Slow Faith | An Easy Yoke

[This is a sermon I preach on September 20, 2020 at Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the sermon by clicking here. You can watch the entire worship service by clicking here.]

A photographer was snapping pictures of first graders at an elementary school, making small talk to put his subjects at ease.

“What are you going to be when you grow up?” he asked one little girl.

“Tired,” she said.[1]

How prophetic those words are for the time we live in today. People of all ages live in a constant stupor of exhaustion that comes from stress, busy schedules, and the hustle we run to make ends meet. Added to that are kids or caring for a loved one. Add that on top of financial concerns, psychological issues and the drive to have it all together. We are tired and rundown. It affects our family relationships, our work, and it affects our relationship with God.

We are in the second week of our series, SLOW FAITH, where we are looking at how to develop a deep and abiding faith that is securely anchored to Jesus. We want the kind of faith that gives us life and enables us to share that life with those around us. Last week, we looked at the problem of hurry and the need to, as Dallas Willard writes, to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives” if we are to be the persons God has designed us to be.

Hurry is the enemy of becoming like Jesus because it cuts us off from God. Hurry says that our lives are centered on ourselves and our ability to get things done rather than trusting on God’s timing. Think about the Jesus way in the Gospels where we see the disciples learning from Jesus by walking, sitting, eating and taking their time around the countryside. When we abide and remain with Jesus, the Holy Spirit produces fruit in us and enables us to grow spiritually mature.

Jesus recognizes the pull of the world. He recognizes the temptation for us to chase after success and happiness and the tiredness that it can cause. In Matthew 11, Jesus calls out to those who are bone-weary and exhausted saying:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

There are two things that Jesus offers his listeners:

First, Jesus offers rest. In the two trips to China that Andrea and I have taken, the first day there is spent sightseeing even though you have barely slept in 24+ hours. We would fight to stay awake in order to help us flip our time zones quickly. Our mantra that first day was, “just make it through,” which sounds a lot like our daily living. When we fell into bed, the sleep felt so restful.

In the passage, Jesus offers and invites anyone and everyone who is weary, tired, and just trying to make it through to find rest in him. This is important biblically because true rest was found in God. Deep divine rest that Jesus is talking about would only be found in Yahweh. Jesus is identifying himself as God here in the passage by offering rest and invites anyone and everyone who is tired to find rest in him.

Secondly, Jesus offers equipment.[2] The equipment that Jesus offers is a yoke. A yoke is an instrument of work which is not exactly what you might think a weary person needs. One image we have of a yoke is a wooden bar that connects two animals so that they can plow a field. Sometimes, slaves would be yoked together to pull a cart or a wagon. Our image of a yoke is not exactly an image of rest.

In Judaism, a yoke can also be a set of teachings. Israel was to take on the ‘yoke of the Torah’ – which includes the Pentateuch through Chronicles. A Rabbi or teacher, also had a yoke. A disciple would yoke themselves to a rabbi and their teachings. The disciple of a rabbi would seek to practice (obey) their rabbi’s teaching. An unconcerned rabbi could offer hard teachings that place heavy burdens on their disciples and others who listened. Jesus warns Pharisees in Matthew 23 about placing heavy burdens on the people.

Jesus’ yoke is also his teachings- most notably the Sermon on the Mount. His teachings, are not heavy like the Pharisees. They are light. They are not light because he demands less, but because Jesus bears much of the burden with us. Rabbis and Pharisees emphasized strictness to the law. Jesus, on the other hand, is patient with all of his disciples. Jesus doesn’t run with the standouts, he walks with the slow ones who wrestle with what it means to live the Jesus way. Jesus spends time with the tired, the weary, the sinners, prostitutes, and the tax collectors.

Taking on a yoke signifies submission to another’s rule and authority. We see this in the farm when an Ox is broken to a yoke or a horse is broken to pull a wagon. They submit to the yoke they are attached to. Likewise, if the yoke that Jesus talks about here is his teachings, then “taking Jesus’ yoke” means that we submit to the rule and authority in our lives. This submission means we are under its authority as we seek to obey Jesus’ teaching. Submission requires change. We are no longer in charge of our own lives. We have given Jesus authority. We seek to center our lives around Jesus when we are yoked to Jesus.

By offering us his yoke, Jesus is offering us balance and a new way of living that we give us rest. Where my priority can get out of balance, the Jesus Way invites apprentices to live life in the mold of Jesus. The most restful thing that Jesus can give us is a new way of living.

