Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lent is Here

   We begin the Season of Lent this week on a day known as Ash Wednesday, so significant that one city prepares all year long for the party* that wraps up the night before.
   What is Lent? Lent is a forty day period, excluding Sundays, during which disciples of Jesus Christ prepare themselves spiritually for the remembrance of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection.  The name is derived from the Old English, lengten, a reference to the lengthening of the days in the spring.
   Beginning in the second century, Christians would undergo a brief period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Good Friday and Easter. By the fourth century the period had been extended to forty days to coincide with the forty days that Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. The number forty also corresponds to the forty years God's people were wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus.
   It was common to fast from meat and dairy products during Lent, and many Christian converts made their first professions of faith in Jesus as Lord. It was also a time of repentance for those who had abandoned the faith. The season is a time for more intense and intentional spiritual growth during which we remember the message, the life, the suffering and death of Christ.
   Our annual Ash Wednesday Service begins at 6:30 pm in the Sanctuary, where we are marked with ashes as a sign of our desire to repent of our sin and follow Jesus, and offered the chance to write out our prayers of confession and then destroy them following the service. I invite you to attend this special service.  It will be brief, but the experience will stay with us. It will be a time spent well in preparation for Easter.
   In the tradition of the ancient church, we're inviting you to do three things this Lent:
1.  Be in worship every weekend you are in town.
2.  Give up something as a fast and expression of your faith and identification with Jesus' suffering.
3.  Join the whole church in reading through the devotional book, Praying for 5, available at the church this Sunday. We can make Easter the best ever for folks who need a church home!
   Join us as we start this journey on Wednesday. Grace and Peace, Scott

* New Orleans is the city, and Mardi Gras is the party.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"It's a great morning..."

   I was standing at the counter, early one morning this week, at Chick-fil-a. Waiting for a refill on my Diet Arnold Palmer  - unsweetened ice tea mixed with no-calorie lemonade that is just sharp enough to make one eyelid quiver - one of the employees passes by in front of me. All of the sudden, she starts talking to no one in particular.

"It's a great morning at Chick-fil-a, how may I serve you."

   Just like that! She was talking into her headset and taking the order of the next person arriving at the drive-thru. We know that thousands of cars will pull up to place their order there, every day. But, do we take for granted that someone will always be on the other end of the speaker welcoming us? Think about it, the quality of their customer service is based, in large part, on having the right person with the right attitude ready to welcome people at the right time.
   What about the church? We are blessed to have people who sign up to serve as greeters and to stand ready to welcome people as they enter our building. We have people and families visit us for the first time, literally every week. Our greeters deliver smiles and beautiful words of welcome. Of course, we can always use more. Contact Jessi Marlow about helping out at any of our three services (!
   What about out in the world? I think this is what our witness is all about. We never know when someone will pull up to the drive-thru of our little world, in need of something God has gifted us with. Think about the menu that every Christian is called to offer: forgiveness, Good News, encouragement, love, grace, kindness, joy, peace, patience, and the list goes on and on. It happens all of the time. Walking across the room, and something speaks clearly into our headset. "Go speak to that person." "Go help that person out." "Go offer that person a word of comfort or share some word of wisdom with them.
   I am not suggesting that we can never have a bad day, but the Bible is pretty clear that we must be ready for anything. Matthew 24:44 says, "Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know."
   May we be ready, and may the Holy Spirit provide for us what that person needs. Grace and peace, Scott

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Too Much Defense is Exhausting (Football & Life)

   The outcome of Sunday's Super Bowl was devastating to Falcons fans. The Patriots won, mounting an historic comeback, as the world watched the Falcons fail to stop them on three consecutive drives down the field to end the game. Of course, Tom Brady is great, but I think something else helps explain the final score. Consider this...

The final statistics show that the Patriots' offense was on the field for 93 plays, 
while the Falcons' offense only had 46 plays from scrimmage. 

