Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ready, Player One?

Ready Player One movie review

Ready Player One is one of my favorite novels for entertainment factor. When the movie was announced, I was only vaguely interested. The book was going to be challenging to interpret into a movie form. The book depicts a future reality where virtual reality has replaced the education, entertainment, and consumer real world counterparts. People become so engrossed in the virtual world of The Oasis that they don’t log off except for food, sleep, and biological necessities. Anything possible or impossible becomes real in The Oasis. That meant this was going to require a heavy CGI budget.

The other thing about Ready Player One (the book) is that it is a constant stream of nostalgia for a certain type of people. The book connects with the age of persons who were babysat by an Atari 2600. They remember Alex P. Keaton’s counterculture battles with his parents. They have a secret hankering for a car that talks and has a flashing red light bar on the front. The age that those things appeal to were the target group. And I am proudly in the bullseye of that target.

The main character, Wade Watts, is the narrator of the book. The story comes from his point of view. It really becomes the power of the story because his successes and failures are the only emotional filter. That means when something happens to Wade, the reader is part of the reaction. When Wade discovers something, the reader is part of the discovery. And as the primary plot of the book is a puzzle game, discovery is a central part of advancement.

Then the movie came out. And all I can say is that the movie lost its heart.

The movie gets away from Wade’s point of view. The story draws the 4 other members of the hunting “group” Wade is a part of and the main villain into the perspective. This removes some of the punch in the emotional points of the movie. It also reveals some things without trying to bring the viewer along the road of discovery.

The emotional points of the book are life changing for Wade, but in the movie they are more distractions. Which, if you read the book you understand, are more meaningful as distractions. In translating them to film they are insignificant events. The emotional high points of the book become moderated. It is almost like Spielberg didn’t want the viewer to feel during this movie.

I am most frustrated that the movie did not remain true to the book. It didn’t keep me from enjoying the movie or respecting it on its own merits. It does, however, stand in the way giving this full credit as an adaptation. The game, the Hunt for the Egg, is totally re-written for the movie. The point of view switch includes making someone else the focus of the crucial false ending. And they move the opening act from Oklahoma City.

The greatest issue of not remaining true to the book is the level of respect for the viewer. The book is a book for readers. The vignettes and name drops are on practically every page. And it only requires a mention and the reader “sees” it. The movie, though, is a movie for non-readers. It is for video game players. It is for people who were nurtured on late forms of video games or movies. The puzzles in the book are linked to “ancient” movies and games (movies and games I feel comfortable with). The puzzles in the movie are linked to events that are depicted in the movie and very much oriented to video games of the last 10 years. The underlying ribbon that tied the puzzles together was Dungeons and Dragons. Outside of a couple of images taken from the world of D&D, there was no mention of the greatest game in history.

The movie is not a bad movie. It is okay. I wouldn’t go back to a theater and watch it. I will wait for it to hit the Black Friday movie deal. It is entertaining. It is exceptionally well done as a CGI driven film. It is internally coherent to its own story, even while it is not faithful to its source material. And the music is an ‘80’s music dream. But it just doesn’t have the heart to be good movie.

There is a lot of video game type violence. There is 1 scene that is sexually suggestive. There is no nudity except for a scene where all intimate parts are obscured. There is one foot to a groin. The language seemed to be relatively tame. I would suggest 13 and up for this movie.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ministry diagram for focus

As I was rebuilding my understanding of calling after my breakdown, I had to take it piece by piece. I returned to my original passage of scripture that I feel is my calling.
Ephesians 4:11-13
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 

It took a few weeks to come back to this verse and hear what I believe is my calling. I was called to equip believers, disciples, saints, and Christians to become mature in their faith. 

But as I explored that, I had to break it down into components to understand how I felt I was called to equip them. As I focused and meditated and pondered, 5 aspects of calling. Those 5 aspects are: drives, special callings, work areas, discipleship areas, and outcomes. What began as introspection on those aspects became an image that I have been refining. Images help me focus and this is what I have come up with:

This image is a composite of images that I used to focus on the 5 aspects. It isn't a perfect image for understanding completely what a calling upon one's life is about. This is just the clarity I have come to in my calling. 

At the top is the TRIANGLE making up the 1st Aspect: Drives in the Christian Life. Everyone has three drives as a believer, disciple, saint, and Christian. The first is Faith; that gift of grace that enables and empowers us to believe and live according to the likeness of Jesus Christ. The second is Passion. Passion is different from one person to the next. It ebbs and flows. It increases and decreases over time. Third is Calling. Every person who calls upon Jesus Christ as Lord is called. Faith is matter of accepting that call and passion is a matter of living that call out.

Next is the CORNERS in the center square highlighting the 4 Special Callings of Ephesians 4. This is the 2nd Aspect. Paul says that God has given the body of Christ 4 special called groups. These persons are a gift to the church who will enable the body of Christ to become more mature. The 4 Special Callings are Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Shepherd Teachers. Some interpretations separate the last calling into two. According to my (limited) skill in translating Greek, the text puts the greater weight of interpretation on the calling of shepherd and teacher being a combined calling. 

