Saturday, October 23, 2021

All Hallows Evening Prayer for Sunday Evening (October 24, 2021) Is Now Online


All Hallows Evening Prayer is a service of worship in the evening for all pilgrims on the journey to the heavenly city.

Bartimeus was not born blind but lost his eyesight. We, however, are born blind—spiritual blind. We cannot see God in the world, God in Jesus, until God opens our eyes and enables us to see spiritually. 

Can we lose our spiritual sight? I think that we may at times suffer temporary spiritual blindness. The things of this world, our own inward desires, the evil one, may cloud our sight and keep us from seeing clearly. However, if we ask God, God in his merciful kindness will clear our vision, enable us to see with spiritual eyes again.

The Scripture reading for this Sunday evening is Mark 10:46-52 The Healing of Blind Bartimeus.

The homily is titled “Jesus, Son of David, Have Pity on Me.”

The link to this Sunday evening’s service is—

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/2021/10/all-hallows-evening-prayer-for-sunday_23.html

Please feel free to share the link to the service with anyone whom you believe might benefit from the service.

If an ad plays when you open a link to a video in a new tab, click the refresh icon of your browser until the song appears. An ad may follow a song so as soon as the song is finished, close the tab.

Previous services are online at

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/

May this service be a blessing to you.

Leading the Small Church from the Porch Swing


On my first Sunday, I held a church meeting in the sanctuary immediately after worship to tell everyone that we needed to plan programs for the fall season. I just told everyone to sit down after the benediction, and I led the meeting. They really didn’t seem all that interested in what I told them we needed to do…”

So the pastor went to the district superintendant and said, "I’m not sure I'm suited for pastoral ministry. In the seminary classes I’m taking, I was told that I'm the administrative executive and the ‘CEO’ of the church, but they really seem to have their own plans. I’m not sure where I fit in at this student-local-pastor appointment.”

As a district superintendent and an instructor in "course of study" program for training part-time, second-career, and bivocational local pastors, I've heard several variations of these statements over the years.

My UM conference is in an overwhelmingly rural state filled with mostly small congregations (86% of our congregations have fewer than 100 active members, and 66% of our congregations have fewer than 50 active members). Every church, large and small, has a God-given potential to make a God-sized impact, but congregations cultivate fruitfulness in ways that differ widely based on size and context.

While most church leadership books and training events are designed by and for mid- and large-sized congregations, with ordained elders and paid staff, most congregations are small. A ministry leader cannot simply scale down the leadership principles, methods, and models designed by and for a larger church and then drop them into a small congregation. The leadership approaches that a part-time or bivocational pastor must use are very different than those practiced in a larger congregation. The small church pastor is not the CEO, not the ministry manager, not the program director, and she is not the vision-caster. These types of leadership might work in a larger congregation, but in a small church (particularly a small rural church), they will be perceived as lacking awareness and respect for the church’s natural leadership style, history, context, and reality. Read More

Oh, and I’m Bisexual


And how do you respond to that?

A friend of mine was just at a family gathering talking with one of his nieces.
“How have you been?”

“Great. Been going to school, working a lot… oh, and I’m bisexual.”
How do you respond to that?

If you’ve been in youth ministry for the last 5 years, this conversation with someone from Generation Z doesn’t even surprise you. If you’ve been in youth ministry 10 years, this conversation also isn’t surprising, but it might be a little more poignant, because 10 years ago this wasn’t the trend. Now, this conversation is commonplace.

Just how commonplace? Read More

Texas UMC Conference Takes on 'Child Care Deserts'


The Texas Conference just planted its fifth child care center, this one in Linden, Texas, in partnership with Linden United Methodist Church.

The first such center opened two years ago, and four more are expected to open by year’s end.

The centers are placed in underserved areas, with the goal of advancing literacy, health and discipleship. Read More

Image Credit: Sam Hodges/UMC News
When I was involved in child welfare work in the State of Louisiana, good-quality child care was always in short supply. Working mothers were often forced to use unlicensed, unsafe,unsanitary overcrowded, understaffed child care facililities. There was also a shortage of good quality early childhood programs. 

All Hallows Evening Prayer for Saturday Evening (October 23, 2021) Is Now Online

All Hallows Evening Prayer is a service of worship in the evening for all pilgrims on the journey to the heavenly city.

While we may not fully understand why Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross, it was not something that Jesus was forced to do. He did it willingly and it played an important part in the restoration of our impaired relationship with God.

Restoring impaired relationships require sacrifices. In this case God himself in the person of the Son is making the sacrifice.

Are there any impaired relationships in our lives a sacrifice on our part might help to restore?

The Scripture reading for this Saturday evening is Hebrews 7: 21-28 The Perfect High Priest.

The homily is titled “Jesus, a Repairman?!”

The link to this Saturday evening’s service is—

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/2021/10/all-hallows-evening-prayer-for-saturday_23.html

Please feel free to share the link to the service with anyone whom you believe might benefit from the service.

If an ad plays when you open a link to a video in a new tab, click the refresh icon of your browser until the song appears. An ad may follow a song so as soon as the song is finished, close the tab.

Previous services are online at

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/

May this service be a blessing to you.

Friday, October 22, 2021

It's Friday: 'My Dad Taught Me How to Love the Exvangelical' and More


Jesus instructed his followers to love one another. But only a few of them do that.

The Top 10 Things Modern Pharisees Say Today
Instead those who identify themselves as Christians have become like the Pharisees--self-righteous and critical.

Make the Connection, Keep the Connection
How well does our church make a connection with first time guests and keep a connection with them? Could it do better? How?

7 Ways Leaders can Navigate the Pain of Rejection
I have experienced rejection as a church leader and writer as well as a youngster and in my personal life. Charles Stone offers good advice.

Email Is Useful, but Texting Is Transforming College Campuses
Texting is an effective method of communication but it has its pitfalls as I have learned to my chagrin.

