Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about my use of technology and our dependence upon it.  I am a bit torn personally, because on the one hand technology has power to connect and share positive messaging; we have the opportunity to share content is ways that we've never been able to do.

However, I think there is another side of technology with which I struggle.  I struggle with the idea that while we may be more connected now than at any other time, we are also more disconnected.

So, I am going on a personal journey and would like to invite you to come along.  I am calling this month "Connectober."  I am  disconnecting from social media and technology and plan to move into greater connection personally.  It may be in person, it may be through phone conversations, and it even may be in personal notes and through prayer.

If you'd like to join me - I encourage you to do several things.
1. Connect with God through scripture and prayer daily.
2. Connect with one family member (outside your home) each day.
3. Connect with one neighbor each week, either through an act of giving, or a gift, or an old fashioned cake delivery.
4. Connect with a stranger once this month with a significant random act of kindness.
5. Connect with a new person each Sunday that you do not know well.
6. Connect with a pastor each week
7. Connect with a lay person each week.

Call it a fast, call it a spiritual journey, but I want to connect in a stronger way with the original social media - personally.  Yes, the Facebook and Twitter are coming off the cell phone and the notifications have been turned off.  If you'd like to connect with me, I'd love to hear from you! 

Won't you join me in making a closer connection with each other? 


Monday, August 23, 2010

I'm Tired of Practicing

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
James 1:22 (NIV)
I do a lot of driving everyday. I do more driving than a typical pastor commuting back and forth to the church. On any given day, I am in the car at least an hour a day. That gives me a lot of time to listen to the radio.

Typically, I am listening to sports talk radio. I enjoy all kinds of sports, so keeping up with conversations that are sports related are of interest to me. Couple that with my interest in the three major sports teams in Western Pennsylvania, and it makes for good listening.

I listen to sports talk quite a bit, and therefore I often think in sports metaphors and have been found to use them as I speak. Naturally, if someone else uses a sport’s cliché or metaphor in conversation, it might cause me to tilt my head in interest.

During a recent conversation, I heard someone describing another individual by saying that he/she was “not a practicing Christian.” I know what that means, so I didn’t have to ask the person to describe what they thought it meant. People often use that to describe individuals who are not “actively involved” in their congregation or that they don’t go to church but claim to have a faith in a higher being. Sometimes people use the statement that someone is not “religious.”

(I will leave the whole conversation about being whether you can have an active faith if you are not actively involved in worship, for another day. Suffice it to say, “being a good person” isn’t going to get it done.)

What caught my attention was this phrase, “practicing Christian.” Again, people use this phrase to describe those who don’t come to church regularly, if at all. However, as it was said, I began to think about this idea of being a practicing Christian, even when it is used to describe those of us who come to church several times a month. Not only did I think about it, I came up with a conclusion.

All of us should be more than just practicing Christians! Here’s why.

Practice suggests that you are doing it at half speed. Since we are still in pre-season for both college and professional football, I will suggest that practicing means that you are sometimes only going through the motions. You run though plays, either with others, or you practice them in your mind. But practice doesn’t involve real contact. Sometimes practice means that you don’t even use pads. (Work with me here – I know that sometimes during the week, they do use pads.)

Practice suggests that you are simply looking at game film. Practice means that you are still learning. Practice means that sometimes others will come in and take your place. Practice means that you can go over to the sidelines when you want to take a break (as so many of you have done this summer)

When I was little, I loved to play little league baseball. I looked forward to baseball most of the year. I loved everything about playing baseball. But to be truthful with you, I wasn’t really looking forward to practice at all. I loved to play the game. I wanted to get dirty, I wanted the full action. I wanted to play at game speed, when things really mattered.

Actually, practice isn’t inherently evil. In fact, it is necessary, even for those who play the game. And just because you’re playing doesn’t mean that you don’t have to practice too.

The book of James talks a lot about the difference between hearing and doing. James is talking about taking our faith and taking it to another level. It is not enough to simply listen and have faith if the faith isn’t doing anything. It isn’t enough to simply believe in God and believe that you are saved by grace through that faith. You must also go and do.

