Giving God Our Nothing (Call To Worship August 2014)

                   Once, Jesus and his disciples were in the world, doing ministry:

 

Lord, send this crowd away.  It is getting late.  We’re all tired.

Blessed are those who have set their priority on the Kingdom.

                   But Lord, they’re starting to get hungry,

and we have nothing to feed them.

Nothing?

                   Nothing?

Well we do have two fish and some loaves of bread.

                   That’s nothing when you give it to this crowd!

                   Give me your nothing.

Why?  What will it amount to in this world of pain and misery?

                   Give me your nothing.

Are you sure you want to get involved with the needy? 

                   You know they’ll just come back for more, following the bread crumbs.

                   Give me your nothing.

Jesus, if we give up our lunch, then what will we eat in retirement?

                   Give me your nothing.

Yes, Lord.

                   If we give God our Nothing, then Something Kingdom will happen.

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Called or Coming, Sent or Seeking

When people ask me how I got into ministry, my typical answer is kicking and screaming.  A good retort, and one I’ve never heard yet, would be, “then why are you in ministry?”  It isn’t for the money.  Even with my masters level education, it won’t make me rich.  It isn’t for the honor.  Clergy today are cartoonishly depicted in the world, and we probably deserve it.  It isn’t for the power.  Just because we get to talk for 15-20 minutes each week to an audience doesn’t mean they are listening or agree with us.  Surely it only by the Will of God that anyone would do this job!

The Church spends a great deal of time talking about “the Call to Ministry.”  While most acknowledge that there is a call for all Christians in our baptism, and we also say that certain professions have a calling (ie. teaching, fire-fighters, nurses, etc.).  Still ministry gets lifted up as “the Call” in the way we talk about it.  When did you receive the call?  What is/was your call to ministry?  How are you living out your call?

I have no doubt that there is a spiritual and divine action within our lives.  God is in the mix.  But that doesn’t mean we get to blame God for our choice in how we serve and live out our lives or go about making a living.  God loved us enough to make following Jesus into salvation a choice.  Why would God suddenly switch gears after you enter into the fold and force you to do something you really didn’t want to do?

“I’m sorry, Nathan, I know you had your heart set on being an organic chemist or bio-engineer, but I’ve decided you’ll herd sheep instead.  Trust me, I know what’s good for you.”

Serving as a pastor, preacher, minister, etc. is a vocation, a calling, but it is also a choice.  The Will of God is much more fluid than solid.  The river is going to head downstream, but what turns and waves it makes are not determined by God alone.  As Adam Hamilton states in his book, Why?, “God is more co-author than author of our lives.”  God gives us choice.  There are a variety of paths that God is happy with in our choices and lives.  Sure, there are spiritual nudges to go this way or that way, but free-will still puts the ball in our hands, and we get to decide the sport we’re going to play with it.

Moses had a choice, he could take off his shoes or turn and ignore God and the suffering of his people.  Esther had a choice, and she agonized over it.  Her cousin Mordecai promised that even if she didn’t serve, God would find another way to bring salvation to his people.  Even Jonah had a choice, and thank God he chose to ignore God’s calling or we wouldn’t have the beautiful conversation between the two on the hill overlooking Nineveh.  Notice we are left not knowing what Jonah’s answer will be or whether or not he continues in the ministry.

Even Jesus was given a choice.

I don’t know how many times I heard, “If you can imagine yourself doing anything else other than ministry, you shouldn’t go into ministry.”  That’s huckabuck and a load of crock.  I think clergy like to boost our egos by believing that we’re somehow special.  We’re not.  We like to put ourselves in the story as the prodigal son or daughter who had a Paul-like moment in which we were kicking against the pricks and were blinded by the truth.  The truth is that we call ourselves just as much as God calls us.  Most clergy need to be needed.  Most clergy have severe doubts about faith.  Most clergy are in severe spiritual drought.  Most clergy came to ministry just as much as they were called to ministry.

I came kicking and screaming into ministry.  I didn’t want to put up with petty relationship arguments, entitled pew-sitters, and pathetic denominational programs and goals.  “Then why are you in ministry?” I wanted to serve people at their holiest of moments, birth, transformation, marriage, sickness, death.  I wanted to walk with people on the journey of faith.  I wanted to hear their story as it blended into the Good News of Christ’s story.  I wanted to serve.  Thankfully, God was willing, nudging, and co-writing that into my story.

 

God’s Story Prayer

God, you are the great Story-teller:

              You spoke love upon the page of creation and “It was good.”

                   When our calamity and cacophony of sound interrupted,

              You continued rocking in your chair, 

                      kept on patiently telling your yarn.

