"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." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Friday, October 12, 2012

It's another Foto Friday!!!

This is a picture I carry with me in my Bible. It was taken July 4, 1971, in a chapel at Pearl Harbor, HI. Pictured are a Roman Catholic Chaplain on the right, my surrogate godparents on the left, and, if you haven't guessed already, I am in the middle being baptized. Want to know what I love most about this picture? That my Mom and Dad loved me so much that less than 3 weeks after I was born they desired to enter into a covenantal relationship with me and God, promising to raise me with steadfast love and nurture in the Christian faith. I fully believe that the journey I am on today began in the moment captured here on film. Thanks be to God for His grace and for my parents and their love for me.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This I believe...

So, I read something today in a text for my Christian Ethics class that pretty much leaped off the page at me. It was a quote from a church historian named Martin Marty. He said:
"One of the real problems in modern life is that the people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions, and people who have strong convictions often lack civility." 
As I reflect on the state of political discourse in our country with one month until Election Day, I couldn't agree with Mr. Marty more. I don't know about you, but I am quickly tiring of the strong political convictions and associated lack of civility. And I am tired of the endless voice mail messages being left on my phone by the political party I chose to affiliate with when I registered to vote all those years ago. I no longer want to affiliate with any party because there is no party (or politician for that matter) that speaks entirely to me or for me. As I look through the lens of what has become my Christian worldview, they all fall short in one way or another. I said the other day, and right or wrong may very well mean it, "I no longer care who wins the election... I just want it over with."

But back to my friend Mr. Marty because he left me feeling somewhat concerned about what he said. I consider myself to be a fairly civil person. So, does this mean that I lack strong convictions? Is this why I ain't got no dog in this hunt called Election 2012? Am I apathetic because I don't believe in things as passionately as those around me that are firmly entrenched in their political camps? 

While I might not share the strong political convictions of many around me, I know that I do believe these words from St. Augustine: 
“Christ is not valued at all unless he is valued above all.” 
 As followers of Jesus we need to remember what Paul told us in Ephesians 4:4-6: 
"We are one body and one Spirit, just as we were called to the one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all."  
This means that if Christ truly is valued above all, then our primary identity and allegiance is to Him alone. So, we are first Christian brothers and sisters, united under the lordship of Jesus Christ, before we are Republicans, Democrats, Independents or even Americans. When we fail to remember this important truth, or its rightful place above all other convictions, we are doomed to coexist in a rather uncivil state of disunity. 

Tonight, as I watch my Facebook newsfeed explode with posts from each side of the political spectrum commenting on this first debate of Election 2012, the extent of my political conviction can be summarized in this way: There is no political party or candidate that can claim the ability to save the country when there is only one Savior.  His name is Jesus the Christ and He is Lord.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The power of lament...

lament |ləˈment|
noun - a passionate expression of grief or sorrow

One of the most famous expressions of grief and sorrow found in Christian hymnody is the timeless "It Is Well With My Soul," written by Horatio Spafford. Spafford's wife and four daughters were making a trans-Atlantic crossing in the 1800s when their ship collided with another and sank within 12 minutes. Tragically, all four daughters drowned. Spafford's wife was, miraculously, one of very few survivors. While making the very same trans-Atlantic crossing to be reunited with his wife, Spafford experienced a sustaining comfort from God as his ship passed the approximate place his daughters drowned that allowed him to write these words:
"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll - Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’"
These beautiful lyrics, penned in the midst of unimaginable grief, serve as a powerful reminder that God’s love and comfort can indeed be found within the trials we face and beyond our sorrows.

Today, as we reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, where we were and how we felt, we are starkly reminded that we all experience trials and sorrows that, as Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it, cause us to descend into states of “disorientation.” In our disorientation, we lament and have raw conversations with God, where we articulate our hurt and anger as we raise to Him the cries of our wounded hearts. We sometimes even question our faith.  King David, who is responsible for most of the Book of Psalms, was fearless in his expression of hurt and anger with God.  In fact, Eugene Peterson estimates that around 70 percent of the content of the Book Psalms is based in lament.

