Christmas at Journey (revisited)

We did something a bit different at Journey last night. We celebrated Christmas early…well, kinda. Christmas falls on a Thursday this year, and since our community worships on Sunday nights and we exist within a large congregation that has several worship services during the week of Christmas (eight of them), this was our only opportunity to celebrate Christmas at Journey.


Same story. Different perspectives.

Although we considered pretending it was actually Christmas on Sunday, we realized that we wouldn’t trick anyone, so we decided to take a very honest approach. Last night was December 21st, a few days before Christmas, and most of the people at Journey would be celebrating Christmas (again/for real) later in the week. So rather than do all the traditional things they’d be doing again in a few days, we decided to tilt Christmas on it’s side…to take the story and message of Christmas and look at it from a few different perspectives. The songs we sang were not the typical Christmas hymns people would be singing at their parent’s church on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, in fact, many of the songs weren’t even “Christmas songs,” but through a mix of music and mini messages, we think we were able to create a very worshipful evening that pointed people toward a baby about to be born in Bethlehem…and the reality that the world will never be the same because of what happened on that silent night two thousand years ago.

If you’re interested in the specifics of what we did, or if you want to experience it for yourself (either for the first time or again), the outline of the service order is below: including titles and artists of the songs (download songs via iTunes), audio of messages (press the play/right-arrow to listen), and a video we used during worship. We hope this helps get you ready for Christmas in “anew” way this year.

Christmas at Journey — December 21, 2008
Calvary Lutheran Church (Golden Valley, MN)

Song: “Everything” by Lifehouse

Message: “It’s not quite Christmas” (Andy Jolivete)

Song: “We Are Hungry” by Shane Everett

Message: “The Christmas Story” (Kevin Johnson)

Song: “Glory of It All” by David Crowder Band

Message: “Joseph’s Lullaby” (Andy Jolivette)

Video: “Joseph’s Lullaby” (song by MercyMe)

Message: “The Shepherd’s Journey” (Kevin Johnson)

Song: “O Come Let us Adore Him” by Shane & Shane

Message: “Emmanuel: God is with us” (Andy Jolivette)

Song: “Great Light of the World” by Bebo Norman

Song: “Silent Night” by Jewel


The messiness of forgiveness

We’ve been discussing the topic of forgiveness during worship at Journey the last three weeks; starting with a message on God forgiving us (July 13), followed by a message about forgiving each other (July 20), and then last night (July 27) we had a guest preacher talk about the messiness of forgiveness. It was an honest talk about a difficult topic, and it was both a sad and hopeful evening. Let me explain.

The guest preacher was Rolf Olson. In case you’re not familiar with Rolf’s story, he is the father of Katherine Olson, the young woman who was murdered last fall while following up an ad she found on craigslist to be a nanny. (If you’d like more info on the story, do a google search for “Katherine Olson” and you’ll find over 1.5 million sites.)

Rolf is lead pastor at Richfield Lutheran in the twin cities, but he’s also a father, a husband and a regular person, so you can imagine that this wasn’t an easy message for him to share. He’s angry about the whole situation – he lost his daughter – and he is not at a nice/clean point where he can confidently say, “I forgive the young man who killed my daughter.” He’s aware that he needs others to help him and his family; not only to pray for them during these difficult times – especially as the case goes to trial in January – but also to continue praying for his daughter’s accused murderer (since he admits this is really hard for them to do right now). Aside from some quotes in the media and things he’s said at his church, Rolf has not spoken publicly about the horrible situation that he and his family have been living in since last fall. This was a big step for he and his family. He did an incredible job and we are thankful he accepted our invitation.

For anyone who wasn’t able to be at Journey on Sunday night, here are some ways to hear, read or share the message:

[Personal note: Rolf and my dad were classmates in seminary, and they are still friends today. As Rolf mentions at the beginning of his message, there are a few other family connections between the Jolivettes and Olsons, but that’s the main one that led us to invite him to share a bit of his story at Journey.]

confession and forgiveness (remix)

