Here is a link to the four-part series preached at Milford Hills UMC. This is a look at four of the common phrases or platitudes Christians say and exploring the theological validity of these statements. Many Christians say them every day to bring comfort and sense to the reality of people’s lives. However, they really are simply lies we love.
It is human nature. It is something that is ingrained into who we are as human beings. As we listen to people, walk with them through life, we desire, in the deepest part of who we are, to have them know we understand what they are going through.
My mother-in-law has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As we have lived in this new reality people want to show their love, concerned and want updates. People truly care for me, my wife, her stepmom, and the rest of our family. They want to know we are all loved and cared for. I get it. It is a part of what we are called to do as Christians too but in all of the conversations I have noticed something and I am the first to admit it, I do it too.
This is part of our human nature we are all preprogrammed to do. We attempt to relate. We hear people’s stories of pain and we want to let them know we understand what they are going through. “I had a brother who had pancreatic cancer.” “My Aunt lived with that cancer for four years.” “I had cancer too and after surgery, I was just fine.” As we try to relate to the person talking to us maybe a better word for what we are doing is we are extending sympathy.
Here is where I find myself guilty. Say a person comes to me and simply wants to share their journey with their spouse who has Alzheimer’s. As I listen, I automatically, and without much thought, inform them I understand what they are going through because my Grandfather had this horrible disease. I might even regale them with stories of him during his journey. I have come to understand my personal reasons for doing this. I want to show them I understand what they are going through, but what I am learning is, in this new chapter of my life with a loved one with cancer, it really doesn’t help.
It doesn’t help, in the Alzheimer’s scenario, because I am making my experience with my grandfather having this disease equal to this person’s spouse having the disease. The truth is I wasn’t the main caregiver for my grandfather. I wasn’t married to the person with the disease. Grandparents and grandchildren don’t share life the same as a married couple does. So not only are our experiences different but the pain, suffering, and struggles are different. I make the connection through to make myself feel like I understand and that is where the problem lies.
Sympathy is not the same as empathy. As a pastor, I truly want to show the person I am talking to that I care for them. I want to know this relationship is a safe place to vent, cry, and be real. I want to offer as much pastoral care as I can. In my past I have offered a lot of sympathies when I was attempting, poorly, to offer empathy. Sympathy is feeling pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
When I jump to make the link to my grandfather had the same disease, what I am really doing is keeping that person’s pain at a distance. I take their pain and make it something I have already dealt with or worked through. I end up keeping it at arm’s reach and what I am doing is giving them sympathy. As Brené Brown says, “Empathy is the fuel for connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”
Disconnection is the best way to describe it. As I watch people have conversations with my wife and ask about her stepmom, I can see them switch to focus on their stories, how they can relate, and I can see the disconnection happen in real time. I have walked away from a conversation when someone asked about a death in my family and sarcastically thought to myself, “Well, I’m glad I had time for you to share and relive the time you had to bury your three cats in three months. That really makes me feel better about losing my last grandparent.”
When we want to be there for people. When we truly and deep down want them to know we care and love them, stop trying to relate to their situation. Stop pulling in personal connections of when this happened to you. Stop pulling the focus away from the person you are trying to connect with because you aren’t connecting. Instead, you are disconnecting.
Brené Brown has a wonderful piece from her TED Talk that was made into this short animated video and it is below. It is well worth 6 minutes of your life. I say 6 minutes because it is 3 minutes long and you should watch it at least twice to understand the power and truth in this video.
May we learn to offer more sympathy but just being quiet and listening. Not offering answers or ways to fix life. Just simply listening to someone else’s pain and struggles and simply saying (even without words) “I hear you.”
This week has been the hardest of my 16 years of ministry. After officiating a beautiful and fun wedding of one parishioner, my wife and I traveled the hour and a half trip back home. About 30 minutes in I received a phone call. We received the news Connor, a twelve-year-old youth of my church, died because of suicide.
