Wandering But Not Lost

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Starting Over

Starting over sucks!

In the month of December\early January I was running almost daily. I was seeing weekly gains in speed and distance. I was actually feeling the "runner's high" and each day became focused on when and what to run. Then I hurt my foot. I don't know how really, but it was after an ambitious treadmill session. Each morning when I wake up, my foot lets me know it still hurts. As soon as I could stand it...I tried to run again. I felt the twinge in the bottom of my foot but decided it was bearable. My biggest problems were with other parts of my body. My back was tight and uncomfortable, my lungs felt like they could hold no air, my legs decided that a steady pace was too much to expect. I ended up walking most of my 2 mile course. And the next day...wow...that twinge in my foot exploded into a major ache.

Next week, I'm supposed to run a three mile race. I registered at the height of my December experience, when not only running the race would be enough, but taking major minutes off of my personal best was the goal. I may still go and run since I paid for the race and would like to get the shirt. But I haven't been able to run, I haven't been able to start over. It's hard, it hurts, it sucks!

Similarly, my devotional life with God follows the same pattern. I find myself starting over yet again, after a particularly acute period of dryness. I'm hurt and wounded from where I have let myself go. I have new questions and doubts as life's experiences have turned from a twinge to revealing major aches - both in my life and in the lives of loved ones. For awhile, I didn't even want to want to trust in God. Now I'm back where I want to trust, I'm willing to trust, and I'm trying to begin the relationship anew.

It is Lent and I'm trying to take seriously the tradition of preparing oneself for Easter. So for Lent in amongst the things that I am trying to give up, I'm also trying to do some things that I've fallen out of practice of doing. Daily scripture reading is one of those things. I'm working my way through the Psalms and Provers during Lent. It's hard, sometimes it hurts, and yes...starting over sucks!

From Psalm 1
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields his fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

I want to be the like the tree, planted, rooted, in the right place to be nourished. The tree has its yearly cycles where periods of fruitfulness are followed by periods of rest, even death, followed again by renewal. However, I don't think the tree has that sense of starting over, it is its natural way of existing. I want my relationship with God to be my natural way of existing, even though my human nature, my selfishness, my sin interferes with that. Even though it is hard and starting over sucks, to be planted and rooted in the place of God's protection and provision is worth it.

In all areas of my life, I want to run the race. Even if it means starting over.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Mass Evangelism - Is it Still Relevant

Franklin Graham is coming to Baltimore in July 2006. The Festival folks are in full gear mobilizing the pastors and forming teams to carry out the work and building the vision for the Festival. Tens of thousands across the city will have the opportunity to have a role in the Festival by singing in the choir, or serving as a counselor, or inviting friends and neighbors to participate. One of my friends asked a great question in the parking lot after the presentation: in a postmodern culture, is the Festival, mass evangelism, model still relevant? How do the non-churched, those not in the Christian subculture, view the Festivals? Are they something to be mocked and shun, like tele-evangelists? Are they perceived as "authentic" expressions of faith? Does anyone even care? Does the mainline church even care, or is it a case of "been there done that"?

No answers today...just questions.


Friday, July 29, 2005


All my intentions of posting daily have been severly test...and I've failed...due to far too much work at my day job. I hate it when real life interferes with the rest of my life!

I've been thinking about community alot lately. Specifically, the unity that can exists when there is community. As a Session, we spent some time praying specifically for unity in the midst of tremendous change. It reminded me again of the uniqueness of Central, that there seems to be a giftedness towards accepting change. Not just change in and of itself...but change that seems to be a movement towards a calling for God.

We have, for the past 4 years, had three distinct services on Sunday morning. Four years ago when we asked the Traditional service to meet an hour earlier to accommodate a new expression of contemporary worship, the response was overwhelmingly positive. The common expression was "that kind of worship is not for me, but if it helps people experience God, then we'll make the switch." That is a sign of healthy church life.

Now we are moving to consolidate the two distinct contemporary teams into one team and to make the two contemporary services the same. We are doing this for a multitude of reasons, but the main factor is that the two distinct services were not sustainable with the number of volunteers and it was becoming life draining for those responsible for leading those teams.

