Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Another Good Reason to Sprinkle, Not Dunk

All three of my boys would do this.

Thanks to classmate Nolan Donald, who put this up on his blog first. Both Aaron Wymer and I lifted it, but it was too good not to lift.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Nobody Wants To Follow A Winner

Last Friday, the Dean of the Beeson Program, Randy Jessen, gathered us together to do a little brainstorming, thinking, projecting, and discussing the whole church thing. We do this periodically cause he things it will help us, and generally, it does. To get us in the mood, he gave us two scenarios of potential churches we could end up in when this year is over and done.

Church 1 averaged over 1700 in worship, had $4,500 in debt, interest income from a million dollar annuity bequeathed to the church, a five hundred seat sanctuary that was packed three times a morning, and a legacy of 20 years of non-stop growth.

Church 2 averaged 78 people in worship in a five hundred seat sanctuary over two services. It had $200k in debt, $700 in the bank, and had just come off of a scandal where the last pastor went out defrocked and disgraced.

Which of the two churches do you think most of my classmates jumped after? If you said Church 1, you were absolutely positively......... wrong. Almost to the person, the general consensus was that every person in the room would rather have the beaten down church facing bankruptcy. Is it because Beeson Pastors like renewal? a challenge? Preaching to 450 empty seats?

Or, would pastors rather not follow winners?

Years ago a good friend of mine who helped get me into this ministry gig, told me that he would rather follow a pastor who had been a complete disaster than somebody who had done a good job. The rational he used was that it's ten times harder to do better than someone who has been doing a good job than to do better than a doofus. No doubt, when we were talking about Church 1 you could see in my classmates eyes, if not a fear, a definite concern with how much pressure you'd be in a church that had grown from 200 to 1700 in worship over 20 years. Personal performance would need to be high from the start, as expectations on the part of church leadership and the UM-hierarchy (my apologizes to our two non-UM's in the class) would be sky high, particularly if the person you are following is made a saint by the laity within four months of the moving van pulling out of the driveway.

What must it have been like for the disciples to know that they had to follow the Son of God with the message of the Gospel? It's no wonder Jesus had to promise the Holy Spirit because I gather, given the way Jesus' died and the tough life here on earth he promised them, the disciples had to feel more than a little overwhelmed. Talk about expectations.... most of the world hates them, and the rest don't know they exist. Not mention, the guy you follow could raise the dead.

"Yeah you can give a decent sermon, but can you raise the dead?"

And so we pray for our own Pentecost, my classmates and I. A blowing of the Spirit into our souls, hearts and minds, so that we might see clearly, and hear with clarity the promises of faithfulness, no matter if we are accepted or rejected by others. For some of us are headed to serve churches on the margins, others will be starting a new church, others will end up places where people haven't been excited about much in a long time..... and, I suspect, one or two of us will be following a winner.

"And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of time."

We're counting on that Jesus. We're counting on you.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Well, during a study-break, I decided to click on my blog-tracker, just to see how many people had surfed by today, when I received a surprise. You see, Sunday hits are usually few and far between. People who normally follow the musing of this blog know that virtually every Monday, you can expect a new "Ten Things I Think I Think", and the other six days of the week... well, there are no guarantees of anything new. So Sunday is generally pretty slow.

But not today.

It seems that a blogger who attends Holy Trinity - Brompton, the congregation we visited during our visit in London, googled my blog, and posted my "part one" segment on my experience at the church. Imagine then, seventy hits, all from England and India within minutes of that particular blogger's post. I'm kind of curious how they'll receive what I had to say, for even though I'm pretty kind to HTB, I viewed (and view) their take on the Holy Spirit and how he (the Holy Spirit is a person... just ask Dr. Steve Seamonds, one of my professors) manifests himself with a degree of... well, if it isn't skepticism, it's some sort of relative.

Who knows where this might end up.

2) I said it in August, and I'll say it again: the national championship for college football is going to be played in Columbus on November 18th. USC's loss only confirms what I thought then, and believe now that the best two teams in the country are in the Big Ten. The downside to this, of course, is that I've a sense that the actual BCS Championship Game, itself, will prove to be anti-climatic, as it looks like a Big East school is going to represent the challenger to the mighty Bucks. OSU/West Virginia might prove interesting, but as for Louisville or (I can't believe I'm even going to type this name out) Rutgers..... yeesh! How good could your conference be if Rutgers is undefeated? It'd be like if Indiana won the Big Ten Championship... that'd be the year that a new strain of the bubonic plague struck every state in the midwest except Indiana, and all of Purdue's starters were ineligible. How tainted will West Virginia's bid be if they had to "get by" Rutgers first? Expect many renewed calls from fans from the SEC, Pac-Ten, Big Twelve, and even a dog-awful ACC for a football championship tourney.

3) In a post a couple of days ago about books, and particularly books I'd read if they were ever written, I listed a book called "Why Jesus Hates Religion" by a pastor named Bruxy Cavey as something I'd read if it was ever written.... and I was being serious (as I was when I called for my boss to write a book on David for Adults). Well, guess what, Bruxy Cavey just released his first book, and guess what it's called.... The End of Religion . Needless to say, I've already ordered my copy, and suspect that it will find a way into my dissertation. Check it out.

4) Had to read "East of Eden" for my preaching class. The assignment was to do (among other things) detail what having read this book would do for me as a preacher. Well, in short, it confirmed for me that a) Steinbeck was one of the greatest authors of his generation b) that the imagery he uses is so vivid that you can practically smell California as he describes it (which is instructional for a preacher), and c) that nobody talks or writes like Steinbeck anymore. Nobody. No one. Not a soul. Most authors would have written that book in a third-less pages, and doubted that the evil character (Kate) was realistic because she was born evil. It just seems to come out of a more naive, and better educated (don't' think the two are mutually exclusive... they aren't) time. They don't make 'em like this one anymore.

5) Percentage of their budget that a church should be spending on staffing costs, as per the suggestion of Aubrey Malphurs, author of Advanced Strategic Planning and a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary: 40-60%, with larger churches spending less percentage wise than smaller churches.... in case you were wondering. I'm sure it kept you up and night. You can thank me later.

6) Heard an excellent sermon this morning at Quest Community Church in Lexington on how the mirror, and a false-perception perpetuated in the culture of how we should look, robs us of our connection with God. Helen Music, the preacher of the morning, nailed it. If you are interested, here it is: http://www.questcommunity.com/subindex.php?id=currentseriespodcast
I guess we're going to spend a little time at Quest, as opposed to Southland Christian Church with is the big behemoth we'd been attending during our year of (mostly) self-imposed exile from home for awhile. And that's no knock on Southland... we're just using this year to experience new things.

7) Another excerpt from Malphurs' book:

We have discovered that people fear the future. It frightens them to the extent they prefer to live in the present or, worse, the past. So to succeed, leaders must address that fear. By far the most effective way is vision clarity - to picture the future with such vivid terms that a congregation can see where it is headed.

8) Drafted my NBA fantasy league basketball team for 2006-07. With the top pick, I took LeBron. Also got Vince Carter, Chris Kaman (center for the Clippers), Antwan Jamison (forward for the Wizards), Kurt Thomas (forward/center for the Suns), Andre Miller (guard for the Nuggets), Dwight Howard (a force of nature for the Magic), Mehmet Okur (from my beloved Utah Jazz - really ticked off my brother I got him too, which is a bonus), Richard Hamilton (Pistons), Ben Gordon (Bulls), Bonzi Wells (my one headcase - last year I had Artest), and Mike Miller (Grizzlies). Since only fourteen people follow the NBA in America any more, I need let you know that this a great team. I think after a three-year drought, the title will once again be mine.

9) I took Elijah to the nursery at Quest this morning, which was a landmark. Usually I spend most of the sermon (since normally this Aimee's job, me being a preacher and all) out walking around, trying to catch snippets of the sermon on closed-captioned TV. Today, I thought I'd roll the dice... and he did OK. He cried as I left, and then kinda glommed onto a teenage volunteer who played with him until we picked him up. He gave her a hug and wave as we left, and all to say this....

You don't know how important it is to volunteer in your church's nursery or children's ministry. You just don't know how much parents and kids appreciate it. I don't care if you are a stockbroker, butcher, a cabinet-maker or a candlestick maker.... everyone should do this a few times a year. It is one of the ultimate acts of servanthood, with the greatest potential for impact you can give. No joking. It's that important.

10) Am doing my dissertation on churches that made planned pastoral leadership transitions where a succeeding pastor was selected before the senior pastor left, and they actually serve on staff together before the transition takes place. It's an interesting study, but the problem is that, as per the suggestion of my Bishop (and you gotta take a Bishop's suggestion pretty seriously), I'm looking for churches in Episcopal systems that have made this transition. For those who don't know what "Episcopal system" means, it's systems where pastors are appointed by Bishops to serve churches. "Call systems", where the congregations ask a pastor come and be their pastor are far more prevalent in this country, have been experimenting with this kind of transition now heavily for about 10 to 15 years. Now, some of the biggest "call" churches in the country (Willow Creek Community Church, Saddleback Church, and Southeast Christian Church of Louisville to name a few) are in the middle of massive leadership transitions where the well-known pastor (Bill Hybles, Rick Warren, and Bob Russell, respectively), are retiring to some other aspect of ministry, and another Senior Pastor takes over using the "succession model". Finding 12 to 15 examples of these kinds of transitions in the "call church" world would be easy.

But Bishops are a little wary of giving up their right to make appointments. Wary to the point where I've scoured the country, and at this point I've only found six examples of "Episcopal system churches" that have tried this (all successfully, I might add). They include St. Lukes Community UMC (and African-American congregation in Dallas), Indian River City UMC (Florida), Mt. Pisgah UMC (North Georgia), Prospect Street UMC (North Georgia), St. Luke UMC (Indianapolis), and All Saints Episcopalian Church (Pasadena - and yes, this is the same church that made headlines when it's former Senior Pastor made an anti-Iraq/Republican sermon, advocated that its members should get politically active, and was subsequently investigated by the IRS for having violated it's tax exempt status).

