A Picture of Why Facebook Matters to the Church

Have you seen this image before?  It's currently the cover photo on Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook profile.  Dated September 24, 2013, it shows the friendship connections made through Facebook on a global scale.  I'm sure it's out of date as I write this entry 6 months later, but I think it makes a serious case for the presence of the church on Facebook and other notable social media platforms.

But I'm not just talking about your church's FB page - which every church should have by the way, it's a free website for crying out loud - but I'm also thinking of how we-the-people-who-are-the-Body-of-Christ inhabit this "third space".

Sunday we discussed Micah 6:8, one of the easiest scriptures/commandments from the Lord to remember there is.  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.  Short, simple, to the point.  The Gospel in a nutshell, really.  But how do we do that on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like?  We Christians love to dispense various brands of justice on social media don't we?  We're quick to judge and share those judgement.

And people are quick to unfollow those that do.  A click and you're done.  That's it.  I have 871 'friends' on FB (I'm sure many of you have more), accrued over nearly 10 years of usage.  That's quite the potential reach, especially if you count the worlds of people that each of my FB friends also reach.  But we're all just a click away from being unsubscribed to if we're offensive, bully, or generally take things too far.

Right now, there are some 1.26 billion Facebook users out there, many of whom waiting to have the love of Christ to be revealed to them.  Facebook is a global fellowship, how are you like Jesus there?  Do you just seek justice?  Or do you love mercy as well on social media?

Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown

As we head into our third week of our series on Wesleyan Christian beliefs, this week we tackle John Wesley's thoughts on heaven, the Kingdom of God, and how to get there.  It's a tough subject to tackle, but in his sermon "The Way to the Kingdom" he's pretty clear that the Kingdom of Heaven is something that is meant to be enjoyed here and now.  It is meant to be pursued in the immediate, that we can experience heaven on earth.

How?  By pursuing the love of God, which is also all around us, running amok in our daily lives whether we like it or not.

Wheresoever therefore, the gospel of Christ is preached, this his "kingdom is nigh at hand."  It is not far from every one of you.  Ye may this hour enter thereinto, if so be ye hearken to his voice, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel. (John Wesley, The Way to the Kingdom)

For me, it kind of strikes me that God has actually been in pursuit of us all along, that God has already done all of the hard work of reconciliation, and that all we must do is say "Yes" to the Kingdom's entrance into our hearts.

I've been spending time this week with the text of Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown, by Charles Wesley, a stirring and emotional text that describes Charles' own faith journey, mirroring the struggle of Jacob with God at Peniel.

Stanza one (UMH 386):

Come, O thou Traveler unknown who still I hold, but cannot see!My company before is gone, and I am left alone with thee.With thee all night I mean to stay, and wrestle til the break of day;With thee all night I mean to stay, and wrestle till the break of day

And stanza four:

'Tis love!  'Tis love! Thou diedst for me, I hear thy whisper in  my heart.The morning breaks, the shadows flee, pure, Universal Love thou art.To me, to all, thy mercies move; thy nature and thy name is Love.To me, to all, thy mercies move; thy nature and thy name is Love.

It's one of the few hymns that we have in the hymnal by Charles that actually includes the full text, UMH 387, it was originally published in 1742 under the title "Wrestling Jacob".  Charles was John's younger brother, but John outlived him, his partner in ministry and friend, by three years.  After the full text in the hymnal, there is a short piece of history given in our hymnal:

John Wesley ended his obituary tribute to his brother Charles at the Methodist Conference in 1788.  "His least praise was his talent for poetry: although Dr. [Isaac] Watts did not scruple to say that 'that single poem, Wrestling Jacob, was worth all the verses he himself had written." A little over two weeks after his brother's death, John Wesley tried t teach the hymn at Bolton, but broke down when he came to the lines "my company before is gone and I am left alone with thee."

I've gone on a little bit longer than I intended on this piece already, but that little story gets me every time I read it.  Love pursues us right now.  That's the narrative the church needs to be preaching, without putting stumbling blocks in front of it.

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.

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.

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.)

Make us One, Lord

Make us one, Lord, make us one;
Holy Spirit, make us one.
Let your love flow so the world will know
we are one in you.

               - Carol Cymbala, 1991, TFWS 2224
This past Monday, the Dream UMC movement had a synch-blog event in which bloggers contributed entries along one theme: "Is Schism The Best Future for the UMC? Why? Why Not?"

