Tuesday, August 12, 2014

All Good Things...

As Loverboy sang 33 years ago, "It's over! It's over! It's over!"

My nine-week sabbatical ended yesterday and so this morning I made my way to the church office for the first official time since early June. It was almost like a "first day on the job" feeling with the mixed emotions of both excitement and anxiousness. However, soon after the day began, the staff and I had a great time sharing over doughnuts (which always seem to make any situation better) about our summer from both point of views, and we all agreed that it went by very fast!

From my perspective, that was certainly true. To those who told me I'd get bored - you know, that just didn't happen. Did I accomplish everything that I had hoped to? Not even close. I've still got lots of organizing to do (and throwing away, gasp!) of personal and professional papers and digital files, as well as some unfinished house projects and unread books.

But did I accomplish what I needed to? Or what God wanted me to? I really believe I did. At least I hope I did. Since I had never experienced this kind of break before, I really didn't know what to expect or think. I just know that I now feel less burdened by some things that used to overwhelm me, and more determined about others that I used to look right past.

I don't really want to steal my "thunder" from this coming Sunday as I plan to share about some lessons learned throughout the summer, but here's a quick snapshot of the last nine weeks by the numbers:
  • 8,000 miles traveled with family and friends (8,019.4 to be exact, or at least as exact as I can get)
  • 192 geocaches found (including the Original Stash Plaque, my first finds in British Columbia, Ontario, Washington, Oregon, and Michigan, and a whopping 80 finds on a single day with the 2McTwins as we completed the HI - Be Happy! Geo Art)
  • 150 / 4 Psalms / Gospels read
  • 21 varieties of hot dogs stomached from Sonic's "Dog Days of Summer"
  • 14 verses in John 14 memorized (and I thought I could do all 91 in John 14-16 - ha! I will continue to add to this each week...)
  • 11 church families worshiped with on Sunday mornings, including 7 local
  • 10 trips to Lowe's Hardware (it was at least 10, or enough for them to call and offer me a business credit card!)
  • days in a car, train, ferry, and on an island with my family during our memorable vacation to Mackinac Island / Ontario Canada
  • books read (but I would probably only recommend 4)
  • days in Seattle/Bellingham with my friend Scott for sightseeing and phenomenal training on Logos Bible Software 
  • 3 weddings performed, including my first 6 AM nuptials and first ceremony in which my son was the pianist
  • ?? numerous hours spent with my wife and son watching British TV, playing games, and just hanging out!
  • grateful heart for the opportunity given to me by our church family, leadership, and staff! The words seem small on the screen, but they are very large in my heart. Thank you.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Three Tiny Books with Mega Messages

I love to read. I really do. I just don't do it much anymore. I don't know if that's because I don't make the time, I'm a slow reader and thus it takes more time than I have (or am willing to commit), or I simply can not find books that hold my waning attention, but I read very few complete books anymore. Oh sure, I read lots of "parts" and "sections" - my bookcase is full of those - but no so many that I've spent time with from cover to cover.

That's why me reading three books this past week is huge! Yeah, I know - for some of you that's just a good day, but not for me. And who's counting how short the books were (102, 122 and 126 pages respectively) - these were three powerful books that made me think about stuff that really matters! If I don't read another book during my break, these three have given me quite enough to dwell on and try to live out in both my life and ministry. Rather than do any kind of review, here are just a few quotes and thoughts from each book that I personally believe are worth remembering:

