Two Difficult Ministry Realities

There are two realities about church leadership that are difficult for me to understand and therefore practice and that difficulty makes them difficult to communicate.  But, I’ll try.          
Reality 1—Church leadership requires consensus building.  Pastors are not CEO’s.   Churches employ relatively few employees and rely heavily on volunteers.  Jim Collins, author of Good to Great—a book about successful businesses—said that this is true of all nonprofit leaders.  Business leaders exercise executive leadership.  Nonprofit leaders exercise what Collins calls “legislative” leadership.  Here’s what he said in an interview for Leadership Journal, “A church leader often has a very complicated governance structure. There can be multiple sources of power, constituencies in the community, and constituencies in the congregation. With all of that, you’re going to run into trouble if you try to lead a church as a czar. Church leaders have to be adept in a more communal process, what we came to call ‘legislative’ rather than an ‘executive’ process.”  We came into the retreat saying that in general we wanted consensus on direction and that consensus on direction first and where we could come to consensus on direction we would move to how we make that direction real and then finally we would examine possible implications for staff, building, and program. 
            Reality 2Sometimes the most needed change for a congregation is a change in attitude not structure.  Attitude” is the word that one of the retreat attendees used so, I’ll adopt it.  Church Attitude:  Every congregation has ways of thinking and acting that are so embedded people don’t really think about them.   Take the importance of the Lord’s Table.  There’s nothing in any official document that requires the Lord’s Supper every week.  No official document says it is meal to remember Christ’s death.  Nonetheless, it is what we do every week and most of us would say we do it to remember Christ’s death. I would not suggest that we stop taking communion every week.  But what would happen if I tried to get people to call it the “Risen Lord’s Supper” rather than just the “Lord’s Supper?”  What if I tried to get us to think differently about it as a celebration of the presence of the Risen Christ and de-emphasize it as a remembrance of his death?  Difficult?  You bet it would be.  Now, this suggestion did not come up at the retreat.  Nor am I proposing it now. It is an example.  The problem with examples is that they quickly become proposals.  THIS WAS JUST AN EXAMPLE.  As we become specific about the changes many of us saw coming out of the retreat, most of them were more attitude change than structural change. 

Four Possible Ministry Appreciation Gifts

Here are four surprising gifts you may not know your minister would appreciate during Ministry appreciation month.  I am not claiming to speak for my fellow ministers.  But, I have a hunch about some things we would really appreciate—things I would appreciate. 
1.  Take the Sermon One Step Further.  Most sermons stop just a little short of saying what the preacher really thinks they ought to say.  Listen closely and you’ll detect the punch that got pulled.  Come find him or her a little bit later and with a slight irritation in your voice say, “Preacher, I saw where you were going in this sermon and thought surely you’d say . . . [insert bold proclamation here].  I’m not sure why you didn’t go there but, I sure hope it wasn’t cause you didn’t think we could hear it.”
2.  “I’m not persuaded but I’m persuadable.”  When ministers have an idea there are always a certain number of people who don’t think it will work and will tell them so.  There’s certain number of people in the congregation who will agree no matter what just because their minister suggested it.  Both responses get frustrating at times.  Try the following, “Pastor, you suggested . . . .  I’m not persuaded yet but, I’m persuadable.  Maybe we could talk about how this would work.”
3.  Offer to Drive.  Ask your minister if you can drive them around the next time they do hospital visits.  If you’re not one who would normally goes into a hospital room just say, “I’m going to sit out here in the waiting room and pray for you while you visit.  Take your time, I’ll be here when you’re done.”
4.  Pray with them.  Find your minister at a quiet time and ask to pray with them.  Pray for their health—physical and spiritual.  Pray for their ministry.  Pray for their family and important relationships.  Ask God to fill them in new ways with the Holy Spirit.        
A minister’s self-esteem is a tricky thing and probably shouldn’t be touched with a ten-foot pole.  Ministers know who think they are good and know who their critics are—even when their critics aren’t critical to their faces.   What most ministers need most is the reminder that the ministry to which they are called still matters.  It is ministry itself that needs appreciation far more than the minister.   

