Showing posts from 2008

Looking Back, Looking Forward

I read the following devotional this morning. It is written for the last day of the month, a time to reflect on the recent past. I think it applies just as well looking back on an entire year, while anticipating a new year. I invite you to spend a few moments today in self-examination.

To what extent have I identified God's work in my life: in making me more compassionate toward the needs of individuals? In giving me resolve to do what I can to remedy the deep ills of society, particularly all forms of abuse and exploitation that demean God's daughters and sons? In giving me greater spiritual discernment while at prayer, particularly in the study of the Scriptures?

Have I prayed earnestly for peace, and given thanks for all who seek to bring it about? How have I worked toward it in my own community? In my own family?

To what extent have I worked to preserve and protect the physical world around me, by conserving its resources and refraining from those practices that upset …

words are necessary

kathleen's memorial service was outstanding this afternoon. so many people were there, laughing, crying, remembering, celebrating. many people shared memories and messages of hope. the service lasted two hours: scriptures were read, hymns sung (in english and spanish), lives shared. as i traveled home, this depeche mode from my high school days played on the radio:

Words like violence
Break the silence
Come crashing in
Into my little world
Painful to me
Pierce right through me
Cant you understand
Oh my little girl

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

Vows are spoken
To be broken
Feelings are intense
Words are trivial
Pleasures remain
So does the pain
Words are meaningless
And forgettable

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

i have no idea what the song is about-- whether this guy wants to be alone in the quiet, share the silence with another, i dunno. but the irony was t…

success in ministry

next week is prosper umc's church conference, sort of the annual business meeting of the church. reports are given, my compensation is voted on, the concluding year is discussed, looking forward to the next. part of my preparation for the conference is putting together membership reports. last year our total membership was 380-something. so then we add those who have joined: youth confirmed and adults. some were baptized; others transferred from other churches. if the adults have children baptized elsewhere they are counted in another column. we count baptisms of children, youth, and adults. these numbers, plus things like average attendance, indebtedness, sunday school, and value of property are inputed into a spreadsheet, presumably the purpose of which is to gauge the church's-- and the pastor's-- "success" for the year.

the problem with this is that numbers seldom reflect what is actually going on in the church. if they did, we would automatically kno…

a prayer for thanksgiving

It is always right, O God, to praise you and bless your name. Even if the harvests fail, even when our economies falter, still you are our God; still you bless us richly. Help us to see your active hand in bounty or in scarcity, in pain as well as pleasure. When we fail to see you at work we fall into the sin of ingratitude, or even suppose that all that we have is the work of our own hands, the result of our own intelligence and industry. Forgive us, and save us from an existence so self-centered. Set us free from greedy and grasping hearts.

By your generosity to us, teach us to be generous to others, and thus to give evidence to you that we are indeed your thankful people. This we pray through Jesus Christ, your most gracious and enduring gift to us, for whom be everlasting praise. Amen.

-- from a wesleyan way of prayer, by laurence hull stookey. i highly recommend it for a daily devotional resource. the references to the failing economy and times of scarcity are obviously ve…

when socks don't match

i was just about to head out the door (yes, i realize it is nearly 1:00 p.m.-- can you blame me for being lazy on a rare free friday??), on the way to mckinney to run some errands. i grabbed socks from the sock drawer, noticed they both had yellow toes, put them on, then the shoes. but i had a haunting suspicion: were they the same yellow-toed socks, or were they different? one seemed to feel slightly different than the other. the groves around my ankles seemed slightly wider on one foot than the other. would anyone notice? i thought. no i answered. but i would notice. i unlaced both shoes and discovered that the socks were, indeed, different.

i seriously doubt anyone at the post office, home depot, or the dmv would care. just another 30-something slob who obviously dosen't live with mom anymore (hi, mom!) but it did make me wonder: how often do we have things going on in life that we know are wrong, but think, "it doesn't matter; no one will notice!" maybe …

let's give 'em something to talk about

(no, i was never a bonnie raitt fan.)

last weekend was an historic time in the life of prosper and its original church, the united methodist church. friday night i loaded james and miles up and we went to prosper eagles vs. celina bobcats, our neighbors a few miles to the north. prosper last beat celina 24 years ago. however, celina had already lost two games this season, and i predicted prosper would win. at halftime the score was eagles 20-0. normally we stay for the bands and leave at the start of the third quarter, but there was no way we were going to miss this finish. final score: 33-7. their 7 came with a minute left in the game. of course miles saw none of this-- he was out at the beginning of the fourth quarter. james went nuts as the students stormed the field.

