Slow (Pt. 1)

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Life seems to happen at the speed of light sometimes.

Ok, all the time.

We are a family of six and we always seem to have somewhere to be, whether it is ballet, field hockey, soccer, wrestling, school, or youth group. That is just the kids activities. Andrea is a teacher, so she is bringing home work on a regular basis. As a pastor in a mid-sized church, there are always meetings to attend, people to visit, and new opportunities. People have looked at the calendar that hangs on our fridge and wonder how we manage.

In ministry, I know I wrestle with the pull to go 110 mph with the gospel. I also want to sit with Jesus and the people God has called me to serve. Speed vs. Intentionality. Something I began to grasp a little better over the four years of ministry is that healthy ministry might look slower than explosive ministry. This goes for our family life as well. We fight the tension of the activities of four kids versus slowing down and taking it slow.

One of my favorite bands, especially lately, is Starflyer 59. They’ve been around since the mid-90’s and the frontman is a few years older than I am. On their last two albums (Slow and Young in My Head), Jason Martin writes about getting older on several songs. These songs have really resonated with me as I age and think about the pace of life. He writes,

I was hoping a change of pace
Would help me find my way
I’m kinda young, and you’re kinda young
And so we’ll find our place

Leave the house in Riverside
And sell the Odyssey
And become the older ones
Who had the #3

What does it mean?
I keep looking for something that I think I have lost
Can’t find the key
I keep looking for something that I think I have lost

My kids, they grow up fast
I want it slow
So slow

My life goes by so fast
I want it slow
So slow

-Slow (from the Album, Slow)

I want to take several post and talk about what slowing down my look like and how the Bible instructs us to slow down and find a rhythm that runs contrary to the speed of the world.

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Centered on Gratitude

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This past Sunday, I preached on Colossians 2:6-15. At the beginning of this section of scripture, Paul writes:

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as your were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7

Since Paul’s mission (or an aspect of it) is to “present everyone fully mature in Christ,” I made the case that Paul offers thankfulness as a sign of a maturity in Christ. As we come to faith we are rooted. We are built up as we study the scriptures and have other people pour into us; being built up results in strengthening our faith AND a faith that strengthens us. All of this leads to a life overflowing with thankfulness. We are thankful in every situation because we are aware of the price that Jesus paid on the cross, cancelling the dead of my sin.

When I got home from church, I looked at the current issue of Relevant magazine and the story on Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan. You know Jim from his comedy routines and specials on Netflix. Both Jim and Jeannie are committed in their faith. Jeannie was diagnosed with a rare kind of brain tumor. Jesse Carey writes,

“And though doctors were miraculously able to remove it, she faced months of setbacks: surgeries, being bedridden for weeks at a time, eating through a feeding tube, a near-fatal bout of pneumonia and losing her ability to speak for three straight weeks.”

Her brain tumor and subsequent recovery allowed Jeannie to view her life in a different way. Again, Carey writes,

“I think now my faith is much more centered in gratitude than it is about asking for things,” Jeannie says. “So even though I wouldn’t have defined my faith before as asking for things, ironically me turning to God when I needed Him the most and asking Him to help me through it, I kind of felt my faith, through that whole process, blossomed into this gratitude.”

The tumor made Jeannie realize just how much she truly had to thank God for.

“I was kind of losing touch in my life, even though looking back at my life prior, the things that were happening in my life were so amazing, whether it was career-wise or my kids or my extended family, but it took me going through this crisis to experience true gratitude,” she says.

Even Jim, a comedian who’s made a career out of being grumpy about everything from physical exercise to the composition of fast food, has found a new outlook.

“You can’t go through that experience without being in touch with some gratitude,” he says. “And particularly, being in touch with the notion of how little control we have and how humble this existence is.”  –No Laughing Matter (Relevant Magazine)

This may have been the best example of what Paul is talking about when a mature faith enables us to “overflow with gratitude.” We can be thankful, even in the midst of trials and tragedy, because God loves us, Jesus paid the price for our sin, and that God is with us in the midst of those trials.

This week, as you “continue to walk with Christ Jesus” commit to giving thanks in every circumstance. Even the ones we’d rather complain about. Look and listen for the ways in which God speaks, teaches, and leads you through those times.

You can listen to the sermon, “Walk This Way” by clicking on this link. Be sure to subscribe to Avenue’s sermon podcast to stay up-to-date.

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New Room Conference 2019: Day One

New Room Conference is a yearly gathering of pastors, leaders, and lay people to seek God’s presence for renewal and transformation. New Room is not a leadership training event- though a deeper walk with God will likely lead to being a better leader. The gathering certainly comes from a Wesleyan theological strain, you won’t hear any church politics from the stage of the conference. This gathering is about going deeper with God.

