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Monday, December 15, 2014

Simple Resources for Ministry 12-15-14

I will assume you are "busier than a one-armed paper hanger" (to use an old family saying) these days. So I will not clutter this post with complex theological conundrums. Here are three fundamentals for ministry that I found so valuable in the past week. 

My experience over many years has been that this season has been anything but relaxing. Between Christmas concerts, parties, special services, end-of-year budgets and last-minute shopping, it has been NUTS for me. So I hope and pray that this holiday season not be so full of work that you are not able to enjoy Jesus Himself. May the Spirit be deeply present in your midst. 

Idea from a client for involving more people in worship: One of the pastors I meet with weekly for coaching told me this: "I figured out an idea of having people read scripture in their language of origin, because I want to have different voices in worship. Jesus came for the world, and the world extends far beyond our experience, to remind us who the gospel is actually for. This past weekend, I had a women from India read in her native dialect, and halfway through, most of the congregation was weeping."

That'll preach! I receive daily devotional emails from Inward/Outward. Here is a pithy thought:

This is the mystery of the Christian life, to receive a new self, which depends not on what we can achieve but on what we are willing to receive.
Esther de Waal

Building blocks of ministry: I am in the thick of an eighteen-month journey with about 20 others, where we are doing our best to build a missional community in a Latino neighborhood. Most of our friends are poor and undocumented. For as many joys as we experience, we are also facing tremendous roadblocks and outright disappointment. These words really addressed some of my anxieties and were a healing balm to my discouragement:

There are, I should say, four elements in a redemptive community. It is personal, with things happening between people as well as to and in them individually; it is compassionate, always eager to help, observant but nonjudgmental toward others, breathing out hope and concern; it is creative, with imagination about each one in the group and its work as a whole, watching for authentic new vision coming from any of them; and it is expectant, always seeking to offer to God open and believing hearts and minds through which He can work out His will, either in the sometimes startling miracles He gives or in steady purpose through long stretches where there is no special "opening." It may fairly be said that unless one enmeshes himself in this "redemptive fellowship" of the church, he lessens his chances of steady growth and effectiveness, in his Christian life and experience. 
Samuel M. Shoemaker

May your work in the kingdom seek after these four things, for they are tremendous good news for all who experience them.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Peace, Prayer and Presence 11-29-14

The Thanksgiving holiday has allowed for some deep and lovely rest, but it has also provided the opportunity to catch up on world news. In the midst of heated debates over race and justice, seemingly constant news of gun violence, and horrifying reports from abroad describing civil unrest, kidnappings, menacing threats and religious strife, I seek to find peace and perspective from God and His people.

As I write this, I have just heard the report of Pope Francis standing in silent prayer today in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, aiming to show respect for Islam and clearly reaching out to build shalom wherever he goes. These words below are from past and present Christian leaders and were each poignant to me this week regarding our own call to be peacemakers and bridgebuilders like the pope. May we be people who listen, pray, love, learn, speak up, and sometimes remain silent as we "depend on him from hour to hour."

If [God] wants you to do something, he'll make it possible
for you to do it, but the grace he provides comes only with the
task and cannot be stockpiled beforehand. We are dependent on
him from hour to hour, and the greater our awareness of this
fact, the less likely we are to faint or fail in a crisis.
    Louis Cassels (1922-1974)

The grammar commonly used to refer to or ask about the
church still carries heavy baggage of being a "place where
certain things happen." We ask, for instance, "Where do you go
to church?" "Where is your church?" "Did you go to church last
Sunday?" Indeed, even when not referring to a tangible
building, we tend to relate "church" to a meeting or activity,
a set of programs, or an organizational structure. Only with
awkwardness would one talk about being "part of a church."
    In North America, this "place where" orientation manifests
itself in a particular form. Both members and those outside the
church expect the church to be a vendor of religious services
and goods.
    Darrell L. Guder, Missional Church

Powerful response from Christena Cleveland on the
Ferguson grand jury decision

What does non-violence look like for us? It is certainly not the passivity of the victim. It entails resisting rather than colluding with abusive power. It does mean, however, accepting suffering rather than passing it on. It refuses to shame, blame, threaten or demonize. In fact, non-violence requires that we befriend our own darkness and brokenness rather than projecting it onto another. This, in turn, connects us with our fundamental oneness with each other, even in conflict.
Pat Farrell OSF

