Jesus & Vampire Weekend

Recently, I was listening to the Vampire Weekend song “Unbelievers”. It’s an extremely catchy tune. However, what caught my attention were the lyrics that stirred questions in my mind. Take a listen:

“We know the fire awaits unbelievers all of the sinners the same.”

“Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?”

As I listened to this song, I found myself asking this question: Is this the message Christianity is sharing with the world around us?

Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the love, grace, hope, mercy, and compassion of Christ, the message that is generally being spread is one of impending doom for those who do not believe. I know that is a big stereotype and there are many out their doing their best to breathe hope, life, joy, and love into the world. But, is that the message that is getting out to the masses? It doesn’t seem like the guys in Vampire Weekend have received a message of love, grace, mercy, and compassion, but one of the fires of hell.

Let’s be honest, even within Christian circles, we condemn those who do not believe exactly like us to hell. Conservatives condemn liberals to hell, and vice versa. Pro-lifers trash the pro-choice crowd. Within the UMC, Confessing Movement and Reconciling Movement are deeply divided and are less than loving with one another. Protestants and Catholics wonder if the other really even believe in Jesus. And so, we communicate that heaven is reserved only for those who think like we do.

Is this the message Christ desires for us to bring to the world?

John 3:17, you know…the verse after that often quoted one says, “God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus came, not to condemn, but to save. Yet, so many of us within the walls of the church, find great joy in condemning those who are “unbelievers”.

So, how do we move from the generalized characteristic of being judgmental and hell-focused?

The Third Place

We all need places to connect…places where we feel comfortable, safe, welcome, and wanted.

Lately, the experts have identified the “third place” where we find social connections. Churches, country clubs, gyms, bars, hobby groups would be examples of “third places”. It’s a place outside of home and work where we develop build friendships.

For those who work in the church, finding that third place can be challenging. Yet, it is vitally important for holistic health.

Currently, I am sitting in my all time favorite third place…the Heorot. I was a frequent visitor throughout college. I came every Friday at lunch when we moved back to Muncie. In general, those gathered here are “like” me. It’s extremely rare to enter this place and not run into someone I know. For example, I just had a nice visit with a former professor. A childhood friend just walked through the doors.

I miss this place. And, as I sit here, I am reminded of my need for a third place.

Where is your third place?

Love, Honor and Respect Your Spouse, Partner, Significant Other, Etc.


The other day, I was reminded of the importance of loving, honoring and respecting the people with whom we are “doing life together”. Too often, we take for granted the relationships that should be most important to us. Our words and actions, and at times our silence and in-action, do not always communicate love, honor and respect.

Due to some posts from friends via social media, I found myself asking some questions:

1. Do we love, honor and respect our loved ones through our actions on social media? Do our posts, comments, and things we share demonstrate that we are fully committed to those we would say we are committed to? For example, a “friend” constantly posts pictures of scantily clad women. It would be bad enough if the gentleman was single. However, he is married. So, is he really loving, honoring, and respecting his wife when he posts these pictures? Sure, maybe his wife is “cool” with it…but???

2. Do we love, honor and respect our loved ones in the workplace? The other day, I read a post where a “friend” was referring to her “work husband”. I don’t know about you, but when I hear terms like “work spouse”, I imagine flirtatious relationships where certain ethical lines are crossed. Sure, maybe physical boundaries are not crossed. But, what about intimate emotional connections? Are we “working” in ways that protect our relationships?

3. Do we love, honor and respect our children on social media? How many times have you read posts where people are moaning and groaning about their children? I have a “friend” who is constantly posting about how much of a challenge her oldest child is. The words are not kind. And I understand the need to vent…but is facebook the most appropriate venue? Or how about those pictures of our children that we post that aren’t exactly flattering? And, for crying out loud, this may offend some of you…but, nude/topless pictures of your kids, even if only shared with your friends??? I know I violated this one when my kids were babies (I mean, they were babies, so it’s cute, right?). Let me just be straight-forward, there are creepers on your friends list…you are friends with some sick, dirty bastards. You may not know it, but you are. And there are creepers who know how to get around your privacy settings. So, think twice, three times if necessary before posting pictures. Sure, our children may not be on facebook or twitter…yet.

So, if you are in any kind of committed relationship, think about your actions and words. Are we loving, honoring, and respecting our spouses at home, at work, online, in their presence and in their absence?

Keep Calm & Matthew 22:34-40, Part Two

keep calmThe following was presented at Christ United Methodist Church in Lafayette, IN on July 7, 2013.

