thinking out loud

…things that are on my mind, heart, and soul

12.19.10 Worship Confessional

This morning was the fourth Sunday of Advent and we continued our preparations for the coming of Christ with a worship gathering wrapped around the theme of preparation. My message was based upon Isaiah 7 and Luke 1 and the significant name that was given to the One who would serve as both promise and sign of God’s faithfulness to God’s people: Emmanuel. This is one of my favorite names in Scripture and the promise of Advent is that we worship and serve a God who comes near to us in Jesus Christ. In Emmanuel, God is with us!

My fear is that I have become too causal, too nonchalant about this reality. And in my message today I raised this question: if it is true that Jesus is Emmanuel, the God who is with us:

  • Should we laugh or cry?
  • Should we cheer or lament?
  • Should we shout it from the rooftops or run and hide?

The truth of God’s advent among us demands all the above.

As you prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth, I leave with you this two questions to consider as Emmanuel implications:

•    What are the signs of God’s presence in our world?
•    What does God’s presence with us require of us?

Musically speaking – one of the guitarists from our music team, Greg, stepped up and led worship through music this morning. Greg is a gifted musician, a trained trumpet player and high school band director and one of Greg best qualities is his servant heart. He truly This is the second time Greg has served our community by leading worship and he shared with us that the first time he was actually quite nervous. Today he wasn’t as nervous but acknowledged a different challenge point: sickness. Like a lot of people right now, Greg is battling a nasty cold. And despite not having his full voice, Greg faithfully led us to God through music.

One of the songs that Greg shared with us was a original piece called “Anticipating.” It had a hymn-like quality to it with four verses each addressing a different aspect of our anticipating Christ’s advent.  And Greg added a nice tag to it with the “Come, Lord Jesus come…” from Brenton Brown’s song, “All Who Are Thirsty.”

The rest of our worship set included:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel (traditional)
Salvation is Here (Hillsong)
My Soul Magnifies the Lord (Tomlin and Carson)
Jesus Messiah (Tomlin)
Anticipating (Greg Steele)

Learn what other communities of faith experienced this weekend in worship at The Worship Community.

Stay connected…


Filed under: advent, leadership, sunday setlists, worship gatherings

12.12.20 Worship Confessional

This morning was the third Sunday of Advent and our theme was active anticipation. Our Director of Spiritual Formation, Marlaena Cochran taught from Romans 8:15-25 and she talked about three ways in which we wait during this season of Advent:  we wait as parents who are pregnant, we wait as children and we wait for the glory that will be revealed.

One of the lectionary readings this week was a personal favorite –  Zephaniah 3:14-16. Many people equate worship with singing songs to God. However, this text in a sense turns the tables on us. The prophet speak not of our winging to God, but the Father singing over us:

“Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

After a time of listening and quiet prayer, we sang together a beautiful song by Matt Maher and Jason Ingram based upon this text. The chorus declares:

Out of the depths you cry “Come and be satisfied?”
Father you sing, Father, you sing over Your children.
Let us see through Your eye, we are Your great delight
Father you sing, Father, you sing over Your children.

If you are not familiar with this song, I would encourage you to give it a listen and think about including it in an upcoming worship gathering.

One of the other dynamics of our worship this weekend was the inclusion of a number of students in our music team.  We had a high school student playing keys and three college students as well (on drums, acoustic guitar and vocals). Korey, Natalie, Vince and Caleb all willingly offered their musical gifts to God and our community of faith. I love to serve together with the next generation of worship leaders and am grateful for the heart and passion they bring to the ministry.

Our music set included:

  • All Bow Down (Tomlin)
  • Glory to God Forever (Fee)
  • Jesus Messiah (Tomlin)
  • Sing Over Your Children (Maher)
  • Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (Daniel Renstrom arrangement)

Learn what other worshiping communities experienced this weekend at The Worship Community.

Filed under: advent, hope, sunday setlists, worship gatherings

The Present Future

I love the Church and believe it is God’s chosen vehicle to carry the good news of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 3:10). My life’s call has been to help the Church become everything God intended, created, redeemed and gifted her to be.

