Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Year 2: Short Version

Greetings all!  Just wanted to post the shorter video we produced to show our second year at Grace.  What an amazing year it has been!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Year 2 in Review (June 2014-June 2015)

Check out our 2nd year at Grace UMC in Louisville, KY!!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Writing is on the Wall, Reading the Tea Leaves, Wolves, and Discernment

Discernment.  The one spiritual gift that seemingly everyone claims and the one I would argue is in shortest supply.  It is the biggest reason that I neither trust, nor endorse spiritual gift inventories lol.  Typically, I feel like I'm gifted in discernment, but therein lies the rub; I'm honest enough with myself to recognize that I've been burned and been wrong enough to know, well, a busted clock is right twice a day.

Truth be told, I think for most of us, it is there when we need it.  The key, the tough part is recognizing it for what it is in those moments.  What is the voice of God?  What is of the voice of me?  What is the voice of the world?  In rare instances, I mean really rare instances, the answer is crystal clear and undeniable.  Most of the time though?  My own voice tends to be the best impersonator of the voice God and I am left trying to figure out which one is which.

I am reminded of a moment shortly after arriving in Louisville.  I had been here long enough to understand the proverbial "lay of the land" or in other words, I recognized the monumental challenges I was faced with.  I was sitting in a good friend/mentor's office discussing this, when in a quiet moment I simply said, "I feel like I've been thrown to the wolves."

My good friend/mentor's response?  "You have been," he said with a laugh.

I sat quietly for a moment and in one of those moments where I accidentally/unintentionally say something totally awesome and action movie worthy, I responded with a heartfelt sigh, "Well, I guess I better start bringing back pelts."


I have exactly two sermons that I've preached (or intend to preach) more than once.  One is on doubt, which I'll be pulling out sometime soon for the second time.  The other?  Oh I've preached that one several times.  It recounts the story of chained dog from my youth.  The dog's name?  Wolf.


The first class of my first day of seminary was Inductive Bible Study with Dr. David Bauer, one of the most brilliant and humble human beings God ever placed on this planet.  I had read the primary text book (written by Dr. Bauer) in its entirety before the class.  That book convinced me in short order that I had no business pursuing a Masters and I certainly had no business in that class.  As soon as he opened his mouth on that first day?  All of my fears were realized.  I understood a total of about two sentences that first day of class and both have stuck with me.

"Context is everything."

"The simplest, most common structure to identify is recurrence.  If a word or a concept repeats, the author is trying to get your attention."

Bingo!  I had something to hang my hat on; I could easily identify that.  Chiastic structure?  Whatever!  I've got recurrence!!! (For the record, I got an A in that class lol)

I learned that day, or rather I came to realize, God is rather fond of repeating Himself when He wants our attention.  All right, so His fondness for repeating Himself is probably a stretch.  It's just what it takes sometimes to get through our (my) thick skull.


I've been in a long and if I'm being honest, a torturous, season of discernment.  Life is good, ministry is good, but there is a fluttering in my spirit that would not be ignored.  Was the fluttering just me?  My tendencies?  My desires?  My wisdom?  Or was/is it God?  It wasn't going away and it was only getting stronger.  Time to whip out my awesome discernments skills.  No seriously, you should see my scores on every spiritual gift inventory I've ever taken.  Discernment is through the

I think I have two and only two gifts in the realm of discernment.  The first is that I know myself, I understand myself, and I am painfully honest about myself.  I know my tendency to get in God's way, I recognize my motivations, my desires, and yes, my ego.  I'm also really good at...wait for it...DISCERNING when my inner voice is masquerading as the voice of God.  My other gift?  Well, it really has nothing to do with discernment, it is my response to it; I am obedient to a fault.  Once I have discerned something (that is really a loaded concept I realize) I am obedient to it.  I don't have to understand it and I don't have to like it.  I respond with obedience to what I feel like God is communicating to me.  If I mess up?  Bonus third gift!  I trust that when I have erred in an attempt to be obedient that God will help me make it less of a mess or even a victory.

I find that in these matters, the older that I get, the more experienced that I get, I find that I am far more analytical than ever. (Thanks Dr. Bauer)  Previously I tended to be far more instinctual and now I'm far more analytical.  Has one proven more effective than the other?  Not really.  I do believe that I have good and trustworthy instincts (see gift #1 above).  However, being more analytical does appear to make the process somewhat cleaner, albeit slower.

I mention this simply because in this long season of discernment, I've distilled all of the "noise", all of the "static", and all of the information down to two voices.  Oddly enough they are pretty representative of the two "me's" and both sound like God.  One is based entirely on analysis and the other?  Pure instinct.  Which one is most representative of the voice of God?  Which one is most representative of the voice of Corey?  Not a clue.  Damn you discernment lol

On the analytical side, the evidence is overwhelming on every count.  Every piece points to one specific outcome.  If this were a legal matter, it would never make it to trial; there's nothing to argue or debate.  This side?  It's both just and righteous, and on the surface, would be very exciting to me.  The kicker?  New evidence supporting this side piles in on a seemingly daily basis.  If I were to travel this path, I have little doubt that it would be both accepted and understood.

