Morning Thanks

Woman turning off alarm clock

Our attitude in the morning shapes the entire day. We can awake by saying Good morning, Lord! or Good Lord, it’s morning! Consider starting each day with a cup overflowing with thanksgiving. Thank God for

  • A good night’s sleep

Children effortlessly enjoy peaceful slumber, but adults count sleep as a precious gift. Like many blessings, we only recognize the grace in hindsight.

  • Electricity  

Flip a switch to turn on the lights. Adjust the thermostat to make it more comfortable. Turn on the TV to check the weather. We take modern conveniences for granted, but recall the last thunder storm or winter blizzard when the power disappeared.

  • Water

Twist the faucet and limitless water flows from the tap. In contrast, I visited a Honduran village where the people carried water from a community well. However, Americans don’t bother to turn off the spigot while brushing our teeth.

  • Potable Water

Americans can travel across the United States and drink pure water without a care. Overseas travelers quickly discover this is the exception rather than the rule.

  • Hot Water

God bless the inventor of the water heater! (Note to readers: it’s an exercise in repetitious redundancy to say HOT water heater. J) Back in the day of heating water on wood stoves, people considered warm baths an indulgence. What were once occasional luxuries are now daily necessities.

  • Coffee

Maybe coffee shouldn’t make the list, but many people cannot face the day without a shot of java. One Christian author called caffeine the “Christian drug,” socially acceptable and readily available at church. I must confess to sipping a cup of joe while writing this blog.

  •   Food

Ever grumbled “There’s nothing to eat” while staring into a full frig or packed pantry?  For most, this is an exercise in hyperbole; for some, this is a reality of poverty.

An old hymn encourages God’s people:

Count your many blessings, name them one by one.

Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

Starting each morning with an attitude of gratitude can transform the entire day.

Stories and Stands

During a contentious debate, the moderator shared this wisdom: “I encourage you to share your stories before taking your stands.”

Humans who live east of Eden’s gates tend to be a quarrelsome and cantankerous people. Name a topic, and we possess a fiercely held opinion. Ask, and we’re glad to share it . . . and most times, we don’t have to be asked.

Name the subject, and we’re ready to take a stand.

In the process, we cast the debate into a binary polarity of right and wrong, good and bad, yes and no, me and you. No middle ground can be found because none is recognized.

For example, here’s a line I occasionally use in the midst of a heated discussion: “I’m not trying to argue with you. I’m just explaining why you’re WRONG!”

Hear again the advice: “I encourage you to share your stories before taking your stands.”

What would it look like in our lives if we took the time to share our personal narratives before a heated debate? Maybe knowing the other person’s backstory would change our perspective if not our mind.

  • The antiwar pacifist lost his son in Gulf War 1.
  • The pro-life demonstrator endured a backroom abortion as a teenager, and the physical and mental scars remain decades later.
  • The guns rights’ advocate survived three home burglaries during his adolescence.
  • A mother doesn’t discipline her out-of-control children because her father physically abused her as a child.
  • The homeless beggar on the interstate ramp suffers PTSD from his years serving in the United States’ military.
  • The gay rights activist’s daughter came out of the closet last year.
  • The gay rights opponent’s son came out of the closet last year.
  • The person picketing for prayer in school sees the nation sliding into irreligious society.
  • The person picketing against the Ten Commandments in courthouses treasures the separation of church and state.
  • The Hillary-loving-yellow-dog-Democrat believes his party represents the down and out.
  • The Trump-make-America-great-again-Republican believes her party emphasizes individual responsibility.
  • The woman with the shaved head and blue dots just finished her second radiation treatment.
  • The ‘tatted, pierced, and gauged young adult volunteers as a mentor at the local elementary school.

Share your stories before taking your stands.

You might be surprised by what you hear before you speak.

Building a Worship Service

clockHow much time does it take to build a worship service? The answer depends on location, style, and setting. However, the number of hours might surprise you. Consider a typical 11:00 worship service at First United Methodist of Lawrenceville.

The worship team plans months in advance. For example, we have already planned each Sunday through the end of the year and have begun discussing 2017. It’s a very soft number, but put down 10 hours for conceiving a worship series along with its component sermons.

