Friday, November 09, 2007

I had to do a double-take...










Call me crazy, but doesn't the photo of Emannuel Tov* on the left look like Bono's balding twin?


*J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible, and Chairman, Department of Bible, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project of the Israeli Antiquities Authority

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Really!?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Fad Reader
Book Snob
Non-Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz


Hat Tip: Marko

Thursday, October 04, 2007

conferenced out...

This week has been a whirlwind! I left Sunday afternoon for a retreat with "the group" (more info later) near Hedgesville, WVA. It was intense and great-I'm still processing.

Yesterday, I left WVA and drove to the airport to head down to Daluth, GA for Catalyst conference. (www.catalystconference.com) Andy Stanley just spoke...amazing.

The next session is getting ready to start. More posts later.

good stuff! The

Friday, September 07, 2007

Summer Reading 3: To Be Told

Have you ever had an experience of reading where words ring true, each one like a drop of water falling into parched soil bringing renewal, moisture, sustenance? This was my experience this morning as I work to finish Dan Allender's To Be Told.

This morning as I read Allender's chapter on prayer the words humbled me and surrounded me with grace.

The humility came when in these words:
"...seldom do we permit any blessing to remain as an undeserving gift from God. Instead, we assume that we did something to earn it, and we hold on to it as if we deserve it...God's people presume upon the blessing of God, which leads to the temptation to possess his gift as a deserved necessity." (p. 169)
I appreciate Allender's insight. How often do I see the blessings in my life as some deserved gift because of my piety or my service or my calling or my [insert work here] rather than the unmerited blessing of God. When I do that it cheapens God's mercy and grace, and I attempt to put myself in a position of merit or goodness that I neither am nor could be.

The grace came in these words:
"Entering the narrative before God means, first, we must enter prayer as a struggle. We do not merely utter a string of words according to a prescribed sequence such as adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Of course prayer can be orderly and organized. But the prayer that pleads for exposure and engagement throws our desperation at God's feet and wrestles naked with him for a new name. This is prayer that heals." (p. 170)
I find myself from time to time trying to engage God in prayer as if prayer were like eating dinner in a super-fancy restaurant; the words are like the forks, and you have to use the right ones for the right request, or course. And that if one has poor table manners then somehow it doesn't take. I appreciate the earthiness of the image of prayer as being like Jacob's wrestling match. Prayer is an engagement, it is give and take, move and counter-move, it is relationship. Yet I am tempted to boil this rich experience down to a simple acronym or a formula. Yes those things are helpful as guides, so long as they aid the relationship that is the end of all prayer - the relationship between Creator and created.

So this day whether we find ourselves tempted to thing that we somehow deserve or merit God's blessings; or whether we are desperate before God and formulaic prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling - may we be awakened in, and to the great awe of God, the author of grace and of our lives, the one who has written our stories and who invites us to be the coauthor of the story of our lives.


p.s. I highly recommend To Be Told, it is a wonderful book that engages our lives and spiritual journeys as a story authored by God and which we are invited to be co-authors with God.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Now I have no excuses...

...for not memorizing scripture. I hate it when I get bested by a four year old girl! This is pretty cute!



Hat Tip: Abby

Friday, August 31, 2007

My phone is a scanner...

Well, not really. But Qipit a cool new service allows it to be one. Using your mobile phone you can take a picture of a whiteboard, handwritten notes, or printed material. Send the picture to Qipit and share it with others as a PDF. How cool is that?

I haven't quite got it working just yet, but this will be a great way to share meeting notes with others instantly!

Hat tip: Lifehacker.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hmmm...where have I seen these at work before?

Check out this post from Brant Hansen. What other organizations have been rendered ineffective through such methods....hmmm...let me think...

Excuse Me While I Single-Handedly Neutralize Al-Qaeda

Alqaedapicthing By Brant Hansen

1) Complexify the message

Right now, it's so simple, it can pass from one to the next, and be easily grasped by the uneducated, the young -- everyone. This is dangerous, because it's highly contagious, and people on the street feel capable of enlisting others in the cause.

2) Construct a less "flat", more hierarchical structure

Currently, small, underground groups can move nimbly and autonomously, complicating efforts to thwart them. A more regimented, stratified approach, where some members are left thinking, "I can't know enough to do anything" would bring the movement to a halt.

3) Foster "expert" culture, and barriers to entry to the expert class

Promote the idea that the message is not only highly complex, but only some can truly understand it. Construct extensive barriers to entry to the presumed expert class. Promote idea that cells lacking a certified member of expert class, it is not equipped to be activated.

4) Focus on knowledge, rather than doing

Complexification and expert-class development will make cells spend immense amounts of time studying the work, even debating theories of the work, rather than doing it. Better yet...

5) Equate STUDYING the work with the work itself

The cells are called to ACT, of course. But if we can convince operatives that the work, itself, is in trying to understand the complexity of the work? They'll be effectively neutered. We need to get them to spend large amounts of time in study, gathering to study, believing they don't know enough, hiring new experts to teach them again and again, and attending teaching events.

They'll actually believe they're doing their work when they attend events held by experts. This will render the cell, and the whole movement, harmless! Convince them that the most radicalized, militant among them are merely called to bring other non-activated members to the cell events.

6) Sabotage cell multiplication

VERY important! Cells that operate under simple principles, with motivated operatives, devoted to multiplication? Very, very dangerous, fast-growing, and pop-culture endangering. We must stop this in its tracks, and this is done in multiple ways:

A) Foster egos and small-time celebrity. By convincing operatives to set up individual fiefdoms, fewer autonomous cells will be activated. Rather, the emphasis will be on building larger individual cells with numerous unactivated members.

B) Make the basic structure highly difficult to replicate. Al-Qaeda cells currently are, by necessity, simply-structured and easily replicated. Propagate idea that for cells to begin, planning, experts and capital must be simultaneously accumulated. Expert motivational speakers will be necessary, plus paid staff with highly specific training and talents. Operatives will see massively "successful" large cells, and attempt to duplicate them, with very limited success because of the huge inputs required. This will greatly inhibit growth.

C) Convince philosophically-aligned, but non-active, members to choose from among most entertaining, high quality, cells that offer services for them. Not only will this engender a harmless, internal focus, it will require IMMENSE amounts of resources and energy.

7) Make operatives really, really busy.

Replace simple, animating mission with lengthy lists, charts, and programs for cell maintanance. Convince them that this institutional maintenance is, actually, the mission, itself.

This will leave them will no actual time for conducting actual mission.

8) Get Al-Qaeda to seek governmental approval.

Offer tax incentives if necessary. The larger cells, requiring large edifices, will also require tremendous amounts of capital. This will also allow a measure of control, to threaten the cell's tax status, thereby threatening funds for internal programs, when necessary.

Better: They'll consider actual operational cells that exist without this governmental approval to be, themselves, invalid!

9) Co-opt Al-Qaeda with the larger culture.

