Monday, December 19, 2005

Life Happens - Embrace the Joy!

I wrote a few weeks ago that some things in life are “messy.” Another statement that I would put right next to that: “Sometimes, reality kicks in. Life happens.” (I think we all know the more colorful word we often substitute for “life.”)

Sunday was such a joyful day at Reidland; the singing of familiar hymns, hearing a beautiful choral arrangement sung, the baptism of a baby girl, and the reading of the Annunciation as re-corded in Luke’s Gospel. It was one of those days that I said to myself, “Today, we have worshiped the Lord!”

Late Sunday evening, I received a phone call. The Rev. Henry Jeffries, a part-time pastor, had a heart attack during one of the worship services and died. I was Henry’s clergy mentor and the news shocked me to the core. Henry was such a gifted pastor and kind-hearted man. His death at this time of the year rekindled my memory of a December in 1999, when my grandmother died on Christmas Eve (my parents’ anniversary) while I was flirting with my own death in a cardiac care unit. My mother was so upset that she didn’t even attend her own mother’s funeral, and I suspect these events hastened her own death nine months later. I fully understand how Christmas can bring bad memories for some of us.

Henry’s recent death reminds me that even in this season of joy, “life happens.” But this season also reminds me that… life happens! The connection between Christmas and Easter is unmistakable, and the thread running through it is life, joy, and peace. A child is born of a Virgin named Mary, who instead of saying, “Woe is me,” says, “Here I am” – and then sings her thanksgiving and joy to the Lord.

You hear me say often in worship that we are Easter People. I think that means that we’re also Christmas people. Amidst the tragedies of life, at Christmas time we are reminded that at the birth of Jesus, life happens: life emergent, life abundant, and life eternal. There is no tragedy, no happenstance, no death that can rob us of the joy of the Christ child, who comes to save the world.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless us, everyone.

Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Celebrating Christmas

This past week, I became very disappointed in some things that I read. Southland Christian Church, the largest church in Kentucky, will not be holding worship services on Sunday, Dec. 25th. Neither will Willow Creek Church outside of Chicago, another “megachurch.” If canceling Sunday worship services on Christmas Day is going to become a trend, will Easter be next? Asbury professor Ben Witherington, a United Methodist, said this (and this) on his blog page:

Our culture does not need any encouragement to be more self-centered and narcissistic or to stay at home on Sunday. It is already that way. Christmas above all else should be a day when we come together as the body of Christ to worship and adore the Lord Jesus. Christmas should be the day above all days where we don't stay home and open all those things we bought for ourselves INSTEAD of going to church. Christmas should be the day when we forget about ourselves for a few hours and go and honor the birthday of the great King, our Savior.

I am pleased that we are a traditional church. But I don’t want us to just stop there – I think we can be both a traditional church AND offer something to those who are unchurched. But I never want to compromise the faith in the process. To me, not worshiping on Sunday just because it is Christmas Day is an unacceptable compromise.

We have some wonderful opportunities for celebrating Christmas worship. Our Christmas Eve service will be held at 11 PM on the 24th, and we will have one worship service on the 25th at 10:45 AM. If you would like transportation to the Christmas Eve service, please call the church office so we can make those arrangements for you. Communion will be served at the Christmas Eve service, and if you have guests or family visiting, please let them know that all Christians are welcome at the Table.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Much Ado About Nothing

My daughter is more excited about seeing Narnia than she was about The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Nothing has made my heart leap more than to see her read C.S. Lewis. The pastor at the last church I served is encouraging folks to see the movie as well. What could be more encouraging!

Yet our denomination seems somewhat discouraging about the movie. Or maybe it's encouraging. Actually, I'm really not sure what the message is; it's like reading a letter from the Council of Bishops. It seems that the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries has learned to speak Bishopspeak as well. The whole statement can be read here.

Shane Raynor at Wesley Blog said that he couldn't have written a parody that would have been as outrageous as this press release. I tend to agree.

A quote: "We want our members to see the movie. Talk about it with your kids. Talk about the message of the resurrection and the lessons it shares from our faith... But then, we need to help people understand that by commercializing the message, the marketers are destroying the example of sacrifice."

I wonder if the United Methodist Women approve of the Igniting Ministry commercials. Don't commercials necessarily commericialize?

Sometimes, I think our church leaders would do well to heed the lesson of Xenocrates: "I have often regretted my speech, never my silence." Better yet, the words of the preacher in Ecclesiastes: "There is a time to keep silence."

Having said that... maybe I ought to shut up, too.



Wednesday, December 07, 2005

How conveeeeenient...

I saw on two other blogs that Southland Church in Lexington (KY) - a "megachurch" - is going to be closed on Christmas Day. I couldn't believe that, so I went and checked their site and the Christmas schedule (click here).

I'll be danged!

Are we going to bow to convenience so much that Christians don't even have to worship on Christmas Day anymore?

Yes... I'm ranting.

