Communion At-Home, Just Like Jesus Did

Palm Sunday is the day that launches Holy Week, the seven days marking the final hours of Christ’s earthly ministry.  Churches across the globe traditionally use the day for special reflections on the life of Jesus. 

Some ceremonies are bright, like theatrical pageants with children waving actual palm branches, or homemade designs to replicate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the start of Passover week

Some reflections are  intense, such as copiously produced Passion Plays with casts of hundreds, viewed by people from multiple denominations or no Christian belief, who feel compelled to put aside their differences and learn more. 

Palm Sundays past. (2007)

Not to be overlooked are the cinematic Holy Week notations when television airways are filled with reruns of Biblical movies, ranging from forgivably, dated, stylized epics; to animated children’s attractions, which are curiosity creating if light on Biblical accuracy; to technically sophisticated, actor-intense updated versions, perhaps more biblically accurate and graphically realistic, put not without doses of modern cynicism.

Without COVID-19, church leaders would have spent the last several weeks feverishly preparing for Holy Week rituals — Palm Sunday followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Resurrection (Easter) Sunday, maybe with an Egg Hunt on Saturday. Big churches, small churches, even no-churches (those without buildings) would be putting last-minute touches to attract people inside their doors “for Easter.” There would be mad dashes producing, planning, preparing the music, the orders of service, the guest cards, the colors, the dramatic flair to interact with individuals who’ll be coming to church for the first time this calendar year – whose last visit was Christmas. 

Though few would realize it, and fewer would confess if they did, in churches across the U.S., anyway, Holy Week to celebrate the Prince of Peace would have been a competitive, stressful. marketing project.

Come Unto Me…

And then…

Right after Ash Wednesday.

Came COVID-19. 

The start of the season of sacrifice.

And God.

Said.

Stop.

Be still.

And know.

That I AM

God.

So, the ballgames, and schools, and businesses, and, yes, paychecks, and hugs, and running around stopped.

Pageants, rehearsals, speeding to meetings ended.

And the earth is resting.

Sick, but resting.

ADDITIONAL READING: An Invitation from Jesus Matthew 11:28-30

What Are You Giving Up?

A friend has called stay-at-home, shelter-in-place furloughs God’s imposed Sabbath.  A rest period.

Another friend has called this epoch God’s response to those who ask, “What food or activity do I give up for Lent?” Their decision has been made. 

So, none of the usual Easter season activity is happening.  Not even the dart to the grocer for eggs to color and hide.  Of course, things could change before next Saturday. There still could be eggs… if you dared go to a grocery…and felt like putting on a mask…and standing behind a blue line.  Or you could just #ChurchChannelSurf and hunt virtual eggs.

So where is the opportunity among these sobering thoughts, you may be thinking?

The opportunity is recognizing that Palm Sunday will come (“If the Lord wills”), followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and, Resurrection Sunday, even under our current circumstances.

The opportunity comes in realizing that although there won’t be real donkeys to ride, nor actors dressed and undressed to play Jesus, nor seven stations or fire stations to stop in front of and reflection about the cross, we have chance to better understand how to withstand what is going on around us because of our circumstances.

Biblical Life In These Times

Among those opportunities is realizing the ironies of God’s timing, what we call #HolySpiritMoments, as gifts from God.  Such as this:

Palm Sunday this year also happens to be the first Sunday of the month. The first Sunday is when many churches commemorate Jesus’ final meal with His disciples, and the instructions He gave them.

The general public is aware of this meal as “The Last Supper,” mostly because of the Renaissance painting by Leonardo DaVinci, that has become a source of mystery and mockery for centuries.

The actual dinner itself has greater purpose than speculation and conspiracy theorists imply.

ADDITIONAL READING:  How “The Last Supper” Mural Has Survived

ADDITIONAL READING:  History and Cultural Interpretations of “The Last Supper”

DaVinci’s “Last Supper”

The Final Meal Meaning

Christ-followers from assorted traditions recognize that final meal in various ways and names:  The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Communion.  By any other Christian name, the ritual is a variation on the Passover meal Jewish celebrants hold honor their ancestors’ escape from Egypt centuries before Cecile B. DeMille or Disney’s people revealed the exodus to masses.  It was to celebrate the Passover and hold this celebration meal with his friends and disciples the brought Jesus, a Judean (Jew), to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Christians can tend to forget Jesus’ Jewish lineage.

But because of COVID, this Palm Sunday, Communion involving live congregations is now passed over.  Those who wish to guide their congregations through the ritual must give televised instructions for their viewers at home.  And therein is yet another opportunity: just as “home-schooling” has been thrust upon parents as education centers have closed, God is making “a new thing” by turning the home into a center of worship.

Indeed, before stationary buildings were erected, the home was the center of religious celebration and activity. Perhaps among the other things that have happened because of COVID, God has stopped the world around us so we can remember THAT.

Just as the original Passover celebrants did, as Jewish families do today, and Jesus did as his “last supper,” for stay-at-home 21st century celebrants, The Lord’s Supper is now a family affair. The sacred, worshipful environments many people clamor to have when they “go to church” will become their responsibility at home.

The head of the house is now pastor of Shelter-in-Place Church. The head of the house is thus responsible to create a reverent, worshipful atmosphere whenever communion is held. Here are some things to consider if you’re hosting communion in your house.

Purpose of the Meal

Things to remember when partaking Communion, at home or at church, from teaching by Darryl Jenkins, pastor, Faith Community Church, Itasca, IL

Although The Lord’s Supper is to remember the death of Jesus, the point of remembering His death is emphasizing its purpose — liberation for those who believe in new life through His resurrection, which came a few days later.  This paradox is clearer today because we know what happened.  But those at the table with Him didn’t.

Imagine being in the place of the disciples who assembled that night to celebrate how God liberated their ancestors from Egyptian slavery, only to have Jesus suddenly turning the tables, changing the conversation from God’s  freedom of one people group to God’s freedom for all people groups…and for that to happen He would have to be executed in a few hours (John’s Gospel, Chapters 14-16). What on earth was going on? Why was it important for the apostles, on the night He was betrayed, to take the wine and bread and repeat the exercise as He did, and for Jesus to tell them, “Do this in remembrance of me.”?

Accordingly, just as the Jewish people come together on Passover to remember and re-read the passages of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) , the pastor of the home should prepare the household to do the same for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. 

Following Communion Online

Traditionally, we are accustomed to certain people serving the elements.  Regular church attendees may expect this to be the duty of the pastor, deacons, designated shepherds, etc.  Over the years, there have been church “debates” as to whether women should serve communion.  What’s important now is your shopping list and setting the table to have the elements assembled at home and ready when it’s time.

  1. Purchase, or pull out the representative unleavened bread: crackers, toast, wafers, etc.
  2. Set up the Lord’s Supper around a kitchen or dining room table like any other family meal.
  3. Assemble the representative wine: juice, water, wine (be clear about the purpose and restrictions of actual wine).
  4. Once assembled, put the elements in place where people will sit at home, or designate who will serve as the online pastor directs.
Sample at-home items that may be gathered for The Lord’s Supper.

Conducting Communion At-Home

Churches hold communion on a schedule.  There’s no restriction to holding a Lord’s Supper to that location or Sundays.  Jesus There are Christ-following families who hold Communion on a weekly basis, similar to Jewish families observing shabbat.  Other believers include communion as part of small group worship or Bible studies.  In either case, if conducting Communion aside from the church’s online guidance, here are some other steps to include.

  1. Read the Scripture’s traditionally associated with Communion, 1 Corinthians 11:23-34.
  2. Read the account of the dinner included in chapter 17 of John’s gospel,, especially the prayers of Jesus for his disciples and those who will believe in His work.
  3. Following John’s description before leaving to Gethsemane, “And when they had finished eating, after they had sung a hymn, they went to the Garden,” select songs to sing to celebrate the life of Christ.
Things to remember when partaking Communion, at home or at church, from teaching by Darryl Jenkins, pastor, Faith Community Church, Itasca, IL

Communion Means…

Whether partaking of communion online, as an autonomous family, or daily reflecting on changes of connecting because of COVID-19, Darryl Jenkins, pastor of Faith Community Church in Itasca, IL, tells congregants to look at the word “communion” and its base language “community.”

“People are looking for community today,” he says.

Imagine, therefore, on Palm Sunday and the other nights of the week, that although millions are apparently isolated from each other because of a shelter-in-place edict, millions more…billions, perhaps — are virtually, simultaneously united in the community of one faith, one baptism, one God — The Lord Jesus Christ.

Another friend envisions that perhaps the current situation will have some reprieve on Easter morning, with the possibility of there being hours of billions of people standing and singing in honor of seeing and understanding Christ in the middle of COVID-19, even among the difficulty.  It’s a vision to consider.

If you’re so inclined, lift your hands upward when you come together Sunday. You’ll see a palm Sunday as never before.

God Calling

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up…

— Mark 1:35 (New International Version)

The alarm sounded. Not the harsh hounding of horns, nor the frightening bleat of an emergency. ‘Twas but a gentle, repeated angelic rhythm: harps.

Morning has broken.

My eyes opened.

Ding-dong. God Calling.

A new day. A new month. New adventures await…even though old issues remain.

Today there will be family matters: rides to arrange, lunches to make, receipts to reconcile, budget to plan. Church to attend. People to see. Demands. Requests. Pets to pamper.

The sun has scarcely begun to light the sky, and pondering the list has already brought fatigue. I’d rather stay in bed, yet, those things still need to be done. As I am alone, before the others stir, I have time to contemplate the tasks. Or go back to sleep.

