Monday, January 30, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) I think I'm sore. Got back on the wagon last week and hit the gym. Seven days into it, and I just do nothing but hurt. I can't straighten out my right arm without excruciating pain. Is that bad? A pox on myself for letting myself go so badly. I deserve this torture.

2) People ask if the stories that I tell in my sermons are true, and I always respond, "Yes. That's how I remember it." I mean, I probably get a little creative in my memory, but the version is close enough to what really happened that I don't think I'll ever find myself getting scolded by Oprah anytime soon. Last week's story, though, was pretty dead-spot-on true, and a lot of people have asked how the person in the story is doing with their sobriety. Well, as far as I know, its still a daily struggle, but more days are being won than lost. Just keep my friend, and all those struggling with powerful addiction issues, in your prayers.

3) This Sunday is "Haiti Sunday" here at Shawnee, and the building team members who just returned will be talking about their recent experience building homes and churches in that part of the world. Joseph's teaser for the congregation this week was that he was going to talk about the purest, most selfless act of good that this church has ever committed in it's history.... a good teaser if there ever was one. I won't give it away here, but I think you'll like the story, so if you miss worship this week, you'll get the scoop here next Monday.

4) Am coaching Max's basketball team (all 1st & 2nd graders), and this week, I tried to introduce the concept of "setting a pick". You'd think the idea of getting in the way of another defender to break a teammate free wouldn't be so hard, but it was. Nobody wants to play defense or set a pick for a teammate.... they just all want to shoot the ball (kinda like the NBA). We'll see what we can do after a couple more practices.

5) For the second time in two weeks, a woman has asked me how to pronounce a couple of Greek words as a part of her presentation for our Wednesday morning Bible Study. My knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is "limited" (translation: nil). I've always felt bad about this, until a couple of weeks ago when I interviewed for the Beeson Preaching and Leadership Doctoral Program at Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr. Elsworth Kalas, the Director of Beeson, and a distinguished scholar in his own right (and an author of the much praised "Disciple Bible Study" series) was one of the interviewers, and upon being asked (by me) if I could still be admitted into the program without the requisite language classes, replied,

"No. That's not necessary. You know, I took Greek back in seminary, but I can't say that I've used it all that much. You'll be fine."

If Dr. Kalas says I'll be fine, then I'll be fine. Besides, there are a lot of great resources for Bible study on the web. I'll refer you to one: . I use it mostly as a concordance, but since it contains Strong's version of the New American Standard, you can use it to click on English words to find out the Greek or Aramaic word it was translated from, and then kind of go from there. Go there if you wondering where (fill in the blank) is in the Bible.

6) Am reading an interesting book right now. "Emerging Churches" by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger is a five-year study of what is going on in non-traditional (hence the phrase, "emergent") congregations that are truly reaching unchurch young adults and teens in the US, UK, New Zealand, and Austrailia. One of the themes that run throughout the book is how new, young church leaders are rebelling against the current hierarchy and "chains of command". This non-linear approach to leadership is very different to what we have experienced, and is creating the space for young Christians to create their own forms of worship and church structure.

The Anglican Church, in particular, because they realize this trend, is taking a "hands off" approach to the variety of churches that being created (house churches, club churches, discussion-oriented churches, etc...) and simply allowing them to develop as the leaders see fit. But as they are doing this, leaders starting new worship services, house churches, or "young adult ministries" under the auspice of an existing "traditional church" are leaving in droves to do indepedent ministry. And even those who start from scratch are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with doing ministry under the guise of any bueracratic structure. Generational distrust, as much as any cultural factor, is fueling this decided departure of young pastoral leaders to the "greener pastures" of non-denominational (or post-denominational, as many emergent leaders are calling it) ministry.

The generational distrust which is the fuel for so many Gen Xer's to do their own thing is real. Time and time again, Boomer church pastors are complaining about the leadership abilities of the Buster pastors coming behind them (here's a good article by George Barna on the subject:, and in turn, Busters are rejecting the leadership style of their elders and leaving to start their own churches, or worship movements. Young pastoral leaders like Rob Bell Jr. at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan ( are leading the charge toward more experimental, and independent, forms of ministry, and while they aren't antagonistic toward denominationally connected churches, they aren't all that fond of them either.

