Keep moving forward!

Good reminder as we plow through our dissertation work!

Awhile back we wrote about the movie, “Meet the Robinsons.” Recently, in the midst of pretty intense dissertation work, we remembered a key phrase from the movie: “Keep moving forward!”

It’s great advice for whatever stage of life’s journey we find ourselves in. In our case, we’re 3.5 years into our Doctor of Ministry programs, and about halfway through our dissertation process. We’re on track, but we’re at the point where we need to submit our proposal drafts for a proposal hearing later this summer. This is a week of intense work, a week we have to keep reminding ourselves: “Keep moving forward!”

If we keep moving forward, this part of life’s journey will culminate on 05.24.2008 in Wilmore, KY, in a graduation ceremony!

Crossing the Line

There’s a line drawn down the middle of the room. Step up to the line if you ever …*

  • Heard God call, but hurried on with “life”.
  • Spent more time in prayer asking God for things than asking God what He wanted for you or your loved one.
  • Put up walls to keep others (and God) out.
  • Forgot to say “thank you.”
  • Were tempted to go out and get what the Jones’s have, even if you didn’t need it and couldn’t afford it.
  • Thought of self, before thinking of others.
  • Hurt somebody.
  • Ran away from the very thing needed most.

There’s an altar. Come kneel before your God in humble submission.

  • Here I am. I wait.
  • I’m listening.
  • Heal the hurt.
  • Thank you.
  • All I have belongs to You.
  • Here is my neighbor; I love as I love myself.
  • I’m sorry.
  • Here I am.

Hear God’s response: You are forgiven.*This is the concept of the “Line Game” introduced in the movie, Freedom Writers, which we wrote about recently.

Praying for Pastors

A few years ago, we came across a great weekly guide for praying for pastors. It comes from Dan Reiland’s book, Shoulder to Shoulder: Strengthening Your Church by Supporting Your Pastor.

We encourage our parishioners to pray for us, and for everyone to pray for their pastors!

Monday: Pray for your pastor’s family.

  • God’s peace and protection
  • A growing love relationship with his/her spouse
  • A commitment to quality and quantity time together

Tuesday: Pray for wisdom for your pastor.

  • The mind of Christ
  • Godly decision-making
  • Understanding of biblical truth

Wednesday: Pray for your pastor’s ministry focus.

  • Clear vision
  • Commitment to biblical priorities
  • Remain true to his/her God-given gifts and strengths

Thursday: Pray for your pastor’s health.

  • Protection of his/her body and mind
  • An extra portion of stamina and strength
  • Commitment to stress-releasing activity

Friday: Pray for your pastor’s spiritual health.

  • A heart for God and the lost
  • Fresh biblical insights
  • Personal devotions not related to sermon preparation

Saturday: Pray for your pastor’s purity

  • Pure motives
  • Pure thought-life and faithfulness to his/her spouse
  • Pure commitment to complete integrity

Sunday: Pray for God’s anointing on your pastor.

  • Strength in leadership
  • Passion in preaching
  • Fruit and joy in ministry

I remember saying in a sermon once, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who need God and those who are in denial!” Truth is, we all need God (some simply deny it). We need to pray for one another, including church leaders, who have the responsibility of leading and forming communities for God!

We certainly appreciate all of those who pray for us!

Got Love?

Randy’s sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13.

I recently did a 4-week series on 1 Corinthians 13. Each week we read the chapter in a different translation: NKJV, NASB, NLT, and The Message.

Interestingly, the end of 1 Corinthians 12 says this: “But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.” And after chapter 13, Paul transitions to other areas. But here’s his transition: “Let love be your highest goal!” Love is foundational. We must never forget that!

Here’s a brief recap of the four messages …

1. Love Matters (if we’re not loving others, we’re just making noise!)
Love is important. Jesus gave us the Great Commandment, love God and love people. But it’s hard work, isn’t it? But it’s also important. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13.35).

This message came primarily from the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul says that even if I can do all kinds of amazing things, but don’t love others, it doesn’t matter! Love matters.

Choose to love your “loved ones,” the “difficult ones,” and the “strangers” (least/lost/lonely). We, as followers of Jesus, will be known by our love (or lack thereof). The impact we have on our community depends on how we love others! Love matters.

2. Love Impacts (it impacts you and everyone around you!)

This message came primarily from the second section of 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul attempts to describe love. “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

That kind of love impacts you, and everyone around you! God’s love shaped God’s actions (seen in the sending of his son), and it certainly has impacted us!

Exercise your heart. Let love guide your actions. Pray for God’s help. Choose to love people every day.

