Posts Tagged ‘worship

24
Dec
19

Special Delivery

amazon-package-on-sorting-belt“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:6, NRSV

The doorbell rang. I hopped up from my place on the couch, headed over to the front door to open it.

No one was there, of course. I say “of course” because this is the Christmas season after all.

Our unknown visitor approached the house, dropped off a cardboard box emblazoned with the familiar Amazon smile logo, and departed to continue on with his (or her) endless list of package deliveries.

Suddenly reassured that we were not about to be visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses, a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, or a nefarious prankster, my attention turned completely to the box o’ Christmas goodies.

I immediately forgot all of the invisible people – ending with that delivery driver – who made this moment of Christmas magic happen. I no longer saw the person who studied all of the options and carefully chose THIS ONE from the website. I overlooked the person in the warehouse who printed the order, the one who retrieved it from the shelf, the one who packed it, labeled it, put it in the shipping queue, and that certain someone who loaded it on the truck.

As I sat there, gleefully tearing open my box, I became voluntarily blind to the long list of people who made that moment possible.

And I am not at all proud to admit it, but that is the way it is most of the time for me. I hungrily receive the gifts God pours at my feet without a moment’s thought about the litany of collaborators involved in bringing them to me.

Today Joan and I prepare to enjoy a quiet, low-key version of Christmas at our new home in Colorado. There will be some food, there will be carols, there will be cookies, presents under the tree, and a time of worship where we remember what this season is really all about.

And for every element of that celebration – even in its most unassuming form – there is a long supporting cast of characters who helped make it all happen.

So today I want to pause a moment and say, “Thank you. I see you…” to:

  • Delivery drivers
  • Police officers
  • City utility workers
  • Hospital staff
  • Maintenance workers
  • Pastors
  • Church secretaries
  • Church musicians
  • Pilots
  • Air traffic controllers
  • Radio and TV announcers
  • Highway crews
  • Retail clerks
  • Website designers

… and countless other people working unnoticed and largely unacknowledged to make sure the rest of us have a chance to experience the joy of this holiday season.

I also want to pray a prayer of hope for those who agonize over the absence of departed loved ones during the Christmas season. May you experience a spark of healing today… even if it is tiny.

16
Dec
19

Christmas Difference

Christmas PlaceChristmas 2019 is going to be very different for me from most Christmases in my recent memory.

For one thing, Joan and I will celebrate this Christmas in a whole different part of the country. That is because on November 21 we moved from Overland Park, Kansas to Fort Collins, Colorado… as fortune would have it, just two days before the skies opened and dropped fifteen and one-half inches of snow on Fort Collins, Colorado.

Timing is indeed everything.

Christmas in a new town with new neighbors and new community traditions will probably bring an engaging hybrid of emotions of disorientation and intrigue. I am sure there is a lot of similarity in the way Coloradans and Kansans celebrate the Yuletide, but you never know…

This is also going to be our first Christmas in the past 10 years we have not been part of the Christmas Place experience. For the uninitiated, Christmas Place is the name our former neighborhood adopts between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. It is the time when all 22 homes on those two perpendicular cul-de-sacs try to outdo one another in sheer electrical voltage drawdown. If you ever saw the movie, Christmas with the Cranks, you know exactly the scene I am describing.

If I sound a little jaded and grinchy about the whole thing, it is probably because I am… a little bit. Putting the lights and displays up in November and taking them back down again in January (or whenever) is a gigantic pain in the butt. On the other hand, the delight our efforts bring to the wider community never fails to dissolve that pain completely away. Tour buses from nearby senior citizen homes and lines of cars stream through Christmas Place every evening just to “OOOO!!” and “AHHHH!!” our handiwork.

This year, however, will be a very different scene at ChezBrown. Our new Fort Collins home will have, A.) a giant wreath hung on the front of the garage, and B.) our large nativity scene in the yard.

That’s it!! (Please don’t tell the folks back in Kansas!)