   The Falcons, early on, were scoring quickly and often. Was it too often? The Falcon's defense was on the field for all 93 of those Patriots' plays. Watching from home, the defensive players were exhausted. They had nothing 'in the tank.' And no wonder, because their teammates on offense left them playing defense, too long.

   We were talking as a staff about how exhaustion is true off the field, too. Karen Clay offered this beautiful analogy from the Old Testament: Job was similarly exhausted from playing defense because of his friends. It would up getting him severely scolded by the Almighty.
   What kind of friend are we? Offering advice, even criticism on occasion, is sometimes needed. But, do we leave people on defense too long? Are we ever encouraging? Do we help people out? Are we willing to carry a burden for them, generous with our time and our praise?
   Let us seek out companions who build us up. The Apostle Paul was right to say, "Don't be deceived, bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33)." For, we too want to one day receive the trophy held for those found faithful. Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Dear Christian in America

Dear Christian in America,

   I know you join me in praying for our elected leaders. Two weeks ago I suggested we pray “Guide our Leaders, Lord.” Let us be vigilant in praying for those who lead us. However, we have our own part to play in the direction of our nation.

   The stakes are high and old ways of behaving are no longer acceptable. There has never been a time in history that more is at stake for our country and for our planet than in these days. Globalization now has us competing for resources in ways never before imagined, cultures are colliding, news travels faster, all the while more nations, and even rogue networks, have access to weapons to advance their agendas. Yet, worse than any missile, there is an even more devastating weapon that is being used in evil ways everyday: half-truths. Christians are as guilty as anyone in repeating them.

   First, we need to stop filtering our news more through who than what. Many people are more concerned with who says something than if what they are saying is true. Whether or not a fact suits your perspective on the latest item in the news does not make it any less or more true. The problem is, sometimes people you disagree with are right. Truth does not have a liberal-conservative bias. The truth is the truth, and regularly comes down for and against both sides. I am as guilty as anyone about ‘considering the source’ when I hear something, but if such consideration clouds my judgment that I miss the truth when I hear it, then I am wrong. And so are you.
   Second, we need to listen more. For as many times as we’ve said it, we need to do it. I really like what Beth Moore said this week: If we’re going to be wise people, we are going to have to let somebody else win the Internet while we actually try to think before we speak. James, the brother of Jesus, also said it well when he penned the words, Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry (1:19).

   Finally, we need to pray. Pray that God would expose that within us that needs confession and removal. We have taken truth for granted. We have put our trust in people instead of God, and repeated the half-truths we have heard from them. We are a part of the problem, but can be the start of the solution.

   Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What are you Saying?

   They say when people are asked to name their greatest fear the most frequent response is public speaking. Yet, have you ever considered how frequently the opportunities to speak in smaller settings come to each of us? Someone asks for advice, or you see something that needs to be addressed? Consider these three unrelated moments I’ve had in just a few short days:
  • Sitting across from a couple talking about baptism and raising children, I share how baptism functions - what does it do? Since we do not believe baptism is the same as salvation, what do we believe is happening when parents stand to present their child? I found myself talking about...
  • Standing at the end of a bed in the ICU, where I had been called to offer a prayer for someone I’d never met, I felt led to say one additional word...
  • On the edge of my seat in the circle this week at GriefShare, I was about to lead more than a dozen folks who were walking through a deep sense of loss and sorrow in an opening prayer. I found myself sharing...
I was led to say nearly the same thing each time. I said,

“You are God’s Beloved. You are loved by God before your best day ever happens and after your worst. Before you accomplish anything and after it feels like everything is lost, you are God’s Beloved. God’s love for you is larger than all of it and small enough to squeeze into even the smallest spaces.”

   It took me forty years to finally have these words take effect. I am still a long way from integrating them into my life completely, but I am learning hby speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ.
ow true they are in a wide range of moments. Ephesians 4:15 says, “
Next time you are asked to speak, what will you say? Is it true? Is it worth repeating? Does it build someone up?
   Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Guide our Leaders Lord - by Melissa Killian

Melissa Killian wrote this in 2004, but when it was shared with me this week I knew immediately that it was still God's word for today. This is literally a word for all of us this inaugural week. The original book is Breath Prayers: Simple Whispers That Keep You in God's Presence, published in 2004 by David C. Cook.

