Monthly Archives: April 2010

Talking about faith

How do you talk about faith? For many, the idea of talking about their faith looks like one of two scenes:

  • Someone knocks on your door. They are dressed immaculately, carry a Bible, and have pamphlets in tow. They smile big, and never go away.
  • Two people sitting down with open Bibles. One is going through a scripted witness story and a list of selected Bible verses, all with the goal of getting the other to pray the “Sinners Prayer.”

Talking about faith does not have to look like that. Talking about faith is most effective when it is done naturally. It should be arise from authentic relationship and sincere care. Evangelism is not about meeting quotas, filling churches, or meeting budgets. 

It is about sharing with someone the good news of Christ in your life. You don’t have to be pushy to talk about your faith, but as a Christian, it is imperative that you do it. The most effective way the Good News can be spread is by regular people talk to others.  If you’re not talking about your faith with others, then I’m not sure you have it.  Jesus told us very clearly to go into the world and make disciples, and it is clear that not enough of us are doing that.

 Part of the problem is those first two images I described.  In both, the problem is that they are too goal-oriented.  They borrow from hard sales techniques and come off as pushy and manipulative.  No one likes a door-to-door salesman.  No one likes getting unsolicited phone calls, and no one likes being steered into submission by a slick presentation and well-crafted script.

Yet both of those techniques have some merit.  It is important to be willing to step out from time to time and take a risk.  Someone going door-to-door has submitted themselves to a grueling day of rejection.  Yet they do so in the name of Christ and are strengthened.  We can learn a lesson from that.  Talking about faith does not always bear obvious and immediate fruit.  The only way you can be in relationship with someone is if you risk being rejected.

It is also important to know your story.  Every Christian should be able to articulate why they believe what they believe.  You should be able to have a coherent answer for the question, “Why are you are you a Christian?”  Again, if you can’t answer that question, then I’m not sure you are.

Christians should also know that the understanding of salvation lies in Scripture.  It is not about picking out a few passages to lead you on some road to heaven.  It is about understanding the narrative of redemption, forgiveness, healing, community, and service.  The Bible gives us a foundation on which to stand, and a narrative in which to live, not a strict and narrow path to follow.

So take the best of these two approaches: boldness and preparedness, and apply it to more authentic situations:

You are talking to a co-worker, and they express sorrow over a death, or tell you that they are struggling with a spouse, sickness, friend, etc.  You hear their story, and in the midst of a relationship of trust and friendship you add, “I’ll pray for you.”  Suddenly you have introduced God into the conversation. The conversation might end there, but it is unlikely that the person will be offended or feel manipulated.  The conversation might also take off from there, and the Holy Spirit may lead it in new, miraculous, life-giving, and life-transforming directions.

Or how about this, someone at work asks you what you did this weekend, and you say, “I went to church and the pastor gave a really interesting sermon,” or “I went and helped at a free car wash to help end malaria.”  Those things might spark a longer conversation about mission, worship, and service.

It doesn’t take a Bible, a script and a pamphlet.  It takes an open heart, an open mind, and an invitation to an open door. 

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Can a car wash change the world?

Can a car wash change the world?

Can the hungry be fed?

Can  the sick find healing?

Can a sinner be redeemed?

Can swords be beaten into plows?

Can a heart be transformed?

Can the dead live again?

Can a car wash change the world?

I suppose it is all a matter of perspective.  If we offer a free car wash at church on Saturday, will the world be a different place?  If someone’s day is brightened by a free act of love, will their perspective be changed?  If someone receives a flyer about World Malaria Day can awareness be achieved?

On Saturday, April 24 from noon until 3 p.m. volunteers will gather at Chenoa United Methodist Church to wash cars.  We will not accept money.  We will also extend an invitation.  It is an invitation to be in relationship  for a few moments.  It is an invitation to be a loving community.  It is an invitation to pray, worship, and learn about a movement that can change the world.

Just two generations ago Malaria was a serious health concern in the United States.  A comprehensive public health effort from 1947-1951 virtually eradicated malaria in this country.

Sixty years later Malaria continues to kill one million people a year.  None of those deaths occurred in the United States, Canada or Europe.  90% of those deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.  Most of these are children.