How do we live into this new life? Notice that a yoke is not a sitting instrument- it is used for walking. Jesus yoke, his new way of living, is learned as we go with Jesus along the way. Jesus says “Learn from Me.” Jesus doesn’t invite us to learn cold creeds, memorize verses, or to learn about him. Jesus invites us to learn from him. Jesus invites us into a dynamic relationship that grows richer the longer we are immersed in it.

Too often, the church can be guilty of inviting people to learn about Jesus rather than learning from Jesus. We can sit in the pews, attend Bible studies, and have a great grasp of the theological underpinnings of who Jesus is- but if we’ve never learned from Jesus, if we’ve never submitted to his yoke- we’ll never experience the rest and the life that God promises. We mature and grow in our faith by learning from Jesus along the journeys we make in our lives.

You may remember the beginning of the movie, The Princess Bride. Princess Buttercup liked to torment the farm boy, Wesley, by ordering him around. Wesley always answered, “As You Wish.” It was the only thing he ever said to her. After time, Buttercup realized that every time that Wesley said, “As you wish,” what he was really saying was “I love you.”

In a similar fashion the more that we love Jesus, the more that we know Jesus, the more time we spend with Jesus along the way the more we will want to do what Jesus teaches us. Our hearts and our spirits will be made more like Jesus. Our love for Jesus will move us to live like Jesus. The Yoke of Jesus’ teachings will be easy because of our love for Jesus.

Andrea and I are going to celebrate our 20th anniversary this December. When we met, into dating and marriage, our relationship (and any relationship) only grows through spending time together. Love grows through time. After 20 years of marriage the yoke of marriage is light, not because we are not committed to one another, but because we love each other and will do what we need to do for one another. I’m guessing for many of you who are married- it is the same way. We often submit to one another, we lay down our preferences in order to live in love each day. Our love for one another grows along the way. It is not a microwave relationship, but a slow cooker that gets better the longer we are married.

This is one image of our relationship with Jesus. Love grows by spending time together along the way. The more we love and trust Jesus, the more we are willing to submit to Jesus’ yoke- his teachings. The more the submit to his teachings, the more we will find rest and fulfilment through Jesus presence.

The idea of submitted or surrendering to someone else’s authority goes against the grain of our American DNA. Yet this is what the Bible teaches discipleship looks like. When our love for Jesus grows, so grows our willingness to surrender our authority for a life that looks like Jesus. This is when we begin to experience peace in the midst of storms, help in the midst of trouble, healing in the midst of brokenness, and grace that transforms our lives. This is where we find rest. This is where we live a life that is truly life. Life to the fullest!

Rest, true rest for our bone-weary souls, comes from yoking ourselves to Jesus. It comes as we walk along Jesus and realized that we are yoked together and that Jesus is pulling the greater weight. It comes from realigning our life around the life that God desires to give us. A life that is truly life.


[1] https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2006/august/3082106.html

[2]John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

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Slow Faith | Hurry is the Devil

[Slow Faith is a series on Spiritual Formation. I preached this sermon on 9/13/20. You can listen to the sermon here or watch the worship service here.]

As a society, and in the church, we have a problem with speed. More accurately, we have a problem with hurry. Perhaps a little background with speed will help.

In 1370, the first town clock was constructed in Cologne, Germany. The clock provided a reference point for the entire time to be of one mind on what time it was. The clock, and the sun-dial of earlier times, changed our sense of time. Our understanding of time used to come from the rising and setting of the sun and the moon, but the rhythms of our body. The clock began to dictate to us when we needed to rise and when we needed to go to sleep. The clock created the idea of working 9-5 which most of the industrialized world has been enslaved to for centuries.

In 1879, Thomas Edison manufactured an electric lightbulb. It was a safer, cleaner, and brighter option to burning candles or lanterns in homes. But the lightbulb has also changed our lives in ways that are not always better. We no longer had to go to bed when the sun went down. Prior to the lightbulb, people averaged 11 hours of sleep a day! Eleven hours! Today, 59% of American average a minimum of 7 hours of sleep. Four hours less! 40% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep. We’ve all seen the literature about how a lack of sleep disrupts our mental capabilities, can lead to weight gain, and other psychological issues. 

Any sort of cursory reading of the saints of the past will find that many of them were up at 4:00 a.m. each day for prayer and study. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement would get up at 4:00 a.m., pray, translate scripture from Greek to English, and preach all before 7:00 a.m.! I remember reading about Wesley and others and thinking to myself, “they must love Jesus way more than I do!” As I learned more about sleep habits, Wesley and others would go to sleep when the sun went down. If you went to bed at 7 p.m., by 4:00 a.m. you already had slept for 9 hours! They were well-rested!

