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March 2019

Ascension, Pentecost, Missions, and Justice

Growing up we always celebrated Ascension Day on Ascension Day, which meant gathering for worship on a Thursday night. Interestingly, we did little for Pentecost and never even mentioned Lent. These days Ascension Day services during the week are fairly rare, and sometimes the ascension gets little more than a passing reference the Sunday before or after even while Pentecost has gained in significance. While I applaud the increased attention Pentecost receives, I think we lose out by lessening emphasis on Ascension Day. We need both, equally.

Ruth

A Four-Week Series for Ascension and Pentecost

The Jewish people have a practice of reading the book of Ruth during the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22), which takes place fifty days after Passover and commemorates God giving the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Festival of Weeks (or Shavuot) is also known as Pentecost. The people of God who gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 would have heard the story of Ruth.

Christ Ascended into Heaven

A Prayer for Ascension Day

People often wonder what difference Christ’s ascension makes. The Heidelberg Catechism, written to answer this and so many other questions of the faith, teaches us about the ascension in Q&A 49. Though written in 1563, its summary of Scripture rings as true today as it did then, regardless of our particular denominational affiliation.

A Pentecost Prayer for Our Journey

As we enter the season of Pentecost it is good to be reminded that the Holy Spirit came not to make a splash and then exit again, but to continue the work that Christ was doing. The Holy Spirit continues to be active in the world, and we as followers of Christ are called to join the Spirit’s work. This prayer is for those of us who are on the front lines, working in the trenches, or completing more tedious assignments for God’s glory and the advancement of his kingdom.

O Lord, our gracious God and heavenly Father,

It’s a Matter of Life: Re-storied by Worship

This article was originally presented as the plenary address at the conference “For Such a Time as This! Worship Meets Justice and the Arts in a Turbulent Time,” held at First Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on October 21, 2017.

Someone is always telling a story about you. That story might include the place you work (or used to work), the organizations you volunteer for, the people in your life who are important to you, or the places you have lived. For me, that includes things like:

God Saves His People

A Sermon Series from the Book of Exodus

Theme

“God rescues his people and calls us into a life of holiness in order that we may have a living, personal relationship with him. . . . Salvation is not merely the forgiveness of sins. God’s goal for us is that, having been rescued from the bondage of sin, we might live daily in the glory of his presence and manifest his holy character.”

—John Oswalt, introduction to Exodus in the NLT Study Bible, 2nd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008).

Pitfalls and Guardrails

Considering Worship and Mission

Ascension Day

“A cloud received him out of their sight.”
—Acts 1:9

 

When Christ went up to Heaven the Apostles stayed
Gazing at Heaven with souls and wills on fire,
Their hearts on flight along the track He made,
Winged by desire.

Their silence spake: “Lord, why not follow Thee?
Home is not home without Thy Blessed Face,
Life is not life. Remember, Lord, and see,
Look back, embrace.

Praying with Indigenous Peoples

A Prayer for the Suicide Crisis

Indigenous youth are succumbing to the harsh legacy of residential schools, the forced adoptions of Indigenous children in the 1960s, and the current child welfare system. Suicide rates among First Nations youth are five to seven times higher than that of non-Indigenous youths, and rates among Inuit youth are eleven times the national average. Please pray for their lives. Pray for action and for conviction in our hearts.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Terrorism and the Politics of Worship

This article first appeared in Public Justice Review and is reprinted here with permission.

September 11 fell on a Tuesday. Five days later, on Sunday, September 16, millions of American Christians, shocked, angry, and grieving, filed into church.

The music began to play. Some were invited into the defiant and militant melodies of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless America.” Some were invited into a time of mournful silence, prayer, and reflection. Others just sang the same old songs as if nothing had changed at all.

Context

A while ago a friend of mine (who is not a preacher) made a good observation. She noted that when she began attending a certain congregation, she found the pastor’s sermons to be mostly just OK. There was nothing wrong with the sermons. They were solid, fairly interesting most of the time, and very biblical.

On Engaging Quieter Young People in Worship Ministry

Q

We involve a few of our high schoolers in worship, especially those with musical gifts. What ideas do you have for engaging other young people?

A

Big Little World

Some years back, a biology professor gave a presentation at our church that included photos taken by the latest high-powered microscopes. The photos were amazing, but what I remember more was the awe in the professor’s voice as she described the complexities of God’s creation in the very, very small world she studied. Even though she’d taught for years, she acted as if she was seeing these splotches and patterns for the first time. Her presentation was a prayer of praise to the limitless creativity of our God.