Saturday, October 30, 2010

Walk Around Me Jesus, Walk Around...

I'll never forget him as long as I live. His name is Gary, and I had the privilege of welcoming him into the family of faith. Gary is a simple man, and a bachelor. In fact, he is one of the simplest people I know. It doesn't take much to make him happy, and I don't think it ever will. He just showed up one morning at a church I was serving, wearing old bluejeans, a T-shirt, and a ball cap. When he dressed up, it was in his one good flannel shirt...and ball cap.

We hit it off immediately. He came up to me after attending a couple weeks, asked if he could help with the music, and I told him that he absolutely could. We practiced on Tuesday nights for the non-traditional service and Gary showed up that very week. When he picked up a guitar, he was transformed. He became more confident. His face even seemed to change, but he couldn't read a lick of music. Everything was played by ear, and if I remember correctly, the first song he played was, "Walk around me Jesus."

I hate bluegrass, with a few exceptions. Always have, but when Gary played that song, I melted. It came from his heart. There was not a pretentious bone in his body and when Gary played, he played for God and God alone. Now, why did I tell you about Gary? Because that song was what came to me when I read this morning's Life Journal readings.

Today we're in Mark 6. My absolute favorite chapter in Mark's gospel. I have read that chapter at least a hundred times. It's my go to when I'm asked to do an impromptu devotional. It's got the story of the feeding of the 5000, and the flashback to the time when John was martyred. In Mark 6 Jesus calls the disciples away to get some rest, and then there is the story about Jesus walking on the water. That is where scripture meets real life for me today.

Look at the story again. Jesus had just finished feeding the 5000. The disciples had just picked up the leftovers and cleaned up the kitchen. Jesus didn't even let them sit down after supper. Immediately, he made them get into a boat. He stood there watching and saw they were having some trouble. So instead of borrowing a boat, he just started walking. Here is the "Aha!" moment for me this time...

"He was about to pass by them..."

Have you ever noticed that before? I'm sure I had, but something clicked this time. It jumped out at me and screamed, "Look at me!" Jesus didn't walk on the water straight to the terrified disciples who were getting tossed around in a little boat, he was going to walk past them. What kind of Jesus walks past you when you're in a storm?

Now, I'm not questioning his motives, well not much anyhow, and I'm certainly not in a position to judge, but part of me is absolutely dying to find out why he was about to pass by them. Maybe he thought the disciples just couldn't handle seeing him walking ON TOP of the water, so he was going to flank them and slip into the boat unseen. Maybe he was wanting to see if they would recognize him. Maybe he had walked out there to guide them on across. I have no clue.

I do know this, though. There are folks all over who are in the midst of a great storm, battling against the oars, straining with all they've got, and still getting nowhere. There is a world full of folks who desperately want Jesus to walk around them, but all they can seem to see is Jesus walking on past them. This is where we come in.

Our role is not to judge, condemn, or criticize, but to welcome those who look to us with questions in their hearts, years of struggle written on their brows, and tears in their eyes and remind them that even though the storm is raging, and the boat is being tossed like a ragdoll, and it seems as if Jesus has walked past them and out of sight, he hasn't. He is in fact, walking around them.

That's a great image. Jesus...Second Person of the Trinity...Prince of Peace...Wonderful Counselor...and now...Night Watchman...walking around and protecting that which is dear to him in the midst of their storm.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cutting Holes...

(photo from
I used to hate doing it. When someone would call me and say, "I've got a spot on my roof that needs to be fixed" I knew what it was going to mean. I was a contractor, and calls like that were common. I'd load my ladder in the truck, head to the house, climb up and assess the situation. Sometimes, it was as simple as taking my flat-bar, sliding it under a couple shingles, popping a few nails loose, sliding a new shingle in, and nailing it all back down.

Sometimes, however, I'd get on the roof and see immediately that this was going to be big. The shingles would have to be taken of, I'd have to get the saw out and cut a hole in the roof decking, nail in more supports, replace the decking, replace the shingles, and say a little prayer that we didn't get a blowing rain until they had sealed. Those kinds of jobs were an all day deal. It was dirty, hard on the hands, and made my back scream.

