Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Dawn of A New Year

Tonight I take a break from the usual to say thank you to all who have taken the time to read the blog. I hope and pray you all have both enjoyed and been challenged by the content. I am looking forward to all that lies ahead for 2009. I plan to continue this blog as well as a new blog in association with the Cortland UMC. We are journeying through the New Testament together and each day I will be offering my commentary on the chapter of the day at I hope you all will join in the journey of both blogs.

Thanks again for you participation, may the Lord bless and keep you as we welcome the dawn of the new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Keep The Questions Coming

I have been asked recently why I ask so many questions. My response is, I have to keep asking questions until the answers satisfy the longing in my soul. Yesterday I watched the movie/documentary Expelled by Ben Stine where he takes on the conflict between evolution and Intelligent Design. First and foremost, Ben Stine is a brilliant man. The movie exposes a deeper truth which is more than just evolution and Intelligent design.

That deeper truth is how philosophy and questions of God are at the heart of everything. We as humanity push against anything which causes us to confront false beliefs, or long held certainties. I have seen and experienced this as I have asked questions about the life of the church. More specifically as I have challenged the structure and drive of the church. Most of my questions have been poised within the United Methodist Church, but I think they are universal questions.

When I ask questions about our purpose for existence and such there are several responses. First, dismissed as a young person without a developed understanding of life. Second, dismissed as a person who is anti-UMC, or at least working for its division. Third, flat out told I am wrong and should just go along with the established pattern. Challenging the established thoughts and patterns is never easy but it must be done.

How is it that the establishment is challenged? Protest? Not really? Boycott? Not really. Asking questions. If more people keep asking important questions, at some point new answers have to be entertained. Once we open our minds to the possibilities of the world, there is not telling what God can do with us as a people. We must keep asking questions.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What About Truth?

I can remember the days in my faith when almost everything was pretty cut and dry. I had a clear understanding of what was of God and what was outside of God. If there was a doubt on how to think or believe in a particular situation, all I had to do was listen to the 'company' line and I had my doubt resolved.

I live in a different place now. Yes my physical address has changed several times since that thought pattern, however, the place of my faith is very different. I have come to find the place of black and white, clear right and wrong, of God or outside of God, is actually a pretty shallow place, which requires little faith or belief. It is not that there are no absolutes. There are things which are clearly outside of the will of God. Yet, the ability of us as humans to get that judgment right every time is fairly low.

So are we left to live as relativists? Your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth? By no means. There is an objective, absolute truth. There is a right and wrong. The challenge is found in our incomplete knowing of such things. It is not the failings of God, or Truth, it is the failings of us, humanity. The other side of that coin is not helpful either. To boil faith down to a prescribed set of rules and regulations, hello religious leaders of Jesus day. Jesus did not have much complimentary towards those folks.

What are we to do? I guess we are to engage our faith journey with brains in gear, and an understanding of a God that is so much greater than any one person, church, denomination or creed can hold.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Best Kept Secret

As I pray and prepare for the Christmas Eve festivities I find great irony in the fact my Bible reading plan has brought me to the Passion account as John shares it. Here we are about to celebrate the coming of Christ, and I am reading, interacting, with the fulfillment of that coming. As I was reading the person of Joseph of Arimathea, struck my interest. John comments he was a secret follower of Jesus because he was afraid of the religious leaders. After claiming the body of Christ, Joe is joined by another infamous secret follower Nicodemus. Two people who were too afraid to stand up to the religious leaders, possibly they felt they had too much to lose, are now the ones caring for the lifeless body of Christ.

This caused further reflection. I wonder how many people are secret followers of Jesus? Is it possible to be a secret follower of Jesus? I understand many through the years for various reasons have been secret followers of Jesus, but I wonder if that is truly following Jesus. There was not much about Jesus ministry which was done in secret. From the moment of His birth Jesus was sought after, and did very little without being noticed.

Further this caused me to look to the church. There are many churches being lead by secret followers of Jesus. They are not real sure they want everyone to know how deeply they follow Jesus. It could be fear of the ramifications. It could be fear of the changes in their own lives. It could be a whole host of things. The rest is the same. Secret followers of Jesus end up caring for the lifeless body of Christ.

Interestingly, the non-secret followers of Jesus were in fear as well, locked in the upper room. Once Jesus appears to them and gives them instructions they are off and moving. Soon we have the sending of the Holy Spirit and the followers are tending the living body of Christ, the church on mission.

This Christmas, will Christ be your best kept secret?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What Are We Looking For?

I am always amazed how this time of year impacts the day-to-day rituals of life. What appears to be an all of a sudden shift to chaos causes many to lose their grip on the important. Additionally, this is the time of year when I hear my least favorite phrase in all of creation with a higher frequency, "This is how we have always done it."

That single phrase, or the several variations of it drive me nuts. Christmas seems to bring this phrase into full force. There are certain songs people feel must be sung, there are certain activities people feel must take place, and certain decorations people feel must be displayed. Why? What is it people are trying to capture or recapture? More often than not people are trying to recapture a feeling they had in years past. I will argue what people are looking for is precisely what Christmas is about, but they are looking to the wrong things.

It should not matter if row, row, row your boat or Hark The Herald Angel is sung, it should not matter if there is a Christmas tree or an empty space, it should not matter where everything is placed. What is it that matters, Christ. In our striving for hope, peace, love and joy we strive to find them using traditions of the past, rather than looking to the living present. Songs, decorations, and activities will never bring us what we are looking for. The present we are all looking for is found in one place and one place alone, in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The way we have always done it is only good if it brings to the feet of Jesus. If it is to recapture a feeling or moment from the past, it will leave us still wanting more. Jesus offers us water that we may never thirst again.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Church Canceled?

Twas the Monday before Christmas and all through the countryside, people were shoveling and grumbling from the fresh winters blanket. I know there are a few people who see the snow falling and get really excited, however, most greet a snowy morning with a grunt. Yesterday, Sunday, morning the weather was even more frightful. As the snow fell my hopes of church attendance numbers were being diminished, proving how deeply the numbers game is ingrained in my system. The phone began to ring, "A we having church?" was the question on the other end of the line.

As I thought about the question, it became a more and more ridiculous question. First, church is not something we have, it is something we are. I know what people mean when they ask the question, are we having our worship gathering, yet the call it church. I wonder if the people who called were really not planning on coming, yet when they called feel like they got credit for the day, with the bad weather and all. As you might be able to tell the idea of canceling a Sunday gathering has never entered my mind.

At the risk of being overly dramatic, what if Jesus would had decided the way of the cross was too dangerous or difficult? What if Jesus would have said, it's too cold out there and I really do not want to leave the comfortable convenience of my home? Our relationship with God, and the church of Christ has become so driven by comfort and joy, that when the times comes for things to require effort and risk we shy away. The church of Jesus Christ is always open, even if the roads are not clear, one might have to get out of bed earlier. We are taught by Jesus, that not even the gates of hell will prevail against the church, the weather doesn't stand a chance.

I will say this, those who did come for worship, experienced the presence of the Lord. The spirit at our gathering was sweet, and connection with God profound. I wonder if our experience of God is in fact sweeter when we have to fight for it?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Way With Words

Jesus had a special way with words. The information from his mouth had the capacity to lift someone up, humble them, or have them walk away scratching their head. Rarely do we find Jesus saying the things he is expected to say, or doing the things he is expected to do. According to the first century religious establishment, Jesus was at best controversial, and more likely a heretic. It intrigues me how fine the line between the two is. At the heart of Jesus' words was an invitation. Yes to eternal life, more importantly to a new pattern of life all together.

Jesus was not simply using words so people would be amazed at his teaching and oratory adeptness. He was using words to engage people in the journey of transformation. The religious establishment of the the day had boiled everything down to do's and don'ts. For the person to be religious all they must do is follow the correct regulations, and make the correct contributions to the temple. Living a transformed life had long fallen off the radar screen.

One of the many reasons I am deeply challenged by the words of Christ is because of their relevance no matter the age. Jesus spoke words of truth in the first century, and those words are truth today. Contrary to what most churches try to "sell" the world, Jesus is not about converting people to a religion. If He was I am not sure he would be converting people to modern day Christianity. Jesus is still inviting people on the journey of transformation. This means living lives very different than before. Not simply going through the motions, not simply saying the right words and the right times. Transformation means fundamentally changing the way we function.

