Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Flow Again...

I love canoeing. I don't do it quite as much as I used to because I have lost two very dear friends on the water in the last couple years, but I still love floating on a river. It's quiet, and I like quiet. It's calm, and sometimes I like calm. But every now and then, the river I'm floating gets a little wild, lots of water moving through it, and there are places where that water is concentrated in a smaller area. What happens when that happens? The water gets faster. But then as the summer goes on, the river begins to dry up a little, and a float then will mean you have to get out and drag the canoe across places you used to be able to float across. In places, it's almost like there's no river at all, but just wait, the rains will come, and it will start flowing again.

Finally, there is a little good news out of the Old Testement this morning. Amos is giving Israel what for, and evidently God has told him to. Chapters 7 and 8 in the book of Amos are absolutely horrible. Amos is being told what all is going to happen to Israel, and I can't imagine what he must have been feeling, knowing that he was supposed to go back and tell them all of that.

But then, in chapter 9, the mood shifts a little. Actually, the mood shifts a lot. God says, "The days are coming when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills."

Now Amos is surely not writing about rivers actually running full of wine, although a glass every now and then might be good for the stomach, but of rivers of new life being sent into a very dry land. That sounds pretty cool to me.

This new adventure that we're on is a lot like those rivers. They're not flowing with wine dripping from the mountains, but with new beginnings, second chances, hope where there wasn't any, help when it's needed, love where all you might have known is hate, acceptance no matter who you are, peace in your soul where all you might have known is chaos, rest when you're tired, encouragment when you're down, and cool, clean water washing the old away.

So, if you're ready for your rivers to start flowing again, come with us. If you're tired of dry and thirsty, come with us. I know where there are rivers beginning to flow again, alabaster jars that are being broken, and a brand new beginning for anyone who may be looking.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Walk With Me...

I just wasn't feeling the Life Journal texts this morning, so I thought I would try to do something different. I'm going to
try to do a photo blog. I've never done one before, so we'll see
how it goes. This may take longer than usual as I learn to move
the pictures around and get them where I want them.

One of my holy places is the hiking trail. I love to hike. Actually,
I just love being outside and hiking is one thing that I can do
outside, it's cheap, and actually, does this nearly 40 year old body
some good. Also, I'm blessed to live as close to Land Between the Lakes as I do. Less than an hour's drive and I can be on just about any hiking trail I want.

So, yesterday I decided I needed some trail time.
I worked for a couple hours yesterday morning,
then loaded up and headed east. I thought that
I would hike the Honker Bay Trail at LBL. It's long enough to make it worth the drive, 5.5 miles,
but not so long that I'm sore when I get done.

As I began the hike, the woods was totally different than the last time I hiked it. Summer is in full swing, and visibility was greatly reduced. But it was still beautiful. Summer is a great time to be in the woods because it reminds me of how cool Godstuff really is. I mean, where else can you see a PawPaw tree hanging full of fruit?

About 1.5 miles in, the woods got dusky dark. A cloud began to blow in, the air started to cool, thunder could be heard in the distance, and then the bottom dropped out. There was no choice but to keep walking and get soaked, so I did. It kind of made me feel like a kid again, so I didn't mind being wet, and it actually helped keep me cool after the storm passed and the sun came back out.

While I was walking, and drying out, it hit me just how much
a hiking trail is like this life journey we're on. Sometimes we
may be going along and it feels as if the walls are closing in all
around us. The trail may be straight, but sure isn't wide.
Weeds and tree limbs scrape against you on both sides, Stinging
Nettles cover you legs and arms, and it's just plain miserable. But
then...just up the trail, there is a sign that tells you you're on theright track...just keep going. So we do.

I had gone about 4 miles into the hike, and this ol' boy was starting to feel it a little. I knew that I still had one long climb ahead, but then it was pretty down hill from there. I stopped on the edge a TVA cut along the power lines to muster the will to climb the hill that was coming up when God spoke. It wasn't an audible voice, not a loud voice, not even a whisper. It was a moment. As I stood there, a butterfly (forgive my ignorance as to the species) landed on a patch of wildflowers and seemed to just be posing for me for a second. It reminded me that, even facing an uphill climb, God has this annoying tendency to show up and let you know you're not alone.

Even the rocks were speaking yesterday. Near the end of the trail, as I came back around the nature station, this one spoke. What it said to me, and hopefully to you, is "Jamie, you see this rock. You are like this rock in one respect. This rock would be a solid foundation for any building, and I am making you, and those like you, the foundation for something much bigger than you can imagine." It was at that moment, that I found out FaithRiver had hit 100 fans on Facebook.
So, my new friends, walk with me. I'm not exactly sure where this trail is going to lead, but neither am I afraid to put on my boots and take off. I know there will be some difficulties along the way. I know the trail will not always be smooth, nor flat. I know there will be times when we might want to just go back to the car and forget the whole thing, but somewhere along this trail are fellow hikers who have lost their map and don't know which way to go. We have been called to lead the way out.
Hiking, as a metaphor, is a wonderful way to look at life. There are twists and turns in the trails, hills that have to be climbed, things on either side of the trail threatening to get us off course, but every now and then, whether in the shade of the woods or the sun of the meadow, God reminds us that we are walking alone.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Job Description...

(photo from
This morning, Paul is finishing up his final instructions to Timothy. If Timothy was anything like most of us, he was only half listening as someone else told him what to do so it's a good thing Paul made him a list. I don't know about you, but I'm not huge on being told what to do. Maybe there are some authority issues after all. But that's ok, I do what I have to do to stay out of trouble...most of the time.

Here's what Paul said to Timothy: "I give you this charge; Preach the Word; Be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction...keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." Come on Paul, that sounds really boring.

But here's the cool thing, Paul told Timothy "what" he needed to do, but he didn't tell him "how" to do it! I notice stuff like that. Maybe the rebel in me just looks for those little loopholes, I don't know, but I sure do love it when I find one. The "what" that I've been told to do, as a United Methodist pastor, is to go out and make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But nobody told me "how"! That is so cool. (that's me rubbing my hands together and grinning)

I don't have a problem being told what to do, I really don't, so long as I'm not also told how to do it. I think it's that whole right brain/left brain thing going again. I like to have a little creative license for the things I've been asked to do, and obviously, Paul gave Timothy that same freedom.

St. Francis once said, "Preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary." That may be a paraphrase, but you get the gist of what he was saying. If I, like Timothy, have been charged with preaching the Word, correcting, rebuking, and encouraging...and if I, like Timothy, have to keep me head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and discharge all the duties of my ministry...I'm going to give it everything I have. But...I'm probably going to have fun doing it.

I take St. Francis' words pretty seriously. I love preaching. I love researching and writing. I love making my folks go, "Hmmm. Never thought about it like that before." But I don't have to write a message to preach the Word....and I certainly don't have to write a message to do the work of an evangelist.

So, now that FaithRiver has been birthed in cyberspace, begin looking for the Word being preached, only it won't always be me doing it. I posted a link last night, and Bon Jovi didn't even know that they were leading us in a prayer to the Holy Spirit. I hope they didn't mind. Evengelism, that dreaded "E" word, is going to take on a new skin now. And I will be looking for new, edgy ways to discharge the duties of my ministry.

And they said church is boring. By dang, I'll show them. That's part of my new job description.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Flying Low...

