Boxes, boxes everywhere!

As we have hit crunch time in the final stages of preparation for our move, we are surrounded by boxes! I’ve come to know these boxes well. It’s to the point where I smell like a cardboard box…and let me tell, it’s not a fragrance to bottle and sell as cologne!

The boxes are filled with our “stuff”.

Some of our “stuff” really is just “stuff”.

However, some of the boxes contain more than “stuff”. They contain cherished memories. They contain history. They contain the story of our life together.

Of course, some of the boxes remind me that we have way too much “stuff”.

We’ve used this move as an opportunity to weed through our “stuff”. There have been disagreements about what to keep and what to pass on. But, we’re making progress!

When we arrive in Centerville, we’ll most likely continue to do some weeding.

It will be a great relief when the number of boxes diminishes…unless they become human and start a violent revolution…that would be terrifying!

Boyz II Men Were Right!

As our time in Lafayette is winding down, I’ve been doing a great deal of reflecting! There are so many things I will miss about the greater Lafayette area. Of course, we are totally thrilled to begin a new chapter in Centerville. But, I’ll be the first to admit, Boyz II Men were right, “It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday!”

It should go without saying that we will miss Christ United Methodist Church and all the people we have come to know and love in Lafayette! So, church and people aside, here are some things I’m really going to miss about greater Lafayette:

10. Purdue University- I’ll miss campus, the village, the people, the great restaurants, and the diversity!

9. Happy Hollow Park- We love taking our family to play and hike around this beautiful park on the westside.

8. Downtown Lafayette- It’s a happening place. Coffee shops, restaurants, art galleries, bars…oh my!

7. Star City Coffee & Ale House- This has been a great place to read, write, and gather with friends. And, they take coffee seriously!

6. Happy China- Our family loves this place! It is our go-to when we just don’t feel like cooking.

5. South Street Smokehouse- When I first arrived, I wanted to get to know Rodney Cowden. As we were arranging to get together, he asked me, “Do you like to eat meat?” We settled on the smokehouse and I’ve never been the same!

4. Lafayette Brewing Company- Great food, incredible beverages, live music…it’s a great spot!

3. Mosey Down Main Street- Music, food, beverages, and tons of people!

2. People’s Brewing Company- This has been my favorite spot to write sermons. I like to bounce ideas off people who will be honest (instead of telling me what I want to hear). The staff is awesome! The beverages are incredible.

1. DT Kirby’s- It’s hard to put into words my feelings about this place without “welling up with emotion.” Great people! Insane food! And, just about the friendliest owner you’ll ever meet! Don makes everyone feel like the most important person in the room. The guy must have 50,000 best friends!

Yes, I’ll admit this list is incomplete. I didn’t mention La Scala, the Black Sparrow, McCord’s, and all the other fine places we have enjoyed!

This place has been an incredible home for our family. We will miss it! Yet, we know that Centerville is going to be an incredible home and awesome place to raise our family. We are looking forward to what God has in store for us as we head east!

Count the Ways

This sermon was shared on Sunday, June 8th, 2014 at Christ United Methodist Church in Lafayette, IN. 

John 11:1-45 (MSG)

Whenever I encounter the story of Lazarus, I find the miraculous healing power of Jesus to be incredibly amazing. Too often, though, I simply focus on that aspect of the story. While that is an extremely important aspect of this passage of Scripture, there is so much more going on here.

I’d like to invite us to see ourselves in the story. How can we identify with those in the story?
– Can you see yourself as Lazarus? Sick, dead, stinky, but raise to life…
– Can you see yourself as Martha or Mary? Desperate, at a loss, yet hopeful and faithful, even in the midst of grief?

The story begins with the sisters sending word to Jesus that their brother is sick. Now, we need to pay attention to this interaction. Notice the word they send to Jesus…”The one you love is sick.” They simply make Jesus aware of the situation.

