June 30, 2009

6 Questions for The United Methodist Church

A large group of young clergy (under 35) have begun a campaign to ask 6 questions of the UMC in order to raise important issues about the next steps of the denomination, provide guidance for the future and shape the denomination (www.umcyoungclergy.com/6qumc, Twitter hash tag #6qumc). These questions are not just to be asked or answered by young clergy but rather is an attempt to generate conversation around the fact that the UMC denomination desperately needs young clergy if it is going to survive.

There is an online forum where you can vote on the questions being asked or even submit your own question to be voted on. A couple of the questions that I have liked so far are:

-In the Pastor of a Local Church section: "Does the gospel you preach naturally lead others to follow Jesus?"

-In the Pastor of a Local Church section: "Do you, as pastor, lead the church or just seek to maintain it?"

-In the District Superintendent section: "When recommending an appointment do you consider the non-ordained staff in the church profile? Why or Why not?"

-In the District Superintendent section: "In what ways are you using technology to communicate and be in community with the pastors in your district?"

-In the Board of Ordained Ministry: "What are we doing to help local churches and district boards better discern whether a candidate has the gifts for ordained ministry within the United Methodist Church before that candidate has made a significant investment of time and treasure?"

So I'm working on a couple questions of my own to ask but I'll let you know how that goes. If you have any questions you want to ask or think I should ask or want to ask me just let me know.

Indiana Annual Conference

So last week I had the opportunity to experience my first annual conference as a clergy member of the United Methodist Church. To be honest, this was the first annual conference I have ever experienced, clergy or otherwise. This also happened to be the very first annual conference of the new Indiana Conference of the UMC. It lasted four days from Thursday morning until concluding on Sunday morning with the Ordination and Sending into Ministry service. Besides being kind of long, the service was pretty cool.

One thing I found interesting was that the demographics were largely the same across the almost 3000 people that were in attendance and I'll just leave it at that...

My favorite part of the four days was listening to Adam Hamilton speak at the three opening sessions. I knew very little about this guy or his church and was expecting him to be a giant dork but he actually seemed to be pretty cool. I think he had some good things to say in regards to leadership, preaching and what is going to happen to the UMC if things don't change. He shared some statistics that provided a much needed slap in the face or hopefully a wake-up call at least. I think I would be safe in saying that a number of churches, denominational and non-denominational, need to take a step back and evaluate how "church" is being done.

June 26, 2009

While I Was Away...

I know it has been over a week and for those of you who keep coming back expecting something new, my sincerest apologies but rest easy, I'm back. In the past 10 days I:

-Finished up and turned in my 5 essays that were due today for the Church History 1 class I took down at Asbury last week.
-Annual Conference for the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church began yesterday on the campus of Ball State Univ. in Muncie, IN. The conference lasts 4 days and involves lots of sitting and bald dudes.
-We continue to work on our house in hopes that some day this summer we might actually be able to paint it.
-The office move is still in progress. This is literally the 5th time I have moved from one office to another while on staff at Castleton.
-Ended up buying a new car. Well, when I say "new" I really mean a 2007. Ended up getting a Saturn VUE...never saw that one coming.

I know you don't really care about all of that but you might care about some of the things that have happened over the past week or so. A couple thoughts I had on some of those things in no particular order...

1. Gov. Sanford...really?!? You're not serious? You have got to be kidding me, this continues to be absolutely ridiculous. I had just posted a blog talking about this very issue of horrible "leaders" in regards to a fellow politician of yours. At what point are leaders going to learn from the mistakes of other "leaders" and actually step up to the plate and lead? Quit causing people to be suspicious and untrusting of those of us who are attempting to legit leaders.

2. Piggybacking off of that one, I wish people would STOP CHEATING! Seriously, stop cheating on your spouse, your family, your faith, yourself. Stop cheating at work, at school, in church, at home, online, wherever. JUST STOP IT!! Take a minute to stop and realize that regardless of how good cheating might make you feel or how sneaky you think you are it will only leave you empty. When we cheat, we make it all about you and me and eventually that will really suck. We will never find true fulfillment or satisfaction in ourselves and until we realize that, the empty feeling we feel after endulging ourselves will become all too familiar.

3. RIP Michael Jackson. Talk about random, on my levels than one. I was sad to hear that he passed away, despite the fact that his personal life got a little strange. I'm not going to lie, I've been jamming to some of his classics as a sort of tribute. A couple of my favorites of his are: Billie Jean, Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', The Way You Make Me Feel and of course Thriller. Whether you liked his music or not you can't deny the boy could sing back in the day of the Jackson 5. Now that is some classic Motown.

