Tag Archives: evangelism

To those who only come on Christmas Eve, “Welcome. I’m so glad you’re here.”

WelcomeIs this the only day of the year you come to church?  Please don’t apologize. You are welcome, and I’m thrilled you came.  If you’re only going to come to worship once a year, then this is a good day to pick.  It is a pretty awesome day.  The Christmas tree is beautiful.  The songs are familiar.  The story is simple, and the message is powerful.  Singing Silent Night at the end of the service with the candles lit give me chills every time.  I hope it is moving for you too.

Maybe you’re here because your Grandma insists.  Great.  We love your Grandma too.  I saw her last month in the hospital, and we prayed for you.

Maybe you’re here because you’re looking for your “yearly check up.”  Great.  I’m glad you still feel connected to God through worship.  It might not be a part of your weekly routine, but I’m so glad that you came here to try to encounter something Holy, even if it is only once a year.

Maybe you’re busy every weekend.  You intend to come to worship, but it’s just too hard.  Great. I know that your time is precious. I’m so glad that you were able to carve out some time now. Christmas is an especially busy season.  I’m so glad you were able to be here and worship. Life is hard. I believe that being a part of a worshiping community can help you tremendously.  I hope you are blessed by coming.

Maybe you’re back from college, and this service brings back memories of growing up as you live through a transitional time of your life. Great. We’re proud of you, and what you’re becoming. We hope you remember who and whose you are while away at school. Leave your school address, and we’ll send you a care package.

Maybe you’re trying church with your kids. Great. We love kids, and not just the idea of kids. We love real kids.  Kids that make noise. Kids that get up and climb the steps. Kids that need something to do. Kids that want to participate in worship, and kids that just want to color. Kids that are looking for a smiling face over the pew. Kids that dance in the aisles when the music is just too good to sit still. We know that raising kids is one of the hardest things we’ll ever try to do, so we’ll be in this together.

Maybe this is the first time you could come back since the loss of a loved one.  I’m so sorry for your loss, but I’m so glad you’re here. I hope you consider this a step toward healing. I know you miss her. I know that Christmas can sharpen the pain. There is someone here that misses someone too. I hope you sit together, and find comfort and joy in the midst of mourning.

Maybe this Christmas you had a strange feeling that maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. Great. I hope you continue to search, and by the way, I love Dr. Seuss too. I hope you encounter something real with us at worship. I pray that you feel connected to God through the songs, the prayers, the Scriptures, and the message proclaimed. I hope that the power of the eternal Word made flesh resonates with you, and opens up a new way of understanding the world.

Maybe you’re searching for a church home. Great. You should know that this is not a typical worship service, but we hope you can come back. May your search be blessed, wherever it takes you. If you want to come back on Sunday, we’ll be here.  We’d love to have you. I’d love to walk with you as you dig deeper into your faith. I’d love to see you in a Bible study. I’d love to talk with you over coffee about faith, compassion, forgiveness, Jesus, grace, sin, death, and life.  I’d love it if you want to get baptized. I’d love it if you joined us in our mission to transform our community and our world.  But if this night is all you want, I’m okay with that.

Maybe you’re a pilgrim searching for truth. Great. There’s room for your questions. No one here has it all figured out. I believe that doubts, questions, and wondering makes faith stronger in the long run. There’s no need to check your brain, your science, or your logic at the door. Maybe though, there is room for some mystery, and we can go on this journey together.

I celebrate that you are here with us today. Sometimes I hear “church folk” or other pastors talk about “C and E Christians.” You know, people who only show up to church on Christmas and Easter. The term is seldom used with kindness.  Maybe if the people already established in churches stopped talking about C & Eers with such righteous indignation, more of them would come back on December 28.

Follow The Fat Pastor on Facebook

Follow @FatPastor on Twitter

Check out Two Rivers United Methodist Church in Rock Island, Illinois

5 Comments

Filed under Christianity

The 85th Christian blog you should be reading

ImageLast week Christian Piatt, a Patheos Christian blogger, conducted a survey looking for the “25 Christian Blogs You Should Be Reading.”  Readers and bloggers nominated over 400 Christian blogs.  While it seemed to me that most of them leaned toward the Progressive end of the theological spectrum, there was a pretty wide array of blogs nominated.  I discovered the survey a couple of days into it, and added The Fat Pastor.

