Ministry is Messy

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     I have shared several times before that I am an alphabet soup of “disorders”. I was clinically diagnosed with ADD- Attention-Deficit Disorder, when I was in my 20’s. Nobody knew what ADD was when I was growing up…or I would have been diagnosed earlier! But as I read about it, suddenly LARGE portions of my life and who I am made sense! Several years later, I was talking about ADD and I said to my wife, “Well, at least I don’t have the ‘H’!” (As in “Hyperactivity” sandwiched between “Deficit” and “Disorder”.) My wife looked at me and said, “Oh, Honey…you have the H!” And she is SO right!

    So, there’s ADHD. And then, at about the age of 40, I began to read about OCD- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. (If you ever watched the TV show Monk…there you go!) As I read more about it, it became clear to me that I have THAT as well! Now, there are degrees of OCD. The character of Monk did things that I don’t do. BUT…I do a decent amount of the things he did…I have just learned how to either hide them or present them in more socially acceptable ways!

    One of the many ways that my OCD manifests itself is in my hands. I am obsessive…compulsive about my hands. If I do basically ANYTHING outside, I wear gloves. I do not like to get my hand dirty and I was them OFTEN! So in that respect, the word “messy” can be more than a little challenge for me.

    When I was in seminary, I had a professor who often told us, “You will come back to visit and tell me ALL the things I didn’t teach you about the ministry.” She was so right. She also said, “Ministry is messy.” And boy was she right about that, too!

    When you do math- at least the math that I have had some educational training in- there IS a right answer- a bottom line. When you get to the end of the problem, you can usually plug the answer back into the equation you started with and check to see if you’re right or not. 2 +2 = 4. Predictable. Clean. Logical.

    But ministry isn’t like that. Ministry is a WHOLE lot less “science” and a WHOLE lot more “art”. Sure, there are principles, tenets, beliefs, foundations. But lying on top of those is a hodge-podge of…life. It’s NOT predictable. It’s NOT simple. And…often…it’s NOT easy.

    Why is that the case? Why is math predictable and clean while ministry is unpredictable and messy? It’s because math is built around numbers while ministry is built around…us humans. And if there is one thing that is predictable about humans is that we are unpredictable. Someone can do the SAME thing 50 times. And then, on the 51st time they will do something completely out of the blue. It may be that the first 50 times they did it “wrong” and the 51st time is suddenly…right. Then again, it may be that the first 50 were perfect and 51 makes you wonder if they have ever done it before!

    Therefore, as a pastor, you have to hold fast to bedrock. And you better know WHAT bedrock IS for you. But you also have to we willing to sway in the wind sometimes, knowing that, although you may get buffeted around a bit, you still have a firm grasp to that foundation.

    For me, “bedrock” can be summed up with the words of United Methodist founder John Wesley. He said 1. Do no harm, 2. Do good and 3. Love God. If you can’t do ANYTHING else- make sure you don’t put anybody in a position to be hurt. But don’t stop there. START there…but don’t stop there. Next, do good. It’s not enough to do no harm. Do all the good you can in all the places you can. Oh, and by the way…LOVE GOD! The more you do #3, the more #1 and #2 will fall into place. Now, if you’ll excuse me- I have to go wash my hands!

