Saturday, December 1, 2012

Jesus and Santa


This video does a good job of using humor to sum up why my wife and I have told our daughters the truth about Santa Claus.  They are welcome to pretend Santa brings them the presents, but they know they are from us.  And we have verbally told them: "you know you should be good and behave well, however, whether you are bad or good you will get presents at Christmas simply because we love you and that's how much Jesus loves you too!"  I believe it's an awesome message that is close to the heart of Jesus.



Monday, November 26, 2012

How to Train Your Dragon

I recently watched How to Train your Dragon and loved it...how have I not seen this until now?

The movie does a great job of addressing how ignorance and misguided assumptions lead to unnecessary violence.

The connection made between Hiccup and Toothless is asbolutely masterful.

I can see using this one in a sermon soon.  It would definitely fit for a sermon on racism and ignorance.




Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Daddy of Girls

As the father of two daughters I loved this article:

http://www.fromdatestodiapers.com/50-rules-for-dads-of-daughters

The article pointed me to a great blog written by a dad of girls: http://lifetoheryears.com/

That blog led to me finding this sweet song:


I'm blessed to be a daddy of girls.  The article, blog and song make me realize that I need to say "yes" more when one of them asks me "will yo play with me."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Your Life a Letter


This is the article I wrote for Catawba UMC's newsletter for the month of October:

            During the summer between my Junior and Senior year at UNC-Wilmington I served as a youth intern under the full time youth pastor at a large Presbyterian church in Wilmington.  At the end of the internship he wrote a general letter of recommendation for me knowing that I would be applying for ministry positions after I graduated.  That letter of recommendation was so good that in two different interviews one of the interviewers mentioned the letter and how highly I came recommended in it.  I’m sure that letter helped me land an internship as a youth pastor at another church while I was Seminary.     
           
Did you know that letters of recommendation existed in the New Testament?  Paul lived in a society that placed a similar value on personal achievements and introductory letters as employers do today.   Itinerant speakers in particular were expected to carry letters of reference with them as they travelled from place to place.  In his letters Paul often recommended his pastoral colleagues in ministry to the churches he had planted (Rom 16:1-2; 1 Cor 4:17; 2 Cor 8:16-24; Phil 2:19-30).  Paul, however, never carried letters of recommendation for himself. 
           
In chapter 3 of 2nd Corinthians Paul asks a few rhetorical questions about the validity of his ministry and uses the metaphor of a letter of recommendation to make his point.  Instead of an actual letter about his credentials, He says that “you” (meaning the Corinthian Christians) are our letter.  Then in verse three he writes: You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
           
For Paul, the work of Spirit of the living God in the lives of the Corinthian Christians was all the recommendation required for his ministry to be valid.  It was not about what was actually written or not written, it was about the work of the Spirit.  It wasn’t about ink on tablets, it was about the Spirit’s work within people’s hearts and how that manifested itself among the people of Corinth.  It was not about who was worthy or who was recommended, it was about people responding to the power of the Spirit.  For Paul, the greatest letter of recommendation for his ministry was in how the people responded to the Spirit at work among them.
           
What kind of letter are you writing with your life?  Is your life a “letter of recommendation for Christ” or is it discrediting His name?  Are you a living witness to the God of love and grace and forgiveness when you are among your peers?  What kind of letter is your life writing to the people who are reading it?  What kind of letter are you writing to your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, your coworkers and your friends by the decisions you make?  Is it a letter recommending a real relationship with Christ as the best possible way to live life? 

There are too many Christians who give Christ a bad name…if you are a Christian your job is to give Christ an exceptional recommendation with the way you live your life.                                                                                                                       

Friday, September 7, 2012

300

To celebrate my 300th blog post I am doing two things:

First, I am giving you some random thoughts about the number 300
and
second I am taking a sabbatical from my blog until September 19th or 20th...so post number 301 will have to wait until then.

So Here are some random things about the number 300:

-It's the title of a movie I really like

-It's the number of Jelly Belly's I can eat in one sitting (my favorite flavors are Tutti Fruiti, Cherry, Sizzling Cinnamon (not to be confused with regular cinnamon) Peach, Tangerine, Cream Soda and Root Beer.  Here's a little secret: if I get sizzling cinnamon and cherry I put them in different bags so I don't get confused between them.

-According to Wikipedia: 300 is a triangular number and the sum of a pair of twin primes (149 + 151), as well as the sum of ten consecutive primes (13 + 17 + 19 + 23 + 29 + 31 + 37 + 41 + 43 + 47). It is also a Harshad number.
-If you type 300 into Google the first hit you get is for the new 300 Sedan from Chrysler, the second hit is to watch the movie 300 online and the third hit is for a Lexus IS 300 from Carmax.  

-It's the number of days Xavier Rosset lived on an island and filmed a documentary...here's a link to the video synopsis of him.

-The title of a book actually has the number in it four times...don't believe me, check it out here.

-And lastly...300 is the approximate number of hours before I post the next blog.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Leadership Quote

I was listening briefly to an interview on the radio recently.  The host was interviewing author Lysa Terkeurst.  She wrote Made to Crave and she was a guest on the program to promote her most recent book Unglued.

I haven't read either of the books and had not heard of the author until listening to the interview.  I will say that Unglued looks like it could be a really good read...the sub title "Making Wise choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions" is right up my alley!



In the few minutes I listened to the interview the author had an incredible leadership quote, she said:

"Don't let criticism go to your heart and don't let compliments go to your head."

I thought it was excellent...no brilliant advice for leaders. 

It is so easy to let citicism affect our heart to the point of disrupting our personal relationships.  That's when we internalize it, that's when we have let it go to our heart.

