Thursday, July 31, 2008


This is truly one of the best blog articles I've read in a while. It's entitled "Making Advocates Not Buildings."

I'll add some personal comments soon, but I wanted to pass this along it was so good.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Are They Ready to Listen?

OK, this one is mainly for pastors and church leaders admittedly...

Seth Godin had an interesting post on on his blog entitled "Are They Ready to Listen?" (I know you're wondering where I came up with this post's title...I don't know! They just come to me.).

His point was that marketeers and retail can sell and promote and use demographics all they want, but if people are not ready to listen...they won't. He adroitly demonstrates this with the story of selling activist manuals at a huge march in Washington D.C. He sold zero manuals. Why? People were there to march...not read about marching or read about protesting. They weren't ready to hear!

I wondered about this in the Church. I think too often leaders (especially pastors) assume that because people are at a church service, they are ready to hear. Perhaps...perhaps not.

I firmly believe we need to think and plan our communications and messages. Strategic planning is so vital. What is happening in the life of the church? What is happening in the life of the people? What plans has the church laid out to get people ready for an event/campaign/even a sermon series?

The big part of this is that we CANNOT instantly change people to be ready to hear! However, we can slowly and very intentionally cultivate and create environments that allow our message to be heard. I like to talk about "preaching somewhere," or asking the question, "where are we going?" Sermons, messages, and series should be taking the spiritual life of the church somewhere. Do we know where? If not why? Will we accomplish our goals just throwing ideas out there every Sunday hoping that someone puts it all together?

In the end, perhaps I'm advocating for just that: The Church needs to do a better job of helping people see how it all fits together...or how it doesn't quite fit together and how to wrestle with that. Just throwing out random ideas hoping that people catch on seems haphazard, lazy, and even worse, quite arrogant.

I'd like to hear some of your thoughts on this....

Monday, July 28, 2008

Things New and Old and Great

Scripture Text: Matthew 13:44-52
Sermon: "Things New and Old and Great"

These parables of Jesus focus on the Kingdom of Heaven. They connect, yet they are not easy to connect. Two speak of the great find, one speaks of making decisions, and the last one speaks of packaging.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure or a pearl of great value. Infinitely valuable and beautiful, it is sought recklessly by those that find it. The issue is that not everyone finds it...or chooses to look for it. The interesting thing about this kingdom is that it is backward: We find it, sell all, and buy it. Our normal pattern is find, buy, sell.

Summarizing a story, there was a Desert Father whose disciple (a young monk) asked him why people came to the desert to seek God...Yet, they left after only a few weeks. The Desert Father replies, "My dog saw a rabbit and began chasing it. He barked and chased, and made a big noise. Soon another dog joined...and another...and another. Soon the whole desert was filled with the sound of barking, chasing dogs. This went on into the night. As day broke however, some of the dogs had quit. By noon, only my dog was left chasing the rabbit." "Do you understand," he asked? The young monk said, "No!?!" The old man replied, "My dog saw the rabbit." This is like the Kingdom of Heaven. When we see it, we will doggedly pursue it. Some may hear about it, but unless they see it, they will not stay the course.

We must sell all for it. When we are gripped by grace and see the value of this Kingdom, we will give everything we have and are to get it.

Another summarized story, a man visits a family with a greyhound that raced in the gambling circuits. When the young family was doing the bedtime routine, the dog turned to the man and asked about him. Eventually the man asked the dog, "I hear you retired from racing." The greyhound said, "Who-Did they tell you I retired!?! I didn't retire. For 10 years I raced professionally in several circuits in Florida. For 10 years, 7 days a week, I chased that rabbit around and around and around the track. Then, one day, I got close to that rabbit...closer than I'd ever been. And you know what! That rabbit was a fake! I'd been chasing a fake rabbit my whole life! I didn't retire...I quit!"

Too often we settle for the lesser rabbit. We run around in circles chasing something dead and meaningless. Don't settle for the passing things of this world that leave you running in circles getting nowhere. Seek the Kingdom of Heaven and doggedly pursue it.

