Archive for March, 2012



Holy Week Prep



Jesus - courtesy of the Jesus painter, Mike Lewis -

Next week is Holy Week, the countdown to our remembrance of Jesus’ execution. It’s a bit easier to think of it as the countdown to Jesus’ resurrection, but that’s taking the easy road. To get us (me) ready, it seems appropriate to focus on a few foundational things.

Interestingly, people put forth numerous reasons why Jesus was put to death, but Scripture focuses on four in particular:

1)    He aroused opposition because of the way he entered Jerusalem at the beginning of his final week of ministry (the event Christian Churches all over the world will focus on tomorrow). When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem he was riding a donkey and people were shouting “Hosannah! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” (Mark 11.1-10) This pretty much mimicked Solomon (David’s son) who 1000 years earlier arrived on the royal mule & declared his kingship. (1 Kings 1.32-40) The crowd’s response pretty much said the same thing – this is the one destined to be Israel’s king and ruler. It would be pretty hard to avoid a run in with Rome when Jesus’ fans were suggesting in pretty unmistakable terms that he was Israel’s king not Caesar.

2)    He called out the ruling priests on their failure to live up to their calling. By disrupting the sacrificial trade and traffic he made it clear that the temple wasn’t the place of prayer for the nations that it was supposed to be. (Mark 11.15-18) First Rome is angry, now the ruling priests, scribes, and elders are offended.

3)    Jesus doesn’t help matters when he tells the parable of the Vineyard. (Mark 12.1-12) The ruling priests and their supporters had asked him by what authority he did what he’d done in the Temple. (Mark 11.27-33) He responds by telling a parable based on another story (Isaiah 5.1-7) that was already understood to warn about Israel’s impending judgment because of its failure to pursue justice – a story often directed against the temple establishment. Not a good way to smooth things over.

4)    The tipping point, so to speak, comes when an unnamed woman anoints Jesus with oil in front of his disciples and Jesus praises her for it. (Mark 14.3-9) Right after that Judas leaves for his rendezvous with ruling priest that leads to Jesus’ betrayal. (Mark 14.10-11) Lots of people have commented on the contrast between the devoted woman with no name and the treacherous disciple with an infamous name, but there’s another interesting element as well. Judas most likely told the ruling priests what he’d experienced right before he came to them – it was a pretty intense interaction, not likely that would have been overlooked.

Kimberly Reisman

Kim Reisman

We have a pretty strong tendency to focus on the internal, spiritual aspects of Jesus’ death – not a bad thing at all. But it’s important to stay grounded in the temporal aspect as well. Jesus was perceived as a serious political threat. His message threatened the status quo – a status quo no one in authority wanted overturned. He entered Jerusalem just like an anointed son of David, just like King Solomon so long ago. He acted like he had messianic authority in the temple, and he was was anointed by at least one of his own followers, which was easily interpreted as having messianic significance. It’s no wonder the high priest would ask him angrily, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” and the Roman governor would put up a sign that said, “This is Jesus, king of the Jews.”


What are the environments in your life or church or community where the status quo reigns? What does following Jesus require you to do about that? What’s your next step?


**For a short read that will ground you in the temporal experience of Jesus and his first followers during that last week – check out Jesus, The Final Days: What Really Happened by Craig Evans & N. T. Wright. It’s not a new one, but it’s a good one.



For Holy Week and beyond…

Holy Week begins on Sunday. Many of us have been immersed in various studies and other introspective devotional explorations, which is a very good thing. To move us outward, on both the human and cosmic levels, I suggest a (relatively) short and provocative read by N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God.

N. T. WrightWe mark the crucifixion of Jesus once a year, but the problem of evil (and its solution) that is inextricably entwined with the death of Jesus extends beyond a single observance. In a broken world like ours, it’s always good to get a glimpse of the mind and purposes of our loving God. Not a new read, but definitely a valuable one.



Out on a Walk…


Because I’ve got a hugely busy time coming up during the next month or so, I’m trying to get a head start on some Next Step posts. I was perusing some of what I’ve written in the past & came across some interesting stuff.

