This post was originally viewed in the local newspaper, The Lovington Leader.
In the Church of the Nazarene, we practice open communion. We participate in the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist once a month during ordinary time and each week during Advent and Lent. Communion is a sacrament. It is a a sign of God’s grace in our lives. And this grace is offered to all and we remind our church that all are invited to participate in this sacramental meal. When we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we are remembering Jesus’ broken body and spilled blood on the cross. But we are also re-membering ourselves as the body of Christ. It is a beautiful thing when we stop and reflect on the mystery of Christ’s presence among us in the elements but also among the people who are participating in the suffering of Christ as we await our participation in Christ’s resurrection.
During Lent of this past year we started bringing our littlest worshippers back in the sanctuary with us so they too can participate in God’s grace and presence of Christ.
Some might say, “but they don’t know what they are doing.” “They shouldn’t participate without first confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior.” “What about Paul’s instructions on receiving it in an unworthy manner?” (that’s for another post and a better understanding of the context happening in Corinth)
I grew up rarely participating in communion. We would do it once a quarter and the thinking was that if we did it too often it would become rote and lose its meaning. Really? The meal that Christ ordained and commanded the first Christians to do become a dead ritual? If you think about it, that’s the most ridiculous excuse. We could say the same thing for singing or dare I say preaching! I also grew up visiting my grandparents Lutheran church and they would participate in communion every week. It was a beautiful part of the service, but it was closed for only Lutheran members. I never understood this either. I always wanted to sneak into the line going up to receive the bread and wine, but never got enough courage and thought I would get into a lot of trouble from my family.
Now that I’m the lead pastor of a church in the Wesleyan tradition, I want to invite everyone to the table. John Wesley believed we should receive communion constantly. He himself participated in communion multiple times a week. God’s grace is sufficient for all. None of us are really ever worthy enough. I want to be a church that says all are welcome. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or where you are in your journey. When we come forward and hear the words, “the body of Christ broken for YOU, the blood of Christ shed for YOU” we are invited into the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice for us.
I love seeing our group of little toddlers learning the practices of the church and even though they don’t really understand what they’re doing, it’s a beautiful sign of God’s grace for all of us!
This Sunday, I am beginning a new series on the book of Philippians. This is a letter that is many people’s favorite. It’s a letter of thanksgiving from Paul, who at the time of writing it was in a Roman prison. And he was full of joy. Why? It doesn’t really make sense. Yet Paul, as he sat there in chains, reflects back on his time with his friends from Philippi and begins to write a letter thanking them for their participation in the Gospel! This is the whole point. Paul, once a murderer of Christians, experiences the risen Christ in the most real way and his life forever changed. He goes on to be the greatest missionary/church planter the church has ever known. And most of the New Testament is written by Paul.
As I think about what God is trying to say to me through this letter, I can’t help but think about and reflect back on the people that have partnered with me and given me incredible gifts as a way of advancing the Gospel. I’ll be sharing this Sunday a special story with one of the most generous people I’ve ever known and how he truly partnered with me (from afar) in sharing the good news of Jesus with the people in Lovington, NM. I can’t wait to share this story and I hope that others will be able to reflect on how they have been blessed by others through the church. I have to say that LovingtonNaz is a very generous church. I am blessed to minister with so many wonderful, talented, and giving people. But I also hope that we will become an even more generous church and a blessing to so many others as we spread the good news of Jesus in our neighborhood.
I echo the prayer Paul prays for the church in Philippi:
“That your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11
This morning was See You at the Pole. I’ve participated in these once a year prayer gatherings for many years as a student, a youth pastor, and now a lead pastor.
These are good things. Prayer is always important. Waking up early and eating donuts and coffee is fun (well not really, ha except the coffee part!).
The gathering spot is always at the school flag pole, unless it rains right before and it is moved indoors. At this prayer meeting the stars and stripes becomes the central focus and the prayers of the people are centered around praying for our country. I get it. I do believe we should pray for our country and our leaders. But the whole thing gets off track when we think being a Christian is equated with being an American. I love being an American. I do enjoy our freedoms and I’m sure I take them for granted all the time.
But this freedom is not the same as our freedom in Christ. When we start comparing the blood of American soldiers with the blood of Jesus, we are entering really dangerous waters.
When I read the Gospels, Jesus teachings and sermons, and the letters from Paul, I don’t find anywhere that we should create national borders and pray for God’s blessings over against those of other nations and people who disagree with us. I can’t help but think about Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us.
This is not the prayer that I head this morning @ See you at the Pole.
I also can’t help but think about the prayer from Blind Bartimaeus who hears Jesus and shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” After people rebuke him, he shouts even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus asks what he wants. The blind man says, “Rabbi, I want to see!”
“Go,” said Jesus, “Your faith has healed you.” He receives his sight and followed Jesus. (Mark 10:47-52)
I used to worship America right along side Jesus. I loved singing patriotic songs in church. It was all very emotional. As I’ve gotten older and really studied the Gospels and as I have become a pastor, I continue to pray, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I have received new sight and I now can see that God isn’t contained in the American government and military system. Violence is not what our faith is about. Not at all!
God does love Americans…and Brazilians, and Koreans, and Syrians, and Christians, and Jews, and yes even Muslims. God loves the whole world. John 3:16
Honestly, I was pretty sad about the prayers I heard this morning. But this isn’t a post of condemnation. I used to pray the same things. This is a challenge for those of us in the American church to put our faith in Jesus Christ, and not the U.S. government. This is a reminder that Jesus is Lord and Caesar or the President is not. The United States will not be around forever. This is O.K. But the Kingdom of God will last forever.