There is, of course, the television background diversion. Or the social media. Maybe the news to read in some form.  But the silence beckons.

In the silence is solitude. In the silence are the sacred sounds of creation awakening. In the silence is the voice of creation. The voice of God.

In the silence is solitude…sounds of creation awakening.

People often ask how you can hear the voice of God. I’ve had the query come frequently in recent weeks. They read the headlines, or anti-social posts, and wonder if God speaks. Or even exists. They see the human failures of souls who have claimed to speak for God — priests, pastors, politicians — and wonder why God chose such flawed people to represent Him; and if God did, He must not be worth following. Not long ago, a noted writer of Christian worship songs renounced his faith citing, among other reasons, he doesn’t see God doing miracles any more.

I admit having difficulty hearing God’s voice, but not for reasons of global proportions. When I read the news of hurricanes and fires and shootings and evil people in the streets, I do neither doubt God nor His existence. In fact, those things cause me to believe in Him more. Which is why my difficulty hearing Him is personal, and my desire urgent. My problem is too many voices. Too many needs. So, early in the morning…

The questions asked of God and the distracted busyness of the day are not new. Nor are they relegated to this century.

Jesus faced such questions, temptations and doubts when He walked the earth. Studying how He responded to such moments is not only a study for Sunday school. It’s a model for those who claim to follow Him.

“Early in the morning, while it was still dark…” Jesus went off to think…and pray.

In his full humanity, Jesus was subject to every emotion, temptation, uncertainty as we. The New Testament writers recorded these moments in their journals we call “the gospels.” They also wrote their observations of Jesus’ habits, one of which is for mornings as this. For when the alarm sounds.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Mark 1:35 (New International Version)

Jesus knew that, though his over-arching mission — His calling — was to provide a path for people to have an eternal relationship with God, that to do so, He needed strength each day. Super natural strength. Jesus knew that, left to His own human confinements, once he began interacting with people, he could become crabby, too tired, tempted to abuse his power, or ineffective when asked. The gospel journals include snippets of snippy Jesus.

READ MORE: Jesus “snaps” at the crowd.

READ MORE: Jesus “snaps” at his disciples.

And so, when God awakened him each day with the natural alarm clock, Jesus went to a solitary place to be with Him. It’s a familiar passage to many, and a personal favorite that long ago altered my life. And in recent months, a concept I’ve gotten away from. Thus, my auditory difficulties.

Despite the familiarity with the verse, do you ever wonder what Jesus did in such moments? Dare we imagine what He prayed for in His fortresses of solitude? And how long? Perhaps Jesus’ prayers were not much different from ours.

Strength to address the to-do list: Make it a prayer list.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

He prayed for strength to address His to-do list. He prayed for those in His inner circle of friends and followers. He prayed for the people He would meet and serve today, asking, likely, for the Holy Spirit to provide words to say when such moments came and words failed Him.

Maybe He prayed for the religious and government leaders, that they — having been given their appointed responsibility — seek and follow the will of God. Perhaps he asked that they — the priests, pastors and posing politicians — repent, and change behaviors that are contrary to God’s law.

Yes, difficult as it is to imagine, Jesus likely prayed for himself, that He not yield to temptation when human passions were stirred. Jesus likely confessed and asked forgiveness for moments of His humanity (dare we say, sins?). Moments when He was angry, didn’t feel like_____: caught himself doing a double-take at an attractive person. Maybe He acknowledge the moment, gave thanks He didn’t yield, asked forgiveness and strength to move on.

In the early morning hours, Jesus likely … mostly … gave praise to God, quoting back the Hebrew Bible scriptures He had studied and memorized; for in those scriptures God spoke to Jesus, as He speaks to us. “His compassions fail not; they are new every morning.”

In the early morning hours, Jesus likely reflected on the beauty God created in that quiet or desolate place; gave thanks to God for His chosen assignment; expressed how grateful He was to be chosen to lead, and asked God’s strength, wisdom, honesty and live to walk with Him and show through Him as he prepared to interact with the people during the day…the earnest, the hypocrites, the hopeful, the ailing, the people like him, the aliens among them.

In his prayer Jesus may have sung his praise, and then, sated and filled with God’s strength for the day, come to his Amen with strength for the day to fill the hopes of His followers for tomorrow.

I like to think Jesus prayed like that because…because I did.

And having completed his prayer of thanks, confession, requests and praise, Jesus may have sat in that quiet place feeling the presence of God…His voice…until choosing to rejoin the people, or until they, missing Him and needing him, called out, “Jesus! Jesus! Oh! Found You.” And He, in reply, stood and said, “Follow me.”

Later That Morning…

Not 30 minutes after completing my reflections and writing the above, I turned to my regular, two-minute audio devotional on Abide. The first image that came on the screen floored me. I broke the early morning silence with a loud guffaw. The last line of the cover photo (below) left me speechless. It was my first #HolySpiritMoment of the Day.

But wait…there was more.

We pulled into the lot of “the wrong church.” That is, when my wife and I decided where were worshipping, she thought we were heading to another place. Similar names will do that.

Rather than turn around, we continued in. We’ve been to the church frequently, presenting sometimes, but wanted to blend in and worship inconspicuously.

The preaching pastor, in my wife’s words, is “the bomb,” so we nestled in. Early into the in the sermon, #TheBomb began ticking. We began audible responses, then #TheBomb exploded #HolySpiritMoments.

LISTEN: Let Prayer Change You

READ MORE: 13 Verses Telling How God Called You

The message, based in 1 Timothy 1:18-20, began tapping into an element of “Jesus’ prayer” above: individuals who have left the faith, or who misuse their responsibilities and need redirection. #HolySpiritMoments, for the record, cause me chills. I sense and see God in action.

Near the end of the message, my guffaw went to “spent.” Having already written and titled this missive, I became slackjawed when the pastor said, “Now, what has God said about ‘calling?’ “

He then began reeling 13 New Testament passages that explained the responsibilities to which a Christ-follower is called by God.

Between my early awakening, the audio devotional, the sermon theme and the 13 verses, by noon, I had no doubt about the question of whether or not God was speaking to me. He does. Loudly, clearly. He starts by saying:

Ding-dong.

“Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture …?”

So, I re-read my notes instead of taking a Sunday nap. That’ll help me sleep more soundly overnight. And get up early in the morning.

Story Song: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”

We don’t hear hymns much anymore, but once introduced, their power lingers. Much of the reason, I believe, is that the influence of Scripture is more easily discernible than many modern tunes. Here is how Lamentations 3:22-24 affected author Thomas Chisholm.

Story Song: “My Prayer”

It’s not exactly a Christian worship song. In fact, it’s a popular R&B tune from the 1950s. However, as with many old songs I grew up listening to, listening through the filter of God’s ear gives a worshipful interpretation in the proper context.

When Jesus Created Father’s Day

“This, then, is how you should pray…” – Matthew 6:9

Modern history – as in internet browser searches – will tell you how Father’s Day began as a 20th century holiday phenomenon with 19th century roots:  how the daughter of a Civil War veteran, inspired by her father who raised six children as a single parent, thought dads should be honored with a special day just as mothers recently had been saluted.

You’ll discover the Christian influence in its creation and the roles four U.S. presidents (Wilson, Coolidge, Johnson, Nixon) played over seven decades to secure the annual calendar date as a national holiday.

LEARN MORE: Presidential Resolutions

You’ll learn about sales and kick around the best ways to honor your sire: a tie, food, a day off.  You’ll enjoy bits of whimsy through memes and other internet postings, like this:

What search engines won’t tell you is the quandary this holiday, despite its Christian infused roots, has brought to modern day leaders of musical worship. The quandary is selecting appropriate songs to honor fathers during Services of Worship.

It’s not a dissimilar issue than exists for Mother’s Day.  There aren’t a lot of role-specific church worship songs, and that’s all right. Celebrating Father’s Day in church isn’t one of the ordained feasts mandated by scripture. The pressure is, perhaps, self-imposed. After all, “father” is mentioned in the Bible over 400 times.

Is That All There Is?

It’s not that there AREN’T songs about fathers.  In fact, one selection “Good, Good Father,” written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown in 2014, became a Billboard No. 1 hit when recorded by Chris Tomlin in 2016. Ironically, in musician circles there’s a sense that this and similar daddy-related recent tunes have been sung so often, they’ve crept into the realm of Christian cliché – like annually trotted out Christmas carols.  Okay, more obligatory than cliché.

Nothing against the song, mind you, but the searchers keep asking, “Isn’t there something else?”

Albert Hay Malotte

The answer is, “Yes.” An overlooked modern tune is at the end of this story. However, there is a more powerful contemporary song to be sung to honor fathers, and its lyrics are found in modern ancient text. Albert Hay Malotte, an Academy Award winning composer, found the lyrics and in 1935 created the quintessential  fatherhood song, uttered not by a Christian, but Christ Himself.

Malotte called the song, “The Lord’s Prayer,” and introduced to the world the oft-recited words of scripture that best express two principles fundamental to Christian faith: prayer and accountability.

LEARN MORE: “The Christian Origins of Father’s Day”

Interestingly, while “The Lord’s Prayer” is a popular selection among recording artists, as film underscore, and at public ceremonies (often a solo), it’s surprising to discover how often people are unaware that the words come from the mouth of Jesus and not just song lyrics or a denominational prayer book. This is true event among many Christ-followers.

