Tuesday, November 30, 2010

God's Righteous Judgment...

(photo from www.virtuousts.com)
Yeah, that's the subtitle for part of today's Life Journal readings..."God's Righteous Judgment." It's a real feel good kind of subtitle, don't you think? Not. No one wants to think about God in that way. I mean, we know that's part of the bigger picture, but we dont' want to think about it.

I've caught a lot of flack over the years because I'm not a hellfire and damnation preacher. Never have been. It's just not my style, nor is it the way I interpret God. I preach grace, hope, justice for the downtrodden, and those kinds of things. Not to make my folks feel good, but so that we can all be reminded that even on our worst days, on the days when we feel as if we have made more mistakes than we have taken breaths, we are loved. With that being said, today, Paul speaks.

I don't always like Paul. In fact, sometimes I think what Paul really needed was a good kick in the pants, but that's just me. But there I go, doing the very thing Paul is talking about today. Not only do I not always like Paul, I don't always like reading what he wrote, or what we believe he wrote. Today, it's Romans. Not just any part of Romans, it's the first four chapters of Romans. I'm not a hellfire and damnation preacher, but today, forgive me if I seem to be a hellfire and damnation blogger. It's Paul's fault. Dang it, there I go again.

You know, the end of chapter 1 has a pretty long laundry list of sins, and it flows right into chapter two and the whole "for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself." (Remember, we added the chapter and verse divisions. Those weren't in the original.)

Paul is talking about some "they" in the last paragraph of chapter 1, then that "they" becomes "you" in the first paragraph of chapter 2. What hit me as I read that passage this morning is that, more than likely, "we" find ourselves as either a "they" or a "you." The "they" were engaging in activities that were, let's say, less than holy, and the "you" were judging the "they" for those things while engaging in the same types of behavior. Hmmm, sound familiar?

"They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil..." and he goes on and on. Then he says, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself..."

Ouch, Paul. Come on man, lighten up. I was never at the church in Rome, so I don't know exactly what was going on there. But I have been in other churches and have witnessed firsthand the destruction resulting from some of the behaviors Paul is condemning here. What I have also noticed is that it's not usually the big sins that cause the most trouble...murder, God hating, those kinds of things. The ones that usually get us are some of the others...envy, pride, arrogance, boasting...and the big one, gossipping.

James would agree with Paul on that one. "The tongue is a restless evil..." Gossip, in my opinion, is more destructive within a body of believers than a lot of the bigger sins we usually go after. It's usually quiet, sneaky, and done on the sly. But just like tossing a pebble into a pond, the ripple effects are quite far reaching. That's why I don't think it's a coincidence that Paul includes that one sin in the same list with murder and God hating. So, if you're doing it, STOP! Paul would appreciate it.

The one that gets me in that list is in chapter 2. I have a tendency to want to judge, a lot of us have that tendency. So, Paul, I'm going to keep an eye on that. I will be intentional in NOT judging the folks I meet. I will probably fail miserably, but I'm going to try. I will work to see Christ in everyone I come into contact with, recognize that I am no better than they, and that in reality, my sins might even be a little darker. Then, together with fellow believers all around the world, I will ask forgiveness, and take once again my place as a child of grace.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

He Ain't Heavy...

(photo from www.pbase.com)
I have found several versions of the song. The one we're most familiar with is from the Hollies, in 1969. Neil Diamond did it in 1970. Cher did it in 1971. Bill Medley did it in 1988. Rufus Wainwright did it for Zoolander. Bob Russel and Bobby Scott wrote the song while Bob Russel was battling, and losing to, cancer of the lymph nodes.

I've even found a couple possible origins for the title. One from a publication by Ralph Waldo Tine in 1918 where he's talking about a young Scottish girl who is carrying, best she could, a younger boy. When asked about it, she said, "He's na heavy. He's mi brither." Boys Town even had a version that they borrowed from the Louis Allis Messenger in 1941. It was a caption that said, "He ain't heavy, Mister. He's m' brother!"

I don't know why, but as I was reading the Life Journal texts for this morning, this song kept coming to mind. Honestly, I haven't heard it in forever, but it just would not go away. Maybe it was because the readings this morning are all from Matthew, and most of them talk of healings at the hands of Jesus: a leper, a centurion's servant, Peter's mother in law, a couple demon possessed men, a paralytic, a dead girl, and a man blind and mute. Then...he sends out the Twelve, and gives them power to do the same.

