Make Every Moment Matter

I'm bringing to a close our series on worship we've been doing since Easter on Divine Design. We've looked at the meaning behind religious symbols, our space and even the art that surrounds us.  So it make sense to consider what we do with all that?  Just what does it matter?  What difference does our worship make out in the real world.  Paul had something to say that I think addresses these questions.  

Colossians 3:14-17 GW Above all, be loving. This ties everything together perfectly. (15) Also, let Christ's peace control you. God has called you into this peace by bringing you into one body. Be thankful. (16) Let Christ's word with all its wisdom and richness live in you. Use psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to teach and instruct yourselves about God's kindness. Sing to God in your hearts. (17) Everything you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1.  Be free in loving all.(14)
Paul, in talking about love, is tying together how we are hidden together in Jesus Christ and because of his love for us, we are to live certain ways. The God's Word Translation in verse 13 says: “Put up with each other, and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

When we come into worship – get over yourself.

2.  Be Focused on Who you worship.(15)
We are here to worship God and let Jesus' peace have control. For those mornings it is hard to get up and get the kids going, the toilet backed-up and the dog threw up on the floor, the word is peace. For the mornings when it is raining or shining – our focus is to be on GOD = the ONE who has called you, by name, into peace. This isn't about feeling warm and fuzzy – but about assurance.
We could take a hint from the Judaism. What if we began the Sabbath, our day of rest and worship on the evening before? One of my favorite books on church life is “The Christian Handbook,” a rather tongue in cheek guide to faith. It recommends to, “shift into Sunday mode on Saturday night.” It will change your Sunday mornings for the better.

3.  Be Flexible in The Ways of worship.(16)
Many of you have mentioned and noted how the hymns and spiritual songs overlap with the teaching and instructing each week. There is a reason – Heather and I plan it that way! This isn't just a contemporary worship thing, it happens in our traditional service too. Worship has many pieces and elements. Whether contemporary or traditional or blended – it is realizing there are more than one way.
Well 3 out 4 ain't bad.
John Wesley became flexible as he saw the Holy Spirit move. He also noted that there needed to be some guidelines, much like Paul wrote out here. What was most important and observable in early Methodists was this: Participation!
You'll find in the opening pages of the UM Hymnal these nuggets of Wesley Wisdom:
Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep. Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye for God in every word you sing.”

4.  Be Faithful to Always Worship.(17)
The Divine Design of worship is to take what happens in here and take it out there. “Everything you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord...” was not intended to guilt inducing BUT life altering!
The monk known as Brother Lawrence worked in the kitchen. He became known not because of how great a preacher or cook he was. He was not highly educated. In a simple little book called “The Practice ofthe Presence of God,” it is written that, “ His one desire was for communion with God. We find him worshiping more in his kitchen than in his cathedral.”

His prayer: Lord of all pots and pans and things...
Make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates. (pg 11).

Everything can be redeemed in this world. God's Divine Design has been in motion since the beginning of time and it continues on for all eternity. Worship, from the simple everyday to the sacred moments of the year matter. From the simple time in a rocking chair or a deer stand to a sacred chapel, family life center or sanctuary – worshiping God matters.

Are We Selling Out to Social Media?

Have we been helped by social media and the streaming of General Conference?  I honestly don't know so I'm thinking out loud a bit.  Based on Facebook, Tweets and Blogs, it seems like those who are not in Tampa at #gc2012 are filled with angst and participating in a great deal of hand wringing and navel gazing.

For delegates, it maybe a help.  For caucuses (real or imagined) I'm sure it has been an effective way to communicate.  Maybe hearing all of us letting off steam publicly is helpful to those who represent us or maybe even just if our friends are paying attention.

Alas, I doubt it.

My concern from what I keep reading is that worry has replaced worship as central to gathering.  Comments have replaced connection.   The next tweet is more significant than the next talk.  We've gone to Facebook rather than face to face.

