New Seasons of Life
Yes, I’m a church nerd, but I always look forward to the season of Easter.  I look forward to a great Easter Sunday morning at church, yes,  but, then, I enjoy reveling in the ‘afterglow’ of the next few weeks.  I spend those weeks looking for signs of new life, reflecting on the experience of the cross, and expecting resurrection, not just because of old stories found in the Bible, but I expect signs of resurrection in the world around me.  I suppose signs of new life are always present, but I get excited about the season of Easter because it helps me to pay attention to the amazing things God is doing in this world.  This year, though, Easter wasn’t the season I expected it to be.
This year, I found myself tired as I came to Easter because I was doing a mandated (by the United Methodist Church) internship at BroMenn Regional Medical Center along with my full-time job.  Because of my exhaustion, I didn’t really take in Easter the way I ought to have, perhaps.  More devastating, however, was the abrupt end to our pregnancy after Carrie and I suffered a miscarriage.  A season that was supposed to draw my attention to new life became a season of loss and exhaustion.
Today, as I look toward Pentecost (this Sunday) and a new church season, I realize something, suddenly:  Even though I had a difficult season…there is hope.  I have an opportunity to let go of the troubled weeks of Eastertide and celebrate the hope of a new season in my own life.
You see, professionally, as I plan worship, I will set aside the themes and scriptures of Easter and I will prepare for a new season of different scriptures, songs, and worship themes.  I guess, in my personal life, I would do well to set aside the difficulties of these past weeks and months, in a similar way, and allow myself to focus on a new season and find hope for better weeks ahead!
For me, the hope that comes in a new season is:
  • the possibility of getting pregnant, again;
  • welcoming a new pastor to my church and fostering a new friendship;
  • renewing my own body and spirit this summer with exercise, right eating, and spiritual disciplines;
  • working on my relationship with my wife that the experience of this season would help us to deepen our relationship for the next.
As we leave the Easter season, we don’t leave behind the message of Christ or hope for the future.  Likewise, as we move from one season of life to the next we should never lose sight the experiences we have had, yet we have an opportunity to look for new life and experience resurrection.  Over these next weeks, I pray that we will continue to experience Christ’s resurrection and I pray that it will draw our attention to the resurrection all around us and help us to find renewal in our own lives!
A Social Media Pentecost

To Ponder:  Full Pentecost Scripture

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.  (Acts 2:1-4)

When the day of pentecost came, the believers were emboldened with the Holy Spirit.  They were able to be understood by the people around them, even if they spoke other languages.  The religious people of this past century have begun to struggle in being heard and understood by a new generation and their new and “troubling” ways of communicating.  I believe that the Holy Spirit is coming upon believers who are open to it and alighting us with new language and new ways of being heard!

Pastors and lay people alike who feel the Spirit upon them and who God has given the language of social media must be a new church, just like the earliest believers at Pentecost.

This is our chance.  This is a new day and there will be a new church whether we like it or not.  It will look different and it will not be confined by the traditional walls that we have come to associate with ‘church.’  Will the mainline (or I prefer to say: old-line) churches (United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Presbyterians, etc) be a part of this new church?

If we can let go of the structure and fear that is holding us back, we will.  And the price is too high to not be a part of this new church.  We have theological gifts to share with a new generation.

Unfortunately… and I can only speak for the United Methodist Church, but our UM Communications and, in Illinois, our Conference Communication team make the church look old-fashioned (that’s honest, mostly, I suppose) and they move too slowly and carefully.  Worse, they focus on communications rather than relationships!  Our denominations are stymied and they make us look terrible (recently at our annual charge conference we were shown a video of our bishop that made him look like a used car salesman, oh- and the district office couldn’t provide my church a digital copy when asked!!!).  But at the local church level and in our own communities we can now accomplish bigger things than they are even capable of with social media.  Our reach can be effective in our local communities (even the most rural) and they can grow our local, walled churches…  yet our reach can also,now, go well beyond our local communities and walled churches.  When we effectively use the internet, social media, and blogging we can share faith, touch lives, and experience community in places that we never before dreamed possible.

If you are listening for the Holy Spirit in this new generation and want to speak out and connect with new people, I have some suggestions:

  1. Make sure you have Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts and (and this is the really important part) grow your presence:
    1. Work hard to cultivate a following by:
      1. posting often
      2. posting quality and relational materials
      3. try not to use insider language
      4. continually adding friends / followers
    2. Look at other accounts / pages / walls / feeds and share interesting items
    3. Don’t be afraid to share personal things about yourself (within safety and reason).  Use these avenues as a way to foster relationships!
  2. Get a blog account!!!
    1. There are several sites that can help you, I especially recommend:  Blogger (by Google, just use your Google user/pass) or WordPress.
    2. Get your blog and social media accounts connected to your webpage.  It makes your page more dynamic and personal.
    3. Share your blog by social media.  It turns 140 characters into a full and on-going narrative.
    4. I can’t emphasize this enough:  don’t be afraid to share your own personal stories, yet connect them to your faith.
    5. Keep it short.  Think in terms of a 1/2 to full page of paper at most when you write your blog! (This blog post is pushing the limit)
  3. Keep your eyes peeled for new ways to connect online.  If lots of people are using 4square or LinkedIn, etc…then go where the people are.

Paul used tent making to build relationships, John Wesley went out to the masses in England preaching in fields and cemeteries…I don’t know what it will look like entirely yet, but we have to find new venues and ways to build relationships and share our faith story!  Now, in 2012, we must be a Pentecost people!  We must feel the Holy Spirit as it enlivens us to share our faith and we must speak the languages that God is giving us the gift to speak.  It is our time and our new and exciting world.  Let’s share our faith as disciples of Christ!!!

