Systems and Humility

I find that when I step back from my ministry and look at the church as a whole, I am always humbled. All United Methodist clergy persons do their daily tasks within the boundaries of a parish to which they are duly appointed. We are never free agents. This field of service lies within a particular district and annual conference. It is within these three concentric circles (parish, district, conference), that you must demonstrate your promise and fealty to the United Methodist Church. For some period of your career, you may be asked or elected to serve the general church and/or to engage in mission work beyond the borders of your parish.

Lenten Themes for 2015

Our journey towards being the people God wants us to be.


Ash Wednesday: “Purity”  - Psalm 51 - “Create in me a clean heart”

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Make Mine a Double

At McDonalds, we get asked if we want to supersize it. It doesn’t cost much more. Unfortunately, there isn’t a fast food restaurant that offers super-sizing for spiritual things. In the movies, the dispirited protagonist always walks into a bar and asks for ‘a double.’ I can never see how two extra fingers of whisky will make the situation better. Perhaps when we are praying about something really important, we should ask for ‘a double.’ In Bible times, first born sons stood to inherit a double share of the family farm. This was a real commodity that could be measured in furlongs and feet.

Last week in Epiphany
Sunday, February 15, 2015


“Everything you see, I own. literally.” The devil has taken Jesus to an imaginary mountain peak, where all the world can be seen. Jesus can see the Bruegger’s Bagels on the corner where they make the salmon and capers on pumpernickel that he loves. He is famished. It’s been a thousand hours since his last meal. Literally. If I were him, and they had just brewed their dark roast coffee, I’d trade my mission to save the world for part ownership of that one Bruegger’s bakery branch and its bagels that are to die for. But, that’s not what Jesus does.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mission First, People Always

The US Army has a slogan: Mission First, People Always. It can be translated for the church as; Witness First, Be Disciples Always. In both the business world and the military, such slogans emphasize the priority of both developing a strategy to achieve your mission, as well as, building an organization that invests in its members. The strategic front-end of the slogan, prods leaders to compete, win the battle, and remain on task. The people-end of the slogan, prods leaders to build healthy organizations, channel resources into training, develop teamwork, and always serve the needs of your members.

Fooled by the Veil

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.

I was midway through college before I read Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” It was my first introduction to the concept of systemic evil. One people do not put another people down by simply putting them in chains. They instead, drop a veil over the faculty that enables people to see each other clearly. Early in his book, Ellison describes a statue depicting the white founder of this college for people of color, lifting the veil of ignorance off of the face of a slave. Ellison winks. Who knows which way the veil is going on that bronze statue? It may be the intention of the college and its surrounding segregated system to tie the veil down more firmly. Thanks to Ellison, I’ve begun to see deceptive systems everywhere.

Epiphany 5
Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Effective Disciples Vector

I believe that John Wesley’s vision for the Methodist movement can be boiled down to two foci, or what I like to call vectors. When he sent his preachers out, he said, “You have nothing to do but to save souls.” This is the New People Vector that I dealt with in last week’s blog. It’s an exclusive priority.

The Authority of Scripture

Jesus is teaching scripture. Why? Jesus knew something that we have forgotten, that scripture can be life changing. He read the same words that had been heard in that location, every year for many years, but people heard them afresh. Geezers moved up front to hear Jesus better. Teenagers sat up. Suddenly, one of the trustees was on the floor, rolling, spitting, and shouting out, “We know who you are!” There is power in these dusty, old Torah rolls when Jesus handles them.


Epiphany 4
Sunday, February 1, 2015

The New People Vector

“You say that we should always lead our people outward, that our vision has to be to constantly bringing new people into the congregation. Shouldn’t we balance this with our inward need to grow spiritually?” It was a good question. A woman on the staff of a large church asked me this after I had presented the Spiral Rule: Churches that face outward go upward, congregations that focus inward, shrink downward until they become a selfish singularity.


The Kingdom is Near

There is a difference between our current culture, and the people described in Mark  Chapter 1. People today do not expect God to intervene in their personal lives, nor do they expect God or Jesus to suddenly appear in the sky and kick their oppressors to hell and bring his faithful into a new kingdom of peace and justice. We have become un-apocalyptic as a culture, in spite of social media’s trending of fake stories about zombies, ebola, and the muslims in burkas.  The hope that underlays Jesus (and John the Baptist’s) message is that God’s kingdom is near.

Epiphany 3
Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why Spiritual Passion Matters

Science Fiction teaches us that when a space ship approaches a black hole, gravity becomes infinite, things spiral down and get worse until the luckless crew passes the inescapable event horizon. Many churches are captured in a similar death spiral and I am convinced that elevating Spiritual Passion is the only answer. 


Love on the Journey

Life is, in its simplest telling, a journey story. This is why our hearts are drawn to stories like the Hobbit, the Exodus, and Homer’s Odyssey. Psalm 139 tells us that the journey has purpose. It assures me that [God has] searched out my path and my lying down, and is acquainted with all my ways. Such knowledge is overwhelming. Whatever you say about this Psalm, don’t water down the intense and poetic way it expresses God’s love for us as individuals. 


Epiphany 2
Sunday, January 18, 2015

Spiritual Passion as The Answer

Spiritual passion is the fuel that keeps a congregation active and excited about the faith it has to share with the world. Without spiritual passion, a church, no matter what its size, will either crash and burn or become a hollow shell of its former glory. Just as the body is fueled by a nutritious diet, so a church is fueled by a healthy, passionate, spirituality. 

Three Questions - One answer

John and Austerity

Meditation consists of intentionally eliminating the things that are so familiar that we have allowed them access to our souls. Spirituality begins with naming our inner idols and the material albatrosses hanging around our necks. So, Jesus comes to be baptized by John in the Jordan. Then, he immediately goes further into the wilderness for forty days. These two events lack noise. They lack clutter. What specifically is missing from these two events?


Epiphany 1
Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Parable for Pastors

A certain young pastor came to Jesus and said, “Lord, I already know how to be saved. What I need to know is how to move on from this parish and find the situation that I really deserve.” And Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord? I am not your bishop. Have you filed your statistical reports? Does your church pay all of its denominational askings, and have you organized every committee according to the rules you have received? Have you gone to all the workshops, visited all of the shut-ins, and said the invocation at the rotary each month? “All these I have done,” the young man said.


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