5:23am

 

Mother-Theresa-Christian-Quote-Voice-of-God1

I look at my watch.  5:23am.

The dog has to pee.  So I climb out of bed and stumble to the back door.  Instead of trying to coax him out like I usually do, I decide to go out with him.

I look up at the sky, still dark.  It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust.  I realize I’m looking up at the moon, and a star, overhead.  Probably a planet, I think.

And then I hear it.

Nothing.  Or just about. There’s the distant chirps of crickets.  The slight hum of wind in my ears.  But mostly, it’s the sound of silence.

No beeps or ringtones.  No traffic or dogs howling.  No distant laughter.

No arguments or small talk.  No spam.  No memes.  No Netflix.

No politics, no announcers, no commentary.  No soundbites.

It is unexpectedly wondrous, there at the beginning of a new day, to pause and reflect on a quiet world.  God’s creation, mostly muted.  I wonder if this is what it was like at 5:23am on the 6th day, before God made the noisy land animals.  Before God made us.

Most days, especially lately, the world is too loud for me.  Humanity makes too much noise.  Puts too many opinions out into the ether.  Falls into camps and dukes it out on the nightly news.  Most days, especially lately, I’m just weary of it all.

I look down at my dog, Tom Petty.  He’s ready to go back inside for another hour of sleep.  He seems unaffected by the vast quiet around him. He’ll be back to barking when the sun has risen.

As for me, I rediscover something I thought was gone from the world forever.  Silence.  It is the most precious moment of my week, so far.

In this Nothing, is Something.  Beneath it all, God is here, a divine finger pressed against God’s lips.  Shhhh.

I am reborn.  Recreated.

I look at my watch.

5:25.

Have a great week,

Mitch
shh____by_alyssaliana

 

BOAST

proclaiming

“Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”–2 Corinthians 10:17

Here’s a little word study for you.  In the NIV Bible, 2nd Corinthians mentions “Church” 10 times.  It speaks of “Grace” 11 times.  “Love” is mentioned 12 times.

And the word “Boast” shows up 22 times.

Paul uses that word in all his letters, but in 2 Corinthians, it’s a major theme.  He boasts about one church or another.  He boasts about God’s power.  He even boasts about what has come about from his own suffering.

If it can point to God, he boasts about it.

That’s the point of his boasting.  Not to lift himself up or make himself look good, but to highlight the work of the Lord.  Worldly boasting is bad.  Heavenly boasting?  Very good.

So, how are you doing, boasting wise?  Have you done your share of bragging for Jesus this week?  Are you part of a church that is making a difference, reaching your neighbors, and serving those in need?  Who are you telling about it?

I think my main avenue for boasting is Facebook.  I have 1,309 friends on Facebook.  High School classmates.  Current and former church members.  Colleagues.  College friends.  Family and a lot of people I probably don’t really know.

Maybe 50% of my FB Friends are church-goers.  Another 30%, I would guess, are lapsed or disillusioned Christians.  10% are agnostics, and some atheists, and the last 10% are somehow outside these categories.

I believe I have a responsibility to those 1,309 friends (even though we don’t always see each other’s posts).  My responsibility is to boast.  Here’s why:

  • The Catholic Church’s ongoing abuse scandal “proves” to so many how dangerous religion is. (And indeed, sometimes it is)
  • Stories about hypocritical Christians who look down their noses at those who are different get a lot more traction than “healthy” Christian stories.
  • Accounts of Pastors greedily asking for money, or bookkeepers skimming off the top reinforce a negative view of the Church’s relationship with money.
  • Denominational fights over issues such as abortion and homosexuality present the Church as an anxious and contentious place where other vital ministry takes a backseat.

And so on.  There is very little above to boast about.  In fact, I’d guess the Church’s PR factor is as low as its ever been.  If that’s the public image the Church offers the world, it’s no wonder our congregations are shrinking.

So here’s what I do.  I take pictures of everything exciting, vital, or worthy that my church is doing.  Special events and services, mission opportunities, partnerships in the community, and so on.  And after every event, I post the pictures to Facebook.

(Oh, and by the way, if you TAG people in your FB photos, all of THEIR friends have a chance to see your photos.  That boosts the boast!)

I want all those Christians, disillusioned Christians, atheists, agnostics, etc. to see what the Holy Spirit is doing through my church.  I want as many people as possible to see The Church alive and thriving, living out its vision (although never perfectly), and changing lives, including our own. God forbid I ever run out of reasons to take pictures.

This is me BOASTING!  Now some folks may think I’m boasting for myself, lifting up my church or myself for bragging rights.  Others may think I’m oversharing.  I suppose that’s the risk.  I suppose that’s part of why Paul brings up boasting so many times in 2 Corinthians.  He wants them to understand his true motivations.  I try to convey that as best I can.