A lot of religious folk want to talk about sin.  They like to make their list of sins, often that others commit.  They may pay lip service to the fact that we are all “sinners,” but then act as if it is all ‘those people’ that sin.  If you want to start talking about sin, let’s start with the fact that while we sit and spend an hour in worship, or reading the Bible, or watching TV, or eating dinner – every hour of the day – 120 children in Africa die of a disease that is preventable and curable.

The people of the United Methodist Church have said, “No more.”  Imagine No Malaria is a bold initiative to raise $75 million (that’s less than $7 per member of the United Methodist Church) to eradicate malaria in Africa by the year 2015.  Through education, medicine, prevention, this is an achievable goal.  According to Imagine No Malaria’s website, increased net coverage and access to medicine has cut the mortality rates in Rwanda 66% in two years.

So, can a car wash change the world?  Could one relationship be built that could lead someone to pray?  Could one person with a flyer in their hand make a donation that they would not have otherwise made?

$20 can buy a mosquito net for a family.   That net could save the lives of parents and children.  It can allow a parent to work and make a living.  It can help a child go to school.  It can help a family live in health.

“To the world, you might be one person; but to one person, you might be the world” (Heather Cortez).

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The Pastor on the prayer list

Every week we have a list of people on our prayer list.  Because of privacy laws, we don’t get real specific.  There is a category called “Those in need of healing, comfort, or guidance”  It is usually about 15 people.  It fluctuates a little as people are asked to be put on, and are taken off.  On Sunday there will be a person on the list that has never appeared there before: me.

I’m not sure why this is such a big deal to me.  It really shouldn’t be.  Yet I thought about putting myself on the list last week and didn’t.  I’ve been having headaches for the last three weeks.  I’ve got medicine for them now, and it seems to work.  When the medicine wears off though, it can be miserable.  Last week I had an MRI just to rule out the worst-case scenario.  Today I found out that my brain image is normal (which, I assume, is a relative term).

In between the scan and the results was a Sunday in which I was not on the prayer list, and I cannot help but wonder if I failed my congregation in not including myself on the list.  I talk a good game about being a community of faith.  Whenever we share prayer concerns and joys, I talk about how great it is that we can come together and lift up each other in prayer.  Yet when it was my turn to be lifted up, I resisted.

I think I resisted because I was mixing concepts of spiritual and secular leadership.  As the primary leader of our congregation, I lost sight of an important aspect of spiritual leadership – the ability to be vulnerable.  Culture tells us that leaders need to be strong and resilient.  Leaders are supposed to be Superman, invulnerable to the frailties of the rest of us.  I spend so much of my energy rejecting that cultural myth of masculinity, leadership, strength and power; and yet when it came to me being in a time of need, I fell right back into it.

I remember though, that being a leader is not about being invulnerable.  Acts 6 tells us that being a spiritual leader is about being “of good standing, full of the spirit and of wisdom.”  In this case, it was wise to ask for prayers.  My head is killing me sometimes, and I desperately want to know why.  I am in need of prayer.  Besides that, I am risking my body two times a week on a football field like an idiot.  I am in need of prayer.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I need to be a fixture on the prayer list.  I put myself on the list today, and I’m having trouble imagining a time that I will think to myself, “Well, I’m good – I don’t need prayer anymore.”

So the pastor is on the prayer list.  I am in need of your prayers too, and that doesn’t make me any less of a leader.  In fact it makes me a better one.

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Filed under Christianity, Personal Reflection

Mascot Bracket claims top spot

Every year on Selection Sunday, I fill out a bracket based on my broad knowledge of college basketball.  I carefully select a few underdogs I feel like have a good change at making a run.  I pick one or two favorites that I think are ripe for an early exit.  I read some of the experts, and fill out my bracket in pencil.  I shape it carefully, with all of my skill and knowledge.

Then I fill out “The Mascot Bracket,” based solely on which mascot (or more accurately, which nickname) would win in a fight.  I have a pretty strict set of rules, and sometimes have to make some tough decisions.  This year I got some heat for picking a panther over a grizzlie, and admit I probably had that one wrong (grizzlies are flippin’ huge!).  This year the mascot bracket had the Vanderbilt Commodores winning it all.  It also had the Oklahoma State Cowboys advancing to the final four.  Both the Commodores and Cowboys lost in the first round.  It didn’t look good.

But now the dust has settled, and it turns out that the Mascot Bracket nailed the other side of the final four: Duke over West Virginia, and with only the national championship to be played, the Mascot Bracket has emerged victorious.

