About Me

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Born in 1950’s, Byron has three children, Elyse, Diana and Matthew. Byron and Candy married in 2006. Candy has two sons, Brad and Ben. Ben is married to Ashley and have two children. Brad is married to Sascha and have a dog and a cat.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

2020-03-01 Signs and Wonders - The Testimony

Signs and Wonders - the Testimony
John 1:19-34

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ 

Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said,
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 

And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

Thank you, God, for the gift of the scripture. 

Like a Trial

            Perhaps, like you may have had, I have had the privilege of being called for jury duty, but never have I ever been selected to serve as a juror.  Either the jury has been selected before I was questioned for consideration or when I have been questioned and my answers have caused me to be quickly released.  It seems that defense attorneys tend to not like to have a clergy on the jury.  I have been a witness in a few legal proceedings.  Mostly, I have been called to testify to a person’s character.  The happy proceedings have been for the adoption of a child.  
If you have been a party to courtroom legal proceedings, you are aware that when an attorney or a judge calls you to testify, they use a common line of interrogation.  First, a witness is asked to identify themselves.  Often as a part of identifying comes a statement of occupation and how a person relates to the matter before the court.  I am bringing all of this up today, because of the Gospel of John.  If you are familiar with the stories of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, you know that as you get towards the end of a Gospel Jesus is arrested and placed on trial.  It is based on the outcome of this trial that Jesus is sentenced to brutal punishment and crucifixion.  The Gospel of John is a little bit different.  

A Three-Day Cycle 

Yes, in the Gospel toward the final chapters, John records the trial of Jesus.  What’s different about the John’s Gospel is that the entire Gospel is written as if the story of Jesus is one long trial.  John calls forth witnesses to testify to Jesus, the Word.  Witnesses called to testify to the truth of God’s word include: God, the Scriptures, Moses, John the Baptist, and those with whom Jesus ministers.  Just as in a trial today, sometimes the one on trial gets to testify on their own behalf.   In this case, sometimes Jesus gets to state his own case directly to us.  You and I, the hearers and the readers of John’s Gospel are the jury.  We will hear the testimony of the witnesses.  We will acquit Jesus of any wrongdoing by coming to faith in him.  Or, we will judge him to be a false prophet and condemn him.  Ironically, if we condemn him, it is we the jury that will take the punishment.  
The story in these verses from chapter one, John masterfully records the first witness’s testimony to the divinity of Messiah Jesus.  Let’s go to the interrogation of John the Baptist and hear with fresh ears.  “The Gospel proper begins with the testimony of John the Baptist given on three days, days which have symbolic rather than strictly chronological import.  On the first day John the Baptist’s testimony about his own role is largely negative; on the second John the Baptist testifies positively to what Jesus is; on the third (which we did not read today) John the Baptist sends his own disciple to follow Jesus.” (Raymond E. Brown, 45).   This threefold progression may be thought of as first, John the Baptist was not the light; second, he was to testify to the light; third, through him all will come to the light. (Brown.  Dodd, Tradition, 248).

The Baptist’s Interrogation

            There are two interrogations on the first day.  Like in our modern legal proceedings, establishing one’s identity is vital.  Lawyers from Jerusalem have come done Mount Zion into the Jordan River valley to interrogate John the Baptist.  Like any lawyer worth their salt, they only ask questions for which they think they will know the answers.  Their purpose is to trap a Loonie-toones imposter so that they can put him away.  John the Baptists answers are simple, emphatic and not what the lawyers assumed.  He says, “I am not the Messiah… I am not … No!”
The lawyers want to know if he is claiming to be a messiah.  Their follow-up question is “are you Elijah?”   Then, “Are you a prophet?”  Answering yes to any of these would warrant a trip to prison without trial for the charge of blasphemy.  
            John the Baptist goes on to explain who he is.  He is merely, 
‘a voice in the desert crying out, “Make the Lord’s road straight!”
The “B” claims for himself no authority, no power, merely a voice.  However, he is quoting Isaiah.  He is not even claiming to make a way for people to get to God.  He is claiming to make away for God to come to the people.  The barrier to keep God from coming to you is sin.  Repent from sin, God comes. 
            Under interrogation who would you say you are before God.  Do you think of yourself as one who has power?  Do you think of yourself as one who can do great deeds?  Do you think that perhaps you’re channeling one of the great Bible characters of the past?  Or, maybe just a minor character?  
            During his second interrogation of the day, John the “B” goes onto define his purpose and role.  Now, if you read the book Ezekiel and Zechariah in the Old Testament, you know that the Hebrews thought that water baptism not only cleaned up a repentant believer, but God also put a new heart – a new spirit – within the person.  John the Baptist will not claim giving new hearts for his purpose.  He is merely – get this image, not his words but mine – to be a washer woman.  He merely helps a person scrub the dirt from their lives.  He says, “I am only baptizing with water…”. 

