December 15, 2012

Times Like These

Be present. Make yourself available to those who may need you. Your significant other, your children, your coworker, your neighbor, and the individual you have yet to meet.

Listen. Be willing to be silent. Listen people into speech and then hear what they have to say. Practice being "quick to listen" and "slow to speak."

Cry. Attempts to hide or fake emotion is not helpful. Appearing "strong" is not the same as being strong. Mourn with those who mourn, as healing can be found through tears.

Pray. We trust in the One who promises to bring salvation and whose ears hear our prayers. We long to be made whole in a world that is broken, and so we pray, "Come Lord Jesus, Come."

October 22, 2012

Split Talk

There has been a lot of talk lately about The United Methodist Church splitting primarily over the issue of homosexuality. I wrote this post in July discussing one possible outcome.

With all of the renewed conversation around this topic, I'm starting to feel like a jerk because it feels less and less likely that both "sides" will be able to make it work, and that isn't bothering me. The arguing, hurt, pain, and divisiveness bother me, but the possible outcomes not so much. Like so many other things within our denomination, the need to trust in God's presence and plan are even more apparent.

Where do you find yourself? How do you see The United Methodist Church moving forward? How do you hope it moves forward?

September 25, 2012

Wesley Sermon Chat

I am getting ready to host the second round of #jwchat, an opportunity to come together as a Twitter community to discuss John Wesley's sermons. Here are some details...

-Our Twitter chat will take place each Thursday night at 9:00pm EST starting on Sept. 27th.
-We will use the hashtag #jwchat for our Twitter conversations.
-We will read and discuss 8 of Wesley's sermons over an 8 week period, reading & discussing one sermon a week. You can find them online here and here. Here is our reading schedule: 

  • On Sin in Believers (#13) (9/27)
  • The Means of Grace (#16) (10/4)
  • Catholic Spirit (#39) (10/11)
  • Christian Perfection (#40) (10/18)
  • Of Hell (#73) (10/25)
  • On Family Religion (#94) (11/1)
  • On Riches (#108) (11/8)
  • On Love (#139) (11/15)
-We will use these 3 questions to guide our discussions each Thursday:
  • If you were to preach this sermon in 140 characters, what would it be?
  • How did you hear God speaking to you through this sermon?
  • What did you discover that is most relevant to your community?
Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, or plan to join us.

September 10, 2012

Traditional Prejudices

As many of you know, I am a United Methodist pastor in the Indiana Annual Conference. Each clergy member within our conference is required to attend diversity training and professional boundaries class every four years. This past week I attended my diversity training class and walked away with a few observations and questions.

  • The barriers we build or maintain that keep diversity from happening go beyond the gender or race of people in the pews but also the physical space they are sitting in. The physical spaces of our churches can be active barriers to diversity. 
  • During the class I began wondering about the relationship between change and diversity. Does diversity necessitate change? Can diversity happen without a willingness to change? 
  • When we discussed various groups (white males, Asians, African-Americans, LGBTQ, women, American Indians, etc.) I was surprised how the two words “entitled” and “lazy” were used to describe almost each group. Interesting how stereotypes are shared from one group to the next. 
  • I also walked away with the realization of how homogeneous the majority of our churches are in Indiana. My entire table at this class consisted of white males, mostly older. I would guess less than 1/3 of those attending were women, which was the only place any racial diversity was apparent. Most United Methodist churches in Indiana are rural and smaller. All of this made me realize that even our prejudices are “traditional” in nature, by this I mean racial and gender focused. We never discussed prejudices between: urban & rural, economic classes, sexual identities, people with disabilities, big churches & smaller churches, etc. 
Overall I found the class to be helpful and believe we must have these conversations as the Church. We don’t all have to agree but we all have to be open to dialogue.

What thoughts do you have to share about diversity? What has your experience been?

September 7, 2012

Ten Years

Today is mine and my wife's 10yr wedding anniversary. It's crazy to me that ten years have passed already. While I do not claim to be an expert on marriage, never have and never will, I do think there are a couple (of course there are more than just these 2 but I didn't want to bore you too much) things that have helped to make the past 10yrs work for us.

I might also call this servanthood or submission but that would mess-up my attempts at alliteration. Striving to live in humility with each other has opened up the opportunity for us to not only serve each other and look toward the others interest but also say, "Sorry." This word is HUGE in a marriage. This may surprise you to hear this but you are not perfect, neither is your spouse. This fact makes the ability to apologize an important part of a healthy marriage. Humility allows you to not only live with each other but deal with each other in a graceful way on a daily basis, ten years and beyond.

I'm fortunate because my wife is hilarious. I'm surprised how many people don't know this about her but it has given us plenty of laughter over the past 10yrs. It is not uncommon for our sense of humors to feed off of each other to the point of being funny only to ourselves. Laughter is one of the sounds of love. Being able to laugh with, and at, your spouse (and yourself) makes marriage a lot more fun. Give it a shot and see what happens. 