Religion and transformation, words are at the foundation of both. Jesus used words to challenge religion, and invite people into transformation. Are we using words to further a religion?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Honoring Sarah

Today I am taking a break from the usual interplay and complaining. I want to take a few moments and celebrate the most important relationship I have with a person here on earth. My wife celebrates her birthday today, and on this day there are a few things which need to be made real clear.

First, I cannot do this ministry thing without her, and I don't ever want to. God has placed the two of us together as a team for the Kingdom of God. She is my softer edge, my compassion reminder.

Second, she provided unending support for me, and the work God has called me to. The schedule I keep gets out of hand from time to time, and that means an extra load for her with the kids and the household. While not easy, she does this with grace and love making possible the things I do.

Third, I honor her level of sacrifice. There are many things she does without for the sake of the kingdom of God. She is an amazingly talented women who could have a more impressive career than me, but has made the choice to work as a full-time mom. She has to watch others live the lives with more of the stuff of this world while she figures out how to get by. She flexes to meet everyone's schedule and demands at cost to her own.

Finally, I celebrate the love we share. Even when I am a blockhead, and that is more often than I like, she continues to love me.

I cannot put into words all I need when it comes to celebrating my wife, but these are a few to get started. I pray she has a blessed and wonderful birthday.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Bright Spot

One of our family rituals is some TV watching as we end the night all together. The airwaves have been filled with all forms of holiday greetings. Very few reverting to the classic Merry Christmas. Either I am being worn down, or it really isn't that important, but this year I have not been as troubled by the message. From Macy's thank you for Santa, to Santa being used to sell beer, which was removed, commercial Christmas is alive and well.

Last night as we flipped through the channels, I saw that the Charlie Brown Christmas special was on. My girls love the Charlie Brown specials. Before I knew it, right there on primetime, commercial Christmas was being attacked by a dead cartoonist. I had forgotten the whole drive and point to the Charlie Brown special was to remind us the real importance of Christmas. The assault on Christmas began long ago, but there are still some bright spots. As the program ended, before my eyes and ears was the classic song of faith about the day Christ the savior was born.

It is easy to dismiss the media as ungodly. Even easier to throw stones at the networks for leaning to secular humanism, or out and out pluralistic relativism. God is bigger. As Christ was finishing his earthly journey, he told the religious leaders that if people did not declare the praise of God, the rocks would do it. The message of Christ will get to the people, even if humanity does not think it to be politically correct. Go Charlie Brown.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Failure to Dream

At some point in every persons life there is a dream. Not necessarily the dreams that come when we sleep. I am talking about the dream of what could be. I am thankful to have grown up in a home which not only allowed for such dreaming, but encouraged it. My whole life has been guided by the dream of what could be. In my younger years, before making the transition of a believer of Christ to a follower of Christ, my dreams were of worldly greatness. Putting all the cards of the table, that craving for worldly acclaim still sneaks in. Now, most of my time is spent dreaming about what God could do, if we as humanity was willing to jump in.

There have been times when I have felt my ability to dream slip away. A natural process as we age is our move toward stability and comfort. Dreaming rarely affords stability and comfort. Another factor which causes us to lose the ability to dream is having dreamed and lost. As a younger pastor I talk with more experienced pastors all the time who once had a dream. Over time that dream was either shutdown, or the individual simply lost the desire to pursue that dream. A clear sign the ability to dream has set in can e found in the ways we respond to risk, and opportunity which draws us beyond the status quo. If another person presents a dream, and it is met with an uneasy laugh or sigh, the ability to dream has been lost.

The ability to dream is the birthing bed of innovation. Without innovation, we will always do what we have always done, hoping that just maybe this time it will be different, cue Einstein. The writer of Proverbs shares with us a thought which is often translated, where there is no vision the people perish. An aside joke, I have interacted with many places with no vision which are called a parish. Before the can be vision, there needs to be a dream. The dream of what God could do, or is calling us toward. This dream then gets placed in the mind and hand, the result is a vision of what could be. Where there is no dreaming, people perish.

The church of Jesus Christ should be a hot bed of dreamers. Our God is a the most creative being to ever present itself. Have you seen creation. Have you seen the ways God works. Jesus did thinks other thought was impossible. Walking on water, who say that coming. Raising from the dead, now that is a creative way to connect humanity with eternity. Instead, the church suffers. Dreams are laughed off, dreamers are dismissed and told they will someday give up on dreaming. No wonder people love God, but not the church.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Where's The Fruit?

In the book of James we are reminded in several different ways that belief in God is not what matters. James instructs, even the demons believe in God. No what matters is the way we live out that belief everyday. In no way shape or form are we saved by our good works. Salvation comes from grace, and grace alone. Yet, is our salvation so we can hang a certificate on our wall noting that we are part of the saved. Or, is our salvation a true commencement.

No matter how the day or time arrived there comes a point in the life of every Christ Follower when there is a realization of need, the need of the atonement of Christ. That time is not a destination, rather it is a new beginning. The time when we realize the work of Christ on the cross was on our behalf, as the time we begin to realize we do not live for ourselves. There are no two ways around it, if we have belief in God, great, so me the fruit of that belief.

This morning I had an experience which made me so proud of the church I pastor. Over the last week, our church of about 100 people collected 70 presents to be shared with children living in poverty this Christmas through our local Headstart. As I was dropping off the gift I heard one of the works say, "That church is so generous." Followed by another staff person, "I know they are so willing to give of themselves."

I realize there is not a one to one with generosity and living our faith, but they are deeply connected. I cannot determine the motives of all the people who gave gifts. I cannot even judge where their heart is in relation to Christ. I can tell you that I could see the fruits of their labors as I dropped off those gifts.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It Is Not Complicated

Why is it we make Following Jesus so complicated. When I say we I mean all of us, in particular I mean those of us who are clergy or pastors of the church. I believe some classical training is hard at work here. All through seminary we are taught it is difficult to balance all the pieces of ministry. And it is. We are taught there are many ways to approach a situation, and there are. We are even taught there are different ways of approaching a section of Scripture, and there are. In the midst of all the training, and ecclesial indoctrination, the journey of faith is made out to be much more difficult that it really is.

In Hebrews 11, some would call the hall of Faith, we find recounts of the faithful. The title hall of faith is problematic to me. It makes it seem like only a select few people, who have a special dispensation from God can live a life of faith so noted it is recounted in Scripture. Yet again we are making it more difficult. The simple joy of Hebrews 11 is found in the understanding of who these people were. They were not some religious superhero, they did not have all their stuff together. They were average everyday people. What sets them as different? They displayed simple faith.

We have been trained for years to see nothing simple about the faith of those listed in Heb. 11. Yet the truth is, faith in God is what got their mention. When you research the individuals more fully you find they had some pretty mess up lives. However, at some point they chose to Follow God in spite of the circumstances. Faith as we see in Heb. 11 is available to all, not just super-Christians. It is not complicated. It is a matter of trusting God, for what we cannot see.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Mountain Top

Though I do not do this as often as I once did, I love to climb mountains. There is just something about the struggle of the climb, rewarded by the view from the top. Like many who have gone before me, I seem to communicate with God more clearly at the top of the mountain. It might be due to the fact I am out of breath and cannot speak, but I hear from God on the top of the mountain. One big problem, I cannot live on the top of the mountain. The same thing happens in our spiritual journey. We love those mountain top experiences. Those times when we are so sure of God's presence and direction we can almost taste it. The times in our lives when we are convinced and convicted by the Holy Spirit of what life is all about. We cannot live in that place forever. We were never intended to.

The measure of our faith is not found at the mountain top. It is found in what we do in the valley. How do we live the day-to-day? In fact the day-to-day is what we are called to by God, not the top of the mountain. We must visit those places from time to time where our spirit sings in tune with the Spirit of God. However, our work as Followers of Christ is to be done in the valley. We are sent from the top of the mountain into the valley. At the very end of the book of Matthew we find the great commission. Note where the commission takes place, on the mountain top. Note the command, go!

I love the mountain top. But for the mountain top I was not created, I was created to go into the valley, and live and life of transformation, showing others the path of transformation through Jesus Christ, right to the heart of God.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Church of Reckless Abandon

Many have said the safest place to be is in the center of the will of God. The more I live the more I am convinced these people have never experienced the center of the will of God. Why would I say such a thing? Because the center of the will of God is anything but safe.