I first sent the link to vote for my blog on Facebook at 11 p.m. on Friday night.  I did it once again on Saturday and again on Sunday afternoon.  I tweeted it twice, I think.  I shared the link a few more times on my personal facebook page.  I never thought I’d make the top 25, but I thought I could break into the top 100.

The final vote finished with The God Article as number one, Rachel Held Evans as number two, and The Fat Pastor tied for 85th.  You can see the whole list by clicking here.  I was pretty pleased with finishing tied for 85th, but what was really touching were the comments people made.  I went through the top 100, and mine was one of only four blogs that had seven comments.  And it was not just the seven comments that touched me, but the kindness and appreciation that was expressed in those comments, largely from people I’ve never met face-to-face.  Sure, one of the comments was my brother, but even his words meant a lot to me.  The comments made in the survey read like the back cover of a book.

It was a pretty exciting couple of days as I watched my blog rise through the ranks.  I was thankful to see a couple of my facebook friends not only vote, but share the link with their friends.  I received a little bit of criticism on the Facebook page for the self-promotion, but it was good-natured.  And rest assured, there was nothing anyone said there that I had not already thought of.  Should I care where I am ranked on some list?  Should I care how popular I am?  Why do I write?  Is it to gain a big audience?  What is the mission of this blog?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of self-promotion on a Christian blog.  It takes a certain amount of hubris to write a public blog in the first place.  The moment I started The Fat Pastor, I remember thinking, “what do I have to say that other people should care about?”  Nearly five years later I am approaching 300,000 page views.  In the big picture of internet usage, that is barely a blip. At the same time, I think to my self “THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND!”

Does it matter that I’m approaching 300,000 views?  Am I being more faithful to God because I’ve reached this milestone than if I had not reached it?  I remember when I approached 1,000 Facebook followers.  I made a big deal about it on the page, and it turned people off, so they left.  Does the fact that I now have over 2,500 followers on Facebook make me a better writer?  Does that mean I’m a better pastor, or a better Christian, or closer to God?

None of the questions about self-promotion on a Christian blog are easily answered.  It all boils down to the question of mission.  What is the purpose of this blog?  Or put another way, if I suddenly had no facebook followers, no subscribers, no twitter followers, and no page views, would I keep doing it?  If I had a million followers and high traffic on the blog, what would change?

I am a writer and a preacher.  I will write about the love of God and preach the good news of Jesus Christ for as long as I have breath.  I will tell people about the transforming power of God, and I will share that with as many people as I can for as long as I can live.  I will struggle.  I will fail.  I will have doubts and questions, but the truth of who I am will never change.

Is it wrong to seek a larger audience for what I do?  I don’t think so, as long as what I do is point to something greater than me.  As long as what I’m doing is bringing people to the table of grace, then I’m going to keep going.  If my self-promotion takes precedent over God-promotion, then I’m in trouble.  In the meantime, I’m going to search for new audiences, because each audience is full of people – real people – who are longing to hear about the God that loves them, the God that errs on the of grace, the God that can lift all of us out of whatever hole we’ve dug ourselves, the God that can melt hearts, transform communities, and topple kings.

So yes, I wanted to be in the top 25 – because making the top 25 would have allowed me to speak to more people.  I believe in the story I have to tell, so I will continue to tell it. 

I’ve been grappling a lot lately about the future of this blog and the nature of my ministry.  How far should I push this Fat Pastor brand?  And if you’re turned off by my use of the term “brand,” I apologize, but that is exactly what I’ve created here.  I try to write from my heart.  I try to share my passion, joy, and frustrations.  I try to let you into my journey, but no reader will ever know the real me.  I don’t write every thought that pops into my head.  I make choices, and these choices create a separate entity that is not Robb McCoy, but the brand The Fat Pastor.  The Fat Pastor is me, but it is not all of me.  It’s not about being inauthentic, it’s just about having boundaries.  I create logos, and buy domain names, and craft a motto and wonder, what can I do with this blog?