What about pastor-teacher? I came to a realization while studying this passage and the words used for these callings. The word used for "pastor" in this verse is the only instance of its use. In every other use of that word, it represents one of two things: shepherds who work with sheep and Jesus Christ. There is no other use in the New Testament (or the Old for that matter) where this word represents the meaning of pastor. I settled upon shepherd-teacher because I felt Jesus Christ couldn't be replaced.

The next image is the DIAMOND that represents the 3rd Aspect: The Work Areas of Ministry. I confess to coming to this image from Wayne Cordeiro's Leading On Empty. This book was recommended by my counselor. It helped me come to grips with some of the struggles I was experiencing in ministry. But the chapter on Solitary Refinement included a focus on "The Most Important Five Percent". This led me to examining the work areas that are represented in the life of one called to ministry. There were 4 work areas I identified: the work of specific Call, Gifts, Skills, and Tasks. 

Cordeiro emphasizes that 5% of what we do in ministry only we as an individual can do. God has put us in a place, individually, where there are certain things that can only be accomplished by us. I broadened this thought out to consider the entirety of what specifically we are called to do. There is a unique aspect to our calling. There is something inherent in  being a unique individual created in the image of God and filled with the Holy Spirit that makes our individual callings unique. Cordeiro puts personal discipleship, relationships, heath and wellness of body and soul. While I believe that those are responsibilities within a person's individual call, I prefer to focus on the ministry angle in this image. This represents the thing(s) we as an individual is God using us for in the work of the Kingdom of God.

Cordeiro then speaks to the 10% of what we do that someone who is trained adequately can accomplish. I consider the more important questions of what gifts and skills do we have that are ours but are also possessed among the body of Christ. Gifts are imparted to the body of Christ through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7) but are not necessarily unique to one person within a local congregation. Skills are things that can be trained and developed, but typically require a bit of aptitude that may not be available to all persons. 

Cordeiro says that 85% of what we do, anyone can do it. I took that to mean, what are the tasks that we have to do that someone else can do. Those things may be things that someone else can do better because they are skilled or gifted, but are somehow within the responsibility of the one in ministry at that moment. These may be things that require no skill or training, but represent that which must be done for the ongoing work of ministry. They might just be things that we are bad at, but still have to be accomplished.

I don't rank these by percentage. I also don't put any particular thing in any one area. They are ranked by priority, though. That unique thing we are called to do, that is our highest priority. The gifts and skills that we have are in place to support that thing we are called to do. The tasks that we have to accomplish are lower in priority. Unfortunately, they take a lot of our time. In a perfect work of ministry, these would be delegated out among the body of Christ so that one person does not have to carry the overwhelming load of them. But that is not always the case.

Our fourth Aspect is marked by 3 RECTANGLES highlighting the Areas of Discipleship that are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13: Unity of Faith, Knowledge of the Son, and Maturity. These three seems to represent what marks the churches development. Multiple times in Paul's writing we see him encourage the church addressed in a letter to strive toward unity and one-mindedness. The Unity of Faith ensures that we are all moving in the same direction as the body of Christ and as disciples. Knowledge of the Son is the intentional study, mentoring, and meditation on who Jesus Christ is as the center of our faith. More importantly, it is the directed focus of living into the likeness of Jesus Christ in our whole life as we grow in knowledge and understanding and the love of Christ (Eph 3:19). Finally, the Maturity that Paul emphasizes is the realization of the predestined end of our being: holiness and righteousness (1:4, 5:27). Maturity is not a state of perfected action, but the movement toward realized perfection. God has already predestined us toward this state (1:4-5) and prepared to be accomplished in this state (2:10). It takes the work of maturing to finally step into this state of Maturity.The 3 Areas of Discipleship encompass the work of the body of Christ in building one another up. There is room in all three of these areas to cover the essentials of learning, serving, and renewing one another. 

The last Aspect are the outward directed Outcomes of the life of the body of Christ. It is represented in 4 PARALLELOGRAMS. The four areas of outwardly directed work of the body of Christ are Teaching, Witness, Serving, and Justice. These 4 areas represent the major areas of outcome of Jesus' ministry. Jesus spent years going about the countryside teaching through parables and direct engagement with the crowds and with the disciples. Jesus witnessed to the power of God through the healing ministry. The entire ministry of Jesus was one of serving the people as a means of bringing God's love to their reality. And the Kingdom of God message of Jesus was one that started turning the tables of power upside down. The last, least, and lost were the first. The voiceless had a champion. The outcasts were included. 

This diagram is only a small representation of how I see ministry in my life. I feel called to the church through what is portrayed here. It isn't perfect or adequate for everyone. And it is not fully fleshed out. It was the step in the right direction that I needed to bring myself back to ministry. It also frames how I will step in the coming years. It may develop and change. For now, this is how I see my life in ministry.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Would Jesus really ask it of us?

