Posted in Books, Campus Ministry, Faith, Sermons, Young Adults

Do we care enough to pray?

One of our small groups is reading Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution right now and it has brought about a lot of interesting discussion.  I often feel like I’m defending young adults to the church and the church to young adults.  As someone who was nourished and formed in the United Methodist Church who has seen the good, the bad, the ugly and the awesome as a preacher’s kid, and as someone who has felt called to lead and be apart of this church, there’s part of me that wants to defend it until I’m blue in the face.  At our recent small group talking about the book, it was me and another student who is a PK who were defending the established church in the face of students that don’t necessarily align themselves with a particular denomination or group, but are serious about their spirituality.  And before some of you reading think, that it’s just young people that feel that way, it’s not.  Yesterday we had someone stop by Wesley giving us a donation to help with painting and repairing some of our windows around the building.  Is this guy a United Methodist?  Nope.  Had I ever met him before?  Nope.  Was he young guy?  Nope.  He simply said he didn’t really believe in all the denominations but that he was a Christian and he wanted to help us out by doing the repairs and help the guy doing the work out, by giving him some work in this hard economy.  There’s something about some of our denominational structures that people find intimidating or they’re just mistrusting.  Who can blame them?

In a world where not just young people, but many relate sincerely to the statement, “I’m spiritual, not religious,” what role do we play as the church?  There’s something about living out our faith and actions that speak louder than words that my students and many of us find refreshing in books like Shane Claiborne’s.  Even the biggest of mega churches are starting to realize, you have to have that service and outreach component for people to buy in to what you’re offering.  I’m not at all saying that our older generations aren’t socially conscious and don’t where their faith on their sleeves.  Quite the contrary.  I see the amazing folks of Bethel UMC rocking the soup kitchen week after week.  I see many of our “great generation” as Tom Brokaw calls it, being the ones that give to our churches, to our missions, and to our campus ministries with their time and money.  These folks are our bedrock.  They are our foundation.  We have relied upon them in our attendance, giving, and mission reports for years and years.  I honestly have no idea what our church is going to look like a decade from now.

For years I’ve heard people rally around sayings like, “Our young people aren’t the future of the church but are the church today.”  I also have heard very clearly that in the next ten or twenty years our church is going to change radically.  At a recent District Superintendent gathering of the SEJ, Lovett Weems talked about a “tsunami of death” expected to happen by 2018. A new body is going to have to step up.  Even more than that, a collective body needs to be formed and shaped and nourished as we go into this new territory together.  And it needs to be something new…and thank God we believe in One that makes all things new.  What worked in the 50’s and 60’s in our hayday is not going to work now.

I think most people would agree that we want our churches to have young people.  I can’t imagine anyone actually admitting out loud in front of people that they really don’t want to give up their space or their community or that they want to keep it solely theirs and nobody else’s.  Most people would also probably agree that we don’t really want to see our average age of clergy or congregant creep any higher. We want these young people to join our churches, but how often do we really try to plug them in to the life and leadership of the church?    We think that a college Sunday school class is the answer to everything, like somehow these young adults are going to smell this addition out in the atmosphere or its like batman’s bat light is going to shine forth from that particular church and young adults will automatically flock to it. 

I hear pastors say that campus ministry is a great place for college students and young adults but it’s hard to get them invested back in our local churches.  You’re right about that.  It is hard for young adults that have been fed, nourished, and empowered in campus ministries to go back to local churches where they don’t always feel heard or like they matter except in the “we really want you here because you’re young, but we don’t want to give you any kind of say-so over anything.”  It’s not that you should be pandering to young adults or any one else in this consumerist crowd, but if some of the keys of the kingdom aren’t gently handed over it’s going to be hard to pry them out of the cold dead hands of our churches a decade from now.

So what does this mean for us?  Where can we go from here?  How do we bridge this divide?

A wise beyond words former student of mine posted this on facebook in reaction to some of the assumptions in the Call to Action report.    This quote comes from the top of the page talking about vital congregations ( “The United Methodist Church is called to be a world leader in developing existing churches and starting new vital congregations so that we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Then he writes, “But what if we’re not?  How do we know? How do we know we’re not called to repent of our sin of desiring worldly influence that has resulted in our church functioning to bolster war, imperialism, eugenics, and the like over the past two centuries? How do we know we aren’t called to use all our buildings to feed the hungry and house the homeless? How do we know we’re not meant to shrink and become even more marginal before our comfortable church learns what being the body of Christ is about? I’m unimpressed with the presumed triumphalism.”  I want to give a huge amen and shout a loud PREACH BROTHER!

