, to name the Reseda post office after the sports legend and long-time San Fernando Valley resident. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. John Wooden

 

Oprah at her 50th birthday party

Oprah at her 50th birthday party (Photo credit: Alan Light)

 

If you come to fame not understanding who you are, it will define who you are. Oprah Winfrey

 

English: Charlie Sheen in March 2009.

English: Charlie Sheen in March 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Fame is empowering. My mistake was that I thought I would instinctively know how to handle it. But there’s no manual, no training course. Charlie Sheen

 

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe (Photo credit: Alexander Sasha Dejan)

 

Fame doesn’t fulfill you. It warms you a bit, but that warmth is temporary. Marilyn Monroe

 

English: Andy Warhol

English: Andy Warhol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes. Andy Warhol

I’m bored with that line. I never use it anymore. My new line is, “In 15 minutes, everybody will be famous.” Andy Warhol

 

Now, I will have one more statement up in a moment. But here is a question about it, “Is it a statement about being famous or being faithful?”

 

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. Jesus in Luke 9:24

 

Jesus was famous on this day we call Palm Sunday. He had performed numerous miracles over the past three years. He had raised Lazarus from the dead after he had been buried for four days. Jesus was on everybody’s guest list.

 

And so when He came into Jerusalem, He was feted! Big Time!

 

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming,
riding on a donkey’s colt.”

 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it.  That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

 

In this passage there are three groups of people present. There are the disciples who are with Jesus and who, as we read in the other parallel gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, are responsible for getting the donkey on which Jesus rides into Jerusalem.  There are many things, I think, going on in their mind as the Passover approaches. Little did they know.

 

There is the crowd, actually I think, two crowds. There is the Jerusalem crowd who is awaiting Jesus’ arrival and there is the crowd who is following Jesus into Jerusalem and who is telling the first crowd about the miracle of Lazarus. Excitement abounds in their thinking and their hoping. Little did they know.

 

And then, there are the Pharisees who see their influence wane because, as we read in verses 9 through 11 of what Jesus had done in raising Lazarus from the dead. They are angry. They are jealous. They are looking for an opportunity to silence the opposition – Jesus. Little did they know.

 

And of course, there is Jesus in the middle of them all and Luke notes in chapter 19 and verses 41 and 42 of his gospel account that Jesus’ heart is broken for Jerusalem:

But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.

 

I suggest this morning that there is a common thread running through all of these groups which are swirling around Jesus as He enters Jerusalem four days before His arrest and crucifixion. This common thread, in light of Lazarus’ resurrection, is an expectation that Jesus will do something powerful to change the situation which currently exists. They all view Jesus as very powerful especially since He raised Lazarus from the grave. Some are hoping He will use his fame and power and make these changes and others are hoping to keep it from happening.

 

But Jesus’ focus is not on becoming powerful and famous but being faithful to God the Father’s plan and when He says “It is finished,” the Pharisees were happy because they had stopped Him (or so they though); the crowd was disappointed and I think that some in the crowd that day were screaming “Crucify Him!” a few days later while others were deeply disappointed that He had not overthrown the Romans (or so they thought); and the Disciples, well they scattered, some just far enough to keep tabs on what was going on and the others took off and probably hid (or so they tried!)

 

And Jesus died.

 

We call this Sunday Palm Sunday and remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that day. But there is more that we need to explore in the events of this week we call Holy Week than the events we have already looked at.

 

I think that these three groups, all present at the Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem, continue to get His attention through the rest of the week. “Why?” Because He ultimately wants them to see Him and believe in Him as the Messiah who transforms more than their circumstances. He wants them to believe in Him as the Son of God who transforms their hearts and lives as He saves them from their sin!

 

Let me illustrate from various gospel texts of what Jesus did and said this week prior to His death and resurrection in which these three audiences were addressed in one way or another about Jesus’ real mission and purpose.

 

In Matthew 21, we read of Jesus getting the Pharisees’ attention with a rampage of the Temple in which He over turns tables and chairs of those selling animals to be sacrificed in line with the ancient Hebrew law. But even then we read these words:

 

“The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them.  The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David. But the leaders were indignant.”

 

Jesus also over the course of the next day would again use parables to describe how different the Kingdom of God is to what the Pharisees teach and believe with stories about the Two Sons, The Evil Farmers, and the Wedding Dinner. Parts of Matthew 21, 22, and 23 tell these stories. He also argues them about taxes and the Greatest Commandment.

 

As for the crowd, John records in chapter 12 and verse 37 this incredible statement: But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. Wow. Unbelievable! (And yet, is it?)

 

But as the week comes close to the Passover celebration, Jesus pulls back and focuses on the disciples and we have His final words to the Disciples in John chapters 13 through 17. Then comes the betrayal, His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and His death.

 

But all through that week His agenda and focus is not about fame and popularity. It is about being faithful and obedient to the Father’s plan. John 14:1-7

 

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.  And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

 

So what does all this mean for us this week?

 

One question: What are you seeking this week – to be famous in some way or to be faithful to God’s mission and purpose for you?

 

Fame comes and goes. Some, perhaps, many of us had no idea who Jerry Lucas was and is.

