Monthly Archives: June 2013

Sermon application jiujitsu

I have to, as briefly as I can, set a context. Can I do it without missing things? I will only know if you ‘get it’ by the end.

In the morning I’ve been preaching a series on Worship and so far for 4 or 5 Sunday mornings I’ve been preaching from Psalm 95
The first sermon pointed out the movement or sequence of:
“Come from a distance” v 1
“Come before or closer” v 2
“Come into the very presence of God” v 6
With the main point being that worship about entering the presence of God and God making himself present.

The next one highlighted the movement or sequence of:
Rejoice v 1 & 2
Revere v 3-7
Respond v 7-11
or using words I prefer (since Revere is a word that people trip over)

The fact that the whole body was involved was looked at (not just the brain)
The communal, encouraging and anticipatory movement of it was highlighted “Come, Let Us…” as if we are all waking together gathering people up on the way…

Today I dealt with the last 4 verses as the second of a different two-part movement in the Psalm, the movement from Words about God to Words from God.
I stressed that v 7 shows that if God becomes present in our worship, if God is unveiled, this indicates we are very likelly to ‘hear’ God, to encounter God in some way in our worship. But that is scarry, because encounters with God often change us… so we keep worship safe…
I explained how the language carries the idea of meeting with a King and Judge in bible times. Similar to Esther’s risk.
I compared it to events where Royalty is present in the balcony, and when the event is done everyone checks to see if the Royals were pleased by what was presented.
I then told of a wake-up moment I had in a courtroom where I saw too many similarities to the church of my youth, and suddenly realized how in that church-of-yore the pastor represented a Judge, and how all I learned was that we didn’t want to be sentenced for life. I don’t remember recognizing that the Judge and King’s representative actually says, ‘Believe, you are forgiven, and free to go!’
So I talked briefly about how shaping the church like a courtroom has consequences, but that the King/Judge Idea is in this Psalm. Except for one big difference. People are now, more than ever, going to meet their Liberator (the Rock of our Salvation v1), not their Judge… but we forget, like Israel did when liberated from Egypt.
At this point — and preachers who have this will know what I’m saying — I got the feeling I was on a wild horse, and I left my notes even more, and romped around a bit, all the while inside myself praying “This better be the Holy Spirit’s leading or I’m in trouble” and I soon reigned the wild horse in and returned to my notes.
I included some thinking about how shaping church like theaters affects our attitude to church to be similar to the one for going to theaters, namely, we believe we are the audience, and it is up to the people on the stage and backstage to ‘please’ us. (I have this idea from Darrell Johnson at Regent) I admitted that I myself get mixed up by that, and sometimes believe it’s all about my performance, and because I like entertaining and performing I move to that instead of being a stagehand facilitating a congregation of performers having an encounter with God.
But the Psalm clearly shows us that the theater approach is wrong. In fact, in Christian worship the “King of all gods” (v 3) is the audience, and our concern and question at the end should be “Was the Royal Audience Pleased?” Did God show himself and reveal himself and honor us with his presence?
I then made some practical comments about what this means. It means: it’s not about us. It’s not about you. It means, if you encounter someone after church who says they were not pleased by something, if you can remain calm and loving, you can put your hand on their shoulder and say “Isn’t it wonderful that worship is not about you being pleased?
That’s as short as I can make the summary.
We had many visitors at church, because we had a young couple doing Profession of their Faith and then having their baby baptized (3 out of the last 4 Sundays we’ve had some combination like that — clearing a backlog…)
Here’s a genealogical side note. The girl/wife’s parents both had the same last name before they married. (but they are not rednecks). The husband/father’s mom’s maiden name was the same as the last name of the girls parents. Understand? Three of the four grandparents to their child have the same last name! So, anyway, we had a lot of visitors and the vast majority of them all had the same last name…
So after church I went and hung out in the smoking circle for a bit. It’s right beside where the Harleys get parked. As I got there there was some banter about how few actual smokers there were there, and about people coming just to get free second hand smoke.
I then said: Well, I like to think I was “smokin'” about half an hour ago.” They laughed.
Then a visitor stepped forward, put her hand on my shoulder, and said, looking caringly into my eyes:
“It’s not about you”

I’m still laughing. It was priceless.
True sermon application jiujitsu.

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Posted by on June 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Trauma in the life of those losing what they believe they cannot live without

(this is a repost of a post I put up today on a blog I keep in order to communicate non-sermonic information and observations to the congregation I am currently serving. It is pretty well unchanged, except I did not feel comfortable specifically identifying the congregation in this version)

“Trauma in the life of those losing what they believe they cannot live without” is my summary of a main thought from a book I was reading last week. Losing things we believe we cannot live without is indeed hard and traumatic. If we don’t have a healthy way of letting go, we are going to have a hard time.

I doubt this will make sense to you directly if you are 20 or younger and reading this, but it may help you understand grandma or grandpa better.

In crass summary form, we can say: Life begins at conception, and physical growth goes forward from that point until the human reaches their peak shape, somewhere between maybe 19 and 29. From that point on a loss of physical ability usually begins to be experienced. And it continues for the rest of life. It is hard to accept.

In my High School days I was an unbeatable sprinter in the 100. I only ever lost once, and  that was a heat where I got cocky and complacent. I set records that stood for almost 20 years. On my 40th birthday I wondered if I “still had it” as I found myself on a wide wet beach with a group of my son’s friends. I drew a line in the sand, paced off about 100 meters, and came back and challenged the guys. They of course thought this was going to be easy racing a desk bound pastor, but after the “go!” their attitude changed as they saw me burst away. I could hear the sounds of flippant laughter change to determined breathing and pounding behind me. Near the finish line one guy was breathing down my neck, and I know that in a few more paces he would overtake me, but I crossed the line first. I still had it!

But boy did I suffer for three weeks afterward for believing I could still do that. Of course, I suffered with a big satisfied smile behind the grimaces. And I just knew that it was wise to let go of the idea of being an always-winning sprinter anymore… except to tell the stories of course…

Life has a lot of those kinds of things that over time we need to see that we need to let go of: when to let go of the farm; when to let go of helping out so much in the church; when to let go of making choices for our kids; when to let go of a career hope that is not suiting us; when to admit we are not hearing or seeing as well as we used to… the list is endless, and to make a long one would just be depressing. The fact is, if we do not learn a good and healthy way of letting go of what no longer is fitting, we create problems for ourselves, but more-so we create problems for others.

The same thing happens in religious and spiritual life. A group goes on a retreat, and they have a great experience, and they learn a song that for them expresses that whole experience, and every time they sing that song they try to relive that experience, not acknowledging it has passed, and the song can’t spread the experience to others. In their unwillingness to accept it is past, they stimulate confusion and maybe irritation in others. The same can happen with any song or any religious practice that has had meaning in the past. People can lock into it as if it is the be-all and end-all of being a Christian, and it creates confusion and irritation. If a church does not find a way to deal with that, and keeps caving to the need for comfortableness, it will be held back from being all that it can be in the moment of today.

The book I was reading that got me thinking about all this last week is about the immigrant experience of coming from Europe to Canada. And the part of the book the idea is expressed in, is where the author is talking about the struggle to change from Dutch to English, especially in worship and in the teaching program of the church. There was huge resistance and difficulty. The people resisting thought they could not live without that language. After all, they had learned the things of God in that language, and they probably believed it was the only language spoken in heaven, as all immigrants tend to do. So both the language itself and the teaching of the things about God in that language were hung on to for far longer than they should have been — we see that now. But they didn’t, and it was hard. But seeing their mistake gives us a chance to ask ourselves: “What might we be hanging on to inappropriately today?”

I can say with confidence that this pattern is part of the organizational DNA of our congregation. I have seen significant evidence of it myself already. It shows anytime someone is clinging to things being done “as we’ve always done them” as if we cannot live without them being done that way.  And I can see how hard and traumatic it is for people who have not learned some important things about growth and life. You see, if there is growth, that automatically means things will change. (by the way, the reverse is not as true: if there is change therefore there is growth, which is also where a lot of churches make a mistake, making change happen without growth). Think about this: Do you know anything that grows that is not changing in some way? I can’t think of one thing. The same is true of spiritual and religious growth. If there is growth, then understandings are changing, relationship with God is adjusting, deepening, widening and along with that often one’s practices of the faith and even teachings about the faith change because of new and deeper understanding. Yet — like 40 year old former sprinters — we cling to something that is not fitting anymore, to what used to make us great. Can you see the silliness of it?