Holy Trinity- Brompton, actually qualifies, as they made the transition from Sandy Millar to Nicky Gumble two years ago... but I don't think a British example will be allowed.

However, the track record of appointments made in churches (particularly larger ones) where a Senior Pastor left, and the new pastor comes in cold the next day to take over, has been abysmal (I'm working on the data for the West Ohio Conference, and the stats are depressing), which is why there are at least a dozen UMC churches nationwide that are "in-process" for a planned succession, which is unprecedented in our denomination's history. I guess Bishops are more afraid of churches falling to pieces in the midst of a conventional appointment (the current norm), than trying something new in an effort to protect a church's future.

But I can't use "in process"... I need "process completed at least two years ago", so it's turning into a challenge.

Anyhow, be in prayer as I seek more examples of "planned succession Episcopal churches" who successfully made this transition (it'd be easier looking for bald, left-handed, world-class violinists, with three sisters, and a wife named Elvina). If you know of a United Methodist, Anglican, Wesleyan, Episcopalian, or Free Methodist church that did this, please let me know.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

No Time To Write, So Instead....

Has been forwarded to me a few times, and thus I leave it here for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Friday, October 27, 2006

I've Been "Blog Tagged" and Plan on Filing Charges

Nolan Donald, a member of the BP class of 2006-07, recently made a post on his blog, and tagged five others, including myself, to follow his lead by answering the following questions about, of all things, books. I'll tell you right now about the last thing I want to blog about is books. I'm sick of books. I've read more books in the last four months that that last 10 years. It's like writing on the grossest thing I ever picked off of my body or a shopping guide for Wilmore, Kentucky... I'd rather shave my legs first.

BUT, I have been blog tagged AND Nolan and Susanna let me watch the Buckeyes at their home cause they have cable TV. So, in order to keep the peace, here we go

- One book that changed your life (we'll assume the Bible is asssumed): A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren. It pretty much rescued my faith at a time when doubt was beginning to win the day.

- One book that you have read more than once: When I was a kid I loved the book, The Sunday Cycles by William Campbell Gault and I read all the Matt Christopher books again and again. More recently, a favorite has been The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, which has been used for planning many a sermon.

- One book you would want on a desert island (again assuming the Gideons have left a Bible in the drawer of my desert island hut): Uh, any book with a big map and a built in satellite phone.

- One book that made you laugh: Almost Friends: A Harmony Novel by Phillip Gulley and Loose Balls: Short and Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto (the stuff on Marvin "Bad News" Barnes made me laugh so hard I'm not sure my spleen survived)

- One book that made you cry: The Civil War Series by Shelby Foote, particularly when recounting the deaths of Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln, and Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Shelia McGraw, because my boys are growing up too fast.

- One book you wish had been written: Any John Grisham novel, but particularly, The Testament, which is my favorite.

- One book you wish had never been written: Just follow the link here but know that you'll need to gouge your eyes out of your head when you are done. (Note to Eric Stalkamp, my Dad and brother, Cathy Friesthler, or any true Buckeye fan: Do NOT click on that link. Did you hear me? You'd better off covering yourself with paper cuts and soaking in hot tub filled with isopropyl alcohol, or locking yourself in a room in a room where Fergie's new album plays out of a speaker and can't be turned down..... RUN FOR YOUR LIVES AND SAVE YOURSELVES!!!!!!!)

- One book you’re currently reading: Advanced Strategic Planning by Aubrey Malphurs (a great cure for insomnia)

- One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

and I'll add a few more catagories....

- Ten books I'll read once they are written:

1. America's First President/Grandmother: Kathryn Diehl by William F. Buckley

2. Don't Eat That, Chubby: How I Whipped Bryan Bucher Into Shape (volume one) by Cathlene Baker

3. The Beeson Pastor Class That Changed The World by Randy Jessen (with special forwards by Bono, Bill Hybles, Gov. Howie Mandel, and Brian McLaren)

4. Why Jesus Hates Religion by Bruxy Cavey (seriously)

5. Deliverance: How I Discovered That Columbus, Ohio Really Was the Center of the College Football Universe and Started Rooting for Ohio State by Susanna Donald (with forwards by Aaron Wymer and Trav Wilson)

6. What Stress? by Charlotte Hefner

7. How We Made Our Billions and Took Super Care of Our Parents In Their Retirement by Max, Xavier, and Elijah Bucher

8. Women: A Surefire Guide to Understanding by U. Wish

9. Ten National Championships: The Legacy of Coach Jim Tressel by Chris Spielman (forward by Troy Smith, Heisman Trophy Winner)

10. David for Grown-Ups by Dr. Joseph Bishman (why not boss... give it a whirl)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"East of Eden" by John Steinbeck

Just a note: Have received my first course grade. Pulled an "A" in Pastoral Theology with Dr. Steve Martyn (a wild and crazy guy with transcendent aspirations and pneumatic-ecclesial inspirations). Have yet to receive anything lower than an A-, to date, on a paper for any class, so we're still plugging along.

For my preaching class, I'm reading John Steinbeck's novel, "East of Eden". If you haven't read it, here are the "Buke Notes": Two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, live out lives where they deal with their need for love and the absence of it. Some (Liza Hamilton) approach things like a stoic, while her husband (Sam Hamilton) dream of how things could be, and those dreams fuel not only his sense of purpose, but also those around him. But all of them are injured, and the wounds and scars left behind help shape the course of their future.

The central character of the book is Kate, a woman who even from her earliest days discovers how to use people's (especially men's) need for love and intimacy to control and manipulate them. This leads her into a life of prostitution, and eventually as a madam of a house of ill-repute. What is interesting about her character, and the thing that I think led critics to say that she wasn't a believable character, is that Steinbeck makes it clear that Kate is born this way. She is evil personified, even to the point of eating meat like a dog/demon. She is given every advantage of loving parents who lavish love and affection upon her, and yet, she is, and remains, a thoroughly evil person (to the point of killing them in a house fire staged to look like an accident). Morally, she is convicted only once, by one of her twin sons (who she abandoned to their father literally on the day they were born) when she discovers that even though he is her progeny, has been born good. It's the only point of the book that she shows any kind of remorse for who she is, and exhibits even the mildest interest in protecting him from evil (him not knowing that she is his mother... she'd rather him believe that she is dead) which creates conflicts inside of her that ultimately lead to her own death.

So, here's the question.... are people born evil or good? Do some of us get an extra dose of original sin? Or, are the critics right? Did Steinbeck go overboard (he had just come out of a bad marriage and nasty divorce before writing the book) by making a person evil irrespective of their environment?

How you answer this question is important. You answer will effect your theology and your politics. It will determine how important you think secular and moral education is shaping the values of people. It will call into question the role sociological and economic factors shape people. It will determine if you believe that people who do evil things can be rehabilitated, or should be locked up (put to death?) for their crimes.

So, what do you believe about evil? Is it nature, nurture, or some combination of both (and what exactly do you think that combination is) that have condemned us to live "East of Eden"?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

BB Top 10

For those into music and this blog, you'll remember (or not) that a couple of months ago I posted the top ten songs I'm listening to right now as do my studying. To restate, I started listening to music while studying out of necessity my Freshman year of college, where a quiet place to read did not exist. Freshman boys own stereos that are loud, and secretly harbor the desire to be DJ's... the combination is deadly. Since my RA's were actually semi-shacking up with their girlfriends, they weren't around all that much, meaning that I could hear the Rolling Stones, The Smiths, or The Police pretty much anytime, night or day, through the walls of our room.

The key is listening to something so many times that you don't hear it anymore, but changing periodically so that you don't get sub-consciously bored. Here's the list:

(NOTE: I AM NOT RECOMMENDING THIS TO ANYONE, NOT CONDONING IT'S CONTENT, AND NOT RECOMMENDING THIS TO KIDS. My goal isn't to corrupt or endorse anything.... I just try to listen or watch everything through the eyes of Jesus.)

10) Portland Rain (Everclear): A very vivid account of the day a wife leaves a husband and daughter. Art Alexakis, lead singer and songwriter, grew up in a broken home in a poor neighborhood in Southern California. His memories of his father aren't happy ones, as the man beat his mother before deserting them both (detailed in a great song, "Daddy Gave Me A Name"). Art's mother turned to a kind of fundamentalist, judgemental Christianity that helped sustain her until her death, but the message killed Art's love for the church. A life marked by creativity, drug abuse and recovery, and a series of broken relationships, Art writes best when the songs are about pain. I pray for him every single night.

9) Bold As Love (John Mayer): The whole "Continuum" album is fantastic. Mayer does his best Stevie Ray Vaughan imitation in this tune (and he nails it).

8) Heard 'Em Say (Kanye West): West's view of the world... slanted and interesting.

7) Jesus Walks (Mase): Yeah, am listening to some rap right now. Hey, I went to Lima Senior... what do you expect?

6) Mo Money, Mo Problems (The Notorious B.I.G.): Not really a problem right now, but you ought to listen to this crusing on top of an open air bus in Trafalgar Square. London meets Brooklyn... talk about culture clash.

5) California Love (Zapp and Roger): Was the sample that Tupac's song of the same name was built on. Roger Troutman was a guy who used a vocoder (I think that's what it's called) on every song, so that his voice would sound machine-like. He spent the last years of his life laying musical tracks for Dr. Dre during his "Deathrow Record" days when the "west coast sound" was defined in rap. Roger helped define funk in the 70's, working with funk luminaries as George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and the Ohio Players. I saw him in concert in a little hole-in-the-wall club (don't tell my mom and dad... they didn't know I was there) in Lima, back when Zapp was struggling to survive financially. A truly great show! He died tragically in a murder-suicide at the hands of his brother and business-partner, Larry, in Dayton in 1999

4) Psalm 72 (Big Tent Revival): One of my favorite songs, Christian or otherwise. A unique, powerful musical interpretation of Psalm 72.

3) Defying Gravity/No Good Deed/For Good (from the musical "Wicked"): We saw "Wicked" in London, and I had the music downloaded before I went to bed that night. Go see it.

