Friday, February 29, 2008

Back in the Day....

I really liked the 90s band Luscious Jackson. It was kinda cool too see this all-women band with some really cool street-wise music. I downloaded their 1999 song, "Ladyfingers" and decided to see the video. You can see a good link here.

Below is another one (not as good) that appeared on the old MTV show, "120 Minutes." For you young ones, this was when MTV played music.

Worship: Adults Only?

I will admit that youth ministry is not my strongsuit, but something that has always bothered me is churches that have Sunday School during worship service. I don't get that.

I was chatting with some other church professionals and guy who works with youth at a local church was upset that Sunday School took place during worship. He commented that the youth are in classes from babies to high school. He then said it was no wonder that the youth don't go to church after high school since they were never included in the first place.

I don't know what possesses people to think that placing kids in Sunday School, while the grown-up worship is a good idea. Since when did worship become "Adults-Only?" We might as well put up beaded doors like the ones we see at those Adult bookstores.

The thing is, worship should be for everyone. Kids should be able to participate in worship. I know, sometimes kids talk in worship or they look bored, but I'm beginning to think they are aware of what's going on. If we exclude them from worship, the message they recieve is that this isn't something that's worth doing.

I know that adults are probably not doing this out of some ill will. It's probably a tradition going way back. But just because it was done in 1958 means it has to be done in 2008.

If I ever am asked to lead a church with such a setup, that is one sacred cow that's going to become a juicy hamburger.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Sermon- February 24, 2008

“A Woman and the Son of God Enter a Bar...”
John 4:5-42
February 24, 2008
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

I am a terrible joke teller.

Believe me, I've tried. But ever since I was a child, I've have done a bad job of telling jokes. If I was kidnapped by Al Queda and the only I would be granted freedom is to tell the jokes, well I would be their involuntary guest for quite a long time.

But listening to jokes can be fun. I know that at some point, we have all heard a joke that begins like this: “A priest, a rabbi and a Baptist preacher walk into a bar...” The people who walk in the bar maybe different, but it's still the same joke. A few people enter a bar who don't seem to fit. We don't expect a priest, a rabbi and a preacher to enter a bar together. We don't expect them to even be at a bar. That's what makes the joke so interesting: it's throwing people who don't normally associate with each other in situations you don't expect them to be in.

The text from the book of John is one of my favorite stories. Just like the joke, it throws together people you don't expect to be together in situations you don't expect them to be in. As the story begins, Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Samaria. Now, most Jews would go out of their way to bypass Samaria. They did this because they didn't like the Samartians. The Samaritans were related to the Jews, but they were mixed with other heritages and because their role in the past which included tharwting their Jewish cousins, they were called “half-breeds” by the Jews. The Samaritans returned the favor, by hating the Jews back.

So, Jesus travels in enemy territory. He is then left alone at the local water hole while his disciples go into the town to buy food. It was noon. Now, I've never been to the Holy Land, but I have been to parts of the world that are known for being hot. I've visited my relatives in Central Louisiana and traveled in August. In both places, it gets incredibly hot during that time of the day, with the sun high in the sky. You don't want to be outside during that time, and for the most part, you aren't. Most people stay inside. But not Jesus. He is sitting here in the hot sun, near a well, with no way to get the water in the well.

At this point, something odd happens. A woman is approaching the well. This is odd, because normally, women, and it was women in those days, went to get water from the well in the early morning and the evening, times of the day when the sun was not so hot. And yet, this woman was heading towards the well with a bucket to draw water for her needs. Many have speculated that this woman might have had a reputation in town and going to get water in the middle of the day, meant not having to deal with the cold stares of the townsfolk.

Jesus sees the woman and asks her, “Give me something to drink.” The woman looks at Jesus and notices maybe by his skin tone or his speech that he is Jewish. That must have sent chills up her spine that her hated enemy was sitting there asking her for drink as if she was his servant. She then responds, “Why in the world would ask me, a woman and a Samaritan, for water?”

Jesus then starts talking about water again- but not the water in the well. He speaks of a Living Water, a water that will quench the thirst of this woman forever. At first, she was still a bit skeptical, wondering how he could get this water without a bucket. Then she starts to ask if there is any way she could get this water and not have to come out in the heat to get water. At some point, Jesus asks the woman to call her husband. She responds quickly that she has no husband. But Jesus sees through this and calls her on it.

You have to imagine this woman was scared. She was already and outcast because of her past, and she didn't need this Jew looking down on her. But how did he know? She wonders if this man is a prophet and starts talking about God and worshipping on the mountain where her fellow Samaritans went to meet God.

