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

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

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 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

For more, see Ezekiel's Bones by Bill Kemp

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 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.

Reality Check 101 has a three step process for healthy ministry

It's About Time

Today, we have a problem with Time. Not just the lack of it, or our capacity to waste it in trivial TV watching, but in our very understanding of it. Today, we process Time in very short chunks. We abbreviate it, as we cook our food in the microwave. We truncate it, forsaking even the dumbed-down daily half-hour news show (17 minutes when you take out the commercials and feel-good fluff), for Facebook posts and Twitter-feeds. We rape Time by our reluctance to ask the big question about how history is shaped, and where it all will end. Apocalypse is not just a prelude to Zombies, it is one answer to the vital question, How will Time end?

Christmas 2
1st Sunday of New Year
Sunday, January 4, 2015

Old and New

We have this image as we face the New Year of an old man being pushed off of life’s stage by an infant. Meanwhile, in the Bible, we find the baby, Jesus, being brought by his parents to the temple on the first Sunday after Christmas and there are these two old geezers blocking the way to the altar. Simeon and Anna, both older than eight track tapes, have to say their bit before we can get on with the story of the incarnation. And we say, ‘Oh I get it. Everything new gets old real quick.’ But we don’t get it. The exact opposite is being spoken by the Holy Spirit.

Christmas 1
Sunday between Christmas & New Year's
Sunday, December 28, 2014

“Surprise! I’m not going to church right now.” Recently I gave a fellow struggling Christian author a complimentary copy of my Reality Check book for her review and asked her to pass it on to her pastor when she was though with it. She looked embarrassed and confessed that she wasn’t going to church right now. She had moved across town a few years back and not found a place that she was at home in. This is someone whose day job involved handling difficult people and doing boring repetitive things because you are responsible for getting it done. She wasn’t someone who flaked out on her commitments. She was committed to Christ.

Churches, like phones, look different to different generations

The holiday season is filled with teachable moments. As you prepare for the children’s Christmas pageant and approve various images for advertisements and to placed on the worship screen, have you exercised care to represent the diversity of the world that Emmanuel entered into? We might have a black wiseman in our nativity set, or at Easter, make mention of Simon of Cyrene’s race, but is this mere tokenism? What about wrestling with the exclusivity of our approach to the holiday season?

How do we picture Christmas?

Say Yes to the Dress

TLC does a bit of fluff called “Say Yes to the Dress.” It shows brides arguing with their mothers as they choose a dress for her to wear for three hours on one day and costs — well, if you have to ask the price you’re not really putting yourself into their demographic. It’s Queen for the Day, remade for today’s cable channel surfer, minus the backstory of how miserable the woman’s life was before this moment and how much she needs to feel special for an hour. My hatred of Say Yes…  may be why Isaiah 62:10 popped out a me this week.

Advent 3
Sunday, December 14, 2014

The recent brouhaha over President Obama appointing a soap opera producer as ambassador to Hungary reminds me of the way congregations choose their leaders. There is a word for when  nomination committees give out church offices as rewards for financial or political gifts. It’s the sin of simony, much protested by Martin Luther.  But, I wish there was a word for doing the opposite. Too often, nominating committees beg people who work 9 to 5 at finances or in the building trades, to serve on the stewardship committee or as trustees. The resulting leadership is articulate and knowledgable, but lacks passion.

Simony - the word for today

How does it begin?

I’ve learned a trick from Sci-Fi guru Orson Scott Card, when I’m at the bookstore, looking for a novel, I always read the first 13 lines of the book. If the author doesn’t nail it in the first half a page, the book isn’t likely to be worth it. Mark’s gospel is a good read. He begins with ordinary folk flocking out into the wilderness to hear a prophet. What would make them do that? They have a need to know that life will turn out Okay. Some of them have lost children to malnutrition. Others are struggling through failed marriages.

Advent 2
Sunday, December 7, 2014

The story is that Alexander the Great had a mistress named Campaspe. She was beautiful and he was proud of her, so proud, that he took her to the famous artist, Apelles, who painted her in the nude. Alexander loved this painting. He noticed something, though. The reason Apelles did such a good job at the painting, was because Apelles saw Campaspe’s beauty more clearly than Alexander did. Now you would think, Apelles would get in trouble for ogling  the Great’s girl. But Alexander chose instead to give Campaspe to Apelles as payment for the painting, which he took home to his palace.

Alexander watches as Campaspe is painted

Keep Awake

There are times in our lives when someone needs to shake us. We sing, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Something’s burning. We open a window and spray air freshener. The snooze button of our alarm clock has been taped down. Advent is meant to take a double edged sword to our post-turkey somnolence.  First, it reminds us of the generations who longed to see the wrath of God come and break the mountains of oppression that bound them. Then it tells us that the Jesus whom we want to receive on Christmas morning with Walmart gifts and egg nog, belongs to those who are awake, looking for him in the cold night.

Advent 1
Sunday, November 30, 2014

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