We drove straight to their house and joined in the shock, sorrow, grief, and unbelief of what was happening. I didn’t have words and still don’t. The next morning, Sunday, I stood in front of our congregation and broke the news and their hearts. We sang hymns and read scripture and just grieved.
As I prepared to lead Connor’s funeral I requested prayer and insights from every minister I knew. I deeply appreciate the support I personally received and I know the prayers lifted up on behalf of the family were felt too. People shared eulogies they did for families who lost children and ones they did for those who lost their lives to suicide.
I felt I would share what I said at Connor’s funeral. Below is my meditation. It is the longest and hardest one I have ever preached but one that was well received. I said a lot but I felt a lot was needed and must be said. I have permission to share this from the family and permission to use Connor’s name.
If this helps one person prepare to lead a similar funeral, then it is worth it. If it helps one person realize what youth go through and how suicide is not the answer, then it is worth it.
Meditation for Connor Francisco
From the moment we are born we are all heading in one direction. We are mortal creatures who have a finite time here on earth. We all will reach the same destination at some point. My grandfather had battled Alzheimer’s for many years and when he passed away it felt like death was a merciful healer. It is the same way when someone passes away with a chronic disease or has suffered for a long time with pain. For others, like my grandmother, she lived well into her 90s and her body simply gave out. Death, although still sad, seemed natural and that the timing was right. When death comes in these situations we are sad and we mourn but it makes sense.
When tragic events happen like a car accident or some sort of natural disaster, we still have an event to blame. Death may come as a “thief in the night” but we still know whom to blame. There is still a bad guy. If we had to choose, which we never want too, these are the types of deaths we would prefer.
We gather here today to surround the Francisco’s with our love and our presence for none of these reasons. We arrive here today to cry out to God today because this is not how it is supposed to be. We should not have to bury a 12-year-old boy who was full of life. This is not how Connor’s story was supposed to end.
He is a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with stage 4 hepatoblastoma (hep-a-toe-blastoma), a rare type of liver cancer. He survived surgeries. He survived chemo treatments that were designed to bring his 2-year-old body to the brink of death to fight and kill his cancer. It did damage to his body, his brain, and set him back. He lost the ability to talk, to walk, and to think and had to relearn how to do all of that. However, he survived it all.
He learned to walk again and walked so heavy on his flat feet you could always know where he was. He learned to talk and, when he trusted you, he would love to talk your ear off about whatever was on his mind. He learned to think again and when faced with a riddle or problem in youth group, he would usually be the one who would help solve it. He survived and thrived through all of this. This is not supposed to be the end of his miracle story.
This is not the way it is supposed to be. This is not…this is not…this is not part of some major plan of God. This was not God’s plan at all. I do not want to worship a God who thinks this is some sort of way to bring people to Christ, to take a child so young. This is not a time to say God needed another angel because humans and angels are two different things in the Bible and I do not want to worship a God who pulls children away in their prime to be by his side for some demented reason. This is not the time, for any of us talking to this family to start any phrase with “at least.” If you find yourself talking to this family and you start the sentence with “at least”. Stop. Swallow your words and don’t utter another because there is nothing that follows those two words that will provide them with any comfort or peace. This is not the time for stupid platitudes and phrases that truly make us feel better but only do more damage to those who mourn. This is not the time to say things like “everything happens for a reason.” Those are truly half-truths that have nothing to do with the God who is present here in this place today.
This is not the time for me to stand here behind the pulpit and think I have any type of answer to why this happened. I truly wish I could shake the Bible and out would pop some sugarcoated pill I could give you all to swallow and make it all better. I wish there was some sort of theology I could condense into a tweet or t-shirt that would make all our pain, sorrow and grieve go away. But I can’t, because the truth is something like that doesn’t exist.
