Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Love Rubs Feet

This post was written back on May 5th. I often write posts and never post them. Honestly, for me, much of blogging is personal journaling. But I was thinking about this again this week, looked up the post, and decided to go public with it.


This weekend I'm teaching on love. It's a sermon I have done before... actually several times. I heard another pastor at a conference give this basic outline back in 1991 and said to myself that day that I wanted to preach that outline every year of my ministry. Well, that hasn't happened. But I have given this outline maybe 5 or 6 times between the two churches I have served. Of course, some of the content changes... I would get bored with it otherwise... but the simple message is a good one:

Love boldly.

I have been thinking about love a lot lately. And much of it is born out of pain. I have been watching my parents struggle through dad's decline. I have another man I deeply respect who is in a battle with leukemia and doesn't seem to be winning. My friend and co-partner in ministry has a mom who is fighting her own health issues. In the midst of all of this darkness... there is this light. It's the love I see breaking through in these dark places.

Today I sat with this man named Paul. He is a pastor of sorts. And he is one of my heros. I had heard of him before I came to Athens and was really excited to meet him. In the past couple of years he, his wife and son became a part of the church I pastor. And at first, honestly, it was kind of wierd to have this guy who I kind of looked up to, be a part of my congregation. But in these years I have gotten to know him, his wife and son and I have seen a spiritual maturity that just blows me away. (Maybe I will write more about this another time).

But for now I just wanted to say: true love is really hard.

It rubs feet.

It changes bandages. It cleans up messes. It calls out the best in people. It forgets the worst in people.

So often our culture thinks of love as naked bodies writhing in pleasure. We even call it, "Making love."

That's stupid.

I'm not even sure "love" happens in the first years of marriage.

Love is when it becomes difficult. Sacrificial.

Love is when you talk to that friend and you don't want to talk.

It's when you give and don't want to give.

When you call and don't want to call.

Love rubs feet.


Paul Martin
June 28, 1946 - August 14, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The "cutting room floor"

"And by the way, lest you think that Jesus taught some wishy-washy, "can't we all just get along" kind-of-message, let me just say it this way: Nobody ever crucified Big Bird."

Paul Risler


I wrote that line for my sermon this weekend. For some reason, I just like it. But this afternoon, I cut it out of my message (as well as the whole larger section of which it was a part).

I hated to see it go.

People often ask me what's the hardest part of preparing a sermon. I think most people expect me to say that it's the research, or coming up with illustrations, or getting started, or ending the message...

For me it has always been the edit.

Almost without exception, every message I write (a finished message is approximately 20 half-sheets of paper long) is whittled down from about 40 pages. Usually the Tuesday before I preach a message, I have this 2-hour-long message that I run through. I take it on the treadmill, on the elliptical... I carry a copy of it in my coat pocket. I have even been known to read the entire thing into a voice recorder and play it in my car on long trips. I work on it whenever I have an extra couple of minutes.

And with each section, each paragraph, each line, I try to ask myself, does this REALLY support the main point? Does this REALLY make people wrestle with this text? Does this REALLY shed any extra light on anything?

Or do I just like it?

See, here's the thing: I think some of my best stuff ends up on the cutting room floor.

It's stuff I WANT to say, but I have to discipline myself not to say it.

Sometimes it's stuff I have poured hours into finding, wrestled with theologically and personally, mulled over anywhere from 6 weeks to a year or more. It stuff that I think is funny, or clever, or illuminating...

And it never gets said.

At least in that message. At least for now. Maybe there will be a time. Maybe there will be a season and I will give it a shot. But not now. Even if I WANT to say it.




It's good... but is it the best thing I can say?


I think some of the best stuff in life ends up on the cutting room floor.

Or at least it should.

Each of us has so much to do and so many options. And sometimes, the hardest part in life is the edit. It is asking ourselves, "Is this REALLY going to add to my life? Is this the right thing for my life right now? Maybe it will fit better later, but given my priorities and what God is calling me to do... is this really what I should do? Is this really something to add to my schedule? Do I really need to take this on?"




It's good... but is it the best way I can live?

I think some of the best stuff in life ends up on the cutting room floor.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Sign him up.

I'm writing our worship leader now and trying to sign this guy up.

Oh my.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Gambling - Vote no on 3

For those who know me, you know that I try to hide my politics. I certainly believe that Christians can be Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green and just about any other label you can put on a political party. There are way too many things to divide us already.

With that said, I want to say a word about Issue 3, the casino gambling legislation. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'm simply going to publish a letter written by the bishop of the West Ohio Conference of the UMC. I hope it sheds light on the issue and is helpful to you.

For my vote, I'm voting a big "No."