An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.
Victor Hugo

When faith came to be in writings rather than in hearts, contention grew hot and love grew cold. That which is forced cannot be sincere, and that which is not voluntary cannot please Christ.
Erasmus of Rotterdam, sixteenth-century priest and church reformer

Friday, November 28, 2014

Useful resources for ministry and the church 11-29-14

After 30+ years in youth ministry, I find it very natural to be drawn to college students and young adults navigating the transition to adulthood. I could talk for days on this topic, having learned a few things (and gained some battle scars in the process) especially these last 4 years as I have designed and run an internship program for the Free Methodist Church that is directed at Christian college students from Westmont College, Azusa Pacific and Seattle Pacific Universities, as they prepare to graduate. These articles, radio stories and podcasts all speak to the reality of what I'm learning as I seek to work with this new generation of young adults. Enjoy.

The Unexpected Things Millennials Want in Church. The title of this article says it all; I must admit, just when I think I "get" Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000), I don't. I spend the bulk of my work and ministry life with Millennials at three West Coast campuses, and they are an intriguing and surprising bunch. Just keep in mind that their numbers now exceed those of Baby Boomers, so we want to pay attention to them as we move forward. Here's a quote from the article: "Fortunately, if a church can get millennials through the door, and to stay for the whole service, there’s no need to try to compete with U2’s most recent stadium tour."

And if you still have interest in this elusive demographic, here is a whole series that NPR has been doing on Millennials that they've titled "The New Boom."

I may be late to the party on this one, but I just listened to a podcast this week that was an interview of Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor who founded a church in Denver called House for All Sinners and Saints. She had some very intriguing things to say about church and how to welcome in people from your neighborhood, all the while rooted in a high church tradition. This sentence stood out to me: "I really feel strongly that you have to be deeply rooted in tradition in order to innovate with integrity."

Finally, if you are looking for some ways to achieve more peace and quiet in your life, especially as the holidays approacheth, I want to send you to an unlikely source: take an hour and listen to this podcast from the TED Radio Hour titled "QUIET." I was impressed and perhaps a little humbled by the insights shared. What they have to say about the power of quiet is profound.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Under the Shadow of the Throne -- Remembering Claire

Given I have passed the half-century mark, I rejoice that I still live life to the fullest: exercising every day, trying new recipes, devouring books, traveling, taking on new work opportunities, stepping into new cultures and friendships... I feel remarkably blessed. 

But at the same time, I reflect daily on the many people I have known, the sadness I have seen and experienced, the lessons learned. Today provides that in spades as I remember my dear friend Claire Carey, who would have been 40 years old today. Wow.

I have posted this photo of Claire here before, but I never tire of looking at it. It captures her perfectly. The way she threw her head back for a hearty laugh, the huge and welcoming smile, the radiant red hair, the perfectly composed outfit... all of those things were so uniquely HER. Her presence drew others in, and so many -- students, family, colleagues, church members, medical personnel, friends -- considered her an important person in their lives.

Make no mistake, Claire had her faults. She was remarkably stubborn; one of my favorite phrases with her was "Now don't go redhead on me." She was ALWAYS late, in part because she was a perfectionist. Though those things frustrated me at the time, I now look back on such things fondly, as core aspects of who she was. Isn't that interesting.

About two weeks ago I went to a book release party by Anne Lamott, a favorite author of mine. I'm sure I would have asked Claire to go with me. One of the reasons I love reading Lamott's writing is that she has walked me through grief in a way no other author has. In the opening essay of her newest book, Small Victories, she does it again as she describes a friend Barbara who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease:

First of all, friends like this may not even think of themselves as dying, although they
clearly are, according to recent scans and gentle doctors' reports. But no, they see themselves as fully alive. They are living and doing as much as they can, as well as they can, for as long as they can.

The entire essay describes much of what I learned in walking through life with someone like Claire dying more quickly than they should. Granted, her stubbornness maddened me at times, but that redheadedness is part of what kept her alive for 10 years after her initial diagnosis. I appreciated, and still do, appreciate life far more deeply from knowing her in and through her death. Lamott says this:

When you are on the knife's edge -- when nobody knows exactly what is going
to happen next, only that it will be worse -- you take in today.

Exactly. Claire taught me, more than anyone else, how to take in today. And some four years after losing her, I still do that. And for that, though I still ache at the memory of her and blink twice to keep from tearing up, I am so grateful. I am changed.

I read this hymn this morning, and thought of Claire:

    Our God, our help in ages past,
    Our hope for years to come;
    Our shelter from the stormy blast,
    And our eternal home.

