What would your ONE THING be?

karlins3-15-10-4What would happen if we “new” pastors were able to go into our “new” appointments filled with all the love and growth that has occurred throughout our previous appointments along the journey, and concentrate on ONE THING with the love and full support of the “new” congregation?”

I am a United Methodist Clergy, and I’m being reappointed July 1. While I am super excited for the new opportunities for ministry with a new group of people who love Jesus, I’m also a bit sad about leaving the place I have served, worked alongside of, and broken bread with for the past 4 years.

I began to think about the moves to “new” churches that I have had in my life. What did we accomplish together? Where did we join God in His work in the community? How did we grow together in faith? How did we share love? I’m pretty sure that we will all continue to answer these questions for many more years. I also wondered what it was that God continues to call me to. It seems that with every church that I serve, the task changes a bit; or perhaps it is that I change and have been changed by the folks I have served and worked alongside of and broken bread with.

What would happen if we “new” pastors were able to go into our “new” appointments filled with all the love and growth that has occurred throughout our journey, and begin ONE THING with the love and full support of the “new” congregation? I don’t mean a new program or study group or way of music in worship. No, I mean ONE THING that would more deeply connect us to the surrounding community.

This ONE THING would most certainly look different in each place. This ONE THING would invite us to draw closer to God and to neighbor. After all, that was Jesus’ ONE THING, right? (Well, maybe two things rolled up into ONE THING – ONE simple but difficult thing, ONE amazing but complicated thing, ONE life changing and community changing thing…).

As UM ministers, we are taught in seminary to NEVER go into churches and try to change anything for at least the first year. What a load of BS! Of course things will change! We will begin to learn about one another – and we didn’t even KNOW each other before! New relationships will form, new ways of being community will break forth, new ways of working out disagreements will be learned….the list is endless!

But change, real change is God’s work. Not mine. I have, just as you have, been invited to come along side of God and with the presence and power and love and grace of Jesus Christ, go into our communities and be a part of this God work.

So, what if we (the Church) radically stopped trying to program change with our assumptions about needs in our communities, and began to open ourselves to God work happening among the people NOW? And what if our congregations fully supported and loved their new minister in such a way to allow ONE CRAZY, SIMPLE, RADICAL, COMPLICATED, NEIGHBORHOOD GOD WORK THING to permeate their work, for at least that first year (although I warn you, this is really infectious)? Just writing these words causes my heart to race and my brain to explode in thoughts of opportunities and possibilities.

What would your ONE THING be? Let’s start a revolution, a movement toward Jesus’ ONE THING of loving God with all we have and loving our neighbor as ourselves. God is already at work! How will you join in? What will your ONE THING be?

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Cleansing the Temple in Peace

WIB04001_Cleansing_the_Temple_fs_fs

Yesterday during worship, I talked about HOW Jesus came into Jerusalem from Matthew 21. Here is the passage: Matthew 21: 1-17

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you,humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard[d] the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” 17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

It is very interesting to me that we talk about how Jesus came into Jerusalem – on a donkey – a sign of peace, humility. A sign that this king was NOT going into battle.

And then, all of a sudden, Jesus is angry and even violent, overturning tables at the temple and driving out the money changers. Most every image of this story depicts Jesus even raising a whip towards some of the money changers! Then, as the text progresses, he’s in the temple welcoming those who would not have been allowed in the temple, perhaps because they could not afford an appropriate sacrifice or that they did not meet the purity requirements. Jesus healed them showing compassion and love.

What? As I read about Jesus and his proclivity for peace, I cannot hold to this sudden outburst of violence. Was Jesus angry? Yes, probably. There were awful things happening in the temple mostly revolving around discrimination of some kind or another. But did Jesus resort to violence? I just cannot believe that, especially with what I know comes during the rest of the week.

Jesus is betrayed, arrested, flogged, wore a crown of thorns, paraded through the same town in shame, and hung on a cross. During this entire time he never resorted to violence. Instead he spoke truth in calmness, he showed love to those around him, he forgave those who were betrayers and torturers.

So I wonder if when Jesus rode up on that donkey to the temple, if when he went inside the courtyard and saw what I’m sure he had seen many times before, he knew that things must change. But with his calm authority, he walked up to a bird cage and let out the doves. Then as that owner ran over, he then turned over his table, going from table to table, loosing animals and causing chaos. Then, he calmly calls the people who had been bartering for one of the sacrificial animals, those who were standing on the margins because they had been told they were pure enough, those who wanted to be allowed into the temple so badly but had been shut out. He calls to them, allowing them to follow him into the places where they were not allowed, and heals them, prays with them, and loves them unconditionally.

