Reflections

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#GC2012 & Guaranteed Appointments: Part 2

What an eventful morning at General Conference.  From guaranteed appointments being eliminated via the consent calendar to then being asked to reconsider and that being voted down.  What an up and down morning.  What we do know is this: guaranteed appointments are gone and there are measures in place in an attempt to ensure that abuse does not happen.

Again, I have no problem with eliminating them.  I have had this thought since before I was even ordained.  My call comes from God, that has been affirmed by the UMC but ultimately if at any point in my ministry that affirmation is deemed no longer valid I have trust that God is still with me on the journey.  I will always ask questions and challenge because I care deeply about the UMC and about seeing God’s Kingdom advanced.  Job security doesn’t scare me because I trust God will provide wherever that path may lead.

All that being said, yesterday I wrote a post listing some “unintended consequences” that could come from the elimination of guaranteed appointments in an atmosphere of mistrust and decline.  I wanted to write about another unintended consequence that is not meant to say that the elimination is wrong, but rather to make us all aware as we move forward to help address and hopefully build the trust that is so desperately needed if we are to continue in our faithfulness together.  I believe the measures put in place along with the elimination of guaranteed appointments will help guard against many of these, but the truth is often perceived reality is more powerful than actually reality.  If I perceive a threat (whether it is real or not) I am going to react accordingly.  So here is one of the things I believe we are going to have to monitor and address for the health of the entire denomination.

  • Pastor’s who are struggling will hide those struggles out of fear of its adverse effect on their employment rather than bringing it to the attention of conference leadership so that it can be dealt with in a healthy manner for both the clergy, local church, and conference.

There is already a bunch of mistrust in the system even with the guarantee of appointment.  Often clergy who could use help hide that need out of fear of adverse effects on the type of appointment they may get.  I am afraid that with the added fear (again perceived not necessarily actually real) of employment security, many clergy will hide those things that could easily be addressed and then later it becomes a bigger issue with much more damage to all parties.  It is hard to say we need help even in a system of deep trust, but it is even harder in a system where there is doubt and trust issues.

Ultimately, the issue isn’t really about having guaranteed appointments or not having guaranteed appointments but rather it is about trust.  How can we as churches, laity, clergy, and conferences help to address the mistrust and doubt we have within the system.  How can we encourage one another to continue to speak boldly as God leads and to trust that through it all God is with us?  I think it is going to be especially important for clergy to hold one another accountable by building trust and support even in the midst of mistakes and hurt.  We will all need to monitor one another to make sure abuse isn’t happening at all levels of the church.

But basically the biggest question is this:  Can we trust one another and most importantly can we trust God is with us on the journey no matter what?

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Renewal: Final Reflections on Exploration 2011

And so this is still a live promise. It wasn’t canceled at the time of Joshua; otherwise, God wouldn’t keep renewing the appointment for “today.” The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience.  (Hebrews 4:8-11 The Message)

It is interesting how God moves in unexpected ways.  I went to Exploration to encourage others and to be a part of that discernment process through sharing my experiences and thoughts.  I went expecting to help others (which I hope I did), but in the end I left with a renewed sense of my own call.

Its hard to describe, but I feel like I have been wandering in my own little desert like the Israelites did between Egypt and the promised land.  Like the Israelites longing to go back to Egypt, I have been playing with thoughts of longing to go back to the days of simple labor like I had at BH Electronics as an inventory control clerk.  I have been struggling to see the promised land, to see that God is still on this journey and has given us a “live promise.”  Just like Israel, I couldn’t see the possibilities in the promised land, I was only caught up in the day to day life of ministry and not able to see the future.

It is hard to say this, but I felt like I was going to Exploration following a path like Moses, unable to enter the promised land but able to see it and to pass on the leadership to Joshua.  However, God sometimes has different plans.  I went seeing an end but God meant it for a beginning.  Shalom Agtarap shared an insight that captures it well in her message on Sunday morning when she asked, “Have you ever mistaken the beginning of something with the end?”

Seeing all of these fellow young adults (6-13 years younger than me….man I am getting old) excited about God and wrestling with their call reminded me the future is bright when it is in God’s hands.  God is with us on this journey but so often it is easy to forget that and to only think about and focus on our “misery” from day to day.  The truth is that leading the church in the midst of this paradigm shift (see Bob Farr Renovate or Die) is not going to be easy and many people really cannot see what the “promised land” looks like and so they will long for the way things were back in “Egypt.”  It isn’t going to be easy, but after spending this 48 hours with fellow young clergy, and other young Christians hearing God’s call and responding, I am assured that this is where God has called me.

God has called me to this difficult but amazing work and I am assured that God is with me.  These are my final reflections on Exploration, but I do not think these reflections are just for me.  My hope is that those who read this might see the possibilities of how God can move in unexpected ways if we listen for the “whisper” for as Adam Hamilton shared on Friday night, “God hardly ever shouts…God whispers.”

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Redemption Reflections

So yesterday my wife and kids were outside playing in our driveway and my wife took some wonderful pictures. I looked over the pictures after uploading them last night and some of my youngest son Kai caught my eye. It wasn’t the inclusion of my son that caught my attention but rather the other subject of the picture: the beaten up and used trike.

You see that trike has an interesting story. It was almost six years ago that I was taking our trash out to the apartment complex dump when I noticed some cast-off “kids” stuff. We were new parents and didn’t exactly have tons of money living off a teacher’s salary and student loans, so I did what my mother would have done: I looked it over to see if we could use anything. I took two things back to our apartment: a toy guitar and a trike. The trike was missing its handlebar covers and was pretty worn but it rolled on the ground nice and we figured our son Micah would enjoy it. He did and so it made the trip back to MN with us when we moved home and has stayed with us. Now it is being used again by our youngest son and he is getting joy from rolling down the driveway through the power of his two legs.