Still, most of the time, the lament expressed in many of David’s songs are followed by thanksgiving and praise.  Why?  Well, herein lies the beauty of the lament.  The lament, the cry out to God, invites Him into our circumstances. Brueggemann writes this: 
“Where the cry is not voiced, heaven is not moved and history not initiated. And then the end is hopelessness. Where the cry is seriously voiced, heaven may answer and earth may have a new chance.”
Seriously voicing our cries becomes an act of worship that also leads to remembrance of God’s faithfulness to us in the better days of our past, which in turn serves to remind us of where our hope is found. Thus, we too are able to move from lament to praise, from a state of disorientation to orientation.    

I wonder though if worship music in the church today has lost sight of the lament. The market is saturated with songs of “orientation.” Songs of joy, hope, peace, love, and assurance of God’s continued presence in our lives. Upbeat songs like “How Great Is Our God” and “Our God Is Greater” and “Oh Happy Day.” Not that these songs don’t bear important truths, mind you. But aren’t churches filled with broken people suffering under the weight of hurts, habits, and hangups? And if they are, should they really be expected to sing “You are good all the time, all the time You are good” when they’ve just lost a job or are losing their house or are fighting with their teenagers or are going through divorce or are mourning the loss of a loved one? I would argue, no. 

But we can acknowledge that sometimes the sun shines down on us and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes the world is all it should be and sometimes it’s just not. Sometimes we walk roads marked with suffering. With that in mind we help people learn to sing: 
“Every blessing you pour out, Lord, I’ll turn back to praise. When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.” 
That song is a modern lament, a real gift to the church, written by Matt and Beth Redman well over 100 years later than “It Is Well With My Soul” but written from a similar place. It was written from their grief and loss associated with numerous miscarriages. It also happened to be written a few short weeks after September 11, 2001. In a sea of countless songs about the sovereignty and majesty of our Almighty God (of which we certainly MUST sing), this song stands out as one of very few reminders that in the often harsh realities of human life we also need to know how to lament.  

Singing songs like “It Is Well With My Soul” and “Blessed Be Your Name” and praying the psalms of David teach us how to lament. It would be a tragic thing indeed if we ever find ourselves in emotionally dark places we would rather not be, like 9/11, and be unable to truthfully say, “It is well with my soul.”

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The other six days...

The title of this blog post is borrowed from a wonderful book by R. Paul Stevens that bears the same title. I explained a few blogs ago that the name for my blog, Every day, ordinary worship, was inspired in large part by Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the apostle Paul's words in Romans chapter 12, verses 1 and 2. You should know that the crux of Stevens' book served as inspiration as well.
Of what it means to do what he calls people theology, Stevens writes:
"So a theology of the whole people of God must expound the unity of the people of God, exploring the meaning of the dispersed life, as well as the gathered life, of the people of God." (p. 9) 
I remember sitting in a small group book study in my church several years ago (before I discerned my call to ordained ministry), struggling with the meaning of my "dispersed life." I felt like I didn't know how to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ in my workplace and that in the busy-ness of my "other six days" God was getting what was leftover from my life.  

I think that is why I now find myself so particularly drawn to the idea of my "every day, ordinary life" playing such a significant role in my worship of God.  Nearly anything I do, except sin, can be done in a way that brings glory, honor, and praise to God.  We are called to love God and love neighbor, right?  So, if we love God through our work (faithfully performing the tasks set before us and giving thanks to God for the provision we are given in return) while loving our neighbor (our co-workers, customers, etc.), doesn't that honor God? Can we go so far as to call it "ministry"? I think so. 

Consider also these words from Stevens:
"It is holy ministry to play with one's children or to listen to a friend." (p. 104)
I LOVE that! If playing with our children or listening to a friend can be considered "holy ministry," think of all the other things we do in our every day, ordinary lives that might also be considered "holy ministry."