August 28, 2012

Dallas Cowboys & Discipleship

The Dallas Cowboys have a wide receiver on their team by the name of Dez Bryant. Mr. Bryant has recently run into some issues away from the football field, which has caused his NFL team to do something I found not only interesting but perhaps something the Church could learn from. You can read more specifics here.

I appreciated hearing the Cowboys say they cared about Mr. Bryant as a player and a person. They even mentioned their desire to help him and his family. The key, they said, would be accountability. They recognized it was not fair to expect Mr. Bryant to do it on his own, so they stepped in to offer support. This is a commitment of time, energy, and resources on behalf of his team.

It seems as though it might not be much different when it comes to discipleship. The Church cannot expect individuals to “do discipleship” on their own without being willing to commit time, energy, and resources. If an NFL team can do it, why can’t we?

August 27, 2012

Everyone's a Critic...Really?

There is a difference between being critical and being negative. Thinking critically is an important part of Wesleyan theology as we encourage people to use reason when thinking about things as part of Our Theological Task. I'm guessing when asking people to think critically, we're not asking them to complain or hate on everything.

This goes beyond theology and into every aspect of life; politics, books, movies, work, education, church, etc. Critical thinking is more than simply saying something is "good" or "bad," that you like it or don't. Critical thinking answers the question of why you like something or not.

So tell us, how do you give critical feedback without being negative? Do you receive critical feedback well?

August 25, 2012

Social Media Is Not Going Away

The Millennial Teenager

August 13, 2012

Scriptural Leadership 'Hangout'

I've been wanting to start an online study using a Google+ Hangout for some time now but have been struggling to pick a topic. With the conclusion of Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit (and some help from @indypenny) I found some inspiration for a discussion topic. We are going to spend a couple weeks talking about what the Bible has to teach us about leadership. Plan on "hanging out" with us on Thursday nights @8:30pm EST starting Thursday, August 16th.

Interested in being a part of the conversation? I hope so. Here's what you'll need:

1. A Google+ Account (a Gmail account works as well, you will simply have to join Google+). Register for one here.
2. Visit the Sunrise Google+ Page and look for the 'Hangout' in the timeline.
3. Speakers to listen.
4. A microphone if you want to speak, but not required.
5. A webcam if you want to be seen, but not required. 
6. A keyboard if you want to join in the conversation.

Any questions? Just let me know.

July 26, 2012

A House Divided

Historically The United Methodist Church has been on the forefront of pressing social issues, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries around things such as the institution of slavery, the role of women in the Church and on through the Civil Rights era. This is not to say that we, by any means, have been perfect along the way. Our “walk” has not always followed our “talk.”

I’m wondering if once again The United Methodist Church has the opportunity to be an example on the issue of homosexuality, though perhaps not how you might guess. Is it possible The United Methodist Church could demonstrate what a graceful transition into a new denomination might look like? I’m not suggesting which “side” should chart a new course but rather if there is a way we might facilitate this, for either “side,” while demonstrating and living in the grace that is foundational to our theology?

With the completion of The UMC conference season and the division that has become more apparent moving from General Conference into the various Jurisdictional Conferences on the issue of inclusivity, I can’t help but wonder if it is only a matter of time before one “side” or the other will be forced to leave. The words of Jesus come to mind, “a house divided against itself will fall” (Mthw 12:25; Mk 3:25; Lk 11:17). Under our current “united” structure, I believe the hurt will only become deeper as individuals continue to press the issue, an issue that will not be going away anytime soon. We all share the goal of “creating disciples for the transformation of the world,” but the longer we remain divided, the more energy we all spend away from this mission.

Would the creation of a new denomination free both “sides” to do ministry in the way they feel called, respectively? Could a graceful creation and transition into a new denomination alleviate the hurt? Or would it cause more? What might another resolution look like?

I would really appreciate hearing your thoughts, I hope you feel welcome to share and brainstorm with me.

July 18, 2012

A Prayer for Today

I call to you, O Lord, from my quiet darkness. Show me your mercy and love. Let me see your face, hear your voice, touch the hem of your cloak. I want to love you, be with you, speak to you and simply stand in your presence. But I cannot make it happen. Pressing my eyes against my hands is not praying, and reading about your presence is not living in it.
But there is that moment in which you will come to me, as you did to your fearful disciples, and say, "Do not be afraid; it is I." Let that moment come soon, O Lord. And if you want to delay it, then make me patient. Amen.
~From A Cry for Mercy by Henri J. M. Nouwen

May 28, 2012

Wesley Sermon Read-Along

It all started when my Twitter friend and fellow UMCer Andrew Conard (@andrewconard and check out his blog here) mentioned he was thinking about rereading through some of Wesley's sermons that the idea took-off. I told him I would be interested in doing that with him and before we knew it, we had 25+ who wanted to form a Wesley read-along group. After a handful of emails back and forth, here is what Andrew and I came up with:

-We will host a Twitter chat each Monday night at 8:30pm cst/9:30pm est starting on June 4th.
-We will use the hashtag #jwchat for our Twitter conversations.
-We will read and discuss Wesley's first 8 sermons over an 8 week period, reading & discussing one sermon a week. You can find them online here and here. Here is our reading schedule: 

  • Salvation by Faith (6/4)
  • The Almost Christian (6/11)
  • Awake, Thou That Sleepest (6/18)
  • Scriptural Christianity (6/25)
  • Justification by Faith (7/2)
  • The Righteousness of Faith (7/9)
  • The Way to the Kingdom (7/16)
  • The First Fruits of the Spirit (7/23)
-We will use these 3 questions to guide our discussions each Monday:
  • If you were to preach this sermon in 140 characters, what would it be?
  • How did you hear God speaking to you through this sermon?
  • What did you discover that is most relevant to your community?
Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, or plan to join us.

