That's Not My Job

Two of the most helpful terms in describing church leaders are  Over-Functioning and Under-Functioning.  Over-Functioning as a neurotic state is related to codependency. This was first noted in the study of the family systems that surrounded alcoholics.  The vacuum in family structure and process created by a drinking parent would suck one or more of the children into adult-sized roles. They would take on tasks that were really not their jobs. As they grew into adulthood and left their family of origin, these wounded souls would characteristically over commit.

Ecology

Psalm 8 and the Genesis creation story reveal something that can only be learned from revelation: that our dominion over all creatures, as well as, our responsibility for the environment, is not something humanity gained by evolving into the top position in terms of intelligence, nor have we conquered the earth by our own might, ecological dominion is instead a gift, a matter of grace from our creator. This is why Pope Francis’ voice on climate control is a significant addition to the debate.

Pentecost 22
Sunday, October 4, 2015

Holy People, Holy Places

Places where we experience the Holy are more common than people who embody holiness. As we watch Pope Francis visit our hemisphere, this seems to be the point neglected by many commentators. The crowds are coming as pilgrims to places where they expect a blessing. No matter what the form our religion takes, we are called to extraordinary prayer in particular places and by contact with those we consider to be Holy. It is important to recognize this fact without getting too analytical.

 

7 Reasons to Pray

In James 5:13-20 seven prayer topics are considered: Trouble, Happy, Sick, Sin, Prophetic (Elijah concerned with political situation), Environmental, and for those who are Lost. But, everything James says is prefaced by a discussion of the prayer-less attitude many have towards life.  In James 413-15 we are cautioned not be drawn into thinking that we have a god-less solution to the troubles of this world.

 

Pentecost 20
Sunday, September 27, 2015

Proactive Time Management

Too often we think that time management involves finding tricks to multi-task or get everything done efficiently. I want to suggests that time management  begins with two simple understandings:

A Time for Honesty

At the heart of every twelve step program, like AA, there is an emphasis on holy confession. We confess the path that our urges and inner demons have put us on. We confess our inability to manage them by ourselves. We affirm our commitment to change our course and walk on a new path. James, being the New Testament’s wisest wisdom book, resonates with these truths.  In James 3:13- 4:10 we are urged to think about the costs associated with following our selfish desires.

Pentecost 20
Sunday, September 20, 2015

Never Call Them Stupid

Imprecise language is the bane of group processes. Whether you are Donald Trump, Bill Maher, or the substitute teacher for the kindergarten Sunday school class, your audience deserves a better word choice.  Unless you are referring to a recent blow on the head, as in to be knocked stupid, the word “stupid” is always a poor choice. Not only is it inflammatory, it distracts us from the choice we must make whenever we talk about motive. I write novels and none of my characters are stupid. Whenever they make a bad decision or commit a felony, the proper word for what they are doing is either incompetence or malevolence.

Know Your Cross

The news tonight is bound to contain at least one example of a foolish religious sacrifice. It may be a suicide bomber, an IS recruit selling all to go to Syria, or a county clerk going to jail for failing to give marriage licenses. That last example may be a bit controversial, but it is carefully chosen. I think all forms of martyrdom should conform to the rules of civil disobedience. Before I pick up a cross, participate in an act that is likely to cause me harm or imprisonment, or fail to perform the reasonable duties of my workplace, I must ask:

Pentecost 19
Sunday, September 13, 2015

Balancing Transition's Concerns

All transition has three components. It doesn’t matter if you are moving to a new location, starting a career, or exiting puberty. For general terms you could name the components: body, soul, and relationships. Attention should be paid to each one; failed transitions and broken hearts are often the product of rushing the process and failing to do one or two components well. 

 

Up or Down, a Show of Hands

Most religious beliefs aren’t suited for Yes/No, no qualifiers, interrogations. The Republican field of candidates was asked to indicate by a show of hands whether they would support the nominee if it was not them. Simple question, answer Yes or No.  In the Baptism ritual we ask a series of similarly simple — no grey area — questions. Beyond this, what other assertions deserve this treatment? In James 2:5, a rhetorical question is asked and James assumes that we will answer confidently, “Yes.” That question goes like this:

Pentecost 8
Sunday, September 6, 2015

Preaching to Voters

It’s important not to get caught up in America’s current political polarization. There was a day in which Republicans were promoting the Fourteenth Amendment instead of seeking to get it repealed. Support of particular political candidates, movements, or parties, often gets the church coopted into simply providing the people to serve someone else’s agenda. 

The Heart of Religion

The great physicist Richard Feynman once described what he and other scientists were doing this way: “[The Universe] is something like a great chess game being played by the gods, and we are observers of the game. We do not know what the rules of the game are; all we are allowed to do is to watch the playing. Of course, if we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules.” I think he was right, but his analogy scares me a bit. People who attempt to learn something, like chess or swimming or religion, often get fascinated with irrelevant customs and nonessentials. A child may think that it is impossible to learn to swim without a blue bathing suit or that chess (or science) is only played by boys.

