After the Storm

There’s no denying it…there is a colossal storm wrecking havoc in The United Methodist Church right now. Battle lines have been drawn, political maneuvering abounds. Folks on every side feel disenfranchised, tired, and battle-bruised. And that includes me. If you’ve read blog posts I’ve made before, you know that I have been a constant voice of hope for the only denomination I’ve ever known. I have dreamt that there would be a way out of the gridlock we are currently caught up in, but now I’m not nearly as certain or hopeful.

The politics all across the Church have distracted us from our mission of making disciples so much that I am more and more convinced that the only way out of this storm is for a negotiated, amicable separation. And that pains me to say, it really does. I have considered myself a centrist who tends to get along with just about everybody, so the idea of schism hurts to even verbalize. But, I’m tired. This storm has taken a toll all over the denomination and it’s taking a toll on me.

And the idea of something new is exciting but terrifying all at the same time. I’ve asked myself several times, and I’ve heard other colleagues ask the same “What will we do after the storm is over?” Another way of putting it is “Where will we find ourselves after the dust has settled?”

I woke up really early this morning–whether it was a racing brain or a 4 year old knee in my back I can’t be sure–but I started rehearsing these same questions again. As I laid in bed questioning and praying, God reminded me of a storm story from my past.

In 2006, I spent my spring break doing hurricane recovery in New Orleans. I remember that we went in kind of blind, we didn’t know where we would even be sleeping, we just knew we wanted to help. The first night we slept on cots in the abandoned freezer of a meat locker.

The next day, we met Pastor Randy and did he ever have a storm story! His local church had just purchased and remodeled a former grocery store to be their new campus. The church was growing, everyone was excited about the new location, things were on the up and up. Then the storm came. The building was ruined, the congregation dispersed through evacuation and some of them would never return to rebuild their lives in New Orleans. Before the storm, Pastor Randy and his wife had just purchased their dream home. They were told that they did not need flood insurance since they were outside the danger zone. Then the storm came. The levees broke and all of St. Bernard’s Parish (even those outside the “danger zone”) flooded. Their dream home was destroyed.

Pastor Randy’s story was not uncommon as we met people throughout New Orleans. Their stories represented so many broken dreams because of the storm. It seemed like the storm had taken everything from them. brokendreamsAnd, I admit, it was really easy to feel sorry for them, especially our new friend Pastor Randy. I remember sitting on the floor in what was once his dream house, eating pizza, hearing his story. After the storm he found himself living in a van (his family evacuated and he stayed to shepherd his flock….whole different story) in the parking lot of an abandoned Wal-Mart. I remember holding back tears as he told us his story. Then, he told us that he was crying out to God (understandably) “Lord, what am I going to do now? Everything is gone. The storm took everything. What am I going to do?” Then he said what I didn’t expect to hear. He said that he heard the Lord ask him right back, “Son, what were you doing before the storm?” He answered “I was preaching your word, I was building your Kingdom, I was reaching out.” And he heard God’s reply “Why would it be any different after the storm?”

Pastor Randy was quite convicted by his conversation with God, but it motivated him. “Why should I be doing anything differently than I was before the storm?” Somehow he acquired a propane camp stove and started serving soup outside his van right there in the Wal-Mart parking lot. When other organizations began to gain access to the area, they saw what a good little operation Pastor Randy had going and they started setting up camp in the parking lot, too. By the time we arrived, there was a large circus tent supplied by Operation Blessing filled with food and clothing, trailers containing medical clinics, a food line, and a full blown worshipping community. M3361S-3033We had Sunday worship right there in the middle of that parking lot. We filled boxes with food and gave out clothing. We went out from the parking lot and gutted houses, trying to help people rebuild some of the dreams that were broken by the storm. In so many ways, the entire operation happened because Pastor Randy asked “What do I do after the storm?” After his moment of licking his wounds, he got right back to the important work he was doing before the storm: building God’s Kingdom, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, reaching out to those who were lost and hurting and broken.

I had nearly forgotten this story, or at least forgotten its significance. But as I laid in bed this morning I rehearsed all that I had experienced in New Orleans. And then I felt God ask me the same that God had asked Pastor Randy “What were you doing before the storm?” UGH, I hate it when God tries to shake me out of my comfortable whininess.