What I do know is today is a day to cry. Today is a day to let the tears flow and let the sadness sink in…because today…today…sucks. It sucks because this is not the way it is supposed to be. Today we are to mourn that Connor isn’t with us anymore. We won’t be able to see that infectious smile that would bust through those doors right there. I won’t be able to feel that smack on my back that takes my breath away. I know it came from a place of love and admiration but also it came from a happy kid who didn’t know his own strength. Today we mourn because we don’t have around us anymore a hard-working kid who thought the harder the task the more fun. We don’t have this kid who loved Camp Care and all the kids that looked and went through the things he went through. We don’t have this kid who was so proud he was taller than his mom and catching up with his dad. We don’t have a kid to play each Sunday at the nursery door and make the little kids laugh as he playfully scared them. This day…today…sucks.
This is the day when we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is the day when we learn we will have to simply be okay with uncertainty and never knowing the answers to the burning questions we have. We will never…never know why. We will never truly understand and somehow we will have to go on with our lives never knowing. That is the reality of today.
Today is also a day when we need to be thankful for how Connor affected and touched our lives. Connor loved to help people. He would serve meals, drinks, and desserts at fundraiser dinners for hours. He was one of the few youths I know who wasn’t afraid of hard manual labor and he almost relished in it. He knew he was strong and so he happily would agree to carry anything and everything, even if you were fine carrying it yourself. We need to be thankful that this wonderful kid who would greet everyone in this church on a Sunday. If he were actually the greeter, he wouldn’t wait until you came inside…no. He was outside on the front steps dragging you into the church with a hug and his huge smile.
Connor had a great eye for construction. Whether it was cultivated from Bob the Builder or simply because he loved working with his hands, he had a gift. The chicken coop he built is beautiful and so are the other wood projects he worked on with Sam, like the rifle he made Matthew for Christmas.
Connor loved the groups he was apart of. He would tell me all about Camp Care and camping trips he went on with boy scouts. I was looking forward to asking him how his hike went last weekend and how he outlasted older Scouts of his troop with a 40lb pack on his back the whole time. He loved this youth group and although he was the only boy most nights, he still knew he was accepted and loved. Just because the games we played were against girls, it didn’t stop his level of competition. Oh, and when he laughed…that belly laugh was infectious and could be heard for miles around. We witnessed that laugh a month ago at our last Youth Sunday. He won the Family Feud for the neighbor’s team and when he did; he raised his hands in triumph as the congregation all clapped and cheered. He was the king of marshmallow towers, pumpkin baseball, and waterslide kickball.
However, you know Connor, you could see a boy who simply wanted to be loved and truly was by so many people. The amount of love that has been poured out on the Francisco’s this week is simply a small testimony to the love we all have for Connor and all of them. The love we have for Connor is wonderful but it is nothing compared to the love his family has for him and the love God has for him. When I see Diane, David, and Matthew, I see people who were willing to sacrifice everything for him. You all have been the example of what unconditional love looks like. You all gave so much to Connor and he gave so much back to you as well.
Hold on to those memories, those moments, and the time love was shared because that is how Connor will continue to live on and affect so many more people in this world. I know you all are proud of him and the journey he has taken. Two years ago, when the youth did a youth Sunday focused on Disney movies, Diane left the church in tears. This was the first time Connor spoke in front of people. He did an amazing job. Her tears were tears of joy and pride in her son because of how far he came from a five-year-old who couldn’t say a word. Hold on to these memories and tell his miracle story.
Connor was one of my three confirmands this year. Confirmation in the United Methodist Church is when youth take their faith seriously for themselves. They profess their faith in God in front of the church and then welcomed as full members of our congregation. Connor attended every night and worked hard with his mentor, Andy, to discover God’s love for him and the grace God offers through his Son Jesus Christ. This past Easter Connor stood up here, about where he is now, and professed his faith in Christ. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, he loved God and understood God loved him. I know that God surrounded Connor his entire life and loved him.
