Holy Week 2017: Thursday 

Welcome to my Lenten journal for Holy Week. You are welcome to follow along and comment.  


On Mandy or Holy Thursday, Jesus has home church with his closest and most trusted disciples.   Now we get to the more familiar parts of Holy Week. Studying through Monday- Wednesday  and reading all of Matthew 26 creates a perspective for today’s text. It was eye opening for me.  Hope it is for you too. Here is one thought among many. 

“7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table…26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body”… 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.”

This is a story of immeasurable grace wrapped in abandonment, betrayal, cowardly back stabbing and abuse of power.  These acts are not done by the bad guys but by his friends and Sunday school teachers hiding behind the Roman’s skirts and pretending to do no harm. Knowing this, Jesus gave us all THE gift.  Communion.  Communion is both an ordinance of the church and a condition of the heart, binding us to Jesus. 

I love Holy Communion.  It is Jesus’ most intimate gift to His Church. Within it is mystery and a remembrance of all of God’s promises.  Within it is also our need for forgiveness.  As the original disciples took that first communion, one betrayed Jesus to death, the rest abandoned him as He completed his ministry to us.  I ne d the have given them today. 

I am confronting myself this morning. I have no judgement of you. I have forsaken Christ and walked apart myself. Even though my sins may seem mild, this is a day of decision for me. I must make the choice for Grace. 

 You and Me and we have a decision this Holy Thursday. Will we choose the bunnies and eggs and forsake the cross?  Will Easter be about new clothes and the annual trudge to church or will we embrace the gift of life that is the life in Christ. 


This is more than heaven or hell or choosing more acceptable sins. Will I, will we, choose to live larger, healthier life in Christ. 

That is what Maundy Thursday means.   In Christ’s offering on that Thursday so long ago we were given a way to connect and stay connected with God. We have to choose one way or another. We can’t not choose.  Today I choose Jesus. 

Holy Week 2017: Wednesday 

My Lenten journal for Holy Week. You are welcome to follow along and comment.  

On Wednesday Jesus taught the church professionals and took his closest disciples on a retreat in the mountains (Matthew 24-25).   To get the whole picture we should read Matthew 21-25.  Here is one thought of many for today.

Matthew 21:23-27 ” Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

So the temple “board of directors” looked the savior in the eye ask asked, “who do you think you are and who told you that you could say such things here in OUR house?” Jesus deftly turned the the question against them.  Jesus answers them by asking them who HE is and what is HIS authority.   Rather than discern an answer from God,  these scholarly believers looked for political answers. Rather than seeking to God, they worried about how things appeared to those looking at them.

At this moment  I am being asked the same question.  In Baptism, what authority do I give to Jesus over my life and why.   Today I will choose and so will you.  Who gets to set my standards and receive this authority? God by faith or humans by choice. 

Truth be told, I will submit to both. I give authority to my wife, doctor dentist, denomination and others. Yet, I am called  to put God first.  I must allow God to be the first and final filter.  This is not just theological but practical, not just hereafter but here and now.  Learning of God’s authority is not instant thing and will take some spiritual growth.  This process is the message of Holy Week. 

We start each day with a well intentioned parade, pass through many situations, and confront who we are. The question this Wednesday  is, “Who gets the final word in who we are and how we are?” Jesus was rock solid in his calling because he knew God had the final word. You and I can live with this solid footing too. 

Are your steps solid or slippery?  Perhaps a little of both. Jesus went on retreat. After this confrontation Jesus found time in the mountains away from the world to recharge with God. Find an hour today to pray.  Find a day this month.  Find a weekend this year and seek God.  

God is faithful to be found by all who do.  Easter blessings to you!

Pastor Alan. 

 

So this Holy Week thing?  How does it work?

Simply put Holy Week is a collection of scriptures that lead you to Easter.  God will lead you to your own breakthrough as you search them. How does this work?   There is no single right way.  Search these scriptures at your own pace and find yourself in them. Here is a help. 