Last week, we started a short sermon series called “Keep Calm and Matthew 22:34-40”. We are exploring this short teaching of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew where we are called to love God and love our neighbors as we would love ourselves. Last Sunday, we focused on loving God. We talked about how we can grow and stay in love with God when we put in an effort through prayer, study, worship, giving, serving, and sharing. Many of you have joined the Challenge 150 journey. If you weren’t here last week, I would encourage you to take a bookmark when you come forward for communion and join us on this journey as we pray, read, and reflect on the psalms.  I am convinced that when we take proactive steps to grow in our love of God, we will be empowered to love our neighbors. I don’t know about you…but sometimes it’s difficult to love my neighbor.

Before we read this passage of Scripture, let’s set the scene. Jesus is in the midst of his ministry of teaching and healing. The religious leaders of his day did not like the attention Jesus was receiving. So, they were working to find a way to charge him with an offense…to get him out of the way. The religious leaders began questioning Jesus in an attempt to trip him up, to get him to say something that went against the Jewish law. First, the Pharisees asked Jesus a question concerning taxes. Jesus’ answer “astonished” the Pharisees and they departed. Next, the Sadducees came to ask Jesus a question about resurrection. Now, let us remember that the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection. Jesus gave an answer that again astonished those who were listening and silenced the Sadducees. That’s where we will pick up the story.

Read Matthew 22:34-40

Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. If we can get these two things right…If we could even come close to getting these two things right…It sounds easy enough…love God and love your neighbor.

I believe that we demonstrate our love for God in the way we love our neighbors.

So, how are we doing with that whole “love your neighbor” thing? Our homeless neighbors? Our rich neighbors? Our Muslim neighbors? Our black neighbors? Our white neighbors? Our Jewish neighbors? Our Muslim neighbors? Our Christian neighbors? Our atheist neighbors? Our racist neighbors? Our neighbors who struggle with addiction? Our gay neighbors? Our anyone who is different than me neighbor? (thanks to the “love thy neighbor t-shirt from The Christian Left). Are we really loving our neighbors?

If we exclude our neighbors are we truly loving God?

If we withhold love from our neighbors are we truly loving God?

Loving God means loving all that God loves. Let us remember…God loves creation. How we treat the creation says a lot about what we think of the Creator. Loving God and loving our neighbors means we will take care of the world in which we live.

Let us also remember…God loves all people (all people may not love God, but God does love all people), so we are called to love all people…which makes many of us uncomfortable.

So, if we exclude our neighbor, if we withhold our love because our neighbor is poor/rich, gay/straight, Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/Green/Socialist, has a different color of skin, is fat/skinny, is an IU/Patriots/Cardinals/Reds fan…if we exclude them and withhold our love for them, are we loving God? Now, loving someone doesn’t mean that we have to agree with everything they say…but it does mean that we should be welcoming, respectful, kind, caring, compassionate, and loving.

I’ll be honest, I fail to love my neighbor all the time.

–          When I am jealous of my neighbor because she has a smartphone

–          When I am jealous of my neighbor because he has a Harley

–          When I gossip about my neighbor

–          When I judge my neighbor because they don’t have the same educational level

–          When I judge my neighbor because they don’t have the same socio-economic status

–          When I judge my neighbor because they don’t have the same parenting style as me

–          When I judge my neighbor because they settle for sub-par coffee products

Here’s the deal, I find it easier to love those we often refer to as “the least, the last, and the lost” than it is to love the neighbors that live directly around me because of the way I define “the least, the last, and the lost”. I think of the “least the last and the lost” as “those people”, the “others” who don’t live in my neighborhood…don’t shop at my grocery…don’t go to my church. It’s easy to love my Guatemalan neighbors…It’s sometimes difficult to love my neighbors on Plantation Way.

What does it look like to love our neighbors?

Read Matthew 25:31-40

Wesley called these “works of outward mercy” motivated by faith and love. We are called to love our neighbor through practical service. Practical service means you help people in ways that really help them…not just in ways that allow you to check something off of your religious check list. Loving our neighbors should be demonstrated by serving our neighbors through acts of practical service.

Think about how you like to be treated. Now, treat others that way! None of this, “Oh, I don’t use this anymore and I really don’t like it and it’s outdated and kind of broken, but some poor person might be able to use it” stuff anymore. Give your best…because, let’s face it, we want the best for ourselves! When we donate goods for food and clothing drives…ask yourself, would I wear this, eat this, or give it to my children?

John Wesley is credited with challenging us to “do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can.” These good works are to be motivated by love and sincerity…a result of our love for God that allows us to love one another.

