Covenant

[The following is re-posted from my professional blog at www.hudsonumc.org/pastor]

Six and a half years ago I went before friends, family and God to make a sacred commitment.  That commitment was to my new wife that I would care for her and remain with her even when it was really hard.  She, amazingly, made the same commitment to me!  As I held her and thought about this commitment I was not just starry-eyed and excited (there was that, too), but I also had a feeling of anxiety.  I felt a little overwhelmed. Forever is a long time, you see.

That commitment means that even when I am angry.  Even when she has really messed up, I am not going to just give up (and vice-versa).  It means that we will work really hard to endure, even though we are both bound to break promises or make mistakes throughout our relationship.  It means that we keep going even when the ‘going gets tough.’  I think you get the idea.

On January first my church will renew our vows to God and remember our baptism during a Wesley covenant service.  It is not just the words we say to God, but recognizing that God claims us and remains committed to a relationship with us…even when we break our commitments.

So, if God commits to us even when we mess up or break our promises…why should we bother recommitting to God?

Well, it’s like a sound marriage.  The other person may forgive you for messing up, but if the marriage is going to be positive and life-giving: both people have to work hard at the relationship.

We can know that God is seeking after us.  We can know that God loves us and commits to us.  Yet, it will not be a sound relationship if we do not also commit to God, seek after God and love God in return.  Imagine a one-sided marriage, would that be pleasant for either person?

As we begin this new year, I encourage each person to think about their God who loves them and think about ways to be more faithful and committed to that God.  Not because God’s love depends upon it, but because, like a marriage, sharing that commitment will enrich your life and enrich your relationship with God.

A Weekend of Wonder

Contemporary Worship this week at Normal First United Methodist Church





Here is my message from this past weekend at Normal First United Methodist Church.  If you live in the Bloomington-Normal area or are ever passing through on a Sunday morning, I hope you will join us for worship.  I generally preach and lead worship at the Contemporary 11:10 am worship service in the fellowship hall, but we have 3 worship services on Saturday evening and Sunday morning to meet your needs!


Scripture 
Psalm 130

Sunday’s Message
Not exactly as preached, but you get the idea, at least…

This psalm has turned out to be timeless.  It has appealed to people throughout time:  Calvin called it a Pauline Psalm because, he said, it contained the truth of the gospels.  John Wesley heard this psalm sung earlier in the day and it prepared him for an evening on Aldersgate street when his heart would be strangely warmed.

I think this psalm is timeless because everyone can relate to these words.  Despair is a universal experience, isn’t it?

After my mother was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma -an ear tumor- and had brain surgery to remove it about a year ago:  I immediately realized that I had similar symptoms.  So, last July, I went to my doctor.  That was a long wait in the waiting room. They called in an audiologist, then an Ear Nose Throat Surgeon…intense and long waiting.

They wanted only to ‘rule out’ an acoustic neuroma.  So we thought we were coming to some resolution when we scheduled with BroMenn for an MRI.  It turned out that I didn’t have one of those…but they found a totally unrelated brain tumor in my cerebellum

It was four o’clock on a friday and I found out there was a mass in my brain.  That weekend our imaginations went wild.  My wife and I fell into the depths of waiting and waiting can cause despair.  That weekend was the longest wait of our lives.

I waited until January for a plan of action and to schedule surgery. I waited until February for my surgery.  After my surgery I thought I had made it through…but a spinal fluid leak brought me back to St. Louis for another operation in April.  It turned out that recovery is just another kind of waiting!

It wasn’t just a brain tumor that left me waiting during this past year.  Because my church knew they could no longer afford two pastors, I’ve known I was leaving Pontiac since last fall.  If there has been a theme for my year, it is waiting and despair.

Even once it was announced that I would be coming to First United Methodist Church, I found myself excited, but still on medical leave and still waiting.

Like so many people who have come before me, I identify with the Psalmist.  A psalmist who was in the depths and waiting… and waiting… and waiting, “more than the night watch waits for morning.”

The psalmist reminds us of the importance of faith that a new day will come.  The psalmist reminds us that no matter how far we are lost into the depths; no matter how alone we feel, no matter how much has been placed upon us…  no matter what has set us back…   hope is the greatest ally we have.  That is to say:  leaning on God, and having faith that a new morning will come is the greatest comfort we can experience.