As you might guess, our politically divided UMC blogosphere was split on whether schism was good or bad, inevitable or able to be prevented.  UMC clergy Eric Folkerth and Jeremy Smith wrote a couple of entries I found to be illuminating and stretched my thinking.

What do I think?  I think schism would be bad, and I don't think it's inevitable.  But ... Some thinking needs to change, and a lot of real praying needs to happen.

I'm a left-center Methodist, and a card-carrying independent.  I find it fascinating that our denomination can be so diverse in perspective, but it can be a struggle to see what unites us.  There's a lot of proof-texting going around, not just of the word, but also of the Wesley Brothers themselves.

But I say praying needs to happen ... I think when people who are at opposite ends of an issue enter debate, the prayer often is "God, can you get the other person to change their mind so I can have my way, and my way is your way, right?"  As opposed to, "Merciful God, please send down the Holy Spirit here as moderator."

For three years I had the blessing to serve Aldersgate UMC in Slidell, LA.  It was a church that struggled through the recovery process post-Katrina with so much amazing grace.  They were a pillar of the recovery effort in the community and still are.  But things still changed for the church membership and they (we) were struggling to offer three services on Sunday morning.  We needed to go to two, and our contemporary service needed to move off of the Sunday school hour and into the later, 11am, time slot.

We knew it needed to be done.  The church wasn't doing well.  Scaling back needed to happen so the church could rebound in a mighty way.

We took surveys, we went through committee meetings.  It was a 6-month long process just to get the data together to present a plan.  We tried to shove it through the Administrative Board, but people hadn't gotten the memo clearly enough that changing our service formats was on the docket.

So the decision was made to have a Church Conference - a scenario where every professing member of the church gets a vote.  A scenario primed for heated discussion.

But my very wise pastors structured the meeting as worship.  We opened with prayer, called down the Spirit to be an active participant in our talks.  We sang the chorus printed above, "Make us one, Lord ..."  Anytime things would get heated and we needed to press pause, my pastors would nod at me and I would step over to the keys and we would sing again.  Happened a half-dozen times.  But it worked.  Prayer worked.

People are always passionate about their worship styles, and people were there.  I think I even remember one gentleman saying, "Jesus doesn't wake up until 11am, and he only wants to hear the organ when he does."  I'm not kidding.

But the real prayer lifted up that night on each individual was, "Lord, is it my heart that needs to be changed?"

The new plan, after a hard 2-hour meeting, passed unanimously.  Not everyone was happy about it, but all saw the good that would come.

A holy meeting was called that brought everyone together.  What would happen at  GC2016 if we let the Holy Spirit really do its work?  In our committees between now and then?  The Holy Spirit can move us when we genuinely gather those of opposing perspectives to do the work together.  I believe that, but maybe that's just the moderate in me.

I do pray for the Spirit to come through for us, to make us one, United Methodist Church.  Will you join me in that prayer?

The Big Change

A few months back I began the candidacy process in the UMC to pursue ordination as an elder.  Since that time that decision as been reaffirmed through conversation, prayer and a multitude of experiences in discernment.

Through it all, I knew I was in this process for the long haul, knowing that the UMC takes a fairly deliberate course in determining who's right and then equipping those folks for ministry.

Here's one thing I know: I'm called to new church start ministries in the UMC.  I'm called to reach out to the millenial generation, a generation that's largely been mishandled by the church - a generation that I'm a member of.

In discerning that call as a family, I've reached out and made it know that that's what I feel called to do with my life in ministry.  And through that reaching out, a new opportunity in ministry has come.

Beginning April 1st, I will begin serving as Associate Pastor of Young Adults and Communications at First United Methodist Church of Arlington, TX.  I'll be working with the pastoral staff and laity to reach out to the local community to pull in the young families and college students that are on the fringes.  I've also been blessed with the responsibility to preach and lead their contemporary worship service, a responsibility that will be phased in over the first few months in Arlington and that will step up after I attend licensing school this summer.

Oh yeah, and I hope to start seminary again this fall as I begin studies towards an MDiv.  It's all happening at once!

It's an awful big change for my family.  As I broke the news to my chancel choir family on Wednesday night it hit me that I've had Wednesday night choir practice for the last 12 years or so, the last 8 years as a director.  It's sinking in that the music ministry portion of my worship ministry is going on the back-burner for a little while as I continue to feel out God's will for my life.

