Enough With Church Politics

For three years, I worked in public policy and gained first-hand experience to the growing polarization that exists in our nation. I went into it, perhaps, with a bit of naive hopefulness believing that everyone would work for the same common principles, especially since we were an issue-oriented group. What I often saw was how some were more interested in defeating the “other side” than about promoting the cause or working towards a consensus.

That experience led me to make one of the most common statements I share about my time before going into ministry: I give thanks to God I had some political experience, because it has helped to find my way through church issues.

It is sad for me to admit that being in politics, even as a staff writer for a higher education policy group, was one of the best training grounds for ministry, because it gave me on-the-field perspective regarding the polarization that exists in the church today. The church, especially my own United Methodist Church, is suffering in the United States because we often reflect of the same political polarization that has crippled Washington, D.C., and state houses across the nation for a generation. We are more interested in winning political arguments than we are about “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Continue reading

Who is the Greatest President? (2017 Edition)

In anticipation of Presidents’ Day, C-SPAN released its updated list of the greatest presidents. The list was based on a survey completed by historians, professors, and media professionals. It is an interesting list, and like all surveys is subjective based upon the viewpoints of the individual’s ranking bias (conservative/liberal, strong government/weak government, etc.).

The list made me think of my own list that I put together five years ago and the need for it to be updated to reflect the end of the Obama Administration. That list, and the one that will follow, was my own reflection based on my studies of the presidents.

It is fair to list my biases at the start of the listing. I favor the long-term influence of a president over historical popularity. I also look at leadership competencies in the realm of whether the individual was able to motivate the nation to a purpose, was driven, and took control of the issues. Lastly, I want to look at whether the individual was effective in dealing with those issues that faced them.

I also believe it is worth noting that modern presidents are hard to rank. That is because the emotions (both positive and negative) drive a lot of our views on the effectiveness of a particular president. I have argued that it takes a generation to truly get a good perspective on an administration. I am beginning to wonder with the advent of social media that it may take multiple generations to evaluate presidents in this Technology Age.

That being said, here is my list of the greatest presidents … 2017 edition: Continue reading

Israel Travel Blog Final Thoughts: An Amazing Journey

I’m sitting in the Newark Liberty International Airport. It’s been a long day. Our plane arrived at 4:30 a.m., and a friend and I don’t leave again until 2:30 p.m. We have walked around the entire airport and now we wait for our flight to be called.

As I sit here, I am struck with how easy it would be to offer a quick reflection that attempts to tie together all we saw and experienced during our adventure to the Holy Land. I could talk about seeing the tomb, the crucifixion site, riding on the Sea of Galilee, teaching by the Mediterranean Sea, and so much more. I’m sure the thoughts I would convey would describe the sense of wonder and amazement that I and many others were left with throughout our journey.

Yet, something doesn’t sit well with me in rushing towards trying to put it all into perspective. It just doesn’t seem to be the right time. Sure that time will come and it is needed to understand what I saw and how it reflects to my ministry, my faith, moving forward. I’m struck, though, with a sense to just wait on that.

I need time.

Time to rest to recover from an exhausting and grueling trek around the Holy Land. Time to recover, as well, from a potential injury while walking around the limestone walk ways that were filled with more dimples and bumps than a Nike golf ball.

I need time to look at the pictures and remember where I was and how I felt in those moments. I need time to smile once again at the realization that, yes, I was actually there.

I need time to simply pray. Pray that God will reveal more about what this experience means for me. Pray that God will use this trip to be a blessing to others. Pray that this will not be the last time that I walk those streets.

It’s easy to rush to finish a journey and move on to the next, but today I’m recognizing the need to slow down and sit at the garden some more. So, just as we did yesterday as we walked around the garden where Jesus likely rose from the grave that first Easter morning pondering the significance of that moment, the journey, and our lives, I find myself wanting to remain in the garden this day.

I’ll walk out of the garden in time, but today and perhaps for some days to come I just want to sit and ponder.

I hope you’ll understand.

Note: If you are in the Lawrenceburg, KY area, Claylick UMC will host a discussion session on Sunday, February 19, at 4 p.m., to talk about the trip, and to answer your questions about the Holy Land.

Israel Travel Blog Day 8: Even Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Throughout this trip, one of the constant refrains has been how the Holy Land experience of has made brought the Bible to life. One person has said that it has made the Bible go from black and white words to colorful images.

None so more than Psalm 23 and Luke 10:25-37

When we think of Psalm 23 we are drawn to the image of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I think it is easy to take the image as a symbolic reference to life’s difficult trials and even death itself. We look to this Psalm for assurance at funerals and in struggles, and rightly so. I don’t believe, however, that we think of the Valley of the Shadow of Death as a real place. Continue reading

Israel Travel Blog Day 7: Journey into Conflict

It would be easy to write tonight’s column about visiting the place where Jesus was crucified, to talk about what it was like to pray there, to describe the emotions from praying where he was laid to rest, and what it was like to visit the entire Old Jerusalem areas. I will save those for another occasion.

Tonight I’m drawn to the many interactions of conflict we encountered as we walked throughout Old Jerusalem. You couldn’t help but notice it. The signs of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians were all around us. Continue reading

Israel Travel Blog Day 6: O, Holy Town of Bethlehem

So far, traveling in the Holy Land has been an eye-opening and breathtaking experience. Others have described it as the Bible coming to life. I’ve sort have seen it as getting a reintroduction to my Introduction to the New and Old Testament courses in seminary. Every day you feel like you are gaining something new and, as well, a deeper appreciation for the history, culture, and challenges that plague the area.

Today was no different. Every moment of the day were filled with experiences that, in time, will affect how I preach and interact with others. More so than any other day we’ve spent here it will be hard to put into words to describe all that we did and encountered. Continue reading

Israel Travel Blog Day 5: An Unforgettable Moment

It was a moment I will never forget.

Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and standing on a row of bleachers at Roman theater at Caesarea Maritiama, I was able to deliver a devotion for our tour group. The passage was from Acts 10 where Peter goes to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius and recognizes that God shows no partiality in regards to expressing love. I talked about how we are called to welcome all people and to make room for the people in a world that seeks to keep people out who are different than we are.

It was easily one of the high holy moments of my ministry. I would rank it up there with being commissioned, all the baptisms I’ve been able to participate in, and preaching at my hometown church. Continue reading