3. Love Lasts (so keep everything in perspective!)

It’s easy to be so task-driven that we neglect people. We must value relationships. Again, love matters. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples,” Jesus said.

“Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.” (See also Romans 8.35-39.)

Take time now for a check-up. Check your vitals. Got a pulse? What makes your heart beat? Who are the most important people in your life? Where does God rank? Family? Friends? People who don’t know Christ’s love? What are the next actions that you need to work on to restore good health?

4. Love Grows (so do everything you can to cultivate it!)

The closing words of 1 Corinthians 13 (in The Message) say this: “When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”

I want to change the world! I want to make an impact. To impact the world, I believe I must become a gardener. Jesus said his Father is the gardener. Jesus instructed his disciples to pray for more workers (i.e. farmers) for the harvest. Jesus talked a lot about planting seeds.

To cultivate means “to foster the growth of,” and even “to make friends with.” Who’s cultivating you? And, who are you cultivating? A Chinese proverb says, “If you’re planting for a year, plant grain; if you’re planting for a decade, plant trees; if you’re planting for a century, plant people.”

Let’s love God and people, and see what amazing garden will grow in our part of the world!

Surrender or Persist?

In prayer, sometimes you need to surrender, sometimes you need to persist.

In July 2005, we had a class with Drs. Jim & Molly Scott called, “The Transformation of the Church.” It was a very dynamic and incredible experience. One of the things that I remember most was a statement about prayer. Molly said that when we pray about a particular thing, we either need to surrender or persist.

In Scripture, there are people who surrendered regarding an issue/need: Paul, who prayed for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” finally had to surrender. The ultimate example was Jesus, who surrendered to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.”

There were also other people who persisted. Several women in the Old Testament were barren. They persisted in their prayers, and God eventually provided answers to their requests. In the New Testament, Jesus tells a story about a woman who pestered an “unjust judge” until she received her request.

Truth is, both surrender and persistence are part of the Christ-following journey. We must do both. The art is knowing which one is right/best for a given circumstance. Unfortunately, there’s no formula, but here’s what I try to do: unless and until I have a strong sense that God is leading me to surrender about a request or issue, I am going to be persistent!

Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks” (Matthew 7.7-8).

Think about the things you are praying about currently. What areas might you need to fully surrender to God? In what areas might you just need to persist?

“Night at the Museum”

A youth devotional using “Night at the Museum”

A few weeks ago, at a youth lock-in, I shared the following devotion with the youth based on the movie, Night at the Museum.

What makes you happy? What do you enjoy doing? When was the last time you did something that really made you happy?

There is much talk about the search for happiness. In the Christ-following life we go beyond speaking of happiness to that of the real joy we find in Christ. We believe that in Christ we can live fulfilled lives.

Where and in what ways do you see people search for happiness? These may be the right or wrong places to search, in your opinion. (These may include relationships, marriage, jobs, hobbies, extreme sports, God, success, money, accomplishments, etc.)

God’s Word promises, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29.11, also 12-14a)

God has a plan for each of our lives. How do we find that plan? How do we choose what we do? Some choices are not right or wrong, so how do we choose between two good choices? Who influences our decisions (friends, parents, authority figures, TV, media, celebrities, advertisements)? What influences our decisions (personal motivation, giftedness, want to impress or please others)?

During my senior year of high school, the volleyball coach wanted me to play volleyball. We were just getting a volleyball team started, and during gym class, the coach and I discovered that I had a pretty mean serve. But I was soon heading off to college to major in music education. My mother thought I should be devoting my time to music. What was the right decision? What did I want to do?

In “Night at the Museum,” Larry was a dreamer and an inventor. But that wasn’t paying the bills. His successful ex-wife was threatening to cut off his relationship with their son, Nicky, because Larry’s lack of employment was difficult on their son. A conversation follows between Larry and Nicky.

Hey, Nicky, look at me. Look at me, man. I wanna tell you something’. I know that things have been kinda up and down for me lately and that’s been hard for you. But I really feel like my moment’s coming and when it does, everything’s just gonna come together. You know?What if you’re wrong and you’re just an ordinary guy who should get a job?

Larry sets out to find a job and he is plunged into a challenging situation. And beyond the negative voices of his ex-wife and the career counselor, and the doubts of his son, Larry finds an encouraging voice in Teddy Roosevelt.

Welcome to the family, Lawrence. See you tomorrow night.Well—Oh, actually, I gotta be honest. I don’t thing I’m coming back.What? You’ve just begun.Yeah. Well, this is not exactly what I—Lawrence!Yeah?What did you do before you took this post?Uh. Well, I’ve done a lot of different things. I, um—I invented this thing called the Snapper.Did you give up on that as well.No. I didn’t. No, I just hit a few roadblocks. You might have heard of the Clapper.Lawrence.Yes, sir.Some men are born great. Others have greatness thrust upon them. For you, this is that very moment.