The instinctual side?  It knows the score, it knows that the deficit will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.  It recognizes that there will likely never be full comfort in what it wants; it also knows really well that it could end badly on so many levels.  As a matter of fact, all of the aforementioned evidence says that it will.   Instinct says that I could very well point back to this post someday to say, "You absolutely blew it."  And yet, the instinctual side says with a grin, "So what? We don't play for here and now, we play for there and then."  The analytical side favors justice and righteousness, this side?  This side is nothing more than love.  All are traits of God, so which one is He most in?


Thrown to the wolves.

Wolf pelts.

A dog named Wolf.


I've been preaching for the past few weeks on the "Good Shepherd" (Matthew 10:1-21).  Specifically, to this point, I've been discussing those things which confuse and muddle the voice of the "Good Shepherd" and our inability to recognize said voice. We've talked about the myriad voices each one of us deals with and how so often they sound strikingly like the Good Shepherd.  However, in the passage Jesus is pretty clear; the sheep clearly know and dare I say, discern, His voice.

A really good line, I think anyhow, from this series was my admission, "My inner voice all too often is the very best mimic of the voice of God.  What I want, what I desire can too easily be confused with the will of God."  (Anyone else see a recurring theme here?)

What I want.  What I desire.  The will of God.


"What do you want God?"

"Meh, whatever you want."

"Thanks God!"



And then there it was.  I was reading the aforementioned passage before the church, just as I had done the previous few weeks, and boom; a lightening bolt to the heart in the shape of a wolf.

"The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep.  So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.  Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it."

Contextually speaking (thanks again Dr. Bauer lol), this passage has nothing to do with me; I know this.  I will not twist it in an attempt to do make it so.  However, I also feel pretty certain that in that moment, those words were illuminated and used to grab my undivided attention; they cut straight to my heart.


"What do you want God?"

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it."

"Fair enough."


Funny.  I started this post out not really knowing or caring where it was going, and yet, here it is.  I've been picking at it for about a week and getting the words down and out have proven to be a pretty powerful tool in the discernment process.  I think (still trying to hedge my bets) that I do know the path that God would prefer me to take.  I also recognize now as I type this that at some level it's not necessarily the path that "Corey" was hoping for.  I can see now that the two sides weren't equals, even though I was convinced they were and that I was in fact quite biased.  There was one side that I was secretly pulling for.  

There's a little piece me of me that is just a bit disappointed, but oddly enough, that is a pretty powerful affirmation that I have discerned correctly.  Not that God is picking on me, or wants me to be disappointed, but that I can recognize the difference between God's will and Corey's will.  I tend to get nervous when I completely get my way lol.  

So many times in life and ministry, the paths that I did not necessarily want have turned out to be immense blessings.   I can see that, understand that, and totally believe that.  This situation?  I see great potential and blessings, but I also recognize that even as I sit here right now, the voice of Corey is attempting to mimic the voice and the will of God in the great potential and blessings that I see.  It is my attempt to justify the choice, perhaps even to comfort myself.  The reality?  I don't know what God has in mind; not my business.  I just know what's in front of me.  More pelts.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Not For the Faint of Heart

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  Matthew 25:31-46


I tend to be a very introspective and reflective person.  Seems odd to me given that I am such an outward person.  I am energized by the company of others, I hate sitting still, and I certainly detest wasting time.  All of these things that very clearly (allegedly) define me as an unapologetically extroverted Alpha type personality.  Which of course fits, except when it doesn't.


I take very little for granted.  That's what we're supposed to say, right?  At least as it relates to the so called "big" stuff; my ministry, my team, the people we serve.  I get convicted from time to time, that while I certainly don't take the big things for granted, my understanding of the "big" stuff is ever evolving.  I am so busy, such a force of nature, a kinetic ball of energy when that switch is flipped (mostly out of necessity; rarely am I ever those things simply for the sake of being so) that I don't often get a chance to appreciate (good, bad, or otherwise) things as they happen in the moment.  I can be downright oblivious to all but the big stuff going on around me.  So, I do spend a lot of time in the aftermath reflecting on success, failure, and the things that just are.


Big stuff is easy.  I think one of the better compliments I've gotten, which came from a colleague, friend, and mentor, "There's nothing too big for you."  I do worry though, that sometimes there might be things too small for me, important things.  Once again, I take nothing for granted.  The ever elusive quiet times are the times that  I address that fear.  You want a church flipped?  You want it grown in short order?  You want new, contextually sensitive and appropriate ministries started from scratch?  I'm your guy.  I firmly believe when it comes to the "big stuff" of ministry, the things that look good on resumes, I can accomplish it simply based on sheer force of will, size of personality, no fear of failure, and dogged determination.  Bold?  Arrogant?  Pompous?  Nah, just confident.  The scary thing?  I do believe that as a "pastor" I could get by simply on those things...and that really scares me.