I immediately began to think of the men and women that I've been sent out with, harvesters in the Master's field, and this question hit me, "Who pastors the pastors?" It wasn't a selfish thought, it was just one that came to me as I thought about some of the things my colleagues are struggling with right now. Who do we go to when our worlds are crumbling?

"He ain't heavy. He's my brother." Maybe that's why the song wouldn't go away. Maybe we as clergy, have not only a responsibility to reach out to the unchurched and shepherd our flocks, but to carry each other when the need arises.

I have been blessed to experience this first hand. In the last few years, my family has become very familiar with hospital waiting rooms. When my dad had open heart surgery, the family was waiting for word from the doctor, and while we waited at least 6 of my colleagues came by to check on us. When mom and dad were in a car wreck, at least 3 of my colleagues waited with me in the emergency room. I didn't have to call them, somehow they just knew. When my daughter, and later, my wife, were admitted to the hospital, yep, colleagues came by to sit with us.

"He ain't heavy. He's my brother. She ain't heavy. She's my sister." Clergy, do you know your colleagues well enough to know when they need someone? Do you trust them enough to let them know when you need someone? Do you know if their families are healthy? Do you know what they are struggling with? How are things in their pastorates? When was the last time you met a colleague for lunch or coffee, or just spent some time together on the front porch? Have you called a co-harvester lately just to see how they are doing? Are you willing to carry your brothers and sisters? Just something to think about as we prepare to enter our busiest, and most stressful, time of the year.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Red Letter Day...

(photo from www.revivalorriots.org)
I can't remember which highschool English teacher made me read it, but I know that I hated it then. I thought it was a stupid book, and having to read it was a waste of my time and energies. The language was archaic, with everybody saying "thou" and "thine." I guess you could say that I had very little appreciation for literary art. I doubt that I read all of it, but no doubt read enough to take the test...so to say I had ingested its full potential would be folly.

It's been on my mind alot lately. In fact, a lot of the classics have been. Maybe I'm gearing up for a series on faith in the classics, who knows. So...at least 22 years, maybe even 25 years, after I read it for the first time, I picked it back up, and read it again. I still couldn't get through the prologue; something about a customs house...something, something, something...yada, yada, yada. But once I got into the storyline, I actually found myself enjoying it. I'll admit, though, this time I had an agenda.

This time, I was reading this book looking for grace. It had to be there somewhere. I mean, surely Hawthorne wouldn't create such a condemned character without making, for her, a path to grace. There had to be, on at least one of those pages, a sentence, or maybe a whole paragraph, where he had written for her a scene of forgiveness.

It had been so long since I read her story that I had forgotten the vast majority of it. I remembered what she was forced to wear, and I remember the baby. I had a vague recollection of the Rev. Dimmesdale, although I couldn't remember his name, but I had totally forgotten the rest of the details. Each new page, then, became a hopeful source for the grace I was looking for.

Honestly, I didn't expect to find it in the townsfolk. As long as they kept pointing out her sin, they didn't have to focus on their own, and the sad commentary is that this remains true today. I certainly didn't expect to find it within the clergy ranks in that community. After all, Puritanism was the rule of the day. I had thought that certainly, though, she would at last come to the point where forgiveness of self could take place; and it almost did in one scene, but then she was forced to pick it up again, and pin it back in place.

This time, I remember thinking how sad this story really was. The grace that I searched for was elusive at best. But still, it had to be there. Page after page, I looked. Then I found it. The grace that had eluded me for 293 pages finally made itself known. It seems that Hester had made an escape after the minister's death, but years later, decided to come back. As she did, the token that she had worn for years didn't have the same effect. This time it was awed and revered, and I honestly don't know why, but that's what the book says.

Hester found grace, I think, through all of those troubled souls who now came to her seeking counsel. Because of what she had been through, they knew that she would understand, and would not judge them. She had spent her entire adult life seeking repentance, dealing with legalism, guilt, and shame, and finally began to find some forgiveness.

It's a beautiful commentary on what is important to society, and it makes me ask so many questions. Why do we choose one or two sins to focus on, when scripture says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? Why do we choose one or two people, or even a group of people, as objects of hate because of something they have done? Why is the church so quick to judge, and slow to forgive? If we were to forgive as we have been forgiven, what would that look like? Can we forgive ourselves even if the rest of the world won't?

