Monday, May 16, 2016

The First Fruits of Change the World Sunday

Pentecost for me is a second Christmas. On Christmas we recognize Jesus, God with us, coming to earth. On Pentecost we celebrate the Holy Spirit, God in us, coming to earth. 

On a holy day, the Feast of First Fruits, God poured out his spirit on the disciples, men and women. As they were filled they went out to the crowds of foreigners who had come to celebrate in Jerusalem and they began to speak in each of those foreign languages the good news of God’s love for us manifested in Jesus Christ. It was the first fruits of people joining the disciples in following Jesus Christ as a community.

Yesterday we celebrated Pentecost in a whole different manner than usual. Like the disciples, we met and prayed. Then, like them again, we went out into the community and shared the gospel in a whole different language. Our language was not Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, or Swahili. It was the language of love, hard labor, and attention.

Yesterday, some of us went to the park and cleared off all the brush, including some small trees and shrubs that had accumulated on the hill the kids use for sledding in the winter. Another group went to the nursing home, where they connected one on one with the residents through games and music. Another smaller group worked on organizing our food pantry. And, don’t forget Meghan, who came to watch babies so parents could participate!

Just like that first Pentecost, there were a lot of "first fruits" yesterday: 

      1.      We had three KICK families who don’t attend worship join us to serve yesterday.
      2.      Carolyn Farmer led a service project…her first time in leadership.
      3.    20 people beyond our congregation have “liked” our work on the sled hill on Facebook through Amy’s post. That is a witness to the community.
      4.      The food pantry is full and ready.
      5.       We had 36 people serve. I have shared before that the rule of thumb in ministry is that usually 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Yesterday we did more than double that with half of our congregation serving others. REMARKABLE!
      6.     We had people of all ages from babies to people in their eighties serving together, showing our commitment to service and diversity as a body.
       7.      We had people new to serving beside us.

All this plus the many clear witnesses shared during our time together afterwards. I can’t think of another Pentecost where the “First Fruits” of God’s kingdom were better preached than in what our congregation did yesterday. Thanks be to God for not just reminding of us of a day long gone, but performing a Pentecost among us!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

10 Ways Being a Mom has Made Me a Better Pastor

My kids are amazing teachers. They have taught me things that my 4 years in undergraduate Pastoral Studies, my 5 years getting my Masters of Divinity,  my semester in Clinical Pastoral Education, and my 2 years in Resident in Ministry Program couldn't do nearly as well. Here are some of the things they have taught me that all that formal education couldn't:

1. You always think better after counting down from 5. It's true. Kids just spilled the very last of the milk? Unrolled all the toilet paper from the roll? Let the dogs out of the fence? Did you just hear bad theology from the liturgist? Had a trustee complain about the bikes in your backyard? Hear "We tried that before, and it didn't work"? Take a breath, count back from 5. It will help you to respond with grace and patience. 

2. How to help the hurting. It just looks like a skinned knee and my initial thought is to say, "Suck it up, buttercup." (That is a family saying from my childhood...sorry if the language offends you.) But that won't help the tears on my 8 year old's face. But what does help, is when I examine it closely, and say, "Ooh, you really got it. It looks like that really hurts. I would cry too." and give them a hug and wipe away the tears. Often times, we can't do anything as pastors to heal someone's wounds, but we can say they are real, and offer a hug. Just as it helps my child's tears to clear up, it often helps to just be heard and understood.

3. Pray like you mean it. Kids are master-prayers. They aren't caught up in who (other than God) is listening. They don't care about making it pretty or long. They just pray with their hearts, tell God some jokes in the process, and pray with faith. They continually teach me to pray like I mean it.

4. How to react when someone is lost. The other day my 6 year old  disappeared. When I finally found him (not at all where I left him) he was expecting me to yell. I couldn't. I pulled him in and gave him the biggest hug possible and explained how worried I was that I couldn't find him. When we find people who wander away from God, we often want to yell at them and remind them of their guilt in walking away. Usually what they need most is someone to show them love and say "I'm so glad God found you!"

5. People come first. My children constantly remind me that while folding clothes is nice, they are willing to pull something wrinkly out of the hamper if it means snuggling with me on the couch. There are going to be weeks the sermon is going to be rough because people need you present during the week. It is okay. Being there with compassion is more important than presentation perfection.

6. We all get a little grumpy sometimes. I know I am not making supper fast enough, and you are starving, and that is why you when your sister told you to stop, you poked her with your light saber and then she started crying and called you a poopy-head, and now you are sobbing because she was mean. But supper is coming. And in an hour neither one of you will remember this moment and you will be happily playing light saber fight without one single tear. I also know that it is frustrating that our giving is down and our friends at the other church keep poking us with the fact they are doing just fine financially, but we are being faithful with the least and the lost, and one day we will see the fruit of that work, even though it seems long in coming. One day. Supper is coming.

7. Jesus really can forgive anything. Even if dementers from Harry Potter suck out your soul. Jesus can restore it. The Bible says so. "He restoreth my soul."  If he can do that, he surely can forgive the addict who never overcomes addiction in this life. He can forgive the criminal no matter what the crime. He can forgive just about anything because he is the restorer of souls.

8. I am ok. To my kids, I am the best mother in the world.  On one of those Mother's Day worksheets that the daycare had the kids fill out, my kid said I was good at preaching. I personally don't see what they see. I see all the mistakes I make as a parent and a pastor. I see how little I know, and how much guess work I do to pull off these jobs.  So I try to see myself as my kids do...and how God does...with just the right amount of good stuff to do his work, and just enough imperfection to lean fully on him in all I do.