I hope that those who are serving as spiritual directors in Tampa and those churches hosting prayers in Annual Conferences will be uplifted so that they might lift up our candidates from around the globe.  The sycophantic selling out to social media as though it will redeem our time at General Conference is tragic.

Scott Ginsberg made his own observation and shared his reflections about conferences (coincidence?).  After years of traveling the country, Scott began to ask regarding these events...
Am I actually creating work that matters, or just distracting myself from what’s really important? Am I spending my time wisely, or am I just inventing things to do to preserve the illusion of productivity? Am I actually growing my business, or just satisfying my bottomless need for validation and approval? Am I actually delivering value to others, or just sitting in a corner trying to perfect myself? Am I actually connecting with my peers, or just playing dress up for the wrong audience? So I stopped. 
And what’s fascinating is, when I make creation my dominant act, I do learn. I do grow my business. I do deliver value to others. I do connect with my peers. I do feel part of a community. I do make meaning. 
I actually think this is more important to those of us NOT at General Conference (though it is valid to ask about our conferencing too) than those representing us.  I pray they will make meaning there while I live and strive to make meaning here - strive to create here.

May I Ask?  How much more creating are you doing through social media?  Is it benefiting the Kingdom of God?
May I Suggest?  Your comments (tweets, updates, etc) like everything you say and do reflect your soul's condition.  What is your social media life telling you about you?

What Spirit Are We Living With?

How we grow in our faith has been, is, and will continue to be of a central interest to me.  H/T to The Crooked Mystic for her blog and the link to Kathy Escobar's blog (I really need to update my blog roll now) which of late has been focusing on developmental thought and theology.  It has focused primarily on the work of one of my spiritual directors, Janet Hagberg, and The Critical Journey.

As I am working on my own certification in Spiritual Direction, I have been watching and connecting theories to practice and experiences back to theories.  Because of my own background and work with Donald M. Joy regarding developmental thought and Wesleyan Theology, many of these connections have been amazing to see and observe.  It has taken a long time to get here though.  And the underlying truth I've learned is this:

You simply cannot rush the spiritual process.  

As a Methodist, this shouldn't be surprising and yet it is, when you live it out. John Wesley's own journey to salvation was long, winding and convoluted.  He affirmed as much in others.  From those observations, he then developed his own spiritual developmental theory in his sermon, "On the Spirit of Bondage and Adoption."

For pdf of Donald Joy on John Wesley's Development of Moral Thinking

When we move to measuring numerical growth before we have grown inwardly ourselves, then it is not surprising that fear and anxiety begin to rule the day (as it is seeming to do at General Conference as Morgan Guyton noticed).  If developmentally, we've not grown past an understanding of our imperial self, that is, a need to keep my balance without considering our shared reality (Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self, pg 91), then we cannot hope to understand what others are feeling.

Most certainly, we can't know how someone else is experiencing God in that moment.  And if it is fear, then we need to ask ourselves more pointedly, why?  Paul makes it plain, we "...have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again," (Romans 8:15).  So if fear and anxiety are what is ruling the hearts of others, what has happened?  Or better yet, do we care or are we even concerned we might even be the cause?

Let's get more to the point, what are we learning from the numbers we choose to measure?  Have Sunday mornings and worship experiences become more about helping us understand ourselves in light of God instead of helping us meet God in spite of ourselves?  Are our small groups focused on Spirit or self?  We can use words and concepts beyond our experience and knowledge but we cannot own them.  Our words can sound good but they may also fall on ears not able to comprehend.

May I Ask?  What is the spirit which is dominating your reality?  Where is it coming from?

May I Suggest?  Take time to listen to what is being said around you in conversation.  Listen for Spirit of Adoption NOT fear.

In The Potter's House: The Heart Behind The Art

This is a unique week for us. We are surrounded by artwork throughout our buildings with the Cumming First UMC Festival of Arts and for us at 951, we are surrounded by artistry in our space. Our choices of decoration are important. Surely beauty is in the eye of the beholder but tacky is on display for everyone to see! The practice of Feng Shui, focuses on how design impacts our emotions and health.

