Monday, May 31, 2010

New Rules...

(photo from
I realized something this week and it really has me bothered. I don't know what to do about it, whether I should say something, or just let it go. It would be very easy to turn it into a sermon, but I know me, and a sermon about this topic would just be sarcastic, so I won't do that. And it's not everywhere, probably not even a very big deal in the grander scheme of things. But it's bothering me, and maybe it's just frustration peeking through, I don't know.

Now, keep in mind, this is my blog and it's a place for me to free flow my thoughts. What I write here is not directed at any person, or any group of people, just usually a series of generalized thoughts about situations that I find myself in, or have found myself in previously. That being said, if you want to stop reading here, it's ok with me. I say that because I may start preachin' a little this morning. Disclaimer in place, here goes.

I may catch a lot of flack over this one, but Paul hit me this morning. Paul doesn't usually do that. More times than not he loses me in the wanderings of his mind, but this morning, he got me. Romans 12 is where I was at, and in that chapter, he seems to be giving a new set of rules, or let's say guidelines, for how this community of faith in Rome was supposed to act together, what they should do, and so on. Here's what he says:

"Love must be sincere; hate was is evil. Cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone..."

Now, I've been doing this long enough to know that most church folk, in most churches, in most corners of the world would say, "Well, we already do all that," because most church folks, in most churches, in most corners of the world think their church has got it figured out. And for some of them, if you're not a member you've punched a one way ticket to "that place." Here's what bothers me; most churches do get part of what Paul was talking about, and some churches get a lot of it, but there is always room to do more.

Most churches do alright with practicing hospitality. Most churches have the being devoted to one another nailed. Most churches do a pretty good job sharing with folks in need. Our county food pantry shows that and some of my folks brought me more food for that yesterday. But here's what we're missing, and here is what frustrates me. I knew there was something bothering me but couldn't figure out what it was until yesterday, and then Paul put it into words this morning.

"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor." That's it. That's what has frustrated me for 11 years but I could never give it a name. We do ok with the other stuff, but we have very little zeal or fervor as a group. That doesn't mean that no one does, but as a group, when you set up a zeal-o-meter and average across the board, it's pretty low.

Now, I understand that it's easier for me because I have more time to do the hands on things, and to spend time in worship. That's my job. I respect the fact that for everyone else in my flock, they have to decide if they are going to work, spend time with family, or give some time to God. I respect the difficulties in that decision, and honestly, I expect them to put their families before the church; not before God, but before the church.

Yesterday, (and I apologize in advance to my folks because this could get me in a lot of trouble. The PPRC is meeting in a couple weeks) we had a very small crowd. I knew we would, and that's ok. It was the holiday weekend and folks were with family, and most families don't get to do nearly enough of that. But it wasn't the number in attendance that I noticed, it was the spirit.

It was warm in the sanctuary, very warm, but my trustee chair is on that already. He is great at taking care of that place so I know he'll have it fixed by next weekend. It was a holiday weekend, the first Sunday of summer church (which means the suits and ties can stay in the closet), but something seemed missing. Pentecost was just last Sunday, but there just didn't seem to be any spirit yesterday, and honestly, I don't know how to fix it. This is the frustration.

So, I'm asking...what can the church do to bring back the zeal? What can we do to fire up our worship, whether it's high church or contemporary? What can we do to get back out into the mission field? Because honestly, I'm out of tricks in my bag.

So, from the depths of frustration, I need some input. I need some help leading into zeal and fervor, and here's where you can help. If you can't wait to get to your church on Sunday morning, I want to know why. If you spend time volunteering instead of going to the movies, I want to know why. If your worship leaves you fulfilled and reconnected to God, I want to know why. And even more importanty, if you're not feeling any of these, I want to know why. You can respond here or you can send me a message.

Paul's new rules may be tough to get in place, but I bet it would really help us transform the world.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Fruit of the Lips...

(photo from
Alright, even I can sometimes pick up on a running theme in something I'm reading. This morning I'm still in Proverbs and Romans, and I have to say, I'm ready to move on. Neither one of them are my favorites, I mean, I love reading Paul but he loses me in the circles sometimes. And Solomon, if Solomon wrote the Proverbs, was obviously a very wise man, but they're short and very choppy. You would think my adult ADD would love that.

This morning, the theme that kept popping up in Proverbs 10-12 was this idea that what comes out of our mouths actually has some bearing on how life works out for us. I don't know. Here's some:

"A gossip betrays a confidence but a trustworthy man (or woman) keeps a secret"
"With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor..."
"The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood..."
"An evil man (or woman) is trapped by his sinful talk..."
And..."From the fruit of his lips a man (or woman) is filled with good things..."

I've found that a lot of folks are really good at keeping up appearances, but that every now and then, the real feelings that are buried deep in the soul, pop out. We joke and call them Freudian slips or whatever, but for me, it's more like we are getting a peek into the parts of themselves that they try to keep hidden, whether it's their true feelings about another person or situation, or whatever.

I've especially noticed this in the Church, not the church I'm serving now, but in others. And if you don't believe it's there, possibly even in your church, bring an idea to a board meeting that will rattle the rafters. You see, we are really good at playing nice, but as the pastor, I'm the one that folks come to when they're "concerned" about what someone else is doing, or about something that is going on in the church. And, as a pastor, I've heard some pretty nasty things being said about other church members. My job is to listen, discern what is fact and what is not, and then decide if it's something that I need to take action on, or if it's really not going to throw the earth out of tilt. I have to say, sometimes it makes me physically sick.

But I'm not just picking on the Church. We're a human institution just like a lot of others. This kind of stuff is everywhere. I guarantee it's in your workplace. It's in your circle of friends. It may even be in your home. The things that slip from our lips can cause someone else a lot of pain, but we let it happen anyhow. When it does, though, and you tell me if I'm lying, there's this feeling in the pits of our guts because we know we've messed up. Then we try to cover it up by saying, "Oh, I didn't really mean that." or "Oh, that came out wrong." Sorry, I'm not buying.

And I've been guilty of it...a lot. I've said a lot of really stupid and hurtful things to folks I care deeply about. As soon as it was out of my mouth, I found myself grabbing into the air trying to get it back, but it's too late. So...what do we do?

Well, a lot of the stuff the writer of Proverbs mentions seems intentional, that's an easy fix. We can just keep our mouths shut. The little slips, I'm not so sure is such an easy fix, but they can be just as damaging. Maybe some conversations are in order about the things we really feel but try to keep suppressed. If there is honesty up front, there is no need to guard against the little slips of the tongue. Perhaps we could just remember that no one is perfect, not even me or you, and that folks just will not be able to live up to our expectations all of the time.

Or, here's one, maybe we could remember that we are brothers and sisters, and that we have been created in the image of a loving God, one whom, even when he was on earth, betrayed, beaten, and crucified, no evil was found in his mouth. Just something to chew on this morning.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Planting Seeds...

(photo from
I'm frustrated. Really frustrated. On Earth Day last month, I decided that I would celebrate by not just planting a tree, but by planting my garden. I did plant a tree, a White Ash (Fraxinus americana) and so far it's not looking so hot, but maybe it will pull through with a little TLC. But the garden, that's what has me frustrated.

I picked a spot in the yard that I thought would make a good garden spot. I got my garden tiller out and worked up the ground. I laid out the design on paper and the list of the things I wanted to plant. I measured the distances between my rows and pulled strings from one end of the garden to the other to please my inner OCD, and then I started planting. I planted 3 different varieties of tomatoes, 3 different types of peppers, spinach, okra, cucumbers, 5 rows of green beans, 2 rows of limas, 6 hills of squash, a row of brussel sprouts, watermelon, black eyed peas, purple hull peas, and I think that's it.

