Monday, June 29, 2009

Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics

I have been at University just over a year and we have been gradually rolling out all the pieces of the Pathway to Discipleship. (For a review of what the pathway is all about, check out 'How Goes the Pathway, Part I, Part II and Part III.) This has been, at times, a grueling but always amazingly rewarding process. This past weekend we moved one step closer to completing the pathway with our pilot of Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics. In pathway lingo, this is an immersion event in the meeting phase. In other words, it is designed to give people a chance to get away and ask the question, "What is my need for Jesus and what I am supposed to do about it?" Our initial description of the experience (written before we offered it) was this:

This is a two-day experience designed particularly for those who still have questions about the meaning and relevance of Jesus. It is not designed to force people into a relationship with God but to allow room for questions.

Adam Knight and I designed and wrote the material for this course. The event has really been designed for a retreat setting, something off-site, something perhaps more appealing to people who still aren't sure they are into the church thing. For the first one, so that we could give it a try, we stayed on site using our new youth worship space and cafe. The working version of the offering revolves around four questions:
  1. Is hating the church a reason not to like Jesus?
  2. Will God really send non-Christians to hell?
  3. Hasn't science defeated faith?
  4. Isn't this just about getting a get-out-of-hell-free card?
The talks are combined with lay witnesses who talk about their own experience of the faith and table discussion time where participants can talk and share with each other about what they are hearing, the questions they still have, and the struggles they face.

I want to say, overall, Adam Knight, the lay folks that help to lead and I are really pleased with the first time out of the gate. I think it was a good experience and I think we learned a lot about how to make it better the next time.

A big thanks to our lay leaders and all of the table leaders, helpers and staff that helped to pull this off. We are looking forward to the next one in the late fall. If you are interested, call the discipleship office or email me and we will get you signed up.



Friday, June 26, 2009

The Times They are a Changing

For many people, the death of Michael Jackson was the first major news event they heard about through social media. Early adopters of myspace, facebook and twitter will likely claim that there was something before this but I believe that this may be the biggest story since twitter and facebook really hit their stride.

The reason I am posting this on my weblog about discipleship has to do with the fundamental shift that is happening in how we receive information and how fast we receive information. It was not too many years ago when you would hear the news about the death of a celebrity through the evening news, the morning paper, a phone call, or through a face to face conversation. As you will see from the poll on the right side of the blog, there are a lot more ways to hear about things these days. (And I couldn't list them all.)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ originally spread simply through word of mouth. The letters of Paul were the first written media regarding the Gospel but even those were read and shared in a community setting so the news was still spread orally and face to face. With the advent of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into common languages (something other than Latin), for the first time, people could learn and read about Jesus on their own. Flash way forward to today and people can not only read and learn about Jesus, they can "go to church" online, all alone, in their homes.

Please take the poll on the right side of the blog. It is not scientific. I am sure someone else will do that. It just helps us to think about how our world is changing. The Gospel will always remain the same, but it continues to speak to a changing world.



p.s. If I missed a possible answer on the poll, feel free to post it as a comment to this post.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Oh My

(Thanks to Matthew Paul Turner (@JesusNeedsNewPR) for the tweet with the link!)

One of my favorite prayer sites on the web is Sacred Space, a contemplative prayer site run by the Irish Jesuits. I was there this morning contemplating the daily scripture.

Matthew 7:6

'Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

So that scripture has been rolling around in my head. It has always perplexed me a bit. I guess I know what it means, but exactly what does it mean. Does it mean this?

