July 31, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I had a chance to see the latest Harry Potter movie earlier this week and while I'm guessing pretty much all of you have seen it already, I'm going to give a review of it anyways. Before I do that, it is important for you to know that I have not been following the Harry Potter series. I have not read any of the books and am not really sure if I have seen all of the movies or not. They kind of all run together for me, just like the one I saw on Monday has already done with all the other ones.

Overall I thought it was a well-made movie. For being 153mins long it did a nice job of not making me think it was 153mins long. It seemed a lot like the other HP movies I have seen with some magic stuff going on, well done computer graphics, and a lot of character/story development. I was a little disappointed by the lack of "action" in the movie and it was really a combination of this and the rather weak ending that made this movie feel like an "in-between" movie, almost as if it was simply filling space in the series. Don't forget that this is coming from a guy who knows very little about the Harry Potter series, so from that perspective, this was not really a movie that could stand on its own, unlike some of the other movies in the series. I give it a B.

July 23, 2009

Quality Over Style?

My class this week has caused me to think a lot about different aspects of worship; everything from the types of digital projectors we use to the images in our slide shows to the type of music we use in worship. All of this has made me wonder if before the 31 flavors of worship, people value quality above variety.

I know we each have our opinions of the style of worship we appreciate most but I would venture to guess that we would settle for a different style if it is done well, especially if the style we prefer is not done with the highest quality. Would you rather attend a well done X style of service as opposed to your preferred Y style done mediocre at best?

More and more people are saying that 20's & 30's are starting to prefer more traditional styles of worship, while I won't necessarily disagree with that (though I am 30 and would prefer a well done contemporary service) I'm wondering if we are seeing this apparent trend because traditional style services are "easier" to do well. Please don't be offended by that statement, what I mean by this is simply that traditional style services are much more scripted with the use of liturgy, hymns, choirs, etc. Contemporary style services tend to be much looser and more dependent upon the musicians and worship leaders in order to execute well. Am I making any sense? Seriously, tell me.

I guess the point I'm wondering if I am getting to is that people tend to attend worship services that are done well, almost regardless of their style preference. While I prefer a contemporary style of worship, there is no question in my mind that I would attend a high quality traditional service with a dynamic speaker over a mediocre contemporary service with the same speaker. I think my desire for quality trumps my preference of style.

What do you think? Am I way off base?

"Wesleyan Osmosis" Movie

So the class that I am taking this week is called Technology in Ministry with Dr. Boyd. One of our assignments was to storyboard, shoot, edit and produce a group movie project in less than a day's time. Here's what we came up with...

July 22, 2009

Use Me God: Finding Your Spiritual Gifts Week 7

Here we are at the 2nd to last week(7/26) of our study entitled "Use Me God: Finding Your Spiritual Gifts". I hope you have found it interesting and helpful over these past few weeks. This past Sunday (7/19) we took a Spiritual Gifts Survey in class and had some good discussion around the various gifts the survey said we did and didn't have. I have plenty of copies of the survey if you would like to take it and didn't get a chance, just let me know (matt@castletonumc.org).

Here are some things to be looking at and thinking about over the next couple days in preparation for our class on Sunday (7/26).

Matthew 7:21-23
1. Would you call these people fruitful based on their activities?
2. What are these people missing?
3. Is it possible that you are doing stuff for God but aren't connected to Him?

John 15:1-8
1. What does it look like for you to "abide in Christ"?
2. Are you?
3. What does the pruning Jesus mentions in vs. 2 look like in your life?

Psalm 1:1-3
1. How often do you "delight" in God's Word?
2. Are you using this as a way to abide in Christ?

Some things to think about...
Over the past month, have you grown or declined in:
1. Love toward God and others
2. Joy regardless of the situation
3. Peace with your set of gifts and where you use them
4. Patience in the face of frustrations
5. Kindness in affirming and encouraging others
6. Generosity in willing to go the extra mile
7. Faithfulness in doing what you said you would do
8. Gentleness in listening to others
9. Self-control in being a team player

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and questions.

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

July 20, 2009

Secular Music in Worship

I find myself down in Wilmore, KY for another class at ATS during the second summer session. This week my class is Technology in Ministry and looks to involve video editing, digital photography, photo editing and powerpoint work. Those are the practical aspects of the class, the philosophical aspect of the class involves a discussion around the effective use of technology in a worship service setting. It looks like we will be wrestling with questions of when, where and how things like video clips, music and slides can help create an atmosphere of worship.

The very first example Dr. Boyd used in class this morning was a slide show using the lyrics of a Paul Simon song entitled "Slip Slidin' Away". Of course I know who Paul Simon is and actually I like his stuff but I must admit that I had never heard this song before this morning but that is beside the point. I found it interesting that he chose to use a "secular" song as his first example for us, which played right into something I have been thinking about for a while now...should secular songs be used in worship services?

