May 30, 2010

A Not-So-Friendly Stroll

We are watching a neighbors dog for the next couple days and so my wife and I decided to take it for a walk earlier tonight. The neighborhood we live in is older where the garages are behind the houses accessible through narrow alleys. So for our walk tonight we decided to step out the back door and stroll down the alley.

I'm not sure why it hit me so hard but an interaction we had with a guy down the block left me speechless.

Tomorrow is trash day. Everyone sets their trash bins out in the alley to be emptied in the morning. As we were walking, an older guy was putting trash in his bin. There was a clear moment of eye-contact, and inside that moment my wife and I both said "hello". The guy simply stood there, looked at us, said nothing, turned and walked back into his fenced yard. We kept walking despite being completely dumbfounded.

I'm not sure I've ever had such a blatant display of rudeness. Or maybe I have but for whatever reason this one got to me. I couldn't help but start to wonder what has happened or is happening in this guy's life that would cause him to be so mean. I say this because this is not the first time I have had an encounter like this with the same guy but this one was the most blatant.

The other thing I started to think about...what do my interactions with strangers tell them about me, my life or more importantly my faith? What about yours?

May 29, 2010

Let's Talk Appointments: Part II

One thing I find interesting about "guaranteed appointments" is that the United Methodist Church would choose to enter into a lifetime "contractual" (or covenant if you prefer) relationship with an individual. When an elder is ordained, the UMC commits to a relationship that will last the individual's lifetime. Guaranteed. I'm not sure I can think of any other profession where this is the case. It almost seems as though this effectively ties the hands of the denomination when dealing with elders that are less than good but remain in "good standing".

I have been working on staff at the same church for 8yrs and to think about the changes that have taken place in my understanding and thoughts on theology, ministry, leadership, etc. in that short time is significant. I have a hard time trying to imagine what some of those thoughts will be in the next 5yrs let alone 35yrs. I wonder if "guaranteed appointments" is the best practice for the UMC as it tries to maintain a standard both theologically and doctrinally, as well as on social issues across the denomination and its clergy. What happens when a pastor's theology changes over the years? Or his/her views on various social issues (i.e. homosexuality) becomes different than the denominational position on said issues? It seems like shall suggests that the denomination has to figure out a way to keep him/her around while struggling to figure out in which role. May seems to suggest that the denomination has another option, a sort of no-appointment probation or even a very nice goodbye letter.

As the conversation continues, feel free to jump in and share your thoughts. Be on the lookout for Part III.

May 26, 2010

Let's Talk Appointments: Part I

There has been a lot of talk over the past few weeks about the topic of "guaranteed appointments" within the United Methodist Church as the result of a recent commission group study. You can read two of the articles here and here. You can also see a couple blog posts from: Mark Beeson, John Meunier, Bandits No More, Overstatement.

The main issue revolves around the understanding that while "All elders who are in good standing and continue to fulfill their professional responsibilities (¶340) shall be continued under appointment unless they are on leave and are assured equitable compensation for their ministry (¶342)" (online source), this commission is recommending the word shall be changed to may. What this does in effect, is remove the "guarantee" of an appointment for an ordained elder in good standing.

The main argument against this change seems to be around the idea that if an individual is willing to go through the lengthy (and I would suggest convoluted) ordination process, be willing to be itinerant (which is a model I still struggle with for today) and remain in good standing, the denomination should take care of the individual by always providing an appointment.

One of the problems I see with this is how "good standing" is defined. Is this measured by the number of baptisms or confessions of faith? The reach of a pastor's discipling ministry? Or the fact that s/he didn't steal any money or failed to run worship attendance down to zero? If we have a hard time understanding what "good standing" really means, then changing one word might not make that much of a difference.

Being a 31yr old full-time licensed local pastor and certified candidate I can only begin to understand the impact of may on an individual yet I am also beginning to see the impact shall has had on the Church. I am certainly not naive enough to think that job security is not important or cannot provide a sense of security for one's family but I also wonder how it impacts the ministries of the Church, and the UMC in particular when ineffectiveness is simply moved from one appointment to another.

I'm anticipating this will be an ongoing conversation, feel free to join in. Look for Part II of the discussion in the next few days.

