Where is the Good in Good Friday?

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Tomorrow we celebrate Good Friday. We will gather to remember one of the darkest days in human history. Tomorrow is a day when it’s really hard to see the good.

After sharing what would become the final meal with his disciples, Jesus leaves for the garden to pray. Prayer in these moments come with a heavy heart. Though he’s known all along about the betrayal he would feel and the torture that was coming, that certainly didn’t make it easier.

As the army approaches, Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. What would eventually become a kiss of death.

What follows is a string of injustices that culminate with Jesus, the Son of God, the only sinless person to walk this earth, hanging on a cross to pay the penalty for our sin.

Where is the good in this?

If you dig deep enough and listen close enough, the good emerges. As Jesus breathes his last breath, the temple veil is torn in two and injustice is transformed to justice.

The veil was torn.
Jesus was killed.
Atonement was made.
Access is granted.

At our Good Friday service, we will explore the injustice that led to Jesus’ death and rejoice in the goodness that through Jesus, God came near.

We hope you’ll join us at The Summit in the Worship Center at 6:30pm on Friday, April 14.

 

Why Should I Care About Holy Week?

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When you read a book, do you ever skip over the middle of the text and jump right to the end? Truth be told, if the book is slow I’m tempted, but I never do. Somehow it feels all wrong to jump to the conclusion before knowing how the author intended to bring you there. To me, it feels as if something crucial is missing.

The same is true for Holy Week.

Granted, some folks skip right from the Alleluias of Palm Sunday to the joy of Easter; from one high note to the next. The problem I see is that without the emotions of Maundy Thursday and the passion of Good Friday; Easter loses the incredible impact intended by the Author, God.

So what is Maundy Thursday? Or why Good Friday (and why call it “Good” if Christ died??) and why should you care? Let me give you the “Cliff Notes” on Holy Week to whet your appetite for what is coming!

Christians have traditionally called the week that spans Palm Sunday to Easter, Holy Week, as it includes the most holy days of the Christian calendar.

It all begins with Palm Sunday, when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding a donkey into the throngs of people waving palm branches and shouting, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” If you follow this link you can watch my sermon from last weekend to discover the significance of the day, and why those who cheered Jesus that first Palm Sunday did the right things for all the wrong reasons.

Maundy Thursday (also called Holy Thursday) is the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples, at which he washed their feet, instituted holy communion (the blessings, breaking and sharing of the bread and cup of the new covenant), and gave his followers a new command: to love one another. Maundy comes from the Latin, Mandatum, or command.

Good Friday is the day that Christ was crucified and died. I remember years ago my son asking what was “good” about the day that Jesus died a miserable death? I tried to explain to him that the only good in this day was that Jesus’ death was for us, and that through his death he paid the price of sacrifice so that we could have eternal life.

And Easter? Well that would be the most joyous day in the Christian calendar when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, when God raised Christ from death to life!

Now, just to be clear, this short explanation is only the briefest summary of the most significant week in the Christian year. In reality, this synopsis of Holy Week may raise more questions than provide answers, which is precisely the point! I hope thinking about Holy Week whets your appetite and draws you out for our services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter! Here is a link to the entire schedule of services.

My prayer is that this Holy Week will be the most sacred time for you on your faith journey; that together we will experience the full impact of the unfolding story of God’s great narrative of life!

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Honest Prayers

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In my sermon last weekend, I described the four levels of prayer:

Praying to God for things – that is the most elementary level,
Praying to God to get you out of things – that is the next level,
Praying to God for nothing but God – that is evidence of greater maturity and trust,
Praying to God to offer everything you are to Him – that is the ultimate level of spiritual growth.

So does that mean we ever reach the point that we cease asking God for things, or to extricate us from circumstances?

I don’t think so. Even as we grow in faith and trust, we still turn to God and share the deepest longings of our heart, and that may include asking for specific blessings for ourselves or those we love. It also means praying to God about the choices we make and the opportunities that arise at home, school, work. And it definitely means asking God to reveal His wisdom and grace in the living of our lives. But when we grow in faith we dare to conclude every prayer, “Thy will be done,” knowing that God holds in His heart only love and an eagerness to bless us.

Next time you pray, dare to think through how you have prayed. What level of prayer consumes most of your conversation with God? Do you ever intentionally ask, “OK God, what would you do in and through me?” If not, what might happen in your heart and life if you did?

“My thoughts and prayers are with you…”

Every time there is a tragedy someone somewhere says or writes, “My thoughts and prayers are with you…”

Such declarations typically trigger condemnation from commentators around the country who suggest that “thoughts” and “prayers” don’t seem to help, and that the promise to pray is an empty promise at best, an evasion of responsibility at worst.

