A Life of Stress Towards a Life of Community

There never seems to be a deficit in advice on how to be a pastor.

Throughout my ministry, I’ve received both good and bad advice from fellow pastors, friends, family members, and even the occasional upset individual. It comes with the territory. As with all things, it seems that we have more opinions than we have answers.

One of the worst pieces of advice I’ve received is never to allow your congregation to know when you are hurting. It’s the extreme of the best practice to make sure you have appropriate boundaries between yourself and congregation, so as not to become overly dependent upon your congregation for your own self-care. That is important, however taken too far and we never allow our congregation to see our struggles or burdens.

As many of you know and probably have guessed, since June I have struggled with the diagnosis of autism for Noah. It has broken me as a father and I live in a constant state of stress and nervousness as a result.

This really hit home for me, recently, when our family visited an autism support group’s fall festival. I was on edge the entire time waiting for Noah to be judged by the other parents. I waited for him to run away from us and have to chase him down in an unfamiliar place. I waited for him to be treated as an outside. I waited for what we’ve experienced in other places and I was on edge.

This was among people who are the most comfortable and approachable with autistic children, because they, too, are raising their own children with autism, and yet I found myself on the edge. Just imagine, then, how I am in other situations and settings.

I live waiting for Noah to have a meltdown, for onlookers to stare at us when Noah it happens in public, and for people to distance themselves from us because it is easier to ignore someone than to engage them. I’m not saying this is good, but I am saying this is where I’ve been for some time now.

What I have recognize is how easy it is for us to hide from what we are truly dealing with. It is easy to respond to questions of “How are you doing,” with a simple “I’m fine,” even when we are not, because we just want to be nice. We seldom let people in to how we are feeling or how we are handling life’s challenges.

Perhaps it is to our own weakness. I wonder how much more honest and open our communities would be if we were able to be transparent with one another without fear of someone judging us, distancing themselves from us, or offering a thousand words of advice without ever really hearing what we’ve said.

I truly believe there would be more understanding of challenges that we all deal with if we were truly able to live in communities where it was appropriate and healthy to share how we feel. If we truly want to value community, as is one of our values at Ogden Memorial, then it means creating places where people can be their true self and not just the self we present to one another in polite society. True Christian community offers space for pain, struggles, and, yes, weakness, so that we can share our burdens with one another.

Christ calls us to lean on one another, and so my prayer is that we will be that for one another here at Ogden Memorial. Imagine what a difference our corner of our community and world would be if we lived out as a community that was willing to share with each other our true struggles in love.

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Our Values: Foundational Principles for Ogden Memorial

Today is the first day of school in Caldwell County. This has been a day, personally, I’ve been looking forward to for some time since it is Noah’s first day in kindergarten.

The fact schools are back in session reminds me of my educational experiences in Raleigh County Schools in West Virginia. Each of my teachers invested in my life. They sought to teach me how to write, read, and understand the world we live in. I am who I am because of the teachers who invested in me.

Most importantly, though, my teachers tried to instill within me values that would define who I am. Values like treating my classmates with respect, living with kindness, and being patient. Those values are still important to me some 30 years later.

When we think of values our minds go to the core foundational principles that define who we live and interact with others. They are what inspire our words and actions even when we are not aware of them.

Christ calls us to claim values in our journey together. Values that serve as an outflow of our relationship with the Lord and define how we live out our love of God. We see our values being expressed through the Beatitudes, Jesus’ prayers, ministries, and common life with his believers. Jesus often called us to go and do likewise. We follow in the footsteps of Christ by taking on the same values and core principles we see reflected in Jesus as an aspect of who we are in Christ’s love.

Throughout 2018, our vision team has been working with me in prayerful conversations about the values that define our common life at Ogden Memorial. I am appreciative of Sara Brown, Jae Englebright, Elaine Overhults, Mary Rohrer, and Emory Spradlin for their dedication and work. They have blessed me with their prayers, laughter, and desire to see the church come alive.

We began our work with a focus on our values, first, because we wanted to set our mind on common principles that define who we are at Ogden. Values that are unchanging. We recognize that leaders may change, ministries may change, pastors may change, but the values of a community are constant. They define our work and how we live out our purpose of loving God and making disciples.

Together we discerned five core values that will define our work moving forward at Ogden Memorial. They are: love, discipleship, prayer, worship, and community. We believe these are values best described how God is leading us forward at Ogden Memorial. Each of the values have statements that were written by members of the team in collaboration with one another.

Beginning September 2, you will hear more about how these values will shape our mission together during worship. Members of the vision team will share about the values and the sermon will reflect on their meaning and purpose for our shared life together. We will celebrate our values on September 30 with a potluck following worship.

