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I have the best family in the world.  I am not trying to compete with other families in who is the best nor am I being facetious.  I am truly blessed to have three wonderful siblings with whom I am very close.  My parents are still living and we are close to them as well.  I have 19 first cousins on my father’s side of the family, and I know that I could call on the vast majority of them if I was in trouble.  We may not see each other that much, but we love each other, and we enjoy the times we are able to get together.

On my wife Becky’s side of the family, she comes from a large family on her mom’s side of the family.  We gather together for a few days at a state park every year and stay in cabins.  Many of our cousins are now grandparents, and we have been present at funerals and weddings for both our aunts/uncles and our second cousins.  I have performed weddings for two cousins, my sister-in-law, and a second cousin, and I have participated in several funerals and weddings on both sides.

Having said that, sometimes different family members get on my nerves, and I know I get on theirs!  We are all unique individuals, and we have widely divergent opinions on matters such as politics, religion, child-rearing techniques, and what constitutes fun to name a few.  And sometimes those differences result in petty disputes.  One member of the family misinterprets something said or done by another family member, and feelings get hurt.  Sometimes, in part because we are so comfortable with each other, somebody will make a sarcastic remark and folks will get upset.  Sometimes, somebody is just tired of hearing the same discussions over and over, so he/she says something that gets family members to start choosing sides.

Which brings me to a discussion about the Church.  In the midst of Annual Conference I had a few different discussions with different people in different settings in which the conversation went something like this:  “Why in the world did we spend so much time debating ______ when there are more important things to discuss?  We seem to do a good job of majoring in minor stuff and letting the truly important stuff just pass by without any discussion at all, or we spend so much time on the petty stuff that we never even get to what is important.”  In the interest of full disclosure, I initiated some of those conversations!  Most, but not all, of these conversations were with clergy, many who are just weary of the pettiness after so many years, but I heard the same things from laity as well.

I get tired of such pettiness just like others do.  I won’t go into all of that because I wrote in another blog about what wearies me as a Christian pastor.  However, when I was discussing such things with someone during Annual Conference, I said the following about how and why I put up with such things:  “Sure, I get frustrated sometimes, but it’s like being part of a family.  Sometimes we let petty stuff get in the way, but then there are those moments when the love really shows through, and you are reminded that it’s all worth it.”

I get irritated at the “majoring in the minors” kind of stuff that goes on in churches, but I also cannot imagine my life without the support, prayers, and genuine love I have and continue to experience through the church.  I have been chewed out for allowing artificial flowers in the sanctuary, and I have been chastised for advocating for a metal vs. shingled roof on a church building.  I have had someone threaten to withhold thousands of dollars over decorative grass in a parking island. But I have also been enveloped by prayer, hugs, encouragement, and Christian love when going through a difficult time.  And the thing of it is that most of the time it was the same people doing it all!

We hear all the time about being a “church family,” and that image can be used too much sometimes as a way of minimizing important discussions that need to take place for fear of making someone upset.  But, when we seek to truly love each other, I think it’s worth it.  My family can be a great source of irritation from time to time, but they are also a great source of joy and love, and I wouldn’t trade in any of them because they are worth the headache and heartache from time to time.  The same is true with the Church.  I really do have the greatest family in the world.  God has blessed me with my biological family, with my chosen family of friends, and with the love of the family of God called The Church.  And for all of them, all of you, I am thankful.

Do you ever have those times where you just don’t feel like doing something?  Of course you do; we all feel that way from time to time, and we feel that way about different matters.  That feeling of “I just don’t want to do it” hits us at all ages in different circumstances whether it is school, work, church, exercising, running errands, chores around the house, etc.

And yet, what I have discovered is that when I will get past that initial reluctance of “I don’t feel like it and instead “just do it”, the vast majority of the time I am glad I did it.  I have been doing some pretty intensive exercise programs for a few years, and there are certainly those days when I just don’t feel like exercising.  My body is sore, I didn’t sleep well the night before, I have a lot going on that day, I am not able to work out at my normal time, and any other number of excuses start to rise up in my mind.  And yet, whenever I “just do it,” I feel better than on those days in which I give in to that temptation to not exercise. I tend to eat better, I have more energy, and I can see the positive results from the consistent exercise.

As a pastor, there are times in which although I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else, I just don’t feel like getting up and going to work that day.  But, of course, I go, and those are usually the days in which that person walks in the door who just needs to talk, who has a particular need over which they want me to pray, or I read something that deepens my faith.  There have even been Sundays, I confess, where I just wanted to sleep in and take it easy, and if I was not the pastor I probably would not have gone to church that day, so I understand that impulse to just stay home because you “don’t feel like it.”

