Archive for October, 2007

Jesus’ Model of Pastoral Care??

I wonder what this passage might teach us about how we do pastoral care (h/t A commenter named jfreeham at the Theolog).

“…after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

“On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:6, 17-21

Read Willimon’s words from his book, Pastor (h/t relevintage):

The pastor is [often] reduced to the level of the soother of anxieties brought on by the dilemmas of affluence, rather than the caller of persons to salvation. My colleague Stanley Hauerwas has accused the contemporary pastor of being little more than “a quivering mass of availability [emphasis mine].” Practicing what I call “promiscuous ministry”- ministry with no internal, critical judgment about what care is worth giving- we become victims of a culture of insatiable need. We live in a capitalist, consumptive culture where there is no purpose to our society other than “meeting our needs.” The culture gives us the maximum amount of room and encouragement to “meet our needs” without appearing to pass judgment on which needs are worth meeting… In this vast supermarket of desire, we pastors must do more than simply “meet people’s needs.” The church is also about giving people the critical means of assessing which needs give our lives meaning, about giving us needs we would not have had if we had not met Jesus.

Are you a pastoral vending machine or are you practicing the holy art of saying no? Is there middle ground somewhere in between? What are we called to be? Can pastors abuse this theological approach to pastoral care in order to feed their own laziness? And to ask a question that is becoming increasingly popular, how would life as a Bishop change the way Willimon thinks about this? What do you think?

October 29, 2007 at 12:20 pm 5 comments

Our God is More Merciful Than That

dsc00802b.JPGOn Saturday, I went to our ministerial alliance meeting. We met out at a church about 15 minutes from town, because they were having their monthly men’s breakfast. We drove out into the country and found the church sitting next to an old cemetery just about a mile off of the lake. We walked in to a hearty breakfast. The biscuits and gravy were delicious, the coffee was stout, and the bacon was cooked crispy, which in my opinion is the only good way to cook bacon.

After the breakfast we preachers, and that is what we’re usually called, broke off into another room to carry on the business of the day. There were only eight of us there that day. Southern Baptist, Freewill Baptist, Church of God, two Community Churches, and two men from another community that I didn’t know. We took care of the business of planning our upcoming Thanksgiving service with the usual conversation.

After that, a few of the preachers left and the real conversation began. Several of the men took turns sharing how God was at work in their lives, oftentimes sharing how they had led someone to the Lord. Finally, one of the men who I’ve really come to respect started to share. In order for you to understand this story more deeply, you need to know this preacher is a “whoopin’ and hollerin'” sort of preacher. He’s sort of baptist, but doesn’t really belong to any denomination. He doesn’t have any kind of degree whatsoever, and he probably couldn’t quote a theologian if he had to. But he shared a story that has been on my mind ever since.

He began to share about a man named “Catfish.” Catfish was a friend of his, but he was not a churchgoing man. His wife had went to my preacher friend’s church for many years, but Catfish never would darken the doors except occasionally on a Sunday night. Catfish got cancer. My friend went to see him several times in the hospital. Each time, before he left the hospital, he told us how he’d ask Catfish if he was right with God. To this, Catfish always replied, “The Lord’s Spirit don’t strive with me anymore, because I denied him and missed my chance.” This happened twice. The third time, when my old friend returned, Catfish was in bad shape – just waiting to die. They began the same conversation they always had about various things from the weather, to fishing, to how the doctors thought he was doing.

Before leaving, my preacher friend reached out to hold Catfish’s hand. He said, “You know what I’m going to ask. I want to know if you’ve made your peace with God.” Again, Catfish said, “The Spirit don’t strive with me anymore. I’ve missed my chance.” My friend then told us, “Right then, I tightened my grip on his hand just a bit…and I looked him in the eye.” In a quiet trembling voice he shared with us the words he spoke to Catfish, “I said, my God is more merciful than that.” At this, he said, Catfish broke into tears. In that moment, he knew a merciful, forgiving, and loving God – a God who doesn’t give up. He made a commitment to Christ right then and there, with his wife and my friend sharing tears with Catfish by his bed.

