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.

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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.

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

God’s Vision for Claylick UMC

Last Sunday, we started to unveil God’s vision for Claylick by saying we would no longer play defense as a church. If you remember, we said that the needs of ministry and reaching out into our community calls us to take a different strategy. A strategy that calls us to be intentional about reaching out to our community, especially those who have no faith, and to offer them the hope of Christ.

But, if we are going to change strategies and take a more offensive approach then we need a game plan. We need a way forward that will guide and shape us as we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ in Salvisa, Lawrenceburg, Mercer County, and Anderson County. The vision that we will announce today is our game plan. It will serve as our focus and centering point that will enabling us to be the church that God is giving us the permission and blessing to be in our community.

Today is a new day for a church that has stood as a witness of God’s love for more than 140 years. It is a day in which we look forward and claim that we do not want to see this church struggle any longer. We are taking a leap of faith, today, claiming God’s guidance and presence as we seek to be the church for all people in our area.

First, a little back story in how we reached this point. The process of crafting a new vision for the church began shortly after I arrived at Claylick last year. In conversations with many of you and in our ice cream socials, one of the common refrains I heard was that we wanted to see this church continue and grow, but that we do not have anything that was truly guiding us in those efforts. We were a church without a vision other than we have always been here.

In January, we assembled a group of people to come together for an intentional process of loving, learning, and leading together while dreaming about our church’s future and purpose. One of our guiding principles, which we adapted from the authors of Church Unique, was that Claylick United Methodist is uniquely gifted and talented by God to bless our community. We believe God has not created us to be a copy of another church in our area or to cut and paste the programs of another successful rural congregation. We are uniquely placed, with our gifts and talents, to make disciples of Jesus Christ to change our community.

Our work focused on what makes Claylick a hidden treasure in our area. We set out on an endeavor to highlight our strengths and talents. A vision that focuses only on strengthening our weaknesses will not work. It will only frustrate us. A vision that is guided by what we do well will enable us to be the church God has called us to be. God has given us talents, strengths, and blessings to be a place of hope and grace in our community.

So, what is our vision? After months of prayer and discussion, we believe that our vision is this: Claylick United Methodist Church exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ by loving and serving our community. This is the life and calling we believe God has uniquely placed this church to be about in Salvisa and Lawrenceburg. Two words are prominent in this vision. They are loving and serving. They are there for a reason. We believe these are the strengths and talents that God has blessed us with here. It is out of these strengths and talents, through this vision, that we will imitate the very character of God in our lives and in this church.

See, Paul tells us in our passage from Ephesians 5:1-2 that we are all called to imitate God as children of God. Paul identifies our relationship with God in familial terms. When we accept the free gift of Christ’s grace, then we become part of God’s family. We become God’s very own children. Paul writes that within this family we are called to imitate God. That is that we are called to have our life reflect the very nature and character of the Father’s nature and character.

It is tempting to see Paul words only as a reflection of how we as individual followers of Christ are called to live. We are to be people who reflect God’s grace, peace, and love. Yet, Paul calls all of us as a collective body of Christ to have as our guiding force – as our vision – to be the hands and feet of Christ. As a church, we desire a faith that produces an abundance of love and opportunities to bless our community that it is an outflow of our basic DNA.

Truly, love and service is part of the DNA of our church. It is how we have, through the decades, sought to express God’s love and seek to be a reflection of the Lord’s light in our community. As we seek to set forth in a deeper and more intentional way of loving and serving, we are called to claim the life of Christ to be what guides us as we seek to be known by our love and service beyond the walls of our church. We do not want our own ideas of how to love and serve be what guides us. We want the very character and example of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

Let’s focus a little more intently on those two key words of love and service, because it is only when we imitate the very life of Christ will we truly live out the vision God has given us. Think about the kind of love Jesus shows us. Jesus came to this world out of love for all people. A love that was not just reserved for the acceptable people, but a love that was available unconditionally to all people. A love that was offered to you and me, even with our unacceptable moments, unconditionally.