I've had such a blessed time as a worship leader, for the last two years at FUMC Duncanville on the edge of Dallas.  This faith family and I have been through a whole lot together and we have blessed one another.  It's bittersweet, no doubt - there's still work to be done with my faith family in Duncanville.  I thank God for the many lessons I've learned here, lessons I will be carrying on as my family and I move on in God's ministry.

But I'm excited ... I'll finally have the time to get out in the local community and see what I'm made of in that context.  It's a new season for my family, and we're stepping out in faith together for a new adventure with the Lord.  We'll be needing your prayers!

"You Lost Me, LIVE" Reflections

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to go to a free one-day conference facilitated by the Barna Group, and David Kinnaman, author of unChristian and now You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith.  It was a day-long conversation that really gets to the heart of where my ministry call is going - how do we reach the un-churched/de-churched millenial generation that I'm a member of?

Honestly, it was a day full of more questions than answers, but that's OK - the conference was indeed free, and I ended up buying the books.  The predicament regarding the church and the younger generations isn't new ... But I'm interested in the words and strategies.  For all of my real life experience, I've never truly fallen away from the church in my lifetime, so I do feel that God is calling me into difficult waters when it comes to relating to those of my generation who have fallen away from the church, or even those who have never had a real chance to experience what Christ can do for you in your life.  Mostly the workshop was about asking questions, and I feel good about that.

There was a point, however, when the conference brought the real in.

A Christ-promoter by the name of Jim Henderson put an ad on Craig's List calling for young adults (19-29) to join him in a chat on religion - why they do or don't go to church and where they stand on various faith issues.  Knowing that just offering an invitation wouldn't work, he offered to pay each attendee $50 to come help him with is research.

Two of the young adults who went to that meeting came forward to share their testimonies on why they no longer attend the Christian church.  Mr. Henderson led them through their stories with tremendous grace and without judgement.

The first to share, Lauren (24) served as an organist at an African American church until a few months ago.  She had faithfully served her church community for several years as their part time accompanist, and for reasons unknown to her she went unpaid for several months.  She pursued conversations with her pastor, who avoided her and she continued to work without pay.  After several months of frustration and faithful service, she took to a little ranting on Twitter.  Her pastor got wind of her behavior, and rather than bring her in and fire her, when the church bus drove by her house to pick her up on Sunday morning she was simply told that she wasn't being picked up that day.  Just like that, she was excommunicated.

I didn't even realize that could happen any more.  Without a formal word, a creative and faithful (though clearly not without flaw) young adult was excommunicated from the faith community she called home.  And why?  She embarrassed her pastor.  When Mr. Henderson asked her where she stood in her faith at the moment, she said she still considered herself Christian, but she was done with the church for the time being.  In her opinion, she was tired of church leaders that were more into their own names than the one name that truly matters.  There were many murmurs of dissent with she she shared those remarks.  I heard an older gentleman mutter rather loudly, "Well, that's just an opinion!"

It's an opinion that really matters - because it's COMMON.

The second interview was with Abby, a former Christian.  She grew up in an extremely conservative household, but twin brother baptist grandfathers, if you can imagine that.  She spent some time in the military oversees and had a strong heart for Christ - her intent was even to jump into Military Chaplaincy.  But she quickly became disillusioned with a faith that didn't seem active enough and Christians that seemed to only talk a lot of talk.  She fell away from the church.  She ended up waitressing at a hookah bar of all things, and ended up being ministered to by an Islamic Lebanese family that could see she was searching for something.  She ended up turning to Islam - and get this - because of the rigorous requirements on those who join the faith.  In this Islamic community it's constant worship, constant prayer, constant charity, constant community, and constant family.  She's a history nut with an affinity for languages so she's been able to study the Qu'ran in it's root language and she's been renewed by her faith in Allah.

Now you can sit here and say, "Well, now she's going to hell for joining Islam.  Bummer."  That's an issue that we don't really have time to explore here ... But what the Christian community needs to accept here is that's our fault in both cases of these brave women. We failed these young adults by not embracing their creativity and desire for a faith in action.

And they're just two examples in a sea of thousands upon thousands of young adults that are on the bubble of leaving the church or have left already.

But, there is hope.  In a couple of days I'll share a few of the strategies shared with us to renew our commitment to young adults and young families in the church. But in the meantime, what do you think of the two testimonies shared here?  What is your church doing to meet the ever changing needs of the young adults in your midst?