Once members are convinced that cell maintenance and study are actually their "mission", the rest of their lives can be harmlessly integrated with the culture at large. They'll be indistinguishable from non-members, and, because of their new understanding of "mission", effectively equivalent to non-members.

10) Convince members to wear Al-Qaeda t-shirts with funny sayings and stuff.

Mission accomplished.

It'll work to thwart an evil message. It even works with the good ones.


Hat-tip: EmergingUMC

Friday, August 24, 2007

Summer Reading 2: The War of Art


I often feel as though, due to my own laziness or apathy, I am not being doing as much as I could to live into my calling. From time to time I need a swift kick in the arse...er...pants! So I immediately connected with some of the ideas in Steven Pressfield's book, The War of Art.

This book is an extremely quick read. Pressfield's thoughts are certainly applicable to all who draw breath or whose hearts pump blood through their bodies. He writes about resistance - that which seems to overpower us and keep us from fulfilling our life's calling. He describes how to recognize the voice of resistance, some ways to combat resistance, and then what living is like beyond resistance.

So if you need a good swift kick in the arse..er..pants, this book is a good, quick read that may inspire you to combat the resistance that interferes with your life's calling.

Lake Anna...

This past weekend we enjoyed an evening of camping, hot dogs, s'mores and great campfire conversations with some friends from Richmond at Lake Anna State Park (pictured above). We had a great time.


Our "vacation home" next to our friends' "vacation home."

Lovely signage along the bike trail...

I will be returning in two weeks for a triathlon (my first of the season.) Woohoo!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Summer Reading 1: Stumbling on Happiness...

While I have not been as consistent at posting this summer, I tried to be a bit more consistent in my reading. So over the next few days, I will give summaries, recommendations, and applications for some of the non-fiction books I read this summer.

How often do we find ourselves thinking, "If only X, then I would be happy"? (Where X equal some imagined future event.) How often when X becomes fulfilled do we enjoy the happiness that we imagined we would? These are the questions Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness seeks to consider and wrestle with.

In this humorous and well-paced read, Gilbert challenges the idea that we can imagine into the future and make accurate decisions about what will make us happy. He notes the shortcomings of imagination and perception, as well as our complicity in systems that perpetuate the idea of happiness, while never quite delivering.

Ultimately, he suggests that the most accurate way of predicting whether a future event will make us happy is to ask others who are currently going through the experience we are contemplating.

By no means can I do this interesting and humorous look at human perception of happiness justice in a brief blog post. So I recommend picking up this book for yourself and giving it a go. Take my word for it!

APPLICATION:
Based on Gilbert's premises, I now think about imagination and perception a little differently. I am more aware of their fallibility and why they are fallible. Although there is very little discussion of God in the book, this book is a great resource to use with sermon series on subjects like happiness and the human condition because of the questions it raises.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Austin's emerging christians...

Check out this article about "emerging christians" in Texas. Its one of the better descriptions I have read.

Back in the Saddle Again (sort of)...


Whew! Its been a crazy, yet fun summer. Posts have been somewhat sparse over the past month due to various and asundry things going on in our lives (i.e. vacation, continuing ed, VBS, etc.)

But now I am hoping to get back into a regular routine of writing and posting!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Waiting...

I am waiting for a lunch appointment to show up. Usually I bring a book, but forgot one today. So I am trying to make use of this time brainstorming (and blogging.) What do you do when you are waiting?

Monday, July 23, 2007

No, you didn't...

Yes, I did. I showed up at the Border's in Warrenton at 11:30 PM to see firsthand the Harry Potter mania...and of course pick up a copy of the book.

I am blogging from my Treo and currently surrounded by all ages of folks, many of whom are dressed up like characters from the book.

I can't believe I'm doing this...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

My new look...


My good friend Jim turned me onto the Simpson's Movie website where you can create your own Simpson's avatar. What would you look like? (Click here.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Blogging Chicago...

Today while biking along the lake shore to the Museum of Science and industry and Jill got a flat tire, which required us to walk and take the bus. While waiting for the bus we saw quite a few interesting things - one of them pictured above.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Windy City...

Jill and I took a bike tour of the city today. It was a three-hour tour covering about 6 miles and several different parts of the city. Towards the end of the tour a storm came across the city...and us. Here is a picture of how strong the wind was...incredible!

Chicago, Chicago...

A gorgeous view from our bike tour...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Warren, PA...

Picture of the thriving metropolis of Warren and homeplace of my in-laws.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

On Holiday...


Jill and I are on vacation for the next couple of weeks. Posting will be sporadic...more sporadic than usual.

(note: we are nowhere near the above picture - we are north - Warren, PA and Chicago, IL - however, we do have our "vacation" home with us!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I really appreciate this guy...

Mark Oestriecher's openness and authenticity is refreshing and encouraging. From what I read on his blog, I want to be like him when I grow up.

Interesting Quote...

As I attempt to recover from cynicism and being overly critical, I stumbled across this quote:

“The best critique of the bad is the practice of the better" by Peter Maurin (I think.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dog-Walking Musing...

This evening as I was walking the dog I saw different scenes that were an interesting contrast related to community.

First, there was a group of older men hanging out around a pick-up truck at the 7-Eleven shooting the breeze. I didn't catch exactly what they were talking about, but it seemed they were enjoying being together talking. Then as the dog and I walked from the 7-Eleven that last several blocks to our house I could see the glow of a television in at least 4 different homes.

The first scene brought the word "community" into mind. The second sight brought the word "isolation." I wonder if we have not somehow lost the art of gathering in groups to spend time telling stories, catching up on the latest local news, and just being together.

I am sure there are a whole host of reasons why we come home from work/play/etc and sit in front of the television, but when we spend time connected to our cable or satellite link are we somehow disconnected from our neighbors?

(Note: The irony is not lost on me that someone could be walking their dog right now see my sitting at my computer and wonder about the disconnection from neighbors when connected to the internet.)

(Post-Note: I had to be careful with the title. I almost had our dog walking a musing...I love grammar!)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Name Our "Vacation" Home...

For our sixth anniversary (yes Jill has put up with me for over half a decade!) Jill and I bought a "vacation" home as gift to ourselves. Yep that's right, we shelled out the bucks to purchase a spacious, one-room tent!

So far we have used it three times: we set it up in the living room the night we got it, we slept in it in our backyard to see how it worked, and finally we took it to the Shenandoah National Park on our actual anniversary. It was great!

Now, since people name lots of other people name their vacation homes, we figured it would be a good idea to name our...uh...vacation home. The person whose name we pick for our tent will receive a prize of some sort!

So unleash your creative genius and share your ideas in the comments section below!

(Note: That is not us in the picture - those are highly paid models we selectively hired to assist us with our tent-naming. However, that is actual life-sized exact replica of our new "vacation" home.)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Life Together...

Anybody read this recently? Have any thoughts or wisdom to share?

Conviction...

I just received a spanking while reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life
Together. On page 30 he states:

Christian community is like the christian's sanctification. It is the
gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of
our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and
trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the
christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so
too, the christian community has not been given to us by God for us to
be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily
receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will
fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.