One of my favorite stories of Jesus showing unconditional love is the calling of Matthew. We often see this as a story of Jesus filling out the roster of his 12 Apostles, but it was much more than that. Jesus engages the very worst of society and invites a representative of society’s worst aspects to join him in a relationship of growth, discipleship, and love. See, Matthew was a tax collector and a tax collector, in Jesus’ days, might be akin to a violent offender today. The religious elites said people like Matthew were not to be associated with, because they would take more than their fair share from the people. They were to be ridiculed and considered as an outcast in society. Jesus did not believe this was an example of the Father’s love. He invited Matthew to come with him and to be part of the journey as a witness of the Father’s true love.

Jesus didn’t judge Matthew. He didn’t try to prove why faith was important through a recitation of the most memorable 10 or so passages of Scripture. He simply loved Matthew enough to want to spend more time with him, and through that time with him Matthew got to see and experience Jesus’ grace, light, and love.

That is the kind of love we are called to share. Claylick UMC, through our love, will be a place where people are not judged, a place where all people are accepted regardless of their background, and will have a place to join us on a journey of faith. We will be a place that will express the same kind of love and compassion that Jesus showed as we share the hope of Christ with all people. We will love out of humility and a desire to get to know people who need to know that God loves them and that we love them. We will be a place of unconditional love for all people.

We will also be a place that seeks to serve our community through our gifts. By serving God through our service in the community, we want to be the light of Christ that people see through our gifts of prayer, witness, service, and presence in people’s lives. We want people to see Jesus at work in their life through the ways that we can be a blessing in the places where people are hurting. The ways that we will be a blessing to our community, through our gifts, are not done for our own glory. It is not about us. The ways we will bless our community is ultimately about offering a sacrifice through the expression of our faith that is pleasurable to God and gives the Lord glory.

Again, a story of Jesus’ ministry gives us the example of what this kind of service to be a blessing to those in need may look like. Here I think about the compassion Jesus showed the woman who had been bleeding for several years. His very presence healed her and gave her a new hope and life. Jesus gave her a bit of himself so she could experience something better than what she was experiencing. Our acts of service and generosity are to do just that. We want to be a presence of blessing, through various ways, to offer people a new hope. Jorge Acevdeo writes that this kind of service is about bringing people “out of the hell” that they are experiencing.

Claylick UMC will be known as a place that makes disciples of Jesus Christ by our unconditional love and our desire to be a blessing to others through our service. This is a work that begins today, but it is not finished today. There is much work to be done to live into this vision. Our vision will be the model and focus point for the mission that will take place here. Your surveys are a first step in the dreaming process of imaging what mission and ministries are needed for Claylick to be a place of love and service. Once we know the mission that will be needed, we’ll focus on the plans and steps that it will take to get there. Today is one point in a process of seeing Claylick be the church God has called us to be.

Yet, from this point forward there can be no looking back. Everything we do as a church must be defined by our vision to make disciples of Jesus Christ in our community by our love and service. If it does not, then we need to begin to have serious conversations about whether or not those aspects of the church are needed. To be honest, there will be things that will need to come to an end and new opportunities in their place for us to live out this vision.

This vision cannot just be a statement. It must be what defines our desire to be children of God, as people and as a church, who imitate God’s love and compassionate service. A vision that is not lived out is simple a statement on a wall that signifies nothing and does not change the hearts and minds of the people of our community.

For this vision to become a reality, though, it will take all of us working as one. I cannot emphasize this enough. We must be one church, one community, unified by our desire to love all and serve the people in our community. We must be a church that, through our gifts and talent, desire to reach out to the unchurched and unwelcome to show love and grace.

My friends, Claylick UMC stands at an important juncture in its history. The vision that God has given us, I believe, will enable us to make a difference in the lives of so many. So, let us join together, and work as one, to be a people who seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ by loving and serving our community.

