Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Battle of Pride

I was out of commission for a few days with illness, but now we return to the topic of Obsession. We are reminded by Francis Chan, "A person who is obsessed with Jesus knows that the sin of pride is always a battle. Obsessed people know that you can never be "humble enough" and so they seek to make themselves less known and Christ more known.". Wow this one is hard. In my lifetime I have grown up in a society which rewarded those who make themselves known. Humanity has always fallen prey to the allure of the superstar, and the church has tragically not been an exception to that.

There is a need to elevate people in the church to a superstar status. Billy Graham, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, just to name a few. In each of the church circles on travels there will be the "superstar' of those circles. In fact by using the quotes of Francis Chan I run the risk of elevating him to a place reserved only for Christ. I have not had opportunity to talk one-on-one with any of these men I have listed, in fact I am not sure I have ever spoken one-on-one with any of those that would be considered church world superstars. Yet, I have a hunch they walk the tightrope. Having read and heard Billy Graham, I know he recognizes the places God has taken him, yet he knows it is not about him, rather the God whom he serves. I would wager a guess that most of these superstars would say the same thing. However, I am also hoping the battle wages.

The reason I hope the battle wages for them is selfish in and of itself. I know the battle wages with in me. I dream of being a pastor God could use on a national scale to aid in the transformation of the church. In my good moments my ambition is for the kingdom of God. In the moments when I struggle and begin to lose the battle, my ambition is for my own greatness. The reality is, anything targeted at my own greatness has one name, pride. I believe it was Paul who said it is not longer I that live, rather it is Christ who lives in me. This means our lives are not our own. Any opportunity we have is given by God. The fact that those ready these words are stationed all around the globe, is nothing that I can accomplish.

Another stark reality is in earthly terms, I am an overweight, average pastor, in a small obscure community in Central New York. Like many I struggle to get by and make the proverbial ends meet. My faith journey is a constant battle of faithfulness and struggle, often more on the struggle side. Again in terms of earthly clout, not even really a blip on the radar screen. Now before anyone sends me a message about my self esteem, realize that I know that I have value, and matchless value at that, it is just not measured in earthly terms. I get the awesome privilege to impact eternity on a weekly basis, possibly more often than that. God gives me opportunity to speak, teach, and live in community with others. None of that is about me, it is about the God who beacons me, and leads me. When I lose sight of that, enter pride.

Those who are obsessed with Jesus know that life is not about them. Our primary identifier is not our status, or our prestige. We are identified as followers of Christ. This means all things go back to Christ. While the battle is constant, victory can be won, but only through losing. We must lose ourselves. Not diminishing what God is doing with and through our lives, just not elevating ourselves. Not deceiving ourselves into thinking it is us who is at work. I will close with the words of Howard Hendricks, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less." May we all radically pursue humility.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Doing the right thing is always advised. We teach children to do the right thing and hope they will do it. Most of us want to do the right thing, just sometimes we get confused about what that is. Today's obsession starting point brings this into focus. Francis Chan offers "Obsessed people are more concerned with obeying God than doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo. A person who is obsessed with Jesus will do things that don't always make sense in terms of success or wealth on this earth. As Martin Luther put it, There are two days on my calendar: this day and that day""

The drive to do what is right is often laden with self interest, either yours or someone who is advising you. A friend of mine once said the status quo is never neutral, it is always carefully crafted and protected by people's self interest. Persons who are obsessed with Jesus decide what is the right thing to do with a much different filter. Expectation and status quo while a force to be reckoned with, are not what determine their course of action. The very voice and call of God is what determines what is right.

Here is where the fun begins. The suicide bomber sincerely believes they have heard from God to go about their business. The Christians of the Crusades felt they were doing what the voice of God was calling. So how do we go about determining the voice of God. Well lets agree there is not the space or time here to even begin to develop that. The very abbreviated version is found The Sermon on The Mount, the section we have codified as the Lord's Prayer. Repeatedly we ask God to help us to yield to what God would want on earth, more than what we want. "Thy will be done, thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."

There are those moments when we clearly know God is calling us. If we are wondering whether to help the person we walk by who needs help, we do not need a long discernment process, simply help. It is more complicated when decades if not centuries have gone into carefully crafting a current status quo reality. We may hear the voice of God calling us to be the agent of change, but this is one we need to be sure of. Why? Because the cost is great both to the organization and to the individuals involved. People obsessed with Jesus Christ count the cost, seek after God for confirmation, not once but repeatedly. Then they act. There is the difference of the obsessed and the not, action. Obsessed people do not allow expectations and status quo keep them from pursuing God.

In the world of the church when we allow expectation and status quo to eat us up the results are tragic. In the end we end up with a nice church that does some good things, but is nothing more than a social club with crosses. Over time the status quo becomes entrenched, and any attempt to break from it it treated as not only an all out rebellion of the church, but against the very work of God. The end game here is death. Not of the body of Christ, not even the gated of Hades will prevail there, but local and institutionally the church will die. The organization which was initiated to represent the heights of freedom in Christ, will die imprisoned to the status quo of what has always been.

The way we avoid this fate is for there to be a rise of people obsessed with Jesus. Great moves of God begin when people decide to completely, and totally sell out to God through Jesus Christ. I wonder what would happen if today was the day that marked the gathering of the obsessed? What if today was the day we looked back upon and said that was the day everything changed? that was the day people obsessed with Jesus Christ began to walk in that way? I wonder?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ministry With The Poor

Today I continue the Obsessed series of entries. Once again we are working from the chapter titled "Profile of the Obsessed" in the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Today's profile maker is, "People who are obsessed with Jesus Christ live lives that connect them with the poor in some way or another. Obsessed people believe Jesus talked about money and the poor so often because it was really important to him."

Being a United Methodist pastor I do my best to keep us with the global initiatives of the church. In the recent years the General Church put forth the four focus points for the coming years. Among the four points is ministry with the poor. I was thankful for the wording of with the poor and not for the poor, and I continue to be thankful the church is putting its attention on an issue which was so close to the heart of Jesus. I am regretful that it required an international initiative to get the church to pay attention.

Theoretically the church should have a disproportionate number of people in it who are obsessed with Jesus Christ. This would mean that the people of the church would not only see the need for ministry with the poor, but would be leading the way across the world. I cannot help wonder about the state of our General Church, and our local churches is this had gotten out of focus. I know in my own life when I have wandered away from being obsessed with Jesus, my compassion and connection with the poor has suffered greatly. Could it be that our churches are filled with a disproportionate number of people who are not obsessed with Jesus Christ?

Before you enter that comment calling me all kinds of names, let me further complicate the issue. I have no right to judge the station of another persons heart. I do not sit in the judgment seat, and do not know the hearts and minds of humanity. I do however, have the ability to look at the fruit of my own life, and the life of this thing called the church. If the tree comes up empty there are some conclusions I can draw. For the General Church to make a global initiative of ministry with the poor, the conclusion is we have not been bearing fruit in this area. I understand the countless number of servants who willingly and sacrificially give of themselves to this end. Blanket statements are always dangerous. Still the evidence remains that those of us in the United Methodist Church, and other churches, have not been keeping consistent with the Biblical mandate when it comes to the poor.

Great energy is spent on church and conference budgets, when people right outside our doors are going without food. Millions of dollars are spent training people about the global crisis of poverty, instead of investing the money on ministry which would work at come alongside the poor. I think we are obsessed, I am just not convinced it is always with Jesus Christ. Ministry initiatives look nice in print materials, and they can help people feel good about their church, but will they change anything? Only if it begins with finding ways for the people of the church to become obsessed with Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is a social service project which will die once it runs its course. When we connect with the poor as an extension of being obsessed with Jesus, we develop a lifestyle, more than a program.

Should we be in ministry with the poor, absolutely. However, it should not be because it is an initiative of the church. Our desire and work with the poor should stem from being obsessed with Jesus Christ, and believing to the point of living it, that issues of economics and the poor really are important to Jesus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Comfort or Obsession

Today's jumping off point from Crazy Love is, "People who are obsessed with Jesus aren't consumed with their personal safety and comfort above all else. Obsessed people care more about God's Kingdom coming to this earth than their own lives being shielded from pain or distress."