It is also easy to let compliments effect how we lead.  Maybe we think we can do it on our own.  Or maybe we become complacent.  If we receive enough compliments we may even be tempted to think God is done accomplishing things through us.

I know this advice is easier said than done, but it's worth pursuing.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hate the sin love the sinner?

We are in a series called "That's not in the Bible" and this Sunday I talked about the phrase "Hate the sin love the sinner."

Here's the main hilights:

- When Augustine used the phrase, he used it about his own sin.  When we use the phrase it's always about someone else's sin or some group of people's sin.

- The sin we are usually talking about is homosexuality...what about all the other sins in the world?
 
- When Ghandi used the phrase he talked about how difficult it is to practice.  Here's his quote: “Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which though easy enough to understand is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.”

- When we use the phrase it comes across as judgmental.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this about judging: “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”  Even if we are well intentioned in our use of the phrase it comes across as judgmental.

- We should only use judgment on those who have given us permission to do so.  There is a place for a type of judgment or fruit inspection or accountability...but only for those that have given us permission to do so in their lives. 

- Using the phrase comes off as self-righteous because it's always about someone else's sin and not our own.  It comes across as "I'm better than/holier than/more Christian than you are."

- If you are going to hate someone's sin, hate your own!

- While I agree with the message of the phrase, I do not think humans have the capacity to practice it's precept because we have such a difficult time separating the sin from the person.

- When it comes to being an effective witness in the world for Christ Christians should start with love and grace not with judgement. 

- For these reasons, Christians should put this phrase in the grave never to use it again (unless teaching against using it)!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Moderation in all things

On Sunday I preached part three in a series called "That's not in the Bible!" and the message centered on the phrase "in all things moderation." 

I talked about wisdom when it comes to having self-control.  The Bible teaches in Galatians 5 that self-control is in fact a fruit of the Spirit.  Moderation of certain things is a good thing. 

However, I spent the majority of the sermon talking about how there are some things that should not be moderated.  We should not moderate love.  We should not moderate forgiveness.  We should not moderate prayer.  We should not moderate worship. 

I'm so glad that God did not moderate his grace towards us.  I am so glad that God did not "sort of" save us but saved us all the way.  God has not mostly forgiven us, He has forgiven us for everything we've done, are doing and will do if we seek His forgiveness in Christ.

What then should our response be?  In 1 Thessalonians 16-18 Paul writes: 16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  According to Paul, there's no place for moderation when it comes to joy, prayer and gratitude. 

Our response should be like Mary's when she pours a year's worth of perfume on Jesus' feet and worships him with everything she has and everything she is.  What a perfect example of worship without moderation.

Moderation in some things: yes
Moderation in all thigns: no

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Olympics and Resurrection


The Olympics are a big deal in our household.  Our family has been excited about the 2012 summer games in London.  We will watch what we can and record what we know we will miss so we can watch it later on.  Mikayla and Bayley get in on the fun too.  It probably doesn’t surprise any of you that they’re favorite competition is women’s gymnastics.

Here are several reasons I like watching the Olympics:
1. I am amazed at the athletic ability of the individuals: just try to do one turn on the Pommel horse or swim 100 meters (any stroke) and you’ll be amazed too!  

2. I think about the time, effort, commitment, fortitude and determination the athletes put into training for the Olympics and I am just blown away. We get to see the culmination of all of that training. For the athletes, this is their moment and we get to root them on.

3. The motivation: They are not competing for money, they are doing it to represent their country by seeing how they stack up against the best in the world.

4. It’s so much fun to root for US athletes, not just for a particular team (like the Carolina Panthers). There is a sense of pride when a US Olympian medals.  

5. The stories: I love hearing about the sacrifices a parent has made or the incredible obstacles that an individual has overcome to arrive on the Olympic stage.

One of the coolest stories in this year’s Olympics is out South Africa about a runner named Oscar Pistorius.  He was originally ban from the 2008 summer Olympics by the International Association of Athletics Federations.  He wasn’t ban because of drugs or cheating, he was ban because he’s a double amputee and runs on prosthetic legs. 



This was deemed an unfair advantage by the IAAF and he was banned from competing.  However, in May of 2008 the Court of Arbitration for Sport reversed the ruling allowing Pistorius the opportunity to compete.  He failed to make the South African Olympic team in 2008 and vowed to train hard and make the team in 2012.  He succeeded in his quest and will be competing in the individual 400 meters and the 4x400-meter relay.  Did I mention he doesn’t have legs?

Its stories like this that impress, inspire and move me.  These kinds of stories remind me that the resurrection didn’t just happen, it happens.  Yes, even in athletics I see the resurrection power at work.  Some people will claim that these individual accomplishments are simply the power of the human spirit at work.  I don’t buy it… and even if I did I would ask “who gave us that human spirit?”  I choose to believe that it’s the work of God because of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  A man without legs competing against the top runners in the world could not happen if not for God’s involvement in our world. 

It’s not by accident that the writer of Hebrews penned these words in the first verse of chapter 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” 

If the Olympic Games aren’t a great example of the rewards of perseverance then I don’t know what is.  God is at work everywhere…we just have to be willing to pay attention.  I hope you will join in me in thinking about resurrection and perseverance and faithfully running the race of life as you watch the 2012 summer Olympics.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Carolina Cross Connection 2012

Last week I attended Carolina Cross Connection.  I attended last year as well and had a great time. 

Before leaving this year I was nervous.  I was worried about a getting a project that we couldn't complete or one that I didn't have the expertise to do well.  I had some reservations about going and not really want to go. 

However, I'm so glad I did go.  It was a week all about serving others and spending time with fellow Christians in an environment conducive to growing close to God.