(photo from www.
I was buzzed by an airplane this morning. Seriously. I was driving down Middle Road, on my way back to Hickman, and an airplane flew not 50 feet above me, right over my sunroof (which was open by the way). I was a little surprised to say the least. I had been watching another plane, both were cropdusters, and this one snuck up on me from out of nowhere. One minute I'm driving down the road, John Boy and Billy on the radio, and the next I'm looking at the bottom side of an airplane...not something that happens everyday.

He was just doing his job, I know. I'm not sure what he was spraying for, but I am sure that I just happened to be at the right place at the wrong time and just happened to be on the road at the exact spot he needed to cross so that he could make his next least I hope that's what it was because I really don't think he was aiming for me. I got a little start and I'm sure he got a little giggle. For him, it was just another day on the job. For me, not so much.

It reminded me of something though. Nearly everything we do in our day to day affects someone else in some way. He was just spraying crops, but it affected me, by dang. Now, I don't know if there's anything in scripture about that, probably is, but I do know it's a reality. The things I do and the things I say in what, for me, is just the mundane, can have far reaching effects on those around me. One example...a loose tongue. I do know there's something in scripture about that. Several somethings, actually.

James mentions it in the third chapter of the book bearing his name, and Paul mentions it in the 2nd chapter of his 2nd letter to his son in the faith, Timothy. Here's what he says:

"Avoid Godless chatter, because those who engage in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene..." and then he even begins naming names.

I've never really had much patience for a gossip, but in my field, I'm one of the first ones folks gossip to...or about. For someone to come to me with the latest gossip is a terrible waste of my time and their breath. I just don't care for it. But, what gets me even more is when those words are turned on me. You may have guessed it already, but it has happened twice in as many weeks.

Now, I'm a big boy and can handle it. But what a waste of time it is to have to go and undo rumors that have been started, and once they're started, you can't stop them. What have I learned through all of this? To make sure that what I spend my time doing in my day to day is at least halfway worthwhile, to keep my nose clean so that there is nothing to the rumors, and to do my best to "instruct gently" as Paul puts it, those who have nothing better to do.

So, if you like to gossip...STOP! It's no good. As Chuck Swindol liked to put it, "It's from the pits of hell and smells like smoke." It may not seem a big deal to you, but I promise it is not just a harmless activity. In our ordinary day to day, and especially in our ordinary everyday as the Church, we have to remember that what we spend our days doing could have an effect on those we are trying to reach.

Whether you fly a plane low to the ground for a living and just happen to scare the bejesus out of some guy driving down the road, whether you punch a clock, or whatever it is that you do day in and day out, somewhere, somehow, you are having an effect on someone. Let's do all we can to make that a positive experience for all involved. Ok, I'm done now.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Who Knows?...

Ok, I'm writing very quick this morning. My computer has caught up with 21st century technology but now I have less than 20 minutes left on my battery. Note to self: Get internet hooked up at the house.

This morning, I didn't read the Life Journal texts as closely as I usually do, because of time, but I found myself reading Joel this morning. I think, at best, I have skimmed Joel when I've read it before but something jumped out at me as I read. In the 2nd chapter, Joel is giving Israel "what for" because they have evidently, how shall I say, strayed from God's purpose for them as a nation.

He says, "Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love...who knows? He may turn and have pity..."

That's an abbreviated form of what Joel said, but the gist of it is this, "Straighten up...quit doing what you're doing, and get back to God...who knows? God may just not be as angry as you think God is."

This is something I have had to do over and over again for years. Not that I set out to intentionally do stupid stuff, it just happens. Evidently, I'm really good at the doing of the stupid stuff, and who knows why I do it? Sometimes that stupid stuff drives a perceived wedge between God and I. The only problem with that is...the perception is all on my part.

Joel knew that more than likely, once Israel turned back to God the relationship would be restored. The same is true for us. So, if you're doing stupid stuff, like I have most of my life, don't do it anymore. Don't beat yourself up over the fact that it happened, just don't do it anymore. Take that first step back to the God that loves you and is waiting with open arms, and... who knows?


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Standing Guard...

(photo from
Today is a milestone for me. This is my 100th blog. For over 4 months now, with the exception of Sundays and a few days without internet service, I have spent my mornings reading, writing, and waxing theological. It has been one heck of a ride. I've learned things about the scriptures and I've even learned a few things about myself. I hope that I can keep this up for years, but I will only keep writing daily if I can keep it fresh. So, 99 attempts in, I try for one more today.

Paul hit me this morning. I have to write fairly quick this morning because I'm running out of battery on my laptop, but Paul said something this morning that struck a chord with me. The 6th chapter of 1 Timothy is where I'm at. In what appears to be his closing comments to his young charge, he says this, "Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care..." That almost brought a lump to my throat.

I've been a shepherd for 11 years now. In those 11 years, I have been shepherd to hundreds of people, and even as I sit and write this morning, I remember all of them. Names may elude me every now and then, but I remember them. I take my role as shepherd very seriously, as no doubt Paul and, later, Timothy did, so I take it personally when one of my flock is troubled, and want to do all I can to help. I guess that's just the protector in me.

But the brutal truth is, as much as I might want to guard those entrusted to my care, I can't fix all of their problems, and that bothers me. There is something in most people that wants to fix the hurts of others, I truly believe that, but it's just not always possible. So what do we do then? Just sit back and watch them suffer? Watch them struggle? I just don't know if I can do that.

I've been told over the years that part of my calling is learning when it's time to refer. It's tough for me to do that, but I have learned that part of my role in guarding those entrusted to my care is spending time in God's presence interceding for them, so I refer them to the Great Shepherd.

That doesn't mean I have been released from guard duty, but that I have recognized my need for help as I help them. The cool thing is, you don't have to shepherd hundreds to be able to do that. I know that Paul was talking to Timothy, and that we weren't even supposed to read that letter, but we have and now the words spoken to one centuries ago ring true for us as well.

So, if you shepherd a flock or a family, or both, take seriously your role to guard those entrusted to your care. Sometimes that means putting self aside. Sometimes it means letting them see your strengths. Sometimes it means letting them see your weaknesses. But all the time it means letting them see the Great Shepherd shepherding you as you guard them.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Can't We All Just Get Along...

(photo from
This blogging endeavor that I have signed up for has opened my eyes to a lot of things in scriptures that I guess I really never paid much attention to before. I have probably spent more time reading and studying the Old Testament since February than I have in a long, long time. In seminary, I took a few Old Testament classes but even then I don't think I really grasped what was written on a lot of those pages.

The Old Testament should be renamed "A collection of stories about this group killing that group in the name of religion." I did not realize how much bloodshed was contained in that group of writings, but it seems like nearly every time I read an Old Testament passage for the Life Journal readings, somebody is killing somebody else in the name of religion. I think I've had about all of that I can take.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are great stories scattered in and among the slayings; stories of great courage and unbelievable faith, stories about the undeniable presence of God among God's people, stories about deliverance from insurmountable odds, but it never fails that before long... off with somebody's head. The sad truth is that, to a degree, those kinds of things still happen today.

I have said before, and I'll say it again, I am currently serving the perfect appointment in the United Methodist church. I don't have the arguing and bickering I've had in other churches. I don't have a great number of folks who have to have their way. I don't have the egos to deal with that I've had in the past. It's great. But I know other pastors, serving other churches, who may feel like they are stuck in the pages of the Old Testament, and one, or some, of their parishioners always seem to be after one, or some, of the others.