Technology is meant to save time and to increase efficiency with the hope of increasing leisure. With every technological advance, there are reprocussions. We officially entered the digital age in 2007. The marker for that is the release of the first iPhone by Steve Jobs and Apple. The first Kindle also was released in 2007. The iPhone, and by extension all smartphones, are a symbol of our technological advance and efforts towards increase productivity, but they are also symbols of our struggle with pace, speed, and hurry.

Studies show that the average iPhone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day. Certainly that doesn’t mean they are using it that often, but that they reach for it, check their pocket to ensure it is there, and so on. Even now, some of you are feeling the urge to check that your phone is ok. We feel the need to check our phone and our social media feed because of FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. Our brains have been reprogrammed to the point that we do not want to miss out on the latest news. Like Pavlov’s dog, we are conditioned to answer each notification.

Since 2007, we can now have video, streaming TV, and live sports wherever we have our phone. In 2015, the Neilson Agency did a study that showed that the average American watched 6 hours of video a day- whether it was TV, youtube, or some other form of digital media.

Clocks, lightbulbs, and smartphones disrupt the natural rhythms of the universe and of our lives. What was meant to make life easier and even more enjoyable has made us slaves to busyness, slaves to notifications, and slaves to hurry. We are constantly working or stressed out from working. We wake up tired, drink a ton of socially approved drugs (i.e. caffeine), and we fall back into bed at the end of the day so overwhelmed that we cannot fall back asleep. When we have downtime, we flip through our social media feeds in a daze when we know there are better and healthier options to do.

In the midst of the pace we run and our chronic tiredness, we can often find ourselves unaware of any presence of God in our lives. As people who call ourselves Christians, many of us have little interaction or sense of God’s presence in our day-to-day life because we are so distracted. We wonder where is the transformation in our lives, where is the growth in our faith, where is the healing that the Bible speaks about as we rush around to the places our schedules demand we go. As we consider the pace of our lives- could it be that we are the ones who are absent rather than God?

Pastor and author John Mark Comer relates a story between Pastor John Ortberg and Dallas Willard. Willard was a Philosophy professor at USC and a Christian who wrote many books on Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. Ortberg asks Willard, “What do I need to do to become the me I want to be?

Willard responded, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Willard knew the danger of busyness. He knew the danger of running after the things of the world and the danger that possesses for the Christian. Hurry is the enemy. Hurry is the devil. Willard wrote extensively on Spiritual Formation- this is a “Spirit-driven process of forming the inner life of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”[1] Simply put- spiritual formation is when we become more like Jesus.

In John 15, Jesus tells us that we are to “Remain in me as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”[2]

Spiritual formation, becoming like Jesus, happens when we remain or abide in Jesus. Spiritual formation doesn’t happen when we swoop into church once a week, writing our grocery list, and thinking of all the things we need to get done. Spiritual formation happens when we slow down, when we abide, and when we walk with Jesus. Spiritual formation takes place when we read, think, and pray through Scriptures and applying them to our lives. Walter Adams, the spiritual director for C.S. Lewis writes,

“To walk with Jesus is to walk with a slow, unhurried pace. Hurry is the death of prayer and only impedes and spoils our work. It never advances it.”[3]

We see this so clearly when we think about the disciples walking with Jesus throughout the countryside for three years. They took it slow. They sat around a lot. Much of Jesus’ ministry is eating meals with his disciples and others. Speed was not part of the internship. Hurry was not on the agenda. Even when Lazarus was sick and dying, Jesus waited to go rather than hurrying there. We can get a lot done when we hurry. We can be transformed when we slowly walk with Jesus.

In the American church, the models that we utilize and the kinds of discipleship we teach shows that our hearts may not be in the right place. Too many sermons and studies are click-bait titles like “5 Steps to…” or “Explosive growth in 12 steps.” John Ortberg writes, “Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.” Our need to hurry, to rush, to go fast, to be productive, to get stuff done shows a heart that believes that our life and the lives of those around us are dependent on us doing things. Discipleship teaches us that to truly live means to slow down and to turn our attention to Jesus.

What you give your attention to is the person we become.

One of the great problems facing us in the church is hurry. Sin and hurry both cut us off from God. Over the next five weeks, we are going to look at what it looks like to develop a slow faith. We want to begin to build in practices in our lives that will help us to slow down and invite the Holy Spirit to form our inner life to reflect the inner life of Jesus.

