Friday, June 29, 2012

Friar Tuck Learns Worship: The Roundabout Road of Liturgical Resource Development: Review and Testimony

I have spent the last 6 months adjusting to a congregation with a much more liturgical heritage than my own.As I adapt to leading worship in this style, I have had to go out and purchase several resources that provide readings and insight into Presbyterian and Methodist worship. This may sound burdensome, but it really has been fun. It has been fun because I love learning new skills, and this is a new skill set for me to adapt to. Normally our church has used readings in four places: Call to Worship, Responsive Closing, and a Unison Prayer at the end of sharing praises and concerns in prayer.

In the process of becoming equipped for this facet of my ministry, I have had to purchase several books of readings and other liturgical resources. In addition, I have also had to begin to study deeper on more traditional worship in general. So, pay attention if you want to know more about what I am learning in this regard, because I will be sharing a lot about what I am discovering as I go through the year.

In this first discussion of worship and liturgical arts, I want to share the resources that contain readings and other worship resources that I have been given. Later, I will evaluate these titles in bunches. What do you use in worship planning? Does anyone out there write their own readings for their congregations? If you have any further ideas let me know!

Here are the resources I have in my office. Some of them I had before. Many of them I have gathered in the last year or so:

  • Presbyterian Book of Common Worship
  • Episcopal Book of Common Prayer
  • United Methodist Book of Worship
  • Gathering for Worship (Baptists of Great Britain)
  • A Manual of Worship by John E. Skoglund and Nancy E. Hall (American Baptist)
  • Prepare! An Ecumenical Music and Worship Planner
  • Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (Consultation on Common Texts published by Fortress)
  • The Abingdon Worship Annual
  • The Abingdon Preaching Annual
  • When We Gather (Presbyterian, Geneva Press)
  • Invocations and Benedictions for the Revised Common Lectionary by Drescher
  • Psalms for All Seasons
  • The Worship Sourcebook (Faith Alive Publishers (CRC and RCA))
  • Benedictions--A Pocket Resource by Vasholz
  • Call to Worship--A Pocket Resource by Vasholz
  • Gifts of Many Cultures by Tirabassi
  • The New Handbook of the Christian Year
  • Whispers of God by Levon Bayler
  • Led by Love by Levon Bayler
  • Touch Holiness by Ruth Duck
  • Flames of the Spirit by Ruth Duck
  • Litanies and Other Prayers for the Common Lectionary Year B by Tilson and Cole
  • Litanies for All Occasions and More Litanies for All Occassions by Garth House
  • Prayers for the Seasons of God's People--Year B by Hostetter
  • Before the Amen by Tirabassi and Tirabassi

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review of the Sacraments in Biblical Perspective by Ronald P. Byars

The Sacraments in Biblical Perspective: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church

The Sacraments In Biblical Perspective
by Ronald P. Byars
ISBN 978-0-664-23518
Interpretation Commentary Series from Westminster/John Knox Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Westminster John Knox Publishers have developed a well-received collection of commentaries on Scripture called Interpretation. The Interpretation Commentary Series is a preaching and teaching commentary series developed with several leading scholars in mainline seminaries and colleges.

After the Interpretation Series was completed, the publisher continued the series addressing topical issues related to life in the church, especially those that need to be preached on or taught about. I already have copies of the study that WJK put together on the Canons and Creeds, as well as the one they published on the Ten Commandments.

Most recently I have received The Sacraments in Biblical Perspective. This fine study discusses the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is historically grounded, biblically focused, and accessibly written. I love it!

The strengths of this book are as follows:

  • The nature of it's interaction with Scripture--This commentary spends most of its time referencing Scripture, and interacting with the text directly. Although these texts are organized in a more theological fashion, it still reads like I am engaging a Biblical commentary. 
  • The treatment of broad thematic elements--Byars is not content to just refer to texts that just reference baptism and the Lord's Supper. He follows the stream of water and blood upriver to its source in the Old Testament, and he follows the stream downriver pointing out unnoticed references and relationships in the New Testament as well. 
  • The brief discussion of a Sacramental Theology at the beginning of the book--Byars looks how our understanding of the sacraments has developed over time, especially in relation to the Reformation and the Enlightenment. He asks the tough questions of the church, challenging believers regarding their lack of respect and value of the sacraments in the modern and postmodern age.
  • Its usefulness in relationship to the Revised Common Lectionary
This study is not for everyone, but I think it would be helpful for Christian leaders who have occasion to preach or teach on baptism or the Lord's Supper. This is especially true for those who minister in ecumenical contexts. I have never seen a more thorough resource that is also so well organized and easily read. I will return to this book often.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review of Your Church is Too Safe by Mark Buchanan

 Mark Buchanan is an artist. I do not use that term lightly, because it is quite an honor to be considered an artist. The way that Buchanan uses words to imprint visions of the kingdom of God in his writing earn him that title though, and perhaps he has never written better, or more artfully than in his most recent book entitled Your Church Is Too Safe.