This is my third time in the last six years of attending New Room. This year, Andrea is with me, which is the first time for any conference I’ve attended.

There were several highlights from the opening half-day of sessions.

Peter Grieg from the 24/7 Prayer Movement was the first to speak. He shared on prayer, which is not surprising when you lead a 24/7 prayer movement. He spoke from Genesis 18 when Abraham prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. Key to the message was the emphasis of Abraham standing before God. Grieg said that “99% of prayer is showing up.”

The second speaker was another Brit, Miriam Swaffield. I had never heard of Miriam, but she was a powerhouse. Full of energy and passion, she would be quite humorous then bring something so profound. She spoke on holiness and how, perhaps, we’ve misunderstood holiness. I may write on this more, but in essence she said- Holiness is often believed to be something where were are separate from anything that would make us unclean. She suggest that instead, holiness is the bleach that makes things clean. Her example was Jesus talking with Matthew the tax collector. If holiness is being separate, then Jesus would not have gone to see Matthew. Instead, because holiness works like bleach because you put it on things that need to be clean, Jesus went to Matthew and so many others.

Miriam led a powerful time of prayer afterwards as we commissioned one another to take the holiness of God into our communities.

In the evening, worship leader Chris Tomlin led an acoustic set. The place was loud with praise (for God…and maybe a little for Tomlin). Jack Deere then shared his life story and the importance of developing a deep relationship/experience with God that sustains us through the darkest valleys.

It was a great first and I’m excited to hear Alan Hirsch speak on day 2. He is one of my favorite theologians and thinkers when it comes to the church.

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What I’m Reading: Summer 2019

I love reading. I love books. My wife probably thinks I have too many books (is there such a thing?), but she likes to read, too. Thankfully, our kids also like to read. So we have books everywhere. I wanted to share a little of what I read this summer. This certainly isn’t all of what I read, but my favorites.

The Pursuit of God- A.W. Tozer

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This book was a birthday gift for me when I was in college. I can remember my pastor talking about A.W. Tozer when I was in youth group. Tozer, as the story goes, wrote the rough draft for this book during a train trip from Chicago to Texas. The book explores the “essence of God’s nature.” Even in the preface, Tozer drops some bombs that hint at what’s to come, writing:

“To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the “program.”

This is definantly a book for the re-read pile!

The Common Rule- Justin Whitmel Early

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I heard an interview with the author on a podcast (maybe Carey Neuhauf) and immediately purchased the audiobook. I went through the audio version in about a week, but it left a real mark and desire in my own heart to see some of my own habits transformed.

This is what the book is about. Habits. Specifically, creating new habits to provide freedom from technology, screens, and routine. Early breaks everything down to a daily and weekly habit. An example of a daily habit would be to spend one hour each day without your phone. A weekly habit would be to spend time in conversation with a friend.

I saw great potential in this book as a discussion guide, especially with Gen Xers, Millenniels, and Generation Z who are born into a world where smartphones and other technologies are ubiquitous.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs- Stephen Brusatte

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Another audio book for my drive back and forth to my church. Brusatte is a paleontologist and has written a book that is part memoir and part history of the dinosaurs. It was a very interesting listen to hear a leading scientist speak on the dinosaurs, evolution, and how the world formed. The audio version gets extra credit because the narrator does an amazing job pronouncing all the dinosaur names!

Thrawn: Treason- Timothy Zahn

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I love Star Wars, and since I was a teenager I loved Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels. I was pretty excited when Disney released this new Thrawn series making the character part of the Star Wars canon.

In short, this is the continuing saga of Admiral Thrawn. The story is about Thrawn and Director Krennick vying for the attention (and the funding) of the Emperor for their pet projects.

I am currently reading Alphabet Squadron, listening to Master and Apprentice, and have another Star Wars novel on my night stand!

Frederick Douglass- David W. Blight

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I wrote about the Frederick Douglass biography here. It is certainly an important book that is very well-done to the point of getting bogged down in the details at some point. I have found it helpful to read more stories and accounts of people who look and live different than I do. This biography helped me to see the abolitionist struggle in the 1800’s in a new way- and see that there is much work to be done. This is an absolute must read!

So there is a snapshot of my summer reading. What have you been reading? Share in the comments, I love discovering new books!

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Lessons from a Flat Tire

Last week, I helped Andrea and her co-teacher transfer some items we stored out our house to their classroom in order to get ready for school. When I left the school, I heard an unwanted noise coming from my car. My window was down so I could tell it was the front tire. When I looked, I saw a screw partially inserted into the tire. Since it had just happened, it wasn’t even in all the way.

I called a local tire place and they assured me they had the tire in stock. I had to call back to make the appointment once I checked my calendar. When I called back, they again said the tire was in stock. On my appointment day, I dropped my car off early and the again looked at their computer and said that the tire was in stock.

