It’s a new year and with a new year in the church comes new boards and committee officers. To aid in training and assisting those that will be training new secretaries for boards and committees I’ve created a notes form. This template can be used in the meeting to record the notes of the meeting and then used to type the formal minutes of the meeting. If you have new secretaries this year for your boards or committees give this resource a try to see if it helps them to record all that happens in a typical ministry meeting. You can find this template on the resources page.
Lent and Easter are my two favorite seasons of the church year and of the holiday seasons in general. I think I like them so much because they are less secularized than Christmas. Additionally, when celebrated appropriately Lent can be an overwhelmingly formative experience. Lent is the season of forty days, not counting Sundays, prior to Easter. It is a season of preparation that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. The word Lent comes from the Anglo word lencten meaning spring. Lent has its roots as a season of fasting and preparation for baptism for new converts to the faith. Following in these historical beginnings it later became a time of penance for all Christians to prepare for the great feast of Easter.
Penance is defined as a voluntary act of self-punishment in association with the repentance of sin. In the Catholic tradition, it is considered a sacrament whereby the penitent parishioner confesses his or her sin to the priest and receives absolution for the sin. As protestants, we believe that we can be forgiven directly from God so we do not practice penance as a sacrament involving our pastors or priests. Rather we should practice penance by confessing to God our sins and then engage in the act of fasting, self-examination, prayer, and self-denial to make a right beginning of repentance (UMC Book of Worship pg. 322-323). The invitation to the observance of Lenten discipline found in the United Methodist Book of Worship states that Lent and the act of fasting and spiritual disciplines are used to help believers who have committed serious sin find reconciliation and restored participation in the life of the church. Several years back Cardinal Timothy Dolan described Lent as spring training for Christians. I believe this is a proper analogy as Lent has a way of helping us improve our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ, but only when practiced faithfully and with pure intentions.
Many people who observe Lent get in the habit of giving something up, fasting from cokes (soft drinks, soda pop, or pop for those of you not in the South), chocolate, candy, alcohol, TV, certain foods, etc. While it isn’t necessarily bad to fast from these things, the fact that many fast from the same thing year after year without much thought as to why doesn’t allow for spiritual formation. We are called to practice fasting and self-denial during Lent, but the reason we practice isn’t to see if we can go all Lent without a candy bar or a coke or to see if we can lose a little weight. No, the reason to fast is so that we are spiritually transformed by our fast. That is what we give up should in some way or another relate to our sin or help us to be drawn closer to God creating within us the fertile ground to produce the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:16-26) in our lives. Therefore, it is not enough to simply fast we must fast and reflect upon our relationship with God.
Lent begins next week with Ash Wednesday as we remember our mortality and repent of our sin by smearing ash on our foreheads, thus beginning that 40-day fast and call to the spiritual/lenten disciplines. This year instead of just giving up the same old thing, because it’s what we’ve always done. Let’s truly consider the state of our sin and our souls and give up something that along with the Holy Spirit and prayer will truly provide spiritual formation. Before the pastor smears ash on your forehead in shape of a cross and says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return. So, repent and believe the gospel” reflect long and hard on what is holding you back from a deeper relationship with God? What can I give up that will draw me closer to Christ? Then, Give it up.
“I’ll have a blue Christmas without you” That’s how the 1957 hit Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley goes, and it’s in part the inspiration behind the title of an annual worship service that is catching on throughout the country. Many churches have held Blue Christmas or Longest Night services for years, but I’m finding that more and more churches are starting this tradition in their congregations.
This service is Typically held on or around December 21st to mark the longest night of the year. After the 21st we have more daylight each and every day so the Longest Night service is a time to honor the fact that there is darkness in our world and the days have gotten shorter and the nights longer. Somewhere along the line in the history of this service the name Blue Christmas was given to it as a time to remember that there are many people for whom Christmas is not a joyous and celebratory time of year. That it is in fact. a dark time for them. This is usually the result of a death that has occurred making the holidays harder to celebrate, or the fact that an individual lives at a distance from family and friends and thus the holidays are a depressing time for them.
A Blue Christmas service is where the church has stepped in to recognize these situations and provide a place that helps to honor the feelings of these individuals and bring hope to them. It’s a place to truly recognize the power of the incarnation and the hope that comes when God is living among us. If you are looking for a way to recognize that there are those in your congregation who feel lonely, depressed, grieving, and otherwise at a loss during this time of year. Then try holding a Blue Christmas service and remind them of the hope that comes to us at Christmas.
Recently our world has been consumed with an anti-Muslim rhetoric that is pervasive in the media, coffee shops, and everywhere we turn. This bothers me as one who sees that not all Muslims are radicals, just as not all radical Christians (Westboro Baptist, Jerry Fallwell, Jr., and Liberty University, etc.) represent me and my views as a Christian. I would write further on this but my colleague and friend Omar Rikabi has done an excellent job and from a far better perspective than I have. He is a Christian pastor with a Muslim father. Please take a moment to read his post, linked below, from his website Omar Rikabi First Born Stories.