New Room 2017 Recap

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I had the opportunity to attend the New Room Conference in Nashville, TN on September 20-22nd . This was the 2nd time in the last three years that I was able to attend. This year’s conference was head and shoulders above my previous time attending (two years ago).

Many conference that I’ve attended fall into the category of “trainings.” We (Pastors and Laity) attend in order to learn how to be more effective in ministry in our churches and communities. “Training” conferences always have a worship element that I’ve felt refreshed with- but the main attraction is usually the nuts and bolts you receive.

This year’s New Room does not fall into the “training” Conference, unless it is a training in revival.

From Sandra Richter speaking about the stages of Spiritual Awakenings through the life of Josiah in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles; to Adam Weber challenging us to tap into the power of prayer; Lisa Yebuah preaching how God has a track record of making a way in our places of impossibility; Bishop Swanson preaching about our relationships with one another and our ability to be present.

What was most impactful for the conference was the ministry of Sandy Millar (Founder of Alpha) and the worship leading of Mark Swayze Band. Millar is an Anglican priest who is full of the Holy Spirit (who knew such thing existed?). The Holy Spirit worked through Sandy is powerful ways while he shared on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Mark Swayze, and his band, helped facilitate worship musically in a way that brought depth and language to the work of the Spirit in our midst. (The picture above is from one of these worship times). I have been to many conferences across the spectrum, but never have I encountered the Holy Spirit as I did at New Room.

This Conference is important because as I write, a shooter has killed over 50 people and injured 400+ in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is, yet again, evidence of a problem in our world. The problem is our human propensity to sin. Spiritual problems need a spiritual solution. Seedbed, the organization that puts on New Room, is committed to sowing for a Spiritual Awakening. Coming home from New Room, I am hopeful that we are beginning to see the first shoots of a new awakening springing forth from the ground!

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Flags, Anthems, Trees, and Forests

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I attended seminary in Philadelphia. It was a lot different experience than growing up in rural Western Pennsylvania or attending college in rural Kentucky. I can remember sitting in a ‘touchy-feely’ class, where we would share our experiences and how they formed our faith (not particularly my favorite kind of class), and as I listened to the stories of my classmates, I realized that they were much different than my own.

I had two options as I listened to those who would become my friends: I could discount their experiences OR I could listen, seek to understand, and live empathetically as a brother and a friend.

The rage of the week is NFL players kneeling, or in the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers not coming out during the anthem (save for Allejandro Villenueva). Those who are critical of NFL players will say that the players are disrespecting the flag and the men and women who fought for our freedoms. Those who are kneeling will say that they are using the very rights guaranteed by our Constitution to shed light on inequalities in our great nation.

I think, especially for White America, we are missing the forest for the trees. The reason that we are missing the forest (big picture) for the trees (kneeling during anthem, or other rage of the week) is that we have failed to listen to our brothers and sisters who are people of color in our country.

Their experience is much different than my own. But I had to listen in order to have a better understanding, which led to great empathy. I could have focused on the trees (different people will have different experiences), but I would have missed the big picture: That each person, regardless of the color of their skin, should be treated equally, with respect, as people created in the image of God.

If we were to refuse to get caught up in the “how they are protesting/communicating” and instead focus on the “why are they protesting,” what might we hear? As I have challenged my congregation over the years, I want to challenge you this morning: Rather than focusing on the tree (kneeling during the anthem), ask your Black friends, family members, co-workers, or church members to lunch and listen to their experiences.

  • What is it like to be non-white in America?
  • What do you feel when you hear our President say that there are “good people” among the White Supremecist at UVA in Charlottesville earlier this year?
  • How is your life affected by racism corporately and individually?
  • What is communicated to you when you see NFL players kneeling during the anthem?

In my eyes, the big picture is that I love our country, but I hate that there are people whose experience has been different from mine and who are treated as 2nd class citizens. Rather than expecting uniform behavior during our anthem, let’s uniformally work to make our country worth standing up for all people. (h/t to Ricky Extanus for giving me the thought for that last sentence.)

 

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Finding Joy in God’s Presence

One of the lessons I remember from my days as a teenager in Youth Group in Sheakleyville United Methodist Church was learning about the attributes of God. I can remember sitting on the chancel steps as Pastor Gary taught us that God is Omniscient (all-knowing), Omnipotent (all-powerful), and Omnipresent (Present Everywhere).