Safety and comfort have become the two highest values in American society, and they have held many churches hostage. The image of God is one of this God who is orderly, who is predicable, who is easily defined and controlled. Big problem, that is not the God I read about in Scriptures. I see a God who calls people out to the deep water, a God who calls people out of the boat and into the choppy waters, I see a God who shakes the foundations of a culture. Yet we reduce this God to a nice person who is a societal do gooder.

Most churches in America have abandoned the heart of God in some reckless ways. I wonder what would happen if churches began to live with reckless abandon with the heart of God? Jesus tells us we should count the cost, but he does not say stay home if the cost is too high. Jesus merely wants us to know the journey will not be easy, it will involve struggle and pain, but we are not told to avoid the journey.

Much has been made about the decline of men in the church today. I think the decline is due to the fact that we have made the church a non-dangerous place. The sense of adventure and risk have been lost. We play it safe, and do not extend ourselves to the brink of death. A phrase that comes out of my mouth more than I like, and that drives me crazy is something like this. Once this and that happen, then we will go and do this. Chris Shook in the book One Month To Live called this the someday syndrome. Those living with the someday syndrome are not living with reckless abandon.

So let's get dangerous. Let's put out into deep water. What is it in your life that you are not doing, because it would disrupt your comfort and safety?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Land of Both And

Before I launch into today's thoughts, I want to tell you about a new blog that will be launched on Jan 1. It is up and running now, but I will not be doing entries until Jan 1. Visit on this blog I will be entering my thoughts as I along with the congregation, and all others who would like, read through the New Testament in a year.

As for today. I have written in the past on this very topic, but I continue to wrestle with it. I grew up in a world of faith which was deeply connected with either/or thinking. The journey of faith was in fact not a journey, rather it was a list of truths and facts to be memorized and regurgitated when demanded. I am now experiencing a faith journey where essential truths are still held to, yet they are held in a different way. There was a time in my life when questioning was off limits. If I had doubts I could not have faith. If I read something that caused me to have doubts, whatever I read was dismissed as ungodly. At the present time all I have are questions. If there is something to read and it causes questions about God, I say read away. A truth I hold deeply is that God is big enough to handle all my doubts, questions, and challenges.

A few years ago not everyone was up in arms about The DaVinci Code. Many people were concerned about the movie teaching things contrary to the Scriptures. Indeed there were several aspects of the movie that were inconsistent with the Scriptures, but we must remember what section of the bookstore the book is housed, fiction. The other point to remember is that is God is not big enough to deal with a little questioning and challenging, then I am not sure that is a God I want part of. That is to say I think you can read or watch the DaVinci Code and still be a Christ Follower. It is possible you might be a better Christ Follower.

There is a lot of talk about how our world has changed to become a more both/and culture. I disagree. It has always been a both/and world, simply many were just too brazen to realize it. Those who bought hook, line and sinker into the Enlightenment actually thought given enough time all the mysteries of life could be figured out. The church embraced and furthered this thought pattern. Today there are thousands of books written by people of faith trying to convince people through scientific evidence God is real. They are great scholars, but their work will always come up short. If God could be detailed in a nice little treatise, don't you think God would have used that much before this time to draw people into relationship?

The reality is this. God is full of mystery. Significant understandings of God have been made known, Jesus Christ for example. Still we as the created will never fully understand the creator. Life is mystery, mixed with questions, seasoned with some paradox, topped with more questions. I hope we all can enjoy the journey.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Put Down The Model

For most of my life I have been trying to make existing models work. I have spend countless hours and dollars buy books, attending conferences, watching videos and listening to podcasts. Learning about the newest model for developing the church, or how to be an effective pastor, or whatever the topic of the month is. Constantly I find myself adapting these models, and still coming up short in feeling like they are meeting the need I see. I am tired of models. I am tired of using the same thought process and hoping to get a different outcome, see Einstein for definition. We in the church world are really good at putting a new coat of paint on something and trying to call it new and different, yet the core is still the same. Instead of getting new wineskins we insist on dressing up the old ones hoping they will work. It is time for a different way of being the church.

This is not a new wrestling for me, but I believe it has come to a head so to speak. The proverbial straw that broke the camels back came last week. I lead a meeting on clergy effectiveness. Now our original charge was to develop a list of characteristics which indicate a effective clergy person. Additionally, we were to think about how we would measure these characteristics. The group took a courageous step and decided that was not what was most needed. That clergy effectiveness can be developed in other ways. I invited the group to read, learn and glean from all the models we were shown. Then I offered the freedom to go off the map, and try a whole new process of getting at clergy effectiveness.

The group finished up the meeting with great excitement, and passion about the course we had laid out. Then came the note, the institution was looking for a checklist, so there could be an evaluation developed, just like we have always done. But this time it will be different, we will have the right checklist, and the right tool for evaluation. It seems our task was to rework an existing model, and not step beyond that. It is time to stop putting our trust in models, especially ones which have brought us to death's door.

No longer can I play the institutional game. It is time to lead the church in a new way. The direction has always been the same, the kingdom of God, but the ways we work to get there need to change. The time has come to forge ahead with something new. The existing structures, models and thoughts will not move us forward in the quest to follow the heart of Christ.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Striving for Peace

I have been reading Paul's letter to the Philippians this morning and was caught by a passage. Paul reminds us if we are concerned or worried about anything to take it to God in prayer. Some translations say be anxious for nothing, but by prayer and petition take everything before the Lord. I think the American implied response from God is everything will be made better. Our tendency is treat God in our consumer mindset which says I have made my needs known, now God will meet them.

Now there are some passages that seem to imply that God will give us what we ask for if we ask for it with enough faith, love and perseverance. The next part of the Philippians passage offers and answer which I have experienced more than receiving what I have asked form God. Paul reminds us we will receive peace. Isn't that interesting. Not that we will have all our concerns and worries cared for. Not that we will get all the stuff we are asking for, rather that God will give us peace.

Peace is a funny thing due to the fact we often associate peace with having all that we need and the absence of concern and worry. That is not really what peace is. Peace is having a living understanding of God's presence and power at work in every aspect of our lives. More than having all we want, or not having worry or concern, peace is being settled in our souls about what God is doing in and with our lives.

Concern and worry are not in and of themselves the problem. When concern and worry, or anything else for that matter, override our ability to trust what God is doing in any given situation the problem arrives. Peace is one of those things we strive to experience in our lives but cannot achieve on our own. The settled soul in the face of adversity, peace, is something which can only come from the heart of God, and our connection with it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Right Numbers

I cannot think of the number of church growth seminars, books and teaching videos I have partaken in. I have taught on the area of church growth and am well versed in all the methods, programs and mindsets which allow a church to grow numerically. The challenge is I am now seeing that all of the information I have amassed will do no good if the growth in the church is the wrong kind of growth.

So what is the right kind of growth? The right kind of growth is not directly growth, it is more of a transformation. If church growth is about adding numbers to the attendance registry and expanding the budget bottom line, that is quite easy. I have joked in seminars that I can pack the church from noon till 11pm every Sunday, and count it as worship. Every gets real interested in how. I tell them, ten cent wings and 50 cent drafts, and football on the big screen. I am sure we would pack the place out, there would indeed be worship. but would it be the church? There is nothing wrong with ten cent wings, in fact I think there should be more ten cent wings. There is nothing wrong with football on the big screen. There is even nothing wrong with 50 cent drafts. However, they will not bring about transformation of life. They might be a great connecting point for transformation, but they will not transform a persons life.

Church growth is about numbers, the wrong numbers can mislead us. We should be measuring the number of people who are responding to the radical call of Christ, and radically devoting their life to following Him. I use to dream about pastoring the church of tens of thousands of people. Now the only way I want to do that is if it has tens of thousands of people who are committed to following Jesus with their whole life. People who are committed to be everyday missionaries. I am learning, or unLearnign as Slaughter states it, this will mean smaller numbers in the seats at first, but greater impact for the sake of Christ.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

UnLearning Church

I began reading the book UnLearning Church by Michael Slaughter this morning. Mike is the chief dreamer and lead pastor at Ginghamsburg church in Tipp City Ohio. I have only read the first chapter, but already I am ready to clear the calendar and finish the book. Slaughter puts words to many of the thoughts I have held. So over the next few days I am going to share the insights and challenges I am experiencing as I read the book.

The first challenge is one I was doing some writing about in another context. The megachurch model has run its course and is not longer a fitting model of church. I have known this for a while, yet was reluctant to embrace the thought. The megachurch model is one where the product of Jesus is displayed and people are processed through religion. As long as we buy the right merchandise, a person can be considered Christian, and a new person. The problem is, where is the transformation.

