The following is the note I wrote for Peakland Pages, the monthly newsletter at Peakland United Methodist in Lynchburg.
In a seminary class we were asked to identify five theological rocks that grounded our ministry. These “rocks” were to be the things behind why we did what we did in ministry. I could only think of two: love God and love each other. For me, this is the bottom line of the gospel.
Here is the audio of my sermon from May 29, 2016 at Peakland United Methodist Church. The text was Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10, and 1 Kings 18:20-39. You can also listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.
Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship, Charles E. Moore & Timothy Keiderling, editors, Plough Publishing House, 2016.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” -Jesus of Nazareth
This quote is an appropriate one to begin a collection of stories featuring those who were persecuted because of their faith. And not talking about the elected public official who cried persecution when they refused to do their job. Nor the company that cries persecution because the law requires them to provide services to a gay couple. Nor do I mean the white man who cries persecution when a woman chooses to get an abortion.
After the unexpected success of God’s Not Dead at the box-office, Christian movie-makers attempted to capitalize on this success with Do You Believe?
The film is set in Detroit and is one of those multiple-narratives film (think Crash or Babel). There is the minister who is inspired by the challenging words of a street preacher and his carrying of a large, wooden cross. The minister and his wife take in a runaway, pregnant teenage girl. The church janitor sleeps on a bench so that a homeless mother (Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino) and her child had a warm, safe place to sleep.
The gang members, one of whom absent mindedly ends up in the church during an evening service while running away from the police. Bobby, an EMT, saves a victim from a car accident which results in a lawsuit, him being abandoned by his union, and tense moments with his wife.The victim’s wife hires a lawyer who is anti-religion and is married to a cynical doctor (Sean Astin) who refuses to accept that prayer or miracles are a thing.
Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race – and Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us, Benjamin Watson with Ken Petersen, Tyndale Momentum, 2015.
“What is under our skin, and under the skin problem in America, is a spiritual problem. Every time we point at someone else or an entire race—reducing them to a single story, diminishing them by stereotypes and assumptions—we overlook our own failure.” (Benjamin Watson)
After the deaths of young men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the issue of race in America has resurfaced. Arguably, it has never gone away. Yet with new voices like Bree Newcomb and the Black Lives Matter movement, we are being reminded that racism has not been buried.
Among the many books that have come out since the events in Ferguson, Benjamin Watson’s Under Our Skin seeks to address these contentious issues from a spiritual perspective. What started out as a Facebook status, wrestling with the events in the aftermath of Brown’s death, Watson’s first book uses that Facebook post as a springboard to further explore his thoughts, feelings, and wrestlings with race in America.
When I was in high school, our senior high youth group were gathered together up in the youth room on a Sunday night. The group was planning an upcoming Youth Sunday. We were making decisions regarding scripture passages, hymns, and prayers to use. Then, the question was asked, “Who will do the sermon?”
Everyone avoided making eye contact with anyone.
Honestly, I had spent the bulk of the time avoiding eye contact. I was one of the youngest in the room. What did I have to contribute?
Then, from the other end of the table, one of the seniors spoke up and said, “I think Jason should do it.”
It was one of those moments where I was thrilled to be thought of, yet scared to death that they thought of me! I would accept and began working on the “sermon.” When I finished it, I gave it my youth leader to look over. She made some suggestions, among them, “Be careful not to put God in a box.”
Snuggle Time Prayers, Glenys Nellist, Zonderkidz, 2016.
This little book, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Cee Biscoe, is a cute little book perfect for young children. There are sixteen prayers in this little book, each accompanied by a scripture verse. Each prayer is a rhyming prayer based on the scripture verse provided. Rhyming helps in building vocabulary for early learners. Why not do so with prayers to God?
Biscoe’s illustrations fill two pages each. They are full color and bright. The animals bring to life the prayer that accompanies the illustration. My daughter at 14-months, enjoys flipping through the book, easy for her to do with the hard, board-like pages. The illustrations are attracting to her. The illustrations can also be used as a teaching tool.
*I am indebted to conversations with my friend, Kara, who blogs at byrnenlove, for the inspiration for this post.
I should be at church right now.
It’s Sunday morning and I spend it leading worship at Peakland. In fact, today I was scheduled to preach. But, as life tends to do at times, everything got interrupted when baby J got pink eye.
Yep, pink eye.
This week already proved to be full of interruptions. From the Greek Orthodox woman at Starbucks who wanted to talk about Donald Trump to sharing unexpected news with people I care deeply about.
I left the house, most likely barefoot, and started walking through the woods. There was a path that had been worn in the dirt from all the other times I had walked this path. It is what I did when I needed to clear my head, ponder something, or escape from the stressors of teenage life. I would later have the epiphany that what was really happening was prayer. I was communing with the Creator.
There was an old stump by the creek where I would go and sit and think . . . . .I mean, pray.
I wrote this for our middle schoolers a few weeks ago to use in their Sunday morning small group. It’s a discussion that focuses on doubt and faith, and that we can trust in God.