In the church, artistry has deeper meaning. When icons and stain glass work were developed, it was to help tell the story of the Bible for those who couldn't read. These works became more significant through the centuries so that symbols became their own art form. The Orthodox traditions place a high priority on beauty.

Let me introduce you to our special guest today, Kevin Whitley. Kevin's work is on display throughout our church and his artistry has touched many of us. Kevin is also a teacher and so he has passed his knowledge and skills to others. And Kevin's skills overlap with a unique passage from the Bible where artistry and the heart of God collide – in the potter's house in Jeremiah18:1-6.

It was over 2,000 years ago, before Jesus' coming, that Jeremiah was called to be a prophet at very early age. In Jeremiah's time the nation of Judah had made a lot of bad choices and political alliances that led to its conquered and people being exiled. As a prophet, he held to God's word and truth. Unfortunately, it meant that the king and rulers weren't excited to have Jeremiah around since he pointed out their mistakes.

Then God gave Jeremiah a message: go the potter's house, an artist, there I'll give you the message for my people.

Look at the clay that you were given during the Children's moment. I suspect some of you couldn't help yourself and started molding it already. What have you made? Is it a cup? A bowl? An airplane or a snake? Do you like it...or is something lacking in it?

Ken turns to Kevin and says, “Kevin, when a work of pottery isn't quite right do you throw it out and get a new lump of clay?”
Kevin responds, (and at the same time restarting his work), “No, you start over!”

Nothing is wasted in the work of the potter. The main work may need to be redone. Scrap can be tossed to the side only to be reused latter to make another piece. Nothing need be wasted. The potter's work and God's work are very similar.

This image was so significant, Paul, in his letter to the Roman church used the same idea when he wrote: Who do you think you are to talk back to God like that? Can an object that was made say to its maker, "Why did you make me like this?" (21) A potter has the right to do whatever he wants with his clay. He can make something for a special occasion or something for everyday use from the same lump of clay. Rom 9:20-21 GW
There is heart behind the art and not just what you see made by hand here today. The heart of God is evident in each of us, in our uniqueness. God has made us to be vessels not for food or drink or car keys but for carrying the Good News of Jesus Christ's Kingdom.

Sure, things do go haywire. We go astray, we choose not to go after God's way. Circumstances overwhelm us and we lose sight of God's work in us. Sometimes we place value on things of this world like business success or social status and so make the molding God is doing go wonky. The word the Bible uses for this is sin.

But the image God uses is the potter: nothing is wasted. A new start is always possible. The feeling may not be good if you are the clay mind you! But God isn't interested in tossing us out. Jesus didn't do that to lepers or tax collectors or prostitutes. He also didn't do it to the Jews.

This message of the potter and the clay is all about Grace.
One pastor wrote: It tells us that we have another chance:
that when we fail
that when we have lost the beauty we once had
that when we have gone off on a path that is not helpful
That God can rework us
That God can salvage us and make us beautiful
and that it is God's DIVINE DESIGN to do so!

Every piece of artwork was formed to add beauty to this world. We dare not miss this! You have a place in God's Divine Design – you have been created and are recreated to reflect this message of grace and beauty. Take time and make the arts festival part of your week. Make art a part of your life and remind you God is working in and through you to BE a vessel for him...even if you're a little wonky and God is still forming you.

  Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning.  Follow Ken on Facebook or on Twitter: @jedipastorken

  Learn more about the variety of worship experiences, the many ministries and the incredible people of Cumming First United Methodist Church, Cumming, GA.  A Traditional Church for Contemporary People!

A House That Prayer Built - Learning To Pray Without Ceasing

The design of a home is a personal thing. Décor and furnishings are used to highlight and enhance the feel and theme. Fabrics, colors, chairs, sofas, fireplaces, bookshelves, from beautiful artwork to dead animal parts hung on walls, our home design says something about us. It tells people what we like and what interests us.