"The End of Methodist Doctrine"

As I journey through the candidacy process, I've discovered a few holes in my game that need to be shored up.  I'm going to be asked some tough questions in tough meetings, and it would be nice to have at least a few answers ready.  I realize I've been at this ministry thing for a while, but I find myself feeling deficient in knowledge of things Methodist.  I know that things will be covered in depth as I get back into the seminary groove, but I've built up a small reading list in the meantime.

I've begun with Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials, by Dr. Ted Campbell, Professor of Church History at Perkins.  I didn't have the opportunity to take any courses with Dr. Campbell the last time through seminary, but I've heard great things and I look forward to possible coursework from him in the future.

At the end of the introductory chapter, I came across this little tidbit I would like to share:
The end, or goal, of the Methodist teaching is not the advancement of Methodism.  Our heritage has been used by God for a much greater end: the coming of God's reign, or kingdom.  So we should pray fervently for the day when Methodism ceases to exist, for that great day when, our historic mission having been accomplished by divine grace, the Wesleyan heritage finally dissolves into the glory of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church."  In the words of Charles Wesley, "names and sect and parties fall; thou, O Christ, art all in all!"
If only the church, from local to general could function under that kind of freedom.

Prayer for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

From the United Methodist Book of Worship:

We remember the conviction of Martin Luther King, Jr., that "freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
Therefore, let us pray for courage and determination by those who are oppressed ...

We remember Martin's warning that "a negative peace which is the absence of tension" is less than "a positive peace which is the presence of justice."
Therefore, let us pray that those who work for peace in our world may cry out first for justice ...

We remember Martin's insight that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."
Therefore, let us pray that we may see nothing in isolation, but may know ourselves bound to one another and to all people under heaven ...

We remember Martin's lament that "the contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.  It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo.  Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church's silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are."
Therefore, let us pray that neither this congregation nor any congregation of Christ's people may be silent in the face of wrong, but that we may be disturbers of the status quo when that is God's call to to us ...

We remember Martin's "hope that dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."
Therefore, in faith, let us commend ourselves and our work for justice to the goodness of almighty God.  Amen.

Quotations from Letter From the Birmingham City Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chasing #Hospitality

I had one of the best customer service experiences of my life this morning.  No sarcasm.  True story.

And it was at the bank.

I know ... the bank.

But I'm not kidding.  We were on the road, but needed to get some cash out to stock our cash envelopes.  So we weren't at our usual Chase Bank branch.  We were a little early in our plans for the day, so we decided to just jump in.  Even on a busy day, I find it never takes too long at Chase.

I grab a withdrawal slip, fill it out, and get in line behind another lady.  Immediately one of the three tellers (who was busy) greeted me and asked if I was having a nice day.  It didn't at all take away from her current work, and seemed very genuine.

While I was waiting in line one of the tellers called out to a customer who had just walked in the door she recognized as a regular at the branch.

The lady ahead of me moved forward to be served, and the receptionist stepped over to ask what I was there for ... I replied that I was there for a withdrawal, and she checked to make sure that I had everything filled out alright.  I did, so she moved on to help the person behind me.

Seeing a line forming, one of the bank managers stepped out from his desk to greet customers as well, including me.

I stepped up to my teller, and he immediately asked how I was doing today, before taking my information.  It was just small talk conversation, not particularly meaningful, but I truly felt like an important customer.  The teller broke down my withdrawal exactly as I asked, and I was out of there with a smile on my face.

The whole time though, I'm thinking, "Who's training these people?"

All the folks working at this bank branch had a spirit of hospitality about them.  It felt completely genuine.  I know it's their job to be hospitable, but how many places have you been to, where you're supposed to get good customer service, you actually get it?  Not many in my experience.

As a first time visitor to this bank, I know that if I was close by, it would be our bank.

Are our churches offering hospitality that makes folks want to come right back?  When you walk into a church building for a first time are you greeted by everybody?  That would be a #dreamumc.

Much like this bank branch, at the church it is everyone's responsibility to offer hospitality, it's not a job for someone.  Greet somebody new on Sunday morning.  You might make their day, and show them a little bit more Jesus.

Where was the best hospitality experience you've had?  The worst?

Like a Lion

This Sunday in worship we debuted "Like a Lion", a song by Daniel Bashta, a worship pastor at a church outside of Atlanta.