It's been over a month and I thought that by now everything would be looking great. I figured my tomato vines would be bushy and hanging full of little tomatoes, and that my peppers would have little peppers on them. I thought that, surely by now, my green beans would be blooming and the watermelon vines would have little runners on them.
But...I went up one day this week to check on it and to mow the yard, and noticed that I did have a few tomatoes but one of them was rotting on the vine and had to be pulled. I did have a few peppers, and one tiny squash. But everything else looked terrible. Some of the green beans I planted came up, some didn't. Some of the lima beans came up, some didn't. And the ones that did looked puny and yellow. We had that 6 inch rain the week after I planted and the ground had been beaten so hard that what wasn't already through the ground, and didn't get washed away, couldn't break through.
So...I picked up my trusty garden hoe, loosened the ground up, replanted what I could, and did something this time that I had neglected to do the first time I planted. You see, I haven't put out a garden in years, since before my Granddaddy died, so I didn't think to stop and pick up any fertilizer when I planted. I think that I thought about it, but couldn't find any, and wasn't sure where to look. No growth.

It's funny how something as simple as a garden can make me stop and think about the other things in my life that won't grow without being fed. My relationships won't grow without being fed. My faith won't grow without being fed (that's part of the reason for the blogging thing). My understanding of scripture won't grow without being fed. There are so many things in our lives that, if neglected, will just wilt and die, and sometimes we don't see it until it's too late.

Now, I'm not a master gardener by any means. My brother could grow just about anything, but it's somewhat the struggle for me. I have gone back and side dressed all of my veggies, and I even put some miracle grow on the tomatoes and peppers because goodness knows if they're going to grow it's going to be a miracle at this point. I've realized just how much attention a garden needs and I don't mind. I actually enjoy it. But I have also realized that there are other things in my life that need just as much attention to be healthy.

So, plant your seeds, but once they're planted don't forget to go back and check on them...a little water, some plant food, keep the bugs off, and just maybe the seeds you've planted will feed you for years to come.


Thursday, May 27, 2010


(Today I need to say again that these are just my thoughts and not representative of the churches I serve)

When I was in seminary I only had one professor that I ever butted heads with. This guy was brilliant, I have to give him that. He knew his stuff. He knew his theology. The only problem was...his theology and mine were miles apart. He had the red ink pen...I was just a student...and that class wound up being my only "C" for my entire seminary career.

He had made the statement at the very beginning of the semester that, given the chance, he would convert all of us Methodists to Calvanism. Well, being the hot head I was at the time, you can imagine that didn't sit very well with me, so I tuned him out. That was the only class where I sat and played solitaire the entire time.

Now, in hindsight, I should have been able to set my own defenses aside for 13 weeks so that I could get something out of the class, but I just couldn't. He had hit a nerve, and then this morning, Paul is running in circles again, talking about much the same thing.

Please don't think I'm disrespecting Paul, because I've made a couple comments the last two days about him. I'm not, I promise. It's just that either I'm not reading him right, or we just disagree on some things. (Warning: Heavy Theological Content).

Chapter Eight was the reading for this morning from Romans. Here's what Paul says: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." Now this is just me, but that "P Word" makes me cringe and here's why. (and this is the one question my professor wouldn't answer)... "If there are some that are chosen and some that are not, why should I even try?" Folks have asked me that before.

But Paul tends to talk in circles, so I'm not getting too upset yet. Let's allow him to continue... "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for all of us..." Do you see what I'm saying? Either I'm just not getting this one or Paul is contradicting himself. I'm going to have to go back and dig through some of my notes.

For me, it's all about choices. That's why the "P word" grinds my soul. I choose whether or not I'm going to accept Christ. I choose whether or not I will build my faith. I choose whether or not I'm going to live a Christ-like life. I choose whether or not I'm going to attend worship, follow the commandments, give to charities, volunteer, or do anything else that might be considered a good work. I do so not to earn my way, but as a response to what God has done in me.

I could go into the whole idea of original sin, and we could look at what the early church fathers had to say. We could look at the creeds to see what we have affirmed as a church for centuries, but if we just look at Paul in this morning's reading...either God chooses, or God offers the choice to all of us and we choose to accept or not. I may have to shoot an email to one of the professors I actually listened to and get her opinion on this one. I don't think I'm ready to put it to bed yet.

Now I know I might have stirred a hornet's nest with this one, but this is a question that has bugged me for years: Is it God's choice, or is it mine? I also know that I can ask 10 people and get 10 different answers. And I know that this is one topic that, for some, hits very close to home. So I'm not being argumentative in any way. I'm not pushing one theology in favor of another. I'm just saying that I'm a big fan of having a choice.

So, discuss in your circles this week and let me know what you come up with.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Running on "E"...

(photo from
Well, it has finally happened. 77 blog posts and it has finally happened. None of the scriptures this morning spoke to me. I follow the Life Journal setup, and this morning we went into Proverbs. I like Proverbs, don't get me wrong, especially with the adult ADD thing I have going. They're short and to the point. I like that. But...nothing this morning.

And Paul, bless his little heart, is still writing to the church in Rome...a group of folks he had never met, but whom he thought would let him help solve all their problems. Paul, bless his little heart again, is just being Paul. This morning, he was saying something about not doing what he wanted to do and only doing what he didn't want to do, but it wasn't him doing it. No, it was the sin in him. Paul loses me sometimes in the yada, yada, yada. I mean him no disrespect, but I think we get hung up on his letters a little sometimes. We weren't even supposed to read them. They weren't written for us, but for a group of folks half a world away who lived 2 millenia ago.

So, here's what I've got this morning. Yesterday, I posted a comment on my facebook page about the fact that when I get to cut through all the stuff, and when I'm not having to put out fires, and when I'm actually getting to help make a difference, my job rocks. And it does. I'm rediscovering the joy in ministry the last couple weeks or so. It is a tough job, and sometimes very thankless, but that's ok. And contrary to popular belief, we do work more than 1 day a week, and that's ok. But the one thing that I think I have been missing is the fact that what I do is not always tangible, if that makes any sense.

When I was building houses, I could leave in the afternoon and look back to see exactly what I had done that day, and I think the fact that ministry is just not like that frustrates me some from time to time. So, I have found something tangible that I can get involved in. You see, I could spend all week studying and never get done. I could visit every day, all day, and for some folks in the church that's not enough. I can spend 20 or 30 hours a week taking care of administrative duties if I wanted to. And while those things are all part of what ministry is, I'm not sure, that they are enough for me.

Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of New Hope Oahu, talked once of the importance of finding those things that fill your tank. I don't think we realize how important that is. Ministry, for clergy and lay folk, is draining, and if we're not being refilled, we'll wind up burned out. I've watched it happen too many times. Administration is one of those things that drains my tank. I despise it. But it's part of the job. Helping folks is one of those things that fills my tank. I absolutely love it.

Now that seminary's over, and I've taken some time to get caught up on all the things that 5 years of 80 hour weeks had put me behind on, I had to begin looking for those things that fill my tank again. I found one last week. It's tangible. There's a need for it. And it can make a difference in folk's lives. I've taken on our county's food pantry as a pet project, I guess you could say. It's something I should have been more involved in all along because in this county...folks are hungry.

The first day that I was working in the pantry, sorting, pulling outdated food, and whatever else needed to be done, a young man came in who had just moved into town. He had nothing. "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat..." The look on his face as we filled up that box of donated food and took it to his house...that was the face of ministry. Now, does that mean that doing this will always make me giddy? Probably not. I know that reality says there will be folks who abuse the system and who ask for food on the way to buy their lottery tickets or whatever, and I know that will frustrate me to no end, but Friday reminded me why I hung my tool belt up and said, "Yes Lord, here I am. Send me."

So, if you're feeling the burn, talk to your pastor. I know that she, or he, would much rather bless your work and give you some time off than to watch you continue to run on "E", eventually sputtering out and fading off to the side. Ministry is hard work, it's tiring and thankless sometimes. It can take you away from family and the things you enjoy doing. But to look in someone's eyes and see the eyes of Christ looking back makes it all worth it. That fills my tank.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Have a Question...

(photo from
When I was a kid we were always adopting stray dogs. It was nothing for dogs to just show up, we'd feed them, and they'd stay. I remember a coydog that we had once. It just showed up and stuck around for a while. I remember others that did the same. But then there was Sheba. I don't remember how she got there, or even when. But she was a pretty dog. Probably a mix of at least 2 or 3 breeds, they usually were. She was a very friendly dog and made herself right at home. I have to say that I don't remember what happened to her, probably the highway, if I had to guess. But what I remember most about her was her name.