2) Ocean Floor/Leaving 99 (Audio Adrenaline) - Simply one of the best Christian rock bands. Due to their lead singer's vocal problems, they're calling it quits next April, which is a shame. Two great tracks.

1) Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town (Pearl Jam): I loved this song the first time Noel Tabora played it for me during my first stint at Shawnee UMC. Noel was a great kid, with a soft heart and profound sense that he could make a difference in other people's lives. A great song, that reminds me of a great guy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


wants what Max wants
goes where Max goes
a shadow for an older brother
makes him a mystery
what does he want?

struggling to be the big brother
used to being the baby
tough being the middle child
you can see it though
Eli, wanting to be his shadow

a storyteller
an artist
a dreamer
happiest with a lump of clay
or a paintbrush

a jumper
a climber
fearless, until he gets hurt
then he'll cry
until it's time again, to fly

loves David and Goliath read fast
loves to eat bread and leave the crust
loves to tell jokes about poop
loves to make us laugh
loves running errands with daddy

he's four-and-half
just ask him
he'll add the half if you forget
it means a lot, that half
makes him feel more grown up

let me grow up daddy
let me get big
Ok, Son
If that's what you want
I'll love you forever

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Was listening to a profile of the Christian rock band, Audio Adrenaline, on a local Christian radio station. I've always had a soft spot for Audio A for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that back in the old days, the first youth band I ever worked with, The Funky Disciples, used to a do "Big House", an Audio A song. Now, after 15 years, the band (due to the lead singer's vocal problems) has decided to call it quits, and I have no idea why, but it's got me down.

I don't think, per se, that I'm all that upset with the band disbanding... I've enjoyed their music in a mostly passive sort of way. I guess its just the idea that things come to an end. People, or groups of people, who you always thought would be around, one day, aren't. And when you think about it, it's other people, our friends and family, heros and mentors, those who have been with us all our days and others who are only with us for a season, who make life sweet.

I would encourage each and everyone of you to take a moment, send an email or make a phone call or even a visit to someone you love who either was a regualr part of your life but isn't now - maybe an old friend from high school or college or a person you were close to before you or they moved. Or let someone who is a regular part of your life now know how much they mean to you. Believe me, you can't go wrong doing this.

2) Hectic week coming up. Classes, special speakers, lots of reading and papers... it's kinda the suckerpunch from the London experience. Great times in a different part of the world on the Beeson Center's dime, and now, back to the cubicle wearing out the keys on your computer. By Thanksgiving five of our ten classes will be entirely completed, but that means doing a lot of writing between now and then. And, I still haven't done much on my disseration. Back to the salt mines.

3) Tried a new church this morning... Quest Community Church in Lexington (here's the website: http://www.questcommunity.com/). Aimee and I both had wanted to give Quest a try, and for the most part it was good. The preacher this morning was a woman by the name of Helen Musik, a former prof at Asbury who wrote a lot of good curriculum for youth ministers that I used back when I was doing that sort of thing. They are starting a series called "Identity Theft", and to kick it off, Helen talked about all the ways that people can steal another person's sense of who they are in a relationship. People who, because they are either insecure or just selfish jerks, take no delight in your achievements, don't support your dreams, and generally suck the life out of you. Of course, the sermon assumes that we are the people getting the life sucked out of us, as opposed to being the people doing the sucking, but maybe we'll get to that later (although, the intensely personal, highly individualized nature of the worship service leads me to believe that this will not be the case). There was a lot of psychoanalytic language meant to help people to become self-actualized, but little scripture, which made me wonder if we were at church or a taping of Oprah. Anyhow, one week an accurate judgement doth not make, so we'll back next week. I just hope its not another week of me being encouraged to believe in me... I'm a great guy, and all, but as ongoing sermon material, it's not much to go on.

4) If you hadn't heard, the president of Asbury Seminary, Jeff Greenway, resigned last week on the day of a special board meeting called for the purpose of deciding his fate. We were in London at the time, and one of the profs with us was pretty upset upon hearing the news (as delivered by yours truly... don't shoot the messenger). Their point was that the Board of Trustees of this institution were kind of working outside the accepted guidelines, and that some sort process needed to be put in place to nudge them back into their place. Of course, profs at a seminary live in ivory towers, while in the real world, people with power use that power to get their way.... which was really what this whole deal was about.

I mean, if presidents can be forced out via power-plays at places like Ohio State, where the tales of such things are front page news, then how can Asbury, where this sordid story only made the front page of Section C of the local newspaper, avoid the same kinds of political chaos? No process can avoid such goings on... it is the way of this broken world.

Anyhow, in retrospect, maybe if Greenway had dealt with the negative 30+ page evaluation by not walking out on the meeting scheduled to discuss it, he'd still be with us. But my guess.... whatever the man did somehow sealed his fate, and he was destined for dismissal either now, or sometime later this year. Unfortunately though for the small group of Trustees who engineered his ouster (and, maybe, fortunately for the school), they acted so clumsily and recklessly in this situation, bungling just about every aspect of it, that heads on the Trustees are bound to roll before it's all said and done. Certain members of the faculty will leave, otherwise, and I don't believe that this will be allowed to happen. Thus, Asbury is about to enter a new chapter... for better or worse.

5) If no one else will say it, I will... I think the time has come for Indiana University to think about joining the Mid-American Conference. They'd dominate it in basketball, would be competitive in football, and could form a little in-state rivalry with Ball State, while now getting paid $400,000 to get beat by the likes of Purdue and Notre Dame on the gridiron each and every year. This would simultaneously raise the overall quality of football in the Big Ten, enhancing the league's reputation so that teams with a chance of competing for the National Championship don't have to beat the league patsy 44-3 in order to prove they aren't slipping, while pushing the MAC toward becoming a top-tier basketball conference. Somebody get started on this right away.

6) Our youngest son, Elijah, at 16 months, is officially a "climber". He can climb up onto our dining room table in order to dance on it. He can climb up on the toilet in order to get the toothpaste tube, open it up, and start sucking on it. He climbs up on various impliments to turn the TV or light switches off and on. He just generally scares us to death as he tests the laws of gravity... laws which must not be trifled with. Thankfully, he bounces, but you might want to say a prayer for him and us, all the same.

7) The Bucher family is now officially a fan of "Hank the Cowdog" (here's the link: http://hankthecowdog.com/). Hank, a character in a series of children's books written by John Erickson, is the "Chief of Ranch Security" at a small ranch in Texas. He and his sidekick, Drover (who is to Hank what Barney was to Andy) get into all kind of messes which make us laugh. Aimee has been getting "Hank the Cowdog" audiobooks from the library in Nicholasville. If you have and will be traveling with young boys, or just like to laugh, pick up one before your next long trip. Any story that includes a song with the line, "We're freezin', we're freezin', we're freezin' our tails / my derrier's frozen, it's stiff as a nail", is top-quality stuff. Good clean family fun.

8) Man is it late... or is it early? Stupid jet lag.

9) I keep receiving emails about speaking in tongues, which is facinating to me. Some people have told me it'd be better for me to not speak of the matter largely out of the fear that it'd freak people at church out, or make me look like a kook. But more folks have been sharing stories about personal experiences they had that, like mine, made them wonder about the supernatural power of God.... many stories they have been afraid to share because they were afraid it would freak people out, or make them look like a kook.

Well, when you've preached in shorts and pink flip-flops, sporting really long hair and funky facial hair, you get over wondering if you're freaking people out or looking kooky. Those just become givens.

Which leads to me to this... why do so many people have such a hard time with God interacting directly with humans in this day and age? Is it because too many people have used their supposed experiences with Almighty for nepharious purposes? Is is because we've become too evolved, too educated to believe in a God that actually manipulates the physical world? Are we afraid that maybe, because we've not experienced such things that we don't really know God? Are we afraid of looking crazy or foolish? Are we control freaks?

I'll tell you this... the moments that change lives are the moments when people experience God moving in their lives. Whether its on a weekend retreat (like Emmaus) experience, during devotions at church camp for teenagers, in a quiet room pouring over scripture and prayer, or on a mission trip somewhere in the midst of great poverty, or something similar, people meet God, and it does something to them. My thing is why in the mainline-denominational experience does this largely only happen when we are out of our normal environment?

Church camps are kind of notorious for being dramatic and emotional. Even adults who grow up largely to become somewhat aspiritual will point back to these experiences and claim them as being out of the ordinary. I remember, years ago, wondering if it was possible for the same kind of jarring response I saw teens make to the presentation of the gospel in those isolated venues, to take place in a regular weekly meeting. I mean with no manipulation, drama, or a tramatic event that shakes a person to the core. Years later, on an average Wednesday night in Goshen, we were engaged in worship, singing songs and praying prayers about how great God is, when a strange kind of fervor took hold of the place. Lots of kids kind of introspective, crying, trying to figure out life. Lots of praying. No new songs were sung... no great talks were given... no calling people down for an "alter call" just, I don't know, kids presented with how good God really is, and responding to that either out of a sense of gratefulness or from the perspective that maybe they weren't giving living their own life their best effort.

And all I can say about this is that people want to know, to feel, with some sort of certainty that God is real. They want to know that God is still active in the world. To most, if not all, it's not enough to be good or to "grow in Christ's likeness". As a matter of fact, you probably can't grow in Christ's likeness if the living God doesn't start becoming as real to you as the Father was the to Son, and you believe that really, anything is possible.

So, why be scared by it? I'll probably never be a pastor of a "speaking in tongues" kind of place, but I hope I'm never a pastor of a church that's afraid, or unwilling to believe, that God can touch us, solely as a means of leading us into a deeper relationship with Him. Shoot, that idea is what keeps me going.

And that's, now, really, all I have to say about that.

10) Finally... Dad called Friday to complain that the Buckeye game wasn't going be on local cable, and that he had to go out to a place that could get it, via a dish. Now mind you, I live in Kentucky, where you don't get to see most OSU games, and if you did, it wouldn't matter because we don't have cable. Anyhow, he's complaining, and we're trying to figure out a place for him to see the game that won't be crowded beyond belief, when he comes up with the possibility of Northland Lanes.... a not-so-busy bowling alley on the Lima's north side. He claims they're going to show the game, and it's a pretty good bet that it won't be crowded. So, I say, "There you go. Northland Lanes. Your problem is solved."

