Friday, April 30, 2010


(photo from
I have to be very careful with this one this morning, so take today's blog for what it is. Yesterday I mentioned that there were two things I am very passionate about in my ministry: making those folks feel welcome that don't feel welcome in some churches, and creating an atmosphere where folks know it's ok to bring their faith questions. There's actually a third thing that I'm passionate about, but it just didn't seem to fit yesterday, so I left it out.

I'm passionate about worship. Now, not just any worship, and here's where I have to be very careful. I'm actually considering whether or not I shouldn't just hit on the Transfiguration, which was the gospel text for today, and leave this alone. Today's Old Testament readings come from 2 Samual 6, and 1 Chronicles 13. Both of them mention the point in David's kingship where he decided that the Ark of the Covenant should be brought back to Israel. I don't remember exactly where it had been, but evidently it was somewhere else while Saul was king.

So plans are made, preparations are made, the oxen are yoked, the cart is ready, and they start to the City of David. As this little parade makes its way, scripture describes it this way: "David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with songs and with harps, with lyres, tambourines, systerns and cymbals...David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts and with the sounds of trumpets... When David returned home to bless his household, Michal, daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, 'How the king has distinguished himself today...' David said to Michal, 'It was before the Lord...I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this...'" (2 Samual 6:5, 14, 20-22)

That sounds like worship.

Bishop Robert Schnase wrote a book a few years ago that has kind of become a theme for our Annual Conference, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations." In it he lists, believe it or not, five practices of fruitful congregations. One of those is passionate worship. But honestly, most worship is not passionate.

Now, some folks might try to turn this into an "out with the old, in with the new" argument, but that's not what it's about. Worship can be passionate regardless of what form it takes. Personally, I'm not a high church kind of guy. I love to feel the pipe organ when Vera cranks it up loud, but responsive readings and 150 year old hymns just don't do it for me. I'm more into video clips, guitars, smelling the Communion bread baking, and more multi-sensory stuff like that. But high church worship can be very passionate, if the people bring the passion with them. So can contemporary worship, or a capella worship outside under a tree, or house worship with just a handful of folks, or a coffee shop kind of worship with candles and an acoustic guitar.

The point is, it's not what form your worship takes, it's what you take to worship. Allow me a second to put my clergy robe on and speak for my brothers and sisters around the world designing and leading's hard to stand up front, week after week, and watch as folks sit and stare out the window, if they even come, or read, or play with their phones, or pass notes and giggle. It's not the crying babies that distract us as clergy while we're leading worship, it's...well, it's disinterest that distracts us, and I don't know how to fix it.

So, here's the quandary. With so many other things vying for our attention and time, even on Sunday morning, what can we do to bring the passion back to worship?

I have the appointment that pastors only dream of. I absolutely love serving the folks of Hickman First and Beech Grove, and want to see both of these churches grow. The problem I'm encountering is in a church with 75 or so active members, on any given Sunday we average 40 in attendance. That tells me that our worship isn't passionate enough. Now, I know folks are busy today, and the days of Ward and June Cleaver are gone, along with the time in history where worship was the climax of the week. But there has got to be something we can do to make this one hour per week a passionate priority again.

So, as a worship planner, I'm asking you...what can be done to bring the passion...and the folks...back to worship? I would especially love to hear from those who once attended somewhere but now don't. Shoot me a message.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Making Bread...

(photo from
Alright, something in the readings this morning bothers me. I know, that is probably not a surprise anymore, but this is for a different reason. This morning, I had to stop and look hard at what I'm doing with this blog.

Jesus said it, and that's why it bothers me. Now, before I get into what he, let me just go ahead and do that. Here it is: "Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, 'You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you do not understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.' Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

I realize, as I mentioned the other day, that this blog goes out to over 800 potential readers, and that's only the ones I have direct access to. It's not the millions that hear Pat Robertson's voice by any means, but I am humbled by the fact that it goes out to as many as it does. I have also realized this week that folks are actually reading it, and pondering the things I write about. I give thanks for both of those, and do not take lightly the responsibility that comes with throwing my thoughts out every morning.

There are at least two things that I am passionate about in ministry, very passionate. One is including those that feel outcast. To me, that's where disciples are made. Church is not about, or even for, those on the inside. It's about reaching those that don't feel comfortable on the inside.

The other thing that I'm passionate about, is encouraging people to think about their faith. I grew up never having to question anything because I have been taught about the faith from the time I was knee high to a grasshopper. I was raised in the same faith tradition I'm in now, in the same type of setting, so there was no reason to question anything.

Then came seminary...and like a brick between my eyes, I was hit with ideas that had never crossed my mind, so I had to begin some very serious processing. For 33 years I'm not sure that I ever asked that first question about the faith, and suddenly, I had questions coming faster than I could process them, or even write them down.

As I think back to those first few semesters in seminary, I remember how unsettling it all was... "What do you mean God's not a man? Of course he is. An old white man with a long beard and a staff."..."What do you mean Christ was killed as an enemy of the state?"..."Religion is political?"..."No Rapture? Sure there's a rapture, right before the rest of the world goes to hell."...
Then I had to start thinking for myself,and when I did, I saw as many images of God as a mother as I had for God as a father. I began to understand first century politics and why Christ's death through crucifixion meant what it did. I saw, for the first time, the oppression of the mighty Roman Empire and how their "Pax Romana" was nothing more than propaganda used to keep the lowly Hebrews in line. I began to think about when our scriptures were written, who they were written to, and why they were written. And when I did, the meaning of Revelation changed...for me. So did the way Paul's letters, and even some of the gospel stories, read.

So, I guess what I'm saying here is this, take my words each morning for what they are. They are not yeast that I'm trying to work into your dough and cause you to throw out your beliefs. This is a place where I give you, the reader, a peek into my thoughts, my questions, and even my struggles. If the things I write cause you questions, shoot me a message and ask me to clarify or go a little deeper. If something I write upsets you, that was not the intention.

I will say, though, that if this blog causes even one person to give God and the institution of church another try, or if it causes even one person to begin digging deeper into their faith, it's done exactly what I had hoped it would do.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Picking up Crumbs...

(photo from "acrosstheflow")
This week I saw a show on TV, and I think the name of the show was "Taboo," but I'm not 100% sure. It is a series, I know that, and the show that night was about leprosy. We tend to relegate leprosy to the pages of the Old and New Testaments and forget that it is still a problem today. What surprised me about the disease, other than the fact that it's only contagious while it's active, was the fact that most of the people affected by it were more concerned about being rejected by friends, neighbors, or even family than they were about the physical effects.

I'm beginning to pick up on a theme this week, not only from some of the readings from the Life Journal devos, but also from the scripture text that I'm using this Sunday. That theme is inclusion, or maybe a better way of saying it is, not excluding. I've talked about it before, but this week, it's everywhere I look; from TV shows, to the time I spend in devotion, to conversations with friends, and even the lectionary text for Sunday. OK God, I get it. You want me to spend a little time talking about inclusion.
Then this morning, there it was. This passage breaks my heart. It's the one place in scripture where I'd like to take Jesus by the shoulders, give him a good hard shake, and ask, "What are you doing?" It's in Matthew 15, and here's what it says:

"A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession!"
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."
He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
The woman came and knelt down before him. "Lord, help me," she cried.
He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
"Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."
Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Ok, maybe I'm the only one who has a problem with that. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it sure sounds to me like Jesus, not only wasn't going to heal the woman's daughter, but totally ignored her at first; Only because of who she was, well, rather, who she wasn't . That's just rude. Yeah, he was Jewish. Yeah, she was a Canaanite. In the eyes of most first century Jews, Canaanites were dogs, so socially speaking, Jesus was doing no wrong. But this is Jesus, the Son of God...sent to usher in a new world tear down the destroy those social and cultural systems that kept the dogs under the bring God's kingdom on earth.

She wasn't asking anything for herself. She wasn't after gold coins, or shekels; she wasn't asking for a better home; she was asking that her daughter be released from her demons. Come on Jesus, help her out.

You see, these are the passages we skip over because we don't want to, or aren't sure how to, deal with them. Jesus totally ignored this woman as she followed him, begging that her daughter be healed. What do we do with that? And more importantly, who are the folks we are ignoring because they are not like us? You see, these are the things I think about, and even with the training I've had, they are still the things I struggle with.

