Sometimes It’s OK to Get Lost

At my previous church, if I wanted to go to the office I would simply walk from the living room and go into the adjacent room. We had the great fortune of having the church’s office in the parsonage, especially when Noah was born. It allowed me to care for our son and offset daycare costs.

Now, I am at a new church (Covington Trinity) and beginning life with this amazing congregation. My office is at the church and today was my first day going into the office.

Of course, I got lost. I thought I knew the way from the parsonage to the church, so I didn’t bother looking up directions or retracing my steps. I just drove and trusted in my own “sense of direction” to get from one place to the other. It wasn’t long before I was in a place that was unfamiliar in a town that I am just learning. Eventually, with the help of my GPS, I was able to get to the church and found my way into the office.

I was reminded of some things in this brief experience. One is that there are multiple ways to get anywhere in Northern Kentucky. I think I learned several new ways to get to the church. This will come in handy, I am sure.

I also was reminded of the fact that it is OK to get lost. Why do I say that?

In the getting lost, we find that we are unable to solely depend upon ourselves. We need others for help and guidance. This morning, I needed the help of a GPS to turn me around and point me in the right direction. In our personal lives, sometimes, we need the help of our friends and loved ones to remind us of God’s presence and love that is always with us, even if we do not see it.

Now of course, I do not recommend getting lost to anyone. It’s scary and can cause a lot of stress (especially when you were already running late). But, when we get lost we should have the confidence in God that everything will be OK. God is with us and he will never leave our side in those difficult moments, no matter how big or small.

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What I Learned During My First Pastoral Appointment

This past Sunday was a momentous day for me. Not only was it my first Father’s Day as a parent, but it was also my final Sunday leading worship at Mackville UMC and Antioch UMC.

This was my first pastoral assignment and I leave feeling blessed to have been a small part of what God is doing in and through these two great congregations. I will miss everyone there. The memories we have made here will last a lifetime.

Next week, a new chapter in my ministry will be written as I begin to serve as the pastor of Covington Trinity UMC. I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of the leaders and members of the church. We are looking forward to what awaits us as we join in the ministry God has called the church to do in the Latonia neighborhood of Covington.

Before loading the U-Haul, however, I think it is appropriate to look back on what was. The following are my reflections on what I learned during my first two years as a pastor. Continue reading

Must I Love Pitt Fans: What Does Jesus Ask of Sports Fans in the Stands?

The story is a part of West Virginia University lore. It involves the legendary play-by-play announcer Jack Fleming, the University of Pittsburgh, and his mother.

According to legend, Fleming’s mother taught him very early in life the emotion he should express regarding the Panthers. While watching from their house, which was located near Old Mountaineer Field, Fleming’s mother pointed to the practicing Panthers and told him, “That’s Pitt. You hate Pitt now. You hate Pitt tomorrow. You hate Pitt until the day you die. After that, you will hate Pitt for eternity.”

Thousands of fans have taken on Fleming’s mother’s words and made them their own. Many West Virginia fans have a deep dislike, even hatred, for that school “up north.” To be sure, the feeling is quite mutual from Pitt fans.

As a native West Virginian, an alum of West Virginia University, and a fan of that great institution, I have been taught to hate all things Pitt. My dislike for the school is so much that I remember, as a student, being frustrated when a class field trip was scheduled to go to Pitt for a seminar.

West Virginia and Pitt are rivals, even though they no longer play one another due to conference realignment. Rivalries are important to sports and add to the competitive flavor of the games. What would baseball be without the Yankees-Red Sox, Cardinals-Reds, or Giants-Dodgers? What would football be without the Packers-Vikings, Redskins-Cowboys, or Patriots-Colts? We look forward to the rivalry game and love it when our team comes out on top.

However, as a Christian there is something uncomfortable about the way we participate in these rivalries. We truly hate our sporting rivals. Is this holy? Is it really acceptable for me to dislike someone simply because they cheer for another team? Does God look past my attitude in the stands because it is “all in good fun?”

There are two passages that, I believe, are key in helping us to answer these questions. In Matthew 22:39, Jesus says we are to “love our neighbor as yourself.” Love, a concern for others, is to be central to how we interact with others. The concept of neighbor, here, is not limited to those who live near us. Everyone is our neighbor because we were all made in the image of God. When we carry this image to the arena it reminds us that the person who is supporting our rival is our neighbor and we are called to extend Christ’s love to them.