I think it's time. I think it's time we realized that if we are going to be the church, we have to be the church. Now I'm not so naive as to think that everyone will get along all of the time. The reality is that we live in a fallen world and, in the words of Mermaid Man from Spongebob, "There's evil afoot." But I do think that as the church, we are called to rise above that evil, recognize that we are family, and by dang, act like it.

According to the words of the Old Testament, at least a big part of the time, those who did the slaying in the name of religion did so at God's command. Maybe that's why so many people struggle with the Old Testament. To throw out a $30,000 seminary word, it brings up questions of "theodicy"...the justice of God. How can God claim to be a God of love when God seems to be the author of so much destruction? I respect that question because it's one I have struggled with myself.

But...enter the cross. How is it that the God who appears to be the author of widespread destruction and bloodshed in one set of writings, can be the same God who accepted Christ's gift of atonement on our behalf so that we do not have to face destruction ourselves, if we so choose? And how is it that folks who claim to be sons and daughters of that same God, can't put our own wants and desires aside so that God's kingdom can be brought here on earth? I think it boils down to genuine, unconditional love...its presence in some hearts...and its absence in others.

Forgive me for getting a little preachy this morning. And before anyone asks, no, there has not been anything happen recently that has brought this to the surface. I just realized as I was reading this morning that a whole lot of folks, in a whole lot of places, just couldn't get along.

So, if you are one of those in your church who has to have your way, or can't hear the needs and dreams of others because it might interfere with what you want...STOP IT! If you are one of the ones who feel as if you are constantly under persecution by someone else in your church family, remember, God has your back. It would be a wonderful world if even just the folks who march under Christ's flag could find some way to work together in all things for the good of the One who leads us. Call me naively optimistic if you want, but I think it could actually work.

Ok, I'm done now.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bitin' Sows...

(photo from
Since I was a kid, I've been told that I go at everything I do just like a biting sow. I've never really been around a biting sow, so I don't really know what one looks like, but I can imagine it's not a critter you'd want to tangle with. I've also heard it said that some folks go at the things they do just like they're killing snakes. That one I can understand. I don't like it, because I quit killing snakes when I was doing my undergrad work, but I understand it.

Whenever I hear someone say either of those things about someone else, it's almost as if it's a put down. But I'm not so sure anymore. What folks are saying about these other folks is that they go at whatever they are doing wide reservations...pedal to the metal...and you can toss in your own colorful euphamism here. My dad had lots of them, but I won't repeat them here.

I've never really been one to overthink a decision before I made it. I guess you could say that when I get a notion to do something, I do go at it like a biting sow. But I think that can be a good thing. There have been times it has bitten me in the tail, but more times than not, overthinking and holding back would have given me an opportunity to talk myself out of a lot of great blessings.

This morning Paul is talking about that. He wasn't using the biting sow metaphor, but as he gives instruction to Timothy, he tells him to give everything he has to everything he does. Here's what he says:
"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress."

My dad did have one saying, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right." So, if I'm going to do something, I'm going to give myself wholly to it, and if I look like a biting sow, that's ok. I prefer to think that it's not impatience on my part, but that when I do something I give it all of myself.

And that is where I'm at now. I'm trying to find some way to give all of myself to this new task God has called me to while also giving all of myself to my family and my churches. It will be difficult, no doubt. I may need to restructure my time a little. But...I cannot stand before God one day and confess that when I felt called to go, I only went part of the way out of fear, because of difficulties, or some reservation I, or those around me, had.

So, my God and my King, speak, for your servant is listening and is ready to give it all I have.


Monday, June 21, 2010

That's Impossible...

(photo from
You know, I never claimed to be a very smart man, and there are several folks that just might agree. I've spent a lot of time in school, hold three degrees, and still spend a lot of time in study, but there are some things I just can't figure out. There is a constant battle waging between the left side of my brain and the right side. My bachelor's degree is in biology, with a minor in chemistry, so part of me likes to think in concrete terms. That side of my brain isn't worth a hoot at visualizing an idea that might seem abstract, or cannot be proven by science.

The right side of my brain, loves the abstract, and is constantly trying to convince the left side of my brain that just because something cannot be proven, does not mean it can't be a reality. And it's ok, I actually enjoy the tension. I usually wind up trying to think concretely about the abstract, but at the end of the day, my right brain usually wins out.

What does that have to do with anything? This morning I was reading from 2 Kings 6, and if you're familiar with the story of Elisha, you'll know that in the 6th chapter of 2 Kings, Elisha causes something to happen that is just impossible. There were a group of folks who had outgrown their meeting place so they went down to the river to begin cutting trees to build a bigger meeting space. One of them had borrowed an axe head for this undertaking. Well, you know what happens when you borrow something...Murphy's Law kicks in and something is probably going to happen to it. It did.

I can picture the scene. As he was cutting trees, and in the middle of a ferocious backswing, the axe head flies off the handle, literally, and lands in the river. Now, the scientist in me knows that the only way to get it back is to dive down and get it, because I know it's going to be sitting on the bottom of the river. Iron sinks...period. Unless it's shaped so that the weight of the water it displaces is greater than the weight of the iron. This wasn't shaped that way.

Enter Elisha...He asked where it fell in, took a stick and laid it in the river, and guess what, the axe head floated to the top. That's just impossible. It can't happen. The universal rules of physics would have to be completely suspended, but it did happen. At least in the story.

Now, here is the "So what?" moment. Here is what that story meant to me this morning. I'm standing, as I mentioned last week, in front of a door, begging God to open it. I know that the reality of what I'm about to ask my people to do is tough, and that it is going to appear as an axe head sinking in a river. There are going to be folks say that it's impossible, there always are, and actually I give thanks for that. It helps keep me in line, but...

...but, I serve a God who loves to show out with the impossible. Axe heads don't float, period...unless God wants them to float. Pastors can't convince their people to follow into new and unfamiliar territory...unless that is where God wants them.

This weekend, I have seen axeheads floating, and I have to say, the left side of my brain is reeling from everything that has happened...but the right side of my brain is having a ball.

I have learned one thing this weekend...if you ask God to make your axe head float, you had better get ready to scoop it up off of the surface of the water.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Open Arms...

(photo from
Journey had a song when I was growing up that talked about the love between a man and a woman. Actually, Journey had a lot of songs about that. One of them was called, "Open Arms." It's a great song, and I don't know how many times I danced to that song at one of our high school dances. Here are some of the lyrics:

"So now I come to you with open arms, nothing to hide, believe what I say. So here I am with open arms hoping you'll see what your love means to me. Open arms."

Now, read as a love song between a man and a woman, it's beautiful enough all by itself. But what if, just what if, we read some of the lyrics in that song as a love song from God to us? I know, you may be thinking it's a stretch and that I'm just grasping at straws for something to write about this morning. But I've said before that I like to look for Godstuff in places most church folks don't think to look. So, that's what I'm going to do with at least part of this song.

Journey says, "We sailed on together, we drifted apart, and here you are by my side..." My gosh, that is our Godstory, right there. From the moment of our conception God and we sailed together, but for a lot of folks, at some point they drifted away. Now...God is wanting to come to them with open arms hoping they will see what their love means to God.