We met Wednesday night will all the musicians that play in both services. The Director of Worship Arts explained the vision, how there were changes coming for both teams and both services, how the commitment level was going to be greater since they would be serving two services on a Sunday. That means a 6 hour day for those involved. Again, the response was overwhelmingly positive. People seemed to sense the call of God in this and were willing to get on board.

I pray now for the congregation as they learn about the change and as they experience some level of grief for the service they have known and loved.

On a unrelated...but related note. My wife and I are reading scripture at a friend's wedding this weekend. The passage is Colossians 3:12-17:

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person wh offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from God rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace and always be thankful.

Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, let it be representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.

That passage is my prayer for our Church today. I am thankful for the ways our community matches this passage. I pray for a greater expression of this passage in ways that we struggle. I pray for continued peace and unity in the midst of tremendous change. I pray for the courage to continue our change, to be the community of faith that we feel called to be.

Monday, June 20, 2005

What is Your Theological Worldview?

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern - 75%
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan - 68%
Neo orthodox - 68%
Roman Catholic - 61%
Reformed Evangelical - 50%
Classical Liberal - 46%
Charismatic/Pentecostal - 43%
Modern Liberal - 36%
Fundamentalist - 21%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Friday, June 10, 2005

More Thoughts on Stories

I've been thinking about the pros and cons of trying managing change within an established church. As I listen to the Emergent conversation and I think through the implications of engaging this culture for my established church, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the level of effort that is required. As I continue to reflect on the power of stories, it strikes me that the power of stories can help bridge the gap in people's understandings and for others, the power of stories can cement a person into a way of thinking.

Central is an amazing place to me. On the surface we appear to be a standard, middle-classed, white, suburban evangelical mainline congregation. We have our share of problems caused by the number of standard, middle-class, white, surburban, evangelical mindset, but we also have a diversity in thought and unity amongst the body that amazes me. Pick almost any social issue, I can grab five people, almost instantly, whose ideas will represent the full spectrum of thought on that issue. We are a body of socially conservative, theologically conservative folks worshipping next to and with socially liberal, theologically liberal folks. That is a tremendous story that empowers the ability for the congregation to change.

The founding pastor was headed to China as the country became closed. He agreed to plant our church with the agreement that with two weeks notice he could resign and head off to China. He also brought Young Life to Baltimore County. He had a passion for evangelism and for doing anything it took to make Christ known. I believe that his story has put into the DNA of our church, an understanding of contextualization that is different than most 50+ year old mainline congregations. It is that story that I am now trying to translate into an understanding of ministry within the Postmodern context. That as we engage our culture, our methods will change, the core story will not. It is another story that empowers the ability for the congregation to change.

We have stories that cement us as well. It isn't so much the seven deadly words of a dieing church "we have always done it this way", but they are stories of nostalgia for how ministry was done. It comes out as we wrestle with the role of small groups for spiritual formation. Will small groups be the primary avenue for providing opportunities to grow spiritually and if so, what is the role of Sunday School. We have history of strong, almost graduate level, adult christian education classes, that people have been shaped by. In recent years, participation has fallen off and we are trying to do new things to attract greater participation. But we need to look at what we believe about spiritual formation, and where will we put the majority of our effort and resources. That history provides a story that makes change difficult.

For the mainline church, we need to cull through the history and look for those stories that validate a new vision and direction for the church. They are probably there. We need to try and minimize the impact of stories that detract from the new vision. I don't have the tactical answers to make that happen, it just strikes that a portion of change management is story management. That vision casting is story telling about the future and that there is tremendous power in linking the new story to the old story and helping folks navigate the bridge between the two.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Power of Stories

I've been thinking alot about the power of personal stories this week. Partially because the sermon this past Sunday dealt with that topic and because of other events that happened throughout the week. As part of the sermon, a friend got up and shared about how he began to encounter God. His pursuit of God took place in the same school that my daughter now attends. It was fun to watch her "translate" details of his story to her friends. Hearing his story again, reminded me of my own early pursuit of Jesus and how I was drawn to Christ through the stories of my friends. I was not going to be swayed by connecting logical dots from A to B to C, but I was moved by seeing and hearing the experiences of other.

