Tech-less Thanksgiving

Can you imagine a day where you set all your technology aside and embrace the presence of those around you?

That’s my challenge for Thanksgiving…put your phones and tablets down…consider turning them off…leave them in the car and simply “be” with those you gather with tomorrow.

Here’s the deal…The world won’t end if you miss posting your uber-cheesy 30 days of thanks entry. No one will miss the pictures of your turkey or pie or that amazing bottle of hard-to-find craft beer. Let’s be honest…none of us are so important that others will suffer if we take a break from technology for a day.

For some of us, we’re so consumed by technology that we miss what’s going on right in front of us. Put it down and embrace, be, and live in the moment.

Surely we can all wait to post our adorable pictures, witty comments (trust me, most of us aren’t nearly as funny as we think we are), political posts that reveal how gullible and ill-informed we are, and “Jesus will cry if you don’t post this on your wall” crap.

You’ve been challenged. On Friday, I’ll check Facebook and Twitter and self-righteously judge all of you who don’t take the challenge.

Too Cynical?

Some days, I wonder if I’m too cynical to be in ministry.

Now, don’t read that as if I’m questioning my choice of career. I absolutely feel called to ministry. What I’m really questioning is whether or not I need to work on my overly-cynical disposition.

It all came to a head the other night when my facebook wall and twitter feed were blowing up with folks posting about the homeless man randomly walking into a Christian music artist video and started freestyling.

Many of those posting made positive comments about how awesome it was and that it could only be God at work.

My immediate reaction was, “It was probably a set-up to manipulate people and sell more records.”

It just seemed all-too-convenient. The artist happened to be recording a live video. The “homeless” man simply wandered up and started singing. No one from the film crew stopped the man. They happened to know he was homeless. No one has seen or heard from “Danny” since the video. Looking up the video, it is several years old and has conveniently had new life breathed into it.

Many found the video moving…I found it to be suspect. Many gave God glory as a result…I’m waiting for the scandal.

So, I found myself wondering what’s wrong with me that I couldn’t just say, “Wow, that’s really awesome!”

Is it because I have a fragile ego and can’t understand why this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me? I mean, who doesn’t want extra traffic driven to their blog, twitter account, or church?

Is it because I’ve seen too many of “these” types of Christian stories that are later debunked?

Is it because I’ve seen too many of “these” Christian stories that end up doing more damage than good?

Is it because I’m generally an arrogant, sarcastic jerk that simply doesn’t want to acknowledge that this could have been real?

Is it because I’m too entrenched in the Christian world…that I know that we are human…and fall victim to using schemes (often referred to as the “old bait and switch) to drive people into our churches…that Christians can often play on emotions in order to manipulate folks?

Is my cynicism a defense mechanism? I mean, if I simply look for the worst, I won’t be disappointed or surprised when it comes true.

Is it because I’m a fan of  the late, great George Carlin and I took it to heart when he encouraged us to teach children to “question everything”?

In reality, I hope the video is legit. I don’t know anything about the artist, outside of what a short google search and quick visit to his website reveals. I’m sure he’s a great guy and has a wonderful ministry. So, my hopes are that this is a wonderful, true story and that I’m simply a jerk for hesitating to believe and having questions regarding its authenticity.

Proud to be a United Methodist

As the UMC has spent the last several days closely watching the Pennsylvania clergy trial and the Council of Bishops gathering, I find myself remaining proud to be a part of the United Methodist Church.

While I may be disappointed in the outcome of the trial, I understand that there really wasn’t an alternative outcome.

While I think 2016 is too far off to revisit the discussion in regards to the Book of Discipline, I am thankful for the discussions taking place in local churches, districts, conferences, and on social media. These discussions might lead towards faithful and fruitful resolutions in regards to issues surrounding human sexuality.

At the end of the day, I remain proud to be a follower of Christ in the United Methodist tradition. At least we’re having the conversation. At least we can admit that we don’t agree and that’s okay. At least we can join together, liberals, moderates, conservatives, and focus on the Christ that unites. At least we leave room for those on opposite sides to gather together around the table.

A Matter of Priority: What is Second?

