Avoid Becoming the Pastor You Swore You’d Never Be – Part V

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Here is the final post, part five, of this series, Avoid Becoming the Pastor You Swore You’d Never Be.  Here are the other four posts if you are interested, Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.  From the pages of The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook for Pastors, p. 25.

You are a person. (‘Fashion your life in accordance with [the] precepts [of the gospel of Jesus Christ]….)  Putting “The Reverand” in front of your name does not remove you from the list of human beings.  You eat, sleep, think of (and maybe act on) sex, get tired, and get bored.
DON’T

  • Be phony.  You are holy only because Christ makes you holy.  He – not we- is, after all, the perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
  • Be one-dimensional.  There’s more to life than church stuff.  For example, what was the last book you read that had nothing do do with church?  (This book, obviously, is an exception.  Not only should you read it eagerly but you should also give copies to your 100 closet friends.)

DO

  • Have a life.  That’s what Christ wants to give you abundantly (John 10:10b)  That’s what Christ has freed you for.  Know your family.  Stay healthy.
  • Relax.  Play.  Life is short.
  • Find a time management tool that works for you.  It might be a book, a program, or a persistent friend who will nag you to the glory of God.

I love that last line, “nag you to the glory of God.”  We pastors have egos but we need to be reminded that we put our pants on one leg at a time like everyone else, except for those who wear skirts…but you see what I am getting at.  I cannot stand it when I see a preacher who is a different person behind the pulpit than s/he is outside the church.  I’m not talking about those who have ‘the preacher voice’ but those who have the ‘preacher persona’.  Get over it, you are human, you are like everyone else.  I think people can read right through that, so be yourself, always.

In ministry there is always work to be done, always something to do, always someone to go visit.  Some of it CAN wait till tomorrow in order for your kids to know you, your spouse to love you, and you to have a life.  

I appreciated this books reminder that as a minister, as an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, I am a preacher, pastor, priest, prophet and person.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – Sermon – Walking the Walk Part II

