Monday, November 24, 2008

Grief during the Holiday Season...It is OK!

Yesterday at SVC, we had a holy moment.

I began the sermon by having people look to their neighbor and say two things:
1) "Happy Thanksgiving."
2) "Next time you see me I will be 7 pounds heavier."

"Thanksgiving is great," I continued.
"We enjoy fellowship with our relatives...we eat until we can't eat anymore...we confine ourselves to the living room where we lie on couches for the rest of the afternoon and we join in one of the greatest spiritual experiences of the holiday season--we watch America's team, or more importantly, God's team, play a few hours of football."

However, if you are like me, there will be moments of grief this holiday season. This is the first holiday season without my grandfather. For some people, it will be their first holiday season without a dad, mom, sister, brother, a son or daughter, or a close relative or friend.
Maybe it is the first holiday season, or another holiday season, as one who has suffered from a broken marriage.
Maybe it is the first holiday season, or another holiday season, without the presence of a relative because they are fighting a war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or they are stationed somewhere else throughout the world.
The truth is that there are certain people that we do not know life without them. And there absence stings.

For those who would be experiencing moments of sadness or grief during the Thanksgiving week, I had them stand. And then, we surrounded them, and we laid hands on them, and I prayed this prayer:
Lord, we come surrounding those we love as a testament to them that they are not alone, and that we choose to enter into their pain and grief this week. We are taught in Scripture that when a member rejoices, we all rejoice; and when a member mourns, we all mourn. In our grief contain and comfort us. Embrace us with your love, and give us hope in our confusion. As Jesus ascended into the heavens he spoke these words, "I am with you always." Let these words come to fruition this week in ways that are evident so that people may be fully aware of your abiding, constant presence.
(And the we all joined in praying these words together)
We turn to you, O God;
We claim your love;
We choose to be made whole.

Here's the point:
Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks.
And on Sunday's around Thanksgiving, many churches focus on gratitude...which is good.
However, there are people who experience moments of grief and mourning during holiday seasons like Thanksgiving, and often we (the church) do not give them a voice.
Even for those who are mourning and grieving, is there something in their life to be grateful for? Absolutely!
But while giving thanks, is it okay to mourn and grieve? Absolutely!

May this Thanksgiving season be full of the presence of power of a God who abides with his people.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New York...Poverty

It was a holy moment this past Wednesday, when I stood at Ground Zero and then walked across the street to St.Paul's Chapel. What struck me at this location was that:
-Ground Zero was a place of great tragedy...but across the street at St. Paul's, it birthed great unity.
-Ground Zero was a place of death...but across the street it became a place of life.
-Ground Zero was a place of ashes...across the street was healing.
-Ground Zero was a heap of destruction...across the street was a place where people began to build again.

In that location, we all witnessed the best of America.

"All over this country, too many children are growing up in harm's way--and too many lives are being washed away--because the levees we've built are too weak and too low. When a 13-year-old girl thinks there's nothing wrong with having a baby that will drive them both toward lives of poverty, we haven't built the levees high enough. When 15-year-old boys become fathers, then walk away, get shot, or go to jail, we haven't built the levees high enough. When young people spend more time going to meth labs than chemistry labs, we haven't built the levees high enough. We know better, but we don't act because we don't want to look. If we believe in community, we must find the courage to do what communities do: Together, we must stand side by side and man the levees."
(Words from John Edwards)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oppression Narrative & The Brooklyn Tabernacle

From Rob Bell's new book Jesus Wants to Save Christians:

Most of the Bible is a history told by people living in lands occupied by conquering superpowers. It's a book written from the underside of power. It's an oppression narrative. The majority of the Bible was written by a minority people living under the rule and reign of massive, mighty empires, from the Egyptian Empire to the Babylonian Empire to the Persian Empire to the Assyrian Empire to the Roman Empire.
This can make the Bible a very difficult book to understand if you are reading it as a citizen of the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Without careful study and reflection, and humility, it may even be possible to miss central themes of the Scriptures.
I am posting today from Manhattan, New York. Kip (my worship ministry) and I traveled here yesterday to attend a prayer meeting held every Tuesday night at The Brooklyn Tabernacle. We gathered with a few thousand people to call upon the name of the Lord for nearly 4 hours...yes...4 hours. It was incredible. One of the greatest experiences of my life.
Expect more later.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Thoughts on Prayer

Unfortunately, prayer often becomes the response to circumstances.
However, our relationship with God goes much deeper when prayer becomes the foundation of life; not just the response to circumstances.
Paul puts it this way in 1 Thes.5, "Pray continually."