And yet, as with other things in life, we are better off when we resist that temptation and instead “just do it.”  One of my favorite stories is of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, who wrote in his journal that he went to a worship service one night, and in his words “went very unwillingly.” Yet it was at that service that he said “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  This experience was transformative for Wesley in his faith, and yet he almost didn’t go!  What experiences do we miss out on that God has in store for us simply because we “don’t feel like it?”

What opportunities for growing in faith, growing in love, developing a friendship, being there for someone in need, etc., will you miss out on today because you just “don’t feel like it?” What potential life-changing experiences will you open yourself up to because you overcome the temptation of not feeling like it and instead “just do it?”

“Do you ever get tired?”  That was a question asked of me on a trip last year when I went to Spain with a group of clergy from Mississippi. The question was asked in response to me taking every opportunity to see and experience as much as I could of the culture, scenery, and atmosphere of Andalusia.  If there was an extra walking tour, or a small group that was going out while others were resting, I was there!  “Do you ever get tired?”

The answer was “Yes, I get tired, but not from doing things like this.”  Of course, I have certainly limits on the amount of energy I have physically, though I am blessed both with good health and a commitment to staying in the best physical condition I can be.  I consider it a moral obligation as well as a practical consideration to take good physical care of my body.

But let’s expand the question.  “Do I ever get tired?”  Yes, I get tired.  I get tired when I see people failing to live up to God’s calling and who they can be.  It tires me out whenever I see God-given potential and opportunity being wasted. It wears me out that so many go throughout life with no sense of direction, no sense of purpose, no sense of identity as God’s child, no sense of God’s presence or calling in their lives. It wears me out to see churches that have such enormous potential, and I can see it, but they can’t, or won’t see it, and so they settle for less than the best of what God has to offer.  I get tired when I have discussions with folks who are more concerned about a minor point of theology than they are about the suffering of others.  I get tired whenever I fall into the trap of trying to meet other people’s expectations about who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to do instead of listening to God.

There are a lot of other things that make me tired as well, but I think you get the point.  Overall, I get tired when I focus or when I see others focusing on what is temporary and unimportant to the neglect of what is eternally important.

By contrast, I get energized whenever I see folks out serving God in word, deed, and heart, reaching out to those whom others disregard.  I get energized when I see and hear of lives transformed by the love of Christ shown in others.  I get energized whenever we as the church are dedicated to fulfilling the mission to which God calls us.

So, part of my resolve with the help of God, is to not focus on those things that make me tired but to pour the energies of my body, mind, and spirit into those things that fill my heart rather than deplete it, those relationships that bring health to my spirit instead of bring disease to my soul, those behaviors that elevate those around me instead of tear others down, that bring me joy instead of anxiety.

How will you address, in the spirit and love of God, those things that weary your soul?  What will you do to engage in that which will energize your spirit?

When Jesus began his ministry, it was with a call to repent because the Kingdom of God was at hand.  But what does it mean to be part of the Kingdom of God?  Since we live in America where we do not have a monarchy, it can be difficult to think about kings and submission to ultimate authority.  We have a individualistic mentality that wants to put ultimate trust in ourselves, our own efforts, our own goodness.

The truth of the matter, though, is that we pledge our allegiance to one kingdom or another whether we realize it or not.  Each one of us has a worldview that shapes who we become and what we do daily, and that worldview is either shaped by God or by the surrounding society in which we live.

One kingdom places a premium on wealth, power, position, and beauty.  This kingdom encourages us to put our own self-interests above the interests of others, but the truth of the matter is that in supposedly putting our self-interests above others we are actually serving the interests of this worldly kingdom and its values.  However, this kingdom is at its heart corrupt and temporary.  All of these things will pass away because they have no lasting and ultimate meaning.  The temptation is that if we are not careful we can get caught up in the pursuit of these things, and whether or not we actually achieve any of these things is secondary because we have centered our lives on the pursuit of them by doing, saying, and thinking about what is necessary to achieve what the world tells us is valuable and important. Think for a moment of the people we honor and lift up in this society.  They are almost the exact opposite of the people and the attitudes Jesus describes as important.

The Kingdom of God, in contrast to the kingdom of the world, places a premium on love, servanthood, and the highest good of all people.  The Kingdom of God looks not at just what is best for each one of us but what is also best for those around us.  The Kingdom of God is exemplified in the Beatitudes where Jesus pronounces a blessing upon those who are humble, who care about the state of the world, who fervently seek God’s righteousness, who are caring and gentle, who are merciful, who seek to live in peace with one another, and who are willing to remain faithful even when it may cost them something.

