Thursday, September 10, 2015

Utilize your God-given Gifts

A few days ago I had car battery trouble. To be honest, it was an epidemic at Mt. Calvary. A couple others had the same problem this week. Car batteries are just annoying to me. The corrosion is an issue, and when they have issues they just go out in the most random places. By now most of you know that I am a system guy, so I called my father.  He told me to go to Auto Zone and have them test it, so I did.  Not only did Auto Zone test it, but they put in a new one too. Keith was the worker who helped me. Keith took me to the car and showed me how to use the battery tester. Let me tell you something, I have limited knowledge of how my car runs and how to fix its problems, and that is where it stops. It is not that I am not willing to learn, I just know my brain doesn’t work like that. I could barely figure out how to put more Freon in my car this summer. When Keith started showing me how to use the high tech battery tester, my relational gift kicked in. I was nice because he wanted to show me, but honestly at that point, he could have told me my battery was bad even if wasn’t and I would have believed him. This is why I stick to my gifts of relationships with the car guys I know. My mechanic is a guy whose son was at my old church. I have spent time mentoring his son and I have a relationship with his family. The last time Mindy had to drop me off at the mechanic she asked why we drive to 170 and Page to get the car fixed. (I think we are already spoiled after a year of living in Rock Hill where everything is so close.) I said, “We drive out here because I know this guy will take care of us and our cars.”

My relational side is necessary even in my car guy. Last week when my sister-in-law asked me about her car, I told her about my car guy and assured her that he would take care of her if she brought her car in. I have learned a very important lesson in life as I have grown in faith and realized how Jesus made me. I am relational, and therefore utilizing my God given gifts even plays out in how I take care of my cars. Sure, as I share my faith I have pushed this area of my life to make new connections and new relationships so I can share the message of Jesus. But behind the scenes, my God given gift of being passionate about relationships plays a part in almost everything I do.

This lesson was painful in the beginning. In high school I struggled through dating relationships, friendships, and family relationships. As I matured and my time of confession grew, I recognized the bitter pain I felt when I knew I had sinned against God. Being made with a passion to care for relationships, when I was hurting the relationship I had with God, it hurt the most. Jesus’ grace restored my relationship with my Creator (and continues to each day), and through that I began utilizing my God given gifts, specifically relationships.

Sometimes the areas where we are so painfully impacted by the sins we commit can lead us to understand how God made us. This is the outcome we want all believers to have, specifically at Mt. Calvary. My prayer is that He will lead you through a journey that helps you acknowledge and see your sin, raw and real as it is, then lead you to His grace, and even beyond that to see how God created you and how He can use you uniquely for His glory. Every season of life will lead you to utilize your God given gifts differently. Nonetheless, acknowledging Jesus and His impact in your life, it will help you treasure how He made you and how He prepares you to use your gifts in this world.

Selfish to Selfless

Mindy and I celebrated 8 years of marriage together on September 1st. I know some couples in our church have done that 3, 5, or 8 times over, so you are way ahead of us. As I reflect on what can happen in 8 years, there are so many things that run through my mind. As I began college, the 8 years it would take to be a pastor seemed like such a long time. I remember saying to a freshman buddy who was on the same road as me that I wish we could be pastors now. I was so anxious to start ministry, and yet God had me in a waiting and learning period.

Every anniversary I like to look back. You know this because every May congregational meeting I have us look back over the last several years at Mt. Calvary. As I look back on what has happened in my marriage, I can count how many homes we have lived in, cars we’ve had, jobs, and kids. This year, that list seemed longer than it needed to be. Mindy put it simply when she sent me a picture of us kissing on our wedding day and said, “I love you more than I did back then…” I guess the dot, dot, dot only implied the years to come.

When I began my marriage, I had images of what I thought being a pastor, husband and father looked like. I had no outcomes planned or goals I wanted to see accomplished. I merely wanted to meet that image in my head. However, in trying to meet that image, I unknowingly had expectations that I wanted Mindy to meet. The failure, of course, is that they were my expectations of an image I never shared with Mindy. I had a very selfish view of MY marriage.