This is who we are. Let it be what defines our future in the name of Jesus Christ.

Do We Take Sports Too Seriously?

I’m a sports fan.

For anyone who knows me this isn’t much of a shocking statement to start a column. I make no secrets about my loyalties to West Virginia University, the St. Louis Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers, the Carolina Hurricanes, and a random collection of athletes from multiple disciplines of athletic competitions. I’ve been around sports almost my entire life, either as a fan, a participant, or a writer.

What I enjoy most about sports is the competition of determining the better team on a given day. I would say the thrill of victory, but in my playing days … I didn’t get to experience that one too often. (I’m the spitting image of a benchwarmer if there ever was one.) To be honest, sports isn’t just about what we see on the fields of play. It is also about the commodore that exists between friends and fans in celebrating their teams accomplishments and, of course, reminding Cubs fans that they have already been eliminated from World Series competition.

There is a lot to love and enjoy about sports.

However, I wonder if sometimes we, myself included, take our passion for sports too far. Sometimes it seems that our enjoyment of athletic competition is almost a worship experience where the quality of our day (or life) is determined by what happens on the field. Indeed, sometimes it seems that sports, especially in North America, is the god we chose to worship and obey.

We treat our coaches and players like saviors who will redeem our lives through athletic success. Every fan base has their sacred coaches and players. Those individuals who are talked about with reverence and awe for their accomplishments. While there is certainly nothing wrong with respecting and admiring the contributions of an important player or coach, sometimes our response to these individuals borders on making them an idol and treating them as if they have redeemed our existence. They made our lives better because they came to our team or won a big game. I think about here in Kentucky and John Calipari who is treated as almost like a savior among some in the Kentucky fan base since arriving in 2009. I also think about other individuals such as Nick Saban or Bear Bryant at Alabama and Oliver Luck at West Virginia who are also treated as saviors among their fan bases. We make these individuals our gods who can do no wrong in our eyes (as long as they remain with our team, of course).

But, we also worship our teams by allowing their wins and losses to determine how we will live. This is because we become completely identified by our teams and their successes. The team becomes engrained in our personalities. Instead of sports being a hobby or a release from the world, sports becomes an unhealthy passion where everything is determined by how a certain team plays. Take for instance the Alabama fan who believers their life is now improved because the Crimson Tide has won another national championship or the Florida fan who cannot get over his team’s performance in the Sugar Bowl. Of course, this isn’t the only way we identify with sports. We also identity so much with our teams that we treat the opposing fan base as the enemy and someone not to be treated with respect. Sometimes we take a joke too far and denounce anyone who would dare root for the rival team. Think about Harvey Updyke, an Alabama fan, who allowed his worship of Alabama to allow him to allegedly destroy a landmark on Auburn’s campus. Every fan base has individuals who are too committed to a team and their performance.

When sports becomes our god or starts to take on godlike qualities in our lives, we, especially followers of Christ, need to take a step back and reflect on why it is that we enjoy sports and what they mean to us.

One of the big things that we need to remember is that it is just a game. It does not determine my life if West Virginia loses to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. I can be unhappy that the team lost and even frustrated the defense failed to show up, but I have to be willing to recognize that it is just a game. It cannot determine how I will live or interact with others. I must be willing to, in a way, leave what happens on the field so that it doesn’t affect how I live and interact with others.

To do that, however, we all have to be willing to put sports into perspective. We have to remember that following sports is a hobby and cannot determine everything about us. Sure, enjoy sports and everything about them, but we have to be willing to draw a line between what is acceptable and what is dangerous to our faith, especially as Christians. The moment that sports feels like worship and becomes too engrained into who we are then we have a problem that needs to be addressed.

Sports are fun and enjoyable. It is a great way to relax and step away from the stresses of the world. However, we must be careful how we view sports, especially if we begin to worship our teams as they are our god.

