Fall Ball

Fall is in swing and this year, we're even a little more busy than we have been before.  In August, we signed Ben up for his first baseball season.  He's one of several four-year-olds playing in a 5/6 coach-pitch league.  We're very proud of him and he's got some solid potential to be a much better ball-player than his dad.

Ben's an Ola Bulldog.  He's practicing once a week and playing games twice per week.  He's one of the few kids that hits more of the pitches the coach throws and uses the tee less.  He's got some decent power too, which is a good thing, especially since he runs like his dad (SLOW!).  

Earlier this week, Ben was presented with the game ball.  He had a night that he hit 3 for 3 and drove in a couple of runs.  His coaches decided he should take the game ball home and I have to say, it goes on the list of my proudest moments.  

To top off the great play, Ben's made me proud with his ability to show good sportsmanship.  He's competitive, but never gets down when he doesn't get a hit and encourages the other players around him too.  He's out there having fun - which I believe is the most important thing, especially at his age.

Now, I know there are parents out there who are saying, "I don't think so.  Winning is the most important thing."  I want to go on record and tell you that if you believe that winning is worth sacrificing your integrity and your character, then you disgust me.

Ben had a game this morning.  I left disgusted.  Not because Ben's team lost, but because of the attitudes of the adults in the bleachers and in the dugouts.  Early in the game, there was a dispute over when the ball is dead and whether the runners were allowed to advance or not.  An umpire changed his call at the insistence of the other team's coach (a mistake NO umpire should make), opening the door for one of Ben's coaches to protest.

Because of the protest, three of the parents for the other team verbally threatened Ben's coach.  "You better have your buddies with you when you head to your car after the game," they said.  Explicit language was used.  The young umpire, intimidated by the situation, did nothing to move things in a positive direction.

Thankfully, the threats were idle ones.  No fights broke out.  No property was damaged.  No more words were spoken.

But I still left shaking my head and asking to myself, "Really?  Who were the children at the ball park?  The short ones or the tall ones?"

Sadly, this isn't something new.  One of the leaders in my church once worked as an umpire for all levels of amateur baseball.  Bill has told me that his least favorite to umpire was little-league.  Not because the game moves slower and there aren't that many exciting plays, but because parents just don't know how to behave.  Threats and unnecessary language are a regular part of the job.  More ejections take place in little-league than in the other leagues, by far.  Misbehaving adults have prompted zero-tolerance policies to be put into place, resulting in lifetime bans for parents and coaches that get out of control.  I'm trying to understand why this is even necessary.  I'm at a loss.

We go to church.  We read our Bibles.  We hear about things like sportsmanship, love, kindness, and grace, but we act like competition transcends these things and brings out our animal-instinct and our sinful nature.  

I lament the fact that every day I see ads on TV and in the mail for our upcoming mid-term elections that do little to promote any candidate, but strive only to bring down the opposing candidate.  I'm saddened by the fact that all politicians want to do is tear each other down and tell us what's wrong with the world.  We know what's wrong with the world, we don't need to be told.  Instead, why not act like the good person you claim to be, rise above the fray and make the world a better place through sportsmanship, love, kindness, and grace?

I'm depressed when I read blog posts by pastors who are being attacked by other pastors.  Ministers stand in their pulpits and degrade the church down the road simply because they do ministry from a different philosophy (and usually because the other church is drawing and affecting more people - penis-envy for churches).  Whole churches refuse to communicate with each other or, heaven-forbid, work together to be Christ's representatives to the world.

Why can't we behave?  

Our bad behavior puts a bad taste in the mouths of people that watch from the outside.  It causes us to lose the respect of the world, and it damages younger generations.  There's a lot wrong with the world.  Last time I checked, the only ones to blame were ourselves.  We can blame, we can fight, we can take an eye for an eye, but the world won't be any better, we'll all just be blind.

Go Bulldogs!


Hey Bert!

Yesterday, Bert was our guest preacher...

No, not that Bert, this one...

Rev. Bert Neal is planting a new church in our district.  The plant that he is working on is what is commonly referred to as a "parachute drop".  These are different from a mother church "birthing" a new church.  When a pastor is "dropped", he or she is appointed to an area with a little financial support.  They spend a few months gathering contacts, forming a launch team, usually beginning some sort of regular meeting schedule, and preparing for a "launch Sunday." 

Bert has been at it since July 1st and is already ahead of the curve.  He's got a solid launch team and is prepared to begin meeting regularly with them for Bible Study and outreach opportunities.  Yesterday, Bert, his wife Denise, and several of his launch team members came to worship with us.  Bert brought the sermon and it was a powerful one that obviously came from the heart and touched several people.

Mt. Bethel has been growing, not just in numbers, but in spiritual maturity.  We have begun to reclaim our identity as a church that reaches out to the world.  In a time that so many churches seem to compete with each other for prominence, bringing Bert and his people is an effort to partner with another church to reach even more people for Christ. 

We don't have a ton to offer a new church start.  We couldn't make a $20,000 commitment to Bert, but we could do two things:  we could pray, which we did, and we could bring more awareness to the area of this new ministry and more exposure for Bert to the community.  Some folks did make financial commitments and every little bit helps.

Bert has given this new church a name: Sacred Praise United Methodist Church.  It will be in Lovejoy, Georgia (if you're close by, give it a try) and they're planning to launch sometime in March of 2011. 

Bert anticipates having close to 200 people committed to God's vision for this new church on his launch day, which will be more than we have at Mt. Bethel altogether.  It's exciting to know that such great efforts are being made to expand the Kingdom of God and I'm elated that I, and Mt. Bethel, can be a part of it all.

You can support Bert and Sacred Praise UMC too.  "Like" them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/sacredpraise) and get connected. 

Meanwhile, our North Georgia Annual Conference is working intentionally to birth new Christian communities every year.  For more information on what they've got going on, read on HERE.

Other friends of mine that are planting churches (support them too):
Stephen Walters - Connection Church (Suwannee, GA)
David Walters - The Vine (Braselton, GA)
Carter McInnis - The Way (Lawrenceville, GA)
Ken Hagler - Crossroads UMC (Acworth, GA)
Kenny Ott - Fellowship Church (Dallas, GA)
Andy Postell - The Well (Cartersville, GA)
Olu Brown - Impact Church (Atlanta, GA)
Kyle Smith - Life Springs UMC (Zebulon, GA)


Version, Part 3

Here's another version to bookmark: The Cotton Patch Gospel.

