Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sermon -- 1 Corinthians 3

I was given another opportunity to preach at Mountain View in Bill's absence and it was a great experience.  Not bad for the "B" team! (inside joke...)

If you care to listen, please click here!

Also, if you care to see my (somewhat detailed outline), it can be found at this link.  It makes sense in my head...and that's what is important!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sermon -- Friendship

I was asked to preach at my brother in-law's church McEachern Memorial UMC on Friendship.

If you care to listen to it, click here to listen!

Let me know if you care to see my outline. I'd post it here but there are formatting issues.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wesley's Covenant Service

I preached again this past Sunday about Wesley's Covenant Service.  I'm still trying to figure out how exactly I want to go about uploading these things, but this will work for now.

You can download it here!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Luke 21.5-19

I had an opportunity to preach for the first time at Mountain View UMC for Youth Sunday and had a blast.  It is the most difficult text I have preached from so far, but I wanted to allow myself something challenging so that I could really enjoy the sermon crafting process.  I am still learning about myself and my preaching "style", how detailed I like my outlines and such, but so far I have learned one thing: I love doing it.  Whether that means preaching in a weekly pulpit or being invited to do so for special occasions, I hope that it is a part of my career...whatever that means.  Here is the sermon:

Friday, August 23, 2013

I preached today

I preached's weird to say.  For my Contemporary Black Preaching class we were assigned to do two sermons in our own styles with elements borrowed the genre of black preaching.  I didn't record my one from last week, but I did this one.  Feel free to listen and to follow along on the manuscript.  I'm not typically a manuscript preacher, but, because we were assigned to write one, I went ahead and used it.


