Thursday, December 26, 2013

Augustine on Christmas

I love to read an old, African pastor named Augustine.  Augustine lived during the 4th century and converted to the Christian faith as an adult.  He served a church in a town called Hippo and wrote a lot about Christian belief.  Augustine’s sermons and writings are still very influential in the Christian faith today.

Augustine wrote a lot about how God became a human in Jesus.  Some call it “the incarnation.”  Mostly, we call it Christmas. 

Preparing for this season’s services, I read bits of Augustine’s Christmas sermons.  I enjoyed them a lot and found beautiful descriptions of Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem.  They made enough of an impact that I thought I would share. 

So, as the Christmas season comes to a close at Faith Center, remember:

Our Lord came down from life to suffer death;
the Bread came down, to hunger; 
the Way came down, on the way to weariness; 
the Fount came down, to thirst.

-       Sermon 78

He so loved us that, for our sake, 
He was made man in time, 
although through him all times were made. 
He was made man, who made man. He was created of a mother whom he created.
He was carried by hands that he formed. 
He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word,
without whom all human eloquence is mute.

- Sermon 188, 2

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Charlie Brown Christmas

In 1965, the CBS Network aired A Charlie Brown Christmas for the first time.  A Charlie Brown Christmas tells the story of a young boy (named Charlie Brown) who is depressed by the commercialism and materialism surrounding the holiday.  Time and time again, confronted by the excesses of the season, Charlie asks, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

At the height of Charlie’s frustration, Charlie’s friend Linus answers the question.  Linus reads a passage from the second chapter of Luke.  It describes shepherds and angels celebrating Jesus’ birth.  Linus reads, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”  At the end of the passage, Linus adds, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

How many of us need Linus to remind us what Christmas is about this holiday season?  We feel so overrun by commercials and calendars and high expectations that we almost forget why we are celebrating in the first place.  We find ourselves asking the same question as Charlie Brown: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

If that is the case, remember Linus and Luke’s answer: “for unto you a child is born.”  God Almighty has come into our lives through the birth of His Son Jesus.  He is here.  He cares about your every challenge and frustration and fear. 

This Christmas, invite Jesus to be born in your life in fresh and new ways.  Find the answer to Charlie Brown’s question in Him.  As you do, you will learn what Christmas is really all about.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Song for Every Generation

Leah returned from last Saturday's Christmas brunch and said, "Kathy Baker gave a great teaching on tradition at Christmas."  I asked Kathy to send me a condensed version, I read it, and agree with Leah.  It is great.  So, this week, I'm sharing it with y'all on the blog.  Enjoy Kathy's thoughts and Merry Christmas!

Out of all the wonderful traditions surrounding Christmas, the one that I enjoy the most is the music.  Music has always told the story of who we are; what we feel through our experiences both past and present, and the deep longing in what we hope for in the future.  Christmas music is no different. 

My favorite Christmas song, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, contains these three dimensions of past present and future within its many verses.   The song is thought to be written sometime before 800 AD most likely by an anonymous monk in Europe and was originally an antiphonal chant used as a call and response between two choirs.  It found a new and haunting melody in the company of French nuns ministering in Portugal in the 15th century, rediscovered and transcribed from Latin into English by an Anglican priest serving in the Madeira Islands off the coast of Africa in the early 19th century. 

This song, based on Isaiah 7:14, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel" (which means “God with us”)  speaks first out of the ancient past as the Israelites longed for God’s deliverance from their captivity in Babylon through the promise of a great and coming King, to the author’s present moment living in the Dark Ages as he also looked for Christ coming to them, and finally to the hope for the future where God would come and bind all peoples in one heart and mind.  To each generation the author proclaims Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to you!