It's a heavy song.  The first time I heard was two years ago, when the David Crowder Band covered it for Passion 2010.  And, to tell the truth, initially I was really put off by it.  It's a very raw-natured song at it's heart.  The lyrics of the chorus go like this:
My God's not dead: he's surely alive,
And he's living on the inside, roaring like a lion!
It's the "My God's not dead" part that bothered me.  I mean, whoever said God was dead?  In seminary, we did cover for a second in my intro to theology class the "God is Dead" theologians, but I didn't really pay attention there.  I didn't see the relevance.  I did, and do, realize that there are people in this world that do not believe in the Almighty.  Or, should I say, an almighty.  But for people to devote time to theorizing on the death of God, and how we killed God, just kind of struck me as silly at a time.

Recently, however, I've been awakened to the plight of my generation.  A generation who's primary witness to God's love is given through politicians looking for sound bites (on both sides of the many aisles) or TV pastors who do the same before getting caught up in the many ways to do things that are illegal or immoral.

It's to this generation, this feeling throughout the world, that Daniel Bashta is singing for.  Not only is God not dead, God is alive, God is relevant, God is hope, and God wants to roar into the world through us.

At the raw-centered heart of this song is a call for God to come down into this world run amok like a Pentecostal fire:
Let heaven roar!
And fire fall!
Come shake the ground,
With the sound of revival!
How do our faith families speak to the people who don't find relevance in knowing God's salvation?  Specifically to our struggling millennials? 

It might start as it does throughout the Word ... We ask for help.

What is your church's foundation?

The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ our Lord;
we are his new creation
by water and the Word;
from heaven he came and sought us
that we might ever be
his living servant people,
by his own death set free.
- Samuel J. Stone, 1866; adapted by L. H. Stookey, 1983
As we take this Saturday to prepare for the Celebration of Worship to come on the Lord's Day (for some of you it all may start this afternoon or evening), I think it's relevant to ask ourselves:
What is our foundation?
Is it a building?  Is it a program?  Is it a band or a choir or an organ?  Is it the preacher?  We tend to think that any of these things, if just right can cure every ill.  But there's only one Divine Carpenter, one Divine Healer.

Making Jesus the foundation for anything takes work and prayer.  We should be asking ourselves through every decision made in the Lord's name: is Jesus Christ our foundation?
Called forth from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
our charter of salvation:
one Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name professing
and at one table fed,
to one hope always pressing,
by Christ's own spirit led.

#generationhope - a faith-based response to #generationscrewed

Last week I saw #generationscrewed trending on my twitter feed, via the Daily Beast, a fun/serious/snarky news service I follow.  My interest was piqued, so I began to read the tweets that followed.  Then I also caught the article that started it all from Newsweek, "Are Millennials the Screwed Generation?"  News Week started the #generationscrewed tag, offering to retweet anybody using the tag.

I had to do a little research of my own on who millennials even are ... The generation is summed up as anybody born between 1977 and 1994.  So, I'm at the older end (born in 1981) of a group of people that span 17 years, the youngest of which are just graduating from high school and moving on to college.  Nice to know that I'm considered to be in the same generation as my student intern!

In all seriousness, people of the Millennial generation are entering into a troubled time, with much higher than average unemployment (nearly 50% higher than the national stats) an average student loan debt of $27,000.  Because we graduate with bachelors degrees to a closed job market (older generations are not retiring as they used to), we end up going on immediately to grad school, to lump on more debt.  And then we graduate from that to a still closed job market.  Millennials have ended up often finding themselves both over educated and underemployed.  And the penchant of older generations to gravitate towards debt and social systems that the younger generations pay to support and likely won't be there for us creates a huge climate of anxiety for the current crop of young adults that the church is fishing for.

I shared in a lot of this woe when my wife and I got married.  Before we were married, my personal debt total (student loans, credit cards, vehicle loans, etc.) totalled nearly $90,000, $80,000 of which was student load debt.  A little bit from undergrad, plus a lot from seminary.  I didn't even know how to get started with it; I'd taken voluntary forbearance a couple of times, which was only racking on more interest.  Then I met Leanne, and she let me know that if a relationship with her was important, having financial order was going to be essential.  She'd already begun her journey towards getting out from under a mountain of debt and it was a big deal for her to see me, and not just my debt.  As a longtime follower of Dave Ramsey and student of his Financial Peace University program, she brought me a couple of books, and I set to work chopping down my debt, credit cards first, during our engagement.

