December 31, 2009

Top 5 Posts of 2009

Here are the top 5 posts people checked out in 2009 on A Journeyman's Catalog. If you had a particular favorite, let us know. Thanks so much to all of you that take a moment to read my thoughts along the journey, I look forward to hearing yours and connecting with you even more so in the upcoming year!

Happy New Year's!!

1. "I Am the Vine"

2. Secular Music in Worship

3. 2 Questions: Part I

4. By Your Bootstraps

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Radical Hospitality

December 29, 2009


Here is the text from my sermon entitled "Unwrapped" which I gave on 12/27 at our Castleton campus. Feel free to share any thoughts, comments or questions.


Well, here we are, a few days after another Advent season and Christmas day. Many of you had the chance to spend some time with family and friends, I hope you found it to be meaningful and enjoyable. Tai and I had a chance to make it up to Holland, MI to visit with my family and over to New Lisbon, IN to visit hers. We had a good time and were reminded of how blessed we truly are. Now, two days after Christmas, here we sit and if you’re anything like me, you begin to take inventory now that everything has been opened and unwrapped. I can usually break down my Christmas gifts into three categories: things on my list that I asked for and actually got (which sometimes end up not being as cool as I thought they would be); things I asked for but didn’t receive; and the third category of “thanks?!?”.

Now, I don’t know about your family but both of ours are notorious for using boxes from one thing to put another thing in, so you're not quite sure what you’re getting until you get it unwrapped and out of the box. The classic story of this from my family is when we were all at my grandparent’s house and all the aunts and uncles were opening their gifts from grandma and grandpa and my dad starts opening his…at the time, for whatever reason, my dad was really into bowling…so unwrapping his present he reveals a shoebox with a picture of what appears to be a very nice pair of bowling shoes on the front. My dad gets excited and says, “Whoa alright, new bowling shoes”…opens the box and says, “No, I got these...” as he lifts up the work light that I’m not sure he has ever actually used.

This kind of thing happens to us all the time doesn’t it, whether it’s Christmas or not? We picture something in a certain way, it's wrapped in shiny paper with a nice bow, then we get it out of the box and realize it’s not what we thought it would be.

Perhaps it’s a job or title or degree we think will make all the difference but once we get it unwrapped we find it falling short of our expectations. Or maybe your perfectly wrapped gift is to have a family that looks a certain way, but then your kids do something stupid, your parents do something hurtful, you or your spouse do something to hurt each other or maybe you’re not able to have a family at all. The list can go on and on of things we think will make everything perfect but once we get it unwrapped we find it isn’t what we had in mind.

And then we read of this gift...
Isaiah 7:14
Isaiah 9:2-7

When we begin to unwrap the gift of God’s Son lying in a manger we see this is a gift that will not disappoint, not only this but we notice a couple things about this special gift…

It is a gift of His presence (Isaiah 43:1-3a)
-God promises to be present with us in the midst of the storms, trials and fires of life.

It is a gift of family (Galatians 3:23-4:7)
-God gives us the right to be called His children (John 1:12).
-You and I are connected as the family of God through the community of the Church.

It is a gift of hope (Hebrews 10:23-24)
-The gift of Jesus gives us hope in a world that can often seem hopeless.
-This is a gift we can and must share with others as we undoubtedly know people who abandoned, hopeless and alone.

Closing Prayer comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."

December 24, 2009

A Voice of Reason

We have all heard plenty about the unfortunate decisions Tiger Woods has made in recent years and can add his name to a growing list of celebrity types who have fallen, in one way or another, as a result of choices each of them has made. I can't help but be reminded of the importance of accountability in one's life and wonder if Tiger would have had someone to confide in and hold him accountable, that just maybe an individual like that could have been the voice of reason Tiger so desperately needed to hear from before making such poor choices resulting in hurt, shame and embarrassment for him and his family. I think this whole tragic situation can serve as a reminder of a couple important things...

1. Do not think you are above doing something stupid that can cause hurt, shame and embarrassment. The moment we convince ourselves we are above or incapable of a particular sin is the moment when we make ourselves the most vulnerable. This is precisely the plan satan has in mind and exactly why he is called the Father of Lies. This is the curse of having a sinful nature and if we think otherwise we become liars ourselves (1 John 1:8).

2. Do not think you can stand up to, avoid or resist temptation and sin on your own. God created us to be in community with Him and each other, use that community to your advantage. Avoid as much hurt, shame and embarrassment as possible with the help of your brothers and sisters. Satan is described as a lion that prowls around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). It only takes a couple hours of the Discovery Channel to know that lions love to prey on the isolated animals of the herd, the ones that fall away from or are somehow get disconnected. You and I on our own are easy pickings to be chewed up and spit out.