While I was sitting in morning meditation, preparing for the Sunday busyness, I was struck by a thought. Was it God? I'll let you judge. But if it was God's voice speaking, let me caution you, dear reader: don't listen to it  - God will only get you into trouble.

The thought that came to me was a paraphrase of a familiar passage of Jesus dealing with someone.
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. - Matthew 19:16-22 (ESV)
This passage arose in the midst of meditating on this thought: "God, let me represent the Kingdom of God." And then, "WHAMO!" this thought appeared in my little brain, "If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your guns and give to the poor..."

I will admit that I am a gun owner and respect and enjoy guns. But this wasn't for me. Or maybe it was. But the bigger thought that surrounded that flash of inspiration was, "How would the American Church deal with Jesus if that was what he said?"

Think for a moment about the context. What good deed must we do to have eternal life? Jesus didn't respond with, "Believe and that will be enough." No, he went right to the commandments. And he got them out of order. And he didn't name all ten. And he didn't even approach the God stuff. There is nothing about idols or Sabbath in what he said. Jesus says point blank that if you need to know about eternal life, look at your relationships with people around you. And which one did he choose to start with?

Do not murder.

Then the young man says, "Hey, I'm in good. I get all of that done." So Jesus responds to the young man, "If you really want to be perfect, then sell what you possess, give that away to the poor, and you will have heavenly treasure, then follow me." Those possessions were getting in the way of that young man truly grasping what God was about. And those possessions stood in the way of that young man following Jesus in a sincere way.

I'm not going to wade into a discussion of whether "real" Christians should sell all of their possessions and take up living among the poor. I will point out, though, that Jesus got right to the heart of the issue with this young man. He wanted to know perfection. He wanted to find the full life with God that he felt was possible. He admits (humbly?) that he did all of those other things. I wonder if he did them to the level Jesus had recommended in Matthew 5-7? But he admits that he has followed the rules. He has stuck to what God has said mattered. Then Jesus pulls the mask away from the young man's eyes and says, "Here is the thing that is really in the way."

In all of the discussion today about whether guns should be controlled or the right to own guns should be upheld, I wonder why the American Church isn't saying, "What would it take to be perfect? What would the Kingdom of God require of us?"

"If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all of your possessions and give to the poor."
"If you wish to know God's perfect love, sell your beloved guns and give to the cause of protecting children and vulnerable persons."

If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the Bread of Life, the Lord of Creation, then how can we stand by and say that guns are our right? How can we, the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ, continue to sustain a voice anywhere within us that says that guns are a God-given right?

Guns are a tool. I am the first to admit that. People wield guns for good and for evil. Guns are not inherently dangerous unless they are not respected. But the Kingdom of God is not built with guns. The Kingdom of God is built in loving God and others. The Kingdom of God is built in mercy and kindness. The Kingdom of God is built with God's justice in mind and not our justice, because our justice becomes tainted with vengeance and striking back, instead of turning the other cheek. The Kingdom of God is working toward peace while at the same time defending gun ownership.

If Jesus spoke into the American Church today and said, "You have followed the rules that are set out for you very well. The Constitution, you have guarded it well. The Declaration of Independence has been a defining statement for you. But one thing I require of you for you to really get it: sell your guns and look out for the last, the least, and the lost. Then follow me."

How would that sit with American, Bible believing churches?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: Baker Compact Dictionary of Biblical Studies

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

I love Bible study. It is the favorite part of my Christian development and maturity. I always find new insights and revelations of something deep and meaningful. In seminary, I took multiple Bible study courses. So when I was presented with the opportunity to review a resource for Bible study, I jumped at the chance.

The Baker Compact Dictionary of Biblical Studies is edited by Tremper Longman III and Mark L. Strauss, two professors in the field of biblical studies at two different universities.

The Baker Publishing Group releases many resources for Bible study. This particular book should be considered an "entry level" book. It is a dictionary and its entries are helpful in pointing out many issues and topics related to the Bible, the study of the Bible through history, and approaches to the study of the Bible. It should be noted that Compact refers to the brevity of the book, and therefore any deep exploration in the entries.

I believe there to be a fair representation in all of the entries. It would be easy to target some subjects in a biased way to show strengths or weaknesses from the viewpoint of the editors. I didn't see any overt examples of bias toward any subject. I did feel that there were some items excluded from this 2018 edition that could have been helpful to contemporary readers. An example would be the lately famous "Gospel of Judas" that may still arise from time to time in conversation. Overall, the brief entries are easy to read and fair representations.

Any serious student of the Bible or biblical studies will find the brevity and exclusions lacking. Many who have been at the work of Bible study for years (or decades) will have been introduced the subject matter in this book, and may have developed a deeper understanding in their years of study. It was a great refresher, for me, as some of the entries represented ideas I had not approached in quite some time. Overall, the book is suited for beginning students and a reminder for more experienced students.