I imagine each person here has a time when they were in the depths and waiting.  This church has been waiting and in transition these past few months and, I imagine, there is anxiety as you wait for a new pastor.

I have faith that my appointment at Normal First United Methodist Church is the new morning I have been waiting for during this long hard period ‘in the depths.’  I have faith that the people of First Church, the community of Bloomington-Normal and the campus community will bring light into my world and strengthen my faith!

And I hope, that after months of transition and months of waiting for a new associate, that I will brighten up your world, support you in your faith, and join in your disciple-making work here in this community.

Ministry from the Backyard.

I’m still on medical leave from my pastoral duties…at least officially. Although I preached this morning for a confirmation service at my church, I get to walk away without the worries and responsibilities of being a pastor for the rest of the week.

I came home and relaxed in my recliner and did all the things that a guy should do when he’s recovering from surgery…but, then, when my wife got home I joined her in the backyard. She wanted to write a blog, but also enjoy the day. I couldn’t argue with that. I went out and did the same.

I logged onto facebook, then twitter, and then went over my blog stats and posts. I really did very little, yet I communicated with a number of friends, member of my church family, and people in the community. As I sit in the sun and write blog posts (feeling the wind whip past me and the sun on my arms) I am connecting with other people and building relationships. A pastor who only did this all week would be…well, quite simply, lazy… Yet, shifting some responsibilities to make time for social media is a smart move.

Getting a small laptop or iPad and going to the local coffee shop or a restaurant…or using an iphone to update your status (or check-in) from a community event or location will enhance and deepen your ministry and your connection to the people who live near you.

It is time for pastors to recognize that making time for social media, not at the end of the week when everything else is done, but throughout their week (as a priority) will help them to do every other element of their ministry in today’s new context!

NOTE:  The photos above were taken with intstagram.  If you are a pastor with an internet-connected smartphone, you need to get the app and start a photostream!  It’s a fun way to share your world with others.

Joy in Ritual?

My wife and I divide up many of the household chores and share responsibilities, normally, but since my first surgery on February sixth I have been very limited in what I can do. Over the last few months I have not had to put dishes in the dishwasher, do laundry, mow the yard…well, actually, I haven’t had to do anything but sit in a chair and take occasional walks! My normal routines and practices have been interrupted and the longer I go without doing them, the more difficult it is for me to start again.

Yesterday I finally unloaded, loaded and unloaded, again, the dishwasher. This was the first time I’ve done any sort of chore for quite some time. The really embarrassing thing is that it isn’t even a real chore. I mean, if I’d washed dishes in the sink that might be a real chore, but I just rinsed some dishes off and set them in a machine. Yet, this insignificant task seemed horrendous. I put it off all morning until I knew Carrie would be returning from work, and, finally, when I was at the eleventh hour, I went about a task that, in that moment, felt tedious and painfully slow.

How is it that a task could become so difficult when it is a routine I’ve done a million times and never felt particularly burdened (that I can remember). Well…now, to be fair I need to think back to when I first moved out on my own and had dishes to do (and no dishwasher). The dishes often mounted up and it often came down to eating on paper products before I would get around to washing dishes (I was a terrible bachelor).

Perhaps it is in the routine that tasks and ways-of-living become familiar and do-able. Perhaps, in forming a routine, we make a task more personal and intimate and, in doing so, make it tolerable, if not pleasurable.

The first time we make a bed or pick up clothes or change a diaper or run a vacuum… the list is infinite…. The first time or the first few times we do something we are bound to find it more difficult, but the more often we do it, the more it becomes part of our life-ritual, the more easy and familiar it becomes. One of the best examples is exercise, I think. It was easy to motivate myself to go to the gym the first time, but the next few times it was terribly difficult. I got home from work and I already felt exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was walk over to the gym and wear myself down further, yet, once I got through a week or so of going to the gym, it became a highlight. It wasn’t until it became a ritual that I could enjoy it and I began to look forward to it!

In our lives of faith we have the same issue. If you are a church, synagogue or mosque-goer, then you may recognize this. If you skip worship one week, it is easier to miss it the next, and getting back to your faith practice becomes harder and harder. Prayer is the same way. Perhaps that is why muslims pray so often and methodically. By praying seven times each day they have built prayer into their life-ritual. The prayer becomes both familiar and easy, in a way.