I would like to thank God and for God’s Holy Spirit through whom I have this opportunity to preach here once more.  Thank you to Dr. Fry Brown – For the class and her great insights; thank you to the class for your encouragement and presence.
"Almighty God, we come to you with this morning with a variety of thoughts and emotions: anxiety, anticipation, stress, fear.  Awaken us, oh God.  Awaken us your spirit in this moment.  Would you align my words with your will so that there is none of me but all of you here today?  In Christ's name we pray, amen." 
Scripture Reading
            Today, we will be reading from the book of Exodus, chapter 36 and verses 1-7.  As you flip there in your Bibles I would like to briefly summarize what has happened in the preceding narrative that is presented to us in this book of Exodus.  Moses with Joshua has gone to the top of Mt. Sinai where he has a divine encounter with God.  In this encounter God gives Moses specific instructions upon how a tabernacle will be built in God’s name, how sacrifices are to be offered, and several other things.  In the meantime, or, rather, at the very same time, Aaron decides with the community of Israelites down below that it would be a good idea to preserve God’s image into an idol.  He and others bring together and melt down their golden possessions and pour the liquid gold into the mold of a calf and subsequently begin worshipping it.
            This, of course, makes God very angry, so angry in fact, that even after Moses did intercede on their behalves asking that they would not be destroyed, God sends a plague their way.  This episode, though ironic in nature, is actually very serious.  It represents a moment where God is so displeased with the Israelites, where God and God’s people it seems are so disconnected, that God is near willing to sever the relationship altogether.  Though God does restore with the Israelites a new covenant, it is here where our reading picks up.  The construction of the tabernacle represents to us a tangible moment where God’s spirit becomes harmonized with the people’s will and a true value of restoration becomes present in their relationship.  Would you please stand as we read the scripture out of respect for God’s word?
            “Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the Lord has given skill and understanding to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.
            Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work; and they received from Moses all the freewill offerings that the Israelites had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the artisans who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task being performed, and said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing; for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work”
            This is the word of God for us the people of God.  (Thanks be to God)
Sermon Body
            The title for today’s sermon is simply named, “Tabernacles,” and though our text refers to one explicit example, I do mean to use the plural form of the word.  My challenge for us today is that we look back into the tabernacles in our lives with a mentality of construction, or, in some cases, reconstruction.  So, before we move any further into the text, it is of the utmost importance that I first define what I mean when I use the word “tabernacle.”  What is it?  The “Dictionary of the Bible” by Eerdman, which may sound familiar to some of you—it was assigned to us in OT—defines it quite clearly.  The author writes this about the tabernacle:
"Though God is beyond nature and history, through the medium of his temple he makes his presence manifest.  But this presence cannot be merely stated; it must be lived and experienced…the tabernacle was the place where offerings were made to God and revelations received from God…” And concerning what happens in the temple he states this: "Within the biblical narratives, the act of sacrifice is the single most important feature of the liturgical life of the temple.”
…Hearing…Speaking…Sacrifice… these are the rhythms of the tabernacle …God’s presence…movement…worship… where is it in our lives that God truly becomes manifest?  I know that many of us here are studying for a MDiv, but where in our lives are we truly giving divinity its space, allowing for, as Eerdman says a real and lived place for the experience of God’s presence?  For some of us, that space may be right here at Candler, or, I pray for many of us that that place can be in our home churches.  Or just in our homes, at all.  These are our tabernacles.  Where they are, how they look, or how they smell is variable, but of them all we can determine one thing: No matter what we do or where we are, God wants space to be in explicit communion with us.
            Now, let me remind you of the tabernacle in our text.  As it enters into the book of Exodus, or, even more importantly, as it is constructed into the larger scope of all time, it becomes the unifying entity with which God and God’s people can once again be truly together.  Therefore, if we mine this text carefully, we can begin to experience God’s heart for us and how it becomes manifest to us through God’s holy space.
            The first thing we need to know is who is builds these spaces?  Who is allowed to construct such a place of reverence that is to house the King of Kings?  I think of places like Buckingham Palace where every nook and cranny is decorated to house only the most prestigious and royal of people.  Our text at the end of verse 2 gives us an interesting insight into this.  And so it says: Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work.  Wait, everyone whose heart was stirred was qualified?  I’ll be honest that as I read this mind paced to all the bad things I’ve done and to all of my accurate perceptions and inaccurate misconceptions I have of myself.  And I’m reminded of a book I once read that asked the questions, what if your words stained the walls?  What if your thoughts put odors in the air, and your actions built slimy heaps up on the carpet?  Would you want to live in that place?  And the beauty of it is that even in the nastiest of rooms, God still enters that place with us.  If you’ll remember Moses didn’t stay on the Mountain…the command was to leave it and then to build the temple.
            Observation number 2, and I love this…let’s look again at verses 3-5.  Evidently there were plenty of people whose hearts were stirred, so much so that the main artisans began complaining, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do”.  Church, the Israelites have a vision that has caught on fire.  They are volunteering to do too much work and are giving away too much.  Have you ever experienced a place like that in your life where the spirit has caught hold and people just won’t stop?  I don’t know about you but when I think of the experience of being caught on fire with passion one of my most vivid thoughts springs up from my experience as a soccer player.  I played offense and I remember one particular time when a defender on the other team was heckling my teammates.  It set fire to my bones and the next time I got the ball I headed straight for him.  My movements had never been so precise and my coordination with the ball had never felt so in sync with one another and not only did I get passed he and his friend, I ended up scoring a goal.  Church, when guided passion happens, just like how I lost the distinction between my movements on that field and so focused on the task at hand, we can, too, with whole church bodies, move into a place of work that feels like none other than total and complete worship.  In fact, the word for worship and work are the same in Hebrew…Ah-VOH-da.  As we build our tabernacle, let us do it in a mode of worship.
            Finally, let us look briefly at verses 6-7, which is Moses’ response to the overflow of freewill offerings, the free gifts of the people.  He calls them off.  He says we cannot use all that you are giving us…that is enough.  If you’ve read much of the Israelites’ story, you’ll probably remember that Pharoah complained to Moses because he felt that the slaves were doing too little work.  To punish them he made the process to make bricks more challenging and required them to make double the amount.  Our third and final observation is simply this: God’s spirit goes beyond our limitations.  Our human nature was not designed with to withstand the full capacity of God in us.  We have been equipped with more than enough to do God’s will, if we would just give God that space, if we would just deem it our tabernacle and prepare to experience a God that is more than we can handle and is just enough at the very same time.
            Is there anybody in here whose tabernacles may be ornate on the outside but empty on the inside?  I’ll just say it, is there anybody in here whose church choir has perfect pitch on key but the spirit of God is flat?  Is there anyone in here whose vital signs flatlined long ago, whose rhythm or whose heartbeat has lost it’s power…where sacrifice, and hearing, and movement, and worship are no longer words of the day?

