Discovering and Celebrating Your Own Voice

I am turning 40 years old this month and it will also be my 15th wedding anniversary.  It is a big month.  15 years ago, on my 25th birthday, I also graduated seminary.   I’ll be 40 now, a new decade and a new box to check on forms.  I’m no longer a young clergy.  I’m, I guess what you call, middle-aged clergy?  Since I am on the downhill sprint of my second decade of ministry, I have been reflecting on my journey so far.  That is what people in middle age do, right?  We reflect on where we have come from and where we are.  It is a natural piece of adulthood.

Now you have to understand, I was dragged into this whole preaching thing.  I would much rather help with worship anywhere else than behind the pulpit on Sunday.  Speaking in front of people was and still is a fear of mine.  It is a heart pounding, sweat inducing fear.  It happens every Sunday.  I have learned though that the fear is rooted in embarrassment and lack of confidence.  I grew to know that preaching, this task, and art form, was something I could do, but it wasn’t my choice.

These past 15 years have taught me that life in ministry is all about looking past people’s expectations.  When I meet people and they find out what I do, they assume I am like the pastor they know.  I am just like their brother who is the pastor of a Free Will Baptist Church out in the country.  I’m just like that Catholic Priest who made life hell for them in Catholic School.  I must be outgoing and wanting to be the life of the party just like the previous minister of the church.  When I meet people they heap onto my shoulders the expectations of their experience with clergy.

I am a manuscript preacher and I need my notes every Sunday.  Yet, some say I should step away from the pulpit because that is what the TV preachers do.  I’m an introvert and so after two hours of fellowship at a wedding reception, I’m done.  Yet, some wonder why I would rather sit back and not work the crowd like the previous pastor.  There is a lot I don’t do like other people because this is the number one lesson I have learned over these 15 years of ministry, I can only be me.

I too had an expectation of what a great preacher looked like and it looked like those famous preachers.  Those outgoing, extroverted, extremely scholarly, and quick thinking preachers who were everything I wasn’t.  I learned that I was placing unrealistic expectations upon myself.  What I have come to realize is that I can only be me.  God’s breath resides in my soul.  Preaching isn’t my choice it is my calling.  God chose me to be a mouthpiece to the people of the world.  God called me…me.  ME!

Don’t miss interpret.  I push myself.  I attempt to grow in my preaching, leadership, and spirituality.  I am constantly looking into different ways to do things or pushing my comfort zone.  However, I have also learned that I have to do it my way.  The more I learn about how God created me, the better I have gotten on being me.

I understand my strengths and weaknesses better now then I did 15 years ago.  I know when to ask for help, when to say “I’ll take care of it,” and more importantly when to say, “No.”  I am more comfortable in who I am and who God has created me to be than I ever have before.

My wisdom to pass down to those who are 25 and are just starting a career of any kind is to get to know who you are.  Learn who and how God created you.  Don’t be afraid to be who you are but also don’t let that be an excuse to keep you where you are.  When you are honest and authentically yourself you let the light of Christ shine through you because that is the divine spark illuminating the life God has called you to.

Go and be you, the God created and inspired you.

 

This post is my article as a guest contributor on James Burrough’s website, jlburroughsiii.com.    

I Am

I am currently involved in the Institue of Preaching, which is given through Duke Divinity School.  If you are in the Western North Carolina or Flordia Conference of the United Methodist Church, I highly recommend this program.  It is eye opening and has raised my quality of preaching.

During our last session, we were asked to think about where we have come from.  We looked at a poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.  We took almost an hour to look deeply at our past and contemplate where we have come from.  We were then asked to write our own, “Where I’m From” poems.  Our pasts construct our current selves and I find great power, confidence, and the fingerprints of God’s grace when I look back at how far I have come.

I am the sweat-soaked middle-schooler
the garbler of Shakespeare
creator of giggles with my stumbles

I am fear, deep fear
a concrete tongue weighing heavy
in a shriveled mouthpiece

I am the shouter, “Bad spellers untie!”
my hand is stacked heavy and high
the call is buried, in the darkness, deep
but the coals are still red.

I am the product of Paul
Peter formed and Bruce forged
a story penned in pulpits
handprints left in Glencoe, Laboratory, and the Rougemont Charge

I am prayed over in the crypt
thriver of musty sanctuaries and dam exercises
the receiver of gracious, wrinkled smiles

I am a child, bowing before the Father
giving in, succumbing, tired of the fight
willing, finally, to go because of the one who sends.

