Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Different Kind of Christmas Story

 (This is my Christmas letter to Grace Church)

            It was a hot day in June of my 12th year.  I had been away at summer camp all week.  On Friday afternoon mom and dad met the bus to pick me up and take me home.  As we got ready to pull into the driveway, I saw my border collie, Tippy, lying in the road ditch.  I hoped against hope that he was just taking a nap while he waited for me to get home.  Unfortunately, Highway 94 in south Graves County had claimed another family pet.  As my dad made ready to lay Tippy to rest, I walked the field behind the house...a complete and total mess.  That day I swore to myself that I would never, ever, never love another dog.  What was the point?  I'd just get attached and something would happen to it.  So at 12 years old, I gave up on having a dog.  Forever. 

            Over 30 years later, something began to change.  Every now and then I'd find myself thinking about Tippy and thinking that it might be nice to have another one.  But I didn't want to go through that again, and since I was allergic to short haired dogs, that was a good enough excuse.  I'd see one and say, "Stupid dog."  I'd hear someone talking about their dog chewing up the couch I'd say, "That's why I have cats.  Dogs are stupid.  Cats don't care if you're there or not."  I tried hard to hate dogs.  The truth was, though, I was just scared of losing another one.         

            Then the desire got strong enough that I actually started looking for one, but it was going to have to be the right one...the perfect dog.  It couldn't make me sneeze.  It couldn't bark.  It couldn't chew up my house shoes.  It couldn't go ripping around the house, and it couldn't dig up my yard.  I figured that if I set the requirements high enough, I'd never find the perfect dog, and I could say, "Well, hey, I tried."

            Well...I found one.  But he wasn't perfect.  He didn't make me sneeze, but he barks some.  When I went to meet him, he was a nervous wreck.  He couldn't control his bladder.  He cowered.  He wouldn't come to me.  As the shelter director told me his story, my walls started coming down.  He had been mistreated all of his life.  He didn't trust men.  He was malnourished.  He was dirty.  He needed to be loved.  After 30 minutes or so, I thanked them for letting me meet him and left.  All week long I kept thinking about that stupid dog.  I spent the next several days going back and forth between wanting to rescue him and give him a shot at a decent life, and thinking that the last thing I needed was a dog to take care of.  Then late this week I said to myself, "What are you so afraid of?  Just do it.  He needs you."

            Now, why have I written about that in a Christmas letter to the church I serve?  There are a couple reasons.  One, this time of year brings to mind a great many hurts in our own lives.  Many of us are dealing with grief that will never go away, and the best we can hope is that time will somehow ease our pain.  Nothing that anyone can say or do will make that just go away, and I want to honor that place in your lives.  Well-meaning people will, to their error, try to convince us that it's time to just move on.  However, some of the things we are grieving can never be replaced or forgotten, nor should they be. 

            Still, this is also a time to remember that there are, walking among us, an immeasurable number of people who want one be loved.  They're not perfect.  Many have things in their past that have separated them from family and friends.  Some are struggling financially.  Many have experienced some great loss in their lives this year.  For people who find themselves in any of those situations, this season only amplifies the effects of depression and anxiety.

            The baby that we gather this week to celebrate grew up to tell us that those were the ones he came for.  We may have never thought about it quite that way, but the very reason there is a Christmas season is because there was, and will always be, someone who needs to be loved.  Since Christ's presence on earth now is no longer a physical one, the work of bringing love, joy, peace, and hope to a hurting world falls squarely on our shoulders as his followers.  This season calls us to be even more intentional about doing just that.

            At Grace, our mission statement is to "Connect people to Christ and to each other."  It's not just a catchy slogan that looks good on the sign out front.  It's at the center of who we are...the work we've been called to...our very reason for existing.  We are here for the ones who feel that, for whatever reason, they aren't loved.  If you would like to partner with us on this awesome task, we can help change the world one relationship at a time.  It's not an easy work that we're called to...but it can be life changing.  By helping support the ministries of the church we can bring hope, joy, peace, and love to a hurting world.        

            His name is now Perry, and he's so ugly that he's cute.  This week he found a new home.  The first four years of his life have been filled with fear and suffering.  This Christmas, he has shown me that love really does conquer fear and I'm going to do all I can to make sure that for the rest of his life...he knows that he's loved.  We, as a church, can do the same for any who cross our paths. 




Grace Church LaCenter
PO Box 330
LaCenter, KY 42056

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sitting on the Fence...

I'm torn.

I've kind of shied away from doing anything like this lately, but it's starting to bother me, so I'm just going to throw it out there...the world is going to hell in a handbasket. That's nothing new. It's been happening for hundreds of years, maybe longer.

People are scared...and rightly so.

We have become ill at ease while engaging in the most basic things of life...meetings, shopping, going to the movies.

The level of trust for any who are different has nose dived...and again...maybe rightly so.

We've circled the wagons, and the rhetoric coming from our newsfeeds has tighened that circle.