Mark loves the church. He has, however, like many church leaders and parishioners, discovered that the church has become too tame. Buchanan believes that the Church has become compromised to the world’s standards. He believes that it has become so distracted with doing the business that churches do that it has failed to attend to its true calling to build and live the kingdom of God here on earth. In order to address these concerns about the church’s ability to lose its way, Buchanan begins to paint pictures of what a kingdom of God based church looks like. Throughout Your Church is Too Safe Buchanan exegetes Scripture, he tells stories, he shares personal testimonies. By the end of each chapter the reader begins to get a glimpse of the kind of churches and the kinds of Christians God is calling us to be instead of just the people we are.

The second part of his goal, which is woven through the book, and expressed more explicitly in some parts of Your Church is Too Safe than others, is that we as Christians are going to have to move away from those “safe” places where we feel comfortable, and take the risks to live in a way that dares the Spirit to work in powerful ways through our lives. We will not be the kind of church God wants to use if we do what feels normal, safe, comfortable, and easy. Over and over again, we are going to have to stretch into going places where we might not feel safe, say things that are not easy, and sacrifice in ways that are uncomfortable if we are going to be used by God in mighty ways.

All in all, I found Your Church Is Too Safe convicting, inspiring, and encouraging. I have marked up several of the stories to go back to and revisit and reread. I find myself often putting the book down to ponder what was said, and just absorb what the Spirit is saying to me through it. I think that many other readers will do the same as I have. For this reason, I recommend this book to just about anyone.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fun quote from Martin Luther

Today, found in my sermon prep, I found this fun quote from Martin Luther regarding Mark 4:26-28, and how it applies to his work as one who preaches:

"After I preach my sermon on Sunday, when I return home, I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer, and I just let the gospel run its course"

Love it!

Scripture and Eulogy for Francis Jensen

Frances H. Jensen

SCRIPTURE—Philippians 2
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


I arrived here at United Churches as pastor a little under 6 months ago. Many of you have known Frances for over 60 years. You have many thoughts and stories to share about Mrs. Jensen. And I cannot wait to hear those stories. My job at this point in this service of celebration and remembrance is not so much to tell you stories you have already heard, as it is to point to how Jesus Christ was at work in Frances’ life.

When I talked to some of you to learn more about what Frances was like, there were several words that stood out. Those words were humble, faithful, unselfish, and a servant. Many of you may think that Frances just came by these character traits naturally. The truth is, she learned them in faithful service of her Lord and Savior.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote letters to churches. One of these letters was to the church in Phillipi. In this church, there was a little bit of conflict. And by the time Paul gets going in his letter to the Philippian believers, he challenges them to remember a hymn, a song, about the character of Christ.

This hymn says that we need to be like Jesus. Specifically we need to be like Jesus by not thinking of ourselves too much, by putting others above ourselves, by not claiming our rights but by giving of ourselves to another. In doing this, we live lives that bring glory to God, and lead others to him.

This is the way Frances lived. Humbly. Sacrificially. Looking out for the needs of others. She lived life as a peacemaker. As a team player. A person who gave of herself in quiet, honorable ways.

Frances was the kind of person that always looked for the best in people. She hoped for the best of people. When someone fell on hard times, she would try and put herself in their shoes, and understand what they were going through. She could often encourage a person who was struggling by seeing a future for them that was bigger than what they believed possible. As I Corinthians says, “love hopes all things. Love believes all things.”

She liked to make things to let those that she knew and loved that she appreciated them. She was known to make wonderful brownies for people. She would often throw together a pie for her family when they visited, most often apple pie, which from what I understood was quite yummy.

She had an eye for those in need. If someone was needing some help, she would quietly try and help them. If possible, she might even anonymously help those who needed it.

In addition to making food, Frances served others and gave to others through her woodworking. She had a pretty decent workshop in her basement when she lived at home. She would make wooden toys and Christmas ornaments with saws that must have looked like they were the same size that she was.

Frances loved her community here in Hot Springs. She loved all of the Veterans things that happened here in town, and was often involved in serving and honoring those who served. She was an early supporter of the mammoth site. Regionally, she was present for the first blast at Crazy Horse.

Frances was a glue person. She was the person who kept tabs on everyone else in the family. She helped people keep up with and keep in touch with one another. Often, people would find a thoughtful card or receive an unexpected letter or even a phone call from Frances.

And, Frances was the same kind of glue person for our church. She did not have enemies. She brought people together in church, and found ways to get things done while having a lot of fun doing it.