I want to be real clear, I do not like this statement. Not because there is anything about it which is wrong, I simply do not like the implications for my life. My preference would be to have everything work to be nice and safe. That life would not have pain, suffering and struggle as a part of it. The problem is, life does not work that way. Still many of us are on a quest to make life as comfortable and pain free as possible. More than once I have declined a situation because I knew it would cause me discomfort or even pain. I am not proud of that, but the truth must be told.

From an early age we are encouraged by well meaning people to be safe in what we do. Now I am not recommending that we stop wearing seatbelts and that we drive recklessly. I am not suggesting that we jump from airplanes without a parachute. There are some areas where safety is recommended. The trouble is we begin to sacrifice the call of God for the sake of safety. There are situations and places God is calling you and to right now, but we would rather play it safe. I cannot go to Africa, I might be in danger. I cannot go here or there, trouble might result. Whenever we find ourselves in these conversations, we are choosing to trust our own understanding more than God's. We are saying that God does not know how to take care of me.

One of the craziest statements going is, "The safest place to be is in the center of God's will.". For a moment lets look at some of the people in Scripture who were in the center of God's will. Esther, standing up to the king who could have her killed, and had a track record with that. The Apostle Paul, beaten, left for dead more times than I breath in a day. Jesus, crucified after receiving the worst beating in history. Does that sound safe? They were all in the center of God's will, but they were not safe. They were at peace, and they were cared for by God, but they were not safe.

The person who is obsessed with Jesus realizes this life is not about them. God calls people into dangerous situations. The church in America is at in interesting crossroads. It has been sitting at this crossroads for nearly 50 years. The comfort once experienced is starting to fade. People are not just magically coming to churches like they once did. The church is now called to go out into places and situations which are not safe for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Still, many in the church remain paralyzed by comfort and their desire to be safe. Obsessed people are willing to sacrifice everything, comfort, safety, and life for the kingdom. Until individuals and churches begin being obsessed with Jesus and not their own comfort and safety, we will sit at the crossroads, idling until we run out of gas and the car dies.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's In It For Me?

Today we continue the series on being obsessed taken from the work of Francis Chan in Crazy Love. Our jumping off point is this quote, "People who are obsessed with Jesus give freely and openly without censure. Obsesses people love those who hate them and who can never love them back."pg 132.

We have all heard by now that it is better to give than receive. For the most part that has become a cliche that people really do not believe to be true. Increasingly people are willing to give as long as they get something in return. We will give to charities so we can receive the write off to our taxes. We will take someone out for lunch this time and next time they will buy. When an opportunity to give arises we can easily get into a cost benefit analysis. The root question in that moment is, what is in it for me? This is the driving question of capitalism, and the consumer driven world.

When was the last time you gave with no chance of getting anything in return? Isn't that the truest definition of sacrifice, giving without return. The person who is obsesses with Jesus models Jesus in giving to those who hated him, and to those who could not pay him back. Think about it, the religious leaders of his day, hated him. Through the centuries there have been people who very openly and publicly have expressed their hatred and denial of Jesus. He died them. How about you and I? Can we ever repay Jesus for his sacrifice on the cross? I think not. He still did it knowing there was no way possible that we could repay him.

In the world of the church it is easy to thing about serving those who can benefit the church. If many pastors are honest that is why they engage in congregational care, because they do not want the people to get made and not contribute to the church. Many people give to the church financially and otherwise and expect in return the church will take care of them. We are back to the what's in it for me question again.

I wonder what would happen if people became obsessed? If people began to serve others, no strings attached, and the only hope is that they would themselves become obsessed? I wonder what would happen if people began to give freely and openly of their time, talents and treasures to the people they hate, or those that cannot pay them back? Is it possible to do away with the what's in it for me question all together? Yes, but it will mean being obsessed with Jesus more than ourselves. I believe this is not only possible, I believe this is already in the works. As more and more people repel the consumeristic faith of the past century, and begin to recapture the ways of Jesus this is happening.

May we all become obsessed with Jesus, give freely and openly. May we be so obsessed that we follow the lead of Jesus and give to those who hate us, and to those who cannot repay us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Welcome back, oh wait I guess that would be for me. It has been nearly two months since I have written here. I could come up with many excuses, but won't, just plain haven't been writing.

Over the last few days I have read the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. This is a good book and worth the time to read it. In chapter 8 Chan outlines a profile of a person who is obsessed with God. This has had a significant impact on me so I thought I would share it with all who are willing to read. Here comes the first disclaimer, I write not as someone who has figured out how to be obsessed with God. I write as a person engaged in the struggle to be obsessed. Perhaps you are in the struggle too, and perhaps we can struggle together.

If we are going to look at what in means to be obsessed with God we had better create a baseline for the word obsessed. The American Heritage Dictionary offers, To have the mind excessively preoccupied with a single emotion or topic, as a working definition. This definition challenges, haunts, and makes me want to give up at the start. We live in a culture that tells us we do not need to be excessively preoccupied with anything. In fact it is probably not healthy to be that way with anything. Yet we are challenged to be obsessed with God.

To be obsessed with God has many implications for our lives. Most of these implications will require us to re-order our lives. The things which have classically been held as most important, might have to come down on the priority list. To be obsessed with God means a total devotion to the ways and being of God. Over the next few weeks I will be using the markers laid out by Francis Chan to explore what it might look like to be obsessed with God. Please feel free to join in the dialogue as I am hoping to discover something along the way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Flying Leap

As a participant of the Institutional church the meeting inevitable goes like this. A new idea is presented. Said idea is then run through the wringer, and out comes a little dryer version, with a little less risk, a little more stability and predictability, but still riskier than usual. From there the discussion will turn to it being a good idea, yet being impossible to do. We have not do it before, how are we going to pay for it, what if it doesn't work, all code words for I do not want to risk trusting God. Some might say that is too harsh, yet the reality remains, we shrink back from the possible for the sake of safe and known.

For centuries the church has been locked in the safe and comfortable place of Christendom. Especially in the Western world, Christianity has been at the center of the society and culture. The result is a church which has become impotent. Funny how our struggle to maintain power and control has resulted in losing both. This Christendom setting has fostered safe and measured communities, and when someone steps out of the mold the price is usually pretty high. How do we break away from the pattern? Many have chosen to leave the Institutional church behind for something else, often not having anything to do with the church, or even a journey with Christ. Is the another option?

In the Christendom era the church is trapped in, the change will not be a top down, or reformation from the top, process. It must be something from within. I resist using the term grassroots as Christendom has co-opted the term and rendered it nearly useless. Rather it will come from people who respectfully as possible push past the stagnation. People who are willing to take a flying leap. To risk big. As more people begin to risk stepping outside the normal, the always has been, something profound happens. Like it or not institutions are forced to deal with the decision to change, or die.

Now it would be easy to write this missive and remain stagnant. This would be exactly how Christendom would like me, and us to respond. Through prayer, discernment, in the midst of fear and hesitation, the time has come to jump. Actually we are well past the time to jump, but I think it is time to actually clear the edge. I am not sure what that means, and I am not sure where it will take me, but I cannot allow myself to remain captive. I must move forward.

I would invite any and all who are reading this to offer their thoughts, ideas and response the the above. Additionally, I wonder if I am the only one who is ready. Please share the stories of how God is pushing you to the edge.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What God is Doing

I am amazed at how we are people who live in the past. The events, circumstances and what was tend to hold us captive. In the life of the church we do this with a depth of connection to the past that is staggering. When we get confused, stressed or just are not sure what to do, we look at what God has done in the past. Then we go on to recreate or reconstruct the situation and circumstances based on how God has acted in the past. Most of life as a pastor has wrestled with this longing of people to go back to what was. This week as I was reading an insightful book by Tim Keel titled Intuitive Leadership, and the light went on.

I celebrate and am thankful for the ways in which God has been at work in the past. I would not be a follower of Christ today if it were not for the work of God in ages past. Now that we have reached a time and place when our world, more specifically the United States, is at a confusion point, people are out of sorts. The culture in which the church exists is very different than it has been in the past. The most common way through this is to look at what God has been doing. As Keel suggests with great mastery through the account of 1 Samuel 4, it is time to start seeking what God is doing right now.