Over 16 years ago, I answered a call that has forever changed me. I'm not the same person I was then. Oh, I'm no saint, don't get me wrong. In fact, sometimes I can be an absolute ass...but I think differently about things now than I did while I was still driving nails every day.

Things that I would have never given a second thought to saying out loud then, give me pause now. I was a hard man then. I had very little tolerance for any who didn't share my views, and if you worked for me, you had better tow the line. I've fired guys for things that seem so trivial now.

I have two daughters now, who are almost grown, and that has changed me as well. I think about how to keep them safe, who they're talking to, what they're doing, but especially about how to keep them safe.

I watch the news just like everybody else. I see the images. I hear the stories. My heart breaks.

I read the stories from our faith, study them, expound on them every week. And that's where I'm torn. So in the spirit of transparency, the reason I'm torn is that while I'm a pastor, I'm also a man.

The pastor in me knows about the call of Christ to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That's what I preach. It's what I try to live...try to. The man in me knows that to do that opens myself, and any around me, up to all of those things we fear. The struggle is indeed real.

Then I remember part of the liturgy of the table in my denomination:

"Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

I'm torn. And I own that. I haven't always heard the cry of the needy, nor sometimes do I even want to. Yet, I'm not 100% sure that I'm free for joyful obedience all of the time.

I realize the call to welcome. I understand that I'm supposed to love unconditionally as I have been unconditionally loved. I've heard over and over again that if I claim to be a follower, I'm also claiming to be a messenger of peace. Hell, I've even said that, over and over. But...

...but I'm also a man, living in the reality that there is indeed evil afoot, struggling to find any sense of balance between who I'm called to be and my human nature...and I'm not alone. This is a very real struggle among those of us who claim to follow the Prince of Peace. We want to honor our faith, but at the same time, we're scared. And I get that.

So what do we do?

With the presidential campaigns in full swing, I'm seeing a mix of fear mongering and denial. It makes me wonder if we're seeing some of the same kinds of things in the church, and in those who make up the church. 

What does the Church do in the face of terror attacks? 
What does the Church, the followers of Christ, do with mass shootings? 
What does the Church do with gun control?
What does the Church do with the Prince of Peace?
How does the church balance our instinct for safety and survival with the call from the itinerant rabbi we claim to follow?

These are very real questions, and we can either openly and honestly struggle with them or we can stick our heads in the sand and pretend that our people are not genuinely afraid of the times.

There have been calls to arms...part of me gets that. There have also been calls to peace...and part of me gets that. But what about those of us who are finding ourselves stuck in the middle...on the proverbial fence, if you will?

Do I own firearms? Yes. Would I use them to protect my family? Without batting an eye. Am I willing to take the risk of welcoming someone who may wind up doing me harm? I think so, but wouldn't do so knowing that was their intention. I don't think many of us would.

Do I want to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked? Yes. Is it because I really want to, or because Jesus tells me to? Honestly, it depends on the situation. Am I afraid to do that?

Sometimes. Yes.

But that doesn't negate my call to do those things. Fear does not undo the reality that, as a pastor...whether the man within me wants to, or not...I am called to seek peace. Why? Because that was the example Christ left us. It wasn't just some catch was the way he lived...and died. 

So for now, I continue to struggle. I guess I'm still sitting on the fence, and some may say that's a coward's way out...but I'm just being honest. I know who I've been called to be, what I've been called to do, but I also know how unbelievably dangerous it can be. I know that my fears and struggles are real, and many of yours may be as well. 

This could absolutely blow up in my face, or...there could be someone who reads this and says, "Thank God I'm not alone."
I welcome conversation, as long as we can keep it focused and civil.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

She's Not Okay...

I have a love-hate relationship with social media.  I don't tweet much, but I do have a social media account that I use with a fair amount of regularity.  Sometimes I hate that I love it.  Sometimes I love to hate it.  It can be a great ministry tool...but it can also be the devil on the small screen. 

I'm always curious to see if anything I post hits anyone in a positive way.  This week, it did.  It was just a picture of a quote, and it wasn't even my quote.  I saw it and thought, "Yes, that."  I have no clue who the original author is, but it's not me, so I own that. was shared more than anything else I have posted on social media in nearly 10 years, which led me to believe...this is a problem.  Here's what it said:

"Just because a person doesn't put hands on you, that doesn't mean they aren't abusive.  Abuse is control, blatant disrespect, and also hurtful words.  Don't settle for emotional abuse thinking it's okay because it's not physical." 

This Saturday will be my 16th anniversary in pastoral ministry.  Over those 16 years I have seen this played out over and over.  Folks will come into my office, shoot me a text, send me an email, or actually pick up the phone and call...and this is what it's about. 

They have realized that something isn't right in the relationship, but since there are no bruises, the idea that they are being abused isn't on their radar.  There may be this feeling in the pit of their gut that it's not a healthy relationship, but he hasn't thrown them against the wall, so it can't be all that bad, right?  Not exactly. 