It was a much different experience than last year.  I remember being stressed last year about building a wheelchair ramp, painting a really high area and cleaning out the basement of a house with awful mold and dead rats.  I guess that's why I was nervous before the trip this year.

The projects given to my work team this year were much simpler.  We painted two days, did yard work two days and built two small step down ramps in one day. 

The staff was passionate, fun, enthusiastic and all about the youth having fun and growing in their faith. 

It was a great week of work, worship and fun!  I would recommend a CCC trip to anyone!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Honey Bees and the Church


I have a new appreciation for honey bees and honey.  I don't know quite when it happened, but it happened.  Because of this new found appreciation I used honey bees as an illustration of how the church should function in the sermon last Sunday.  I have discovered that honey bees are fascinating creatures.  I'm so glad God made them!

Here are some fun facts for you:

-The honey bee is the only insect that produces food eaten by man.

-Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it's the only food that contains "pinocembrin", an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.

-Worker honey bees are female, live for about 6 weeks and do all the work. 

-The average worker bee produces about 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

While those facts may relate to the church, the reason I thought about honey bees when I thought about the church is because each bee has a role to play in the hive.  Each bee has a purpose and if each bee does not fulfill it's purpose, then the hive is at risk of dying.

Here's the various roles of each honey bee:

-The queen lays eggs.

-The drones are the males, they eat and mate, that’s it.

-The worker bees are females…when they are young they keep the hive clean, they tend to the queen bee, they make the comb, they keep the hive cool and they guard the hive. When they get older, they become foragers and gather nectar, pollen, water and a special materials to construct the hive. Worker bees will even remove carcasses from the hive.

For the hive to exist, each bee has to do it’s job. It has to fulfill it’s purpose.

It reminds me of what Paul wrote in the 12th chapter of 1st Corinthians.  After using the human body as an illustration of the oneness of the church and the purpose of each individual member, in verse 27 he says "You are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it."

You matter to God.  You matter to the Church.  You are valuable and you have a purpose.  You have a mission.  For the church to be everything God wants it to be in the world you must believe this about yourself and act accordingly.

Remember the honey bee. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Harbinger: My Thoughts


I just finished reading Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger.  A church member had told me it was a must read.  Just a couple of days after she told me about it I saw a copy of the book at my parent’s house.  One of my mom’s friends told her it was her favorite book.  My mom tried to read it and said she had to put it down.  I was curious, so I picked it up and read it in a morning. 

To be fair and honest, I did not fully immerse myself in the book, I skim read it after the first couple of chapters.  I found the book highly repetitive.  It seemed to be the same thing over and over again.  I am comfortable knowing that I would have come to the same conclusions even if I had read it with an intentional focus on detail.

The book is about a man who has been visited by a prophet several times and is given seven seals that are harbingers to America.  These harbingers connect the events of the Assyrian invasion of Israel to the events of 911.  It is told through the eyes of the man who received these visits as he shares them with a reporter.    

First, I like his conclusion: I do believe God is calling “us” back to him.  However, I would expand Cahn’s use of the word “us”.  I believe God is not just calling America back to him, I believe God is calling every individual of every nation, tribe and tongue!  And I believe He is calling us every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every year for the rest of our lives. 

Second, it gets ridiculously repetitive.  Not just the story, but the dialogue.  After the 3rd or 4th chapter I knew I could skim read and get the message the author was trying to convey.  I cannot imagine wading through the overly redundant dialogue with a focused intention. 

Third, I do not agree with the connections made between Israel falling to the Assyrians in the prophecies of Isaiah and the events of 911.  Israel was in a suzerain treaty type of covenant with their God.  That’s why God operated the way He did: He was executing the arrangements of the covenant.  In the New Testament Jesus fulfilled the old covenant to bring about a new covenant:  a covenant of grace. 

I do not see the founding fathers of the United States of America entering into a covenant with God like that of the Isaraelites.  They couldn’t have even if they had wanted too because the new covenant is one of grace established once and for all through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Fourth, what bothered me the most is that what Cahn does in the book.  It's eisegesis at its finest.  On the surface, the connections made between Israel (Isaiah 9:10) and the events of 911 seem amazing and more than a coincidence, however, without using good biblical hermeneutics anyone can make the Bible say anything they want it to say.  I have a really really hard time believing that the fall of Israel has anything at all to do with the tragic events of 911. 
What was written in Isaiah was for a specific time to a specific prophet with a specific audience in mind to address a specific situation.  To do what Cahn does is to neglect the original intent of the author and avoid good biblical interpretative methods. 

The easiest question I have ever had on an exam in seminary was this: what are the three most important things to consider when interpreting a text of the Bible?  There were three blanks numbered one two and three like this:

1.
2.
3.

The answer:
1.       Context

2.       Context

3.       Context

Cahn neglects the context of Isaiah and makes the text say what he wants it to say.  The reason it’s so persuasive is because Cahn breaks out some Hebrew words and meanings and demonstrates a capacity for bibilical history that the average Bible reader does not know.  The reader then gets sucked into thinking “well if he knows Hebrew and he knows Biblical history then his application must be right too.”  To be fair, my Hebrew is quite rusty, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of his use of the language.  While I do agree with the conclusion of Cahn’s application his process of getting there really bugs me as a pastor who takes serious consideration when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

Lastly, I can appreciate what Cahn is trying to accomplish with the book.  If I am right he is trying to warn America about it’s turning away from God (through greed, over consumption, selfishness, pride, etc.) and he’s trying to bring people to Christ.  However, these two noble purposes are executed with poor biblical interpretation and a redundant fictional story.