I find myself spending a lot more time "inside", exploring, and I think (hope and pray) that I can say as it pertains to these explorations, there are no sacred cows.  I am not and do not want to be defined by my ministry or my title (Reverend still makes me squirm a little bit; while pastor is perfectly cool.  Weird.).  I want to be defined by my relationship with Jesus Christ.  And to those ends, I spend a lot of that inward time exploring my call, my faith, and my motivations for the "big stuff" that I find so easy.  Those are the types of things that I really refuse to take for granted, the things that I turn my very unforgiving microscope (reserved only for me) on those uncomfortable nerves.  Is my call valid?  Does it remain?  Do I honor God with my work and my life?  Do I, as I ask of my congregations so often, do I really believe all of the things that I proclaim?  My greatest fear is dishonoring God with empty words and actions (1Corinthians 13:1-13 and of course Wesley's sermon, "The Almost Christian").  There have been many times and I pray many more to come, where I say to God in complete sincerity and peace, "If this is no longer pleasing to you, I will walk away."  I feel confident that should the time come where God is no longer pleased by me or my service I could walk away still deeply in love with Him.  I know that God doesn't need me and I also know that He owes me nothing.  It is only at His pleasure that I get to do what I'm doing and I have a really bizarre peace with that.


I find so much peace in being able to say that and mean it.  Make no mistake, the inner wrestling, the "sober accounting", the doubts, the fears can at times be brutal.  However, that I can make that simple statement?  Peace.  For most pastors, or anyone who feels called to ministry, our calls are one of our most sacred things.  We tend to be hyper-sensitive about it.  We place barriers around it; going so far as to fearfully, vigorously, and jealously guarding it against any hint of inspection or question.  For me?  The exact opposite scares me; fraudulence.  I flip it over, shake it up, poke, prod, and cut at that bugger.  If ever I find it lacking authenticity?  I will walk.  I would rather walk away than to be part of the problem.


The passage at the beginning of this piece has become defining for Grace and Heathen Church.  It is who we are.  Everyone on my team is intimately involved in living out that passage.  We don't have to wonder if we are serving Jesus; we stand in His presence multiple times a week extending a hand, a sandwich, a bottle of water, clothing, and diapers to Him.  But here's the really cool thing; we don't wait for Jesus to come to us, we go looking for Him.  We look for Him in the places we suppose that He hangs out; under viaducts, homeless shelters, on the street, in bad neighborhoods.  And you know what?  We've yet to find Him missing.  People spend so much of their lives and energy "looking for Jesus".  Trust me, He's not hard to find.  My team and I tread some of the most foul, sometimes dangerous, sometimes scary territory in this city that has completely and utterly captured my heart, though I will probably leave her someday.  We walk over used needles, urine, feces; we fall through decaying floors, we go into hostile neighborhoods to move families to safety, we serve in a neighborhood that scares people, we quite literally hug the "unclean", and we count ourselves blessed.  Not just the pastor.  Not just a few "Super Christians".  All of us.  It is who we are.


I am so busy, such a force of nature, a kinetic ball of energy when that switch is flipped (mostly out of necessity; rarely am I ever those things simply for the sake of being so) that I don't often get a chance to appreciate (good, bad, or otherwise) things as they happen in the moment.  I can be downright oblivious to all but the big stuff going on around me.


Yesterday was one of those days; a thirteen hour sprint.  It's hot now in Louisville.  My clothes and my hair seem to be perpetually soaked in sweat.  These are the type of days that I am thankful for my weird aversion to the title "Reverend".  Being "Pastor Corey" allows me to wear torn up jeans and to rep my Hawkeyes in a ratty t-shirt in the land of Wildcats and Cardinals.  Reverend Nelson feels the need to wear suits.  I am dirty, I am tired, I look ragged; probably good that I'm constantly in motion lest someone notice that I look even less like what the world thinks my ilk ought to look like.


10pm last night, I had a 6'5" man who had been homeless just that morning (and for the past year), come up behind me to drape his arms around my shoulders as he gave me a bear hug, "I love you man."  I surveyed the apartment he and our other friend had just moved into.  It was a place that I guess was oddly kind of like me.  On the surface, probably not what anyone would expect or want.  Worn, a little wild, a little dirty, and maybe just a little smelly.  But what it offered when you get past all that?

I find peace in weird places.  However, it wasn't in the apartment, or even in our friends who finally had a home of their own.  It was in the young men and women that stood in that apartment with me.  These kids (truly a term of endearment on my part; plus I'm old enough to be the parent of them all lol) have left behind the comforts of home and comfortable churches to celebrate in a run down apartment at an hour no reasonable person would endure.  I watched, my heart soared, as each one of them received hugs from our hosts.  None of them recoiled, but rather they received the hugs with joy and love.  They love the men we serve and they give so selflessly of themselves; I saw Jesus so clearly in each one of them.  In that moment, one perfect moment in time (I am blessed by this team with many of these moments) all of the answers to my wrestling, introspection, and reflection are revealed.