At some point, Jesus reveals himself to her as the Messiah. She runs back to town and tells the townsfolk that this man told her everything about her. Could this be the Messiah?

This story is about grace. This morning, we sang what is probably the most famous hymn: “Amazing Grace.” Many of you know the history of this song. It's writer, John Newton, was a slave trader. Talk about your shady pasts. He had traded people like commodity. He felt like the “wretch” in the song. And yet, he knew that God had saved him. He was lost, and now he is found. He was blind in sin and now he sees.

This woman was an outcast. Whether or not she was an innocent victim or someone with a seedy past, doesn't matter; she is on the outside. And yet, Jesus reached out to her. He crossed the boundaries of ethnicity, gender and probably 200 other boundaries to reach out to this woman in grace and love.

But this story isn't simply about what Christ did, though that's incredibly important. It's also about how the community that claims to follow him lives. We call ourselves Christians. Do we respond to the people we meet with the same grace that Christ did? Could we love those who might be doing something we might not necessairly agree with?

The fact is, outside these walls, there are people who are dying of thirst. Not real thirst, though there are people who are dying of thirst, but they want to be loved. They know they have a past, or are doing something people might not like. They have felt like an outcast. All they want is a welcoming hand that loves them regardless of their past. Are we willing to cross our own boundaries to share the love and grace of Christ with them?

Let me tell you the story of a real outsider. Many of you know Jim Galvin, who was a member of Community of Grace. He has shared with me on occasion that having a church that openly welcomed him even though he was gay meant a lot to him. He had felt excluded from other churches in the past because of his orientation, but he found a place to be. Jim found grace.

I don't share this story to pump myself up, since I was the pastor of this church start. I share it because it is an example of welcoming the various “people at the wells” in our own lives.

The theme for today is baptism and in a short time, I will be passing out a seashell to add to your growing altars at home. Shells are the traditional symbol of baptism. Baptism is a time when we are welcomed in to the church. But there is something more going on here. It is in the waters of baptism that we are reminded that God loves us. God knows us totally; all our faults and all out shortcomings and loves his still. We are loved madly by God. Jesus was willing to sit in the middle of a desert in the middle of the day to tell this woman that she was loved by God. That's love. Jesus went to the cross to show that love to all of creation. THAT's love.

Baptism reminds us we are loved that much by God. And if we are loved that much by God, shouldn't we return the favor by carrying that love forward? Can we cross the boundaries of race, sexual orientation, political ideology, theological differences to love somebody?

Baptism is a reminder that we have been given Living Water, a water that reminds us we don't have to go anywhere else to feel loved, because we are loved by God, all the time.

A Woman and the Son of God enter the bar...and everything changes for the better. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Picture: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, by He Qi.

Why Christian Educations (Kinda) Sucks

My friend Tim (aka Feral Pastor) recently shared with me something he had once heard concerning youth and Christian Education. He said that "Jesus played with the children and taught the adults. We tend to do the opposite."

How true. Look at any opening for a Christian Ed director or pastor and what we find is basically someone that works mostly with youth. Churches tend to have strong Sunday School programs that stress the basic Christian story. But as kids get older and into adulthood, Christian Ed becomes nonexistent or become "adult forums" where they talk about the latest public policy concern but not studying the Bible.

I sometimes wonder if the reason mainline churches are languishing is because we make kids sit down and learn, instead of playing with them. I also wonder if it's because people who want a more hefty, deep-thinking Christianity come to church and find nothing that feeds their mind and soul.

If I were to design a position in a church for me centered on Christian Ed, I would design a program for the whole church, not just the kiddies. I would try to create a "lay seminary" where people could actually try to understand their faith. Yes, I would still have some adult forums, but I would also have classes where people would really grapple with Scripture and come to understand the story of God working in the world.

Is there a church out there (in the Twin Cities) willing to take me on?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Creative Ministry

Yesterday was a good day. I found out I was approved for Ordained Ministerial Partner Standing in the Minnesota United Church of Christ. The Disciples and the UCC have an agreement that allows for the sharing of resources and the exchange of pastors. I am excited by this, because it gives me an opening to work with the UCC. I am trying to find a church that is willing to try something new in ministry. One wish is to get a group of people with a passion for mission that would try to live a new faith community. It would be church planting, the monastic way, I guess. In chatting with a UCC pastor, she noted there were churches that had some interest.

