Reflections on a Servant

This morning, we awoke to the news that evangelist Rev. Billy Graham passed away. He was 99.

Graham leaves behind a ministry legacy that will stand, perhaps, in the United States along with Jonathan Edwards and Martin Luther King, Jr., as a transcendent leader of the faith who influenced more than just the church. In time, his legacy will also stand with the likes of John Wesley, John Calvin, and others for making a contribution to the faith that will go beyond their time and place to benefit of the global movement of the church.

What was Graham’s legacy? He leaves no system of theology nor did he provide a different or needed perspective on the church’s orthodoxy (right beliefs). What he did, instead, offer was a reach that is beyond comparison and a message of grace that was received by millions.billy-graham-presidents

According to The Associated Press, Graham reached more than 210 million people during his ministry with his last revival coming in 2005. That is the equivalent of just a little bit more than the entire population of Brazil (207 million). Thanks to modern technology and means of transportation, no other pastor has had that kind of ministry influence.

Graham was known as America’s pastor, but I remember him most living out this role as the pastor to presidents. He had interactions with every president from Truman to Obama. He counseled and prayed for them. Sometimes these interactions would catch Graham in trouble, as was the case in 2002 when comments he made about the Jewish community to President Nixon were released when all of the Nixon tapes were made public.

That moment allowed the world to see another side of Graham. His humility. Graham quickly apologized for the comment and asked the Jewish community to consider his relationships with them and not his misguided comments. His humility was also on display, later in life, as he reflected on his involvement in the civil rights movement. While Graham eliminated segregation from his revivals prior to Brown v. Board of Education ended a practice that was truly wrong, Graham did not use his voice and platform as strongly as others in his time would have liked. Graham once told The Associated Press that he should have gone to Selma.

Another side I appreciate about Graham was his willingness to work across denominational lines. Too often we can get caught up in the Protestant or Catholic, Baptist or Methodist, divisions and only stick with those “who believe like me.” Graham was willing to go and share with people from across the globe and denominational alliances recognizing that God is in more places than we often give the Lord credit.

One of the great attributes we all long to hear is the words of Matthew 25:23, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We often wonder and assume people will hear those long-desired words. I don’t think we have to assume about Graham.

Truly, well done … good and faithful servant.

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Why I Love Ash Wednesday

I remember the first time I saw someone wearing ashes on their forehead.

I was sitting in my high school in Shady Spring, W.Va., when a classmate came to school wearing a cross made of ashes. I had been attending church since I was old enough to “borrow” the microphone from the preacher as a young toddler to have my voice heard during a church event, but I had never seen the practice. It was shocking to see on Ash Wednesday, which to me at the time was just another day on the calendar.

That was this and this is now. What was once a day of shock has become one of the days of the Christian calendar I have grown to love and, more importantly, need. Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the day in the Christian calendar that marks the beginning of the season of Lent. We will gather at Ogden Memorial United Methodist Church at 6 p.m., for a time of worship, prayer, and reflection. And, yes, we’ll participate in the imposition of ashes.2247136630_4cab566160_b

Now, I am sure you are asking yourself this question: What purpose does wearing ashes do for a Christian? Good question! I’m glad you asked.

To answer this question, we have to get to look at why we need Lent. In our increasingly secular world, Lent is a practice that gets lost very easily and misunderstood. We’ll reduce it to a practice of merely giving something up than about a time to truly reflect on who we are and whose we are.

Lent is a season that runs for 40 days (not counting Sundays). It begins on Ash Wednesday and runs until the evening of Holy Saturday (the day before Easter). Lent is a time of spiritual renewal and reflection as we prepare our hearts to receive the good news that Jesus is alive.

Our practices surrounding Lent go back to the earliest days of the church. When communities of faith began to form throughout the Middle East and Asia Minor, the weeks leading up to Easter was used to prepare new converts for baptism. It was a time of teaching, reflection, and prayer that would lead to an individual’s baptism on Easter morning.

Lent is about reflection and renewal our lives and community. That takes us up, now, to why we need Ash Wednesday. This holy day is all about reflection and renewal.

We reflect upon our humanity. This day reminds us that life is precious. As I look at my own life and the communities I’ve had the pleasure of serving, this is something I believe we all struggle with. We have a hard time with death and the fleeting nature of life, because it is a topic we ignore in our conversations. Our conversations typically turn to our families, jobs, and sports. Seldom do we engage conversations about death and the limits of life beyond funeral services.

Our inability to talk about our humanity limits our conversations about some important topics. It’s hard to talk about conserving our resources, for instance, if we are unable to recognize that we are only here for a short period of time and how there are people who will come after us. At the same time, it’s hard to even deal with grief if we are unable to talk about what death means for each of us.