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive (Thom Rainer)
  • "As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death."
  • "It is rare for a long-term church member to see erosion in his or her church. Growth may come rapidly, but decline is usually slow... the members have no sense of urgency to change."
  • The nine major chapter titles speak to many of the causes: 1) The Past is the Hero, 2) The Church Refused to Look Like the Community, 3) The Budget Moved Inwardly, 4) The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission, 5) The Preference-Driven Church, 6) Pastoral Tenure Decreases, 7) The Church Rarely Prayed Together, 8) The Church Had No Clear Purpose, and 9) The Church Obsessed Over the Facilities.
  • Rainer's estimates of existing American churches are that 10% are healthy, 40% are showing symptoms of sickness, 40% are very sick, and 10% are dying.
  • (BTW, this was the July assignment for my Fusion small group. I rarely finish the month's assigned reading but instead "skip" to my section - just being honest - but this month I am so ahead!)
  • RCC's elders have long-discussed having a tool to create conversations with potential church elders. I think this might be it. I read the book in a single sitting (but I'm not going to tell you how long that was) but was taken in very early when Rinne said, "Though elders are typically godly and well-intentioned, they are often confused about what being an elder entails."
  • "Almost all of the New Testament authors address elders. There are more than a dozen texts. It became clear to me that Christlike elders are not an optional church feature; they are central to God's plan for shepherding his churches."
  • Again, the major chapter titles speak to the characteristics of elders (both paid and unpaid): 1) Smell Like Sheep (engage in relationships with individuals), 2) Serve Up the Word, 3) Track Down the Strays, 4) Lead Without Lording, 5) Shepherd Together, 6) Model Maturity, and 7) Plead For the Flock.
  • While I don't personally have the title, I took the following as a personal challenge: "Your congregation needs to see not only a godly elder, but a growing elder."
  • "When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk."
  • "For most of us, it isn't heresy or rank apostasy that will derail our profession of faith. It's all the worries of life."
  • "The disorder of daily life is a product of disorder in the innermost places of the heart," including the many manifestations of pride - people-pleasing, pats on the back, performance evaluation, possession, proving myself, pity, poor planning, power, perfectionism, position, prestige, and posting (social media).
  • "Taming busyness is not as simple as saying no to everything and refusing to please anyone. Real life applications get tricky..."
  • "We get worked up and crazy busy in all the wrong ways because we are more concerned about looking good than doing good."
  • "It's okay to be busy at times. You can't love and serve others without giving of your time."
  • "[Jesus] did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do... He was busy, but never in a way that made him frantic, anxious, irritable, proud, envious, or distracted by lesser things... He was not driven by the needs of others... He was not driven by the approval of others... Ultimately, Jesus was driven by the Spirit."
  • "We don't expect to be able to buy anything we want, because we know there is a limit to our money. But somehow we live as if time knew no bounds, when in fact time is much more limited than money."
  • There is no such thing as multitasking - "We can do two things at once [only] when one does not require mental effort." (Interestingly enough, we watched a BrainGames episode last night that verified this.)
  • "We don't realize we have to work hard just to rest."
  • "What if pastoring a congregation is supposed to be challenging?"
  • "If God expected us to do nothing but sit cross-legged on the floor and journal, the Bible could have been much smaller. Mary's example is not a summons to the contemplative life in a cloister. But it's a pretty strong reminder that we had better keep first things first."
Pick one, or read all three... but if they deal with any areas of your life where God wants to speak, get ready to be challenged!

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Power of 32

32 is really quite an impressive number. In mathematics, since 24 + 42 (or  xy + yx) = 32, it is what's called a Leyland number. In science, in degrees Fahrenheit, it's the freezing point of water at sea level. In music, it is the number of completed, numbered piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. And in sports, it's the jersey number worn by so many greats - Sandy Koufax, Jim Brown, and Dr. J, just to name a few. 32 is the number of teeth in an adult human (including wisdom teeth), the average number of pages in a comic book, and, in case you were wondering, the code for international direct dial to Belgium.

32 is also the number of days remaining in my summer sabbatical...as well as the number of days since my sabbatical began. So, I'm halfway. Halfway finished... halfway just getting started. Half empty... half full. For once in my life (and hopefully it becomes a new POV), I'm going to go with the "half full" on this one, you know, Philippians 3:13 and all.

And yet, I don't want to rush past "what's behind" because I feel like the first 32 days were phenomenal! Granted, my plan was to not really have a plan, so while the number of items on a checklist might be minimal, the "intangibles" are numerous. Here's just a quick list:

Family (1st half):
  • Spent the majority of my evenings with Kerri and Wyatt
  • Helped out more around the house
  • Visited Lowe's more than ever before in my life because I...
  • Started and finished the project of extending my backyard fence and laying a patio

Personal (1st half):
  • Read through the Gospels
  • Read three other books (but none that I would recommend)
  • Had a Dr.'s appointment with my lowest recorded blood pressure in months
  • Received invaluable training from Morris Proctor on Logos Bible Software
  • Found 20 geocaches while traveling to the NC mountains and the Pacific Northwest and Canada and spending some time with good friends
  • Was generally a more pleasant person to be around (or so I'm told), being more relaxed with much more energy
  • Worshiped with six separate church families (three local), each being a very different but blessed time
  • Began a personal challenge to eat one of every hot dog featured on Sonic's "Dog Days of Summer" menu (21 different varieties - of course, I started with the Peanut Butter Bacon Dog)
I began this post with a "Ministry" column, but I believe that if God grows me personally, that will automatically reflect a difference in how I serve Him in ministry.