Sheba was short for "Queen of Sheba." I had never heard of that before and didn't realize it was a real person from a real place in history. As I got a little older, I realized who she was, and more importantly, what she did. Actually, now that I've matured a little more, her story impresses me not so much for what she did, but for a realization that I have finally come to about myself.

Her story can be found in 1 Kings 10, and 2 Chronicles 9, almost word for word in each. She had heard of Solomon's wealth and wisdom so she felt the need to check it out for herself. When she came to visit Solomon she brought with her unbelievable amounts of spices, gold, and precious stones. And she did this so that she could pick his brain. You know what I'm talking about. She had some questions that she wanted to put to Solomon's wisdom.

Scripture says "Solomon answered all her questions. Nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her." Well, isn't that nice?

I have found that this is just not the case with me, and it's been a tough lesson to learn. I have dealt with issues already in my career that I never thought, or at the very least, hoped I would never have to deal with. I have buried children. I have watched a church self destruct from the inside. I have ministered with the homeless and hungry, knowing that in God's creation, there is enough...if we take care of each other. I have sat with folks while the doctor says "There is nothing else we can do." And during all of that, folks have looked to me with their questions.

One of the hardest things I had to learn how to do as a pastor is to look at someone and say, "I don't know." I usually follow that with, "But, I'll be glad to sit down and we can work on it together." 5 years of seminary, nearly $40,000 worth of education, and there are still more times than not when I have to say, "I don't know." It used to bother me more than it does now. Now, I've realized that I can do much more harm by trying to come up with an answer than I can by being honest, because there are a lot of things we just don't have answers for.

Never is that more obvious than at the visition for a victim of an untimely death. I have stood beside families while very well meaning folks worked through the line and said things like, "Well, God must have needed another flower for his garden." Or, "Well, God must have known that there was something much worse waiting later in their life." Or, my personal favorite, "Well, God must have needed them more than we did."

I have learned that sometimes the best answer is no answer at all. Especially in times like that. We do much more good when we hold our tongue and extend our arms. I think Solomon might even agree.

It has taken me a long time to get to the place where I finally feel like I don't have to have an answer for every question. I mean, I am after all, the resident theologian, or at least that's what I was told in seminary. I also realize that part of my responsibility is to handle faith questions, and I take that responsibility very seriously. But I have found that a bad answer is much, much, more damaging than no answer and some time spent studying together.

So, now when someone comes to me and says, "I have a question..." I don't tense up like I used to because I'm not groping around in the recesses of my mind trying to find an answer. I can sit down with them and honestly say, "I don't know for sure, let's look."


Monday, May 24, 2010

Shake It Up...

(photo from

The Cars released a song in 1982 titled "Shake it up." It was a little cheesy. Well, actually, most early '80's songs were a little cheesy. Ric Ocasek, the group's lead singer, wrote the song a few years before it was released and it was supposed to be a blend of their earlier hard rock style with the new '80's synthesizers and drum machines. Funny thing is, it actually worked. It's a great song, and I guess it was played at practically every high school dance I ever went to.

What is cool about this song is that on the surface, it's just a dance song. But dig just a little deeper, look just under the surface, and you'll find that it actually has a slightly more existential meaning. This song is encouraging you to leave a mark in the world, to make a difference. And I believe that is exactly what Jesus would say. Well, maybe not exactly like Ric Ocasek did, but probably close.

Yesterday I shook it up a bit. I should probably apologize to my folks at church for any apprehension I might have caused over the last couple weeks, but yesterday, we turned the worship service over to the Holy Spirit. Talk about shaking things up. The worship bulletins were blank except for the prayer to the Holy Spirit...

"Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth..."

If you pray that prayer, you had better be ready.

I don't know how my folks felt about it. I'm sure there was some fear and trepidation at what this smart aleck preacher was going to do next. But for me, that was one of the best worship services we've had since I've been here. We threw in a few extra songs, had a couple specials, celebrated our graduates, even took requests for a favorite hymn that we might not have sung in a while. It was, after all, Pentecost Sunday, so if you're going to cut loose in church that was the day. I will admit, though, giving myself over to the Spirit's leading and not having something on paper to fall back on was, at first, a little uneasy.

In my years of ministry I have been labeled a rebel, and I guess I am. I'm not so just to be so. I didn't set out to go against the grain, it just happened as who I was began to intermingle with what I was called to do, but I don't fight it anymore. I've learned that sometimes being a Jesus freak means you have to shake things up a bit. Sometimes it bites me in the tail, sometimes it actually works.

If I never took a risk I would never have to fear that failure. If I never took a risk, I would miss a lot of blessings. Being in ministry, real ministry, is risky. Getting folks to jump on board, or rather, out of the boat with you, is tough sometimes. But dog gone it's fun when it actually works. Next week I'll have all of our liturgies and creeds back where they're supposed to be, and we'll have our three songs and a message, but it was nice to let the Spirit shake things up a bit, even just once.

So, feeling a little risky? Shake it up a bit. Wherever you worship, whatever your commitment level, shake it up a bit. Not to be rebellious, but to realize that we are called, sometimes, to live on the edge, and I've heard it said, "If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space."


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Holy Ground...

(photo from
For Moses it was the few feet of desert surrounding the burning bush. For our United Methodist kids it's the vesper ring at Lakeshore. For some, it's sitting on a white beach, watching the sun go down. For others it's a few moments of quiet on the way to work. It could be a hiking trail in the woods at Land Between the Lakes, or a canoe on some quiet backwater. It could be a fancy cathedral with huge stained glass windows, under a tree where you felt "your heart strangely warmed," or the hospital room where your Granddad breathed his last.

Whatever it looks like, we all have holy ground...some place where we feel we need to take our shoes off because the spot where we are standing is somehow different. It's important to recognize those places, and to spend some time there every now and then. I'm learning that my holy places are changing though, and I must admit, it's not just a little disconcerting. I'm finding that the things that used to be so important to me, just don't seem to have the same effect anymore, and I didn't realize it until this week.

It always amazes me that folks actually listen to at least part of what I say on Sunday morning. It amazes me even more that sometimes they actually remember, and every now and then, something I said on some Sunday morning will come back to haunt me. This week, it happened. It's no biggie. The time/space continuum will not be affected in any way. In fact, it was almost a passing comment, but it kind of stuck with me and made me start thinking a little.

Funny thing is, I don't even remember the sermon I preached, but my wife did, and there was one thing I said that she remembered specifically. I was talking this past week about ending my chase for the elusive white tailed deer. I used to love to hunt. I would spend hours upon hours sitting in the stupid cold, waiting with breathless anticipation, following every crunch of the leaves in the woods behind me. I especially loved bowhunting. A bunch of city guys who only go into the woods for one weekend a year, all heavily armed, just makes me uncomfortable. But bowhunting, that was different. It was quiet, usually not as cold, and no one else was out there. The deer weren't spooked yet, and you could nail their patterns a lot easier. For me, sitting on the side of a tree, bow across my lap, arrow knocked and ready, was holy ground...was. The comment she made when I mentioned giving up hunting was, "That is one of your holy places, you just said so Sunday."

What do we do when the places that were once holy seem to lose their importance? It's not just the hunting thing for me. I mean, I could buy a lot of beef for what I spend hunting, and don't even get me started on what I spent getting set up for turkey hunting. This has gotten me thinking about other things, places, or activities that I once saw as holy, but not so much anymore. And what is it that makes a place holy ground?

In this morning's readings, Solomon is preparing to dedicate the temple. Construction is finished. The decorations and furnishings have been dedicated and put into place, save one. The Ark is on it's way. Once the Ark is in place, Solomon prays this long prayer of dedication, and voila''s holy ground. This made me start thinking about our own temples. What is it that makes them holy? Is it the stained glass? We certainly worship them at times. Is it the pews? The little brass plaques? Is it the altar rail? Goodness knows it can't be moved in any of our temples. Is it the choir loft, or the podium? There has got to be something that makes those places holy ground.

