Saturday, June 29, 2019

When a calling becomes a career and a career becomes a calling

So, I was visiting with some friends the other day. They were folks from the church, and they were describing one of my pastoral predecessors (now deceased). They said that one time when they were talking with him about ministry he told them that ministry was a career, a job like any other. They pressed him, insisting that it must also be a mysterious, divine calling that drives his ministry. He insisted, although he did enter ministry with some sense of God's direction, it was a career choice.

I don't know what to make of these stories. I tend to doubt that most previous pastors were as bad or as wonderful as people described them. But, when you sit around people's tables and they tell you stories about previous ministers, they are often not simply telling stories. They are trying to communicate something more. In this case, my friends were trying to communicate what they have shared with me since I arrived in North Platte. They were trying to tell me that they had seen that God had placed his call on my life, that they believe I had embraced that call, and that this calling was evident by the approach I took to my ministerial tasks.

There are times when ministry has to be approached as a job. You have to pay your dues, put in your time, do the grunt work of ministry that nobody notices or remembers. Other times, when you have just escaped a difficult board meeting, or when you are trying to keep going through what feels like the rejection of a family that has left the church, you plod. You show up. You grind out a sermon. You make your visits. You teach your classes. You do your job. For me, ministry is the only career I have ever known.

Having said all that, my friends are right. If it was JUST a job, I would not be doing what I do. I do feel called.

What I did not say to them is this: my calling here has a lot to do with them. When I interviewed and candidated for the position here, it was a struggle to decide to come. More than once, there were times I really wanted to step away from the call to come to North Platte.

I loved Hot Springs and many of the people there. It was not a town I wanted to leave, nor did I want to leave many of the people of my congregation.

I was not sure I wanted to live in Western Nebraska.

I felt badly about having my wife reboot her career.

On the day I preached my sermon to come here, and before I accepted the position, we had a church potluck. As I ate, here came this chubby old farmer, red-faced and in his overalls, to speak to me. He asked to pray for me and my discernment of God's call, which he did. Then his eyes filled with tears as he finished and he placed his hands on my head. He said that he believed that God's Holy Spirit had called me to be this church's pastor, and that his hand was upon me and my life. Tears and snot and sweat dripping from him, he made a half-hearted apology for our awkwardness of our encounter, and then dismissed himself. Between that encounter and the nearly unanimous vote to extend the call to come here, I remember telling my wife that God's call was apparent because of the red-faced farmer who laid hands on me and anointed me with his sweat and tears.

Since I have come, we have become closer. He calls me with health updates. He drops by with produce and poultry from his farm. I have prayed for him and he for me. And now he is dying.

We almost lost the man who laid his hands on me and anointed me for the pastorate of North Platte this week. His blood sugar crashed. The hospice nurse came and got him back on the right track. Later his wife chatted with me. They were ready for me to come visit. I wasn't sure how I was going to fit the visit in this week, but I made it work.

That day, the drive out to the farm, worrying about getting lost, finding my way down dirt roads, that was a job.

Sitting at my friends' table, walking through their fields, taking pictures of their smiling faces and hard working bodies, listening to stories of how they have come to faith and shared it with others, talking about God's faithfulness even in the face of death and dying, and listening to how much a man loves all of his John Deere tractors, well, that is a calling. And, the best part of being called at that.

Friday, June 28, 2019

What is Church--P2--When Christendom coopts the church

In the fourth and fifth century, several things happen
  • Constantine converts to Christianity
  • Constantine makes Christianity the Roman world's official religion
  • Constantine takes initiative to make the church define itself through a belief system--CREEDS
  • This unites the established church, and the belief system both solidifies governmental power and church power individually, and together 
This had several results:
  • "We go from thinking about church as something we do to a church as an article of belief"
  • If we extract a belief out of practice is moves the church toward coercion"
Examples based on "one, holy, apostolic, catholic church"
  • "one"
    • What happens when unity becomes something we believe instead of something we do?
      • Reconciliation becomes forced from the top down
      • see confession, excommunication
      • See Radner "Brutal Unity"
  • "holy"
    • Holiness becomes an article of faith that needs to be enforced
    • "Whenever you extract belief out of practice of the church it becomes coercive. God cannot change people through coercion.
  • "Catholic
    • references a universal church made up of all believers
      • "church is a way of life not a thing you go to"
      • this establishes on church as THE institution
  • "apostolic"
    • Used two ways
      • "sentness" of the church
      • apostolic succession
      • The practice of being sent gets lost in Constantinian church
      • "Words only make sense by their use"
      • "If we don't have a word that uses the practice to change lives we have lost its meaning"
      • "We extract belief from practice and it turns into something enforced"
      • "Coercion does not work in Post-Christendom"
      • "Church is in mission if it starts with practices that embody beliefs as a way of life"
  • Belief doesn't make sense apart from practice.
    • Wittgenstein--"Words don't make sense apart from their use'
    • James--Faith without works is dead