I'm not the only one that has ever had to cut a hole in a roof, though. Mark's gospel has a great story about a hole in a roof. You see, Jesus couldn't go anywhere now because the stories of what he was doing had gotten out into the community. Everywhere he went crowds surrounded him. People were bringing their sick family members, and those that were demon possessed. Each one of them hoping to get close enough that Jesus could heal them.

I can imagine the scene, and I'm guessing that the folks crowding around Jesus the closest were the disciples, those who had decided to sign up as followers. Now, I don't know that for a fact, but I can imagine that would be the case. Then, further back in the crowd were the ones looking for healing, and maybe behind them, hanging back a bit, were those who were just curious. There had to be some kind of heirarchy, even in that group.

Then, maybe entering from stage right, come four guys carrying another guy on some kind of litter, a stretcher. They've heard about this guy Jesus and care enough about their friend to get in touch with each other, meet at his house, pick him up, and carry him to where Jesus is. Imagine the way their hearts must have sank when they saw the obstacles keeping them from him. The crowd was huge! There was no way they would be able to get their buddy close enough for Jesus to even know he was there, much less heal him...but then they saw their way in.

They might have known whose house it was, but they might not have. They knew that if they could open up a big enough hole in the roof, they could drop him down right in front of the Master. It was brilliant! Except for the fact that it wasn't their house, nor was it their roof, and scripture doesn't say who went back and patched the roof.

This story has gotten me thinking this morning. What lengths are we willing to go to in order to get someone to Christ? There are so many obstacles in their way, even today. Oh, we don't notice the obstacles anymore, because to us, they're not obstacles...but to someone on the edge of the crowd, scanning the scene, looking for a way in, these obstacles might as well be as tall as the roof of a house. What are they? You know what I'm going to traditions, church dress, church image, "that's my pew" mentality, "we've never done it that way before" kind of thinking, and the list goes on and on. Anything that we are doing, which prevents someone from feeling comfortable enough to approach Christ, should be reconsidered.

I wish Mark had given us more details. We know that Jesus noticed the lengths these guys went to so that their friend could be brought to the Great Physician. I wonder if he looked up above his head, saw what was going on, stopped what he was doing, and just grinned. You know it had to make him smile. He must have been tickled that these guys didn't care what it took, or what it cost them. Their friend was going to get to Mark does give us one tiny little hint.

"When Jesus saw THEIR faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" Then, when the folks in the crowd got on to him for it, he took it a step further and said, "Get up, take up your mat, and go home." And then the guy walked right through the crowd. That, my friends, is the power of the gospel for those who can get close enough to hear it.

I would cut a hole in a roof without batting an eye.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Haven of Rest...

(Check out this link)

(photo from
Ok, I admit, I have a soft side for The Cathedrals. I'm not a southern gospel kind of guy at all. My style is straight up new traditional (thanks for that, Adam Hamilton) but...when I hear Glen Payne at the mic, I absolutely melt. There's a link above the picture if you want to melt too. I did go through a southern gospel phase when I first entered the ministry, even took dad to see Gold City in concert, but I have found a home in the music of Chris Tomlin, Third Day, Jennifer Knapp, Kutless, Toby Mac and folks like that.

This morning, however, I cannot get "The Haven of Rest" out of my head. I'm at Lakeshore United Methodist Assembly in Eva, TN for a meeting of the Fellowship of the Orders of Elders, Deacons, and Local Pastors. It's early. The sun is not even up yet, but is getting ready to come up over the lake. It's quiet. There's only a couple other people up right now. It's peaceful...almost a haven of rest.

I don't know which part of that phrase, "haven of rest," hits me harder this morning. Rest is always welcome, and I take it when I can get it. But I'm not sure that the part of that phrase resounding more strongly for me this morning is not the "haven" part. You know what that is, right?

