Archive for August, 2010

Melissa Jackson on answering the call

August 16, 2010

This video was shown in Vinebranch on August 15, 2010. It was part of the final week of our sermon series on answering God’s call, “Can You Hear Me Now?”

Sermon for 08-08-10: “Can You Hear Me Now? Part 5: Isaiah”

August 16, 2010

Sermon Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

[Click the play button below to listen, or click this link to download the mp3.]

The following is the original manuscript for the sermon.

Last week, my family and I were on vacation on St. Simons Island. You might expect me, a pastor, to say this, but I really like going to church on vacation. Do you? Well, for me it’s a chance to sit in worship and not have to do anything, except worship, which is a nice change. But I’m afraid I like going to church on vacation more than my kids. They viewed going to church as an unwelcome encroachment on their fun time.

On Sunday my kids had a specific itinerary, which they called a “fun-genda.” They told us that the fun-genda for the day didn’t start until 10:45, when the church service was over. Not quite sure how I feel about that: their dad’s life’s work interrupts their fun-genda!

But I know how they feel. I’ve been there. Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there now. Read the rest of this entry »

Living simply

August 12, 2010

When I was ordained in June, a member of the bishop’s cabinet handed me a book on guided prayer written and compiled by Reuben Job. It includes psalms and other scripture assignments, devotional readings, and an outline for prayer, including daily petitions for “our world, its people and leaders.”

I understand praying for the president and other political leaders—people with names and faces dealing with particular kinds of challenges. But how do we pray for something as large and nebulous as our world?

So far, my prayers have centered on three general petitions. First, I’ve prayed for a swift end to our two wars in the Middle East, safety for our troops, peace and justice in that troubled region in the world. I’ve prayed that the Spirit would guide very smart men and women to figure out how to stop the oil leak in the Gulf and that we would, as Americans, be better stewards of the natural resources God has given us.

Closer to home, I’ve prayed that God would teach us something through this economic downturn that has gripped our nation for most of the past 10 years (with perhaps no end in sight?). I’ve prayed that we could repent of our rampant consumerism and materialism; that we could learn that people are more important than possessions; that we could stop taking for granted the good gifts that God gives us; that we could better learn to trust in God for what we need, instead of trusting in material things.

An article in today’s New York Times suggests that this is happening. The article says that many Americans are learning—surprise, surprise—that things do not make us happy. Read the rest of this entry »

Song by the late, great Keith Green this Sunday

August 11, 2010

To conclude our sermon series “Can You Hear Me Now?” this Sunday, the Vinebranch band will be doing a song by first-generation Christian-rocker Keith Green.

Green, who died in a plane crash in 1982, was a singer-songwriter in the mold of vintage ’70s Elton John who gave up a promising career in secular music after a dramatic conversion experience. He was a Jesus hippie making music back when Christian rock was strictly an underground phenomenon. (Bob Dylan played harmonica on his song “Pledge My Head to Heaven” in 1979.)

Green took the ministry aspect of his music very seriously: After his first album on gospel label Sparrow Records, he founded his own label and gave his records and tapes away free to anyone who couldn’t afford them.

Anyway, here’s the song that the band will be doing. It’s about putting our faith on the line, trusting in Jesus when it’s risky to do so. It fits in well with the theme of answering God’s call. Enjoy!

New song I wrote and recorded: “Love Comes Around Again”

August 11, 2010

Here’s an optimistic little song I wrote and recorded about not giving up on love—which means, of course, not giving up on God, either. It’s called “Love Comes Around Again.” The standard apologies apply: It’s a completely homemade affair. For better or worse, I sing and play all instruments. I produced it using Apple’s amazing (and free!) GarageBand software.

The line that includes the words “heart is like a wheel” is lifted (with love) from the great Paul McCartney song, “Let Me Roll It.” In that song—pondering the ineffability of romantic love—McCartney sings, “I can’t tell you how I feel/ My heart is like a wheel/ Let me roll it to you…”

I apologize a little for the vagueness of “things get better” and “no matter what they say.” (What things? Nearly anything that matters! Who are they? Many, many people!) But in my experience it’s true. Thank God! We are not the sole authors of our lives in this world. I can look at my own history and see God’s fingerprints all around.

The point is, God has given me every reason to be optimistic. If our own particular dreams don’t work out as we planned, God gives us bigger and better dreams—if we could only learn to dream them with God.

[Click the play button to listen or click here to download the mp3. If your browser’s built-in audio player doesn’t let you save the file, then try right-clicking the link above.]

More on worship and churchgoing (with help from Uncle Screwtape)

August 10, 2010

The most famously difficult class at Emory’s Candler School of Theology is CT503: Systematic Theology. My professor was a brilliant young German Lutheran pastor and theologian. He was known at the time as the most challenging teacher of this course.

