iPhones, Sex Slavery, and Upgrades

iPhone & JournalAs if we didn’t need another reason to prove that the iPhone is superior to the antiquated Android operating system, here it is: iPhones are being used to save lives around the world.

The other day I was searching for the end of the internet and came along one of my favorite blogs, Jamie The Very Worst Missionary.  As I was scrolling through Jamie’s posts I noticed a widget with a link to the The Exodus Road.  My curiosity was tickled so I clicked.

The Exodus Road is an organization that is working with investigators throughout Souteast Asia to end modern day slavery, specifically sex slavery. Between July 2012 and January 2013 The Exodus Road has saved 253 children from sexual slavery (check the stats here). That’s 253 children who won’t have to work in a sleazy brothel, being exploited by cowards who are looking to make a buck off of the vulnerable. That’s 253 children who can begin to heal and go back to being a kid.

It’s estimated that there are over 30 million slaves worldwide. That’s 30 million people who are held against their will, forced into domestic service, prostitution, drug smuggling, and other atrocities. A number like 30 million, that’s a 30 with 6 additional zeros, can be daunting and hard to imagine. Organizations like The Exodus Road are working daily with other NGOs to fill the investigative gap that where law enforcement resources are limited.

So how does an old iPhone help? Here’s what The Exodus Road has to say:

Why: I-Phones are quickly becoming key field tools for investigators. The team can use them for gps tracking, quick research, translation help, communications amongst each other and others, and gathering video and photo evidence. We are looking to supply a team of ten investigators (all nationals, all working directly with/for the local police) with reliable phones.

So as you get ready to upgrade your iPhone 5s to the next Apple gem, keep The Exodus Road in mind when you get ready to put that old phone in the drawer or trade it in to save $50. What we think is old and antiquated has the ability to save a life.

For more on The Exodus Road and how you can help to end modern day slavery, check out their website and connect with them on social media.

 

why i left the ordination process

In case you are new to the internet or the Christian blogosphere, here is a post I wrote for my friend, the Tamed Cynic himself, on why I decide to leave the United Methodist ordination process.  This was not a decision that I came to lightly, but ultimately it was what’s best for my family and for me.

To Whom it May Concern:

I am formally withdrawing from the ordination candidacy process of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Although I feel called to ordained ministry, at this point in my life I am unable to enter into an itinerant system. My wife is a college professor and her work requires her to be in a specific geographical area. In addition, with the addition of a child to our family and the desire to adopt a child, the reduction in salary would place additional financial hardships on my family.

I do not take my call to ministry lightly, nor was this decision made overnight. This is something that I have been discerning over the past nine months, and I pray that God will honor this decision.

I want to thank the committee, district, and conference for the support given to me over the past three years. I will continue my studies at Wesley Theological Seminary and eagerly await the next opportunity for ministry.

Peace and Blessings,

Teer Hardy

From high school through today I have felt a call to ministry. Although I ignored the call for quite some time, it is a call that I take seriously. When I finally acknowledged and responded to my calling I enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary and eventually began working fulltime in a local church. This all began three years ago as I sat at my pastor’s kitchen table and talked about callings and ministry over longneck PBR’s.

Three years ago I entered into the United Methodist ordination process and three months ago I withdrew myself from the process. Three years ago I had ambitions to become an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, and while I still want to be ordained, it will not happen within the UMC. I had serious questions about whether or not I wanted to jump on this crazy train after General Conference 2012, and those questions began to grow into larger more complex questions as I learned more about the Christian experience within my own denomination as well as learned what was outside the friendly confines of the UMC. But I still continued onward, thinking that I could change the system from within and be the change I wanted to see in the world.

My time at seminary showed me that the system I was pledging being vetted to join was larger than any government bureaucracy I had experienced. From a governing body that only meets every four years to an ordination process that would possibly have me ordained after the next presidential administration, I began to realize that this was a far cry from the ministry I wanted to be engaged in. When I am meeting with someone over coffee or on a bike ride they don’t care that I have a piece of paper saying that I am certified by the UMC to be a pastor. When I am serving the poor in DC or leading a youth retreat they do not care that I took exactly 9 hours of UMC history, polity, and doctrine in seminary. What they do care about is that I love them just and Christ loves me. What they do care about is that I listen to them, and help them come to know the God who has loved me and continues to be a source of strength for me. What the do care about is that I all of this authentically because I love them and not because it’s my “job”.

The letter above is what I sent to the local committee on ordination. I am not happy with with what I sent them because it wasn’t the whole truth. Yes, at this time my family is not in a position for me to take another pay cut while paying back loans for a Masters Degree required for ordination. But even if that were not the case, I don’t think I would have continued with the process because of the fact that I had to write that letter. At no point throughout this process did anyone take the time or give a damn about really wanting to know how I was equipped for ministry. My appointed clergy mentor taught me that once you’re in the system you’re in, and the most important thing once you are in is to not be late for meetings. WOW, I thought ministry was suppose to be sharing in the work of Christ, boy was I wrong!

Instead of wanting to talk about my concerns or connecting me with a clergy member who might have had the same concerns the response I received from the committee was a request for a letter. A letter that “would go into my file”. The letter that was requested of me is ultimately the reason I decided to leave the ordination process.

Ordination and our Christian vocation is not something that can be boiled down to a checklist, 4 hour psychological exam, or open-ended questions with only 1 acceptable response. Our Christian vocation is one that enables us to serve others in the name of Christ regardless of titles we give ourselves or the office in which we hold. It took me 3 years to figure this out.

Jesus Doesn’t Give A Damn About Apple Pie, Parades, or Patriotism

In case you are new to the internet or the Christian blogosphere here is a post I wrote for my friend, the Tamed Cynic himself, about the 4th of July, apple pie, Americana, and American Christianity identifing more with the Union than with Christ.

