Saturday, September 22, 2012

consider the birds...

 i think its fairly common place for people to worry.   we often look at our situation and our circumstances and we worry about things.  we worry about finances, we worry about health issues, we worry about relationships, we worry about people in our lives who seem to be making wrong decision after wrong decision.   worse, we look in the mirror and worry about making wrong decision after wrong decision.  

i have been very guilty of worrying.   i do it often.   for a long time i worked very hard to maintain this image as this guy who didn't worry about anything.  i went out of my way to make it seem like i had it all together.  but inside i was crumbling.   collapsing on my self.   i actually had very real, vivid, frightening dreams of myself carrying my family as i sprinted down the hall of a building that was collapsing all around us.  i was running as fast as i could towards the end of the hall but the end never came, and i just felt like i would run out of time, and the building would crush us before i made it to the exit door.  then, one day, it did.   it collapsed.   it all came down.   and my life, and my families life changed, dramatically and forever. 

its actually cliche to say that it changed forever.   i mean, isn't the very definition of change that it is different forever.   can we really ever go back to exactly the way it was.   the other aspect of that phrase is that it is often given a negative slant.   like our lives were devastated by this event or change.   but even if the event was devastating, our change doesn't need to be.

and that's where i have found myself.  in a place of recognizing that this worry thing is doing nothing to help me.   or anyone around me.   i am not saying that we disregard those things in our lives that we are concerned about.  i am not saying that we need to just let happen to our children whatever happens and we shouldn't be concerned about them.   but there is a a difference between worry and being concerned.   worry consumes us.  concern helps us to be more aware.    being aware is a good thing.  it allows us to be more present in our circumstances and relationships.  worry draws our attention away from the reality of the situation. 

author and pastor Francis Chan has a passage from his book Crazy Love that is one of my favorite "reality checks" about worry.  its a quote that i have often referred back to for myself when i find myself worrying.  he says:
"When I am consumed by my problems --- stressed out about my life, my family, and my job --- i actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important that God's command to always rejoice. In other words, that I have a right to disobey God because of the magnitude of my responsibilities.

Worry implies that we don't quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough or loving enough to take care of what's happening in our lives.

Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control.

Basically, these two behaviors communicate that it's okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance. They declare our tendency to forget that we've been forgiven, that our lives here are brief, that we are headed to a place where we won't be lonely, afraid, or hurt ever again, and that in the context of God's strength, our problems are small, indeed.

We are we so quick to forget God? Who do we think we are? I find myself relearning this lesson often. Even though I glimpse God's holiness, I am still dumb enough to forget that life is all about God and not about me at all."
its a wake up call.   to think that i allow myself to be consumed by worry, by stressing about a situation that in my mind i convince myself that God has no interest in, and in turn means that He has no interest in me and how its effecting me.  

it takes being reminded of the passage of Jesus' words from Matthew 6 where he says to us not to worry.  don't stress about even the very essentials of food, shelter, clothing any of that.   and then in the next verse, an image that i have begun to allow to infiltrate my thoughts daily, hourly if neccessary.  this phrase that says "consider the birds..."   i have found myself adopting this phrase as almost a mantra.   when i find myself consumed with worry, overwhelmed by my own stresses, i simply need to "consider the birds"   to know that God cares for them, and provides for them, and cares for them deeply. 

instead, i need to, as it says in verse 33 and 34 of Matthew 6
 " first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
its when i do this, then i am able to see the invitation to what God is doing, i am aware of how God is working and i am able to see that i am not just permitted, but eagerly invited to be part of it.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

for the love of what?

over the last few weeks this huge debate has sprung up from a comment by Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy.  essentially Cathy said that he believes in the "Biblical" definition of traditional marriage.  as a Christian person, and a company that strives to base itself on Biblical principles, this really isn't a shocking statement.  i have been more shocked by the response to this statement then the statement itself.  
its never been a secret about the Christian background of the company, its long standing policy of being closed on Sundays being on of the biggest, most visible expressions of those principles.  so the fact that groups of people found this statement so shocking is confusing to me.   maybe what is shocking is that someone was willing to share their views.   i think we are in a place where the majority of people have a fear of sharing what they believe because of the backlash of being called either intolerant, hate-filled or whatever.   this doesn't just mean in the debate of gay marriage.  i mean this across the board.  our society has become consumed with the idea that who ever is the loudest is the most right.  that is simply not a true statement. 