Run for the Phones!

            What comes next, the lawyers from Jerusalem could not have imagined in a million years.  What comes next, is so shocking that if this were a court room movie in the 1940’s, the reporters in the courtroom would be scrambling over each other to get to the phones in the hallway.  It is something so scandalous that there was no way to get John the Baptist for a crime.  John the “B” says, “but there is one among you whom you do not recognize – the one who is to come after me, and I am not even worthy to unfasten the straps of his sandal.”  I can only imagine the lawyers blinking, then, looking at each other shaking their heads and walking away.  I just wonder if Jesus isn’t standing right there in the middle of them.  
            As odd as this may seem, John the Baptist’s purpose was not to preach and to baptize.  The purpose of John the Baptist was to draw people’s attention to the Word become flesh who dwelt among us.  Isn’t this our purpose as well?  We each have our own identities and jobs and families and hobbies.  At the end of the day, as Christians, aren’t we just billboards with big arrows pointing to the Word, the Light of the World?  Day two of John the Baptist’s testimony drives home the point.  
            The next day, the Holy Spirit has revealed to John the Baptist the identity of Jesus as the Word, the Light.  He shouts, “Look!  Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin.”  Not just Lamb but embodiment of God’s Spirit, pre-existent one with God.  The Baptist assists people to repent of sin and seek a new path.  Now, he points to the one who both delivers people from sin and removes sin.  By the Lamb of God, that which keeps you in strife with God and with each other and with all of creation, ceases to exist.  Power of sin and death die.  In the place of sin in your life you get the Holy Spirit. 

Spin the Arrow

            You and I are to be sign spinners for Jesus.  Pointing people to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – who takes away our personal sins as well.  Do you want to help someone get on track?  Take a few pointers from Kendric Washington, 2020 World Sign Spinning Champion.
            Kendric, a theology and political science student at Georgetown, says if you are going to be a sign spinner, there are five things you need to do to be a champion. Point to the purpose of your sign.  Smile and wave to the people to whom you are showing your sign.  Do something to get people’s attention.  John the Baptist preached and baptized.  Kendric does tricks.  Be creative. Present your sign so that people can see to what you are pointing.  Finally, repeat.  Listen to Kendric tell the story to News Legend Pat Collins.

            So, spin your sign.  Have fun pointing people to Jesus.  

Thursday, February 27, 2020

2020 Lent

40 days means that God is up to something. There are eight of such great periods on the surface of the Bible: 
·      Forty days Moses was in the mount, Exodus 24:18; and to receive the Law, Exodus 24:18. 
·      Forty days Moses was in the mount after the sin of the Golden Calf, Deuteronomy 9:18,25. 
·      Forty days of the spies, issuing in the penal sentence of the 40 years, Numbers 13:26, 14:34. 
·      Forty days of Elijah in Horeb, 1 Kings 19:8. 
·      Forty days of Jonah and Nineveh, Jonah 3:4. 
·      Forty days Ezekiel lay on his right side to symbolize the 40 years of Judah's transgression.
·      Forty days Jesus was tempted of the Devil, Matthew 4:2. 
·      Forty days Jesus was seen of His disciples, speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, Acts 1:2.

The 40 days of Lent marks the beginning of the church's journey toward Easter. The significance of this time in the church's life is stated clearly and well in the "Invitation to the Observance of Lenten Discipline" in the Ash Wednesday liturgy (United Methodist Book of Worship, 322).

 Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
the early Christians observed with great devotion
  the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection,
and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration
  there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism.

It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins
  and had separated themselves from the community of faith
  were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness,
  and restored to participation in the life of the Church.

In this way the whole congregation was reminded
  of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ
  and the need we all have to renew our faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,
  to observe a holy Lent:
  by self-examination and repentance;
  by prayer, fasting, and self-denial;
  and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word.

Come Holy One, let me be guided by you, these 40 days.  Let me see to what wonderful my eyes shall open, to what virtue my heart shall be strengthened and to what purpose you shall accomplish in me. 

