500 Years of Reforming- Worship Resources

October 31, 2017 marks a monumental moment for the church and the world. It was on that day 500 years ago that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to door at Wittenberg.  This is typically noted as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It was a moment that sparked a movement that continues to influence not only the Christian faith but also daily life.

To celebrate, I am planning to do a whole month of worship and preaching around Martin Luther. They are not perfect or in their final form, and I am sure the will take a little different shape by the time October comes around, but I thought I would offer them to others as a starting point for celebrating this important date.

You can click HERE or the picture below for the document. Please adapt it and use it, and I would love to hear what you do with it.

 

Pastors as “The Elite of Prayer”

Today I came across this great quote by Peter Taylor Forsyth. He was a Scottish theologian who lived from 1848–1921. In his book, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, he writes:
I speak to and of the ministry, which is at once our despair and our hope. If the preachers have brought preaching down it is the preachers that must save it. The Church will be what its ministers make it. A Church of faith like Protestantism must always be what its chief believers make it. And these foremost and formative believers are the ministers. The real archbishops are the archbelievers. If a Church has not its chief believers in the pulpit it is unfortunate. And if a whole denomination of Churches fail in this matter there is something fatally wrong. The ministers are in idea the experts in faith. They are the élite of prayer. If the Church is to be saved from the world it is the ministers that must do it. And how can they do it but as men pre-eminently saved from the world? And no man has the seal of that salvation on him except by action—by thought and prayer which become moral action. A man has the stamp of supernatural reality upon him only by such prayer. If another than the minister carry that stamp in any Church he is its true minister. The true minister, in the pulpit or out, does all his business in the spirit of this prayer. The man of commerce may say he cannot. I will not argue that now. I will only say that the minister has this advantage—he not only can but he must, if he know his business, and is to keep it going. And no man ought to take up this business unless he know it. A preacher whose chief power is not in studious prayer is, to that extent, a man who does not know his business. A stringent ethic would say he was in danger of becoming a quack. That of prayer is the minister’s business. (pgs 129-130) Continue reading

Trusting God in Anxiety–No If’s, And’s, or But’s

We all go through times of anxiety where we don’t know what is going to happen. We want to do God’s will, but we find ourselves waiting and wondering what that will is. So let me give you a little bit of spiritual guidance for anxious times. There are 5 things I hope you remember as we have these conversations in the coming months.

1. God has plans and purposes for us. (See Jeremiah 29:10-14). Plans for good. Plans to use us. Plans for a future and a hope. I do not believe in a God who is distant, out there, surprised about the circumstances we pray about. If God is in any way out there, then God is out there in the future and knows what lies ahead.

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Religious but not Spiritual…and Phone Booths

It is very popular today to say that you are “spiritual but not religious.” It is one of those over-used phrases that I am not sure has a real meaning. I think it means that people want to have experiences with the Divine, but they don’t want to have those experiences in a structured religious settings.

This is a dynamic that churches need to get their heads around. I heard a lot of church people who claim that the world is not spiritual at all. In fact, there is a narrative in the church that the world is becoming more secular. In fact, the opposite is happening. The world is becoming more sacred. In fact, everything is sacred. People talk about their pets, their sexuality, their gun rights, and their conservativism as holy. And people are more open to spirituality than ever before, they just find it in other ways. Continue reading

Why the Bible is not “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”

I have heard people acronym that the B.I.B.L.E. stands for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” But that description bothers me for a number of reasons.

First, is it really basic? If it is so basic, why do we have so much trouble understanding it? Why do we so often disagree on a fundamental level about what it says or what we should do about it? The Bible is actually a very complicated library of books that tells stories to get its point across. It is not basic.

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John Wesley on Why Pastors Must Read

On August 17, 1760, John Wesley wrote a letter to a preacher named John Premboth. His words are critical for pastors to hear today.:

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading.

I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety, there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. Continue reading

Story and the Order of Worship

            Throughout much of church history, and still in the Catholic tradition, communion was the climax of the worship service. In fact, in the early church those who were new to the church community were dismissed before the sacrament. People were known throughout history to stand at the doors or look in the windows just to catch a glimpse of the sacred bread.