Lookin' Good For Jesus




Monday, June 15, 2009

Hate is Such a Strong Word

I just finished 10 Things I Hate About Christianity, Working Through the Frustrations of Faith, by Jason T. Berggren. Somehow this never made it onto the “What Will is Reading Now” list so it has to go straight to the “What Will Read Last” list. My friend Billy put this book on my radar so I ordered it not really knowing what to expect. Judging a book by its cover, my initial assumption was that this might be a book with a negative take on the Christian life and faith. Instead it is an apologetic piece dealing with some of the common misconceptions and hang-ups people have about Christianity. Given that, it works out pretty well. Berggren tackles some pretty tough questions of Christianity like faith, prayer, the Bible, sin, rules and hell with some pretty plain language. He shares how he has come to terms with some parts of the faith through his own struggles and his insight is extremely helpful. Occasionally an oversimplification would make the pastoral theologian in my cringe but I think sometimes we have to break things into pieces we can swallow. For instance, in Chapter 8, the author, when writing about why bad things happen to good people, pronounces, “So the answer is this: bad things happen because some people choose to do bad things.” The line made me cringe, but then the author went on to do a really clear job of explaining the brokenness of creation and how things won’t ever be quite right until God restores us.

Where this book got interesting for me was chapter 10 where the author basically claims that the #10 thing he hates about Christianity is Christians. Now, I can see where some Christians may take offense at this but if you really love Jesus and you want more people to experience life in Christ, take a deep breath and read. He takes some pretty hard shots at some of the actions and attitudes of Christians that turn people away from Jesus.

Okay, this book is by no means a masterful, apologetic treatise on Christianity. It isn’t meant to be. If you are looking to wrestle with deep theological questions, I have some other suggestions. But if you are person who is having a little trouble being a Christian, is hung up on some things that are keeping you from being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ or if you are looking for some clear language to talk with people who have some internal road blocks keeping them separated from God, the book is worth reading.



A little more on the amendments

I wish I had time to write full annotated notes to the amendment voting results but it is not likely going to happen. Here are a link that may help:

Analysis of amendments by Rev. Kim Cape - Executive Director New Church
Development and Transformation, Jay Brim - Conference lay leader

Open that in one window and the results in another:

Constitutional Amendment Results

Now you should be able to wade through what the results mean. Also remember this: the votes from the Southwest Texas Conference will be tallied with the results from all the other annual conferences with two thirds of the total voting membership in all the conferences required to pass the amendments.

Hope this helps. I will keep my eyes open for some more analysis and pass it along.

Constitutional Amendments

The results of the voting on the constitutional amendments during the Southwest Texas Annual Conference have been posted on the conference website:

This is just the raw data with no links to the amendments themselves. I will either post an explanation or a link to an explanation (if someone writes it before me.)



Thursday, June 11, 2009

More thoughts on twitter...

This is the most thoughtful article on the theology of twitter I have seen yet.

I would love to read your comments!



Saturday, June 6, 2009

The constitutional amendments have been voted upon and the results will be available next week. All over but closing worship.
I have spoken on the floor twice at this conference. I need to shut up while I am ahead.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Congratulations to The U's Leslie and Kit Tomlinson as well as all the members of this year's class of ordinands.  Leslie was ordained by Bishop Jim Dorff as and Elder in Full Connection and Kit was ordained as a Deacon in full connection.  If you would like more information about what that means, read one of my previous posts:

Also congratulations are in order for the latest commissioning class, those commissioned to provisional membership and licensed to serve in ministry until their ordination as elder or deacon.

This is my first year watching the service of ordination as and Ordained Elder and it is a new experience.  I commented to one of my colleagues that the first ordination service I attended I knew no one on the stage.  Now, after a few years, I know nearly all the ordinands and pretty much everyone participating in the service.  It is a great feeling to become more and more part of the family of the annual conference.

Back to business in the morning.  Lots to do before noon!


At the ordination service watching Bishop Dorff preach.

Live from Annual Conference

Finally found a wifi hotspot in the building.  While I am blogging most of the conference is meeting in dialog sessions on issues like addressing poverty and starting and revitalizing churches.   We have been in business sessions this morning and this afternoon and will be back in session at 4:15.  We have a few things to cover and then we will break for the night and prepare for the service of ordination.  I wish I had a chance to blog yesterday while the Bishop's address to the conference was still fresh in my mind.  I will try to write more about it later.