How we co-exist together as power is transferred over the next 5-15 years will be a real challenge. And while the new post-modern forms of church may yet be 10 or 20 years from reaching our little corner of the Midwest institutionally, it will be interesting to see if established churches will be able to adapt to reach those that appreciate the current structure, and those longing for something new.

If the nine characteristics of emerging churhes interest you, give "Emerging Churches" by Gibbs and Bolger a try. You can buy it here:

7) "Big Momma II" was tops at the box office this weekend. How is that possible?

8) WalMart is getting into the health insurance business. Now a small business can buy health insurance in the form of an HMO or PPO through your local Sam's Club outlet. The retailer is bent on remaking health insurnace (and banking also in the coming years) much in the same way it's re-made every aspect of the retail business. It will interesting to see if health insurance companies start getting "WalMarted" the same way mom-and-pop retail stores in rural communities got popped over the last twenty years. Speaking as someone whose health insurance premium is $17,000+ this year, here's hoping that WalMart will fix something the government seems relunctant to take on.

9) How an impartial jury is going to be found for the Enron case beginning this week is beyond me. Even the Bucher family wasn't untouched by the scandal, as a number of close friends, thinking they were investing in a utility, lost substancial amounts of money when the stock crashed. How Judge Lake thinks he'll be able to find twelve people in Houston without a pre-conceived notion of Lay and Skilling's guilt is beyond me. I don't think you could do that in Lima.

10) The news from Ford last week was chilling. Apparently, in the company's recent history, they lost money on EVERY CAR it sold (about $200 per vehicle). THAT WAS THEIR BUSINESS MODEL. As you think about this, know that at the same time Toyota was making $1300 per car, while eating into the Ford's truck/SUV marketshare. Now the company is marrying itself to hybrid vehicles, and the belief that in coming years the country will make the switch to diesel and hydrogen fuel. Here's hoping that they are right, and that WalMart can come up with a health insurance solution that can make Ford's workforce more competitive in the marketplace.

Until next time...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think (Pauly Edition)

1) Had a nice surprise when my friend, Paul Rebelo showed up this weekend for a nice stay. Paul is a doctoral student at a seminary in Pittsburg, and since he had a weekend to kill between two weeks of classes (he lives Chatanooga, TN, which is ten hours from Pitt), he decided, much to our joy, to crash at our place. For those that don't know, Paul and I have been friends ever since our first year of seminary where we spent an hour playing b-ball with another friend of ours (John Moore, whose whereabouts are unknown to this author.... googling the name "John Moore" doesn't turn up too many helpful answers either) after dinner. Pauly is an excellent pastor and preacher, and is downright unbeatable in foosball (although I still master him on the basketball court). All in all, we spent the weekend watching football, talking, and since he misses his kids, I watched as my kids wailed on him as a form of play. It was good to see him.

2) Paul's church, the First Christian Church of Chatanooga, is venturing into coffeehouse ministry this winter. Since the church is located on the campus of UT-Chatanooga, they are making an effort to reach college students by opening a ministry venue that features expresso drinks, musical acts, and lots of times for open dialogue about spiritual issues. It's a very exciting opportunity for the church, and I'll keep you posted on how its doing as I receive more info myself.

3) As a loyal viewer of "The West Wing" these past seven years, I'm sorry (but not surprised) to see it go. I figured when they moved it to Sunday it was only a matter of time before it came to an end. I do think this season has been very strong, so its good to see them go out on top. Now grandma and I will need another show to watch together each week. If you have a suggestion, email it to and don't worry if the show isn't a Sunday night show... grandma knows how to use the VCR.

4) Dad is still in Haiti with the rest of our team, and we've still heard nothing from him. Given the cost of a long-distance call, this isn't surprising, but still makes us anxious all the same. Please keep him, and them, in your prayers.