Happy belated 4th of July!  Americans love to celebrate. I am no different.  Holidays are a great opportunity to be thankful, visit family, take a day or two off from work, and grill/smoke some meat on your assortment of Weber products.  The 4th of July is no different. In fact, I would venture to say that the celebrating is a little more intense.  From cookouts and parades to pyrotechnic shows with illegal fireworks from North Carolina or Pennsylvania, Americans tend to be a bit more extreme with their 4th of July celebrations.  And you can’t really blame us right?  Fireworks and cheap watered down beer goes hand in hand (or in just one hand if you blow one off with a firework mortar).

 

The 4th of July is a time to celebrate our identity as Americans.  We are blessed to live in the land of the free because of the brave.  Our kids receive top notch educations, the vast majority of us enjoy three  squares a day and a roof over our heads, and we can worship any god that we want to without fear of government persecution.  It’s a sweet deal.

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In February my son was baptized.  My wife and I were able to pour water over his head as he received a new identity.  This identity supersedes any national allegiance or pride that we or society might will pass onto him as he grows up.  Baptism takes us and pulls us into a new identity where Christ is the focal point and everything is secondary.

 

A friend of mine from college posted a picture on Facebook Friday afternoon from a 4th of July parade.  From the pictures I gathered that it was your typical smalltown parade, marshalled by the mayor, Boy  Scouts carrying American flags, and civic organizations throwing candy to the crowd.  One float though made me scratch my head.  The side of the float read, “JesUSAves”.  At first I scratched my head and thought, “well that’s a boring float”.  But then it got to thinking that the “JesUSAves” float is not only a dangerous mixing of our American pride and Christian identity, to the point where the latter becomes subservient to the former, but when Christianity takes on the form of nationalism a dangerous slippery slope begins to emerge.

 

Now I am all for national pride.  I am proud and privileged to live where  I do.  And I am proud and grateful to the people who have made that possible for me.  But I wonder if our American-Christian identity has begun to focus more on the American part, to the point that the American-Christian identity has little in common with the Jesus that put the Christ in Christian.

 

Baptism, confirmation, and professions of faith set Christians apart from the world.  These acts enable us to call one another brother and sister with people from around the world, and not just within our Main Street churches.  I am all for national pride.  We should wave the red, white, and blue proudly.  The national anthem is something that should still be sung at baseball games, and kids should still say the Pledge of Allegiance (they still do that right?).   BUT none of this should take priority or dilute our identity as Christians.

 

Afterall, remember that it was a parade into Jerusalem where Jesus called out the political and religious establishment to the point that the nationalism he was challenging killed him.

 

All In The Family

CUMC

A few months ago I was invited by Rev. Alice Ford to preach at the church I grew up in, Calvary United Methodist Church! Allison and I packed up the Jeep with enough gear to get us through the 24 hour stay in Frederick and headed north.  You can listen my sermon and read the text below.  The scripture text for this sermon was Matthew 10.24-39.  This sermon was my first time preaching from the lectionary.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today….. Just kidding.

It has been a few years since I last worshipped in this church. It has been a few years since I was part of this gathered, worshiping community. The last time I stepped foot in this building was when I had the privilege to be a part of Tommy Stokes’ Eagle Scout ceremony. Before that it was to celebrate the marriage of one my closest friends from high school. Before that it was to celebrate the life of a woman who cared for me, taught me what it meant to be a follower of Christ, and at times didn’t mind slapping upside the head when I needed it.

I guess you could say that I have taken the words written in Ephesians 5:31 and Genesis 2:24 literally.

I was raised in this church. But for those of you who don’t know me or the antics that I pulled in this building, you should not believe any of the stories that Billie Stokes, Greg Shipley, or Ray McKinnon will tell you. In case you might be wondering, the box in your pew pad that says “Request a call from the pastor” really does get you a call from the pastor. Just ask Karen Leggett. As a high schooler I had to opportunity to serve as an usher. Greg Shipley, Dave Mills, and the rest of the team taught me that it’s ok to make change in the offering plate.

I remember as a kid being a part of Mrs. Frank’s Sunday School class. You could call Mrs. Franks’ Sunday School class a rite of passage for many of the us who grew up in this congregation. I can remember attending my first youth group event at Marcie and Graham Baker’s home. Ray McKinnon was my confirmation mentor, and my family even lived down the street from Rev. Gaye Smith. Can you imagine, living down the street from your pastor?! Not only did you have to worry about your parents catching you terrorizing the neighborhood, but you also had one of the pastors of your church to worry about.

When my parents divorced it was members of this congregation who stepped in to make sure that my siblings and I had the support system in place to help us through the turmoil that accompanies divorce. When I had to abruptly change high schools a few weeks before the beginning of the school year, it was the friends I had from youth group that made the transition easier. It was while on a mission trip to Puerto Rico that I learned structural work does not need to be pretty, something I have carried with me on mission trips and even at work today. It was members of this congregation that helped me to realize my call to ministry.

This congregation is a part of my family. I carry what this congregation taught me with me today as I figure out where I am called to ministry. And for many of you here, and those who are no longer with us, you welcomed me into your family.

This morning’s gospel reading from Matthew is the second part of the commissioning of the disciples. In the passages prior to this, Jesus tells his disciples that if they join him they will be proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The disciples would be proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was in the present and not some distant event that would eventually occur.

That sounds pretty exciting, right?  The Son of God inviting someone to participate in building the Kingdom of God. Jesus follows this calling with a warning, a warning of persecutions and hardship. Party’s over. Jesus tells the twelve that they would be like sheep sent among wolves. Oh boy! I can only imagine the feeling the disciples must have felt. “This guy we just met, this guy who many consider to be off His rocker, wants us to proclaim the Kingdom of God, a proclamation that would upset the religious and political establishment. Then he tells us that while we do it they would be taken before courts and flogged. Where do we sign up?!”

