1000th Post

This is my 1000th post (on this blog).  I started a blog when my son was born and it went through a couple of name changes before landing on this url and official name.  I then moved my blog from a blogspot address to its own url and I have seen the audience dwindle.  That is also because my posts have dwindled considerable.  Time to write and think and post have not come as often as they have in the past.  I hope I can improve this habit because I do miss it.

For my readers and those who have witnessed the ups and downs, let me thank you.  Thank you for your patience, your willingness to read and the ability to look past the typos, all 1,000,000+ of them.  I have never professed to be good at writing but that hasn’t stopped me either.

For my 1000th post I wanted to highlight some things I have learned along the way.  One, the traffic to this site is usually to look at sermons I have posted.  I have moved away from the lectionary in this appointment a lot and do more sermon series now.  I am going to try and post some of those here more often but my sermon writing has changed a little and I hope for the better.

Two, this is a confession.  Since posts on this blog now go out on Twitter and Facebook I have become a little hesitant on posting my true thoughts and reflections.  The main reason is because I am in a new appointment (only 14 months in) and I didn’t want any of my personal beliefs to get in the way of people getting to know me.  There are some subjects that my current congregation (I would say the majority of them but not all) would disagree on.  I wanted our relationship to start as mutual respect and adoration for each other.  Not polarizing ideas on politics and social concerns.  Now that they have gotten to know me I hope to start to get back to some of my commentary and reflections on what is happen in the world.

Over these seven years I think Facebook and Twitter and Vine and Instagram and all other social media  sites have put a damper on the conversations I use to get into on my blog.  That and I don’t interact with other bloggers as much as I did 5 years ago.  I may read some of the blogs that I use to but now much of my reading is in other areas, even Goggle Reader has gone by the way side.

I still think though, now that I am 1000 posts in, that this provides a good place to explore ideas of theology and ministry.  This blog is a place where I can share my struggles and voice my opinion.  I appreciate the space to do so and I am not sure if I would be where I am in ministry if it wasn’t for this avenue.

So as my 1000th post, let me say thank you to my readers, thank you to this thing called the internet for giving me space (although now I pay for it) to write, and for the connections I have made along the way with people I may never met except in the blogosphere.

Peace be with you all and here’s to another 1000 posts.

Jim

PS: This is not the blog of the actor that plays Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory”, so stop trying to friend me on Facebook!

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The Power of 3 Questions

We had a great retreat at Mt Shepherd today. We, as in the clergy of the Lexington District that is. We were lead in Bible study by our DS, learned about Mt. Shepherd, had free time, and then was led by Rev. Dana McKim (minister of Pfeiffer University and the Village Church) in a time of reflection and then worship. I enjoyed this time because it was peaceful and rejuvenating. But also Dana’s questions at our reflection time I thought were most enlightening. So much so I thought I would share.

Here are the questions:

Identify your three most important relationships beyond your immediate family.
List your three most favorite vacation destinations.
Nae your three most valuable possessions.
Name three acts of self care that you have engaged in this week, this month, and this year (so there will be a total of nine named here)
Name three acts of self care you will engage in next week, next month and next year.
Name your three most significant accomplishments.
Identify three Bible characters that have had the most influence on you.
Name three Bible narratives that have shaped your call.
List three books (not the Bible) that are vital tools for you.
Name your three biggest failures.
Name your three biggest challenges.
Identify your three most challenging obstacles.
List your three most broken relationships.

After a time of reflection on these questions, Dana asked which ones take up most of our time. He told us that most of the time, in our profession, we feel we need to concentrate on the last four questions. But in reality we should spend it on the first four and use the middle to keep working on the those first questions.

I identified with this because I hate failures, challenges, obstacles, and broken relationships. I like to please people and I like it when everyone is happy. Conflict makes me uneasy (although I am getting better at it) and nervous. So I confess I do focus on those last questions more than the other.

How about you? What questions were hard to answer? Which one hit home for you? What answers provide you strength to get through the dark times in ministry?

The Truth – Lectionary Reflections on John 18:33-37

It is Christ the King Sunday this week. The New Year’s Eve of the Christian year. It is the final Sunday of the year and we remind ourselves, before starting this journey over, that Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As Year B of the lectionary comes to a close we look at the scene in the passion story with Jesus standing in front of Pilate.

The part that struck me when reading this text [again] was the last verse, Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. Belongs to the truth. We get lost in the kingly verbiage of this day because we are no longer ruled by a “king”. Monarchs are simply fodder for the gossip rags in other countries. What stands out as completely relevant is the obsession with truth that we have in this country.

What is truth? Who has the truth? Is truth relative? Is there absolute truth?