It is lightweight and easy to carry around. This is not a thick, hardbound dictionary. It is the size of a small, paperback novel. It will be easy to carry this in a briefcase or satchel with the Bible and other materials used for study. It is useful, even if it is not the most complete and comprehensive resource on the subject.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

An Attack on Traditional Christian Values

This is a reaction opinion to an opinion piece from the Liberal, Kansas Leader and Times. The author, Larry Phillips, has submitted many such writings. I have found very little that is agreeable with his content or approach. But this writing was clearly the wrong thing at the wrong time.

No matter what the movies say, gay is still gay

Mr. Phillips begins his opinion with the statement: "The bombardment from progressive Democrats attacking traditional Christian values is always overlooked by the Lame Stream Media." He has displayed, in his writings, a bias against progressives, Democrats, and traditional news and cultural media outlets. There have been many times I have been offended by his tone. There have been many cases where his characterizations are thrown out with no regard for the humanity of the persons they touch. This article, for example, begins with a heterosexual pedophile and is linked to LGBTQ persons, and finally relates that to bestiality.

Liberal, Kansas is not a central hub for progressive and counter-traditional values. It is very traditional. It is laid back. But it does have persons who identify as LGBTQIA. Those people are members of the society of Liberal. They shop and work and go to school in Liberal. They play athletics and take walks in the park. They lead quiet lives where they want the best for their lives. But this attack was a horrible character assassination on those people.

And it was done under the banner of "traditional Christian values".

And that was wrong!

Traditional Christian values do not allow room for character assassination. Traditional Christian values are not filled with hateful characterizations of unknown persons. Traditional Christian values will not make another person feel demoralized, angered, offended, or put into a position where they are depersonalized, dehumanized. Mr. Phillips tries to stir feelings of division and hatred against people who he characterizes as: despicable, dysfunctional, amoral, inhuman, mentally confused, emotionally ill, mentally ill, disgusting, behaviorally sick, and abnormal. Some of those are television characters used to portray the lifestyles he finds reprehensible. Some of those are consumers of media which support those lifestyles.

I am not wanting to address the subject of the content of the media Mr. Phillips is attacking. I want to address the attack on people who Mr. Phillips characterizes as less than human. This is not the first time he has made such a characterization. These are the words of Mr. Phillips from a column following the Parkland, Florida school shooting. He was addressing the students who were speaking up for gun reforms.
These kids sat in front of a TV camera and said they were just stating their reflections on the Florida school shooting and were just explaining their feelings. After all, they were there. And they blamed the NRA. 
Sheer stupidity – apes, taught to mimic. Gun control has never stopped shootings, February 23, 2018
 From the column that sparked this opinion, he had this to say regarding a television show:
We get a cable series that humanizes one of these mentally confused individuals – a transgender teenager. It follows the life of an emotionally twisted teenage girl who wants to become a sexual transgender. They try to portray her as a sweet and tormented, poor little thing.
The fact is she’s mentally ill, and her parents are disgustingly sick.
I understand that Mr. Phillips is calling out a character on a television show. They are not a real person. But that "emotionally twisted teenage" character represents hundreds of real people. That character is the opportunity to see that there are struggles by teenagers in every one of our schools. Every day there are neighbors kids or someone around the neighborhood or perhaps in the grocery store who feel they are sick or ill or less than human. And attacks on a character on television only perpetuates the lack of support that a teenager you may know desperately needs. They need to be heard. They need to be respected as a human being. They need to be loved.

And that is the real understanding of traditional Christian values.

Mr. Phillips doesn't understand "values". He doesn't seem to understand "Christian" either. Traditional Christian values are not grounded in the dehumanizing of people. No where does Jesus tell his disciples, "Find the flaw in another person and use it as a point of assassination on them." Jesus does not condone the dehumanizing or demoralizing of any human being, except for the religious leaders who made true holiness impossible to attain. The only people Jesus judged were the religious who had such a narrow view of faith and obedience that they could not see the persons they were damaging along the way.

Jesus held out one standard for behavior among the disciples. "Love God with all that your are (heart, soul, mind, body). Love your neighbor as yourself." But maybe that wasn't clear enough for those early disciples. So Jesus goes through this over and over.  Love one another (John 13:34), love your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40), love the stranger (Luke 10:29-37), and love your enemies (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27 & 35). And this is something that I believe Mr. Phillips has overlooked in his lessons on traditional Christian values. He views his enemies with contempt. He has no compassion for them nor does he seem to want to do good for them.