Now, I'm just thinking out loud and certainly don't expect you to agree but...if we took all of those things out, would it still be holy ground? In the Methodist Church, we have orders of worship for consecrating a building, and for deconsecrating a building. Almost like a holy switch we can turn on and off at will. This is just Jamie, but we can bless the furnishings and consecrate them for use on our holy ground, we can deconsecrate them...we can add to, and we can take away...and to me, those things are not what makes it holy ground. But that's just me. For me, we can take down the altar rail (Blasphemy!), remove the podium, do away with all of the decorations and it would still be holy. Why? Because those things are not what makes it holy in the first place. The one thing all of our holy grounds have in common is the presence of God.

But I'm wondering if God is willing to compete with those other things for our worship attention. See, I used to think that those things were what made God happy. If the sanctuary looked nice enough, and the podium was polished, the cross was in the right place, and everything was in order, God would come in and fill the place much like when Solomon dedicated the temple. But I have realized in my years of ministry that sometimes those things are merely idols getting in the way of God's presence filling the place. I'm starting to think that God might be more pleased (and please don't think I'm presuming to know what God wants) at the sounds of children being cared for while their single mom is at work, or the sound of former alcoholics finding the road to recovery in one of the rooms we aren't using. I've wondered if God would be pleased because we were using some of that holy ground to heal divorcees, or because our carpet had become tear stained during a grief support group meeting.

Maybe I think too much, I don't know. Maybe I'm still very naive in my expectations of what ministry really is. But there is a restlessness stirring within me to rediscover that holy ground, and I'm not sure worship, or even church, as it is now will ever do it. I think that I want to focus the next years of my ministry helping someone else stand on their own piece of holy ground, and not just playing the game anymore. But that's just me.


Friday, May 21, 2010

A New Song...

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Today I'm torn. There are two really good texts in today's readings but I can't, or maybe shouldn't, do both. Maybe I'll be inspired and find someway to tie them together, who knows.

In Sunday school, a couple months ago, I was asked a question: "If there was one thing you wish you could do better in church, what would it be?" That's an easy one for me. I'm not tone deaf by any means. I can play a little guitar, well not a little guitar, but some guitar. A little guitar would be a ukelele. I can pick around on the piano. But I can't sing a lick. If there was one thing I wish I could do better in the church, that would be it. Steph can, so I just stand up there, play my guitar, and let her shine. In fact, we were asked to sing at a community thing last year and we were introduced as "Stephanie and Hannah Lee, and the guitar guy." Honest. But that's ok.

I love music. There is just something about both lyrics and melody that speak to the soul. I can hear certain tunes today and I am immediately whisked away to some other time or place. Steph gets upset because I remember which songs were playing when I was dating someone else before we met. Each girl I dated had a song. Music is powerful. Music done well is very powerful. But what if the music doesn't speak? What if melody and lyrics become disconnected from the souls of those listening, or singing? Is music powerful then?

Today I'm going to the Psalm. Psalm 98 says, "Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things." I've got to be careful here. One of the most divisive elements of worship I have encounted so far in my ministry is music. We forget who we are singing to, and get all caught up in what we want out of worship instead. The Psalmist says, "Sing to the LORD a new song," not "sing to yourself," or even "sing for yourself."

If we keep that in mind, many of the other things begin...begin to seem less important. That doesn't mean they completely fade away. Here's why. If a particular song connects with my soul, I am going to give more of myself to singing it. If it doesn't, my heart just won't be in it. And the question I have, "If our hearts are not in it, is it still worship?" That's why this is a question we cannot avoid as the church. If our worship is fake, if we're singing out of our heads and not our hearts, or if we're just going through the motions, then not only are we doing God a disservice, but we cannot be transformed and equipped.

A lot of churches are struggling with this right now. They are asking, "Should they continue with the hymns, which tell their theology stories? Should they begin to transition to something that speaks more today? Or, should they try to find some way to bring the two together into one worship experience?" I don't have an easy answer. For me, the hymns, while they are beautifully poetic, just don't speak. I have no idea what an ebeneezer is, but I sure sing about raising mine.

I get tickled because this can be so divisive. Our own hymnist, Charles Wesley, wrote something like 9000 hymns during his lifetime, and most of them were then sung to bar tunes. "Well that doesn't sound very holy," you might say. But, the people were already familiar with those tunes, so he used them. They were then able to connect lyrics, melody, and soul, singing to the LORD a new song.

"Amazing Grace" is one of my favorite hymns, but to sing it to the tune printed in the hymnals just kills me. It's too slow, and not just a little boring. But take those same lyrics, connect them to the Eagle's "Peaceful, Easy feeling," and it's a totally different experience. And if you really want to shake things up, sing those same lyrics to the Animal's "House of the Rising Sun," or the Gilligan's Island theme.

The point is, this is a fickle dance we are engaged in. Our audience is not ourselves, or even each other, but God. Still, for our hearts to be engaged, the music must speak to us. So, how do we tell our history and theology, while finding some way to sing a new song to the Lord? Honestly, I don't have the answers...yet.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Casting Idols...

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(Warning: May be offensive to most. I'm not going to post this one on the church's facebook page)

Eric Church has a song out now called "Love your love the most." It's a pretty good song if you're into country music...which I am. In it he talks about all the stuff he loves. "I love sleeping in on Saturdays. I love college football games. I love not acting my age and good barbeque. Yeah, I'm a fan of Faulkner books and anything my mama cooks. Smallmouth bass have got me hooked on Sunday afternoon." He goes on to list a lot more stuff that he loves but ends up realizing that he loves her love the most.

It's easy to list the things we love. I love my girls. I love hiking. I love sitting on my back porch and listening to the frogs in my pond. I love the feel of the wind in my face at 60 miles an hour. I love sitting in front of the fireplace with a good book. I love to laugh and I love to get out and get a little loud every now and then (just being honest). There are a lot of things I love. But there's a problem. When I put those things in a place of more importance than my faith, I'm casting idols.

It happens. It happens to folks with the best intentions. It happens in our homes, and it most definitely happens in our churches. Most churches have a lot of idols...the building is usually the primary one, followed by traditions, programs, and anything that has a little brass plaque on it. The flowers can't be moved because grandma donated them 50 years ago. We can't change things because we've always done it this way. You see what I'm saying.

I have actually been dreading today. I knew it was coming, but I have been dreading it. Today's reading is from Romans 1. Romans 1 is one of those chapters that I wish had been left out. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good stuff in it, but I wish it had somehow gotten lost in the shuffle over the centuries. It is probably the most misunderstood and misused collection of verses in the entire bible. fundamentalist friends should stop reading here.
I admit that I have become much more liberal in my theology recently. I blame seminary for that, for the most part, because I went to a fairly liberal seminary. My conservative roots are probably still there but I have learned to discern what I should be conservative over and what I can think a little more freely about. Romans 1 is one of those.

This is one of those hot button topics in the church and I have intentionally steered away from it until now, but I've spent 2 or 3 days talking about the temple, so here goes. You can stop reading here and not hurt my feelings.

Here is the most often quoted section of Romans 1: "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another." And then Paul goes on to describe what that looked like.

Here's the kicker. Romans 1 is probably the most quoted passage of scripture for those condemning homosexuality. But...there is one word in that verse that tips me off to the fact that there is something else going on..."Therefore." Therefore God gave them over. To me that means that something happened, before, that caused this to be a result. When I went back and started looking, the actual sin in Romans 1 was idolatry. Things that make you go "Hmmmm." It had nothing to do with the list that Paul describes after verse 24. Folks were casting idols and allowing those things to take a place of greater importance than God, therefore...God let them do whatever they wanted.

Now, I know that I will never convince some people of this and that's ok. To each his/her own. I'm just saying that if you look at what Paul actually said, if in fact this is what Paul actually said and not some redactive editing from later, the greater sin was idolatry. Who among us is not guilty of that one? It's easy to condemn folks who are different from us, but when we take a good long look in the mirror, the idols we cast may just lead to our own "therefore."

I know that for me, it's easy to allow my thoughts to be consumed by a lot of things, and when my thoughts become consumed with other things, those other things become idols. Er go, I become an idolator. There are things that I want but can never have...they become idols. There are things I enjoy doing much more than going to church...they become idols. There are things that I think about all the time, yep you guessed it, idols. And it makes me wonder...if God were to insert a "therefore" into my story, what would it look like?

