I have moved my blogging to several different sites:
joeiovino.com – sermons, thoughts, etc.
associatepastor.org – a blog dedicated to the work of the associate.
devotions.tlumc.org – daily devotions written for Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church.
I know it’s taboo among those of us that preach, but I’m thinking about the “bad” sermon – not someone else’s, but mine. Have any of my fellow pastors ever had an off-day?
I did yesterday. I don’t know what happened. I was well-prepared and excited about the message. I was eager to share an insight into the scripture that I hadn’t read anywhere else. But when the moment came to preach, it just felt like it didn’t come together.
I could blame it on the snow – that did throw me out of my normal routine – but that’s just an excuse. I could blame it on not feeling well, but I’ve felt worse and overcome it. What happened yesterday?
Mostly, I was distracted by my inner monologue. I read a novel years ago called For the Love of the Game that records the thoughts of a pitcher in a baseball game. I wish I were gifted enough to write that novel for preachers. What goes through my mind during a sermon would be just as interesting.
But here it is on Monday afternoon, and I’m still feeling bad about a sermon delivered more than 24 hours ago. What do I do with this feeling?
One of my former pastors, Russ Shivers, told me this story about sermons. I don’t know if it’s original to him, but I love it. It goes something like this.
A man came up to him one Sunday and said, “Good sermon, Pastor.”
“They’re all good,” he purportedly replied, “some are just better than others.”
I wish I felt like that, like all of my sermons were good. But I’m pretty sure I’ve put some out there that were… well… stinkers – at least by the standards of my seminary preaching professors. Like yesterday would have gotten a C if the professor was feeling generous. The transitions were awkward. My phrasing was poor. My speed was lousy. But that’s not really what matters, is it? Technique and style are great, but it’s the message that really matters once you get out of the classroom.
I can’t handle a compliment on a good day, so when people came up and complimented me on yesterday’s message, I really didn’t know what to do with it. Maybe they were just being nice. But maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe something happens even when it’s not “good” that still makes it “good.” Maybe God has a way of using our mumblings to his glory.
I guess the question really boils down to if we really believe what we say. I wonder if I am truly convinced that if one person heard something they needed to it was worth it. Maybe that one person came yesterday. Maybe that’s what makes it good.
God, forgive me for not giving my best yesterday, and thank you for taking my meager offerings and multiplying them in your kingdom.
“Do you know where pumpkins come from?” the little girl my wife watches some afternoons asked me yesterday. I love when little kids have something they are so proud of that they want to show you. She had learned about seeds and plants in her class that day. When she asked if I knew where pumpkins came from, I could have been insulted and said, "Of course I know where pumpkins come from." Instead I said, "No. Tell me where pumpkins come from." She showed me a chart she made in her nursery school class, and explained it to me. She had it down – seed goes in the ground, it grows into a plant, and the plant makes a pumpkin. Awesome. When she asked me if I knew where pumpkins come from, she wasn’t checking to see if I needed this special knowledge. Rather, she wanted to show off what she now knew. She wanted me to be impressed with her mastery of the subject matter of pumpkins. What a great moment.
Kids do that in all kinds of ways. When they learn to ride a bike, they get on it in the driveway and say, "Look at me!" before taking off. When the paint a picture, the ask to put it on the refrigerator and then ask everyone who visits to admire it with them, telling the visitor that they made it. Or when they learn a new trick on the skateboard or a new skill in their chosen sport, or a new song on piano – they say, "Look at me and what I can do!" That is an awesome moment! It’s great when kids do it, but what about when we don’t grow out of it? That’s one of the things that always made laugh at Stuart, Michael McDonald’s character on MadTV. Stuart, a grown man in kids clothes, maybe even footie pajamas, would often say, "Look what I can do!" and then doing something silly and simple. That’s what little ones do, not youth and certainly not adults… right?
By now I’m sure you’ve heard that the national drama that unfolded in our backyard, well just outside of Fort Collins, was a hoax. Balloon boy was never in the balloon, and his parents allegedly knew that all along. According to reports, the police believe that the family staged this to gain publicity for a reality show they would like to produce for television. Someone who worked with the dad was quoted in one of the reports as saying the proposed reality show would be "MythBusters-meets-mad scientist." Apparently after appearing on WifeSwap, Mom and Dad got used to being in the spotlight.
