Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Preparation for Pentecost

The church calendar shows that this coming Sunday (May 11) is Pentecost Sunday. Some churches have people dress in “red” for Pentecost (“Red Hat” ladies, this should be your favorite Sunday). Evergreen has special Pentecost banners. The red paraments need to come off the shelf and be placed on the communion table and pulpit. At Evergreen, we sing our own rendition of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky (we only had to change a few words—it is one of the few Sunday’s where I will play the electric guitar in church). Pentecost is almost here.

There is a wonderful linkage between the Old Testament feasts and Jesus. It is too bad that so many people are practically illiterate when it comes to the Old Testament. Our faith is rooted and grounded in the Old Testament. Our preparations for Pentecost will be enhanced when we look at the link between the Old and New Testaments (or, Hebrew and Apostolic Scriptures, in the words of my messianic pastor friend).

God’s people were to celebrate the Passover (also called the Festival of Unleavened Bread) every year. The 10th plague that was coming upon Pharaoh and the Egyptian people was the killing of the first born son. The Hebrew people were to sacrifice a lamb and place some of the blood on the door posts of their homes. The angel of death would see the mark and “pass over” that household.

Jesus was crucified on the Passover. His death is THE Passover sacrifice, once for all. Those who are marked with the blood of Christ do not have to fear death—they have eternal life!

The Counting of the Omer comes on the heels of the Passover. The Omer is the 49 day period between Passover and Pentecost. It is a time of denying yourself in preparation for the celebration on Pentecost.

In the New Testament tradition we have the 40 days between Easter and Christ’s ascension AND the ten days where the disciples were waiting in Jerusalem as per Jesus’ instructions. This 50 day period is to prepare us for the Pentecost experience.

Shavuoth (Pentecost) is the Old Testament holy day related to Moses and the Torah. The Hebrew people believe that God gave the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai on Shavuoth. The Torah is what bound the people of God into a nation. The Torah is where God revealed his will and statutes to his people. Shavuoth was also the first day when people would bring bikkurim to the temple. The bikkurim ( on this link, be sure to scroll down to Chapter 5) was made of the seven crops that were so important to the Hebrew people: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. The “first fruits” from these harvests were placed in woven baskets of gold and silver and brought to the Lord.

For Christians, Pentecost is when we celebrate God’s giving of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and is the one who empowers us to serve God, shows us God’s will and gifts us for service in the Kingdom of God. On the first Christian Pentecost there was a tremendous “first harvest”—thousands of people gave their lives to Christ! The harvest continues today!

The Hebrew people so valued the Torah that they spent 49 days preparing to celebrate the receiving of the Torah. It would be great if Christians spent 49 days preparing to celebrate Pentecost! We could spend 49 days praying for God to gift us for service. We could spend 49 days preparing to be a part of God’s “harvest” team.

Well, we don’t have 49 days until Pentecost—we have today (Wednesday), Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We had best get at it if we are going to be “prepared” for Pentecost!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Breaking Out of the Box

Sunday afternoon was spent up at the church instead of taking my normal post-sermon nap. My “Sunday’ begins with worship team practice and worship on Saturday and then slides into “Sunday” with another worship team practice, teaching a class and then leading worship. This past Sunday was different. Immediately following worship the front of the sanctuary had to be dismantled for the benefit concert we were hosting that evening. The sanctuary lighting had already been changed on Saturday morning. New risers and portable sound system were set up. I sat in my office as car after car arrived with our “guests.”

Breath of Aire, a sixty-voice choir, sang at Evergreen on Sunday night. You are really missing out if you live in western Washington and haven’t heard this choir. Many of their members are church choir directors and musicians. Their members come from across the state of Washington, with their pianist coming up from Portland, Oregon. Their web site states: “Breath of Aire is commited to helping our community by singing for Benefit Concerts. BOA performs a wide range of music from Patriotic, Americana, Country, and Showtunes to Classical, Gospel, Contemporary Inspirational, and Spirituals. BOA’s signature sound is a highlight as the choir sings moving acappella songs around the audience.”

Love, Inc (Love In the Name of Christ) is a Christian referral agency we use for assisting those in need. They “check out” the story and situation of those calling for assistance and make appropriate referrals to agencies or churches. Evergreen’s Deacons limited our assistance to $50 - $75 prior to working with Love, Inc. (unless we knew the people and situation). We live in an area where some people make their “living” off of churches. One man told me, “I don’t work because I don’t have too.” Now, with Love, Inc’s clearance, we regularly assist in the $200 - $300 amount. We know the money is going to be a “hand up” and not a “hand out.” Love, Inc. is able to keep their doors open because of donations--they don’t “charge” anyone for their services. They were running out of money last year and didn’t know how they were going to pay the rent—their next fundraiser was a month away. We found out and met the need, after all, they assist us all the time. That is where the idea for this benefit concert came from.

Evergreen is a small church. We have a weekend worship attendance of around 100 people. How would we be able to host a meaningful fundraising concert? There was a very real possibility that there would be more in the choir than in audience. Breath of Aire didn’t blink an eye. One of their members said, “If there are only 50 people there then those are the people God wanted there.”

The 2.5 hour concert was out of this world! We had 131 people show up for the concert. Several Breath of Aire members said that this was one of the best audiences they had ever had.

The sanctuary will get “put back” to normal over the next few days; the impact of the concert will last for a long time. Many who attended were deeply touched by God. One woman who attends church in a neighboring town said, “This was the most spiritual experience I have ever had.” Several people in attendance had never been in our church before. We were able to raise $1,200 for Love, Inc.

I have spent so much time on this concert to make a point—small churches don’t have to “think” small or settle for being small. Two weeks ago we cancelled our regular worship services to work out in the community (Faith in Act!on). This week we hosted a fabulous concert. In July we will be a co-sponsor of Graham Jam 2008. Evergreen is intentionally looking “outside” of the walls of our church. The people of our church have been tremendously touched by these events. It has taken a small army of folks to staff these events. Every single person would do it again tomorrow! Then, there is the impact we are having on the community of Graham—we are touching one person at a time.

Your church can make a difference!! Break out of the “normal” church box. Look and see where the Holy Spirit is leading your church. It may surprise you!