    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Birthday Angel

BirthdayAngel     Today is the anniversary of one of THE
greatest things that has EVER happened in the history of humankind. Seriously. No foolin’! And what, you may ask, was that monumental event? On this date…the woman who said, “Yes” to my rather lame, nervous, poorly-thought proposal of marriage was born!
My wife and I met when we were but 15
years old…yep- High School Sweethearts! We met in the fall on a hayride and, over the next few months, struck up a friendship. It started slowly, almost imperceptibly…but it grew. She tells me that the “tipping point” for her, the moment she was sure I was interested in more than friendship, was the “standing in the rain” day.
Our high school was 3 large buildings
built around a central, sunken parking lot- The Pit. It was not at all unusual that, during the short passing period between classes, you would need to get all the way from the 3rd floor of The Main Building, across The Pit and to the 2nd floor of The Annex Building. That meant you had LITTLE time to dawdle and still get to your destination on time. Partway through the 2nd semester of that Sophomore year, I was walking away from The Main, toward The Pit and The Annex, trying to get to class, when I heard, “That’s OK- don’t wait for me!” I turned…and there she was! It turned out that she, too, had the same route to take and was behind me. I laughed and waited for her. We walked together across the campus.
The next day, it was pouring down rain at that same moment in the schedule. But I was NOT going that make that same mistake again! So…I stood out in the pouring rain, waiting for her. When she came out and saw me standing there, knowing full well WHY I was standing there…a significant moment happened! Our first official date was not terribly long after that- April 29, 1977- her birthday. She came to see me perform in the school musical Oliver! (She said it was foreshadowing- me standing up front talking and her in the crowd, listening!) We then went to a local restaurant where we had sautéed mushrooms and partially-frozen birthday cake while listening to the synthesized stylings of one Mr. Mike Zicovich.
The journey from that night to our wedding…to today…was not always smooth. There were LOTS of bumps in the road- some pretty substantial. I was NOT always the partner I wanted to be…should have been. But that deep, abiding love just kept bringing us together…holding us together.
She certainly did NOT sign on to marry a preacher. If you would have given her a potential list of a THOUSAND jobs I might end up doing…”ministry” would have STILL not been on the list! And yet- God continues to use the least, the lost, the reprobate. And so, WAY down the road- I finally had no choice but to relent to God’s call on my life. And as she has always done, this amazing woman who manages to somehow tolerate me year after year stepped up to the plate. She is both the least “typical” and best “pastor’s wife” I have ever seen! And she just continues to be the absolute best partner I could have ever imagined. Thank you, God, for the unfathomable gift of this beautiful woman in my life. I am truly blessed!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow!

“She Killed the Grapes!”

pruning grapes

    Last night, at the Wednesday Night Bible Study I lead, we talked about…ready…circumcision! (Didn’t really see THAT coming, did you?!) The lesson we were on looked at a passage from the New Testament Book of Colossians where the Apostle Paul talks about the Jewish ritual of circumcision. He then compares it to a wholly non-physical circumcision that Jesus performs in our lives when we accept Him.

    In the context of the conversation, I shared a story about my mom. To say she had a green thumb would be like saying that the sky is blue or the ocean is deep- painfully obvious! We had a MASSIVE garden. And if there was a fruit or vegetable to be grown, she at least tried to grow it. And seldom did she try and fail! (Although we had consistently bad luck with carrots! And yet, we grew a row of them every year…because the horse didn’t care about our bad luck- he LOVED them!)

    One of the MANY things my mom grew were grapes. We had two rows of vines on an arbor. (On arbors?) We planted them the first year and they grew really well but didn’t really produce much. Then, that Fall, as part of our annual “get ready for winter” tour (and at MY house, that tour had a REALLY long run!), we pruned the grapevines. And when I say “pruned”, perhaps “massacred” would be more descriptive! I mean, she hacked them down to the point that they weren’t even recognizable as grapevines. They were, instead…stumps.

    I was horrified. But you didn’t tell my mom that sort of thing. So I waited until later, when she wasn’t around but my dad was. I pulled him aside and said, “She killed the grapes!” He just laughed! The next Spring, of course, the grapevines came roaring back with a vengeance. They grew like wildfire and produced a bumper crop of grapes. I learned a valued lesson that year.

    So…circumcision…grapevines. The circumcision that Paul talks about in Colossians is like pruning those grapevines. It’s not a literal one but a spiritual one. When we commit ourselves to Christ, there is a pruning- a spiritual one- that takes place. The old, sinful nature is cut away, leaving space for the new, healthy spirit to grow and flourish. And that pruning is not a “one and done” kind of thing- it happens again and again. And every time it happens, parts of your life that are not of God are pruned away.

    The pruning process isn’t fun. It’s often painful. But it always bear fruit…if we let it. Give in to God. Let Him be the ruler of your life. Let Him cut away the old you so that He can replace with a new you- born again in Him!

    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

What Scares YOU?

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    What are you afraid of? Oh- I apologize to all my English teacher friends out there. What I MEANT to ask was, “Of what are you afraid?!” (Although I have an English teacher friend who turns that whole “not ending a sentence with a preposition” thing on its head when she…intentionally…asks, “What’s that about?!” I LOVE it!)

    So…what scares you? (See what I did there?!) There are all sorts of fears out there. In fact, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 572 known phobias or fears. There are relatively common ones like:

Acrophobia – fear of heights.

