Step by Step

Stone path

When it comes to the Christian faith I think many times we are good are telling people the things they should do that will be beneficial for their lives, but we fail them when it comes to actually showing them how to do it.  We tell people, “you should pray.” But are we willing to take the time to actually show people how to pray?  We tell people, “you should read your Bible.” But are we teaching them how?  We tell people, “go and make disciples.” But do we teach them how to do this?

The short answer is no, I think many times we provide lots of topical studies where people show up, watch a short video, read a couple of verses, answer a few questions, then go home.  How is that teaching people to live in community? How is that teaching people how to make other disciples?  I don’t think it is.  I think we have over time begun to associate head knowledge about Jesus with being a disciple of Jesus.

I truly believe if we ever expect people to make disciples of Jesus, then we must show them how to do this.  This may mean we have less events at the church to fill up our days and more showing people how to reach out to their neighbors. I think it means instead of telling people to pray we give them a framework that is sustainable for their lives so they can teach others. It may mean less topical studies and more training around the essentials of what it means to be a disciple and how to go and make other disciples.

For us to actually make disciples of Jesus who transform the world it means we do less pointing people in the direction to go, and more taking step by step with them so they can not only see the way themselves, but be able to lead others down that path in the future.

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The Echo

Gladiator Helmet

One of my favorite movies is Gladiator and one of the powerful scenes in the film is when Caesar Marcus Aurelius sits down with Maximus and explains that when a man reaches his end he wants to know there was some purpose to his life.  Caesar asks, “How will people speak my name in the years to come?  Will I be known as the philosopher? The warrior? The tyrant? Or will I be the emperor who gave Rome back her true self?”

Later in the movie we see how one person, in particular, remembers Marcus Aurelius.  Proximo (A former gladiator and current gladiator games organizer) shares how the new Caesar (Marcus’son who killed him) is setting up some commemorative spectacles to honor his father, which Proximo finds quite funny since it was the “wise and all-knowing” Marcus Aurelius who shut down the games in the first place. Later, Proximo shares how it was Marcus Aurelius who freed him by presenting him with a Rudius- a wooden sword, a symbol of his freedom.  Caesar touched him on the shoulder and he was freed.  At this comment, Maximus laughs loudly and says, “You knew Marcus Aurelius?” at the thought that someone like Proximo could have known such a good man.  Proximo angrily replies, “I did not say I knew him. I said he touched me on the shoulder.”

While Proximo was clearly a bitter man who carried much baggage, you could also see that this moment with Caesar Marcus Aurelius had made a lasting impact on his life.  We see in the life of Proximo how Caesar Marcus Aurelius would be remembered.  I think the question of how do we want to be remembered is incredibly important for us today.  As a pastor, I have had the opportunity to see many funerals and watch people reflect upon a loved one’s life.  To ask, “How will I be remembered?” encourages us to look at how we are living today?  Are we spending our time going after those things which really matter?  Will people see us as someone who loves God and loves others? Or will people see us as someone who serves the triune god of Me, Myself, and I?  Will they see someone who is filled with peace, love, and hope? Or will they see someone filled with strife, hate, and pessimism?  As Maximus says in Gladiator, “what we do in life, echoes in eternity.”

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Don’t Be a Copy


CopyCat Pic

Picture by Franck Boston

There is a popular quote that says “imitation is the highest form of flattery.” Yet, when we make our focus trying to be the exact same as someone else the world misses out on something great, you!  You have been uniquely made and when you spend the focus of your time trying to be someone else the world is deprived of what only you can bring.

This does not mean that we shouldn’t learn from others or to grow in our abilities.  Being ourselves is not a license for laziness or complacency, but it is striving to be our most alive self so that we may impact the world in a positive loving way.  So often people’s time is spent wishing they could look like _______, or be talented like ________ and they miss out on today by focusing on what will never be.

Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard says that “masses of mimickers, a crowd of copycats are wasted lives.  God has been merciful to us, demonstrating his grace to the point of being willing to involve himself with every person.  If we prefer to be like all the others, this amounts to high treason against God.”

When we spend all of our time wishing were someone else it is like we are saying to God, “You messed up, you should have made me differently, I am a mistake.”  You will hear many different messages today, but I pray this one sinks in, you are a dearly loved creation of God!  This is your identity!  Don’t try to be a copy, your life matters!