This book will probably be a bestseller because it’s about end times and America and mystery and seals and prophecies and how it is all connected.  For some reason many Christians love that kind of stuff.  I would just say “read with caution.”  People have said that this book has shaken them up and everyone needs to read it.  I didn't have that experience with this book.
However, books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan, Radical by David Platt, Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and my next read The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Stearns are the kind of books that shake me up as a Christian. 
Also, if you really want to get educated on how to read the Bible in a way that is faithful to the original context, two books I would recommend are How to Readthe Bible for All it’s Worth and The Blue Parakeet (I haven't read this one but I trust Scot Mcknight and have heard good things about it).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Post Ordination Thoughts

People have asked me if I feel different after being ordained.  I really don't.  Maybe that will change after I preach the first time since then but up to this point I feel the same.
How I "feel" takes nothing away anything from what happened in ordination.  Like I have written and said before, "feelings are fickle, they come and they go, they can change in an instant.  Therefore, our feelings don't define us, our God does."  How I feel about it doesn't change the impact of it.

I will say it seemed to happen really fast.  Like most things in life we look forward too.  I waited and waited and waited and waited with great anticipation and then it was over in a flash.  I assumed it would be like that but it still seems like it was too quick.

I really enjoyed the celebration beforehand.  We had dinner with family and friends before the service and it was just such a neat thing to get all those people together around the same table.

One really neat thing about the service itself was how emotional the Bishop was before ordaining us.  You could tell that he didn't take it lightly.  That he didn't just consider it as part of his job or as just another responsibility he had as Bishop.  You could tell that he counted it a privilege and honor to ordain us...thank you for that Bishop Goodpaster!

It was a great weekend and I will cherish it for as long as I live.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ordination

I am finally getting ordained!  This Saturday at the Western North Carolina Annual Conference (a several day gethering of UM pastors and lay people) I will be ordained as a United Methodist Pastor. 

Some of you may ask: aren't you already ordained?  The official answer is "no," my answer is "sort of."  Up to this point I have been commissioned.  In my own words, that means I have been in the process of getting ordained...on Saturday that process will come to completion. 

The bishop will ask us the historic Wesleyan questions on Wednesday.  These are questions that have been asked of United Methodist pastors entering ordination for a long time.  For your curiosity, here are the questions we will be asked:

1. Have you faith in Christ?
2. Are you going on to perfection?
3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
4. Are you earnestly striving after it?
5. Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?
6. Do you know the General Rules of our Church?
7. Will you keep them?
8. Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
9. After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
10. Will you preach and maintain them?
11. Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
12. Do you approve our Church government and polity?
13. Will you support and maintain them?
14. Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?
15. Will you visit from house to house?
16. Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example?
17. Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God?
18. Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?
19. Will you observe the following directions? a) Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary. b) Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.

Then on Saturday there will be a worship service where the bishop will lay hands on each of us individually and speak words of encouragement and calling and authority.  For those of you curious, it will look something like this:



Externally nothing changes.  I will still be pastoring the same church.  I will still be Pastor Rich or Reverend Tuttle.  I will have the same salary.  I will be under the same accountability that I have been under.  I don't think people will treat me differently.  So what will be different?

I mentioned one time to another pastor that nothing will change when I am ordained.  The pastor said "yes it does."  I said "what?"  And the pastor said "there's an anointing that comes."  I said "I will accept that."
I'm not saying that a person has to be ordained to be anointed, that's something God does.  However, I do believe that God can use ordination to bring a new anointing and I definitely want that!

One thing's for sure: it has been a long and at times frustrating process.  It has taken a total of six years to get to this point and that's after acquiring an M.Div. degree.  It took failing (I don't care that they call it a "deferral" because at the time it felt like "failing") two committees of the Board of Ordained Ministry and feeling manipulated during one of the interviews.  It took hours and hours and pages and pages of answering theological questions and discussing my calling and experiences I have had in ministry.  Of course through the process I have grown and gained valuable experience.  I can see the benefits of having the process the Methodist Church has on the way too ordination.  I didn't always like it but I can see the value in it. 

It will be nice to finally experience the "fruit of my labor" on Saturday! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Funeral Thoughts

In the last three weeks I have officiated three funerals.  I believe there is such a thing as a good funeral.  A good funeral should: 1. honor the person who died and 2. be a worship service to God. 

There are some basic do's and don'ts for a pastor when preparing and officiating a funeral.  Here are a few that I have learned over the years.

Do:

Visit the family before the service.  There are three things you want to accomplish by doing this.

1.  Be a comforting presence - as the pastor you represent God to this family.  There's probably more things to avoid saying than there are things you should say (scroll down for some examples what not to say in the Don't section). 
 
2. Get to know the loved one who passed - ask about funny stories, favorite memories, what kind of father/mother/brother/sister/son/daughter/friend were they, what did they love, what did they hate, did they have any hobbies, did they have any favorite bible verses, hymns, songs, bands?  All these things make preparing the eulogy so much easier and helps you honor his/her memory.  Take good notes during this time!

3. Start planning the service - Ask the family about songs, scriptures and people they may want to ask to share about the person's life.  Ask them about former pastors that may want to come and share memories.   

Don't:

Offer glib cliches that are well intended yet highly unhelpful in the midst of grief.  This is the time when if you don't know what to say, it's better to say nothing.  Just let them know you care about them and are there for them.

Some cliches to avoid:
- Don't worry they are in a better place
- You are so fortunate to have other children
- God must have wanted another flower for his garden/angel for his heaven
- Death is a part of life
- You shouldn't grieve like an unbeliever
- It's great that your mom/dad died before you did

Do:

For the service and eulogy...even if you didn't know the person, pretend you did.

- Be honest about how you met and what you knew and didn't know about the person, but don't blatantly share that you didn't know them well...you lose some credibility if you do that.

- If you took good notes when visiting the family they will assume you knew the person well by what you share.

Don't:

Talk too much about what heaven is like...either when visting the family or in the eulogy...stick to what we do know from the Bible. 