As I sat and reflected on the pictures I couldn’t help but think about redemption and the life of faith. In a small way this trike is a reminder to me of my own life in God. God saw something in me when others couldn’t; namely my father. God took me in and said I had value when others didn’t; namely my father.

I think about how easily my life could be defined by the initial rejection of my father and how my story could have had its end there: cast-off and rejected like the trike sitting in the apartment dump. That easily could have been my story. A story of rejection. But just as that trike was redeemed from the dump by me because I saw value, so my story has also been redeemed by God.

Sometimes I wonder if we miss that good news: our rejections don’t define us. we are redeemed.

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Spiritual Rustiness

So my father in-law is a mechanic which is a great thing for me. When I say I grew up in shall we say a mechanically-challenged household, I am not kidding. One of the things that I learned from the times I have spent down in his shop is how moisture can lead to rust and seizing on the lug nuts of your tires. I am not kidding when I say one time on my old car we could not get the hubcaps off hardly because of this situation. However, he had this liquid wrench stuff that he sprayed on the nut and then after a bit it came loose with ease.

I got thinking about this and how it relates to our spirituality as Christians. Have you ever noticed sometimes that sometimes you may go from a total absence in our spiritual life and try to instantly go to a strong presence and you struggle and it feels like everything is rusted and seized just like that lug nut? It can almost seem like God is absent and not there when you long deeply for God’s presence and you get frustrated because there doesn’t seem to be any movement?

Well guess what: I have the “liquid wrench” for your rusty soul!

Okay, I am kidding. I don’t think there is necessarily a simple solution that makes it all of the sudden happen and easy like liquid wrench can do for a seized lug nut. However, I do believe there are two practices that can help you foster a deeper spirituality and help you sense the presence of God in deeper ways. (note I am not saying these are the only two ways, but they are two ways that have helped me)

1. Prayer- I think a key to any movement to deeper spirituality is prayer. Prayer can be done in many different forms but all of them have a sense of putting oneself in the presence and care of God. What has helped me personally is committing to weekly prayer with other people. I pray weekly (when I am in town) with two other pastors. Since I have been doing this it has opened my eyes to see the ways God is moving in my life and in the world around me and has helped foster a deeper spirituality within my faith.

2. Reading Scripture- This too can be done in many different ways: daily devotions, random passages, working through the Bible in some type of order. When we read scripture we read how God has moved and been present in the lives of our spiritual kin and that can help us see how God is present in our lives. I have been reading through the Bible in 90 days with some other individuals and it has been amazing to see the often amazing but also often mundane ways God has been present in the lives of those who have gone before me.

I have found that committing to these two practices in my own life has helped me move from a place where I would see God sporadically at work in my life to now beginning to see all the ways God was moving and moves in my life on a daily basis. This shift in spirituality was helped by these two practices much like the seized lug nut was helped by the liquid wrench.

What are some practices that you might do that help your spirituality? Do you have any suggestions? Please share in the comments.

Ecumenism – Reflections on the Body of Christ

 

One of the things I have really been wrestling with lately is “ecumenism.”  I know fancy word.  How fancy?  Too fancy.  Basically I have been wondering about the true unity of the universal Church also known as the Body of Christ.

Last week at the Winona Ministerial Association, I was in charge of the devotional and what had really been weighing on my heart was Paul’s word to the church in Corinth.  Specifically was the passage from 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.  I really enjoy the Message because of the way that Eugene Peterson uses language.  It just jolts and really gets you thinking at times and his rendition of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 which reads:

I bring this up because some from Chloe’s family brought a most disturbing report to my attention–that you’re fighting among yourselves! I’ll tell you exactly what I was told: You’re all picking sides going around saying, “I’m on Paul’s side,” or “I’m for Apollos,” or “Peter is my man,” or “I’m in the Messiah group.”  I ask you, “Has the Messiah been chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own?  Was Paul crucified for you? Was a single one of you baptized in Paul’s name?”

Peterson just makes Paul’s words so “in your face.”  I mean the visual image one gets of Christ being “chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own” is vivid and it gets the point across.  In my own reflection I can’t help but read these word’s from Paul and wonder if it couldn’t speak to the Body of Christ today by just replacing Paul, Apollos, Peter, Messiah with names for our denomination (or non-denominations).

So often I feel we give lip service to “ecumenism” or just assent to some ideology we know we are suppose to believe in.  We often talk about how we are all a part of the Body of Christ, etc.  But within the same breath we often make sure to mark the boundaries between “our” Christianity and “their” Christianity.  “I’m on the Methodist side.”  “I’m for the Roman Catholic Church” “John Calvin is my man.” “I belong to the Lutherans”  Is there some point where our demarcations of boundaries actually displaces Christ as the central part of the faith? I often wonder if we truly are the Body of Christ, why don’t we do more together? Why don’t we celebrate when other “denominations” are growing and transforming lives?

It is a struggle I have and I don’t have answers.  I only have questions.  I have to believe that we can overcome the differences and I hope to see it and experience it in my ministry.  I so badly want to see issues that divide us to become secondary to the primary message of the Good News and yet that means all sides have to be willing to come to that point and say we can disagree on issues and still be united.  Can it happen?  And if it can’t does that say something about how we powerful and influential we really feel God is in our lives?

Right now the following picture really feels more to me like what the Body of Christ is like…….