During one class, he handed back midterm papers. In general, the marks were low. Students were unhappy. Some of them loudly disagreed with his grading policy and with the content and method of his teaching. Many of the students were on edge, and the professor was visibly frustrated. It was unsettling. Toward the end of the class, he looked at his watch and said, “Chapel starts in five minutes. Let’s all go worship. We need that.” When he said this, it was as if we all took a deep breath.

Of course! Worship! Arguing over theology and doctrine—or the manner in which a professor assesses our understanding of it—is one thing; worship is something else entirely. It transcends our differences. To encounter our living God, and by doing so learn to love one another more fully… It’s why we exist!

For those of us who went to chapel that day—which included the professor and most of the students—the issues that divided us seemed far less important after we worshiped together.

Worship is something that’s primarily done in community. It also creates a special kind of community bound together by the Holy Spirit—who is the very Spirit of Christ among us. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” To me, that means that Christ is present to us in a special way in worship—a way in which he may not be present otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »

Stephanie Newton on answering the call

August 9, 2010

Here’s a video of Vinebranch worship leader Stephanie Newton talking about how she answered God’s call. This video, shown in Vinebranch last Sunday is part of our six-part sermon series on answering the call, entitled “Can You Hear Me Now.” It concludes this Sunday as we look at the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20.

A celebrity publicly abandons the faith…

August 9, 2010

Or at least the Church… or Christians.

I discussed this briefly in my sermon yesterday, but last week gothic horror novelist Anne Rice, who made a splash in Christian circles many years ago with a very public re-conversion to the Christian faith of her childhood, now says she’s leaving Christianity. She still believes in and loves Jesus, she says, but she’s finished with Church.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she said,

I’ve come to the conclusion from my experience with organized religion that I have to leave, that I have to, in the name of Christ, step away from this. It’s a matter of rejecting what I’ve discovered about the persecution of gays, the persecution and oppression of women and the actions of the churches on many different levels. I’ve also found that I can’t find a basis in Scripture for a lot of the positions that churches and denominations take today, and I can’t find any basis at all for an anointed, hierarchical priesthood. So all of this finally created a pressure in me, a kind of confusion, a toxic anger at times, and I felt I had to step aside. And that’s what I’ve done…

Some liberal Protestant denominations whose positions on homosexuality and women in ministry, for instance, might be more consistent with Rice’s sympathies have already appealed to her to join their denominations. But the extent to which churches “agree” with Rice misses the larger point, in my mind.

The point is that any church, organized religion, or human institution (and by all means the Church, though founded by Christ, is, on a practical level, a very human institution) will let us down. Human beings in general tend to disappoint. Human beings are often hypocrites who fail to live up to their espoused ideals and principles. It’s not because we’re bad people, it’s because we’re sinners. As I said in my sermon on Isaiah 6 yesterday,

We followers of Jesus are a mess. Church can sometimes be a disaster, let’s face it. The temptation to pick up our marbles and go home—or go find a place where we imagine human sin isn’t such a big problem… I get it. A part of me is very sympathetic with Anne Rice. Except… As much as I may be disappointed by the Church and Christians, I also know that I’m part of the problem! Like Isaiah, I can say, “I’m a man of unclean lips who comes from a people of unclean lips!” If I give up on church, I may as well give up on myself! These Christians… this Church. This is me—a sinner! These people are my people—my fellow sinners. Moreover, if I gave up on church I would be giving on God, because I would be giving up on God’s ability to change me.

I’ve had friends and acquaintances who’ve dropped out of church—or decided against following a call into ministry—for some of the same reasons that Rice left the church.

I’m too well aware of the sin in my own heart to join them.

“The agony of prayerlessness”

August 5, 2010

From Richard Foster’s book Prayer:

We today yearn for prayer and hide from prayer. We are attracted to it and repelled by it. We believe prayer is something we should do, even something we want to do, but it seems like a chasm stands between us and actually praying. We experience the agony of prayerlessness. ¶ We are not quite sure what holds us back. Of course we are busy with work and family obligations, but that is only a smoke screen. Our busyness seldom keeps us from eating or sleeping or making love. No, there is something deeper, more profound keeping us in check… It is the notion—almost universal among us modern high achievers—that we have to have everything “just right” in order to pray… Our problem is that we assume prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or auto mechanics. That puts us in the “on-top” position, where we are competent and in control. But when praying, we come “underneath,” where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become incompetent. “To pray,” writes Emilie Griffin, “means to be willing to be naive.”

Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 7-8.

Sermon for 07-25-10: “Can You Hear Me Now? Part 3”

August 3, 2010

Scripture Text: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

[Click the play button below to play the audio or click here to download mp3.]

The following is the original manuscript.

In today’s scripture we are dropped into the middle of a story already in progress, so let’s back up a little. After the Israelites settled into the land of Canaan, the tribes of Israel were very loosely held together. They were constantly threatened by enemies on all sides. God would occasionally call a charismatic leader to lead Israel to subdue an invading army, and peace would prevail for a while. But then the people would disobey God, and trouble would come again. That’s the story found in the Book of Judges. Read the rest of this entry »