Ash Wednesday, and its imposition of ashes, reminds us we are humans who were created by a loving God. Truly, as Genesis 2:7 reminds us as dust we came, as dust we will return.

This day also reminds us to seek renewal in our hearts and lives. The imposition of ashes, in scripture, was a sign of sin and mourning. Jesus says if people would have recognized what had been done in other places they would have placed ashes on their bodies (Matthew 11:21).

Ashes provide a visible connection to our human nature and sinfulness. It is a way to encourage spiritual reflection of our hearts and to contemplate who we are, our actions, and God’s desires for our lives. Ashes also remind us of our need of God’s grace and prepare us for deeper moments of reflection to come throughout Lent as we move towards the cross and the empty tomb. On this day, and season, we yearn to turn away from a life of disobedience and seek a life defined by God’s love.

It is why I love Ash Wednesday, because I need this day. I need this day, because I need that reminder of God’s love and desires for me, my family, my church, and the world. I need that reminder of my humanity and my call to care for one another.

So, if you see someone wearing ashes today I hope you will not have the same reaction I did 20 years ago. My prayer is it will lead you to reflect on who you are and whose you are in God’s love.

Living With Joy

The Super Bowl is a cultural spectacle. It is the only championship game where you will have more non-fans or marginally interested people tune in to watch the festivities. The game is almost a side attraction to the entire event and day.

You have the six-hour pre-game show. You have the halftime show. You have the commercials. I think more than anything else it is the commercials that non-sports fans will take away from the game. Were they funny? Were they relevant? Did they make you want to buy what they were selling?

This year’s Super Bowl commercials were of the typical variety. You had some that were emotional. You had some that were innovative. You had some that you wished never were aired. And, of course, you had some that were absolutely funny.

For my take, none were funnier than a commercial featuring the iconic Morgan Freeman. The short spot featured Freeman dance and lip sync to a Missy Elliot song while trying to promote “Mountain Dew Ice.” Extra points for anyone who watched the commercial and could remember exactly what Freeman was advertising.hqdefault

Several days after the game and I cannot get the commercial out of my head. I’ve watched it a few times since on YouTube. It is a great commercial. When you watch it you can feel Freeman’s sense of joy. It radiated through Freeman’s performance as he walked from the fireplace to the middle of the floor while trying to keep up with the lyrics. He was enjoying life.

What I love about the commercial, as well, is that Freeman is 80-years old and will soon be 81. Age is truly just a number for Freeman. It was not going to prevent him from enjoying life and living it out.

I don’t know about you, but when I am 81 I want to have that kind of zeal for life. I believe that kind of zeal is what God desires for us. I believe God created us to be people of joy and love who do not allow things like the number of years of our life or our own beliefs of what we can and cannot do keep us from living with a sense of joy.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 9:2, “I will be filled with joy because of you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.” I read that and hear God calling us to find joy throughout life, to find ways to be emotionally, physically, and spiritually active, and to inspire others with our sense of joy that comes from the Lord.

You are never too old to live with joy. You are never too old to find a way to inspire others. You are never to old to love God and share that love with others. The question becomes what does that look like when you’re 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, or even 90? It is going to look different throughout the ages, yes, but it doesn’t mean we stop looking for joy or serving God simply because we’ve hit a certain age. God doesn’t call us to give up on finding joy in our lives simply because we are not comfortable with our age.

Life is best when we are living it to the fullest for God with joy no matter what age we are.

Celebrating God’s Blessings at Ogden Memorial From 2017

Recently, some of our church leaders and I have worked to put together our end of the year reports. The end of the year report is a snapshot of our ministry and work together for the previous year. It is one way we tell the story of the ministry God is enabling us to do in Princeton and throughout our area.

I’m appreciative of Betty Veal and Lisa Shaffer for their tireless work in helping to organize our information. They are both great blessings to our work in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in Princeton.

There is much to celebrate as we think back on 2017 and the work God entrusted us with as a church.

One point of celebration comes in increases to our average worship (101 in average worship attendance in 2017) and Sunday School attendance (39 average attendance). This is the first time both our worship and Sunday School numbers had increased in several years. Thank you for your dedication to worship and Sunday School. These are important aspects of how we love God and grow together as a congregation.

As a congregation, we have set a goal to seek further increases in our worship attendance in 2018 by 3 percent. We can reach this goal as we make being in worship a priority for our families, and also as we reach out and invite people we know are not attending worship to join us.

