Music: “Sinner Saved By Grace”

Lyrics

If you could see what I once was
If you could go with me
Back to where I started from
Then I know you would see
A miracle of love that took me
In it’s sweet embrace
And made me what I am today
Just an old sinner saved by grace
I’m just a sinner saved by grace
When I stood condemned to death
He took my place
Now I live and breathe in freedom
With each breath of life I take
Loved and forgiven, backed with a living
I’m just a sinner saved by grace
How could I boast on anything
I’ve ever seen or done?
How could I dare to claim as mine
The victories God has won?
Where would I be
Had God not brought me
Gently to this place?
I’m here to say I’m nothing
But a sinner saved by grace
Reflection
This final reflection in the series goes way back to my days in junior high. I remember flipping through the channels one evening trying to find something to watch, you know, before the days of streaming whatever you desired at a moments notice. Then I paused on a station airing one of The Gaither Homecoming Specials. The memory is blurry, but I think it was on the channel known as TNN at the time. The song it was about to start was “Sinner Saved by Grace”. I’m pretty sure this was the performance I saw that night.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2J0IOIEqyM if you want to check it out. For whatever reason this song has stuck with me for so long. The performers always seem to pass along such passion as they sing, I can’t help but sit an listen.
To me, the message is one of equality for us in the church. Sometimes, some of us get a little “too big for our britches” as my grandparents might say. We think we are authorities on morality and interpreting the rules of the church or of God. However, we’ve all get a past, present, and future in need of redemption from God. At the last verse says:
Where would I be
Had God not brought me
Gently to this place?
I’m here to say I’m nothing
But a sinner saved by grace
If we can find a way to remember our own journey and how we felt at each point of it, we might just find ourselves more full of compassion and grace as we meet strangers who aren’t quite friends yet. We’ve been there, and while we may have moved to a new place, it’s still our story and can help us connect with those seeking God’s transforming love in their life. If we become the “rule enforcer” instead of the “fellow traveler on the journey” we miss amazing opportunities to share God’s love.

Music Reflection: “At This Table”

 

Lyrics

At this table, everyone is welcome
At this table, everyone is seen
At this table, everybody matters
No one falls between

At this table, you can say whatever
At this table, you can speak your mind
At this table, everything’s forgiven
There’s enough for everyone

So come as you are
Remember that the door is always open
Yes, come as you are
The perfect gift that you can bring is your heart
So, come, come as you are

At this table, there will be no judgement
At this table, mercy has a seat
At this table, we’re all sons and daughters
There’s no place I’d rather be

So come as you are
Remember that the door is always open
Come as you are
The perfect gift that you can bring is your heart
Come
Come as you are
Come as you are, oh

At this table, everyone is welcome
At this table, everybody cares
At this table, everybody matters
So, come, pull up a chair

Reflection

Every so often, a song will come out that catches me off guard and I only become aware of it because it begins circulating online. This is one of those songs. I must admit, I’ve been a long time fan of Idina Menzel and her work, but I hadn’t known she was putting out a new album this last Holiday Season, and then this song fell into my lap.

Read the lyrics, that’s really all I can say as far as a message goes. I could spend hours discussing the power behind them. Through my lens, I immediately thought of the Table at which we gather for Holy Communion and the implications of living out the message of this song in the life of the church. If I had the range to sing this song, it would be the invitation I’d recited before Holy Communion every time. This song is what I dream the church can truly be for our society. The place where people can come and feel mercy and not judgment. A place where healing can occur.

At this table, there will be no judgement
At this table, mercy has a seat
At this table, we’re all sons and daughters
There’s no place I’d rather be

So come as you are
Remember that the door is always open
Come as you are
The perfect gift that you can bring is your heart
Come

In order for the church to be a place for each of us who already take part in is life to receive mercy, we must also be vessels that offer that mercy and welcome to people not currently part of the life of the church. We have to be reflections of the amazing grace that we’ve been given in order for others to experience it as well. We must live as open tables, inviting and welcoming each person that crosses our paths. Our opinions will differ, our experiences will be diverse, and our needs will vary. At the end though, God sends us the message that “At this table, everybody matters.”