This version has been around for decades and you can still buy it from Koinonia Partners if you want it in print.  Clarence Jordan, who started the Koinonia Movement in Americus, Georgia during the Civil Rights Era was a New Testament Scholar (a farmer with a PhD) who also wrote a paraphrase of the New Testament, but in South Georgia language.  Koinonia Farm and Clarence Jordan are also the influences that led to Habitat for Humanity and many other great mission movements.

This is a fun version to read.  City names have been changed and the language is very much adapted to a specific audience.  For instance, when Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, here's how it reads:

It happened in those days that a proclamation went out from President Augustus that every citizen must register. This was the first registration while Quirinius was Secretary of War. So everybody went to register, each going to his own home town. Joseph too went up from south Georgia from the city of Valdosta, to his home in north Georgia, a place named Gainesville, to register with his bride Mary, who by now was heavily pregnant.
When Jesus went to John to be baptized, it says that Jesus went from Albany up to the Chattahoochee.  For a South Georgian (I grew up just outside of Valdosta), I love this version, though it holds no historical or academic authority.  For a native of the South, it will cause you to read a text you thought was familiar and say, "Oh, I never saw it that way before!"  Just wanted to share.
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Version, Part 2

What version of the Bible are you reading?

I've asked that question a few times lately to newcomers to the church.  I've found that many people who struggle to keep a routine of reading their Bibles or struggle to understand what they are reading have a translation that isn't doing them any favors.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)Image via WikipediaRemember, as a high school student, being required to read Romeo and Juliet or Twelfth Night or even A Tale of Two Cities?  I do.  I remember how it felt essentially like learning a new language.  I remember having to momorize the prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in it's original, old english form.  Oddly, I still remember some of the lines, but couldn't tell you what a bit of it means - not sure how that prepared me for life beyond high school.

I mentioned in my last post that I own a King James Bible.  To be honest with you, the only two occasions I use it are at Christmas Eve when I read from Luke 2 and at a funeral when I read the 23rd Psalm because the old reading is like comfort food to some more traditional Christians.  Even those instances are becoming fewer and fewer.  Why?  Because the KJV is in Shakespearean English and it's hard to understand for the average person.  I'm waiting for the day that the Gideons wake up to this fact and start diversifying their use of translations in hotel rooms and other public places.

 So what do you do if you look at your shelf and all you have is a KJV that you haven't dusted off for some time?  You go shopping.

That process can be just as daunting as trying to understand parts of Leviticus in 17th Century English.  Stand in any Cokesbury, Lifeway, or Family Christian Bookstore and you'll find a plethora of versions and enough book covers to accessorize for the formal occasion all the way down to an early morning in the deer stand.

In some cases, it may be easier and more useful to bookmark Bible Gateway and Oremus on your web browser and have all of them at your fingertips.  But what if you want the good 'ol print copy that you can write in the margins of and overstuff wth old bulletins?  Here are some of the translations that I've found most useful:

New International Version
I'll begin here because this is the translation that I have the most copies of and one that I preach from regularly.  The NIV was created in the 1970's and is a translation of the oldest texts.  The language is easy to understand (mostly) and you can get this Bible in just about any form, from the slimmest, easiest to carry to the bulkiest, most-note-filled version.  You can find one that will meet your needs, or like in my case, 5 or 6 that meet your needs.  

These are the versions that we usually hand out to those who need a Bible and Zondervan sells them pretty cheap.  The NIV is older than I am and is hardly "New" anymore.  It's been revised a couple of times with the tNIV and others, but never successfully.  There continues to be talk of further revisions.

Growing up, my church gave Bibles to rising third graders.  The Revised Standard Version (RSV) was my first "big boy" Bible and I still have it on my shelf.  The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is the one that every United Methodist seminary graduate has at least one copy of.  It's in the same family as the KJV and is essentially the RSV with minor revisions and updated language. 

The NRSV is commonly a study Bible.  It's the one that most academics turn to for a solid translation.  It's also one of the most gender-neutral translations you will find.  When speaking of God, it reads "God."  (the Hebrew language doesn't have any gender-neutral words - even inanimate objects have gender)  They've also taken the liberty to add "and sisters" wherever Paul writes to the brothers - making sure that we understand that the message is clearly for all people.

I like this version and preach from it just as much at the NIV.

The Message
I keep a copy of this one on my shelf to, but it's like having a very specialized tool in your toolbox.  The Message is a paraphrase of the old texts, written by Eugene Peterson.  In the early 90's, Peterson was teaching a class on Galatians and saw a need for a new "translation" that would capture the emphasis of what Paul and others had written.

If you go out and buy one of these, (they tend to have the coolest, trendiest bindings) you need to understand that this is a paraphrase of Scripture and not a translation.  Peterson has taken his interpretation of the text and put that down on paper. 

Like I said, it's a specialized tool.  It's great for meditating on scripture.  It's horrible for study.  It's great for getting through difficult passages, but it's not sufficient for deep analysis.  If understanding scripture was like washing dishes, think of The Message as a good pre-rinse before putting the dishes in your dishwasher.

New American Standard Bible
This is a new one on my shelf (even though it's been around since 1971) and I haven't preached from it yet.  This is a good version for scholars that are seeking a very literal translation of the old Greek and Hebrew.  Every copy of this translation comes with standard notations.  Italics show up where they have used a word not in the original Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, but implied by it.  All caps are used where an Old Testament text has been quoted in the New Testament and an asterisk is used where the verb tense has been changed to conform to modern usage.

If I want a decent idea of what the original Greek or Hebrew says without having to learn those languages, this is a good version.  The translators have taken very few liberties with the text and, when they have, they've made every notation posssible.  With that, this translation doesn't do much to enlighten us on some of the more entangling texts of the Bible or to break up Paul's run-on sentences.

So what about versions to avoid spending money on if you're looking for a new Bible?

The King James Version - Don't buy this one unless Shakespearean English does something for you.  This translation won't do you any favors.  The New King James is better than the original, but you can do better than the NKJV.

The Living Bible - This one is a paraphrase like The Message, but with even more liberty taken.  This was the Bible that my seminary professors strictly forbid.  The New Living Bible is ok, but if you want a paraphrase, I would trust Peterson more.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible - This Bible is the unofficial Southern Baptist Bible.  Not that being Southern Baptist is bad, but having a denominationally biased Bible is dangerous.  This version annoys me because certain parts of scripture are highlighted, simply because the editorial board felt that some scripture is more important than others.  It's scripture with a political twist, if you will.