Stuff like last night has become so routine for us, that I fear sometimes we take it for granted.  I think about this often every time a group of us disappear into the city.  I remember the first time that each one of them joined me.  I remember the first I went.  How unnerving, unsettling, and even scary it was.  Being Jesus to Jesus is not for the faint of heart.  There is nothing easy or glamorous about it; but goodness is it ever beautiful.

As we drove away from the apartment complex, not wanting any of us to take for granted what had just happened.  I never want the "routine" to become too routine.

"How many of you would have ever thought before joining this adventure that you'd be standing in an apartment like that, in this part of town, at an hour like this?  And being okay with it?"


It is nights like that when we can all walk away knowing that God is well pleased, when the reflection is a little easier, but never simpler.  One thing (of many) that I absolutely love about this team is that they, like me, seem unwilling to take things for granted.  They aren't worried about the so called big things, they know that ministry is done in the trenches and in the streets; and that to find Jesus sometimes requires going where you're most likely to find Him.  They are not the faint-hearted; which fills my heart.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Envy, Invisible Presents, Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed, and Akward Moments Pt. 4

I'm getting older.  I feel and look like I'm aging in dog years sometimes, which is totally not super.  However what is super is wisdom and the ability, desire to be more measured that comes with it.  I find that I'm far more selective in where and how I utilize my energies.  While I do admittedly enjoy playing the "Clubber Lang" role from time to time, I've come to recognize that it is rarely ever the most efficient and effective approach.  Sometimes folks, including myself, just need to be challenged and called out.  But to what ends?  What my team and I do is crazy, at times harrowing, almost always challenging, and without fail, fulfilling.  I am told that it is not for everyone, which I get at some level, except for the fact, that it actually is. (Darn the Bible and all of those challenging thoughts, commands, and ideas!!!)  But what does the Clubber approach really accomplish, aside from a few well placed appearances?  It usually causes people to retreat to the "Urban ministry has made him wild!  I mean, I'm glad he's there, but I'm also really glad that I'm not 'called' to that stuff."  And that's in the best of situations lol (On another note, I'm really feeling the need to strike 'urban ministry, missions, missional community, and missional church from my vocabulary.  It's redundant.  Just go be the Church.  That covers it.)  The worst of situations?  I might drive someone further away.  I also have a confession to make; I am really growing weary of being the "tough guy pastor".

To those ends, I think I and we, could be so much more effective if we would take on the role that Apollo takes on after Rocky is defeated by Clubber; as not only the voice calling to remember, but the committed presence, the one willing to walk alongside.  I love the scene where Apollo brings Rocky to his gym; it reminds me when my invitations are accepted to join me at Grace/Heathen Church.   It really is often a clash of cultures and life experiences.

But here's the thing, each and every time that another church, another youth group, another pastor steps into Grace/Heathen Church, no matter what sort of anxiety they bring with them; it all quickly melts away.  Something happens; something powerful.  The anxiety disappears, the fear vanishes, they settle in, and I daresay they begin to enjoy themselves.  One of my favorite things has been the conversations afterwards; they suddenly "get it".  And by "it" I don't just necessarily mean what we are doing at 900 Denmark St., but rather "it" in terms of the call placed on everyone that would call upon the name of Jesus.  I have yet to have a guest join us that was not profoundly moved...and changed.

The Church, at least in our North American context, has forgotten and maybe in some cases never really knew who we're supposed to be.  We get caught up in all manner of silliness; anything and everything oftentimes except that which we are supposed to be caught up in.  What if the Church remembered?  What if we really believed all the stuff we proclaim?  Which is ultimately I think what fuels us at Grace/Heathen Church.  We're crazy enough to actually, you know, to believe what we proclaim.  What if we left our ivory towers and quit worrying about the color of the carpet while we allow people in our community to suffer?  Better yet, what if we quit pretending that the people Jesus told us to love don't exist right outside our doors?  We have found a pretty profound slice of the Kingdom breaking into this world and we want to share it.

I see a transition taking place at least in my life and ministry.  Clubber is not the first tool out of the toolbox and maybe not even the second, third, or fourth.  Instead, I want myself, my team, and Grace/Heathen Church to be like Apollo.  To come alongside, to push, to invest, and to offer what we've got.  Well, you know, without the really awkward celebration at the end...and the cutoff tank top...oh and the tube socks.  I'm cool without that stuff lol  When we first started this crazy journey (Heathen Church), I wrote, "A bunch of heathens will make them remember and show them the way back."  I like that.  I would love nothing more than to make my and our uniqueness obsolete.  It would also be pretty super if we could make all of the incessant fights obsolete.  That we were united in, through, and around the invisible present becoming visible in our lives.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Envy, Invisible Presents, Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed, and Akward Moments Pt. 3

I love the Rocky movies, probably due in no small part to my history as a boxer.  (Let me clarify, I love Rocky I-IV.  The last two movies, like the final Harry Potter book/movies don’t exist in my dojo.  They never happened.  Although with that said, I am mildly intrigued by the next Rocky movie titled “Creed”.)  They are those rare movies that instantly captivate me when they are on television, no matter what else I’m doing.  And what’s not to love?  The ultimate underdog overcoming overwhelming odds due to tenacity, hard work, and an even harder head.  I think at some level, we can all relate to Rocky, which is why he remains such a powerful and captivating character even in the midst of the pure narrative absurdity (which I adore) in which these films exist after the original.