And this is where a classic rock and roll song, a Psalm, and our mission as a church collide. This morning, as I was reading, I just wasn't feeling the battle stuff in 2 Kings, or the words that Paul kicked off 1 Timothy with...but the Psalm for spoke, and it spoke loudly.

The Psalm this morning was Psalm 82 (And it is Psalm, not Psalms, when you're talking about one. Just FYI) and Psalm 82 says this: "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked."

I think that if I had to sit down today and develop a mission statement for this new FaithRiver adventure, that would be it.."Defending the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintaining the rights of the poor and oppressed; rescuing the weak and needy...and helping them see Godlove waiting for them with open arms." In fact, I think I just developed a mission statement for this new FaithRiver adventure.

For too long, the Church in general has been a place where the well have gathered wanting a check up from the doctor, and not a place where the sick are actively seeking healing. It's time to change that. And, if we can't change that in the churches we serve, it's time to step out in some way that makes that healing possible.

So, sing on Journey, I love the music. But now, as a shepherd and dreamer, forgive me if I hear your songs sung in a different way and for a different purpose.

May you find God by your side waiting with open arms.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Open Doors...

(photo from
In May of 1999 I went to my pastor at the time and said, "Ed, I think God is calling me to the ministry." He said, "I know, I've just been waiting for you to figure it out." It was a great affirmation for what I was feeling anyhow, and Ed has been a great encourager since then. He went on to say, "God will open doors for you. The doors that are opened, you have to step through. The ones that are closed in front of you, have to stay closed." I'm standing in front of one of those doors right now, and I have to say, I have a nervous peace about it, if that makes any sense.

In his closing comments to the church at Colosse, Paul asks them to do something for him and the others working with him. He says this to them: "And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of faith, for which I am in chains." I like that.

As I begin asking folks to step out of the boat with me over the next few weeks, I want to just take those folks that sign on with the FaithRiver adventure and run, but I know that first the whole project has to be bathed in prayer. That's part of the phase one that we're in now.

I would like to shoot up prayers that God would take this calling I've been given and make it explode, sending me hundreds of people to minister with that don't feel comfortable in church as it is in a lot of places, but I think the prayer I'm going to shoot up instead is that God just open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of faith, for which I am in chains.

Maybe I should be more specific in my prayers, you know, something like, "Ok God, show me where we're going to go, who's going with me, where we'll meet, how big it's going to get, and what we can do to help people live out their Jesus lives." Maybe I could throw in a bunch of "Father God's" or some other phrase that I could repeat over and over to make sure God is still paying attention. Or, maybe I could just ask God to open the doors and see what happens.

But, you see, that's tough for me. Yesterday I talked about how my wife says I have authority issues, but I'm learning that there are some things I have to be able to let go of because I'm not in control of them anyhow. This is one of those.

So, FaithRiver curious, join with me in phase one. Begin asking that God open doors for our message. The who, what, when, where, and how may be important to some folks, and will be part of a plan that I have to lay out in the next few weeks, but I'm not as concerned about that right now. Those things will be laid out for me when the time comes. Right now, I'm standing in front of a door and all I ask is that God opens it up.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

You Will...

(photo from
My loving wife says I have a problem with authority. I don't think I do. I've told her, jokingly, that as long as I have the authority, there are no problems. Maybe she's right. When I was a kid I listened to what mom and dad told me to do out of respect, and maybe sometimes, not just a little fear.

If Daddy told me to pack in firewood, I packed in firewood. If Mom told me to take out the trash, I took out the trash. If either of them told me to pick up my room, I picked up my room. As I got a little older, maybe I did begin developing some authority issues, who knows. But still, when someone in authority over me said to do something, I did it. Still do.

This morning, I was reading from 1 Kings 20, and King Ahab is under threat of attack by King Ben-Hadad of Aram. Ben-Hadad's army is gathered and preparing for war. God, perhaps sensing Ahab' fear, sent him a messenger and that messenger said this:

"This is what the Lord says, 'Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today and you will know that I am the Lord.'"
"But who will do this?" asked Ahab.
The prophet replied, "This is what the Lord says, 'The young officers of the provincial commanders will do it.'"
"And who will start the battle?" he asked.
The prophet answered, "You will."

Here is what I love about this story, Ahab didn't wait. God said, "Go," and Ahab began making plans. He called together the young officers of his provincial commanders, and started gathering his army. It wasn't big as far as armies go, only 7232 fighting men who were setting up to go against unknown thousands.

Here's the thing. We like to think that God doesn't call us to do concrete things anymore, unlike Ahab...but God does. God is still calling us to work and war. Not physical war, but spiritual war. God is calling us to take our place leading God's army, or engaging in battle alongside them. But what do we do when the task seems too great, or the army we're facing seems so much better equipped? We go anyhow.

I've been dropping hints for several weeks about something I have been called to do, not felt called to do, but called to do. I laid the initial plan out to one of my committees last night and they gave me the green light to begin Phase One. As I look around, though, at all the possibilities of failure, all of the potential obstacles, all of the conversations that will have to take place, and the fear that stepping out strikes in some hearts, I keep asking God, "Who will do this?" hoping that God's answer will be, "The young officers of the provincial commanders." What I keep hearing as I ask God who will start this battle is, "You will." Dang it.

So today, phase one of FaithRiver begins. I enter into this new adventure with great fear and trembling, but because of the One who has ultimate authority over me, I cannot say "No." I will, in the next few days or weeks, begin gathering the troops. God has already told me that it's going to work, I don't know how yet, or even exactly what it's going to look like. But now, when I ask God who will start this adventure, I'm not just hearing, "You will." God is saying, "We will." And that makes it alright.

If you're ready for the adventure of a lifetime, shoot me a text 270-748-9619. I'm stepping out in front because that is where God has told me to stand, and I know that is one authority figure that I will not argue with anymore.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's Clouding Up...

(photo from
This morning it's awful tough to pick just one of the texts from the Life Journal. 1 Kings 17 has the story of the Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. No rain, no food, death of a loved one, and life given back. Great story, and pregnant with potential. 1 Kings 19 has the story of Elijah and the presence of God sneaking up in a gentle whisper. I love that story because God didn't show up like Elijah expected and I'm all about encountering the unexpected presence of God. In Colossians, Paul talks about us, as Jesus followers, being released from the old laws. I really like that one.

But I think I'm going to hang my hat on 1 Kings 18 this morning. I could spend a week blogging just on today's readings but this morning I'm going to kneel with Elijah on top of Mt. Carmel.

This time of year, it's nothing unusual to look out towards the horizon and watch clouds begin to form. We did that yesterday afternoon as a matter of fact. My neighbor and I stood out on my front porch comparing garden notes, and as we watched, clouds began to form in the southwestern sky. Then the bottom dropped out and it rained buckets. My pond filled up in just a matter of minutes from the run off, and both of our gardens got a good drink.

But in 1 Kings 18, it was just a tiny cloud. There hadn't been a rain cloud in the sky for years and everything, everyone, was parched. As Elijah knelt with his head between his knees and prayed, it began to form. Tiny at first. No bigger than a man's hand is what scripture says, and way off in the distance. Eight times Elijah prayed and sent his servant to look for the results. On the last trip he finally saw it. I can imagine what the servant must have felt...either Elijah had just lost his mind because he hadn't seen rain in years...or something was about to happen.