5) Received a phone call from one of our laypeople asking if I'd work out with them at the YMCA daily, as a way of mutually trying to encourage good health and exercise. I weigh about a million pounds right now, and given all the sermons I've been giving on being a "living sacrifice", I'm kind of obligated to take this on. Can't say I'm all that excited about it, though, as I've grown accustomed to the current state of crapitude that my body is in, and the thought of sweating on a treadmill just doesn't seem all that appealing. If I only I could follow each sermon with the disclaimer, "Do as I say, not as I do"....

6) I think I mentioned last week that I have been accepted into the Beeson Institute for Preaching and Leadership at Asbury Seminary, which is an outstanding doctoral program fully funded by the Beeson Institute for its participants. Yep, a FREE doctoral program, and somebody messed up and let me in. In the end, I don't know if my schedule will permit my participation, but it's a pretty cool honor to have been accepted in the first place. We'll see what happens.

7) Heard from Robbi Helser, a former youth group-ite at Shawnee who is now an adult, and on her own, making her own way in the world. After working a number of years in the juvenile court system, now Robbi is working on some projects focusing on the juvenile justice system for the Center for Family Research in Columbus. She's also volunteering as a youth leader for 5&6th graders at King Avenue UMC, which gives you the sense of just how insane she really is. At this stage of my life, I think I'd rather train lions than work with pre-teens, so I'm glad Robbi, who's been in the youth ministry game in one form or another many years now, still has the fire.

NOTE TO ALL KIDS IN ROBBI'S YOUTH GROUP: Hey kids, Robbi acted barely human and used to listen to really crappy rap music when she was in middle school, so I encourage you to do the same!!!

Just trying to help you reap what you sowed.

8) Lots of folks have been stopping by the office to tell me how much they enjoyed the sermon yesterday, and to them I say, "Merci boucoup". It was a fun sermon to do, and I meant every word I said. Those who look for opportunities to extend grace and warmth to others in their everyday life do far more minisry than us "pros". Much thanks to Lindsay Hefner who decorated the Centrum, and the musicians who did such a great job yesterday. It was a fun service to be a part of.

9) Kudos to Dave Harris, Senior Pastor at Trinity UMC here in Lima, for organizing a day where area civic leaders can get a different perspective on issues of immigation. The workshop is happening, I believe, on March 24th, and will feature civic leaders from Goshen, Indiana, a town that's seen its hispanic population swell rapidly since 1990. As a former resident of that fine town, I can tell you that the dynamic of this change in Goshen has been very positive, and good for the local economy. If you are interested in attending, send me an email at and I'd be happy to send you more information.

10) And finally.... Steelers 27 Seahawks 24 (Go Big Ben!!)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think (M.L.K. Day Edition)

1) Interesting excerpts from a book on Dr. King were just recently published in the latest issue of Time. I didn't know that in this final days, King was attempting to put all those suffering from poverty under the same umbrella for a major march on Washington. Would have truly been a sight to see, and quite frankly, that nobody else would have thought about this over the course of the last 40 years blows the mind. I guess nobody really has had the credibility and vision to get this done, and while I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories, I think the prospect of uniting together Caucasian coal miners from WV, Hispanic farmworkers from California, African-American working poor from urban communities all over the country, Native Americans trapped on reservations with no economic opportunity, various peoples from the near and far east who face their own issues of survival each day, and elderly on fixed incomes would scare some pretty powerful people. Makes you wonder why Dr. King was really assassinated that day.
2) Spent a couple of days in Wilmore, Kentucky last week preparing to start a Doctorate of Ministry (DMin). The process will begin this summer, and while at this time I don't have any particulars on schedule or content, I can tell you that my focus will be on issues of leadership and worship. Leadership in the sense of taking the church into bold new frontiers while not scaring the bejeebies out of everybody, and worship in the sense of how it might be changing over the course of the next twenty years (and how that might effect this congregation). More on this later as more information becomes available.

3) Am reading George Barna's new book, "Revolution", as per the recommendation by my friend the Rev. Paul Rebelo, and I have to say that it's leaving me conflicted. You see, in it, Barna basically asserts that the day is coming when the church will no longer be the dominant force in the shaping of disciples of Jesus Christ. Instead, Barna says that home churches, para-church organizations, various worship movements, and the internet will become the connecting place for Christians, and will also do a better job of making disciples ("revolutionaries" as it's termed in his book) than the church has.