I have a dear friend who told me this week that she desperately wants to get back in church, and I said, "Go then." She told me that she was afraid to go. I'm not sure anyone has ever said that to me. Afraid to go to church? Why should anyone have to be afraid to go to church? The long and short of it is this; she is worried that her past will cause some people in whatever church she tries to look down on her. The truth is, in some churches, she's right, and that breaks my heart.

It should not be that way. For fear of sounding like a broken record, the family of God should be the one group in the world that no one should be afraid of. But even the family of God has some very small minded people in it. 2000 years ago, Jesus was acting well within the social norms. Today, we have to look not through social norms, but through kingdom eyes.

So, wherever you choose to worship this week, do me this favor. There may be someone show up at your doors for the first time. Recognize the amount of guts it took for them to get there. Welcome them in, no questions asked, and feed them more than crumbs from the floor. It is our responsibility to make sure no one ever feels like a dog under the table. Only then can we be engaged in kingdom work.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Voice of Truth...

"Oh, what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to step out of this boat I'm in, and onto the crashing waves. To step out of my comfort zone, into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is, and he's holding out his hand. But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me, reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed. The waves, they keep on telling me time and time again, 'Boy, you'll never win. You'll never win.'

"But the voice of truth tells me a different story..."

Casting Crowns recorded that song, and the first time I heard it was actually at an Emmaus weekend. Some of the kids from one of the churches had come to bring the entertainment for the Saturday night meal and had a routine worked out to that song. I sat there, like a blubbering fool, with tears running down my face. And honestly, I didn't care who saw.

As I think back over the last, very nearly, 40 years, it's easy to remember all the times I screwed up. And if you forget, there is usually someone there to remind you. I've hinted before at one of those people in my past, and I'm really trying to let it go. I have to say though, I'm having a really hard time with it. Maybe, by putting it out here today I can begin to find some peace, so here goes. This is just one example of something that has happened to me, that maybe you can draw strength from. Today's blog may be a little longer than usual.

Six years ago, I was sent to a new appointment, a country church with a cross and flame on the front, so I assumed it was a Methodist church. One of the first things I was asked to do was redesign the worship experience. I knew there was no way to change what the 11:00 worship experience looked like, so the only other option was to begin a second service. After months of planning, discussion, and prayer, launch day finally arrived.

It was going to be different. Blue jeans and T'shirts if you wanted. Potluck breakfast every week. Electric guitars, video, drums, and at one time a 7 piece band. We had been averaging about 40 in worship at the 11:00 service, so I was expecting around 10 or 12 to show up for the launch of this new service. That first morning, 38 people showed up at 8:30 to worship in a way they had not been given an opportunity to worship before. One of them had not been in church for over 20 years. We stepped out of the boat and onto the waves, and it was amazing.

Folks started filtering in over the next few weeks and one lady even told me, "You know, I think my husband might even come to something like this." Her husband had not been in church in years, and wouldn't go. Within a few months, her husband was my worship leader. He stepped out of the boat and onto the waves.

The little church that was averaging 40 began to average 45, 50, 60, 65, 70...average attendance leveled off at about 75 between the two services. Now, to be honest, there were some who left the 11:00 service in preference of the early service, and for whatever reason. And that's when the trouble started. That was the moment I first caught sight of the waves under my feet. The waves started as ripples on the surface at first...a grumble here, or a growl there, but the farther I got from the boat, the bigger the waves got. Still, I wasn't afraid of them. I could see Christ holding out his hand, so the waves didn't scare me.

At that 8:30 worship hour I ministered to former junkies, I saw recovering alcoholics, I saw folks who had given up on church and on God, I saw people who had been hurt in that very church decide to give it another try. I saw folks find God for the first time late in life. I even saw a member of the Sons of Silence come in one day. Those guys make the Hell's Angels look like a kindergarten class. Because of all that I was seeing, I didn't pay any attention to the waves under my feet, but they were still growing.

Then it happened...the growling, griping, and arguing going on within the church caused me to take my eyes off of Christ for the first time, and the waves were terrifying. I began to sink. The folks that held the power in the church didn't like the fact that I didn't ask their permission to grow the church, or that some folks had left the 11:00 service in favor of the early service, or that there were kids in the church now because kids mess things up, or that we had installed a playground because we had so many kids coming now, or that the music was different, or that folks were wearing jeans, or that they couldn't find a spot in the parking lot. In fact, I realized they didn't like anything about it.

Once I realized how much opposition there was within the church, I knew it wasn't going to make it. The church was not one body, it was a house divided by ego and pride. I fought the waves though...I fought them with everything I had. I sacrificed my health, my kids, & my marriage, just so the waves wouldn't crash over me. Was it my ego? Could have been. Was it my stubborn pride? Maybe. Or, it could be that it was working and I knew that. We were actually reaching the least, last, and lost and Christ was still holding out his hand.

Then one night it exploded. Before I could stop it, before I really even knew what was going on, everything came to a head. The powers that be voiced their opinions, and let it be known that this new worship service was not welcome any longer. Feelings were hurt, folks left the church, I was being blamed for the self destruction in the church, and I was powerless to stop it. I was sinking fast.

When the realization hit that there was no way it was going to work any longer, I knew it was over. Yeah, I felt defeated. I felt like a failure. I was soaked to the core from the constant crashing of the waves, and I was exhausted from trying to stay on top of the water. But I still couldn't give up. I should have left that church after the first would have been better for my health, for my marriage, for my girls, but I just couldn't do it. I could not give up on the fact that it had potential and that there were folks we could reach that no one else was reaching, but the church was going to have to work together for it to happen. Finally, after fighting the waves for 3 1/2 years, I gave up.

As I was packing my office to get ready for the move, he walked song leader for the 11:00 worship service. My greatest opponent the entire time I was there. This man fought me every step of the way, yet I still stood beside him every week to lead worship (And now you know why my beard is so gray). Small talk ensued about the move, future plans...yada yada yada. Then he said it: "When are you going to go back to building houses?" I said that I had no plans of doing that. Then he said, "You really should, you're not a preacher. Never have been. You've never preached a real sermon since you've been here, in fact, I just hope you don't screw the next place up like you have this one."

Yeah...then he said that he was doing that because he loved me. I'm calling BS on that one. I sank, the waves won, and I was drowning fast. I let him say his piece, and bid him good day. From 40 to 75 in 2 years and I had done nothing but screw up. That was when I finally reached out my hand. I knew that if I didn't I was done. And Christ took me by the hand and we both climbed into the boat.

Stepping out of the boat is terrifying. You will probably get wet. You might get scared. You may even get laughed at. But standing on top of the water is an amazing experience. There will be those ready to laugh at you when you start to sink. There will be those who are just waiting for you to sink so they can throw the proverbial "I told you so." But there is also one standing on the water with you, and that's all that matters.

So, now you know. You know why I am not very trusting. Why I am a little more cautious now. You know why I cringed when the church I'm serving now mentioned changing the music. The scars will always be there, I'm not going to pretend they won't, but hopefully I can dry off now, and get ready for the next time Jesus calls me out of the boat.

If you want to hear the song, here's a link:


Monday, April 26, 2010

Butterfly Kisses...

(photo from
Check out the link...

Ok, I'm torn again this morning. I'm stepping away from the Life Journal devos for today and pulling out a verse from the Psalms...Psalm 103:13, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him." Today may be a little less theological reflection and a little more "Jamie needs to vent for a second." Just letting you know. When I started this blog in February, I said that I would post my devos and whatever random thoughts might come to mind. So, here is my first random thought.

I think I do alright at the "dad" thing. My baby girls are growing up quick, and they're growing up well. Jennifer just turned 14, Hannah will be 10 in 6 weeks. And all in all, I think I've done alright. I've always made sure they had plenty to eat, plenty to wear, a decent bed to sleep in (which in the parsonage system is sometimes tough, but they're in good shape where we're at now), and I've tried to make sure that they had all they needed. They don't always get everything they want, but they shouldn't, so I don't feel bad about that. I can do a lot to protect them and take care of them, I can show compassion on them like the Psalm says, but there's one thing I can't do...I can't protect their hearts. And this morning, that's killing me.