And this brings us to today’s passage. Jesus explains that nothing will be kept secret from those who proclaim the word of God. What He whispers into the ears of the disciples, they are to shout from the roof tops. They are not to fear because Jesus will be with anyone who proclaims the Kingdom.

Jesus explains that he has come to upset the sensibilities of the first century Roman Empire. He explains that persecutions will come not only to the first twelve but to the saints who are to follow. Families will turn against one another, brother against sister, mother against daughter, and husband against wife. Jesus is coming into the world with a sword and intends to disrupt the lives of all those who come into contact not only with Him, but also with anyone who hears His message of peace, reconciliation, and love.

The words of Matthew 10 seem to support Dr. Will Willimon’s assertion that Jesus is actually a homewrecker. Will is a professor at Duke and one of the most influential voices in the American church. In his book Why Jesus, Will lays out why the title of “Christian”, the title we assume at our baptism, takes priority over our family name and any titles or accolades we are given. The church is a new family, made up of those who have heard and responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow and proclaim.

The title of Christian is superior to the American individualism that we all cling to and by doing so, we are able to gather at the table in open fellowship with sinners and outcasts, and call them “sister” or “brother”. The body of Christ, the church, those who gather on Sunday mornings to worship and praise, are called to take on the same barrier-breaking qualities that Jesus Himself took on.

When Jesus began his ministry he left his family so that a new family might be formed. The open table fellowship that he practiced, and that we practice today, is a mirror of the scandalous proclamation that all are loved by God and are worthy of being treated with the love, respect, and dignity due to someone who was created in the image of God. Living a life this way, living in a way that values all people regardless of who they are, what they have done, who they love, how much money they lack, or the mistakes they continue to make, is what proclaiming the Kingdom is all about. Jesus was always looking for fellowship with those who were considered to be lost or outcasts: lepers, adulterers, Samaritans, Gentiles.

By calling his disciples and telling them: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (if you have in-laws then you know how easy this can be); and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Jesus is telling the twelve they are to look to one another and him as a family. He is telling them that he is breaking up their families. Telling fishermen to leave their elderly father at the boat. To leave everything behind and join a new family.

If you have ever pledged a fraternity or joined a social or civic organization then you know that before you can fully become a member of that group there is an initiation process you must go through. The process maybe a formal process or a set of unwritten rites of passage that must occur. The early church had a process called catechism. Candidates would be instructed in the teachings of Christ and doctrines of the church. Then on Easter Eve they would stand watch, be stripped naked at sunrise, and then baptized.

Now some things have changed over the years, but the idea that you must first be taught and then born anew through water has been the initiation that all Christians have experienced. Through baptism we respond to Jesus’ demand for our lives and we are able to find new life in Christ. Through baptism we join the family of living faithful disciples, as well as the saints who have gone before us.

When we lose our lives to Christ we are joining the larger family of followers. This community is family. The community that Allison and I are a part of is a family. The community down the street from here is a family. But more importantly all of the communities, all of the faith communities are collectively a part of the larger family found in Jesus Christ. It is easy to view of faith experience as an “us and them” experience. But if you have ever been a part of a mission trip where multiple faith communities are gathered, an inter-denominational worship service, or shared the Eucharist in a new church while visiting family, you know then that the God they worship is the same God we are worshiping this morning. You know that the same Jesus who is calling them is the Jesus who is calling us this morning.

Now this does not mean that there will not be turmoil or conflict. Jesus tells us in chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel to expect it. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Conflict among individual faith communities, as well as conflict throughout the wider church is not something exclusive to the 21st century church. I do not want to diminish or degrade strongly held church doctrines but we cannot continue to allow disagreements over who can or cannot be a part of our community, or who can or cannot lead our communities continue to divide us! The public arguments going on in the church today, sex scandals and the marriage debate, are similar to a family having an all out shouting match on their front yard while the entire neighborhood watches. The idea that you whether you agree or disagree with Mark Discroll, Joel Osteen, Will Willimon, or Stanley Hauerwas decides how much a of a “Christian” you really are adds to the front yard blow out that the rest of the neighborhood is watching. The neighbors are watching, and like any trainwreck, onlookers are wondering just how much carnage will be left when the dust settles.

Families fight, children hit one another, and my time as a youth pastor showed me that teenage children become full of attitude and disrespect sometimes overnight. However, when this occurs families embrace the idea that blood, the blood shared by family is stronger than any disagreement or fight that might occur while the entire family is gathered at crazy Aunt Glenda’s house for Thanksgiving!

The blood of Christ, the blood poured out on the sword that Christ brought to the world is stronger than any doctrinal disagreement that we have today or have had in the past. Whether it was a disagreement over what happens when the elements of communion are blessed (or who can bless those elements), or who can be baptized and how they are baptized, the church has survived, the body of Christ has endured and continued the proclamation that the original twelve were called to.

When we turn on one another, and begin to have the front lawn shouting match where we are no longer listening to one another, we are no longer prepared or able to face the persecutions that we know are coming. When we turn on one another over which type of music should or should not be played during worship, what our clergy should wear during worship, or if we are helping the “right” people with our mission work, we are no longer able to face the world that will betray us, hate us, and persecute us. When we accept the sacrificial obedience required of us by Christ’s commissioning, we are able to move beyond the superficial divisions we create and fully respond to the calling Christ has placed on every one of us.

As communities of faith we stand together not to highlight our own lives but instead we stand together to call attention to the risen Christ and the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is present here and now. A Kingdom that we can actively strive to further in everything that we do. We know that it will not be easy, and we know that there will be those who stand to prevent us from standing firm in our convictions and responsibilities as called disciples of Christ. But we know, we know that it is our risen Lord who stands with us in everything that we do. Whether is it leading Vacation Bible School, traveling around the world to serve the poor, standing up for the oppressed and outcasted, or simply aiding one another in a our own faith journey, Christ is walking beside us holding us up and aiding us throughout the task.

