Thursday, September 22, 2011

Words That Speak

1. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word – Acts 6:3-4

2. Lately I’ve viewed it as a personal goal to help enhance the leadership of those around me. If I can help other people be better leaders, I’ll feel like a blessed man – John Stumbo 6/23/11

3. I believe that God has a purpose for my life on the other side of this illness. I believe that God wants to use me to bless others. I believe that there is a ‘divine providence” at work in my life and in this illness that God will eventually reveal to me – 7/29/11 Boise, Idaho

4. John Stott’s answer to “How I would like to be remembered?” As an ordinary Christian who has struggled in his desire to expound, to understand, to relate, to apply the Word of God

5. This life, therefore, is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being, but becoming, not rest, but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified – Martin Luther, 1521

6. Hyper-focus on Jesus each week, pastor, and your service will have the most fascinating subject in existence. Jesus can’t be boring – Jared Wilson tweet

7. Every local church is the people of God, the body of Christ, built upon the foundation of Christ (I Cor. 3:11,16; 12:27), because in that location it is the same as what the church is in its entirety, and Christ is for the local church what he is for the universal church. in the various local gatherings of believers, it is the one church of Christ that comes to expression – Herman Bavinck

8. Go deeper in my relationship with Jesus, then teach, pastor, lead & pray out of that – live, serve, lead, influence out of a deeper well

9. Keep your eyes on Jesus – Kelvin Gardiner = live prayerfully before Jesus, seek his direction, listen for his voice, do what he says, go where he says to go

Friday, May 13, 2011


I love to read. Right now I have seven different books going, five of which are shown in the picture to the right. I'll be the first to admit, seven is too many at one time. My normal is more like two or three - one to two books going at home and one to two more at work. I read according to mood and time - the time of the day or night and the mood I'm in.

Here's a short description of what I am reading right now. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. I can't remember where I first got wind of Rohr's latest book but the title immediately grabbed my attention. So far, twenty-four pages into it, I have not been disappointed. Rohr writes about how our failings as we grow older can be the foundation for our ongoing spiritual growth.

Contemplating the Trinity: The Path To The Abundant Christian Life by Raniero Cantalamessa. This book is my latest find at the Mt. Angel Abbey bookstore. Cantalamessa was appointed as preacher to the papal household by Pope John Paul II and still serves in this role under Pope Benedict XVI. The book contains a series of meditations given to the papal household in 2001 and 2002. Comparing the Trinity to the ocean Cantalamessa writes, "We cannot wrap our arms around the ocean, but we can enter into it." These meditations invite us to turn to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a means to overcome hateful divisions, unhappiness, false beauty, and hypocrisy, and as a means to enter more deeply into prayer, communion, and our quest for eternity.

Every Riven Thing: Poems by Christian Wiman. Wiman is the editor of the journal Poetry and the author of two previous collections of poems, The Long Home and Hard Night. I came upon Wiman in a recent issue of The Christian Century where I discovered that he was raised in the church, drifted away as an adult, and recently returned to the faith of his childhood due to a bout with cancer. These poems came out of his encounter with cancer and re-awaking of his faith. This morning I read aloud the first two poems in this collection, Dust Devil and After the Diagnosis.

House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home by Mark Richard is the winner of the PEN/Hemingway award. From the books flyleaf, "In this otherworldly memoir of extraordinary power, Mark Richard, an award-winning author, tells his story of growing up in the American south with a heady Gothic mix of racial tension and religious fervor." The following quote led me to buy Richard's book, "...a place where only God knows how close you came to what could have been, and only His grace saved you from it. It's the lesson of Shedrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the oven of the insane King Nebuchadnezzar; sometimes God saves us through fire, sometimes He saves us from the fire, and sometimes He saves us not at all."

Stuck: Navigating The Transitions of Life and Leadership by Terry Walling. I started this book last summer, set it down, but recently picked it up again with a re-newed interest in its contents. I feel like I am in a transition time in my life, family, and ministry. So far I am finding Wallling's insights helpful for my journey.

The two books not pictured above are Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz and The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. The Starbucks book is fascinating reading from Schultz on why he returned to Starbucks as their CEO three years ago and what he did to help turn the company around when it was beginning to spiral downward from its glory years. Greene's book is one of his best novels about the whiskey priest, a story of God's grace and how it sometimes works through extremely flawed humanity.