Currently, a clergy trial is under way in Pennsylvania. It surrounds a pastor who performed a same-sex wedding ceremony for his son. The Book of Discipline is fairly clear that UM clergy are not to perform same-sex weddings. The “guilty” verdict was not a surprise. The clergy trial was not held to make a decision on whether or not the BOD position is just, but whether or not it was violated. The pastor in question admitted he was fully aware his decision was in violation of the BOD. Again, no surprises. It really doesn’t matter what side of the coin you are on, the reality is that the BOD, as it currently stands, was disregarded when the pastor performed the wedding ceremony. Now, we are waiting to learn what the nature of the penalty will be…

For me, it boils down to a matter of priority.

Throughout my ministry, I have been told the following numerous times…

“God first. Family second. Then the church.”

However, I’ve also seen too many instances where this message is spoken, but not intended to be taken seriously.

Was the pastor wrong in granting the desire of his son and partner to have him perform the wedding? Is he wrong to refuse to repent of something he believes to be right? Is this act of disobedience what it takes to shed light on an unjust position?

In my opinion, the pastor made a decision to honor his family before the church. If one of my daughters asks me to perform her wedding ceremony, regardless of sexual orientation, my answer would be “yes”. Why? Because I love my daughters. My daughters will always be more important than a paragraph in the Book of Discipline. Of course, in doing so, I know that would be the last “official” duty I would perform as a UM clergy person. But, in my opinion, it would be worth it.

Again, in my opinion, the church is sending a message that while we claim “God first. Family second. Then the church.”, it has its limitations.

The issue of human sexuality has been graciously and not-so-graciously debated in the UMC for as long as I can remember. The online interactions between the “conservatives” and “liberals” is less-than-fruitful, un-Christ-like, and void of love. While we are trying our best to be faithful to God, to our neighbor, and to the tradition of the UMC, we are creating a large divide between the various factions within the denomination. We are creating a larger divide between the church and those outside the church.

At the end of the day, we could be wrong. I could be wrong.

I am one who longs for an all-inclusive church. I believe it is time to break down the barrier. But, I wonder if too much damage has been done. Are we headed towards a division within the church? Are we so divided on this one issue that we cannot imagine a third way? While we have so much that unites us, will we let one issue lead to our demise?

I wonder, are we sending a clear message of “open hearts, open minds, and open doors?” Are we teaching people proper priorities?

Radical Kingdom, Part Two: Humble Servants

This message was shared on Sunday, November 17, 2013 at Christ United Methodist Church in Lafayette, IN.

Last week, Pastor Scott talked about the radical kingdom of God being a present reality. The kingdom isn’t some distant place we can fly away to some glad morning when this life is over. The kingdom is here and now. Today, we’ll be talking about what it looks like when we live as a people called and sent to partner with God to represent the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

We might find ourselves asking the question, “Well, what does that look like”? What does the Kingdom look like? The Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven looks like Jesus.

Jesus, the humble servant King…if you’ve spent any time in the church, maybe you’ll remember this story: just before his betrayal, humbled himself to take on the position of a servant and washed the feet of his disciples. You see, the disciples were gathered with Jesus to share a meal and everyone was waiting around for the servants to come and wash their dirty, smelly feet. You can imagine the scene…the disciples waiting, noticing that no servant would be coming, looking to see who would admit that they were really the least among them. No one wants to be at the bottom of the pecking order. And, then, the Great Teacher grabs a towel and basin, gets on his knees and washes the feet of his disciples…doing the job of the lowest servant. The Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven looks like Jesus.

Jesus ~ the humble servant King who was tough on the religious folks, but kind, caring, and compassionate to the least, the last, the lost, and the most notorious sinners of his day. The kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven looks like Jesus.