the next day was our church's annual fall festival, Lord's acre. it's a day filled with carnival games, food, face painting, silent and live auctions, hayrides, etc. monies raised benefit local an…

a presidential endorsement

following up on my most recent post, i am not endorsing anyone for president, not personally, not from the pulpit, and not on my car (notice on the back of the van it says WOMEN for obama). this article is an endorsement for senator obama from the very conservative chicago tribune. not only is the article unique in that it is the first time in the paper's history it has supported a democrat for the white house; but in a year where the rhetoric gets worse day by day, the article is respectful and intelligent in its tone. i offer the article not as an endorsement, but because i find it interesting that this has happened:

while i speak about tone, i understand that many people are angry this year. but the fact that people have been allowed to shout things like "terrorist!" and "kill him!," plus comment about an individual's race, and they have not been dismissed from the rally or condemned by those speaking has taken everything to a wh…

the pulpit and politics

i spent most of the week in the library at smu. i am coming around the last turn on my doctoral project, the first major part of which is due nov. 15. the project centers on the question of pastors preaching on moral, sometimes even controversial, topics in sermons. for the most part, very few pastors in "mainline denominations" do this. their reasons are legion: do not upset parishioners; separate politics from religion; wanting to avoid any potential consequences to their ministry. i understand these concerns, but i have chosen to take the opposite direction in my preaching, especially this election year.

my research this week focused on the social gospel movement in american religious history, roughly 1865-1918. one of its principal leaders was walter rauschenbusch, a baptist minister and seminary professor in new york. during his pastorate at 2nd german baptist church in hell's kitchen in nyc, rauschenbusch witnessed first-hand the suffering of the poor, who had…

Christian Perspectives on Immigration

please note: this is my sermon from last sunday.

Today we begin a new sermon series, or, more accurately, continue one from last spring: "Ripped from the Headlines.” We’ll call this one Part II. Christians face difficult questions in everyday life, but do not know how to address them. They know their faith is a tool, but they do not know how to use it. The goal of that series last April/May, and the goal of this one, is to help us learn to use our faith as a sort of viewfinder to understand these issues. It is not the responsibility of pastors or 24-hour cable news talk-shows to help us think about moral questions. Too often the only voices speaking to these issues within the Christian Church are those from the extreme fundamentalist end of the spectrum. While no one is saying they are wrong, I am saying that there are other points of view to consider. My goal is to help each of us use the Bible, our experience, the tradition of the Church, and our intellect to make a dec…

in search of common ground

this sunday i begin a new sermon series, which is actually a sequel to a series from last spring: "ripped from the headlines." the sermons address topics that are in the news, or at least should be, in an election year. an unfortunate reality is that preaching on "hot topics" has become a very rare thing in so-called mainline denominations like the united methodist church, leaving only far-right leaning preachers doing this work. which leads to people thinking all Christians must think the same way.

this series will be different from the one last april/may, which dealt with topics from capital punishment to prayer and the Bible in public schools. in that series, i selected the topics from the news-- the hottest issue off the press i dealt with was the question of spiritual advisers to leaders (ironically this has become a hot issue again in recent weeks). for this series, i chose two topics (immigration and the environment) and members of the church chose two…

reactions to the speech

yesterday i said we should let the issues inform our decisions in the election, not hype or rumors or feelings about private matters. like millions of others, i tuned in last night to see and hear how sarah palin would use the opportunity of her speech to reveal herself-- the part we should properly consider in the voting booth. i was as riveted as anyone as she stepped to the podium.

and then she began to speak.

it was clear from the beginning that her speech would not be about policy or issues. it was about setting a tone. as unfair as just about everyone has been toward her over the last week, she returned the attacks against the aggressors. did they deserve it? yeah. they did. but could she have set a different tone, taking the high road and speaking about things that really matter to people outside of the convention? she could have. she did not.

she took this opportunity to show us she could be tough and strong. she would not back down when attacked. and it's what the folk in…

two months and counting...

please note: from time to time on this tiny little space i write about politics. i preach sermon series on political issues (next one starts sept. 14-- mark your calendar!). the posts are generally not meant to support one candidate or ideology over another, and when i do get into that territory i try to name it specifically. and of course i speak only for myself; no one else.