May 25, 2010

The Launch of a Saturday Evening Contemporary Service Part I

The church that I am currently appointed to, Castleton UMC, is getting ready to launch a contemporary worship service that will take place on Saturday nights at 6pm in the sanctuary on our Castleton campus. I have been given the opportunity to be the lead pastor for this service which I have been working toward making happen for over 3yrs now. With plenty of prayer and dreaming, I got the word to launch on Saturday, May 29th about 5 weeks ago.

A little background info on our church...We have 2 campuses with a total average Sunday morning attendance of around 750. We have 3 services (8:30 & 9:40 traditional, 11 blended/contemporary) on the Castleton campus and 2 services (9 traditional, 10:30 contemporary) on the Sunrise campus. We have not had a consistent evening service option and as a result, it will be interesting to see the response to a Saturday evening service that happens each week.

I've received plenty of support along the way from fellow staff, members of the congregation and especially Joe Garrison (@JoeGGarrison). In the past 5 weeks, here's what we've done so far:

*Solely through social media we were able to find a solid worship leader (@matthewedilley), drummer (@jdcogswell) and strong female vocalist (@zanbone) to accompany 3 of our own musicians.

*The only promotion of this service has been through in-house publications (church bulletin, newsletter, e-bulletin, website), word of mouth and social media.

*We have most of our volunteer positions filled (greeters, welcome center, ushers) but have a few A/V spots (sound, lights, video, slides) that are still open.

*I decided on Saturdays at 6pm because I believe this time will lend itself to reaching a wide range of individuals for various reasons. I also believe it will provide countless opportunities for fellowship (and eventually study & small groups) to take place after the service.

*We will be podcasting & video archiving the sermons and live streaming the entire service online (find that stuff here) each week.

Needless to say this is going to be a work-in-progress as we move forward but should be fun to witness how it all comes together, as so much of it has already. I look forward to hearing any questions or thoughts you have about launching a new service and sharing this experience with you.

May 24, 2010

Rodrigo y Gabriela at The Vogue

I had the chance to see Rodrigo y Gabriela for the first time at The Vogue here in Indianapolis with my concert-going-partner-in-crime @bhsmith1 on May 13th. To be honest, I had never heard of this acoustic rocking duo before he had mentioned them to me so I was pretty curious to see what they would be like at a live show. Let me just say that overall, I was impressed.

I like The Vogue as a venue, not a bad place to see a show but for whatever reason that night it was blazing hot in there. I'm not sure if they were trying to cut costs by skimping out on the A/C or what but it was hot!

It didn't get any cooler once @rodgab took stage because they were en fuego (how cheesy am I? ...or clever and witty?). I have never witnessed guitar playing with such grace and speed. It truly was a performance that simply listening to an album could not do justice. Being able to see them live also helped as I found songs began to run together in their 1.5hr long set but nevertheless, I had a good time and was thoroughly impressed by their passion and obvious talent. If you haven't spent any time listening to Rodrigo y Gabriela, you really are missing out on some incredibly gifted musicians. Their newest album "11:11" is out now.

May 23, 2010

The End of an Era

The funeral service for my wife's grandpa was exactly a week ago today. Needless to say it was a difficult few weeks watching him lose his battle with COPD as a result of emphysema. Traveling back and forth from hospital to nursing home, Indianapolis to Richmond, began to take its toll. Emotional and physical exhaustion had set in and yet spiritually, there was not only peace but strength.

Richard Bell Luellen was 87yrs old when he died and had quite a life. He experienced serving in the Navy; starting Luellen Brothers Inc, a family business with his older brother (who just turned 90yrs old and is still getting around on his own); and raising a strong family down to his great-grandchildren. And of all the great things grandpa had done the thing that proved to be the most meaningful, especially during these past few months, was his faith.

I was moved by the number of people that came to his memorial and the support this small farming community gave to his family. I was moved to see how much and how many people respected this man but what I found most meaningful was the impact the family's faith had throughout this entire ordeal. Were there tears? Of course. Sadness? Obviously. Yet within that there was an assurance that granted "peace that transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) because of faith in the God who has conquered death through Christ. My heart breaks for those who must suffer through the pain of losing a loved one without this faith and the knowledge of the promise Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 4:13-18,

It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

May 12, 2010

A Fragile Humility

Blinking lights.
Flashing numbers.
Electronic charts.
Mechanical sounds.