As I move into the "half full" weeks ahead, I hope you will pray that my plans are not just mine, but God's plans as well. I plan to...

Family (2nd half):
  • Invest as much time as possible with Kerri and Wyatt, doing whatever it is they want to do
  • Spend an afternoon with my grandmother
  • Continue to help out more around the house
  • Enjoy a unique vacation with my family on Mackinac Island

Personal (2nd half):
  • Read through the Psalms
  • Read other books, including 30 WordsChurch Elders, Crazy Busy, and Pursued 
  • Memorize John 14-16
  • Spend two separate days at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center
  • Worship with at least four more different church families
  • Do more geocaching, including a possible trip to the NC coast
  • Exercise daily (please see last item under "Personal" above for explanation)
  • Allow this unique time of rest to reflect in my attitude towards those around me and myself
Oh yeah, there's still plenty left in the sabbatical glass! As I've said all along, the next few weeks have the potential for the most good in both my ministry and me. May God make it so!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Go West (not so) Young Man!

When I first starting planning a sabbatical, I initially thought about traveling to the Four Corners section (where AZ, UT, CO & NM meet) for hiking and geocaching. However, as the plans began to progress, I found an opportunity to travel to northern WA for some much-need training on Logos Bible Software. Although Week 3 was a busy one (one of my two main travel weeks of the summer), it basically boiled down to three things - geocaching, sight-seeing, and Logos (four if you count cross-country travel round trip). Here's some of what Week 3 was about:

Geocaching: After arriving in Seattle late Sunday night, I drove south until midnight so that I would be within 75 minutes of Portland on Monday morning. Waking up early, I began driving south on what some refer to as the geocaching pilgrimage - to the site of the very first geocache. Although it's no longer there, there is a plaque commemorating the event and some nearby caches to find. Not only was I able to visit the "original stash plaque," but Tuesday was the day when I got to cache in Fremont, WA (northern suburb of Seattle) and visit Geocaching Headquarters! Finally, to add to my first caches in OR and WA, I crossed the border to White Rock, British Columbia for my first Canadian cache.

Sightseeing: This was a trip I did with my best friend, Scott Patterson. While he didn't travel to Portland with me on Monday, we planned to meet up later that day. On the way to meet Scott, I did my first non-geocaching sightseeing - Voodoo Doughnuts. Later that day we toured the Space Needle and went to the Red Sox-Mariners game. It's not often you get to see a team bat around in a game, but the Mariners did it twice - in the 4th and in the 7th. CF James Jones led off both innings and made the final out in both innings as well, going 1-4 in the two innings with a double to lead off the 7th. While in Seattle we also spent some time downtown at Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks.
Logos Bible Software: I have had this software on my computer for years (actually, since 2003 - thankfully as well, I wouldn't be able to afford it now!) and have even done a little training with it, but what I learned on Wednesday through Friday should prove to be invaluable when it comes to both personal study and sermon preparation! This program is amazing! We also got to take the tour of Logos' offices as well.

Coming home was a LONG day. I left the hotel in Seattle Saturday at 5 AM and landed in Charlotte at 10 PM. While I had planned to drive home to Reidsville, the spirit was willing but the flesh was definitely weak. I stopped just north of Charlotte (didn't get that far, did I?) and worshiped on Sunday at Lake Forest Church. I originally visited the campus a couple months ago for the Sticky Teams Conference and was curious what Sunday was like. It was what I imagined - great worship with a very laid-back atmosphere (complete with full coffee bar). I really liked how a child read the story of Noah from the Children's Bible to introduce the teaching.

All in all, it was a busy, fun, and productive week... but I'm glad to be back home. This week I'm praying for our student ministry MOVE trip, for the RCC family and their known needs, for our staff and elders and their leadership, and for God to be at work in each of our lives!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

(So You Know) What I Did This Summer - Week 2

Note: This was written on 6/22/14 but never published...