For the fifth time in 19 years, The United Methodist Church and the Ohio Council of Churches are successfully mobilizing tens of thousands of voters from many faith communities to vote against casino gambling in Ohio. The gambling industry has mounted a well funded and deceptive marketing campaign to introduce predatory gambling into our neighborhoods. Issue 3, on the ballot in November, is a dangerous proposal which inserts new language into the Ohio Constitution, and creates a monopoly to run casinos in four Ohio communities. We call for an extensive effort to stop casino gambling from harming our citizens for these reasons:

1. Our position on gambling is consistent with our beliefs as United Methodists.

The United Methodist Church is very clear. Our Social Principles state that “gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic and spiritual life and destructive of good government.”—2008 United Methodist Discipline, Paragraph 163,G. We also live by these Three Simples Rules from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley – Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. Gambling does harm to families, economies, business and changes the fabric of life in communities.

2. Casinos create an illusion of free money.

The lingering economic downturn in our state and around the globe is frightening and devastating to individuals, families and institutions. There is incredible pressure on our state and community leaders to turn to the lure of casino gambling as the answer to our economic woes. We understand this. Noted economists call this “casino capitalism.” Casino capitalism contributes to an illusion of free money by preying on those least able to afford it. Across America, predatory gambling has helped create a culture based on financial gimmicks, false hopes and pure chance. This culture has led to and perpetuates the massive economic crisis we find ourselves in today.

3. Casinos do not bring positive economic development or create additional jobs.

This fact is documented once again in a report on the statewide economic and social factors of Issue 3 recently published by Ohio’s Hiram College. Casinos have the opposite effect by ultimately pulling money out of the local economy. This harms existing businesses and causes thousands of hard working citizens to lose their current jobs. The out of state companies that will operate these casinos will deplete the Ohio economy further as they take their profits elsewhere. Casinos ultimately lead to the loss of jobs and small businesses in the communities in which they are located.

4. Casinos are predatory by their very nature.

Casinos make windfall profits for their owners from the gambling losses of our most vulnerable neighbors, deriving much of their profits from the poor who spend more than they can afford to lose. Proximity to a casino also increases the levels of addiction. National studies indicate that people who live within 50 miles of a casino are twice as likely to become gambling addicts.

5. The social costs as a result of casino gambling will exceed revenue 3 to 1.

Let this sink in – for every dollar gambling generates, it will cost the taxpayers of Ohio three dollars in social costs. Problem gamblers ruin their lives and harm their families through increased debt, bankruptcy, home foreclosures, divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse and suicide. Casino gambling always does more harm than good to families. This amendment is economic nonsense in a time when we most desperately need sound, sustainable economic policies.

6. Law enforcement will need increased budgets & manpower to manage higher crime rates.

Nationwide, studies of existing casinos and surrounding communities have consistently found that crime rates increase by 10% each year after a casino opens, including violent crimes against people. In addition, 40% of all white collar crime is rooted in the gambling industry.

7. The casino owners do not care about our state or our citizens.

The proponents of Issue 3, just like their predecessors, allege they want to operate casinos in order to help the citizens of Ohio. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their well crafted promises of economic development, jobs and millions in revenue are motivated by greed, not by good will. In reality, they are seeking extravagant profits for themselves and are fear-mongers, not benefactors.

8. It is bad public policy to allow for-profit casino interests to write their own section of the Ohio Constitution.

Yet, this is precisely what they have done. They wrote the language in the proposed amendment and they paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to gather signatures to place their self-serving proposal on this November’s ballot. Their language not only grants them an exclusive monopoly on casino gambling for all time, it also dramatically limits the ability of the Ohio General Assembly to regulate their activities. The amendment specifically prohibits our state government from controlling the days or hours of operation, the size of the bets or even the types of gambling that will be allowed.

The language of the constitutional amendment is frightening and has loopholes. In fact, the language states these monopolies can inflict on our citizens any type of gambling that is currently allowed in any other adjoining state or any new types of gambling these states may experiment with in the future, including live sports betting. These casino interests even dictated the maximum amount they will pay in taxes and wrote in an amount that is dramatically lower than in some of the surrounding states. Other language in the amendment creates a loophole stipulating they will not pay any taxes when cash is directly used to place the bets.

We understand that the gambling industry is well organized and well funded to exploit the current economic pain and fear experienced by so many Ohioans. Issue 3 is not about jobs. It is about altering the very fabric of our life together. That is why Ohio citizens have voted consistently and overwhelmingly against bringing predatory casino gambling into our communities each of the previous four times this has been on the ballot.

We urge every United Methodist congregation in Ohio to be a public witness against Issue 3. There is no legal prohibition against churches taking a stance on ballot issues. Please join us in this endeavor as we abide by our Social Principles and live out our Three Simple Rules – Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.