Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Death and Hope

During my studies at SSU for my Masters of Ministry, Pete Fitch gave us an expression for a spiritual condition to aim for and to practice: Fat Souls.

It could be my appetite for Guinness or for food in general, but this practice of a mode of being has stuck with me.  Sometimes I feel myself getting thin, sometimes it sneaks up on me but whenever I sense it I know my practices have not been keeping my soul fat enough to withstand the weight of the world that is constantly pressing in on me. 

And I try to do something about it.

After an incredibly intense 10 days, I arranged for the Elusive and myself to retreat to the mountains for 48 hours. A time to rest, reorient and renew in the Appalachians at a Christian conference center called, Ridgecrest.  They offer this ridiculous deal for pastors for which we are grateful and try to take advantage of a couple times each year.

I went tired but also excited.  I’m supposed to be starting work on a second Masters next week and I wanted to be rested up for it.

Our second night there coincided with the start of the South East Vineyard Regional Worship leaders retreat and so we snuck in to see and hear old friends and new friends.  Legends John and Marie Barnett led worship that night and the Swirlmaster, David Ruis, spoke.

During worship, I died.  During the message, I received hope.

I don’t remember how many songs we were in to the worship set, but it wasn’t long before I knew the Spirit was speaking to me.  There are times where I ‘sense’ the Spirit speaking to me, I get ideas or impressions but there are other times where I ‘know’ the Spirit is speaking to me, I recognize that Voice that is neither mine nor the enemies, neither vague nor opaque. And as I worshipped with a room full of people jumping in with both feet, led by two people who live what they sing and who embody “a sacrifice of praise,” God was inviting me to die.

I was supposed to start school again next week, I was excited, looking forward to it and full of anticipation.  And the Spirit took it all apart, took me right down to my core again, challenged me and called me to something else.  I had a choice and I chose to die to my dream. I wasn’t happy about it.  I didn’t feel some spiritual euphoria as a result.  But I did feel peace.  Or maybe ‘resolved’ is a better word. I told the Elusive the next day. And the next day I withdrew from the school.

I still don’t feel happy about it.  Maybe what I feel is a small slice of what Paul felt when the Spirit prevented him from going to Bithynia (which I hear is lovely).

As Jon Foreman sings: "Friend, all along / Thought I was learning how to take / How to bend not how to break / How to live not how to cry, but really / I've been learning how to die / I've been learning how to die"

I was undone during the worship.  When David Ruis spoke to us, I was filled with hope. 

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I often think I might be mad, alone, a voice out in the wilderness (the crazy - tinfoil hat kind, not the John kind). David’s message gave me hope for myself (I haven’t completely lost the plot) and for us as a movement, a collection of saints moving together further up and further into the story of God. I won't try to recap, but if you get the chance to hear or watch the message when it's available, you should.  It's a message for all of us.  It's a message that reminded me of what I love about the Vineyard.

My soul got fatter this week, even as I feel a significant sense of personal loss.  Weird, right?  

Sometimes I attend gatherings of my Tribe and I’m left feeling that sense of being the “odd duck.” Tuesday night felt like I was in one of the very best expressions of who our Tribe is and what I believe our Tribe is called to be. It was a night of beauty, of honesty, of simplicity, depth and Kingdom and Spirit and power.

I’m grateful for the Swirl that is our Vineyard worship community and the friends who created the space for my Liminal moment Tuesday night.  I’m grateful for a safe place to die and for a resurrection of hope.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ordaining Amy

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of organizing and leading an ordination service for my friend, Amy.

Personally, I like Thomas Oden’s somewhat sacramental view of ordination and the meaning and purposes he unpacks in his book, Pastoral Theology. Ordination is far more, (if Oden is right – and I think he is) than conferring a title or making something legal or official.  Ordination is a vow, a sacred commitment, that is reciprocal in nature.  The Ordained owns their calling and declares their willingness to be responsible for and to the community of faith.  The ordaining community of faith affirms the calling and declares their willingness to cooperate with and support the Ordained in all ways needed.

The Scripture that we read for Amy’s ordination was from 1 Timothy, chapter 1, verses 12-17. It’s a favorite of mine, with deep significance for me about own sense of the call to ministry.
While I didn’t share these specific thoughts with Amy and the saints assembled, I’m putting them up here as a record, a stone of remembering for me and for her in future days.

1 Timothy 1:12-17 NLT
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him,13 even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. 14 Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.
15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

A few personal observations from the Text that resonate within my soul, 29 years on this journey of my own.

God will enable you where he has called you. (vs. 12)
You did not imagine God’s call on your life.  As the community of faith and as faithful friends, we’ve gathered here to affirm that we see what you feel, God has called you to represent him, to share his story and his love with the world around you.

Your ordination is not based on human will but God’s will and he will empower you by his Holy Spirit for every situation you find yourself in, every trial you face, every soul you are called to care for.  Our calling is not based on our adequacy or superior ability but rather God’s willingness to use the imperfect, the limping, the misfits and the weak to reveal his own great power.  God is with you. 

And that is always enough.

Your past does not determine your future. (vs. 13)
There are all kinds of things about our pasts that try to intrude on our present experiences and our understanding of who we are or who we’re not.

The good news from Jesus is this, “behold, I make all things new.” And “anyone in Christ is a new creation.”

God has set you free to engage with him in writing the chapters of your story that are still to come. Many people will continue to offer to write your story for you.  Politely decline these offers.  Listen and follow and play the part God gives you and resist the pressure to play the parts others want you to play.

Jesus offers us a new perspective on the future, a new freedom, new possibilities, he removes human limitations and prejudices and he alone determines the story of your life.

