Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Top 10 Signs You're Not Reading Your Bible Enough!

I found this list in a magazine I was looking at today.  And I was inspired to try and come up with some of my own signs.  So, with apologies to David Letterman, here's the list.  I should disclose that numbers 8, 9 and 10 came from the magazine, "Homiletics."  1 through 7 are all mine (for better or worse!).  Anyway, here goes nothing...

10) You think Abraham, Issac and Jacob may have had a few hit songs during the 60's.
9) You keep falling for it every time the pastor tells you to turn to First Condominiums.
8) The kids keep asking too many questions about your usual bedtime story - "Jonah the shepherd boy and his ark of many colors.
7) Your favorite Bible verse is "God helps those who help themselves."
6) You finally open the Bible your great grandfather gave you in 1962 and find five $100 bills.
5) Your favorite Old Testament patriarch is...wait, what is a patriarch?
4) You hate to read the family Bible - it's size makes it such a great doorstop. 
3) You wonder why no one has ever updated the King James Version of the Bible.
2) On a visit to your home, the pastor asks for a Bible and you give him your copy of "ESPN - The Magazine."
And the number one sign that you're not reading your Bible enough:
1) You believe that Jesus' earthly father's name was Joseph Christ!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made!

Continuing our visitation of churches in the Valley of the Sun, my dear, sweet wife and I traveled downtown to worship at St. Mary's Basilica.  From various sources I gathered that the music ministry of the church was amazing and we were not disappointed.  The mood of the service was holy, reverent and joyous.  The organist was fantastic.  The cantor and choir were outstanding.  In many ways, this was a service of praise but without what most folks feel is required - some kind of a praise band with guitarists, drummers and vocalists.  Interestingly, songs and hymns were in three different languages - English, Spanish and Latin.  The message was brief and focused on Jesus' promise to the disciples of the "Comforter" - the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, we missed hearing the Gospel.  In the explanation to the Second Article, Luther wrote: I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and keeps me in the true faith."  The Holy Spirit is God's gift to the church, to you and me.  The Spirit abides with us, and not just for a few moments or for an hour or two each day.  Jesus says the Spirit with with us always - always teaching, always sanctifying, always strengthening.  The Gospel is good news and it is always a disappointment when the good news isn't proclaimed to hungry or hurting hearts.

After the service Sherri and I went over to the Arizona Science Center to see the Body Works exhibit.  We spent an hour and a half there and during that time there was one Bible verse that kept running through our heads: I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well."  (Psalm 139:14).  In fact, it was hard to walk through the exhibit, see this magnificent creation called the human body and somehow believe that man was made through a "big bang" or evolutionary accident of some kind.  The human body is too amazing to have somehow randomly evolved to what we are today.  Read Psalm 139 this week and then stop and give praise to the creative God who has given you life.

Friday, May 27, 2011

One Reason to Go to Church this Sunday

Author Kurt Senske wrote: "The gift of our being with God enables our doing for others with compassion." 

Lutheran worship is unique.  We believe that when we gather in church on Sunday morning, God is present and He "serves-us."  He opens His hands and pours out blessings upon us.  He speaks His Word of forgiveness and removes our guilt and shame and gives us peace; He speaks His Word of salvation and removes an uncertainity we might have about eternity and gives us hope and a reason to live; He offers His invitation and we come to His table and feast on His body and blood which assures us that nothing can seperate us from God's love.  At the end of the "serve-us," in the Benediction, God puts His Name on us and sends us out into the world as His child, a member of His family.

Our response to receiving these gifts of grace is to offer our praises to God in word and song; to offer our prayers with confidence that God hears us and answers us according to His Will and for His Glory; we give our offerings so that His mighty Word might continue to be proclaimed in our church, community and world.

But there is more.  We also respond to God's service-to-us by serving those around us.  This is love in action - a love that is motivated completely by God and seeks to offer God's compassion and care for others.

We all want our lives to count.  We want our lives to have meaning and purpose.  There is no real, lasting meaning and purpose to life apart from Christ.  But with Christ at the center of our lives, we are filled with faith and forgiveness and love and we want to share these precious gifts with our family and friends and the world.