This morning, I was reading in Thomas Oden’s John Wesley’s Teachings: Vol. 1, God and Providence and Oden was speaking of the implications of God’s omnipresence. He writes,

“No one can speak rightly of the attributes of God while ignoring their moral implications. The teaching of divine omnipresence has powerful consequences for interpersonal relationships. It shapes our dealings with others. The very thoughts of God’s omnipresence calls us to moral attentiveness to what we are currently saying and feeling. It is as if we are being held up immediately before the all-seeing, all-knowing God who fills even secret spaces.

The resulting moral implication: measure each moral choice in relation to the simple fact of the eternal divine presence. Behavior is transformed, speech reshaped, thinking reconfigured in relation to this omnipresent Companion.”
Thomas Oden John Wesley’s Teaching: Vol. 1 (pg. 44)

The short interpretation: You live your life differently when you live with the knowledge that God is with you every moment. Our choices are impacted by the God who is with us. We take seriously the call to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

God’s omnipresence is more than just about transforming moral behavior. It is a source of joy and comfort. It means that we are not alone. God is with us and will never leave us. For the times when our family, friends, co-workers seem to leave us, God is our constant companion in whom we find strength, encouragement, guidance, and love.

As you go through your day today (and the days to come) allow the omnipresence of God to transform your decisions, words, and attitudes. Allow God’s omnipresence to be a source of joy- we are not alone. God is with us.

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Slow Down

This past Sunday, when I got home from church, I found our oldest daughter on the couch with tears in her eyes. I thought, perhaps, that she may have been in a time-out and was upset about it. So I asked her what was wrong and she told me something I wasn’t really expecting to hear.

She had been listening to a CD that we listened to when she was much younger (think 2-4 years old). Her favorite song came on (Picnic Time for Teddy Bears) and she got emotional. As we talked, she realized that what she was teary about was that she is no longer that little girl. She is growing up. And it is moving quicker than she realizes it.

It’s moving quicker than her mom and dad realize it, too!

Abbie is getting ready to begin her 5th grade year (is it getting dusty in here?), Chloe is in 1st grade and Malachi will be in pre-school. As much as we want to slow our kids down from growing up, time continues to march on. As parents, we try to do our best to slow our own pace down so that we don’t miss anything; so that our kids know they are loved; so they know what is important.

If I’m honest with you, I cried while I talked with Abbie about a song called, Picnic Time for Teddy Bears. But we weren’t crying about a song, we were crying as a result of the realization that every moment that passes is one we won’t get back and the challenge of embracing the moments in front of us. Each day, we have to make the decision to carry-on like any other day, or to slow down and make the most of the moments we have with our kids, with our spouse, our friends, and even our God.

Nichole Nordeman, on her new album, has a song called Slow Down. While Nordeman isn’t my normal listen, I’ve always admired her lyrics. The song is about a parent telling her baby/kids to slow down from growing up- and a kid singing to her parent to slow down. I’ll admit that every time I’ve listened to the song I’ve cried.

Slow Down. Smell the Roses. Play board games. Stay up late talking about Star Wars or why whatever random topic your kid wants to talk about when they should be sleeping. Each moment that passes is one we won’t get back!

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Speaking Truth to Empires

I have been reading a lot of NT Wright lately (How God Became King and The Day the Revolution Began). There is a passage in HGBK that seems to speak to our role as Christians today when it comes to truth.

“The difference between the kingdoms is striking. Caesar’s kingdom (and all other kingdoms that originate in this world) make their way by fighting. But Jesus’s kingdom-God’s kingdom enacted through Jesus- makes its way with quite a different weapon, one that Pilate refuses to acknowledge: telling the truth:

“So! said Pilate. “You are a king, are you?”
“You’re the one who’s calling me a king,” replied Jesus. “I was born for this: I’ve come into the world for this: to give evidence about the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
“Truth!” said Pilate. “What’s that?” (John 18:37-38) (NT Wright, HGBK pg 144)

Certainly, we know that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life-” and it is Jesus who gives evidence to the truth of God’s love and grace for the world. Yet, in our world today truth is in such sort supply. We’ve watered down the truth; we’ve created alternate facts and fake news- all of which distract us from what is really true. That Jesus calls us to a way of living that is far different from the ways of the world.