Our God is a God of creativity, remember that is how we first encounter this God in scripture as creator. In the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of the present age, we should look for what God might be doing new in our midst. Going back to recreate what was does not mean that it was wrong, or bad, yet it might not be what God is doing this time. In fact on the extreme side of it going back can create idols without even realizing it. The activities, artifacts and actions of our past are not in and of themselves the point, it is the God who we meet in the midst. The God of creation, who continues to create and develop to this day.

The actions and practices which brought us this far hold great significance, still they cannot move us to the next place. I wonder what would happen if we the people of God began to ask what God is doing and listen for an answer, rather than telling God to act like the last time. What is God doing in our midst?

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Center

Yesterday at church I asked an important question, what is the center of your universe? What is it that all other things revolve around? The answers varied from God, to family, to food, to money and other things. The answer I would like to give every time is to say that Jesus is the center of my universe, the reality is this is not always true. I have found when I take Jesus out of the center, my life begins to fall apart. Jesus is still there, loving me, forgiving me, and wanting to guide me. but I have pushed him to the side.

This is a Lordship problem. I like to thing about Jesus as my Savior. The one who forgives my sins, who paid the price for me. Discomfort comes into play when I think about Jesus as Lord. If Jesus is Lord, the center of my life, I will do what Jesus wants. If Jesus is Lord in my life, it means what I want does not really matter. One thing I have learned is I am a control freak, I like my life to play out as I planned it. When Jesus is Lord, control freaks have a problem, because he is in control, not us.

While it is difficult to do, all are called to have Jesus not just as Savior, but as Lord. Moment by moment we must submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Constantly we must be making sure that it is Jesus who our universe revolves around. There can only be one center to our lives. Jesus will step aside when we put something else in there. Still the point will come when we must once again decide to put Jesus in the center. The reality is, when Jesus is not the center of our lives, we are not followers of Jesus. we are chosen to be followers.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Modern Day Idols

Look around at churches today. Many that are not on the newer side, even some that are, are filled with all kinds of stuff. There are the multi-thousand dollar stained glass windows. The precious altars, pulpits and other worship furniture. Going room by room there are sacred cows which hold a mystical power over people. Items which hold more value than they should. Often as pastors we joke about the challenges of replacing the carpets in a church because of the fight over what color and style etc... because the carpet that is there seems to carry a significance beyond carpet. We joke because if we do not we will cry. The stuff in our buildings is simply that stuff, yet we tend to elevate its standing to become god.

As I spend more time in this thing called the church, I find more and more people whos god is the stuff in the church, and they miss a connection with the true God. Throughout the journey of humanity this has happened. Some would argue it started with the Golden Calf in Exodus. Throughout time people have made objects and stuff their god. Whenever stuff replaces God it is called idolatry. Idolatry is one of the big 10 we are to stay away from. Yet it seems the faith of many has deteriorated, or possibly never grown beyond that point.

Everyday I become more convinced one of the worst things for the church is stuff. Property drains resources for mission, things create traps for idolatry. More church arguments and conflicts arise over the stuff of the church. Wouldn't it be great is our disagreements were over things that really mattered. I hear people cry for revival, I too long for a renewing of the Spirit in the world today. Before this can happen it we as people will need to destroy our modern day idols, and return to the source. The time has come for us to once again fall in love with the true God, not stuff.

Monday, August 31, 2009


For those who are regular readers of this blog, you have noticed a long silence through the month of August. It is not because I am done writing, or that God is done working with me, rather it is because I took and extended time away. I took a long overdue rest. During the time away, God showed and spoke many things to me. One of the loudest voices was in the area of rest.

Those who share a passion and zeal for God share in a common problem, we have a hard time stopping. Our whole lives become wrapped up in the ministry God has put before us. This is not a bad thing, in fact I think that is what God desires from all of us. The problem comes in with our in ability to seek and practice rest. To take time apart one for physical rest, two for a mental, emotional and spiritual rest. This does not mean we take a vacation from God, in fact it means more intensely connecting with God. Rest means taking a break from all the other pieces of ministry and mission, to focus more completely on God and the priorities of God.

If you are leading a ministry or mission and you are convinced you cannot step away, it is time to take your pride to the altar. If you cannot stop, and your whole life is defined by going on to the next place people need you, again it is time to go to the altar with that pride. it doesn't mean we step away from God, and it doesn't mean we stop working for the Kingdom. It means we catch our breath.

It is possible to become too obsessed with the rest or time away. Many gifted and talented persons forfeit great works of God because of an unwillingness to press through. Still there are times when God offers us the opportunity to rest, do we take it? For those who pastor, the church will be fine. For those who support a pastor, encourage the pastor, and lead in covering the gaps. As I come back from a month of rest, I am feeling foolish for not doing this before. My passion has returned, my anxiety is low, and focus is sharp. By taking time away, I will be more effective in the mission of God than if I would have simply pushed through.

May we all have a pattern of rest.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Discerning Prayer

Prayer is one of the most acclaimed of the spiritual disciplines, and rightfully so as it is the primary conversation tool between humanity and God. Still this is one the disciplines I and many others have struggled with through the years. More than simply sharing with God what is on our hearts, and really hard, listening for what is on God's heart, there is the times of discernment. Prayers of discernment can be some of the most difficult to work through. Why because it has to do with a choice and a future. When a choice and a future are a part of the equation, there is a lot of room for human desire to slip in.

Right now the church I serve is in the midst of discerning some next steps. The join is I have wonderful leaders with a passion and heart for God. The challenge is we are all very driven people with our own ideas of what the church should be about. The work of discernment will involve sifting through our own stuff, so we can see clearly what God is calling the church to next. More than that, we will have to sift through all the good ideas, along with the great ideas to get to the one which God is calling us toward.

Discerning prayer is not a simply one day or one month activity. No, discerning prayer is a long haul discipline where we allow God to speak to us, and allow God's desire become our desire. This means a process of hearing and checking. Hearing what God has called, and checking over time and place to see if we have heard accurately. What might seem like God speaking this morning, might look differently two mornings from now.

A second component to discerning prayer is the need to be done in community. When discerning the next place God is calling, we must trust God to speak to all those discerning not just me. There must be a group of people who are engaged in the same process. The ideas that rise up, if the calling of God, will all come together without sales pitches or argument. Simply God will call and we will discern.

As one might guess this is not an easy or short process, yet it is the kind of work which moves the Body of Christ to the next places. This is the kind of work churches must be willing to do if the mission is going to be accomplished. In case you were wondering, the mission is to go make disciples of Jesus Christ. May we all be willing to do the work of discernment.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Perfect Church

As a pastor I get to meet many people who are looking for a church. From time to time I find people who are forthright enough to tell me they are shopping for a church. This concept use to drive me absolutely crazy. In many ways it does because it is very consumer based in its language even if not in practice. I also get to interact with people who have spent their whole life in the church and have some specific understandings of what the church should be. The conclusion I have come to is people are in search of the perfect church.

For a long time now I have said the perfect church is the one you attend only once. As is often found out the more we learn about the church the more we become aware of the challenges. I have taken time to ask people what their perfect church looks like, and how it would function. The answers are far and wide, inward and outward. What is the perfect church and how do I find it? Well the perfect church does not exist this side of the return of Christ.

All churches, no matter what our impression, or how much we think they are doing it right, have a common denominator which keeps them from perfection, humanity. Yes the church is God given, and established by Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, however it has been entrusted to the minds, hearts, souls and beings of humanity. At the risk of being too much like Calvin, humanity is lost, his words totally depraved. The reality is, we are fallen and imperfect. Still the God has entrusted to humanity this thing called the church, and with stunning regularity we mess it up.

So, what are we to do in the in between? Follow God with all you have. Churches will come and go, some will fit our fancy and some will not. There is not a church out there that will meet all our criteria all the time. What matters is are we following what God has called us to? Pastors are not the only ones who are called to come and go from churches, I think we are all called to radically follow the wind of the Spirit and go where we are called. This will mean the death of the 50 year member of churches. Great fear comes from that thought for many. for some, like myself, there is something exciting about watching the Spirit of God move. We must remember it is not about our little local church, it is about the Body of Christ, the real church, the Bride that will be claimed at the return. Then and only then will experience perfection in the church.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mission and Values

Every church has a mission which is guiding it. This might not be a stated or even known mission, nonetheless it is a mission. A mission is most simply defined as what a church does. Along with the mission are values which a church holds. Once again these are both spoken and unspoken. Thrown in with the mission and values is the vision, what is the next step for the church in accomplishing the mission. These three work together, but they do not ensure movement to the mission.

