Scripture Memory

A couple of years ago, I started meeting every week with a guy who is on staff with the Navigators. We got to know each other and developed a friendship out of which we started the discipline of reviewing verses of the Bible that we were memorizing. My friend had been memorizing parts of the Bible longer than I've been alive and I was just getting started with the Topical Memory System. After about eighteen months I had memorized the sixty passages in that pack and have moved on to memorize other passages.

Psalm 119:9,11 says, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." That was kind of the reason I started memorizing parts of the Bible. Also, you know, it's one of those things I thought I was supposed to do and, I felt a little guilty that I could quote Homer Simpson better than Jesus. So, I did it. At times I wondered why it was so important to me do something that did not come naturally to me at all. Was it misguided piety? Was it so I could rattle off verses and impress people? I really didn't have that kind of "look at me!" motivation, I just wanted to do it. I think it helped my preaching a bit, but I've never been able to figure out where the discipline fit into my life and ministry.

Until tonight.

Tonight, I was getting ready to leave the church when one of my guys had a buddy with him who wanted to talk about baptism. While talking about baptism the guy from my church turned to the other and said, "Are you saved?" I had assumed, wrongly, that if someone was asking about baptism that, well, they were already following Christ. The fellow said, "I don't really know." So, we immediately turned around and the three of us went into my office. I asked him if he even understood the question: what does "saved" mean? I wanted to start at the beginning and explain the human condition. Without thinking I started in sharing and explaining:

Romans 3:23 Romans 6:23 Romans 5:8 Romans 10:9 Romans 10:13 Ephesians 2:8,9 Romans 8:1 2 Corinthians 5:17 Luke 9:23

By the time I got into my truck to drive home I was thinking, "Whoa!" It was amazing to see how a simple discipline meant so much in explaining the love of God in Jesus Christ not with my own words but with God's Word. I carry no authority. It does.

And, because of storing up those words in my heart, one new guy knows the truth about God's love for him and is following Jesus.

Best. Evening. Ever.

Back in the Saddle

I arrived on campus at Asbury Seminary on Sunday night to begin a new chapter in life and ministry as a Beeson Pastor. I will be on campus for a total of twenty-six days which is a very long time to be away from my family, but they have blessed me by sending me here and I'm deeply grateful.

The first couple of days have been primarily reorienting myself with Asbury. I graduated in 2003 with my Master of Divinity and have returned twice for Asbury's Ministry conference in 2004 and 2006. So, it's been six years since I've been on campus and while many changes have taken place it still feels like my spiritual home. This morning, my fellow pastors and I took part in a chapel service in the Beeson Center. I got to pray for my church and my family with a couple of other people and it was electric - just as I'd remembered feeling while a student here many years ago! I'm really looking forward to more opportunities like that in the weeks to come.

Over the next couple of days, aside from my classes, I'm going to get a chance to visit the new Ministry Center at the Francis Asbury Society, visit with one of my favorite professors and people of all time, and I have the privilege of serving as the Celebrant at a communion service here on campus. I can't tell you what that means to me. I have relished the opportunity to come back and serve my school in this way as an elder. Asbury invested so much in the fulfillment of my calling I feel like it's a small way of saying, "Thank you."

I'm going to continue to post updates as the days pass. I hope you will pray for me and my family!

Arkansas United Methodists' New Bishop

United Methodists in Arkansas will soon welcome the Rev. Gary Mueller as the new bishop of the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Rev. Mueller was elected as a bishop last week at our Jurisdictional Conference in Oklahoma City, OK and was appointed to the Arkansas Area by the episcopacy committee. The announcement was made late Friday. I stayed up past my bedtime to watch the announcement through a live-stream.

We look forward to serving under Bishop Mueller. You can read a short article about him by clicking the title. My favorite part was this quote from the Bishop: "You start with the basics, and that’s Jesus and get the congregation to fall in love with Jesus and get excited about sharing Jesus." Amen!

Growing in Prayer

I started teaching on some basic matters of discipleship last night and we began with prayer. I'm attaching the notes I wrote up below the fold for those who are interested.

