I Cried When I Saw This Happen

I saw this happen this past Sunday morning as we celebrated our 6th birthday as a congregation at Munger Place Church.  I know these people; I know their stories; they are my friends.  As I watched them share their cardboard testimonies, I couldn’t help it: tears ran down my face.  (And I’m not a crier.)

2016 Munger Cardboard Testimonies [VIDEO]

As I watched these people share their stories, I kept thinking, “I am so grateful, God, that I get to be a part of this.”

2016 Munger Cardboard Testimonies from HPUMC on Vimeo.

 

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What I *Didn’t* Do On Summer Vacation

I just got back from a month-long vacation.  (I know, I know: nice work if you can get it.)  I also took off blogging, dear reader, so allow me to fill you in on what I did on vacation.  Or, to be more specific, here’s what I didn’t do on summer vacation.

 

I Didn’t Feel Guilty

“You’re gone for a whole month?  [eye roll]  Must be nice….. ”  I’d get this response when I’d tell folks we were taking a month-long vacation.  I realize how blessed I am to be able to take that kind of time off (most people in my church are lucky to get a week), and I realize that lots of people don’t understand why a pastor needs vacation at all (“I mean, what do you really do anyway?”).  But, I’m unapologetic in taking vacation time, because I know that I’m running a marathon in ministry, not a sprint, and if I don’t care for my soul and my family, I could lose my ministry, my family, and even my soul.

Being a pastor is not like other jobs–my job is to pour myself out for my congregation and my community.  I’ve written elsewhere about the pressure that comes from preaching week after week, year after year.  In addition to that, I need to be able to be present to people in all aspects of their lives–joys and sorrows and sicknesses–and, paradoxically, for me to be present with people, I need some regular time away from my community.

Being a pastor is also a burden on the pastor’s family.  We can’t take weekend trips.  We can’t travel on Christmas and Easter.  We don’t go out on Saturday evenings.  My family knows that there are phone calls I get that mean I need to make a late-night visit to the hospital or have a long conversation about a failing marriage.  My family sacrifices a lot for my ministry, and I owe it to them to have some time away from the relentless needs of our community.

The very first day of our summer vacation–the very first day–I read a news story about how South Carolina megachurch pastor Perry Noble had been fired from the church he founded for personal issues that included a dependence on alcohol and a failing marriage.  I don’t know Perry personally, but I’ve heard him preach several times and was extremely impressed with his ministry from afar.  Perry appears to be a talented and faithful leader, and yet the pressures and demands of ministry got the better of him.

I’m going to do everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen to me.

 

We spent time with my wife's family in Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks of North Carolina....

[We spent time with my wife’s family on the Outer Banks of North Carolina….]

I Didn’t Look at Email for 30 Days

I don’t need to tell you that to be truly off from work, one needs to be off email.  Completely.  This summer I had all my work email forwarded to my assistant for the entire time I was gone.  I needed to do this for 2 reasons:

  • for the health of my soul and my family, I needed to be completely off email and not tempted to check it from time to time;
  • I didn’t want to return to thousands of unread emails.

I know this arrangement was inconvenient for some people who needed a timely response from me, but I also know that I’m not able to be present on vacation if I’m still virtually in the office.

 

I Didn’t Check Facebook

I’m not a fan of social media, but I use it.  I’ve found, however, that for me social media is not life-giving.  So, I decided to completely stay off Facebook for 30 days.  I can honestly say I didn’t miss it at all.

 

[And with my family on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.]

[And with my family on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.]

I Didn’t Skip Church

I tell my congregation that I believe that they should be in church every Sunday unless they are sick or out of town, but honestly, I should really tell them that they should be in church every Sunday even when they are out of town.  Whether I am at home or on vacation, I need to be in worship every Sunday.

  • church reminds me that life is not about me;
  • church reminds me that God is in control;
  • church reminds that Jesus rose from the grave;
  • church reminds me that all I have comes from God;
  • church reminds me that I have a reason to be grateful in every circumstance.

So the four Sundays we were gone from Munger, we were at church.  We attended:

  • Church of the Outer Banks (an Anglican church start that meets in a YMCA in Kill Devil Hills, NC);
  • Redeemer Presbyterian Church (their downtown location on W. 14th Street in New York City);
  • Brewster Baptist Church, twice (an American Baptist congregation on Cape Cod, Massachusetts).

