Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Gridiron Faith

Imagine with me for a moment that you are at a football game. The stands are filled with energy as the players emerge on the field for the opening play of the game, and the crowd is elated as cheers and wishes for good luck are thrust from the stands to the field. For these two and a half to three hours, everyone in the stands (on either side) are unified for one purpose, to win the game. For these three short hours, neighbors who had been arguing about property lines and barking dogs just hours before are now cheering next to one another for “their” team, heated debates at last night’s school board meeting cool as efforts are reorganized and refocused on the big game, and a variety of people from many different backgrounds and experiences are joined together in rooting for “their” team. 
I just finished looking up the standings in the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) Division 6 State Tournament, and it is exciting to see the Manchester Dutch Football team taking on another great team from our area.  You may be asking why I am talking about football in our church newsletter. Well, it’s because I believe we have a lot to learn from the experience of joining with others, watching what happens between the gridirons.  Three parallels, or lessons on faith stand out for me from these experiences:
1)      For three hours, time stands still. Think about the focus, the energy, the anticipation we pour into preparations for the big game. We gather our team pride swag (t-shirts, bumper stickers, noisemakers, those big foam hands, etc.) and block out enough time from our busy schedules so that we are not late for the first kick (and we want the best seat in the house!)  The question is, do we view our worship the same way? Do we get involved to such a degree in our worship that our focus on what’s most important is brought into clear vision? Do we see the others in the stands (pews) that desire the same outcome (to grow closer to God)?
2)      Although our backgrounds are different, our cause is the same. The week before may have been filled with disagreements and disputes between neighbors, but for the duration of the game, resources are funneled into an energy for cheering on the team and not on winning the argument.  The question for us is whether or not we follow Christ’s lead and remember that (if) your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24, emphasis added).  Are we willing to be so bold in our worship to offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation with those whom we disagree? 
3)      Team spirit involves so much more than buying the t-shirt. So, you’ve got the t-shirt, the hoodie, the water bottle, the seat cushion, and the noisemaker; you’re a fan, right?  To some degree, offering a cheer now and then is seen as support for the team.  However, to be a true follower requires commitment and dedication to the team. How do you respond when your team loses?  Do you abandon them and go cheer on someone else? Or, do you spend some time with the team, encouraging them to get back up and get at it again? Truth is, it doesn’t matter if you wear the label (i.e. Christian); if you don’t walk the talk, the swag doesn’t matter.
This time of year, we are reminded that we are all part of the same team. As Thanksgiving approaches, and Advent is peeking around the corner, our time will be filled with opportunities to let our light shine as those who are resourced through The Light of the World. Family meals, workplace gatherings, and school programs dot our calendars. Not to mention the opportunities to worship with our extended family at MUMC. The question is, will we remember our identity as those who bear the image of Love?  As those whose lives are marked by the indwelling of the very breath of the Creator?  I pray that you do remember who you are and whose you are. Pray that I will, too.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Plea for Authentic Community

I probably don't need to tell you that social media has been ablaze with reasons why Millennials are not attending church (see here and here).  And there have been multitudes of Facebook and Twitter arguments about who is right and wrong about divided issues.  Peeling the layers behind the heated discussions that have been filling our Twitter feeds and Facebook walls over the past few weeks reveals a deeper issue that I believe is the key to the success (or failure) of those who consider ourselves to be Christ followers to effectively communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ.  More specifically, for United Methodists to live out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The issue at stake is community, the connectedness of people to one another and to God.  Today, our society is so connected (via technology) that we have become disconnected, even isolated when it comes to authentic, face to face connection with one another.  What we gain is the ability to communicate with one another whenever, or wherever we are around the world.  But, what we lose is so much more.  At it's core, we lose communion with one another; the connection we were created to enjoy with God and with one another.  You've seen the Facebook rants one way or another on a hot and divided issue, then the comments that follow.  It's hard to find many comments that are Christ-like in tone, and the virtual conversation spirals out of control until the final decision is made to hit the ultimate Facebook slap button - "unfriend".  But, what does this accomplish?  Does this mean you are no longer friends in the real world?

Think about the above conversation occurring over a meal at the dining room table, or at your favorite restaurant with your friends.  Yes, the conversation may become heated and yes, there may be inappropriate outbursts.  However, there is a physical and social connection present that allows one to see the emotion, the passion, and even the drive behind what is being said.  Even more importantly, you become vulnerable.  There is no power button, and it is more difficult to just get up and walk away.  You can't just "unfriend" and no longer hear or see that person.  You have to physically get up out of your seat, grab your jacket, and walk out the door.  That event will then (hopefully) lead you to process your thoughts and actions (either positively or negatively).

Many studies have been conducted within the area of addiction and connectedness, which really has something to do with what I am talking about here.  Johann Hari gives a TED Talk (here)  where he goes against the grain of all that we've been taught about addiction being primarily biochemical in nature.  His premise (along with several other researchers) is that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection.  Addiction takes many forms, to include addiction to the device we hold in our hand and check frantically to see if someone has "liked" or "shared" our latest Facebook post.  Think about why we do that... We desire to be connected.  But what happens when we find that instead of liking our post, someone comments with a zinger that sends us into left field, wondering where we went wrong or why they didn't agree with us.