Two practices that last: faith and love. (vs. 14)
Out of all the things man has made the ministry of the gospel, the two greatest practices we are called to engage in are faith and love.

Trust God and demonstrate the reality of God to the hearts that surround you by showing what God can do with a life that is committed to trusting him with your past, trusting him in your present and trusting him for your future.

Love others as Christ has loved you.  Do what love does and embody for the whole world this truth – that God is love and that love wins. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

You are being called into the company of Wounded Healers. (vs 15, 16)
Good leaders, wise leaders and honest leaders walk with a limp.

Don’t hide your imperfections and wounds from the world.  Embrace your limp and live transparently with a world that clings to their masks. Let your liberty and freedom create a hunger for those you do life with to live true faced with you.

Liberate souls and disarm the Powers by celebrating your weaknesses because when you are weak, he is strong. These words from God are true for you and me and call us out from behind our masks to be true faced to those we know: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 

The scars of Jesus and our own scars, not our pretend perfection and flawlessness, are what will bring healing and hope to those with whom we journey

He is God, you are not. (vs. 17)
Two great truths that every pastor or minister of the gospel needs to remember at all times:
There is a God.  You are not him.

We are not ordaining you to be our, or anyone else’s savior, that job’s already been filled.
We are not asking you to be perfect or challenging you to always say and do the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reasons.

You won’t.  You can’t.

Be perfectly imperfect and trust God. 

Find your identity in your being and not your doing.

I have been directly involved in two ordinations in my lifetime.  The first was a woman within a tradition that allowed her to preach on the mission field but not in her home church.  Amy’s, my second, felt redemptive in that I have come to understand that God has called Amy and God has called many women, to preach and teach and lead – and her freedom to be who God created her to be, provided by Jesus, also liberates me.  I have never known anyone whose calling was more certain to me than Amy’s.  I’m grateful for the grace that allowed me to be part of her service of ordination and the affirmation of the church that this seemed right to us and to the Holy Spirit.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Soul Blisters

During my youth ministry days there were many uncomfortable moments.

My first was the first morning I taught the Junior High/Senior High Sunday School class.  I was still in Bible College at the time, relatively young, and during the night a giant zit had emerged just beside my nose and just below the frame of my glasses.  It was physically impossible for the Junior High guys NOT to say something about the zit.  But they could have at least let me pretend to get through the lesson first.  The comments, stares and pointing fingers continued through the worship service that followed.  Good times.

Many times passed between that and the time I noticed a couple had “disappeared” during a youth lock-in.  Not in Bible College any more, it was my full-time gig and new missing kids never ends well.  I left a couple other leaders in charge and started checking behind the closed doors of Sunday School classrooms all over the building.  This led to awkward and uncomfortable moment #927 when I caught the young couple in flagrante delicto. Sadly, I was more embarrassed than they were. The times they were a changin’.

The truly uncomfortable moment I want to tell you about though happened during my last youth ministry.  We had a pretty cool youth ministry, incorporating video into our gatherings, real cutting edge, paradigm shifting kind of stuff.  This particular night, we were watching a video by Carman, the Italian-American rap “artist.” In this particular video, in true, dramatic Carman fashion, his character was saved at the last minute from martyrdom and some seriously kick-butt, Frank Peretti style – angels came to his rescue.  The kids were cheering, reacting just the way they were supposed to and then the uncomfortableness came when one of my adult leaders casually said to the cheering kids, “You know, in real life, hundreds of Christians had their heads cut off, were burned at the stake, thrown to lions and torn into pieces and there weren’t any angels that came in to save them at the last second.”


Thus ended my chance for the altar call to end all altar calls that usually started with talk of destiny and ended with a story about a close friend dying in a car accident on their way home from youth group without ever making a decision to follow Jesus. Cue tears, cue raised hands, cue inspirational “fight song” style worship song to send kids back to school to be overcomers.


But the truth is that all those young people were given the gift of a liminal moment that night.  A chance to cross the line between immature and mature faith. A chance to move beyond the God who protects us from the lions and tigers and bears, oh my! And to move forward with the God who sometimes walks with us into the lion’s jaws. A chance to grow past the God of my indestructible youth to the God who “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”  A chance to let go of the bedtime story God who manages my portfolio for the highest possible dividends and embrace the God who may be pleased to let my business crash and go bust because He’s more interested in giving me something far more precious than success and wealth.

Downer.  These are not the platitudes with which you gather crowds, build ministries or secure air time.

Out of 13 Apostles, 12 were martyred and 1 was exiled.  I’m thankful for the great men of faith today who have figured out that these early believers got it wrong.  That, in fact, God wants me to have my best life now.  Who have helped me see that if walk faithfully with God (which includes my tithe to the local church) that I am guaranteed good things from God, protection from burly angels who have been working out, and that no evil will touch me.  God’s finally stopped letting us be slaughtered and started guaranteeing our parking spaces. I’m not sure when God switched this up but I’m glad to be living on this side of it.

But what if the reality of our journey with God is that He hasn’t really changed nor have His ways and plans changed?  What if God’s priority is still transformation, redemption and a relationship not for my purposes, but for His? What if I’m not David and my problems aren’t Goliath and following God doesn’t guarantee me a long life or one that could even remotely be called successful by the people who put people on the covers of magazines or elect them to be president of something? What if God is really all about delighting in some obscure nun who dies at 24 from tuberculosis and can only contribute something insignificant to the world called, “the little way”?

What if our journey is less about getting pumped up to face another week and more about a long obedience in the same direction?