By the same token, taking a closer look at the circumstances surrounding the prayer, it’s fair to say that long before June was established as a calendar month, Jesus created Father’s Day.

On a Hill Far Away

Jesus introduced “Father’s Day” in the midst of his sermon on a mount.  But this public premiere was the outgrowth of private preaching He’d conducted elsewhere with a small group of followers, as reported by the gospel historian Luke:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Luke 11:1 (New International Version)

In that teaching to a small group of men, Jesus continued emphasizing their responsibility to address the needs of neighbors and family even at the sacrifice of personal comfort. These earthly actions, He said, are an example of how “your Father in heaven” tends to our needs, especially those who are persistent and consistent in communication.

These two traits, persistence and consistency, were the essence of the prayer that He repeated to crowds elsewhere, much like a keynote speaker with a stump speech. The text, recorded in Matthew’s gospel, is less a sermon by our contemporary comprehension than a compilation.  Maybe it ought be “The Mashup on the Mount.”

A church sanctuary design for a Sermon on the Mount series. (Photo: Jake Moreland)

A Personal Relationship With…

In the sermon, Jesus frequently reiterates the phrase “your Father” to His audience. Jesus’ use of the third person noun could be interpreted as a philosophical reference, keeping God at a distance. This is especially true in our times, depending on the listener’s paternal relationship.

Student ministry pastors often lament that among their greatest barriers uplifting The LORD to teens is because their concept of “heavenly Father” is tainted by negative relationships with their earthly father.

To a child whose father is absent from the house, or a family residing in a tyrannical household, passages extolling God’s goodness and protection, such as Psalm 68:13 – “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” – and 38 similar promises, are empty rhetoric.  Equally damaging spiritually are improper behaviors by father-figures, including clergy.

All the more reason Jesus not only taught the prayer as a mechanism to overcome weaknesses of the flesh, He preceded it with cautionary “sermonizing” about the perils of blind trust. Not only did Jesus tell the people what “Your Father” knows, He also gave them permission to speak directly to Him, then showed them how. In doing so, Third person philosophy became first-person access.

What’s In A Name?

For numerous reasons, introducing direct access to God was earth-shattering. One, going back to the burning bush, when Moses asked His name, addressing God had been formal and fearful.

God said to Moses, “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘ ‘I Am’ has sent me to you.’ ”   

“I AM” was subsequently spoken as The LORD, Yaweh, El-, and other titles that spoke about His character and attributes. Yet none of these was personal.  Abraham was revered as the “father” of the Jewish nations, but Abraham was human and centuries deceased. And though Isaiah spoke of God in the First Person, Isaiah was a prophet and such references were not unusual. Prophets were supposed to talk to God. Besides, that was over 500 years earlier.

Imagine, then, what it may have been like to hear Jesus give this instruction:

“This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven…hallowed be your name…’ “

For the disenfranchised listener, the statement is reassuring. It’s personal, yet maintains reverence.

The statement is also dangerous, for the another reason the prayer is earth-shattering is that it establishes a firm foundation on His road to the cross.

Jesus The Protestant

In both the prayer and it’s prelude, Jesus advocates appealing to Higher Authority than earthly leaders. His prelude to the prayer unflinchingly threatens the religious status quo, for in that introduction

  • Jesus busts the religious leaders for making public spectacles of prayer.

“Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”

  • Jesus undercuts them as role models, diminishes their organized influence by eliminating the need for a priest as go-between.

“Do not be like them…for Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

  • Jesus distinguishes between lengthy, generic, rituals and symbols of other beliefs, and brief, earnest, specific, bold requests.

“Do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”

  • Jesus empowers personal prayer for even public matters.

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

LEARN MORE: A “Sermon on the Mount” Study Guide for self or group.

The battle between the role of Jesus and the influence of religious authority has continued since. It’s the battle Martin Luther fought that led to Protestant faiths (those that “protest” convention), and that exists today between those who define “evangelical” to share the gospel or be political. What’s more important is that then, as now, is not eliminate the role church leaders, just some perceptions. Simply, Jesus he invites – hypocrites and curious alike – to change actions and have the same personal relationship that He has with His Father.

Musical Hallmarks

Having laid the foundation, in eight simple yet challenging sentences, Jesus then gives the principles to cultivate that relationship: reverence, submission, confession, forgiveness, provision, mercy, grace, eternal life. Malotte, who also wrote scores to The Beatitudes and The 23rd Psalm, turned those poetic principles into lyrics that may also be considered Jesus’ Father’s Day Card.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, it is in heaven.”

Malotte adapted the King James Version, the primary Bible translation available in in 1935.  Other translations have been published since then, all copiously maintaining the accuracy and integrity of original Hebrew and Greek texts as best possible. There has been minimal push-back. Recently, however, a revision of the prayer recited in Catholic masses caused a stir seemingly as radical as when Jesus first intonation of “Our Father.” 

“Pope Francis Approves Change To Lord’s Prayer”

At Last, The Temptations & Christ

Reactionaries groused that the Pope was approving wholesale revisions in line with revisionist political correctness. That’s been a complaint of some translations adopting a gender-neutral tone. 

Reading beneath the headlines reveals that only one line is being revised…for clarity.  

Pope Francis

“Lead us not into temptation,” the Pope says, may be spoken in public recitation, as, “let us not fall into temptation.”  Reason? Bad English translation; bad theology, he said.

Though not Catholic, and as one who puts Christ’s teaching above the papacy, I appreciate this clarity.  For a long time “lead us not into temptation” has been had to reconcile, event for years for those who regular study scripture. Imagine its confusion upon new Christians, especially in light of the later assertion by Jesus’ brother James:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”

— James 1:13 (New International Version)

Besides, the edit is more sensible, less stressful than the ever-confusing, on-the-spot choice between saying “debts” or “trespasses” when asking forgiveness in some denominations.

Can We Only Imagine?

For all its power and simplicity, however, this prayer has also fallen into the cliché, rote chasm.  It’s often referred to as “The Our Father,” as if a mantra or magic incantation.  It could even be said “The Lord’s Prayer” is a misnomer.  A more apt title may be “The People’s Prayer.”  Or, “The Siblings’ Prayer,” since the “Our Father” kinship with the Son of God. The actual Lord’s Prayer, some instructors says, were Jesus’s words after his last supper records in John 17. He prayed for unity among His followers.

Now that I think of it, looking at both, “The People’s Prayer” and “The Lord’s Prayer,” gives an interesting ideas to address the ills facing our world, especially our nation, this Father’s Day season.

Imagine if, in the context of Jesus’ prayer for unity, Christ’s followers employed His prayer template for self and leaders…not just church leaders but, say, legislators. Like:

  • What if, rather than “national days of prayer,” street corner incantations, or convention center revivals, individual Christ-followers simply went into our prayer closets and applied the principles of revering God, seeking His will and provision, asked forgiveness and forgave others?

“Give us this day our daily bread.
 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

  • What if, rather than reciting the “If my people…would pray” passage in 2 Chronicles, we followed Jesus’ guideline of confessing sins of greed, rudeness, and turned from our wicked ways of violence and blame?

“And let us not fall not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

Might “The Lord’s Prayer” enacted “heal our land?” If so, imagine the sound of voices, bursting from prayer closets, a grand chorus singing in unison:

“For thine is the kingdom,

and the power,

and the glory, for ever.

Amen.”

Would that be worthy of a Father’s Day playlist?   

Andrea Bocelli with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Songs for Father’s Day

As we did for Mother’s Day, here are a few songs about fathers that are standard and less well-known. The Marvin Gaye selection is bittersweet. A talented artist and troubled man, he was shot to death by his father. The sentiments here are, nevertheless, accurate and noteworthy as they are rooted in scripture. Thanks to Stephen A. Banks for this rare, bacon-fryin’ recording.

Original 45 rpm version that Marvin Gaye re-recorded on his album “What’s Going On?”

“God Is Love” (Album Version) — Marvin Gaye

“Daddy” (Inspired by Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”) — DJ LV

“Good, Good Father” — Chris Tomlin

Hurrah for the Mid-Terms

(This essay was original published November 4, 2014 in another medium. It hasn’t been touched since, We came across it by accident today and still found virtually every word  as relevant as four years ago. Though the atmosphere of the last two years may make some points less accurate, like anticipated voter turnout, only two updates have been made: one, to indicate that November 11 is on a different day of the week; two, to reflect that the United States has a different President. Otherwise, the state of the union is pretty much the same. So are these sentiments.)

I am truly excited this is Election Day.

True, it’s a mid-term, so it’s not as sexy and evocative as the Presidential elections.  True, there’s a general malaise about the candidates, and no one ever knows anything about the judges.  There are bond issues at stake, depending on the community, thus there may be some enthusiasm.  In general, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm about this election.  Voter turnout is expected to be low.

So, why am I SO looking forward to this election?

Because tomorrow I get my mailbox back.  And I can answer my phone.  Or, if I don’t answer my phone, I won’t still hear a prerecorded voice talking into my prerecorded voice asking my prerecorded voice to answer a prerecorded poll by pressing a number that I can’t reach because I’m across the room…and if I were closer to the prerecorded voice, it would not be a NUMBER I would punch.

Political postcards.
Political postcards in my mailbox: The Horror! The Horror!

 

I am looking forward to this Election Day because tomorrow, the bloody thing will be over.  And when I say bloody, I don’t necessarily mean it in the British lexicon.  I mean “bloody” as in that’s what our candidates pursue.  I am struck by the timing of this election coming so close to Halloween.

