Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Further Adventures in Shameless Self Promotion

Today an article I wrote is on the front page of the worship section of Ministry Matters.

The article is called Worship for Communities in Crisis, and it talks about how we used the first worship service after the Bethlehem UMC fire in 2009 to give voice to what our community was feeling and to help begin facilitating the grief process. The article also includes the order of worship for that Sunday in PDF form.

I pray that no other pastors and churches out there have to go through an experience like this, but unfortunately I know that it will happen, so I hope what I've shared is somehow useful to them, or just interesting for those who plan and lead worship.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Meditation

I've been pondering the significance of Lent this year and what the purpose of a Lenten fast really is. Denying myself something like coffee or chocolate for a certain period of time is a good discipline, I suppose, but I don't really feel like I'm growing closer to understanding the suffering of Jesus through doing it.

But how do we really get in touch with Jesus' suffering without going to extreme lengths like these guys in the Philippines who have themselves crucified every year? Plus, I'm not sure that's the point, either.

At its most basic level, I take the story of Jesus' passion and death to be a demonstration of how God experiences everything that human beings experience, and by going through these things and coming out on the other side, we know that all the pain of this life ends, but life itself does not.

The Gethsemane part of the passion story has always been very meaningful to me because it's easier to see myself in this story. I've never known extreme physical suffering, but I do know what it is to have crippling anxiety and deep, painful loneliness. I can also see myself in the shoes of Peter, James, and John, being so oblivious to how a friend is hurting that it's like I'm asleep in their hour of need, only to realize how badly I've screwed up after the fact.

So on this Good Friday, I'm using a song by Eli (one of the few Christian artists who isn't afraid to sing about what people really go through, and not just sing "Jesus is my Boyfriend" songs), called "King of the Hill", and it's enhanced with some images from Mel Gibsons Passion of the Christ.

I hope this enhances your experience of this holy day in some small way.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Breaking Ground

AOn Palm Sunday afternoon we broke ground on the new building for Bethlehem United Methodist Church. We had over one hundred people join us for the ceremony, including several former pastors, and my successor, who will begin serving Bethlehem in July.

The Leaf Chronicle covered the event.

The groundbreaking was really special for me because it marked the end of a nearly two year process of recovery, visioning, and planning following the fire, as well as symbolically marking the end of my tenure with Bethlehem.

BUMC's choir began the service by singing "Holy Ground"
Several congregational officers and I dug the ceremonial first shovels-full of dirt with our golden shovel (a regular shovel from Lowes covered in metallic spray paint!).

I got chills as I pronounced the words from the Book of Worship's Order for the Breaking of Ground for a Church Building.
After the ceremony, we invited everyone to take the shovel and dig. Kate wanted to get in on the action, of course.
Afterward, Jessica and my mom gave me a gift they'd been planning and working on sporadically for nearly six years (it was originally intended as an engagement present). They made a stole with symbols that reflect what is really important to me in ministry.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Big Reveal

OK, so after a couple weeks of having to sit on this news (although several folks have already found out), I can announce where I'll be moving this summer.

Starting in July I'll begin serving as the pastor of Arlington United Methodist Church in Nashville.

This is very exciting for a number of reasons. Nashville is my hometown, so we'll be closer to my parents, not to mention where Jessica works, so no more 100 mile roundtrip commutes every day!

But there's another reason I'm excited about this appointment. I've actually worshipped at Arlington before:

These photos were taken in February of 1981, when my parents were members of Arlington. I was baptized there by Dr. Glen Phillips, and the church has had a number of amazing pastors in its history, so I have some very large shoes to fill.

This move is also great for us because it has given Jessica and I the opportunity to buy our first home.

We had the inspection done today, and everything looks great. We feel very blessed to have found such a great place for our children to grow up. We'll close in the next few weeks and move in soon after that. Check Jessica's blog soon for the first of what will be many, many posts on our house.

The only sad part, of course, is that I'm leaving the wonderful people of Bethlehem. My four years with them have been great, the last two very eventful and memorable. We'll break ground on our new building on Sunday, which will mark the end of the "fire and recovery" chapter of BUMC's history, so it's a fitting time to end my tenure and let them begin this new chapter with a new pastor.

Thanks to all those who have been inquiring about our next step and praying for us. Before 2011 is out we'll have a new church, a new baby, and a new house. More prayers, please!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Proud Spouse Promotion!

My wife, Jessica, and her team have been working for months on the new resource website from the Publishing House, and it launched earlier this week. So here it is!


The site is a one-stop-shop for Sunday mornings. It has resources on preaching, teaching, worship, leadership, and many other things. It also includes access to a number of different biblical commentaries and posts from interesting folks' blogs, and even podcasts.

Quick disclaimer- you will find some of my material on the site, so my praise is biased, but there is a lot of really great stuff there.

While the site is still in the Beta stage, access to all the resources is free. In a little while there will be a few different categories of subscriptions, but for all the stuff you get, it's worth the money.

Check it out and leave a comment or two, because the team is always looking to make improvements.

A Parable of the Kingdom?

I found this over at the Emergent Village blog. I hope they don't mind me sharing this:

What is the Kingdom of God like, you ask?

A woman lived in rural central California. She was known for her kindness, generosity and love, but she was also fair and just. Her five children were normal kids, but the four youngest were known around town for their rebellious streaks. As a single mom, she did the best she could to establish both love and rules in the house, but four of her kids desired freedom over relationship. So one evening, the four youngest filled their backpacks and ran away.

The mom woke up and, finding four of her children’s beds empty, began to weep. She would not rest until her children returned home or she found them. Being a farm owner, she had plenty of hired hands to help in her search. She put the farm’s business on hold and sent her workers out to search for her lost darlings. She spent every last dime printing pamphlets, recording radio spots and inundating the TV with ads exclaiming her love for her children and her pleas for them to return home into her loving arms. All that she had, was and would be theirs.