2020-02-23 Core Value, Serve

Core Value Serve
"In all, we say or do; we believe God calls us to serve the needs of a hurting world, thereby enriching our individual spiritual lives and the life of the church."
""Then those who are righteous will reply to him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?" Matthew 25:37 CEB 
"He asked a third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, "Do you love me?" He replied, "Lord, you know everything; you know I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep." John 21:17 CEB 
"Instead, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink." Romans 12:20a CEB 

"Instead, we are God's accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives." Ephesians 2:10 CEB 

"Someone's Front Door" 

A long time ago, in a place far from here, a group of 24 youth and adults set out for Appalachia Service Project in Iaeger, West Virginia. The group divided into four groups of six to work on homes in the mountains around Iaeger. Each group consisted of four youth and two adults. Upon arrival in Iaeger, we were given an orientation to the work we would do. Monday morning, we set out early to the projects. 
My team road in an old Pontiac station wagon that looked like it fit right in with the local mode of transportation. The rusty fenders were held together nicely with duct tape. I drove us up into the mountains on coal mining roads for half an hour before turning up a holler along a creek. With warning not to depart from the trail (for fear of disturbing an anxious moonshiner), we walked into the woods. Below us, a creek known for typhoid flowed. Resting on the bank of the creek, a twelve-foot aluminum Jon-boat waited to be used to ferry tools and equipment across the water. Of course, someone had to walk through the knee-deep creek and pull the boat to the opposite bank. Our guide to the site this first day walked the boat with our hammers and saws to the other side. Our work crew was instructed to take the long way by following the trail upstream to the hanging footbridge. 
Our supervisor instructed us to continue on the trail through a tunnel of an active train track. We listened carefully by placing an ear to the rails to listen for a train before entering the tunnel. With quick strides, we found the other side of the tunnel with relief. Up the trail another hundred yards, the path darted hard to the creek. Turning the corner, we were faced with a hanging footbridge that did not seem to have been repaired since Daniel Boone came through these mountains. The slates that were not broken or sliding freely across the supporting cables were cracked and split. We took turns crossing the bridge so as not to tax the suspension and end up down the holler up a creek. Comments, non-too gracious, came from our group. Most having to do with the quality of the bridge and its dilapidated nature. 
Once over the bridge, we headed downstream a few hundred yards and came upon a house built against the mountain, facing the creek. Paint on the siding, and porch, long peeled. A blue tarp wrapped the roof against the rain. Two rocking chairs sat on the porch with half of a 55-gallon metal drum on the ground in front of each rocking chair. Our mission was to put a new roof on the house. The couple who lived here could not habitat the house because the roof had fallen into the kitchen and bedroom. A previous group had begun demolishing the remaining roof and moved old materials off the house. We had to design a roof, create a supply list, obtain the supplies from the warehouse in Iaeger, carry the supplies out to the site across the river, and up the side of the mountain, then we could put the new roof on the house. For the first three and a half days of a five-day service project, we just moved materials and tools to the site, from station wagon, to trail, to the boat, over the bridge, uphill to the house. 
The footbridge is a constant hazard and created consternation when boards slipped, and someone would drop a hammer into the creek below. The colorful commentary about the bridge increased in intensity and variety until late on the second day. In the evening, the young couple having finished work came home to see the progress on the new roof for their house. With the agility of someone having lived a long time on this mountain, mom carried her baby on her hip as she walked across the bridge with papa and diaper bag behind. The crew stopped looked and saw the bridge for the first time. It was not a broken-down hanging walkway to a shack. It was the front door to Ruby and Ray's home. 
We did not finish the roof, two teams later, and the deed was done. We did, however, get the supplies on-site for the following groups to finish. Service opens our eyes to the reality of life around us. Service connects people and changes people. 
In all we say or do, we believe God calls us to serve the needs of a hurting world, thereby enriching our individual spiritual lives and the life of the church. 

The Call to Servanthood 

Jennifer Maggio, in her article "Why serve others," declares, "Too often we approach situations with What's In It for Me? By nature, we are self-absorbed and self-centered. Only Christ in us makes us self-less and servant-minded." (Maggio 2015)
We serve not to be saved but in response to salvation. The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus to instruct them on how to be a Christian community. Ephesus was known for entertainment, commerce and religiosity. Paul had to teach the basics of being a community of faith, Ephesians 2:10, "Instead, we are God's accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives." CEB 
God created us to make a contribution. God created us to make a contribution to the ones who live next door, down the street, and around the world. The world is our parish. Bob Adam's father operated a gas station that he built having come home from WWII, observed the reality of the Apostle Paul's words. "He made a living by what he got; he made a life by what he gave." (Adams 2014) Eugene B. Habecker says it just a little differently, "The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interests, and in so doing will not always be popular, may not always impress. But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price." 
We know the supreme example of servanthood through the passion and ministry of Jesus. Jesus gave us a great example by wrapping himself in a towel and washing the feet of his disciples. We hear the call to service in Jesus teachings, Matthew 25:37, ""Then those who are righteous will reply to him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?" CEB Jesus lets us in on a secret, when we serve, we serve Jesus. You have to embody the thought by which Bob Adam's dad lived, "If you want to lead on the highest level, be willing to serve on the lowest." The key to understanding service in the name of Jesus goes like this, "Good leaders do good things. Their lives matter. Servant leaders do great things. They help others' lives to matter...." (Ibid.)  Service shows others, Christ, in a tangible way. Big ways. Small ways. 