And, here’s the great part, we all can do it. We all can love our neighbors through practical service…Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “everyone can be great because everyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t even have to make your subject and your verb agree…You only need a heart full of grace…a soul generated by love.”

The more we draw near to God and grow in our love for God…the more our souls will be generated by love and we will not only be enabled to, but will possess a desire to love our neighbors.

Jesus called us to love our neighbors and to respond to the needs around us in practical ways. Let us remember that being in need is not simply an economic issue. There are people living in the biggest homes, in the best neighborhoods, driving the nicest and largest SUV’s, wearing the latest and most fashionable clothes who are in desperate need and simply need a neighbor to say hello, smile, and listen.

We have to view ourselves as missionaries…missionaries in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our schools, at the pool/ball diamond/soccer field, wherever we find ourselves…our call as followers of Christ is to be missional…to find ways to share the love of God with all through our words and, most importantly, through our actions.

Think about the ways you can love your neighbor…

Pray for your neighbors…when was the last time you prayed for your neighbors? I prayed for my neighbors this past week when they were screaming at each other in the garage…and kept an eye on the situation to see when I needed to intervene in more direct and practical ways. I prayed for my neighbors last night while they were blowing up 5 gallon buckets! Take a prayer walk at least once a week…you may not know names and situations, but pray.

Exchange simple/friendly greetings – smile, wave, say hello, ask how they are doing…and pause long enough to hear the answer. When I smile and wave at my neighbors, some smile and wave back, some look at me like I’m crazy, and some say, “there goes the preacher.”

Stay outside long enough to have encounters with neighbors

Go for a walk at the same time everyday…talk to those you encounter

Buy coffee/meal  for the person behind you or at a table on the other side of the restaurant

Buy and deliver donuts! (Jeff Mark)

Compliment your neighbors…yard looks nice, great fireworks, nice truck, whatever

Be nice to the people working at the grocery, gas station, restaurant, customer service for your phone, cable, wireless, internet, healthcare provider…my friends that worked at restaurants hated working the Sunday lunch shift…you know why? That’s when church folks show up. And, my friends would report that Christians are rude and lousy tippers. So, be generous (tip well, even for lousy service…it’s called grace, mercy, compassion, and love)

Smile, say thank you, be kind and courteous, open doors

Welcome the new neighbors

Food- share a meal, deliver cookies, make an extra casserole, have a cookout/pizza/ice cream party.

Mow their yard- I tell you what, I wish my neighbors loved me enough to mow my yard!

Be patient…sometimes being a good and loving neighbor means being patient with your neighbors.

Sponsor a child/adopt a family (story of family at Mayflower)

Donate food/money to backpack programs

We could go on and on…the important thing is this…

Stop waiting to be asked! God doesn’t want us to wait until we’ve been asked to do something or given approval…just do it. Realize we all are called to be missionaries. If your heart is moved to help, just do it. God doesn’t want you to wait to love your neighbor, to feed the hungry, to clothes the naked, to shelter the homeless, to reach out to the least, the last, and the lost. We need to stop having missed opportunities…

God’s great love for us should motivate our great love for God – demonstrated through the way we love one another. I am convinced that if we pray, study, worship, give, serve, and share, we’ll find ourselves growing in love for God and loving our neighbors will begin to get easier and easier.

Now, here’s the deal…we will have wasted our time here this morning if we don’t go and love our neighbors through practical service. What will you do today, tomorrow, and in the days to come to demonstrate your love for your neighbors? Share your stories with us…email the church, send us a message or post your stories on our facebook wall…Whatever you do, do something.

If we hope to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we can’t just sit back and wait. What will you do to express your love for God and neighbor?


Keep Calm & Matthew 22:34-40

keep calmThis sermon was shared on June 30, 2013 at Christ United Methodist Church in Lafayette, IN. 

The next two weeks, our sermons series will be “Keep Calm and Matthew 22:34-40”. Now, I’m urging us to “keep calm” because the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40 are difficult and following his commands can be overwhelming. Let me be honest for a second…I am going to beat us up a bit this morning.

So, if you came to church seeking that warm fuzzy feeling, you’re probably going to be
disappointed. Therefore, I urge you to “keep calm” because everything’s going to be alright.

Before we read this passage of Scripture, let me give a quick summary of what has been happening up to this point. Jesus was fully into his ministry. He had been teaching the crowds through parables/stories and had entered into a series of conversations with some of the religious leaders of his day. First, the Pharisees came and asked Jesus a question about taxes. Then, the Sadducees arrived and asked Jesus a question about the resurrection. The point of the questioning was to trap Jesus, to trip him up so they could find an offense to charge him with. So, that’s where we pick up the story.