Should Christians Relocate to Conservative Areas?
Jesus did not teach his disciples to retreat into enclves based upon culture, ethnicity, politics, race, or religion. He instructed them to go from where he was to ascend into heaven and make disciples of all the peoples of the earth. A major reason we are seeing a decline in the influence of Christianity in North America is that many people who identify as Christians do not think, speak, or act like disciples of Jesus.

How Do We Best Help the Poor and Needy in Our Communities?
How good a job are we doing going out there and connecting with the poor and needy in our particular community? How well do we understand "God links our efforts for the poor directly to our relationship with Him?"

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Wesley’s Three Simple Rules: The First Rule

Whether we are a Methodist or a Christian in a different tradition, we can benefit from the study and application of John Wesley’s “three simple rules.” Wesley in his sermon, “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth,” makes it clear that adherence to these rules was not to be external only but was to be accompanied by inward transformation—a change of heart toward God and our neighbor.

We are not be like the Pharisees who scrupulously obeyed the rules they found in Scripture but whose hearts were far from God. They failed to show the mercy toward others as God expect them to do.

I propose to look at Wesley’s General Rules, their official title, as they appear in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. We often hear Bishop Reuben Job’s abridgement of the three simple rules quoted in sermons or talks, but Job’s abridgement does not capture what Wesley was emphasizing in the original rules.

In this article I am going to look at Wesley’s first rule. In the original rules it is “By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced….” Wesley then lists some examples of these kinds of evil. Wesley describes a number of practices that have not changed since biblical times. He also describes a number of eighteenth century practices that have their modern day equivalents. We find all these practices alluded to in Scripture. It clear from the full rule that Wesley means more than refraining from deliberately inflicting physical injury on someone, causing them emotional suffering or pain, or hurting them in any other way. We are to avoid all kinds of evil.

Among the kinds of evil that Wesley lists is taking God’s name in vain. In other words, we take God, his name, and other aspects of his reality, to paraphrase John Piper, into our thoughts, into our emotions, into your words, and into your actions in such a way that our thoughts and feelings and words and actions are futile, empty, pointless, wasted. We empty our hearts of affections for God. We no longer love, admire, reverence, cherish, or treasure him. God means nothing to us. We empty words about God, statements about him, of God’s truth and replace them with human opinions. In summary, in Piper’s words, “to take the name of God in vain is to take up some expression of God’s reality into our thoughts or emotions or words or actions when the truth of God has gone out of them, and true affections for God are missing.” How are we ourselves doing that in our own lives? It is worth some thought.

Wesley identifies profaning the Lord’s Day as a kind of evil. In our time working, buying, and selling on a Sunday has become normative. Those who do not have work on a Sunday devote their Sundays to sleeping late and various recreational or leisure time activities.

Unless Christians are involved in a particular ministry, we at most devote a couple of hours to the service of God on a Sunday. We attend a Sunday school class and a worship service.

The early Methodists, on the other hand, visited the sick and those in prison, performed acts of mercy, and other ways devoted themselves to God’s service on a Sunday.

What can we do to give more time to God’s service on a Sunday or whatever day we attend a church? How else might we make the day “holy unto the Lord”?

Wesley goes on to list, “drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them.” 

Heavy drinking was common in Wesley’s day. Parents would spend their money on gin instead of feeding their children. Drinking was often accompanied by crimes of violence—brutal beatings, rape, and murder. Both women and children prostituted themselves for cheap gin, exchanging their sexual favors for money to buy the gin or for the gin itself.

When Wesley talks about drunkenness, buying or selling alcoholic beverages and drinking them, he has all the various kinds of evils associated with these activities in mind. In our day we can expand these activities not only to the illicit sale, purchase and use of intoxicants and other substances that affect our thinking, emotions, and behavior but also pornography and anything else in which we indulge or over-indulge with harmful effects to ourselves and/or to others.

The harm may occur at any stage, for the example, in the treatment of women and children in the making of pornographic videos; in the attitudes the videos promote toward women and children; in the effects that the use of pornography has on someone’s sexual appetites and their inhibitions against rape, sexual activity with minors, or so-called “rough sex,” which may consist of physically and emotionally abusing a sexual partner and forcing them to perform degrading sexual acts against their will; and the damage that its use can cause to a marriage or partnered relationship.

What do we indulge in to excess? How is it affecting us? How is it affecting others? Do we look at our phone all the time and not really engage with people? Do we use our cell phone as babysitter?

Among the kinds of evils that Wesley lists is human trafficking, exploiting and profiting at the expense of adults or children by compelling them to perform labor or engage in commercial sex. Human trafficking includes sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, forced marriages, domestic servitude, forced criminality, child soldiers, and organ harvesting.

Sexual exploitation “is when someone is deceived, coerced or forced to take part in sexual activity.” When one sexual partner posts photos or videos of sexual activity with another sexual partner on the internet, sells them to a porn site, or circulates them by other means without the knowledge or consent of the other sexual partner, it is sexual exploitation irrespective of whether the other sexual partner consented to the taking of the photos or the making of the video. It is also sexual exploitation when a third party takes photos of their sexual activity or makes videos of it and shows them online, sells the photos or videos, or circulates the photos or videos without their knowledge or consent. It includes posting revenge photos or videos online, selling them to a porn site, or circulating them.

Has anyone encouraged us to post photos or videos of us engaging in sexual activity with someone on the internet or to text them to someone else? Did we understand that they were using us and engaging in a form of sexual exploitation? Did they then use what we had done to make us do the same thing again and again? Did they trick us in any way to do it the first time and then kept tricking us into repeatedly doing it?

Wesley listed fighting, quarreling, and brawling. This would include trolling on the internet, deliberately stirring up trouble, provoking arguments, and adding more fuel on the fire once an argument starts. It includes deliberately looking for arguments, intentionally misinterpreting and misunderstanding what someone else says, setting up strawmen, and otherwise indulging in contentiousness.