But the thing that might be the most different about Christmas 2019 will be that for the first time in a really long time, I will not be leading Advent and Christmas Eve worship services anywhere! I will instead be there sitting there in a pew, holding my lovely bride’s hand, participating in a service that someone else has designed and is fretting over the details of.

And I know I will be smiling the whole time.

My heart really goes out to those clergy families who experience the entire Advent and Christmas season as a non-stop flurry of activities, deadlines, obligations, projects, and expectations. It is the usual stress of the holy season times three for these folks.

That is why, knowing that stress and turmoil as intimately as I do, I am really looking forward to experiencing Christmas from the peanut gallery, as it were. This will be a time to see whether I am actually capable of slowing down, breathing deeply, opening my eyes, and soaking in the spirit of the moment instead of feeling the need to frenetically stage-manage a hundred different projects, all building to a climactic crescendo at 12:01 a.m. Christmas morning.

But with all that will be different about Christmas 2019 at our house, I am sure many other things will be exactly the same… foremost among those the time of celebrating God’s greatest gift to the world.

So how about you? What kind of Christmas will Christmas 2019 be for you? Will it be a time of change?… a time of cherished tradition?… a time of epic busyness?… or maybe a time of deep sadness and grief?

And maybe more importantly, how will we each make it a time to recommit our hearts to giving and receiving God’s gift of unconditional, sacrificial love?

16
Sep
19

Rubber, meet road

Attending churchWorship is weird.

What I mean is, for me these days the act of attending a service of worship in a local church is a bit of a strange, unsettling experience.

I feel a little bit like Will Ferrell’s character Ricky Bobby in that scene from Talladega Nights. You remember the scene: Ricky is videotaping a public service announcement and suddenly finds his hands floating up awkwardly in front of him. He stares at them in consternation and says, “I don’t know what to do with my HANDS!”

Before my retirement from pastoral ministry on July 1 of this year, I knew exactly what I was supposed to do in a service of worship. I had a clear list of tasks and responsibilities that had to be completed to ensure the effective execution of gathered Christian worship. I was the tone-setter, the ice-breaker, the chief cheerleader, the deliverer of the carefully-crafted message, the MC.

Yes, I usually had a team of people who helped make it all happen, but the buck always stopped right HERE… with me.

But now, Joan and I just ATTEND.

We walk in through the main doors, return the warm smile and greeting of the greeter(s), accept the proffered paper bulletin, and make our way to our seats. Not too close to the front, but not all the way in the back row either.

And then we just WORSHIP.

It is so weird.

But in a way, it is also incredibly freeing.

When the responsive reading time comes, I can just engage my heart and soul in my assigned part… not worrying about whether I am projecting my voice well enough for Olive there in the third row from the back to hear me, or when the last time the batteries in my microphone were replaced.

When it comes time to sing, I can freely bounce back and forth between the melody and the bass line, really reading and absorbing the text. I don’t have to fret about the accompanist’s pacing, or whether I should have chosen to sing all five verses instead of just three.

The pastoral prayer time offers an opportunity for… PRAYING, of all things!

And since discovering firsthand what a struggle and joy and deeply soul-searching journey it is to write and deliver some kind of coherent weekly message, I try to be sure to give my entire, undivided attention – including engaged eye contact – to the pastor as she (or he) teaches from the pulpit.

And yes, while I do have those occasional moments of, “I probably would have said that a little differently than that,” I keep those quietly tucked away in my back pocket.

But I will confess… the hardest part comes for me when the service concludes and we are on our way back out to the parking lot. No, I don’t have any trouble with the chit-chat time or finding the coffee and donut table. A homing device chip for that must have been implanted in my brain long ago.

No, the part that I now find most challenging is the, “OK… what do I now DO with this?” part.

Back then – B.R. (before retirement) – the answer to that question was simple: after this week’s worship service, you get busy crafting next week’s. There is music to choose, special bulletin inserts to design, a sermon to pray over and write, graphics to choose, and special worship elements to incorporate.

But now?

I have to go figure out how I will go live out what I just heard.

 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35, NRSV)

(GULP!) OK. Here goes…

18
Jul
16

THE PURSUIT OF SAFETY

BostonMolassesDisasterLet’s talk about safety for a minute…

Are you safe? Why? Why not?

