14 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 11


Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. - James 1:17, NIV

The Bishop hits right at the heart of the matter with today's devotional: whose "stuff" is it? - God's or ours.

If we believe that everything is God's, then we operate from the perspective that we are caretakers of the earth, the resources in our pocket, and the resources at our fingertips. In this scenario, we give back to God what was already God's to begin with.

If we believe that everything is ours, then we operate from the perspective that we can use whatever we want, whenever we want, for whatever we want. In this scenario, we give to God as we feel like it, but expect that God should be grateful for our giving.

Schnase says, "The wisdom revealed in Scripture and tradition for more than three thousand years is that those who practice from the perspective of a steward find greater happiness" (36).

Questions for Reflection:
1) Which of these two views do you hold?
2) How does this belief shape your actions? Your giving?

13 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 10

What Happens to God's Love?

If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. - 1 John 3:17-19, The Message

I've read the story that Schnase references in today's devotional before and it touched me when I read it then, just as it did today. As a pastor of a church that receives visits from people seeking assistance, I know what the pastor in the story is going through when trying to determine what to do for those who come in. I, too, have devised policies and procedures for dealing with them and I must admit that some of the policies and/or procedures have made God's love disappear.

The words of the janitor always give me pause when considering what to do with those who come to the church asking for assistance: "I give them a little money and say, God bless you, because I figure that they are some mother's son, some father's child, and so I give them something. What they do with the money - well, they have to answer to God about that. I have to answer to God about what I do with mine" (34).

We will all answer for what we do with our money in this life. When we release our finances into God's hands, there is the potential that it will be wasted by those who receive it, but there is the potential that it will bless untold numbers of people because you gave it away. Either way, you are only responsible for what you do with your money, not for what those who receive it do with it.

Questions for Reflection:
1) Have you ever witnessed an extraordinary and unexpected act of generosity?
2) How has another person's generosity influenced your own practice of giving?
3) Who is learning from your examples of generosity?

12 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 9

Whitewater World!

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in and with God - he could put up with anything along the way... - Hebrews 12:2, The Message

If I was writing today's devotional, I would have chosen "Remar o Morir!" because that seems to capture the spirit of the devotional more succinctly, but they didn't ask me, so I'll deal with what we've got.

Our lives are moving at break-neck speeds and unless we take measures to control that speed, we may get out of control and be at the mercy of other forces in the world. The rafters needed to learn that staying in control on the water meant paddling even when the current was pushing them along in the calm times.

Schnase says, "If we want to navigate with purpose and to control our direction rather than becoming a victim to forces beyond our control, we have to keep paddling....We can't stop learning, growing, changing, adapting, and giving our best" (31). I don't know about you, but I want to "navigate with purpose" throughout my life, therefore I have made choices to always be a learning leader. I attend conferences, I read books, I listen to talks by teachers/pastors/leaders I trust and want to learn from - all in an effort to keep "learning, growing, changing, adapting, and giving [my] best" every day.

Questions for Reflection:
1) What are the pressures and currents of your whitewater world?
2) How do you learn, adapt, grow, and change spiritually so that the currents don't overwhelm and destroy you?

11 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 8

As If For the Very First Time

...I do want you to experience the blessing that issues from generosity. - Philippians 4:15, The Message

I have never read Cold Mountain so I was unfamiliar with the fiddle player character that the Bishop mentioned in today's devotional, but I am very familiar with the concept he highlighted through this minor character: using the ordinary skills of life for extraordinary purposes.

The fiddle player walks away from his encounter with the young girl looking at his instrument with fresh eyes and fresh appreciation for the power of music in the life of individuals. How many of us have gifts in our hands that go unappreciated each day? How many of us use our gifts to their full potential every day?

Schnase says, "Imagine the difference [the fiddler] made in the lives of people and the meaning that was added to his own life. That ordinary fiddle and the simple gift of music, when used for higher purposes, became sacred....His ordinary talent became beautiful, a source of joy and meaning" (28).

Our ordinary talents become sacred when we dedicate them to God's purposes. Our ordinary giving becomes sacred when we dedicate that giving to God's purposes and ministry in this world.