The church is no different. Not just our church but any and every church. The design of the space tells you something about what is thought to be important. What you put in OR take out matters. The basic design of almost every church is taken from the historic cathedral floorplans. And what is placed in the space, turns even the most simple into the sacred.

Just a few weeks ago we looked at the Marks of Prayer. I expect throughout this year, we'll drop back to those themes again and again. We looked at the moment in time when Jesus cleared the temple of moneylenders and he quoted from the prophet Isaiah that the house of God should be a place of prayer. Think about that for a moment.

Discuss with others: What other descriptions COULD you come up with to describe the house of God?
(I came up with: worship, preaching, hospitality, fellowship, coffee, and service.  Listen to the MP3 to hear some really great ones!)

Of all the verses of the Old Testament, of ALL the things Jesus could say about God's house, he noted that it is to be known as a House of Prayer. And then, over and over again, in different ways, throughout the Bible we find a variation of this theme:
(6) Rejoice always; (17) pray without ceasing; (18) in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB

The design of our two worship spaces here at Cumming FUMC have a kneeling rail. It tells you that we agree with Jesus' words. But let's be real, praying without ceasing? Have you ever tried living without breathing? Prayer without ceasing, yeah right! And yet, this theme of constant prayer runs through Jesus and Paul and into the Old Testament.

Prayer is to be central to the life of the Christian, obviously, like breathing. It is no wonder that we wander in our faith journey and in our times from church to church. I suspect that it is likely we don't get this. Pastor Edwin Blackwood suspects two reasons why we don't pray without ceasing: one, we are just being disobedient or two, we really don't believe it makes a difference.

But I would suggest, mainly because it is my own experience, there is another reason, maybe even more troubling. The third reason we don't pray without ceasing is no one has taught us how to do it. Most of what we've heard about prayer or seen modeled uses big words and sounds really high and holy. Or we hear about intercessory prayer and that is something that only really godly people do.

I don't know if Pauley Perrette knows it or not, but her simple prayer, “God thank you for everything. God forgive me for everything,” is more than simple. It is a way to pray that is associated with this very challenge of Paul to pray without ceasing. We're not the first generation of people to have a lot to get done, just talk to any farmer or review your notes on the industrial revolution, we've always been on the go.

It was in the early formation of the monastic traditions that monks would use one verse from a Psalm to be a short prayer and remind them of the entire Psalm as they went about their daily work. In time, the prayer which became known as the Jesus Prayer was given form. “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Read Luke 18:10-14and the parable of the Tax Collector and Pharisee (CLICK HERE for my full Bible Study on this Parable).  Do a search online of the phrase in the Gospels: “have mercy,” and you'll see the pattern of this prayer.

In his book, TheBreath of Life, Ron DelBene writes about the practice of praying without ceasing. He notes, “To pray without ceasing on every possible occasion means that we are to be in a state of remembrance of what God has done, and is doing, for us (26).” Under our breath, in every moment, the Jesus prayer, a psalm verse, a Bible verse or a prayer of your own design like Pauley's can become a pattern for you to live out this call to pray without ceasing.

John Wesley, the leader of the Methodist movement, was adamant that Methodists be people of prayer. He was known to get up a 4am for his prayer time each day. When writing his Notes  on the New Testament, he got to these verses and wrote:
Prayer may be said to be the breath of our spiritual life. He that lives cannot possibly cease breathing.”   If we give up praying and praising, our joy will be nothing more than a delusion.

In the past year, the practice of praying without ceasing has been foundational to my faith and my journey. As I have wrestled with the vision loss in my right eye and various medications and treatments, it is this practice of prayer that has established my faith and hope firmly on God.

You will not come to know God's Divine Design apart from praying. Praying isn't about coming to know your purpose, it is about coming to know God. You don't need to master it , you simply need to begin doing it.  

May I Suggest?  Join us in prayer each Sunday morning at 9:51am in praying the Jesus prayer: "Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, a church of sinners."  Let me know if you will!