During worship at Journey tonight we discussed 1 John 1:8-2:2, which is where some of the text from the Lutheran Book of Worship’s (LBW) brief order for confession and forgiveness is found (pdf). This piece of liturgy is probably familiar to people who grew up in traditional Lutheran churches because it most likely would have been part of worship every Sunday since they were young. Being part of a Lutheran congregation (Calvary Lutheran), we try to stay true to our Lutheran heritage, but we also make efforts to simply be Christian while “doing” and “being” Church in new/different ways that are meaningful to people, regardless of whether they grew up in a church or not. So tonight, during worship, we took time to discuss the words of confession and forgiveness from a hymnal that is now 30 years old, and in groups of 2-3 people throughout the sanctuary, we re-wrote the liturgy in our own words. Each group was assigned a short segment of the liturgy and during the music-worship after the message, the pieces that each group re-wrote were typed together and put onto slides (because of the way it was constructed, being written in small segments by different groups of people, it reads a bit disjointed). Then, before the last song of the night, we gave this new version (or “remix”) its first public reading. It was a very cool thing to witness and be part of, and it could have never been done without a congregation that is open to trying new things, filled with imagination and of course, technology was an important element as well (since without it, the words could have never been put together so quickly and displayed on screens for the entire congregation to read together).

Here is what we came up with.

Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness (remix)
Written by the Journey worship community at Calvary Lutheran in Golden Valley, MN on June 15, 2008

Leader: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All: Amen.

Leader: Almighty God, you know us and our lives. Clean up our hearts and minds by your example. We will try to love you – to show you what you are through the things we say and do, by the power of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

All: Amen.

Leader: We have to stop being egotistical – to go against society – and be honest with ourselves. Fortunately, if we admit to these sins, God, who is a constant and reliable source for every need and the ultimate judge of all truth, will forgive us for all the ways we turn against him and give us a fresh start.

(Silence for reflection and self-examination)

Leader: Most merciful God,

All: we admit that we are prone to sin and we need your help to free us. Every day of our lives we sin against you with our actions and our inability to act, as well as our hurtful words of painful silence – we continually drop the ball – sin has consumed our lives and there are a lot of things we have not done but should be doing to glorify your name. We have held back from loving you fully. We have focused on loving ourselves, and with what we have left, we have not reached out to our neighbors. Your son sacrificed and died for us. Show us your mercy, forgive our sins, refresh our hearts and guide us through our days. We love you and want to be like you. We are thankful for your grace so that our sins do not permanently separate us from you.

All: Amen.

Leader: We are in need of a savior – in need of mercy – and God provided Jesus who loves us so much he died for us. Through Jesus’ love, God has forgiven all our sins. If you have faith, you belong to God’s family and have been sealed with the Holy Spirit.

All: Amen.

(Please feel free to use this version in your own worship settings, but if you’re looking for a new way to incorporate confession and forgiveness into worship I would strongly suggest having your community write (or re-write) something new and create a more organic/homemade liturgy. If you have questions about the specifics of how we went about doing this at Journey, you can email me.)

Holy Week

Easter comes earlier than usual this year. But in many ways, Easter can never come early enough. As a young boy growing up in church, I remember thinking Jesus lived a really short life. This was during my early Sunday school years, well before I learned that he was probably around 33 years old when he was killed. I was just old enough to realize that we celebrated Jesus’ birth at the end of December, but just young enough to find it confusing that only three or four months later we had another holiday to remember his death and celebrate his resurrection. Luckily, I got the whole story cleared up somewhere along the way, otherwise I’m sure my seminary classes would be much different today (can you imagine an infant Jesus walking on water?). But regardless of the misunderstandings I had about where death and resurrection fit into the overall time line of Jesus’ life, I always realized that Easter was a really special holiday, even bigger than Christmas (although — compared to presents — chocolate eggs don’t make a very convincing argument to children).

How did I realize Easter was a big deal? For starters, my mom made me and my sister dress up more on Easter Sunday than any other day of the year. That meant it was a big deal. We had to wake up super early for church, and when we got there it was quiet and there were flowers everywhere. Flowers are special, and so is anything that you have to wake up early for, so these things meant it was a big deal. The Easter service always started with someone playing a timpani, which is basically just a drum that you can hear at any middle school or high school band concert, but when it’s used to begin a worship service at church, it becomes really special. The timpani at church meant Easter was a big deal too. Finally, our family got together with relatives at my grandma’s house or had a really nice lunch at our house on Easter, and at some point (usually before we could lunch and before we were allowed to change out of our church clothes), we had to take a family picture. This wasn’t the only time of year we had to do this, but every time it happened it meant that whatever was going on was…a big deal.

