Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Ten Lists 2010 (Part 2)


    As I mentioned before, a top ten of my ten blog posts was almost pointless but it does perhaps shed some light on what sorts of things interest the people that are reading my blog.  On the other hand, I have been posting sermons on the web for much longer and the audience for that is, surprisingly, much bigger.  If you don’t know the back-story, this whole Internet ministry is all a series of accidents anyway.  It never would have occurred to me when I began two years ago that I would have 49 online subscribers, two or three dozen email subscribers and that some of these messages would be ‘read’ (or at least opened) almost four hundred times.  It is still simply amazing and the only way that I can make any sense of it at all is to remember 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.  There, God spoke to Paul saying

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

    I began typing out manuscripts of my messages because I lacked the skills and the confidence to speak for twenty minutes from a few notes on a card.  I’m doing better but most of the time I still wouldn’t want to if I didn’t have to.  From my weakness and insecurity God is doing something amazing and his word is going out around the world in ways that none of us can ever know.  In any case, (as you might suspect) this year, some messages were far more popular than others.  Just as obvious, the sermons from the end of the year didn’t really have the same chance as the ones from the beginning of the year.  In any case, here are…

Your top ten sermons for 2010


This is a message about how we can find safety and comfort in a scary world.  Obviously a lot of people were looking for that.


This #2 was actually the fourth in a series that I preached on the Five Quests of the Christian life and the first of several that made the top ten.


It was interesting to see how this became popular with readers.  It was our introduction to our new church and contains a part of our family testimony.  If you think that it is interesting, you can’t imagine what it was like to live through it.


The first Facebook inspired sermon (at least for me).  I had far too many of my online friends reading and posting horoscopes and it occurred to me that a lot of other folk were probably just as unaware of how stupid and dangerous they can really be.


Last year’s Epiphany message (The Sunday we remember the Wise Men).  We fall short when our mortal and finite minds try to explain the immortal and infinite.  That’s why we call it a mystery.


A message dealing with failure and how Jesus tells us to see the world when life slaps us down.


The second from the series on the Five Quests of the Christian Life.


A precautionary tale that we don’t always know what God is doing from the lips of Peter, who, like us, also tried to tell Jesus what to do.


Just as #3 was our introduction to our new church, this was our goodbye to our friends at the Johnsville and Steam Corners churches after six years of ministry there.


God answers prayer but he is not a genie in a bottle.  What does God require of us?

Honorable mention:

    As I mentioned, the year is short and sermons from the end of the year hardly have a chance against others that had many more months to accumulate ‘votes.’  These messages wouldn’t have won any awards last year, but would have made the list this time… if they hadn’t been from 2009.

God invites Joe Average to change the world.

Doom and gloom are everywhere. What do we to do in the face of disaster?

How well do we wear Jesus’ coat?

What obstacles must we overcome to be the people God has called us to be?

Who is worthy of your trust?




Top Ten Lists 2010 (Part 1)

This is the time of year that many blogs are posting a list of the top ten blog posts of the year. Since I have exactly ten blog posts since I started in July, posting a top ten list would really be kind of pointless except that it might be interesting to note what people found interesting and what they did not.

So for what it’s worth, here are all ten blog posts in order of your interest…


1) An Open Letter to Our Nation's Leaders

Nov 4, 2010 (35 Pageviews)

2) NaNoWriMo - Beaten by a Little Girl

Dec 24, 2010 (34 Pageviews)

3) Mosques in New York, Discrimination or Deliberate Manipulation

Aug 16, 2010 (34 Pageviews)

4) Who Can We Blame?

Aug 3, 2010 (21 Pageviews)

5) Why the Church should be on the Internet

Sep 20, 2010 (20 Pageviews)

6) Would Jesus be burning the Koran?

Sep 10, 2010 (16 Pageviews)

7) You Can Change the World

Jul 26, 2010 (13 Pageviews)

8) The Death of the Moderate Class?

Aug 24, 2010 (12 Pageviews)

9) Why is the Church MIA?

