Rethink Church has come up with another great chance to combine social media, art, reflection, and devotion. The concept here is simple, prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by spending each day reflecting on a concept or theme. Then take a picture of something that you feel represents that theme. Share the picture on twitter, instagram, pinterest, facebook, and maybe someone you know will take some time to reflect as well. This is not only a great tool for reflection and devotion, but a tool for evangelism, and connecting to others. Once again I commend my friends at RethinkChurch.org for providing this tool that has so many positive facets.
Tag Archives: rethink church
This is an idea to share a Lenten prayer journal. Each day take a photo that captures the subject on the day. It starts Ash Wednesday, and ends the day before Easter. Might I suggest the word “Resurrection” for Easter Sunday? I’ll be posting mine on twitter @FatPastor, with the hashtags #40Days and #RethinkChurch. I just wish I had instagram. I’ve got a very old camera phone, but it should be an interesting endeavor.
I recently wrote a guest column for rethinkchurch.org. If you want to read it, CLICK HERE. It’s a pretty good article, and a great website. I also preached a sermon on Mother’s Day around this topic. If you’re interested in a CD recording, please let me know in the comments. We can exchange information in a private email, and I’ll send you a CD.
Also, check out that picture of me next to the article. I’ve lost about 35 pounds since that picture was taken. I look a lot different now.
This sixth and final installment of Journey to Hope, is about a topic that usually doesn’t make us think about hope. It is suffering. Is there hope in suffering?
The video that I shared above is a very interesting conversation between the regular Journey to Hope hosts and a chaplain that works in hospice care. In the course of the conversation with Cathy Chalmers, I was reminded of the power of presence. While in the midst of suffering, many search for questions. There is a tendency to want to provide easy answers. It is much more difficult, and I believe much more faithful, to allow someone to remain in the questions. To walk with someone in their trial is something I wrote one of my first blogs about. You can read it here.
Another important thing I took from this conversation is the difference between healing and cure. It might not be a difference that many people acknowledge, but it is vitally important to know that there is a difference between being healed and being cured. I’d even argue that they are mutually exclusive.
For there to be true hope in the face of suffering, there must be a chance for healing. Cure can be temporary. Healing is eternal. Suffering can take many forms. Sickness, disease, poverty, hunger, despair, loneliness. It is all suffering. It is all pain. In the midst of suffering, hope can seem very far away. There are many times in life when cure and healing seem to overlap. If you are hungry, the cure is food. If you are sick, a cure is health. Yet seeking cure is sometimes treating a symptom.
Healing comes from the source of life. Bread may cure someone’s hunger, but they will inevitably be hungry again. Healing comes from the bread of life, which is eternal. Medicine may cure someone’s sickness, but all medicine – no matter how effective – is simply a stall tactic. Healing comes from embracing life eternal. Healing comes from the Holy Spirit that makes all things new.
I have seen people die of cancer that were never cured, but were truly healed. I have seen the spirit of someone facing death with courage, hope, and grace. That kind of strength doesn’t need a cure to live. That kind of strength comes from knowing the value of life.
It is possible to be healed without cure. It is possible to have peace in the face of death. That kind of peace comes from knowing that life was lived to its fullest. That life was spent in loving relationships. That life was spent in service to God and to humanity.
That kind of peace comes from knowing that this breath is the only one that matters. That right now life matters. Right now it is possible to love, laugh, embrace, teach, and inspire. Right now is all that any of us have.
That kind of peace comes from the assurance that right now isn’t all there is. It comes from knowing that the tomb was empty. It comes from knowing that death cannot hold the human soul. It comes from knowing that Christ died with us and will rise with us.
I have been a witness to that kind of peace. That gives me hope. I have seen the good news and I know that kind of peace is available to all. Suffering may not be cured, but healing is offered to all.
I am a witness to hope.
Hope can come in the form of God’s presence.
On May 19, 2012, we’re having an Elephant Wash. There won’t be any elephants (I asked the people at the zoo, and they said ‘”no”). Instead, the elephant wash will be full of kids and youth reaching out to their community. I’m hoping that there will be lots of cars and lots of generous people willing to buy lemonade. The Elephant Wash is Riverside United Methodist Church’s entry into Change the World Saturday.