A pastor in our connection has said, “The world will see the relevancy of the Gospel when the people of Jesus fully embrace and live the biblical mandate to live like Jesus. John Wesley called it the demonstration of “social holiness.”” (Mike Slaughter, Change the World)

Sunday morning is for “practice.” It is the day for us to come to worship, to hear God’s Word spoken and proclaimed. Some of you meet in small groups to grapple with the play book a little bit. But after that, if you don’t put that playbook into action on the mission field, its like you are just going through the motions. When James writes that we must stop merely listening and do what it says, it means that we must go out and do all the things that the Gospel proclaims, up to and including sharing that Good News with others so that they can join the team.

The time has come for this church to stop “practicing.” We have to begin to put the words into action and become the hands and feet of Christ. That's what it means to be a Disciple of Christ.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing a song played around the baseball field. The song was by John Fogerty and it was entitled “Centerfield.” Its message was simple. “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today. I can be centerfield.”

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to play. I’m tired of practicing and I’m ready for the regular season to start. I am looking forward to seeing you come back from the “off-season” as we share not only the message, but the work of Christ on the field.

See you at the game!

Pastor Greg

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reflections on a "Leafy Branch"

During Lent, I am doing a sermon series entitled "Seven Days and Counting." The intention of the series is to focus on a life giving week at the end of Jesus' ministry. Without the week, we would have no resurrection. Without the death, there would be no resurrection. Simple, right?

Today, I focused on the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. I did it today in order to place emphasis on all the days of the week, especially on his death later in Lent. I really wanted to focus on one thing, and that was our praise of Christ. I think we did that in worship.

However, I made a mistake. I bought palms. I did it intentionally knowing that the whole act of Palm Sunday was being played out in our music and worship. However, I realized today that had I not brought in the palms, it would have played out. Message given, message received.

The problem is that our human capacity to understand the day is so wrapped up in this simple leafy branch that we seem to place more emphasis on the palms than the day or the message. We place more emphasis on the branch than we do on the reason that we are waving it in the first place. I had more questions about why we were handing our palms (which I fully expected) and why we wouldn't be doing it on the sixth Sunday of Lent.

I think we've actually made an idol out of this palm! The palm has become more important than our relationship with Christ and our ability to praise and worship him, allowing him to enter our lives.

I wish I had thought about that a little more. If so, I wouldn't have even brought the palms into the worship service. The message could have been simple. "As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise god joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen." Luke 19:37

Next year, I might be doing Entry on Palm Sunday, but I might also be rethinking palms.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

When Life Gets in the Way

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:2

Last week, I admitted to some folks that I was completely unprepared for Lent this year. Psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually unprepared is probably a best description. I had programs in place, people lined up, and events planned – but largely, I was unprepared.

I’ve been saying recently that life sometimes gets in the way. Things happen that cause us to become distracted or sidetracked from our journey or spiritual disciplines. Just the other day, I spent a good amount of time bashing icicles from our building. Two days later I was doing the same thing from our parsonage. I wasn’t doing it just for the thrill of it (although it can be rather cathartic), but I was concerned about leaks and damage, insurance, and all the stuff that goes along with freezing water.

Life was getting in the way. If I were to leave a place for you here to describe all the ways in which life got in the way for you, there would be plenty of space and items that we could list. Doctors visits, medication dosages, bad news, car wrecks with deer (yeah, that was me again), job concerns, mortgage payments . . . you name it and it would be an example of how life gets in the way of our discipleship.

Life getting in the way of our discipleship is probably the single most important reason for us to observe Lent. Lent is a time for us to refocus ourselves on the things that are above and refocus our attention on our relationship with Christ.

I like those words from Paul, “seek the things that are from above.” It is a reminder that we must intentionally turn our attention to the things that are from above. It’s an admission that it is not easy – it takes work. Repentance for the forgiveness of sins takes an intentional change, or redeployment of your entire being. Above all things, Paul reminds us that we should do it with love, letting the peace of Christ rule in your heart.

There is a passage that I often read that reminds me that we should not worry so much about the earthly things. I think you’ve heard it before. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will ring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” I think those words of Jesus should be a reminder that we shouldn’t let life get in the way of our relationship with God and most importantly with the sustaining love of Christ.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Going To Great Lenghts

Today I went with some friends and the girls to go see something spectacular. We drove over 300 miles just to see some Elk. It was raining out, and a perfect day to take a drive. We drove even though there was no guarantee that we would see or even hear them.

When we got to the lookout, off in the distance was a spectacular bull and several cow elk. We spent some time just watching in amazement. After some time, we left that lookout to venture to another. While we didn't see any at the other vantage point, it was good just to see the range and habitat of the elk.