As we prepare to come to the Table this morning: Are you tired? Feeling ‘weary?’ Burdened? Bone-deep weary in your soul? Are you rushing around chasing after things that will not truly last? Feeling depressed because you perceive that you can no longer keep up the pace you’ve been running?

Jesus says:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I want to invite you over the next five weeks to be present in-person or online as we talk about developing a Slow Faith that eliminates hurry from our lives so that we can find rest in God’s presence. This morning, as we come to the Table, let us rest in the presence of Jesus Christ.


[1] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart. 22

[2] John 15:3-2, NIV.

[3] John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

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Origins: A Preview

*I wrote this devotional for the Avenue UMC community and wanted to share it with you here. My devotions will be emailed each morning. If you’d like to subscribe, email churchoffice (at) avenueumc (dot) com and ask to be put on the Devotional Mailing list.

In the beginning, God . . .
Genesis 1:1

A genre of movies that have become popular over the last few years has been origin stories. Two of my favorite origin movies are Batman Begins and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Origin stories provide us with background information on a beloved character. They also help us to see what is unique about the character. Finally, origin stories give us hope.+

The book of Genesis begins with familiar words,

In the beginning, God . . .

The book of Genesis is filled with accounts of creation (two different accounts, in fact), the first humans, a talking serpent, the first murder, a catastrophic flood, and an attempt at the first skyscraper. That is just the first eleven chapters!

Most notably, many prefer to read Genesis as a textbook about how the world was created in six twenty-four-hour days, and another day for God to rest on. But what if it is more than that?

I want to suggest that Genesis is an origin story. Not so much as the origin of humanity (it is) or sin (unfortunately, it is that, too). Genesis is the origin story of God revealing Godself to humanity. The Creation accounts, the fall of Adam and Eve, and the Flood tell us more about God than we do about ourselves. The author of Genesis is concerned about helping its readers to encounter the one-and-only Creator God.

This Sunday, we will begin a new series at Avenue called Origins. We’ll be looking at the first eleven chapters of Genesis, not to relearn the stories as we heard them in Sunday School, but to encounter the Living God through them. Lord willing, these morning devotionals will help fill in the cracks from each week’s sermons. In our journey through the beginning of Genesis, we will encounter God, learn more about who God is, and ultimately we will have a greater hope because we will learn of God who loves us and is making way for us: from the beginning.

+https://www.geekycamel.com/superhero-origin-stories-popular-nowadays/
For the help of why origin stories are so popular. (Accessed 6/29/20).

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Nothing But Jesus

handout_lightstock
What do you do when you encounter someone panhandling on the street? When we drive to Philadelphia to take our boys to CHOP, we have begun to recognize the various panhandlers. We have several options- we can read their signs; we can give them money; we can walk on by; we could talk with them, and so on.

My response to panhandlers is inconsistent. On the one hand, I rarely carry any sort of cash with me. On the other, if I have money, I am guilty of ignoring their cries for assistance. There are times when I’ve taken something to eat for those who are looking for support. How do we help those who are located on the outskirts of acceptance and community?

For our first date, Andrea and I went to a minor league hockey game in Lexington, KY. I had won tickets during an intermission promotion when I was on a date with a different girl a few weeks before. After the hockey game, Andrea and I went to Applebees for half-priced appetizers. We were poor college students, and I was seeking to appeal to her sense of frugality. Free hockey tickets and half-price appetizers. How much more romantic could I be?

Over mozzarella sticks and nachos, we began to get to know one another better. Andrea had spent the previous semester in India and Nepal, serving the poorest of the poor in those two nations. In Nepal, she taught Buddhist Monk English through the Gospel of Luke. In Calcutta, India, she served at Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying. Mother Theresa had just died in the previous year.

Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying was mainly a hospice center where those marginalized and forgotten could die with dignity. Part of Andrea’s time working there was to cut the finger and toenails of the men and women who had been picked up off the streets. I’m not sure how I would react to having that job.

In India, Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying offered the love of Jesus to those people would not look at. When they had very little else to offer- they offered them, Jesus.

Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that at 3:0 in the afternoon, during the time of prayer, that Peter and John were going up to the temple for prayer. Outside the temple, at the Gate called Beautiful- which was an ornately decorated gate- sat a man who would beg from those going into prayer. Later, in chapter four, we discover that this man born lame was forty years old. For forty years, the man sat outside the worshiping community to beg for money.

