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Archives for December, 2015

angelsEvery year around this time churches sing a gorgeous four-part song titled Magnificat. In the a capella Churches of Christ, in which I dwell, this is one composition which shows the magnificence of blended voices. Its a building blend of alto, bass, tenor, and soprano. When it is done well there aren’t many songs, a capella or otherwise, quite so stirring.

Yet as I reflect more on the song this year I am growing more convinced from the words Mary would have at times wanted a more raucous than pretty tune. Might Mary shy away from the pop spin, beautiful as it may be, and go for something more rebellious in tune? It seems she would enjoy punk tone.

Punk music arose as a soundtrack to protest against abusive power, cultural excess, and some other really bad music. While its debatable whether punk’s attempt to fill the musical void with exciting and well composed music was successful, it called its listeners to consider the powers that be and critique when necessary. My sixteen to twenty three year old self often heard the voices of the genre as a sermon against culture gone awry and said “amen”.

While teenage Mary likely did not grow up with a guitar in a garage she did grow up in the shadow of Pax Romana. In a very real way Mary, her mom and dad, her friends on her cobbled street, and all citizens in her neighborhood knew the Roman peace was held together by blood and burden. The pressure of young monotheistic Jews to assimilate into a pagan force was undeniable and stifling. Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots all met the pressure with varying degrees of compliance, rebellion, assimilation, or separation.

When Gabriel the angel came to Mary and told her her son “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end,” it would be difficult to not hear within Gabriel’s words a tone of political and cultural rebellion.

The rendition of the Magnificat I have tended to sing has usually included repetitive focus on comforting and praiseful lyrics such as “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior” and “He has been mindful of His servant, He has been mindful of me. I will be blessed forever, forever, I will be blessed by the Lord.”

But read the lines Mary belts in true punk form about the baby in her womb and the defiance he will bring:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

    and exalted those of humble estate;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers,

    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Drawing on similar themes from a song by Hannah who shared Mary’s punk sensibilities in the Old Testament, Mary struck a political power cord here. She rejoices over the salvation God will bring the humble through this child but, with hopeful defiance in heart, groans an acknowledgement of God’s intentions for the haughty, arrogant, exploitative, and extravagant.

Mary may not have realized the implications and reality of the song over the space of nations or span of centuries. Most musical composers don’t. However, as Mary’s themes play themselves out in Luke’s gospel and early Christian history, corrupt or complacent power structures begin to be chafed and challenged. Priests see their influence wane to the power of the Spirit Mary’s son promises will come. A magician named Simon learns the place of power in the scope of God’s mission and not personal benefit. Wealthy, deceptive land selling Christians are ousted for secretly withholding a portion of funds while attempting to look pious in their community. Roman officials are made to apologize to Paul for mistreatment of a Roman citizen who also is a citizen of the kingdom of God.

And her lyrics still resonate and resound in a modern world where God’s will on Earth falls painfully short of His will in heaven.

Mary’s song goes out to the teenage misfit struggling with her self worth in algebra class. It says one day the cyber bully will bow low.

Mary’s song echoes onto city streets in our country where specific racial demographics are more burdened with suspicion and systemically offered less grace. One day those serving in corrupt ways will have a reckoning.

Mary’s song rises to the lofty towers of our political system and challenges it to remember power is given by a Creator who expects righteous pursuits by civic leaders. One day those who act only for special interests and not the interests of others will be dealt justice.

Mary’s baby boy who relinquished power has been given authority to judge and he will do so in righteousness with the keen insight of one who grew up in an unjust system.

May her song draw our hearts to a place of considering where our loyalties lie. May her lyrics call us to bow low to her baby boy who came from greatness to meekness. May her words challenge us to ask, during a time when we are ironically focused a great deal on what we will receive, what mercy can I give and by what posture will I receive the blessings of God’s rich mercy this season.

siburt-journeyYou may have noticed this new banner at the top of the site for Siburt Institute’s Journey preaching workshop. That banner is there because we believe in what the Siburt Institute is doing and we want you to be informed about their ministry too. Maybe your church is undergoing some new circumstances and it needs some help or maybe you have a minister or an elder who needs some support. The Siburt Institute can help. There are enough resources available today to not leave our ministers, elders and congregations high and dry in difficult times.

So what is the Siburt Institute?

