Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fruit of the Spirit

Initial thoughts about the sermon for Sunday 7.28. Wanting to share and get other folks thought and input.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review of Hidden In Christ by James Bryan Smith

Hidden in Christ

Hidden in Christ: Living as God's Beloved
by James Bryan Smith
ISBN 978-0-8308-3575-1
IVP Formatio
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I remember the first time I really fell in love with the book of Colossians. I was on a planning team for a regional youth event for my denomination in the northwestern part of the United States. And as the team that was planning the event, we decided to use Colossians 3 as our theme passage. We actually used the text from The Message, which seemed to strike me especially powerfully. The first two verses say, 
So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. (Col. 3:1-2 MSG)
After this conference, I would return to this passage again. And, indeed to the whole book. I would remember my childhood preacher speaking about all of the "alls" in Colossians 1, and I would be moved.

As I got to be a preacher, and I wanted to speak to my congregation about the power of Christ, and the centrality of Christ in the life of the Church, I very quickly moved to the book of Colossians.

Most of chapter 1 and chapter 2 of Colossans teach about the power of Christ. In Chapter 3, the book makes a meaningful transition. Colossians Chapter 3 begins to teach about how to live in the grace and power of Christ as a believer. It is fitting then, as James Bryan Smith begins to teach more about how to live in Christ, that he creates a meditation on the truths that are contained in Colossians 3:1-17.

Hidden in Christ is a devotional really, but a devotional that really packs a punch. In this book Dr. Smith takes 30 words or phrases in seventeen short verses that bring out a truth that believers are called to live in. 

This book is wisely organized. In each chapter, there are some thoughts on the truth that is communicated by each small word. Then there is an "affirmation" or a sentence to meditate on that helps the reader take the truth of the passage with them through the day or week. Sometimes another spiritual practice is included. A prayer is added at the end of each chapter to help believers pray the truth into their lives, and then there are some brief thoughts and questions to reflect on. I have been reading a chapter a day, but the book could easily be used for a once a week devotional as well. 

I have been eagerly anticipating the next book from James Bryan Smith for months. This book is well worth the wait. It is a book you can read over and over again, and get more out of it as you go. And it is a book, that if you take it seriously, can change your heart and move you to worship. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Coffee with Calvin: Daily Devotions by Donald McKim

Coffee with Calvin: Daily Devotions
by Donald McKim
ISBN 978-664-23681-6
Westminster John Knox Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I had just started in a youth pastorate in Montana. My senior pastor and mentor was talking about taking one other young guy, myself, and he to breakfast once a month for mentoring and study. He chose to have us read Calvin's Institutes. The Battle's translation. A big, two-volume behemoth. The tome cost me over $50 dollars. "I know it is expensive," he said, "but you have to do it." So I did.

I made it through about one-fourth of Calvin's Institutes then. I am a little further along since then, but 15 years later I have not finished it yet. Nevertheless, in the study I grew to love reading and probing the thoughts of Calvin. I don't always agree with him. But Calvin was so brilliant, so well-organized, and so well-written that he needs to be read, understood, and taken seriously.

Recently, I had the opportunity to receive a book based on Calvin's Institutes called Coffee with Calvin. Coffee with Calvin is written by Donald McKim, the living legend of Presbyterian publishing and the editor for John Knox Press. What Coffee with Calvin does is take little snippets of Calvin's work, explains them, and then gives practical advice on how to live what one can learn from Calvin in one's everyday life.

The book is broken up into different sections. McKim begins with some devotions on basic Christian belief. He continues on with a section on life in the church. The rest of the sections of this fine devotional fall under more practical headings such as "Anticipating the Future" and "Living the Christian Life". The result is a devotional that feels almost catechetical and confessional in nature, and thus has a unique beauty that most other devotionals do not have.

This is a great book, and would be a great study. This devotional needs to be pondered and savored. It is better not to rush through it. Having Coffee with Calvin should always take a little more time to listen and savor.

The Bariatric Rollercoaster

So last week was a good week. I lost 11 lbs. Which puts me down 36 since surgery and 56 since my first appointment and 66 since the beginning of the year. All in all that is not a bad start, but I have about another hundred to lose, hopefully by summer 2014.

The previous week I lost 4. And the week prior to that I gained 2 pounds. The thing is, I think I did better with my diet and exercise on the weeks that I lost less than last week. Go figure.

This sleeve journey really is a roller coaster ride. One week you are up, another you are down. Either way, you just need to keep charging ahead, trusting that if you are doing the right things than this whole deal will work.