April 5, 2012

Matthew 27:32-46

32 As they were going out, they found Simon, a man from Cyrene. They forced him to carry his cross. 33 When they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place, 34 they gave Jesus wine mixed with vinegar to drink. But after tasting it, he didn’t want to drink it. 35 After they crucified him, they divided up his clothes among them by drawing lots. 36 They sat there, guarding him. 37 They placed above his head the charge against him. It read, “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” 38 They crucified with him two outlaws, one on his right side and one on his left.
 39 Those who were walking by insulted Jesus, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself! If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross.”
 41 In the same way, the chief priests, along with the legal experts and the elders, were making fun of him, saying, 42 “He saved others, but he can’t save himself. He’s the king of Israel, so let him come down from the cross now. Then we’ll believe in him. 43 He trusts in God, so let God deliver him now if he wants to. He said, ‘I’m God’s Son.’” 44 The outlaws who were crucified with him insulted him in the same way. 45 From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. 46 At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?" (CEB)

Even in Jesus' death He was associated with the least and the lost. Crucified between two convicted criminals hung the Savior of the world. This act of humble obedience serves as the in-breaking of God's kingdom for without Christ's death, we would still be slaves to sin.

What does the death of Christ mean for you? How does it challenge your own obedience to God's will? 

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

Matthew 26:57-68

57 Those who arrested Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest. The legal experts and the elders had gathered there. 58 Peter followed him from a distance until he came to the high priest’s courtyard. He entered that area and sat outside with the officers to see how it would turn out.
 59 The chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 They didn’t find anything they could use from the many false witnesses who were willing to come forward. But finally they found two 61 who said, “This man said, ‘I can destroy God’s temple and rebuild it in three days.’”
 62 Then the high priest stood and said to Jesus, “Aren’t you going to respond to the testimony these people have brought against you?”
 63 But Jesus was silent.
   The high priest said, “By the living God, I demand that you tell us whether you are the Christ, God’s Son.”
 64 “You said it,” Jesus replied. “But I say to you that from now on you’ll see the Human One sitting on the right side of the Almighty and coming on the heavenly clouds.”
 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He’s insulting God! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, you’ve heard his insult against God. 66 What do you think?”
   And they answered, “He deserves to die!” 67 Then they spit in his face and beat him. They hit him 68 and said, “Prophesy for us, Christ! Who hit you?" (CEB)

I have never been spit on but imagine it is one of the more degradable things one human could do to another. I would think one of my first reactions would be to respond with violence if someone spit in my face and here we see Jesus, in complete humility, stand and take it.

It seems to me that in this difficult moment, the life and actions of Jesus speak quite profoundly, even in His silence. How do you use your silence? When do you find it appropriate to speak-up or remain silent? Even in the face of accusations or inaccuracies?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

April 3, 2012

Matthew 26:36-46

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. He said to the disciples, “Stay here while I go and pray over there.” 37 When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious. 38 Then he said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.” 39 Then he went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
 40 He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you stay alert one hour with me? 41 Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” 42 A second time he went away and prayed, “My Father, if it’s not possible that this cup be taken away unless I drink it, then let it be what you want.”
 43 Again he came and found them sleeping. Their eyes were heavy with sleep. 44 But he left them and again went and prayed the same words for the third time. 45 Then he came to his disciples and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? Look, the time has come for the Human One to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up. Let’s go. Look, here comes my betrayer.” (CEB)

Sometimes we try so hard and still fall short. These three disciples must have felt awful for falling asleep as their friend Jesus was feeling so much sadness and pain. Jesus must have felt so alone.

Good intentions are nice but not enough. Even in Jesus' prayer we see the need for active obedience, not simply an intention to obey. How might you move from intention to action? Has Lent challenged you in this way?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

Matthew 26:17-30

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”
 18 He replied, “Go into the city, to a certain man, and say, ‘The teacher says, “My time is near. I’m going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.” ’” 19 The disciples did just as Jesus instructed them. They prepared the Passover.
 20 That evening he took his place at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 As they were eating he said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me.”
 22 Deeply saddened, each one said to him, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?”
 23 He replied, “The one who will betray me is the one who dips his hand with me into this bowl. 24 The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.”
 25 Now Judas, who would betray him, replied, “It’s not me, is it, Rabbi?”
   Jesus answered, “You said it.” (CEB)

It was not as if Jesus had no idea Judas was about to betray Him and yet He still invited Judas to the table. We cannot afford to miss the weight of this act. Jesus chooses to share with one He knows will hurt Him.