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. - 1 Timothy 2:1-2

  Listen to the news. Read the papers. Hear what people are saying. Most reports about our elected leaders are critical and negative. It doesn't take long to recognize the difficult position in which many of our public officials find themselves, especially as viewpoints grow diverse and naysayers become louder. We know that the loudest voices are not necessarily the wisest and that it is impossible to please everyone.
  Pray for our leaders. Pray that moral clarity and excellence will govern our elected leaders. As small interest groups become more vocal, pray that principle takes precedence over popularity. In today's media-driven political campaigns, pray that character is valued more than charisma. Today more than ever, we must pray for our political system and its leaders.
  ....Killian goes on to write that the three simple words, Guide our leaders, can be prayed on our breath in each of these instances:

  • when they are struggling with decisions in foreign-policy 
  • when fear and confusion blind us to justice and truth 
  • when moral clarity is confused by complexity 
  • when Christian leadership faces strong opposition 
  • when their first reaction is to blame the other side

  Let this be our prayer for leaders of both parties: Lord, Guide our leaders. May our first reaction to every news story be pray and not anything else. Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Greatest Gift we can give to One Another...

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
- Proverbs 3:5-6

   I try and find the time, everyday, to listen to a daily podcast by JD Walt. He started this New Year reading and commenting through the 31 chapters of the Book of Proverbs to match the 31 days of January. Day 3 stopped me in my tracks when he took this passage and pointed out the importance of the word all, used twice. He said, "The Christian faith of the Bible is all or nothing.... If you push back on my emphatic “all or nothing” assertion, it’s because you lack the courage to choose. Settling for the easy out of, “At least I’m doing something,” is not biblical faith. It’s nominal Christianity. The enemy of our age is not doing nothing. It’s the mentality that says  something is enough." He went on to propose that must happen to be all-in for God requires, "trust and submission, or surrendered-ness. This must be resolved at the subterranean level of one’s will—far beneath the ephemeral nature of emotion."
   He then closed with a line that made me pull over the car in order to capture correctly!

The greatest gift we can give to one another is to become graciously,
yet brutally, honest with ourselves.
- JD Walt
   Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Don't Forget the Feelings and the Awe This Christmas

drawing by Ed Fisher, as it appeared in the New Yorker magazine

   Christmas is here. For many folks, this cartoon captures how many of us feel as the season of shopping and preparing comes to a close: crowded, pushed around, and not all that good.
   I laugh at the last line of the caption underneath: once the train is in motion start singing. We've all packed too many people, places and things into a small window of time, and then we are told to sing. As if being merry is something that we can be commanded to do!
   We resist, for good reasons. Dictating the feelings and emotions of others does not work. Some people find it hard to be merry all of the time during this time of the year. Memories are strong, right now, and those memories take us back to when loved ones were still with us and things were different. The holidays can be difficult. I believe we must be ever vigilant to reach out to those who are living with grief and loss and extend our care and compassion, especially now.
   The cartoon busyness of the modern American holidays also leaves out the room we need to be awed by that first Christmas. The versions from Matthew and Luke are both filled with moments of surprise and wonder. Elizabeth and Zechariah get the surprise of the their lives, when told they have have a son named John, who comes to prepare the world for the Christ. Later, there were angels making startling announcements to both Mary and Joseph. An angelic chorus directs shepherds to a cave used as a stable, of all places, to find a child just born. All the while, we're told God's plan to redeem all of the world is being carried out. The first Christmas was anything but routine and hectic.
   In the midst of all of the emotions and busyness of the season, may we move at our own pace toward the scene being played out before us. May we gaze with awe at how the God of the Universe is choosing to reveal himself to us this year. Grace and Peace to you, Scott.