What the world needs is not another reason to believe this or that, or even a reason to jump on this side or that side, to "like" this post or that post.  What the world needs now, more than ever from the gathered community of faithful followers of Jesus Christ is the open invitation to join with us in communion with God through Jesus Christ.  With all our imperfections and failures.  With all our failed dreams and lost hopes.  With our addictions and pridefulness.  I've heard it said that people need to belong before they believe.  If this is true, and I believe it is, then we (the Church) need to be making our number one priority the way we live out our connection with God and with one another.  I am thankful to be a part of a faith tradition that celebrates an open table when it comes to sharing in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  If you desire to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ, or desire to deepen your faith, then you are invited.  That's it.  No memberships, no pledge cards, no hassles.  Just come, as you are to the table of God's love and be nourished as the bread of life fills you with grace and mercy to live into community as God's beloved child.

But living into community has its responsibilities as well.  When we decide to respond to God's grace knocking at the door of our heart, we begin a journey of learning how to be humble, kind, self-less, and a servant to all.  Instead of getting the best seat in the house, we give it up to another so that we then take the least preferable seat.  This is the evidence of God's grace at work on our hearts and lives.  It is this grace that calls us, even propels us forward to engage in acts of justice and mercy as we seek to live under the law of love (Galatians 5:14) and not the law of being right.

Friend, let us be authentic in seeking out community with one another.  Let us not seek to be right so much as to be loving and kind, even if we are right.  Seeking God's presence in authentic community where we can agree to disagree, yet remain sisters and brothers in Christ is so much more valuable than any "like" on Facebook.

Because of Christ,

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Lately I've been contemplating the power of water and its inherent properties that enable it to flow wherever there is access.  In fact, even when we think we've done enough to patch every hole, cover every crack, and waterproof any point of entry, water continues to find its way into places we would rather it not go.  Over the past week or so, we have not been wanting for more water as it has been raining in buckets for several days.  Not that we don't need the rain; the ground has been soaking it up like a sponge.  However, there are some areas where the ground is causing the water to simply run off, or pool into large puddles.

Witnessing the rain and subsequent pools of water that recede into the thirsty ground has caused me to think about how much we allow God's love to permeate the depths of our souls.  Scripture tells us that God's love is not forced on us to accept, but that Jesus stands at the door of our heart and knocks, waiting for us to answer and let him in; not just to visit but to live and dwell that we may be changed from the inside out.  In fact, in John 15:9-12 we read this:

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!  This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you." - New Living Translation
How thirsty is your soul?  How open is your heart to allowing Jesus to take up residence within you?  Are you willing to allow God's love to permeate your being and flow through you by the power of his Holy Spirit?  

Think about the waters of baptism and the flood of joy that fills your heart when you recognize God's presence in the midst of your circumstances.  Be thankful for God's great love through his son Jesus Christ that is still redeeming us, recreating us, and transforming us by the power of God's Holy Spirit.

Let's continue the conversation. What are your thoughts?


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snowmageddon and Waking Up Before the Sun

"Snowmageddon" from my window...
I'm just about a week from being able to go home and be with my family.  I've completed two and a half weeks of Chaplain Initial Military Training (Basic Training for Chaplains), and have learned a lot so far.  Today is a day "off" (we don't get days off... just more time to get work done) because of the ice and snow we received overnight. Down here, a little snow causes big problems. In Michigan, we don't have much concern for this little accumulation but we have the equipment to move it around and melt it.

A few things I've learned this week:

  • In the Army, it's always your fault.  Even if it's not.
  • A haircut each week makes the day go much better (and keeps the sergeant happy)
  • Not getting a haircut means everyone has an opportunity to "learn" (do push-ups) with you. FYI I was not the one who didn't get a cut, so not my fault (oh wait, bullet point one...).
  • Waking up at 4am means bedtime by 8pm.
  • Staying up until 11pm to catch the Grammy's was not a smart move.
  • I am an MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) hoarder...
  • The Army seems to enjoy making you do things, just because
  • I can rappel down a 40 foot tower and not die, pee, or poop in my pants
  • The commando rope obstacle is the spawn of Satan
  • Marching can be fun!
  • Left-face means LEFT-face (my other left)
  • Having chapped lips in the gas chamber leaves one speechless...
  • I am better at using a compass than I thought! (Thanks, orienteering merit badge!)
I am sure that as this week progresses, I will have more opportunities to learn.  Overall, this has been an awesome experience so far.  I hope that I can keep honing the skills I've been learning so that I can be the best Army Chaplain I can be.

Until next time!

Pro Deo Et Patria!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

CIMT - Week 1 Done

As you may already know, I am serving in ministry as an Army Reserve Chaplain while leading my congregation full-time.  As a Chaplain in the United States Army, I am required to undergo basic training so that I am prepared to minister to my soldiers as a soldier myself.  I have heard people say that Chaplain school is "basic training lite" or that it's "basic training for gentlemen".  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While it is true that our training is not as intense as an enlisted soldier, the requirements are very much the same.  Chaplains are required to meet the same physical, emotional, and psychological challenges with the same fortitude as an E-1 Private (or, warrior as they are now referred to).

