Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I Don't Like People Like Me

Well, this summer has been a great summer. I've been able to preach so many times and I have received so much encouragement. Most of all, I have been reminded why I am going to be a preacher. I love the church. I love envisioning a future for a group of people. I love spending time with God and listening to what he thinks the congregation must hear in order for it to grow. During grad school, I have had moments in which I have questioned my calling because I have gotten caught up in the papers and forgotten that this thing is really all about people. But being back in ministry this summer, I can't imagine any other kind of work that I could do. This summer I have been reminded that I can still preach and that I still have a love for being with people.

However, I have had an interesting revelation this summer. Perhaps it began when my brother told me what he tells others about the kind of preacher I will be one day. He said, "You know your stuff. You have studied and you know what you believe about many things. But, you are so confident in everything you believe that it will leave you inflexible as you deal with people who do not agree with you in every area." This was truly a wake up call for me. In some ways, I think he is right. I have developed many ideas about how the church should be. I have an intense desire for unity and the mission of God. But unfortunately I have become as inflexible as the people I had hoped to not be like. For instance, I don't want to be sectarian in any way like some in Churches of Christ, but in some ways I have moved away from conservative sectarianism to a new form of academic, progressive, elite sectarianism.

This summer I have been a part of a hospital chaplaincy. The head person over the program has been very critical of the church and really has nothing good to say about it. I have met several people this summer who are very critical. And to be honest, I can't stand to be around them. Unfortunately, when I take a look at myself, my hyper-critical nature developed through my time in school, has made me like the people I don't want to be like most.

I want to be a positive person. I want my kids to think of me not as a person who looks at the glass half empty, but as a father who always encouraged them in everything they did. I want my wife to be able to say that she never experienced a critical moment with me, but unfortunately I think I am rubbing off on her in some negative ways in these areas. How do you stop being like people that you don't like?

I guess it will be a God-job. As a perfectionist, I have always been a bit hyper-critical. I don't think I will ever be the Barnabas at a congregation, but every critique should also have with it an opposing robust view of what is right and good. When people come in line with the positive opposite of my critique, I should be the first to praise it and value when people's lives reflect God's unity and mission.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Holly and I just got back from a trip to Honduras. We went with Southern Hills, but we joined some students from ACU and two other church groups from New York City and Memphis. It was a wonderful trip. Our group treated nearly 1000 people in our medical clinic, and we also helped people in our optical clinic and with our construction on the church.

I met so many wonderful people. These people have very little, but somehow they understand joy and it exudes from them. This often seems to be the case. Those who have much seem to never be content, while those with very little seems to understand contentment. We experienced hospitality from people who had nothing to be hospitable with. It was frustrating not to be able to communicate with the people because I do not know Spanish (I wish I had payed more attention in my two years of high school Spanish). However, the language barrier did not keep me from loving the kids there and receiving love in return.

My third world experience was disorienting enough, but I also was disoriented by a book I read on the plane. I read The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. His radical community (the Simple Way) is doing some incredible things. His challenges included living lives of radical simplicity, creative nonviolence, fully committed discipleship, and responsible living in God's creation. He challenged Christian wealth, redemptive violence, nationalism, just war, church expenditures, and many other of the church's accepted practices. But rather than being an assault, he wrote in story form, which allowed his radical lifestyle to quietly destroy any argument for what we've come to understand Christianity to be. It's a wonderful book. And as I thought about it in the context I was in, I wondered how it was ever ok for my bank account to accrue more and more while the people of Honduras don't have enough. No wonder they don't have enough. We have it all stowed away in our mutual funds and bank accounts. Tough stuff to sift through, but a needed challenge for my faith.

All in all it was a great week and I enjoyed seeing Holly's interaction with the other kids. She is so wonderful and those kids understood her love more than they could ever understand mine. She is a blessing!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's Thursday?!?

Well, it's Thursday and not a word of the sermon is written yet. I'm not a last minute procrastinator. In fact, I started studying Monday of this week, but the Lord speaks his word when he is ready and not when I am. There's no magic button for the Spirit to start speaking. So I will wait. And read the text. And wait. And read the text. And wait. And read the text.

My sermon's title this week is "It's Sunday and Friday's Finished," which plays off the title of Tony Campolo's sermon "It's Friday, But Sunday's Coming." But right now, it's Thursday and Sunday's coming and I have no sermon. My prayer is that the hard work of sitting with the text will bring a flood of insight this afternoon.

So here I wait. In an office in Abilene, Texas waiting for a sermon that I will preach in Dallas. I have no doubt that the message will come, but here I wait. Father, I wait in eager expectation for what you will bring. I do not worry for you alone are my God and you are the one who has authored the story I will tell Sunday.

Speak, O Lord.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Power of Preaching?

Well, the sermon seems to have gone well by the response. I get so hyped up when it comes time to preach! Each morning before I preach, the excitement is so great that I can't imagine doing anything else. (Well, I could imagine playing in the US Open on Father's Day and maintaining a schedule on the PGA Tour if I was good enough, but that's beside the point.) But as I thought more about what I plan to do (preach), I began to wonder how much of a difference will I make?

I had prepared my sermon on Wednesday of last week and I was excited about the coming Sunday. After all, it is a pretty big deal to preach at Southern Hills. But when I entered the haircut store that afternoon I began to question myself. As sat down in the chair the conversation went well until I mentioned where I am working this summer. Then, it turned to silence. That put my Sunday experience in perspective. How small a thing it is to preach each week! That's not going to make a difference for the lady cutting my hair and at times I wonder if it makes a difference for the people at church. Do sermons form people in any significant way? Or is it just a bunch of language put together to entertain? My prayer each week is that God will pour through me the gift of preaching so that Christ might be formed in the hearts of those present, but does it make a difference?

My theory of language says that it does. I believe the word itself makes an impact on the hearer - that language is in some way performative at times. But is that all just theory or are our sermons making a difference? Surely the pastoral parts of ministry make a difference in lives, but does the sermon itself form people. I'd like to think so. Let me know about your experience.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I have started a new internship at the Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene, TX. It has been two full years since I have been in the middle of full-time ministry. During my summers in undergrad, I spent every one of them doing preaching internships. It was through those internships that I received my call to the ministry of preaching. I love school so much, but there is something about getting my hands dirty in day-in-day-out ministry that revives my spirit.

Two out of the past three weeks I have been in classes and I still have papers to write for those classes, but this internship will allow me to leave the academy in order to let God remind me what all of my schooling is really about.

The next three weeks I will preaching. The first two I will preach at Southern Hills and the third I will preach at my home congregation, Highland Oaks. I am more than excited about these opportunities. I will be preaching on Simon of Cyrene and Peter's healing of Dorcas. I can't wait to meet God in the text in the powerful ways he always meets me when I spend time in study and sermon preparation. It has been over a year since I last wrote a sermon so I am a bit anxious to see if the gift is still there, but God is faithful and he will show up if I open myself to his word.

For three weeks, I get to do exactly what God has gifted me to do. What more can a person ask than to delight in what God has gifted him or her to do. This is what life is all about and I am excited to depart on the journey. This morning I enter the text. Who knows how it will shape me in the coming weeks? God, I'm ready for the journey. Guide me as I help others enter the text in ways they might have never considered it before.