Dr. Paul R. Fetters (right), former dean of the Huntington University Graduate School of Christian Ministries

The word for today is “benediction.”

In the early Christian church, Zachariah’s song of praise for God’s blessing was identified in Latin as the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79). In Latin, bene means good and dictus means word. Therefore, in English benediction is translated “a good word.”

At 16 years of age while yet a new convert to Christ, I was asked to “pronounce the benediction.” Little did I know what a benediction was or how to pronounce one. So, I just offered a closing prayer. Later, it was explained to me that a benediction is the last word at the close of the worship service–a blessing from God. God has the last word, and it is a good word.

Having taught this explanation in many college and graduate classes, I am discovering that not all worship leaders have been so instructed in this Christian liturgy of worship. Presently, could our familiarity with the Divine have caused us to ignore–even forget–this blessing from God?

Often, at the close of worship, I now hear the last word, “Have a good week.” I am sure those who leave a casino or race track may hear the same. Those leaving the pub, local restaurant, beauty parlor, barber shop, or auto dealership are encouraged by “Have a good week.” Or others hear its shortened form, “Have a good one.”

On occasions, I have heard a benedictory prayer. Then I hear the really last and seemingly the most important word that trumps all other last words:

“Be sure to stay for the money raising cookout in the parking lot.” Or, “Purchase your tickets for the Tin Caps ballgame at the Welcome Center.”

Personally, I prefer to leave worship with a good word from God ringing in my ears. Ministers ordained by God are privileged to offer God’s blessing upon the people. Benedictions? Yes! The Scriptures offer many.

“The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Amen.” (Numbers 6:22-26, NIV)

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.” (2 Corinthians 13:14, NIV)

Michael R. Brown, senior pastor, Franklin UB church (New Albany, Ohio)

Two weeks ago in a sermon entitled “The Path to Spiritual Maturity,” I challenged my congregation to practice a personal media blackout September 9-15. The purpose? To stop “pouring so much of the world” into our heads and have more time to converse with God. I didn’t issue the challenge September 2-8 (the Sunday I preached), because the Democratic National Convention was on. Maybe we should have blacked-out both weeks of the conventions!

I committed to the blackout September 9-15, and it’s almost killin’ me! Here’s why.

I am a news junkie. Every morning starts with a quick Columbus Dispatch review (maybe 5 minutes). On the way to the office I often listen to a pastor, James MacDonald (5-10 minutes). During the day in the car, I listen to 700 WLW. My wife will never understand why I live in Columbus but listen to a Cincinnati radio station. I got hooked in 1975 listening to the Reds. It’s so bad I didn’t even listen to the Christian radio station I used to have a talk show on!

I subscribe to the following magazines; Fortune, Money, The Saturday Evening Post, Readers Digest, The Smithsonian (all of them were $10, one-year subscription deals). I also subscribe to Travel and Leisure because I’m too lazy to cancel it.

On the way home each day I listen to WLW, 610 WTVN, or 97.1 FM The Fan (sports). I only have two regular TV shows I watch. But I never miss at least one newscast, and will catch rerun shows while I do 10 pm dishes. The weekends is sports, and through the week I’ll catch both Fox and CNN news (conservative and liberals). The blackout also includes internet news. There you have it, my addiction.

It is Wednesday of blackout week, and I’m in serious withdrawal. The Reds could clinch the division this week and I can’t watch the Buckeyes: BUMMER!

But really…what a blessing! I am praying a lot more, driving a little more focused, and my head, heart, and soul just feel cleaner–less contaminated.

Try the blackout. You will be amazed at how much you hear–especially from God.

Dr. Paul R. Fetters

This year, 2011, the first Sunday of Advent is November 27. Traditionally, Advent, from the Latin advenus (coming), is a period of preparation and anticipation in celebration of the birth of Christ.

During the period of Advent, Christians traditionally light a candle each Sunday during worship at church and at home. Throughout the Advent season, five candles are lit–one for each of the four Sundays and one for Christmas Day.

  • On the first, second, and fourth Sundays, we light purple candles to remind us of the royalty of the coming celebration of the birth of our King Jesus.
  • On the third Sunday, we light the rose candle.
  • On Christmas day, we light the white, Christ candle.

On the first Sunday, we celebrate HOPE. In most churches we recognize the three comings of Jesus–His first advent of being born into this world, next the advent of His being born again in our lives, and finally the anticipation of the hope of His coming again.

