Experiencing God’s Love Beyond the Masks

I love the hit television show “This is Us.” Have you watched it?

The show tells the story of the Pearson family – siblings Kevin, Kate, and Randall primarily. It interweaves stories from their childhood, parents, and adult lives to describe who they are and how the different moments from their lives inform who they are today.

What I particularly love about the show, besides that it is one of the best-written shows on network television, is that it is willing to be open about the fact that our lives are more complex than what we like to portray. It doesn’t hide the how Kevin is his father’s son, or how Kate struggles with self-worth, or even how Randall, as the adopted member of the family, wonders about his place in the family. This all while they seek to be an actor, an aspiring singer, or an executive turned stay-at-home dad. The Pearson family is complex and we love them for it.

We love them because we are complex people, yet I wonder if we are open about the complexities of our own life.

Sometimes, if I am being honest with myself, I think we like wearing masks to hide who we are or even our struggles from one another. We like to pretend that we have it all together or that difficult moments do not affect us. We hide our pain and struggles. We hide it from ourselves, our families, and even, yes, God.

In my own life, I know there are things I have hid from God or not completely shared with the Lord out of fear that God would no longer want me. That if I shared with God my struggles or pain that, perhaps, God would see me as a failure and give up on me. I think we all fear that in some way. Would God stop loving me if I was honest about this struggle or pain?

Truth is that is our own projection of God and not the God we see revealed in Scripture. We see in Scripture how God loves us unconditionally and even seeks to bring hope into the places of brokenness. I always love how we see, in story after story, Jesus seeing who people are behind their masks and loving them anyway.

You and I are at our best when we experience God’s love in the places that we often hide from ourselves. We experience growth as disciples when we know that there is a love that accepts us and doesn’t judge us for who we are. God never gives up on us.

I wonder … where do you need to experience that love in your life? Where do you need to know that God loves you no matter what?


Are We Willing to Take a New Direction?

For Christmas vacation, my family and I traveled to West Virginia. Though we have been to the Mountain State hundreds of times to see family and reconnect with my home we decided to take a different route. We took a route that was less familiar, but offered more places to stop (which is an advantage when traveling with a 4-year old).

We didn’t know the route as well as our normal road, but we were confident we knew where we were going. We had family members who had talked about the route and its advantages. We stayed on major highways and interstates. If all that failed us, we had our trusty guide of an in-car navigational system on our phone to keep us going in the right direction.

All of that made taking a different route a simple trip back home to visit family.

What if none of that was available?

Would we still be willing to take a new route to get to the destination? What if we didn’t have family members who had traveled the road before? Would we still take the new road? What if there were no major interstates or highways to make the drive simpler? Would we still take the new road? What if we didn’t have an in-car navigational system?

Would we still take the new road? Continue reading

What is a Service of Hope?

It started as an ordination project.

Two years ago I had to lead a “fruitfulness project” to fulfill one of my ordination requirements. The project is intended to demonstrate a pastor’s effectiveness in leading a ministry that seeks to make disciples. That is the simplest way of defining the project.

I had a couple of ideas for my project – a study on the Book of Revelation, a youth ministry intern, etc. – but my heart settled on this worship service I had heard about. It was called a Blue Christmas or Longest Night Service.

A Blue Christmas Service or Longest Night Service typically takes place on the first day of winter – the longest night of the year – and recognizes how many of us struggle during the Christmas season. The service is intended to offer hope and expressions of peace in the midst of our struggles. Continue reading

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

A good hymn offers the prayers of our heart. It reflects, musically, the stirrings of our lives and soul as we reflect on God’s love and our need for the Lord’s peace in our lives.

I think that is why I have always loved “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” This song has always been a prayer for me, even when I struggled with my faith for a period of time. The song focuses my heart on God’s hope and my need for God to simply come and be present in my struggles, anxieties, and the concerns of the world.

I especially love verse 6.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thy justice here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

I think about those words and it reminds me of how Advent and Christmas are not a time of celebration for many. Personally, I struggle at Christmas. I’m reminded often of family members who are no longer with us, disappointments from the previous year, and friends I have lost contact with. What about you?

I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder of Emmanuel, God with us, in those pains. I need that reminder in other moments in my life, as well, that God has come in Jesus to walk with us in the struggles and pains we all carry.

No one ever has to travel life alone, yet we often feel as though we must. It is why I believe in the Service of Hope we are doing on December 17 at 6 p.m. This service is intended for all of us, because we all have hurts or pains we carry with us on a regular basis. Places in our lives where we need to experience the hope of Emmanuel to come and “disperse the gloomy clouds of night.”

What would it look like for you, for me, for all of us, to experience hope this Christmas and realize that the hope of Christ has come to walk with us in our places of struggle?

I’m Thankful For …

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Like you, I will spend it doing my traditional Thanksgiving festivities. I’ll wake-up and bemoan the fact there is nothing on television except for the parade. I’ll consistently ask Abbi what time is dinner and what we are having. At some point, I’ll plop down on the couch for a good nap and watch the games.

At some point, though, I hope to spend a few moments giving thanks to God for the blessings in my life. Scripture reminds us how we are to praise God for the Lord’s wonderful name and actions, which calls us to give thanks for the ways we have seen God at work in our lives.

So, what am I thankful for this year?

I’m thankful for my family, especially Abbi and No, for they have been a constant source of support and strength. I would not be who I am without their love and especially Noah’s laughter and craziness. They take things that can come up in ministry with grace and love, which means a lot to me.

