#SoulRenewal Reading

IMG_1176

 

I am about to embark on a grand adventure of 14 weeks away from the church I love for an extended time of Sabbatical renewal. Words truly cannot convey the care our family feels at having this opportunity to soak in God’s goodness. I will be on a rhythm of “serve, learn, play” which are 3 of the ways my soul connects with God. We will be traveling for 6 weeks, then home for 8 weeks.

For the “learn” component, one aspect will be some unstructured reading time.  I’ll give a brief annotated bibliography below with links if anyone is interested in grabbing one of these books.  Reading good theologians has been formative in my relationship with God and my outlook on faith.  Continue reading “#SoulRenewal Reading”

Faith and Doubt: Interventionist or Deist?

Lately I have been considering faith and doubt through the lens of deism. I recently heard a skeptic share on the “Unbelievable” podcast that churches should downplay their teaching that God is an interventionist and we should instead teach that God is all powerful, yes, but not involved. In the skeptic’s opinion, teaching a deistic God would alleviate the angst that a believer experiences when God does not intervene the way we wish God would.

At my darker moments I have offered an ‘amen’ to that notion, a deistic God would relieve our hearts that too often cry, “God, why don’t you do more?” The problem is, underneath those moments of doubt, I stand on a bedrock belief that God is indeed an interventionist. God is greatly concerned and involved in our lives. Christmas, if nothing else, is the most wondrous of reminders that God intervenes by sending himself.

Immanuel. God is, in fact, near and close.

Skye Jethani wrote a beautiful and wrenching article on this very thing. I have pasted an excerpt below. If you’d like to read the whole article (and you should) you can find it here.

Looking back to that Christmas in 2004, Isaac’s condition did not cause me to question what my faith said about the future. Instead it caused me to question the usefulness of Christianity in the present. I still believed Christ would someday redeem all things, but with a sick and possibly dying child, a grieving wife, and an angry soul, I needed to see evidence of that redemption now. It wasn’t enough for Christianity to offer a hope for tomorrow, my weak faith—like the faith of so many others today—was searching for evidence of God’s power today . That became my prayer. I needed my eyes opened to see that God was with us and the power of his resurrection was at work in the ordinary brokenness of my world. He answered that prayer.

TBT: Black Holes and Bright Lights

Ministry can be a roller coaster, except you rarely get off the ride. It can also feel like day trading at times. Never knowing what swing is about to take place. It is black holes and bright lights, but as Rust Cole movingly reminded us, “If you ask me, the light is winning.”

Black-Hole

Black holes of church ministry: criticism, relational tension, mistakes, the ongoing pressure of limited or depleting resources, Monday morning blank screen syndrome, the grind of “3 steps forward, 2 steps back” and sometimes even 2 forward 5 back, the uninvolved critic who is technically correct. The person who makes it unnecessarily personal. Doubt, self doubt, exhaustion, the day you hear so much pain you struggle to keep each person’s story straight. When dear friends die. The list goes on and on. Its all a black hole.

The Bright lights: Everyday people discovering God@work in their life, the person who says, “I feel welcome in this church,” a hard working team of staff and volunteers. God showing up in surprising ways. (Does He ever show up in predictable ways?  I think not.)  The light going on for an unbeliever, or a dormant long term church person. Watching an everyday person flourish and shine in leadership, seeing unexpected people pastoring everyday people, feeling the church wide excitement of celebration when someone is baptized, getting calls and emails from people saying, “Whatever you need, I’m in.”  Getting an unexpected check in the offering. The privilege of serve God in this way. Seeing reception up close and personal, watching a group of Kenyans worship as if their life depended on it, being saved from my sins and my self absorbed ways. Breathing air, having the mental capacity to get out of bed. Taking a shower and eating as much as I want which is more than I can say for the majority of this world. These and many more are the bright lights.

Noticing the bright lights and not getting sucked into the black hole is actual ministry work. A black hole’s gravitational force is strong and relentless.  Its not about ignoring real and debilitating problems, its about noticing the wonder of God@work in our church.

Surely the beginning of this noticing starts with the wonder of God@work in our own lives.

Black holes have sucked us in and will surely do so again, but our role as leader is to keep people noticing and celebrating the bright lights. Then, inviting us all to worship of the Light Bearer in wonder and abandonment.

Matt. 4:16   the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

My prayer for you today:  That you’ll notice the bright lights and give thanks to the Creator of Light.

Peterson on the Pastoral Role

Christianity Today interviewed Eugene Peterson about the role of a pastor.  Peterson is one of my mentors I’ve not yet met.  Here is some of what he said:

On the Pastor’s Task:

My task as pastor was to show how the Bible got lived. Of course it’s important to show that the Bible is true, but we have theologians and apologists for that. I just accepted the fact it was true and didn’t bother much about that. I needed to be a witness to people in my congregation that everything in the Bible is livable and to try to avoid abstractions about big truths, big doctrines. I wanted to know how these ideas got lived in the immediate circumstances of people’s lives at work, in the town, and in the family.