This story is strange and messy, but I also think there is something we can learn from it all. I keep thinking that each of us needs to answer this question: "To what lengths am I willing to go to get noticed?" Or putting it another way: "What am I doing that says, ‘Look at me’ in my life?" I suspect that all of us think that the balloon boy’s family crossed the line. But what’s your line? What’s mine?
A couple of weeks ago I was hanging out with our puppet people, as I call them because I love alliteration, whom you know as the PBJ Puppets, I asked them a question from The Book of Questions, "Would you like to be famous?" I was surprised when all 7 or 8 youth who where there said, "No." When I asked why not they replied by talking about the paparazzi and losing their privacy. But then we started to talk about how we would like to be known for being good at what we do – music, sports, acting, future career, etc. We don’t want to be famous necessarily, but we would like to be noticed.
Now let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that. We should want to get noticed. It’s a sign of a healthy ego – our image of who we are. Can you imagine going through life hoping no one ever notices you? That would be weird. But I think the need to be noticed can get way out of control. In other words, a little girl wanting to show me what she learned about pumpkins is a good thing. Making everyone think your kid is floating away in a balloon, not a good thing.
I happen to think our faith is a good defense against either of these extremes. First, we should feel good about ourselves. We are, in fact, Children of God. Don’t discount that. I heard one preacher say that the Devil tries to convince us that we’re poor – in money, in friends, in ability, in whatever – when really we are princes and princesses – children of the King! Or the way Jesus told his disciples, "You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you" (John 15:16, Msg). How cool is that? We don’t normally think of it that way. We usually think we became Christians and chose Jesus, but Jesus says that he chose us! You have been selected by God. People should notice you. You are pretty special.
But then there’s the other side. That side where we know we’re not “all that and a bag of chips.” We’re not Jesus – not good enough. We are sinners in need of Him for our salvation. For example, the Apostle Paul writes, "I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway" (Romans 7:18, Msg). I can relate. I’m just not the person I want to be, and even when I try to be good, I often fall short. But that passage continues, "The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does" (Romans 7:25, Msg). There’s that balance. I can’t do it, but Jesus loves me and he can!
The other thing I seem to always hear is that people want to be famous so they can live forever. The weird thing is, I’m already planning on living forever. Jesus said, "I came so they [us] can have real and eternal [that means forever] life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of" (John 10:10, Msg). That living forever thing doesn’t come with fame, it comes with living for God, giving your life to Jesus.
So, I guess the question comes down to, "How do you see yourself?" You are not just what you do, how many friends you have, or who notices you. You are a child of God. You have been chosen by Jesus. You are loved by the God who created you. Yeah, you make mistakes, and can’t be who you want to be on your own, but with God, you can do anything! (Really! Read THIS!)
On your own you might need to be famous, but in relationship with Jesus you know who you are, because you know whose you are. You’ve been noticed, by God. And that makes all the difference.
Have you ever been left out, or felt that way anyway? I remember those times. I remember getting together with a bunch of guys in my neighborhood to play basketball and being the last one picked. Not a good feeling. Girls tell stories about what it feels like to want a guy to ask them out and how left out they feel when it doesn’t happen. The guy version of that feeling is asking a girl to prom or homecoming and her not giving you an answer for a couple of days. As guys we know she is just waiting to see if a better offer will come along (that happened to me in middle school anyway). Or maybe you find out that all your friends went to the movies on Saturday night and they didn’t even bother calling you to see if you wanted to go. Or maybe everyone is telling you about this great game called Jigglyball that apparently you are the only one who has never played (see Scrubs clip here). I guess all of us at one time or another have felt the sting of being left out. And sometimes that can take us to a pretty bad place – wondering if anyone will ever like us. At least that’s what we think in our more dramatic moments.
Our video Sunday night was about choices, but Daniel and Jonathan, the two guys sharing their stories, took me to a different place completely. The first guy, Daniel, talked about how his mom had been turned off from church because of gossip. I can understand that. Gossip is all about some people being on the inside and some people being left out. You understand that if you have ever been the one gossiped about. Jonathan talked about getting involved with a gang because when he moved from New Orleans to Dallas there was no one in the new place that he knew or who knew him. He was feeling left out. Some of us know what it’s like to start a new school and to not know anyone. There’s nothing we want more at that moment than to fit in. Being in can make us feel so good, and being out always stinks.