It took someone else seeing Larry’s gifts to spur him on to action. God is at work in you revealing who you are yet to become, revealing the gifts that he has given you. God’s Word says, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1.6)Be thankful for the gifts God has given you, and tell someone else the gifts and talents you see in them.

Annual Conference Reflections

We returned from Annual Conference Saturday evening. It was a long, but good, four days. There was a lot of intense (but respectful) discussion this year. Overall, it was a very good conference.

We had great guest speakers, Dr. Tex Sample and Dr. Charles Yrigoyen. Tex is an excellent communicator and storyteller and Chuck did a good job of sharing about our history / heritage as United Methodists.

As we mentioned earlier, we both write for the Annual Conference publication, The Daily Link, where several stories are now available online. Two articles we wrote include Drop Your Nets and Take a Leap of Faith (Opening Celebration, including drama by pastors of Hot Metal Bridge as well as Bishop Middleton’s address) and God’s Gifts for Leaps of Faith (Bible study led by Dr. Tex Sample).

We’re looking forward to the 2-DVD set that is expected to be shipped within the next few weeks. The DVDs will include the drama, “Sticking with Fishing” (by Jim Walker / Jeff Eddings), Bishop Middleton’s keynote address, all the Bible studies by Tex Sample and Chuck Yrigoyen, the message by Tex Sample, and a sermon by Anthony Alexander. The DVD set will come with a “Leap of Faith” study guide.

We both bought Buzzkill t-shirts from Cokesbury. The shirt is part of the effort to raise awareness and money for the Nothing But Nets campaign to send nets and save lives in Africa. See also Malaria Initiatives of The United Methodist Church.

Again, we’re excited about what God is doing in the United Methodist Church, and specifically what God is doing in our conference. May God continue to use us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

Off to Annual Conference …

The rest of the week is set aside for “holy conferencing.”

This evening, we’re heading to Messiah College, where members of the Central Pennsylvania Conference will gather for Annual Conference, Wednesday through Saturday.

The theme of Annual Conference will be “Leap of Faith!” Earlier, we wrote a brief preview. John Wesley described these types of gatherings as “holy conferencing.” May God bless our worship, our fellowship, our conversation, and our “worshipful work.” Conferences have been improving in recent years, so we enter this one with high expectations.

We both will be writing for the daily publication, The Daily Link, starting tomorrow. The first preview issue has already been printed and posted online. We’re not sure if/when Thursday, Friday, and Saturday’s issues will be available online, but you can check, if you’re interested.

We’ll post some thoughts, reviews, and reflections upon our return.

“Freedom Writers”

The amazing story of Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers.

We recently watched the movie, Freedom Writers. The movie is based on a true story, involving, Erin Gruwell, a new 21-year-old high school English teacher, who seeks to be a change agent for a group of Black, Latino, and Asian gang members at Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles, CA, in the early 1990s. The movie is the story of how she did it.

Erin connected with this tough group of kids by listening to them and connecting with them through pop culture and history. Erin went well beyond the call of duty. In fact, because the school system refused to provide adequate resources for this group of students, Erin took on a second and third job in order to provide resources for her students.

Erin didn’t avoid the students’ incredible problems and challenges. She didn’t teach in a vacuum. Rather she connected her teaching to where the kids were. And it worked! She changed the culture for the kids she taught. The turning point in the story occurs when Erin discovers a drawing that’s being passed around the class, a drawing of one of the black students, which Erin uses as a teaching moment …

I saw a picture just like this once, in a museum. Only it wasn’t a black man, it was a jewish man. And instead of the big lips he had a really big nose, like a rat’s nose. But he wasn’t just one particular jewish man. This was a drawing of all jews. And these drawings were put in the newspapers by the most famous gang in history. You think you know all about gangs? You’re amateurs. This gang will put you all to shame. And they started out poor and angry and everybody looked down on them. Until one man decided to give them some pride, an identity… and somebody to blame. You take over neighborhoods? That’s nothing compared to them. They took over countries. You want to know how? They just wiped out everybody else. Yeah, they wiped out everybody they didn’t like and everybody they blamed for their life being hard. And one of the ways they did it was by doing this: see, they print pictures like this in the newspapers, jewish people with big, long noses… blacks with big, fat lips. They’d also published scientific evidence that proved that jews and blacks were the lowest form of human species. Jews and blacks were more like animals. And because they were just like animals it didn’t matter if they lived or died. In fact, life would be a whole lot better if they were all dead. That’s how a holocaust happens.