Arithmophobia- Fear of numbers

    There are more unusual ones like:

Arachi-butyro-phobia- Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth

Barophobia- Fear of gravity

Genuphobia- Fear of knees

Geniophobia- Fear of chins

No-ver-ca-phobia – fear of mother in laws (which I DON’T have!)

Hippopoto-monstros-equipped-alio-phobia- Fear of long words

    And there are two I hope you don’t have:

Homilphobia – fear of sermons

Peladophobia – fear of bald people

    There’s a common phobia that I think we all have in some area of our lives:

Tropophobia – the fear of making changes

    A study I read in the New York Times said that the biggest fear of all, even above death, is:

Glossophobia- the fear of public speaking (I would be in SO much trouble if I had that!)

    So, again- what scares you? I can honestly say that I’m not afraid of much. But I have an unnatural fear of…snakes. I was on a mission trip to the mountains of North Carolina once. We worked during the day and stayed at a very rustic camp at night. Early one evening, I was sitting in a picnic area, writing. The women’s cabin was just a few hundred feet from where I sat. All of a sudden, I heard a scream. I looked up to see one of the women who was a part of the mission trip dancing around and pointing. She saw me sitting nearby and yelled, “Mark!” I sat stock-still and relied, “Yes?” She yelled, “Snake!” I again sat stock-still and said, “Yes…it is.” She yelled, “Come and kill it!” As I went back to writing, I said, “No…I’m fine right here!”

    Fear is inconvenient at best and paralytic at worst. It can absolutely cripple you- keep you from being able to live life fully…maybe at all. But God did NOT make us to be fearful.

2Timothy 1:7 says, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” And 1John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” When we surrender ourselves to God’s power and love, we can be released from the hold that fear has on us.

    So…one last time- what scares you? Whatever it is- give it to God. Let it go and be confident that He can, and will, replace that fear with peace- a peace that passes all understanding.

    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Twittergram

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Remember the old movies? The main characters would be sitting in the parlor or drawing room, having tea and pleasant discourse, and the doorbell would ring. The characters would look at each other as if to say, “Whoever could that be?” Then the butler or the maid would come in with an envelope, “This just came for you, ma’am.” the woman of the house would take the envelope, open it, read it…and drop it on the floor with an “Oh, my!” or perhaps even a faint.

Those envelopes were Western Union telegrams. The information would come into the local Western Union office, often on a ticker tape machine. The message would be written or typed and then hand-delivered to the intended receiver. It was the height of technology…back in the late 19th century! But Western Union officially stopped sending telegrams in 2006…about 50 years after their effectiveness had passed. It is now something that is best seen in a museum- an example of how “things used to be”.
I recently read about a pastor who spoke before a group of his peers- other pastors. During his talk, he focused on the fact that churches need to keep current with the ways in which folks communicate. The way he put it was “we have too many 8-track preachers in an MP3 world”! Well said, pastor!
As I thought through that, I decided that what worked better for me, partly because I didn’t want to simply steal his idea and partly because it’s something that I have been trying to get around the learning curve on, is that we are often a telegram church in a Twitter world. A large portion of the American Christian Church is still trying to send telegrams and can’t imagine why their approach is not effective. It’s fascinating, really. We seem to accept the fact that things change. We are able to deal with changes in nearly every part of our lives…except in church. We somehow think that church should be the ONE thing that remain constant, dare I say static, in a sea of change.
But that’s simply not realistic. The Church is called to…what?…make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Period. It doesn’t say anything about not changing. It doesn’t say anything about pleasing ourselves. It doesn’t say anything about making disciples by forcing them to adapt to the way we do things. Instead, it says that we are to make disciples. And inherent in that directive is the notion that, as long as we keep the message clear and pure, the delivery system is subject to change.
Imagine if more churches actively used social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter. Imagine if more churches used things like text messaging as a part of the worship service. Imagine if more churches used the Internet as an interactive tool to better communicate with their members…and potential members. Imagine if the Church could let go of its stranglehold on “the way we’ve always done things” and instead asked, “How could we do things that might better reach new people for Jesus?” THAT’S the moment at which we would stop being a telegram church and start down the road to being a Twitter church.
Thank you for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Here We Grow Again!