If you do NOT feel safe right now, what would it take to make you feel safe?

What are the things that cause your sense of safety to erode?

On a list of all of the values you hold, how high on that list is the value of SAFETY?

Last question (for now): Where does safety come from? In other words, what makes us safe?

On a very basic level I am drawn to the idea of safety. Great feelings of warmth and affection wash over me when I remember hearing my mother or father say something like, “It’s OK… you’re safe now.” Or, “Safe and sound.”

SAFETY feels like a warm, impenetrable cocoon that follows me and covers me wherever I go.

I think it is also accurate to say that because of my race and social standing I have come to view a sense of safety as an entitlement… something the world owes me. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I walked or drove anywhere that caused me to actually fear for my physical safety. And that includes walking into the University of Texas stadium for a football game wearing my full MIZZOU regalia.

As important as we would all probably agree that safety is, do you think we are ever guilty of turning SAFETY into an idol… i.e., something elevated to the place of ultimate importance in our lives? And if we agreed that it is indeed possible to worship the idol of safety, I also have to wonder how this posture shapes us and the way we “do community” with one another?

Because frankly sometimes it is just not very safe at all to relate to another person. For starters, they might smell bad. They might have odd habits. They might not be polite. They might hold different truths than you do. They might challenge your faith and ideals. They might be mentally unstable.

Taking the chance of relating to a person you don’t already know could endanger the safety of your body, your mind, and your worldview all at once.

Let’s face it: building bridges is dangerous. Especially if you don’t exactly know what is on the other side of the bridge.

Building walls is safe.

Worshiping safety would probably also mean never trying out an idea that had an uncertain chance of success. Because if you tried out your idea and it failed, you could lose money… prestige… credibility… and maybe even friends.

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask anyone who has ever tried to take a new, different, strange, or offbeat idea and make it fly. They will tell you they have lost one or all of those in the process.

In all seriousness, you know what is REALLY dangerous? The pursuit of safety as our ultimate community value… that’s what.

Elevating safety to ultimate importance means taking no risks… venturing into no new territories… initiating no new relationships. It means withdrawing. It means committing yourself to looking suspiciously upon anyone or anything that approaches you. It means putting all of your energy into defending THE WAY THINGS ARE and fighting off the encroachment of THE WAY THINGS MIGHT BE.

Because let’s face it: there is nothing any of us can do to absolutely ensure our personal safety. You might have been unlucky enough, for example, to have been walking down a North End Boston city street in 1919 at the exact moment of the Great Boston Molasses Flood. Caused by the bursting of a large molasses storage tank, the Great Flood killed 21 people and injured another 150. (Source: Wikipedia. That is the picture at the top of this blog post). It is safe to say that none of the victims imagined “death by molasses” for themselves, that day or any day.

Worshiping safety also means you would have to turn in your “Person of Faith” card. This is because we rely on our own devices and not God to provide our security. We imagine that a higher wall, a bigger gun, a deadlier bomb, a more powerful X-Ray, or a better set of laws will give us the safety we seek. Proverbs 29:25 helpfully reminds us, “The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.” (Proverbs 29:25, NRSV).

The truth is: SAFETY comes from God and God alone.

In his life and preaching SAFETY seemed to exist – if it existed at all – at the very bottom of Jesus’ priority list. Time and time again we see him endangering his personal safety by violating Sabbath laws, eating with the wrong people, pronouncing forgiveness to sinners (“Who is this that thinks he can forgive?”), touching lepers, walking on water, and defying political and religious authority.

And as we watch Jesus work, we know his courage doesn’t come from the heart of a daredevil; it comes from an unshakable faith in the God who created him and sent him into the world on his mission of mercy. Jesus summed up his own views on security pretty well when he said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33, NRSV).

Safety and security are important. But pursuing these as the ultimate value of life is not only unfaithful to God’s word… it is downright dangerous to the world. As Jesus said to his disciples in his farewell message in John: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

AMEN.




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