Sunday, May 27, 2007

A New Law by Derek Webb



This is a video produced to illustrate the meaning behind Derek Webb's song "A New Law." This song is on Derek's previous CD Mockingbird. Mockingbird is an awesome CD. Of course anything by Derek is powerfully written and beautifully played. Enjoy the song.

Here are the lyrics (please note the heavy sarcasm laden in the lyrics):
don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for

don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music

don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

(pre-chorus)
i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

(chorus)
i want a new law
i want a new law
gimme that new law

(vs. 2)
don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice

don’t teach me about loving my enemies

don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
just give me a new law

(pre-chorus/chorus)

(bridge)
what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid

Friday, May 25, 2007

Jesus Videos

A church in Raleigh made these videos and played them as part of a sermon series roughly titled "aren't you glad that Jesus isn't like this?"

There's four of them, and they are hilarious.

This is the 3rd one, which i think is the funniest. You can find the other 3 on the side of the video on YouTube.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What pastors do so you can do

Our responsibility, our diakonia, as pastors, is to prepare others for their diakonia, as we are advised in Ephesians 4. It does the local church little good for the pastor to do all the ministries of the church. We have to help the laity recognize their gifts and graces for diakonia. We can hope that once these gifts for service are known that the people will use them for the betterment of the Church. “The greatest challenge facing the church in any age is the creation of a living, breathing, witnessing colony of truth.” I hope the church is up for the challenge of diakonia.

To illustrate, I had a youth in a previous church approach me about discerning a calling into mission ministry. While encouraging her, I mentioned this within the church and spoke to her mom about this great news. Within the week, the student’s grandmother came by my office to inform me that I was no longer to encourage her granddaughter to be a missionary. She explained to me that her granddaughter was not going into the poor neighborhoods of the world to help other people … she was going to go to college. With this kind of attitude the church is bound to fail in its mission from Jesus and the Church to serve the world by being the Body of Christ. My responsibility with youth is to teach and inspire them to be of great use to God, not simply play games for a couple hours each week.

Diakonia, service, is the most important aspect of ministry in the Church. It is how outsiders are going to recognize the God that lives in us. It is a radical challenge for the Church to answer that call to service. Answering that call means being profoundly counterintuitive and risking some discomfort in order to align ourselves with God’s will. This means looking beyond the familiar family and friends and making friends with people outside our cultural comfort zones. This means sharing God’s life-saving message with others even if we may be embarrassed or uncomfortable. This means questioning our motives to see if they are dictated by truth or by culture. This means responding to evil with good. Diakonia may not be easy. It may be risky, but service is absolutely necessary.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Know why your pastor is a pastor

Ministry is modeled by Jesus. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Diakonia is the Greek word from the New Testament which we call “ministry.” Diakonia is the Greek word for service. Based on Jesus’ model of ministry this notion of diakonia is significant. Service is a method by which all Christians perform ministry. My understanding of diakonia, or service, is that it was modeled by Jesus and should be performed by each and every Christian, not just the pastor.

The pastor has a responsibility to be a servant. In fact, pastors exist with a paradox of servant leadership. Jesus gives this model. It is the call to love and care for the fellowship of believers. To be a servant leader is to be cautious with our authority and power and continually display love and kindness to others. These services includes pastoral care and counseling, visitation, and taking the sacraments to the sick. Diakonia means being open for people to trust you with their problems and deepest concerns.

Service is also demonstrated by the pastor through modeling. As Will Willimon writes in his book Calling and Character, “Clearly, pastors are to be role models for the church, without separation between public and private, social and personal behavior… In all things, it is clear that Christian leaders are visibly to represent a manner of life and a style of leadership in marked contrast to that of the world.” Like Jesus, we are models of diakonia, service. We demonstrate service through our giving, serving, and loving of others in our local church and community.

Jesus served the people that surrounded Him. He brought physical, psychological, and spiritual healing to those who needed it. He fed the hungry. He stood up for the oppressed. Jesus offered salvation and liberation. Jesus was a servant.

