24 January 2006

Family and Friends,

I am home in Newberg for a week and thought that it might be a good time to send out an update. Life and ministry in Michigan continues to go well. I miss my family each day, but am also feeling led by Christ each day in my work at Ogden Church.

Lessons are being learned – sometimes through trial and error. As I help to put together, redirect and keep together the pieces of our staff after Jeremy's resignation (our associate pastor), I've needed to learn more about the challenge and joy of seamlessly welding together equipping, encouragement and exhortation.

Equipping is helping people become who God has hard wired them to become through the discerning and intentional use of their spiritual gifts, their personalities and their life-experiences within the context of both "ministry", and "everyday life".

Encouragement is helping people keep their focus on partnering with Jesus Christ in what He is doing in the present, while being hope-filled, discerning and courageous about joining God in what He wants to do in future.

Exhortation is challenging people to look and think outside the box about how to do ministry – believing that God's desire is to lead each part of Ogden Church forward in unity toward the goal of both being and becoming the church He has in His heart for them to be.

This is the prophetic part of pastoral ministry ... for it is includes both "calling the flock back" to the voice and intentions of God, and "calling the flock out" into the world with purpose and missional vision.

The Ogden Church staff (both paid and volunteer) is solid – as is the core leadership. They are giving me great freedom to "be myself" and minister out of my strengths, instead of expecting me to be "all things to all people." And for this I am very thankful.

People are being loved – sometimes "as part of the job" and sometimes in ways that defy coincidence and have the aroma of destiny. Day in and day out, I'm ministering to people hurting because of addictions, physical challenges, family pain, or disappointment with one or more members of "the triad" of 1) themselves, 2) God and/or 3) others).

Sometimes people come to me, other times I seek them out. I am thankful that many people are taking my life and ministry among them seriously – and they're not just waiting until their "permanent" pastor arrives before giving themselves permission to connect with their pastor-teacher.

And whether I'm connecting with people in my office, at a local coffee shop, or meeting them for the first time while on Prayer Walks in downtown Adrian, God is daily fine-tune my calling as a pastor-teacher, and using my spiritual gifts in ways that seem to be making a difference. And for this I am also very thankful.

Shepherding is a joy not a burden – it's so awesome to feel challenged and useful at the same time. During the many months I was unemployed I didn't feel much of either. But now I feel like I am being used by God to both guard and ground the flock.

Guarding them from discouragement and division during this season of transition. And grounding them in the heart of God by calling them to embrace the twin priorities of 1) God's WORD and 2) prayer like never before.

Beginning Wednesday night, 1 February I will start a 6 week Wednesday night focus on what it means to be a disciple of Christ ... and what it means to develop a devotional life, or as Richard Foster calls it, a “with-God” life.

I am sleeping well and riding my exercise bicycle each day. Both good signs that even though I am working many hours each week, I am finding peace and joy in what God is asking me to do at Ogden Church. And again, for this I remain very thankful.

I will return to Michigan on Monday, 30 January. Beginning Sunday, 5 February I will begin a multi-month teaching journey through the New Testament epistle of First Peter. I'm really excited about this and believe that God really wants to use Peter's words to bring life, hope, rootedness and joy to the Ogden Church flock.

Thanks for your ongoing prayers for me and for my family during this time. Also, beginning next month I will re-start an active search for the flock God wants me to serve as the pastor-teacher. What a joy this search will be for me.

I continue to believe God called me to resign at GFU, and that He is preparing me now for what He has in store for me in the future. I'm attaching a picture my brother brad sent me the other day. It's a beautiful reminder that oftentimes what seems big is actually small and insignificant and what oftentimes seems small is actually gloriously big and significant.

"God, give me Your perspective on life, on priorities, on people, on ministry, on myself. Amen." Godspeed.



15 January 2006

Tonight as I sit in my little house I'm experiencing a range of emotions -- most of them good, all of them meaningful, each of them instructive. I hope the words of this email help explain a few of them to you.

I came to SE Michigan on the 5th of December ... and really, the month of December is kind of a blur to me. Everything new, each experience navigated through exploration, and filled with joy. Friendships and teamwork built, along with trust. The outline of the story written each day. When I traveled home to be with Teresa and our sons for Christmas, it was so good to be with them. And yet the day-to-day life of the flock at Ogden Church was on my mind and in my heart in ways big and small.

As New Years and the day of my departure eastward approached, it was difficult -- but it was also a delight. I didn't want to worry my family or make them doubt my calling to serve God at Ogden Church ... and yet, without talking much about it, each of them sensed the tension between my desire to stay and my joy to go.

And in the end, the encouragement to gave me to keep following God's will for my life (even if the cost directly affected them) gave me the courage I needed to return to Michigan. Not that I wouldn't have gone back. I mean, I'm loyal. But the fear and the anxiety was gone. God took it away. And He used my family to deliver this gift of peace.

And what has January held for me?

The month of January has been much different than December, both situationally and emotionally.

Situationally our associate pastor, Jeremy Pietrocini is no longer just "going" -- he's "gone" ... moved with his family to Cleveland to work for the Gallup Organization and help several old friends begin a new church.

Situationally the Pastoral Search Committee's work has become more real, and the Truth that God had called me here for a "season" and not for "the long haul" has moved from the back of my mind to the front.

Emotionally, I'm feeling strong, loved, challenged, focused, invested, busy, accepted and serene.