One kingdom benefits the individual while the other Kingdom benefits both the individual and those around us.  One kingdom presumably lifts up the self but in actuality enslaves the soul while the other Kingdom lifts up God and results in true freedom of the soul.  One kingdom places a premium upon what is temporary while the other puts a premium on what is eternal.

What do your words, actions, thoughts, and attitudes of the heart say about which kingdom has YOUR allegiance?

I first started this blog a few years ago, and did a little bit with it for a while, but it fell by the wayside.  My goal is to offer a weekly reflection.  I am re-starting the blog, though keeping the previous reflections, and I am starting back again for a couple of reasons.  First, I enjoyed doing the blog but let other things get in the way, so I am hoping to not let that happen again.  I find putting the reflections down in writing a helpful exercise for me, and it helps keeps me from getting so caught up in all of the administrative work. That administrative work is important, but one can drown in it if not careful.

The other reason is that I was approached at Annual Conference this year by a long-time friend who asked me if I had a blog where I did regular writing.  When I replied that I once did but haven’t done that in a while, he said, “You need to start back. I enjoy what I see you post on Facebook and would like to hear more from you.”  While I appreciated the compliment, I confess some hesitancy because it feels a bit self-indulgent and arrogant to think that anyone has any interest in what I have to say on an ongoing basis.  But then I was reminded that I preach every Sunday, and lead Bible studies throughout the year, so why should this be any different!

So, in that light, here’s my pledge to you and my request to hold me lovingly accountable.  If you who decide to read these things begin to think that I am being self-indulgent, I trust and expect you to call me on it.As with preaching and leading Bible study, my goal will be to offer thoughtful reflections on faith, life, events in our world, and sometimes have some fun with it as well.  I do not want it to turn into my own ramblings, pet peeves, or personal agendas, and it should not be the place for me to work out my own issues.  Rather, I want it to be helpful for those who choose to read it, whether you are someone who knows me well or have never met me in person.

So, a bit of re-posting my initial introduction from a few years ago about me and about why I chose the name for my blog.

As I read the titles of other blogs, I am impressed by the clever titles given by the blog authors.  When I started to think about how to title my blog, a memory from my first year of seminary came to mind.  Our first year at Candler School of Theology at Emory University included what was then called Supervised Ministry, or SM for short.  As you can imagine, all sorts of jokes came about with that acronym as we reflected upon what they were putting us through and how some professors and/or field supervisors seemed to enjoy watching us fumble around as many of our assumptions were challenged.  We had a year-long placement in a clinical setting, and we were put in groups of eight with an academic supervisor and a field supervisor.  Part of the growing during this time was not so much the particulars of the setting to which we were assigned but the analysis of our inner self as we engaged in ministry and reflected upon our different experiences.  While not all of us in the group got along well with each other, there was a lot of deep, intimate sharing, and several close bonds were formed.  One of the exercises at the end of the first semester was to write something to each member of the group about your experience with them.  One of my friends, who was almost 15 years older than me, referred to me as “my little brother.”  He meant it affectionately, and I took it as such.  Other thoughts were meaningful as well, but the most meaningful description was “just Chris.”

I liked that one because that is basically how I see and have always seen myself.  I claim my giftedness by God, I am thankful for the myriad of ways in which God has blessed me, and I can delineate both my strengths and weaknesses, so I am not talking about a view of myself that diminishes who God wants me to be.  However, through many different experiences in life I came to the conclusion that I could not be nor was I being called to be anybody other than who God wants me to be.  I think of myself as just an ordinary person, loved by God no more nor no less than any other person.  I am thankful for God’s blessings and the combination of gifts, talents, and abilities with which God has blessed me, but I don’t think of any of that as any more extraordinary than how God works or wants to work in anybody else’s life.

So, when I thought about what to title my blog, the phrase “the ordinary pastor” came to mind.  I am not overly dynamic in my preaching, though I enjoy it and think I have some effectiveness in it.  I do not see myself as an overly inspiring teacher that just leaves people clamoring for more when I am done, though I have been told I am a good teacher. I have a vision about where God is leading me and where I believe God wants the church I serve to go, but I don’t see that becoming a mega-church where everybody looks to each thing I write or say in order to respond to it.  I visit folks in the hospital, but I am not as skilled in that visitation as those I know who are hospital chaplains.  I could go on like this for a while, but I think you get the point.  I am an ordinary pastor whom God has blessed richly.  My goal through this blog is to encourage others to recognize their giftedness and blessings and then use their giftedness to be a blessing to others in the name of Jesus Christ.