Just as Jesus’ entering Jerusalem was a spectacle, so was this act, but not because of violence. Jesus’ spectacle was one of peace and non-violent protest. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t angry, but I wonder what we could learn from this story that would shape how we as Christ followers would handle anger.

Today, we want a Jesus who has a little grit, who gets angry and lets people know it, because that Jesus is more like us. The Jesus of peace and non-violence is so much harder for us to wrap our minds around. We want a Jesus who not only stands up to people, but one who says who is in and who is out. The Jesus of inclusion and non-discrimination is much harder for us to grasp.

The more I read the stories of Jesus as portrayed in scripture, the more I understand the spectacle that is Jesus – a spectacle like we rarely see, or when we do we dismiss it – non-violent anger, peaceful protests, truth spoken in love. The more I get to know Jesus, the more I want to be like him.

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Faith and a Bug’s Life

bugThis morning some type of flying bug caught my attention. I watched it for over twenty minutes. I noticed it because it was flying around and around in circles. Occasionally it would come closer to me or fly over to the side, but then it went back to its comfort zone – flying in the middle of my living room airspace.

I’m not sure what kind of bug it was but that doesn’t matter. I did begin to wonder if this was “normal” behavior for a bug like this. Once or twice it did a kamikaze dive towards my floor, but then came quickly back to that comfortable airspace.

Perhaps he was lost I thought. After all I guessed that he had made his way into my home sometime yesterday when I had the back door opened wide for the nice weather. What was it about that small airspace in my room that brought him comfort? Or was it fear? Or both?

I began to think about our lives of faith and I must admit that we are often like this bug. We try something new, stepping out boldly, but then retreating back into our comfort zones. Finding that “airspace” that brings us a sense of comfort. Perhaps it is within this comfortable space that we are really most fearful. Afraid of what might happen if we leave this comfortable space. Afraid for others who seem to be flying in a different direction.

Jesus calls us to different. As a follower of the risen Christ, we are called to be the power of resurrection in the world! That means we love unconditionally, we share with others, we forgive always, we speak life and hope, we shower grace and mercy, we “boldly go where no one has gone before” (sorry I couldn’t help myself Trekkies).

A life of faith is not a one week mission trip! It is a life of counter-cultural being and serving and loving.  You cannot stand with others when you are too busy standing in judgment of them. You cannot forgive when your heart holds revenge. You cannot love unconditionally and be selfish.

But like this bug, most of us fly around in the comfort zones, only occasionally stepping out and “trying” this new path. Why? Well for starters because it is hard. Really hard. And it’s really hard because we do not have that comfortable sense of control. Instead we are guided, led, into different.

When we allow ourselves to follow Christ into this different way, we begin to grow. Christ’s love and grace fill us. You begin to see God in every human being. You begin to catch glimpses of God’s kingdom at work in the world.

Eventually, the bug flew toward the light of a window and I guided him toward the door. I’m not sure what happened to him. But I’m guessing that he was happier out there in that big open world, discovering and growing, rather than being trapped in comfortable airspace.

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The Walking Dead?

I got addicted to the TV series The Walking Dead after visiting a friend. At first, I thought yuk! Then I started to get hooked on the story line. Here you have a world devastated by some kind of disease that turns dead people into zombies. What more would you want?

I’ll admit, I’ve always liked futuristic shows, after all I grew up with Star Trek. So for me this wasn’t too much different. A little more graphic perhaps, but still….

Last night I caught up on the latest episode – Season 5 Part 2. So much has happened to this group of folks who are fighting zombies (Walkers, as they call them). Most of their friends are dead. But the will to survive always kicks in and somehow they keep on going. Where? I’m not sure and I don’t think they are.

Last night’s episode was particularly sobering. Another friend has died as a result of the zombies, they discover a place that they thought might be zombie free had been run over with the creatures. Some of the survivors want to slow down a bit. The leader however, wants to keep on going because for him, survival is the name of the game.

zombiepreacherCall me crazy, but I cannot help but think that I’m living in The Walking Dead! As a pastor of a small denominational church, I often feel like the “Survivors” are just trying to survive. They want things to go back to the way they once were and yet change is an every day event. The “Walkers” come faithfully every Sunday, not wanting to make trouble. They don’t know that they are dead and they just do what walkers do – consume.

The “Survivors” just want to survive. The “Walkers” just want to consume. There are a few who want to try new things in the midst of the change that often seems overwhelming, but is it enough?

As I watch each season of The Walking Dead I wonder. They have been through so much and lost so much. And yet, survival just cannot be enough!

I’m sure that the church will not look the same way it does today in 20 years. There may be remnants of the institution. There WILL BE followers of Christ. These folks will become more than survivors and consumers. The Way of Jesus, the Way to follow, is enough just as it has been for centuries.

