Music of My Soul

My copy of the United Methodist Hymnal is special to me. It is a well-worn book, because of how much I use it in the preparation of worship and in my own life. There are red dots that mark beloved songs. There are scribbles throughout several pages where Noah has offered his own edits. For instance, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” has something like a rest note written over two stanzas.

What I love the most about our hymnal is it is the music of our collective souls. There are songs throughout the book that take me back to important moments in my faith journey and ministry. When we sing these songs, I’m often reminded of people who have inspired me, guided me, and pointed me towards God’s love.

Some stand out among the rest. I want to share with you what some of my most beloved songs – those songs with the red dots – mean to me.

Here I Am, Lord (593) – If there is one song that serves as the soundtrack for my call story it is this hymn by Dan Schutte. It reminds me of how God desires a willing heart among the Lord’s people to make a difference in this world. When I began to sense God’s calling again to ministry it was this song that was playing in my heart. It still does to this day.

O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (57) – This classic Charles Wesley hymn has been the leadoff hymn in Methodist hymnals since 1780. It reminds me of the Offerings community in Lexington. This campus of First UMC had this song as its regular rotation for the praise band. It is a beautiful reminder of how the entire church global comes together to praise God.

Lord of the Dance (261) – What amazes me about this song is, like many others in our hymnal, is its use of a contemporary melody to add a worshipful nature to the music. The music comes from a Shaker song “Simple Gifts.” In this song, the joy of a gift is connected to the relationship of the Triune God in a beautiful way.

Up from the Grave He Arose (322) – This classic Easter hymn takes me to the back rows of Perry Memorial UMC and trying hard to not sing “Up from the gravy he arose.” I’m certain I would get some looks from my family if I managed to say gravy. Still today, it is a favorite hymn because of its joyous celebration of the Resurrection.

And Can it Be that I Should Gain (363) – It is the Methodist fight song! Well, really it is just the Asbury Theological Seminary fight song, but it really should be our movement’s song that moves us out of the pews and into our communities. That is because this song gets to the heart of faith. How amazing it is that God would give of himself for us! That is what this powerful Charles Wesley song is all about.

My life would not be the same without these songs. I give thanks to God for them.


Answering Important Questions

These are interesting times in the life of the United Methodist Church. We are in a period of discernment about who we are and where we are going as a community. We’ve known this for some time, but the reality is ever more present as we approach the called General Conference in 2019.

Who we are is a pressing question for me, today, because I believe it is one we are not wrestling with as United Methodists as it relates to questions regarding Scripture, accountability, and, yes, human sexuality. It is also one I believe connects to some of our larger questions in society. Who are we as it relates to our divisions between larger churches and smaller churches? Who are we as it relates to our divisions between rural and urban culture? Who are we as it relates to our divisions between Republicans and Democrats?

Who are we? Continue reading

What is a Disciple?

Recently I read an article from the Barna Group that startled me. The Barna Group is a research and polling organization that focuses on Christianity in the United States. Its research has helped to provide new perspectives on Millennials and the changing landscape for the church in our country.

This specific article, though, discussed how 51 percent of people who attend church cannot recognize the Great Commission. It was startling to read and I hope it is for you as well, because our very existence as a United Methodist congregation is centered on the Great Commission.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20b, NRSV)

That is the Great Commission and it is our mission. You have heard me say time and time again that our calling is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in Princeton, Kentucky.” We are called to make disciples in our local community who then go and change the world.

So, what is a disciple?

I believe this is a question that we all struggle to answer. That is because we don’t discuss much about what we mean we say “disciple.” We assume people know what we are talking about and then wonder why people struggle to understand the life of a disciple and what it means to make a disciple.

When we define a disciple, we mean someone who seeks to dedicate themselves to following Jesus. Matthew uses a word in Matthew 28:19 to define a disciple as a “pupil.” We know a pupil is a student who follows the teaching of their mentor, teacher, or guide. That is what a disciple of Jesus Christ does. They follow in the teaching and life of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

This means a disciple of Jesus Christ has values we must take seriously.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has a value of the Great Commandment. We must hold both the Great Commission (make disciples) and the Great Commandment (love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself). Disciples of Jesus Christ are devoted to God and seek to share the love of God freely with all people. Love is the most important component of discipleship, because it is the commandment Jesus gave that summed up the entire law of God.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has a value of seeking to live in community with other disciples. Jesus calls his followers into community. We cannot be disciples by seeking to be individuals in isolation from other believers. Disciples are called into a community with other believers for prayer, worship, accountability, and encouragement.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has a value of surrendering themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Surrendering is not something we always talk about. To surrender means to let go of our need to be in control. When we surrender ourselves to Jesus’ Lordship, we humble ourselves and let go of our need to have power and control of who we are, where we are going, or even the life of the community of believers. Disciples allow Jesus to direct their lives and how they relate to other people.

A disciple of Jesus Christ values making commitments to God and other believers. Disciples of Jesus Christ make a promise to God and to other believers that we will be committed in our walk with God. Our commitments are to be in prayer for one another, to be faithful in worship attendance, to give ourselves through our gifts and talents, and to serve by witnessing of God’s love through our words, actions, and deeds.

This is what we mean when we use the word disciple. We are called to make disciples as a church and we do so through worship, study, and service.

Discipleship and making disciples must be at the core of who we are as a church and a people. The question we must always be willing to ask ourselves is this: Is what we are doing at Ogden Memorial making disciples?

This is not a question that can be answered immediately, but it is a question that we must be willing to ask. It is the evaluative question that gets to the heart of fruitfulness and moves us beyond from thinking of survival, but towards thriving.