I remember the day someone pulled me aside and told me that marriage was a shared responsibility, that I should stop figuring out who should do what job in our marriage and start working on loving my wife. That was the moment that the picture I had in my mind of what my marriage was supposed to look like began to fade. It was like the Back to the Future movie where the Marty’s family picture changes as he alters the past. There was no time machine for me, except perhaps realizing that the marriages and pastors I had based my image on were actually broken people learning how to repent for their selfish ways and asking Jesus to help them lead selfless lives.

The romantic view of ministry and marriage was necessary. Wanting both of those things so badly was my driving force. Now, as I am 8 years into both my ministry and my marriage, I realize that each of them is hard work. Happily, the romantic view has returned, yet now I don’t treasure some fake image.  Instead I treasure the change God is making in my heart from selfish desires to the selfless desire to serve Mindy, my family, and the people God’s puts in my life. This weekend we try and understand how Paul was painting that picture for the people of Rome, and how that picture is laid out for you and me.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Service and Discipleship

Recently, Mt. Calvary took the opportunity to provide a meal for a group of young adults in town for a servant event.  While we were serving them dinner, we had a chance to talk with them. The great thing about young adults is that they are so excited and they believe they can do anything. Especially when you are talking to young adults in ministry, not only do they have the energy to believe they can do anything, they have Jesus behind them and so that only ups the ante. One of the young adults there that night was passionate about social ministry, specifically homeless ministry. She was talking about the ways she was involved in this ministry and all the opportunities there are to help homeless people.

Tracy and I reflected on her energy. It is great to see people like that because you remember how you were when you were their age. It is certainly something that lasts for a season, and then in life and ministry, you realize the road of service and discipleship is long. Not only that, but at times when our world is less receptive to the church, the road comes with many challenges as we try to serve and be a disciple in this world. 

This is a great challenge – continually watching as things change time and time again. We find that we need to grow and change how to execute service and discipleship to an ever-changing world. This is why this value (service & discipleship) is the most challenging of all the values we’ve covered (welcoming, caring, & intentional relationships).

Have you been surprised at how the book of Leviticus has been able to connect with us even though we are in a much different time? It seems to be a book full of rules and regulations that don’t to relate to us as God calls the Israelites to come back to His image. Yet, every week we find that God has that same call out to us – to return to His image. God’s Word in Leviticus is teaching us over and over again that we must look into the context of our changing world and discover how to share God’s unchanging message.

This week I was eating lunch with the CECE staff as they celebrated one of the teacher’s birthdays. It is a Mt. Calvary preschool tradition that they bring in the favorite dessert of the birthday girl to share. This time the favorite dessert was pie, so they had a couple varieties of Tippin’s pies. Oh, Tippin’s. I was immediately taken back to my childhood when I would go to Tippin’s with my grandparents. This is a good example of my point. Today, Tippin’s is all about pies. They have become the specialty of the grocery stores that carry them.  Long gone are the days where it was a family restaurant. They’ve had to change with the times. My kids won’t ever experience Shoney’s, Tippin’s, Perkins, Country Kitchen etc. the way I did.

We could take time to be sad about all of the changes that have happened, or we could acknowledge that this world looks different and move on. Believe it or not, we sometimes feel sad about the church and how it used to look different. Yet now, in our season of service and discipleship, we are called to be more like Tippin’s and find our specialty with the gifts and values that stand strong in our church. That is why we have this series on values, which brings us back to look at our values and who we are as a church body. Now we ask ourselves, how do we use our gifts and values in this changing world?

Intentional Relationships

Over the last two weeks I have led two funeral services. Janette and Elaine both passed away and went to their heavenly home. As Christians, and for these Christian ladies, this is truly something to celebrate. My calling as a pastor is to care for the family, relay to them what I know about their loved one, and help them see the hope found in Jesus during this time of mourning. The visits I made to their loved one before his/her death allowed one-on-one time with the person. Most of those visits are never fully understood by the family until the funeral. It is at the funeral that I get the opportunity to share the stories and memories I have made with their loved one.

If I am truly honest with myself, I never realize at the time how powerful those visits are either. Visits go from being work to watching the power of the Holy Spirit. What I mean by that is, before I go on a visit, I have to make sure I have my communion kit full, that it is the right time for me to visit considering the person’s needs and schedule, and that I would have the right amount of time to stay and talk. Once I enter the room, the intentional relationship begins. My art of small talk learned in the south on vicarage takes over, until eventually we cross into the deeper pieces and stories about his or her life. It is over several visits that the relationship is built. Then, as I’m preparing for the funeral after he or she has gone to be with Jesus, I watch how the Holy Spirit brings all of those visits together to share how the love of Jesus was shown in the life of that person in unique and special ways. Those are stories of comfort to a mourning family.