Music Reflection: “Because He Lives”

 

Lyrics

God sent His Son
They called Him Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He lived and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives
Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives
And then one day
I’ll cross that river
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain
And then as death gives way to vict’ry
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he lives
Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives
Reflection

This selection is one that may be a bit more familiar to the traditional church goer. The original hymn was written by Bill and Gloria Gather decades ago. It has a prominent place in many hymnals and is popular during the Easter season. The story of how the Gaithers came to the song has been shared many times. One account can be found here:

If there is a song that I could point to as simple, yet foundational, explanation of my faith, this song would be it. Over the years, I’ve been moved more and more by the hearing and singing of this song. It so aptly describes the “why?” of my faith life. The chorus echoes the reason we can keep on going day to day. When hearing the chorus it gives me new energy and a new appreciation of what God has called me to do. “Because He lives…” that’s all we need to go on.

Music Reflection: “The Prayer”

Lyrics

I pray you’ll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don’t know
Let this be our prayer
As we go our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your Grace
To a place where we’ll be safe
La luce che to dai
I pray we’ll find your light
Nel cuore restero
And hold it in our hearts
A ricordarchi che
When stars go out each night
L’eterna stella sei
Nella mia preghiera
Let this be our prayer
Quanta fede see’e
When shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe.
Sognamo un mondo senza piu violenza
Un mondo di giustizia e di speranza
Ognuno dia la mano al suo vicino
Simbolo di pace e di fraternita
La forza che ci dai
We ask that life be kind
E’il desiderio che
And watch us from above
Ognuno trovi amore
We hope each soul will find
Intorno e dentro a se
Another soul to love
Let this be our prayer
Let this be our prayer
Just like every child
Just like every child
Needs to find a place,
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe
E la fede che
Hai acceso in noi
Sento che ci salvera

Reflection

This is a song that initially caught my attention purely from a musical sense. The tone and movement of the piece just simply spoke to me. I couldn’t help but start adding it to playlists and keep coming back to it. Over time, the lyrics began to draw me in even more.

The opening lines set the tone for the message that opens us up to experience God. The prayer is simple, yet complex at the same time. The singer asks for God’s guidance into the unknown, the unseeable future. Over 20 years since this song came on the scene, the words still ring true. We need God to oversee us, and guide us to a safe place.

Lead us to a place
Guide us with your Grace
To a place where we’ll be safe
These words seem such a simple request, but the action needed of us in response to the prayer is much more involved. In order for us to receive God’s oversight and guidance to a safe place, we must have the faith to be guided by God’s Grace in the first place. Our faith and trust in God will enable us to be ushered to a safe harbor in the midst of uncertainty in life.

Music Reflection: “Come As You Are”

Lyrics

Come out of sadness
From wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted
Let rescue begin
Come find your mercy
Oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal
So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are
There’s hope for the hopeless
And all those who’ve strayed
Come sit at the table
Come taste the grace
There’s rest for the weary
Rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t cure
So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
Lay down your hurt lay down your heart
Come as you are
Come as you are
Fall in his arms
Come as you are
There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal

Reflection

This song is a bit of a rarity in how I discovered it. My recollection is that I first heard in live in concert. It’s not often I find something new at a concert, but Nicole and I saw Crowder right before we moved to Goodland as the opening act for TobyMac.

I instantly fell into a deep connection with the song. It’s a great find that I enjoy both the music itself and the lyrics so much. When I hear the song, I’m instantly taken into a calmness. This is why I chose it for my first entry in this 5-part series on music’s impact on our daily faith life.

The message of welcome and openness speak volumes to me of who the church can be at its best. It is a place for deep connection with God, and a refuge from all that troubles us. This can be difficult to fully find in our world today, but I believe at our best, we can embody the message of this song. These lyrics point to what our calling is, and who we should be as Christ’s body in the world.

There’s hope for the hopeless
And all those who’ve strayed
Come sit at the table
Come taste the grace
There’s rest for the weary
Rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t cure

We have nothing in life than keep us from a place in God’s grace. As agents of that grace, we must work towards creating a place that hope is abundant, rest for the weary is present, and we can lay our burdens down. There is nothing in our life that heaven can’t cure, and nothing that should keep us from the fulfilling our deep mandate to live into love among our people and the world.