For example, a church could be following all the values with great excellence, and still not accomplishing the mission. Without noticing a church can elevate the values ahead of the mission. When there is a diffusion of the mission focus, there needs to be a focus, that is usually on the values. Now not all people hold the same level of importance on all the same values. The tendency is to hypefocus on one value and hold it up as the key to the church. This will cause the church to decline and die.

The mission is the foundation of what drives the church, over the long haul. The values and the vision work to support the vision, but they are not more important than the vision. The role of the leader is to help the church remain focused on the mission to which God is calling them. This will require attention to the values and the sharing of a vision. Still the mission must be the thing which all other aspects comeback to. The mission is what the church is all about and the values and the vision are how the mission will be recognized. What is your focus?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mecentric Faith

The great cry of the evangelical church has been the need for individuals to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While I think every single person must decide what they are going to do with and about Jesus, no where do I find the concept of a personal relationship with Jesus in the scriptures. When someone comes into a relationship with Jesus, it is done in the context of community. In fact more often than not when someone has a life changing encounter with Jesus, they are restored to a community from which they had been estranged. Still there is a focus on the individual relationship.

The results of this individual focus has reached tragic proportions. The life of the church has been greatly impacted by the individual focus. More and more people are only concerned with what they experience and what they get from their interaction with church. Lost are the days of being concerned for others and how they might find their way into community with God and other followers of Christ. The media all around us does not help in this struggle. Marketers, and scriptwriters help to focus each person on themselves. At an alarming rate there are people who live life like it really is all about them, and only them.

Even more dangerous than what happens in the church is what happens with our relationship with God. When we are 'me' focused we start to think life is about me, and should happen on the terms I set forth. This line of thinking is completely and totally out of line with the teachings of Scripture. In Mark's Gospel we find Jesus declaring, "If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34). The times when we fail to do this we make ourselves to be god. When we make ourselves god, we often end up growing apart from the true God.

No where in all of Scriptures do I find evidence that our relationship with God is only about us. Our faith and journey are always to go beyond the "me" zone. Denying ourselves goes against all that is within us and around us, yet that is what it takes to encounter Jesus in the deepest levels. This will mean putting aside my own hopes, dreams and desires, exchanging them for the call of God for the community of God.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ridiculous Pace

I have been taking more time lately to return to one of my long time favorite activities. I like to find a comfortable place to sit, a good cup of coffee and a view of people. When I was a senior in high school we had to complete a form of an ethnography. Essentially we would sit in the same place at various times of day and watch what people did. A log of all the activity was created. After several days of watching and recording observations, we were to make some conclusions about the setting we have studied. Recently I have been doing some studying and observing, and now have conclusions.

The most outstanding feature I have found is the pace at which people exist. From the way people walk down the street, to the way in which they eat their lunch. It can be seen in the conversations people have and their willingness, or lack there of, to stand in line. It seems life is continuing to speed up and we as humans in North America, are stuck in a life of ridiculous pace. I understand not every person and people group suffers from this, still by and large I am finding an increasing number of people who are.

As I watch the pace of life we are living I cannot help wonder what the impact is on our relationship with God. There are times when God moves us at a high rate of speed, by in large however, we run faster than God. People suffer disjointed and disconnected lives and the common solutions is to do more at a higher rate of speed. From where I sit I cannot see that as a solutions that is working. At the end of the hectic week we find ourselves exhausted, frustrated and distant from God, only to find the week ahead is more of the same.

This ridiculous pace gets lived as a search for importance, meaning and significance. In the end we are just lost. I know in my life and in the lives of those around me, it is time to slow down rather than speed up. The time has come to eliminate from my life the things which are not what God would have me do. This will mean saying good bye to good things, godly things, in order to focus all of my energy and effort on what God is calling me to. Perhaps it is time for you to do the same.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Designer God

There is not much debate about the teachings of Scripture that we, humanity, are created in God's image. In this we get clearly God is creator and we are created. Still there is an interesting, some would say alarming, trend taking place among humanity, we are creating God in the image we want to see. Not only have the roles of creator and created been reversed, but the buffet has been opened and each person may pick and choose what God will look like and be to them. In this process humanity has created not one God, rather several designer versions.

Now there is a great struggle here because God is bigger than any one understanding, and God connects with people where they are at. This allows for each person to have a unique experience of God. At the same time, God is not limited by one person's experience, and one person's experience does not show the totality of God. In the midst of this tension we end up with a God that has become a designer God. A God where we manipulate the image of God to meet our lives.

The time has come to remember who the creator is and who the created are. When we find our lives, feelings, and desires do not match with our understanding of God, it is not God who needs an image makeover. Yes God is bigger than we can imagine, at the same time not every image and understanding of God is accurate. How are we to know then if we are inbounds or out? Seek God with all we have and all we are.

How I understand God today is very different than how I understood God ten years ago. It is not God who has changed, it is my understanding. Rather than create a designer God, who looks like I want, I am working on becoming a designer person, who looks like the creator wants. This means putting into practice the words, "Thy will be done". Over the years this has meant change in my life, thinking and practice. This has meant I do not always know what is best for me. This has meant some of the things I really want to do and think I should do, I have had to deny myself. Fore it is not unto us that God lives, it is unto God that we live.

Monday, July 6, 2009

God Exists For Us

From time to time those who follow Christ develop a distorted view of God. This distortion can have tragic consequences is left uncorrected. The way we view God matters, in fact folks like A.W. Tozer remind us the way we view God is the most important thing in our lives. Our individual lives suffer when we have a distorted view of God, more significant, the church of Jesus Christ suffers when the people of God have a distorted view.

The way this distortion shows up is in the way we see who was created for who. Was God created for us, or were we created for God? When the visual distortion continues the people of the church begin to think it is God who exists for them. That it is God's job to serve us, meet our needs and do what we tell God to do. We are real good at putting this in religious terms, and sounding holy and righteous. Still in the end it is the same, we are trying to tell God what to do.

The reality which clears up our vision problem is that we are created by God and we exist for God. The follower of Christ, and the church of Jesus Christ exist for one reason and one reason alone, to serve God and God alone. The question of what's in it for me, is not to be a part of the vocabulary. Church members do have rights and privileges, actually they have one right and one privilege, to serve God with all that we are and all we have.

Those of us in the church have lost sight of who the church exits for. It does not exist for humanity. The church exists for God, and is build with humanity to embody the kingdom of God here on earth. It is not about our personal desires and the way we think things should happen, it is about the call of God. The church of Jesus Christ exists to serve God period. No more, no less.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Revolution or Evolution

I have just started reading the book, "Take The Next Step" by Lovett H. Weems Jr.. In the introduction Weems contrasts change via revolution and change via evolution. While not mutually exclusive the two are set up in tension. This got me thinking, there have been times of development in the natural world as well as the developed world that revolution has been the necessary evolution. Small incremental change is still change, yet there are times when the system needs the great shock of revolution.

Now the stated concern about change via revolution is the break in continuity with the past and the people of the past. My challenge to that concern is there are times when a radical break from what has gotten us to this point is exactly what is needed. The evolution of change, remembering not all change is beneficial or leading to health, can bring us to the point where it is the very past and continuity which is causing the problem.

Do I think that is where we are at in the church? Yes and no. Do I feel like there needs to be a revolution yes. Do I feel like we need to throw everything out, no. There are structures, mindsets and practices of the church which no matter what their historical continuity need to be abandoned. This will be a difficult and pain filled process. Still if this does not happen the witness of God through the church will be greatly diminished. At the same time we must remember the roots of who we, the called and sent people of God, are. Jesus Christ remains the center and head of the church. God remains to be the ultimate direction of all activity of the church, and the Holy Spirit continues to be our guide, counselor and empowerer.

The evolution of the church has brought us to the point where half measures will result in just that, half measures. The time has come for the next step to be a radical change in the church. This may not be popular by all, change rarely is. To accomplish this change will require leaders willing to step out, and lead the church into the next steps. This will require leaders who will build collaboration and community in ways that the kingdom of God will be not only talked about but experienced by a broken and hurting world.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Half Empty or Half Full?