This must have been a pretty tough situation. In that day and age, you didn’t go through the trouble of sending a message to Jesus for an ingrown toenail. This was long before the days of the US Postal Service, email, Facebook, and Twitter. It took an effort to get this word to Jesus. And, it was simple and to the point…”The one you love is sick.”

How many of us, when someone we deeply love is sick or in need just offer up a simple, “Jesus, the one you love is sick?”

Nope! Not me! If we’re going to be honest this morning, many of us would admit that when someone we love is in need we beg and plead for God’s sympathy! We ain’t too proud to beg!

So, we list out all the reasons why God should respond the way we desire. We list out all the good things we’ve done (I’ve done this, I’ve done that, I didn’t do this, I didn’t do that). In other words, we attempt to prove ourselves worthy of getting what we want from God. Or we attempt to bargain with God. We say, “I will do this, I will do that, I promise to stop doing this or that.” When we do this, it’s as if we believe we somehow deserve or can earn God’s approval and good graces.

Well, here’s a dose of reality…Get over yourself! Some of you are amazing, incredible, awesome people who have done some wonderful things. But, you still don’t deserve to manipulate God!

When we’re in need, here’s what Pastor Judah Smith encourages us to do, “Don’t count the ways you love God, count the ways God loves you!” Rather than reminding God of how great and deserving we are, we need to remember how great, loving, kind, patient, compassionate, forgiving, graceful, merciful, tender, and awesome God is!

After all, the Bible isn’t a story of how much we love God. No, the bible is a story of how much God loves us!

Martha and Mary appear to get it! They don’t waste time begging and pleading. They simply inform Jesus that someone He loves is in need.

So, what does Jesus do after receiving word that someone He loves is sick? He hangs out for a couple of days. He seems rather flippant about the whole situation. He stays put and says, “Oh, this won’t end in death. Lazarus is just sleeping. Trust me, he’s going to be okay!”

I don’t know about you, but this is NOT the kind of reaction I desire from Jesus. When I pray, I desire immediate action. When it seems like Jesus is dragging His feet, I grow impatient and indignant. I throw up some direct “get God’s attention” prayers like, “What the heck, Jesus? Did you not understand the urgency of my request? Stop messing around and give me what I want!”

And therein lies the reality and the problem. When I let Jesus know the one He loves is sick, I want what I want. I want what I think is best.

Martha and Mary display great faith and trust. They just let Jesus know, “the one you love is sick” and then trust that Jesus will do only what Jesus can do. They believe that Jesus will do whatever is best.

I’m convinced that we all need to learn to pray more like Martha and Mary. We need to learn to trust more like Martha and Mary. They didn’t believe the answer rested in all they had done or could do for God. They believed it all rested in Jesus’ great love.

Now, let me be clear, just praying this way does not guarantee that we’ll get what we want. It is simply a way to affirm that we believe that God is in control. Essentially, we’re “letting go and letting God.”

So, Jesus finally shows up. The sisters make it clear that, even though Lazarus has died, they believe, they have faith and hope that Jesus can still make this awful, desperate situation better. I wonder how many of us, whenever our awful, desperate situations don’t turn out the way desire still believe that God can make it better?

They make their way to the tomb and Jesus asks for the stone to be rolled away. At this request, Martha protests. Now, I don’t use the King James Version of the Bible often, but I love the way it translates this verse. Martha says, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days!”

Some of us know what it’s like to be Lazarus – to be dead and stinketh. Now, we may not have been physically dead, but spiritually, emotionally…and, then Jesus intervenes and speaks life into what was dead and stinky! I know what it’s like to be dead and stinky!
Truth be told, just about every day, I have some dead and stinky moments…through my words, my thoughts, my deeds, I demonstrate that I continually need Jesus to speak life into my dead and stinky soul. How about you?

An important part of our faith is to remember. To remember God’s love…to remember that God is FOR us…to remember and count the ways God loves us.

When we hit awful, desperate times, let us remember that it’s not our love for God or our good deeds that really matter. It’s God’s love for us that matters.