The interesting thing is that I even get to see the intentional relationships built by the deceased with the family and friends. I hear stories of how he or she impacted the lives of others. Many times, it gives me a clearer picture of who that person really was. Since I love relationships and people, I love this part. I always leave a funeral a little saddened remembering the last great visit I had with that person before he or she went to heaven. I have an image in my mind of the room or hospital where we met, and the stories shared, but then I remember that I won’t get to go there and see that person again. It is a sad moment, but I hold onto two powerful things: First and foremost, that person is in heaven! Secondly, I am thankful for the time I had with him or her, though I will always wish I could have had more. I thought this would go away the longer I was at Mt. Calvary and with more visits that I did, but I don’t think it ever will.  The reality is there is never enough time, and I will always want more time to visit.

Intentional relationships, this is what we will spend time talking about this weekend. What are intentional relationships? How is that a value of Mt. Calvary? How do we as members, and as Christians, go about nurturing those relationships?


I remember when I was little kid and we would head to the dentist or the doctor. There would be all kinds of promises of how it would be ok. Sometimes there were even promises it would be fun. Yeah, right. There would be bribes of the surprises and toys I might get from them afterwards. It was all hyped up, and then I would get there and the inevitable would happen – they would find a cavity or tell me I’m due for a shot. Then I would turn to my mom with the look of dismay.  It’s funny, now years later I find myself doing the same thing. Abby, my daughter, has a funny way of saying it. “I don’t want to check myself. Is Dr. Kenney (really Mckinney) gonna check myself?” The intelligence of a three year old goes beyond her years.

Some of you may feel the same way after last week, like I’m trying to bribe you into liking Leviticus. There is Pastor Will promising that the book of Leviticus is going to be something I am going to like. He is promising that I will find words of wisdom, and that this is a book that will help my life. If so, then this week might feel like the cavity and the shot. In our reading for today we see God asking for perfection on the Sabbath, and that those who curse be stoned. Perhaps you’re thinking this is exactly why this book is hard to read, and wonder how it relates to any values that God wants us to have?

This week we will talk about the value of caring. To focus on relationships and people, we need to start with a focus on God. Many of our values are a product of how God changes us and forms us to love others, so we start with our relationship with God. If Leviticus is a book about God reforming values, then it begins with us, the very heart and core of ourselves.

Jacob, my oldest son, is starting first grade this year. During first grade I started to notice that kids were different than me. I don’t mean that they looked different or dressed different, but that they grew up differently than I did. I quickly realized that not every kid went to church or was expected to live like I lived, as the first time I tried to witness and share my faith blew up in my face. First grade was the first time I began to realize how God shaped my core values.

Leviticus 24 is doing the same type of thing. God is reminding the people (who are falling astray) that He is the one who shapes their core values, and He is helping those that have fallen get back on track. Our selfish desires can lead us not to care about God or the world around us. Jesus reforms that, and gives us a new value – to care.  This week we will talk about that.


This week we begin a new series called Image of God – Values. Over the past year we have been asking some tough questions, such as, “How do we develop a strategy for Mt. Calvary?” In a world that seems to be pulling farther and farther away from Christianity, we need a plan to share our faith with the world. In order to do that, we have looked at many different things, one of which is values. Values define us personally, but also as a culture and even as a church. Whether you know it or not, we have been formed around specific values as a church. Sometimes they are hard to recognize. Taking time to look at our church and to see how God has formed and gifted us uniquely at Mt. Calvary is a key step in reaching out to those who need Jesus.

The next four weeks in August we will read from the book of Leviticus and talk about values. Leviticus may seem like an odd book for this discussion. Perhaps, in your own Read 1 discipleship practices you ignore the book of Leviticus or simply skip over it. In reality, Leviticus has a lot to say to people who have been formed with different values than the ones that God wants them to have. As God’s people, God wanted the Israelites to have the values they had when He created them in the image of God. So, God laid out values, sometimes translated as rules, for the Israelites to follow, and at the end of the day, be different than the rest of the world.