There are lots of dead churches in America, but I do my best to avoid these.  Instead, I like attending churches (big or small, traditional or contemporary) that are full of LIFE and the Holy Spirit.  The churches we attended on vacation this summer were all very different from each other, but each was alive and reminded me that God is active in the world, and that the Lord has faithful witnesses everywhere.

 

[Redeemer's downtown location is the Salvation Army building on W. 14th St.]

[Redeemer’s downtown location is the Salvation Army building on W. 14th St.]

And I Didn’t Not Want to Come Home

I know that’s a double negative, so let me explain.  The first couple weeks we were away, I did my best not to even think of home.  I love Dallas and I love our church, but the worry that comes from being a pastor never stops, and it took several weeks of being away before I could feel relaxed.  However, with about a week left in our vacation, I began to feel eager to return.  I think that eagerness was a gift from God, and although I was sad for our time away to come to an end, I wasn’t sad at all to be returning home.

And now, I can’t wait to see my church on Sunday.

 

 

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A Framework for Understanding the Bible

I’ll be the first to admit that the Bible is a difficult book.  One of the reasons it’s difficult is that it’s not really even one book, but rather a collection of books.  (That’s what “bible” actually means: a collection of books.)  Over and over again people will say to me, “I’d like to read the Bible, but I just don’t understand it.”  I hope the following simple framework helps you get a little more clarity and understanding.

All of History in 3 Acts

The Bible tells the story of the great drama of History in 3 acts, with a prologue at the beginning and an epilogue at the end.

Prologue

Subject: Beginnings.  Adam to Abraham.  The Prologue tells us why the world is the way it is.  After a beautiful beginning (“And there was light….”)  the story quickly becomes a story of blood and betrayal: Cain kills Abel, and we’ve been killing our brothers ever since.

Scripture: Genesis 1-11

Act 1

Subject: Israel.  The Lord’s plan to save all of humanity begins with one man–Abraham–and it culminates in one of Abraham’s descendant’s: Jesus of Nazareth.  Act 1 is about God’s chosen people Israel, and Israel’s slavery, exodus, kingdom, exile, and return.

Scripture: Genesis 12-Malachi

Act 2

Subject: Jesus.  Act 2 is all about Jesus, from his birth to his death to his Resurrection.

Scripture: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Act 3

Subject: The Church.  Act 3 is about how the church is God’s means to redeem the world.  It begins with a small group of disciples in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday and it’s still going, right up to and including the present.  We are living in Act 3.

Scripture: Acts-Revelation 20

Epilogue

Subject: Forever and Ever Amen.  The Epilogue is about History’s culmination, when Jesus returns and all the bad things come untrue and evil is finally ended.

Scripture: Revelation 21-22

Conclusion

I realize that the above doesn’t answer most of our good questions about the difficult parts of scripture, but it does give us a framework within which we can at least get our bearings when reading scripture.  Keep reading–it’s worth it.

 

 

 

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This Is Why I Love My Job

On Sunday, I was reminded how grateful I am that I get to do what I do.  The congregation I serve in East Dallas celebrated our 5th birthday on Sunday, and I’ll be the first to tell you that the sermon wasn’t the best part of the service.  No, it was what happened afterwards that everyone is talking about.

Who Knew Cardboard Could Make You Cry?

We had asked some folks from our congregation to share their “cardboard testimonies” immediately following my sermon.  Nothing I could ever say could be as powerful as what those folks wrote on their cardboard signs:

I feel so grateful to get to be a part of a place like Munger and to see the saving power of God up close.

Amen.

 

 

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Happy Birthday Munger!

Five years! The congregation I serve in East Dallas celebrated our 5th anniversary today, and my friend Lin Thomas–a great Mungarian!–blessed us with a birthday poem.  Check out the 90 second video, below.

Lin’s Birthday Poem

Lin, who is blind, is a faithful and generous member of our congregation.  (You might remember that he shared a Thanksgiving prayer with us last November.)  This morning, this is what he had to say to a packed house of Mungarians:

We are so blessed.

 

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In Death’s Dark Valley

Our community was shocked last week when we heard the evil news that an 18 year-old young woman named Zoe Hastings was found murdered.  What do we do in the face of this kind of loss?  I don’t know the Hastings family personally and I don’t presume to have any idea of the hell through which they are walking.  But, I have been thinking about loss, and I humbly offer the following thoughts to anyone struggling with the question, “What do we do in the face of evil, death, and suffering?”

