We Are Family

I am blessed. I have an incredible wife and two perfect (well, most of the time) kids. They're on a three week trip to "Camp Grandmom & Papa." It's too quiet in this house. I'm getting alot done, except for the fact that the house is a disaster area. Erin, if you're reading this, don't panic, you won't be able to tell by the time you come home.
It's times like these that my visits with some of our older members take on different meaning. I spent a couple of hours with Mt. Bethel's resident patriarch on Saturday. He lost his wife in December. You can read about it on my old blog here. Johnny lives by himself now with only a cat for companionship most of the time and I can't imagine how deafening the silence must be. They were married in the 1940's and have always had family in and out of the house. Now, in the twilight of life, I admire his strength to face each day. He's still an important part of the church - he's got the most of anybody else to share with those he disciples.
My energy level is down. I'm lacking motivation to do some things and all I can attribute it to is not having a wife to kiss when I come in the door and a couple of kids to make sure I'm out of bed on time in the morning. There are times that I understand why John Wesley recommended that none of his preachers marry - I hate when my family gets dragged into the gory details of church life. These are not those times.
Cling to your family. They will be the ones that give you the strength to live the barbarian life. They are the reason that I do what I do with the zest that I do it with. I want my wife and kids to have the best experience with God possible and that requires a solid church family. I want my kids and everybody else's to have excitement about pursuing the Kingdom here and now and I don't want them to have to deal with the garbage that some Christians create in the community.
I always give thanks for my family, but these days I do it with an even deeper conviction. May my children have a family that pushes them to live a life of barbaric faith.
On a side note, I've added a feature to the blog that allows you to comment on my pictures. If you're reading this in a reader, you'll have to go to the site. Give it a shot. Tell me how perfect my kids are.


Ordination & Annual Conference

I've been absent from the blogging world for the last couple of weeks. It's been a busy time.

Faith, my daughter, was baptized on Father's Day. Baptisms are always special and exciting in the church, but it's exponentially more special when it's your own child. Thanks to Stephen for driving down for this special occasion. Today was his last Sunday as Minister of Evangelism at First UMC of Lawrenceville and it means alot that he'd give up one of his last Sundays for our family.

The next day, I left for Athens (a.k.a. the New Jerusalem) for Annual Conference. I always look forward to this week. Nowhere else have I found so many Christians come together and treat strangers like lifelong friends. I get a week to hang out with friends I don't see much the rest of the year.

This year's AC was different than others for me. Tuesday night, I was ordained. I began to take steps to answer my call to ministry in 1998 and finally, on June 17, 2008, Bishop Lindsey Davis laid hands on me with a great crowd present and instructed me to "take authority as an Elder to preach and Word of God, and to faithfully administer the Holy Sacraments." What a moment! What a responsibility!

I don't think its completely set in yet. I've been pursuing this for 10 years (the minimum for a high school senior) and in a few moments on a stage in Athens, Georgia, it was final. I think it may not set in completely until the fall comes and I don't have to drive to the United Methodist Center for my monthly covenant group.

I only have one disappointment so far. Wednesday morning, I filled up my hotel bathtub with water just to see if I could walk on water yet. No good - sunk right to the bottom!

I've tried to send messages and make calls to all who have played a part in getting me to this point, but the numbers are unbelievable. Thousands of people have played some role, either major or minor, in support of my calling. Thanks to you all. You are important to me.

With that, I would say that each of us knows someone who God is calling into full-time ministry. Support them. Pray for them and push them to answer that call. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a Church to ordain a minister.

Vision of Effective Stewardship (6 of 6)

Back to work.

Finally in the vision for Mt. Bethel, we must have effective stewardship. We need to move beyond a survival mentality and into a mode of generosity and abundance. If our church finances don’t reflect a generosity to the community and if our funds aren’t given proportionately to the cause of missions and outreach, how can we expect average worshippers to be generous and effective as stewards?

In principle, this part is simple. Mt. Bethel, as with many other churches, fights a tendency to slip into survival mode. We worry about paying bills, ridding ourselves of financial debt, and funding old programs that have lost their effectiveness. We evaluate our needed offerings based on what our financial obligations are and not on what the vision of the church is and the potential lives that can be touched.

I've saved this vision for last for a specific reason. When we place our finances at the forefront of following God's plan, we run the risk of letting our bank accounts determine how far we will go. It limits our faithfulness. Instead, we should follow with all our energy and count on God to make sure that the appropriate dollars are there.

I believe that in God's plan and in the way the church is organized, our finance committee and church council should NEVER be limiting to the vision of the church. Rather, the two should be charged with finding the appropriate resources when ministry teams develop ways to do ministry effectively.

When the church leadership takes on this attitude towards stewardship, the face of stewardship changes in the whole congregation. Stewardship "campaigns" take on a different tone and are more fruitful. The ministry teams have the freedom to dream and the permission to pursue new things and new people.

When we really get down to the meaning of being good stewards of what God has given and we recognize that everything we are and everything we have is ultimately God's, we find freedom in our obedience and we see miracles performed in our presence.



Today, I preached from Luke's version of Jesus healing the woman suffering from hemorrhages and raising Jairus' daughter. Not to brag too much, but I laid it down this morning. By the time I finished preaching, I had worked up a sweat and people couldn't wait to get out and share the Good News with others (or maybe it was noon and they were ready for lunch).