Open Us to Others

The disciple Peter's story opens to me because Peter made grave mistakes. Yet, his mistakes do not matter in the end. All that matters are whether you love Jesus and what you are going to do about it. John 21:17, "He asked a third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, "Do you love me?" He replied, "Lord, you know everything; you know I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep." CEB When we serve, we love Jesus. To serve expresses gratitude for faith and forgiveness. To serve connects the server, the served and one who sent the server. Service interconnects people who make mistakes as well as people who have the intention of ill will. Service connects us even with our enemies. Romans 12:20a, "Instead, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink." CEB When we serve, we serve those hostile to us. In service, we host the hostile. In service, the server and the served are not only connected to the who sent us, but we are transformed by the one who sent us. 
To apply the core value of service, we simply open ourselves to others and do the next best thing. Truly the call to service needs no further complication. You can seek out the great crusades of our day; or, you may simply open your eyes to one next to you. Just do the next best thing in the name of Jesus. 

"Mouse in the House" 

Still not sure why you should help others? Many Christians do not understand why we ought to help even in the face of overwhelming scriptural mandates. To put it simply, by serving others, the one I save, just may just be myself. Jesus teaches, Matthew 10:39, "Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them." CEB Listen to this story from the hills of Appalachia, "Mouse in the House." 
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. What food might this contain? The mouse wondered - he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap. Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning: There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house! 
The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it." 
The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!" The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers." 
The mouse turned to the cow and said, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!" The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose." 
So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer's mousetrap alone. 
That very night a sound was heard throughout the house -- like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever. Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient. 
But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig. 
The farmer's wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them. 
The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness. 
So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and think it doesn't concern you, remember.... the mouse in the house. In all we say or do, we believe God calls us to serve the needs of a hurting world, thereby enriching our individual spiritual lives and the life of the church.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

2020-02-16 Core Value Hospitality

Core Value Hospitality
"In all we say or do, we believe God calls us to be welcoming people who share ourselves and our resources impartially." 

"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." Mark 9:37 CEB 

"So, welcome each other, in the same way, that Christ also welcomed you, for God's glory." Romans 15:7CEB 

"That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:19 CEB 

"Don't neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this, some have been hosts to angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2 CEB 

Strangers in a Strange Land 

Remember the hit ABC show of the last decade, "Lost"? In many ways, the series was a parable about the "lost-ness" of contemporary life. Survivors of an airplane crash shared life and death on a hostile South Pacific Island. 
Though, my life was never as exciting or dramatic as the plotline of "Lost," each time the Bishop assigned my father to a different church to serve in the old North Indiana Conference, we packed up our home. We moved to a new location and unpacked. We moved with enough regularity that my parents kept the moving boxes stored close at hand. With each move, I was lost. 
Each move had a mixture of adventure and sadness. I lived under the mandate that when we moved - we moved. No going back to our previous home, because to return to a former home meant that we were interfering with the pastor who succeeded my dad. The Bishop did not tolerate inference by a previous pastor. I was cut off from all my friendships resulting in sadness. The newness of a move brought adventure in finding the opportunities in a new location. 
As a family, we learned something about the welcome strangers receive in new communities. Everyone graciously accepted us at a new church. Kids at school tended to be less gracious. Sometimes kids were just rude. Sometimes the boys would test me by sucker-punching me in the lunch line just to see how I would react. I found moving mandated that I be a stranger. The gracious kids were the ones who, too, had experienced the brutality of a hostile welcome. They remembered being estranged as a stranger. 
Therefore, for me, in all we say or do, I believe God calls us to be welcoming people who share ourselves and our resources impartially. We are called to create a welcoming home for the stranger and the estranged to encounter Jesus Christ. 