An unintentional consequence of the megachurch model is churches creating God in their image, or seeking to have Jesus fit their understanding of life. This is completely backwards to what we are taught in scriptures. Jesus is not the one who needs to be transformed to our way of living. We need to be transformed to Jesus was a living. Considering our current culture, this is not small or easy task. However, that is quite simply the task of the church, the transformation of lives for the transformation of the world for the sake of Jesus Christ.

I find the church, local and denominationally, spends all kinds of energy, effort and money on propping up the church, when in reality we are not functioning anything like what the church is. It might be time to throw out all the trappings of the modern church and return to the heart of the matter. This is not about worship style. This is not about bricks and mortar, this is about transformation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Blame Game

One of the unique qualities of almost every human being I have come into contact with is our desire to have problems be another persons fault. While we are more than ready to accept all the accolades individually, we want to share blame, or totally remove blame from ourselves. Few and far between are the people I meet who their default setting is to own there faults.

That is not to say we cannot learn to do this, I think however, we still battle wanting to blame someone else. There are situations when we can place the cause onto another person or organization. The freak car accident, the deceptive business practices, an many other situations are times when our problems might be rooted in another persons doings. Yet, there are just as many times when we need to own our stuff. More than once I have created situations in my life where I wanted, and attempted to blame another person for a situation. As I journey more with God I find this is not acceptable.

In fact, I now find I tend to error more on the other side. I tend to take responsibility which is not mine. Don't get me wrong I still try to blame others for my problems. Still I am trying to not play the blame game. When we play the blame game we cannot grow. If nothing is ever our fault, we cannot grow. If we are never wrong, we cannot grow. the condition of our heart must be open and willing to be taught by God, if not we cannot grow. When we do not grow we become stagnant and bitter. Words that can describe living water that has gone bad.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas is Not Your Birthday

Yesterday I was with my extended family for what has become a annual tradition for us. No longer do we purchase gifts for the adults in our families, we use that money instead to engage a mission project. This year some of us rang the bell for Salvation Army outside of Eastview Mall in Victor NY. I loved what this taught our daughters. Then we gathered together and had purchased gifts for two families of single moms. The gifts were laid out on two tabled and we could see the mission right in front of us. The families we would never meet, and they may never know who we are, but they will know that someone cares about them enough to give them gifts.

This couples nicely with what we are doing here at the Cortland UMC this Christmas. We are asking people to reduce what they spend on Christmas, gifts, parties, decorations etc, and then match dollar for dollar what they do spend on an offering going to assist a school and clinic in Kenya. We are asking people to live more simply so that others may simply live. Our goal is to raise $10,000 by the end of the year so that we can give Jesus a gift on his birthday. Remembering that Christmas is not our birthday but his.

I am sure thins might be a long shot, but I want to invite all who are reading this blog to join us in remembering Christmas is not your birthday. If you would like to contribute to our fund, or possibly invite your church to participate, sharing this mission would be wonderful. You can send any contribution to Cortland UMC, 734 State Rte 222, Cortland NY 13045, ATTN: Christmas is not your birthday.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Altar of Consumerism

Today is black Friday here in the US. It is the day when people wake at ridiculous hours to rush out to stores (some by 4am) to get that extra special deal. I heard one commentator this week say that Black Friday was capitalism at its best. I say it is consumerism at its height. On this day people will place themselves further in debt. Credit cards will be maxed out, and bank accounts pushed to their limits, all in the name of almighty stuff.

Most of the people who are going out to buy today do not need any of the stuff they are buying. People in our community who are really in need will not be found at the stores this morning. They will not be pushing and shoving to get the best deal on a flat screen TV. They will be doing what they do everyday, trying to figure out where then meal for the day is coming from. When I think about it in those terms, I am almost embarrassed by the stuff I have.

In a country full of irony, yesterday we celebrated thankfulness. Some celebrated the stuff they have, others celebrated the people and relationships. No matter what we paused to be thankful for, the pause by and large is over, and the race for more and better stuff is on. We as Americans continue to complicate our lives with the desire to acquire. Some day I hope I learn and others learn to simplify. Then the words of Gandhi will ring true, live simply so that others may simply live.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


I am taking some time today to count my blessings so to speak. It is in fact Thanksgiving morning, and yet another day to be thankful. I could use this space to talk about things like entitlement and pride which hinder our ability to be thankful, but not today.

I want to list what I am thankful for. First and foremost I am thankful for the God who created, redeemed and sustains me. Next I am grateful for my amazing wife who walks with me through this journey of life. I give thanks to God for our three wonderful children, who give me wonder and challenge me to be a better dad every day. My gratefulness extends to my extended family who have walked with me through life and continue to be with me. There are many friends whom have played a role in my journey. In particular I am thankful for the godly men who God has placed around me. Thanks Bill, BJ and Alan.

No matter who we are, or what life seems to be bringing our way, there is reason to be thankful. Not just on this day, but everyday. May we all be thankful.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vision is a funny thing. All too often it has nothing to do with one's ability to see. I wear glasses so I can see words more clearly, and so I can function without bumping into things. My glasses improve my ability to see, but often my vision is still blurry. No I do not need to go to the eye doctor for a new prescription. What I need to do is spend more time before God to be reminded of the vision. For me vision is about the preferred future God is calling us to. It is the place where God longs to meet us in the future. The challenge is I often get distracted from the vision.

When I arrives at Cortland, I sought after God. I wrestled with God until He gave me a vision for this place. The wrestling took the better part of a two weeks. I limped away sore and not sure if it was worth it, as the vision was large and so much greater than I have ability to accomplish. Then the quite voice reminded me that is the way it is suppose to be. So what was this vision. I could see a church which was leading the way in the community, state, country and world, both inside and outside the church, to be on mission. God intends to use this church to change the world for the people of Cortland, New York, the USA and the ends of the earth. I saw a vision of a church which was large, not for the sake of numbers but for the sake of impact. I saw a church which others were coming to so they could learn and join the mission of God in the world. I saw a place where God was using us to be innovators and risk takers for the sake of the Kingdom.

As you can see nothing about that was status quo, in fact status quo is the enemy of this vision, or any vision for that matter. It is my responsibility to lead the church toward this vision. I forget that from time to time, and crave after status quo. Thank God, my wiring is such that I cannot settle. Forward.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Never Be The Same Again

This week I am working on a sermon which started brewing about two weeks ago. The sermon is titled Jesus as an Accessory. I am wrestling with the ways in which we use Jesus as an add on to our live. Sure on Sunday morning we put our Jesus on and go to church with all the other people who put Jesus on. It is possible that we even wear a little of our Jesus in our day-to-day life. You know just enough Jesus to be recognized, but not enough to really make a difference.

I am continually amazed at how little difference Jesus makes in most of our daily lives. As I read through the Scriptures I find people who encounter God/Jesus, are never the same. The face-to-face encounter forever transforms an individual, and communities to function completely different. This is not just the blind who see again, or the lame who walk again. This is the rich young ruler, this is Samuel, this is Jacob. From his encounter with God, Jacob went away with a limp and a new name, Israel.

When people outside of the church look at the church what repels most is the fact that there is so little of Jesus in the lives of those who call on His name, and sing songs to Him. We must stop using Jesus like a necklace or a watch. Rather we must fashion our lives in such a way that we are never the same again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Growing Up is Hard To Do

One of the quotes I have often used about being a pastor is as follows, "The church would be so much easier to lead if there were not all those people." I understand the church is the people, and without people we do not have the church. However, when working with people the level of frustration can get very high. I guess it is not working with people that creates the frustration directly. I continue to make a classic mistake of trusting people to make an assessment of their own life. The place where I get caught most with this is in the area of spiritual maturity.

We all know people who have journeyed with God for a while and have been developing in their understanding with God. Now people who have reached deeper levels of maturity rarely talk about their maturity, or compare theirs with others, but the problem comes when claims are made which are not supported by actions. I am amazed by the number of people in churches who have made claims about their level of maturity, yet continue to function as infants. As is true in all aspects of life we want the bonus of being a grown up, with out the responsibilities. We want to do what we want to do, until it gets hard, then we want someone else to do it.