I found a definition at that says a haven is a "harbor or anchorage; a port." or it is a "place of refuge or rest; a sanctuary." That is an awesome image. I have realized just how important having all of those are recently, not just the sanctuary or place of refuge and rest. Those are great too, and I'm thankful that I got to be here for this meeting this week. But I have realized recently just how important it is to have an anchorage, you know, something to tie off to when the waves begin beating against you.

Ministry, whether as a profession or not, if you do it right and do it well, will leave you looking for something to remain anchored to. I've said this before and I guess I say it again this morning to remind myself more than anything, if you sign up to follow Jesus and not just admire Jesus, you had better make sure you are anchored to Jesus.

For me, personally, when I signed up for this I knew that there would be long days and that, at times, my work would be physically exhausting. I knew that there would be days of great sadness and days of great joy. I knew that there would be times when I questioned why I was doing this at all. I knew the nature of the institution, and that at times confidences would be broken. I knew there would be costs to my family, there would be stress, there would be days when I just wanted to hide. I knew all of this, but signed up anyhow, and I have never regretted it for one minute.

Why? Because I'm anchored. I know where I can find a haven of rest. I have never been more sure of my call than I am right now. I know who holds me up and who keeps me from sinking when I'm called out of the boat, and I hope you know that the same is being offered to you.

So, answer the call. Say, "Here I am Lord, send me." Step out of the boat and feel the water at your feet, but remember before you do any of that, find your anchor and hold on. It may get a little rough, the storms may blow, the winds may howl, the waves may crash, but I guarantee you, your anchor is going to hold.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It Gets Better...

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Ok, I have to own something today. This blog is not about the life journal. I read the readings this morning, but today there is something else bothering me. I saw a news story from ABC News this morning and then saw another one from the Houston Chronicle, and they bothered me. If you are easily offended, or narrow minded, please stop reading. Before I go any further, I just want to say again, this is my blog...these are my thoughts...and if you don't like it, you don't have to read it.

His name was Asher. He was 13, and his parents buried him last month. He shot himself in the 13 years old. 'Why?' you may ask. I'll get to that in a minute.

His name was Tyler. He was 18, and his parents buried him last month. He jumped off of the George Washington bridge. 'Why?' you may ask. I'll get to that in a minute.

His name was Seth. He was 13, and his parents buried him last month. He hanged himself from a tree in his back 13 years old. 'Why?' you may ask. Just a second.

His name was Billy. He was 15, and his parents buried him last month. He hanged himself from the rafters in a 15 years old. 'Why?' you may ask. Because he had been bullied, just like Tyler, Asher, and Seth.

My heart breaks for these families. I can't imagine the pain they are going through right now. I can't imagine the questions they will never find answers for. I can't imagine the struggles they are going through wondering what else they could have done to prevent the deaths of their kids. Suicide is tough enough to deal with, but when you factor in the reason these boys felt their only option was death, it magnifies the overall effect.

Maybe I'm just naive, I don't know, but it looks to me like if a person felt so much hate for another person, or their way of life, that they would continue harassing that person until they were driven to suicide, somewhere we have missed the message of grace.

Oh, I forgot to mention why they were harassed...they were either gay or perceived as being gay.

Now, when I hear stories like this, it stops being about whether or not I agree with the lifestyle, because honestly, it's not for me. But last time I checked, I had not been appointed judge nor executioner. There are way too many pastors and church folk who have assumed that role for themselves, so I refuse to play their game. When I hear stories like this, I see ministry potential, and I ask myself, "How could the church have shown these kids that God loves them regardless?"

Honestly, I don't want to hear "But the bible calls it an abomination." Yeah, well, the bible also speaks about gluttony as one of the seven deadly sins...think about that the next time you belly up to the buffet. (Our stomachs are the size of our fists, compare that to the pile of short ribs on your plate). You may say, "You're a pastor, it's your job to condemn sin." Ok, I'll give you that, but you had better be ready for me to condemn your sins too. I'll preach against all of them if you want, or...I can preach grace. Your choice.

I have to admit that I don't have the whole story for any of these deaths. I don't know how long it had been going on. I don't know what the circumstances were. I don't know what help had already been offered, or denied. I just know that there are 4 kids who couldn't see that life really does get better, and now there are 4 families with an empty seat at the dinner table.