On Authority:

The role of the pastor is to embody the gospel. And of course to get it embodied, which you can only do with individuals, not in the abstract.  The authority of the pastor comes from immersion in a community, from giving witness to the fact that this is livable stuff.

That is our task, not just to say it but to live it and to cultivate relationships that have integrity. It’s not telling people what to belief and what to do, which is part of it, but to live it with them. We’re participants in what they’re doing. That’s the unique part of a pastor’s task.

On the Importance of Living in Community:

The life of Christ is developed in community. And if we don’t enter the community ourselves, we abdicate our relational authority with our people. It’s a red flag when pastors don’t want to be with their people. There are many pastors in America who never visit their congregations. “That’s not my job,” they say. “That’s the elders’ job. That’s the deacons’ job.”  That’s pretty telling. If that’s your attitude, you’re not in community.

For the whole interview, click here

Kyle Strobel’s Thoughts on Spiritual Formation

Ron Johnson and Joe Beckler lead a local network called “Breakthrough.”  Great network, great content, great leaders.  Last week we sat down with Kyle Strobel to hear his thoughts about spiritual formation.  Who is Kyle?  A couple of masters degrees, a PhD, a brainiac and Lee Strobel’s son.  A guy passionate about Christ.

Here are some highlights from his talk:

1) Christians still dichotomize Jesus and Paul.  Jesus talked “discipleship,” Paul talked “adoption.”  Jesus talked “Kingdom,” Paul talked, “In Christ.”

2) Modern discipleship language uses external terms, but it is an internal process.  Also, we are far too forensic with our discipleship language.  The gospel is ultimately to be experienced, not analyzed.

3) Eugene Peterson is a model pastor for our times as he stood in the gap between professional theologians and church people.

4) So many discipleship principles are used to improve self, but the end of discipleship is ALWAYS Christ.  So the end is always the presence of God, not the improvement of self or character.

5) Is the goal of discipleship to “become like Christ” or is it to have “Christ formed in you?”

6) If your discipleship habits work without Christ, they are not discipleship, they are self improvement.

Kyle was very provocative and openly critiqued some of the more renowned discipleship “gurus” of our time.  Still, I can embrace his bottom line (yeah, let’s not go taking that line out of context!)  His bottom line is all discipleship practices, habits, approaches, discussions should always end with the presence of Christ and Christ’s work in and through you.  He offered a worthy caution not to take self improvement practices and “baptize” them to be useful in the church.
Perhaps on this beautiful Friday morning, his summary is a good reminder, “Discipleship is not about the improvement of character, it is about the presence of Christ.”

 

peace of Christ on you today

 

God’s Employee and God’s Child?

I’m in my 17th year of ministry, entering my 6th as a lead pastor and I’m noticing an alarming trend in my soul.

If left unchecked, I relate more to God as employee than child.

My role is “employee” but my status is “child” and sometimes I can put them in the wrong order of importance.

I’ve known this for a few years now and begun some steps to deal with it, but it came to a head on a recent trip I took with some church friends to visit Dan and Christie Reich in Paraguay.  We worked hard for two weeks, poured ourselves out in ministry, but we also took a day off to visit the Iguazu Falls (featured spectacularly in the movie “The Mission” from the 1980s.)

There are no words to accurately describe the Iguazu Falls.  “Awesome” seems too small a word all of a sudden, but I can say that I worshipped and enjoyed God all day.  I worshipped and enjoyed God for His good gifts of friends (fellow team members and the mighty Reiches) and stunning creation.  At the falls, I wasn’t a leader, a pastor, or a preacher.  In short, I wasn’t “on.”

I was nothing else other than a human being, created in the image of God, enjoying God’s gifts.  I was simply God’s child, enjoying God’s good gifts and It was one of the most soul refreshing days I’ve had.

If I don’t regularly spend time “off” totally disconnected from my role in the kingdom, I will neglect my status in the Kingdom.  I am a pastor, but years before I was ever a pastor, I became God’s adopted child.

Beloved Child, actually.

I am quite good at teaching this.  I am not as good at believing this.

The Apostle Paul lays out a beautiful vision in his New Testament epistles.  He almost always described himself as God’s “bondservant.”  That was his role in the Kingdom.  But he also writes a lot about being God’s child.  Somehow he didn’t find any tension between the two.  I don’t find tension in it either, but I sure can neglect one and put the other ahead.

How about you?

Black Holes and Bright Lights

Black holes of church ministry: criticism, relational tension, mistakes, the ongoing pressure of limited or depleting resources, the grind of “3 steps forward, 2 steps back” and sometimes even 2 forward 5 back, the uninvolved critic who is technically correct.  The person who makes it unnecessarily personal.  The list goes on and on.  Its all a black hole.