As I'm sitting in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, I'm thinking back over what I accomplished during Week 2:
  • I read 1, 2, and 3 John multiple times. In 1 John, I focused on the three aspects of change in a Christian life: 1) how we think theologically, know/believe, 2) how we act morally, love, and 3) how we relate socially, fellowship.
  • I finished reading The Jesus Chronicles: John's Story. While some may like this book, I was very disappointed. To me it seemed that many times it was nothing more than John's gospel and the book of Revelation being recopied word for word rather than a historical fiction novel helping me understand the culture and time period better. In fact, I had planned to read all four gospels but will stop with John's for now.
  • I am still reading Jack Bauer's Having a Bad Day and rewatching 24, Season 1 (which coincides with the book's chapters), although I only read one chapter / watched one episode this week.
  • I am also currently reading The Machine about the greatest baseball team of all time, the 1975 Cincinnati Reds! This book was recommended by my nephew and has not disappointed yet!
  • I continued to work on the backyard patio, leveling the ground and laying the pavers. A huge thanks to David, Daniel and Dustin who helped out two straight hot days! However, before I can call it "finished," because of the unlevel ground, I'm going to need to go back and recompact the soil to avoid erosion.
  • Finally, after ten days, I went geocaching! The 2McTwins and I drove past Asheville on Wednesday night so we could get an early start on Thursday. While we did not get to many that we had planned for, we drove several hundred miles and saw some of God's most beautiful creations, including The Devil's Courthouse and Chimney Rock. Total geocache count - one traditional, four virtual, two webcam, and five new NC counties cached!
  • Today I worshipped at The Cove. On the way down to Mooresville, I listened to over an hour of Third Day, so my ears were ringing, my eyes were wet, and my throat was hoarse before I ever got there, so I was ready! Worship was powerful, the teaching on the Lord's Prayer left me with some things to think about (including "A strong discipline of prayer will give you a strong passion for prayer"), and the outdoor baptisms were awesome! Bonus - there was a female drummer (something I can't remember ever seeing during worship)!
  • I'm not sure I got a single nap in this week.
  • I did continue to pray for the RCC staff and family daily!
  • And I avoided wearing khakis all week (even to worship today).
However, I did miss being a part of VBS and working the kitchen with Kerri, Wyatt, and others. I'm so thankful that our Body has such a great opportunity to reach out to our community's youth in such a big way!

Two weeks gone, seven to go - I'm not bored, yet, but I am missing the RCC family! More to come...

Monday, June 16, 2014

(So You Know) What I Did This Summer - Week 1

Wow, the first week of my sabbatical flew by! In trying to keep my promise about letting people know what I'm "up to" during my time off, here is a quick list of some things I accomplished during Week 1:
  • Read the Gospel of John (three chapters each morning, focusing on the word believe)
  • Am currently reading The Jesus Chronicles: John's Story
  • Am currently reading Jack Bauer's Having a Bad Day and rewatching 24, Season 1 (which coincides with the book's chapters)
  • Extended our backyard fence (by just a few feet) and started a patio project (If you heard me teach on June 8, you might remember that I said I planned to spend the first two weeks of the summer doing outdoor work. I have been reminded that one, I am very thankful I don't make a paycheck with a shovel in my hand, and two, it's been a long time since I've had a "good tired", but I experienced several of those this week!)
  • Attended the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of Peter Pan with Kerri & Wyatt (and no, I had no idea it was a musical until the singing started! Great job Gabe, Morgan, Rose, Marcy, Christopher, Braeden, Colton, Sophie, et al!) 
  • Worshipped at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church (I really enjoyed walking to/from church as well as the focus of quietness and meditation during the early service. The sermon was on the Trinity and I loved the first point - "The challenging doctrine of the Trinity is just as challenging as our God." He simply cannot be figured out, nor would we want Him to be. Of course, I messed up communion, so I'll probably have to go back to make that right!)
  • Worshipped with Kerri & Wyatt at Horsepasture Christian Church (the 11:15 contemporary service was in their new gym where tables were set up and filled with those who came early for the Father's Day breakfast - full house!)
  • Ate Father's Day lunch at my in-laws'
  • Napped several afternoons
  • Prayed for the RCC staff and family daily
  • Spent EVERY night of the week with Kerri and Wyatt!
  • Avoided wearing khakis until Sunday church services necessitated
One week gone, eight to go, more to come...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Hot Dog - My Sabbatical is Here!

It's here.

My office shelves are a little lighter because of the books pulled that I hope to read. I've measured the backyard for a potential project and am ready to tackle Lowe's. Travel plans to Bellingham, WA in June and Mackinac Island, MI in August are finalized. One more quick trip back to the office to switch my phone message over to announce that I'm gone and then...

It's here.

I'm excited, nervous, optimistic, dreadful, joyful, anxious, appreciative and cautious, all at the same time. In short, I feel weird.

It's here.

The two month, nine-week sabbatical that our leaders gave me this summer for my twenty-five years of service to Reidsville Christian Church begins today. And while I've anticipated it and planned it for over a year, I still have no idea what's going to happen.