The Common English Bible - This one is just coming out and I wrote about it in my last post.  In reading parts of this new translation, I believe that the translators ventured away from traditional language to make it more readable in some cases, but in others, it feels like they did it just to be different.  I won't read this one without a more trustworthy version readily accessible.

There are dozens of different tranlations out there and you have to form your own opinions eventually.  If you already have any of these versions, don't throw them out.  Each has it's own merit, but I would suggest getting something that will serve your needs for understanding scripture so that it will inform your faith and serve as "a lamp unto [your] feet and a light unto [your] path" (Psalm 119:105).

What's in your library?

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Version, Part 1

What version of the Bible do you read?

My church has NRSV's in the pews.  I have these on my shelf:

I've preached from five of those versions and the rest I use for reference and study.  I ask the question because there is great debate in some circles over the authority of scripture based on the translation.

The cornerstone of fundamentalist belief is that the only Bible is the King James 1611 Version.  It's also referred to as the Authorized Version because translation was authorized and commissioned by King James of England.

I would have to question that "logic" since there are canonical versions much older than the KJV.  The Masoretic Text and the Latin Vulgate being the two primary versions.  And, of course, there is also the Septuagint that goes back to the time of the Ptolemy II.  Secondarily, the KJV bears thousands of translation errors.  While most of them are minor, our ability to translate ancient copies of scripture has improved many times over since the 17th Century.  To demonize another translation of scripture because it's not the KJV 1611 is simply irrational and if that's your take on the matter, you should consider just how ridiculous you sound.

A new translation has just been released.  The Common English Bible is the newest translation on the market.  In fact, it's so new, only the New Testament is available for purchase right now. 

It's not a revision of an existing translation, but an all-new translation geared to be more contemporary and more accessible.  Translation was an ecumenical effort, primary among Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Presbyterian scholars.  It's supposed to be simple enough for a fifth grader to read easily and still be a true translation, as opposed to a paraphrase like The Message.

But I have concerns.  I'm not sure if those concerns are valid or not, but there they are. 

Some of the translation decisions bewilder me.  Take, for instance, Matthew 5:1-11 - the Beatitudes.  I'm preaching from these right now and many of us know them by heart.  Each of the eight beatitudes begins with "Blessed are..."

The CEB translates these verses to begin with "Happy are..."  Technically speaking, that translation is accurate.  The original greek word is "makarios".  It means happy or fortunate and in a religious context, it means blessed.  I can't tell if it's just my own bias, but despite the fact that one greek word covers all these english words, there is a difference in english between "happy" and "blessed."  Happy means "delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing."  Blessed means "divinely or supremely favored."  I guess in a technical way, they mean the same, but the connotation for each is different for most of us.

Over and over, this translation makes the decision to be different, apparently so that it can simply stand out from other translations.  While there is merit to creating a new, contemporary version that will be applicable and engaging to modern readers, I suspect that I'm going to spend more time explaining the differences in the translations to people than I've ever had to with the versions we already have.

I personally know some of the people on the editorial board for this new translation.  One of them was the OT professor that I learned an immense amount from and is one of the worlds foremost experts on the prophets.  I'm still concerned about the usefulness of this version and, if it does survive in print, what kind of challenges it will present.

What version do you study from?  If you're a preacher, what version do you preach from?  What's your reasoning?

Tomorrow, I plan on posting on things to look for when shopping for a new Bible.
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Imagine riding a motorcycle.  Not just any motorcycle - a drag bike like this one.

You begin going through the gears...First...Second...Third...Fourth.  Your speedometer tops 100...then 150...then 200.  The engine on your bike is whining.  The stripes on the pavement have gone from dashed to solid.  The objects to your left and right are indiscernable blurrs. 

You're holding on for dear life, right?  Your knuckles are white - you feel like your hair is on fire.  You don't even taste the bugs that you're eating and you swear you can feel the skin peeling off your face.  Can you relate to that?

For all the youth directors and counselors out there, maybe a better analogy is driving the church van full of teenagers on the interstate...

In either case, you're holding on for dear life, praying that a deer or other obstacle won't run out in front of you.  You keep the throttle maxed out and hope for the best.  There is very little opportunity for maneuvering or braking.  You find out just how long you can hold your breath.

This is an accurate description of what ministry is like for me right now.  We have had seasons like this before, where so many things seem to come together at once and it all seems a little overwhelming.  The rush is indescribable - it's a combination of joy, excitement, and sheer terror.  If I had hair, it would surely be on fire.

I posted a few weeks ago about our success at inviting friends, neighbors, and family members to church.  I've served a larger church and if attendance fluctuated by 50 or 60 on a given Sunday, it was hardly noticable.  In a smaller church, adding half that amount still adds up to 20-30% of your worship attendance.  That's a shock to the system!  Since July 18th, many of the people we invited have stuck around and become regulars with us.  Very exciting.

A new school year has begun - the youth and children's ministry are getting back in the swing and we're gearing up for Confirmation to begin next month.  At the same time, we're trying to figure out how to get the new kids and their parents plugged in.  (now accepting creative ideas)

We're doing something that many churches aren't doing and we're actually expanding our Sunday School to add one or two classes.  At the same time, we're beginning to make preparations to add a second Sunday morning worship service in hopes that we can spark even more growth.

The sanctuary is about to get some renovations with the addition of a video system.  A new projector, screen, and the expansion of our A/V booth.  Our capabilities in worship will increase exponentially. In fact, worship will probably morph somewhat with that capability.  We're even exploring whether or not we will need a weekly bulletin as we go forward, or if we can just create a monthly newsletter.

As if that wasn't enough for our trustees, there is some talk about taking advantage of the housing market and shopping for a new parsonage.  *If you're a member and you're reading this, don't be alarmed - it's still just talk.  If it's a feasible possibility, we'll report to you later and you'll be a part of this decision.

Two and a half weeks from now, we'll have a guest preacher.  Rev. Bert Neal will bring our Sunday message and hopefully we will have several people from his launch team as our guests as well.  Bert is new to our district and is a "parachute-dropped" church planter.  As Bert brings the sermon and leads our worship, the plan is that our church will become a partner in this new expansion.  It's exciting to think that our small membership church can help build a new congregation in the next county that will launch with more people than we already have.  Join us in praying for Bert and Sacred Praise UMC, set to launch in March of 2011.

There is so much going on that I'm sure to be forgetting something.  (Oh yeah, we're doing a new church directory for the first time in six years, and we're beginning work on nominating next year's church leadership)  Things are at the edge of control and in some cases, out of control - for us that is.  I just keep holding on tight and trusting that God will keep things moving in the right direction and keep my head above water.