I want to be clear at this point I am not placing blame on anyone but myself. People are people, and I think I would learn. My biggest mistake is I tend to give people too much credit for their journey. Perhaps this is the tragedy of an optimist. As I continue to grow up and get burned by seeing the best in people, only to come up short, I am learning some hard lessons. The lesson I am wrestling with today is that people, no matter what they claim, want someone who is going to tell them what they need to be doing, and to hold their hand as they do it.

So while, I think people are much more capable than they are, a notion I am not willing to give up, I am learning to be more directive. Something I expect to do with people who are new to the journey with God, but I am learning more people are still in that early stage than I like to think.

Growing up is hard to do. Still that is what we are called to do. We cannot be infants in our faith our whole life. We are to go on to maturity. It is not easy, we have to do things we don't want to. But that is all part of growing up.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I thought the last entry would be the last in the series about how the church got to the place it is, but I was wrong. I have been in Nebraska for the past few days, through several interactions with my family here I have come to realize just how great the void of leadership is in the church. Even more interesting is how people who are not regularly engaged in the life of the church understand the leadership of the church.

I was sharing with a relative who works for the National Parks system about my thoughts of getting a PhD in the future, and focusing on leadership. This relative was amazed to learn that leadership was not the main focus of seminary curriculum. From where he observed the church, leadership was the most crucial thing a pastor could provide.

I believe at one point the church was predicated on leadership, with in the congregation, community , nation and world. We have come to a point where in function the role of leadership is something reserved for a select few, but not necessary for the development of the local church. This has been happening so long congregations have become trained to not look for leadership from their pastor. Most are simply looking for someone to manage the ministry, but move it in any particular direction with a future and a hope. The result, most churches have gone nowhere.

That may seem like a harsh criticism. After all there are thousands of wonderful church dinners every day. There are churches all across the nation who have people faithfully attending Sunday services, and even a few meetings here and there. The same people week in and week out. I guess you could say the church is being lead by accidental negligence. Accidental negligence, means because there is no leadership the church is headed in a direction. Death is a direction, just not one with a hope and a future.

Oh, Lord may I never settle for managing the church. May I never be found in accidental negligence. May I and others who have the obligation, privilege and responsibility to pastor the church, lead it in the path of God to a hope and a future.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Beyond Existence

This will be the final entry on the reasoning behind how the church has gotten to where it is in America. Let me start with a veiled disclaimer, less veiled now that I have stated it. I am grateful for the contributions of churches like Willow Creek and Saddleback. I also need to say that the way other people used those ministries and ministries like them created the corporate church which was driven by attendance numbers. This produced a church culture which I bought into for years, that was all about increasing the numbers, even if we were not doing the mission of Christ.

This understanding of church became entrenched and church became another business in America, complete with the movers and shakers, flashy marketing, and high powered conferences. I am not against moving and shaking, I am not against flashy marketing or high powered conferences. I do have a problem when that becomes the goal above the mission of Jesus Christ. The church in America became a multi-billion dollar industry in America, and lost sight of the call of God on the church.

Time has come to reclaim this call. We have seen this in recent years as some of the heavy hitters, Willow and Saddleback have studied places like Mosaic and this thing called the missional church. The missional church in and of itself is not the key. Rather, it is the thought pattern that we ought to be on the journey of faith in such a ways that compels us to function as Christ calls us. The whole point of the church is mission, not existence. Existence is the goal of business, transformation of the world for the sake of Christ is the mission of the church. This too could fall pray to the business of the church if we are not careful.

So how do we keep the focus? Vigilance by those in leadership. We must consistently be keeping the mission in front of the church, as well as pushing the edge. The champion of existence is the status quo. Leadership must constantly challenge the status quo, and constantly challenge the church. In the old days this was called be prophetic. Prophets call the people of God beyond existence into mission. Calling all prophets.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jesus As An Accessory

I am continuing to look at the state of the church in America, and the reasons I think we have gotten to where we are. Today I am looking at this issue of how we view Jesus. Like many historical figures there are many different views on who Jesus was and if he is an is. There are the classic labels of good teacher, prophet, holy man, Son of God, Messiah, rebel, religious reformer etc. There is no conclusion as to his current state of being as well. Most who are followers of Christ hold to the resurrection, this is not a view held by all. For the purposes of this discourse, I am working form Jesus as Messiah, Savior and Lord, and the resurrection being Truth.

Having said that, I want to look at the ways we interact with Jesus in the church today. More often than not, Jesus is used as a tool. At times a tool for great good and at other times a tool for great harm. The church using Jesus as a tool has had many poor consequences, the one I will look at is the way we allow Jesus to impact our daily living. I content most of us use Jesus like an accessory in our wardrobe. As long as he accents what I am doing he is fine, but he is not allowed to shape what I am doing. For men I see a tie as an optional accessory, to be used only when absolutely necessary. For the most part a tie is chosen to match the outfit, not the outfit to match the tie. Very rarely do we allow the accessory to determine what the rest of the outfit will be. the exception is when we want everyone to see the accessory we have. Thereby announcing our possession as a status issues.

This is how many are using Jesus. A little show and tell now and again, but no real impact. The roles have been reversed. We think we are the main show and have made Jesus to be the accessory. In reality Jesus is, was and will always be the main show and we are the accessory. Our role is to accent the work of Christ in our world, not ask Christ to accent what we are already doing. For all too long the church has attempted to form, mold and shape Jesus into the image we want. The result is an impotent church. Many forms of ecclesial Viagra have been used, but the problem continues, the church remains impotent. The solution is not found in a wonder drug, or the latest program. The solution is found when groups of men and women place Jesus as the main thing, and radically live out the live Jesus calls us to live. We must become the accessory.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Failure to Deny

Continuing the journey through understanding how the church as gotten to this point I now turn to a difficult topic, self denial. I have found in my life and in the life of most people I know denial is not a problem. Humanity seem to have a great ability to not recognize the issues of our lives. What I am talking about however is self denial. Ironically the most significant reason we struggle with self denial is in fact our problem with denial. Confused yet?

Humanity tends to lose sight of the fact that life is not about the rights, desires and ambitions of the individual. That is not to say there are not certain rights each person has. It is to say things like the right to life, the right to not being enslaved and such are good rights. Like the good Americans we are, there is a tendency to take our rights to the extreme. Then there is the troubling teachings of Christ in Mark 8. That we must deny ourselves if we are going to follow him. Not for a moment am I suggesting we allow thinks like slavery and poverty because it is exercising denying ourselves. However, we need to recognize that our lives are not our own.

I probably could have saved time typing and you reading by saying this, It is not about me. For the most part, the church is America has taken on the mantel of individualism, and the church has become "me" focused. For the church in America to break out of this pattern of "me"centrism, it will involve self denial.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Free Fall of Mediocrity

Today I will resist the election discussion and continue to look at how the church in America got to the place it is. Once again I am brought to the word mediocrity. There is one phrase I associate with mediocrity more than any other in the life of the church, "As long as you are doing it for God, it will be good enough." Can we imagine what might happen if God just decided to do things as good enough? What if as God created the earth instead of good, He settle with good enough, or even at the creation of humanity which was deemed very good

The church established a pattern of going through the motions, do the same old thing time and time again, and after a while, the pattern lost its meaning as well as its excellence. Our current culture does not like to have the excellence discussion. There are policies which bend our thoughts away form excellence, like No Child Left Behind. Rather than encouraging excellence, it invited everyone to settle for mediocrity as long as you can pass the test. Years ago the church adopted its own no child left behind policy, and it is alive and well.

Fear of being seen as judgmental, or as rigid has caused us to not strive for excellence in anything we do or the beliefs we state. We would rather boil things down to the lowest common denominator so all can agree, than challenge, encourage and teach so that all could reach for the standard of God. Basically the acceptance of mediocrity in the life of the church has run its course well and now the church is full of relativism, and anything goes.

Understand this is not about conservative or liberal. This is not about any one social issue. Churches which are willing to take a clear and defined stand about their understandings of God can come from any perspective. When damage is done is when any perspective is simply embraced regardless of what is believed to be true.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Is It Worth It?

A reminder that I am exploring the shift that took place in the church which moved it from movement to institution, and the implications of that shift. Today I will focus on what drives the church. As best I can tell what Jesus was leading the early followers to do, and what the early church was doing, was all about building the Kingdom of God. More specifically, the primary focus was to live in such a way that others could experience the Kingdom by how you lived. In one of my favorite movies, The Last Samurai, in the last scene Tom Cruise's character is asked to tell the account of how someone died. His response is, not about death but about how the person lived. Jesus death was crucial and without it we are all still in great trouble. However, if all that is examined and celebrated is the death of Jesus, something is missing. The way Jesus lives and called others to live was equally important.