My prayer for us at Ogden Memorial is for us to thrive in our ministries and witness to God. I pray we will be a disciple-making church that is willing to do the things necessary to lead us into long-term fruitfulness of living out the Great Commission’s call to make disciples.

It is That Important

Last year, I had the responsibility of planning daily Holy Week services in Mercer County. It was the second year I had this responsibility, and I enjoyed gathering an ecumenical body together each day for worship and reflection.

What I remember the most about last year’s worship services was an interview I had with a reporter from the local newspaper. We were talking about why Holy Week is important and I used a phrase similar to this:

It is the Super Bowl, Daytona 500, Indy 500, March Madness, and Game 7 all rolled into one week.

That idea was the main point used in the article. It is still the main point today. Holy Week is our Super Bowl. Holy Week is our Daytona 500. Holy Week is our Indy 500. Holy Week is our March Madness. Holy Week is our Game 7.

It is that important.

Holy WeekCross Of Christ Religious Stock Photo begins Sunday on Palm Sunday and runs through sunset on Holy Saturday. It is the most important week of the Christian calendar, as we will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and reflect upon what it means for us today. We need Holy Week, because we need to hear the story again and again.

It is easy to assume we do not need Holy Week. We’ve heard the story before. We know Jesus. We know what the days means. All of this we will convince ourselves of as we make other things – personal lives, schedules, finances – more important than our faith and relationship with Jesus. We disconnect ourselves from the story as the same time as we allow other ideas and influences claim authority in our lives.

We need Holy Week because it reminds us that Jesus is Lord. On Palm Sunday, we will remember how Jesus entered Jerusalem as the heralded Messiah and King of all. We need that reminder of how Jesus is our Lord and King. Jesus lovingly desires to guide us to live out what it means to be in an intimate relationship and connection with God.

On Maundy Thursday we will remember how we often want something else besides Jesus all together. We will remember how we turned our back on Jesus – an act we will do today through our words, actions, and deeds – because Jesus isn’t what we often expect.

On Good Friday we will remember how Jesus loves us unconditionally. That no matter what we’ve done or who we are Jesus desires to be in relationship with us.

On Easter morning we will celebrate that there is hope in the world. Even when it seems like there is nothing to be hopeful about, the message of the empty tomb reminds us that God is in control and Jesus lives and reigns.

I don’t know about you, but I believe those are messages we need today. Those are messages that I need today.

Messages that we need as our lives become over scheduled by agendas that seek to control our time and connections. Messages we need as we seek to make power and politics as our primary concern instead of love and connection with God. Messages we need as we seek to be more focused on ourselves instead of the greater good.

We need Holy Week, because it is that important for our lives.

I hope you will join us throughout Holy Week at Ogden Memorial this year. More importantly, my prayer is that this week will be an opportunity to encounter the presence of God in your life and in our community.

How Are We the Church

This past Sunday we continued our sermon series “I Believe” by looking at the phrase “I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of Saints.” We made the bold profession that we are the church. We are God’s mission in the earth to share the glory of the Lord. How amazing it is to be part of what God is doing in the world to share hope and love!

So, how are we being the church here at Ogden?

It is easy to focus on what is not – attendance, offering, discipleship, etc. – but I believe we build on what is

, so we may be the church that God is calling us to be in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in Princeton. I want you to know how proud I am to be your pastor and walk with you, because you inspire me in how you desire to be the church.472017_436765336365086_256924354_o

See, I believe Ogden is a church that seeks to support ministries and mission. Yesterday, our Finance Team made the decision to support our college ministries, camps, missions, and UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) through our voluntary apportionments throughout the year. A couple of years ago, support for our camps, college ministries, and mission groups were cut along with apportionment requests. It was asked that local churches build partnerships with these groups to strengthen their ministries.

We as United Methodists believe we are in connection with one another, which means that we are all in this together. We do not exist on our own. We are part of a larger connection of churches and ministries throughout Kentucky and around the world. A Wesley Foundation, for instance, at Western Kentucky or Eastern Kentucky is your college ministry, because they are part of our shared life together. As it has been said before we are one church just in 800 locations throughout Kentucky. We are in this together.

It is because of your generous giving that we are able to be a church that builds partnerships and connections with our colleges, camps, and mission organizations.

I believe Ogden is a church, also, that cares for our youth and children. One of my joys has been watching our youth and children grow in their love of God. Through our Kids 4 Christ and youth ministries, I’ve seen our youth come together and share life with each other. I’ve seen our children ask questions about faith that our deep and holy. I’m thankful for Lisa Shaffer and our volunteers who make these ministries possible. We often believe our children are the future but let me say this … they are our present.

Finally, I believe Ogden is a church that loves each other. I see your love for one another in conversations after worship, throughout the week, and in your concern for people who are going through difficult life moments. The church is a fellowship of connection and concern – a family – and I appreciate your love for each other.

This is a great congregation. You are great people.

Now, let me say this … there is work still to be done. Work to build deeper partnerships with our connectional ministries. Work to help inspire people. Work to share the love of God with others.

What would it look like for Ogden to not just give money and send students to Loucon, but to volunteer and help as needed? What would it look like for you to come along side our youth and children to help them grow in their faith and love of God? What would it look like for you to share the love of God with people who believe the church is not for them?

As we said and sung Sunday, we are the church so let us be the church. Let us continue to be the church that God calls us to be. Let us be the church that makes disciples and finds new ways to reach new people.

I know we can, because I already see it here at Ogden and I can only imagine what God will continue to do in us moving forward.

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.

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.