What is your Pearl of Great Price? What are you spending your life on? What are you willing to give up? What are you choosing to live for and pursue?

Chase the Kingdom.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Joint Youth Ministry

Main Street Christian Church and Winchester First United Methodist Church have begun official discussions of doing a joint youth ministry. A few of us met to discuss the possibility, and we have agreed to begin the process.

What an exciting thing! Both churches are in need of a youth pastor, and both churches are in need of a shot in the arm regarding youth ministry as a whole. Sitting down we realized that the Holy Spirit was guiding this and leading it. All of us were on the same page sharing the same desires and concerns. I personally left the meeting stoked: I think God is going to do something special, and below are reasons why I firmly believe this:
  1. Everyone is sensing that God is at work in the endeavor.
  2. Our thoughts, wants, and concerns are very similar. We are already on the same page.
  3. We know that God desires that the Church work together. This is an opportunity to bring not only two churches but a community of churches together in a common ministry.
  4. Our youth are craving for spiritual moments, spiritual development, and spiritual fellowship. There is a real need for a positive, ecumenical Christian environment.
  5. VBS and Youth Mission trips have already been jointly shared with great success.

Our job is to remain diligent, be responsive to the Spirit, and remember that the relationship is a give and take. Most of all, we must remain in prayer that God would make this happen.

I'm excited. I believe that we are doing something very cool. My past experiences with NiteLife in Whitley County lead me to believe that kids are craving a night to hang out, have fun, and develop their spiritual lives. This is, as Steve Taylor spoke of, a Kingdom Sign.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Yesterday, the children's ministry invited me to a putt-putt and ice-cream outing. It was really fun even though I learned that my miniature golf skills are not up to par...pun intended.

Our entire family was able to go. It was a great way to get out and get to know the children and a few soon-to-be middle schoolers. The ice-cream wasn't too bad either.

All joking aside, it reminded me that events like this are vital to the life of a church for they build community. We ate together, and we played together. My prayer is that we continue to do fun events like this, not just for children but for everyone...Just give me some time to practice my putting.

Thanks, everyone for setting that up, driving, and chaperoning a great event. It was a blast!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Do Not Weep!

Scripture Text: Nehemiah 8:8-12
Sermon: "Do Not Weep!"

Below is a summary of the sermon:

Sports are fun, and college football is the pinnacle of sports. The pageantry, the atmosphere, the fun surrounding the game; all make college football the most complete sporting experience. On game day a major college campus is buzzing with an excitement and energy that are difficult to ignore...Yet it's just a game as all sports are. People get really excited about entertainment because we all need a "pick-me-up" from life. So why is it church is often described as boring, dull, guilt-ridden, and irrelevant? Isn't church to be a gathering of encouragement and celebration of God's love?

In the text, God's people have rediscovered the Law. Their natural response is to weep out of guilt, anxiety, and despair; however, God's wish was for them to celebrate a new day of grace in God's love. In fact, the OT has several instituted festival days for God's people to rest, rejoice, and recreate. The gathering of God's people was to build up and encourage: The gathering of believers in worship is to celebrate!

Sunday we celebrate the Lord's Supper: We celebrate God's ultimate act of love through Jesus Christ, and we are to rejoice! Let's make no mistake...sin, stress, sadness are all real; however, God's love triumphs over all. And, that IS good news.

It's time to celebrate.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy!

It seems the days have grown shorter.

Being new and learning the senior pastor position at the same time is quite daunting. There are a TON of small things that I am learning I need to do that I have never done. Most are little things that were always done around me, but now I am doing them...or finding folks to do them.

My aim is to not fall behind in accomplishing my schedule of tasks and goals for each week; however, these last 5 days have really challenged that! So far, though, my head is above the water, and I am remaining on schedule.

