One of the things I have appreciated throughout my ministry is how many of you are amazed that I can stand up here without looking at my notes. Please know that this doesn’t make me special – many pastors do not bring their notes with them into the pulpit or what I call “the Holy Circle” – but it is part of what makes me who I am.
There is a lot of work that goes into this 20-25-minute time of deep discipleship each week. In fact, a good rule of thumb is that for every minute of a sermon, there is about 30-60 minutes of prep. That includes prayer, studying, reflecting, writing, and, of course, banging my head against the wall.
Among my favorite aspects of sermon prep is examining the context surrounding a specific passage. By context, I mean looking at what takes place within the story beyond just the words written on the page. We forget sometimes that the Bible was written in real time, focusing on real people, who lived in real space. Studying the situations, history, and ways someone would write at the time helps us to understand more about what is going on in a verse or passage of Scripture. Continue reading “Healers Wanted”
One of the things I love about introducing myself to a new congregation is that it gives you an opportunity to reflect on what is important to you. Each congregation wants to learn what I focus on, what is important to me in ministry, and where I believe God is leading us. That is important for the congregation to live into, but it is also important for me, as a pastor and follower of Christ, to reflect on and share.
There are many things that I value and hold as important in ministry. Among those is my belief that living sacramentally enables us to grow as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. This is more than just making sure that the church is celebrating communion and baptism. It is about living into their meaning and how they apply to our spiritual lives.
At our baptism, whether as an infant or an adult, we make a commitment to the witness of Christ, the church, and our fellowship with one another. Baptism is about entering into a covenant with God and other believers where we are identifying ourselves with the promises of God and desiring to live into a transformed life in Christ’s love.
In the United Methodist Church, we make a promise to be faithful to God as a response to God’s grace at work in our lives and desire to share God’s love in the world. That promise is lived out in specific ways through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
What do those commitments mean? How do we live them out? Continue reading “Living Our Commitments”
If you haven’t noticed, yet, I love to watch sports. Baseball is probably my favorite, because it is a cerebral game that forces you to think three or four batters ahead. Football, though, is probably the sport that gets me the most animated. I’ve been told that I can get a little loud and crazy when we’re not winning or the referees make a call that I do not appreciate.
Most of the time, though, I am watching the games in my home office and with the door closed to give some protection to the family. We don’t go to as many games as I would like, primarily because of cost and the challenges of taking Noah to an event with a large crowd. The last time I went to a home college football game was probably 2007. I probably haven’t been to a college football game, in general, since West Virginia last played Louisville at Cardinal Stadium in 2010.
The one thing that I miss about going to games in person is the pageantry. You don’t get a good feel for the crowd noise, especially before a game, by sitting on your recliner with a Diet Coke and a bag of chips by your side. Those moments before a game are special. You have the band playing. You have the anticipation from the crowd for what will come. You have the players getting ready and jumping around in the tunnel. All of this rises to a point that it runs over with excitement and jubilation when the team runs out onto the field.
I love that moment. It gets you excited. Now, can you imagine if the pregame ritual was kind of “eh.” Imagine what it would feel like if you sat in the crowd and the entire stadium was discouraged or despondent. Imagine if the band stopped playing. Imagine if the team walked out with their heads down believing that there is no way they could win. How would we respond? We probably wouldn’t be too excited about the game, and probably would turn the channel or go home early believing that there is no way our team would win.
Imagine if that is how we treated our faith in Christ. Imagine if instead of players running out on the field, it was us going into our mission field of Huntington. What if we were despondent, discouraged, and detached from it all? Would we be growing in our faith in Christ? Would we be able to share the love of Christ with others in such a way that it would encourage people to come along side us? Continue reading “Perseverance Required”
What Is Worship? Throughout my ministry, I’ve heard different ideas tossed around about what constitutes holy worship. These ideas and … Continue reading What is Worship?
Wednesday is coming! For students, teachers, and school officials, it marks the beginning of a new school year. Noah has been looking forward to this day since the middle of May when school ended for the Caldwell County Kindergarten. He is ready for school to begin.