For me, and this is just Jamie, the grace that she found was that God was able to take her one moment of weakness and use it to help so many others. If God could do that for Hester, God can do that for Jamie, and for you.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Have Sent Them Into the World...

(photo from www.sathyasaibaba.wordpress.net)
Ok, there's a new Kid Rock CD out, and you know I have to write about it. I might even let my kids listen to this one, with the exception of a couple songs. I don't think I like "God Bless Saturday" or "Rock Bottom Blues." But, being the good Methodist that I am, I'd almost say that Kid Rock might have had some sort of Aldersgate experience, or at the very least, something has happened in his life to bring on a CD like this one. It's a lot more mellow, and almost has a Bob Seger/Eagles feel to it.

More than that, there is a lot of God talk in it. I know, that's what I thought too! Kid Rock, talking about trading his boots for forgiveness? Who'd have thought it? Part of me is suspiciuos that it's just a great marketing strategy. Church folk are one demographic that he knows he doesn't have, so hey, let's throw in some God stuff and see what happens.

The CD is "Born Free" and there is already a little controversy over the title track, but that's not the one that has hit me so far. It's the third track on the CD, titled, "Care." Now, I'm still not making the guy a saint, because he's not, but neither am I. I can see, though, that if the church opened its mind a little, Kid Rock could be somewhat of an ally. Our kids are listening to this stuff, whether we like it or not, so why not use it?

"Care"...here's what it says: "cause I can't stop the war, shelter homeless, feed the poor. I can't walk on water, or save your sons and daughters. Well, I can't change the world, make things fair. But the least that I can do is care." It's a good song, with a good feel, and a message that I might not totally agree with, but that can be a great conversation starter. Personally, I think caring is only the beginning and can't be the end. Once you realize that you care about someone else's situation, then you start looking for ways that you can make a difference.

Honestly, I know that he was probably mildly intoxicated or under the influence of some other substance when most of that album was recorded, so I'm certainly not placing him on a pedestal. If there were ever a group of folks in need of repentence, it would be our rock idols. But...here's where the gospel of John, a new rock CD, and our call to discipleship crash head on.

I know I may get in trouble for this, but hey, I'm used to that, so here goes. John tells us in the 17th chapter of his gospel that we are sent into the world. The question I have is, "What does that look like?"

What I have noticed in the church is that we would much rather withdraw and pretend that this stuff doesn't exist. We want to close the doors and shut the world out, but that's not what Jesus said. We are sent into the world, and if we choose to go, this is what we are going to find. Now, for years, we have allowed folks like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson be the image of Christianity that the world sees, and I have to say, that just makes me sick to my stomach. Their gospel is a gospel of hate very poorly disguised as Christianity. Anything, or anyone, who does not meet their expectations must be from the pits of hell.

But what if...? What if folks started seeing that the Church was actually interested in who they were instead of who we thought they should be? So Kid Rock isn't a saint, big deal. I am curious as to the number of folks who, after hearing this CD, start asking questions of faith. My question is, "Who's going to be there to help them answer those questions?"

Are we comfortable enough with our faith to allow those conversations to take place? It's not going to go away. The world that we have been sent into is not going to get any better...as long as we continue to circle the wagons. It will only begin to turn around, in my opinion and this is just Jamie, when we embrace the fact that Jesus Christ himself sent us into the world and take with us a message of repentence and grace.

So, here's how I'm going to start out my renewed mission in the world..."Hey, I heard that Kid Rock has a new CD out this week. Let's sit down and talk about it. Can you really care about someone if you know what they need and don't do anything about it?"

Peace,(or discomfort at easy answers)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Three of These Things...

(photo from www.muppet.wikia.com)
If you are like me, and grew up watching some of the things I grew up watching, you are now trying to get that song out of your head. You know which one I'm talking about, and I'll bet, you're singing it in your mind right now.

"Three of these things belong together. Three of these things are kind of the same. Can you guess which one of these doesn't belong here? Now it's time to play our game. It's time to play our game."

There's another version:

"Three of these kids belong together. Three of these kids are kind of the same. But one of these kids is doing her own thing. Now it's time to play our game. It's time to play our game."

Now, you'll be singing that all day and you are most welcome. I still love Sesame Street, even at very nearly 40 years old.

Have you ever felt like you were the one doing your own thing? Everyone else seems to be doing or being one thing, but you just don't fit in? Most of us, if we're honest, have felt that way at least once, some of us never seem to be able to get away from it.