For many, dare I say most, Christians it is more difficult to pray. We don’t have the ritual. Maybe we’ve developed a practice of saying a prayer before a meal or at bedtime, but do we interrupt our day for prayer or does our day follow our prayer cycle? I’d wager for most Christians it is the former!

I think practice is important in all that we do, if we want balanced and healthy lives. During my most recent stay in the hospital, I was feeling very sore in bed. I mentioned it to my physical therapist. She got me out of bed and tried to move my legs, but they couldn’t move more than a few degrees without pain. My muscles were tight from lying in bed all day everyday for so long! My legs were used to walking and bending and running. They were used to a certain practice, but they were out of practice. If any of you have gone to the gym, biked, or run further than you are used to, then you know what I mean. You’ve had the opposite experience as I: you went beyond your usual practice or ritual.

In life we need balance. If we want to start a new faith practice it is important to do so in a measured and responsible way. We should begin praying, reading the bible, or worshipping in a way that is tenable (sustainable). If you’ve not had a regular prayer life, then starting 20 times a day is likely not sustainable as a new practice, but finding one or two times during your day (or even 7?) might be. Finding 10 minutes each morning or evening to read the Bible is more likely to be sustainable, for most people, than trying to read a chapter everyday.

On the other hand, if we drop our habit, even for a day, we risk atrophy. In any of your life-practices, this is good advice I would wager. If you are a person of faith, I especially commend to you that you heed this advice and develop healthy practices. It maybe difficult, at first, but it will grow you, strengthen you, and help you in all of your other facets of life.























Images found at:  http://allwomenstalk.com/ & http://www.thegospelmatters.com/, respectively.

“Brokenness Aside” & “All the Poor and Powerless”

(Song[s] of the Week Sunday)

Okay, so this week we couldn’t choose, so we’re putting up two songs by the band “All Sons & Daughters.”  If you want to download their albums, you can find their songs on iTunes.

“Brokenness Aside”
“All the Poor and Powerless”

Here is the description (from youtube) of the band:

The worship duo of David Leonard and Leslie Jordan was birthed in 2010 from Journey Church located in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tennessee. Jordan and Leonard met at Journey in the summer of 2009 where they began writing worship songs for their church family. Their evolution into a duo began when they started leading those songs together on Sunday mornings. Both currently serve on staff at Journey as Worship Designers in the Creative Arts Ministry.

Leslie Jordan has been leading worship since age 14, both in her own church and for churches and conferences across the United States. She graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 2007 and was hired on staff at Journey as the Worship Designer in January 2008. David Leonard grew up in Southeast Arkansas and attended college at John Brown University. While attending the university, Leonard began the Word Records band Jackson Waters. After disbanding in 2008, Leonard began touring with the Atlantic Records rock band NEEDTOBREATHE, and completed his time with them in May 2010.

In October of 2010, Leonard and Jordan signed an exclusive recording contract as Sons & Daughters with worship label, Integrity Music. In November, All Sons & Daughters recorded their first EP, Brokenness Aside, with drummer/producer Paul Mabury (Hillsong, Brandon Heath, One Sonic Society, Rocket Science). The project’s songs are all written by Leonard and Jordan and reflect the environment of their church and the message of God’s restorative love that Journey seeks to share with its community. The duo’s first single “All the Poor and Powerless” has already generated buzz online and among various church communities around the country. A demo version of the song is available for download at www.sonsdaughters.bandcamp.com. An acoustic video for “All the Poor and Powerless” is also at the Sons & Daughters Vimeo page, http://vimeo.com/15344436

“David & Leslie have found a way to capture the thoughts, emotions and sounds of their local church & put them into songs,” says Jay King, Integrity’s vice president of A&R/Artist Development. “All Sons & Daughters is more than a worship band…they represent us as people who are still on a journey. And they are creating the soundtrack for that journey.”

In addition to leading worship at their church and events around the country, Leonard and Jordan have lent their voices to The Know Hope Collective, the ground breaking initiative that combines worship music with stories of hope and inspiration created by Audio Adrenaline alums Mark Stuart and Will McGinniss.

Upon the release of their record in July, the duo will be back on the road for appearances at a variety of conferences and music festivals this Summer/Fall.