New Blog Post: Worship that Celebrates God’s Story

I just read a chapter on worship from Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken’s book, Renovation of the Church (IVP Books, 2011), that I found instructive and inspiring.  He (Kent Carlson) describes how they moved their church from a “seeker-sensitive” church that emphasized the style of worship, to one that is focused on spiritual formation, and is more concerned about the content and structure of the worship service.  In fact, he argues that the order of priority for worship-planning is: content, structure, then style.

Re. Content: “We celebrate God’s continual activity in this world and his invitation to join with him in his plan of redemption.  This wonderful story, with the extensive scriptural teaching on the implications of all this, is the central content of our worship” (153).  A practical way to celebrate God’s story is to follow the Church calendar (Advent to Pentecost).

Re. Structure: Carlson’s church decided to use the following four common movements of worship on a regular basis: Gathering (includes: the Call to Worship; Prayers of Adoration and Invocation; and Songs of Praise); Service of the Word (includes: multiple Scripture readings, media presentations, drama and of course the sermon); Service of the Table (the regularly scheduled Communion service); and Sending (“We are sent out into the world to declare the good news of God’s redemption” [159].).

Re. Style: Whatever worship style that feels natural for your church family and helps you to help you meet your goals regarding content and structure.

I thought this chapter was especially practical and instructive.  As I have read elsewhere and observed in person, worship can be a trigger for anxiety.  But I think if we were more focussed on the content and structure of our worship, we would become more flexible and gracious regarding the style.  Let’s face it, we’re not going to like every song that is sung or every element of worship, but the main thing is that God’s story is celebrated, and we worship him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23).  For those are the kind of worshippers he seeks.


New Blog Post: Regarding Baptismal Identity

This week we continue our spiritual journey via the sermon series called, “Affirming Baptism and Forming Faith.”  Our topic for reflection is baptismal identity.  Wait a minute!  What are you talking about?  I thought baptism was a sign or a pledge of my allegiance to the Lord Jesus.  Well, it is that and then some.  I appreciate what my mentor for this sermon series, Rev. Howard Vanderwell, writes regarding baptismal identity: “Those who believe in Jesus Christ receive the water of baptism as their mark as one who belongs to the family of God.  Among the other purposes of baptism–God’s seal of his promises and symbol of washing–it serves as an identifying mark that shapes who we are and how we are to live.  And so throughout the New Testament and Church History there is an unbroken line of people believing and being baptized as their mark of belonging to God.  The implications for us are great.  This mark provides our identity in a society in which many other forces attempt to forge another identity on us.  Here is the unchanging basis for our self-concept.  Parents and congregations are called to train their children and youth to find their identity in their baptism.”  So may the Lord call us to be baptized or affirm our baptisms this week as we reflect on the theme of baptismal identity.  And then may he help us to live out that identity the rest of our days.


New Blog Post: Personal Soul Care for Ministers . . . and Others

I thought I was beyond this by now.  After almost five years of ordained pastoral ministry, I thought I had a handle on my calling and rhythm for ministry.  But fall has just begun and I’m already feeling tired!  So I spent considerable time in solitude and silence with the Lord yesterday as I sought to rest and renew.  Part of my plan for renewal was to consult with one of my spiritual mentors in writing, Dallas Willard.  So I pulled The Great Omission (HarperOne, 2006) off the shelf, and reviewed his chapter on “Personal Soul Care for Ministers . . . and Others.”  This was exactly what I needed, so I thought I’d share a couple of quotes with you.

The call of God to minister the gospel is both a high honor and a noble challenge.  It carries with it unique opportunities as well as special burdens and dangers for members of the clergy as well as their families.  These burdens can be fruitfully born and dangers triumphantly overcome.  But that will not happen unless the minister’s “inner person” (2 Corinthians 4:16) is constantly renewed by accessing the riches of God and His Kingdom in the inner person.  (122)

The first and most basic thing we can and must do is to keep God before our minds.  David knew this secret and wrote, “I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure” (Psalm 16:8-9).  (125)

Among the practices that can help us attend to soul care at a basic level are solitude and silence.  We practice these by finding ways to be alone and away from talk and noise.  We rest, we observe, we “smell the roses”–dare we say it?–we do nothing.  This discipline can be used as a means of grace.  In it we may even find another reminder of grace–that we are saved, justified by His redeeming power, not by our strivings and achievements  (129-130)

I thank the Lord for Willard, who has reminded me of the importance of practicing solitude and silence.  May the Lord help us to do what is in our power to care for our souls, so that we can minister out of His fullness.

