Political Problems

It is hard to bite the hand that feeds you. It requires courage and a whole hearted dependency upon God to do it more than once. Thing is, people who keep people, like pets, and feed them everyday in paternalistic ways, are many. Most of us belong to something or someone who is happy to feed us. Three notable exceptions are Groucho Marx, Jesus of Nazareth, and the prophet Samuel.

 

Groucho famously said, “I refuse to be a member of any organization that will have me.”  His team then went on to make the film Duck Soup. This 1933 classic pokes fun at the rising Nazi movement in Germany, while at the same time delivering jabs at the way political systems own all of us. It was the last film made by the Marx Brothers for Paramount, because Groucho habitually bit the hand that was feeding him.

 

Sunday, June 7, 2015
Pentecost 5

Transitional Tasks

Back in the 1970s, Loren Mead identified “Five Developmental Tasks” for transitional leaders. In the next few weeks, some of you will be moving to a new church and/or your church may be recieving new leadership. These five tasks provide a check list for healthy transition:

 

1) Help the congregation come to terms with its History.

Speaking of Addiction

Here is a challenge: use these words, “for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” (Romans 8:13) to speak about addiction. I say this cautiously: first, because the passage speaks in a very elegant way about the Holy Spirit and most congregations need to hear that message. Second, because none of us want to repeat the judgmental, temperance, language of our grandparent’s church. Third, because only a few in the church will be ready to hear the message and act upon it.

 

That being said, note a few advantages to this passage as a teachable moment in the discussion about drugs and other addictive agents in our society.

 

Sunday, May 31, 2015
Pentecost 2

Why can't my church be more like my bank?

I rushed to get to the bank and found it open. Good thing, because we chose this bank for its multiple locations and convenient hours. There was a time when people chose a bank because it looked like a bank — big vault, rigid hours, paternalistic attitude, etc. There was a time when people chose their church because it looked like a church. Big vault = high theology, rigid hours = fixed-in-the-marquee service times, paternalistic attitude=paternalistic attitude.

 

Preparing for Pentecost

What if we prepared for Pentecost the way we prepare for Christmas or Easter? We spend the month before December 25 buying presents for those we love. What if the fifty days before Pentecost became a time in which we thought about how God has gifted us? We each have received spiritual gifts, natural talents, and places of service, by the grace of God. The post-Easter time should be used preparing ourselves — sharpening the saw, as Steven Covey says — for more effective service and more fruitful lives.

 

Hopefully our Lenten journey in preparation for Easter varies from year to year. One year we may study the Lord’s Prayer, line by line, seeking to understand the mechanism of prayer. In the Pentecost that follows, we could make changes in our church to make it a more solid house of prayer.

 

Sunday, May 24, 2015
Pentecost
Aldersgate Day

Comparing Vectors

Lately I’ve been telling people that all authentic long range planning in the church is driven by two outward and upward forces or vectors — a vector is a force with both magnitude and direction: Vector 1) The drive to reach new people, and Vector 2) The organizational charge to nurture our faithful and make them into effective disciples for Christ. Any action plans or goals that we develop for our congregation must move in at least one of these directions. Hopefully our goals serve both vectors, for this is where the energy of the Holy Spirit and our faithfulness to the scriptures lies.

Walk, Stand, Sit

I like Psalm One, especially with the clear progression of verbs found in the RSV walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands… nor sits. One imagines a young person listening first to some bad advice, then finding himself loitering with the wrong crowd, then in time, becoming fully stuck in an addiction, financial folly, or illicit lifestyle. Wickedness is an active, dynamic thing, until it is not. It is easier to steer a life away from tragedy while it is yet unformed. Be careful the rut you choose, you’ll be in it a long, long, time.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about goal-setting and the role that visioning should play in our personal lives. It seems to me that the wicked are much more intentional about marketing long range self-help than are the compassionate. The wicked begin their sermons with, “You can do whatever you fix your mind to do.” Jesus began his sermon, “blessed are…” He focused on forming the generous heart in his disciples first, before he told them that the goal was to make disciples of the whole world. He began with inner peace and rooted spirituality (taught people how to sit), then branched out to spreading salvation/healing (walk to all nations).

Sunday, May 17, 2015
Easter 7

Communication

Sometimes I attend a nearby church that is clueless on communication.I don’t think that they are alone in having problems adapting to digital age. Because I am an irregular attender, I find myself asking questions like, “What time is the Ash Wednesday service?” or “What craft items do they need for VBS?” or “Is the church still collecting items for flood relief?” I could always call the church office, but when are they open? This church puts out a weekly bulletin, which is packed with worship parts and cryptic notes. This bulletin is optional for those who attend the contemporary service.

