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

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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

Reflections from a Native West Virginian on the West Virginia Floods

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to travel to West Virginia. I grew up in the Mountain State, a native of Shady Spring, and a graduate of West Virginia University. So, when the state experienced some of the worst flooding in its history there was only one thing to do: Act.

The church where I serve as the pastor, Claylick United Methodist Church in Salvisa, Ky., rallied to be a blessing to the people who I call my people. I cannot thank them enough for their love and connection to people beyond our own neighborhood. We took an entire carload of supplies to the state and will likely take more in the days to come. It is the least we can do to give back to people who are hurting.13501569_10153656035981272_2276381847571286993_n Continue reading

It’s Not Helpful to Blame Each Other

Our country is hurting once again.

Sunday morning, as many of us slept in peace and quiet, hundreds were terrorized at a gay bar in Orlando. That is because a gunman, identified as Omar Mateen, 29, opened fire and killed 50 people and injured many more. It is the worst terrorist attack on American soil since the horror of September 11, 2001. It is the worst mass shooting in American history.

It is yet another moment when our nation easily divides itself and attempts to move into the rapid response of righteous anger and judgment.

Hours after the tragedy social media was filled with many rightly condemning the attacks and, unfortunately, blaming those they disagree with for not seeing the world as they do. Liberals decried the attack, and conservatives, as another moment that shows how we need gun control. Several more suggested that conservatives who do not accept homosexuality are responsible. Conservatives, on the other hand, denounced anyone who did not immediately suggest that we should remove all Muslims from the nation.  As well, conservatives were easily angered at any suggestion that this was about guns and not mental health.

Whether it is Orlando, Newtown, Paris, and so many other moments, we have grown accustomed to using these moments to show our righteous anger and to prove the righteousness of our own cause and efforts. In doing so, we create strawmen out of the people whom we see as contributing to the violence we see in the world. We point to the other person and view and say they are the problem and the reason this kind of unthinkable violence continues.

We do this because in the face of violence we have to blame someone to make ourselves feel safe, to feel protected, and to feel right within ourselves. Evil scares us and when faced with what scares us we need someone to point to as the cause of such injustice in the world.

The truth is this: No one caused the violence we saw yesterday but a man who sought to do unthinkable harm to someone else. It wasn’t the fault of conservatives. It wasn’t the fault of liberals. It wasn’t the fault of Christians. It wasn’t the fault of Muslims. It was the fault of one man who made the choice to do evil.

In the days to come, we will have the chance to properly reflect upon these acts of senseless violence. This will require us to hear from each other and to accept that in responding to tragedy we need each other because the answers are always more complex than we would typical once. Thus, liberals will need to be willing to hear from conservatives and conservatives will need to hear from liberals. The best solutions to complex issues comes when we are willing to listen to each other and not immediately denounce someone that has a different view than us.

We can hope that a better response will come out of the tears from Orlando. For now, we must sit in shame that we have done that which we always seems to do: Blame someone else.

Sunday Sermon: The Last Words of Jesus – Father, Forgive Them

This morning, and for the next five weeks, we are going to be at the cross on Golgatha’s hillside. We are going to immerse ourselves in a moment that has changed the world and continues to change it today. We are going to experience Jesus’ final moments before his death.

The way we are going to do it is by looking at the seven phrases that were said by Jesus in the hours that he was on the cross. Each of these phrases are powerful and express what was on Jesus’ heart and soul in those final moments. They are also words that would have been extremely difficult for Jesus to say. Continue reading

Sunday’s Sermon: Resolution 2015 (Giving)

New Year’s Day has its varied traditions. Many of these traditions are cultural and regional in nature, such as eating black eyed peas or putting a coin in cabbage. Some of these traditions are centered on the idea of seeking good luck and fortune for the new year. Personally, I never understood how one could gain luck through eating cabbage or black eyed peas.

Among those traditions is one we are most familiar with and, perhaps, one we participated in a few days ago. That is the new year’s resolution. The idea that we will resolve to do something different in the new year that we did not do not as much in the previous.

Problem is that it seems we just recycle previous resolutions. Our resolutions often cycle around the common themes of losing weight, saving more money, and finding more ways to relax. Resolutions, though, that are appropriate coming out of a season of heavy eating, tons of purchases, and stressful calendars. For the record, my resolution for 2015 is to find more time to relax and not to stress about the little things in life. We’ll see how long that lasts. Continue reading

“The Bible” is an Effective Introductory Resource for Sharing God’s Word

Last night, the History Channel debut its anticipated miniseries “The Bible.” From the producers of “Survivor,” the 10-hour series tells the story of God’s word in a live-action format. With amazing cinematography and impressive use of technology, the first episode took viewers on a fast ride through the Torah, which is the first five books of the Old Testament and discusses everything from creation, Noah, the promise to Abraham, and the Exodus.

Bible_Moses_Aaaron_37880360-PIf the first episode is any indication, “The Bible” attempts to take an overview approach to telling the story of God’s love while focusing on several key stories. Should the remaining episodes keep with this plan, “The Bible’ will be an effective introductory resource for churches and communities that are attempting to share the story of God’s word with people who do not have a basic knowledge of the Bible.

Of course, “The Bible” comes with its critics and challenges. Some were frustrated with issues that existed in the first episode. Primarily these issues dealt with several inaccuracies and stories that were not effectively told. Some were glaring issues, such as adding Sarah to the story of Abraham’s final test, and others were merely adaptations to tell the story in a short time frame, for instance Joshua being named Moses’ replacement at the receipt of the Ten Commandments. For the most part, the issues were because the producers, Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, sought to use as much Scripture as possible, in a short period of time, while also taking use of their creative license.

As a pastor and theologian, I’m OK with the inaccuracies that exist in “The Bible.” If it was a theological discourse or a sermon, I might have some reservations. However, “The Bible” is seeking to be neither of the two nor should we expect it to be that. I don’t expect Burnett and Downey to be effective theologians any more than I expect Stephen Spielberg and Ben Afleck to be accurate historians. The series was never going to be something that would meet the complete approval of seminarians, theologians, and pastors near and far.

What it seeks to be is a resource that tells the story of God in a general way that appeals to a vast audience. An audience that has little or no understanding of Scripture. Here, the series, at least through one episode, does a great job. In this way, “The Bible” will be a great resource in helping people learn more about God’s word. In an age when many people, including those who are in our churches, have a limited knowledge of the Bible, “The Bible” can inspire people to open up the Bible, study it, and to ask questions that move an individual from the introductory to the deep. “The Bible” is the milk that, perhaps, can help a biblically illiterate generation seek the meat of deeper faith in Christ and knowledge of God’s word.

That is where pastors have a role in helping our people to understand not just this series, but the Bible itself. In loving and encouraging ways, we are called to guide our people to deeper levels of faith and understanding God’s word. We can use “The Bible” in our efforts in helping people take the next steps in their journey with Christ.

“The Bible” is not John Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons or the latest writing from N.T. Wright, but it is a welcome tool in sharing God’s word in this visual age.