This is a dangerous topic to write about, but maybe it's one we should be writing more about.  Being controlled is abuse.  Being separated from friends and family is abuse.  Being told who you can talk to and who you can't is abuse.  Having to walk on eggshells is abuse.  Being afraid to talk because it might cause a rage is abuse.  Being called names, talked down to, told you're not worth anything, or that you should just be thankful to be with him because no one else would want abuse.  There are so many ways one person can abuse another without leaving bruises, and none of them are healthy. 

Ladies, a black eye is a definite sign of abuse...but you don't have to have bruises on your body to be a victim of abuse.  If you've read this and thought, "Holy hell...that sounds familiar," talk to someone.  I promise you this, the people in your life who love you have already noticed, and are probably afraid to say anything to you about it.  They might not know what to say.  They probably don't want to upset you anymore than you are already.  But, I promise you...if they don't know for sure, they're at least suspicious, and their heart is breaking for you.  They're just waiting for you to say something so they can help you find your way to healing, happiness, and peace. 

If you're in an abusive relationship, and you want out, you will need their support.  It doesn't mean that you have to spill your guts and tell them everything, but when someone, who you know loves you, asks, "Are you ok?" be straight with them.  You may not be ready to right now, but pray over it, and in time you will have the strength and the courage to say, "No, I'm really not ok.  I need some help." 

One more's not your fault. You may have been told that it is, and that the only problems in your relationship are ones you've caused, but it's not your fault.  You may have been told that if you wouldn't make him mad, there wouldn't be any problems at all...but it's not your fault.  You wanted to be loved, and he said all of the right things.  There was no way of knowing the monster that was lurking just below the surface. 

Call a friend, your pastor, or a domestic abuse hotline.  Be shrewd, but be courageous.  If you are able, put together an escape plan.  Find a trained counselor who can walk with you as you make your plans to get out.  There are multiple resources that you can use to get away from an abusive relationship, and do it safely.  Find a good therapist who can help rebuild the person you were before you were beaten down emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  Know you're not alone and that healing is waiting.  My prayers are with you.

To those who may know someone in this situation, be patient with her.  Now is not the time to raise your voice to her, or to tell her how stupid it is to stay in the relationship, or to try to force her to get out.  She's not okay right now.  She probably knows that it's not a healthy relationship, but is afraid to make a move.  Be gentle, but don't give up on her.  Remind her, as often as you can, of her sacred worth.  When she's ready, and when the time is right, she'll make her escape.  If you've handled your end right, you may be one of the ones who can help her do it.       

Here is a number you can call to begin finding your way back to healing.  1-800-799-SAFE
If you are in immediate danger, you can also call 911.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How Adam Hamilton Just Messed Me Up...

Ok, let me start by saying I'm a fan.  I have several of Pastor Adam's books in my office.  I've been to COR three times for the leadership institute.  Today, actually just a few minutes ago, Pastor Adam messed me up.  I mean shook me to my core.  No,'s a good thing.

My Myers/Briggs starts out putting me at 90% introverted.  I don't think I used to be as bad as I am now.  Actually, I think it's gotten worse just in the last couple years.  I don't know if it's my career, the way the church is growing, or if I'm just getting older.

I knew, coming to COR this week, that there was going to be a huge crowd, and I wasn't disappointed.  I'm guessing a couple thousand folks are here this week.  Traffic has been insane.  Lunch is crowded...but I expected all of that, so it's ok.  I was prepared.

We broke just a little while ago for lunch and the folks at COR had set up several huge tents in between the buildings to feed everybody.  The lines were fairly long.  The tables were all set up under the tents.  Folks were crowding around the box lunch tables.  It was a hungry introvert's nightmare.  I grabbed my box and looked for a spot in the the myself so that I could eat without having a panic attack.

Here's where I got messed up...

I'm sitting there in the sun, enjoying this beautiful first day of October (It really is gorgeous outside), eating my lunch, and just people watching.  I'm watching the crowd and think, "Oh hey, there's Adam Hamilton."  He was walking around talking to folks, shaking hands, posing for selfies, and smiling.  I knew that folks called him an introvert, but here he was, shaking hands with folks (and not even using hand sanitizer).  He leads a church that worships 11,000 a weekend.  He travels all over the world teaching and preaching.  I had heard he was introverted, but he looked like he was actually enjoying what he was doing.

So I watch.  Then I watch some more.  Then I find some of our group and tell them what I had been watching, and I pointed to Adam and told them, "Look at him.  He is just walking around, shaking hands, talking to folks, and posing for selfies!"  One of them said, "You should email him.  I did and he responded within 15 mins."  To which I replied, "Nope, I'm going to go talk to him."

So I did.

I walked up to him and said, "Adam, I'm Jamie.  I have one question...How do you do it?  I heard you were an introvert.  How do you do it?  11,000 a weekend and I've been watching you while I sat by myself and ate my lunch.  You're shaking hands, taking pictures with folks, and smiling.  How do you pull it off?"

