Sunday, November 14, 2010


Have you heard about the missile that was launched off the coast of California?  Except that it wasn't a missile, according to the Department of Defense.  It was a plane.  Except that several experts say it wasn't.  So what was it?

What I find so interesting about this is that the media are still talking about it.  Not really the mainstream media, but the fringe media.  It seems that this was a non-event.  The multi-billion dollar missile detection system didn't detect a missile.  Too bad that the media that is still talking about this doesn't believe it.  The more the DOD denies it is a missile, the more the media claims they are lying.

I am relieved that this isn't getting more play than it is.  Most of America understands that if the big dogs of the press aren't covering this story, then it must not be worth paying attention to.  We get it in this case.  Why can't the same thing happen in the church?

The church often suffers because of what the fringe do or say.  When groups that don't fit into the mainstream make comments or protest in the name of God using hateful speech, we all suffer.

One of the obstacles the church faces is that twenty-somethings believe that the church is out of touch with culture.  When Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps open their mouth, then we must all believe the same things they do.  I wish that most of America would understand that these voices aren't representative of Christianity and therefore are not worth paying attention to.

The real representatives of Christianity are the people who go to church on Sunday and to work on Monday.  They are the faithful who may never get to speak in front of a TV camera, but might make a significant statement of faith over coffee.

It takes a lot of effort to represent Christ and overcome the fringe voices.  But we have to do it.  For the sake of the Kingdom, we have to do it.

Practice your faith every day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I have noticed Christmas lights going up around the neighborhoods around me.  I have also seen several facebook posts about Christmas lights and outdoor decorations...none of them positive.  My favorite was from my friend Patti, who asked that people not put up inflatable decorations before Thanksgiving.  I totally agree.  Of course, I must admit to everyone, I did put up my lights on the high parts of the house this week.  I just couldn't help but take advantage of the 70 degree weather.

So, what sparks the animosity toward putting up Christmas decorations?  Is it the commercialism that retail stores are promoting already?  Is it the desire to enjoy Halloween and then Thanksgiving to their fullest?  Maybe.  But I think that something even deeper is driving this.

Our lives move fast enough.  The Fall is marked my more than falling leaves.  It is also marked by the return of full schedules as school, sports, work, and even church fill the few empty spaces on the calendar.  Why would we ever want to make things go even faster by jumping seasons?

Seasons are important.  Our lives need seasons.  They need the natural rhythms that seasons provide.  The craziness of our schedules need to be bounded by something.  When we can have a clear start and end in the form of seasons, it allows us to focus and enjoy life.

The same is true of church life.  We have seasons in the church to mark important periods in the life of faith.  The next season of the church is Advent, in which we anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ to earth.  But before we get to Advent, we have two more weeks of very important stuff.  This is actually the end of the year for the church, and the last Sunday of the year is Christ the King Sunday, a celebration of the victory of Christ over sin and death.  This is often overlooked in the celebration of Thanksgiving and the anticipation of Advent.  But the victory of the King is reason for Thanksgiving in itself.

So when you see the red and green of next season in the next couple of weeks, let it remind you to celebrate the victory of Christ Jesus, our King.

Practice your faith every day.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Before the election on Tuesday, I had many conversations and saw many facebook posts in which people couldn't wait for Wednesday, when the noise of negative election ads would go away.  I admit that I agreed with people about the weariness that negative political advertising causes.  After you've seen these ads a couple of times, what is truth and what is only claimed as truth becomes so blurred that my response is to tune everything out.  The mute button on my remote helps with that, but it doesn't completely prevent the noise because I can still see the tv (and I have to watch to see when the commercials are over.  Even on fast-forward, the tackiness has an effect).

Now that the elections are over, bliss, right?  Not so much.  The thing I didn't notice before was that the political commercials were crowding out equally annoying commercials for prescription drugs, money lenders, credit report subscriptions, and lawyers.  This dawned on me when my ears were accosted with a J.G. Wentworth opera commercial.

Our lives are filled with noise.  Political noise, commercial noise, work noise.  It is rare when we can take a few moments and let the silence reign.

How can we possibly listen to God when the noise never quits?

Find a way to tune out the noise and tune into God.  Quiet moments are few and far between, but we need to carve out those quiet moments on a daily basis.  Don't let the noise overtake your life.

Practice your faith every day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Today, the lead pastors of the United Methodist Churches in Marion met to discuss the possibility of having our congregations join together for a small group study in the weeks before Lent.  We began thinking that we would pick a study that would work for all of us, but quickly decided that we could develop our own study.

I learned two things today, or rather, I had two things reaffirmed.  The first is that gathering over coffee, especially at a local coffee house, is an environment that is much more conducive for creativity than a typical meeting room.  When I go to a meeting room, I am thinking about when I can get out.  We want to leave meetings.  I don't remember thinking that at Witte's End.  I had no problem letting go of my constant habit of checking my watch and just let the creativity flow.  So maybe, when our meetings need the time and space for creativity to flow, we should have them away from the church.  I'm not saying that we can't have productive meetings at church.  I'm just advocating for the freedom to meet where people can relax.  Of course, this isn't new thinking.