Bible gateway dot com ( click here for that site) has assembled an infographic drawn from these scriptures to help us visualize our personal journey and have given permission to use it it worship. I have followed this route for my journey this year. 


In this article they also have a link to the 2015 Newsweek issue where this came from.  There is also a reference to the 2015 series AD produced by Roma Downing and Mark Burnett. 

A series of books has come from that mini-series that I find very interesting and helpful.  I understand that this show is coming soon to another cable network.  A series of books has also emerged from it.    I am currently reading “David Jeremiah’s “A.D. The Bible Continues : The Revolution That Changed the World” which follows this series. It is an excellent devotional read. 

God’s richest blessing to your Holy Week!  May Jesus come alive through his Word for you. 

Pastor Alan

Holy Week 2017: Tuesday

My Lenten journal for Holy Week. You are welcome to follow along and comment

On Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus taught his closest  disciples in words and through objects-including an uncooperative fig tree found in Matthew 21:19-22

“19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

It was a rainy and cool Holy Tuesday.  I got started early, studied a bit, prayed a bit and pondered my productivity that seems challenged in this story.  I even had a talk with a man from the “home office” about our attendance and such.   He wanted some numerical data to check on how a Conference program had done.

Our numbers are not dramatic but show we care about Christ and his people.  We are a faithful family at Cheatham and by any measure fruitful Tithes, attendance, new members are easily counted  but faith is more slippery.  Does my quiet day reflect spiritual in-productivity? Does living the usual “frog-in-the-blender” life make me more productive?  

Jesus did not curse this fig tree out of “hangry”meanness but to create a teachable moment.  This was a negative event that sought a positive outcome.   Jesus taught the power of faith over mere appearances and warned his closest friends to keep things real and God focused. This wasn’t a threat but a warning to judge carefully how success in the Christ-life is measures. 

The tree needed only to be what it was meant to be; which was fruitful-to feed those who were hungry. 

So it is with you and me.  Success is being willing and able to share your fruit. Hunger is present I all of those around. They might need  food, comfort, a listening ear  or other physical need.  Ultimately we will feed them through our bold faith in Christ using our spiritual gifts and resources.
In Jesus I am enough and have enough. In you too. Fruitfulness is more about willingness than our resources. It does not matter what others see, how many you have in the pews or how much is in the bank, the grace in you and in me is sufficient, And we always grow more as we share what we have. 

Pray with me this week. As you walk along take a deep breath and as you exhale say (silently or aloud) ” Jesus in you I am enough.”  Faith will come with enough to share.    Keep your eyes on Christ 

You have everything you need. Blessings to you this Holy Week. 

Pastor Alan.  

Holy Week 2017: Monday 

My Lenten journal for Holy Week. You are welcome to follow along and comment

On Monday, Christ cleansed the temple: Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”Matthew 21:12-13

Every Monday is holy but more so on the eve of Easter.  Last night was the full of the paschal moon, the moon of suffering.  I worked out  under its light and thought hard about the price the Christ paid for me.   Sunday’s worship melted into Monday’s work. 

My workday started late due to an errand and was spent cleaning up a hundred details and calls.  I got pretty lost pushing through the different projects  because each of them had a hassle.   Nothing big enough to but it just added to the drudgery.  My chest actually  hurts.  Nothing dangerous just the self imposed stress. I just want to go home.  And I finally did and reluctantly sat down to my “morning” devotions.  

This lessons hit home.  My “house” of prayer is cluttered with things that blind me to prayer and are robbing me of joy. The healing of a day comes as God sits with me on the porch in a thunderstorm.  Teresa is sewing and I sit on my bench in the first stillness of the day.  Jesus drives out the false thoughts as I watch  the rain press in new grass seed I tossed out just before the rain hit.  Rain splashed on the outside as grace soaks the inside. Prayer is indeed healing breath to my agitated soul.  I missed Jesus all day.  What a waste. Yet, how grateful I am as it is time to go in.