Maybe this has been a little heavy for a blog, I don't know, but I knew the day would come when I would hit on this. So, there it is. You don't have to agree, but don't send me hate mail, because we are all entitled to our opinions. That's why I'm not posting this on the church's facebook page, just mine. Feel free to disagree if you would like, and please text those disagreements to BR549.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


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Ok, again with the building metaphors this morning. Paul didn't really speak to me, so we'll stick with Solomon and the least one more day.

When I first started building houses, I took whatever jobs I could get. It didn't matter what it was. My very first official job as a contractor was rebuilding a burnt-out tobacco barn. I literally cut it in half, rebuilt the tops of the walls, built a new roof system, and put on new metal. It was nasty. I stayed dirty from the time I got out of the truck until I left to go home, but I was very thankful to have the work.

After that, I took a few little remodel jobs and stayed relatively busy that first additions, roof jobs, tile jobs, kitchen remodels...anything I could do to pay the bills. Then I got a phone call from a company looking for a framing subcontractor. Turns out they were a little crooked but I didn't know it at the time, so I started framing houses. I found out that I really enjoyed being a framer. I showed up on site to a block foundation and a stack of lumber. I'd get the blueprints out, go to work, and when I got done a couple weeks later, there was a house standing there.

I realized I had found my niche. I absolutely loved framing houses. It was tougher, physically, than the small remodels, and I had to hire more help, but I loved it. It wasn't very long before that became my specialty. If it wasn't new construction, and more especially just framing new construction, I wouldn't mess with it. Why? Because I knew what I was doing and I was good at it. Very good at it. Daddy always said, "If you can do it, it ain't bragging." I could do it.

This morning, I ran across another group who knew their specialty. They did one thing, evidently, but they did it very well. The group was the men of Tyre in Sidon, and what they did well was cutting trees. Not just any trees, but large cedar trees, the Cedars of Lebanon. Solomon wanted those trees for the temple he was building and realized that the men of Tyre were much better at cutting those trees than were his own men, so he made a deal with Hiram, King of Tyre, and all the king's men went to work cutting trees for the temple. You can read more about it in 1 Kings 5.

Now, why did I bring this up? Not just because I miss framing houses (I do sometimes miss framing houses, but my back and shoulders don't). Not just because Hiram's men were better treecutters than Solomon's men. But because I have learned the importance of finding what you do well, and doing it. Nowhere is this more important than in kindom work.

It's easy for me, as a pastor, to try to be good at every aspect of being a pastor. It's easy for my folks to expect that out of me. But the truth is, I'm not good at every aspect of being a pastor, just like most church folk aren't good at every aspect of being church folk. Let me explain... Some people just have better voices than others, God has given them the gift of song. They should sing. Some people are better group leaders. God has given them the gift of leadership. They should lead. Some people are better facilitators. God has given them the ability to lead group discussions. They should teach. Some people are better at more concrete things. God has given them the gift of caring for the building. They should care for the building. Paul does talk about this, sort of, when he talks about gifts of the Spirit.

I'm not very good at administration, I admit that. But God has surrounded me with folks who are, which allows me to focus more time on things that I'm better at. That doesn't mean that I don't need to be able to do administration, it's just not my gift. I have found, that for pastors and for church folk, when we are trying to do something we have not been given the gifts for it only leads to frustration. The men of Tyre were great timber cutters, but I bet they stunk at stone dressing. You see what I'm saying? Find your niche, work with the gifts God has given you, and do what you do well for the kingdom. Whatever it is that you do well, I promise there is some way to use it for the kingdom.

So take some time this week and do a spiritual gifts assessment. Especially if you're feeling frustrated. Talk to your pastor about what you feel you do well, and if your pastor can't find a way to use it, come to me. There is great satisfaction in taking what you already do well, and giving it a new purpose.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Daddy, Can I Have This?...

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Anyone who has kids knows what it's like to take them with you grocery shopping. I've gotten where I just will not do it anymore unless I absolutely have to. Not only does it take longer because you have to keep the kids corralled, but it costs more. I bet, if you're like me, as you walk from the car to the front door of the store you say, "...and don't ask me for anything while we're in here."

Why is it like that? My girls are great kids, both of them. One is very quiet, the other, not so much. One very seldom asks for anything, the other, not so much; but I wouldn't trade them for anything. One will ask me for at least a dozen things while we're in satan's playground, I mean, walmart. No matter how many times I tell her, "I'm not getting that," she keeps asking.

If I have heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times, "Daddy, can I have this?" I know that your kids were probably the same way, and you get to a place where you can actually tune it out. Most of the time, they ask for candy or cupcakes, stuff like that. But what if they actually asked for something that was good for them?

I'm not sure I would be as quick to turn them down if they asked for grapes or whole wheat muffins. As their dad, I've got a decent sense of what's good for them, and what's not. I would like to be able to give them the good things, and really don't mind as much when they ask for those. In fact, if they ask for something like that, I'll probably get it for them, and might even get some stawberries for them too.

There's a story of a man who asked for something that was good for him and wound up getting a whole lot more than he asked for. God told him personally, in a dream, that he could ask for anything he wanted and it would be given to him. My kids would go ballistic if I said that to them. I would never get them out of the store. But this man didn't ask for gold or wealth, a long life, or revenge. He asked for discernment...wisdom. That's pretty smart, no pun intended.

What he got was not only wisdom, but wealth, long life, and peace. There's a lesson there, not only for my kids, but for us as well. The man was Solomon, king of Israel, and in 1 Kings 3 he is given wisdom to rule over God's people. Along with that come riches unparalleled in any other kingdom, long life, and peace in the land.

I think this shows that it's not necessarily a bad thing to ask for something, even Christ told us to ask for what we needed in his name and it will be done. It is better, though, to ask for those things that not only benefit us, but lead us to do our part to bring the kingdom. I will admit, though, that there are times when my prayers are still selfish. I don't ask for new cars or anything like that, but I might not necessarily have the kingdom in mind when I shoot up a prayer here or there.

Now, please understand, prayers for healing of our loved ones, or help in times of crisis, I don't see as being selfish prayers. Nor do I have an answer to the "Why?" question when those prayers seem to go unanswered. I'm just saying that today's reading has made me stop and look a little closer at those times when I say, "Daddy, can I have this?"


Monday, May 17, 2010

Building Houses...

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I've mentioned a couple times that I used to be a carpenter. Last week I wrote about how my love for building goes all the way back to Tinker Toys and Lincon Logs as a kid. There's just something about building a house that I found very fulfilling. But, for as many as I built from a set of blueprints, the one that meant the most was the one I built for my family.

It started with an old farmhouse. No one really knows when the original house was built; sometime in the 1930's. It had been altered, changed, and added onto over the years. When we bought it, it was in terrible shape. The roof leaked, there were dog piles in the floor, a dead bird in the hallway, dead rats in the attic, and mushrooms growing in the carpet in one room. It was nasty. NASTY. But it had potential.

So we started dreaming. What could we do with it? I began to sketch out some drawings, or as my hero Norm Abram says, "drawrings." I played with the sketch. Moving a wall here, or flipping a room there. Finally, after a dozen or so attempts, we had the design we were going to build from. It was good to design it, and even better to begin building it, because of who it was girls.

There's a story in today's Life Journal readings about someone who designed a house for someone special. He wouldn't get to build it, but he had the design in his head, and had already gathered all of the building materials. This would be no ordinary house, because the occupant was no ordinary occupant. The walls would be overlayed with gold. The timbers would be the finest cedar. Onyx and other precious jewels were to be used as decorations. It would be awesome.

And it made me start thinking about something. David was designing the temple, a place for God to dwell. What would it look like if we got to design a temple today? Now, I know that there are churches built every day, but if you had to design one, based on what you think God would want in it, what would it look like? The way we design that space says a lot about what we feel is important.

Would it look anything like the building you worship in now? Would there be pews so that you're looking at the back of someone's head, or tables and chairs so you could sit face to face? Would it be bright and well lit? Or darker and more reflective, maybe lit by candles? Would it be a large space, or a smaller, more intimate setting? Would it be decorated with lots of brass and fancy trimmings, or would it be a simple space? Would there be music? What kind? Would it feel formal, or would the space itself make you feel relaxed and at ease?