- We know that even though the loved one was a good person, their goodness does not get them into heaven, forgiveness found in Jesus Christ does.

- We know that Christians are given new, imperishable, resurrected bodies...this is really good to talk about in contrast to any illnesses/infirmities/difficult struggles the person may had...they are free from those now!

- We know that at some point God is going to make all things new.  Talking about the new heavens and new earth are much more biblically sound than all the associations that come with talking about just "heaven."

- We know that God promises to comfort those who mourn.

Don't:

Use the eulogy to preach a person into or out of heaven or hell.

- Lets face it, it's easier to do a service and eulogy for someone we know professed faith in Jesus Christ, however, if we didn't know their faith, it's not our place to play judge.

- In the instance of someone who the family thinks was not a believer, I lean on the truth that God has more grace than we give him credit for and we never know whether or not a person gave their lives to Christ at the last second...even if just in their own minds. 

- Either way, a good eulogy should be mostly about the persons life not on where they ended up. 

Do:

Give the family and friends permission to grieve.

- Saying something like "grief is normal and necessary and it's by going through grief that we can find healing" can give families assurance that they aren't alone and that their emotions are normal.

- We live in a culture that is uncomfortable with tears.  People may be slow to tell stories about the person who passed to the family for fear that they will cause the person to cry.  Telling those stories is a good thing.  Sharing the memories is an essential part of honoring the person and bringing healing to the family.

Don't:

Don't be scared to share appropriate humorous stories and memories of the loved one.

- It's okay for people to laugh about a funny story or memory during the eulogy.  The family and those gathered will appreciate it.

- Avoid sharing a story if the family specifically asked you not to share it.

- If it's something that could paint the person negatively, try to spin it with humor.  If it was true of the person people will know and laugh with you if you laugh.  For example, if a person has a lot of quips and idiosyncrosies you can share how unique they were.  I once shared about a person that had a "quiet stubbornness" and talked about how that was both a great strength (she had convictions) and at times a weakness (wasn't always willing to give into others suggestions).

- One time I visited a lady and she was asleep.  I sat there a minute to see if she would wake up and apparently she woke up and I was asleep.  At her funeral eulogy I shared the story and said that she was the only person in the church besides my wife that could say she had slept with the preacher.  People laughed.  I had gotten permission from the family to tell that first. 

Do:

Bring an item that represents the person if you can find something appropriate and relevant.

- I have:
1. brought and shown and talked about a persons favorite candy
2. brought and shown and talked about a rock for someone who loved rocks
3. brouth a pepsi for someone who loved pepsi
4. brought and shown and talked about a cookie for someone who loved cookies
5. worn gardening gloves for someone who loved to garden
6. seen a pastor wear overalls under his coat and taken off the coat as a surprise to honor the one who passed
7. seen someone bring golf clubs and swung one for someone who loved golf

- If there was something they loved using it as a prop is a great way to begin a eulogy.

Do:

Find a scripture for the eulogy that fits the person well.  For a eulogy it's okay to take some appropriate creative licensing with scripture.  You don't want to take the verses out of context but at the same time you don't have to teach the scripture either.  I usually keept the background info very basic and simple to speed up the movement into how the verses fit the persons life.   

- Today I used Matthew 25:19-23 to talk about man who had went on over 26 mission trips.  He was a man willing and glad to serve the kingdom of God.  I'm sure he heard God say those words "well done good and faithful servant."

- 2 Timothy 4:6-8 is a good one for someone who is older, had a "good" death and had a strong faith.  It's easy to think of ways that the person either "fought the good fight" or "kept the faith."  You can say "And now they have finished the race of life well and are experiencing the eternal joy of their salvation" or something along those lines.

- Joshua 1:5-9 is excellent for someone who had strength and courage in the midst of difficult times.

- I have used Numbers 6:22-27 (focusing on verse 27) for a man who had "put his name" on his family.  In so many ways his legacy was known through his family.


These are just a few Do's and Dont's, I'm sure there's others I'm not thinking of.  If you think of anymore please share them in the comments.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Frustration of Unidentifiable Results

If you need identifiable results from the work you do to feel affirmed, do not go into ministry.  In most professions if you do the work you see results.  They may not always be the results you want, but the results, either positive or negative, are identifiable. 

Doctor - you either make someone better or you don't...either way there's an identifiable result

Lawyer - you either win the case, lose the case or find middle ground with a plea bargain...either way there's an identifiable result

Mechanic - you either fix the car or you don't...either way there's an identifiable result

Farmer - you work to raise crops or animals and see the results

Accountant - you crunch numbers and find the results of the numbers

Sales person - you either get the sale or you don't...either way you know the outcome

Manager - people either want to work for you and do well for the company or they don't, either way, while it may take time, the results will be identifiable at some point

Therapist - if it's a long term relationship with a client - you either see progress or not - either way there are results

Ministry:

You preach - you put your heart and soul and self into a sermon and deliver it yet you never know if it really connected.  You never really know how God is using it in people's lives that week.

You counsel - you share time with an indivdual and/or couple and encourage them and point them to biblical truth and may even make a difference in their lives. But you can't see whether or not they are genuine and "buying" what you are sharing with them. You can't see what's happening inside of them.

You officiate funerals and weddings - you plan and prepare for these important services.  You deliver the eulogy at a funeral and the message at a wedding but you never really know if your words helped the family or if your words will be heeded by the man and woman.

You lead - you lead by pointing the leadership of the church towards changes that you believe are desired by God.  Those decisions are made and change occurs that could either shrink the church or grow the church, either way, while there may be results, it's hard to discern whether the results are because of a good decision or bad decision.  Numeric growth doesn't always equal health and numeric decline doesn't always equal lack of health.  Sometimes a church needs to shrink before it grows, it's just hard to see whether or not the results are due to a wise decision or unwise decision.