Barna, a guy who made his mark by using the strategies of a marketing analyst to help gauge the effectiveness and future of the church has had much to say that's been utilized by Christian leaders over the last 15 years. Thus, I read what it is he has to say with a great deal of respect. However, I'm a skeptic regarding this latest assertion, in that the sample he gives is so small, and so disorganized, of these "revolutionaries" that I wonder how much of this is Barna tracking a trend already happening, or Barna trying to jump-start a trend? To get some perspective on Barna's view of the church, you need some perspective on Barna, and to do that, I recommend this article... and to get a perspective on the book you can go here

4) Spent the whole weekend, for the most part, watching NFL playoffs, which I haven't done in years. Normally, if I see a quarter of NFL football a week, that's a lot. I mean, I've skipped watching the Super Bowl three or four times (a startling revelation for some, but if you ever do it once, doing it a second time isn't really that big of a deal). I don't see me doing this again any time soon.

5) Lots of nice emails were sent in regard to last week's post ("Too Busy Not To Pray"). I don't want to beat the experience into the ground (as my sermon Sunday really focused on what happened that day, and the movement of prayer I used based on N.T. Wright's book, "The Lord and His Prayer", which uses the Lord's Prayer as a template that can be utilized as we pray through the needs of the world), but thanks for all of the nice words. I'd encourage you, if you're in the area, to try our "Prayer Walk" which will be set up in the Centrum during Holy Week (mid-April). Otherwise, take time each day to pray for the physcial and spiritual needs of others in light of God's justice working as it should in this world.

6) Our Haiti building team has left, or is leaving, this week for a couple of weeks of hard work building homes and a church. Now is really not a good time to go to Haiti, as the political situation is really up-in-the-air even more than normal, but need knows no season of convenience. Fortunately for those of you that have heard about the "kidnappings for ransom" that are becoming an epidemic in that country right now, rest-assured that the chance of this happening outside of the capital of Port au Prince is virtually nil. Our people, as always, are in the part of the country which has historically been very quiet and safe. As always, though, I'd ask to pray for all of the members of our Haiti team, which I'll do with a little extra prayer for the one participant who happens to be my dad.

7) Took Max to the ER at St. Rita's Medical Center last night for acute stomach pain. We were worried about appendicitis, but the staff there, under the able leadership of Dr. Gary Beasily (a member here at Shawnee) ruled out that possibility. Instead there appear to be other issues at work, and whether its a virus, or just bad gas, Max appears to have made it through the worst of the pain. Of course, now Aimee isn't feeling well. The cycle continues...

8) During the big bowl games a couple of weeks, the Southern Baptist Convention bought ad time in a number of its major markets to show a commercial it produced about the work it does in the world with those afflicted with poverty, disease, and natural disasters. According to Todd Rhodes of "Monday Morning Insight",

Officials at the nation's largest Protestant denomination have publicly worried for years about their image. Southern Baptists, they fret, are best known for what they're against: abortion, homosexuality, women pastors, dancing and Disney. The new ad is an attempt to shift attention to what Baptists are for without disavowing those controversial positions, Baptist officials say. "We need to take stands where we need to take stands," said Bob Rodgers, vice president of the Cooperative Program, the denomination's fund-raising arm. "But we haven't done a very good job telling people that, in Jesus' name, these are things we're doing because we love people."

Kind of strange turn of events when the SBC acknowledges that its more well-known for what it opposes than what its for. We'll need to keep an eye on this to see if maybe, faced with churches in it's own denomination that are becoming more globally aware (read: Saddleback Church) that the SBC might be looking to move a little more to the left in coming days.

9) Received an email this week from our fearless District Superintendent, who has told us that our District Transition Team's suggestion for our new district name (Northwest) isn't good enough for the Conference Transitional Team. You see, this summer we voted as an Annual Conference to decrease the number of districts from 14 to 8. This would be equivalent of Congress deciding that 50 states were too inefficient, and now we needed to consolidate them down to 32. Anyhow, the new district our church is in is composed of the old Lima, Findlay, and Defiance Districts, which is basically all of Northwest Ohio (besides Toledo, which because of the size of the population, gets its own district).