The Siburt Institute is an extension of ACU that exists to partner with churches and ministers to equip congregations for effective ministry. They provide information and support to congregations in many forms. They provide services that do everything from connecting ministers and churches who are looking at new opportunities and ministry positions (ministrylink) to equipping elders to better serve the congregations they have been appointed to shepherd (elderlink). They also provide up to date research on issues relevant to church leaders (like the minister compensation study). They provide consultation on church issues for church leaders and congregations. Siburt Institute also offers support for ministers and their spouses who are going through difficult situations. If you are a congregation going through a minister transition/hire, have a look at their transition packet. I have read it and it is excellent..a resource for congregations who need guidance in their next hire. That is just a sampling of what they offer.

In addition to that they provide excellent theological content in several ways. The main one I want to point out here is their new website Charis. It is very similar to Wineskins in that it is a collaborative site written from a Restoration perspective. Their content is excellent. We aren’t in a race here to see who comes in first. We are running hand in hand toward the same finish line and so we want you to know about the excellent content coming out of the Charis website. It will bless you. Read it, share it and be blessed by it!

Last, they have a preaching workshop coming up in just under a month at ACU. It is called Journey and some very gifted preachers will be sharing thoughts that will help preachers sharpen their skills and improve their preaching.

They are there for you if you need help. Here is their contact page if you need to get in touch with someone.

angelsI spent the first 35 years of my life listening to other people’s sermons every single week and what a privilege it has been to listen to and learn from people I have a deep admiration and respect for. It wasn’t until the last two years that I flipped the pulpit around to be on the other side of it. There are all sorts of things you see preaching on a weekly basis that you just don’t have a clue about when you look from the back to the front. There are also lessons that you bring with you after 35 years of experience of being a listener.

So here are a few things I learned as a practiced listener of sermons that I have brought into the last few years of preaching:

  1. Help me feel like this is “going somewhere.” There are times sermons just feel like they weren’t crafted to really take you anywhere. Maybe the same worn out trails are being walked for the umpteenth week. Or maybe it is the same couple of verses that get hammered on week after week. Then there are the sermons that feel like a plane circling the runway that just never get clearance to land. They go around and around and can’t seem make the landing gear touch the pavement and get the plane to a full stop. Instead, help me discover what you discovered. Don’t just hand me the answers, allow me to have the same “aha” as you had! This presupposes the preacher is learning and growing along the way too. That is something I can remember. This is typically done best through inductive approaches to preaching. I don’t think that is the only approach to use but I do think these need to be done from time to time. Don’t had me the answer and then tell me why that is the answer. Hand me the information and then let us walk to the conclusion together. That is exciting!
  2. Help me understand the relevance. Why are we talking about this? How does this impact my life? Why exactly was this important enough to be brought up? Relevance requires intention. If you don’t know why you are preaching something neither will the audience. If you don’t know how to land the plane, people will get sick of circling the runway. Make the direct connection between the word and my life. That doesn’t mean you have to turn over every stone. Let me turn over a few myself. But give me enough to help me start to see the connection.
  3. Be direct and be simple. It is harder to be direct and simple than it is to be indirect and complex. Complexity usually needs to be boiled down to the main thing and that takes A LOT of work! If I have to scratch my head each week wondering about things that are brought up but are either confused or never answered I will eventually give up trying which becomes an obstacle to being a good listener.
  4. You don’t need a million illustrations but please have a couple. Illustrations are like a coat rack when you walk in the door. It gives you something to take the meaning that is being communicated and hang it on something so you can remember where you put it when you need it later.
  5. Let me know you love me and respect me. I can put up far longer with preaching that I have a hard time with that is coming from someone who I know loves me rather than amazing preaching from someone who I know is dishonest, mean spirited, etc. Love goes a long way. This is developed outside the pulpit but carries weight inside the pulpit.

For those of you who don’t preach, what are some things you have learned about preaching from being a listener? What are some things you would want the preacher to know as they prepare their lesson?

angelsThis month’s theme is about heavenly messengers and heavenly messages – “Angels we have heard on high.” In both Hebrew and Greek the word translated angels is the word for messenger. Sometimes the word is used for heavenly beings and other times it is used of human beings. It is someone who bears a message either in word or in deed for the Lord. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

Let’s talk heavenly messengers for a moment. One of the main ways God is referred to in the Old Testament is the Lord of hosts. You may be surprised to hear that that description of God is used several hundred times and it refers to the heavenly host of angels that exist with God in the heavenly realm. These angelic beings seem to have existed before the foundation of the world (Job 38:4-7) and exist to do God’s will in the heavenlies and on earth as well. They are powerful beings, capable of destroying hundreds of thousands of people at a time (2 Kings 19:35). They can be visible or invisible. Remember Balaam, whose donkey could see the angel but he was kept from seeing it? Remember Elisha’s servant whose eyes were not opened to see the angelic army that stood by to protect him from the king of Aram and his armies (2 Kings 6)?