Why pray?

Communicaiton is the most important aspect of any relationship. Prayer is how we communicate with God.


The more we communicate, the more we value what God values and when that happens we start making choices and living more like God in Jesus Christ lived. In order to do this we must abide or remain attached to Jesus in prayer:


John 15:1 (CEB)  

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper.  2  He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.  3  You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you.  4  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me.  5  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.  6  If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned.  7  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 


μένω - abide, remain, stay. How does a person become a disciple or an apprentice of another person? By staying close. If we want to be a disciple of Jesus we must stay close to him and there's no way to stay close to Jesus that doesn't involve prayer. We must pray.


How many of you feel like you have arrived in prayer? That it's like breathing to you?

Me too. There's a danger in telling people you're going to teach them to pray and that danger is that you shouldn't come off like you know very much yourself. We are all pilgrims and beginners in prayer. A seminary degree means you've completed coursework, not that you know how to pray. Maxie Dunnam writes in his Workbook on Intercessory Prayer, "Emphasis is on growth, not perfection." We're going to emphasize daily, constant growth.


Maxie also says that we learn to pray by praying. Amazing. We're going to spend sometime tonight praying. I'm not going to ask you to pray out loud but I'm going to just to model my limited understanding.


Luke 11:1   

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 


Jesus was praying and his disciples wanted to know how to pray, so he showed them with the Lord's Prayer. In Matthew 6:5-14, Jesus is preaching the sermon on the mount and says several things about prayer. If we want to pray then we should look to Jesus and learn to pray the way he did it.


Matt. 6:5   

“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get.  6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. 


When you pray, don't put on a show.


Matt. 6:7   

“When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard.  


Don't babble or heap up empty phrases.



Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask.


Remember, God knows you better than you do and knows what you need. This ought to be of great comfort to us.



Pray like this: 


Not, pray only this, but pray like this. It's a prayer but it's also a pattern. Let's look at it more closely.



Our Father who is in heaven,

uphold the holiness of your name. 


Recognize God's sovereignty and holiness.


Matt. 6:10

   Bring in your kingdom

so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. 


Recognize that God's rule is preferable to our control.


Matt. 6:11   

Give us the bread we need for today. 


Provide for me - God is the source of all our sustenence. Remember, Maslow's heirarchy of needs. Basics are breathing, food, water, etc. Then safety, then love and belonging, then respect, and on down. We don't live in a time and culture in which we need the basic levels of needs, but we need safety, love, and all that. So it might be that we need to pray for that which we cannot provide for ourselves - that which is outside of our control.


Matt. 6:12   

Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,

just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. 


Forgive us and help us to forgive others. Hard, hard, hard. Peter Kreeft says "Do you realize that everytime you pray the Lord's Prayer you're asking him to damn you to hell if you don't forgive others?" We must keep our hearts free from bitterness and unforgiveness.


Matt. 6:13   

And don’t lead us into temptation,

but rescue us from the evil one. 


Keep us from temptation and evil. Notice he doesn't say "harm" or "evil that other people do to us." Keep our souls, more or less.


Remember, "Emphasis is on growth, not on perfection." Persistence is the key.


Luke 18:1   

Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged.  2  He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people.  3  In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’  4  For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people,  5  but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.”  6  The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  7  Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them?  8  I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One  comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?” 


E.M. Bounds

He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, he will be in the last place the remainder of the day.

Mark 1:35

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.


Let’s give is a shot. With persistence, let’s pray like this:

  • Recognize God’s sovereignty and holiness.
  • Recognize God’s rule and that it is preferable to our control.
  • Provide for me - God is the source of everything we need to be sustained.
  • Forgive me and help me forgive.
  • Keep me from temptation and evil.


Then, intercede. 


James 5:13   

If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing.  14  If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 


Creeds and Confessions

Add this to my list of reasons for why I am thrilled to have Tim Tennent as the president of Asbury Theological Seminary. Admittedly, I haven't done any thinking at all regarding the use of creeds, confessions, and affirmations in worship. When I arrived at my current appointment four years ago, the church did not employ creeds, confessions, or affirmations but I wanted to make sure we did in our traditional worship service. I started a rotation that would begin at UMH 800 - the Nicene Creed and would go to UMH 889 - Affirmation from I Timothy 2:5-6; 1:15; 3:16. My rotation skips the Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada and The World Methodist Social Affirmation. Dr. Tennent has made me rethink my pattern.