            The early church generally followed a very simple outline for worship. They gathered in someone’s home, greeted each other, and ate a meal. Sometimes later in the meal or after the meal, an elder in the community would tell a story of Jesus or from the scriptures and give insights into the passage or event for the community. There was a collection for the poor—at first for Jerusalem but later for their individual communities. Then the sacred meal was taken before they left. Continue reading

The Meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent

(This is my sermon for Ash Wednesday 2017)

What is Lent? The word simply means spring. It is a roughly 40 day period that leads from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week, as we walk with Jesus toward the cross. It is a time of self-examination and repentance. The church traditionally participates in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Such a time is a little scary to protestants, who seem to fear returning to their catholic roots. It is also more and more counter cultural to believe in anything called sin that we may need to repent from. How depressing an idea? That idea does not have the beauty or the marketability of the Christmas message.I want to take a few minutes to develop for you what Lent is all about, and why we do this odd tradition with ashes. I am not just interested in understanding the traditions. More than that, I think it is critical for your soul that a Lenten spirituality be a part of your faith walk. Continue reading

To a Discouraged Minister

I have been spending time every day in a book called the Minister’s Prayer Book by John W. Doberstein. This week, I came across this wonderful quote by Friedrich Zündel (1827–1891) under the titled “To a Discouraged Minister.” There is so much truth here:


“When difficulties pile up before you like insurmountable mountains… When behind you, you see nothing but failures.  When before you, you see nothing but trouble . . .  Continue reading

The Story Pastor: The Heart of Story

I am writing a book called The Story Pastor talking about how to think about ministry in terms of story. I plan to blog a few paragraphs every week for a while to see how people responds to the ideas. Here I talk about the heart of story:

The heart of any story is the journey of this protagonist. In the beginning, they are in one place. They go through the middle of the story which is filled with challenges. They then have a final battle or effort that reveal them to be different at the conclusion. This is why the three-part structure is so important. It marks the different stages of the transformation of the protagonist. The story is never about the journey that the character goes on. It is always about the journey that the character’s character goes on. It is about the transformation of the protagonist. Rocky always must get stronger. James Bond always must push himself to the brink. Marlin must get over his fear of the ocean to find Nemo. This transformation is often called “the story arc.” Continue reading

A Letter To Christians before Election Day

Dear Christians,

It is the day before the 2016 presidential election. I don’t think there has ever been a more divisive or worry-filled election. Tomorrow, some people will be exited that their candidate won and relieved that the other lost. Others will be devastated that their candidate lost and terrified that the other won. There will be Christians in both groups. I am not here to tell you who you should vote for, or who I will vote for. I want to remind us all of a few things to remember in the next several days. Continue reading

Disneyworld Church

I took a few weeks off from the blog for some much needed vacation and some much needed focus on my dissertation. I spent vacation with my family at Disney World in Orlando Florida. We avoided Hurricane Matthew and had a wonderful time. As I was there, I was caught up in the magic and wonder of Disneyworld. I have been reading a lot about Walt Disney since being down there. He was a total genius.

I was inspired by the way Walt Disney and his company understood the centrality of story. Disney started out by going back to old stories and retelling them in a new way. We forget how forward thinking this was when Disney created Snow White. No one thought cartoons could do more than make you laugh. Disney thought they could make you cry and tell a story. Everything in Disney is about the stories or creating new stories. goofy Continue reading

Render Unto Caesar: Seek the Welfare of the City

This sermon is the final sermon of a 4-week series I am doing on faith and politics. My goal is not to tell people what to think or who to vote for, but rather to address some of the underlying spiritual issues at play in our national and global politics. I want to help Christians learn how to think about politics. You can listen to audio of the sermon HERE.