But here is another hard part…the other hard question I know many are asking…where was God on Saturday? I firmly believe God was right there with Connor and God’s heart was the first to break when Connor died. I also know, without a doubt, that God has made sure Saturday is not the end of Connor’s story. Connor’s story continues and it doesn’t end in darkness and in grief. Jesus says in Matthew 19:14, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.” The Romans text says, “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powersor height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” It is because of death and resurrection of God’s Son that Connor’s story continues in the light and in the grace of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As I talked with the family this week there was something that truly stuck with me. As Connor would help Diane or David with things around the house when he was done getting something from the top shelf or moving something heavy he would look at them and say, “Aren’t you glad you got me.” “Aren’t you glad I’m here.” Although this is not the way his life was supposed to end, I’m glad, I’m sure you all are glad, Connor was here for the almost 13 years. I’m glad he was here and I got to know him because I am different because of Connor. This was a very safe place for Connor and as we witnessed that change in him, going from a wallflower to the life of the party, we all understood what the church is truly supposed to be. As Elizabeth, one of our wise youth, said this week, “Connor felt this was more than a church because we became his church family.” We are better because of Connor. He has taught us so much in the short time he was here and I’m glad I got him for as long as I did, I’m glad he was here. And I know all of you would agree with that.
There is one more piece of scripture I want to read today. It comes out of the Gospel of John and it is a selection of verses in the 14th chapter. Hear now the word of God…
In this scripture Jesus is telling his disciples and us, he never leaves us alone. God doesn’t leave anyone behind.
Connor always wanted to help. When Madison was cold he took off his jacket and gave it to her. When someone needed a refill on their drink, he would pop up and get it for them. Connor had a servant’s heart and was always willing to help. This is what Jesus was able to do for Connor. Connor had to be in some dark place, a place he didn’t know how to get himself out of. But after he slipped from this world to the next Connor wasn’t in darkness anymore; instead, he was surrounded by light. This light doesn’t leave him alone, it doesn’t abandon him or leave him behind. It keeps coming because that is what Jesus does. Jesus keeps seeking us, surrounding us and never leaving our side. Connor now is at rest. He is made whole. He doesn’t have to fear cancer returning. His fears and anxieties are now gone because he is basking in the presence of God and is surrounded by the light of Jesus Christ.
Please know that no matter how dark your world is or gets in the future. Know you are always surrounded by the light and grace of God. God is right there with you in your mourning. God is right there in the darkness offering an inextinguishable light. There is nothing you can do to separate yourself from God’s love and God is always with you…always.
Today we mourn. Today we cry. Today we remember. This is not the way it was supposed to end. As God cried because Connor’s life was cut short, God still welcomed him in with loving arms. I can picture Connor looking up into the eyes of Jesus and asking, “what can I do to help?” Then, after a full day of working in God’s glorious kingdom, asking Christ, “Aren’t you glad I’m here? Aren’t you glad you got me.” And Jesus, looking into Connor’s eyes and his big smile, replying, “Well done good and faithful servant, the kingdom of heaven belongs to children like you. Yes, I’m glad you are here. Yes, I’m glad I got you. I have always had you and I always will.”
May the peace and love of our God, the creator, the redeemer and the sustainer be felt in your heart today and always.
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
John 13:34-35 CEB
Maybe it is the afterglow of the royal wedding and Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon. Maybe it is because YouVersion sent this verse to my email on Friday, May 18th. Either way, the idea of love is the defining nature of what it means to be a Christian has always called to me.
Love is what Christ is. Love is who God is. We as disciples are called to love because “this is how everyone will know that you are my disciples.” Loving one another as Christ loved us is our command. Yet, why does it have to be so hard?
love my family. My wife and two kids are precious to me and although I get angry at them, I never stop loving them. I love them so much I would die for them. When Facebook memories pop up, I can be brought to tears thinking about how much life we have shared and how deep my love goes.
I love God. I attempt to understand God, learn who God is, grow in my relationship with God and as life moves on I love God deeper today then I did five years ago. I know what God has done for me, calls me to do and how God walks with me each and every day. I can feel God’s presence in my life and I pray I can live a life that glorifies the God who I love and who loves me.
