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.

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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

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

A good hymn offers the prayers of our heart. It reflects, musically, the stirrings of our lives and soul as we reflect on God’s love and our need for the Lord’s peace in our lives.

I think that is why I have always loved “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” This song has always been a prayer for me, even when I struggled with my faith for a period of time. The song focuses my heart on God’s hope and my need for God to simply come and be present in my struggles, anxieties, and the concerns of the world.

I especially love verse 6.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thy justice here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

I think about those words and it reminds me of how Advent and Christmas are not a time of celebration for many. Personally, I struggle at Christmas. I’m reminded often of family members who are no longer with us, disappointments from the previous year, and friends I have lost contact with. What about you?

I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder of Emmanuel, God with us, in those pains. I need that reminder in other moments in my life, as well, that God has come in Jesus to walk with us in the struggles and pains we all carry.

No one ever has to travel life alone, yet we often feel as though we must. It is why I believe in the Service of Hope we are doing on December 17 at 6 p.m. This service is intended for all of us, because we all have hurts or pains we carry with us on a regular basis. Places in our lives where we need to experience the hope of Emmanuel to come and “disperse the gloomy clouds of night.”

What would it look like for you, for me, for all of us, to experience hope this Christmas and realize that the hope of Christ has come to walk with us in our places of struggle?

I’m Thankful For …

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Like you, I will spend it doing my traditional Thanksgiving festivities. I’ll wake-up and bemoan the fact there is nothing on television except for the parade. I’ll consistently ask Abbi what time is dinner and what we are having. At some point, I’ll plop down on the couch for a good nap and watch the games.

At some point, though, I hope to spend a few moments giving thanks to God for the blessings in my life. Scripture reminds us how we are to praise God for the Lord’s wonderful name and actions, which calls us to give thanks for the ways we have seen God at work in our lives.

So, what am I thankful for this year?

I’m thankful for my family, especially Abbi and No, for they have been a constant source of support and strength. I would not be who I am without their love and especially Noah’s laughter and craziness. They take things that can come up in ministry with grace and love, which means a lot to me.

I’m thankful for the experiences that I’ve had this year. I traveled to Israel, spoke to potential new clergy about my call to ministry, was ordained, and moved to a new community. Each of these experiences have helped me to see something new about God’s love and have helped me to appreciate more what it means to be a pastor and follower of God.

I’m thankful for my new faith community and church at Ogden Memorial. They have welcomed my family, allowed me to make first-year mistakes, and have been gracious as I try to navigate learning about the church. They are a special group of people whom I love and respect.

Those are just some of the things that I am thankful for this year. What about you? What are you thankful for as we celebrate Thanksgiving?