Personally, I am ready for a season of normality. I’m also ready to live into our usual family tradition of dropping off Noah at school and quickly running to a restaurant that he will not eat at for breakfast. Suggestions are more than welcome on where we should go Wednesday.
While there is excitement and joy for a new year and the possibilities that it will bring, I cannot help but admit that I have some anxiety about this school year. It is the same anxiety I have felt for several school years and will probably always have. Will Noah receive the care he needs from his teachers and school therapists to thrive? Will other students respect him and recognize that he, too, is a child of God and a person of worth? What will we do if this doesn’t work out?
Those questions weigh heavily on my mind. Even though we have always had a good working relationship with his school, his therapists, and his support systems, I have that fear. Even though I have seen him thrive at every school he has been at and treated with kindness by his peers, I have that fear. Why? Because, as we all do when we are faced with an unknown, we are more focused on the negative possibilities than on what has carried us before and what will lead us moving forward. When life gets difficult, both in our homes and in the life of the church, it is easy to get discouraged, throw up our hands, and say, “I’ve had enough” or “nothing will ever get better.”
Ever feel that way? Maybe that sounds familiar to you with where you are in your faith or the how you see the church this morning? When we come to these moments, what can we do? Should we just give up and say, “Faith shouldn’t be this hard, and it’s hard for me, and I don’t like it, so I quit.” Or should we claim a way that reminds us who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going? Continue reading “A Living Faith”
I like to think of things in terms of: “What kind of world will Noah inherit one day?” As a parent, that seems to be an important way of thinking about our world and my contributions to it. One day, as hard as it may be to realize, I won’t be there to protect Noah, care for him, and make sure that he is growing into the person God has called him to be.
Noah is 6. I’m anxious for the world that he will not only inherit, but that he is living in today.
Since arriving in the world in 2013, Noah has witnessed more mass shootings than I care to admit. The other day, I took a look at how many mass shootings have occurred since his birth. I took advantage of research that was readily available that look at. Essentially, did a shooting event have multiple victims and receive media coverage? Since Noah was born, there have been 88 mass shootings, which killed 564 people and injured 1,1,45 people. Taken all together, the death toll is as if everyone in the town of Matewan was shot and killed since 2013.
That is too much.
It is hard to get a clear definition of what counts as a mass shooting. Different organizations use various standards to determine what mass shootings are or are not. A 2015 report from the Congressional Research Service suggests defining mass murders on whether four people were killed during the attack. Others, such as the organization Gun Violence Archives, defines a mass shooting as any event in which four people were shot, not including the alleged shooter. By the Gun Violence Archives count, there have been 255 mass shootings in 2019.
No matter how you define a mass shooting, it is clear we have a problem, and it is only getting worse. Continue reading “How Can We Move Beyond Hatred?”
I’m always on the lookout for things that make me laugh or brings a smile to my face. Life is too difficult and challenging to go through these years without a sense of joy and a chance to pause and laugh.
I still have to laugh when I am reminded of a trip to Abbi’s family in Chincoteague, Virginia. Whenever we go to the island, it seems that I have to go to the store to pick up extra food for Noah. Not only does Noah eat like a teenager at times, but he also has a very specific diet that is a result of his autism. He eats the same food nearly every day, and Lord have mercy on the parents who do not have that food readily available.
On this specific trip, however, I made an excursion to the Food Lion that is located off the island. As I did, I happened to look over and noticed the Sonic across the parking lot. It was there that I saw a hearse in the drive-thru. Yes, I said a hearse in the drive-thru line. I couldn’t stop laughing and took a picture that I have somewhere. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that even the dearly departed still want their mozzarella sticks and corn dogs.
That moment has been on my mind this week, as I’ve reflected on our passage from Luke 12:13-21. This imagery connects to what Jesus is saying to these two brothers who approach him to settle a family inheritance dispute. We’ve probably all heard preachers who have shared how you never see a hearse go to the grave with a U-Haul attached – “you can’t take it with you.” We’ll talk about how we shouldn’t be concerned with possessions and then move on without discussing the deeper realities that connect to the life Christ calls us into through these words. This parable is concerned with more than just our possessions. It calls us to consider the anxiety that often holds us back from being the people God calls us to be through faith. Continue reading “True Riches”