And what does my Dad say? The guy who who made me, as a 13 year old, spend all my money on my impoverished aunt one Christmas because I berated him for not having yet bought a VCR?

"Well, I don't think they'll have the right TV. Can't watch the game if it isn't on the right TV."

Now, I will light myself on fire.

Until next week...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Jet Lag Is As Bad As They Say It Is

Well, I don't know what time it is, or day it is, or anything else. I woke up at 5am both yesterday and today, and did my best to try to get back to sleep, but ended up reading the Book of Genesis in two days. At this rate, I'll be done with entire Bible by the end of December.

So, yes, I am suffering from jet lag, and yes, it's turned me into some kind of zombie. But, as I break from another book for Dr. Galloway's leadership class ("Doing Church As a Team" by Wayne Cordero, a pastor of a megachurch he planted in Hawaii.... yeah, that's right, I said Hawaii) I thought I'd give you a few last thoughts on my London experience before I move on. Here they are...

- I have never, ever, in over 120 posts, have received the kind of reaction via email that I have to the two posts on "speaking in tongues". Some people shared their experiences, good and bad, while others admonished or praised me for not taking part in the exercise. Well, out of that correspondence, here a few more thoughts...

First, as its practiced at HTB, it did not appear, to me, that there was any practicing of "interpreting of tongues". The sole purpose of the "speaking" was to praise God beyond one's ability to speak in their native tongue, and that was pretty much it. If there was more, I missed it.

Second, lots of people want to know if in the end, I was convinced, one way or the other, if "speaking in tongues" was real, or not. Well, I have mixed emotions on the whole issue, I can't dismiss it outright. As a form of praise, I can see how it could lead to an intimate experience with God, as to say otherwise would be to say that those kinds of experiences are not possible. But the danger in such things is that in any setting they can become the highest form of spiritual expression. In a world filled with brokenness, it seems to me God would desire more out of us. So, its a good starting place.... but can't be an end unto itself.

And that's all I have to say about that.

- On a trip up to Oxford, we ate in the "Eagle and Child", which is the pub where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton hung out with five other writers, talking trash, trading ideas, and generally becoming the greatest of friends over 20+ years. Hard to believe that one guy could say to Tolkien, "Ah... I just don't believe Frodo would say that." or to Lewis "Was that the best you could do with Aslan?", but that's the way it went down. Makes one wonder if all of us don't need others to push us toward greatness.

- While in Oxford, I discovered that Oxford is actually made up of a lot of individual colleges that train people in various disciplines. Thus, while they are all affiliated, they also stand separately. So, unlike a university in the US, if you get into Christ College, you take all of your classes, in pre-determined curriculum, in that college, and no other. Then, at the end of three years, you take nine exams, which you must pass in order to graduate. During that three year period, the profs assign no papers, quizzes or tests. The only writing you do is for your tutor, who you meet with once a week. None of the papers are graded, but rather corrected so that you can get an idea of what will be required when you have to take your exams. This obviously leaves much more time for profs to do research and writing, and puts more pressure on the student the closer to they get to their final (and only) exams. It's a system that makes a lot of sense.

- Two places you have to hit if you are in London and are a history buff.... The Churchill Museum and The Tower of London. The Churchill Museum is only a year old, and is just, well, fantastic. Thought you knew everything there was to know about Churchill.... well, what hand did Churchill have in building England's welfare state? What did he accomplish as a soldier in the Crimean War? How was he directly involved in the powderkegs that are now Iraq and Israel? What was his role in almost leading Britain to defeat during WW I? Why did his distaste for the Russian Revolution, and particularly communism, extend back to the before the Russian Revolution of 1917 and end up costing him his PM position in 1945? Yeah... the guy was involved in virtually every corner of the world during the first half of the 20th Century, and the museum doesn't miss a second of it. What's more it's located in the place where Churchill lived with his war-time Cabinet and their support staff, all expertly re-created for your perusal. Could have spent twice as much time as I did there.

And, if you want to experience the history of Western Civilization - English Style, then you'd be crazy to miss the Tower of London. Built on Roman ruins dating back to the time before Constantine, The Tower was the center of the English monarchy and army for more than 500 years. It was the place where the "Knights of the Roundtable" gathered round. It was the place Henry VIII used to enforce the division of the Anglican Church from the Roman Catholic Church. It's the scene of a good many deaths, daring escapes, and the head of Anne Boleyn speaking even after it was dismembered from her body. Throw in the display of the "Crown Jewels" and architecture that is now a modern marvel, and you've got one heck of a day. Once again, three hours didn't do justice to the place.

- Want a see a great postmodern parable in how sometimes good can seem evil, evil good, and not know the difference in the moment, then see "Wicked". A re-telling of the "Wizard of Oz", which embraces the idea that history is written by the winners, "Wicked" plays with characters who we all know well, and help us understand how sometimes what we think we know to be true, really wasn't. In culture like Britain's, where it seems everyone is re-assessing the long-term effects of the British Empire and colonialism, you can't imagine the second-guessing and sense of unease the English are engaged in right now. "Wicked" is setting the table for that discussion, and it does it well. And Idina Menzel, who plays the lead character, Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West), earned that Tony award she won in 2004 for her portrayal of this character. A great, great show.

- There are rumors that this is the last Beeson Pastor class that will go to London, and that's a shame. I have a sense that this culture, which is multi-cultural, post-Christian (we're now into about the third generation in England that has never attended or experienced the Christian church), secular, and materialistic has much more to teach us about where our country and culture are heading than just about any other place in the world right now. While an experience in an underdeveloped would be good for BP's, I can't envision how a trip anywhere else would inspire more creative thought about what the church should look like than what was for us, essentially a voyage into the future. Kudos to Tory Baucam, our prof and trip organizer, for putting together an experience that was life-altering. I will never forget it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Quick Update... Last Day In London

Well, apparently you folks like stories about me being invited to "talk in tongues", as the number of people logging on the past couple of days has hit new heights. I talk some more about that, and faith-healing for that matter, after returning to states. It's been a long day, and we'll be flying all day tomorrow, I'd better get some sleep.

Sorry too about the lack of photos. Right now Blogger refuses to download the pictures from my digital camera, so I always have to go through a third-party to get those things posted.... which takes forever. Once again, give me a few days, and I promise you pictures with witty comments. I won't let you down.

I will tell you one story before I hit the hay...

We had a free day today, so after a morning at the new Churchill Museum (fantastic!!!) and the Tower of London (if you like nasty stories about gore and death, weapons, castle towers, and want to see the royal families jewels.... don't miss it. It was right up my alley), stopped off down at Piccadilly Circus (there are no animals, clowns, or acrobats.... yeah, I was disappointed too) to find some noodles, and egg roll, and a refreshing beverage (ethos statement legal.... I think). When the two couples sitting next to me heard my "accent" (although my English accent is getting better... it's spot on, mates), they asked if I was from America, which led to them asking what I do for a living.

Now, if you answer that you are a Methodist Minister, and you are under the age of 193 years old, people in London look at you like you're made out of neon. Pretty soon, I found myself answering questions about God, Jesus, the Church, why American pastors only seem concerned with money, and why I'd dedicate myself to a "myth". In the course of our conversation, I found out they had lived all their lives in London, and only one of the four had ever been in a church... and that only one time.

And, here's the crazy thing, the more I tried to just kind of cap the conversation (I had to hit the Underground for an evening engagement with my BP mates), the more curious they became. Finally, needing to leave, I offered to pray for them all before I left.

"Here? In a Chinese restaurant? In public?", they replied.

And, then we did. I advised them all to look into an Alpha Class at HTB (which, given the size and scope of the church.... one of the Spice Girls took an Alpha Class recently.... they had never heard of), and I think they were all really interested.

Which leads me to this...

In the states, people are wary of evangelistic preachers. They either think they just want their money, or want to control them, or want to convert them to some other brand of Christianity, and so the whole idea of having a conversation about God in a Chinese restaurant just seems (in the Midwest, anyway) unlikely. But over here, where people have only heard vague things about Christianity (kind of like how most Americans know almost nothing about other world religions, and thus think their all the same), their curious. They ask questions. And somehow, as faith has disappeared in this country, the baggage the church once had seems to be fading too, which is encouraging, and the English people can approach the issue of faith like, well...

children. I seem to remember Jesus saying something about that.

Interesting... very interesting.

I do promise an update, either tomorrow or the day after, but I've never experienced jet lag before, so I guess I'd better not promise anything.

Until then.... Good Night, Mates!

Monday, October 16, 2006

HTB or "Speaking In Tongues Monday" (Part II)

So, I'm not really getting anywhere with singing in tongues. So, I try (and I mean I really tried), to focus on God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit.... I invited the Holy Spirit to come into my presence. Sang "I Love You Lord" (since it's one of the few songs I know all the words to, and kind of captured what I was aiming for), and did my best to focus on the goodness of God. But, in the end, singing in tongues turned out not to be for me.... so I just hummed along in key.

After a number of minutes of this, then we were invited into a time of prayer, where Sandy and two other members of HTB's staff, went around praying for us. Since I was one of the last people they got to, I spent my time just trying to get deep into prayer. I won't tell you what others were doing in that room during this time... that's a matter for them to divulge. All I know is that I did my best to enter into prayer.

But it was very, very difficult.

One, I was genuinely afraid of what might be coming. I didn't want to bark like a dog or fall down in a heap, or do any of the things I've seen others do... mostly on TV. And the fear of what might be coming, kind of made it hard to really concentrate on speaking with, and listening to, God. Anyhow, I was sufficiently scatterbrained, when finally, Sandy Miller himself popped over to pray for me.

