Monday, December 18, 2017

Longest Night Service // First Baptist Church

 While the holiday season is often fun and festive, for many it can be full of painful memories and tearful nights. During this darkest season of the calendarand perhaps on this longest night of the yearplease use this liturgy as an individual or family to help you reflect on the pain, grief, and anger you may be experiencing during this season and how God can still comfort you with Gods hope and peace.

Opening Words / Call to Worship

We cry to the Lord who counts and collects our tears.
Be with us now.
In our grief and our pain, our bodies and spirits cry out.
Hear us, O Lord. Amen.


The days are short. The nights are long. Lord, your universe mirrors the reality of our hearts, revealing your gracious spirit that mourns with us in grief, cries with us in sorrow, sits with us in despair. You are not a distant God, removed from human pain, but a faithful companion closer to us than our tears. Help us to feel your presence now as we remember and reflect, seeking your healing touch and the hope that was promised and delivered in Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.

Lighting of the Advent Candles (any candles would do)

[Reader 1]:  We light these candles in thanksgiving for loved ones lost,
                    for past health and joy that now seems distant.
[Reader 2]:  We light these candles in prayer, that we will feel Gods love
  in our present sorrow.
[Reader 3]:  We light these candles in hope, for the promises of God to be revealed.
[All]:            Glory to God. Amen.

Scripture Readings

Psalm 13 

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, I have overcome him,
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Psalm 61:1-4; 62:1-2 

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

62:1 Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Psalm 139:7-12 

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 23 

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Sermonette: a short video from Pastor Jason

Charge and Blessing

May Jesus, the lifethe life that is light for all people
      shine in your heart.
No matter how small, no matter how dim, that light
      will stubbornly shine.
And the darkness will not overcome it.
Go in peace, with courage to face the coming days
      with hope, with God by your side. Amen.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Needed Attitude Adjustment

[a post from Monday morning...]

Mandy and I sat down for a family meeting last night, to make sure we are on the same page, because this week is incredibly busy. Here's a brief snippet of what this week holds for me and my family: three worship services to prepare, two sermons to write, Bible study to lead, three rehearsals and a concert for Mandy, final details on the church Christmas program, attending Zoe's school Christmas program, shopping for the Angel Tree, and a night of Christmas caroling. And that's just some of our calendar.

So...of car broke down this morning and I can't get it into the shop until Wednesday. 

Of course! Perfect timing, right?! In a week filled with ministry and life and events and chaos, our family is suddenly down to one vehicle for a few days. The timing of life can be cruel.

But I promise I'm not writing this to complain. Rather, I wanted to show you my emotional process throughout the day in an effort to better help us all cope with the difficulties of life. Over the past few hours I've gone from perplexed and paralyzed to angry to anxious. I had plans for how my week would go and suddenly those were totally out of whack.

So what did I do next? I tried my best to slow down, calm down, pray for peace, and ground myself in the simple truth that it's all going to be okay. Life's not over. Things will work out just fine. I'll still get all my work done this week. Ultimately, this is a pretty minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of life. 

And then after that, I set about to not let this inconvenience rob me of the week I had planned...which for me included playing basketball this afternoon. So, since I couldn't drive to my destination, I looked up the bus schedule, hopped on the bus for as long as I could ride, and then walked the rest of the way. And now, I'm logging off to go play basketball...committed to not letting a bad situation and my bad attitude steal life away from me. Here's to a great week!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Forgiveness as an Advent Practice

This Sunday is the beginning of the Advent season - four weeks of preparation for Christ to enter our world anew. Advent is a season of hopefulness and anticipation. We can't wait for God's incarnation into our existence. But Advent is also a time of darkness, pain, and lament. In this darkest time of the year, we long for the Light of the World to radiantly burst forth, because the darkness feels too heavy and all-consuming. Sin and corruption are rampant in us all, people are at odds with one another, and sadness and loneliness too easily overwhelm. Things are not right.

To some degree, our calling is simply to wait. Advent is a season of waiting; of hopeful anticipation that help is on the way. And yet, we are also called to actively wait; to seek solutions to the problems we have inherited and created. 

One form of active waiting that I have been thinking about recently is the long-lost art of asking for forgiveness. If the world is not the way it is meant to be, and if we have some role in that outcome, then one massive step forward is the willing submission to the humble process of apology and forgiveness. Is there something you have done that has hurt someone else and you need to simply say sorry? Is there a way you have contributed to things not being right where you need to repent and ask for forgiveness? Are there relationships in your life that have gone askew, where you could be the bigger person, own your part of the blame, and seek reconciliation through contrition?

During this Advent season, may you be willing to take the bold first step of seeking restoration. May you own your mistakes, say you're sorry, and see if the incarnated God can begin to redeem some of the brokenness of the relationship at a time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Clinging to the Right Things

an old picture of Zoe clinging to what
actually matters, our friends' dog, Daisy
A few weeks ago I had a really interesting experience with Zoe. It was bedtime and she was obviously quite tired, so I decided to carry her to her bed (which I don't do as often now that she's not a baby anymore). As I was carrying her downstairs, she wrapped her arms tightly around my neck, nestled her head onto my shoulder, and I held her tightly in a warm embrace. It was a precious, special moment.

But then suddenly she realized that she had not grabbed the stuffed animals she was planning to sleep with that night, so we turned around to go find where she had last put them. The tragedy of the story is that as Zoe continued to fill her arms with an immeasurable number of animals, she was suddenly unable to cling tightly to me in a sweet father-daughter embrace. We had lost the cuddly connection we had once shared, and I had now become no more than her preferred mode of transportation from one place to the next.

Hoarding our possessions (our money, things, clothes, time, energy, and skillsets), can often force us to sacrifice more important things. We cannot serve two masters. We can't serve God and money. Like Zoe in the story, clinging so tightly to the things we own can distract us from more significant things or people that are right under our noses and can rob of us of the life God intends for us.

During this season of thanksgiving and gratitude, may we learn to loosen our grip on the things we own and the endless desire for more. May we be more aware of the things in life that really matter. May we recognize that the God of the universe is desperate to hold us close, shower us with blessing, and remind us of our God-given value. And during this frantic season of American consumerism, where a meal of the thanksgiving quickly gives way to Black Friday shopping, may we not let anything distract us from our first love...the God who loves us dear and holds us near.