So, here's the question, and one I've struggled with for a while: "Is it more important for me to keep a legalistic understanding of a 4000 year old set of laws, or is it more important to see that I'm a sinner, saved by grace, and therefore have no right to condemn anyone else?"

Oh, and if you look around today, you might notice a lot of folks wearing purple. They have heard stories like Tyler's, Asher's, Walt's, and Billy's and have realized that it's time for the hate to stop. And one sidenote, if you know of anyone who may have had suicidal thoughts, please let them know that it really does get better.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Picnic Blankets...

(photo from
There's just something about them, isn't there? I mean, I don't understand why we do it. Steph and I have a nice dining room table and chairs, just bought them this summer. The house is air conditioned, and relatively insect free, but there's something within us that causes us to load up a cooler and picnic basket, drag them out to the Explorer, drive for an hour or so, pack the cooler (which is way heavier now than it was in the kitchen for some reason) and spread all of our food out on a blanket on the ground.

I don't know what it is, but I have to say, I really enjoy doing it. We try to do that with our girls 4 or 5 times a year and they love it too. It's usually a day trip to the Land Between the Lakes or Shawnee National Forest. We usually go on a little hike or hit one of the attractions, but we all know that the most important thing is the picnic.

Did you know that scripture even mentions picnic blankets? Yep, right there in the Book of Acts. Peter is sitting on the roof of his house one morning and thinks, "Man, I'm hungry." And while his meal is being prepared he has a vision of this sheet being let down from heaven with all of this food on it, but there's a problem. Peter was a good Jew and all of the food on that blanket was food he had been taught all of his life that he couldn't eat.

Then he hears a voice, which he can only assume to be God, tell him that it's ok to eat because whatever God has made clean is good to go. This didn't just happen once, but three times. Evidently, someone really wanted him to get the message. But...there's a catch.

This picnic scene really wasn't about food. Peter probably didn't realize it at first, but he would in a couple days. You see, just as the picnic blanket was being pulled up for the last time, 3 men were being sent to fetch Peter for a man named Cornelius. Now, in case you missed it, Cornelius is not a Hebrew name...which meant he was a Gentile...which meant that Peter, being the good Jewish man that he was...couldn't associate with them. Er go, the importance of that little picnic scene.

God has told him, through something that was sure to get his (he was a guy, and everyone knows the best way to our hearts is through our stomachs), that it was okay for him to sit down with Cornelius, and even spend a few days with him...and he did! That is huge!

Think for a few minutes about the folks we feel are unclean, how different would our worlds be if God showed us that they weren't? How would it change their life, but just as important, how would it change ours? And we've all got those folks. For me, and I'm just being honest, it was the person living on the street...then God showed me that they were human too, and even allowed me to sit down and share a soup kitchen bologna sandwich with a new friend who just happened to be homeless. It absolutely changed my entire world. I think that all he wanted out of me was to be treated as equal, and I admit, at first it was tough. But sharing that sandwich changed everything. It was a holy moment for me.

So, look for ways this week to take that which you thought to be unclean and see it in a new light: the homeless person...the addict...the prisoner...the poor...the AIDS victim...whoever it might be for you...and follow Peter's lead. I'll bet it will be a life changing experience for everyone involved.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ministry of Presence...

(photo from
I'm not a very patient man, I admit it. Last night I was watching Dual Survival with Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin and I said to Steph that I wished I were more like Cody. He never gets in a hurry, never rushes through anything, seems so calm, speaks softly, and if he doesn't have anything to say that will contribute to the conversation, he just doesn't say anything. That is an awesome character trait.

In the earlier years of my ministry, I felt like anytime someone had a problem it was my bounden duty to have the right words to say, and I would keep trying until I was satisfied that I had said the right thing. Unfortunately, sometimes I never got to that place and just wound up sounding stupid and fumbling for words.