    Under the shadow of thy throne,
    Thy saints have dwelt secure;
    Sufficient is thine arm alone,
    And our defence is sure.

    Before the hills in order stood,
    Or earth receiv'd her frame;
    From everlasting thou art God;
    To endless years the same.

    A thousand ages, in thy sight,
    Are like an evening gone;
    Short as the watch that ends the night,
    Before the rising sun.

    Our God, our help in ages past,
    Our hope for years to come,
    Be thou our guard while troubles last,
    And our eternal home.
    ... Isaac Watts

I look forward to being "under the shadow of God's throne" with our dear Claire, and am so grateful she awaits us there. I am blessed that part of the amazing equation of God's care in my life was in allowing me to know Claire. And I pray that I may honor her memory every day by stubbornly pressing on as she did. You are remembered Claire, and missed as much as the day we lost you. God, thank you for being our help in ages past, and we lean on you again today as we think of the Redhead.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Community, Communication & Compassion 11-22-14

I am intrigued at how so many of the things I read this week, coming from a wide variety of sources, all seem to point to the intricate dynamics of relationship, community and getting along with one another.

Our world is fraught with discord, war, hatred and strife. How I wish as Christians that we could be models of unity, forgiveness, peace and unconditional love. May we look to Jesus as our role model and source for such profound transformation and witness.

If we are as busy as we pretend to be, then we are too busy to allow ourselves to be affected by the pain and suffering of our world. We are too busy to be addressed personally by the social, political or ecological disasters occurring in our relationships. We are too busy to listen to our own feelings or those of others. Our busyness insulates us from care and from compassion.
Sr. Janet Ruffing

My recent Westmont chapel message on compassion for our community

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17

Waiting is essential to the spiritual life.  But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting.  It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for.  We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus.  We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory.  We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God's footsteps.

Waiting for God is an active, alert - yes, joyful - waiting.  As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.
Henri Nouwen

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, 
we have come to our real work 
and when we no longer know which way to go, 
we have begun our real journey. 

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. 
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Wendell Berry

Powerful blog post about racism, Ferguson and where things are... 
This Is What We Mean When We Say It’s About Race — Theology of Ferguson — ow.ly/EzIvV

I am thankful that the Free Methodist Church - USA (@fmchurchusa) is getting it right on the love and hospitality of God http://ow.ly/EFMct

Christ, who said to the disciples "Ye have not chosen me,
but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of
Christian friends "You have not chosen one another but I have
chosen you for one another." The Friendship is not a reward for
our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out.
It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties
of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a
thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them.
They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a
good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship
itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as
for revealing. At this feast it is He who spreads the board and
it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare hope,
who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not
reckon without our Host.
    ... C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), The Four Loves

Life in community is no less than a necessity for us — ​it is an inescapable ‘must’ that determines everything we do and think. Yet it is not our good intentions or efforts that have been decisive in our choosing this way of life. Rather, we have been overwhelmed by a certainty — ​a certainty that has its origin and power in the Source of everything that exists. We acknowledge God as this Source. We must live in community because all life created by God exists in a communal order and works toward community.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Useful resources for ministry and church life 11-17-14

I do not want to inundate you with content, but these articles are stirring the pot for me as I think about and pray for the various projects and ministries I am partnering with... use or lose!

The Rise of the "Dones." Perhaps you've heard of the "rise of the 'Nones,'" those Millennials who are claiming no religious affiliation according to new 2010 census stats. Here is a fascinating article on new research arising out of work with the newly named "Dones," who are those we are now calling "dechurched." Make sure to scroll down a bit through the comments as well, at least up to the point where the author of the article chimes in. Interesting stuff, though a little discouraging at points.

Technology and Rate of Usage in American Congregations. Do not be daunted by the title. I strongly suggest that you download this 12-page PDF. It's loaded with charts and it is not overly wonky and technical. More importantly, it's produced by Scott Thumma, a respected scholar on the dynamics of church growth in the US whom I've appreciated greatly. This article will help you in figuring out where to put attention and time regarding social media, your website, blogging, podcasts, maybe even Yelp reviews.

Making great decisions. I have received a strong recommendation from one of my clients to read Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, but if you're like me, I've already got a teetering stack of books I need to read, so adding one more freaks me out a teeny bit. However, this much more manageable article, which is an interview between two experts (one of whom authored Switch) on "change management" (who knew?) gave me a TON of things to think about. I especially liked their thoughts on how coming up with at least two alternatives when making a big decision improves your efficacy dramatically.