Follow Jodie on her 100 mile journey.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Walking the Walk: Part II
02-12-12
Here is the second of three installments on this little sermon series entitled Walking the Walk.  Last week we heard from Paul about how we are to interact with those in the world.  We are to accept little differences, respect the otherness of others in order to win as many as possible for Christ.  Today we hear a sports analogy about the Christian life and how we are to approach this journey in front of us. 
Out of my three sisters, currently my youngest sister, Jodie, is the craziest.  I jokingly say that with all love and admiration for all three of my sisters but Jodie, the youngest is crazy.  She will be running the Keys 100 in May at the, that is right in the Florida Keys she will be running 100 miles.  The race starts May 19that 6:00am.  She predicts that it will take her anywhere from 24 to 32 hours of running to finish.  Did you get that?  She will finish the race Sunday morning or afternoon.  The plug will be pulled at 36 hours.  That is a day and a half of running.  100 miles.  That is leaving the church here and running to the Tanger Outlets in Mebane and then turning around and running back. 
I asked her to give me a little insight to the wackiness that is inside her head.  I asked her what is driving her to do this.  Anything over 26.2 miles is called an Ultra Marathon.  David Embler ran a 40 mile race a couple of years ago so we have one of these people in our midst today.  What is driving my sister to do this is the idea of the impossible becoming possible.  She wants to see if she can push herself to do this.  She has run a lot of marathons and loves them because of the challenge involved and after reading about the Ultra Marathons she was ready to put herself to the task. 
In this passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he is doing the same thing.  We pick right up with where we left off last week.  Paul says he does everything for the sake of the gospel and then gives this sport analogy.  He talks about runners and boxers.  When there is a race what is the purpose of the race?  To win the prize.  When we watch sports on TV or play them ourselves what is the goal?  To win.  Ask any professional athlete and I am sure that they will tell they play because they love the game but that all of them would love and desire to win the big game.  I don’t think Tom Brady was happy only to play in the Super Bowl, no he wanted to win it.  Let’s face it Carolina players really wish they would replay the last two minutes of Wednesday night’s game.  Although they played really well and mopped the floor with Duke for most of the game, the one who walks away a winner is the one who has the most points at the end, no matter if it is 15 or 1.
Paul wants us to be ready for our race.  To call ourselves a follower of Christ is not a simple thing.  To say we are Christ Followers means we have to put effort into it.  We cannot simply accept Christ and then think we are finished.  When we say the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are professing our calling to help the Kingdom of God exist in this world.  When we call ourselves Christians we have to walk the walk and to do that means we have to train ourselves in order to become better.  A leaner, cleaner, fit, fast, agile, mobile, and wise follower of Christ.  That takes practice.
My sister’s husband is one of those people who can sit on the coach for a couple of months and then think to himself, “I think I am going to run a couple of miles,” and then he does it.  His body can handle that most of the time.  I on the underhand am not like that.  I ran one road race.  I ran the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC in 2006.  It was a 10K or 6.2 miles.  I struggled but walk/ran it and was proud of myself.  My struggle is the mental part of running.  It is the telling yourself you can keep going and then keep going.  I have that great feature inside my head that when something starts to hurt I stop doing it but that is not what a person who is going to run 100 miles thinks.  They have to get themselves out of that mindset.
My sister says the endorphin high you get from running is pretty great and that is what keeps her coming back to it.  There is joy and excitement found in crossing a finish line.  But how can you keep yourself going when you pass the mile marker for the first marathon and know there are three more to go?  Hardcore running is more mental then it is physical.  Christianity is a lot more mental then people give it credit for as well.
Now you might be thinking I am mental in that statement but the truth is how we live out our Christian lives starts here in the brain not just in our heart.  We have to train our brains to start to think like God before we can see the world like God and then act like he commands.  Think of it this way.  We live in the south where racism still exists.  We may not like it but it is still around.  Today, racism is moving from a black and white thing to a black, white and brown thing.  It is now an English speaking vs. Spanish speaking thing or even a strait vs. gay thing.  But the lines that were drawn 50 years ago still exist today.  But no matter what the color of our skin the Bible tells us we are created in God’s image.  We are created and loved and if we want to be true followers of Christ we have to start seeing everyone, EVERYONE like they are a child of God.  That takes mental toughness to look around at the people we are raised to hate and to think, “how does God see that person?  That is a child of God who was made in God’s image.”
John Wesley concentrated a lot of his ministry on the pursuit of holiness.  In his eyes we could achieve perfect holiness, or Christian Perfection.  This meant that if a Christian pushed him or herself to the limits he or she could be made perfect in love of neighbor and of God.  John Wesley said this about being made perfect, “to be ‘sanctified throughout;’ even ‘to have a heart so all-flaming with the love of God,’ (to use Archbishop Usher’s words,) ‘as continually to offer up every thought, word, and work, as a spiritual sacrifice, acceptable to God through Christ.’ In every thought of our hearts, in every word of our tongues, in every work of our hands, to ‘show forth his praise, who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ O that both we, and all who seek the Lord Jesus in sincerity, may thus ‘be made perfect in one!'”   
We have an end goal, we, as Christians, desire to have eternal life with God.  But until then we need to work on living this life to the best of our ability.  We need to look at what we need to do to be the best person that God has called us all to be.  That is found in this idea of Christian perfection.  We have to believe that every thought, word, and work in our head can be acceptable to God through Christ.  If we don’t then what is the point.  It would be like playing professional baseball and never wanting to win the world series or being a pitcher who never wants to through the perfect game.  That is just insane.  No one competitively runs a race hoping to never finish or to finish last.  Even those who know they will never be fast enough to beat a Kenyan in a marathon have personal goals to beat to run their own perfect race.  If we are not seeking that perfect game, that perfect goal then what is the point?  Lukewarm and mediocre?  I don’t think God calls us to the mediocre and we are told in Revelation that those who are lukewarm will be spit out?  If we don’t believe it can be so then it will never be.
Paul states that we have a purpose.  We don’t run the race with out a goal.  We don’t box like we don’t have an opponent.  As he says in verse 27, “Rather I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others.”  Paul calls us to find self-disciple for the purpose of the gospel; in order to be better followers of Christ.
As Jodie is now less than 100 days away from her 100 mile race her training is starting to pick up.  She says, “The toughest part for me with the 100 miler training is the amount of training. During the week is pretty manageable, but the weekends are just unreal. Last week I did a 31 mile race here in Charlotte as my training run.  I’ve run every other hour from 6am to 6pm (running the last 2 hours) and covered 34 miles total in that 12 hour time span. This weekend I will not sleep on Friday night. I have to keep myself awake all night long and then run a half marathon (13.1) on Saturday morning. It’s a great mental test and helps me to get a feel for how it will be to run exhausted. That’s not it though, Sunday afternoon I will run another half marathon (13.1 miles).  Monday it’s back to work. The balance between regular life and training can be hard. But I push through because I know each and every training is important. They are small building blocks to prepare me for the big event.”
How are you training to run the race in front of you?  What are you doing to build yourself up and ready yourself for your own match?  How will you gain perfection within this life?  We start where Paul tells us to, with self-discipline.  It is self-discipline that make or breaks the mental game that we all play in our own heads.  It is telling yourself that reading that chapter in the Bible before bed is much better than watching the late show.  It is deciding it is more important to find time to pray daily because when you do you feel better about life in general.  It is coming here to worship in a community and to remind yourself of the goal we have in life to welcome in the Kingdom of God here and now and to ready ourselves for eternity in God’s presence.  It is seeing the people that surround us as God sees them.  It is reaching out to the least and the lost.  It is living into the example that was perfectly given in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jodie also said these words which I think I needed to hear this week.  “Pain is another factor. All this exercise takes a toll on my body, especially big weekends like last weekend with 31 consecutive miles. I see a chiropractor/sports therapist once a week. I also get a massage from his assistant after big events like last weekend. That’s helps with the physical side of things.  Usually the mental side is bigger.  For me it’s quite simple – I just have to keep moving forward. No matter how much my feet already hurt after running for 5 hours, I have to keep them moving. Even if my legs ache and my muscles are getting tighter with each passing minute, I have to keep moving forward.  No matter how slow I become (because as the hours pass by my body naturally gets slower and slower), I just have to keep moving forward. As long as I don’t stop I know I can finish. Sometimes my mind is consumed with how much something hurts. I may have to take an extra walk break or my run becomes more like a slow jog. Even as I dwell on how much something hurts – I still move forward.”
Life can get us down.  It can tear us apart and make us not want to do anything for God.  We can take punch after punch and feel like we are running mile after mile while life keeps bringing the hurt.  But we still need to move forward.  We still need to realize we are not alone and God is walking, crawling and even at points carrying us through our lives.  We are never alone and we are always loved.  No matter how hard the fight is, we can rest assured that we can continue on.  We can make it a little bit further.  We can live the life God calls us to live no matter how big the sacrifice, no matter how impossible it sounds or feels in our hearts.  We can, because God made the impossible possible through his Son and we are called to pick up our own crosses and follow him.  We continue to walk the walk, mile by mile and sometimes inch by inch, but always forward towards our prize.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