Sorry about not posting a full update last night. I got in late. Just heard report from New Church Development. Next midday worship then back to business.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Conference Lay Leader Jay Brim giving his address. I haven't heard him mention twitter yet. @swtxumc

Annual Conference - Day One Wrap Up

Opening day of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference ended with some pretty amazing worship with music from The U's Mark Swayze and the Mark Swayze Band.  Bishop Garcia de Ochoa delivered a spirit-filled message on the common call to ministry we share as clergy and laity.  This was the traditional Memorial Service and Opening Eucharist which happens on the first night of the conference.  But, for me, it had a noticeably different feel.  When, towards the end of communion, the band launched into Jesus Paid it All and the congregation one by one came to their feet, the feel inside the Selena Auditorium changed.  Communion music, especially at the large conference gatherings can largely background music, but by the end of the song everyone had spontaneously joined together in song.  It was cool.

The rest of the day was filled with conference business.  As I blogged yesterday, Pastors Kit and Leslie were elected into full connection, their final step before ordination on Friday.  We also had our first informal discussion on the many constitutional amendments.  I guess I hadn't been paying attention, because I was surprised to learn that we won't be discussing or voting on the amendments until Saturday morning.  That is good news in that it might keep some delegates from leaving early.  However, it will not allow very much time for the body of the conference to discuss and vote.  Perhaps we assume that everyone will have already made up their mind by then.

If you want more information on the amendments, you can find it here:

This morning, there will be small communion services led by each of our District Superintendents followed by the first official business session.  I will let you know how it goes.  



Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In a discussion meeting regarding amendments to the United Methodist Constitution.
Pastors Leslie and Kit have been approved and elected for full connection in preperation for ordination on Friday.

Live... From Corpus Christi!

Well not yet, but I am leaving this morning.   Day one at conference is usually fairly uneventful.  The clergy meet in a session to vote on a number of things including election into full connection for those who will be ordained later in the week.  Our own Kit and Leslie Tomlinson need to be elected into full connection in the conference by the body of elders and deacons before they can be ordained by the Bishop on Friday evening.  We will also receive new provisional members working toward ordination and new local pastors.  We actually deal with a ton of stuff but those are the highlights.  

While the clergy meet the laity have their own gathering which orients new delegates and reviews some of the items before the conference.  (Someone can correct me if I left something out of that.  I have only been a lay delegate once and it was a while ago.)

Normally after those sessions everyone goes to dinner and comes back for worship.  But this year there is an additional piece.  We will all be gathering to have a discussion of the constitutional amendments that will be before the body to be ratified.  I am not quite sure how this is going to work.  There are 32 amendments.  It will take most of that hour just to read them.  I am not quite sure what the discussion will look like.

After that discussion is the time when many of the seminaries hold their alumni dinners.  I imagine Pastors Kit, Leslie, Ryan and Adam will be heading off to visit with their old friends from Asbury.  I have yet to make it to an Austin Seminary alumni dinner.  Maybe next year.

Wednesday evening ends with worship and important worship at that.  We begin our time together with a memorial worship service where we remember and celebrate the clergy servants who have died in the past year.

I will try to get logged on tonight and let you know how it all goes.



Monday, June 1, 2009

Look at all the u|choose cards!

The Pathway to Discipleship really hit a new level this week.  Between the ending of two Message courses (two sections of Disciple) and a session of u|connect (our introduction to church membership and the pathway), we received over 50 u|choose cards this week.  Someone always gets nervous when I talk numbers, but this signifies over 50 people who are committed to taking another step in their journey of discipleship, over 50 people who have decided to keep themselves in the path of God's sanctifying grace, over 50 people who want to engage with the community of faith in a continuing process of looking to Jesus to look more like Jesus.  This is good news.