“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a Sinner!”
Here is the sermon I gave yesterday @LovingtonNaz. It wasn’t so much a sermon as a story I told from the perspective of one of Jesus’ disciples. It starts with Jesus’ first sermon on the mount and ends with his final sermon with the sheep and the goats.
It’s not exactly the same as the recording, but you can listen to it here.
Like most families, the laundry never ends in our house. Luckily for me, I have the best wife in the world. She does most of the sorting, the loading and unloading the washing machine and dryer, and also the dirty work of getting stains out of our clothes (mostly the kids). My job is to fold all the clothes. I don’t mind this most of the time. I usually listen to one of the many podcasts I subscribe to. It makes it somewhat enjoyable.
A few months ago, I was listening to a podcast while folding clothes and the guests were the minimalists. I’ve always known I owned way too many hats, shoes, t-shirts, and other items, but it wasn’t THAT bad, I thought. I’ve never been a hoarder by any means. I actually love throwing stuff away. But as I got done folding all of our clothes and attempted to put JUST my t-shirts away, I could barely fit them into my second drawer of my dresser. It was then I decided to minimize my belongings. A couple months ago I got rid of over 100 items of clothing, shoes, hats, suits, pants, and shorts. It felt really good.
Fast forward to a couple days ago and I had the same problem. WHAT!? I have a drawer full of t-shirts and I could barely fit them all in. Where did they all come from! My attempts at becoming a minimalist seemed to have waned. As I sit here at my kitchen table and I look around my big comfy house, I have to confess that we own way too many things. Things I don’t really need. I look over at our brown leather couch that started peeling a few weeks ago and I think about how we are in the process of replacing it. We’ve found a really nice couch from the furniture store. In fact we almost purchased it! ALMOST! Furniture is expensive! But honestly the couch we have now is not broken. It’s actually really comfortable. We could use this many more weeks and even years. Yet we feel the need to get something better.
There’s a girl in our youth group that has been coming for just under a year. She has been such a blessing to our entire church in many ways. She’s not afraid to take risks, to ask difficult questions and to dream for a world that is better than it currently is. Just yesterday, she texted me, “hey, I have an idea.” I love ideas. I’m an idea man. I had no idea what she was going to say, but I was excited to hear it.
“What if to raise awareness of how truly blessed we are to have electricity, we (church or just youth) went on a fast from it? We take it as an everyday thing that’s just here, but it is truly a blessings to have. Some people don’t have anything.”
YES! This is it! This is why I have loved being a youth pastor. Young people are awesome! I didn’t really know how to respond. I had a couple practical questions for her, but I was all-in! This is exactly what I am aspiring to do in becoming a minimalist and a teenage girl in my youth group is leading the way. It’s saying, “we have so much.” It’s asking, “what can I eliminate?” I’m excited to see what this will look like exactly, what she has in mind, and what kinds of things I can do to be a resource for her.
I’ve begun this minimalism way of life. It’s really the way Jesus lived and calls us to live. I have a long way to go, but my aspirations are still high. Thanks Zoe for reminding me and helping lead your pastor in the ways of Jesus.
This past Sunday I stepped into a new role in my current church. For the past 4 years I have served as the youth pastor and worship leader @LovingtonNaz. Today — I sit in my really low sitting thrift store office chair as the lead pastor of the same church. WHAT!? When I really think deeply about the whole process, it is truly unbelievable. 4 years ago I never could have imagined living in New Mexico. I told pastor Jaron “NO” at least three times before coming to interview and visit. But he was persistent. The Holy Spirit was definitely speaking through him and Lovington is where God was having us go. A few months ago Jaron spoke to me again. He had received a call from a far away land, New Zealand, to become missionary/pastors. Once it was clear that this was where God was leading the Graham’s, the conversations started quickly about what was going to happen here in Lovington.
It was close to 4 months ago that I had a pretty good idea that I would transition into being the next lead pastor. Over those 4 months a lot of things happened during the craziness of the summer schedule. We had a family trip back home to Kansas, VBS, District Assembly, #NYC15 in Louisville, teen camp @Bonita Park, a month of city league softball, and the beginning of a new school year. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, dream, and think about what it will be like to step into this new role.
I’m a thinker. I’m kind of a dreamer. I love to come up with ideas. I’m not so much of a doer or implementer. It has been easy to think and dream about what being a lead pastor will be like.
It’s kind of like how Rachelle and I have thought about getting a dog for many years. We love the idea of owning a dog (English Bulldog or Great Dane!) But then reality sets in and we realize we would have to take care of this dog which is a lot of work. Someday…
…Someday is now! (not for the dog) The time has come. I am the lead pastor! It’s going to be a lot of work. The thinking and dreaming will continue for sure, but now it’s time to do it! There are people to care for and minister to and with! I’m sure things will get messy. But I know this is a beautiful calling. I’ve built relationships with these same people for 4 years already and this is a blessing. Most new pastors are not this fortunate. I’m sure there will be times of loneliness now that Jaron and Elizabeth won’t be sharing the same office, but I know that God is right here in the midst of it all. I trust that God will be faithful as we walk into this calling.
The time has come. I can’t wait to see what happens over the next 4 months and 4 years!
To hear the 3 part sermon from this past “Transition Sunday” you can click here.