The Kindness of Strangers

Being a stranger defines, in part, the universal human condition. At some point, you are a stranger. At some moment, you are the odd one out. Tennessee Williams identifies our alien nature through the final words of his 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire. The broken Blanche DuBois resigns herself to her fate with the words, "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." 
A 1961 science fiction novel by American author Robert A. Heinlein tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians. It is a modern retelling of the classic Robinson Caruso. Several later editions of the book have promoted it as "The most famous Science Fiction Novel ever written". The title "Stranger in a Strange Land" is an allusion to the phrase in Exodus 2:22.  
Exodus 2:21-22 reads, "And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. And she bares him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land." (KJV) Moses names the core of human experience. By faith, we are strangers in this strange land. To be a stranger is to be living in a territory hostile to us. 
To be a stranger is to be hostile. Let me share with you how estranged we are to each other right here in North Webster. This is what your Fruitful Congregations Journey team found out about people living in our ministry area. These conclusions may not reflect your personal circumstances; however, the outcomes describe the ministry area. The sources of information came from community interviews and from demographic studies in a five-zip code area around the church. 
We are a community of "lakers," "locals," "local lakers," and "interlopers." Within each of these groups one finds common denominators of being white, have a high rate of illicit drug use and attend or have parties and have high degrees of non-marital / extra-marital sexual affairs. These activities seem to be covering up grief, depression and suicidal tendencies. We don't like religion and give it no place in our lives. Indeed, we are not interested in being part of a traditional church. 
Yet within these groups are desperately different people. We are families who hang out in public parks; however, we remain isolated from each other. We are "SUV" moms who over program our kids. We are highly self–motivated to achieve continuous activity for our families yet are undecided about our own personal destiny. We are lonely seniors with depression and failing health living separate lives. There are more single dads then typically found in other communities. We say we value family; yet, spend little quality time gathered together, apart from riding in a car to activities. 
We are Gen Xfer’s dependent upon our digital urban lifestyles. We are successful, thriving boomers who earned a seat at the table of prosperity through college education and professional work or who worked hard blue-collar jobs with limited education. We are wealthy and migratory, being present enough to give some support to the local economy yet not investing in it. 
We are either rich or poor, hardly any of us exist in the middle. We are hungry and lack adequate resources for food and for housing; but, we will help out each other as we can. We tend to be two sets of people living on the same street totally unconnected. We are strangers to each other and estranged from each other; often, quietly hostile. 
The word "hostile" maybe the key to our community and the vision for our church. Hostile comes from hostis, meaning "stranger." It took on the meaning of "enemy,"; then of "enemy army," and ultimately, in the early Christian church, of the devil himself. And yet at the same time, in the expression "Lord of Hosts," the King James translation of the biblical Hebrew epithet for God adonai tsva'ot, "Lord of [heavenly] armies," hostis ended up as a term for the Divine. What a flip-flop.  
"It's also the source of "hospital," a word that in 14th-century English referred to an inn; took on in the 15th century the meaning of refuge for the homeless, and was being used widely by the 16th century for an institution that cares for the sick."  "It also gave us our English words, "hospice," "hostel," "hotel," and "host" in the sense of an extender of hospitality. It originally signified "stranger" — i.e., a traveling guest who lodges with an innkeeper." Curiously it meant both "host" and "guest." So, to be hospitable is to host those who are hostile. Or, as Jesus said, "Love your enemies." 
Therefore, in all we say or do, we believe God calls us to be welcoming people who share ourselves and our resources impartially. We are called to create a welcoming home for the stranger and the estranged to encounter Jesus Christ. 

Divine Hospitality

The incarnation is "the divine hospitality in which God welcomes the fractured world of the human in all its brokenness," Rev. Philip J. Rossi, S.J.  The word of God says a great deal about welcoming and about hospitality. Here are just a few examples. Not only did Jesus instruct us to love our enemies, but he also said, Mark 9:37, "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." (CEB) By welcoming strangers and the estranged, we welcome God. 
Paul summarizes the letter to the Christians of Rome in Romans, 15:7, "So welcome each other, in the same way, that Christ also welcomed you, for God's glory." (CEB) "Hospitality means we pray, plan, prepare, and work toward the purpose of helping others receive what we have received in Christ."  "Out of genuine love for Christ and for others, [Fruitful Congregations] their laity and pastors take the initiative to invite, welcome, include, and support newcomers and help them grow in faith as they become part of the body of Christ."
Instead, then go with the flow of our culture, you and I have a mandate from God to swim against the tide. God reminds the Israelites through Moses that because they were strangers, immigrants, that they were to be kind to immigrants they met. Deuteronomy 10:19, "That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt." (CEB) And finally, from the New Testament book of Hebrews 13:2, "Don't neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this, some have been hosts to angels without knowing it." (CEB)
You see, in all we say or do, we believe God calls us to be welcoming people who share ourselves and our resources impartially. We are called to create a welcoming home for the stranger and the estranged to encounter Jesus Christ. We are called to Radical Hospitality.

