I got up this morning completely focused on working on my sermon for this Sunday. Preachers who read this blog will know what it’s like to have that kind of mid-week tunnel vision that is so focused on Sunday that every thought and idea tends to relate to the text for the week. In this case, for me it’s Acts 19 and the story of Paul stirring things up in Ephesus. It’s a text about idolatry and about the power of the gospel to change whole societies.
What I didn’t focus on this morning when I got up, however, was my calendar. I have a MacBook, an iPad, and an iPod Touch, all with my calendar synched up on them and all with my appointments for the week. A couple of weeks ago, one of my parishioners invited me to come to his retirement ceremony from the Air Force. I got a formal invitation, put it on my calendar, RSVP’d for the event, and agreed to do the invocation. He and his family would be moving right after the ceremony to their new home in Oklahoma, so it would be a chance for me to not only celebrate his career, but also to say goodbye to a family whom I had the privilege of serving through some tough times. The retirement ceremony was this morning at 10:00am.
At 10:00am, however, I was in my office working on Paul in Ephesus. I was so focused on reading that I didn’t check my calendar this morning; in fact, I had rebooted the computer so that I could try and fix a printing issue so no calendar was up at all. At noon I got a call from my Air Force friend. Sorry, we must have gotten our wires crossed he said, offering me a large benefit of the doubt. No, it wasn’t the wires that got crossed. It was the lack of using the wires and wireless network I had available to me. I felt sick as soon as I heard it was him on the phone. I could not apologize enough.
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I am back in the office today after taking two weeks off for vacation. A lot of people have been asking, “Where did you go?” and the answer is, well, nowhere. There are a couple of reasons for that, most notably an early June trip to take my daughter on college visits back east (including the subsequent realization that next year we will be paying for said college) and the successive recent financial hits of needing a new garage door opener, a new refrigerator, and new tires for my pickup. Well, at least my housing allowance will be happy!
But even if we did want to spend money on getting away, I’ve come to realize that there is great value in having a vacation that actually doesn’t involve going anywhere at all. Sometimes a getaway vacation can be so stressful to the body and the wallet that you actually need to plan a vacation from your vacation. Staying home, on the other hand, can be a real opportunity to actually do what vacation is intended to do: give you a period of rest.
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Just received a newly published collection of The Sermons of John Wesley edited by Ken Collins and Jason Vickers. This collection is unique from the ones I’ve collected over the years (including an 1847 two-volume set I got from a retired pastor when I started in ministry) in that it’s not ordered chronologically, as most volumes tend to be. Instead, Collins and Vickers have put the sermons together according to the Wesleyan Order of Salvation, starting with Original Sin, progressing through Justification by Faith, New Birth, and Christian Perfection, and all the way toward New Creation. Each sermon comes with a commentary and a helpful outline that makes for easy study.
It’s always been interesting to me that Wesley focused much less on the traditional question-answer catechism that I grew up with in the Reformed tradition, and instead relied on the Anglican Articles of Religion and this collection of his own sermons as the theological grounding for the early Methodist lay preachers. Every Circuit Rider would have had a volume of these sermons next to their Bible in the saddlebag and he rode from town to town either in the English countryside or the American wilderness. Wesley’s theology was inherently practical, designed to be preached and lived out more than memorized or debated.
It’s also interesting that while most of us Methodist preachers study Wesley’s sermons in seminary, rarely have we leaned into them as a framework for our own preaching in the Methodist tradition. As I look at the way this collection is put together, it strikes me that it provides a great outline for a preacher to use in putting together a sermon series on the theology of Methodism, updating Wesley’s 18th century language and style for the 21st century.
Grab a copy of The Sermons of John Wesley and you’ll see what I mean!
The church is messy because the church contains people. How can the church deal with conflict in healthy ways?
It’s no secret that we live in a contentious, polarized world. Nasty arguments and conflicts permeate our media, and it seems like everyone is quick to voice their opinion about this or that issue, never mind whether or not they have their facts straight. Whether it’s in Congress, in the newspaper, in the coffee shop, or even at a family gathering, no one can seem to speak anymore without causing a fight. As a culture, we’ve lost the ability to debate and dialogue over issues and, instead, we have devolved into hurling sound bites, posting nasty invectives about those who think differently, or focusing on only those news and media sources that agree with our way of thinking.
The church, unfortunately, isn’t immune to that way of thinking and behaving. Attending one of our denominational meetings, for example, is a painful experience. When I went to General Conference last year, every day when I arrived at the venue I was greeted by a gauntlet of people handing out fliers and shouting out their position on a particular issue. Inside the convention hall, the debate was rancorous and, at times, downright silly. Just to establish the rules for debate took three hours of debate. A few of us have been around local church meetings that were equally dysfunctional. I’ve certainly seen my share of church fights over the years—over everything from the style of music, to the floor plan of a new building, to what color the new carpet in the sanctuary should be. It’s always amazing to see what people will get fired up about. As one of my clergy colleagues once put it, “Ministry would be a great gig if it weren’t for all these people!”
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Used to be that when you’d get the family together for a long road trip one of the parents (usually Dad, who refused to ask anyone for directions) loaded up the glove box of the family truckster with those fold-out paper maps — you know, the kind that featured an oil company logo on the front and never folded back to its original configuration. Dad would go down to the local gas station and while the attendant filled up the car, checked the oil, put free air in the tires, and washed the windows, Pops would go inside and grab some free maps for the trip. If you were AAA members, though, Dad would most certainly have already ordered the TripTik, which gave him turn by turn directions and stamped on warnings about construction that would cause Dad to want to leave at oh-dark-thirty in order to “beat the traffic.”
These days, though, you can hardly find a paper map at the gas and sip and, even if you do, you’ll have to pay for it after you pump your own gas, check your own oil, and find quarters to activate the air hose. Then again, you probably don’t need the map anyway because you have a GPS on the dashboard or you downloaded the directions off of Google Maps or MapQuest, or you know you can look up your current location on your smart phone. Even if you’re off road, a handheld GPS can tell you where your current location within a couple of feet. With all that gadgetry available to you, even if you’re in the middle of nowhere you can determine that you are at least somewhere.
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