The Worship Team meets on a weekly basis for at least an hour. We spend time prayerfully reviewing the past week’s service, asking one another about “God moments” and lessons learned. Then we consider in detail the upcoming services for the next three weeks. So figure 3 hours per service in the planning meetings.

The Sanctuary Choir sings at our 11:00 worship services. The members spend about 2 hours over a 4 week period rehearsing an anthem. 50 members typically sing on any given Sunday morning. So 50 people x 2 hours = 100 hours per anthem.

Smaller groups and ensembles often perform at the services—men’s or women’s choirs, the children’s chorus, the hand bell choir, and others. One could easily add another 25-50 hours for these pieces of special music.

It’s difficult to guesstimate a time value for trained musicians. A lifetime of education, practice, and experience is represented in every worship service.  Each musical piece distills countless hours. For the sake of this blog, say 20 hours per week.

I’ve never clocked how much time it takes to prepare a “normal” sermon because no sermon is normal! Sometimes the sentences flow like the Holy Spirit’s hands are on the keyboard. Other times the words sluggishly pour out like molasses in January. Also, I tend to do research and writing over a period of weeks. For the sake of this conversation, say 6-8 hours of composition.

Then there’s sermon practice. I read over the manuscript repeatedly before rehearsing in the sanctuary. If you’re ever bored, drop in some Wednesday or Thursday morning for a preview of Sunday’s homily. Then I preach it for our Yorkshire Terrier, Sam, several times at home on Saturday. I recite the words while falling asleep Saturday night and go over it again on the way to church Sunday morning. Maybe a total of 3-4 hours.

So many others also invest time in the worship service. Liturgists prepare prayers, creeds, responsive readings, and more. Audio/visual technicians and volunteers operate lights, PowerPoint, and video. Custodial personnel open the building, turn on lights, and check thermostats. Volunteers serve as greeters, ushers, acolytes, altar guild, etc.

I’ve described a typical 11:00 Sunday morning worship service at our congregation; and we have five worship services weekly. What’s the final total? God only knows. Each hour in a worship service represents literally hundreds of hours in preparation.

Cost for a Sunday worship service: countless hours.

Worshiping the living Lord: PRICELESS.

Three Hours Per Week

I serve the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville. The church’s mission statement declares:

Making disciples of Jesus Christ who

Love God,

Love Others,

and Reach the World.

Most of the members know this statement by heart. It appears constantly in our printed material, Internet presence, social media, and more. This is our reason for being, the core of our identity, and the essence of our DNA.

We exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The second part of the mission statement describes three holy practices to facilitate this goal:

  • Love God:                  Worship
  • Love Others:              Small Groups
  • Reach the World:      Service

We believe these three spiritual disciplines are essential to Christian discipleship. We love God through corporate worship which is a unique experience which cannot be replicated, duplicated, simulated, or substituted. We love others in small groups where we love and are loved, know and are known. We reach the world through service in our congregation and community.

So how do we apply these disciplines in daily life? One simple plan is called Worship PluThree Hourss Two. Christian disciples invest a MINIMUM of three hours each week to Love God, Love Others, and Reach the World.

Note that I used the word “minimum” because the minimum is pretty minimal!

We all get 168 hours per week—no more, no less. In an ideal world, we would get 8 hours of sleep per night which equals 56 hours weekly. So this leaves us with 112 hours awake.

Three hours a week is only 2.675% of our time awake! This isn’t much. If you want to dedicate a tithe or tenth of your waking hours to God, then you would need to increase this time to 11.2 hours per week. 2.675% of our waking hours doesn’t sound like much time; but frankly many church members do not commit even these few minutes to God.

To use a sticky quote by Mark Batterson: We all want to spend eternity with God. We just don’t want to spend time with Him! (All In, p. 77)

Worship Plus Two is simply a way of restating our church’s mission statement: Making Disciples of Jesus Christ who Love God, Love Others, and Reach the World. Worship Plus Two means we spend a minimum of one hour per week in corporate worship, small groups, and service.

So . . . how much time will you spend with God this week?