Like with most things (darn you seminary!) I tend to dig a little deeper than I ought sometimes, trying to mine all meaning from all things (okay fine, I did that before seminary.  Seminary just made me really good and or obsessive about it.).  And anymore, it’s not Rocky that I relate most to, it’s Clubber Lang.  I always found him to be a compelling character.  If you are old enough, who can forget the first time you ever saw Mr.T?  When he burst onto the scene?  You couldn’t take your eyes off of him.  He was both captivating and just a little bit scary.  But when Rocky III hit?  He was pure villain, the bad guy that Rocky had to find a way to overcome.  In my ten year old mind, Clubber had to go down and go down hard, especially after he sort of, kind of killed Mickey.  There was no empathy for him and I cheered wildly when Rocky finally vanquished his foe in the rematch.

However, I recently re-watched all of the Rocky movies, that is to say Rocky I-IV.  When I came to the third, I saw Clubber far differently than perhaps I ever had.  Clubber wasn’t a bad guy and I daresay that perhaps, for at least three-quarters of the movie, he wasn’t the bad guy…Rocky was.

Clubber was from the streets and was hungry; much like Rocky had been all the way back in the original Rocky.  From his vantage point, he knew what the championship meant; it was the top of the mountain and perhaps a way out. (Not sure Clubber would have ever left the streets)  Rocky on the other hand?  He had won the belt in Rocky II barely beating Apollo Creed and then he had gone soft; real soft.  He started fighting stiffs, he became cultured, living in his fancy house, with his fancy cars, and his awesome robot (that I wanted so badly as a kid).  Rocky forgot where he came from and more importantly who he was.  And what did he intend to do?  He intended to retire comfortably; satisfied with empty victories and comfort.  He had become everything that he probably thought that he never would and he had somehow become not only okay with it; but he had convinced himself that it was somehow honorable.

In polite society we expect to have civil conversations, conversations that affirm our now-ness and who-ness.  We are told that we must be nice, that we must not upset anyone.  We believe that through polite discourse, especially as it pertains to the church, we can be guided where we need to be, doing the things that we need to be doing.  (I really wonder what OT prophets would have thought of that approach lol)  But what happens when we start believing the hype?  What happens when we believe our own lies?  What happens when we no longer resemble that which we started out as some 2000 years ago?  When we spend more time fighting about pet issues and each other, than we do fighting for souls?  With our hands?  Our hearts?

More times than not, I take solace in the streets and my little piece of heaven in the shadow of Churchill Downs.  We don't have the time or patience for most of these fights and these arguments, we're too busy walking in the dark places and bringing light.  I am thankful, immensely so, that we have "figured it out" in as much as one can.  I think back to my love of polemics and a good theological scrape, and I am thankful that the thought of those things just make me tired anymore.

The anger?  The teeth gnashing?  The name calling?  All of the garbage in the name of the Church and Christ that pollutes my Facebook feed; it could all be erased if we would just take the time to remember where we came from and who we are called to be.  Pet issues disappear in Christ, in focusing on that glorious, invisible present.  Unity comes in simply trusting Jesus and the Holy Spirit to do their jobs.  Jesus saves.  Not me, not you, and especially not us when we are acting a fool.

Sometimes it takes a Clubber Lang to call us out, to force us to remember, to compel us to action.  He is raw, intense, and unpolished...but he is effective.  He knows where Rocky came from, because it is his reality; it is where he lives.  He knows what buttons to push.  From his "low" vantage point, he can see the absurdity of what and who Rocky has become.  Most days, I feel a bit like Clubber Lang.  Hungry, irritated, and more than a little exasperated.  (I keep holding out hope that when my team and I walk the places that we walk, that sooner or later, we are going to run into another pastor, another group of disciples.  These are the places the Church needs to be and we are seemingly alone.)  However, he is also passionate, consumed, and knows not only who he is, but what he is.  Grace and Heathen Church have helped me to remember where I came from and they have also helped me to understand who I am when it comes to Kingdom things.

