Waiting for God

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One of the often-overlooked obstacles to the healthy shared life of a congregation is our contemporary relationship with time. The project of being apprenticed to Jesus is one that requires time and community. It can’t happen alone and it can’t happen unintentionally or simply through sitting in a weekly worship service. Being sculpted into the likeness of Jesus requires intentional time with Jesus and time with other disciples as well.

The single biggest ingredient in spiritual formation (or discipleship), aside from the work of the Holy Spirit, is intention–a planned and deliberate approach to being available and open for God to work.

If you’re reading this and you’re anything other than a professionally spiritual person you’re probably thinking — right! In fact, many clergy are also struggling to maintain healthy spiritual disciplines at a staggering cost to the church in terms of the loss of spiritual vitality and effective ministry that is sustainable over the long term.

In honor of the lawyers, doctors, teachers, and other folk who haven’t, say, taken monastic vows, here’s a short list of things you can do to be more open to the Lord’s working in your life:

  1. Start small – if you’re currently praying and/or reading Scripture only once per week, try adding a short (5-10 minutes) to your day on one to two other days. You don’t go from praying once per week to praying for an hour daily–it takes time.
  2. Work it into your routine – the best time for me to pray is first thing in the morning. Find your best time and then schedule it into your daily routine. Don’t try to pray first thing in the morning if you’re a night owl!
  3. Cut the fat – if you look at your day with any degree of honesty, you’ll realize that along they way you make choices that fill time with less-than-best fillers. For me, it’s Facebook. I often follow discussions of denominational life with other ministers online. Often there’s encouragement, but often (to be honest) the things that are going on in our denomination are like a traffic accident–you can’t look away and it can take a huge amount of energy if you’re not careful. Cut Facebook, add time in Scripture or with your kids.
  4. Don’t expect a miracle – the spiritual disciplines are like eating. Occasionally you will have a gourmet meal, but most of the time you’re investing in normal time with God. It may be counterintuitive in an entertainment-focused culture, but God does his profoundest work in small, incremental change that takes place over time.

 

 

Food for thought

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My primary thesis is that the change we most yearn for is available to us only through the Triune God who transforms his people within the divine community, the church–The People of the Table.” (22)

 

Christian community is an ontologically irreducible organism. It is a living reality that is imbued with the Spirit of God. And most dramatically, it is the very life of the Triune God drawing people into a covenantal relationship with God and with one another. It is God’s own being on earth lived in a through believers for the single end result of seeing each person become like Jesus Christ. Thus, the community together is a witness for Christ.”

 

Tod E Bolsinger. It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian: How the Community of God Transforms Lives. Brazos, 2004.

 

 

 

Preaching–what is it?

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Things have been slow here at Two Tasks lately. I was in Virginia leading meetings for the Graduate & Faculty Ministries Blue Ridge Team. Our time together seemed to be fruitful and I enjoyed it. Prepping for the meetings, however, drew my attention away from writing– I am glad to be back at it this morning.

I have been thinking about preaching these days–what it is and what it isn’t.

There was a time in my life where ‘higher’ forms of preaching were appealing to me. Sermons that were rhetorical, literary, and sophisticated seemed to be the hallmark of what it meant to be an intelligent Christian. Names like Philips Brooks or John Claypool, Thomas Long or Fred Craddock were at the front of my mind. A sermon had to do something unique or surprising with a text or else it would simply be deemed banal.

It certainly seems that the older I get the less I am impressed with the icons of preaching that are held up in many seminary classrooms today.

I prefer a plain, text-centered style of preaching. Expository preaching is often underwhelming for professional intellectuals. A friend (and university professor) remarked on hearing Tim Keller preach at Wake Forest: “I’m not sure what all the fuss is about–he read the Bible and then said what it meant.” Exactly. That’s my idea of preaching–exegesis, interpretation, and application.

In my morning prayers a few moments ago I read from Nehemiah.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them, and as he opened it, the people all stood up….[The Levites] read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

It seems to me that the purpose of preaching is to make clear the meaning of the Word of God so that both believers (as well as those who are not yet Christian) in the congregation encounter it and are able to respond to it.

A text-centered method seems to model how to read and interpret the Bible in community. This is lacking in other forms of preaching where a text is read and the preacher then launches into 30 minutes of theologizing.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about inserting stories or poems or even visual images into the sermon. The chief purpose of these insertions ought to be to make clear the Word of God–that’s the sermon’s purpose.

 

Five reasons you should have a personal development plan

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I’m on my way home from three days of leadership meetings for ministry in which I serve. We’ve focused our attention on creating a culture of leadership development. We heard some excellent presentations from several key leaders within our movement as well as very effective training in a variety of skills related to our theme.

One of the keys to creating a culture of leadership is giving staff and supervisors permission to invest in themselves by creating a personal development plan (PDP). A PDP is a tool that allows us to identify some key areas of work and life where we wish to invest strategic effort in the hopes of becoming more effective in work and life.

I think that PDPs are a really powerful way of investing in ourselves and creating the mental environment in which change can really begin to happen.

So…here are five reasons that you should get a personal development plan:

5 – It narrows the scope of your focus–excluding is a helpful exercise
4 – Ultimately we each have to take ownership of our story
3 – Consider the value year-over-year of small changes–it could be significant
2 – It allows us to introduce conversation partners into the process of change more easily
1 – It is concrete, measurable, and transferable

Do you have a PDP? How has it helped you grow?

[repost] Wired Sabbath

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Here’s a post I wrote in 2008 on the subject of taking intentional breaks from technology. Like everything else in our lives, we have a stewardship responsibility to use technology in a humane, redemptive and, healthy way. This is a challenge for many of us and a place where the Christian message needs to be applied.

Merlin Mann at 43folders pretty much always has something to say (write) that’s worth hearing (reading). Merlin posted on the issue of interruptions. He starts by recounting Mark Bittman’s Saturday piece in the NY Times. Read it here.Bittman writes about his experience of taking a day away from the wired world. These sorts of stories have become pretty common.

They’re popular because most of us can relate. If you’re not a knowledge worker [I prefer, “toiler of the brain,” see Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 226 (1892)] its pretty unlikely that you’ll be reading the NY Times. Most knowledge workers deal day in and day out with technology like the iPhone/Blackberry/Treo, email, fax, phone, etc. And who among us wouldn’t like less information gushing into our lives?

Merlin rightly points out that the problem isn’t so much the technology as it is the culture that surrounds how we use the technology. We’re using 199os methods to manage 2008 data.

In 1994 as a freshman at Samford University I believe I got something like 6 emails all year. In fact, I didn’t really understand what the internets were. Things have changed. The issue is interruptions more than technology. Let’s not kill the technology because we use it in pathological ways, but let’s harness it and use it in life-giving and helpful ways.

And part of learning to do that is learning to take small technology Sabbaths – periods of when you cannot be interrupted by phone, email, fax, etc. These don’t have to be times when you’re totally unproductive. Use them to make handwritten notes or do filing. Whatever you do, make sure that you cannot be interrupted. It is these long stretches of time that will help restore your sanity and (ultimately) make you more productive.