Welcome to the Party!

I haven’t written many blogs lately because the world is full of people sharing their opinion. I still have lots of thoughts about things but I want to help ease the tension rather than cause more. So these days preacher humor is a primary delight for me. If I’m not careful I will wander into the abyss of trying to find a Scripture text to fit the great joke that I just heard. Honey works better than vinegar in a sermon any day. To his horror a pastor just about to preach realized that he had left his sermon notes in his study. As his apology, he said, “This morning I shall have to depend upon the Lord for what I might say, but next Sunday I will come better prepared.” Yeah, right?

Who needs notes for a kind word, a saving word? If you know the joke, if it struck a chord then it’s easy to retell. So it should be with the Gospel. Jesus brings Good News. Every worship service should be more like a wedding reception than a funeral. Last Sunday I asked everyone to turn around and say, “Welcome to the party!” It was fun and uplifting. Some people better than others can brighten up my day, but we all can spread the cheer in our otherwise stressed world.

NFL millionaires taking a knee, North Korean nukes and ICBM’s, Trump, Congress, Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Wildfires, Walls, Racism, and more, what’s the hot topic on your mind or Facebook feed? What’s the crisis about at your house, or in your community? Some people make sure they’re plugged into the concerns of the world. They meet with their morning coffee group or hang out at the barber shop. I have friends like that, and cherish my time with Cindy in the early evening when we watch the news. We tongue-in-cheek call it the “War News,” because that’s what my parents called it, and they called it that because it was usually true. It still is. How many years have we had in the last one hundred that didn’t have a war somewhere on the globe? Zero. All the more reason for us to hear some good news, especially THE Good News!

I don’t do a morning coffee group or a regular golf foursome, but I do go to the Y every morning during the week. I flip between news channels at 5:30 a.m. and they can’t seem to agree that the sky is blue on a cloudless day! All of the issues are important to someone, but, like it’s said, “Politics is all local.” In other words, what matters is what matters to you, your locale, community, where you live, work, and walk, so I look at the local news or the Weather Channel. You can’t get more local than that.

So who do discuss things with – the things that really matter? Is it your golf friends, your book club buddies, your Sunday School Class, or whomever? I heard of a preacher recently who asks people to send him texts during his sermons so he can respond and literally connect with the congregation. That is a little much for my taste, and I can’t type that fast. Autocorrect isn’t usually my friend either. In our polarized society I much rather prefer to focus on Jesus, and connect with people using humor. I want people to leave St. John’s with the sense that God was pleased with their worship, that it was a joyful celebration of faith over fear.

This is annual meeting season in United Methodist churches. We elect officers, make plans, and vote on other important matters. We get to celebrate connectionalism, the United Methodist hallmark that says “Together We Can Do More!” That’s the point of having a cadre of friends to share with, and sharing a vibrant worship service. We get to connect with God and one another.

Six months after the owner of a little store at a crossroads was appointed postmaster the folks in Washington started getting complaints. Not one piece of mail had left the village. The postmaster was investigated. He explained his reasoning, “It’s simple. The bag ain’t full yet!” What a poor excuse. What if we acted like that? What if we waited until our lives we’re full of blessings before we shared any of them? If we waited until we could afford children to have them then there certainly wouldn’t be many.

Our bag doesn’t have to be full for us to share our blessings with others. If your bag isn’t full, that doesn’t matter. Use what you have. Share what has been generously given to you. Enrich the lives of others with what you have right now. Smile and spread all the joy that you can. Remember that joy isn’t the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God. In our frazzled and stressed world we get to be God’s smile. Let it show! Tell a good one for me. I need some new material!

Take a Smile Pic

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What to Do When in a Funk – Roundabout Thoughts on Philippians 4:1-9

It is interesting to live on the edge of South Carolina’s border with the state of Georgia. I have been amused with the Augusta, Ga. television stations’ ads for that state’s political candidates. However amused I am with the not-so-subtle mudslinging, their ads are very well done and better than any I’ve ever seen in South Carolina. As a matter of fact, they’re so good, as an objective newcomer who knows nothing of the Peach State’s politics, I can’t easily discern who I would vote for if I was registered there. When every candidate says the same thing it all starts running together, and the truth is either lost or at least blurred. Jesus said something about knowing people by their fruit, and when it comes to Georgia, I’m clueless.

