Give Thanks to God

Praising God for his blessings.
Praising God for his blessings.

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits
Psalm 103:1-2 NIV84

Today my daughter and her husband and our two grandchildren visited us.  What a joy to hug them all.  Even though we see them regularly, it is still a special gift to treasure their company.

This week I will be preaching on why Communion is called a means of grace among Methodists.  One cannot reflect upon this topic without becoming profoundly grateful for all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ.   The seemingly simple gift of this sacrament has become for us a magnificent mystery full of both theological and existential richness.    Every time we partake it not only reminds us of the facts of Jesus’ act of initiation of the sacrament, but it becomes for us an acted symbol of our own participation in the greater realities which it represents.  We are prompted toward ongoing repentance and faith.  It is no wonder that in many Christian traditions, this sacrament is called “The Eucharist.”  The word “Eucharist”  comes from the Greek meaning gratitude or thanksgiving.  How appropriate.

As I was studying for this sermon I noticed an excellent paragraph of encouragement to praise from Spurgeon in one of the devotionals in my Bible program. 

The Lord always deserves to be praised for what He is in Himself, for His works of creation and providence, for His goodness towards His creatures, and especially for the transcendent act of redemption, and all the marvelous blessing flowing therefrom. It is always beneficial to praise the Lord; it cheers the day and brightens the night; it lightens toil and softens sorrow; and over earthly gladness it sheds a sanctifying radiance which makes it less liable to blind us with its glare. Have we not something to sing about at this moment? Can we not weave a song out of our present joys, or our past deliverances, or our future hopes? Earth yields her summer fruits: the hay is housed, the golden grain invites the sickle, and the sun tarrying long to shine upon a fruitful earth, shortens the interval of shade that we may lengthen the hours of devout worship. By the love of Jesus, let us be stirred up to close the day with a psalm of sanctified gladness. (Charles Spurgeon – Evening Devotion for July 31)

I vote for congregational engagement

Should worship planning and leadership be done to create a great performance or primarily to help the congregation be involved in what is happening?

http://worthilymagnify.com/2014/09/30/worship-at-a-crossroads-congregationalism-versus-performancism/

This excellent article explains a conflict that exists in the Christian church today.  As the author says, a performance orientation in worship services that focuses attention on what happens up front can describe either a traditional service or a contemporary one.   But I actually think what has brought the contrast the author describes into sharper focus is the modern trend to place church congregations literally in the dark as in a theater.    This trend, I believe, decreases interaction and is culturally set up for a performance mindset.  It makes the congregation feel more like an audience.

I have always taught that the most important thing that happens on Sunday morning is not what happens on the platform, it is what happens in the hearts of those in the pews.  The job of worship leaders and pastors is to suggest/guide/facilitate those responses in the congregation.    But that job cannot really be accomplished unless the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in people’s hearts.   Every Sunday morning, what the pastor and others leading worship are trying to accomplish cannot be done by human beings.  The transformation of lives, the healing of souls, the conversion of wills, the sanctifying of lives–this is all God’s work.  Whatever happens up front has as it’s only purpose to help those who are attending to connect with God and his truth and respond to it.  Focusing on performance first will not get this job done.   Being aware that congregational involvement individually and collectively in the service is essential is basic to being used of God in worship.

I need to say though that focusing on congregational response in no way means that those leading worship should settle for less excellence in what they do than those who might have a performance mindset.  Absolutely not!    God’s work is worthy of our best efforts!    God uses excellence by his servants to affect the lives of others.   Those who minister show their heart for God in their excellence.

A child’s Christmas wonder is catching

17 22It happened in the middle of the children’s program at church — the moment that crystalized the essence of the Christmas sermons I have been preparing.   Little Parker, who is barely tall enough to see over the edge of the altar table,  stopped in front of the table and peered into the middle of the white ceramic manger set.  There was wonder written all over his face in that instant.   I was blessed in that moment with an inspiring insight.  Even if I don’t get any more this season, this one will make this Christmas memorable.  It distilled what I have been trying to say in my sermon series too.   I, and probably many of my readers like me, need to recover that sense of wonder at what God has done at Christmas.   Just as Parker in a child’s way was filling with awe at the beauty of the manger scene the children had just put in place as a part of the children’s program; so I need to think about the Christmas story and reflect on the life of Jesus enough to be filled with wonder once again at who Jesus is, how he humbled himself to be born in Bethlehem, what a wonderful life he lived, and how he died and rose again for me.  I need a refill of awe and wonder.  Then there will not be a danger that I am just going through the motions of Christmas; I will be truly able to worship at the manger this year.