4. RIP Farrah Fawcett. Bummer that she passed away. I know little to nothing about her or her career other than she was on Charlie's Angels. I will say that I feel bad that her death was completely overshadowed by that of MJ's.

That's about all for now. If I missed something over the past week let me know. It's good to be back.

June 17, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

I am sick of hearing about "leaders" that keep getting caught in extramarital affairs. Seriously, it's gotten to the point where it is just ridiculous. Regardless of political affiliation or profession, these individuals who find themselves in positions of leadership, prominence and popularity and proceed to make choices that disgrace, hurt and deceive the people they love and lead is shameful. We read of another example of this, a GOP Senator from Nevada admitted to having an extramarital affair with one of his staff members (who also happened to be married) for a number of months while she worked for him. Mr. Ensign is certainly not the first on this long list of "leaders" who have failed to actually lead.

Now, I may be coming across as harsh but to be honest, I am intending to be and here's why:

1. As someone who is studying leadership at the graduate level and is attempting to be an effective leader to those I lead...I am frustrated at how little respect these "leaders" have for the positions of leadership they find themselves in. The more I study leadership I realize it has more to do with the people being lead than the one doing the leading. In my opinion, the self-centeredness of these individuals excludes them as true leaders.

2. I completely understand that no one is perfect or without sin. I understand that we all face a variety of temptations on a daily basis, some of which we cave to. I also understand that a leader is called to higher expectations, that's what makes him or her a leader. If leaders lived and worked without these higher expectations than what would make them leaders? One of the reasons that you and I are willing to follow people who lead is because we expect more from them. I want to follow someone who is trying to do it better than me, not worse or really even the same. When you and I decide to take positions of leadership, we must understand that we are agreeing to live and work with a set of expectations that are higher than those we lead. That is part of the responsibility of being an effective leader.

3. I'm not naive enough to think that extramarital affairs don't happen everyday in this country. Sure, it might not be a new one that starts but I can guarantee there are plenty that keep going. That is NOT COOL! Regardless of whether you are in a position of leadership, prominence or popularity it is flat out wrong. What comes up HUGE in situations like that is the grace and forgiveness that is available through Jesus Christ, for both the leader and non-leader. However, in my humble opinion, when a "leader" decides to be involved in an extramarital affair they effectively stop leading. They have forfeited the privilege and responsibility of leading others. Grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ is equally available to them as well and I also believe that we as followers of Jesus are commanded to forgive them BUT that does not mean they should be allowed to continue in their position of "leadership". I have to forgive as Jesus forgives but I don't have to let you lead, possibly ever again.

My last point, I promise...
4. As I've read a little about this recent fallen "leader" and saw something about that Jon dude from the TV show Jon & Kate + 8 I came across this article by Wendy Atterberry entitled "Is cheating ever deserved?" and just had to comment. As someone who sits down with couples in the pre-marital process, I can't even fathom coming to the conclusion that our friend Ms. Atterberry does when she says, "Cheating isn't right, but neither is emotional abuse and neglect. The bottom line is: If you push someone enough, it shouldn't be any surprise when you push him into the arms of someone else." I'm sorry Ms. Atterberry but are you serious?!? Cheating is never, ever deserved, along with any kind of abuse or neglect so why then provide this kind of 'out' for people? The rationale of, "Well, you have been neglecting me so I guess I am going to have to fill my needs with someone else." is not only lame but a cop-out and garbage! I tell couples there is this crazy thing called communication that can really make a difference in their relationship if they are willing to try it with each other. Why would you have not suggested that as an option prior to or instead of cheating? Well, at least the commenters of your article thought of it...

Use Me God: Finding Your Spiritual Gifts Week 4

Our study during Week 4 brings us to focus on three figures in Scripture who, despite their weaknesses, are used by God. We will spend some time looking at Moses in Exodus 3:1-4:17, King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30, and Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. As you spend some time with these passages consider the following...

1. Notice the concerns Moses raises with God. Do you relate with any of them? Why?
2. When it comes to your own servanthood, what are you doing that you couldn't do without the power of the Holy Spirit?
3. How easy is it for you to "play it safe"?
4. What is holding you back from boldly following the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life?

King Jehoshaphat
1. How did you feel about Jehoshaphat honesty concerning his fears?
2. How honest are you when it comes to dealing with your fears in serving others?
3. What encourages you from this story?

1. How would you explain this seeming contradiction?
2. What does this look like in your life?

Question to ponder:
How has God allowing you to deal with your weaknesses and fears impacted your faith journey?