The Honey and the Money

As I entered into ministry a few years ago, I was given some odd, yet insightful and memorable, words of wisdom.  United Methodist Pastors, for generations, have enjoyed a "guaranteed appointment" system, wherein we are guaranteed a job and our churches are guaranteed a pastor.

For generations, it's been hard to lose your credentials as a pastor.  Those words of wisdom spoken to me: "Stay away from the honey and the money and you'll be here for a long time."  Yet every year, we hear about pastors and staff members who just can't stay away.  They have extramarital affairs or they misappropriate/embezzle church funds.

Since becoming a pastor, I've witnessed the exodus of 4-10 pastors per year from our annual conference, most for "the honey."  In the last year, I've seen two staff members, one that I used to work with and one that I used to be friends with, get caught with their hand in the cookie jar - both will likely face criminal prosecution for embezzlement.

It's sad that all Christian leaders can't have more integrity than this, but we have a long history of ministers, staff members, and lay leaders caught with their pants down or helping themselves to church funds.  When these things happen, the betrayal usually hurts dozens, if not hundreds, of people.  The physical ramifications are bad enough, but the emotional and spiritual damage goes very deep, destroying people's trust and fracturing relationships.  These acts will stunt the growth of any church, both in the relationships within the congregation and between the church and the community. 

If you're a pastor, staff member, or lay leader within a local church, beware of the honey and the money.  Churches are trusting places and opportunity abounds to make poor decisions.  Should you find yourself dealing with those temptations, don't look away, don't walk away, but RUN AWAY!  Find accountability with someone you trust and let them help you avoid the opportunities that will be your downfall.

Most pastors who have extramarital affairs aren't caught the first time they do it.  Usually once the truth is revealed a trail of prior relationships emerges, usually affecting multiple churches. 

As for those who steal from churches, both of the people I mentioned above absconded with thousands of dollars.  Both started with small amounts and gradually took more and more.  One took more than $30,000 over the course of 8 years. 

I believe that both are addictions, much like drugs and alcohol.  There is a high involved - a feel good moment - followed by the need to do it again.  Each time gets bolder and bolder and most people don't stop until they are forced to stop.

So I say again, if the temptation is there, just saying no isn't going to cut it.  Find a strong friend to hold you accountable and to keep you on the right path.  And avoid the opportunities.  I never meet with someone alone and I handle as few funds and possible, always with someone looking over my shoulder.

If you do get into the honey or the money and you think you're getting away with it, you may be for now, but you will be caught.  The outcome will not be pretty and will likely affect the rest of your life in horrible ways, not to mention cause massive destruction for others.  The consequences are much greater than the gratification you may be getting in the moment.

So what about the victims?  What should we do if someone commits these acts against us or our church?  I believe there must be a balance between grace and accountability.  I believe that there is a need for forgiveness and also for prosecution.  We strive to forgive others because that's what Christ taught and exemplified for us - it's our model for life.

However, we often neglect the fact that the church is much greater than our own local church.  If we choose to forgive and forget, the violator is free to gain employment in another local church and commit the same acts again and again, never facing consequences.  When we call for a person's resignation without attaching any sort of asterisk to their resume, we tell the fox to stop raiding the hen house, send him on his way, and hope that he becomes a vegetarian.

If we become too vigilant, we risk our own salvation.  If we are too forgiving, we become complicit when the would-be felon strikes again.

The bottom line is this: stay away from the honey and the money.
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It's been a while since I bragged on my church.  It's not that I don't love the people here, I'm just bad at stopping to praise them on my blog.

Before I brag, let me give you some background...

For the last eight weeks, we've been in a conversation about the "E-Word."  What's the E-Word you ask?  I'm glad you did. 

That's what we've been calling evangelism for the last eight weeks.  What are the first images that come to mind when you hear the world evangelism or evangelist?  For me, it's probably some blowhard, fire and brimstone preacher wearing a worn out suit  with white socks and pants that haven't been introduced to the tops of his shoes who doesn't make much sense, but makes a lot of noise anyway.  Or maybe a plastic woman with LARGE pink hair and makeup done by Sherwin Williams who asks you to send in $50 and she promises she will pray for you.

Evangelism is a word that has been taken over by some ridiculous people for some less-than-reasonable endeavors.  It's been abused and misused.  For many, it has taken on a wholly different meaning that it was originally intended to have.  For that reason, it has become something that we dare not to speak of in polite company, as well as the truly lost art form of sharing faith with others.

Evangelism is quite simple when you strip away all the false connotations.  It's about sharing our faith with others.  It's about being a source of God's good news to the rest of the world - painting a picture of hope in hopeless situations and becoming the answers to the prayers that we pray.

At the conclusion of this sermon series, the challenge was issued to each member in attendance: bring someone to church with you.  Sometimes that's the best start to sharing faith with someone else.

We set the date for July 18th.  We talked about it, we prepared for it.  I began to get discouraged when a handful of members told me that they just didn't have any unchurched or dechurched friends or that they just couldn't talk their friends into coming.  I honestly wasn't expecting much at that point.

Sunday at 10:55, I broke away from a conversation with a member to get settled into the sanctuary.  As I turned the corner I was overwhelmed.  The sanctuary was packed! 

We've grown slowly over the last three years as a church.  In terms of membership, we've just barely outpaced deaths in the church with new members.  Worship attendance has grown from 65 to close to 90 on average and each time we convert regular attending visitors to new members, new visitors take their place as regular attenders. People are finding faith for the first time and are growing, not only as disciples, but as disciple-makers.

Imagine seeing anywhere from 80 to 95 people on a normal Sunday.  Imagine that it's July and people are on vacation, so 80 is a solid attendance number.  Imagine walking into the sanctuary and seeing 120 people!  We had at least 33 guests on hand Sunday.  At least 17 of those had never seen the inside of the sanctuary before.  People brought their family members, their neighbors, their coworkers, and their friends.

I was blown away.  I immediately got anxious with excitement but couldn't wipe the smile off my face.  You see, I'd been praying for this day especially for months now.  Some of my leaders had been praying with me weekly about it for over a month. 

The most exciting part for me?  Probably the looks on the faces of our own members.  I've seen that look before.  It's the one that says, "Look what I did.  Aren't you proud of me?"  And I am proud of them.  I'm especially pumped because they've figured out how to do this and for many of them, this is only the beginning.

I always tell people that the math is simple.  Imagine if we all did our best to bring others to church.  Who have you invited lately?  Who will you invite next Sunday?