Blessings to you this holy Monday.  May you find God in your prayers, stillness in the noise and haste, and know the nourishment of time with God.   Check you tomorrow as I go through the week and we look forward to resurrection together.  

Blessings to your journey

Pastor Alan 

Finding Faith in Film….

The film “The Shack” opened last night and my wife and I treated it as a date.  The book was quite a phenomenon 10 or so years ago, used for sermon illustrations, group studies and attention from the churched and un-churched alike.  I read it back then and saw the value in it but didn’t really get into it.  My wife and many church members hung on every word in this book and quoted it frequently.   We seldom go to a movie theatre and have never gone to an opening night but Teresa planned to see “The Shack” with great anticipation.  The theatre was packed with a diverse crowd.  Teen agers with their date sat with adults of all ages.  It was a family crowd and did not seem to be just the obligatory church groups.  The responses ranged from laughter to sobbing and even cheers.

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Knowing God with he intimacy of Mom’s Kitchen

 

The Shack is beautifully filmed with a solid cast, fantastic music and special effects.  Hidden in this film is a parable of the Christian Gospel wrapped around every question that regular people long to find answers but often lack the courage to ask.  Questions of the Holy Trinity, Evil,  freewill, forgiveness, being judgmental, the limits of love, grief, and the life of faith are asked, struggled with and illustrated.  It’s long, almost 2 1/2 hours, but is engaging to the end.  Sam Worthington, Radha Mitchell, Octavia Spencer, Tim McGraw  and the rest were witnesses to the acting craft and cultivated an amazing chemistry.  It was campy at times but the film is larger than just entertainment.  All of the cast were great but Octavia Spencer is intense and funny.  She is how I want God to be-struggles and all.

The story is a parable, framed around an abused child that married and is living an apparently ideal life.  Active in church, married to a loving and beautiful wife, living the suburban home with the three perfect children, “Mack” has it all.  His relationship with God is forced and dependent on his wife’s salvation.  He is going through the churchy motions.  At a family campout the youngest daughter meets a sickening and evil end in an old shack in the middle of the wilderness.  Mack and his family go into an emotional and spiritual free fall.  Nearing the bottom of his resolve this dad receives a mysterious note in the mailbox inviting him to meet “Papa”, his wife’s name for God, at the shack.  His meeting with God is painful but leads him to resolve hatred and answer the questions of our existence.  The movie ends well by being a step in a family’s journey and not merely a happy ending.

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The Holy Trinity never looked like this in Sunday School

 

 

The portrayal of the Holy Trinity is a bit cartoonish and predictable but warm and nourishing.  The characters deal with the complexity of hate and the frustration of mystery.  The issues of judging and loving an undeserving enemy meet grace and redemption.  In one scene, “Jesus” answers  Mack’s questions about church and the many earthly expectations of life with, “Religion is just too much work.  I am not interested in  having prisoners but having friends.” There are occasional denominational agenda in some of the answers. However, a God’s eye view is offered in them rather than human rationalizations.

One key to enjoying this movie is remembering that it is a MOVIE and a parable.  The Shack is not a source of doctrine but a teaching lesson on the majesty of living in and through God. The Shack provides a starting place for answering the difficult questions in many lives. We in the audience still have to ask the hard questions and expect God to answer in truth and not in bumper sticker aphorisms.

This is a good and moving film.  I would not take my very young children due to the nature of the little girls’ murder and the beating given to Mack by his earthly father.  I would take churchy people, especially youth aged and up, those new in their faith, and those critical of church and Christianity.  This movie has a valuable message and is faithful in delivering it in a thought provoking way.

For more information and the source of the photos used, go to www.theshack.movie/

 

 

 

 

What’s Your Plan?

You and I both have plans made to accomplish certain things.  Without planning, a plan can get dumped on us,  usually with negative Consequences. 