It has been said there are two kinds of people in the world, those who see the glass half empty and those who see the glass as half full. Also known as those who are optimists and those who are pessimists. As I go about this journey called life, I find there are people who would be doing well to see the glass as half empty, I have come across people who are not sure there is anything in the glass all together.

The issues is not whether the glass is half empty or full, or what level the contents of the glass are all together. The issue is why in the world are we looking at the glass, when there is a fountain available? Church people tend to be the most pessimistic people I know, how tragic is this. It would be easy to say that those who follow Jesus Christ should be glass half full people. I say forget the glass all together and drink from the fountain. The fountain of living water which flows from the grace of Jesus Christ.

Glasses and cups are so limiting, and the grace of God cannot be contained in such vessels. I wonder what would happen in the people of Christ stopped worrying about the level of the contents, and started drinking deep from the fountain? Would it me a renewed sense of hope? Would it mean a re-shaped sense of calling? Would people, not just those in the church, find streams of living water once again?

I say put down the glass. Check that, shatter the glass so we won't go back to it. Drink deep from the fountain of God. Fall in love with God once again. Follow God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. For those who are in Christ the future holds only hope and promise. Hard times will come, and hard times will go, but God will remain. When we drink from the fountain, we are filled with hope, grace and love. No glass on the planet can contain what the fountain offers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Leadership Commitment

Many have said it and John Maxwell is often given credit for saying the local church is the hope of the world and it rises and falls on leadership. Plain and simple leadership is where progress is found and driven. Yet there are many who shy away, or outright shirk, this responsibility. The reality is, of leaders do not step to the plate and lead the mission of God through the church suffers greatly.

It must be said however, leadership requires commitment. Leaders must have a vision, and be committed to seeing that vision into reality. Along the way there will be great testing and tribulation. Not everyone will think the vision is a good idea. Not everyone will be willing to sacrifice for the vision to come into being. More than likely at some point the leader will be criticized and possibly threatened. A leader must stay the course, they must have a commitment to a new reality.

How is this possible? First stay deeply connected with God. The single most important thing a leader does in their day is to engage in practices which foster connection of their heart with the heart of God. Second, Allow God to shape you, the vision and the possibilities. Third, secure support from a small group of people who will support, encourage and pray with you. Finally, commit your life and breath to the vision God has put in front of you.

In writing this I have run the classic risk. Some will read this and think right on. Others will see the missing pieces and focus there. No matter what, agree or disagree, there will be no difference if there is not a commitment to leadership. I wonder if there are people who are willing to commit all their being, and God-given life, to the pursuit of leading the people of God, all people, into being the present, anticipating Kingdom of God?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Court of Public Opinion

One of the greatest things about people is they all have and opinion. One of the most challenging thing about people is they all have an opinion. Over the past few months I have listened to the talk show people complain about our President, it seems like only a year ago they were complaining about the President, only it is a different President. The realization I have come to is the President of the United States needs to make the decisions they think best for the country. Obviously not everyone is going to like the decisions. There are polls which measure the response to decisions, but the president does not ask public opinion before making the decision.

In the world of the church decisions need to be made all the time. The frequency might be on par with the frequency of decisions the President makes. Whereas the weight of the decisions is very different. Still there are decisions to be made. Some people will like the course of action and others will not. Most of the time we do not need to take a poll of church people to find the people who do not like the decisions. Since conflict makes most in the church uneasy at best, many have endeavored to short circuit the process by doing an opinion poll ahead of time.

I took some time over the past few days to look at the models used in scripture when making decisions among the followers. Only once does Jesus take a public opinion poll, even then he asks the 12, "Who do the people say I am?". The early church elders, Peter, James etc... when deciding the matter of circumcision did not ask the people what they thought would be best. Rather they went to prayer, discussion and debate among the elders. Once the course was decided it was handed down, enacted and people could choose how they felt about it. If fact I struggled to find any place in the New Testament church where followers of Christ used the court of public opinion to determine what happens next. Now the religious leaders used public opinion often, including when they crucified Jesus.

So what are we to do in the church. People matter, not from the standpoint of being consumers in our religious goods and services business. They matter because of being a creation of God. Yet we as humanity do not always know what is in our own best interest. This is where church leadership comes in. Not through a single autocrat, but through a team of people, the vision and direction of the church forms. Decisions are made through prayer, conversation and debate among the leadership, and then enacted with the congregation. The court of public opinion will more often than not result in a stuck church, which does not follow the spirit of God, rather follows the desires of humanity.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Do You Believe?

The last few days I have been reading The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. One of the points they make about leading an organization is the need of the leader to believe. The leader must believe the vision is a possibility. Any of you who are regular readers know I spend a lot of time writing and speaking about the need to reform the church again. In every fiber of my being I feel the church needs to function differently than it currently is. This last weekend I had to wrestle with the question, "Do I believe this can happen?". Do I really believe the church can be reformed, can the church transform itself in order to transform the world for the sake of Jesus Christ?

This is what I call a first order question. My whole life, mission and ministry has been centered around being a prophetic voice in the church. If I do not believe it to be possible, my life and effort have been in vain. Additionally, if I do not believe it to be possible, it is time to do something else in life. If transformation is going to come it is going to take leaders who really believe it is possible for the church to be different. Right now the United Methodist Denomination is inviting people to ReThink church. This will only matter if two conditions are true; one, if people see the need to rethink, two, if there are leaders who believe it matters to rethink the church.

Saying we believe is not enough, we must embody this belief. From every square inch of our lives we must exude believe in the vision of a transformed church. This cannot be false or pretend, we must have this belief become the very fabric of our life.

So the question remains, do I believe? Answer, yes. Not only do I believe, I am confident the Lord is using this generation of people to bring about a new reformation. To this I commit my life, mission and ministry.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Afraid of Excellence

Lately I have been reading books on Leadership based completely in the business world. I am often told I should only be reading books from the church world, but if you are going to read about leadership the pool in the Christian world can be rather shallow. That is for another day. What I have noticed is the striving for excellence. In no uncertain terms, excellence matters, and it begins with the work of leadership. Yet in the church we sacrifice excellence at the altar of mediocrity.

There are some clear indicators of when excellence is being sacrificed. If a idea is met with a phrase that begins with, well.... you know excellence is going to lose. Phrases such as the way we have always, or we have never, these all subordinate excellence. Whenever the conversation turns to finances, excellence is going to lose.

On the other hand there are some indicators of excellence having a place at the table. When words like opportunity, creative or possibility are a part of the conversation, excellence has a chance. If there is not such thing as a problem only an opportunity to see God work, excellence has a chance. When business as usual is challenged and possibly disregarded, excellence is given root.

For the church of Jesus Christ to be what it is called to be, the living, breathing, present anticipation of the kingdom of God, excellence must be a part of the dialogue. Good enough is not good enough, we should be bringing our very best. The only thing God has held back form us is the punishment we deserve for the ways we treat each other and God. Other than that God has held nothing back from humanity. Yet we hold back from God all the time. It is easy to put forth enough effort to get God off our back, but that is not what God is looking for. All the gifts, talents and abilities we have, are gifts from God. They were given to us to do something great. To live with excellence. Why do we settle for less?

I hear many people looking for more out of their relationship with God. I have now begun to ask not only what are you putting into the relationship, but what is the quality of what you are putting into it. Are we giving God the very best we have? Excellence is not an objective term, I realize. The baseline however, is offering the very best we have to offer. In human terms this may leave us short yet, ah but with God, the rest is the work of the divine.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Its An Epidemic

A few weeks ago every news outlet was filled with information about the Swine Flu, or H1N1 virus. Interestingly over the past few weeks we have shuffled that to the background as old news. The virus is still infecting people, in fact the numbers are growing, only now it is old news. There is another epidemic lose in our world that receives the same treatment. It is not something doctor's diagnose. It is not something which requires quarantine. It is not a new epidemic. I call it meitis(me-itis). This is a condition where it becomes virtually impossible for a person to take their eyes off themselves.