Questions for Reflection:
1) When was a time you felt God transformed your life because you gave?
2) What ways will you improve your generosity?

10 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 7

The Grace of Giving

But just as you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us - see that you also excel in this grace of giving. - 2 Corinthians 8:7, NIV

There is grace in giving. There is freedom in releasing "stuff" from our hands as we seek to do the work God has called us to accomplish. There is grace.

Schnase says, "Churches that cultivate giving speak of joy, devotion, honoring God, and the steady growth of spirit that leads to greater generosity....Pledge campaigns [in those churches] are not about money, dollars, and budgets but about mission, spiritual growth, and relationship to God" (22-23).

I want University UMC to be a church like that. A church that spends more time and energy devoted to how we can be the hands and feet of Christ and less time worried about paying the bills. (I am pretty sure I just made the Finance people mad!) I want our church to be a church of action - putting legs on our faith so that the message of Christ is not just heard at UUMC, but shown and seen.

Questions for Reflection:
1) How do you feel about how your congregation teaches about money?
2) What conversations that relate faith and money are most helpful to you?

09 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 6

Pocket Change

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. - Galatians 5:22-23

Schnase shares an example of how a small gift of pocket change can add up to a big impact when combined with the gifts of others. What a wonderful example of how giving to the church (at whatever level God has equipped you) can be multiplied and strengthened thanks to the gifts and generosity of the other members of the congregation!

The work of God does not require big donations to get started, it only needs faithful people to faithfully give what has been placed in their hands. It can start with pocket change.

Schnase says, "To practice Extravagant Generosity requires self-control, patience, kindness, faith, and love of God and neighbor....Giving changes the giver, the recipient, and the congregation" (21).

Questions for Reflection:
1) How does your church change lives in your community? On the other side of the world?
2) What will you do to change someone's life this week?

08 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 5

Muscle Memory

Therefore, show...the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it. - 2 Corinthians 8:24, NIV

The practice of tithing (giving one-tenth of your income to God's work in the local church) is not a habit learned overnight. It took Debbie and I two or three years to fully fund our tithe. We knew we wanted to tithe, but we had to step up to it since we started so far away from the 10% mark. Once we got there, we've never looked back and we always look for ways to give more.

Schnase says, "As those who consistently practice the tithe know, proportional giving (giving a set percentage of income) and tithing force people to look at their earning, saving, and spending through God's eyes. It reminds them that their ultimate worth is derived from the assurance that they are children of God, created by God, and infinitely loved by God" (19).

So let's start building some muscle memory for giving - it's the best workout you can get!

Questions for Reflection:
1) Read 2 Corinthians 8. Paul concludes by saying that our giving is proof of our love for God. Can we possibly desire God to shape our souls without giving?
2) If you practice proportional giving or tithing, does this practice affect your other spending habits?
3) If you do not practice proportional giving or tithing, what are the obstacles to a greater generosity toward God?

07 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 4

Partnering With God

They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that is really life. - 1 Timothy 6:18-19

Every day we have the opportunity to partner with God in generous ways. We have the ability to share the resources God has blessed us with so that others can know God's mercy, grace and healing. We can also keep that to ourselves, thus cutting others off from the blessings of God.

In today's devotional reading, Carolyn says, "If God gives you the capacity and the passion to do something, why in God's name wouldn't you do it?" (16) And that is my question to you today...if you are passionate about something and God has given you the financial capacity to help make that passion become a reality, why not go for it?

We partner with God to be generous because God has been generous with us. He is the one who allows us to be generous and we are most like God when we live out our generosity. Schnase says, "Generosity is not a spiritual attribute someone acquires apart from the practice of giving" (17). Therefore we will never be generous if we never give anything away to others. No matter how hard you try, you will never become generous by sitting in your living room meditating on the concept of generosity - you have to get off your couch and go give something away! That's the only way it works. And it does work!

Questions for Reflection:
1) Have you ever given over and above your normal tithe or pattern of giving? If so, what was the experience like?
2) Do you find that the more you give, the more likely you are to give? Why or why not?