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    I LOVE worship! Worship is the heart of any church…or it should be. Everything we are as Christians should grow out of genuine, spirit-filled, authentic worship. And because of that, worship should be done well. Now, let me make sure I explain that- I don’t want to be misquoted or misunderstood.

    Doing worship well isn’t about a “performance”. It’s not about staging an event. Instead, it’s about facilitating an environment where those attending are NOT just merely attenders”- they’re participants. It’s also about offering our best to God- the audience of One.

    So at the church I currently serve, we work hard to plan and prepare for our worship services. We meet weekly to go over the services for the week. We talk about the music that has been chosen- “is that song the right song and is it in the right place” and other conversations like that. We talk about who is doing Scripture reading. We talk about where in the service something that is “out of the ordinary” best fits. Sometimes, we go into the sanctuary and actually walk through things, trying to work out the best approach, logistically- especially if it involved moving lots of people.

    “How is that NOT rehearsing a play, Pastor?” The difference is found in the intent. If our intent is to entertain, then it IS rehearsing a play. But if our intention is to do the absolute best we can to facilitate worship- to help bring people further into a spirit of worship- then it is something else entirely. There is a mood and a momentum that exist in worship. And the more the worship staff can do to help enable that mood, that momentum, the deeper and more powerful the worship is. Once we embrace the truth that it is ultimately the Holy Spirit Who brings the true power to worship, then we can relax and focus on our job, which is simply to help facilitate that.

    I have been involved in starting several new worship services on my almost 20 years of ministry. Each one was a LOT of work and they all met with widely varying degrees of “success”. But you can’t fail if you are never willing to step out in faith! SO…I now start the process again. Yesterday at church I announced that we would be launching a new, 3rd Sunday morning worship at the church I currently serve. It will debut on September 11. It will feature electric guitar, drums and bass and will be the most “Contemporary” of the 3 services. And I am jazzed!

    New worship services mean new entry points for folks coming into the church. People initially connect with a church in a wide variety of ways. And the more entry points the church can offer, the more folks they can connect to Jesus Christ. So I have- intentionally- committed to more work, more stress and more effort over the next few months. Why? Because that’s what God calls us to do! AND…because I LOVE what I do!

    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The End of Me: Authentic to be Accepted

