Friday, December 27, 2013

Hope is on the Way: A Surprise Adoption

We concluded the four weeks of Advent with the Christmas story from Joseph's point of view.  What do you think it was like for Joseph to adopt Jesus as a son?

December 22, 2013 - Celebation from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Post-Epiphany Sermon Series Idea - Method: Our Wesleyan Way

What's next?

It's a question that we're frequently asking ourselves in the worship planning professions.  What's next?  What's needed?  How do we tell the Gospel story?

In my congregation, and I suspect many others, one question I seem to be running into over and over again is:
"What do United Methodists believe?"
I come up against this in many ways, though maybe not as overtly as those words themselves.  It happens in the hallways, in Sunday School classes, in the parking lots after worship.  One of the problems in the UMC narrative, is that through our own doings, the message of Methodism has become watered down.

We're the church that believes everything.

Our founder, Mr. Wesley, would argue against that, to be sure.

So, I approached our Senior Pastor with an idea.  What if we started the year off with a study on our Wesleyan roots?  What if we gave a few basic lessons on the tent-poles of our faith?  I wanted to take the start of the year and talk about our views of the sacraments, the social gospel, and of course, GRACE.

He really liked my idea, but put three requirements on it in order for us to bring it together.

  1. We need to follow the lectionary.
  2. It needs to take up the eight Sundays between Epiphany and Lent.
  3. We need to feature one sermon by John Wesley each week as a source of inspiration.

There's been a dearth of less-than-Wesleyan teaching across the board in our United Methodist Church, so we figure going to the source of our denomination's founder was a great way to talk about what we really believe.

With that in mind, this is what we've come up with:

Method: Our Wesleyan Way
Sundays after Epiphany
January 12 – March 2

For each Sunday, there's a scripture from the RCL, featured sermon by John Wesley (which is also the title for the message of the day - links provided), and the main topic for discussion.

January 12 – Baptism of the Lord Sunday
RCL Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17
Featured John Wesley Sermon (title of the message for the day): #18 “The Marks of the New Birth
Main Topic(s):  Baptism

January 19
RCL Scripture: John 1:29-42
Featured John Wesley Sermon:  #113 “The Difference Between Walking by Sight and Walking by Faith
Main Topic(s):  Faith, Discipleship

January 26
RCL Scripture: Matt 4:12-23
Featured John Wesley Sermon: #7 “The Way to the Kingdom
Main Topic(s):  Heaven (up there and down here), Kingdom building

February 2
RCL Scripture: Micah 6:1-8
Featured John Wesley Sermon:  #2 “The Almost Christian
Main Topic(s):  Justice, the Social Gospel, Works of Mercy, Communion…

February 9
RCL Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20
Featured John Wesley Sermon: #24 “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount
Main Topic(s):  Holiness of heart and life

February 16
RCL Scripture: 1 Cor 3:1-9
Featured John Wesley Sermon: #39 “Catholic Spirit
Main Topic(s):  Universality of the church, 'non-creedal-ness'

February 23
RCL Scripture: Matt 5:38-48
Featured John Wesley Sermon:  #89 “The More Excellent Way
Main Topic(s):  GRACE

March 2 – Transfiguration Sunday
RCL Scripture: 2 Peter 1:16-21
Featured John Wesley Sermon: #128 “Free Grace
Main Topic(s):  Evangelism, More Grace, Sanctification, Election, Communion…


Feel free to use any or all of this!  As always, all I need is a comment if you put it to use.  God bless your future planning!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hope is on the Way: Hope in the King

This week we were back on track at FUMC Arlington after the snow day last week that forced mass church cancellations across the DFW area.  It was great to formally dig back into our sermon series, "Hope is on the Way".

This week, John the Baptist is back for a visit - except not really.  He's been imprisoned for proclaiming the Gospel.  Because he's holed up in jail, awaiting his execution, he starts to have some doubts.  So he reaches out to Jesus for a little validations.

Was it worth for him to be a risk-taker in the name of Jesus?

December 15, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I Hope You Don't Go to My Church

I just returned to the office from one of my favorite places to be ever ... The local branch of the US Postal Service.  It was an action-packed experience, I tell you.

There was a long line, as there always is this time of year.  And of course, there was only one clerk taking packages, as there usually is every day, no matter the busyness of the season.

But I didn't mind the wait, I had my phone to check the news.  It was actually a nice break from work.  That is, until a lady in line lost her mind on the single, solitary clerk.

I should back up, when I walked in, there were two clerks, but one left for lunch while I was in line.  The horror!

Any way, this lady, from the line, when the second clerk steps out for a break, shouts rather loudly, "You're going down to just one clerk?  Again?"  She proceeds to look around to all of us in line.  "Well, I don't know who your supervisor is, but you should tell him that that just won't cut it this time of year!"

This time of year, being the Christmas season, right?  When we welcome the Prince of Peace to our world?

Anyways, as she looked at us, I realized I had my 'Rev' name tag on, that I make sure I wear when I'm running around town.  I was really tempted to take the tag off.  Because I was fearful that she went to my church and I didn't want her to recognize me or talk to me.

Just being honest, here.

She was a well-dressed, middle age, middle class woman that looked like many that attend our church on Sunday morning.  It's a large membership church, and I meet people all the time that I've never met, but that know me as I go out into the community.  Hence, the name tag.

But, I didn't want to have to take responsibility for this one.  Because - we are called to police each other.  Yes, that's right.  We are called to call one another out when we're being unkind.  This person was.  You know, the one, that could spew disdain from one side of the mouth, and pray for my ministry with the other.

Up there with the people that do this.

I literally prayed, without thinking, that she didn't go to my church.  The problem is, she did have the feeling of someone that went to church somewhere, and here she was, in the name of the Christmas, giving a little hell to a clerk just doing his job.  It was unkind.

We know that Christians behave badly in public all the time.  All.  The.  Time.  So, what do we usually do?  We look the other way.  However, our Advent lessons the last few weeks call on us to do the opposite.  Christ and John the Baptist both never pull punches when calling people towards higher accountability and character.

Wesleyan Christians put it this way:

  • Do good.
  • Do no harm.
  • Pray.

So, I ask, what should the response be when a Christian behaves badly?  What should I do if I know it's a church member?  I really would like to know!

Monday, December 16, 2013

My Degree is Longer Than Your Degree!

Saturday, Leanne and I were at the Sunday School party for one of our young adult classes and struck up a conversation with another guy working on his second master's degree - another glutton for graduate school punishment like myself.  He's working on a second degree in engineering, myself on an Master of Divinity as required for ordination in the United Methodist Church.