Now, apparently, the name we chose wasn't really in line with what the CTT had in mind. According the directive from the CTT I received by email this weekend, if those of us living here in the Northwest part of Ohio call our district "The Northwest District", it could cause problems of epic proportions. What problems, I'm not sure, but rest-assured, problems we don't even want to think about. So, now we are to go back to the drawing board to follow a "landmark" theme that's been established by the CTT.

Of course, if you've ever lived in this part of Ohio, you'll know that, besides being pretty flat, that it doesn't have too many "landmarks" that would be easily recognized statewide. I mean, outside of the Ottawa River (semi-affectionately known as "Hog Creek" here in Lima), which isn't exactly what you'd call a major American waterway, what else is there? We were once covered with glaciers ("Glacial MovementDistrictt"), a swamp (Wet Foot District), and a lot of trees (Full O' Nuts District), but those aren't really options any longer. Outside of "More Groundhogs Than People District", I'm at a loss, so I need your help.

Thus, if you are aware of a landmark that would sufficiently describe the body of land that stretches along the Indiana-Ohio boarder from Celina to Bryan, and as far east as Findlay and Lima, please submit your suggestion to . I'll issue a prize of a five dollar gift certificate to Arby's to the winner, which will be announced on February 1st. Good luck!

10) I hope that my Bishop and DS don't read this blog. If they do, know that I'm really just using a pseudonymm, and that the real name of the person publishing this stuff is "Dr. Joseph Bishman". You may deal with me accordingly.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Too Busy Not To Pray

I had every intension of keeping an online journal of yesterday's day of prayer and fasting. My laptop was connected wirelessly to the internet at the back of the sanctuary, and was ready to go. I even put up the first update (at around noon). But then, believe it or not, it got pretty busy.

About fifty people stopped by throughout the day to pray, be prayed for, or both. Over 600 prayer requests were either dropped off in the office, were phoned in, or emailed to my account. I really thought at the beginning of the day that my time would be pretty quiet and kind of monastic. Well, if that's what monks go through, they are pretty busy fellas.

In short, I can describe the day in one word: amazing! Here were some of the highlights...
  • The first person who showed up for prayer was waiting for me when I arrived. A local attorney, we spent some time talking, and then he asked me to pray for three people needing God's help, and to say a word of praise for some medical treatment that he had been receiving that was working. Just a great start to a great day, because he's obviously a great person!
  • The second person who arrived was also an attorney who simply asked that I pray that God grant them strength, wisdom, and grace. Lesson learned? From now on, think twice before you tell a lawyer joke.
  • An entire family showed up right before dinner to do their prayers together.... you can't know how cool that was!
  • A high school student showed up for two hours to pray over a good number of the prayer requests submitted that day. The kid prayed like a trouper!
  • Two people who have a problem with one another, came at different times to pray for the other person (you can't make this stuff up!).
  • Most crushing prayer request of the day that stopped me dead in my tracks: A mother of four small children given 9 months to live with incurable brain cancer.
  • Prayers for peace in the world: 43
  • A man looking to find out what day this year's "Blessing for the Bikes" was scheduled stayed and asked for prayer. He gave a praise for the service, and how much it meant to his motorcycle club, which is not religious in nature.
  • For over four hours, in the dead of the afternoon, a constant stream of people waited in line to be prayed for. Gives me chills just thinking about it.
  • Was, and am, amazed at the number of mothers lifting up prayers for their children. And the prayers only grow in number the older the mother, and child become.
  • I prayed for a woman who was concerned with the welfare of her mother who had lost her husband almost a year ago. Her mom couldn't make it yesterday, so she showed up in her place because she knew how much it meant to her.
  • I prayed for a man who loves his son very, very much.
  • I prayed, silently, with my father. We prayed for a friend of ours suffering with cancer, a young man struggling with alcoholism and for strength for his parents who are dying a slow death in the process, for my dad's brother in prison, and the people of Haiti. I took time to pray for dad, his business, and the weight of responsibility he feels for the people emplyed there.
  • I prayed, silently, with my mom, an hour later, for all the same things.
  • I received an email request for a granddaughter who lost both of grandparents in less than a year, and is having great difficulty dealing with it that was sent by her mother.
  • A number of people prayed for me, and every single one of those prayers made me feel incredibly unworthy of this job, and a sense that I am greatly blessed.
  • In my time alone (because, despite all the people, there were some stretches early in the day when I was by myself), I found it difficult to concentrate and just decided to let my mind wander. I ended up praying for some friends from college (who I hadn't seen in years), another friend who starts seminary this week, and I asked God to please ease the pain a relative of mine has felt since they lost their mom. I prayed for a friend of mine who built a house next door to his parents and his grandfather, and I asked God to give him strength as in the last three years he's lost his father and grandfather, and now is helping his mother face a battle against cancer. I thanked God for people who loved me when I was child, and have been gone for years. It was very cathartic, and humbling.