How does that strike you?

It actually leaves me thinking, and rather introspective.

On the one hand it is so easy to use the promise of prayer as a quick exit from an uncomfortable conversation. If promised prayer becomes merely a polite, sympathetic way of drawing a conversation to a close, it is hypocritical – we are promising something we have no real intention of doing. If that is even suspected by the person we are speaking to, it must sting with indifference.

On the other hand, promising to hold another in our thoughts and prayers can be an incredible gift. So often I hear from folks who recount vividly the sense of peace and serenity they have experienced when they knew they were being prayed for. Rather than being offended by the offer, they were deeply touched by the promise.

An added blessing is that when you keep the promise to think and pray for another, it opens a door to God to whisper to our heart and guide are hands. It is amazing how people act after they have prayed for another person, as it seems to trigger greater compassion, service and sacrifice.

For me, there are two key components to thinking and praying for others:

First, I keep lists. They are on my phone, handwritten in notes, and on my computer. The lists are people I have promised to pray for, as it is the only way I can ever remember. Mastering the prayer list is crucial to being authentic in prayer. Whatever works, keep a list if you are going to promise to prayer for someone, as it underscores the sincerity of the promise.

Second, try using Psalm 20, vs 1-5 as a model for prayer. Consider how the Psalmist prayed:

20:1 May the Lord answer you when you are in trouble;
may the God of Jacob make you secure!
20:2 May he send you help from his temple;
from Zion may he give you support!
20:3 May he take notice of your offerings;
may he accept your burnt sacrifice! (Selah)
20:4 May he grant your heart’s desire;
may he bring all your plans to pass!
20:5 Then we will shout for joy over your victory;
we will rejoice in the name of our God!
May the Lord grant all your requests!

Reading through the Psalmist’s prayer, I’m struck by how wonderfully inclusive it is of all the concerns of life. So, I simply insert the name of the person I’m praying for and then use the Psalm as my template for prayer.

Try it; it may bring far great depth and truth to your promise to think and pray!

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Endnote: Biblical Studies Press. (2005). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Ps 20:1–5). Biblical Studies Press.

 

 

The Lord’s Prayer

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Last weekend in our Contemporary Worship gatherings I shared with you, albeit briefly, about my heart on the Lord’s Prayer.

The version of the prayer traditionally prayed in United Methodist churches traces back to the King James Version of the Bible. The King James Version of the Bible was crafted in the early 17th century using the best manuscripts and scholarship available at the time, and employing the elegant Elizabethan language of Shakespeare. It was a radical undertaking and roundly condemned in some quarters, as it was assumed by many that the Bible was exclusively for scholars and clergy, not for the common people, and that it was dishonoring to the Bible to translate it from the Latin. Unfortunately, when compared to the resources now available, the manuscripts and the scholarship were woefully inadequate, and the language has become painfully outdated, but the motive was awesome: to make the Word accessible to everyone. It is undoubtedly beautiful English, but today a fractional minority of the population ever even reads Elizabethan English, and few understand it. Bear in mind that the Lord’s prayer as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke was first taught in Aramaic, then translated to Greek, then Latin, and then finally translated into English.

With that in mind, you may have noticed that we are incorporating different translations and paraphrases of the Lord’s Prayer when we pray it together in Contemporary Worship.

The reasons for doing so are simple:

  1. We have a generation of youth and young adults who were never taught the Lord’s prayer as children. They legitimately wonder what words like “hallowed” mean, and why we would ever pray about trespassing.  They attend our contemporary service anticipating that they will be addressed and engaged in such a way that they will come to a real understanding of the nature and grace of Jesus Christ. My hope is that mature Christians would see making the Gospel of Christ as their first priority, and their own preferences as secondary, at best.
  2. Having learned the Lord’s Prayer as a child, it is so easy to say the prayer by rote memory rather than praying the prayer from the heart. Jesus reserved His harshest criticism for the religious people of the day who gave the appearance of religiosity rather than living by faith. Sometimes it is so easy to mumble through the Lord’s prayer without even thinking what is being said. To be brutally frank, it happens even to me if I’m preoccupied with what is happening next in worship. Although it is jarring for some, my hope is that the interruption of the routine will cause some folks to stop sleepwalking through the greatest prayer ever crafted and start really thinking and praying.

Now I need to quickly add that at our traditional services we always pray the Lord’s prayer in the King James Version, because it is our traditional worship. It is wonderful to offer people a choice of traditional or contemporary so they can choose the style that leads them into the presence of God. Contemporary worship is dynamic and ever changing; if we force constraints it ceases to be contemporary and becomes just another form of traditional worship.