Scratch out Judas' name and put yours or mine and the invitation from Jesus reads the same: "I know that you already have, and will likely again, hurt, betray, ignore me but your seat at the table is always open and ready for you. Come not because you deserve it, but because you're invited."

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage? 

Romans 12:14-21

14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
 18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. 20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good." (CEB)

Think of the last time you shared in the emotions of another. What sort of impact did it have on you? What about the other person? Paul challenges us to do just that, enter into the emotions of others, not in a way that is unhealthy or self-serving but rather as a means of support.

One of the other things this does is level the playing field. Paul says, "Consider everyone as equal," which emotions give us the chance to do. Rich or poor, anger is anger. PhD or GED, sorrow is sorrow. Black or white, loneliness is loneliness. Sharing the emotions of another puts us face to face and heart to heart. Seems like a great picture of what it means to follow Jesus.

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

March 31, 2012

Romans 12:9-13

9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home." (CEB)

Paul just got done describing the Church as the parts of a body working together. Now he is challenging us to love each other like family. Most families have a way of loving each other even when things get messy. It seems as though the Church should do the same. This sort of "family love" allows us to love each other even when life gets messy or when we need to challenge each other in some way. So, my question to you is: Are you an active part of a church family? Why or why not? If so, what kind of "family member" are you?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

Generational Divide

I am about to speak from my experience and in generalities, so please do not be offended if you do not fall into one of these categories or I misrepresent you in some way. Instead of getting upset, I would ask that you help me learn through meaningful dialogue. With that said...

I was born in 1979. Depending on who you ask or how you break it down, I am part of "Generation X" or "Millennials" (aka "Generation Y"). I can clearly see in myself I have characteristics of both. I see my education as a means to get where I'm going (Gen X) while also being committed to making social connections (Gen Y). I like the idea of saving money (Gen X) but am not afraid to spend it for something I might like (Gen Y...without being excessive). I look for ways to make things relevant to my life and culture and view leadership as an opportunity to serve, not a right that is earned.

I have been clergy within the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church since 2008, when I received my license as a full-time local pastor as a 29 year old. I have had the opportunity to be on staff with 6 different UMC pastors, all of which were older than me, some by more than 30yrs. In interactions with some of them as well as other clergy within my conference I have noticed the expectations each of them has for the office of "pastor" and how often they are much different than mine.

This is what makes me wonder if generational differences make an impact on clergy health. After having just read the Church Systems Task Force report I was struck by the relatively poor shape we are in as clergy; physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and socially. Throughout the report stress is named as the key cause of so much pain and unhealthiness. This makes sense to me as I talk with some of these older clergy and hear the expectations they have placed on themselves (along with parts of their congregations) about the need to be involved in everything that is going on in the life of the church. The belief that the senior pastor should be omniscient resonates with them.

I see this very differently, and perhaps it is generational. As a pastor (who is responsible for a considerable amount at my church) I recognize there will be plenty of things happening in the life of our church that I don't know anything about, and I'm not only ok with it, I'm thankful. My life and ministry have enough stress as it is that to add onto that the expectation of being involved in everything slows everyone down. I would suggest that this is simply not the way Gen Xers (or Gen Yers) are made. As a matter of fact, we don't expect the senior pastor of a church to know everything that is going on or participate in every event. We recognize this is not only unhealthy but not possible.

And so I continue to wonder, do generational differences impact the health, or lack thereof, of clergy within The United Methodist Church?

Romans 12:1-8

1 So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature. 3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6 We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7 If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8 If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful." (CEB)

What a beautiful picture of what the Church should be, a body of many parts with different jobs and the humility to serve each other (and the world) with our gifts. The unity of this body is so great that Paul even says, "we belong to each other." What could the life and impact of the Church look like if we lived in such a way that we belonged to one another? Not in some warped, selfish, take advantage of way but out of humility, mercy, and grace. What does that look like to you?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

John 15:1-12

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. 9 “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you." (CEB)

There is a lot going on in this passage. Everything from the relationship of Israel and the "True Vine" to the directive of producing "good fruit." I would like to focus on the idea of being pruned (the CEB uses trimmed). I am by no means a master gardener and frankly, probably not even an amateur one at that but the concept of pruning makes a lot of sense to me. Cut away the dead stuff or even the stuff that won't produce fruit so it won't suck energy away from the parts that will in order to maximize growth. Sounds like a powerful spiritual practice to me. Could Lent be seen as a season of spiritual pruning? Which aspects of your life need pruning? 

