Sunday, July 30, 2006

Procrastination or the movement of the Spirit?

A friend of mine once said, "God honors plans." (I think he stole that quote from Andy Stanley, but I'm not sure of that. ) I have been thinking a lot about planning and preparation now that I am the solo pastor, particularly when it comes to sermons. And I think I'd like to amend my friends statement - God honors preparation.

I say this because for the past several years, my sermon writing has consisted of reading a passage, thinking about it, praying about it...and waiting...and see what "the word" for Sunday morning will be. Usually it would come at midnight on Saturday, or worse, 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning. However, the message that came was what needed to be said. God's Spirit moved. Sometimes through me and other times, I'm sure, in spite of me.

Yet, if I had my plans all laid out, I might have missed something that I was supposed to say or some opportunity to follow the leading of the Spirit, just to stick with my plan. Now, the flip side to all this is that maybe I am just rationalizing the fact I can't seem to get a sermon written 24 hours before I deliver it.

Its not that I haven't prepared - I have done the reading, meditation and prayer on the passage - its just that I can't seem to get the outline down until the last minute. Next week, I am going to a monastary with some friends, where I will attempt to begin the rumination process a little earlier than the Monday prior to preaching.

I am going to spend some time reading and reflecting on the lectionary for the fall through advent. I am hoping that by beginning my preparations more in advance, I can be better prepared for preaching and thus a better preacher. We shall see what happens!

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Wisdom of Silence

I am still reading Tony Jones book on spiritual disciplines. I just finished the chapter on silence and solitude as a spiritual discipline. As I was reading I was reflecting on the power of silence and how I struggle with silence. I am an expressive person. I process my ideas by expressing them. So silence is a challenge for me. (That is why blogging and journaling are a big help for me!)

I can remember as a small child going to visit my dad for the weekend. My dad is not a talker. I remember rambling to fill the silence - talking about anything and everything. It was obvious that I felt a need to fill the silence. One day he said to me - You know, Christopher, you don't have to always talk. Its okay to sit here in silence." That was a foriegn concept to me. It was really hard - silence was uncomfortable.

Over the years I feel that I am better with silence. I am no longer uncomfortable with silence in a conversation. Rather it is learning to be silent in the sharing of my opinion or assessment of situations where I need growth.

I once read a proverb on the wrapper of one of those little chocolate candies; it said: Wisdom has two parts - 1)having a lot to say and 2)not saying it. So recently, I feel that God has been leading me towards wisdom (not mine, his). Not the wisdom of knowledge, but the wisdom of silence. I think this silence has two parts: 1) quieting my words so that I can be open to how God is moving in and around me; and 2) setting aside regular time in solitude quieting the world around me - no movies, music, tv or cell phone - by myself. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Rambled Thoughts on Spiritual Growth

I just started reading Tony Jones' book about spiritual disciplines, The Sacred Way. I didn't really choose this book it sort of chose me. It's been on my shelf for over a year, but as I was cataloging my books (yes, I am a geek) it piqued my interest and I had just finished a book so it was time to pick out new one - so I grabbed it off the shelf. Good timing...

Recently I have been pondering the idea of spiritual growth. It seems kind of odd that I could pick actions and map out a plan for my growth - like following a training plan for a marathon. It seems almost like telling God what he's going to do in my life. Yet, there is something to the intentional practice of seeking God. I guess when one opens oneself to the movement of God great things happen.

In the second chapter, Jones quotes a monk named Henri Nouwen:
In the spiritual life, the word "discipline" means "the effort to create some space in which God can act." Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up...In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned on or counted on.

I like this idea that by attempting to practice spiritual discipline growth can occur, but that growth occurs only because God takes our willingness and works in ways that we had not planned on or counted on. My plans for spiritual growth can not confine God in some box to make me grow according to my plan. Rather God takes that small, feeble attempt to seek him and turns it into something wonderful. How cool is that?!

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Shadow Mission

Good friend and fellow blogger, Gordon ( - my html buttons aren't working) posted earlier this week about the "shadow mission", that which keeps you from fulfilling your God-given mission. Interesting thought... What is your shadow mission? What is your God-given mission?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

farming as a spiritual discipline...