Emmanuel comes to us in every generation because God’s love for the world is so extravagant that He gave us His only son. Jesus, the living Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.  And that same Jesus who was taken from the earth into heaven will come back in the same way that he left.  In this promise we have hope.  Past, Present and Future:  The song of Emmanuel, God with us, is a song for every generation.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Family Traditions @ Christmas

We all have Christmas traditions.  We decorate trees, sing Christmas songs, and give gifts.  Some watch their favorite Christmas movie.  Others plan special days to go out shopping and get gifts for loved ones.  These traditions are a lot of fun.

This week, I read about a family that has an inspiring Christmas tradition.  A family of five named the Robynsons gets up early on Christmas morning to brew coffee and make pancakes.  When breakfast is ready, they pack it up and head to the downtown area of their city.  They load the breakfast into a red wagon.  Then, the youngest Robynson pulls the wagon through downtown as other family members look for homeless folks.  They share breakfast with those in need as a way of celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas.
All Christians recognize that God met our needs by sending His Son at Christmas.  What better way to do that than through a family tradition of serving others in need?  The Robynsons are a great example of how Christians can celebrate God’s coming into the world.

As you go through this Christmas season, see how your family traditions might reflect how God sent His Son to meet our needs.  It might be serving those in need as a family.  It might be giving generously as a family.  It might involve sharing faith with a neighbor who doesn’t understand the reason for the season.  As you do, you will discover why God gave the world a gift in Jesus.  You will also participate a great Christian tradition of following Jesus’ example.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Christian Worship and the Reason for the Season

The word Christmas comes from a Middle English word that means Christ’s mass.  Since a “mass” is a worship service, Christmas literally means Christ’s worship service.  The Christmas season, in its most basic meaning, is a season of worship services.  We take that meaning seriously.

We are in the middle of a yearlong emphasis on worship at Faith Center.  2013-2014 is a year to worship on purpose.  We want to put purpose into our worship.  Meaning: we worship Jesus with intention.  Then, we want to worship Jesus for purpose.  Meaning: our worship of Jesus energizes us to fulfill the mission of Jesus.  Since Christmas is a season of worship, we at Faith Center will do it on purpose.

We will be worshiping every Sunday in December at 9:00 and 10:45a.  Each week will include specials ways to worship, from silence to candle lighting to  communion to a kids choir.  Sunday, 12/08, we will host an evening of worship, including sacred carols,  worship songs, and prayer.  On Christmas Eve, our season of worship will culminate with a special candle light service.  December, 2013 will be a season of worshiping Jesus at Faith Center.

This holiday season, make worshiping Jesus the foundation of every Christmas activity.  As you do, you will find that he is indeed the reason for this wonderful season.  You will also find that He is very much worth our worship.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Worship, Mission, and the Front Lines

Some of the fiercest fighting of World War II happened in a densely wooded area of continental Europe called the Ardennes.  A young officer, wounded during the fight, left the front lines to receive aid.  As he retreated, he passed a Catholic priest who was running into the forest.  He yelled to warn the chaplain: “Chappie, what in the world do you think you're doing? People up there are dying by the scores!"  The chaplain didn’t break stride.  He yelled back, “That's precisely why I need to be there!"

I love that chaplain’s mindset.  The Son of God calls a pastor to the front lines.  So, he goes.  The tougher the circumstances, the greater the reason to go.

At the end of Matthew, Jesus’ closest disciples have that mindset too.  Jesus tells his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go…”  The disciples know it will be hard, but they don’t question Jesus.  They just go because there is a need and the one who has all authority told them to do so.

As you worship this week, remember that worshiping Jesus calls us all to fulfill Jesus’ mission.  We recognize the one who has all authority in heaven and earth when we worship.  We come to terms with his desire to meet he greatest need of the world.  Then, we go and fulfill it.  No matter how difficult the circumstances, no matter how the big the obstacle, we go.  This week, worship the Lord who sends us to the needs of the world.  As you do, you will find the energy for life on the frontlines.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Grateful for Graceful Worship

Years ago, I gave a buddy a ride to his family’s farm outside of Dayton, Oregon.   The route we took included a bunch of rural farm roads.  I drove very fast.  As we approached Dayton, I noticed some lights in my rearview mirror.  A police officer had noticed I was driving very fast too.  He pulled me over.

