Our Values: Foundational Principles for Ogden Memorial

Today is the first day of school in Caldwell County. This has been a day, personally, I’ve been looking forward to for some time since it is Noah’s first day in kindergarten.

The fact schools are back in session reminds me of my educational experiences in Raleigh County Schools in West Virginia. Each of my teachers invested in my life. They sought to teach me how to write, read, and understand the world we live in. I am who I am because of the teachers who invested in me.

Most importantly, though, my teachers tried to instill within me values that would define who I am. Values like treating my classmates with respect, living with kindness, and being patient. Those values are still important to me some 30 years later.

When we think of values our minds go to the core foundational principles that define who we live and interact with others. They are what inspire our words and actions even when we are not aware of them.

Christ calls us to claim values in our journey together. Values that serve as an outflow of our relationship with the Lord and define how we live out our love of God. We see our values being expressed through the Beatitudes, Jesus’ prayers, ministries, and common life with his believers. Jesus often called us to go and do likewise. We follow in the footsteps of Christ by taking on the same values and core principles we see reflected in Jesus as an aspect of who we are in Christ’s love.

Throughout 2018, our vision team has been working with me in prayerful conversations about the values that define our common life at Ogden Memorial. I am appreciative of Sara Brown, Jae Englebright, Elaine Overhults, Mary Rohrer, and Emory Spradlin for their dedication and work. They have blessed me with their prayers, laughter, and desire to see the church come alive.

We began our work with a focus on our values, first, because we wanted to set our mind on common principles that define who we are at Ogden. Values that are unchanging. We recognize that leaders may change, ministries may change, pastors may change, but the values of a community are constant. They define our work and how we live out our purpose of loving God and making disciples.

Together we discerned five core values that will define our work moving forward at Ogden Memorial. They are: love, discipleship, prayer, worship, and community. We believe these are values best described how God is leading us forward at Ogden Memorial. Each of the values have statements that were written by members of the team in collaboration with one another.

Beginning September 2, you will hear more about how these values will shape our mission together during worship. Members of the vision team will share about the values and the sermon will reflect on their meaning and purpose for our shared life together. We will celebrate our values on September 30 with a potluck following worship.

Our values. That is what they are. These are the values God has blessed us with to define our relationships with one another and ministry with our community.

I believe, as I have always, that Ogden Memorial is sleeping giant waiting to come alive with fruitful and vibrant ministry. These values and the work of the church coming together to get to this point are a positive step towards that direction.

I’m excited about what is next for Ogden Memorial. I hope you are, as well.

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Why Do We Worship on Christmas Day?

Every five or six years the calendar gives pastors and worship planners a true gift at the Christmas season: Christmas on a Sunday.

It should be a gift, but in all honesty the idea of Christmas on a Sunday makes many pastors, including myself, quiver. The reason is that we know we will spend weeks trying to help people understand why the church is open on Sunday, and why we will worship on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Sunday. Place that within the context of a worshiping movement that argues that the Sunday after Christmas Eve should be a time for family and not for community worship then we are left with questions as to why do we have church on December 25 and not cancel so we can be at home with our family.nativity

This year, I have found that the simple answer of “because it’s Sunday” works as well as when my parents tried to use the response of “because we said so” to one of my many questions as to why I had to do something as a child. It falls flat and is truly dismissive of the larger question that, I believe, many are asking.

I think our people are smarter than we give them credit and are able to have a deep conversation about faith, worship, and theology. So, why do we worship on Christmas Sunday? Why is it so important for the church to be open, this year, on December 25? Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: Living the Resurrection – By Our Love of God

Another Easter has come and past. Many of us have put away more than our fair share of candy and ham over the last few weeks. Likely the bunnies, baskets, and eggs have been stashed away ready to come out again in March.

Even some of the celebrations have ended, in reality, Easter has not. Easter is never finished. Easter is not a one-day celebration. It is not even a 50-day season focusing on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is more than that. It is a way of life.

Easter, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the grand announcement of God doing something new. It is not something that can be contained in one day or season. The Resurrection is a truth that defines everything and calls us to live with the hope of the Living God every day. Every day is a celebration of the good news that Christ is alive and is with us all today. Continue reading

Divided Loyalties

Growing up, one of the things that I looked forward to doing on Sunday afternoons was watching the NASCAR race with my grandfather. After Sunday lunch, I would join him in the TV room to watch whatever race was on. He and I were the only one in our family who liked Dale Earnhardt, so we would rub it in after each win or championship.