Please do not misunderstand, I love being in ministry and I am not trying to gain pity or sympathy.  I am not trying to say "poor me I can't see results."  More times than not I find myself fulfilled with what I am doing.  And to be honest, there are times when you do see and hear about results (I'm not talking about the assumed "good message pastor" on the way out after the service, that's usually...not always...but usually just a cordiality).  Maybe it's a phone call after a sermon or a card after a visit or an e-mail several years after counseling with someone.  These are wonderful affirmations of your ministry, however, they are few and far between.   

What I am saying is that ministry is unique.  There have been seasons in my ministry that are frustrating because I cannot see results even though I am putting in the work.  It's difficult to work and work and work and see no identifiable results of that effort.  Dealing with that frustration comes with the territory of ministry.

So if a person is results oriented and called into ministry, they need to know that they will face the frustration of unidentifiable results in their ministry at some point or another.  It comes with the calling.  Maybe this is one reason so many pastors burn out in less than 7 years.  They get tired of not seeing results of their efforts and choose a career where identifiable results are more obvious.  It makes sense.

There are three ways I deal with the frustration of unidentifiable results in ministry:

1. When there is an affirmation/result of my ministry, I accept it and give it staying power in my life...I know I'm going to need it to last a long time.  I was telling a counselor one time about a "win" in ministry and how good it felt.  He asked me "is that enough to keep you in ministry."  After a pause I said "for now it is." 

2. I choose to believe that God is at work even when I cannot see it.  If I am faithful and obedient to what God is calling me to do and to who God is calling me to be, then the results are up to Him, not me.  This is hard to do when the results seem to be counterintuitive.  There is a decision the leadership at Catawba made at my request that has hurt the church both in attendance and in budget.  I still think as hard as it is, it was the right decision.  It grieves me to see people leave the church and for there to be tension in relationships but I have to trust that God is doing something I cannot see.

3. I choose to beleive that my identity is not in the results of my ministry, but in my relationship with my God.  I am called to be faithful and obedient in ministry.  I am called to be a steward and to be accountable as a leader.  I take that calling seriously.  However, the results of my ministry and the feelings surrounding those results, whether celebratory or frustrating, do no define who I am.  Choosing to live in the truth that I am loved by Christ regardless of what I've done, am doing and will ever do should be where I find my identity.  The work of Christ on the cross and the susequent result means that I don't have to put my faith in results but in the finished accomplishment of Jesus Christ.

  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Response to Charles Worley

This blog post is the article I wrote for the Catawba Current this month, our church newsletter:

          If you didn’t know by now, Pastor Charles Worley of Providence Baptist Church in Maiden has been in the national headlines.  On Sunday, May 13th in response to Amendment One and President Obama’s statement regarding gay marriage, Worley shared his thoughts on homosexuality in his sermon.  Here are his words verbatim: “I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn't get it past the Congress. Build a great big, large fence – 50 or 100 miles long – put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals, and have that fence electrified so they can't get out. Feed them. And you know what? In a few years, they'll die out. Do you know why? They can't reproduce."

The video of his statement made it to the social media juggernaut www.youtube.com and has since received national attention, in case you missed it, here it is:

           
            As a Christian and a pastor Worley’s words grieve me.  I know I am not perfect in what and how I communicate, however, his words were blatant ignorance and foolishness.  I can only hope that he was trying to illustrate a point about how same-sex couples can’t reproduce, however, such a horribly insensitive and inflammatory illustration is inexcusable.

            Statements like Worley’s are what give Christians everywhere a bad reputation.  Worley’s words are known now to millions of people who assume that all Christians believe what he said.  Even if he repents and apologizes (which I think he should) the damage has been done to the reputation of the Christian faith.

            For those of you curious about my stance on the matter, I stand in agreement with the statement found in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.  In case you’re curious it’s found at Paragraph 161G and states:

Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God's grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

            I like the balanced stance of our denomination.  I think it is biblically faithful, takes a stand and shows grace all at the same time.  We know from the Bible that we are created in God’s image and that God is the giver of all life, therefore all persons are of sacred worth.  However, we also know from the Bible that we have a tendency to go against God’s best for our lives…this predisposition is the power of sin in the world and in our lives.  The practice of homosexuality is just one among hundreds of ways that some people give into sin.

Yes, I believe the practice of homosexuality is a sin, however, so is the practice of heterosexuality outside the holy covenant of marriage.  For several reasons (mainly because of the political debates and votes on the issue of gay marriage) the sin of homosexual practice has been elevated as greater than other sins.  While Paul does make it a point to single out sexual sin as different from other sins (1st Corinthians 6:18) we must be careful in judging people who are tempted by same-sex attraction. 

I have never experienced the temptation that comes with same-sex attraction, however, I have experienced temptation in other ways.  I know what it is like to be tempted because I am human.  I also know how easy it is to give into temptation.  It takes a lot of work to resist temptation. 

Just because I am not tempted by something that tempts someone else doesn’t mean I have any right to think less of them.  What tempts me may not tempt someone else.  I am not tempted by alcoholic beverages.  I do not have to work hard to resist getting drunk.  Many people are tempted by alcohol…even Christians.  And many of them have not yet won that battle…even Christians.  If you think it is your job to call out the sin in others, remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge or you too will be judged.”  There’s a big difference between judging someone by their fruit and recognizing them by their fruit.  Let us be careful about judging others and focus on resisting our own temptations by loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Two Weeks

Man, I just realized that it has been two weeks since I have blogged.  I'm not sure why. 

