Monday, May 15, 2017

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 The difference between stubbornness and perseverance is discernment. I had a friend who was stubborn. He kept working jobs that net little to know income. He wouldn't listen to anyone. He argued with his wife, yelled at his kids, and constantly strove to get ahead. But, he put blinders on. He thought that if he kept doing the same thing the same way eventually it would work, even though it never worked. I feel bad for him.

 I know another person. He had a dream. People mocked him. Progress was slow at first. People worried about him. He had his failures. However, he learned from his failures and pressed on. He was tenacious. Eventually, despite everyone's doubts, he experienced success. He persevered. Sometimes you need to know when to quit. Sometimes you need to have the grit to press on. Things I have been thinking about with some recent reading I have been doing.

More Hemmingway, less Dickens

One of the things that I have enjoyed about being at First Baptist Church of North Platte is the increased level of participation of lay people in worship leadership. Lay people choose and lead praise songs. They lead the hymn singing and make the announcements. Members of the church do the offering, take greater responsibility for the Lord's Supper, and do missions presentations during worship.
Our order of worship is generally less formal than the church I arrived here from. However, one of the few portions of our service that is "scripted" is the offering and the offering prayer. During each service, there is an introduction to the offering that serves as a "mini-devotion" exhorting folks to give. One of my predecessors has years of these things typed up. Sometimes I borrow his work. Other times I borrow from my liturgical resources, drawing out the invitation to the offering and the offering prayer. I find in both cases, I edit the texts I am given. This is because, I believe in worship resources, we need more Hemmingway and less Dickens.
A lot of worship resources use large words and long sentences. They write in an intelligent fashion, but not in a way that connects as clearly with the everyday person in the pew. So, when I transcribe many of these resources in the last few months, I am changing high rent words into language that is more common. I am chopping up longer sentences into shorter more succinct ones. I am exchanging flowery language for more earthy words. We need less Dickens, and more Hemmingway.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

When Things Don't Go the Way You Had Hoped

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I left worship a little frustrated last week. I tried to lead folks toward doing something new in worship. It did not work as I had planned, desired, or expected.  We thought we had our bases covered, but people behaved in a way I did not anticipate. Folks I had hoped to earn the support of were mildly disappointed. I spent the last few days feeling bad. I think I am over it now. 

How do you respond when you do something different, and it doesn't "flow"? Do you abandon the project, deciding that we have tried this once, it did not work, and we will never try anything like that again? Do you consider that new routines are more difficult, and try again with some adaptations again the next opportunity you have? Do you beat yourself up for days, or realize that bumps in the road are part of the journey? 

God has given me a more tenacious and stubborn temperament. So, I would generally opt to try again, making improvements in communication and design that are necessary. Often changes like changing a golf grip, establishing a new health routine, or trying communion a different way require going through the awkward phase of trying something new before things feel like they work and fit. There is a part of me that says to myself in moments like these--moments when things don't go as planned and people complain--that I should abandon new experiences and the possibility of failure and stick to what has always been done. 

 How do you respond to moments like these in your life? Do you try again, or chose to abandon your effort to try something new?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review of the Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile


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The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery
by Ian Michael Cron and Suzanne Stabile
ISBN 978-0-8308-4619-1
IVP Formatio
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I read this book about 6 months ago, and it has been marinating in my mind since then.

Prior to reading this book, I was never a big fan of the enneagram. The first reason for this aversion was I associated "enneagram" with "pentagram". The second was the way the enneagram was used in circles that were spiritually insightful, but had no adherence to Christian teaching.

After reading The Road Back to You by Cron and Stabile, I have both an educated understanding of the true history of the enneagram, and greater knowledge of the enneagram's usefulness to personal development. The enneagram was developed by a Christian teacher named Evagrius, whose development of the enneagram corresponded to helping people avoid one of the seven deadly sins that was most closely related to their personality type. Since then, this tool has been used by spiritual seekers across faiths and around the world. Lately, social scientists have begun to do their own work with this inventory of personality analysis. Some of their work has been fruitful.

So the enneagram journey teaches you to own your strengths, while also acknowledging that one's gifts and strengths have a "dark-side" that requires growth and work to overcome. The internet tests and some of my friends I trust say they believe I am a 5. That may be correct, perhaps with a 6 wing.

If this is correct, it would mean that I would have to confront the fact that some people think of me as more detached, that often I will experience my emotional responses hours or even days after the emotional trigger has been pulled by someone (I had an employee I supervised who referred to this as being a "crock-pot" thinker). Also, I may have a tendency toward a "scarcity" mentality.

This book has some growth steps and helpful description of each personality type. It also has some helpful anecdotes that will give readers a mental picture of what each personality type may look like in real life situations.

All in all, I thought Cron and Stabile were both intelligent and down to earth, informative and engaging. I am eager to hear what others I know of think of this text.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Testing the Waters: Haphazardly intentional preaching in a new place

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These first few months at North Platte, as in most churches, I am trying to get a read for the congregation, the community, and my fit here. Most churches think most other churches are the same as them. The truth is, each pastorate, each pastor, each congregation, and each congregational culture are a lot different. And, while there are some common skills that transfer across settings, each church ministry is unique. Each church I have served had a different way of doing accounting, a different leadership structure, a different facility for worship with different resources. 