A few months ago the kids at Riverside United Methodist Church picked a community outreach project. They decided that they wanted to help the local zoo build a new habitat for their elephants. The kids of our church love the Niabi Zoo, and they really got excited about helping with the zoo’s efforts to raise $4 million for a new elephant habitat. We are going to have a car wash and encourage people to make a donation. Before the car wash, someone from the zoo is going to come and do an educational session with the kids and volunteers. The zoo is also going to donate a painting for the silent auction. The artist will be one of the elephant residents of the zoo. Is an elephant wash going to change the world?
It depends on what you mean by that. At the very least, it will help the zoo take care of two of God’s amazing creatures. And it could do a lot more. It could help our kids learn how it feels to serve others. It could teach them to be disciples of Jesus by spending their time in fellowship and service. It could start a conversation with someone that didn’t know anything about Riverside Church. It could transform the heart of someone that thinks that churches aren’t interested in the community.
If you click here to search for a Change the World event, you can enter 61265 into the zip code, and see ours. Or you can put in your own zip code and see an event near you. You can register and volunteer right now, and your name and email will be sent to the organizers of the event. It is easy to argue that one event at one church couldn’t make much of an impact. What about 1500 events involving over 20,000 people? As of right now, that is how many people and churches are getting behind this movement. 20,000 people are rethinking what it means to be church. And that can indeed change the world.
Change the World weekend is a project of United Methodist Church across the connection coming together for two days of community action. Many of the projects support Imagine No Malaria, an initiative to eradicate malaria deaths through education, treatment, net distribution, and training; but Change the World is not about a single cause.
Change the World is about churches coming together for a day to get out of the church. It is about rethinking what it means to “do church.” It is about helping people to think about church as a verb instead of a noun. Church can be something we do, not just somewhere we go.
In our Journey to Hope (which admittedly, was supposed to end at Easter, but I’m a little behind), we have explored several surprising places we may find hope. This is Week 5 of the series Journey to Hope, a Rethink Church study.
The opening question of the discussion is “Are you indebted to banks or to people?” When leading a discussion about money with my youth, I framed the question slightly different. “Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?” We listed some of the things we own, and what they spend their money on. We had a list of things like clothes, phone, entertainment, food/snacks (beyond what their parents provide), video games, and books.
It was an interesting discussion, and they seemed to understand the question, “Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?” We didn’t watch the video that was suggested by the study. Although I love Pink Floyd, the discussion didn’t need the added media to get it going. For the purpose of this blog though, I thought of a different song.
When thinking about the love of money, I think of the song “If I were a rich man.”
We all like to throw around cliche’s like “money can’t buy happiness,” but money can be a powerful tool. I don’t believe that money in itself is an evil. It is a catalyst or an exclamation point. Money magnifies the character of the one that possesses it. It can be used for terrible harm and it can be used for a great deal of good. The reason I love “If I Were a Rich Man” is because it is so honest. Tevye doesn’t just say, “I’m happy as I am.” He knows that being wealthy could change his life.
He also admits that he might be a little extravagant with his money. He would strut and preen. He likes the idea of people treating him better. He would get a bunch of animals so that they would make a lot of noise and point out to everyone that “Here lives a wealthy man.” Part of the song speaks of the kind of frivolousness that many of us dream of a little. I would buy a Jaguar. Tevye would buy one staircase going up, another even longer going down, and another going nowhere just for show. I appreciate the honesty of that kind of wishful thinking. There’s no sanctimonious piety. Then, he starts to sing about other, more valuable things.
He starts to ponder the meaning of wisdom. He starts to dream of spending time in Synagogue. He dreams of sitting on the Eastern Wall. His passion and deep commitment to God starts to grow apparent has he dives deeper into his fantasy. Finally he comes to the ultimate fantasy – being able to sit with learned men and discuss the holy books for seven hours everyday. The mere thought of it gives him pause.