There are other places to celebrate in 2017 as it relates to our outreach into our community. I am thankful for ministries like Marketplace, Build-a-Basket, and others that help share the love of Christ with our community. We interacted with approximately 445 people in 2017 through community outreach events. That number includes Marketplace, Build-a-Basket, Service of Hope, and our Fall Festival.

These ministries help us share the love of Christ in meaningful ways. Our goal is to increase our outreach efforts in 2018 to reach people where they are in our community. One such way will be our Day of Caring on Saturday, April 28, when we will go out into our community to perform community service projects. You will hear more about this great event in the coming weeks.

Finally, I want to celebrate with you how you partner with ministries across Kentucky and around the world to share the love of Christ. As a congregation, we gave more than $26,000 to United Methodist ministries. This includes the Kentucky United Methodist Children’s Home, Camp Loucon, the Western Kentucky Wesley Foundation, Red Bird Mission, and the Thailand Methodist Mission. We also donated approximately $7,000 to help support local ministries, such as at Brightlife Farms and the Hope and Cope Center.

Each of these places is worthy of celebration. I’m looking forward to where God will lead us as a congregation in 2018. I believe Ogden Memorial is ready for a mighty and impactful year in our work of making disciples. It will happen as we build upon the foundation that is here and seek to continue to make disciples and share the love of God together.

Experiencing God’s Love Beyond the Masks

I love the hit television show “This is Us.” Have you watched it?

The show tells the story of the Pearson family – siblings Kevin, Kate, and Randall primarily. It interweaves stories from their childhood, parents, and adult lives to describe who they are and how the different moments from their lives inform who they are today.

What I particularly love about the show, besides that it is one of the best-written shows on network television, is that it is willing to be open about the fact that our lives are more complex than what we like to portray. It doesn’t hide the how Kevin is his father’s son, or how Kate struggles with self-worth, or even how Randall, as the adopted member of the family, wonders about his place in the family. This all while they seek to be an actor, an aspiring singer, or an executive turned stay-at-home dad. The Pearson family is complex and we love them for it.

We love them because we are complex people, yet I wonder if we are open about the complexities of our own life.

Sometimes, if I am being honest with myself, I think we like wearing masks to hide who we are or even our struggles from one another. We like to pretend that we have it all together or that difficult moments do not affect us. We hide our pain and struggles. We hide it from ourselves, our families, and even, yes, God.

In my own life, I know there are things I have hid from God or not completely shared with the Lord out of fear that God would no longer want me. That if I shared with God my struggles or pain that, perhaps, God would see me as a failure and give up on me. I think we all fear that in some way. Would God stop loving me if I was honest about this struggle or pain?

Truth is that is our own projection of God and not the God we see revealed in Scripture. We see in Scripture how God loves us unconditionally and even seeks to bring hope into the places of brokenness. I always love how we see, in story after story, Jesus seeing who people are behind their masks and loving them anyway.

You and I are at our best when we experience God’s love in the places that we often hide from ourselves. We experience growth as disciples when we know that there is a love that accepts us and doesn’t judge us for who we are. God never gives up on us.

I wonder … where do you need to experience that love in your life? Where do you need to know that God loves you no matter what?

Are We Willing to Take a New Direction?

For Christmas vacation, my family and I traveled to West Virginia. Though we have been to the Mountain State hundreds of times to see family and reconnect with my home we decided to take a different route. We took a route that was less familiar, but offered more places to stop (which is an advantage when traveling with a 4-year old).

We didn’t know the route as well as our normal road, but we were confident we knew where we were going. We had family members who had talked about the route and its advantages. We stayed on major highways and interstates. If all that failed us, we had our trusty guide of an in-car navigational system on our phone to keep us going in the right direction.

All of that made taking a different route a simple trip back home to visit family.

What if none of that was available?

Would we still be willing to take a new route to get to the destination? What if we didn’t have family members who had traveled the road before? Would we still take the new road? What if there were no major interstates or highways to make the drive simpler? Would we still take the new road? What if we didn’t have an in-car navigational system?

Would we still take the new road? Continue reading

What is a Service of Hope?

It started as an ordination project.

Two years ago I had to lead a “fruitfulness project” to fulfill one of my ordination requirements. The project is intended to demonstrate a pastor’s effectiveness in leading a ministry that seeks to make disciples. That is the simplest way of defining the project.

I had a couple of ideas for my project – a study on the Book of Revelation, a youth ministry intern, etc. – but my heart settled on this worship service I had heard about. It was called a Blue Christmas or Longest Night Service.

A Blue Christmas Service or Longest Night Service typically takes place on the first day of winter – the longest night of the year – and recognizes how many of us struggle during the Christmas season. The service is intended to offer hope and expressions of peace in the midst of our struggles. Continue reading