Our values. That is what they are. These are the values God has blessed us with to define our relationships with one another and ministry with our community.

I believe, as I have always, that Ogden Memorial is sleeping giant waiting to come alive with fruitful and vibrant ministry. These values and the work of the church coming together to get to this point are a positive step towards that direction.

I’m excited about what is next for Ogden Memorial. I hope you are, as well.

Sermon: True Christian Community

This was one of those weeks that brought forth all the emotions of life out of me. I’ve been sad. I’ve been happy. I’ve been nervous. I’ve been pleased. I’ve been anxious. And I’ve been relaxed. That seems to be the state of a Methodist pastor during General Conference season.

If you followed my posts or seen the news, this week, our tradition of faith has seen better days. The world unfortunately saw us at our worst. We focused on our divisions between conservatives and progressives. We became disinterested in doing ministry together. We lost our way. Yet, in the news of the discord over issues that have defined our nation – such as human sexuality, which we will talk in more detail about on Wednesday – came word that approximately 70 percent of our congregations did not have a profession of faith or a baptism in recent years.

We are a church that is struggling. We are a church that has lost its purpose. We are a church that is dying. Continue reading

The Apostles: Where Are You Looking?

We continue, today, our journey through the Books of Acts by picking up right where we left off last week. To refresh your memory, we looked at how Jesus called the Apostles, the group who had followed him throughout his earthly ministry, to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit. We even said there are times when we need to wait on God as we go out to share the message with others.

We pick up the story still as the Apostles and Jesus are still in Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus is giving his final instructions, but he is preparing to leave them soon. This Sunday, which we affectionately call Mother’s Day, is, this year, also the day we celebrate as Ascension Sunday. It focuses on an event 40 days after Easter when Jesus ascended to heaven to return to his place at the right hand of God the Father. This day anticipates the celebration of Pentecost, which is next Sunday, when we will celebrate the church’s birthday when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles.

For now, we are on the mountaintop receiving these last words from Jesus. He tells them that they will receive power from God and that they would be the witnesses of God’s love to all people. And then he ascends into the clouds.

After this moment, the Apostles cannot help but to stare into the sky looking at the clouds. Maybe they are thinking to themselves that the cloud is a sign of both the heavenly realm and God’s presence. But, most likely, the Apostles are staring into the clouds waiting for Jesus to return. Continue reading

Sermon: How Do We Respond?

In my office, I have a list of sermon topics for the next few weeks. Topics that have been prayed over and approached with a hope of seeking what God desires to say to us for that specific Sunday. That list has sermon topics and passages through the end of the summer.

Sometimes, though, plans need to change. Today is one of those Sundays. If all things were the same, we would continue our series on the “Life of David” by looking at the story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17. We would have marveled at David’s ability to defeat Goliath and, perhaps, say something about how God enables us to overcome the overwhelming challenges we face.

That would have been a nice message, but it would not be appropriate for this Sunday. We’ll get back to David next week, but for now I think it is important for us to reflect upon the events of this past week.

On Wednesday evening, nine people were killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., following a Bible study. Among the dead were pastors, parents, and people who had their whole life before them. The accused shooter, Dylan Roof, has been arrested. In the days since the shooting stories have come out that suggest this was a targeted event because of their ethnicity. Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: Hope That Comes With Us

There are some things that frustrate me. You know what I mean? Things just that just make me want to groan in agony.

You want to know what frustrates me? That we spend so much of our time belittling someone, because they do not look like us or share our same opinions, or they go about things in a different way than we would like. That frustrates me.

When I look at all the violence that exists in our world. When I think about the violence that exists in our streets. That frustrates me.

When I think about the drug problem in our Commonwealth. When I think about the struggles families experience trying to make ends meet or get out of debt. When I think about how families spend so much time in the rat race of schedules. That frustrates me.

When I think about the state of the church and the statistics that show the decline of Christianity in the United States. When I think about the fact that for someone to be considered an average attender in worship that they only need to be in church two times a month. When I think about the fact that people think they no longer need God or church. That frustrates me. Continue reading

The Story of Exodus: Love God … Love Others

Ten words. Ten statements. Ten Commandments.

No study of the Book of Exodus would be complete without taking a look at these hallmark statements, given to the people of Israel by God at Mount Sinai. These words are familiar to us. We have hung illustrations of these words on our walls. We have established much of our understanding of law and justice around these words. We have watched Charlton Heston receive these words in “The Ten Commandments.”

As familiar as we are with these words, we often wonder what they mean for us today. The commands set up questions about their application for our lives and how we should interact with them. Are they words that we are to follow? Are they marks that define our lives? Or are they words that have no bearing on life today? What are we to do with these Ten Commandments? Continue reading