Christ’s model is for the entire church. The problem in many local churches, from my experience and from hearing other pastor’s experiences, is that this diakonia, or service, has been relegated to the pastor. The attitude is, “Isn’t this why we pay the pastor?” Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon write in Resident Aliens, “Not knowing why their pastor is there, the congregation expects the pastor to be and do everything.”

Hauerwas and Willimon continue to explain that it is not our job to be “divinely sanction doormats.” They address the confusion of many congregations who neither understand the purpose of the Church nor the role often pastor: “[People] think the church is sustained by the ‘services’ it provides or the amount of ‘fellowship’ and ‘good feeling’ in the congregation. Of course, there is nothing wrong with ‘services’ and ‘good feeling’; what is wrong is that they have become ends in themselves.” As a pastor, I do not feel I am called simply to run programs, facilitate carry-in dinners, baby-sit youth, massage egos, or make people feel “warm and fuzzy.” My primary service to the people is one of remaining true to God’s message. This may mean that we have to confront a parishioner with an encouraging or a discomforting word of advice or Biblical message. This may mean questioning programs that are useless or supporting distractions that interrupt sincere service to God. It is a service to the people to tell them the story of our faith.

“Failing at that, the pastoral ministry is doomed to the petty concerns of helping people feel a bit better rather than inviting them to dramatic conversion. The pastor becomes nothing more than the court chaplain, presiding over ceremonies of the culture, a pleasing fixture for rites of passages like weddings and funerals ... the pastor feels like a cult prostitute, selling his love for the approval of an upwardly mobile, bored middle class….”

Diakonia means providing services so that move people closer to the bigger message. We serve God by serving others. We love God by loving others. The pastor’s social services should always help the Church understand the spiritual aspects of being the present and living Body of Christ.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ordination and responsibility

On Tuesday and Wednesday I attended a retreat (more like a sleep-over) with the Bishop. It was short and disappointing. I had hoped to get more time with Bishop Coyner, asking important questions. As I approach my ordination in just a couple of weeks, I am thinking much about what it means to be ordained.

Ordination is the appointment and recognition of an individual to perform special tasks given to him or her by a community which confirms the gifts, graces, and commitment of that individual. Ordination acts as a special blessing on certain individuals to fill a need within the Church – priestly leader. This priestly leader should be designated by the community to have authority in the Church.

William Willimon in his book Calling and Character: Virtues of the Ordained Life writes, “It is great grace to be able, in difficult times of ministry, to fall back upon the authorization, that empowerment that is beyond ourselves.” Ministry is not an easy profession. It has its blessings and its challenges. Serving the people of the local church and the greater world community offers a difficult and diverse set of tasks. Statistics regarding burnout for pastors are painful to read. At the same time, I can understand why some would leave this vocation, even with a calling.

Ordination plays an important role for the pastor because we can remember the authority and empowerment of the Church to be in such a position. As Willimon continues, “The authorization of God and the church, symbolized by the laying on of hands, is our strength in our weakness. Ordination makes us more than we could have been if we had been left to our good intentions and well-meaning devices.” When facing the challenges, as a pastor with that authority, one only has to remember the trust that has already been given. Doubt may be common but assurance comes in memory of that Ordination.

Ordination conveys authority to do specific tasks in the church that require a person set aside to do those duties. Being tapped by God for pastoral ministry is a special calling. To have the confirmation of the Church and the blessing to administer the sacraments, preach God’s Word, evangelize and engage individuals with pastoral care and counseling is an honor. People in the faith community trust the pastor because they trust the process.

The local church must have faith in the process of Ordination. The local church has to recognize the greater community’s decision to select certain individuals to perform these special duties. Expectations should be high for the process and for the ordained. The local church should expect that this person would have formal education. The pastor should be physically, emotionally, and spiritually ready for ordained ministry. The process should carefully observe, instruct, and examine each candidate. Ordination implies trust.