And then further down the page:
Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is
rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may
participate.

Whoa! This really challenges the way I have thought about christian
community, particularly as it applies to the local church. It seems
that much thought about church culture is that the tone, the feel, the
mood, the culture is determined by the church leadership and church
membership. But according to Bonhoeffer, our role is to participate
in the christian community God has placed us in - for it is a gift of
God that we are to be thankful for.

I'll need to ponder this for awhile...hmmm....

Friday, June 22, 2007

Absolutely amazing...

Check out this video of some up and coming technology...absolutely amazing!



(Hat Tip: Marko)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Christian Community...

I finished Scot McKnight's The Jesus Creed and have now picked up Dietrich BonHoeffer's Life Together. Wow! I am only 26 pages into it and I am blown away by what he has to say about Christian community. While I cannot replicate the wisdom he shares about Christian community, here are three quotes and reflections from the first 26 pages:
...the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the thick of foes. There is commission in his work. (p.17)
Exactly. We are commissioned to go out into the world (Matthew 28:19-20). I don't know that I would use the word foes to describe the relationships with others, but the sentiment is one I resonate with - We leave the comfort and safety of our Christian bubbles to engage the world around us.

Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this...We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ. (p. 21)
While we are called to go out into the world, we are also called to be in fellowship together, whether for a few minutes, an hour, whatever. In that time we find encouragement. For the goal of Christian community (according to Bonhoeffer) is to meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. It is Jesus that we see or seek in others and that others see and seek in us when we gather.

...the Christian is the man who no longer seeks his salvation, his deliverance, his justification in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone. (p. 21-22)
I find in Bonhoeffer a great relenquishement of self. In that the focus is no longer on self, but in the "Word of God in Jesus Christ." For instance, conviction or righteousness comes from Jesus - through the word of God. It meets us where we are. And when others see us, it is Jesus they see and seek.

In a sense this is a loss of self, however maybe a better way to say it is that it is a way of seeing ourselves as "right-sized." We see self in a divine perspective - we are vessels or jars of clay through which to carry the message of salvation (the one we are reminded of by our brothers and sisters in Christ) and empty it out into a world that is thirsting for such a message.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sermon Writing...

Well, I am in my 3rd week of having my sermon written by Tuesday. What a liberating feeling. It is not a final draft by Tuesday, but at the very least it is a manuscript that can be shaped and molded for the rest of the week.

Last week I didn't have a manuscript done by Tuesday and I'll use Annual Conference as the reason. Preaching seemed to go okay without a manuscript - i've been preaching that way for the past four years.

However I am pleased for the new discipline of writing something out ahead of time. I think it helps to clarify thoughts for me since I process my ideas by getting them out of my head either into spoken or written word (hence the name of this blog.)

So far this "new" habit is working well. I just hope I can keep it up!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Open-Source...


I'm back from Annual Conference and will post more about that experience later, but I wanted to share this article I found over at Lifehack.org about how the "open-source" movement is changing the world. Thomas Friedman in his book The World is Flat, also suggests that open-source is changing and will continue changing the world.

My question is this: How is the church adapting to changing culture, specifically open source in order to continue to share the Gospel and point the mighty acts of the Most High God? Or what ways is the church remaining steadfast in the midst of everchanging culture to be that force that points to the Gospel?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Annual Conference Blogging...

Today is the first day of the Annual Conference of the VA Conference. (Essentially the annual business meeting of the United Methodist Church in Virginia.) I am trying to keep an open mind about the work to be done and the impact it might have for the kingdom of God. I must confess, I am skeptical about the impact of these few days here but I as I said I am trying to keep my cynicism and skepticism at bay.

I will post updates as the week goes along. This is the most prepared I have been for an annual conference in that I read a lot of the reports ahead of time. This morning should be pretty boring...but they have WiFi (free) here in the Roanoke Civic center, so I will find productive ways to occupy my time...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What the World Eats...

Check out this photo essay from Time magazine. It shows 15 families from around the world and what they eat in a week. It also includes cost of the food for the week. Really, really eye-opening. It makes me curious about what I eat in a week and how that compares with the 15 families in the essay.

Hat tip: Bionic Teaching

The Wisdom of Crowds...


I just finished this very fascinating book by James Surowiecki. His premise is that groups of people who are intellectually diverse and make decisions on a concept, problem, or idea independently (without consulting others) will more consistently come up with a better answer than any individual could provide.

An extremely simple that can be applied in a larger context is a jellybean counting contest. If we were to do a contest, it is much more likely that the groups average guess is going to be closer to the right answer than most or all of the individuals.

As I was reading this I couldn't help but wonder how this could apply to the local church setting or conference decisions. I hope to spend some time reflecting on this - possibly at annual conference next week.

Overall, the Wisdom of Crowds is a thought provoking read that I highly recommend!

Great Discussion on Sin...

Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed from time to time will post in a series called Letters to Emerging Christians. In this series he posts a question someone has sent him on some aspect of belief, church, and/or theology.

Today he posted a question someone asked about sin and the nature of sin. I was delighted and edified to read Scot's response. Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:
Now this leads me to this: Sin is whatever impedes the flow of human life and our world into that everflowing perichoretic loving dance within God. Whatever resists it; whatever works against it; whatever breaks down human union with God; whatever distorts the world’s design to participate in that dance is sin. This also means that whatever impedes proper love between humans and humans or between humans and this world is also sin. The law comes in merely to clarify where love is breaking down. Defining sin by ignoring love misses what sin really is.
You can read the entire post here.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Birthing...I mean...Writing Process...


I am finding the writing is like birthing a baby - not that have much experience with that. There is a certain amount of time that it takes for a baby to be properly formed - so it is with a thought or idea. (I am sure I am not the first or the last to use this simile.) What brings this thought to mind is that I have begun a new process for sermon-writing that is still in...well...process.

I am trying to take 10 days to write a sermon...as opposed to my usual...um...well, I'd rather not say. My process before was like trying to birth a baby in less than 9 months - you need all nine-months for optimal formation - and so I wonder if the thoughts/ideas in my sermons was not quite fully formed.

So I am learning what many who are much smarter and much more experienced have been trying to tell me for about the last 23 years: the process of shaping words and ideas takes time. It can't be rushed. Of course, the more one practices the shaping of words and ideas, the more adept and efficient one becomes at writing.

For too long I have relied on spontaneity and personality in my writing and public speaking. So, I am trying to retrain myself to use those tools as part of a tool chest rather than as my only crutches to get me through Sunday.

This will require some discipline and self-control on my part (those things seem to come and go like the clouds, sometimes!) to implement this new process. I believe forming these new habits will payoff dividends not only for me, but for those who must listen to me.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

iGoogle...


It's been a lazy day at our house. Reading, sleeping, playing on the computer...I have been playing around with the iGoogle as my start-up page. I am trying to organize it so that I can see all my e-mail, calendar, weather, news, etc. on one page. They have a wide variety of other "widgets" one can add to personalize one's page. Kind of cool stuff...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Interesting Video on Worship...