I am looking forward to this Election Day because, difficult as it will be, I will vote.  Not, however, because I am thrilled by the roster of candidates or have hope and enthusiasm about their policies.  I don’t.   As much as I try being informed via the countless postcards cluttering my table, op-ed pieces I read, voter registration guides I peruse, editorial endorsements I check, I have little comfort in any people running for offices.  BECAUSE of what I’ve seen, I don’t WANT to vote for any of these people  because I don’t WANT any of them leading me.  Because they have not proven themselves leaders.  LOUDERS, but not leaders.

Why We Vote

  • I will vote because next week our nation will honor men and women who for centuries have served and died in order that I have the right to enter a polling booth without a gun to my head, or a gun to greet me afterward.
  • I will vote because of the men and women, ancestors, who suffered through the poll tax, literacy tests, voter ID cards; who marched, sat-in, picketed; who were shot, lynched or burned so that I could walk into a polling booth and even vote for a jerk.
  • I will vote because I have friends and acquaintances in other countries who do not have the rights – the freedoms – we have in this nation that we so cavalierly take for granted.

A non-vote is not a protest.  A non-vote is lazy.  A non-vote is…un-American. I will vote because it’s my God-commanded responsibility.  (Be wary of your reaction just now.  “God-commanded” in an essay about voting has the potential of sending thoughts someplace else.  So, just follow what I’m saying, not what you think I’m saying.  It’s a quirk of our electoral process.)

Married couple voting
Done with our duty!

It’s an odd paradox that we talk a lot about the separation of church and state when, in our nation, it’s hard to have one without the other.  Despite fears and pontifications of whatever cable news commentators you absorb, we are not in the midst of a religious coup de grace. If the House or Senate has more of one party than the other, and if that party is in opposition to the man in the White House, it’s not because one or the other party has a better pipeline to God…no matter what the candidates may imply. The proof they don’t have the better pipeline is in the style of campaigns run.  For if the candidates were as God-fearing as many claim, and no doubt are in many cases, we – the public – would not have to endure the unsolicited political pornography that comes into our mailboxes and televisions.  We would learn how each man or woman plans to LEAD us…even if they have opposing policies.  Test every spirit, John tells us.

Test every spirit

Responsibility of Voting Christians

When I say “God-commanded responsibility,” here are a couple of my reference points, both by the apostle Paul.

To the Roman church, Paul wrote,

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. “ (My italics; explaining shortly.) (Romans 13:1)

To his protégé Timothy, Paul later explained,

“…I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. “ (1 Timothy 2:1)

I Timothy Thanks NLTThe point of these verses is clear that an individual who claims to be a Christ-follower (or a ‘cultural’ Christian) has a responsibility to pray for, encourage and give thanks to people in positions of authority – appointed or elected – because for whatever His reasons, God has allowed those individuals to be in positions of authority.  The individuals in the position of authority – elected officials, candidates for office – have an equal, God-commanded responsibility to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

 (If you’re not a Believer in God, or Christ, please just understand the principle here.)

So, when a postcard of distorted images, or commercials with inflammatory, denigrating statements enters my home – whether approved by the candidate or the candidates “supporters” – I must ask, “Is this dignified?” And, do I want an undignified person “representing” me in Congress?  No, I want someone in Congress – on the Hill — and at 1600 whom I believe has a modicum of civility.  I don’t need to totally agree, and I don’t need to have all MY needs met.  I DO want someone who is aware of people before party.

A President by Any Other Name

When I earlier italicized Scripture passages, I was reflecting on the last six years of our nation.  Again, for those who claim the Christian perspective (in and out of government), it’s necessary to accept that God allowed Mr. Obama to be elected.  (Editor’s Update 2018: Substitute “Mr. Trump.”) Perhaps to reveal something to us as a nation, or to each person individually.  What has this Presidency revealed to you about yourself?  If Paul reminds Timothy, and us, to pray, intercede and give thanksgiving for those “in high places,” you must ask, “Do I pray for the President…the Governor…the alderperson?  Do I pray, or do I complain?”

1 Timothy 2:1-2 Verse
How easy is this to do when the people in office are not of the political party which you prefer? What might change by doing this?

I guess that’s the bottom line of the rant here, and the frustration of SO many people waiting for this blood-letting to end.  The people in office JUST DON’T GET IT, and it’s frustrating that there seems to be no way to get it through their thick skulls.  The filth and negativity may get you elected, but it doesn’t make me trust you, like you or WANT ME TO VOTE FOR YOU! Worse, I do not respect you.

I’m no neophyte politically.  I know the impact of negative campaigning.  I DON’T know that the candidates do, as evidenced one afternoon when a 20-something canvasser came to the door and surreptitiously tried swaying me to his position, without saying, “Hi, I’m from the ______ campaign.”

In the course of the conversation, his goal was to convince me to NOT vote for the other candidate.  “Did you know that….?”  So, here is my Reader’s Digest outline that I pray comes through to someone by our next election:

  • When you send me mail with photos and big headlines about the other person, I remember the OTHER PERSON not YOU!  Guess for whom I’m more likely to vote?
  • When you spend thousands of dollars on postage, video editing, buying TV and radio spots – most of which belittle someone else – I see WASTED MONEY.  Does this encourage me to trust your fiscal plans for the state budget? (Imagine how many social needs could be met if the same candidates used the funds to, say, buy some medication for seniors…goodness knows the costs are about the same.)
  • When the debates and interviews lapse into insincere fawning, you are one step above the teen drama, “Pretty Little Liars,” and not as attractive.
  • When the election is over and the votes counted, when you give your concession speech and let say how much you respect the other candidate and anticipate strong representation in government, how am I to trust your assessment?

An Elder Way of Voting

What our nation wants – and NEEDS – more than ever now is a sense of hope and guidance.  This is NOT an opinion about our President.  (The problem with the President’s “popularity,” as it was with his predecessors and will be with his successors, is that as a nation we put too much hope and faith in an individual.  We then are disappointed to discover our hope and faith is in a mere human.) This is about our LEADERSHIP regardless of the office, regardless of the community.

Titus 1: 6-9
What might a nation be like if these were guidelines for political candidates?

Earlier this year, our congregation conducted a study about changing our church organization to an elder form of leadership.  As we reviewed the Scriptural qualifications to be an elder – a church leader – I thought deeply about how our government may be truly effective if our political process took these qualifications into account – and the people held the leaders accountable.  Here are qualifications Paul outlined to another protégé, Titus (substitute your favorite political officer for ‘elder,’ you’ll catch my drift):

 “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1: 6-8)

So, where does this leave us?

Politcal postcards again.
Too many postcards.

Well, I’m going to go vote.  In some cases, I know for whom I will vote.  Others…well, I’m going to sort the postcards that I’ve been collecting, count the negative messages, and whoever sent the fewer nasty notes I’m likely to punch.   That’s part of the fun.  Then tomorrow, when the tallies are counted, I’m going to resume praying for those who have been elected – including our President — whether I like them, or agree with them or not.  God says do so.  I am thankful I live in a nation where I can.  It is one of His blessings on America.

— Featured photo by Photo by Mirah Curzer on Unsplash

God & Family: Who’s Up First?

Balancing church and family responsibilities is a reason Paul cautioned wannabe pastors in Corinth about getting married.

Depending on the source you’re reading, there are varying views about divorce rates among couples who profess to be Christ-followers. The rates are either growing at the same rate as non-believers, greater than that rate, declining from that rate, or were never as high.

Assorted denominations have particular perspectives whether couples should divorce and what roles those who do divorce should have in Christian ministry, particularly leadership positions.  Whatever the numbers, whatever your opinion, these facts remain:

  • children of God divorce;
  • they have done so since the time of Moses;
  • divorce is not God’s desire.

Of the numerous verses in Scripture about divorce, the best perspective is Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus’ conversation with Pharisees.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

(Yes, we switched from the New International to the King James for the last verse for readers who may have heard the words at weddings yet didn’t realize these are the words of Christ, not just the preacher.)

The salient exchange is this:

 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

The question 20 centuries later, then, is, “What causes hearts of married couples to become hardened today?”  Moreover, “How do Christian couples become hardened?” For our purposes, one more reflection: “What happens if one of those hardened Christian spouses is a pastor?”

Divorce Certificate Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Keep these questions in mind when listening to Family Priorities, today’s audio installment from “Who Prays for the Pastor?” In this segment, author Frederick Ezeji-Okoye recounts the testimony of a pastor whose zeal for evangelizing produced fruit, not all of which was sweet.

Before you start, discuss or journal about the following:

  • What does the phrase “God-First Ministry” mean to you?
  • What does Family-First Ministry mean?

Pray for the health of your pastor’s marriage as you hear the following testimony.  Ask God to improve communication between both spouses and their offspring.

LISTEN TO THE 1-MINUTE AUDIO DEVOTIONAL

“Family Priorities”

Spreaker: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/14803153

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/michaelmyers-4/who-prays-for-the

FOR FURTHER STUDY

Download the Free Devotional Discussion Guide

Look into Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries Leadership Workshops

  • “Practicing What Is Preached:” Steps to apply weekend sermons to daily communication.
  • “The Roscoe P. Love Love Clinic:” Practical relationship communication for men, for women; couples, singles; adults, teens.

For maximum, on-going impact, we recommend purchasing the paperback or the audiobook, or both.  Each is available at amazon.com.


This essay is one in a series of devotionals on coping with stress in ministry, and is based on the book, “Who Prays for the Pastor?” written by Bro. Frederick Ezeji-Okoye.  The accompanying discussion guide was written by Michael Edgar Myers, who also narrated the audiobook and 1-minute devotional excerpts. If you have any difficulties accessing the material, please e-mail mem@kit-ministries.com.  Thank you.