Flash forward some twenty-plus years and I still find myself watching the races on Sundays. I even had the opportunity to cover the sport during my journalism career. As I watch NASCAR today, one of the things that I admire about the sport is not the athleticism of the drivers or their ability to make continuous left-hand turns. It is the fact that their is no second-guessing where their loyalties lie.

Their loyalties are right there on their fire suits for all to see. When Kevin Harvick, for instance, is being interviewed, you know there will be references to Chevrolet and Jimmy John’s Sandwiches. There is no denying their loyalties. They wear them everywhere they go. Continue reading

Sunday’s Sermon: Remember with Amazement

It was the first day of a new week.

The first day, Sunday morning, following the Sabbath. It was the first day of the week following a Passover celebration that was unlike any other.

That Passover celebration was a week that began with so much joy and expectation, but ended with an equal amount of pain and suffering. Jesus, the man who was hailed as the King at the start of the week, was crucified on the Friday of the Passover. At the start of that week, Jesus’ followers believed that they were going to witness the inauguration of God’s kingdom. By week’s end, they were dumbfounded at what had occurred and wondered would happen now.

It was the first day of a new week when three of Jesus’ disciples, all women, made their way to Jesus’ tomb. His tomb was quickly secured by Joseph of Arimathea. In the rush to remove Jesus’ dead body from the cross before the Sabbath began, there wasn’t enough time to fully prepare his body for burial. So, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Joanna went to the tomb to complete this task of honoring the Lord’s body.

It was the first day of a new week, but it was also the first day of a new experience and new creation. For these three women would be the witnesses of the greatest news ever delivered to the world. The good news was told to them by two men, angels, who greeted them at the tomb. Much like the announcement of Jesus Christ’s birth earlier in Luke’s gospel, these angels announce to the world a great new hope: Jesus is not to be found in the tomb! He is not there! He is alive! Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Joanna became the first to hear the grand announcement of Jesus’ resurrection.

It was the first day of the new week, but more importantly, it was the first day of a new era. God began something new that day, the beginning of a new creation. It began with the joyous news that death could not hold our Lord. The cross was not the final story. The resurrection is the beginning of the story that helps explain all that Jesus did and continues to do through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Easter is the most important day in the church’s calendar. The resurrection gives power and hope to Jesus’ teaching and confirms to the entire world that he is the Son of Man and Son of God. Without the resurrection and Easter, nothing else would have mattered about what Jesus said or did. The resurrection is the event that defines all we know or ever will desire to know about God.

Easter is a day of celebration. It is the day that we rejoice at the most glorious news that Jesus Christ is alive! We give praise to God that the tomb was found empty. Beyond the lilies, candies, and new outfits, there is a truth that we came to celebrate and embrace again.
It is a truth that we are called to remember this morning. Our celebration of Easter and Jesus’ resurrection is our opportunity to remember the good news that Christ is alive. Every Sunday is truly a chance to do that. On this day, though, it is a chance to relive the story and hear the good news once again.

That news that death does not win. The news that sin does not win. The news that darkness does not control us. The news that Jesus Christ won the battle over sin and death. Jesus is the victor in the cosmic battle between good and evil. His resurrection secured that victory and allows us the opportunity to experience a hope, love, and faith that is truly amazing.

Jesus is alive. It is an astounding bit of good news that we remember this morning. Yet, so often we live our lives as if the tomb was not found empty. We act as if the tomb was found with the stone still covering the entrance and that Jesus’ body is dead. It is a belief that says Jesus has no power, no hope, and no presence in our lives today.

But, that is not the Lord we worship. We do not worship a lord who is dead, but a Christ who is alive. We remember the good news of the tomb being found empty and allow that to shape how we respond to the living presence of Christ that is active in our lives. The resurrection gives us the hope and reminder that God is truly with us. Jesus is living in us, with us, and through us.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is truly a wonderful thing. It is something to behold and to be amazed by. That was Peter’s reaction to the news of the resurrection. After the three women proclaimed the good news to the disciples, some reacted with disbelief, but Peter had to see it for himself. Luke tells us he goes to the tomb and sees that it is empty. He leaves wondering what had taken place.

It is an act of being amazed by something. We do not know why Peter was amazed at the tomb being empty. Did he believe the reports? Did he believe upon what he saw? One can be sure that whatever he believed, he felt a sense of wonder and awe at the fact that the tomb was empty and Jesus was not there.