I wonder though, if we try to pack too much stuff into our days? Is our lifestyle healthy? Is it normal throughout history? Have people always hurried to get stuff done like we do now, here in the U.S.?

Perhaps, our busy-ness is keeping us from more important tasks. I know it makes us edgier. At a meeting recently, I wanted to run out of the room as 5 minutes of business was crammed into over an hour. For some reason I just couldn't relax and make it a social was afterall a "meeting."

My prayer is that all of us can slow down a bit and focus on the important tasks before us.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Forward Together!

Well, our second Sunday went OK, I thought.

Our special music was late, and we started 5 minutes late. Using the powerpoint slides during the service has received several positive comments, but one froze up on me. I also was drawn into a long distance "silent" conversation with a cute blonde (Stephanie, of course!)...But, it happened to be in the middle of a song, and I forgot to switch the slide! The first clue was when everyone stopped singing:) Overall, though, I believe the pictures, backgrounds, and eventually video are an important step and ministry for our worship.

My favorite comments are the questions of "How is he changing the slides from up there!?!" Here's my secret: I have a remote.

The installation service went over well, and we received positive comments regarding its importance. Along with the sermon, our focus was on going forward together.

The Scripture text was Matthew 28:16-20.

I quoted the Blood, Toil, Sweat, and Tears speech of Winston Churchill where he ends, "Let us go forward together united in strength." Sharing how that speech set the tone of England's struggle and eventual victory over Germany, it became our standard: Let Us Go Forward Together!

I then shared some strengths and challenges that Winchester First UMC has/is facing. But in these, the reminder was that our focus is not on what we have/don't have, do/don't do, or who we are/aren't; rather, our focus should be on Christ Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

From the Matthew text, three themes popped out: Worship, Purpose, and Making Disciples.

The automatic response of the disciple is to worship. Just like if we hit our thumbs with a hammer, and we share some choice, too, in the presence of Jesus, his followers worship.

From worship flows our purpose: Without our adoration of Christ, our mission and purpose of making disciples makes no sense. Thus, the purposeful and missional church will always be the worshiping church!

Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. And remember? Disciples worship! So our aim is to bring all of Winchester, Indiana into worship of God through Jesus Christ! John Piper begins his book, "Let the Nations Be Glad" with this statement, "Missions exists because Worship doesn't." This small, somewhat paradoxical statement was pivotal to my first theological development, and I still find it to be the most meaningful statement of our purpose to date.

So full circle, we fix our eyes on Jesus in worship as we invite others to worship beside us and with us. United in Christ we, too, like England will have victory over the forces of Addiction, Poverty, Hatred, Greed, Depression, even the very gates of Hell. But, we must go together fixing our eyes on Jesus.

The sermon ended with the call, "Let us go forward together!"

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Real Change

Seth Godin's blog has an interesting article about making real change. No not pennies and nickels, but real, lasting, change that impacts your and/or others' lives.

One of his main points: Real change offends those who are against change at all costs.

Way too often, he argues we settle for "good enough." I was amazed to here a business/marketing guru saying this...I thought it was just a church thing!

What change is needed? Are we willing to pay the short term price for the long term gain?

Are we willing to be bold and courageous as we step out and do something new and different...not for the sake of new...but because it's the right thing to do?

Thanks, Seth. Great post.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

8 Years!

Stephanie and I celebrated our eighth anniversary last night. We went out to dinner...things were a little different this time around though. Two noisy kids, heartburn, and fixing a vacuum were a part of the night.

Time changes things, yet this woman is still the love of my life.

I thank God for a wonderful wife, mom, and friend. I pray for many more years together like the eight we have had.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"Here I Am!"

Today's Scripture was Isaiah 6:1-8, the call of Isaiah.

The sermon was entitled "Here I Am!" It had three turns.

Here I am. I'm the new pastor, this is my family, and here we are! I shared a few details about who I am. I then spoke of my call to ministry.