As the church journeyed further from the movement of Jesus to the institution, two primary thoughts drove the church. One was all about salvation through the cross of Jesus, and the other was all about the re-order of society. These are both solid drives for the church. Often, however, they were mutually exclusive. Classically this has been outlined as the evangelical church and the social Gospel church. Pardon the oversimplification. These two drives caused the church to change focus. The evangelical church was and is convinced all that needs to happen is the world simply needs to be saved by the blood of Jesus. Truth. The social gospel church says that we bring people to Jesus by re-ordering society to look more like the Kingdom of God. Truth. The result is a church that is irrelevant to most, and impotent to really transform the world. So, we simply go through the motions to keep the institution alive because that provides one with a sense of doing something worthwhile.

It is time once again to have a drive change. The time has come to recapture the original movement. The work of the cross transforming lives in order that society would be transformed. It is very difficult to motivate people outside of the institution to sacrifice for the sake of the institution, it has lost its meaning. I do think that people will sacrifice for the sake of transforming the world. If the church's drive is to simply exist it has already died. the good news is God does some of his best work with dead people, but they must be willing to admit they are dead. Church for the sake of church is foolish, church for the sake of transformation of the world for the sake of Christ, that is worth dieing for.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How Did We Get Here?

In the midst of a class I was teaching in the church I was sharing my thoughts about the state of the church in America as a consumerist, narcissistic, imitator of culture. From across the table the question came, how did we get here? It made me think there are many reasons we are here, and it would take a lot of time to outline what has driven us to this point. So, I thought I would take some time to share my thoughts. Over the next few blog entries I will be writing about that topic.

To frame the discussion I need to delve into the world of sociology, and the works of Ernst Troeltsch. Mr. Troeltsch wrote about how an idea transforms into an institution. Please note this is a huge oversimplification of the work. Essentially an idea surfaces and others gather around the idea. The idea then gains momentum, becoming a movement. the movement grows and begins to develop normalizing factors, or norms which inform the understandings of the movement. As the development continues the norms create a more concrete structure and form known as an institution. At this point the institution can easily lose sight of the original idea and movement, and exist for the sake of the institution. This is know as institutionalization.

The church in America is riddled with institutionalization. At some point in history the idea an movement gave way to keeping the institution alive. This had implications for what drove the church, what has been taught by the church and how the church interacted with the world around it. There are key points in history which this is noticed. When the Roman Empire named Christianity the official state religion. When Martin Luther partnered with the Princes of Germany. The church of England being the state church. There are others, but those are some of the big moments. The struggle is nothing new.

It is amazing to me how there is a connection of tying religion with government and how the focus can be diffused. In the next entry I will explore how what drives the church changed, and the implications of that change.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Crowd Response

Reading through the Gospels is always an inspiring experience for me. I gain great strength from the disciples and their tendency to miss the point of what Jesus was teaching them. It gives me hope for my journey. I am also inspired by the response to Jesus when he enters a new area. As soon as Jesus is recognized people run throughout the streets bringing all the sick, demon possessed and in need. The flocked Jesus knowing he was the source which could help.

Now most of the time today the church enters the town and people are suspicious. They do not go running through the streets gathering people. It seems the church of today has the exact opposite response as Jesus on a community. I wonder what it would be like of the church began to function in a way that the community responded as they originally did to Jesus?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Greater Things

I was introduced to this song while in Ohio this last weekend. The words haunt me and give me some great direction. God longs to do more right in our midst. Even if God has been doing great things, greater things are yet to come. I cannot wait to see what God wants to do.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Disconnected Reality

At the conference I was at last weekend, a long held truth was greatly reinforced, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was not primarily about salvation. Before you brand me as a heretic, let me say the work of Jesus on the cross is crucial, and without it our faith is empty and pointless. Having said that, if the importance of Jesus ends with the cross we are missing the point.

The power of Jesus is the transformation initiated in our lives. Once we respond to the radical call of Christ, our lives should begin to be lived differently. We should have a heightened care for the poor and those who are going without the basics of life. Our lives should take on the trajectory pointing us to increasingly be living the way Christ showed us.

One of the many labels around this is missional. How tragic is it that we must use a word like missional to designate the church, as that has always been the point of the church. We are designed and created as people and as the community of Christ to be people of mission. Somewhere there was a disconnect with this. The people of God lost site of what really matters. The thought was it was about church gatherings, buildings and meeting the needs of the congregations. In reality it is about being on the mission of God, and all the other stuff should feed that mission.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Standing on The Edge of Possibility

I am off at a conference in Ohio this weekend hosted by Ginghamsburg Church. It is great to be in a place where my mind and soul are nourished and refreshed. While this is good, this is a dangerous place as well. I look at the landscape of the church, and in particular the church I serve in Cortland and know that something must be done differently. The options are great, the choices are plenty, but remaining the same is not an option.

So what is it that is next in my life as a pastor and therefore, for the church in Cortland? It is time to move in to the reality which has been being painted. The time has come for me and us to make living outside of the church, simply what we do.

This will involve a radical shift in how I as a pastor spend my time. I am not sure what the shifts will be at this time, but change is in the winds. It could be easy to see the days ahead with great apprehension, and anxiety. It is just as easy to see it as a time of great opportunity. To say it another way I feel as though I am standing on the edge of possibility.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Citizenship Matters

I am continuing to read through the book of Acts and rediscovering passages which send me thinking for a while. Today was the passage where Paul and Silas are in the inner dungeon, in chains, praying and singing songs to God. For some reason that is not what sent me thinking. What got me going was later in the story when Paul and Silas are told by the guards they are free to go, and Paul replies I think not. The reason for Paul's objection to being let go quietly, his citizenship. Paul and Silas are Roman citizens. They were beaten and imprisoned without a trial, well outside of the rights of a Roman citizen.

Paul could have gone off about the work ahead of him with out further incident, but he couldn't there was a justice issue to be addressed. Paul's citizenship gave him the unique responsibility to address what was happening to many others. I wonder how often we disregard the responsibilities which come with being an earthly citizen of the United States, and eternal citizens of the Kingdom of God? Our citizenship in the USA, affords us the opportunity to speak out against injustice, oppression and any other form of devaluing a human being. Our citizenship as children of God gives us the responsibility to do so.

Our heavenly citizenship is not so we can merely celebrate being 'saved'. Rather it allows us to be connected with God to continue the work of God since creation. What is that work? To draw all men and women into close relationship with Him. To help all people know their true and deep value to God in more than words, but with actions consistent with the call of God.

Are we using our citizenship to the fullest?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Venting on Issues

This fall seems to be full of really challenging and interesting happenings. There is the presidential race. How anyone could think that one individual has the capacity to "fix" what is broken in our country is beyond me. If we are going to talk about the failings of a president we have to talk about the work of the congress. Not many are reporting that the approval rating for congress has been below 15% from Jan 1 to the end of August according to a Rasmussen Report. But we thing that a new president, whoever that would be will fix the problem.

The economy is on the minds of most. Again we expect a government to fix the problem. I might add a government which operates at a nearly trillion dollar debt annually. Once again a deeply consumerist solution is being waged, throw money at it, even if it is money we don't have. Isn't that how we got to this place. Many do not want to look at some real solutions, like changing their lifestyles, or living with in our means.

It seems that those are the two issues which dominate our airwaves. There are always things like, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, and other hot spots in our world. There are the issues on energy consumption and our treatment of the environment. In the midst of all these challenges there are many voices crying out with answers, who do we listen to?

Some have offered religious answers, most of those sound nice but are empty. In fact even the religious answers leave God out of the equation. Sure prayer is important and we should all be praying more than we do. Reading our Bibles is important. However, the importance of prayer and scripture reading is lost if we fail to implement the results of our time spent in our daily life. Whether it is the government, or the church, right down to each individual the answer to many of the issues we face is not the president, not the right pastor, it is not the right God. It is the willingness of humanity to look at their lives and make the changes necessary for the health and well-being of all earth's citizens not just ourselves.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Simply Follow

Reading the book of Acts always get me going and encourages me to walk more closely with God. It is important not to romanticize the happening in the book of Acts, yet it is important to notice the ways in which the early believers followed God and stayed connected. There is swift action when God speaks, and it seems there was a constant conversation between God and the followers.