When I first laid eyes on those little girls, all pink and wrinkled, as the nurses were cleaning them up and wrapping them up in little pink blankets, I knew the day would come when I would have to let go. Let me go on record this morning as saying, "That sucks."

I'm having to start letting go with Jen and it's killing me. Papa Bear's claws came out last night because of something that happened to her yesterday and there wasn't a blasted thing I could do about it, other than show her a father's compassion. So that was what I did.

I know that from now until the day I walk them down the aisle, I'm going to be dealing with boys...that's just part of being a dad to little girls. I know some of those boys are going to break their hearts, also part of it. Still, my instinct to protect is not weakened just because they're growing up. My first priority is to my daughters, and not the boys that come calling.

One of my guys at church said something to me the other day that tickled me to death, especially coming from him. You see, he also raised two little girls. He told me that until there were rings on his daughters' fingers, and he walked them down the aisle, any boy that came calling was nothing more than a wolf and he made sure they knew that. I have to say, I can respect that now. I also apologize to all the moms and dads of the girls I dated in school.

Funny how life can come full circle, isn't it? You see, I was a wolf. Now, I'm the papa bear standing at the mouth of the cave protecting his cubs from the wolves...and that's all they are. It's nothing personal. It doesn't mean they're not good kids, and it doesn't mean that once they put a ring on her finger we can't be buddies. But not yet.

So, I have to at least try to slip in some theological reflection today. As a father, my role would be pretty simple if I were still a carpenter. As a father...and a theologian/pastor...things get muddied up a bit. You see, I posted something a few months ago on my facebook page about fearing me because I'm the dad, and one of my dear friends told me that because of my position, I shouldn't want folks to fear me. And you know what? He was right...

...Even the wolves at the mouth of the cave shouldn't have to fear a pastor. So now, I have to find some way to protect my baby girls from the wolves at the door, while remembering where I stand on Sunday mornings. And this will be something I struggle with for the next few years...just saying.

But for now, I will give my girls a father's compassion. And for the boys...I'll not sit on the porch cleaning my gun when they bring my girls home from a date. I'll not glare at them at the door, well, not much. I will demand their respect and that they respect my daughters. And as long as they do that, papa bear won't threaten to shred them.

Bob Carlisle had a song a few years ago that still chokes me up when I hear it...Butterfly Kisses. He talks about some of the same things I mentioned this morning, but in the end, he had to let her go. I know I will too.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Haunted History...

(photo from
Ok, I got a question a couple weeks ago that I don't have an answer for. Right now I can't even remember who asked, and honestly, had totally forgotten about it until I read the devos for this morning. With so much in scripture open to interpretation, what do we do with a passage that creates more questions than it answers? That wasn't the question I was asked, I was just setting it up.

Here is the question I was asked a couple weeks ago: "What does the bible say about ghosts?" Now you may be thinking, "Come on Jamie, you're not even going there are you?" Well, yeah, I think I will, and here's why. When I turned 30, my wife, ever not so gently, took great pleasure in reminding me of my own mortality. Hitting 35 nearly killed me because it was half of that biblical "three score and ten" that we get in scriptures, but I suffered that birthday in silence. And now, I wake up every day one day closer to 40.

Even in the best case scenario we might get 95 or 100 years here, then what? Well, for us as Christians, the "then what" is an eternity in the presence of God. Doesn't sound too bad at all, but the reality is, this life is all we've known so we try to hold on to it. I would be lying if I said part of me wished that I could stick around after I'm gone just to keep an eye on things. You know, to help guide my kids, their kids, and their kids' kids so that they don't do a lot of really stupid stuff. But what does that say about our, or rather my, thoughts on the soul's journey after death? I have to say, I don't have a clue. I mean, yeah, I have some clue but still have some questions. And...what does the bible say about it? After all, that was the question I was asked.

Well, "Not much actually," would be the short answer. In Leviticus, necromancy, or the practice of divination through inquiring of the dead was forbidden. So mediums are out, scripturally. What about hauntings? Mark 5 talks about a legion of demons possessing a man and that man then, I guess you could say haunted the folks of that region. But it doesn't mention hauntings anywhere else. So, what about ghosts?

If by ghost, you mean "spiritual being" then the bible is full of stories like that. Angels and demons are in no short supply, and they are spiritual beings. God is a Spirit. So there are many examples of spirit beings. But if you mean "ghost" as the disembodied spirit of a deceased person, then the number of references drops dramatically. Christ does mention the word ghost in Luke 24. He says: "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." So, evidently the folks then were asking the same questions.

But...then there is 1 Samuel 28. The one solid reference to someone in scripture seeing, or at least communicating, with the disembodied spirit of one who had already gone on. Saul was worried. The Philistines were getting ready to march against him. He had already prayed about it and gotten no answer. So, he sought a medium. Scripture calls her "the Witch of Endor." Long story short, she does indeed call a spirit, the spirit of Samuel to be exact, then Samuel's ghost and Saul had a rather lengthy conversation, which is recorded in scripture. So, what do we do about that?

But...there's also Hebrews. Paul, if Paul wrote Hebrews, leaves no room for question. He seems to say that after our one earthly death, our spirit goes to face judgment. According to that, there is no time for our spirit to hang around here for a while to take care of unfinished business.

So, in answer to the first question, I'd have to say, I'm still not sure. I'm not passing judgment on this one, you have to decide for yourself. I'll not condemn those who believe there are those who have stayed around after their death, mainly because I have experienced some things I can't explain myself. But, at the same time, I'm not going to make scripture say that it's real based on one reference to it.

So, let me hear your thoughts. No one will judge. No one will get angry. I'm curious to see what you think about this.


Friday, April 23, 2010

The Gatekeepers...

(photo from
Ok, this morning Jesus actually says something that disturbs me a little. He is sending out the 12 in Matthew 10 and gives them very specific instructions on how to go about their new mission. He says, "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel."

After writing what I did yesterday, I have to say that I have problems with this. I knew it was there, and I knew that he had said it. I understand the mission of the early church, I think, from my crash course in Church History in seminary. Still, I have a problem with instructions from Jesus that are exclusive to anyone who might be seeking repentence. Later on, he did instruct the disciples to go "into all the world" but here, it is a very exclusive mission. What do we do with that? The fear that I have is that it will give credence to those who say some should not be welcomed in the church, which is what I wrote about yesterday.

It ties in, loosely mind you, with the reading from 1 Chronicles 9 this morning. After the exile was over, and folks began trickling back into their homeland, a group of priests were set up as gatekeepers. They were in charge of guarding the thresholds of the Tent, but it doesn't say anything about who or what they were guarding it from. The image from Ghostbusters keeps coming to mind where Sigourney Weaver's character Dana is possessed by Zuul, the Gatekeeper. Cheesy, I know, but that was where my mind went.

It makes me wonder about those who have appointed themselves gatekeepers at the thresholds of our sanctuaries. Two friends of mine, just this week, have made comments about that. One is dealing with the gatekeepers in her church who feel that women should have no role in ministry. Good thing they haven't read the farewell discourse in Romans, that would shoot that theory. The other feels that she is not welcome in some places of worship because of things in her past. My heart breaks for both of them, and I think that is why I am so passionate about this.

Maybe, and I'm just thinking out loud here, part of my role as shepherd is to hush those who claim to be gatekeepers. I know that Jesus said, at first, to go only to the lost sheep of Israel, but to me, the Great Commission speaks louder. The "all the world" that he speaks of there, for me, means just that, regardless of gender, social status, ethnic background, giving potential, clothing, or even things in our past. The problem then becomes, how do we let the world know that there are no gatekeepers at our places of worship, and what do we do with those gatekeepers that are already there?

I think it boils down to the basic mission of the church: go into all the world and make disciples. Maybe it's really time to take what we do to the streets. I've begun to do that with this blog. It goes out to potentially 800 people a day, and for that I'm very thankful. Maybe, somewhere among those 800, someone who has not felt welcomed before will decide to give God another try. As for the gatekeepers I encounter in my ministry, I'm learning how to deal with them and it doesn't include crossing the energy streams from out proton packs, but I think it might be just as effective.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Doc, I Don't Feel Well...