I don’t know what it will look like for the people called Methodist when the storm passes. I’m confident the landscape is about to permanently change, but I’m not at all sure what it will look like. Here’s what I do know, when the storm is over…I’ll still be preaching the Gospel. I’ll still be joining God in the advancement of His Kingdom. I’ll still be reaching out. I’ll still be on the frontlines somewhere. Because why would it be any different after the storm?

Who’s in?

General Conference Update: Shadows of the Past

General Conference Update: Shadows of the Past

I just arrived in St. Louis for the historic General Conference 2019. I’m not one of the voting delegates, I’m volunteering as a marshal. That’s become quite the joke amongst my church members…they think I’m the General Conference Bouncer.

Anyway, I just got my credentials…an all access badge. I checked out the Marshal room….interestingly enough it’s the locker room that used to belong to the St. Louis Rams, my childhood heroes. I don’t have any responsibilities until 6pm, just to jump in and help where I can until then. It’s pretty quiet right now. So I just took a quick look around the locker room and thought of all those heroes.

I walked through the tunnels that lead to the field (plenary floor for our conference). I had this really eerie feeling walking the floor. The dome looks so familiar to me, yet, at the same time so different. Several years have passed since the Rams left, and they stunk pretty bad those last few years.

lg_bruce_ap_bestgamesBut I remember…I remember the Greatest Show on Turf! I remember sitting in these seats watching my heroes tear up the opposition all the way to the Superbowl! Warner! Faulk! Holt! Pace! BRRRRRUUUUUCCCCCEEEEE! The playoff game against Minnesota en route to the Superbowl was the loudest I’ve ever heard any building. The ground shook as we cheered for our boys. My dad and I couldn’t hear each other speak during the car ride home.

But now, the Dome is quiet. All the excitement is gone. It’s kind of creepy if I’m being honest.52397722_2530218120339738_5060034111108808704_o

Slowly, delegates and volunteers representing United Methodists all around the world are trickling into this shell of a building. We’re gathering because our denomination is at a crossroads moment. We can no longer continue with “business as usual” when it comes to how we are to be in ministry with LGBTQ persons. There’s too much at stake.

We’re gathering, not for a fight, but because we love our Church. We love our Church despite years of institutional gridlock over sexuality. We love our church because we remember! We remember what we were taught about Wesley and Asbury and Coke and Cartwright and their tenacity when it came to sharing the Gospel. We remember the pastor or layperson who first shared with us the grace of our God. We remember the first time the fire of holiness crept into our hearts. We remember all that is good about this Church and can be again!

The world thinks we’re gathering here for a fight…but I’m praying for so much more. Yes there will be vociferous debate. Yes, there will be parliamentary posturing…but I’m praying that as we gather in a building that brought me so much excitement as a child that the Holy Spirit will show up, way more powerfully than the Rams ever did, and that we’ll leave this place not disgruntled and anxious, but excited for the future of the people called Methodist!

The Best is Yet to Come (Or, God’s not Done with Methodism)

Today has been a day of beautiful clarities. I’ve written in my last couple of posts (over a year ago at this point…whoops) about the special session of the General Conference that is coming at the end of February. I won’t rehash all of that here, because you likely know everything that is coming before the General Conference as we determine how best to be in ministry with the LGBTQ community. If you don’t, take a look at my linked post above. Also, my colleague Chris Ritter has likely written more about this than anyone else, pop on over and check out his page. If you’re a member of my local church, remember that I’m hosting a chat about all of this on February 10.

So rehashing all the General Conference chatter aside, I admit that I’ve been worrying quite a bit about what will happen next month. No matter which plan is passed (if anything at all) there will be large ripples throughout the entire United Methodist Church. Sure, I have my own preference as to what should happen (though that preference doesn’t count at all since I am not one of the delegates to the General Conference), but my heart hurts to think of any fallout.

I’ve made no effort to hide my love for the United Methodist Church. I’ve had church members tell me with a grin on their face, “Pastor, you’ve never seen a cross without a flame on it.” They’re not wrong. The UMC is the only church family I’ve ever known, I’ve been going to annual conference since I was 14 and I’m a total Methonerd. I worry that the Church I love is about to be ripped apart at the seams.