Which makes it pretty much just like every other day, right? Oh, I've got my strategies, and I think I have control of so many situations - what I plan to do, what I hope to accomplish - but the reality is, I have no idea how any day is going to turn out, and I'm not just talking about the next nine weeks. At the same time, there is nothing that takes place anywhere, at any time that catches God by surprise. And not only does He know - He controls.

We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.
Proverbs 16:33

While that may be a disturbing thought to some, it is becoming more and more of a solid foundation for me. I keep reminding myself, I don't have to know how... I just need to make sure I know Who.

What I do know is I am blessed. Throughout my ministry in Reidsville, God has continually given me me "more." The leader's gifts and church family's support culminated this afternoon in a hot dog luncheon. It seems my oft-told "Hot Dog Cooker Story" led to the meal's theme and even the crafting of a fancy double cooker! It was only later that I discovered the inscription on the bottom:

"In celebration of 25 years of dedication to God and Reidsville Christian Church"

I would guess there has probably never been another gift like it for such an occasion, which makes it all the more treasured! 

Thank you RCC for letting me serve with you, and for caring about me and my family in ways that I just can not put into words. I am eagerly anticipating what God has planned for us together when this sabbatical time is complete. Until then, you will be in my prayers this summer, and I ask that I be in yours, because...

It's here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Eight More Weeks (but who's counting?)

By now most of the RCC family knows that I will be on sabbatical this summer from June 9 through August 11. This time represents a (almost) total break from work and ministry and will be an opportunity for me to recharge and reconnect with God, myself, my family, and my friends. It is also just one more outpouring of God's unmerited "more" on my life.

Words can not express my appreciation to both our elders (who view this time as a long-term investment in both the RCC family as well as my own) for initiating the break and to each of you from Reidsville Christian Church for your consistent support of Kerri, Wyatt, and me. While I believe this is a good and necessary thing, I know it will not be an easy thing. I love what I do and being away from it (especially the weekend teaching) is going to be a challenge.

One thing I am confident of is the amazing opportunity this provides for our elders, ministers, and staff. The prospect of each of them being able to lead you in new and different ways with the gifts God has given them is an exciting thing!

Some of you have asked what my plans are. My “unplanned” plans include:
  • Spending the first couple weeks just trying to unwind and catching up on some things at the house that have long needed my attention.
  • Participating in some in-depth training at Logos Bible Software in Bellingham, WA (and of course geocaching in OR, WA, and Canada) during the last week of June, then performing two wedding ceremonies locally during the July 4th weekend.
  • I believe the final five weeks have the potential to be the most beneficial. The first four are completely unplanned (which again is extremely uncomfortable). I hope to do a lot of reading and scripture memorization, but I am intentionally not going to plan or prepare any future teaching or programs. Instead, I want to be open to what God has to say during this unique time rather than “plan” what I think should be next. I will begin the month of August performing a third wedding ceremony, followed by a week spent with my family on Mackinac Island as the nine weeks conclude.
Here are a few things you can pray for and with me:
  • Pray that God would bless this time of rest. The word for “sabbatical” has the same root as “sabbath” – which means “rest.” As I explained at our congregational meeting, I do not do a good job with this and am hoping to discover some new habits that will help prepare me for the next season of ministry. Pray that I will truly be still and know that He is God. Pray for renewal spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
  • Pray that God would bless this time of family. Because Kerri will continue to work during most of the summer, we hope to keep things at home just as “normal” as possible. However, because of your graciousness, we are planning to do some fun things together as a family as well. Throughout the summer and beyond, pray that I would love God by loving my family.
  • Pray for our elders, ministers, and staff, that God would grow them in their gifts and wisdom, and in their love for God and His people.
  • Pray for Frank Dodson, Harry Gill, Scott Patterson, and Clay Perkins as they lead you in the majority of the summer teaching. Support them with your attendance. Let God speak to you through new voices on Sunday and etch into each of your hearts a clearer grasp of this amazing mission we are all on to grow as Jesus’ disciples.
You can read about my summer - the books I’m reading, the places I’m going, the things God is revealing - here on my blog, but hey, there are no promises it will get updated with any regularity. I mean, look how long it's been since my last post!

Kerri and I are so thankful for this gift of time and space that we believe will allow our family to experience joy, rest, and connection together, as well as equip me personally to be a better pastor for God’s flock and the RCC family.

I simply can not wait to see what "more" God has in store for all of us!