BOAST

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“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

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Early Onset Atheism

 

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“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

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Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. –Exodus 20:8

It was one year ago today that the World Council of Churches met and made an audacious proposal to the rest of the world:

They suggested that we add an eighth day to the week.

Since it was their idea,  they decided to call the day “Sabbath-Day-OK-This-Time-We-Really-Mean-It”.

The scientists said “Sure, time is a human construction, and we can make it whatever we want.” So they eliminated January and February from the calendar, and did a few more tweaks here and there, and got us back to 365 days a year.

Non-churchgoers loved the idea of an extra long weekend every week. Business owners found that their productivity stayed strong as worker morale improved.  And as for  Christians, celebrating their “Sabbath-Day-OK-This-Time-We-Really-Mean-It”?

Attendance went down.

That’s right. Attendance figures just came out for the past year, and worship in American churches has dropped another tenth of a percent.

It would appear that with more time on the weekend people just did more stuff. More visiting with the grandkids. More time for yardwork. More camping trips or sleeping in.

A tired-looking president of the World Council of Churches issued a statement just moments ago:

“Well, fellow Christians, we tried. We cleared a whole extra day for you to keep the Sabbath, but you just keep doing other things! As of today I am resigning my position. I’m looking forward to a nice long break, and this weekend I plan to go visit my grandkids.”

Rumors of a proposed ninth day of the week movement has met with much criticism. As one Christian said, “Honestly? I think they could add five more Sabbaths every week and it still wouldn’t make a difference. Worship and rest is still a priority for people, but it’s just not the only priority, and not always on Sunday. I love to go to church, but I’ve got other things I want to do, too. So I do my best to balance it out.”

And so, the Eight Days A Week movement, as it has been called, was a success for everybody except the people who proposed it in the first place. Lately, there’s been talk about moving back to the old system. People miss Martin Luther King Jr Day and Valentine’s Day in particular.

As for my humble take on things, I think the church is going to be okay, and I think Christians are going to be okay, but not without some tough times along the way.  Our society has definitely steered away from notions of Holy rest and worship, things God says we clearly need.

I predict people will still gather for worship on the Sabbath, but maybe we need to focus our efforts towards teaching people how to be Holy…

on the other six days.

Or seven.

Whichever calendar you’re using.

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Hypocrite in Untraining

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“I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites.”  –Psalm 26:4

“Yes, you do.”  –Mitch Todd

Is it true?  Are Christians hypocrites?

To find out, I followed someone home from church this week, just to see how hypocritical they actually were.

Here’s a summary of my findings:

  • On Sunday they were a model citizen, until they started shouting obscenities at the game on TV.
  • On Monday, they told their spouse about something from work, and made it sound like they were the hero, when they really weren’t.
  • On Tuesday, they turned the channel away from one of those “starving children” commercials, so they wouldn’t be convinced to give.
  • On Wednesday, they went well over the speed limit.
  • On Thursday, they didn’t tip a waitress, because she brought them the wrong drink.
  • On Friday, they visibly tensed up when someone who didn’t look like them brushed past them at the store.
  • On Saturday, they made a little too merry, and said a few things they probably shouldn’t have.

Nothing earth-shattering there, but everyone of those actions represents some type of hypocrisy.  As Christians, we’re not supposed to exaggerate, or turn a blind eye, or break the law, or treat others rudely, or act out of fear, or over-indulge, or speak carelessly. Right?

That (imaginary) church member should know better!

Every day we have an opportunity to represent Jesus Christ in this world, and every Sunday we declare our desire to do just that. And every week, in small ways and great big ways, we fall short.  We all do this.

Most of our shortcomings are the kinds of minor things anyone might do, but when Christians, who proclaim to live according to a higher authority do them, it’s a glaring misstep.  It’s hypocrisy at its finest.

Here’s the deal: Despite what many might think about our religion, we haven’t arrived at some perfect destination.  Rather, we’re on the journey of a lifetime.  A journey to become more and more like Christ.

Methodists call this sanctification.  To be made holy.  The journey has twists and turns, road-blocks, U-turns and slowdowns, but God willing, we grow in our faith.

We’re hypocrites in “untraining.”

It’s like a sign I made years ago. It said,

“Yes, I’m a Christian.
Yes, I’m a hypocrite.
Yes, I’m working on it.”

When others look at me, I want them to see a reflection of Christ.  But when I fail at that, I want them to see someone humble enough to admit it and try again.  Worship at its best instills in us that kind of humility.

On Sunday morning, when you come to church, don’t pretend to be something that you’re not.

Admit it–you’re a hypocrite!

But take a look around…

you’re in good company.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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NOTE:  As we continue prayers for Texas and the Houston area, I invite you to donate to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.  This organization is among the first on the ground and the last to leave when disaster strikes.  Donate through them by visiting UMCOR.

 

Lumped In.

I hate being lumped in.

I just don’t like sharing that name “Christian” with some of the other folks who call themselves Christian.  We seem to have some different opinions on what that name means.