The officer stood at my window and described what I had done wrong.  He took my license and proof of insurance and returned to his car.   I felt horrible.  I knew I had been breaking the law.  There was no excuse.  I deserved the ticket.
The officer returned to the car with a stern look on his face.  I waited for the bad news with a sense of dread.  Then, the police officer said, “I’m going to give you a warning.  Remember to obey the speed limit.”  I said, “Thank you, officer.  I will!”

When that officer let me off the hook, I was elated.  I was so relieved that the debt I deserved had been forgiven.  I felt like shouting and dancing as I pulled back onto the road.

The joy we feel after being forgiven is an important part of Christian worship too.  We celebrate God for the immeasurable grace he has poured out on our lives.  Because of Jesus, past mistakes need not condemn us.  Missteps need not define us.  God Almighty has declared us forgiven.  That makes God’s people want to shout and dance.

As you worship this week, remember the incredible grace of God that is at work in your life.  Be free from the dread and guilt of your past.  Be elated about the favor God has given you in His son Jesus Christ.  As you do, you will find great joy in the God who sets people free. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Wonderful Change

Years ago, Leah and I visited our friends’ church.  It was a well-known church.  Lots of famous gospel musicians worshiped there.  Their choir had won awards and traveled the world.  The music was great.

At one point in the service, the choir sang a very simple song.  They sang, “A wonderful change came over me.”  They repeated that one phrase over and over and over again.  A soloist sang on top of the phrase: “You changed me!  You changed me!”  Though the music was simple, the message was profound: Jesus changes people.

That is an important message for all of us to remember in worship.  When people really worship Jesus, change happens.  We get a different outlook on life.  We begin to want and need different things.  We look at others and ourselves differently.  A wonderful change comes over us.

In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  Being exposed to Jesus has an affect on people.  It changes us for the better.

As you go through the coming week, invite Jesus to change you.  Pray and ask the Lord to transform difficult areas in your life.  Pray and ask the Lord to show you areas in your life where you can grow.  Make a plan and pray over it as you live it out.  Invite Jesus Christ to transform your life.  As you do, you will see the words of that simple song become reality: a wonderful change has come over me!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pirates, Britney, and the Songs of the Faith

Music can be used to accomplish a lot of good things.  Music can set a romantic mood at dinner or inspire people to dance at a wedding reception.  Music can even save people from pirates.  Yes, it is true.  Music saves people from pirates. 
Fox News reports that cargo ships traveling the Arabian Sea ward off pirates by blaring Britney Spears songs.  Evidentially, pirates in the Arabian Sea hate U.S. music and popular culture, including Britney Spears.  Cargo ships have been playing Britney’s music in order to keep pirates away and it has worked. 

While few of us will ever need to ward off a pirate attack, we do need help with spiritual attacks.  Our faith can be tempted, challenged, and discouraged on a daily basis.  It is important to know that music helps with those types of attacks too.  When challenged, we can turn to the songs of the faith.  We can sing, “Great is Thy faithfulness…morning by morning new mercies I see.”  Or, we can hum, “I need thee, oh I need thee.  Every hour I need thee.”  We may not easily recall the exact words of scripture or the three points of last week’s sermon, but we can remember a song.  Songs can help us focus on God when we are tempted not to.

Psalm 47:6 says, “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.”  Over and over again, we are told to praise God with music.  I think the Psalm writer stresses the importance of singing praise, because it is an easy and practical way for God’s people to keep focus on Jesus - especially during challenging times.

As obstacles rise this week, sing praises to God.  Sing of His goodness.  Sing of His mercies.  Declare His faithfulness at the top of your lungs or under your breath.  Join the praise band at church, the singers on the radio, and sisters and brothers at Growth Group.  Sing praise to God.  As you do, you will find a great source of encouragement and joy in a world full of spiritual pirates.           