Wonder and awe are truly acts of worship. We worship in wonder of all that God has done and awe of the love and beauty of the Lord’s works. At the center of our wonder and awe is the truth of the resurrection. Today we praise God for the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. It is a raising that leads to a life that never ends. Jesus’ body has been transformed and glorified. That is worthy of our praise.

We especially praise Christ for the fact that the Lord is alive today, but we do so every day. Worship in response to the resurrection is a daily act of living in response to all that God has done. Sometimes in our busyness, we lose the perspective of being lost in the wonder and awe of what took place at the tomb. Yet, that wonder and awe helps us to soak in the glory, love, and hope that came forth as Christ’s light shone into the world once again and for all time.

Every day is Easter for us. Every day is an opportunity to experience the hope of the resurrection and the fact that Jesus is not dead, but is alive. The resurrection is not something that can be boxed away and brought out when convenient. It is a truth that defines everything and helps us to live in response to our love of the Lord.

Because of the resurrection, we can face the difficult moments that exist in our lives. That is because the hope of Christ was fulfilled and shared through the resurrection. We can be bold and confident in our faith, because the resurrection is our promise that the Lord is with us always. We are truly never without the Lord’s presence in our lives. The resurrection is our promise of God doing something new in our lives, because something new began at the resurrection. A new experience of God’s love, a new reality of salvation, a restoration of what God made perfect.

The resurrection allows us to live in hope and to be hope in a world in need of good news. We claim the good news as our own and seek to share it with others in how we live. The three women did that. They shared the good news with the disciples. Peter did it in his amazement. When we live out the hope of the resurrection and the reality that Jesus is alive, people will notice. They will see that we are living through hope by a power that will never go away.

Today, we remember the story of the resurrection and it brings us to a sense of awe. It doesn’t just have to be today. Like we said, every day is an opportunity to be amazed at what God did in the garden. Every day is an opportunity to remember the resurrection in ways that it impacts our lives today for holy living that impacts the lives of others.

Communion assists us in helping to remember the resurrection and be in awe of Easter. In a few moments, we will gather at the table and share in this holy meal. It is a meal of remembrance of all that the Lord did and has done for us. On this Easter morning, the meal is our remembrance that the tomb was found empty and that Christ is alive. As we celebrate at the table, we stand in awe of the fact that Christ meets us here. His living presence is with us always and truly is with us as we celebrate at the table and worship in his presence.

Friends, take it all in today. Take in the story once again of how the tomb could not keep our Lord and how death does not win. Take in the wonder and awe of the fact that Christ is alive and is with us. And let that be our guide in sharing the Easter truth not just today, but every day.

The stone was rolled away. The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive! Remember the Good News with a sense of awe and wonderment for the great joy of Easter!

Why Do We Go to Church?

Much has been said about the church’s declining influence in North America. Church membership is down. Church attendance is down. The number of people who proclaim faith in Jesus Christ is down.

While there are several reasons for these trends, every church – both big and small – are working to counter this by making their communities more attractive to new people and those who have stopped attending. We’ve changed our style of worship to accommodate more appealing musical elements. We’ve removed pews and made our churches more comfortable. We’ve even added coffee bars.

Many of these changes are necessary to reach the current culture. The changes allow us to be more contextual with the message of Jesus Christ’s love for all. Even as we have made these changes, I have noticed that people still wonder why we need church. We can still hear the questions about its importance and purpose for our lives and faithful living for Jesus Christ. Lost in these needed changes has been a deep perspective on why the church is important for believers.

We go to church, because we believe the church is the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ. This is what the church has been since the days of the Apostles when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. The church is the living witness of Jesus Christ. It is not perfect. We are humans, after all, seeking to grow in Christlikeness. The church is going to get it wrong. However, we are what God has given the world to witness to the truth of God’s love for all. You have to love that!

We go to church to worship the Lord. By worship, we mean praise God for who the Lord is, has done, and continues to do in our lives and throughout the world. Worship expresses our heart to the Lord. Corporate worship allows an entire community to join together in singing praises, reflecting, and sharing with others. It is a participatory act that invites an entire community to worship as one through word, table, and service. In a culture that tells us to worship sports and entertainment icons, community worship is a counter-cultural expression of God’s truth and love. The church is a message of hope given to the world.

