Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What Kind of Christian?

Here is a cool little test which reveals your theological worldview.

I came our as 1) Evangelical Wesleyan Holiness 2) Emergent Postmodern

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Creative Mr. Ed


Here is a great interview with Ed Young, Lead Pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas.

This past spring, I was privileged to participate in a small group of Wesleyan pastors who met with Ed and learned a bunch from him.

He lives and breathes creativity -- which is a beautiful expression of God's image in us. The first verb in the Bible is "created".

I think most of us normal pastors use about 0.05% of our creative potential. Ed probably uses about 3%, and the rest of us look bug-eyed and say, "Wow!"

Monday, August 29, 2005

Relatives in Britain

A few weeks ago, I returned from a sabbatical, (funded by a Louisville Institute Grant.) My travels took me to Great Britain.

A friend recently asked, "Did you see any relatives over there?"

To this, I replied, "Yes! Millions of them!"

And that's the truth! Everybody is related to everybody. Together, we are all members of the human family -- all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

To put it another way, we're all US! There's no such thing as "us" and "them". Everybody is a part of the "us"!

Wouldn't it be great if every human being viewed all the others as "us" instead of "them".

What if Israeli's and Palestinians thought of each other as members of the same family? What if all Americans laid aside their prejudice against people of other racial groups, and embraced each other? (I recently filled out an end of the year report form for our congregation. One question asked, "What is the predominant racial make-up of your congregation?" My answer, "Human.")

What would happen if we began to build bridges of unity rather than walls of separation?

What if we all began to think of "us together" instead of "us" against "them"?

Wars would cease.
World hunger would be eliminated.
Senseless violence would be vanquished.
Turmoil and strife would end.

I realize that's wishful postmillenial thinking. (I don't really consider myself a postmillenialist but an optimist!) The Bible, of course, reminds us that there will continue to be "wars and rumors of wars upon this earth -- and the poor we will always have with us."

Yet, I cannot help but wonder what difference it would make, if we began to seriously follow the path of love and light candles in the darkness.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Feed the Goose!


A few weeks ago, I woke up early in the morning with an inspiring thought racing through my mind.

"Honey, wake up!" I said, "I just had a marvelous thought!

""Hmmnn? Whuzzat? Marvelous thought?", Cathy said sleepily.

"Do you want to hear it?" I asked eagerly.

"Sure, might as well, now that I'm awake." said Cathy.

"Feed the Goose! We've gotta Feed the Goose!"

"What?? You woke me up from good sleep for that? What do you mean -- feed the goose?"

"I don't know, but it's a wonderful thought!" I beamed.

Feed the goose. Feed the goose. What in the world does that mean?

Then the light clicked on in my little brain -- aha! If you have a goose that lays golden eggs, your most important job is to feed the goose.

Don't get so busy gathering the eggs that you forget to take care of the one laying them!

What is your mission in life? What are you wired to do? That's your goose!

Consider the condition of your soul. That's your goose!

Think of a relationship you need to nurture more tenderly. That's your goose.

What brings out your very best and helps you become the person you were created to be? That's your goose!

What is your sweet spot -- the source of greatest delight? That's your goose.

In a business, church, or community, what is your main priority? What activity brings the greatest desired result? That's your goose.

Too often, we're so busy running the farm that we forget to feed the goose.

How to Make Good Decisions

Here are a few questions to help you as you face major decisions.

1. What is the real, bottom line issue here?
2. What would be most honoring to God? Have I prayed about it?
3. What are the pro's and con's? (Write them down.)
4. What do your respected advisors say?
5. What factors push you towards "yes"? Are they noble, upright, positive, and true?
6. What factors push you towards "no"? Are they noble, upright, positive, and true?
7. What new problems does the decision bring? (Every new plan brings new obstacles.)
8. What is the right thing to do?
9. T.H.I.N.K. (Is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, & Kind?)
10. How will this decision impact other people? (both positively and negatively)
11. What have other, wiser people done in similar situations?
12. Do I have all of the information necessary to make a good decision?
13. Is the timing right?
14. Is this a "long haul" decision or a temporary fix? ("band aid" solutions don't last long.)
15. Will this make life better or worse?
16. What are the potential gains v .s. the potential losses? Is it worth the price?
17. Do you have peace about the decision?