Wesley also lists “returning evil for evil.” If someone shows us what we perceive to be an unkindness, we respond to them with cruelty of our own. Whatever they do, we retaliate not only in kind but we may also treat them more badly than they have treated us. We may read into innocent acts, intentional wrongs. If they use harsh, insolent, or abusive language with us, we may use the same kind of language with them. We do not temper what we say but let them feel the full force of our anger. We hang onto anger and resentment and hold grudges again other people.

Do we blow up at the slightest provocation? Do we use our anger to intimidate other people and to force them to do what we want them to do? Are we aware that psychologists have identified treating people in this fashion to be a form of emotional abuse?

Do we encourage other people to gang up on someone and hurt, intimidate, or coerce them? Do we urge them on? Do we join with other people in bullying someone? Are we aware that psychologists have identified bullying as an extreme form of emotional abuse whether perpetrated by one individual or several?

When we are annoyed or irritated with someone, do we give them the silent treatment? Do we stop speaking to them, studiedly ignore them when they are in the same room with us, turn our backs on them and walk away from them when they go to talk to us, avoid then whenever we can even on the internet?

Do we use the silent treatment to control people, to keep them at a distance, to force them act the way we want them to act?

Do we use it to punish them for perceived unkindnesses and mistakes? Are we aware that psychologists have identified the silent treatment to be a form of emotional abuse, a form of silent bullying, when it is taken to an extreme?

The actions that Wesley identifies as kinds of evil include gossiping about people behind their backs and saying unkind things about them, spreading false rumors about them and doing whatever else we can to turn other people against them.

When we share our perceptions of someone else with other people for any reason, do we acknowledge that what we are saying is only our perceptions and not fact? Do we admit that our perceptions may be inaccurate and that we could be wrong?

Wesley identifies doing the reverse of the Golden Rule as a kind of evil: “Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.” We all have a laundry list of things that we would not like others to do to us, but does this list, when we are angry or in a bad mood, keep us from doing them to others. Let us be honest with ourselves.

Are we treating everyone God has placed in our lives as we would like to be treated—in the spirit of love and kindness that God has shown us? Is there one or people that we are showing by our behavior toward them, they are on our shitlist—the list of people who are in ill favor with us, the people we dislike or plan to harm? Are we acting toward them as Jesus taught us?

Wesley further lists as a kind of evil, “doing what we know is not for the glory of God.” We are doing it to gratify ourselves. He gives several examples. Here are a few of their contemporary equivalents.

Dressing in expensive clothes, wearing expensive jewelry, owning an expensive, state of the art cell phone, driving an expensive car, and living in an expensive house. We want to draw attention to ourselves. We want people to envy us. We want to show them that we are richer, smarter, more successful, and therefore superior to them and they are inferior to us. We are important and they are not.

Engaging in recreational activities and pastimes which as Wesley put it “cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.” For example, using a leisure time to watch videos of men raping teenage girls and forcing them to perform degrading sexual acts is not such a diversion. Neither is seducing young women or young men, videoing them unbeknownst to them while having sex with them, and then posting the videos on the internet and circulating them among friends for their entertainment.

Listening to songs, reading books, watching videos, attending concerts, and engaging in other activities which, in Wesley’s words, “do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.”

Wesley realized that the kinds of evil that he listed not only harm people, but they also lead people away from God. They are things that are not in keeping with what God in the person of Jesus taught us how to live. They do not embody the love that he showed us or the love that he taught us to show others. In my next article I will look a Wesley’s second simple rule
.

It's Thursday: 'Small Churches Continue Growing—but in Number, not Size' and More


Small Churches Continue Growing—but in Number, not Size
Church attendance is declining. Small churches are shrining. Is Christianity about to go belly up in the United States and Canada? I don't think so. But I do think that we need to focus on Jesus and his teaching and turn churches into dojos for disciples, training places where we learn to be followers of Jesus.

Sin-Coddlers Are Not True Friends
Trevin did not mince his words in the title of this post.

What I Have Learned about How God Works
God certainly has his own way of doing things.

The 19 Best Icebreaker Questions
A good icebreaker question will pull a small group meeting together and get it off to a great start.

4 Ways Christians Can Better Love Muslims in Their Communities
We are not going to be able to show and share the love of Jesus with our Muslim neighbors, something Jesus calls us to do, if we treat them as pariahs.

5 Reasons We Don't Pray
Prayer can transform us and deepen our relationship with God.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Empty Pews Are an American Public Health Crisis


Americans are rapidly giving up on church. Our minds and bodies will pay the price.

The Reverend William Glass is an Anglican priest and theologian, fluent in five languages and possessing an impressive résumé in marketing. His story isn’t one of privilege, however. In Glass’s view, the church saved his life.

Glass grew up desperately poor in a Florida trailer park. His family went to church perhaps once a year, but his religious background was, in his words, “Southern alcoholic.” His father was either absent or abusive, he had no close friends, and when he attended school it was a torment. Barely into his teens, he began to manage the stress with drugs and alcohol.

But then Glass visited a Presbyterian youth group to “impress a girl.” It didn’t change everything overnight: He continued to have a rough life, including a brush with homelessness. But Glass also had friends in churches who took care of him during crises, helped him stay connected, and showed him another way to live.

As Glass sees it, church above all offered him “social and relational capital” that was in short supply in his fragmented communities. “The bonds I formed in church,” he says, “meant that when things got bad, there was something else to do besides the next bad thing.”

Glass’s case might be a dramatic one, but it illustrates a documented pattern in our society: People find their social and personal lives improved—sometimes their lives are even physically saved—when they go to church often. Read More

Image Credit: Illustration by Ryan Johnson

16 (Nearly Free) Ways to Increase Community Awareness of Your Church


If the people in your community don’t know that your church exists, they won’t ever join your church.

If nobody in your city is aware of your church’s services or Sunday gatherings, you’ve lost a chance to connect those people to your discipleship process. A frequently overlooked step in connecting with a community is simply building baseline awareness of a church in that broader community. The first step in connecting with new guests at your church is making them aware of your church in the first place.

When was the last time your church reached out to the community to make your presence known?

