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 , you can also connect through these options,
Invite friends to the Facebook event:

You can also purchase a copy of the book at the following:
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?