Please know that I don’t do the things I do, like “messing” with the Lord’s Prayer just to annoy; it is because I care so deeply about helping those who are far from Christ make their way into a relationship with Jesus.

In all of our worship gatherings, please feel free to pray the Lord’s Prayer anyway you would like, so long as it is always authentic and sincere for you!

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What is Ash Wednesday?

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Tomorrow we celebrate Ash Wednesday.

This tradition marks the beginning of the season of preparation prior to Easter, also called Lent. Ash Wednesday takes places 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. During these 40 days we are offered an opportunity to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for us, giving his life so that we might experience eternal life!

The Ash Wednesday worship gathering is a reminder of our desperation for God. We remember the words of Paul as he wrote to the church at Ephesus, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1).

It’s a sobering thought.

But God made a way! On Ash Wednesday we ask forgiveness as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

By using music, spoken word and media elements, we will remember our need for God and prepare our hearts to receive the truth that the Easter season offers: Jesus loves us desperately and wants to have a relationship with each one of us.

As the service draws to a close you will be invited to receive ashes. The ashes will be placed on your forehead or hand in the sign of the cross as symbol of repentance for the things that separate us from God.

When we see ourselves as we truly are, a people with a desperate need, we can fully appreciate the life-giving grace that Jesus offers.

We hope you will join us on March 1 at 6:30pm as we worship together.

When Life Gives You More Than You Can Stand

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Sometimes life is excruciating.

People always say that “God won’t give you more than you can stand,” but that’s not biblical and I don’t think that is actually true.

Recently I celebrated the life of a gentleman who endured greater suffering and hardship than I can’t fully imagine. Just one example: he felt everything and everyone he loved slip from his grasp after the death of his beloved wife just weeks after the birth of their first and only child.

He entered a time of darkness and shadows that left him doubting. He doubted God, the worth of life, even the reason for living. Those who loved him feared that he might harm himself. Out of the grief and anguish of life he poured himself into the consuming purpose of building a business. That pursuit created an opening for God to act over time. Through family and friends this man was led from the dark world of despair into the light of hope and faith.

He came to peace with God, and to a new and deeper appreciation of the Word of God.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7 that God has placed a sacred treasure in “clay pots, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”

What this gentleman learned through the life of his church and the ministry of loving friends was that when life gives you more than you can stand, it is time to kneel.

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Celebrities and Faith

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In a recent blog post, Amy McGuire reflected on the number of celebrities that have been coming out about their faith.

Denzel Washington has talked of faith, prayer and gratitude to God. Mark Wahlberg spoke to an audience in Boston and described how his faith is the anchor that supports everything he does in life, “In my daily prayers, I ask for guidance, strength in my vocation as a husband and as a father.” Actress Leah Remini posted photos on Instagram of her daughter’s baptism, saying that faith is “a beautiful thing.” Stephen Colbert and Jim Gaffigan are two celebrities that frequently acknowledge and celebrate their faith, and even Mark Zuckerberg, who described himself as an atheist, recently said that he now believes that, “religion is very important.”

What does all this mean?

We now live in a broadly diverse culture where faith is no longer assumed. It was unnecessary to even discuss faith or belief 50 years ago because of the assumption that everyone believed in God.

Today, people are searching, and very few know where to turn to even discuss matters of spirituality. That is why it is essential to think through what you believe about faith, prayer, a relationship with God; because there are people you love who would love to know what you believe. The only way to ever have the conversation is to begin to speak about your experience of God in your life.

Who do you know that doesn’t know Jesus’ love in their life? How can you share your personal experience with them in a way that opens doors?

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Peaks, Valleys & Finish Lines

_f9rjr86qf4-michal-parzuchowskiRecently, a young pastor asked me what I know now that I wished I had known when I was his age and just starting in ministry. What a good question. How would you answer that query regarding your life?

I thought for a long moment, and this is what I told him:

Life is a series of peaks and valleys. When you are in the valleys of life, perspective is severely limited as the view is so dark and narrow, but when you attain the peaks of life the view is expansive and unrestricted – you can actually see clearly the circumstances surrounding your life.

Unfortunately, in life we spend more time in the valley and on the middle ground than we ever do on the mountain top. Compounding the problem, we tend to make critical decisions when we are in the depths of the valley, which is the worst time to make crucial course corrections because we see so little and feel so much fear and apprehension. The best time to make life decisions is when we approach or reach the summit, for then we can truly see. If we give up in the valley, we will never reach the peaks of life.

And that brought me to finish lines.