Then one day, it happened. One of her runaways returned home. Seeing and hearing her message, his heart melted and he came back. She embraced him, welcoming him home. She turned to her eldest son (the one that never ran away) and asked if he would help find and bring back the others. He set out with a mission and a message. When he found two of the three, he told them of their mom’s love for them and how badly she missed them and her relentless desire for all of them to come home. He also reminded them of the Great Rule, but they refused to come back with him. He never did find the forth lost one.

Years passed and no sign of her kids. Regardless, a great rule had been violated. So she climbed into her pickup truck with a few hired hands and set out to bring her children home. On May 17, she found them.

All three were huddled up near a dumpster, clutching a worn blanket. They saw her truck approach and, too tired to run, they just sat with terror I their eyes. See, while away, they had been told countless lies by countless people that their mom was not a kind woman, that she did not love them and that she was mad-as-hell at them. Added to this were their incredible loneliness, shame and feelings of worthlessness. Living on the street—isolated from love—can do this to anyone, and it certainly did them. Seeing her children and hearing about their condition, the mother reassured them of her love. But despite her undying, never-ending motherly love for her children, she knew that the Great Rule had been violated and she must act accordingly.

They pulled up into the driveway and the truck came to a dusty halt. The hired hands helped the kids climb out of the back of the truck. As the mom walked to the house she looked back one last time at her kids. Motioning to the hired hands, she firmly declared, “Take them away. They violated the Great Rule and did not return to me on their own.”

“But mom….!?”

“Not another word,” she interrupted. “Whether you knew it or not, The Great Rule says that my children shall not run away and that if they do, they are to return on their own within three years. If they do not, I will find them and the Great Punishment must be inflicted. I even sent my oldest son for you, but you did not believe him.”

“Mom, we are sorry. We were scared, hurting and full of shame. We did things we are not proud of and that you would not approve of. Deep inside, when the nights were the quietest, we knew you loved us but we were afraid that you would have nothing to do with us after all we had done.”

With tears in her eyes she slowly replied, “I understand, I see you are truly sorry and I love you. But there is nothing I can do; I am powerless against the Great Rule. Three years have passed, you did not return and the Rule is the Rule.” With that, she turned and walked towards the house where her returning-son stood on the porch, watching.

The hired hands, still clutching the children by the arms, took them away to the barn…even the fourth child who never heard the eldest son’s message. As directed by the Great Punishment, they entered the barn, tied the children to the posts and began beating them. Next came the kerosene. Then, in the midst of their screams and under the watchful eye of their loving mom, they and the barn were set ablaze.

The loving, kind, full-of-mercy, just and righteous mom, turning from the window overlooking the burning barn, looked at her oldest son and the child who returned to her, wiped the tear from her eye and smiled. She motioned once more to her hired hands and—with the other children still burning and screaming outside—the feast of feasts, the party of parties, began. The mom, her eldest son, her returning-on-his-own child, and even her hired hands lived, feasted, and partied…happily…ever…after.

The End.

Now go, and share this GOOD NEWS of the Kingdom. Praise be to God.

For those that missed the irony, this retelling of the modern evangelical Christian meta-narrative shows how unbelievably screwed up our theology is when we're very comfortable with the everyone burning in Hell,  and offended by everyone going to Heaven. Check out all the noise people have made over Rob Bell's latest book, Love Wins, if you want to know what I'm talking about.

This little parable doesn't prove universalism is true or that Hell doesn't exist, of course, but it does raise a question about what we really believe. Do we really believe that God's love conquers all, or do we believe that Jesus somehow exploits a loophole in the system set up by an angry, wrathful deity? And if the latter is the case, do we really believe that God is triune and completely of one essence in three persons?

On a personal note, as a father, myself, this story makes me sick. If this truly were the essence of the Christian faith, then I'd walk away and never set foot in a church again. Sadly, we've done a very good job convincing the world that this really is Christianity, and they've acted accordingly. I, for one, don't blame them.

Let's make sure we're not only telling a better story, but a true story about who God really is.

Friday, April 08, 2011


I've been promising further reflection on several experiences from Project Israel, and I haven't forgotten about them. For better or worse, I've been rather distracted lately with finishing certain pieces of business at Bethlehem, specifically the groundbreaking for the new building on Palm Sunday, and taking care of managing the transition to my new appointment. More details on that to come, later too. (promises, promises...)

One thing I have kept asserting to everyone I've talked to since I got back is that this experience was not merely a trip, but a pilgrimage. While I fear coming off sounding snooty, as if my experience was somehow on a different plain unattainable by others, I do believe that the purpose of our journey was specific enough to warrant the designation.

This was not a vacation, although I did find the change of pace restful in its own way. Nor was this merely an educational experience, although I learned a tremendous amount. To paraphrase our guide, Peter Miano (who runs the Society for Biblical Studies), a pilgrimage is unique (specifically, different from commercial sightseeing) because the places you visit require investing something of yourself. These places ask deep questions of you, and the experience of the journey changes you in some fundamental way.

Or, to quote Paul Elie, "the process of pilgrimage is how we take others’ stories and, while remaining faithful to them, make them our own".

I hope to finish a post these further reflections in the next week (otherwise Holy Week will do me in and put them off God knows how long) and share a bit about how these places challenged me with some deep questions, and how these others' stories have now become part of my own.

Monday, April 04, 2011

43 Years Ago Last Night

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his last speech, in Memphis.

43 years ago today he was martyred by the forces of hatred.

But his legacy lives on, because the gospel he preached is more powerful than death.

Rest in peace, Dr. King. We're not there yet, but because of you we're a lot closer.

Saturday, April 02, 2011