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.

 

People used to choose churches that looked like churches

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.

Pentecost
Aldersgate Day
Sunday, May 24, 2015

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.

Life's forces have both direction and magnitude

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.

Easter 7
Sunday, May 17, 2015

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.

Are you keeping in touch with everyone

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.

 

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

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.

Vectors have magnitude and direction

Abiding Love

Abiding Love

Easter 5
Sunday, May 3, 2015

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.

Had on air panic attack

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.

Easter 4
Sunday, April 26, 2015

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.

Getting alignment around a vision can be frustrating

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.

Easter 3
Sunday, April 19, 2015

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.

If someone offers you a way to peace, don't crush it

The Toyota Blessing

I always associate Psalm 133 with the 1969 red Toyota Corona that I owned when I was young and slightly more foolish. The car had an oil filter located behind the wheel-well which required an extra joint between your elbow and wrist to reach. Back then, I felt that my manliness depended upon changing my own oil. The little car regularly baptized me for my sins. Oil dripped down over my long hippy hair, and nigh, even unto my beard and the collar of my turtleneck.

 

Easter 2
Sunday, April 12, 2015

Football players learn something called the Two Minute Drill. This is a package of plays for the two minutes before halftime and the final possession of the game. These are the game’s most valuable seconds. United Methodist clergy need a similar package of plays for the days that follow a call from a cabinet member concerning a new appointment. If you don’t have a personal action plan prepared, it’s easy to feel out of control in this hustle-to-move-the-ball time.

Pastor's need a two minute drill prepared before they get the call to move

False Endings

There a number of movies and plays that provide a false ending. Into the Woods, has four interwoven plot lines that seem to be resolved just before the intermission. Then the curtain comes up on Act two and everyone finds another reason to go into the woods and face even greater dangers. Palm Sunday is the same way. We see Jesus come into Jerusalem and be honored as the Messiah, no longer hidden away in the backwoods hillsides of Galilee. He gets to teach in the temple. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, deceive us into thinking that Jesus has passed the finish line of his race.

Palm Sunday
Sunday, March 29, 2015

What is the one thing your local church is uniquely called and equipped to do in your context? You may expect a variety of answers to this question, but they all boil down to four visions or unique callings:

    1) A church may be called to care for its members and buildings

    2) A church may be called to share Christ with the next generation

Reality Check 101 uses four suits of cards to explain competing visions

Death 2 Seeds

Jesus gives a profound explanation for our lives: We are seeds. We get planted on this earth as seedy-self-centered beings. What we were before is unknown, and who we have to thank seems an irrelevant question. We live seed-illy, bumping up against other seeds, facing rejection, misunderstandings, and a general shared ignorance about life. Then the hour comes when we are cracked open and transformed. The new life, the miracle, casts our seed-shell aside. Jesus asks, “Shall I say No to this hour?”

Lent 5
Sunday, March 22, 2015

As mentioned before, HBO’s Bill Maher has laid down a challenge to all Christian Ministers. He states that our religion creates an urgent problem, namely sin, and then sells a solution, salvation and/or the regular support of the institutional church (see http://billkemp.info/content/bill-maher-and-nicodemus). He compares today’s ministers to an episode of The Three Stooges, where the guys have an extermination business. Moe, Larry, and Curly are seen planting mice and bugs in the homes that they hope to sell their services to.

The Three Stooges remind us not to be ignoramuses

Bill Maher and Nicodemus

This past week (3/6/2015), HBO’s political commentator/comedian, Bill Maher, spoke about salvation in this way:  “Take any religion, let’s say, Christianity. First they invent a problem, like sin. Then they sell you a solution [getting saved].”*  This was in the context of Bill and his guest, Lawrence Wright, discussing Scientology, a religion that certainly has a questionable marketing strategy. But, before we laugh with Bill and Larry, we ought to ask how Christianity is different.

Lent 4
Sunday, March 15, 2015

    In the United Methodist Church, decisions to move a clergy person from one church to another are usually made during Lent. This habit has many practical advantages, and one glaring fault. It disrupts the key spiritual process of Christian life. Lent is the process of moving from ashes to fire. We do it in our personal lives, as we embrace the fact of our mortality on ash Wednesday, follow Jesus to the cross, experience grace on a gut level, carry his body to the tomb, have our hope renewed by miracle, then rediscover the ways we are each called to utilize the fire of Pentecost.

We move from ashes to fire

Two Paintings

Why do I like Caravaggio better than Carracci? Two paintings, both about 1600, by Italian artists.  Annibale Carracci paints the Virgin mourning over Christ for the altar piece in Naples. Here, Mary represents the church, her extended hand inviting us to grasp her role in the passion story. She is serene, wise, and still. Jesus lays on her, like some waxen Adonis, perfect and inert. There are cherubs darting around the stonework, adding a little religious froufrou. I hate this painting.

 

Lent 3
Sunday, March 8, 2015

TIIMSA - Interim Pastors

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - 6:00pm to Thursday, April 30, 2015 - 12:00pm

The annual meeting for United Methodist Transitional/intentional Interim Ministry Specialists Association

TIIMSA GATHERING 2015

Workshop with Keynote

Reformation

Paul reminds us that Abraham was saved by grace. We should know that obeying God’s laws isn’t the golden key that unlocks heaven’s doors for us (see Romans 4:4). So, go tell your people that all their being good isn’t getting them anywhere. This is the point at which all great religious reformations start.

 

Lent 2
Sunday, March 1, 2015

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