Can I confess that sometimes I get angry when we, the church, get caught up in this who’s in – who’s out thing? For example, I know that lots of people liked the “Left Behind” books, but there was a part of it that bugged me. It was this whole left out thing. Now, it wasn’t the books’ fault, it was my friends-who-were-reading-the-books’ fault. Some of them started to get this weird mentality that kinda came out as, “We’re going to heaven and you’re no-ot. Nah, nah, nah, na, nah, nah!” (That was supposed to sound like a playground taunt. Did you get it?) Now there is a time that’s coming, the Bible tells us, when we will be separated and some will get to go to be with God and others will be left out. But I get concerned when we who are not God try to do that here on earth, while we’re still alive. The thing we seem to miss is that Jesus went to great lengths to make sure we didn’t get that mentality of “those who are in” versus “those left out.”
Sunday I’m preaching on one of those stories, but it’s one we often miss in this context. (Sermon spoiler alert – or maybe this will make you want to come at 9:30 on Sunday to hear the rest of the story). It’s the story of how when the disciples were telling the children to stay away from Jesus, Jesus corrected the disciples saying, “Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy.” (Luke 18:16, Message) These 3 short verses are recorded 3 times in the Gospels (also Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-15). Just three verses that have inspired very cute mental images you can probably see in your mind’s eye from Sunday School or paintings you’ve seen of Jesus with the children surrounding him. Now, I bet Jesus loved children a lot and I’m not discounting that – but I think there is more to this story than just cuteness. I think it’s a story about leaving people out.
I imagine that in this moment the disciples were a little full of themselves. I can see them with chests puffed out saying in their deepest, most profound sounding voice, “Don’t let the children bother Jesus, he has important stuff to do with big-shots like us.” You see, this story isn’t just about the kids, it is also about the disciples who want to feel important. “We’re the ones who belong,” they’re thinking, “and those others (the children in this case) need to stay on the outside.” But Jesus’ answer is different. He, in essence, tells the disciples to get out of the way. In fact, Jesus says in the story that “These children (the one’s you think don’t belong in our group) are the kingdom’s pride and joy,” inferring that you who think you are the inside are not.
There are times when all of us have been on either side of that line. Sometimes we are on the inside and it feels really good – like the disciples feeling important for a second there. Other times we’re the ones being left out, and that feels really bad. This story tells us two things about our faith. One, we are not left out of his love – none of us are. Jesus loves even the children among us who can do nothing to deserve it. Second this story sets an example for us to follow. We are not supposed to draw those lines of who is in and who is out. We are not to make others feel left out, but we are to welcome all into his church, into his love, into his forgiveness, into our group – his group.
Time to make it personal. How are you at making others feel included? How are we as a youth group at making others feel included? How are we as a church at making others feeling included? Here are some clues, if you’re not sure:
People who are good at making others feel included
So how do you rate yourself? How do you rate our group? How do you rate Christians in general? What do we need to work on?
Jesus calls us to not make others feel left out, but rather to go out of our way to include others among the “in” group. That’s our call as Christians – our call as a youth group. If you are part of an “in crowd” maybe you need to consider how you can reach out to those who feel left out. And if you have friends make you feel left out, might I suggest that you look for some better friends? Know that you don’t have to feel that way. There are those who love you just as you are. They’re called your youth group, your church, your friends, your family. Don’t discount that. You’re in with those who really matter. You’re in with Jesus.
I just finished reading Donald Miller’s latest book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I bought it on Friday and today is Tuesday. Needless to say, I couldn’t put this book down. I left Leonard Sweets Three Simple Words at the office over the weekend, and only intended to read a few pages of Million Miles in the meantime.
Miller was given the opportunity to think about story, the story of his life, as his memoir, Blue Like Jazz, was being adapted to be turned into a movie. What an opportunity! He learns that life is all about the stories we write. If we want a better life, all we need to do is enter a better story.
What an inspirational read. Go get it and let me know what you think.
Lately it seems I have been reading and hearing reports of people trying to "prove" the existence of God. For some reason that frustrates me. There’s a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that it presupposes that our highest form of knowledge is that which we can experience with our five senses – a conversation for another time. Instead I want to bring up another reason that may help in your own doubts, and in conversations with friends who have doubts.