I tighty rolled my jeans in high school. Everyone tighty rolled their jeans in high school in the '80's. I had a mullet in high school. Practically all of the guys had a mullet in the '80's. There was something in me, then, that caused me to think I had to fit in, be like everyone else. I give thanks that I outgrew that.

Paul talks about celebrating the way God created you. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the fact that we are all different parts of the same body, which in essence means we were created differently for a purpose. I love the fact that the feet should celebrate being feet. The hands should celebrate being the hands. The ears are not the eyes, but where would the body be without them?

I grew up in an all white, middle class, rural church. I have served 9 churches so far in my career; all white, middle class, mostly rural churches. This is all I've ever known. BUT...in December of 2008, I spent a week splitting time between Arizona and Mexico, and my eyes were opened to something. On Sunday morning we went to worship, and worship was led in three different languages: English, Spanish, and native Tohono O'odom. It was amazing!

Hands were allowed to be hands. Feet were allowed to be feet. Ears were celebrated because they were ears. There were no expectations that you should become something else. I think that for the first time, I got a glimpse of the reality of the fact that the body was made up of so many different parts, and we celebrated that. Sure, I only understood 1/3 of what was going on, but it didn't bother me. I might have understood more of the service had it all been in English, led by European Americans, because that's what I can relate to, but what I witnessed was the beauty of celebrating who we are and how we were created.

Here's where I may get into trouble...if the church you are attending is asking you to be something you're not, leave. No, wait, don't leave. Find a way to celebrate who you are in their midst. Help the Kingdom break out all around you. I guarantee that what is different about you is beautiful in the eyes of the Creator.

Paul ends this section in 1 Corinthians with a seque into the next line of thought..."And now I will show you the most excellent way." Jump ahead into chapter 13 to see what he's talking about.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Psalm 122 People...

(photo from www.jewels.esmilde.com)
His name was Norm, and I was blessed to be his pastor. I don't think his family would mind me sharing this. Mr. Norm was around 90 when I was introduced to him. He was a saint, and very rarely missed a service. Sunday morning, he was there. Sunday night, he was there. When we started a second service to reach out to the twenty-somethings, he was there. He never one time complained about the electric guitars, drums, videos, blue jeans, shorts, and the coffee that flowed during that service, as so many others in that church did. He was just tickled to be there.

One Tuesday night, I got a phone call from Mr. Norm's son. He had taken Norm to the hospital that afternoon because Norm had fallen. Mr. Norm was at all 3 services the Sunday before, but remember he's over 90 now, and a fall at that age can be life threatening, so I got up and went to the hospital.

When I walked into his room, he literally looked like he had been mugged. This saint of the Most High God was bruised from head to toe. Deep purple and black bruises, and they covered practically every part of his body except his face. But...they weren't new bruises. This fall had not happened that day, and you could tell just by looking at him.

I asked him, "Mr. Norm, when did you fall?" He raised his head with what strength he could muster, and said, "Oh, last Saturday, I think."

I asked him, "Did you go to the doctor when you fell?" He said, "No, I didn't go."
Then I said, "Mr. Norm, why not?"

I will never forget this next moment as long as I live and breathe. He looked into my eyes, and said..."I didn't want to miss church Sunday." He knew that if he went to the doctor on Saturday, they would admit him into the hospital and he wouldn't be able to be at church on Sunday.

"I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'" - Psalm 122

I have been blessed to lead worship in many different places and in more than one different style. We have worshipped in beautiful sanctuaries, in the basement of a conference center, under a shade tree out back, by a creek, and looking out over the lake. I have been a part of worship with a pipe organ that you can literally feel in the very core of your body, and I have worshipped with a seven piece band, a full orchestra, an acoustic guitar, or no music at all.

What I don't see much in a lot of worship experiences is joy. Real, honest to goodness, joy. Maybe it's just because I'm Methodist and somewhere in our 300 year history we have convinced ourselves that enthusiasm was bad and that signs of joy should be checked at the door with our wet umbrellas. I see a lot of sleepy faces and distant looks. I see a lot of closed mouths when the hymns are being lifted to heaven. I have seen one or two hands raised in worship, but only one or two because we have been taught that we can't look silly in front of God. I'm just not convinced that we are Psalm 122 people anymore.