Conflict and the Anonymous Factor

“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you.” (Matthew 18:15, The Message)

 These are words from Scripture that I have been pondering a lot lately for multiple reasons. One, there just seems to be so much conflict in the world. It is in the form of politics, religion, within our own denomination, and yes, even within our local church and community. Conflict is ever-present, and we, as humans don’t handle it well at all. We don’t like to deal with conflict, but we sure like to start it. We start it anonymously through social media and comment sections of online news stories, and yes, as I’ve found over the last 6-months, even anonymously through comments in the offering plate and attendance sheets.

First, I want to share my policy on “complaints” and “suggestions” that come to the office. If there is not a name associated with it, it ends up in the trash. Plain and simple. If I can’t investigate the complaint or have a conversation to better understand it, I’m not going to spend time on it and neither will the church leadership. A few words on a piece of paper never tell the whole story and allow for understanding, so we just can’t spend the time on it when there is so much other ministry going on and projects to expend energy with.

Second, if you have strongly held opinions about something going on at the church, set up an appointment with me to discuss it. Let’s be Biblical! I’m sure there are lots we can learn from each other. I’m positive that I will learn more about your suggestion or complaint by hearing directly from you. I will be able to ask you questions and understand at a deeper level why a decision or action has bothered you. Likewise, you will have the opportunity to understand the decision that was made and why it was implemented from my or church leadership’s side.

This is true especially of decisions made about content and style in worship. Contrary to popular belief of many, it takes hours and sometimes weeks to come up with worship service details. I promise you I spend deep time in prayer and discernment to come to decisions. I have theological and Scriptural reasons for what and why we do things. So, let’s talk about it!

Going to a person and having a discussion is always the best first step anytime we find ourselves in conflict or upset. The Gospel tells us that, Christ has offered us this example, so let us be part of the inbreaking of God’s way into our lives and the world around us.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Zach

 

No Vacation For The Church

We’ve reached the summer schedule in our lives for sure now. The temperatures the last week definitely indicated that we’ve shifted to a new season, even if not officially yet. I notice more people walking in the evenings, more bicycles on the road, and more people just outside in general. For many, this is the time of year for vacations, weekend lake trips, baseball and softball games, sports camps, and maybe just an overall different pace of life and schedule. In the summer, we do different activities and some of our “regular stuff” goes to the wayside for a season.

So, how about the church? I’ve seen different versions of this picture going around social media the last few weeks, and at first I chuckled and moved on, but after awhile it began to make me think, “is this what people think about the church (not just the pastor) when it comes to summer?”

34071720_1699751180104400_1825647755507269632_o

The church and its ministry doesn’t take a “vacation.” Here are the list of things the church doesn’t stop doing for the summer:

  • Having worship
  • Helping those in need
  • Visiting the sick
  • Visiting the homebound
  • Planning for future events
  • Children & Youth Events (In fact we have some fund ones in the works for the summer!)
  • Doing outreach and evangelism
  • Being involved in the fair
  • Bible Study
  • Keeping the office open and available for members and the community

Being the church never stops, and definitely doesn’t take vacation. Individuals may do those things from time to time, but we, as the body of Christ, need to continue to do the work of the Kingdom. This means keeping up with our spiritual development, attending worship as often as possible, keeping the church in your prayers, and yes, keeping our tithes and offerings going through the summer.

We’ve had great momentum and growth over the last 8-10 months in our church, and a lot of hard work has gone into that movement. The one thing I know about momentum (I didn’t do well in the physical sciences) is that it needs velocity to keep it going. We must keep ourselves going, no matter the season, to fulfill our mission “To Help People of All Ages Become Deeply Committed Christians.”