Yes, things are changing.  And like I said before, I have no idea what the church is going to look like in the next 10 – 15 years, but instead of being sad and angry and depressed and bitter and cynical as is so easily slipped into, why don’t we intentionally pray, discern and vision, call on the Spirit to lead, get totally excited about the possibilities of what can happen if we let the old paradigms fall away and we revision anew.  A “revision” of a paper, isn’t writing the whole thing over again, even though some paragraphs and parts, some sentences and words, sometimes even some of the critical parts are tweaked, corrected, and changed.  We don’t have to throw the whole thing out, but we do have to imagine again what this church is called to do and to be in this world and what that means for us.

This is representative of where we are in campus ministry right now, trying to offer the Good News in the midst of people being pulled in different directions, trying to articulate that “church” isn’t just always those brick and mortar buildings with the steeple but that it can be community and justice and discipleship and nourishment too.  As we stand on the precipice of something that’s going to change and happen whether we like it or not, we need to all be intentional in our prayer, in the Gospel that we share, in the asking of the Spirit to lead and guide us in ways that we can’t even imagine. These aren’t times to be afraid or hold even tighter to our fear and control, but this is an exciting time in the life of our larger faith community.  How are we going to set the tone?  How are we going to shape the conversation through the power of the Spirit?  How are we going to step out in faith?  What do we keep and what needs pruning? 

I don’t know about y’all, but I haven’t decided what I’m adding or giving up to help me draw closer to God during this Lenten season yet.  I still have til tomorrow night so I’m fine.  I’ve heard of pastors intentionally praying for everyone in their congregation – love that idea or adding times of fasting and prayer.  I think though one of the things that I would like to do and I would like my students to do, is to pray for our church.  And not just little c church, but also big c Church.  Instead of watching all of this unfold and getting swept to and fro in the midst, why don’t we actually ask the Spirit to steer the ship and blow and move?  Why don’t we ask for guidance and discernment and illuminating instruction to be given to our church leaders, those lovely people we call the bureaucrats of the church, and not just them but to all of us – lay and clergy alike?  Would you care enough about the present/future of our church to intentionally pray for 40 days?  Do you think it’s inevitable doom and gloom or is there hope in the midst?  I choose hope.  And I choose to pray.  And I choose to believe that God will shock our socks off with all that’s in store.  We’re right on the edge of a powerful movement.  The signs are there.  It could happen.  We can choose to see this as a wonderful opportunity or as the last death nail….let’s choose life.

Evy and Enoch at a recent youth event...what will the Church look like when they're young adults?
Posted in Advent, Books, Campus Ministry, Christmas, Faith

From the Winter Wesley Newsletter

(Written on December 9th for the Winthrop Wesley Winter newsletter)

I have been struck this Advent season with contrasts and contradictions.  I listen or try to escape from Christmas music on the radio this time of year and its frequently a sharp contrast to everything I see around me whether driving, in lines, trying to cross things off the gift, party, and card lists, and in all the “stuff” that goes into the preparations of this season.

Yes, Advent is that season of preparation, but not  necessarily the preparations we make.  This is a preparation that’s not just about the everyday hustle and bustle but also about getting ready for something completely out of this world—something revolutionary, new, an in-breaking of the kingdom of God.  We get ready for the coming of God in the form of a baby—a God who dwells among us and with us.  But we also get ready for the second coming of our savior—a time when there is good news and great joy for ALL people.  This is good news not just for the pretty ones or smart ones or the ones lucky enough to be born on the right side of the tracks or in the wealthy country, but for all of God’s children.

I think of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, the prophets  – a mix of folks.  I think about some of the sights and sounds we saw at Journey to Bethlehem.  I think of the words of the prophet—to look to the star and that there is One who is coming who is beyond our imagining.  This story is not just one of familiar and beautiful manger scenes and it’s certainly not just a good children’s story.  These were trying times and people were being taxed and children lost lives as Herod began his search for the Christ child.

A couple weeks ago I began reading the series The Hunger Games.  Excellent adolescent literature so perfect for my brain at the end of a semester.  Suzanne Collins does an amazing job bringing this post-apocalyptic world to life.  She got the idea from flipping through channels on her television and seeing on one channel a reality tv competition and on the next footage of the Iraq war.  Her stories are not for the faint of heart.  They are violent and graphic and terrifying.  It’s not a pretty picture of people sending their children off to fight to the death.  See—I told you not a rosy colored story.