While a good portion of the world suffers from meitis, the most pervasive outbreak seems to be in the church in America. We have become so accustom to life being tailored to our standards, desires, hopes and dreams that we have lost sight of anything outside ourselves. Oh, in the church we have learned to put the right words to it so it sounds like concern for others, yet it really is about me. I am often overwhelmed by the number of people who share with me the ways the life of the church is not fitting what they want, or how the church should be specializing to them. The people refereed to are not new followers, the claim to people who are mature in their journey. Yet they are looking for the church and I suspect God, to be personally tailored to them.

Problem, that is not how Jesus ever portrayed live to be. Over and over Jesus showed how his followers were people who looked to God first, and themselves last. Meitis would not have been tolerated, just ask the rich young ruler, ask James and John who wanted seats of honor. Meitis causes us to think we should have a designer faith, like there is a religious buffet spread before us and we can pick an choose based on our likes and dislikes. Not once considering there might be more to life than me.

If the epidemic is not addressed the church of Jesus Christ will become a lifeless place of competing personal agendas. Everyone will want it their way, and to have everything meet their approval. Mark 8 reminds us we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross, this is where we begin to find the cure. But the medicine is not real fun because we might have to change and not be the person of primary importance in our lives.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Price of Change

As I read through the Scriptures I continue to be impacted by the way change agents are treated. It started with the prophets, continued to Jesus, and lived on through out the remainder of the New Testament. When we extend beyond the Biblical era, we find history shows the cruel to of humanity to humanity when change is the agenda. Whenever someone has challenged the status quo of the world there have been some who have been encouraged by the challenge and others who have been threatened.

It is easy to not like those who have been threatened, those who would persecute change agents. Before we run down that road too far it is important to understand why people feel threatened by change. I am learning that most people do not like the uncertainty of the unknown. Often people want to know if everything is going to work out if we try this new thing. Another option is the challenge of comfort. Change causes people to intentionally move out of their area of comfort and into a new reality. This is not an easy task. Others are threatened because they just plain do not like what is happening. Still others are threatened because they feel they have something to lose, power, control, influence etc....

As a change agent when we encounter the resistance there is a choice to be made. Do we stop and allow things to go on as is, or do we push ahead knowing conflict and struggle lie ahead. Change always comes at a price. The change agent will expend many resources to help usher change. In a church setting, change will often result in people leaving. People saying some harsh words. Lose of revenue, and more. The will be a cost, and we should understand that at the outset. Still it should not keep us from forging ahead.

The reality is, even if there is not change, the cost will be the same. The only difference is the end result will be death. A slow agonizing death. Change comes with a price, yet it brings life. Especially in the church. Throughout the Biblical record and into the rest of history, those who have counted the cost and were willing to incur the cost, brought new life. It is time for change agents, modern day prophets, to step to the plate.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Redefining Pastor

These days I am thinking a lot about what the role and job description of a pastor is. As many people as you ask, different answers will be found. The greatest factor I have found in how people understand the pastor is age. Understand this is not an exclusive or exhaustive study, only what I have experienced in my corner of the world and life.

For those who have mainline church connection from before 1960, the view of the pastor is very different than those from 1960 to 1990. Likewise when we move from the 90's to present there is yet another understanding. Before taking a brief look at each area I need to communicate this is not about right or wrong, rather it is about the changing era, and the reconnection of what it means to be a servant leader to the people of God.

For those connected to the church pre-1960 the pastor is viewed in some specific roles. In this grouping the pastor is seen as a care giver. Pastoral care is often seen as the most important role of the pastor. Being nice is a premium, it is acceptable to sacrifice missional development for the sake of keeping people happy. With this era of understanding the pastor functions more as a chaplain, than a leader. The image of the shepherd and the flock is key among this group. The primary role of the pastor is to care for those who are members of the church, and the church was focused around the pastor.

The next 30 years, 1960-1990, the pastor was the purveyor of spiritual goods and services. Consumerism exploded in the church and the pastor was there to provide for the programs, classes and worship services people were looking for. Pastors became more entertainer than care-giver. The seeker driven model was established and focus was placed outside the membership of the church. Congregations were pushed to care for each other, and invite others to meet Jesus. The primary role of the pastor was to equip the members seek the lost, and the church was still focused around the personality of the pastor.

Once we hit the 1990's the baby boomer bubble was beginning to burst. New generations of people emerged looking for more than goods and services, and looking for more than a nice pastor who would be their chaplain. The understanding of the pastor pushed for the recapturing of the pastoral office. Highly relational, there was not a need for someone to care for them, they had that covered. No longer would programs and rote responses work. Members, used loosely, wanted someone who could guide them in the process. A leader who would lead, who would answer questions and wrestle with life's tough questions. Thinker and scholar were reclaimed, not as a giver of knowledge, rather as a coach pointing to sources of knowledge. The primary role of the pastor is to challenge and guide people on the journey, and the church focused around knowledge and debate.

It is time once again to redefine the pastor. The pastor as chaplain model resulted in an ingrown church with very little witness to Jesus Christ. The Boomer church was high on witness to Jesus Christ, but shallow in depth. The post-boomer church focused on relationship, but lost sight of the Jesus behind it all. The church of today and tomorrow needs leaders who will recapture the essence of church. Pastor as leader, as teacher, as guide into mission. The most important thing a pastor can do today is live a live deeply rooted in Jesus Christ, and lead others to do the same. This will mean those locked in a different era will become discontent with pastors who lead for a new reality. Pastors must break out of outdated molds. It will do not good to rethink church, if we do not redefine pastor.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Are You Transformed?

Yesterday was big fun in our congregation. We celebrated, some were seen dancing, clapping and generally connecting with God in deep ways. As we moved to the teaching time of our gathering, I found myself ready to issue a challenge. What difference has Jesus and the Holy Spirit made in your life.

It seems week in and week out people all over the world attend services. They sing, pray, hear a sermon etc. then go home to continue their daily business. It is almost as if we lose sight of what is really happening. Engagement with a church community on Sunday morning becomes an empty ritual that is more of a to do on the list, than a opportunity to meet God and continue the transformation. The most common error for many is to see church as mere information. I can give the congregation books if it is about information. The times when we gather as the community of God, should move us to further transformation. We should live differently because we have spent time with God and each other.

There is a two pronged responsibility to the continued work of transformation. First, the leadership of a church needs to be able to create an environment for transformation. Second, each person must be willing to engage the journey of transformation. Only when these two things are present and functioning can the church be a place of transformation.

This is not about style, music or any of that trivial stuff. It is about people yielding their lives to the work and mission of God. Allowing ourselves to be transformed by an encounter with God. If you are feeling un-effected by the gatherings at your church, perhaps it is time to look at which one of the prongs is out of step. However, recognition is only part of it. There must be a willingness to change.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Filled For What

Today is the day on the Christian calendar when we celebrate Pentecost. It is the celebration of when the promised Holy Spirit was imparted upon the believers. Another time and place we can discuss the fact the day of Pentecost was around before Acts 2, not today. This is the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming for more than a passing visit, like the Old Testament, rather the Spirit was sent to dwell in and amongst us. Out of this giving of the Spirit many wonderful gifts have been poured out. Some of those gifts are celebrated, some are feared and some are plain misunderstood. More than giver of gifts the Holy Spirit is our counselor, guide and accountability partner on this journey.

Through out the New Testament we find accounts of people being filled with the Holy Spirit. Even now you can go to the book store and buy a Spirit-Filled Bible. I have people ask me all the time about being Spirit filled. I want to know for what reason we are so concerned with being Spirit filled. Understand, I believe and live that we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and our lives are continually shaped and formed through the work of the Holy Spirit. But for what are we filled for?

Is it so we can speak in tongues, is it so we can show how "spiritual" we are? Often when I hear someone talk about being Spirit filled it is contrasted with those who are not, and the contrast is in a elitist form. Do we want the Spirit so we can be better than another person? For what is it do we crave the presence of the Holy Spirit?

As I read the New Testament I find the filling of the Holy Spirit moves people to mission. Peter and the gang in Acts 2, proclaim the Good News. Peter and John in Acts 3 heal. Paul has the scales removed from his eyes, is filled with the Holy Spirit and then launches on the greatest church planting tour known to history. We are filled with the Holy Spirit for the sake of God's mission. Not so we can do ecclesial parlor tricks. The power of the Spirit and the gifts are wonderful, and feel blessed to participate in them. These gifts and special abilities are not the end they are the means to the end. So what is the end? To see the people of God live as the already, not yet kingdom of God.