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Jesus is the Savior of the World not from the World

Earth Picture

Sometimes when Jesus is referred to as our savior that gets reduced to a one way ticket out of this planet when we die.  We find this kind of idea preached in sermons today and in both traditional hymns and contemporary songs sung in our churches.  When Jesus is just our savior from this world then Jesus is just our ticket out of Hell pass and not the redeemer and restorer of God’s creation.  When our focus is just about Jesus being our savior from this world than our faith just becomes about our individual lives and saying the sinners prayer instead of Jesus being the hope of our world.

As Brian Zahnd shares in his book “Farewell to Mars” and in N.T. Wright’s book “Surprised by Hope” we see a much better and hopeful of redemption for us and our world through Jesus Christ.  We see through the scriptures that God’s plan through Jesus is much bigger than an elaborate escape plan, but it is about bringing God’s creation back to its original intent.  Or as Zahnd says, “God is restoring all things through Jesus Christ.”

So when we begin to see Jesus as the savior of the world and not from the world ,then we stop waiting around to die so we can fly away to heaven, and we begin engaging in God’s mission right here and right now!

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Whose Image?

Mirror Reflection Pic

In church on Sunday we sang the song, “Spirit of the Living God” and in the song we sang these words to God, “melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.”  I think this is a powerful song and a very bold prayer to lift up to God.  I think this is not just a bold prayer, but this is crucial for us to be able to experience life to the fullest in Jesus.  This powerful song gives us the image of a potter molding their clay into the exact shape that they desired to create, with God being the potter and us being the clay.  God the Father molding us into the likeness of his son Jesus Christ.

Yet, as I thought about us being formed into the image of Jesus I reflected on how many times instead we try to form God into our image.  Not only that many times we try to form God into the image of our great and powerful nations, such as in the nation I live in many people try to form Jesus to look just like the American way.  As Pastor Brian Zahnd says, “Great and powerful nations project God as a personification of their own national interests.  And for the most part, they don’t know they are doing it.  This is not to say that everything great and powerful nations do is evil-far from it.  They maintain order, provide security, produce industry, maintain civility, educate the populace, preserve culture, and so on.  But neither are they to be confused with the kingdom of Christ.  And neither can they claim that the God revealed in the crucified and risen Christ is their God, committed to their interests!  No! There are no “Christian nations” in the political sense.” (Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd).

When we begin to think that God looks exactly like us in the way God thinks, the things God likes, the things God hates then we have to ask ourselves have we made God in our image or are we being made in the image of God?

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Why don’t you speak up about _______?

Lions Head Picture

Over the last several weeks, there have been some pretty horrible things that have happened in the world and in our country. On July 16th, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire at two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., which left 4 Marines and 1 Navy petty officer dead. Then Cecil a very popular lion in a Zimbabwe national park was recently killed by Walter James Palmer, a dentist in Minnesota. We also saw the very disturbing video of the Planned Parenthood luncheon where babies organs were talked about very non-nonchalantly. Then just yesterday a video was revealed of Samuel Dubose, who was an unarmed black male and was killed at the hands of a University of Cincinnati police officer. Clearly there have been many other horrible incidents that have happened in the last several weeks but these are the four I have primarily seen talked about on social media.

Something that I have noticed when several horrible incidents happen in a short amount of time is social media explodes with information about the events that have occurred. If you have been on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media outlets in the last several days there is no way you didn’t see at least one person talking about these recent events. People will share their views on the events and then the discussions and sometimes arguments will ensue.

There is one thing I have tended to see during this time when many people of various backgrounds and cultures comment on the Tennessee shootings, Cecil the Lion, Planned Parenthood and Samuel Dubose. Yesterday I noticed (and thankfully later he addressed) that when popular rap artist Lecrae commented and shared the Samuel Dubose video very quickly other white Americans responded by saying, “Why don’t you speak up more about the Marines who were killed?” Or people would say, “Why haven’t I heard you talking more about Planned Parenthood harvesting organs?” Lecrae went on to explain that he has talked about these things in the past and has addressed his thoughts on these incredibly important issues.
My thoughts on this are:

1. Why must someone be chastised when speaking up about an injustice they see because they didn’t speak up about all injustices they see within that one post or tweet?