The clock reads 12:47am as I sit in a hospital room watching my wife whisper to her grandpa as she rubs his arm while he struggles to breathe. I am reminded of how fragile life is and I am humbled.

I am humbled to be here in this place;
to witness the vulnerability of a strong man and his family.

I am humbled by the tireless care that is given, both by family and by professional. The nurse mentions a breathing treatment at 3am with a smile as if she meant 3pm. All the while a family member remains by his bedside, night or day.

I am reminded of how fragile it is to be human and am humbled that God would choose to become one of us.

Life is fragile.
Love is strong.
God is Love.
I am humbled.

May 11, 2010

Pearl Jam at Verizon Wireless Music Center

My brother (@JLipan) and I had the chance to see Pearl Jam this past Friday at Verizon Wireless Music Center in Noblesville, IN. Not only was this the 7th time I've seen PJ live, it is the 2nd time I've seen them in my own backyard (the 1st in 6/03 as my wife & I have lived in Noblesville for almost 8yrs now). Of the 7 times I've seen them, this show sneaks in to my top 2 despite some weather issues and a lengthy delay. I got our tickets through the 10 Club and was hoping that they would have been closer but I guess I can't complain about upper pavilion with a sold out show.

Band of Horses as the opening band sounded great despite missing the first part of their set. I had never heard of them before this show and am excited to get some of their stuff. Easily the best opener I have heard for any of my PJ shows so far.

Despite an hour delay due to weather and the band making sure that everyone was in the venue and safe, they played a 29 song set, which included 2 encores, for a total of 2.5hrs. They opened with a vengeance going from "Release" into "Last Exit" around 9:30pm and ended the show with the trifecta of "Alive", "Baba O'Riley", and "Yellow Ledbetter" at 12am. Everything in between was solid as well. Of course there were crowd favorites like "Even Flow", "Elderly Woman", "Wishlist" and "Betterman" with a few fan favorites like "Down", "Force of Nature", "Off He Goes" and "Whipping". The new stuff from Backspacer sounded great, the older stuff sounded great and it appeared as though the band was having a great time. Mike McCready was doing his thing all around the stage, Eddie interacted with the crowd quite a bit and showed he hasn't lost any energy by roaming around and jumping off monitors.

Overall, a great show! Tons of energy coming from the band and the crowd, despite a wet start to the night and a cold breeze throughout. If you are a Pearl Jam fan and haven't seen them live yet, I suggest you check them out, I trust you won't be disappointed.

May 10, 2010

"Take a Memo: Jude"

I gave a sermon on the book of Jude as part of the "Take a Memo" series at our Sunrise campus on 5/2. Here are some of my thoughts and notes.

"Take a Memo: Jude"

Jude is writing his letter to a group of Christians who are dealing with leaders who are not only teaching the wrong things but are also really bad leaders. These are men who chase after their own desires and fail to care for the people they lead (vs. 10, 12, 16). I think it is important for us to remember that while we may not consider ourselves to be false teachers, if we fail to see Jude's point of submitting to the authority of the Holy Spirit over our own authority, we have done a disservice to ourselves and this letter.

Jude goes on to use strong imagery (vs. 12-13) in describing people like this (which, if we're honest, is us some of the time)...

-Clouds without rain are people who are all show but no substance.
-Trees that don't produce fruit are once dead because fruit trees that don't produce fruit are pointless and "twice dead" because they end up getting cut down and thrown in the fire.
-Dirty waves that are loud, obnoxious and fickle. Notice Jude's reference to Isaiah 57:20.
-Wandering stars that provide no direction and no light.

I noticed 3 things Jude is telling us in vs. 20-21 to do in order to avoid being tricked by people like this or becoming one ourselves...
1. Build a firm foundation of faith. (1 Cor. 3:9-17; Eph. 2:20-22)
2. Pray in the Holy Spirit. Remember that the Spirit intercedes on our behalf (Rom. 8:26-27; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 6:18) and will help us come to know Christ better (John 14:26; 15:9-10, 26).
3. Trust in God's promises. Remember it is not "ifs" but the "whens" (2 Pet. 3:11-12, 14).