Bible reading in public

My good friend Ed has started his own blog over at edsedge.wordpress.com. Check it out, he’s a great writer!

As for me, I haven’t been as great at maintaining a blog, but he’s inspired me to give it another go. This post below was started a while back. Just something that struck me… 

So, one day I was sitting in Starbucks, my office away from my office, doing some sermon prep. This meant I was sitting there just reading my Bible for a little while. Usually my computer is out too, so I guess then it’s obvious I must be working on something like a sermon or Bible study. But for the moment, I was just reading my Bible. There was a table with three people close by, and in my peripheral vision I noticed them looking at me. So when I glanced up, one of them asks, “Is that a Bible?” I say yeah, and then they say, “Cool! We’re believers too!” Then after I told them I’m a pastor, they politely went back to their conversation.

So on the way home, I get to thinking… a) How sad is it that reading scripture, to yourself, but in a public place seems like a rare occurance these days? But then, b) Why do other Christians, or believers, feel the need to congratulate you for doing so? This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. My wife and I were complimented for saying grace before a meal at a fast-food restaurant. I’ve been almost congratulated for wearing t-shirts with Christian messages on them. And I simply wonder, why? Don’t get me wrong, in an age that is VERY post-Christendom, meaning Christianity is definitely no longer the norm, I think it is nice to encourage fellow Christians when they practice their faith in public, especially if they might be facing some type of gripe about it, especially teens and students who practice their faith publicly at school. I also totally don’t mind it when people might notice a Bible out and ask a question about faith. (There’s a difference here though. A person wrestling with an issue of faith and through conversation figuring out I’m a pastor and asking my opinion is one thing. A person who is already a part of a church and asks me about my view on Revelation in order to see if they agree with me and try to prove me wrong if they don’t is something completely different.) But when I’m sitting there, minding my own business, just reading some scripture… it just rubbed me the wrong way. Like, “cool we’re part of the club too!”

PS- In reflecting on this experience from way earlier this year, it did actually open up a conversation with an individual who overheard us and who since has felt open to share with me about their divorce and their concern of its effects on their children. Just more proof that God’s grace is always working, even and especially in spite of our corniness as Christians!

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What churches can learn from restaurants…

So, it’s been forever since I’ve posted. I’m going to try to get back into this…

On the last two date nights with my wife, we went to dinner at two different chain restaurants here in Newport News/Hampton. Last month, when we went for my birthday, we were seated quite promptly and given our menus to look over and told that someone would be right with us. Great! Well, we sat, and we sat, while a good half-dozen wait staff passed us by. We sat there for a good ten to fifteen minutes before anyone finally spoke to us, much less took our order. It seemed there was a breakdown between the hostess and the waitstaff. As I sat there waiting with my wife, I thought to myself, churches could learn much from restaurants like this.

Lesson #1: The hand-off.The restaurant was decorated very nicely, the seating arrangement was great, ambience was good, and I was even looking forward to a nice, tasty meal. But no one talked to us for the longest time after the hostess/greeter! How often do we do this in church?  Sure, our ushers are wonderful and will help visitors find a seat, give them a bulletin, etc. Then eventually someone within the congregation might greet these new folks before the service starts, but in plenty of churches, maybe not. Thus our visitors are left to do nothing until worship starts except stare at the menu/bulletin and glance around at other people, wondering if someone will at least speak to them, much less inquire about them personally.

In “Deepening Your Effectiveness” by Dan Glover and Claudia Lavy, they talk about the importance of the handoff. What if we trained our ushers/greeters to intentionally hand off a visitor to a regular attender/member of their affinity? For example, a young mom walks in with kids. Our main usher is in his seventies; I don’t think she would have much in common with him right off the bat. But if he walked her over and introduced her to one of our young mothers, then our visitor right away has found someone who can help her find the nursery, assuage her fears about leaving her kids in an unknown place (because the member’s kids are there too! Bonus! The visiting kids have playmates!) and let her know about what ministries the church might offer with young parents. Otherwise, our visitor might find a seat in the middle of older couples, who can be just as friendly as can be, but if those are the only people who she sees, and who greet her, she might be left staring at the menu, wondering if this is really the place for her.

Churches can look great, and can even be known for delivering on what they promise. But part of that first impression can make even more of an impact simply by a great hand off, where within ten minutes of walking in the door, a meaningful relationship has a chance to start.

This is long enough… I’ll post part 2 soon! 

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You Gotta Be Kidding Me…

So last Saturday evening, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary (12/18, three years!) and her birthday (12/13, won’t say how many years :-) by going out to dinner and attending a local church’s Christmas musical. This is a huge church of another denomination in this area, and they sent out two free tickets to all area pastors. So this being the end of the year and such, it was a nice inexpensive night out without the baby! However, toward the end of the musical (which was great by the way), the senior pastor came out and gave a very nice 5 minute presentation of the gospel, and invited folks to bow their heads and pray “the sinner’s prayer” with him. Wonderful! But then he called our attention to the response card in the program, where we could indicate if we had made a decision to begin a relationship with God through Jesus that evening. His comment was, “If you did that tonight, and you meant it, I’d like to send you something in the mail.” C’mon! You gotta be kidding me! Someone has just made the most important decision of their lives, to begin a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and you want to send them something in the mail?!? Then after loudly whispering that to my wife… I apologized to her, because we were on a date, after all.  

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To guarantee, or not to guarantee?