Elijah prayed for rain, and rain is what they got. But here's what I, as a shepherd of the flock, love about this story. After the rain started, Elijah had finished praying, and Ahab was driving his chariot ahead of the storm, Elijah didn't stop. He didn't kick back and say something like, "Hey, would you look at that. It actually worked." He tucked his cloak in his belt and took off, running, and ran ahead of the chariot all the way to Jezreel.

I don't know if you've noticed or not, but there are places where it's getting a little dry. You might even say we're in a drought. Now, we got over an inch of rain last night in just a few minutes, so you know that's not the kind of drought I'm talking about. For the first time in our history as a nation, we are a country of the unchurched. There is a greater percentage of folks claiming NOT to have a relationship with God than there are who do. As a result, there are other Jesus tribes and nations sending missionaries to us now, can you believe that?

It's dry, bad dry. For the last 8 months or a year, I have knelt with Elijah, head between my knees, praying for a rain cloud. As I have watched the horizon for the last few weeks, I'm thinking I see a tiny cloud beginning to form. It's not very big...yet...but it's there. And I can't wait for the bottom to drop out of it. It's going to happen, I know it. It's clouding up y'all, and the rain's coming.

So, especially First Church, I'm asking you to watch the sky with me. But I don't want us to run from the rain like Ahab did, afraid of getting wet, I want us to kick our shoes off and dance in the rain. It may be a little scary at first because we've been told all of our lives that we can't play in the rain. It may take our breath away for just a minute. But it's great, and yesterday I was reminded of just how great dancing in the rain with God is.

Yesterday I was picking blackberries and it started raining. I didn't grap my bucket full of berries and run to the house. I kept the rain...and you know what, it was awesome. So, if you're not afraid of getting wet, if you think you can kick your shoes off and play in the rain with me, I want to talk to you. I'm looking toward the horizon and it's clouding up.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Seeking and Finding...

(photo from
Ok, I don't think I'm alone in this but I'm just going to ask to find out. Have you ever had to look for something? I have. I know, I told you I didn't think I was alone. It may seem to be a very simple question. Of course, we've all had to look for something at one point or another. Car keys have an annoying habit of hiding themselves from us. Pencils, ink pens, that little screw that fell out of the cabinet hinge that you set on the counter so you wouldn't lose it...You get the point.

I keep my sunglasses on top of my head so that I never have to look for them. It absolutely drives Steph nuts but I don't lose my sunglasses. I even heard a story a couple weeks ago about someone who was looking furiously for their cellphone...while they were talking on it.

We've all had to look for something at some point. If I could only get back the time I spent looking, I could take a couple days off and go fishing or something. But that's not the way it works.

What if that which you were looking for were a little bigger than sunglasses, car keys, or even cellphones? I know how frustrated I get over looking for those things, and I can only imagine that looking for something grander, and not finding it, must be even more frustrating. Yet, there is a world full of people looking for that grander something, and I know where it is. Should I tell them? Maybe help them find it?

This morning, I was reading 2 Chronicles 15, and here's what I found: "The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you..." The chronicler must have known that folks were looking for something...grand. Actually, it was Azariah talking to King Asa, but doesn't the same hold true for us? If we seek God, God will be found? I think yes.

Now, here's the catch. When I can't find my carkeys, what do I do? What do you do? I ask Steph..."Honey, have you seen my car keys?" Sometimes she knows where they're at, sometimes she doesn't, but I never know if she can help me find them until I ask.

Sunday I began casting a vision at First Church because I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there are folks who are seeking but not finding. They may not know where their car keys are, but that's not what they're looking for. They are looking for a place where seeking and finding God is something that happens all the time. They are looking for a place where they know God is, but also a place where they know they can look for God in their own ways.

I have found in 11 years of ministry, that we who already know God want to help others find God, but we just aren't real sure how to help them. When I can't find my sunglasses, on those very rare moments when I forget they're on my head, my wife will come to me and point to them. I think that's what we've been called to do. Not to help someone find their sunglasses, but to go to them and show them that God is closer than they think.

Over the next couple weeks I will be talking a lot about this, about seeking and finding. The seeking can be a lot of fun, or it can be very frustrating for the seeker. Finding, now that's where it's at. I think it's time we spent some time actively pointing the way.

If you're curious and want to be a part of this, let me know. Internet is spotty for me right now, but you can text me 270-748-9619.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

We Are One In The Spirit...

(photo from
Peter Scholtes wrote a song over 30 years ago titled, "They Will Know We Are Christians." We've played that song in church dozens of times, at Emmaus meetings, and even sitting around the kitchen table. I don't know the name of the tune, but it has a really catchy, Native American feel to it. If you close your eyes, you can almost see a group of folks sitting around a fire singing this song, and you can almost hear the drums in the background.

"We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they'll know we are Christians by our love."

That's the first verse. Kind of catchy, eh? Here's the second...

"We will work with each other, we will work side by side. We will work with each other, we will work side by side. And we'll guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride. And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love."

I like that one too, but here's the one I really like...

"We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand. We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand. And together we'll spread the news that God is in this land. And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they'll know we are Christians by our love."

In light of my blogs this week, reckon why I like that last verse best? If we're walking with each other and we're walking hand in hand, that means that we're going in the same direction. Paul talks this morning about the importance of unity in the Church. And as much jumping around as the Life Journal does, I don't think it's any coincidence that this text is the last text I'll blog on before I begin casting a new vision at First Church.

Not just to encourage folks to get on board, but to remind myself the importance of together...being one in the Spirit. It's very easy for a church leader to stop leading and start dragging, and that's what I'm trying to avoid.

Paul says this: "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort in his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."

Together is important. Together is powerful. Together is scriptural. Together is also, sometimes, totally thrown out the window. The reality is, very seldom, when it comes to big decisions, will you get a group of folks totally together. It just doesn't happen. So what do we do then? That is the question I'm asking today. Do we wait for a consensus? Or do we take a group of like minds and walk together? And can we do that without leaving the others behind? Ours is not always an easy road to travel, but dog gone it's fun sometimes, especially when we walk it together.

Together is very important in the life of a church, but over the next few months, it is going to be extremely important here. I know I probably have some of my folks terrified, but I promise, you can relax. That ugly "C" word, you know the one..."Change..." has not even crossed my mind at all.

So if you're not afraid, walk with me. If you're more than a little curious now, walk with me. If you just wonder where I'm going, walk with me. If you're ready to bow your knees before Christ and confess that he is Lord, walk with me. If you're itching to help others do that, walk with me. If you hope in the future of the church, and are tired of the talking heads crying about how bleak our future is, walk with me. If you are ready to step out on faith, walk with me.

"And together we'll spread the news that God is in this land..."


Friday, June 11, 2010

In Chains...

(photo from
This morning, I'm going to leave the Song of Solomon and jump in with Paul for a few minutes. Paul is writing to the church at Philippi, a group of folks that he evidently loved dearly and felt no small amount of pastoral care for. But Paul hasn't always had such an easy row to hoe and he doesn't mind telling you about it.

This morning he's talking about being in chains. For him, that has been a good thing because he sees it as a way to encourage those around him and advance the gospel, that's what he says. To a certain extent, I agree. His chains are the sufferings he's endured, and most anyone who has done work in the church, whether clergy or laity, will agree that Paul's sufferings are not imagined. It's tough work. Being out in front means that your back is an easy place to hang a target. But...Paul wasn't afraid.

