Ash Wednesday 2018

Yesterday I re-shared this piece I wrote for Seedbed a couple of years ago. I haven’t written like I want to in some time, and there is a danger in writing something that pleases you too easily, but this was one darling I didn’t want to kill1. I didn’t and I’m glad.

Re-reading the piece made me consider how much more I think about death than I used to. I know this may sound silly to some, but I was 39 when I wrote that. I’m 41 now and I have to admit that the mythical tipping point which shoved me over-the-hill, my 40th birthday last year, has led me to consider my mortality a lot more than I used to. Last November, when my family was in Dallas for a couple of days, I fell asleep to the reassuring thought that it might be a day or two before anyone came upon my carcass if I died in my sleep that night. The thing is, I’m not in great shape and I’m not a healthy eater. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that I could die of a heart attack in the middle of the night and no one would know until I didn’t show up for church. Every slight internal discomfort makes me weigh whether or not I’m going to live to see 42. It’s terrifying. I’m not afraid of death, but the imagined pain my family would suffer, especially my daughter, is almost unbearable.

Secretly, though, I’m really more sad about what I would miss. I know that sounds selfish, but I want to see her graduate as many times as she wants to. I want to see her get married if that’s in the cards for her. I want to cheerlead and dance and yell for joy when things go well for her. I want to be there when life sucks and know she’ll talk to me about it because she trusts me and because she has it drilled into her brain, “There’s nothing you could ever do that would ever make me love you any less.”2 Yes, I feel good when life goes well for her. It’s not that feeling I would miss, though. It’s her. I love her more than I love even myself.

That’s my prayer for Lent. I don’t know if I’ll give up anything or take up anything, but what I really want is to love Jesus more than I love myself. I want his love for me to purify my heart and my affections so that I love God and other people more than I love myself. That’s all. Funny enough, that’s what my theological tradition3 calls it’s most important focus. All I want is to get as close to our Triune Creator as possible. Can I do it through fasting? Probably. What about a dozen other things? Yes.4 Which brings me back to earlier - there’s only one thing standing between me and intimacy with God. Me. Living, breathing, kicking, and screaming me. That guy has to die. Hopefully not in bed when the family is gone, but before our crucified Lord on a tear-stained rug. Here’s to Lent 2018.

  1. A quote attributed to William Faulkner goes, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” ↩︎
  2. I don’t know where I read this. It’s been a few years. But my kid knows that my love for her doesn’t depend on anything except the fact that she’s mine. One of the few bright choices I’ve made. ↩︎
  3. And the Bible, pal. And before I get comments, just remember that Wesley said he was only interested in “plain Scriptural Christianity.” He called it Methodism. ↩︎
  4. Go read this book and practice reminding yourself that the means of grace aren’t about earning grace, they are means to experiencing grace. Hence the name… ↩︎

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!

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!

Separation of Church and Property

Falls Church, by the numbers

This is one of the most interesting stories I've read this week. Get Religion is a great site and I highly recommend it. It's especially important for us United Methodists to understand how these rulings play out given the events in Ohio during the last couple of years and the specter of a church split that's been hovering over General Conference ever since the "amicable separation" was brought up eight years ago.


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?

How Artists Do Theology

How Artists Do Theology

Written by a seminary classmate of mine. Out of my own neurosis which has grown out of C.S. Lewis' An Experiment in Criticism I've not paid much attention to the visual arts (those of you who have read the book will understand) but this wonderful post gives me a desire to give this kind of art a shot.

Maybe I'll go do some theological thinking at Crystal Bridges.

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.

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, before our candlelight service, I’m listening to the BBC broadcast A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It's stuff like this that really makes me want to be an Anglican.

From the Bidding Prayer:
And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and them that mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; all who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.

Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.

Service Sheet here

Merry Christmas!

How Efficient is Your Bible Reading?

Hopefully, it's inefficient. Alastair is one of the smartest people I've never met and has played an important role in my Bible reading in the last few years by turning me onto some pretty amazing Bible teachers (even if they're Calvinists).

His post reminds me of a line from Alan Jacobs' book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction:
If most of us read too fast, most of us also read too many books and are unwisely reluctant to return to something we think we already know.

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.

An Intro to My Great Struggle in Nouwen's Prologue

Moving from teaching university students to living with mentally handicapped people was, for me at least, a step toward the platform where the father embraces his kneeling son. It is the place where I so much want to be, but am so fearful of being. It is the place where I will receive all I desire, all that I ever hoped for, all that I will ever need, but it is also the place where I have to let go of all I most want to hold on to. It is the place that confronts me with the fact that truly accepting love, forgiveness, and healing is often much harder than giving it. It is the place beyond earning, deserving, and rewarding. It is the place of surrender and complete trust.

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son (p. 13)

This guy knows. He knows the utter absurdity of trying - trying to control everything including how we approach God and what we receive from him.

It doesn't stop us from trying, though.

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!

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

One of the things that stirred my heart as a college student was a gift that a friend and fellow Wesley Foundation student gave me in my last semester of college. It was a tape of a plenary address that John Piper gave to the Evangelical Theological Society in 1998. Few ideas have stuck with me as much as  his exhortation to those professors, that the greatest need in training the next generation of pastors and missionaries is "to know God and to find in him a Treasure more satisfying than any other person or thing or relationship or experience or accomplishment in the world."