#SDG #Shalom #AndAmen

Pastors and Stress

Among the teaching in his first letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul gave what some Bible translations subtitle, “Concerns for Married Life.” Included in the passage in chapter seven, Paul speaks to pastors…or would-be pastors, with an admonition summarized here by the late Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase, “The Message.”

“Because of the current pressures on us from all sides, I think it would probably be best to stay just as you are. Are you married? Stay married. Are you unmarried? Don’t get married. But there’s certainly no sin in getting married, whether you’re a virgin or not. All I am saying is that when you marry, you take on additional stress in an already stressful time, and I want to spare you if possible.”

Peterson and Paul’s perspective is the backdrop for this sequence of audio and written reflections based on the book, “Who Prays for the Pastor?” by Frederick Ezeji-Okoye, founder of the Men of Faith Network. Ezeji-Okoye’s book goes into depth about the pressures pastors (and other ministry leaders) encounter from their work, their ministries, their families, themselves.  More than recount them, he offers suggestions in overcoming them.

It was our pleasure to provide the narration for the audiobook companion to this narrative.  We have edited four segments into one-minute reflections and added our own questions and reflections for discussion points between pastors and their families.

  • Family Priorities
  • Lost Commitment
  • Self-Reflection
  • Peace At Home

These brief devotions will be published one-by-one in subsequent days at no cost.  As they are published, take time to ponder the preview thought questions, listen to the narrative from the book, then reflect and discuss the follow-up questions, action points and prayer.

As a prelude to these essays, you may learn more about the pressures of which Paul and Ezeji-Okoye speak, review the following resources:

Also consider visiting Amazon to purchase “Who Prays for the Pastor?”  in print, downloadable audio, or Kindle rental.

However, more than looking at the data and testimonies, take to heart the principle of the book and devotionals and pray for your pastor.  This would be an on-going gift growing out of Pastor Appreciation Month.

 

Patton, Prayer & The Quarterback

Military films intrigue me, especially those on the American Revolution, the Civil War and World War II. On holiday weekends such as Memorial Day or Independence Day, I often find myself inadvertently absorbed in commemorative film fests on TCM, A&E or the History Channel.

Sometimes they’re just white noise while I catch up on belated household tasks. Sometimes my viewing is a concentrated respite from the daily headlines.  The action sequences need not be viewed, and the sparse dialogue creates picture-radio images in my head. Like them or not, such historic films are insight into people who became leaders and decision-makers in times of strife.  They reassure us. We know the outcome: Our nation won independence. Our nation was preserved. Our nation saved the world from evil. That star-spangled banner yet waves!

Today we have less assurance.

I’m aware of history, journalism and film-making enough to recognize literary conceits as historical fiction and dramatic license, so I embrace these films in the spirit in which most are created: entertainment and storytelling. So, I ‘m also skeptical. If a film entertains and intrigues me enough, if the story I hear causes me to stop and watch the screen,  invariably there will be a moment or two when I hear myself saying, “Really?” whereupon my latent detective gene emerges.  Once the film is done (or paused), I begin my most delicious house-cleaning-avoidance,  writer’s block diversion: research. This post-movie research most frequently occurs following biographical films, the so-called biopic. I often find myself scouring my bookshelves and, most handily, the Internet to discern the answer to my latest, “Did that really happen?” quandary.

Many times I’ve discovered poetic license won out, so I’m relieved whenever I find the screenwriter not only trusted the facts, but left enough intrigue that research enhanced the experience.

Which brings us to ” Patton, ” the 1970 film that earned George C. Scott the Best Actor Academy Award he refused, and Francis Ford Coppola a screenplay Oscar he didn’t refuse, and therein launched his directing career as patriarch of “The Godfather” trilogy.

At the Movies

“Patton” is good storytelling and Scott compelling, even though his gruff, sandpaper voice contradicted the actual Patton, whose tone calls to mind voiceover artist Mel Blanc. (It’s been said that Patton’s penchant for profanity was purposeful — to be taken seriously and to offset a voice considered unmanly and un-military.

(VIDEO: George Patton speaks.)

There are many “Really?” scenes in “Patton,” but the one that stood out on my most recent viewing and propelled this missive was when he summoned the 3rd Army chaplain to write a good-weather prayer to counter the German offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge in the Christmas season of 1944.

Though I’ve seen the film often, I had to stopped painting my kitchen. What struck me was the chaplain’s perplexed response: “I don’t know how this is going to be received, General, praying for good weather so we can kill our fellow man?”

But the Bible Says…

My immediate thought was that it seemed incongruous for the chaplain to be surprised by such a request, for King David wrote many in Psalms asking God’s guidance in battle.  Psalms 20 and 21 are examples.  Earlier in the film, Coppola’s script included Psalm 63, David’s embattled prayer fleeing his son Absalom which Scott narrated while “Patton” prepared to apologize for slapping a solider.  In light of these passages, I sought the brief clip of the chaplain scene for readers less enamored of the genre to experience here:

VIDEO:  Patton’s Weather Prayer

However, before I got to the movie links,  I came across two printed stories about the scenario that brought the film, the man and the Bible into new focus.  Something to remember when encountering how Scripture is quoted — whether on screen or from the pulpit. In the words of the apostle John:

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)”

Merry Christmas, G.S. Patton

One story is the transcript of the film scene, the anecdote written by Patton’s aide, Col. Paul Harkins, that was no doubt the source of the movie moment above.  The other story was written by the clergyman who wrote the prayer,  noted in the credits only as “3rd

oneill
Col. James Hugh O’Neill

Army Chaplain.”  Indeed, the author was hardly anonymous, but integral in the Third Army’s zeal and morale that holiday season.  The chaplain was Monseigneur James Hugh O’Neill, who was hardly unknown to Patton, but a U.S. Army colonel whose served with the general in five campaigns. The prayer itself was a but part of a larger Christmas missive to the troops which O’Neill explained in “The True Story of the Patton Prayer,” an article published as a government document first in 1950, then re-published not long after the movie premiered.

O’Neill’s story outlines the complexity of Patton, a devout believer in scriptures and the power of prayer, whose behavior (temper and tongue-lashings) and beliefs (that he was reincarnated) seemed contradictory. After writing the prayer, along with a ghostwritten Christmas greeting for the commander, O’Neill delivered a draft to Patton not sure how it would be used:  by the general himself, or delivered to other chaplains in the unit to be intoned at services among the troops.  Patton ordered copies of the Christmas card prayer to be printed and delivered. “See to it that every man in the Third Army gets one,” he said.

There were 250,000 copies made of this:

Patton_card2Pattons Prayer2

Patton then said to O’Neill: “Chaplain, sit down for a moment; I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.”

Patton then began a conversation about prayer became the basis of a larger treatise.

“I am a strong believer in prayer,” O’Neill recounted. “There are three ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and by praying.

“I wish you would put out a Training Letter on this subject of prayer to all the chaplains; write about nothing else, just the importance of prayer… We’ve got to get not only the chaplains, but every man in the Third Army to pray.”

Patton Prayer

A Contemporary Translation

Several passages of the O’Neill article are pertinent to America today.  Yes, in light of Memorial Day commemorations of military personnel who fell in mortal combat; but they have greater relevance in light of spiritual warfare that threatens our independence and unity from within; forces of evil far more insidious than tanks and rockets.  They are evils flourishing on this continent and endangering the liberties for which this nation was established, for which men and women died and stand watch to preserve — freedoms of expression and faith.  The evils of racism, sexism, selfish political ambition (add your own hashtag-creating #isms) are not only limiting our pursuit of happiness, they modernize the kind of societal behavior that led to the demise of Old Testament Israel.

The sermon we heard Sunday exhorted the congregation to pray, for prayer is a value of its mission. The pastor, a native Brazilian and naturalized American, invoked God’s word to David:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” — 2 Chronicles 7:14

Take a Knee

As the pastor spoke, I  could not help but think of Colin Kaepernick and the controversy surrounding his kneeling during the national anthem during NFL games.  Kaepernick came to mind because a few days earlier the NFL owners imposed a penalty on players who kneel when the anthem is played.

After the church service, our choir stayed to rehearse to sing at our town’s annual Memorial Day ceremony.  The director announced that in addition to the tradition songs we’ve song, we were asked to lead singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” My inner bad boy was pricked.  After rehearsal I told the director that I was debating kneeling during the song.  I never had intentions of doing so, but I couldn’t avoid needling in anticipation of his priceless expressions in the moment of deciding whether or not I was serious.

Not one to let go a good running joke, at Monday’s final rehearsal I assured him that after prayer and meditation I’d decided to not kneel.  And he shook when he laughed. So humored, joking ended. Topic done. Time to raise the Banner.  But to our surprise, The Kneel soon came back to the floor as the mayor framed his Memorial Day speech around The Kneel. opened his remarks passionately saying how proud he was that no one kneeled during the anthem; then closed his speech with reminders why we shouldn’t.

A gamut emotions swirled. As I was one of four discernible Americans of African descent in the crowd of hundreds, I could not applaud. I was not offended. After “anger,” “dismay” eventually settled. For while I understood the mayor’s endeavor, and though I have relatives interred in Arlington National Cemetery, as part of the 2.9 percent of African-Americans living in the community, I found his statements another illustration of misunderstanding and misinformation. Weariness emerged.

