Monday, December 7, 2009

Childlike Wonder and the Eucharist


Over the weekend Jamie and I traveled to Wisconsin Dells to celebrate Christmas with family. It is always an encouragement to gather with them and visibly see love working as we laugh, cry, celebrate, pray, and worship. On Saturday night we came together for a time of reading Scripture, singing songs, prayer, and gathering together around the Lord's Supper.

One of my cousin's has an adorable daughter, Delaney, who became the focal point throughout the weekend. The comment was made by one of my uncles, "How can something so small draw so much attention all the time?" It was Delaney's eyes though that re-focused my attention during the Lord's Supper.

As my uncle lifted the bread and said the words, "This is my body, broken for you," and "This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," Delaney's eyes were locked on to the elements. He set the elements down on the table to proceed forth in prayer, yet Delaney did not know that she was supposed to bow her and pray (nor did I, I guess), but rather peered over the table in wonder at what the elements were and why we treated them with such high regards. Why was so much attention being given to that bread and wine?

I wonder if we still sense the awe and wonder at receiving the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. When I extended my hands to receive, did I have an unshakable gaze, not only on the elements themselves, but on Christ crucified for the world? Do I really wonder any more at the unity and peace revealed as we take and eat? Do we become people filled with excitement as we think about God's mission in and for the world?

Our eyes and our actions proclaim the excitement of new life found in Christ. Participating in community around the Eucharist cannot be as simple and reduced as merely "remembering" an event that happened long ago, but instead is a place of incarnation: where Jesus Christ is present in the community of believers. What else should demand the gaze of our eyes than the sacrifice of our Savior?! We are joined together in peace and unity for the mission of God made known in the world. I pray that I become more childlike in experiencing the mystery of the incarnation through the sacrament of the Eucharist in community.

*Image taken from http://photographyminded.com/who-took-a-bite-of-my-cookie

Childlike Wonder and the Eucharist


Over the weekend Jamie and I traveled to Wisconsin Dells to celebrate Christmas with family. It is always an encouragement to gather with them and visibly see love working as we laugh, cry, celebrate, pray, and worship. On Saturday night we came together for a time of reading Scripture, singing songs, prayer, and gathering together around the Lord's Supper.
One of my cousin's has an adorable daughter, Delaney, who became the focal point throughout the weekend. The comment was made by one of my uncles, "How can something so small draw so much attention all the time?" It was Delaney's eyes though that re-focused my attention during the Lord's Supper.
As my uncle lifted the bread and said the words, "This is my body, broken for you," and "This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," Delaney's eyes were locked on to the elements. He set the elements down on the table to proceed forth in prayer, yet Delaney did not know that she was supposed to bow her and pray (nor did I, I guess), but rather peered over the table in wonder at what the elements were and why we treated them with such high regards. Why was so much attention being given to that bread and wine?
I wonder if we still sense the awe and wonder at receiving the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. When I extended my hands to receive, did I have an unshakable gaze, not only on the elements themselves, but on Christ crucified for the world? Do I really wonder any more at the unity and peace revealed as we take and eat? Do we become people filled with excitement as we think about God's mission in and for the world?
Our eyes and our actions proclaim the excitement of new life found in Christ. Participating in community around the Eucharist cannot be as simple and reduced as merely "remembering" an event that happened long ago, but instead is a place of incarnation: where Jesus Christ is present in the community of believers. What else should demand the gaze of our eyes than the sacrifice of our Savior?! We are joined together in peace and unity for the mission of God made known in the world. I pray that I become more childlike in experiencing the mystery of the incarnation through the sacrament of the Eucharist in community.
*Image taken from http://photographyminded.com/who-took-a-bite-of-my-cookie

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

This weekend our family is celebrating Christmas with family in Wisconsin Dells. We are staying at an ultra-luxurious hotel/indoor water park that

Friday, December 4, 2009

Greeters Ministry - Same as or Different from Wal-Mart?

We are all familiar with the friendly faces of greeters at Wal-Marts across America. These employees exist to drive customer satisfaction and build up the basic beliefs of Sam Walton: (1) always respecting Wal-Mart customers, (2) providing superior customer service, and (3) being satisfied with nothing less than excellence in all activities. Wal-Mart greeters work as "front-line 'soldiers' of the company to prove that people and customer service make the difference in building customer rapport."*


But Wal-Mart isn't the only place that utilizes greeters. Most churches have a rotating committee of people who share the responsibilities of extending a handshake, giving a warm smile, and greeting with a warm and welcoming "good morning" to all who come to the worship service.