We both struggled through a first fall semester of six semester hours while balancing full-time work and family time.  It's a tough - but meaningful - struggle.  It was a great conversation - but then it turned down an illuminating direction when we talked total hours of our degrees.

My friend asks, "How many hours is an MDiv?"
I say, "85."
He says, "Seriously?  Mine's only 36."

Kind of unbelievable, right?  The degree I'm attempting to attain, carries the same weight of "Master" and yet is more than twice as long.  It's a four year plan at Perkins if you're trucking at full-time, with the last year as an internship.  I'm lucky that with my previous MSM work I've come into the MDiv program with 24 hours of credit that counts towards my new calling.  But, geez, you guys.

This might be kind of a problem, so I've taken it upon myself to check out how many course hours other Master's Degrees take.  I decided to look at SMU, as that's where I currently attend.  Let's see how things stack up:
  • Master of Divinity (Perkins School of Theology, SMU) - 85 hours
  • Master of Sacred Music (Perkins School of Theology, SMU) - 48 hours
  • Juris Doctorate (Dedman School of Law, SMU) - 87 hours - but you technically have a doctorate in the end
  • MBA (Cox School of Business, SMU) - 61 hours
  • MS in Computer Science (Lyle School of Engineering, SMU) - 24 hours (w/dissertation, or 30 hours without)
  • Master of Education (Simmons School of Education, SMU) - 36-42 hours (depending on certifications)
  • MM in Choral Conducting (Meadows School of the Arts, SMU) - 30 hours (I'd be about a semester away from this one if I chose to go back)

The JD from the law school is the only one that takes more course work, but in the end (as noted), you have the equivalent of a Master and Doctorate degree (at least that's my understanding).  The only other one that comes close is the MBA from Cox School of Business is 61 hours at my count, which is actually twice as long as some - but the ROI is ridiculous, and it's rated in the top 25 business schools in the country.  If you do it right, on average, the MBA from Cox pays for itself in 3.4 years (according to their brochure, which I'm not inclined to argue with - it's a STELLAR program).

So what does all this mean?  United Methodists heap a whole lot of work on their potential pastors.  This isn't new news, but it's important to point out.  And it's not as if looking at the curriculum it's easy to decide what should be taken out.

Could it also be, however, that we expect pastors to be professionals at too many disciplines when they graduate?  Theologians.  Human resources management.  Counseling.  Community activism.  Accounting.  Non-prophet business management.  Even, theatre and music for many.  The list goes on.  And many pastors with solo appointments have to be able to handle all of this depending on how well a church can be staffed, and the qualifications of the laity.

I do however, have a proposal, that would shorten the degree and give a pastor more practical experience.

Put them in the local church.  Not an internship that pays little (that you technically pay for), but a job.

I'm currently serving as a full-time Licensed Local Pastor, focusing on Communication, Young Adult Ministries, and preaching every week at our contemporary service.  I'll admit that I'm choosing this path, I don't have to.  But, I love my work.  I love to work.  And I'm having a ton of fun at this appointment.  I'm learning the practical side of pastoring (just as I had for the previous eight years as a Worship Minister), under the tutelage of great mentor pastors, staff, and laity.  But I also have several friends that are managing seminary while being out on the fringe with solo appointments to churches and Wesley Foundations.

I think it should count towards my MDiv.  I think applying the work I'm doing in seminary in real-time on the job is invaluable.  I think at least having the option to work in an appropriate ministry setting should go towards the course load of a Master of Divinity.  Doing things at this rate, will take years - or all of my summers and winters with the falls and springs.  A path I've chosen, yes, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a better way to work full-time in ministry and get the education needed to become and Elder-in-full-connection.  After all, if I chose to say an LLP, I wouldn't have to do any of this.  Much less job security, to be sure, but just think about that.

So, why shouldn't it count?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Rethink Church Advent Challenge Week 1

I, and many others, are joining in the Rethink Church Advent Photo-a-day Challenge, a twenty-five day photo challenge to tell your advent journey - in pictures.

It's been a fun first week, full of study, and reflection - some serious, and some not.  We also had what the DFW area would consider a blizzard, most of us have been iced in the house since Thursday night.

I you want to follow the conversation, check out the tags #rethinkchurch and #rethinkchristmas on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!

Day 1:  Go
#Advent Day 1: Let's #go. #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas

Day 2:  Bound
Day 2: For better or worse, right? #bound #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas

Day 3:  Peace
#rethinkchristmas day 3: candle and holder from our time in #taize, a place of immeasurable #peace #rethinkchurch

Day 4:  Time
#rethinkchurch day 4: getting there tomorrow... How much #time does God spend on future planning? #rethinkchristmas

Day 5:  Flood
#rethinkchurch day 5: the only good #flood? #rethinkchristmas

Day 6:  Awake
#rethinkchurch day 6: this cotton-headed ninny-muggins is #awake. #rethinkchristmas

Day 7:  Ready
#rethinkchurch day 7: well, we were #ready for church tomorrow but we get another #snowday instead! #rethinkchristmas

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Snowday Home Worship for Advent 2!

We're iced in here in North Texas, so my wife and I decided to offer a little worship from our home since many churches, including ours, were closed this morning.

It's a little chaotic, as any worship that includes a toddler will be!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hope is on the Way: Managing Un-expectations

How are you getting ready to meet Jesus this holiday season?  In Jesus' cryptic way, he invites us into the work of the Kingdom to prepare the way for the Savior (himself, that is) to come again.  Are you prepared?

December 1, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Responding to Hope - Week 1

At FUMCA, following each Sunday of Advent we're posting a video reflection on Sunday's lesson and maybe a challenge or two to pray over until the next Sunday.

Here's the video for week 1:

Week One - Responding to Hope from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Rethink Church Advent Photo-a-day Challenge!

I'm joining in Rethink Church's Advent Photo-a-day Challenge this year.  I tried really hard to follow through on their challenge during Lent, and it fell to the back-burner during a crazy time when pulling out the phone to take pictures wasn't high priority.

This time, I'd like things to be different.  Photography is a great way to tell stories - which is what our primary job as Christians is to do.

So I'll be joining in the community with this one and updating my blog with the pictures at the end of each week.  Will you join in?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"The Joy of God's Realm" - Isaiah 65:17-25

This week we did a little study on poverty and stewardship in light of the radically peaceful vision for the future the Lord has for us.

Will the Peaceful Kingdom come to pass?  Would we let it?  Do we have the power to feed ALL of our neighbors?

November 17, Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rethink Creative

So, it's pretty rare that I'd ever endorse a business.  In fact, I don't think I ever have.  So this must be pretty good, right?