I've had a copy of that message both in audio and in print for 12 years and it wasn't until recently that I listened to it again and gleaned another gem which has been a part of my spiritual life or growth or whatever you want to call it for the last few months.
Plead with God that he not leave you unmoved by the glories revealed every day in the sky and in the Scriptures.

Make that your prayer as you watch this video (via my friend Geoffrey who retweeted Alan Hirsch)

Seminary on your iPhone

My late-friend, Michael Spencer, used to promote The Theology Program on his website and podcast. I never checked it out because, hey, I have a Masters of Divinity and after four years of seminary why would I need something like this? Oh, brother. I've since discovered that if I want theological stimulation, I'm going to have to seek it out and books just aren't enough to keep me sharp.

The price of The Theology Program was a little too steep for me. Until now. They have just released an iPhone app for $6.99 which contains 60 hours of theological training, 1200 slides and 1800 pages of workbooks. On your iPhone. That is simply incredible and a heck of a deal.

I would encourage all of our lay people to try this out. You won't agree with all of the perspectives (indeed, you shouldn't) but if you're willing to think and process, this will be a very valuable tool in thinking theologically. I've already downloaded and am looking forward to giving it a shot.

A Late Follow-Up on Acts 29 Boot Camp

I guess now is as good a time as any to write up my thoughts on the Acts 29 Boot Camp I attended on March 10, 2011. I've been slightly hesitant for two reasons. One, I'm sure some of the Acts 29 Network and some of my reformed friends will react with, "Why on earth would you attend?". Two, I'm sure some of my fellow Methodists will react with, "Why on earth would you attend?". Let me answer that second. The first thing I want to say is that I absolutely did not attend with the idea that I would write an undercover story to tell anyone what really goes on. If there is a "really" I don't know what it is and I probably wouldn't tell you about it - I'd talk to the men in charge because airing laundry isn't my thing.

So, why did I go? I'm not called to church planting and I've not the skills or qualifications for church planting. I love church planters and support them whole-heartedly. I want to help and support church planters as much as I can. I watch church planters pour a lot into ministry and I hurt with them if those plants shut down. As a United Methodist, I haven't seen a lot of church plants make it to viability and I'd like to see that change. I've been talking to a seminary buddy of mine about developing a support network for our tradition and so when an opportunity arose for me to observe and learn from a network that has a viability percentage that's directly opposite of ours, I couldn't wait to attend. I emailed them about the viability of church plants and they graciously replied to me. You want to know what it is? "98.4%. I'd have to double check, but for some reason I thought it was 3 years." That's cut and pasted right out of the email I received back. Wow. If you aren't floored by that, you aren't paying attention. I wanted to learn something from them because they clearly have a lot to teach.

What did I learn?

Did they flood attendees with tips and tricks about marketing and miracles? Nope.

The entire first day (the only day I attended) was about the church planter's character. I say this with all the loving sarcasm I can muster - Gee, what a concept. (My sarcastic contempt is for every book, blog, and article I've read that skips right over that component as though it's foundational and doesn't need to be covered.)

There was some righteous anger in some of the talks. I felt like that anger was from a place of deep hurt and sorrow because of some ministry failures within the network that resulted from a lack of character focus. As Scott Thomas, Acts 29 Network President, said, "Some of you are hiding your sins right now." Sam Storms, Matt Carter, and Bruce Wesley also spoke and didn't hold anything back, either. I reflected and prayed because even though I'm not planting a church, I could as easily fail for a number of reasons - particularly self-idolatry.

For me, in spite of the time being terribly lonely for an outsider introvert, it was a fantastic time of prayer, reflection, rebuke, and repentance. At the end of the evening, right before he spoke, Matt Chandler came out and exhorted us to turn our attention away from ideas, tips, and tricks and toward listening to the Holy Spirit. This isn't a direct quote, but he said that if we showed up and missed out on the Holy Spirit, our time was wasted.

My time was not wasted.

If you'd like to listen to the content, it is available here.

Shall We Gather?

I'd better get this in before there's another database connection error. Grrrr.

The scene behind the church this afternoon. It started raining, oh, sometime on Saturday and finally let up a little while ago. I saw on Facebook that we got around 15" of rain. Lots of flooding going on around here.

It rained almost all day long yesterday (Easter). I was pretty bummed because last year it was just so beautiful and bright outside. This year was dark and gloomy. Not the way I wanted to celebrate Easter. But, God was working on me and teaching me.

My mood is generally affected by numbers. And by numbers I mean weekly attendance and giving. It's not just my mood but my self-worth, understanding of calling, and all that. I wasn't fired up for Easter this year. I looked at the weather forecasts and knew that it would rain which meant that there wouldn't be as many people on Sunday morning. I was not happy. But, I noticed something as we began to worship yesterday. Suddenly, that concern and burden weren't there. I'm not entirely sure what God did in me, but I knew that as I got up to preach one of my weakest sermons of all time God was stripping away the self-focused concern about numbers. I cared more about clearly presenting the gospel to those gathered than the actual number of people who showed up. What a clear sign of grace to me and how grateful I was to have experienced it!

Slowly but surely, my heart is figuring out that my identity, self-worth, reputation, and all that are actually in Jesus and not me. I wish I figured out things a little more quickly but progress is better than stalling.