If you're reading this and you are the person who hasn't been invited, come hang out with us.  The preaching is ok, but you won't find better people anywhere.



Why do we attend church?  Why do we participate in the community of faith?  Why do we spend our time, energy, and resources on these things?

Because the church is the avenue through which we come to, grow in, and live in faith.  It meets needs for us.

Do you remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs that you learned about in your basic sociology or psychology class?  The most basic immediate needs are physiological, like breathing and eating.  Once those have been met, our next most urgent needs are for safety, then love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

As a minister, I've learned that the that the best way to introduce someone to Christ is to show them that he will meet these needs.  Christ fed the 5,000 because he was meeting their most basic needs.  (Jesus does show us that there is an even greater basic need, forgiveness of sin, which he grants a paralytic before he grants him physical healing.  See Matthew 9.)

Let's focus for just a moment on that second tier of needs: safety.  Safety is a need that every living creature holds in common.  Back a dog into a corner and make it feel like it's safety is threatened and expect to be mauled.  Endanger the safety of my wife and watch a beautiful, kind, loving woman turn into a raging, unrelenting, commando.

Hopefully, if you're a Christian, you've discovered that in your faith you can find safety - the kind that is supernatural and goes beyond the temporal.  Jesus is the calmer of the waves and the master of the storm (see Matthew 8).  No matter what life throws our way, we know that God has already conquered the world and we already know the end of the story. 

Unfortunately, for many church-goers, that sense of security comes from church affiliation.  Long-time church members are typically the most guilty and when change comes to the local church, they begin to act like cornered animals.  Conflict erupts, often devoid of reason and going off like a shotgun blast that hits many people at once rather than a sniper rifle hitting the intended target. 

When I arrived at Mt. Bethel three years ago, a long-standing tradition had been on life support for a number of years.  Every fall, an auction was held to raise money for the church and a series of sermons were preached by a guest preacher.  Attendance had dwindled to very few people and the fundraising "festival" ended up costing more than it was making.  Newer members didn't participate or understand why this tradition even existed.  In the days when every member farmed, this event made sense and people from the community would file through the doors to be a part of it.

I took the harvest festival off of life support.  We tried it my first fall here, but immediately afterward, I began making plans to replace it with something that would better serve and reach the community. 

Have you ever poked a hornet's nest? 

I got angry emails and phone calls.  Members refused to shake my hand on Sunday morning.  Thankfully we've gotten past that and even more gratefully, my instincts proved to be right.  We now redirect our energies in the fall to serving the families that have moved to the community and we've increased our involvement in the schools around us.

People were upset with me because I threatened their security by changing tradition that was older than me.  The face of the church changed, ever-so-slightly, and the waves of conflict began to kick up.

In Unbinding the Gospel, Martha Reese says toward the end, "If you only get one thing from this chapter, make sure it's this: safety lies in God, not in our habits."  I love that.  You see, when we are faithful to God and pursue the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives and our churches, the scenery will change.  When Jesus commissioned his disciples, he didn't say, "Build a building here in Jerusalem, send out glossy 5x8 postcards to all the world and wait for them to come to you."  God has, throughout history, been moving his people from place to place.  He has lead us to places we never knew existed and connected us with people we probably wouldn't choose on our own.

Write this down in the front of your Bible, hang it on your fridge, tattoo it on your...wherever:  GOD IS ALWAYS IN THE NEW PLACE.

That's the Gospel.  God never forsakes his own people but always goes ahead of us.  In fact, we may discover that if we refuse to move, God will move on without us.  Where are we then?

Where does your stability/safety/security come from?  If it comes from God, then nothing can ever threaten it (or you).


Red Rover

Do you remember playing red rover as a kid?  I remember playing a few times in elementary school, along with red light-green light, tag, and hide 'n seek.  These were fun games.

Red rover was my favorite though, because it required teamwork.  For the "speed-challenged" kids, this was a way to be on a winning team.  Do you remember how it worked?

Two teams were formed and kids would stand hand-in-hand in lines facing each other.  One team would call out, "Red rover, red rover, send Susie right over!"  When they called out Susie's name, she had to run across from her team to the other and try to break through the line.  If the team could "catch" her, they could keep her.  If she broke through though, she got to take another person back over to her team.  Eventually, one side would keep everybody, and everybody got to be a winner.

Kind of like the church...

No, not the institution of the church, but the community of Christ followers, bound together by the Holy Spirit.  We stand, hand-in-hand (ideally) facing the rest of the world.  We call out a name, we share our faith, we serve others - and one by one, people run our way.  Our goal is to "catch" those people and make them a part of the Church (again, not the institution, but the community).

At Mt. Bethel, we're talking about evangelism.  Too often, in this game of red rover, we spend too much time enjoying holding hands to call people over.  Or even worse, we consume our time refusing to hold hands so we can call people over.  When we have our act together though, our purpose is to call people out of the world and invite them into a relationship with Christ.

Once we start calling people over, we learn that that is the easy part.  My question to you is, "once someone starts running your way, do you know how to catch them?"

Imagine a salesman.  He knows his product well and it's a great product.  He has a friendly face and people like to engage in conversation with him.  He has a weakness though.  He can't close the deal.  He is incapable of asking someone if they would like to buy his product.  How long do you think this salesman is going to have a job?  How much commission do you think he's going to take home with him?

See where I'm headed?

If we pray for opportunity to reach others for Christ and we do invite them, are we able to close the deal?  If an unchurched friend came to you today and asked about your faith and how to become a part of that faith, what would you tell them?  Would you be able to tell them about Jesus and the love of God?  Would you be able to lead them through claiming that for themselves?

Red rover is a losing game if you can't figure out how to catch those who run your way.  That's tragic when you consider that we're playing for the Kingdom of God.


"It's Like Family Here..."

Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism, 2nd EditionI read something thought-provoking this morning.  Part of my study for the sermon series I'm in the midst of is reading Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism.  Martha Grace Reese spent years of note-taking in the trenches of the local churches all across the country to put together this project.

The chapter I'm on is a dangerous one - it's about the true health of relationships within the congregation and how that impacts our ability to be evangelists.  She says that "churches where people snap, snipe, pull power plays over the budget, then go home to fried preacher for Sunday supper don't do good evangelism for the long haul!"

What really got me is that one church that appeared healthy, but proved not to be authentically healthy once you dug a little deeper, was one where several of the people made the comment that "it's like family here."