I also learned that there is some great wisdom in my colleagues.  I am a better person for spending time with Mike Morgan and Marty Schuhmacher.  It is a privilege to serve with them.  Thanks, guys.

Practice your faith every day

Monday, November 1, 2010

seeing the other side

Last week, as I mentioned before, I went to the Make a Difference Tour at the US Cellular Center.  Several people from Christ Community Church went to the concert and I've been getting feedback about it.  The organizers of this tour understand that to reach a wide audience, they needed to have a variety of musicians and music.  That's why TobyMac, Third Day, Michael W. Smith, and Jason Gray were all a part of the event.

By far, the artist that has generated the most feedback has been TobyMac.  He was loud.  He was, by far, the loudest of the acts.  Most of this was because he had the bass turned all the way up.  One of our people said that she could see her pants vibrating.

For most people, you either liked TobyMac or you didn't.  I liked him.  He's one of my favorites.  My family listens to him regularly.  But I understand why several didn't.  He's not for everyone.  But that's why there were other acts for people to see.

Tonight, a wise man said that while he didn't like TobyMac, he appreciated his ministry because he could see many people in the event center that were connecting with his music.  They were being ministered to by this loud hip-hop artist that he just couldn't relate to.

This is something that we need to keep in mind in the church.  Not everything that happens in the church is designed to reach everyone.  Ministries are targeted to specific groups of people, not everyone.  Children's ministries are for children.  Bible studies are geared toward adults.  They wouldn't be effective otherwise.

So, if something is proposed that you doesn't excite you, ask if it might excite someone else in the church.  And if it does, support it as much as you can.  On the other hand, it is appropriate to ask for ministries that appeal to you.  Variety in the church is important.

By the way, we will have a sponsorship event at Christ Community Church in December, where you will have the opportunity to sponsor a child through WorldVision.  Stay tuned.

Practice your faith every day.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

First-time Guest

Today, the Jennings family worshipped in Boone, Iowa.  I was invited to be the guest preacher for their Consecration Celebration.  I noticed that Nathan didn't go up for the Children's Time.  In the car on the way home, I asked Nathan why he didn't go and his answer was very telling.

Nathan said, "Well, it was my first time there and I didn't know what to expect.  Next time we go to church there, I'll go up."

This is how I imagine most folks feel when they come to a new church for the first time.  I know that I feel the same way when I go somewhere I haven't been before, and it always helps when I know what to expect or can go with someone else.

I've seen some creative devices employed by churches to minimize the discomfort that comes with the unknown. Some put pictures of their entrances on their websites.  Some will put images of their worship on their sites.  I really like it when churches put video tours on their sites, with snippets of the music, the preaching, and the congregation worshipping so that potential guests can get a good feel of what they might experience when they come.

While these devices are great, nothing can beat the human element.  A vast majority of people visit a church for the first time after being invited by someone they know.  Inviting someone is the best way to reach out to new people and when you invite someone, that is the perfect time to tell them what they might expect.  Tell them what you wear to church.  Tell them what style of music they'll hear.  Tell them that they are welcome to participate in every part of the service, including communion.  Tell them what is available for their children.  Tell them why you go to this church.   This will alleviate their anxiety about coming for the first time.

But don't stop there.  Offer to pick them up, or meet them at a specific time in the parking lot and walk them in.  Introduce them to people so they'll know someone there besides you.  Introduce them to your pastor.

It doesn't end when the service is over.  Go to lunch and talk about the experience.  Give them an opportunity to ask questions.  Invite them to come again.

Help them to feel welcome before, during, and after worship.  Maybe this will help them to come back again and participate in the things they just weren't sure about the first time.

Practice your faith every day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Church Family Photo Album

Starting tomorrow, the people of Christ Community Church in Marion will be getting their pictures taken for a photo directory.  This seems like a simple thing, doesn't it?  Who knew it would be such a production.  Actually, the process is pretty easy.  But getting people to agree to get their picture taken has been anything but.

It's just a picture, right?  Maybe it's not that simple.  Several people asked if they could just submit a picture they have already had taken.  But copyright issues mean that releases have to be signed if the pictures aren't snapshots.  Then there is a matter of formatting.  And most significant for me, anyway, is that submitted pictures look out of place in a church directory.

I suspect that the reason this has been so hard is because people don't like having their picture taken.  This comes from the insecurities we all have about ourselves.  We don't like our hair (not my issue).  We don't like our body shape.  We don't like our double chins.  We don't like our smile.  Whatever it is, when we look at our own picture, we see nothing but flaws, most of which no one else sees.  At least with a picture that has already been taken, we can limit the things we don't like.