Cathy shared his personal feelings.  that is his right, his first amendment, plain as day, written in black and white in the Constitution right.  the backlash that has me most concerned is the number of people, people of power, that have made ultimately illegal statements infringing on Cathy's rights to free speech.   agree with him or not, that first amendment is pretty clear.   but i don't seem to remember any constitutional right for anyone to get married.  gay or straight. the trampling of that first amendment right is disturbing and disgusting.  and i think its a terrifying example of the direction this country is headed.  political correctness has driven us to a place where our fear of offending anyone has brought us to the point where our genuine, laid out before us in the constitution rights are being tossed out the window.  i do not care, AT ALL, about where you stand on the gay marriage issue if it means that myself or anyone else in this country is not able to speak freely about what i believe.  this issue that has been born of Dan Cathy's statement should really be the story here, it is truly terrifying the statements and threats being thrown about because one man shared his personal opinion. 

as for the main stream Christian response... i think what has disturbed me the most has been this rallying behind the Biblical traditional marriage being this grand point we stand on.  but, lets get off our high horse for a minute.  stop fooling yourself.  can we honestly say that we hold this Biblical definition of marriage in such high esteem as we watch many, many of our friends and family members getting divorces.  really, how sacred do we hold this idea of marriage when we stand by watching countless marriages fall apart and we do nothing because we "don't want to interfere"  that's garbage, and it makes this cry of holding to the Biblical definition of marriage to be garbage as well.  this issue of gay marriage is something worth discussing, i do not deny that.  but stop pretending like we as Christians have really done our part of modeling the Biblical definition of marriage much of the time. 

wherever you stand on the issue, i thank God that we live in a country that you are free to express those feelings.   at least for now, at this rate, in could be a matter of months until that changes.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

maple sap and a legacy

i have just arrived home from a really surreal time. i had the opportunity tonight to be a part of a worship and prayer time in the wake of this tragedy in my hometown of Chardon. i live a fair bit away from Chardon and it was a long drive, the ride up was relatively uneventful, i spent the time praying for the community, for the families and for the students. when i arrived at the church building, as i walked in there was the clear heaviness surrounding you, you could feel the hurt, the pain in the air. it was hard to be there. there was some time of prayer, some songs and some sharing.

after the time at the church wrapped up, i stuck around to talk to people. to pray. to try and focus on all that i had seen through a computer screen as i spent the day watching Twitter and Facebook and and local television websites. i then left. the church building is really very close to the high school so i decided to drive past it. it was a very, well, i am not even sure of the word, but strange, unreal, disconcerting, image to me. i drove down the dark street towards the school, there were countless TV news satellite trucks everywhere. Five and six trucks all from one station.

i drove slowly past the school, it was quiet and dark, a far cry from the chaos i had seen on the screen earlier in the day. i rounded the corner and i noticed for the first time something. i saw the many maple sap buckets hanging from the trees along the road. you see, this is what Chardon is known for, or was anyway. sure, it wasn't nationally known, it was barely known outside the Cleveland area, but those of us who grew up there, that's what we knew. we knew that this time of year, this season, its tapping season. but now, now we are known for this tragedy. and not just in the Cleveland area, national, and internationally, worldwide.

my prayer is that this tragedy is not the legacy that this small town carries. my prayer is that this tragedy is just the spark of a revival in this community. that in this chaos, in this madness, in this pain and hurt and sadness, that Christ shines. that as a result of this evil moment, hearts and minds will be open to Jesus. that it won't be maple sap buckets, it won't be a school shooting, but it will be a legacy of love, a legacy of compassion and a reflection of Jesus Christ that this town carries. i am praying for you Chardon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the confusion i feel... maybe its time to cross this line

i have not felt motivated to write lately, like at all. even my twitter account has sat mostly dormant over the last few weeks. i am not sure why i don't feel like writing, i just don't. part of it may have to do with a general feeling of frustration i have felt for a little while.