Aug 31, 2010 (12 Pageviews)

10) A Deeper New Year

Dec 27, 2010 (4 Pageviews)

So why do I keep writing this stuff if no one is reading it? I'm not sure exactly, except that I know that there are people who are reading and who have told me that they like it. It is possible that lives can be changed and that open and honest dialog can happen. Sure it takes effort and represents a certain amount of risk, but in the end, I believe that it's still worth it. Hopefully this little thing will grow next year.

Also of interest are the top ten sermons that I posted in 2010 and the top ten sermons of all time (again mine). But that will have to wait for my next post…

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Deeper New Year

As we approach the New Year, many in our culture have a tradition of making resolutions.  We make a list of things that we hope to do better or ways in which we hope to improve ourselves.  We resolve to lose weight, go back to school, read that book we always meant to read, exercise more and host of other things.  As we approach this New Year however, I hope you will consider one thing more.

As we enter this New Year, I hope you will join me in deepening our relationship with Jesus.  That may be a new idea for some, you may not really grasp what I am trying to say, and that’s okay, I’ll explain.  Jesus desires to be friends with us at the deepest levels of our heart, he is said to be the friend that sticks closer than a brother and we are, in fact, adopted as brothers and sisters of Jesus.  Too often, our relationship with Jesus looks more like that of a casual acquaintance.  We know who they are, we recognize them on the street and we nod and wave when we see them.  The problem is that Jesus wants more than that.  Jesus wants us to know him, really know him so that we can be “closer than a brother.” 

How well do you know your best friend?  You spend time with them.  You spend a lot of time with them.  You can finish each other’s sentences.  You know what food they like, what makes them happy, or sad, or angry.  Without calling them to ask, you can often tell others just what they will think about a certain subject or how they will react to a particular situation.  Jesus wants us to know him like that.  He doesn’t just want us to know who he is in the way we know a casual acquaintance, but he wants us to have a real, deep, meaningful relationship with him.

But how do we do that?  Obviously, building a relationship like that isn’t something that happens overnight.  You didn’t get to know all about your best friend in a single day, a month, or even a year but spent time, regularly, building your friendship together.  Building your relationship with Jesus will be the same.  It will take time and it will take some commitment.  This year I hope that you will join me in making a commitment to building and deepening your relationship with Jesus.  Spend time in church but also make time to pray, to read the Bible, or attend a Bible study.  Do any or all of these things, do something more than you have done before, and you will begin to know Jesus better.

Jesus wants to be more than the acquaintance that you wave at in church once a week. 
  
         He wants more.    

                      He wants your relationship to go deeper.   

                                         Will you join me in this grand adventure?

Friday, December 24, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Beaten by a Little Girl

I bet most of you didn’t know that November was National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  I didn’t participate, shoot, I didn’t know it existed until it had already started but my niece Hannah sure did.  Okay, this is really about a month later than I wanted to write it and I really ought to be writing something about Christmas, but so what?  

Anyway, the idea of NaNoWriMo is that during the month of November, all those folks who aspire to be writers and novelists (and who accept the challenge) write daily to accomplish the goal of writing 50,000 words.  Some like Christian blogger Kevin Hendricks failed in a very public way.  Others, like Hannah, persisted.  

 Even after I heard about the project and Hannah’s involvement in it, I wondered how I might stack up.  I don’t know if I’m cut out for novel writing.  I do have a few book ideas but I wouldn’t call any of them novels.  In any case, during the month of November I was writing my fool head off trying to answer a host of questions required for my ordination.  I was writing what felt like volumes, and on top of that,I was writing a sermon every week and visiting a model rocketry forum where I am a moderator.  With all this writing I thought I would compare favorably to this novel writing project so at the end of the month I added up all the words that I had written on various projects (it’s nice that MS Word does that for me or I probably wouldn’t have bothered).

Here is my tally:

Case Study: 1,788 words
Teaching Plan: 980 words
Autobiography: 1,168 words
Position papers: 7,168 words
Sermons
                11/7: 1,581
                11/14 2,350
                11/21 2,230
                11/28 1,794

This gives me a grand total of 19,059 words for the month of November and not even half of Hannah’s total.  Even worse, I borrowed most of my autobiography from when I had written another one three years ago and my sermons are composed of at least a third to a half (if not more) scripture (which I certainly did not write).  End result, I got done what needed to be done but got skunked by a little girl that’s barely old enough to be in high school.