One month from now I hope to have all seven books read. Each addresses an interest, need, like, or curiosity in my life at the moment. I am thankful for eyes to read with, a mind to think with, and good writers who stretch, challenge, and entertain me.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Hammer and sickle, the symbols of the (former) communist party in Russia. Heather and I walked over the bridge carrying this symbol to visit the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The original church was destroyed on Stalin's orders in 1931 to become the site for a monument to socialism known as the Palace of the Soviets. Lack of funds, flooding from the nearby Moskva River, and the outbreak of World War II got in the way of its construction. The Russian Orthodox Church received permission in the 1990s to rebuild the cathedral. It seemed that everywhere we went in Moscow we encountered vestiges of communism such as this symbol on a bridge and Russian Orthodox churches dotting the skyline of the city. Atheism and faith stand side by side in what is now one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live.

The Russian people seem indifferent to human conversation or interaction with strangers. Perhaps this is a carryover from years of mistrust of one's neighbor due to communism and the danger of letting one's true thoughts be known. I vividly recall riding the metro (subway) one evening packed with rush hour commuters standing and sitting shoulder to shoulder. No one talked, not just on this ride but on every experience we had riding the metro. I've ridden the metro in Paris, not known for its friendly people, but never observed anything like I did in Moscow. We were told, though, that once you make a Russian friend, everything changes. They are open, transparent, and faithful in ways friends are not here in the West.

It was an honor to speak to a group of international workers with the Alliance. They came from five different cities scattered across Russia and Ukraine. Living so far from home they were family to one another and enjoyed each other's presence. Some carried a long history together. The culture, language, weather, expense, and unresponsiveness of the Russian people are trying. Discouragement comes easy. Barriers to faith require commitment, perseverance, and a reliance upon a strong sense of God's calling. I felt humbled to speak to them, often feeling like they had more to teach me about loving and serving Christ than I had to teach them.

Now that I am home the most and best I can do for them is pray for them - marriages that need renewal, children who need healing, backs that need strengthening, headaches that need to go away, problems that need wisdom, and situations that need new vision. People who just a month ago were only names and faces on a website today are people who I carry in my heart in prayer for God's grace to strengthen them in Christ Jesus.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Things Local

Eugene Peterson has been one of my heroes for almost as long as I have been a pastor. I have twenty-four of his books sitting on my bookshelf. Peterson first started and then pastored Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland for twenty-nine years. After he resigned he went on to teach at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Regent College. He is now retired and lives on Flathead Lake in Montana in the family home that he helped his dad build in 1948.

I just finished reading Peterson's latest book, The Pastor: A Memoir. I love his writing for the following reasons: 1) he truly is a writer who takes language seriously and knows how to use words; 2) he is biblically and theologically rooted and almost never leaves you without a biblical story or text to ponder in anything he writes; 3) he is culturally astute and perceptive and is not afraid to point out where and how he believes the church has wandered from its moorings; and 4) he is well-read across numerous disciplines such as poetry, fiction, philosophy, language, theology, and biblical studies which means I always learn about a new author or book to read when I read Peterson.

Two lines from his memoir grabbed me when I read them over the weekend: "The life of faith cannot be lived in general or by abstractions. All the great realities that we can't touch or see take form on ground that we can touch and see." Earlier he defined that unseen and untouched realities as "God and souls - immense mysteries that no one has ever seen at any time."

Throughout his life and especially in The Pastor Peterson emphasizes and writes about "things local." The space and time in which God's salvation story is written into our stories. Thisness and hereness. Peterson defines the pastor as "the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to what is going on right now between men and women, with one another and with God - this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerfully without ceasing."

To be honest, I feel like I see dimly. Like I have missed out on so much as a pastor - as well as a human being - by being so caught up in trying to make things happen that I miss what is already happening right in front of my nose, orchestrated by God himself. Peterson sounds a call to all of us to slow down and be present to the present moment for that is the moment in which God is at work if he is, in fact, at work in any of our moments. Thisness and hereness.

What does this mean for me as a husband, a father, a friend, and a pastor? For me as I pray, journal, study Scripture, write my sermon, or lead an Elder meeting as well as shop for groceries, talk to my neighbor, run four miles, calculate college expenses for one of my daughters, or sit around a campfire with my friends?

Peterson always stops me in my tracks. Causes me to think and evaluate. And long for something better and more glorious than what I often settle for.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Study Break

(I wrote this two days ago while I was away on a study break.)