OB Funeral.jpg
Interment of father-in-law Col. Otrie Barrett Sr., U.S. Army, Retired, Arlington National Cemetery, 2012.

Misperceptions

From the outset, Kaepernick’s protest has been misinterpreted as anti-American and anti-military despite his assertions to the contrary.  When Kaepernick, who is biracial and whose adoptive parents are white, began his protests during the preseason of 2016, he sat.  At a post-game press conference that fall, the once-celebrated quarterback spoke of his disappoint with the response, and explained his protest was a civil rights issue related to increasing police action shootings involving black males.

“I think it’s a misunderstanding. “The media painted this as I’m anti-American, anti men and women of the military, and that’s not the case at all. I realize that men and women of the military put themselves in harm’s way for my freedoms of speech and my freedom in this country and my freedom to take a seat or take a knee. I have the utmost respect for them. I think what I did was taken out of context and spun a different way. “

Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since shortly after that statement appeared in The New York Times in September 2016.  Though newsworthy fewer people took note of the initial protests.  After all, he started in preseason. To me, having come of age in the 1960s when higher profile black athletes as Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali were more vocal protesting racial injustice, Kaepernick’s sideline bow seemed mellow. This was no John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists in the Black Panther salute during the Mexico City Olympics and getting their medals revoked. It wasn’t until critical Presidential Tweets began that mellow became maelstrom and the issue of injustice was swirled away.

John Carlos Tommy Smith_Post
John Carlos, Tommy Smith, protest, Mexico City Olympics 1968 (Photo: Washington Post)

RELATED: “They Didn’t #TakeTheKnee”

Oh, Say, CAN You See?

When I finally caught my attention about the Kaepernick protest was when he literally switched positions.  From sitting to kneeling.   The pose struck my ironic funny bone. The image of one man or two men kneeling while everyone else was standing during a song that has been more widely disrespected when sung at games, struck me not as angry protest.  I viewed it as the free expression of prayer.

Kapernick 2

Whenever I’ve seen players kneeling at games since, I’ve imagined them praying for the country while others sang…much as I occasionally sit while others sing choruses and hymns during musical worship.

Maybe it’s because Kaepernick kneeling reminds me of the football locker rooms I’d enter after a Friday night game in my reporter days and I’d hear the coach say, “Let’s take a knee,” as the public school players recited The Lord’s Prayer.  Maybe it’s because that around the same time that Kaepernick began to take a knee, a high school football coach in Washington state was fired for initiating a post-game prayer.

bremerton_team_prayer_800x500
Bremerton High School football team post-game prayer, circa 2015. (Photo: OneNowNews.com)

Maybe it’s because the fourth verse of Francis Scott Key’s poem, a verse never sung, reads as a Psalm of David:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Maybe it’s because the song that some suggest would be a better national anthem, the song which our choir sang to close the Memorial Day program, the song written by an immigrant composer, Irving Berlin, begins by beseeching God’s blessing on America:

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

kate_smith_1
AUDIO: Kate Smith introduces “God Bless America,” CBS Radio 1938.

Let US Pray

Whatever the reason, I am less offended by The Kneel than I am by protracted conversations that not only don’t recall the reason for his protest but ignore the debate by imposing an unrelated issue.  The Kneel is not about disrespecting the flag.  It’s about healing the racial divide in the U.S. — a fissure that seems to widen each day.

Lincoln, paraphrasing Jesus recorded in Mark 3, warned of the dangers of such splits.  “And if a house be divided against itself,” the King James says, “that house cannot stand.”

The Apostle John records how Jesus prayed for his sheep to live in unity.  If this country, which purports to be a Christian nation, is to overcome the clear and present danger of division, Christ-followers would well embrace the actions of a radical preacher, symbolized by a radical quarterback and spoken by a radical general.

Kaepernick knelt to weather a storm as Patton knelt on stormy weather.  Specific prayers for specific battles.

“As chaplains it is our business to pray,” O’Neill wrote to chaplains for Patton in The Training Letter. “We preach its importance. We urge its practice. But the time is now to intensify our faith in prayer, not alone with ourselves, but with every believing man, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or Christian in the ranks of the Third United States Army.

“Those who pray do more for the world than those who fight; and if the world goes from bad to worse, it is because there are more battles than prayers.”

Think:  “If my people will humble themselves and pray…I will heal their land…” from racism, sexism, genderism…#hashtag your own #ism.

Agree or disagree with the analogies. Don’t lose the point. Pray for our nation. Evil engulfs us that mere protests and legislation will not thwart.  As Jesus told his disciples unable to cast a demon from a possessed lad, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”

You may be compelled to respond to these thoughts.  You’re welcomed to do so below.  There’s one request. In the Spirit of Gen. Patton: I want a prayer…a prayer for the United States.

#SDG #Shalom #TakeAKnee #AndAmen.

A Black Jew, A Female Pastor, A Segregationist and Thou

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. — Jesus, quoted in John 14:27

When my pastoral season as a staff associate ended earlier this year, I was liberated from weekly responsibilities at my home church and allowed the liberty to visit other Services of Worship.

This is not “church shopping” as some call it. It’s been a working a sabbatical.  These visitations brought with them new opportunities to commune with The Lord in assorted worship venues hearing other pastors preach, singing various styles of music.

Some places we went were just, “Where do we want to go this Sunday?” family choices. Many of the venues where we traveled were the outgrowth of presentations through our Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries.

Our nomadic Sundays included a suburban megachurch, an urban church plant in a high school cafe, an outdoor tent service on a shopping thoroughfare; our tucked-away home church; a renovated barn; an intimate suburban-city church merger with shoehorn parking; a renovated restart on a sprawling campus that added to Fitbit steps.  We experienced old school Sunday jump-and-shout, a full-blown pop Christian concert, and a traditional stained-glass chapel with a friendly family instruction, “Mom, they’re Lutheran. They don’t raise their hands or move around.”

We found ourselves in the heart of a gay community; where English was a second language; where our presence virtually integrated the sanctuary; where the congregation was all-black; where it was a rainbow coalition. The pastors ran a spectrum from seasoned-and-running-the-church-for-decades to part-of-the-collection-replenishes-my-Proactive-supply.  Yet, no matter where we went the Word of the Lord was solidly presented and, more often than not, we left a little beaten up from a spiritual workout.

One of those places was the Community Church of Barrington in suburban Chicago.

CCB meets in the same location in which it was founded. In 1847.  The congregation is 90 percent Caucasian, and perhaps 70 percent of that is AARP-qualified although none of them was around when the church began.  Their younger pastor is a well-qualified theologian in the Martin Luther King title vein —  a “Reverend Doctor.” The last name has a hint of French aristocracy.  Most of the congregation, however, call the Reverend Doctor by first name: Zina.

Did I say Zina is female?  She is.  Maybe I should also mention Zina is African-American.

If all of that seems too deep or pretentious, let me peel this back the way Zina might: She’s a big ol’ black country gal from East Chicago, Indiana, who doesn’t look black, who got a PhD in Boston, and is up here preaching to a buncha white folk in a Baptist church that was built before slave times…and they tell her she’s got 20 minutes to preach.

Ah, but what Zina does in those 20 minutes!

We first met Zina when we were co-presenting at an African-American History celebration at an African-American suburban church about four years ago.  We’ve presented music and workshops at her church a few times since.

The 20 minutes we spent with Zina at Community Church this summer occurred a week after the riots in Charlottesville, VA, when a white man drove his car into a crowd of African-Americans who were protesting Confederate statues in the community.  The driver, a self-described white nationalist, injured 19 people and killed one.  A white female protester.

Zina’s sermon was a convicting confessional.  A head-slapper.  One of those that makes you just sit there and listen instead of taking notes.  The notes will talk to you later. “Later” was this morning when I began reviewing my overnight newsfeed.

Two items on the feed caused a #holyspiritmoment smile of irony:  back-to-back were the last YouVersion verses of the day that I had tried to post from my Kindle earlier in the morning but ran out of time before I had to be the wife’s Uber-driver to work.  When I got home, I see that my verses of the day had been scooped by Ben Mitchell, an acquaintance through the Praise & Prayer Station Facebook Group I visit.

Ben posted:

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. — Colossians 3:13 (KJV)

and

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; — Matthew 5:44 (KJV)

Just below those verses was a Trump-Putin post with a friend’s rant and like-minded thread, the kind of which I’ve chosen to ignore.  My blood pressure is borderline. Our budget cannot manage BP prescriptions.  I scrolled to find mellower posts. This is what next appeared on my screen:

George Wallace_Aaron Freeman

I can recommend good blood pressure monitors.

Keep Reading

The post-er was Aaron Freeman, a long-time friend and fellow Chicago-based actor.  Aaron is a well-respected comedian, who cut his  improv teeth on the mainstage at The Second City, but established himself as a premiere satirist — in the Dick Gregory mold — when Harold Washington was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983. The landmark election and subsequent battles between the city’s first African-American mayor and the predominately white city council occurred shortly after the original “Star Wars” premiered.  Aaron deftly parlayed the daily headlines into a long-running solo comic tour-de-force called, “Council Wars.”

After Council Wars, Aaron expanded his creative work to include essays, podcasts, public speaking and serving as artist-in–residence at the Chicago Council on Science and Technology.

Besides being actors, Aaron and I have a couple of other things in common.  We both can be found dressed as Illinois Lottery balls in ancient commercials floating somewhere in cyberspace.  We’re both African-American. We both study the Scriptures.