The current sermon series is called Emoticons.  It was inspired by my seven year old daughter who loves to put Emoticons in e-mails to her grandmother. 

So far we have dealt with emotions around anticipation...that was for graduation Sunday on the 20th.  The point of the sermon was "Don't ever graduate."  Christians should always be growing and learning and "being conformed to the image of Christ." (Romans 8:29).

Yesterday we talked about the emotion of anger.  The point was "if you don't control your anger, your anger will cotnrol you."  I borrowed four ways to deal with anger from Charles Stanley:
1. Own it
2. Identify the source
3. Deal with it quickly
4. Forgive

This coming Sunday is Homecoming.  The Reverend Joe Parker will be bringing the message and instead of two services we will just have one service at 10:30 with a meal to share together afterwards.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sunday Recap

The scripture Sunday was Matthew 5:13-16.  It's where Jesus tells his disciples they are to be salt and light. 

I used Jesus' words to talk about being a witness in two ways.

Salt is for the one consuming it.  It's not shared.  It's our silent witness.  Our Salt witness is what we do behind closed doors, when no one is looking.  If we are connecting with God through prayer, Bible study, fasting, listening for the Holy Spirit and making wise decisions in our private lives, then our public witness is more effective.

Light is to be shared.  Our light witness is our known witness.  It's what people see.  It's their perception of who we are.  And that perception is their reality of us (whether we like it or not).  Our light is our reputation.  It's what we say and don't say and what we do and don't do.  What people know about us matters...Jesus is making that clear.

So to be an effective witness for Christ we have to do the work in private so that what we do in public gives Christ a good reputation.  As a Christian, our reputation is Christ's reputation.

The point for the sermon was this: To be salt is to be a silent influence, to be light is to be a known influence.  Our witness is our influence and we all have a person (or even several people) that we shoudl be influencing in the name of Jesus.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sunday Morning Recap

We looked at Joshua 24:14-27 and talked about serving God.  Serving God means serving others and that service starts in our homes.  What we do at church should just reinforce what is done in our homes.

How are you serving God in your home?  How are you serving your spouse?  How are you serving your children?  How are you serving your family members?  What kind of example are you living?  Is your job getting your best?  Is your hobby getting you best?  Are your buddies getting your best?  Or is your family getting your best?  Serving your family in a Godly way means they take priority.  It means our family gets our best.

God wants men and women, husbands and wives to step up and be the kind of husbands and wives and moms and dads that he wants us to be.  Will you step up?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

General Conference

The General Conference of the UMC is going on as I write this.  A pastor friend of mine (Talbot Davis) blogged about it here and it sparked an idea for a blog post in my mind.

One of the things Talbot wrote is that the comments and tweets are often more interesting than the happenings at conference.  So true.  In fact, it's so true that I actually copied and pasted some of the tweets and comments into a word file.

So here they are for your enjoyment:

-The church ought to be a safe place with a dangerous message!

-Tolerance says "I tolerate your differences." Respect says "I honor the God in you even if we disagree."

-Programs don't make disciples; disciples make disciples.

-If you can only be prophetic when you have nothing to lose, you're not really being prophetic.

-Unity does not mean uniformity.

-The call to repent of sin is all inclusive. GLBT folks have always been welcome in Methodism to change and repentance.

-GC is like an accident, you don’t want to watch but you can’t help it.

-You cannot follow Jesus if you are stuck in your seats.


Sunday Recap

On Sunday I talked about "Gifts."  To set it up I asked people with various gifts to be a part of the entire service.  I had somone with the gift of teaching to lead the children's time.  I had someone I see as a prayer warrior lead the prayer time.  I had a young girl who is called into ministry lead us in The Lord's Prayer.  I had a man who has not done so at Catawba share his gift of singing.

It was a wonderful service that just confirmed that our strength is our community.

The text for the sermon was Matthew 25:14-30.  The parable Jesus tells in that text has a lot to do with the relationship between a boss and his employees.  It has to do with  taking responsibility for what we have been given by a generous and loving God.  We are to be faithful stewards of all He has given us.

The main idea was: Your relationship with God determines what you do with what you have.

I am convinced that how we view God will determine our relationship with God.  And our relationship with God will determine whether or not we are generous and sacrficial and loving people or if we are stingy, selfish and apathetic people.

What kind of person do you want to be...if you aren't that person, start with your relationship with God and who you want to be will fall into place and you will then start using the gifts God has given you for His purposes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sunday Recap

I'm going to start doing a Sunday Recap blog every Monday or Tuesday as a way to remind myself and my readers of what the message was about on Sunday morning.

The scripture this past Sunday was Hebrews 10:19-25 and I focused in on verse 25:
"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing..."

I talked about Presence as part of our series on the membership vows you make when you become a member of a Methodist Church.  The vows are that you would support the church with your Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service and Witness.  Throughout the series I have stressed and will continue to stress that while this language is specific to the Methodist Church, the ideas are more about being a disciple of Jesus than any specific church or denomination.

The main idea was this: "Being present is about more than just showing up, it's about what you bring with you."  It's about what you bring with you to a worship service.  It's about what you bring to your marriage.  It's about what you bring to your children or grandchildren.  It's about what you bring to your workplace.  It's about what you bring to your classroom.  It's about what kind of presence you are wherever you are. 

May you be the kind of person whose presence brings the light of Christ wherever you are and whatever you are doing.  Not in an annoying way.  But in a loving, bold, passionate, truthful and humble way. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Prayer

The sermon this past Sunday was on prayer (if you want to hear it you can go to the bottom of this blog and stream it or download it).

At the end of the service I shared the song "Prayer" by Celine Dion and Andre Bocelli. 



It's a beautiful song that has personal meaning.  My parents played the song at my wedding rehearsal dinner as a way to remind us of the importance of prayer in a marriage.