Mr. Norm lived for worship, and was an active part of that congregation until the last couple months of his life. He brought with him a spirit of pure joy when he came to worship; no pretention, no unrealistic expectations out of clergy or congregation, no worries about image or what other people think, no sense of duty, just the desire, nay, the need to spend time in the presence of his Creator.

This is just Jamie, and I own that up front, but I feel that in a lot of places we have become so concerned about our image that we have no room left in our spirits for rejoicing. We are too guarded, and I'm just as guilty.

But not Norm. If I have met one person in my ministry who has taught me about the spirit I need to bring with me to worship, it was Norm. I'd love to be a fly on heaven's wall just for a minute, just so that I could watch Norm do what Norm did best...rejoice in the presence of God. Psalm 122, I absolutely love that one.


Friday, November 5, 2010

I Yam What I Yam...

(photo from www.snuh.livejournal.com)
He is a middle aged sailor with thinning hair, a "squinky" eye, bulging forearms, a corncob pipe, 2 anchor tattoos, and a can of spinach hidden somewhere on his person. He's not much to look at, and even less to listen too, with a voice that can be described as "gravelly" at best, but he is what he is. He'll even tell you that, "I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam."

I grew up with Popeye. I guess it was already in syndication by then, but it was a staple of my cartoon diet as a kid. I loved the constant good vs. bad scenarios and the way that Popeye loved Olive Oyl. I even loved the fact that Bluto, every now and then, had a soft moment. It very seldom lasted very long, but it happened occasionally.

Without going back and researching every episode, I can't remember any, or at the very least, many times when Popeye pretended to be something other than what he was...a sailor with a weak spot for a skinny brunette. I'm sure it happened, but I can't think of any at the moment, and I have to say that is what I appreciate about him.

He didn't pretend. "I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam." I love that! It is so transparent and honest. When you tuned in you got the same Popeye today that you would get tomorrow. If a cartoon can be real, he was. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Scripture even gives us some examples.

The Life Journal readings for today come from Job and Galatians. Paul, if indeed Paul wrote the letter to the folks in Galatia, is writing to encourage them to stand strong in the face of persecution. Evidently things were getting tough in Galatia and the church was beginning to see that this wasn't going to be easy. Not even the leadership in the early church was exempt from the struggle.

Paul listed three men who were "pillars" of the early movement; James, John, and Cephas. But there was a problem. One of three wasn't exactly what he appeared to be. Paul says that he even "opposed him to his face" in Antioch because of it. You see, Cephas had no problem sitting down at the table with his Gentile buddies, and I can imagine they would laugh and cut up, and have a large time together. But...when certain folks came into town, Cephas abandoned his Gentile buddies. Why? Because it would look bad for him to be seen eating and carrying on with them. They weren't circumcised and therefore, weren't some of "ours."

Now, I certainly understand and appreciate the power of self preservation, but I think it would have been a lot better for all involved had Cephas just been honest. Either tell the Gentiles that he couldn't eat with them because it was against Jewish law, or tell the men that came from James that he was called by God to include even the Gentiles in his kingdom work. Popeye would have.

What if we in the Church were that honest on a global scale? I mean, one of the greatest condemnations I have heard about the Church is that it's full of hypocrites. I'm sure you've heard that too. So what if we could fix that? I know it wouldn't solve all of our problems, but that would be one less image to overcome.

Just be who you are, as individuals, and as churches. I guarantee that folks will appreciate the honesty. They might not come worship with you, but they will appreciate the honesty. The question we have to ask ourselves, then, is: "Are we ok with that?"


Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Gospel Train Wreck...

(photo from www.preteristblog.com)
I have read that story hundreds of times but I still get choked up when I read it now. It never gets old. I have read it from the pulpit. I have read it in every different gospel account we have of it. I have read it in the morning, and at night by candlelight. I've read it as we've stripped the sanctuary, removed everthing in the whole place that was symbolic of Christ. I've watched it on the big screen and in more than one documentary. It never gets old. It's the crucifixion scene in Mark's gospel.

I try to put myself in the scene...hear the sounds...see the sights...watch the anger of the crowd, and the pain of his family. I have wanted to be a fly on the wall as Pilate tried to decide his fate, and watch him waffle between doing what was right and pacifying an angry mob to keep Rome off of his back. I have sat with a broken heart and read about how those leading the church also led the charge to have the Son of God murdered, and I've said before that it wasn't the Jews that killed him, it was fear. I have wondered what was going through Judas' mind when he realized that the scene unfolding before him was not at all what he had intended, but that now it was way too late to stop it.