The first segment of training that an Army Chaplain is required to go through is called Chaplain Initial Military Training (CIMT).  It is during this segment that we are trained to think and act like soldiers.  Keep in mind that several of us have not had prior service or experience in the military.  This four-week course is designed to get us into shape and teach us the in's and out's of being a soldier and leading other soldiers as an officer.  

I have just completed my first week of CIMT, and I am feeling it!  This week included a lot of in-processing (paperwork for medical, legal, insurance, etc.) and several classes on various topics (How to fill out certain forms to get paid, differences between active and reserve components, and physical training standards).  I can say that there have been some low points where I have felt overwhelmed and very much unprepared for the weeks ahead.  I have also been learning that in the Army, a culture of accountability and responsibility are at the core of everything that is said and done.  We have been assigned a Battle Buddy, someone we are accountable for and to.  If you get to do push-ups, your Battle Buddy joins you (as I found out as my BB had his hands in his pockets).  It's all good, because I'm sure that I'll experience some of this Army "joy" at several points.  At the same time, I have experienced some great moments of real joy and affirmation as I stand side by side with my fellow Chaplain students and we recall our purpose for joining in the first place.  These affirmations are strong as we all come from different faith backgrounds and experiences, and as we share these experiences, we recognize a common thread of love for people and God.

I have surprised myself this week, running faster than I thought possible and engaging in more exercises with less exhaustion.  To be honest, this is an area that I have been nervous about as I know that I am not a strong runner and my upper body is in need of improved strength.  However, there has been great encouragement as I have been pushed to my limit, and I know that in the weeks to come, my limit will be stretched even further.  

I am thankful that God has led me to this ministry, and I look forward to serving in ministry to soldiers and their families.  I really believe that there will be a breadth to the ministry that God as called me to, both in the local church and in my "extended" congregation in the military.  

Thank you for your continued prayers of encouragement, strength, and protection for me, my family, and my church.

Until next time!

Pro Deo Et Patria - For God and Country!

Monday, November 18, 2013

When You Know You're Doing It Right

Andrew's artwork titled "Joseph"
Sunday afternoons as a clergy family are interesting...

In the fall, I typically turn on the Lions and watch them (attempt) to play football.  Yesterday was no exception (at least for me - The Lions didn't even seem to show up during the second half).  The boys will get out their Legos, monster trucks, and various other toys.  My wife will typically be seen watching a movie on Chicktime (Lifetime, that is).  Sometimes we will play a family game together, or just enjoy snuggling on the couch as we watch a family movie.  

Sometimes, the boys want to make things.  Usually out of play-dough or sand.  However, many of the gifts that I typically receive are in the form of artwork.  Andrew and Josh both enjoy making works of art and giving them away.  Yesterday, Andrew gave me this drawing of his interpretation of Joseph, from the Old Testament stories.  With a smile on his face, and a hint of pride in his voice, he said "Here daddy, put this in your office."  Not thinking anything of it at the moment, I said "Thank you" and set it down (not my proudest parenting moment but hey, football!).  Andrew promptly responded by saying "Now go put it in your office".

What is it about receiving hand-drawn pictures from our children that just melts our hearts like warm butter on a hot ear of corn?  I'm not sure, but I think it has a lot to do with the satisfaction of knowing that, as a parent, you must be doing something right.  And, I think that the reciprocated feeling of our children seeing the smile on our face brings them great joy and satisfaction that they, too are doing something that brings joy to us.

After all, is it not our job as parents to encourage our children and cheer-lead them on in their lives?  

Another thing... I wonder how God feels when we use our gifts and talents to honor him... I tend to believe that God puts on a humongous smile and says "Great job".  And, unlike the earthly parent who decides to soak up just one more play from the football game, God gets up right away to put the picture on his wall.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Quarter and a Thankful Heart

For the past several years, I have enjoyed shopping at Aldi for many of our grocery needs.  When we moved last year, I was disappointed that we would have a longer drive to the store we would typically frequent.  However, just last week I discovered that there is an Aldi in Ann Arbor, YES!

But, why do I talk about Aldi?  And, what in the world does this have to do with my journey with Christ?

Quite frankly, a lot!

For those who have never had the Aldi "experience" (and that's what it is, let me tell ya!), let me elaborate on one of my favorite things about Aldi - You pay a quarter for your shopping cart.  That's right!  But, you get it back when you return the cart.  Not only do you get to back out of your parking spot without the surprise that someone left a cart, just for you, in your blind spot, but the quarter experience is something you can pass on to someone else.  For me, it means leaving the quarter in the cart so that the next person can use it.  I have been the recipient of this gift many times, and it just makes my day!  How wonderful it is to leave this simple gesture of thankfulness and generosity for someone else to experience.

What if we were more aware of the simple ways we could be thankful for what we have been given, and be a blessing to someone else? This must be what it means to be "thankful in all things" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The Shaker's had it right when they wrote "Simple Gifts".  I leave you with some of the verses from this great hymn...
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.
Maybe, if we learn to be thankful for all things, we'll all come 'round right...