Click to download the mp3 of  Divine Design Week 2: A House That Prayer Built

  Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning.  Follow Ken on Facebook or on Twitter: @jedipastorken

  Learn more about the variety of worship experiences, the many ministries and the incredible people of Cumming First United Methodist Church, Cumming, GA.  A Traditional Church for Contemporary People!

Trust Is Always A Choice

There is always a choice.

We may not like those available.  We may fear the options and the outcomes.  We may worry what they mean for the future.  In this life, we are always dealing with choices.  For many of us who seek to journey a spiritual life, we struggle with the choices of the inner and outer lives (the tragic truth is we all struggle with this - some just admit it).  Parker Palmer calls it the "divided life" and notes, "The divided life may be endemic, but wholeness is always a choice (pg 17, A Hidden Wholeness).

Parker's work has been in recent years, working with teachers and the academic world.  As he talks about the divided life in A Hidden Wholeness, the divided life issues are found not just in the teaching profession but in financial and business sectors as well as in the governmental fields.  So I appreciated greatly the issue of trust that John Meunier wrote about regarding the UMC and the Call To Action.

John writes,
Building trust within congregations and the broader connection, I would argue, is the first order of business for our denomination. Without trust everything else we do will be an exercise in raw power and manipulation and public relations.
John also observes, "I think it is no coincidence that the biggest cheerleaders for Vital Congregations are those with power and authority and influence in the system now."  It isn't about pointing blame but it should be noted there IS a neglect that does require us to stop and call a spade a spade.

John of the Cross knew the power and authority others had over him and he experienced it first hand.  Noticeably absent from his experiences was any thought to pastoral care by his "superiors."  If you've read any of the reports and results from the Vital Congregations you may or may not have noticed that the discussion or  practice of pastoral care or soul care is absent.

My own conversations and some observations also coincide with concerns surrounding large membership churches that Jeremy Smith raised.  This isn't so much a condemnation of said large churches, but it is a concern for the model surrounding the UMC and the mega-churches many of our clergy are enamored with. Churches who are looked to as "models" and "experts" also have made very specific choices to not concern themselves with pastoral care and soul care.  These churches do not "do weddings."  They do not "do funerals." They don't "do infant baptism" so new births are not any big deal at all. Hospital visitation is left to small groups.

But the choices of clergy and churches to not do certain things says something theologically.  When push comes to shove, there is a real need people have to spend time with caring clergy in these points of life transition.  Our UM churches DO get these phone calls and we act.  Are these the churches we are looking to model off of as well?  Let us be real - we are listening to them after all.  To work on trust issues, we need to start being honest with ourselves.

 But this issue of trust means all the card have to be put on the table by all involved.  We have to set down at the same table and learn to listen for the Holy in our midst NOT just one another's ideas.  There are ways of doing this.  We have centuries now of Christian practices which can be helpful and effective for us.  Parker Palmer has been doing this work in his "Circles of Trust" with teachers at his Center for Courage and Renewal.

For us as Christian people however, I have to wonder if the trust issue starts with God since it is God who appears to me to be absent from our conversations and our reporting processes.  I mean, there is nothing wrong with changing our reporting methods.  I should HOPE this means charge conference reports and end of the year reports can now be done away with entirely since we're reporting every week.  But reporting and lording said reports will not help build trust or any organization, especially the church.  As Rose Mary Dougherty notes,  "Ordinary ways of evaluating success don't apply. We are...talking about God's work and we don't know evaluate it".

It Really Is All About Soul

Billy Joel sang it best in one of my favorite songs he wrote and performed, "It is all about soul!"  Yet, there is no doubt, souls are far from today's conversations.  Hard to believe considering Easter Sunday was just this past week but so little talk or consideration of the soul seems to enter into our discussions.

Easter Sunday was at the end of Spring Break and all conversations are focused around CRCT for those with kids in school.  Summer vacation plans are forming as are plans for summer camps.  Sportsmen and sportswomen are out in the lakes and streams and those of us who hunt are chasing gobblers through the woods before we put our gear away for summer.  Baseball is underway.  What about soul?

