Leadership, Pastors, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Every year, some people ask me if Christians should celebrate Halloween. Here is what I share with them:

1. I’m glad that some Christians are willing to ask questions about what we should and should not participate in in our culture. I wish more Christians were conscientious enough to ask the difficult questions.

2. I’m also glad that some Christians are concerned about Halloween’s portrayal of death with ghosts and goblins and “evil” characters from horror movies.

3. At the same time, I believe that Halloween is what you make of it. It can be a night of celebrating evil and gore, or it can be a night for kids to dress up in a fun constume and get some free candy. I think it’s a great opportunity to talk with children about good and evil in the world and why it’s important to make the world a better place. All Saints Day on Nov. 1 is all about this.

4. Finally, some Christians are concerned about the orgins of Halloween. They know that much of what we think of as Halloween derives from Samhain, a Gaelic festival during which it was believed that the dead could come back to earth temporarily. The scary costumes were meant to emulate the dead or ward them off.

However, as Christianity swept through Europe, Halloween also became associated with All Saints Day, a day to remember those who have gone on before us. So, there are some Christian influences on Halloween.

It might be a surprise for some Christians to know that the origins of Christmas are not completely Christian either. Over 200 years before Jesus was born, Satunalia, the Festival of the god Saturn, was a Roman holiday. Gifts were given, and families celebrated with parties. Eventually December 25 was deemed the day of Christ’s Mass, to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, and Christmas was born. Easter also has influences from other religions. It is not a coincidence that these three holidays take place near a solstice or an equinox.

5. So, none of our major holidays have completely Christian origins, but Christmas, Easter, and Halloween do have Christian influences and connotations that can be observed by Christian families. These holidays are what you make of them. That’s exactly why they are holidays, actually. Over the centuries, various groups have added meaning to them and made them their own.

For a more practical view, click on Tony Morgan’s blog. Thanks to Jim Hall for sharing it with me.

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Leadership, Pastors, Sermon Illustrations

Reflection on Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit

Dr. Paul Chilcote authored a little book entitled Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit. It is John Wesley’s standard sermons condensed into prayers. I highly recommend using Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit as a devotional.

As I began reading these prayers, I was immediately reminded of reading several of Wesley’s sermons when I was in college. I believe the prayers do capture the spirit of Wesley’s sermons. While reading these prayers, how can one not feel the fire burning in Wesley’s soul? It is no surprise that Wesley inspired and led an explosive movement of religious renewal. His level of passion is difficult to overstate, and the wording of these prayers communicates it.

Wesley’s themes of grace, a salvation experience, growth, the work of the Spirit, and practical Christian living come through the prayers. Wesley’s warmed heart informs these sermons/prayers throughout with a sense of the wonder of God’s grace that had broken into his own life. For example, in prayer 5, “Justification by Faith”, Chilcote captures Wesley’s wonder with the lines, “O Righteous and Pardoning God, How can we make our way back to you and find your love when we are so broken and sinful?” (p. 21)

The painted picture is one of the futility of attempting to earn one’s salvation. The situation is hopeless… were it not for this gracious God’s love that “was too strong to leave us cut off and alienated” (p. 21)! Wesley is awe-struck at God’s grace that accomplishes what would otherwise be impossible. God’s love appears again and again in these sermons/prayers.

Chilcote describes Wesley’s heart-warming experience and belief in assurance of salvation in terms of “calm” and “an inner voice” in the midst of “troubled seas” and “severe trials in life” (pp. 39-40). Wesley’s search for assurance is reflected in his emphasis of it. Chilcote’s prayer 10, “The Witness of the Spirit”, expresses a desire for a sense of security in a relationship with God like that between a child and a parent. The Spirit of God is constantly at work in our lives, drawing us, leading us, comforting us.

Wesley’s concern with practical guidance for Christian living comes through all of the prayers, as there is a practical element to each of them. Wesley’s helps Christians to grow in grace, and his urgent and intense desire for growth is expressed in all of the prayers whether or not Wesley is specifically addressing it. He writes about peaceful relationships and conflict management (“Purity, Peacemaking, and Reconciliation”), grief and sadness (“A Heavy Heart”), guilt feelings (“No Condemnation”), the destructiveness of being judgmental (“Caution against Bigotry” and “The Loving Attitude”), and money management (“The Use of Money”, “Christian Treasure” and “The Good Steward”). It is obvious that Wesley intentionally seeks God in the everyday matters of life and pursues growth in all of these areas.

Wesley also teaches the foundational doctrines of Christian living like the new birth, repentance, justice and mercy, self-denial, an attitude of love, etc. I was surprised at how many of Wesley’s standard sermons (13) are based on the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount contains the bulk of Jesus’ ethical teaching, so this makes sense, but I was not aware that roughly 25% of Wesley’s standard sermons use texts from the Sermon on the Mount.

Wesley’s intentionality, intensity, and urgency come through these prayers. I believe that a person who prays these prayers daily would experience immense growth in grace simply from being exposed to Wesley’s passionate pursuit of God. Intensity and urgency seem to spring from the emotions and the intellect, but intentionality is the willful choice to do something about it. Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit clearly shows Wesley’s never-ending intentional quest to live a holy life in response to God’s grace.