Then he messed me up.  He said, "I'm not really an introvert.  I used to be.  But I pushed through it and now I actually enjoy it."  We talked for a few minutes and as he walked away I said, "If he can do it, so can I."

I was perfectly comfortable the way I was.  Perfectly comfortable by myself.  But...God didn't call me to be by myself.  I'm a church leader, for crying out loud.  I was kicked back against the wall, in the sun, watching all of those people crowd into those tents and thinking, "Thank God I'm not in there."  But...if being in a crowd shuts me down, how can I lead a church?  I was not expecting this as I drove to KC.

It won't be an overnight change, but 5 minutes with Pastor Adam today messed up everything that I thought kept me comfortable.  Funny how that works, huh?, actually in the last hour, I guess I begin a new journey.  Honestly, it scares the hell out of me.  But if he can do it, so can I.

Friday, September 11, 2015

I Think...Therefore, I Am...

So...this morning I was reading my devotional texts for the day.  Great intro, Jamie, this should be interesting. 

The texts were Ezekiel 38-39, Psalm 145, and Revelation 20.  Ezekiel wears me out.  I love the Psalms because they are actually quite calming.  Revelation...well, I despise Revelation because it has been used for the sole purpose of scaring the hell out of folks.  And it is Revelation, not Revelations...and it is Psalm when you're talking about one and Psalms when you're talking about the whole book.  That was a little bible trivia just for fun. 

But...this morning, reading the three together, something hit me.  Ezekiel loves to talk about folks getting wiped out.  I don't know if he just had a burr in his britches or if God really was that ticked off.  Revelation is more of the same.  It's all monsters and fire and death, except for a few chapters.  But the Psalm for this morning said this; "The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.  (Psalm 145:8-9)  Then it goes on to say this; "The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.  the LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down." (Psalm 145:13b-14)

What hit me was a question..."Well, which is it?  Is God focused more on wiping folks out and scaring the hell out of them?  Or is God truly a God of compassion and love for those who he created and One who lifts up all who are bowed down?" 

Then I started thinking about all that has been going on lately. 

Then I started thinking about the church in the midst of all that's been going on lately. (Since I'm a church leader, that's what I do.)

Then I started thinking about some conversations I've had this week...and posts from other church folk in my Facebook news feed... and comments on posts... and pictures with little captions... and videos people have posted... and comments on the videos... and opinions... and about how folks say the church is in decline... and about how some have even said that Christianity is dead... and...and...and... and I have come to the conclusion that the only one to blame for any real or perceived decline in church attendance is the church. 

We can talk about consumer Christianity all we want, and that folks only come to see what they can get out of it.  There may be some truth in that.  We can talk about how the world is just going to hell and can blame any group we want to blame because they don't agree with us.  We can blame it on a supreme court decision.  We can blame it on the president if we want.  We can say that it's because of racism, or sexuality, or immigration, or Islam, or whatever.  But it hit me this morning that it's nobody's fault but our own. 

We (the Church, and I'm including myself) have become so focused on beating down the ones who won't agree with our sometimes narrow minded, fundamentalist view of scripture, that we may have become unable to see that God is also a God of Psalm 145...a God of compassion...a God who lifts up those who are bowed down...a God who loves all of creation.  Once we become blinded to that part of who God is, can we even see anything but hate?  I'm starting to wonder.  But it doesn't have to be that way.

I think, therefore I am.  What if we started thinking about ways to love the ones we're so quick to condemn?  What if we realized it actually has very little to do with supreme court decisions, county clerks, or protests, and did some deep reflection on how we see the other?  What if we were intentional about showing compassion even when they don't agree with us?  What if we focused more on the type of radical hospitality Jesus showed and less on the specks in our neighbors' eyes? 

Here's what I think would happen...if the church actually started doing that instead of beating down those with whom we disagree, you'd have to sit on the front row during worship, if you got a seat at all. 

So...instead of condemning this person or that person straight to the fires of hell because they're not me...I think I am going to look for ways to live out Psalm 145 as a leader and as a member of the church universal.  Who knows the difference it could make?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Strangers to you...

So...that still small voice wouldn't hush this week because I must confess that in the busy-ness of life, putting out fires in the office, and just day to day church stuff, I had let my morning devotionals go. 

This morning I decided that I needed to spend some time, alone, in the quiet before folks start coming in, reading and writing.  I pulled my Life Journal off the shelf and looked up the readings for today.  They were Jeremiah 50 & 51, and 3 John. 

Jeremiah was just being Jeremiah.  He's not the most optimistic of the prophets, and today was more "'I'm going to wipe you out,' sayeth the Lord."  3 John, though, well that was different.

John is writing to Gaius.  Which Gaius, we don't know, but evidently he was a leader in one of the churches.  3 John 1:5 says this: "Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you."

That was a 2X4 to the face this morning.  Here's why...