Over the past seven years it has been one of my greatest joys to provide leadership to a community of faith that describes its mission as helping people connect with God, one another and our world. And even more important than the words we speak are the actions we take.  Day in and day out our community demonstrates a faithfulness (not a perfectness) to being this sort of presence in the world.

During this Advent season I have been using the Mosaic Bible as a devotional and these words about the “present/future” dynamic from Brad Harper greatly encouraged me and renewed me in my call to do whatever I can to serve the Church and help her live as deeply as possible into her purpose:

“The future is about a community in which barriers that separate people from God, one another and creation are no more. Every broken relationship, every wounded heart, every chronic pain of body and soul will be healed. In the church, this community of the future has already been inaugurated by Jesus Christ. As God’s eschatological community, we hope for ultimate redemption in the future. But in the present, we must break down the barriers and bear each others brokenness. Through this here-and now experience, Christ’s bride, the Church begins to take on the beauty that will be hers when he comes to claim her as is own.”

Stay connected…

Filed under: advent, hope

12.5.10 Worship Confessional

Today was the second Sunday of Advent and our focus for the morning was hope. The words of the prophet Isaiah provided the shape for our gathering:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.  A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:1-6)

During my message I shared Doug Pagitt’s description of the significant role that hope plays in our faith: “Christianity has always been the hope of God through Jesus played out in the lives of real people living in real circumstances.” To illustrate this reality, two members of our community, Brandon and Heidi, shared the signs of hope they witnessed during their recent mission trip. Brandon and Heidi served as team leaders for 14 students from Waynesburg University and they served about 80 children in the Nutritional Center and Home for Children in Patzun, Guatemala. You can read some of Brandon’s reflections in his Friday column in the Herald Standard.

What signs of hope do you see during this Advent season? How does hope inform the practice of your faith?

Our music set included the following songs:

  • All Down Down (Chris Tomlin)
  • Salvation is Here (Hillsong)
  • This is How We Know (Matt Redman)
  • O Come O Come Emmanuel ( Traditional)
  • Comfort Ye (Daniel Renstrom)
  • This is Our God (Chris Tomlin)

Learn what other communities of faith experienced today in worship at The Worship Community.

Stay connected…

Filed under: advent, hope, sunday setlists, worship gatherings

11.28.10 Worship Confessional

Happy Liturgical New Year!

Today was the first Sunday of the season of Advent which marks the beginning of the liturgical calendar in the Christian Church.

This year we are using an Advent resource that comes from the Mosaic Holy Bible. This is a beautiful and well crafted biblical and devotional resource, arranged in such a way that each week presents a variety of content for reading and reflection. Each week follows a theme appropriate to the Church season and the content includes full-color art, Scripture reading, a historical reading, a contemporary reading, a prayer, creed, hymn or quote; and space for reflection.

Our focus this morning was on longing and we leveraged these words from John Paul II (taken from the Mosaic Advent Devotional):

Advent…helps us to understand fully the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, it is necessary to understand that the whole of our life must be an ‘advent,’ a vigilant awaiting of the final coming of Christ. To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously.”

Have you ever thought of the weeks of Advent as an intense training season? I would love to hear how your faith community engages the four weeks of preparation before Christmas. Do you celebrate the season of Advent. If so, how?

This morning we introduced a new song by Chris Tomlin entitled, “All to Us.” This song worked really well coming out of the message, leading us into the celebration of the Sacrament of Communion. It has a hymn-like richness and quality to it and presents some beautiful images of Christ. I love the chorus which declares:

Let the glory of your name be the passion of the Church
Let the righteousness of God be a holy flame that burns
Let the saving love of Christ be the measure of our lives
We believe you’re all to us.

You can listen to Chris tell the backstory of this song at the New Song Cafe from Worship Together.

Our music set this morning included:

  • Shout of the King (Matt Maher)
  • As It is in Heaven (Matt Maher)
  • Forever Reign (Hillsong and One Sonic Society)
  • Call to Worship (Matt Redman)
  • All to Us (Chris Tomlin)

Learn what other communities of faith experienced today in worship at The Worship Community.