We Grieve

When we experience loss, we grieve.  It is appropriate and necessary to be filled with anger or dread or numbness.  It’s okay to scream and cry.  When someone you love is taken away, anything less than grief would be an obscenity.  And, because grief comes in all different forms and in different ways and at different times for different people, whatever you are feeling is fine.  Don’t analyze it.  Just grieve.

We Resist

When we experience evil and loss we want to scream out “Why?”  When evil comes upon us, it is always inexplicable, but for some reason we still feel the need to offer an explanation.  Don’t.  One of the wisest things I ever heard my father say: “Resist the urge the explain.”  We don’t know why Zoe Hastings was murdered.  No one knows.  “Why?” is a useless question, and do not attempt to offer an explanation or a platitude–however well intentioned–to someone grieving.  Resist the urge to explain: it won’t do any good.

We Hope

I may not have an answer to the “Why?” questions, but there is something else that I do have.   Please know that I mean no offense in sharing the following, as I am aware that not everyone reading this shares my faith.  But, as a Christian, in the face of evil, pain, and loss, I have hope.

Now, Christian hope is not wishful thinking.  It is not a vague sense that we should think positively or put a sunny gloss on our grief.  Wishful thinking has nothing to offer to those who grieve.

No, Christian hope is certainty.  Christian hope is based on the fact that Jesus is risen; Christian hope knows that the Resurrection proves that evil will not win and that everything sad will become untrue.  Christian hope is the certainty that God will ultimately right every wrong.

That is the hope I have.

So, in the face of evil, death and suffering, we grieve.  And we wait until the day when God will make everything new.

And we hope.

Lord, help our unbelief.

 

P.S.  One of My Favorite Bible Verses

Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

We’re Hiring a Youth Minister

Want to come work with me and my team at our great church? Know someone who does?  We are looking for a youth minister to lead our ministries to middle and high school students. Our church has been blessed with a lot of growth in the past year (our worship attendance is up 36%) and we’re reorganizing our staff, which means we have a great opportunity for the right person to lead our youth ministry. Is that you?  The job details are posted below.  (Please note that job applications do not come to me; in fact, I’m not involved in the hiring process until the final interviews.)

midvale school for the gifted

Director of Youth Ministry – Munger

Responsible for all aspects of Munger Place Church’s ministry to youth in grades 6-12, to help families raise their middle school and high school students to love and follow Jesus Christ.  This person will work within Munger Discipleship ministry and with a team of volunteers to plan, coordinate and execute the ministry.

Location:  HPUMC’s Munger Place Church in Old East Dallas

Responsibilities include the following, with additional duties as required or assigned:

  1. Pastoral:  Minister to youth and their families through Sunday school and other church programs, being present in their lives outside the church walls, available for common concerns and in crisis situations, and through pastoral care visits.
  2. Leadership:  Recruit, training and nurture Youth Ministry and Confirmation volunteer teams; lead adult volunteer leadership meetings, trainings and retreats; participate in the research, design, and implementation of a ministry to parents of youth.
  3. Administration:  Manage the planning process and coordinate all regular ministries to youth and their families, which includes youth Sunday mornings, Confirmation, special events, trips and retreats, parent meetings, etc.; update Munger Youth and Confirmation web pages.
  4. Stewardship:  Ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of youth programs/events and reacting accordingly; manage youth ministry budget; collaborate with Confirmation and youth ministries at HPUMC.

The Director of Youth Ministry – Munger is expected to maintain high Christian values and professional integrity in order to provide an example for the youth and families of our community.  This position will also encourage all youth and families of the community to strive for the same standards.

HPUMC/Munger Place is a high-performing, fun and supportive environment where your work is appreciated!  We provide competitive pay, full benefit package and generous holiday schedule.

WE REQUIRE a Christian (preferably United Methodist) committed to living a life that reflects the Gospel who is comfortable working in a United Methodist church and has the following qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree; seminary or other formal religious education a plus
  • At least 3 years experience in church ministry as staff or lay leader
  • Ability to build, lead and empower volunteer teams
  • Ability to implement a ministry vision
  • Familiarity with United Methodist doctrine required; must be comfortable teaching it and representing the church
  • Proficient computer skills using applications such as MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, database, email, Internet and social media
  • Supervisory experience preferred
  • Ability to evaluate and adapt curriculum preferred
  • Must have excellent organization, communication (verbal and written) and listening skills, with a high degree of initiative and accountability
  • Exceptional interpersonal and relational skills required, with sensitivity to church members and visitors
  • Understanding and enjoyment of youth and families and guiding their spiritual development
  • Familiarity and comfort with diverse socioeconomic populations
  • Good driving record; ability to drive church van with passengers
  • Physical demands include sitting, standing, walking, seeing, hearing, lifting approx. 10 lbs.