Back in March, 2009 I wrote this…

Meister Eckhart

Meister Eckhart

I’ve got a great set of note cards that has a beautiful drawing of African women strutting with baskets on their heads & drums on their hips. The drawing is called Virgins Dancing by Stella Atal.* I love the art, but it’s the quote from Meister Eckhart that pulls it all together:

God is always at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk.

 I wonder sometimes if we in the church haven’t gone out for a walk – a long one. We seem to put our energy into so many things – good things, important things – but then we overlook, or worse, even forget, the foundational things.

I’m lucky to even be writing this given my long absence from the world of blogging. These days it seems that my work demands that I write for every venue but this one. So I won’t waste valuable time lecturing about what’s foundational & what’s not. But here’s a random thought. Is it possible that it’s not really about ‘creating new places for new people & renewing existing ones’ as the bishops & General Conference have said? Could it really be about offering the life transforming grace of God through Jesus Christ to the world?

Stella Atal

God is always at home...

The whole creating new places things sounds like a good idea, but what kind of new places for new people are we talking about? I’d like to assume that when the bishops (or whoever it was) came up with such a catchy phrase they were talking about creating communities of faith living as the body of Christ. Even better, I’d like to assume they were talking about communities of faith living as the body of Christ & committed to proclaiming the gospel of the Messiah Jesus in order to bring people into a life transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. I’d like to think they were expressing a commitment to evangelism. But somehow I wonder. Nobody’s really talking about Jesus in any of this – at least not out loud – & God forbid we use the dreaded ‘E’ word. So who knows? The way things are going these new places for new people could wind up being coffee shops for fellowship (not a bad thing in & of itself). Or free trade stores to promote a more just form of capitalism – again, not a bad thing – but not quite the same thing as connecting people with the source of life abundant.

I don’t really know what to make of it really. So I wonder. Because as good as it sounds, it still feels like we’re out on a walk – a long walk.


Hmmm….sounds familiar…


*Sadly, the url I used in 2009 is no longer active – but here’s what I found for Stella Atal.



Lil Buck and Yo Yo Ma

For anyone who’s been tempted to pigeon hole another person or group of people (read: this is for all of us), here’s a little something that will give you reason to pause.





The weight of expectations…

Kimberly Reisman

Kim Reisman


The image of weight-bearing walls I described last week is staying with me these days as I plow through more of the General Conference material. With each petition I read, I have the uneasy feeling that we’ve come to misunderstand the purpose of the Discipline and that our expectations of what it can do and be far exceeds its ability to bear the weight.

UMCGC 2012 logo

UMC General Conference 2012

The United Methodist Book of Discipline is nothing more than the code we have determined to live by as United Methodists. It is not divinely inspired; nor does it contain every nuance of what it means to live as followers of Jesus in the spirit of the Wesleys. It was never intended to be or do either. Its purpose is to outline the basic rules we’ve agreed to live by as United Methodists. As such it can only bear the weight of our agreement. It is only as valuable as its clarity. The more it reflects confusion or disagreement or indecision, the more quickly it begins to crack under the strain of our expectations.



PostSecret Monday


There’s been discussion recently in the blogosphere about why young adults are exiting the church. That discussion came to my mind yesterday during my Sunday ritual of reading PostSecret. Of all people, Christians should understand what it means to be in community. Having a sense of belongingness, realizing that you are of immense value, being supported, empowered and strengthened. All of those things and more are part of the fabric of the community of faith. But could it be that there are places and times where we’re no longer consistently embodying those simple characteristics? Could it be that there’s a disconnect with our DNA and young adults (and people of all generations really) are noticing?


PostSecret survivor

Hey Frank,

 It’s days like today that I sincerely miss the PostSecret App. Early on I posted a secret about being scared to go to court and received nothing but inspirational and encouraging words from the other users.

Then I posted the secret above and again, I received all encouraging and inspirational words, and I wanted to thank you for giving me a sense of strength and sense of being to know I am not alone, and even if they are strangers, they believe in me, which made me believe in me.