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Expressing Worship

Every Sunday, our church family has a lot to say about God.  We sing songs that praise God for who God is and what God has done.  We pray prayers that appreciate God’s qualities.  We read scriptures describing God’s incredible character.  We communicate a lot of big ideas about God and God's character in worship.
In the midst of all the big ideas, we also clap our hands.  Some tap their toes.  Others extend their arms in surrender or bow their heads in reverence.  We get expressive when communicating the big ideas about God.

Some might wonder why we do this.  Theology seems like serious business.  You wouldn’t think that people would get excited about Christian doctrine and belief.  But, we do.

We do these things because we see a connection between spiritual belief and physical expression.  Our spiritual posture is connected to our physical posture.  Psalm 95 begins by saying, “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation…” Six verses later, the Psalmist continues: “come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker.”  The author of this Psalm encourages the faith community to praise the Lord in words as well as physical expression.  Words and actions are both expressions of praise.

As you worship this week, express words of praise to the Lord.  Clap your hands, raise your hands, and stomp your feet.  Kneel in prayer.  Bow your head in reverence.  As you do, you will find great ways to love the Lord your God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Trust and Worship

Psalm 37:5-6 says, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”  Basically, the Psalm writer tells us to have faith in God in all we do because He is the only one who can ultimately provide.  The Lord is the only source of our salvation. 

Throughout the week, there are a thousand different things that try to pull that faith away from Jesus.  We get a little money in our bank account and greed tells us that money will make us worry free.  We drive past the car lot and materialism tells us that fancy vehicles will make us happy.  We hear a political candidate on the television and ambition tells us a human system is our best hope for redemption. Though money, cars, and politicians are not bad in and of themselves, the moment we place our trust in them over and above Jesus, they become idols. 

As we worship this week, cast all idols aside.  Use this time to follow the Psalm writer’s direction: commit your way to the Lord; trust in him.  He is the only one who can meet your needs.  He is the only one who truly saves.  After all, that is why Jesus Christ is worth or worship. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Runaway Camels and Grace for Worship

A church in Washington State puts on a large Christmas production every year at the holidays.  The production ends with a large processional of cast members and animals making their way to see Jesus in the manger.  When they arrive, the cast bows in worship, kneeling before the Son of God.  It is a very moving image and a great moment of worship at Christmas.

A few years ago, one of the animals broke character during the processional.  A stubborn camel threw a fit, pulling its handler to the ground.  After being drug a few feet, the handler lost control of the reins.  The camel fled the scene, hooves clopping across the parking lot pavement, out into the darkness of that holy night.
Some may have been disappointed by the mishap.  The worshipful atmosphere was lost.  The hundreds of audience members in attendance were distracted from Jesus at the very moment they were supposed to focus on Jesus the most.

That mishap teaches us an important lesson about worship.  We need God’s grace in order to worship.  In our broken world, there will be mishaps.  We are all people trying to redirect our attention toward Jesus in the midst of a world where things go wrong.  That is ok. 

Jesus told the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  I think Jesus says that to each of us when we worship too.  Though we may not get it perfect, God’s grace is sufficient.  The important thing is to keep turning your attention back to Jesus in worship, trusting in His grace. 

As you go through the coming week, root your worship in God’s grace.  Recognize that your prayers and praise don’t have to be perfect.  Then, keep on praying and praising.  As you do, you will find God’s grace is more than sufficient for life in a world of runaway camels.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Worship and Relationship

Have you ever received a compliment from a total stranger?  Maybe someone at the store complimented your shirt or a store employee commented on how cute your kids are.  That is nice.  Most people like it when others take time to express appreciation.

Now, compare that to compliments from a close family member, a spouse, or a dear friend.  Maybe a sibling described qualities they admire in you; qualities they have noticed over years of relationship.  Maybe a friend toasted an achievement, pointing out all the time, energy, and talent that went into the accomplishment.