Theologia Cordia

A corrective on my last post. Although I am opposed to prickly theology -- I am not dismissing theology in entirely.

I'd prefer the word "theosophy" (lover of God) rather than theology (words about God) -- but the quack cults have staked their claim on that one.

The ultimate aim of Christian theology should be holiness (or as I read in a handwritten letter by John Wesley -- "holineff, which is faith working in love.")

Heart holiness is nothing more than being reconciled with the Great Commandment: "Loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself."

So -- all theology should lead to deeper love for God. The deeper the theologian -- the deeper the love for God. Theoligia Cordia: a theology of the heart!

Otherwise, our verbage is mere speculation and argument: "theologia spinosa" (prickly theology.)

"Theologia spinosa" may impress us by connecting rational dots, but it's not really deep: just muddy.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Beyond Prickly Theology

Here's a great article on the early Pietists and their influence on today's spiritual formation practices.

The focus on the inner life, rather than prickly theology ("theologia spinosa" as Philip Jakob Spener calls it), brought spiritual warmth without the third degree burns.

There's a local radio station that could use a little more of Spener's influence. They pride themselves in "no Spen zone" homodoxy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

IOUS

John Piper, of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, is a deep and thought provoking author.

He writes a weekly column for his congregation.

One particular article was special interest to me: How to Pray for Your Pastoral Staff.

He mentions the IOUS acronym, which he uses in his daily prayers for his family and friends. Good stuff! You can read it here at the Desiring God Ministries web page.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Self Management

I picked up this great article by Stan Toler from the Greater Ohio District website:


One pastor recently estimated that 80 percent of the clergy in his denomination have thought about giving up the ministry sometime in the past month. Whether that number is realistic or not, the fact is that many pastor are ready to quit. Unrealistic expectations and mounting obligation are taking their toll.
But there are ways to strengthen yourself and your ministry. You can not just survive but thrive in ministry leadership. In a day when nobody "pastors the pastor," you need to get good at taking care of yourself. There's no quick fix, but you can be successful over the long haul if you get good at three things. Get a handle on these skills, and you'll master the ministry.

1. Learn to Manage Stress. We used to think that stress was an enemy to be avoided at all costs. We now know that stress cannot be avoided; it must be managed. An important skill for managing stress is to develop healthy person habits. Get enough rest; many pastors don't, especially in growing churches. Discipline yourself to take days off--whole days--to recharge and refocus.
Develop close friendships. Isolation is common in the pastorate. Many pastors live far away from extended family and have few close friends. Take the time to develop a few close relationships. And pursue a hobby. Don't feel guilty about playing a round of golf or spending a day in the wood shop. Find a creative outlet apart from your work. It will be good for your mind and body.

2. Work on Personal Development. Howard Hendricks says that if you stop learning today you stop teaching tomorrow. Think of yourself as a lifelong learner. Make the decision that you will not be satisfied with the personal and professional skills that you now have--you'll keep growing. Read constantly. Books, magazines, journals-anything you can get your hands on. Feed your mind with good ideas.
Acquire computer skills. A pastor who can use common software applications such as a word processor, spreadsheet, or desktop publisher can double his or her productivity and discover new ministry possibilities.
Pursue educational opportunities, travel, and networking with other professionals: expand your horizons in any way you can. If you keep growing, your ministry will too.