I also, in the midst of the stress of writing a real budget and making above minimum payments on my credit cards, signed my first-ever pledge card to the church I was serving.  It wasn't the full 10% tithe, but it was something, and it felt right to do it.

My first birthday present to Leanne during our engagement was a card full of the cut-up remains of my credit cards.  I took a stand with her in that moment, we were going to live within our means when we started our life together.

I was fortunate during this time to have many answered prayers ... I stepped out of seminary at Perkins with my MSM from a loving home church to a wonderful new church home in Slidell, LA.  My career had officially started, with a real salary (not crazy by any means, but good).  I went from an underemployed graduate student to real work.  I prayed through that time, but I also took the opportunity in grad school to do what grad school does for you: make connections and network.  My job in LA came through a friend in seminary.  The Holy Spirit worked it out for me, but I put in a lot of work and prayer along the way.

My wife didn't have such an easy time of it when she landed in LA before our wedding.  She was a Perkins grad as well with her Masters of Theological Studies, but that didn't mean much in the surrounding community.  So she had to just get a job to get a job.  It ended up being a stinker.  Underpaid, underemployed, under-appreciated.  It was not a good situation in any respect and not the way to start off our marriage.  She had to quit that one, and took on three part-time jobs through friends and continued to make connections before landing on some wonderful ministry opportunities inside a year of moving to Louisiana.

The whole while we were struggling with our family budget during our first year of marriage, we kept a strict budget based only on our household income, we paid down debt as we could, and tithed.  We gave the full tithe to the church and that has created a financial foundation to our marriage.  But the important thing to note is that through every step, we prayed intentionally together.  We found as we prayed for specifics, a wonderful new job for Leanne, opportunities began to roll in.  We're not naive enough to think that the perfect job opened up just because we prayed to God for help, we worked super hard as we went, constantly in conversation with the people we met in ministry in LA. 

But I do think, that because we prayed constantly for the right path for our family, we were open to possibilities in exciting places.  I now serve a wonderful congregation as worship pastor on the south side of Dallas, and Leanne is serving at the conference level in youth and young adult ministry.  I feel like I need to say that I'm not throwing out our story to gloat - just to say that with God's help, it's been possible for us to go from unfortunate circumstances to a life of blessings over flowing.  It started though with realizing that even in the thick of our own family debt crisis, God was with us.

Keeping counsel with God has been essential in the last three years as we've budgeted, made career decisions, and moved forward as a family.  When we got married three years ago, we had nearly $120,000 in debt.  This month, after we make a payment on my student loans from seminary (the only debt we have left) we'll be down below $20,000.  If all goes well, we'll be done within the first couple months of 2013.  Then following Dave Ramsey's baby steps, it's time to build an emergency fund, start saving for retirement, buy a house, and start a college fund for Wesley.  Good stuff is coming - due to some hard work, discipline, and real prayer as a team.

So when I saw on my twitter feed last week that Newsweek was RT'ing anybody who used the hashtag #generationscrewed, I saw a lot of the sadness within my generation.  I couldn't help my self; I threw out this in response:
#generationscrewed? 30yrs old, mega school debt, but working to pay it off and raise a family. I prefer #generationhope. Made my dream.
It was retweeted an awful lot, making me think that there's something there.  Others in our generation are finding ways to be successful in a world that can be hostile towards youthful ideas, and yes, I'm also talking to the church.  Still others are looking for hope and a way out, towards some kind of peace.  My wife talks more about our family journey toward financial peace over here.

My question as reading other Twitter stories was this: where is the church in the lives of these young adults that are hurting?  What is the church doing to teach them a better way?  My wife first took FPU at a church.  It taught her, and later me, a truly bible-based theology of home finance where giving is a priority and living within your means is essential.

How can the church do a better job of creating a #generationhope?  This is my prayer today.

Post #GC2012 Musings

There's a lot to take away from GC2012, despite what people are saying.  For myself, this was the first UMC General Conference that I've ever paid any attention too.  And why is that?  Because I'm paying more attention to what's going on in the local church ... What happened at the GC is indicative of what happens in the local church.  Macro view to micro view.  How often has any of us had a bright idea to make changes only to have them shot down ... Not even with the opportunity to compromise.