Which compliment meant more?  My guess is that the compliment from the person that you’ve had longer and deeper relationship with you meant more.  They knew the particularities of your life to such a degree they could get specific in their praise.  The relationship behind the compliment made the compliment more meaningful.
Our worship of God works in a similar way.  We are able to compliment and praise God in more meaningful ways when we have relationship with Him.  That is a big reason why Jesus encourages us to get to know Him.  It prepares us to worship Him, His Father, and the Holy Spirit to the very fullest.

The Gospel of Matthew describes Jesus’ disciples living in close relationship with the Lord.  They walked and talked and lived with him.  One time, they witnessed him calm a raging storm.  Matthew describes their response in saying, “Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’"  Relationship with Jesus led to worship of Jesus.

As you go through the coming week, invest in your relationship with Jesus.  Talk with Jesus.  Study Jesus.  Think about Jesus.  As you do, you will be better equipped to recognize Him and His work in the world.  That relationship will help you grow in worship of the Lord.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Worship Like Life Depends On It

A reporter interviewed two pastors, asking some pretty pointed questions.  One of the questions was this: “What will you do if you get to the end of your life and realize Christianity is a lie?”  One pastor answered by saying, “Even if my faith is a lie, I will have lived a good and moral life.”  The other pastor said, “I will have lived the life of an utter fool.”

I think the second pastor better understood the terms of Christian worship.  Worshiping Jesus is an all-in proposition that is much bigger than doing good things in this world.  Worshiping Jesus devotes all of who we are to the affairs of a coming king and kingdom.  If that coming kingdom is a lie, our lives are a lie.

At the end of his letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul describes this mentality well.  Paul writes, “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”  Christians should be pitied if their faith and worship is a lie.  We should be pitied because we are devoting our lives to things that will never happen.

As you go through the coming week, worship with complete devotion.  Pray, study, sing, serve, and share in a way that is completely dependent on Jesus’ coming kingdom.  Live in a way that says, “If Jesus doesn’t show up, this isn’t going to work.”  As you do, you will experience the joys of a life devoted to a Lord who is far from a lie.   You will find the riches of life worshiping in the truth.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Gratitude and Second Place

The U.S. is known for winning a lot of medals at the Olympic Games.  Often, American athletes win more medals than any other country in the world.  You would think that is a great source of pride and satisfaction for American athletes.  But, for many, it is not.

USA Today cites a survey reporting the dissatisfaction of many American medal winners.  While gold medalists reported high degrees of gratitude for their medal, silver medalists reported far lesser satisfaction and appreciation.  In fact, silver medalists were less appreciative of their medal than those who had won the bronze.  It seems that getting close to the highest achievement creates more dissatisfaction than less.

That is a great illustration of a common human experience.  We are blessed with incredible opportunities, steward them well, and accomplish great things.  Instead of appreciating it and enjoying it with gratitude, we focus on what we don’t have and what we haven’t done.  Our desire for more leaves us ungrateful for the incredible things we have.

The Apostle Paul encourages Christians to avoid this temptation.  In Ephesians, Paul writes, “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Christian worship undermines dissatisfaction by emphasizing and appreciating all that God has provided.

As you go through the coming week, praise God for all God has given.  Write down three blessings that you are thankful for.  Then, thank the Lord for those three things each day in prayer.  Read passages of scripture praising God for all He has provided.  As you do, you will start to recognize the many things God has graced you with.  You will also realize that, because of Jesus’ work on the cross, you are indeed a gold medalist in the Lord!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Honoring the Honorable

Last week, a driver hit and killed a UCLA football player in a car accident.  UCLA’s football coach, Jim Mora, held a press conference, discussing the matter on behalf of the team and university.  Mora remembered the student athlete glowingly and shared his sympathies with the family.