Well done Hannah.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

An Open Letter to Our Nation's Leaders

    As the dust begins to settle in this recent election, it is apparent that we remain a nation divided.  On the other hand, maybe not.  The news media is describing the mood of the country as having a great deal of “anti-democrat” sentiment or as having an “anti-incumbent” sentiment and while I suppose both of those exist, I think that there is a larger unifying theme that joins many of us regardless of our general political leanings.  As such, today’s blog is an open letter to all of our elected officials from our local city councilpersons and county commissioners, all the way up to the current resident of the White House.  Here, I want to say a few things that our leadership would hear from all of us over a long lunch, and a few things that I’ve learned from my family, my friends and from life in general.

To all of our elected officials of every kind,

    If you were recently elected (or re-elected) I would like to caution you not to get a big head.  There is a good chance that your election had little to do with you, personally, and a lot to do with the performance (or lack thereof) of your predecessor.  Lately, we voters are all kind of tired of what we are seeing and we’ve been in the mood to throw out leaders who are not living up to our expectations.  As you begin your new terms, here are a few things to watch out for:

1)      Keep your promises.  To you this may seem trite or even quaint but for a lot of us, honor is still important.  We understand that it’s common for politicians to promise the moon so that they can get elected, but be careful what you promise, because, despite the rumors to the contrary, we’re not stupid and we will remember what you said.  George Bush promised “No new taxes” but failed to keep his promise.  We remembered.  Barak Obama promised that his administration would never vote on legislation without having a minimum of seven days for the public to look it over.   That didn’t happen.  This week’s election is a hint that we haven’t forgotten your promises… even if you did.

2)      You can’t spend more than you make.  This is so simple it seems silly to have to point it out.  Every couple of weeks I get a paycheck and every month I get bills for stuff that I have to pay.  This happens to everyone that I know, for every business that I know and for the church where I work.  Once in a while I can spend more than I make.  I took a huge pay cut when I became a pastor and went to seminary.  Our pay cut was so large and the bills for seminary were so big that things didn’t even out.  To make up the difference, we spent some of the money we had from selling our house.  We knew it couldn’t last but we also knew that my time in seminary would only last for a few years.  When people spend more than they make, whether it’s because they bought a house or a car or a flat screen TV, sooner or later they need to pay for it.  For about fifty years now, our leaders have been spending more than our government takes in.  Lately, it has only gotten worse.  We can’t understand why you don’t think it’s a problem.  We know it’s a problem.  It worries us.  We expect you to fix it (or at least get started).  If you ignore this, again, we will replace you… again.

3)      People don’t like change regardless of how much they say they want it or need it.  This one is harder to understand but I’ve seen it enough times in my community and in my church that I know it’s true.  When my school system needed a new school building they had a hard time convincing people that we should build a new one.  Our old school was almost a hundred years old, had dozens of building code violations, wasn’t handicap accessible and was full of asbestos.  On top of that, the state of Ohio was willing to pay for more than half of a new building which mean that a new building would cost millions less than the cost of repairs to the old one.  Still, the school board took over a year, with dozens of special meetings to convince the community that it was necessary and the vote was still close.  I’ve known people with serious health problems who endured months of suffering before they were convinced to go see a doctor.  We get comfortable in our routine.  We want you to do your job, but you need to know that change is scary.  Before you make changes, you need to explain what you are doing, let us think about it for a while and then proceed slowly and carefully so we can see how things are going.  This is especially important because our trust in you is not particularly high right now.

4)      The bigger the project, the more support you need.  You will probably not find this anywhere in your history books but this is a place where our government has created division and animosity between its own citizens.  Last year, I was interviewing pastors who had been involved in merging churches or in church building projects.  These are two of the biggest changes ever experienced in the life of a church.  One of the rules that emerged from these interviews was that if there was not a minimum of 70 to 80 percent support for the change, then they would go back and start over.   In a church, failing to gain a super-majority of support for a big project will likely mean that people will be so angry that they leave the church.  In our nation, when you pass really big projects with only a slim majority, you create animosity and division instead of unity and cohesiveness.  You don’t need to wonder why our nation has become so polarized because you are the ones who did it, Republicans and Democrats alike.  
  