I don’t know what “church” will look like, but I do know that those who follow Jesus will find a way to get together to praise God. They will find a way to serve and love others. They will find a way to break bread together. They will continue to grow in Christ and in grace. They will continue to proclaim hope and exclaim the Good News as they tell the stories of Jesus. And that is enough.

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Can the Church be “Saved?”

chancel_windowCan the Church be Saved?

I’m really tired of being asked that question….along with these other questions: What is the future of the Church? What do we need to do to FIX the church? How can we get people to come to our church?

I’m also tired of the EXPERT coming to tell us what to do. If we just did this, we’d all be fine. If we read this book, follow this program, or do this in our community….then the church will be saved.

Lord, have mercy!

First, as my good friend John said, “The Church doesn’t need to be fixed!” The institution needs some work, but the Church, well, that belongs to Jesus. The Church of Jesus Christ has been around for a while now and I trust that our Lord will continue the will of the Father concerning all of creation. In other words, I do not believe it is up to ME to “fix” the Church.

Denominations and institutional systems however, are another matter.  We are in the midst of a huge cultural shift in Western civilization. I’m not talking about the kinds of worship music we sing or a small group model of “doing” church. I’m talking about the bigger picture of rising population, depleting resources, and social divisions. Humanity simply cannot continue with business as usual and not understand the signs of shift right in front of them and neither can the Church.

I do not have the answers! So if you are reading this and thought that you’d find answers, perhaps you should look elsewhere. I do however, have some suggestions for my own denomination – United Methodists.

  1. More Cooperative Ministries. Traditionally, Methodists have been a connectional group of people. We are taught from an early age that we are connected to other Methodists around the globe –all working together to continue ushering the Kingdom of God into the world. But we haven’t acted like it in a while.

I come from the South where there is a Methodist Church on every corner. They would tell me stories of how and when they split over something-or-another and they were still split! Even though they were neighbors and family, they attended two different United Methodist churches within 2 miles of one another. The culture had changed around them many times, and yet they were still “doing” church the same ways.

I have served now in the Northwest for a few years. Churches here are closing their doors faster than building new congregations of the faithful. Until recently, the West had the highest number of “nones” (those professing no religious affiliation). They lost that status to the Northeast but only by a small margin. Those in the Pacific Northwest are seeing the effects of “doing church like it was 1950” as aging congregations are shrinking quicker than they are growing.

What if the few larger churches that we have in the Northwest would stop downsizing, but instead start hiring more pastors and laity for service? What if they then worked with these smaller congregations to birth new ideas while sharing staff? Pastors may not be assigned just ONE congregation, but several, as they worked cooperatively with one another in small communities of faithful United Methodists who can no longer afford full time staff. The model that has been used is when a church can no longer afford full time pastoral staff, they are then yoked with another part-time church. That’s not what I’m talking about. The “circuit-rider” mentality once worked, but I propose it needs to be re-imagined.

  1. Re-imagine the Apportionment system. Anytime there is systemic change needed, one needs to ask, “What is it that we need to let go of in order to move forward?” I think we are struggling to let go of many things but one of those is the apportionment system. For you who are not UM’s, this is a system of gathering funds from local congregations that go to the General Church and are spent on many great and worthy causes. These funds do much good in our world and show our connectedness on a global scale. The funds also pay our Bishops and staff so that our conferences can run smoothly and have the pastoral leadership that we need. Can we afford to let go of some things in order to move into the future?

What if we apportioned each church 10% of their budget each year. I know that my church has about a $90,000 budget yearly, without adding in our apportioned funds. Thus our apportioned figures would be approximately $9,000 a year under a re-imagined system. That seems fair and comes from a biblical understanding of tithe – giving 10% of the first fruits. What would have to be let go of? Could we move forward with the deficit that these cuts might cause in the General Church budgets? Would worldwide ministry continue to be done?

As my small church pinches pennies and seeks to serve the least, the last, and the lost, we urge our leaders to ask these hard questions and to begin to re-imagine the systems in place that are hindering the work of small churches within their communities.

  1. Re-imagine ministry in all aspects of church life. My Bishop once told us clergy to go into the world without fear; dreaming and visioning for the future; boldly trying new things and letting go of systemic strong-holds. What exactly does this look like? In my small community of 5000 souls, it looks way different than in the next city of 30,000.

The “being in mission to” and “we welcome you” language has to change. We need more relationship building! We need collaboration! We need to truly know our neighbors and journey with them in life – whether they come to us or not. Churches (the space we gather) should be comparable to infusion centers where we are infused with God’s love, Christ’s grace, and the strength of the Holy Spirit to go OUT from the walls into our neighborhoods (thanks Pat for that metaphor).