many people know that i have been actively looking to re-enter into full time ministry. i have been on a sabbatical, for lack of a better description, for about two years now. i have been doing a lot of self-examination, exploring, seeking wise counsel, praying, reading and the like. i have had the chance to really look at who i am, and to explore what God has made me for. through this process i have looked at a variety of options going forward. i have looked at changing careers completely, furthering my education, changing directions within ministry, and other options. i have come through this time with a strong calling to return to ministry full time. i have this overwhelming sense that God has designed me, packed me if you will in a specific way in order for Him to use me in ministry.

because of this, i have been actively searching for the place God has for myself and my family as we begin this next phase of the journey. i will say this process has been one of challenges, difficulties, revelations, growth, development, frustration. the word i would use to describe a large part of this process would be disappointment. it has been through this process that i have grown unnervingly disappointed with many churches. through a little "research" by reading other blogs and hearing stories of other people seeking to enter into ministry in a church setting, much like i am, my stories and experiences in this process are not unique. which is unbelievably disappointing and frustrating.

the one major thing that stands out to me in this process from many, many, not all, but many churches is a complete lack of respect and decency towards those people inquiring about ministry opportunities at those churches. flat out ignoring attempts at contact and communication. flat out lying about plans to contact me. telling me that you will be getting back to me and then never doing so. replying to my resume submission with a letter 2 months later saying "thank you for applying for __________ position, we have decided not to move forward with you but it was a pleasure to meet you, speak with and get to know you." meet me? speak with me? get to know you? this is the first exchange we have had! pay attention!

am i wrong for thinking that churches, CHURCHES!, of all places should be a little more respectful, honest and forthright in their processes? is that really to much to ask. the benefit in all this, is based on the lack of respect and decency it affirms for me my desire to not be a part of those churches and rather to seek my place where God wants me. i know that God has a plan and purpose for my life and it is there that i long to be.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

standing on this hillside...

so the title of this creative outlet, "Whats Expected of Me" is a bit of a play on the fact that at this point in my life, i have reached a point where most people who know me, think they know me. i have presented who i am, but there are some aspects about who i am that don't come out all that often. one side of that is a through some writing. i know, that saying that on a written blog sounds weird, but the writing i am talking about is a more creative, poetic style, one that i have had flow through me for most of my life, its something that comes out when i feel like i am not able to express clearly how i am responding to something, typically its out of a place of feeling stuck, or trapped. sometimes is a response from how i have progress through that feeling, other times its from the midst of that feeling. anyway, this is something that i just had come out of me, its not meant for anything other then to maybe give a glimpse into where i am at right now...

Standing on the crest of the hill, over looking it all.
A young man, but only in his hopes and dreams
In the deep lines that spread from his eyes
He was clearly not a young man, not anymore.

Filled with so many questions,
It seemed so long since he was permitted to ask.
Still struggles if he has earned the right to speak up
The indications are so strongly suggesting, no.

Time, its time to come down from the hill.
Its clearly time.
The opportunity to just stand there could not last.
Things have to move on, with or without him.
The climb back down feels more like a tumble.

These lines, this lesson,
The words spoken or never spoken, but shared,
All helping him see, helping him know,
Its not about his time on that hill.
Its about his journey back down.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

authentic, nah, its easier to fake it

its been about two years since i left a full time ministry position. its been about two years since i have had to fake it. yes, that's right, i said that out loud. its not something i was aware of in the moment, and i would have never said i was faking it during that time. but i know now that i was indeed faking it. i was not being authentic, i was not "keeping it real" as the kids say on the street (for the record, i am not sure what the kids say on the street, i am decidedly less then hip)

a little background, i was a student pastor for about 10 years at two different churches. i worked in a mainline denomination church, both with a distinct identity for the congregation. one was clearly mission based, service based, had a heart for community both locally and globally. the other was a church that embraced its sacred music, the church took great pride in its choirs, its hand bells, even its pipe organ. i started young, i didn't really know what i was doing, i just tried hard to make a connection to the students, and i tried hard to make parents happy. i worked with leadership that had some profound effects on who i am today, both positive and negative. i was able to learn about myself, but not in the moment.