She was passionate about making sure everyone in our congregation had the opportunity to share in communion. Often times, that meant gathering the folks at Brookside for communion when we would have our service of the Lord’s Supper.  When I arrived, she wanted to make sure that we established regular communion visits. She spoke up about this not for herself, but because she knew that there were many folks out there that could not make it to church who would not speak up about wanting or needing communion brought to them.

Frances also was a committed learner at Bible study. She was not afraid to speak up if she did not understand something, but she always spoke up with respect, humility and grace. She had an eagerness and a passion to learn, to grow in her knowledge of God, and to live out what she learned in her everyday life.

Churches, families, and our nation are built by people like Frances. People who love their neighbor and their family. People who try and serve faithfully and skillfully, and who give of themselves because that is who they are, and not because they want people to notice. People who love and invest in the community they live in.

People who have lived their lives in honest, committed service of the Lord Jesus. And, people whose beliefs did not just make it to their mouths, but people like Frances who practiced what they preached, and lived what they believed with all they had.

Frances loved Jesus. She loved her family. She loved her church. And now she is in the presence of Jesus. I believe she is hearing the words that those who lived their lives with the kind of witness, the kind of compassion, the kind of generosity, and the kind of faith that Frances had hear. Even now, I bet those words are ringing in Frances’ ears. What are they? They are the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


Monday, June 11, 2012

Sermon from 6/10/12--Family of God


Mark 3:20-35

Common English Bible (CEB)
20 Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat. 21 When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!”
22 The legal experts came down from Jerusalem. Over and over they charged, “He’s possessed by Beelzebul. He throws out demons with the authority of the ruler of demons.”
23 When Jesus called them together he spoke to them in a parable: “How can Satan throw Satan out? 24  A kingdom involved in civil war will collapse. 25  And a house torn apart by divisions will collapse. 26  If Satan rebels against himself and is divided, then he can’t endure. He’s done for. 27  No one gets into the house of a strong person and steals anything without first tying up the strong person. Only then can the house be burglarized. 28  I assure you that human beings will be forgiven for everything, for all sins and insults of every kind. 29  But whoever insults the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. That person is guilty of a sin with consequences that last forever.” 30 He said this because the legal experts were saying, “He’s possessed by an evil spirit.”
31 His mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside and sent word to him, calling for him. 32 A crowd was seated around him, and those sent to him said, “Look, your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you.”
33 He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 34 Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. 35  Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”

There were going to be problems. Of this there can be no doubt.
Jesus had went away into the mountains for a while, training his inner circle of disciples. When he returned to town, he dropped by a friends’ house to get something to eat.  Crowds surrounded them before dinner finished, and it wasn’t just because they smelled a wonderful Kosher barbeque and wanted to taste some of the meal. It was because they heard Jesus was there. Some people wanted to learn. Some people wanted to be healed. But the whole town was filled with this commotion.

Before we go any further, let me take a step back. Since we took a break in our study back in Mark 2 a few months ago, a few things have happened. One thing that has happened is that Jesus has begun to upset some people, especially those that were religious leaders. He has done this particularly by not following teaching on how to keep the Sabbath. Furthermore, when confronted by the religious leaders about his and his disciples’ lack of decorum, he made them look silly and foolish and gained popularity with the people.

After doing this, Jesus had formed an inner circle of followers, and began to train them as his students and disciples. When he got back into town, and the crowds began to gather, it becomes apparent that his retreat has only increased his popularity and a leader, teacher, healer and holy man.
Like I said, this popularity caused Jesus problems.

The religious leaders, hearing Jesus was back from his mountain retreat with his disciples, decide that they must come up from Jerusalem and confront Jesus head on. Troublemakers like Jesus, after all, must be dealt with by people in power. If they don’t deal with this problem soon, they are going to have a full on rejection of their power and control of the people.

About that same time, Jesus’ family got wind of what was going on. They began to wonder, “What in the heck in Jesus doing?” He challenging the authority and biblical interpretation of the nation’s leading preachers and bible scholars? He is running around with tax collectors and fisherman, and calling them his disciples? Furthermore, he is running around without a home, depending on the generosity of others? Crowds of scurrilous people are following him everywhere? Hanging on his every word? Thinking he might be the Messiah?

Oh, man, they must have thought, we have to do something with Jesus before he gets out of control. Let’s get him to come home with us, and get him away from the people and crowds, and help him get his head on straight. He seems to have gone a little crazy! He has lost all his marbles!

You can relate to Jesus’ family can’t you? A little religion is ok, they thought, but this kind of faith he living, it is getting a little suspicious, and a little radical.
So here Jesus is. He is at a crossroads. The people who one might expect should be most supportive of him were in fact against him. The religious leaders, instead of supporting this revival that Jesus was creating, they wanted to shame him and humiliate him, and convince people that he was doing the work of the devil.
Jesus’ family did not want to shame and humiliate him. Instead they wanted to put Jesus in a mental health facility for a 72 hour psychological evaluation. Which might be a little bit better option than shame and humiliation, but it was not that much better of an option.