I'd like to introduce you to a group of guys that have dubbed themselves the Rethink Creative Group.

They have a goal, and that's to be a full-service creative hub to get the Gospel News into the world.  They're uniquely aware that most churches in Christendom are awful small.  Most can't afford truly original graphic design, website design, videography - but they can generate it for any local church. They even help pastors generate topical sermon series complete with visual content.  Maybe one of the more unique things they offer are their custom music arrangements to suit a local church's worship needs.

In other words, they're an original content generator for any church's context.  They have their rates ... But they know their clientele.  These guys love the church, and want to serve it - in the universal sense.  They provide a service that many smaller churches could use to up their media and worship games.  Local churches are often behind the times when it comes to media for a variety of reasons ... Church size, church age, time ... Here's a great option to bring your interaction with media and the church forward.

*Full disclosure - One of their founders did buy me a plate of cheese fries last week at lunch.  They were really good.  I won't endorse just anything for cheese fries, but they do make me pause and think.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Embracing Our Inheritance" - Ephesians 1:11-23

Sunday was a pretty thick day for us as far as themes go ... On the one hand we celebrated All Saints Sunday, on the other hand we also started off our stewardship season ... But it seemed that the two went hand in hand, as we celebrated the good stewards who went before us, those who have passed the faith down to us through the ages.

Thanks be to God for the living ministries of the saints!

November 3, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

UPDATED: Hope is on the Way!

I've been kind of silent on my blog lately, and I can finally share the reason why!

For the last two months, I've been working on a writing assignment for GBOD Worship - sermon preparation ideas for the Hope is On the Way Advent Series I helped to put together for my faith family at FUMC Arlington.

It was a tall assignment, working out seven sermons a couple of months out, but it was a really fun project and a blessing to get this opportunity!

The GBOD published it all today!  So, if you're looking for a little bit of help with your sermon preparations for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, I hope you'll check out what we've offered.  With these notes, I also wrote out a few ideas each week for you to discuss with your worship planning team, questions to ask and ideas for you to own your worship this season and glorify God in your context.  Combine them with the liturgy resources we have, and it's a comprehensive resource to serve your congregation!  It's all free, but I'd love for you to comment if any of this is of help to you, or if you have a different perspective than from what I've given!

Blessings as you plan!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hope is on the Way Series Art

One of the many blessings of working at the church I'm appointed to is having a trained graphic designer on staff who takes on most of our communications needs.  She doesn't just make fliers (though she does), she also manages our website, email communications, and designs our publicity materials for our various campaigns and sermon series.  As pastor of communications, I don't have to do the tricky stuff ... I get to deal with overall vision and scope, while my team does a stellar job of bringing our big ideas to life.

I don't know if you're church needs it or not, but we're offering our main graphic for our Advent series here for free.

It should give you a lot of room to use as you're church needs, for bulletins, fliers, banners ... Whatever you need.

As always, if you use it, just leave a comment to let us know how far it's gone!

You can also check out worship helps for the Hope is On the Way Series here.  And sermon notes at the GBOD worship site here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Why Rock Star Worship Leaders are Getting Fired"

I observed this headline on my twitter feed this morning and quickly followed the link ... "Why Rock Star Worship Leaders are Getting Fired" at

I'm not going to lie here, I'm both surprised ... and not.  

I am a staunch advocate of modern worship styles, and all genres that fall under that umbrella, from contemporary to Taize to African and Latin styles ... It's all good to me - when done well, and when used to actively help the congregation get after the heart of Christ.  As opposed to the heart of the worship leader.

I think maybe our larger mega churches might be realizing that they have an authenticity problem on their hands, hiring extremely talented musicians and song writers with no real training in worship leadership.  No real training in Bible study.  And probably not a whole lot of skill at communicating with a pastor in helping communicate the message for the week.  All while building their own album-launching platforms.

That's why I'm not surprised at the trend this author is pointing out ... Though, I'd love to see some real data! 

But why am I surprised?  The trend for a while has been flash over substance in worship.  The more secular the better, the more hipster the better.  I realize I'm saying that as a mostly hipster-looking pastor, but hopefully you know what I mean.

On the other hand, to my worship leader friends - go and get yourself that $100k job!

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Worship Leader Survey

If you're a worship leader, choir director, or song leader, I'd love for you to take a few minutes and complete a short survey for me regarding how you and your pastor prepare worship together.

Crossing over to the pastoral side from musical leadership, I had very strong opinions on these matters when I was a worship minister, and I'm just curious about how things go for others!

It's anonymous and shouldn't take long.  Thanks in advance!

Click here to take survey

Looking Back: 2nd Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Sunday marked the end of our four week series focused on 2nd Timothy.  This week we see Paul's conclusion to this letter ... A letter of dubious provenance to be sure, but at the same time a beautiful summation of Paul's life in ministry.

Does it cheapen it if this letter was written by a student of Paul rather than Paul himself?  I don't think it does, actually.  If it was written by a student in Paul's voice, that might actually magnify it's impact in my eyes.

Wouldn't we all love to have lived the Christian life to such an extent that someone would write for us an obituary like this one?

Paul told his story, he poured and poured into God's children.  That is our closing challenge from 2nd Timothy.

October 27, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Lectionary Trap

Yesterday we concluded our October sermon series on the book of 2nd Timothy.  It was great to be able to dwell on this important book of the New Testament, and it was an edifying experience for those in worship to be able to read the letter, essentially from beginning to end in a month's time.

At FUMCA, we follow the lectionary, but we spin things a little differently in that we build sermon series out of the selected texts.  For instance, during the season of Easter, we followed the Acts stream to study how the early church was build.  For the Summer, we followed the Gospel of Luke.  Then, in October we switched streams again to 2nd Timothy.

In doing things this way, it forces us to deal with the tough stuff and actually have an extended bible study in worship.

For instance, in doing a month long study in 2nd Timothy, we were able to pick up a few simple points each week for surviving tough times in ministry.

  1. In the first chapter, Paul points Timothy towards his family as a source of an authentic faith.
  2. In the second, Paul suggests that if Tim is facing tough times, he can look no further than the example of Paul, who follows the example of Christ.
  3. In the third, and beginning of the fourth chapters, Paul tells his student to read his Bible.  Not rocket science there.
  4. And the fourth, Paul wraps up his life's ministry, reminding all of us to be telling our stories.

Through studying one book over a few weeks, we were able to actually go somewhere with the texts.  It does take preparation, to be sure.

The lectionary is an awesome tool for planning worship, it keeps pastors from just preaching on what they're 'feeling' (not that that's always a bad thing ...).  But I do wonder whether we do a disservice to our congregations when we hop from one lectionary stream to another on a weekly basis.  Do we avoid tough topics when we do that?  Do we avoid the narrative of a book when we do that?