The easiest explanation is to point out that our world is very different. In some ways yes, but in many ways there is a strange similarity. As the book of Acts unfolds the number of believers is a relatively small, possibly insignificant percentage of people in the world. Wherever they live, they are in the minority and the majority is trying to keep them quite at best and silence in the goal. There are world superpowers who run the world, and the average person works hard just to get by. Not as different as we would think.

Somewhere along the line, a cumulative effect possible, the followers of Christ began to let the dominant culture push them around. Keeping quite and silencing seemed to be working. There were some who spoke up along the way, still many returned to a life on the sidelines. As I look at the followers in Acts, not once do they consider the ramifications of society, they follow God. Not once do they worry about what the religious leaders say, they follow God. They do not get caught up in the rhetoric of the day, or get side tracked by personal agendas, theirs or others. they simply connect with God, and do what God instructs them to do.

I wonder. What would it be like if we stopped spending all our time try to put our agenda in God's mouth, and put God's agenda in our actions? We must understand and interpret our culture. Yet, we do not need to wonder what is it God is calling us to do, what people group does God show preference to. God prefers people, and wants us to be obedient, moment to moment. Let God figure out all the details, we must simply follow where God leads.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


As I sit and tap away at the keyboard I am challenged by the thought of boldness. Reading through the book of Acts we find the accounts of the early Christians living out the life God had given them. I keep looking for the message which allows me to feel more comfortable. Each account I look for words like kind of, or almost, but they are not there. I realize we are not given a moment by moment account of what took place, yet timidity did not seem to be a part of the equation.

How often do I live a kinda-sorta, almost kind of faith? I confess that all too often I exchange boldness for personal comfort. Boldness does not always mean hostile confrontation, nor does it mean always getting in someones face. It could mean being like Phillip and interpreting Isaiah for the eunuch. I could mean being like Barnabas and presenting Saul to the Apostles. It could mean not engaging in a debate when God is not the center of concern.

Boldness comes in many forms, and is in short supply. Timidity and cowardice are abundant, and more comfortable. I believe it was written, we are not given a spirit of timidity... May we all return to a God centered boldness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Case of Fire

Anyone who is in California does not need to be told about wild fires or forest fires. They are intense and cause total devastation. In the world of being a pastor, I often hear many of my colleagues claim most of their time being consumed by putting out fires. Now most of these "fires" are nothing compared to the wild fires on the west coast, they none the less demand our attention.

I once had a conversation with a Forest Service Agent regarding forest fires. He said something which was shocking to me. He said Smokey the Bear was the best and worst thing to happen to the forests of our country. My quizzical look helped him to continue his explanation. Smokey the Bear worked very well, people listened and were more careful, however many forests need fires to be healthy. With the success of Smokey the fires were less frequent, but more tinder built up so the fires were more intense. In the end the forest was not as healthy. Additionally some trees need to have the temperature of the forest fire in order to have their seeds germinate properly.

So not all fires are fires which need putting out. I wonder if there are fires in my life and yours which need to be left burning. Could it be the only way that new life can emerge is if the fire we want desperately to put out needs to burn.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Are We Hanging Up On God?

One of the great challenges of our Journey with God is being in conversation with God. More specifically the part about hearing form God. Most of us struggle with hearing God or think that hearing God is reserved for a select few. Left unchecked we can begin to make the assumption that God is not in the business of speaking with humanity anymore.

Classically there have been people who say that God is always speaking, only we are not always listening. Could it be the challenge is far more profound than we can imagine. Not for one moment do I question or wonder is God is still speaking. I do not think it is even a matter of our listening or hearing. No, I wonder if we have not hung up the phone.

We call God and present our needs, wants, hopes and desires. Then we hang up. To further our audacity of hanging up on God, we turn around and claim that God is not speaking. It is time for us to stay on the line. Not just listening for God, not just listening to God for the answers we want. Rather, listening for God on God’s terms.

I wonder if we were to stay on the line with God, if we would hear from God on a moment to moment basis.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Resisting Retreat

As I look at the CNBC website I see that the financial markets continue their downward trek. Honestly I did not need to look at the website to know that. I did not even need to turn the TV on. All I needed to do was pay attention to the conversations around me. It seems that many people are greatly concerned about the state of our economy. I understand why so many are concerned, but I must say that I am not. It could be just me being naive, it could be me just being flat out clueless, but I just do not see the need to let panic set in.

A secondary issue is beginning to set in with regard to our economy which is of greater concern to me than the stock market. It seems as though many are in retreat mode. Holding tight to what we have, and not wanting to risk being without. This kind of thinking only serves one purpose, to further the economic slowdown. When people stop spending money, investing money, taking chances, the slow market comes to a near stand still. This is a time to resist retreating, and go on the advance.

This is especially important for the church. Contrary to common thought it does not matter what is happening to the world economy for the church. The church will be resourced for all it needs, not by an earthly checkbook, but the accounts of heaven. The financial waters of the church may look uncertain, but at are we people of faith or not? This is not a call to be foolish, but it is a call to advance for the sake of the Kingdom of God. It will get scary, there will be times when it seems we have run out of resources, but do we believe God to be God, or do we think our help is needed in having God understand the realities of our world. You know the one which God created, is redeeming and sustains.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

For or Against

If Jesus were to physically walk in the earth right now, would we be for or against him? The quick and religiously appropriate answer is yes. I wonder though if we in the church might be found in the same category as the Pharisees? It is easy to thing we have it all figured out, and can boil it down to a few phrases and actions. Yet, I am not always convinced we would be found on the side of Jesus.

To get more personal, one of my greatest fears is that I would be in the mob at the Garden to arrest Jesus and take him to his death, not one of the disciples with the sword in hand ready to defend my king. This is not something I am proud of, yet it is the battle I think we all face. For most of my life I have been connected to the religious system of the church, and for some of my life I have found a way to follow Jesus in spite of the church. There is still a gnawing fear that if I am not careful and cautious, I can become a new breed of Pharisee.

So what is a person to do? There are many options, some better than others. I could just give up. Not a good option. I could just press on without a concern for what I am becoming. Honestly an attractive option as it on the outside is the easiest. Or I could press ahead with constant vigilance and examination of my life. While I am convinced this is the proper course, it is not the most attractive road, and it is by far the most uncomfortable and difficult. Still, it is nothing less than what the one who calls me His own expects of me. I do not walk this road alone, I know there are others who walk this road.

Thanks Sarah, Bill, BJ and Alan for walking this road with me. I must drive you all nuts most of the time, yet you love me and walk with me. Most important if I am becoming a new breed of Pharisee, you all will do what it takes to bring me back to the First Love of my King.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In What Do You Trust?

It seems everyone has the economy on their minds lately. It is completely understandable. Pensions are shrinking, and daily living in radically changing. Before this is said and done every aspect of life, and every person will be impacted by the events unfolding. As I have been watching and listening, the overwhelming thought coming to my mind is, who do you trust?

I do not have large sums of money tied to the stock market, but I do need to function day to day and take care of my family. I enjoy the privilege of being able to feed my family, give them a place to live, and do some special activities from time to time. I know that some of these regular activities are going to be impacted by our economy, but is there really cause for all the panic? The panic and fear sweeping across the airwaves and country seem to highlight a truth I have long held. Americans trust in their finances and stuff more than they trust in God. Don't miss the irony of our money saying in God we trust.

If our lives are defined by our checkbook and stock portfolio then these are times of great fear. If our lives are defined by a deep and abiding connection with God, then we can find peace and rest while others panic. I might one of the few who think the shattering of our economy could be a good thing. It might be just the thing to move us from self-reliance to reliance on God. I often feel so trapped by the finances of my life, and that is because I have spent time chasing the wrong dream and wrong values. There are plenty of times when those values and dreams resurface. Still, more often I am able to remember that God is the most important thing in my life.

The stock market can crash, and the money in my pocket can disappear or have no value. One thing will remain, I am a child of God, and my Father in heaven is watching over me, and will care for my needs. The question is not will I make it through, that was never in question. The question is will I abide in God through Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Less Filtered View

There is a strange challenge which exists in the mind of every person. When we approach a situation, challenge or even idea, we all bring our collective life experience to that moment. As much as we might try to disregard that, the task is impossible. Every aspect of our life will be informed and shaped by the previous experiences we have had.

Thus enters the challenge. What do we do when our life experiences eschew our perception to the point where we misinterpret what is right in front of us. When was the last time you reflected on the lenses through which you view the world? How do these lenses impact the way you understand who God is?