June 16, 2009

Use Me God: Finding Your Spiritual Gifts Week 3

This past Sunday (6/14) was Week 3 of our ongoing study around the topic of spiritual gifts. Much of our discussion in class focused on how we might define a 'spiritual gift' while also listing the gifts listed in a few passages of Scripture (which you can checkout here). Bill Hybels describes spiritual gifts as, "...divine enablements -- special God-given abilities -- that he entrusts to each of his people in order to involve them in the task of advancing his purposes. Simply put, God has made you a specialist in some area of ministry."

Some thoughts from our discussion:
How would you describe a 'spiritual gift'?
-it comes easily or is easy to do for an individual
-it is a part of who you are
-it is for God's purposes
-it is the part of you that reflects Christ

What comes to mind when you hear the word priest (1 Peter 2:9-10)?
-out of reach, select, special, separation
-connection to God
-dedicated life

From the passages we spent time studying and talking about we came up with this list of gifts mentioned and instructions given:

Gifts: serving // teaching // encouraging // prophesying (here Paul is speaking in regards to the ability to speak prophetically about upcoming events) // generosity // leadership // serving // showing mercy // evangelism // administration // healing // wisdom // knowledge // miracles // speaking in tongues // interpreting tongues // distinguishing between spirits // faith

Instructions: use them to serve God and others // God supplies the power // everyone has at least one spiritual gift // each of us are unique in the combination of spiritual gifts we have // we must be patient // we must be unified // we must use them cheerfully // we have a common purpose

Take some time to go through this list of Spiritual Gifts (this list is not exhaustive) and make a note about the ones you know you have and the ones you think you might have. Feel free to ask questions or leave a comment to generate discussion. Here are a couple things to think about when considering your spiritual gifts...

1. Have there been times while serving God that felt like you were using the gift(s) He had given you exactly as they needed to be used?
2. It is possible to overlook a gift you may have or to think you have a gift you don't. One of the best ways to help figure this out is by listening to the feedback of others. Another way is by putting those gifts to practice to see how it goes. Would a trial-and-error approach to ministry be beneficial for you?

*this study has been adapted from the book Gifts: the joy of serving God by John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson & Judson Poling*

Spiritual Gifts List

This is not an exhaustive list of the Spiritual Gifts but instead will serve as a place to start in order to get an idea of the gift(s) God has given each of us to further His kingdom.

____Administration: You have the gift of understanding clearly the immediate and long-range goals of a committee, working group, or the church as a whole. You are also able to create and carry out effective plans to accomplish these goals.

____Arts and Crafts: You have the gift of using your hands, imagination and mind in the area of construction, maintenance and upkeep for the benefit and beautification of the Kingdom of God.

____Building & Maintenance: You have the gift of using your hands, imagination, and mind in the areas of construction, maintenance, and upkeep for the benefit and beautification of the Kingdom of God.

____Proclaiming the Faith: You have the gift of sharing the Good News with others in such a way that these people want to become disciplined Christians.

____Exhortation: You have the gift of providing words of comfort, consolation, encouragement and counsel to others.

____Faith: You have the gift of seeing with certain and special confidence what work God wants a person, a committee, a working group or the church as a whole to undertake. You are also able to move forward with the belief that anything is possible through God.

____Giving: You have the gift of contributing your material resources to the work of the Lord with great joy, eagerness and generosity.

____Helps: You have the gift of doing those small, but important behind-the-scenes activities, which are essential to the success of the work of the church.

____Hospitality: You have the gift of providing a warm welcome to others with food, lodging, or personal attention.

____Intercession: You have the gift of having a disciplined prayer life, which sees frequent and specific answers to your prayers.

____Knowledge: You have been blessed with the gift of discovering, accumulating, analyzing, and clarifying information and ideas.

____Leadership: You have the gift of getting people to work together to accomplish worthwhile goals.

____Mercy: You have the gift of showing compassion for those who suffer distressing physical, psychological, or financial problems.

____Music-Vocal: You have the gift of using your voice in the singing of praises and joy to the Lord.

____Music-Instrumental: You have the gift of playing a musical instrument in praise of God.

____Serving: You have the gift of identifying the unmet needs of people and doing something to meet those needs.

____Shepherding: You have the gift of being responsible for the spiritual well-being of an individual or a small group of people.

____Teaching: You have the gift of helping children or adults grow spiritually.

____Wisdom: You have the gift of having insight into and understanding of life situations. You also know what to do about them and how to do it.

____Writing: You have the gift of putting your thoughts or feelings into words in such a way that people receive courage, guidance, knowledge, or inspiration.