Read Matthew 22:34-40

The question posed to Jesus is about the law. Now, the rabbis had counted 613 commands that God-fearing Jews were called to follow. We’re not just talking about the 10 commandments here. Most rabbis held the view that all the commandments were equal. So, the legal expert comes to Jesus and asks which commandment is greatest. Jesus boils the law…those 613 laws…down to 2. Love God and neighbor. Jesus essentially says that loving God and loving our neighbor will sum up all the Law and Prophets. All 613 commands will be followed if we just get these two right. Two things…that’s what were called to do…to love God and love our neighbor.

This morning, we’re going to focus in on that first command of Jesus – to love God.

Now, many of us would proclaim this day that we love God. We say we love God, but, let’s be honest for a second, do our lives really reflect that? Do our lives say that we love God? Can a person tell by the way we eat, drink, walk, talk, work, play, and live out our lives that we are people who love God?

I’ll just be honest…loving God is hard. I fail to love God all the time…everyday. Jesus tried to make it simple…he takes over 600 laws, narrows them down to 2…and I can’t even get the first one right! We Christians love to point out how BAD other people are…and we’re no better…2 things. And, I get tripped up at number 1.

Loving God is hard! Why? Because loving God is more than just believing in God. It’s not just what’s in my head and my heart that matters. We talk about transforming our church, community, and world. Well, if we want to transform the world, we have to do more than believe. Our mission as United Methodist’s is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We won’t make disciples and we won’t transform the world if all we do is believe.

So, in our efforts to love God, we have to find balance between orthodoxy and orthopraxy (thanks to author and professor Charles Gutenson for inspiring this thought). Orthodoxy is right belief and orthopraxy is right practice. Many of us believe the right things…but we don’t practice them well. Others practice faith well, but have some questionable beliefs. The key will be finding that balance…where we are doing the right things for the right reasons.

Now, I’m not one for legalism, saying that you have to do a, b, c, in order to be a true Christian.
However, I will say that a little discipline goes a long way. There are some things that I believe will help us grow and stay in love with God. Prayer, studying the Bible, worship, giving, serving, sharing our faith with others are all things that will help us grow in our love of God. We have to be somewhat proactive in our journey of faith.

James 4:8 reminds us that when we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. Does God seem far off and distant in your life? Well, maybe we need to put in a bit more effort. Are we taking steps toward God in our daily lives? Are we making prayer, study, worship, giving, serving, and sharing a priority in our lives or are we making excuses?

We’re busy, I know it! And, it’s not just young people who are busy. I know people who are empty nesters and retired and they are busier today than they were when the kids were home and they were working full-time. We’re busy…and often we’re busy doing “good” things. But at what expense?

Here’s the rub. I think we’re all sick. Our American culture is sick because we celebrate our busyness. We find our importance in our busyness. The busier our kids are, the more things they are involved in, the better parents we must be and the better our children will be. We are convinced that the busier we are, the more important we must be! And, if we believe that…we’ve bought into one of the great lies of this world.

In the midst of our busy, hectic lives, God invites us to “be still & know”…(Psalm 46:10)

When was the last time you were still?

How many of us have said, “Man, I wish I had more time to pray” or “I really want to read the Bible more” or “I wish I had time to help with ______”. Now, how many of us would be honest enough to say that when we say those things it’s just lip service because we really haven’t taken any steps to block out time to pray, to read, to help??? And, we really don’t intend to either…

Now, this isn’t about making us feel guilty…well, maybe just a little…but, I’m going to be honest with you…If we truly love God, we will desire to draw near to God. If you have that desire…take steps to fulfill that desire. You see, if we truly love God, we will do whatever it takes to find the time to do the things that will help us love God. John Wesley would encourage us to sleep as little as humanly possible so we can maximize our time with God!

Do you have to pray, go to church, read the Bible, give your time/talents/treasures, and share your faith to love God? Nope. You really don’t have to do these things. Will these things help us love God? Absolutely! We get what we give…we reap what we sow…

Countless times throughout my ministry, I’ve been asked the question, “Why does God seem so
distant?” I generally answer that question with a smart-alec response of “That’s funny. I’m pretty sure God’s asking why you seem so distant.”

These things, prayer, worship, reading, giving, serving, sharing, it’s not about legalism, but relationship. We all know that relationships take effort. Think about marriages and friendship…they take effort and hard work. If we are going to be in a loving relationship with God…we need to make an effort. We can’t just say, “I believe in you” and then expect to have a perfect life because we sporadically come to church, pray, give, etc…Even if we do these things, we won’t have a perfect life. But, we will have a fuller life!