Can I be the next Rachel Held Evans?  Do I even want to be?  Should I open a Fat Pastor store?  Should I sell t-shirts, mugs, and other merchandise?  Can I raise money through this blog to advertise in places to reach more people?  Can I raise money to support ministries?  Can I create a company that could help make a difference in the world?  Are there investors out there that could make it happen?  Should I write a book?  Should I seek more speaking engagements outside my congregation?  Should I open a youtube channel?  Should I live stream worship services?  How many people can I reach?  What does it mean to see “the whole world as my parish?”  To John Wesley it meant that he could get on a box and preach in a park and be just as true to his mission as he was inside a grand Anglican Church.  To me it means something different, and I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to guide me in understanding what it means to me.

I have a big vision for what The Fat Pastor can be.  I have to make sure that it isn’t just my vision, but a God-breathed vision that will build the Kingdom of God, not feed the kingdom of Robb.

Follow The Fat Pastor on Facebook

Follow @FatPastor on Twitter

1 Comment

Filed under Blogging, Christianity

Declare that the dawn is coming

girl on beachI love holding babies.  I have held many babies.  Countless times I have held a baby in my arms, and looked down and wondered, “What will this child be?” I can think of no act in life that is more full of hope then holding a baby.  I held each of my daughters within minutes of their birth.  Each time I was filled with awe and wonder.  Each time was a holy moment beyond explanation.

This year at Advent I have rediscovered Zachariah.  I’ve been a Dad for a few years, but for some reason I’ve always been drawn to Mary’s song.  I wrote last year at Advent about preparing for the coming of a child.  This Advent though, I have been drawn to Zechariah’s prophecy when his son was born.

Zechariah praised God when his son was born.  He praised God for the promises that God made.  He praised God for the promises that God kept. He praised God for the promise that was in his son.  For he knew that his son was created for a purpose.  He knew that his son would be called a prophet.  He knew that his son would “go before the Lord to prepare a way.”  He knew that is son would “tell the people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.”  Zechariah was filled with joy at the birth of his son, so he praised God.

But I’m here to tell you that God rejoices no less for you than did Zechariah  for his son.  Zechariah so loved his son that he could glimpse him through God’s eternal eyes.  God so loves you that he has laid out a path for you to follow.  God has given you something that makes you uniquely you.  There is something in you that transcends employment, labels, gender, race, or status.  God has created you with a purpose, and is calling you to that purpose today.  You were created to do no less than John once did – to prepare the way of the Lord, and “to show the people the way to salvation through the forgiveness of sins.”

God has called you to your life.  Let it speak.  Let nothing get in the way of being the person that you are.  Zachariah claimed in his prophecy that through the birth of Jesus, “we have been rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear.”  We need no longer fear.  We need no longer hide from God or from each other.  We are free to use the gifts that God has granted us for God’s purposes.  We can serve God in our homes, in our churches, and in our workplace.  We can serve God with our hearts, hands, feet, and minds.  We are free to love God, because it is only in freedom that love is possible.  We are free to love ourselves because we know that we were created in the image of the God that is love.  We are free to love one another because God has called us to do no less.

Fear is powerful.  Fear can be overwhelming.  When we sit in the shadow of death, fear can be crippling.

Many of us have experienced that kind of fear.  We have experienced that kind of sorrow or loss.  When the chaos of the world is too much to bear, we sit in the shadow.  When the diagnosis is positive, and the prognosis is not optimistic, we sit in the shadow.  When the job is lost and the source of the next check is a mystery, we sit in the shadow.  When we fail to love as we were called to love, we sit in the shadow.  When thousands of children die from undernourishment or  preventable disease, we sit in the shadow.  When a man breaks through the sanctuary of a school and shatters the lives of innocents, we sit in the shadow.

Though some would claim that God does not go where God is not wanted, such a claim stands in direct opposition to the claim of Christmas.  The claim of Christmas is that God goes where God is not expected and is not wanted.  God goes where it one time seemed impossible.  God breaks through the cosmos, tears through the curtain, crumbles our dividing walls, and makes the audacious and spectacular claim that God was made flesh.  God was a baby.