3. Guard Your Ministry. We all know the dangers. But few of us seem to know how to defend against them. Remember these keys to protecting yourself from personal failure:
Self Define. Pastoral expectations have exploded in the past decade. Churches expect more and more from their pastors, and many are crushed under the load. The pastor who survives those escalating pressures will be the one who has a clear-cut job description-and a congregation who understands it.
Self Examine. Being honest with yourself about internal issues like rejection, loneliness, pride, or low self-esteem is the first step to avoiding failure. Know yourself, and you won't be taken by surprise.
Self Discipline. Most people have one or two glaring weaknesses. Wise people, and certainly wise pastors, know where they are vulnerable and avoid temptation in those areas.
Until we see Christ face to face, stay focused on God's mission. Stay true to yourself and those who love you. Brace yourself for the temptations of the enemy. And get ready for a celestial homecoming beyond your wildest dreams!

Monday, August 22, 2005

A Free Retreat

Speaking of soul nourishment, Cedarly is a place where pastors and spouses can get away for a week of prayer, reflection, and reconnection.

It's free! No strings attached!

They have openings this fall.

The Right Road Lost

This week, I heard of four different instances of moral failure in ministers' lives -- three of them are my friends, and one a respected author, whose books have helped me tremendously.

One is a young man.
Two are middle aged.
The author is 83 years old -- the news of his affair coming to light after many years.

Why does this happen?

Was it a slow wandering or a quick collapse? I wonder how much of this has to do with soul nourishment. (The remedy seems to be soul nourishment. Programs such as Marble Retreat are effective because that's their focus.)

Is the moral collapse what happens when people stop growing in the spiritual realm? An inner hollowness which leads to bankruptcy? Do faithful spiritual disciplines provide protection?

Jonathan Edwards thought so, saying that "true religion consists in great measure of the fervent exercises of the heart." Did they quit exercising and start coasting?

Have they been living a double life all the time? Can duplicity be detected before it's too late? If so, what are the warning signs?

Did they just take a wrong turn somewhere?

"Midway on life's journey," said Dante, "I found myself in dark woods, the right road lost."

Perhaps we need to make some better road signs.

Solitude and the Soul

I just finished A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer (founder of the Fetzer Institute, Quaker and Educator) It is a powerful piece of literature which dives to the soul's depths.

Parker speaks my language -- a language of the heart.

"Solitude," he says, "does not necessarily mean living apart from others. Rather, it means never living apart from one's self. It is not about the absence of other people -- it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others."

Palmer also observes, "The soul is shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A New Perspective

The rain had ended. The sun was shining. A beautiful rainbow arched across the sky.

"Isn't this a beautiful day?" the sparrow chirped contentedly.

"That, my friend," said the snail, as he raised his mud-soaked face, "is a matter of perspective."

-------------

Please forgive my lack of postings over the past week. I had the privilege of teaching a couple of FLAME Courses in Frankfort, Indiana, returning last evening.

This morning, my son, Adam, left for Bethany Bible College, in Sussex, New Brunswick. (or, as I've told people from Hayward, the other side of the world -- but the sun still shines!)

I did not realize the depth of loss I would feel as he departed, and was unprepared for the mingled waves of grief and gladness.

I'm really sad to see him go -- but I'm glad.

A friend put into perspective for me the other day, "You would cry more if he stayed home for the next twenty years and didn't do anything."

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Stupid Idiot?

"You are a stupid idiot! Who taught you how to park?"

It was a pencil scrawled love letter, tucked beneath my windshield wiper.

Sheepishly, I looked around the parking lot as I finished the note from "Mr. Anonymous"
O.K. -- I admit, my GMC had crossed over into the parking space next door. Still, I did it because the guy next to me was double parked as well. It was the only way I could fit in.
And now, the poisoned pencil strikes.

"Stupid Idiot?" Me? It wasn't my fault! How dare he?" I began to fume.

"What kind of stupid idiot would write an anonymous letter calling me a stupid idiot?"

Then it dawned on me -- something I heard my friend, Pam Peterson, say a long time ago: "Hurting people hurt people."