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Resurrection & New Life: Questions are okay!

Meet Rev. Troy Venning

Rev. Troy Venning was a classmate of both my wife and I at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary where he graduated in 2011 with a Master of Divinity.  He is an itinerant Deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church serving at Bethel AME Church in Downtown Miami.  He received an MBA from University of Phoenix (Ft. Lauderdale) and received his B.S. in Psychology from Xavier University of Louisiana.  Troy says, “Love is and has always been the key and if we love one another like Christ loved us (to death) then the world will change.”  I hope we can agree with him on that and all will welcome him as my newest guest blogger during Eastertide!

Questions are really ok…I promise

Today’s Scripture: John 20:19-29
When I was in Junior High School, I remember my English teacher. She was a very serious lady, especially in the classroom. Of all the things that I remember about her besides her glasses with the chain on them, the two things that stick out most are this t-shirt that she would occasionally wear and this mug that she drank coffee out of. The message on both the shirt and the mug were very similar but expressed in different ways…That message…”because I said so!” Deep right…but doesn’t that speak volumes to the position that adult takes towards children most times? Children are to seen and not heard…right?
 Oh, I forgot that is just me…
However, if we dared to be honest, we would admit that most believe that children should stay in their place, and they dare not ask questions. That is, they should not ask an adult a question. I would assert that the church is like that. This is so because we have been taught that when it comes to one’s relationship with God; that we must remain like a child who better not ask a question.
Quiet often (not everywhere) the church teaches people of God that as life comes and you experience the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows of life that we are just supposed to take whatever life throws us, not have an opinion and not question God one iota. But I mean is that really possible? Is it possible to be alive and not have questions about one’s daily experiences?  Life continues to happen and if you keep living, you will have questions. Sickness, poverty, death, failure, heartbreak, injustice, racism, hatred, classism, sexism, I could go on and on…but the fact of the matter is, that in life all of these things will come.
Thus I write today to remind you that when they come, that God is big enough to handle and is ok with any question that you may have. I know this because of Jesus posture and position Jesus to when addressing Thomas and the disciples after his death and resurrection. The disciples had questions; they had just experienced excruciating pain as they watched their leader get executed. They were afraid; for them all had been lost and because of that reason, I can attest that they had questions. The disciples all had questions, each one of them. Thomas and the others all had questions and Jesus new that. The difference with “doubting” Thomas and the others; he was bold enough to verbalize his questions. Whereas the others, simply operated in fear unable to say what was troubling them.
Maybe today as you are reading, you have unanswered questions that you are afraid to ask; know today that no matter how big or small…God is big enough to answer every one of your questions.  The Good news for you and me is that no matter your question, God will meet you right where you are. How do I know? Look at the way God reacts to our questions. What is Jesus’s response in the story of doubting Thomas? He sends the disciples a word that should set them at ease, when it didn’t, he went looking for them. When he found them he granted them peace and he gave them (the disciples as a group and Thomas individually) a tailor made response. Beloved God knows that you have questions even when they are unspoken like the disciples. Maybe you are bold like Thomas, guess what God is big enough to handle your questions…still not convinced that questions are ok…ask Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Elijah Jeremiah, Job, David and then there was Jesus and the ultimate question…My God, my God…why has thou forsaken me?
Beloved, know that questions are fine. In fact the ability to question is a gift from God. Read your bible, you will find out that you are not the only one that has questions. In fact, the beauty of the cross is relationship and restoration…at the end of the day God would much rather being in dialogue with you than for to be engaged in a monologue…Ask away, trust me God is big enough to handle all of your questions…In fact, God is waiting and ready to answer because God loves you.
Copyrights © 2012 by Troy K. Venning. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be copied or reproduced without the written permission of the author. To contact the writer go to
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Resurrection & New Life:  Every Moment Counts! (Video)

Scripture:  Luke 22:63-65, 23:32-38

If this was the only moment that defined Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t have any hope, but his life was not defined only by his lowest moments, but also by the high moments of his birth, life, ministry and, later, resurrection!  Christ shows us that we can look forward to new life, even in our most traumatic moments!!!

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Today’s Scripture: 1 John 1:1-2:2

We will look more closely at just a few of these verses:

2 The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. 3 What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.

Think about it for just a moment. It would not have been very difficult to believe in Christ just after the resurrection. Oh, it might have been difficult to believe, i suppose, but it had just happened! I mean, if there was a time when it was easier to believe, that would have been the time, right? If we read the gospel of John we find that Christ has appeared to the disciples. It seems assured that Christ has, indeed, risen from the dead!

But for the next few generations of Christians it must have been increasingly difficult. There were not any gospels for a while and stories were handed down, but Christ wasn’t there to be seen or touched.

The problem that becomes apparent in this scripture is that people were mixing up the message of Jesus Christ and so 1 John attempts to put the message of Christ back into order. “We have seen,” and “we testify…to you.” Those who knew something about the life and death of Jesus are writing these words to ensure future generations of Christians will understand the message of Christ.

Resurrection and New Life is not just for one time or one group of people. The message of New Life in Christ is for all times and all peoples. This letter is written to us that we might know Jesus’ love. Christ overcame death and so might we!

Resurrection & New Life:  Giving Up A Son
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After Mike shared about the loss of his own son, I realized that I am not nearly articulate enough to bring something that will be new and profound to this Holy Saturday.  Please, if you haven’t already, read Mike Rayson’s words from Friday’s post, and then, I invite you to contemplate what it would mean to give up your own child.  Seems impossible to most of us, doesn’t it. Take a moment to read some scripture of a father who was, indeed, ordered to give up his son:

Scripture:  Genesis 22:1-18