For the last two weeks, the messages I've brought to the folks who are Grace Church have been about how we are all misfits in one way or another and that we are called to welcome any who have been made to feel like misfits.  This coming Sunday, the message is about...wait for it..."Strangers like me."  Here's why that's big...this series was planned out almost six months ago, and today I read John commending Gaius for the way he has been treating the "brothers" even though they are strangers.

Here's why that's like a 2X4 to the face.  I blew it this week.

I had the opportunity to do that...and I blew it. 

See, as a pastor, my phone gets blown up all day long.  Sometimes folks just have a question...sometimes they just need to talk.  Sometimes folks need some advice...sometimes they need something else.  Sometimes it's folks I know...sometimes it's not.  I really don't mind.  When it's someone I know, I have to confess that I'm a little more willing to help, because I get calls all of the time from folks just looking for a handout from the church and have never darkened the door...not once.  This week has been more of the latter. 

I even made the comment to one of my leadership team members; "If I knew him it would be a different story, but I've never met him before."  I could blame it on stress, because it was a stressful week.  I could say I was just tired.  I could say it was because I didn't get my workout in that morning.  Or...I could just admit that because I didn't know him, I automatically assumed that all he wanted was money, or whatever.  The bottom line is...I was not a friend to the stranger. 

Maybe I'm looking for some way to justify my actions, I don't know.  Maybe I'm looking for forgiveness, I don't know.  Maybe I'm just trying to convince myself that it really wasn't my fault. 


...but I blew it.  Pure and simple.

So, John, you got me this morning.  I'll work on being more patient.  I'll be more intentional about not making snap judgments.  I'll try a little harder to actually listen to those who are strangers to me.  I'm going to screw it up again because I know me, but in recovery circles, the first step to healing is admitting there's a problem.  So there it is.          


Saturday, July 25, 2015

To the girl at the mall...

I should have studied psychology, or sociology, or anthropology instead of biology.  I love to people watch and see how they interact with each other.  I'm curious about what goes in their heads to make them act the way they do toward another.  Instead, my college career filled my brain with the scientific names of sycamore trees, black rat snakes, and stuff like that.  Things that only nature geeks, like myself, care one iota about. 

Don't get me wrong.  I love all of that stuff...trees, snakes, amphibians, fish, plants...anything of the natural world...but I also love going by the mall, grabbing a cup of iced coffee, walking for 15 or 20 minutes and just watching.  Not in a creepy kind of way.  People are just interesting. 

I love our little mall in Paducah.  It's comfortable.  It's close.  I usually run into someone I know, and that's always good for a quick conversation.  But the one thing I really love about our little mall is that there are no vendors chasing you down, hawking their wares.  Bigger malls...well, they're like some kind of twisted game of retail River Raid.  All I want to do is get through, but I'm constantly having to dodge folks who chase me down wanting to sell me something.  Geez, Louise, folks...just let me walk.

Yesterday consisted of one last family day trip before school started back. We did the zoo thing, and all of us were allowed to leave.  Then after 5.1 miles of that, we headed to one of the local gallerias.  It's too big to just be called a mall...fancy...  I felt like I dropped a social class by simply walking through the doors. 

We walked...and looked...  I spied a coffee vendor and said, "Finally!  Iced coffee!"  So, frosty java in hand, we took off again.  Every few minutes I'd notice a vendor trying to make eye contact just long enough to break into my personal space bubble, and I started hearing that River Raid siren going off in my head. (If you're too young to know what River Raid is, it was only the coolest Atari game ever in the early 80's.  And if you're too young to know what Atari is, google it.)

At least a half dozen times this happened...then there she was...clipboard in hand and I saw her prepare for the attack.  I'm tired.  I've been in the zoo all day.  There were crowds.  And I just want to walk. 

"Hello, sir.  How are you?"

Seems harmless enough, right?  But before I could even catch them, these words came out of my mouth: "I'm tired, and honestly don't feel like being hassled."  Then I walked off.  Alarms started going off in my head.  Lights were flashing.  Sirens were wailing.  Damage control teams were running around inside my brain.  Then it hit me..."Jamie, you ass.  Why did you do that to her?"  My pace started to slow.  My subconscious was kicking into high gear.  I knew what I had to do. 

I turned around, walked back to her with  my hat in my hand, and said, "I owe you an apology.  That was rude and I shouldn't have done it.  I'm sorry.  Will you forgive me?"  The look on her face was a mix of disgust, hurt, and surprise.  She said, "Thank you, brother." and I shook her hand and walked away. 

I'm changing, and I'm not completely sure it's for the better. Maybe I've been like this for years and I'm just now becoming aware of it.  I don't know.  Maybe it's the life changes I've been through in the last couple months.  I'd like to be able to blame it on that.  Maybe I'm just becoming a curmudgeon.  But I think the truth is, I can just be a jerk sometimes.  It's like there's this switch inside my brain that goes from good guy to jerk instantly, but then can go right back again.  Maybe I've just been able to control it better before, who knows?  Is there a psychologist in the house? 