Today I finish my 4-week sermon series on faith and politics. I have tried to speak truth, but not give my own opinion. I wanted to give background to change how you approach politics as a Christian. It has been funny, as the series has gone on, that a few people have come up to me and said something like, “Jordan, I wish you would just tell me who you think I should vote for?” Now, I don’t think that everybody wants me just to tell me who to vote for, and I am guessing if I told you then you would just ignore it anyway unless it confirmed what you already wanted to do. Continue reading

Baptism’s New Testament Beginnings

It is not clear when the practice of baptism began. We know that other cultures had washing rites as initiation rituals at the time of Jesus. The Christian practice begins with John the Baptist. John’s baptism is described as a baptism of repentance. Apparently, John would go out into the wilderness and preach and teach about repentance.

Many Christians do not understand the word repentance. To repent is not to say, “I am sorry.” It is also not a matter of asking for forgiveness. To repent is to relent or to turn the other. It means to go a different direction. Have you ever had someone say they are sorry and then do the same thing to you later? They said they were sorry, but they did not repent. John is calling Israel to turn from their ways and live differently. The implication is that they would turn back to God and be washed clean.baptism of Christ

It is interesting that Jesus is baptized in such a way, since we emphasize so strongly that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, but without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) What does Jesus need to repent from?

One of the theological terms that is helpful here is the vicarious humanity of Christ. In essence, it means that Jesus lives human life in our place or for us. Jesus becomes flesh, walks around, is without sin, repents, and dies the death that we deserve. But then he is risen from the dead, and the sin that should own us is defeated. And we are given, in what Luther called a magnificent exchange, the holiness and sonship of Jesus. Christ dies for us, but we rise with him.

This is a big part of the imagery of baptism. We die with Christ and are risen again with him. This image is best seen when people are immersed under the water rather than being sprinkled with water. Often people would even change their names at their baptism. This is why to this day during a baptism a pastor will ask for the Christian name of the child. Some traditions, like the Catholic church, still allow people to take on new middle names or Christian names when being baptized into the church.

Jesus is baptized and commands people to baptize, but we have no record that he himself baptized anybody. We do know from John 4 that his disciples did. There seemed to be some conflict over those who were baptized by John or Jesus. Jesus commands Baptism as part of the great commission.

I will look at baptism in Acts and the meaning of Baptism for Jesus in the next couple of blogs.

10 Tips for Surviving a Biblical Language

It is the fall, and students are starting into a new school year. I find myself in an unusual position of being a teaching assistant for an online class. Unfortunately for me, it is a Hebrew class. I can handle it, but it was never my best subject. I was better in Greek, but neither language came easily for me. This got me thinking about how I survived and did well in a year of each language. Here are my 10 tips for surviving a biblical language. I hope they are helpful.