The problem is that God is not a "theory" to be proved or disproved. Rather God is an entity, a person, and you can’t prove the existence of a person. Try this: try to prove that I exist. Where would you go for evidence? Well, you could point to this very newsletter and say, "Certainly Joe must exist, he writes Tuesday Thoughts." But someone could object saying, "Oh, anyone could have written that." Or maybe you could go back into the archives and find my birth certificate, or social security number – certainly documentation like that would prove my existence. Well, maybe, but a skeptic could accuse you or the authorities of faking those documents, or at least saying they "could have" been faked so they are far from "proof." OK, this is getting harder. Maybe you could talk to my parents, and they could tell you stories and show you pictures. Then again, what if they are just actors hired to further this conspiracy of the existence of Joe? I could go on, but I think you probably get the point by now. We can bring up the beauty of creation, the Bible, other historical documents, witnesses to the inexplicable, and other things, but for the one who is looking for "proof" of God’s existence there is usually a problem with the evidence – just like the problems for the evidence of my existence.
In my mind, there is only one piece of "evidence" that will actually prove my existence. Keeping this silly scenario going, suppose you came to me one day and told me you had this friend who didn’t believe I existed and you wanted my help getting evidence that I do exist. My answer would be simply this – bring your friend by and introduce me to him or her. My guess is that when I say, "Hey, I’m pleased to meet you. My name is Joe," that would do more convincing than a mountain of so-called evidence. So too it is with God. I think all too often when we talk about sharing our faith we feel like we need to be able to "prove" God’s existence. Good luck with that.
The early church, and Jesus himself, didn’t talk about proof, about convincing others of who Jesus is. The Bible uses a different word. Jesus didn’t send his followers out to be provers, but rather to be "witnesses" (see Acts 1:8). A witness is not a scientist, an expert, a teacher, or the answerer of all questions. Rather a witness is one who can tell us what they have seen and/or experienced. Our job isn’t to "prove" God, but introduce others to Jesus, and tell them about what He has done and is doing for us. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves trying to be more than we are called to be when in fact what we are is much better and more effective than what we would like to be. You don’t need to be an expert, just a witness.
In fact, when you read about the most compelling evidence for Jesus being who we Christians claim him to be, historians will always point to one fact as the primary "proof." That fact is the change in the disciples’ lives. Between the crucifixion and the resurrection they were 11 guys, and others, locked away in a room fearing for their lives. After the resurrection, they were willing to boldly talk about Jesus, to encourage others to follow, and to endure persecution and death for their testimony. The most compelling evidence is them, their changed lives.
In a lot of ways, little has changed. The most compelling evidence to the existence of God and the power of Jesus, isn’t really in what you say – it’s in who you are! Living a life of faith and simply introducing people the source of your differentness, Jesus, is the best evidence there is. Do you wish others knew about Jesus? The best evidence is to simply live it!
This morning I listened to a message from Rob Bell called “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.” I have spent a good part of my day reflecting on this teaching, wondering how we are doing as a church in carrying on Jesus’ message of welcome to the ‘poor in spirit.’
Here is my transcription of part of his message:
The moment we look down on somebody because they aren’t as disciplined, hard-working, upright, smart, responsible, moral, God-fearing, Bible-believing, or Jesus-trusting as we are because they’ve made idiotic, stupid, immoral choices again, and again, and again – at that moment we are in fact rich in spirit and Jesus isn’t announcing anything to us. The gospel is the announcement that in your pathetic, bedraggled, confused, morally ambiguous state in which there is nothing good within you God announces “I’m on your side.”
Perhaps we could say it this way. If you are a church then, and you are a gathering of people who take seriously the Gospel pronouncement of Jesus, then you have to embrace the simple truth that before it’s a theology, or a system, or a doctrine, or a church, or a movement, or an institution, or a worldview, or a way, or a perspective, it’s an announcement. God has sent his Son into the world, His one and only Son, because God so loved the world. And this Son did not come to judge or condemn, He came to save. And He begins His epic Sermon on the Mount by starting not high but low with an announcement: a shocking, jarring, strangely counterintuitive, exuberant, healing, comforting sort of message. All the people who think “I’m out,” God’s blessing is now pouring out on you. The Creator of the universe who you have been convinced is for all the people who do it right, doesn’t work that way. You don’t earn it; you simply stand in awe of it because it’s an announcement.