Because the other location offered the best vantage point from which to see the elk, we returned, and was I glad that we did. Faintly in the distance, I could hear a most spectacular sound - the sound of a bull elk calling (bugle). As we told the kids to stop and listen, we watched and waited as the elk moved and spoke in the distance.

I imagine that some would think it odd to drive that far with only the possibility of seeing. But I wonder how many would even try to stop and listen.

Are we the same about our faith? Are we unwilling to travel to great lengths to just get the glimpse of our Lord and listen for the voice of God? I'm glad that I did - and I'm glad that the girls were there to hear.

"For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!" Psalm 95:7

Friday, August 14, 2009

Not in my backyard (church)!

It was announced last night that Michael Vick has signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. For those of you who don't follow sports, Michael Vick is a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback who was convicted and jailed on Dog fighting charges. He has since been released from jail and been working on a comeback to the NFL.

A lot of theological language has been used to describe how people should view the situation. And yet, in the midst of the story is much controversy. Should a person who has been convicted of such a heinous crime be given a second chance?

I found myself asking such questions and even going as far as saying that he should be offered another chance, "but not on my team." I have a lot of sports reasons for that, but I wonder if they are founded in sports or some other deep seeded thoughts.

Do we do that in the church? Do we think that people should be offered bread, but not in my backyard? Do we believe in justice, but just not here? Do we believe in redemption, salvation, reconciliation, and even grace - but just on our terms?

I see a lot of churches (and pastors) claim that they believe a lot of things, but they don't always play out that way. I believe in the "forgiveness of sins," so will I practice it on my field of play?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Manage Differently

Last Thursday's Leadership Summit started off quickly. Bill Hybels set the stage for the Summit and some of the conversations by talking about the new reality of leadership and the world. All of us are leading in a new reality, and one that may be with us for a very long time. Our old reality may be just that, an old reality, and one to which we may never return.
Economies, thoughts, spending, societal expectations, and church are all changing. In spite of that new reality, we must lead.
That morning didn't slow down. Gary Hamel shared a dynamic dialogue on managing in this new reality, and offered encouragement for leaders and churches to adapt.
To say that the morning didn't slow could be an understatement. Hamel's delivery was quick, yet direct. Try as I might, I couldn't get every word down, although I felt as if everything that was said was targeted and thought provoking.
Maybe that's what made the point - our world is changing, and much quicker than institutions are adapting. His opening question was simple, "are you changing as fast as the culture around you?"
While his message centered on the fact that our world is becoming more turbulent faster than our organizations are becoming resilient, he offered us some thoughts on how businesses as well as churches can think about leading from the edge of those changes.
  • Outrun Change. Don't take refuge in denial that change is happening. Confront the realities of the world around us and the churches we serve. Face the facts head on and question your practices. He was clear that we should not question our core beliefs and creedal systems, but that how we live out of them must continue to be questioned. Hamel encouraged us to listen to the renegades.
  • Generate strategic options. Make change look cooler than standing still.
  • Deconstruct what we believe, ask questions and compare yourself with others. Don't be in the business of replicating what is happening down the street, but attempt to brand yourself. If there is a program that doesn't work or hasn't changed, ask why.

Hamel pointed out several businesses and organizations that have done exactly what he was advocating, noting that without change and adaptation, these companies would have been gone decades ago. For me, it was a nice connection to Jim Collins book, How the Mighty Fall.

One of the most powerful statements for me reminded me of how easy it is to be comfortable. I continue to think about it and wonder if I'm not living in this situation. Hamel said, "The longer you are in a trench, the easier it is to mistake the edge of your rut as the horizon." He likened the places that we reside as quite often ruts that are hard to get out of. We need to focus on getting out of those ruts so that we can be on a smoother path to meet the needs of those around us.

Maybe what we need, Hamel suggested, was a good healthy dose of "unorganized religion." We need to deconstruct the patterns and behaviors that are continuing to set us behind the curve of society and commit ourselves to mobilize, connect, and support one another.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between business and leadership models, and the church. In the past, I've sometimes felt as if "faculty" at the Summit would burden themselves to make the leap and try to connect the two. It feels awkward and forced. I didn't feel that way with Hamel who was able to use his business experinece as a way of thinking about leadership in the church.

I am looking forward to diving into Hamel's book, The Future of Management. Hopefully, I will be able to pick up some of the details that were missed by this fast paced and dynamic look at the future of leadership in a changing society.