The Language of Brunswick Stew

I love me some Brunswick Stew! Especially if it's made right, and yes, that means it has to be lacking certain things like lima beans.

Erin and I and the kids spent the weekend in Brunswick, Georgia - home of the world's greatest stew. I had the wonderful opportunity to baptize the five-month-old son of some of our friends on the beach at St. Simon's Island. It was a beautiful day and we had a good crowd of family and friends.

This weekend was a great field study for me in communication. I observed the way people communicate with each other on many different levels and want to share some insight with you.

First, to get to Brunswick, you have to drive for several hours through the land of pine trees, cotton fields, and rednecks. Having hailed from South Georgia, I am familiar with this territory and it's dialect. Passing through towns like Dublin, McRae, Lumber City, Surrency, and Jesup, you notice the plethora of small, country churches that have some sort of sign or marquee with information that indicates what kind of church it is. I'm looking forward to the day that I can take off and visit the Pinetucky Church of God of Prophecy (yes, it really exists).

I'm facinated about the wasted sign space that many churches take up. Signs that read "Is your name in the lamb's book of life?" and "Grace is free, but it came at a great price" and signs filled with unusual biblical texts in the language of King James. I found myself getting frustrated with what I was seeing. After all, how many non-churched, de-churched, or lost people will read these signs and actually understand this language, much less choose to come in and worship with the hopes of encountering Christ? I mean, come on! What goes through people's minds when they put up these words? I suspect in some cases they're well meaning, but in most, they want to give the appearance that they are warm and inviting without actually being warm and inviting.

Once in Brunswick, Ben got to hang out with Reilly Kate who is about five months older than he is and we all noticed how differently the two communicate. RK is a talker. You will get the long version of any sentence and you will get details that you may or may not be able to make out (she's two - how much to we really understand?). Ben, on the other hand, isn't a big talker. He's not even one to use too many sentences. Ben uses an "economy of words" and gets right to the point. If he wants his juice, he says "juice". He communicates well, just with brevity. I think that's the Barbarian coming out in him and it makes me excited. I can remember a time in college that my roommate and I would communicate each morning through grunts and groans and understood each other perfectly. Strangely, Erin can't do that.

Sunday morning, standing on the beach, I baptized Sam (RK's baby brother) with several gathered around. I was dressed in shorts and had my sunglasses on. We weren't in a man-made sanctuary, though we were in the greatest place of worship I could think of. And I intentionally didn't show up with a Book of Worship or even a shred of paper.

I asked all the important questions of Meg and Dave (Sam's parents): Do you profess your faith in Christ? Will you make sure that Sam is raised in a household where he will not only learn about Christ, but come to know him personally? Will you get him into church, giving him the best chance at life as possible?

I asked all of the family and friends who were there: Will you support Meg, Dave, and Sam in this commitment? Will you hold them accountable and do all you can to live a godly life so that Sam can learn from you?

I took a simple bowl of ocean water, dipped my hand in and touched it to the head of Sam Davis and baptized him in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It was a simple service, that probably lasted five minutes, but one that will have an impact on all of us and especially Sam for the rest of our lives. And I realized again how God likes to communicate. Through the simple element of water and very few words, God performed a significant act and conveyed his grace to all of us Sunday morning. I think that's God's barbarian nature showing: a little less talk, a lot more action.

So what does that mean for how we should communicate? I watch well-meaning Christians talk people's heads off and overexpose them to language they won't understand and then I watch others share a kind word, do a gracious deed, or simply show love to another and have significant impact on the lives of others.

"Instead of giving you God's Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn't think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called 'Doctor' and 'Reverend.'" (Matthew 23:4-7, The Message)


Unusual Partnership

General Conference began yesterday in Fort Worth, Texas. This conference is the global legislative body of the United Methodist Church that convenes every four years.

When GC meets, I try to stay on top of what's going on, especially now as the pastor of a United Methodist Church. The media will cover certain topics that come up every four years (i.e. ordination/marriage of homosexuals, iteneracy of ministers), but most of those issues are peripheral and are blown out of proportion. So I do my best to keep up with the Methodist news outlets and watch some of the preceedings online so I can see for myself.

This morning, I watched the Episcopal Address (the address by the Council of Bishops) and as they served communion, they played videos of how the church had been active in the world over the last four years. One thing caught my attention and I'm not sure how I feel about it...