And then the biggest question is..."Who would you design the space for?" For me, that's the key. I built dozens of houses from a blueprint stretched out on the hood of my truck. But the one that I built for my family got a whole lot more of "me" put into it. When we realize who we are designing the space for, sometimes the priorities change.

Ok, I'm not going to ask you to do something I'm not willing to do, so here's is what my worship space would look like if I had to design one: It would be small and intimate, with tables and chairs so that you can see the person you're worshipping with, there would be a coffee pot or three in the back of the room, and the smell of fresh bread baking for Communion. There would be candles to remind me that I am, and am in, the presence of Christ. It wouldn't be a formal space, because formality breeds distance. The decorations would be simple, but symbolic, perhaps a flowing fountain in one corner to symbolize the water that forever quenches your thirst. I think there would be a few rocking chairs on the front porch to make folks feel at home, and signs of life everywhere. I would leave the carpet out, because church carpet just smells musty...and it's always red. Who said church carpet had to be red? I wouldn't put a big, fancy podium up front because that's just intimidating. And finally, there would be no altar rail so that no one felt separated from the table.

Now, you may ask why mine would look like that. It doesn't sound very holy. Heck, it doesn't even sound like a church. But it just might be the kind of place that someone who wouldn't come into a church might feel comfortable. And if I had to design a space for someone to meet God, perhaps for the first time, I would want them to be comfortable. After all, it's God's house, not ours.

What would your design look like? Would God be pleased with the house you've designed? I'd love to hear your ideas.


Saturday, May 15, 2010


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My wife says I'm never content. I don't know that I necessarily agree. She says I'm always wanting more...a bigger house, bigger motorcycle, faster truck. You get the picture. There is something within our human nature though, that for a while at least, wants more. My first truck was a 1971 Ford Torino Ranchero with a 351 Cleveland, Holley 4 Barrel Carb, duel glass packs, and no payment. I paid cash for it, and it would run a hole in the wind...when it wanted to.

It wasn't long, though, before I realized how much gas it took to get to school and back, or how embarrassing it was to be on a date and my truck decide not to start (honest). So I started shopping and bought another one; a 1983 Ford Ranger with a 4 cylinder engine, no air, and no power steering.

We bought our first house before we married; a tiny place on North 18th Street in Mayfield. I moved in and started getting it ready for my new bride to move into after the wedding. We had that little place dressed to the nines. It was cute as a bug and my house payment was only $138.50 a month. But it wasn't long before thoughts of kids started coming along, and we realized it was too small. Now, we have a house with 5 bedrooms, 3 baths, two car garage, a garden, and a huge mortgage. Maybe I'm not a very content man after all.

Is that ever a good thing? Is there ever a place, time, or situation where wanting more is what we are supposed to do? I think so. Actually, I know so. Paul talks about it in 1 Thessalonians 4. Now, this is one of those hot button chapters in the bible dealing with the rapture, but today, I'm just not feeling very edgy so I'm staying away from that. What I want to look at is Paul encouraging these folks to want more.

Here is what he says: "Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And, in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more."

I have served 9 United Methodist churches so far, sometimes 3 at a time, and what I have found in all of them, save one, is that we are very good at loving each other. (I'm not sure that one church loved anybody.) Paul is patting the Thessalonians on the back for the way they love each other. He is even commending them for the way they show that same love to folks in the neighborhood, but then he says for them to do more of it.

What would that look like here? Or what would that look like where you are? I think that is the question that has been behind all of my struggling the last few weeks. What would it look like for us to love our neighbors more? I'm not really sure yet, but I'm working on it. I'll say again that I have the appointment (and for those not familiar with United Methodist terminology, we are "appointed" to the churches we serve) that my colleagues only dream of. I could stay here until retirement and it would be fine with me. The folks that I serve now are great at loving each other, and loving those in the neighborhood. So, I pat them on the back for that. Now, we are at the place where I hear Paul say to us, "It's great that you do that, now, go and do more of it."

I'm not sure what that is going to look like or even where to start. But I'm working on it. May Paul whisper the same words into your ear this week.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Tinker Toys...

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I have loved to build all of my life. When I was a kid, I had a set of Tinker Toys. You know the ones...little painted sticks with slots cut in the ends, cardboard fins, wooden connectors and wheels. I spent hours building things with those Tinker Toys. I also had Lincoln Logs. You know the ones I'm talking about. Miniature log homes built out of miniature logs. They came in several different sizes and I could build, tear down, and rebuild over and over.

I guess building has been in my blood for a long time. As I got older, I swapped my Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs for a trailer full of power tools and sets of blueprints. I loved building houses. I loved the work. I loved the results. I loved the smell of sawdust in the morning. I loved pulling off of the jobsite at the end of the day and looking in the mirror to see a house standing there; one that I had built with my own hands. I hated the business end of what I did, but I loved building.

Now, I've once again changed tools. I've hung up my toolbelt; lined my saws, ladders, and compressors up against the wall in my garage, and took off on a new building adventure. This one is of a slightly higher calling. What's very cool about this building adventure is that I'm not alone.

David felt the need to build something in 1 Chronicles 22. He felt that it was his place to build God a house. Not out of Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, or even 2 x 4's. This house would be built out of gold and silver, dressed stone, iron, and bronze. This would be a special house, for a special resident. But David was not going to be the one to build it.

His son, Solomon, would be the one to actually build the house, God's Temple. But David had laid the groundwork. He had gathered the materials. He had gathered the work force. Everything was ready. David gave Solomon instructions, encouraged him, and blessed his work.

I'm not sure if David was still alive when Solomon began the work. I could find out fairly quick, but then I'd lose my train of thought. Let's assume that he was, for just a second. I wonder if he had any difficulty handing this awesome task over to his son? I know me, and I know that I would want to micromanage something like that. But that's not the example we're given.

I have to say that this morning I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this. I've got some thoughts, and there are all kinds of things rolling around in my head. I have to be careful with this so I don't offend anyone, because that is certainly not the intention. But today got me thinking, maybe for me, even at just 40 years old (nearly), maybe it's time for me to start looking for the one, or ones, who will build after me and begin making preparations for them.

I think that is one of the reasons we are in the shape we're in as a Church, worldwide. I remember when I was a kid, the old men in church would lay their hats on the rack by the door, and make all of the decisions in the church...right up til their death. I'm not blaming them, that generation is actually called the "builder" generation, and that's what they did. But I'm not sure how much attention was paid to preparing the future builders. And I think it has finally caught up with us.

But that's just me. Maybe I'm just rambling this morning. I do know that this is not some game of Tinker Toys or Lincoln Logs. If we fail to continue building...and we are could have eternal consequences. I think it's time to take a very serious look at the way we do a lot of things. But again, that's just me.

May God bless your building...


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cutting Switches...

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My mom will probably argue about this, but I believe I remember one time growing up when she told me to go cut a switch. She wasn't one of those "Wait til your father gets home" kind of moms. If we got in trouble, she took care of it. I believe I remember that one time, when I was told to go cut a switch, and you know what that switch was for.

There was a field that lined our backyard, with a fencerow that ran beside the house and all the way to the back of the field. If memory serves me, I chose a wild cherry tree to pull the switch from. I really don't think I imagined this, but we'll see. The dilemma, whether I was the one cutting the switch, or whether your parents made you cut one, was what kind of switch to cut. A skinny switch would sting more, but a thick switch would be just as bad, or even worse.

I really didn't get into that much trouble as a kid. I've probably gotten into more trouble as a pastor than I ever did as a kid. I do remember one time in high school where I had to "cut a switch." My girlfriend at the time and I were in the hall between classes, and I wanted to sneek a quick kiss, just a peck on the cheek, but got caught. There were no PDA's even then (Public Displays of Affection) and the English teacher across the hall drug us both to the principal's office. He looked at me and said, "Jamie, what are you doing in here?" All I could say was, "Mr. E, I got caught." He told me, "You know the rules, 1 day or 3 detentions."

I had to cut a switch. Taking 1 day suspension would be quicker, but the 3 detentions would probably be less painful, so that was what I did.