We are fine loving God and loving those close to us. Yet, God doesn’t call us to love God and family alone. God calls us to love each other. It is the “each other” that I admit I have a hard time with. I have a hard time when God asks me to love the person who rants in a grocery store that everyone should speak English in one of the most diverse cities in our nation. I have a hard time loving the person who is constantly rude to the server at a restaurant because they want to exert some sort of power over a person in the service industry. I have a hard time loving those who hate Democrats or Republicans because they are seen as enemies. I have a hard time loving those who look across the world, at the vast kaleidoscope of humanity, and only see populations to exploit for cheap labor to increase profits.
This is not living into Jesus’ command to love each other. I admit I struggle with loving these people, yet God calls me to do so.
We want to fix others in order to make them more lovable. We will love a Democrat only if she starts to think and act like a Republican. We will love those in the Ivory Coast or Honduras, only when they start to think and act like Americans. We demand change in order to be worthy of love.
Jesus doesn’t demand this. Jesus’ command is for us to love each other. There is a change, but the change is within us. The change is not to demand others to bend to our will, our ideals, or our views. The change is to change the way I, we, see each other. We need to see them as God sees them. When we do we can then love them as Jesus commands.
When I walk around the assortment of humanity in Walmart, and the same goes for Target or Costco for that matter, I am reminded constantly of the hard task it is to love other humans. Yet that is our command. “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.” (I added the emphasis)
If I do not follow this command, if I live a life full of hate and bitterness towards others, then I will not be counted as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I swallow hard and trudge on. I make mistakes but I seek and strive loving God and others perfectly because that is what a disciple of Jesus Christ is commanded to do.
Back at the beginning of 2012, I did some statistical analysis on the age of the clergy in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. What is interesting is a lot of the trends I saw are now coming true.
I saw that 49% of the clergy in 2012 were over 55 years. I predicted there would be a tsunami of retirements coming and low and behold there are. Last year we had over 50+ clergy retire and the current rumor (I don’t know the actual number) is that we will have that many if not more. The retiring class for 2017 & 2018 is guaranteed to be in the triple digits. This is unprecedented and could possibly be our new reality.
My number was called and I will be moving in July. I will say goodbye to Indian Trail UMC and hello to Milford Hills UMC. This transition comes because of what I predicted in 2012. I revisited my posts and I am sad to see that some of my predictions have come or are coming true.
As we deal with a dwindling amount of clergy, it will be interesting to see how the cabinet handles these new realities. I wonder if other conferences have dealt with this already? I wonder what solutions they have come up with and are they working?
It would be interesting to get my hands on this information again and see if we have improved our age demographic or if we are looking at even worse numbers. However, I don’t have access to that information, so I’ll just have to wait and see.
For Lent this year, instead of giving up something, I went the route of adding something. For me, adding something during this holy season always had a little more effective than giving something up. I prefer to do something reflective, creative and focused. I have done the Rethink Church Instagram photo a day for a few years.
This year I decided to reflect on the 15 years of ministry I have experienced. I came up with a different truth about my experience in ministry for the 46 days of Lent (just a reminder you don’t count Sundays in the 40 days of Lent…so I had to write 6 more). I wanted to approach this journey the same way I approach ministry, with humor and honesty.
I decided to share all 46 of my #Ministrytruths tweets from #Lent2018 here, in one place.
It is an honor to be invited behind the doors of the intimate moments of people’s lives. I am invited to sit by the dying & pray with newborns. I am invited to celebrations, parties, & waiting rooms. Ministry is an invitation to share life with people.
Ministry is an emotional rollercoaster. I stood in line to get on this ride, but I had no clue how steep and fast some of the hills were nor how tight the corners are some days.
Part of me knows I wear a robe because of my fear I’ll preach a sermon with my zipper down.
Finding God in the silence is easy. Finding God in the midst of the chaos of 5 minutes before worship is extremely difficult.
People’s expectations are impossible to live up to.
On Ash Wednesday I introduced myself to someone I saw on Christmas Eve. He listens to my sermons online and is slowly attempting to come and join us for worship. What we offer people online means a lot to the unchurched.
If I had to choose one piece of office equipment I couldn’t live without, it would be the folding machine, definitely the folding machine!
I grew up scared to talk and read in front of people. I still get nervous. Each week, when I step behind a pulpit, is simply a sign God desires to and does work through me, in spite of me.
I am not a fan of “Social Media Theology” because my God is bigger and more complex than the number of characters in a Tweet. Also, irony is not lost on me.
Some Sunday mornings I don’t want to go to church either.
One of my favorite parts of worship is holding my wife’s hand, at the prayer rail, while we say the Lord’s Prayer.
Sometimes at parties, I open a conversation up with, “I’m a pastor,” just because I don’t want to talk to anyone.
Children are the only age group named in Wesley’s historical questions for ordination. However, many ministers spend time with older adults because they whine a lot louder than the children. May we make the children of our congregation a priority, always.
I lament the fact I cannot be a father who can teach his children how to sing from a hymnal.
Eventually, I understood in my heart that the work of ministry is never done. When I let that sink in I finally gave myself permission to be comfortable with taking a Sabbath. Ministry is never done and it is okay to rest in the midst of the incomplete.
I wear a robe and stole because like an athlete who wears a jersey on game day, it puts me in the right frame of mind and readies my soul to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
While mountain biking over Old Fort Mountain, a man walked out of the rhododendrons with a shotgun and two dogs on chains. He handed me and my friend a track and then disappeared into the woods again. This is not quality evangelism.
Every Sunday, as the acolytes light the candles on the altar, I kneel at the prayer rail and pray, “Lord, may what we do today, in some way, glorify your Holy name.”
Ministry would be great if it weren’t for people.
One of the hardest parts of preaching is learning when I am talking and when God is talking, and then shutting myself up.
I look at my bookshelf and I don’t know whether to be saddened by all the books I haven’t read or impressed by all the ones I have.
If you want to see the true nature and faith of a local church, visit a budget-planning meeting in November when that congregation is in the red.
Most days there is nothing I would rather do with my life than ministry in the local church. Some days I wish I there was a plan B.
I wish people knew I can see them sleeping during worship.
Preaching is an art form. People do it differently because we are all different. 15 years in I am still crafting, building, and exploring what my style.
A church’s marquee sign is simply my chance to misspell in public.
One of the best things that happened at my current appointment is my wife and I have friends who aren’t church members.
One of the aspects of leading worship that breaks my heart is I can’t sit next to my kids during worship and one of the best aspects is I don’t have to sit next to my kids in worship.
I look at the stains left on the pulpit from preachers of the past and I thank them for their witness, dedication, and love for the church. I also wonder whose hands will grip the pulpit when my time here is done, what church will I leave for them?
Never let laity help you move in, there is too much judgment on the stuff you choose to own or were given as gifts.
Ministry can be extremely lonely because no one wants you to be you. What they really want is you to be a clone of their favorite pastor.
The future of the church isn’t your children and youth. The future of the church is the guest who walked into the sanctuary for the first time.
Taking a congregation from 75 in worship to 95 involves just as much, if not more, talent, patience, and creativity as it does to take a congregation from 300 to 500.
There is no cookie cutter for great church leadership. Only a person willing to check their ego and use the God-given gifts, talents, and abilities will become a great leader. Be the “you” God created you to be.
I became a better pastor when I stopped apologizing for not being everything to everyone.
On this journey of ministry, I have learned there are times when I should simply stop what I am doing and pray. My go-to is John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer…”I am no longer my own, but yours…”
There are only two constants in life and the life of a church, change and the love of God.
