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?