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

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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

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I Defended my Dissertation

This week was a big week for me. I successfully defended my dissertation. I am now “The Reverend Doctor Jordan Rimmer.” This is the culmination of a lot of work.

I never cared about getting a doctor of ministry. I really wanted to learn, especially from someone who I thought could challenge and push me. Len Sweet was that person, and I have learned so much. I also loved that I got to research and write about things I wanted to study. Continue reading

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Pray and Prepare- Learning Life from Nehemiah

I have been preaching the book of Nehemiah, and it has been very insightful for me personally. Nehemiah finds out about the challenges in Jerusalem and prays for months. Then he gets to talk to the king about it. It seems like a fortuitous conversation, until you realize that Nehemiah knows the supplies he needs, the permissions that he needs, and even how long rebuilding the wall should take. He has not just been praying. He has been planning.

This is a major theme in Nehemiah. He prays and prepares. He prays and plans. He asks God to help and then takes action. He trusts God to work it out and then works on it. He is the same way with the people he is leading. God will build our walls, and here is your shovel. God will protect us, so grab your swords. Continue reading

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The Soundtrack of the Church

In any movie or TV show, the soundtrack is tremendously important. The songs chose for the background of the story set the tone for the movie. In many ways, they are critical to the story. The best soundtracks tell the stories themselves.

Let’s think about the famous soundtrack of Star Wars composed by John Williams. This soundtrack is instantly recognizable and immediately takes the mind back to the story. We recognize the theme song, and we automatically think of those credits scrolling across the screen off into the distance in space. That song has a grandeur and excitement to it that sets the tone for the whole movie.    

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Churches with Writer’s Block

People and organizations are living stories. Since live moves in days and season, it can feel like a movie or a play. Normally, the story naturally moves as we accomplishing things, try things, and learn and grow along the way. Sometimes, however, the story stops. As Graham Standish puts it, a church can get “something akin to writer’s block.”

Numerous obstacles can stop the story. Sometimes the church has conflict or crisis that consumes the story. Sometimes the church fails at writing the next chapter and loses their confidence to keep writing. Sometimes they are so focused on all their problems that they can’t see any way forward. Sometimes the church cannot agree on what the next chapter should be. Continue reading

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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

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Hints for a Different Kind of Advent

Advent and Christmas can be a crazy time. We hang banners in the church that say faith, hope, joy, and peace. Yet so often we feel the exact opposite of those things at this time of the year. There is lots to do and a lot of pressure to look like you have it all together. So here are a few hints for have a different kind of Advent this year.

advent-wreath-513580_960_720 Continue reading

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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

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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

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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

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Render Unto Caesar: The Politics of Jesus

This sermon is the third 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.

I have been shocked in my own work to prepare for this sermon series at how political the Bible is and, particularly, how political the life of Jesus is. Maybe I have just never looked at the text from this perspective before, but as I have been thinking and reading this month, I can see political realities and political implications on every page of the scriptures. Today, for this sermon, I want to explore how faith and politics mingle and move in the Bible and especially in the life of Jesus. Continue reading

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Render Unto Caesar: Some Trust in Chariots

This sermon is the second 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 is September 11. Fifteen years ago today, a terrorist plot was executed to use planes to attack important American symbols and take American lives. Planes were flown into the Twin Towers—a symbol of American business, the Pentagon—a symbol of American defense, and perhaps the White House was the target of the fourth plane that never reached its destination—the symbol of America’s leadership. Many lives were lost and devastated by this attack—2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured, but the damage of that day continues. Continue reading

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Render Unto Caesar: Two Kingdoms

This sermon begins a 4 week sermon 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 at http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com/e/render-unto-caesar-two-kingdoms/

One of my life verses comes from 1 Chronicles 12:32, which is in the middle of a list of the people that were in David’s mighty men. It says, “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command.” I see myself, as a pastor and also in my own personality and wiring, to be called by God to be of Issachar—to understand the times and know what the people of God should do. Continue reading

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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.

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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.

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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.

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