As most of my regular readers know, I think of ministry as more of an art than a technology. So while there are disciplines to effective ministry, it is also a matter of improvisation, feel, connection, expression, and relationship. 

Right now, in North Platte, I am working through a sermon plan that may be a little haphazard, but is also thoughtful, intentional, and purposeful. I am testing the waters as I sure up some foundational matters of life together and of faith in Christ.

For the first month, I preached a series called "Coming Home". It was based on a series I worked through before, but with a lot of modifications. The plan through this series was to lay the groundwork for some core principles for doing church well. Through this series I reminded the congregation that they were to be a congregation of radical grace and forgiveness, that they were to be a "family" on a mission for Christ, and that in order to fulfill that mission and grow in their journey with Christ they needed to stay connected to him.

This month, I have been preaching through the Lord's Prayer. This has a multi-pronged goal. First, I want to have something practical to connect with folks. I want them to reclaim their heritage as a praying church. I want to remind the church of the kingdom values that they have. And, in a more practical sense, I want to have a sermon series that is both topical and exegetical.

After Easter, I am looking at crafting a sermon series based on the book of Ephesians. This continues the themes of a church on mission, and of victorious Christian living, but also allows the church to experience a series that is strictly "bible to life". Ephesians calls us to resurrection living, but also reminds us that we are living in a spiritual struggle between darkness and light, and that our loyalties, commitments, and decisions have not only personal implications, but implications beyond what we can think of imagine.

This allows me to continue to "sure up the foundations" through preaching, but also allows me to develop three sermon series' of different types to see how the church hears and responds to the gospel most effectively.

What about you? How do you approach the preaching task in new settings? What expectations of and aspirations of others do you come with?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Book Review of To the Cross by Christopher J. H. Wright


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To The Cross: Proclaiming the Gospel from the Upper Room to Calvary
by Christopher J. H. Wright
ISBN 978-0-8308-4499-9
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is a simple, yet beautiful book. It takes us on a journey from the Lord's Supper, through the events leading up to the crucifixion, and the crucifixion itself. There is also some mention of the resurrection that is coming, especially in helping us understand the human longing for ultimate grace and forgiveness.

To the Cross is a collection of sermons preached to one congregation in England by Christopher J. H. Wright, who is both a pastor and a scholar. In his book, he uses current, everyday examples to explain what is going on, but he also cuts to the point about what is going on during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Each chapter is both readable, and yet brings new insights and clearer communication about Holy Week and the message of the good news of Jesus.

This book would make a great Lenten or Holy Week read. It would also be a great resource for a group study.

Book Review of Jesus Behaving Badly by Mark L. Strauss


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Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee
by Mark L. Strauss
ISBN 978-0-8308-2466-3
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Sometimes the popular picture of Jesus is not the most accurate depiction of who the Christ really was. If we are not careful, we can buy into some version of "South Park Jesus" who wants to help us with self-esteem enhancement, is more interested in being nice than be in being true, and who comes across as a needy, whiny fellow in a sweater vest who wants to be everyone's buddy.

The truth is, Jesus was far more tough, surprising, and unpredictable than we would anticipate at first glance. Mark Strauss argues in Jesus Behaving Badly that at first glance many of Jesus's actions and ideas may come across as offensive and politically incorrect in today's culture. With chapter titles such as "Environmentalist or Earth Scorcher: Killing Pigs and Cursing Trees" or "Hellfire Preacher or Gentle Shepherd: Scaring the Hell Out of You", Strauss brings modern concerns into conversation with the ancient text. In doing so, he shows that the Bible is more relevant than many folks think, and Christ is more interesting than many people give him credit for.

This book would be great for a Sunday School class or small group. If used, the result will be to know the person and message of Jesus better, and to dig into the Word of God in ways people perhaps had not considered before.


Saturday, March 04, 2017

Book Review of Lincoln on Leadership for Today


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Lincoln on Leadership for Today: Abraham Lincoln's Approach to 21st Century Issues
by Donald T. Phillips
ISBN 978-0-544-81464-6
HMH Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Donald T. Phillips has written several enjoyable biographical leadership books. Many of them glean principles of leadership from well-known American political leaders from history, and well-regarded sports figures. I particularly enjoyed Phillip's book on Vince Lombardi and leadership. One of the great things about his previous books is that Phillips takes examples from these folks' lives, and then shows how the principles that they lived by can help guide us as leaders today as well.

Lincoln on Leadership for Today expands its range from the focus of previous books. In this book, Phillips has some chapters that focus in on leadership issues in our culture today and how to address them, but this book seems to also address how Lincoln's political attitudes may have been expressed in a 21st century political setting. How would Lincoln deal with globalization? What would Lincoln say about the Confederate flag controversy in South Carolina? Gun Control?

While I think that applying Lincoln's wisdom is somewhat helpful in our world today, I think Phillip's attempt to make Lincoln answer political hot button issues from the 21st Century, while creative is fraught with difficulty. Some issues have more direct relevance than others. All in all, I find that the project comes up with some pretty simplistic answers for some pretty complex issues, and this is disappointing to me. This is a fun read, but not something that will stick with me for years to come.