Grace and peace,


Monday, December 05, 2005

Questions We Need to Continually Ask

1. Why do people need Christ?
2. Why do people need the church?
3. Why do they need this particular church?
4. To whom does this church belong?

- from Adam Hamilton’s Leading Beyond the Walls - Developing Congregations with a Heart for the Unchurched

These are questions that we as a church are going to have to ask ourselves everyday, every time a committee meets, and every time we pray about our church’s ministry. Why? Because I believe that they are the very questions that strike at the heart of who we are supposed to be. These are the questions we have to ask when we look at how the church should be publicized, structured, and operated, and that includes designs for worship, pastoral care, preaching, weddings and funerals, and fundraising.

As I said a few Sundays ago, a common definition of an active church member could be this: “One who devotes his/her time to the care and feeding of the institutional church.” The problem with that is that most unchurched people have no concept of the institutional church… because they have no concept of Christ! To be an effective church, we are going to have to equip and empower ourselves to engage culture in creative and meaningful ways. In the words of Adam Hamilton, a more meaningful definition of an active church member will no longer be defined by their contributions of time, talent, and treasures within the church; but will be defined by whether church members are engaging their culture in meaningful ways outside the walls of the church. In short: members need to become missionaries to the culture.

One person (Reggie McNeil) is more direct: "Until we bless people who 'go out' from us to reach people who may not come to us, we will continue to have a kingdom vision that is shrink-wrapped to church programs and church real estate." Ouch.

If we were to adopt such a process, all we will be really doing is going back to the roots of Methodism – which began as a renewal and missional outreach program of the Anglican Church. Or even more basic are the words of Jesus: “Go out and make disciples, teaching and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Craft of Discipleship

I often suffer from bouts of insomnia. Rather than fight it, I usually get up out of bed and do something. I used to read… but since I like to read, that often kept me up the rest of the night. So instead, I watch movies. Sometimes I get sleepy. Sometimes I don’t.

Watching movies, I marvel at how well actors do their job and to what lengths they will go to perfect their craft. Among the best acting jobs ever was Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. Thornton portrays a man named Karl Childers, a simple-minded man who is released from a psychiatric hospital where he has lived since committing murder at age 12. He befriends a young boy and his mother and must confront the mother's violent boyfriend, as well as his own dark past.

Thornton’s acting was brilliant: Karl comes off just as complex as any other human being, with struggles and history. His strange mannerisms and gait are so good that you really have to remind yourself that it’s Thornton. I later learned how Thornton made himself to consistently look so awkward while walking during the shooting of the film: he placed crushed glass in his shoes.

Some might think that extreme… but there are thousands of tales similar to that in the history of movie and television: Leonard Nimoy’s molded pointed ears (Mr. Spock) caused him a lot of physical pain. Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Woodsmen in The Wizard of Oz but he was highly allergic to the toxic aluminum power makeup, had a severe reaction, and was replaced. Chevy Chase was known for his imitations of President Gerald Ford falling, and now suffers from a lot of back pain as a result.

Some would say that it’s not worth it. The counter to that is that learning and perfecting a craft often comes at a price. I think it’s no different with discipleship: if we learn and perfect the craft of discipleship, it will come at a price for us. But I would say that it’s worth the price when we consider the price Christ paid for us.

Mmmm hmmm.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, November 21, 2005

Difficulties in Matters of Conscience

I have spent some time this afternoon thinking about what we mean by “conscience.” Not in a metaphysical, psychological, philosophical way (that would actually be consciousness, I think) but in a theological way. I mean, if theology is the study of God, we’re all theologians, right?

The word conscience appeared twice in the United Methodist Reporter last week. The first time was in an article about the Judicial Council ruling regarding a pastor’s responsibility in determining membership readiness. One of our bishops, Bishop Janice Huie, said that her fear was that “the conscience of the pastor” could be put above the church as a whole. Of course, there are going to be people at odds with either stance.

A couple of pages over a byline reads, “Bishops Release Statement of Conscience of Iraq War,” (italics mine). In it, the bishops state their “complicity in what we believe to be the unjust and immoral invasion and occupation in Iraq.” Not all of the bishops signed it – our bishop didn’t. However, ninety-five did. I know two retired servicemen, both highly decorated officers, who are split on their opinion. One says that America needs to be in Iraq no matter what the costs. The other, a World War II veteran, says that it’s Vietnam all over again and we need to get out.

It’s clear that our bishops aren’t united on these issues; neither are the rest of us. But how do we allow for conscience in some things yet deny it in others – especially in matters of the faith? I’m firmly convinced that these things fall under the heading of “Life is Messy.”

I did disaster clean-up the other day in Marshall County, KY (the site of a recent tornado) and I got pine sap all over my Carhartt’s. My small efforts were barely perceptible – helping to clean up one lot among hundreds. I suspect the work of the Kingdom is like that: messy, tedious… nothing fast or easy about it. But I know God is there, and He expects us to struggle with it, as He struggles with us. Thanks be to God.

Grace and Peace,