We are filled so we can go and be about the mission God has called each one of us. May the Spirit invade your life today and everyday as we work in the Kingdom which will never pass away.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Are We Yet Alive?

As I am on the eve of the close of yet another Annual Conference gathering the reflection has begun. A few times we sung together the classic hymn, "And Are We Yet Alive?". Historically this was the hymn the Wesley's shared with their clergy each time they gathered. It functioned to remind the clergy where life was found. This year as we sang the song it caused to wonder if our being alive was exactly the problem.

The church in America is alive. The problem is the church thinks its vitality is found in the human spirit. Based upon what we as humanity can do. Not always directly stated, yet often lived, we are asking God to help us as we run the church. Wrong, we are helping God as God runs the church. Today one of our speakers uttered the phrase, "We know what the church needs, bless us as we build our church again." There is too much humanity.

The power, direction and vision of the church is not founded in human hands, hearts or minds. It the church is founded in only one place, Jesus Christ. God is in charge and Jesus is the Head of the church. No longer should we ask God to bless us, rather we should do what God is blessing. The key to the church is not the life of humanity, it is found in humanity's willingness to die to ourselves.

For the church to come alive again, humanity must recapture the ability to die to ourselves and live in Christ. The only way the answer to the title of the previously mentioned hymn can be yes, is in Jesus Christ. It is not about what I want to see in the church, it is not about what you want to see in the church. God has made it plain in the Scriptures what it required of the church, the people of God, we do not need to figure out what God would have us do. We must live, not what we want, rather as God has already shown us.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

And Their Off

Once again I find myself in the midst of the Annual Conference gathering of the United Methodist Church in North Central New York. I have been engaged in the gatherings and activities for two days now, and have been observing some really interesting things.

This year we have a new leader, Bishop Marcus Matthews. With new leadership it have been fascinating to watch people jockey for position. The political machine is in full swing as people try to impress the new Bishop and show him that they are important. It is with a no small amount of pleasure I watch this happen. At the same time I am deeply disturbed.

I wonder what would happen for the Kingdom of God if the same amount of energy was spend on embodying the mission of God. So much of what happens is not a part of living into the Kingdom of God. My greatest hope is there would be an inbreaking of the Holy Spirit. That God would begin the work of transformation right here in this place.

It is time to repent of the past, celebrate God's grace through Jesus Christ, and live the mission to which we are called. No longer can we jockey for position, rather we need to run the race not against each other. No we should run the race for the glory of God, not me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Time Once Again

I am amazed how we as human beings tend to settle into patterns. No matter what the process of living is, we settle into a predictable pattern of existence. This creates challenges when it happens in our lives, it is downright tragic when it happens in the church. Even if the nature of the local body is to change and adapt, a complacent pattern can set in. It is almost like there is a grand metronome which pulls everything into a rhythmic pattern. As I read about Jesus and develop my relationship with Jesus, I see our lives as a life lived in what might seem like disjointed movements.

Right now in life and in the mission of the church, I feel like we have settled into one of the predictable patterns. The ebb and flow of the week has come to the point where one could set their watch by it. The predictability of church life is bordering on sickening. It is time once again for a great shake up. The time has come to get the sledgehammer out and smash the metronome. To be honest I am not sure what this is going to look like, but the time has come.

I have read much and written a little about being a different kind of church. In some ways here at Cortland UMC we are different than some, but the work is not done. The time has come to heighten the risk and push further. I fear the church of Jesus Christ is becoming complacent. I fear that I as a leader in the church am becoming complacent. It is time once again to shake everything.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Prayer Time

This past Monday began a 40 day prayer experience put together by the UMC young clergy. Through the lead of Ben Simpson, 40 of us young clergy shared a prayer for one of the days. These prays have been published and are available through several outlets. One is through www.umcyoungclergy.com , you can also connect through these options,
Invite friends to the Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=173414735012

You can also purchase a copy of the book at the following: http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/40-days-of-prayer-for-the-united-methodist-church/7158447
all proceeds will go to nothing but nets.

I am honored to be part of this project, and would be even more honored if you would join me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Spending Time

I have only been pastoring churches for a few years now and there are those out there with much more experience than I have. When I look at the time I have spent and listen to those who have gone before me, I realize many pastors spend almost all their time tending to the needs of their congregations. More specifically the needs of individuals in the congregation. The result is a prevailing thought that the pastor exists to serve the life of the church. I am coming to believe this is a large contributor to the decline in the North American church.

When the focus shifts to personal needs, the church is reduced to a consumer based industry. The struggle is there is always someone else with a bigger budget and more resources out there that can seem to offer what is needed. The leaders of the church begin to spend their time figuring out how to keep the members happy. This increasingly leads to less time engaging the world in the mission of God. There is not time, the needs of the congregation must be met. This is also why most churches never grow past the size of 50-60 people. Much more than that and personal needs cannot be met anymore by one person.

So how should pastors and leaders spend time? The first priority is to be engaging the journey for themselves. This means building into our lives the practices which are consistent with a follower of Jesus Christ. Second priority is to offer engagement points for others to engage the journey. Third priority is to shape a church culture in a way that allows for the transformation of people, communities and a world to reflect to present, coming kingdom of God. That's it. Note there is no concern about meeting the personal needs of a congregation. It is about moving a community of people closer to the realization of the kingdom of God.

So why do so many church leaders spend so much time doing what is killing the church? I believe there is a new generation here that will put an end to the insanity. A new generation who engage the journey while engaging others to journey with them.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Times of Refreshing

Last week my blogging was pretty quiet. I did not post here, or on the Cortland UMC Scripture Journey very much. This is not because I had writers block or was not interested. I was away on retreat. Each year my covenant group goes away for a few days to pray, play, talk and offer support for each other.

All of us realized there were many things pulling at us to not have this time apart. Each of us at different times was distracted by things left undone, or that we felt the need to be at. The question kept coming to me was if not now, then when. If I would not take time now to slow down and refresh, then when would I do it? The answer, there is never a good time.

About halfway through the first day I realized I was in rough shape and did not even know it. I had some issues I was wrestling with, and I had no clue how deeply they were effecting all aspects of my life. I had slowed down enough to look in places I did not want to look. I am not saying that I have those things all figured out. I will never have it all figured out. I was however able to release those things, so I could once again experience freedom.

When we get stuck in the trap of doing, we lose sight of being. I had been so busy with good things I had lost sight of what it meant to be the person God made me to be. Every effort on my part was to prove my worth by doing. This will only leave me tired, worn out and empty. The time of refreshing helped me to be.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Church in Captivity

The more I journey in the great mystery called the church the more I realize how significantly we are in captivity. A few months ago I read a book by Rob Bell and Dan Golden which highlighted the church in America today as a church in exile. I am coming to believe it is much worse than exile, that we are in captivity to ourselves. We are trapped in patterns which keep us from experiencing God, and we like it that way.

This has nothing to do with style of worship. This has nothing to do with be modern or postmodern, this is not about emerging church or missional church. This is about the people of God living in such a way that creates greater distance between humanity and God. No matter what the style or label which can be applied to the particular church you are a part of the danger of captivity lurks. We as humanity become captive to the ways we prefer things to be done. We become captive to the ways we have always done it. We become captive to the human agenda.

This is not how we are called to live as Christ followers. We have been liberated from captivity to human agenda. We have been set free to experience a close relationship with God as God hopes for us. The single greatest call of the church is to be the working community of people who are living the Kingdom of God. This means we are not ruled by human thoughts we are ruled by the thoughts, live and example of Jesus.

Alas we remain captive. The Good News is we do not have to remain captive. It won't be easy. The Israelite Exodus was not easy. Still there is a way out of captivity and it happens only when we trust and follow God more that ourselves. When we allow God to be the ruler of the Kingdom, not humanity. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, stand firm and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery."(Galatians 5:1).