              Even when we began beating you,

                      choking the life from your lips;

            You continued the tale, “Father, forgive them…”

                   God you are the great Story-teller.

            Write your story upon our hearts.

                   Help us receive Your Story as Our Story.

                   Help us share Your Story for others to join Our Story.

                   God, you are the great Story-teller:

                                Speak Jesus to us, in us, and through us.  Amen.

Planning Worship 101

So the pastor is going out of town, to a conference, or died recently and you have to plan worship this Sunday… hmmmm.  Where to begin?  Or maybe you are a new pastor arriving at your first appointment or call, and suddenly realize that no one in seminary bothered to tell you how to create a bulletin.  Well, hopefully, this isn’t too far fetched for you as a Christian who has attended church and paid attention to what happens inside each worship service.  Here, I offer a simple guide to anyone planning a worship service in any tradition or pattern:

Step 1:  Pray.  

Yes, Pray.  You’d be surprised at how easy it is to begin this process without first going to the primary source – GOD.  Believe me, I know.  I’ve been guilty, and if you ask your preacher to be honest, I’m sure she or he has been guilty of quickly putting a bulletin together without first talking to God.  Every worship plan should beginning with prayer.  Remember back when you did research papers for high school and college and the English teacher constantly said, “first read the primary source.”  When it comes to worship, the primary source is God.  Worship begins and ends in the Heart of God.  The Spirit is about preparation in prayer just as much as inspiration in work.

Step 2:  Text.

Now remember, I’m just talking about planning the worship service, not the sermon.  The sermon (I hope!) also follows these steps.  Whatever way the text is chosen, whether you are following the lectionary or a sermon series or going through a book of the Bible, read it several times before setting down to plan worship.  Make time to read prayerfully and intentionally read the text.  I suggest five to ten times as a minimum so that you get breathe deeply what the Spirit is cooking from the recipe.

Step 3:  Context.

The very word con text implies that this is intended to go with the text.  Each worship service has it’s own flavor.  Theologically, in a worship service, the audience is God.  As you plan the worship service, keep in mind who the players on the stage are – the people!  If they are accustomed to the formalities of high church processions, go with it.  If they crave Gaither songs and knee slapping, go with it.  What I am emphasizing here is that they need to be a part of the plan.  Worship is from God through us to God.  So don’t forget us, eh?

Also keep in mind the context of the building, the atmosphere, and who’s leading.  The space we meet in comes with plus and minus signs as does the ambiance and feel of the room.  While we can’t change these, we must realize they are there.  Everyone comes to worship with different energy levels.  Don’t put a monotone reader in charge of reading Psalm 119, nor put someone who’s had eighteen cups of espresso in charge of leading the congregation through a responsive reading – wemayreadjustabittoofast!

Step 4:  Theme.

One of the most tragic things that happens in poorly done worship is knee-jerk emotions and inappropriately placed events.  Having a central theme that runs throughout the worship service is ideal.  A sermon on transformation in Christ shouldn’t be followed by “Just as I am.”  The thought just doesn’t follow.  Nor should a hymn take us emotionally someplace the sermon wasn’t.  If the service is focused on praise, let’s not sing a slow love song for a savior.  And definitely don’t throw in a random event like honoring Graduates when the theme is Pentecost.  If it interrupts the flow, it probably should go.  A service with a theme has a thread that connects and guides us closer to God and one another.

The theme should be the big picture; that one concept that everyone at every age is exposed to in the worship.  An example would be a service on John 1:1-14 (notice I began with the text) which focuses on God’s coming to us in the flesh.  Every part of the worship service should be about this theme – prayers, songs, kid’s time, sermon, benediction.  This takes a lot of time, preparation, and choreography; but the end service to God through the people is worth it.

Exceptions to the Rule…

Weddings, funerals, and high holy days already have their themes (and yes, a wedding is a worship service if clergy are signing the marriage license).  Weddings usually deal with the love of God expressed in human relationships.  Funerals should be about the person who died, how their life reflected Christ, and the promise of resurrection.  Easter is about resurrection, Christmas is about the Birth of Christ, etc.  In these worship services we should pray, honor the theme, keep an eye to the context, and read the text (unless you are following a strict lectionary style).

My prayer is that this will help all worship leaders in their planning.  Please feel free to contact me, I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.

Hide and Seek Prayer

Within the heavens,

Within the moments of coincidence,

Within the intricacies of theology and science,

Within the mystery and the unknown,

and within the heavy emotions and heart-felt convictions:

Lord, we seek you.