However in that, as much as I have grown to love and relate to that character, I have also realized that there is a better way.  When I speak to colleagues, to friends, and on the increasingly rare occasion when I enter into the fray of these ridiculous fights, and I challenge them to join me in the "hood"; my heart screams there is a better way.  A more effective way.  Clubber reminds and challenges in a very forceful, combative, shaming way to get what he wants.  In the midst of our penchant for absurdity I will often invite people to the "hood" simply to shut them up and perhaps, in a way, to put them in there place; I know they will not come.  My world scares them.  In those instances, I am Clubber; daring and provoking you to remember what you are not.  (Minus, you know, the unfortunate words for Adrian lol)  I think perhaps tough, Rocky's old adversary Apollo knows a better way...a passionate call to remember what you are.  Part IV to come... 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Envy, Invisible Presents, Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed, and Akward Moments Pt. 2

I had a vision about 3 years ago.  No I don't think it was one of those visions, but I suppose it could have been.  I was rehearsing a sermon during Advent, preaching to my "empty" church, when I envisioned in front of me the most glorious and amazing gift wrapped present sitting between me and the pews.  It sparkled and glistened in my mind's eye, even giving off it's own soft glow.  It's amazing how clearly I still remember this day.

I stopped rehearsing long enough to ponder the image in my mind and I instantly had understanding.  I pastored a pretty wonderful group of people, but I often felt like I was banging my head into a brick wall as I tried to provoke them to a faith of action.  I don't think anyone had ever challenged them the way that I did (there's a reason why I'm a healthy 8 on the Enneagram personality test lol).  However standing there staring at that glorious, invisible present I understood that I was going about things all wrong.

By sheer force of will and personality I was trying to mold my churches into the Christians that I thought they ought to be.  I was not a taskmaster standing over them and this was always done with an abundance of love, but I was a persistent bugger.  Push, push, push.  What I understood in that moment was that my job, my challenge was not just to tell them about the invisible present before me, but rather to help them see it as well.  The present of course was representative of Christ and the very real, life changing, eternity altering redemption and freedom He offers.  In some ways, my job got easier in that it was not my job to tell them what the present looked like, but rather to facilitate their ability to see and experience it in all of its glory.  In other ways, my job got a whole lot harder; my job was now clearly defined as helping people to see that which is invisible, to believe where they might otherwise not believe.  Probably explains why I still incessantly challenge/ask, "Do you really believe the things that you proclaim?"  I see that present often and I'm pretty sure that at some level every Sunday when I'm pacing and stalking around the church, I'm very much aware that it is right there in between us.

Now I would imagine that some of you are crying out that I'm encouraging people to see the Jesus that they want to see; you obviously never sat in a seminary class with me (lol).  I have very strong beliefs, positions, ideas, and a clearly defined theology.  In that, I believe that there is only one Jesus Christ, one that is perfectly capable of communicating with others as He has done with me.  I also believe that He is perfectly capable of defining Himself through the revelation of the Holy Spirit and scripture.  And remember what I said in Part 1?  I trust the Holy Spirit to do His job.  I am only a facilitator to the introduction; and then a shepherd to the flock.

Why bring up the invisible present?  With all of the bickering, fighting, hand-wringing, and teeth gnashing going on in, around, and about the Church, I cannot help to wonder if the Church has forgotten the gift.  Is the Church even capable of seeing it anymore?  (I think it is, but it goodness does it ever need reminded.)  I see a whole lot of fighting in, around, and on the present.  I see people taking blind swipes at the gift in an attempt to seize it, when in reality they're only tearing its paper and pulling off its ribbon.


When I talk with other churches, pastors, and Christians about what is going on at Grace, I often times get some weird looks.  They've heard the stories (I drive people crazy on Facebook updating about Grace), they've seen the results, and yet, I still get the same blank stares.  This is trench ministry here; you dive in, you get your hands dirty, and you don't worry about what might happen next.  I think sometimes they look at me in the same manner that I probably looked at others at another point in time, "Yeah that's all well and good, but it's not for me.  That type of stuff is for other people."

I want to be very sensitive here.  Ministry needs to be happening in all contexts; rich, poor, white, black, brown, purple, none of these things matter.  Ministry needs to happen whether in the nicest, biggest, most lavishly equipped churches to the most basic house churches to the streets.  But to what ends?  If it is not towards the ends of discipleship and loving the people that Jesus loves/loved, I'm not sure what we're doing.  I think about how I envisioned this calling going (lol) and the reality of where I find myself today, and I count myself one of the luckiest people on the face of the earth.  This place will allow you one of two paths, and two paths only.  You can hide behind the doors while rarely ever engaging the neighborhood.  It will indeed allow you to exist and to die in "peace".  The other path?  You can engage it in the totality of its brokenness.  There is no dipping your toe in here or there to test the waters; its all or nothing.  Folks in this context have heard and seen it all, especially when it comes to "Christians to the Rescue!".  You want to engage them, then by all means, but you'd better bring all you've got.  If they sense you're not all in or not being forthright, they will shut you out in a hurry.  They know in a pretty big hurry whether or not you believe and live the things that you proclaim.  Places like this demand authenticity.  It is intense, at times harrowing, and at all times beautiful.  It demands your best; it holds you accountable. It is such an invigorating breath of fresh air as not only a pastor, but more importantly, as a Christ follower.