The other key passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus commands his followers to show expressions of love to our enemies. When we think of this passage we often relate it to those who do us physical harm or seek to harm us. Loving our enemies goes beyond just that. It also is extended to the person sitting next to us who has the audacity to root for the “wrong team.”

When we combine these passages, we get the sense that expressing the love of Christ doesn’t stop at the ballpark’s parking lot. It extends into the stadium, into the bleacher seats, and into our conversations with opposing fans.

As followers of Christ, we are called to love our sporting rivals in the same way Christ loves us. This means we are called to rise above the pettiness and vile nature of much of our dialogue with rival fans and see them who they truly are: People who root for a different team. Instead of treating our sporting rival with disrespect, we are called to offer them the same expressions of friendship, grace, and community that we would offer anyone else.

Much of our missional dialogue, today, speaks of how we should share expressions of love in areas where living like Christ is not the norm. Seldom do we see anyone express a desire to love our rival as Christ has loved us primarily. This is because we can be blinded by the thought of “it’s just a game.” That mindset allows us to let our guard down to the point that we express the very vile and inappropriate actions towards others that Jesus warns us about.

So, yes, as a follower of Christ I am called to love the Pitt Panthers and their fans. It doesn’t mean I have to like Pitt. It doesn’t mean I have to cheer for them. I still hope that they lose every game. What I must do is to share the same care and concern for others that Christ has called me to do, and treat all people, including the Pitt fan, as myself.

Sunday’s Sermon: We Can Be Healers

Healing is the act of bringing health or wholeness to someone. It means to restore someone, or a community, to a sense of normal. If this is true, then, what or whom do we think of when we think about healing?

Perhaps one of the first things we may think about are doctors and nurses. Doctors and nurses take care of us when we are sick and help us to get back to normal. Everyday medical professionals work tirelessly to diagnose sickness and cure diseases in order to heel the sick. They go through years of training to understand the most common of sicknesses to the rarest of diseases.

We may also think about different types medicines, some of which we may be taking today. Millions of dollars are spent in research and development of new medicines, all with the goal of finding the right medications and doses to ease various pains and ailments. We take these prescribed medicines with the hope they will bring healing to our bodies.

These are two common avenues of healing. My guess is many of us would not have thought of ourselves as healers. We’re not doctors. We do not work in the medical profession. We’ve never invented a new form of medicine. Yet, when we think of healers I believe we are among those who have an important role to play in the healing process. I believe we are called to be healers to those in pain.

Each of us have the potential to bring about healing in the lives of others and our communities. This is because healing goes beyond simply easing physical pains. Our hurts and pains are more than just physical. There are emotional pains, such as stress, depression, feeling of loss, isolation, inadequacy, and others. There are also spiritual pains, where one might struggle with doubts or questions about why a loving God would allow evil to occur.

We can be healers. We do not do this on our own accord, but in response to how Christ has brought healing into our own lives. Jesus shows us the way to being healers. He routinely interacts with people who hurt and finds ways to address their deepest needs.

This is especially true when we look at this morning’s passage from Luke 7:11-17. Luke describes a moment of healing where Jesus raised to life a widowed woman’s young song. By following the ways Jesus provides healing we are given a framework for providing healing to those who hurt.

To see this framework at work we must ask ourselves this: Who is Jesus really healing?

Jesus engages this widowed woman and her deceased son as he enters the community of Nain. It was a town, perhaps a few miles outside of Nazareth. Jesus arrived there after spending time in Capernaum. It is likely Jesus met this woman at the town gate. This was a traditional place for meeting and gathering. Healing, in this scene, would come in the most normal of life situations.

However, it would also come in the most painful. Jesus likely would have met this widowed woman as she was leading the funeral procession for her young son. She would have been the first person Jesus saw. In those days, the grieving family member would lead the procession and would be followed by other mourners, including those who were paid to assist in the grieving.

It is significant Luke tells us that this woman was widowed. Without a husband, this woman would have depended upon her son for financial support. Now that he is gone, this widowed woman will be without financial means to provide for her needs. She was likely destined to a life of poverty and distance from the community.