I'm always amazed at how God will use these sermons to transform me. I will go home on Sunday afternoon and feel like I needed the message as much as anybody else.

To make a long story short, I preached on healing. I talked about what needs we have for healing, whether it's physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual - but that in all circumstances God heals for the eternal consequences, not simply to heal the body, which is temporary.

For almost four years, I've been carrying around a broken relationship with a very good friend. Today, that relationship was restored. That friend may be reading this tonight, and a part of me hopes that he is.

We parted ways over something stupid, but a few weeks ago, I felt prompted to try to contact him. We reconnected, and in good time too - both of us are dealing the stresses that life brings and can certainly use each others' support.

I can say that this reconciliation was ALL God. If I had to try to fix it on my own, I would have certainly screwed things up worse. What's even more incredible is that until today, I didn't realize the burden that I was carrying by not speaking to my friend. I needed healing and didn't even know it.

What about you? If we live the barbarian life that we are called to, we will be wounded - we will hurt, we will be persecuted, things will go wrong, we will fall short. Often, the most important person on the battlefield of life is the one who brings us healing - who gets us off our backs and back into the fight. What kind of healing do you need? What burden is slowing you down?

God may tell you "No, I won't fix that for you." He told Paul that and Paul tells us that in 2nd Corinthians. Sometimes, God simply tells us that his grace is sufficient and that his power is made perfect in our weakness.

But the truth is this: unless we ask God to heal us and mend our lives, we won't get an answer either way. What's slowing you down?


Vision of Meaningful Spiritual Formation (5 of 6)

I've been working on something for some time. For those out there who are Christian historians, maybe this is my "Dorothea's Wheel." It looks a little something like this:

This is how I see the life cycle of a Christian. You enter the cycle as a new convert though evangelism, possibly in worship. From your conversion, you enter into spiritual formation where you are (ideally) discipled. You are taken deeper into faith by learning more about Christ and Christ's teachings. This is where we equip one another to send out in mission.

The next step in the machine is mission. It is here that we put wheels under our faith and learn to serve one another, and others, because of what we believe and because our love of God compels us to love others. James 1:22 has something to say about this.

I believe that the next step is sort of a graduation. As we grow in our mission, we arrive at a point that we can begin making disciples. Now, the cycle doesn't end for someone who begins making disciples - it merely "re-cycles" for the rest of our lives.

Part of our problem as the Church is that we allow people to get hung up in stages for a lifetime. Too many of our new converts are never made into disciples, never taught to pick up their bibles, or to develop a relationship with Christ. For others, it is easy to get into the cycle of spiritual formation and be spoon-fed Biblical knowledge for years and never-ever get dirt on their hands.

Some become missions junkies. I've been there. It's a great feeling to spend a Saturday building something, but sometimes the project takes precedence over the person you're doing it for. We become pro bono construction workers.

In our reaching out to others, we keep the focus on what our primary responsibility is: making disciples. No handicap ramp or soup kitchen will last forever, but the disciples we lead into relationship with Christ will live forever. We can waste alot of time, money, and energy as Christians by not completing the loop.

I say all of this to say, if you take out one part of the cycle, the cycle is compromised and faith becomes something else. If you take out evangelism and go straight to spiritual formation, you get a lot of really smart Pharisees. If you take out spiritual formation and go from evangelism to missions, you get either resentful Christians who feel like slaves or zealots who do more damage than good. If you remove missions, people become hearers of God's word and not doers - and thus, hypocrites. See the issues?

In my vision for Mt. Bethel, developing meaningful spiritual formation is a big part of creating a healthy Christian cycle. When we become hospitable and reach out to the community, what comes next?

We have to give people something to come home to. Our spiritual formation currently is minimal and not reaching a large percentage of our people right now. If we are going to reach out to people and invite them in, we must have something worth coming to. We need to improve our spiritual formation, not just so we’re a prettier package, but so that we equip the people we’ve got now to discern the mission and vision of Christ and apply it in their own lives.

I got some challenging comments from a member the other day when we were discussing the state of Sunday school in the US currently. You can look at the studies and see that even the Baptists, whose cornerstone is Sunday School, are dealing with dwindling numbers for Sunday morning spiritual formation. However, you can also see a much faster growing trend in participation in weeknight Bible studies, home groups, gender specific groups, and short-term groups. Spiritual formation continues to grow as a need for Christians in America today.

My member's problem with that conversation recently was her remembrance of the days (in the 50's, 60's, and 70's) that Sunday school attendance exceeded worship attendance and had a tendency to mean more to the people of Mt. Bethel. In the words of another wise person I spoke to recently, the best strategy when you find that your horse is dead is to dismount.

We don't need to abandon old forms of spiritual formation that still meet a need. Our older generations, especially, find great resource in meeting weekly for an hour on Sunday. We do, however, need to begin to offer that which meets the needs of other age, social, and maturity groups.

I'm beginning to beat a dead horse, so I'll stop here. I'm interested though, in your comments about my Christian life cycle. I've been tossing it around for about 4 years now and have never shared it until now. What do you think? Is it off? Is it missing some insight? Is it so good that I should write my bestselling book on it and make my millions so I can retire early?