Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

Up and Away

On a recent Sunday morning as I stood outside the front entrance of the church, getting some air and waiting to greet folks as they arrived, I looked up to see a hot air balloon aloft in the distance. Initially hardly more than a speck, the balloon gained in size as it closed the gap between us. Making use of a substantive air current, in just a few minutes it was overhead to the delight of a growing group of worship arrivals. Many, like me, were snapping photos, angling to catch both the balloon and the peak of the church building in their picture. Others were speculating who the pilot might be, naming a local man known to have flown balloons for some time. Some arrived commenting on how they had been watching the balloon as they drove in that morning. Still others were recalling prior hot air balloon experiences they’d had – a ride while traveling in Australia, attendance at the Albuquerque, New Mexico festival.

Photo taken by Dan Cash

I rather wished we could’ve relocated worship outdoors that morning, given the blue sky and warm weather. Then speculated how challenging it would be to keep a congregation’s attention while a hot air balloon went over. Not a chance! I think you’d have to call an audible, suspending whatever was happening in worship, to let people enjoy the sight.

There is something rather uplifting and serene about seeing a hot air balloon aloft. I was immediately taken back a few weeks to having witnessed four in flight together over Colorado while taking a morning walk. Then recalled another occasion, years prior, also in Colorado, having come upon a balloon festival near Aspen. The fields were in full color that day as the balloons dotted the landscape. Maybe it’s the size, colors or the silence of these airborne vessels that can stop you short when you see them. Their hushed travel interrupted by the occasional plume of fire gushing more air into the balloon. It’s the rhythmic music of rests with the occasional whole note of gas, igniting the elevated air ship to greater heights and distance.

Some years ago our church observed our own neighborhood celebration with tethered hot air balloon rides on the lawn. People lined up and waited for their turn in the basket, young and old alike, a quick up and down ride that offered a taste of what such travel might entail. It was a great part of a fun day together, it’s memory brought back by the unexpected spotting of our Sunday morning balloon guest.

FBC Faithful at 50 Celebration in 2014.

Worship is sometimes described as that which creates or facilitates an encounter with God, causing the worshipper to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and holiness. Much effort can go into the elements that lead to worship on a typical Sunday. A preacher will spend hours crafting a sermon. Musicians will rehearse. Worship leaders give much thought the service’s flow. Then there are the other moments, like the one that spontaneously developed outside the front entrance to the church this past Sunday. A moment when an unexpected worship leader caused us to look up, reflect, and notice the wonders of life as God has created it.

Turns out we didn’t need to relocate worship outside the church, it had already happened. We had been called to a moment through the artistry and simplicity of an overhead leader causing us to stop and worship God outdoors, before we went inside to continue.

Photo taken by Wayne Lovelace

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Passageways

I’m drawn to them, those places and images that invite a going through or coming toward. They are passageways, entry and exit points from what has been to what will be. Thresholds and more, offering promise and prompting thanksgiving. Call it a professional hazard of one who has been present as folks unite to cross a threshold, welcome a new beginning, or share a “farewell” and “see you later”. To be present at the passageway times of life – birth, marriage, death – is sacred work. It’s also humbling work, peeking into the intimacy of a family system and coming to share a presence and a word.

These passageways crop up in life, in nature, in travel and in the mundane. It seems we are always coming and going, sometimes with a lack of awareness and abandon that approaches the cliffs in danger; other times in a measured gait that belies our reluctance to enter the work at all.

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Think on These Things

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
– Philippians 4:8 NRSV

There’s an old popular adage that says, “You are what you eat”. I’d like to modify that a bit to “you are what you think!” The same principal applies: If poor nutrition will result in poor physical condition; poor thinking (or thinking on the unhealthy things) will result in poor spiritual condition. Are you controlling the things you think about? What type of “content” do you admit into your thinking, which then incubates in your brain, thus producing thought-plaque and other undesirables?

As inhabitants of the digitized world of information, we need to take responsibility to be the curators of our own thoughts. Just because it’s available, doesn’t mean we need to read it. Just because it appears in our newsfeed, email, or on our entertainment screen doesn’t mean we can’t delete it, block it or refuse to engage.

What if you were to conduct an information audit? That is, for a week or two-week period of time you logged how much time you devote to various mediums of information: social media accounts, news media forums, entertainment media, print media, podcast content, audio books, devotional media and so forth. At the end of the period, tally up the totals and weigh them against one another. What might your comparison exercise reveal? What does it reveal not only about the mediums you utilize, but the content absorbed from them?

Would this type of evaluative exercise point toward a need for change in behavior? In thought content? Were you to make these changes, what results do you suspect you would notice in your thinking?