We are equipped to do this sharing by first being with our God each Sunday in worship.  Then, having been blessed and fortified, we go into the world and do for others with compassion and love.  In doing and serving others, those around us see Christ Jesus.  And isn't that what we want?

See, you do have reason to be in church this Sunday! God be with you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rocking the House at Helping Partners

Music has always had a way to lift my spirits like few other things.  So when Ken Firchow and I began meeting and talking about the theme for my renewal, I wanted it to be centered around music.  As many of you know, while I am not the world's greatest guitarist, I love to play guitar and sing.  Based on my experience of working with the developmentally disabled, I offered my services to Helping Partners...and they accepted!  Earlier today, my dear, sweet wife and I met with the folks and staff.  We had a great time together.  The set list was: Ïf You're Happy and You Know It; I Saw Her Standing There; Yellow Submarine; The Belly Button Song; Up Above My Head; Pharoah, Pharoah; I've Been Working on the Railroad; Man Gave Names to All the Animals; He's Got the Whole World in His Hands; and the Mickey Mouse Club theme song.  Hopefully, I'll be able to go back for another performance in July and, possibly, take some of our High School kids along to help out.  I would be so pleased if the Lord opened a door for our church to serve this often forgotten segment of our society.

The photo below, taken by Sherri, is me singing I Saw Her Standing There, complete with my Beatles wig (thanks to Lucille Beyer!).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Harold Camping has spoken

Go to Gene Veith's blog - www.geneveith.com for the scoop.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hey! We're Visiting! Anyone...Anyone?

My dear, sweet wife and I made our second church visit today.  We traveled over to Scottsdale to worship at Resurrection Lutheran.  They have three services - a traditional service at 8 am; blended service at 9:30 am and a contemporary service at 10:55 am.  Sherri and I went to the blended service to see what it was all about.

The music ministry was amazing.  They featured a praise band consisting of 5 vocalists and 4 instrumentalists.  But there was more! Included were 12 additional musicians - playing both string instruments and horns.  All of these musicians played together and did so very well, whether it was "A Mighty Fortress" or "Here I Am to Worship."  There were several songs which neither Sherri or I knew; it seemed that the congregation didn't know these songs very well either and the singing was not very strong.  Nevertheless, the music was wonderful and probably helps to draw people to the church.

On the other hand, this church needs a lesson or two from the "Sharon Mefford Method for Greeting Visitors."  We arrived as the coffee fellowship hour was wrapping up.  One lady, while walking  past us gave a hurried "hello."  No one else acknowledged us.  We stopped by the visitors center.  However, no one was at the visitors center.  Although we stood there looking at some of the materials, no one came up to ask why we were there and what we were up to.

A couple of other folks said hello to us but other than that, we were pretty much ignored.  The experience left me feeling thankful for those who participate in our greeter ministry.  Greeters have the opportunity to make a good first impression on a visitor.  If we, as a church, make an effort to connect with people who are seeking to plug into a Christ-centered, Bible based church, the chances are good that they'll make a second visit for worship.  And that gives us a chance to build a relationship and make a friendship...for Christ Jesus.

When I return after renewal, I want to look at what we're doing to see if there are things we can do better to make visitors feel welcomed and to make sure that when we have guests at Life in Christ, they leave feeling like they were noticed, greeter and made to feel welcome.

Friday, May 20, 2011

We Interrupt this Program for the End of the World

Will the rapture come before I've completed my renewal?

According to Harold Camping, I've should have picked an earlier time to have made all of these plans.  Camping is the head of the Family Radio Broadcast Group.  He has quite a substantial operation.  According to World Magazine, Family Radio is broadcast over 150 stations in the US plus dozens of shortwave stations that send his programs all over the world.

Camping has predicted that the rapture - as described in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter four - will take place Saturday afternoon.  Then, as I understand it, in October 2011, the world as we know it will come to an end.