In the wake of the latest natural disaster, the tornado in Moore, OK, the “explanations” for why it happened invariably start to come out again.  As a pastor, as a Christian, and just as a human being, I find many of these “explanations” not only unhelpful, but downright harmful.  Explanations such as God’s will or punishment for sin will be thrown out there, maybe because they are so simple, maybe because folks actually believe it is God’s will to kill innocent children.  I remember the claims that Katrina was punishment for the sin of New Orleans, but none of those people making that claim could ever explain why homes of the poor were destroyed while the French Quarter was spared. Jesus, by the way, rejected such notions.

The better and more helpful question, I think, comes when someone will ask me, “Well, if it wasn’t God’s will, then where was God in this situation?”  I am reminded of a story told to me by one of my pastoral mentors and good friend, the late Rev. Guss Shelly.  When I was early in the process of entering the ordained ministry, he shared a time in a class when the professor gave each student a picture of a horrific car wreck, and below the picture was the question for them to answer, “Where is God in this situation?”  Guss said that at the time he didn’t have an adequate answer, but the answer came to him a few years later as he sat with a parishioner in ICU while the parishioner was dying.  He said, “It came to me then that God was the same place in that car wreck as He was in the ICU, which is right beside those who are hurting, dying, and/or near death.  God is with the family and loved ones who are walking that journey with that loved one, who are also hurting and/or grieving.”

Where is God in this latest tragedy?  Where is God when we are hurting, be it a physical hurt, brokenness in relationships, spiritual struggle, etc?  God is right beside us, offering His care and grace to us, wrapping us in His arms of love, reminding us that we are not alone.  God is with the victims of the tornado who survived, assuring them of His love, demonstrating that love through the actions of hundreds and thousands of people who are responding as they are able.  God is present with those who lost loved ones, and God is crying with them.  God is present with those rescue workers who are beyond physically exhausted but keep searching that next house hoping to find survivors.

The God we worship is not a God of easy answers, and the truth of the matter is that my minor contribution to trying to help answer these questions is a simple explanation, one that could be and has been written about in much greater depth and clarity than this brief blog.  It is one, though, I would be happy to continue discussing in more personal settings.  But I also firmly believe that God is present in the questions we ask, and that when we ask them trying to understand more, God helps us work through those questions, doubts, and jumble of emotions that arise in times such as these.

Where’s God?  God is where God has always been, with those who are suffering.

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At some point on most weekdays the church secretary, our youth minister, and I will end up in the secretary’s office, and this or that comment will lead to several minutes of discussion around either a matter of faith, family, or just general observations on life.

This morning, somehow the topic of changing landscapes came up, and we were talking about different places, including Oak Grove, where the landscape has changed so much over the years.  I was recalling how when my grandfather Young bought his several acres in Lee County back in 1947, everything out there was farmland.  Just a few houses could be seen.  Today, there are large houses up and down the road, the road has been widened and nicely paved, there is a store across the street from that home where one of my aunts now lives, and a major four-lane road is near completion about a ½ mile from the house.

In Oak Grove, the number of children in the school district continues to grow steadily.  There are almost 1,600 students at the high school, and there will be more next year than this year.  A new elementary school is opening in the fall, and I have been told it is already full.  Members of the church who are from this area talk about their graduating class of 17 when they graduated 50+ years ago.  They will point out to me how as recently as 25 years ago the city pretty much ended at I-59, whereas now it extends for several miles beyond that point.  In just the two years I have been here I have watched several new businesses open out where we live, and the area continues to expand westward.

All of that to say that to live in this life is to experience change, and it is to experience all kinds of change.  No wonder that some folks respond to that change by trying to hold on to the past, hold on to what was familiar, even if that past is now more idealized in memory than it was in reality.

Instead of responding with an attitude of “get over it,” or “just move on,” we need to respond with kindness and understanding to those who are truly struggling with major changes in society or in their lives.

We need to remember in the midst of changes in society and life, and we need to remind each other in a loving manner, that  the only true certainty in this world is the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and experienced through the Holy Spirit.  If we understand that to life in this life is to experience change, and increasingly rapid change, then as we hold on to the eternal presence of God in our lives, we can approach that change with hope and anticipation instead of fear.

Our response of fear to changes in life reflects a lack of conviction that as God has been present in this world for all time, and as God has continued to bring about good in this world, God will continue to be present in the future as well, and if we are open to God’s working in our lives, God will do a good thing in and through us.

