Athazagoraphobia

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‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’  –Exodus 33:12b

I was listening to a podcast the other day, and Ted Danson was the guest being interviewed.  He mentioned about his struggle to remember people’s names, and how he has to “load-in” the names of people he’s about to see.

My first thought was, “Wow!  I have the same problem!”

My second thought was to laugh, realizing that the theme song for his most famous television show describes a place “where everybody knows your name.”

I desperately wish I could remember the name of every person in my church.  I envy people who can do it.  I would be so much more hospitable with second time visitors.  I would greet everybody at the door by name.  I would serve communion by name.  Every phone call, every committee meeting, I’d be throwing out names, left and right.

I’m not sure why I have such a problem, but I do.  Even with people I’ve known well for half a decade, sometimes the name just escapes me.

I looked on WebMD for some help.  They listed 36 conditions that contribute to the loss of names.  Naturally, I gravitated to the more severe ones:  Stroke, Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow Disease.

Probably not.

Then I thought, maybe I just have a phobia about it.  I looked it up:  It’s called Athazagoraphobia, the fear of forgetting or being forgotten.  Kind of funny that its name is something I will NEVER be able to remember!

Maybe I do have Althazha….Athazagrapi….nevermind.  Whatever you call it, I suppose it describes me.  Scared of forgetting people by name.

There are 35 times the NIV Bible uses the phrase “by name”.  Many are census listings in Numbers or Chronicles, or conversations between God and Moses in Exodus, but in Isaiah 43, God says this to God’s people:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. –Isaiah 43:1b

God knows me.  By name.  Not just me.  Every person who walks through the doors of the church.  Every person who fears forgetting–or being forgotten. No need to fear.

That doesn’t allow me to abdicate my job to “load in” as many names as I can, but truth is, there are few places where “everybody knows your name”.  It’s just not the Norm. (Get it?) Names are tricky sometimes, slippery.  Some people are better at it than others.

But in God’s redeeming of our lives, we are known, by name.  God claims us. God knows us, and wants us to know God, too.

God is the master of name-knowing.  You and I are just apprentices.  Disciples.

So as we continue the hard work of getting to know those around us, we can rejoice that God has long been on the job.

For that, we must be eternally grateful…

So say it with me…

Cheers!

Mitch

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Judy. Jan. Matraisa.

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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

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Since my last confession.

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Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. –James 5:16

It happened again today.  I watched three more church members crossing the street and walking into the Catholic church down the way.  That was 8 people now, over the past few days.  What was going on?

I decided to find out.  I pulled on a hat and trench coat so as not to be easily recognizable.  I walked the short distance to the Catholic church and stepped inside.  It was a nice enough building.  I’d never been inside before.

Just then I caught a glimpse of my church members darting into the sanctuary, so I followed them.  I slouched down into a pew in the back, and watched them sitting over to the side.  Then, one at a time, they stepped into the small door on the side.

It was the confessional!  My people were sneaking into the Catholic church to take confession!

Confession was developed long ago, in the early years of Christianity, as a way of responding to James 5:16, above.  A regular, private, personal confession of sins, heard by a Priest.

When the reformation came, Protestants objected to confession, saying “Who says Priests are qualified to forgive sins?”  And some of the penance they prescribed included indulgences — basically a “pay you or your relative’s way out of salvation” scam.  So Protestants did away with the practice, replacing it with…not much.

Today?  According to an article in the Boston Globe, less than 2% of Catholics go to confession regularly.  And 3/4 don’t go at all.  Confession has become, for many Catholics, and unwelcome sacrament.

But what about us Protestants?  After 1,000+ years of very little opportunity for confessing sins, aside from the occasional corporate prayer, the idea of having someone to hand our heavy loads to doesn’t sound half bad.

Based on the actions of my (fictitious) parishioners, I propose a trade.  If Priests are willing to listen to our confessions, we’ll do something nice for the Catholics.  Give up red meat on Friday during Lent, maybe?  Treat our communion elements a little more carefully?  Something like that.  What do you think?

After my parishioners left the sanctuary, I made my way up front and climbed into that little box.  Finally I said, “It’s been…uh…at least 47 years since my last confession.”  Then I just kind of laid it all out there.  The little things that had been bugging me.  The big weights I was tired of carrying.  It felt really good.