Camping's educational background is engineering and he says he's used this training to scoure the Bible for clues to know when Jesus is coming again.  This isn't the first time Camping has predicted the second coming - he came up with a couple of dates in the 1990's - but obviously he was wrong.  But he says he's absolutely certain this time.

Could he be correct? Jesus said just prior to His ascension that no one knew the time or date when he would return for His church, except His heavenly Father.  If this is true - and Jesus' word is truth - then Camping and his followers are going to be disappointed again. 

So don't feel that you're not going to have to make June's house or car payments.  Enroll your kids for school in the fall.  Live life as a faithful follower of Jesus and keep looking up - the Lord will come again, when He's good and ready.  And those of us who have placed our faith and hope in Jesus will not be disappointed.

And I'll probably finished my renewal...whatever is fine with the Lord!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Two Thumbs Up for Madea!

My dear, sweet wife and I love watching movies.  Last Monday we went to see Tyler Perry's "Madea's Big Happy Family."  The film is rated PG 13 for language.  Sherri liked the film so much that she gave it her highest compliment - she wants to go see it again!

Me, I can watch favorite movies over and over.  Sherri is more of a "one and done" kind of movie goer.  Why waste time watching something you've seen already? So when she says "I'd like to see that movie again, " it's got to be a winner.

I won't talk much about the film - don't want to give away the story! But, needless to say, Madea's family is not happy.  And the way Madea brings the family together for a very important dinner had Sherri and me rolling in the aisles.

Movie critics don't seem to like Tyler Perry very much and they don't often give his films good reviews.  Perry's films usually offer a strong, positive testimony about Jesus Christ.  His characters aren't afraid to confess that there is a God and that God cares for them through Christ.  Today's culture is afraid of Jesus and the fact that Perry isn't afraid to bring Jesus front and center in his films makes him a target of those who object to Perry's positive portrayal of the Christian faith. 

If you aren't familiar with the "Madea" films, rent one from Netflix or Redbox.  Or hurry to the theatre to see "Madea's Big Happy Family."  Give it a try and see if you don't become a fan of one of the screen's most outrageous and hilarious characters.  As far as Tyler Perry is concerned, we give him two thumbs up!

From my journal:"Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread."  Taken from "Pujols - More Than the Game" - page 37.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

At the Crosswalk

One of the benefits of the renewal is the opportunity to visit different churches is the area and see how they do worship and also see what role music plays in the worship service.  Last Sunday, my dear, sweet wife and I visited CrossWalk Church, a church of the Wisconsin Evan. Lutheran Synod.

Not that you would know that this is a Lutheran Church.  Except on an envelope found inside the church bulletin, there was no mention anywhere else that this was a Lutheran church.  Many mission or start up churches do this kind of thing.  The thinking is that if you identify yourself with a particular demonination, that will discourage people, who've had a bad prior experience with a church, to pass on yours.  It is also felt that a church without demoninational ties will seem more open and welcoming to visitors.

I don't think the folks at CrossWalk should worry about that.  The church meets in the auditorium of Cesar Chavez High School in South Phoenix.  As Sherri and I walked on campus, we were met by 3 or 4 very friendly people at their Welcome Center.  They greeted us very warmly and even laughed when I told them that "I was spying on them."  Later we met Jeff Gunn, the pastor of CrossWalk.  He also was warm and personable.  In his message he explained that he and his wife had spent 14 years in Africa as missionaries.  It's obvious that one of his core values, shared by the members of the church, is to be passionate about sharing the Gospel of Christ and making disciples for the Lord.

The service itself was not very Lutheran, following what one might call the praise and worship model for having church.  The service consisted of:
Music - a Jeremy Camp song
A Greeting (a kind of passing the peace idea)
Music - a Chris Tomlin song
Confession and Absolution (all of this was spoken by the pastor - no participation by the congregation)
The Lord's Prayer (with slightly revised words)
Music - Matt Maher's great song, "Christ is Risen"
Music - an original song by the CrossWalk band

The band sconsisted of seven members - three vocalists, two guitarists, a bass player and a drummer (using an electric drum kit).  The vocalist were fine but the musicians were very good.  Three of the four songs were recognizable and fairly easy to sing.  I was especially glad to sing Matt Maher's song about the resurrection of Christ - very powerful lyrics and music.