I recently made the remark that I am unsettled about the role of greeters in the church today, but I didn't have the opportunity to explain what I meant; this is my chance to do so.


The church is a people (collective) who join together with God in His mission for setting the world to right through the redemption of all things. The church lives into this story as a people willing to give up their lives and follow Jesus as the Messiah. Finding new life in Christ means giving up of our own desires, our disposition towards idolatry of things of pleasure (money, sex, power), the standards of the world to achieve "the good life."


Participating in the church and God's mission in the world is not about: (1) coming to a building in order to feel all warm and fuzzy inside, (2) having a place to drink coffee and socialize, (3) have my needs met, (4) discover a few moral truths that will help me to live my life purposefully. Being stirred emotionally to live passionately into and for the world is a good thing. Being formed as people whose entire lives are shaped together around the person and work of Jesus Christ is a good thing. Sharing things in common, offering forgiveness of sins, holding one another accountable and supporting one another through joys and pains of life are all good things. Becoming formed as people of virtue – compassionate, humble, patient, kind, loving, peaceful – are all good things.


Greeting "ministries" are concerned with hospitality and showing visitors that they, as the church, are not an exclusive group of people but an inviting one – this is great. The problem is that it becomes the "job" of a few workers on rotation throughout the week, while everyone else is free to enter, sit down, have an experience, and go out for the rest of the week. Hospitality is not the job of a few, but a marker of a community formed around a God who welcomes, loves, and invites.


I am not suggesting that churches should do away with greeters, but that the way of being hospitable does not fall on a just a few member's shoulders, nor does it mean being hospitable only in the few minutes before the service starts. May we become communities of faith and belief who are welcoming and hospitable in our homes as well as in our churches.


*Information accessed on 12/04/09 from http://www.customerservicetrainingcenter.com/customer_service_training_wal-mart.htm

Greeters Ministry - Same as or Different from Wal-Mart?

We are all familiar with the friendly faces of greeters at Wal-Marts across America. These employees exist to drive customer satisfaction and build up the basic beliefs of Sam Walton: (1) always respecting Wal-Mart customers, (2) providing superior customer service, and (3) being satisfied with nothing less than excellence in all activities. Wal-Mart greeters work as "front-line 'soldiers' of the company to prove that people and customer service make the difference in building customer rapport."*


But Wal-Mart isn't the only place that utilizes greeters. Most churches have a rotating committee of people who share the responsibilities of extending a handshake, giving a warm smile, and greeting with a warm and welcoming "good morning" to all who come to the worship service.


I recently made the remark that I am unsettled about the role of greeters in the church today, but I didn't have the opportunity to explain what I meant; this is my chance to do so.


The church is a people (collective) who join together with God in His mission for setting the world to right through the redemption of all things. The church lives into this story as a people willing to give up their lives and follow Jesus as the Messiah. Finding new life in Christ means giving up of our own desires, our disposition towards idolatry of things of pleasure (money, sex, power), the standards of the world to achieve "the good life."


Participating in the church and God's mission in the world is not about: (1) coming to a building in order to feel all warm and fuzzy inside, (2) having a place to drink coffee and socialize, (3) have my needs met, (4) discover a few moral truths that will help me to live my life purposefully. Being stirred emotionally to live passionately into and for the world is a good thing. Being formed as people whose entire lives are shaped together around the person and work of Jesus Christ is a good thing. Sharing things in common, offering forgiveness of sins, holding one another accountable and supporting one another through joys and pains of life are all good things. Becoming formed as people of virtue – compassionate, humble, patient, kind, loving, peaceful – are all good things.


Greeting "ministries" are concerned with hospitality and showing visitors that they, as the church, are not an exclusive group of people but an inviting one – this is great. The problem is that it becomes the "job" of a few workers on rotation throughout the week, while everyone else is free to enter, sit down, have an experience, and go out for the rest of the week. Hospitality is not the job of a few, but a marker of a community formed around a God who welcomes, loves, and invites.


I am not suggesting that churches should do away with greeters, but that the way of being hospitable does not fall on a just a few member's shoulders, nor does it mean being hospitable only in the few minutes before the service starts. May we become communities of faith and belief who are welcoming and hospitable in our homes as well as in our churches.


*Information accessed on 12/04/09 from http://www.customerservicetrainingcenter.com/customer_service_training_wal-mart.htm

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Becoming People Who Remember

From the beginning of seminary education, I have heard that as Christians we are to be people of a story; a people who remember. This memory is finding God working throughout history, in culture, through people, for the world.