If you don't know this about me, you should know that I like music a lot. To the point that it becomes annoying for some people around me because I have music playing almost constantly. I am also a self-proclaimed music critic which has led me to avoid the majority of "contemporary Christian" music. I tend to think it's just not very good. Having said all of that, I believe that God can and does use "secular" and "Christian" music to connect with people in one way or another but am still working through the use of "secular" music in a worship service setting. I'm not saying I'm for or against it just yet, just that it seems like surely there has to be enough decent "Christian" music out there to use instead.

I guess I'm not sure that when unchurched visitors join us in our worship services and hear songs from Hootie & The Blowfish, The Beatles or Three Dog Night they leave thinking they experienced the presence of God, just attended church and/or plan on coming back. Sometimes it is easy for me to make a connection between a particular "secular" song and God but that's coming from someone who has an established relationship with Jesus, what about the person who is unfamiliar with church, God or His Son?

I'm not convinced either way at this point but would certainly love to hear what you think.

July 14, 2009

Hurry Up and Wait

Patience is a virtue...blah, blah, blah. I have a hard time waiting. I'm sure some of this has to do with the consumer focused, instant gratification type of society we live in here in the U.S. but I bet some of it has to do with me as well. I tend to be someone that wants things now, almost to the point where today isn't soon enough. I like change, it doesn't bother me and I find it spices things up a bit but I have a hard time waiting for it. Or even when things are hard I would rather face it, deal with it and move on. The thought of waiting around to see how things are going to play out can drive me mad.

This morning I was reading something from Carlo Carretto, who's writings I have just recently discovered, and it made me think about patience in a new way. I think I'm moving toward the conclusion that we were made to have an attitude of patience, of being willing to wait. Carretto says it much better, "We must assume an attitude of waiting, accepting the fact that we are creatures and not Creator. We must do this because it is not our right to do anything else; the initiative is God's, not ours."

I'm not sure I would say this is life changing for me but it might be. So often I am quick to see or make things happen to the point of stressing myself out when it seems like life would be so much more enjoyable if I would simply wait. I am the created, not the Creator and so I have no business worrying about making things happen before their time. I must simply wait and in those times of waiting come to know God.

"Be still, and know that I am God"
Psalm 46:10

July 9, 2009

Use Me God: Finding Your Spiritual Gifts Week 6

We continue our study on Spiritual Gifts this Sunday (7/12) and will be spending time talking about what it is that motivates you and I to serve God by taking a look at Galatians 3:1-3; Luke 10:38-42; Matthew 23:5-7; and Acts 6:1-4, 7. Take some time over the next couple days to look over these passages and questions in preparation for our time together this weekend.

Galatians 3:1-3
1. What was the issue here?
2. Does your motivation to serve come from a mind-set of grace or performance?

Luke 10:38-42
1. How would you describe the difference between Mary's and Martha's interactions with Jesus?
2. Do you think it is possible to do "Christ-like" things without actually being Christ-like?
3. Is it possible to do too many "good" things?
4. How how easy is it for you to avoid getting lost in the busyness of doing "good" things?

Matthew 23:5-7
1. What is it that is motivating the Pharisees?
2. Is this ever a motivation for you?

Acts 6:1-4, 7
1. What happens when people serve outside their gifts?
2. Why is it that 20% of people do 80% of the work, even if that means they must serve outside their gifts? Or worse, keeps them from serving within their gifts?

For further thought...
-Jesus' ministry lasted not more than 3yrs and yet he needed rest, what does that say to you about your need for rest over a lifetime?
-One a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the best): I am serving in an area that best fits my gifts? I am doing the things I need to do to find rest?

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

July 8, 2009


What kind of lifestyle do you lead? I think this question has the ability to be one that is gut wrenching-ly difficult or one that can be answered somewhat flippantly. My guess is it becomes the former if we take the time to truly examine the kind of life we lead; the things we do, the things we say, the things we value, the way we spend our money, our time, our energy. All of these contribute to the type of lifestyle you and I live on a daily basis.

It seems like, at least to me, the best type of lifestyle to lead is one that focuses on the lives of others first. It really is to everyone's advantage to live a life in this way because it moves the emphasis of my life off of me and on to the needs and concerns of others. What I think this looks like on its most basic level is a lifestyle modeled after that of Jesus. Isn't that really what Christians should be striving for in the first place?

The benefits of a life trying to imitate Jesus are obvious as the things we do, the things we say, the things we value, the way we spend our money, our time, and our energy are all directed by the way Jesus would use those things...for others. It's a win-win for everyone involved: for those whose needs and concerns we are trying to meet and for ourselves because it's in those moments of selfless service that we find true fulfillment and joy.

