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The Challenge of Jesus - More Advent Upheaval

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Advent, for me this year, was meaningful.It was the first time in my life that I was really able to begin to grasp the tensions and promise of this traditional Church season.I’ve blogged about it before.
Certainly, planning our church community’s worship around the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love was helpful to me.My senior pastor grasped the themes as well as he presented his sermon series, “Advent Upheaval.”Putting off Christmas carols, for the most part, until December 19th enhanced the meaning of the songs when we finally did sing them. (The power of delayed gratification.)But perhaps the most profound impact on me was reading NT Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus.
Wright is not a casual read.Some of his books are a bit easier, such as Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope (I highly recommend both).But The Challenge took a bit of thinking to process.I don’t think I read a whole chapter in one sitting.There was so much to take in.Many of the themes I’ve read in Wright’s boo…

Advent Tensions - Magnified Meaning

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Advent this year has been an enlightening journey for me. At FirstB we have tried to engage the season with real intention. Our sermon series is called Advent Upheaval – the theme about which I posted a few weeks ago. For the most part, we’ve avoided traditional Christmas carols. And yes, I’ve caught a little heat for it. We’ll evaluate our approach after the turn of the year.

But I had an epiphany (small “e” – I know the big day is supposed to be January 6) last Sunday as we sang Isaac Watts’ classic Advent hymn, “Joy to the World.” I think I’ve sung that carol for fifty years and associated it directly with angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph with the Holy Child in a manger stall in Bethlehem. Sure, there is some correlation. The Christ Event and all its implications is, after all, one big story. But Watts doesn’t mention any of those things in his text. I’ve just associated the carol with Christmas – well – because I always have, just like the rest of our Western culture. Even tho…

Advent Upheaval

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I wasn’t raised in a so called “liturgical” church. Lent and Advent are relatively new to me. But I have become increasingly attracted to elements of traditional worship, particularly the Church Year. The church that I serve as worship pastor has always observed Advent to some degree and I am looking forward to planning the worship services for the fast-approaching season.

I hope I get it right. (Now which Sunday do we light the pink candle? And why is it pink? Or was that purple? ) Even among the staff and other worship planners here at my church, there is some confusion. I’m hoping to bring clarity and real meaning to the season. But I’m the first to confess that this is somewhat new to me.

In my ignorance, I always thought that Advent was just a “traditional” way of celebrating the Christmas season...sort of a way of “putting Christ back into Christmas.” True. It does that. I also thought that it was a way of telling the complete story of Christmas. Yes. It does that, too.

But Ad…

Countercultural Leadership

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The following was presented at a lunchean for the Crossroads Worship Conference in Sioux City, IA on October 23, 2010.

Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, an…

Faithful Relevance

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The following was presented as a message for an all-city worship gathering at Sioux City, IA on October 24, 2010.

INTRODUCTION

When I was asked to be a part of this conference several months ago, I was very pleased. I think you’ve got a really good thing going here in Sioux City – doing a worship conference primarily with local folks. The value of building relationships and learning from people in other churches and denominations is no small ideal. I would love to do something similar in Sioux Falls.

But when I learned that the theme of the conference was to help churches be more relevant in their worship, I had conflicting feelings. On the one hand, God has put me in a position to witness tremendous changes in the church since I began music and worship ministry back in the 1970’s. Most of those changes have occurred through the church’s pursuit of relevance and resonance with the changing culture. I believe that some of the changes that we’ve made have moved the church forward. The …

Friend of God?

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I had a worshipper from our second service relate to me in passing that she didn’t like the new song we were doing called, Friend of God. She insisted that it wasn’t biblical. I have to admit, it’s not my favorite song. But I countered that the idea of friendship with God was biblical. For that reason and some others, I’ve introduced the song into the repertoire for the second service.

But when someone challenges me, it always sets me to thinking…

I agree that our relationship with God should not be conceived in a cavalier manner such as, “the Man upstairs” or “Buddy-buddy.” Such a conception of Christian spirituality is certainly not how the Scriptures frame who God is. He is the Sovereign Lord and Creator of the Universe. Indeed, the Scriptures say, the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) I doubt that the prophet Isaiah was singing Friend of God when he saw the Lord sitting on a lofty throne. As I recall, his first response was “woe is me!” (Isa 6:5)

It …

Being the Church in a Age of Juvenilization

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One day while Jesus was teaching the multitudes, people brought the grey-haired old folks to him, hoping he might touch them. When the disciples saw it, they were indignant and shooed them off. But Jesus called them back. "Let these seniors alone. Don't get between them and me. These folks are the kingdom's pride and joy."

Yes. I’ve rewritten the story upside down. But I wonder if Jesus had come in our day if the disciples wouldn’t have tried to shoo away seniors rather than children. As the color of my remaining hair continues to turn to white, I’m beginning to wonder if that might be the case.

Since the middle of the last century, Americans have idolized youth culture. Sure, people have always tried to postpone their personal appointment with the undertaker. Every culture has sought the “fountain of youth.” Ponce De Leon has his shrine in St. Augustine, Florida. Baseball superstar, Ted Williams had his body cryonically preserved in the hope that he might be revive…

An Invitation to Grow in Worship

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Dear worship leaders,

Next Tuesday, September 7, we will launch our first night of “Growing in Worship.” I am excited about this new venture and I want to encourage you in the strongest way that I can to urge you to participate.

Solo planning has always been my gig when it comes to designing worship services. There are many reasons why I’ve always done it this way. Certainly, it is the most efficient and time-effective method. None of the churches that I’ve previously served expected me to draw others into the planning process, though most everyone felt free to critique the results. Most of my friends in ministry who were doing contemporary services were planning by themselves (with, of course, oversight and some input from the senior pastor). Trying to put together a team and schedule them to meet on a regular basis has not been an additional task that I have eagerly wanted to take on.

I have come to realize, however, that the solo planning model, while efficient, is not the most…

The Most Pressing Question: Who Gets to Narrate the World?

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The Most Pressing Question:

Who Gets to Narrate the World?
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”
William Shakespeare, As You Like It.

Life…human existence is a story. Stories trace the actions and interactions of people with each other and the world as we know it or wish to know it.

Stories have been called “equipment for living.”

There are a multitude of stories (or what we might also call narratives) in the world which determine our values and actions. There are family stories. And who knows that better than the young couple who has been married for only six months. Remember that season of life? Remember the tension as you and your spouse were trying to sort out the values – sometimes competing values – that came from two different family stories? Tough times. It’s a good thing we had stars in our eyes! Then there’s America’s story with all of its romantic rugged individualism and heroic sacrifice. But it also includes nearly two hundred years of slave…

Filtering the Waters of Willow Creek

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I was fortunate to grow up in California during the late 1960’s and 70’s. During the early years of that period I learned to backpack in the Coast Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. During those days, you could drink pure unfiltered water from the lakes and streams without fear of catching giardia. By the mid-seventies with the explosion in popularity of backpacking, it was no longer safe to drink water without first treating it with a special tablet or filtering it. What a pain! You could no longer dip your Sierra cup into the waters of a rushing stream and satisfy your thirst with great tasting cold water. Sure, the water still tasted great, but you would put your health at risk of picking up some nasty parasite without filtering the water.

I have spent the last two days drinking deep at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit. The water tasted intoxicatingly good! I wish I could have imbibed without filtering, but I believe the health of the Church and its ministry is at stake. Frankly, I …