I laughed when I read it, and if your experience has been like mine, you probably are laughing too.  The statement that "it's like family here" is the number one excuse to NOT do evangelism in the local church.  If we were to make a pullstring doll resembling a stereotypical church-goer, this would be one of the three sayings for the doll, along with, "Good sermon preacher" and, "We've never done it that way before."

Let's examine that statement for just a moment: It's like family here.  Now, think about your family.  Not just your immediate family, but the whole group that gets together for a family funeral.

My mother's Aunt Phyl passed away two weeks ago.  Family from all over the lower 48 converged on the small Indiana town where she and Uncle Marvin lived.  Now, understand that this is probably the more "normal" side of my family (sorry Dad).  My grandfather was one of four children who grew up in an Indiana farming family during the Great Depression.  There were two sons, Dick and Rex (Uncle Dick is a story for another post - let's just say they broke the mold on that one).  There were two daughters, Phyllis and Barbara.  Each went on to get married, have children, and build their own lives. 

Within that family, we have a portion that we affectionately pass from person to person.  The rule is that the last person to marry into the family officially becomes the relative of these people.  The rest of us do our best to retain deniability for these family members, simply because they're weird.  My Uncle Miguel was the last to marry into the family for 20+ years, so for that time, he kept his "inheritance."  After that time, I was the first to get married from my generation, so when the wedding rehearsal dinner came around, he presented, with much pomp and circumstance, a certificate of ownership to my bride-to-be.  You could tell he had been waiting a long time for that moment. 

That sounds harsh, and I assure you that it's all in fun.  It's a joke that we've gotten many miles out of and will continue to get miles out of as long as somebody remembers the people we're passing along.

The decendents of this part of the family, I'm told, had a singing contest at my great-aunt's funeral service.  Picture Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and you're getting the idea.  Yes, someone like Eddie really does exist, camper and all.

I love my family, but I'm not sure that this is the best image for a healthy church.  If my family spent that much time together each week and lived in such close proximity, someone would go to jail for murder. 

Is this the best we can do as the church?  Am I expected to WANT to spend that much time with crazy cousin Eddie?  Or is the church supposed to be something more? 

No, I don't think it will be utopian.  Conflict is an inevitable part of life.  But if you're suggesting that we shouldn't grow and reach others because you might lose that sense of family, you're lying to yourself. 

Church should rise above what we know to be family.  It should be the example for families to aspire to - where the member's actions, growth, and initiatives are supported.  Where love, support, and accountability can be found. 

"While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.'  He replied to him, 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?'  Pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.'" (Matthew 12:46-50)



I know that I haven't posted since May 3rd.  I also know that I spend way too much time apoligizing for not writing more on this blog.  My goal this year was to post at least once per week, but once May hit, I found myself nearly speechless.

Early this month, Erin and I got to go on a date with two good friends of ours.  We took the day and went to Atlantic Station in the city to see the Bodies exhibit and take Erin to California Pizza Kitchen.  We also took the opportunity to walk through Ikea and John and I tried out all the chairs.

The Bodies exhibit was really amazing - if you're ever near it, I'd recommend it.  Having grown up with a mom who is a nurse and other family members in the medical field, then becoming a pastor who frequently visits church members at the hospital, I feel like I've learned a good bit about the human body.  I've always found our systems facinating and a good insight into the character of God. 

If you've never heard of the Bodies exhibit, their website explains it this way:
This Exhibition--which features actual human specimens--allows people of all ages access to sights and knowledge normally reserved only for medical professionals. Take the opportunity to peer inside yourself, to better understand how your elaborate and fascinating body works, and how you can become a more informed participant in your own health care.
The first room you enter begins by displaying our skeletal system.  The plaques and posters on the walls give bits of information on everything you see.  The next area shows off the muscles of the body.  Then the nerves and brain, the veins and arteries, the heart, the reproductive system, and so on.  They actually found a way to remove the nerves from a human body intact.  Likewise with our blood vessels. 

As we walked through, I couldn't help but think how magnificently and intricately God has created us.  The way that our organs all work together and the capacity of each to do its job is unfathomable.  In the midst of so much science, it was undeniable that our phisiology is no cosmic accident, but the work of a Supreme Craftsman.

Then I was reminded that, though we are beautiful and a tribute to God's love, we are not perfect.  Just three days later (a day after my last post), on May 4th, I watched a 36-year-old husband and father of two lose his fight against metastatic malignant melanoma.  For a year and a half, I witnessed his efforts to go through medical trial after medical trial, then chemo, and finally heavy doses of narcotics, all to try to fend off this unconquerable foe.  Jason's form of melanoma is considered incurable so far.  Some people have recovered from it, I know one of them, but those occurrances have never been able to be explained by doctors or researchers - they were true miracles. 

Early on May 4th, I went to see Jason at one of our local hospice centers.  They had stopped all treatments and the goal was for hospice to treat his breathing for a few days and send him home with 24-7 hospice care.  The end wasn't supposed to come that soon, and even at that point, we expected to still have a few more days, if not weeks, with Jason.  It wasn't so.  In just hours, he went downhill quickly and we witnessed him breathing his last just before four in the morning.

I've been asked by more people than I care to remember just how God could let this happen.  Why do such horrible things happen to people, especially those still in the prime of life?  Having wanted to shake my own fist toward the heavens, I needed to ask that question for myself.  I knew the answer as firmly as I know that 2+2=4, but grief is rarely that rational and explanations aren't always the best consolation.

The fact of the matter is that though our bodies are works of art, molded by the Potter, and set into motion with incredible internal timing, our bodies are still imperfect.  They fail, they slow down, they stumble, the fall, they fall apart, and eventually, they all die.  We are succeptible to cancer, viruses, and cholesterol.  None of that means that God loves us any less.  In fact, because of that, we are able to see God's love more clearly.

You see, God isn't even the cause of these things.  No, he didn't need one more angel in heaven.  Jason's work certainly wasn't done here.  It wasn't the wrath of God and God didn't have other plans for Jason.  His time wasn't up.

These things are a part of the reality we live in.  To blame God is to deny that his heart was broken too.  I believe that the God of love who created each of us with such grace is not a smiter or afflictor.  I think we do enough of that to ourselves.

So where was God in all of this?  He was by the side of Jason Capes.  Every step of the way, though none of us could feel what Jason was feeling, God could.  Though no one else could find the right words to say, God knew Jason's heart.  God doesn't cause bad things to happen to us, but because God is who he is, we never have to endure those things alone.

Now, God is walking beside Jason's wife, son, daughter, parents, sister, and everyone else that mourns his death.  We are not alone and we have certainly not been forsaken.