Thank you to Nancy Collins for capturing the moment with her camera too.

Liturgy of pastoral transition

A blessed day at church

What a wonderful pair of worship services this morning.  Attendance was high (211) and excitement was higher as we sang from hearts that needed the reminder; I Walk by Faith and worshipped our heavenly Father on Father’s Day with choruses and hymns.  I played trombone with the worship team so it was not a quiet morning.   I apologized to all the fathers for choosing Father’s day as my last Sunday.  And we did take time to honor the fathers present too.  One of the awesome moments was when the children and teens prayed for me.  What an absolute joy to see them advancing in discipleship too and to be blessed by their prayers.   At the end of second service, knowing that I am a fan of his organ playing, Richard Filmer played a special for us on the organ.  It was excellent.   At the end of both services, Larry Nemitz,  Vice Chairman of the LBA, and Pastor Eric who is succeeding me, and I read a liturgy of transition.  It is very rare in churches to see this happen.   Most of the time there is a span of time between the leaving of the old pastor and the coming of the new.    It was a highpoint as well.  I have always prayed that God would grant a good transition at the end of my tenure here.  I believe that prayer is definitely being answered.  I am including the liturgy we used here.

 

Liturgy for 2013 pastoral transition

Larry Nemitz:   This is a special moment in the history of our church.  We are profoundly thankful for what God has done through the ministry of Pastor Kelvin and JoAnne.    Pastor has led many to give testimony to their faith through Christian baptism as the Scripture instructs us.    He has encouraged our collective worship through regular administration of the sacrament of communion.    He has faithfully taught us from God’s Holy Word to love God, love others and make disciples.   And he has mentored us by personal example, small group instruction and public exhortation.    He has presided over moments of joy in our lives such as marriages and the naming of children and he has stood with us in times of trial and sorrow too.

Congregation:  We are deeply grateful to God for sending us Pastor Kelvin and JoAnne to be faithful stewards of their gifts in this place and to exercise well the role of congregational leadership among us.

Pastor Kelvin:  It has been my privilege and my joy to serve as your pastor, with God’s help, for these last 22 years.   You have been a blessing to us too.

Larry Nemitz:   While we are happy for you upon your retirement, we admit that it causes us grief to let you go away because we have learned to love you both.   Yet in the providence of God we know that for everything, there is a season.   By his grace, God has planned another chapter both for you and for us, which we are ready to enter into.    Yesterday at district conference Rev. Dr. Eric Paashaus was officially stationed as our pastor for the coming year.

Pastor Kelvin:  It has been my privilege to be a mentor to Pastor Eric and today it is a great joy to see him stepping into the role of leading pastor here at Community Wesleyan Church.  Eric, as symbols of the transfer of stewardship of Community Wesleyan Church, I offer three ordinary gifts.   One is a key to the front door of the church.  It is a multi-faceted symbol.  It reminds me that often the pastor’s contact with people is the front door to the family of God.  It reminds me also that the pastor is the one who is ultimately responsible to God for the welfare of the church.  Then second, I hand to you a Bible.  It is a reminder to you and to the congregation gathered here that at your ordination service a Bible was handed to you by the denomination’s leaders and you were commissioned to take authority to preach the word of God.  God is now giving you a great opportunity to fulfill that entrusting.    Finally, I give you a towel.  It is a symbol of the Biblical truth that Jesus taught us all that we are not here to be served but to serve.   This is one of the great secrets of a successful pastorate.

Pastor Eric:  It is with joy and with an awesome sense of responsibility that I accept your gifts.  It is a privilege for Magda and myself and our children to become the pastoral family at Community Wesleyan.  We covet your prayers.   We look forward with great anticipation to what God intents to do among us as we work together with God.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever!