The claim of Christmas is that God broke through the darkness.  As Zachariah said, “Because of God’s compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 CEB)

Through our freedom, humanity has created many dark and terrible places.  The shadow of death at times looms large over our world, but in the midst of darkness a baby is born.

Zachariah saw a great purpose in his son’s life.  People wondered, “What then will this child be?”  John grew to be the voice in the wilderness that cried out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

What then will you be?  For what purpose have you been created?  Use what you have been given to do as John did.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Show people the way of salvation.  Find those that sit in the shadow of death, and sit next to them.  Hold their hand.  Weep with them.  Give them love.  Show them the light, and declare that the dawn is coming.  Declare that the dawn is coming, and let the Holy Spirit guide us on the path of peace.

Listen to a podcast of this sermon.

Follow the Fat Pastor on Facebook

Follow on Twitter

Let Your Life Speak is one of my favorite books.  It was written by Parker Palmer.

6 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Sermons

Sermon: The Power of a Great Theme Song

Click here to listen to a sermon about Charles Wesley’s hymn, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

“Christian fellowship isn’t about shaking hands with someone and saying, ‘Hi nice to see you again. How ya doing? How are the kids?’ It is about understanding that Jesus Christ is in your life, and Jesus Christ is in my life. And together we have been knocked down, but we have not been knocked out. And so we are witnesses to the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. We are witnesses to the redeeming power to the life that Jesus offers, to the life abundant that is in Christ, and to the life eternal that is offered to us all. This who we are as a people of God, and when you understand that in the depth of your being then you know that one tongue is not enough to sing the praise of God. O For a Thousand Tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise!”

For a blog version of this sermon, CLICK HERE.

Follow the Fat Pastor on Facebook

Follow on Twitter

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Sermon Podcast

The Power of a Great Theme Song

“Some times you want to go, where everybody knows your name.  And they’re always glad you came…”

The Rembrandts “I’ll Be There For You” was a number one hit in America in 1995.

“So no one told you life was going to be this way.  Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, you’re love life’s D.O.A… I’ll be there for you (When the rain starts to pour)…”

If you read those lines, it is almost impossible to not start humming the tune.  These, of course, are lines from two of the greatest TV theme songs.  (If you’re interested in getting an hour or more sucked from your life, you should go to his website, with playable videos of the top 40 TV theme songs of all time.)

What makes these great theme songs?  First of all, they were attached to great shows.  The theme song to Veronica’s Closet might have been a masterpiece, but no one is going to remember it.  Secondly, they were truly “Theme” songs.  Meaning, they set the theme for the rest of the show.

The Friend’s theme is upbeat and youthful.  You can clap along to it, and identify with the emotion of starting off in the world.  It captured what was so popular about the show.  It’s lyrics about friendship and being there for each other make the same emotional claim on the viewer that the show was able to make.   The Cheers theme is a beautiful song (ranked number one by that website) that speaks to what made the show great – the desire to be a part of a community.  Lovers of Cheers felt intimately connected to Sam, Norm, Cliff, and Diane, and that connection began with the wistful “Making the way in the world today, takes everything you got.  Taking a break from all your trouble, sure would help a lot.”

The United Methodist Church has a theme song too.  And just like these great TV theme songs, it captures the heart of what the Methodist movement was, and should still be, all about.  The United Methodist Church wasn’t always a church.  In fact, its founders were never members.  John and Charles Wesley were members of the Church of England, and never intended on creating a new church.  Charles, in fact, was adamantly opposed to it.  John saw it more as a pragmatic solution to the problem of a movement that grew too fast for the institution.

“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” is the unofficial theme song of the UMC, and it captures perfectly what our church once was, and what it could be again.  It is a song that is about two things – the power of a redeeming God and our only proper response.  Charles Wesley wrote this hymn on the anniversary of the day he found a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  He was deeply rooted in the Church of England, but for most of his life he felt no real connection to the loving, merciful, and gracious God that can transform lives.

The song is a reminder of that experience – the power of knowing a God that makes sorrows cease, makes the sinner clean, and restores us to new life.  Wesley’s hymn captures the joy and excitement that is felt when a relationship with Jesus Christ becomes real and personal.