The other thing that has interested me is being an associate pastor in a church whose role is mission and maybe starting a new worship service. The problem is most churches with Associates tend to stick them with youth, something I don't have the skills for. I would love to do Christian Ed, but I would want to run youth and adult, again something that is not normally done.

I sometimes wish that churches could see different ways of using ministers, instead of the ways that have been used for decades.

Maybe there is a church that would be willing? We shall see.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thoughts from a Unitarian Church Planter

Okay, that title isn't a crazy at it seems.

I'm starting to like Unitarians. I still don't always agree with their theology, but they have some good things to share. One of the bloggers that I like to check out on occasion is Ron Robinson, a Unitarian-Universalist pastor in Oklahoma that has some experience in church planting. His posts always make me think about what it means to be church and a recent post is no different. Here are some of his views concerning church growth:

Find groups of five people who can work together as a team, who have an entrepeneurial and mission passion, and turn them loose. Self-sown seeds. Watch what happens. By entrepeneurial I don't really mean it has to be business-minded folks although lord knows that will probably help more than by seminary-trained liberal arts message-weighed down people like me; but people who can be risk-takers. And don't be afraid to invest in the places you wouldn't ever be told to invest in by demographic studies. What has it gotten us to go to those areas where there are abundant higher education degrees? Though there is so much still to be done, and so many potentials even in the places loaded down with Starbucks. It's time to have the vision to expand in all directions.

But even those ideas coming from the top as new ventures are probably doomed. So I am back again to linking 12 people as apostles, those who are sent, who can model culture change, attract people on fire, feed their health and starve the dysfunction that will grow up in reaction. People who know in their bones what Church is, and that it is good to seed a diversity of little church expressions of Church. These 12 may be from all over,but they will share associational life together, retreating together, mentoring others, a kind of new monastic order of missionaries, going out into the wilderness of the new environment and bringing back reports to share of the findings and learnings and experiments of others, inspiring others to do the same with others in their areas, or getting away from the bounds of geography, with others in their niche culture, through the technologies. And as these people come into contact with others existing churches will be changed and new endeavors of church, growing their own resources, will sprout. What the association does is resource the start-up missionaries, the 12, and join in prayer, adding new if needed, and thinking not of 3 year cycles and results but 300 years.

Robinson is saying that church planting is about community: a community living in a way that is different from the prevailing culture. It gets back to the idea of the church not as a place, but as a people living a certain way: the way of Jesus.

Tomorrow I meet with someone from the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ. I want to share my idea of working with a congregation ready to try something new: to gather a group of people interested in being the church and start in a local area and see what happens. It's just crazy enough to work.

Who says you can't learn anything from Unitarians?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Open and Affirming Church Planting

I remember hearing years ago, that one the things that should happen is planting churches that are already welcoming to gays and lesbians. I tried to do that, but it didn't work the first time.

Today, I read that Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Dallas, is planning on starting five new churches. Cathedral of Hope bills itself as the world's largest gay church and has been a part of the UCC for about two years.

Now, they are a megachurch and can afford to do this venture, but still, what a step of faith. And in a part of the country that isn't always known as accepting of gay folks, no less.

Kudos to Cathedral of Hope. May God bless them as the spread the Good News of Christ.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Church Planting: A Step of Faith

Every so often, when I feel down about myself, I tend to read this article by Bob Hyatt, a church planting pastor. I like reading his short essay because he reminds me that church planting isn't crazy.

Something that has struck me lately is that planting a church is really an act of faith. Hyatt writes:

Fear? Is it scary? Yes, of course it is. But for me, a turning point was realizing that I had never really done anything in my life that required actual faith. Yes, I had picked up and moved to Europe for two years. Did that require faith? I had a great salary waiting for me, a church community to integrate me, and the knowledge that if it didn’t work out, I could always just find something else to fall back on. Faith? Sort of, but not really.

I came to the point in considering church planting where I realized that I simply didn’t want to get to 70 and look back never having taken an actual step of faith… never having started something, never having begun a journey whose end I could not clearly see from the beginning. I didn’t want the regret of not having taken a shot at a dream of mine.

Finances? Sure- that was a consideration. When we decided to plant the church we had just bought a house and gotten pregnant. I knew that looking back this was either going to seem like a great step of faith or a complete lack of common sense. I suppose the jury is still out on that…

But we had to decide, my wife and I, that if taking this step cost us our house, set us back financially… that simply wasn’t too big a price to pay for God’s kingdom. If we did what we felt we needed to do, and there were financial costs, so be it. We’d rather see people come into relationship with God than have a house. We’d rather see those who have given up on church find community again than have a new car. We had to ask ourselves “What is the absolute worst thing that could happen if we do this?” And when we really started looking at it, it just didn’t seem like that big a deal.

