Pastor Bryan's Blog

Campus Pastor, North Oak

Rectangles & Rounds

Have you ever noticed in very large corporate boardrooms the tables are almost always rectangles? And most of the time the most prominent person in the company is put at the head of the table. Everyone turns to listen to what he or she has to say, often taking notes so they don’t forget the orders given. These rectangular tables reflect our desire to be in charge, to issue orders, and to have others follow them, doesn’t it? Many of us work tirelessly to one-day hold the position at the head of the table.

According to Arthurian legend, in 1155 King Arthur established the famed Round Table, around which he and his Knights would gather. As its name suggests, it had no head, implying that everyone who sat there had equal status. In the Gospel of Luke, the disciples began to argue over who would be the greatest among them–who would sit at the head of the table. When Jesus overheard them arguing, He replied, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant” Luke 22:25-26.

Here Jesus is teaching us that our desire to be in charge and seated at the head of the rectangle table is misplaced. Our desire, which is given to us by God, should be to serve one another and not to be in charge of one another. This was not the only record of the disciples having an argument about who would be the greatest. Earlier in Luke 9:48, Jesus responds similarly by saying, “…Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”

How much mental energy do we spend ranking ourselves with those around us? If we’re not the CEO of a company, how much time do we waste dreaming of being the “ONE” in charge? Jesus teaches that the desire to serve each other should be greater than our desire to be in charge. What if instead of spending our mental energy ranking ourselves with those around us, we spent that same energy serving each other?

As we seek to model our life after the life of Christ, may our desire to serve be greater than our desire to rank ourselves among those who–like us–are created in the image of God.

Grace & Peace.

A simple tangible way to serve others is through A Turning Point. A Turning Point is Good Shepherd’s non-profit arm committed to helping individuals in need in the Northland.

A Turning Point

 

The Examen; A Lenten Reflection

The Examen; A Lenten Reflection

I don’t necessarily enjoy going to the doctor. There are times when I get sick, and I must go to the doctor so that I can feel better, but that doesn’t mean I like it. As I get older all the experts say I need to make regular appointments with my doctor for a physical examination. Not because I feel bad, but for preventative measures. When I’m sick it’s easy to understand why I need an examination; it’s when I’m not sick that I struggle making an appointment just for a check-up. No one really enjoys being examined by a doctor. It’s uncomfortable, and you feel vulnerable, especially when you take off your clothes and sit there in one of those paper-thin gowns. All to have a doctor–whom you really don’t know very well–come into the room, get up close and personal, and “examine” you…awkward!

So, what does an uncomfortable doctor’s visit have to do with Lent? Well, for thousands of years Christians have used the season of Lent as a time to allow Christ to examine their hearts and lives. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. It’s a 40-day time period (excluding Sundays) that’s meant for us to pause and reflect on and examine our ways of living. Have we adopted a habit or pattern of living that is not life giving? In the history of Christianity this is called sin. In many ways opening up our lives to be examined by Christ is frightening. Much like sitting there in the paper gown at the doctor’s office, you feel vulnerable talking about the ways in which you know you fall short. This is what makes following Jesus so difficult. Most of us “feel” fine and may not be aware of hidden behaviors and practices that lead us away from being able to love God with our whole hearts.

Ignatius of Loyola understood this as well and came up with a simple Spiritual Exercise called the Examen. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Order of the Jesuits in the 1500s. He wrote a famous book called Spiritual Exercises, a simple set of meditations, prayers, and other mental exercises. He founded the practice called the Examen. He practiced this simple prayer and meditation at lunch and at the end of the day:

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward the next few hours or day.

Even though examining our ways of living may not be the most exciting thing we do, it can be a way to free us from unwanted patterns and practices of living. If we can name the ways we fall short, then we can begin to do something about them.

My prayer for you is that you would add this simple spiritual practice into your daily routine as a way to allow Christ to examine your life.

Grace & Peace,

Bryan

The Psalms of Lament: How Long, Oh Lord?

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The Psalms of Lament: How Long, Oh Lord?