I don’t think I’m anywhere close to describing the power this simple story had for me in that moment; maybe you had to have been there to hear the aching love of God present in those seven simple words. But I do know this. If our theology of evangelism, salvation, and God’s work can’t embrace the story of my preacher friend and Catfish, then we just might need to take it back to the drawing board. I know a whole lot of sophisticated seminary-type folks like myself who think we know quite a bit, but I wonder if we could have helped Catfish in a moment like that. Thanks be to God; someone did.

October 28, 2007 at 9:05 pm 13 comments

Sermon: Luke 18:9-14

This morning, my message was based around a reflection on the Luke passage from the lectionary combined with having just read the first chapter of Dan Kimball’s new book (which you can find here at Zondervan). I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but plan to buy it soon. After reading it, you’ll see that I borrowed liberally (with a few edits) from his opening chapter in my first paragraph. I was committed to preaching this passage from Luke in a way that stirred my own passions, and Dan’s book provided just the spark I needed to see this as an important passage about how we’re called to be if we’re interested in reaching non-Christians.

There’s a new book out about the church with a title that’s intentionally a little challenging. It’s called, They like Jesus, But Not the Church. The author of this book, Dan Kimball, got the idea for this book after an encounter in a gym. While he was there, a young lady was helping him get oriented with the weight equipment when they began to talk about some of the music she liked. As the conversation went on, Dan found out they had a lot of interests in common. As they were having this great conversation about music, movies, and so on, she finally finished showing him all the equipment and asked a final question, “So what do you do for a living,” to which he responded, “Oh, I’m the pastor at a church.” Her expression changed, she took two steps back, and nearly tripped over the leg of a machine as she said, “No way you’re a pastor, I don’t believe you!!” As he tells this story, Dan said it took several minutes to convince her that he was actually a pastor so he asked her what she thought pastors were like. Without hesitation she said, “Pastors are creepy…” To this girl, pastors were definitely not normal and Dan didn’t fit her expectation of what Christians, especially pastors, would be like. So Dan began to do some research. He struck up conversations everywhere he went with people who weren’t Christians and compiled these conversations in his book. Unfortunately for those of us who believe God deeply about the world the title is also the summary of his findings, They Like Jesus, but not the Church. This was a recurring theme. Almost everyone he met had interest in Jesus, but many of them were turned off by how they perceived Christians to be.

One of the recurring themes Dan found was the idea that Christians are angry and judgmental. Now, I can’t imagine where anyone would get an idea like that! If we weren’t part of the Church and based what we know about Christians solely on what we see on Television, or other bad examples we’ve seen, what would we think? It’s unfortunate, but there are times when those who are the worst representatives of what the Church is called to be are the most vocal and visible in the news. It is no wonder the caricature of the Church is that we just might be a tad bit angry and judgmental!

Maybe you’ve experienced this in your own life. When I first began seminary, one of the first classes I took was a required course. Over the course of the semester, we were able to explore what it meant to be called into ministry and serve as a minister. One of the components of this class was to be involved in a small group of men and women who met weekly. In this small group, we’d come together and talk about our faith. We’d discuss how we practiced our spiritual disciplines like prayer and bible study and try to encourage one another in the faith. These kinds of groups are only as successful as the investment you make in them, and so I decided I was going to throw myself into the experience. In the first few weeks, we were talking about how we were doing spiritually and it was my turn to share. So I decided to be brutally honest and open with the group. We had just moved to Kentucky, our daughter was less than a year old, and we were just getting situated in our new home and life there. So I talked about this. I said, “You know, my spiritual life is pretty much at a standstill right now. I’m really tired and stressed and as a result I’m not reading my bible much at all and my prayer life is nowhere near what it should be. Most of the time I’m having a hard time praying” I had been a part of groups similar to these before, and so I kind of expected some support and encouragement. Instead, two of the other three people in the group looked at me like I had just revealed the most horrible thing they’d ever heard. One even said, “Wow…that’s really bad,” and I don’t remember if he said it or not but I got the distinct impression that he had never missed a day of praying or studying the bible in his entire life. Needless to say, I felt pretty condemned. Here I was, in a group that I had hoped would be a safe environment for sharing. At that point, I had been a Christian for nearly 20 years, I was in the middle of pursuing a clear call to ministry, and I felt totally judged and condemned. Now, after experiences like that, I can only imagine how someone might feel if an experience like this was their only image of the Church. I can only image what someone might think if their only image of Christianity is based on the condemnation and anger we sometimes see on TV.