When we read Matthew’s gospel, it is important for us to remember that Matthew assumes that we know the story of Jesus. The author assumes that we have a basic understanding who Jesus was, what He did, and what He continues to do. We must learn like the disciples did in order to discover what it means to be a faithful church. We must learn by taking action. We learn by taking action in the same way the disciples did, not as individuals but as a faithful family of disciples who work together to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

The memories I have from being a part of this family of faith are what I have carried with me, and reflected upon as Allison and I have begun to start our own family. It is my prayer that Camden, my son, will experience the same love, grace, and support that so many of us have experienced here and elsewhere when we gather as faithful disciples.

There’s an old saying that blood is thicker than water. It’s true. The blood of Christ, the blood that binds us together here is thicker than the waters we are born through. The blood of Christ is thicker than the turbulent waters we experience as we continue to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

The peace of God is offered to us regardless of our past, regardless of the pasts that we hide from one another or hold against one another. We are washed clean by the blood of Christ, binding us today and tomorrow as faithful servants and families in Jesus.

Confirmation, Retreat, and Dugan

I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from posting and writing.  My new job has been more demanding than I thought it would it would be.  Top that with Camden deciding he does not need to sleep anymore and you have the perfect cocktail to wear out anyone.

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On Saturday and Sunday, Aldersgate will confirm 35 students.  These students literally began the year in Genesis and finished their year together in the Book of Revelation.  They have prayed together, studied the Bible together, and grown in faith together.  Last weekend I took these 35 students, along with a great group of confirmation teachers and parent volunteers, on a retreat.

I love teaching confirmation.  It is crazy to think that at the beginning of the year these students were being dragged to church by their parents and now they are dragging their parents to church.  It is crazy to think that these students, many of whom were baptized as infants, will be affirming the vows their parents took for them and taking charge of the faith they now have.  It is crazy to think that I have had the opportunity to be shaped by their questions, and to wrestle with the doubts they have shared.

photo2Over the course of the weekend we discussed five themes to sum up and top off our time together.  We worshiped together, being led by Amy Cox, and at the end of the retreat the students gathered realized that confirmation is more than a 9 month intensive.  Confirmation is more than simply checking off a box on their adolescent to-do list.  On Sunday morning our students realized that confirmation is just the first step in a lifetime of discernment and discipleship.

Between kickball, spider attacks, and a few students going knee deep in a creek, our students learned what it means to serve, give, grow, and share the faith that they will be affirming on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Youth at Jounrey 2014A month before this retreat, I attended another youth retreat.  I gathered alongside 450 hormone-raging, BO emitting middle school students in Goshen, VA.  JOURNEY is a retreat organized by the Jeremiah Project.  The theme for the weekend was Mirrors and the speaker was Dugan Sherbondy.  Dugan is passionate about youth ministry.  It’s the reason he, his wife, and daughter moved from Illinois to Arizona.  When I asked Dugan to sit down for 10 minutes to discuss youth ministry for the Tamed Cynic Podcast I had my doubts that he’d have the time.  Well 10 minutes turned into 30 and we covered everything from each of our current ministry settings to what youth ministry might look like in the coming years.

I hope that the energy and passion Dugan has for youth ministry wears off on to the students who we are confirming this weekend. My prayer is that they too will have mentors like Dugan who can wrestle alongside them as these students confirm their faith and our congregation affirms our commitment to help their faith grow.  I pray that their words, and our words are not empty promises to one another.  My prayer is that this weekend, the culmination of a year’s long study, is the jumping point for a life time of faith.

Check out the podcast.  Join the conversation via the comments section or SpeakPipe.

 

Easter Sermon – Rise Up

Lament - WindowEaster Sunday is the Superbowl for preachers.  It is the biggest day on the calendar for most churches. It’s a time to speak of everlasting life, reconcilation, and forgiveness.  In my experience, it is unheardof for a seminary student to preach on Easter.  At best you might be asked to read scripture, serve communion, or work in the nursery, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to preach at a sunrise service last weekend.

Every year the Mount Vernon Rotary organizes a sunrise Easter service and my Jedi-Lutheran mentor suggested to the organizers I would be a good fit for the service.  Aside from a sound system that dated back to 1980, and a microphone that I had to swallow to get any sound out of, I thought the sermon was  went really well.  Let me know what you think!

Below is the text from my sermon along with audio.

Christ is Risen.  He is Risen Indeed.

Seven days ago, Jesus triumphantly entered into Jerusalem riding a white colt.  As he rides through the city gates of Jerusalem, crowds are shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  His entry into Jerusalem is the staged political theater, threatening not only the Roman occupiers with what they think would be a Jewish uprising, but the Jewish religious establishment is threatened also.

Three days later, Jesus gathers with his closest friends for meal.  He tells them that his body will be broken and blood poured out for them and for the forgiveness of sin.  He knows that one among them will betray him.  That night while praying in a garden, a kiss on the cheek is all it takes for the betrayal to occur and for Jesus to be arrested and put to trial.

On Friday morning he was beaten, mocked, humiliated, and nailed to a cross.  By the afternoon he was dead.  A man who entered into Jerusalem on a colt (which is a symbol of peace), a man who preached the peace and love of God, was killed in the most brutal way possible.  Crucifixion was a display of power.  It was a way that the Roman Empire could publicly display the solidarity and power that their rule would maintain.  But the resurrection of Jesus takes this brutal display of power and says that no more will earthly power and law control humanity!  No longer will the the rule of those who reign out of oppression and brutality stand.  No longer will sin and violence reign.