That afternoon I received a very cool e-mail:
 
Vicar... (I love that he calls me Vicar!)

Andrea Bocelli likes to tell the story of a brave young woman who refused to go through with it when her doctors told her that she should undergo an abortion because her baby would be seriously handicapped. Then he likes to tell us that the woman was his mother.

I wish I would have known this before sharing the song, it would have made for an incredible set up.  It is definitely a story I will use in a sermon at some point. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

When Seminary Doesn't End

I love the Seminary I graduated from...in case your curious...click here.

The staff recently sent me a card saying they prayed for me...how cool is that?  I didn't graduate last year...I graduated almost 8 years ago. 

To know you are prayed for is a wonderful feeling.  It strengthens faith by reminding you that you're not alone.

Did I mention that I love my Seminary?  Thanks Gordon Conwell!

Monday, March 19, 2012

To Whom was the Ransom Paid

This past Sunday I preached on redemption.  Redemption is a word all about freedom.  It's closely tied to the word ransom.  So as I studied scripture and read about redemption, I also studied and read about ransom.

A question kept nagging at me: if Christ gave himself as a "ransom" for many (which he says so himself in Matthew 20:28) then who was the recipient of the payment?  The Bible doesn't come right out and say who is paid the ransom.  Here are four options for who received payment:

1. Satan - to say this would mean that God owed Satan.  God never has and never will owe Satan (or anyone else) anything.  I do like the idea of Satan being tricked and walking away empty handed if indeed there was some sort of transaction between God and Satan, however, I do not subscribe to the Ransom Theory of the Atonement.

2. God - This makes the most sense if we are going to take a ransom being paid literally.  Still, it doesn't make sense to me that God would owe God.  The wrath of God upon sin and evil can still be satisfied without God being paid a ransom...in fact, it was God in Christ who did just that.  The problem is that a ransom assumes that someone was captured, again, it doesn't make sense that God would capture himself, then pay himself to set humanity free.

3. Humanity - While humanity definitely benefits from Jesus' loving sacrifice on the cross God doesn't owe us anything.

4. None of the Above - The ransom was not literally paid to anyone. It is a metaphor used to describe the significance and dramatic effect of Jesus' death.  I do not think this substracts or deters in any way from the need, power and absolute miracle of Jesus' death.

The fourth option is what I subscribe too, even though I don't think option 2 is out of the question if understood correctly. 

The quintessential story for the writers of the New Testament was the Exodus. In the Exodus the Egyptians are the enemy and they walk away empty handed. They aren't paid anything for the freedom of the Israelites.  This I believe is the single most informative understanding of what redemption and ransom is all about.  The story of the Exodus is the story of being set free from slavery.

Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin, evil and death.  The New Testament writers were more concerned with the truth of what Christ has done for us than answering a question like "who was the ransom paid too."  Therefore, I think they used the word "ransom" to mean saved, redeemed and set free more than to signify someone being paid something.

I would love to hear what others think.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Restoring Shalom

Seeing this, reminded me of this

God is in the business of restoring shalom (the Hebrew word for peace/wholeness)...of restoring wholeness, goodness, fullness and peace back to humanity and back to creation. 

The story of the Bible is a story of: goodnews - badnews - goodnews again.

Another way to word it is that it's the story of: Shalom - Lost Shalom - Restored(ing) Shalom.

Paul wrote that in Christ God is reconciling all of creation back to him (Colossians 1:20).  Paul also wrote that we are given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). 

What that tells me is that we are to partner with God in being all about reconciliation...of being all about restoring shalom.

Brandy's blog (1st link above) sparked the question for me: what is my personal shalom restoration project? 

Yes I'm a pastor and I believe our church is doing some things to help restore shalom, but I'm asking the question on a personal level, not on a professional level.

It's a question we should all be asking.

Monday, March 5, 2012

When Inspiration Doesn't Just Happen

Sometimes I look up a passage of scripture to preach on and God just brings the inspiration right away.  He lays ideas for stories and illustrations in my lap.  He reveals ways to bring the message home.  The inspiration just happens without a lot of effort on my part.
Other times, I look up a passage from scripture I've chosen to preach on and there's nothing.  I read it.  I write it.  I read it again.  And it just stares at me and I wonder what the heck I'm going to do with it for the sermon. 

It's in these moments that the inspiration doesn't just "happen."  And it's in these moments I tend to get distracted.  I'll check Facebook or e-mail or make phone calls or practice guitar or read something else or Blog (yes, I'm doing that very thing now because I'm not sure what to do with a text of scripture). 
I know what I "should" do.  I "should" dig into the text even more.  I "should" take some time to pray.  I "should" break out some commentaries and see if inspiration will come through something I read.  I "should" put in some effort, instead of just expecting inspiration to happen without hard work.

What I often discover, is that if I put in the hard work of really diggging into the text and seeking God and working with ideas, inspiration does eventually come.  It's an awesome feeling when it does come and it is so much more rewarding when it happens through hard work instead of just apart from it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Christian Perfection

Christian perfection is a doctrine unique to the United Methodist Church (it's not the only denomination that subscribes to a form of the doctrine but it is the biggest one).

A friend and former Gordon-Conwell classmate of mine, James-Michael Smith, has written his first mini-book about it.  His book Cleansed and Abiding is available for the Kindle or to read on any computer with an app.  It's only $3.99 to buy or free to borrow if you are an Amazon Prime Member!

To read about it on his blog, go here:

To download it from Amazon, go here:

If you don't have a Kindle and you still want to check it out, you can download a Kindle App reader here.

I hope my readers will support his work.  He is a self proclaimed Bible nerd and lives up to his name with solid Biblical intepretation and insight.