Truth is what you make it seems to be the thought de jour. This is what seemed to happen as I watched Sarah Palin on Oprah yesterday. I watched a politician dance around the truth in her answers, never agreeing with anything that could be damning to her image and floating semi-truth grenades towards others along the way. This isn’t unique to Palin, almost every politician does it. Yet isn’t this what we witness Jesus do in this passage though. Artfully dancing around Pilate’s questions? You say that I am a king.

There is another issue that arises, there are those who use this passage to claim the truth only to persecute others. If you claim to have the truth that automatically makes those who disagree with you don’t and therefore are wrong. This is a huge no-no in our society these days. What about those peoples feelings? Don’t they have the right to believe in what they believe in? As Christians we can’t offend people?

This hits home in a couple of scriptures. I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. (John 10:7) I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) This seems pretty definitive when you place it with the 37th verse of this week’s text. So what do we do with these and how can we live it out in a way that is pleasing to God and nonjudgmental to the rest of the world?

With all this talk of truth I feel I have to throw in Jack Nicholason’s quote from A Few Good Men, “The truth, you can’t handle the truth.” Jesus says he is the truth. He says that those who belong to the truth hear his voice. He says in John 8:32 the truth will set you free. When it smells like a fish, swims like a fish, breaths water like a fish, it is probably a fish.

Jesus points out to us, routinely in the Gospel of John, that if we desire the truth we need to know Jesus. For those who know Jesus we know the truth. What we do with this though truly paints the picture of how close our relationship is with Jesus.

We can bang this over the heads of everyone who doesn’t believe, using these verses as a sword and shield but then are we following the Truth? We can simply sit quietly and let opportunities pass us by because we don’t want to offend or bring conflict into a relationship but once again are we following the Truth? Or we can learn from the Truth and follow the Truth’s lead. We can dive into the Word and try our hardest to live into the Truth and have the Truth live through us. We can have open and honest discussions through unconditional love with other children of God. We don’t have to bang people over the head but if we live out the way the Truth tells us to live, people will be curious and we can tell them who the Truth is.

Will this bring conflict? Yes probably on occasion but conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. Does this mean we have permission to be rude and unkind to those who look at the world differently? Absolutely not. Jesus looks at Pilate and explains that this is the reason he is here. He understands the Truth and knows that not everyone will get it. He doesn’t force Pilate to see his point nor does he condemn Pilate to hell because of it. He simply tells Pilate the Truth and Pilate is left to make his own decision.

We should stand firm in the Truth but not as a pedestal to launch attacks from, but a foundation in our lives. A place to better understand the world around us and to hear the voice of the one who is The Truth.

Why…Because – Reflection on Mark10:17-31

My three year old has hit the “why” stage. I do have to say on a scale of 1-10, ten being the most annoying thing ever, he is about 5 most of the time with the question “why”. I realize that this is part of the developmental stages of life. At three a child starts to attempt to grasp the world around him and is learning, in depth, cause and effect. It is a stage that he will grow out of. At least that is what I tell myself when my patience wears thin. But do we grow out of it?

While listening to a Rob Bell sermon on “Blessed is the Poor in Spirit.” As his church dives into the sermon on the Mount he brought up some topics that reminded me of my son and most three year olds. As we hear about the Kingdom of God and we, as humans, try to make sense of it we constantly ask God, why? Why should the poor in spirit be blessed? Why do the meek inherit the earth? Or in the case of this week’s lectionary text, why should the first be last and the last be first. Why God? Why? Why? Why?

Our answer…because.

Now that never satisfied me growing up and I know it does not satisfy my son but let’s face it sometimes it is the best answer. “Daddy, can you throw a ball and hit the moon?” “No.” “Why?” “Well, you see the mass of the ball and the force I can exert on the ball does not equal a force greater than gravity. Plus with the rotation of the earth and the moon, I do not know the right place to launch said ball into space in order to hit the moon.” Even if I did answer my son in that manner all his three year old mind heard was, blah, blah, blah, blah. The best answer I can give him, “because.”

“God, I don’t understand why the rich man cannot get into heaven. He seems to be following all the rules. So he doesn’t want to sell everything he has, so what? Why can’t the wealthy get in with their wealth? Why?” “God, this whole last first, first last thing doesn’t make sense. I know you are all loving and powerful but why set up your kingdom this way. Aren’t the last really in last place for a reason? I mean they don’t have what it takes to be first, so why make them first? Why God, WHY? WHY? WHY?”

God, in all the Fatherlyiness he can muster, shakes his head, and says…because.