Who was the MVP for the 1989 World Series? Who had the bestselling book in 1972? Who won the Academy Award for best picture in 1981?

 

Who was that teacher in school who helped you work through a tough class? Who was that basketball coach who took a risk and selected you for the team? Who was that Sunday School teacher who helped you learn the Bible?

 

Let us choose to be people of faith and faithfulness to God and His mission as we go through this week and remember Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Amen.

 

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My One Word: A Quarterly Review and Reflection

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others. Proverbs 12:15

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. Proverbs 18:13

 

I think that I could spend the rest of my ministerial career in the book of Proverbs because just about each verse of this very wise, deep,  and insightful book is a self-standing sermon which would provide me with many years of sermon texts. And I am not surprised that there are many references to the wisdom of listening as wise living and wise be-ing including the practice of listening.

It has been a few weeks (months, maybe?) since I posted about My One Word for 2014 - listen. I have learned  and I am still learning that listening is hard work.

“You’re not listening to me,” was a refrain my mom often used (and sometimes she still does!) when I was not really listening. I was thinking about something else, I was planning in my head for something else, and I was not focused on what she was saying to me.

Listening is hard work.

Two days ago Amy Young wrote a post over at oneword365.com  “Seven Questions:: Quarterly Review” in which she lists seven questions to ask now three plus months into 2014 about the One Word which many people have picked in place of a New Year’s Resolution. Here they are:

  • Do I still like my word?
  • Where do I see evidences of my OneWord365?
  • In what ways has my word surprised me?
  • How has my OneWord365 served, prepared, or protected me so far this year?
  • In what ways has my word disappointed me?
  • If there are significant disappointments, do I need to explore this area more?
  • Are there ways I need to open myself up more to my OneWord365?

Last year’s word was Empower (and I am still doing that) and this year’s word is Listen (which I am learning to do.)

I still very much like my One Word and I still believe that it was God directed as I need to consistently slow down and listen to God, others, and myself. The importance of listening has shown up everywhere but nowhere as intense and important as within my own heart. Often I feel the prompt of the Spirit to simply stop.sit down.slow down.and listen.

Without it becoming a overachieving and overindulging navel gazing experience, listening to my own anxious, fearful, codependent soul with the Holy Spirit present at times has been one of the most difficult things to do. Listening is hard work.

I think that My One Word for this year has been serving as a circuit breaker against overdoing it (whatever it maybe) and so it has protected me in ways that I cannot see and have yet to see. But I have not been disappointed with this word. If anything, as Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen has pointed in their book My One Word it will take us in a direction we do not expect to take. I am already experiencing this when I realize that I need to be listening more carefully to what others are saying.

So for this first quarter of 2014 I am grateful to the Lord for this word but listening is hard work.

listening0414

 

 

 

 

Behind The Pulpit: An Introduction

 

 

As I noted a few weeks ago, some changes to the blog are being made one of which is a weekly post related to my work in ministry. I hope that these will be helpful to both my fellow clergy and church members. Anonymity will be honored when it comes to persons names and situations will be altered as needed.

I struggled with a title for this regular column and as I sat down to write it, the title of this post came to mind. So, Behind the Pulpit will become a mid-week post and my weekly prayers,  referred to as hump day prayers are moving to Mondays because quite frankly,  it seems that I am finding a prayer voice on Mondays instead of Wednesdays.

For this first post I want to share a few views from Behind the Pulpit about ministry that I believe to be true across the Church.

1. Ministry is a complex job. I often talk about the hats I wear – counseling, social worker, lawyer, are three of the biggest because of the personal and family issues brought to me regarding the first two and because the legal environment the church finds itself in these days is something that a pastor cannot ignore. Let me also add, since I am fairly familiar with computers and software – Help Desk! :) There is specialization in pastoral ministry this day but in the smaller churches (like mine) the pastor wears many hats.

2. The pastor’s family lives in a fishbowl. I am grateful for a wonderful wife and two great kids. My wife has worked hard at giving them as much “normalcy” as is possible in a pastor’s family. Key to this is working hard to not make the church the “enemy” for the boys as it has become for many pastor’s kids who have left the church and faith. (Note: I have worked at also keeping my mouth shut when I have so wanted to vent at the dinner table about someone in the church.) But my wife and my kids are always on public display.

3. Emotional health and what I will call “sobriety” is necessary in the ministry. I have now started “tweetchatting” with other pastors on Monday morning on a chat called SermonPrep (or #SermonPrep in Twitter parley!) Today’s topic was about emotional health. It is very hard to keep yourself under control when you/the church/your family are being harshly criticized or unfairly judged, but as the Bible says, tongue holding is a very wise think to do!

4. There are seasons of life and seasons of ministry. I have stopped using the word “balance” in my speaking and writing. I think that balance is impossible in life. There is rhythm and there are seasons. There are seasons of gains and losses in ministry and life. There are seasons of success and failure. There are seasons of peace and there are seasons of well.. war! (I prefer the term conflict.) But just as a farmer (and living in a rural community has brought this to great clarity in my life) uses the seasons to help farm, learning to work with Lord in the seasons of life and ministry helps to reduce your anxiety, and as a non-anxious presence in the church, the lives of others as well.

Il Signore sia con voi!

 

Jim