Monday, November 23, 2009

Christ the King

I sort of miss the rhythm and pattern of the Revised Common Lectionary and the intricacies of the church year. I do believe that the thematic series that define the year on both the north and south campuses are the most effective way to live out the preaching ministry at University. However, I still have tremendous respect and appreciation for the rhythm of the liturgical year. At University, we don't completely ignore the liturgical year. Of course, we still observe Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. But you won't hear much about Christ the King Sunday or Baptism of the Lord Sunday. You won't likely notice when we are in the fifth Sunday of Epiphany or when it is Trinity Sunday. You may notice that our stoles change color with the seasons of the church year: green for ordinary time, white during Easter, blue for Advent - but we don't talk about it much.

I miss these things not out of sentiment but out of my call to teach. These seasons, I believe, were developed as a teaching tool to connect us to the overall story of salvation and redemption. The rhythm helps us to find focus and to continually return to some of the essential parts of the story. I was thinking about this this weekend which was, by the way, Christ the King Sunday.

The following is from my sermon on Christ the King Sunday which I preached at Grace United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi in December of 2007:

The Christian calendar is a little different than the secular calendar.As the world begins seriously winding down the year we, as Christians are starting a new one. This week marks the final week on the Christian calendar. We start a new “liturgical” year next Sunday as the first Sunday of Advent. As Christians, there are certain ways we set ourselves apart from the world and our understanding of time is one of those. As the world is still counting down to the end of the year, we will already be beginning a new one. But like the rest of the world, as we come to the end of the year, it is good to reflect on the year that has passed. That is sort of what Christ the King Sunday is all about.

Over the years, I have learned to love Christ the King Sunday. Here is why: It has become, for me, a Sunday of reflection about the Christian year that is ending. Next week is the first Sunday of Advent. In Advent, we prepare ourselves for the coming of God into our world in Jesus Christ.

While television and retail outlets are telling us it is time to sing “Joy to the World.” While we will still be singing “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Advent is the time when we prepare our heart and minds, our churches and our homes for the arrival of the new born King.

Before we enter into a time of looking forward, as we end this one year and prepare to enter another one, have we yet figured out who this king is? During another Christian year we will celebrate the birth and sing,

Hark the herald angels sing, “glory to the new born King”

But what does that mean? We will see Jesus praised by the wise men and treated like royalty,

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain. Gold I bring to crown Him again, King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.

But why?

We will stop thinking in kingly terms when we hear of him calling his disciples and teaching and healing. He will look more like the leader of a rag-tag revolution as we are led up to his confrontation with authority and his arrest and crucifixion. Then the kingly image will seem more appropriate as he is raised from the dead. Royal yes, but king implies a kingdom to rule over. His resurrection will cause us to look back at what he said and did. His ascension will remind us of that he reigns with the Father and Holy Spirit now and always. And then we will end up right back here, at the end of the year, ready again to prepare our hearts for the promised coming and will we yet know what kind of king we are expecting?

If you want to think more about that last question and consider the Kingship of Jesus as you prepare for Advent, that complete sermon and another sermon on the same topic are available in my sermon archive here:

Blessings of Grace and Peace,


Friday, November 13, 2009


I am not very private about it but, in case you don't know, our son Joshua came to us as a foster child about three years ago. We adopted him over a year later. Foster parenting and adoption are strange and wondrous things and I would never give up the experience. One of the strangest things for me about foster parenting and adoption is how radically different the experience is from that of parents who go through pregnancy and childbirth. There is a lot of pregnancy and childbirth that I can't speak to because I have never been through it even as an observing husband. But, I do know this: expectant parents have an anticipation calendar. I have walked alongside enough friends, family and coworkers to see a glimpse of this. The parents see it coming and life begins to change as the date gets closer. (Women who have given birth will, of course, say that this is a bit of an understatement.) I have watched life begin to change with each month as the moment gets closer and closer.

Alisha and I had a different experience. Training, home-study, interview, paperwork, sign-here, "we will call you." "Are you free Friday? We have a ten month old boy." I remember saying at a staff meeting that I was going home early because we were getting a child tomorrow. It is all very abrupt.

So I guess in normal terms, we are feeling a little pregnant. We have re-certified as foster parents and we are just waiting. We don't know when or exactly what we might expect. I just have to keep my phone in case we suddenly have a baby.

I would say, "I will let you know" but I might not mean it. Foster care comes with its appropriate amount of privacy. So, the web is not a place I tend to share much about who will live with us. But if you pay attention, you will figure it out.



Thursday, November 5, 2009

Focus Focus Focus

I recently finished Larry Osborne's Sticky Church. There are plenty of reviews out there so I am not going to give it a full treatment here. I am still wrestling with the book because it has some very specific recommendations for ministry that lead in a different direction from the vision we are currently following. However, the book is great and full of wisdom. While it may not fall in line with our current process for making disciples and taking disciples deeper, it is still a good process. Any church who does not currently have any process or has a process that is not working, should give it a read.

I do want to focus on one section of the book that does relate to some of the struggle that we face here at University. In chapter 12 "Overcoming the Time Crunch," Osborne writes a section on cutting the competition. The plan of ministry that has been effective at Osborne's church, North Coast, is sermon-based small groups. In order to create an environment for those groups to flourish, the church has had to work to eliminate ministries that compete with the core ministry. I can guess that for some readers of the book and, at this moment of this blog, that line of thinking in unnerving. We don't see ministries as being in competition with one another, right? All ministry in the name of Jesus is good ministry, right? Well, yes... but. It is a matter of focus. There is a great sentence in the chapter: "We also know that if given the choice, many people would pick the ministry they enjoyed the most, not the ministry they needed the most." (p. 93)

This line really fits in with our thinking on The Pathway to Discipleship. Under the old model of thinking the idea was to connect new people to anything you could because connected people would stick around. But that doesn't necessarily play in a society where people come to us often with no relationship with Jesus, no understanding of the most fundamental parts of what it means to follow Jesus, no familiarity with the Word of God in scripture, no skills in reading the Bible on their own, no prayer life and no instruction in the practice and discipline of prayer, etc. When that person comes to us, if we consider all ministries to be equal and they are invited to the cafeteria line, why would they not choose the ministry they enjoy the most? If someone likes to sing, why not join the choir? The choir is an amazing ministry of worship. The choir offers praise to God and leads the people in lifting their hearts to God. It is a great place to meet people. However, if new Christians jump right to the choir, where will they connect to the Gospel? Where will they learn to read the Bible? Where will they learn to pray?

My friend Cynthia very helpfully compared it to life in college. Colleges typically require some core courses and then allow for a certain number of electives. They do that for a reason. They know that many students, if given total freedom of choice, would just choose classes that sounded interesting or even fun. The students would likely miss out on some of the necessary fundamentals.

This is why we encourage our new members to jump into The Pathway to Discipleship a number of core courses that offer them the chance to have a Jesus meeting (to understand their own need for a relationship with Christ, the hear the Jesus message (understand the news about Jesus) and listen for their mission from Jesus (consider their own call to be in ministry.)

Whenever I go down this path, I get push back from folks who think this sounds way too authoritarian, as though we know what is best for you and are going to force you to do it. That is overstating it a bit. Although pastors and church leaders must humbly admit, we don't have all the answers, we are charged with leadership. Elders in the United Methodist Church are called from among the laity and ordained to a life of word, service, sacrament and order. We are charged with being spiritual guides to lead and facilitate in the lives of those seeking God. And while we are called to be bold in encouraging people, we are never forcing anyone to anything.



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