(photo from
I absolutely despise going to the doctor, just ask my wife. I will put it off until I absolutely can't go anymore or until Steph makes me go, and then I pout about it. I don't know why I'm like this, but unless I'm deathly ill, I just see it as a waste. I know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I try to take decent care of myself. And overall, I'm healthy as a horse, for which I give God thanks.

But still, there are those times when I just have to break down and go. My personal physician retired a couple years ago, and that killed me. Now, when I have to go, I go to the clinic here in town and see Allie. She can usually get me straightened out. Still, I only go when I absolutely have to, and I think I've been once in the two years I've been down here.

This morning, I ran across the scripture that has become my mantra for ministry, a guiding force for the leadership decisions I make, and a call to return to what we were created to be. It's in Matthew 9, and the words are in red in my book: "On hearing this, Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'"

That's right. I know it's going to be hard to hear, but church isn't just for Christians. It's for those who aren't yet. Over the years, we have totally forgotten that...worship is about what we want...programs are designed around our of these things are designed or planned primarily with our needs in mind. But that's not what Jesus said.

The sick are the ones that need the doctor. So my question then becomes, what are we going to do to help them get there? Folks who realize they are sick will find a doctor. The question is, will they find the Great Physician at your place of worship or will they have to go down the road? You see, sick folk are kind of finicky about the clinic they go too, I know I am. If I don't feel comfortable, I'm going to leave, and if I leave, I'm not going to get well.

So here's the challenge...if you attend a church somewhere, it doesn't matter what kind of sign is out front, look around the next time you're together as a body. What things are you doing as a church that would make someone who has never been to church feel comfortable and welcome? How is everyone dressed? "I don't have the right clothes" is the most common reason I get for people not coming to church. What kind of music are you singing? Is it upbeat and easy to get into, or is it slow and kind of like a lullaby? Where are the bathrooms? Do you have signs pointing to the facilities? What about a nursery? Is it clean and well staffed? And the biggest one, do the folks who have been there for a while actually speak to someone who comes in for the first time?

It's uncomfortable to take a hard, honest look at what we do as a clinic for the sick, but I think that's exactly what Jesus would want us to do. I had a couple in a church that I used to pastor who had been coming for a while. One day, one of my little ladies asked me who they were. I told her, "You mean, they have been coming all this time and you have not gone up and introduced yourself? I'm not telling you who they are, go make them feel welcome here." She was furious with me, but at the moment I really didn't care. It takes a lot of guts to walk into a church for the first time, and if we can't do all we can to make those folks comfortable when they do give us a try, God will not bless our work.

Yep, sick folk are definitely finicky about the clinic they choose, and I don't blame them.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's Good to Be the King...

(photo from
I'm a huge Mel Brooks fan. Yeah, his movies are a little off color and probably even offensive to some, but we've already established the fact that my sense of humor is a little warped. One of his catch phrases, and one that he uses in more than one movie is, "It's good to be the king!" He says that as Louis XVI in "History of the World," as King Richard in "Robin Hood: Men in Tights", and a couple other times.

I guess it is good to be king. But from what I've seen, being king makes you more than just a little paranoid, and I guess the same is true for just about any position of power. We have an example in today's readings about one very paranoid king. This was a man who had been commissioned as king by God, but then, had also seen that commissioning removed.

A new king was being put on the throne. This king would also be commissioned by God to lead the people of Israel, but King Saul just wasn't ready to give it up yet. King to be David was on the run because Saul was trying to kill him. I told you being king must make you a little paranoid.

You can almost expect a de-throned king to be a little paranoid and want to go after the one to replace him. And you might even expect the "king to be" to want to remove any threat from his predecessor, and one way to do that is through death. Maybe that is what Saul was thinking, and that is why he was after David. I would have to go back and look again. But the beautiful part of this story is what happens when David's enemy has been delivered to him, and how he responds.

Saul had slipped into a cave to "relieve himself" (we'll just leave it at that) and did not know that David and his men were hiding in the back of the same cave. David's men encouraged him to slip up behind Saul and kill him since God had obviously delivered him into David's hand. Instead, David slips up behind Saul and clips the corner of his robe. As Saul leaves, David calls to him, holds up the corner of Saul's robe and convinces Saul that he is not trying to kill him or he would have when Saul had been delivered into David's hands. It's only then that Saul realizes how paranoid he has been.

To me, that was what made David good king material. I mean, sure, he had his moments of weakness. The whole Bathsheba thing was absolutely scandelous, but he also had his moments where God shone through him. His treatment of his enemy, Saul, was one of those. It would have been so easy. One quick thrust of his spear, or quick slide of his sword, and his enemy would be no more. It would be over and he could move on.

But he didn't. And that is the lesson for me as a pastor, and for us as Jesus followers. The easy thing to do, most of the time, is to avenge our hurts on those who hurt us. Doesn't scripture even say "an eye for an eye"? (Ok, that was a little sarcastic) The more difficult, yet noble, way to respond is to let those who have hurt us walk away unharmed. I really think that is exactly what Jesus would have done. Actually, I'm not even sure he would have clipped the robe.

So, this is very difficult for me to say but here goes, for those past hurts that you're still carrying around (and me too), it's time to let them go. Our enemies have pursued us long enough. I'm not about to say it's easy, and the one example that keeps coming to mind for me is going to be especially tough. But I think I'm through hiding in the caves. It may be good to be the king, but it's even better to be a child of the king.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

You've Got Something In Your Eye...

(photo from
I've got a good friend who's church is turning on him right now. I was told it happens, and can happen overnight. A few years ago, the church I was serving did the same to me, and I remember how painful it was. It took a couple years for the initial grief to wear off, but the after effects are still there and are the reason for my caution in relationships.

This friend of mine has been leading the church, get this, in doing church stuff. You know, reaching out to the outcasts, comforting the lonely, standing up for the underdog...the kind of stuff Jesus would have done. But, it just didn't fit well with the church's idea of who they were, and it scared them. So what do we do when we get scared? We remove the source of our fear.

Matthew 7 is a chapter just full of little tidbits of wisdom. Some of it is comforting. Some not so much. But in my bible, the whole chapter is in red, which means, tradition says these words came straight out of "his" mouth.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

But that's not the way it works, is it? Lots of times we are all about getting the speck out of someone else's eyes, and can't wait to tell them it's there, but totally forget that they may be seeing the same thing in us. So in the church, we schedule meetings to let folks know about the speck in their eyes and just what we're going to do to get it out. I'm sorry, I have no patience for that.

Yet it is still there. I thank God that I haven't seen those attitudes in the church I'm serving now. This is a bunch of folks that, I believe, either looks past the specks in other's eyes, or recognizes the plank in their own. And I have to say, serving a church like this is a blessing.

I wonder though, in the church as a whole, and especially in the church as a family, when we become judgmental like so many congregations have, what will be the measure used against us? When we become so focused on the specks in others eyes that we can't see the plank in our own, what will be done to remove the planks from our eyes?

That's why I'm glad I'm Methodist. Not that these things aren't present in our churches, they are, and in some places with a cross and flame in the front yard, they are present en masse. But as a church as a whole, grace is the kleenex that we use to get stuff out of our eyes. And a good thing.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Street Corner Prayers

(photo from
Ok, I have a confession to make, and this is going to sound odd considering my profession...I'm a little uncomfortable praying in public. I know, I shouldn't be, but I am. And here's why. Matthew 6 talks a lot about prayer. That's where "The Lord's Prayer" is, minus the "for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever." It's not there.

Matthew 6 is also where we hear Jesus give instructions on how to pray. "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to God who is unseen. Then God, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for God knows what you need before you ask."

Why is it that we are afraid to pray in public? At our youth group meetings, we do the "thumbs up" thing and the last one to get their thumbs up blesses the food. Sometimes you would think I was asking them for a kidney or something. Maybe its all the years of watching the dozens of televangelists with their crocodile tears, knowing that it was all just a show. I don't know. I do know that prayer in pubic is something I approach with decorum and respect. Standing as a liason between God and my people is an awesome task, and not one that I take lightly.