The Kentucky-Louisville Rivalry: Seeing Our Sporting Enemy as Our Neighbor

This week, I have gained a new level of appreciation for Switzerland.

For centuries, Switzerland has claimed neutrality and refused to get involved in many of the wars that dominated Europe, such as World War I and World War II. Switzerland has maintained political neutrality since 1515 , which was internationally recognized at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Even when wars surrounded the tiny country, Switzerland maintained its desire for neutrality.

I’m not sure how representatives from Switzerland would have enjoyed being in Kentucky this week. The commonwealth is in a state of manic frenzy with the anticipated Final Four match-up tomorrow featuring bitter rivals Kentucky and Louisville. It’s a classic rivalry being played on a big stage featuring two schools that do not like each other, two coaches who do not like each other, and two groups of fans who have little respect for the other.

Everyone is focused on this game and battle lines are being drawn. A wrong word at a dialysis center could lead to a fight and the wrong allegiance could lead you to not having as many friends at work.

No one is beyond being impacted by this rivalry. That includes a certain pastor and blogger who just wants to see a good game.

This happened the other day when three individuals approached the parsonage seeking my support for a local candidate running for office. At the end of the conversation, one of the individuals looked at my shirt and said, “You need to change your shirt!”

What is this … high school? Am I going to have to turn my shirt inside out now?

For the record, my crime of fashion was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals shirt. This isn’t the first time I’ve been scolded for wearing a Cardinals shirt, and not always be Reds or Cubs fans. There have been a few Kentucky fans, throughout my time in the state, who have seen my shirt and believed I was supporting their enemy.

Sports rivalries bring out the worst in us. I’m not discounting myself in this. I am just as guilty. During a time in my life that I am not proud of, I have told a few Pittsburgh fans what they could eat for lunch. In recent years, I have told my wife that if our future children decide to attend Pittsburgh that I am not going to pay their tuition. (Now, of course I will pay for their education. I will just wear my WVU gear to their graduation.)

Sports are meant to be fun and entertainment, yet we often take our passion for our teams to an unhealthy level of obsession. When we reach obsession level, it distorts our ability to perceive reality clearly. The fan is no longer just a person who is equally passionate about their team as we are of ours, but, instead, they are the enemy. They are not our neighbor, but they are a representation of the thing we hate the most. Even worse, we will close the potential for relationships simply because someone wears the other teams colors.

This is true anywhere where our obsessions reach a point where we can longer see clearly the love of God that exists in the other person. For example, our obsession for our favorite political party of ideology can blind us to seeing the humanity of our political opponent. Even our loyalty to our country can blind us to the wrongs our country has committed throughout the years.

Obsessions are blinding and prevents us from being our true selves. It is only when we have true perspective about the things that matter can we get beyond our need to lead obsession-dominated lives. As followers of Christ, we must remind ourselves that we are all created in the image of God and that we are called to love our neighbor. Jesus connected the love of neighbor not just to our friends, but also to our enemies. If we are to connect that message to the world of sports, we are to see that true Christian love is to extend hospitality and grace to the person wearing a different team jersey than we do.

This is difficult to do, because in the heat of the moment the last thing we want to do is be hospitable to the other team. We want to express our anger and frustration, and we don’t always think first in those moments. In the heat of the moment, when we think we are about ready to say something we will regret later, take a breath and think about it. Would what you say to the person wearing a Kentucky shirt or Louisville shirt (or a Pittsburgh shirt) reflect the glory of Christ? Even more, if Jesus was wearing the other team’s colors what would you say?

Ultimately, some perspective is key. Regardless of who wins on Saturday, the Commonwealth of Kentucky will come out a major winner. A Kentucky school will play, Monday night, for the NCAA championship for the first time since 1998. Also, the Kentucky-Louisville game has provided more than $5 million in free advertising to the state.

That is something for all of us who call Kentucky home to be proud of and rejoice in.