Receiving Communion and Being In Communion

            “Is it more important to you to receive communion or to be in communion?”  1 Corinthians 11 contains teachings about communion and one part of it is familiar to us.  It’s the part that tells us what it means to receive communion faithfully.  We refer to them in church short-hand as “Words of institution.  It’s the verses 11:23-26.  “Lord Jesus . . . night betrayed . . . bread for you . . . remember me.  Cup of new covenant . . . remember me.”  It summarizes the conditions of what it takes for people to receive communion in a faithful way—it takes a gathered worshiping body. For reasons I won’t go into, I believe strongly that communion is not a part of private devotion.  We read scripture in private, pray in private, fast in private, even sing hymns privately.  But I don’t believe we should take communion in private.  To faithfully receive communion, this text suggests to us that the narrative needs to be shared.  This story of Jesus initiating the Lord’s Supper is found in four places in scripture.  And the language suggests that it the narrative itself was something people repeated whenever they received communion.  So, we gather the worshipers, we tell the story, and we remember—Remembrance is a central component of receiving communion.  We remember and give thanks for the whole life of Jesus—his incarnational birth, his authoritative teaching, his compassionate ministry, his boundary-crossing meals, his triumphal entry, his disciple-making community, his arrest, trial and sacrificial crucifixion and his glorious resurrection.  But, says Paul, though we celebrate his whole life in Lord’s Supper, we pay particular attention to the fact that whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s Death until he comes.”  So to receive communion faithfully means to have gathered worshipers, retold story, and Christ-centered memory. 
            But the parts of this text surrounding the familiar words of institution speak not of receiving communion but of being in communion.  Paul’s tone is harsh, “In the following directives I have no praise for you.”  Apparently what was happening is Corinth was this—the weekly gathering would have been a complete meal—a First Century potluck.  Because it was First Century, pre-temperance movement, wine was served.  Enough food for the expected crowd would be set and enough wine.  But some people showed up early—probably because they were wealthy and didn’t have to work such long hours, and others came late, probably because they had to work long hours or because traveling was more difficult from them.  And the early arrivers would devour the food and drink most of the wine they would be stuffed and drunk and leave crumbs and dregs for the people who arrived late.  This, Paul said, is not being in communion. 
            He went on to say, that when communion is taken in this way, people eat and drink judgment upon themselves.  And then the passage that’s always bothered me–”That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number have fallen asleep.”  Statements like that in the Bible always make us spiritually paranoid.  Do the bad things happen to me because I’ve sinned?  Are my diseases God’s punishment for my misbehavior?  And because I don’t believe God sends diseases to punish people, I’ve always avoided that part of the text.  But a little over a year ago, Amy Gopp our director of Week of Compassion—the Disciples Emergency relief fund, spoke about this text and had this insight about this passage.  She said, “Because of the lack of compassion, generosity and hospitality of certain members of the body, others grew weak, fell ill and died.”  We know that the over-eating and over-drinking can cause significant health problems for people.  But what about the others.  Since this might have been the one decent meal during the week, those who came late may not have been able to eat a complete meal.  While some indulged in self-destructive over-eating others might have continued in unhealthy malnutrition.  The way some people were  eating, got in the away of the other people eating at all.  The way some people consumed goods, was preventing others from having enough.  The way some people used resources drew essential  resources away from others.  And because of that, they were not in communion.  If we were to ask Paul the question, which is more important to receive communion or to be in communion, he would say unless you are in communion what you take is not communion.  
            Is it more important to receive communion or to be in communion?   The clear (Pauline) answer is obviously, You can’t truly receive communion unless you are seeking to be in communion.  But then the pastoral side of me asks, well then what is the value of receiving communion (and administrating over the distribution of communion) knowing full well that we are not fully in communion?  And that’s when I started to think about the role that receiving communion plays in our efforts to be in communion and to realize a fuller communion.  I think there’s a larger study here to suggest four roles—communion as memory, mirror, model and milestone.  Receiving communion informs our being in communion by kindling and nurturing our memory, causing us to reflect on the condition of ourselves and the whole Christian family, modeling for us openness and generosity, and pushing ahead of us the eschatological vision of our destination in Christ.  We use mirrors when we want to look at ourselves and when we seek to examine ourselves.  Paul said “Let each one examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”  Receiving communion is a time for us to look in the mirror and ask about the conditions of our spiritual lives and our interactions with others.  One of the shifts I pray that we begin to see emerge for us in our examination is that of shifting away from our preoccupation with our own “sin” and short coming to see the greater concerns for the condition of the body.
            Repeatedly when the issue of Racism comes up people become instantly defensive and intent on explaining how it is that they themselves are not racist.  Many white, middle-class American Christians believe that the only sins they bear responsibility for are those that they are somehow personally guilty of.  And even good and faithful Christians will ask how it is that we can bear responsibility for the sins of others without being judgmental.  And that’s a good question—I can only worry about my sin because to worry about another’s sin would be to judge another’s sin. What happens when I look in the mirror at Communion?  I don’t focus on just myself.  And I don’t focus on just another person.  Rather, if we actually look at a mirror while taking communion, we would see ourselves within the gathered body of believers.  And from that vantage point can ask—what are the needs of this body and what is my responsibility here? How do I receive communion here and also be in communion here?  How do I eat in such a way that enables everyone else to eat as well?  At the table of the One who is Lord and Savior of the World, that mirror gets much larger and gets cast out much higher so that we can see the needs in East Arlington, and Bastrop, Texas, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, and  Geneva, Switzerland and indeed around the world.