The last few weeks in preparation for the UMC General Conference it seems talking about the Call to Action is all the rage on blogs like Jeremy Smith and Becca Clark (among many) and Facebook.  In the last few weeks, the news has been dominated by partisan politics and racial divides in our nation from Jeremy Lin to Trayvon Martin.  Soul?

Yet, it is the issue of the soul that has been haunting me day in and day out for months.  I see it in the simplest of issues and in the more complex.  I've run into it while watching a Dr. Who episode on Netflix with our family the other night.  As I hear sound bites I notice the lack of concern for the soul of our fellow human beings.  Just today, I read the words of someone dismissing the Romneys and the Kennedys as people from another planet - in essence - people without souls.  Then they told me to go get in my spaceship.

That is ironic being that I am the "Jedi Pastor."

People often think my interest in Star Wars and being a "Jedi Pastor" has to do with the action and adventure of this movie series and merchandise.  It isn't.  Behind the effects, who shot first?, Jar-Jar Binks, and poor romance scenes of George Lucas, there is a greater theme which has to do with the soul.  Great works of literature and art deal with soul.

It is the soul which is work of clergy.  

Back in 1982, Urban T. Holmes, Episcopal Priest and Professor, addressed the role of clergy in this process,
" the Protestant traditions there has been an effort to separate theologically the person of the pastor from the  function of one who preaches the Word and administers the sacraments, it has not worked in practice.  There is a symbolic power in the ordained person, no matter what his or her theology.  The ordained person is expected to be a person of prayer that the person in the street cannot be.  Several surveys of lay persons about what they look for in the ordained show this expectation (pg 34, Spirituality for Ministry (Kindle version is available))."
What we have in Scripture is a history of practiced care for other people’s faith and work of God in their lives.  This is significant for me as I have come to believe in and advocate for practicing spiritual direction.
It is not foreign to our Christian heritage but grounded in God’s revelation to us.  Marian Cowan notes that we can find the beginnings of spiritual direction in the Old Testament.  We see there the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon to learn from his wisdom.   And it is clear Jesus lived a life offering spiritual direction to others.  He did it with Nicodemus and the woman at the well (John 3:1-21 and 4:7-19).  What is more, this was also patterned in Jesus’ life among the disciples.

We may choose to ignore it.  We may choose to neglect it.  We may even choose to dismiss it.  It may not be rational, psychological or scientifically defensible.  For some, it may be important to dismiss it as not part of their theology.  But if we do so, we do it to our detriment.  It is all about soul.

A Tale of Two Crosses

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’  Mark 16:1-7 (NRSV)

"Can Christianity exist without the cross?" is the question BrettBlair asked on Not surprisingly, his answer is that it can't and I agree.  But Christianity has more than one cross, it is a tale of two crosses: the crucifix and the empty cross. They are the hinges that of  the Kingdom’s door.  In our historic creeds, they rest at the center, "he was crucified, dead and buried," AND "the third day he rose from the dead."  And they are central in Mark’s story of Easter morning

It all hinges here: "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who WAS crucified..."

Without the Crucifixion, Easter doesn't happen. Without Good Friday, we don't have an Easter Sunday. And the Church Universal becomes a creed without a cause.
Jesus' own creed made it clear in Luke 19:10 when he said to a crowd, after the tax collector Nicodemus choose to follow Jesus, “the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost" (Lk 19:10)

"He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him."
And without an Empty Cross, the Church is nothing more than a sect without a savior
Our wounds too great, our sins insurmountable. Describe it how you will, the truth is we were, and we are, a people in need of help. Without the cross, churches become nothing more than a Jewish sect led by a disgraced carpenter turned Rabbi.

The Prophet Isaiah saw it this way:  "He suffered and endured great pain for us, but we thought his suffering was punishment from God. He was wounded and crushed because of our sins; by taking our punishment, he made us completely well. (Isa 53:4-5 CEV)"

He was wounded for the sake of our wounds. He saved from our sins. He became for us not only the high priest but the healer of our wounds and the complete sacrifice for our sin, making us complete and whole before God. There is no Good News without the Suffering Truth.