*adapted from Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow by C. Peter Wagner

June 15, 2009

Church History I

I find myself again at the beginning of a summer of classes. For those of you that a) don't know b) don't remember or c) don't care I am and have been (for half of my life it seems like) working on my Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY. I will be taking a total of 3 week-long intensive classes this summer, one in June, July (Technology in Ministry) and August (Church History II) with my first one starting today. I have finished my first day of Church History I and have to admit that I kind of like it up to this point. I think the combination of what seems like a good professor and my overall nerdiness makes liking a class about church history a possibility for me. So if you see me blogging or tweeting about random church history facts, you know why.

Anyways, as I was sitting in class today diligently taking notes I found myself thinking about something our prof said, "we are writing church history." This statement blew me away and humbled me all at once. The thought that what we are doing and not doing right now in the life of the Church is making history is kind of scary as well as exciting. I couldn't help but think how sweet it could be to be involved in some sort of great new chapter in the life and history of the Christian Church. What a huge responsibility and privilage. Thankfully we're not left to do this on our own, the Holy Spirit has been actively involved in the story of the Church throughout the centuries and I have no reason to think that is going to stop any time soon. Good thing because if it were left up to us, I have no doubt we would find a way to destroy it pretty quick.

June 11, 2009

"It'll All Work Out"

This has been my catch line for about as long as I can remember. I honestly believe that things will work out and the only thing I can attribute this to is the impact Christ has had on my life. I know, you read that and might say to yourself things like "How cheesy!", "That's way too Christian for me.", or "That sounds nice but is just not practical for my life or situation.". I can completely understand why you might have those thoughts because every once-in-awhile I have them too but when it comes down to it, I really do believe that things will work out.

Now, when I say "work out" I seldom know what that means or looks like exactly but trust that Christ does. It is that fact that helps me deal with situations that catch me off-guard and don't seem to make any sense. Have you ever had times when it feels like the weight of the world is trying to squeeze you into an abnormally small box? Or the odds are not in your favor and you don't see any way out of a particular situation? It's then when faith in Christ comes up HUGE! Sure worry, anxiety and stress might creep in but overall there is a peace that I am able to have that makes about as much sense as the situation itself.

In situations where we have lost all control (or what we perceived as control) what is more practical than having a "peace that transcends all understanding"(Philippians 4:7) believing "It'll All Work Out" because of Christ in your life?

It Keeps Going and Going and...

UPDATE: Well, since these pics last week I have fired the painters we hired to scrape, prep, prime and paint our house because they effectively did none of those things. After not scraping and still deciding to prime the house I told them thanks but no thanks. Two steps forward, three steps back. As a result we have had to pretty much scrape the entire house "again" and look to get some help from the place I should have gotten it from in the first place, a handful of college guys from my youth group. All of which are great guys and hard workers so I'm not really sure what I was thinking by going in another direction. Here is my chance to say 'thanks' to them for spending a few hours yesterday helping me scrape in hopes of being able to paint this weekend and show off a couple pics of our work.

June 8, 2009

Use Me God: Finding Your Spiritual Gifts Week 2

This past Sunday (6/7) was the 2nd week in our Sunday morning study entitled "Use Me God: Finding Your Spiritual Gifts" and provided some great discussion in class. We spent time discussing how easy it is to compare ourselves to others spiritually and be left feeling inadequate or frustrated. The point was also made that the comparison can take place even within ourselves as we remember other times in our life when we were more or less spiritual. It made it interesting to think about how people might view the Church when people start playing the comparison game.

We also spent time talking about the scripture passage from last week and so I thought I would share a few thoughts that were mentioned:
- Transformation is a choice. We must choose to allow the Spirit of Christ to transform us.
- "renewing of your mind" is a kind of rebirth; a new way of looking at things, a new attitude.
- "living sacrifice" is a continual surrender, not just a one time event.
- one quote from class discussion, "People need to be reminded more than taught."

Follow-up questions we were left with were:
- Is there a sin in your life that is keeping you from fully living for God?
- In what ways do you tend to disconnect your "spiritual life" from your "real life"?

This Sunday (6/14) will be the 3rd week in our Sunday morning study and will focus on: 1 Peter 2:9-10, 1 Peter 4:10-11, Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:1-13, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. I encourage you to spend some time with these passages throughout the week and consider these questions...

1. What comes to mind when you hear the word priest?
2. Spend some time looking at the gifts mentioned in the last 4 passages listed. These lists are not exhaustive but can give you an idea of some of the gifts that God may have given you. Do you feel like God has given you any of those listed in these verses?
3. Have there been times when you were serving God that felt like you were using the gift(s) He had given you exactly as they needed to be used? What did that feel like?
4. If you are not sure yet what your gifts might look like or how to use them, how beneficial might a trial-and-error approach be for you?