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

John 14:25-31

25 “I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. 26 The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.
 27 “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid. 28 You have heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away and returning to you.’ If you loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than me. 29 I have told you before it happens so that when it happens you will believe. 30 I won’t say much more to you because this world’s ruler is coming. He has nothing on me. 31 Rather, he comes so that the world will know that I love the Father and do just as the Father has commanded me. Get up. We’re leaving this place." (CEB)

Disciples, meet the Holy Spirit. The "Companion," "Guide," and "Counselor." Not only does the Holy Spirit journey with us on the road of discipleship but becomes the agent of Christ's peace. A peace He leaves with us (perhaps in the form of the Holy Spirit?) and a peace He gives us. How might Christ be calling you to be an agent of His peace?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

March 30, 2012

Matthew 20:1-16

John 14:1-7, 18-19

1 “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. 2 My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? 3 When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. 4 You know the way to the place I’m going.”
 5 Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
18 “I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you. 19 Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too." (CEB)

The part that sticks out to me is when Jesus says, "so that where I am you will be too" (vs. 3). What a powerful image. We will be where Christ will be because He desires to have us there with Him. Maybe that's what He means when He calls Himself "the life," that where He is, there is life. 

What are the things that bring you life? How often do you stay near them? I wonder why we allow ourselves to get distracted and weighed down by things that don't bring life but instead stress, worry, etc. 

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

March 27, 2012

John 8:1-11

1 And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, 4 they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.
 7 They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” 8 Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. 9 Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.
 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”
 11 She said, “No one, sir.”
   Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.” (CEB)

What an incredible display of shame, regret, humiliation, grace, and restoration. I am struck by the way in which the "religious guys" seemed to care very little for the woman, other than to use her as a prop to trap Jesus. Jesus looks right through the words of the "religious" into the hearts of the crowd gathered to watch this spectacle, after all they thought they were about to witness someone getting stoned to death. And then Jesus hands down the verdict, "Whoever hasn't sinned should throw the first stone." The crowd goes silent and walks away leaving this woman to experience the love and mercy of God.

God loves you just where you are but loves you too much to leave you there and so Jesus says, "Go, and don't sin anymore." Hear Christ's words to you, "Neither do I condemn you. Now go, stop sinning." May you experience restoration that brings about transformation.

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

March 26, 2012

John 3:16-21

16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.  19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.” (CEB)

Many of us are familiar with vs. 16 but how often do we keep reading to see God's desire to reconcile the world to Himself. I wonder if it's not about avoiding judgment as much as it is about receiving a judgment of mercy. Mercy that we have freely received can also be mercy we can freely give. What does salvation through Christ look like to you? How does/has/should it effect the way you live?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

Matthew 19:16-22

16 A man approached him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?”
 17 Jesus said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There’s only one who is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.”
 18 The man said, “Which ones?”
   Then Jesus said, “Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. 19 Honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
 20 The young man replied, “I’ve kept all these. What am I still missing?”
 21 Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.”
 22 But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened, because he had many possessions. (CEB)

Discipleship would be so much easier if there was a detailed list we could check-off as we went through life.

Volunteer working with the homeless, √. 
Give some money to church, √. 
Read the Bible some, √.
Prayer some, √.
This is what the guy was asking Jesus about. What other good thing did he need to do in order to go to heaven?

We ask this same question in different ways and at different times, don't we? We get obsessed with being "good" and instead Jesus is looking for us to be obedient. Jesus is not looking for us to check one more "good" thing off the list, just like He told the man to sell everything he had (aka "give me yourself"), He wants all of our lives, in relationship and obedience. How are you trading being good for being obedient?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

Matthew 18:21-22

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”
 22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times." (CEB)

The point of this dialogue is not to have Peter (or us) sharpen our math skills but rather the power of forgiveness. Stop for a second and think about this question from another perspective...what if God was asking how many times He had to forgive you and me? 

All of a sudden "seventy-seven" (or some translations say "seventy times seven") doesn't seem like that many. Remember, the focus is not to track the number of times you forgive someone and once he or she gets to 490 times you don't have to forgive him or her anymore. Just like the number seven represents "wholeness" in the Bible, the point of Jesus' response is to forgive wholly. What does it look like for you to forgive wholly? Who needs to receive forgiveness from you today?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage? 

March 20, 2012

Matthew 18:1-5

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
 2 Then he called a little child over to sit among the disciples, 3 and said, “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (CEB)

 What a question to ask. Not to say that some of us haven't wanted to ask questions just like this one. Before Jesus even utters a word, He makes a powerful statement by calling a child over to sit with them. The disciples had become obsessed with the idea of an earthly kingdom and needed to be refocused, what better way to do that than by looking at a child.

This is a story about the greatness of humility and how we must make that a legitimate part of our lives and attitudes. What does it look like for you to "become like a little child?" 

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage? 

March 15, 2012

Matthew 16:24-28

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “ All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 25 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. 26 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? 27 For the Human One is about to come with the majesty of his Father with his angels. And then he will repay each one for what that person has done. 28 I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see the Human One coming in his kingdom. ” (CEB)

Anyone that tells you being a Christian is easy, has never read this passage. Anyone who says discipleship doesn't require everything you are, has never understood this passage. Christ calls us to follow Him but it is not without cost. Saying 'no' to self, carrying one's cross, losing one's life..."because of me" says Jesus.