There are very few things that are more personal than a relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  My relationship with Jesus is intensely personal.  It has had its ups and downs.  We have had times when were were extremely close and times when I’ve alienated myself from him.  Jesus knows the inner depths of my soul and can see the blackest parts of my heart.  He has seen me stumble.  He has seen me hide.  He has seen me fall.  He has seen me get knocked down.  But every time I get knocked down he is right there.  He puts his arm around me and whispers in my ear, “Get up, Robb.”

And those times when I have gotten back up, there is nothing that I can do but sing my praise to God.  My only wish is that I had more than one mouth to do it with.  I wish I had more than one tongue to sing my savior’s praise.  O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing my great redeemer’s praise!   You see, transformation in the Holy Spirit is an intensely personal experience, but it is not private.  Authentic faith in Jesus Christ is a personal matter, but it must never be private.

This dual nature of faith as both intensely personal and never private is what our theme song is about.  Knowing our redeeming God brings tremendous joy.  I am convinced that others are in desperate need of this kind of joy.  They are in need of a relationship with the God transforms lives, transforms communities, and transforms the world.  People are looking for something that gives life meaning.  I have found meaning in a relationship with Jesus and in involvement with the United Methodist Church, and if I am to live up to our theme song, then I must share this with others.  It doesn’t mean that I am going to tell others that they are wrong.  It doesn’t mean that I’m going to insert God into conversations where it isn’t warranted or welcomed.  I’m a grown up with grown up social skills, but I’m also not going to hide from the opportunity to share with someone what God has done in my life and what life in the Church means to me.

John Wesley preaching outside (because most churches wouldn’t let him inside). Notice: He’s using words

“O For a Thousand Tongues” is our theme song, and it captured what was great about the Methodist Church.  It was written for a movement that was driven by the Holy Spirit.  It was the song of a movement that captured the hearts of thousands.  It was written for a movement of people that were willing to take risks – to go places others weren’t willing to go.  It was written for those going into the prisons, for those preaching to the working poor that would never enter a church, for those that were meeting in their homes to have hard discussions about how God was working in their lives.  It was written for a movement of people that were on fire with the Holy Spirit, and could not help but tell others.  It doesn’t mean that they were pushy or judgmental or rude.  It was written for a people that had found the good news of Jesus Christ and found that one tongue to share that good news just wasn’t enough.

In our world where we are inundated with bad news, couldn’t the world use a little bit of good news?  Are people really going to think you’re a nut job if you tell them that you find meaning in worship, study, fellowship, prayer, or service?

Today, many Methodists like to quote Francis of Assisi’s “Preach the gospel at all times.  Use words when necessary.”  There’s a lot about that quote that I like.  If it means “Make sure that your actions back up your words,” or “Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk,” I can get on board.  For too many though, this quote is used as an excuse to not talk about their faith.  Sometimes words are needed.  Most of the time words are needed.

“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” by Charles Wesley
O for a thousand tongues to sing,
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad.
The honors of Thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

Hear Him, ye deaf;
His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.

In Christ your Head, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.

Click here to like the Fat Pastor on Facebook.

Click here to follow the Fat Pastor on Twitter

Another FP blog called “Talking about Faith”

This blog was written after I preached a sermon on this topic at Riverside United Methodist Church in Moline, Illinois.  If you are interested in a CD of the worship service, please leave a comment below and I will contact you about a mailing address.

5 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Sermons

Translators Needed

From Top Left: Winking smiley, the twitter bird, the cross and flame of the United Methodist Church, hulu, The logo for the greatest blog ever written, the Orwellian behemoth known as Google, an iphone, the logo for Riverside United Methodist Church, another winking smiley, Oh My Gosh (cry of astonishment), facebook, youtube, Laugh Out Loud (something people are rarely doing when they type those letters) an icon for a Bible iphone app, Yahoo.

I wonder how many people would be able to look at the picture above and know what all of these pictures mean.  Considering one of the images is the logo from this blog, and another is the logo from my church, I’m guessing that very few would know all of them.  I wonder though, how many from our churches would know what the little blue bird represents?  How many people in our congregations haven’t the slightest idea what a tweet is?   

