Moving Forward from 2018

The day after Election Day is always for process stories.

Why did the Democrats win the House of Representatives? Why did Republicans maintain control of the Senate? What does this mean for 2019 in Kentucky? What does it mean for the presidential race in 2020? What does it mean for (insert your favorite cause here)?

Process stories are important. They help us to understand what took place during an election, especially an election as highly contested as yesterday. Turnout was high across the nation and in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In Caldwell County, more than 50 percent of registered voters went to the polls.

I’m not as interested in who won or lost, as a follower of Christ, as I am in how we can build move forward beyond the divisions we are experiencing today. How can we move forward as the body of Christ as a response to our political realities?

I believe that is the question that is comes out of our recent conversation about having a Christ-like political engagement. If we truly are to be of Christ and live in the world, then our actions within the political realm – the words we say, the decisions we make, and the actions we take on behalf of others – must reflect the love and hope of Jesus Christ. There must be practical steps to our belief that Christ calls us to be citizens of God’s kingdom who reflect kingdom values in the world.

One of the most important things we can do is pray for our leaders. As we’ve mentioned before, praying is one of the most basic values of a disciples of Jesus Christ. In prayer we call upon God’s blessings, discernment, and wisdom to be upon the person. We are not praying for our agenda to be heard or enacted. What we do pray for is for our leaders to be protected, cared for, and to know that they are a child of God.

At the same time, though, we should be willing to engage those politically different than us. Jesus gives us the model for this. None of his core disciples came from the same background. Some were fishermen. Some were tax collectors. Some were pious. Some were zealots. What brought them together were common values and a desire to follow Jesus wherever he went.

Too often, though, our friendships are limited to those who hold the same affinities as we do. It is why we often hear this line after an election: I don’t know why (insert candidate won) none of my friends voted for them. Much of our political divisions and rhetoric would be eased, I believe, if we were willing to make friends and have conversations with those who come from different backgrounds than us.

This is true not just in the political arena. One of the most glaring divisions in America today is the urban and rural divide. I do not believe the issues and needs in these two areas of the nation are understood by those beyond those areas. That creates a situation where we talk past one another instead of with each other and, at the same time, have a battle for resources and attention. A willingness to understand comes forth from a desire to engage and converse with those from a different background.

Finally, I believe Christ calls us to keep the main thing the main thing. That is to make disciples of Jesus Christ of all nations and people. That is our most important work and a mission that we often neglect to gain the acceptance of those in political power. Our primary purpose is to make disciples who are empowered and equipped to transform their corner of the world for Christ. We are not called to make Republican Christians or Democratic Christians. We are called to be disciples who are Christ-like in our words, actions, and deeds.

We cannot get distracted by political power in absence to the mission of sharing the love of Christ.

Pray. Engage. Keep to the mission.

If the church does that, then we will lead a revival of love and care into our communities that will share the love of Christ in the midst of our divisions.

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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

Sunday Sermon: Hallowed Be Your Name

One of my favorite things about parenting is finding out about all the new things Noah can do. It seems like every week there is something new he is doing, new words he is saying, and new facial expressions that bring a smile to our faces.

Sometimes, though, I do not see these new developments. When you are around someone as often as you are your own child, you don’t always see things like how much bigger he is or other developments. That’s why I am thankful for Sunday mornings. The time before church is often when I really get to see the new developments, because many of you lovingly point them out to us. I’m thankful when you tell us that he is getting taller, or when it looks like he has a new haircut when has never had one, or that he is interacting with some of you in new ways. That is a blessing to us, and it helps us to see how our little buddy is growing. Continue reading

Sermon: Teach Us to Pray, Our Father

It was a busy time for Jesus and his disciples. Since Peter, James and John experienced a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, Jesus and the disciples were traveling with a purpose. They were on a mission to get to Jerusalem. When they get there, the disciples believe Jesus will lead a revolution to overtake the religious authorities and Roman Empire. Instead, Jesus is on a journey that will take him to the cross.

This season of Lent allows us to experience what took place on this journey. As Luke describes it, this journey to Jerusalem featured a lot of different ministry. Previously, Jesus sent out two groups of people – the 12 disciples and a larger group of followers – into the mission field. He also taught the Parable of the Good Samaritan and visited Martha and Mary.

We join the journey at a place where we will remain for this season of Lent. It is here where we find Jesus after a time of prayer. It was typical for Jesus to spend time in prayer after a time of intense ministry. The disciples listened to Jesus as he prayed. They are curious. They want to have the same kind of prayer life Jesus has. Continue reading

Soul Prayers

One of the television episodes ever, at least in my opinion, is the second season finale of “The West Wing.” The episode was entitled “Two Cathedrals” and centered on President Jed Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen, as he dealt with the presidential crisis surrounding the disclosure of his multiple sclerosis and if he would seek re-election, as well as the death of his long-time assistant, Mrs. Landingham.

Some of the episode’s most moving moments occur at the National Cathedral following Mrs. Landingham’s funeral. The part that is most interesting, for us, comes after the funeral. It is then that Bartlett talks with his chief of staff, Leo, who wants him to return to the White House. Leo wants Bartlett to focus on the final preparations for that night’s press conference where Bartlett would answer questions about his condition and possible re-election. Bartlett, instead, wants a few minutes alone in the sanctuary. Once the cathedral is cleared, Bartlett, a Catholic, begins to express his frustrations towards God. The frustrations focus on the events surrounding his life and if God was punishing him. After a few choice words spoken in Latin, Bartlett walks away from the church, in anger, and returns to the crisis at hand.

For many of us, this is a type of conversation with God we find uncomfortable. We sometimes believe that we’re not to get angry at God, even though there are plenty of examples in Scripture of saints of our faith who expressed their frustrations towards God. We want to believe that God only desires prayers of praise. Part of this is that we believe that if we have hurts, pains, or frustrations that it is an expression of “God’s will” or that we are not strong in our faith.

None of that is true. It is not God’s will for us to experience pains, frustrations, or hurts. It is not God’s will for us to experience evil. God wants us to talk to the Lord about what is going on in our soul. God can handle our pains, our hurts, and even our anger. It doesn’t make us less of a follower of Christ to share these feelings. In fact, our willingness to share and express these feelings towards God is an expression of our desire to seek after the Lord’s own heart. Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: A Prophetic Voice

There is a lot of noise in society today. There is a lot of talking in our world today. 

Just turn on the cable news networks and this becomes apparent. There is a lot of noise in our world today. Our news presentations feature a steady stream of people constantly talking at each other. This talking is presented to us as debates, when we know that it is far from it. 

What we are given is a form of loud talking that is often more about selling a point than entering into a discussion. Those who spend a lot of time talking on television often are simply wanting to defeat their opponent, give out a few talking points, and get retweeted or posted instantly. The process makes it hard to understand what is being discussed and difficult to discern the truth in the topic.  Continue reading