I’m thankful for the experiences that I’ve had this year. I traveled to Israel, spoke to potential new clergy about my call to ministry, was ordained, and moved to a new community. Each of these experiences have helped me to see something new about God’s love and have helped me to appreciate more what it means to be a pastor and follower of God.

I’m thankful for my new faith community and church at Ogden Memorial. They have welcomed my family, allowed me to make first-year mistakes, and have been gracious as I try to navigate learning about the church. They are a special group of people whom I love and respect.

Those are just some of the things that I am thankful for this year. What about you? What are you thankful for as we celebrate Thanksgiving?

Walking into an Unknown Future

Recently, the Commission on a Way Forward, a 32-member team tasked with discerning the future of the United Methodist Church, released its initial proposal aimed at resolving questions within the church regarding homosexuality. This team has worked since the middle of 2016 on a plan, which will need approval by a called General Conference in February 2019.472017_436765336365086_256924354_o

According to the United Methodist News Service, the options on the table include:

  1. Keep the Book of Discipline language regarding homosexuality, and place an emphasis upon accountability.
  2. Remove language regarding homosexuality from the Book of Discipline in order to allow for contextualized ministry. The plan would also protect those who would not be comfortable with ordaining or marrying LGBTQ individuals.
  3. Would provide a unified set of doctrine, services, and Council of Bishops, while also paving a way for different groups within the church to have its own values, accountability, and mission.

As is often the case, when receive new information on something that is unknown we want to know more. What does this mean for Ogden Memorial? What does this mean for the Kentucky Annual Conference? What does this mean for the church as a whole?

Many of those questions we cannot answer, at least not yet.

That becomes the struggle of living into the unknown. We want to have all the answers before we take a bold step into an unknown future. The same is true for us, as a local church, as we discern where God is leading us within a changing culture and ministry context. We want to know what will happen, when it will happy, and how it will happen.

I get it, because I am just like that. Sometimes I am more like the Israelites walking with Moses than I care to admit. I want to be like the disciples who dropped everything to follow Jesus. More often than not I ask questions, want all the information, and hesitate to act before I am confident I know what is going to happen and when, just as the Israelites questioned Moses’ leadership continually, in part, because they weren’t sure what would happen next.

Faith, however, is the willingness to see the unseen and trust that God is at work, even when we do not have all the answers. No matter what happens within the United Methodist Church, there are some constants that will not change.

We will love Jesus.

We will love our neighbors.

We will make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world here in Princeton.

So, even though we don’t have all the answers we know where God is calling us to go and who to be: love the Lord, love our neighbors, and make disciples. That is our greatest purpose as we walk into a new future.

Reflections on Hope in Times of Fear

I’m a father. One of my desires for my son is to leave this world in a better place for him and children like him.

I wonder if I am doing a good job at that.

I don’t wonder about whether my son knows I love him, he knows; I don’t worry about whether my son knows I care for him, he knows; I don’t worry about whether he will have a quality of life much better than my own; he will. I wonder about other things.

I wonder if I am doing a good job of leaving the world in a better place for him, because there are times when I attend a conference meeting, know he is in school, and worry if this will be the day there will be a shooting there. It is irrational, and I know this, but I worry about this.

I wonder if I am doing a good job of leaving the world in a better place for him, because there are times when I have more fear inside of me about the state of our world than I do hope.texas-church-shooting

I’m a pastor and I’m admit that I fear the world we are giving our children. It is not a fear that forces me to lock my doors and hide, but a fear of the unknown. The fear of the what’s next and will it happen here can dominate my thoughts more than I care to admit. I recognize this within me, and I acknowledge my own weakness in leaving the world as a place of hope, peace, joy, and love for my son and children like him.

I recognize my own struggle with fear especially following the shooting in Texas and many others like it. Never did I imagine we would live in a world where mass shootings would be as common as they are today.

This pains and offends me. I remember being a college student at West Virginia University during the Columbine tragedy. I believed, then, we would never see anything like that again. We have seen it, sadly, too often and in such numbers that Columbine is no longer listed as among the worst shooting incidents in our nation’s history.

My heart breaks for the state of our nation, as both a pastor and a father, especially for the violence we see on a daily basis. My heart breaks, as both a pastor and a father, when I see our thirst for violence and video games that advertise to our children that they can be “snipers” and “assassins.” My heart breaks, as both a pastor and a father, when we resort to blaming instead of trying to find a way forward through the pain together.

Whether it is Texas, Las Vegas, or any other shooting incident, I think we are all concerned about the state of violence in our nation. I pray for a world that is less violent, but I also want to be safe and practical in how we respond to these moments.

I also want to maintain my promise to my son and children like him.  I want to leave this world in a better place than I found it, because I believe that is the nature of the Gospel’s call to be a light that shines for the world to see and experience (Matthew 5:14). This is a promise we all make, as followers of Christ, through our baptismal covenant.

So, how do we live out this call in times of fear?

I think of passages like 2 Timothy 1:7 in moments like these. Paul writes, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Our best hope in times of fear is to remember whose we are and who we are. We are people of love who are loved by God and called to share love with others. We don’t have to fear, because we know God is present and gives us the strength to resist evil in whatever forms it may come through the witness of grace and love.

When God’s people respond to fear with more fear we miss an opportunity to show the peace that comes through God’s care and love. Yes, we make sure we are wise and safe, but we do not allow fear to dominate our hearts, because our hope is found in the One whose promises are true and whose presence is always there.

In this time of fear, what if we recommit ourselves to a promise that we made to leave this world a better place than we found it? What if we took the time to invest more in our children? What if we reached out to people who are discouraged? What if we showed the world violence only begets more violence and love only produces more love?

What if we leave this world in a better place than we find it today?