As a rookie preacher, I'm just wondering!  I also mean no disrespect to my elders here, just asking the questions.

Preachers: How do you prefer to structure your scriptural preaching patterns?
Congregants: What do you feel you need to hear?  Would you rather jump around, or follow a stream?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Scripture ... useful for teaching

This week, our scriptural focus was again in 2nd Timothy, 3:14-4:5.

Paul here points a struggling Timothy to the Word of God, most notably the Hebrew Scriptures as a source of inspiration in tough times.  That the Word is useful not just for teaching, but also equipping disciples to know what's right and good.

So, how often do you read your Bible?

October 20, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Friday, October 18, 2013

If ...

We've just begun a sermon series on 2nd Timothy to carry us through October.  Our youth pastor kicked it off, and I picked it back up this week.

In this chapter, Paul is reminding Timothy of his pedigree in Christ, that he has a heritage in his witness that will carry him through these tough times.

And of course, regardless of how hard things are for Timothy, at least he's not in prison ...

October 13, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Friday, October 4, 2013


We veered off the lectionary a bit this week and stepped back to the Prodigal Son to close out our study of Luke.

I know it's probably my status as a dad of a toddler, but I see God as a parent everywhere I turn.  I just love this story.

September 29, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


A year and a couple of  months ago I sat down with my District Superintendent to talk about my call to ordained ministry.  I had been called to vocational ministry a long while back, but I had felt God pulling me to something new, that all of my ministry experience was prelude to a big change.

It wouldn't be long before we'd start talking about appointments, and of course, as a non-ordained person, I had a choice to say "No" at any point.  But I didn't, and with my family's support we took an opportunity to be in ministry with FUMC Arlington as a Lay Supply Pastor.  A big shock to the system.  I went from running an extremely well-established and awesomely diverse music program to living my new dream to be in relationship with my generation ... and the lowest man on the pastoral totem pole.  I am totally here to learn the basics to becoming a pastor in the UMC.

And I'm loving it.

I miss my old life in ministry sometimes, I had a ton of fun.  But ... I can finally announce that as of today, October 1, 2013, my appointment is official to FUMC Arlington as a Licensed Local Pastor, complete with all of the amazing responsibilities as a minister of word, order, and sacrament.  I've been warming up my preaching and teaching game for the last six months, but this Sunday will be my first to preside over the table.  Nervous doesn't even begin to describe things!

Sorry for the diary-like nature of this one.  But this whole thing just seems so undeserved.

I am having a total blast.  I'm thankful for the trust of my Bishop, District Superintendent, and the clergy and laity of FUMC Arlington.  I'm so thankful for the many pastors and mentors that I've been in ministry with over the last several years.

Of course, I wouldn't even begin to be on this new road without the support of my amazing wife and super fun kid.

Thanks be to God!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Actually, "The Reason" is ...

What would Hoobastank say?

Lately, my drive to work has been blown asunder by one of the many songs of my college years, "The Reason", by Hoobastank.

You might say to yourself, "Jarrod, what's the big deal?  Your radio is often tuned to the alternative music channel of yesteryear frequently loaded down with throwback tunes from the 90s and early 2000s.  Hoobastank is like their #1 band, next to the Foo Fighters and Cake."

And you would be be correct.  Except for the other times when I'm listening to Christian radio, which is mostly ads and pledge drives.  So, most of the time, my radio is switched away from the local Christian radio channels, because I love Christian music, not commercials.

I was surprised to be taken back to my college reverie by the Christian radio channel.  After some quick Google work, I find that a Christian band covered the song word for word, riff by riff, beat by beat without so much as a deviation from the original.  The 'cover' was actually recorded years ago, but over the last several months has picked up speed on the radio.

This might be a problem.

Hymns have been robbing the music of the secular world since there have been hymns, in content and in style.  That's not new news, and it's certainly not a bad thing.  Church music should speak the musical language of the people.  But it's lyrical content should point to the deeper truths of the faith.

I'm a modern worship advocate.  I haven't always been, but it's been through ministry in the church that I've found the importance of musical language speaking in the vernacular, that it should meet people where they are.  But, take this lyric from "The Reason":

I've found a reason for me
to change who I used to be
a reason to start over new
and that reason is you

In the grand pantheon of modern hymnody, lyrics like this have been a common criticism against praise and worship music, and the praise and worship genre is riddled with them.  Songs that could be more easily equated with a love song to a girl as opposed to God, for the fact that the name Jesus is never mentioned.

I will say, that I'm cool with using pop music in worship - as long as it has a clear purpose in line with the message of the day.  Just because playing Mumford & Sons in the narthex is hip, doesn't mean it works in worship.  Composers decide the meanings of their tunes, listeners don't.

So, in conclusion I'll leave you with the original 2003 music video, where you see, the song isn't about Jesus.  It's about robbing pawn shops to give rubies to a pretty girl.  That's "The Reason."  Just ask yourself, "Can't we do better?"

Hoobastank:The Reason from Scottie Kuo on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Do You Want to Be Faithful in Much?

My sermon from Sunday ... What's with the tough stuff from Jesus in the Lectionary lately, right?  Oh, wait ... It's all supposed to be tough and challenging.

The Gospel is not supposed to be easy to follow through with, even as it's challenging just to read and understand.

September 22, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Methodists Didn't Carry Bibles Back Then ...

Yesterday I was given an amazing opportunity ... I was told I was teaching one of our most senior adult Sunday school classes.

It was a just a tiny bit outside the scope of my ministry, but I'm on the staff at a large church now and a lot of people still don't know who I am.  And I guess being a pastor on staff means I get to go to Sunday School, really for the first time since I was called into ministry as my vocation.

Directing worship for the last eight years didn't really leave a lot of room for Sunday morning Bible study.

So, generally, if it's possible in the Sunday morning schedule, I accept invitations to teach class.

Except, I don't really like to teach, per se - I really like to chat.  I like to get people to tell me their stories.  I was given the lesson I was to teach this class, and it was pretty good and all, but I figured it was a great opportunity for a few senior members of the church to tell me what was what on their faith journeys.

As we started our conversation, one of the members of the class, a widow of a former preacher of our church shared this interesting tidbit from her time growing up Methodist (and I'm talking before there was such a thing as United Methodist):
"Methodists didn't carry around Bibles growing up, the Baptists did that.  I walked into class one day with my Bible and people asked me if I was teaching the lesson."
Now, here was a lady that was convicted that walking, literally, daily with the Word was the right thing to do.  It's an interesting story.  Do you carry around a Bible with you on a daily basis?  If you're like me, you know you have an internet of translations at your fingertips within your phone.