When Peter and John walk by, the man makes his request for alms. Peter looked at the man and said, Look at us! Luke records that the man gave them his attention. Think about how you respond to panhandlers. Often, we don’t make eye contact for a variety of reasons. But Peter demands it, and the man gives it. He is fully expecting to receive some monetary support from Peter.

Peter pulls what has to be the original Jesus Juke. A Jesus Juke is when we attempt to look past the immediate need and offer a person Jesus. It might be handing someone a track that looks like a hundred dollar bill, and it might be making people at a soup kitchen who are hungry listen to a worship service before feeding them. These are examples of Jesus jukes. Peter says,

“Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Two things become apparent. The man had to initially be disappointed to hear Peter say that he had no money to offer him. Secondly, after not being able to walk for forty years, hearing someone tell him to walk must have sounded a little crazy. But Peter takes the man by the hand and helps him up, and INSTANTLY his ankles became strong. Luke says that he jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then, he went into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. Everyone who says the man recognized him as the guy who stood by the temple gates and begged. A sense of wonder and amazement filled the place.

With the man clinging to Peter and John, Peter began to preach and offer the people in the temple courts the Good News of Jesus, inviting them to repent from their sins to experience forgiveness and “times of refreshing”(vs. 19). After offering the powerful healing and offering the man Jesus- Peter preached, and the early Church grew again.

When we offer Jesus, Jesus changes lives.

Did you notice in the text the change of location for the man who was born lame? At the beginning of the account, we learned that this lame man was carried to The Gate Called Beautiful daily. The Gate was just outside of the temple. The man intended to receive from the good intentions of those who were going into the temple. He was outside of the worshipping community, begging from those going inside.
After the man is healed, as his ability changes, so do his location. Luke tells us that, After the man was healed, THEN, he went with them into the temple courts. The healing moves the man from outside the temple to the inside of it. The healing the man receives, in Jesus’ name, brings him into the faith community.

When we offer Jesus, Jesus Changes Lives.

Who are the people who are outside the walls of the Church, and what do we have to offer them?

We all think there are things that we need in life. There are things that we want. Sometimes, we don’t always know what we need. The lame man thought he needed money. What he needed was an encounter with Jesus through Peter and John. This encounter led to his healing and moving from the outskirts of the community, where people would pass him by without making eye contact and entering the worship community by praising and leaping.

I believe that one of the challenges of the Church is that we sometimes forget to offer Jesus. I know of a church that provided household and personal hygiene items to those in need but were directed by some of their leadership not to offer to pray with those who came into the Church to receive assistance. The leadership insisted on not inviting the people who came for help to worship. While providing items to persons in need is right, when we do it apart from Jesus, the Church becomes a glorified social service center. We can and should meet physical requirements as an extension of our ministry. What sets us apart from social services is that we are called to share Jesus.

Peter and John had nothing to offer the man except Jesus. Father John McKenzie writes:

If the Church were to lose its hierarchy, its clergy, its vast collection of buildings, its stores of learning amassed over the centuries, even the text of its sacred books and had to face the world with nothing but the living presence of the Risen Jesus and its mission to proclaim the Good News to all nations and people, it would be no less a church than the Church of Peter and Paul was. Perhaps it might be more of a church than it is now.

When we offer Jesus, Jesus Changes Lives.

When we are intentional about introducing people to Jesus and building relationships with them, lives are transformed. Think about it; someone introduced you to Jesus, shared their faith with you, and created space for you to decide live with Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Maybe it was a parent, a Sunday School Teacher, a coach, or even a pastor. If you’re like me, when Jesus became part of my life, my location changed. I found a new community that, while not perfect, loves me and walks with me. I moved from the outskirts of the Church into a new family that brought life, healing, and hope through Jesus Christ.

Our heart’s desire may be to give people whatever we can. We can also become consumed with what we cannot provide them based on limitations- not enough money, no more space, and so on. Regardless of what we can and cannot offer- the most important thing is to offer Jesus. When we offer Jesus- Jesus is enough because it is Jesus who transforms our lives- bringing healing and changing our location from being an outsider to an insider.

This morning, who do you need to offer Jesus to? As you go through your week- who is the Holy Spirit is leading you to pray with. Perhaps you identify with the lame man and find yourself on the outside looking in. When we have Jesus in our lives, we are given a new family, a new hope, and a new life location.

When we offer Jesus, Jesus Changes Lives.