I also feel as if I'm in chains, but of a different kind than Paul is talking about. My chains are not necessarily a list of sufferings or difficulties that I have faced in my ministry, although there have been plenty of those. My chains are more like those chains that take away my own freedom to do as I please. I am chained to One who is leading me into places I have never been, and I'm not scared.

I hadn't really noticed the chains so much until just very recently. You see, I have always had trouble distinguishing what was Jamie's wants and what was the call of God. It's been something I've struggled with for years now. But recently, what I have felt called to do is totally opposite of what Jamie wants to do. Let me explain.

I don't like confrontation at all. As out there and rebellious as I might appear to be, I don't like confrontation. I know that what I am being called to do right now might possibly lead to some difficult conversations. Jamie, that's me, would prefer to not have to go there. My District Superintendent told me when I came to this appointment that I was coming to rest for a while after seminary. My Jewish carpenter boss is telling me otherwise. So, therefore, the chains metaphor.

I am extremely excited about the call I have been given in the last 8 months or so. I can't wait to get started on it, and hopefully I can get half a dozen or so folks from the church on board with me. And this is part of what I love about my job. No matter what I might want for myself, I sometimes have to yeild to my chains. It would be so easy to ignore the nudgings I've been getting lately, or to pretend that it's not the One speaking that I'm sure it is, or to just try to justify the many reasons why I shouldn't do this, but...I can't. Why? Because of my chains.

But here's what's so cool. Paul was chained to his sufferings like some self appointed martyr. I'm chained to the One leading me into these unchartered waters, which means, wherever I go during this new adventure, there is no chance that I will be going alone. And that makes it alright. If I struggle, or even if it seems as if failure is my lot, I am still chained to the One who has led me there. I think we have a great number of pastors and church leaders who have either never grasped that concept, or are too busy trying to please themselves that they have chosen to ignore it.

So, my friends, it's time to rattle some chains. I'm about to ask First Church to step out into the mission field in a way they have never before, but as long as we remember that we are chained to the Spirit, it's going to be alright. So, don't even bother looking for the keys to unlock the chains, we don't need them.

And as I said the other day, if you're curious, bored, tired of the same ol' same old, or church as you perceive it isn't working anymore, come to First Church Sunday morning as I begin to cast the vision. I'm not going to be unveiling all of the details, but Sunday the vision begins to unfold. If you can't make it Sunday, give me a call or shoot me a text 270-748-9619. If you are looking to be chained to something much bigger than we are, I want to talk to you. If you're not scared and if you're ready to begin the adventure of a lifetime, I want to talk to you.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Divine Love Story...

(photo from
Alright it's time for a love story. Not those cheesy Harlequin romance books kind of love story. A real love story. Not even like husband and wife love story, or even parent and child love story. This is bigger than all of those.

The Life Journal readings for today jumped to Song of Solomon, and you have to admit, some of that stuff is not for young eyes, but it's a love story nonetheless. Not only is it a love story, it is a divine love story. This is where we begin hearing just how in love with us God really is. It is amazing stuff. Unfortunately it doesn't get preached that often because a lot of folks think it's too raunchy. But...what kind of guy am I? That's right, an outside the box kind of guy. So, here we go.

Have you ever been truly loved? I mean the kind of love where you know the person sharing the affection would go to any means whatsever to be with you? It wouldn't matter what obstacles were in the way. It wouldn't matter the distance between you. It wouldn't even matter if you felt the same, you knew that this person loved you to your core? It happens, and when it does, it is absolutely beautiful.

Now, let me ask you know someone who doesn't know that they are loved? I think we all do. My heart breaks for them, it really does. I can think of few things more tragic than someone not knowing they were loved. Now, let me ask you this...wouldn't you love to be the one that got to tell that person that someone really did love them? Wouldn't you love to be the one to tell them that they are not alone, even in those moments when they feel that the entire world is bearing down on them?

Now, let me ask you this...isn't it the church's responsibility to do just that? I mean, isn't that part of discipleship, and forming disciples? Don't we have a responsibility to let folks know how much they're loved regardless of the obstacles, distances, or even our own wants, that may threaten to get in the way? I think yes, but here's the problem.

Most churches are great at letting each other know they are loved. That's a good thing. If they were to step outside the doors and begin taking that message to where the people are who wouldn't otherwise hear about that love, that would be a great thing. Now, let me ask you this...wouldn't you love to be part of a church that did that? Not just on Friend Sunday, but every cotton picking day of the year? I think I would like that very much.

Solomon asks a question this morning: "Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday." If that is a question, here is the answer I have found in most churches. "We graze our flocks in our sanctuary on Sunday morning." Now, that's not a bad thing. Flocks have to graze. They have to be fed or they cannot make disciples for the transformation of the world, and we have opportunities during the week at First Church where that happens also. But what about the sheep in the midday sun? What are we doing for them?

Here's where I'm going with this. I've already started dropping hints about something that's going to happen Sunday at First Church. We are great at grazing our flock. We do that well. It's time now for us to start actively looking for the sheep finding no rest in the midday sun. But...that means what?....We have to get out in the midday sun to find them.

So the question facing me as a church leader is this: "How can I get folks out into the midday sun, looking for the sheep not finding any rest, without taking away from the grazing grounds of my flock?" I have finally found an answer and I'm going to be sharing it over the next few days.

So, you whom I love, it's time. It's time for us to actively begin seeking out the folks who might not know they are loved and letting them hear this love story for, what could be, the very first time. The first seed is planted, and Sunday I will begin casting the vision.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Leading Into Followship...

Ok, we still don't have internet at our house so I'm sitting in McDonald's running on my battery... this may be shorter than usual. Did you know McDonald's has zero electrical receptacles in the dining area? Me neither.

Let me take a minute to explain that odd little video I posted on my Facebook page yesterday.
It was filmed at the Sasquatch Music Festival somewhere in Washington. I don't know when or where. I don't even know who the people in the video are. Yesterday, during one of the teaching sessions at Annual Conference, Leonard Sweet showed us that video. He was talking about being a lone nut and doing what you feel called to do regardless of whether there are followers or not. But more than that, he was talking about followship. Not fellowship, followship.

I was impressed with something he said. He said that lots of people will go to leadership training events, but very few would sign up for a workshop teaching them how to follow. After all, isn't that what we all are? I may be a church leader. I may pastor churches with dozens or with hundreds, but even as a church leader, I am a follower. Sometimes I think we forget that.

I'm not afraid to step out in front. I'm not afraid to be the lone nut, following my call, while everyone else looks on. I'm also not afraid to be the first follower. You know what that is, right? The first person to realize that someone else has caught a vision, that it might just be God sent, and that maybe I need to go check it out.

It's easy to be out in front. It's not always so easy to step in behind someone else and follow. As long as I'm just watching, there is no fear of looking like a nut myself. What if they're wrong and what they feel they need to do is not going to work? What if other folks watching think we're crazy for following? What if it really doesn't work? You see, those questions don't scare me anymore. Why? Because I know what it feels like to fail miserably, but I also know what it feels like to be in on the ground floor of something that works beautifully. I would have never experienced the taste of God at work had I been afraid to step out and follow.