    Don't think that because you've won the election, that you can do whatever you want.  Don't think that because you have a majority, that you can do whatever you want.  In recent decades we've seen several major shifts from Democrat to Republican and back again.  Please remember that it isn't about what you call yourself, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or whatever, it's much more important that you do the things that we sent you to do.


Feel free to ignore us…
…but then again…
…your predecessors did…


…and they’re not here anymore.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Irregular Regularity

I know that there are not a lot of people following this blog so far, and that's okay except for one thing. When I started, I committed to being regular about getting updates out at least once each week. I was initially reluctant to make such a commitment and that is why it took me almost a year to decide to start. Even at that, I only started after I was finished with school and after we had moved to our new church here in beautiful Barnesville, Ohio.
Now I have another problem. Between now and November 7th we are preparing a pile of paperwork for our church's annual charge conference (think of corporate annual reports) with all the additional meetings, budget making, planning, nominating church officers, etc. Also, between now and December 1st, I have a pile of papers and projects that need to be completed for my application for final ordination in the United Methodist Church. I won't describe the entire assignment but suffice it to say that it's very time consuming. Naturally, neither of these projects have diminished my regular workload.
With all that out in the open, I apologize for not keeping this blog up to date. I made a commitment and I'm not keeping it. I will try to post as I can, and hopefully, will get back on track after these big projects are finished.

Thanks for understanding.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The distance Between "Cannot" and "Will not"

   On Sunday I made reference to an excellent blog by Scott Linscott who argues that the lack of a deep spiritual life in our children has a lot to do with the choices that we made (and are making) as we raised them.  (see the original blog here http://scottlinscott.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/your-kids-an-all-star-wow-someday-hell-be-average-like-the-rest-of-us/  and my sermon here http://www.scribd.com/doc/38170459/Love-Misplaced-2010-09-26)  I left a comment on Linscott’s blog and let him know that I had borrowed from him (and yes, I gave him credit).  Since then I have been following the conversation that he is having with other readers who are leaving their comments.  One focus has been the way in which busy professionals find balance between a demanding and time-consuming career and time spent in their church and with their families.  I completely understand.  I faced that same challenge both in a secular career and now in ministry.  What intrigues me is how often, as human beings, we are able to rationalize the difference between “Cannot” and “Will Not.”  “Cannot” means we have no choice, “Will not” implies that we have chosen. 

   Several busy people argued that their jobs demand 60 hour work weeks and since God has given them these careers then their dedication was a measure of their devotion.  An example given was the medical resident who is working 100 hours a week.  In order to pursue a career as a doctor they have given up time for a social life, dating, family, church and nearly everything else.  Others pointed out friends and church members that were medical professionals.  They noted how these folk made time to spend in church, to volunteer and to go on mission trips.  What I see is a difference between “Cannot” and “Will not.”  Residents and Interns don’t really get a choice.  Their schools, hospitals and others decide what is required in order to, eventually, gain the title of Doctor.  If they don’t do what is required they will not ever attain the goal that they are pursuing but the sacrifice is intended to be temporary.  Regardless of how much a career paid, I doubt that many would choose it if celibacy and 100 hour work weeks were expected for life.  

   At some point, how we spend our time becomes a choice.  It is at that point that we all must choose whether we want to choose long hours at work or to use those hours for recreation or family or church.  This is point at which everyone will eventually arrive.  When we arrive at this moment, whether we are aware of it or not, we must make a choice.  Some choose to spend more time at work and others choose to spend it elsewhere. For each choice there is a cost.  If we work more, we may advance more quickly, get more raises, perks and bonuses.  Working less may mean that we sacrifice these things.  Working less may also mean that we are able to spend more time with friends and family and have more time to volunteer, attend church and other spiritual activities.  Each choice comes at a price.

   As I have watched friends, colleagues and church members make these choices I have often seen the line between “Cannot” and “Will not” get pretty blurry.  I have had farmers tell me that they had to be in the fields on Sunday because of a recent stretch of bad weather.  I have heard other farmers, in the same community, insist that it wasn’t necessary.  There are two differences: priorities and trust.  While some saw a break in the weather as a gift from God, others saw it as a test of faith.  One group went into the fields to work and the others trusted that God was in control and would balance the scales at harvest time if they made God a priority.