Study Break

I am on a study break for 2 ½ days in a mountain cabin in southwest Washington beside Speelyai Creek which rolls by outside cold and clear. My goal is to lay out 17 sermons from the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs). By ‘lay out’ I mean I want to leave on Wednesday noon with a Title, Textual Reference, Theme, and thumbnail sketch of each message.

I brought my box of tools – 2 Bibles, 1 systematic theology, 1 book of sermons on the Old Testament, 1 Old Testament survey, 2 overviews of the books of the Bible, 1 book on Job, 5 books on the Psalms, 3 books on Proverbs, 2 books on Ecclesiastes, and 1 book on the Song of Songs. In addition I packed 5 more books – a commentary on 2 Timothy (for the messages I preach in Russia in 2 months), Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics IV.1 (personal reading project), Spiritual Wholeness for Clergy(required reading for the Academy of Spiritual Formation & Direction I attend in February at Mt. Angel), Whole Life Transformation (I am reading this because I’m intrigued by the sub-title, ‘becoming the change your church needs’), and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (something ‘fun’ to read).

My alarm rings at 5:30a.m. First I build a fire and second I make my coffee in the espresso maker I brought from home. I read/pray the daily Psalms. I slowly read 1 chapter out of 2 Timothy and then read what the commentary has to say about it. I write down a few thoughts in my journal. I turn out all the lights and sit in silence in front of the fire for 10-15 minutes, trying to be quiet, to be calm, and to sink down into my soul. Afterward I pray as I walk back and forth in front of the woodstove pouring out my heart to God in praise, confession, thanksgiving, petition for myself, and intercession for others starting with Heather, Hannah, and Elizabeth. By now it is light outside and I am ready for a little breakfast, juice and a toasted 8 grain bagel.

I make a second cup of coffee, Starbucks Via Ready Brew Caramel flavored instant coffee. I am disappointed with the caramel flavor but it is better than nothing. Before I sit down to study I put more wood on the fire and bring in more logs from the wood stack in the carport.

I light a candle, put on Bach on my iPod player, and sit down at the dining table surrounded by my mini library. I read my Bible, read my books, think, scribble down thoughts, and lay out a 5 month Sunday schedule on a lined, yellow legal pad. I prayed about this time before I left home and asked others to pray for me as well, for inspiration and direction. It’s time for answered prayer. What’s it going to be?

Slowly my sermonizing juices begin to flow. I break down whole books into digestible sermon parts. I fish mind and heart for message titles. I latch onto themes from my reading and scribbles. I ‘see’ sermon parts come together as a whole. I write down the final version on my yellow legal pad and move on.

At 11:30am I drive into Cougar and eat lunch in the only greasy spoons restaurant open. I’ve had better and I’ve had worse. I feel out of place among all of the locals who seem to know each other. Today at lunch 2 old-timers drank coffee at the table next to mine. In a conversation with the waitress one of them realized that he knew her father in the area when she was just a little girl. Her parting comment as she rushed into the kitchen, their order in hand, with a big smile on her face, “It’s a small world, isn’t it?”

I put more logs on the fire when I come back and take a 30 minute nap but not before I read another chapter from To Kill A Mockingbird. Atticus shines in court as he pulls out all his stops to defend Tom Robinson against false charges of raping a white girl. I want to finish the book before I leave.

Early afternoon is more of what I did in the morning but my mind is not as sharp and results come slower and harder. By 2:30-3:00pm I reach my limit for work. Sermonizing is done for the day. I spend the rest of the afternoon reading and working on other projects.

At 4p.m. I go on a 4 mile walk that takes me a little under an hour to do. I pass a herd of elk feeding in an open field about 75 yards away. They scamper off into the brush and trees to avoid me. Once I get out on the highway I notice empty beer cans and cases strewn up and down the side of the road. There is money to be had if someone takes the time to scourer the shoulder in search of empties. I wonder to myself what is it that makes people toss their trash out of their cars and trucks alongside a beautiful windy highway in such stunning mountain country.

When I come back I build another fire, take a shower, and eat my dinner of Chicken Corn Chowder, Tim’s Potato Chips, and a Pink Lady apple. I wash dishes, clean the kitchen, and bring in more logs for the fire. It’s going to be a cold night.