Facebook may not be your thing.  Instagram is an excellent alternative, and reaches a younger crowd.  And if social media is not your preferred method of boasting, feel free to share your enthusiasm with the crew that meets for coffee at the McDonalds, or the folks in your Pilates class, or in your office.

Sharing the excitement of your church reaching out and touching God’s Kingdom is nothing to be silent about.  It’s the way things ought to be.  The more we boast, the more the true nature of the Church can be revealed to the world.

By the way–I’ve got room for more friends!  Friend me at https://www.facebook.com/toddmit!

If you do friend me, be sure to check out pictures from this last Sunday. We had so much cool stuff going on…

Paul could have written a whole book about it.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

IMG_1189

 

Early Onset Atheism

 

atheist_fish

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.  Matthew 18:6

For years, we’ve been offering a semester-long confirmation class for all the 7th and 8th graders on our rolls.  We would bring in lots of students whose parents want their kids to get confirmed.  We’d meet once a week for several weeks, and talk about the basics, and then finish the class with a retreat and a special service.

And then… they’d disappear. We’d never see many of those kids again.  Or their parents!  It was as if confirmation class was like driver’s ed, or a get-your-Christianity-card training course.  Pick up your certificate and you’re good to go.

What a drag.  Another class of (literally) half-baked Christians, let loose on the world.

This week I read a study, found at psypost.org, about young Christians who become atheists.  In a survey of over 5,000 atheists, the ones who rejected Christianity earlier in life were the ones who grew up in families who “talked the talk” but didn’t “walk the walk”.

The study uses the term “CREDs” — or “CRedibility Enhancing Displays” to describe a parent’s actions, attitudes, and behaviors that reflect an authentic Christian way of life.  So, this study is suggesting that Christian parents who don’t have much CRED (i.e. they don’t act or talk in particularly Christian ways) may actually be pushing their children right out of the faith.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?  If the person I am looking most up to is doing very little to emulate this Jesus guy, then one of the primary opportunities to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God is never offered.

In other words:  There’s a direct connection between weak Christianity and early onset Atheism.  That’s a scary notion, isn’t?  The idea that some of us pew warmers have actually pushed our kids away because of our own lukewarm faith.

We’ve noticed this negative effect happening not just in parents, but in our church as a whole.  Could our church be pushing young people away from…church? What can the church do to increase our CRED?

Here’s a couple things we’ve done related to Confirmation:

Confirmation class for youth is now 2 years long, taught by the Youth Director, the Senior Pastor, and the ADCO chair.  The increased time requires greater commitment,  but the work is more of an exploration–fueled by the very deep faith questions the youth ask. The goal is to help them become mature Christians.

Parents are encouraged to participate along with mentors, especially on church visits that show our youth the variety of religious experience. Introducing a number of faith options reminds youth they have choice, which can paradoxically help them make a commitment.

Confirmation Class for adults.  We’ve offered a special class for adults who may have forgotten, or never learned, about God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, Sin, Salvation, and on and on.  It was amazing to hear them ask the same questions our youth have asked.  Yes, some of them drifted away after the class.  But others have redoubled their commitment to the faith, and increased their CRED.

Efforts like this are a way for a church to help reduce Early Onset Atheism.  Even better is to help every adult (every parent) develop a rock solid faith, and learn to use it.  We still struggle to do this well, but small groups, discipleship processes, compelling preaching, and mission opportunities can make it happen.

There’s not a person in the congregation that doesn’t need to confirm their faith on a regular basis.  That’s how we remember what we believe, and commit to put it into action.  The more we can remember to walk the walk,

the sooner we give sufferers of Early Onset Atheism,

a cure they can believe in.

Have a great week,

Mitch

i2hPr90Atc_1397579173218

 

Runaway Empathy at the Village Inn.

empathy

 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  –Romans 12:15

There’s a guy two tables over.  He’s eating by himself.

His wife died last year, and this is the one fun thing he does each week.  He goes out to Village Inn on Friday nights, and orders the catfish dinner.  And as he eats each bite he tries to be happy.  He jokes with the waitress, but I can tell it’s an act.

This lonely man, by the way, is a figment of my imagination.

I mean, yes, there’s a guy eating dinner over there, but I can’t tell from here if he’s happy or sad.  I can’t tell if he got the fish or a stack of pancakes.

I can’t tell squat!  But that doesn’t stop me from soaking up all kinds of sad vibes that probably don’t even exist.

It’s a little game I play called “runaway empathy”.  Ever play it?  It’s where you turn your receptors on soo high that you feel the feelings of everyone around you. Sometimes I’m right, and sometimes, like tonight, I’m mildly out of control.

I mean, I really am quite empathetic.  It’s one of my gifts.  I couldn’t tell you what color shoes you’re wearing, but I bet 8 times out of 10 I could guess how you’re feeling today.