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The Myth of Being Color Blind

The only Michael W. Smith album I’ve ever owned was his 1992 offering: Change Your World. I’m pretty sure I was able to get the CD from the Columbia House CD Club (or the Christian version).

Michael_W_Smith-Change_Your_World-Frontal.jpg (953×953)The album has a song called “Color Blind.” It is a pretty infectious pop song with a message that resonated with me at the time. In it, Smith points out the ongoing racial struggle in our world and writes: “Cause we could see better, If we could be color blind.”

To my fourteen year old self, those words seemed rather appealing and aspirational. Our world would be better if we saw each other through a color blind lens. We’d stop conflict based on appearances, ethnicities, and so on.

There is a fatal to this kind of thinking.

Seeing the world through a color blind lens prevents us from seeing the diversity and beauty that God has created in the world and in humanity. When we pursue being color blind, we are whitewashing the culture and uniqueness in each person, culture, and ethnicity.

Instead of becoming colorblind, we should seek to see the beauty and the Imago Dei (Image of God) in each person, tribe, and tongue. God has made us unique and diverse. We miss out on so much when we dismiss another culture or person based on the color of their skin. Because of this, we should set aside any sort of ideas that one skin tone is better than another, or that one culture is better than another. We should allow our lives to be enriched by the diverse people and experiences that surround us.

Speaking of surrounding- In Revelation, John has a vision of worship around the throne of God. John writes:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands… (Revelation 7:9)

Surrounding the throne and worshipping God are people of every ethnicity, language, and cultures. If we were colorblind, we would miss out on a colorful, multifaceted celebration of worship around God’s throne. That’s not something I want to miss!

Instead of seeking to be colorblind, let us see the beauty in every color; to allow our lives to be enriched as we learn from people different that us. Let our worship in our churches begin to reflect the worship around the throne in Revelation 7!

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Pentecost: About a Burning Fire

In the Christian faith, we celebrate Pentecost today. In the Book of Acts, in chapter 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples. Peter boldly preaches to a gathered crowd. His text is from the Old Testament prophet, Joel. It reads:
 
“In the last days, I will pour my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:17-21)
 
The Spirit, in Joel and in Acts, is doing a new thing. In Acts, it was the birth of the Church. What is the Spirit doing today?
 
As we look around at the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and see the protest taking place around the country (and around the world), there is a growing cry for justice and a call for the dismantling of racist thoughts and actions- as well as the systemic racism that allows racist thoughts and actions to exist.
 
As Christians (especially White Christians) who follow Jesus and celebrate Pentecost, we see that the Spirit was (and is) poured out on men AND women, young AND old, rich AND poor. We read in Acts of people of different ethnicities encountering the presence of the Holy Spirit. There are no ethnic, racial, gender, or socioeconomic barriers to the movement of the Spirit. Nor should the Church today allow these barriers to existing today. We cannot expect the move of the Spirit if we are unwilling to work towards dismantling the racist systems in our society. 
Where do we start?

We start by listening. We (White Christians) must enter into the stories and lives of our Black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters who are the victims of racism: personal and systemic. We need to hear their stories and understand our complicity in systemic racism. These stories often illuminate how ingrained systemic racism is in the lives of White America.

We must also refuse to dismiss the pain of others because it makes us uncomfortable. I’ve seen memes and posts by white friends who immediately have dismissed the protest happening now when the protest turned violent and looting began to occur. Martin Luther King wrote that “A riot is the language of the unheard.” White America must listen to the language of the riot and hear what our sisters and brothers are saying. Can we hear their pain that is so great that it would cause them to be sprayed with tear gas? To be run over by over-zealous police cars? To take rubber bullets?
As Christians, we believe our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm (Eph. 6:12). The systemic racism that is present in our country is demonic. This is a spiritual battle. The violence and the protest is the manifestation of something spiritual taking place. A system that elevates one group of people over another is demonic because they rob people of the sacred value and worth that was instilled in them by the Creator.
What we are witnessing online and in our communities is a call to action. The systemic racism that exists in our culture benefits White Americans. White Americans will be key to dismantling it. White Americans can use our privilege to stand with our friends and neighbors and to work for real equality. As Christians, the church should be a place of reconciliation- not just between God and humanity- but between individuals and people groups. This is an opportunity for the church to set the standard of what reconciliation looks like. To do anything less is to continue to contribute to the systems of racism that already exist.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. As we pray for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in our churches and the world, let us hear and see how the Spirit is moving now- and let us join in the work to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Come Holy Spirit. Come.
 