Writing a Thesis

A solid and compelling thesis statement is the one simple act that will improve most speeches.  A thesis sentences is a one sentence summary of the content of the speech.  For most of us, getting to a good thesis sentence isn’t something we succeed at on the first try.  Instead, writing a good thesis sentence is like playing with play dough.  You mold, reshape and mold again.  There are three criteria for effective thesis sentences.  You might think of these as the three ways a speaker shapes the thesis sentence.

Independently Informative (or persuasive, or instructional, or inspirational, or entertaining).  There are five general purposes for a public speech–to inform, instruct, persuade, inspire or entertain.  The thesis should aim at accomplishing the most appropriate purpose for the occasion.  For an informative speech, for example, you should clearly say what you want your audience to understand.  The thesis should complete the sentence, “If you remember nothing else from my presentation remember . . . .” 

Audience oriented.  The thesis sentence should be the place where the audience and topic meet.  Speeches do not address topics, they address audiences.  The thesis should include the audience intended.  In a speech on attention deficit disorder, a speaker might have written an independently informative thesis as, “Attention deficit disorder’s effects can be reduced through dietary changes.”  Adding the audience orientation to the thesis would focus on who this speech is for.  Is it for adults dealing with their own ADD?  Parents dealing with their children?  After this rewrite, the speaker might say, “Adults managing their own Attention Deficit Disorder can reduce ADD’s effects through simple dietary changes.” 

Orally Deliverable.  A speaker should learn to reverse the normal process of composition.  When we learn to write, we are taught to write and read aloud what we have written.  For speech purposes, however, it is important to speak to write rather than to write to speak.  That is, the speaker should talk through their thesis, structural “tag lines” and transitions.  These are frequently the statements a speaker will write verbatim in an otherwise extemporaneous (outlined) speech.  When a person writes to speak, the written statements look right but sound clumsy.  That’s because there are significant differences between good writing and good speaking.  When speaking to write, we tend to condense, remove modifiers, and simplify.  Consider the following question–do you need every modifier (adjectives and adverbs)?  Do you need every prepositional phrase?  If you have a conjunction, do you need it?  Sometimes in the orientation to the topic–which is part 2 of 4 in an introduction, a speaker will introduce the abbreviations they will use throughout the speech.  This can simplify the structure of the thesis.  So, our rewritten thesis now with oral deliverablity in mind is, “Adults with ADD can reduce distraction by making changes to their diet.”  OR “ADD adults can change their diet and reduce their distractions.”  In both cases, I have either a modifier or a conjunction but, as a speaker I deemed them necessary.  I’m not trying to suggest we live by rigid rules saying “no adjectives” or “no conjunctions” but to look at these and determine what’s necessary. The important thing is to say it aloud different ways until it sounds right and then to write down what you’ve said.

 When a speaker takes the time write a compelling thesis sentence and then disciplines themselves to build the speech around that compelling thesis statement, it provides the speech with clarity, focus and coherence.  If you take the time to complete the “if you remember nothing else . . . ” sentence for yourself, it’s improves your audience’s chances of actually remembering what you said.  

Taking The Bible on Its Own Terms

Because of gaps in information, we tend to fill in blanks from other texts.  We do this with the four gospels and we do this with Paul’s letters and Acts.  The problem in this approach is that we may fail to see what a particular writer is emphasizing.  The gaps are our gaps based on our agendas.  By filling in the gaps, we satisfy our questions.  But we may at the same time miss one of the important aspects stressed by the author.