I have friends and colleagues who view human sexuality very differently than I do, but that does not change the love that I have for them. The idea that we may find ourselves in different denominations is a thought that I struggle with.

I worry about our church’s continued witness to the world. I believe that the world needs the Church, and I’m likely biased, but I think the UMC has something important to speak to that need.

Then there are the practical worries like, “If the United Methodist Church splits, where would I go? I don’t have the skills to do anything else.” Or “What about my pension?”

I’m embarrassed to admit how much I’ve been worrying about all these scenarios and more.

Then the clarities started to come.

I was wrapping up a vision sermon series this morning and preached from John 2, the miracle of water to wine. My title was “The Best is Yet to Come.” Here’s the basic idea: the miracle of water to wine points us to the reality that with Jesus, the best is always yet to come. Whether that be tomorrow or eternity, the best is yet to come. Jesus can and will turn any situation around if we 1) Invite him to be involved, 2) Do what he says and 3) Have Faith that He’ll see it through. Check out the story on John 2, and you’ll catch my flow. In the middle of the sermon I said something that caught me off guard:

“The best days for this Church are not behind us, and we’ve got some really good days back there that we shouldn’t forget and we should continue to celebrate…but with Jesus there is always more. More love, more power, more joy…the best is yet to come.”

I hadn’t written this exactly the way it came out, but I meant it. I serve an incredible local church with a proud history. I believe we are in for a breakout year in the midst of a turnaround. Attendance is up, we’re seeing new people every Sunday and it seems that weekly I’m having conversations with people about what it means to follow Jesus. Things are going great, but the best is yet to come!

As I sat in my office between services, gathering my thoughts, I felt the Spirit ask me “what if the best days are yet to come, not just for your local church, but for The Church?” I thought, “Ok, file that away for later.”

After worship, I attended a district event in Washington. Bishop Beard was teaching on prayer. In between his sessions, the Heritage Ensemble Choir performed. They ended their time by asking us to stand and sing together “We Shall Overcome”. As we sang, I was overcome with emotion. I thought of the deep history of the song and again heard the Spirit speaking to me “this is still true today, even for the Church.”

We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday! Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday!

We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are not afraid today! Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome someday!

“Okay, Lord, you have my attention.”

Our District Superintendent went to reintroduce the Bishop and said, “I know this man, and I know that the best is yet to come.” I chuckled. A couple of church members sitting next to me chuckled, too. That was our refrain all morning.

Then the Bishop said it, “I truly believe that the best days for the Methodist Church are not in the rearview mirror, they’re ahead of us.” So close to what I had uttered this morning.

I thought about all of this the entire ride home and I’ve come to a new clarity. I choose not to be worried about what will happen at General Conference. I will not be afraid. I choose to believe that the best is yet to come for the people called Methodist.

I’m taking my own advice from my sermon. I’m inviting Jesus to move at the General Conference, I want the Holy Spirit to fall so powerfully that they don’t know which way is up. And I have faith that Jesus loves the Church enough, that He’ll see us through.

I don’t know what everything will look like when the dust settles, but I do know that on February 27, Jesus Christ will still be Lord. On February 27, He will still be building his Church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.

I don’t know what it will look like, but I believe the best is yet to come for us. It may be rebirth out of failure. It may be pockets of new life in the midst of an expiring institution, but I know that with Jesus it’s going to be good….he saves the best for last, and it’s not over yet…not by a long shot. The best is yet to come.


Consciousness After an Extended Absence

According to the date stamp, it’s been about 10 months since I wrote anything here. It’s certainly not for lack of desire or opinionated musings rolling around in my head. It’s because, well, life with two kids is totally different than with one. Our oldest, Marqui, just turned 3 in October. Selah is 17 months…and she’s something else. We had no idea what it was really like to be parents until she was born. Marqui usually maintains homeostasis pretty well. Selah…well…her equilibrium can be disrupted at the drop of a yogurt spoon. Life with two really is getting better, so don’t just hear that as whining.

So many times in the last 10 months I’ve sat down with the intention of writing an article…an idea for ministry, a commentary on the current state of the United Methodist Church, a rant that nobody warned us what having a second child would be like :-), but nothing ever moved beyond a draft.