Youth are not the future of the church, they ARE the church. When you treat them as members of the local church, you get youth who feel invested, loved, appreciated and a strong sense of belonging.
Sermon illustrations should come from all aspects of life. As preachers, if we only use illustrations from our family, our favorite movies, or things in OUR world, we will miss out on the Word being heard by a wider audience.
For many pastors, this is hell week. It is very hard to be in a place to receive the grace, power, and love which happens this week in the midst of the never-ending TO-DO list. Holy Week starts when Easter worship ends because we can breathe again.
“I have to work tomorrow,” is always a great excuse to leave a Saturday night gathering early.
When it comes to the high holy days, Christmas Eve and Easter, don’t attempt to be ultra creative. Save that for other Sundays. Simply preach the story. Let the Incarnation and Resurrection speak for themselves. There is great power in those stories.
There is nothing more humbling than allowing your feet to be washed and to wash another person’s feet.
Good Friday is one of the most powerful and holiest days of the Christian year. It is a shame more people do not worship on the day our Lord died.
Holy Saturday is a gift of rest, a chance to take a breath and to mourn in the midst of the Triduum. (Triduum is a very churchy word for the three services which are in essence, one giant worship service, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday)
While in divinity school, my roommate and I gave up meat for Lent. It was going great until we both caught ourselves eating chicken wings at a party. We repented and moved on to the chips and dip. Other Lenten seasons I have attempted to add things to my life like following the Rethink Church’s photo “Picture a Day.”
In our world of alternative facts and truth being relatives, I thought I would tell the truth this Lenten Season. For the forty-six days of Lent (Lent is a season of forty days and Sundays aren’t counted because they are “little Easters”), I will tweet a truth about my life as a preacher, minister, and pastor of a local church.
I hope some will be seen as funny, maybe some as profound. Others I hope to shine a light on the humanness of being called into ministry and the real emotions, struggles, and pains preaching weekly, praying with families and printing/folding bulletins can hold.
Through this task, I pray my eyes will be opened to how much God surrounds the work I do in the local church. Sometimes ministry can get the minister bogged down, worn down and we put blinders up to the how God is at work even in the mundane.
Here is to opening my eyes, heart, and soul this Lenten Season!
Lent is fast approaching, a season of unrest for a culture of immediate satisfaction. We are desperate for immediacy. It is a task to learn how to be patient.
The word patient is funny. We use it to describe a trait on people good at waiting. We also use it to describe someone who is receiving medical care. The definition is “able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” There is nothing in our culture, which teaches us to tolerate suffering without becoming anxious. We only have drugs for that.
As I was discussing this aspect of life with a group I had a realization we, as in humanity…which means “my experience,” has a very hard time with being patient. Sure we can point to drive-thru windows, express checkout lines, and two-day delivery but if we peel all of that back there is something deeper.
I enjoy looking back in hindsight and pointing out where I see all of God’s fingerprints. As a Wesleyan, I am a firm believer and experienced Prevenient Grace receiver. This grace is found all over my life however it is really seen in hindsight, looking back after you go through a season of life. It is seen in reflection, playing back life moments, like a movie montage.
When I look back for grace, God’s presence, and how the Holy Spirit has led me through troubling times, it makes me want to hurry to a place where I can do this kind of reflection. It makes me want to get to the end of the journey faster. I find myself wishing the present away so I can look back in the past. Patience is not my virtue.
If patience is to tolerate delays without annoyance, then why do I want to rush through? Why can’t I find the grace in the present? Why can I not feel God’s hands on my life in the moment when the fingerprints are being placed on my soul? Why do I have to wait until the journey is over to see them?
My problem is my inability to recognize God in the present. To do this means to slow down, to pay attention, to be comfortable in the midst of waiting. It is whole patience thing. I would love to know all the answers now in order for me to settle into the present, but those aren’t promised. I would love God to move me to Easter, at the resurrection, because it makes the crucifixion less of a taxing event.