I found a place in scripture this morning where one of our Old Testament stars had to cut a switch. David had done something that God didn't approve of, and God gave him three choices for his punishment. I don't think I had ever noticed that before. 2 Samuel 24 is where it's found.

I don't really understand why what David did upset God. It looks to me like all he was doing was getting a count of the number of fighting men in the kingdom. But for whatever reason, God was displeased. Here are the choices he sent to David through a man named Gad: Three years of famine in the land...Three months of fleeing from his enemines...Three days of plague in the land.
David chose the three days of plague. Unfortunately, during those three days over 70,000 of his subjects died.

What if, and I'm just thinking out loud, what if God made us cut our own switches? What if, each time we displeased God we had to choose the punishment? I have found that most folks who realize they have messed up, and actually care, punish themselves enough. Yet there are mainline denominations who are all about the punishment, and very ready to condemn someone to hell for a mistake they have made. Is that the message we should be sending a hurting world?

Now, I admit, I knew what I was doing in the hall in high school was wrong. I knew that if I got caught there would be consequences. But I was willing to take the chance. I took my punishment, and it was over. God doesn't operate like that.

There should be consequences for our mistakes, at least that's what the world would tell us, but there is also this thing called forgiveness. That is the message we should be sending the world. Not just the importance of having a repentant heart...realizing our mistakes and seeking to restore the relationship...but of the reality of God's forgiveness, leading to forgiveness of self. That last one is the most difficult.

I don't think God makes us cut our own switches anymore. I think the last switch cut was formed into the shape of a cross, but that's just me. May you find peace through the forgiveness of a loving God.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Endurance Inspired by Hope...

(photo from
I'm really not a very patient man, just ask my wife. When I get an idea in my head, I won't rest until I have either succeeded at it, or failed miserably. I can't sit still, not even at home. Watching a movie is out of the question because it requires me to sit down for 2 hours without getting up. I've been a restless soul all of my life, I guess. But I don't think that restlessness, as a character trait, is necessarily a bad thing. Restlessness sometimes births great ideas. It also sometimes births great trouble.

The easy thing to do, especially after a conference like the one I just attended, is to run back home full of all of these new ideas and immediately begin trying to put them in place. It might work. It might not.

The more difficult thing to do, and actually most difficult for me, is to stop and listen for a while. That is where I'm at. I would have loved to have been able to stay a few more days in the mountains of North Carolina, kicked back in a rocking chair overlooking the lake, just to listen and write. Maybe one of these days I'll do that, but not this week.

The Spirit has been speaking to me lately, and I realize it has my folks at First Church nervous as a bunch of cats in a room full of rocking chairs. You can relax, I promise. Part of my role as shepherd is discerning what is the voice of the Spirit, and what is my own inner desires or wants. It's not always as cut and dried as some would think. Sometimes Jamie gets all in the way, and I'm not sure that's not what's happening right now.

Now, this might not sound remotely like the person that wrote my blog yesterday, but it's me, honest. I have discovered that I am in a period of discernment. I'm listening. I'm listening to the voice of the Spirit...I'm listening to the needs of the community...I'm listening to the dreams of my people...I'm listening to what has worked, or not, in other places...and I'm even listening to my own gut feelings. Yesterday, one of my members said I need to just go ahead and let the cat out of the bag because the suspense was killing them (Thank you for keeping me in line and encouraging me, Susan) so here it goes.

We are looking for ways to reach out to a particular age group at First Church, and have been since January. The group we are targeting, and that is probably the best way to word it, is the 20 - 50 year old age group. It's a generation that is missing in most mainline churches. We, I include myself in that group even though I'm closer to the top end of the age range, are not the Baby Boomers, and we're not the Gen X's. We're kind of in between. What works for those groups doesn't necessarily work for us. So what does the church need to become to reach us?

That's where I'm stuck. I first thought it was projection screens, great audio, worship bands with guitars and drums, and that we needed to design a worship experience that looked like that. I'm still convinced that may be a big part of it. But I think it's deeper than that. I think this age group wants more relationship and less heirarchy. I think they want honest and open dialogue. I think they want a place where they can wear the same clothes to worship and then to the golf course or the movies. I think they want a place where they are heard. I think, that if they come to worship, they want it to be authentic, but that it doesn't have to be in a church building. I think they want study groups that deal with real life issues and use language that they are familiar with, and not all churchy.

So, here is where Paul comes in this morning. Writing to the church at Thessalonica, he said, "We continually remember before God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."

Endurance inspired by hope...chew on that just a second. I have great hope in the future of the Church. I hope that we can become what we need to become to reach this age group. It's not just their souls at stake, it's their kids' souls, and their kids' kids' souls. I hope that those in the positions of power now, in all of our churches, can see the importance of reaching these folks for the future of the kingdom, and will be willing to lay their own comfort aside to do that. I hope that I can catch a vision for what First Church can do to create alternative entry points for this age group. I hope that the Spirit leads all of it. And those hopes keep me going.

But for now, I listen..for now. So, my folks can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Jamie is not instituting any sweeping changes. But...


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

To All the World...

Today's blog will be short, but we're up and running again. I'm actually not at home, but at a leadership conference in North Carolina. We have a pretty tight schedule this morning and I only have a few minutes to write, but I didn't realize how much I missed doing this. For those who wrote words of support and encouragement while our internet was down, thank you.

Here I am, sitting in the mountains of North Caroline, just south of Hayesville. There is a lake just off of the front porch, the mountains of Georgia line the other side of the lake. I could get used to this. I'm sitting in a workshop presented by Eddie Hammet, author of "Reaching people under 40 while keeping people over 60," and the life journal text this morning is the Great Commission. Coincidence? I think not.

I just can't get away from this. I don't know what God is up to, but the nudgings that I'm feeling to step out of the boat are getting stronger. Yesterday, Eddie told Sam's story. Sam is a tattoo artist in some town, I'm not sure Eddie told us where. Sam has a full bodysuit of tattoos. Not the kind of person you would expect to see on the front pew on Sunday morning. Yet, every time Sam has someone come into his shop looking for their own tattoo, he shows them one of his, tells them the story about it, and then connects his story to God's somehow. He is doing evangelism in a tattoo parlor.

Times have changed, y'all. Culture has changed. Society has changed. The Church has not.

Here's my short, candid, and probably blunt observation thus far. With current trends, unless we step out on faith, we have probably one more generation before the church as an institution is no more.

Eddie told the story of his grandfather, and the legacy he left him. It was a painful story to tell, you could see it in Eddie's eyes. His grandfather was on the board of deacons at his church. Eddie told of how he could remember his grandfather saying, before a deacon's meeting, "Well, I wonder what I'm going to get to vote no on tonight." Eddie was called to come and preach the final service in his grandfather's church years later. The legacy that was left him was that his grandfather had killed the church.

His grandmother, on his mother's side, on the other hand, left a different legacy. She was the matriarch in the church and led a group to see that her comfort, or discomfort for that matter, were not as important as the mission of the church. Because of her, that church now has a preschool program on site.

What will our legacy be? Will we be known as the ones who put our own comfort, or discomfort, ahead of the mission of the church? Or, will we be known as the one who had a vision for the future and made a difference?


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Plan "B"...

(photo from
Every now and then you need a back up plan. How many times have we had to go to our Plan "B" in some situation in our lives? For me, it happens quite frequently. You see, even as OCD as I am, I still operate on impulse a lot. I'm not an impulse shopper, so that's good, but when it comes to decision making, I'm not one to sit around and fret or worry about it forever. Now, I'm not a "jump all the way in with both feet guy" all of the time, but sometimes I get an idea in my head, and I do it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

I've had some really good things happen to me because of those impulse decisions, and I've had some things bite me in the tail. But I'm not alone. I'm actually in pretty good company. This morning's readings have one of the most familiar, and most epic, failures in the Old Testament: the story of David and Bathsheba. I don't know that David had heard Mel Brooks say, "It's good to be the king..." but evidently that was what he lived by.

Scripture says: "In the spring, at the time when the kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and beseiged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, 'Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, and wife of Uriah the Hittite?' Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him and he slept with her. Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, 'I am pregnant.'"