But that's not necessarily something people are going to catch you reading.

Growing up Baptist, I can attest to her analysis ... A phone, which is a symbol of connectedness, is also a symbol of detachment from the world around you.  Carrying around a Bible and actually pulling it out to read might invite controversy into your life, it might invite conversation with those around you, but that might be worth it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Advent Sermon Series - "Hope is On the Way"

A couple of months ago, my senior pastor, knowing my liturgical nerdiness, tasked me with putting together our sermon series for the season of Advent through Epiphany Sunday (this year December 1 - January 5).  At our church, for the most part, we follow the Revised Common Lectionary and build our sermon series out of that, following at least one Gospel/Psalm/OT/NT stream for a month or more.

Looking through the Gospel lessons for the season going into Year A, I knew the Gospel's would be the way to go.  After all, while all years of the Lectionary justifiably spend time with Mother Mary, year A is the only one to truly spend time with Joseph, Jesus' adopted earthly father.

To break down and explain the plan for each Sunday, I've included the scripture chosen, key verse from that scripture, and key words and key themes to aid in hymn selection and sermon preparations.  As a nerd for the church year, I'm not too crazy about including Christmas hymns at the start of the season.  I think it's okay to build those in as we lead to Christmas Eve, but it's important to note that this is a season of anticipation as we spend a lot of time with prophecy from Christ and John the Baptist.  So, when it comes to building up the Christmas theme - pace yourself.  Remember, Advent is a season of past and future collision in the present ... A time of already here (as in Christ did come and is here) and not yet (Christ will come again.  If you focus on Christmas too early, you miss the point of the season.

To aid in worship, I've also included a Call to Worship, Candle Lighting Liturgy, and Prayer of Confession for each appropriate Sunday.  At our church, we'll have a family light the candle and a liturgist follow that with the Call to Worship.

Feel free to use any and all resources.  If you do use them in worship, please leave a comment!


Series Plan:  Advent through Epiphany Sunday
“Hope is On the Way”

Overall Themes:  Watchfulness, Looking backwards and forwards in time (at the same time), joyful repentance, trust, hope

December 1: “Managing Un-expectations” Matthew 24:36-44

Key verse: Matt 24:44 - “[Jesus says] Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Key words: prophecy (Jesus prophesies his own arrival!!), watchfulness, readiness

Possible Theme:  Jesus, close to the end of his earthly life, prophesies another beginning.  Jesus, the Messiah, tells the people to watch out for the Messiah.  Jesus goes meta.

Lighting the Candle of Expectation 
It was Jesus Christ himself that told us to be ready at any time.
So, today we remember that call.  The call to look for God in unexpected places, at unexpected times.
And even though we wait, we can expect Our Savior to show.
This morning, we light the Candle of Expectation.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
We gather this morning as a people waiting for the Lord.
The one who died, rose, and will come again.
Yes, this is the truth, and the great mystery of our faith!
Yes!  Lord Jesus, come into our hearts again this Advent Season!

Call to Confession
Everlasting God, we confess that we haven’t been watching.  We haven’t been looking out for you.  Like a thief in the night, you could pass us by and we would never know.  We have forgotten to look for you in the faces of our children, of the homeless around us, in the immigrants who struggle as they serve even us.  Forgive us, we pray, and make us ready to greet you in everyone we see on the street as we leave this place.  Amen.

December 8: “We Work While We Wait” Matthew 3:1-12

Key verse: Matt 3:2 - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

Key words:  Promise, strength, hope, readiness, repentance

Possible Theme:  We journey backwards to before Jesus’ baptism, to John the Baptist prophesying the Messiah’s coming – a Messiah already here.  Now is the time to get right with God.

Lighting the Candle of Prophecy
John the called on God’s people to repent, for the Messiah was near.
The people had prayed for it, yet they didn’t see the one they had been waiting for was truly among them.
That prophecy was being fulfilled in their midst.
This morning, we light the Candle of Prophecy
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
Today we to turn to God.
Lord, have mercy on us!
The Kingdom of Heaven is near.
Lord, help us to spread the good news!

Call to Confession
Merciful God, though your prophets still call out to us, millennia later, we still don’t change our lives.  As John the Baptist shouts to the people, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven as come near!”, we know that you are here, and still we don’t change.  Still we don’t hear the cries of the needy, still we don’t prioritize serving the poor, and still we refuse to meet the needs of those who are truly hungry and thirsty around us.  And yet, merciful God, you still count on us to carry out your mission, you still encourage us to follow you, you still are near.  Help us, Lord, as we seek your way.  Amen.

December 15: “Hope in the King” Matthew 11:2-11

Key verse: Matt 11:3 - [John in prison asks] "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

Key words:  Joyful repentance, fulfillment, hope

Possible Theme:  The ministry of John the Baptist is validated in Christ.  The hopes in John’s heart are fulfilled in the statements of Jesus, the one the world had been waiting for – who was, who is, who is to come.

Lighting the Candle of Hope
Even John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for?”
All of the hopes and dreams of God’s children were wrapped up in that question.
And the answer was, yes, the Hope of the Nations was there, and is here.
This morning, we light the Candle of Hope.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
Together, let us be a people unafraid to hope!
Christ comes to us in the unexpected!
Let us keep the faith together – that Christ will come again.
Lord, keep us on the straight and narrow path that leads to you!

Call to Confession
Our Lord and Our Hope, we know that we often fail you.  We forget to watch.  We forget to wait.  We make the holiday season more about ourselves than sharing the hope that only you can bring.  We get so caught up in what we’re supposed to get this season, we forget what we’re called to give.  Help us to remember that this season is about the message and ministry of your son, Jesus Christ, the one who came to heal, liberate, and share the good news of your faithful love.  Call us to be faithful only to you this season.  Amen.

December 22: “A Surprise Adoption” Matthew 1:18-25

Key Verse:  Matt 1:20 - "But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."

Key words:  Trust, Faith, Christmas
Possible Theme:  What about Joseph?  Here we have the rarer-read birth narrative from Matthew, focused on the choices of Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph.  What can his awkward circumstance tell us about keeping the faith?

Lighting the Candle of Joy
As we wait for Emmanuel, God with us to arrive, we remember the fears of his earthly parents.
We remember the commitment of Joseph, we remember the commitment of Mary.
We remember that the Lord sent angels to comfort and to guide – with joy.
In that spirit of joy, of expectation and hope, we light the Candle of Joy.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
With joy we call Emmanuel down to meet with us this morning!
Christ be with us!
Through the birth of Christ, we know God’s love for us.
Thanks be to God!

