Brandon Lazarus

Author's details

Name: Brandon Lazarus
Date registered: April 17, 2012

Latest posts

  1. UMC Lead: Wordless Prayers for Ferguson — December 3, 2014
  2. UMC Lead: LEAD Conference: You Are The Content — November 19, 2014
  3. UMC Lead: Looking Twice at Ebola — October 27, 2014
  4. UMC Lead: Choosing Relationships over Profiles — October 15, 2014
  5. UMC Lead: You Need Counseling — September 2, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. La Lengua de Lazarus: 47 Percenter Seminarian: Christianity Teaches That ‘People Are Entitled To Food’ — 2 comments
  2. La Lengua de Lazarus: They WILL Know We Are Christians By Our Love — 1 comment
  3. La Lengua de Lazarus: Accountability Does Not Lead To Trust — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Dec 03 2014

UMC Lead: Wordless Prayers for Ferguson

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Last Tuesday I had the privilege of preaching at a Thanksgiving service that included three predominately African American United Methodist Churches, as well as the church I serve. The night before the service, I sat down to watch the reading of the grand jury’s verdict on Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. After I heard the verdict, listened to the president’s speech, and saw the responses on my TV and computer screen I began to weep. My tears were not entirely over the decision to not convict Darren Wilson. Although it was Darren Wilson who pulled the trigger that caused the death of Michael Brown, he was not the one who pulled the trigger that caused tears to stream down my face. I cannot speak for all people but for me the pain that I felt ran much deeper.

What caused me to mourn that night was a realization of how tightly fear has a stronghold on our world. It is fear that has led our culture to believe that black skin is to be viewed as dangerous and violent. It is fear that has led people to believe power is something to be gained, not to be given. It is fear that has led people to look back towards what was rather than forward to what could be. It is fear that has led people to believe it is better to kill than to be killed. And sadly it is fear that simultaneously has led people to the church and away from the church. It is fear that controls too much of the decision making process in our society.

And so…I wept. I wept for a world that chooses fear over love. As I wept I began to see each of my tears as prayers. They were tear prayers for Mike Brown’s friends and family. They were tear prayers for Darren Wilson and his friends and family. They were tear prayers for Ferguson. They were tear prayers for our nation and our world. They were tear prayers for those who kill and are killed. They were tear prayers for all who choose fear over love. These tears had no words because I had no words.

In my moment of wordlessness, I wondered how I was going to preach the next day. I wondered how in a world so run by fear and violence am I to get up and preach a sermon about thanksgiving. In that moment I wasn’t sure what thanks I had to give. I opened up the sermon I had prepared, highlighted it in its entirety, and hit delete. What I had written just didn’t seem appropriate. I then sat with my wordless prayers, my tear prayers, and I remembered what some of my pastors, friends, and seminary professors had told me, “If you don’t have words to pray, pray the words God has already given you. Pray the Psalms.”

I then opened the psalm that I already planned on preaching from. It was a psalm not found in the book of Psalms but rather the book of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah 12 reads as follows:

You will say in that day:
I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
and you comforted me.

Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.


I wondered what was meant by “in that day.” When will that day come when we can give thanks to the Lord? It was then that I realized the day has simultaneously come, is here, and has yet to come. When Jesus came to this world, walked among us, taught and showed us how to live, gave his life as a sacrifice, and was resurrected, he declared that the day of our salvation had come. It is today that we can give thanks. It is today that we can know that God is our salvation. It is today that we can trust and not be afraid. It is today that God is our strength and might. It is today that we can give thanks to the Lord and make God’s deeds known among the nations. It is today that we can sing joy and praises.

And yet, that day has not quite come. Today we are in the season of Advent, of waiting. We wait not just in remembrance of the coming of the Christ child, but in anticipation for the final coming of Christ in which there will be a new heaven and a new earth. In this in-between time, however, we are called to work, through God’s grace, to bring the kingdom of God to this earth. In our giving thanks to God we are called to ask more of God’s people. We are called to cry out for peace and justice not just for the sake of peace and justice, but for the sake of a living God who calls us to be reconciled to God and to one another.