An example:  The conversion of Paul is narrated vividly in Acts 9 and retold in Acts 22.  The details as recounted in Acts are never repeated in Paul’s letters.  This is not to suggest that Acts is inaccurate or to be disregarded.  But, the way Paul’s conversion story is constructed in Acts serves the overall theological agenda of Acts.  Whereas the way Paul speaks of his own conversion serves his own theological agenda.  If we bracket what we understand of Paul’s conversion from Acts and seek to understand Paul’s conversion on Paul’s own terms, new insights develop.  


Beverly Roberts Gaventa has a helpful chapter on Paul in her book From Darkness to Light.  When we look at Paul’s conversion only in terms of Paul’s letters we see that he focuses less on the event of his conversion and more on the contrast from before and after.  There was a change in Paul’s understanding, “Paul’s refjection of things he once regarded as important stems from his conversion which forced him to acknowledge that God had indeed acted through those whom Paul regarded as unworthy” (p. 39).  Further, she writes that focusing on Paul on Paul’s terms stresses the reality of on-going transformation, “While some real and significant change occurs for believers [in the moment of conversion], that change is never finished or complete” (p. 45).  Learning to take biblical writers on their own terms is not absolute nor is it to say that atomizing is best.  Rather, it is an exercise that has been helpful to me in seeing insights in the text that I have otherwise overlooked because my mind was busy filling in my gaps.  