Read Matthew 20:20-28

  • This mother & her sons, what were they focused on? Position…status…outward appearances…power…authority…honor…glory
  • Why were the disciples upset? Was it because they couldn’t fathom making such a request of Jesus? Or were they upset because they hadn’t thought of it themselves? Remember, these are the same disciples who sat around waiting for someone to wash their feet.
  • Jesus uses the opportunity to talk about seeking power, authority, position, and status.
  • Those with power, authority, position, and status like to show off and order others around
  • And Jesus says these powerful words, “That’s not the way it will be with you.”
  • So, who are those with power, authority, position, and status in our world today? Political leaders, heads of industry, the wealthy…
  •  And, let’s be honest, it’s easy to get caught up in the drive for power, authority, position, and status – even in the church
  •  When I was right out of Ball State, working as a youth minister, I was convinced that what I was doing was more important than any other ministry in the church. I was “saving lives” and would point out statistics that showed how important it was to reach people with the hope, love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Jesus before the age of 18. Therefore, what I was doing was more important than any other ministry
  •  When you are the associate pastor, you want to be a senior pastor
  • When you’re a senior pastor, you want to be the senior pastor at a larger church
  • When someone else gets a sweet pastoral appointment, we wonder what kind of dirt they have on the DS or Bishop – because the person certainly be qualified
  •  Isn’t it the same in the business world – if someone gets a raise or a promotion, they didn’t deserve it as much as you did
  • How many of us, in our pursuit of power, authority, position, and status have ever put someone else down in an attempt to feel better about ourselves? How’s that working for you?
  • And, what about our kids? Like this mother – we want the best for our children – whether they deserve it or not. So, when our kids fail – it was the teachers fault, the coach’s fault, some other kids fault…certainly our perfect children weren’t wrong?
  • And, in the midst of our pursuit of power, authority, position, and status, Jesus says these words, “That’s not the way it will be with you.”
  • The Kingdom of God looks like Jesus, the humble servant King
  • Jesus give us an example of the radical Kingdom of God
  •  In this passage, He essentially says, “Don’t worry about power, authority, position, and status. Usually those with power, authority, position, and status use it to abuse, manipulate, and take advantage of those beneath them. That’s not the way it will be with you. Listen, the grass is not always greener on the other side of the street. Embrace where you are and who you are today. Instead of desiring this worldly status of greatness, consider the radical kingdom of God. If you desire greatness, learn to serve. If you want to be first, be the last; we are not here to be served, but to serve.”

The radical kingdom of God isn’t self-seeking, self-absorbed, inwardly focused ~ it’s outwardly focused where we are consumed with loving God, loving others, even our enemies, and serving all.

We have the opportunity to serve others every single day – if we simply open our eyes and respond.

Richard Foster, in his classic book on spiritual disciple “Celebration of Discipline”, writes that, “Service enables us to say ‘no!’ to the world’s games of promotion and authority. It abolishes our need and desire for a ‘pecking order.’ Jesus declared, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you.’ He totally and completely rejected the pecking-order systems of His day. How then was it to be among them? ‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant…even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve.’ Therefore the spiritual authority of which Jesus spoke was an authority not found in a position or a title but in a towel.” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pg 110-111)

Too often in the church, we get inwardly focused. We spend our time and energy on self-care. We get busy with good things like prayer groups, Bible study, attending worship, small groups, programs, retreats, committee’s and Sunday school. These things are great, but if it doesn’t result in a transformed life where we desire to partner with God to love and serve all…if we’re doing these things and neglecting our neighbors…if we’re doing these things and looking down our noses at those who challenge us to consider the least, last, lost, and poor among us…we might be wasting our time on these good things.

I’m convinced that we, as individuals and collectively as the church, can transform our community and world if we take Jesus’ call to become servants of all seriously…Imagine the transformation that could take place if we all picked up our towels…

The radical Kingdom of God looks like Jesus, the humble servant King, who calls us to give up our seats instead of looking for the places of honor.

The radical Kingdom of God looks like Jesus, the humble servant King, who challenges us to not seek honor and glory for ourselves, but only for God. Who tells us not to serve in order to receive a pat on the back, to get noticed and have our ego’s stroke…but out of hearts of love for God and neighbor.

The radical Kingdom of God looks like Jesus, the humble servant King, who humbled himself to the point of giving up His life that we might have life.

So, what are you willing to give up in order to better serve our God and neighbors?