06 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 3

Sorry this didn't get posted yesterday...

Seeds With Wings
A sower went out to sow his seed... - Luke 8:5

As soon as I started reading today I remembered the afternoons I spent outside my grandfather's house in Illinois watching the "helicopter seeds" fall from the trees. I would pick them up by the "wing" and toss them in the air to watch them spin back to the ground. It was great fun.

In light of the concept of generosity, these "seeds with wings" inspire me to figure out where the seeds I am planting are going to sprout. Schnase says, "So much of our impact, even when we live immensely fruitful lives, affects those closest to us....We naturally have the greatest impact upon those closest at hand, our families, spouses, children, grandchildren" (14).

It is vital for us to plant seeds of generosity within our span of care on a daily basis, but it is also important for us to give our seeds "wings" so that they can be carried by the movement of the Spirit to places we may never travel and to help people we may never meet. Do your seeds have "wings"?

Questions for Reflection:
1) Think of two or three of the most influential people in forming your own soul and character other than your relatives. What made them effective? What can you learn from their generosity and the legacy they have left for others?
2) Where in the world beyond your own church and home are the signs of your congregation's ministry? Of your own?

05 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 2

Building Nests

And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? Luke 12:20

Today, Bishop Schnase hit on a note that I have been keyed into for quite a while when it comes to leading the church - building for the future AND caring for the present.

He utilizes the image of nest building and asks the question: "Who are they for?" If nests are built for the comfort and coziness of the ones who are building them, then certain actions will be taken and other actions will be avoided. If nests are built for the comfort and protection of future generations, then certain actions will be taken and other actions will be avoided. So which is it?

Schnase argues (and I wholeheartedly agree) that nests are built for future generations - the ones who are to come. He writes, "Vibrant, fruitful congregations focus as much energy, prayer, and planning on those who are outside the congregation as they do on those who are already active in the congregation" (11).

I truly believe that the "church of today" must continually be motivated to care for the "church of tomorrow". If we don't, then the "church of tomorrow" will fail to materialize and those who are left will wonder what in the world happened.

That being said, I also believe that we must take care of those who have already committed themselves to our church. However, most churches become myopic in their thinking at this point and cease to reach out, evangelize, and invite. I believe they do so at their own peril.

Being the church must be a "both/and" proposition, not an "either/or" situation. We must both reach out to those outside our walls and care for those who are already here. Failing to do so will doom the church to irrelevance and an untimely death.

Questions for Reflection:
1) What motivates you to support the ministries of your congregation?
1) How does your focus of generosity and level of giving support the mission of reaching other people with the grace of God you have received?

04 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 1

I'll save the apologies and just get right to the posting....

University UMC begins our four-week journey to explore the concept of Extravagant Generosity today and I will be posting some reflections on each days' devotional both here and on our Facebook page. Enjoy!

From Stewardship to Generosity
Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. - Luke 6:38, The Message

Bishop Schnase reflects on meeting someone who changed his job title because of his book and how that caused him to think about the difference between "stewardship" and "generosity". Growing up in the church, I have heard both terms for a long time, but I associate stewardship with "raising the budget" or "building a building". For me, generosity is associated with people who go above and beyond the call of duty in giving, serving, leading, etc. within the church. For me, generosity is a greater reflection of the love of God than is stewardship.

Schnase says, "Generosity is an aspect of character. It is an attractive quality which I aspire to and desire to see cultivated in my children" (8). I can think of no greater legacy to leave my children than one of generosity. I can think of no greater way to live my life than one of generosity. I know we are not all able to be generous all the time, but what if we built practices into our lives that enabled us to be generous more often than not? What if we truly believed that "generosity begets generosity"?

Questions for Reflection:
1) What has been your experience with the term "stewardship"? With "generosity"? What's the difference between them?
2) Which most helpfully inspires your giving as you seek to grow in the image of God and in service to Christ?

14 March 2010

Logan Gets All Clean

Logan had his first bath this evening. Here's the digital proof!