I plan to use Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit as a devotional and as a discipleship tool. The prayers would be a great resource to share with small group leaders or to use as pastoral prayers in worship services. Wesley would want me, as a pastor, to use resources like Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit to intentionally disciple the congregation I serve.

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Leadership, Pastors, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important

Future of the United Methodist Church

I believe that the United Methodist Church has a bright future in America… but it will look ugly in the process.

Most United Methodist congregations will close in the next 30-40 years. This is no secret. I am actually chairing a task force to close one currently. As was recently published, if the United Methodist membership in America continues to decline at its current rate, there will be no United Methodist Church in America in 44 years.

Right now, however, a few UMC leaders are leading renewal movements that are just beginning to take off. Leaders like Adam Hamilton, Mike Slaughter, and a few other pastors, bishops, district superintendents, and educators are attracting younger leaders who can build new relevant and growing congregations. In addition, more relevant and growing United Methodist congregations are going to 1) plant new churches and 2) start video satellite campuses.

The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

Over the next 30 years, as most of the United Methodist Church disappears in America, the only congregations left will be the vital, relevant, growing ones. For me, this is the bottom line. This is why Methodism has a bright future.

By 2040, when Americans hear “United Methodist”, they will think of something different than they do today. In 2040, they will think of relevant, exciting churches committed to personal growth and social justice because those are the only UMC churches that will be left. These churches are the ones that will grow the denomination into the 22nd century in America.

There is a bright future for the United Methodist Church!

For a view of the future that holds more weight than mine, check out this article. Bishop Larry Goodpaster is the new President of the Council of Bishops, and this is an informative and inspiring interview with Bishop Goodpaster about the future of the United Methodist Church:

http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Reclaiming-a-Movement-The-Future-of-The-United-Methodist-Church.html

(Let’s keep in mind that right now, like many denominations, the United Methodist Church is growing by leaps and bounds in the southern hemisphere.)

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Uncategorized

NBA Team in Columbus, OH

There should be an NBA team in Columbus.

Arguments against it don’t hold up:

1. The Blue Jackets have bad attendance.

Not true. For as bad as they are, the attendance is good. If they could start winning, their attendance would skyrocket.

2. Columbus is a one sport, one team town.

Buckeye Football will always be #1 in Columbus, but that doesn’t mean that other sports can’t do well. The Crew needs to be promoted more effectively, and the CBJ just need to win. The Clippers have been in town for decades, mostly in a bad stadium, and now they have a new ballpark that pulls in more fans.

3. Buckeye basketball would suffer.

The opposite wold happen. An NBA team would actually help Ohio State basketball. More basketball teams = more attention on basketball. (I’m a pastor who starts new churches, and more new churches means that attendance in all area churches goes up.)

4.The success of the NHL in a city is an indicator of the success of the NBA.

This is laughable. NBA TV ratings are over double the ratings of the NHL. The NHL is no indicator for the success of any sport.

An NBA team in Columbus, especially one with a star player, would:

1. Sell out or come close to selling out Nationwide Arena.

2. Increase attention on the CBJ because they play in the same arena.

3. Fill the vacuum in Ohio basketball left by Lebron’s move to Miami.

4. Actually increase attention on Ohio State Basketball.

5. Would benefit the NBA because Columbus is considered to be one of the best cities of the future, is where the population of Ohio is shifting to, and is nearly recession-proof (Columbus has been one of the healthiest cities in the U.S. during the recession).

There should be an NBA team in Columbus.

So, what about a name? What would be a good name for an NBA team in Columbus?

I’ll say: The Columbus Construction Barrels 🙂

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Leadership, Pastors

Women in Ministry

My grandmother was a “layspeaker” in the United Methodist Church. That meant that when the pastor was away, she gave the sermon. She was also an incredible example to me of an authentic follower of Christ. She was a leader both men and women respected.

An uncle of mine who served as a pastor in a different church told her more than once, beginning in the 1970’s, that she should stop preaching sermons because women were not called by God to preach.

She told me that she struggled with this for years. Sometimes, she would feel guilty for preaching. Other times, she knew that God was working through her. Finally, she came to the place where she accepted the call and didn’t question it anymore, but it was a tough journey.

Supporting women in ministry does not make a person a flaming liberal or radical feminist. My grandmother is now deceased, but I have a wife, a mother, several aunts, a sister, female friends, and maybe a future daughter. I want them to have the same opportunities I have in life.

I also know that the Bible is full of stories of women preaching and leading.

Check out http://www.cbeinternational.org/, Christians for Biblical Equality. I’m proud that the seminary I attend, Ashland Theological Seminary, was the first seminary to join CBE.

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Leadership, Pastors, Uncategorized

Church Websites

The website is now the most important communication tool in your church, other than the sermon. Including social media like facebook in your website adds to its communicative power.

Here are some great church websites. I’m into minimalism, but any of these looks and types of functionality could be effective for your church:

http://www.onextrapixel.com/2009/11/10/dissection-of-holy-websites-modern-church-web-design-trends-88-inspiration/

I also recommend Sky CMS:

http://www.discoversky.com/

To get ahead of the curve, Google “web 3.0”. In the next 10-20 years, the internet is going to revolutionize our lives more than we could imagine. Think real life plus virtual reality as a part of our everyday lives. It’s going to be freaky but cool.

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