Monday, May 14, 2012

All I Went For Was a Salad...

One night in May of 1999, I stood in the vestibule of the little country church that I had called home for all of my young adult life, and with knees knocking, told my pastor that I felt I was being called into the ministry.  At 28 years old, I was about to make a life change.  Ed, my pastor, told me that if I said "yes" to the call I was feeling, doors would be opened and others would be closed.  He told me, "Jamie, if a door opens up, walk through it.  If it's closed, leave it alone."  Thirteen years later, I'm finally beginning to see the wisdom in that...and...I'm finally beginning to notice when those doors are opened...and when they're not.

Today, I had been working in the office all morning.  I'm taking my leadership team on a retreat this weekend to focus on visioning for the next 5 to 10 years, attempting to discern the Spirit's leading for Grace Church, so I had spent all morning putting together the pre-retreat packet for the team.  Lunch time rolled around and I kept working.  After 30 minutes or so I decided that a salad would be awful nice (Doc told me to drop a few pounds) so I jumped in the truck and headed to one of the restaurants here in town.  I took my paperwork with me, sat down with my soup and salad, and went to work (on all three).  After I finished eating, I saw one of my preacher buddies from across town and we started talking about how things were going in our respective churches.  Conversation moved to the Celebrate Recovery group that meets at the church I'm serving (with a lot of help from our friends in other churches.  It would not be possible without them, honestly) and when the man sitting with my buddy heard "Celebrate Recovery" his whole face changed. 

He looked so familiar but I just couldn't make the connection, so I introduced myself to him.  He told me that his name was Mike...that he lived down the road, and...oh...he was the county jailer.  (Now I know where I have seen him before).  He went on to tell me that he had been wanting to get a Celebrate Recovery program going in the jail for months, and you could see the excitement building within him.

What happened next is a blur.  Mike scooted over, told me to sit down with them, and we began to talk.  Two hours later, after a trip back to my office to tie up some loose ends, I'm sitting in his office at the county jail and we're planning the launch of a Celebrate Recovery program in house. 

I just went for a salad.

"Jamie, if a door opens up, walk through it."

Confession time: When I woke up this morning, if I had been made to list 1000 things that I thought I might possibly be involved in before I went to bed tonight, starting a Celebrate Recovery program at the county jail would not have even made the top 1000.  Honestly, I'm scared to death.  Oh, I'm not scared of being involved in jail ministry.  I think that is a wonderful mission field.  Maybe scared isn't even the right word...awed, would be better.  I am awed at how God opens doors when there is kingdom work to be done, and I am awed at how things begin to fall into place when we step through those doors...into God's will...and surrender ourselves, literally, to only God knows what.

I don't even know why I blogged about this, other than to encourage someone else, anybody, to step through whatever door God may open before them.  It never ceases to amaze me to see what God can do when I get out of the way. 

"Here am I, Lord.  Send me."


Thursday, May 3, 2012


I'm torn...and by simply putting voice to that which causes turmoil within my soul, I know I am pasting a target on my back...but I can't remember that ever stopping me before.  You don't have to agree with me, and in fact, most might not, but since this is my blog, and I feel led to write, I'm going to.  You may stop reading at any time and I promise to hold you up in Christian love. 

I've said here before that I am a pastor...a United Methodist Elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church.  I was born a United Methodist, but after sampling the "not so" greener grass for a season in my late teens, I remain a United Methodist by choice.  As an Elder in the UMC, I am ordained to the ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service.  Part of that...being ordained to Order...simply means that I have vowed before my bishop to uphold the Discipline of the United Methodist Church...the Church that I love.

This week, in Tampa, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church is in session.  This is the only body that can legally speak for the denomination.  Today, the delegates voted to maintain language within our Book of Discipline stating that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.  Er go...I'm torn.  On one hand, I have vowed to uphold the Discipline of the United Methodist Church...which I intend to do.  On the other hand, I see the pain that language causes many in our denomination...or those who have been mistreated in other denominations and have come to us looking for "open hearts, open minds, and open doors."

What bothers me even more than that, I believe, is the way we have treated each other over this topic.  It is most definitely a hot button issue, and I can absolutely appreciate the passion coming from both sides, however, there has to be a better way.   

There have been very heated discussions running through Twitter and Facebook all day, and as I have followed the live stream from Tampa today, and followed some of the discussions, I'm brought back to a question that I have been wrestling with for years.  It may not be a huge theological question, such as "Is homosexuality a sin?" or "Is there more to human sexuality from a biological/genetic standpoint?"  I'm struggling with those, for sure, but the one that I keep coming back to is this: "Why would anyone consciously choose to engage in a lifestyle knowing they will be alienated from family, friends, and the church?"  I've yet to be able to answer that question in a manner that supports a conscious decision to do so, which leads me to believe that there is so much more to this issue.    