So there seems to be quite a lot of talk going around about the possibility of the UMC doing away with guaranteed appointments, among other restructuring to our current views on ordination. Here’s a couple thoughts on that… At first, I think it’s a good thing, and could help lead to renewal in our denomination. Scripture tells us that we are known by our fruit, and if we’re not producing fruit in ministry, then why would we be allowed to continue in something which we’ve proven to be ineffective? It would certainly prevent me as a pastor to beware of the temptation to become a “lame duck” pastor, or worse. Doing away with guaranteed appointments could help bring about renewal by making it possible to hold those accountable who might be more of a detriment to spreading scriptural holiness throughout our land. However, a clergy friend of mine raised an issue that strikes deep with me… As pastors, we’re called to be, among other things, prophetic agents for change for the sake of the gospel of Christ.  This means we’re called to rock the boat at least a little, and sometimes a lot. So if we’re not guaranteed an appointment, yet the church we’re in might, for example, block our attempts to welcome people of another race into the congregation, even if they live next door, then a pastor might not be as willing to encourage change, especially if they have a family with kids for whom they have to provide. This is quite similar to the boat in which I am currently.  I know there are other questions surrounding this issue… and I admit I’m not as well informed on what’s being proposed as I’d like to be. I just pray that we tread lightly and very prayerfully as a denomination, for there are no easy answers to the various issues we face together.

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A week with Fred Craddock…

So I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted anything at all… hope to remedy that…

As part of being “young adult” clergy (generally classified as those 35 and under, I think), I was asked to participate in the “First Parish Program” at Hinton Rural Life Center, a United Methodist run camp and resource center for small churches. The first week was back in August, and Fred Craddock was the presenter for the week. (What was I thinking, volunteering to preach while Fred Craddock was there?) So, below are some thoughts he presented from a “top 10″ list about preaching:

First, he pointed out that it’s better to follow a good preacher when you’re new in a ministry setting, rather than a bad preacher. Sounds counterintuitive, right? He pointed out, though, that good preachers get people in the habit of listening… bad ones get people in the habit of tuning out.

Another point that I really resonated with, and I think many preachers will also, is that having to preach is a higher motive than wanting to preach. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten in the pulpit not because I wanted to, but because I had to. And it’s funny… many times those end up as my best sermons, all by God’s grace.

Finally, one last point I’ll share, is he said that “seriousness of purpose does not require heaviness of manner”. He pointed out that one reason so many jokes are funny is because they actually deal with some serious matters and things people really care about.

I think the last point could apply to everything we do as the church as well. Why do so many unchurched people not go? Because church can be such a drag! From slow and drawn out hymns sung in language no one understands, to preachers who seek to engage the head but instead shoot straight over everyone’s heads, to people in the pews falling asleep or looking like worship is the last place they want to be at that moment. Church can be fun! Worship can be exciting!

What do you think about these matters that Fred Craddock raised?

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Why Third & Goal?

So I thought I’d get started by explaining the title of my blog. First of all, I’m a football fan. I’ve always loved college ball (Go Hokies), and I’m just really starting to get into NFL. Needless to say, I’m very excited that it’s football season again.

In thinking about a title, I started thinking about football analogies to faith and the church, and thus, “Third and Goal”. For you non-football people, third and goal means it’s the 3rd down, and there’s no place to go to advance the ball but the goal line, resulting in a touchdown. In HokieNation we call every 3rd down when we’re on defense a “key” play, where the whole stadium rattles their car keys and yells as loud as possible. It’s a key play because if the defense holds, the offense will usually either punt (which means your team gets the ball back) or try for a field goal (3 points instead of 6 for a touchdown). It’s key if you’re on offense as well, for if you convert on 3rd down (get the yards needed for the 1st down) your team gets to keep the ball and keep going to the endzone.

So, naturally, 3rd and goal is a pretty intense point in the game. You either get the ball in the endzone, or not. You either make your stand with your back against the wall as the defense, or not.

The lectionary a couple Sundays ago was from Luke 12, where Jesus calls the crowd a bunch of hypocrites for knowing how to predict the weather, but failing to interpret the present time. 3rd and goal is how I interpret this present time for us as Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ. We’ve got the ball, the gospel, the Good News. We’ve been marching down the field, through the years, sometimes going backward, sometimes getting intercepted, sometimes getting the “ball” stripped from us. But now we’re at the goal line. It’s time to get the ball in the endzone or not.

What strikes me is how many churches, pastors, and Christians are simply settling for a field goal, or worse, they don’t realize the opportunity they have and simply turn the ball over after making it down the field. I’m not thinking of the end zone as the end times, more as the opportunity of evangelism. After all, what happens when a team scores a touchdown? The stadium goes nuts! Should’t we get just as excited when we witness our faith or the faith of another bearing fruit in an unbeliever’s life?

However, third and goal is just as important to the defense as well, and it’s their job to block and pull and push and do everything possible to keep that ball out of the endzone. What a defense we have to go up against when making disciples of Jesus Christ! To paraphrase Paul, not a defense made up of sweat, helmet and shoulder pads, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Moreover, we’ve got plenty of folks who seem to be playing for our team in the church, but in reality are playing for the defense.

So there’s a few thoughts on why this blog is titled “Third and Goal”. It’s where we are in the game. It’s time for a key play.

Do you agree? What’s your thoughts?

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Howdy…

This is the first post in my new blog. Thanks for checking me out! I hope to post at least once a week, if not more. For now, I’m still tweaking things here and there till I get it looking like I want it. Any tips or suggestions are appreciated, as I’m just getting started here in the blogosphere.

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