I’m not sure what all was going on with the Church at Philippi to whom Paul wrote Philippians. But toward the end of the letter he advises them to change what they think about. Philippians 4:8 is a remarkable encouragement verse that calls us to higher, better and more honorable thinking. In doing so it also calls us to higher, better and more honorable living.

Seems to me what was good for Christ followers in the 1st Century should still be good for those who follow Jesus today. Give it some thought!

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Holy Week Pilgrimage

*Note: This blog post is also available as a podcast on “Dan’s Sunday Preview“, a podcast by Pastor Dan Cash which can be accessed at https://anchor.fm/daniel-cash, Apple podcasts and a variety of other sites.

Growing up in a Christian home, Holy Week was a time in the Christian year when I was reminded that as Baptists, we were not alone in this journey of faith.  You see during Holy Week we came together for a series of “special services” with our Methodist and Disciples of Christ brothers and sisters to commemorate the season.

These three congregations in my home community took turns hosting one of three special services – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday or Easter Sunrise – providing special music and preaching on the occasions when they weren’t serving as host.  I found the whole enterprise to be quite interesting.  Sitting in the pews in another congregation was a new experience.  Seeing people from the greater community who were members there, or at another church.  Listening to another preacher – my favorite was the Methodist pastor because he never preached longer than 15 minutes!  In contrast it seemed like our pastor couldn’t wind it down under 30!

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Candlelight and Christmas

“Festival of Lights”
by John August Swanson

There’s something about candles, candlelight services, and candle lit spaces and Christmas. The soft glow of a candle’s light brings an inviting warmth to a space and a moment. Candles held, lit and clustered together in procession or praise offer an ambiance unlike any other. I have early memories of attending Christmas Eve candlelight services, longing to be old enough to be trusted with my own candle. It was a right of passage, that moment, not just of age, but of responsibility and privilege to add my own small light to the collective whole. I was represented in that light, offering worship to the newborn king.

The candlelight Christmas Eve service remains one of the most cherished of the year. It’s a congregation unlike any other all year. People typically arrive at the last moment – rushing from family gatherings and celebrations to be there just in time. Those gathered are a combination of out of town family, neighbors and community folk looking for a Christmas service, and faithful congregants who help “swell the crowd” on a weekly basis. With many of our own having traveled elsewhere, the Christmas Eve congregation often has a newness about it. These are people whom I don’t know all that well – including a few who were drug along by insistent relatives, notably uncomfortable with the idea of singing or praying. They don’t linger long after the service. But when it comes time to light the candles, everyone participates and with enthusiasm. Why is that?

Sure, there is the peer pressure of the moment. You wouldn’t want to be the dud who refused to light your candle. You’d stick out like that half-strand of lights that went out on the tree at home. And there is the emotion, drawing us in like a baby’s smile or Grandma’s sugar cookies. But I’m want to think there’s something else – something akin to what awkward shepherd’s felt as they journeyed to Bethlehem to see the babe in the manger. It’s something like what regal wise men demonstrated on their later homage to the new king. We have, in our humanity, a need to acknowledge and worship the Christ.

Holding that lit candle, if only for the duration of a few verses of Silent Night, transports us into the presence of the Light of the World. And, we too, want to shed a little light; and add our lumens to those of many others in corporate recognition that this Light shines upon us and the world we call home. This Light burns in our heart – always, often, or only on this night. This Light floods the dark corners of our selves and reveals that God knows it all, sees it all, yet loves us and comes to redeem and restore us. This light, shared in collective worship, appeals to God on behalf of the world God loves for peace, hope, healing and restoration.

How can a simple lit candle, held aloft in unison with others, represent so much? What will it represent for you this year? Many a Christmas Eve service, including our own, will be held virtually in 2020 as this horrid pandemic keeps us physically apart. But I hope we will each light our Christmas Eve candles as we worship. Perhaps we will even share their light with our neighbors – finding ways to light the windows of our homes or lighting luminaries on the sidewalk or driveway. Our light(s) will be our witness to the hope of Christ for a broken and sick world, to the promise of redemption for all of our sin-sick souls.

So, fret not, you who are mourning the loss of tradition – including the Christmas Eve service as we’ve known it. Think not of what is being lost, but of what is being kept and perhaps shared in new ways. Hold your candle high and know that in its solitary light, it joins in solidarity with a multitude of other lights to show the way to Bethlehem.

Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord! (Isaiah 2:5).

*The picture that accompanies this blog is called “Festival of Lights”. As with all great pieces of art, there is a story behind it. If you are interested in learning more about the painting and artist’s thoughts watch this video.

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