I'll add that the most important thing that this post has illuminated for me is how uncritically I've led worship and planned the elements of worship. I mean, for crying out loud, I've not even noticed that the Confession from the Korean Methodist Church or the Modern Affirmation lack statements about the crucifixion and resurrection! I've been saying these creeds since I was a kid and they don't mention the two most important pieces of the gospel proclamation.

Thanks, Dr. Tennent, for helping me to pay attention.

Good Friday

I got all my stuff migrated over to Hover and Squarespace this morning and am loving the new setup. Great companies.

It is Good Friday and, as someone wrote on Twitter, the entire state of Arkansas is talking about a sin instead of the Savior who came to free us from the penalty and power of sin in our lives. May we all look to Christ for our forgiveness and salvation.

For today, it really would be worth your time and attention to read this wonderfully written account of the crucifixion from the perspective of the centurion who said, "Truly, this is the Son of God." It was written by a seminary classmate and is creative and moving.

Sunday's coming!


I have a bit of a Mike Breen man-crush at the moment. I've begun to read Building a Discipling Culture (Kindle Version) and read this very early on:

The problem is that most of us have been educated and trained to build, serve and lead the organization of the church. Most of us have actually never been trained to make disciples. Seminary degrees, church classes and training seminars teach us to grow our volunteer base, form system and organizational structures or preach sermons on Sunday mornings and assimilate newcomers from the Sunday service. As we look around as Christendom is crumbling and the landscape of the church is forever changed, a stark revelation emerges: Most of us have been trained and educated for a world that no longer exists.

However, the call to make disciples still remains. It never wavers and never changes.

Breen, Mike (2011-08-16). Building a Discipling Culture (Kindle Locations 94-99). 3DM. Kindle Edition.

(Emphasis mine) I bear the marks of that kind of education as I try to lead and make disciples within the church I lead and the community in which I live. Seminary was great but one thing I've noticed about post-seminary life (I graduated 9 years ago) is that putting all the pieces together is up to me and there were several classes that I took that were out of date as soon as class was over (not to mention dreadful for an introvert like me. Walk up to three random strangers to talk to them about Jesus for an evangelism class? Ugh).

Churches and denominations shouldn't require a Master of Divinity anymore. If they're going to require a masters level education at all it ought to be more like a Master of Missiology. How else are we going to make disciples in an ever-changing world?

Glorious Relief

I've always scored a very strong "I" in the Meyers-Briggs Inventory which means I am an introvert. My wife has never been able to understand why I was never embarrassed to eat alone in a restaurant or go to the movies by myself. Most of the time, I prefer to read a book over going out with other people. When I attended the Acts 29 Bootcamp in Dallas last March, Matt Chandler directed us to pray together in groups of 3 or 4. I immediately dropped my head in prayer and hoped no one would ask me to join them. When I attended our conference's Connected in Christ program for a total of four weeks over two years, I always went to my room as soon as evening worship was over rather than hanging out with the rest of the group.

I've been called anti-social but, thankfully, Susan Cain has pointed out that I'm "differently social" and so are all the other introverts in the world and the church. I just picked up Cain's book Quiet and am looking forward to reading the rest of it.

If you're interested in reading a little bit more about introverts, check out this post by Alastair Roberts. He is a very sharp thinker and shares a bit about his own life of introversion as well.

I for one look forward to one day meeting Alastair so that we can shake hands and then read quietly together.

What Would Help My Marriage?

Last week was a crazy one in terms of marriage and sex talk by famous pastors. Ed Stetzer did his usual excellent analysis on the information that came out and you can read that here. (I love Ed. He's one of those rare helpful people who wants to help churches of just about any denomination get better at the Great Commission - including Methodists like me. Thank you, Ed, for your kingdom focus!) I don't want to comment on everything in the post, just something that stuck out to me about pastor Ed Young's upcoming bed-in.