Did I mention Aaron is a satirist?  Okay.  Did I mention Aaron is Jewish?  Ahhhhhh!

Actually, Aaron grew up Roman Catholic and converted to Judaism.

Seriously.

Aaron often comments on things of race, science, African-America and Judaism.  He’s been known to irk people because of his wit.  Sometimes he’s smarter than the average can bear. However, like any evocative public presenter — say, a Reverend Doctor, Aaron makes you think and if feeling an ouch occurs sometimes, so be it.

Aaron Freeman
Aaron Freeman at work (Chicago Tribune)

Everything from A(aron) to Z(ina)

So, let me break all of this down:

Aaron, my black-Jewish comic friend, posts a mind-blowing “photo” of Coretta Scott King kissing George Wallace, a five-term governor of Alabama, who made a national splash in the 1960s for his unavowed, eternal pledge to racial segregation.  Aaron posts this photo with the heart-stopping caption, “How Alabama Negroes Came to Love ‘Their Hitler.’ ”  He posts this two days after Roy Moore’s quest for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama was denied largely because of the vote of African-American women. (If media can be trusted.)

Now, you may still be in that place I was when I saw the photo:  Skip it, or bang out an immediate, vitriolic response and note really pay attention to Aaron’s comment that accompanied the photo:

Alabama black women don’t just punish racists, they forgive them!

Orrr, you can do what I did and click the Aaron’s accompanying link to get the rrrest of the story on YouTube, originally posted in 2016.  I clicked from curiosity and because, knowing Aaron, I was hoping that the rest of the link didn’t have incendiary data to send me for lisinopril.

I survived.  So might you.  You need to watch this to make sense of the rest of this piece:

Holocaust Memorial Day & The Alabama Negroes

That video essay immediately shot me back to the August morning with Rev. Dr. Zina.

Her sermon is worth a sit-down listen.  Remember, they only gave her 20 minutes; but it you want a quicker connection to Aaron’s essay, fast-forward to 14:04.  My suggestion — request — is to listen in its entirety for full impact.

Sermon inspired by Robert Fulghum’s,All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Goods for the Soul

The combination of Ben Mitchell reposting the verses on forgiveness, followed by Aaron’s video, and Zina’s extended discourse must give us pause for meditation and prayer:  as a nation, certainly as Christ-followers.  Or even as Americans whose faith in God is confined to the Old Testament — the Hebrew Bible  — wherein The Lord intones:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. — 2 Chronicles 7:14

What is the sin of America which much be confessed?

What are the sins of Americans which must be confessed?

Where must we, who follow Christ, ask forgiveness in order for our sins to be heard?

As we reflect upon the birth of Christ, we must also prepare for His Christmas yet-to- come.  What does Jesus say about qualifications and responsibilities of those for whom He is returning?

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. — Jesus, Matthew 6:14-15

A Word from Isaiah

All of which brings us to the post between Ben Mitchell’s verses and Aaron Freeman’s photo.  The post about Putin and The President.  Whenever Mr. Trump’s actions result in further dropping of his “approval” ratings, how do you respond? Do you get sucked into the morass of social harping, or retire to your prayer closet and pray for repentance?  Do you pray for the president’s safety, recognizing far worse ramifications? Do you ask forgiveness for placing the government upon his shoulders instead of upon His Shoulders?  What is the source of your peace on earth?

big_thumb

Admittedly, as Rev. Dr Zina says, “This is nuts.  This kind of love is beyond my pay-grade!”

That’s the peace of the Prince of Peace that Paul says passes all understanding.  Thus we must reflect and act upon her challenge: “We have to have confidence that our prayers and our hopes will make a difference.”

The A and Z of this is, if Aaron and Zina demonstrate how The Lord changed George Wallace, there may be hope for Donald Trump.

Let us pray.

#SDG #Shalom #AndAmen

Featured Photo Thanks:  KingFeatures.com: Shulock, TheSixChix.com & comicskingdom.com

Garnering Old School Praise

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High..” — Psalm 92:1

Sunday, my wife and I attended a morning Service of Worship at Bellevue Baptist Church,  our sister church in Converge MidAmerica​, and the home church of our partner and musical director Garlan Garner​. In the 25 years of our association with Bellevue, as often as we’ve presented together through Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries​ or Elk Grove Baptist Church​, we had never been able to go to a Sunday morning service.  Add this to our list of #holyspiritmoments.

Bellevue, on Chicago’s South Side, is what we call an “old school” church.  It’s often found in an urban setting or the center of a long-ago established smaller community in a building that was built to be a church decades ago (as opposed to being a converted office building, mall, movie theater or multi-site complex).  Its founding residents were likely another ethnicity than those currently attending, and perhaps that change in demographic was problematic, so much so that it may have hastened the change though few of the current attendees recall.

Such was the case with Bellevue, whose congregation was predominately Caucasian when Lucious Fullwood, a pioneer in encouraging racial unity through the Gospel of Christ, became the senior pastor almost 40 years ago. “Black” was still being accepted as the preferred reference to Americans of African descent.  That there are few Anglos in the neighborhood or congregation Pastor Fullwood still shepherds at Bellevue now is moot, for his messages of maintaining faith in Christ in the face of daily human struggles transcend any particular DNA.

Vikki_Garlan Bellevue

 

Vikki J. Myers and her musical partner Garlan Garner embrace musical styles that transcend neighborhoods and unite communities.

Old-School Worship

Besides,  while the people may have changed certain elements of Sunday worship passed on tradition. In the context of modern church-ulture, “old school” likely means the church has not totally abandoned occasionally reading from The King James Version; announcement time may include conversations from the platform and the pews; guests  may be welcomed by name, invited to stand, and an opportunity to give a greeting during the service; and may have a small, non-flashy, yet boisterous choir whose singers may include those not-yet qualified for AARP.

Garlan led the musical worship as he does three Sundays a month.  In something of a concession to contemporary settings, Garlan plays keyboards that can replicate other instruments.  He is frequently backed-up by what my wife — the gospel jazz singer — calls the rhythm section: drums and electric bass.  They also have an alto sax.  Another modern adaption is having words on the screen versus singing from the hymnal.  Although  there is a printed order of service for the congregation to follow, the printed order is a template.

In old-school church, there is no countdown clock to follow.  No kickoff to hasten home to watch.  DVRs were made for old-school churches (microwaves, too). The first time a preacher says, “As I close” is the 15-minute warning.  the choir, the people and the technicians have to be ready to change. It’s called letting The Spirit work.

Improvisational Worship

Among Garlan’s great gifts is musical improvisation — accompanying in the moment. Without being told, asked, paid or noticed he senses when the atmosphere of a prelude, prayer or offertory  would be more worshipful with keyboard underscoring. He conducts the choir confident that they have done their homework, reviewing their charts, lyrics and mp3s.  Sundays are not for rehearsal, he tells them during their Monday practices,; Sundays are for worship.

He embodies the old old-school form of leading worship, call-and-response, where the person guiding the singing sings or says the upcoming line and the others follow along. An echo. The structure is not dissimilar from Old Testament psalms (e.g., Psalm 136) yet emerged as a distinct element of Christ-centered worship among African-Americans — out of necessity during slavery and as tradition after Emancipation.  At the core of call-and-and response is that there’s no sheet music to follow.   It’s about trusting the leader, listening, knowing the songs by heart, and hopefully singing them from there. Those in the congregation who don’t know the lyrics are not left out.  When the musicians yield to the spirit, the people’s hearts and minds will follow.

All of that history is to help you understand the impact of what happened when Garlan called for a song that wasn’t planned.

 

Garlan Interps

The hands of an arranger:  Hear the score, score the script, play the music, make it your own.

Here We Are to Worship

It started as a “Is-there-a-doctor-in-the-house?” moment.   Garlan moved toward the keyboard, then walked to the edge of platform and shouted for the ushers to see if a choir member was in the lobby.   This was her Sunday off, or she perhaps attended the first service of the morning hours before. Nevertheless, she was not expected in the building, yet Garlan thought he saw her from the stage, and in doing-so a new song came on his heart for the pre-sermon selection; a song he felt was particularly suited to her interpretation.  When the singer could not be found, the song remained appropriate, so Garlan went to the keyboards and began singing “Here I Am to Worship.” The choir and congregation responded. While moving in its own right, the power of these moments became more inspired when we finished singing and recognized what had transpired.

 

Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me
— (c) 2001, Tim Hughes

Three weeks ago, on a Saturday when we were preparing to serve as KIT Ministries in Sunday worship in Libertyville, IL, Garlan texted Vikki he had lost his hearing during the week.  A medical procedure to alleviate pressure in his ear canal was not only painful, it did not totally take and left him with minimal hearing.  Not good: not for the service plan; not for Vik, whose musical growth has corresponded with Garlan’s interpreting her thoughts; least of all not good for a pianist who — pardon, yet it’s true — plays by ear (as in, Garlan doesn’t read music. For newer songs, Garlan’ collaborated with his wife, Tracey, also an accompanist at Bellevue.  Tracey does read music, so she plays and records the tunes which Garlan listens to a few times, replicates and then adapts. )

Despite prayers for relief, we did not expect him in Libertyville Sunday, and when we arrived at the location before he did (extremely rare) were certain we’d need to improvise and make adjustments with the host lead worshipper.  Silly us.  (translated, “Oh, ye of little faith!) Garlan not only had confirmed his attendance the night before with our host…he not only drove over an hour from his south suburban home to the northern suburban near- the-state-line site and played our set, but only AFTER the service did any of the other musicians know he could barely hear them.