That moment of the song – when he stops singing – is my favorite. To me that moment reveals so much of the character of Tevye. If you don’t know much about “The Fiddler on the Roof,” I apologize. You should go out and watch it (and I’m really excited that it is coming to Davenport this season). In this moment, I see the difference between the love of money and the love of what money can do. Herein lies the difference between owning your stuff and allowing your stuff to own you.
When it gets down to the heart of the matter, it’s not the great staircases or loud animals that Tevye wants. It is the chance to get closer to God. Of course, if I were Tevye’s pastor, I would suggest to him that he can grow closer to God without money – but his heart is in the right place. For too many, money is an obstacle. It gets in the way of generosity, risk-taking mission, and genuine relationship. These are the things in life that are of value. It is very easy for the things we own, that we think are supposed to be serving us, become the instruments of the oppression we are trying to avoid.
People claim that wealth is a sign of God’s favor. I don’t believe that. Others claim that God is on the side of the poor. I’m not sure when God chooses sides. I think what God wants is for us all to be in relationship with God and with one another. I think money can be related to that, but I think simplicity has more to do with it than a checkbook balance. Simplicity in life goes a long way, and often with money there are complications.
Still though, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to biddy biddy bum all day.
Temptation is an interesting subject for a study about hope. It doesn’t seem like it really fits. Where is the hope in temptation? I think that over the last six weeks I’ve discovered it.
Hope does not dwell in temptation. Hope dwells in knowing temptation does not have to win. According to this week’s Journey to Hope, a 20011 survey listed some of the biggest temptations that people face.
1. falling prey to worry or anxiety
2. tendency to procrastinate
3. desire to overeat
4. desire to overuse technology and other forms of social media
This list is a mix of some of the standby temptations – cheating, lying, anger, lust; and some very new, like the overuse of social media. Some of them have probably been around awhile, but I can’t help but feel that overeating, laziness, and procrastination have only recently ascended to such a high level.
I’m not interested in posting an online confessional. I can say that some point in my life I have struggled with all of these temptations. Today some are stronger than others, but everyday we are all faced with strong temptation. The one that I’ve been working on the most lately is overeating.
This is a picture of my strongest temptation. I remember once as a kid I ate an entire bag of Doritos while watching He-Man. I cannot tell you how much I would enjoy doing that exact same thing right now.
But I’m not gonna do it.
Over the last six weeks I’ve discovered a couple of things (that I already should have known). One is, I don’t have to eat Doritos to be happy. I can eat a lot less than I had been eating. About six weeks ago the Lose It! app came out for my Nook. I began using the app by giving it my weight (329 pounds as of 2/15/12). Then I gave it my goal weight. Then I told it I wanted to lose one pound a week. It then gives me a calorie budget. Everything that goes into my mouth goes into my app. For six weeks I’ve logged everything, and I’ve only been over my budget three days. It turns out, I can eat less. I’ve known for a long time that I ate too much, but I just couldn’t stop – at least that’s what I thought.
In 2008 I started my blog when I was shocked to find out that I weighed 301 pounds. Ever since then, my weight has slowly crept up. I’ve gone through three sizes of shirts, and literally broken several belts. Over the last three years I have worked out sporadically, but the times I went to the gym simply slowed the gain. I think that the last time I lost any significant amount of weight was 2006, when I ran a 5 mile St. Patrick’s Day Run in St. Louis. Ever since then, it has been a steady climb.
Finally though, I feel something has clicked. I’ve had a turning point in my life, and it started with using that app. It has changed my relationship with food. I am still tempted by the bag of Doritos and the brownies and the second helping, but I’ve said “no” to temptation more times in the last six weeks than I had – maybe ever.
On February 28, about two weeks into my Lose It! experience, I set a few goals that I wanted to achieve by June 1. I wanted to weigh under 300, bench press 300 pounds, and run a 5K in under 40 minutes. Today at the gym I weighed 303 and I ran 3 miles in 40 minutes and walked the last .1 mile, finishing a 5K on the treadmill in 42:00. I’m so close. Yet I’m so far away.