I have a maintenance plan for the car, a bug spray plan for the parsonage, a worship plan for work, a retirement plan for later years, a fitness plan for my health, a continuing education plan for my mind, a grocery list for our meals and a thousand other plans that don’t get written down. Now wait…what’s missing? A spiritual needs maybe?

Nurturing our faith in Christ needs a plan.  Stop for a moment!  Shouldn’t our connection with God get as much attention as the pest control of our homes?  

This post comes as we begin the season of advent, a Perfect time to pause  and ask God for direction as we push back the panic of Christmas for a moment and seek the Christ. Here are my goals as an example and a way of being held accountable to them. 

Service isn’t always public and is usually fun!

My goals for this season: 1-To be and become a stronger disciple of Jesus Christ. 2- To have fewer activities with more impact and Christ centeredness. I will accomplish these through this year through study, service, retreating, journaling and worship. I have an accountability partner and a coach…and a majestic savior, Jesus, to walk with me. 

Here is the plan for planning…..

  • Planning begins with and is undergirded byprayer-this can’t just be my good ideas. 
  • Don’t over-plan and do allow for God’s surprises! There is a rigid flexibility and simplicity to a plan. 
  • A plan is balanced with nurture of mind, body and soul-including relationships, family, church, work and rest
  • There is a focus. Here, the books above reflect diversity of topics but focus on learning how to adapt to change without losing my Christian integrity. What is your focus?
  • Scripture and prayer engaged in many different ways are essential. 
  • Finally, life-planning begins and ends with our relationship with Christ. That needs Our needs and keep us a sensitive witness for the needs of others. 
Plan for God to pour his spirit into you spiritual growth plans!

What’s your plan. Start with a quiet prayer and a single step….now.  God will meet you there. 

Connect with your church or check out our congregation in Edgewood Texas at Cheathamumc.net

So You Know, the presidential election is over…

i-voted
I am a Christian, an American and I voted.  My vote was a prayer of sorts.  You either voted my way or the other way.  Either way, it is over and it is time for all of us to get back to the business of being good citizens.  Here are some thoughts from this very divisive and often silly election season.
1. How I voted is my business.  I seldom talk about politics beyond a close and diverse circle of friends.  Why?  I don’t want to be unfairly labeled, my decisions are often seen as the endorsement of the church and telling people what to do has a very limited impact. I have strong opinions and I don’t feel duty bound to argue with you.  I feel betrayed by both major parties and will never allow a bumper stick or party association to be added to my name.  Even the registered write in’s had their problems.   You have insight?  I’m listening.  You have the tired bile of the media or the folks at the coffee shop?  I am not interested.
2. Public opinion, from whatever source, is not the same as information. Most political presentations are emotional rather than factual.  You have to work to truly get real, unvarnished information about a candidate or an issue. DIG beyond the newsfeeds!   It is worth the time.  It is worth the effort, and it will not be found on Facebook or in a tweet.
3. The president is not the country. Influential, certainly but We are US citizens together-Your president got elected, just like last time, regardless of how you voted.  How sad that some vote to WIN rather than TRANSFORM.  Whether your candidate won or lost-IT WASN’T PERSONAL.  Stand and stay for your conviction and express yourself to your elected officials but do it as an AMERICAN.
4. Our Culture did not change due to the election.  By and large, we woke up in the same culture Wednesday as we did on Tuesday.  We still have to work on our personal transformation, at raising kids, building ministries, growing businesses and moving our nation forward,  regardless of who is in the White House.  Giving a living witness to your faith and convictions is positive and transformative.  Shouting your feelings removes your credibility and closes the ears of the receiver.
5. God is still Almighty and Faith is fundamental to our citizenship.  Singing “God Bless America” is not enough.  Our nation needs a strong,  active, scripturally guided and Spirit led Christian Church.  Praying for our nation is a patriotic act and challenging those things that are wrong, our duty.
Lord, Hear my Prayer…..
“Almighty God, We bow before you and beg for a blessing on our vast and diverse nation.  We are a country by you grace and founded on your principles.  Shine a light on any darkness and raise up your Church to work by faith in your name, the strong and victorious name of Jesus Christ.  Amen”
background 34

Could it be as easy as a comment card?