Later on Sunday I got the chance to hear the testimonies of children who wish to receive communion. I love to hear kids talk about faith. It brings me out of the intellectual, theological, postmodern bubble that I like to live in, and makes me think of ways to ask good questions, and to be a good listener. One of the kids in my small group was my own youngest daughter. It was very fun to hear her describe stories that have impacted her and moved her towards Christ.

Sunday evening, our small group got together and we spent the night sharing what has been going on in our lives and what the near future holds. It was amazing the amount of flux and transition my friends are in. Job changes, moving changes, stage of life changes, kid changes...change, change, change. I know it is constant, yet for that evening, I felt like I was not alone. I felt like I had partners in the journey. I felt like I was with others who understood. Not a lot of advice was shared...we sat in each other's stories and that was really, really, good.

It strikes me that community is about shared lives, shared stories. It also strikes me that we need to do a better job of hearing the stories of new comers and strangers. We need to become master story tellers and story facilitators. Church in this age is about honoring each other's stories and allowing God to use our stories to make himself know and for us to see him at work. We need to build community in such a way so that people can easily choose into the depth of story telling they want to do. For some, not being forced to share anything would build a sense of comfort and intimacy. For others, they aren't going to feel at home until they have found a partner to share stories with. Others will make their stories more public and we will appreciate them and learn from them.

I am thankful for the stories that have brought me where I am today. I am thankful for the stories that God is continuing to develop, and illustrate, and share with me. May you find stories that move you closer to God!


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

End of Semester Reflections

I turned in my grades today. Another semester has been completed. I think I look forward to this day as much as the students. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching. I love the interaction with the students. I love having experiences to share along with the content. I look forward to the course evaluations so that I can pick some goal to work on in the semester ahead. I love the challenge of trying to improve my teaching skills. I throw myself into the beginning of every semester, determined to not only do a better job of teaching, but of handling the administrative details of teaching as well. This is where the love affair ends. I hate grading things, I hate attendance reports, tracking Freshmen in danger of failing, filling out athlete tracking forms, and the multitude of other things that come up during a semester. It is those administrative details that burn me out. They are the reason that the end of each semester is such a relief.

After many years of this pattern, I'm starting to see this pattern lived out in other areas of my life as well. I love being a manager, or specifically, the freedom that comes from managing my department. I hate managing, specifically the administrative details that come with managing. On a slight tangent, I love my kids. They are two of the greatest kids I know and I love being their dad. I hate having to do homework, work on projects, getting them to do their chores, etc...I love being a Christian, but I hate the work of working out my relationship with God. OK...maybe hate is too strong a word, but I'll sum up the pattern I see in my life as:

I love having the title, I'm lazy at doing what comes with it.

I have to confess that is a problem in almost every area of my life. It isn't something that I say out loud too often, but it certainly jumps out at me on a daily basis. This laziness is what keeps me from experiencing God on a daily basis. It keeps me in a cycle of guilt and shame that because I see intimately the hypocrisy of my life. It robs me from an authentic, life changing journey with Christ. At times like this, I think of the verse "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." I don't believe that I'm earning my salvation. I don't believe that one can only approach God in fear and trembling, I also believe in "approaching the throne of God with boldness." However, I ackowledge that a little awe, fear, and trembling may do me some good.

What impresses me most about the people that I have met or watched in "postmodern" circumstances is that I see a lot of folks who are serious about doing the work, who are serious about doing whatever it takes to know God and to experience the growth of the Spirit in their lives. Two weeks ago, I visited a prayer service at a church I had never attended before. The service was held in a secular night club that the church uses one Sunday evening per month. I saw people journaling, praying in groups of two and three, of using the various experiential stations to connect with God. It was a wonderful evening and provided a visual tutorial of what needs to become more of a regular part of my life. I have to be willing to do some work along the way if I really want to call myself a believer. Praise God that He is faithful and desires to make himself known!