Monday, January 5, 2015

Winning against Cancer: Reflections on Death and Stuart Scott

I remember in college being excited about watching Monday morning's Sports
Center.  Stewart Scott was usually on as one of the top broadcasters and I loved the catch phrases he would use.  "Boo-yah!" "Cool as the other side of the pillow."  Rich Eisen does an awesome job summing them up in this highlight reel.

Yet, what caught me was the quote from Scott's ESPY award speech.  "When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer.  You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live."

As a pastor, as a Christian, I never like hearing someone say that they 'lost their battle with cancer."  Stuart Scott seemed to be a man of faith and walked, the final days of his life, as one who goes on to live.  Another quote points to this.  This quote comes from ESPN magazine back in 2010 while discussing Tim Tebow's scriptural eyeblack.  When asked if he would be offended if someone wrote "There is no God" on their eyeblack Scott replied, "Dave, if that [is] what you want to do, I don't care.  But Tim and I and billions of other believers in the world know you'd be wrong.  I've seen the workings of God many times in my life...If you don't believe in God, watch a child be born.  Then if you still say you don't believe in God, that's okay.  The thing is, I think He'll watch over you anyway!"

I just did a funeral from someone who passed away from Alzheimer's.  At any funeral when someone has gone through a long battle with illness and disease I remind the family of what Scott echoes.  You never lose when you have faith.

During the committal service at the graveside this is what the United Methodist Book of Worship reads, and something I love, "Listen, I will tell you a mystery!  We will not all die, but we will all be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."  "Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting." But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

We will all change, we will all die, but it is through the salvation work of God through his Son Jesus Christ that we can go on to live.

I remember distinctly the pastor of my church as a youth (Bruce Jones) announce, "Mr. ______ just won his battle with cancer."  It caught me off guard at first but then the reality sunk in.  As people of faith, God's love wins.  No disease, illness or tragedy ever has the last say.  Scott seemed to understand that, echo that, and live that out in the last part of his earthly journey.

To him I say thank you.  Thank you for reaching a millions with that quote and I pray that they will know the faith and the grace behind it one day for themselves.

Let us pray, "O God, who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray.  You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking.  Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity.  Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death.  Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.  And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us form your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen."  (UM Book of Worship)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gen X = The Forgotten Generation

Is it just me or have we, as the church, forgotten about Generation X?  So much attention is given to the Baby Boomers because of their narcissistic view of what it means to be church (a generalization but based on truth).  A ton of attention is turned to Millennials and we wait on bated breath to know if they really like the church or not.

Generation X is there, stuck in the middle.  X marks the spot of transition in our country, society and church.  We stand between competing generations and at times...well it sucks.  Generation Xers were raised with divorced parents, called latch-key kids, buried themselves in Hip-Hop and Grunge, and were eye witnesses to some of the best and worst humanity had to offer (see image for some examples).

Generation X is stuck on a ladder with the Boomers going no where because they have to work later in life and do not want to give up leadership positions and power.  Then the Millennials, who want to take our place, are nipping at our heels.

I felt like I needed to vent after reading the 2428th article about what Millennials want out of Church.  We need to be looking for what the 35 and under crowd is looking for in a church because we need to adapt what we do for the sake of the Gospel and reaching people for Jesus.  Yet, who will be doing this moving, adapting, transitioning, leading, and calling out to the generation coming if we are going to survive?  Who will be the ones to give up power earlier, relinquish control of committees and leadership roles to make the church more fluid and pliable to work with the next generations?  What Generation has to figure out how to straddle a childhood and worship with limited technology and mix it with an adulthood where both are soaked in it?

The generation that will do that, is Generation X.  Not the Boomers or the Millennials, but the latch-key, grunge, broken home kids that became adults in the last decades of the nineteen-hundreds.  I know we will do it, and we will do it for the sake of the church and mission of being Christ's body.  Just don't forget about us during the whole transition.

Here is an article that echoes my opinion.  Here is a great article that kind of proves my point.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lottery & Money

"When I win the lottery, I'm going to build that new sanctuary we have always talked about."  "When I win it big, we will finally get that new industrial kitchen."  "When my ticket is called, this church will be set for life!"

Ever hear that phrase?  I have heard it at about every church I have pastored.  It tells what we truly trust in.  It is telling where people's 'expendable' money goes to.  It tells me we put more trust in gambling to support inflated government budgets then you do the local church.

Reality is if they gave that money to the church the church would get those improvements much faster then hoping they win the lottery.

Quick math: 1/4 of your 100 person congregation plays the Powerball once a week ($2 per ticket).  For the next ten years they promise to give that money to the church building fund instead (which is kept in our conference foundation earning 1.5% interest).  The chances are 100% that at the end of that 10 years the church will have just over $28,000 more in the building fund.