Now, people in that room, except for one guy who has become a good friend and desires this kind of religious expression for me for a lot of good reasons, weren't concentrating on me. But I'm the class skeptic... the guy who went to the "liberal" school who generally is concerned first and foremost with how we treat one another in the world of ours, above and beyond most other things. I know I'm the tough nut to crack, and more than one person in there was hoping that today would be my day to take faith "to another level".

So, I'm praying, or trying to pray, Sandy Miller come up, and asks if he can pray for me, and I say "yes". And then he asks, "What do you want me to pray for today?"

"I really don't know."

"You don't know", he replied.

"Well, I'm a little freaked out right now, so why don't you just pray... I'm sure whatever it is you pray will be fine."

Miller looked perplexed. "So, would you like to pray in tongues today?"

"Not today, thanks."

Miller, visably surprised, says, "Oh Bryan! Why not?"

"Well, the singing in tongues didn't go so well, so I think maybe I need just need to do some listening today."

"Well, that's fine", said a smiling Miller. "Just let me know if you change your mind. But if you praise God with all you are, I think you will run out of words in English to do so."

"Well sir, that might very well be true. But I'll just do the best I can in English today."

"One last time.... All you have to do Bryan, if you want to speak in tongues, is just do it. Are you sure?"

"Sir, I just think I need your prayer. I'm sure whatever you say will be fine."

What followed was really a beautiful prayer, where Sandy asked that God annoint me again with a sense of renewal for God's service and call, he prayed for each member of my family, for me to hear with new ears, speak with a new lips, read with new eyes, and reach out without fear.

To be honest.... it was moving. For the remainder of my time praying, to be honest, I didn't do any speaking. Instead, I just listened. And what I heard was the crying of children who were hungry and sick, and the anguished prayers of mothers too poor to do anything about it. And I heard these words, very clearly:

"If I speak in the tongues of angels, but have not love, I am but a clanging gong or a banging cymbal".

It was also clear that I was to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus, to love God and love my neighbor, so that others might be profoundly changed and challenged. Challenged to the point that if they thought or believed that speaking in tongues, barking like a dog, standing on their head, or maybe, working fewer hours, extending a little grace, concentrating on the people they love who are hurting, or doing whatever would lead to a better life for all would be seriously considered. Changed in that they would allow their life to move in a different direction.

And then, I was done praying.

Others weren't, so I excused myself outside where I enjoyed fresh air and beautiful London weather (high sixties and sunny... like fall at home). And then it was all over. Now, in retrospect, here is what I learned:

1) I learned that there is nothing to be afraid of in the charismatic world. It's not all fake, and it's not all real. It just is what it is. People I respect and love believe in it intensely, and they do so for the purpose of bringing greater healing and understanding to the Christian community and the world. In this world people shouldn't be judged by whether or not they raise their hands in worship, or not. The important thing is that we intensely love God with all we are, which starts by appreciating all that we have been blessed with in this life, so that we might begin to know him better. I learned that God is grieved by mothers who can't help their hungry or sick children, and by people who don't take that reality seriously.

2) I learned that what is really dangerous in charismatic thought and practice is the possibility of abuse and manipulation. For all the good HTB does, and make no bones about it, they are doing good things, I see real possibilities for problems. An example:

At the class that morning for the potential ordinands, during the break a young woman approached me, and asked if I was one of the Americans observing that day. I said yes, and she immediately looked relieved. 18 or 19 years old, someone associated with HTB spoke at her church (in America) last summer, and gave her a "word of knowledge" that she needed to come serve in a new church plant of HTB's in London. When I asked if she was enjoying her time here, her response was that she had been miserable since moving here in August, and really wished that she had just gone to college like she had planned before this encounter. Of course, I believe you can learn things about God and yourself in difficult situations, but, I also believe that doors can close and it's OK to leave. It seemed like that hadn't really occurred to her, but she's so young and impressionable, I just don't think she's got the life-experience and self-assurance to say, "I'm going home". If a charismatic ministry doesn't have the best interests of the people who follow them in mind, then abuses can be legion, but that is the case in any situation where there are leaders and followers. I've just seen (in particular, one person I used to work with in a past job) people use their "spiritual gifts" to take advantage of others, and that's what I'm wary of most of all.

3) Will I ever be a tongue-speaker? I don't know. I think maybe there are more important things to worry about, but I'll definitely spend more of my time loving God directly and intentionally. That you can be sure.

4) I love all the members of the BP Class of 2006-07, and appreciate how patient they are with one another. Together we are pushing the boundaries, and are all profiting greatly.

5) The forces, spiritual or otherwise, who shape a world where children get sick or hungry and mothers can't doing anything about it because they are too poor, need to be opposed in a spirit of obedience to Christ who told us that if we looked at things through his eyes, that we'd be made fools of, we'd be rejected and maligned, and that the first would become last and the last. How far do you think God will go with you if you step out with Him to help make these things happen?

Be careful... how you answer that question will largely define what you believe is possible, and not. Just a little something to think about.

Finally, look for another new blog (with promised pictures, now late), talking about today's trip to Oxford (where I ate fish and chips in the same seat C.S. Lewis used to hang out with J.R.R Tolkien and G.K. Chesterson) and the musical "Wicked" (which we saw this evening... it was fantastic).

Until tomorrow... rest easy mates!

Holy Trinity Brompton or "Speaking In Tongues Monday"

I told you that we worshipped at Holy Trinity - Brompton (the borough of London where the church is located, here forward known as HTB) yesterday evening, and it is was a good experience. Lots of young people (about 850) crammed into this old Anglican sanctuary, singing praise songs, praying, and studying the Bible under the leadership of Senior Pastor, Nicky Gumble. Nicky has been the Senior Pastor at HTB about 18 months, after more than 17 years as an Associate Pastor on it's staff. During that time, he re-wrote, and masterminded an evangelistic outreach program called "Alpha", which is now being hailed across the world as being one of the few successful evangelistic tools available in a post-Christian, secular society. It's being used in virtually every denomination, and bunches of independent churches, all over the world as basically a 10-week study of the basics of Christian faith.

While my fellow BP's were really overwhelmed by the worship yesterday evening, I had in fact, experienced such worship myself on a number of occasions at places like Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids, MI), the midweek service at Granger (IN) Community Church, and even at the little ol' Life Center in Goshen, Indiana. Lots of healing of wounded and tired souls through the power of praising God, seeking God in prayer, and a few words from a preacher that seemed to capture some sort of truth people could hang on to (and, yeah, I know I was the guy preaching in Goshen, but I'm not a total dufus.... sometimes I can say something that makes God go, "hey, not bad kid".) So, I had been in that environment before, and it's always great, but at HTB there were some elements that, quite frankly, were a little bit different. People came forward, shaking, kneeling-down and popping back up, speaking or saying strange things......

folks, we had entered the "Charismatic Zone".

I should have not been surprised. Somewhere I had read that the last Senior Pastor at HTB, Sandy Miller, an Anglican Vicar, had apprenticed with John Wimber, who birthed the Vineyard Church. For those who are not acquainted with The Vineyard, back in the early seventies, a bunch of hippies who came out of the sixties Jesus Movement, kind of wanted to re-invent church, particularly in the areas of music and spiritual expression. Bored or dissatisfied with the kind of traditional, Western European, hymns-choir-creeds-liturgy-20-minute-sermon thing, these "Jesusfreaks" decided to bring pop music into the worship service. This early form of "Christian Rock", in fact evolved into what we now know as "Praise and Worship Music", which over the last 30 years in the USA has become the dominant musical expression in worship. To be honest, none of us probably would have heard of any of this, if in early 1980's a young pastor by the name of Bill Hybles, in a new church called Willow Creek Community Church, hadn't seen the potential in praise and worship music, and appropriated it for what became (largely because Hyble's business-like approach streamlined and made efficient virtually every major area of the church) the largest, most influential church in the world.

But The Vineyard, not only by influencing Willow Creek and also the Calvary Church movement, but in its own right began to grow. It's just that Willow Creek ended up revolutionizing the way worship was done in the west, more so than The Vineyard because while Hyble's approach was kind of mainstream, The Vineyard kind of took a different path. You see, Wimber believed that people shouldn't just express some of the more traditional forms of Charismatic worship, but that that they should, in fact, have a direct experience with God in worship (much thanks to Steve Clouse, an old friend who helped me understand this many years ago). So, while Willow Creek's worship looked polished, The Vineyard's worship kind of just "followed the Spirit", and allowed people to encounter the Spirit... mainly, but not exclusively through, the speaking of tongues.

Since Sandy Miller (HTB's last Senior Pastor, for those who have forgotten) was mentored by John Wimber, I should not have been surprised to witness the kind of charismatic worship I saw last night. I kinda thought the English would be too proper, or skeptical, of such a thing, but, I was apparently wrong.

All of this, to explain my experience today.

After worshipping at HTB Sunday night, we spent the entire (and man, I mean the ENTIRE) day there kind of sitting at the feet of its giants. Tory Baucam, the prof leading the trip, is good buddies and somehow affiliated with Sandy, Nicky, and the gang at HTB, and obviously has been profoundly impacted by them... hence the reason we had access to them all, despite their crazy schedules (Sandy, for example, had just returned from Uganda, and Nicky from Russia this past weekend..... the demand for Alpha is pulling these guys all over the world).

So, in the morning, we spent some time with a number of (mostly) very young people who study at HTB's Theological School (for the purpose of getting ordained in the Anglican church), and that was good fun. But, in the afternoon, we spent our time with Sandy Miller, and that, friends, is where I got stretched. You see, we spent a good hour or so listening to Sandy explain that the real power in HTB's ministry was the willingness on the church's part to be led by the Holy Spirit. He then proceeded to tell us the story of being appointed to Holy Trinity, which in the late seventies was an upper-class, high steeple, liturgical, very liberal, aging congregation. Disturbed by the lack of young people, Miller looked to John Wimber, who in Southern California, was pulling them in by the droves, and asked him to come and speak. Wimber then ushered into Miller's life, the ministry of the Spirit, which is kind of difficult to explain, and this blog is already very, very long.... but in a nutshell, it is a ministry that believes literally that the Holy Spirit can work today like it did in Jesus and the Apostles day. That means healing people (either in body or emotionally), speaking in tongues, the manifestation of other spiritual gifts (like preaching and teaching), and in "words of knowledge" (more on that later).