Movement of the Spirit

A sermon preached earlier in 2013 as part of a sermon series entitled, “Holy Spirit:  Giver or Life.”
This sermon focused on the image of the Spirit as one who moves us.
On July 8, 1741, Jonathon Edwards preached one of the most famous sermons delivered in American History—Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  One Mr. Williams who was present the day this sermon was delivered said the following, “We went over to Enfield where we met dear Mr. Edwards of Northampton who preached a most awakening sermon . . . and before the sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying went through ye whole house.  ‘What shall I do to be saved,’ ‘Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ‘Oh what shall I do for Christ.’ And so forth.”  He explained.  The audience becomes virtually hysterical. At one point, his sermon became inaudible. His voice was drowned out by the sounds of the congregation’s response and Edwards had to stop and ask them to quiet down.  Williams continued, “After some time of waiting the Congregation were still, so yet a prayer was made by Mr. W. and after that we descended from the pulpit and discoursed with the people, some in one place and some in another, and amazing and astonishing ye power of God was seen, and several souls were hopefully wrought upon that night, and oh ye cheerfulness and pleasantness of their countenances.”  When people think of the movement of the Holy Spirit, doubtless most people think of such a movement.  Surprisingly to most people who have heard about the effect that sinners in the hands of an angry God had on people, the sermon was not apparently delivered with the kind of intensity we would associate with such an effect.  He did not shout.  He did not move about or have exaggerated movements.  The effect of the sermon emerged from Edwards’ images of heaven and hell and God’s wrath.
The people addressed in Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia was far removed from Colonial New England.  Galatia was a region in Asia Minor in the Roman empire comprised of conquered Celtics.  The Galatians—a Celtic people living in Asia Minor.  The Galatian church was dominated by Gentile converts.  As Gentiles, they would not have circumcised their boy children, or maintained kosher eating, or observed Holy Days.  They had to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but they didn’t know what to do with all of the patterns of life that came from the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Some Christian leaders from outside Galatia had come into the churches in this region and tried to persuade the new Christians that they need to observe all of the commandments of observant Jewish Christians.  Paul wrote to these churches seeking to dissuade them from going down the road of trying to please God through works prescribed by the law.  Instead, he insisted that Christ had set them free from the tyranny of a way of life prescribed no one could adequately meet its demands.  The problem that comes with relying too heavily on a system is exactly what the churches in Galatia were experiencing.  They were arguing with one another about how exactly to practice these unaccustomed customs.  They vied for prestige with one another each claiming that they were superior to the others in fulfilling the law.  Having been called together by God’s grace, they were being driven apart by what they thought was God’s law. 
A gracious God, Paul reasoned, has not abandoned us to the control of an ungracious system.  A gracious God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit and this Spirit guides us in the way we should go.  Paul in no way taught Christians that their behavior didn’t matter.  Instead, he said that “the entire law is summed up in a single command: love your neighbor as yourself.”  People live by the Spirit.  They are led by the Spirit (vs. 18) and they live by the Spirit (vs. 25). They are told they should keep in step with the Spirit.  Moved by the Spirit.  Does this being moved by the Spirit and led by the Spirit resemble the experience the congregation had in 1741 listening to Jonathon Edwards preach?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps the movement looks differently. 
In this familiar passage, Paul offered two lists—one a list of vices and the other a list of virtues.  One he called the works of the flesh and the other the fruit of the Spirit.  To be led by the Spirit is to depart from the works of the Flesh.  Like Jonathon Edwards’ sermon, this part of the letter addresses sins.  He lists fifteen different sins.  The usual suspects are there: fornication, licentiousness, drunkenness, etc.  But eight of the fifteen sins deal with how people function in relation to one another: enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy. Paul stresses this point again in the closing verse of chapter 5, “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another” (vs. 26).  The movement of the Holy Spirit as envisioned in Paul is a movement that draws people together and gives them the character virtues that enable them to live peaceably, authentically and courageously together. 
In my own spiritual journey, I have sensed the Holy Spirit less as the tremble within my Spirit causing me to stir and shake, moan and wail and much more often in the nudges that when I have followed them have either deepened or repaired relationships. 
One nudge is the nudge to confront.  Several years ago, I was dealing with a person who had asked for help multiple times.  The help had been given multiple times but an attitude of dependence, and an unwillingness to help himself persisted.  Despite my best efforts in the other direction, it seemed that the aid that I was giving him merely enabled his own self-destructive choices.  It finally came time to confront him and say that he needed to care for himself and that I would no longer be able to cooperate with him as he seemed determine to languish and stagnate.  It was a difficult decision for me.  But a friend said something to me as I was making that decision.  She said, “You’re not doing him any favors by letting him believe other people can be used the way he has used you.  You’re not doing him any favors.”  Confronting often feels to us to be mean-spirited and, in fact, if we confront with aggression, belittling or naming-calling, it is not godly.  The first verse past the text we read today says, “My friends, if anyone is detected in transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.”   We rely on the Holy Spirit’s leadership.  We all know people willing to anyone what’s wrong with them at any time.  They appoint themselves as morality police or self-appointed life coaches.  Chronic confronters generally get ignored or worse leave a trail of guilt and shame in their wake.  We need a nudge from the Holy Spirit to know when it’s time to confront and when it is best to be patience.  But friends sometimes the Holy Spirit nudges us to confront people who are caught in self-destructive patterns and when the nudge comes—move with the Spirit.
Another nudge comes in the nudge to be vulnerable.  The people of Galatia had created a situation where people felt they had to protect themselves and compete with one another to receive God’s grace.  Paul’s wisdom to them called them to drop the defensiveness, bitterness and quarreling and move toward trust.  Vulnerability is the willingness to reveal to another person one’s weaknesses, fears, needs and anxiety.  It is also to affirm before another person what you most hope for and most desire and what you believe would bring you the most joy.  Being vulnerable is not an easy things because most of our experiences tell us to keep that to ourselves.  C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”  Here again is a place where the Holy Spirit is necessary.  Two things are dangerous—to never be vulnerable and to always be vulnerable.  People who live completely transparent emotional lives invite abuse, ridicule and manipulation.  Vulnerability is like salt—people who want to be in relation to one another need vulnerability but too much can be dangerous.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit nudges us to be vulnerable or to reign in our vunerability–when the nudge comes—move with the Spirit.
The nudge comes to listen.  Psychologists John Cacioppo and William Patrick report that around 20% of people surveyed in a major study on loneliness say that they feel so isolated that it significantly contributes to their unhappiness.  As well, prolonged loneliness as opposed to the occasional loneliness we all feel at times can generate clinical depression and health problems.  Relational listening is not the complete solution for loneliness.  However, it is a step in the right direction.  It helps to contribute to healthy self-perception and development. Brenda Ueland once wrote, “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.  Think of how the friends that really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius as though it did us good.  When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”  Relational listening is one of the things we do to give and receive the connections we need to avoid loneliness.  One of the other very common ways of referring to our interactions with the Spirit is that of listening to the Spirit.  Listening to the Spirit of God often means learning to listen to those right in front of us.  To hear their stories and give them the freedom to speak.  And that sort of listening really does need the Holy Spirit’s empowering.  It’s difficult for those of us who are enamoured with the sound of our own voices to shut up long enough to truly listen.  But listening is more than just being quiet while another person speaks.  It’s an active engagement with another person that conveys receptivity.  The sort of attention, concentration, and discipline it takes to truly listen is something that most people cannot generate from within themselves.  It relies on the nudge from the Holy Spirit.  But when the Holy Spirit nudges you to listen—move with the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, as the Giver of Life, moves us and enables our movement.  While the Holy Spirit may cause a person to move ecstatically and charismatically at times, the witness born in Galatians is a witness that the Spirit moves us toward one another—nudging us toward gentle confrontation, wise vulnerability, and intentional listening.  May we move the Holy Spirit:  the giver of life.  