This trust should also be reciprocal. The local church has the responsibility to trust the judgements of the greater Church community and to support its decisions. The greater Church has the responsibility to designate and send. Yes, the local church should expect a qualified candidate, but the greater Church should expect the local church to accept the leadership appointed. Being part of the Annual Conference means that the Ordained pastors and each local church is dedicated to needs of the Conference. By designation, one is accepting the authority on the terms of God and of the Church upon Ordination. Commitment is to God and the church, not programs, buildings, or personal preferences. The commitment to ordination meaningful and effective only when the pastor, the local church and the greater Church body is working in a trusting and caring relationship. Ordination is an honor and a privilege for everyone involved.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Nightline to present Christianity debate

News Release
ABC is launching a new series called Nightline Face-Off, but it will launch it on the company's broadband service, ABC News Now, and the Nightline section of its Website, before it airs on the Nightline broadcast.
Not easing into the format, Nightline's inaugural face-off will be between atheists and Christians over the existence of God.
On the Christian side will be former Growing Pains star turned minister Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort, Cameron's co-host on religious reality show, The Way of the Master. They will square off against the creators of http://www.blasphemychallenge.com/, a group and Website that offers to give copies of documentary "The God That Wasn't There" to the first 1,001 people who will post a video to YouTube showing them "damning themselves."
When ABC ran a story in January about hundreds of atheists video-taping themselves blaspheming the Holy Spirit, Ray Comfort contacted the network and told them he could prove God’s existence, absolutely, scientifically, without mentioning the Bible or faith . He said that he and Kirk would like to challenge the two originators of the “Blasphemy Challenge” to a debate on the existence of God. ABC loved the idea. The debate will be filmed for Nightline in New York City, and will be streamed LIVE on their website on May 9th, 2007.
The site is the handiwork of the Rational Response Squad, an atheist support group that Nightline featured on a January broadcast, prompting Comfort and Cameron to challenge them to a verbal duel.
ABC will debut the debate May 9 at 2 p.m. online and then air it during Nightline's regular 11:35 time period.
The debate will be moderated by Nightline co-anchor Martin Bashir
*****************************
What an embarrassment!
How does one even speak of God without speaking of The Bible or faith. Sure God exists in every corner, but faith in something is at the center of all our talk, especially our talk about God. One will have faith in God or faith in something else. But, as Rob Bell states in Velvet Elvis, everyone is a believer in something... the question is: “A Believer in what?”

Finally, what difference will it make if one proves the existence of God scientifically? Will this proof translate into more Disciples, more peace, more Grace… more God?

What and embarrassment!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Reflections on abortion

The United Methodist Social Principles state:
The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals would be born…. We commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of crisis pregnancy, and to those who give birth.

I uphold our official statement on abortion in the Social Principles. I respect the sanctity of life and am committed to provide care on behalf of the Church to mothers and fathers who are considering abortion or have had an abortion.

Over the past several years I have become more involved in this area of ministry. I have worked with an organization called Birthright (www.birthright.org) which respects mothers and unborn children and whose tenants and practices are in harmony with our Social Principles. Birthright offers free pregnancy testing, confidential help, non-judgmental advice, legal, medical, and educational referrals, maternity and baby clothes, information on other community services, and adoption information. Birthright is committed to caring for the situation without undue pressure or politicizing the issue of abortion. I have helped with volunteers at the Birthright office, offered pastoral care to mothers and fathers, encouraged the local church to support Birthright through their mission budget, and put together work teams to do maintenance to the local Birthright office.

I am committed to caring for mothers and fathers in crisis pregnancy situations. I do not believe abortion is a political issue. I do not believe it is appropriate to protest at abortion clinics. Lobbying congress will not end the tragedy that is abortion. Overturning Row v. Wade will not heal the wounds or ease the pain that is so deeply felt in these difficult situations. What women and men need during these difficult times is the love and grace of Jesus Christ and the care and compassion of God’s Holy Church.

The Church has not always done her job well in regard to abortion. There are times when certain congregations or individual Christians express judgmental and self-righteous attitudes. There are even moments when the certain churches or individual Christians are mean or evil in their self-appointed crusade against abortion. I do not support these organizations or individuals. Because abortion has become such a “hot-button” issue, any discussions should be handled professionally and with the grace of God.