Carrying a cross is not a pleasant image. It would be great to hear what that means to you. What cross is Christ calling you to bear? Perhaps to help carry the cross of another?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

March 14, 2012

Matthew 16:13-23

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
   15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
 21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (NIV)

What a straightforward question, "Who do you say I am?" There was no way evading that question or giving some sort of beat-around-the-bush answer. Peter speaks up, because that's what Peter does but I wonder, what did the other disciples say? What would you say?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage? 

Matthew 16:5-12

5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
 7 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
 8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (NIV)

One of the things that yeast does it cause things to expand or grow. We know that's why the dough rises as it sits before baking. There has been a lot of talk of bread recently for the disciples and so they weren't exactly sure what Jesus was talking about when He mentioned the "yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." If any of you have ever made something with bad yeast, it ruins the entire batch. Here is what Jesus is talking about, keep from letting bad things grow in your life.

Stop and think about that for a second, what sorts of things do you allow to "grow" in your life that don't belong there or make you sick (spiritually or physically)? These are the types of things we need to give up and get over because they keep us from having enough room for the good stuff.

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

March 12, 2012

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
   29 “Come,” he said.
   Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God." (NIV)

Jesus continues to assert His authority over the created order, while also freaking His disciples out. In the midst of all of this, Peter tells Jesus to call him out of the boat. Jesus does, and Peter goes. Sure Peter began to sink but at least he got out of the boat.

Where is Christ calling you to go? What boat do you need to get out of and walk in faith?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

Matthew 14:13-21

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
 15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
 16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
 17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
   18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (NIV)

There could have been close to ten thousand people gathered there that day to listen to Jesus' teachings and maybe even be healed by Him. We read that Jesus had compassion on the people and not only met their physical needs, healing and hunger, but their spiritual needs as well.

Once again we read of Christ's power over the created world as well as the spiritual. We also see that He is faithful to provide. One of the things this passage makes me wonder, what types of things might happen if we allow ourselves to be moved to action out of compassion for others? 

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

Matthew 13:44-46

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
   45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (NIV)

 Have you ever wanted something so much that you were willing to part with other things to get it? It sounds like "the kingdom of heaven" is one of those things. Selling everything to buy a field or a pearl of great value will certainly change the way one lives. 

And here is part of the challenge we read, giving up everything for the kingdom will change our lives. We must ask ourselves if we are willing to sell-out for the kingdom. Are you?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

March 8, 2012

Matthew 13:18-23

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (NIV)

So, I'd like to hear from you. After reading this parable (13:1-9), what sorts of things stick out to you? What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

Matthew 12:33-37

33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (NIV)

When James tells us we should be "quick to listen, slow to speak" (1:19) he is reminding us that our words matter. I'm sure there are plenty of recent examples we can come up with where words have caused hurt and pain, many of which are, as Jesus describes, "empty."

As we continue our journey through Lent, are there empty words you need to seek forgiveness for? What might happen in your relationships at work, school, home if you were to be a little quicker to listen and maybe a little slower to speak?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

March 6, 2012

Matthew 12:1-14

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
 3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
 9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
 11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (NIV)

Have you ever been so caught-up in following the rules that you forgot why they were there in the first place? The Sabbath rules were so Jews would be reminded to rest, not ignore doing good. Once again the religious guys don't seem to be acting very religious, they got upset with Jesus because he healed a man's deformed hand. Wait, what?!? They got mad because Jesus wasn't following the rules by healing that guy...perhaps a missed point?

Can you think of times when you have made faith more about following rules and  missed opportunities around you?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

March 5, 2012

Matthew 9:10-13

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV)

 It was a big deal that a Jewish rabbi would sit down to a meal with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were basically seen as traitors and sinners were, well, sinners, so for Jesus to enjoy fellowship with people like this around the dinner table was considered scandalous. Why? Because the religious guys thought he wasn't being religious enough by hanging out with these irreligious guys. Jesus' response, "That's the whole point of the Church" (my paraphrase).

How are you looking to engage the "sick" around you? Are you? Don't forget that you and I are the "tax collectors" and "sinners" as well. These are our people because it is all people. Jesus gave us quite an example, so go and invite someone to dinner.

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage? 

March 3, 2012

Matthew 9:1-8

1 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
 3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
 4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 Then the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man. (NIV)

I am fascinated by the faith of the paralyzed man's friends. We see Jesus assert His authority not only over spiritual things, like forgiving sin but also over the physical world, by allowing the man to walk. With that said, it is the faith of the man's friend that really stands out to me. It is because of their faith that their friend is not only forgiven but healed. Is it possible that your faith might change the life of someone else? Have you ever witnessed this happen?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

Matthew 7:24-27

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (NIV)

A classic Sunday School song from growing up, "The wise man built his house upon the rock...the rains came down and the floods came up...and the house on the rock stayed firm." The outcome was slightly different for the foolish man who built his house on the sand. This story is all about foundations, what are you building your life upon? Wealth? Health? Fame? Faith in Christ? Rock or sand?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

March 2, 2012

Matthew 7:1-5, 12

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
   3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (NIV)
 "Judge-y" is often a charge given to many Christians. Perhaps it is human nature to want to point out the "specks" of those around us while ignoring our own "planks." Paul talks about this very thing in the first couple verses of Romans chapter 2. The Church has become so quick to pass judgment while forgetting we stand condemned ourselves and forgetting the grace we have been shown. Have you ever experienced the "judgment of Christians?"