But that’s not much different from the context Jesus arrived in.  Here these people were under Roman control, not knowing what was going to be demanded of them next—their money, their children, their lives.  The thing about the books—there’s no savior at the end.  For some of us, we relate to some of these horrors.  There are hard things that we see everyday whether it be a fifth grader committing suicide or children going without food or the loss of a friend or loved one or the loss of one’s job or home.

For some this isn’t just a hustling and bustling time of year, but it’s a painful time.  That’s there.  That’s part of the story.  Pain and hurt and fear are there.  But there’s also this thing that I can describe only as wonder.  The thing about this season is that as much as I think my heart is hardened or as much as I’ve blocked out the music since it’s started playing after Halloween this year or as much as I feel caught up in finishing the semester and trying to keep the kids from going crazy waiting for Santa—the wonder of Christmas inevitably sneaks up.

You see, it’s not about all these things or all this chaos.  But it’s also not just about our current circumstance.  Because we are told very clearly, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people .  For unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord and has name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace…”  This Prince of Peace can give us that peace that transcends all understanding whether it be as we are awaiting grades or exam results, health questions, job changes, or life decisions.

And this kind of peace can transform the world.  Not just people in this place, in this community, or in this land—but all the world.  My hope over this Christmas break is that in the midst of everything as students are catching up on sleep and connecting with family and friends and as all of us frantically try to make it through, that we can find time to stop and breathe and take in what it means to be a people who believe in this Emmanuel, a people who believe and live out this peace.

Merry Christmas to all of you and much love, peace, and blessings!

Posted in Books, Culture, Faith, Movies, Sermons

Confessions of a Shopaholic

I have been totally slacking on the blog but things have been busy, busy!  This summer I started reading Sophie Kinsella/Madeline Wickham books.  I admit that I’m a little of a book fanatic but it takes me a while to find an author I like and then I’m all in.  I read her Twenties Girl in an airport in May and have loved her books ever since.  They really should make a movie on Can You Keep a Secret?  Hilarious and priceless.

Anyway, even though I love her writing, I have been hesitant to begin the Shopaholic series.  Not because it doesn’t look cute and yes, I know about the movie, but I’ve never seen it.  I just saw that there was a whole series – Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Shopaholic and Sister, Shopaholic and Baby…wowzers.  As a sometimes, if it’s the beginning of the month and there’s still a little bit of money in the account, shopaholic – I knew that starting to read these would just feed that shopaholic tendency and I was correct.  When I first preached a sermon about this two weeks ago I had only gotten the first book and read it but now I’m all the way to Shopaholic and Baby and I don’t even entirely know how I got there but they were just so good!

The lectionary has been following 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy a good bit over the past couple of weeks and I’ve enjoyed looking at those texts and pondering them.  Paul’s instructions to Timothy are both practical and full of love.  He’s not just mentoring Timothy in a hands-off let me tell you what to do way, he’s actually being honest and truthful about highs and lows and good and bad with him.

In 1 Timothy 6:6-19, the thing that stood out the most to me was this talk of contentment.  Contentment is one of those things that people long for and try all sorts of things to attain, but it often can feel a little elusive as well.  There’s just something about that Shopaholic tendency or that joy from a purchase especially if it’s on clearance or buy 1 get 1 free – something about that feeling of satisfaction that gives us that momentary satisfaction of feeling like heck yeah, I just got something really fabulous and now I feel good about myself – where I am and who I am.  And it’s something that we sadly can pass down.  Enoch, our 3 year old, now can ask for Target by name – and that is a sad, sad thing.  I don’t want him to just be looking for the next shiny toy.

There’s so much in our society that supports this thinking – from The Secret craze – the law of attraction that we can will things into being if we believe them and call them towards us.  Or even things in a Christian context – like the Prayer of Jabez craze less than a decade ago.  There’s something about these mindsets if you just believe enough, if you just do blank enough then x, y, z will happen and your life will be perfect. 

But it just doesn’t seem to always work like that.  Or maybe it just does for Oprah.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you will something to be so, or how much you want something – it ain’t happening.  Stuff is not permanent.  These things that we’re grasping for are not permanent.  Even the very cute purple pocketbook that I got on sale at Target and am holding out to use because it is adorable – is not permanent.  It will tear up and be filled up with junk and worn out just like all of my other pocketbooks.

Paul is asking Timothy to think about wants versus needs.  We all know Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – like basic human needs such as shelter, food, etc. to more advanced emotional needs like self-esteem, respect and creativity.  One of the students last week was writing a paper for her psychology class and it was all about what shapes one’s personality.  In many ways she was asking – where do we find contentment?  Who tells us who we are?  Who do we listen to?  Whether it’s parents or friends or peer group or media or whatever – who tells us we’re okay.