Enjoy your summer and I’ll see you on Sunday!
Pastor Zach

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

heart-3257237_1920Do you ever hear something, or maybe see something that you just can’t get out of your head? Sometimes it’s a song, a phrase, a tv commercial, or a feeling. I have a message I can’t get out of my head over the last week. It’s the sermon that was broadcast to millions of people, even though it was part of a wedding ceremony. I’m of course referring to the sermon by Bishop Michael Curry at the Royal Wedding at Windsor’s St. George’s Chapel. It has been interesting to watch the reactions and reviews since that day. Lots of people are saying it was an amazing spiritual experience, others complained that he got too “political” in a wedding ceremony, still others felt he needed to bring more “fire and brimestone” to convict a large audience like that, and even others have commented on how it lacked substance. It’s amazing how one sermon could get that many different responses.

Well, here’s mine. I watched it live as it happened at whatever pre-dawn time it was here in Goodland. Nicole and I have been sucked in by the historical dramas on television and streaming services that highlight the British monarchy, so it seemed natural to want to watch the ceremony live. What I did not expect that morning was to “go to church,” but that is exactly what happened. One excerpt from Bishop Curry’s sermon really has stayed with me this week:

“He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn’t… he wasn’t getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the well being of the world… for us.

That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.

If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.

Imagine our homes and families where love is the way.

Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.

Imagine governments and nations where love is the way.

Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way. Imagine this tired old world where love is the way.

When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

When love is the way, poverty will become history.

When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.”

You see, i think the negative responses to the sermon go back to something I mentioned in a sermon on May 6th, the English language lacks in its ability to properly describe things. We have only one word for love, yet so many different types and feelings related to that one word. It’s limiting. Love isn’t just liking those people who we enjoy being around. Love means caring for another even when their actions and words make it nearly impossible to like them. Love means caring for another even when you don’t know them. Love means giving of yourself in such a way that our individualism ceases to exist and Christ is in full reveal through us. When we limit how we understand love, and only see it through a romantic lens, we miss the transforming power love can have in our relationships, our church, and our world. May love be our guide to greater understanding of God and transformation in our life.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Zach

To See the Full Transcript of Bishop Curry’s sermon, click here.

How do you worship?

church-trappist-georgia-monastery-62285.jpegMerriam-Webster defines worship as:

transitive verb
1to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
intransitive verb
to perform or take part in worship or an act of worship

As part of the Vision Process that we started in January, I have personally been taking time to evaluate each aspect of our ministry as I go about the daily tasks of my job. Worship is a major area that engages our members and visitors alike. So, I have spent considerable time contemplating worship and listening to comments worshipers share with me. I will openly admit right now, I don’t have an answer to every question or complaint, and don’t have a clear vision that will make every person happy in every situation.

Recently I was thinking about a memory from my time on a youth leadership team in high school. Our team had attended a couple different camps that summer and had very different experiences. I attended with a few friends a leadership camp that was new to the area that year. The planners of this event spent time, energy, and money to make it the best and brightest. We had amazing music, speakers, activities, and small group leaders. Every one of us left that place excited and energized. Another one of our friends attended a camp that combined Christian leadership with sports training for his specific sport. He told a very different story about his experience. The worship was lead by an individual who was a novice at best on the guitar and the energy was none existent. As we debriefed our experiences, our adult leaders shared a profound statement, or rather a question in Jesus’ style. They asked, “Each of you had great spiritual experiences this summer, but which camp was the experience greater if you consider the way the message was given to you?” Well, as we talked we realized how easy it was to enjoy and be energized when everything was presented exactly how we liked it. But for our friend who didn’t particularly like the way the leader preached, or the way the songs were lead, he had to struggle more to hear God, but hear God he did. In fact, that summer had a bigger impact on him than any of us had. His lasted and transformed him more than the rest of us.

I recently came across a blog post about worship styles that I wanted to share part of with you:“People looking for a church often have questions about worship, and most have strong views on the subject. Of course these views are most often an extension of their own experiences. People do not insist on a specific worship format because their preference is objectively better, but because their experiences or assumptions tell them their preference should be shared by all. When imagining worship, most Christians recall memories of pleasant worship experiences. It’s natural to conclude the pleasure felt will be shared by others, and that this pleasure proves God’s preference for that style of worship. “I prefer (insert style) worship, so God must prefer it and others as spiritual as I, of course, prefer it. Those who like (insert a different style) are simply not as spiritual or mature as I.”

