Listen to your sheep as we baa…
Hear our calls of praise – you are God, you are our Shepherd.
Hear our songs of thanks – you lead us, you save us, you give us all we need
And hear our dirges of woe
-we need you Jesus
-we need your touch on hearts that are crying in greif
-we need your hand to calm our anxious fears and doubts
-we need you, Lord, how we need you!
Good Shepherd, send your Spirit to be your rod and staff upon our lives.
-and help us build the Kingdom you desire
-help us desire the kingdom you are building
All as we pray… our Father…
Wellspring of Hope, Whisperer of Wisdom, ceaseless Winds of Change:
You, Lord, have spoken everything into being in love,
You have weathered the storms and shifting sands of culture,
You have conquered depression and death.
We are so thankful as your people today.
Mighty God, we need your strength today.
Defend us when we are attacked by cancer, illness, and disease.
Reach into the pits of despair and pull us out of our darkness.
Hold us, Lord, as we grieve the loss of loved ones.
There is so much to fear today – yet your Kingdom is not a Kingdom of Fear,
But one of Love.
Send your courageous Spirit into our hearts
Send your resurrected Church into the world
Send us as we pray, Amen.
Great Whirlwind, Burning Bush, Still Quiet Voice, LORD;
who hovered over the chaos of creation,
who breathed inspiring spring life into all creation,
who walks among us still in this fragile and tattered garden.
Challenge us to learn from one another,
so that we may recall your Spirit speaks through all creatures,
so that we may experience your presence and light in one another,
so that your voice will be in the tones of our conversation.
Jesus, Emmanuel, Wisdom Come Down in the Flesh, Amen.
I was sitting in the dentist chair when I found him. I don’t really like going to the Dentist. I have a fear of anything that spins or twists going into my mouth. The high pitched mechanical sound makes me want to bolt out of the chair and run to the ice cream shoppe. Even the fancy toothbrush makes me squirm in my seat, foaming at the mouth as the dental hygienist stops to ask, “Mr. Decker are you ok?”
“No, I’m not ok! Yes, my fears are not rational. I don’t like getting my teeth cleaned.”
This last time I went to the Dentist the hygienist pointed out that they had posters on the ceiling to help me focus on something other than the “pain” or “even though you’re not really in pain but you feel like you’re in pain, pay attention to the posters please so I can do my job.”
So, I tried it. The first poster was this beautiful beach scene. Surf. Sand. Sun. The whining mechanical high speed tooth brush that sounds like a drill coming at my incisors. Images of my gums bleeding as she flosses my teeth. Focus, come on now, look at the other poster.
The other one actually got me going. It was obviously for children. It was a poster of “Where’s Waldo.” Waldo – glasses, stocking cap, trademark red and white shirt – I was going to find that bugger.
Where’s Waldo? Is he there in the car? No, that’s just a sweater on a dog. Is he over there in the bushes, no, that’s the oddest colors for a mushroom I’ve ever seen. Maybe over there by the ice cream truck? Those have to be the weirdest flavors of ice cream I’ve ever seen.
When I finally did find him, it was as if a bell had gone off and I had awoken from some surreal pseudo sleep in the dentist chair. “There, Mr. Decker, all done. That wasn’t so bad was it?” I wanted to say yes, but something dawned on me. With all of my concentration focused on looking for Waldo, I didn’t realize the peace he had given me while I was seeking him out. With all our concentration focused on looking for God, we don’t realize the peace he has given us while we are seeking him out.
Our world often asks where is God in all of this? He can’t stand the fighting any more. He goes to his room and shuts the door, cause somewhere a father and a mother talk about divorce again. She’s been missing since last May. She would have turned thirteen today. And somewhere a father prays for his missing little girl. Why doesn’t God do something about the pain and the hurt? Why isn’t God at work in the world? Doesn’t God care?
Maybe God’s at church?
Recently a Marketing Expert was hired by a church to find out why their attendance, participation, and offering where consistently going down each year. He came to their church worship services. He got involved in their Bible Studies and mission programs. He studied their figures from years and years of stewardship campaigns and budgets. He did surveys in the community asking about the church, asking about the reputation, asking about what the community knew about the church ministries. He came back to the pastor and the church with some bad news.
“You all have really got it going on. You have the best show in town. You offer education and volunteer opportunities better than anyone else. You even have done your research on non-profits and how to best present giving and offering plans. But you are guilty of false advertisement. Your sign says you are a church, a house of God, a place where folks can experience God. I’ve been with you all month, and I haven’t seen God show up at all.”
Paul, writing to the Church at Colossae must have had the same marketing expert show up. Here was a group of people who have great hope. They worship God. They study about God. They volunteer for God. They give of themselves. And they ask, “Where are you, God?”
As Christians, it is important for us to experience Christ as what Paul calls the “image of the invisible God.” Chrisitanity isn’t the study of God; it is the relational experience with God. In Worship, we are called to experience God’s Word and Love. It’s not enough to come to church, we have to be church. In Study, we should experience God’s grace and guidance deeper. It’s not enough to know about God, we have to know God. In missions, we should feel the power of God working and flowing through us. It’s not enough to be good people helping others, we are called to be God’s hands and feet in action. In giving, we should feel the joy of self-sacrifice, joining Christ in becoming a part of something larger than we will ever catch a glimpse. It’s not our sacrifice but Christ’s giving though us.