Thirty minutes after dropping the tire off, the tire place called to tell me the tire was NOT in stock. Their computer listed it as available, but they were no where to be found in their inventory. A quick repair was now going to take several days (it was Saturday).

I was frustrated. I felt a little hemmed in by not having access to my car. My Saturday did not start out the way I was wanting it to. I was griping and complaining about it.

On Monday, the manager on-duty at the tire place was a relative of one of my softball girls. He indicated that he was going to try and get me a lower price on my tire. Ultimately, I had the best price.

This got me thinking. If he had been able to lower the price, I would have missed out on it if my tire had been replaced on Saturday. In the midst of my complaining and frustration about the tire, the delay could have led to a blessing- a lower price.

How often do we complain and get frustrated with the stop signs, the detours, and the periods of waiting in our lives- when they may be the very avenue that God is using to lead us to a greater blessing? How often do we get impatient with God because the outcome is not what we want, when we want it?

While I didn’t get a lower price on my tire, I did get a reminder that God’s timing is perfect- I may not always understand it, but I am learning to trust God and wait for it.

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Learning from Frederick Douglass

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Over the last two years, I have been trying to read more books on racial inequality as a way to better understand and stand with my African American brothers and sisters. (I still have a ways to go). I started with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and followed that up with James Cone’s The Cross and The Lynching Tree. Both books broke my heart and gave me a new perspective on our country, our communities and myself.

It took me awhile, but I recently finished reading Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. Douglass was the slave to abolitionist/orator who led an incredible life and fight for the freedom and rights as slaves and black men and women in our country. Blight’s book is dense at times, but also comes alive in the details and narrative of Douglass. Especially interesting to me was Douglass’s interactions with President Lincoln during the Civil War. The period of Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws tied in nicely to Michelle Alexander’s book. Reading about the lynching mobs (among many other atrocities) shows the sins of white America and shows the need for our repentance.

These books are important to read, especially given our news cycle today. Earlier this week, a shooter opened fire in El Paso, TX. The shooter is suspected of posting an anti-immigrant manifesto online that warned of an “Hispanic invasion of Texas” prior to the shooting rampage in the heavily Hispanic border city.” There has been a rise in hate crimes and white nationalism in our country. Books like the Douglass biography and the Alexander book help us to remember the atrocities committed in the name of race and see, despite improvements for equality, that there is a long way to go. Books like this encourage us to not move backward in the ways in which we treat one another. As a white person, reading books like these teach me that the problem of racism is my problem and that I can be part of the solution.

There is no place for racism or white nationalism in our country. As a Christian, we cannot make apologies for white supremacist. Period. We cannot make apologies or remain quiet for any notions of ethnic superiority.  Genesis 1 tells us that God made each person (of every ethnicity and color) in the imago dei, or the image of God. This means that each person has sacred worth and value. When we give in to stereotypes, assumptions, and racist beliefs we are forgetting the imago dei which resides in each of us. We are treating that person as less than God created them. When we agree with rhetoric or beliefs that elevates one person above the other based on the color of skin or where they are born, we have dehumanized that person or group.

In Revelation 7, there is a beautiful image of worship that is taking place around the throne of God. John writes that there are people of every tribe, nation, and tongue worshiping together. As Christians, this is what we should long for in our churches and our communities. As Christians, and especially those of us who are white, should be the first to denounce racist rhetoric and speech regardless of whether it comes from a person of power or from our neighbor. We must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those different from us because we are all made in God’s image.

 

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Answering the Call

This past Sunday, in my first message at my new appointment, I preached on Genesis 12 which is the account of God calling Abram to leave his country, his kin, and his father’s house to go to the land that God would show him. In order to answer the call, Abram had to walk (literally) in faith. There was no map or GPS to guide him to his destination. He left his old life behind to embrace a new life that God revealed to him step-by-step.

In arriving in a new appointment, my call to ministry has been on my mind. I was ten years old when I first discerned that God might be calling me to ministry. I thought it was to be a missionary- which makes because I was listening to a missionary speak at church camp. When I was in my teens that call was refined as I pursued Youth Ministry. I had the opportunity to serve a church as Youth Pastor for nine years. It was fruitful ministry.

In the course of serving as Youth Pastor, my call continued to evolve as I pursued Ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church. Truth be told, I wanted to stay in youth ministry. But what I want and God’s plans are sometimes two different things. The journey to ordained ministry and leading a church (not just the youth) has been a faith stretching experience for me that has led me back to the church where I began as youth pastor.

I write this because God continues to call. God calls me. God calls you. God calls us to great endeavors and God calls us to do “small things with great love.” The challenge for us is to answer the call of God and to take steps of faith to pursue that call. It may not make sense at the time and the steps may not be clear- but like Abram we have to put one foot in front of the other each day and go where ever God leads us.

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