3. Find someone to be your voice of reason. In Christianese it's called "an accountability partner". Find someone in which you can confide so that you can share your deepest struggles and most vulnerable weaknesses so that s/he can help you avoid them, that's the whole point of accountability!! You can't do it alone and you don't have to! You and I need people to speak truth and reason into our lives so that when our judgment gets clouded we have someone there to give us spirit-filled guidance and clarity. If you don't have this in your life, you need to ask God who that person might be for you and for whom you might be the very voice of reason that might keep someone from making an unfortunate decision that results in hurt, shame and embarrassment.

If you have questions about what an accountability relationship might look like, how weekly meetings go, or I can be of help in any way just let me know. Comment or email:

December 23, 2009

Style or Substance?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey from 2007 talked about how a growing number of people "church shop"; meaning they move from one church to another as if grabbing lunch at a buffet-style restaurant picking what they like and leaving what they don't. More recently Outreach Magazine came out with their report of the 100 Largest and Fastest Growing Churches in America (the list) and I thought it was interesting to note that the vast majority of the churches on this list tend to have more of a "the special is your only lunch option" type of theology.

I kept riding my train-of-thought into this depot......

There are a couple of larger church pastors whose podcasts I listen to on a fairly regular basis (if you are ever curious who that might be or want to check them out just shoot me an email) and got to wondering if people enjoy some of the popular ones like Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan or Matt Chandler because of their preaching style and obvious passion or because of their theology. Are people aware of the substance of the pastors they listen to or is it simply a matter of style? I happen to find the theology of these three guys that I listed to be pretty solid but I know there are plenty of other large church pastors that have little to no theology at all and yet people listen to them by the tens of thousands. Why is that?? It seems as though our culture is so prone to consume that many would choose a pastor that preaches with misguided passion, void of any substance, over a pastor with solid substance and less style. If you find one with both, you better make sure your church holds on to them.

The Trappings of Tradition

I bet your family has some crazy traditions that have either already happened or are about to during this time of year. Care to share any of those? Only a couple came to mind for me and my family... family always goes to church on Christmas Eve and then orders Chinese takeout. We eat that with sparkling grape juice in fancy glasses. wife's family all gets the exact same pair of pajamas on Christmas Eve, wears them to bed and wakes up Christmas morning to her mom making crepes. They proceed to wear matching pajamas throughout the majority of the day.

Thinking about this over the past couple weeks has made me wonder if traditions have actually trapped the real meaning of Christmas. I don't think traditions are a bad thing, but I do think they need to point us to something bigger than the tradition itself. Is it possible that we have made Christmas more about traditions and less about God's gift to mankind? If Christmas is simply about traditions, we should call it "Traditiomas", dress-up like elves and give ourselves another excuse to go door-to-door asking for candy.

December 18, 2009

'Outside the Walls'

Be on the lookout for Outside the Walls, an online place designed for study & discussion to start in the next couple weeks. The purpose is to create connection and conversation around the study of Scripture and other relevant topics that impact our faith outside the physical walls of our churches. Right now it looks like studies/discussions will be Tuesday and/or Thursday evenings starting around 7 or 7:30pm EST.

Please drop a comment w/your feedback concerning topics for study & discussion, suggestions for days & times, and any other ideas or suggestions you might have. I would also be curious to know how many, if any of you might be interested in something like this or plan on joining us. Hope to see you there in a couple weeks.

December 16, 2009

Mercy and Justice

I just finished writing my last essay for this semester at Asbury Theological Seminary on the topic of Mercy and Justice. Parts of that essay are included below but what I really wanted to share was this video I came across and especially highlight the thoughts from Dr. Ben Witherington III ("Ben") talking about the same issues...

It is apparent throughout John Wesley’s ministry and theology that he was quite passionate about issues of mercy and justice. Wesley’s desire to preach the good news to the poor, reaching not only their spiritual needs but their physical needs as well, is what led him to the fields and marketplaces of his day seeing that his own church, The Church of England, was making no effort to do so. This is precisely why the majority of Wesley’s hearers were made up of poor laborers such as miners, quarrymen, iron smelters and soldiers. When speaking of the ad populum (the bulk of mankind) Wesley wrote in a letter to Dorothy Furley dated September 25, 1757, “I love the poor, in many of them I find pure, genuine grace, unmixed with paint, folly, and affectation.” The passion and love that Wesley had for the poor of his day is undeniable.