Okay, so you can tell by the title of the post that we have moved to a rural area. Much of the land around us is dedicated to one sort of farming or another. As far as I can tell, they are mostly horse farms or cattle farms. Now, my knowledge of farming is limited to the Fisher-Price toys I used to play with as child. However, over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to learn more about farming. And the more I hear, the more farming reminds me of a spiritual discipline in at least four ways.

First - Farming requires daily discipline - "The cows can't water and feed themselves." Everyday the animals have to be watered and fed...several times. This requires daily discipline to go out and do the daily chores.

Second - Farming requires patience - "You can't hurry nature" The hay grows when the hay grows. Cattle go to market when they are ready. One can't rush nature's processes which is what most farming relies on - the natural growth of plants and animals. Not to mention unknown factors such as drought or flood, too hot or too cold, and other natural phenomena. If you are a farmer, you have to be able to wait.

Third - Farming has a rhythm - Each year the same cycle happens (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring) and the same things have to happen during the same times of the year. There is a natural progression which include periods of intense work and times of sabbath.

Finally - Farming allow plenty of time for reflection - It seems that on a farm, while one works, there is always plenty of time to reflect...on what needs to be done, on life, on the beauty of creation, whatever. Countless hours are spent fixing fence lines, mowing acres of grass, moving animals from one field to another.

Okay, so farming probably doesn't qualify as an actual spiritual discipline. Richard Foster is probably not going to add a chapter to his book, Celebration of Discipline. BUT it does seem that there are some things about farming that lend themselves to helping shape one's spiritual life. What are some parallels you might draw between farming and spiritual disciplines?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

middle school kid gets married...

This weekend, Jill and I are down in Blacksburg for a wedding. Blacksburg is where I attended undergrad. I haven't been in here in years. It has changed immensely, yet the memories are flooding back. Ahhh, memories.

The wedding we are here for (and which I am co-officiating) is for one of the students who was in the youth group of which I was the youth director. Seeing some of these guys who were in middle school when I was in ministry to them is somewhat surreal. Technically they are young men in their 20's. But I remember them as awkward, frustrating and ultimately endearing middle school kids! (And as for the title of the post, obviously the groom is not a middle school kid, but he was at one point and that was when I first met him.) Ahhh, memories.

Its kind of weird how three different times of life are converging into this one moment: college years, my years in youth ministry, and now. The rehearsal dinner was surreal - talking with these and their girlfriends and fiancees. It is ironic that for as much as they have chnaged over the years, the more we talked the more they seemed to be the same guys that I went to see the Beavis and Butthead movie with. (Not my most shining moment in youth ministry!)

After the dinner, wedding party (inclduing this co-officiant and his wife) went to a local establishment to catch up on old times and imbibe various beverages. That was a lot of fun, becuase I got to talk one on one with these guys and their significant others. We talked about their plans for the future, what they were doing now, how they met their girlfriends. I got to sort of know them again. As Jill and I were listening to their stories, I couldn't help but thank God for this weekend.

I don't know if I'll ever see these guys again after today, but I am thankful for the opportunity for the memories I shared with these guys years ago and the memories we created this weekend. What a blessing!

Picture-hanging phase...

Well, we have been at our new home and church for almost three weeks now. Living in northwestern Virginia has been a lot of fun. First, it is absolutely gorgeous to see rolling hills everywhere we go. Second, the people are wonderful. We have been so warmly welcomed by the people of the church and the community. I can't speak for Jill, but I am feeling very comfortable in this new setting! Finally, we are in the "picture-hanging" phase of unpacking. This is good phase. It means that boxes are unpacked (except for one or two strays) things are basically put away and now we can focus on getting picture put up. So, since we are in such an "advanced" phase of unpacking, all friends and family are welcome to come and stay with us!

I'm back...

Well, it had been far too long! In the midst of our transition, I have fallen out of the habit of writing and thus posting. Today I hope to get back into the routine of regular reflective writing and regular posting!