How are you actively ensuring that people in your town know about your church and the services you offer? Read More

A Reading and a Homily for Wednesday Evening (October 20, 2021)


Due to time constraints, I am only posting a reading and homily for this Wednesday evening.

The link is https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/2021/10/a-reading-and-homily-for-wednesday.html

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

It's Tuesday: 'The Shift from Gathering to Connecting' and More


We are experiencing a seismic shift in the church from physical to digital. Some churches and denominations are embracing this shift; others, however, are retreating from it. They have made poor judgment calls in the past and their retreat from digital may be the latest.For better or worse we are now living in a digital age.

Why Texting Is the Next Big Thing for Churches I must admit that I have ambivalent feelings about texting. We send texts but the people to whom we send them are not reading them. We may discover that they are blocking us.

2 in 3 U.S. Churchgoers Say They’re Back to In-Person Attendance
What I am observing is that the regular attendees of my church are attending less often physically and more often digitally. They attend church in person when it is their Sunday to serve as a volunteer or it is a Communion Sunday.

What John 3:16 Says About a Wonderful World Worth Saving
Brandon makes a good point. Rather than base our theology on what Scripture says, we read our theology into Scripture.

Four Simple Steps You Can Take Right Now To Grow Generosity At Your Church! Communication is SO important!

Anchoring Prayer for a Time Such as This
I have personally found prayer to be an anchor when I am faced with the difficulties of this life.

How Doubt Helps Us Prayer
When the apostle James talks about halfhearted prayer, he is also talking about prayer that is offered in the wrong spirit, prayer for the gratification of our desires, desires which may be selfish or sinful. I share my doubt struggles with God and ask God for grace to pray wholeheartedly, to pray in line with his will.

Digital Outreach Strategy – 3 Steps to Get Started
Learning to leverage digital whatever way we can to make and grow disciples of Jesus is critical in our digital age.

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Reformed Church in America Moves toward Restructuring, Prepares for Departures


The decisions follow decades of debate over LGBTQ ordination and same-sex marriage.

The Reformed Church in America’s 214th General Synod, taking place in Tucson, Arizona, voted Saturday (Oct. 16) to appoint a team to develop a restructuring plan for the nearly 400-year-old denomination as it divides over LGBTQ ordination and same-sex marriage. The convention also adopted regulations for churches that have chosen to leave the RCA to retain their assets and buildings.

The restructuring team and the regulations for exiting churches, recommended in a report to the convention called Vision 2020, passed by wide margins.

Saturday’s votes come after several conservative splinter groups have already broken off to form independent church networks, with other churches promising to follow. According to their website, one of the networks has already had more than 125 churches express interest in joining — a blow to a denomination with fewer than 1,000 churches. Read More

Image Credit: Screenshot/RNS

Adam Hamilton: Leading in Polarized Times


No question, these are challenging days for United Methodist congregational leaders.

For more than 20 years, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection has held its annual Leadership Institute with the aim of providing practical ministry tools to deal with church challenges. The multi-campus congregation, based in Leawood, Kansas, sits near the center of the United States and at the center of many of the crosscurrents affecting church life.

With U.S. political divisions, the strain of the pandemic and a proposed denominational split on the horizon, this year’s institute on Sept. 29-Oct. 1 focuses on helping pastors and laity serve as bridge-builders in their communities. The event will be both online and in-person.

Ahead of the institute, United Methodist News spoke with the Rev. Adam Hamilton, Church of the Resurrection’s senior pastor, about how the congregation has navigated COVID-19 and divisions in the wider society. Read More

Image Credit: Mike Dubois/UMC News Service

God’s Not “They:” Divine Pronouns Matter


Last week, professor of religion Mark Silk suggested that we should use the pronoun “they” when referring to God, instead of “He.” Writing over at Religion News Service, Silk offered a couple of “textual” arguments to support his admonition, but his primary aim was to update our God-talk with what he called “the imperative of gender-inclusive language.”

Silk isn’t the first to suggest something like this. And, it’s not strictly accurate to say his ideas promote gender inclusivity. Calling God “she” or “her” or “Mother” was a way to dismantle the patriarchy not so long ago, but, in this cultural moment, the call is to de-gender God altogether, along with everything else, including us.

Silk’s best theological argument is that Elohim, a common Old Testament word for God, is plural. However, while Elohim is technically plural, so are the Hebrew words for face, panim, and Egypt, Mizraim. No one suggests that plural pronouns are required for these words. This grammatical quirk of Hebrew isn’t as significant as Silk makes it. Read More

Saturday, October 16, 2021

All Hallows Evening Prayer for Sunday Evening (October 17, 2021) Is Now Online


All Hallows Evening Prayer is a service of worship in the evening for all pilgrims on the journey to the heavenly city.

Unkindness, like rejection, can have similar effects upon human beings as physical pain. It affects the same areas of the brain. 

On the other hand, kindness has beneficial effects upon the giver of the kindness and upon the receiver of the kindness. Here is an excerpt from a May Clinic article, "The Art of Kindness," about the beneficial effects of kindness:
Good for the body

Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood. It can decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone, which directly impacts stress levels. People who give of themselves in a balanced way also tend to be healthier and live longer. Kindness can increase your sense of connectivity with others, which can directly impact loneliness, improve low mood and enhance relationships in general. It also can be contagious. Looking for ways to show kindness can give you a focus activity, especially if you tend to be anxious or stressed in some social situations.

Good for the mind

Physiologically, kindness can positively change your brain. Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that give you feelings of satisfaction and well-being, and cause the pleasure/reward centers in your brain to light up. Endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killer, also can be released.
The Scripture reading for this Sunday evening is Galatians 5: 21-25 The Fruit of the Spirit.

The homily is titled “A Kindhearted People for a Kindhearted God.”

The link to this Sunday evening’s service is—

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/2021/10/all-hallows-evening-prayer-for-sunday_16.html

Please feel free to share the link to the service with anyone whom you believe might benefit from the service.

If an ad plays when you open a link to a video in a new tab, click the refresh icon of your browser until the song appears. An ad may follow a song so as soon as the song is finished, close the tab.

