Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pastor's All Saints Playlist

Our text for this All Saints Sunday is Nehemiah 8 (yes, the whole chapter, impossible-to-pronounce names and all!), which can be read here.

I am kind of addicted to music. I find that my life of reflection, writing, and study really cannot be done without music; and so many weeks, when I am planning worship or working on a sermon, I will create a playlist of songs to listen to that reflect the theme of what I am preaching on that week, to play on a loop in the background as I work.

This week, as we prepare for All Saints' Sunday when we remember our connection to those who have gone before, our need for brothers and sisters beside us on the journey of faith, and our role in the lives and faith of those who will come after us, I thought I would share my playlist with you--at least part of it!

So if you have time, give these a listen, and let the music prepare your heart for our time together on Sunday even as it is (hopefully) preparing mine.

Carrie Newcomer, "All Saints Day". Click the video below if you are on the blog, or, if you receive this by email, try this link:

Andrew Peterson, "God of My Fathers"  Click the video below if you are on the blog, or, if you receive this by email, try this link:

And finally, a modern take on the classic hymn "For All the Saints" recorded by Jars of Clay. Click the video below if you are on the blog, or, if you receive this by email, try this link:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Speaking up and speaking out

Our text for this fourth week in our series on Nehemiah and faithful leadership comes from Nehemiah 5:1-13, which you can read here.

When I opened our mailbox at church this week, I found the usual stack of magazines from various groups with which our church shares common ground. One of those magazines, however, had a somewhat surprising cover story. "Predatory Lending: Baptists Confront a Neglected Justice Issue." The article by Aaron Weaver in Fellowship! magazine, which you can read in full here if you have interest, tells a host of stories like this one about one of the 12 million Americans who take out at least one payday loan each year:

"Like a growing number of Americans, Elliott is underemployed and has lived paycheck to paycheck for quite some time. An emergency savings fund is a privilege that he has not been able to afford. When his wife Linda fell and broke her leg, Elliott panicked. With Linda unable to work, how would they make the next mortgage payment? To save their modest home, Elliott took out a $500 “payday” loan. But that small payday loan proved to be a bad decision, if he even had a real choice. One loan led to another and then another. Elliott was forced to take out additional loans, a loan to pay for the last loan. Two years later, he was trapped, paying the lender $450 every two weeks, never able to touch the principal for all the interest. Elliott eventually lost his home, spending more than $30,000 in the process."

The article detailed how widespread stories like Elliott's are, and how different Baptist groups are beginning to take up the fight to stop such predatory lending, using their voices to call for regulation of interest rates, and longer payback periods as they addressed their legislatures. But some churches have gone even beyond using their voices to call for justice: a consortium of churches in San Antonio is looking to launch an alternate lending option called "Freedom First" that will help the working poor secure small loans and save money. A church in Louisiana has worked to offer free tax filing assistance to low-income tax payers.

This article caught my attention because it sounds a lot like what was going on in Nehemiah 5: when Nehemiah sees the working poor around him caught in a horrible situation of cyclical debt and despair, he sees the system needs to change. He boldly and publicly speaks out against the way things are, and then he suggests practical ways to shift the status quo and agrees to be part of a new way himself--changing his own practices for the sake of his neighbors. Nehemiah's choice to speak up and speak out and back his words with action changed the way his community was doing business.

Predatory lending is just one neglected justice issue facing our neighbors. What others do you see? In what ways might you--and our congregation--be called to speak up, speak out, and back words with actions, as Nehemiah did in his community?

Friday, October 18, 2013

When Challenges Come

Out text for this third week in our series on Nehemiah and faithful leadership is Nehemiah 4:6-20, which you can read here:

As Nehemiah approaches the midpoint of his project in this week's reading, his plan was progressing smoothly:  he had secured the king’s blessing, journeyed to Jerusalem, and assembled a massive support team.  About halfway through the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, however, obstacles begin to spring up.  How will he respond to challenges to his leadership and vision, both from within his community and from opponents outside of it?  