Starting Missional Churches: Life with God in the Neighborhood by Mark Lau Branson and Nick Warnes. (Full disclosure, I know and love Mark Lau Branson, one of the authors.) So I'm going to contradict myself in the space of a few sentences... On one hand I am saying I have too many books to read, and on the other I'm going to suggest you can't miss this book! I read this a few weeks ago on a short vacation to Yosemite, and frankly could not put it down. It's a perfect combination of theological substance and real-life application. It's warm and engaging to read the several case studies contained within the pages; I enjoyed the many voices that contributed to the conversation in this book. These were pastors I want to get to know and work with. But the meat of this book is sandwiched well at the beginning and end with solid missiological content that motivated and encouraged me. If you do have the bandwidth for one more book, pick this one.

I end with this, a glorious reminder from this morning's reading:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 
(James 1:17)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Selflessness, Soul Care & Simplicity 11-16-14

Since 2009, I have tried, in large and small ways, to simplify my life. Examples:
  • I try to eat locally, organically and sustainably, seeking to eat more according to what God has provided to me in my context, rather than what I "want." 
  • I sold my car in 2010, and rely on my bike and scooter for all local transportation (with an occasional bus ride, and car rentals for out of town). This has taught me a lot about the luxury we have as First World people to be everywhere we want to be on our own terms. 
  • Whenever I purchase something, I do my best to get rid of something. If I buy a pair of shoes, I give away a pair of shoes. If I buy a new coat, I give away an old one. And if I find it too unbearable to part with something, that indicates to me that what I have is just-fine-thank-you-very-much, and I do not need that other "thing."
  • I seek after Sabbath weekly in order to STOP, slow down, reflect, rest and reboot. Life can get going so fast that I can quickly forget my priorities and even my core identity. 
I have found that in simplifying even a little bit, and slowing down, that I can cultivate more discipline in my life. In other words, if I seek after ways to respond more carefully and according to what I truly need rather than what I want, I find that I am that less self-absorbed and more aware of those around me. This in turn also deepens my appetite for God: as I grow in self-control (not trying to meet my every whim), I am able to respond to still, small voice of God, who speaks truth and peace and love into my life in so many ways. Yes.

The quotes that struck me this week all tended to speak to this pursuit of simplicity. Hope you enjoy them.

Fifth-century monk Nilus of Ancyra wrote, “We should remain within the limits imposed by our basic needs and strive with all our power not to exceed them. For once we are carried a little beyond these limits in our desire for the pleasures of life, there is then no criterion by which to check our onward movement, since no bounds can be set to that which exceeds the necessary.”

"This [1 John 4:19] is the sum of all religion, the genuine
model of Christianity. None can say more: why should any one
say less? or less intelligibly?"
(John Wesley, 1703-1791)

We love because he first loved us. 
1John 4:19

Check out this powerful blog by the former president of InterVarsity and Columbia Theological Seminary, Steve Hayner, on his battle with cancer and what he's learning about
faith, God and calling.

Twentieth-century peace activist A. J. Muste often said, 
“There is no way to peace, peace itself being the way.”

There is a manifest want of spiritual influence on the
ministry of the present day. I feel it in my own case, and I
see it in that of others. I am afraid that there is too much of
a low, managing, contriving, maneuvering temper of mind among
us. We are laying ourselves out, more than is expedient, to
meet one man's taste, and another man's prejudices. The
ministry is a grand and holy affair; and it should find in us a
simple habit of spirit, and a holy but humble indifference to
all consequences... The leading defect in Christian ministers is want of a
devotional habit.
    Richard Cecil (1748-1810)

Desert father John Cassian wrote, “If we go into the desert with our faults still hidden within us, they no longer hurt others, but our love of them remains. Of every sin not eradicated, the root is still growing secretly within. If we compare our own strict discipline with the lax practices of another and feel the slightest temptation to puff ourselves up, it proves that the terrible plague of pride is still infecting us. If we still see these signs within, we know that it is not the desire to sin but the opportunity to sin which has vanished.”

If you want to know who you are, watch your feet. 
Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.
Frederick Buechner

We will not doubt that that kingdom has existed from the
moment of creation and will never end. It cannot be "shaken"
and it is totally good. It has never been in trouble and never
will be. It is not something that human beings produce or,
ultimately, can hinder. We do have an invitation to be a part
of it, but if we refuse we only hurt ourselves.
    Dallas Willard (1935-2013), The Divine Conspiracy