We live in a world of divine design. When I was entering my Junior year of High School, I wondered about the design of my life. As all my friends were making decision about their futures, I was aimless. Until I bumped up against the Divine Design. At the crucifixion, I discovered church was more than just a belief system: The Church is about LIFE LIVED. I discovered that wasn't then end though. There was an empty cross and I was introduced to the Savior, Jesus Christ and a relationship with God, the One at the center of religion and ritual. The one whose Divine Design has shaped and continues to shape this world.

We can't get to Easter Sunday without Good Friday. We can't get the Empty Cross without Jesus Crucified. And we can't get to the empty tomb without them both! It is a tale of two crosses, and I hope, it becomes a tale of your life, that you hear the Good News that your life, no matter what has happened before this day, can be made new – because of Jesus' two crosses, you can experience the divine design God has for you!

  Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning.  Follow Ken on Facebook or on Twitter: @jedipastorken

  Learn more about the variety of worship experiences, the many ministries and the incredible people of Cumming First United Methodist Church, Cumming, GA.  A Traditional Church for Contemporary People!

Too Much of a Good Thing? Not This Week!

Can you really get too much of a good thing?  Well, yes, you can over-indulge on McDonald's french fries.  Too many Blizzards at DQ are not going to help.  You can watch some movies way too much as well.

But I'd argue, that when it comes to the week leading up to Easter Sunday, you cannot get too much of what is the Greatest Story in Human History.  I said this past Sunday, in "Marks of Servanthood", 

 "Try if you will to take away how Jesus served others. Try to read the New Testament and skip over every action of Jesus on behalf other people and see what you have left. For in doing so you have to take away the resurrection itself." 

If you do it, strip away all of Jesus' actions on behalf of others, we're left with nothing virtually nothing.  His teachings alone, I'd argue as well, are of little consequence without all that Jesus did for other people.

Too much of a good thing?  Not this week and not this year at Cumming First United Methodist Church!  We're going all out to make space and provide experiences during the week to prepare you for an incredible Easter Sunday!  This year we're moving times around on Sunday morning to provide still ANOTHER worship experience on Sunday mornings! 

Nope, when it comes to Easter, you just can't get enough about Jesus Christ!  We're making space at Cumming First United Methodist Church, A Traditional Church for Contemporary People!

Holy Week Services @ 

Wednesday, April 4
Holy communion is served in the
sanctuary at 12 Noon

Maundy Thursday, April 5
Holy Communion/Tenebrae
service in the sanctuary at 7:30 pm
(Tenebrae portion is not suitable for young children)

Good Friday, April 6
Traditional remembrance of the crucifixtion service
in the sanctuary at 12 Noon

Easter Sunday, April 8
• Sunrise Service
on the Front Lawn at 7 AM

• Servicio en español in the
student center at 8 AM

• Traditional worship in the
sanctuary at 8:30 and 11:15 am

• 951 - Contemporary worship in the
family life center at 9:45 am

Easter Sunday Pancake Breakfast
will be cooked and served by Boy Scout Troop 62 from 8-10 AM in the Children's Pod.
Cost: Cost: $4 per person with a Family Maximum of $12

Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning.  Follow Ken on Facebook or on Twitter: @jedipastorken

Learn more about the variety of worship experiences, the many ministries and the incredible people of Cumming First United Methodist Church, Cumming, GA.  A Traditional Church for Contemporary People!

Leave A Mark: Mark of Servanthood - Another Take on Palm Sunday

When I was at Asbury Serminary, Maxie Dunnam became president. Maxie has been not just a great leader in the United Methodist Church most of his time in ministry, he has been a UM Elder under appointment. During his ministry,  Maxie has picked up some great stories and one of those is a story about a husband and the wife who got into an argument. Something none of us have ever done I'm sure. The problem was, the fight had begun on a road trip to attend a family wedding in a distant city — it was tense, uneasy and quiet trip, both of them starring straight ahead or out the window as the miles went by in icy silence. The angry tension between them was so thick you could cut it with a knife. But, then the silence was broken. Pointing to a donkey standing in a pasture out beside the road, the husband sarcastically asked, “Relative of yours?”