Specifically, the Bible says that the family wanted to “take charge” of him or to “take control” of him, depending on the version that you might have in front of you.
And these few words about the family’s intent give us a clear picture about what is going on. Because you see, this passage is about family. And it is about authority and control. And it is about how family, authority, and loyalty works in the kingdom of God, and in the family of God.

The Bible says that before the family could get Jesus’ attention, the religious leaders started attacking Jesus. Specifically, these guys started saying that when Jesus was healing people (and he was healing a lot of people), and when Jesus was casing out demons (and he was casting out a lot of demons), that Jesus was doing this under the power of Satan.

In other words, they are saying that Jesus’ loyalty is not with his people or his God, Jesus’ loyalty was with the devil. This is what they said to him. This is what they told the people.

Jesus very clearly teaches how his loyalty does not lie with the evil one. He reasons well. He demonstrates how in fact, his works of healing and exorcism demonstrate that he is at work defeating the evil one instead of being in league with Satan.
They eventually lose their argument and head home. Jesus continues to teach the people. As he does so, people keep whispering. Eventually someone passes Jesus a note in the middle of his message. He does not pay attention to it. Finally, someone close to where Jesus was at tells Jesus that his family is present. The family wants Jesus to leave the crowds and come with them. Jesus refuses to leave his teaching with the people.

He uses his family’s request, actually, as a teaching moment. He says, “Who are my mothers, brothers, sisters and family. Those who do the will of my father, those are the ones that are my real family.

There can be no mistake about it. This is a hard word from Jesus. He is saying that the waters of baptism should create a greater loyalty among believers than the waters of birth. He is saying that although our blood relations are important, but not as important as the relationships with those that share our faith in the blood of Jesus cleansing us from our sin.

Now at first this can sound kind of creepy to us. If we hear this wrong we can get all sorts of strange ideas. After all, we have all heard of some guy who says that he is speaking for God, and that God is telling him to start a new colony in Guyana, and he wants these folks to go there, and listen to him tell them what God’s will is, and then eventually he tells the people that it is God’s will that they all drink Kool-Aid and die.

But Jesus is not saying to blindly follow some charismatic leader. He is not calling us to reject our family. Jesus still remains in relationship with his family after this incident.
What he is saying is that the authority of God is more important that fidelity to our traditions (both religious and secular), it is more important than pleasing our families and having their approval, it is more important than what political or religious authorities tell us. And that we need a community to keep this commitment to the authority of God. And that the bond of this Christian community, as we struggle and stand together, is deeper and more important than we might ever imagine or think.

What Jesus is saying is that when believers surrender their lives to Christ, the mutual commitment of believers to doing the will of God creates a stronger bond and demands a more committed loyalty to the family of God and its mission and truth than one has to nation, to denomination or tradition, to birth family.

The glue of that commitment, to surrender our lives to Christ in order to do the will of God, should also create a bond among us that challenges us to be as tight as healthy families are, to care for one another the way families do, to support one another the way families should and often do. To give of our time, our lives, our hopes, and our fears to one another. Because we stand together. And we need each other to live our faith and our lives the way God called us to.

When we come to church, we should not just see fellow citizens. We should look around and see family. Not blood family. But faith family. We should see that we have a wealth of grandparents to help support us raise our children. We should see that we have a wealth of children, nieces, and nephews that are committed to visit us, care for us, and listen to us as we get older.

When we come to church we should look around and see folks that are going to grab our hand and pray for us when our child is sick and we cannot find words to pray on our own. We should see people who are going to help us discern what God’s will is for our lives when don’t know what our next step is going to be.
When we are a part of a church family, we have partners in the journey of faith. People who are going to confront us when we are going astray. People who are going to encourage us when we are doing the right thing. People who are going to show the way when we seem lost.

When we are a part of a church family, we are going to stand with people who share our convictions about what is true and false, and who know that whose we are defines who we are.

An old Disciples of Christ pastor tells a story about a baptism in the old country church he served. A young man was baptized. In his 20s. A new father I think. And they had a baptism down at the river. And a barbeque. And the young man was asked to help the rest of the guys load up everything into the pick up trucks and begin the process of heading home. They got the work done. And they stood in kind of a circle. And one spoke up. If you ever need some work done on your car, give me a call, day or night, and I will be there for you. Another said, if you are ever down on your luck and you and your family need a place to stay for a week or two, give me a call. Don’t even think twice about it. That is what I am here for. This went on until all 20 some guys had said something like this. And then there was an awkward silence. Somebody kicked some dirt around. And everyone started to head out.
I don’t know what you call that kind of thing when it happens. You might call it church. You might call it family. It is all the same to me.


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