I realized that through my tears I could and I should preach a sermon on thanksgiving. In the midst of anger, violence, frustration, and sadness we are called to be a people who give thanks for a God who is love and in whom there is no fear. Is there sadness? Yes. Is there anger? Absolutely! But is there fear? No, there is no room for fear. A friend who works for a non-profit in St. Louis told me today that nearly all of his volunteers have cancelled because of fear of the protests. This is not a time to recoil in fear. This is a time to stand up to fear and say that we worship a God much larger than fear. It is a time to stand up and love one another whether that love looks like volunteering in Ferguson, worshiping in diverse community, having conversations around racial reconciliation, taking to the streets to draw attention to the injustices going on in our world, or to simply cry out that we worship a God of love. We worship a God who is much bigger than fear and will, in the end, make all things right. God wants to use us to bring about those ends. All we have to do is turn away from fear and step out in faith and thanksgiving.


Image from flickr user Rachel Titiriga.

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Nov 19 2014

UMC Lead: LEAD Conference: You Are The Content

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The LEAD conference will once again converge from January 4-7, this time on the city of Austin. I have been to each of the first three LEAD conferences and already have my flight booked to Austin for its fourth incarnation. I’m a bit of a conference junkie. Over the past four years I’ve been to at least 20 other conferences, but LEAD stands out apart from the other conferences for one main reason. LEAD is not about experts sharing their best practices to be mimicked in other churches. LEAD is instead about creative, innovative, and passionate leaders coming together to share success and failure, happiness and pain, frustration and joy.

Unlike most conferences, the content of the conference does not lie in the speakers, but the attendees. Actually, the content also lies in the speakers since the speakers are also full participants in the conference. While other conferences fly in speakers to talk for an hour or maybe three or four hour long sessions, sign books, and then fly back home, the LEAD conference invites the speakers to attend and the attendees to speak. Everyone at the conference contributes to the conversation and to the content. This intimacy is further aided by the fact the cut off registration at 85 people. It is possible, and even probable, to meet and talk with every single person at the conference. While other conferences may bring in hundreds or thousands of people for you to network with, LEAD is more focused on relationships than networks.

LEAD isn’t only about sharing innovation and change, it models it as well. The format continues to change from year to year based on the feedback from the participants and the resources available. The first year was primarily focused on the talks and some short breaks after every few talks for panel discussions and conversation. The next year there were then more spaces given to interact with the speakers in larger groups and they added a creative component. The third year even more space was given for interactions through breakout groups, small discussion groups, and more free time than the year before. They also brought more musicians to lead the worship sessions. I’m looking forward to seeing the final format for this year’s conference and regardless I know that there will be plenty of space, both organized and organic, for conversation, reflection, and interaction.

On a more personal note, LEAD has become something like a great big family reunion for me. Many of the people who attend the conference have been in years previous or are people I have interacted with on social media, but never in person. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know one another better, see each other face to face, and share about our own experiences. There are many people from around the denomination and around the nation who I stay in regular contact with who I met at this conference. If you are someone who loves the church, hates the church, loves to hate the church, hates to love the church, or somewhere outside of those descriptions there is room for you at LEAD. I hope that you’ll join me and 83 other people in Austin this year as we share about the wonderful things that are happening or can happen in the church today.


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Oct 27 2014

UMC Lead: Looking Twice at Ebola

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Some people will not read this post simply because it has the word Ebola in the title. I’m not sure I can blame them. Ebola has completely flooded both news media and social media. The facebook statuses that plaster my news feed seem to come from one of two camps. They are either worried that Ebola is going to begin to spread like it has in Africa or they are frustrated and angry with those who are worried that Ebola is going to begin to spread like it has in Africa.

The dichotomy extends beyond just my network of friends. We can see people’s fear in how certain local governments are responding. Out of fear there are people and places that are being quarantined even though they didn’t come in contact with someone with Ebola or even come in close proximity to a third party connected to Ebola. Everyone is trying to find the balance between being safe and being paranoid. I don’t wish to be Chicken Little who made a scene out of nothing nor do I wish to be the boy who cried wolf who made a joke out of a serious situation only to see that help was not there when it was needed.

