Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Preaching Joy

Recently I was asked by a former student how to adequately express joy in a sermon without sounding “slap-happy.”  The preacher had been told by several members of her congregation that she sounded a bit sappy when she talked about the joy we can all find in our faith.  They just didn’t “buy” her joy when she preached.

I am not even going to go into the fact that there is a significant possibility that the comment was sexist – since it possibly was.  And I am not going to touch the fact that preaching without joy seems oxymoronic in most circumstances (however I admit there are times when abundant joy is not appropriate – like Good Friday and other more solemn occasions).

So here’s the deal.  Preaching with joy is important.  The people in our churches and communities of faith are often in search for a good word, a spark of hope, and a sense that God is present.  Going into the pulpit prepared to speak a word of grace, hope and joy is important.  Doing so is imperative in today’s climate.

But it also must be done with sincerity and authenticity.  Perhaps my former student’s presentation of the Gospel’s joy was not in character with her normal pulpit presence or was in contrast to her physical presentation.  Maybe she was exhibiting a joy that was not related to the text of her sermon.  Perhaps she had not prepared her people to receive a message of joy.  Maybe – just maybe – she was out of touch with her people and did not realize they were not in a place of hearing joy.

There is more to preaching than exegeting (doing research, study, interpretation, and analysis on) the text and writing a sermon manuscript or outline.  One of the most important pieces of preaching involves exegeting the community.  We have to know our people in order for our words to better reach them.  We have to know what is going on in their lives, in our community, and in their faith journey.

Taking the time to really get to know our people puts us in the position to be able to relate what we are doing from the pulpit in ways that connect the text to their lived lives.

Being authentic and showing who we are in ways that communicate the Gospel’s joy and its passion is imperative. Many in and outside of the church today feel a disconnect between their lives and the Gospel message preached in our pulpits. They need to feel God’s presence, to hear a word of grace and hope, and to experience moments of awe and joy.  

And they also need to feel the passion of Christ’s suffering and death, the feelings of “lostness” in the parables of Jesus, and to learn to experience the transformation of lives brought about by the life and death of Jesus.

We are called to share this – all of this story with our people.  We are called to share this message as authentically and connectively as possible. We are called to be honest and “real” in our preaching. We are called to know our people so that all of this is possible.

So get to know your people … spend time with them, learn what is important to them, study and play with them, and let them get to know you. If you do this … they can hear the joy, the hope, the passion and the amazing grace you are called to preach to and with them.

Preach away folks.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hospital Time Warp

I am not a patient person. I fully admit that fact. I am anxious for things to happen. I work on a schedule and plan ahead. So I always take something with me to grade, read, play with, or otherwise keep my brain, hands and spirit engaged. Normal time lapses do not make me too crazy.

But hospital time is ridiculous. I was in the ER and hospital for 24+ hours with a dear friend who had chest pain and shortness of breath. And I can attest with no reservations that hospitals exist in a totally different time continuum than my own. It seems that time in hospitals runs more slowly than anywhere else in the world. Time almost seems to run backward. And at times it seems not to move at all.

Nurses, aides, PAs and doctors are busy and amazing people. They do very tough jobs and work long hours. They are part of a noble calling. I admire them immensely, but they work on a schedule that is completely unfamiliar to me. I feel like a foreigner in a strange land. A land where waiting is the norm.

 We have waited for tests to be run, waited for a room, waited for dinner, waited for test results, waited for blankets, waited for doctors, and waited for news about dismissal from the hospital. Throughout this time - the professionals all around us are busy, polite, engaged, compassionate, and caring. But they cannot speed up a system that runs on a different time continuum. No one can.

So we sit here waiting. Knowing that God has led us through this amazingly tough scare. Knowing that we are being cared for in remarkable ways. Knowing that people are taking care of Shelby with great joy and care. Knowing that we are blessed to have the insurance to not be overly traumatized by the stay in the hospital. Knowing that there are many folks who live in this limbo of "medical time" way too much of their lives. Knowing that we are not alone - that many of our family and friends have reached out to us in remarkable ways. Knowing that God is with us and is guiding us with grace and love.