Anyhow, Miller talked about his own journey, which started with Wimber offering a "Word of Knowledge" (which basically works like this... somebody hears something they are supposed to say from God, like, "I don't know who this is for, but for someone with a colon problem, you need to make an appointment with a GI by Thursday"... and the listeners must discern whether or not this word is for them or not - Hey man, I couldn't make this up if I tried.) about a "young woman who was trying to conceive a child to keep trying". A young woman that night, who had been told she couldn't have kids, stood up, everyone prayed for her, and nine-months later she gave birth to a girl (or a boy.... I can't remember).

After that, Miller began to experiment, at Wimber's prompting and leading, with speaking in tongues during prayer, within a small group of couples who were asked to join the Millers in trying some experimental praying. Soon, Miller, who says that the way you speak in tongues, is to just do so, began to teach about this at this church, and then began to allow for it in worship. That's why when you worship there, occasionally the song you're singing will cease lyrically, and the music will continue while all many (most) of the people around you kind of sing whatever they want... some in their native language, and some in a language that's unintelligible, called glossilalia or "the language of the angels". Soon, many healings were claimed, with much personal testimony from Sandy about people who had been healed through his ministry. Also, the Spirit, in Miller's words, began to lead the church's ministry, improving the Alpha program, and ultimately drawing people to the church from all over the world.

And, quite frankly, you can't argue with HTB's results. Now I think they average over 4000 in worship, have planted 12 new churches all over London, have exported Alpha all over the world, and are the root of a renewal movement happening now in the English Anglican Church.

Anyhow, after an hour of info, we took a break, and Tory asked Sandy to lead us in a time of prayer... where Sandy introduced, at least me, anyhow, to speaking in tongues.

(Note to my brother: I know, right now, you are freaking out. Calm down. The guy leading this wasn't [all] crazy, and I'm still me. So keep reading.)

I came to Asbury because I wanted to experience new ideas. I wanted to see how other pastors did things, and find out what my own leadership style really was. Can't say I ever thought one of them would try to teach me to speak in tongues.... that was a little outside of my expectation, but hey, I've already had a professor who claims to have casted out many demons, so I guess at this point, nothing should surprise me.

Well, he invited us first to sing in tongues, and basically all he wanted us to do was focus on how good God was while listening to our neighbors and allowing ourselves to sing whatever came to our lips. I knew I was in trouble when I heard others singing praise song lyrics, or the name of Jesus over and over, or in some sort of something or another that I couldn't understand, and the only thing I could come up with was...

"Water-mel-on, Water-mel-on, Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Black Eyed Peas"... which was the chorus to a song on "Hank the Cowdog" audiobook we got for the kids. Not real spiritually stimulating stuff.

But I decided to keep trying.....

(part two tomorrow)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think (London Edition)

1) it's 9:44pm here in East London. I'm typing this in the library at the St. Catherines Retreat Center, a place started by order of the Queen in in the 17th century. We arrived here as a class on Friday morning at 8:15am (3:15am EST). It has been one non-stop adventure ever since. I'll try and re-cap as best as I can.

2) We actually arrived in London about three hours late. Our flight out of Lexington was delayed because apparently the President landed at O'Hare (what other President do you think I'm talking about? Of course "that one") and all flights were held until he got off of the ground. No worries, though, as they booked me into an Emergency Exit seat, meaning that I had about six feet of leg room (no foolin'.... it was amazing).

I stayed up all night on the plane. Partly because even with six feet of leg room an airline seat is still a torture chamber, and partly because I've been going to bed so late these past couple of weeks that I just wasn't tired. So after a night of "A prairie Home Companion" (gotta like the show to like the movie), "Nacho Libre" (gotta admit that this became an instant classic in my own limited world), and "The Break-up" (yuck), by the time I got to London, I was ready for a shower and a nap.

Unfortunately, the rooms at St. Cat's weren't ready, and Tory Baucam, who is the prof leading this deal, had already planned our day, so sans shower or sleep, we embarked on a full day out and about. Needless to say, that by 9pm (3pm EST, a full 33 hours since I'd woken up Thursday morning), I was so tired, I emailed my wife to let her know we had landed safely in "Lonon". I also think I saw twelve large green rabid lemurs in Trafalgar Square.... but I might have been hallucinating. I'm not sure.

3) Even though I was dead, dog tired, Day One in London was great. We stopped in kind of a big open air market where, after over three months, I got a haircut! My barber, a very young, nice lady who grew up in Kent, gave me a "typical London cut" for only 14 pounds (about $28). It's now a little, well... short. That's the best way to put it. It's short. Everyone says it looks good, but I think their just trying to make me feel better. No need to really... I dig it.

We then took a 2 1/2 open air bus tour of the city, which was, well, kinda long.... so long that Kent Reynolds, a fellow BP, was thinking about throwing his camera at a London Bobby (policeman) in the hopes he'd be carted off to a jailcell with a toilet and a bed. Also, the tour guide's microphone was awful and I fell asleep a few times. The result is that I think he said that London was founded and built by Mormons in 1956, but somehow I don't think that's right.

Anyhow, after we got off the bus, we took off back down to the market where we ate lunch, and basically followed a path that took us from Tower Bridge, past the Globe Theatre (where Shakespeare did his plays... it's a re-construction, but it's still pretty incredible), along the Thames River down to a footbridge that, once we crossed it, enabled us to go to St. Paul's Cathedral (the place where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married). There, we saw a statue commemorating the fact that Wesley had preached there, then we attended a 7pm worship service in the Cathedral (which featured a boys/mens choir that sounded beautiful).

Finally, we ended the day up at Aldersgate, which is the place where Wesley said his "heart was strangely warmed". The original building is long gone, but there is a large sculpture where his journal notes from that day are inscribed. I ate some Thai food, and collapsed in a heap.

A Great, if tiring, day.

4) After sleeping hard for eleven hours, I felt great for the start of Day 2 (Saturday). After a continental breakfast here at St. Cat's, we made a beeline for Westminster Abbey, which was unbelievable. For those who don't know, Westminster Abbey was actually granted to the Benedictine Society (monks) by Richard II at around 1050AD. However, Christians have been worshipping at that sight since about 400AD (or just shortly after Constantine died). We know this because during the various excavations of the sight, a Roman sarcophagus was discovered and dated based on its style and external markings. In other words (while the person on duty wasn't looking), I touched something crafted by human hands over 1600 years ago. Wow!

Anyhow, the Abbey was doing its thing until the days of Henry VIII, who, fed up with the Roman Catholic church (and not just because he wanted a divorce... people don't understand how, because of the vast tracts of land granted to it, how rich the church had become by the time Henry VIII was doing his thing.... it was just too lucrative for him to pass up) split the Anglican Church off of Roman Catholicism. Every Catholic clergyman or monk who didn't swear allegiance to Henry was put to death, and every Abbey (monastery) was ransacked and looted.... except one. Westminster Abbey only survived because Henry's parents were buried there, as had all of the kings and queens since Richard II (whose bones are in a green box who can still see).

Westminster Abbey is really nothing more than a big a mausoleum and the place where royalty are crowned. That's about it. You can light a candle and pray there in a chapel area (of which I did both, for my mother-in-law, who is sick with liver cancer - I chose this place to pray because she can use prayer right now, and I also think she would absolutely love Westminster Abbey), but it's really about the place where political and theological power come together in the Crown... which is kinda bogus now because 1) the Crown has no real power and 2) Prince Charles will be the first royal to pledge to protect the faithS, as opposed to the faith (Anglican only), since the country has become so pluralist. Just too much more about this place to write about, and this post is already too long.

5) After we left the Abbey, we jetted out to John Wesley's ministry center, which consisted of a chapel and his home, which was a townhouse five stories tall, the top three stories reserved for family or clergy traveling through the area. Wesley actually only lived and worked at this site the last 14 years of his life. The other 40 he did his thing in an old bell foundry down the street, which has long since been demolished. In short, we knelt in his prayer closet (the power source for the Methodist movement) and stood in the pulpit he preached in... am getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

Oh, and by the way, John Wesley, the father of the Wesleyan movement (hence the name) which supposedly Asbury Seminary reveres, would not have been admitted into the school. You see at Asbury you're supposed to sign an "Ethos Statement" pledging that for the duration of the time you are there that you won't drink any alcohol. Wesley enjoyed a glass (or two) of French Red Wine every night after dinner. NOTE TO THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES: It would probably be a good idea to re-think the Ethos Statement it it would have excluded John Wesley. I know I would.

6) Wesley's chapel (City Road Chapel) is actually still a functioning Methodist Church. However, you should know two things about it. First, in the early 1970's it was discovered that the bombing during WWII was so brutal, that while the church itself never was directly hit, the tremors caused by the exploding bombs landing all over London destroyed the foundation. The church asked other Methodist churches across the globe for cash, but even after raising over a million Pounds, insufficient funds existed to do the repairs. So, the people at City Road Chapel asked the General Conference 1972 to either close the church, or provide the funds to do the repairs. The GC elected to make the repairs, which helped keep the place open, BUT, insufficient funds were raised, so the church sold all of the property that wasn't the chapel, his home, and parking in front to the Reuters News Agency. Reuters promptly built a U-Shaped building that totally surrounds the current compound.

Second, by the 1990's, City Road Chapel, though refurbished and restored, was on its way to becoming a museum. Only a few church members were left, and they were so old that death seemed immanent. However, about that time a huge influx of Africans into London began to take place. Many of these people were Methodists, and since the church was in such great shape physically, and close to the neighborhoods where these Africans, many of whom had been baptized in Methodist churches at home, lived, the church began to grow. Now the congregation is alive and vibrant, growing each and every year, but is ethnically 90% people of African descent. The tour guide, a wonderful older lady who had gone to the church her entire life, told us that within 10 years it'll be 100%.