As I think about Ebola I think not to these main two perspectives that have come out but to a few of my friends who have found a third way to look at Ebola. This third way is what I believe is most appropriate. I believe it stems from what Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book The Preaching Life describes as “looking twice” at the world. It is a practice rooted in Native American tradition. Looking once only gives us a piece of the story while looking twice allows us to see the larger story. Taylor gives an example of what “looking twice” looks like.

Reading the newspaper, I see a map of the world with symbols denoting war, earthquake, famine. There are black lines separating this country from that, this people from that. I note with some relief that the area in which I live is free from symbols. I look once and think, “Thank God I’m an American.” I look twice and think, “God help me, I’m an earthling,” and in that imaginative act my relationship to the world in which I live is changed.

When we look at Ebola we must look twice. When we look once we only see what is going on in the US. We see unfortunate instances of people contracting Ebola from trying to help others who are battling the virus. We see one patient out of nine die. We see health care professionals doing their jobs to help cure the patients only to see a couple contract it themselves. We see people panicking over the though of getting Ebola and then a group of people jumping to criticize those who are afraid.

We then look twice and we see a different story. When we look twice we see thousands of West Africans stricken with Ebola. We see a death rate estimated as high as 70%. We see families left without brothers, mothers, fathers, sisters, and children. We see people rushing to their aid only to find that they have lack of access to the medicines they need, proper facilities, or medical expertise. We see pain, suffering, and death. We see our own fellow human beings in need.

I understand that a virus with a 70% fatality rate is scary. I understand that after seeing what it did to Africa it is scary to think that something like that could happen here. The reality is that the death rate so far in the US is about 10%. The truth is that we have better facilities, infrastructure, and expertise. The other reality is that most places in Africa do not. I also understand that seeing people freak out about a misinterpreted threat can be somewhat of a nuisance, but before you say It’s not that big of a deal please take time to also lift up our brothers and sisters in Africa. If you have the skills and the resources to go over there and help, thank you. If you are willing to donate to an organization like UMCOR, thank you. If you are willing to advocate, thank you. If you are willing to pray, thank you. When we look at Ebola, may we look twice.


Image from Flickr user Addison Berry

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Oct 15 2014

UMC Lead: Choosing Relationships over Profiles

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A couple of weeks ago I went to a young professionals luncheon and lecture with the chamber of commerce. The topic for the lecture was “the intergenerational workplace.” The lecturer shared profiles for baby boomers, gen Xers, and millennial and gave tips on how to work together across generations. She explained what typically motivates people from each generation, what leadership style they prefer, what type of lifestyle they typically live, etc. After her lecture she had us discuss with our tables what we learned from the lecture and what other experiences we had from working with people from other generations.

I shared with my table that although I find profiles of generations somewhat helpful, I find the best way to work with people of another generation is to get to know them on a personal level. I mentioned a little about Bowen family systems theory and how much I’ve learned about myself and what motivates me based on my own upbringing. The more we can learn about other people on an individual level the better our relationships and work together will be. I looked around the table to blank stares. Suddenly one of the people said, “hmmmm, never thought of it that way before.”

Have people never thought that the best way to work with someone is to get to know them? Are coworkers and employees really just a means to an end? Are we more willing to know about people than to actually know people? Do we believe that generational profiles, Meyer’s Briggs, or the Enneagram can be a substitute for getting to know someone? Now I’m not quite pessimistic enough to believe the answers to those questions is yes all across the board but I do believe we sometimes answer yes with our actions. We use our knowledge about general populations to project those stereotypes all too often. Oh, you’re responding that way because you’re a 2 on the enneagram. You wouldn’t really like this job because it involves other people and you’re an introvert. You’re a millennial so we need you to update this website for us. Or in my opinion one of the most egregious, you’re awfully short tempered today; it must be that time of the month.

Generational and cultural profiles can be very helpful. They can tell us about historical events that have shaped a generation or a people. They can tell us about cyclical poverty, reasons for lack of trust, what generally motivates certain people etc. but they cannot be substitutes for actually getting to know someone. Just because you know someone as an ENFP, a “6”, or a Millennial does not mean that you know them. Find the assumptions and test them. Ask someone how they feel about a certain opportunity or a project. If someone is aggravating you by how they respond, figure out why they’re acting that way. Even better, ask yourself why their actions are so aggravating to you.

