We begin this message with a secular Christmas song sung by Bruce Ewing and accompanied by Philip Fortenberry. This unconventional song for Christmas worship reflects the unconventional year we have all experienced.
We continue our Advent journey towards Bethlehem and we are ready to pack another item for our trip: joy. This essential quality in our lives can be grown so that we may thrive…even in times of trouble.
When did the Christian Church officially begin?
Some would say with the 12 disciples and the others who followed Jesus during his ministry.
Others would say on the day of Pentecost when Holy Spirit was given to all who believe.
And still others would say in about 300AD when the first actual church building was built.
OK, no one would declare that last one out loud, but some within the Christian Church claim that as their truth in 2020.
What do I mean? Many pastors have heard the same thing more than once this year, “We should open the doors and open the church.”
Earlier this fall, a pastor shared these words on Facebook, “One of the saddest things I have heard, ‘For us the church is the building. Without it, we have nothing.’
Let me be abundantly clear:
- The building is not the church.
- We all miss being together but don’t forget, we have a parking lot worship every week.
The Christian Church didn’t miraculously begin in the year 300AD when the first Christian Church sanctuary was built in Aqaba, Jordan. No! The Church had been around for almost 260 years before the first actual church building was erected.
Our building is a beautiful venue in which to do ministry. It is the place where the church gathers but the structure itself is not the church.
Jesus uses the word “church” three times only in the gospel of Matthew (yep, that’s it!) and he is referring to the body of believers (us), not a place and definitely not a building. Somewhere down the road of history someone wrongly started using the word “church” as the place where people gather.
The root word of “church” in the Bible is ekklesia. From this word we get ecclesiastic and ecclesial. This word has everything to do with people and nothing to do with a building of any size. In all of the places that the Bible uses the word “church” it is always in relation to people and not a place.
We are the church, not 3720 E. Tropicana Ave. As much as we love our building (I do too), it is not the church.
I can’t speak for other congregations, but this is the most difficult trial we have ever faced at Community Lutheran Church in our 47-year history. No one could have predicted this season of exile that we are experiencing. Yet we are enduring! We are still the church and we aren’t going backwards!
Saint Peter in his letter to the church writes about difficult moments such as these. Peter writes, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1Peter 1:6-7
Our faith is being proved genuine in 2020! This season can serve to grow our trust in Christ. We will get through this… together. We are the church and “the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
God bless you,
We enter into the second week of Advent and we are packing for Bethlehem. We are packing light by packing peace and getting rid of resentment.
As you know, we have been worshipping online since March. It hasn’t always been easy, but we have been doing the best that we can. Recently (with the cooler temperatures), we started parking lot worship at 8am on Sunday and it has been wonderful to see so many people come!
A few weeks ago, I stated that we are literally applying the words of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself” in our rationale not to worship inside the building during the pandemic and potentially risk the health of others.
This past week, our governor instituted stronger restrictions in hopes of slowing down the infection rate in our state which is climbing. The day after those guidelines were implemented, I received a message from a local TV station asking if I wanted to be interviewed for their evening news broadcast to comment on these mandates.
I replied that we are already online and agree with any mandate that is backed by mainstream scientific research.
And just like that, I wasn’t going to be interviewed! Ha! My guess is that they were looking for a pastor to complain about the restrictions.
Shortly after that conversation, I came across an article from the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA). This organization dates back to 1931 and is made up of over 20,000 individuals in the healthcare profession.
I found their article to be of note. I hope you take the time to read.
God bless you and stay safe,
A Plea to Our Churches
by Jeffrey Barrows DO, MA (Bioethics) and Christopher Hook, MD (Hematologist)
The daily rendering of the news informs us that the rate of COVID-19 infections is skyrocketing. The time it takes for the U.S. to accumulate one million cases has dropped from 44 days to just seven days. The pandemic has not only arrived; it is hitting with hurricane force and has reached a crisis point. The sector that is bearing the brunt of this raging pandemic is our healthcare system, particularly the healthcare professionals who constitute the backbone of our healthcare system. They are overworked because of the sheer volume of critically ill patients under their care and because many healthcare professionals have become ill with SARS-CoV-2 themselves. We have to slow the rising tide of COVID-19 cases, or our hospitals will be overrun.