Do the people who know you really know you?

These days we live pretty transparent lives.  We use social media to narrate just about everything about ourselves.  Even outside of technology, we interact with a lot of people.  We let ourselves be known in a hundred different ways every day.  The people who interact with us most frequently could describe our career history and goals, our favorite sports teams and athletes, our favorite movies and actors, our families and friendships, and our politics.  It seems like more and more people are going out of their way to tell the world how they feel about politics.   

For those of use who are Christian, though, here’s the question–so what?  We were instructed by Christ to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19).  We were not commissioned to go and make democrats or republicans, fiscal conservatives or social activists, sports enthusiasts or coupon shoppers.  We were called by Jesus Christ to make disciples.  So ask yourself, “how well do the people in my life know what I think about how disciples get made?” 

Here are four questions, I think every established, mature Christian should be able to answer.  More importantly, I believe that mature Christians should verbalize the answers to these four questions often enough that the people who know them best know how they would answer them.  The people who know you best should know your answers to these questions better than they know your politics, career history or goals, hobbies, favorite things and even how your family is doing (gasp).
1.  How did you come to have a relationship with Jesus Christ? 
2.  What have been the major moments of growth or change for you in your relationship with Jesus Christ? 
3.  What would you say to someone who asks, “How can I have a relationship with Jesus Christ?”
4.  If a person were to come to faith in Christ and asked you to mentor them in their faith, how would their lives be changed?  What would be the attitudes and practices of faithfulness they would hear you advocate and see you demonstrate most consistently? What does a growing Disciple of Jesus Christ live like according to you?

Observations Coming Home From Stone-Campbell Dialogue

Every year for the past dozen or so years, members from the three streams of the Stone-Campbell Movement have gathered together so seek ways to express visible unity which is our shared mission.  It’s called the Stone-Campbell DialogueIt has been my honor for the past three years to be a part of the gathering.  This year we worshiped with Restoration folk in Indianapolis.  We heard three moving presentations on the healing power of the Lord’s Supper from the pastors of Speedway Church of Christ, Englewood Christian Church, and Allisonville Christian Church.
On Monday we listened to a presentation on Moral Injury from Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock and engaged in discussion together about the implications of her findings, reflections and advocacy for our ministries.  We spent some time considering the future and I believe we have crafted a strong plan. 
That’s my version of the formal proceedings.  There is of course another way to trace the path of the weekend–the more introspective path of my conversation with myself. 
1.  Siblings can love each other very much and still drive each other nuts, ignore and exclude each other, and then turn around and show remarkable affection to one another.  It’s all part of being family–I’m not sure if that observation is about the Stone-Campbell Movement or my kids.  Probably both. 
2.  When all else fails, “Let me put some gas in your car” isn’t the worst way to tell your daughter you love her, you’re proud of her, and you wish you could protect her from all the crap in the world. 
3.  Good things happen even when the parts are disjointed.  The disjointed parts shouldn’t prevent you from seeing the goodness.  The goodness shouldn’t prevent you from searching for greater coherence. 
4.  If you really want people to focus on one question at a time, present the question and resist the temptation to show how much you’ve already thought about it. And, by the way, if you don’t want the barb on the hook, don’t take the bait. 
5.  Moments of vulnerable honesty and clarity happen at odd places.  Context matters but it isn’t everything.  Give thank and move on. 
6.  If you can’t explain the purpose of your meeting to your eight year old when he asks why you went to another state in terms that he can understand then you’ve wasted your time.
For the Record:  When I asked the eight year old if he knew who founded our denomination he said, “Jesus Christ.”  I should have said, “you’re right” and let it go at that.  I did tell him that he was right and said, “Our denominations was started by people who believed that churches hadn’t done a very good job loving each other and they wanted us to do a better job at that.  Each year we get together to discuss how we can love each other better and this year we talked about how we can do that for our soldiers and others who have to see and do things that are very painful and sad for them.”  