One of the spiritual practices that I have often heard in evangelical circles is to "go back to that time when you first gave your life to Christ," - to remember what it felt like to see your life of the present and see ahead what a life of the future in submission to Christ might look like. This "event" is a formative one that we can continue to return to as a means to jump-start our spiritual lives when it seems dry. Memory in this sense is the means to recreate that powerful moment of conversion, where I realized what I was and what I could become.

I have struggled recently with this understanding of memory. Remembering God acting in the past for the Israelites was never about saying, "Oh, remember how God took us up out of Egypt? That was awesome. Too bad we're stuck in exile again. Let's try and get back to that feeling of thankfulness."

Rather, the memory of events in their lives shaped their understanding of God as a God who acts in the present. The power of Israel remembering the deliverance was not to simply bring-to-mind the God who worked in the past, but to trust that God was still working in the present.

Our memories form us. To remember my "conversion moment," is not about simply returning to a "better time." Sadly, many churches form their liturgy and worship service with the hope of creating a place for people to return to that feeling, that purpose, that experience that they once had. The worship service becomes about the individual having a great encounter with God. The criteria for marking a service as "good" or "bad" becomes, "did I feel it? Was it like it once was?" The worship service is not about this individual re-fuel, or return, but about the place where we find ourselves telling the story of God working in history which forms us as people joining with God working in the present and the future.

Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren use the story of Jacob meeting God and building a stone altar to illustrate this (Genesis 28)*. The purpose of telling and re-telling that story for the Israelites was not to go and re-build the altar at Bethel, because that is where God is present, but to show that God is present in unexpected places. The memory of the historical event shapes a people who is open to meeting with God in everyday life.

The same goes for the way that we shape our worship services. The goal is not to create an event or an arena where we can return to what "once was," but to form us as people who are able to experience that new life in Christ in our everyday lives.

*Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren. Introducing the Missional Church - What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2009.

Becoming People Who Remember

From the beginning of seminary education, I have heard that as Christians we are to be people of a story; a people who remember. This memory is finding God working throughout history, in culture, through people, for the world.
One of the spiritual practices that I have often heard in evangelical circles is to "go back to that time when you first gave your life to Christ," - to remember what it felt like to see your life of the present and see ahead what a life of the future in submission to Christ might look like. This "event" is a formative one that we can continue to return to as a means to jump-start our spiritual lives when it seems dry. Memory in this sense is the means to recreate that powerful moment of conversion, where I realized what I was and what I could become.
I have struggled recently with this understanding of memory. Remembering God acting in the past for the Israelites was never about saying, "Oh, remember how God took us up out of Egypt? That was awesome. Too bad we're stuck in exile again. Let's try and get back to that feeling of thankfulness."
Rather, the memory of events in their lives shaped their understanding of God as a God who acts in the present. The power of Israel remembering the deliverance was not to simply bring-to-mind the God who worked in the past, but to trust that God was still working in the present.
Our memories form us. To remember my "conversion moment," is not about simply returning to a "better time." Sadly, many churches form their liturgy and worship service with the hope of creating a place for people to return to that feeling, that purpose, that experience that they once had. The worship service becomes about the individual having a great encounter with God. The criteria for marking a service as "good" or "bad" becomes, "did I feel it? Was it like it once was?" The worship service is not about this individual re-fuel, or return, but about the place where we find ourselves telling the story of God working in history which forms us as people joining with God working in the present and the future.
Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren use the story of Jacob meeting God and building a stone altar to illustrate this (Genesis 28)*. The purpose of telling and re-telling that story for the Israelites was not to go and re-build the altar at Bethel, because that is where God is present, but to show that God is present in unexpected places. The memory of the historical event shapes a people who is open to meeting with God in everyday life.
The same goes for the way that we shape our worship services. The goal is not to create an event or an arena where we can return to what "once was," but to form us as people who are able to experience that new life in Christ in our everyday lives.
*Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren. Introducing the Missional Church - What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2009.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Advent Liturgy - Shaping the Community

