Screen Shot 2022-02-28 at 10.35.40 AMI love the start of lent. “Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection…Christians focus on relationship with God, growing as disciples and extending ourselves, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of ourselves for others.”

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday emphasizes two themes: our sinfulness before God and our human mortality.

Now my go to story of lent is a personal tale of humor but also trauma that happened where my family, some cousins, and I nearly died… yet the past few years we do not need to hear stories to be reminded of our own mortality. We have seen this played out with the covid 19 virus.

This past week brought war to Europe in a way we have not seen since World War II. The U.S. Secretary of Defense has ordered the deployment of 3,800 Fort Stewart soldiers to Europe. This is in response to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Phylis Smith, a teacher on the base, was talking about listening to kindergarteners processing how their fathers got on a plane but they were not allowed to go with their dads.

Once again we are reminded of our mortality and how fragile the world can be.

So what do we do with an awareness of our mortality? In Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World the author examines how fitness culture is becoming a new religion. They use a company called Soul Cycle as an example. They say: 

“It’s selling a double ideal of purification: one simultaneously characterized by material improvement … and by spiritual transcendence. You’re not just peddling on a bike to lose weight. You’re peddling to become a better person”

Yet as Jesus followers, we do cheer on being good stewards of our bodies… we also acknowledge how real purification, salvation, is not found in what we can achieve.

In Jesus prayer book, Psalm 51 says

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,  and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,  and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,  and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

5 Indeed, I was born guilty,  a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being;  therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;  wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

10  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Tonight, as we prepare for the season of Lent, I am inviting you to remember your own mortality. Remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return. 

But we do not just reflect on our brokenness to think of ourselves as bad… we do so to better understand and receive the joy that is offered in Christ.

In the same way that the psalmist confesses their sin they also ask God to change them. To create a clean heart. That’s what God does. That’s what God wants to do over lent and for the rest of your life… and that is what God is doing in your life right now.

Over the next 40 days I have a challenge for you. I am going to give you a pocket cross as you leave tonight. I invite you to put this in your pocket until Easter. And I want this to serve as a reminder of God being with you each and every moment (If you are reading this and would like a pocket cross please let me know).

And then I also invite you to a moment of having ashes imposed on your forehead and then for a moment of prayer and reflection. 

Ashes are a biblical sign of repentance and can be traced all the way back to Genesis. Using ashes for lent can be traced back to the 10th century.

You will hear me say either “repent and believe the gospel” or “from dust you came and to dust you will return”. Regardless of what phrase you hear, I invite you to pray at the altar or return to your seat for prayer. I encourage you to pray for global peace, examine your life and where God may want to change your heart, or pray however the Lord leads you.

As a pastor, I am professionally trained to study the bible, understand theology (some), preach, and offer pastoral care. However, there is one area where most pastors… maybe even most Jesus-followers are under trained in. This area is in trying to figure out what God is doing in our own life.

The other day I was listening to a podcast where my mentor, Brian Russell, was interviewing another pastor/author, Marc Alan Schelske. Marc was talking about his own spiritual formation and struggles as a pastor.

Marc also shared a tool he uses to help him process what God is doing in his life. He gave three questions he asked that are inspired by an ancient church father, St. Ignatius.

I found them so helpful I tweeted, blogged about, and made it the cover of the church newsletter. Marc offered the practice of time daily journaling through these questions.

#1 What happened in my life yesterday?

#2 Why did I respond or choose the way that I did?

#3 Who is God inviting me to be?

These questions have added value to my processing time with the Lord. 

What practices do you find helpful in addition to your prayer and scripture reading?

I Kissed Facebook Live Goodbye

I have been part of the recent influx of pastors cramming on doing worship online like a student at the end of the semester. All the early articles and resources I read were about how pastors should live stream their worship services. We decided to go in a different direction. I wanted to give you six reasons why we kissed Facebook live goodbye.

#1. It is easier to upload to Facebook and YouTube before hand. I have seen several pastors who have problems with their live stream freezing. One of the easier ways to avoid this is to record your service earlier in the week and have it already uploaded to Facebook or YouTube. This way once Sunday rolls around people can just click the link and see it already uploaded.

#2. Facebook and YouTube have great “premiere” features. Both streaming platforms let you create a time the video will be available. This allows you to tell your church to tune in at a certain time and watch together. The premiere will show the video straight through. Also YouTube has a cool two minute countdown before it begins. It is a great way to jump online and comment with the church family watching. It is really neat to see people interacting with your sermon especially if you are giving them something to type.

Tools of Grace

During the sermon we asked viewers to comment with #ToolsOfGrace. See the moment in the sermon here.

#3. Recording beforehand gives you better lighting. I’ve had two preachers contact me in a 24 hour span about what lights to purchase. My advice is “do not buy lights.” If you record before hand you can almost always lighten up the video. Here are two sermons I preached in a church with lighting that looked horrible on video. One video I did not lighten up before uploading and in one I did. Can you tell the difference?

I used the free Microsoft movie maker to edit the lighting.

#4. Recording beforehand gives you better audio. This is a little more of a technical tasks, but if you record your audio with a separate microphone you can get significantly better audio. I almost always use my iPhone as a recording device. I put it on the pulpit in airplane mode and record in the voice memo app.

iPhone Recording

See my iPhone on the hymnal beside me.

For my online worship services I am using a cheap lapel mic and plugging it into my iPhone. It is a little loud but I can turn it down when I edit the video.

Mic into iPhone

Microphone on my tie that goes into the headphone jack on my iPhone 5s.

Either way, if you want to record the audio separate or straight from the camera, recording beforehand can give you an idea of the adjustments that need to be made.

#5. It is easier to add other videos into the worship service. We have been asking people to record themselves saying prayers, creeds, scriptures, and singing onto their phones and send it to me. This would be possible to incorporate into a live stream but much more difficult. Recording and editing beforehand makes this much more possible.

Grapich for Cell Phone Worship

Here is the graphic we are using to invite people to participate.

#6. It’s what I could do the best. At the end of the day I am open to learning more about different ways to stream. If you do Facebook live great! We just feel like, for us, the best quality worship service is one that is recorded and uploaded before hand.

Just getting something out there the first few times is a huge achievement! Do not worry about comparing yourself to others but always ask, “what I can do the best?”

What do ya’ll think? Should I reconsider Facebook live or stick to the premiere feature for worship?

This is post number #11 in my 40 posts of Lent challenge.