However we want to rationalize it, for each of us there is a gap between “Cannot” and “Will not” but, however we choose, God wants us to make him our first priority.  In Matthew 22:37 Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment of the law is to 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  We find a very similar verse in Proverbs 3:5 with a very important twist.  

Trust in the LORD with all your heart…  

…and lean not on your own understanding.”  

   I know that doctors and funeral home directors (and many others) need to work when they are called.  My point is that each of us needs to be aware of when our priorities are shifting.  We need to be aware of when we begin to trust money, power or our own ability more than we trust God.  God asks that we put him first and not to ‘lean on our own understanding.’  

   Putting God first can be expensive and it can be painful but God asks that we trust him to span the distance between “Cannot” and “Will not.” 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Why the Church should be on the Internet


    I was recently asked to speak at a men’s prayer breakfast and address what I felt was the future of ministry.  In my short meditation (we did want time to eat breakfast after all) I shared a few words about why I felt that the future of ministry was on the Internet.  Since this helps to explain why I invest my time and energy posting sermons online, worrying about office connectivity, podcasts and blogs, I thought that it was worth posting here.  In this way, the folks who read this blog (which admittedly isn’t a lot) can understand a little better who I am and why I do what I do.

    First of all, I admit that I’m a geek.  I was the kid in school who was smallish, bookish, played in the band and tried the chess club for a while.  I did eventually grow a few inches and put on a few pounds during college and ten years in the Army Reserve but with a degree in electrical engineering, my fondness for computers and electronic and science related toys remains obvious.  Regardless, there are a few facts (statistics) that we all need to confront.

    Ninety-Eight percent of all homes in the United States have a television but the television people are seeing a noticeable decline in television ratings as more and more of their audience members are leaving to spend time on the Internet or watch movies delivered in the mail or over the internet.  Today, 35 percent of all adults in the US have a profile on Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn.  This is already a lot of people but also understand that this number has quadrupled in only three years.  Nearly 90 percent of students access the Internet every single day and spend an average of 28 hours per week doing it.  Of these, 65 percent (students aged 12-17) will log on to social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.  While the younger age groups use social networking more and older Americans tend to use it less, these numbers are growing across the board.  (See more of these statistics here: http://en.kioskea.net/news/11805-social-network-use-by-adult-americans-on-the-rise-survey)

    Obviously, scripture doesn’t say anything specifically about television or the Internet but it does have something to say about where and how we do ministry.  Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and her entire village came to faith.  Jesus met her where she lived because a Samaritan would have never been welcome in the Jewish Temple, the church of its day.  In Acts 2, we read about the day of Pentecost when the Spirit of God came down from heaven and entered into the followers of Jesus Christ.  What they did next is instructive.  Instead of remaining where they were and celebrating the great gift that had been given to them, every one of them, both men and women, left the place where they had gathered and went out into the streets to tell others about  Jesus.  Because this happened on Jewish feast day, the streets were full of people from across the known world.  

    Throughout the span of the New Testament, Jesus and his followers preach the good news in synagogues, in marketplaces, in the temple courts, in the street and in the countryside.  In Acts 17, Paul meets the men of Athens where they have gathered to discuss philosophy.  In each case, Jesus and his followers demonstrate by their example that the good news should be taken to where the people are and not wait for unbelievers to come to them.  Two hundred years ago, John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) broke from the tradition of the Church of England and dared to preach outside the four walls of the church.  Wesley felt that the church had abandoned many who no longer felt comfortable or welcome in the church and so he went out and preached in the open air in parks, near coal mines, and anyplace where he could find people who were interested in hearing the words of God.  The preaching of Wesley and his followers resulted in many thousands coming to Christ and was instrumental in launching the Great Awakening.   

    The common thread remains that the Gospel message was taken out of the church and out to where the people were.  Today, the public gathering place is electronic.  For our society, the place where people gather is no longer the synagogues, the markets and the temple courts but on the Internet.  

    If we are to be true to the example of Jesus and his followers, we need to be there too.

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