Things that I am doing that I think are working:
Loading up with protein in the morning: 30g drink, 10g yogurt....this gives me more freedom through the rest of the day as far as when and what I eat...I think it is important to get in the protein first

Taking blood pressure meds--when I do not, I think I retain water weight.

Walking when I can--I am not where I need to be yet, but I seem to be making the right choices

Getting well rested--helps me feel much better

Things that I need to improve on
More exercise
Eating less crackers
Planning meals better

I have 5 more pounds until I get my first reward. Why five pounds? Five more pounds puts me down below what I was at my low weight with weight watchers. Also, my lowest weight in at least 10 years. I am a little nervous, because I am approaching a "plateau" weight for me, where my body likes to hover for a while. Hope I break through....

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review of Missional Spirituality by Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson

Missional Spirituality: Embodying God's Love from the Inside Out
by Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson
ISBN 978-0-8308-3807-3
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

There have been hundreds of books written about the missional church movement. I might have at least a quarter of them in my personal library. This is because I think the one thing of central importance for churches is making the "missional turn" from attempting to attract people to their church to sending out their church members as missionaries and evangelist to "do church" outside the four walls of the local church. Too many churches put a heavy emphasis on gathering, but scatter with very little purpose.

At the same time, it is possible to be focused on being "evangelists", being "missional", and going out into one's community equipped to serve and reach them, and yet have very little spiritual depth as a congregation. The key as a church is to have spiritual depth, and yet at the same time have missional purpose and missional fervor. It is a challenge.

In Missional Spirituality Helland and Hjalmarson attempt to explain what a church with spiritual depth and missional energy might look like. At the beginning of the book, the authors attempt to identify the church within the world it exists in. Then, Helland and Hjalmarson strive to establish a theological foundation for a church that is externally focused. Following this, they seek to identify spiritual practices that equip believers to live their faith in the world, and to allow those believers to grow deeper and more united as a congregation. They base these practices on the Shema, or the Great Commandment. Every practice that they identify helps believers grow to love God and neighbor more powerfully and more holistically.

Missional Spirituality is both inspirational, and instructional. I was inspired page after page. And, I felt the teaching of the authors both comforted and challenged me as a Christian leader. This book just isn't a game changer, it is a life changer. I will return to it often.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Trying to find a new way in my new life

I want to be disciplined in so many ways, but I feel stretched so very thin. It is nobody's fault but my own. I have just gotten to a place in my life where it seems like my life runs me instead of taking charge of my life and running it the way I feel God leading me to do. Let me explain.

Recently, with my gastric sleeve surgery, both the PA I see post surgery and the nurse that is in charge of my health management have challenged me to make time for regular exercise. I have a hard time doing this. This was not always the case. There was a point in my life where I was able to work out for about 45 minutes a day when I was trying to get healthier. Setting aside that kind of time now seems impossible.

I also need to be more engaged in personal study as a pastor. I do not feel like I read enough or study enough. Instead, I feel like most of my ministry is running from the hospital to the nursing home, and then from a bible study to the office to hand out vouchers and catch up with phone calls. I need to take time to study and think if I am going to be an effective pastor. I used to do that. I am struggling doing that now.

I need to take time to make and maintain friendships. But when?

I need to learn how to manage my life. And it cannot be the way I used to do it. My life has changed. I have a wife and two kids. I serve a church that is more administratively demanding and needful of my direct input and direction than anywhere I have been. I am older, and less able to burn the candle at both ends than I was 5-10 years ago. But if I don't make room in my life somehow for a "new way" to play to my strengths in ministry, care for myself, and do the thoughtful soulwork I need to do I am not going to be the person or pastor I need to be.

So....I am still working, thinking and praying on this one.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Disappointment (and possibly failure) in ministry

It has been a hard summer in my pastorate here at United Churches.

Things started great enough. We had a great VBS led by capable leaders. The problem is, since the week of VBS, both old folks and younger families have not been nearly as regular in worship. Thus, attendance has taken a quick downturn.

I have wracked my brain on why this has happened. Is it the result of people's personal response to my ministry. Perhaps for some. There were a few challenging confrontations in the spring that people are still dealing with. Some of those we will get over. A few may abandon ship at the church temporarily or permanently. However, this is a small percentage of the overall attendance downturn we are experiencing this summer.

Another possible contributor is switching worship times for the third time in around 18 months. Right before I came here, we had two services. Then we had one at 9am. After that, by a narrow vote, we switched to 10am for services so that we could have Sunday School precede worship. As a compromise for those who wanted 9am services, we decided to have a "summer schedule" that ran worship at 9am again from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

There are a number of other concerns. An aging congregation. Younger folks that play a lot during the summer. Blah! Blah! Blah!

