Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Guess who's coming to dinner?"

After four weeks as the new Director of Communications and Young Adult Ministries at FUMC Arlington, TX, I received my first opportunity to preach the good news at the Celebration worship service.

My text was from the 11th chapter from the Book of Acts, as Peter is called to task by the Jerusalem Church for thinking it was 'ok' to sit and eat with a Gentile family.  "But wait, there's more!", he says to the Church, "Salvation is theirs as well!"

Our very own entrance into God's Kingdom as Christians today was opened and had a doorstop permanently put in by Peter (with the power of the Holy Spirit) in our passage for Sunday.

Below is the video of my sermon, "Guess who is coming to dinner?".  What a blessing it was to have the opportunity to preach!


Other sermon videos from our awesome preaching staff as well as other promo videos for our ministries can be found at FUMC Arlington's Vimeo channel here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Wait, we're all invited?

My first sermon at the new church will be on April 28 at the contemporary service.  As a church during the Season of Easter we're following the scripture lessons from the Book of Acts, discussing the formation of the church known as "The Way".  You know, the actual first church.

My given reading for the day is Acts 11:1-18.  A really cool reading where Peter lays it on the new Christian converts in Jerusalem that evangelism is the new name of the game.  That's something that they already knew a little bit about, except there was a new wrinkle to God's plan that they hadn't realized yet - the Kingdom is open to the Gentiles.  The Way was open to all who were ready to choose Christ.  This should have been old news at this point, but the people needed a little sermonizing from Peter to get the point.

To be truthful, (and Peter does admit) Peter initially balked at this call from God.  God had come to him with a vision, showing him the new life open to the world, and when Peter didn't understand, God said, "Never consider unclean what God has made pure."  The table is open, Planet Earth.  We're all invited to the Lord's party.

Probably the most striking verse of this passage to me, though, is the final one when the apostles and other believers praise God, saying, "So then God has enabled Gentiles to change their hearts and lives so that they might have new life."

I just want to say here that Gentile hearts had been changed throughout the history of the nation of Israel.  Gentiles had always been drawn to God's people, there are even extensive rules on their inclusion in the community.  Many heroes of the early faith were Gentiles.  But they were never reached out to, evangelism wasn't the thing.

It's not the Gentile hearts that needed changing so much as the hearts of the new believers to reach those outside of the family.

But, really, how UMC is this reading?  It's an actual scripture about an Open Table (and hearts and minds that were being opened).

Kind of leaves me thinking about this:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Focusing on the Family

I had the afternoon off last Sunday.  A non-church staff member might say, "Yeah ... so?"

In eight years of ministry, it hasn't happened that often.  For years Sunday morning has been a grind (95% of the time an extremely blessed one) from 7am or so to 6pm ... Or so ...

During the school year, when student choir rehearsals are going on, Sunday has usually been an 11+ hour day.  I say this not to complain - a minister signs up for these things - just to illustrate how wonderful it can be to have a Sunday afternoon off.

Sure, I often went home for lunch between worship and rehearsal for an hour or two.  But for my family, I might as well not have come home some of those Sundays.  I was pretty worthless as a human, dad, and husband.  My wife signed up for it with me, but that didn't negate the occasional tension in the house.  For me, coming home for lunch was just that - a lunch break, not really a time to get stuff done around the house, interact with my wife, or play with my kid.

That was just part of Sunday.  So when we new we'd have the occasional Sunday afternoon together, those afternoons were circled very brightly on the family calendar as a day to do something different or special.  Because dad could be all-in on family time.

In our family, and in most church staff families, my spouse works a mostly 9 to 5 job Monday through Friday.  So, while most families get a full weekend together we've generally just had Saturday.  I've always taken Friday as my day off.  It's always been a balancing act on the weekends, wanting to cram as much family time into Saturday as we can, while making sure to find time just to rest.

At Perkins, we had to take a class called "Spiritual Formation", a class designed in a group setting to introduce us to various spiritual disciplines.  The idea behind the program is to encourage those studying to work in ministry to start taking on spiritual disciplines as a way to keep you centered on Christ and family.  It encourages the students to find a way to keep a balanced and healthy spiritual life.  The class exists because those in ministry can have a really hard time maintaining a spiritual life that grounds a person.  It may seem ironic to someone who doesn't work in ministry, as those in ministry are there to help others find their way spiritually, but there it is.