Wait, this should probably be my concluding statement!  Anyway, here are a few things that I'm taking away.  I'm not full of knowledge just yet on the inner workings of our global denomination, but it will be my mission to get on that ball.  I'm more concerned than ever that the UMC turn the tide on our decline ... My boy needs to grow up in this church!

I said this in an earlier blog post, but the #UMC blew up twitter over the last 10 days.  It's been an epic-level event of building connections.  I've made genuine friends and found a lot of new voices to follow, both young and old.  I can't wait to keep reading and stay in touch with these folks.  It's been a real blessing, from the play-by-play to theological breakdowns of policy and worship, I feel like a journey together for many of us has just started.  Although, I will say, there were a great many folks who broke into the twitter conversation to spread hate.  Not cool.

"General Conference Young People".  Following this #tag was a real trip this week.  It wasn't just young people involved either, a great many people from across the spectrum used this tag to join in conversations.  I sure hope the UMC was listening.

Big Changes?
I refuse to be cynical about it, but pretty much nothing I cared about going into this GC passed through on the plenary floor, if it made it out of committee at all.  I'm not the only one that felt this way, either.  We were so caught up in Robert's Rules of Order, that ministry was hampered again and again.  The IOT/CTA plan?  Fail.  Plan B?  Fail.  Plan C, D, or E?  Fail.  And people keep saying that the word wasn't out enough ... Not true.  People just didn't do their homework, by and large.  At least that's how I felt, watching the proceedings.  We couldn't even agree that we disagree on matters of human sexuality.  Fail.

Term limits?  Yes, Please.
This was a topic of conversation throughout the GC.  There were many people at the GC for the 7th, 8th, and 9th times.  And people applauded it.  Many of the big items on the floor had been up for decades.  But nothing changes, time after time.  Is there any wonder why?  It's the same people every GC!  I realize I'm oversimplifying a bit ... But I would propose to limit terms on going to GC to three times.  That way, people get to go that know the process, but it encourages new voices to come in.  We do it on our church committees, why not for the GC?

Guaranteed appointments ...
Just as Plan UMC was shot down as unconstitutional, you watch this baby be shot down too.  I understand apprehension here, our Elders join in covenant with the ACs when they take their vows.  But ... what to do with ineffective clergy?  They get to keep their jobs!  Some feel it way stifle prophetic voices, keep pastors from making waves ... And it's a real concern.  The process for not giving an appointment to an elder needs to have many, many, checks and balances.  But as I'm in a conference with a ton of clergy, and not much room for new, younger voices, there needs to be a way to tell pastors that it's not working out.  Until you've been in a room with a pastor who says, "They can get me out, but that's ok with me, because I'll just get another church.", you may not understand how I feel about this.  But somebody probably does, because the legislation was put out there, and it passed to end guaranteed appointments.  My hope is that it encourages more pastors to go for it and get radical.

As debate went on on the floor, a real problem, and a blessing became apparent ... We're a global church!  Much of the business needed to be decided pertained to matters in the US.  It became very difficult to pass big policy due to the fact that there are many global perspectives that need to be accounted for.  All of the conferences not in the US are called "Central Conferences".  There's talk now of separation a bit from these Central Conferences, letting conferences in other countries legislate for themselves in order to compensate for cultural issues.  But how do we do that and remain a global denomination?  It's a little over my head at this point, but it's clear that something needs to give.

We're so dramatic
As things wore on, especially last night, there was much talk on twitter of the UMC being doomed.  Many comparisons to the Titanic abounded.  It was kind of offensive.  I wonder how many people (including clergy!) last night who said they had given up hope on the UMC actually left it today ... We are called to be people of hope.  I have a ton of it.

Also called #umcrising at this point, there's a movement to coordinate voices for change in the UMC leading to GC2016.  Some much hope is floating around out there, even after the frustration over the last 10 days.  Good things are coming for those who are faithful.  I can't wait to get started on the work, because you bet I want to be involved in what's coming.  How do I get myself on the worship team in 2016?  Because I'm so there.

Let's not forget, through, all of this ... The work of the church is mostly carried out in the church!  I'm fired up to lead, filled with the spirit of Pentecost, ready to get moving with the Holy Spirit.  It might have been a little dissapointing watching the proceedings the last few days, but I'm more ready than ever to answer my call to lead worship in my community.  With God's help, the global church will catch up with Christ's call to love one another.