Stay connected…

Filed under: advent, leadership, sunday setlists, worship gatherings

Change the Story – Join the Conspiracy

It’s Black Friday and in preparation for Christmas, Americans are spending by the billions today. Is it possible to change the story of consumerism? Is it possible that Christmas can still change the world?

I believe it is possible. And that’s why this year our community of faith will once again be joining with numerous other churches by participating in the Advent Conspiracy. This movement is based upon four critical turns in the Christmas story:

  • Worship Fully
  • Spend Less
  • Give More
  • Love All

During the Advent season, members of our community of faith will make over and above gifts to our Advent Conspiracy fund. Ever dollar received will be used to support three special mission initiatives:

Shepherd’s Heart Church: We will be helping our sisters and brothers serve the homeless population of Pittsburgh. Shepherd’s Heart operates a drop-in center in the mornings which offers coffee, some breakfast and a place to rest. The drop-in center needs a a space where they would store the paper products and food supplies used.  Our gifts will help to construct this space.

Gulf Coast Team: In March, 25 members of our community will travel to the Gulf Coast region to partner with Habitat for Humanity in the Bay/Waveland area of Mississippi  to continue the work of rebuilding following Hurricane Katerina. This will be our sixth visit to the region and we are committed to partnering with people on the ground to restore dignity and the quality of life for residents of the Gulf Coast region.

Hamlin College for Midwives (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia): The mission of the college is to train, equip, deploy and support highly skilled, trustworthy and accountable midwives, who are willing to serve women and families of rural Ethiopia. Pregnant women and their unborn children our at great risk and the women trained at the college will be trained to be instruments of change in Ethiopia.

Today (and every day) you can begin to change the story. Be a part of the conspiracy. And believe and act in such a way that the story of Christmas once again changes our world.

Stay connected…

Filed under: advent, global poverty, gulf coast

Living the Usual Unusually Well

Yesterday morning we kicked off our one year experiment with the lectionary readings. It was also the first Sunday of the Advent season and it was quite interesting to me to note that the Scriptures texts for the first Sunday in the new liturgical year pointed to the return of Jesus and the establishment of His kingdom here on earth. Talk about beginning with the end in mind.

I found Jesus’ words in Luke 21:28 especially potent:

“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Often when people consider the words of Jesus and the end times, things can get amped up pretty quickly. Sometimes I feel that people actually believe they can sped up the return of Jesus and the establishment of His kingdom here on earth through their frenetic activity.

While I applaud passion and seek to live a more passionate life of faith myself, I find that at certain times and in certain contexts, people feel a compulsion to focus on the unusual and the extraordinary (kind of like the season leading up to Christmas when people can get amped up over all sorts of external and nonessential things). So my question this morning is, “in light of the reality that our redemption is drawing near, what kind of life does the Advent of Christ invite us to live?”

These words from Dianne Bergant speak strongly to that very question:

“The Advent way of life does not necessarily require unusual behavior on our part, but it calls us to live the usual unusually well. It affects the everyday events of life; it directs the way we interact with people; it informs the attitudes that color our judgments and motivations. It is as ordinary as the birth of a child; it is as extraordinary as the revelation of God.”

Jesus calls us to live the usual unusually well. This reminds me of Eugene Peterson’s translation Romans 12:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

God is not looking for extraordinary and unusual acts of faithfulness, courage, daring or sacrifice. Worship is offering our everyday, ordinary lives back to God for the life of the world.

What would it look like for you to live the usual unusually well? And how might God take our simple acts of faith, hope, and love – infuse them with His Spirit and use them in the establishment of His kingdom here on earth?

I will give the last word this morning to Francis of Assisi:

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Stay connected…

Filed under: advent, hope

about me

my name is terry and i've been married to a great woman, patty for 29 years and we have four children, (ranging from 17-25) and an awesome grandson. i serve as lead pastor of christ community church of the south hills in pittsburgh, pa (lets go pens!). i am currently working on a book on worship with a working title of "a movable feast: a liturgy for our everyday, ordinary lives."