It is my fervent prayer that the people of God I am called to share life with come to realize that they are all ministers of the gospel and that they embrace their "holy ministries" with the whole of their every day, ordinary lives.  I pray that, as my dear friend Steve Harper recently wrote in his blog (which I encourage you to read here), our journey together as the people of God "allows us to find and follow God's will in the daily round - the grace which enables us to experience God in the ordinary."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Foto Friday

I love this picture. My brother-in-law was on an early morning walk while on vacation in Italy and captured this moment.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor of love...

This weekend I spent some quality time with very dear friends and colleagues in ministry at a holy place (Warren Willis Camp) having holy conversations (seeking to connect ourselves with God's dreams for our church).  One particular passage kept entering my mind, from Jesus' prayer for his disciples in the garden before he was arrested:
"And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." (John 17:11, NRSV)
Jesus obviously knew what he was praying when he asked for our protection and that we "may be one" as he is one with the Father.  I believe that Jesus prayed specifically for our oneness because achieving the kind of unity he had in mind is the most difficult work of the church in the world.  This is because we live in a culture where vast amounts of energy and resources are spent to stress what divides us, rather than celebrate what unites us.  An election year can sure go a long way toward helping you realize that disheartening truth. 

Stress, disunity, and tension are things that broken people bring with them from outside the church, as they come seeking refuge from the pain and suffering they have experienced in the world.  Little do they realize that if they stick around long enough, if they take the initiative to go deeper in their faith and get involved in the every day life of a community of faith, they may will one day experience stress, disunity, and tension inside the church.  This is where the real work of the church begins.

The church, as the body of Christ, must lead the way in demonstrating the sheer power and beauty of forgiveness and reconciliation.  If we can't get this right for ourselves, if we can't prove to those in our midst that relationships inside the church can be made whole even after they have been fractured, how can we possibly expect people to go home and restore relationships outside the church, such as broken marriages, broken relationships between parent and child, or broken lifelong friendships?

Jesus said this about reconciliation:
"So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24, NRSV)
It seems to me that Jesus is saying, "Before you do anything else, if you have a relationship that is broken, go and deal with it... be reconciled."  As the church, we are called to do a great many things; but this passage leads me to believe that demonstrating forgiveness and reconciliation should top the list.  After all, isn't this the whole point of the gospel, the  very reason for God's saving work through Jesus Christ on the cross?   

Thankfully, I've experienced the power of forgiveness and reconciliation in relationships both inside and outside the church.  To be sure, this work of forgiveness and reconciliation was by far some of the most difficult and emotional work I've ever participated in.  But it was so worth it, proving to be a genuine labor of love.

As you rest today, I encourage you to pray for relationships in your life that may be suffering.  Then, go and be reconciled.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The journey continues...

This blog entry was originally posted at gracepractice.blogspot.com last night. This blog belongs to one of my pastors, David Williamson, and he has on occasion allowed me to be a guest contributor. But now that I have started a blog of my own, I thought I would re-post these thoughts here for posterity's sake.

This Sunday marks the six-year anniversary of the first time I joined the Spring of Life faith community to worship God. I remember it well because I had just moved from south Florida to Orlando for a new job and Lenora and Gabrielle had not yet joined me; so, not only was I experiencing the awkward feelings typically associated with trying a new church, I was also alone and without my family.  Shirley Stoffer greeted me at the door, made me a name tag, and immediately made me feel welcome.  I completed a connect card and Pastor Dave called me the next day.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out that Spring of Life was going to be our new church home, which was an enormous relief because the only regret our family had when making the decision to leave south Florida was that we would have to leave the church where Lenora and I were married, Gabrielle was baptized, and where we were part of a praise team we loved very much.

I tell you this because Spring of Life has been, and always will be, a key part of my faith journey. It is now my sixth year leading worship and third year leading youth. Had you told me those things were going to be in my future when I attended that first worship service in September 2006, I never would have believed you. Had you also told me that I would begin preaching in July 2008, discern a call to ordained ministry shortly thereafter, and begin seminary in June 2009, I never would have believed those things  either. And I certainly would not have believed that I was going to take a tremendous leap of faith and leave the job I moved to Orlando for in the first place so I could attend seminary full-time and make myself more available to serve God and the good people of Spring of Life. While we’re at it, I probably wouldn’t have believed that our family would grow by two more children either. Let’s just say that the years that we have spent at Spring of Life have been a whirlwind of change for the Rousseau family. God indeed works in mysterious ways!