I sit in the recliner in front of the fire and read Whole Life Transformation. I feel like I’ve already read this book at least 8-10 times. It reminds me of others I’ve read. They all sound the same. Pastor so and so comes to a crisis in his life and ministry. In a moment of desperation God meets him and he discovers a way out of his crisis and feels liberated and enlightened. He wonders how he could have lived in such darkness for so long. Suddenly everything at his church and in his ministry looks different. He begins to make changes, big changes. He goes about un-doing everything he worked so hard at building for the new philosophy and perspective he now wants to implement. In the process he either quits or gets fired. He starts a new ministry, writes a book about it, hits the conference trail, and tells the rest of us how we can discover what he has found. So far I haven’t read anything in Whole Life Transformation that I haven’t read somewhere else 2 or 3 times over. I ask myself why I am such a succor for books like these and wish I had saved my $17.95.

I grab the 3 by 5 card from my journal on which I wrote my most pressing prayer concerns for my life, family, and ministry. I sit next to the fire and quietly pray my way through each item. I pause and linger over some that seem to hold more gravity than the others, at least tonight. There are times when I feel like I have the whole world on my shoulders and all I can do is pray. The answers or solutions are beyond me but not God. I can’t heal cancer or reconcile broken marriages or make people want to want God or straighten out situations that have splintered or soften hardened hearts or bring deep, lasting comfort to those who grieve the loss of someone they loved or put my hands on enough money to pay for my children to attend college. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

I turn out the lights and climb the stairs to go to go to bed. I read 2 more chapters of Mockingbird and fall asleep with the deep, abiding sense that it has been a good day and I am thankful to God to be alive and to live the life I live with the people and church I love in one of the most beautiful places I know on the face of the earth.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Solitude and Silence

Two weeks ago Ruth Haley Barton (no relation) spoke to our district pastors at Cannon Beach on solitude and silence. She talked about our (speaking to pastors) addiction to noise, words, people, and performance-oriented activity and our need for solitude and silence in order to give God our undivided attention. A number of her statements grabbed my attention, especially this one - "Truly the best thing any of us bring to leadership is the transformation of our own soul." God's work in others, she repeated, begins first in us.

Ruth Haley Barton helped me to see more clearly what God taught me in Prague and Paris last November - I am too busy, my life is too full, and I have neglected to spend quality time paying attention to the stirrings of my own soul. Numerous times Barton mentioned how the invasion of technology - in the form of email, the Internet, cell phones, and texting - adds to the challenge of slowing down long enough to hear the voice of God. Technology makes my life more complicated not simpler.

In solitude we pull away from absorption in human relationships in order to give God our undivided attention. Silence, according to Barton, deepens the experience of solitude, "In silence we not only withdraw from the demands of life in the company of others but also allow the noise of our own thoughts, strivings and compulsions to settle down so we can hear a truer and more reliable Voice." Solitude removes us from people and silence removes us from noise. Together they create space and time for intimacy with God and for the necessary work of transformation that only he can do.

In her book, Invitation To Solitude And Silence, Barton establishes the importance of a sacred space, that is, space set apart for God and God alone. First, physical space. This is a physical spot that is designated for time alone with God - a corner of the living room or a favorite chair in the family or bedroom or a special place outdoors. Second, sacred space is also a place in time set apart to give God our undivided attention. This is a time for resting in God, enjoying his company and allowing intimacy to deepen without any utilitarian purpose.

Since returning from the coast I have attempted to observe a consistent time of solitude and silence. Early morning works best for me. My daily rhythm is to come to my office around 6am. I read Scripture, pray, journal, and read. Into this long established practice I inserted 10 minutes of solitude and silence. I sit in a comfortable chair in my office, turn out the lights, and try to turn off all outer and inner distractions. I chose a simple prayer based upon Psalm 62 - "rest in God" - to help me focus my heart and attention. I dwell on the words as a way of seeking to draw closer to God. I try to calm down and shut off all my inner voices. I attempt to train the ears of my heart to listen for God's still, small voice. And I make it my aim to sink into God who surrounds me on every side, without and within.

Learning to sit still for 10 minutes in God's presence is difficult. I want to get up and do something to legitimize my existence. My mind races with the day's "to do" list. I feel like taking a nap. I want a drink of my coffee. I just thought of a "killer" idea for a sermon. I remember a phone call I forgot to make yesterday. And on it goes. But I stay at it, "rest in God, rest in God, rest in God." My goal, no matter what, is to stay faithful to the practice.