Book Review: Radical

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
I'm really diggin' the chance to preview books before their release date.  A new book coming out this week is Radical by David Platt.  The subtitle says alot about the book - "Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream".  It's a conversation that has come up many times in recent years simply because many of our churches have trouble distinguishing between the two.  Somewhere along the way we decided that a Patriotic American must be a Christian and that a Christian must be a Patriotic American.  To be critical of the American Dream at all disqualifies you to be a true follower of Christ in some circles.  Platt gets us back to differentiating between the two so we can seek a vibrant, deep faith that is true to the message of Christ and sometimes contradictory to our American ethic.

It's an excellent, and much-needed message for many in the American church today.  I realized this last summer when, on Independence Day weekend, the congregation weakly joined together for a well-known hymn, but joined in an sang aloud when one of our members sang "God Bless America" for the offertory.  It's clear that many Christians need to refocus on Christ.  Being an American is great and I know we are people of great privilege and opportunity, but Christ is more.  This is a fact that has evaded the preaching and the devotion of our churches for many years now.

Listen to David tell you about his book:

I thought it was a good book.  Well written with stories to illustrate every point.  The first chapter caught my attention and pulled me right into the book.  I really can't expect anything less from a pastor that has achieved as much as he has. 

The book makes really good points and like any good sermon it comes with a response at the end - an invitation if you will.  David invites his readers to join in what he calls The Radical Expirament - "a one year journey in authentic discipleship that will transform how you live in a world that desperately needs the Good News Jesus came to bring" (back cover).  There is a companion booklet and a small group study to go with it and I believe that if this takes hold and people will actually follow-through with this message and commit to doing something truly radical in their own lives for their faith, the world will be impacted in deep ways.  I hope and pray that it does.

Radical is on point when it comes to understanding that Jesus never promised to make things easy for us or that there would be a non-chalant avenue for us to have a meaningful relationship with Him.  It pushes you to think about the true message of Jesus - one that calls us to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus, even to Golgotha. 

The book is well-written, but a little slow in spots.  The chapters are short and good for reading in spurts.  The first chapter, as I mentioned before, will pull you in.  Some chapters make their thesis very clearly at the beginning, followed by several pages of stories that reiterate the point over and over again.  I found myself reading some chapters to get the point and moving on to the next.  This book is definitely worth reading, but don't let yourself get bogged down in his efforts to drive the point home. 

Waterbrook Multnomah has free copies of The Radical Question - Platt's supplement to the main book - for anyone who wants it (as long as supplies last).  You can get that and read the first chapter HERE.

*This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. Get your copy at the link on the right or HERE.


Free Books for Bloggers

I've found a good way to support my excessive reading habits.  If you're like me and your drug dealer wears a Barnes and Noble apron, I want to share these resources with you.  The only catch is that you have to be a blogger and your blog has to be approved by each of these programs.

Here's how it works.  You sign up for one, some, or all of these programs.  They approve you and then they send you books to review on your blog.  Some of the books will even be sent to you before their release date, so you can brag to your friends that you got the good stuff first.

First, there's Viral Bloggers.  This program is part of The Ooze, an online, emergent church forum/community.  The program is independent of any specific publisher, and they post new books on the first of each month.  Copies usually go fast, so don't waste any time.  I'm working on a copy of The Naked Gospel right now.

Then, there's Blogging for Books, a part of Waterbrook Multnomah publishers (a division of Random House).  Blogging for Books sends out emails when new books come available.  They select which ones they will offer you and you choose whether or not you want it.  This program is still relatively new, so they're working out some of the bugs, but I managed to get an early release copy of Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity.

Last, but certainly not least, is the most recent resource I've found.  Sign up for BookSneeze and Thomas Nelson publishers will let you select, one at a time, from some of their most recent releases.  I haven't gotten anything from them yet, but I anticipate getting The Hole in Our Gospel sometime next week.  Apparently, they'll even give you the opportunity to preview some of the Bibles they print.

Have fun and let me know how they turn out for you.  If you find any more resources like these, please share!


Moving Tradition Forward

"Do not ask, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions."  (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

This verse is one of those gems that you read, almost forget, and rediscover some time later.  Every time I read it, I am reminded that God's best work still lies ahead.  Mark Beeson quoted this verse earlier this month on his blog and I had that experience of finding something I didn't know was missing, like pulling out your winter coat for the first time in November and finding $20 in the pocket.

The church I serve has a rich heritage.  Mt. Bethel was founded in the 1820's and officially established in 1833.  177 years later, the people of Mt. Bethel have claimed a number of traditions.  Next month, we'll celebrate Homecoming, on the third Sunday of May, and we'll invite a past Mt. Bethel pastor to preach before we enjoy a lunch of countless and sometimes mysterious casseroles.

If you ask anyone who has been a part of Mt. Bethel for very long about their tradition, they can tell you.  Diane, our Church Historian, knows the church and the area around it better than anyone else I've met.  When she looks around, she sees more than we do - she sees the general store on the corner that was torn down decades ago, the old plantation just up the road that is now a large subdivision, and the important people that I only know as headstones in the church's cemetery.  You can learn much about the psychology of a congregation when you know its traditions.

Tradition is vital to our understanding of God.  Every good Methodist knows that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral outlines the sources by which we derive our theology.  Scripture is our primary source of knowing God, but it's informed by our reason, our experience, and our tradition.  Tradition shows us how God has been present to those in need, how he has picked us up off the ground and dusted us off and how often he has offered us grace and mercy when we've done some ridiculous things. 

What tradition do you come from?  How does it shade your understanding of God?

I asked a candidate for ministry that question yesterday.  Some ministers and some churches see the shadows of their heritage and rather than living with and learning from those scars, they simply discard any tradition and try to be something completely "new."  Other ministers and churches embrace their tradition as the "good ole days" and try to convince the rest of us that there's nothing better than life in the 1950's (before cell phones, email, bad traffic, and integration). 

My next question to the candidate was, "How do you intend to move that tradition forward?"

The tradition that informs my understanding of God and the world is a conservative one.  I come from the first church on the city square with people and means.  Preaching was usually strong and always grace-filled.  These churches were usually in the middle of poverty-stricken communities and not the best at reaching out or drawing new people in.  But, once new people came in, they were the best at taking care of them.  I am the result of a community that nurtured and cared, that held me accountable and afforded me every opportunity to know God and serve him.

My tradition could be a little pretentious at times.  Easter was a hat-wearing competition for some of our ladies.  The youth group was cliquish at times.  The preacher was always someone with chevrons on the sleeves of his robe.  Brass memorial plaques were found in hallways, classrooms, offices, and of course, all over the sanctuary.