Traditional Christian values built upon the New Testament do not call Christians to attack non-believers, immoral individuals, or sinful behaviors of persons outside of the fellowship of the saints. The accountability that we are called to hold others to only for those who are of the faith and the fellowship of the Body of Christ. Mr. Phillips, and others like him, feel they are justified in calling the rest of culture to follow his understanding of values and Christian teaching. But Mr. Phillips has much to learn about both before he should call upon anyone else.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Rainer on becoming a more welcoming church

Notes for future reference regarding a community welcoming church:
  1. Attitudinal Angst: a church illness where church members are most focused on getting their own desires and preferences met, rather than being a serving member of the body of Christ. It is also called Church Country Club Membership.
  2. Slippage Syndrome: the church illness where a church stops focusing on its primary purposes. Evangelism slippage is the most common.
  3. Detail Distraction: a church illness where there is too much focus on minor issues to the detriment of major issues. For example, routine meetings can become more important than compelling missions.
  4. Institutional Idolatry: a church illness where the members have an unbiblical devotion to inconsequential matters such as facilities, order of worship, or styles of worship.
  5. Activity Acclimation: a church illness where the members see busyness to be the same as commitment and/or godliness. The church calendar becomes the guiding document for the congregation.
  6. Purposeless Prayer: the church illness where corporate prayer is non-existent or steeped in non-useful tradition. Such prayers can be perfunctory, showy, or gossipy.
  7. Detrimental Defensiveness: a church illness where the members and leadership are fearful to move forward because of memories of past conflicts and the presence of troublemakers and bullies.
  1. Are our members inviting others?
  2. Does our website communicate to guests?
  3. Are our members friendly to guests or to members only?
  4. Is our facility clean, tidy, and safe?
  5. Are there barriers to worship?
  6. Are we speaking a foreign language?
  7. Do we follow up with guests in a timely manner?
  8. Do we have clear next steps?

  1. Understand the community has changed
  2. Understand the level to which they have been blessed
  3. Understand the community as an opportunity to display love
  4. Understand it is obedience
  1. Avoid “Insider Trading”
  2. Nobody likes Worship Casserole
  3. Tick Tock, the Game is Locked
  4. To Thine Own Self Be true
  1. Pray as you enter the property.
  2. Park at the most distant spot available.
  3. Greet people.
  4. Look for people to help.
  5. Sit as close as possible to the front of the worship center.
  6. Sit in the middle.
  7. Sit closely.
  8. Volunteer to serve.
  9. Pray as you leave.

A Glorious Death

I was reading the Lectionary passages for this week (Lent 5B). The Gospel reading is John 12:20-33. Jesus is approached by some Greek seekers. Jesus speaks of his impending death, according the writer/editor. But the theme that develops in that conversation led me to the thought of the death in the pericope.

A glorious death is something that we don't talk about as having happened to real people. We hear it in poetry. We read of it in literature. We watch it in movies. When we confront death in the lives of human beings, flesh and blood we may know or who are known by those we know, we don't speak of death as glorious. It can be tragic or sudden. We may feel that it was expected or understandable. It can be peaceful or horrible. But we never talk about a glorious death for people. Even people of faith experience a death that is less that glorified.

John 12:24: "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies..."
John 12:32: "when I am lifted up from the ground..."

Jesus uses two references to the ground or earth in this proclamation of impending death. There is a weight on the words that he uses. The grain must die in the ground to bring forth fruit. And the hearers of that word understood that part of Jesus' little parable. They had seen the farmers sowing the wheat into the ground. And what goes into the ground must die. There is no light. There is no life in the ground. What was once alive returns to the earth. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...."

But how many grasped the bigger picture of what Jesus was saying? Did they know that he was speaking of himself? Did they think of his death as something that was near? Billy Graham died recently (as of this writing). How many people were ready for the news of his death? Even though he was "advanced in years", did people grasp that he would really die in their lifetime or awareness? Jesus was forecasting something, but did anyone put it together what that was?

Then, he makes an even more veiled reference to being lifted up. He just announced what happens to the wheat seed in the ground. Now he is announcing that he would be raised up from the same. The writer/editor inserts this clarification: He was saying this to indicated the kind of death by which he was to die. But raising up is not related to death. Death is laying down to die. Death is putting one into the tomb. Death is going down into Sheol. Being raised up is not dying. It is glorifying.

Jesus is bringing glory to dying.

John 12:23: "now is the time for the Son of man to be glorified."
John 12:28: "Father, glorify your name." "I have glorified it and I will glorify it again."

Jesus isn't just bringing death down to earth. Jesus is also raising it up to heaven. God is now involved in the dying. But in God is life. God's name was glorified in the Incarnation (and God took flesh and dwelt among humanity). God's name was glorified in the Baptism of Jesus (this is My son in whom I am well pleased). God's name was glorified in the obedience of Christ witnessed to in the Transfiguration (this is My son; listen to him). And the name of God would be glorified again before all was said and done.

In the death of Christ, we see not only God's name glorified, but we also see death glorified. Through the death of Christ, we see God transforming life (by his stripes we are healed). In the death of Christ, we see God transforming our nature (sin is forgiven). In the death of Christ we have a victory over that which has been humanity's curse from the garden (where, o death, is your sting).

The death of Jesus is not beautiful. It is not easy to digest. It is beyond our full mortal comprehension to understand at its deepest meanings. But it is glorious.