Today I just happened to have some time to satisfyingly clack this out on my new macbook pro…upgrades are fun. So I feel like I’ve regained blogging consciousness.

In my last post, I wrote a bit about the Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward:

Since 1972 there has been a statement in the Book of Discipline that states that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Discipline further forbids same-sex marriages from being performed by our clergy or in our churches. It also bars self-avowed, practicing homosexuals from being ordained as clergy. These provisions in our polity have been debated ad infinitum every four years at General Conference. In 2016, it seemed that the debate around this particular issue had reached a complete impasse. The Commission was called together by the Council of Bishops at the request of General Conference 2016 to help our Church find a way forward surrounding issues of human sexuality. At the time the Bishops were charged with the creation of the commission, I voiced my displeasure. We’ve had commissions before (3 come to memory) that have yielded no way forward. However, our Bishops asked that we all pause, take a deep breath, and let the commission do their work. I want to honor the voice of our shepherds and have decided that I will do what I can to support the work of the commission.

And I have done that. I have taken time regularly to pray for the members of the commission and their work. I’ve been encouraged by their regular reports highlighting how they were building trust and deeply engaging the issues (and there are several issues, human sexuality is simply a presenting symptom of a deeper level of disunity). The commission will eventually give a full report to the Council of Bishops, who will then make a recommendation to the General Conference. We now know that there will be a special “called session” of the General Conference February 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri for the sole purpose of acting upon whatever proposal the Council of Bishops brings. I’ve eagerly awaited the reveal of the interim report from the commission. Last week, their report was given to the Council of Bishops at their fall meeting. In a press release, the Council of Bishops outlined three possible models:

  1. Affirm our current language with high emphasis on accountability.
  2. Remove restrictive language from the Discipline, but would not compel traditionalists to act against their conscience by protecting their right to not officiate same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  3. Create separate branches of the Church while retaining unified doctrinal standards, liturgies, and a shared Council of Bishops.

My colleague, Rev. Chris Ritter, provides some in-depth commentary on all that happened at the Council of Bishops fall meeting here.

I must admit that my initial excitement over the release of the interim report quickly turned to disappointment. “Really?” I thought, “this is all the farther we are?” It seems to me that these three “sketches” are pretty well in line with what was already proposed and debated at General Conference 2016 when the Bishops called “time-out”. I felt disappointed because I thought all we had done was kick the can down the road a couple of years with no real clear alternative to the struggle that was already enveloping our Church.

The United Methodist Church in the United States is facing unprecedented numerical decline. We cannot afford the distractions that are before us. We need to decide whether we will remain a more traditionalist church or move toward being a more inclusive denomination; and if these are the same three options, couldn’t we have decided in 2016? Folks on all sides of this debate can agree that lives and souls hang in the balance.

Add that disappointment to a very real concern that I’ve had all along…do we really believe that anything will actually pass the General Conference? What if the proposal(s) brought by the Council of Bishops are flatly rejected and the delegates leave St. Louis on February 26 without any decision? Do we just maintain our current level of dysfunction? I know I’m not the only one who has this major concern. Over a month ago, I was listening to Rev. Adam Hamilton inviting people to join his co-exist model group which will launch this week. When talking about the options that could possibly be presented to the special General Conference he said something to the affect of: “I have hope. But I really can’t see anything passing the general conference.”

I have disappointment and concern because of a deep and abiding love for my Church. It makes my head spin, and could easily lead me to despair. The task ahead of us is so great and I don’t know if the Church that loved me into ordained ministry will endure. In several moments of desperation, I’ve been reminded of God’s promise to Zerubbabel.