The issues of mercy and justice demand a response from us today, especially those who would consider themselves to be disciples of Jesus, regardless of denominational tradition. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and when we stop to realize that everyone is our neighbor we can no longer ignore the injustice, persecution and poverty that is present all around us. This is a love that displays itself through actions of justice and gestures of mercy to “the least of these” as described by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46, which typically are individuals who have no means of seeking justice and are often times shown no mercy. It is this “way of love” we must seek because without it “all we know, all we believe, all we do, all we suffer, will profit us nothing in the great day of accounts” (John Wesley, The More Excellent Way, 4.).

December 10, 2009

Stuck in the Middle

The United Methodist Church has, at various times, been described as the via media or the "middle way" when it comes to its place on the denominational spectrum. With its emphasis on grace it often times finds its ministry dwelling in the gray rather than the black or white. I believe this is one of the main reasons people are attracted to the ministry of the UMC (I know this is true for me as a pastor in it) because it creates a sense of openness and inclusiveness but I can also see where the emphasis on the "middle ground" could become a curse.

There are times when I wonder if the UMC has gotten stuck in the middle causing us to lose connection to some of our foundational beliefs, which is where the via media might become a curse. Has our focus on the middle made it seem as though we have no beliefs we are not willing to compromise on? Is it possible that one of the reasons for our decline in membership and worship attendance is that we've gotten lost in the gray as a denomination?

Having spent a considerable amount of time over the past few months reading a large number of John Wesley's sermons I can't help but see that he was clearly passionate about a number of issues which he saw as being black and white. It would be difficult to deny Wesley's emphasis on the presence of grace in an individual's life and the power of the Holy Spirit moving believers along in the process of sanctification and yet, how often do we talk about these things? Grace takes the "black" of accountability and the "white" of the expectation of holy living and mixes them together to make gray...but gray cannot exist without some black and white.

A Prayer of John Baillie

O Holy Spirit of God, visit now this soul of mine,

and tarry within it until eventide.
Inspire all my thoughts.
Pervade all my imaginations.
Suggest all my decisions.
Lodge in my will's most inward citadel and order all my doings.
Be with me in my silence and in my speech,
in my haste and in my leisure,
in company and in solitude,
in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening;
and give me grace at all times to rejoice in thy mysterious companionship.

~From A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie

December 5, 2009

A Time and A Place

I graduated from a small, evangelical, Christian liberal arts school called Taylor University located in Upland, IN in 2001. As an alumni, I receive in the mail an alumni newsletter about once a quarter. As I was reading the most recent issue I came across an article highlighting this past fall's Spiritual Renewal Week and the spontaneous "avalanche of student confessions that lasted for more than six hours" (Taylor, p. 9) which started after a student began confessing his sins to the assembled student body. All of this took place on the very first night of Spiritual Renewal Week.

I know that these types of public confessions are not specific to Taylor as my younger siblings, along with my wife and a number of our friends have had similar experiences at the various smaller Christian schools they currently attend or have graduated from but I wonder if there is an appropriate time and place for such a confession. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the importance of confession and its ability to bring about healing, forgiveness and freedom but I will say that I am not convinced confessing one's sins of various addictions to thousands of peers is the best avenue for such healing to begin.

Of course God can use such a time of confession but I can't help but wonder the long term implications of such public openness, not only for the individual confessing but the audience who is forced to do something with the sins that are confessed. Why does this seem to happen in a setting like this on a college campus but we hardly ever hear of this happening inside a church in front of a congregation? Is it possible that confession in a small group or even one-on-one setting might provide a healthier more intimate level of accountability, encouragement and support? What happens to the college student who confesses to a crowd of her peers about an addiction to drugs or porn and then walks off the stage? It would seem hard after hours and hours of an intense time of confession not to have 1, 2, 10, 20...50 students fall through the cracks of intentional follow-up, accountability and discipleship but maybe my personality causes me to avoid things like this.

December 2, 2009

The Third Space

There are plenty of discussions, studies and books around the idea of "The Third Place" and more specifically how the church fits into this idea of community. The main premise around the third space or place is that it is the place people come together to experience community outside of the home (the 1st place) and the workplace (the 2nd place).

One of the ways churches are creating a third place for people to experience community is by creating some sort of online experience. Some of these experiences include live streaming worship services, live chat features, and the use of social networking (ie. twitter and facebook groups). A couple churches that I think are doing this pretty well are Granger Community Church and The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection but of course there are many others which you may have checked out (if you know of any that do a good job of this please let us know). Our church is also live streaming a couple of our Sunday morning worship services and I'd say it's decent with the understanding that we've still got a little ways to go.

What I would be curious to hear is your thoughts on the idea of church online and if you think it can effectively serve as a "Third Place"? How willing would you be to "attend" a church online? Or maybe a virtual Bible study (something I have actually thought about starting)? I would love to hear your thoughts on this if you have any to share.