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10 Albums/10 Days | 90s Grunge

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

This is Album/Day Seven

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You may have wondered when I would get to some 90s music.

There is a test on Facebook that posits that whatever album/song was #1 on your 12/13/14/15th birthday represents your life. I looked mine up. It doesn’t. But there is something about the music that shapes you as a teenager.

As you’ll guess from many of my post that music from the Christian scene/market is what I listened to the most as a teen. That probably made my parents happy (though much of what I listened to, the lyrics were indiscernible), but to be honest it made me happy as well. As a teen, though, I did hear quite a bit of music on the radio and while I was with friends. I loved grunge music and most of 90s rock.

The funny thing about all this is that I really only knew the songs that got played on the radio. Smells Like Teen SpiritEvenflow, Jeremy, Dead and Bloated, Sex Type Thing and the list goes on. I didn’t know the “B” cuts of the bands or anything else that was on an album. Sometimes, I didn’t even know who the artist was. For the most part, that was ok. I wasn’t entering any trivia contest about song titles or artist names.

As an adult, though, I have gone back and purchased some of the albums that shaped my teen years: Nevermind by Nirvana, Core from Stone Temple Pilots and Ten from Pearl Jam are at the top of the list. Even though I could hardly name most of the songs, the more I listened the more I realize how much their music played a role in shaping who I am- especially in my musical taste. Let’s be honest, I have Sirius XM radio in my car. I’m in my second year. The reality is that I really only listen to three channels: Lithium (90s Alternative), 90s on 9, and ESPN Radio. I do jump around some. I try to listen to some current alternative/hard rock music- but for better or for worse, I go back to my 90s rock.

Side note: I cannot tolerate Christian Radio. It all sounds the same. It’s overproduced. It is, generally, not good musically. 

If I had to put this down to one album, it would have to be Nirvana’s Nevermind while I was a teenager. Today, it would probably be Pearl Jam’s Ten. But for these purposes, I will take most of the genre as defining “albums.”

What was your defining 90s album?

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10 Albums/10 Days | Morella’s Forest | Mxpx

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

This is Album/Day Six

Morellas Forest and Mxpx

Morella’s Forest: Super Deluxe/Mxpx: Pokinatcha

Two posts ago, I mentioned the Bible Gift Shop in our town where I purchased some of my earliest Christian music (Petra and DeGarmo & Key…and yes, probably Carmen. Sigh). The owners of the store helped with their youth group and attended the Creation Festival in Central Pennsylvania. Each year, they would bring back bands from Creation that they heard to sell in the stores. This was the mid-90’s and while the internet was starting to become a real thing in our area, you didn’t just get online to learn about bands. There was no Spotify or Apple Music. You had to hear of a band from someone else.

I had birthday money to spend. It was burning a hole in my pocket. I wanted some new music.

At this point in time, I had never heard of Mxpx or Morella’s Forest. I don’t remember what directed me to these albums because I don’t believe I had ever heard of either band. Honestly, like my post about The Prayer Chain yesterday, I think I purchased both CDs because of the album art.

Mxpx is (they are still recording) a punk band from the Pacific Northwest. Of course, Green Day was popular at the same time so the natural comparison would be to them. Certainly there were differences. Pokinatcha, I believe, was recorded when the band was still in high school. As excited as I was for Mxpx, I remember some of my friends complaining how it all sounded the same (can’t you make that argument for most bands?) I purchased the next three albums from Mxpx in the ’90s and I continue to listen to Mxpx today.

At that time, Morella’s Forest really caught my attention. While I didn’t know it, they were a shoegaze band filled with distorted guitars juxtaposed against Sydney’s vocals. This is a great kind of chill album. They had songs like Fizzle Kiss, Puppy Love, and Curl that stood out to me at that time. Without the internet, it really took years (until I was in college) to even realize that they had put out additional releases. By then I had moved on to other bands.

Along with the albums, this was my first foray into Tooth and Nail Records. Nearly 25 years later, I would guess that most of my favorite albums are from Tooth and Nail bands and that my taste in music has been highly influenced by Tooth and Nail (Stavesacre, Demon Hunter, Anberlin, The OC Supertones, Project 86, and Jonezetta to name a few).

We live in an age of digital downloads and the disappearance of physical bookstores (Let alone Christian bookstores). How different things were in the 1990s when Tooth and Nail (and other labels) did everything by mail order. I am grateful for our local bookstores and two trips I made that gave me some bands, albums, and labels that have had staying power over the last 25 years!