Radical Hospitality 

Radical Hospitality creates a response. When a stranger experiences radical hospitality, they say to themselves, "These people really care about me here. They really want the best for me. I'm not just a number, a customer, or an outsider here. I'm being invited with them into the Body of Christ." "Radical Hospitality stretches us, challenges us, and pulls out of us our utmost creativity and hard work to offer the welcome of Christ,"  "A church changes its culture, one person, at a time."
Think of yourself as "Jesus' Customer Service Representative." Hospitality is a skill to be learned and to be practiced. Anyone can learn it. All can practice it. Here is how to start being hospitable and welcoming to strangers and to the estranged. This is the "5 – 10 Connect Rule".   
"5" represents the five minutes before worship and five minutes after worship. During these two five-minute time frames, pay special attention to who around you, you do not know. Why? These are the most important five minutes of the worship service for a guest. It will determine the entire future of their experience with our church. We have a tendency to hang out with friends during these two five-minute periods. Hanging out with friends isn't a bad thing, but can it wait five minutes? That's really not a very high cost for making sure a guest feels welcome. 
"10" represents your sphere of influence measured as a radius of feet. Your "guest radar" should be set to at least ten feet around you. You don't have to "work the entire room." It can feel overwhelming to try to take in that many people. I know mostly everyone in our church, and it is always a little overwhelming for me. But you don't need to do the whole church sanctuary (unless you're uniquely gifted with hospitality!). Just pay attention to who is sitting or walking within ten feet of you. Invite that person into your conversation. Stick out your hand and say, "Hi," and give your name. If they do not provide their name in response, know that they do not want to interact. Smile and go to the next guest. If the person gives their name in return, then you may connect them to someone else. 
Connect means make an introduction. So, you've paid attention during the five minutes before worship begins and the first five minutes after worship is over, and you noticed someone you didn't know walk within ten feet of you. We may not want to connect with people because we cannot remember names. Most of the time we all forget names. There is no sin in forgetting a name. Sin is not offering hospitality. Names you know well, you will forget. My mother used to call me by our horse's name. What if you recognize a face but can't remember their name, so you avoid introducing yourself or others? Ask for help. And give assistance with your name. 
Everybody wants to help. You will not offend anyone by asking for help with names. Whatever you say, do not ask, "Are you new here?" Or, "Do you remember me?" Both put people on the defensive. These questions tend to shut people down. So, if you are like me, in the ten seconds it takes to turn to the person next to you to make an introduction, you forget the name of the person you just met. Easy peasy. Just say, "Have you met Sally?" You forgot both their names, "Have you two met?" 
Hospitality is a skill to be learned and to be practiced. Anyone can learn it. All can practice it. Because, in all we say or do, we believe God calls us to be welcoming people who share ourselves and our resources impartially. We are called to create a welcoming home for the stranger and the estranged to encounter Jesus Christ. 

 "Hospitality, it's is our nature." 

For your moment of inspiration, I have a video of a commercial from the Shangri-La Hotel. I cannot find another example of radical hospitality that equals this commercial. I have seen this commercial dozens of times. Each time I view the video, I feel my emotions for the "lost" for the stranger and the estranged, well up inside of me. Give the video a look. "To embrace a stranger as one's own, it's in our nature "


We are challenged to find ways to create a welcoming home for the stranger and the estranged to encounter Jesus Christ. 
In all we say or do, we believe God calls us to be welcoming people who share ourselves and our resources impartially.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

2020-02-09 Core Value Worship

Core Value Worship

“In all we say or do, we believe gathering in worship honors God while creating fellowship and spiritual growth.”
“Jesus said to her, "Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You and your people worship what you don't know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. But the time is coming— and is here! —when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth." John 4:21-24 CEB
“Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You must have no other gods before me. Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the LORD your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents' sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:1-6 CEB
“So, brothers and sisters, because of God's mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don't be conformed to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God's will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” Romans 12:1-2 CEB

If I had a dime for every time, I was in worship.