Jesus sees all of this. He experiences her pain and it moves him to action. At first glance, we might think Jesus is moved to bring healing to the young man and raise him to life. The young man isn’t the one who is healed. It is the widowed woman. Much like how Elijah cared for the widowed woman in raising her son to life in 1 Kings 17, Jesus is doing the same here for this widow.

The healing begins when Jesus is “overwhelmed with compassion” because of her pain. Jesus wanted to provide some form of healing for her. He offered compassion to her in her time of loss and pain. When we think of compassion it means to have sympathy and empathy for others. Did you catch this? We do not worship a Lord who is distant from our hurts. We worship a God who embraces our pains and hurts. This is what Jesus does. He heard her story and knew what it meant. It broke his heart and moved him to express God’s grace in raising her son to life. Compassion for this widowed guided Jesus in how he cared for her.

Showing compassion to those in pain is something we can all do. We can feel sympathy or empathy for those who hurt. We can grieve with someone in times of loss. One of the most important ways we can provide healing is by emotionally connecting ourselves to someone in pain. By compassion to someone we remind them they are not alone. This is what Jesus did for this widowed woman and he continues to do this today for each of us. Jesus takes on our hurts and feels our pains.

Offering compassion wasn’t all Jesus did. He also shared his presence. Jesus went to the woman in her time of need. We can assume Jesus walked up to the woman and stood with her in her grief. He met her where she hurt and experienced her pain of losing a son. We see this in the words of grace and comfort offered to her when he said, “Don’t cry.” These simple words show that Christ wasn’t going to let her be alone in her pain. He was with her.

Presence is a significant aspect of healing. It reminds us we have people who are with us. When we offer our entire self to someone in pain, we are connecting with them on a physical, mental, and spiritual level. We are with them. No one should ever be alone in their times of pain.
Healing cannot take place unless we meet those who hurt and are in pain where they are. We cannot heal from a distance. We must take the step of moving toward a person in need. When I think about the church, we should be willing to move out from the pews and engage those who have needs in our communities. There are so many places where we can provide healing simply by being there. Places of brokenness. Places of loss. Places of rejection. Places of loneliness. Places where the church can move toward those who hurt and offer a shoulder to cry on and a reassuring presence in times of pain.

As well, we can be healers by offering acts of grace to those who hurt. The widow didn’t know how her financial and emotional needs would be met. So, Jesus approached the coffin and touched it. It was an act that would have brought uncleanness to the Lord according to the ceremonial laws of the day. This didn’t matter to Jesus. His focus was on this widowed woman. He showed grace to her by raising her son to life.

Think about what this means for us. When we are compassionate for those who hurt, and go with them in their pain, it moves us to offer expressions of grace to them. These acts are expressions of God’s grace freely given to those who are hurting. They are offered without expectations nor prerequisites. There are many ways we can provide healing to someone through acts of grace. It could be by providing food, offering words of hope, taking care of forgotten tasks for someone who is overwhelmed, or being that shoulder to cry on. I’m sure we could mention others.

In my time with you, we have provided acts of grace to those in need. The food we collect each month is given to those who are hungry. It helps to provide relief from the stress of not knowing where the next meal will come from. The change we have placed in jars have gone to help save the lives of children in Africa and to help alleviate poverty in Eastern Kentucky. Our Christmas offerings have provided hope to hundreds without food or clothing. The mission of being the church that is compassionate, present, and expresses grace to those who hurt continues onward.

My friends, we all know people who are hurting in our communities. We know the pain they feel, because we feel the same pains when we are hurting. Christ has shown us the way to offering help to those who hurt. We are called to being compassionate, present, and offerers of relief. They need to know they are not alone, just like we need that reminder when we hurt. They need to see that the church is with them, just like we need to see that the church is with us when we hurt.

How can we be healers in our communities in the name of Christ? How can you be a healer in your community in the name of Christ? Christ has shown us the way and has given us the foundation. We can be healers.

1 Corinthians 13 for the Sports Fan

If I cheer for my favorite team, but have not shown love to the opposing fan sitting next to me then I am only a vuvuzela or a thunderstick. If I cheer for my team and know all the reasons why they won, and have faith that my team will win the championships, but have not shown respect to my rival, then I am missing out on something. If I wear my team’s merchandise and dedicate my weekend plans around my team’s game, but have not reached out to my friend who roots for the other team, then I’m forgetting something important.