Lift Up Your Heads

Several weeks ago I was in a  conversation with another minister who said to me, “You reach for scripture a lot.”  I thought it was an odd thing to say especially  from one minister to another. I didn’t have a good response for my colleague. What I wished I had been able to say is, “I don’t reach for scripture. Scripture reaches for me.”  That’s not sarcasm. Christian discipleship at its best is to have the sort of intimacy with scripture that you think about your life in terms of scripture.

One of the scriptures that reaches for me is Psalm 24:7“Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in.”

When I’m feeling particularly low and feeling sorry for myself, this text reaches for me.  When it feels like the Christians around me are dismissing their own capacity, this text reaches for me. When a church dismisses its capacity to serve with significance, this text reaches for me.

This text was spoken to the threshold of the temple perhaps prayed during the rebuilding of the temple after the exile. I personalize it. We are the gates. We sometimes our heads fall and our confidence fails and we need to hear someone say, “Lift up your heads.”  

We need the reminders that we are more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. We are indeed mightier than we thinke we are. “Lift up your heads you mighty gates.”  

Most importantly this text reaches for me to remind me that we are the threshold through which Christ enters and is visible I the world today. As we used to say to one another a lot, “You are the only scripture some people may ever read.”  We are the only Christ some people may ever see. “Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.”

Lift up your heads Christians you are the mighty threshold of The Lord.

My Wife Was Right

    A couple of weeks ago, my wife told me I was miserable all the time.  Her comment made me angry.  At the end of the day we would ask each other, “How was your day?”  and I would answer with honesty. It wasn’t my fault that the days had been difficult recently.  I felt like she was denying my true feelings and telling me that she didn’t want to hear how I felt.  I felt completely shut down.
    Out of anger, I decided I would take the passive aggressive approach. I dreamed up a way to annoy the crap out of her.  Whenever she asked about my day, my feelings, my thoughts, I would exaggerate how great things had been.  “I’m doing great.”  “Things are wonderful.”  “Nothing is wrong.”  I was a pretty good actor in High School, I was born to play this role.  And, I succeeded.  I  annoyed the crap out of her.  She’d ask, I’d respond, she’d roll her eyes.  It was not one of my finer moments in family communication.
    But two other things began to happen.  First,  I started to review the past few months of my life and had to be honest that Lori was right.  I was making choices to be miserable.  I knew the end of the day question was coming and I was trying to win an implicit contest–who’s had the worst day.  I was fixating on the negative.  I was telling myself that I was helpless in the face of the problems I encountered, incompetent, resigned to my fate, and powerless.    By winning “Who’s had the worst day” competition, I was losing.  I was losing my joy and losing happiness with my family. 
    People very close to us really were having the worst days of their lives.  In some ways, I was internalizing their grief or anxiety.  That sounds noble.  But it’s really not.  We cannot absorb another person’s sorrow the way a paper towel absorbs a spill.  It doesn’t work that way.  My choice to be miserable wasn’t helping. 
    The other thing that happened took me completely by surprise.  The more I faked being happy, the happier I actually felt.  About a year ago, Amy Cuddy delivered a TED Talk that reported  findings of research about the impact of power poses on people’s body chemistry.  She studid body posture and hormones and found that standing like your confident actually raises the hormones related to confidence.  Toward the end of the talk she simply said “Fake it till you become it.”  I certainly saw that beginning to take shape as I “faked” acting happy. 
    I wrote Lori a text a couple of Sundays ago that said, “‘Fake it till you make it’ is going to sound fake at the beginning.”  It was a pretty lame attempt at an apology and an admission that she was right all rolled up together.  Since then we’ve had a couple of open, face-to-face conversations which is a much better way to communicate.
    So, my wife was right about me.  I hate to admit that. No, I mean.  I love admitting that.  It’s the most wonderful thing in the world.  It’s awesome when my wife offers and insightful observations about my tendencies to focus on the negative.  I love it. It’s wonderful.  My wife was right, Again.