Here I am. Isaiah's response to God was "Here I am, send me." This text shows us a great example of the Mysterium Tremendum, the Holy "otherness" of God. When we truly experience God, it is live changing and life altering. In the midst of Isaiah's experience with God, he receives a call to ministry. He responds positively. Here I am. Send me. He joins God's mission to reconcile this world.

Here I am. God has a mission of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 shares with us that God has called us to task to share the message of Reconciliation: Forgiveness and being made new in and through Christ. God still calls today: Isaiah said, "Here I am. Send me." Where are you? God is calling. Are you ready to respond to God? God is calling. Are you ready to say...

Here I am. Send me.

I thought the service went well, and I was pleasantly surprised that I felt totally comfortable and at home. My prayer is that every Sunday that we are present, we would experience this AWESOME God, and fall deeper in love with our Savior, Redeemer, Creator, and Friend. Stephanie and I look forward to years of new experiences and great ministry serving alongside the people of Winchester First UMC.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Of Death and Resurrection

I just finished my first funeral in Winchester. The lady was a pillar of the church and women's groups for years. Only four days into this, many people commented, "What a way to start off!"

It was nice to hear the empathy. It is sometimes difficult in a new place to say the right things...or especially for me to NOT say the wrong things:) The people here are hospitable and have been very nice to us so far.

Being an associate pastor for four years, I have done several funerals for people outside the church, so I was actually OK with doing a funeral of someone I didn't know. In fact, as I have been reflecting on the circumstances, I thought "What better way to start a ministry...Celebrating a saint's victory through Christ over death!"

I am reminded of our communion liturgy: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!

Indeed, we get so caught up in "stuff" at the church. Today was a day when "stuff" doesn't matter. We grieve the loss of a friend. We comfort a family grieving. We celebrate this saint being embraced safe in the arms of Jesus for all of eternity.

Brothers and Sisters, Christ had died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again! This is our hope and our faith. Christ has died. In his death and suffering, our sin, our shame, our guilt die on the that ugly wooden torture device called the Cross. In Christ's rising, we too share in the victory over death and the resurrection of the dead.

Yet, not all is right. All the junk of life: hurts, hunger, poverty, hatreds, murder, jealousy, sickness, and death remain. Yet, Christ is coming again. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. Eden restored. And there will be no more tears...and the Lamb will be our light.

Yes, it was a great start to an appointment. Let's celebrate! A saint has overcome.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Kingdom Signs

One of my favorite blogs is written by a pastor in New Zealand. His church is doing a fun project entitled "Kingdom Signs."

The point of the project is for 5 lay persons to write blogs about how they see God working and moving in their daily lives. I couldn't think of a cooler or more important project for a church to undertake.


Only when we are able to see, appreciate, and communicate God's presence in our daily lives, do we begin to really see and hear God at work. It's a spiritual discipline of listening to God speak to us. It's an intentional looking for God. It's a provocative questioning of God's will and movement in our own lives.

I am struck by the profundity of this simple project. I wonder what that would look like in my life? What does it look like in yours? Where is God present, active, and moving in your life?

Once we recognize God around us, I believe that we become more open to sharing our faith in relevant and relational ways. Few care about theological propositions; however, when one can share about what God has done and is doing in their heart and life, the conversation becomes a sharing of life story...Something natural, organic, and non-confrontational.

The Kingdom Signs are all around! Thanks, Steve, for the brilliant idea and reminder of a spiritual discipline too important to ignore!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Back Online

I'm finally back online. During our move, we were so busy getting the house unpacked, we forgot to get our internet back online.

It's also nice to be back in a routine. Yesterday was my first official day of work at Winchester First UMC. It was great to unpack my office (only part way, Doug...just like you said!). Doing a visit and having my books on shelves really made it all feel right.

Everyone has been welcoming and hospitable. Our first day here, we received lunch and cookies! Thanks everyone! From neighbor visits to checking in on us to make sure we're doing OK, we've felt the love and care of our new community.

I'm looking forward to our first Sunday. We're back online!