Now, you may say, "Why be worried about being alienated from family and friends when we all know that sin alienates us from God?"  Ok, I'll give you that one...but...why are we so focused on this one?

My prayer for the church that I love is that at some point we get to the place where we can discuss issues like this and actually do so in Christian love...which many did not do today...on both sides of the disagreement.  My prayer for the church that I love is that we can either live into the slogan that we developed in the last few years, or find a way to determine who among us will actually find our hearts, our minds, and our doors open...and at least have the fortitude to own the fact that some won't.  Hell, maybe I need to own the fact that I'm being just as bull headed as others, I don't know, but what I do know is that the way some within our church were treated is wrong. 

If homosexuality is a sin, which the delegation voted today to call it that for at least another four years (and I'm not sure I agree), then my prayer for the church that I love and serve, is that all sinners are welcomed...and loved.  If it is ever determined within the voting body that it is indeed not a sin, then may God forgive us for the pain we have continued to cause. 

I'm torn...
I'm a United Methodist...
I have friends and family who are LGBT, whom I love dearly...
I have a God who loves unconditionally....
Lord, help me do the same.

Here is a prayer my DS included in his blog this morning with a link if you'd like to read more.  Thanks, Sky.
We talk a lot, O Lord.
We talk and twitter and blog about others,
we talk in derision of those we don't like,
we talk in fear about those we don't know.
Remind us that we can be faithful and true to you,
our beliefs, our doctrine, and our theology
without pointing out the speck in another's eye.
Remind us how the logs in our own eyes
blind us to seeing you, your truth, and your people
as the children of God that they are.
We disagree O God. Help us to disagree agreeably.
Forgive us, O Lord.
In Jesus' name. Amen.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

No Whining...

I can hear it already.  The guaranteed appointment for clergy in the United Methodist Church has been gone less than 24 hours and I can already hear the whining... and with a few exceptions (folks who are extremely well qualified but due to stigmas over race and gender may still find acceptance in certain local churches difficult) it boils down to this..."What about me?"

Well, what about you?  Or me, for that matter?

Guess what, we ain't all that...and I'm afraid that the sense of entitlement we gripe and complain about in every other aspect of social life has sadly found its way into some areas of church life.  My brothers/sisters, this should not be.

I admit, and do so quickly and freely, that I am not the sharpest crayon in the box.  There are many things about our polity and structure that, try as I may, I just don't understand.  Part of the problem is more than likely the adult ADD that my bride keeps telling me I have.  I really do have the attention span of a gnat.  Part of it is the fact that I just get tired of the arguments, so I tune some of it out.  Honestly, I'm not even sure exactly what was presented to General Conference, or what language was included in the petition...I'm not watching the live streaming feeds...I just know that my boss posted on his facebook page that the guaranteed appointment system was gone...

In fact, I'd have to look to see how long I even had a guaranteed appointment before I don't have one now...either one year or three, and I'm not sure.  But ask me if I'm worried. 

Not really. 

Sure, we all want, nay, need some level of security in our lives.  I will be the first to say that.  Security can help keep the stress level down, it can allow us to focus on the work that we are called to do, but it can also make us lazy...and by "us" I mean "us" clergy.  When we get lazy, we become ineffective.  When we become ineffective, the Bride of Christ suffers. 

I will also be the first to say that I'm not a perfect pastor.  I screw up...a lot.  But I will also say that God didn't call me to be successful, only faithful, (nor did God call me to be a slacker, by the way...and ok, God did call me to be successful...that whole "Go and make disciples thing..." wasn't "Go and try to make disciples...") and by dang, faithful is what I intend to be...faithful to the Bride of Christ...and to the denomination that I love.

Hopefully, and again I refer to the fact that I don't know all of the language that was included in this petition, not only will the removal of the guaranteed appointment for clergy create more effective clergy...but will also create more effective local churches.  Perhaps, if some of our ineffective churches realized they may or may not receive a pastor, they'd step up their efforts a little more. 

Actually, that's probably the only concern I have about the whole deal...that clergy will be held more accountable while those ineffective local churches are not, but I digress.

So, my fellow warriors for the faith, fight the good the good race...and don't worry about the rest.  If we're doing those things, and doing them well, guaranteed appointments vs. no guarantee of an appointment really is a non-issue.