            Let us celebrate a God today who is able.  When we can’t see a way out, if we’d just give God a little bit of space, our waters can split and we can move through it. Our deserts run us low, but our God brings us back.  Though we disappear into the backlines of our battles, our God wants to lead us into victory.  Let us continue to construct our tabernacles as we move through life, giving God the glory for it is in that space of reconciliation where the one who is more than enough will lead us and guide us down the path of righteousness.  Amen, and amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Attempting to answer a positive question from negative space.

There has been so much going on in my life since I began this blog...the issue is that I don't know that much of what has happened deserves to public, which has caused me to more conservative in my blogging and, ultimately, been reason enough to convince me to stop.  But it is summer now, and my first year of seminary is behind me, so I figure I can catch up a little.  I saw this picture today on Facebook and liked it...the Chinese got this right:

So often we are told what we cannot do, by parents, authorities, professors, etc., and we forget to think about what we can do.  Isn't that true?  My generation is presently caught in the largest identity crisis I have ever seen.  Ask anyone who is graduating college who they are and you will understand what I mean, or, for that matter, anyone in their early-mid twenties.  Think about it...that question: who are you?  What makes you you?  The proper format to the question generally begins with fairly easy responses:  favorite color and music, where we're from, who our parents are--but doesn't it get a little more challenging after the life facts run out?  Who ARE you?  If you think what you believe constitutes who you are, then what do you BELIEVE?

Yet, it is odd, that question is, "who are you," because it requires one to think positively, working from within one's self and providing answers to an exterior--it is a process of induction--in which we introduce ourselves to something new.  "Who aren't you" is a much easier question to answer.  It does the opposite, in which one looks at his or her immediate circumstance and then works inward, in a process of deduction.  But, always one of the most difficult questions to answer, that is significant to us, and to this blog, is "so what?"  What does looking into these questions matter?  Erring away from the side of purely philosophical inquiry toward practicality (which I believe to be extremely important), in what way can we derive any substance in regards to who we are and who we aren't by thinking about it in this manner?

I bring up the fact that we are often told what we cannot do to help us understand this crisis of identity I and so many of my colleagues are experiencing.  We respond to the inherently positive question "who are you" in the way it demands the best we can.  The root of the issue is that we are attempting to answer this question that demands positively from a position that is consistently subjugated to negativity.  How often are we told, for whatever reason, who we are not, what we cannot do, and who we cannot become?  This digital, "post-information" age bombards us with images of who others are and who we will never become...fully equipping us to understand who we aren't.  It must be mentioned that race, class, and gender play into this, too, often in covert ways.  Who are we not?  Check, we got it.  Yet, the question that is required of us to become who we are, "who are you," forces an awkward, inward look within ourselves from a place of negativity to a place of positivity.

This is my struggle.  This is our struggle.  The beauty of creativity is that it is an exercise in this matter.  Creativity, too, requires one to work positivity into a negative space.  To "think outside the box," a phrase often attributed to creative thinkers, is to accept this tension as a premise and to train one's self to work from it as if it were a foundational principle.  The best artists in my classes knew who they were and embraced it...and knew what they wanted.  The artists we studied in class worked with confidence, and this was perhaps the most admirable characteristic of theirs--that and endurance/persistence.  This is why quenching one's creative abilities is perhaps one of the worst things we can do, and is something all of us are guilty of.  Learning to express creativity without quenching it is the solution to our crisis.

My goal in ministry is not antinomianistic (hello seminary) in nature, in which we are to completely disregard the law, for there is much need for the it, but it is to revive the hearts of Christians in whom I come into contact with and to learn together the ways that we can work creatively within the necessary systems and powers that be.  Without grace, the church is just another place of business (hello Wesley).  Just a place of business is not what I want to be a part of, nor is it what I believe Christ wanted for us.  Instead of always jumping to the (often valid) reasons of why we cannot accomplish the next dream, what if the church became a place of dynamism in which amazing things were accomplished because its people let go of the negativity that surrounded it and turned towards new growth in its place?  That is the church I want to be a part is the church that will respond to the needs of a generation who struggle to trek the distance from no to yes.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

#CFyouth -- Instagram and Ministry

Why the hash-tag (#)?  Because, being the hip youth pastor I am (that's a joke), I plan to use it in a way that is to benefit my youth group.  Before I make my way to the How, I would first like to clarify the why.