Leanne and I work very hard during the work week to keep our family's spiritual life in balance, and we've chosen several family spiritual disciplines to keep us on the right path.  We eat dinner together, at the dinner table with the TV turned off, nearly seven nights a week.  We pray with Wesley before we put him to bed.  We've started a Bible-in-a-year reading plan (it'll end up being more like a Bible-in-a-year-and-a-half when we wrap it up).  And we pray with each other as a husband and wife before we go to sleep.

We've come up with most of this on our own, and we're accountable to each other.  But ... Rarely does somebody from the local church actually check on us.

The world needs to be let in on this: pastors and staff members have messy lives, just as much if not more-so than the average congregant.  And especially just as messy in one of our harder to swallow American statistics - divorce.  It's hard to find clear data on divorce rates amongst clergy, but nearly everything I could find essentially stated that clergy divorce rates are the same as everybody else (and apparently higher among female clergy).

So, I'd like to pose a few questions to Pastors, SPR/PPR members, and laity:
What are you doing to see that your staff is taking care of itself spiritually (as individuals and as a whole staff)? 
What are the vacation and time off benefits you have allocated to your staff?
   And do you encourage your staff to take that much needed time off? 
Do you provide health insurance for your staff?  Do you see that they take advantage of the benefits? 
Do you pray with and for your staff?  Do they know that?
Some times of the year are much busier than others ... I added up the hours I worked during this last Holy Week and I stopped counting after 70.  Advent and Christmas has it's own hurdles.  The whole ministry staff puts in these hours during the all-hands-on-deck events to help bless the communinity and create God experiences, but:
Do you help your staff keep track of the hours they work and take the necessary time off to balance things out?
Your staff needs your help.  It never becomes more evident at the sacrifice my whole family makes for my (our) career in ministry until I get a Sunday afternoon off.  Think about it.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


It's been a hectic week.

I've now been serving as "Director of Communications and Young Adult Ministries" at FUMC Arlington, TX for one week, and I'm loving it.  Although, it's a complete change from where I was a week ago.

Gone is the regular daily routine.  I had a great weekly to-do list as a worship pastor.  I knew exactly what I had to do every day.  Now, before I go to bed and check out my Google calendar to psych myself up for what I'm doing the next day.  It's all about meetings.  Right now it's all church-y orientation stuff, but over the next few weeks I'll be heading more and more off campus meeting folks.  I'll be digging in with the evangelism team to see what's what there.  I'm going to Sunday School  classes - yes!  I have my first sermon here on the books for the last Sunday of April.

All in all, this is going to be super fun.  It will be a huge test for where my and my family's ministry is heading, but it's wicked exciting.

But, I still find myself pulling out the guitar to keep myself centered.  Keeping the family centered through prayer is also going to be an essential spiritual discipline as we deal with the path God has laid before us.  There is so much crazy ahead!  I truly feel that God has prepared me for this and my family is made to minister to other young families and young adults together.

It's so cool to be able to live into this new calling!

I miss a lot about my days as worship minister, a lot of people.  The hardest thing for me to balance every week was the essential thing for a worship ministry's weekly routine: the rehearsal.  Why was it hard for me? Because I really liked talking to people.  I had to be a super-rigid taskmaster in practice a lot of the time because I knew that I could get off on a tangent faster than most sopranos.

I spent the first three days of this job without an office computer and I tell you what, it was almost like a Sabbath rest from my usual daily work.  Instead of sitting at a desk I had to go out and talk to people to find something to do.  Some of the funnest ministry I've had a chance to do.

In the introduction to You Lost Me, David Kinnaman writes this:
But disciples cannon be mass-produced.  Disciples are handmade, on relationship at a time.
While my online calendar, Facebook, and Twitter are tools of my new trade, nothing is a substitute for a great conversation over coffee.  I'm in for some hard work.  But so much fun.

Have I mentioned that I'm excited?  I'm excited.

Really, really excited.