In the wake of the tsunami three years ago, UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee On Relief) was active in disaster relief and recovery in SE Asia, just as they are in the aftermath of any major disaster on the globe. I am a part of UMCOR in the area of domestic disaster relief and am trained to be an early responder to things like hurricanes, fires, and even terrorist attacks to help people get back on their feet and assess things for the teams that will come to aid later.

When UMCOR responded to the tsunami, they make an unusual partnership with Muslim Relief. I heard about this several months ago when I got an email forward that was raising concern about the distribution of the Quran alongside the Bible in the midst of United Methodist Relief work. I'm, of course, not in favor of distributing this material and would rather see people exposed only to Christian beliefs and values, rather than mudding the waters with another faith.

Here's my dilemma: UMCOR has been able to do much more for humanity by partnering with Muslim Relief - more people have found shelter, food, clothing, medicine, and peace by this partnership. However, I have to ask if we are giving any sort of creedence to Islamic faith by partnering with them? Are we watering down our own witnessing through our work together?

I'm really torn on this issue. The evangelical side of my theology tells me that we should go it alone and work twice as hard in these ministries to strengthen our witness to the world so that more people would come to know Christ. My liberative theology side tells me that we should be grateful for the assistance and celebrate the lives that are touched and improved - the people that are set free from the oppressive lifestyles that a disaster has landed them in.

What are your thoughts? How do you feel about this partnership? Do you even care?


Too Much Snot

I've had an epiphany over the last week: Snot hinders one's ability to be profound.

After three boxes of Puffs, lots of Sudaphed, Mucinex, and Tylenol, and a course of antibiotics, I'm getting back to myself, so hopefully I'll have a word or two for you this week.

I want to begin by patting the back of another pastor, Carter McInnis. Carter is the Lead Pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Way in Lawrenceville, Georgia, which is now in it's third year and thriving. Carter and I don't always see eye to eye on everything, but yesterday, I heard him tell of a new commitment in his life that he should be proud of.

Carter spends one night a week in a bar.

No, he's not going to drink anything other than a little Coke, sweet tea, or ice water. He's going to meet the lost on their own turf. That's ministry!

The lost of the world, typically don't know that they're lost and they probably won't come to our churches with old traditions and big words looking for Jesus. It's our job as Christians to think like missionaries and to get out into the places that we KNOW there will be non-believers. Kudos Carter.

Where is your mission field? For Carter, it's the bar. For another friend of mine, Derek, it's a Tuesday night poker group. For me, it's the golf course.

We can talk about wanting to reach the lost, the unchurched, the de-churched all we want, but how many of us actually have non-Christian friends? We aren't called to be accidental witnesses to God's Good News - we should be intentional.

It's barbaric, and it's what Jesus did every day of his ministry.


Tempered Good News

I've been asked by a few people and noticed that several are afraid to ask, so I'll share the news with you:


That's right, I survived my Board of Ordained Ministry interviews yesterday and was affirmed by the Board for ordination on June 17th. I can safely say that it is going to my head.

At the same time, my celebration is tempered. Of the 18 people that interviewed yesterday, about 1/3 were deferred so they could improve in certain areas and reappear before the Board next year. My heart breaks for my colleagues who have worked every bit as hard as me, especially one of my closest friends who was unexpectedly deferred. Join me in praying for my brothers and sisters. I am planning to stand for their ordinations next year.

May they have the hearts of barbarians and return stronger next year.


When I Look Into Your Eyes...

Erin and I started dating almost nine years ago - it's hard to believe it's been that long, but I continue to surprised and blessed by God through my wife. She hates brown-nosing and gets a little disgusted when other people gush about their wives, so if she asks, that's not what I'm doing here.

About the time we started dating, perhaps a little before, we went on a retreat with the Wesley Fellowship at LaGrange College. One of our last nights, we had a chance to share with and encourage each other. I would bet you that nobody remembers anything that was said that night, except for what I said to Erin.

"When I look in your eyes, I see Jesus."

For Erin's friends, it was a beautiful moment that kicked off our relationship and was the right thing for me to say. For mine, it's been a great opportunity to poke fun at my sensitivity. I have to admit, I wish I would have told her that in private, but it is what it is.

After nine years, I can still look into Erin's eyes and see Jesus (still not brown-nosing). In the midst of troubling days and stressful ministry, I find myself anchored by Erin. When I have difficulty finding Christ around me in life, all I need to do is spend some time with my wife and there he is. I don't think I realized this until recently, and Erin probably has no idea that she does that for me, but I am truly blessed with a wife that I can only say God has picked for me.