In our Sunday school class one week, I was asked what my least favorite part of our worship experience was, and my response was the prayers of the people. It's not that I don't think it's important, I do. It's very important. It just makes me nervous. Over 11 years, I have developed a checklist of things I feel need to be covered during that time, and as I am engaged in the pastoral prayer I am subconsciously checking off that list.

Sometimes I wonder if that affects the validity of that moment in worship. Am I giving myself totally to that task, or am I distracted by my nerves and the checklist? Is focusing on doing the pastoral prayer well taking away from the power of the words? I don't really think so. Jesus himself said that God knows what we need before we ask.

I have spent hours in prayer chapels with other folks, and you can tell a lot about a person by the way they pray out loud. I have noticed a few different types of people as we stood huddled in the prayer chapel; there are those who are quiet and humble, knowing only a few words are needed to bend God's ear; there are those who are obviously sincere, respectful of that moment, but not as quiet; and then there are those that just like to hear themselves talk. Those are the ones that insert certain phrases at the end of every thought, such as "Father God," or "Heavenly Father," or something like that. While it might not be a bad thing, personally, I see it as just adding words. I'm guilty sometimes of the same, but do try to keep it in check.

So, don't be afraid of it, God knows what's in your heart. But at the same time public prayer is something to be tempered with awe and self control. Personally, I'm much more comfortable going into my room and closing the door.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

From Fishermen to Fishers of Men...

(photo from
You've heard me talk about fishing before, and how much I once enjoyed it. Now that the house is done, I think I'm going to get back into it. I really do love it. I'll admit that since I almost flipped my boat a few years ago, I have no desire whatsoever to get the Bomber out, crank up that 90 horsepower Johnson, and start busting waves. But I have another boat too. A small one. It's only 9 feet long, and I only have a trolling motor on it. I can slip into ponds and watersheds, the wildlife refuges, and the backs of bays and nobody even knows I'm there. No waves, no boat traffic, no noise, and I can just fish.

One of the things that I wondered about while I was in Israel, was what it must have been like to fish on the Sea of Galilee. Where we were at on the lake, there were no huge marinas like we have scattered all over Kentucky Lake, no personal boat docks dotting the shoreline, in fact, there were very few boats on the lake at all. I wondered to myself where all of the fishermen were. After all, that is something that we hear so much about in scripture. But they weren't there.

We spent 4 days in Galilee, and I can count on one hand the number of fishing boats we saw. The ones we did see were trawlers, and not the little wooden boats we imagine from scripture, but even then just one or two. Wouldn't it be cool if the reason we didn't see that many fishermen was because they had taken Jesus up on his invitation?

Matthew 4 says this: "As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him."

As one who has left his net and followed him, I can respect any struggle that they might have had at that moment, but scripture records none at all. That makes me wonder why I struggled with the invitation for so long. It took me 8 years to lay down my nets, yet for Simon and Andrew, it was an immediate response. The same was true for James and John. So why do we struggle with becoming fishers of men? And I'm not just talking about calls to ordained ministry. We are all given the invitation to lay down our nets and follow.

For me, I'll be honest, it was the itinerancy. I knew how our system worked, and I did not want to uproot my wife and daughters every three or four years and move to a new church, new town, new school. And I admit, I still struggle with that, and I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to deal with it. But on a lighter side, another reason I struggled with laying down my nets is the fact that I knew I would lose my Sunday afternoon nap, and I have. Isn't that silly?

But it just proves that we have a whole list of reasons as to why we can't lay down our nets and become fishers of men. Some of them are very much legitimate, some, not so much. My dad would call it making soup. A neighbor asked to borrow his neighbor's rake and was told "No." When asked why, the neighbor said, "Because I'm making soup." The first neighbor then asked, "What does your making soup have to do with me borrowing your rake?" The other neighbor said, "Nothing, but if I don't want you to use my rake, one excuse is as good as another."

Maybe it's time we took a little more seriously the call the lay down our nets and stopped making soup. Just a thought.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Come On In Boys, the Water's Fine...

I'm not just a huge fan of bluegrass music. I can listen to a little, very little, but there is a soundtrack to one movie that I absolutely love. The movie is "O Brother Where Art Thou" and on the soundtrack Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Crouch sing "Down to the River to Pray." If you haven't watched the movie, I'll see if I can find that clip and post a link.

The scene is a baptismal scene. As the camera pans out through the woods you get a glimpse of dozens of people in white robes making their way down to the river. Everett, Pete, and Delmar are standing there taking it all in and it then clicks with Delmar what is going on. He takes off running to the river and cuts past all of the people in line, and the next shot is of him being put under the water and brought back up. I love it!
As he comes up, he looks at Everett and Pete and tells them that the preacher done said all his sins have been washed away, including the Piggly Wiggly he knocked over in Yazoo. When Everett reminds him that he had told them he was innocent of those charges, Delmar said, "Well I lied, but the preacher said that sin is forgiven too." And then he does it, he throws his arms out, kicks his head back, and yells, "Come on in boys, the water's fine!"

What a baptismal scene! The reading this morning is from Matthew 3, where Jesus is baptized by John. For 2000 years we have been wrangling with the theology of that moment. Why did Jesus have to be baptized if baptism is for the repentence of sins? Why did he have to be immersed? What really happens at the moment we are baptized? Is it symbolic? Is it effectual?

Yes, it's symbolic. Yes, it's effectual. For my tradition it is an "Outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace." According to our denomination's statement on baptism it does several things; in baptism a child is cleansed of the guilt of original sin, initiated into the covenant with God, admitted into the church, made an heir in the divine kingdom, and spiritually born anew. (BWATS) John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement said that "while baptism was neither essential to nor sufficient for salvation, it was the 'ordinary means' that God designated for applying the benefits of the work of Christ in human lives."

I don't have enough room here to really get into a lengthy discussion on baptism, but just as our Church has done, I feel the need to get back to our sacramental roots. I am putting together a study on Methodism to start probably mid May. For now, if you're curious, I'm attaching a link to "By Water and the Spirit; A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism."
So, no wise cracks or huge faith questions today, just a conversation starter. Now the real test is, can folks of different faith traditions discuss baptism, or the sacraments in general, without getting upset with each other? I hope so, or Christ isn't present in our conversations.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

God of the Underdog...

There are a couple things going on in the readings for this morning: one is the slaying of Goliath, and the other is a Psalm that is thought to be written by David praising God for all that has been done for him. After I read the three readings this morning, I wasn't really sure what I was going to write about, until I went back and read them together, if that makes any sense.

The first reading, 1 Samuel 17, tells the story about David and Goliath, one of the greatest underdog stories of all time. A Philistine soldier, over nine feet tall scritpure says, was taken down by a boy with a creek stone and a sling? Ok, great story. And it's even one of those that I'm not going to question whether it's history or legend because God is a God of the underdog and this is exactly the kind of stories we should be telling.

The Psalm this morning is Psalm 9, and if David wrote it like we think he did, he is giving thanks for the fact that God has helped him defeat his enemies. Here's what I would like to know, and this is just the way I think, how many years passed between the rock sinking into Goliath's forehead, and the day David penned this Psalm? What other victories had he been given, and was he thankful for each one or for the fact that he had become a great warrior king?

His really is the ultimate underdog story and maybe that's why I like it so much. I mentioned the other day being picked last for team sports in elementary school, I wasn't kidding. Some of the girls even got picked before I did, especially for basketball. I sucked at basketball, still hate it. Kickball, I was pretty good at. But there was nothing as humiliating as knowing you were the underdog. Now ask me why I have no patience for sports.

But then there is that Psalm. I know from reading David's stories that he had his tough times too, yet this Psalm doesn't mention those. Maybe there's a lesson in that for me. Maybe there's a lesson in there for all of us.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And This Isn't My Nose...

Alright, confession time...Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the funniest movies ever made. It's stupid, I know, but it's one of those movies that I can sit down to watch and totally turn my brain off. You don't have to think about the plot. You don't really even have to keep up with the characters. You can just sit back and laugh. And dog gone I need that every now and then.

There is one scene in the movie where the townspeople have caught a witch, or at least, they've accused her of being a witch. Allow me a second to recreate that moment...