Previous services are online at

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/

May this service be a blessing to you.

Baking Communion Bread: Discipline of Preparation and Prayer


Church communities develop varying traditions concerning the bread used for Holy Communion. Some leaders purchase round loaves that are a bit sweet and do not crumble. “Kings Hawaiian” is a favorite at my home church. Some use unleavened bread – matzo crackers – and others purchase round unleavened thin wafers that are stamped. During the challenging days of the COVID pandemic, prepackaged communion cups became necessary, even at first when in-person worship resumed. The juice on the bottom cup is topped with a thin wafer to peel off.

Even if your worship community has a “staple” to use for communion bread, you may want to broaden your perspective or challenge the way you generally assemble the communion elements by offering the opportunity for members of your congregation to prepare bread for the altar.

As you plan for worship you might introduce or recover this tradition for World Communion Sunday (first week in October), or on a Sunday near Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Holy Thursday. Preparing Communion bread can be a spiritual exercise. The hands-on preparation of mixing and kneading, combined with the meditative nature of waiting on bread to rise, offers an opportunity for active contemplation. When reaching out for volunteers to begin this Communion ministry, a pastor or worship leader typically knows who is a gifted baker, so start with the obvious choices to develop or add to the worship team. When you have your volunteer, encourage them to mix, knead and bake prayerfully, using the following guide. Read More

The Power of Publical Pastoral Prayer in Worship


We sit firmly in an era marked by the decline of religious practice in America. More and more people are disaffiliating with organized religion. From 2009-2019 the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as Christian fell from 77 percent to 65 percent. Even more pertinent is how often Americans found themselves sitting in a church service, including participation in a pastoral prayer. “Over the last decade, the share of Americans who say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month dropped by 7 percentage points, while the share who say they attend religious services less often (if at all) has risen by the same degree.” So 54 percent of Americans say they attend a religious service ‘a few times a year or less’.[1]

This Pew data preceded the COVID pandemic, and thus it forms a picture of what "normal" (declining worship participation) looked like before sanctuaries suspended in-person worship in 2020-2021, granted there was some preservation of habits through streaming worship.

We have fewer and fewer opportunities throughout the year to make an impression with folks who
might be on the fence about church engagement in coming months. One means to reverse this trend could be leveraging the power of the pastoral prayer to increase engagement. Read More
The Prayers of the People can be particularized to same end.

Study: Attendance Hemorrhaging at Small and Midsize US Congregations



The Faith Communities Today survey finds that half of the country’s congregations had 65 or fewer people in attendance on any given weekend, a drop from a median attendance level of 137 people in 2000.

A new survey of 15,278 religious congregations across the United States confirms trends sociologists have documented for several decades: Congregational life across the country is shrinking.

The most recent round of the Faith Communities Today survey, or FACT, found a median decline in attendance of 7% between 2015 and 2020.

The survey, fielded just before the coronavirus lockdown, finds that half of the country’s estimated 350,000 religious congregations had 65 or fewer people in attendance on any given weekend. That’s a drop of more than half from a median attendance level of 137 people in 2000, the first year the FACT survey gathered data. Read More

All Hallows Evening Prayer for Saturday Evening (October 16, 2021) Is Now Online


All Hallows Evening Prayer is a service of worship in the evening for all pilgrims on the journey to the heavenly city.

In his translation of the New Testament J.B. Phillips translates Matthew 16:24 with these words. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me.’” Giving up all right to oneself may be a challenge in today’s culture which places self on a pedestal and worships it, but it is what Jesus calls us to do.

The Scripture reading for this Saturday evening is Mark 10: 32-45 The Last Journey to Jerusalem Begins.

The homily is titled “Discovering our True Self as a Disciple of Jesus.”

The link to this Saturday evening’s service is—

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/2021/10/all-hallows-evening-prayer-for-saturday_16.html

Please feel free to share the link to the service with anyone whom you believe might benefit from the service.

If an ad plays when you open a link to a video in a new tab, click the refresh icon of your browser until the song appears. An ad may follow a song so as soon as the song is finished, close the tab.

Previous services are online at

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/

May this service be a blessing to you.

Friday, October 15, 2021

It's Friday: 'Online Services Expanded Reach of Churches During Pandemic' and More

The Holy Island of Iona

Some churches are talking about discontinuing their online services when the panemic sudsides. In today's digital world, I believe that they are making a serious mistake. Discontinuing them is not going to change people's church attendance habits. Retaining them, livestreamed and recorded, however, will enable them to maintain a connection with the church when they do not attend in person.

Nine Realities Your Church Will Face in 2022
The researchers at Church Answers see nine realities that churches will face in 2022.These realities they believe will affect churches irrespective of whether the pandemic subsides or there is another wave of infections.

The Golden Rule Pastors Should Practice

The Golden Rule was instilled in me from an early age. Regrettably it has fallen on hard times in recent years as have Jesus' other teachings. There is a real need to practice Jesus' other teachings as well as the Golden Rule in and outside of the church.

How to Help Children Who’ve Experienced Trauma
Take time to read this article and to learn more about how you and your church can help traumatized children.

A Simple Framework for Using Social Media for Your Church
In this post, Darrel Girardier gives us a three step framework to determine when we should start a social media account for our church.

Why God Saved You
This article is adapted from an article written by the editorial team of the ESV Concise Study Bible, edited by Paul R. House.

America’s Oldest Denomination Faces Split Over LGBT Issues
As the North American Church splits into tribes over a range of issues, including human sexuality, the Reformed Church in America faces some tough decisions.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

“Let Bygones Be Bygones”

 

When I think back to my early childhood, I do not remember my grandparents or my mother holding grudges against anyone. When grandfather’s father died, his older brother pushed him out of the family business, but I don’t recall my grandfather harboring any bitter feelings toward his brother. If he did, he never talked about it. They never talked about getting even with anyone for something that they thought a person had done to them.

