Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Power of Listening

We have forgotten James 1:19; "Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to grow angry." (CEB)

The stance of the United Methodist Church on homosexuality has been a hot topic for a very long time...ok that is probably a huge understatement.  As discussion of General Conference in 2016 start to ramp up and all the talk about schism, I have noticed, for a long time now, how horrible the internet has gotten.  We, as Christians, as United Methodists, as human beings, have forgotten how to listen to one another.

As a member of some Facebook United Methodist Groups, as I read posts, my heart aches because of the inability of my brothers and sisters in Christ to actually listen, to "be quick to listen."  I find comment treads get derailed so easily that no real discussion happens.  It is only yelling with the hope that the opinion being shouted out sticks.

I completely understand how touchy and heated this discussion over homosexuality and the church's stance is.  As I have wrestled with this issue and explored the scriptural basis on each side, I have realized there is really no discussion happening anymore.  There is no conversation, online at least.  Have we arrived at the place that we have moved beyond that now?  Are we at the place that now where people are only digging in their heels and trying to shout over each other?  Have we moved beyond discussion and holy conversation?

Proverbs 21:23 says, "Those who guard their mouths and their tongues guard themselves from trouble."  Listening is learning to actually keep your mouth closed in order to let the other person talk.  Instead, many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ have forgotten this and rely on being internet trolls instead.

If each side of the table has it all figured out...there is no conversation anymore.  If we have all the answers then who needs to listen to the other side.  There is no dialogue when we yell at how 'unbiblical' a person is for their interpretation of scripture.  There is no conversation when people are called ignorant, simple, closed minded, or heretics.

The joy I find in the United Methodist Church is that we don't subscribe to one train of thought.  We have permission to disagree on things and still call each other United Methodist.  We can lean conservative or liberal (whatever the hell those unBiblical terms mean) and still join together to bring about the Kingdom of God.  Our connection is not based on agreement of social issues but instead is based on the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Maybe that is it.  In our haste to loosen our mouths and let our tongues flap without worry, we have convinced ourselves that we have all the answers.  We yell, "See it my way!" and will attempt to scream until every person follows suit.  We have forgotten the power of listening, hearing the other side, and understanding one another.

We have forgotten that we are to be like Nicodemus.  Even though he was trying to wrap his head around what Jesus was saying but couldn't comprehend it, he eventually just shut up and listened to Jesus.  He stopped wondering "how" it was all to be and instead attempted to soak it all in.  My hope is that we will learn to be better listeners.  Through listening we will convey love and grace to our fellow brothers and sisters.  Through listening to Jesus we will gain understanding in what love and grace truly looks like.












Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Knowing Everyone

The church I pastor has seen some significant growth in our congregation.  Over the last two years we have grown by 19% with membership and 20% in worship attendance.  Now, since we are a small church (currently averaging around 95 in worship) we wouldn't make the Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, but I am starting to see some growing pains.

The most recent one I heard that has sparked my thinking.  I have started to hear "We don't want our church to grow too big because we like to know everyone."  It is true, as a person sits in a congregation with 95 people in it, they can know the name of everyone there.  But how much do they really 'know them.'

The truth is, as their minister, I know many of them but there are others I don't really know.  I know their name but I cannot tell you anything about their family history, their likes and dislikes, their children's names or where they live.  I don't know these things and I am the minister!  How well do we really know everyone in the church?

I understand what the underlining thought is though.  I understand this saying is a reflection that the current church is comfortable.  It is warm, welcoming, and people honestly care for one another.  Yet, if we pick apart the congregation, all that really happens with small groups.  People naturally lean towards certain demographical groups due to their age, life experiences, and shared views.  This isn't bad and my congregation is very good being welcoming.  We don't have major clicks.

But when I stepped back and look around, we have small groups within our small congregation.  These small groups are the ones where people feel welcomed and cared for.  It is the people they sit next to in the pew and the ones they talk to during the social time that make them feel like they know everyone..but we really don't.

Change and growth are scary and as the pond gets bigger the big fish don't seem as big anymore.  This all has social implications for a congregation and that can lead to fear and fighting growth.  I am aware of this and my first response is to remind them they don't know as many people as they think but that response is abrasive.  I need to find out how to address the true nature of the comment, speak to the fear, comfort it, and refocus people on why a growing church is a good thing.

How have others dealt with this feeling within your congregations?  This isn't something EVERYONE is feeling but it is something that will come up more and more as we continue to move towards the future God has in store for us.

Any advice is appreciated.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Coach K Memory

I spent three glorious years on the campus of Duke while attending Duke Divinity School.  Growing up with no real ACC allegiance, I only really need the acceptance letter to become a Duke fan.  For the next three years I attended as many Duke basketball games I was allowed.  One of my fondest memories was watching them win their third National Championship from the hallowed halls of Cameron Indoor Stadium in 2001.  Then the crowd walking, chanting, and smashing together into the quad to burn benches to celebrate.

My roommate and I would play racquetball in the gym next to Cameron on occasion and there on the court next to us would be Coach K.  We would watch him play and you could tell he was a competitive person.  One day he was walking out as we were and for the first time I put two and two together on exactly how tall he is.  He looks short when he is coaching his 6 foot umpteen inch players.  In reality he is 5'10", my height.

It was in 2001 that I was able to go to my only Duke/Carolina game.  Me and some fellow soon-to-be ministers had seasons passes to the games that year (students in graduate schools camp out of a weekend for the chance to buy season tickets to the games).  But if we wanted good seats we would have to join the ranks of the undergrad students and camp out a few days before the game.  For two nights we slept in a tent just outside Cameron and I was able to score a seat in the middle of Graduate Student section, second bench up from the court.

The night before the big game Coach K would always gather the students waiting to get into the game and thank them for their dedication.  He would tell us to represent Duke with all the passion and energy we could but also with all the respect and pride.  It was there that I first his illustration of the fist.

In basketball there are five players, like there are five fingers on a hand.  If you attempt to attack with only one of those fingers you won't make too much of an impact and probably break the finger.  Yet if all five fingers work together, bury their pride as individuals, they turn into a fist.  A fist can make a huge impact.  If the five individuals work together on the court then a great impact can be made in the game.  He told us we needed to hold his players up to that standard and he counted on us, the Cameron Crazies, to be a part of that fist.

The next day, at the joyous occasion that is the Duke/Carolina game in Cameron Indoor Stadium.  As the teams came out, we the students, stood silent and simply holding out a fist.

Coach K can capture the imagination of anyone and fill that person with confidence and pride.  This season has been one of milestones for him.  He added to his status and the winningest coach in the NCAA and also, as of last night, the ACC (passing Coach His class and how he holds his players, coaches and people around him, including the Cameron Crazies, to the highest standards possible only deepens my respect and admiration for him.

This video sums it up beautifully...Congrats Coach K!






Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A.D. & 50 Shades

While watching the Super Bowl this past Sunday NBC ran this promo for their upcoming series A.D.


The song being played is a version of Phil Collin's "Something in the Air Tonight".  As I tried to figure out the song and place why it was chosen for this promo, it reminded me of something else NBC keeps promoting.

Warning this trailer does have strong sexual content because it is for the movie 50 Shades of Grey.


Does anyone else think they are eerily similar?

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)