I have a long way to go, but I know that I am going to succeed. I’ve invited God along with me on this journey. My wife has also dedicated herself to our new lifestyle. I have a whole group of friends at church that are doing a 90-Day challenge with me. I also have about 1000 “fans” on Facebook that encourage me every time I post something about my workout. I think this is the key to fighting temptation. The people on this journey with me have been instrumental in my recent success. Doing it alone is a formula for failure. We are called to be in relationship for many reasons. Accountability, inspiration, motivation, and support are just a few of them.
When we look to God to help guide us through the temptation, it becomes possible. When we realize that we are all in this together, it becomes a little easier. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us:
“No temptation has seized you that isn’t common for all people. But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it.”
Watch the interview with George Acevedo on the Journey to Hope page. He has built a recovery ministry for those struggling with chemical dependence. He has helped thousands deal with temptation, and he provides this message of hope, “God provides a way of escape. The creator of the universe that loves us most and best gives us tools… There is hope in the midst of temptation because [we’ve] discovered this way to escape. We have discovered that God says it is available to us.”
“A Field of Dreams” has long been my favorite movie, but probably not for the reason you think. I’ve seen it so many times, I can practically recite it for you, word for word. Most people think of it as a baseball movie about a man’s relationship with his father. Much of the main character’s motivation is to “prove he’s not like his father.” The two suffered an emotional detachment, manifested in Ray’s refusal to play catch with his father. The emotional climax of the movie for Ray Kinsella is when he sees that among those that have come back from “the corn” to play baseball is his Dad. Ray then introduces his Dad to his wife and daughter, and the tears begin to flow freely when he says, “Dad, Wanna have a catch?” I still get choked up whenever I see this part of the movie.
While reconciliation and healing is one of the primary themes of the movie, another is vocation. Ray’s pursuit of the mystical inner voice telling him “if you build it, he will come” drives the story. His ability to pursue his own dream over the demands of society, bills, and culture provide the primary conflict. Vocation is also the primary theme for two other characters: Moonlight Graham and Terrance Mann.
Archibald “Moonlight” Graham was a ballplayer that got into one major league baseball game as a late-inning defensive replacement. He never got to bat. Through the movie’s strange turn of events Ray finds Moonlight Graham as an old man. Moonlight Graham is now “Doc” Graham, the doctor in a small Minnesota town. Ray tries to convince Doc Graham to come with him to Iowa, but Graham refuses. He knows his place is in Chisholm, Minnesota. Exasperated, Ray says, ” Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within… y-you came this close. It would kill some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they’d consider it a tragedy”
“Son,” Doc says, “If I had only been a doctor for five minutes, that would have been a tragedy.” Later in the movie Graham appears as a wide-eyed youth, getting to play baseball with his heroes on Ray’s magical field in the corn. Once again, he chooses to be a doctor over a ballplayer and saves Ray’s daughter.
The Terrance Mann character is loosely based on JD Salinger. During the movie he is described as “the voice of his generation… He coined the phrase ‘make love, not war.'” As an adult, Mann becomes a modern-day hermit. After being on the cover of Time, and hanging out with the Beatles, Mann withdraws from the public eye. He grew weary of everyone looking to him for answers. He became burned out by “leading the cause.” Kinsella pursues him, and takes him to Iowa. It is Mann that recites the famous “People will come Ray” monologue. It is a beautiful ode to baseball, and the character’s deep love of baseball is clear. All through the movie though, Mann’s role is unclear.
Finally, after one of the games between the All-Heaven’s All-Stars, Joe Jackson invites Mann to come with them “out there.”
In the heated exchange between Ray, Joe, and Terrance, the three come to realize why Terrance was there. Terrance, who hadn’t written a book in twenty years says that he will write a story about it. “You’re going to right about it?” Ray says, with not a small hint of hope in his voice. “It’s what I do,” Terrance replies.
“It’s what I do.” Mann was a writer. Moonlight Graham was a doctor. These were not just the things they did, these things are their vocation. It is who they are. The entire movie is about a search. It is about a man with a mid-life crisis, trying to discover who he is. He discovers that he is a husband and a father and that is enough. A doctor relives his boyhood dream, but knows that in the end he is defined by being a healer, not as an outfielder. A burned-out activist remembers what is deeply inside him, and he promises to write again.
