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By definition, my vocation as a pastor/shepherd requires significant writing and preparation for teaching sessions, small group leading, curriculum development and the like.  Writing is finicky if you ask me.  There are some weeks, especially when preparing a message or talk, that things come together with great ease.  Those weeks scare me if they happen too often because it could mean that I am not seeking God’s guidance in my preparation, I’m just doing it in my own strength.

Then there are weeks where I study, devote time and thought to the text at hand (this week, Jonah 3) and the pieces don’t quite come together in a manner that I was hoping.  There are a million reasons why this might happen to a guy that has a hard time concentrating.  Today is that kind of day.  I don’t have magical solutions to how to get through the block but I have a couple of ideas that may just help.  First, I’m gonna read a bit of something not directly related to my message.  Second, at 4:30, it will be time for a run.  How far and how long, I’m not sure, but running clears my head.  Third, I’ll play with my kids, eat some dinner and try to give myself time to observe the world around me while recollecting moments of the week.  Finally, I’ll have another go.

It might work this way, it might not.  And if it doesn’t, I’ll try again tomorrow.  Or post about all my failed solutions.

Church life is organic. Constantly changing via moods, attendance, leadership styles, and hopefully, the leading of the Holy Spirit above all.  Churches are also an organization stocked full of programs,  ideas, people, and challenges.  

Our church is no different.  I love serving here and have learned more than I sometimes feel I’ve been able to contribute.  Lately, some words have been floating around that evoke ideas of change (in a good way) and asking harder and harder questions that we may be the organism God meant when He created the idea of church.  

In this process, it’s become more evident than ever that things that I would normally expect to be going well are in fact  struggling.  They aren’t terrible, but they aren’t all they could be.  So, as that criticism has come, how do I take that well, as a motive for improvement rather than getting beaten down by more bad news? I am confident that I have been equipped for service such as this.  I’m also aware that I haven’t been excellent but am willing to learn.  

The idea I’m wrestling with right now is motives for excellence.  In my heart, I wholly and truly want to Glorify God in all I do by loving Him and loving others.  But I’m afraid that my motives too easily can get lost in trying to keep everyone happy, to please all those around me, and in the process keep them happy.  Not always a bad pursuit, but not tenable nor biblical.  

Having a spine to make the jump, do the hard things and take risks is imperative.  Even more imperative, as I have learned over the years, is to do these things with wisdom, caution, prayer and love.  

Given the position of ministry and holy discontent running through our church it’s apparent that change is in the air.  Now, as a leader that’s greatest strength is serving, how do I demonstrate that programs must not get in the way of how we show Christ’s love to our world.  

I think I need to write more about this.  Gotta flush this out further.

I’m just about done with Scot McKnight’s Book Praying with the Church.  I read most of it while in Thailand last week but wasn’t able to quite finish it.  I’ve known for too long that my prayer life needed to go deeper, and have struggled to find the discipline to do so in the privacy of my own devotional time.  Not that I don’t pray, but my prayers haven’t been fervent, nor bathed in Scripture.  

McKnight takes one through 4 different prayer books that can be used to pray with the church around the world.  As he’s explained different methods from the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and a more modern take from Phyllis Tickle, I’ve been challenged to rethink how I pray.  

Today was my first official day of morning prayers using the Book of Common Prayer.  It’s hard to get used to and is VERY different for me, as I’ve never prayed like this before but I loved it.  I love the emphasis on reciting and praying Scripture together.  I love that  when I pray during the morning and evening dedicated times of prayer I know that I’m joining with the Church to dedicate ourselves to God, to confess, and to give thanks to Him.  

I have more to say about what I’ve learned from the book and I’ll do that another day.  For now, let me leave with a portion of this morning’s collect for Grace:

 

O Lord, our heavenly Father,
      almighty and everlasting God,
      who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day;
      defend us in the same with thy mighty power;
      and grant that this day we fall into no sin,
      neither run into any kind of danger,
      but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance,
      to do always that is righteous in thy sight;
      through Jesus Christ our Lord.
 

  Amen.

Every summer I spend much of my time thinking through the coming ministry/school year.  Since I work primarily with youth my work schedule pretty much mirrors a school schedule.  So summer provides somewhat of a break to think through things, evaluate where we’re going and where we’ve been and most importantly, asking if what we’re doing is ultimately bringing glory to God.  

Somewhere along the line, I’ve fallen into a dangerous cycle of thinking I have to make things happen.  I have to be the one to make things bigger, better, and more exciting than before. It’s not an all the time thing, but it does happen more than I’d like to admit. 

Seeking to be better isn’t a bad thing by itself,  but the motivation must be rooted in honoring God, not my own personal coolness.  Somehow, I’ve managed to confuse the two.  I’ve tried to be effective according to the expectations of others, not according to God’s plan. 

Leadership’s online blog, Out of Ur, has an interesting post on this issue of pastors and ministry that gives a good perspective of how easy it is to fall into this trap:  measuring effectiveness

I think great ministry does produce great churches, it’s just my definition of great ministry needs to shift.  Ultimately, if we are faithful to God’s call on our lives and our church, other lives will be changed as people experience us living out the message of the Gospel.  That’s what it’s all about.  Not so much all the other stuff that looks cool.  

I’m excited about what’s coming up for our church and youth ministries.  I think there are some positive things happening, and, if we’re willing to press on, there’s more to come.  

May I have the strength to stay out of the way.

Keswick continues today.  This morning, Jill Briscoe spoke out of Philippians 2:1-11 (gotta be one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible!), painting a picture of what living humbly could look like.  Three questions were posed that summed up her message well:

1.  When we go into peoples lives, do we strengthen and encourage them, giving them life or do we drain them?

2.  Are we always looking for people to invest in or always looking for people to invest in us?

3.  Do we always have to be right?  Has it ever occurred to us that we might actually be wrong?  In reality, that’s a simple question, but come on, how often am I actually willing to be wrong?  I have some serious work to do.

If you want to keep yourself humble, let God stretch you into things that make you uncomfortable and therefore totally dependent on Him.  Don’t just stick to what you’re good at.  She told the story of learning how to do a lot badly when they first started at Elmbrook because that’s what was needed.  It’s not that she was out of balance, she was just willing to meet the needs of the people based on where they were not where she wanted them to be.

Good stuff!

She finished with this:  Wanna be big, and great?  Learn to be small.

Jill Briscoe is speaking this week at the Hong Kong Keswick Convention.  Tonight she posed a great question about how we deal with opportunities?  Do we view difficult or discouraging situations as opportunities to know and show Christ better or simply as another difficulty we have to endure?  The point was that if we truly believe Christ is all, we would view everything in life as an opportunity to go deeper with Him, even if it hurts.