Love is respectful to all, including my rivals on the playing field. Love is being a good sport. It does not point to the scoreboard. It does not brag about accomplishments. It doesn’t even ridicule our rivals. It is not mean spirited to someone simply because they chose to root for another team. It does not get too upset if our team loses. It does not see the world as coming to an end should that happen. Love does not rejoice when the other team is put on probation. Love finds a way to support great play regardless of the uniform. Love always seeks out good competition, fair play, and good-natured fun.

Love doesn’t stop on the playing fields. Truly, championships will come and championships will go. Seasons will be successful and seasons will end in disappointment. Our hope is that one day we will see our rival as our neighbor. Yes, when I was young I wanted nothing more than to see my rivals defeated and humiliated. I hope I am wiser now and see that love is above all things, even in the world of sports. But, we make mistakes. We don’t always love the right things. We trust that Jesus shows us the way to love more fully our sporting enemy.

Truly, these three things are the most important in sports: competition, fair play, and love of all. The greatest of these is indeed love.

Ten Questions for the American Church

1: What does it mean to be the church? Are we a witnessing movement of Jesus Christ or are we simply a social club for Christians to gather?

2: Who is our God? Is it the God of Heaven or the god of whatever current movement seems popular?

3: Are we too busy competing against other churches to work as one body?

4: Does our theological arguments get in the way of our witness?

5: Do we see our neighbor as someone to love or someone to talk about?

6: Are we engaging our world or retreating from it?

7: Do we trust God uses all churches – big and small – for the purposes of the kingdom?

8: Are we investing – spiritually and financially – in our youth and young adults?

9: Would people know who we worship by looking at us and hearing how we talk? Would they see we love God or our favorite team?

10: Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves and our agendas for the mission of making disciples in the name of Jesus Christ?

Being a Dad Has Made Me a Better Pastor

For almost four months, Abbi and I have been on that great joyride known as parenthood. Through sleep deprivation and an increase amount of caffeine in our my daily diet, we have been blessed with the greatest blessing we could ever imagine in being Noah’s parents. No other joy we have had in our lives compares to the joy of hearing his coos, seeing his smiles, or watching him kick his toys.

We’re enjoying parenthood.

I, especially, am enjoying being a father. With my office in an area of the parsonage, I have the rare opportunity of being able to stay home and care for Noah during the day. I’ve learned a lot by being a work-at-home dad and, to be honest, I think it has made me a better pastor.

One such way is that I appreciate God’s unconditional love a little more deeply. In my soul, I’ve always known that God loves me for who I am, but I don’t believe it truly sunk in until I held Noah for the first time and every day since. There is nothing Noah can do that would make me stop loving him. No matter how many times he kicks the arch off his play mat or how loud he screams, I will still love him and be there for him. The love we share to our children is akin to the very love God has for us. It is unconditional and always available.

It’s a love, I hope, I have been able to share with my congregations and the entire church. For me, phrase “love them where they are” has taken on new importance. As a pastor my role is to love our people and be a guide for them. It is not to love them only if they reach a certain place in their spiritual journey with Christ. It is to love them for who they are, unconditionally, and walk with them as we grow together in Christ’s love. This is an unconditional love that is shared with the churches I serve and the entire global church. Even when the church gets it wrong, God still pours his love out upon it and us. I hope I am doing the same, each day, as a pastor.

Finally, the love of being a dad has shown me how to better serve the entire world. Unconditional love means to love a world that is full of brokenness and failed dreams. We live in a world filled with violence, hurts, pains, bad decisions, misguided agendas, and unforgiven pasts. God loves us through all of this. No matter what we do … God still loves his world and creation, which includes each of us. Sometimes we forget to share with the world the same love God shares with us. God hurts for the world when it hurts, just like a parent hurts for their child when they hurt. Whatever I am able to do for the kingdom, I hope the one thing I can do is share this unconditional love with all.

There is so much more I need to learn about being a dad. I am thankful, right now, that what I have learned has made me a better servant and a better pastor.