I am a sweat, soaked preacher
bestower of laser beans of grace at the perfect 45 degrees
striving, always striving, towards transparency

I am a preacher
I am a preacher
an alien phrase to a 9th-grade mind

I am here, behind the pulpit
not for me but because I am called.

Limiting Reactive Preaching

Should preachers preach sermons that speak to the reality of what is happening in the world?  YES!  Absolutely.  We should and need to preach about things that happen in the world and to give a Christian view of them.  We need to speak to the reality of evil after 9/11 or Sandy Hook.  We need to share where God is during and after natural disasters.  We need to preach the Biblical reality of what it means to love your neighbor and take care of the least of these.

I have been wondering recently, should or shouldn’t we use reactionary preaching in small doses?  Karl Barth is famous for saying, “We should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”  (for younger readers a newspaper were the blogs of the 10th & 20th century)  However, which should influence which?

I am not suggesting that when we rewrite our sermons on Saturday night because of the events of that day we are neglecting the Bible and God’s teachings. We need to do that but the more I think about it the more we need to do it occasionally.

2017, so far, has seemed jam packed with emotions, frustrations, and panic on the political front. It seems every morning I wake up and watch the news to find something that boils divine anger within me.  I am now curious what the new normal is.  What situations or events demand Saturday night rewrites and which don’t?

My fear is that focusing on reactive preaching can turn preachers into hypocrites.  What we are telling people in our pews is that the current President’s policies demand sermon rewrites whereas the last one didn’t.  For example, how many preachers on Oct. 18, 2015, preached a sermon that discussed the fact that 90% of President Obama’s drone attacks killed innocent people (reported by the Washington Post).  Why was this not sermon rewriting worthy and the Presidential refugee ban was?  Aren’t both examples of questionable abuses of Presidental power?  You don’t have to stretch your brain too far to start to see the preacher’s political leanings.  And once that view is uncovered, can someone still reach a congregation full of people with differing views?

If we preach the message of God’s salvation found in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, we will go against the culture.  The gospel message is counter-cultural and dangerous.  It will speak against the evils of this world naturally.

Therefore, I am hesitant, rewriting sermons to speak to the current events of that week.  There has to be a good mix or else the prophetic voice will only yell to deaf ears and whispers of “here we go again.”

I find the pastoral prayer can handle a lot and is a great place to speak to God and the congregation about current events.  How often do you do rewrites to include current events?  Do you speak to them in different ways, outside the sermon?

Refugees: They are a Biblical Issue

I am disappointed again in a “famous Christian.” The media runs to certain ones all the time for quotes about the Christian perspective on issues. Franklin Graham, son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, is one of those people. He once again has opened his mouth and inserted a shoebox.

Franklin Graham had an interview with the Huffington Post in which they asked him about “the White House’s plans to prevent refugees fleeing war-torn Syria from entering the United States.” Graham replied that it is simply “not a Bible issue.”

I have disagreed with many things Franklin Graham has said over the years but I think he must be reading a different Bible. There really isn’t an exact word for refugee found in the Bible so this may be what he is thinking of. However, the words in Hebrew and Greek that refer to people like refugees are called immigrants or sojourners or foreigners in the Bible. They are foreigners coming to a new land.   The Bible doesn’t get specific about on the reason for their travels or why they are searching to live elsewhere.

With that said, there are a TON of scriptures that talk about foreigners, immigrants or sojourners. Over and over again, in the law, God reminds Israel that they were once immigrants/foreigners in Egypt and so that need to treat the immigrants or foreigners in their land well. The Hebrew word used to describe what we call immigrant or foreigner today is “ger” and it is used 92 times in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.

For more see the following Scriptures found in the Hebrew Bible: Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Deuteronomy 26:12; 1 Kings 8:41-44; Job 31:32; Psalm 146:9; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Jeremiah 22:3; Ezekiel 22:4, 7; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5.

What about the New Testament? Does Jesus or Paul say anything about how we should treat the strangers among us? Yes. Franklin Graham is very aware of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan because that is where he took the name for his ministry, “Samaritan’s Purse.” Here is their purpose, as stated on their website, “Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid with excellence to victims of war, natural disasters, disease, famine, poverty and persecution in over 100 countries.”

Samaritan’s Purse is living out the parable it is based on, by helping those around the world who are in desperate need. That is wonderful…but why is it unbiblical for these people in need to be helped by letting them come to our own nation?