But pictures of us are for us.  They are for other people.  They are for the people who know us or want to know us.  Directory pictures are for the people in your church who like you despite the flaws you see in your picture.  They are for new people to figure out who they were talking to at the coffee station when they forget your name.  They aren't you.  They are a representation of you so that people can know what you look like.

In a way, this is one of the roles of Jesus.  Jesus was God in human form, not for God to see what He would look like as a human, but for us to see God and to know what God looks like.  Relating to God is much easier with the life and teachings of Jesus.  Sure, it may be just a snapshot of God, but it helps.

Thank you for having your image captured in Jesus, God.

Thank you for having your image captured on paper, Church.

Practice your faith every day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Tonight at the Make a Difference Tour, Max Lucado said that when we worship, we are feeling God's muscles, feeling His strength, which makes us stronger.  I like that.  It's especially true when you are with thousands of people worshipping at a concert with TobyMac, Third Day, Jason Gray, and Michael W. Smith.

But as great as the music was, and as great as it was being there, I found myself at several points looking for the people of Christ Community Church, who were in a few different places in the arena.  I wasn't sitting with them, but I was still with them as I enjoyed the show.  I also saw several people that I knew, including Stan Wierson, who mentored me into ministry.  Somehow, the concert was better because all of these people I knew were there to share the experience.

I think this is true for much of life.  Experiencing life with others is what makes the journey more joyous during the great parts, and more bearable through the tough parts.

Part of tonight's experience was an invitation to sponsor children through WorldVision.  At the Pastors' dinner before the concert, we were asked to have a Make a Difference Weekend at our churches.  If you would like to sponsor a child, you will have the opportunity to sign up in December.

Practice your faith every day.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

face time

Technology can make things possible.  Today, I went to a meeting in Des Moines without ever leaving Cedar Rapids.  Web-conferencing isn't new, but it isn't used much in the United Methodist Church in Iowa.  But since the meeting was about the communications ministry, it makes sense that we would use this communication tool.

We spent a great portion of the meeting discussing social media, like Facebook and Twitter, as well as web pages and email.  Christ Community United Methodist Church has a Facebook fan page and I have a Twitter account.  I am past Twitter.  I think it has largely become an advertising tool.  I think that the fan page has great potential for ministry.  In today's world, if we don't use these tools, then we are missing out on opportunities to reach people for Christ.  I embrace these tools.  I only wish I used them more effectively.

If you know me, then you aren't surprised by these revelations.  What might surprise you is that even though I attended this meeting via the web, I prefer face-to-face meetings.  I chose this option because of travel time and expense.  And as far as the technology has progressed, there are still great limitations.  It is harder to read expressions.  It is harder to gauge when it is acceptable to speak.  And it is harder to stay focused.

So today, I tried something new.  I drove to my friend's office, set up my laptop, and we attended the meeting together.  We had a great time with side conversations and we got to eat lunch together, instead of alone at our desks.

We are built to be in relationships, that's how God made us.  That is why Facebook is so popular.  On Facebook, I can stay connected with people from high school that I have seen for years.  I can reconnect with people that I went to Summer Games with.  From the very beginning, we have been connected to others.

This is one reason why we need church.  Sure we can have a relationship with God without being in the presence of others, but it was never intended to be this way.  People have gathered together to worship since the beginning.  It is still important for us to gather to worship.  There is more energy, more passion,  in community than there is alone.

As we find new ways to connect across the distance, it is important for us to remember that nothing will replace face time.

Practice your faith every day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

getting started

Moving to a new place can be hard.  Think back to a time when you moved to a new place.  Remember how hard it was to leave the place you had grown to love?  Remember how hard it was to feel like this new place was home?  It takes awhile to get established in a place: to find a favorite coffee shop, restaurant, mechanic, hair stylist (well maybe not for me), not to mention making friends and finding a church.

Wendy and I have been in Marion for a little more than a year.  It didn't take long for us to know that this was the place God was calling us to, we knew that right away.  This year has been great for us.  That being said, we are still feeling our way around.  We don't know where every thing is.  We don't know the quaint little spots in Marion and Cedar Rapids.  We don't know when all the festivals are, or which ones are worth going to.  We would love for people to tell us these things.

How would someone new to Marion know about the gem that is Stone City and how great the General Store is for dinner?  We went a couple of weekends ago and enjoyed the turning of the leaves around the river that Grant Wood painted.  The General Store was a great surprise.  The staff was friendly.  The atmosphere was cozy and interesting.  The food was excellent.  I kept thinking that I wanted to take my parents there the next time they visit.  And at the end of the meal, the waitress brought marshmallows to make s'mores.  Bonus!

It's the little things that you love that people need to hear about.  Share your great experiences with people.

This is especially true with your church.  Christ Community Church is a great place to make connections and to find a church family, but whose going to know that unless you tell them?  How are they going to know they are welcome unless you ask them to come?

Help people get started in their new community.  Give them great info about the hidden gems in the community, like a great place to eat or a great place to worship.  Better yet, offer to take them with you next time you go.

Thank you for making us feel welcome.

Practice your faith every day.