Every human being at some point will have experiences in life in which things will go terribly wrong. The “normal” of life will be upset and the proverbial wheels will fall off. Most of the situations that we will encounter cannot be explained, sudden life threatening illness, a car wreck, accidental death, natural disasters, a miscarriage and so on. When these horrible life events happen we search for the purpose of the disaster so we can avoid them in our lives. Our news is covered in medical findings on how to live a healthy lifestyle so as to avoid any illness that could threaten your life. When we drive our cars we wear seat belts and purchase cars with protective airbags to avoid harm. On job sites, we wear hard hats and protective safety gear to avoid accidental injury. Here in the Midwest, we purchase houses that are out of the floodplain to avoid our homes getting destroyed when there is a torrential downpour that leads to a flood.

Of course, we attempt to avoid any and all of these tragedies. But often times our culture attempts to tell us these tragedies can be avoided. The writer Denise Hopkins points out, ““We operate under the illusion that we can control our lives if we exercise, eat right, …e.t.c.” When we operate under this illusion our culture and we as members of it attempt to sweep these tragedies under the rug and try to avoid them as well as avoid talking about them or even might attempt to hide our feelings.

Unlike our culture the Psalms of Lament directly face these issues without sugar-coating them with trite phrases. These Psalms give voice to feelings and emotions that we are sometimes too scared to say out loud. Psalm 22 begins with, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” Many would be shunned in the church for uttering such a phrase. Often times we don’t know where to turn when life brings painful events. We can take comfort in the Psalms of Lament when we experience events in our lives that are painful and cannot be avoided. We may never understand the purpose of these painful times but we do know that God did not cause them and most importantly that God joins us and is with us through them.

The Psalms of lament represent one-third of the Psalms and should not be avoided. As Hopkins writes, “ These challenges move us out of orientation into disorientation.” 2 When we experience disorientation in our lives we can turn to the Psalms of Lament as a guide to lead us through these difficult times. I would encourage you to use the below format to write your very own Psalm of Lament as a guide to help you through difficult circumstances.

Here is a list of the personal Psalms of Lament from the book of Psalms, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, 142.

Writing Your Personal Psalm of Lament

  1. Address (My God, my God…)________________________________________
  • Short, emotion-packed(one or two strong words of emotion)______________________________________________________
  • Why? How long?”________________________________________________
  1. Complaint __________________________________________________________
  • How is this causing you suffering? _________________________________
  • Is there an enemy (they)__________________________________________
  • God accused of not caring/doing (You)___________________________
  1. Petition (what do you want God to do?)______________________________
  1. Motivations
  • Confession of sin_________________________________________________
  • Are you innocent?________________________________________________
  • Is there a lack of trust that God will answer?________________________
  1. Confession of trust
  • How is God faithful? “but________________________________________”
  • Personal – how has God been faithful to you in the past?___________________________________________________________
  • Vow of praise to God_____________________________________________

Excerpt From: Denise Dombkowski Hopkins. “Journey through the Psalms.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/OpPYx.l

  1. Excerpt From: Denise Dombkowski Hopkins. “Journey through the Psalms.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/OpPYx.l
  2. Excerpt From: Denise Dombkowski Hopkins. “Journey through the Psalms.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/OpPYx.l

3 Ducks

I was on a run one late afternoon at English Landing Park in Parkville and noticed something a bit surprising. It is standard practice after I run at the park to walk alongside the rivers edge and attempt to slow my life down a bit; I tend to move at a blistering pace and forget to be fully present in each moment of my day. This day had been no different as I had gone from meeting to meeting and barely noticed anything. As I sat down on a bench in the shade looking out over the river I noticed 3 ducks that were all standing on the bank of the river. As I was watching they all at once jumped in the river and began to swim across. What was most interesting and surprising was they all three swam right next to each other in a “V” shape. There was no separation between them at all. The Missouri River has all kinds of dangers in it, there are whirlpools that will suck you under, there are logs and tree branches that can snag you, and mud so thick you can get stuck in it just by wading in up to your waste.

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These ducks were practicing something that many of us have forgotten and that’s relationship. Many of us have isolated ourselves from each other and attempt to live life on our own apart from others. These ducks were beside each other as they waded through one of the most difficult parts of their day, swimming across a dangerous river. Not all of life is like this dangerous river but there are times when we go through very rough stages and many of us attempt to go through these very difficult moments on our own.