The wife quickly replied, “By marriage!”

A braying donkey, is an ugly sight, an object of amused contempt.  In modern communication, the donkey is a symbol for awkwardness, dumbness, blundering ineptness, a lack of sophistication. Of all creatures, it is an ass who plays a key role in the drama of Palm Sunday at which we’re looking today.

And the truth is, this donkey symbolizes the Kingdom of God far better than any other symbol. All the things which make up our understanding of kingdoms get thrown out by Jesus. He doesn't wear a crown or have a castle. He doesn't command an army or have crates of cash. This is a Kingdom of servants and the King himself is the servant of all.

Symbols of success mean a great deal in all societies. Those in the fields of anthropology and sociology have noted through the centuries the importance and significance of the symbols that determine power and roles. Jesus was not and is not interested in political statements and power postures: Jesus is interested in people.

Jesus continues to make connections between the Old Testatment and the New Testament. In the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 the prophet saw this vision: Everyone in Jerusalem, celebrate and shout! Your king has won a victory, and he is coming to you. He is humble and rides on a donkey; he comes on the colt of a donkey. Kings winning victory usually ride on beautiful, majestic horses...NOT donkeys, not the ordinary.

Those he chose to go find said donkey were out of his group of 12. Those 12 were none of the expected a Rabbi might choose. When we talk a few weeks ago on the Marks of Followers, we learned at least two professions represented: fishermen and a tax collector – neither highly respected among the Jewish people, just ordinary.

So an ordinary donkey and a group of everyday people make their way to the gate of Jerusalem. And there, the everybodys, came laying out palms and coats, they rolled out “the red carpet” for this King. These people didn't wait to ask, “Whose job is this?” “Who is the coordinator for palm-cutting?” “Hey, you there! You didn't put that jacket down the right way – it goes like this!” We know from the other gospels, the Pharisees were ticked that they weren't consulted.

But the real issue at hand for us is this: JESUS CARED ABOUT PEOPLE! The actions of the people were in response to Jesus' actions toward them. Jesus had left a mark in all of his traveling, his teaching and his serving. The symbols of a donkey, of his disciples and the people point out to us clearly, Jesus loves the ordinary – the everyday – the real.

This shouldn't have surprised the disciples or us. Just a few verses before, Jesus forshadowed what was coming. He defined what kind of “leaders” he was looking for and the actions and attitudes of those in the Kingdom of God. In response to the very issue of “power”
...Jesus called the disciples together and said: You know that those foreigners who call themselves kings like to order their people around. And their great leaders have full power over the people they rule. (43) But don't act like them. If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. (44) And if you want to be first, you must be everyone's slave. (45) The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people. Mark 10:42-45 CEV

The mark of Servanthood is no is serving others. It is the Golden Rule, the Great Commandment, the Scout Slogan: "Do a good turn daily."  You can keep going and find mission statements galore that echo this mark of Jesus – it is more than an act of generosity, it is a life of giving of yourself.

This is the mark Jesus has left to us. The significance of Jesus is not merely in his teaching. It is not in his acts of healing. It is not in his reformation work. It is not in his social justice work. It is here – for Jesus did not come saying he loved us, not preaching that he loved us, Jesus came serving us and that is the mark of Love itself.

Try if you will to take away how Jesus served others. Try to read the New Testament and skip over every action of Jesus on behalf other people and see what you have left. For in doing so you have to take away the resurrection itself. We don't just follow a good teacher we follow a King who loves ordinary people, who was not swayed by political action committees or power systems, he was swayed by a love of people and so he acted – he left a mark of love by serving.

Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning.

Learn more about the variety of worship experiences, the many ministries and the incredible people of Cumming First United Methodist Church, Cumming, GA.  A Traditional Church for Contemporary People!

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