Zerubbabel led the first group of Jews out of Babylonian captivity over 500 years before the birth of Christ. When they returned to Jerusalem, the priest Joshua and Zerubbabel were tasked with rebuilding the temple which had been destroyed. Can you imagine what a monumental, overwhelming task that was? They knew they were exactly where God wanted them, God had said He was coming again with compassion to Jerusalem, but rebuilding the temple…that’s too much for even a great leader like Zerubbabel. Very few seemed interested in rebuilding the temple with him. They had settled back into the land and started rebuilding their own lives and homes. The solution of the temple didn’t seem like a high priority, after all the temporary altar had become status quo over nearly fifteen years. Why disrupt that? I’m sure I can’t even begin to comprehend how desperate Zerubbabel felt, like he didn’t even know where to start. Then the prophet Zechariah received a vision just for Zerubabel:

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV)

The temple would be rebuilt. Zerubbabel had laid the foundation and it would be completed. But it would not be by his own strength, intelligence, ingenuity, or ability to delegate tasks to others. It would be by the Holy Spirit working through Him.

It has occurred to me several times recently how much our current impasse in the United Methodist Church is like rebuilding the temple. We know it needs done, but the work is going to be really hard. For some, the status quo is just fine enough. We cannot vote our way to vitality. We cannot legislate our way to renewal. Those only come by the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Spirit chooses to work through us–so I’m not suggesting that General Conference is no longer needed–I’m just being convicted again with the realization that our hope cannot be in commissions and conferences and councils. Our only hope is Jesus Christ. This is His Church and by His Spirit, the mountain before us shall become a plain. I can’t wait for the day we shout “Grace” again!

For Love Of Our Church

I love The United Methodist Church. Period. When I began to follow Jesus after he pursued me into relationship with himself, it was The United Methodist Church that welcomed me. Members of local UMC’s gave me my first opportunities to preach. I attended my first session of Annual Conference when I was 14 years old…and I LOVED it! I believe that the doctrine and polity of The United Methodist Church are in harmony with Holy Scripture. I have had the privilege of being paid to do ministry in The United Methodist Church since 2006. I have served under episcopal appointment since 2008 (I’m now serving under my fourth Bishop). On June 10, 2016 I was ordained as an Elder in The United Methodist Church.

I would not have spent over 10 years in preparation for ordination if I didn’t love the UMC. Even in the midst of numerical decline in the U.S. and the theological quarrels, I choose to believe that The United Methodist Church can be a vital expression of Wesleyan Christianity. I share that pedigree of love for my Church to lead into my thoughts on the Commission on A Way Forward.

Since 1972 there has been a statement in the Book of Discipline that states that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Discipline further forbids same-sex marriages from being performed by our clergy or in our churches. It also bars self-avowed, practicing homosexuals from being ordained as clergy. These provisions in our polity have been debated ad infinitum every four years at General Conference. In 2016, it seemed that the debate around this particular issue had reached a complete impasse. The Commission was called together by the Council of Bishops at the request of General Conference 2016 to help our Church find a way forward surrounding issues of human sexuality. At the time the Bishops were charged with the creation of the commission, I voiced my displeasure. We’ve had commissions before (3 come to memory) that have yielded no way forward. However, our Bishops asked that we all pause, take a deep breath, and let the commission do their work. I want to honor the voice of our shepherds and have decided that I will do what I can to support the work of the commission.

Now the commission has been named and is ready to begin its work which will ultimately culminate in a special called session of the General Conference where a resolution will be submitted that will suggest a way forward in unity (holding together The United Methodist Church) or a plan for amicable separation (breaking apart the denomination).

I will be watching the work of the commission with great interest. To start, each annual conference has been asked to take a week to pray for the work of the commission. This movement of prayer is to set the rhythm for the work of those named to the commission:

This prayer movement is a response to the Council of Bishops initiative called Praying Our Way Forward. We are called to a posture of prayer, praying for God’s leadership to guide us effectively in fulfilling the mission of the church. We invite you – clergy and laity, conferences and congregations – across the denomination to pray for God’s guidance.

umc_prays_logo_final-690x380The Illinois Great Rivers Conference has been assigned the week of January 22-28. I, along with many others throughout the conference will have set aside times of prayer during that week for the Church that we love. At the local Church where I serve, we are setting aside time during our Sunday worship services and Tuesday Eucharist service to pray for our Church and the work of the commission. Further, the sanctuary of our Church will be open each day for any wishing to come and cover the process in prayer.