If I hurt my grandmother’s feelings, I would admit I was wrong and apologize. She would accept my apology and forgive me. What I had said or done was never mentioned again. It never brough up over and over again and thrown in my face. “Let bygones be bygones” was one of the sayings I often heard repeated when I was a child. When my grandmother forgave me, I was forgiven and that was that.

I don’t understand how someone can hang onto ill-feelings toward someone else for decades, never letting go of the grievance, real or imagined, they held against that person.

It is sad when the person who caused a hurt seeks to inflict further hurt on us. This may be payback for something we may have said or done, or they thought we said or done. They may be trying to punish us, to manipulate us, or to control us.

On the other hand, they may be trying to keep us at a distance because they don’t know what to make of us and we arouse their anxiety.

It is said, “We hurt the ones we love.” This article, “8 Reasons Why We Hurt The Ones We Love The Most,” https://www.youniversetherapy.com/post/8-reasons-why-we-hurt-the-ones-we-love-the-most, explains why we “are more likely to be aggressive to the ones we know better and love the most.”

There is always the possibility that reason they are furious with us is our suggestion that they may feelings toward us when they do not recognize themselves as having any feelings for us at all. To get the point across, they are going to give us a rough time and ignore us as far as circumstances permit.

With their actions, they are saying, “How can you think that!! See, I hate you!! You think you know everything, but you don’t understand anything about me!!” They are going to give us a good clobbering one way or another.

There is also the possibility that they have in their own minds devalued us as a human being so they can discard us. People will turn a human being into a “thing” in their minds before they get rid of them. They will choose to see them as something less than human. They may get encouragement from others.

If they are a Christian, the way they treated us fell below the standard for treating a fellow human being, much less a brother or sister in Christ.

Jesus set that standard in his teaching and with his example. Be kind to others as God is kind to us. Love your neighbor as ourselves. Love our enemies. Do good to them. Treat them as we would want to them to treat we. Forgive others, not once or twice, but so many times that we loose count. Love one another as Jesus has loved us.

Here I must pause. I don’t know the situation in which they may have found themselves. I don’t know all the circumstances. 

I have splinters in my own eyes that I must remove before I offer to help them take the plank out of their eye. I must temper with gentleness and kindness any conclusions that I draw. I must generously make allowances for them where allowances are called for. 

Above all else I must keep on loving them as God loves us, forgiving them as God forgives us. The little child in me, the child that Jesus placed in the midst of his disciples, says, “Don’t forget that they are a child too—a child like yourself, a child that feels hurt and pain, a child who wants acceptance and love.

It is time to take more seriously my grandmother’s words, “Let bygones be bygones.” I pray for God’s grace to do just that. Let bygones be bygones.

It's Thursday: 'In Prayer, We Are Fully Seen and Fully Known' and More


In Prayer, We Are Fully Seen and Fully Known
How intimacy with God fuels Meg Baatz’s ministry among same-sex-attracted and LGBT peers.

What Comes After the Ex-Gay Movement? The Same Thing That Came Before.
Old-school evangelical leaders once knew the value of “care” over “cure.”

The Not-So-Surprising Reason Kids Grow up to Be Atheists
A new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science shows that the number one predictive factor for an American child becoming an atheist is growing up in a home with little religion or religious activity.

9 Teaching Methods Of Jesus
As pastors, if there is anyone we should emulate in our preaching and teaching it is Jesus! Right? So how did Jesus teach?

Battling Beside Them: Ministering to Students Fighting Anxiety or Depression
In state universities, community colleges, and private universities more and more students are struglling with anxiety or depression.

When Church is “Boring”
Church can be boring adults as well as children. We can make church more interesting for childre. We can make it more interesting for adults too.

What’s Working for Groups in Fall 2021
When Carey Nieuwhof told the world that just when pastors thought we were ending the marathon of 2020, then 2021 handed us a swimsuit and a bike making this a triathlon. He wasn’t wrong. Clearly things have not snapped back, and it appears that things may never resume 2019 standards and strategies. And, that’s okay.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

It's Wednesday: 'How To Lead Those Who Don’t Want To Follow' and More


I wish I could say, :I never had this problem."

You Can’t Just Put Kids in Church
You have to makke church more kid friendly

Survey: ‘Great Replacement’ belief Correlates with Christian Nationalist Views
God has chosen no nation to take the place of the people of Israel. The kingdom of God, Jesus taught, is in those who believe in him and who do God's will.

How To Set Expectations for a New Group Guide Start with SAFE communication.

When You Feel the Way You Do Right Now
There is such a thing as collective tauma.

Did the Heretics Outnumber the Orthodox in Early Christianity?
The history of the Christian Church does not support the notion of enormous doctrinal diversity in the earrly Church.

Your Muslim Neighbors Are Not Monolithic
What does the average Muslim believe?

Please Don’t Get the Wrong Idea….

 


In yesterday’s article, “Jesus Taught Us to Be Loving But Not Naïve,” I do not think that I adequately explained what I meant. I also think that I left myself open to people reading into what I wrote things other than what I said.

A genuine friend, while they may not share our Christian beliefs and values, will respect them. They will not encourage us to think, speak, or act in ways that conflict with these beliefs and values. They will not try to dissuade us from holding and practicing these beliefs and values.

Christian beliefs and values can be divided into primary beliefs and values and secondary ones. Primary beliefs and values are our core beliefs and values.

Among core Christian beliefs and values is that Jesus is Lord. A lord is someone who has authority, power, and influence over us. Capitalizing Lord means that Jesus for his followers AND the rest of the world is not just any old lord. He is numero uno. He is the preeminent Person in our lives, second to no one, including ourselves. Jesus in his teaching emphasized loving others, showing them compassion, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, and so on. Jesus taught us not only to love our neighbors as ourselves but also to love our enemies and do good to them and to love our fellow Jesus followers. A genuine friend would not urge us to ignore these core beliefs and values and to think, speak, and act in ways that contradict them. They would respect these boundaries.