My tradition, though it was a good one that benefited me and serves me well now, is far from perfect.  If my life is going to make a difference and my ministry is going to be fruitful, I have to ask that second question - how will I move my tradition forward? 

I can do like many others - I can enforce tradition as law.  I can do the expected.  I can learn from the mistakes of those who came before me, but be unwilling to make some mistakes of my own.  I can do that, serve for 40 years and retire with a pat on the back from my Bishop and colleagues, but is that really good enough?  Is it enough to push the pause button on history and live with the security of knowing what comes next?

As the Church, we have not arrived at perfection, despite the self-praising of some Christians.  The truth is that our work is never done until every person knows Christ and has a relationship with Christ.  And guess what - people who don't know Christ are being born every day.

I figured up the other day that if the mandatory retirement age for United Methodist pastors stays at 70, I have 40 more years of ministry before I have to retire.  I've served for five years already.  I hope that in 2050, I'll be able to look back and know that my life's work has made a difference.  I pray that those who come after me will have a better tradition and heritage to claim because I was a part of it.

Don't ask, "Why were the good ole days better than these?"  That's a foolish question - today is another day on the way to God's Kingdom fully revealed on earth.  God's greatest plans for us still lie ahead if we will get off our tradition and drag it forward through the ages.


Book Review: This Little Prayer of Mine

What do children add to your church's life?  What have they taught you?  What are you teaching them?

Many parents today expect the church to teach them everything about God.  Parents gladly take a back-seat in hopes that their child has the right spiritual mentor.  The truth is that faith in God usually sticks better when a child can look at the difference it makes for their mom or dad.  Monday through Saturday, the way a parent lives their faith will make a more lasting impact, hands down.

Some parents become apprehensive when it comes to teaching their kids about spiritual matters.  We know how to teach our kids to recite the sing-song blessing before dinner, but what about teaching them to really pray?

I have a resource for you.  In February, Waterbrook-Multnomah released This Little Prayer of Mine by Anthony DeStefano.  It's a short, simple children's book, endorsed by the National Day of Prayer.  My kids love to read and be read to and this is a good discussion starter with any child.

Beyond "God is good" prayers, this book is one prayer, being prayed by a child, that covers several aspects or types of prayer from petition and intercession to repentance and thanksgiving.  In fact, this book is so well-rounded that parents may find themselves learning from it. This book is a good one for every home with kids. 

I've got an extra copy for a giveaway.  I'll give it to the first person with kids to leave a comment.  Leave your name, email address, and how many kids you have and I'll send this copy to you.

*This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.  Get your copy at the link on the right or HERE.


Last Words

Do you remember these commercials?  Someone's about to get "offed" and is asked, "What do you want on your tombstone?" 

It's common to ask people in their final moments what they have left to say.  I've sat with several people just before dying and heard them speak a final time to those that they love.  Sometimes they share immense amounts of wisdom, sometimes grace and love, and sometimes even anger or resentment.  Whatever those words are, they seem to bear more weight than anything we say in casual conversation at any other time.  They also seem to be the things that we've held back from saying, assuming that there will come the opportunity to say them later.

Have you given much thought to what your final words would be?  If you knew that your time was coming (and it is), what would you say?  And to whom?  If you could go back to the last moments that you spent with a family member or friend, what would you hope they'd say?  What would you ask them?

I'm doing a study with some of the adults at Mt. Bethel right now, entitled "Remembering Your Story: Creating Your Own Spiritual Autobiography."  It's been one of the most interesting groups I've spent time with, mainly because we've shared so many stories.  I've learned alot about some of these folks that I wouldn't have otherwise.  Most of them have decided to put effort into telling their story.  A couple of them have talked about writing down some of the memories that they'd been sharing, so they'd be remembered after they're gone.  Another has mentioned writing letters to those she loves, sharing important information and feelings.

Unfortunately, for every one of those people who have had the opportunity to have one last conversation with those around them, there are probably dozens who never get the chance.  The world would be a very different place if we knew when that moment was coming.  (We might even have some of those long-lost dessert recipes our grandmothers took to the grave with them.)

Tomorrow is Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday.  It's the day that we remember Jesus last meal with his disciples.  He knew it would be his last and he made the most of every second.  From that meal, we get the sacrament of Holy Communion.  We also get a collection of the last instructions of Christ.  Within all of that conversation is one command or mandate (thus "Maundy" Thursday).  In Mark 13, Jesus says, "A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this, all men wll know you are my disciples, if you love one another" (v.34)

As Easter nears and we remember the weight of a person's last words, let's meditate on those last words of Christ.  Love each other.  Love those who are hard to love.  Forgive those who have offended you.  Jesus' love for us went all the way to the cross.  Love like that.


Prayers for Healing

At Mt. Bethel, we have kept the Capes family in our prayers for over a year now.  Jason was diagnosed many months ago with Metastatic Malignant Melanoma, which you may know is an incurable form of cancer.

Two weeks ago, Jason received the results from his latest scans and the news was not good.  His condition has gotten worse and he is running out of options.  So we pulled out the stops and had a prayer service for the family.

I sent out an invitation to some of our local pastors who have ties to the Capes family and was honestly expecting a small gathering of quiet prayer.  I was wrong.

Last Tuesday night, 174 people showed up to pray!  With the help of some of my pastoral colleagues, we began with Communion and singing.  We prayed over the oil and anointed Jason, Alecia, and the kids.  And then we invited others to come and pray.

I told the pastors before we began that I had a plan for the first part of the service - all the way up to the blessing of the oil.  I told them that I had no idea what we would do beyond that point, aside from a benediction at the end, but that we would move at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit moved.

A crowd gathered at the altar, laying hands on this family, and praying from their hearts.  I have to say it was probably the closest thing I've ever experienced to what Pentecost must have been like.  People, in their own voices, called out to God and God heard every prayer.  It was a beautiful moment that displays for you what the Church really is. 

We prayed for healing - physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational.  Honestly, I don't know if Jason's cancer will disappear - I'll leave that in God's hands.  I do know that healing took place that night though.  I know that many who were there felt God move in their own lives.  I know that the time was used to bring a sense of peace to Jason's family and friends.

Earlier this year, I heard someone say, "The church is what's left after the building burns down."  How true.  How profound.

We continue, as the Church, to pray for Jason and others like him.  We continue to reach out as we are reminded that God has called us to greater things that we can fathom.