The vast majority of healthcare professionals who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 did not become infected at their workplace. Studies have shown that most healthcare professionals become infected predominantly in the community. It is when they go to church, celebrations and small gathering with friends outside their immediate family that they become infected.
As an association of Christian healthcare professionals, CMDA has been wrestling with the role God would have us play in this pandemic. We previously released guidelines for churches to follow as they reopened from the shutdown last spring. We also released public policy statements addressing the “Duties of a Christian Health Care Professional in Pandemic Infection” and “Triage and Resource Allocation.” Finally, we released this recommendation on mass gatherings:
Romans 13: 1 & 2 gives clear guidance in times like these. “1Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
Christian Medical & Dental Associations endorses the efforts of state and federal government authorities to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by limiting large gatherings. We believe that churches that ignore those instructions are placing their congregants at increased exposure and risk of SARS-Co-V-2 (Covid-19) infection and therefore we cannot condone such decisions or actions by churches.
Despite these efforts, CMDA is saddened to learn not only that many churches have ignored our guidelines but that congregants have become infected with SARS-CoV-2 as a result of those decisions. One of us is personally aware of several recent weddings when people did not mask or engage in social distancing which resulted in the entire wedding party and family being infected with SARS-CoV-2. This is not only unfortunate; it is unloving.
We believe the church is a major priority in our lives, but it should not become an idol by itself. Loving God with all our heart, mind and strength is our first priority, and it can be done with our families outside of church. It can be done via the gifts of electronic communication that allow us to join virtually with other church members. We are not being prevented from having Bibles, reading Scripture and singing songs of praise because we can do them at home and with the church through these virtual tools.
But the issue here is the second greatest commandment: to love one another as we love ourselves. Restricting meeting for a season is not about fear of contracting the virus ourselves. Rather, it is about loving one another and minimizing risk to the vulnerable around us. As members of the body of Christ, we are called to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). That means that Christ has chosen us to reveal His love and grace to all those around us. Choosing to put off gathering together as a church is a statement of love.
Voluntarily choosing not to gather allows us to make a statement that is not overshadowed by a government restriction. It enables a church to proclaim to their locality that they care so much for their members, family and friends that they are willing to give up their right to gather together. It allows each church to make a statement of love, not just by their words, but through the action of no longer gathering together. It is tragic to see Christians become even more reviled because we appear to care only about our individual freedoms and don’t care that we may be contributing to others getting this illness because of our selfishness. As Christian healthcare professionals, we will voluntarily restrict our “freedoms” for a time to help protect my neighbor.
As an association of Christian healthcare professionals, CMDA urgently requests that churches strongly consider taking their services online and cancel in-person gatherings until this current surge of COVID-19 cases passes.
It is about love, not fear.
We continue in our sermon series on thankfulness. Today we spend some time looking at the fact that we can be thankful that God wants to grow us.
Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Matthew 24:42–44
One of the undisputed tenets of our faith in Christ is that one day he will return to judge the living and dead. You may not believe that personally, but the Christian Church of every stripe does. Jesus promised that he would return, and we accept that as gospel truth.
Jesus also reminds us that we cannot predict the hour of his return. Many have tried and ended up looking foolish. There is no secret countdown clock to the “end” as much as we might like one.
Instead, Jesus tells us to be vigilant in our trust of him. We are to embrace the Boy Scout motto as it pertains to our faith, “be prepared.”
In two weeks, we will be celebrating the end of the church year and it always ends the same way, on Christ the King Sunday. We will remember that Jesus is our eternal King and will return one day.
This notion of Christ as our King isn’t some sort of end time idea. Christ is our King today, right now, in this moment. This isn’t some future transaction where we cease being under the rule of a human leader or government and then Jesus steps in and takes over. As a Christian, I know that Christ is my King today and forever. My allegiance is to Christ first and foremost.