This morning, the Life Journal readings have at least 3 great stories in them. One is the stoning of Stephen, God bless his soul. That man wouldn't shut up even when they started throwing the stones. He kept on saying what he felt led to say and it got him killed. I think he is part of the reason I am the way I am. But I digress. The second story is of the choosing of the first deacons. This group was upset that their widows weren't being taken care of like that group's widows so they started complaining to the disciples and the disciples had them choose 7 men to take charge of that. But the one I'm going to land on this morning is the Old Testament text, the story of Job.

Now, I'm not going to hit on the whole "poor Job, lost everything he had but look how patient he was..." deal because Job wasn't at all patient. Job threw a freakin' fit and demanded a one on one, face to face with God. He appeared patient in the first few chapters, I think, because he was in shock. But that's not what hit me this morning. It was his friends.

Yeah, his friends. Do you remember what they did? They had heard about everything that had happened to him, got together, and went to him. It's beautiful. They wept when they saw the shape he was in and sat down with him. For seven days they sat there and never spoke a word. For seven days they were just there with him. We don't know what they did for those seven days, but we know what they didn't do... "No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was." That is a ministry of presence.

It's an amazing thing to watch. When someone we know finds themselves at a place in their life when the walls have caved in, and they can't even think beyond their next breath, what they need is someone to just be with them. They don't need fancy words, and they don't need for someone to find the right thing to say. They need someone to hold them while the cry, to listen while they rant, to let them know just by their presence that God has not left them, and that God's heart is breaking right along with theirs.

If only we could do more of that and less of the talking. I never cease to be amazed at some of the stupid things I've heard people say to other people in a time of crisis. At the death of a child, I actually heard someone say to the mother, and this is a direct quote: "You just have to accept this as part of God's perfect plan..." Would someone please tell me how that helped her. I can't speak for her, but I do know from listening to her that she was already struggling with theodicy (justice of God) issues, and now she gets to add to that the thought that God planned for her baby to die. Please.

This is one area where we inside the church have a lot of work to do. We feel that there is an explanation for everything that happens and we have to keep trying until we have convinced the one in pain of that. The truth is, we live in a fallen world, and sometimes, things just happen. That doesn't mean that, at some point, we won't see how God can redeem any particular situation, but there is not always a reason why it happened.

God needs us to be a source of God's presence in a hurting world, not necessarily to have the right words all the time. Now, that doesn't mean that there is never a time to try to make some sense out of a situation, or that sometimes, what someone needs is to hear "I love you and so does God, and we are both here with you in your pain." Maybe, taking a few days to pray for the right words is not a bad idea. Job's friends had this one nailed. They knew there was nothing they could say that would make Job feel better about what had just happened to him, so they didn't say anything. They knew that any attempt at an explanation would be empty and shallow at best. And they held out for a week before they messed up and opened their mouths. Dang, so close.

God, help me keep my eyes open and let me know when to keep my mouth closed. Let me be your presence more and your voice less. And God, please, let me speak only when you have given me the words to say.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alms For an Old Ex-Leper...

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Ok, it's stupid and irreverent. It's more than just a little offensive to a lot of church folk. But I can laugh at myself, even as a Christian, and I try not to get offended by the everyday things. It's "The Life of Brian," a Monty Python flick, and it's not quite as well known as "The Holy Grail." But it's funny, at least for the not so easily offended. Still, I don't recommend it, so if you watch it, don't say that I told you to.
It's a total spoof of practically everything in the gospels so I'm not going to recommend it to any of my folks, but there is still some good stuff in it. From the very beginning of the movie, Brian is being exalted as a messiah (Which literally means one who is anticipated as a liberator. We have made it a religious term) and all the way through the movie he tries to deny it, but folks just won't listen. Even his mum tries to convince the townsfolk that he's not the messiah..."He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy."

There is one scene, however, that made me stop and think about something. We have all kinds of healing stories in the scriptures. Jesus was always healing this person of that, or casting demons out of that person, opening the eyes of this person, or restoring that person. And I've wondered what happened to these folks after their healing. I mean, we get some of the stories: one blind man gets kicked out of the temple because Jesus healed leper out of ten comes back to give thanks... But were there any folks who had been healed that had just as soon he had left them alone?