This seems to smack against Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. In that parable, Jesus says, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (v.35, CEB) The word “stranger” is the Greek word “xenos” which can be translated as “a foreigner, a stranger, alien, one who receives and entertains another hospitably.” It is used 14 times in the New Testament.

There are more New Testament scriptures that talk about the stranger or immigrant or foreigner: Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 2:11, 1 Corinthians 12:12-14; Galatians 5:14 and of course the Parable of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:29-37.

Even if we take out all the other references to the stranger or immigrant or foreigner we still have the mandate of Jesus’ Commandments. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39 CEB)

If our neighbor’s house burned down how many of us, good Christians, would welcome them into our homes as they get back on their feet. How many of us reach out to our neighbors when there is a death in the family, divorce, or sickness? How many of us attempt to do all we can to live into the second part of Jesus’ command?

Then you may ask, “who is our neighbor?” To find that answer you will have to read the parable of the Good Samaritan…Luke 10:29-27. I’ll give you a slight spoiler…it isn’t the religious leaders or the ones set apart by birth to do great things for God…right Franklin? There seems to be ample biblical examples, so I do believe this is a biblical issue.

The truth is it is our Christian imperative and Biblical mandate to be open and welcome in those who are in need no matter if they are from here or come here. This is the way we show the love of God.

#blessed

blessed
In my congregation, we hold a weekly time of meditation and prayer on Tuesday mornings at 8:30 am.  [If you are in my area, please come and join us].  This past week we did the Order for Morning Praise and Prayer, which is found on page 876 in the United Methodist Hymnal.  For the scripture, I read the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-12.

I was looking for a translation that would provoke people to think about these Beatitudes in a new way.  I am not a fan of the Common English’s version, which translates them as “Happy are those…”  I think Happy doesn’t really get the gravitas of the Greek word ‘makarios.’  Yes, it can be translated as happy from the Greek but happy seems so weak of a word when we look at what Jesus says.

Then I realized that blessed is becoming that way too.  Blessed is simply another way of saying “look how good I have it.” #blessed is seen all over social media as a way to point to great vacations, new cars, or other things of this world.  We don’t see many people standing in between the police and protesters attempting to be peacemakers saying #blessed.  We don’t pass a homeless man on the side of the road holding up a cardboard sign reading #blessed.

Read The Message’s version of the Beatitudes and then post something on social media that reflects these ways of being #blessed.  God’s view of being blessed is upside down compared to what the world thinks it means.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. 

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.  

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.  

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—………*

[You can read all of the verse for the Beatitudes by CLICKING HERE for the Message Translation and HERE for the Common English.

 

*All Scripture quotations are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

AiR_E010 – Overseas (Kara Cooper)

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CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

Kara Cooper is the Chaplain for Lancaster University in Lancashire, Ekara-cooperngland.  Kara and I graduated together from Duke in 2002.  The year after that we both accepted an appointment in the British Methodist Church.  Kara hasn’t come back to the United States but is now an ordained clergy of the British Methodist Church and a British citizen.

Doing ministry overseas is an art.  In a more secular society with a national church, it is a lot different than ministry here in the “colonies.”  Yet, it proves to be a great place to experience God still at work in the lives of people.  Kara shares some of her stories and experiences as the follower of Jesus who talks a little funny.

Links:

This is the end of Season 1 here at Adventures In Revland.  Please stay tuned to this site for other content and for when Season 2’s episodes will air.  Thank you for following and listening to this adventure. It has been fun and I would love to hear from.  Please leave a comment and please leave a rating and review in iTunes.

AiR_E009 – Theology (Wes Smith)

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wes-smithWes Smith is a co-pastor with his wife, Toni Ruth, at Harrisburg UMC in Harrisburg, NC.  He is also fascinated with theology.  For the last three years, he has had a small group meet in his basement to discuss theology.  Our conversation walks through Wes falling in love with theology, explaining it to youth and now in his ministry at Harrisburg.

If you would like to contact more with Wes here are some links.

Here is a list of books and people that Wes mentions in our conversation.

On January 16th I will sit down for the final conversation of Season 1.  I will talk with Kara Cooper, the Methodist Chaplain at Lancaster University in Lancaster, Lancashire, England.  We talk about ministry overseas and what it is like to do ministry as the foreigner.

Until then, enjoy our adventure and peace be with you.