The church season of Lent started in the beginning of February this year. For the past six weeks, people have been preparing themselves for this “Holy Week” by doing all sorts of things, like abstaining from certain things (that they like) as a way of remembering Jesus’ sacrifice for them. Most Catholics don’t eat meat during Lent, which is why all the fast food restaurants seem to have a new fish sandwich on the menu this time of year. Some people give up chocolate for Lent, with the knowledge that there will be chocolate everywhere on Easter and it will taste that much sweeter after not having tasted it for nearly two months. I know of other people who have given up myspace or facebook for Lent, which is probably a bigger sacrifice to many young people than giving up meat (but probably not as big as giving up chocolate!). I considered giving up my iPod for Lent this year, but then I realized how silly the idea was and decided against it (thanks to Martin Luther and the Reformation, I have never felt the pressure to give up anything for Lent, although I would imagine it’s a worthwhile spiritual discipline).

Holy Week has finally arrived. Churches everywhere are preparing for the largest gathering of people they’ll have in their building all year. Flowers known as “Easter Lillies” are being given in memory of loved ones. Youth groups are getting ready to serve brunch in their church gyms. Moms are trying to convince their sons to wear the new suit they bought them (because they will look so cute in the family picture). Stores are stocking the shelves with chocolate eggs, bunnies and those weird marshmallowy things called Peeps. Many students and teachers are loving this week because it’s their spring break. It’s also the first week of the NCAA basketball tournament, so many people are filling our their brackets and scheming ways to get out of work or class to watch basketball all day on Thursday and/or Friday. Some people, regardless of whether they follow college basketball or have school or work this week, are counting down the hours until they can take a big bite of meat, devour some chocolates or check their facebook again. There are certainly reasons to be excited that this week is finally here. For me, I am excited because not only does my spring break start tomorrow (which means I can watch the NCAA tournament), but I am most excited that in only two days I will pick up my parents at the airport and get to see my dad again (he has been in Tanzania for nearly three months and my mom has been there visiting him the last two weeks).

But in this season of Lent and this Holy Week of Easter, let’s be careful not to let little things outshine the big thing. Perhaps you didn’t grow up going to church like me, or don’t understand family and faith the way others reading this might, and even if you’ve never given up meat for Lent (and didn’t even realize some people did), none of that changes anything about the reality that Jesus gave himself for your sins to rescue you from the evil in this world, and he did this according to the will of God (Galatians 1:4).

In my understanding, this is what Easter is about: Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross and through his resurrection there is hope for all of us to share in his eternal life. Easter cannot come early enough because we cannot hear this Good News often enough. Jesus rescues us. Have you ever heard a survivor say anything like “Wow…that was close, but I wish they hadn’t rescued me so soon”? Of course not, because rescue can never come early enough.

I hope you enjoy this week for many reasons. Have fun watching hours of basketball, eating chocolate, hanging out with friends and family and enjoying some time off from work or school. But I hope you also take some time to remember why this week is called Holy Week. For as the congregation will exclaim at the beginning of the service I attend on Sunday, “He is risen. He is risen indeed.”

(If you’d like to read more about the history, theology, Scripture, or view some art or video about Holy Week and Easter, here are some links you might find interesting).

  • Article on “Holy Week” from Wikipedia
  • Video from The Passion of the Christ mixed with “The Reason” by Hoobastank
  • Famous painting by Grünewald called “The Crucifixion”
  • My video “Broken” that will be used in worship at a church in Stillwater this week
  • Reflections on each day of Holy Week from my friend Bryan’s blog
  • The Gospel narratives of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Bible; from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

shameless plug

I’m preaching at Journey this Sunday. I feel a bit arrogant and somewhat manipulative mentioning it here, so please don’t feel any pressure to attend. I assure you that I get more than enough personal affirmation from my family and from God — so I don’t need your support — but if you’ve been thinking about checking out the worship service I helped start last month or are interested in hearing a guy who loves pop-culture preach about how Jesus washing his disciple’s smelly feet has something to do with us today, it’d be great to have you there. For directions or more info, go to the Journey webpage.


I created this video for one of my seminary classes on ministry in a media culture. It’s a collection of photographs, Scripture passages and quotes that I find meaningful; set to the song “Broken” by Lifehouse. As a whole, I think the message of the piece is powerfully simple…God enters into our brokenness and offers us grace, hope, healing and strength. I hope you find it inspiring, affirming, comforting, challenging, or whatever other words you’d use to explain how it moved you to feel or think. If you’d like to share your thoughts in reaction to the video, please leave a comment.

(3/11/08): Thanks for all the comments and emails about this video, it has been cool to hear how it has touched so many people. I never expected this to be anything but a project for class, but I’ve now been asked for permission by a church to use the video during one of their services for Holy Week and we plan to use it in worship at Journey in the coming months as well (if others are interested in using it in worship, please let me know). I made a few small changes, so this is now the second final version of the video (the two earlier versions are still on youtube).