But afterwards, I realized that I really could just ask Jesus for forgiveness directly.  Or talk things over with a friend.  Why hadn’t I made this a priority? I’ll admit I did feel a lot better, but not because of that confessional.  I felt free because I’d made space in my busy life to accept Christ’s freedom.

Let this be a reminder to us (Protestants and Catholics alike) that confession IS good for the soul.  Whether it involves talking to a priest or minister, or sharing with a good friend, or praying with a congregation, or holding nothing back from Christ, guilt is something too many of us carry around.

Put forth the effort and let it go.

Throw it away like a Hail Mary.

(I’m supposed to say 7 of those)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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The History of My Devotion

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They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
-Act 2:42

Today, a history lesson, of sorts.

The history of my devotion.

I started writing this weekly devotion in 2001, when I was serving as the campus minister at Kansas State University.

We had about 120 students regularly involved, although I sent the devotion out to about 700 students and faculty and Manhattan First Church members.

Many of those folks still read this.  Hi!

And then in 2006  I moved to Topeka, where I served as head pastor at University United Methodist Church.

Preaching, Teaching, Marrying, Burying.  Mission trips and Visioning.  You know, Pastor Stuff.

Many of those congregants still read this.  Hi!

In 2010 I moved back to Lawrence, where I had previously served as the youth director.  I was the associate pastor.

More pastor stuff.  Lots of teaching and preaching.  (Plus I earned my chops as a legitimate drummer for the praise bands!)

I just moved from there.  Lots of folks still reading this.  Hi!

Along the way I’ve worked on conference committees and youth camps.  Making lots of connections with great people.  Hi!

And of course, there are bunches who read this whom I’ve never even met.  Allow me to say:  Hi!

And today, I send out this devotion to new friends in my new church.  Mulvane UMC, just south of Wichita.

Everywhere I go, my ministry seems a little different, and I’m excited to see what comes of my time with these wonderful people.

Hi!

If you’re reading this, then in some way, big or small, you play a part in the history of my devotion.

I don’t mean just the mid-week spiritual reminder I send out through my weeklydevotion.com blog.

I mean the day to day rhythm of faithfulness with which I try to lead my life.  My devotion to God.

You are part of my devotion, and I hope I’m part of yours.

Let’s be devoted together

as we move into the future.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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RateMyPastor.com

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HOW DOES YOUR PASTOR STACK UP AGAINST OTHER PASTORS IN YOUR AREA?

GO TO RateMyPastor.com AND SEE FOR YOURSELF!

Well actually…

There’s no such site.  Which is disappointing.  I mean, how will you know if your pastor is any good?

To help you out, I’ve made a little check sheet.  If your pastor meets each criteria, check that one off, and then add them up to see how they do:

THE IDEAL PASTOR SHOULD HAVE:

___ The flexibility of a gymnast.
___ The fund-raising skills of a televangelist.
___ The speaking skills of an orator.
___ The maturity of a veteran.
___ The administrative skills of a CEO.
___ The vision of an entrepreneur.
___ The conflict management skills of an arbitrator.
___ The spiritual power of a shaman.
___ The timing of a stand-up comedian.
___ The listening ear of a therapist.
___ The wisdom of a sage.
___ The knowledge of a professor.
___ The compassion of a tibetan monk.
___ The charisma of a celebrity.
___ The energy of an athlete.
___ The wardrobe of an executive.
___ The youthfulness of a Hipster.
___ The thirst for justice of a community organizer.
___ The tenderness of a hospice chaplain.
___ The leadership of a general.

So, how did you pastor do?

If you gave them 1-5 out of 20 they’re GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS.
If you gave them 6-10 out of 20 you’re BLESSED TO HAVE THEM.
If you gave them 11-20 YOU’RE LYING!

The truth is, NOBODY could be and do all the things people expect pastors to be and do!

It’s one of those professions that has lots of skills that can be attached to it. Some pastors are great fundraisers.  Others are great preachers or teachers.  Still others are phenomenal with pastoral care.

Your pastor is excellent in some things, good in others, and probably struggles a bit with other areas.  That’s normal.

See that list above?  That’s a better job description for a whole church!

Along with the gifts of the pastor, members of a church can lend their skills and gifts to provide a vital, well-rounded ministry.

It turns out I’m glad there’s no RateMyPastor.com.

We ALL are called to give our very best for the Kingdom, and that includes everybody, including you.

You’ll be happy to know…

there is no RateMyCongregation.com either. 🙂

Have a great week,

Mitch

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