I believe that that greatest joys and rewards are reserved for those who persevere in life and press on to the finish line. It feels altogether different to finish a marathon, as opposed to any short dash. Life is a marathon, and the sweetest rewards belong to those who press on to the goal. The greatest years in work, marriage, ministry, parenting, and friendship are not the very first years, but the years when the relationships have been tested and found true; when people have endured the valleys and pressed on together toward the summit. Most folks don’t ever make the finish line because they have quit the race in the shadows of the valley.

I said to that young pastor that I wished someone had told me that the journey would be far more difficult and challenging than I could ever imagine, with deeper valleys and darker shadows. Ah, but even more so I wished someone had dared to tell me that the peaks would be higher, the rewards richer, if only I kept the faith and followed the Unfailing Guide.

He nodded. Not sure he understood, but then I’m not sure I would have understood, either.

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When Life Gets Crazy

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I’m embarrassed and a little ashamed to admit that when I first started in ministry and life became chaotic, the easiest place to cut back was in my time with God.

That may seem completely crazy for a preacher to say, but it was true. The prayer time, the time in the Word, the time with devotions and books that fed my soul, all of that was far less demanding than the staff member that needed to be seen, the funeral that needed to be done, the sermon that needed to be written, the son or daughter that needed loving time and attention.

So, I would give God short shift. Dashing off a quick prayer, scanning a few verses of scripture, I would promise God that I would do better when time allowed. And God never complained. It is the nature of God’s love to allow us the freedom to turn our backs on Him anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance. And God never complains. But there are significant consequences to be suffered: a sense of loss and lacking, the lost sense of intimacy with the Divine, a hollowness of life that leaves me feeling more fatigued. I quickly realized that when life becomes crazy the very last thing I could afford to lose was my connection to God.

Now, when life verges on the overwhelming, I stop writing and start listening to God with greater time, intensity and focus. It keeps me grounded and well equipped for the challenges of the moment.

Since Christmas I have been dealing with my mother’s deteriorating health and mental acuity, as well as many funerals, staff transition, the demands of a two-campus strategy, and everything else that goes with large church ministry. I’m not complaining; quite the contrary, actually. I’m at peace with my mom’s health, praying daily for her eventual transition from this life to the life that is ours in Christ. For her, she will be with my dad again for the first time in more than 45 years, and she will hold in her arms the child she lost right after birth. That will be such a blessing.

As for the funerals – for me it is such a privilege to celebrate the lives of the saints in our church. It is a rare blessing to be able to tell their stories and rejoice in their lives that have not ended, but dawned anew.

Ah, and the staff – they are so incredible; I’m more excited now than I have ever been about working with the amazing professional team of people we call The Summit Staff! Our new building should be open in 18 weeks, and that is nothing short of a miracle! We now have the congregation and staff to make it a place of incredible ministry!

In short, it is well with me; I just haven’t had the time to tell you so. Please forgive my lack of writing, it is not indicative of a lack of love or commitment. I’ve just needed to spend the time with God.

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Hugs Mean More Than Words

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Personal Note from our Counselor in Residence, Peggy Brooks  

As one of the leaders of the GriefShare Program that The Summit Church has provided the past four years, Staci Allen The Summit’s Care Ministry Director, approached me last summer about hosting a Grief Support Group this fall. Knowing God would bring the people that could benefit from this group, the praying and planning began.

I was absolutely delighted that God brought together five amazingly wonderful women. Four had been recently widowed and one had been widowed for a number of years. My job was to make the book assignments, ask the first question, and then sit back and watch these ladies share and minister to each other.

There were tears shed as each woman shared her personal story that first meeting, but as the seven-week group progressed, there was lots of laughter mixed in with the tears. Hearts were shared. Comfort was given. Helpful ideas as to how to survive the loneliness that can consume you after the death of a loved one were also shared. I learned so much from these lovely ladies, and will share the two things in which they all agreed: weekends are the loneliest times and hugs mean more than words.

As the end of the group neared, I was so pleased when the group decided they wanted to continue meeting together at least once a month and asked if we all could go out for dinner together after our last formal meeting. We did have dinner together and it was such a blessing to sit there and observe what God had done in the lives of these women by simply spending time with a group of people who were also on their own individual journeys through grief. The healing had begun.

Note: GriefShare is a 10-week program The Summit does every year and runs from February through the first part of April. We will meet Tuesday evenings from 6:30 – 8:00 pm beginning February 7, 2017 and end April 11. Men and women are welcome to sign-up for both programs. Sign up here! Questions? Contact Staci Allen at sallen@reachingthesummit.com.