With social media we can learn where people are from, what school they went to, what their interests are, and what kind of family they come from by just clicking a button and scrolling through some information. I’m not the crotchety old man shaking his cane saying, “kids these days don’t know anything about real life, they live behind their computers.” I don’t think Facebook, twitter, texting, etc. are destroying our social interactions. I believe the problem is much deeper than that. Social medias are wonderful tools that can be used to start, strengthen, or rekindle relationships. These, like personality quizzes and generational profiles, are to be used in conjunction with meaningful conversations.

We need to stop being lazy and be relational. We should ask questions rather than assume. If we want to succeed, move forward, and create change we’re going to need one another. The best way to work together is not to make assumptions or to place one another into stereotypes but to learn where our motivation comes from and help to motivate one another.

Image from Flickr user William Serson under creative commons

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Sep 02 2014

UMC Lead: You Need Counseling

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I sat in the big comfy chair like I had done so many times before. I knew the question that was coming. “Brandon, what is it that you’re anxious about?” I was a sophomore in college. There was plenty to be anxious about. I was anxious about my grades, where I would fit in, what classes I would take, where I would go after college, if I would be able to find a job, if that job would pay well, and this was all mixed in with a difficult relationship I was going through.

Then came the next question. “What do you need to do? What is in your control?” I then shared concrete actions that I knew I could take in order to make sure things were taken care of. “The rest,” she answered, “is out of your control. What good comes from your worrying and anxiety?” I knew nothing good would come from my worrying but I thought to myself, “I have to worry. Worrying shows I care.”

I had fooled myself into thinking that by constantly having these worries in my mind, it meant that I cared. If I wasn’t constantly thinking about what could go wrong, then something really would go wrong, and I wouldn’t be prepared for it. If I just continued to play the worst-case scenarios over and over in my head, then I would know exactly how to respond if they did happen. Surely it was better to be a pessimist and be pleasantly surprised if something actually turned out well than to be an optimist and be hurt if things didn’t turn out well.

She kept challenging me though. “What good comes from worrying? Why work yourself up over a worst possible scenario when it might not even happen? Why be so worried of others wounding you that you wound yourself?” I grew to understand that my thoughts and actions didn’t make sense, but it was my go-to response. For some reason, the paralyzing psychological pain I was inflicting upon myself felt safer than allowing some person or some event to cause me pain.

She was my counselor at the University of South Carolina. USC and many other schools recognize the pressures that college students go through and so they offer counseling sessions that are often free or at low cost to students. At first, I was hesitant to go to counseling. Counseling is for people with problems, crazy people, right? I then found out that many of my friends who I looked up to had gone to counseling and were still going. I learned that counseling isn’t about being crazy or unstable. Counseling is about realizing that sometimes you can’t figure everything out on your own. Counseling isn’t about your problems. It’s about better learning who you are.

My counseling sessions at USC, combined with supportive friends, family, and pastors, helped me realize that my response to stress up to that point was unhealthy. I wanted to be perfect. I didn’t want to show any weakness. I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I wanted to be in control. The questions my counselor asked weren’t new questions, nor were they overly profound. Her experience and knowledge in counseling, however, allowed her to know which questions to ask, how to ask them, and when to ask them. After asking those questions often enough, I learned the real answers to them. I learned that the primary question she was asking me was a question Christ asks us: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” It was the help of counseling that allowed me to finally listen.

My counselor was willing to listen to me, and in turn I was eventually willing to listen to myself and to God. It was through that experience that I began to give up control in areas of my life that I sought so strongly to control. I began to worry less and pray more. I looked not for what could go wrong in my life, but for what could go right. It was that release of control that finally led me to my call to ordained ministry. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have found my calling or found my way out of that darkness without counseling, but the road would have been longer and more arduous.

I have seen too many people suffer from depression, anxiety, or mental illness only to have their wounds made deeper by Christians who respond by saying, “If you pray and have enough faith you’ll make it through this.” I firmly believe in the power and importance of prayer but sometimes the answer to our prayers may be access to the counseling and medication that is necessary. I was fortunate to get past my anxiety through counseling and a supportive environment, but many people suffer from worse anxiety and depression than I experienced. Still others have the added difficulty of underlying mental illness.