The resurrection is the catapult that took a group of 12 disciples in 1 country and multiplied that number to reach over 2 billion disciples in more than 200 countries.  That’s 1 out of every 3 people around the world.  The resurrection is the event that took 12 men who did not know one another or their Rabbi, and sent the 12 men and their Rabbi’s teachings across the Holy Land and eventually around the world.  The resurrection is the catapult that sends Jesus’ earthly teachings of grace and hope around the world.

In the aftermath resurrection of Jesus Christ we see joy and fear, terror and amazement, and even doubt displayed by Jesus’ closest friends.  All four of the gospels provide us with examples of joy and fear, terror and amazement, and even doubt.

 In our reading this morning from Matthew’s Gospel, we find Mary and Mary going to place where just days before Jesus had been laid.  The women would have known about the corrupt trial that sentenced Jesus to death.  The two women would have known exactly how Jesus was killed. The women are now going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices.  When they arrive the stone is rolled away and angel appears.  The women learn that Jesus has left the tomb and that that they are to share this news with the disciples.  The women leave to tomb filled with fear and joy, and the risen Christ meets them.  Jesus could only get one word in before they dropped to the ground and began to worship him.  One word was all it took for these two women to know exactly who was greeting them.  One word was all it took for these two women to recognize Son of God and fall to his feet in worship.

If we turn to Mark and Luke’s Gospels we find those confronted by the risen Christ were filled with terror and amazement.  Running to and from the empty tomb.  Running to the tomb terrified that their lord had been taken and amazed at what had been told to them.

In John’s Gospel find the same joy and amazement, but we also see that not all of the disciples were convinced at what they heard.  John’s Gospel tells us that a week after the resurrection, one of Jesus’ disciples would not believe Jesus was risen unless he literally put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side.  Thomas needed to see and feel for himself that Jesus was truly risen.  He needed to place his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hand and place his hand in the hole in Jesus’ side.  The resurrection of Jesus not only lead the disciples (and 1/3 people today) to faith but it has also lead to doubt.

These post-resurrection encounters with the risen Christ cause the disciples to rise up, put their fear behind them, and return to the very city they had fled from in the hours after Jesus’ death.   The experiences the disciples had with the risen Christ changed their world-view, which changed their entire existence.  No longer were they to simply listen and follow, now they were filled with the same Spirit that had raised Jesus from the dead and empowered them to spread the message of hope – faith in action – that they had literally worshiped at his feet and touched with their hands.

The disciples’ experiences with the risen Christ provided them, and provides us with what Jurgen Moltmann describes as vision of hope, justice, and calling.  Hope and justice in that even after death through the resurrection, Jesus has defeated death and sin. The calling that Jesus placed on his disciples in the days and weeks after the resurrection  carries on today, calling us to be a part of the resurrection.

If the hope, justice, and calling of the resurrection are ours today just as they belong to the first disciples of Jesus, what exactly does that mean?  Where do we find hope and seek justice?  How are we to respond to the calling placed on all of us?

We are able to find hope.  That even in the midst of brutality, humiliation, and hatred, Jesus offered forgiveness not only to the thief next to him, but also to those who were responsible for his death.  We see hope in the promise to thief, who was being killed for his sins, that he would join Jesus in paradise.  We see hope in the resurrection, as the disciples turn from despair and grief, to renewal and being filled with the Holy Spirit, being sent out to proclaim the risen Christ.

We are able to find justice in that even though we are stained by sin, that in the resurrected Christ we are not only forgiven and washed clean, but the brokenness and despair caused by our turning away from God has been repaired.  God reached out to us, and offered us healing and renewal.

Post-resurrection calling of the disciples is the same call that echos today, an invitation to each of us to join Jesus.  To join the ministry he began, to be a healing force throughout the world, and to be an example of how hope and justice are manifested.

early-preaching-of-karl-barthKarl Barth, arguably the greatest Christian theologian of the twentieth century, said that Easter is Jesus as he is, Jesus as a victor.  This victory, in addition to conquering the forces of sin and evil, also provide us a glimpse of the hope that has now been assured to all of us: even in the midst of our sinfulness, God has not and will not abandon us.  Out of the cruelest of deaths, the most hopeful life emerges.  Barth said, “going into death with God means that life goes into death and life comes out of death.”  We are offered a glimpse of the life that comes out of death in the risen Christ and we are called to join Christ in the life everlasting.

When we accept the call of our risen Lord and enter into the life everlasting, we are joining the ranks of Mary, Peter, Thomas, and Paul.  We are submitting ourselves to allow the same power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus Christ to turn our worlds upside down and shake the very foundation of the lives we have created.  The resurrection is a world-shaking event that changes everything, and when we accept the invitation of Jesus we are allowing this deeply disruptive event that changed everything 2000 years ago, to disrupt everything now.

The big question then is, how will we live?  If in Christ death has been defeated, if new hope is found, and sin is no more, how are our lives now shaped?

NT Wright, the Arch Bishop of Durham said, “Easter has burst into our world, the world of space, time and matter, the world of real history and real people and real life”.  Easter is the catapult that thrusted hope and grace into our lives, into the lives of those who did not want it, and into the lives of those who wish to ignore it.  If that is the case, if today is the catapult, what are we to make of it?  How are we to respond?

We can respond faithfully, just like Mary and Mary from our scripture reading, dropping to our knees and worshiping at the feet of Christ.  Or we can respond like Thomas, doubting that death can be raised from the dead to the point that we feel we need to place our fingers in the holes in Christ’s hands.  

But if we are to respond with doubt, we must be prepared for what we will find.  We must be prepared to have the hope and love of Christ transform us from the inside out.  We must be prepared to have the holes in his hand turn our world upside down, and experience the outpouring of grace and mercy which is offered to us.  We must be prepared to have the same power, the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ, fill us to the point that we too rise up and take the message of love, justice, and hope with us in everything we do.