Here are some practical ways we can all serve in the coming days. Now, I’m not saying you should do all of these, but find a few things that you can do…and do them.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner –

  •  Insist on going last (there are benefits to this…but do it unselfishly)
  • Offer to make plates for some of the older folks
  •  Offer to make plates for small children so parents can relax and enjoy themselves
  • Sit at the kids table
  • Invite someone who might not have a place to go to join your family celebration
  • Make a gift (large or small) towards our “Dimes for Turkeys” program that will provide meals for over 20 families in our community.

Volunteer in the community – whether it’s through the church or another organization, sign up to help with…

  • Feed the kids
  • Feed the people
  • Jubilee (20 families)
  • Kids Against Hunger
  • Mission Guatemala (visit the website, sponsor a child to promote education, health, nutrition, etc)
  • Be a greeter/usher
  • Help with Childcare, youth, Sunday school
  • Community meals
  • Big Brothers/Big Sisters

I’m really passionate about Kids Against Hunger – mainly because I’ve seen the program at work both here in our community and through Mission Guatemala. We’re doing Advent Coin folders to help raise funds for our packing event on MLK, Jr. Day. This program asks you to give a quarter a day throughout Advent – maybe for some of us that’s a stretch…you could do a dime, a nickel, a penny – maybe for some it’s not enough of a stretch and you should give a $1, $5, $10 a day…whether your gift is 50 cents or $500 each gift is equally important and goes a long way to feed the hungry in our community and around our world. Sign up for the packing event through our website.

  • Give to UMCOR to help with relief efforts in the Philippines.
  • Make or buy dinner for a neighbor
  • Write an encouraging note to someone
  • Visit the hospital, nursing home, or some of our shut-ins
  • Consider going on one of our mission trips to Guatemala in May, June/July, or February of 2015

Listen, some of us have been so blessed that we open our full pantries and refrigerators and say, “We don’t have anything to eat.” Or we open our full closets and dressers and say, “I don’t have anything to wear.” So, clean out your cabinets and cupboard – donate. Clean out your closets and dressers- donate.

PRAY for our seasons of giving opportunities – that our efforts to serve our community and world through Dimes for Turkeys, College Care packages, Jubilee, and Kids Against Hunger would transform the lives of those who serve and those we have the opportunity to serve.

Now, I’m going to get personal because I’m going to talk about our spending habits…Christmas is rapidly approaching…

Consider matching your Christmas spending with a financial gift to the church or another charitable organization. Or maybe matching seems a bit extreme…so tithe on your Christmas spending. Whatever you spend on Christmas, give 10% to the church or a charitable organization.

Here’s the deal, in 2012, the average family spent $749.51* on Christmas. That’s the average. Some spend a lot more. Some spend a lot less. We’ll spend over $2billion** on wrapping paper. So, when we start groaning about the church talking about money…it’s personal because, for many of us, it’s not a money problem…it’s a faith problem…it’s a priority problem. We have been so blessed…not so we can hoard for ourselves and give each other sweaters that we don’t want or need…but so we might be a blessing. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing my girls faces light up when Santa delivers on Christmas – But doesn’t it seem like an odd way to celebrate the birth of our humble servant King?

So, if we tithed on our Christmas spending, that’d be an average of $75, that’s 300 meals to feed the hungry…don’t you think that’s what the radical Kingdom of God looks like? What’s a better way to honor Jesus this Christmas…Feeding the hungry…providing food for those in need…making someone else’s life a little better…

The Kingdom of God looks like Jesus, the humble servant King, who calls us to give our time, our talents, and our treasures to serve and bless others.

Now, some of us don’t have much money – well, give your time.
Some of us are too busy and don’t have much time – well, give your money.
Some of don’t have time or money – give your prayers and encouragement- and consider take a look at how you use your time and finances because there might be a problem…Regardless, we all have something to give.

None of our efforts will transform our community and world for the good of the Kingdom if they aren’t surrounding and supported with your prayers.

So, what will you give up in order to serve?

May we embrace the call of Jesus, the humble servant King, that we might become humble servants…that by our words and more importantly by our deeds, we might make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.