When I arrived at Chamblee First UMC about 8 months ago, one of the first things I did was to meet with our volunteer committee that we call our "Youth Council."  In that meeting, there were the usual introductions that one would expect, but I made a special effort to focus on some of our time on visioning in order to gain some direction from the crew that I was to work with.  Fortunately, they are an awesome group of people and we were all mostly on the same page with many common goals.  The common thread, of course, was the youth, and our trying to understand how to meet them where they are.  If what we are offering is not appealing to the students, then, as wonderful to us as it may be, it will not work.

Somewhere along the lines of church history, we have made a sore mistake.  We, the church, have removed ourselves from those of whom we were chosen to serve.  Now, this makes sense, when reading verses of how our purity means to coexist in opposition to that of the world:
1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 
But, one must also take into consideration that the Father also sent to us a son that would become manifest through humanity and take form as Christ.  This, of course, is the mystery of Christ, that he was 100% man and 100% God.  Considering our picture of Christ is one of a man on a cross, a superhero of sorts saving the people, it is easy to skip over the 100% human part and look straight to him as the Son of God, here to save the day.  And though, yes he was here to save the day, he was also human.  His existence occupied both time and space.
Luke 1:31
You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
With it being the Christmas season, we hear this verse quite often.  It's from an angel, Gabriel, speaking on behalf of God to Mary, the mother of Jesus, delivering to her the news that she is to become the mother of God's son.  But the significance here is two-fold: 1) Christ's heritage runs straight between Christ and God himself, a point we are not tackling here, and 2) Christ entered humanity through a virgin womb.  Christ came into being as a child, born of a mother, fully human.  Having just taken a class on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's theology, we could study this more in depth as his christological beliefs shape nearly every other part of his conception of God's interaction with the world, but the main point that we need to know is that Christ was born, human, in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago.

Now, this started with a hash-tag, and somehow has turned into the ramblings of a youth pastor and Christ's humanity...How did this happen?  It happened because I firmly believe that God intentionally made the decision to become manifest as human into a world that has turned its back to God far too many times, yet Christ was sent anyway.  Why?  Because God loves us.  We are God's creations...reflections of God's image in which we were made.  This glorious news is that God has not given up on the world.  Has the church?

The reason this started as a hash-tag is because on that list of goals the youth council created in that visioning session was a realization that we must meet youth where they are.  Well, where are they?  They are all over the place.  Mine are on Facebook, and Instagram.  They're on the soccer fields and swim teams, taking tests in schools, and trying out crappy part-time jobs.  If an all powerful God, who can do whatever he cares to do, sent his only Son into the world to save it, then where is Christ's bridegroom to be?  I believe that we, the church, are to be on those soccer fields, in the schools, on Facebook, and, yes, on Instagram, too, if that's where the people are.

#CFyouth is a representative of Chamblee First UMC's youth program that works everyday of the week, free of charge, and appeals to students.  Sure, I would love to make the youth drop their cell phones in a box as they walk in the door because of its use as a distraction, but because we have not required them to conform to our agendas, we have students with Bible apps downloaded on their phones.  We have opportunities to utilize social media instead of battling it.  We have put our rusty swords down and are reevaluating, restrategizing once again, our approach to ministry.  We are set apart.  A people loved by God.  This set apart and loved person by God is tired of the church's disconnect with society and wants to see it once again a moral barometer with whom people can trust.

What must our youth group do to spread the gospel of Christ in our community and turn hearts towards Christ?  We must do whatever it takes to spread the gospel of Christ in our community and turn hearts towards Christ.  Pride swallowed.  Past considered.  Let us move forward with Christ's blessing in his Great Commission with a model that becomes available to the whims of pop-culture, and not one that moves in opposition to it.

Note: There is, obviously, an ethical limit as to how far within the world the church reaches, less it become the world.  This blog post is simply meant to be a reminder for us youth workers that middle and high-school students learn differently than we did, and, in light of that fact, adjustments to our approach to ministry must be made.
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