I had another student yesterday email me questions for one of her classes about style and appearance.  I admit this took me by surprise.  The questions asked about daily beauty routines, how long these things took, and what products did you use.  It also asked about how celebrities or media affected these decisions.  I admit, when I thought about it – there are some days I am lucky if my hair gets brushed and there’s no make up and just trying to survive and get the kids dressed.  But then there are other days – board meeting days, days when I know I’ll see people other than my loving students and on those days I do try to take a shower, pick out my clothes well, and put on some make up.  Her last question struck me though – what is your self-esteem without make up and style and what is your self-esteem with it?

What determines how we feel about ourselves?  What determines if we are satisfied with our lives?  Where do we get this elusive contentment?  For the shopaholics out there, you can’t buy contentment in any store.  Sadly you can’t even order it on Amazon.  It’s not that it’s sold out, it’s just not for sale.

Billy Graham asked people to take out their checkbooks and then said, “A checkbook is a theological document; it will tell you who and what you worship.”  That is scary.  Or maybe it’s not for some of you.  There aren’t many things that we buy that we don’t need or is not a basic utility or food but yes, there is an iced white chocolate from The Coffee Shack on my desk right now.  It’s delicious.  It’s supporting a local business.  It probably has calories out the wazoo but who cares – there’s caffeine.  And I need this drink today.  We’re going to a protest later on behalf of some amazing women in Nicaragua – and I need the energy.  I need this sugary goodness.  I need this instantaneous gratification that’s only going to last me a few more sips.  That’s throwing around a lot of “needs.”

What is the deal with that?  How do we trick ourselves into thinking/manipulating/justifying/rationalizing these things in our minds?  Paul is not giving Timothy a recommendation for happiness here, but he’s talking about being content.  Having “enough.”  What does enough look like to you?  If you were like the guy/girl in the movie Leap Year and the fire alarm went off – what would you grab?  What really does make you happy – not just for a moment but forever?  What makes you even more than just happy – but content?  Family?  Friends?  A job you love?  Volunteering where you feel alive?  What is it?  I hope that Enoch knows and that his Mommy knows that life is much more than the next purchase and that spending an afternoon playing fireman or school bus or hiding in the tent or going to the “choo choo” park or “big” park is priceless.

How do we get past the hugely loud message being played back to us from all sides that we have to have ______ to be satisfied?  That we have to have ______ for a meaningful existence?

Our first commandment is to love God.  And as Christians we’re not just giving and sharing and opening up to our neighbors what we have just because they’re our neighbors and that’s what we’re called to do – we’re sharing from our abundance because we love God.  We love the One who calls us each by name and says that God’s love is more than enough for each of us.

Do you spend each week waiting for the carrot at the end?  Do you say to yourself well when _____ happens, then I’ll be able to do _______.  If I could make a little more money than I could give to x, y, z.  When I pay off such and such, then I’ll be able to….  When I’m not so busy, then I’ll sit down and ask myself – what in my life really brings about this joy that can’t be taken away by chance or circumstance? 

Sometimes we lose our way.  Sometimes we lose ourselves.  Sometimes we lose sight of what we have and the blessings that have been bestowed upon us in the abundant life that Christ gives each of us.  Jim Elliot wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

God is faithful to us – even when we crash.  Even when our priorities are topsy turvy and our checkbook is blaringly obvious upside down.  Who’s approval are we seeking?  Friends, co-workers, parents, supervisors, “those” people – or are we striving after the Gospel of our Lord who spurs us forth giving us all the reassurance in the world that we are children of God and that is more than enough?  We have to be those supports for one another.  One thing I’ve learned even from reading this crazy Shopaholic series – sometimes you have to say a strong but loving word to someone.  We need those people that can call us out – in love and grace – but calling out nonetheless.  We need people to say – hey – what are you doing?  What really matters?

May we continue the journey of discovering who we are in God’s eyes and being sure in that.  May we also pick up and love our fellow journeyers as we all walk this road together, remembering that we’re not just called to the lost and the poor around the world, but to those in our communities right beside us who are struggling and looking for answers.  May God be faithful in our searches that gives us satisfaction and contentment much more than any fancy pocketbook, awesome car, or even the perfect ______.

Here’s Toby Mac’s “Get Back Up.”

God loves us no matter what and gives us the Word and direction we need…..even when we don’t know where to turn and we’re wondering what in the heck happened.

Here’s Kerrie Roberts, “No Matter What”….