I decided that I want to do something more, though. Brittney and I were talking about this the other night. We love our Church and our fervent prayer is that there be a way forward in unity. However, we don’t want to see us continue to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic while foregoing our top mandate of making disciples of Jesus Christ. So what the commission brings forth, and what the general conference decides is very important to us. We made the decision to do something more in our prayer approach for the commission, and I wanted to invite fellow members of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference to do the same. From midnight on January 22 until 11:59pm on January 28, Brittney and I will be fasting from social media in all forms as we pray for the Commission on the Way Forward for love of our Church.

Will you join us?


Nineteen Questions-18: Are You in Debt so as to Embarrass You in Your Work?

Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in you work?

Every time I hear this question, I chuckle a little bit. It seems like a strange question to ask candidates for ordination. Most wish to keep their finances private. But then I start reading Scripture. There are many verses devoted to money and it’s place in our lives. The way one handles their financial house shows where their heart is oriented as a steward of what God has given them.

So am I in debt so as to embarrass me in my work? I used to be. Between the two of us, my wife and I have two bachelor’s degrees and one master’s. We’re all very aware of the cost of education in this country, and I’m certainly aware of the cost of a theological higher education. It’s part of the package deal when one enters the ordination process. For an elder, the Master of Divinity degree is required. I found places out there that would have saved me some money when it came to seminary, but Asbury Theological Seminary was my choice. ATS is certainly not cheap, but the quality of the theological education is second to none (in my humble opinion).

While we were in school, we knew that we were piling on the debt. When we completed our degrees it was scary to see how much debt there really was. We felt like we were drowning. We weren’t sure what to do and, frankly, it was embarrassing.

Then we took Financial Peace University.prioritizing-which-debt-to-pay-off-first.jpg I don’t agree with Dave Ramsey theologically on a few things, and there are a couple of things in his process that I don’t fully embrace. However, on the whole, his plan works. You can check it out for yourself here. Through working the process, we haven’t paid off our student loan debt, but we are paying it down faster than we ever could have imagined. We are in a much healthier financial spot than we’ve ever been in our married life. Thanks be to God.

As a Church, we need to be on the leading edge of helping our local church members get to a place of financial freedom. As far as ministerial educational costs, I’m glad to see that many conference Boards of Ordained Ministry are working to address the rising educational debt carried by those entering ordained ministry. We have to do a better job of supporting those who are committing themselves to lifelong service in the Church….they will have typical graduate level debt and enter the ministry at minimum salary. We must do better.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. Ordination is tomorrow!!!! AHHH!!

Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work? I am not.

Nineteen Questions-16: Will You Recommend Fasting or Abstinence, Both by Precept and Example?

Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example?

I just did some very quick research about fasting in Scripture. By that very quick search, I believe there are well over 70 references to fasting. To me this indicates a fairly common precept. fasting.jpg5_So it’s somewhat disappointing to know that this Biblical and Wesleyan exercise is not practiced widely in our church. Wesley himself recommended fasting and abstinence as a means of grace by teaching and pattern. Wesley often fasted once per week from sundown on Thursday through late afternoon/early evening on Friday’s.

I’ll admit that I’ve always struggled with the “example” part of this question. I do fast. I believe in the power of fasting and abstinence as a means of grace. I usually practice a weekly fast in the same way Wesley did from supper on Thursday evening until after dark on Friday. I always struggle somewhat with talking about it. I think part of it is that since fasting is foreign to so many people it comes across sounding like “look how holy I am.” I hear the Sermon on the Mount pushing against the temptation toward self-righteousness:

Matthew 6:16-18 (NRSV)

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I’ve continued to wrestle with this even as I reflect on this question. What I share here about my own habits of fasting and abstinence is not about my own glorification, but because I believe that God is glorified through the practice.

First, I think it’s important to say a quick word about the difference between fasting and abstinence. Fasting is limiting the intake of food or some other item (television, social media, etc.), while abstinence is abstaining from a specific thing entirely (think the Catholic practice of not consuming meat on Fridays during Lent….that’s abstinence).

In my own life, I’ve seen the grace-filled spiritual benefits of fasting an abstinence in the following ways (and I’m sure others….but hey, I’m writing this in a hurry….I’m still getting to know my brand new daughter).