Call to Confession
God of our salvation and author of our hope, it’s hard for us to see the blessings you have for us.  We think that our plans are better, that the things and desires of the world are higher than your ways.  You, Lord, are the great interrupter and sometimes we can feel inconvenienced by the calls you put on us to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you.  Remind us that this season that leads to Christmas wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for you loving this world that you made.  Thank you for loving us, God.  Amen.

December 24: “Hope Has Arrived” Luke 2:1-20

Key verse:  Luke 2:10-11 - “But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Key words: Christmas, watchfulness, peace, love, hope, joy

Possible Theme:  The shepherds were awake to receive the good news, while the rest of the world was asleep.

Lighting the Christ Candle
With this lighting of the Christ Candle we rejoice with prophets, angels, and Mary and Joseph in welcoming Christ!
Our hope has arrived!
Thank you God, for sending us your Son.
May this light remind us of the hope we all carry because you love the whole world!

December 29: “We Are Family” Hebrews 2:10-18

Key verse: 2:17 - “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.”

Key words: Family, Christmas

Possible Theme:  In Paul’s writings, he looks at Christ’s life, Christ who called us brother and sister with him as we are children of the Father.  Christ our teacher, also called us family.

Call to Worship
Through the birth of Christ …
… God stands with us.
Through the raising of Christ by Mary and Joseph …
… God shows faith in us.
We are all family in Christ, and with Christ.
Thanks be to God, for this amazing news!

January 5 [Epiphany Sunday] “What gift did God bring?” John 1:1-18

Key verse:  John 1:16 - From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Key words: Giving, New Year, Beginnings

Possible Theme:  Since the beginning of all things, God has been giving to us.  And God hasn't stopped giving to us.  So what do we do with that?

Call to Worship
The Word of God has been with us from the start!
Praise the Lord!
The Word of God is with us even now!
Praise the Lord!
May the Lord’s grace and peace be with us in the start of this New Year!


For further help, I've partnered with the GBOD to offer sermon starters for the series!  Just go here for a few ideas to start your sermons and get your whole worship team thinking about the season.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Discovering Discernment

Last Saturday, the fruit of nearly a year-and-a-half's work finally came to be - the first ever Central Texas Conference Discovery and Discernment Retreat.  The brainchild (and heart-child) of my wife and many others in a strong team of young adults and mentors, the retreat was set up to be a time to help young people discern where God was calling them to be in ministry.  And not just ordained ministry.

The UMC is great at discerning people into ordained ministry (kinda...) or out of ordained ministry, but as an organization, we're not as stellar at affirming the call to any and every ministry out there.  This retreat was set up as a time to embrace the call given to each of us at our baptisms; we are all called to ministry by the sacrament, sometimes we just don't know what to.

I was given the task of organizing worship for the event.  I currently don't have a band of my own as I'm into the preaching and teaching gig now, so what did I do?  I called in some of my closest and most talented friends to lead an epic-level, affirming the call event.  The last phrase being the ethos of the worship we would craft together - affirming our common call to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God together.

Again, we brought this event together not to tell people that they are called, we brought 70 young people to Waco already acknowledging this.  We expected them to know that they were called - probably just what we should expect from every person who claims the name Christian, but that's another conversation.

Our key song for the day was Here's My Heart, by David Crowder, this chorus being a driver for the worship:
Here's my heart, Lord.Here's my heart, Lord.Here's my heart, Lord.Speak what is true.
It has a modern "Here I Am, Lord" vibe that really captured what we were going for in worship, and what our preacher Lance Marshall, pastor for an emerging community in Fort Worth spoke to - we're not called to be members of the kingdom of this earth.

Obviously corporate worship was a major part of the event, but the bulk of the day was spent in break out sessions for our group of 70 or so.  Speaking of 70, isn't that the number of disciples Jesus sent out in the Gospel of Luke to love and serve their neighbors?  Hmmm ...

Our 70 young people (late high school to mostly college students and a little older) spent time in sessions talking with an assembled group of experts in youth ministry, children's ministry, college ministry, apologetics, spiritual gifts assesments, going to seminary without pursuing ordination, ordained ministry as elder and deacon in the UMC, and even Bishop Mike Lowry was on hand to discuss his call to ministry (he also presided over the table during morning worship).  Each of our 'discerners' was able to attend three sessions of their choice throughout the day as they saw fit, with plenty of time at lunch and in between events just to have conversations with eachother and make connections with the leaders.

A great many of our conference staff were on hand to support our young people, from District Superintendents, District Administrators and support staff.  Many of our breakout session leaders also traveled across conference lines to support the event - and isn't that so UMC?

It was more than a year of work from beginning to end, but I left the day with so much hope.  The Holy Spirit moved in mighty ways the whole day, my wife described it as if she felt "she was sitting next to the Holy Spirit" during worship and in the holy conversations held with young people.

I'm telling you, there's hope in the UMC, if you haven't heard already.  And young people want to be a part of it.

But here's what I would ask: what are other conferences doing to call young people to ministry?  Are we telling young people that a call to ministry is just for the ordained?  Are we building up young people and telling them, "Yes, you can be a lifelong youth minister - and we'll pay you a living wage so you can."?

Our calls are as unique as the people we are, and I think it the CTC we're starting to build a church that will affirm that.  I can't wait to see where all of this goes.  The Holy Spirit is on the move in Texas, and I pray that it is being allowed to move in the universal church, that the Kingdom of God will come that much more near to us.

If you'd like to check out the social media conversation from DDR, just check out #ctcddr on Twitter, FB, and Instagram.  You can find Leanne's  write-up on the Central Texas Conference website here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Eating: Hospitality and Humility

My sermon from 9/1/2013 ... More tough advice from Jesus.

How hospitable is your dinner table?  How hospitable is your church?  Is it as open as the open table should be?

September 1, Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Litany of Affirming the Call

This weekend I've been gifted the task to help lead and structure the worship for a conference-wide discernment retreat for young people in Central Texas and abroad.  It's a different kind of retreat, focused on vocational ministry in many ways, but the flip is that we're not fixated on ordained ministry as the only option.

We'll have break out sessions with leaders in ministry from our conference and many others to discuss with our young adults ministry in careers in youth ministry, children's ministry, and ordained ministry.  We'll talk about the need for educated lay people - that may even want to go to seminary just for that.

The point of the whole extravaganza is simple: we're all called to ministry, and our ministry call is as unique to each one of us.  What if ... we truly treated all members of our churches as the ministers we call ourselves?  That's the point of the weekend as we'll meet, pray, and discover where the Lord is guiding us.