I know that I will be spending way more time in the Kingdom of God (eternity) than I will spend in this life. I want to be ready when that day comes. I strive to be vigilant, awake and ready for Christ’s activity in my life. From my study of scripture, I know that I am not in the law enforcement business for Jesus but a grace giver of God’s love.
I feel sorry for my fellow Christians who think that Christianity is just about rules and keeping others in line. They are missing out on so much!
As the children of God, the best way to prepare for Christ’s return is to love others, forgive often and help those in need right now. It is easy to remain vigilant if you are able to love without judgment.
Today we spend some time unpacking the importance of All Saints Sunday and how that can transform our lives. And a quick encouragement before the election.
We are almost there. Election day is around the corner.
Are you ready for this season to be over? Really?
I hear the rumblings of a few that they are willing to move on after November 3rd provided their candidate of choice wins. And if they don’t it is either it is a case of voter fraud or voter suppression depending upon what side they are on.
I see a very immature response on the part of some in this election cycle who want to fight, argue or even name call. As I preached about several weeks ago, I was falsely accused of taking a side of a very specific political issue and then lectured to (online) about how this is the wrong position. The funny thing is, I wasn’t talking about that issue or anything related to it. We are polarized and for many people everything is seen through the lens of politics. As it turns out, some aren’t seeing things as clearly as they thought.
Are you ready to let go of the anger and hate?
Politics has become a religion with different denominations. Judgment and condemnation are for those who don’t follow the right leader. It is time to see that all of this is hurting our society even our churches in this country.
It is time to move beyond the tribal notion that God is a Republican or a Democrat. Christ is neither.
I am more concerned about how people treat others than who they vote for. After all, Jesus reminds us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” without a disclaimer stating who is excluded from this unconditional kindness.
Near the end of November, we will once again celebrate Christ the King Sunday. We remember that Jesus as our eternal king. Not one day, but right now. Jesus is our king today and forever.
That is a statement I can get behind. Jesus is my king. I am all for what He stands for… unconditional love, kindness, caring for those in need, healing for those who suffer, a voice for the voiceless, compassion, empathy and a seat at the table for anyone who wants to be in the presence of Christ.
It is time to move forward in Christ and in love.
Have you ever heard of the term “The Butterfly Effect?” The term was coined by Edward Lorenz a research meteorologist who designed a computer program to model the weather. He was able to reduce weather into several formulas that were able to be predicted.
In 1961 Lorenz was busy and wanted to shortcut his weather models by starting ½ way through. He inputted the numbers but rounded them off in order to hurry this up.
The output, the simulated weather pattern or prediction was significantly different than his earlier printout. He realized that rounding off the numbers made a significant difference. One one-thousandth or hundred thousandth made a huge difference.
Or to relate it to the Butterfly effect—tiny changes brought by a butterfly flapping his wings in San Francisco has the power to transform the weather in New York.
Meteorologists doubt that a butterfly in California can truly affect the weather on the east coast BUT it is the recognition that little things affect big change.
I am not here to talk about the weather, but the Butterfly Effect has some validity as it relates to humanity.
Think about it. One man from a remote part of the planet preached love and peace and he changed the world. Jesus changed the world’s future with his message. Without Jesus, the world we live in would be completely different. Not just in mindset or belief but the things his followers accomplished in his name would also be erased or irrevocably different.
One person can make all the difference.
Before the pandemic, I went to UNLV to hear Father Greg Boyle speak. Father Boyle founded Homeboy Industries which helps gang members in Los Angeles become more than they ever could be in a gang. Father Boyle’s work has transformed many, many lives including the city itself.
The Butterfly Effect is real… at least as it relates to people.
Believe it or not, you and I can make a difference too.
If you worship with us on a regular basis at Community Lutheran Church communitylv.org, I have repeatedly cautioned those who worship there will be a “day after” the election. What we do right now will have a direct impact on November 4th.
In a world of hate, I choose to be kind to individuals. I may stand against what they are for but I don’t need to hate them.
I believe in love. I believe in Jesus. And I believe that those two things can change the world.