Knowing all of this is amazing. Knowing that God is in control and not my desire for time to run on my needs is a learning experience. Knowing that I still need to work on this is ok. God is not done with me yet, evidently.

Knowing you all care about us is a blessing.  Thanks.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

8 Ways to Bring Back Family Worship

A blog article I wanted to share ... by Darby Jones from UMCom

So many families are on the go these days. Sitting down for a family dinner is so pass√©.  At least, that’s what many teenagers think. And forget any kind of family worship at home. Yet, spending time together intentionally discussing and experiencing God’s work in our lives should be one of our most important goals as a family. That’s why it is important as church leaders to equip parents with the tools to bring back family worship.

Include these family worship tips in your sermon and add them to your website, blog and newsletter:

1. You don't have to know everything to lead. Parents don’t have to be Bible scholars or know all the answers to start a family worship time. You just need the willingness to lead your family and follow God's guidance.

2. Create a worship space in the house. This place should show the connection between Christ and the family. Praying and bonding together in this space will make it sacred.

3. Set a time for spiritual bonding. The time and length of family worship depend on the age and attention span of family members. If someone isn’t available, have a backup plan. Set a virtual prayer time (for example, at 6 p.m., remember to say a quick prayer with and for the family, no matter where you are). Be consistent about bonding at the same time. and it will soon become a habit.

4. Challenge your family to a night without television. Even better, make it a “No Screen Night,” which excludes video games, computers and phones as well. This time can occur as often as a family determines (perhaps monthly or weekly). Blocking all distraction frees time for family worship, letter writing, board and active games, sports or general conversation and discussion. Mix up the activities, especially for younger children with short attention spans.

It won’t be long before family members look forward to the time and realize the most important things in life are free. However, small rewards can be fun and even can be a part of stewardship lessons. Children will love the extra attention from their parents. Don’t be surprised if the stories of memories made from this time together get a little bigger each time they are told!

5. Work together on a community volunteer project. This is a chance to focus on others (and on what Jesus calls us to do) while spending time together. It's also a great teaching opportunity that will enrich the community and lives of others.

Parents can start by asking their pastor about community ministries that can use the family’s help. Contact your conference Volunteers in Mission coordinator to find out about good service opportunities for families. Another great resource is VolunteerMatch, an organization that strengthens communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect. You can find volunteer opportunities in your community and narrow search results by keywords to find opportunities that interest your family.

6. Prepare. It doesn’t have to take a long time. Read a favorite Bible verse and think about the theme that you’d like to share. Cokesbury offers several family devotionals to help with this process. Develop a list of simple faith questions (e.g. Where have you seen God today? How do you think we can apply Sunday's sermon?) While watching a television show, plan to discuss, during a commercial, how one of the characters could have acted like Jesus.

7. Create a family gratitude journal to promote interaction.Create a family gratitude journal using a hole punch and some ribbon. Keep the book in the family worship space. Each person is responsible for documenting at least one thing for which he or she is most grateful every day ... more than one is highly encouraged. Little ones can draw something special, cut out a picture or glue on something from nature that they found. Ideally, everyone will have something positive to share.

8. Provide examples on how to pray aloud. Discuss times and situations when it is appropriate to pray, such as before bed, before meals, upon waking, upon receiving good news, when worried or afraid, when you hear an emergency siren, when you hear bad news or when facing a problem  with a friend or sibling.

Prayer times are also good times to look up Bible verses. Show your family how to use a Bible concordance so they know how to look up verses that relate to their problems.

For additional resources and the original post - see

Monday, May 7, 2012

The General Conference Post That Would Not Come …

I have tried for two weeks to write about the recent General Conference of The United Methodist Church.  I started to write in the weeks leading up to the conference about my hopes and dreams for our church, for our shared ministry, and for our celebration of and praise of a mighty and compassionate God.  I wrote and erased so many posts that I gave up.  My dreams were too big and my wishes too bold.  I dared not write them down.  Every time I did it scared me too much to post them.