In its shame, his death is honorable.
In its brutality, his death is miraculous.
In its disgrace, his death is justifying.
In its injustice, his death is reconciling.
In its pain, his death is peaceful.
In its suffering, his death is gentle.
In its dying, his death is glorifying.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

My answers to the frequently asked questions a pastor receives

For anyone who may end up reading this, wondering how to deal with me as a pastor, here are some of the answers you will be wanting to know.
What do we call you? Pastor, preacher, brother, Hey You?
What you call a pastor depends on your background and tradition. I don’t expect anyone to call me anything specific. But here are some helpful guidelines:
    • Reverend is a formal title best used for official address and invitations or business letters
    • Pastor is what I do and my relationship to the church. It is fine for people to call me Pastor Todd. Or even just Pastor.
    • I’ve had a few folks call me “Brother Todd”. I don’t have any problems with that. It doesn’t reflect a theological statement for me or an office.
    • Preacher is also what I do. I don’t mind people calling me Preacher.
    • “Hey, you” is perfectly fine until you get to know me.
    • Above all else, Todd works just as well. It’s the name my Momma gave me and I’m pretty attached to it.
Are you going to change things?
The simple answer is yes. My coming to be your pastor is about change. I am nothing like your leaving pastor. Your former pastor and I will do things differently. There will be unavoidable changes because of that. I will not, however, make any drastic changes in the beginning of my time of serving. The exception to this would be if there are MAJOR problems that must be dealt with. Until we get to know each other better I will not institute changes to things that are familiar for a church. We have plenty of time for something like that.
There is one thing that I like to change fairly quickly when I arrive at a new appointment. I like to get rid of meetings that waste time. My time is precious. Your time is precious. If I don’t think a meeting needs to happen, I won’t call it. I don’t mind spending a little time informally, but I like to start on time, end on time, and use the time efficiently. So if you like meetings that go on forever and never seem to get anything accomplished, I’m sorry that I may offend you.

What kind of preacher are you?
I was called into ministry through the campus ministry at East Central University. I was also called into ministry while studying History. Two people have shaped that calling: Rev. D.A. Bennett and Dr. Davis Joyce. Those two men have been such a great influence on my understanding of ministry that I could not consider being the man I am if it weren’t for them.
D.A. Bennett taught me about being passionate in my preaching. I get fired up when I preach sometimes. I shout a little, now and then. I preach the Bible from a scholarly point of view but at the lowest level so everyone can get something. I get animated. I get silly. I take preaching seriously.
Davis Joyce taught me that there are people in this world who don’t have a voice and I have privilege they do not. I use preaching to remind the Church that the world is not perfect, and neither is the Church. I use preaching to put before us the last, lost, and least because that is who Jesus sought out. I remind people that justice and mercy and societal changes are as much a part of the work of the Church as praying, singing, and fellowship dinners.
If you want to know what kind of preacher I am, I try to record them and post them to the internet.
I am also the kind of preacher that isn’t afraid to admit that sometimes I get it wrong. When something is pointed out to me, I will address it and correct it and seek repentance for it.
Are you going to visit people?
Growing up, my Momma always taught my sister and me that we should never invite ourselves over to people’s houses. That is a rule I still live by. I will be glad to visit with you. I would ask that if you desire a visit, please invite me to come and set up an appointment. I feel that coming to a person’s home is a privilege extended and should be something you control. It is not my right or within my responsibility to intrude upon your “safe place”. An appointment ensures that the time is protected from anything that may compete. I want to be able to visit without worrying that something else may compete for my time. You have to ask me to come visit you. I don’t operate from the understanding that people expect me to come into their homes. I operate from the understanding that your time and home are yours and I am invited into them. This way you can pick a time that is best for you. If my schedule allows it, I will be glad to visit.

When it comes to hospital visits, that is something else. I will gladly come and pray for you before a procedure, if that is what you want. If I come, I usually stay until the procedure is over and the attending doctor reports. But again, you have to let me know when and where. Hospitals are cracking down on information they will release. It is law that they cannot release certain information. If you are going in, and you want a visit, please inform me in advance. If you are in the hospital for an extended stay, I will pay a visit. In order to make it easier, please let me know what hospital, what floor, what room, and if there are any limitations (gowns and masks, special hours, etc.). I will try to make it to the emergency room in the case of a serious event as soon as I am able. But I will also respect the rules and boundaries of any hospital.

How can I get in touch with you?
You are welcome to contact me whenever you need to. I will acknowledge a message at my earliest convenience (usually fairly quickly). I may not be able to physically get to see you at the moment but at least contact me. The best way to reach me is in this order: text message, instant message through Facebook Messenger, cell phone, email, office phone, home phone.
I will try to post times when I am available in the office. I don’t mind people stopping for a visit. An appointment will ensure that I will be there when you wish to visit.

Will your wife be/do ___(fill in the blank)______?
I know that some churches have expectations of the preacher’s wife. My wife is her own person with her own gifts, talents, and interests. If you would like to ask her to do something, she should be allowed the opportunity to consider it. She is not appointed to the church, though, I am. Please don’t expect her to do something without sitting down and talking with her.