He didn't fuss too much, but he was much more content once everything was over. He was glad to return to his sleeper and a blanket. We'll see how he does in a few days when bath #2 rolls around.

11 March 2010

An Explanation for My Absence

Here's why I haven't been on here this week....

Logan Joseph Libby
March 10, 2010
1:22 p.m.
7 lbs, 10 ozs
20 1/2 in

08 March 2010

It Takes a Village to Raise an Elder - Part 6

And here is my promised special surprise...

As much as all the churches have helped me grow in my ministry and the understanding of my calling to serve the UMC with all that I have, there is one person to whom I owe the largest debt of gratitude - my wife, Debbie.

When I met Debbie I had no idea I was going to follow a call to ministry - a call that would lead us to move more frequently in our first 5 years of marriage than she did her entire life prior to meeting me.

All along the way Deb has been my biggest support and my quiet cheerleader. She has helped my get up when I didn't feel like getting up any more. She has kicked my butt when it needed to be kicked. And she has done it all with grace, patience, and humility.

When we first started dating at A&M, Deb was an accounting major and I was an engineering major. She finished her accounting degree, I changed my major twice before graduating with an economics degree. She didn't complain when I told her that I was feeling a call to ministry and that would mean 4 years in seminary. She didn't complain when I told her how the appointment process moved pastors around as needed. She didn't complain when I told her how much seminary was going to cost.

We moved to Dallas, I started working for First UMC, Plano, she worked for AT&T Wireless, and we started saving for Perkins. It was during this time that she learned to love the back of my head because that was about all she saw of it during my first three semesters in seminary - and I love her all the more for it.

During my last year in seminary we moved to Carrollton so that we would be closer to the church I was working for during that time. We also added Caitlyn to our family during our time in Carrollton, but not before I got my first appointment as a local pastor. Now that Debbie was enjoying seeing the front of my head again I was able to talk with her about how to grow new programs, how to be a better preacher, and how to properly feed a newborn (all of which I still need work on!).

Now that we are in Wichita Falls I am so thankful that she has journeyed with me during these last 9+ years. I am thankful for the ability to rely on your strength, wisdom, and courage as we have faced challenging days both personally and professionally.

I love your wit, even when it cuts my pride (perhaps especially then).

I love your zeal for clarity.

I love your incredible "mom powers" - how in the world do you keep up with Caitlyn everyday?

Deb, you are the one I love the most and the only villager that I want to spend the rest of my days with. Without you, there would be no elder to celebrate this year. If it takes a village to raise an elder, then you are the matriarch of that village!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

06 March 2010

Caitlyn's First Soccer Game

Caitlyn had her first soccer game today. She played great and had fun running around chasing the ball. Here's some shots from the day. Enjoy!

It Takes a Village to Raise an Elder - Part 5

Sorry this didn't go up earlier! Here's the final chapter (for now)...

What can I say about my current appointment - the church family that hears me preach every weekend, whether they like it or not! I'll start with thank you because it's the truth and it's always a good place to start.

When I came to UUMC I had no idea what being the "pastor-in-charge" entailed, but I knew that I had been called by God and sent by the Bishop to serve here. I quickly learned that I had much to learn and needed to rely on conversations held with lay leaders during my first few weeks in WF. As I transitioned from one pastor among many to the only pastor a church has, I have learned that my pastoral identity has taken a huge leap up and there are times that I haven't measured up to that identity.

I have learned what it means to work with the committee structure within the UMC - even when it takes more people to approve a move forward. I have learned what it takes to plan worship week in and week out. I have learned how to help a family grieve the loss of a loved one, even if I didn't know the loved one very well (or at all). I have learned that no matter how small or insignificant a decision may seem, someone will be upset about it and make their opinion known - and I can't do a thing about that.

I am learning new things everyday: how to say goodbye to staff members, how to say hello to new church members, how to keep the office running smoothly (still working on this one), and how to maintain a good sense of balance between work and home.

I am still learning, but I hope that I never stop learning. I hope that UUMC is willing to continue to help me learn. UUMC has been patient with a greenhorn preacher, pastor, and congregational leader. Thank you for sharing your lives with me and with my family over the past 18 months. We are looking forward to many more years of fruitful ministry at UUMC!