I guess the question is, do we love God or do we just kinda/sorta like God? Do we follow God on Twitter and like Jesus’ facebook page or do we really love God?

We say we love God, but do our lives reflect that? I’ve been thinking about this question all week during VBS. We had a fantastic week. An incredible number of children, parents, grandparents, and other volunteers were here…learning about God’s great love for us and the importance of prayer, study,worship, giving, serving, and sharing. Look at the food they brought in and the money they raised…they were learning and putting it into practice. But, VBS is over…now what happens? Are we reinforcing these lessons through our daily lives or are we teaching our kids that kind of commitment is reserved for one week out of the year?

If we love God the way Jesus calls us to love God, God will be our top priority…our first and greatest love…all the time!

Here are some ways to gauge if God is number one in our lives?

Is God number one on our calendar – or does something else win out? Do we spend as much time with God as we do at the gym, at the pool, at the ball diamond, at our favorite coffeeshop/bar/restaurant?

Is God number one on our bank statement – now, let me say this, I know people get irritated that we talk about money in church…it’s a touchy subject, I know. But, Jesus talked about money more than he did about heaven or hell…indicating our use and abuse of money says a lot about our relationship with god. So, is God number one on our bank statement or do we find ourselves giving more to our car payments, starbucks, barberry, apple store, Verizon, or whatever. Maybe it’s not the amount that indicates whether or not God is number one…after all, God only asks us to give 10%. But, is it first or does our giving to God come out of what’s leftover? Obviously, your rent or mortgage payment will probably be larger than your tithe. But, do you give to God first or is it an afterthought? I will say this, if our wireless plans and cable bills are larger than our giving – it might indicate a problem with our priorities. Okay…I’m just jealous because I’m still using a flip phone.

But, that leads us to our stuff. Is God number one with our stuff? How do we view our possessions. Are the blessings from God, meant to be used as a blessing to others? Or are they simply ours? (Stories about a family welcoming us to use their “stuff” – aka pool – whenever. Offer to help someone use their Harley).

Is God number one in all areas of our lives? All of this leads us to this question…How do we grow in our love for God?
1. Pray- set aside time each day to pray…get up early, stay up late, block out time at lunch
2. Study- set aside time each day to read the Bible (or blogs/websites/books)
3. Worship- make church attendance a priority. Worship on your own (sing, listen, etc)
4. Give- Your time/talents/treasures. If you tithe, step beyond a tithe. If you don’t tithe, step
towards tithing. No matter how large or small, make regular giving a priority.
5. Serve- We’ll talk about this more next week…but find ways to use your time/talents/treasures to bless others…
6. Share- Your faith…invite someone to church. Do your co-workers, neighbors, family members know you go to church? Do they know where you go to church? Have you invited them to church? Well, what are you waiting for?

Let’s be honest…The 4th of July is Thursday. How many of us are more excited about maybe taking the day off, firing up the grill, lighting our citronella candles, and blowing stuff up than we are about these 6 things? I love fireworks too! But, am I as excited about God as I am about blowing stuff up on Thursday?

If we don’t get serious about these 6 things, we have no shot at transforming the world for the glory of God. We might as well not even talk about buildings and fruitful congregations if we aren’t ready to get serious about prayer, study, worship, giving, serving, and sharing.

Listen, I know we’re all busy and it’s not that we don’t want to do these things…we just struggle to figure out how to fit it into our already busy lives.Here’s a simple way to stay in love and grow in love with God- We’ve set up a website that you can visit every day, starting tomorrow morning, where we will take a 150 day journey through the psalms. The site will guide you through a time of prayer, reading a Psalm, and provide some reflection questions. You will be invited to comment, creating an online dialogue. Now, some of you may not be web surfers. So, start tomorrow by reading Psalm 1…and continuing reading a psalm a day until
you’re done with the book of Psalms. It’s easy…it’s right there for you…you can do it anytime…late at night, early in the morning, on your lunch break, at the ball diamond (if you have one of those fancy, non-flip phones) There should be a bookmark in every worship guide- that is so you have one to remind you to join us on the journey…and on your way out, grab a second so you have a tool to invite a friend to join us on this journey!

As we grow in our love for God through prayer, study, worship, giving, serving, and sharing, we will find it easier to follow the second command of Jesus…loving our neighbor. Next week we will explore how we express our love for God by loving our neighbor.