I wrote a post a few days ago which described the pattern of liturgy that our community would observe daily during the Advent season. It has now been six days, and we have gathered each night around two of the three elements that we had hoped for: reading Isaiah and sitting in silence. We have not made the effort to look at our own context and see the pain, hurt, and injustice in the world. I hope to make this a priority as we move forward from here. These three elements work together to shape us as people of hope, waiting for the world to be set right, marked by compassion, humility, meekness, kindness, love, forgiveness, and patience.
  • By opening our eyes to the pain and hurt of the world in the present, we become shaped as a people able to interpret world events and injustice through the voices of our new life found in Christ.
  • The book of Isaiah carries constant themes: great destruction and desolation is certain to come because of the unfaithfulness of the people of the covenant, yet hope is never lost. God will not give up on his covenant. In the middle of conflict and exile, the prophet Isaiah, out of hope and trust in God's faithfulness, can write in Isaiah 12 that:
You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
  • Waiting in silence forms us as people who wait for God to act again, both in the present and in the glorious return of Christ. We sit in silence not as a way to reflect on our day, our highs and lows, confess sin, or ask for help with finals, but to allow the Spirit to work in mysterious ways.
These three elements of the liturgy are constantly flowing in and out of each other. When we hear of tragedy or injustice in the world, we remember the voice of Isaiah, and we respond in humble silence and prayer. When we read Isaiah, we are reminded of our present time when the weak are still oppressed, the poor are taken advantage of, and the widows are forgotten, and our response is to wait on the Lord to act again. Our voices grow dimmer and our minds quiet to silence when we realize that it is only by God's hand working in his creation that our world will be set right, and we never lose hope in our silence when we hear the voice of Isaiah being unwilling to relinquish it.

The most surprising impact thus far has been through an unplanned and additional element of the liturgy: blowing out the candle. As the flame is put out, the smoke ascends and disperses into the house, into our lives, into the world. These practices are not about forming us as individuals in a home, sheltered in with our grasp of hope and interpretation of the world, but propels us forward to live transformed lives daily: in our jobs, in our neighborhoods, and with strangers.

It is my prayer that we continue in humble celebration and preparation this Advent, not just for an observance of the Christ-Incarnate event on Christmas, but that we work as those who incarnate Christ here and now. Blessings to you during this first week of Advent.

Image taken from http://missionalchurchnetwork.com/2007/11/

Advent Liturgy - Shaping the Community

I wrote a post a few days ago which described the pattern of liturgy that our community would observe daily during the Advent season. It has now been six days, and we have gathered each night around two of the three elements that we had hoped for: reading Isaiah and sitting in silence. We have not made the effort to look at our own context and see the pain, hurt, and injustice in the world. I hope to make this a priority as we move forward from here. These three elements work together to shape us as people of hope, waiting for the world to be set right, marked by compassion, humility, meekness, kindness, love, forgiveness, and patience.
  • By opening our eyes to the pain and hurt of the world in the present, we become shaped as a people able to interpret world events and injustice through the voices of our new life found in Christ.
  • The book of Isaiah carries constant themes: great destruction and desolation is certain to come because of the unfaithfulness of the people of the covenant, yet hope is never lost. God will not give up on his covenant. In the middle of conflict and exile, the prophet Isaiah, out of hope and trust in God's faithfulness, can write in Isaiah 12 that:
You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
  • Waiting in silence forms us as people who wait for God to act again, both in the present and in the glorious return of Christ. We sit in silence not as a way to reflect on our day, our highs and lows, confess sin, or ask for help with finals, but to allow the Spirit to work in mysterious ways.
These three elements of the liturgy are constantly flowing in and out of each other. When we hear of tragedy or injustice in the world, we remember the voice of Isaiah, and we respond in humble silence and prayer. When we read Isaiah, we are reminded of our present time when the weak are still oppressed, the poor are taken advantage of, and the widows are forgotten, and our response is to wait on the Lord to act again. Our voices grow dimmer and our minds quiet to silence when we realize that it is only by God's hand working in his creation that our world will be set right, and we never lose hope in our silence when we hear the voice of Isaiah being unwilling to relinquish it.
The most surprising impact thus far has been through an unplanned and additional element of the liturgy: blowing out the candle. As the flame is put out, the smoke ascends and disperses into the house, into our lives, into the world. These practices are not about forming us as individuals in a home, sheltered in with our grasp of hope and interpretation of the world, but propels us forward to live transformed lives daily: in our jobs, in our neighborhoods, and with strangers.
It is my prayer that we continue in humble celebration and preparation this Advent, not just for an observance of the Christ-Incarnate event on Christmas, but that we work as those who incarnate Christ here and now. Blessings to you during this first week of Advent.
Image taken from http://missionalchurchnetwork.com/2007/11/

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