Jesus did not teach his disciples to withdraw from the world but to be in it but not of it. Being not of it means that we will have beliefs and values that differ from a society’ principal culture and its main subcultures. For example, the principal culture in the United States places such an emphasis on self that we hear people saying that they have no responsibility for anyone’s well-being other than their own. This judgment of what is important in life is not a Christian one. It is contrary to what Jesus taught and practiced.

Each of us is influenced to varying degrees by our society’s principal culture. As Jesus followers we need to be aware of the extent that society’s principal culture and any of its main subcultures influence us, and how that influence impacts us as a Jesus follower.

For Jesus followers friendships and relationships can be divided into three categories—those which reinforce and strengthen our core beliefs and values; those in which our core beliefs and values are respected, and those which weaken and erode our core beliefs and values. Ideally we would want a balance of friendships and relationships in the first two categories. However, we may find ourselves in a friendship or relationship in the third category.

We may not initially recognize that a particular friendship or relationship is having a debilitating effect on us. When we do come to this realization, we will want to draw to the attention of our friend or the person with whom we are in a relationship that they are not respect our spiritual boundaries. If they continue to disregard these boundaries or actively press us to abandon our core beliefs and values, then we need to assess the extent that they are having a negative effect on us.

I am not suggesting that we reject them outright or ghost them, but we do need to consider their long-term effects on our spiritual life and take positive steps to counter these effects. If they persist in dismissing our core beliefs and values, deride us for holding and practicing them, and aggressively attack them, we may need to break off the friendship or relationship in a loving way consistent with Jesus’ teaching and example. If they resort to physical violence or psychological and emotional abuse and we determine the existence of credible threat to our lives, we may choose to break off the friendship or relationship more abruptly.

Some friendships and relationships that weaken and erode our core beliefs and values are more insidious than others. It may take a while for us to recognize that is what is happening. A friendship or relationship may be harmful to us spiritually but not in an immediately perceptible fashion.

For this reason, it is good to have friends and spiritual guides with whom we share what is going on in our friendships and relationships and who may spot problem areas which we may be overlooking. We all have blind spots, areas in which we do not exercise good judgment or recognize and understand the difference between one thing and another.

It is good to listen to those who care about us when they discern that something may be off in a friendship or relationship, when they sense that something is not quite right.

It is also good to recognize any tendency in ourselves to stubbornly insist upon doing what we want to do regardless of what other people may say. From what I have observed over the years is that a lot of people get themselves in all kinds of trouble that way. Being headstrong is not always a bad thing, but it can blind us to things that are harmful to us.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Jesus Taught Us to Be Loving But Not Naive


I am going to make a statement that may offend you. For a follower of Jesus, people, including other Christians, who encourage us to think, speak and act in ways that are contrary to Jesus’ teaching and example are not our friends. They may be charming and pleasant. They may be fun to be around. They may show us acceptance and sympathy. But they are not our friends.

I am not talking about people who do not share our beliefs and who have beliefs of their own. One can have different beliefs from us and respect our beliefs.

I am talking about those who encourage us to go against Jesus’ teaching and example.

Their age, their education, their social status, their background, their gender, their sexual orientation, their race, their ethnicity, their political views, their tastes in music, their interests;nd their pastimes do not matter.  They are not our friends.

They do not accept an important part of us, an important part of who we are, an important part of our self. While we should treat them lovingly as Jesus taught us, we should be mindful that they may not have our best interests at heart. .

Jesus taught us to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves in our dealings with other people. In John’s Gospel we read—

“While he was in Jerusalem at Passover-time, during the festivities many believed in him as they saw the signs that he gave. But Jesus, on his side, did not trust himself to them—for he knew them all. He did not need anyone to tell him what people were like: he understood human nature.” (John 2:24-25 PHILLIPS)

Jesus knew that everyone who sought him out did not do so from the best of intentions. Some wished to trick him; others to exploit him. One would betray him. While Jesus taught us to be loving, he did not teach us to be naïve.

In my lifetime I have seen enough young people and old people gamed by people whom they thought were their friends. Those whom they thought were friends were deceiving them in order to manipulate them or to achieve some desired outcome. Those whom they thought were friends were playing to their vulnerabilities such as a desire for approval from ulterior motives.

For a follower of Jesus any kind of encouragement to go against Jesus’ teaching and example is a flashing red light, a red flag, a clanging alarm bell. It is a tip-off that whoever is encouraging us to think, speak, or act in a way contrary to what Jesus taught and practices does not genuinely accept us. It is a warning that we need to be on our guard. 

All Hallows Evening Prayer for Wednesday Evening (October 13, 2021) Is Now Online

 


All Hallows Evening Prayer is a service of worship in the evening for all pilgrims on the journey to the heavenly city.

God sometimes answers our prayers with a miracle. We ask God to heal a friend and when she sees the doctor the next day the lump on her thyroid has gone!

God, however, does not always answer our prayers that way. God may have a different way of redeeming a situation in mind. He may change us!

The Scripture reading for this Wednesday evening’s service is Hebrews 5:1-10 Christ Our Great High Priest.

The homily is titled “How God Answers Prayer.”

The link to this Wednesday evening’s service is—

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/2021/10/all-hallows-evening-prayer-for_12.html

Please feel free to share the link to the service with anyone whom you believe might benefit from the service.

If an ad plays when you open a link to a video in a new tab, click the refresh icon of your browser until the song appears. An ad may follow a song so as soon as the song is finished, close the tab.

Previous services are online at

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/

May this service be a blessing to you.

It's Tuesday: '7 Questions to Help You Better Know (and Love) Your Community' and More


7 Questions to Help You Better Know (and Love) Your Community
How well do you know your community? Do you know it well enough to help your congregation connect with people in the community?

The Pandemic Has Helped Religion’s Reputation. Do Religious Vaccine Resisters Put This Progress at Risk?
One of the reasons people are rejecting the local church is its failure to follow Jesus' teaching and example. One of the reasons people are attracted to the local is that it practices what Jesus taught and modeled. Jesus' teaching is to love others, take care of them as well as yourself. The anti-vaxx message is take care of yourself; you are not responsible for others.