So, The staff at Wesley's church can't seem to attract to Caucasian Londoners, but because Methodism was exported to Africa, now Africans are keeping the church in London alive, and making it grow, which is the case in many Methodist churches now across Europe. Just bizarre.

7) Spent the rest of our formal group time at the British Museum of History, which largely is made up of stuff they stole from someplace else back in the days when the "Sun never set on the British Empire". There were lots of great things there (not the least being the Rosetta Stone), but in a new exhibit of artifacts found near the ancient city of Ur, there are number of things displayed, two of which I'll describe. The first of the two was a large flat, round stone, used as the base and pivot for a large door on the palace of a Sumerian king. On the stone depicts what the Sumerians believed was the reality of life... men fighting with boars or bulls, animals which symbolized the gods and their unpredictability.

Oh, and the stone, it's from a little town called Nineveh... the place where Jonah had to go pronounce God's judgment because the people there had been evil to one another. It's called "The Nineveh Stone".

Second, in one little section, I almost missed a little display of a handful of idols found in a tell outside of Ur. The statues were dated at about 5000-4500BCE, and were typical fertility idols of that age crafted in the shape of naked women. And, I'm thinking, "Ur, 4500 years before Christ's birth.... what is significant about that?"

Well, if you open and read the "History of Israel", a fine text by biblical archeologist John Bright (a seminal text that still holds up well today), you'll find that Bright generally believed that Abraham lived about 4000-5ooo years before Christ's birth as a part of a nomadic tribe that lived near a little place called Ur. Do you know what he did for a living before he heard God's voice, and moved to Canaan?

His family made and sold idols.

Now, did I see an idol or sold made by Abraham? I don't know.... but it's possible! Still just makes me shiver thinking about it.

8) Ended the day down in the heart of London (Piccadilly Circus - London's answer to Times Square) with eight of my classmates. We ate a good, cheap meal (which included turnip soup and boiled cabbage, both of which I ate, and kinda liked), then walked around people watching. Even got a monster scoop of ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins. Which leads me to this... here are three things you probably heard about London that just aren't true.

First, the food here is fabulous. I haven't eaten one bite of mutton or kidney pie. London is the most multi-cultural city in the world, meaning that you can get just about anything you like to eat here. In three days, I've eaten Turkish, Thai, Indonesian, Fish and Chips, and killer Bacon-Cheeseburger. Tomorrow we're getting pizza at an Italian place around the corner. Besides, there are KFC's, McDonalds, Pizza Huts, and Subways all over this town. Brits love American consumer goods.

Second, drinks in London are refrigerated. Everyone told me that the soda and beer would be warm, which was not incorrect, just out-of-date. Refrigeration has come to London meaning that the Coke is served cold, and I can tell the beer (its been fairly warm here the last three days) is too because the metal beer spouts in the pubs where we've eaten were sweating (that's how I know... honest.... truly.... Scout's honor.... the Ethos Statement prohibits me from sampling a pint of Guinness... would I lie to you?)

Third, you are as likely to not hear English in London than hear it. I'll bet 80% of the world's languages are spoken here. It's that diverse. Every single corner of the globe represented. And the Brits seem to dig it... which, if all you had to eat was kidney pie and mutton, you'd probably be ready for Chinese takeout too. Just a fascinating comparison between a place literally becoming more diverse by the minute, and my homeland where people are afraid of folks who speak Spanish. Wild!

9) It's pretty late, so I'll probably need to write more stuff down about this tomorrow, but today (Day 3), Sunday, while you were probably sleeping, we were praising God at The Glory House, the first of three worship services (yep... five hours of worship today) we attended today. The Glory House is a large, independent, non-denominational church worshipping over 1000 people every Sunday.... 1000 people who are of mainly African descent, and represent 45 different nationalities of the world. One of the profs on the trip was turned off by the exhortation (kind of a warm-up for the sermon, which we missed because we had to get worship service #2), which largely a name-it-and-claim-it-prosperity-if-you-want-it-God-will-deliver-it kind of sermon, but here's the deal. Having spent some time in Haiti, and having a some idea of the poverty and other-world culture these folks came out of, in a city where a cheap flat (apartment) costs 285 Pounds ($560) a week given the foreignness of this place, and what it must take to struggle to survive here, I can understand sermons that give people hope that they are going to make it, each and every day. When you've got nothing, praising God for the fact that you are healthy, safe, and ate today is a very real thing. Thus, I kinda got into it with the prof. My thinking is, live on three dollars a week for a year, and then tell me that you aren't grateful to God for everything you are given... that's all I'm saying.

Oh, and at that service, we heard (and I am NOT making this up), a fabulous gospel choir from Sweden. It was like Abba and Earth, Wind, and Fire had children. They were blond, blue-eyed, and fabulous. When you start off your day listening to an English citizen from Africa introduce a Swedish choir singing music that emanated out of African-American churches in the US... you know it's going to be an interesting day.

10) The second place we visited was St. Paul at Chadwell Anglican Church. It's a place so old that Thomas Jefferson's mother was baptized there. The church, like virtually all of them in London, was dying (down to its last fifteen people), when the only MegaChurch in England, Holy Trinity of Brompton Anglican Church (which worships about 4000 people), asked to plant a church within that church. Now 9:30 about 25 people (including the 15) meet for a communion service with hymns, and then at 11:00, about 150 people (2 years after starting with six) meet for a contemporary worship service as we know it in the USA. During that service, a young couple with a beautiful little 2-year old girl, sat next to me in the service. They live near the church, and noticed that over the past six months that the number of cars parked outside of it were growing in number, so they both decided to come to worship this morning for the very first time in their lives. Me, being a pastor (they introduced us before the service), ended up doing a lot of explaining and interpreting, which was a humbling and gratifying experience. In the end, because the service went on over 90 minutes, their daughter, Rosie, started losing it, so they left.... but they were intrigued enough to say they are coming back! As Rosie's mom put it, "That Jesus chap seems like an interesting fellow."

Interesting, indeed! (more goosebumps)

And finally, met a woman at St. Paul's who grew up in Columbus, graduated from Asbury College, and now lives in London, who told me that dozens of Bucks fans get together at a Sports Bar on Trafalgar Square to faithfully watch them play each week they are on....


Whoa, gettin' a little dusty in here. Those aren't tears of joy knowing that Buckeye nation is alive and well here in London.... just a little dust. Would I lie to you?

See you tomorrow... with pictures!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My Dad

My dad is great
When I was a little baby, after his classes and work, he'd put aside his fatigue and his homework, and play with me until I fell asleep on his chest

My dad is great
He took me to my first Ohio State football game (OSU 42 EWash 0), and then we spent the rest of day walking around campus, me learning where he came from, and wondering when we were going to eat

My dad is great
During a game of two-on-two when I was boy, I used a derogatory racial slur to describe one of our opponents, resulting in my dad tanning my hide so I'd get a small idea of how that sort of thing hurts people

My dad is great
When I really wanted to learn how to use the lawnmower, when I was big enough, he taught me.... wait a minute, what's so great about that?

My dad is great
While other guys golfed or stopped off at the watering hole after work, we were throwing a baseball

My dad is great
He taught me through not buying a VCR, and making me spend all my money on my Aunt Ada, that Christmas was not my birthday

My dad is great
On the first day I got my license, he asked me why I didn't have a job, forcing me to connect freedom with responsibility

My dad is great
He made me do math because he wanted me to have opportunities he didn't have, and his dream came true... I make a living largely not having to use much math!

My dad is great
All he did was tell me when I went off to college not to ask for money, so I didn't, and he ended up giving it to me anyway

My dad is great
When guests come to his house, they get something to eat or drink, whether they want to or not

My dad is great
He tells me to not be so much of a wuss, and my brother to be kinder and gentler

My dad is great
On the day my oldest son, Max, was born, he drove non-stop from Lima to Normal, Illinois so he could tell the boy how much he loved him

My dad is great
He has sat up late, listening and talking, during some dark nights of the soul

My dad is great
Just ask his grandkids

My dad is great
Just ask the secondary school students at Borde who study because of his passion and generosity

My dad is great
Cause he has two sons who love and admire him

My dad is great
Because he married a great woman who has pushed him toward greatness

Today, my dad is 60 years old... and he's great!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Sermon I Gave This Morning (Hindsight Edit)

Somewhere inside what is written below is the sermon I gave this morning, but since there was no manuscript (surprise, surprise), what I provided is kind of a reflection sermon on the sermon itself... whatever that means. Anyhow, enjoy.

The text for this morning's sermon comes from Luke 19:11-27.

11 The crowd was listening to everything Jesus said. And because he was nearing Jerusalem, he told a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away. 12 He said, "A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return. 13 Before he left, he called together ten servants and gave them ten pounds of silver to invest for him while he was gone. 14 But his people hated him and sent a delegation after him to say they did not want him to be their king.

15 "When he returned, the king called in the servants to whom he had given the money. He wanted to find out what they had done with the money and what their profits were. 16 The first servant reported a tremendous gain, ten times as much as the original amount! 17 'Well done!' the king exclaimed. 'You are a trustworthy servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.' 18 "The next servant also reported a good gain, five times the original amount. 19 'Well done!' the king said. 'You can be governor over five cities.'

20 "But the third servant brought back only the original amount of money and said, 'I hid it and kept it safe. 21 I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn't yours and harvesting crops you didn't plant.' 22 "'You wicked servant!' the king roared. 'Hard, am I? If you knew so much about me and how tough I am, 23 why didn't you deposit the money in the bank so I could at least get some interest on it?'

24 Then turning to the others standing nearby, the king ordered, 'Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one who earned the most.' 25 "'But, master,' they said, 'that servant has enough already!' 26 "'Yes,' the king replied, 'but to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who are unfaithful, even what little they have will be taken away.

27 And now about these enemies of mine who didn't want me to be their king, bring them in and execute them right here in my presence.'"