Thinking more about this idea of passing judgment, do you think it is ever appropriate for one to pass judgment on another? Why or why not?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

February 29, 2012

Matthew 6:25-34

February 28, 2012

Matthew 6:19-21, 24

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (NIV)

Think about the connection of "treasure" and "your heart" for a moment. I wonder if the two can ever be disconnected or if they always go together. I find myself leaning toward the always go together idea. Even if you flip the statement around, "for where your heart is, there your treasure will be," it still makes sense to me. Your heart will be with your treasure, and of course vice versa. Think about it. Agree or disagree? Either way the question we must ask ourselves daily: What is it we treasure?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage? 

February 27, 2012

Matthew 6:5-15

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
   9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
   “‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
   on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
   as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
   but deliver us from the evil one.

   14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NIV)

I have to admit, I'm not always very good at praying. I don't feel as though it's the quality of my prayers but rather the quantity of them. I don't think I pray enough. I'm going to establish a goal to pray at least 3x a day for the remainder of Lent and see what happens. What about you, what kinds of things come to mind when you think about prayer?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage? 

February 25, 2012

Matthew 5:43-48

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NIV)

Talk about a tough teaching. Not only are we told to love our enemies but pray for them as well? Then Jesus goes on to say that loving the people that are easy to love (or just like us) is not something we should pat ourselves on the back for. Instead he is challenging us to love the ones we might find most unlovable. Then he caps it all off with the one line zinger about "being perfect." I can't help but think about Wesley's idea of "going on to perfection." What does that look like to you?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

February 24, 2012

Matthew 5:38-42

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (NIV)

At one point there was a teaching that said it was fine to determine your own justice, to do unto others as they have done unto you. Jesus shows up and says, "not so much" (my paraphrase). Turning the other cheek is rarely ever an easy thing to do. What sort of experiences have you had when turning the other cheek? What do you think it means when Jesus tells us to go the second mile?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

February 23, 2012

Matthew 5:14-16

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (NIV)

 The Christian faith was never intended to be a solely private thing. We must live our theology publicly, not simply to model what it means to be a disciple but as a way to engage people in the story of the Gospel. What is significant about this story is that it is not about how great or perfect we are but rather quite the opposite and yet God extends Himself to us through His Son. Our "good deeds" are not the result of us being good people but God's grace working in us and through us. So, the question becomes, how are you lighting the lives of those around you?

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage?

February 22, 2012

Matthew 5:1-11

1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes
    He said:    3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

   11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (NIV)

The beginning of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount brings us the Beatitudes. I've always found the Beatitudes to be really interesting and sometimes confusing. The meek and the poor in spirit were two that made me wonder how they would inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven but the more time I spent with this passage, the more I began to see the messages of hope, perseverance, and purpose. To be shown mercy, see God, and claim the kingdom of heaven? Not a bad deal.

What do you find meaningful, confusing, or challenging in this passage? 

February 21, 2012

Lenten Bible Journey

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday which signifies the beginning of Lent. Most people give something up for Lent as a way of remembering the 40 days of fasting that Jesus experienced in the wilderness prior to starting his public ministry. I am going to "pick something up" for Lent right here on my blog and post daily thoughts on various Bible verses throughout the 40 days of this journey. My hope is that you will not only join me in reading Scripture daily but join me here to engage in meaningful conversation. You can see the reading schedule below:

Feb. 22 Matthew 5:1-11              March 16 Matthew 18:1-5
Feb. 23 Matthew 5:14-16            March 17 Matthew 18:21-22
Feb. 24 Matthew 5:38-42            March 19 Matthew 19:16-22
Feb. 25 Matthew 5:43-48            March 20 Matthew 20:1-16
Feb. 27 Matthew 6:5-15              March 21 John 3:16-21
Feb. 28 Matthew 6:19-21, 24      March 22 John 8:1-11
Feb. 29 Matthew 6:25-34            March 23 John 14:1-7, 18-19
March 1 Matthew 7:1-5, 12         March 24 John 14:25-31
March 2 Matthew 7:24-27           March 26 John 15:1-12
March 3 Matthew 9:1-8               March 27 Romans 12:1-8
March 5 Matthew 9:10-13           March 28 Romans 12:9-13
March 6 Matthew 12:1-14           March 29 Romans 12:14-21
March 7 Matthew 12:33-37         March 30 1 Corinthians 13
March 8 Matthew 13:18-23         March 31 1 John 4:7-12, 18-21
March 9 Matthew 13:44-46         April 2 Matthew 26:17-30
March 10 Matthew 14:13-21       April 3 Matthew 26:36-46
March 12 Matthew 14:22-33       April 4 Matthew 26:57-68
March 13 Matthew 16:5-12         April 5 Matthew 27:32-46
March 14 Matthew 16:13-23       April 6 Matthew 27:50-61
March 15 Matthew 16:24-28       April 7 Matthew 27:62-66

February 18, 2012

A Chance for Change? :: Part IV

This is part 4 (read part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here) of a blog series talking about the chance for change within The United Methodist Church. In this post I will be focusing on change at the local church level. I understand each local church is different but I believe there are a number that share a few similarities as I speak from a United Methodist perspective and continue to hope for change.