For some they have seen the ways people have used God to justify horrible tragedy, and decided God is not for them. Others have used their understanding of God to shape the ways they function in this world. Still others Have given up on God all together and see no reason to ask the question. The most dangerous group however are those who think they know God because they participate in religious activity, but in reality are missing the point all together. I realize that in this writing I am exposing the lenses through which I see the world and God. Yet one of my greatest fears is that I have a faulty lens.

Perhaps it is time to identify the lenses in our lives, and recognize the lens for reality. Maybe it is not God who allowed the tragedy, but the lens through which the tragedy was viewed. God might not be the problem, what people make God to be might be the problem. I wonder if it is possible to remove enough lenses to get a less filtered view?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Community First

It is good to be back in the saddle. I took a few days to visit one of the most beautiful places in all of creation, the Adirondack Park here in New York. It was a time of refreshing for my mind, soul and spirit. Now I am back to the ministry God has given to me here in this place.

This morning I re-engaged the book Amish Grace. The main point of the book is investigating forgiveness. In the midst of that discussion I am overwhelmed by the Amish understanding of community. Their dedication to place the community first over the individual flies in the face of all that is held dear by American society. As I read the pages, I am in a constant battle of admiring the Amish and dismissing them as being clueless to the way the world really works. At the heart of that is individualism.

So ingrained in our culture is the idea that the individual overrides the needs of the community. There is much discussion about personal rights, and the rights of the individual. It seems to me that the rights of the individual only carry any importance if placed in the context of a community. Therefore without a community the individual is truly lost.

I wonder what would happen in our culture if people, small pockets at first, began to live primarily as a community, and as an individual last?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hands of God

Yesterday morning I enjoyed the sun's appearance above the eastern horizon at Casowasco Camp and Conference Center. I was sitting next to Owasco Lake reading my scriptures and talking with God. One of the members of my church Debbie said it best, it seems as though the connection with God is very strong early in the morning. I wonder if that is because we have not had much time to confuse the issue yet.

Anyway, as I sat there praying I began to place the concerns of my heart in the hands of God. This is nothing new and a regular practice of mine. In the midst of this process I had a realization. These things were already in God's hands. Every portion of my life and being is in the hands of God, even if I do not recognize it. I have often used the phrase of placing something in God's hands as an act of surrender, and it is. I wonder however, if there is a next step?

It is one thing to place our whole being in the hands of God, it is another thing all together to be prepared for what God will do with it. I have some ministry hopes and desires, which are not something I am making real public. The only way for me to reach these ministry opportunities is through the action of other people. I placed that in God's hands yesterday. I went one step further. I asked God to help me be prepared for whatever it is that God is going to do with my hope and my life.

When we place our life in God's hands, we must be ready to be and do who God shapes us to be. If it is truly and act of surrender, our only decision left is obedience.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Just Wondering

Before I get too far into this entry I need to let you know that communitarianism is not an original term. I did a Google search and found there to be an entire group of people from regular people like me to scholars and policymakers who have formed a actual organization around communitarianism. Who knew? Anyway I want to take some time today to wonder.

I wonder what would happen if the church in America began to focus on the things that really matter. I have recently spent a lot of time in discussions about the rapture and the millennial debate. I have decided these are pretty useless conversations. Why? Because they do not really matter, what really matters is that at some point Jesus will return, if that is today, tomorrow or whenever it is, I had better be living in a what that I am ready. So what does that mean for the church, in particular in America?

When I read the pages of my Bible I read about a Jesus who showed preferential treatment to the poor and the outcast. I read about a Jesus who challenged the established religious communities. I read about a God who calls us to tailor our lifestyles to like God and not tailor our God to fit our lifestyles. I am amazed by how often I make God in my image instead of realizing it was God who made me in His image. This whole lifestyle thing is not easy and in the Western world it is even more difficult because most of us, myself included, believe the lies of society.

I wonder what would happen if Christ Followers began to adapt their lifestyle to reflect the lifestyle God longs for us to have. One where we lived within our means. Where we lived lives of sustainability. What would happen in our world if Christ Followers lived debt free, serving the poor, caring for the widows and orphans, living together in radical Biblical community and put God before all else. What might happen to our world if we were to live in close connection with God?

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I love the fact that when you are the writer you can make up words from time to time. I introduced the word communitarianism in my last post, and I wanted to take some time to expand on the idea a little more.

As I stated last, communitarianism is a middle ground between the individualism which drives American society and the unattainable ideals of Communism. Not to mention the fact that Communism leaves little to no room for God. For the communitarian a life goal is to see the community take a place of importance over the importance of the individual. At the same time the uniqueness of the individual must not be lost. The reason the individual must no be lost has nothing to do with the rights and desires of the individual, rather with being created by God. God has made each and every person with intimate knowledge. Part of that creation is strengths and weaknesses. To deny our strengths, and overlook our weaknesses is to deny the work of God in our lives. Likewise to use our strengths for only personal gain, would be to miss the point of community.

At the center of this ideal is a simple math equation. The whole is always greater than the sum of the individual parts. We are not created by God to be alone, we are not created for personal glory. Our creation is to function as a part of a people called our by God. Meaning our primary identity lies with the community of Christ, not the individual. Further this means your uniqueness is intended and needed in the community for the community to be whole. Without you and your participation in the community, whole suffers.

I guess in the end the biggest part of Communitarinism is the fact that this life I have been given is not about me. It is about something so much greater than any one individual. At the same time individuals need to be who God made them to be for the sake of the Body of Christ.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


From the time I was very young I was raised to be independent. I embraced this encouragement with great gusto and fervor. I have always been kind of my own person, with minimal influence from other people. I defiantly have had difficulty conforming to what others would want me to think and do. Now this independence causes me to wrestle with the issue of individualism.

I will be the first to admit the challenge of talking about individualism. On the one hand we can lose sight of the fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made to be ourselves. On the other hand it is easy to come off sounding like a proponent of Communism. I wonder if there is a middle ground we can call communitarianism (I made up the word to fit my purposes).

There is not much debate that we live in a me centered culture here in the United States, and we have begun to export this to other cultures and societies. In this me centered culture we have mistaken our independence for a license to do whatever it is that we want, or what feels best to us. Our primary determinate of right or wrong is an internal compass, which is determined by each individual. The end result is a society which the 'rights' and desires of the individual overrides the community. A further result is we fail to allow community standards influence our lives.

Here is an example. In new York State most of the major Interstate highways have a speed limit of 65mph. Have you ever driven just 65mph on one of these roads. Everyone is passing you, as if you were not even moving. Many, myself included, travel around 70-72mph. Others even faster. On the occasion someone is pulled over for speeding, is the response, well they caught me? No, most of the response is anger, or frustration, after all there were others going faster. Why were we singled out? Could it be we were breaking a community standard.

Now that is not a perfect example, but I think we can see how many of us do not like to submit to a community standard. Our personal agenda becomes the most important thing. I wonder if we can truly experience community with God if we are focused on ourselves above all else. Perhaps some the debates destroying the Body of Christ would simply go away if individualism decreased and communitarianism increased. What would happen if we were to truly follow the teaching of Christ which tells us to deny ourselves. What if the body of Christ became a community where following Jesus what the community standard, and the community was more important than the individual.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Practice Makes Perfect

Many might be familiar with the saying that practice makes perfect. When we think about things such as sports or music this thought comes easy. How about with our faith journey. Are we willing to put int the practice time, or would we rather spend some time in church, go to a few studies and call it good. Our reactions to difficult times often reveals our commitment level to practicing our faith.

When hard or difficult times cause us to function in questionably biblical ways, are we showing evidence that we have been practicing our faith, or simply going through the motions? I continue to read the book Amish Grace and I am struck by the profound display of forgiveness conducted by the Amish. Their display of forgiveness is not mindless or easy. Still, it is offered because of the deep practice of their relationship with God. Many have, and it is understandable, seen incredible acts of forgiveness to be empty, or a simple religious exercise with no actuality behind it. Could a perception of empty religion be more of an indictment of you and I than of the people we are levying the charge against.

There are plenty of times when it seem impossible to find a person, let alone a group of people, who so authentically live out their beliefs. Ah, and there is the conviction. I long to live in such a way that people are taken back by the authentic ways my life claims match my actual life. Whether it is forgiveness, or any other command of God, my life would be marked by a faith journey so authentic that Aaron is no longer seen, only God.