Monday, June 24, 2019

Quotes cited in "You Welcomed Me" by Annan

You Welcomed Me

"The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned."--Maya Angelou (1)

"If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. WIth our imagination as well as our eyes....we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within thri faces."--Fredrick Buechner

We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is.--Madeleine L'Engle

Friday, June 21, 2019

What Is Church?--Part 1 of Missional Ecclesiology Notes from David Fitch

A summary of my Day 1 notes:

see also church practices handout

Intro from a Facebook post on April 26:

"When a church gets old, often in three or four generations, as it carries on the traditions of its founding, it finds itself doing things in certain ways - “the way things always have been done.” Meanwhile the culture around has changed – sometimes significantly (like the country has turned post Christian in 50 years). The language of the culture has changed. The cultural assumptions about church, the sociological orbits upon which these traditions depended, have all changed, and so we need to ask the basic questions over again. What are we doing here? What is church? And why is it so important? And if the what and the why can be re-established all over again… we need to ask the how question all over again, how do we do this thing called church in a way that makes sense in our times?"

Key Statement:
"The church is defined by practices that embody beliefs"

Analysis of the Bible names for church and how they communicate the "key statement" above

  • The Way--speaks to a set of practices
  • The People of God--speaks to a way of life, a royal priesthood
  • Body of Christ--speaks of an organism driven by participation
  • Ekklesia--gathering of civic importance
New Testament Church was a practicing community under a different rule, a community where there is a "stunning lack of hierarchy"

Saturday, June 08, 2019


Today was my last day with the brand new truck that I drove to Chicago from Omaha and back. All tolled, I put over 1000 miles on that truck. If the darned thing didn't run about half of the cost of a new home, I might consider getting one for myself. I certainly loved driving it around.

One of the things I loved about driving the vehicle was its stereo system. I could run everything through it, including a lot apps off of my phone. So, today I listened to several podcasts.

I don't generally listen to podcasts. I have subscriptions to certain podcasts, but then I listen to them so infrequently that they ask me if I want to continue with the podcast everytime I get to the app and open a certain podcast.

There are several reasons why I don't listen to podcasts too often. One is, I don't really have the ability to stream them while I am driving and get anything out of it. I walk to work. Picking up the girls takes five minutes, as does a trip to Walmart. Furthermore, this week is the first time I have been out of town in around 5 months, or maybe longer. Listening to them today made me think I need to listen to podcasts more often.

When I do listen to podcasts, here are a few I tune into:

Our region podcast is quite well done by Greg Mamula. Its called Mission in 5

I listen to a podcast that is done once a week by "men of size" about issues pertaining to heavier fellas. It is called Heavy Conversation.

I have recently begun listening to a few podcasts from Northern Seminary. One is from the man who just taught my class and oversees my DMIN. His name is Dr. David Fitch. His podcast is called Theology on Mission. Also very popular is Scot McKnight's Kingdom Roots.

Onscript reviews scholarly Christian books, and I like that I can listen to this briefly and get an understanding of a text. And I like Freakonomics as well.


Starting Over Again Again

I am going to try and use this platform more regularly again for several reasons.

1.  I need to write for my doctoral stuff, and the best way to improve my writing is to write

2. I need to catalogue thoughts before they escape me.

3. I need a venue to think through things, this worked as well as any

4. Hopefully, if I do it right, this platform can help me network better, which has several benefits


Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying           Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christi...