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

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.

Every system has wheels within wheels

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

Literally

“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

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.

There are 4 regions that a church can inhabit

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 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

“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.

 

Our Vision must move us to include new people

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