What I have wondered is this: were there any who were more comfortable in their disease than in their healing? In this scene from "The Life of Brian" there is...

Ex-leper: "Okay sir, my final offer; half a shekel for an ol' ex-leper?"
Brian: "Did you say, 'ex-leper'?"
Ex-leper: "That's right sir. 16 years behind a veil, and proud of it."
Brian: "Well, what happened?"
Ex-leper: "Oh, cured, sir."
Brian: "Cured?"
Ex-leper: "Yes sir, bloody miracle, sir. Bless you!"
Brian: "Who cured you?"
Ex-leper: "Jesus did, sir. I was hopping along, minding my own business, all of a sudden, up he
comes, cures me! One minute I'm a leper with a trade, next minute my livelihood's
gone. Not so much as a by your leave! "You're cured, mate!" Bloody do-gooder."

He was perfectly content in his dis-ease. Now that he's been healed, he has to get up and do something. Hmmm, now there's a thought. Someone who was once outcast by a condition, encountered the healing touch of Christ, and now realizes that because of that healing, there are things to be done. I wonder if they ever wanted to go back to business as usual. I wonder if they ever thought, "You know, it wasn't the best scenario, but it wasn't really that bad..." I wonder if they had ever thought about a compromise, you know, being healed some from what they were, so that they can function in society again, but not so much that the people around them were going to have very high expectations.

Brian: "Well, why don't you go and tell him you want to be a leper again?"
Ex-leper: "Uh, I could do that, sir, yeah. Yeah, I could do that, I suppose. What I was thinking
was that I was going to ask him if he could make me a bit lame in one leg during the
middle of the week. You know, something beggable, but not leprosy, which is a pain
in the *** to be blunt, and excuse my French, sir."

I think that if we're honest, we can look and find that most of us have some of the ex-leper mentality. We want to be healed as long as we don't have to do much afterward. We don't really want to be like we were, but we're not quite sure that we're ready to be what we have been re-created to be.

We know that since we've been healed, Jesus is going to put us to work. Maybe if we held on to a little bit of our dis-ease (hyphen intentional) then we can still celebrate the healing without being put to work. I don't know, but I do know has been my experience so far that the folks who have been healed the most are usually the first ones on the battle front. They don't want to go back to the way they were, and can't wait to be put to work for the kingdom. So, maybe a little dis-ease wouldn't be a bad thing for a lot of us. It would remind us just how powerful the One we serve really is, and from where it is we have been brought.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Holy Hand Grenade...

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Wednesday, before I started getting ready to come to Kansas City, my girls and I sat down and watched Monty Python (one of the greatest movies of all time, by the way. Just saying.) If you've ever seen it, you will remember the Book of Armaments and the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. It's almost a contradiction in terms, really, holy hand grenade. But there it is, and here's how you're supposed to use it.

"And the Lord spake, saying, 'First shall thou take out the holy pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thou foe, who being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.'"

Ok, it's pretty stupid, I admit. But dog gone it's funny. Sadly thou, it's not completely without scriptural support. Jesus didn't tell the disciples to lob the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards their foes, but he did tell them to be armed for the battle that was ahead.

Luke 22:36 is where it starts. "He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors;' and I tell you this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching fulfillment."

Then the disciples looked around and said, "Look Jesus, here's a couple." Then he told them that would do.

What do we do with the fact that Jesus tells the disciples that they are going to need swords to be who they are being called to be after he is gone? For me, this is just another reminder of two things: one, that what we are to be about is not just about "us", those on the inside. I've said that before and I'll keep saying it until churches start turning their focus away from what they want and need, to the needs of the greater parish. Two, that who we are, if we truly follow Jesus, will not be easy.

This may sound like broken record stuff, but folks just aren't getting it. This is not easy. Being Jesus followers in today's world is tough. For crying out loud, being Jesus followers in some of today's churches is tough. Folks will hate you for the things you are called to do, say, and be. Folks will call you names. Folks will threaten you if you get too close. But...none of this caught Jesus by surprise.