Growing up, we just did worship. My first memories are from the time of living in New Jersey. My father attended Drew Theological Seminary as a student of pastoral ministry and served the Teabo-Mt. Hope parish. I do not remember much of the Mt. Hope church. It was the Teabo church, I remember. Standing on the porch of the parsonage, to the right, was an open lot, the fellowship house (a single room long building for dinners and gatherings), and then the sanctuary of the church. In front of the buildings was a drive that connected them all. Past the drive lay railroad tracks used several times a day. On either end of the property stood woods. Behind, was open ground up the mountain through an old coal mining area to the outer fence of the Piccadilly Arsenal. We moved into the house before I can remember and moved out of the house when I was five.
My two memories of worship both included consuming. First, I remember eating Cheerios in the pew next to my mother and sister, hearing my father's voice from the front of the sanctuary. Second, I remember swallowing a dime while waiting on the offering plate to be passed. The second memory stands out as I was taken outside during worship, hung upside down by an usher, and pounded on my back. The dime went into my stomach; despite the best efforts of my grandmother, she never recovered the money after having been processed for nutrients.
Worship started to become more real as I discovered girls. I don't know how many times I was "saved" by going to the altar at evangelistic meetings my dad held. Whenever a certain cute girl would go to the railing to pray, I walked down the aisle and knelt next to her. It was always hard to think romantic thoughts with someone whispering the salvation prayer in your ear.
Attending camp brought worship alive for higher purposes. At junior high camp, then at senior high camp, I experienced music and teachings that help me to connect with God. For me, the music lifted my spirit, and the instructions challenged my mind. I often thought, "Why can't church worship at home be like worship at camp?" We did our best.  We formed a drama and music team in our youth group and began leading occasional worship services in our home church and at other local churches. Once, we went on the road to Tennessee and conducted a weekend of services for teens in a small town. It was in worship that I accepted Christ – for real. It was in worship that I received my call to ministry.

How do you kill faith?

I believe gathering in worship honors God while creating fellowship and spiritual growth. Yet today, few people come to Jesus in worship. Worship tends to be the last place people will attend. Think with me about the barriers a non-attender or nominal believer progresses through to participate in a worship service. Most church buildings look like something out of a "Harry Potter" movie, if they are traditional buildings, or look like a Wal-Mart if they are new construction. The buildings are big and off-putting. Next, there is the choice of a door to enter. Most churches have too many entrances or the most prominent entrances someone barricaded. 
Once inside the building, the regular attendees will look at the newcomer like how school kids look at the new kids when they walk into the lunchroom. The looks may not be hostile; but, they hardly say, "here sit next to me." Finding a seat without being asked to move by a long-time attendee has high improbability. The closer to the back of the sanctuary the person attempts to sit, the higher the probability.
Now the worship, bulletins, songs, scriptures, clothing, decorations, all seem surreal. Returning to their familiar car never felt so comforting.  It does not surprise me that today, people will find anything else to do, then come to worship. Yet, worshiping God is central to the practice of faith. 
Commandments one and two of the ten, teach us who to worship and who not to worship. The central story of the First Testament tells how God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt to worship on the mountain for three days. First responders to Jesus' birth worshipped him. The Holy Spirit came to the disciples during worship, giving birth to the church. When God calls all creation to heaven at the end of the age, all will gather to worship.
When a person begins to fall away from the faith, they begin a journey of a thousand steps.  The first step is not to attend worship. Healthy vital faith only happens to the degree that the person of faith worships. If you do not worship the Lord, you are a brand separated from the fire. Like the cooling ember, your faith will die out.  I give you this sad truth. 
Often, I will consent to baptize a baby of a marginally connected church family. I go to their home. I get to know their story. We talk through the meaning of baptism. They attend worship, and I baptize the baby. After the service, the parents' faces glow with the glory of God they have experienced. They promise to return and make worship a part of their lives. They say, "Oh, I need this." They leave the church building never to return to worship and the fire of their faith dies. The fire of faith dies due to the lack of fuel. To say to me, "I can worship on the golf course." "I can worship when I go fishing." "I can worship at the shopping mall." "I can worship online." May all be true. The truth is, people, don't. When you do not attend worship, you dishonor God, you fall out of fellowship with other believers, and your spirit begins to die.