Many of the same people who are (sometimes proudly) technophobic, digging in their heals against the use of social media, technology, and other new forms of communication, are also despondent about the lack of young people sitting amongst them in their pews.  They talk longingly of the “good old days” when the churches were full and the Sunday school was bustling, and the building was growing, and the budgets were plentiful (never mind that the good old days also included silence on issues like domestic violence, racial equality, and an utter lack of understanding or compassion surrounding gender issues).

Youth culture has always been misunderstood by adults.  That is why it is called “youth culture.”  Youth have a different way of communicating and relating to their friends.  They have a different understanding of what it means to be a citizen, what good music is, and what is funny.  Youth are no longer satisfied with consuming media – they want to participate in it.  Things like twitter, facebook, youtube have given young people a platform to broadcast every detail of their lives.  And the funny thing is – people are listening.  A video of some kid lip syncing a song in front of their computer camera has been watched by millions of people.  Millions!  Big downtown cathedrals that were filled in the 50s might have reached 5,000 – maybe.

All this boils down to this: If you want to communicate to young people, you need to know a new language.  The church needs translators.  In order to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ, people need to be able to speak the language of those we are trying to reach.  And if we are trying to reach young people, you have to at least know what those things are. 

The images above represent vast changes in culture and language.  Google used to be a number.  Then it was a website.  Now it is a verb.  Hulu – and other technologies – have rendered such cultural stalwarts like Primetime Network Programming obsolete.  There are no networks.  There is no prime time.  Facebook has changed the way we think about things like privacy, photo albums, prayer, politics, and even wedding invitations.

There is a new language, and if we are going to translate the language of Jesus Christ – the language of grace, forgiveness, compassion, justice, and love, we need to know the new language.  It doesn’t mean that you have to run out and get a twitter account, but you should at least learn what it is.  Translation however, is about more than facebook pages, blogs, and tweets.  Translation is about taking the time to build relationships.

It is my deepest conviction that the heart of the Gospel message is relationship.  It is about our relationship with God and our relationship with one another.  The best way to translate the Good News of Jesus Christ is to live the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The best way to teach a young person about a faith that changes the world is to go out and change the world.  Jesus Christ has the power to transform lives, but it doesn’t always happen with a well-reasoned argument or an insightful Bible lesson.  It happens when someone who is already in love with Jesus tells somebody else about that love.

We need translators of the Gospel.  We need people who are willing to take the time to live authentic relationships with young people.  And authentic is the key.  We cannot put on airs.  Young people are savvy.  They see through BS.  That is why knowing the language is so important, we can’t fake it.  Translation only happens when people sincerely care.  Translation begins at home.  Young people might rebel, but their most important influence always has been and always will be their parents.

But here’s a warning for you:  If you are willing to be a translator of the Gospel, that means you are willing to put the power of the Bible into the hands of inexperienced, energetic young people.  It means that you are going to open up the power of the Holy Spirit to speak directly to people that might not think about church the way we think about church, people that might not think of music the way we think about music, people that might not think about God the way we think about God.  They might not think of our institutions, our meetings, our buildings, our worship, or our barriers in the same way we think about them.  Young people with the Holy Spirit might not do things the way we want them to because they might stop listening to us and start listening to God (Kendra Creasy Dean, Almost Christian, p.   130).  So be warned.  Translators are needed, but translate at your own risk.

3 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Sermons

No relief for the Reverend

So, now I’m ordained.  Someone asked me on Sunday if I feel any different.  My immediate thought was, “No,” but I paused before I answered and thought about it and said, “Yes, I guess I sort of do feel different.”  He smiled.  I think he appreciated that I took the time to answer him honestly, and he said, “Good.  You deserve to.”

I’m not sure what I was expecting to feel like after ordination.  Some have asked if I feel relieved.  You would think I would feel relief.  After all, the process has taken almost eight years to complete.  I’ve been interviewed and approved by three different groups.  I’ve submitted myself to psychological analysis, turned in hundreds of pages of theological writing, went through CPE, and graduated seminary.  Along the way I have served at three churches, had various mentors, been criticized by anonymous letter, chastised by the mysterious “some people,” and made enough mistakes to  put even Jesus’s limit of forgiveness (70 times 7) to test.

So you would think that I would stand here relieved.  I’m not.