For me acknowledging one injustice does not mean that we think the other injustices are not important (such as Tenn. shootings, Cecil the Lion, or planned parenthood). It is not a competition to prove which injustice is worse or which one deserves our attention more. When someone shares about an injustice can we just acknowledge that something needs done about it and then work together to see it end? It reminds me of the #blacklivesmatter movement because it is inevitable that if you see someone share #blacklivesmatter you will see someone very shortly say #alllivesmatter or #policelivesmatter. To acknowledge that black lives matter does not mean others do not, but it means there are people who are precious to God that continue to be harmed and killed and we need to address the issue.

2. We are missing the consistency in our outrage.

What I mean by that is when you see people (no matter what color they are) share a video of the Samuel Dubose shooting you very quickly will see a white American say, “Why don’t you speak up more about the Tenn. shooting? Don’t you care about our military?” Or, “Why don’t you speak up more about the horrible things going on with planned parenthood?” But what you notice is we don’t see those same people speaking up when others are sharing about the Tenn. shooting or Planned Parenthood by saying, “Hey, black lives matter too! Why are you just talking about planned parenthood or the Tenn. shooting?”

I think we need to be honest with this situation and be willing to call it what it is, which I believe is an attempt to silence others from speaking up. I think we can stand up and say what happened to Samuel Dubose was horribly wrong, just as the killing of the Marines and Navy officer in Tennessee, just as the planned parenthood video, and the killing of Cecil the Lion. It is not a competition as to which one is worse, they are all wrong, and we need to fight for others, to speak up, and to love others as we love ourselves.

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I’m Not O.K. and That’s O.K.

   Anxiety Picture

You might be asking yourself what does Dave mean by “I’m Not O.K. and That’s O.K.”? As I have shared before I fight at times with Anxiety. I recently have gone through some pretty big changes in my life as we have moved from a small town of 2,000 to a city of around 283,000. I have been reappointed as a Resident Pastor at Epworth UMC in Toledo, which I am very excited about and thankful for. It has been a big change to go from being the lead pastor of a church of 90 on a Sunday morning to being one of five other pastors on staff at a church that has around 600 on a Sunday morning. It is a lengthy process of trying to learn expectations and roles in a new position, to figure out where I fit in. This move also comes with my wife having to find a new job (which thankfully she has found one and will be starting on the 21st), our daughter adjusting to a new location and people, meeting new neighbors, learning where things are around the city, and getting to meet all the people at our new church. These changes are not bad things at all, they are actually very good things that I am extremely thankful for; Yet, while these changes are good things this does not mean these things come without stress and anxiety.

Thankfully the anxiety I am experiencing is not the panic-inducing, vomit producing, shutting down and sheltering myself from others that I experienced numerous years ago. However, because I have experienced that in the past I know the signs to watch out for and then I try to be extra careful and proactive in taking care of myself. While the stigma of mental illness is getting better within Christian circles you still hear the occasional, “Have you prayed about it?” or “There are Bible verses about that have you read them?” or “If you had faith then God would deliver you from that.” To which I would reply, “I have prayed about it, I have read those verses and have several of them memorized, and I have faith in God but at times this is an ongoing battle in my life.”

Unfortunately, there are those times within the Church that Christians are either told or made to feel like they always have to be O.K. or at least pretend to be O.K. I think this does a disservice to our faith journey and is inconsistent with what we see with Jesus or others in the Scriptures. I think when we pretend to be O.K. we make those outside of the Church feel like they cannot relate to us, and it eventually makes us look like hypocrites because the facade cannot be maintained forever.

You may be asking the question, “So do we just give up then?” To which I would emphatically reply, “No Way!” While I would say, “I’m Not O.K. and That’s O.K.” it opens the door for me then to surrender that part of my life to Christ more fully. Instead of having the John Wayne “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality I look to 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul had a thorn in his flesh that he had asked the Lord three times to take away, but the Lord responded to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” To which the Apostle Paul responded, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, that Christ’s power may reside in me.” So I encourage you today to say, “I’m Not O.K. and That’s O.K.” and then be willing to fully surrender yourself to Christ so that in your weakness you may be strong.

I want to close by saying that if you are currently struggling with mental illness please know that you are not alone.  If you are having suicidal thoughts please check out this website or call them at  1-800-273-TALK (8255).

In Christ,

Dave Pettengill

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