The bed-in is supposed to draw attention to Ed and his wife Lisa's new book Sexperiment: 7 Days to Lasting Intimacy with Your Spouse. I've not read the book yet. I might not because, believe it or not, I feel a little over-sexed by the culture both inside and outside the church. My wife and I enjoy each other and feel practically no inhibition in our bedroom. I'd say that some of the safest and carefree times of our relationship together are when we, to borrow a phrase from Tommy Nelson's Song of Solomon series, renew our marriage covenant. When I look at our relationship and think about deepening our intimacy, sex isn't where we need the most work.

Are we the odd couple within American Christian churches?

What would really deepen our intimacy with one another?

I know the answer to that and I want to trot this thought out there for people who might be thinking, "You know, sex really isn't our problem." Let me entice you to read a blog post that I'm about to link by providing a snippet from a comment left at that particular blog: "I will say that few things make me feel more loved and cared for by my husband than when he___". Now, how would you fill in that blank? How would your spouse fill in that blank? As I judge a book by its cover, Pastor Ed might tell you that sex is the key. While that is important to a marriage, what might turn out to be the most underrated key to lasting intimacy is prayer. (Pastors you should definitely read this post by Brian Croft about praying with your spouse. It's where I took the comment I mentioned).

You want to try something that will increase your vulnerability? Want to really lay yourself bare and naked before the one to whom you have pledged to love and serve "till death do us part"? Want to increase intimacy and, hey, maybe even improve your sex life because you have an even greater connection and commitment to one another? Pray together.

Sure, you expect me to say that. I'm a pastor. I think you should pray. I'm also a gigantic hypocrite because that is one of the biggest weaknesses in my own marriage and I've made a commitment to destroy that weakness. Since that barrier to intimacy is on my mind, sure, I'm thinking a lot about how prayer can contribute to intimacy with my wife. Maybe it would help you, too.

The Preacher's Danger

C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism
I am thinking of unfortunate scholars in foreign universities who cannot 'hold down their jobs' unless they repeatedly publish articles each of which must say, or seem to say, something new about some literary work; or of overworked reviewers, getting through novel after novel as quickly as they can, like a schoolboy doing his 'prep'. For such people reading often becomes mere work. The text before them comes to exist not in its own right but simply as raw material; clay out of which they can complete their tale of bricks.

This is what Bible reading has become for many of us and it is a soul killer. What does it profit a preacher to mine a bunch of alliterated sermon ideas yet forfeit the Word of life waiting for us if we would only linger?

I'll Pray for You

The title of this post is probably one of the biggest lies told in the church. You're talking with someone who is in the middle of a rough season. She mentions that her grandson is having surgery on Wednesday. You say, "I'll pray for him." Wednesday comes and goes, you see this woman in the grocery store on Friday and think, "Oh no! I said I'd pray and I didn't! Jesus, please let this prayer for her grandson be retroactive. Amen!"

If you're wondering how I was able to take a peek into your past and see accurately it's because I've done it, too. I've had that sinking feeling of knowing I promised to pray but forgot to. I've even developed a habit of not even offering to pray in the future because I know I won't remember to pray even if I write it down.

Until now. Pastoral care, meet iOS 5.

I'm a shameless Apple shill. No doubt. I like things that have a low frustration factor and I can count my frustrating Apple moments on one hand.

But this isn't really about Apple. It's about how easy it is to set a reminder to pray for someone using iOS 5 with Reminders. There's probably always been some workaround to this, but I find Reminders incredibly easy. For instance, I promised to pray for some folks Saturday morning when I'll be out of town. In the past, I'd have a 98% chance of forgetting. This time, however, I set a Reminder for Saturday morning at 10AM.

Boom! Now I know I'll remember to pray.

For Future Reference

The Gospel Coalition is running a 5-part series on depression in the ministry. The first two are available and I'm going to link them here as well as the next three when they come out.