I am also involved with Lifewatch, the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality (www.Lifewatch.org). I am the contact person for Lifewatch in the North Indiana Conference. The mission of Lifewatch is:
Out of obedience to Jesus Christ, the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality (TUMAS) will work to create in church and society esteem for human life at its most vulnerable, specifically for the unborn child and for the woman who contemplates abortion. Therefore, TUMAS's first goal is to win the hearts and minds of United Methodists, to engage in abortion-prevention through theological, pastoral and social emphases that support human life.

The advisory board for Lifewatch includes three bishops, several pastors and faculty of our United Methodist seminaries, and various laity, including Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, Bishop Wil Willimon, and Dr. Thomas Oden. I have attended Lifewatch’s annual meetings and encouraged the local church to support Lifewatch through their annual missions budget.

At the 2005 Annual Conference I submitted a petition asking all clergy and those in the order of deacons to respond to ¶161(k) Ministry to Those Who Have Experienced an Abortion, which was a new addition to the 2004 Book of Discipline. The petition asked everyone involved in ministry in the North Indiana Conference “to become informed about the symptoms and behaviors associated with post-abortion stress… and make available contact information for counseling agencies that… address post-abortion stress.” This petition passed unanimously in the legislative group and was approved on the consent calendar by our conference.

While I am not defined by this one issue, the stress and wounds caused by abortion are issues for which I care deeply. Having three children of my own and watching the process of life growing in the womb, I have become more and more convinced of the importance of the issues surrounding abortion. It is my desire to help the Church find caring and constructive means of helping mothers and fathers in the midst of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My reflections on our itinerant system

When I first entered ministry I did not fully understand the expectations and obligations of itinerant system. Today, I am still not sure I fully understand them. However, now that I am serving in my third appointment I have a better understanding.

My first appointment was what I and the District Superintendent a “God-incident.” I was a student in seminary and unsure of my calling. While I felt called to pastoral ministry I explored other areas of ministry. I had contacted my District Superintendent in another Conference; for months I did not hear back about an appointment. My friends in the North Indiana Conference encouraged me to call a DS and inquire about a possible appointment. We spoke one afternoon and by that same evening he called me back with a possible appointment. In just a few months (only a month after our first daughter was born) my wife and I packed up our one bedroom apartment and moved to Indiana to pastor this small rural church while attending seminary and working on my commissioning. While I certainly faced struggles in my first appointment as a Student Pastor, I still believe that God was leading me and my family to move to Indiana to pastor that church. It had the possibilities to be a wonderful appointment. Initially it made for a good match. During that time I decided to stay in North Indiana and not return to the other Conference.

My first full-time appointment out of seminary was to another rural church. I knew that Bishop White and the cabinet knew almost nothing of my gifts and graces. In fact, during the years at my student pastor appointment the District Superintendent only came once to my church. He knew me better than anyone sitting around that Cabinet table, yet he knew very little. I was surprised to discover my second appointment—on paper at least—seemed identical to my student pastor appointment. This was “bad news” because I had so many struggles serving that small, country church. I feared an inevitable repeat of those same struggles and conflicts at the new church. I did not expect the cabinet to appoint me to a church with such similar qualities and characteristics. Yet, as an itinerant pastor I was obligated to go where the Bishop sent me.

While it may not have been the best appointment in my mind and I do not think that the Bishop and Cabinet knew enough to make a truly informed decision, I believe that God worked in spite of it all. We did have some of the same struggles at the new church, but God used me anyhow. I can look back now and see how it was truly a great match of the needs of the church and my gifts as their shepherd.

It may not always be easy, but my goal is to “blossom where planted.” Each church will have a set of unique challenges to overcome, but I believe that I can minister in almost any given context. Yet, I believe that there are some contexts that I know my passions, gifts, and graces will be put to better use. I believe this is true in my current appointment as the Associate at a larger urban church.

The itinerant system of the United Methodist Church has flaws, but when both the clergy and the conference leadership seek God’s Will as part of the process this itinerant system is a great way to build God’s Kingdom and care for both the clergy and the local congregations.
Cost of the War in Iraq
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