New Blog Post: Saying Goodbye to Mrs. Brown

Today I’m saying goodbye to my old Sunday school teacher and spiritual mentor, Mrs. Martha Brown, who died over the weekend.  As I look back, I recognize the impact she had on me.  One particular story comes to mind.  As a teenager, I desired to serve the Lord, and I worked hard to serve others.  (In retrospect, I probably worked as hard as I did to please others more than the Lord, but I thought I was serving the Lord at the time.)  Mrs. Brown saw me running to-and-fro in my quest to serve the Lord/others.  She pulled me aside once and said, “Leon, why are you always running?  If you’re going to effectively serve the Lord, than you must sit still once-in-a-while and be with Jesus.”  Although I sometimes forget to heed her advice, I was set on a new path of discipleship that day.  Although her name was “Martha,” she taught me how to be Mary (see Luke 10:38-42).  I thank the Lord for Mrs. Brown and the impact she made on me and countless others over her 96 years of life.  May she rest in peace.

New Blog Post: Feeding on Scripture

This Sunday we will reflect on the idea of “eating Jesus” in the context of our sermon series called “Affirming Baptism and Forming Faith.”  In John 6 Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life.  The implication is that we are to feed on him and receive eternal life.  Bread is concrete.  We can see, smell and taste it.  But what does it really look like to “eat” Jesus?  This is harder to explain, and I’m concerned that the sermon doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.  I pray that it will at least set us on the right path.  But I did find a very helpful quote by Eugene Peterson, that I don’t include in the sermon because of time-constraints, but I will offer now for sustenance.  Feast on this: “Christians feed on Scripture.  Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body.  Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”  (Eugene H. Peterson. Eat this Book, 18)

What would happen in our lives, churches and in the world, if we really began to feed on Scripture?

New Blog Post: What is True Faith?

I was pleased to have an elder tell me yesterday that he is enjoying the new sermon series that we began last week called, “Affirming Baptism and Forming Faith.”  If you were present at the worship service last Sunday, you’ll recall that we explored the way God opens up our hearts to receive the Good News and respond to it.  Lydia from Acts 16 was our illustration.  But perhaps you, like me, are still wondering how this works.  What is true faith?  Happily, one of the classic confessions that we refer to from time-to-time, the Heidelberg Catechism, asks and answers this question.  Listen to the answer: “True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made right with God, and have been granted salvation” (Answer 21).  Could there be any better news?  So do you believe it?  Do you truly believe that Christ’s death and resurrection is not only for others, but also for you?  If not, I pray that God, through Holy Spirit, would reveal this to you today.  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

New Blog Post: A Transformed Christian

One of the magazines that I read on a regular basis is Leadership Journal (LJ). This is a quarterly publication that I find very helpful as a pastor.  Each issue addresses a particular theme relating to church leadership.  The summer 2012 issue focussed on transformation.  How does a person become transformed?  That is, how does a person become more and more like Jesus?  To help us reflect on these questions and the topic of spiritual transformation, I pass on this list from Gordon MacDonald, who is a regular writer for LJ.
A transformed Christian is one who . . .
  1. Has an undiluted devotion to Jesus.
  2. Pursues a biblically informed view of the world.
  3. Is intentional and disciplined in seeking God’s direction.
  4. Worships, and with a spirit of continuous repentance.
  5. Builds healthy human relationships.
  6. Knows how to engage the larger world.
  7. Senses a personal “call” and unique competencies.
  8. Is merciful and generous to those who are weaker.
  9. Appreciates that suffering is part of faithfulness to Jesus.
  10. Is eager and ready to express the content of his faith.
  11. Overflows with thankfulness.
  12. Has a passion for reconciliation.
Gordon MacDonald, “How to Spot a Transformed Christian” in Leadership Journal (Summer 2012), 31-34.

I don’t know about you, but I find this to be a helpful list.  It serves as a check-list for self-examination and casts a vision for what a transformed life looks like.  To read the full article, see the LJ website.  (See the link below.)

Father, transform us.  Please make us more like Jesus.