Tomorrow - a special treat!

05 March 2010

It Takes a Village to Raise an Elder - Part 4

Continuing through my journey of thanksgiving...

Trietsch Memorial UMC, Flower Mound
How can I start to say thanks to the people of Trietsch? I learned so much during my 3 years in Flower Mound that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my ministry career. I am not quite sure how many different ministry areas I interfaced with, but I know that I had a chance to meet a ton of great people and made a bunch of mistakes that I could learn from.

The most significant group of lay people during my time at Trietsch would have to be my Lay Ministry Committee. This group of eight dedicated folks spent an hour with me once a month during my last two years to talk about my ministry, my growth as a pastoral leader, and exploring new ways of doing ministry at Trietsch. Alan, Betty, Chris, JohnS, JohnM, Patty, Michelle, David, Jaime (I know that's nine, but we swapped Jamie for JohnS during the 2nd year) helped me to discern my gifts for ministry and pushed me to take risks, love God, and serve with all my heart. I am deeply indebted to this group of people. I would not be where I am today without their influence.

The next significant group of lay people (and some clergy) would have to be the staff. I promise you that they made me look 100x better than I actually was on numerous occasions! I would never have laughed so hard, prayed so much, or served so faithfully had it not been for the wonderful men and women of the Trietsch staff. I can't begin to tell all the stories here, but if any of you reading this are members (or were members) of Trietsch's staff - I am deeply indebted to you as well.

Finally, I would like to say a special thanks to the dedicated folks who served as ushers, greeters, info desk volunteers, parking lot attendants, donut table volunteers, trolley drivers, medical team volunteers, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and small group leaders. On many occasions you went above and beyond the call of duty to serve the church and our community and I thank you.

Tomorrow - University UMC!

04 March 2010

It Takes a Village to Raise an Elder - Part 3

Still saying my thanks this week...

Holy Covenant UMC, Carrollton
Of all the churches I have served Holy Covenant challenged me to grow in my understanding of God the most. I entered seminary theologically conservative on every issue. When I graduated from Perkins I considered myself to be theologically moderate, but politically conservative. When I finished my internship at Holy Covenant I considered myself theologically moderate and politically moderate.

Even after getting off to an auspicious start with my Lay Teaching Committee (sorry Susan!), this group of dedicated people met with me for two hours once a month to critique my sermons, discuss my pastoral care, push my theological thinking, and encourage me to be the best pastor that I could be. Susan, Charlie, Jan, Randy, Jim, Evan, and Cheryl spent many hours reading my reflection papers, discussing my sermons, and helping me to articulate my theological understanding of local church ministry. I am deeply indebted to these wonderful folks because I am a better pastor today because of the time they invested in me.

The congregation as a whole surrounded me with support as I learned how to find my voice in the pulpit, find my teaching style in the classroom, and find my way around the justice issues within our community. I even got to write a few book reviews for the Dallas Morning News thanks to a member of Holy Covenant!

To my Disciple 1 class - thank you for not falling asleep when I went off on a tangent about some random biblical fact that had little to do with our lesson and even less to do with your lives! To Sharyn, Jana, Becky, Carol, Denise, Debbie, and Don - thank you for allowing me to be part of your lives and for teaching me what it means to be part of a staff. To the whole congregation of HCUMC - thank you for loving Debbie and I while we were there and continuing to care about us after we left. Thank you also for giving this "greenhorn" an opportunity to stretch his wings and see if he could fly. Thanks for picking me up when I fell and teaching me grace in the midst of learning how to "do church"!

Tomorrow - Trietsch Memorial UMC, Flower Mound!

03 March 2010

It Takes a Village to Raise an Elder - Part 2

Continuing from yesterday's post...

First UMC, Plano
Oh, FUMC Plano! I am so grateful for your patience, persistence, and grace while I learned what working in a church was really all about!

During my 3+ years at FUMC I had three different job titles - all of which I was far less than qualified to hold.