Angels are amazing creatures who bring important messages. They were present for the creation of the world. They announced the birth of Jesus. They took John on a tour of heaven in Revelation. They attended Jesus in his most difficult moments (Matthew 4:11 & Luke 22:42).

Here is what you might find even more amazing than that…angels exist to minister to you as well! When was the last time you read Hebrews 1:14 and stopped to think about how significant that is?

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

If that wasn’t enough Paul tells us in 1 Corinthian 6 something that is difficult to understand but entirely fascinating,

When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters? ” – 6:1-3

Angels are extraordinary beings who do extraordinary things but let’s not stop there. Let’s also talk about human messengers. God has also appointed us to be his messengers here on earth. He has entrusted us with a message that even angels longed to look for (1 Peter 1:12). Interestingly enough that verse doesn’t actually say “look” it literally says “bend over.” The angels were “bending over” [to see] the things that we as Christians often think of as common knowledge. When Gabriel told Mary thew news about Jesus it wasn’t just news to Mary it was also news to Gabriel. When we share the message of Jesus with people it is not a common, everyday thing…it is extraordinary information that we have been tasked with sharing with others. We are God’s messengers.

You have been entrusted with a precious and valuable message. Will you share it?

This month we will be talking about messengers and messages. We will be talking about preaching and teaching. We will be talking about angels and humans. We will be talking about how we can better carry on the message that God has entrusted with us. We hope you enjoy our journey through December and pray that it encourages you to carry on your role as a messenger for Jesus!

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While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and
placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,
keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news
that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David
a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
(Luke 2:6–11 NIV11)

Tension. Tension can be defined as the state of being stretched tight; as a strained state or condition resulting from forces acting in opposition to each other.

Tension.
Sometimes tension is a blessing.
Often tension is a curse.

Sometimes tension serves as a motivator, a deadline for when work must be done.
Often tension and its accompanying stress keeps us from doing what we must do.

Tension. 
Sometimes we create it.
Often it is created for us.

Depending on the circumstances or situation, tension is my enemy or my friend.

We all live with a certain amount of tension.
Christianity is not immune.
We sing this world is not my home and it isn’t. But in the here and now, that’s where I dwell. And so I live within the tension of striving for Kingdom realities in a world whose values are totally opposite.

Tension.

Paul says in Ephesians 2:6 that we have been lifted up with Jesus and seated with Him in the heavenly places. And yet as another song says you can still find me living below in this old sinful world.

Tension.
I am a Saint.
I am a Sinner.
I have been declared righteous through faith even though at times I succumb to temptation, I fail miserably.

The Apostle Paul once had a dialogue about tension that so resonates with my experience of life…

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
(Romans 7:21–25a NIV11)

Such is life in the now and not yet.
Such is the reason I cling to the story of Immanuel, God with us!

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”
(Matthew 1:22–23 NIV11)

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siburt-journeyACU Preaching Seminar

Sponsored by the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry

For preachers the tyranny of Sunday is that it comes every seven days!  As a person who has preached for over 30 years, I know the dread and the joy of preaching.  Most of all, I know that having good resources and a well-developed preaching schedule makes the all the difference for good preaching.

So I am excited about what we are offering at the Siburt Institute in early January.  We have invited some of our faculty and some noted preachers to speak at an event we call Journey—From Text To CongregationEach week the preacher travels the road between the exegesis of texts and the exegesis of a congregation to prepare a message.  This is a conference designed to help the working preacher develop some meaningful resources to navigate that weekly trip!

Held on the campus of Abilene Christian University, Journey begins on Thursday, January 7 and concludes midday on Saturday, January 9.  For more details, simply click here.  For starters we have Mike Cope, Ken Cukrowski, Mark Hamilton, and Eddie Sharp prepared material on Hebrews, Luke, 1 Samuel, and John.  Attendees will participate in sessions that will open up these texts and develop sermon ideas to be utilized for preaching and teaching.  Worship time will offer opportunities to hear sermons from some of our presenters and discussion times will give attendees an opportunity to interact with the preachers.

Preaching each week is hard work.  I encourage you to come to Journey and find some solid resources to help you as you seek to be faithful to your calling as preachers—week in and week out—for the health and mission of the congregation you serve!

I encourage you to register before December 15 to receive the early bird discount.  If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me at carson.reed@acu.edu.

Blessings,

Carson E. Reed