There is no relief.  There is way too much work to do.  If anything, I feel the weight of responsibility now more than ever.  I have been charged by my Bishop before God, my Church, and my family, to do something.  The world is a broken place, and there is so much work to be done.

I went to Peoria on Wednesday.  I was accepted into membership by my brother and sister clergy on Wednesday afternoon.  I was introduced to the conference on Thursday morning.  I was ordained on Friday evening.  I came back to Chenoa  on Saturday and the world had not yet changed.

The oil was still pouring into the ocean.  Wars over greed and power were still being fought.  The divide between the rich and the poor was still growing.  Children were still dying of curable diseases.  Wayward souls were still wandering without knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ.  Young people were still being influenced by the TV telling them they could only find happiness if they looked this way, and bought this product.

The building downtown was still crumbling.  The food pantry across the street was still in need.  The basement of our church was still a wasted space waiting to be turned into something wonderful.  The meetings still had to be scheduled.  The sermon on Sunday still had to be preached.  The dishes still needed to be washed. So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I took vows on Friday night to work for the Kingdom of God.  When I turned on the TV this morning I saw plain as day that it had not yet arrived.  So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I took vows on Friday night to move onward toward Christian perfection.  It didn’t take long for me this morning to realize I hadn’t made it yet. So no, I don’t feel relieved.

Instead, I feel empowered.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to go into the world and do something.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to equip the saints for ministry.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to teach and preach, to break bread with sinners, to heal the sick, to proclaim release to the captives, and to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I am empowered by God to do something.  And you are too.  Let’s get something done.  And then, and only then, may we find relief.

3 Comments

Filed under Christianity

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. 

3 Comments

Filed under Christianity

Signs

“And the sign said, “Everybody welcome, come in, kneel down, and pray.”

I had a religious experience with Tesla, a couple of buddies and a couch.  I had never heard of Tesla when we sat down there that night.  I had never heard this song, but we listened to it on repeat about a dozen times.  I didn’t know it then, but that moment was informing the rest of my ministry.

At the time I had no plans on being a pastor.  I had no inkling of going to seminary or studying about John Wesley.  To be honest, I probably didn’t know what a  seminary was.  Yet listening to this song shaped the way I felt about church.

I never had long hair, and never felt compelled to trespass on someone’s property.  I never belonged to any club with membership cards.  Yet I understood what it meant to be unaccepted.  I understood what it meant for people to build walls that God would not want built.  The song claimed a piece of my heart, and it is still with me.

Once I became a pastor I decided it would be really cool to put that on the church sign.  Now I’ve got my fancy seminary education and I can tell you all about John Wesley and ecclesiology and neo-orthodoxy.  I have studied the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible.  I have analyzed Jesus’ parables, and I’ve written Bible studies and sermons.   All of it still leads me to this song.  I still think it summarizes what  church should be about.

It is about invitation to all.  It is about opening hearts, minds, and doors so that all are welcome.  It is about offering the grace of Jesus Christ to the least, last and lost.  It is about tearing down those walls that humans are so good at building.  I’m not sure why it has taken me so long, but here it is:

"And the sign said, 'Everybody welcome.  Come in, kneel down, and pray'"

When I was done putting up this sign, I got chills. I think the next one will read, "Thank you Lord for thinking 'bout me, I'm alive and doing fine."

5 Comments

Filed under Christianity

Invitation (or Evangelism)

Invitation (or Evangelism)
by Robb McCoy

A child reaches out her hand.
There is no fear of rejection.
There is no self conscious worry or doubt.
There is invitation.
There is simply music, and dancing is more fun when you hold someone’s hand.

A child reaches out her hand and takes it.
There is no set of steps.
There are no moves.
There is no clumsiness or fear of people watching.
There is simply music, and dancing is more fun with a partner.

A child reaches out her hand.
There is no stranger.
Two children dance. There is
no race
no gender
no class
no status.
Two children hold hands and jump and twirl and laugh and sing out loud. Colors swirl, hair bounces, feet move with frenetic energy as arms swing to no other rythm than what beats in their heart. There is
Only joy.

A child reaches out her hand to another reaching out hers.
There is simply music, and dancing is more fun when you dance with a friend.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity