ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS February 28, 2023 Another year of statistics is being released with regard to ministers, and once again, nearly 50% of ministers in the United States considered leaving ministry in the last twelve months. Almost 25% of them did! There have always been clergy leaving the profession, and the reasons are numerous. But in the last few years, the numbers have ticked up, and it's mostly connected to ministerial frustration. Since Jesus ascended to heaven, the church has always found itself at a crossroads. There are many reasons, but I tend to think a lot of the struggle is centered on whether Jesus, who came to challenge a stuck religion, intended for a new one to be solidified and never change from that point forward—to become stuck again. Or, did Jesus launch humanity on a new trajectory of discovery where love, justice, mercy, and kindness were always being stretched into a new reality? You might guess that I tend to lean toward the second choice. Sadly, about every three months since Christianity first started, people have found themselves anxious as something new was thrust in front of them. The response in the last hundred years or so has been to make the sole purpose of Christianity very individualistic. Simply put, it is nothing more than having faith in Jesus so I can go to heaven. If that is your definition of Christianity, then you never need to ask the tough questions around life and human existence. Slavery, civil rights, women’s equality, war, greed, poverty, and hatred in all its manifestations never need to be discussed, even though there are parts of the Bible and many moments in Christian history where our faith seems to be on the wrong side. Fifty years ago, a majority of people who went to church expected to be challenged by their pastors, to feel uncomfortable, or even disagree. But in recent years, people have gone more and more to a church where they are never going to hear something that will make them truly uncomfortable—all in the name of a Jesus who comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. Our growth at Cypress Creek Christian Church over the last six months or so has almost entirely been people who see a need to be challenged, to think differently about faith, and to step outside of what they might describe as a religion that is stuck in all the wrong stuff. It’s exciting! It really is…
Gracious God, as you continue to beckon your church beyond what was and into what could be, we pray for love and kindness to be our guide. We know there will be moments of discomfort, where the questions will outnumber the answers, yet we trust you to be God even when the answers are not found. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS February 27, 2023 A Prayer from our Regional Minister, The Rev. Dr. Andy Mangum Lord, forty days is a long time. It's a long time to feel the pouring rain and stress over whether the structures we have put in place are strong enough to withstand the flood. We thought our stuff was so big and impressive until we started getting tossed around on the waves. Forty days is a long time to study the consequences of freedom. It's a long time to deal with lesson after lesson of what it takes to be an adult or a teenager or a child. These stone tablets we receive to guide us are hard and heavy. Forty days is a long time to grapple with them. Forty days is a long time to hide from those who would view us as outsiders if they saw us--to live in fear of being exposed and trapped and tried. Forty days is a long time to journey across the desert only to experience Your absence through the Earthquake, Wind and Fire. It is a long time to long for You and not know for certain that You will allow us to experience Your presence in the utter silence. Forty days is a long time to stand toe-to-toe with the cosmic accuser, the expert in deception, lies and half-truths. It is a long time to be confronted with the choice between fabricating through our own strength what we think Your will might be and the decision to trust You and serve You and Your world with the strength you provide. Be present with Us these forty days. Be present for me and the people I love and the people I wished I loved but don't and be with the people I can't imagine ever even wanting to love. Reshape and remold us into people of justice and joy. Help us to embrace this season as a journey rather than meandering. Whisper--even if it is only the quietest whisper--whisper to us the reminder that although this forty-day season feels like a long time it may lead to a very different forty-day chapter filled with revelation, hope, and new life.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS February 26, 2023 Today, we begin a new Worship Series entitled, "What’s in a Title?" We often say, "Jesus Christ," but it is important to know that Christ was not his last name. People will say, "Jesus H. Christ," using it as an expletive. The origin is unknown, though Mark Twain wrote about its use back in 1847. And for those of us who are part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the story centers on Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of our denomination. It’s interesting how easily we toss around some of the titles and designations associated with Jesus without really understanding them. It’s sort of like seeing the title "Dr." before someone’s name but not realizing the individual has a PhD in philosophy. Maybe that doctor is not the best person to perform a needed surgery. That is sort of a silly example, yet it is important to dig a little deeper and ask some clarifying questions, not only of the doctor but of the designations and titles Scripture gives to Jesus. They may not necessarily be what you think they are. Today, we are going to talk about Jesus as the Son of God. I hope to see you in worship.
Merciful God, continue to take us deeper into our faith as we go deeper into the scriptures and the ancient meanings of some pretty important words and phrases. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS February 25, 2023 Someone who reached out to me recently through my online Etchings, and who lives outside of Texas, asked where he might find a church like Cypress Creek Christian Church. He is quite impressed with who we claim to be and really enjoys watching our worship services online. So I spent about two hours visiting different websites of churches near where he lives and then watching some of their online worship services. Let me just say that my exploring has made me appreciate what happens at Cypress Creek Christian Church. Even more so, I think about the last two worship services I have enjoyed at Cypress Creek and the marvelous preaching. First, last Sunday, Dr. James Seymour preached a magnificent sermon for Laity Sunday. Then on Wednesday, for Ash Wednesday, Rev. Mariah Newell offered another magnificent sermon. In both services (I attended the Traditional Service on Sunday), the choir was powerful under the direction of Dr. Joel Plaag. People were equally thrilled with the Contemporary Service on Sunday, with the music leadership of Keeton Coffman.
I’m not bragging for the sake of bragging, but to offer a truthful observation. Cypress Creek Christian Church has some very gifted, faithful, and committed people, both staff and laity. Between the two services, where I was not the preacher, but mostly someone given space to truly worship, I was fed and inspired. Through word and song, I felt ushered into the presence of God. I heard Good News proclaimed with sound and thoughtful theology. Today, I give thanks for all those who call Cypress Creek Christian Church their training center and outpost for living the Gospel. I give thanks for our Vision of Putting Love First, even when it is disruptive and discomforting to life as we’ve come to enjoy it. With all that said, I want us to be mindful of pride. I don’t want folks pulling a muscle trying to pat themselves on the back.
Yet let’s be clear! We are making inroads into communities that have felt rejected, lost, frustrated, guilt-ridden, and unheard. They look around at the hundreds of churches within driving distance, and they see only more and more of the same. Some churches package the unhealthy and damaging theologies of guilt, hate, and shame quite well, using phrases like: "All are welcome" and "unconditional love," but what they really mean is that all are welcome to come and conform to something I do not believe resembles Jesus. You read the words "unconditional love," but then see a footnote that includes all the conditions.
I am not claiming Cypress Creek has reached perfection. Far from it! But it feels as if there is an alignment of gifts, passion, purpose, theology, and most importantly, God’s Spirit. People’s lives are changing; years of burdensome guilt are being exorcized; those who have felt like outsiders are experiencing a grace that by definition leaves no one out; a renewed commitment to living and being the kingdom of God on earth is happening; people are seeing Jesus in an entirely different way. Call it what you want, but something God-inspired is happening at Cypress Creek Christian Church, and I am excited!
With some trepidation, O God, I come requesting a bit more of whatever it is that you are doing around this church. A new and right spirit is indwelling itself among this community, and a unique Jesus-focused, love-infused expression of the Gospel is being shared. All we can say is, "Thanks be to God!" Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS February 24, 2023 One of our church members, Cynthia Pitts, shared the following with the CareGivers Support Group here at the church, and then she shared it with me. It really resonated.
By Heidi Priebe To Love Someone Long-Term is to Attend a Thousand Funerals of the People They Used to Be.
The people they’re too exhausted to be any longer. The people they don’t recognize inside themselves anymore. The people they grew out of, the people they never ended up growing into. We so badly want the people we love to get their spark back when it burns out; to become speedily found when they are lost.
But it is not our job to hold anyone accountable to the people they used to be.
It is our job to travel with them between each version and to honor what emerges along the way. Sometimes it will be an even more luminescent flame. Sometimes it will be a flicker that disappears and temporarily floods the room with a perfect and necessary darkness.
That first line is powerful, insightful and helpful: “To Love Someone Long-Term is to Attend a Thousand Funerals of the People They Used to Be.”
How often, O God, have I lived as if others were put on this earth to live and act as I want them to? Provide me with both humility and curiosity to truly journey with people as they are in this moment. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS February 23, 2023 When I used to run long distances, I would try to run two or three larger races each year. Sometimes there would be a thousand participants, but occasionally I would run a half marathon or full marathon with 3,000 or even 5,000 runners. At those big races, you are placed in a starting group (a corral). I remember running the Walt Disney World Marathon with 22,000 people, and it took me nearly 25 minutes to cross the starting line after they said, "Go!" It is hard to just stand there, not moving. Then I began to walk ever-so-slowly, eventually moving to a light jog all the way to the starting line. Finally, at about the first mile marker, things opened up and I could actually start running. But that time of waiting—waiting to cross the start line—is hard.
As a staff here at Cypress Creek Christian Church, we have been talking about Ash Wednesday for quite some time. Mariah had agreed to preach months ago, and more than a month ago, Paula checked to make sure we had plenty of ashes. We were focused on Ash Wednesday, but we had to wait—shuffling, moving ever-so-slowly to the actual service and the beginning of Lent. Not to overdo the metaphor of running, but the race to Easter has started. It is time to put forth your best effort in the practices of this Season—prayer, silence, worship, confession, pilgrimage, etc. We’ve crossed the start line, and so it is time to really begin.
Be encouraging, Gracious God, as you always are. Let me hear the whisper of your Spirit and feel the nudge of your loving kindness. There are things to explore and learn in this Season of Lent, and much of it requires some intentionality. With your help, I believe I am up for the task. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS February 22, 2023 ASH WEDNESDAY I had someone in the last week ask me the question, "How do I forgive someone who has hurt me?" You would think a faith built on the notion of God’s immeasurable mercy and forgiveness would have a three-sentence how-to on this very important subject. Jesus made it clear on multiple occasions that we are to forgive one another as God has forgiven, even providing 490 times (70x7) as the number of times we need to forgive. Of course, in scripture, that number of 70x7 implies as many times as it takes.
But all of that does not help answer the question brought to me: How do I forgive? Some people will give a quick, "Just pray about it." I believe prayer is an essential component on the journey to forgiveness, but it is often given as the only thing someone must do. Just pray for five minutes, and forgiveness will come as easily as breathing. I think forgiveness, even with a lot of good prayer, will feel more like passing a kidney stone. This Season of Lent, which begins today, is a time of reflection, repentance, and reconciliation. Beginning with the ashes in the form of a cross, the hard work of forgiveness begins. Today, there are three opportunities at Cypress Creek to receive ashes. The chapel will be open from 7-9am, and again from 11am-1pm, for people to swing by for ashes, prayer, and communion. It usually takes 5 minutes or so. And this evening, there is a full worship service at 6:45pm in the Forum.
For those trying to figure out this whole forgiveness thing, I believe Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent will help in that often grueling work of forgiveness. It won’t provide a step-by-step plan, but it begins to provide some necessary tools for work. Sometimes, it is nothing more than a reminder that we do not deserve to carry this heavy burden of anger or hurt any longer. We were created for something so much greater.
want to wave a magic wand and make forgiveness happen, yet it doesn’t seem to work quite that way. Gracious God, you have given me a model of forgiveness in Jesus. You have provided me with a mentor in your Spirit. You have set before me the Season of Lent, a time for greater reflection and deeper connection. May all this come together to help me along the journey toward forgiveness and healing. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS February 21, 2023 The Season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and concludes as the darkness turns to light on Easter morning. A lot of folks associate the practice of giving something up with the Season of Lent. That is accurate, but it is important to know that Lent is Forty Days in length, and the number 40 is very important within scripture. It represents preparation, the making ready of oneself for something important.
As Christianity began to take on institutional structure shortly after the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the earliest practice of Lent was mostly associated with new converts—a period of 40 days of fasting. What fasting meant in those earliest years was somewhat dependent on the region in which you lived and the Bishop who oversaw your church. Most of the time, the fasting consisted of one meal each day after 3 p.m., but even the meal had restrictions. Of course, as the church moved forward, there were changes to the definition of fasting, and the idea of "giving something up" became one expression of fasting. I will fast or give up TV for forty days; maybe it will be alcohol or sweets.
This past Sunday at the Church Board Meeting, one of the young adults, Angela Whyde, talked about how she does not give up, but adds something to her Lenten Season. I could immediately tell that her idea intrigued a number of folks in the meeting. Maybe you want to add more prayer, exercise, or silence to this Season of Lent. However you choose to think of this important Season in the life of the church, I hope you will bring to it a renewed sense of reverence and openness to what God is seeking to do within you and with you.
Gentle and Gracious God, there are things within me that could use a little work—some mending, rethinking, renewed focus, and maybe even some pretty significant change. Whatever the case, use some of the simple practices of this Season to better prepare me to experience Easter and to live the Easter life. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS February 20, 2023 Prayer for the Week: What grudge do I? What animosity do I hold? I’m sure there is an explanation a rationalization a well formed justification for why I clasp so tightly to what is not of you to what is life-depleting to what skews my perception Why the grudge? Why the animosity? Do I believe if by holding it to the end I will be victorious? Do I actually believe this will be good in the long run? By my refusal to let go to seek mercy to embrace grace I have not been able to enjoy the life you offer O God who is forever good and perpetually kind. Help me to loosen my grip ease my unexplainable hold Help me Please help me Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS February 19, 2023 Today, I want to offer a prayerful shout-out to those who are caregivers. There are so many different caregivers; among them are parents caring for children, children caring for parents, spouses living into the words "In sickness and in health," and others choosing to walk alongside those in need, even when there is no legal obligation or relationship. This is Christ-like living. It is hard, emotionally and physically draining, lonely, filled with the heaviness of grief, and with moments of helplessness. There is no perfect caregiver, yet by showing up with compassion and love, God sanctifies the work being done. I think about the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, specifically two of the Beatitudes from the translation called the Message: "You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope" and "You’re blessed when you care." In the moment, it may not always feel like you are blessed, but caregiving is one of the great ways we honor the commandment Jesus gave to his disciples: "Love one another as I have loved you."
We give thanks, O God, for the many caregivers who are revealing the beauty and power of self-giving love. It's exhausting, so we pray for spiritual strength while also allowing ourselves to be those who can provide some respite to the caregivers. Amen.