I cannot help wonder what would happen if the church began to be a community of freedom in Christ rather than in captivity to itself?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who Is It For

This morning I am struggling with the question of who the church is for. I guess for me it is not a real struggle. Where I find the struggle is helping the church to understand for whom it exists. First let me give a definition of the church. The church is the community of people living, celebrating and witnessing to the Kingdom of God. Now that is out there I offer the church is intended for those who are not yet a part of it.

In our modern day the church can mistakenly think it exists for itself. For the care and pleasure of its "members". As long as I have been a pastor I have heard the cries of church members wanted the church to serve them. Flat out this is not the intention of the church. The church does not exist to be a care station for its own, now there needs to be healthy and supportive relationships in the church, but the primary reason for existence is not the care of its members. That would be a country club or some other organization, but not the church. The church is not to be about the care of itself, or the assurance of its existence. We have already been promised existence through Jesus Christ.

So what does the church exist for? To build relationship with those who are not yet a part of the community. To say it more simply, to give themselves away. Jesus said it is not the healthy who need a doctor, it is the sick (Luke 5). The context of this teaching is the religious people complaining about who Jesus hung out with, and contrasting who he was suppose to be with if he were really godly. Jesus shows us he made the earthly pilgrimage so that humanity could experience the Kingdom of God, not for themselves. Not to develop an alternative religion. The church was never intended to be a religion, or overly organized for that matter. The church is a movement, an organic movement, witnessing to the kingdom of God, giving itself away, and following its leader Jesus Christ.

If you are a part of a church, great, it is not for you. If you are not a part of a church, I pray we can be a witness to you of the kingdom of God.

Monday, April 27, 2009


We are promised in the scriptures "Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom!". I wonder how many people truly live a life of freedom? There are so many things which enslave and trap us. There are things outside of our control, abuse and harm done to us. There are things which we control but cannot seem to step out of, greed and consumerism etc.

There is an intense drive in our culture to get ahead, and differentiate yourself from the crowd. Our American culture has become a celebration of the individual, and the celebration of diversity. These two celebrations have lead to a culture which has lost its sense of community. Sure we like to talk about community, but it is not possible because we must defend our right to be an individual, our right to be a part of the diversity. In our pursuit to maintain these things we have become enslaved to values which hold us down. We must defend territory, stake our claim in the world. Politics and power plays have become the rules of engagement. In the end we are trapped in a life style that is stealing life rather than giving life.

Have we not noticed the reported cases of depression have skyrocketed. There are more people on medication than an other time in history. People uses all kinds of escape tools; drugs, alcohol, television, pornography and the list could go on, to try and fix what seems empty in their lives. That emptiness is the pain of imprisonment to ourselves. What we need is freedom. Not freedom promised by the American way. Not freedom to be individuals. Not freedom to be who ever I want to be. We need freedom that comes from the Spirit of God.

The freedom of the Lord is not so we can create a new system of imprisonment. Rather we are free to be a full member of God's missional community. We have been set free from whatever our past holds. We have been set free from the endless striving. We have been set free from power struggles and politics. We are free indeed to live as a full participant of God's community through the grace offered to all through Jesus Christ.

Let's be people of freedom!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hungry Men

I just spend a weekend with a great group of men on retreat. I was asked to be their teacher for the weekend, and I sure did enjoy myself. Along the way men were set free from some major burdens, and new ground was established in the lives of these men. The journey of transformation was continued and bolstered by what God did.

As I was driving home I began to reflect on the weekend. I could not get away from the fact that these men were so hungry. Not for physical food, they were craving more our of life. They wanted to be godly fathers and husbands. They wanted to me men who were transforming in their lives so other men might be drawn to the journey transformation. The men on that weekend are not alone. There are men inside our churches and most of them outside our churches who are looking for more in life. They turn to all kinds of things to find it, alcohol, drugs, pornography and the list can go on and on. Not all the ways we try to find significance seem as destructive, some it is work, or children's sports, or fraternal organizations. There is a hunger.

In the life of the church all to often this hunger is ignored, and men are taught to be just like women and find fulfillment just like women. This is a major problem because if you have not noticed men and women are very different, and it has nothing to do with physical bodies. The result of the effort of the church is most men have given up on the church and on God to provide that fulfillment. It is not than men do not want God in their lives, it is they have been sold a false bill of God about what it means to be a man of God.

So it is time to create space for men to be men. It is time for the church of Jesus Christ to help these hungry men find fulfillment. Coming soon there will be a time apart for men to be men. A time for being rugged, a space for warriors to be warriors, a space for men to be dangerous. I am working with another colleague and we are designing a men's experience for feeding that hunger deep inside all men. Be watching for more information.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TIme Away

Later this morning I will be leaving for some time away. For as long as I have worked, I have struggled with taking time away. When I became a pastor it only got worse. I have now learned the benefit for mission, ministry and family when I take time away.

Restoration of the soul is important to the long haul of the journey. We all must find a time and place to withdraw from the race of the world to reconnect with the ones we love and with the core of why we exist.

So for the next few days I will be out of commission. It will probably be Monday before I post again. I pray all of you have a blessed weekend as I get to spend time away. Part of my time away is celebrating 10 years of being married to the most amazing woman. For ten years Sarah has stood by me and made room for my crazy exploits. Everyday is a reminder of who much God loves me because of the woman God set aside for me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Glorious Monday

I start off this week with a confession. The way I experience the Sunday services at church directly affects the way I face Monday. I am not sure if this is right or wrong, I am not sure if it matters. What I do know is I should not make decisions about the church on Mondays because they can be very inaccurate.

Having said that, yesterday, Resurrection Celebration, was amazing. God is so God. I wanted the day to feel like a party, a celebration of new life because the grace could not hold him. I think most people left the building yesterday dancing and excited about the work of God. The music was awesome, people were engaged and interactive, the whole thing was a great blessing.

Now comes the challenge, living everyday with that attitude of celebration. Joy should be the calling card of Christ Followers. This does not always mean we are sickening sweet, it means we have an underlying attitude of contentment, and assurance. And why not, Jesus is alive, the grave could not hold him. This should be our blessed assurance.

Another area of life this joy cannot overshadow is the call to do justice and be the mission of God. There is some just horrible stuff, theological term, happening in our world. Joy is not simply dismissing it and ignoring it. Joy is addressing it with the contentment and assurance of Christ. Knowing that because we have new life in Christ, all people can have new life in Christ. We are a new creation, so we can be Christ's ambassadors to the world. What a joy-filled job.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Best Day

It is early, a little colder than I would like, and I am exhausted from the events of this week. It is all worth it when I consider the greatness of this day. I realize that every day is a resurrection day. The fact of new life is not reserved for one day a year. Still there is something about Easter morning, especially after walking through Holy Week. We begin with the grand entrance to the city, then to the last supper. Next is the glorious tragedy of the cross, followed by the hope, anticipation and struggle of Saturday. Then it comes the celebration that the tomb could not hold him.

It is for this day we were created, it is for this day he was sent. Jesus is Messiah, and that means we can once again have relationship with our God. I am not sure I always understand the gravity of that. Today we celebrate the doors of heaven flinging wide open. We see the annunciation that it was all true, the Kingdom of God is at hand. We also have a renewed hope that Jesus will return and the Kingdom of God will be fully realized here on earth.

Today is the day it all becomes worth it. Today is the day for which the Lord was sent. We should do more than rejoice. We should party, we should dance and sing, we should live as a new creation.

I hope you have the best, best day of the year.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holy Thursday

Today begins the journey to new life. Holy Thursday is the day we tell and live out the story of Exodus. The movement from captivity to freedom. In the past for me this has tended to be a somber day. This year not so much. This is a day of celebration. There will be time enough to be somber and focused tomorrow, but today we party.

When Jesus gathered with the 12 in the upper room, he knew exactly what lay ahead in the coming hours. Still it was passover, a time to celebrate being set free by God. I am sure there was laughter around the table, there was probably spontaneous singing. It was a party atmosphere as they ate together. It was only Jesus, and now us, the disciples didn't know, who know that it was the Last Supper. Jesus didn't say go prepare our last meal, no he told them to prepare the passover. It is not until the meal is over that Jesus shares this will be the final meal until glory.

So I say, celebrate, party. This is the day when we connect with being released from captivity. This is the day we celebrate God continuing to make a way for captives to be set free. If you are gathering today and it is somber, God bless you, I invite you consider having some fun.