This week’s study on Journey to Hope is about work. Do you find hope in your work? I think there is an important distinction between work and vocation. I have had a lot of jobs. I’ve been a painter, a gas station clerk, a coach, a sportswriter, a bag boy, and many more things. All of those jobs paid me, but only some of them fed me.
My hope is not in my work. Though this is easy to say as one that is gainfully employed. I understand that to some, finding work would be a great source of hope, but I’m talking about something deeper than a paycheck. My hope is in my vocation. It is in knowing that God has created me with a mission. God has gifted me with talents, but more than this, I have been given a reason for living. My vocation is writing, preaching, and teaching. These are the things that feed my soul. These are the things that feed my fire and passion for God. They are more than the things I do. They are a part of who I am.
I am lucky because my job aligns closely with my vocation. I am able to be compensated for doing those things that I would be doing otherwise. I think it was the football player Ray Lewis that said, “They (the team that pays me) get Sundays for free. They pay me for the rest of the week.” That is similar to how I feel. I worship, preach, and teach for free. It is the other stuff that the church has to pay me for.
When you think about your job and your vocation, how are they related? Spending time and energy in pursuit of things that are not your vocation will lead to tiredness, exhaustion, and burnout. If your job and your vocation are closely aligned, then you can count yourself blessed. If they are not, then you need to be extra vigilant. I would suggest to search deeply for what feeds you, and pursue that in addition to your job. Sabbath rest becomes crucial when you are spending energy in places that do not feed you. Sabbath provides a time and space for you to be refilled by the Spirit. It gives you a chance to discover your vocation through prayer and quiet time.
Hope is eternal. A job isn’t, so if your hope rests in your job I pray that you will find something else more eternal in which to place your hope. Seek out your vocation. Remember that it is “not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.” (Parker Palmer, “Let Your Life Speak”, p. 10)
Listen to your inner voice. It might be telling you to build a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield. The neighbors, the bank, and the rest of society might think you’re crazy. Pursue your vocation anyway. Be who you were called to be.
“Believe it or not, I’m walking on air. I never thought I could be so free. Flying away on a wing and a prayer, who could it be? Believe it or not, it’s just me.” These are the words to one of my favorite songs. When I was a kid I loved “The Greatest American Hero,” and this was the show’s theme song. I don’t remember a lot of details about the show, but it was about a guy that was given a suit with superpowers. He promptly loses the instruction book, and hilarity ensues. A psychologist (or just anyone that knows me) could have a field day explaining why this show was important to me.
If I’m in the right mindset, I still get goosebumpy and teary-eyed when I hear this song. Sometimes when someone shares with me who much they enjoyed a sermon, or when a blog post gets popular, or when I get a letter from someone who’s life I shaped, I find myself wondering, who could it be? Believe it or not, it’s just me. I mean really? I’m the one that did that good thing? There are so many times in ministry that I’m simply flying away on a wing and a prayer. Is it possible to be at the same time supremely confident and terribly insecure?
At any given moment, I could be either of those things or both, but overall I find hope in self-esteem, because my self-esteem is paradoxically not all about me.
This week’s Journey to Hope about self-esteem asks a few very good questions. The first is, “Is your self-esteem formed from the outside in or the inside out?”
My answer is, “Yes.” Let me explain: It was when I discovered the true power of the love of God that I realized that I could love myself. Once I started to love myself, I could truly experience the love of God. I don’t think I can separate these two events, because it was a process of self-discovery that cannot be drawn out in a linear explanation.
During my middle school years I discovered two things. At about the same time I discovered that I was good at something, and I discovered that I didn’t need to be good at anything to be loved by God. The result was a confidence in self that was at the same time selfless. I cannot point to a day or time that I “met Jesus,” or was “born again.” I can point to a few people (Steve A, Heather H, Mrs. Schmidt, Mrs. Martin, Mr. Graba, and above all, my family) that loved me, appreciated my input, and encouraged me to be and do more than I ever thought possible.