While I don't always agree with McLaren, I found this video about worship very interesting. What do you think?

Catch-up...

I haven't been posting as much this week. In addition to the short holiday week, I have been trying to adapt my schedule to a new rhythm for sermon writing and preparation. My goal is to get to the point where I have a rough draft manuscript written by Tuesday, thus giving me the entire week to prepare and practice. I hope to have the first "Tuesday" manuscript done by this Tuesday. So far it seems to be going well...of course, its not Tuesday yet!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

9 lbs of Strawberries...

My folks are in town this weekend. We took them to the Delaplane Strawberry Festival where we witnessed a most amazing oddity...world championsip strawberry eating. I kid you not, we saw several grown men eat gross amounts of strawberries. The winner (see picture) ate 9 lbs. of strawberries in 7 minutes. I'm not sure i've eaten 9 lbs. of strawberries in 33 years! It was a lot of fun...odd but fun.

posted from my handheld device.

UPDATE: The gentleman in the picture is Tom "Goose" Gilbert (see his stats here) - he shattered the world record which was 5.23 lbs. I am not making this up - look here.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Beautiful...

My new phone arrived on Monday. I have been spending the week playing
with it. Its been pretty cool. For instance, I am writing this poat
from my phone...beautiful!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Solitude of heart...

I have been posting a lot lately on time spent in reading and reflection. I mentioned that it fed my soul. Today in my reading I came across this quote from Henri Nouwen. Eugene Peterson quotes it beautifully in a discussion on pastoral work and relationships.

"Without the solitude of heart, our relationships with others easily become needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without the solitude of the heart we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own often hidden, needs."

-Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

He quotes this in a brief section on busyness. He writes in reference to pastors and states that "busyness is an illness of spirit." His point is that busy pastors miss out on opportunities to share life with the people - most importantly meaningful conversation and regular prayer. Moreover, busyness keeps us from being formed to be at a place where we can be used authentically for the gospel of Jesus.

I am continually reminded (maybe one of these days I will stop forgetting) that my heart must be formed by the power of the Spirit to be enabled to follow the call of Jesus on my life (in pastoral ministry or otherwise.) This forming/shaping/molding happens in time intentionally set apart - time in prayer and reflection, time in devotion, time in authentic relationship with others, time in worship, time in work, time in play.

The hardest part of this is being master of my own schedule. Of course there are two sides to this - the first is not allowing it to be dictated by others. The second side of this is the possibility going to far the other way where one becomes isolated and inaccessible in the name of "seeking wholeness." It's a matter of vigorously guarding the time set apart for those things that shape who we are and then sharing the rest of our time appropriately.

What is the thing that seems to be an obstacle to your formation?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Grappling with Pastoral Identity...

This is a concept that's been increasingly on my mind of late - both in ministry practice and theory. Many churches expect their pastor to be a chaplain - tending to the needs of the sick, the shut-in, and the elderly. This is a pastoral care model of church where the pastor exists to take care of the people, pastorally. Sure the people also want a good sermon on Sunday...but it seems the primary role of the pastor is care-giver.

The other end of the spectrum is the spiritual leader. Here the role of the pastor is a spiritual teacher sharing spiritual wisdom around every corner. The primary emphasis is preaching and teaching , with a touch of administrative leadership (to delegate all other duties except that which relates to preaching and teaching.)

Surely both of the stereo-types above are just that - caricatures for the sake of discussion. However if we take the idea of spiritual gifts seriously, both types of pastors (and everyone in between) are hopefully employing the gifts which the Spirit has given them. As Paul says, surely there are those gifted to preach and those gifted to share mercy - and both are necessary.

Yet in different church cultures and structures, we lean more heavily to one side or the other. Smaller churches tend to want a chaplain-pastor. Larger churches want a teacher-pastor. There is a current trend in my own denomination to make sure our pastors are leaders - which is spiritual gift.

Yet I have never heard of any denomination that uses spiritual gifts assessments to help in the discernment process of those who are considering pastoral ministry. It seems to me that this would be one of the first things that we should do. Surely there is no concrete and 100% accurate type of assessment, however, it would seem that spiritual gifts would be a natural place to start with a journey towards pastoral ministry.

I am not sure that there is one specific profile of the perfect pastor - for pastoral leadership in a congregation depends on many variables - community context, congregational needs (for leadership and otherwise), God's desires for that congregation, etc. So I guess this post is merely my "thinking out loud" about such things as I grapple with my own leadership style and pastoral identity.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Reflecting on reflection...

This morning I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours reading at a local coffee shop (not the one pictured to the left.) What a treat!

I was able to explore and reflect on parts and pieces from various books: The Wisdom of Crowds, Friedman's Fables, and Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Ministry. Each of these addressing some curiosity or aspect of ministry that my soul is seeking right now. Reading like this really feeds my soul. What feeds your soul?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Homecoming...

Today was homecoming at RUMC. It was my first...ever. Apparently, homecoming is a small, rural church phenomenon. The purpose of homecoming is to invite all the people who used to live in the community back to their home church for a time of celebration and reconnection. It is standard to have a former pastor preach the service.

For many churches this is a really big deal. So there seems to be this kind of pressure to make sure everything goes really well. Since I am new to the church this year, they asked me to preach the service which was a real honor. (However, last night I was afraid I wasn't going to have anything say, see here, things ended up working out very nicely.)

Thanks be to God, worship went very smoothly. Its hard to describe, but a certain excitement or energy filled the entire sanctuary. It was pretty amazing. One person described it saying, "You could feel the love in the room."

Since we had folks from all over coming back to Rectortown, I met a lot of really nice folks who's history with the church goes back longer than I have been alive! All of them very kind and very encouraging!

In the end, I am happy to report I survived my first homecoming.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

preacher's block...

...someone once called it the relentless return of the sabbath...and there are weeks where it seems that way. Sunday morning comes each week whether I am ready or not...this week I don't feel particularly ready.

I have read. I have prayed. I have ideas. But my sermon just isn't clicking...the ideas don't have a flow, or a comfortable order yet...

I am going to sleep on it and see what things look like after a good night's rest.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I Laughed, I Cried, I Hurled...



Hat-tip: Marko

Dark night of the soul...

Have you ever had a bad dream that woke you in the wee hours of the morning, and that just sat with you? The awful feelings that it created won't be evicted from the residence of your thoughts. Rather they stay and make themselves at home.

Yeah I had one of those last night. It was rather interesting timing, too. But before I go into the dream, I have to give some background. You see the some of the bitterness that I referred to earlier is from the experience I had with our denominational committee that oversees the ordination process. All candidates for ordination go through a process which involves papers, interviews and continuing education events. The quickest anybody could get through this process is about 7 years. This winter I went before this group for the final "examination."

They asked me to work on some areas pertaining to my preaching and comeback next year. That was a very painful experience for me (and at times, still is.) Anyhow, in addition to trying to improve my preaching, I have also been trying to work through this bitterness.