  1. Give it the time it needs. Greek came more naturally for me but I had a more demanding teacher. Hebrew was a less demanding pace, but it came to me a little slower. I wish I could have set how much time the language was going to take, but in the end each language and each part of the language has its own demands. You have to give the work the time that it demands. This can be hard if you are a part-time student or have a lot going on in your life, but there is no way around it.Hebrew_Alphabet
  2. Do a little every day. This is the follow up to #1. You can try to jam the languages into your life where they are convenient, but you will do better to do a little every day.
  3. Nail down your letters and vowels. This is basic stuff so you think it is no big deal. WRONG. You have to nail down your letters, how some letters change shape or sound, and for heaven’s sake get your vowels right. I did not pay enough attention to Hebrew vowel pointing at first and had to go back and really nail it down.
  4. Nail your vocab words. This is simply a must. Live with your flashcards and have them so you can recognize them immediately. Even if you can’t get the right tense or part of the sentence, if you can get the word then you can normally get at least partial credit. Sometimes you can even guess the other parts if you have the right word. You can download flashcard apps on your phone or make cards, but the important thing is to review them like crazy. Perhaps no other cards in your pile are as important as the prepositions. Drill these like crazy. Make a chart of them on your desk for constant use when you translate.
  5. Drill your parsing. Parsing involves describing the noun or verb based on how they are written in the sentence. You will do this a lot, so drill your basic tenses like crazy. I made them into flash cards so that I would see the tense and rattle off the word in its different forms.
  6. Learn to pronounce the words. I did not understand why this was important at first, but I later found that some of the vocal patterns helped me identify the words. Some of the flash card apps even have audio files with them to help with the pronunciation. Plus, if you become a pastor, you can impress people with how smart you are.
  7. Don’t let your early stuff slip. One of the problems with the languages is that, as you go, you learn more tenses, more vocabulary, and more exceptions to the rules. You have to continue to drill the foundational work you do at the beginning of the year. There is nothing worse than missing a word on a test that was from an early lesson. Keep drilling the early words a few times a week even after you think you have mastered them.Greek_Alphabet
  8. Do the homework without the answers first. This only applies if you have the answers, but often books have answers in the back or have answer books. If so, do not do your homework with the answers out or do your translations with the English Bible out. It is too easy to think of the answer and check it before you commit to it and write it down. Do your homework, then correct it. This also adds the extra step of going over the work again in order to correct it.
  9. Keep your English straight. I was amazed when I learned Greek and Hebrew how much I learned about English. I did not know what an infinitive was, what case was, or how important it was for words to agree in a sentence. Paying attention to the English will really help your translation.
  10. Ask for help. I saw several classmates over the years I took biblical languages that would fall behind but wouldn’t say anything or get help. Teacher are normally willing to help you, and there are often teaching assistants who can help tutor you. Now, I also saw students who asked for help when they simply weren’t putting in the time that the language required. That is not good. A teacher can’t help you if you are not doing the work. I guarantee you that you are going to have something in your studies that does not make sense or click with you. Ask for help when those things come up.

One last suggestion: Keep up your languages after you are done with seminary. I wish I had read a little every day or every week to really keep my skill sharpened. I would look up key words every once in a while, or read about a troubling parsing dilemma in the text, but I did not do enough. I am picking it back up now, but it would have been easier to just keep it in the first place.

Baptism: Old Testament Roots

This is a series of sermons I am doing on Baptism. For the first blog, go HERE. For my series on Communion, go HERE.

There is no baptism in the Old Testament, but there are two Old Testament symbols that get wrapped up in the New Testament symbol of baptism. These are baptism and ceremonial washing. These were very important to the Jewish people. If you wanted to become Jewish when you were not born Jewish, you could. You had to be circumcised and you had to be washed clean. Understanding those symbol brings light to the meaning of baptism.

River_baptism_in_New_Bern

A few days after birth, a male child would be brought to the temple to be circumcised. To understand this moment, you have to understand the biblical language of covenant. You did not make or write a covenant. You cut a covenant. Normally you would cut an animal in half and each take part as a sign of the covenant.

In circumcision, the covenant between the child and God was more literally cut into the skin. This marked physically who that child was and to whom they belong. Namely, they were part of the chosen people and belonged to God. They were part of the covenant and part of the promises God gave to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David.

Ceremonial washing was a means for spiritually cleansing after a person was made dirty. Examples of needing to wash in the Old Testament included when a person touched a dead body, when a sick person got better, and when a woman went through their menstruation cycle. In these cases, and numerous others, people had to wash before they could enter the temple again

But where would this washing take place? There is not a lot of water in Jerusalem. It would have to be in a river, or more likely it would be done in one of many washing pools around Jerusalem. These pools had steps that would go down and then back up, so that you could walk the steps and be fully submerged in the middle.

These two symbols do not carry on into the New Testament for Christians. Instead, their meaning is swallowed up into the imagery of baptism. Baptism is a spiritual mark that is cut into a person much like circumcision. It is a sign of acceptance into the community and the place as a child of God. Baptism cleanses of evil and sin and washed the person.

Baptism: What does the Word Mean?

This blog is the first in a series I am doing about baptism and is a follow up to a number of blogs I did on communion. You can check them out at http://jordanrimmer.com.

The word baptize is actually a Greek word. The word is not translated, but rather transliterated right over from the Greek to English. The word is used after the New Testament almost exclusively of the Christian practice. The only other real English usage of the word is to baptize as in to name something. This comes from the tradition that many people would change their name when they were baptized.