What I do know is that every ad purports that their person has a solution to either real or perceived problems. I wish that was so! Wouldn’t it be great if there was a pill or a politician that would really cure all that ails us? Some might say that our national malaise is the product of a poor economy, the war on terror, election year mudslinging, the disintegration of the family, and sorry football teams. It’s tough when sports, one of our sources of distraction from life’s difficulties, only adds to the problem. So much for being a South Carolina Gamecock fan!

So what are we supposed to do? What I’ve found when life is on a slippery slope is to do something worthwhile. It doesn’t matter so much what the task, just so it takes commitment. Psychologists, for years, have said that one of the best ways to get out of the doldrums is to make yourself do something for somebody else. They’re right! If we give in to the pits we’re never going to get out of them. Commitment is the ability to push through the pain, the angst, the pessimistic cynical mindset in which we find ourselves and keep at the projects that we’re supposed to complete.

George Miller gave an interesting analogy, “The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” What he’s saying about Italian food is true for me, and reminds me that what we stick to doing keeps on nourishing us long after we’re done. So when we’re down, we shouldn’t give in to it. We should stick to doing the things that we know that we’re supposed to do. Sure, I know very well that I don’t feel like going to the “Y,” but I also know that the endorphins that are released when I exercise will make me feel better. Unfortunately, many of us easily avoid the things we should do. Jerome K. Jerome, who lived from 1859-1927, said it for all sad-sacks and procrastinators, “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

We shouldn’t vegetate and let our burdens build up. Doing something good and worthwhile is a better answer. It’s all about commitment. Lewis Smedes puts the matter quite plainly, “I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God… When a person makes a promise, he reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: he will be there even when being there costs him more than he wants to pay. When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and controls at least one thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.” Amen!

Think what would happen if we followed Smedes’ advice. What a better world we would have if we kept our end of the bargain as employees even when under-appreciated, as spouses to our spouses even when things are rocky, or as parents to our children even when feeling disrespected and worn out. When we’re in a funk do something positive. Don’t lash out. Do the unexpected – your duty!

Doesn’t this apply to our faith communities, too? Wouldn’t our churches be better off if members actually kept their promises and vows? Someone said that there are three different kinds of believers: “if,” “because,” and “regardless.” An “if” believer follows God IF he or she receives blessings and rewards in return. This person waits to see what God will do first, then decides whether or not to respond in obedience. A “because” believer follows God BECAUSE God blesses the person. This person has seen the connection between personal obedience and God’s blessing and wants to keep it going. A “regardless” believer follows God REGARDLESS of the person’s circumstances, cynicism, and hardships. A “regardless” believer honors commitment and knows that God is faithful to the faithful. Which are we? How you act today casts your vote, so choose wisely! Do something worthwhile, follow God, and do the right things REGARDLESS.