Where’s Waldo? Where’s Jesus? Christ is in you. God is at work in our world through you. We are the Body of Christ. On social media recently I saw a “Coffee with Jesus” Comic. In the comic, humanity asks, “Jesus, why do you allow all this injustice, hurt, and suffering go on and on?”
Jesus answers, “It’s great that you bring that up, I was going to ask you the same question.”
When we seek the extraordinary in the ordinary…
When we look for the supernatural among the natural…
When we find the Spirit among the Flesh…
That’s where God is – the image of the invisible God – Jesus Christ.
- When God’s people gather for prayer – God is here.
- When God’s people gather for study – God is here.
- When we feed the hungry,
- When we provide hugs and a kind heart listening to those in despair,
- When we reach out to those that everyone else has given up on,
- God is here.
God gives us a choice in life. We can see the negative or the positive.
Fred Craddock tells a story from his home town. “There was this kid in my hometown who would believe anything. Tell him the school burned down. “Really, no school tomorrow! Awesome!” Tell him they were handing out free watermelon downtown. Off he would run. Tell him the President of the US was coming to give a speech. “Really! Whoopee!” Funny thing is that one summer an evangelist came to town. He told that kid, “God loves you and cares for you and comes to you in Jesus Christ.” And do you know what, that kid believed. He actually believes it.”
We are called to believe and because of our belief, to be Christians. Christ is the image of the “invisible God” according to Colossians. We are the image of the invisible God. We are the helpers.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
– Fred Rogers
We can see God in and through what we see in Christ. When we do, the journey of seeking Christ makes the rest of life come into clearer focus. By looking for God, we find ourselves – our true selves. With all of our essence focused on looking for God, we realize the peace Jesus has given us while we were seeking him out.
Where have we seen God lately?
Lord of Wind and Flame,
You who call us to put on the armor of God
You who call us to wait patiently for your guidance
You who call us to care for strangers made neighbors at each encounter:
Bless these Firefighters, EMS, and First Responders.
As they put on their gear
Breathe upon them your Spirit of Peace.
As they wait for instructions and directions
Breathe upon them your Spirit of Wholeness.
As they go forth into houses and highways of despair
Breathe upon them your Spirit of Hope.
Burn in their hearts as love while they put out flames of disaster.
Beat within their hearts while they resuscitate travelers on the way.
Blow gently ahead of them so that at each incident and accident your presence is felt comforting and bringing peace.
All this we ask in the name of the Savior
who responded to our call, our need, our desperation, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected. Remember the old days when you had eye contact during a conversation? When everyone wasn’t looking down at a device in their hands? We’ve become so focused on that tiny screen that we forget the big picture,
the people right in front of us.”
– Regina Brett,
“I don’t know how people do it without church.” I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard this. I heard it as a child growing up in a community where we thought everyone went to church (they didn’t). I heard it as an adult struggling to find a path for my life. I heard it as a parent looking far off at my children’s future and my prayers that they will be people of faith. I’ve heard it as a pastor at the grave with a family who lost a child.
What I hear us saying is that we need to be connected. God designed us to be with each other. And people do survive without being disciples in a church. They survive by creating pseudo-churches within friends at work, family, social networking, and sometimes going to a bar like Cheers where everybody knows your name. I say pseudo-church because it isn’t the same. Sure people ask about one another, look out for each other. Yes, there is a connection, but this connection is limited to space and time and the physical world.
Church, when we’re not just going to church but being Church, is getting connected to God and being connected to one another through the love of God in a deep and vulnerable way. You’ve heard it said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, right? In our broken world, each of us is the weakest link. But through Jesus, through this amazing experience of forgiveness, resurrection, and recreation – we become connected, and we become the strong chain of change the world needs. Without worshipping God weekly, without being with God’s people often, without living in prayer: our lives tend to fall apart. The Spirit keeps us connected to the Divine and to one another.
I don’t know how people live life without church. I do know how people live life with church. We live it fully. We live it connected to our Creator. We live it connected to one another in a fellowship that the world doesn’t understand. We live it with purpose, and meaning in our lives and hope for future generations. We live life connected. God is in the Connections.
“But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light,
we have spiritual connection with each other,
and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.”
- 1 John 1:7
Lord, we need a Savior.
Where are the superheroes?
Where can we find Superman or Batman?
Where are the Avengers or the X-men?
Listen to the screams, Lord, creation is broken!
Not just floods and earthquakes, but hunger and neglect.
The arch-nemesis of all things good wages war and pain.
Lord, have mercy! Where are the superheroes?
Friends, find strength in the Lord, he shares his power with you!
Put on the Armor.
Make a stand against the enemy – apathy, hate, war, greed.
Put on the Armor. Put on the Armor of God.
You are armed with truth, justice, the good news of peace.