It must be a seething, boiling, cauldron of pain that erupts in a nasty note like this.
A certain melancholy shadowed my heart, as I pondered what kind of difficulties and struggles my "stupid idiot" friend must be enduring. "He's just lashing out," I told myself, "He doesn't really mean it."

Then, I pictured what I supposed he really meant when he wrote that nasty letter to me.
Instead of "stupid idiot", he meant to write --

"Help! Help! I'm hurting really bad on the inside, and I don't know how to deal with it. Please pray for me!"

I'm sure that's what he meant -- but it just came out a different way!

So -- I prayed for him, and drove away whistling merrily.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Pastor Synonyms

I looked up the word "Pastor" in Roget's Thesarus the other day and discovered the following synonyms:

Bible Beater, Church Man, Clergy Man, Divine, Ecclesiastical, Glory Roader, Holy Joe, Minister, Padre, Parson, Preacher Man, Priest, Rector, Rev, Shepherd, Sky Pilot, Vicar.

Which one would you prefer?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Northwoods Cathedral


On Tuesday this week, my son Adam and I went on an overnight backpacking trip.

We set up camp about three miles from the trailhead, on a point overlooking Rock Lake, and then hiked a labyrinth of trails until sunset. We covered miles of forest -- and didn't run into another person!

The camp at Rock Lake is what I imagine Sigurd Olson's Listening Point to be.

As the evening shadows lengthened, Adam and I both sat quietly -- together in solitude.
We pondered and prayed -- occasionally breaking the silence with a few words and laughter.

A loon's haunting call echoed across the valley. Bass splashed after waterbugs. A bald eagle soared in the sky.

Daylight ebbed to darkness -- and Rock Lake transformed before our eyes into a temple -- a deeply spiritual place paying reverent homage to our Creator.

I cannot imagine a person returning from the woods an atheist.

I also cannot imagine a better way to bid my college bound son farewell.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

65 Baptisms!

We baptized 65 people today at Grand Pines Resort on Little Round Lake! It was inspiring and heart warming! I think the church baptism even beats Easter!

There were many powerful testimonies of faith. God really can transform a life!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Come Before Winter

Clarence McCartney served for many years as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh during the first half of the 20th Century.

On October 18, 1915, he preached an amazing sermon entitled, "Come Before Winter". It had such a powerful impact on the congregation, they asked him to preach it again every October for the next 37 years!

The main idea is that we must capture the moment -- take the opportunity when it arises! Do not hesitate. Do not waver.

"Before winter or never! There are some things which will never be done unless they are done "before winter." The winter will come and the winter will pass. The flowers of the springtime will deck the breast of the earth and the graves of some of our opportunities, perhaps the grave of a dearest friend. There are golden gates wide open on this autumn day, and next October they will be forever shut."

Near the end of his life, he was asked what changes he would make if he could do it all over again. McCartney replied:

"I would devote more time to praying, take more time for meditation, study the Bible even more, and I'd take more time off for my health."

On this deathbed, he addressed his brother, Robertson, who was on his way to preach:

"Put all the Bible you can into it!"

Friday, August 05, 2005

Within the Holiest

Gerhard Tersteegen, the 18th Century German pietist and poet captures the essence of ministry, I think, with his brief poem, "Within the Holiest"

His priest am I, before Him day and night,
Within His Holy Place;
And death, and life, and all things dark and bright,
I spread before His Face.
Rejoicing with His joy, yet ever still,
For silence is my song
My work to bend beneath His blessed will,
All day, and all night long—
For ever holding with Him converse sweet,
Yet speechless, for my gladness is complete

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Garbage Digger

Just before daybreak the other morning, I awoke to find Cathy, peeking out the bedroom window.

"Psst! Look! There's a bear in our yard!" she whispered. "He's after our trash again!"

I jumped up and took a look at the "ursus americanus" myself. The bear had toppled a trash can to its side, and, like a trained circus animal, was rolling it with his nose, across the lawn!

"Hey, you clown! Leave our trash alone!", I shouted.