Yet, you are on earth – revealed through your creation,

You are in the ordinary and everyday unnoticed and unrecognized,

You are in the spaces beyond knowledge and yet in plain sight,

and you are seen and felt more in our actions of hope and love

than our reactions of devotion or internal chemistry:

Lord, reveal to us.

Within the busy-ness of bees,

Within the ringtones of notifications,

Within the individualism and self-reliance,

Within the selfishness of pride and the self-righteousness of pain,

and within the our day to day ignorance:

Lord, seek us.

Wonderful Jesus, as we play hide and seek together,

Increase our faith and faithfulness this day.  Amen.

-(CC) 2014 Nathan Decker, www.worshipswake.wordpress.com

Kid’s Communion

Kids Eucharist

By Nathan Decker and Lisa Fong

Invitation in Song
All singing:
Jesus loves me, this I know
for the Bible tells me so.
He wants me to come and eat
learning love for all I meet.

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus love me
at this Table his love shows.

Confession and Pardon in Song
All continue singing:
Jesus love me, this I pray
I messed up along the way.
Teach me how to grow and live
and to share all I can give.

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus love me
at this Table I can know.

Passing of the Peace
Because Jesus opened his arms big enough to love and hug all of us,
let us hug and show we have arms big enough to love one another.

All are brought back together in the singing:
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world!

The Great Thanksgiving

Dear God,
We love you with all our hearts.
You are good. You are great.
You created everything we see and don’t see.
You saved the animals on the Ark with Noah.
You helped Moses free the slaves.
You gave victory to David against giant problems.
You are good. You are great.

People Respond in the Singing:
Father, I adore you.
Lay my life before you.
How I love you.

Dear God,
you loved us with all your heart.
You are good. You are great.
You sent Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem.
He grew up and taught people how to love
and what kind of people you wanted us to be.
Before he died, he invited his friends to a meal.
He took bread, told you “thank you,” broke the bread
and gave to his friends saying,
“Take, Eat, this is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”
When the meal was over, he took a cup, told you “thank you,”
and gave the cup to his friends saying,
“Take, drink, this is the promise that God gives in my blood that he will forgive you, all of you.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Jesus, I adore you.

Lay my life before you.

How I love you. 
Dear God,
show your love to us in being here today.
You are good. You are great.

Send your Holy Spirit on this bread and cup.
Help us know that you are here.
Help us show that you are near.

Send your Holy Spirit on us as your children.
Help us learn to grow and live.
Help us learn to share and give.

Spirit, I adore you.
Lay my life before you.
How I love you.

This we pray and as God’s children say, Amen.

Where is God? (Call to Worship 2013)

Where do we meet God?

In the song?  In the familiar Sunday morning handshake?

   Where is the Divine at work?

In the pastor’s sermon?  In the committee meeting? 

On a mission trip?  At a Church Day Care Center?

   Where are you God?  We seem to have trouble finding you!

Oh!  There you are!  We should have known!  God is:

   With the child crying in hunger

   With the drunk trapped in the bottle

   With the immigrant taken advantage of at a checkout line

   With the judged who receive no mercy.

   “As you go through this life, make disciples

And I will be with you, always.”

There is where God is!

                                                                                                    – Nathan Decker, 2013

Compelling Invitation (Call to Worship August 2009)

The Lord sits at his table and awaits his invited guests,

Yet they do not come, filled with excuses.

            Christ invite us, let us come even when our excuse is

“I don’t feel like it today.”

Christ invite us, let us come even when our excuse is

“We’re doing this too often, didn’t we do this once already this month.”

Christ invite us, let us come even when our excuse is

“I just don’t feel worthy to be with God today.

Christ invite us, let us come as the Lord at his table says

“Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town,

bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.

Compel people to come in so that my house may be filled.”

“Hands” (Call to Worship) June 2014

Lord Almighty, it was your hands that worked that clay and made us.

Creator Hands.

                   Lord Jesus, it was your hands that were nailed to that ugly tree.

Savior Hands.

                   Lord Spirit, it is your hands that mold our hearts and renew our spirits.

Redeeming Hands.

God of hands, we don’t have much.

I give you my hands.

                   Take them, use them,

Use our hands to dig into the dirt and renew the garden.

                   Use our hands to heal the brokenness in the world.

Use our hands to wipe away tears.

                   God of hands, we don’t have much.

I give you my hands.

Prayer of Thanks

Today we give thanks

                                   for Sunsets and Sunrises

                                   for tears and smiles

                                   for expected moments and surprises

                   Jesus, thank you and help us

                                   to be a people of daylight

                                   to share our highs and lows

                                                and to live today in thanks, Amen.

Reflection and Resources for Worshiping God. Please feel free to use the resources in worship. I only ask that you give credit.