This is a hard text and not one I'd generally think about preaching out of... and, in fact, the original plan was actual to preach a sermon on another text. Originally I wanted to preach about Zacchaeus... you know, Zacchaeus who was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. The short tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus pass through his town. That's a great story! I've always loved it. It's great because in the course of his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus is convicted in such a way that his life is profoundly changed. He commits half of his wealth to serving the needs and hunger of the poor, and uses the other half to restore relationship, broken in what had been quest for money and power. I'd rather preach on Zacchaeus. I've done it plenty of time before.

But the other night, after watching a 60 minute sermon by Rod Parsely for my preaching class here at school, worn out after 50 minutes of hearing how the world was going to end, and ten minutes of why we shouldn't care as Christians because we'd be zapped, raptured out by Jesus before things got really bad, I just kinda needed a break. So I'm surfing around, and not too much later I find myself listening to an interview of Sam Harris, author of the book The End of Faith. Harris, atheistest, is leading a growing movement atheismesm in this country (confirmed in a recent Gallop poll), particularly among young adults. Atheism fulled by the growing fear of the violence and hatred that religious intolerance is responsible for in this world... most notably, the 9/11 attacks where guys flew a plane into a building, killing 3000 people, and all because they said their God told them to do so for his sake, and in return they would live a life of eternal pleasure. Harris' point is that when people are making decisions from this kind of perspective in an age where the dominant attitude is that all religions are equally valid and meaningful, that the possibility for dialogue breaks down. Thus, when people with competing faith-systems come into conflict with one another, instead of talking, they fight... and in Harris opinion, the world can no longer afford this lack of communication and reason.

Which, is a pretty compelling argument.

Harris went on to criticize even modern adherentsnts to different faith systems, because they cherry-pick from their religious tradition, or source text, what they want to believe. And so, a mainline denominational Christian preacher, has no trouble preaching from the "Sermon on the Mount", but ignores the text in Luke 19 where Jesus calls for the execution of all those opposed to him.

Ouch! That hit a little too close to home. What's more, my Bible had laid open to Luke 19 for weeks. Verses 1-10 being the story of Zacchaeus, which I had read, and 11-27 being the story about this king and the execution, which I had not.

You know, I don't about you, but I don't want to be a cherry-picking Christian. I don't want to leave fruit on the tree because its up too high or too far out for me to reach.

And besides, if people trying to live out balanced faiths, trying to walk the hard, narrow way Jesus called us to, refuse to speak on scripture like this, somebody else will, and who knows what kind of craziness they'll justify in the process.

But this text is strange. It's like amalgam of a bunch of other parables. There are ten servants, like the ten lepers or ten bridesmaids. All ten servants each get a silver coin, but only three of the ten end up getting measured or judged, like the parable of the talents. And then there's this line that seems like it's just thrown in for effect about the King calling for the execution of those who opposed him to be done in his presence. I thought maybe the interpreter of the original Greek in this case, used a definition that was little "out there", and I had heard an MCC pastor, a lesbian, preach once from the NRSV, so I thought it might be a little kinder and gentler. But all it does is substitute the word "slaughter" for "execute"... which, in some ways, is worse.

But we need to understand that Jesus, as he tells this story, has a problem. He and the disciples are are on their way to Jerusalem, and because he's talked about it so much, the things that will happen there, his followers know that something big is going to happen. It's just that, well, the disciples are maybe a little unclear of what that "big thing" is going to be. You see, if NT Wright, a New Testament scholar, is to be trusted, then we need to know that at that time in Israel's history, there were a lot of people who believed that even though the Temple had been rebuilt, that God had not yet come back to live there. And so, they looked to the words of prophets, like Zachariah, who said that someday the Messiah, the embodiment of God's presence, would return, and you'd know he was the Messiah because he'd come from the east, down the Mount of Olives, and through the Eastern Gate, into the city. There he would proclaim his judgment on the world, and then take his place in the seat of power in the Temple, instituting a Theo-Political empire, and the restoration of Israel as the greatest nation in the world.

Don't think for a moment that the disciples hadn't heard this. The image of the Messiah coming through the Eastern Gate was such a powerful one for orthodox Jews, that hundreds of years after Jesus crucifixion, after the fall of the Roman Empire, when Islamic leaders took possession of city, they bricked up the Eastern Gate, and put a cemetery in front of it so the Messiah could not come back into the city.

Jesus and the disciples are about to make this journey, over and down the Mount of Olives and into the Jerusalem through the Eastern Gate. And they, too, have cherry-picked the scripture, rememberng Zachariah, while forgetting the words of Isaiah, who talked about the "suffering servant", the "Son of Man" who would be rejected by his people, and would die for their sins. The disciples are hoping the theo-political age is about to begin, and hopefully, because they've followed along, they'll taste some of the spoils of being in power.

And Jesus knows this. That's why he told this story, because the disciples don't understand how the Kingdom will emerge.

Jesus says that the kingdom is going to emerge while the king is gone, being crowned in his glory. And, the funny thing is that his servants are going to help bring the kingdom into realization by using their "silver coins", the resources of Jesus teaching and their witness to that teaching, to create new resources... five and even ten times the original amount. There are no battles or armies... just the investment, the use, of resources to create more resources. In fact, the servant who does nothing, who thinks the King asks to much and is too hard to follow, maybe out of fear and/or ignorance, is the one King dresses down. Because he didn't take the words of the King seriously, or inquire further what the King really wanted, all he did was spend his time polishing his silver dollar, making sure it was nice and clean when the King returned.

The obvious lesson is that doing something with the gifts we've been given, is far better off than the person who waits around wondering what the heck the King, Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, is going to do next. That, and servants who are faithful with little, end up becoming governors in the Kingdom. Additional resources, be it scripture insight, people, money... will be added to them as the Kingdom becomes better established. A Kingdom that already is, but isn't yet fully realized. As faithful followers of Jesus maximize what has been given to them so that what Jesus sees, the world God desires for us individually and collectively, it becomvisibleble in the broken world that is fulvisibleble. That's not how theo-political kingdoms emerge. The usually emerge first when the guys with weapons arrive at the gate. But at this point of the story, there are no weapons, just silver coins.

I don't know about you, but I've a sense that in most mainline denominational churches, we believe pretty passionately, in theory, about a lot of things. When Jesus says you much become like a child to come into the kingdom, we nod our head. When Jesus says we can't serve God and money, and when he tells the rich young ruler that all he has left to do to be truly righteous is give all his money to the poor and come follow him, we go, "wow, that's amazing". When we'counseledled not to worry or to love our enemies or that there's no greater love than one who gives him or herself up for their friends, we say, "that's deep". But the world is so broken, and the demands of Jesus are so great, I wonder if what we've acknowledged to be true intellectually, in theory, we don't really feel is all that possible in our lives. Individually and collectively. And as such, while we take advantage maybe of the opportunities offered to us to go volunteer at the soup kitchen, or contribute hard-earned money to worthy causes, most of our lives are spent focused, really, on "my, me, and mine". Our work. Our family. Our personal relationships. Making this secure and safe. Which is practical.don'tont' get me wrong. I've got a 401k and eat dinner with my kids each night like the rest of you.

But I wonder, if we don't secretly believe that Jesus asks to much, and out of fear, frustration, and most likely, ignorance, we largely just clean our silver dollar. We agree with what Jesus says, and that becomes more important than actually doing what he does.

And so the world goes on bickering. And swords that are supposed to be beaten into plows that can be used for food, are instead are sharpened for the next battle. And we just huddle largely in fear... or even sometimes, pick up a sword ourselves.

You know, the interesting thing about the order for execution, is that nobody else is allowed to give that order, other than the King. You can't pick up a sword, and go out and force the Kingdom into existence. You can't short-cut the hard work of the servants.

Whenever I think about this understanding of the Kingdom, of things working on earth like they do in heaven, I can't help but think about Paul Farmer. A guy who grew up in a trailer park, who lived for a while in a school bus stuck in the middle of a swamp, and got captivated not by God's judgment, but what it might mean to get a ten-fold return on your investment in the Kingdom. What might happen if a man gifted with an understanding of science, of disease... a man with doctoral degrees in medical anthropology and pathology from Harvard... I mean, could you imagine the kind of money you could make with those kinds of degrees from Harvard University - it's a lot more than what I'll ever make with my Doctorate here as Asbury, that's for sure... and use those degrees to serve the destitute poor. To go to the plains of central Haiti and work toward providing health care for poor, uneducated squatters that you aimed would be on par with the finest care you could receive in Boston.

To, as a doctor, find out that your patients who suffer from diarrhea will only get sick again after you treat them because of the terrible water they are drinking, so you get into the water treatment business. And the homes they live in have dirt floors, so you get into the home building business. And to make all of this go, you need money, and drugs, and bricks, and people who know how to use those things... and they all appear. Just like Jesus said, five and ten fold. And then to get calls from the Ukraine, Peru, Rwanda, urban Boston to ask if you can come there too. To be a guy who was just a kid from the swamps of Florida, and have so much accumulated capital, resources, integrity, character, that you could speak with pharmicutical companies and convince them to lower their prices. To receive funding from foundations named after guys named Bill... Bill Gates and Bill Clinton. To wake up one day and find out that you have the ear of medical, political, and economic movers and shakers of the world.

That's the kingdom. That's the way it spreads... not with a sword, but through the investment of the King's resources by the King's people.

And don't hear when I talk about Paul Farmer that what you can offer doesn't amount to much, or enough, cause you'll never fight AIDS or tuberculosis in the wilderness of Africa. What if real estate agents prayed for those who they were helping buy a house... that the home they were establishing was a haven of blessing and peace in the world, because that family knew peace? What if someone who worked at the Kewpee remained in constant prayer for the people being served and the folks they worked with? What if they began to see their work as the work of Jesus, emerging through their efforts? What if people, who had cherry-picked the Bible, followed along behind Jesus, listening to what he had to say, asking questions after they betrayed their ignorance, and slowly but surely in their interaction with him, grew in their understanding of what they, and their community, could become. Mechanics, secretaries, entrepreneurs, teachers, technicians, the retired, the unemployed, mothers, daughters, sons, and fathers.... all looking deep inside to find the resources to invest in the kingdom.

I want to go on that journey. Won't you come with me?

Won't you come with me?