What can I say? Some people are good at noticing details–I can read auras.

There are plenty of folks who are like this.  Maybe you.  Somehow in our development we just learned to hone that skill.  Or maybe we were born to be sensitive like that.

I don’t really know where it comes from, but as a pastor, it’s a skill I can use.  Teaching a group, counseling a troubled soul, running a staff—empathy serves me well, except when I overuse it at Village Inn.  Or take people’s emotions too personally.  Or even feel someone else’s feelings instead of my own.  These are things I have to watch out for all the time.

This is one of those standard examples of having a gift from God, and then using it poorly.  Can you relate?

Maybe you command air-tight reason, usually to your benefit–but when it comes time to be intimate with a loved one, you just can’t shut your brain off.  Runaway logic.

Maybe you’ve got the quickest, sharpest tongue, which is good for a lot of laughs, but when it’s time to be serious, you’re just plain tone deaf. Runaway sarcasm.

Maybe you’re an expert at free-living, at the detriment of order.   Runaway chaos.

It’s actually a very good and healthy thing to emphasize your strengths.  They will take you far in life.  But stress, anxiety, negligence and arrogance can take you past your natural limits, into something quite unhealthy.

Whatever runaway gifts you have to keep ahold of, remember that regaining your focus on God will quickly reframe things.  Remember, Jesus used his gifts carefully and responsibly, and he made time daily for recharging.

My dinner at Village Inn was a wake up call to dial it back, and that was good for me.

I took a deep breath, and watched the guy as he left…

It looked like he was smiling.

Have a great week,

Mitch

empathy2

 

Meghan Markle Rocks Denim Dress

denim

They say to write what you know.

That is not what I am doing today.  Today, I am writing about the Duchess of Sussex, otherwise known as Meghan Markle.

Why? Because, as I’ve been surfing around the Interlands this week, I keep seeing little clickbait articles about her everywhere.  She is everywhere. 

Somebody out there clearly has an obsession with this woman, and all I seem to know is…didn’t she get married or something?

Yes, she did.  A little time on Wikipedia makes me a sort-of expert.  Here’s what I learned:

  • She was born in 1981.
  • She was a TV actress, best known as Rachel Zane on the law drama “Suits”.
  • She’s been divorced.
  • She married Prince Harry, the Grandson of Queen Elizabeth the II.
  • As far as I can tell, ever since the marriage, the press seems compelled to photograph every item of clothing she wears (like the People headline above), every tiny gesture that is not “proper” enough, and every time her and Harry make eye contact with each other.

It’s been so many months since the wedding, (May ’18) and still people are swooning about her.  I finally think I understand why:  She’s a living fairy tale.  Like Princess Diana a generation ago.  She’s an everyday person plucked out of the crowd to be part of the royal family.  It’s the kind of thing some folks just drool over.

To you Marklers (or Meghaholics?) please know that I’m not condemning you.  A fascination with the Duchess seems harmless enough.  But just the same, keep this in mind:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
–1 Timothy 4:7

It is possible, the writer of Timothy reminds us, to get tangled up in fairy tales, to the point that we lose track of the very real story we’re called to live. Daydreaming about marrying your prince could, if not checked, leave you drifting in fantasy land.

The same holds true for rabid sports fans, video game junkies, breaking news fanatics, Netflix bingers and more.  What fairy tales or other forms of escapism capture too much of your attention?

The Hebrew word for sin translates as “Missing the Mark”.  When the focus of our hopes, dreams, and discipleship is something other than God, we make the wrong things the bullseye in our lives.  That is sinful behavior, and can cause big problems in our lives!

Most of us have our things we geek out on, and I think that’s okay.  It’s part of how we have fun, and can even present itself as a hobby.  We just have to make sure we keep our priorities straight.

For instance, if you read the title of today’s devotion and instantly knew that this was the dress Meghan wore to Harry’s polo match a couple weeks ago, you may need to tear yourself away from the tabloids for a while.

After all, you want to avoid Missing the Mark,

even if it means Missing the Markle.

Have a great week,

Mitch

target_PNG55

Judy. Jan. Matraisa.

1360477174249311028girls_three

 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:28

This week we learned that a constitutional amendment affirming equality for women in the United Methodist Church failed to pass.  Part of its slim rejection may have been because of a statement declaring God as neither female nor male.  Whatever the reason, important declarations about the value of women in our denomination risk being unaddressed.