In a group of 30 participants in my yahoo public group, the Mascot Bracket finished first!  Ahead of Joe Lunardi, ahead of picking only the favorites, ahead of my own picks, ahead of Barack Obama, ahead of my three-year-old daughter, and ahead of all the other amatuer experts that filled out brackets in my group.

Final score:
1. Mascots 72 (84th percentile before the championship game)
2. Chalk 62
3. Obama 59
4. My daughter 58
5. Me and Joe Lunardi 53

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Pastor Dawg: putting on the pads

Since January, I have embarked on an amazing and terrifying journey. I am 32 years old, last played football as a freshman in college, and am trying to make the Twin City Dawgs, a semi-professional football team that plays their home games in Chenoa.  To read more about his journey, you can read about my Glory Days, and about my first experience as Pastor Dawg.

I stand on the line. One man is next to me. He is my ally. There is another man behind us. He carries a ball, and wants to carry it for as long as possible. We are offense. Two men stand across from us. Another man stands behind them. Their job is to stop the man with the ball.

As I take my stance, there is little time to think. Little time to process what is about to happen. It is so incredibly simple. I am to launch myself at the man across from me. We are going to collide. Hard. There is about two seconds between when I put my hand down and when the whistle blows. I’m not even sure who stands across from me. He is big. I need to fire off, be quick. Explode. I haven’t done this in eleven years. I visualize quickly what I want to happen: We collide, I punch with both arms upward into his pads, using them as a lever. I am lower, and use that as an advantage to push him backwards. The man with the ball behind me goes by us untouched.

That’s not what happens. The whistle blows, I launch myself at him, but he steps a little to the side. I graze him as he skirts around me and tackles the man with the ball. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

It is someone else’s turn. I’m a little dismayed, but not defeated. It is my turn again, and quickly. I step into the line again. “Don’t make the same mistake,” I think. Fire off, but under control. Don’t lunge. He has to come to me too. The whistle blows. We collide. This time the collision is square. I stand him up. I try to drive him back, but he’s not going anywhere, so I try to wall him off to the outside. The man with the ball sees the direction I am turning my man, and he adjusts accordingly. He runs by untouched.

I win this one. I want to let out a whoop. I am too winded. It’s going to be my turn again in about 45 seconds.

My experience as a Twin City Dawg went to a new level yesterday. Tuesday was the first day with pads, but I had a stomach virus since Sunday night, and spent the previous 48 hours before practice in close proximity to a bathroom. Thursday night was my first practice withpads. It felt good. Really good. I got beat up, bruised, and scraped, but as I drove home I felt amazing. I filled in as a right tackle a lot, and got a lot of reps. My problem was I was a little too cautious. Cautious is a bad thing to be on a football field. Standing still is dangerous. Once when I wasn’t sure where to go I stood a little bit, and a running back ran into me pretty hard.

The other aspect of me playing football – the evangelical part – is also going well. It has opened doors to new relationships in places I would not have expected it. Like I said at the outset, I am not going around preaching to anyone. All I want to do while on the football team is build relationships. The guys know that I am a pastor. Most of them are starting to call me “Preacher.” In time, if someone asks me to pray – I’ll be happy to do so. If someone asks me about my church, I am happy to tell them. If someone asks me a question about faith, I’d be willing to listen. I hope all of my teammates would agree that I have not pushed myself as a “pastor” on anyone.

At a recent Christian youth retreat though, where the fact that I was a pastor was a given, the fact that I am playing football helped. I don’t want to get into the specifics of how it happened, but me playing football created common ground with some of the guys. We talked about football for awhile, which then lead to more serious questions. It lead to very helpful spiritual and practical discussion

When I started this, I had a few goals in mind, and all of them are looking good.
1. Don’t get hurt. So far, so good. I’ve been using our ice packs a lot more, but I’m still good.
2. Have some fun playing football. There is nothing better.
3. Get in better shape. I have lost some weight, and gained some strength.
4. Build relationships that may or may not lead to spiritual exchanges. Already started in surprising places.
5. Inspire others. Not sure, but I haven’t really told a lot of people yet either.

Twin City Dawgs Roster (Notice that I have the number of my favorite TE of all-time, prize for the one that guesses who it is)

Twin City Dawgs Schedule

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Filed under Personal Reflection, Sports