[Could these videos look any more 90’s?]

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10 Albums/10 Days | Shawl and Mercury | The Prayer Chain

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

Here is where I begin to cheat a bit and list multiple albums under the same post. Of course, the albums will be related. Today’s post marks a significant shift, for me, in the music I listened to and what really speaks to me musically.

The Prayer Chain

The Prayer Chain: Shawl and Mercury Vinyl Editions

The Prayer Chain is, perhaps, the most influential band in my teen and young adult years.

This story also begins in an independent Christian bookstore. This time, Grand Book and Bible in New Castle, PA. My mom took me there as a fourteen or fifteen years old. I was excited because their music selection was 2-3 times larger than our local store. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I was looking for music.

I saw the standard fare, Michael W. Smith, Petra, Amy Grant, Degarmo & Key, and many others. But they had a large selection of Christian Alternative that would not fit in the CCM category. I had never heard of The Prayer Chain. I was struck by the cover of Shawl as well as the back photograph. There was no CD player to sample the music. I purely purchased the album based on the cover art.

Note: I still love buying the physical CD and Vinyl Albums, mostly for the artwork. Many bands have a “look” and a feel for their packaging that goes beyond the music. I want something more than digital- I want to feel and look at the entire package.

When I listened for the first time, what I heard was raw, loud, honest, and emotional. There was no “yay- Jesus” music on Shawl (or Mercury). The faith influence was undeniable, but the lyrics wrestled with real feelings that I had. There was room for questions; room for doubt; and hope in the midst of those feelings. I needed this as a teen (just as I continue to need it today.)

Looking back, The Prayer Chain was ahead of its time in the Christian music industry. When many popular Christian bands followed a cookie-cutter form (and several years behind anything considered popular in General Market)- The Prayer Chain’s music was fresh and current. Their music was art (which you cannot say about most/many Christian “artists”- just listen to Christian radio, it’s ALL THE SAME). Their lyrics were deeper, honest, and introspective. Later in life, with the proliferation of the internet, I could read of the impact The Prayer Chain had on others. These albums set the tone for me of what I wanted in music.

On Mercury, The Prayer Chain completely scrapped their sound from Shawl and it is so beautiful and compelling. Again, there was nothing like it in the Christian market. Unfortunately, the band broke up recording the follow-up to Mercury. It was released (Antarctica) and it is said that you can literally hear the band break-up in this album.

These two albums opened the door for me (and for many others) of what music could be like in the Christian market. At the time when everyone was listening to Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jame (I’ll get to them), I was listening to The Prayer Chain. Nearly thirty years later, I am still listening.

Do me a favor and listen to both albums and let me know what you think. Below are a couple of songs.

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10 Albums/10 Days |Beyond Belief | Petra

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

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I grew up in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Well, that was my address. I lived 7 or 8 miles outside of Greenville in a different school district. Greenville is a beautiful small town that has been slowing dying with the end of manufacturing and the steel industry in Western Pennsylvania. There were a couple of stores that Mom took us to that I would enjoy. One was Amy’s Books. Mom would trade in books and let us pick out some books of our own. I would pick up some Hardy Boys books and have them read a day later.

Just down from Amy’s Book was The Bible Gift Shop (Shoppe?). It was a small store with plenty of Jesus Junk in it. The owner was super friendly and involved in youth ministry in their church. This small store had some great music selection in the Christian scene. If you were listening to Christian rock in the 1980’s, then you likely listened to Petra. Petra was the first cassette that I remember buying at The Bible Gift Shop. That album was Beyond Belief.

By 1990, when Beyond Belief came out, Petra was already veterans of the Christian rock scene. Beyond Belief was the second album with John Schlitt as their lead singer. Beyond Belief isn’t heavy metal, but probably closer to arena rock. It is listed as No. 71 on the list of the 100 Top CCM Albums.

I had the opportunity to go see them at the Star Lake Amphitheater outside of Pittsburgh with the youth group. I remember Geoff Moore and the Distance opening for Petra. This would have been my first “rock” concert but more than a really fun concert with the youth group, Petra’s music encouraged my faith. Songs like Creed (Apostle’s Creed inspired song), Seen and not Heard (letting actions speak louder than words)and Beyond Belief (living by faith) were all songs that encouraged me every day I listened.

Petra had a run of three albums, This Means War, Beyond Belief, and Unseen Power that pretty much sum up my musical taste from 12-14 years old. There would be big changes in the music I would purchase starting with tomorrow’s album.

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