That brings me to our Scripture for today addressing this very issue. Jesus tells the story of two men, and I think we can read it as two ways of being. Two men entered the temple of God. One of the men was a Pharisee, a religious official and one of the most respected types of people in that world. The other is a tax collector. In order to be a tax collector, you had to be affiliated in some way with Rome. At this point in history, Rome was occupying Israel, and as you might imagine the Romans were not popular folks with most people in Israel. So together before God, we have someone honored for their faith and discipline and someone rejected for being in cahoots with the occupying Roman regime. The Pharisee stood off by himself making sure he wouldn’t be “contaminated” by getting too close to the tax collector and loudly began to pray, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” Across the temple, too scared to approach the front and too ashamed to even look up to heaven, the tax collector began to pray as well, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Two very different men and two very different prayers; keep this image in mind the Pharisee at the front praising himself in front of God, and a tax collector in the back pleading for God’s mercy. With that image in mind, listen to Jesus’ words, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

That brings me back to the book I talked about in the beginning. The reason that some people like Jesus, but not the Church, is because of the times that we act more like the Pharisee in this story than the tax collector. If you’re like me, then you’re never just one or the other, sometimes you’re both. I have to rely totally on Jesus to avoid being the Pharisee, just as I have to rely totally on Jesus to understand I need mercy just like the tax collector. When we rely totally on Jesus’ grace & love, we’ll be the ones going home justified – in a right relationship with God.

In my story about the small group, there was another person I didn’t mention. Daniel Kim (name changed :-)) was a Methodist from South Korea pursuing his doctorate in missiology (the study of missions). The South Koreans on campus had the reputation as being the kind of people who prayed for hours, studied the bible passionately, and had a deep abiding love for Jesus. Daniel was a leader among the international students. After the small group where I shared how I was struggling spiritually was over, he came up to me. He said, “You know…I understand how you feel. I’ve been there too. I’ll pray for you.” In that moment, I didn’t feel judged, I didn’t feel condemned….instead in his gentle words, I knew God’s love. In that moment, I knew I wasn’t alone and I felt encouragement that that time of struggle would pass. In that moment, Daniel could have very easily been just another Pharisee. Instead, he was a fellow tax collector…and out of his own experience with God’s mercy, he shared that mercy with me.

What kind of Christian do we want to be? Do we want to pat ourselves on the back thanking God we’re not adulterers, evildoers, robbers, or tax collectors (or any of the other the sins we conveniently don’t participate in)? Or are we confident enough in God’s grace to know better…do we know the kind of God who receives those who bow humbly pleading for mercy?

Even though we all have moments of both, my friend Daniel had chosen to make the latter the dominant pattern of his life. He was a man who knew a God of grace and forgiveness….he bowed humbly before God pleading for mercy, and that fact seeped out of every pore of his being. If the people Dan Kimball interviewed could meet a few more Christians like him, I believe they would be different. They just might be able, by God’s grace, to like Jesus and the Church.

I want us to commit to being that kind of Christian. I want us to commit to being that kind of Church. I want us to be the kind of people who are so transformed by the merciful love of Jesus that we can’t help but show it. The world is hungry for us to do that very thing. They’re hungry for us to show them what being a follower of Christ really means. This week, let’s refuse to be the Pharisee, trusting in our own goodness. Let’s be the kind of people who not only like Jesus, but love him so much that we become like him drawing others to the foot of the cross to receive the same mercy, grace, and forgiveness we all so desperately need – the very grace that makes both Pharisee and Tax Collector right before God.

October 28, 2007 at 2:07 pm 4 comments

New Church Plant, Cameroon-Style

This is a really cool story. It reminds me of the fact that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to ministry. What works in some communities won’t work in others. When you start thinking about the diversity across the world those differences are magnified!