I tell people all of the time that one of the greatest gifts and joys of pastoring in a context like this is that I never have to wonder what to do next.  The answer here is so easy; I simply have to go for a walk.  I look around the blogosphere, at my newsfeed on Facebook, my hearts breaks, and truth be told, I find myself a little irritated.  The ills of the Church, the failings, and all of the stuff we get so caught up in are so easy to remedy.  Ministry is not difficult, the solution hasn't changed, the example left for us some 2000 years ago, has not become obsolete.  Simply go for a walk.  Learn to see the invisible present again...or perhaps for the first time.  Help others to see it.

Part 3 to follow...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Trooper's Eyes pt 2

Seven years ago this month, I posted my very first piece on this blog.  Weird how things work.  The title of the piece?  “Trooper’s Eyes”.  I'll post the rest of the previous series soon...


Ash Wednesday is kind of sucking around here.  We’re in the midst of a historic stretch winter wise here in Louisville, which I love.  What isn’t so great is that we have had to cancel our Ash Wednesday service and it’s looking like our Thursday and Friday night activities are now likely to be canceled.  I also just got some really crappy, albeit not unexpected news.


As a Wesleyan, I’m a believer in prevenient grace; the idea that God is pursuing each and every person with reckless abandon from the moment of conception until either justification or death.  I believe that as a part of this process, God most certainly uses the people in and the events of our lives to draw us to Him.  In that, I do believe prevenient grace ends at the moment when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  I sometimes get irritated when I hear others continue to talk about the events of their lives after having received Christ as prevenient grace.  Yeah, I know, big issue to get irritated with (lol).  However, I do believe that God does continue to use the people in and the events of our lives to His glory.  And perhaps, a good dog here and there.

At this moment in time after having had a couple of good, solid spurts of tears; I’m believing that I’ve been snookered by a divine conspiracy.  There is a period of time in my life that has been turned over and dissected by yours truly, so many times that I have come to the conclusion that I’m truly never going to figure any of it out.  But today?  Today, I think something new has been added to the equation, something I never considered.


Way back in the early part of my journey of injury and illness I bought a little German Shorthaired Pointer pup named Gus.  At the time, no one, including myself knew how badly I was hurt or how bad things would get.  I absolutely loved Gus.  He was a very sweet puppy that was an incredibly talented pointer.  One time while playing with him with a quail wing at the end of my fishing pole, I dropped the pole to run in the house to take a phone call.  When I came back outside, Gus was still pointing that wing.

As my health rapidly deteriorated, I had less and less time for Gus.  And for anyone who has GSP’s, you know that they are incredibly demanding dogs, especially as they are growing.  I eventually was forced to make the decision to give Gus to a friend who was an avid bird hunter.  Gus would have the life that he deserved and it broke my heart to part with him.  That was in the mid 90’s.  Over the coming years as my health and situation continued to deteriorate, I often spoke of Gus and how much I missed him.


In 2005, my health was worse than it had ever been.  I spent most of my time in bed, enduring excruciating pain.  I was scheduled to have a surgery that Rickelle and I each were secretly convinced would end my life.  I even had a conversation the day before with the surgeon, “If this goes bad, please just let me go.”  The rest is as they say history.  I awoke from the surgery that probably should have ended me, knowing that something was different, but not knowing what exactly.


Several weeks after surgery, secretly wrestling with the implications of what may or may not have been taking place in my body, Rickelle came to me with a newspaper ad.  “German Shorthaired Pointer Pup, last of litter, $150.”  To say I didn’t want a puppy at that time would be a massive understatement, but she said to me, “At least go and look.”

Now it should be noted here that my wife truly is one of the most brilliant and intelligent people I know and that is saying something.  She should have known better, I mean what on earth in the previous decade made her think getting a high energy, high drive puppy was a good idea?  Another point?  I had yet to share with her my inner wrestling match.  Something had happened on the operating table, something changed and it scared me to death.  What if it proved to be a cruel trick?  So much of the disease that I suffered from baffles doctors; perhaps this would be just another example.  I couldn’t trust it yet.  “At least go and look.”


I had never been to Wilmore, Kentucky before.  I had no idea what it was or why I should know what it was.  I didn’t know what an Asbury was, much less that there was a seminary located a few blocks from the address I was traveling to with my son to see this puppy I really didn’t want; a seminary where I would later spend some of the absolute best years of my life.


We pulled up and knocked at the door.  The gentleman who answered asked us to meet him around on the side of the house.  When we rounded the house, a gangly, clumsy ball of legs and kinetic energy came bounding out of the door.  He was absolutely stunning to look at.  Big and beautifully marked, my first thought was, “Why on earth is he last?  Why on earth does this guy only want $150 for him?”