So, whether or not the changes in your life are welcomed or anticipated, know that the eternal, loving God will see you through.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:38-39)

One of the things I have noticed in increasing fashion as I peruse Facebook is the number of re-postings by people about claims that simply aren’t true.  I think those who do so are doing so out of good intentions, but regardless of intentions are spreading untruths.  I remember hearing a definition back in high school about the difference between an untruth and a lie.  An untruth is when you believe you are saying something which is true but turns out to not be true.  A lie is when you know the claim is false and you tell it anyway.
Those who are the originators of the false claims  are liars.  They know what they are saying is not true, yet they make the claim in order to stir up good people’s emotions and bias them towards or against a certain person or group of people, and they lead people to spread untruths.

As Christians, we have a moral obligation to tell the truth.  We are called to not bear false witness, and part of the Christian character is honesty, so it disturbs me when I see good people posting things that are not true.

So, while it may be a futile task, I want to urge folks to check out claims that seem extreme or damning towards another individual.  And even if the item turns out to be factual, ask yourself the following question:  Is it edifying in any way, or is the main effect to express anger about something over which you have no control?  Righteous anger over injustice is one thing, but spreading information that in the end does nothing but tear down another person is quite another.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

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Around this time of the year, I think about those people who have had an important influence on my life.  Maybe I think about those persons because it seems as if a lot of things happen in May.  We celebrate Mother’s Day.  Mother’s Day is a joyful day for me because I have been blessed with a wonderful, loving mother with whom I am very close.  I am fortunate to be able to call my mother my friend as well and someone whose insight and advice I value and trust deeply.

During the month of May, high school and college students graduate.  Millions of young people across this country will soon be making major life transitions.  Hopes and dreams are in abundance in the month of May.  Our daughter still has one more year of high school, but the prospect of being “empty nesters” in a year is hitting home with us already.

On May 26, Becky and I will celebrate our twenty-third anniversary as husband and wife.  Since I am 44 years old and will turn 45 years old in September, we have now been married more than half of our lives.  No words can express the joy and privilege of being her husband.  On top of that great joy, I am glad to say that each of us have a great relationship with our “in-laws.”  For us, though, there’s no such thing “in-laws”, other than in name.  We are all family.  I was reminded powerfully of this reality again the course of this weekend as we marked the one year anniversary of the death of Becky’s mother, Margaret Lockett.

In each of these instances, there were and are important people who made each of these times special in my own life when I went through them.  I think about those high school friendships that meant so much at the time, and with some of them I truly regret that I have done such a poor job in keeping up with many of them.  I have been able to re-connect with many of them through Facebook, for which I am thankful, and we have a good time sharing those great memories from that time.  I think about those influential teachers, both at school and at church.  I am grateful for Mr. Bruce Lesley, my choral director at Tupelo High School my junior and senior years of high school.  Most of what I learned about singing came from him.  Even more than that, though, was that he would not allow us to be satisfied with mediocrity, but demanded that we strive for excellence in all we do, not just in singing.  Many of the lessons he taught through music were life lessons well worth learning.  I think about my senior English teacher, Mrs. Marilyn Monroe (yes, that was her real name!).  She was the first person who ever showed any confidence and who gave encouragement in my ability to write.  Sadly, she died of cancer before I had a chance to tell her how important she was to me.  Learned a lesson there, too, about not waiting to tell someone you love them and how important they are to you.

I think about those persons of influence in college such as Dr. Kent Sills, who was the band director at MSU.  To this day, I use a lot of his catch phrases and sayings when describing or analyzing certain situations.  He also directed the choir at Starkville FUMC and expected me to be there to sing.  If I was not there, he would ask me where I was.  I will always be thankful for that combination of support and accountability.

I think about those seminary friends and professors who would not let me get away with pat answers to tough questions, but rather who challenged me to think deeper and to grow in my faith.  I think about Rev. Jane Brooks, the associate pastor at the church where I served as a youth director while in seminary.  Jane taught me a lot about patience as well as about remembering to enjoy this incredible journey that we call life.

I also think about how blessed I have been and am to be able to serve wonderful churches filled with wonderful people who have influenced my life deeply and from whom I have learned a lot.  I am thankful we are at Oak Grove, and I hope that we can continue to learn from each other for many years to come.

I could on in this manner for a long time, but I think you get the point.  I am grateful for these persons and so many more who touched my life in profound and wonderful ways, much more so than they will probably ever know.

Who are those persons who have touched your life?  If they are still living, have you told them so?  Whose life is God calling you to touch?  What life lessons are you passing on to others through what you say and do?