Here's the beautiful part, though. It's not about carrying a holy hand grenade, or even a sword. We have something much greater keeping us proctected. So, don't be scared to stand up. Don't be afraid to speak up. God has got your back.

So, dream with me. Adam Hamilton told us yesterday not to give up, to keep dreaming about what can be, to not just look at the decline but to hope for the future. And that my friends, is where I'm going to put my energy now.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Rose Colored Glasses

(photo from
"Confession is good for the soul." That's what they say, whoever "they" are. I guess I can see that. I'll admit though, it's painful at best, you know, to confess those things that you had rather remain hidden or buried. The question then becomes, can healing begin until the confession is made.

Now, let me clarify, I'm not talking about some dark sin of the soul, those are sins of commission. I think what has hit me this morning is more of a sin of omission. Something we haven't done, more so than something we have.

This morning, I'm sitting in the Drury Inn in Leawood, Kansas, just outside Kansas City, waiting for the trip back over to the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. I came up yesterday to a leadership conference the Church of the Resurrection is hosting. Last night Adam Hamilton spoke about leadership in the church, and I have to say, it's gotten me thinking about a few things this morning.

I've said before that I've been doing this for 11 years now and during most of that time, the buzzword has been "church revitalization." Why? Well, because the church needs revitalizing, obviously. I've heard the blame placed on clergy and laity both, and I have finally realized that it really doesn't matter who has killed church growth. What matters now is, what are we going to do about it?

That's where the confession comes in, at least for me. And that, my friends, is the sin of ommission that hit me this morning. Before we can be healed, we must admit that we are broken, and some folks, clergy and laity alike, have not yet confessed that we are broken. I think John Conlee said something about "rose colored glasses."

Maybe, and I'm just thinking out loud, maybe instead of clergy blaming apathetic parishioners, and laity blaming lazy clergy, we ought to stop for a minute, confess that what we are currently doing is not working, and hit our knees asking for guidance. I don't know, but it might work. Maybe, instead of jumping on the latest church growth bandwagon, we should take a step back, look at our Wesleyan heritage, begin journeying back to our roots of social justice and holiness of heart and life, and see what happens. It worked nearly 300 years ago, it might work again.

Until then, I'll keep coming to these leadership workshops and bringing the information back home, and we'll keep looking at each other and scratching our heads, wondering why we are still in decline.

O God, forgive us for placing our own wants and desires above the mission of YOUR church. Forgive our self-centeredness. Forgive our stubborness. We confess to you today that we are not where we should be. We confess that discipleship is no longer our primary goal, but God, we want it to be again. Guide us, strengthen us, grant us grace. And God, may your will be done...finally.


Monday, October 4, 2010

If It's In Him, It's Got To Come Out...

I love listening to Hank Jr. I was one of those kids cruising the plaza in Mayfield with Hank blaring instead of rap. I didn't have all the bass thumping, but I didn't mind cranking up a little "Country Boy Can Survive..."

He recorded a song, and I can't for the life of me remember which one it was, but the intro has his mama and daddy talking, and his daddy says, "Audrey, if it's in him, it's got to come out. Let the boy boogie woogie." If you know which song that was, let me know. It's driving me nuts.

It never ceases to amaze me the things we have within us, sometimes they need to stay there. Sometimes they need to come out. Words slip out when that internal filter really should have caught them, and we spend a lot of time and energy trying to repair the damage. A kind word, that might really make a difference in someone's day, goes unsaid and we never know the difference it could have made. True feelings get held in between family or friends until it's too late and the conversation can be nothing by one sided, and the list goes on and on...ideas for ministry, words of forgiveness, hopes and dreams, you see where I'm going.

Scripture even talks about things being within us, and there is one thing that scripture says is within us that we might not have even realized was there. You see, this one thing that scripture is talking about being within us, most of us only see as some far off, future event. But...if you read this particular passage, that's not necessarily the case. The words are in red in my book, which means, tradition says they came out of his mouth...