I am currently awaiting the second part of trial, and have no doubt in my mind that I’m going to go in there with this strength and the spirit of the PostSecret community within me. I want to thank you for bringing this to me and am sorry that others had to ruin such a beautiful thing.


That’s a great description of community – having ‘the spirit of the PostSecret community within me.’ How is that working out in your community? Are you and your church in touch with your ‘communal DNA’? What kind of inspirational and encouraging words are you offering to others – even strangers? How are you contributing to someone’s sense of strength and knowledge that they aren’t alone? What’s actually happening in the lives of the people in your community (not just your church)? What’s your next step?





Making Life Matter


Making Life Matter, a 30 minute Christian inspirational and teaching program hosted by Maxie Dunnam and Shane Stanford launches today on American Family Radio stations across the United States. Next Step will provide a podcast of each show. Click below to listen.



Load bearingWeight-bearing Walls


Enough people have been blogging, emailing & FB posting about General Conference that I was really hoping I wouldn’t need to enter the cacophony of voices. It’s not that I HAVE to enter the cacophony, but as a delegate, it seems like I’m shirking my responsibility somewhat in remaining silent.

Not that I’ve got so much wisdom to share. So far the wisest thing I’ve heard anyone say came from Jason Vickers in his Next Step blog issuing a call to prayer. He pretty much stole my thunder so now I’ve got to come up with the next best thing.

John & I are thinking about remodeling our kitchen (I told you this was the next best thing). I tend to be the one who can envision how I want things to look so I took out my graph paper & sketched out a plan, then called one of those kitchen designer people to tell me if it was doable. Of course he told me that anything is doable if you want to pay for it, but that’s another story. At any rate, before I talked to this guy I understood the concept of weight-bearing walls & knew that would figure into things, which is why I called the kitchen designer guy. What I didn’t count on was that there would be ONE point that was crucial to the whole thing. I found out that I can bump out the entire back wall of my kitchen as I planned & they’d put some kind of giant beam in there to compensate; but if I left that one point without support, the house would fall in. One point. One point is crucial in bearing the weight of my entire house.

Kim Reisman

Kim Reisman

We’ve got a lot to think about as April approaches. We’ll have to make decisions about restructuring our approach to training & deploying ministers, restructuring the way we understand the episcopacy, restructuring our whole organizational composition. That’s a lot of remodeling. And the question that keeps coming to my mind isn’t really about which plan is better – although I’m sure I’ll have to figure that one out eventually.

UMCGC 2012 logo

UMC General Conference 2012

The question I keep pondering is what really are the weight-bearing walls in the UMC? I’m not talking about walls in the sense of division. I’m talking about the things we’ve chosen to bear the weight of our understanding of what it means to be Christians who follow Jesus in the spirit of the Wesleys. Have we chosen the right ones? Is there one point that without support will cause the whole house to fall in? If we agree that there is, what are we going to do about it?



Making Life Matter

Making Life Matter – Radio Show & Podcast

Launching March 25 ~ 8am central/9am eastern on American Family Radio

Check back for regularly posted podcasts.

For a list of AFR radio stations, click here

Next Step is partnering with Kingdom Catalysts to bring you the weekly radio show, Making Life Matter, a weekly 30 minute Christian inspirational and teaching program hosted by Maxie Dunnam and Shane Stanford. MLM tackles issues of faith and life in order to deepen discipleship and encourage strong connections between following Jesus and living in today’s world. It’s carried on American Family Radio stations across the country and Next Step will be carrying the podcasts of each show so check back regularly to listen. Shows begin this Sunday.



Worldwide United Methodism – an attitude or simply geography?

As a “worldwide church” the United Methodist Church might be wise to listen more carefully to voices from Africa. Here is one such voice. Forbes Matonga provides his opinion of the strategies for restructuring that are coming before the UMC General Conference in April. What’s our next step US UM’s? Do we really take the voice of Africa seriously?