To Apply, please email all of the following to jobs@hpumc.org, specifying Munger Youth in subject line:

  1. Your resume and cover letter/email
  2. Your pay requirement
  3. Your religious/church affiliation & statement of faith
  4. Your philosophy of youth ministry

No calls, please.

– See more here.

Exactly One Year Ago

Exactly one year ago the bishop put his hands on my head and said:

“David Andrew Forrest, take authority as an elder
to preach the Word of God,
to administer the Holy Sacraments,
and to order the life of the Church
in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I was ordained on June 2, 2014.  (I wrote about my ordination day here.) What follows are some quick thoughts on what’s changed in the past year.

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Me, my wife, and my folks, about to walk into my ordination service at First United Methodist Church, Richardson, TX (2 June 2014).

 

It’s Like Getting Married….

I’ve heard Hollywood couples say “We don’t need a piece of paper to prove our love for each other; we love each other now, even though we’re not legally ‘married.'”  At first, that statement makes sense–if you are already living together, sleeping together, and sharing finances, what difference would getting married make?

Anyone who has ever been married, however, can attest: something does change after you say “I Do.”  It’s hard to explain, but you are different when you walk out of that church than you were when you walked in.

It’s the same with ordination.  I was already serving as a pastor at Munger, but when I walked out of the service that humid June evening one year ago, I was different.  It’s hard to explain, but it’s true.

The One Thing I Never Question

I feel secure in my calling.  There are lots of things I question, but I never wonder if the Lord has called me to be a pastor: I know that I’m doing what I was created to do.

And One Thing I Was Wondering This Past Sunday

This past Sunday at my church was Confirmation Sunday, when our 6th graders step up and claim the Faith as their own.  It was my great privilege as their pastor to baptize and confirm 45 of them.  During my confirmation sermon at our 11 AM service, I gave an aside in which I spoke to the students and told them that if any one of them was feeling called by God to do what I do–be a pastor, i.e., a shepherd of people–that they should do it.  I mentioned what an absolute privilege it is to be with people cradle to grave, to share their greatest joys and sorrows, to preach the Word in season and out.

Confirmation Sunday at Munger Place Church (31 May 2015).  We closed our services with baptisms and confirmation out front.

Confirmation Sunday at Munger Place Church (31 May 2015). We closed our services with baptisms and confirmation out front.

Later on, it was time for me to go along the line of kneeling 6th graders and place my hands on them and say:

[Name], the Holy Spirit work within you, that being born through water and the Spirit you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”

As I moved down the line, the thought occurred to me that about 25 years ago (turns out it was 23 years ago–see below), a pastor put his hands on my head during my confirmation service at little Providence United Methodist Church in Dare, Virginia.  I remember my confirmation as being a powerful moment–a “red letter day“–in my life.

I knew this would come in handy one day.... (If you are curious, "David T. Forrest is my dad."

I knew this would come in handy one day…. (If you are curious, “David T. Forrest” is my dad.)

What if one of the 45 students that I confirmed on Sunday were to find himself or herself in my place a quarter century from now?  That would be too beautiful for words.

May God make it so.

How My Friend Mike Found His Way Back

It’s sad but true: “pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  What C.S. Lewis meant by that phrase is that it’s often not until we are really hurting from self-inflicted wounds that we are ready to turn from running away from God to running to God, only to find that the God is there to welcome us home.  My friend Mike’s story of redemption and healing is one more example of this pattern.  And it’s a great story….

On Highland Park United Methodist’s website, Mike tells of his anguish after learning his marriage of 12 years was ending:

I was in the backyard with our three dogs (two of whom were about to move away) and I fell to my knees and starting howling like a wounded animal. Eventually, it resolved into something resembling words, ‘Oh God, Oh God, Oh God…'”

God put great people in his life at exactly the time Mike needed them, and one of them invited Mike to both our church and his men’s group.  I remember well the first interaction I had with Mike, which he describes here:

I made arrangements to meet with Josh [Mike’s friend and a member of my congregation] and he left me with one key takeaway: I should join him and Kimberly [Josh’s wife] at Munger Place Church that Sunday. I wasn’t particularly interested, but I was too weak to say no.