  • Fasting and abstinence help us to seek God’s will. When I’ve approached fasting and abstinence with a specific intention for prayer in mind, I have often found clarity, discernment, and answered prayer.
  • Fasting and abstinence are a means of grace that overcome sin. Our heart felt fasting can be a way that we repent and defeat sin in our lives. Joel prophesied:
    Joel 2:12 (NRSV)
         12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
          return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
  • Fasting and abstinence create a healthy rhythm of soul-tending. My weekly practice is a rhythm to my devotional life that I protect and hunger for each week. Fasting and abstaining from the things of this world makes me hungry for God! I know that no matter my intention for prayer is or even if I don’t have anything in particular in mind, that the Holy Spirit honors the sacrifice and moves in my life in life-giving, perfecting ways.

Very recently, Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary (my alma mater), called the worldwide Asbury community (faculty, students, alumni, and friends) to a day of prayer and fasting. The day was set aside with several prayer intentions such as a budget shortfall and the seminary visioning process. Classes were cancelled and the entire day was set aside for prayer, fasting, and worship before a Holy God. I was privileged to gather with my Asbury family for this day of prayer. I’ve been blown away reading some of the things that God did during this day. You can read them here for yourself. In short, as the community sought the face of God together: $350,000 was raised to bridge the gap in the budget shortfall that very week. A student was convicted of their unconfessed sin regarding academic integrity and was able to confess and be reconciled to the professor. An international student prayed for God to meet her financial needs for the next school year, that very night she learned that all of her needs would be met by four people. Praise God!

Fasting and abstinence help us realize that it’s not about us. The sacrifice…the fasting, the abstinence, the worship is all about Jesus. The Asbury community was reminded of that. I’m reminded of that over and over. Fasting and abstinence is not a magic bullet…it’s a means of grace that connects us to the living God and aids us in focusing our prayer and our hearts deepest desires and needs (and checking those desires in light of God’s will). I will continue to teach and practice fasting as a means of individual growth for the Christian and as and hope-filled prayer for God to forgive and heal God’s Church.

Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example? I will so recommend.





Nineteen Questions-15: Will You Visit From House to House?

Will you visit from house to house?

My co-laborer Bruce and I took a much needed motorcycle ride yesterday afternoon. We enjoyed some of our areas beautiful scenery and winding highways. We stopped and hung out in the shade for some sweet tea. While we rested, we ended up talking about this question at one point. We talked about how this question, if taken literally, can be a really uncomfortable and even unproductive if not done in just the right way.

I do know pastors (of several denominations and non-denominations) who visit house-to-house quite literally. Personally, the idea of cold calling on someone’s porch sounds awful. About two years ago, I was sitting at my grandmother’s house when the doorbell rang. The young man at the door introduced himself as “the new pastor at [xyz] church and I’m going door to door in the community to introduce myself and invite you to Church.” The encounter was perfectly awkward and uncomfortable for everyone.

Even if the people were members of my congregation, I think it would be difficult to visit from house to house. First, most people work outside of the home and aren’t around when I would be visiting. Second, many people find a home visit to be an invasion of privacy.

So how is one to live out the spirit of this question in a way that is integrous? What I think it means is that pastors need to get out of their offices and be among the people! Make visiting a priority, especially those who are lonely, grieving, or ill. When someone is sick or in the hospital, don’t let your staff-parish relations team have to report that someone is upset because you didn’t go visit. In those moments, especially, people want a visit from their pastor. I know we’re not mind readers and people don’t always let us know that someone is in the hospital or having surgery or some other crisis….but when you know, make it a priority to be there. I remember when I took CPE that I experienced the priestly ministry of presence first hand. People to whom I was not and probably never would be their pastor welcomed my presence and prayers as a symbol of Christ’s presence and prayers. We represent Christ whenever we visit someone. This MUST be a priority for us.

Here’s some tips I have learned:

  • Especially with family’s that have young children, offer to meet them on neutral ground for a cup of coffee or lunch. My own house looks like a scene from Twister with a 19 month old running around (and soon a newborn). I’m much more comfortable meeting with someone outside of the embarrassment that is my home.
  • Always call ahead and schedule a time to visit.
  • Use the phone or texting to let people know that you are thinking of them and praying for them.
  • Have lunch in visible places where you know that you’ll encounter people.
  • Visit folks at work (by appointment, of course, and as their workplace allows).
  • Get into the community and go where people are: sporting events, school plays, concerts, etc.
  • Participate in community events.
  • Use social media (with cautiousness) to communicate with your people.
  • Personally get involved with a community project.
  • Join a community organization.
  • Coach a sport.
  • Substitute teach.
  • Join your volunteer fire department.