Friday, November 14, 2008

When Prayers Hit the Ceiling

There are times in one's prayer life when it seems that prayers are bouncing off the ceiling.
It sometimes feels like our prayers aren't leaving the room.
In other words, it doesn't seem/feel like anything is happening in prayer.

I'm taking a risk with a comment I am about to make, so let me begin by prefacing it by making this claim--I am a firm believer in prayer. Prayer transforms us into the image of Jesus. Without prayer, one will be unable to walk with God.

With that said, a verse in the Bible that gives me all kinds of trouble in my prayer life is this:
Ask, and it will be given to you
Seek, and you will find
Knock, and the door will be opened.

Luke 11:9 makes it sound so simple. But if you're like me, these words can create confusion.

Even though confusion exists, there is something inside of me that keeps me asking, seeking, and knocking.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Ministry is Keeping Your Church Alive?

When I meet new Christians at conferences, lectures, or meetings...I know exactly how the conversations are going to go:
Other person--"Hi Josh, my name is _______."
Josh--"It is a pleasure to meet you."
Other person--"Now where do you minister?"
Josh--"I preach at the Sycamore View Church in Memphis, TN."
(And I know the next question before they ask it)
Other person--"How big is that church?"

The questions that drive us are the questions concerning church attendance and budgets.
"How big is your church?"
"What is your annual budget?"
"How many services do you have?"

Barbara Brown Taylor is right, we concern ourselves with the 3 B's: buildings, budgets, and baptisms.

Allow me to suggest some new questions that need to dominate our conversations:
-What is the ministry that drives your church?
-How have you seen God at work in your church over the past few months?
-How is your church living for the surrounding community?

So, let me end by asking this:
What is the ministry that is keeping your church alive?
What is the ministry that is holding your church close to the heart of God?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Learning to Fight

I'm trying to get back into more regular blogging, but I am just gassed right now. I don't feel that I have much to give.

However, one thing I have been contemplating for a while now is this--we have not done a very good job teaching Christians how to fight.
In other words, we haven't taught people how to have healthy conflict. Too often, discussions are presented in a way where you are either in or you are out; either with us or against us.

In a marriage, you have to learn how to have healthy disagreements or:
1) one partner will become abusive
or 2) the marriage will fall apart.

Kayci and I had to learn how to fight when we got married. We don't disagree much, but when we do, we have had to learn how to listen, show respect, hear the other person, and hug even though we might not be on the same page. (Side note--making up after marital fights is always fun)

As diversity continues to spread itself across the religious landscape, it is essential that we (Christ-Followers) learn how to enter into healthy conflict.
1) Listen (As Kayci says, "Listen with your eyes.")
2) Show respect.
3) Enter into healthy dialogue. Attempt to understand the other person's point of view.
4) Pray for God to grant wisdom and discernment.

May God raise up people in the 21st century who will learn how to disagree in healthy, respectful ways.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Loving Enemies

As I prepare to preach this Sunday from Luke 6:27-36, I came across these words from a modern day prophet:
Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That's why Jesus says, "Love your enemies." Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they're mistreating you. Here's the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don't do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can't stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they're mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they'll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That's love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There's something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.

(Dr. King's sermon "Loving Your Enemies")

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Psalm 83:1

"O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Proud to be an American

Let me set something straight at the beginning of this post--this is not a Republican or a Democratic post. I am writing as a proud American.
Today, I am proud to be an American. We've all known that November 4, 2008 was going to be an historical election:
1) We are going to have our first African-American president.
or 2) We are going to have our first female vice-president.
This country has made great strides to live into the meaning of "all men (people) are created equal."

This has been a very emotional election. Every four years, a passion is lit underneath people that we rarely see during any other season of our lives.
Whoever wins tonight deserves our honor and our prayers. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 are very clear that we are to honor our leaders. And Peter and Paul were writing during the times of brutal emperors.
Let us join in prayer as we ask God to mold our leaders into people who live close to Christ's heart--that they will be people of justice, mercy, and sacrifice.