A New Beginning

A New Beginning

It is hard to believe that in a few short weeks we will be greeted by the year 2020. Many of us are already thinking about the coming year and, perhaps, who should greet us into the year. I recently saw a photo shared on social media advocating for Barbara Walters to host the celebrations in Times Square. Why? So that she can announce at 12:01 a.m., “I’m Barbara Walters, and this is 2020.”

When I think of 2020, though, my mind goes to visionary concepts that focused on 2020 being the ideal year to set a long-term goal. I can remember hearing leaders talk, especially on infrastructure needs, about projects that needed to be in place by 2020. Now, at least in my hometown in Beckley, we are seeing some of those long-term visions lived out, as the city has opened up its long-desired bypass around the original bypass.

Today, though, is a good day to talk about vision – the picture that God paints for us of a near or distant future – and purpose – of how we live that out. We do so, though, realizing that preparing for the coming year may have us a little on edge. That is because we might feel some anxiety going into 2020. We will participate in an election, both on the state and federal level, that has the potential to further our partisan divisions, which is already tearing us apart from one another. As the United Methodist Church, we will approach General Conference in 2020 knowing that there will be major decisions made about the future of our denomination. There are other anxieties, as well, which we will all face. Continue reading “A New Beginning”

Reversing Church Decline

Reversing Church Decline

Noah loves balloons. Every so often, we will purchase some for him, especially around his birthday, that he can enjoy and play with.

Sometimes it is my responsibility to blow up the balloons. With my asthma, I don’t always have the lung strength to blow them up myself. I am thankful for the ability to purchase small tanks that allow me to blow up the balloons that, in turn, give Noah some joy and pleasure.

One of the things about balloons is that over time they lose air. You don’t always notice it happening, but air can seep through the balloon and, thus, shrink its size. Sometimes, it takes a while to notice that the balloon doesn’t have the same amount of air that it did before.

I believe sometimes the church is just like a balloon. Sometimes we don’t always recognize issues or periods of decline until it is entirely noticeable. When we begin to notice issues or decline when it is reached the point that ignoring it any longer would harm the long-term operational structure of the local church.

The truth is that the church has often struggled with issues. As well, in many ways, we have been in decline, as a Methodist movement, for a more than just a handful of years. By percentage of the population, by some accounts, we have been in a state of decline since the 1880s. It was easy to miss for a long time, because the church was able to maintain its funding and support levels.

That isn’t the case, currently. Continue reading “Reversing Church Decline”

The Living God

The Living God

Throughout the summer and fall, especially as we have looked at the Gospel of Luke, we have gone on a journey with Jesus. During this journey, Jesus has traveled the shore line of the Sea of Galilee, made his way down the Jordan River, over through Jericho, and visited other important areas of Galilee and Judea. His journey has been focused on taking him to Jerusalem to meet his accusers, to face the cross, and experience the resurrection.

Yet, we have also shared how Jesus used the journey to engage people along the way about what it meant to follow him. He used the time, truly, to talk about discipleship. For Jesus, discipleship is more than just saying you are a “Christian” or being a member of a church. Discipleship is about completing following Christ by abandoning our own self and ideas for how life should be and completely dedicate ourselves to following the life of Jesus. This is a life of deep commitment and engagement with the Lord that is a lifelong journey.

Much of the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem was focused on discipleship and following him completely. Even when he reaches the Holy City, Jesus continues to talk about the responsibilities of following him and how it challenges the ideas of the world. This is the case as we turn our focus to Luke 20:26-38, where we find Jesus teaching in the Temple during the lead up to the Passover celebrations. Continue reading “The Living God”

Entering Worship Undistracted

Entering Worship Undistracted

Life seems to be filled with a constant stream of distractions.

When I work, there is typically people coming into my office to talk, mounting tasks that need to be addressed, administrative tasks that require attention, and, yes, music that is playing in the background. That is just the things going on inside my office. There are other distractions that are my mind, such as our family, Noah’s needs, Abbi’s health with the pregnancy, and many other things.