The last couple weeks, though, I've been made aware of it.  I've noticed it happening more often.  I've also noticed that it can be very hurtful.  It's not intentional.  I don't mean to do it.  But that doesn't make it right.

Given my career choice, the words of John Wesley have been ringing in my ears of late..."Do Good.  Do no harm.  Stay in love with God."  While I, or we, may want to do no harm, sometimes we do.  Yesterday, and other times lately, I have...and that sucks. the girl at the mall...and anyone else I may have hurt because my internal filter didn't kick in quickly enough, I apologize.  Perhaps if we all became a little more aware of the power our words and actions have on others, life on this spinning ball would be a little easier to tolerate.

Just some early morning thoughts as the coffee begins to kick in. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Confession...I had told my family that I would do better about taking Sabbath...and I haven't. 

But I'm not alone...

But that doesn't make it right...

I realized yesterday that I've been home 3 nights since the Tuesday before Easter.  That was 25 days ago, and I've been home with my girls 3 nights since then. 

But I'm not alone...and that still doesn't make it right. 

This past week my heart has been broken for some of my colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ, who I see are heading for exactly where I was last burnout.  I've heard them say things like: "I've not had a day off in 3 weeks..."  or: "I've looked at my calendar and my next day off is in June...or July..."  or, like me, "I've just come off of 10 days in a row of 10-14 hour days."  It almost sounds like we treat that as a badge of honor.  It's not.  It's self-destructive behavior. 

For me, it's the result of past PPRCs (Pastor-Parish Relation Committees for those who are not United Methodist.  It's the group I'm amenable to as a pastor.) telling me that I'm not doing enough or constantly badgering me about how I spend my time.  So, for me, many days I ran like I did because of past scars from being told I never did enough.  Then I crashed...and burned...and it's taken me a year to recover from it. 

I could blame my behavior on those past experiences...scars...whatever I want to call them...but the truth's my fault.  Only mine.  I have chosen to let those things guide my work ethic and I've believed the lie that to be faithful...and successful...and to keep people happy...I had to stay busy.  Well, it's a lie from the pit of hell and it smells like smoke.  (To quote Chuck Swindoll) 

So to my brothers and sisters of the cloth...stop it.  Stop trying to be the hero.  Stop trying to do it all by yourself.  Stop sacrificing your family and your health for your calendar.  I've been there.  I know what it's like.  I've sat in the ashes and watched as everything around me crumbled because I was too stubborn to listen to those who were telling me to take care of myself. 

See, here's the thing.  Sabbath rest is not a suggestion.  It's not some quirky little self-help, new age idea.  It's not an excuse to get out of doing this or that.  It's a commandment.  In fact, if I'm not mistaken, it's one of the Big Ten.  The God who created us and called us into a life of service commanded that we take a day to rest and worship.  When we don't, everyone suffers. 

Your church suffers because you're exhausted. 
Your kids suffer because you're not home. 
Your marriage suffers because there is no time to maintain the relationship. 
Your health suffers. 
Everyone around you suffers. 

As clergy, I'm guessing that we can control probably 90% of our schedule.  There are mandatory meetings.  There are church responsibilities.  There are deadlines to meet.  (As I write this, I'm not writing my newsletter article for this month...but it still has to be done.)  I understand that we are busy...we all are...but we are not too busy to take care of ourselves.  It starts with saying this..."No..." 

Practice that with me.  "No....."

Your church leadership will appreciate that you are taking time for self-care...eventually.  Your boss will appreciate that you are taking time for self-care.  Your spouse and kids will definitely appreciate it.  Your God will appreciate it.  And in will you. 

Honestly, I still suck at this.  But at least now I'm aware that I suck at it and try to be more intentional about time with my wife...and myself.  I've started doing yoga in the mornings after my girls all head out.  Sometimes it makes me a couple minutes late getting into the office, but I can actually tell a difference between the days I take those couple minutes for myself and the days I don't.  I still suck at saying "No," but I'm working on it. 

I know this isn't anything new, and you've heard before about the importance of self-care, but I went to bed last night with this on my heart. 

Brothers and's important that we care for ourselves and our families.  This life is tougher than most realize, and the difficulties it brings to our closest relationships are real.  My prayer is that as we all learn to take better care of ourselves we can be better disciples and better shepherds. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

And She Also Went...

In honor of pastor's spouse appreciation month...

If there's one regret I have over answering the call to ordained ministry it wouldn't be the long hours, being on call 24/7, having to constantly put out fires, always having to field complaints, or even having to live in someone else's house.  If I had one regret about answering the call to ordained ministry it would be the effect it has had on my particular, my wife.

Since March is "Pastor's Spouse Appreciation Month," I've come up with a little list of things I wish members of every congregation would remember about the pastor's spouse.  Forgive the gender language, as I know not all pastor's are male, nor are all pastor's spouses female. 