The Past Decade – A Personal Look Back

December 31st, 1999 my girlfriend of five years and I head out and decide to do something CRAZY. This might be the last night of our lives; we need to soak it in. On Christmas break from my first year at Duke Divinity School and my girlfriends last year at Western Carolina University we cherished the fact that we only had to drive 2 and 3 hours to meet up in our hometown of Charlotte, NC.

What were we going to do to bring in the new Millennium? Were we going to party like it was 1999? If we were going to go out, we wanted to make sure we had tried something we hadn’t tried yet…and it starts with a ‘s’. Wait for it…sushi! Yes that is right, 10 years ago, we sat down at an unfamiliar menu and attempted to figure out what type of sushi we liked. At the end of an odd meal, we looked at each other and agreed…not too bad. Then we headed down to Uptown Charlotte to stand in the midst of a huge crowd and watch the crown drop (it is the Queen City btw) and the fireworks. There, that cold night, the world didn’t come to an end. But I was able to kiss my girlfriend for the fifth time on New Years Eve and welcome in the year 2000.

Ten years later we will be in Charlotte once again. My then girlfriend is now my wife and after we drop our two children off with grandparents we will be heading off to a nice restaurant in Uptown Charlotte and then catching Jeff Dunham at Time Warner Arena. For the 15th time I will be able to kiss the same girl to welcome in the new year. Ahhh…life is good.

Enough mush though, as I write this I am amazed at how my life has changed in 10 years. Ten years ago I was in my first year of Divinity School and now I am in my second appointment and in my third year here. Here are some highlights in my life from the past decade…

2000 – Middle Year of Duke Divinity School Education and moved into 1311 Norton St. Awesome house with awesome friends.
2001 – Had a front row seat to watch Duke Men’s Basketball team win a national championship and went to my one and only Duke/UNC game at Cameron. Asked girlfriend to marry me…she said yes.
2002 – Got turned down for Commissioning in the ordination process (must wait to finish for another year, SUCKS!!!). Graduated Duke Divinity School and got married (two weeks apart) and then in August moved to Mossley, England.
2003 – Rang in the year under Big Ben, enjoyed the ministry within the three churches I was in charge of in the Ashton-under-Lyne Circuit of the British Methodist Church. Explored and toured Great Britain and some of Germany and Italy (I miss Rome). Flew back to the US to go through interviews again and then flew back to be commissioned and accept my first WNCC appointment as an associate at Hawthorne Lane UMC in our home town of Charlotte, NC.
2004 – Finally after four moves in 12 months, moved into a very nice parsonage. Wife graduates from Southeastern School of Neuromuscular Massage Therapy and becomes a licensed Massage Therapist.
2005 – Find out we are pregnant and announce it at Christmas to our families.
2006 – Get ordained as an elder of the United Methodist Church and become a father of a wonderful little boy Dean…who goes on to have colic…won’t wish that on my worst enemy.
2007 – Move to Thomasville, NC to become the pastor of Trinity UMC.
2008 – Find out we are pregnant again.
2009 – Become the father of a beautiful little girl, Campbell (Belle).

