Thursday, April 12, 2007

Looking Toward Pentecost

Pentecost is just around the corner. Well, to be more exact, it is fifty days from Easter.

Jesus appeared to his disciples for forty days. The time came for him to ascend to heaven—he commanded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit would come upon them. The disciples knew that the wait would not be long—Shavout, or the Feast of Weeks, was just a few days away! It was on Shavout that the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ followers.

All able-bodied Jews were to go to Jerusalem for Shavout. Each person was to bring two loaves of “leavened bread” as a sacrifice. The loaves were not to be placed on the alter because they had leaven in them.

Why two loaves? Could it be that the two loaves represented the Jews and the Gentiles? Could it be that God set up this specific festival with the idea that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on Jesus’ followers and that people from a multitude of nations would hear the gospel preached in their own language? Two loaves made possible through the sacrifice of Christ.

What does your church do to celebrate Pentecost? Is your Pentecost the same year after year? What could you do different this year?

Our church is “kind of” stuck in a rut when it comes to Pentecost. We have a tradition of having people wear red on Pentecost (the “red” is to represent the tongues of fire from Acts 2). Most of our long time members will wear red—few of our newer folks will wear red. We have a beautiful Pentecost banner that goes up each year. Should we keep doing those things? Good question!

We try to keep Pentecost “fresh” by trying new things. We have had multiple languages used during the service. We have used a car dealer’s gigantic fans/blown streamers (red of course) to represent the tongues of fire. We have tie red helium-filled balloons to the chairs in the sanctuary (we don’t have pews). For the past two years we have concluded the service with Spirit in the Sky by Norm Greenbaum. By changing a few words we transform this song into a “Christian” song. The congregation LOVES IT. I use an electric guitar (rather than my normal acoustic) to get the right sound for the song. Spirit in the Sky could become a rut if we are not careful!

What would happen if we gave two small loaves of bread to everyone who attended church on Pentecost? It would take a lot of work!!! It would take considerable sacrifice on the part of a few people to bake all of that bread. But just think… each person would have something tangible to take home to represent both Jews and Gentiles coming before God. Oh well, it’s a thought.

What ideas to do you have for celebrating Pentecost?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Still More Post Easter/Lent Thoughts

Keep things fresh: It is too easy for churches to get in a rut. If we are not careful we do the same old things year after year—especially during our special “seasons.” Mix things up a bit. I talked with a pastor friend who’s church has a “drama” for Easter. For Easter, Ron and Kyle were people who had the job of “cleaning up” around Jerusalem and Bethany. They talked about what they had heard while cleaning up after the Last Supper and the crucifixion. Very clever!! That’s keeping it fresh!

The message and the packaging: We must always remember that the message does not change—the way the message is packaged needs to be adapted and tweaked. Our “twice a year” attendees expect to hear the same old stuff over and over. Grab their attention by changing the “packaging.” The extra effort is worth it. People are still buzzing about our Easter service and what it meant to their faith.

The flowers: We have people in our congregation who are allergic to Easter lilies. We tried several things to have the lilies work out. We tried keeping them in the church office until Easter morning—didn’t work, they still had allergy problems. We tried keeping them in the office and removing the pistol and stamens from each blossom—didn’t work, they still had allergy problems. Several years ago we gave up and started using azalea plants for Easter. They are fabulous! The colors range from red to purple to pink to white to white and pink. The azaleas make the sanctuary look very festive. Following the service the people who purchased the azaleas can take them home and plant them in the garden. We will never go back to Easter lilies.

It is time to begin thinking about next year. I already have some good ideas for sermons leading up to Christmas. For Easter… good question!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More Post Easter/Lent Thoughts

Preaching on Grace: Amazing Grace was the sermon series I preached during lent. The first four weeks I used a line from the first verse of the hymn as the springboard for the idea. Easter morning was the last of the Amazing Grace messages. I am confident that the folks at Evergreen know that we are not perfect—we are forgiven! I would highly recommend this type of series for Lent.

The Passover Seder meal: Our church has been truly blessed by having a relationship with a Messianic congregation. Our church will be celebrating the Passover Seder meal with Brent’s church next year! Twice they have had people from their church come out to lead our Seder. We are so looking forward to celebrating the Seder with them. I would highly recommend that every church develop a relationship with a Messianic congregation. My only complaint with our long time relationship is that they slaughtered us in softball! I digress… they have a wonderful perspective on the Passover that every Christian church needs to experience.

The “Right” Lay Leaders: We have lay folks lead our “Call to Worship,” “Admission of Failure” and “Assurance of God’s Constant Love.” Too often these are wonderful folks who are not very good in front of a crowd. Our Lay Leaders for Palm Sunday and Easter were high school students. They did a fantastic job! I would highly recommend having high school students assist with leading worship on these special Sundays.

Take a Day Off: Friday is my normal day off. I am ashamed to admit it but I end up working at least a couple of hours every Friday. Even with all that happened on last Friday I still went in early on Friday to get some work done. I did have good excuse for working—the special music the worship team was working on, Thursday we had our big Seder dinner and I had to lead three totally different worship experiences on Saturday night and Sunday morning (with three totally different messages). Next year I will be sure to take at least one full day off during Holy Week (maybe two). I was exhausted by the time I got home Sunday afternoon. I will try my best to not have the same thing happen next year.