First, I was the Assistant Youth Minister. I spent plenty of time doing office work, prepping rooms for Sunday School and Bible study, and working on the monthly Youth Newsletter. I also spent plenty of time building relationship with the youth, parents, and youth sponsors. I learned how to lead a Bible study, teach a Sunday School class, and successfully lead a game for youth. I am indebted to Hilary for teaching me.

Second, I was the Interim Youth Minister. When Hilary left to be a mom, I took over responsibility for the youth group. Fortunately this only lasted a few months because I was in way over my head. During this time I realized that the ins and outs of Youth Ministry are far more complex than I had originally thought and that I was ill-equipped to handle the pressures of leading a youth group of that size. I am indebted to the Youth Sponsors & Sunday School teachers (Mark, Yo, Kevin M, Dan, Kevin C, and many others) who made me look good when I didn't have a clue.

Third, I was the Minister with Young Adults. When Brady came on staff to be the Youth Minister, I shifted my attention to college students within our community. In the 18 months I held this position I learned how to develop new programming where there was none before, learned to market a new ministry, and develop relationships with 20-somethings who were both my peers and my responsibility. I am indebted to those who joined our efforts at launching a new ministry with a guy who had never done that before - especially Terri, Andrew, Pat, Sara, and others.

Outside of my direct responsibilities I worked on several projects that required heavy lay involvement. Some of them went better than others, but all of them went better because I realized I couldn't do it alone.

Thank you to all the wonderful people at First UMC, Plano! I learned great lessons during my time there and I will carry them with me for the rest of my ministry.

02 March 2010

It Takes a Village to Raise an Elder - Part 1

Now that I am a week out from my successful ordination interview on Wednesday I am beginning to understand the magnitude of the work of the laity within our journey to ordination. I wanted to take few posts to reflect on my learnings at each of the churches who have invested time, money, and energy in helping me get to this point in my career.

Here's the schedule for this week:
Wednesday - First UMC, Plano

First UMC, Victoria
FUMC was the church I grew up in during the most formational years of my life.

I remember the Sunday School teachers (Sandy) who loved a quiet little boy while teaching him about how much God loved him.

I remember how the staff and pastors (Laura, Robert, Ricky) trusted a wily teenager to read the Word of God within the context of worship on numerous occasions, and even gave him the opportunity to plan worship for Youth Sunday one year.

I remember Youth Pastors & Sponsors (Karen, Ken, Sherri) who trusted me enough to give me the opportunity to be a 6th grade group leader.

I remember other church members (Robert & Joye, George & Rose, Hugh & Janet, and many, many others) who encouraged me to follow God with my life even when I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

As I stop to think about the impact the laity on the formation of future clergy leaders, I am eternally grateful for the body of Christ at FUMC Victoria. They loved me when I was ornery, they loved me when I was trying new things, and they loved me because they loved God and God loved me.

I appreciate all that FUMC Victoria did for me and I will never be able to fully repay their generosity and kindness.

Tomorrow - First UMC, Plano!

18 February 2010

Graphic for New Series

This Sunday we will begin our new sermon series, Jesus is...

I thought I would let you preview the graphic for the bulletin cover. What do you think?

16 February 2010

New Pages Added

I found out that I can create specific pages that link directly to my blog for whatever I want. So, I put up two (only one is up currently) about the books I have read recently and reading that I consider essential. Check them out with the links right under the main title bar.

I'll let you know when I finish the "Essential Reading" page and make it live.

03 February 2010

Follow Without Fear

"Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated...Though the mountains be shaken and the hiss be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:4a, 10)

One of the parts of our mission statement at University is to "dare to follow Christ without fear." I truly believe that this one phrase complicates matters tremendously because we don't know what life is like without fear.

I remember being taught about "stranger danger" or not crossing the street without an adult or not taking candy from people I didn't know, etc. From a very young age I learned to fear the unknown because the unknown was somehow unsafe, dangerous, or "deadly".

How has this thinking crept into our churches? We worship a God who knows us fully - more than we are often comfortable with - and yet do we really know the people sitting/serving around us?