Seeking counseling is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. Since my sophomore year in college, I have continued to meet with a counselor, and I would encourage everyone to do the same. Counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists have training that pastors do not. Some pastors have been trained in counseling, but most have not. A mentor of mine once told me that as a pastor he is willing to meet with a couple, family, or individual about the same issue or tension three times. After that, he then refers them to a counseling center. This is not because he is lazy, or simply doesn’t want to deal with an issue. It is because he is aware of where his strengths and his training are and where there are others more gifted to help in a certain situation.

We all have stresses and anxiety. We all have situations where we feel overwhelmed. We all struggle with our identity as persons, Christians, spouses, parents, or whatever other roles you may fill. We should not and cannot go through all of it alone. We ought to seek the resources we have. We need our friends, our family, our church, our pastors, and sometimes we also need counseling.


Photo used by Creative Commons from flickr user Pascal.

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Aug 20 2014

UMC Lead: And, how are ALL the children?

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4929687589_6dd6b4ac53_bI finally got around to unpacking my final box from my move to Clover in June when I found a wristband that was given out at the South Carolina Annual Conference this year. I had worn it since annual conference but I took it off to participate Salkehatchie so I wouldn’t break it. I had forgotten about it until I discovered it in one of my boxes. The wristband reads,  “And, how are ALL the children?” This year at annual conference we had a book drive called the Million Book Effort. Although we came short of the goal of one million books by the closing session of annual conference, we did raise over 300,000 books as a conference. Our conference continues to focus on justice issues around children and education.

As I was reading the wristband I realized it’s a shame they ran out of room. Surely what the wristbands were supposed to say were:

And, how are all the children in South Carolina?All the children
And, how are all the children in your home?
And, how are all the children in the US?
And, how are all the children in your church?
And, how are all the children in your city?
And, how are all the children who look, think, and act like you?
Maybe they meant what they said and said what they meant:

“And how are ALL the children?” *FULL STOP*

            “And, how are ALL the children?”  is the question the annual conference asked of us and the question I now ask myself every time I look down at my wrist. If I am being honest, the answer to that question every time is “ALL the children are not well.” There may be children in my family, my church, or my town that are doing well, but the question isn’t about a particular group of children, it’s about all children.

ALL the children are not well because racism still exists.

ALL the children are not well because every 60 seconds a child dies of malaria

ALL the children are not well because over 400 children have been killed in Gaza.

ALL the children are not well because there are 1000s of minors at the US border.

ALL the children are not well because in South Carolina The Corridor of Shame still exists.

ALL the children are not well because 1 in 6 children in the developing world are underweight.

ALL the children are not well because nearly 100 million children have unstable living situations

ALL the children are not well because some of the numbers listed above continue to increase.

            After answering that question, there comes another one. The next question is, “So what are you going to do about it?” Quite frankly, it seems absolutely daunting. How is one person supposed to help millions of children that are not well and in need of help? The answer is simple. One person, on their own, is not going to help millions of children. This is a job that will need the church, it will need Christ, it will need the Holy Spirit, and it will need the Father of all of the children. We should start with prayer, then conversation, and ultimately lead to action.

Some of the links above will take you to blogs or websites that share ways to help out. You should also go to your local school district and ask how you can help. I assure you they will find a way to put you to work. You could volunteer teaching Sunday School at your church in order to show children your love and support. You can model for your own children the need to reach out to be in solidarity and support of your brothers and sisters. You can share with others that children are in need. You can find some way, big or small, that can contribute to the well-being of the children in our world. The one thing we cannot afford to do is nothing. While our children are hurting we must respond.

Most importantly, we need to ask ourselves each and everyday “And, how are ALL the children?” If we do not constantly ask ourselves that question then we will likely overlook the children in our world who are hungry, naked, homeless, sick, and hurting. We must continue to ask the question until the day that we can wake up and find that the answer to the question is:

“ALL the children are well!” *FULL STOP*

Featured image by Flickr user epSos. de. Used under Creative Commons License. Cropped from original.

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