The Nativity: Joseph

The Nativity: Joseph

Perhaps like many of you, we took time over the Thanksgiving weekend to decorate our home for the Christmas season. It began with my usual decorating the outside walkways with candy canes. It continued with putting up my beloved Christmas village. We put up our tree with ornaments we’ve collected over the years, and we put up our Nativity set.

We have several Nativity sets in our home and in my office. My favorite is actually the one that is not the most appealing. It is one that currently sits in my office. It is a small painted set that I got at a White Elephant Christmas party years ago. When it came to me and my turn to trade it or keep it, I actually went against the custom of trading and kept the set. Why? Because at the time I didn’t have a Nativity set of my own and it was quirky enough that I felt it and I would be a good match.

Nativity sets, no matter what they are or look like, are treasured decorations each Advent and Christmas season. They combine all the elements of the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke to give us an artistic rendering of the scene. The descriptions we have from Scripture do not take place with all the characters – Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds, angels, and the Magi –being there together at the same time. So, there is artistic liberty taking place in many of our sets, and we can appreciate how they invite us to see things that are present within the stories that lead up to Jesus’ birth.

Throughout the Advent season, we are going to take a look at some of the characters that appear in our Nativity sets. We’ll share about their lives, how they came to be part of the story, and how they shape our understanding of Jesus’ birth and what it means for us today. Our journey beginswith the least known of the characters involved with Jesus’ birth Joseph. Continue reading “The Nativity: Joseph”

The Forgiving King

The Forgiving King

Last Sunday, I could not get home from worship fast enough. I had to get to my recliner, turn on my tablet, and open up Netflix. Why? Because the show “The Crown” had returned.

“The Crown” provides a dramatic telling of the Windsor family, focusing on the rise and reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Each season is its own decade, which is why there is a need for new lead actors and actresses every two seasons. The show tells the story of what many of us are fascinated with – the glitz and glamour of the Royal Family and its unusual family drama.

For many of us, the Royal Family is our only interaction with the idea of monarchy. What we see is the image of celebrity and ceremony. Yet we are captivated by it. That captivation is why 750 million people watched Prince Charles marry Diana in 1981.  It is why an estimated 2.5 billion people watched Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997. It is why more than 100 million watched William and Kate’s wedding in 2011. As a point of reference, 98.2 million watched the Super Bowl in February.

We’re fascinated with the idea of monarchy and kingship, but that fascination hinders us on a day like today. This is Christ the King Sunday. It is the final Sunday of the Christian year and one that is particularly important for our life of discipleship. This is a day to celebrate that Jesus is our King and Lord.

What does that mean? Continue reading “The Forgiving King”

Almost Doesn’t Count

Almost Doesn’t Count

One of the things I love about Fridays is catching up on some of my favorite television shows on the DVR. Abbi and I don’t often agree on shows. I am more of a documentary, drama, or slapstick comedy person, while she is more of the sci-fi, British TV, and Food Network variety. So, when I can get to the DVR it is time to play catch up, especially since one of my favorite shows is ending this season.

That is “The Good Place.” Have you ever seen that show? I find it hilarious. The show centers around a group of people who were put in the “bad place” that was disguised as the “good place.” The characters figure this out, but work together to “prove” that they actually either deserved to be in the “good place” or could do enough to earn a spot.

Getting into the “good place,” according to the show, was based on earning enough points on earth to merit the selection. Help a person cross the street … three points. Show up for work and not get distracted by the Internet … five points. Take care of someone in need … 20 points. You could also lose points for bad behavior. It was all random, but the basic idea was that you could accumulate enough points on earth to gain access to the “good place,” which was synonymous with heaven.

We snicker at the show’s premise, but I wonder how easy it is for us to live that way in our lives and faith journey. Are we trying to earn enough points to get into heaven? Read our Bible … three points. Give some money to the church … 10 points. Pay attention to the sermon and not get distracted by lunch … 50 points. Even though we boldly proclaim how Christ is the source of our salvation, how easy is it for us to think that if we do enough good, we can earn our spot in heaven? Perhaps even more, do we keep score in order to prove to others and ourselves that we are better than someone else? Continue reading “Almost Doesn’t Count”

Never Give Up

Never Give Up

I remember my ordination day like it was yesterday. It took place at the Sloan Convention Center in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the holiest Holiday Inn and convention center in operation.