Just like the Israelites, our journey in Christianity can be similar. The more we grow in Jesus, the more the Holy Spirit shapes us and allows us to look and be different than the world. Some of His “shaping” (values) is what stands out to others as they come into our culture, environment, and church.

Mt. Calvary has 5 key values. These are important to talk about and nurture so that we can use them for the glory of God. The first one of those values is being welcoming. Perhaps you’re saying, “Well of course!” Believe it or not, welcoming is a key value God teaches His people, and one that our sinful, selfish nature wants us to do away with. If the devil can get us immersed in ourselves, we would end up self-focused and rude. Therefore, being welcoming is truly a characteristic that makes God’s people look different to the world.  At Mt. Calvary, it is one of the values God has built in us. This week we will talk about how we can strengthen and utilize this important value.

Listening to Whining

I am pretty sure that the top two things we like the least from kids is tattling and whining. Ugh! Gavin and I went to the Cardinal game in July, just the two of us. We ate at one of the buffets and got an array of desserts. Gavin loves dessert. He also wanted a program. Now, I have been to a lot of baseball games, and I can tell you the number of times I’ve bought a program because I can count them on one hand. There is nothing in the program that I can’t read on the Internet. (I may have just made the baseball purist upset with me.) I ended up buying him one anyway and we headed inside the stadium. The minute we got inside, he started asking for cotton candy. I like a lot of things about Busch Stadium, but I have a few complaints, and this is one of them. I am disappointed with the recent change in cotton candy. It now comes in bags. There is no way you can make a sealed bag of cotton candy taste like the real thing. I know I probably could make better hot dogs or nachos at home, but there is something special about hot dogs, nachos, or even ice cream at the ball park. But cotton candy in a sealed bag is ridiculous. I understand that they probably weren’t selling enough and were throwing away so much every night. Yet, honestly, I can’t pay for overpriced, junky cotton candy. Ok, back to Gavin and the whining. I knelt down and tried to explain to him we just had this or that, and talked to him about complaining and how to behave instead. Let me tell you, it was a long night.  Granted, this was his first night game, which meant he was tired and we went home early. When my father-in-law asked me how the game went, I jokingly said we might have lost because of all the whining. This was the only game I have been to this season that wasn’t a win, so I jumped to blaming Gavin’s whining for the result of the game.

I don’t deal with whining as well as God did in our Old Testament reading this week. The children of Israel were complaining, again. God could have easily reminded them about how blessed they were for what He had given them. He could have talked about their release from slavery and how their life was better now, even though the food may not be as good. Instead, he listens. Scripture says He heard their grumbling. I find it interesting that God listened to their grumbling.

On the day that Gavin and I went to the game, I lost my keys. I have a few usual places where I put them, and expect that they’ll be in one of those places when I need to leave. This particular day, they weren’t in my go-to spots, and I couldn’t find them anywhere. Before the game I looked for my keys a little more, but with no luck. When Gavin and I left for the game, he was so excited that he was telling me a million things. I wanted to focus on him and this event that he was so looking forward to, but instead my mind was thinking of all the repercussions of losing my keys. Throughout the night I was trying to stay positive by making mental lists of the good things that were happening during my time with Gavin. As I slept that night I dreamt of finding my keys in the trash. When I woke up the next day, I once again went through all the different places where I might have left the keys, praying throughout my search that I would find them. (I probably sounded a little whiney to God.) Finally, as I was about to give up and deal with the repercussions, I thought of the Bible story of the lost coin, where once it was found they rejoiced. Guess what, I found my keys!  They had fallen out of my pocket and ended up in the corner of the couch, a corner I didn’t check before.  I rejoiced!

God listened to my whining and grumbling.  He gives me so much more than I need on a daily basis.  All God ever needed to give me was restoration in our relationship (forgiveness). I mess up every day in every way, and God knows that if I am going to have a chance with a relationship with Him, I need restoration – every day.

Now, I can’t give my son everything he wants, or the repercussions would be devastating. Yet God, who could just look us in the eye and say you got yourselves into this mess, or could even send us back to slavery where we belong, doesn’t say that. His love moves beyond that. Instead, He lovingly walks with us and listens to us, and even gives us a few of the things we grumble about.