What’s Next?

During my time in youth ministry in Arkansas, two young men were particularly adept at pushing my buttons. Every time we would be at a youth event they were constantly asking me what was going to happen next. For a while, I gave them an answer. But, that just led to them trying to persuade me to do something different. Eventually I opted to keep them guessing. If they asked, “What’s next?” I would reply, “You’ll have to wait and see.”

Well, the wait is over. If you’ve been wondering what was going to happen after we finished our travels through The Story, now is the time for you to find out. Over the summer months I am going to take some time to walk through some of the scriptures which were important to my doctoral research. In essence I’m going to share with you what I’ve been studying and learning over the past 15 months.

Don’t worry, though. It won’t be as dry and boring as it may sound. I promise that I won’t preach in the third person, past tense. The pastor thought that was too stuffy for a sermon. Basically, this summer will be me sharing my heart about relationships, leadership, and the future of the church. As you all know, I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing these topics for quite a while now. Finally, I get to share them with you.

We will begin by looking at Luke’s account of the sending of the seventy. You may remember that Jesus sends 70 disciples out to minister in the Judean countryside. This small story has big implications for us as a community of faith, and as individuals. Although we will begin with a one-week overview of the story, we may come back and spend more time on it later.

We will also spend some time in John’s gospel. There we will think deeply about what it meant for Jesus to wash the feet of his disciples, and listen again to some of Jesus’ last words. These two passages of scripture provide us with a framework for how we are to interact not only within the community of the church, but in the wider world as well.

And, we would be remiss if we didn’t spend some time with the Apostle Paul. We will investigate what he had to say to the church in Corinth about being the body of Christ. Most of us will be familiar with the 1 Corinthians 13, also known as the love chapter. And we may have heard the idea of the church being the body of Christ, but did you know that these two important images are tied together? And what does it mean to be the body of Christ, anyway? That’s what we’re going to talk about!

We won’t neglect the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament) either. We’ll take a close look at a small portion of the creation story to develop an understanding of how we are to relate to one another. It will be an interesting journey through scripture which will help us understand more clearly how we are to relate to one another as part of the church, and how we relate to the world around us.

Yes, we will touch on issues of leadership, culture, structure, and many other topics. But, our main focus will be on how we, as individuals, and as a church, are called to live as followers of Jesus Christ. I’m excited to share this journey with you. And I promise that it won’t be like sitting through endless hours of someone’s vacation photos! We are on this journey together. You’ve been by my side as I have scouted the way. Now, I’m ready to guide us through this next part of our journey together as a community of faith.

Sustaining Easter

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,
and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
disregarding its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NRSV)

As most of you know it happened a little earlier than anticipated this year. Yes Easter was early in the calendar year, but so was my after-Easter illness. Often in the hours and days following Easter, pastors and other church leaders, choir members, and the like suffer an emotional decompression, if not an outright physical illness. With all the pressure and buildup leading to this one day, when it is finally over, we can be left wandering like the disciples between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

It happens around Easter and Christmas almost every year, so I’ve come to anticipate it. But when I started feeling ill on Saturday evening, I knew it would be a long day. I am thankful for your many prayers and words of encouragement. And I am thankful that I was able to go home after worship and rest. The break was much-needed for both my body and my mind.

Unfortunately I needed another day to recover, so I took Monday as a day of rest as well. Then, on Tuesday it was back to the business of getting things accomplished that need to be accomplished. I guess it was a day and a half Sabbath on the heels of Easter’s celebration.

I don’t know if it was that time to renew my energy, or God’s voice prompting me, but I’ve been thinking a lot about something I said a few years ago, and thought again this year as I looked out across the sanctuary, “I wish every week could be like Easter.”

Really? Do I really want that? Do we really want that as a community of faith?

Sure, the fullness of church on Easter morning is inspiring. Certainly, the music and prayers and story are powerful and moving. Definitely the call to renewal and restoration is something we would do well to hear each week, hourly, and daily.

But, can we put in the work and energy that it takes to make Easter “happen,” each week? Are we willing to devote that much of ourselves to church, to worship, even to God?

I don’t think we can sustain that level of energy 52 weeks a year. To me that would seem a perfect recipe for the dreaded “burn-out.”

So, then what? Easter was WONDERFUL!  What happens next week?  How do we maintain the joy of Easter over the long-haul? The life of faith is not a sprint to the finish, but rather a race that rewards those who run mile, after mile, after mile…

I, for one, am thankful to be running the race with you. Both “you” in the individual sense of the word, and “you” in the collective sense. I am truly glad that each one of you, and all of you, are part of my life. You make my days so rich and full of blessings, and you support me with your prayers when I am struggling physically, mentally, or emotionally. Thank you, for helping make the renewal of Easter a reality in my life this week, and every week.