1)  Your pastor was called into the ministry, called to serve the church as a vocation...she wasn't.
     This one is listed first because I feel it to be the single most important thing we need to remember about the pastor's spouse.  She also went.  She followed her husband into the unknown because she loved him...and she loved God. 

2)  She has sacrificed a sense of home to follow your pastor where God has lead. 
     One of the toughest decisions we have made as a clergy family is the decision to sell the home we built for our retirement.  We built the house we wanted, hoped to be able to live in it at least part time, and dreamed of rocking grandbabies on the front porch.  Then reality hit and we knew there was no way we would be able to live in it until after retirement.  So she said goodbye to her dream.  Many pastor's spouses have said goodbye to dreams. 

3)  When things are not going as well as they should for your pastor, she is usually the one left trying to encourage him and remind him of God's presence even now.
     When a meeting goes bad, rumors begin to fly, and complaints come from every direction, she will be the one who has your pastor's back...every time.  Sometimes, the only one.  When your pastor begins to feel the symptoms of burn out, she will be the one to make sure he takes care of himself, so that he can serve you better.  Unfortunately, there is seldom support in place for her, and she's left carrying more weight than she should have to. 
4)  She does not usually complain about interrupted family time or rearranged vacations because she knows it just comes with the job.
     Your pastor is on call 24/7/365 and as a pastor, doesn't mind.  She knows that your pastor works weekends.  She understands that his people will need him at any time of day or night, and knows that sometimes the needs of the church must come first.  As a result, she and the kids eat supper by themselves many nights...and vacations...when they happen...usually have to be scheduled around church activities.  

5)  When she calls to check on you, or comes to visit you in the hospital, it's because she loves you and not because she has to.
     Your pastor is the one responsible for your spiritual care, for visiting you in the hospital and checking on you when your world crumbles...not your pastor's spouse.  She loves you and loves the when she calls you, sends a text, or stops by to check on you it is that love that drives her...not the requirements of her position.  Likewise, if she doesn't for some reason, it's not because she doesn't care, but probably because she is balancing her own career with the extra responsibilities at home since your pastor is probably in a meeting somewhere. 

6)  It's not a package deal. 
     Let me repeat that's not a package deal.  Your pastor was the one appointed or hired to serve your congregation, not his spouse.  This means she doesn't automatically have to play the piano during worship, organize VBS, or lead the women's auxiliary.  If she chooses to do those things, again, it's out of her love for you and for the church.  She is a volunteer just like everyone else. 

7)  She has feelings, too.
     This one is big.  Pastors have to develop thicker skin simply to survive.  She doesn't...and shouldn't have to.  She hears the whispers, rumors, and gossip about her husband...she is told about the complaints...she knows when things are going well and when they're not.  She just wants to be accepted for who she is and loved the way she loves you. 

8)  She suffers from loneliness in the church probably more than your pastor does. 
     It is a lonely life, and not one she asked for.  When your pastor told her that he was feeling called to the ministry, her life was changed forever.  Trust is a huge issue for her, so her circle of friends is infinitely small.  When...if...she can develop a close friendship with members of the church, let her have that.  She needs it.  She needs the support of people within the congregation that she knows she can trust.  When she's with her friends, she's not being stuck up, or snobbish, or aloof...she's recharging for God only knows what's coming next. 

9)  She is trying to balance the demands of her own career with the often implied demands of the associate pastor position.
       She probably has her own career, with it's own responsibilities.  She is just as tired from work as anyone else, and like most others, still has to fix supper and take care of the kids.  She doesn't need or want to be on every committee at church.  She will do all she can to support your pastor and your church, but to expect or demand those things from her simply because of who she's married to is disrespectful and unrealistic.  Let her be her own person. 

10)  She just wants to be herself, and serve God in her way.
      Your pastor's spouse is her own creation, lovingly formed by the Almighty, and given her own gifts, strengths, and weaknesses.  To force her into a mold of what the church thinks she should be is unfair, and sometimes dishonors her creation.  Ask her what she enjoys doing.  Find out where she would really like to serve, instead of where the church thinks she should.  Give her permission to be who she is and not what the church expects her to be.  I guarantee that if you do this, your pastor's spouse will blossom and give more to the church than you ever dreamed. 

11)  She's not your pastor.
      Hear that one...she's not your pastor.  If you're a CPA, and I take my taxes to you, I would never expect your spouse to file them for me...unless she were also a CPA.  The same goes for the ministry.  Unrealistic expectations do harm to clergy spouses that, sometimes, can never be undone.  Demanding more of her than you would any other volunteer in the church is unacceptable.  More than likely, there are days she secretly wishes her spouse wasn't your pastor, but she'd never voice that.  Not to you.  Not to them.  Instead, she paints on a smile, and goes on. 

12)  She loves you. 
      Really, she does.  She probably wishes she could do more, but life for her is insane sometimes.  She is proud to be your pastor's spouse...really.  She will wear the church T-shirts and tell people, "This is my church."  She loves you and she loves the God you worship together.  All she asks is that she be loved in return. 