I don't think bears understand English -- but he got the point.

Instantly, he dropped his trash recycling project, whirled around, and lumbered into the woods.

The lid stayed on, the trash stayed in the can, and I stayed in a good mood.

"Good save!", I said to Cathy, grinning.

Later that morning, while dragging our trash cans to temporary sanctuary inside the garage, I thought about that bear.

He came looking for garbage -- and he found it!

The hummingbirds show up at our house too, but they're not interested the trash. Theyre looking for sweet nectar, instead. Several times a day, they dart to our hummingbird feeder for a sugar water refill (I've read that hummingbirds eat every ten minutes -- much like teenage boys.)

Some people are like the bear, looking for smelly garbage. They'll keep scratching and poking around until they find it somewhere. When they do, they stick their nose into it, gleefully dig it out, and spread it everywhere, making an annoying mess.

Others, like the hummingbird, steer clear of the garbage. They spend their energy looking for sweetness -- and find it.

"Seek and ye shall find!", the Bible says, and that is true for both garbage diggers and nectar sippers.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Reflections from Richard Baxter

Over the past few months, I have been sipping Richard Baxter's classic text, The Reformed Pastor.

Baxter, a 17th Century Puritan, was the vicar at Kidderminster is, perhaps, history's greatest articulator of practical, pastoral theology.

A couple of challenging quotes:

"A world of business they make themselves about nothing, while they are willful strangers to the primitave, independent, necessary being, who is all in all. Nothing can be known if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, if God is not studied."
p. 56

Regarding Ministerial Students: "O think with yourselves, what a sad thing it will be to their own souls, and what a wrong to the church or God, if they come out from you with common and carnal hearts, to so great and holy and spiritual a work." p. 61

"No man that hath not the vitals of theology is capable of going beyond a fool in philosophy." p. 58

He speaks of "pastors who are loathe to misplace a word in their sermons . . . but make nothing of misplacing affections, words and activities in the course of their lives." p. 64

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A High Redemption Price

While digging around in the Wesleyan archives a few weeks ago, I found this interesting and sad story from a letter to the editor in one of the earliest Wesleyan publications.

The newsletter was from 1866 (January 31 I believe) and was called the American Wesleyan. Adam Crooks served as editor.

Crooks wrote "The record of Brother Pearson in the obituary notices this week, is indeed, as sad one. Five sons and one son-in-law laid upon our country's altar as a part of its redemption price.

The obituaries listed:

Calvin W. Pearson, 3rd Wisconsin Regiment Died April 12, 1864 He was a member of the Congregational Church. Left a wife and three children.

Levi Pearson -- 6th Regiment Wisconsin Volunteer Army. Wounded June 19, 1864 at Petersburg. died in a New York hospital July 20. Left a wife and two children.

William Pearson, July 1863 -- died at the first volley of Gettysburg. Signed up with Levi -- 6th Regiment Wisconsin Volunteer Army.

Jesse Pearson -- enlisted with Levi and William. Killed at Petersburg June 19, 1864

Alan Pearson -- enlisted in 1864 with the same company and regiment. He was taken with typhoid fevel -- Marched and fought for 18 days until he sank under it, and was taken to the hospital. He was discharged, and died of consumption October 9, 1865

Son-in-Law, Buford Gifford -- Captain in the Indiana Regiment. Fell near Atlanta in 1864. His wife had died previously and left one child.

Thus, in 28 months, five sons and onse son in law were sacrificed on the altar of my country.

A son and a daughter are yet among the living, but the daughter is partly bereft of reason and has been in the asylum.

Dear brothers, pity the sorrow and pray for the comforting of a bereaved father.

Connected with all this is an intense suffering of soul on account of my having lost the bright evidence which I once enjoyed of the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost.

But, although He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.

Brethren, Pray for me, that my faith fail not.

-- B. Pearson
Elysian, Minnesota Dec. 26, 1865