On the second Sunday, we light a second purple candle celebrating our FAITH.

On the third Sunday, we light the rose candle celebrating the JOY of His presence in our lives.

Then, on the fourth Sunday, we light the third purple candle in celebration of our wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and Prince of PEACE.

On Christmas Day, the white Christ candle will be lit in full celebration recognizing the LOVE of God who loved the world so much that He sent his only begotten Son, so that we might have eternal life.

sites_annetteAnnette Sites, Jerusalem Chapel (Churchville, Va.)

There is a curve in a road in the middle of nowhere going toward Paradise–Oregon, that is. That curve and 100 other curves on a winding highway is known to the locals as Rattlesnake Grade. What makes this grade one of memory for me is two-fold.

  1. First, there are no guard rails. If your car veers a bit too far to the right, you’ll just plummet into the valley below.
  2. Secondly, this winding mountain road saved our marriage. Well, actually, my husband was wise enough to use this rattlesnake to get my attention!

Driving toward Paradise early in our married years, we knew we were nearing a place of peace and solace for a day away from the pressures of life and ministry. My husband would be looking forward to some time with the elk, deer, or bear who roamed the nearby mountains, and I was thrilled to have some time with my husband. As a busy pastor, he was often gone long hours while I stayed hom caring for our two daughters, both under the age of two. A day off together brought the promise of family time, connectedness, and adventure!

I’m not quite sure which particular curve on Rattlesnake Grade was the special spot, but one day as I was enjoying sharing my joys and woes, my husband sweetly turned to me and said, “I don’t mean this bad, but that’s all for church talk. I need to clear my mind so I can relax.”

I’d like to tell you that I just as sweetly replied, “Yes, dear!” But, no. I got my feelings hurt and maybe let a single tear escape. While trying to be strong and understand, I buttoned my lip, but soon found myself trying to find something else to talk about. The problem: much of my life revolved around things related to the church. My social life was at the church, my friends were at the church, even some of my co-workers went to the church. It soon became clear to us both that other than our kids, I had a hard time coming up with things to talk about with my husband that weren’t somehow interwoven with ministry.

With my husband’s gracious patience, I have learned when to shut off the “chatter valve” and when to just sit quietly and enjoy his company. It continues to be a challenge, however. For the past 19 years, I’ve been employed in the church office and also serve within the church leadership. Our friends, our church family, ministry issues, and church office items mix and mingle daily.

While not every couple has quite these same dynamics, there are similarities for any couple who work beside each other in ministry. When you live with the one who oversees you–whether in a volunteer position or as an employee–healthy boundaries set together will help to prevent ministry overload. Honest–and kind–dialogue is essential.

The perk to working and living with your boss is the flexibility. Today, my husband and I are traveling up I-81 to visit family for two birthday celebrations. While secluded with each other for hours of travel time, we made prior arrangements to bring along some work. Our car will become the church office, and my husband will become my boss. Decisions will be made and controversies brought to a conclusion.

Even though we’ll not be winding our way down a curvy mountain road, I have no doubt that at some point in our travels I will hear the words, “Okay, I’m done with business now. Alright?” With that, I’ll put my files away, take a deep breath, and by God’s grace switch gears from being an employee and co-laborer in ministry to a wife, mom, and daughter-in-law. What a great day for a birthday celebration and a little “peace of paradise!”

J. Michael Caley, Senior Pastor, Banner of Christ UB (Byron Center, Mich.)

Michigan has been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis. At Banner of Christ church (Byron Center, Mich.), 15 families have been affected by layoffs or job cuts.

Several men who are key breadwinners had been at the same location 25-30 years. Many of them got good jobs right out of high school or college. This is the first time they’ve been in this situation, and they know they could be unemployed for a long time. It’s not like they can make five phone calls and line up interviews for next week.

We decided to bring together people who had lost their jobs. We scheduled the meeting from 6-8 p.m., and we provided pizza. Twelve of the 15 families at Banner directly affected by layoffs or job cuts were represented–both husband and wife in some cases, just one spouse in others.

After eating, we held an informal time of sharing–what work they had been doing, their skills and abilities, what they might do if they can’t return to their previous work.

Then we committed to praying for each other and keeping alert for job opportunities we could share with each other. One guy doing a job search might come across an opening which fit someone else’s skillset.

They were still taking about 8:00 when I basically said, “Last one out, turn off the lights.” Four men stayed for another 45 minutes, just sharing and networking.