Years ago, after a particularly nice church service—one in which we had a balanced blend of traditional and modern worship, and everyone seemed to be blessed—I was approached by an elderly woman who said, “Pastor, we use too many choruses. We need to get rid of the choruses and only use hymns.” The very next woman (literally) who came up to me said, “Pastor, we use too many hymns. We need to get rid of the hymns and only use choruses.” Both women had been in the same service. They each found things to dislike about the same service others had found richly satisfying. Right then I realized there is no such thing as a worship format that makes everyone happy, because those looking for something to dislike will find it. I learned the truth of the saying, “Blended worship means no one is happy.”

In every service that blesses and inspires, there will be some not enjoying it because they choose to find fault—they choose not to take pleasure in it. Reasons for this differ, but almost all boil down to preference. Some believe God prefers one style of worship over another. Interesting how their understanding of God’s preference always lines up with their own. No one ever says, “I prefer to worship with hymns, but God prefers choruses” (or vice versa). Blaise Pascal said, “God created man in his image and man has returned the favor.” Man is adept at remaking God in his own image and often the only support for ascribing a worship preference to God is the assumption “Of course, God would agree with me.” This is an assumption I, for one, refuse to make.”  (http://resurgentsa.org/about-us/faq/what-is-your-style-of-worship/)

During Lent, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on the attitude you bring to any worship or study situation. How does it impact what you get out of the service or event? Are you limiting what God could be doing in your midst because you’ve turned a blind eye to the potential of the situation? Are your preferences driving your spirituality, or is your spirituality open to how the Holy Spirit is present in all situation?

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Zach

Can’t We Just Go Back?!?

I sit in a lot of meetings, and I mean a lot. Rarely does a week go by where I’m not at least on a conference call or web meeting. Usually they all end up in the same place, how do we turn around a declining institution. Well, it’s not always that blunt, but usually whatever the difficulty we are facing can be attributed to the changing role of the church and religion in society. Lack of money? We need more people! Small programs? We need more people! Empty sanctuary on Sunday? We need more people!

More than once in the last few months I’ve found myself reflecting on a specific narrative in Scripture from Exodus. I keep thinking about Moses and Aaron leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and what that meant for everyone. Specifically, I keep reading Exodus 16:1-3:

The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

In the midst of discovering a new way to live, the Israelites really just wished they could go back to the way things were. Even if those times were awful, and would result in death, at least it was familiar. At least they would get food, and now how to function. The problem is, you can’t go back! You are on a path to something greater, Israel, and it ain’t back there in Egypt.

I feel that this narrative speaks to not only the church today, but change in our own lives. Right now, I’m going to talk about the church. It seems obvious when you hear that the church is not the same as it was in the 1950’s, but too often we act like it is. We know we need to try new things to reach out to people, to build relationships, to show the need for a spiritual community, but we still expect people to just show up at our doors because of a fancy flyer or flashy website. I hear bemoaning that “kids these days just don’t believe like we did.” (I’ll admit, I join in the bemoaning at times.) But, its time to step it up.

How, you say? Well, we have to look at the big picture. We need to be collaborative as churches where we can. Buying into a “Free market Capitalist View of Church Growth” isn’t going to help the world. Churches can’t see each other as “competitors” vying for the same precious resources. Guess what, there’s a lot of people out there that don’t go to church, and if even a fraction of them started, we wouldn’t all have room for them anyway. So, I think we are better off asking these questions: Where can we share resources? Where can we assist in relationship building? Where can we defer to another because they have a specialized gift for that? I think long gone are the days where every church met every need. I’m not just talking about within a United Methodist context, how do we collaborate with like-minded Christian communities no matter what the denominational background?

We are in the wilderness, unfamiliar with the dynamics, unsure of where we will end up, but holding on to a hope and praying it will come true. As much as we want to turn back and be familiar, moving forward is our only option. Tomorrow is a new day, new possibilities for our lives, will we move forward in order to see the Manna from heaven?

Remember who and whose we are, we are God’s people. Created in God’s image, fashioned in God’s love, to be co-creators of a new and transformed world through the life and example of Jesus Christ. Go in hope. Go in peace.