God is Love - Part 2

One of the embarrassing things about our faith is that our entire theology can be expressed in three words of less than four letters. This fact, combined with the difficulty many of us have with practicing what we say we know, leads us to want to fancy up Jesus. Maybe my intellect would be happier with Scientology or some contemporary form of Gnosticism. Yet, God is love — and those who know this must also love.

 

I have been helped lately by hearing W. Craig Gilliam from Perkins and www.justpeaceumc.org, speak about Martin Buber’s I-Thou. It too, is a simple concept. Every social interaction involves either my treating the other as an IT, or my being aware of them as human, endowed with the full range of feelings that I have, and loved by God by the same grace that I depend upon. Take what should be an easy place to practice this, the daily interaction between two people in a long term committed relationship. Dr. Gillian points out that his wife knows when he has treated her as an IT. This is the hitch in our conversations, especially with people who know us well, we expect them to respond to what we have said, instead they respond to the actual I-IT attitude that was behind our speech. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015
Easter 6
Mother's Day

Vectors not Smart Goals

In long range planing with churches, I have begun to use the word vector instead of goal or objective. The Goals/Objective language is borrowed from the business world which thinks in terms of profit being the underlying greatest good that all things serve. I cringe every time I hear a guru tell church people to adopt SMART goals. We have Christ to serve, and our driving long-range vision is the great commission, that we make disciples in all contexts and among all peoples for the transformation of the world. All of this is done with an attitude of authentic love for those outside the church, never treating them as objects to be manipulated for our own ends.

Dan Harris and Daily Devotions

ABC Nightline anchor Dan Harris recently published an account of the panic attack he had in 2004, while doing the news live, before about five million people. I found myself feeling for him. I’ve embarrassed myself — drawn mental donuts — while preaching. My public ministry has been on a much smaller stage, but the bitter taste of panic and failure is the same. For me, ministry has often felt like a high wire act. We see those around us fall. Some falls can be fatal to our career or continued ministry in a particular location.

Reasonable Happiness

The full version of Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer draws a connection between the acceptance of hardship as a pathway to peace and our capacity to be “reasonably happy in this life.” This echoes a key theme of Palm 23. We are on an educational journey here, and to both understand our teacher and complete our course, we need to accept pain, as well as, a multitude of things we cannot change. Encountering this world as our shepherd does, is fundamental to Christianity. It leads us a away from the frivolous pursuit of happiness. It allows us to think missionally about our lives. We are not here to gather the most toys, complete a bucket-list of exotic experiences, or have unending comfort —- we are here to love. Reasonable happiness involves hardship. But, no matter what our circumstances, we can be reasonably happy if we have developed a deep trust in God.

 

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 

Taking, as He did, this sinful world 

Sunday, April 26, 2015
Easter 4

Alignment

Rarely is there a greater gap between expectation and actuality than what is found in a local church the year after a new mission statement has been adopted or a serious goal setting process performed. In vision casting there s a rule: the more time and consultant costs expended, the less the person in the pew cares. In the business world there is a word for this, Alignment. Where alignment exists, the objectives of the management are well known and the company’s mission statement has been adopted by the employees, so that folk are pulling together.

Dead Guy Eats Fish

The last line of Luke is, “You are witnesses of the things.” What things? I read backward and find a dead guy eating a fish and saying, “watch me.” So the first thing we as Christians witness to is the fact that God has totally disrupted the natural order of the earth by sending to us an ordinary appearing individual, who happens to have the power to rise from the dead. This changes everything. We’ve all had that speculative conversation, usually late at night with a glass of wine in our hands, about how things would be different if we encountered aliens and that we are not alone in the universe. Now we have proof that, not only are we not alone, but our alien god has inserted itself into a particular moment in time.

 

Put plainly, the Easter story is startling. It is news worthy. It is worthy of much discussion and suitable for changing lives. It changes everything. So the first thing we must say is, I know someone who has come back from the dead. Then, with this crazy fact out of the way, we can witness to how we discovered the fish-eating one to be God and that God is merciful. We can go on to witness to our own miracle; how we were saved by our own strange encounter with Truth or God-with-Us.

Sunday, April 19, 2015
Easter 3

Ways to Peace

Ideology often trumps common sense. Common sense says that honey catches more flies than vinegar — being sweetly concerned about the interests and needs of others, will lead to a more fruitful and peaceful existence. But if you are acidic, competitive, slow to forget slights and always looking for a way to put others down, your life will be marked by sorrow and loss. Why do we choose the latter? As individuals and as congregations, we are often mired in destructive and painful thought systems, or to use an appropriate word, ideologies.

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