Ok, so that didn't work like he planned, I'm sure. This one impulse decision would set in motion a series of events that would create some major problems for the king, and would turn out even worse for Uriah. Now, I'm not judging him by any means. I have made many mistakes in the last 39 years, so I judge no one. I'm just saying that this impulse decision would lead to David having to engage his Plan "B", and would leave Uriah dead, Bathsheba widowed, the child conceived by David and Bathsheba dead, and the king shamed by Nathan.

In my day to day, this is not so much a problem. where I get into trouble is when I feel impulsive in ministry related decisions. It's so easy to feel a nudge, think it's from God, and act on it, only to find out that it was really just something Jamie wanted and not from God at all. Then I have to engage Plan "B" to get everything straightened out.

This has happened in the last couple weeks. I began feeling the nudge to do something. I've even blogged about it a couple times. But the more I think about it, was I hearing boredom speak, or was it actually the voice of God? Now don't get me wrong, I can't say enough how much I love serving these two churches. I have the appointment that pastors only dream of. But, and this came from one of my members, maybe I was the one slipping into a rut and not my folks? Could be I guess.

This is one time that not acting on impulse has kept me from having to engage my Plan "B" and fix everything. So, First Church, you can relax. I will wait for the Spirit to move the church...and myself. I will, however, keep listening to the Spirit, and thinking. So you're safe...for now.

Oh, and David's Plan "B"? Since he couldn't convince Uriah to go home and sleep with Bathsheba, he had him sent to the battle front and indirectly had him killed. Yeah, real nice guy.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dinner Reservations...

(photo from
I'm bothered this morning. Actually not so much bothered, more perplexed, I guess. I have to take my smart aleck hat off and put my theologian hat on for a few minutes today.

I love to take my wife out for dinner, especially to some place where we need reservations. But we only do that once or twice a year. We just can't afford it, but that's ok, because I'm one heck of a cook. I also love entertaining folks in our home. We don't do that very often either...a limited budget stinks sometimes. There have been times when Steph and I were in the mood to have folks over for dinner, started making phone calls, and couldn't find anyone available to come over. Here we've gotten the desire to host a cook out, or play cards, or whatever, and no one could come.

That was always frustrating, and I don't know why. I mean, there's nothing wrong with a quiet dinner... with just the family. We don't get to do that very often because of meetings or whatever. But still, there was this sense of disappointment about not being able to find another couple to share table with.

The table is a place to celebrate, and that's what we have in today's text. Matthew 22 talks about some dinner plans. On the surface, it's just a wedding reception (Our wedding reception wasn't like this, we did the cake and punch thing). But here, this king has prepared a huge feast for his son's wedding. The invitations had been sent out early, plans were made, now the day had come, so the reminders went out...none of those invited showed up.

I don't have to imagine how frustrating that is. When that group couldn't come, a second group was invited in. This time, folks were just brought in off the street. It didn't matter if he knew them, what their social status was, where they lived, or if they were slave or free. Everybody had a good time, scripture says "the wedding hall was filled with guests," and if the story ended there, it would end well. But it doesn't, and this next part is the part that perplexes me.

The last couple weeks I have hit on inclusion more than once, possibly even to the shagrin of some of those reading, or listening on Sunday morning. Here, we see something that throws a wrench in that. I'm perplexed for two reasons: one...every one of the last minute guests, the folks off of the street, seem to have had wedding attire to wear and already had it on; guest does not, and is tied up and thrown outside.

Here is where we have to lay our realism down and pick up theological meaning. Much of this story is not realistic, go back and read it again. But all of it is theological, especially if we get inside Matthew's head for a minute. The first servants were the ancient prophets sent to Israel. Israel accepted God's invitation originally but was unfaithful to it. The second group of servants were the early Christian missionaries, who were sent and killed by those refusing to hear their words.

The last invitation is leading up to the Great Commission, "go into all the world," it doesn't matter who they are, invite them in. But what about the one who forgot to change clothes? Also not realistic, but theological. In the early church, a newly baptized believer was given a new set of clothes, perhaps a new robe, and it symbolized giving up the old life and accepting the new. Evidently this one guest was not wearing his new clothes by taking care of the least, last, and lost, nor did he have any excuses. He was speechless.

For Matthew, this is representing the last judgment. Now, this has nothing to do with works righteousness, even for Matthew. But as an invited guest of the king, I, or we, take care of others as a response to that invitation, not to earn it. We clothe ourselves with acts of charity, worship, and devotion.

So, I apologize that the usually jovial, smart aleck Jamie has gone and got all serious this morning, but sometimes even I can do that. I don't really like to because it's all...serious...but sometimes it doesn't hurt.

The next time you're invited to dinner somewhere, think about the other banquet we have been invited to and ask yourself if you're dressed for dinner.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Any Monsters Under My Bed Tonight?...

(photo from
(Again these are my thoughts and not representative of anyone else, nor the churches I serve)

I absolutely love Calvin and Hobbes. I have 3 or 4 Calvin and Hobbes books, and they never get old. That 6 year old boy and his tiger have made me laugh more times than I can count. I've often wondered what Calvin would be like as an adult. Part of me thinks he would outgrow his mischevious, rebellious ways, but part of me hopes he wouldn't. That kid was always getting into something, and most of the time he dragged his poor tiger with him.

As I was reading this morning, I caught a glimpse of what Calvin would probably have looked like as an adult. Now, don't think this blasphemous because it's not intended that way, but in Matthew 21, Jesus reminds me a lot of grown up Calvin. He has his ideas of the way things need to be and knows who he is.

You see, we have this image of Christ as the gentle lamb, standing before Pilate uttering barely a word, then being led to his fate and not resisting, but there is a whole other side of Jesus that the scriptures talk about almost as much. Matthew 21 gives example after example of this other side of our Messiah.

Jesus knew who he was, and by riding into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, he wasn't just looking for transportation, he was making a statement...a very loud statement, much like Calvin would do when he would march into the living room and make some important announcement to his parents.

Then there's the scene in the temple. Matthew doesn't record the fact that Jesus made a whip to drive out the money changers but John does. Folks there that day knew that he was either insane, or that he was very serious about his calling. This doesn't sound like a silent lamb to me.

And the fig tree...what about the fig tree? Were figs even in season when Jesus went to the tree and cursed it for being barren? It looks to me like Jesus is not going to take any guff off of anyone, trees included.

And the riddles...always with the riddles. "I will ask you one question. If you answer me I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things." Certainly, not everything he said was a riddle. The parables were stories he used to present some deeper truth in a way that the folks he was with could understand. But sometimes, he just tried to trip folks up...especially the "teachers of the law." The parable of the two sons...the parable of the tenents... They knew he was talking about them.

Scripture doesn't say that he was sitting there with that little Calvin grin, wringing his hands, just thinking of the next thing he could do to get to them, but he wasn't going to let them win either.

So, what am I getting at? Well, silence has its place sometimes. So does pacifism. Sometimes I could do more of both. But sometimes we have to be proactive in our calling. Sometimes that being proactive may be seen by some as ego or selfishness, conceit or just plain old pushiness. But it's not. It's a passion to fulfill a calling. When I read Matthew 21, I don't see Jesus the rebel, or Jesus the smart aleck. I see someone passionate about who they are and what they are called to do.

I have a tendency of coming across a little pushy sometimes, especially when it comes to ministry. That's not intended. I think I have some of the folks at First Church a little concerned right now because of some of the ideas rolling around in my head. That's not intended either. However, when I think of who I am a Jesus follower, I think I'd rather be like Calvin...Calvin was only scared of monsters under his bed, nothing else. I think I have gotten to the place where I have lost my fear as well.

Yeah, sure he probably should have thought some things through a little better, and I've been guilty of the same rashness, but when I read Matthew 21 again, I'm not convinced that's always a bad thing.

So I ask you this: Who are we called to be? Are we called to be on the sidelines, waiting to be dragged into the next adventure like some stuffed tiger? Or, are we called to see the Jesus in Matthew 21 and recognize that this Jesus is the same Jesus that stood before Pilate in near silence? Or maybe we're called to some of both? ...silent observer AND proactive witness. The one does sometimes temper the other. I'm just not sure that I'm a sidelines kind of guy though.

Just some thoughts I had this morning.