One of the ways I am doing this is to attempt openness with my congregation around where my heart is. So, during the portion of worship where folks lift up prayer concerns I asked for prayers to help me deal with this bitterness so that it doesn't seep in to other areas of life, so that I can be the pastor and person God has both created and called me to be. My purpose in asking for prayers was not for them to feel sorry for me. Rather I wanted to be authentic with people I love and serve with.

So last night I received some unexpected words of grace from someone in the congregation I have a lot of respect for. He was very encouraging about ministry at the church and my role. He was very objective and kind. For some reason after those words, there was a quiet inside - it was as if my bitterness towards the process or this past January's continuance had subsided. It was nice.

Then came my dream. I dreamt about being with the board and reliving the whole experience in dream fashion. That sense of rejection and lack of institutional support or confidence reignited inside. I awoke from that dream with all my anger, bitterness, and disappointment burning inside like a roaring fire. For the next hour and a half, if felt as though a battle was raging inside over whether the fire bitterness would consume me or whether I could break free from its bonds. (Next time something like this happens, I am getting my butt out of bed and doing something constructive to get my mind off of it regardless of the time!) Thankfully, I fell asleep at some point and when I awoke - the strong feelings had been extinguished and all that was left were some embers of the memory of some internal struggle - almost like that itself was the dream - how I wish it were!

Now hours later its helpful to write and reflect about. (That and I had a long run this morning to help stamp out any of the residual coals of negativity - thank God for running shoes!)

While this "dark night of the soul" of learning to handle my feelings of rejection, failure, and doubt is not pleasant, when I am able to get some distance from it and some perspective on it, I can't help but ponder how God may use and redeem this stuff. (Thank God for his creative and redemptive power.)

At times I am reminded of a quote from St. John of the Cross's devotional classic The Dark Night of the Soul: "God draws the soul high so she can be submerged , and he lowers her so she can be lifted back to him. Which is why the wise man says, 'Before the soul is exalted, she is humbled and before she humbled, she is exalted.' "

I hope and pray that through this I can be like that wise man and see these ups and downs with those eyes of faith, trusting that in all this God is present.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

An End to Gadget Envy?

I have been drooling over smart phones for a long time now. (I mean who wouldn't want a pda and a phone all in one, right...right?) Everywhere I look it seems as if people have them: airports, coffee shops, stores, church...everywhere! I've talk to people who have them and ask them if they like them, I read about them, I think I even had a dream about them once . At least once a month I was going on-line and pricing them. (My OCD tendencies are starting to show...)

Its time to cut bait or fish. I am going fishing. I am going to take the plunge. This afternoon I will order my new smartphone. For those of you who know me well, this is no surprise - you knew it was just a matter of time. I tried to tell myself I could choose to live without one. And I did...Now, I am just choosing not to! The price and the plan are right...I am going to put an end to my gadget envy...with this.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Orthodox Jewish Reggae!?


Yes, that's what I said orthodox Jewish reggae. Or probably better put an orthodox Jew who jams hard on the reggae. His name is Matisyahu. You can visit his myspace here, and check out some of his music. He has three studio albums and at least one live album out. If your looking for some soulful jams, check him out!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Random thoughts from others...

Scot McKnight has an interesting post about Pietism and emerging church here.

Jay Voorhees shares some questions (positively) about itinerancy and denominations that resonate with some of what I have been thinking.

I think John Wesley would fit very well with the emerging church/culture conversation and movement. He brought revitalization into the Church of England (and ultimately a new denomination) with his emphasis on acts of piety (worship, personal holiness) and acts of mercy (serving and loving others, social holiness). These marriage of these two acts of mercy and piety seems to be making a comeback in the emerging church conversation.

And maybe this new conversation/movement - whatever you want to call it - will renew the UM denomination. However, at times "it's easier to give birth than it is to raise the dead" and maybe God is birthing a new movement. However, "in order for there to be resurrection, there must be death" so maybe the UM church (and mainline denominationalism) has do "die" in order to be resurrected. Or maybe I have had too much coffee this morning a need to get back Bible study preparation.

Taming Elephants...

Have you heard the analogy of the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about? You know, where the elephant stands for some big issue that everyone sees, but no one wants to acknowledge for one reason or another.

Well, I have some elephants in my interior life that I’ve known were there, but have been reluctant to address for one reason or another. Their names are Woundedness and Bitterness. These two guys are taking up space that I need for other things like faith, compassion, confidence, and joy.

So where did these elephants come from and why did I let them in? That’s a good question that I am beginning to ask in order to show them the door. From what I have learned so far, that obese fella named Woundedness showed up at some point in my early childhood with the divorce of my parents. He was small when he first arrived, but then as the years went on and I continued to ignore him, he grew.

Not only is he heavy to carry around, he’s become so comfortable in me that he invited his friend Bitterness.

About five years he began showing up here and there. Then one day he stayed for good. (That’s what I get for leaving the door open.) Where Woundedness would occasionally make his presence known in response to certain comments or situations, Bitterness was a little more active, making his presence known or felt in situations where it seemed he had no reason to be there, which created situations where Woundedness would join in the fun. If you thought these guys are bad on their own, they can be a dangerous combination!

So now I have this pair of elephants roaming around my interior life. I have been reluctant to address these two for various reasons, the main one is this: have you ever tried to move a 26,000lb elephant with a 175lb frame? At times, that’s the kind of effort it feels like it will take to deal with these guys!

But there is a fact that gives me hope – it is possible to tame elephants! (How do you think they get them to sit on those little stools in the circus?) If you have ever seen the circus, you know what I mean. Tiny people move not just one elephant but a whole group of them. (Thankfully, right now I have just two!)

So now my journey has been to learn how to tame elephants (both those inside me and those in the room). I am sure there are certain steps one takes in order to tame an elephant. To begin with one must give them a name, you can’t have any influence with something when you don’t know what to call it. Then one must become acquainted with the beast, developing an understanding of the thing. For its not until one understands something or someone that one can interact with it effectively. Once this has been accomplished, its time to begin working with the animals to move them. Practice makes perfect and a little work with them each day over time leads to mastery.

I hope to be able to post in the future about my mastery over Bitterness and Woundedness…and hopefully I’ll have pictures of them sitting on those cute little stools.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What is the church?

A thought struck me the other day: if the church is the incarnation of Jesus in the world, then we ought to spend more time out in the world than in the church building. Thus we would refrain expending lots of energy or resources on "programming" and facilities (to the extent that they don't facilitate the three items below) in order to really focus on three things:
  1. a weekly worship gathering,
  2. opportunities to help others intentionally grow in their relationship with God
  3. intentional ways for the church to share the love of God out in the community
If Christians are spending all our time at church with other Christians then how will people hear about the radical love of God? What do we imply about the church and Christians if we don't spend time developing authentic relationships with outside our community of faith? What are we saying about the good news of Jesus if we are afraid to share it with others?

I pose these questions to myself and my own church context as well as to the broader church. What do you think?

Rob Bell's latest book...