Why Are So Many Young Adults Losing Their Faith?
I live in a small university town. From what I have seen, one of the reason that young people are losing their faith is the people who have the most influence in their lives, whether in person or online, do not encourage and reinforce their faith. In some instances they are actively undermining it in order to convert them to a different world view, a world view that is antithetical to what Jesus' teaching and example.

How Can Anxiety Be Good for Us
Christians experience anxiety and depression. It is more common than we want to think.

Prayer Doesn’t Fix Everything, But It Changes Everything (Yes, There’s a Difference)
God does not always work the way that we might like him to.

8 Thoughts That Help Me trust God When I Don't Understand
Like Chuck Lawless, I don’t always understand what God is doing in my life.

The God of Your Troubled Heart
Do you take your doubts and concerns to Jesus? If not, now is the time to start.

Trunk or Treat Ideas for Church: 27 Creative Harvest Event Themes
All Hallows Eve and Hallowmas are approach. Does you church do trunk or treat? It is a great outreach.

Monday, October 11, 2021

They Are Not of This Fold


Yesterday I got to preach to our small local church plant on John 10:16 – “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

We simply walked phrase by phrase through this verse, seeking to understand, wrestle with the importance, illustrate, and apply each line. The phrase that got the most audible reactions was “that are not of this fold.”

I shared with the attendees that Jesus was here communicating to the Jews that the people of God would be gathered from unexpected peoples and places – namely, the gentile nations. “Not of this fold” meant not of ethnic Israel. One of the great mysteries revealed in the New Testament is that God had chosen a holy spiritual nation, comprised of those from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Ethnic Israel wasn’t the ultimate Israel.

This part wasn’t very provocative. After all, my listeners were Central Asians, not first century Jews. However, we then discussed why this point is important for us today. We, like Jesus’ initial Jewish followers, tend to believe that there are certain types of people who believe, and certain types of people who really don’t. Those similar to us almost always fall into the category of “likely open to belief.” And groups we are naturally opposed to often end up in the category of “unlikely to believe.” Read More

Prayer as Reverent Conversation


It is often very helpful for some Christians who struggle with prayer to think of it in terms of “talking to Dad.” This can help take some of the burden off of thinking our prayers have to be expressed a certain way or use a certain kind of terminology in order to be heard. Some people have a mistaken idea that we must only be positive in our prayers or never ask for things we want. Christians are great at coming up with rules for prayer that the Bible never actually gives us.

If you look through the Psalms, for instance, you will see how David and the other psalmists showed their true selves to God in prayer. They were honest about their fears, their confusion, their hurts, their doubts, their discouragements, and even their anger and their depression. They understood that we can’t hide that stuff from God anyway. It isn’t as if he wouldn’t know we feel those ways if we just didn’t tell him. No, when we pray, we can bring our real selves to the real God to get real help for our real lives. Read More
For some woman who have been abused by their father, physically, emotionally, or sexually, it may be easier for them to thinking of praying as talking to Mum or to a friend, a friend who is infinitely wiser and loving than any other friend that we have had. 

7 Surprises for New Children’s Ministry Leaders


As a new children's ministry leader, director or pastor, you may think you have everything under control and know what to expect.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. You've got some big surprises ahead of you.

Here are a few surprises that you may face and how to be prepared to deal with it. Read More

Shunning


I did some late night research on shunning. Someone may use shunning as a way of punishing someone else. The person whom they are shunning may not know why he or she is being shunned. They may have absolutely no idea. This makes the pain of being shunned even more painful. On the other hand, someone may avoid someone else because they are in a hurry and don't have time to talk. The person that they avoid experiences their behavior as a brushoff and is left wondering what they may have done to trigger the perceived rejection.

According to the Psychology Today article, "Shunning: The Ultimate Rejection," the act of shunning is social or mental rejection from a psychological standpoint. Among the reasons that people shun someone is embarrassment, shame, jealousy, annoyance, racial or cultural bias, poor timing, and shyness.

Depending upon the circumstances, shunning may be classified as a form of psychological and emotional abuse. It may be described as "silent bullying."

Shunning can be as harmful to the person doing the shunning, causing them psychological and emotional damage, as it can be to the person being shunned if someone else is directing them or encouraging them to shun that person. This can happen when a circle of friends direct or encourage a member of their circle to shun someone to whom the other members have taken a dislike.

From both a Christian perspective and a humanistic psychological perspective shunning is not an appropriate way to show our disagreement with someone else if we disagree with them over a particular issue. It conflicts with Jesus' teaching to love others and humanistic psychology's emphasis on the unconditional love of others. If we disagree with someone, we should talk with them. We may misunderstand their position and they may misunderstand ours. We may discover that our views and theirs are not that far apart. We may discover that on what matters most, we and they are in agreement.

Some religious sects such as the Amish and the Jehovah's Witnesses practice shunning as a form of church disciple. The passage in the Gospel of Matthew prescribing shunning is regarded by New Testament scholars as a later interpolation due to its reference to the church which did not exist at that time and the words that are ascribed to Jesus but which are out of character with Jesus who did nut shun tax collectors and sinners.

Of the two options we have if we believe that we are being intentionally shunned , the second option is the one that is in keeping with Jesus' teaching:

"Or, you can bite the bullet and have a 'courageous conversation' with that person, simply saying that you feel he or she is avoiding you and you wonder why. That way you have closure, and it may be that you learn something valuable about yourself or the shunner."

Jesus taught his disciples that if they had a misunderstanding or falling out with someone, they should do all they can to patch things up with whoever they had a quarrel or disagreement. Jesus taught his disciples not to harbor grudges against someone else or hang onto bitter feelings toward them. 

When Jesus taught his disciples to love others and to love one another, he was not being sentimental. He meant what he said. It was not something that would be optional for his followers.  Out of our love for our Lord and our commitment to his teaching and example we need to find out what they are holding against us and why and to do what we can to put things right between them and ourselves. We also need to keep on loving them, treating them as we ourselves would want to be treated. To my mind, it is the right thing to do too.