There is a term I would like to remind us of...critical mass. Leonard was talking about critical mass yesterday. In the Sasquatch video, critical mass is important because it is the tipping point. No longer is it just one or two, or even a few, catching a vision and getting on board. It's a whole group. It's easy for us in the church to reach critical mass, isn't it? After all, the book says all we need is two or three and Jesus is there with us. Critical mass.

I'm getting ready to become a follower to the "nth" degree. I've been preparing my folks at First Church for several months, so they know that I'm up to something but I haven't clued them into what it is just yet. Sunday I'm casting the vision. I'm throwing out the nets. It may appear that I'm stepping out in front, and that I'm leading this group of Jesus followers into unknown territory, but...I'm just taking my place as the first follower. No matter how much it appears that I may be leading, I'm always following another.

And that is how it should be. No leader can be a good leader, especially in the church, until they first learn how to be a good follower. So, First Church, get ready. I've taken my place as the first follower and I'm going to ask you to help me reach critical mass. We'll see what happens.

No fear. That's how I roll. As Jesus followers, that's how we can all roll. So if you're curious, or tired of the same old same old, or if you're ready to join me as first followers, send me a text, 270-748-9619. I don't know where it's going to go, but I'm no longer afraid to lead...or to follow. The video is posted on my facebook page if you missed it yesterday, check it out.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

La Vida Loca...

(photo from
My apologies to the guy from Menudo that grew up and went on to record a song by this title a few years ago, I can't remember his name right now. I guess I could look it up, but it's really not relevant. I apologize because this blog has nothing to do with that song. Yeah, it was a catchy little dance tune, I guess, but today I'm perplexed by the thought of living the crazy life.

I'm still in Ecclesiastes this morning, chapters, 7, 8, and 9, and what the author is writing today is almost depressing. Yesterday I mentioned how the author of Ecclesiastes had said that there were just some things in life that were like chasing after the wind. Well, today, he...or she...hits a lot harder on the idea that much of life is just plain meaningless. This hits me especially hard today because of the fact that my dad, and his siblings, lost a brother yesterday, much too young.

But then the author of Ecclesiastes says something that caught my attention. It's probably recorded at other places in scripture, but here, in the midst of cries about how meaningless life is, he, or she, says, "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life...whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might..."

As a pastor, society says that I'm not supposed to do that, you know, live la vida loca. Dog gone it, though, life is short. As a pastor, some would think that my life is to be very stoic... studious... reserved... and the exact opposite of crazy. But I'm not buying that anymore. I spend time in study. I spend time in meditation. When I have to be serious, I can be. But when it's all added up, how much living would I actually have done if I didn't let the "la vida loca" slip in every once and a while?

Now, the church historian in me knows why the author probably wrote these words. From what I've been taught, the ancient Jewish idea of the afterlife was that we just entered into a deep sleep. There wasn't this concept of eternal life after death like we have in Christianity. At least that's how I understood it. So, why not? Why not eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart?

Now, I'm not encouraging folks to go out and rip it up all the time, that would be careless of me. But even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, from what I've heard, took a glass of wine every night, strictly for medicinal purposes of course.

I guess what I'm saying is this: enjoy what you've got. Find those moments to steal a little joy. Go out with your friends (I've got very dear friends that live away from here whom I would love to be able to go out with). Enjoy a good meal with your family. Kick back on the porch and watch the sun go down...or come up. Take a little time to savor the "right now." Call somebody you haven't talked to in a while and tell them you were thinking about them. Be free with saying "I love you." Have a night on the town every now and then. Try to find things to make you laugh, you know, a deep belly laugh.

A lot of folks now see me as this carefree, "really don't care what you think," kind of person, but when I was growing up, my mom called me her "Eight year old little old man." I didn't even know how to be a kid when I was a kid. I still don't really know how to kick back and relax, enjoy a good meal, or even a glass of wine, because there is always something that needs to be done. I've been too serious for too long. But now, writer of Ecclesiastes, I hear you, and I think I'm going to give it a try. I'm very nearly 40 years old and it's time that I gave myself permission to have a little fun with life.

I hope that you can find some way to live "la vida loca," within reason of course. We can still be great Christians... reverent... reflective... responsible. We can still be all grown up when we need to be. But wouldn't it be fun to do something crazy just once? Just because there is so much in life that tries to get us down? Life is way too short.

Oh, and the guy's name was Enrique Martin Morales, but you know him as Ricky Martin.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Chasing the Wind...

(photo from
Finally, I'm out of the Proverbs. It's not that I don't like them, I do. And it's not that they bored me, they didn't. Evidently, I'm not as ADHD as I thought I was. Just as I was getting into one of the thoughts that the writer of Proverbs presented, it was over. Just one or two lines and then on to something else.

It's funny that I had problems with that. I admittedly have a very short attention span, so you would think that those kinds of writings would be right up my alley. But they left me wanting more. Such is much of life.

I'm sitting here in the midst of our 2010 Annual Conference (And to those who are wondering, yes, I'm still here). I'm listening to the conversations in the halls and around the coffee pots. I'm hearing some complain and some brag. I'm watching the politics from a distance as I am not a fan of politics, and certainly not in the church.

This morning, I didn't get to blog first thing after waking like I usually do so I felt like I was behind the 8 ball from the very beginning. But now, I finally caught a few minutes where I could catch up on my reading, and the reading this morning was from Ecclesiastes. Oh, I love Ecclesiastes. Maybe Solomon wrote it, maybe he didn't, but to me that doesn't matter. What matters is the words that are written. This morning, from Ecclesiastes 4 come these words:

"And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

Ouch, Solomon. Ouch. Over and over the author makes a statement and then follows it with... "And this too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

You know, I certainly don't pretend to have all the answers. I wouldn't be so pretentious as to even begin to think I have the answers...but.... if we as the church are engaged in things that the writer of Ecclesiastes says are just chasings after the wind, why are we surprised that we are no longer as effective as we once were?

When clergy are more concerned about salary than salvation, and laity only want a young pastor with 2.5 kids and no pets, and churches are turning inward at a rate that threatens to break the sound barrier, why are we surprised at the shape we're in?

Let me just say that I love our denomination. I was born a Methodist, and see no reason why I won't die a Methodist. I love the work we do globally, I love the freedom we have in worship, I love the fact that we recognize our need for grace and God's relentless attempts to offer that grace. But...

...but what if we quit chasing after the wind and went to back to work? I'm just thinking out loud, and I will probably catch some flack over this. What if while we are here conferencing together, we spent less time fighting over money and benefits, and who gets what, and what if we spent a little less energy trying to climb the ladder, and spent more time in dialogue with those who actually need our help? To me, that's where we're clergy, and as laity.

Now, I may be cutting my throat here, but I'm skipping out for a couple hours in the morning. Why? Because I have been feeling the need within the very core of my being to go back to the place where I was taught what real ministry is, to Manna House on Jefferson in Memphis. This is a place where real people's real needs are really being met. There are no wordy prayers or lengthy reports, but there is love with feet and the very real presence of Christ.

I hope that I'm not coming across as overly negative towards what we do here for three days each year, but I do feel that at the very least, some of what we do here are chasings after the wind. Until we are as familiar with homeless shelters and food kitchens as we are with the decorations in our office...until we have held the icy hand of someone who spent the night under a bridge...until we see the desperation in their eyes and maybe even share a soup kitchen meal with someone, we will always and only be chasing after the wind.