Will you be at various events?
Personal family time is very important to us. We like to spend time with one another and do things together as a family. If there are events that we can come to as a family, we will be there. We also like to enjoy quiet time together. So we most likely will not be every event.
If there is something special you would like me to be involved with, please come and talk to me. I don’t know what you want or expect. The things you consider to be important or community building may escape my notice. Some traditions and community bonding experiences are things I don’t have any history with. But if you come talk to me, then we will come to a better understanding of each other.

What do you like?
Favorite food: Bar-b-que ribs.
Favorite drink: Coffee with sugar and milk or a big glass of sweet tea.
Favorite music: I enjoy a lot of different styles of music and depending on my mood, I will listen to different things.
Favorite movie: Any Marvel or Disney movie, The Greatest Showman, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, The Princess Bride, One Crazy Summer
Favorite television show: I like almost all science-fiction shows; I watch DC super hero shows with my youngest son, and action shows with my wife. My DVR gets really full.
Heroes: Walt Disney, Dave Ramsey, my mother, John Wesley, E. Stanley Jones
Favorite sport: I don’t care much for sports but I like hockey most of all
Favorite snack food: beef jerky and gummy bears (not together)

What do you dislike?
Water, heights, flying.

Where do you come from?
I was born into an Air Force family. I was born December 29, 1970 outside of San Bernardino, California. We moved to the Philippines and Wichita, Kansas. When I was about 10 we moved to a little town in southeastern Oklahoma. I have spent most of my ministry (and now a largest portion of my life) in northwestern Oklahoma or the Panhandle.
I attended college at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. I have a degree in History with special focus on Russian and Soviet studies and Sociology as my minor. I attended seminary at Asbury Theological in Wilmore, Kentucky.
I have served churches in Calvin, Stuart, Gerty, Alva, Leedey, Camargo, Hammon, Claremore, Turpin, and Baker. I have been in the ministry since May of 1998, but served for one year between 1993 and 1994.

I am a moderate with conservative and liberal leanings. Theologically, I am grounded in the Church tradition that extends through all 1900 years of Christian history. I believe in the apostolic faith as declared in the creeds. I stand under a healthy umbrella of John Wesley’s influence. I believe the Bible has been inspired through the Holy Spirit, entrusted to human writing, preservation, and translation, and is open to understanding by all people while subject to the Tradition of the Church. I believe that faith is not the ideas that we hold about God, but the life that we lead because of Jesus Christ. I believe that the Kingdom of God is the pursuit and mission of the Church and churches. Christians have a responsibility to the teaching, serving, evangelism, and justice mission of the Kingdom of God.
Politically, I do not affiliate with any established party. I do so because I believe that issues of politics are bigger than a static platform pronounced by party officials. I believe that politics has become a business that holds its own livelihood above the interests of the common welfare. Therefore, I judge each issue and candidate separately and how they fit within the mission of the Kingdom of God. The Church has a duty to lead the world in many eras and to hold politics at arms length in relation to the Kingdom of God.

I bleed black and orange – the colors of East Central University Tigers. I don’t root for either against the other. If you want to talk sports, my oldest son Nick is the one to go to.

What do you do in your off time?
The Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has established the following guidelines for clergy under full time appointment (source: 2017 Journal):
4 weeks of paid vacation, which includes four Sundays. These days may be taken consecutively or on separate occasions. The dates should be coordinated with and approved by the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee. The pulpit funds should be provided by the church, but the minister is responsible for arrangements.
Days Off
We strongly recommend each pastor receive two days off per week and encourage a two-day schedule (equivalent of Saturday-Sunday weekends). We recognize, however, the demands of the ministry often make it difficult for a pastor to take off two days consecutively. It is, therefore, very important for the pastor and the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee to come to an understanding as to days off and compensatory time off.
Continuing Education
The United Methodist Church requires all pastors to receive three Continuing Education Units (3 CEUs = 30 classroom hours) per year. The Pastor-Parish Relations Committee must understand this is a requirement and allow the pastor to be absent in order to satisfy it (normally this will not involve a Sunday).
Edited to include:
The pastor and the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee should be familiar with ¶351 of the 2016 Book of Discipline, which outlines: 1) the importance of continuing formation and spiritual growth; 2) allowance for leaves of at least one week each year and at least one month during one year of each quadrennium; 3) that a clergy member may request a formational and spiritual growth leave of up to six months, while continuing to hold a pastoral appointment—if the clergy member has held full-time appointments for at least five years; 4) financial arrangements for such leave; 5) pastors shall be asked by the district superintendent in the charge conference to report on their programs of continuing education, formation, and spiritual growth for the past year and their plans for the coming year. The superintendent shall also ask the local church to describe its provision for time and financial support for the pastor’s program of continuing formation and spiritual growth; 6) clergy in appointments beyond the local church shall give evidence in the annual reports of their continuing formation and spiritual growth program and future plans.
Responsibilities within the United Methodist connection
Pastor-Parish Relations Committees should be aware that pastors are not only appointed to serve local churches, but also have responsibilities within the connection: in camps, in the district, in the annual conference, in the life of the orders, and occasionally in the general church. Time away from the charge for these purposes is not to be considered as vacation.
Now, what do I do with my time off? I’m not much of an outdoorsman, although I do like to go fishing now and then. I don’t play golf. I am not a sports fan.
My main source of recreation is computer centered. I play computer games. I surf the web. I blog and write. I work on computers.
I also like to read. I love role-playing, tabletop games. I like board games that are cooperative and interactive. I am currently exploring writing a few books. I play guitar. I read and collect comic books. I go to “comic cons”. I like astronomy. I have 2 boys who are my pride and joy and 2 dogs who are my babies. I like to cook and grill out. I am a bit of a foodie. I enjoy visiting museum and historical places. I want to get into metal detecting. I enjoy doing genealogy and family research. I watch movies and review them.
My favorite vacation destination is Walt Disney World in Florida. When I grow up, I want to work there. My bucket list of places I want to see in the world includes: Japan, Petra and Egypt, and Germany.