All of these things are necessary concerns, but they can take my focus away from the things that need my energies, especially when it comes to growing in faith and loving God.

What about you? Do you ever feel distracted when it comes to your faith with God? Even more, do you ever feel distracted when it comes to give our full attention to worship?

Psalm 100:4a. says, “Enter his praise with thanksgiving: go into his courts with his praise.” (NLT) We are to be people who respond to our love of God with acts of adoration for all that God has done in our lives.

Can we do that if our hearts are distracted from the presence of God? Continue reading “Entering Worship Undistracted”

The World Turned Upside Down

The World Turned Upside Down

I had waited four years to see it.

For four years, I tried everything that I could to convince people – especially Abbi – that I needed to go to New York to see this one show. That didn’t work. When it left New York and started a nationwide tour, I began to calculate Christmas gifts and possible vacations for the family. That still didn’t work.

It wasn’t until the week before we moved here that I, finally, was able to sit in an auditorium and watch the one show I had been dying to see. That show was Hamilton. I loved it, and if it wasn’t for the cramped seating, I would have danced in the aisle the entire show. The show is right up my ally: hip hop music to American history. You can’t go wrong!

One of my favorite songs from the musical describes the events surrounding the victory at Yorktown. With the musical’s focus on history and catchy lyrics, it told how the Americans secured the victory and, ultimately, the war on the shores of the James River in the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia. It did so with a refrain that was sung in the background to describe what took place: the world turned upside down.

The world turned upside down! I love that refrain. I love how it speaks to history. I love how it speaks to the moment of the unexpected becoming reality. I love how it gives us, even, a way to consider what happens when the kingdom of God breaks into the world. Continue reading “The World Turned Upside Down”

Almost Doesn’t Count

Almost Doesn’t Count

One of the things I love about Fridays is catching up on some of my favorite television shows on the DVR. Abbi and I don’t often agree on shows. I am more of a documentary, drama, or slapstick comedy person, while she is more of the sci-fi, British TV, and Food Network variety. So, when I can get to the DVR it is time to play catch up, especially since one of my favorite shows is ending this season.

That is “The Good Place.” Have you ever seen that show? I find it hilarious. The show centers around a group of people who were put in the “bad place” that was disguised as the “good place.” The characters figure this out, but work together to “prove” that they actually either deserved to be in the “good place” or could do enough to earn a spot.

Getting into the “good place,” according to the show, was based on earning enough points on earth to merit the selection. Help a person cross the street … three points. Show up for work and not get distracted by the Internet … five points. Take care of someone in need … 20 points. You could also lose points for bad behavior. It was all random, but the basic idea was that you could accumulate enough points on earth to gain access to the “good place,” which was synonymous with heaven.

We snicker at the show’s premise, but I wonder how easy it is for us to live that way in our lives and faith journey. Are we trying to earn enough points to get into heaven? Read our Bible … three points. Give some money to the church … 10 points. Pay attention to the sermon and not get distracted by lunch … 50 points. Even though we boldly proclaim how Christ is the source of our salvation, how easy is it for us to think that if we do enough good, we can earn our spot in heaven? Perhaps even more, do we keep score in order to prove to others and ourselves that we are better than someone else? Continue reading “Almost Doesn’t Count”

Moments of Small Grace

Moments of Small Grace

Yesterday, I experienced a glory sighting as it relates to our use of technology.

We had another visit to the doctor to check on the progress of our baby, which we are affectionately calling “Little Fry” until it is born. Doctors offices, even when I’m not the one being evaluated, are always a stressful encounter for me. This time, though, was something quite different. It was a holy moment.

We got to see our baby.

The first ultrasound was a rough experience and we didn’t get much of a view of our child. This time, though, we were able to see its movement, activity, and its gigantic head! Yes, all babies have a big head … but this thing was huge!

It was awesome to see and experience. Continue reading “Moments of Small Grace”