Anyone who has been part of a team effort has likely experienced the pitfalls of trying to collaborate and hold a community together around the common good, as we discussed last week. Harvard University’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning has produced materials describing the most common obstacles faced by a group seeking to work together.  Their list includes things like floundering (struggling to figure out roles); dominant or reluctant participants; a tendency to go off on digressions and tangents; power feuds; and tendencies towards ignoring or ridiculing others in the group. What other obstacles have you faced when you have been part of a group seeking to accomplish a common—and often difficult—goal? How many of the challenges typically come from internal conflict (i.e. strife and division within the group) and which come from external sources? How have you seen these challenges addressed--or not addressed--in communities of which you have been a part?

Nehemiah faced both internal and external obstacles to his group’s effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.  What can we learn about leadership from the way Nehemiah faces obstacles? What might we learn from Nehemiah about how we can deal head-on with things that are really hard, and address challenges in a way that is both practical and grounded in faith?  Join us on Sunday as we consider these and other aspects of Nehemiah's story and our own experience!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Building a Community

Our text for this second Sunday of looking at Nehemiah and faithful leadership is Nehemiah 2:1-18, which can be read here:

In this week's portion of Nehemiah's story, Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem and begins to work on building the community he will need in order to get the walls of Jerusalem built. But what sort of team should Nehemiah assemble for this monumental task? What will exercising leadership as a united community rather than just as a collection of individuals look like?

When asked, “What makes teams successful?,” a survey of American workers done by Training and Development magazine found that 33% said getting along; 29% said listening; 21% said setting priorities; 6% said feeling recognized; 6% said having everyone agree; and 4% said deciding who's in charge (from Teamwork in the American Workplace, Dale Carnegie & Associates (Training and Development, January 1996 - Pp. 15 – 16)).  Think for a moment: when have you been part of a group where at least one of these things was true?  What was working as part of that team like? Are there other things you would add to this list as vital?

Then, I invite you to think about the different places where you exercise leadership—at home, church, work, in community groups.  How do the teams you work as part of function differently in these different places? Are there things that you think make the way we function as faith communities different than how we function in other communities--or that you think should make our faith-based communities function differently? If so, what are they?

Post your thoughts here--I would love to hear them this week as we consider how, before we can begin to build a wall, we must first invest in building the community that will make it possible--a community, as the book of Ephesians put it, that is rooted and grounded in love, and in a God who can do more through us than we can ever individually dream or imagine (Ephesians 3:18-21).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Communion with the World

Our text for this Sunday is Nehemiah 1:1-11, which you can read here:

Recently, I have begun getting the bulk of my daily news from the BBC website rather than from an American website such as CNN, USA Today, or the Washington Post. Why, you ask? Well, what I appreciate about the BBC is their commitment to covering world news. American websites, it seems, often focus only on what is happening right in front of us--government shutdowns, pop culture happenings, etc. But on the BBC site I learn about world things I might not know about otherwise. Today, I learned these things:

At least 130 African migrants have died and many more are missing after a boat carrying them to Europe sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. Most of those on board were from Eritrea and Somalia, and the boat was believed to have sailed from Libya.
In Ecuador, a judge has ordered the arrest of three army and police officers in the nation's first trial involving alleged crimes against humanity.
India's army says its troops have been fighting Pakistan-backed armed militants in Indian-administered Kashmir for more than a week.
In Myanmar, at least five Muslims were killed by Buddhist mobs in the Burmese state of Rakhine on Tuesday. Reports say terrified Muslims are hiding in fear of their lives. The renewed violence comes as President Thein Sein visits Rakhine.
Tanzania is one of Africa's biggest gold producers but according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), many thousands of children, some as young as eight, are risking their health by working in the country's small-scale gold mines, inhaling mercury fumes while extracting gold from the ore.
It's a great big world we live in. It can be overwhelming to think about. But World Communion Sunday--which is celebrated across the globe this week--is a chance to remember our deep connections to one another, to feel the pain of brothers and sisters we may never know but who are known intimately by God, to acknowledge that we cannot ignore one another when we have been joined as Christ's body, as family.
How can we truly live in communion with one another? As we come to the table with our broken, hurting world, Nehemiah's prayer from chapter 1 might be an apt one for us to consider as a model for how we connect with the condition of our world:
When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments; let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants...We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place at which I have chosen to establish my name.” They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great power and your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name.