The Bright lights: Everyday people discovering God@work in their life, the person who says, “I feel welcome in this church,” a hard working team of staff and volunteers.  God showing up in surprising ways.  (Does He ever show up in predictable ways?  I think not.)  The light going on for an unbeliever, or a dormant long term church person.  Watching an everyday person flourish and shine in leadership, seeing unexpected people pastoring everyday people, feeling the church wide excitement of celebration when someone is baptized, getting calls and emails from people saying, “Whatever you need, I’m in.”  Getting an unexpected check in the offering.  The privilege of serve God in this way.  Being saved from my sins and my self absorbed ways.  Breathing air, having the mental capacity to get out of bed.   Taking a shower and eating as much as I want which is more than I can say for the majority of this world.  These and many more are the bright lights.

The MHP must have the discipline to notice the bright lights and not get sucked into the black hole, who’s gravitational force is strong and ever present.  Its not about ignoring real and debilitating problems, its about noticing the wonder of God@work in our church.

Surely the beginning of this noticing starts with the MHP noticing the wonder of God@work in our own lives.

Black holes have sucked us in and will surely do so again.  Their pull is strong and unrelenting, but our role as leader is to keep people noticing and celebrating the bright lights. Then, inviting us all to worship of the Light Bearer in wonder and abandonment.

Matt. 4:16   the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

My prayer for you today:  That you’ll notice the bright lights and give thanks to the Creator of Light.

Soul Health Triggers

Most pastors I know dangerously blur the lines between their identity as God’s child and their calling as a pastor.  Consistently blurring these lines can be deadly to the soul.  For the record, I am one of the “most pastors I know.”

Here is a litmus test that my soul is on a unhealthy trajectory and I need to either take a break, work harder on my day off or reset my approach to ministry:

1) When church matters are the last thing on my mind before falling asleep and the first thing when I wake up.

2) When I fail the Dallas Willard litmus test, “Are you more irritable than usual?  Are you more impatient than usual?”  If I ask myself these questions and find myself getting angry at Dallas Willard, that’s a sign.

3) When for several weeks in a row, I’ve said to my wife, “wow, that was a big week!”   And by “big week” I mean: intense issues, or several nights of work.  Its amazing how easily I can forget that I’ve had 6 or 7 “big weeks” in a row.

4) When I cultivate a growing indifference to people’s problems and pain as a defense mechanism for my own heart.

5) When I can’t seem to read my Bible without thinking of a sermon thread, or talk to God without only talking about church matters and church people.  Whatever happened to enjoying God and His word instead of using both as a work tool?

6) When I fail the question, “Do I relate to God more as his employee or his adopted child?”

Care to share your litmus list?

I’d love to post more, but this week I’ve failed too many of these, so I’m heading outside to walk the dog and enjoy the gift of being alive.

Multi Hat Relationships for the MHP

In grad school counseling class, we took a session on the ethics of relationships and counseling.  The bottom line: never have more than one relationship with a person at a time. The professor wasn’t talking about boundaries and inappropriate behavior, he meant, “don’t be someone’s counselor AND friend, or counselor AND family member.”  He was talking about how to refer people who are close to you (friends, family etc) to another counselor so you can maintain just one relationship.

Meanwhile, as an MHP in a church of my peers, I find myself in multiple relationships with many people.  I’m pastor, friend, taskmaster, leader, counselor, employee.  Some of this is easy to manage (I never counsel my close friends), but the rest is unavoidable if you choose to be friends with your church members.

For the record, I don’t know how some pastors choose NOT to be friends with their church members. Lisa and I would have burned out long ago if not for the amazing friendships and love in our church.  If you cannot find those friendships at your church, could that be a sign of a bigger problem?

Here are 10 9 lessons my friends and I have learned about growing a friendship in the midst of multiple relationships:

1) I’m the only friend in my circle of friends who’s job gets critiqued on a regular basis by his friends.  No one sits around talking about a friend’s business ability, what is wrong with his company, what he could do to work on it, but it happens to MHPs all the time.

2) Conversely, I’m the only friend who monologues at his friends for 30+ minutes every Sunday.  How weird must it be for my friends to hear me preach at them?  No one else does that to them.

Continue reading “Multi Hat Relationships for the MHP”

Spiritual Rhythm – Sabbath Keeping

At our first local MHP gathering, we discussed spiritual health and soul filling practices for the lead pastor.  I asked Kevin Colon, pastor of Cool River Church in Superior, CO to share his spiritual practices calendar.  He talked extensively about his weekly Sabbath – Sunday night until Monday night and what struck me was not that he took a Sabbath, but how much effort and planning he put into his sabbath.

In short, he worked hard on his day off.

By that I mean, he planned in advance to make sure he could really Sabbath.  Aside from the obvious “no email, no phone” approach, Kevin and his wife had figured out what refreshed them:  practices, places and people and then they booked the 24 hours to gain that refreshment.

I take a Sabbath, but have often found myself a bit aimless and distracted on my Sabbaths.  Listening to Kevin was a needed reminder of how much I must work to really rest.  Paradoxical, but true.

Do you Sabbath?  When and what do you do or NOT do to gain spiritual refreshment?