It’s not a teaching; it’s not advice; it’s not blame; it’s not neat ways in which the world works. It’s an announcement that God loves. The kingdom of heaven has now become available in a fresh new way for all the people who have absolutely no claim to it and who don’t deserve it. Blessed are those who there’s no reason in the world why they should be blessed.
Think through then a church being a place that begins first and foremost with announcement. Not, “Yes God loves you but… a, b, c, d then it gets really good.” No. Announcement. Announcement. Announcement.
I know that we can do that individually, but there is something to be said about how we have done that corporately, as the body called the church. Have we, the church, become the Pharisees and Sadducees of today putting complicated barriers between people and God? It pains me to think of how many we might be excluding – albeit inadvertently – from knowing that the message of grace, love, and peace includes them.
May we become the church of the announcement – Blessed are you who know there is no reason in the world why God should bless you.
A new worship gathering is starting at my church, Tri-Lakes United Methodist in Monument, CO. Our staff struggled to find the right descriptive title for this new venture. We wanted to convey that this worship was unlike the two Sunday morning worship services we currently offer. We wanted to stay away from the word contemporary because we felt that connotes a style-only description, and we know this gathering will be much more than the same old church with a band instead of an organ. Eventually we settled on the title Emerging Worship.
Some reading this know that emergent is a church word, and a loaded one at that. Some hear the word emergent in this context and think of pandering to make the Gospel palatable to the masses while giving up too much. Others, like me, are excited by the word emergent because it signals something new and relevant; a holistic theology. While we hinted at the loaded church-word, we didn’t use it. We used a derivative, emerging.
e·merg·ing (adj.) – 1. coming to maturity 2. coming into existence (from Princeton University’s WordNet)
If I do say so myself, I like the name a lot. Whether you have been a Christian for decades, or you just want to explore what it means to be a Christian, your faith is emerging – coming to maturity, coming into existence. None of us has arrived. All of us are in a process of having our faith become known to us and to others around us. Calling worship emerging says that no matter where you are in that process, you are welcomed, accepted, and loved.
I found a quote from Tim Gallwey in Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover quite helpful in my understanding of what it means to be emerging:
When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is (W. Timothy Gallwey (The Inner Game of Tennis) as quoted online).
That’s what I want TLUMC’s Emerging Worship to share with those who attend. None of our faith journeys is complete. We all need to grow, change, and develop. Yet, at the same time, we are perfectly all right where we are.
Emerging Worship – Sundays at 9:30 at Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church beginning September 13, 2009. If you don’t have a church home and live nearby, I hope you will give it a try.
Today we had an electronics recycler at our church receiving e-trash from our congregation. Bill, a great guy from GRX, was there to receive our used televisions, computer monitors, and more. He was also at the church last weekend to speak to our summer Sunday School class. Part of his presentation was a video detailing what happens to a great deal of our electronics, and the picture was very sad. The video showed how our trash flows downstream economically moving from us, the rich, to places like a small, poor village in rural Asia being “coerced” by organized crime to receive it. In other words, it moves from us, the free, to the oppressed, giving them, in the words of the film, a choice between poverty and poison.
Add to that sad picture the fact that Bill told us that he has trouble sharing his message with churches. The clergy (yup, I’m one of them) are not very receptive. The only way he gets to talk in churches, he said, is when concerned laity invite him.
The church shouldn’t have to be dragged into this issue but should be leading the way. Feel however you like about Global Warming, Climate Change, whatever PC term is being used for it at the moment. This isn’t a political issue; this is a Genesis 1 & 2 issue (Genesis 1:28, Genesis 2:15). If “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1a NIV) then we, the Christian church, need to get out in front of taking care of it.
The issue at hand is sustainable economics (a term I learned from Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change), and our “use and send downstream” system is not sustainable. Some have speculated, for example, that the lead in the paint on toys imported into the US from China that caused such an uproar not too long ago, may have been due in part to the lead we are exporting when we ship our monitors and televisions to Asia to be “recycled” when we’re done with them. This is evidence of the un-sustainability of that model. (You can learn more about this from the Basel Action Network.)
In addition to the ecological issue, there is also a justice issue here. If doing the recycling domestically is too expensive because of all the health regulations we afford our workers, and cheaper in places like rural Asia because they don’t have those regulations and don’t pay a livable wage, don’t we realize we are sacrificing the health of another country’s people for profit? Simple justice calls us to pay a few dollars to have our television recycled by people working in safety. It may cost a little more, but those are sustainable economics.