Within the first few weeks, several people helped others in the group regarding a job opportunity. In one case, a guy sent a reference back to his former employer saying, “I know someone who would fit the job you’re trying to fill.”

They committed to meeting monthly to check in with each other, and in between meetings, we used a confidential group email list. At least two families that aren’t part of Banner are in that email group.

I was blown away. It brought the magnitude of it to me–the number of people being affected by job cuts, and how much comfort they found in meeting to pray and share.

We have now seen two guys get at least part time work. Two guys also set up times every week to volunteer doing stuff for and around the church–just a way to give something back.

Michele Vigil, Student and Discipleship Pastor, Hillsdale UB (Hillsdale, Mich.)

Last month I went on an all-day conference and heard David Kinnaman, the author of the book Unchristian, speak on the research he and the Barna group have been doing with young people between 18-29 years old. vigil_michelle.jpgAlthough most of our teens are younger than that, I found the information valuable as we seek to understand a generation that is growing more and more skeptical of God and the things of the church. These are my thoughts on this book, and the topic it explores.

Not a week goes by that I don’t get questions in youth group or Sunday school about God being real. Things like–

  • “Does He really listen to our prayers?”
  • “How can a God that loves us allow such horrible things to happen in the world?”
  • Or my favorite, and most frequently asked, “If God is really a loving God, why are Christians so mean and judgmental?”

We hear these questions, or versions of them, time and time again in our own youth ministry. They are in fact, just a small sampling of the greater youth culture’s growing opinion about Christianity and the God we serve. Understanding the culture we serve and the culture that will lead the future church is vital.

Young people are all about conversation. Many will not even give you or what you are saying the time of day, without a relationship of trust built between you. That is why these statistics are so discouraging to me. According to this study:

  • 58 million young people under the age of 40 consider themselves non-Christians in our country.
  • 85-87% of that population feel Christians are judgmental and hypocritical.

Among young Christians, the statistic is not much better. 52% of church-going young people feel the church is too negative and judgmental. I am not saying these opinions are right, but they are real.
As I ponder these statistics, I wonder if this perception is somewhat of our own doing. Are we so focused on shouting the truth at the world that we fail to balance that with love and a genuine commitment to building a relationship with outsiders, without an agenda?

Have we lost the thrust of the gospel? Did not Jesus teach in the temple AND sit and eat with sinners? I wonder if we have gotten so comfortable teaching and preaching, that we have forgotten to sit and eat.

Trust me, I am not about compromising truth; and I am not about watering down the need for a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. I am just struggling with how far I often feel we as believers have strayed from the example Jesus set in the gospels. Truth, spoken in love. Free-will allegiance, not forced servitude. And most importantly, a desire for authentic relationships, with those we are comfortable with and those we are not.

This seems to me to be how God the father presented himself to his people, through his son Jesus.

I found this to be an excellent book. If you are interested in learning more about what non-Christians tend to feel about God and the church today, it is well worth the time spent. It has challenged me, upset me, and moved me to evaluate, once again, my approach to a generation that seems to care less and less for a God that cared so much for them.

Roger Vezeau, College Park UB Church (Huntington, Ind.)

Roger Vezeau is Director of Student Ministries at College Park UB church (Huntington, Ind.) and a member of the denominational Youth Ministry Team.

Today’s youth want community–meaningful, authentic relationships with peers and adults who are not judgmental. They are motivated first by what draws their attention, but they stay when challenged to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Youth are drawn to a community that cares about people and the concerns of the world. They long for a place/community that makes them laugh, brings joy to their lives, and challenges them to think and respond. They want to find the meaning of life and their role in it.

Adults may think that youth are not interested in spiritual things, but nothing could be further from the truth. Teens have a very high interest in God and their spiritual life. They need the freedom to question, doubt, and explore spiritual truth without the judgment from others. On the other hand, they are turned off by judgmental people who care more about protecting what they believe rather than showing people the love of Jesus.

Today’s teens may challenge orthodoxy, but that doesn’t mean they won’t embrace it. They just need to wrestle for their own answers and not be expected to blindly receive their elders’ views. Let’s trust the work of the Holy Spirit to guide as they question.

In my experience, the best way to help youth grow spiritually is through a healthy family surrounding the youth. On the other side is the youth who comes from a broken family or deep hurt, looks for answers, and finds that the world does not deliver the answers it promises.