Relationships are God given; they are what can sustain us as we move through the journey of life. In Genesis God says; “it’s not good for people to be alone.” For some of us we live at such a harried pace we don’t take time to nurture some of our most important relationships, our friends. Nurturing a group of friends beyond just knowing names and interests takes a ton of intentional work. It takes being vulnerable and honest with feelings and emotions. It takes talking about what is “really” going on and not what’s just on the surface. When a few are gathered together to “share” life with each other God says in Matthew 18:20, “…wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name I am there.” There is something supernatural something deeply spiritual when you are part of a group that is open and honest with each other and the best part is God says, “I will be there with you.” Sure God is always present with us but when there are a few gathered in the name of God there is a physical manifestation of God’s presence that is unlike anything we can experience on our own.

In I Thessalonians Paul is writing to a group of believers who needed a better understanding of what life together looks like. Paul writes in I Thessalonians 2:8, “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.” When Paul was with the people of Thessalonica he not only shared the Good News of Jesus but also his own life. All his hopes and dreams all the ways in which he falls short. In the New Testament book of James (5:16) the writer says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”

Confessing sins to each other can release the shame we feel from those sins and when we do this as a part of a group of trusting, caring, and compassionate friends we can experience God’s grace. For many of us we think if I share my sin with someone else then they will run away from me but the exact opposite is true. When we share our sins we share them recognizing that James says we can experience healing in our lives.

The problem with some of us is we feel undeserving of God’s grace so we don’t form these close relationships. We don’t seek to live out a life of freedom and healing because we don’t feel we are deserving of God’s grace.

The question before us today is who are your 3 or 4? Who knows what’s going on within you? Who knows where you fall short? Who is there for you to confess your sins to, to pray for you, to pray for healing? Today God is calling us into relationship with one another, the kinds of relationships that bring healing and hope to our lives.

Here at Good Shepherd we highly value small groups. The goal of a small group is Christian discipleship. Small groups seek to create an environment of care, safety, authenticity, growth and help. You might ask, “How do I join a small group.” We have found the best way to join a small group is through meeting people while taking a short study. Short studies have a variety of topics and have sign-ups all throughout the year. Sign-up for a short study meet some folks and start a small group. Small groups size range from 4-6 people. Once you have a small group have the small group leader contact Jill Hodge at jillmhodge@gmail.com

 

 

Reclaiming the Fast on Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday (February 10, 2016) begins the season of Lent, which lasts till Easter (March 27, 2016). Lent lasts 40 days (Sunday’s are not counted as this is a day of rest). The custom of marking the head with ashes on this day is said to have originated during the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-604). Repentant sinners would dress in sackcloth and were marked with an ashen cross to show their repentance. The ashes are a reminder that God created humankind from the earth, and that all will return to it.

ashcross

One of our favorite attributes of God is that God is forgives of our sins. That no matter how many times we repeat the same sin God forgives us. God’s grace overcomes our most shameful sins and frees us from the bondage of those sins. When a sin is repeated over and over and we continually go to God asking for forgiveness we know God will forgive us but returning to this sin over and over is not life giving.

 

Paul speaks to this in Romans 6:1-4, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.”

 

So that we may live new lives! How many of us seek deep change but wrestle with how to make that change a reality?  The number 40 is used in scripture as a marker for a season of change or renewal. The Hebrew word for change is teshuvah, which means to return or to be renewed. God cleansed the earth with water for 40 days during the time of Noah to renew the earth and to start again with humanity. What change will you make in these 40 days that will bring you the promised new life?

 

To prepare us for these changes that we feel God’s Spirit calling us to we would like to invite you on Ash Wednesday February 10, to fast from eating following breakfast that morning. Fasting from food is a way to draw us closer to God during the day and will prepare us for the Ash Wednesday worship service. Instead of eating lunch we will offer an online worship service from 12:00 -12:15 p.m. that day. We will break the fast as a community with the Eucharist (communion) that evening.

 

Please consider joining your church family at the beginning of the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday for a special night of worship to prepare you for new life.  Service time is 7 p.m. Wednesday, February 10 at the Gladstone Campus (2800 NE 64 Street, Gladstone, MO 64119). All are invited.

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