What does this have to do with being a Barbarian? Let me tell you...

Our work is hard, we face challenges and we face them head-on. Ministry is often hazardous and hurtful and there are plenty of days that we will be ready to hang it up. There are days that I've had enough of God's will and enough of ministry. Those are the days that I come home and I'm reminded of God's grace and mercy and love by time spent with my wife.

If we are to respond to God's call on our lives as barbarians, we will need our anchoring point - our place to go when it's hard to find Jesus in life. Too many ministers and Christian leaders get used up too soon because they don't have that source. Too many call it quits because the world has pushed against them and they can't figure out where God is holding them up when they are ready to collapse.

Where do you look that you can always find Jesus?

(still not brown-nosing)



I am soliciting all of your prayers - there is alot going on in my world right now.

  • Foremost, pray for me this coming Monday, April 17. I appear before the Board of Ordained Ministry so they can determine my effectiveness in ministry and decide if I am fit for ordination this year. This is a big deal and a stressful day. Pray for wisdom and peace.
  • Pray for my calling. I have been attending the New Church Leadership Academy this year and I am in the midst of discernment about whether or not God would have me plant a church.
  • Pray for my church. Mt. Bethel is in the midst of a sermon series focused on fruitfulness as a congregation. This has the ability to be a turning point for this church and a new beginning of truly effective ministry. Pray that ears will be opened and hearts will be softened to what God has to say.

Recently, Lifechurch.tv announced a partnership in a sermon series entitled "One Prayer". Each pastor from each church will preach one sermon on the one prayer they would ask for their church if they only had one prayer. For instance, Newspring Church in Anderson, South Carolina is praying "God, make us dangerous."

My one prayer for Mt. Bethel is, "God, give us vision." Vision opens doors, gives focus, creates optimism and energy - all things that we desperately need.

What is your One Prayer?


I am a barbarian.


This is the declaration of teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in the Dead Poets' Society and it is the basis for this new blog. Some of you have followed my previous blog, "the SIGNIFICANCE of insignificance", which I consider to hopefully be a warmup for this blog.

I've recently read Erwin McManus' The Barbarian Way, which has renewed my personal sense of calling. We live in a time that the culture is changing and society is largely unchurched. As a pastor, I would say "rightly so!" even though it is a shame that we have failed to reach so many.

As time changes, our focus changes, and the time for passive Christian leadership is gone, and with it, the distractions of the ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal 20th century churches. I stand at the beginning of a hopefully long career as a pastor and see many of the challenges that lie in the landscape of the next 40 years of Christian ministry and I am excited by the possibilities for the Kingdom of God in my generation.

I am a barbarian. Let me explain.

I love the way that McManus puts it - he begins his book with a text from the Old Testament Book of Judges, chapter 11. You can read it for yourself, but basically, he uses the example of Jephthah (pronounced yiptah) to illustrate the life of what he calls a barbarian. Jephthah was one of three brothers, but was the only one whose mother was a prostitute. When grown, the other brothers were ready to claim their inheritance and ran him out of town, where he was accompanied by other "adventurers." Once the Israelites were in trouble, with the Ammonites ready to attack them, they went to Jephthah to ask him to head their armies.

All this is to say that in peaceful society, there is no room for the barbarian; however, as soon as there is struggle or conflict, no one is more valuable. We have been in a widely "churched" society for several centuries and now we find that suddenly, that comfort is gone, that we are facing a culture where only one in three people know Christ, much less follow him. I am convinced that God has created me to be a barbarian. I get frustrated with Christians that want to offer a simple program or cook some barbeque to save the world's problems. I am exhausted by endless committee meetings and overcome by the technicalities of church bureaucracy. Likewise, I am empowered by effective ministry, compelled by God's vision, and energized by Christians who are passionate about seeking out that vision.

I am unapoligetically barbaric. No, I don't stand for fighting any religious wars or lashing out against anyone. Christ didn't, so why should we think that would be appropriate? Yes, I do fight a spiritual war that is real and I come to the fight armed with love, faith, mercy, and some really good news of hope.

This blog is my story as a barbarian in the Kingdom of God and my observations coupled with my attempt at vision casting.

Here's your starter question: where do you feel most comfortable? Are you content in the time of a widely churched society, or does the prospect of an unchurched culture on our doorstep excite you? Comments are welcome.