I just finished reading Rob Bell's latest book, Sex God. It was interesting and a different way of looking at sexuality, humanity, and God. I appreciate his hopeful theology, use of story, and historical perspective to illuminate concepts and ideas.

His perspective is usually something refreshing, one I have typically not heard before. For instance, he describes some of the rituals of a Jewish wedding and their significance to our connectedness with God, human relationships, and sexuality. Pretty cool stuff.

That spoke to me because I have been feeling somewhat disconnected lately - to God and to others...not so much with creation - we bond over grass-cutting on a weekly basis. I'll post more specifically on this later, but the first couple of chapters spoke to me giving me perspective, concepts, and language to on which to reflect.

Not to mention its a pretty quick read and (this only makes sense if you have ever listened to one of his sermons, which you can do here) it reads like he preaches. Some of the material comes from his sermons over the past year or two, but still good stuff. All in all, I recommend this book.

Got Wisdom?

What is a pastor? What does a pastor do? Am I that? Can I be that? Do I want to be that? These are all questions running through my head like those recordings at the airport on endless loop.

To aid in my reflection, I am reading Eugene Peterson's Five Smooth Stones of Pastoral Work. In the introduction alone he raises questions (that he will hopefully address in the rest of the book!) such as how does one gain wisdom - the knowing of how to live life - in an age such as ours where the smartest people in the world can send rockets into space and take brilliant pictures of the universe, yet they can't manage healthy relationships with their families?

Another insight Peterson points out is that we, as pastors, have access to the works of faithful men and women who provide wonderful biblical scholarship and theology to aid us in the proclamation of the scriptures. Yet when it comes to the time between Sundays we (pastors) rely on the latest pop-psychology or sociology books to help us. We spend time reading the latest methods or books, but at the neglect of the wisdom of the ancients mothers and fathers who have gone before us.

My own experience bears this out. (On my desk right now I have five books that fall into the pop-psyhc or soc. category.) So where does one find pastoral wisdom? I have to believe some kind of middle ground exists where we glean from the wisdom of those who have gone before while being aware of our culture through current voices.

So as I journey with the questions on endless loop, for this portion of the road I have chosen Peterson as a companion to help wrestle with the questions and possible raise some new ones.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Blue Oxford, Tan Khakis, and a Tie...

Here is Dan Kimball's post about his experience in Virginia this past week. I fear we may have scared (or scarred) him.

Hat tip: Gordo

The Best Laid Plans...

Over the past several weeks our congregation has been exploring healing - physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental. Today we had a healing service...but not the way I had in mind. Going into worship I was excited about some of the new things we were going to try.

Yet, We had few "hiccups" with the order of worship and the worship leader. This irritated me a bit, but I was keeping my cool, looking forward to our acts of healing after communion.

Then in the middle of the service during a hymn, one of our elderly members who sings in the choir passed out. (This is the third time he has done this at church - the second time since I have been there!) Thankfully he passed out sitting down. The hymn we were singing was - "Have Thine Own Way Lord." (Ironic, because worship certainly wasn't going the way I intended!)

So some of the men in the choir fireman-carried him into the fellowship hall where luckily we had an EMT in the congregation who was able to provide assistance until the rescue squad arrived. We continued the service with a prayer for healing for our "fallen" comrade and then attempted to continue with the rest of the order of worship.

In the end, I think that this poor gentleman's fainting spell really set the tone for the rest of the service. This may sound weird, but somehow the kinks in the (read: my) plans created space for God to move in the midst of the service. People shared authentically about what was going on in their own lives. They approached the healing centers (anointing with oil, shared prayer, remembering their baptism, and kneeling at the altar rail) with a different kind of mindset.

If anyone was touched by the service or experienced any kind of healing, there is no question that it was the power of God moving and not the design and implementation of the service! What a day!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Random Thoughts from Seminar with Dan Kimball

Yesterday and today I have been in Stafford, VA for a continuing ed event sponsored by the Virginia Conference of the UMC. One of the headline speakers is Dan Kimball. I am impressed that they brought a speaker from outside the denomination. I have really enjoyed Dan’s perspective and approach to being a worshiping community.

The focus of the conference is on connecting with the disconnected, i.e. evangelism. Dan asked some good questions and I think really challenged the folks who attended. The biggest thing that I think is a Methodist cultural issue – reaching outside the four walls of the church building. There are many UMCs that do this well. However, I would argue that the majority of UMCs don’t do this well. We have somehow lost the DNA of Wesley where people go out to where the people are.

It seems that in our culture, the pastor and church staff sit in their office in the church preparing for the people that are already attending. Mission is leaving for one week in the year to serve someone in a far off place.

Yet, there are many people in our own community that need to be connected with the kingdom of God. Our churches need to be missionaries in our communities. We need to have vital, celebratory, life-giving worship. We need to be developing authentic relationships with people outside our churches. We need to be growing in our own relationship with God so that we can be transformed in love to serve and love the people in our community, not because they are a number, but because they are loved by the Author of grace and creation.

The church is not social club. The church is the people who are the body of Christ called to go out into the world.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Heartbroken...

The events this past week at Virginia Tech have bothered me more than other campus shootings. All such shootings are horrific, but seeing the pictures of familiar buildings and paths I once walked as a place where such senseless violence was unleashed into the world makes me sad.

More than once I have been watching the images on TV and found tears welling up and a lump in my throat. It breaks my heart.

However, I believe God enters the broken places to point to a new reality. Jesus entered broken creation to point to a new reality - the kingdom of God - and then help us to get there, even here on earth, through his death and resurrection. We the church, the embodiment of Christ here on earth, enter into broken and dark places to be Jesus to those who suffer and need healing. Just as Jesus is the light that darkness can not overcome. So we are to share that same light in to dark places.

So in the face of such horrific events, may we be the light to those in darkness just as Jesus has been and is the light to our darkness.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Vacation Update...

Jill and I have really enjoyed our time at the beach. It has been relaxing and refreshing. We leave the beach today and head up to Richmond for a quick visit with my family before heading on to Marshall tomorrow.

We were able to make it to the beach one day (yesterday) where Jill acquired a sunburn to match all sunburns. (ouch!) She likes to make fun of me whenever we go to the beach, because I try to cover every square inch to avoid getting burned...who's laughing now! (Don't tell her I said that.) The water was extremely cold. I decided to be manly and run into the water...when I dove under the water and the cold of the water stole my breath, I decided that being manly isn't really all its cracked up to be and promptly ran back out of the water.

We ran into a group of folks from a previous church on Monday evening. They invited us over for a delicious seafood meal the next evening. We enjoyed hanging out with these folks in a different context, and getting to meet some new folks. The rest of our vacation has been spent just the two of us. Its been really nice.

Those were just a few of the "highlights" from our trip. Good stuff! Now its the time has come to make our way back to the real world.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My New Favorite Toy...


This gadget is awesome! I tried it out yesterday for the first time.

First, while running it provides automatic updates on your progress through your headphones. During the workout press the select button and it tells you your pace, time so far, and distance so far. Once the workout is over, connect the ipod to your computer, sync it with itunes and it links with nike to track your runs.