  • I watch people on some news channel claiming to speak for the entirety of Christianity, and I can’t help but think –“You ain’t speaking for me!”
  • I’ll hear about young people becoming atheists, and talking about all the bad things the church has done — money grubbing, hypocrisy, clergy with no boundary training, intolerance, etc., and I’ll think –“Hey, that’s not my Christianity!”
  • I’ll read articles about how the church in America has failed in so many ways, and I’ll think — “Look at all my church accomplished this week.  We’re trying! We’re really trying.”
  • I’ll see a report about some church making a decree or taking a stand that is, in my opinion, against everything Jesus would do, and I’ll think –“Why would I want to be associated with them?”

Now, if you’re a critical reader, you may have figured out that some of these criticisms, especially hypocrisy, DO apply to myself and most Christians. Sometimes a lot. No church is perfect, as an institution or as a movement.

We have so much work to do.

But that doesn’t change the fact that some churches do things that, (at least from my Christian perspective), are reprehensible. Not just irresponsible or misguided, but dangerous and damaging.

Things like claiming an earthquake or 9/11 was God punishing certain people.  Or treating women as subservient, second class citizens.  That kind of stuff drives me crazy.  Your criteria may be different.

I wonder. To keep us from being lumped in with Christians that give us fits, should we abandon the name all together?

Call me a Jesian, or a Christ-Follower, or part of the J-Crew (well probably not that last one), just don’t compare me to such-and-such Church as if we’re saying and doing the same thing.

I don’t know.  There are a great many other denominations that I see acting in integrity, mission, and purpose.  I want to be connected to them.

But there are some others out there I’d very much like to disassociate from.

Until we can all truly agree on what it means to follow Jesus as individuals, institutions, and movements, maybe we’re better off not being lumped into one category.

But who knows?  In 50 years believers may go by lots of different names.

I’m not planning to arm-wrestle somebody over who gets to use the name Christian…

That’s not the sort of thing we Jesusites would do.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

Ain’t nothin’ in this life is free, son.

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Last week I was at the church, getting a diet-Pepsi out of the pop machine.

Standing next to me, fiddling with the snack machine, were two young guys, obviously at the church for Boy Scouts.

As I reached down to take my soda out of the dispenser, one of the kids playfully reached down and said, “Cool!  Free Pop!”

My response was to say, in an old man voice, “Ain’t nothin’ in this life is free, son.”  This elicited a laugh from the kids.

I chuckled and walked into the gym, opening my pop.  A second later, I hear heavy running footsteps behind me.

It was the two boys, and one of them held a Pepsi.

“It came out!” he exclaimed.  “After yours!”

I laughed and told him it was his to drink.

Now, what are the odds that, mere seconds after uttering “Ain’t nothin’ in this life is free”–the first time I’ve ever made that statement–this pop machine would choose to prove me wrong?

Maybe someone was trying to teach me a lesson?

Could be.  I’ll admit that I’ve attached a cost to most things this Christmas season.

Buying presents — $$.  Renting a car to get to Alabama — $$.  Boarding the dog — $$.

Even things like going to Christmas parties take a toll on my energy, introvert that I am.

Heck, between December 18th and the 25th I have to write and preach 4, count em, 4 sermons.  What are the chances I won’t have expended all my spiritual energy before I head off on vacation?

That’s all costly stuff.

Ain’t nothin’ in this life is free.

Except for Pepsi, apparently.

Pepsi, and, I know full well but sometimes forget, the Love of a Savior.

 

And because of that love…

I guess that mean’s that I’M free. Strange that it took a Pepsi to remind me of that.

Christmas may come with a cost in today’s world, but the gift of Jesus comes with no price tag, and no strings attached.

And when we accept it,

there’s nothing quite as refreshing.

Here:

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Have one on me.

 

Have a great week,

 

Mitch

The Walgreens Prayer

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I pray a lot.

That is not a statement about my personal piety, but more about my function as a pastor.

It seems that I will be tasked with opening a meeting with prayer, or closing it.

Or both.

Some days I’ll pray 9 or 10 times for this gathering or that event.

And I don’t mind.  I kind of like it, actually.

Usually I’ll thank God for gathering us and being with us.  I’ll pray for our community.  I’ll ask God to guide us as we move from here.

That kind of stuff.

Recently, a certain phrase began creeping up in my prayers.  “May we be happy and healthy…”

“Keep us all in your Good Graces Lord, and may we be happy and healthy until we gather together again.”

That kind of thing.

That’s a nice sentiment, right?  One day I just started using it, wondering how those particular words had come to me.

Last week, I found out.

There it was, staring up at me from the prescription bag I held in my hands:

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Good Lord.

Had I been praying the slogan of a pharmacy???

Was that even legal?

I’m convinced that the Walgreen’s slogan had seeped into my subconscious and made its way into my prayers.

My main questions was this:  Does Walgreens have a corner ON Happy & Healthy?

I mean, isn’t that what the church is offering, too?  We want people to be happy, to find joy in their lives, to know Christ in a life-changing way.  And we want people to be healthy, too.  To care for their bodies, minds, and spirits.

I guess it just surprised me that a pharmacy’s mission was so similar to our church’s.  But I soon realized that while Walgreens offers a certain level of happiness and health, it is the church that helps people dig deeper, developing their faith, discovering Christ, leading New Lives.

So, I’ve decided to allow myself to use that phrase whenever it pops into a prayer.  I’m not breaking a trademark (am I?) and I’m speaking to something real and deep in our Christian experience.

And if the store gets a little more business, well good on them.

We’re not in competition with Walgreens.

We just happen to be set up…

on the same corner.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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