i do not know sarah palin. i've never been to alaska. but as she prepares for her big speech at the republican convention tonight i can't help but think about how she must be going nuts right now. a week ago few people outside of "the 'a' state" (my texas geography professor in college would not mention its name, because when it was granted statehood it replaced texas as the largest state in the union) knew her, and now it seems like everyone is talking about her-- and not the way john mccain imagined. frankly, politics aside, i don't like it. i would post a picture of her h…

united methodist committee on relief (UMCOR)

continuing the sermon series on global issues addressed by a global church, i highlighted the outstanding ministry of umcor. to learn more about this vital agency, visit here are a few pictures that highlight some of umcor's work:

umcor in kenya

the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in china earlier this year.
refugees in georgia, fleeing russian aggression. umcor has been active in georgia for years.
umcor is not supported by apportionments, money each congregation contributes to the broader church to support ministries around the world. annually churches participate in one great hour of sharing, which helps umcor's administrative efforts.

A Do-over?

please note: this is my sermon from last sunday. i post it here as a way of beginning the discussion related to topics raised in the current sermon series.
Today we begin a new sermon series called “For the Healing of the Nations,” taken from one of the hymns in our hymnal.Obviously the series will focus on the world, specifically the issues confronting the global church, the global community, and the global economy.The series has roots in a survey I sent around to the congregation back in May.One of the questions asked members to rank what is most important to them in the church: things like fellowship, Bible study, worship experience.I was shocked to see that 48% of those who participated ranked world-wide missions dead last.I was shocked because I would rank it at or near the top.One thing I love about being a United Methodist Christian is that I am part of a church with a global outreach.The timing of the series could not be better.If you have not heard, the Olympics are under…

where was God?

late last night a bus carrying vietnamese Christians from houston, en route to the Marian days festival in missouri, crashed in sherman, texas. so far fourteen people have died, many more seriously injured. our hearts break and go out to the families who have lost so much. looking at this from the outside, one would have to assume that if anyone would have God's protection against such a tragedy, it would be these people, on a religious pilgrimage. unfortunately it did not turn out that way. not even the most faithful of us can avoid random occurrences such as this.

the first thing many of us-- persons of faith and not-- will do upon hearing such terrible news is to ask "how could God allow such a thing to happen?" some may even conclude that this is further evidence that faith is a joke, and the Bible nothing more than a coffee table book of fairy tales. i can understand that. i myself have often questioned God when faced with grave injustices, whether personally…

you can go home again

(yes, i am sitting in my parents' home in bay city, but no, that's not what the title refers to.)
yesterday dad and i drove in to houston for a double feature at the cinema and dinner. we saw the dark knight (my 3rd time) and the x-files. yes, the dark knight is every bit as good as everyone says, and better. usually when everyone loves someone or something i don't, mostly out of (self) righteous indignation. i never saw home alone in the 80s; i have never seen american idol. but as for the dark knight, well, it's special. not since pulp fiction have i seen a movie three times in one week.

the x files (2008), on the other hand, is not so special. i wish i could claim to be one of those geeks plugged in to mulder and scully from episode 1, but i am not. it was only after it began to be noticed by a wider audience that i became a fan. it was still on friday nights, so i got hooked early. right about the time christy and i started dating, the fall of 1995. i was a committe…

hurricane harbor?

the boys and i drove down to bay city yesterday for a few days with cousins and grandparents (christy is going on a junior high mission trip this afternoon for the weekend). we had a couple of possible bumps in the road to keep us from coming: linus had a cold and hardly slept at all tuesday night; and oh yeah, hurricane dolly, barreling down on brownsville, 300 miles away. the weather channel reported 100% chance of thunderstorms and squalls, beginning wednesday evening, continuing all the day thursday. so we took off. baby felt better, star wars was rolling on the dvd, and i had my book on cd: the world is flat. after four hours of sunshine, we rolled in to houston, and the clouds turned dark gray. on the north side of town, everything opened up, directly over our van! thankfully the other drivers were aware of the possibility of big rain, so they were ready. we slowed down, and after a couple of hairy minutes it passed. this has been the total impact of dolly, at least in this part …

staff happens

one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of being a pastor is working with church staff. God uniquely gifts each of us, and a few of us use those gifts through vocational ministry-- what we do for a living. it is very difficult work, involving lots of sacrifice. sometimes people forget to appreciate staff members, who almost always are over-talented and underpaid. the corporate world would certainly pay at a much higher level-- but church staff serve the Lord first, not the bottom line.