Larry Nemitz:  On behalf of the local board and all of God’s people here, we welcome you as our pastor and pastoral family.   We look forward to laboring together in the kingdom of God.

Congregation:   We heartily welcome and accept you as our pastor and pastoral family.   God helping us, we will pray for you and listen carefully to the Word of God preached through you.  May God richly anoint you with his Spirit and guide you as you lead us in following Jesus.

On Celebrating World Communion Sunday

On October 7, we at Community Wesleyan, Kirkville, will join Christians around the world in the celebration of World Communion Sunday.   This year, I did a little research to see what some others were saying about the observance of this special Sunday.   It was a great way to use the spirit of the day to express its meaning.  Here are some of the inspiring thoughts I found expressed by church leaders of other denominations.

It originated when the world was very divided in order to emphasize unity in Christ

 

World Communion Sunday originated in the Presbyterian Church (USA). In 1936, for the first time, the first Sunday in October was celebrated in Presbyterian churches in the United States and overseas. From the beginning, it was planned so that other denominations could make use of it. After a few years, the idea was welcomed by the wider Christian community as an opportunity to move beyond historical and theological differences and worship together. On this first Sunday of October, we celebrate our oneness –our communion – in Christ, in the midst of a world still in need of the reconciling unity of Christ. The Middle English roots of the word “communion” refer to having something in common and to being in a relationship. On this particular Sunday, it is a blessing to be intentionally aware of being “in communion,” that is, sharing Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, whom we have “in common” with other Christians, congregations, and denominations around the world.(quoted from http://resources.mennonitechurch.ca/ResourceView/43/14412)

It reminds us that in order to overcome the divisions of our world we will need to look beyond ourselves and receive from Jesus

World Communion Sunday is an event that bridges denominations and spotlights our commonality in the Body of Christ. This world would be so much better off if we looked for that which we hold in common rather than our differences. Holy Communion, rightly observed, reunites the Church. This is the pastor’s hope when he or she holds up the loaf of bread and says, “Because there is one loaf, we who are many, are one body in Christ.”

Therefore, our focus is in how to get over our differences and find common power to live in Christ. The Eucharist is a time of positive celebration, reunion, prayer for healing, and a sacred time to put others before ourselves

World Communion Sunday was intended as an occasion when persons would be invited to the Lord’s  Table on the same Sunday in many different churches and denominations, regardless of how often those churches and denominations normally observe communion. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) participates in this witness and celebrates the fact that many other denominations are also inviting persons to the Lord’s Table on the first Sunday in October. (from a blog by Rev. Tim McClendon found at  http://www.umcgiving.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=qwL6KkNWLrH&b=7080293&ct=11520565&notoc=1.)

 

We may have different liturgies and customs but we have only one Lord and Savior who unites us

As Disciples, we proclaim the message of unity at Christ’s Table every Sunday of the year, not just on World Communion Sunday. We gather with other Christians every Sunday and declare our oneness in Christ as we take our place at the Table of our Lord. There are many different approaches to the serving and partaking of communion. Different elements are used. Different liturgies exist for communion in different churches. Communion is placed in a variety of positions in different orders of worship. But the message of God’s love for us, made known in Christ, is proclaimed boldly through our worship at the Table. It is this love that we proclaim at the Table that has the power to heal wounds, whether they are the wounds within our own spirits, within our families, within our communities, and between nations. God’s love makes us One. In my view, we are not being truly faithful in our worship unless we are proclaiming that message.

May we find joy in proclaiming that message with passion on World Communion Sunday and on all of the other Sundays of the year. Come to think of it, why be restricted to Sundays? Let us proclaim this good news every day that God gives us breath.

(Taken from Resources for World Communion Sunday: October 7, 2012 Prepared by the Council on Christian Unity, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) accessed at http://www.disciples.org/ccu/PDF/World%20Communion%20Sunday%202012b.pdf)

 

Great Commandments and Great Commission reasons for two services

Yesterday I was having a conversation with someone about our two service system.   I was prompted to write up the thoughts that have come to mind as a result of that conversation and publish them.  I think they will be helpful to many people in our church and in other churches. 

Great Commandments and Great Commission reasons for two services