In the first week of the General Conference I tried again as I saw amazingly blessed worship and an international church come together in praise of God.  I was stunned by the visioning and hope many delegates came with.  And I relished the stories they told about church growth, vital ministry, and stunning outreach.  It moved my heart and soul.  Then holy conferencing on the issue of sexuality sent many into a tailspin as some GLBT folks were bullied, intimidated and called names during a time when real conversations were supposed to be happening.  And I sat as no words would come.

I tried again after a good friend, Mark Miller, was silenced on the floor of the conference when he tried to speak about the bullying.  He was allowed to speak about some of the pain and the bishop prayed but he was still silenced.  I stood with Mark in the middle of my living room.  My ranting words were good for me to let loose but too much to share with others.  I wept for my church.  And no post came.

But I found myself once again attempting to write after only 56% of my church’s delegates voted that God’s love is available to all persons.  Why only 56%?  Because they thought it was a slippery slope to accepting persons they believe are incompatible with Christian teachings. (“They” will continue to say it is the practice of homosexuality that is incompatible but in truth they are condemning the very being of the GLBT members of our denomination).  That post was deleted as well.

I saw some hope in the legislative committee work over the weekend session and when a promised amendment to be presented on the floor was trying at the very least to get the church to acknowledge we are not all in agreement with the United Methodist stance on homosexuality.  I had some renewed hope and a sense of reserved joy.  That was dashed when some of the delegates instead spoke of bestiality and stoning of GLBT folks in the UMC from the floor.  The petition failed – as it has before.  That post never even made it onto the computer screen.

I tried to write after GLBT advocates entered the bar of the conference to witness to their own and others’ exclusion and to attempt to keep any more harm from happening on the floor of the conference.  But my tears blurred the screen and I could not find the words.

I once again made a valiant effort after the plan to restructure our church and work together for a renewed future for our denomination failed in committee, was resurrected and remade into PlanUMC, was adopted on the floor, and then was ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council.  We were back to square one with no plan and little time until the end of the conference.  But Bishop Goodpaster reminded us we still have a structure in the 2008 Book of Discipline and he said it better than I could.

So Sunday morning I got up and went to my UMC/UCC federated congregation in Chestnut Hill, PA.  It is a reconciling, affirming, anti-racist, environmentally active, advocacy-centered congregation that worships like no other church I have ever been part of.  I realized once again that the theology of my church – The United Methodist Church – is one of grace and love.  And it is lived out in this church in amazingly vivid ways.

A feast at my wonderful church.
But I am angry and hurt.  I was born into the UMC – I am a cradle Methodist.  My father is a UM pastor and I have a Methodist pastor in every generation back several generations.  I have an ancestor who was ordained by Francis Asbury.  I have lived and bled Wesleyan theology since birth.  But I am disappointed and angry.  And I am unsure what comes next for my church … and that makes me sadder than I have been in a very long time.

In the meantime I will continue to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ as passionately as I can.  I will continue to share my faith with others and bring the gospel to those who have not heard it before or who have had a bad experience with the church previously.  I will continue to advocate for full inclusion of all persons.  I will continue to teach my students to love the church – but to love their passion for transforming lives more.  I will continue to prepare candidates for ministry in the UMC by teaching them the history, doctrine and polity of our church.  I will continue to work around the corner and around the world to bring about an end to gun violence, racism, sexism, domestic violence, poverty, homophobia, inequality and other injustices.  I will continue to hope and work for a church that lives the gospel – fully and completely.

And I will continue to pray for my church, for all who are hurt and are impacted by the decisions of the last few weeks at General Conference – on all sides of these issues.  And I ask you to please pray for our church, for all who hurt, and for all who are impacted by these decisions.