I walked into Munger, my first steps into a church for the better part of 20 years. I was pleased to find that the music was incredible. I was further pleased and surprised to find that Rev. Andrew Forrest’s sermon was both thoughtful and gracious towards those who weren’t all-in. I agreed to come back for a second week.

That second week, Rev. Forrest preached about a mishap in a river that led him to realize that swimming against the current is a fruitless and tiring exercise. It touched my heart and I felt better for the first time in a month. I wasn’t ready to believe, but I’d at least see where the current would take me.

I arranged to have breakfast with Rev. Forrest and nervously posited that I wanted to be a part of the community I saw growing at Munger. But, I wasn’t sure that I believed. Was there still room for me? (In retrospect, I can almost see Rev. Forrest reeling the fishing line as he welcomed me.)”

(What Mike calls “reeling the fishing line” was really just the grace of God hooking and bringing him in!)

God Really Does Want Good Things for Us

Neither Mike nor I believe in the so-called prosperity gospel, i.e., the idea that God just wants to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise.  After all, Christ was crucified, and sometimes the “prosperity” that God has in mind for us is cultivated in difficulty and suffering.

But, I also don’t believe that God wants us to suffer, and I definitely believe that God wants to bless us.  In Mike’s case the blessings that have resulted from him stumbling back to the Lord have been abundant:

Through my time in that group [a men’s group to which he was invited], continued immersion at Munger, a little C.S. Lewis, and a lot of Tim Keller, within a couple months, I returned to the fold. I believed as I never had before. I prayed a lot. I started doing all I could to make up for lost time, joining in a mission trip with 28:1 and making room for Jesus in every day. I’m not one to subscribe to the so-called ‘prosperity Gospel,’. But I found myself thriving in all areas of my life, including the launch of a successful new business venture that put me in a position to influence clients, employees and the public.

I felt His hand in my life in a way I’d never imagined.

You’ll remember there was a second name that God put in my head [after Mike’s cry of desperation in his backyard]. That was Crystal Decker, a woman I’d never met. Somehow through business connections she’d wound up a Facebook friend. I recalled she and her husband handling their social media-age divorce as well as I thought it could be done.

I met her and she quickly became my divorce coach, then a friend, then my best friend. She was a great advocate, but seemed pretty hard-boiled. So I was surprised when one Sunday she asked if she could go to Munger with me. She had avoided church for a long time too and thought Munger sounded like a place where ‘thinking people of faith could be in a community without being talked down to every week.’

Crystal and I married at Munger Place on October 5, 2013.”

I was honored to officiate at Mike and Crystals’ wedding.  You should read Mike’s entire (relatively brief) story here.  It’s a great story.

Please read the whole thing.

One Result of This: A One Day Conference on Faith in Business

Mike would be the first to tell you that he’s not perfect and doesn’t have all the answers.  But what he does have is faith in a God of grace and love and power, and Mike is doing the hard work of what it means to be an imperfect follower of Jesus.  As a follower of Jesus and a successful digital entrepreneur, Mike finds himself asking, “What does it look like to be faithful at work?”

As part of his attempt to answer that question, Mike and some other folks are putting on a conference called Faith in Business that we’re hosting at my church on Friday, May 1.  It’s only $15, and that includes lunch!  Mike Ullman, the longtime CEO of JC Penney, as well as other folks, will be there.

We’d love to have you.  More info here.

#EatThisBook – Exodus Chapter 1

Exodus begins in medias res with a listing of the names of the children of Jacob.  (Jacob is also called Israel, and so his children are called the “Israelites.”  The Hebrew name for the book we call Exodus is “Names,” taken from the first word of the Hebrew text of Exodus.)  But who is Jacob, how did he have so many children, and how did they all end up in Egypt?  To learn all that, you’ll need to read Genesis….

A few notes about Exodus 1:

  • The Israelites are an immigrant people to Egypt, but the Egyptians, who initially welcomed them, begin to fear them because they grow numerous.
  • The Egyptians decide to start oppressing the Israelites, but their oppression has the opposite effect (v.12): “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.”
  • Pharaoh then commands the death of all the Hebrew baby boys.  In other words, Pharaoh plans to commit genocide.  Some things never change….
  • In Exodus 1, we already see what will be the main theme of the first half of the book: a struggle between Pharaoh, the divine king of Egypt, and the Living God.  Things will get interesting.

Leave thoughts or questions in the comments below.