When Mary and Mary confronted the empty tomb they were instructed that Jesus was waiting for his disciples in Galilee.  They were instructed to go there and meet the risen Lord.  We must be prepared to meet Jesus in Galilee.  We must be ready to rise up, just as the disciples did and meet the risen Christ in Galilee.  If we do so, our response is one of hope, justice, and calling.  When we do so we are not only responding to the outstretched hand of the risen Christ, we are also taking up the ministry which Christ has laid before us.  Our risen savior calls upon us today to rise up, just as his disciples did, and just as he did.

Christ is Risen.  He is Risen Indeed.

From My Moleskin: Communities of Hope

Change is not an easy thing for institutions and organizations with established roots.  “We’ve always done it this way” or “it didn’t work then, and it won’t work now” are heard throughout churches who are afraid of change when the status quo might be threatened or tested.  Why is it so hard to embrace, or even consider change from an institutional perspective?

To understand the institution we must first understand the individual.  Change is not something I have embraced with open arms.  Allison and I have lived a life of change for the last 20 or so months.  After deciding to go back to school I left a safe career as a government contractor to pursue full-time youth ministry.  In the past month I left full-time youth ministry to return to the contacting world.  Allison and I also welcomed a new addition to the family in August.  To top it off, Allison has changed jobs too!

At times, the change we’ve experienced has been tough to deal with.  Routines and habits have been forced to change.  There’s been some kicking and screaming along the way but the life we have created would not be possible without the change we have embraced as a family.

“Religion” is often at its finest when it serves to anchor people in the midst of turbulent change – to be a safe harbor in the midst of a storm of change.  The church has been an anchor for Allison and I as we embrace, and adapt, to the change presented to us.  While you want your anchor to be secure and stable, from time to time it may serve the “ship” to reposition the anchor or to set sail for new waters.  The same is true for the church.

seedling1Successful institutions are able to adapt and change to the communities needs as presented to the local congregation.  When decisions concerning governing and polity by people who are hundreds of thousands away, the needs of the local congregation are often ignored at the expense of denominational politics.  The ability to react quickly to changes and events throughout the local community and world provide “soil for the faithful future.”  Congregations who are unwilling or unable to embrace change (and I do not mean the political flavor of the week) lack a faithful and fruitful future because the soil their ministries take root in lacks the nutrients and tilling required to grow.

A response to “Communities of Hope” by Doug Pagitt in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope.

Noah’s Ark – Is It The Worst Children’s Bible Story EVER

Noah - Russell CroweThe American movie scene is all the buzz right now over ‘Noah’.  The film was released weeks ago and still the internet is all a buzz over how great (or bad) the movie is and whether or not the movie is true to the Biblical story.  Just think about it everyone in the world is killed, expect of course for Noah and his family.  This is a favorite Sunday School story where most people stop reading after God places a rainbow in the sky.  Most people do not know about Noah becoming a vineyard operator, or about him becoming drunk and passing out.

To explore the Noah story further, here is a D’Rash (an exegesis based upon a Biblical text and Midrash) I wrote based on the beginning of the flood story, Genesis 6.9-13.  I have included the Midrash text, Genesis Rabbah 30,9.

Bible Text – Genesis 6.9-13

These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.  And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.

Midrash Text – Genesis Rabbah 30,9

In his age. Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Nehemiah: Rabbi Yehudah said, “In his age he was a righteous man, but if he lived in the age of Moses or in the age of Samuel, he would not have been [considered] righteous.  In a market filled with the blind, they call the one-eyed person ‘Bright eyes.’  A parable: A person had a wine cellar.  He opened one barrel and found it had turned to vinegar; a second – also [vinegar]; a third – and found it sour.  He said to them ‘Is there anything better here?’  They said to him, ‘No.’  So too, [Noah] in his age was a righteous man.  But if he were in the age of Moses, or of Samuell, he would not have been [considered] righteous.”

Rabbi Nehemiah said, “If in his own age he was righteous, how much more so would he have been [righteous] in the age of Moses or Samuel.  A parable: A vial of balsam with a tightly sealed cap is placed among graves; yet, its fragrance still disseminates.  If it were away from the graves, how much more so [would its fragrance disseminate].  A parable: A virgin is surrounded in a market by whores; yet she does not get a bad reputation.  If she were in a market of good women, how much more so [would her reputation be positive].  So too: In his own age he [Noah] was a righteous man; if he had been in the age of Moses or of Samuel, how much more so [would he have been considered righteous].”

 D’Rash

There has been an influx of biblically based movies in 2014: “God’s Not Dead”, “Noah”, “Son of God”, and “Heaven is For Real”.  These movies are attracting the faithful to crowded theaters that smell of overpriced tickets and stale popcorn.  These movies tug at our heartstrings with stories that many of us can remember hearing our parents tell us about or we remember making cute crafts after hearing the story in Sunday School.  One of these movies, “Noah”, tells the story of my favorite Sunday School hero.  A man who saved his family and all of the animals (except the poor unicorns) from God’s wrathful vengeance against a sinful world.

In an age when feel good stories of what we might consider to be righteous people are scattered throughout the evening news, we can become desensitized to the good works being done around us.  Our 24/7 news cycle gives us story after story of people who are doing good in the midst of difficult situations [terrorist attacks, natural disasters, criminal activities] and yet for many of those people the accolades they receive do not mirror the rest of their lives.  They are sinful people, just like the rest of us, and if [or when] they fall from their graceful pedestals the public has placed them on, many people are shocked at the change of heart the righteous person had.  The good deeds they did or were doing are wiped away.  But this has not always been the case throughout our tradition of storytelling.