July 6, 2009

"Freedom Fries"

A sermon I gave yesterday (7/5/09) at our Sunrise Campus.
So we are starting a series entitled “All American Ideas” and the best title I could come up with was “Freedom Fries”. It really has little to do with what I want to talk about this morning other than the idea of freedom, and specifically freedom in Christ. When I was told what the series was going to be and knowing that I would be preaching on Independence Day Weekend, "Freedom Fries" was the cheesiest (no pun intended...get it? cheese fries) title I came up with so I decided to go with it. Ok, enough about cheese fries...err, I mean "Freedom Fries"...I want to ask you a couple questions before we jump in:

How many of you need to be in control or feel like you have control? How many of you have ever had a decision made for you or taken from you? How many of you have ever had times when the outcome of a certain situation, circumstance or relationship has been taken out of your control?

If you're like me, you could relate to each one of those questions and often times find that you never really had control in the first place. And the times when you did "have control" you just messed things up, at least that's my story most of the time. Sometimes all of this can lead to a sense of being trapped by fear, doubt or worry. When the worries of this world cage us in, we quickly realize that despite living in the "Land of the Free" we often times don't feel so free.

This is what led me to think about what freedom in Christ can mean and look like for you and I this morning. Now there are probably more things that you could think of that Jesus wants to set us free from or set us free to do but I feel like these four points will give us a good place to start. If you other ideas you want to share of what freedom in Christ looks like, please don't hesitate to let me know. Ok, let's jump in...

1. Jesus wants to set you free from religion.

-Matt. 11:29-30 (28-30 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." The Message)
-This is the idea that Paul talks about when he mentions the ‘Law’ in a number of his letters.
-Jesus says that if you and I know Him, we will obey His commands.
-Jesus is setting us free to focus on a relationship with Him and not the rules or regulations.

2. Jesus wants to set you free from the concerns of this world, but not for this world.

-Sometimes we get distracted by the cares of this world and find ourselves held captive to policies, staff directives, finances, bosses and expectations others have for us.
-John 16:33
-John 14:27
-John 17:15-16
-Jesus recognizes this world desperately needs people like you and me who have a relationship with Him to care for it. I think He also wants us to see that the world doesn't need more religion but rather people who are following Him.

3. Jesus wants to set you free to love and serve.

-Gal. 5:13-15 (13-15 “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?” The Message)
-This means we are set free to forgive those who have hurt us and to show mercy to those we’d rather seek revenge on.

4. Jesus wants to set you free from yourself

-Rom. 6:17-18 ( 15-18 ”So, since we're out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we're free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it's your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you've let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you've started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!” The Message)
-In the very next chapter of Romans Paul talks about doing the very things he hates doing…even when we think we have control we don’t
-You and I are not in control. If even for a moment we had it, we’ve lost it. We can’t even stop doing the things we know we don’t want to do.
-Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” In order to have life to the fullest, we must allow Christ to set us free from ourselves.

July 4, 2009

Independence Day

Happy 4th of July! I hope you have the chance to celebrate with family and friends all of the various freedoms that you and I experience on a daily basis and probably take for granted every once in a while. I find it interesting that we say we live in the "Land of the Free" and yet so many of us don't really feel free at all. Sure, no one is telling us how to live our lives but we still can't seem to get free from anxiety caused by things like finances, relationships, jobs, health...and maybe even...guilt, shame or regret.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to be preaching on the freedom that is found in and through Christ. It is a freedom unlike any other you or I might experience. The cages of worry, doubt and fear have been broken by the One who said, "Take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) This is the kind of freedom that makes us free to fully love, fully hope and fully live. Gives a whole new meaning to "Independence Day".

July 2, 2009

Use Me God: Finding Your Spiritual Gifts Week 5

I apologize for the delay in getting Week 5 of our study posted. This past Sunday (6/28) we spent some time discussing the issues of comparison, envy and pride. Along with these topics we took a look at: Romans 13:13, James 3:13-16, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 and Luke 18:9-14. I would encourage you to spend some time with these passages and their questions.

Romans 13:13
1. Notice the list of things Paul includes envy (jealousy) in with.
2. What does that tell us about the seriousness of envy?

James 3:13-16
1. Where does James say envy comes from and leads to?
2. Could this explain the dire warnings to avoid envy and pride?

1 Corinthians 12:12-26
1. Sometimes comparison leads us to devalue the gifts of others. So, what is the difference between admiring someone and envying them?
2. How easy is it for you to mourn with those who mourn or rejoice with those who rejoice?

Luke 18:9-14
1. Of the two men in the story, which are you more often like and why?
2. How difficult is it for you to be humble or be humbled by someone else?

Spend some time with these passages over the next week as our class will not be meeting this Sunday (7/5) and look for Week 6 to be posted early next week. Please feel free to jump in on the discussion and conversation here on the blog or you can email me at matt@castletonumc.org. Comments and questions are always welcome.

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