October 26, 2007 at 4:53 am 2 comments

Jonny Baker Coming to Oklahoma

Check this out, it is really exciting. November 6-8, 2008 the Oklahoma United Methodist Young Adult Council will be bringing Jonny Baker to Oklahoma to lead a worship workshop. He will lead those who attend in workshops, conversation, and the hands-on creation of an alternative worship experience. Even more exciting, this experience will be opened to the public in Bricktown in Oklahoma City on that Friday night. This is terrific news, and I expect this to be a huge event. So, mark your calendars, and I’ll try to get more information out as it comes.

October 17, 2007 at 6:35 pm Leave a comment

Sunday Morning Commute – Playing with Reality

I have a thirty minute drive in order to get to the first service I preach on Sundays. On the drive, I always have a lot of thoughts running through my mind. Usually I forget them. However, since I’ve subscribed to Jott, I sometimes call them in to myself (ain’t technology great?). So today, here is one of the statements I found waiting transcribed in my email when I got home. I surely would have forgotten this if I hadn’t “jotted” it! I don’t think I’ve heard this somewhere and just remembered it. If so feel free to tell me!

Faith disconnected from reality is just pretending.”

Here, I’m thinking of “reality” in terms of “that which is real,” but I’m also thinking of it as an alternative metaphor for the Kingdom of God. In this way, I went on to imagine defining our faith in terms of Reality language. For example:

  • Celebrating Reality through worship.
  • Participating in Reality through mission.
  • Inviting others into Reality through witness.
  • Rehearsing the narrative of Reality in Scripture.

So, what do you think?

October 14, 2007 at 8:55 pm 6 comments

Upcoming Reading

I’m through with the reading component of my first D.Min. course. The remaining class section will be dealing mostly with case studies. So…I’ve decided I should order some other books to give me something to read in the meantime. Here are the next books I’m looking forward to receiving from

Philosophy & Theology Afraid of Postmodernism?Mission of God

Philosphy & Theology by John Caputo, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church by James K.A. Smith, and The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative by Christopher J.H. Wright.

October 10, 2007 at 6:04 pm 5 comments

Arkansas New Church Initiative

Wow – I just finished looking over the Arkansas Conference’s “New Church Initiative (pdf file),” and I am extremely impressed! After proposing a new initiative in 2003, Arkansas has adopted six “strategic initiatives” that they hope will eventually lead to 55 new faith communities by the year 2013.

Our bishop has expressed interest in starting new faith communities in our conference as well, in line with the current emphasis from the Council of Bishops, so I look forward to seeing something like this for our conference in the years ahead.

October 10, 2007 at 1:55 pm 1 comment

First D.Min. Class

My first Doctor of Ministry class through Drew University, at Bacone College in Muskogee, begins Monday. The name of the course is Ministerial Leadership and Congregational Dynamics. To make a long course description short, it is a course on Family Systems Theory which explores the impact a minister’s family of origin has on their life and leadership style. Our first assignment was a detailed exploration of our autobiography for ideas about how our family dynamics impact the way we minister in our particular setting and a detailed genogram. Pretty interesting stuff.

The readings have been the classic text Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue by Edwin Friedman, The Equipping Pastor by R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins (a tremendous drummer, by the way), Genograms: Assessment and Intervention by Monica McGoldrick, Randy Gerson, and Sylvia Shellenberger, and Creating a Healthier Church: Family Systems Theory, Leadership, and Congregational Life by Ronald W. Richardson. All in all, these have been helpful books. I’ve been exposed a bit to this theory and even incorporate some of it into my understanding of ministry, so I’m curious to see what else I’ll take away from the course. For someone with no exposure to this way of thinking, these might be even more helpful.

October 5, 2007 at 12:21 pm 3 comments

Preaching on Domestic Violence

Jeannie Babb Taylor issues a challenge to pastor’s to preach against domestic violence (hat tip to my good friend Robert Duran, a frequent commenter here on the blog). Reader beware: as you read this article, you’ll find yourself incredibly angry at some of the positions taken by high profile Christian leaders.

October 4, 2007 at 6:51 am 2 comments

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