My self-esteem comes from outside-in. It comes from the God that created me, and breathes life into me. It comes from the knowledge that no matter what, God is with me, empowering me and sustaining me. It comes from the knowledge that my talents, skills, and intellect are not enough to save the world, but I don’t have to do it on my own.
My self-esteem comes from the inside-out. It comes from the knowledge that my talents, skills, and intellect can be used to change the world for good. It comes from my experience, my failures, and my victories. It comes from the knowledge that today I can do something powerful.
Another question that is posed asks “How do you define yourself? Who defines you?”
I define myself as beloved child of God. Nothing more, nothing less. Everything else that describes me is a subset of my primary identity. I am a father, a son, a brother, a friend, and a pastor. I am educated, affluent, American, Irish, and Italian. I am strong, athletic, intelligent, and compassionate. I am forgetful, lazy, fearful, and overweight. These things are all descriptors. None are definitions. My hope does not rest on any of these characteristics.
My hope doesn’t rest on the power of a special suit, or on the hope that I might find the instruction book someday. It resides in the knowledge that I am a beloved child of God. I am created in the image of God. I am redeemed by the love of Jesus. I am sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit. This defines me. Nothing else.
Week One of the Journey to Hope is about relationships. Here is a seven minute discussion about the connection between friendship and hope. The hosts of the program talk to a mother of an autistic boy. She talks about how shattered she was when she first heard the news, and how relationships gave her strength. Brian, one of the hosts, Brian, said:
“Sometimes we don’t have the words. Sometimes we don’t know what to do, but we can just be. And just sit, and perhaps hold someone’s hand and walk with them. It’s not always about doing or saying something. That bond can be transformational.”
I’m immediately reminded of Job’s friends. There are times when I hear about a friend’s problem, and I feel like I need to rush in to solve the problem. I often have to remind myself that a friend might not be looking for solutions. It’s easy to offer answers. It takes time, commitment and compassion to offer myself. Friendship – true friendship – isn’t an easy endeavor, but it is so worth it.
When I start to think of the friends in my life, I can easily become choked with emotion. I think about people with whom I’ve shared a moment in time:
High school friends with whom I shared a television show, a “secret club,” a perfect night on the roof of The Odyssey, parties at Weed’s (not weed parties), and one great victory over the BBC. I think of fraternity brothers with whom I shared a few beers, a few all-nighters, a few meetings of the TNC, a couple of trips to Virginia, and more than a few long, heart-felt talks.
I can think of the faces that have come in and out of my life and thank God for the moments that we shared. I can think of teammates, classmates, and colleagues that populate my memories. Even if we aren’t in contact anymore, I am so grateful to the people that have been the in the movie of my life.
And then I think of the co-stars. The ones that have done more than shape me. They are the ones that have formed me. So much of my hope comes from my friends.
My friends have loved me through difficult times. They have (as my Dad often says) “Multiplied my joy and divided my sorrow.” We’ve been together trough the valley of the shadow of death, and we have celebrated the greatest joys. There’s nothing like calling a friend with good news, or lightening my load with a quick phone call that turns into an hour-long conversation.
I love my friends, and I probably don’t tell them that enough. But then again, they probably know. To my friends, thank you. Thank you for being a source of hope, for showing me what it is like to walk with God. Thank you for offering me forgiveness when I don’t deserve it, and helping me when I could never pay you back. Thank you for revealing the love of Christ in your smile, your listening, your tears, and your embrace. Thank you, above all, for reminding me that I am never alone in this world.
When I think of hope, I think of my friends. And Jesus did to.
“‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.'” (John 15:9-13, NRSV)
It was to his friends that he entrusted his life. He was abandoned, denied, and betrayed, but his faith in his friends held fast. He knew that it would be his friends that carried out his mission in the world. Jesus wrote nothing save for what he wrote on the hearts of his friends. His friends would become the Church. All that claim Christ as their friend today do so because Jesus trusted his friends so long ago. For this we may all be grateful, for we are all offered the love that Jesus described – the love that is so strong that he would lay down his life.