As we said goodbye to 1999 and welcomed in 2000, I was 22, had a wonderful girlfriend, a BS in Bible and Religion from Montreat College and was in my first year of Divinity School. Ten years later I have been married for 7.5 years and in ministry for just as long. I have moved 8 times within that time, the longest distance was across the pond. There have been ups and down, victories and defeats.

But over all, life is too good to be true. I look at the ‘highlights’ of this decade and I am amazed at what has happened. I wonderful what these next 10 years will look like?

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.

The Day is Done – THANK GOD!

What a day.

6:53 am: My phone wakes me up. My eyes try to make out the number but before I can do that I answer. It’s my mother-in-law (already not a great morning). She is surprised to hear my voice because for the 107th time she has called my cell phone instead of my wife’s phone. But this time I am glad she did. Yesterday she went to the doctor and they admitted her into the hospital with heart issues. She may have had a heart attack but after a heart cauterization today, we find out one of her arteries was 99% blocked but the doctors were able to get a stent in and she is doing fine. My wife is worried and the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional is taken up a notch on that branch of the family tree.

9:07 am: With my son at pre-school I head to a local restaurant for some breakfast with parishioners. Good french toast and okay coffee. Good conversation.

10:43 am: My 10:30 appointment shows up and reminds me I hate tardiness (which makes me sound like an old crotchety man). He tells me what projector our sanctuary could uses and tells me he will send me a proposal.

1:23 pm: Lunch. Mother-in-law doing fine, son, wife, and baby to be taking a nap, I catch up on a show and take a five minute siesta.

2:38 pm: Type out a proposal for Trustee Meeting and read email. Receive proposal for projector and shoot that around to a couple of people to see what they think.

3:30 pm: Son, wife, and baby to be are up. Play with son.

5:59 pm: Sitting down to dinner and trying to convince a 2.5 year old ‘poor man’s beef stroganoff” is good. Successful!

6:25 pm: While getting ready for Trustee Meeting get phone call from Trustee member who received projector proposal. He tells me the proposal was written by idiots who wouldn’t know what do to with a flashlight in a dark room (clean version). This should be a fun conversation later.

6:33 pm: Trustee meeting starts and we have some good discussion on some future plans for the church. Ends with a happy results.

7:22 pm: Have fun conversation. Get lectured on the ins and outs of A/V equipment and what we really need. I knew this was coming but sometimes a fire has to be lite under the right person to get stuff to actually happen.

7:48 pm: Get home, get son in jammies, and in bed. Make some phone calls checking in on some other people. Hear mother-in-law is doing okay still and are able to laugh at the ‘fun’ branch with wife.

8:53 pm: Plop down on coach and ready to veg. Absolutely nothing on TV, end up watching the Food Network.

11:00 pm: Start night routine, turning off lights, feeding cats, brushing teeth.

11:11 pm: Phone rings. Learn that a parishioner found his 91 year old father dead on the floor of his house. Kiss wife good night, get dressed again, and head to the house to be with family. I walked by the body as the paramedics remove him from the house. The house smells like burnt egg because the father died before he finished cooking his dinner. The family is in the back room still stunned. He was old and not in great health but it was still so very unexpected. I listen. We pray. I listen and comfort. I hug and say goodbye and tell them, “Get some rest even if you can’t sleep. You all are in my prayers.” I head back home.

12:32 am: Kiss wife goodnight, again. Go to computer to unwind. The day is done and tomorrow is here. May this day bring peace and joy.

Things my son will never know…

My wife and I were having a conversation the other day about things our 18 month old son will never know. We wondered what his world will be like when he is 18 years old, 30, and even 60 (which will be 2066). It was fun and sad to think of these things. Here is just some…

He will never know what a CD is because everything will be MP3s.
He will never know gas as $1.00 a gallon or even less as it was when we started driving.
He will never know life before reality TV.
He will never know life before September 11.
He will never know what a VCR is.
He will never know TV without DVR (he already hands us the TiVo remote during commercials)
He will never know that the Presidency was held only by white men (yes that is my prediction).
He will never know life without safety equipment and car seats.
He will never know life without war and terrorism.
He will never know life without organic food and fair trade options.
He will never know cars that weren’t hybrids or at least didn’t get 30 miles to the gallon.
He will never know who Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Lindsey Lohan are.
He will never know living in anything other than a parsonage.
He will never understand why his mom and dad liked Michael Jackson’s music at one time.
He will never know life without the grace of our Lord and Savior.

If you can come up with more, we would love to hear them!