Crowd: "A witch! A witch! A Witch! We've got a witch! A witch!"
Villager #1: "We have found a witch. Might we burn her?"
Crowd: "Burn her! Burn her!"
Bedemir: "How do you know she is a witch?"
Villager #2: "She looks like one."
Bedemir: "Bring her forward."
Witch: "I am not a witch! I am not a witch!"
Bedemir: "But you are dressed as one."
Witch: "They dressed me up like this."
Crowd: "No, we didn'"
Witch: "And this isn't my nose. It's a false one."
Bedemir: "Well?"
illager #1: "Well, we did do the nose."
Bedemir: "The nose?"
Villager #1: "And the hat...but she is a witch!"
Crowd: "Burn her! Burn her! Witch! Witch! Burn her!"
Bedemir: "Did you dress her up like this?"
Crowd: " bit...a bit."
Villager #1: "She has got a wart."
Bedemir: "What makes you think she is a witch?"
Villager #3: "She turned me into a newt."
Bedemir: "A newt?"
Villager #3: "I got better."

Now, without the visuals, some of the hilarity of that scene is lost. This poor woman has been caught by the townsfolks and they have stuck a carrot on her face to make her look like a witch. But even as funny as it is, there is one truth in it that cannot be ignored...nobody likes getting caught in a half truth. Not the crowd in Monty Python, and not Saul in 1 Samuel.

Saul was king of Israel and had been told by God to go out and totally destroy the Amalekites. He went out and destroyed most of them, but he did not kill King Agag, and he let his men keep the best of the flocks. Samuel then went to find Saul, and when Saul saw Samuel coming he said, "The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord's instructions." Saul then asked, "What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle I hear?" Saul then answered, "The soldiers brought them up from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest."

" bit...a bit."

I would like to think that Saul really did think that he had done what had been asked, and maybe that is where some of the half truths in our lives come from. I don't know. I know that I nearly always got busted as a kid, mom and dad could tell when I wasn't being totally honest. Now, I can do the same with my kids.

I'm not gettin on a soapbox or being judgmental in any way, I just thought it a little funny that the first king of Israel got caught bending the truth a little. And oh, the townsfolk did finally get to burn their witch I think, but it was because she weighed more than a duck and not because of her funny nose. Yeah, you don't really want to know...
Here's a link if you've got 4 minutes that you don't know what to do with and would like to watch the witch


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shooting Prayers...

This morning, I got a little giggle while I was reading from the 1 Samuel text. It mentions war between Israel and the Philistines, again, and that some of the Israelites had been hiding in the hill country around the Philistine camp. When the Israelites that had been hiding heard that the Philistines were on the run, they ran out and joined in hot pursuit. It reminded me of the last battle scene in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where the governor has been hiding in the captain's quarters during the whole battle but when he realizes it's over, comes out and gets all up in the pirates' faces. It made me laugh, but maybe I'll save that for another day.

What really hit me this morning was actually no surprise. I knew I was getting close to it but hadn't taken the time to look up actual chapter and verse before I got to it. It's in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 and it's another one of those places where there is an absolute gem tucked inside a whole bunch of really good night time reading. Right there, in the middle of this list of the clans of Judah, (which has already gone on longer than my adult ADD will allow me to remain interested,) is 2 verses that stick out from the rest.

"Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying "I gave birth to him in pain." Jabez cried out to the God of Israel and said, "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request." That's it. That's all we get about Jabez.

I wish we had more on Jabez, but if he's mentioned anywhere else in scripture, I haven't found it yet. Just two verses, but these two verses focus on the prayer that he prayed. You may have even heard it called "the prayer of Jabez" and might even have it on a little plaque somewhere in the house. It's simple, short, and to the point.

There are at least two ways to read this prayer. The first would be through the eyes of those proclaiming the prosperity gospel. (Yes, Joel Osteen, I'm talking to you). It could be said that Jabez is asking God to bless him through material means, and I don't know that I could argue that from a surface reading, but I'm sorry, prosperity gospel is from the pits of hell and smells like smoke.

Jabez's prayer was multi-faceted. Enlarged territory was certainly part of that, and the chronicler must have seen that as important to the people of Israel, or it wouldn't have been included. Perhaps it was included to give them some glimmer of hope that God would once again restore the nation of Israel to their homeland. The other part of his prayer was a prayer for protection from pain.

His mother gave him the name Jabez, which can mean "God inflicts pain" because she gave birth to him in great pain. This name would have stayed with him all of his life and folks would have known what it meant. His mother set him up from birth to be a loser.

Now, coming from one that was usually the last one picked at any playground sports event in elementary school, feeling like a loser sucks. I can respect the prayer of Jabez and his desire to be protected from the pain that would have been associated with his name. But God heard him and answered his prayer.

It shows us that it's ok to go to God in times of crisis, when we feel like it's us against the world, and that God will hear the prayers sent up in those times. Sure, we need to also spend time in prayer when everything is going well. But I have been guilty of saying that some folks only resort to prayer when all other options are gone, and for that, I would now like to apologize. The prayer of Jabez reminds us that it's ok.

So, when it's you against the world and life seems so bad that your very name seems cursed, hit your knees, cry out, ask God for what you need, and don't be afraid. I'm not guaranteeing anything, but God answered the prayer of Jabez, so who knows?


Monday, April 12, 2010

Foolish Talk...

(photo from
Yesterday I said something in Sunday school that I wish I had not said. Saturday's blog was brought up, and there was discussion on how I had reacted when my laptop was stolen. I was furious when it happened and made the statement yesterday that if I could have had 5 minutes with the person that had committed that crime, it would be hard to pry my fingers from around his neck. I shouldn't have said that, even though that might have been my thought at the time.

We've all done that...said things we wish we could take back. Sometimes we get caught up in the emotions of the moment, or we just don't think through what we are about to say, but it happens. You can't take them back, all you can do is apologize for them and hope the one you have offended can let it go. Sometimes, the things we say are not the result of emotions gone astray, but are instead the result of runaway egos.

That's what we have this morning with Paul. I have to admit, the Old Testement texts this morning just didn't speak to me. But Paul did. 2 Corinthians 12 is where he is at, and the subtitle is "Paul's vision and his thorn." He spent the majority of chapter 11, yesterday's reading, boasting about all of the things he had endured for the cause. Ok Paul, we get had a really hard time...can we move on? But he just keeps on, even one time, saying that what he was doing was speaking as a fool.

But in chapter 12 something happens, well lots of things happen actually. The first is this vision he records. He does it in third person, but there's no doubt that Paul is talking about himself. He talks about being transported to the third heaven where he heard and saw things that he is not allowed to talk about. But then it happened...

...Paul was given a thorn in his flesh so that he would not become conceited. Not just a thorn in his flesh, but a thorn put there by a messenger of satan for the sole purpose of tormenting him. There have been thousands of guesses over time as to what the thorn that Paul is talking about really was, but we have no way of knowing, nor do we really need to.

The more important thing is what this "skolops" or thorn in his flesh did for kept him from becoming conceited. When we become conceited, the foolish talk starts, just like it did for me yesterday. I don't see this thorn in his flesh as a negative thing. Uncomfortable for sure, but not necessarily negative.

Now, we could get into the idea that Paul was being targeted, as was Job, because of his righteousness, but I don't want to go there this morning. Maybe I'll save that for another day. What hit me this morning was the fact that there are things placed in our lives, regardless of their origin, that from time to time redirect our thoughts or steps. And that's not a bad thing.

For me, yesterday, it was a dear friend who called me out on what I had said. It wasn't out of the desire to torment me, but instead, because she knew that I really wouldn't have behaved that way. And I have to say, I'm glad she did. It made me stop and think about how I respond to situations in my life, and sometimes, I need just a little help keeping me straight.
So next time you hear someone talk about their "thorn in their flesh" you can remind them that is never a bad thing, and it won't be just foolish talk.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Broken Glass...

(this morning the blog editor is being stupid and has messed up the format. Sorry for the lack of breaks between a few of the paragraphs)

A few years ago I was in Memphis for school one day and stopped for lunch at the Quizno's on Union Avenue. It was just a few blocks from campus, so I hit it pretty regularly. After lunch with a friend, I walked back out to the Jeep, set my drink in the console, and noticed that my laptop wasn't where I had left it. Then I noticed all of the glass everywhere. Yep, somebody had busted my window and jacked my laptop.