None of this was a concern last year when attendance was up for the summer. Of course, that was the "check out the new pastor" summer. But still.

So, I have been thinking. And I made a list I have noticed that there are a lot of people who are simply less regular this summer. I get that. There are folks struggling with illness. I understand that as well. But what does this say to our church and myself as its pastoral leader?

Part of me thinks this is a great opportunity to identify a problem (church attendance) and push forward toward some plans that have the possibility of growing our church. Also, I wonder if this situation challenges me to set different priorities for my ministry and what I am focused upon.

So, I am going to go to the board at church tomorrow, share the problems transparently, and seek their wisdom and insight as the church leaders on how we best address these attendance issues.

I enjoy this town. I enjoy our congregation. I want to be here a long time. At the same time, if it is my leadership that is not meshing with the church....they may want to make changes. We will see. As for now, I am disappointed in myself and this situation, and am doing a lot of soul searching and prayer about how to fix it.

Gastric Sleeve: One Month

I am now one month out from surgery.This week produced a four pound weight loss.  I have lost 25 lbs. 55 for the year. I have to say, I am a little disappointed in my progress, especially after I lost so much the first week and a half. Having said that, if I could lose four pounds a week for the next six months, I would be pretty happy with what I am doing.

In the last month, there have been a lot of nice things about the surgery. Our food bill is much smaller. I am not feeling as though I am starving, though technically I have a very low calorie count. People say that they notice a change in my appearance, especially in my face and in the way that my clothes fit. My wife seems somewhat happy that we are on this gastric sleeve journey together.

One part of this journey that is interesting about this journey so far for our family is that we rarely use the "big plates" anymore. We use the saucer plates for our meals, because that is about all we can eat. Makes for a little more room in the dishwasher. Especially since Jen and I now eat less than either of our toddlers.

In case you have not noticed, I still struggle with this whole process quite a bit. Although I get plenty of protein through dairy and shakes, I feel a strong longing for meat and protein. I miss eating. I enjoyed the Weight Watchers process much more, which was equally as successful for me, if not more successful at this point. Without getting to eat things like Italian food, Mexican food, and beef, I feel like the joy of a good meal has been taken away from me, and I wonder if I will ever get it back.

Here is another thing. When I was not on dietary restrictions, I rarely thought about food. Now, it is a topic that is always at the back of my mind. And, to honest, meal time makes me anxious. I am supposed to eat something, there is a lot of things I can't eat. There are a few things I can. When I try and test things out, I feel guilty and worried I will gain weight. When I grab another Greek yogurt, I am bored to tears as I eat.

I have been told often that I need to exercise more. I have not gotten in the swing of things. This is a very strange challenge for me for the last 2 years or so. Before that, my plan for weight loss would be to get a gym membership, lift a few weights, and hit the cardio equipment with passion. This plan worked. However, this plan worked in the pre-parenting phase of my life. Now it is get up, help get folks moving in the morning, get cleaned up, go to work, come home, get kids settled with dinner, bath and bed, try and have some semblance of an adult conversation with my wife, and then space out in front of the television for a few minutes after she goes to bed to wind down.

My health coach person told me to set aside 15 minutes here and there for walking, but to be honest, that feels like cheating the job. Especially lately, when the job has put me in a position where I am out of the office a lot. I think what I am going to have to do is schedule walks with people as part of my pastoral care with them.

Jennifer and I went out while Grammie was here and the kids were napping and looked at possible groups to join for exercise. We checked out Evans Plunge now that the city owns it, and we went to the golf course. The golf course has such large spacing between holes that they recommend that people use carts to avoid slow play (3 to 4 minute cart rides between green to tee on the back nine). This defeats the purpose of exercising through golf, and having to use golf carts makes it cost prohibitive anyway. The Plunge was a good deal, but a lot of the equipment needs upgrading. The othe gym is nice, but more expensive. No perfect plan for this kind of exercising initiative, but at least there are options, which is great for this small of a town.

So, my journey after one month is back and forth, incomplete, a struggle with some successes, with a realization that I have a lot of work to do and a long way to go. My goal I stated to my health management agency is 100 lbs post-surgery in one year. Which means I have 11 months to lose 75. I would prefer to lose a little over 125 lbs, which still seems a long way off.

Onward and downward I guess, hoping to descend the scale and continue to get thinner and healthier. I hope this presents an honest appraisal of the gastric sleeve journey after one month, and that it will be informative to folks that care, and helpful for folks on the gastric sleeve journey or considering the procedure.