Those questions would soon be answered.  We were told a story of how this last pup had in fact been the pick of the litter, but when he was about four weeks old, his mother tried to kill him.  She crushed a portion of his skull, requiring some reconstructive surgery.  He told me of how it had been touch and go, that they didn’t think the puppy would make it, but he did.  The pup’s name was Trooper because he fought and survived.  The only remnant of the horrific injury?  A lightening bolt shaped scar right between his eyes.  Despite that, no one else wanted him.  As he was telling me the story, he had no idea that there was no way I was leaving without that puppy.


Oh the times that I have regretted that decision.  Trooper was not only highly energetic, but he was bullheaded, stubborn, and just generally annoying.  I remember telling him through clenched teeth one time, “I now know why your mom tried to kill you!”  There was no way to wear him out.  A walk?  That was just encouraging him. Fetch?  You had just sentenced yourself to having a slimy tennis ball plopped in your lap for hours on end.  Ignore him?  He screeched like a pack of howler monkeys.  You want to know the greatest injustice of it all?  I learned shortly after getting him that quail are rare in Kentucky and pheasant are non-existent.  As I would later find out, this dog was monstrously talented with birds.

At my wits end, exhausted and frustrated, a friend finally suggested, “Have you tried taking him to the dog park?”

“Dog park?  Dog park!?  What on earth are you talking about!?”

We went that same day and it was glorious.  He ran and he ran and he ran.  I felt kind of stupid just standing there watching him, so I started walking the perimeter of the park.  That first day I let him run for a solid hour and I walked a handful of laps, the most physical activity I had done in years.  At home that night?  Trooper was calm and dare I say, enjoyable?  We went back the next day and the next and the next.

Within a few months, we were spending two hours at the dog park every morning at 5am.  I got to where I was walking twenty laps at the dog park; 10 miles.  Every day.  No matter what.  Rain, thunderstorms, snow, sub-zero temperatures we were out there.  Miss a day?  Trooper made you pay for it.  We didn’t miss. 

We became something of a legend at the dog park.  I would joke with people who would ask why we walked so much, “If we don’t, he’ll die.”  Inevitably they would get concerned looks on their faces, “Why!?  Does he have a medical problem?”  My response?  “No.  Without running this energy off of him, I’ll kill him.”


In those countless hours and miles, Trooper and I became inseparable.  In many ways we kind of became extensions of one another.  But something else was taking place in those miles and hours; I was getting better, I was getting healthier, and I was getting stronger.  Whatever had happened on that operating table, whatever had changed was coming to fruition in a dog park.


Divine conspiracy; I believe I have been snookered.  “At least go and look,” she said.  Without Trooper, I’m not sure what would have happened to me.  He forced me to get up, to keep moving, especially when I didn’t feel like it.  He forced me to kick in the door that had just barely opened in the recovery room, to take a chance; to bet on a long shot.  Sometimes when a miracle presents itself, we actually have to get up to claim it.  We have to chase it.  Sometimes we need company on the journey; a friend.  A few short years after bringing Trooper into our home, I was attending that seminary a few blocks from his birthplace in that town I’d never heard of.  Divinely snookered indeed.


Trooper slowed with age and became the perfect gentleman.  He’s one of the most lovable creatures God has put on this planet.  His favorite thing?  Snuggling under the blankets on the couch.  For a while now, there has been some telltale signs that things haven’t been right with him.  Lumps, bumps, sleeping a lot, moving slower.  He has seemed to have aged at an accelerated rate over these past two years.


Over the past few weeks, it seems more and more of my friend is slipping away.  We don’t let him play anymore; he hurts himself.  I haven’t taken him to church with me in a long time; he has trouble on the tiles.


We went back to the vet today.  He doesn’t want to put weight on his hand quarters and leans forward.  His lymph glands are now swollen.  I deal with death a lot.  It’s part of the job.  I recognize it, know it, and also recognize the difficulty in sharing bad news with loved ones.  Despite that, I asked the vet, “So, this is it?”  I needed to hear it from her.

“Pastor, he has started his journey.”


Seems somehow poetic in a beautiful way despite my broken heart.  Trooper in so many ways pulled me from “that” journey and sent me on another one.  And now I have the honor to walk him back to where he found me.  I knew it had started, but hearing the vet say it, well, that just brought it home.


If we hadn’t had to cancel church tonight, I would’ve been preaching in part on Genesis 3:19, “From dust you came and to dust you will return.”  It is the journey of us all.  Death is as much a part of life as birth.   At some point over the coming weeks or months, I will lose my friend and with him no doubt a piece of me.

God used this dog, who truth be told, is probably a little too much like me for comfort, to save my life.  Divinely snookered.  My heart breaks, but I am thankful.  Thankful for the pain because the pain is love.  Thankful for the journey, and that we still have a little ways to go.  He will return to dust.  Someday I will too and on that day, I fully expect to be greeted at some point by a gangly, clumsy ball of legs and kinetic energy.  Death and resurrection.  Seems somehow fitting today of all days.