9. It is important to step back and let them do it. Whether it is listening to them read for the the first time or watching them ride a bike for the first time, an important part of motherhood is letting your kids try...and fail...and try...until they have mastered the task. As people develop in their faith and try out new ways to serve or grow, they may fail at quite a few times before finding the right fit. Sometimes its finding a small group, starting a small group, trying a new way to serve others, sharing their faith, or leading in a way they haven't before. Just as with my kids, its important as a pastor to encourage them to keep trying, to show them different methods for getting better, and for me to wait patiently, when they say, "I can do it by myself."  When they succeed, I am there excited about what they have done.

10. Every age is my favorite and the hardest at the same time. When they were babies, I loved every new experience, and yet missed sleep soooo much. Now that they are older I love that they can read and do sports but I am not a fan that they despise bath time. (C'mon! It used to be your favorite!) How true in the church. I love all maturities of faith, and all ages of people, but often for different things and in different ways. I love the memories of those in the nursing home...but it is so hard to watch their health deteriorate. I love the kids...but they are physically exhausting to keep up with. I love those new in the faith...but they need a lot of encouragement in finding their calling. I love our mature in the faith...but they often need to be reminded of the hope in their midst. They are all my favorites and the hardest at the same time.

Being a mom and a pastor is such a privilege. God has entrusted me with these kids, and with these people. The older I get, the more I see how God uses each role to inform the other. I won't lie. There have been many times when I have complained to God that be easier as a man. But God reminds me that he has called me for all I am. He uses even my motherhood to make me a stronger agent of his. Thank you, God, for using every part of my life to strengthen my calling and for choosing me for your ministry!

Monday, May 2, 2016

An Open Letter to One of My Besties

To my sister from another mister, 

It is so hard to invite you into the church. “Church” after all has a reputation. If I push to hard, I am afraid you will be offended. But, I can’t help but want you in church with me, because I love you like a sister.
Not because I am a pastor.  As a follower of Jesus, the church has been where God has over and over again answered my prayers. As a young mother, it was where God answered my plea for  “adult time.” It was the place I could talk about being a mom and in the next breath talk about everything but being a mom. It was the place that showed me extraordinary grace when my kids got rowdy, and provided space for them to play and me to nurse. Of all the public places, it was the best for our little family.

And that’s why I want to share it with you and your young kids. You recently reminded me as I invited you once again, “My husband and I are not church people.” I didn’t articulate well what was in my heart. What I wanted to say was, “I know you don’t go, and I know you are missing out.” See, I worry that you feel like you have to believe things common in the culture of church rather than what you do, which often sounds more like Jesus himself. Church for me has been a place of compassion and honesty. I know that is not its reputation, but that is what I want to share with you.

I invited you to a special event we had at the church. It was awesome. We had a pew full of kids, and I missed the entire program. But another mom with daughter close in age joined us in our madness.  And it was awesome. It was great to chase kids together, to play together, and to just sit together in this space. It was fun to introduce some of my daughter’s favorite people in the world…and in the church…with you. 

Thank you for making my day!

I know you are leery of someone trying to “save” you. Don’t worry. That is between you and God. Besides, I am convinced that Jesus is just as concerned with living a good life now as he is after death.  I also don’t think he is much impressed with tickets to heaven and special prayers. I think he cares more about if you are willing to forgive others…which I know you do. I have heard your story. I’m not going to force any of my beliefs down your throat, though I may share them with you as my beliefs. And I’m kind of a nerd, so I may go into a lesson of what Christians in the last 2,000 years have thought. But that’s it.

Thank you for being my friend and letting me share my whole life with you…even if a lot of it takes place in the church. Thank you for coming. One day I hope you can see what I do in these people that meet every week. I may keep asking. Just be patient with me.

With all my love,
That Mom Down the Street


This winter, our leaders in the church have been going through a special training called Fruitful Congregations Journey. The training is not about how to get more butts in pews, but about what a disciple is, and how our church can take part  as God makes disciples of Jesus Christ. "Disciple" is the word used for those who followed Jesus’ leadership and lived their lives to share the good news Jesus brought. As part of this journey, we have had some deep conversations about the characteristics of disciples and how as a church we can foster those characteristics. In that process, we came up with 4 activities that when we take part in, God uses them to transform us. Through doing these simple things consistently, we start looking like Jesus in our core being. These Four activities are: 

   1. Worship
   2. Engaging in a Small Group
   3. Serving others
   4. Sharing our faith to Make New Disciples

KICK, our afterschool program this year, has been what  John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church, would call “a church within a church.” In it, we try to provide the kids of our community with opportunities to worship, engage in a small group, serve others, and make new disciples. This year, we have seen the kids really grab onto those activities. 

          1. Our kids have worshiped by learning songs and motions that praise God. 
          2. They have learned stories and how to apply those biblical principals to their lives…the function of a small group. 
          3. They have shared their faith through inviting their friends to KICK, their parents to church, and everyone under the sun to their end of year program. 

There is only one thing missing. While KICK has provided a huge opportunity for our adults to serve these children, and we have started working with our 5th and 6th graders to serve the younger kids, we haven’t provided opportunities for our kids to serve others. 

That’s why this summer, we are encouraging our KICK families to take part in a service project as a family. Some of those families are going to be helping us decorate our parade float to share about VBS. Some of them will be helping with our Summer Feed Program. Some will be helping us on May 15th in 4 projects we will be tacking during the church hour (That’s right…service is so important we are doing FOUR projects in one morning!). 

Our KICK kids have challenged us as a church to grow deeper as disciples. Their excitement and energy  renews our own energy for the good news. Their questions make us think deeper. Their compassion to others reminds us to love all the time. Their presence has fanned the flame of the Holy Spirit in our church. it is easy to see God’s hand prints all over this ministry, and we pray that it will continue to grow and thrive. We pray that God will use it to make both adults and kids better followers of Jesus.