Another 1/4 of the congregation still plays the lottery once a week.  They purchase the Powerball ticket and will give the church 10% of whatever they win.  After ten years no one wins because the chances of wining are 1 in 175 million. There is actually better chance of getting bit by a shark in the open ocean 175 times then winning.  At the end of the ten years the church has $0 in their building fund.

Please explain which is the better option for the future of the church?

Sure, $28,000 isn't much for ten years of giving BUT it is more than $0.  This is a much better way to 'fund' the church than purchasing lottery tickets.

Below is a great piece John Oliver did on his show about state Lotteries.  PAY ATTENTION NORTH CAROLINA!!!  Yes, 3.5 billion dollars has been raised for our educational system in the last 8 years through the lottery.  But that isn't 3.5 billion more dollars, that is simply 3.5 billion the state government can put somewhere else.  Yet the NC school system is actually worse off then it was eight years ago.  (according to John Oliver's video below around the 11:25 mark)
.    .         .       .    .                . .   . . .
..  .      ..               ..    .                                  . .. .
 .    .       . .   .  .                     .  . . .              .                         .

These dots aren't lining up.

One last point before I jump off my soapbox.  I usually hear the above statements from some of the most tax adversed people.  Those who complain about the government and taking their money via property tax, sales tax, or state and federal income taxes.  IRONIC because the lottery, as Dave Ramsey would call it, is a "stupidity tax."

If you think this is a liberal or conservative take on's not.  Both sides echo the same point.  here is a conservative view from Dave Ramsey.  Below is a more liberal point of view from John Oliver.  (video does include bleeped language and middle have been warned)

To sum up...if you want the God-size dreams to happen in your local congregation, then giver generously and you can do so by first STOP PLAYING THE LOTTERY AND GIVE TO YOUR LOCAL CHURCH.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Anti-feeding Laws

In Ft. Lauderdale there is a new law.  According to a WCNC report found here, "According to the Sun-Sentinel, the new rules dictate that feeding sites "cannot be within 500 feet of each other, that only one is allowed in any given city block and that any site would have to be at least 500 feet away from residential properties."

Here is a video of 2 clergy and one 90 years old homeless advocate being arrested for feeding people. 

It is sad, very sad.  I celebrate the ministers and advocates who are stepping up and taking a stand.  I think they are doing the right thing and this situation calls for acts of civil disobedience.   

The only thing that bothers me is the attitude the people taking videos or are bystanders are giving the police.  The police didn't create this law.  They are the ones who have to enforce it.  Whether they agree with it or not, they are doing what they have to do.  They did so in a kind and gentle way and by the video there seems to be no signs of harassment or mishandling the people or the food.  To yell at them is really uncalled for.  I am sure this moment is not why they became police officers to begin with.  Let them be.

Who these people really need to bug is the county commissioners who passed this law 4-1 at 3:30am.  
Once again, my prayers and pride are with Arnold Abbott, Rev. Dwayne Black and Rev. Mark Sims.  Well done good and faithful servants.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Who is drawn to your ministry?

I was asked this question by a more seasoned colleague one day over lunch.  It caught me off guard.  I never thought about the type of person who is attracted to my ministry but as we shared a meal, he lopped that grenade on the table and it has been unsettling since.

I'm not unsettled because the question is too personal, it is just that I never thought of it before.  I look at my congregations (past and present) and I'm trying to find the common denominator.  Who came?  Who arrived and felt welcomed, engaged, connected like never before?  What type of people are drawn to how God is working through me?

Clergy always inherit parishioners.  There are always people there before we arrive, and some stay and some go (minus new church starts of course).  Yet there are those who only know me as the pastor of the church I am currently at.  They don't know the past.  They arrived in the present.  I never really looked at these people and tried to figure out why they are drawn to my ministry.

I have a few men who came because their wives started coming first.  Yet, now they love it.  I have some who have been distant from church and never found a place to connect until now.  I have some who moved and were looking for a taste of the church they grew up in and they have stayed.  I have young couples with young families and retirees all coming to our small congregation.

I still don't know how to answer the question fully but I'm still searching for the answer.  I do know that my style of ministry creates an open and relaxed setting in which people feel welcomed.  I know my style of preaching likes to intertwine the 'real world' with 'God's world.'  I'm always looking for ways to connect the common culture to God and the work we are called to do.

I know that relates to how people feel welcomed and enter our flock.  But the type of peopled drawn to my ministry???? Huh...

How about you...what type of people are drawn to the way God works through you?