If we are active in faith communities where good works are being done [feeding the poor, providing housing for the homeless, caring for the widows and orphans] the righteous among our community begin to blend in with one another.  It can be hard for us to see the standout members of the community, and if the standout members of the community fall from their own perceived graceful pedestals, then the community does not notice the fall either.  Pious acts by righteous people often go unnoticed by those around them, and unless the person is of notability their downfalls can be hard to miss too.

The story of Noah is a perfect example of the righteous falling, and because he was surrounded by other righteous people it often goes unnoticed.  Most of us can recite from memory how God spoke to Noah, gave him instructions to build an ark, and saved Noah’s family, and after forty days of rain sent a rainbow as a sign of a new covenant.  It is a picture perfect story until you read a little further.  Genesis chapter 9:


Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent.

lego noah drunk

OOPS!  I guess my Sunday School teacher forgot that part of the story.  If you think this is the only Old Testament hero to not have a clean record, Moses killed a man and David stole another man’s wife.  If Old Testament examples are not enough, look to the Gospels and letters of Paul.  Jesus’ own disciples [along with His family tree] were comprised of people who were less than stellar members of society and Paul was the gruesomest persecutor of Christians!  God calls all of us, when our righteousness is not clearly visible to those who surround us and when our own shortcomings make us think that we are unworthy of the task placed before us.

Katz and Schwartz use the example of Oskar Schindler, a man who helped to save over one thousand Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazi’s.  Katz and Schwartz note that we do not know Schindler’s motivations but only that he lived during a time of great evil, just like Noah.  And just like Noah, Schindler responded with action that saved many.

It may not be clear that your righteousness is enough or it may be plain as day that your shortcomings are more than enough to prevent you from being an agent of God.  The story from Genesis 6 and Genesis Rabbah 30,9 makes it clear though that God intends to use regardless of how others, or even ourselves, view our righteousness.

My Philosophy For Youth Ministry

photo This week I am leaving full-time youth ministry to return to the realm of government contracting.  The decision to make this occupational change was a tough one to make but it was ultimately a decision that was made for my family.  In the midst of this transition, I want to reflect and share my thoughts on youth ministry.  What are the goals of youth ministry?  What is a theological starting point for youth ministry? I will conclude this series of posts with my own philosophy of youth ministry.

My Philosophy For Youth Ministry

Purpose

“The purpose of youth ministry is to invite both young and old to participate in God’s action.”[1]

Youth ministry is ministry that is specifically designed to be inviting to teenagers, contextualized in such a way that participation in God’s action is not only easily identified, but also understood by the teenage participants.  The purpose of youth ministry calls teenage participants and adult leaders to come together in such a way that both parties are not only involved in God’s action but are also invested in the lives of one another.

Leaders and Learners

Youth ministry invites leaders to become place-sharers with the teenage participants.  Andrew Root says, “ Those who are called to do youth ministry, those called to be proclaimers of the gospel, must do so from a place of their raw humanity, from their experience of broken dreams and deep regret.”[2]

While it might seem to many adults who want to engage in youth ministry that they have no way to relate to what a teenager is experiencing on a day-to-day basis, all we have to do is think back to our own experiences as teenagers for guidance.  How often did we feel that God had abandoned us in the midst of our hormone induced rages?  How often did we feel that God was silent as we navigated the halls of junior high and high school?  These are all memories we can call upon as we seek to engage teenagers and participate in God’s action with them.  As leaders we are simply called to be with the teens we are ministering to.

Often we hear that churches seek to find young adults in their churches who are willing to give their time to work directly with teenagers within the community.  While this is a great idea, the fact of the matter is that church communities are seeking volunteers from a demographic that is rapidly running away from the church.  My own community has had this mentality.  What ends up happening is a young couple visits the church and a well-meaning congregant suggests that the couple would be a great fit to work with the youth, without learning anything about the young couple or their interests.

lightstock_113280_medium_user_3571244Adults over the age of thirty or forty (or even fifty!) have more in common with teenagers than they think.  And because being a part of youth ministry is a call to be a part of God’s action, those leaders involved in youth ministry do not need to be experts on teenage culture.  Adult leaders merely need to be aware of where and how God is working in the lives of teenagers, and then participate in that action as well.  Those who are called to work in youth ministry simply need to offer grace to the teenagers who they are in participation with.  My own experiences as a teenager reinforce this idea.  The youth leaders I felt most connected to, and remain connected with today, were not the twenty-somethings of our church.  They were the parents and older adults who simply took an interest in who I was and loved me because I was a child of God.

In my community there are two schools of thought among the adult leadership of the church.  One, we should be focusing on the youth who are on our membership rolls.  Those youth whose parents are active members of the community.  The second school of thought believes that we should be reaching out to the students beyond the doors of our church.  The teenagers who attend the high school down the street and have yet to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ or who do not see the gospel of Christ as relevant to their day-to-day life as a teenager.

The answer to which group of teens we should be ministering to is both.  We should be reaching out to members of our congregations and those youth in our communities who have yet to find a faith community.  We should be ministering to the teens who were raised in the church and have attended Sunday school all their lives, while at the same time reaching out to those teens who have yet to understand what terms like grace and peace can mean for them in a world that tells them the person with the most toys wins and that we should do all that we can to get to the the top.

Content, Methods, and Environment

Content of youth ministry is available online and in print.  Every Christian publishing house offers their own catchy flavor of the week youth ministry curriculum.  And while it is important to stay up to speed on the cultural influences in the lives of our teenagers, I do not think that youth ministry curriculum should be as reactionary as it seems to be.  Rather than reacting, usually after the trend has faded away, to the latest trend in teenage culture, youth ministry content should be embracing those trends as they are emerging.