We set up "hedges of protection" around our children, youth, and elderly so they don't get hurt. We set up "hoops" for new people to jump through so they can be part of us. But do we ever really let our guard down and live like we are not afraid?

What would it take to live that way?

What would it take to do ministry that way?

How can we move from fear to trust - and not trust in ourselves, but trust in God, the one who is truly trustworthy?


02 February 2010

"Groundhog (Easter) Day"?

OK, if you're a church nerd (like me) then this might be funny. If you are not, then just wait for a serious post tomorrow.

In case you didn't know, today is Groundhog Day. A day where the whole nation (maybe even the world) focuses its attention on a little town in Pennsylvania and a famous rodent ("Punxsatawney Phil"). Isn't it interesting how some many people trust a groundhog to tell them what the weather will be like? Isn't it interesting that no matter which outcome Phil has there will still be six weeks of winter?

With that in mind, I thought I would take a "Groundhog Day" look at some Christian holidays, specifically Easter and Pentecost.

Each spring (sometimes in March, sometimes in April) Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter Day. What if when Mary and the disciples get to the tomb that morning, instead of Jesus being gone, he walks out to check and see if he can see his shadow? If he sees his shadow, then there will be seven weeks of Easter!

In late spring (seven weeks after Easter) Christians celebrate the birth of the Church on Pentecost. What if when the tongues of fire come in and land on your head, instead of speaking in various languages, you check the person next to you to see if there is a shadow? If you see a shadow, then there will be twenty-eight weeks of Pentecost!

I know, I know - it doesn't really matter whether Jesus sees his shadow or if we see a shadow from the fire on our neighbor - just like it doesn't matter if Phil sees his shadow or not!

Again, I have to ask...why do we look for silly things to tell us what's coming up next instead of looking to the author and perfecter of our faith? Why do we trust in things that make no difference when we could trust in the One who makes all the difference?

26 January 2010

Things You'll Never Hear the Preacher Say

Hmmm....I am pretty sure that I have never said any of these things!

"Oh, no, I couldn't eat another bite of that delicious pie!"

"I can't think of anything to preach!"

"I wish we had a church business meeting every week!"

"I'm afraid that our choir is at full capacity. Can't take anyone else."

"We'd like to start paying our Sunday School teachers next week."

"December is a boring month--I never have anything to do."

"I hate it when people volunteer!"

"I believe the Lord has called me to a smaller church."

"There will be no offering today--we've got plenty of money."

HT: Michael Duduit & Preaching.com

24 January 2010

Studying the Beatitudes

I read this the other day in my devotional book and I thought I would share it.

I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate.
Romans 7:15

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
Psalm 86:11

Beatitude 6: Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God. (NJB)

The nineteenth-century lay theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote that "purity of heart is to will one thing." One thing, not two - between which we must then choose. But how to achieve such unity of purpose? How often have you said about some spiritual challenge: "On the one hand, I want to go in this direction, but on the other hand I am drawn to the opposite way"?

Even Paul the apostle confessed that too often he wanted to do one thing yet did another. Ultimately Paul resolved his conflict by seeing that in this own power he could not be always of one mind; only Christ could deliver him from his spiritual confusion. (Romans 7:21-25)

Could it be that this beatitude is not saying that first we must have purity of desire and as a reward will see God? Could it be instead that when we pray to be delivered from a double mind we see God in ways that only God can know? How appropriate to keep offering the petition of the psalmist quoted above, to seek an undivided heart.

What do you think?

23 January 2010

Asking the Right Questions

During the upcoming year I will be spending a great deal of time engaged in the Congregational Transformation Process through our partnership with Rev. Dr. Don Nations and his consulting firm, DNA Coaching, Inc. My hope is to learn all that I can from him and his associates so that I can help the Church Council lead our congregation into a brighter future. Rev. Nations and I have already begun to dialog about beginning a second worship service here at University, but we still have several questions to wrestle with before moving forward.