In the face of such a bummer, here is my Hallelujah:

~~~

The first sermon I ever heard in a United Methodist Church was by a woman named Judy, my mom.  She was a Presbyterian pastor serving Kipp Presbyterian and Gypsum United Methodist church, so this was our introduction to Methodism.  I already knew she was good.  Every sermon she preached was deep and spiritual and poetic. Her pastoral care was loving. Her doctoral work developed a process for discipleship for small churches.  Even as a rebellious teen I was learning from her.

Throughout her ministry, in a climate where women were not always accepted, she ministered with grace and grit. She’s retired now, but still preaching nearly every week, filling in at several churches in Northern Alabama.  She keeps growing as a preacher, but she also writes awesome novels, about a fictitious pastor, Suzanne, serving a variety of churches in Kansas in the 1980’s. Hallelujah.

~~~

One of the best sermons I ever heard preached in a United Methodist Church was by a woman named Jan, my wife, who was serving at Bonner Springs United Methodist Church at the time.  Although she writes many enlightening and insightful sermons, for this sermon, she simply recited the Sermon on the Mount out of The Message.  She did it without notes, breathing to life this scripture I’d always loved, but never heard like this.

Today she is pursuing her PHD, working on the relationship between foreign born pastors and the congregations they serve in the Great Plains Annual Conference.  Along the way, she teaches sociology to hundreds of students at Emporia State University and Southwestern College.  Her classes on social problems and intimate relationships allow her to openly and honestly relate to students in a way not always available in the local church.  Hallelujah.

~~~

The most recent sermon I heard preached in a United Methodist Church was by a young woman named Matraisa.  A senior in high school.  6 months ago she approached me saying she’d like to preach.  This Sunday, we made that happen.  She stood before both services with a message about the Imago Dei, the image of God.  Her powerful words reminded us that God did not make a mistake in making us the way we are.

Matraisa is one of several youth group members who are considering a call to ministry. She and I are part of the praise band together. She has been to gatherings and national discerning events for young people.  She has been mentored by our wonderful youth director, Bri, and many others.  She’s the type that looks forward to annual conference each year.  She has hope for the future.  Hallelujah.

~~~

Now, consider this:

Judy, decades ago, was the first person to have mentioned the possibility of ministry to Jan.

Jan, over the past several years, has repeatedly encouraged Matraisa about the possibility of ministry.

Matraisa, just this Sunday,  modeled the possibility of ministry for the confirmation class who sat watching her preach.

Let the whole world know and believe what I have seen.  Women of faith have proclaimed the Good News in many ways down through the ages, and they surely will for generations to come.  You and I are so much the better for it.

Hallelujah.  Preach on.

Mitch

Sisters with a Purpose COLOR

 

Integrity In Your Bones

skeleton-in-the-closet

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. –proverbs 10:9

Want to freak yourself out?  Next time you’re in a crowd, remind yourself that you are in a room full of skeletons.

It’s not something we tend to think of when we look at each other, but just a couple inches beneath each person’s surface lies a collection of bones.  Boo!  Here lies the object of infinite Halloween frights, and the symbol of all things unmentionably hidden.

One does not put one’s bones on display.  Not the ones inside our bodies, or the ones we’ve stuffed into our closets.  They’re private. These bones represent our collection of indiscretions, our taboo secrets, our hidden sins.

With all these skeletons in our closets (and inches beneath our skin), how could a single one of us walk with integrity?  Politicians throw that word around, but managing integrity is a rare feat.   It doesn’t seem like our elected officials have much integrity these days, although they are masters at appearing like it.

They’re not the only ones.  Many people today avoid the church because Christians seem so proficient at integrity — until greed, or abuse, or all manners of non Christ-like behaviors reveal us to be as “boney” as everybody else.

The #MeToo movement is a perfect example of the state of integrity — pulling back the curtain on decades of hidden harassment and demeaning behavior.  I’ve surely hated to see the pitiful contents of some of my favorite public figure’s closets. I’m cautious at pointing a finger, however, because I’d just as soon no one ever peek in my closet.

How about you? Anything to hide?

So, shy of, say, the Dalai Lama, is there anyone with integrity left in this cursed world? Are we all doomed, as proverbs mentions, to walk crooked paths until the day God and humanity discovers what lies beneath each of our feeble attempts to appear good?

No.  We’re not doomed.  Jesus came to save us from the evil that has settled into our very bones.  When Jesus died on that cross, the earthquake that filled the land cleaned out every closet and gave us the ability to walk with our heads held high.  Not with some mock piety, but with the assurance of grace.  We’re not perfect.  Just forgiven.

I wonder if integrity can grow even through our attempt to find it.  Maybe so.  Instead of hiding away the frail remnants of our past, our bones can be made strong in Christ. Stronger than a tanker truck of milk ever could.

The next time you’re in a crowd, don’t freak out about all the skeletons surrounding you.  It’s part of human nature to carry a few sins with us as we go through life.

But strive (with God’s help) for integrity.  It comes when we make room for grace, in our bodies, minds, spirits..

and closets.

Have a great week,

Mitch

dry-bones-title