Worship in Spirit and Truth

The Bible does not say, "study the Lord your God," it says, "worship the Lord your God." Jesus told the woman of Samaria that "true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him" (John 4:23). Sally Morgenthaler finds that many contemporary definitions of worship gravitate toward either "spirit" or "truth," and there is much to learn from each.[1]
Morgenthaler draws upon Gerrit Gustafson, who defines worshiping in "spirit" as "the act and attitude of wholeheartedly giving ourselves to God, spirit, soul and body.  Worship is simply the expression of our love for God."[2]  Worship expresses our love for God. How do you show love? Here are just a few ways, I am sure you will think of more. You name the one you love. You name attributes that you experience in the one you love. You remember a time of closeness with your love. You express gratitude for the one you love. These are all things we do in worship.
Worshiping in "truth" is described by Robert Webber when he says, "Worship celebrates God's saving deed in Jesus Christ."[3]  Truth is Jesus Christ. In worship, we celebrate the victory won by God over sin, suffering, injustice, and death, and for the new life given to us and offered to all through Jesus Christ.
Worship is more than recalling to mind "a past event or person that is no longer present." In biblical remembrance, the past "event or person becomes present to us – it is something like experiencing that event or person anew, as a present reality."[4]  "Here is the central point: it is as we remember rightly through our participation in worship that the Spirit of God gives us the right hearts. And it is as we come to worship with hearts seeking God that we remember rightly. Through this dynamic of right heart and right remembrance, spirit, and truth, we grow in the knowledge and love of God and in love for our neighbor.”[5]
Therefore, we can proclaim with the words of worship in the Psalms: 
·      Psalm 95:6 CEB, “Come, let's worship and bow down! Let's kneel before the LORD, our maker!”
·      Psalm 117:1 CEB, “Praise the LORD, all you nations! Worship him, all you peoples!”
·      Psalm 147:12 CEB, “Worship the LORD, Jerusalem! Praise your God, Zion!”
·      To Jesus, we say, “Amen!” Luke 4:8 CEB, when he commands, "It's written, you will worship the Lord your God and serve only him."

We people of faith declare:
Worship positions the heart. 
Worship positions the mind. 
Worship positions the life.
Worship is about gratitude.
Worship is about praise.
Worship is about saying “I love you.”

Worship Dance Steps

Worship is like dancing to the heart of God. We move toward God. With that in mind, here are some basic worship steps.
Right foot forward: Worship begins with an invitation to "Come and See" because Monday is coming. The invitation is personal and eternal. We mimic God's invitation to worship as we invite others to attend with us. We name who God is. We name who we are. We name who we are in a relationship with God.
Left foot forward: having been invited by God into worship, like a good guest, we thank God. We say, "Thank you, Jesus!" We give gratitude to God for blessings of and in life. "I once was..." "Now, I am..." "Thank you, God, for my transformation today." "I desire to complete my transformation in love."
Both feet jump back: We say, "I'm sorry." We confess the parts of my/our life that need transforming. "Here is what I do that I do not want to do..." "Here is how I failed the pledges I have made..." "Here is how I let Jesus down..."
Both feet jump forward: All things hinge on the word of God. What does God say about my/our situation? "Here is how the word of God speaks to my untransformed life." "Here is what Jesus has done about my untransformed life." "Here is what I can do about my untransformed life."
Both arms raised: "God Help, Me!" Praying to God to act in our lives. "God, take me and transform me." "God, take our church and transform us." "God, take our world and transform us."
Raise the roof: "I will be different, for I am different." I commit to act differently because I/we am/are different.
End it: Reiterate the challenge of transformed living.

The World Worship Dance

Think of worship as dancing to the heart of God, meaning we dance to the music that is God. “Up to Faith is a Christian ministry run mainly by musicians, filmmakers, dancers, choreographers and the like. Their mission? To promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they do it 21st Century style. In 2011, they arranged a Global dance event to celebrate the Risen King, Jesus Christ. After watching the video, who could possibly say that Christianity is dead? It is alive and well and flourishing throughout the world. This is just one example of celebrations around the world, as we take a look at global trends, events and celebrations this Easter Holiday.”[6]

Photo 1UptoFaith Global Dance 2011 – Resurrection Sunday Dance https://youtu.be/IRaUnR1XtgQ

Worship, dance to the heart of God. In all we say or do, we believe gathering in worship honors God while creating fellowship and spiritual growth.

[1] (Morgenthaler 1995)
[2] (Gustafson 1991)
[3] (Webber 1992)
[4] (Knight III 1997) 
[5] (Knight III 1997)
[6] (Roberts n.d.) 
Other Years of the Global Dance: 
  • Budapest, Hungary - UptoFaith Global Dance 2011 [OFFICIAL] Resurrection Sunday 
Dance 2011 https://youtu.be/NVv0jH33nL4
  • Bern, Switzerland - uptofaith Global Dance 2016 - [OFFICIAL] Tanz Bundesplatz Bern 
  • Bern, Switzerland - Up to Faith Global Dance 2012 - [OFFICIAL] Tanz Bundesplatz Bern