Another reason I feel confident saying this about our congregation is that the book I am reading that got me writing this is about her history. The summary statement I started with is an abbreviation of a sentence that for some reason gripped my attention when I read it last week in Tymen Hofman’s “The Strength of their Years.” Here’s the full quote in the context of him telling what difficulties came about from some wanting to switch to English:

“To outline the significant dates and decisions which moved a strictly “Dutch” congregation to become a church worshipping “in the language of the land” does not begin to reveal the struggle and the trauma that was involved in the lives of individuals and families, even in situations less dramatic than in the life of the Postman family. The trauma was mainly in the life of those who could see they were losing, slowly but surely, something without which they believed they could not live. They were people who immigrated a bit later in life, who came somewhat later in the life of the settlement and in almost every case, people who made little effort to learn the English language. It was possible for such to live in the settlement without doing so; learning English seemed to them an insurmountable task. They felt terribly threatened by every evidence that the church was changing.” — Pg 67 “The Strength of their Years”

Spiritual and religious growth can feel like an insurmountable task as well. And we by nature prefer to stay comfortable in what we know, thereby resisting growth, because growth has risk and possible pain and loss to it in order to gain it’s benefit. I think Rev Hofman — who knew the local context better than I probably ever will since he grew up here — absolutely nailed one dangerous dynamic that is woven into the way we operate here. Our challenge is to find a spiritually and psychologically healthy way forward in faith.

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Posted by on June 10, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Of Helium Balloons and Ascension symbolism

For Ascension, whenever and wherever I have been pastor, I have done a children’s illustration with a helium filled balloon. The first time I did it, I gathered the kids (in the middle of the service) and took them out to the front steps of the church, and together we imagined ourselves as Jesus’ disciples, and imagined the balloon to be him (I make sure I have a plain one if I can, otherwise a smiley faced one) and as we are imagining, I release the balloon. That first time was amazing, as we stood and watched the balloon disappear somewhat like Jesus might have.

After that first time, someone objected that the deflated balloon and it’s ribbon might be a hazard to wildlife or other things when it came down (could a combine be ruined by a symbol of Jesus? I don’t know). So the next year I kept the whole thing inside. But there I had not really had a look around before we did it, and so Jesus got tangled in the ceiling fan right away, with some unique sounds from both the fan engine before someone quickly shut it off, and from those spectating the spectacle. It wasn’t effective, in fact it may have shaken the fledgling beliefs of some of the young ones.

In future times and locations, examining for hazards in the likely path of the ascending Jesus balloon became part of preparing to engage the kids in the exercise.

And it was wonderful, when no hazards were encountered! The first time it was successful that way, a new unforeplanned element came to be part of the illustration, namely the guessing when the balloon would return. It was not easy to predict, but many had ideas, and so it became a chance to converse about us not knowing exactly when Jesus will return either.

I tell you, the phenomenon created such an eagerness and desire among the young (at least they were obvious about it) to go to church that parents had to go to the bookstore to see if there was a guide to restraining your children from wanting to attend the building every day of the week. The sight of children rushing in on Sunday morning to see if the balloon was still there was a delight to my eyes. The balloon usually came down within two weeks.

The second last time the illustration was used, I gave up the fun job to a lady from the congregation, so I could sit and watch the kids faces. Oh what fun to see their amazement!

See for yourself:

As long as the balloon stays up, it gives me a chance to talk about Jesus and his expected return. For one or two Sundays, it is fun.

Once, for reasons unknown to me — but I secretly speculate the janitor was not ready for Jesus to return yet — the Janitor of my last church bought a similar fresh balloon, and when the original came down, they released the new one, so we had a THIRD Sunday morning to talk about it. But between the morning and evening service the janitor confessed, so that was the end of that.

And so a helium balloon has stood in for the rising Jesus in a number of places, including where I am now.

It is getting challenging to do, and takes more pre-planning and organizing than it used to, because helium is scarce. Why that is so is an interesting side story you can investigate for yourself if you want.

But this last time I had a new experience. First of all, the actual balloon we used stayed whole for four weeks! I will cherish for a long time the voice of a small girl who ran into church before her family just as we were about to begin the service, and turned and hollered with delight back at her family “Yup, It’s still there!” Ah, to have young ones declaring that Jesus was still in heaven, how awesome!

But then this last Sunday, when I went into the church on the Saturday before, this is what I found:

So, my question is, what does a pastor say when this happens?

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Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


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