Let us remember that we are all like Lazarus. We are all the ones Jesus loves. Say this after me, “I am the one Jesus loves.” Now, look at your neighbor and say, “You are the one Jesus loves.” No matter what, you are the ones Jesus loves. Every single one of us and every single person we encounter are the ones Jesus loves!

Those of us who have been dead and stinky should celebrate that Jesus has spoken new life into our lives. But, it shouldn’t end there. As we remember that we are the ones Jesus loves, as we remember the ways God continually shows us love, we should be inspired to live lives that continually point others, especially our neighbors who are dead and stinky, to Jesus. Remember, those we label as “dead and stinky” are the ones Jesus loves!

How will you live out lives of love this week that others might see Jesus in and through you? Will you live as one who is dead and stinky or as one who has been made alive through Jesus?

Thoughts Following Annual Conference

As I look back at the Indiana United Methodist Church Annual Conference, I find myself pondering a number of things. Overall, it was a wonderful gathering. So, I thought  I’d share my thoughts with you.

Bob Farr says a lot of great things, loudly! It is my hope that those who were cheering on Farr were really listening and responding to the content rather than his contagious enthusiasm. If churches can consider and put into action some of the things Farr spoke about, good things will come!

– The best things happen around the table with friends and colleagues. On Thursday evening, I was able to gather with friends, both laity and clergy, to talk, connect, and have some fun. We talked about the conference, church, and life in general. It was fun and refreshing. On Friday, a group gathered at Tow Yard Brewing. Again, it was fun and refreshing. That day, I sat across from a colleague I greatly trust and respect. We don’t always agree theologically. However, we both love Jesus and the church and desire to see unity rather than schism. We both desire to be in ministry underneath the same umbrella. And, if more people would get together around the table, we might be able to accomplish far more than simply trying to be “right” on the floor of the conference.

– If we want to be “outwardly focused”, we need to think differently. I thought the lunch time event (“God of This City”) on Friday was fun, but a missed opportunity. If we wanted this to be an opportunity to reach beyond the conference attendee’s, we need to think about the target audience more. Here are my ideas: The food trucks are great…make them free! Would it be expensive? Yes! Would it be a display of radical hospitality and risk-taking mission and service? Absolutely! Instead of having Christian bands that no one has heard of, get the hottest cover band in Indianapolis to come and play songs our target audience will recognize. If we can’t make the food trucks free, challenge conference attendee’s to go find, invite, and pay for the meal of someone not attending conference. Challenge conference attendee’s to blanket the city with invitations the day before. Handout flyers for “free food, drinks, music”, etc.

Bishop Mike Coyner is extremely gracious. I won’t go into details, but I will say he handled some difficult and awkward situations with grace and compassion.

Ray Boltz is awesome! His stories and songs are powerful. Listening to him sing and speak about his journey of faith, one cannot doubt his love and passion for Jesus. And, while Ray may be getting older, his voice is amazing!!!

Carol Boltz may be even more awesome than Ray! Her joy is evident. Her love for Jesus and all people is obvious.

– Twitter engagement was pretty low, but seemed to be an improvement over previous years. Some might say, “well, the older folks won’t use it.” I would say, “They obviously didn’t listen to Bob Farr!” We need young, middle age, and older folks to utilize the tools that are available. Maybe we should encourage every church to have a Twitter account and facebook page that is regularly updated. It would be a great way for our local churches to stay connected to events happening at AC.

– Free WiFi may be expensive to provide, but as an act of radical hospitality, it would have been greatly appreciated. Maybe a reason why Twitter engagement was low had to do with the fact that people were having to use up their data plans to post anything online. While younger generations (who probably are not paying for their own data package) may not be pushing for free WiFi (as was indicated on a Twitter exchange), aging generations (who probably are paying for their own data package) love “free”! Most of our churches provide free WiFi as an act of hospitality…so, maybe the AC should do the same?