Ministry Challenges

I know, I know.  It has been almost an eternity (especially in “internet” years) since I have posted on the blog.  To be honest, I had to take a sabbatical from some aspects of my life and the one of those things that was chosen was the amount of time I was spending on social networking, etc. and when I did that my “blogging” also went out the window.

However, I am excited to say that this weekend I will be blogging like no other as I reflect and post on Exploration 2011 which will be happening in St. Louis.  I will have a mix of posts which will include my own thoughts/reflections but also I am hoping to interview some young adults about their exploration of their call and their expectations of ministry, etc.  So check back regularly starting Friday!

But now on to topic of this post: ministry challenges.  There are many challenges to ministry but one that might seem debilitating to some I find rewarding and a great challenge and that is the tired cliche:  “Expect the Unexpected.”  My placement in Winona has been an adventure in the unexpected.  You see I was placed here under one set of expectations:  to help the church connect with young adults and young families.  To be honest that is what excited me about this placement, but as I have discovered in ministry what we often expect does not always align with God’s purpose.

You see within months the ministry setting began to change as two of the United Methodist churches here in Winona began to discuss what United Methodism in Winona should look like and began the process of merging.  Within one year of my placement I found myself the associate pastor of a newly merged congregation moving towards rebirth.

Mergers and rebirth take energy and time and because of this the original expectations of my position had to switch and work to help the church accomplish what it needed (a process that isn’t over yet).  As I have reflected on my ministry here I have seen how the “unexpected” has actually been a real blessing (a challenge but a blessing).

The “unexpected” can be accepted as a gift or blessing or it can be rejected and seen as a hindrance.  I choose the former because I have seen how God has often worked in the lives of so many through the “unexpected.”  Perhaps it has been my own experiences that have been most formative in my attitude towards the unexpected.  In the fall of 2004 I began my first year of seminary at Duke expecting to dedicate my time and energy fully to my studies.  It was going to be a time for my wife and I to grow in our marriage while she started her first teaching job and I prepared for my career in ministry.  Then the “unexpected” happened and we found out we were expecting a child within the first month of school.  Through the unexpected there was challenge in balancing parenting and school (especially since I did the full-time care for Micah) but there also was extreme blessing to see how God moved through the community of professors and classmates in our lives.

It was a lesson in how the “unexpected” can be a true blessing and I think that is a lesson that can apply to anyone heading into ministry:  “expect the unexpected and accept it as a gift and blessing.”


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.

Thoughts on Jealousy

Thoughts on Jealousy

So I have been thinking about jealousy a bunch lately.  With two young boys (Micah-5 years and Kai-18 months) you can’t help but see how jealousy plays into human interaction.  For instance, watching how our children react when the other child is getting exclusive attention from one of us can be a moment of entertainment, but it is also clearly brings to life the reality of jealousy.

The other month while my wife was getting ready in the morning, Kai was fussing and so I was holding him. I could see the jealousy in Micah’s eyes as he looked at us and was not surprised when Micah then tried to nuzzle his way into my lap and get between Kai and I.  This has happened numerous times and of course Kai has exhibited some of the same behaviors when he sees Stacy and Micah spending exclusive time together. He often will go over to where they are or start to cry because he isn’t getting the attention.

We often think of jealousy as a bad thing, but I wonder. Now don’t get me wrong, jealousy often brings out ugly things in us. However, is the root of jealousy really all that bad. As I have been reading through the Old Testament, God is often described as a “jealous” God and that is what has me wondering. At the core jealousy comes because of a deep sense of consuming love where we want the object of our love all to ourselves. We want all of that person or thing, we want 100% of its focus on us and I think this reflects how much God desires our attention and how consuming God’s love is for us.

Can we learn from our jealousy? Can we remember the words of the Old Testament and when we feel jealousy remember God’s jealousy for us and have our hearts turned back towards the one who created and loves us so deeply?

I am reminded of the lyrics of How He Loves by David Crowder Band:

He is jealous for me

Loves like a hurricane I am a tree

Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy

When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory

And I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me

And oh, How He loves us

Oh, oh how He loves us

How He loves us all.


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.


Rethinking Communion

You will have to be patient with me because this is something that I am still working out in my heart and head, but I wanted to start the process of working through it and have some interaction with different perspectives, etc.

I think the sacraments are highly important within the life of a church. As a United Methodist, this means that I believe that baptism and communion should be a foundation in the life of any church. However, lately I have been wondering if there isn’t a disconnect between our words and the way we practice one of those sacraments: Holy Communion.

This disconnect first hit me a couple of weeks ago when I was at a weekend senior high youth event here in Minnesota. As part of the gathering it has been the practice to celebrate (please note that word) communion on Saturday evening in a dark room by candlelight with soft music playing. It is a powerful time for many of the youth and they often are moved to tears and you can witness the lingering hugs of support and comfort that go on well past the partaking in the sacrament.

Now I am not trying to say that this is necessarily bad, but for some reason it just didn’t seem right. It seemed like this sad time and it functioned as a time of almost movement toward confession and repentance (good things, don’t get me wrong). However, the words of the Great Thanksgiving are ones that are of celebration. Hosanna. Thanks. Praise. When I think of hosanna, thanks, and praise I think of joy. I see pictures of people dancing and clapping and shouting for joy. Perhaps they are weeping, but weeping tears of joy with smiles on their faces.

That is when the wheels began to turn in my head. Have we in practice turned this moment of joy and anticipation into a moment of somberness and sadness? I began to wonder why our practice of Holy Communion within worship usually is so somber and serious. I understand being reverent to the holy moment, but why must reverence be quiet and somber? I started to think about all the elements that go into The Great Thanksgiving Liturgy in most of the churches I have participated in and how the music is often slow and serious. How the words aren’t said or shouted with joy but rather are said in a serious tone.

Why do we do this? Why do we recite words that speak of such joy and not have an atmosphere that reflects it? Why does communion seem more like the beginning of confession rather than a response in joy and thanksgiving that the sins we confessed do not mean death for us because of the life giving love of God we are celebrating?

Let me sidetrack us for a second. Can you imagine a Thanksgiving meal (you know with the Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Corn, Cranberries, Stuffing, etc.) in a home being celebrated like we often celebrate Holy Communion? Everyone sitting around the table, serious and calm and not wanting to open their mouth out of fear of ruining the celebration. (apparently not many people can because I really tried to find an image of a thanksgiving meal where the people weren’t talking and enjoying one another’s company and generally looking thankful to be with one another) Who would want to be a part of that? Yet, our thanksgiving meal where we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord is often celebrated in such a way.

What would happen if we really “celebrated” communion? Would it change how we looked at our faith? Would we begin to really be thankful and to really feel in our hearts the joy that comes from the reality we are celebrating? Can we imagine a celebration of communion where people are clapping, joyfully singing, and joining together in praise to a God that has shown such great love?

I want to work this out more but I wonder if I am the only one? Am I wrong? Let me know what you think in the comment section.

(Now do understand that I know that communion is powerful either way and that the true power of communion comes through the presence of Christ there with us in the meal and the grace that is received. I am just wondering if there is a disconnect between the words and how the practice has functioned within worship)