I remember a while back asking someone if they were every interested in planting a church. The person said no, saying something related to the fact that there wasn't any financial security in it.

I thought about that. Having been part of mainline churches, something that seems to be a big concern is that if so and so is going to start a church, they need a good salary and benefits package.

I'm not saying that pastor and other church leaders should not be paid. What I am saying is that in many cases, we aren't so willing to take a step of faith, in planting churches and in the funding of church plants and planters.

Having grown up in a evangelical household, what I noticed was how people who were called to ministry were willing to go out and find a job or raise money to fund their calling. These people believed strongly in what God had called them to do and they were willing to step on in faith knowing that God would be with them all the way.

When I was working with Community of Grace, it was near impossible to get churches to fund us. Many of the churches are struggling, dealing with shrinking budgets and shrinking memberships. Such concerns cause the belts to tighten. Some pastors thought new churches were a waste of money and that these resources had to be spent on existing churches.

I think sometimes that we mainline Protestants suffer from a lack of faith. Yes, we say we believe in God, but I think we don't really trust as much as we like to. Of course, there are probably a lot of evangelicals that are just as untrusting of God as mainliners, it's just that I have really seen it among mainline churches.

But, what if we had faith that God is at work? What if people were willing to pray for church planters, and support them in anyway they can (not just financially)? What if we had a passion for mission, to share and be Christ with the world, that we were willing to help anyone who had a passion to start a church? What if we just had some faith?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Are You the One

It's funny how God works. Just when you think that you are alone, God speaks, and boy does God speak.

I happened to be just surfing on the web when I stumbled upon this blog by BJ Woodworth, the pastor of Open Door, a Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. Woodworth was recently ordained and his father, also a Presbyterian minister, gave the charge. He based it on Luke 7:18-23 where John the Baptist asks Jesus if he is one or should he be expecting someone else. Rev. Woodworth spoke about the pain and dissapointment that pastors face. Our expectations don't meeting the reality and well, God has some 'splaining to do.

Here is part of what Rev. Woodworth said:

Jesus’ response to such a question is simple – he says I know you may be disappointed but I am asking you to trust me. You see even if Jesus had struck Herod with fire, freed John from prison and pulled up the other tares in John’s life, he would never have been truly free apart from a deep trusting relationship with Jesus.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are not offended by me – or stumbling over me”. We may be tempted to stumble over people and circumstances, pain and disappointment but we’re really stumbling over Jesus, offended by Jesus because he’s moving too slowly or because he hasn’t removed the tares in our life and the real temptations to look for something else – a better method, a new program, another seminar or a field with less tares – or even worse, tempted to join the thousands of pastors each year who give upon their call. My son – stay the course – have a burning patience – that quality of faith which keeps you living in the already and not yet – that will give meaning and strength to your ministry. Disappointments and even failures will come but you have a vision of the splendid city – you have hope – and just like the prophet Jeremiah, “before you were born God set you apart and appointed you to be his spokesman to the world.”

Trust and hope.

I have not been shy about being disappointed these past five years as an ordained pastor. I've dealt with setback after setback and wonder: where is God? Why does this have to be so freakin' hard?

But maybe God is saying that we, that I, have to trust God and have hope. What do I have to lose?

Hope has always been an important word for me. Maybe it's because in the end, that's all we can hold on to: that despair and dissapointment are not the last word.

All I can do is hope.

I Oughtta Be in Pictures

So, I finally figured out what was wrong with the video.

Now that it's fixed, here it is:

Friday, February 01, 2008

Feelin' Funky (And not in a Good Way)

I've been in a funk today.

I was a bit frustrated trying to upload a short video I did on the webcam. I guess it's too big to upload or this is one of those problems faced by those who have Windows Vista.

But the larger problem was dealing with my call. I feel like I;m on the edge of trying this church start thing again...and then I hesitate. What if I fail all over again? Do I really have the skills to do this? If I am called to do this, then why is no one wanting to follow along and help? Am I really a worthwhile pastor? If church planting isn't for me, then what is?

It's enough to put me in a tailspin and feel like the situation is hopeless, and it has.

As I wander in this time of transition, something that I've noticed is that I am a better second fiddle than I am leader of the band. Does this mean I should consider being an Associate somewhere?

I don't know. What I do know is that at least today, I feel very lost and alone and wondering if my call will ever be fully realized.