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But before the word was used for the Christian sacrament, the word was used for other meanings. It could be understood as putting something in water. It could be translated or understood in context as plunge, drench, inundate, flood, submerge, or dip. It is used of ships being consumed by the sea. It is used of drunkenness—as if you are so inundated by alcohol that you are baptized. It is used to describe the time Herod drowned another man. He baptized him until he suffocated.

The word also had a metaphoric meaning. As we might say today, you are “trying to keep your head above water” or you are “in over your head.” You could be baptized and not be able to get out.

The use of this word for the Christian rite is an interesting choice. Yes, it aptly describes the act of being put into the water, but it also describes a consuming moment of finality. There was no turning back from baptism. It changed everything.

 

Please comment and ask questions on the website or on social media. I want to know your thoughts and questions.

For more info on Baptism and its uses in Greek, see Robert Gagnon’s contribution to the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, available at: http://www.robgagnon.net/articles/EncyclopediaOfChristianCivilizationBaptism.pdf

Ask your Questions about Communion and Baptism

I am finishing a blog series about communion and getting one started about baptism. In light of this, I wondered if I could ask help of my readers. What questions do you have about the sacraments?

  • What questions do you have about communion or baptism?
  • What are your beliefs about communion or baptism?
  • What do you think actually happens at communion or baptism?
  • What was the most special experience of communion or baptism that you have ever had or witnessed?

You can comment on my blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter. I want to start some good dialogue and be able to focus my material on what people actually think about and have questions about the sacraments.

Communion Thoughts #6- Tips for Making Communion More Meaningful

I have been writing a series of blogs about Communion. I talked about WHAT IS COMMUNION and WHAT HAPPENS DURING COMMUNION. I also blogged about HOW IT IS SERVED. I did a blog about WHY I AM NOT DOING COMMUNION BY INTINCTION ANYMORE. In my last blog I gave SEVEN GREAT IMAGES FOR COMMUNION. In my next blog I will give seven specific ways I have tried to enliven communion. Here I just want to list some general tips for making communion more meaningful.

Use different names- If you call it communion, then explain the other terms and use them. Serve Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper next time. This will help take people off of automatic pilot and get them thinking.

Use different images- Communion is not just one image or metaphor. It is loaded with different aspects, images, and thoughts. Don’t get in the habit of saying the same think every time you do it.St_Michael_the_Archangel,_Findlay,_OH_-_bread_and_wine

Decorate the table- The table itself provides lots of opportunities for imagery and creativity. The experience automatically changes if the table is covered in flowers. One time I preached about Daniel in the lion’s den. When people came forward, the table was covered in plastic lions. I read about a sermon that talked about Christ being our safety and security. The image they used was of a kid’s blanket. The table was decorated in children’s blankets. I even think the table can change. What happens if the table is actually a door set up like a table?

Flow from the sermon right into communion- In most of our services the sermon is set up to be the highlight and communion is a response. But what if we reorient the service so that the sacrament is the highlight and the sermon is part of the sacrament. I have even preached from the communion table.

Build an action into coming to the table- Have people pick something up or lay something down on the way to communion. Have them write sins on rice paper and dissolve the paper in water on the way to the table.

World Communion Sunday This is becoming one of my favorite Sundays of the year. I have ANOTHER BLOG with ideas on making this day special. We normally serve lots of different colors, textures, and shapes of breads to represent world Christianity.

Do bread together and juice separately- I really like this imagery. I ask people to hold the bread so that we take it together as one body and remember that God saves us corporately. I then ask people to take the juice individually when they get it. Here they are asked to reflect on Christ’s saving work for them personally.

Serve on mirrors- I love the imagery of the sacrament being a reflection of Christ and that we are in some way “lifted up” into His presence. Mirrors help show that.

Have people stand around the table- We have done this a few times in my church and people always find it very special. We have everybody come up and crowd around the table. We then take the elements and pass them around as a family would. I realize not every church can do this, but this is one that small churches need to try. I also recommend have some chairs or the first pew available for those with mobility issues.