Yet, through it all God has been faithful to us as we’ve sought to follow His leading. The faithful people of Spring of Life, my family, and my friends, have been a source of strength and encouragement for us and we are so thankful for the love and prayers.  Answering God’s call can be both fulfilling and wrought with challenge, so having a great support system is truly of the utmost importance. As some of you may know, I appeared before the District Committee of Ordained Ministry (DCOM) last Thursday to be interviewed and considered for their recommendation to the Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) as a Provisional Elder in the Florida Annual Conference.  I was disappointed to learn that they would not be recommending me for Provisional Elder at this time.  Nonetheless, they affirmed my call to ordained ministry and the gifts that I possess for ministry by keeping me on the Provisional Elder track and re-certifying my candidacy.  Still, they felt that there are some areas of growth I should address to help me reach my full effectiveness as a minister, and I was assigned some contingencies to work on until my next interview as a result. 

The chair of the DCOM did tell me, however, that they will consider recommending me to the BOOM as a full-time local pastor at their September meeting. Simply put, this could be a means for me to find a full-time appointment in the Florida Annual Conference and serve as a stepping stone until I am approved and commissioned as a Provisional Elder. Lenora and I will be meeting with the District Superintendent in the coming weeks to discuss possibilities.  Like anything else, there are no guarantees, but if such an appointment does become available, it won’t be until next summer, after I have graduated from seminary. 

Now you know what we know, which I confess at times this week hasn’t felt like much. I thank Dave and Carolyn for being there for me this past week. I thank all of you for your prayerful support. In spite of the initial emotions that came following the DCOM’s decision, I remain grateful for this process and feel confident that I will be better for it.  While there have been times of question and doubt these past few years, I can tell you with all certainty that every decision I have made to answer God’s call has proven to be a right one.  I look forward to a year of great growth and what I know will also be another great year in ministry at Spring of Life.  Thanks be to God.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Here goes something...

I've toyed with the idea of writing a blog for quite some time; and, I'm not all that sure what has prompted me to start now or even how often I will post. Worse still, I'm not sure if anyone will even want to read anything I have to say. There are a lot of intelligent and creative people in the blogosphere that have huge followings because people do want to read what they have to say and in many cases are even edified by it. Trust me... I read blogs written by such people every day. Because I want to. And they edify me. 

So, I am going to begin by simply explaining how I arrived at the title "Every day, ordinary worship." I struggled with this because I'm sure that I have "theological thinker" friends or "worship leader" friends who might argue, "There is no such thing as 'ordinary' when referring to the worship of God." And they would be correct. Still, there is something that comforts me in the idea that there can be something "every day" and "ordinary" about little me and the great BIG God that I seek to give my heart in worship and serve in the world with my hands and feet.

Eugene Peterson paraphrased Romans 12:1-2 this way in The MESSAGE: 
"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. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."
And there you have it. The inspiration for the title of my blog, "Every day, ordinary worship." I believe that God wants us to worship him with our very lives. So, in a way, I guess that makes me an "every day, ordinary worshipper." I'm an every day, ordinary husband, father, son, grandson, brother, uncle, nephew, (insert familial relationship I've failed to mention), friend, worship leader, youth minister, seminary student, candidate for ordained ministry, you get the idea because the list goes on... Beyond these roles, I'm simply a man who deeply loves God for his extraordinary mercy and grace and wants to reflect God in every aspect of my life.

I've been guilty of becoming so well-adjusted to the culture around me that I've fit into it without any thought at all. I'm also guilty of being a slow learner... in my opinion it took me a little too long to fully realize that my life is not my own and that there is nothing the culture around me has to offer that will ever satisfy because life worth living flows from God.  I pray this blog helps keep me close to God and that life worth living.  It would be alright with me, too, if maybe just once in a while someone reads what I've written and feels edified.  That would be something.