Several years ago Rose and I started a small group meeting in our home. We specifically wanted people new to our church and not yet followers of Jesus. The response to our personal invitation was quite good. Five couples came to our first gathering. One couple was a young woman who had been in the church for some time and a young man who she was dating. He was not a Christian and had never been to church. Another couple, were old friends of ours. The woman had had a cancerous tumor removed from her brain. We were so thankful for her survival and being able to attend. The only issue? Her condition caused her to have no filters to what she might say and when she might say it.
During the meeting she began to talk in detail about animal sacrifice and the graphic aspect of the killing of animals and describing the blood. The young man got out of the house as fast as he could. He told his new girlfriend she was a part of some crazy cult. Fortunately, I met with him a few days later. He eventually became a follower of Jesus. The lesson, be prepared for anything when you start a small group.
Rich and I have been traveling since the first week of January with only a few days home between each trip. Today I am sitting in my living room with the doors and windows open. It is a beautiful day in Seattle. The sun is out, our yard is in bloom and the birds are singing. Spring, the return of warmth the feeling that all nature has come back to life and a reminder that all things are being made new!
I am grateful to be home most of May and June. To be home is grounding. Sitting on my deck, listening to the cats, the dogs, the birds and insects; seeing the elegant colors of flowers opening and showing their beauty along with all the leaves on trees and bushes that seemed to have appeared overnight while I was asleep. The scent of lilies, crocus, outside grilling and the soft touch of transparent leaves, petals and the blades of grass under my feet give me hope that there is always a new day. The sun will come out. Mourning can turn to dancing and there is beauty for ashes. God’s mercies are truly new everyday.
When church leaders are asked to identify the three main ways in which children’s spiritual formation is developed the number one response is primarily in the home, secondarily in the church community and third in their school environment. Now if you were to ask most Christian parents, “Who is responsible for children’s faith formation?”, do you think their response would be the same? Is it a common perception that the church is what parents generally depend on for the moral and spiritual development of their children?
Research shows that three out of every five engaged Christian parents say that they are primarily responsible for the discipling their children in lifelong faith. The other 40% of parents do feel committed and passionate about it but personally inadequate to disciple their children. Now, if this is the mindset amongst so many Christian parents then it is safe to assume that they are relying primarily on the one to two hours a week that the children spend at church Sunday mornings for their children’s development of their faith.
If discipleship is only happening during the few hours that kids are in church in comparison to the amount of time they are in other learning environments such as school or home it seems unfair to assume these children will have adequate time to develop a faith that will last them a lifetime.
If you’re like me you’ve probably always felt weird about the word evangelism or the idea of sharing Jesus with people, or inviting people to church. And if you’re a millennial, you might very well think its’ wrong to evangelize! In a recent report released by the Barna group, it stated that nearly half of millennial Christians say they think evangelism is wrong. I do have a suspicion though, that a lot of the times we make evangelism more complicated that it needs to be.
I am one of the pastors at the Red Bluff Vineyard in northern California. Over the past two and a half years we’ve seen a real increase in Sunday morning attendance. We’ve gone from around 30 people to around 400 people between two services.
The word Pentecost shows up in the New Testament only a few times. When it does it’s simply a marker. Both Luke and Paul use it to identify a date on the calendar in reference to an Old Testament feast. However, on one of those days, everything changed. In the first few verses of Acts 2 Luke writes:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
That was, as they say, a game changer. On that day the meaning of Pentecost was transformed. It would no longer be used to reference an Old Testament Feast, but would now, and throughout the church age, be the day that the Holy Spirit moved. The day that sounds like a violent wind blew through and filled not only the house they were meeting in, but the believers themselves with the presence of God.
I did it again! A year ago we were gifted to take a trip to Thailand (for those that made it possible, you know who you are and we cannot thank you enough). This was my third trip to Thailand. Let me give you a brief history of my trips to Thailand.
The first trip was fourteen years ago. My daughter’s best friend, Erika, was getting married on the island of Ko Pha-ngan and asked me to officiate the wedding. You can read about our first trip here.
If you read the above account you will see our flight left on March 2nd at 2:40 am and I read it as leaving March 2nd (not thinking morning time at all!) and we missed our flight. But God is good and we ended up getting there in plenty of time for the wedding. We spent two glorious weeks on that island with a group of 20’ somethings and had a blast!
This week we enter, for many, the most sacred time of the Church calendar, Holy Week, beginning on Palm Sunday and culminating on Easter Sunday.
Palm Sunday is the day we remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as Zechariah’s prophecy foretold us about a humble king who would bring peace to the nations. Jesus, the miracle-working, demon-delivering long-awaited messiah entered the city on a donkey, unlike Pilate who entered the city on a warhorse. Jesus arrives as the crowds gathered and cried out,
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
I hope you will take time this week to read through the gospel accounts of Jesus’s last week. Pay attention to his words, his actions, his companions and his prayers. There is so much to meditate on. Think about the praises on Palm Sunday that by Friday turn to shouting calling for Jesus’s death. Throughout the week there is deep love demonstrated, compassion, betrayal, fear, suffering, death, mystery, all the drama that gets played out in our own lives over and over. This is the gospel. This is the good news, that out of suffering and death comes resurrection, new life!
Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. With so much pain in the world it can be overwhelming to reach all of those in need in our communities. So how do you, as a pastor or follower of Christ, ensures that the least of these are being cared for?
The answer is: with intentionality. One of our core beliefs at the Vineyard is:
We lean toward the lost, the poor, the outcast, and the outsider with the compassion of Jesus as sinners whose only standing before God is utterly dependent on the mercy of God. This mercy can only be truly received inasmuch as we are willing to give it away.
One of my favorite films in 2018 was the critically acclaimed documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, filmmaker Morgan Neville’s charming examination of the life of Fred Rogers. As a child who watched countless hours of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I immensely enjoyed learning more about the man behind the television program that impacted so many young minds and hearts. One of the connecting threads throughout the documentary--a pleasant surprise to my pastoral ears--was Fred Rogers’ theology.
Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian Minister, and his belief in the resurrected Christ was the motivation behind much of his television persona. The topics he chose to cover, the types of situations he put the characters into, the lessons he wanted to convey… it’s evident that Rogers’ faith infused the “Neighborhood”.
For it is our practices of worship that form us and aim us towards human flourishing as God intended from the beginning of time.
These practices must be far from ethereal or esoteric. We need worship practices that are embodied, earthy, that engage our senses and our imaginations. Worship calls us to take up our vocation of being fully and authentically human, and to be a community and people who image God to the world.
This value for experiential worship is foundational to the Vineyard movement. The Vineyard was birthed when a small group of folks began meeting in a home in the late seventies, desperate for God and hungry for God’s presence. And as they began to sing simple songs to God, not just about God, they began to experience the tangible and felt presence of God in their midst.