I especially like it because it makes me faster! (I still need to calibrate it - it told me I did 8.7 miles in one hour - trust me, I am not that fast.) Also, this little device doesn't require nike shoes. All you have to do is cut a hole in the tongue of you shoe, drop the sensor in there, and you are set to go.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Words from down under...

Found this cool clip over at EmergingUMC. I find the messages in the video below inspiring and encouraging. What do you think?

Vacation!

Jesus is risen. Easter is celebrated. Now Jill and I are on vacation!

We are staying at a sweet place this week. I don't want to divulge our source other than to say - I know a guy...

Jill loves the beach. In fact she takes off for a week each summer with a group of rowdy women (her mom, her mom's friend and Jill's childhood friend) to come to the beach. I live the whole week in fear that I will have to post bail for them for being too rowdy!

But I digress...the weather is a little chilly, but that works for me because it means we don't have to spend countless hours baking in the sun. (Not my favorite thing to do.) We hope to do a lot of reading, eating, running, sleeping, watching movies...we'll need a vacation to rest from our vacation!

We both have a few "work" things to do. She has to do report cards (I wonder if she'll be more generous with grades since we are away from home at a beautiful beach). I need to get my butt in gear working on a series on healing - something about which I feel I have a lot to learn and process.

I will post more later - for now I must go...vacate...vacation...whatever the correct verb form is, I have to go do that.

Two things you don't talk about at dinner parties...

...Theology and Politics.

Scot McKnight has a great post dealing with both. Its his reflection on a book (William Cavanaugh's Theopolitical Imagination) he read that explores the church's relationship with politics. I highly recommend checking out his post. Scot voices some great thoughts that are helpful to me as I continue to grapple with the role church's and pastors play in the political process. (I would recommend the book, but since I haven't read it yet I can't give an informed opinion. So I guess what I can say is: Sounds like an interesting book!)

While I believe we should be active in the process, I do not believe we should ally ourselves to strongly with any one political party - we are called to be a prophetic voice that points to the kingdom of God, not the kingdom that man is trying to build. Thus we need to be able to encourage and critique both/all parties.

Of course it gets a little tricky when we attempt to make ourselves the spokespeople for God. However, I think the themes we find in Scripture, and more specifically Jesus words and deeds in the gospels, aid our discernment in how we vote in order to point towards the ever-present kingdom of God.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me...


One of my favorite things is to wake up and see snow on the ground - which was a total surprise this morning...in April...when it was 80 degrees on Weds...I think the last time I can remember there being snow on my birthday was 17 years ago....ooff...that seems like a long time ago!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday...

Check out Scot McKnight's very interesting post on the timing of Good Friday. Very interesting!

Who Are You?

I love church history and I think I qualify as a geek (not the "chic cool" geek, more like the "interested in odd stuff" geek.) That said, I was amused to have stumbled across this test to determine which early church father one might be. So, in celebration of Holy Week and Church tradition... Which church father are you?

It appears as though I'm this guy:





You’re St. Justin Martyr!


You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.


Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!




Monday, April 02, 2007

Humbling Church Moment #683

At RUMC we recognize birthdays and anniversaries before the service. The congregation sings a modified "Happy Birthday/Anniversary to You" and people can walk up and put money in a "birthday box" which goes to help the needy in our community.

This past Sunday I was doing the announcements and calling notice to this tradition because we have several new folks worshiping with us. I wanted newer folks to understand what people are doing when they walk up and put cash in th "birthday box" and have the opportunity to participate.

However, I forgot two things. First I forgot that my birthday was this week, which means that I should as an example, put money into the box. No problemo - a perfect teachable moment... except to my horror I as I reached into my pocket I realize I had forgotten a second thing - cash. I had no cash.

So, what may have been a really good spur-of-the-moment idea (announcing the church custom of the birthday box) became a humbling church moment in practice (no money to put in the box for my own birthday). I'll be bringing cash to church this week.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Rest, Rest, Rest...

Whew what a whirlwind! We just got home from Richmond. We began the day running with 26,000 of our closest friends at the Monument Ave 10K. (We both missed our target times by 2 minutes, but had a good race non-the-less!) Then we went back, got cleaned up hung out with our gracious hosts. Then Jill and I took advantage of some of the shopping around Richmond before joining up with our friends for an early dinner. After dinner we headed home and now I write this post from the comfort of our living room.

Now its time to put some last minute touches on tomorrow's sermon. Then time for rest...until tomorrow!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Run, Run, Run...

Jill and I are in Richmond for the Monument Ave 10K. Its the first race of the season for either of us. It looks like it should be great weather. Jill has been a champ with the training. I expect her to have a great race. My training has been so-so. Not as consistent as I would have liked. Either way its fun to be in Richmond even if it is a brief trip. I hope to be able to report good news in my next post about the results!

Assault and Withdrawal...

Dallas Willard in his book, Renovation of the Heart, talks about two ways humans socially wound one another. Assault, or attacking, and withdrawal, or distancing. Reading about this kind of set off an "Aha!" for me.

God created us to be in community, and when we assault others or withdraw from them, this destroys community. Thus wounding others and perpetuating a kingdom that is not God's. I believe this has deep implications for how I live my life as a follower of Jesus and the vision that I seek in desiring God's kingdom.

One big change is that I will begin using my ipod less in public settings. For instance as I began to write this post, I was listening to music on my computer with my headphones on. I am in a coffee-shop, a public space. There are people sitting all around me. By using my headphones, I am essentially saying, "I am not interested in relating to you." This is withdrawal. So, the ipod is now for in the car or when I am alone.

Another change is the way I relate to others. How am I assaulting others and destroying community? Hopefully I am not. But I am certain I am. Do I look at others with contempt? Assault. Do I say things about people to others in a contemptible manner? Assault. Do I harbor resentment and bitterness towards others without seeking reconciliation? Assault. Unfortunately the list could go on.

Please understand the community that I think I have become aware of is not some Utopian society where all humans are really good people living in harmony. Its a community in which we are all connected through our love of God and God's love for us as evidenced in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In other words, the kingdom of God. A place where God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven. A place where individuals are valued because of their value to God, not based on their morality, bank account, appearance, or contribution to society. A place where forgiveness is shared because we are forgiven. A place where we choose community rather than withdrawal. A place where interactions are filled with God's love and not with assault.

I believe this starts with the church. How can we embody such a community? Can our hearts be (re)formed in such a way that we can live this out? I believe the answer is "Yes, we can." The question becomes will we?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Motive of Service...

Scot McKight has a great post dealing with this. The issue is the motivation of our hearts. It seems to me that doing something merely for the opportunity to talk about Jesus is somewhat of a bait and switch. "Here, let me show you 'love'...bam...here's a double-shot of the gospel!" Yet the other end of the spectrum refuses to mention Jesus because well...I'm not sure why - maybe they are just "good" humanists in church clothes.