And the joy remains. Has it been hard to adjust to living alone in my little house? Sure. I haven't lived on my own since I was in seminary, 25 years ago. Am I adjusting? Yes. I've bought an exercise bike and am riding 5-8 miles a day on it. I'm reading books I've put off reading for too long. I'm playing Scrabble with Teresa via the Internet on a regular basis. And I''m assessing the condition of my soul, asking God questions like ...
  • Why in the world did You bring me to Michigan? Show me more.
  • What are the lessons You want me to learn here? Teach me more.
  • How are my life experiences, my strengths, my weaknesses, my spiritual gifts and my personality what Ogden Church needs during this time in their life's story? Equip me to be who and what You and Ogden Church most needs between now and when their new lead pastor-teacher begins.
  • How can I become a better steward of my body -- treating it more like God's temple and less like a landfill?
And as I talk with God about these questions and more, He is talking back -- pruning me and teaching me. Paul Tillich (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Tillich), a German/American psychologist and theologian (1886-1975) wrote "Language has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone, and the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone."

God, teach me about the transforming power available within the gift of solitude You have given me in my little house on Gorman Road. Show me in ways big and small the beauty and healing to be found in this new book of life I'm reading -- a book that includes a daily visit to a chapter entitled "Being Alone".

Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline writes in the chapter on solitude, "loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment, [and it] is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place."

God, teach me about the "inner fulfillment" You have for me during these days and nights. Keep me alive in Your holiness, rooted in Your faithfulness and growing in Your grace and peace.

All this to say ... I'm glad I'm here with you. As I've said before, I'm thankful for the trust the leadership at Ogden Church has placed in me. I am feeling led by Christ as I study and teach God's WORD.

I am feeling led by Christ as I go to work each day and interact in person, by phone and through email with Ogden folks. And I look forward to the days, weeks and months to come -- new chapters of life and ministry to yet be discovered and walked through. Good night. Godspeed.



08 January 2006

I thought it was about time to finish this four-part "ship-burning" blog. So here's the final chapter.


Listen to C.S. Lewis describe his own life and the lives of people who, having believed their spiritual maturity to be FATE … wake up one day to find themselves pathetically immature in Christ and feeling no way out but to pretend they’re more spiritually mature than they actually are because of guilt and the expectations of those around them. Lewis writes …

“Those, like myself, whose imaginations far exceeds their obedience, are subject to a just penalty: We easily imagine conditions far higher than we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined, we may make others, and make ourselves believe that we have really been there – and so deceive both them and ourselves.”

The trap is that so many Christians can write, speak, preach, teach, elder and lead so much better than we can actually live. We have the experience of journeying with Christ, but we’ve missed the meaning of journeying with Christ.

Listen to me … Jesus doesn’t invite us to walk with Him because His needs the exercise. He invites us to live life at His side because we need to be changed. And when we begin to realize that what we’d hoped we’d be in Christ isn’t what we are in Christ, it’s easy to try and “fake it ‘til we make it.” But the problem with this strategy is that with an attitude of FATE we’ll never make it. Never.

In the third commandment, in Exodus 20:7 God says, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.” (italics mine). The King James Version of the Bible says that “we’re not to take God’s name in vain.”

We’ve usually assumed that this “misuse” of God’s name means that we’re not to use God’s name as a swear word. And what that’s no doubt part of its definition, the heart of the word “misuse” has to do with “blasphemy.”

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes, “Blasphemy is using the name of God to pretend we have a certain kind of relationship with God, when we don’t.”

Peck’s words have a certain familiar sting to them because I doubt that there’s a person here this morning that hasn’t lived them out in one way or another. Within the confines of our own hearts and spiritual journeys, we’ve all, in different ways, settled for a mind-set of FATE instead of DESTINY … and we’ve reaped the consequences of cultivating spiritual pretense instead of spiritual honesty.

Christ calls us to burn the SHIP OF SPIRITUAL PRETENSE so we can live life beyond the lie of deceit, beyond the bondage of blasphemy, and beyond the torture of hypocrisy.

Where are you at with God … right now?

When it comes to your spiritual walk and your spiritual maturity, are you on the road of FATE … looking back all the time, hoping against hope to see some signs of change and growth, when you know there has been little … and then having to pretend you’re something / someone you’re not?

Or are you on the road of DESTINY … partnering with God to become the person God has planned for you to become since before you were conceived? When it comes to choosing DESTINY over FATE, Hebrews 5:11–6:3 scratches us where we itch. In his paraphrase The Message, pastor/teacher Eugene Peterson renders these verses this way:

“I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you needing someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one – baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milks is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong. So come on, let’s leave the preschool finger-painting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ … Let’s get on with it!”

God knows us … and I don’t mean superficially. God is intimately acquainted with us. God knows what ships we’re burned and which ones we’ve kept anchored in the harbor … close at hand for a quick escape. God knows that all too often we settle for a connection with Him that is much more “approximate” than it is “intimate.”

But God also knows our hearts. God also knows our struggle to cast off a perspective of FATE and grab onto a vision of DESTINY.

Billy Crystal was right … at least in the first sentence of his Career Day speech when he said, “Value this time in your life kids – ‘cause this is the time in your life when you still have your choices.’”

But it’s not only fourth-graders who have choices. It’s any person who’s willing to burn the ships of SELF-RELIANCE … EASY, FEEL-GOOD RELIGION … AND SPIRITUAL PRETENSE and travel with Jesus Christ to those places where the work of spiritual maturity moves off the drawing board and becomes as much of a reality as our own laps.

The pages of our journals aren’t all filled in … not by a long shot. And so let’s, each one of us, commit to picking up the nearest pen and begin writing. Godspeed.