How God Became King speaks of how empires and those in power have difficulty with the truth:

“The point about truth, and about Jesus and his followers bearing witness to it, is that truth is what happens when humans use words to reflect God’s wise ordering of the world and so shine light into its dark corners, bringing judgement and mercy where it is badly needed. Empires can’t cope with this. They make their own “truth,” creating “facts on the ground” in the depressingly normal way of violence and injustice.” (NT Wright, HGBK pg. 145)

Wright could have been writing after the 2016 Presidential election here in America, but speaks of the truth that Empires cannot handle the truth. As Christians, we are to pursue truth- not the truth of the Empire- but the truth of the King, the Living God. A reminder that as the Empire calls us to give our allegiance to the Empire and/or Emperor/Leader, that we are called to give our allegiance and our lives to another King and a different kingdom. As Christians, we are called to speak the truth by shining the light of Christ into the dark corners of the world- speaking out against falsehoods and speaking (and showing) mercy to the least of these.

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Adoption Update: A Cautious Anticipation

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There is a phrase that has entered our vernacular since we began the process to adopt Malachi four years ago. It is “Match Night.” Match night is a day/night when files are released to adoption agencies which propel the adoption teams to match children with prospective forever families based on their preferences. Our program is “Minor/Correctable Special Needs,” so our preferences are based on what “special needs” we are willing to accept in a child we choose.

[Yes, Malachi was part of the Minor/Correctable Special Needs Program…and if you’ve seen him lately, you know that there is nothing “special needs” about him now that he has been cleared from his leg braces for over a year! Praise God!]

There is a temptation to get worked up over a match night because you might get a call/email with a file of a possible child. Early on in the process with Malachi, we decided not to get worked up over those nights. Honestly, we didn’t have time for the emotional rollercoaster!

As we’ve journeyed through the adoption process a second time, we’ve heard that the system (in China) has slowed down considerably. I don’t have any answers as to why (and frankly, it doesn’t matter because God’s timing is perfect). But we received an email from our agency last week information us that things are going to pick up on Tuesday morning for a match night/day. They are expecting 25 plus referrals coming down the pipeline! While there is no guarantee that we will receive a phone call in the near future- it does mean that there are more children who will get to be matched up with their forever family.

Would you join us in praying for the children who will become available in the coming days; pray for the families that will receive their files that a good match will be made; pray that all involved will be able to know God’s love through the adoption process. And yes, pray for us as we practice “Cautious Anticipation” and look forward to the first glimpse of our new son!

 

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Living Generously

The story of the Rich Young Man (or the Rich Young Ruler) in Matthew 19:16-22 is always a difficult passage. People ask me if Jesus really meant for the young man to sell everything before following him. Honestly, I ask the same question. The answer I give is that we are to follow Jesus so closely that following Jesus is more important than holding onto our possessions. That might look like selling everything we have to give to the poor. It might mean reprioritizing our time so that we can be involved in the work of God’s kingdom here on earth. It might look like getting rid of something that has become a little “g” god in our life.

I believe that is the real story of the young man in Matthew 16. When Jesus tells him that he must “follow the commandments” in order to have eternal life, the young man says he had followed them since his youth. What is revealing is that the commandments that Matthew records Jesus providing are the commandments about our horizontal relationship with others.

When Jesus invites the young man to “sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me,” it becomes abundantly clear that the young man has not, and is not, keeping the commandments. He has made his wealth and possessions his god. His life revolves around them. When given the invitation to leave these idols behind and follow the Living God, he cannot do it. His treasure was on earth and not in heaven.

Generosity helps us to prioritize our lives around Jesus. Being generous with our wealth, our time, our talents, and our gifts, we give to help those who are in need. Through generosity, we live as stewards of God’s resources (not ours) that have been given to us to do God’s work (not ours). When we give, we declare that we trust that God will provide as we give of ourselves. Generosity increases our trust in God as God continues to provide and allows us to follow Jesus more closely.

When we give of ourselves, we have less to lose- and everything to gain as Jesus promises us treasure in heaven as we invest in God’s Kingdom work on earth.

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