If they have an authentic, caring, mature adult in their life, they will be more apt to talk about these things. That is how you connect with today’s youth–through authentic, non-judgmental relationships from caring adults. Show them that they matter and that you value them.

kopp_danDan Kopp, senior pastor, NorthPointe Community Church
Dan Kopp, pastor of NorthPointe Community Church (Lewis Center, Ohio), writes about a tremendous way the congregation helped a single mother in the church the weekend of November 14-16.

We have a single mother who was basically deserted by her ex. She goes to work every day, is raising two beautiful boys in the church, and serves the Lord with passion and faithfulness.

In November, she went on a spiritual retreat. Her Home Group discovered that her trailer had many key flaws, including holes in the floor of the boys’ room. Literally, it was only old carpet covering some key areas, with air circulating below. Deterioration in the bathroom and elsewhere ate away the home’s heating and cooling.

The Spirit moved. While the mother was gone, God’s folks got to work.

They tore out the flooring and insulation. Quality carpet, tile, flooring, and cash was donated. A few people took an entire Friday off work, and some worked nearly around the clock.

The cleaning crews showed up by 3 p.m. Sunday for her evening return.  The tears and rejoicing upon her return were beyond describing, and God was greatly glorified.

Mom said,  “For the first time ever, the boys feel like they can invite over friends. They’ve never had a sleepover.”

A special blessing is that the driving force in this Makeover was a couple who’d experienced spiritual makeover in the Xtreme. Completely lost and unchurched, this couple–who have now seen their parents, sibling, and very close friends also come to Christ at NorthPointe–can be blamed for this amazing act of love.

We continue to rejoice that this past Sunday, four adults and four children (most of whom were reached in an outreach effort to the nearest government subsidized housing) let us know they desire to be baptized (or dedicated) as soon as possible!  PTL!

Tim Hallman, senior pastor, Anchor Community Church (Fort Wayne, Ind.)
I am attending the REVEAL conference at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. On Tuesday, Bill Hybels, Willow’s pastor, talked about the four categories of people they identified in the REVEAL study. Here’s what he had to say about them:

  • Exploring Christ. People at this level are not sure what they believe or even really think about Jesus.
  • Growing in Christ. These are people attending the church who are beginning to work on their relationship with Jesus.
  • Close to Christ. These church people depend on Jesus regularly for help in their lives.
  • Christ-centered. For these people, Jesus is the most important person in their life.

As revealing as this information was to Hybels, what he really wanted to know was how to move people from segment to segment. How do you do that? Preaching? Worship singing? Church activity?

A major revelation was the primacy of engagement with the Bible! The more an individual fed on the Scriptures, the more they moved towards becoming Christ-centered.

Interestingly, the most difficult transition to make in becoming Christ-centered was the last movement–from Close to Christ to Christ-centered. It’s the Christ-centered ones who give sacrificially of money, time, energy, love, service. People in the other three categories are still very self-centered about their relationship with Christ. Only in the last category are people fully-devoted to the person of Christ. They have moved beyond self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness, abandoning self in complete surrender to Jesus.

The new strategy at Willow for Hybels? Focus on helping people make the move to become Christ-centered. It’s the hardest move, but it’s the one that will yield the biggest results for the Kingdom.

Chris Kuntz, Worship Pastor, Union Chapel UB (Fort Wayne, Ind.)

The following originally appeared on Chris’s blog, “Molded to Worship.”kuntz_chris.jpg

Every morning I get up before the rest of the family and get ready for work. With Lisa’s new work schedule, I leave before she gets out of bed. She is usually always either sleeping or going back to sleep as I leave, and I always give her a good-bye kiss before going.

The other morning, I was in a hurry, and as I bent down to kiss her head, my approach was a little quick. I hurriedly kissed her and started walking out the door. She asked if everything was okay, and I said, “Yes, why?”

She said the way I kissed her didn’t seem right and she thought I was mad or something. I assured her everything was okay, that I was just running late.

She drifted back off to sleep and I headed out for work.

As I was driving to work saying my morning prayers, I thought about what she said and it caused me to think about how I approach God.

  • Do I approach God in a hurry so I can get on with life?
  • Or do I approach with the intent of lingering in his presence for awhile?

I thought about how many times I throw up a prayer on the way to work, or right before I go to bed, and I wonder if God ever says, “What’s wrong? The way you approached me didn’t seem right.”

To Lisa, it might have been a fairly insignificant thing, but to me it was a lesson. How we approach those we love tells that person something.

What are you telling God by how you approach him?