Spring Cleaning at the Church: Does your church have a day for spring cleaning? Our “day” is the Saturday of Palm Sunday weekend. In days gone by, we could announce the spring cleaning day the week or two before and have good sized crowd show up to work. That game plan does not work so well in this current culture in our climate. The last three years it has rained quite heavily on cleaning day. Who wants to do yard work in the rain? On top of that, many of our folks are extremely busy with their many commitments and find it difficult to be at the church on a particular Saturday morning at 9 am for a work party. Next year we are going to try something new. We will have a two week period for the work to get done—with a work day the last day. We will have a list of all the tasks that need to be completed. People will be able o sign up for a particular task. They will have a two week period to accomplish that task. Some will choose to work in the evenings. Others may work on the “first” Saturday of the cleaning time because the weather is great. Some may come up on a weekday. I think that we will be able to get more people involved and more projects completed.

The Easter Worship Bulletin: We have a wonderful lady in our church who just happens to be an excellent artist. She was kind enough to draw the cover of our Christmas Eve worship bulletin and our Easter worship bulletin. Rosie painted the background for our manger and tomb scenes. She helped build/paint our Bethlehem stable. She could see what our Easter tomb looked like. She was able to make the bulletin covers correspond with what we had done to the front of our sanctuary. The bulletin covers were great! Consider using your artists for these special worship occasions.

Interpretive Dance: I am not the greatest fan of interpretive dance in worship. Too often it appears as though the dance has been thrown into the service without much thought. Laura (our fifth grader) dance every Saturday night when our worship team practices. She does an excellent job—she is very talented. I imagine that the angels were dancing that first Easter. It was a time of cosmic celebration—it still is a time of great celebration. It was very appropriate to have her dance during our special resurrection music. If your church has never experienced interpretive dance, an Easter service would be a good place to introduce it to the church.

That’s enough for today. I may have more thoughts tomorrow.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Post Easter Thoughts

It is the day after Easter. It is too easy to be hyped up from the Easter excitement and forget to think critically about Easter and Lent.

First thought: Don’t serve on jury duty during Lent! I received my original jury summons for the week of December 1. I was able to have that jury summons postponed. I had asked for the week of March 1—thinking of my last time on jury duty. Last time I only had to go in a few times and I was never placed on a jury—after all, no one wants a pastor on a jury. This time I had to report almost every day and was placed on a jury for a trial that extended past my original jury commitment. I tried to keep up with stuff at the church but I felt unprepared for the Easter rush.

Second thought: Every congregation should buy theatrical lights for their sanctuary. We purchased and installed the lights almost two years ago. The lights GREATLY enhanced our Holy Week services. Our Palm Sunday service is VERY different. We basically have two services in one. We start the service with a traditional Palm Sunday feel. The choir sings one or two numbers. We celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. After a Palm Sunday message and prayer the second part of the service begins—Jesus’ death. We have found that around twenty people will come out for a Good Friday service. So, most people don’t spend much time thinking about the crucifixion of Jesus. By ending our Palm Sunday service with the crucifixion and burial the entire congregation is faced with the reality of Jesus’ death. Our talented folks built a tomb at the front of the sanctuary. For this portion of the service I explain in detail the Roman crucifixion. The sanctuary is dark except for our stage lighting. The cross and tomb are lit with purple/red/blue lights. A few white lights highlight the area in front of the tomb where I am speaking. After talking about Christ’s death and burial we sing Chris Tomlin’s rendition of The Wonderful Cross. During the song the lights fade to black and black cloth is draped over the cross, communion table, pulpit and lectern. As the keyboard rumbles its last low “D” note the sanctuary is in total darkness. This was always a powerful service but the lighting made the impact 10 times more powerful. People leave in tears—the reality of Christ’s death is very powerful. Easter morning we begin with the sanctuary in darkness with everything still draped in black. After a few words of introduction a single white spotlight illuminates two singers with our worship team. The team is singing and playing a song called Arise My Love, by New Song. The second verse of the song goes, “The earth trembled and the tomb began to shake and like lightening from heaven the stone was rolled away.” At that time we had the stone removed and a single white spotlight shines directly in the tomb, showing the empty grave clothes. At the resurrection one of our fifth grade students, who is an excellent interpretive dancer, began to dance. The purple/red/blue spots begin to fade in—followed by all of the rest of the stage lighting. The beginning of our Easter service would have been good with regular lighting—it was BEYOND POWERFUL with the special lighting. If our church can do it so can your church!

Third thought: Take part in an Easter Sunrise Service with churches from other denominations. For many years our church had a combined service with another Presbyterian Church) that is 8 or 9 miles away). Four years ago we were invited to join with two local churches for a sunrise service—Graham Emmanuel Baptist Church and Graham Evangelical Covenant Church. We rotate the hosting of the service. Our service provides a united Christian experience on Easter morning.

Fourth thought: Have your best “after church food” of the entire year for Easter! On Tuesday we were putting the Seder food in the church’s fridge and freezer. We were horrified to find a cake in the freeze marked “for Easter Sunday.” The cake was basically exposed to every odor possible in the freezer. It was left over from Palm Sunday. It trying to save a few dollars our Easter crowd would be served leftover cake! That cake was immediately thrown into the garbage. We had a HUGE crowd stay after church for food. We had plenty of very good food—none of it being leftovers. We will make sure that we NEVER serve leftover cake after Sunday worship. God deserves better and so do God’s people!

Final thought for today: Take some risks! Our first time visitors on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday were blown away. They experience the death and resurrection of Jesus in an appropriate, powerful way. Most said they would definitely be back.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter is here!

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!