Put on the Armor. Put on the Armor. Put on the Armor of God.
Carry the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit.
Wear your Salvation for everyone to see.
Put on the Armor. Put on the Armor. Put on the Armor of God.
We are Heroes in God’s Kingdom. Our Super Power is God’s Love.
Lord, have mercy! We are the superheroes with Christ!
Spiritual Disciplines – Fasting from Matthew 6:16-25
A husband and wife were in bed one night. The husband was a business leader in the community – 500 employees. That night was particularly difficult as he had a lot on his mind. He was tossing and turning, stealing the covers from his wife, getting up and down to go to the bathroom, mumbling to himself. Finally, his wife got up out of bed, grabbed her pillow and blanket, and left.
“What’s wrong? Where are you going?”
“This bed’s not big enough for 502 people, I’ll be on the couch.”
Ever feel like life is too full? We work – 40 hours a week for 30-40 years then we retire and things really get busy! We have kids/grandkids – the back of our car has this random collection of balls (soccer, baseball, basketball) and let’s not forget the bags (for gymnastics, ballet, dance, scouting) and perhaps a musical instrument or two. We try to make time for recreation and leisure – gardening, watching the game, reading a book, going to the movies, Facebooking. And at the end of the day if there is anytime left – sleep. Oh, and church – somewhere we’ll fit God into all that.
Fasting is limiting. In ancient times as well as today, some folks choose to give up food to provide space for spiritual reflection. They gave up the time where they would set at table and instead set at the table with the Lord. It is the concept of limitation as a method of honing in on what is important. Focusing our effort.
I want to be the Best Dad I can be, but something has to give. There are days that I have to make a decision between work and play. Yes, sometimes I get to sit in the stands a yell praises to my children on the basketball court or on the baseball field, but there are also nights when I don’t get to tuck them in because I’m away at meeting that’s related to work. It’s frustrating, but choices have to be made and priorities have to be set.
The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting is about setting a priority and setting aside space for God moments. I could buy that coffee from Starbucks or I could give that money toward Stop Hunger Now. I could stay at home and spend time with my family watching a 2 hour movie or I could spend some ten minutes in prayer for the church to find renewal. I could tuck my children into bed and simply tell them good-night, or we could read a Bible story together as a way of passing on the faith and calming them down for sleep.
A lot of us miss out on God moments simply because there is no sacred space in our lives for God to come fill. As a people of God we need to limit the agendas in our meetings to one or two items so that we have time for God. As a people of God we need to limit all the stuff we feel we have to do so that we can focus on what God wants us to do. In a culture of more, bigger, super-sized, fasting teaches us that less is more. Jesus says, “Isn’t life more than just your needs?”
Fasting is sacrificing. There is a difference between bringing your best to God and bringing leftovers. Recently I attended Ettrick UMC where a new worship service is being held by the students and campus ministry of VSU. It was an exciting service. There was poetry, dance, song, and most of all, Passion. These ‘kids’ gave intentional time to God to create and to give what they had to offer. It was their very best.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart also be.” In Fasting, by saying no to commercialism and consumerism, we say yes to allow the Spirit to flow through us creatively. In the series 7th Heaven, the family doesn’t buy Christmas gifts to give to one another. Instead, they have to give something you already have or something you’ve made. What if worship was like this? What if I told you today that you weren’t allowed to put money in the offering plate but instead had to provide an offering of your time, your service, your prayers, and your witness?
I saw this kind of worship at a Church in Cambodia. I watched as the community came together. One man had some batteries he brought from home. A woman carried an old 1980’s style mini radio. Still another man brought a coil of wire. Finally, the youngest among them climbed up on the roof to attach the wire to the peak of the old ‘barn shaped’ building as an antennae. They gave what they had and what they could create so that they could hear music, prayers, preaching, and news that wasn’t controlled by the government. They gave what they had and what they could create.
Jesus said, “If your eye is healthy, the whole body will be full of light.” When we follow Christ, we take up our cross. When we follow Christ, we follow the only one who can see life and our journey clearly. When we follow Christ, we walk as a people with vision. We walk as children, full of light.
Fasting is giving up to get real. How many masters do we have? In “The Devil Wears Prada” a woman tries to serve her demanding boss while at the same time having a life, satisfying a boyfriend, and getting a better job somewhere else. I watched the movie and got lost by the number of people who keep telling her what she should do and how she should do it.
“No one can serve two masters.” Jesus says. By Fasting, we give up earthly pursuits and desires to get real with the Holy Spirit – the one true God who knows our deepest essence. D. Bonhoeffer wrote in the Cost of Discipleship, “It is only because Christ became like us that we can become like him.” Fasting offers us an opportunity to be like Christ.
Lent is a season in the church’s life when we often focus on Fasting. Fasting is limiting how much to provide sacred space. Fasting is sacrificing to receive true life. Fasting is giving up the earthly masters to serve the Heavenly Lord and be more like Christ. In a culture that often asks us, “What do you want to get out of life?” I challenge you today with “What will you give out of life to receive a glimpse at true life?”