sometimes it seems like staff issues is full-time work in itself, especially when we must say goodbye to folks because their needs change or the church's needs change. our children's minister, cassie payne, recently resigned her position in order to spend more time with family. she did great work in her position, and the church is better off with the children's ministry than before she started-- always the sign we look for. our search for a youth pastor is ongoing. there is…

grow where you are planted

woo hoo! 100th blog post! do i get a prize or something?

last week at bridgeport camp was great. while i was there, i realized i had not been to junior high camp since i myself was that age-- say, 1984. gosh, have young boys changed since then! i remember how quiet and respectful i was at that age.. but now, forget about it! as i said on sunday in my sermon, the quality of conversation between the boys in the cabin left much to be desired-- specifially, i desired to be anywhere else! i am grateful to the camp directors, who with very little support did a great job. most importantly, the kids had a great time.

i spent much of the week at bridgeport asking God why i was there. i had not planned to go-- i honestly only went because i was afraid the dozen or so from prosper would be stranded at home if no adult attended. so whenever i had some free time, i concentrated on hearing God's voice-- what was my purpose? about mid-way in the week i realized there was a great chance i was being…

why we serve

last week we hosted vacation Bible school-- a huge event by any standard. more than 300 kids attended, bringing more than 1700 cans of food for bethlehem place, our local food bank. the theme of the week was serving others: family, friends, neighbors, and Christ. on the final day of vbs, i sat with the kids to discuss prayer and serving with them. basically i said, "we serve others because God is awesome." God loves us first, then we respond to that by serving others.

in half an hour i will leave prosper to go to bridgeport camp. tomorrow is the first day of our junior high camp. i have not been to church camp since the summer of 1995, when i was a youth pastor, a young 24 years old, and (ahem) a few pounds lighter. i am going this week because we could not find another adult-- and we really should have two. so in order to protect the kids' camp experience, i'm packing my gear.

God did not necessarily call me to this work. i was the last line of defense. christy told m…

survey results

i promised some results from my most recent preaching series, which will grow into my final project for doctoral studies. the comments have not been edited.

I think that you were very brave in your "thinking out of the box" sermons. More ministers should be having sermons on these topics.
I feel these sermons had little of uplifting nature to them. Good subjectsthat we should hear, but needed some encouragement.
Very interesting series. I enjoyed the discussion, and would encourage more "risk taking" for future sermons.
I had no problem with any of the sermons; however, some in
congregation may prefer a Bible study class to cover these issues.
Wish I had heard the others!
Innappropriate (sic) for Easter Sunday. You are completing a checklist
for your degree without regard to what's appropriate for your people. Shameful.
It was enlightening to hear about these subjects from the pulpit.
Sorry I did not hear all of them.
I enjoyed all of them
it was a good and well-planne…

pomp and circumstances

consider this commencement week. i attended two graduations this week, and were it not for a wide variety other activities this weekend i might have been at a third. i do not remember much about my high school graduation (1989), other than my parents and i immediately took off for austin that night to register for summer school at the university of texas. fours years later (1993) i graduated from college, not from u.t. but sam houston state university in huntsville. the guest speaker that day was james baker, secretary of state under the first president bush. i don't remember what he said, but it was cool to have someone important at my graduation (besides my family, of course).

the next time i walked across the stage was when i graduated from perkins school of theology at smu, 1999. for whatever reason (probably because my bride also graduated that day) i attended the university-wide commencement ceremony in the morning, in addition to the seminary-only service at highland p…

update pt. 2

the saga over leaders and their spiritual advisors/pastors/whatever continues:

when will it end??

evolutionary theory

back in the swing of things! the trip to d.c. was good-- classwork complete! now all that is left is the final project, a 100-page document on an issue related to preaching. my idea for this project has progressed significantly over the last couple of years. first, i wanted to study preaching in the african-american church, but later felt this would not be effective, since that is not my personal tradition. next i wondered about the processes preachers use to decide topics for sermons; most use the lectionary, pre-assigned readings for each sunday. others, including myself, prefer to preach in series, developing a theme or question over time.

last summer the project progressed to the point that i would interview pastors in new appointments what they preached about during their first few months. how did they discern the congregation's needs? its questions? the issues that need to be addressed from the pulpit? the goal at the end of the project was to create a tool for preachers to u…