you see the problem was i spent a lot of my energy and a lot of my time just trying to make the right people happy. when i had conviction, when i had something that i believed in, i was usually not able to convey it because it went against the status quo. i was stuck. i was not following the leading of the Holy Spirit, i was not doing what God had for me. i was faking it. i had this sense inside me that there was more.

i was stuck, i found myself at a place where i was doing "ministry" and doing it effectively, but i felt lost. i felt like i was spinning my wheels. it was time to stop. it was time to step back from it all and really seek God's will, seek his leading. i needed to look at how God packed me, made me, see how as a unique creation i was allowing God to work in, with and through me.

i have spent the last two years doing that. i have had a chance to take time for personal spiritual growth, to lead a small group, to be involved in other aspects of church life that i was not able to be involved in as a student pastor. and i have learned so much, so much about how i was viewing myself, and more importantly, how i was viewing my God.

i know more clearly how God has built me, i am more aware of my own personal gifts, talents and abilities. i am seeking a better understanding of the way the Holy Spirit works through me and what my spiritualities are. i am knowing spending my time seeking God's plan, his will for my life and for my family. and i am more comfortable then i have ever been in my understanding of who i am.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

won't do me no good washing in the river, can't no preacher man save my soul

i am here taking a moment to enjoy a cup of coffee, listening to The Civil Wars outstanding album, Barton Hollow, (thanks kyle). lately i have been thinking more and more about the role of pastors in churches. whats odd is that the topic seems to have presented itself to me, its not something i brought up myself. i have had several readings, podcasts, blog posts, articles all seem to "fall into my lap" on the subject. its those kind of things that are hard to ignore. i can can pretend like this one article was "interesting but who cares" and this blog post "is probably important for someone to read" but when its several of them, all at once, from many different directions, well, God, you have my attention.

i have been thinking about churches, and what the purpose of them is, how they function, what is the need being met for individuals, for communities, for the collective church congregation, for the world both near to us and across the world? its pretty accepted that the "mega-church" model is not the ideal model, and most of the mega-churches have found issues with building community and developing disciples because of a disconnect with in the congregation. many of these churches have seen the value in getting people into smaller community groups/small groups/accountability groups whatever you want to call them. i know for myself, the small group is very valuable. i attend a church with an average attendance of about 1200-1300 each week. that is pretty large, but its not overwhelming. i also believe that the leadership in place have done a good job of creating an environment and attitude of welcoming and openness.

i think that as churches have grown we have seen a shift in the role of a pastor. some of it is good, but a lot is not. the pastors are forced to take on a level of "business" that to me seems to be a big distraction. part of the problem is that like with just about everything, financial issues are present. and it falls on pastors to have to deal with them. for many larger churches there are other people involved in the financial areas. we also have the fact that for many of these large churches, they for better or worse have huge buildings to deal with. there are many issues that come into play; making the best use of the space, using it in the proper way to benefit the community but also make sure the building stays in good shape and on and on.

pastors need to be able to focus on discipleship. that is the conclusion that i have come to. that needs to be one of the main focus points. the fact is that this is a generation, a place in time, where the focus is no longer what can i (a member of the congregation) do for my church, but rather what can the church do for me. i think we have lost it, the point. we have forgotten, gotten away from the idea that as a follower of Christ we are called to serve. we are no longer focused on ourselves. there are to many responsibilities that we need to be taking on within our church communities that are being left to staff, to pastors. to many of us have no idea what it means to be disciples anymore. i fear that we see "being a disciple" as something that isn't possible, its only for people who were directly connected to Jesus when he walked on earth. well, the fact is, as a believer, as a follower of Jesus, we are directly connected.

i am someone very intrigued by the rise of the home church movement. i see so much good that comes out of the community that is built in that, so much that can happen when people are committed to each other because they are committed to Jesus. that is what a small group is to me. that is why i enjoy it so much. i look forward to the journey the American church is on, i firmly believe that we, the American church, are on the cusp of a revival. i look forward to it...