Churches today don’t like to talk about blood. But I remember the old hymn, “There is Power in the Blood” and am reminded that while the blood theology may make some uncomfortable, once you get rid of the blood you have gotten rid of Jesus (thanks Leonard Sweet). Without blood loss, there would have been no death and then no resurrection. If we are truly resurrection people, then we cannot forget the blood that was lost so that humanity could move forward in loving radically and fearlessly as we follow the risen Christ into our world.

What would it look like if gathering spaces were flexible infusion centers? What does it look like for us to stop worrying about welcoming others and ask them to welcome us instead? What would it look like to have those infusion centers sustained, not only by the offering plate passed around, but by collaboration with small neighborhood businesses? What would it look like if we used the church building (the infusion center) as an ecumenical gathering space with cost sharing in place?

It is past time that we start to re-imagine the way things have always been done. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, set out to re-imagine the Anglican Church and look what happened! It isn’t the systems that are in place that will keep the church going, but it is the ability to creatively follow Jesus into an ever-changing world. We are all called. The ministry is before us. Will you re-imagine with me?

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Let it Shine!

man-sun-illuminationToday the sun is out full force at my Oregon home. Yes, we do get sunshine from time to time. I love to be out on days like this, absorbing the rays. Even if it is cold out, I find a way to put myself in the “shine.”

One thing I don’t like however, is that as the sun shines in through my dirty windows, it illuminates all my dust, and dog hair, and dirt on the floors. YUK. I’m gonna have to vacuum. I’m gonna have to dust and clean.

But today I was reminded that it is a GOOD thing that those unclean places are revealed. By illuminating them, the sun allows me time to work on the dirty places. After all, I’d hate to be caught by an unexpected guest with tufts dog hair floating in the air. And I don’t mean just an occasional tuft, I mean more than that.

I believe that we get comfortable with our dirty places. And that we are willing to let others glimpse some of the dirt, but not all of it. By allowing the illuminating light to shine in on it, we are reminded that we need to work on things!

Perhaps that is why Christians are reluctant to allow the light of Christ to fully shine into their hearts – the dirt will surely be illuminated. The human inclination is to hide our deepest dirt, our internal hurts, our failures, and more; but the Divine inclination is to light up all of that junk so that we can work on it!

I was talking to a friend the other day about our favorite scripture. We talked about the stories we loved. She said to me, “I also love John 3: 17 – because we always leave that part out. We remember John 3: 16, but then don’t put it with the rest of the story.” Wise words.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

The illuminating light of Christ did not come so that in shining the light on our dirty junk we would be condemned, but that we would be saved! NOT CONDEMNED! That we would, with the help of the Spirit, work on cleaning up, work on growing and allowing the love and light of Christ to transform us into who we are supposed to be in the world.

So today, I am thankful for the illuminating SON shining brightly to show all the junk I hide in my heart, so that I can, with the love and grace and guidance of the Divine, begin to clean it up. And while cleaning up is not an easy job, it is in that work that I’m being saved. So, I’m thankful for the sun shining on my dirty floors. Well, sort of…

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New and Exciting!!

Let me start by saying Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas!

What a wonderful time of the year! Right? Parties, gathering with friends, getting and giving gifts, singing the old Christmas songs, watching pageants performed at churches…..fun, fun, fun!

I have to be honest, for many this wonderful season is also a very stress filled season. For me it is. But it’s a good kind of stress (if that even exists) for me because I love being with people. I love planning services in which we gather to worship and praise God. I love the traditions of the season.

But as many pastors do, I’m always thinking of ways I can make the Advent and Christmas stories new and exciting. I begin to wonder if people are just tired of church because they’ve all heard the story before. And so I begin to believe that I need to step up my game.

(Tell me you other pastors out there feel the same way from time to time?)

But this morning as I was meditating over scripture, God said to me, “The story is enough.”

The story is enough. Really? But….they’ve heard it over and over again. If I don’t do something new and exciting it may not impact their lives in such a way that will bring true transformation and change. If I don’t offer new and exciting, they may not give generously. If I don’t offer new and exciting I may hear from my SPRC. If I don’t…….THE STORY IS ENOUGH!

I tried to make excuses but those words just stuck in my brain. And as I settled in, and continued to meditate on the scriptures before me, I realized that the story is indeed enough.

God sent the Son to earth, to become human – one of us, in all of our turmoil and messiness. Jesus’ birth story is in the midst of turmoil and messiness! What good news that is for humanity – that God would choose to enter the human race right where we were….in spite of our messiness and turmoil; in spite of our brokenness; even because of it.

Who needs new and exciting? The story is ever new and exciting as we tell it over and over again; as its retelling permeates our very beings and God’s Spirit works through the story to transform our lives.

I pray that this season, you’ll hear the old, old story again. The story that is worth sharing over and over. The story that is full of good news and love and grace. The story that is always new and exciting. The story of Jesus – because it is certainly enough.

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