There is a pervasive inward attitude within many of our local churches that is determining the way in which we engage ministry (or don't). So often we become driven by our own comforts and traditions that we fail to see the culture around us has and is changing. It's not so much that comfort is the issue but rather, whose. If we fail to change our focus from keeping those on the inside comfortable to how we make those on the outside more comfortable, we will continue to struggle to actually be the Church.

Our resistance to change will continue to domesticate Christianity and make it seem completely irrelevant to a culture that is constantly moving and searching for meaning. By allowing this to happen we have made our message contrary to the Gospel Message; trading transformation, hope, and grace for conformity, comfort, and control. If we do not change our ways many of the mainline Protestant denominations will continue to go the way of the artifact.

What changes do you want to see at your local church? How are you going to be a part of bringing that change about?

February 2, 2012

A Chance for Change? :: Part III

This is part 3 (read part 1 here and part 2 here) of a blog series talking about the chance for change within The United Methodist Church. In this post I will be focusing on change at the Annual Conference level. I happen to be serving in the Indiana Annual Conference which is the decision making body for all of the UMC churches in the state of Indiana. We meet each year during the summer to discuss, plan, and vote on issues facing UMC churches in Indiana. This year we are meeting in Indianapolis, IN June 7-9.

Similar to my hopes for General Conference, I believe much of the hope for meaningful change at the Annual Conference level comes from risk-taking, full-of-potential appointments; a streamlined ordination process; identify and use clergy (regardless of “status”) skillsets effectively; seriously commit resources to programs and ministries that reach those 40yrs and younger; facilitate clergy health through spiritual, physical, social, and emotional balance.

I truly believe meaningful, effective change has a chance at the Annual Conference level and is one of the places real change must take root in order to turn this ship around. What kind of change would you be interested in seeing at the Annual Conference level?

January 30, 2012

A Chance for Change? :: Part II

This is Part II (read Part I here) of a blog series talking about the chance for change within The United Methodist Church. In this post I will be focusing on change at the General Conference level, which is the primary decision making body for the entire denomination. This body of delegates meets every 4 years and will be meeting this year, April 24-May 4, in Tampa, FL.

I admit that I am unaware of all the various proposals, petitions, legislations, etc. that sit before the General Conference, so, having said that, I will touch on a couple that are changes I think could be helpful for our denomination. My hope and prayer is if we agree on nothing else, we would agree that something needs to change at the very least.

Proposed Restructuring 
I’m big into organization structures and efficiencies. I like to change things structurally and move pieces/people around but I don’t believe restructuring alone necessarily equals meaningful change. If you have the wrong pieces to start with and simply move them around, you still have wrong pieces, just in different places. I think the saying goes something like…right people, right bus, right seats.

I do not share the concern of consolidated power under the bishops. While the “set-aside” bishop reminds me of the office of Pope from my Roman Catholic upbringing, the Council of Bishops, the General Council for Strategy and Oversight, and the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry seem so disconnected from local church ministry that the impact of such restructuring would be minimally felt.

I believe issues that address streamlining (overhauling?) the ordination process, an appointment system that provides opportunities for effective clergy, and theological issues that advance the mission of the Gospel would bring about more significant, meaningful, and overarching change to our denomination.

Fellow UMC twitter friend @halehawk suggested “A More Equitable Salary” petition to the General Conference. Which changes do you support or suggest?

January 26, 2012

Infant Baptism vs. Baby Dedication: Part I

I’ve had a couple infant baptisms over the past few months and have a number of couples that are expecting babies to arrive soon and the topic of baptism vs. dedication was brought up recently. I don’t think “vs.” is the best way to frame it but we’ll work with it for the purposes of this post. A couple different thoughts were raised so I thought I would write a two-part post in response.

Is infant baptism scriptural? 
It was not uncommon for the apostles to baptize entire families, including babies & small children. We see examples of this in Acts 16:11-15, 31-34; 18:7-8; 1 Cor. 1:16. Baptizing an infant would fit well with the Jewish thought of covenant and how baby boys would be circumcised on the eighth day to represent their involvement in the covenant and then have the opportunity to “own” that for themselves at their Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for girls). In The United Methodist Church, the opportunity to “own” one’s infant baptism comes through the process we call Confirmation.

John Wesley talked about a form of grace he called prevenient. The idea is this type of grace comes before, or prior to, one’s realization of its presence. It is by God’s grace that we even become aware of God’s grace. For me, infant baptism has become one of the most beautiful pictures of God’s prevenient grace, present in a baby’s life before s/he is ever aware of it. It seems as though infant baptism speaks to the very nature of grace, which is always prior.

What are your thoughts? Where do you see yourself on this topic? Look for Part II talking about doing a baby dedication at an infant baptism church.