Feel free to comment and interact here during the week and join us on Sunday mornings as we continue our study and discussion. Don't hesitate to contact me at matt@castletonumc.org with any questions, thoughts or comments if you would rather not post here.

A Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
-Saint Francis of Assisi

June 7, 2009

Whitewater River

I had the opportunity to go on an overnight kayaking/camping trip with 4 guys who were in my youth group back in the day and are now college students. We drove to Brookville, IN and put in on the Whitewater River with 2 canoes, 1 kayak and all our gear split between the 2 canoes. We left around noon and paddled for about 14 miles and about 4hrs before we finally found the perfect campsite on an island around the bend in the river. The weather was perfect for paddling and sleeping, if you brought a sleeping bag, which 2 of the guys didn't for some reason...unfortunate since it dropped into the 40's. After a decent night's sleep, we paddled for another 5 miles or so and got picked up around 11 the next morning. Here are some pics I took with my iPhone.

Overall it was a great trip. A couple highlights were:
- Seeing a bald eagle both days and having it fly with us along the river for the majority of the morning.
- Watching one of the guys make multiple attempts at putting in his contacts in the morning. I have never seen someone use so much solution, to the point where he kept knocking it off his finger into the dirt and would then start the process all over again.
- The weather. I'm really not exagerating when I say it was absolutely perfect. Warm during the day but not hot, a nice breeze and not a cloud in the sky.
- The chance to hang out with some pretty cool guys and share some youth group memories.

June 3, 2009

Remember the Holy Spirit?

I don't know about you but I find myself not giving the Holy Spirit enough credit. More often than not I don't even think about it, let alone give it credit for stuff. It seems like we are missing out on the power and presence that is promised to those who follow Jesus through his Spirit. This is a Spirit that promises power and to empower, peace, courage, guidance, and direction. If we believe in the Triune God then we must recognize that the Holy Spirit that dwells within us is the very same Spirit that was and is God, that has been and will be for all eternity. We, I, have to start paying attention to the leading and moving of God's Spirit because it is the source of boldness, love and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7) that has the ability to transform people's lives. It is not only time to remember the Holy Spirit but live a life that responds to its leading.

The Spirit is God himself, a merciful power establishing his reign over man's heart, over the whole of man, inwardly present to man and apparent in his workings to man's human spirit.

~The Church by Hans Kung

June 1, 2009

Use Me God: Finding Your Spiritual Gifts

The class that I am teaching on Sunday mornings has just started an 8 week series I've entitled "Use Me God: Finding Your Spiritual Gifts" (I have adapted most of this from Gifts: the joy of serving God) which is going to focus on spiritual gifts: what they are, how to find yours and how to put them to use. I will be posting thoughts, readings and questions over the next couple weeks here on my blog and invite you to follow along.

This past Sunday (5/31) we spent some time discussing a couple of these questions (feel free to share your thoughts as well):

1. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person? If yes, what does that mean or look like? If no, why not?
Some thoughts that were shared in response:
-depends on the environment
-Do you think community is needed for spirituality?
-"No" because of distractions
-"Yes" when it involves reaching out to people, relationships but doesn't have to be tied to evangelism

2. Do you think being spiritual is hard or takes a lot of work?
Some thoughts that were shared in response:
-it takes dedication and discipline

3. Do you have a clear picture of the kind of life you'd live if you were to be more spiritual?
Some thoughts that were shared in response:
-be more disciplined
-more of what God wants and less of what we want
-live more by faith

Spend some time with Romans 12:1-2 throughout this week and think about these questions...
1. Why is it so critical for you to know and trust the goodness of God in order to fearlessly offer up a "use me" prayer?
2. Paul urges us to "present" or "offer" our bodies, what do you think about this?
3. What does it mean for you to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind"?
4. What struck you as you read the words "living sacrifice"?
5. In what ways do you tend to disconnect your "spiritual life" from your "real life"?
6. What is keeping you from being fully used by God?

A Little Bit Closer

So the painters came out today and somehow, some way, were able to scrape and prime our house in about 4hrs. Needless to say I'm a little anxious to see how this is going to look when it's done. The blue we are going with is much darker so don't freak out, we had the primer tinted as you can clearly see.

Before we got to this point, I was finishing up getting the house ready for the painters to come out and finally decided I had to evict the freeloaders that have been living with us for 2yrs now. Little did I know there were 2 "teenagers" that were home when I came knocking and almost hit me in the face as they flew away. As you can see, they had a pretty nice pad and apparently their mom gave up on one of their siblings. But hey, at least I uncovered some detail of the house.