..."The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." Hmmm, how about that? Here we thought we had to wait for that. Evidently not so much.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I don't know exactly what it will look like, but if Christ says it is within us, then evidently we have a part to play in its appearance. I can imagine that the kingdom will mean that no one goes to bed at night hungry because we all share what we have with those who don't. I can imagine that no one will be oppressed because we have taken a stand against institutions and establishments that keep people down. I can imagine that everyone will be welcomed everywhere regardless of borders, boundaries, race, income, ethnicity, and anything else we currently use to categorize folks.

Personally, if it's in me, it's got to come out. I'm not convinced one person can make that much difference, but a whole bunch of people, letting the kingdom life that is within them come out, can make a huge difference.
So, here's the challenge...if you are a member of a body of believers, take the next month and be intentional about letting the kingdom of God within you come out. Here's what that will mean...those little things that most folks in church complain about, don't complain about them. It's a human institution and as such is flawed, that's all there is to it. If the pianist hits a wrong note, let it go. If the sermon is boring, look for something positive in it. If the person next to you is getting on your nerves, give them a hug in Christ's name. If you see someone on the side of the road this week, stop and help. Shoot someone an encouraging email or text. Pick up the phone and let someone know you were thinking about them. I can't guarantee it will take hold overnight, but eventually there will be more kingdom living on the outside than there is on the inside, and that, is a good thing. Just a thought.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Excuses, Excuses...

(photo from
I think I'm going to write a book. Well, another book. I've got three going right now but I think I might start a fourth. I'm putting together all those funny little stories about growing up that I won't be able to remember later, for my girls to have after I'm gone. I'm editing, reformatting, and compiling all of these blogs into a book. And now I'm working on a "how not to" book on church growth, actually with the intention of publishing that one. But I think I'm going to start a book on excuses.

I've heard a bunch of them. The most obvious, and most common is, "I don't have the right clothes..." I have yet to find anywhere in scripture that says there is a dress code for church...laity or clergy. In fact, Jesus talked about watching out for priests that like to walk around in flowing robes. So, I started dressing down a few years ago so that someone who just might show up in jeans will feel more comfortable.

I've been told "I don't go because Sunday is my only day off..." Well, here's a thought, drop by God's place and shoot up a little prayer for gainful employment. It won't take but an hour. Then take the rest of the day for golf, or fishing, or whatever. Wait, let me back up a bit...if Sunday doesn't work, shoot for a Wednesday night.

I've been told, "That place is full of hypocrites..." Yes, yes it is. But I honestly believe most of the hypocrites in churches all over the country are trying. Some aren't, and, to quote Ray Stevens, are just "Sister Bertha Better-n-You." But that's another discussion for another day.

One of my personal favorites is..."I just don't get anything out of it..." as if worship were actually for us in the first place. We gather as a corporate body to lift praise to the Creator of the Universe, the Author of our Salvation, and the Prince of Peace. That's one of the reasons I get so frustrated over churches who won't consider revising worship so that other folks, who may not connect with God the same way they do, can have an opportunity to lift up their praise.
But it's not about attendance only, folks are too busy to do mission, not interested in working with folks who are not like us, yada, yada, yada.

Jesus got excuses too. He even talked about them. Oh, not directly of course, but in parables. He told the parable of a guy that was putting on a huge feed, the bible calls it a great banquet, but we're in the South. He had invited all of the folks who were like him to come, but when the table was set and everything was ready, he started getting excuses. "I just bought a field, and I can't come...I just got married and I can't come...I just bought some oxen and I can't come..." So, what does the master of the banquet do? He sends for the poor, crippled, blind and lame, and when there was still room at the table, he went out and made folks come in to eat.

Now, I don't know what kind of feed this guy had put on, but I can imagine it must have been good. I'm not even sure the first ones invited knew what they were missing. I don't even think they meant to make an excuse, but something came up and they couldn't go. But, I don't think Jesus was talking about church attendance here. I think this parable was about an invitation to be part of something huge. This is just Jamie, but I really don't think it has anything to do with going to church, but instead, about a way of being.

My friends, God is throwing a feed and we've been invited to be a part. We get to decide if we're going to make an excuse or pull up a chair.