The pastor was doing a sermon series, "Unreliable or Undeniable: Can I really count of God?'  Jeff Gunn has a nice way of presenting God's Word.  He spoke freely without notes although he did follow a sermon outline that was included in the bulletin.  His message spoke about the reality of a changed life through faith in Christ.  He emphasized the power of  baptism.  He drove home the point that because of God's grace, we do not live in fear but in hope.  He told a story about the people who worked in fear on the Golden Gate Bridge because falling from the bridge meant certain death.  Once a safety net was installed, the workers felt safe and worked faster and with greater efficiency.  He then explained that God's grace is our safety net and through forgiveness and restoration, we can live a new life in Christ.

There were about 150 people in the 11 am service and the 9 am service has that many or more in attendance each Sunday.  The church is starting a summer growth group ministry, kind of like our small groups, with 20 different groups for people to choose from.

One additional interesting thing: Jeff Gunn told us that he thought it might be a long time before the church purchased property and built their own building.  He explained that at present the focus was to have a strong staff (they currently have 5 full time staff) so that they can get more people involved in ministry.  It was an interesting observation for me.  One criticism of staff-driven churches is that the congregation loses its place in leading and serving in the church.  But Jeff Gunn's approach is to get people involved in the life of the church.  But you have to have staff to help organize and lead others. 

From my journal:"One might die for a truth, but one will never die for a lie."  Max Lucado, speaking about the disciples unwavering testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

Friday, May 13, 2011

I'm Really On Renewal!

When did it hit me? I guess it was Thursday of last week.  I suddenly realized that I hadn't written a sermon and didn't have to write one! Wow! Someone once wrote that delivering a sermon on Sunday is kind of like giving birth - you're happy and filled with relief, only to find out on Monday morning that you're pregnant again! To take a break from sermon writing is a blessing and I intend to enjoy it.

Not that I don't like writing sermons.  It gives me great joy to stand in the pulpit each Sunday and proclaim the Gospel of Christ.  It's a privilege to be given 12 to 15 minutes of a person's time in order to proclaim the truths of God's Word.  So you want your sermon to be creative and interesting.  You'd like to capture the attention of your hearers so they get what you're trying to deliver.  As much as I love it, sermon writing is the hardest thing I do.  To take a break from the writing task is the first step toward renewal.

I spent the early part of the week at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Paradise Valley.  It was quiet and peaceful with the weather unseasonably cool.  I took several resources with me but focused my time on a Concordia Publishing House product entitled, "The Calling - Live a Life of Significance" by Kurt Senske.  In summary, Senske teaches that a life of significance is one that keeps God at the center of a person's life and then focuses on the various callings each of us have - whether it be as spouse, parent, grandparent, employer, employee, friend,  church member and so forth.  He offers 8 strategies for building this life of significance, each one built around rituals or habits that cause a person to focus on the different callings and how to keep them at the forefront of life.  I was able to work through about 66% of the book and hope to be able to finish up in the next week or so.  I think I'm going to buy this book for my kids and their spouses to read as well.  A very valuable tool!

The other thing I've been dealing with in these first couple of weeks is a bad back.  My back locked up on me during Holy Week (just about the worst time) but with prayer and lots of heat and ice, I managed to get throught the week in good shape.  During my final weekend at church I started dealing with a lot of pain running down my right leg and this time the ice and heat at home treatment didn't help.  After a week of treatment, I'm starting to get some relief; I really don't want a balky back interfere with the renewal.

Finally, our church membership roster has become my prayer list.  Each day I take a page of the roster and pray for the people who are listed.  This is one way for me to keep connected with the flock at Life in Christ.  Praying also for this weekend's Prayer Workshop.  God be with everyone at Life in Christ!

From my journal: Discipleship demands that Christ comes first.  As that focus becomes sharper, our own self-importance fades.  We decrease so that He may increase.  Kurt Senske, "The Calling" page 18.