We go to church to be strengthened and encouraged by other believers. Our individual tendencies are to believe that we do not need anyone else but ourselves. We believe we can worship the Lord alone. This is hardly the case. We need the church and the community of believers to strengthen us in our discipleship. The church is the place where we are held accountable for our actions and taught what it means to follow Christ. We are encouraged by the love and presence of others as we seek to be faithful in our love of God with others.

We go to church to be sent out to be the church. The church is not just a building. We are the church and are sent out to the world to be the church through our witness of Christ’s love toward others. Worship sends us out with a blessing of encouragement to take what we do together and apply it to how we care for others each day.

The church is the world’s hope. My prayer is that we will see the church not just as a place we come to on Sunday mornings if it fits our needs, but it truly becomes our identity to where we can say, as the song does, that we are the church.

Do We Take Sports Too Seriously?

I’m a sports fan.

For anyone who knows me this isn’t much of a shocking statement to start a column. I make no secrets about my loyalties to West Virginia University, the St. Louis Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers, the Carolina Hurricanes, and a random collection of athletes from multiple disciplines of athletic competitions. I’ve been around sports almost my entire life, either as a fan, a participant, or a writer.

What I enjoy most about sports is the competition of determining the better team on a given day. I would say the thrill of victory, but in my playing days … I didn’t get to experience that one too often. (I’m the spitting image of a benchwarmer if there ever was one.) To be honest, sports isn’t just about what we see on the fields of play. It is also about the commodore that exists between friends and fans in celebrating their teams accomplishments and, of course, reminding Cubs fans that they have already been eliminated from World Series competition.

There is a lot to love and enjoy about sports.

However, I wonder if sometimes we, myself included, take our passion for sports too far. Sometimes it seems that our enjoyment of athletic competition is almost a worship experience where the quality of our day (or life) is determined by what happens on the field. Indeed, sometimes it seems that sports, especially in North America, is the god we chose to worship and obey.

We treat our coaches and players like saviors who will redeem our lives through athletic success. Every fan base has their sacred coaches and players. Those individuals who are talked about with reverence and awe for their accomplishments. While there is certainly nothing wrong with respecting and admiring the contributions of an important player or coach, sometimes our response to these individuals borders on making them an idol and treating them as if they have redeemed our existence. They made our lives better because they came to our team or won a big game. I think about here in Kentucky and John Calipari who is treated as almost like a savior among some in the Kentucky fan base since arriving in 2009. I also think about other individuals such as Nick Saban or Bear Bryant at Alabama and Oliver Luck at West Virginia who are also treated as saviors among their fan bases. We make these individuals our gods who can do no wrong in our eyes (as long as they remain with our team, of course).

But, we also worship our teams by allowing their wins and losses to determine how we will live. This is because we become completely identified by our teams and their successes. The team becomes engrained in our personalities. Instead of sports being a hobby or a release from the world, sports becomes an unhealthy passion where everything is determined by how a certain team plays. Take for instance the Alabama fan who believers their life is now improved because the Crimson Tide has won another national championship or the Florida fan who cannot get over his team’s performance in the Sugar Bowl. Of course, this isn’t the only way we identify with sports. We also identity so much with our teams that we treat the opposing fan base as the enemy and someone not to be treated with respect. Sometimes we take a joke too far and denounce anyone who would dare root for the rival team. Think about Harvey Updyke, an Alabama fan, who allowed his worship of Alabama to allow him to allegedly destroy a landmark on Auburn’s campus. Every fan base has individuals who are too committed to a team and their performance.

When sports becomes our god or starts to take on godlike qualities in our lives, we, especially followers of Christ, need to take a step back and reflect on why it is that we enjoy sports and what they mean to us.

One of the big things that we need to remember is that it is just a game. It does not determine my life if West Virginia loses to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. I can be unhappy that the team lost and even frustrated the defense failed to show up, but I have to be willing to recognize that it is just a game. It cannot determine how I will live or interact with others. I must be willing to, in a way, leave what happens on the field so that it doesn’t affect how I live and interact with others.

To do that, however, we all have to be willing to put sports into perspective. We have to remember that following sports is a hobby and cannot determine everything about us. Sure, enjoy sports and everything about them, but we have to be willing to draw a line between what is acceptable and what is dangerous to our faith, especially as Christians. The moment that sports feels like worship and becomes too engrained into who we are then we have a problem that needs to be addressed.

Sports are fun and enjoyable. It is a great way to relax and step away from the stresses of the world. However, we must be careful how we view sports, especially if we begin to worship our teams as they are our god.