Pentecost 17
Sunday, August 30, 2015

Managing Your Expectations

I have learned a spiritual rule: Whenever my expectations for others cause me to treat them in a less than compassionate way, something is wrong with my expectations. This rule needs to be consistently applied whenever we act as church leaders. Before turning something sticky, like staff management, consider the following examples:

 

Dusting the Altar Rail

Do this: while you’re reading Solomon’s dedication prayer for the temple, take a can of Pledge and dust the altar rail. If your church doesn’t have one, take a few moments to complain about that fact (the architect must have been a pagan). Solomon admits that God doesn’t need an altar rail to be worshiped — in fact his great temple didn’t have one. Actually, his whole temple was an altar rail and the courts around it equivalent to the kneeling pads we place before our rail. In church language, people come to the altar during prayer time, even if they don’t leave their pew.

Pentecost 16
Sunday, August 23, 2015

You Can't Have It All

Bill: When a married United Methodist clergy is up for a change in appointment, how much consideration should be given to the spouse’s career?

 

Specializing in Wisdom

Today if you want to know something, you Google-it. Works for discovering the lyrics to the song in your head, knowing how to tell if your pomegranate is ripe, and for looking up the population of Canton, Ohio. Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia dispense a lot of useful knowledge — people even buy smart-phones so as to never have this wealth out of reach — but, where is wisdom? What is Wisdom? People should hear about wisdom in church often, because it is our business. Internet-based information sites out perform bricks and mortar religious institutions when it comes to answering peoples’ questions.

Pentecost 15
Sunday, August 16, 2015

Another Bad Week?

Joe:  OK, so it is Monday after “one of those weeks.”  During the past seven days you have (1) conducted two funerals, (2) been informed by the chair of your Trustees that the church’s air-conditioning system is dying and the Fellowship Hall’s roof still leaks, (3) are facing the need to exit a long-time staff member because of ongoing performance issues, and (4) have verified that the church’s worship attendance was lower this quarter than any time during the past three years.

Loving Jesus in a Gluten-Free World

In John 6, Jesus causes a scandal by claiming to be the bread of life. The word bread itself is problematic today; many people are on gluten-free or low carb diets. This leads to three sticking points around Jesus and bread.

Pentecost 14
Sunday, August 9, 2015

7 Stages of Change

Summer is a good time to talk about transition, even if your church isn’t going through one. Many of your members will be mid-transition. The important thing to remember is that all forms of major change are similar. Use the table below or think through the plots of movies, books, or Bible stories. 

 

 

Poignantly Paul

From the prison cell, where he is cut off from the lifeblood of Christian fellowship, Paul speaks with clarity about how church is meant to be. Ephesians 4:1-16 should be read by those nominated to church office, should be responsively chanted at church council meetings, and should be prayerfully kept in mind as we enter our fall reorganizational and vision casting gatherings.

 

Pentecost 13
Sunday, August 2, 2015

Satan's Music

First let me say that this cartoon gets it wrong. True: bagpipes are hideous when badly played and serve such a narrow range of music that they are the butt of many jokes. Yet when I try to imagine the music that will be played in hell, my closest reference point is to ask, what kind of music was played by the Nazi party during their conquest of the German people? It is unlikely that Satan has the same musical tastes as Hitler, but I think their utilization of music will be similar.

 

PG Rated Bathsheba Story

I once preached about David and Bathsheba on a dare. It was during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. The dare was that I had to preach about the President’s problem at the 11 o’clock worship service where there would be families with young children. The parishioner that challenged me knew that I was the lone democrat in a congregation of republican wolves. I chose the Bathsheba story then, and I think it is worth considering again.

 

Pentecost 12
Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Changes and What does Not

One way to say something different about the familiar Psalm 23, is to list the things that are constant about our relationship with God and give personal examples for each. Then point out that the psalm deals with the scary changeableness of life and its great transitions. This contrast, lulling people into a security with the familiar aspects of their favorite psalm, then hitting them with the harsh realities that demand faith, can be effective, if you don’t show your hand ahead of the big reveal.

Pentecost 11
Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mistaken for a Dead Man

Guilt is a funny thing. Like humor, it depends upon ambiguity. Everyday we do things that are wrong, but we tend to only feel guilty about the ones that have some confusion to them. Remember the story that Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus; the dude with a Rolex on his wrist and a Porsche in the drive, walks by the beggar at his door, never feels guilty, and doesn’t realize that he has contributed to Lazarus’ early death by his neglect. The rich man lives, we assume, a very purpose-driven life, with clear goals and no time for soft-headed things like charity.

Pentecost 10
Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Past, The Truth, and The Church

As we enter into patriotic reflections this weekend, it is good to remember that there are three things that we cannot change; the past, the truth, and other people. The church and her people need to be involved with social change. This involves honoring the past, speaking truth, allowing change to begin within our own walls, and then reaching out to be change agents. The AME Zion church has walked this path. President Obama’s eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, one of the Charleston martyrs, contains some lines that are helpful and inspiring:

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