We can debate and talk all we want, but I think Jesus is ready for us to quit chasing the wind. I think it's time for us as the church, regardless of which side of the pulpit we sit on, to hear the words of Mary as told by Rick Kirchoff last night in his message on the wedding at Cana, "You see that man sitting over there, that's my boy. Do whatever he tells you to."


Friday, June 4, 2010

Rollin' on the River...

Yesterday I talked about the TV shows I grew up watching, today I'll hit on the music. My dad listened to country music, and if you were in the car, you listened to what dad listened to. It wasn't a bad thing, but I can't remember ever getting away with asking him to change the station (like my youngest tries to pull).

So we listened to country, classic country now. But that wasn't all I got to hear. There was a lot of 60's rock and roll music at our house, which by the way, I love. Rebel Rouser, Under the Boardwalk, Monday Monday. That's the good stuff. I loved listening to it, and even though I didn't understand them, the songs were great. CCR, excuse me, Creedence Clearwater Revival for those under 30, was another group that I loved listening to. It was something about Tom Fogerty's voice that made you sit up and listen. Their songs hit home...folksy...and often laced with drug lingo, but hey, it was the 70's.

Music speaks to the soul, if you let it..."Big wheel keep on turnin', proud Mary keep on burning, rollin, rollin, rollin on the river." I'm assuming they were talking about a river paddle boat named Mary, but with it being the 70's, I kind of figure there's a double meaning.

We're going to be doing that tomorrow, well, except for the proud Mary burning. I had better not catch anybody with pot this weekend. We're going to be rollin' on the canoes, that is. But think with me for just a second about how being on a river connects with our own personal discipleship. You see, that's going to be the underlying theme for this summer's messages at First Church.

Some folks have waded out into the edge of the river and are perfectly content just getting their toes wet. Maybe they play around in the mountain streams where the water isn't too deep so there's no fear of getting very wet.

Other folks have already waded out into the water, and are getting a little deeper. The water is still not deep enough to dive into, but it's deeper than the shallow pools of mountain streams. They're contemplating, but just haven't decided whether or not they're ready to get wet.

Some folks have been looking for deeper pools and have waded out past their waist, but still aren't crazy about getting their hair wet. To find pools deep enough for these folks you have to move on down the mountain a little.

And then there are the folks who just won't be satisfied until they are soaked from head to toe. they search for ways to get in as deep as they can and just aren't happy wading around in the streams. These folks know they are going to get wet and they don't care. They know there are possible problems in the deeper water but there's something about the feeling of free floating that they just can't deny themselves. It's a commitment for sure. If you bail off into the deep water, you had better know how to swim.

On this trip this weekend, I know I'll have all kinds of folks, and that's cool. I'll have folks who are happy just sitting by the river and watching it pass by. I'll have folks who will bail out of the trucks, totally blow off the idea of setting up camp, and head straight for the swimming hole in front of the campground...with the big Sycamore tree leaning out over the river...and a rope hanging in it just begging for someone to swing from it. Come to think of it, maybe I'll set up camp after a little swim my natural self. I won't need a tent until bedtime anyhow, right?

Summer's here. Let your inner kid out and spend some time playing in the creeks and rivers. And as you you feel the water cool your toes, knees, waists, or shoulders, take a moment to think about how deep you are in your faith.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Who You Gonna Call...

(photo from
I'm telling my age here, but I'm a child of the '70's and '80's. I grew up on the Muppets, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, and The Electric Company. I cut my teeth on B.J. and the Bear, Dallas, CHiPs, and the A-Team (non of them in syndication I might add). I watched the cheesy '80's movies with really bad special effects, and even worse plot lines, but every now and then one of those cheesy movies still makes a little sense today.

"Who you gonna call?" You know which one that's from, right? Ghostbusters! Yeah, it was cheesy, and yeah, it was kind of lame, but I'll give them credit for one thing...they knew who they were after. If there was a ghost in town, they were going to go after it. They didn't worry about going after anybody else, just ghosts.

Paul, this morning, hit me again. (Dang it Paul, stop it.) Paul knew who he was after too. You see, in the infancy of the church, there were basically two movements: one to the Gentiles in order to bring them in, and one to the Jews in order to try to convince them that the Messiah they were waiting for had come. There were sub-branches within those two movements but those were the major directions things were taking.

Paul's passion was for bringing in the Gentiles. Peter's was for the Jews. My church history is a little rusty, but I could do a little digging and give you more details, but today, details aren't important. What is important is this: Each of them knew where their passion lay, and that was the group of folks they went after. It hit me this morning that this might be part of what frustrates so many pastors and/or church leaders. I wrote Monday about beginning to be able to put a finger on the frustrations, and I'm seeing it slowly becoming more defined.

Now, some might read my posts this week and think, "He needs to take a break and do something else for a little while." And that would be the easy way out, but that's not what I'm called to do. I love what I do, and can't see me every doing anything else (regardless of what some former members have told me I should do). But, is there anyone who does not have some level of frustration with their life's work?

So here it is, and here is what Paul said to me in Romans 15 this morning. Just like Ghostbusters, Peter, and Paul, the church has to take some time to discern who they are trying to reach. In an ideal world, every church would be able to effectively reach and minister to every person, but we don't live in an ideal world. Now here's the question...Would the Holy Spirit be OK with a church recognizing who they are gifted to reach and ministering to that group? Or, would the Holy Spirit want us to work through our weaknesses and try to reach all people? That's where I'm stuck.

Let's be honest, a middle class, predominately white, middle aged church is not going to be very effective at reaching inner city kids. The two worlds are just too different. One group would never be able to understand the other. That doesn't mean that this church has no responsibility to reach out to inner city kids, it does, but is there another church closer who might be able to reach the kids more effectively?

I know I'm going to catch heck over this one, but this is one of the things I'm struggling with right now. I would love to serve a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-socio-economic, multi-lingual church, and they are out there, but they are few in number. Personally, and here's where I may catch some flack, I think we should just call a spade a spade. If your church is only gifted in reaching one social or cultural group, do it the best you possibly can, and don't pretend to be all inclusive. If your church is all white but you feel compelled to work with inner city kids, partner with an inner city church. I think it would save a lot of frustrations down the road.

If your church is upper middle class and you feel called to work with those on the fringes, partner with a church already doing that work. Because honestly, it's two totally different worlds, and this is just Jamie, but I think it's time the chuch quit pretending.

I'm not limiting the power of the Holy Spirit by any means and I know that with God all things are possible. I also know that Paul said that he became all things to all people so that by some means he might reach a few, and I absolutely love that. I also know the reality of our world. But this morning, Paul spoke to me. Paul did not have a passion for converting the Jews, his passion was for bringing in the Gentiles. Peter did not have a passion for bringing in the Gentiles, in fact, he even struggled with sitting down to eat with one Gentile family, look it up. I'm not making this up. their fields of passion, they were powerhouses for the work of God.

I'm afraid that some churches are ineffective because of two things: One, we don't know who we are. And Two, we don't know who we're trying to reach. Until we figure out those two things, have some very honest conversations among ourselves, and allow the Holy Spirit to get inside the walls, I'm afraid we are going to remain ineffective.

But, there's always hope. When God's church gets in a pinch, and if you don't think we're in a pinch just look at the numbers, there is one question we can ask ourselves to get started; "Who you gonna call?"