Donkey and Elephant

Leadership, Elections, & The UMC

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The mid-term elections are over except where they’re still counting or recounting, and what does it mean that the Republican Party was so successful? What does it mean that the UMC is still losing members and we have a Call to Action Report that hopes to turn the tide the other way? I’m still reading Sergio Zyman’s book Renovate Before You Innovate and it has interesting segues between the US election results and the UMC. He advocates that assertiveness in your market niche is extremely important. He says, “Customer loyalty is one of the most perishable commodities in the world.” Just ask Democrats. We just saw Blue States flipping Red, and I know a lot of people who either used to be United Methodist or are now “nothing” – irreligious but spiritual.
Zyman states that reminding people about why you’re so great is important, but you better build on your strengths so well that you garner people’s preference. His descriptor that fits some politicians and the UMC: “You’re an also-ran in a stagnant category.” He uses the rental car business as an example, but listen for the ramifications for the church and politics. “The top-tier players have essentially turned car renting into a commodity business, leaving customers without any real way to tell them apart.” Sounds like Main Line denominations, huh? Or the politics of the same-old-same-old? For instance, have you ever heard the story of the person explaining the difference between Capitalism and Communism. He said “In Capitalism, humans exploit other humans. In Communism, it’s the other way around.” You just trade one set of fat cats for another, UNLESS there is real renovation, building on strengths and leading. It’s called the Church, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the traditions of the faith expressed in relevant reasonable ways so that people experience new life: Sounds like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to me – renovation at work!
Zyman continues his thoughts on stagnant businesses by saying, “Whenever this kind of stagnation happens, the market leader has the most to gain, mostly because when everything else is equal, people go for the bigger brand – it makes them feel they’re getting a deal.” Sounds like part of the reason why non-denominational mega-churches are outpacing us. Maybe it’s because they’re seen as hip, relevant, and they preach the time-tested Gospel. When we try to “Rethink Church,” it sounds like we’re more into heresy than offering certainty in uncertain times. “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” said about the same – we stand for nothing and all things. What???
Zyman says, “In politics, it’s a very similar situation: Sameness doesn’t change votes, which is why leaders win about 90 percent of the time. Faced with no significant difference, voters pick the devil they know over the devil they don’t know.” You have to differentiate! You have to give people a reason to do business with you more often so that when they compare you or your congregation/denomination to theirs or none at all, you will prove to them that “Anything they can do, we can do better.” That will take some work, marketing/evangelism, discerning essential core values, and expressing them in ways that people will get, and proving that you can deliver. I’m all for the t-shirt test for church mission statements: If it doesn’t fit on a t -shirt, it doesn’t cut it or qualify. For instance, how about “MD4C” for the UMC – Making Disciples For Christ. Beats the heck out of “Rethink Church” that makes me ponder my doubts more than my faith.
The UMC and the two primary political parties have no one else to blame but themselves for the sad state of their market-shares. Why do you think a Tea Party Movement actually had traction? They marketed well and tapped into people’s emotions against stagnancy. Now I haven’t met a Tea Partier yet that can adequately explain “Constitutional Government,” but they don’t have to if somehow it means “new and improved,” which means homage to the past but relevancy for the present. So the question hits me, “Who is new and improved?” – the UMC, the Democratic Party, or the Republican Party? Interesting thoughts, and I know I don’t have all the answers, but, you better believe this, I am going to do all that I can to present a Relevant Gospel in a Wesleyan Way to our world. There’s no better deal anywhere! We better get with it, and fast!

Mature or Manure

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I don’t know about you but I’ll be happy when Election Day is over. The ads have been so negative and the mudslinging misses the point of leadership. It’s not about what the other person has or hasn’t done. The better questions to ask a candidate are, “What are you going to do?” “What is your vision/plan?” I have heard smatterings of that in the midst of trashing/bashing, but not near enough.
Let me ask you, would you rather work for a negative person or a positive person? Joyce Landorf in her book, Balcony People, says that people are either Balcony or Basement People. Balcony People affirm, lift up, and encourage. Basement People pull down, criticize, and judge. On this All Saints’ Day, I’m thinking about the Balcony People who are in the greatest balcony of all – heaven. As a matter of fact, I’m making a list so that when the Basement People and their negativity are on the prowl, I can remember who and Whose I am. The question then comes, “I wonder whose list of Balcony People I am on?”
Last week there was an awful stench around Columbia, our state’s capitol city. No joke! By the end of the week it had been discovered that it was from a huge amount of chicken manure spread over a farm near the city. How appropriate! I’m ready for the smell of partisanship and its negative stench to dissipate, too. We have to work together. Yesterday I was at a Charge Conference where the devotion was given and the speaker unintentionally mixed up words. Instead of saying we should “mature in our faith,” it came out “We should manure in our faith.” I’m glad it was at a wonderful church and the levity was good for the meeting. Truth be told, one could say that we need to do both, grow in our faith and be good fertilizer for others.
With politics I’m looking for maturity. Unfortunately, with the mid-term elections and all the local races, things have been smelling more like manure than maturity. Good leadership is more mature than manure. Hope you have a good All Saints’ Day and that you avoid all manure-spreaders!