As I asked him about what would be necessary to begin an alternative worship service he asked me if I could answer the "why" question – "why do we want to do this?" The answer to that question begins to determine the direction that the new service will take. There are two possible answers to the "why" question that are helpful:

  1. Because a current service is approaching 80% capacity
  2. Because we want to reach out to an new segment of our community who is not currently being reached by our current worship service

If #1 is our answer, then we need to replicate our current service at another time (either on Sunday morning or at another time that makes sense for our audience). If #2 is our answer, then we need to design an alternative worship experience that meets the needs of the people we would like to see included in our congregation, but are not currently attending or participating.

I believe that #2 is our answer to the "why" question Rev. Nations posed. To that end I did some research through the Percept Group to find out about the demographics of the community immediately surrounding University UMC. The information I found out about the community within a 3-mile radius of our church was startling, eye-opening, challenging, and encouraging. Here are some of the highlights that might impact our decision to begin a second worship experience:

Current Population: 55,839

Households with No Faith Involvement: 29%

Average Age: 38.0 years

Overall Church Style Preference (Trad. vs. Cont.): Both

Preference for "Historic Christian" Tradition: 83%

Overall Faith Receptivity: Somewhat High

Overall Church Program Preference Category: Spiritual Development

This data (along with about 10 more pages worth of data) gives me a good indication that with the right team in place to launch a new worship experience here at University, we could double worship attendance (or more) within the next year.

If you would like to serve on the team that will strategize about this new worship experience, please send me an email (pastor@uumcwf.org) indicating your interest before January 31, 2010. I am looking for 15-20 people to serve on this team.

Thank you for your generosity in our second offering Sunday morning! With your generous gifts, we will be able to help the United Methodist Committee on Relief continue its post-earthquake efforts in Haiti.

21 January 2010

A Powerful God

I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.

The Lord is the one who goes before us into this world. He is the one who clears the way for us. God is the one who can move mountains and destroy barriers that stand in our way. Why then do we often rely on ourselves for deliverance?

In an age of hyper self-reliance, we dismiss the need for others to help us out. We think we can solve all of our problems and defeat all of our enemies. In these attempts to be our own God we fail to recognize the powerlessness of our selves and the powerfulness of God, our Creator. What obstacles are we unable to overcome because we have not begun to rely on God and God's power to "level the mountains"?

Amazing God, you are able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine. Give us the ability to expand our imaginations and embolden us to ask big questions. In Jesus' name. Amen.

20 January 2010

His Agenda, Our Agenda

With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure...

Paul writes that God reveals his will in his own time and not ours. God makes his will know to us according to his good pleasure. The will of God is still a mystery to us, but it works for our own good and is done with all wisdom and understanding.

How do we get caught up in trying to bend God's will to ours instead of the other way - our will to his? Inherently our will is flawed and only serves to further our agenda. But when we serve God and his agenda, his agenda becomes our agenda. When we trust that the plan and purpose of God will come to light just when it is needed, then we can trust God in taking the next step of faith.

God, as we move into 2010 with a head full of dreams, help us to pause long enough to make sure that we are seeking your will for our lives and our church. May your goals be our goals and may we be a powerful witness to your faithfulness in 2010. In Jesus' name. Amen.

19 January 2010

Allow Me a Moment to Brag, Please

As the world responds to the crisis in Haiti following last week's devastating earthquake I want to thank the great folks at University UMC for stepping up to give from their hearts on Sunday morning during our second offering.

I want to brag on them for a minute and let all of you know that after giving toward the mission and ministry of our church through their tithes and offerings, they dug into their hearts (and wallets/purses) a second time and gave an amazing $2,729 to go to relief efforts in Haiti!

Thanks again UUMC!

If you would like to make a donation through UMCOR, just like we did on Sunday, you can go here and give online. Remember, 100% of your gift will go to provide life-giving supplies and aid when given through UMCOR.

UPDATE: As of today (1/25/10) University UMC has now donated a total of $3,200 toward earthquake relief in Haiti! Way to go!

18 January 2010

New Look for a New Year

Sorry for my absence from the blogging world during the last quarter of 2009. I am back and I have some thoughts that I would like to share with the world once again. So be on the look out for more frequent posts.

And in between blog posts, follow me on Twitter or Facebook!