The list could go on and on. I think the real intent of this question is “Are you willing to get out of the office and be among the people God has called you to serve?”
I know that we all (myself included) could do a better job of this, but time and time again I’ve found that the best relationships I foster happen outside of the walls of the Church.

Will you visit from house to house? This is my commitment.

Nineteen Questions-14: Will You Diligently Instruct the Children in Every Place?

Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?

I’ve always considered children’s ministry to be a growing edge for me. I’ll admit that working with children, especially small children, has been anxiety producing.

I remember right after I got to Wesley UMC, there was a miscommunication about chapel for our Lambs of God Daycare children. Our children’s director was out and had intended to cancel chapel but the daycare director missed the memo. The children were all assembled in the sanctuary with no one to lead them. Our office manager, Amy, came to the hall between the pastors’ offices and tried to judge whether Bruce or I looked busier….I failed. She said “you’re up! You need to do chapel right now!” Talk about fear and trembling! I can pull a sermon out of thin air for a group of adults, but coming up with a lesson for 25 screaming children? UGH!

I do think that this anxiety is lessening now that I’m a father and learning to relate to and teach my own child. Regardless of my comfort level, I know that Jesus loves children and so do I. My comfort level does nothing to diminish my love for children.

Mark 10:13-16(NRSV)

Jesus Blesses Little Children

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Jesus is teaching his followers that they should love children and put no barrier12108731_10201548438030221_5719593112764960690_n.jpg between him and the children. Second he teaches them that we should all receive God’s Kingdom with the heart of a little child. Yes, children make me nervous, I can admit that. But I will instruct them nonetheless because I love them and want to share God’s love with them. I have tried to insert myself into more and more situations where ministry to children is the focus.
I love talking with the kids that I drive on our bus for Kids Konnection on Wednesday. My day can go from bad to fantastic when I get bombarded with hugs when I visit Lambs of God. I want to take “instructing the children” so seriously that every church I serve becomes known as the place where children are welcome and safe. I want to know their names and for them to know me as teacher and friend.

I didn’t come to follow Jesus Christ until I was 14 years old. How I wish I would have known Him as a child. I want my girls to know Him and love him much earlier than I did. I’m striving to take very seriously this call to instruct my own children and the children in every place regarding the life-giving relationship offered to them in Jesus Christ!

Will you diligently instruct the children in every place? I will.

Nineteen Questions-13: Will You Support and Maintain Them?

Will you support and maintain them [our Church government and polity]?

I suppose it was pretty clear in my last reflection—in fact, I think I may have started reflecting on this question during the last, that having studied and approved of our church discipline, government and polity, I do pledge my support and maintenance.

I will support our discipline and polity by agreeing to be held accountable to the covenant I’ve made as a United Methodist elder in full connection. I will support our structure by working within the covenant. That to say that I don’t think Wesley intended this to be a question to which the answer was blind loyalty. I fully believe that the Church always stands in need of reform and that includes our structures….government and polity. We need to continually be inquiring whether our government and polity are structured in such a way to give us the greatest effectiveness to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” If something needs reformed, then appropriate channels should be pursued for achieving that reformation….not simply ignoring the problem or structure. I believe this constant striving for perfection of our government and polity is actually an important part of supporting it.

I will keep our church government and polity by teaching it. Frankly, I’m growing weary of the number of people who think that the denomination, or the bishop, or the cabinet, or open itinerancy, or apportionments, or the conference are some kind of sworn enemies of the local church. SupportSystem_118861858.jpgOur Church is organized to be connectional and we need to wave the flag on that…embracing our structure and working within it so that the whole Church moves forward in the establishment of God’s Kingdom. None of the aforementioned entities are perfect (that’s where the previously referenced reformation may come in) but we need to embrace all of who we are as United Methodists.

Will you support and maintain them? I will, with God’s help.