 

connections-logo.jpgThere are two restaurants  that are  living and dying by their customer comments on Yelp and other sites.  One is reacting to negative comments online while the other is proactively courting comments through info cards at the table and interactive comments on the free wifi. The former is struggling while the latter is prospering. Interaction  is bigger than mere marketing it is how our neighbors make decisions.

The church has to decide to be more interactive in order to evangelize the mostly online driven  community around us.

Interactivity is expected from a broad cross section of our neighbors.  People in general  will not buy underwear or eat at a restaurant  without reading and sharing  comments and will not  explore the Christian faith without the opportunity of doing the same.

Quoting Justin Wise,  “the church and her mission will never perish. This much we know. What we do not know is what our co-creative role in building God’s kingdom will be. We do not know because it is mostly up to us. We can choose to become interactive as a church or we can choose to fade further into the cultural background.” ( The Social Church, by Justin Wise, p. 66)

Ok, but how. This can be done badly and many of our worshippers do not share this sense of urgency. Each church’s context and skills is unique There  is no one right  answer but two things are certain.  1-it is up to the church and not the public to figure out how and 2-it has to start now.  

What if engaging new people is as simple as our own members commenting on their congregation and courting the feed back of others in a shareable way?  The technical how-to’s are a bit more complicated but do-able and often free

This  site provides a starting place and clears  many of the pitfalls.  The 5-points of instruction in the marketing plan videos a great start for novice and expert congregations alike. CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT.

Church leaders!  Start!  Learn the skills of social media, word press and the various means of file sharing.  Spend a few bucks on training and a good website. Ask the members comment on why they follow Christ and worship in their congregation and POST them on your sight.  Could it be that easy to get started?

This is evangelism.  This is a part of our sacred mission.  This is urgent.

Cheatham Memorial is experimenting in making connectivity a ministry at edgewoodconnections.com. Watch our progress.

 

 

Simple is sexy again….

I heard it in a TED talk so it must be true. I have read several articles on living small, mini-homes, being frugal and leaving a low carbon footprint. Eveything from Dave Ramsey to the Holy Scripture values Simplicity. 

This is my actual pocket gear and it doesn’t speak of simplicity.  I never leave the house without these items and is a symptom of my relying on my stuff. It’s it mere habit?  Do I really NEED them? Is it preparation or an attempt to control?  

The letter to the Thessalonians speaks strongly. “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)  Commanding it is fine but why not do it because it make for a simpler stronger faith and healthy living.

A wealthy entrepreneur divested all that he owned except for 15 things.  He lived with AirBNB, Uber and ” a duffel bag that includes a “laptop, iPad, three sets of chinos, three T-shirts and a Ziploc bag filled with $4,000 worth of $2 bills.”.  That’s 10 of them. (http://www.thepennyhoarder.com/james-altucher-15-things/?utm_source=newsletter0924&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Altucher). He asks this question, what would you put in your bag if you had to carry everything you own. 

Obviously this isn’t practical for most of us but the point is made; living simply means that your stuff works for you rather than you working for your stuff.  The question is a good one-what would you pack in your bag? 

1. I great backpack 2.wallet with all credentials and access codes. 3. Phone and charger.  4. A sturdy knife 5. 2-blue jeans 6. 3 plain button up shirts 7. Sturdy Lace up up boots 8. Athletic shoes. 9. Cash 10.  Ruger and ammo 11. The Big leatherman. And finally but firstly Faith.  

May sound corny to some. I have a bible on my phone and other emblems of faith handy. But a light weight double portion of faith, with the connections, strength and attitude that God gives is the most essential gear. How sad life would be if we only relied on our stuff. 

Less mechanical gear creates more space for the spiritual. This is where confident living begins.  Simplify…