This is a very real issue and many times we pastors do not seek out the kind of confiding, accountable relationships that would be of great benefit to us for one reason or another. I'm convinced that many pastors slide into depression because we internalize so much and do not share it with anyone for one reason or another.

Part 1 by Paul Tripp (who looks like the older, Christian version of Ron Swanson)

Part 2 by Garrett Higbee

Part 3 by Steve Viars

Annual Conference After Show

Thanks to Andy Ihnatko (yes, I spelled his last name from memory, thank you very much) from MacBreak Weekly, I finally have an iOS blogging client that doesn't make me want to injure myself or anyone else. His "pick of the week" on the show this week was an iPad app called Blogsy and it is fantastic. That takes me one step closer toward being able to abandon my computer for all but about 10% of my tasks (image & video editing, Skype, writing really long pieces, and desktop publishing).

Enough of the tech talk, though, for that is the subject of my other blog.

I returned last night from the Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was a long week. The United Methodist Church meets every four years at General Conference and there we make decisions concerning the polity and structure of the whole church. Ou next General Conference is in 2012 so we elected delegates at our Annual Conference this year who will go next year. The clergy and laity groups each elect 6 delegates, 6 more delegates to Jurisdictional Conference (where new bishops are elected), and three alternates. In all, 30 people were elected in 3 days. This was my first time to vote as I wasn't eligible to vote last time because I hadn't yet been ordained.

OK, enough of the nerd talk, right? Actually, the voting was pretty important because it meant that we had to stay in the conference most of the time so that we wouldn't miss a ballot. I spent less time visiting with people this year than years past because of this. The Asbury Seminary alumni were pleased to host J.D. Walt for our alumni lunch. It was great to visit with him and to hear of some exciting things going on in the world of Wesleyan Methodism.

The Confessing Movement of Arkansas hosted Dr. Chris Bounds from Indiana Wesleyan University. Chris is a great guy and one of the smartest people I've ever met. It was great to catch up with him and hear him speak at both the CMA breakfast and on the floor of the Annual Conference.

We also passed a new and radical direction for our conference called Imagine Ministries. That was a significant deal and am proud of the work the IM team did and look forward to joining in their work for years to come.

Power Through Prayer

In the last three days these things have happened in my life:

  • I left church on Sunday feeling neither high or low about the sermon I preached. I left confident in the Word of God and God’s power to work in the hearts of people. I was able to rest in that.

  • I deleted a couple of tweets. I grew up thinking that giving someone a hard time was a way to show someone you liked them and appreciated them. That’s pretty dumb. About 20 minutes after posting them, I felt this impression in my heart not only to delete those tweets but to start paying attention to how I give people a hard time and to stop doing it. It honors no one.

  • I apologized to my wife this morning. Yesterday, I was gruff with her for a moment in the middle of my yard work. It’s no way for a man to speak to his wife who just happens to be a daughter of God.

(If that last thing seems strange to mention, I have a really hard time apologizing. I’m that wicked.)

So, what’s been going on? It seems like I’m surprised at these good things. I am, a little. What’s been going on is that I recently finished a book called Power Through Prayer by E.M. Bounds. More than anything, that little book is an indictment on prayerless preachers who work so hard to create power and strength in their ministries while neglecting the only true power in their lives - prayer. I have repented and have devoted more - much more - time to prayer than some of the other things that tend to crowd my attention during the day. You know what? God’s been working me over. And it is awesome. The Holy Spirit has moved me in each one of those bullet points. No joke. It’s one of those weird moments in life when I think, “Man, this rebuking by the Holy Spirit is hard and it hurts. Do it some more!” (If this keeps up I’m sure my wife and church will be saying, “Do it some more!”)

I’m not writing to brag but to give those of you who are experiencing prayerlessness either some encouragement or a kick in the pants. Especially you preachers who walk into the pulpit thinking that your three points are going to totally change someone’s life when you haven’t sought the one who is already at work in the lives of those who hear his word.

Here’s three links you can try on for size (You’re in luck if you’re a Kindle-user).

Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer
The Complete E.M. Bounds on Prayer - Kindle $3.99
Power Through Prayer - Kindle is $0.99!