As followers of Christ, as worshipers of the One True God, as the people seeking to enter the upside-down Kingdom of God, need to get comfortable with “because.” Our minds cannot wrap around the answer. But our God does answer…how awesome is that. The answer is simply, because.

Complicated Simplicity

Our church is offering Adam Hamilton’s study Enough at two different times during the week. As I taught the lesson on Wisdom and Finance for the second time it struck how simple life actually is. Hamilton made the connection between being healthy and financially healthy and at the heart of them it is truly simple.

It IS truly simple. To be healthy you need to watch what you eat and exercise. If you need to lose weight it is simple, don’t eat more calories than you burn in day. If you do you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn you will gain weight. Simple.

When it comes to our finances we need to only spend what we have not more. Americans now tend to spent 101% of their income. We actually need to spend less in order to have more. A budget is easy, you know how much you make in a month and then you decide how to spend only that, while saving some and giving some away. Simple.

It is even simple down to having a clean house. Many people hate that there house is not clean but do nothing to make it that way. To have a clean house means you have to clean it. You have to find time, make time, and plan time to clean it up. And then have the patience and desire to keep it that way. Simple.

Life is not that hard, it is simple but we like to complicate it up. The only way we complicate it up is with excuses. I know I cannot afford it but my high def TV needs digital cable. I know I cannot afford this new purse but look it is on sale. I know I can’t afford it but I really just want to get out and eat some food someone else cooked. I am really craving that milk shake, that order of onion rings, or that eleventh pancake. I cannot give up my Mountain Dew addiction.

At the heart of every excuses is a selfish motive. It is making our wants and our desires fulfilled instantly and selfishly. Look at your last excuse to do something that you really shouldn’t, I bet there is a selfish motive. Even if your excuse was, “My daughter needed that new dress for school because everyone else had a new dress,” at the heart of this excuse is the desire to please your daughter and the inability to say no.

It is just like our walk with Christ. It is really easy, simply follow Jesus, but our selfish desires, our egos, our need to but “ME” first makes it all complicated. Life is not supposed to be hard, it can throw us a loop every so often, but it is really simple when you think about it.

Healing is not Curing

In the lectionary verse this week, found in James, there is a discussion of prayer and healing. “Are any among you suffering? They should pray.” “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” I am not sure if this is true or not, but I can imagine this is a go to verse for the crutch and wheelchair jockeys in the evangelical healing arenas. I can see Steve Martin quoting this text in the movie, “Leap of Faith

I confess I am nervous about the hocus pocus that goes along with healing, especially the kind that Martin does in the film. I confess that the style of traveling healing ministers is what is in my head when I think of healing. But in our Book of Worship there is a healing service. I have done a couple of these in my ministry as well and it a tough row to hoe because of the stereotypical ideas that come along with it.

Yet as I prepare to preach on the power of prayer and how Jesus was and calls us to be preachers, teachers, and HEALERS, I was drawn to the explanation in the Book of Worship (BOW). I think Ken Carter does a great job summing this up in his sermon on www.day1.org. He says “In the book of worship of my tradition, the United Methodist Church, there is an important statement about what healing is and is not. Healing is not magic…It does not replace medicine or psychotherapy…It is not the same as curing…It is a mystery. It is relational: the relation of mind, body, and spirit. Our relationship to each other. Our relationship with God.”

When we hear the word healing we think curing, but the BOW is right, they are not the same. On page 614 of the BOW it says “God does not promise that we will be cured of all illnesses; and we all must face the inevitability of death. A Service of Healing is not necessarily a service of curing, but it provides an atmosphere in which healing can happen. The greatest healing of all is the reunion or reconciliation of a human being with God. When this happens, physical healing sometimes occurs, mental and emotional balance is often restored, spiritual heath is enhanced, and relationships are healed.”

Through Jesus Christ we are made whole again. In the Upper Room Jesus showed Thomas the scars from his pain and suffering but he was whole once again. In our fallen world there will be disease and illness. There will be tragedy and suffering. But there will also be healing, restoration, recovery, and reconciliation through the power of the ultimate healer, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

God wants Communism?

I am preaching on Acts 4:32-37 this week during our capital campaign to raise money for a new roof and pay off debt. I chose this text because it demonstrates how the early church and believing communities worked. Reading this text though it looks like the Utopian Christian Community would be communism. At the basic levels makes sense. All are equal and we all work together sharing what we have because it is truly God’s not ours.

Yet, there has never really been a Utopian Communist Government. The picture we have of Communism is one of corruption and concentrated power. How do we wrestle with this then? How do we feel knowing that the scripture doesn’t mention anything about believing communities being a democracy? I am wondering if people will pick up on this during my sermon (I’m only hinting at it, not concentrating on it by any means).