I was mad. I was beyond mad. I was furious. I was stomping and cussing, my blood pressure was through the roof, and I was so mad that I was just shaking. Two years worth of sermons, all of my school work (Except for the one assignment that was due that day, because I had emailed it), powerpoint presentations, music, everything...gone.

As I was waiting for the cop to show up, a little lady walked by going in to eat. She looked at me and said, "Aw honey, I'm so sorry they did that to you." I said, "Thanks, I just hope they read my sermons before they pawn it." She asked me if I were a pastor and I said, "Yes ma'am, but if I could have 5 minutes with the person that did this, I would take my robe off and deal with them." She looked at me with this look of horror on her face, and just as serious as she could said, "Oh honey, you can't lay your religion down like that."

Well, yes by dang, I thought I could. And was well within my rights to do so in that particular situation. It happened again this week (not the laptop getting stolen, but the wanting to lay my religion down for a minute). Let me just go on record as saying that sometimes I wish I was just Jamie, not Pastor. I love my calling and don't see me doing anything else, but sometimes there are situations where I would love to take my robe off and deal with folks.

I ran into the one person this week that I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing. This guy is a former church member and had cut me deeper than any other human on the planet (er go the reason I am very cautious when it comes to trusting people). I misread his character and it cost me dearly. I would have loved to have hung my robe up the other day and told him what a (Insert Clark Griswold's rant from Christmas Vacation here) he is, but the image of that little old lady in the Quizno's parking lot reminded me that I couldn't.

Paul did the same thing this morning. Here's what he says in 2 Corinthians 10: "I, Paul, who am "timid" when face to face, but "bold" when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world."

Dang it Paul, and dang you little old lady in Memphis...just let me be mad for a while and do what needs to be done. But I can't because the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. That is such a tough lesson, and honestly, I'm not convinced that I've completely learned it yet. But the other day, I was cordial and polite, but not friendly, yet held my tongue. I decided it would be best to avoid conversation until I was able to be sure that I would not grab one of the weapons of the world. And honestly, at the moment, I wasn't sure.

So, the lesson for me in all of this is that reality says, we are just as human as everyone else. When we get mad we want to lash out. Paul says that lashing out, at least I'm assuming he would include that, is one of the weapons of the world. The church in Corinth was a mess, I'll just be honest. But of all of the situations that we have in scripture, these letters to those folks probably hit closer to home today. So, next time you want to lay your religion down, take a minute and think it over. I'm not telling you not to because that would be hypocritical. I wanted to, just didn't because of the setting. Had we been somewhere else, I'm not sure I would have reacted the same way, and I have to say, that bothers me.

Now, please don't throw the whole "Forgive and forget" thing at me. Reality is, that just doesn't work. We got into that in Sunday school last week, and I'm still processing that discussion. This week has taught me that it doesn't take much to re-open old wounds, and that I need to learn how to not pick up one of the weapons of this world when that happens. This morning has taught me that I still have a lot of work to do on this.

This one has messed me up. Sorry y'all, but I have to go think about this some more.


Friday, April 9, 2010

It's the Thought That Counts...

(photo from
Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day, Father's Day...have you ever gotten a really bad gift? I mean really bad? So bad that when you opened it, you thought, "What were they thinking?" And you wanted to look at the giver and ask that very question, but instead accepted the gift graciously, because you know that it's the thought that counts.

Everyone has gotten a really bad gift at least once. As I'm typing this right now, the scene from Christmas vacation where Aunt Bethany wraps up her cat and her jello mold is running through the background of my mind. Everyone knows an Aunt Bethany, but that's ok. It really is the thought that counts. Or at least I thought it was until I read the texts for this morning.

1 Samuel 6 threw me a curve this morning, I'll admit it. It's nothing earth shattering. No huge epiphany. It's not even anything that makes me question my faith or throw some doubt onto some belief that I may have. It was just...well, it was just odd.

Here's a little background. Yesterday's reading had the Philistines capturing the ark of the covenant. Today, they're wanting to give it back, but they're not sure how to go about it. So the priests and diviners among them said not to send the ark back empty, but that they needed to send a guilt offering. When the Philistines asked them what kind of guilt offering to send, here is what they said:

"Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and pay honor to Israel's God." That's right, gold tumors and gold rats.

"Dad, this one is meowing..."
"...Ah, she wrapped up her cat."
"Great, can't wait to see what I got."

The question I have is, why did they think God would want a gold tumor? Why do we do some of the things we do? You see, I think we want to give really cool gifts, but sometimes I have to wonder if they don't appear as gold tumors. I mean, who doesn't want to be the one who gave their neice or nephew the really cool toy at Christmas? Why would we want to do any less for God? And it's not even about tithing.

What are the gifts we offer our Creator? One hour on Sunday morning? Well, that is unless UK is playing...that's right, I went there. Do we offer any other gifts during the week? Or, do we wait until next Sunday when we offer another hour? I've been thinking alot about this lately.

God doesn't need our gold tumors or rats, God wants our devotion. That's part of our discipleship, I think. I'm still figuring all of that out. We are called to make disciples as the church, and through our gifts of devotion, study, witness, care of others, and worship we are being discipled so that we can make disciples. And I think that is the gift God really desires.

So, First Church especially, as we begin to look at how effective we are at making disciples, I would ask you to look at the gifts you are giving the Creator. Are you spending time every day in devotion? If not, why? Are you spending time in study? If not, why? Are you spending time in witness? Care of others? Are you finding time during the week to worship? It doesn't have to be in a corporate setting. It can be as simple as one on one with God.

If we do these things...I think...God will not be saying as the gifts are opened, "Great, can't wait to see what I got."


Thursday, April 8, 2010

The King of Mayberry...

(photo from
I have mentioned already that I love classic rock. I have also mentioned the fact that I'm an outside the box kind of guy with a rather warped sense of humor. Now I'm admitting that I'm just a little bit of a redneck. Now, I've got some class, don't get me wrong, but every now and then my inner redneck shows through. If you are a redneck, who loves classic rock, and has a warped sense of humor, there is only 1 early morning radio show for you...Johnboy and Billy.

Yep, I have to have my daily dose of my two favorite rednecks. You don't have to agree, but it works for me. Johnboy, or Mr. Boy to some, is an Andy Griffith fanatic. He prides himself on his knowledge of Andy Griffith trivia and on occasion will turn it into a call in game. After defeating the call in guest, as he usually does, he will say, "I am the king of Mayberry! All Hail me!"

Now, why have I brought this up? When I was reading the texts for this morning, the old Testament texts were from 1 Samuel 3, 4, and 5. In 1 Samuel 5, the Philistines have captured the ark of the covenant during battle with Israel and have taken it to Ashdod, to the the temple of Dagon, their god. They carried the ark into the temple and placed it beside Dagon. The next morning, Dagon was laying on the floor in front of the ark of the covenant. They sat him back up, but the next morning, he was on the floor again, minus his head and hands.

You've heard me say before that being humbled is not my favorite thing. I'm more of a "I am the king of Mayberry, all hail me!" kind of guy. Or at least I used to be. If being humbled is not one of my favorite things, being humbled by God is at the very top of my least favorite list, especially when it's not my idea. Steph has told me that I have authority issues, but I just tell her that as long as I have the authority, there are no issues.

This morning's reading reminded me that no matter how important I think I am, there are still multiple opportunities for lessons in humility. I doubt that Dagon had ever thought (if Dagon could think) that one day, he would be prostrated on the floor in front of the God of Israel without his head and hands. I doubt that Johnboy ever thought he would get beaten at Mayberry Trivia, but it happened.

So, here's my thought for the day I guess. Be confident in who you are, I don't think that's a problem at all. But at the same time, keep that confidence in check with daily doses of humility. It's a lesson that I struggle with daily, but one that I do struggle with. Because no matter how big we think we are (and in my position, who we think we are can go straight to our heads) there is someone much bigger sitting beside us.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lean On Me...

(photo from

Bill Withers nailed it. Number 205 on Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was his first and only Number 1 hit, recorded in 1972. We have even played it at church before, not because of the catchy little riffs, but because of the message. Here's the lyrics if you don't remember them, written by Bill Withers.

"Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow. But if we are wise we know that there's always tomorrow.

Lean on me when you're not strong and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on. For it won't be long till I'm gonna need somebody to lean on.

Please swallow your pride if I have things you need to borrow. For no one can fill those of your needs that you don't let show.

If there is a load you have to bear that you can't carry, I'm right up the road, I'll share your load if you just call me.

So just call on me brother when you need a hand, we all need somebody to lean on. I just might have a problem that you understand. We all need somebody to lean on.

Lean on me when you're not strong and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on. For it won't be long till I'm gonna need somebody to lean on."

Ok, confession many of us have more than 10 people that we really lean on? Who know you at your absolute worst and love you anyhow? Now, how many of those are outside our families? Good friends? For me, I might have 10 outside the family that I trust enough to let them see me at my weakest, but I'm pretty sure it's not more than 10.

Paul talks about this some in 2 Corinthians. He says this: "For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harrassed at every turn - conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus..."

We don't realize the impact we have on the folks around us by either, being there when they need someone, or by turning away when they need someone. Both leave huge impressions. I have lots of friends, and most of them I know I could go to with just about anything. However, there are only 3 or 4 people outside my family, that I could go to with absolutely anything. They have seen me furious, stomping and cussing (hey, cut me some slack, I wasn't always a preacher, and still, if I hit my finger with a hammer...just saying), they have held me while I cried, and the whole while without judging me. I admit, it's a very small inner circle, but I do have one.

I think that what Paul is hitting on here is actually both sides of the coin. We need those people in our lives that we know we can lean on, no matter what. But at the same time, we need to be able to allow ourselves to do the leaning. For me, that is the tough part. It's easy for me to be the one that folks lean on, I've been trained for that. It's not so easy to let go and do the leaning myself. "Please swallow your pride if I have things you need to borrow. For no one can fill those of your needs that you won't let show."

Yeah, I said boils down to pride. Distrust does figure into that, but even that might be born out of pride. I know that's the excuse I use. For me, I don't fully trust folks until they make the inner circle, but I know it's just an excuse.

The bottom line is deals us a bunch of junk sometimes. But at the same time, just as Titus did for Paul and the others, there are folks in our lives that can make the difference if we allow ourselves to lean on them. So, if there's a load you have to bear, that you can't carry, I'm right up the road, I'll share your load if you just call me.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I'm a Member of a Country Club...

(Phote from

I'm not a huge golfer. About once or twice a year I get the urge to go out and lose a bunch of golfballs. That's how I roll. I don't keep score on that little white score card. I keep score by keeping up with how many golfballs I have left at the end of 18. I enjoy it, but it frustrates me to no end, so that takes a lot of the fun out of it for me. I don't have the fancy golf clubs came from a yard sale...and my golf bag came from Walmart. I do have a Ping putter, but it was a Christmas gift.

When we moved to Hickman, I thought, "We may actually join the country club and then I can start playing golf again." Well, no. That didn't happen. First, I couldn't justify the expense. Dues are expensive. Second, I knew I wouldn't have time to play until the house was finished, because it was eating up what spare time I had. Third, I think I had rather just go fishing than to spend all afternoon looking for a little white ball in a creek somewhere.

It would have been cool though, I guess. And please understand that I'm not disrespecting country club members. The girls could have used the pool, and Steph could have gotten to know some of the other women in town, because bless her heart, my job sure drags her around a lot. She never gets to stay in a place long enough to really know folks when she walks into the grocery store, and this could have helped her make more friends down here. But we didn't, or haven't yet, and who knows, maybe one day we will if the finances improve and we feel we just can't make it without it.

I have actually heard folks call some churches country clubs. Folks join them based on the services they provide, and I may catch some flack over this next comment but here goes...As I looked at some of the pictures posted on facebook about things that other churches had done this week, I saw all kinds of pictues about egg hunts, some of them even with big Easter Bunnies, but I saw very few pictures a worship service. There were some, but not with the smiles and laughing faces that the egg hunt pictures had in them.

Now, please don't get me wrong, I'm all about reaching out to our kids, and I'm not saying there was anything wrong with the thousands of eggs that were hidden Saturday. It's just that I read from 2 Corinthians today and it got me thinking. Paul is talking about all that he has endured for the faith and it made me ask myself, "Am I a country club Christian?" My personal answer is, "I hope not." But sometimes I wonder.

2 Corinthians 6 says, "Rather as servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments, and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger..." and the list goes on. This statement, combined with the things we talked about in a meeting I went to yesterday hit me like I haven't been hit in a while.

We don't make disciples anymore, we try to make folks happy...if they're happy, they'll come...if they come our parking lot will be full...if our parking lot is full people will talk...if people talk, the number on the roll will go up...if the number on the roll goes up, my bishop will see me as an effective pastor. Now please hear me, this is not a commentary on the church I'm serving now. We actually offer very little fluff and for that I'm proud of them; but for some reason, it's actually growing. We didn't do a big egg hunt, and we don't have all the bells and whistles, but for some reason, that I haven't put my finger on yet, God is moving here.

I think it's time for me to rethink my role as shepherd. I've not been called to be a member of a country club. I've been called to be a disciple maker. So, disagree with me if you want. I'm a big boy. You can text your comments to BR549. But I think it's time to rethink how we've been rethinking church. First Church, look out, we're going to start making disciples.



Monday, April 5, 2010

A Love Story...

Ok, maybe it's because I'm done with Judges and have moved on to Ruth...maybe it's because I watched "The Sound of Music" last night with my girls and my estrogen level is dangerously high...but the passage for today is one of the greatest love stories ever told. (I'm really just a big ol' teddy bear at heart)

Now, this story is not about the love between a man and woman, although there are aspects of that later in the story. This story is about the love between a daughter in law and her mother in law. To me, with the exception of the love story written on the cross, this is the greatest love story in scripture. But that's just me.

Here's the deal. Naomi moved with her husband and two sons to Moab because of a famine in Bethlehem. After a little while, her husband dies. After a little while longer, her sons marry women from Moab. Then after a little while longer, both sons die, leaving the three women to fend for themselves. Naomi dismisses the daughters to go back to their people and remarry, one does, one will not. So Naomi and Ruth decided to make their way back to Bethlehem. Ok, there's the quick overview up till now.

Back in Bethlehem Ruth goes out to glean grain from the fields one day. That was how it worked. If you were a farmer, you could not go over the field a second time, and had to leave some grain around the edges for the widows in town. As she was gleaning in a field owned by Boaz, he noticed her and was especially kind to her (another love story right there because I bet that wasn't the norm). When Ruth asked Boaz why he was being so kind to her, he said that it was because of what she had done for Naomi.

There is a truth buried in this story, though, and sometimes it's one that we really struggle with...and here it is: (You know I couldn't just talk about the love story, right? My estrogen level is not that high)...Does the story of Ruth tell us that if we do good for others, good will be done for us?

That's what Moab told her. The reason he was being kind to her was because she had been kind to Naomi. Now, my question is, was Ruth kind to Naomi so that she would be taken care of in Bethlehem? The short answer is, "I don't believe that for a minute." In this story, I believe that Ruth did all that she did for Naomi strictly out of her love for her. I don't think that Ruth behaved the way that she did so that she would get something in return, and that my friends, is love. That's what happened at the cross, and that's also why this story is so beautiful.

I realize that there are folks who operate like that, though, you know, giving so they can get. It's just the reality of the world we live in. Sometimes we question other people's motives, I've done it. But should we? Certainly, we have no way of knowing what motive is in someone's heart, and they may be showing kindness to us because of some agenda they have, but what if? What if they are actually being Ruth to our Naomi? It happens.

I don't know, maybe I'm just rambling this morning. But it just seems to me that with the world the way it is (hunger being the norm in some areas and not the exception; folks still sleeping on the streets in one of the richest countries in the world; and we could go on and on) that knowing there are some folks out there who will give with no thoughts of getting back makes me feel a little better about the human species. So for today, and maybe only today, I will not question, if or when, someone shows me a kindness. I will not think about their motives. I will not ask why. I will accept it with grace and hope that, when or if, I do the same for someone else today my motives will not be questioned either.

Now, where's my fishing rod? I've got to do something manly for a while.