What do I do when you make me mad?
I will make this promise: I will make every effort to not intentionally hurt your feelings, offend you, or hurt you in any way. But realize this: I am human. I make mistakes. If you have gotten this far in this than I may have already made you mad or offended you. If that is the case, I want to do what I can to mend the relationship.
If I have said or done something that offended you, tell me about it. Call me, email me, come by the office or house. But tell me that I’ve hurt you. If you don’t feel comfortable coming alone, then bring a friend or two that you can draw strength from. If you can’t face me or speak directly to it, then ask a third person to come to me, in your name, and tell me about it. I will then come to you and try to find a way to restore the relationship.
I should also say that I do not honor anonymous information. If you send me a letter without a name, I will read it, but I cannot do anything to respond to it. If you come to me and say, “Some people…” or, “I can’t tell you who…”, I will listen to the complaint, but I will not respect this as honest communication.
I know no one likes conflict. But let me say that the pattern that I have stated above works. In fact, it is a modified version of the way Jesus recommends how to handle offense among Christians. I believe that the only holy and right solution to conflict among believers is speaking to one another in love about the things that hurt us. Offense can, and does, destroy churches. So if I have offended, I want to heal the wound in order to save the church.

What is something we must absolutely know about you?
I am an introvert. That means that I have to retreat into seclusion to recharge my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual batteries. It does not mean that I am not a people person. I love to be around people. I love chatting and socializing. But in order to function in that way, I have to have some cave time. That means I have to hide in my cave until I’m recharged.
I am a thinker. I operate in a realm of ideas and possibilities. I see things in my mind and wish they could be reality. I like that I can dream dreams and see things that are yet to become reality. Theory and ideas are my playground. I work out problems in my head. I think in pictures and symbols and connections. Sometimes my brain works in the past, present, and future at the same time. I see connections and groupings naturally. Many times, I also count by 3’s.
I’m an analyzer. I sit back and take information in before I make a choice. I research and gather data before making a decision. I weigh the matter out in logical terms. If I’m not speaking, then I’m listening. I will speak when the opportunity is right or when I have something to say.
You may perceive me as being arrogant or anti-social. It may appear that I don’t have any emotions or that I’m overly critical. The truth is that my personality is such that, to many people, yes that is exactly what I am. But please understand that I am not being rude. I may have my head wrapped around something or I am on my way to an objective. It doesn’t mean I’m a snob or I don’t like you. I’m just focused. I may seem arrogant. But the self-awareness and confidence I possess helps me survive in the settings I find myself in. I do have emotions. I just don’t swing between emotions. I don’t get overly emotional in happy or sad ways.
I label myself as: weird, geeky, and nerdy. I define weird as not fitting within the social normal of the surrounding culture. A geek, to me, is someone who loves something very deeply and devotes time and resources to it. A nerd is someone who allows themselves to become consumed by something. I experience all three.
I do experience the mental illness of depression. It is normally a seasonal or situational experience. I recently had a more severe incident that resulted in panic and anxiety, a form of bulimia, and what used to be called a nervous breakdown. I reveal this information for two reasons.
The first is that, and I am not ashamed of this, it is part of who I am and who I am becoming. I have to be aware of my emotional and mental states at all time and provide for myself the care necessary to continue to function. The mental health crisis that I experienced occurred because I took too much into myself and could not cope with it. It compounded over time until I collapsed. I NEVER want to get to that point again. So if you wonder why I might be oversharing? It is because I need people around me to be aware and to watch over me in love and help me avoid ever reaching that failure point again.
The second reason I am transparent is because there are people in churches who suffer mental health problems but never feel anyone can understand. They feel alone. I am transparent because I want people to know YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
But that is me in a nutshell. Or I’m a nut without a shell. I’ll let you decide
Where can I learn more about you?
Currently, my sermons are available for viewing at

My Twitter is