In the follow-up discussion, Erin discovers no one in the class has ever heard of the Holocaust. Afterward, Erin takes the class on a field trip (over the weekend so as not to interfere with the school’s exam schedule) to the Museum of Tolerance, which turns out to be a life-changing experience.

At the beginning of their second (sophomore) year together, Erin begins with a special activity …

Okay, guys, gals, listen up! This is what I want you to do. I want each of you to step forward and take one of the Borders bags, which contain the four books we’re gonna read this semester. (All right!) They very special books, and they each remind me, in some way, of each of you. But, before you take the books, I want you to take one of these glasses of sparkling cider, and I want each of you to make a toast. We’re each gonna make a toast for change. And what that means is, from this moment on every voice that told you “You can’t” is silenced. Every reason that tells you things will never change, disappears. And the person you were before this moment, that person’s turn is over. Now it’s your turn. Okay? Okay, you ready to get this party going on?

On the director commentary (with the director, Richard LaGravenese, and actor Hillary Swank, who played the role of Erin Gruwell), the director commented …

She made moments, events. She wouldn’t just give out the four books for the sophomore year. She would put them in bags that were special tote bags. She would have cider; she would have this banner; she would make them come up and give a toast, so that they made it a moment that meant something. And she’s a pro at that. She’s a pro at making things special and have some kind of meaning and substance so that they’d last and have an effect. And that’s what Toast for Change was about.

It’s a great lesson for leaders who want to shape the culture! Erin was always coming up with creative games/ways of connecting with the students.

Erin had her students read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (as well as other similar books). Afterward, Erin asked her students to write letters to Meip Gies, the woman who housed/protected Anne Frank during the Holocaust. The students came up with the idea of bringing Gies to Long Beach, CA to speak to the class (a much bigger undertaking than Erin had intended). One of the students, Marcus, wrote about the experience, “Ms. G sent our letters all the way to Amsterdam to Meip Gies, herself. When Ms. G made up her mind about something, there was no stopping her, man, for real.”

During the class’ time with Meip Gies, Gies responded to Marcus’ statement about her being a hero, saying …

I am not a hero, no. I did what I had to do, because it was the right thing to do. That is all. You know, we are all ordinary people. But even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can, within their own small ways, turn on a small light in a dark room. Ja?

Well, there’s a lot of other great content in the movie. If you want to shape the culture of the community you lead, or if you simply want to be inspired by a great story, you should watch the movie. It’s a must see!

There are also some books that you may be interested in: The Freedom Writers Diary (1999) and Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers (2007).

Reclaiming a Movement

Reflections on the direction of the United Methodist Church.

We just read an article describing Bishop Janice Riggle Huie’s address to the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church: Bishops’ President Calls For New Church Movement. Bishop Huie, President of the Council of Bishops, challenged the leaders to reclaim the denomination’s heritage as a movement, saying …

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to loosen up a little. I’m ready to move. I’m ready to follow Jesus. I am ready for The United Methodist Church to rise up and dance before the Lord. I’m ready for The United Methodist Church to step forward into God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. I believe this Council of Bishops is ready to lead that movement.

It’s an encouraging sign for the future of the UMC, we believe. The UMC is facing many challenges today, not the least of which is that we have become more of an institution, less of a movement. In the US, it has been in steady decline for decades (although it is growing rapidly outside the US).

But we believe there are some positive developments in the UMC, including …

Leadership. There is a growing emphasis on the importance of transformational leadership, and many leaders are stepping up and leading. While the turnaround will not happen overnight, we are convinced that it can indeed happen. And we want to be part of the transformation!

A renewed sense of biblical mission. Along the journey there have been many issues battling for our attention by various church and para-church agencies. But in recent years there has been a recommitment and return to God’s call to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Our Conference. While we’re not very familiar with other conferences, we believe our conference, under the leadership of Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, is headed in the right direction. In fact, we’re looking forward to next week’s session of Annual Conference (see the preview we wrote last month).

One of the things sure to stir things up is the session featuring Jim Walker and Jeff Eddings, pastors of Hot Metal Bridge Community Church (Pittsburgh, PA). BTW, Jeff Walker was at an Annual Conference session in Maryland recently, and we’ve been following an online conversation among some Maryland pastors, including a comment from Jim Walker. It’s a taste of what we’ll hear next week.

We’ll give a report on some of the highlights of Annual Conference in our respective churches on the following Sunday (06.10.2007), and we will post more in-depth reflections here on the blog after we get back.

Please pray for the United Methodist Church, that we will follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and that we will indeed reclaim our heritage as a Spirit-led movement!