What other things do you do to liven up communion?

Communion Thoughts #5- Seven Great Images for Communion

I have been writing a series of blogs about Communion. I talked about WHAT IS COMMUNION and WHAT HAPPENS DURING COMMUNION. I also blogged about HOW IT IS SERVED. In my last blog I talked about WHY I AM NOT DOING COMMUNION BY INTINCTION ANYMORE.

Here is my big point with this blog series: I love communion. I don’t want to get rid of it. I don’t think we should just change to fit the culture. But I do think that we need to take a hard look at the symbols and words that we are using. Sometimes they don’t mean now what they used to. Sometimes they actually mean something else that represents the opposite of what they were intended. Sometimes our practices do not accurately represent our theology or our intention for an act.Jesus communion

With this in mind, I want to shift this blog series from a theological and theoretical focus to a very practical focus. So here are seven images and symbols that I like to use or emphasize during communion. I might use these as I am serving the elements or as part of my introduction. Sometimes I use them in sermons leading up to communion.

  1. The Gathered Loaf– One of the oldest communion liturgies that we have comes from the Didache. It uses this line: “As this broken bread was scattered over the hills and then, when gathered, became one mass, so may Thy Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom.” This is such a beautiful image. The bread was once many different grains on many different fields but they were mixed together to make the one loaf. This is what the church is. It is a collection of people God brings together.
  2. Ordinary Grape Juice or Wine– I love the idea that we do not use special or super-holy juice or wine or the sacrament. Somebody went to the grocery store and bought grape juice. The person who bought the grape juice in front of ours just wanted to drink grape juice, but our ordinary grape juice was pulled out for a sacred use. It was used to represent the covenant of Jesus. That is our story. We are ordinary and called out to represent God’s covenant in this world.
  3. Broken and Pressed– Sometimes people pre-cut the loaf of bread so that it is easier for the pastor to break. I sometimes like for that to not be done. I emphasize that it was not easy for Jesus to pay the price for our sin. He did so with His own broken body. It is not easy for us to follow Jesus either. So I emphasize the difficulty as I work to break the bread. A similar image is found in thinking about where the juice comes from. The grapes have to be pressed. This also opens up the imagery from 2 Corinthians 4 that we are “pressed but not crushed.” Communion reminds us that Jesus was pressed and broken for all the places where we are pressed and broken.
  4. The Table– My teacher Leonard Sweet has written a great book about the idea of table called TABLET TO TABLE. We fail to understand the importance of tabling with others because we don’t eat at dinner tables very often anymore. Jesus was crucified in great part because of who He at with. To eat with someone in Jesus’ day was to accept them. The table is the place where we are accepted by God.
  5. Lifted Up– One of the common images in the communion liturgy is to lift up your hearts to the Lord. This is such a great image. We are, at the table, lifted up by the power of the Holy Spirit into the presence of God. Think about that—God is not brought down but we are lifted up. What are the things in your life that you need to be lifted up from? Sometimes communion is served on mirrors to represent this idea that when we look at the table or look at the elements we are peering up into heaven.
  6. Communion Tokens– I bought a couple of communion tokens on Ebay and get them out every once in a while. The idea was that before communion you would meet with the elders of the church who would question you to see if you were living faithfully to Christ. If you were, they would deem you able to take communion and give you a communion token. You would then give that token on your way to the table. The practice did not hang around because it was cumbersome and judgement. We have enough problems nominating elders in many churches. It was a little antithetical to the grace of the table. But it also showed the importance of judging your heart and your faith before you go to the table.
  7. Show forth the Lord’s Death– These words are Paul’s commentary of his retelling of the first communion in 1 Corinthians 11. They orient the focus on the Lord’s death and the meaning of that sacrifice. These words also mean that we show forth. We carry on the image. We bring it forward. But the time is coming when we will no longer do communion. We do it until the Lord comes again. It is a place holder. When Jesus comes it will no longer be necessary to have a symbol because we will have the Lamb.