Probably my greatest learning of the day can be summed up like this: I have been totally underestimating the depth of compassion that God has for all of humanity.

If you saw the movie "Bruce Almighty", you'll remember the scene where Carrey's character, Bruce (who has been give the authority by God to be God of a part of Buffalo, New York) realizes that all of the voices he's been hearing a prayer requests from people, about everything from dying relatives to winning the lottery. As a means of organization, he converts them to emails, and after spending an entire night answering all of them, only to find out that his inbox after hours at the computer, has more requests than what he'd started with. Thus, out of frustration, he decides simply to just answer to "yes" to every request, resulting shortly in chaos throughout the city of Buffalo.

Here's the thing: I had this sense yesterday that God doesn't get frustrated at all with those things we lift up to Him, daily. He doesn't ever get frustrated with the stupid things that we do to ourselves that we ask Him to bail us out of, even after months, or years, where we never bothered to "call". I just got this feeling that God delights in every moment we spend with Him far more than we could ever realize. He understands how small our world is, and how it alters our sense of reality. And yet, despite the fact that in His world, time has no meaning and nobody ever really dies, even the most trival things we come to Him with are listened to with a depth of concern and wisdom that is, of course, lacking among us. You see, I started the day thinking that prayer was important thing for us to do because of the benefits for us, but I ended the day thinking about how maybe God gets a bigger bang out of it than we do.

Anyhow, it won't be the last time I take an entire day to do this. And you can bet that the words I say daily on my knees, or in my car, or over my family, or in bed as the last moments of consciousness drift away won't come off my lips as glibbly, or thoughtlessly as they did before, because I know he's listening, and has something to say.

I hope that thought is a blessing to you this day.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Day of Prayer (4 hour update)

This has been a facinating morning. About a half-dozen people have stopped by for prayer, and the requests keep rolling in either by phone, email (you can still give me yours at ). I am growing in my sense of the compassion that God has for all of His children as I do this, and I am wondering about my own sense of mercy and grace.

A sample of the prayer requests today...
  • a woman struggling with depression
  • a variety of people struggling with broken relationships
  • a hope that the Confirmation Class starting this month will impact the kids and mentors spiritually with the love of Jesus
  • a woman who is dying of cancer
  • a woman struggling with forgiving herself for something that happened in her past
  • thanks for a loving pet
  • a young man struggling with alcoholism
  • a variety of requests on the part of parents for the their children, and the ages of the parents and children span the generations
  • for Gene Purdy who is ill and in the hospital
  • for Cathy and John who are facing surgery in the upcoming days
  • for Eric, who is starting seminary today

Just a facinating array of things that are on the hearts and minds of God's people. More later today

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Day of Prayer

For those of you that don't know, all day tomorrow (8am to 8pm, Monday, January 9th), I will be fasting and praying for the congregation in the sanctuary at Shawnee UMC. I will periodically use this blog as a journal of the day, and what, if anything, I learn from the experience.

All are welcome to submit prayer requests (email them to and if you are in the neighborhood, you are welcome to come and pray, or be prayed for, all day. Hope to see you then.