God doesn’t promise us a window into the future to calm the present and allow ourselves to recognize God at work in the now. Instead, what I should continue to cling too is Jesus’ last words to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel. “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Mt. 28:20)
God is here in the now and walks with us through the present. As we (by which I mean I) go into Lent, instead of looking forward to Easter or looking back for examples of God’s grace, let us pay attention to God’s fingerprints pressing our on flesh right now. May our eyes, my eyes, be open in the midst of our waiting to the reality God is with us.
I am sulking this morning and disappointed. The New England Patriots will go to the Super Bowl again this year. This makes my brother-in-law happy, many in my congregation thrilled and other friends elated. For the rest of the world, we simply roll our eyes.
The NFL has been complaining about the lack of viewership this year. Apparently, it is down around 10% from last year. The way we watch TV when we watch and what we watch has changed over the last few years and so it is easy to see the NFL hit by viewers changing the channel or streaming something different. I suggest it is something else. It has become too predictable.
Somehow and in some fashion, the Patriots win with Tom Brady doing something spectacular. I think people are getting tired of it. I was happy for the Pats first Super Bowl win. Good for them. I could care less about Brady’s sixth ring. It isn’t fun for other fans to watch any more. So we change the channel. I’ll still watch the Super Bowl…at least until the second half. Then it might be time to binge on something, which will keep my attention.
Predictability is comforting but it can be boring. I use to know an associate minister who would tell him how each one of the sermons of the senior minister went. Starts by reading the Bible, moves into a story, talks about the scriptures, moves down out of the pulpit for a personal and touching story, then back into the pulpit to conclude and wrap things up. As a new preacher in that congregation, this was a fresh and energetic approach because it was different than the last preacher. Years later it was predictable. You could play “sermon bingo” knowing the ebb and flow of each week.
I wonder if my sermons are predictable. I attempt to change the format every so often. I read the scripture in different places. I attempt to work from illustration to scripture or from scripture to illustrations. I know my approach and style are similar but I continue to attempt to stretch in those areas as well.
In this world, when people can listen to dynamic preachers from podcasts or YouTube, how does the local church, every week, ‘normal’ preacher keep things fresh and new? How do I stop my congregation from playing “sermon bingo” because what I am going to preach has turned predictable?
Here is my “Super Bowl Bingo.” The Eagles will go up by a little. Tom Brady will complain to the refs. Some calls will go the Patriots way, which keep them in the game. In the end, a miraculous play wins the game for the Patriots and Tom Brady gets his 6th ring. I don’t have to watch the game to know how it is going to play out…this is the way it has always happened.
I pray I can be willing to change myself, my approach, my preaching in order that I don’t become predictable and people will sit in the pews excited to hear what happens next. I don’t want my congregation to approach their worship the same way I am approaching Super Bowl LII…with a lack of enthusiasm and expected predictability.
There is probably no scary room in the world, then walking into a room with people who have just experienced a tragic death or into a room where death is about to happen. The people of Hospice know this space more than anyone. In my experience, there are no better people than those who walk families through this tender and thin space. What ramps up the horribleness is when children or youth are involved. This is the space that Shea Collins works in. She has had 15 years of experience working with children, youth and their families in the Hospice setting. She is an ordained Elder within the United Methodist Church and is now working at Hospice of Cabarrus County in North Carolina. In our conversation, we talk about how to deal with these situations and places of grief. She gives amazing insights and recommendations to clergy and laypeople alike.
One of the things she talks about is a week-long summer camp to help connect youth who are dealing with tragedies. Grief can be a lonely place but here at this Grief Camp these youth learn they are not alone. CLICK HERE for more information.
As I wrap up Season 2, I want to say a special thank you to all my guests and for the wonderful conversations we have had this season. I am looking forward to what Season 3 might hold. For Season 3 I would love to talk to more non-clergy people about their work to build up the kingdom of God. If you know someone I should have a conversation with, please leave a comment below.
Until next season, enjoy your adventure and peace be with you.