So...twelve little things we should all remember about our pastor's spouse.  If you're a pastor, take your spouse out to dinner and leave the phone in the car.  They need your undivided attention sometimes.  If you're a pastor's spouse...God bless you...thank you for your support and love.  If you're a member of a church who has a pastor, love his/her spouse, and let them know you love them. 

At the end of the day, your pastor's spouse wants to do all they can to support your pastor's ministry and your church...but they're not your pastor.  Let them be themselves...beloved of the Almighty...the rock that holds your pastor up...child of God. 


Monday, February 9, 2015


     I inadvertently got pulled into a discussion this week on worship styles...or should I say, worship preferences.  This is nothing new, the worship war has been raging for decades now, since the Jesus movement of the 60's and 70's.  According to Wiki (the holy grail of all things unknown...I jest, of course) that was about the time folks like Mylon LeFevre starting doing things a little differently.  Evidently Mylon began to mix gospel music with southern rock, and the result...well, I guess you'd have to decide for yourself.
     I grew up in the 70's and 80's, and the only type of music I heard in the church was from the old Cokesbury Hymnal, or that little green paperback book with the image of the pearly gates on the front.  My only experience with "contemporary" Christian music was "Kum ba yah,"  (Gag.  I think I just threw up in my mouth a little)  or the songs we sang during VBS at the various little country churches in my small town. 
     Fast forward 40 something years, and I've grown up.  I've also changed careers.  A little over 15 years ago, God called me to hang up my carpenter's toolbelt and step out into a career as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.  So, for the last 15 years I've been struggling with the fact that God must have an insane sense of humor because I just don't fit the mold.  I've written about that before in a previous blog, but today it comes up again.  For the first two years I was in the ministry, I played the game.  If I was on the clock, I was in a sport coat and/or tie...clean shaven...clean cut...overly passive...southern gospel on the truck radio...all of the things that society had told me a pastor was supposed to be... 
     ...only I was being a fake...
     ...That's not who I was...
     So, one morning God and I had a long heart to heart, and my end of the conversation went something like this: "Ok, I will give the rest of my life to doing what you want me to do...I'll shepherd your people...I'll listen to their broken hearts...I'll do all I can to help them heal...I'll lead them in worship...I'll visit them when they're sick and bury them when they die...but this suit and tie,  gospel quartet, no goatee thing just isn't me.  You created me the way you did for a reason, and I feel that to be this new thing for you I have to deny your creation.  So I'll do it, but I have to be me."  I felt that, at that moment, God gave the proverbial nod.  Which brings me back to the conversation from this week.
     When it comes to worship, the Coke and Pepsi wars of the 80's look like a preschool dance.  Folks can get vicious when they feel their preferred style is being threatened.  The gist of the article that sparked the conversation from this week was really just about why people don't seem to sing in church anymore.  That launched a barrage of accusations about repeat choruses, unfamiliar songs, and CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) in general.  I get it.  Really, I do.  Folks don't sing what they don't know.  However, in my experiences as a worship leader for the last 15 years, all of which, with the exception of the last 4 have been in a traditional, rural to high church setting, folks don't sing what they do know either.  Not everyone.  Not much.  Not with passion. 
     I get that some of the CCM today is weak.  Some of it has little theology.  Some of it does depend on repeat choruses to just fill time.  I get that.  But not all of it.  Is CCM a show?  That was one of the points brought up in the conversation this week.  Sure, sometimes and in some places.  But do the cadets at West Point really need 23,500 pipes in the Cadet Chapel?
     I'm not writing to defend CCM, even though that is the atmosphere in which I can feel more worshipful, personally.  I'm writing to make this statement...if you're engaging in a conversation about one style or another being better, and that you just can't worship unless there are 4 verses and a refrain in the hymnbook or lyrics projected on a screen...just go ahead and admit that when you go to worship, you're really not going to worship God...  You're going to worship your preference for worship.  We all do it.  Myself included.  But, Geez Louise, let's just call a spade a spade.  The worship wars that have been raging for the last few decades have do with God.  The whole thing is about us, and about what we want. 
     I'm convinced that God really doesn't care whether or not we're holding hymnals or looking at a screen, but instead that we have come into the presence of the Holy One with open and repentant hearts, seeking to lift up holy hands to the Creator of the entire universe...and I'll bet that God is ok (I can't speak for God) with either type of music as long as it's part of a person's genuine attempt to connect with the One true God and praise the Almighty. 
     Now, that being said, if you can connect with your Creator through the old revival hymns, or high church anthems, do it...with my blessings...hold your hymnals in your hand, close your eyes, and give it all you have.  I just ask the same respect for the fact that I can connect with my Creator through the vibrations of the strings on a Fender Strat,
     This will probably spark a firestorm, but the bottom line is that when we reduce worship of the Triune God into battles over this type of music or that, I truly believe we grieve the Holy Spirit.  Now, where did I put that book of Psalms I was going to chant?