It's almost like watching a train wreck. You want to turn away, but you just can't. You want to stop reading, but are somehow drawn back into the story. We've read it enough now that we know how it ends, but we read it over and over again. And the description we get of the brutality doesn't even scratch the surface. I can't imagine what he went through...and why. Then I think about what we have turned it into.

Politics...heated discussions over which type of worship is best...watered down gospel so as not to offend...cliques...parking lot meetings...it's like watching a train wreck. You don't want to watch, but you can't look away. Oh it's not everywhere, certainly, but it's in enough places, and it keeps us from being the resurrection people we have been called to be.

Maybe I'm just a sentamentalist, I don't know. Maybe I'm still new enough at this that I'm overly optimistic and naive. Maybe it's just that Christmas is just around the corner and Easter is on the horizon. Maybe I have realized that I have, at most, 32 years left in my career to make all of the difference I can for the kingdom. Maybe I have realized that I'm just as much a part of the problem and want to be part of the solution instead.

Whatever it is, it has made me look at this scene differently today, and I ask you to do the same.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Need a Favor, Jesus...

(photo from http://www.wired.com/)
I can just picture it, and I have to say...it is funny. It is in Mark 10, and happens after a very somber teaching moment between Jesus and the Twelve. Jesus had been going along, doing the stuff Jesus did, and the disciples were following, probably only paying about half as much attention as they should have been.

This is all happening right on the heels of the Transfiguration and the healing of the demon possessed boy at the bottom of the mountain. Jesus has already told the disciples that whoever is not against them is for them, and that if they see someone doing things in His name to just leave them alone and let them do it. He has thrown out some teachings on sin and divorce, and has already gathered the little children in his arms, then chewed the disciples out for trying to keep the kids away from him. Now, he hasn't just once, or even twice...but three times, tried to tell the Twelve what was going to happen to him.

"They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 'We are going up to Jerusalem,' he said, 'and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise. Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. 'Teacher,' they said, 'we want you to do for us whatever we ask...'

See what happens when we take out the chapter and verse separations? James and John didn't hear a word he said. They were too busy thinking about what he could do for them. I'm guilty too. I've done it. In fact, I'll bet we have all done it. I will admit though, until I went into the ministry, I didn't realize I had been doing it. I didn't realize that I was giving my time to worship, and my body to worship, but not always giving my mind to worship. I was busy going over my to-do list, or thinking about lunch, or where the race was that afternoon, or how nice a Sunday afternoon nap would be. I might have been thinking about something I had asked God for but hadn't gotten yet, or...well, you see what I mean.

When I started planning worship, and then later as I was trained on how to plan worship, I began directing everything towards one moment in the service...the invitation. The music...the liturgy...the scripture...the message, all point to that one moment. Call it a response to the word, an altar call, invitation, whatever language you might choose, but the entire service is pointing to a moment where we can respond to whatever it is that Jesus has said to us during that time. Sometimes it's more overt than others. Sometimes it's very subtle, but it's always there...and then it happens...

The music was great...the scripture spoke...the message wasn't too bad...the invitation has been extended, and then...wait for it...somebody in the congregation says, "Oh wait, I forgot to say something..." or "Jamie, can I make an announcement?" And that is the sound of the wind being sucked out of the sails of worship. Oh, it doesn't happen often, usually only once or twice a year, but when it does I can't help but giggle, even in frustration, because evidently some of the Twelve did it too. What's cool is that God can even use those moments. Yeah, worship didn't end as I had it pictured in my head, so what? Worship is bigger than what I had planned for that day anyhow.

Jesus could have done what practically every parent has done when James and John pulled that little stunt, "Boys! Dang it! You didn't hear a word I just said, did you? I have told you three times and you still aren't listening! Don't make me pull over!" But he didn't. He took it in stride, and turned even that moment into one of the greatest teaching moments on humility in the scriptures. I think this is a very honest look at his inner circle. We forget that they were just as human as we are.
So, here's what I'm going to do, and I ask you to try it with me. The next time we go into a house of worship, let's go in body, soul, and mind...all of it. For one hour, turn off the outside world. For one hour, give God what is due. Forget about lunch. Forget about the meetings coming up that week. Forget about what you didn't get done before church, and just be. I'll bet, I can't guarantee, but I'll bet you'll come away more transformed than you ever thought possible.