At the close of the afternoon worship session, we'll be reading this litany together, as we affirm the call in one another.

A Litany of Affirming the Call

The discernment process can be a long one
     But thank God it’s not meant to be done alone
We stand here in community and we affirm together that the Lord has called each of us to ministry
     By our baptisms we are claimed by God to do good work in the Lord’s name
Our call is personal, and it is unique to each one of us
     And it is communal, as we live out our callings with those around us
Lord God, thank you for being with us as we discover who you are calling us to be
     Who you are calling us to be as a people of faith
     Who you are calling us to be as ministers of your word
The Spirit has brought us together in this place, by pulling on each of our hearts
     Maybe others have nudged us here, some have been shoved
But yes, God, we are here wondering at the plans you have for us
     So, Lord, we pray for the call put on our neighbor on our left
     We pray for the call put on our neighbor to our right
     In front of us.
     Behind us
We give God our thanks
     We thank you, God, our Creator for gifting us with our calls
     We thank you, Jesus Christ, for teaching us how to walk in the Way.
     We thank you, Holy Spirit, both for disturbing us into realizing our call, and comforting      us as we follow it.
May our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer fill us up, as we are sent out.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Unity of the Church

I'm in the thick of my first week's reading for my first semester of Christian Heritage.  I'm really digging these readings going back to just after the Book of Acts.  Getting a glimpse at our early church fathers and mothers, many of them on the road to martyrdom, is fascinating.  Just reading the scripture quotations alone in the writings of Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, and Cyprian is enough to bless me to be where I am today.

I'm currently reading Cyprian's The Unity of the Church, a treatise on what binds us together as the church.  Cyprian (c. 200 - 258) was the elected Bishop of Carthage for the last ten years or so of his life until his death as a martyr, during a time of much persecution of Christians.  While there's a lot to be said of his life, a driving force in his writing and ministry was keeping the unity in the church and encouraging followers to hold on during a time of trial to the love of God.  So much so, that he was apparently against granting mercy to those who would leave the church for fear of persecution and then ask to return when things got easier ... His ministry wasn't without controversy and he had a knack for strong words.

Here's a bit from Unity, regarding the Holy Spirit, the beauty of doves, and what to do with wolves in the church:
 Therefore also the Holy Spirit came as a dove, a simple and joyous creature, not bitter with gall, not cruel in its bite, not violent with the rending of its claws, loving human dwellings, knowing the association of one home; when they have young, bringing forth their young together; when they fly abroad, remaining in their flights by the side of one another, spending their life in mutual intercourse, acknowledging the concord of peace with the kiss of the beak, in all things fulfilling the law of unanimity. This is the simplicity that ought to be known in the Church, this is the charity that ought to be attained, that so the love of the brotherhood may imitate the doves, that their gentleness and meekness may be like the lambs and sheep. What does the fierceness of wolves do in the Christian breast? What the savageness of dogs, and the deadly venom of serpents, and the sanguinary cruelty of wild beasts? We are to be congratulated when such as these are separated from the Church, lest they should lay waste the doves and sheep of Christ with their cruel and envenomed contagion. Bitterness cannot consist and be associated with sweetness, darkness with light, rain with clearness, battle with peace, barrenness with fertility, drought with springs, storm with tranquility. Let none think that the good can depart from the Church. The wind does not carry away the wheat, nor does the hurricane uproot the tree that is based on a solid root. The light straws are tossed about by the tempest, the feeble trees are overthrown by the onset of the whirlwind. The Apostle John execrates and severely assails these, when he says, “They went forth from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, surely they would have continued with us."
It's just kind of interesting, our God is a God that will go after the lost sheep, but what to do with those that just leave?  What do with those that are just angry?  How would we be called to stand by one another if we lived in a country that persecuted Christians?   Hmmm ... 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sabbath Keeping

My sermon from last week on Luke 13:10-17, "Sabbath Keeping".

It was a deep text to be in ministry with last week, a passage from Luke that brings together many of the threads of the Luke's story.

How do you observe your Sabbath?  Do you rest?  Are you busy?  Are you shouting out your liberation through Christ?

August 25, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Everything Changes

Sermon from last week on Luke 12:49-56, a tough text, for sure.

What is Christ calling on you to leave behind and follow him?

August 18, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Little Lectionary-Based Inspiration

For those of you preaching the Gospel reading from the Lectionary for this week, a little inspiration via United Methodist Memes:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Kindling the Fire?

“I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze! I have a baptism I must experience. How I am distressed until it’s completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division."  Luke 12:49-51
It was kind of a dark and stormy Jesus today in our lectionary passage ... Quite contrary to the stern but reassuring Jesus we've been traveling with during our summer series on the Gospel of Luke.

Today's Jesus was frustrated.
He was fiery.
He was miffed that the people who were supposed to be prepared to meet the Messiah were neither prepared nor listening.

This was table turning Jesus.
Jesus on a mission to turn the world around.

This Jesus wasn't afraid to tell it like it is - following him was going to necessitate making some hard choices, doing a lot of self inventory.

Makes me wonder if this is what our beloved UMC is going through right now ... Have we been avoiding making the tough choices for too long?  Have we been worrying about the wrong things all together?  Have we been so worried about maintaining the status quo in our churches we've been missing our chance to have a real impact on planet Earth for the Kingdom?

What would Jesus think of our  UMC churches today?

I'm just wondering.

I think a lot of our churches behave as if they've arrived.
Would Jesus say that we have?
Are we so afraid to fix our problems?

I feel we might be so afraid of the potential divisions that Christ prophesied in the 12th Chapter of Luke that we're in danger of fading.  This isn't new news.  But it is a lack of faith.

It's easy to be cynical.

But ...

I just had a blast this weekend leading worship for 25 youth workers at the Central Texas Conference Youth Worker Sabbath.  For three days I sat back as colleagues commiserated with each other, prayed for one another, and played games with one another.  Like youth.

There's the hope in the Connection.

The UMC isn't done yet, because it hasn't yet arrived.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Friday, August 9, 2013

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Call to Keep Things Small?

Have you read Bishop Wililmon's 'procacative' piece for Ministry Matters "The Truth About Small Churches"?  You should.  I'll pause while you follow the link back and do so ...

What do you think?

I myself get more than tied up in the comments on articles like these, comments full of frustration and people that are super offended by the article - which usually means that they didn't read it.  Or that they didn't read it for meaning.

We have a real problem in the UMC.  And I'm not saying that small churches are the problem - and I don't think that the Bishop is saying that necessarily either.  The problem is with churches that aren't bearing fruit.

What is the fruit?

New disciples.  Stronger disciples.  People going out into the world to fish for others, reaching hearts for Christ.