Several members of my family, friends, and church members were there with us either in person in Bowling Green or watching online. I truly believe that ordination is not the blessing of God upon one person to lead the church forward, but a time to celebrate how God brings a community together to raise up one pastor. Abbi was with me on the stage, Noah was with our family in the congregation, and I was surrounded by pastors who had mentored me and Bishop Fairley. I am still humbled by that moment, being Bishop Fairley’s first ordained elder, and hearing the words as he placed his hand on my head, “Shannon, take thou the authority.”

It was a holy moment. It was also one that almost didn’t happen. You see, just a year before I almost walked away from the church and my calling. Continue reading “Never Give Up”

Seeking Deeper Discipleship

Seeking Deeper Discipleship

I teach two Bible studies each week. It is really the same Bible study that is just offered at different times, so more people can engage the Scriptures and our understanding of faith. Teaching is not something I thought I would enjoy when I entered ministry, but it has become one of my favorite things that I do each week.

What I love about Bible study with other members of the church is that I get to gather with different groups of people to talk about faith, life, and contemplate upon what does it mean to the love the Lord and live for God. I love that part of the life of faith!

One of my ministry principles when it comes to teaching is that we should not be afraid to wrestle with difficult and hard things about faith and life. I believe this leads us to a deeper faith, and discipleship, because it moves us from just accepting something at face value and to, truly, engage what it is that we believe about God, humanity, and the life of faith.

What is involved in not being afraid to deal with difficult and hard things about life and faith? Continue reading “Seeking Deeper Discipleship”

Got Faith?

Got Faith?

Over the last four months or so, we’ve gotten the chance to get to know one another. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask any pop quiz questions. Those were always terrifying for me in school.

Part of that getting to know each other process as allowed you to learn some things about me. For me, part of that has been for you to get to know some things about me, my life, as well as examine who God calls us to be through these passages that we’ve looked at together. You know I like to laugh at bad jokes and, yes, I don’t use my notes when I preach. It’s not that big of a deal.

You have seen a little bit of who I am as a pastor and leader. That is important for you to listen to, because it is easy to try to fit a new pastor into a predetermined box that is comfortable for us to understand than to pay attention to who is this pastor and why did God send them here. So, we’ve looked at some passages, and admittedly, many of them have been difficult. They are difficult, because I believe the faith in Christ calls us to engage the difficult in a way that leads to deep discipleship. They are difficult, as well, because it gives you a chance to know me and where I believe God might be leading us.

Because deep down we are all still asking this question: Who am I? That is a deeper question that goes beyond my love for bad dad jokes, sarcasm, and presidential history. It goes beyond getting to know my family, Abbi, Noah, and, now, Little Fry. It goes beyond stories about my life and little struggles. It is the deeper question of what is this pastor really about? Continue reading “Got Faith?”

Grace for All

Grace for All

Throughout my ministry, I’ve been blessed with mentors who have helped me to understand my role and the life of a pastor. These have been friends, colleagues, and mentors, both inside and outside the Wesleyan tradition, who have taken me under their arms, and helped me to see something I might not have on my own. They gave me the necessary wisdom I needed to care and serve God and others.

No matter your career of choice, we can probably all think of a mentor or friend who has helped us to navigate our jobs or the challenges of life. We need those friends to help us, to inspire us, and to keep us focus on what is before us.

That is exactly what Paul is doing in our text, this morning, from 1 Timothy 1:12-17. We’re jumping into this letter that is equal parts fascinating and controversial. It is a difficult letter to read, because we struggle with both its content and context. 1 Timothy, along with 2 Timothy and Titus, make up what we call the Pastoral Epistles. These books are a collection of letters where Paul writes the two individuals who made up the next generation of church leaders to encourage them in their ministry. Continue reading “Grace for All”