End of Me Authentic to be Accepted

Author Kyle Idleman tells the story that when his grandfather died, he went home for the funeral. He had dress slacks that needed to be dry cleaned for the visitation. So he went to a place called One Hour Cleaners. Perfect- because he needed those slacks that evening. He walked in, set the pants on the counter and said, “I want to leave these pants here, run a few errands and then pick them up in an hour. Is that OK?” “No, sir,” the girl said, squinting as if he’d spoken a foreign language. “But you can pick them up tomorrow.” “But your sign says ‘One Hour Cleaners’.” “Right. But we don’t clean clothes in one hour.” “Well then, shouldn’t you be called Next Day Cleaners? Or Whenever It’s Done Cleaners?” She just continued to squint. Idleman said, “Laundry in an hour from a One Hour Cleaners? What will they be demanding next?” But no matter what he said, the girl saw nothing remarkable about the situation.
Maybe, Idleman thought, he had been away too long and language had evolved beyond his understanding! Or maybe…it was just another case of false advertising. We hate it when we’re told one thing but receive another. The outside of something should give us a relatively accurate depiction of what we’ll find on the inside. And maybe…that’s true of us. When we look at our own lives, are we showing the world who we REALLY are?
     Psalm 139:11-16 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.
Today, we continue our current Sunday morning journey- The End of Me, based on the book by Kyle Idleman. We’re spending 8 weeks unpacking several truths that seem to make no sense! Week One, we considered what it means to be Broken to be Whole. Two weeks ago, we continued the journey as we looked at Mourn to be Happy. Last week, we took another step as we considered Humbled to be Exalted. Today, we look at what it means to be Authentic to be Accepted.
Today’s main Scripture comes from the Old Testament Book of 1Samuel. In this story, Samuel goes to see a man named Jesse, who was the son of Obed and the grandson of Ruth and Boaz. God sent Samuel to find a new king from among Jesse’s sons.
     1Samuel 16:6-12 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”
God sends Samuel to Jesse to find a king. And Samuel is anxious to anoint that king. So Jesse has his sons, one by one, pass by Samuel. It feels strangely like a beauty pageant. Eliab, the oldest, is first. He is tall, strong, impressive. But God rejects him, knowing that Samuel is impressed by his physique. Us humans tend to be impressed- and often deceived- by what our eyes tell us. But God looks at the heart. Samuel was focusing on the external. But that (Thankfully!) is NOT what God focuses on.
So, Samuel moved on. Abinadab, Shammah, the rest…they all file by, one by one. And all are rejected. In the end, none of these seven fine young men are acceptable. Samuel knows that God has chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be king. But he also knows that God has NOT chosen any of these standing before him. So the logical question is, “Is this it? Is this everybody?” Jesse says, “Well, there’s my youngest. But he’s just a kid. He’s out tending the sheep.” Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “youngest” also means “smallest”. Samuel was impressed by the height of Eliab, the oldest. Now he is offered David…the shortest! So Samuel asks that he be brought in. And to add some immediacy to the request, he says, “Nobody sits down until he gets here!” And the SECOND David shows up, God says, “THIS is the one!” God KNEW that what was INSIDE David was the makings of a king.
In The Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they’re too worried about cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside is still filthy. He even compared them to whitewashed tombs- sparkling and bright on the outside but filled with death and decay on the inside. Sprucing up the exterior- which is so easy to fake- is nice. But it’s the interior- where we are what we are- that counts. We spend a lot of time working on what we want the world to see. But God bypasses the bouncer at the door and comes right on it, to see what’s really going on INSIDE!
I saw a T-shirt that said, “May your life someday be as awesome as you make it appear to be on Facebook.” Think about the stereotypical Norman Rockwellian family Christmas card- “Here’s a picture of our happy, laughing family and an account of our incredible accomplishments during the year- all written from the point of view of our adorable puppy Rufus!” Think about Facebook- a picture of the happy family on the beach? Post it! A picture of that same family fighting in the car on the way to the beach? Not so much. A picture of a couple gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes with the caption, “Date night with The Hubs!”? Post it! A picture of that same couple on Monday morning- grumpy, snarling, hair in curlers, unshaven? Not so much!
Maybe we struggle with authenticity because we fear rejection. Fear is the enemy of transparency. We work hard to put up the most impressive front we can. We want the world to see us at our best, because then people are more likely to accept us.
Coming to the end of me means I’m done with the charade…and the emptiness that accompanies it. It means I seek only to please God. And when I do that, I get my reward from Him instead of people. Coming to the end of me means I’m no longer interested in “faking it”, because I understand that God is only interested in the “real me”. We position ourselves to live the most blessed life we can when we stop expending so much effort trying to convince people we’re something that we’re not. What really matters to God is what’s inside- where we transact our real business. When the inside and outside match up, we are RIGHT where God wants you to be. Coming to the end of me means I don’t have to try and hide my flaws because I know God’s love is unconditional. Coming to the end of me means getting over myself so the REAL me can experience the REAL life available in Christ.
Every instinct we have tells us to cover our sin deeply, stamp a big smile on our face and give the impression that we have all the answers and everything is coming up roses. But maybe we don’t need to try so hard to hide our blemishes. Maybe people will like us just the way we are. In fact, they might even be more drawn to us if they know some of our failings and struggles. It all boils down to the audience you choose. If you’re most interested in what other people think, then applause, attention and adulation are your reward. You’ve been paid in full- don’t look for any further commendation from God. When we close the curtain, shut off the stage lights and play to an audience of One…THAT’S when we come to the end of ourselves and more fully experience God’s blessing.
      1Peter 3:3-4 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
God wants to hear from the real me and the real you. Who we’re pretending to be doesn’t even come CLOSE to who we are on the inside. What He asks of us couldn’t be simpler. “Come just as as you are. You don’t have to dress up. You don’t have to decorate your language. You don’t have to put on a show. Just be at home with me. Be real. My place is your place.”
Ask God to cleanse your heart, to show you where and how you can be more authentic. You might do a good job washing the outside, but nobody can cleanse the inside like God can. Do you know what God wants from you? He wants authenticity- in your worship, in your relationships, in everything you do. He wants your life lived out in the open. A true relationship with God is NOT based on performance and pretense but on authenticity. And to authentically know God and to be authentically known by Him is precisely what we were made for.