The Kingdom of God is built on multiplication, not addition.

I have many friends working as licensed local and supply pastors in very small churches.  Some of them go against the grain of Bishop Willimon's experience and are changing hearts and opening doors all over town.  And they aren't just in the rural fringes ... They are also in urban and suburban environments right next door to the church I work at.  They are winning the race and running it with perseverance.

But still others aren't.  We aren't closing big churches, are we?

We closed five faith communities last year in Central Texas.  It's a tragedy.  We launched four new church starts.  That's a blessing - full of hard work.

But we can't build our way out of this with new churches.  We have to fight the decline, or we're playing with the Enemy.

We can't justify a lack of bearing fruit.  Seriously, the comments on the Bishop's article ... So much justification.

I'm just choosing to be excited about being in ministry in our day and age.  Our church's lack of growth is an opportunity to try new things to reach new people.  And that's crazy awesome.  I just refuse to justify.  A lot of folks in the Gospels went to Christ for him to justify the way they'd always done things.

Name one time when 'we've never done it that way before' worked for Christ.  We need to fight the call to keep things small.

(Dropping the mic, walking away.)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Fun, Since January 2012

I know I can be behind the times, but I've never been to before ... I know, I know.  It's fun to see those word clouds related to various subjects and conversations.

My wife pointed me towards it as a way to check word emphasis on my sermons, which is a cool idea.  But I though, hey, why not run this blog through the ringer and see what comes up?

So, for fun, here it is:

Wordle: 8/5/13

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

My sermon from 7/28, on the Lukan setting of the Lord's prayer.

Considering that the Lord's prayer is a part of our common liturgy, how did Christ intend for us to use this prayer when he taught it to the disciples?

July 28, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Why millennials are leaving the church"

I'll admit, I'm a fan of Rachel Held Evans.  She brings a lot of balance to the term 'Evangelical Christian' and I think her writing is to the point.  Her latest article from the CNN Belief Blog, "Why millennials are leaving the church' really isn't new information.  It's the same information that David Kinnaman breaks down in You Lost Me, and the same stuff Adam Hamilton preaches in When Christians Get it Wrong, although more conversational than Kinnaman and less preachy than Hamilton.

She also speaks from somebody who bridges a divide between Buster and Millennial, and so she can speak from a place of real-life experience.

Some quotes from the article worth noting:
I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations. Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” So I don’t want to portray the divide as wider than it is.
But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.

The word I think she's going for, but doesn't use is authenticity.  Young people want to be part of a church that isn't out to divide the world (I realize you can throw Jesus at me here, but don't), but bring it together.  Pastors that keep it real and worship leaders that aren't there just to be cool.  Liturgy that blends together the ancient and the future that's just comforting enough to get you ready to have your world rocked by the gospel of truth, justice, and peace.

I wear skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses when I preach, guilty, but that's because that's what I wear all the time.  And I have a prescription for the glasses, so there.

When it comes to this topic, why millennials are leaving the church, I feel like our lectionary Gospel lesson from yesterday has something to say:

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus, in chapter 11 of Luke, is calling on us to pray through our troubles with God constantly.  If you're struggling with reaching Millennials, knock on God's door, but also, knock on the doors of the Millennials and ask, "What can we do for you?"  There's just a little too much deciding without enough conversation.  This topic is going to be an ongoing issue until leaders start talking to the people they're trying to reach.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Worship and Liturgy Resources - The Essentials

Yesterday, I completed the whirl-wind educational experience known as "Licensing School", a big step in the UMC on the road to ordination; upon completion and appointment by the Bishop you are bestowed the title "Licensed Local Pastor".  It is now a required step for all that are moving onto Elder or Deacon, but for many becoming a LLP is actually the goal and they continue their education through Course of Study.

There were thirty or so folks in class, most from Central Texas, but others from Southwest Texas and one from the North Texas Conference.  All of us are serving in a variety of circumstance, many as Lay Supply in smaller churches already, some in larger churches serving in youth, young adult, children, and music departments waiting for appointment or just taking the class as part of the ordination track while in seminary, others serve as volunteers and unpaid staff.

Most discussions were panel-led with some great pastors and laity serving in the CTCUMC.  After attending, one thing I felt was needed was a list of essential resources for worship ministry.  Nothing frilly or overly theological (you seminarians and fellow liturgy nerds know what I mean).  Just good resources for the folks who don't have time right now to dig into the heavier things while they barely have time to prepare a sermon, much less worship plan.

It'll blow your mind how many quarter and half-time supply pastors we have serving while holding down one or two other jobs to support a call to ministry.  I met several, and they are my new heroes.  I also understand, more than ever, how fortunate I am to have landed in a great full-time job, surrounded by stellar mentors who pour into me every day.

So, here's my list of essentials.  What would you add?


United Methodist Book of Worship (1989)
Goes without saying, but still needs to be said.

Worship and Song (Liturgies and Prayers) (2011)
This is the latest hymnal supplement adopted by the United Methodist Church.  A great resource for seasonal and topical calls to worship, offertory prayers, corporate prayers, confessions, and new creeds.  If you're going to buy this one, it's probably good just to go ahead and purchase the leader's version as well, but this volume of just liturgy resources is cheap.

Christian Year, Christ’s Time for the Church
A seminary level book that’s completely accessible.  Stookey breaks down each season of the church year. Great to read as a whole or just as prep for upcoming worship planning.  Before planning worship for any season, I choose the chapter from this book to wrap my head around the task.

The New Handbook of the Christian Year
A comprehensive UMC resource breaking down the Christian year, complete with liturgy and worship suggestions.

Upper Room Worship Book
A great resource for different types of liturgies (daily prayer, evening prayer, healing services).  Tons of music and sung psalter with a wealth of world, traditional, and ‘contemporary’ music.


GBOD Worship
Predominantly oriented towards lectionary preaching churches, there are resources for each week including sermon helps (with great ideas towards building lectionary-based sermon series), and hymn suggestions with semi-contemporary resources.

Ministry Matters
A UMC website with fantastic worship resources (among other practical things), click the worship tab for worship resources.  For each week of the lectionary, there are calls to worship, offertory prayers, etc.  Yearly subscription is $99 for access to the online library (worth it)

Worship Together
One of the best contemporary music resource sites out there, it brings together artists of the Passion Movement, Hillsong and many others.  It offers a whole lot of free stuff, including mp3 downloads of the most recent songs by their artists, including song stories.

A music licensing company, with avenues for video and streaming licenses as well.  You have to have a license to perform anything not in one of our hymnals (or anthems that have been purchased by the church) - or you could get sued.