Jesus was pretty concerned with how we treat one another, particularly the people who are treated poorly or who don't have a lot. And while I believe all people need to know the saving love of Jesus, I also believe that God is trying to reshape and mold our hearts in this life to be like Jesus. As part of that growth, God desires for us to actually have hearts for the poor, meaning that we love them whether they know Jesus or not. We love them because Jesus loves them. And if we can love them in such a way (or at least try to) then our authentic attempts to show them love will speak louder than any words (or tracts) we could share.

Otherwise, its like making folks sing for their supper...attend this worship service, or say this prayer and then we'll love you, feed you, insert your felt need here.

Bottom line, as McKnight says in his post, all we do we in the name of the Lord - for his sake and his purposes. And who knows maybe his purpose behind our good works is to give us a natural opportunity to authentically share our experience of the risen savior with the people we serve, I don't know that it should be our decision, but God's.

What are your thoughts on these things?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Humbling Church Moment #657

Serving in a church with lots of small children keeps one always looking for good childcare workers. I recently came across a potential worker and arranged for her to come and work on Wednesday nights, during our Bible study. Last night was the first Wednesday she was working with us. This particular evening I happened to be carpooling with some folks from the congregation, and as we pulled into the church parking lot, a lone black SUV with the license plates "DVL SPWN" sat there waiting for us.

The folks I was riding with had concerned looks on their faces and asked, "Who's car is that?" To which I had to meekly reply, "I think that is our new childcare worker."

I may have lost some points there...

The worker said that it was a license plate she got in high school to irritate her mother several years ago. I don't know if it worked then, but I fear it's going to irritate some folks at church.

The moral of the story: in addition to background checks on childcare workers, run license plate checks too.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

My Third Place...

What is your third place? There is the place where you live, the place where you work (sometimes those are one in the same!), and then the place where you spend the rest of your time. This "third place" is usually some sort of hobby or activity like motorcycles, running, triathlon, comic collecting, knitting, sewing , etc.

I realize my third place has become my computer. (I'm not sure how I feel about that...) When we moved this past summer I got a new Macbook (which I love!) for personal and work use. As I learned more and more about the mac, web 2.0 and all the cool things out there on the internet, I began spending more and more time on my computer. Which hasn't helped my social life much - although I do spend a fair amount of time at the local coffee shop (on my computer - free wifi is beautiful!)

Where is your third place?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Renovation of the Heart

Over the past few weeks I have been reading a book that has been a strong influence over the shaping (or reshaping) of my heart. The book is called Renovation of the Heart, by Dallas Willard.

Willard's main is writing about the process of spiritual (re)formation where our hearts are made new in Jesus Christ. I am about halfway through it (trying to read about a half a chapter a day). I am currently in the section about transforming the mind, and the past couple of days I have been reading about "feelings". In particular, Willard is discussing:

Hope - anticipation of good not here yet
Faith - confidence grounded in reality
Love - to will the good
Joy - a pervasive sense of well-being
Peace - the rest of the will that results from assurance "about how thing will turn out"

Willard suggests that if our hearts are resting in the above things, those feelings which destroy our heart (desire, pride, lust, etc.) will fade away. He argues (and I agree) that the foundation for spiritual (re)formation is the power of the Holy Spirit, but that we play a role. We are active participants in this renovation.

He uses a three part model for how we participate in the renovation of our hearts. First there is vision - we envision what our transformed lives will look like. Second is Intent(ion) - we have every intention of living into that vision. Finally, there is Means - we use means (prayer, disciplined thinking, accountable discipleship group, etc.) to intentionally live into the vision of a renovated heart.

So although I haven't finished it yet, I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What about the resurrection?!

The other day I attended a funeral for a young woman (37). It was a sad event because family and friends were mourning the tragic loss of a loved one. It was even more sad, because there was no mention of the resurrection or the hope we have in Jesus.

Now, I didn't know this woman. She was a friend of several of the women in my congregation. I went to the funeral in a pastoral capacity as a sign of support for them. However as I sat listening to the presider an already sad event grew even more sorrowful.

There were probably 150 - 200 people in attendance. People coming to this place to share grief and support for the family and friends of this young woman. What a wonderful opportunity to share a word of hope to this community in their grief.

Instead, the presider read about 25 selected readings from the Bible. Then he read a commentary to some of these passages from a sect known as the Christian Scientists. I found myself growing angry as the presider read. It wasn't that he was reading poorly, he read well. I couldn't help but think of how people were hearing this. Did they understand what they were hearing? Was this soothing to them in this time of grief? Was it clear that Jesus' resurrection, his victory over death, gives us hope in the midst of our grief over the death of a loved one? Isn't that the purpose of a Christian funeral?

Or was this was merely a memorial service. People gathered to remember a loved one, here some words read, tell stories, cry and go home. That's it. Death wins. It's done. Finished.

Sad indeed.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Interruptions...

I will be the first to admit, I am a pretty selfish guy. I don't mean this in a "poor me, say nice things to me" kind of way. I mean it in the "right now this seems to be the condition of my heart" kind of way.

One of the ways I seem to be most selfish is with my time. I guard it jealously. I try to horde it up in chunks, so I can do the kinds of things I want to do. I try to manage my calendar so that I am master of my time. (This is not necessarily a bad thing.) And typically when interruptions pop up my initial response is frustration because...well...its ruining my plan.

Well, today three interruptions came my way - and for some reason (most likely the grace of God) I was able to embrace them. I didn't see them as things that kept me from what I wanted to do. I saw them as ways to help others and maybe even serve God.

In these instances, by not clinging so tightly to my time (notice how I said "my" time, like I own it in the first place - ha!) By letting it go, interruption turned into blessing. Or, maybe a better way to say it is that interruption turned into being. I wasn't managing. I wasn't doing. I was just being.

As I write this, I recall a thought that occurred to me last night as I was drifting off to sleep: each day is a gift from God. (Kind of underwhelming, huh?) But for some reason, at 12:07 AM this struck me as profound.

I mean really and truly, I have taken for granted for the past 32 years that when I go to sleep, I will wake up the next day - kind of like when I start my car, I just assume that it will start. Last night I kind of realized that just because I assume that I will wake up does not necessarily mean I am going to wake up. Each day is a gift.

Anything could happen while I am asleep (i.e. a natural disaster, war, fire, a stroke... without going into morbid details, you get the point.) So I decided while laying there, awaiting a peaceful slumber, that I would wake up tomorrow morning (which is actually today) with gratitude for the gift of another day of life; thankful that God, in his grace, has allowed me one more day on earth.

Maybe, somehow last night's reflection subconsciously worked into my psyche, so that today I wasn't as selfish with my time as I was yesterday. Maybe I am maturing and seeing the value in living fully in the present and being more selfless with my time. Maybe I should forget what I think just before I go to sleep.
Or...maybe God is at work in all of this, pointing towards the simple blessings he gives - like another day on earth - and is transforming my heart one day at a time.

My hope is that its a little of the former three and a lot of the latter. Either way. Today is nearing its end. Time to go to sleep. I wonder what tomorrow will bring...