During the press conference, a media member decided to make a phone call.  Coach Mora tried to share details about the death while the media member talked.  But, the phone conversation got so loud it interrupted Mora’s thoughts and condolences. 

The lack of respect surprised the coach.  He thought the life that had been tragically lost should be honored.  He reprimanded the person for the lack of respect and ended the press conference.

Honor and respect can be a rare thing in our day and age.  We are taught to be suspicious of anyone in authority and any special recognition.  The only people we are taught to respect are those who give us a paycheck.  Honoring a person because of their authority or special circumstance is odd.

This lack of honor gets dangerous when it influences the Christian faith.  It is dangerous because Jesus instructs His people to honor Him as God.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “…all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”  Christians honor and respect and revere Jesus like His Father because of His authoritative position.  Jesus deserves our respect.  He is worth our reverence.  Jesus should be honored.

As you go through the coming week, worship Jesus as a way of honoring our Lord.  Memorize a Psalm that praises God.  Start each day with a prayer, describing how great Jesus is.  Tell a friend or a family member about how great Jesus is.  As you do, you will find the riches of a life lived for a God worth honoring.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

All Things New

Driving to church on Tuesday morning, I could feel the excitement of the new school year in the air.  I passed Reedville Elementary School and saw teachers and administrators busily preparing for their first classes.  Children, outsized by their new backpacks, made their way down the sidewalks, laughing and talking.  New things were in the air.

God celebrates new seasons like this.  In the book of Isaiah, God tells the prophet, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  God insists that His people notice the new things He is doing and enjoy their goodness.

God is doing new and wonderful things at Faith Center - Aloha this Fall.  There are new lessons and activities in the children’s ministry.  There is a new Youth Pastor with a new vision for the youth ministry.  There are new Growth Groups, encouraging new people to go deeper in their walk with the Lord.  There is a new Sunday school class on worship starting in a few weeks.  New things are in the air.

As we approach this season, let the new things God is doing be the foundation of all things.  Worship with your church family.  Participate in Growth Groups.  Teach your children to participate in the ministries of the church.  As you do, you will be blessed by the new things of God.  According to Isaiah, you will find “a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  Praise the Lord!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Lifestyle of Worship

We have all probably heard people promote “a lifestyle of worship” from time to time.  It is important to know what they are talking about when they say that. So, I thought I would write some brief thoughts about the phrase in order to avoid any confusion.

One pastor describes worship as “acknowledging the worth of something or someone.”  I think most Christians would agree that Christian worship is the acknowledgment of the ultimate worth of God in and through Jesus Christ. God is of ultimate, highest, undivided value.

When we gather in weekend worship services as a church, we sing songs to express the end-all-be-all value of God. The scriptures that we read and recite point to the end-all-be-all value of God. The words that are preached proclaim the end-all-be-all value of God. The Christian community gives its highest honor to God through various activities of worship.

With that said, how do we make that a lifestyle when we are only in the church building a few hours a week? Should we sing a song of praise at the DMV? Should recite scripture while we mow the lawn? Maybe. The DMV offices that I have been in could certainly use it! But these are only a couple of options.

When we recognize God’s worth above all else, God’s worth can be found in many forms of our daily lives. You might call this “derivative worth.” We can worship God by delighting in, and caring for, creation. When we do so, we recognize where Creation’s worth comes from. Creation is not of ultimate worth, but creation has value because it reflects the end-all-be-all value of its marvelous Creator.

We can also worship God by caring for the downtrodden. As Christians, we recognize that all peoples have worth regardless of what society makes of them. They are created in the image of God, right? So, we worship Christ when we care for the downtrodden because we serve the image of God in them (read Matthew 25).

As you go through the coming week, worship like you have never worshiped before. Proclaim the worth of Christ and His character in everything you do. It is my prayer that the people in your life today (insurance agents, grocery baggers, mechanics, et cetera) will take notice and join in. Glory to God in the highest!