Standing arm’s-length away he explained, in his normal voice, “You sound like you’re in a barrel and feel like I’m shouting.” When he laughed, it felt safe to make a Beethoven reference — something about “Ode to Joy.” He chuckled then headed home, reassuring us he was all right to drive…despite his balance not seeming right.  We waited for news of his followup visits.

Last week, he had another excruciating ear procedure done.  So painful he had to take off work (Garlan does NOT miss appointments), and listening to him tell what occurred creates weak knees and watery eyes.  In the weeks since the initial problem occurred, Garlan and the Bellevue Prayer Ministry (the whole church), went into overdrive.

 

Pastor Fullwood

Pastor Lucious Fullwood:  Preaching the gospel, providing stability throughout transitions.

A Word from the Pulpit

On this particular day — Communion Sunday — as he finished “Here I Am to Worship”by seguing into “Thank You, Lord” in such a way you thought it was planned, as the singers left the choir box to return to their congregational seats, Garlan intercepted Pastor Fullwood just before the pastor announced, “It’s Preaching Time!” He felt compelled to share a brief medical update with the congregation whose last news was that Garlan was unable to hear what he’d been playing that morning’s music.

“I just want to say,” he said hurriedly, apologetically but necessarily to Pastor Fullwood, “prayer works!  I just wanted to thank you for praying.”

Beat.

“The doctors say I’ve got 80 percent of my hearing back.”

Beat.

“I don’t know what God’s going to do about the other 20 percent, but I’ll still be serving, so I just wanted to thank you.”

With Garlan’s testimony still ringing in our ears, Pastor Fullwood resumed with his regularly scheduled “Preaching Time!” message, “Having Faith In God.” He read from the selected  New Testament passages of Jesus healing the leper and Roman centurion’s daughter. (Matthew 8:1-10, 13).  Healing, by faith.  Garlan took his seat in a pew. And the band prayed on.

 

This essay is one of a series called, “Benediction,” a collection of reflections on sermons, keynotes and workshop presentations heard, and church experiences we have had.

#SDG #AndAmen #MEMoFromMichaelEdgarMyers

Sermonized Announcements

Then Boaz announced  to the elders and all the people…” Ruth 4:9 (New International Version)

It’s the snarkiest of times, it’s the most troublesome of times.  It’s time for the church announcements, the bane of a worship planner’s planning.  What a to do!

Sermonized 2
Our tendency is to rush through the items, as if necessary evils. There is also the tendency to languish, as if the presenter is self-possessed.

You could mention them at the start of the Service of Worship, like the pre-show curtain speech in theater .  But then, the people don’t hear them. They’re getting settled waiting for the real show to start:  the music; the real worship, you know?  Or for the music to stop.   That could be another 10 minutes.  More people would be in the audience to hear them.  But then…?

If the announcements are in the middle of the service, either before or after the sermon, they interrupt the tone set up by the music to receive the message, or the reflect on it afterward.

If they are after the decision-making, maybe tied in with the offering, they run the risk of being dismissed as a superfluous afterthought.  These days with so many announcements being produced as mini-movies, that can be demoralizing, running the risk of an unhappy video ministry.  On the other hand, even the most Oscar-worthy announcement verite risks a thumbs down, no matter how well done.  In some circles, the idea of movie announcements in church is as sinful as the organ, drums and guitars have been (are?).  At best, they become the annoying white nose between the sermon and the parking lot release; at worst, they are akin to audio-cranked, strobe-paced TV commercials that blur the line between the kingdom and the world —

“We interrupt our Worship of God to bring you this news about us.” 

Even if the next-to-last item in the itinerary before the  day’s exodus, there’s visual cacophony– often boisterously written on the congregation’s faces — of hearing a James Earl Jonesian announcer (the Voice of God?) intone, “We return you now to our regularly scheduled Service of Worship.”

That leaves a gamut of announcement options. These vary according to the church’s size, resources, expectations and clock-watchers: keep them short in passing; interweave throughout the elements, just don’t do them.  Let people read the bulletin or go online.  Enough with the tongue-in-cheekiness.

However they’re presented, however much creativity and energy are spent, even if they’re diligently absorbed by the most steadfast listener, the question remains:  do our “announcements” fit the idea of a Service of Worship which is focusing on God?

The answer, as with each element of church ministry, is found in this perpetual query from a mentor pastor who lassoed freewheeling, unending brainstorming with this earth-bound retort: “Toward what purpose?”

What is the purpose of church announcements?

Simply tradition?  A news and prayer update of the calendar or congregation’s lives that we’ve always done, or that everybody else does?  The stuff that church bulletin typos comedy is made of? Or is there something about this sharing of information that actually is — or can be — connected to the overall atmosphere of collectively honoring God?  Having wrestled with this dilemma for several years, I’m comfortable that there is.  Church announcements are as essential to corporately worshipping God as psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and the sermon.  Perhaps, in many ways, more so.

As a presenter and visitor, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, the ugly of “announcements.” Our tendency is to rush through the items, as if necessary evils (emphasis on the final word). There is also the tendency to languish, as if the presenter is self-possessed.  I’ve been accused of both.

I’ve attended services where there are no announcements, announcements from the audience, music video announcements, Reader’s Digest bulletin sample announcements, “apologetized” announcements (where the speaker repeatedly makes excuses for what needs to be said), ABC announcements (where every line of the bulletin is read to the congregation).

However, a few months ago, I had an announcement epiphany while, of all times, listening to the pastor’s sermon.  Imagine.

You see, as a staff member, my Sunday mornings are often spent fine-tuning details of the service and balancing those with parental responsibilities.  When I have platform duties — like presenting the announcements — there are times when my focus is hazy.  The slightest technical bobble distracts me.  I mentally truncate the list of items to mention…because of the game clock.  Or the pastor makes a salient point that opens creative floodgates.

Sermonized Pix 1
Can we get listeners to view announcements as opportunities to serve God?  And once recognizing that, can we encourage them to participate?

On this particular day, I had no responsibilities but the family news, including no family tasks. So-freed, I allowed myself to become a congregant — to sing, reflect on the scriptures, absorb the message, and make connections.  One pastoral point stayed with me as I went forward to spread the news.   So much so, it took a moment to speak…and discover:  All three verbal items were related to the day’s message, our church mission, our vision.  Each had an inherent purpose for being read.  They weren’t separate.  We were doing these acts of service because of who we are as a church committed to Christ.  It was incumbent to express this to the audience, including those people who had never been to our church before.  The 3-5 minutes allotted me (the length of a song) now became, not a time out, but time to engage and to challenge; to allow the listeners to remain connected for the elements following — our financial offering, a celebration song, God’s benediction blessing.

 

Since then, I’ve been developing a more intentional template.  A guide for “sermonized announcements” that at least allows my sense of worship to remain attentive and inspired in the midst of ministry-threatening busyness.  The template works for a church our size (the 150s) and may have merit elsewhere.  It’s a guide to interacting with the congregation, whether through showcasing acts of service, greeting the audience,  presenting events information, or giving instructions for the offering or communion. The template allows the challenge of putting the moment in spiritual context and trusting others participate because they understand the “commercial” through Christ’s eyes.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Can we get our listeners to view the announcements as an opportunity to serve God?  And once recognizing that opportunity, can we encourage members and guests to become active participants?

“…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

Making too much of this announcement thing?  The point is to dispel the misconception that worship starts and stops with music.  It’s the entire time.   Our overhead projection that introduces this sequence is called, “Worshipping God through Offerings and Acts of Service.”   It’s important to underscore these concepts, particularly among guests whose idea of church may be “they’re always asking for money.” And to remind everyone why the church exits.  These items don’t need to happen at the same time.  They are, however, a checklist to review when deciding what information should be shared in corporate worship.  So, the template is something like this:

  1. Introduce yourself;
  2. Acknowledge the audience — regulars and guests;
  3. Point out information that needs to be written:  for example, names & addresses on a communication card;
  4. Give brief instructions to complete card and offering envelope;
  5. Express the church’s mission and vision;
  6. If you have a Welcome Packet, give summary of content, highlight special additions and where to get one;
  7. Connect the mission and vision to this sequence of worship;
  8. Connect to a sermon point if possible; or scripture; maybe note “This is why we do these events…”
  9. Point out the bulletin and refer to key items of the day to be addressed before leaving, and those to read at home;
  10. Invite the audience to a special activity not listed in the bulletin such as a class; when possible, highlight a topic;
  11. Mention any available sermon support material — a CD or order, web connection, or study notes;
  12. Pray, giving thanks for participation and reminding that contributions today underwrite ministries as the ones mentioned;
  13. Invite your offering collectors to begin.

The sequence may seem long, yet has purpose based in research:

  • Long-time attendees may go through these motions by rote, forgetting the importance of ministry service.
  • Newcomers don’t know the “rules” and may feel out of place.  In anticipation of growth, assume each week has new people.
  • If you have a video or audio ministry, telling people about the existence of this media for further study on today’s topic is more ministry uplifting and less commercial.
  • A special class invitation may pique the curiosity of a person who would like further study but doesn’t know what’s going on.

If the repetition annoys regulars, ask how many times they’ve seen their favorite “I Love Lucy” rerun.  Research also points out it takes several “touches” or reminders for people to latch on to a concept, especially to comprehend a church’s mission or vision.  One church mentor has said, “About the time you’re tired of hearing it is the time the people start getting it.”

We return you now to your regularly-scheduled reading.

(Featured photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash)

(Other photos by Dara Magrum)