This means that those who are working in youth ministry should be aware of the latest trends that their teenagers are being drawn towards.  This can be done by watching the television shows teens watch, listening (as painful as it might be) to the music teenagers listen to, or attending the events teenagers are being drawn to.  Youth workers should utilize their greatest resource: the student who they are ministering too on a weekly basis.  Through discussions and genuine interest in the lives of teenagers, youth workers can easily determine what trends are currently influencing the their teenagers.

The methods of building a youth ministry that meets the purpose of being apart of God’s action in the lives of teenagers can seem like a daunting task, and in fact it is.  Building a youth ministry that will sustain the long haul, and not be an overnight success that dies out after the excitement of a new ministry fades away, is task that must be undertaken by those who are committed to being a part of the ministry for the long haul.

sustainable youth ministry

If you are try to build, rebuild, or sustain youth ministry in your congregation, BUY THIS BOOK!

Mark DeVries lays out what most churches do not know about youth ministry and how to make youth ministry sustainable in his book Sustainable Youth Ministry.  This book should serve as a blueprint for any church looking to establish a youth ministry setting that engages youth in the present but is also structured in such a way that the ministry will reach youth in the years to come.

DeVries lays out ways of planning and structuring youth ministry but all of that is for nothing if the climate of the church is such that the entire church community is invested in the future of youth ministry within their community[3].  If the climate of the community is not open to investing in youth ministry or is “toxic”, any work done by volunteers or paid staff can seem more like chores and ministry activities[4].  The environment of the church must be such that the leadership, both lay and professional, are committed to not only investing monetary resources, but also investing their time in the youth ministry they are seeking to create.  When leadership creates a welcoming climate for ministry, that attitude will trickle down throughout the community.

Evaluation

Being a part of the Methodist church, as well as part of a military community, systematic number counting is the favored evaluation method for the community I currently serve.  The problem with this evaluation method is that often a ministry is cut or eliminated before it is given a chance to grow due to a lack of numbers.  Playing the numbers game in youth ministry can be a dangerous evaluation method.

evaluation

It has been my experience that the topic of numbers is a popular topic among those who are professional youth workers.  For many communities, the focus placed on numbers is directly tied to the question of funding.  How much money should we invest in our youth ministry?  Doug Fields puts it this way: “Many church leaders come from the marketplace, and they want to know if they’re getting “bang for their buck.”[5]

It would make more sense to focus on healthy numbers instead of the big numbers most people want to see.  How many kids have we made contact with this week?  How many teenagers have chosen to give their lives to Christ and accept the call placed upon them when they were baptized as infants?  What if churches in general used these metrics for determining success instead of measuring the number of people who show up for an event?  I think that focus on positive evaluation, rather than numbers for the sake of numbers would change the way churches look at their youth ministries and the way churches look at their ministries in general.


[1] Root, Andrew. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. , pg. 38

[2] Root, Andrew. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. , pg. 47

[3] “Too often, even the most compelling vision is thwarted because, in spite of all the right structures being in place, little to no attention has been given to the climate.” DeVries, pg. 79.

[4] DeVries, pg. 80.

[5] Fields, pg. 27.

Palm Sunday is Guerrilla Warfare

What is the story behind Palm Sunday?  This morning Christians waived palms and yelled “Hosanna! Hosanna!”  But what is the story behind the story?  Let’s look to Mark’s Gospel.

palm sunday icon

 

Throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus has slowly been making His way towards Jerusalem.  Moving from the outer edges of the Palestinian territory towards the center of religious and politically powerful.  Every year to mark the Passover, Jews would make the same trip to Jerusalem as pilgrims, but Jesus is not a pilgrim here.  He is as Ched Myers call Him, “a subversive prophet challenging the foundations of state power”.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

(Mt 21:1–11; Lk 19:28–40; Jn 12:12–19)

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

theaterThis is choreographed political theater.  Just like the conventions held by the Republican and Democrat parties are nothing but choreographed theatrics, what Jesus is doing here is staged political drama.  The people on the streets of Jerusalem, especially the disciples following Jesus would have known exactly what the actions of Jesus meant (and reflected) as they unfolded.  What Jesus is doing here replicates what Jews would expect a triumphant Messiah to do.

As Jesus is making his way through the gates and into the city the crowds begin to chant:

“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

The parade that unfolds mirrors what has happened throughout the history of Israel (Genesis 49.11, 1 Samuel 6.7ff, 2 Kings 9.13, Psalm 118.25f).

The prophet Zechariah spoke of exactly what Jesus is doing.  Describing it as a “final apocalyptic battle” where God’s chosen would take a stand against its enemies.  What Jesus is doing is a mirror of what Simon Maccabaeus did.

Who were the Maccabees?

The Maccabean Revolt occurred between 167 and 160 BCE.  It was a conflict between the Maccabees (a rebel Judean group) and the Seleucid Empire.  The practice of the Jewish religion had been outlawed.  A Jewish priest, Mattathias, refused to worship the Greek gods and sparked the revolt from the Seleucid Empire.  The rebel Jews fled into the wilderness and in 166 BCE led by Judah Maccabee, an army of Jewish dissidents into the Selecuid Empire in a guerrilla warfare type attack.

After the victory of the Maccabees, the Temple was ritually cleansed and Jonathan Maccabee was installed as the high priest.  Hanukkah is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple.

This is what many expected the coming Messiah to do to the occupying Roman Empire.

What Mark is doing here is taking the symbolism of a triumphant guerrilla general and reorganizing it to express something that is specifically anti-military, which we see in Zechariah 9.9f:

The Coming Ruler of God’s People

(Mt 21:5; Jn 12:14–15)

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10 Hec will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the war-horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off,

and he shall command peace to the nations;

his dominion shall be from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Jesus is approaching to Temple not to defend it with military might, but instead he is going to disrupt the political power that has taken up residence in the Temple.