Coming Soon

We previewed the movie “I Am” today in staff meeting and I thought I’d post the trailer here, as well.  We’ll be hosting the movie at WestWay a couple times in October.

It’ll be a great chance to start a conversation. It’s not a movie that tries to give you all the answers in a tidy little package or preaches to you about how messed up you are for 90 minutes. It’s the story of one who loves, even when people don’t give him much of a reason to.

We’ve scheduled the 10th and the 13th for showings, so plan to come and plan to bring some friends. (Stay tuned for details…)

Mad Church Disease

Anne Jackson has a new book out called Permission to Speak Freely that looks really interesting. I haven’t read it yet, but I did finally pull Mad Church Disease from my pile of books waiting to be read. The book digs into the struggle with burnout that so many pastors feel from the perspective of someone who’s been there (Jackson grew up as a pastor’s daughter and has worked in a number of ministries as an adult) and offers hope in “overcoming the burnout epidemic” (the book’s subtitle).

She points out some of the environmental factors inherent to ministry that contribute to burnout, but spends the bulk of the book seeking to give the reader some good tools for dealing with the stresses and expectations of ministry.
Rather than simply blaming church people for being over-demanding and irrationally critical, we need to find a better path to spiritual vitality and recovery from previous pain we’ve encountered. Mad Church Disease offers that kind of path and would be a great book for a tight group of ministers to go through together.
Moving away from book review mode, let me just say that I’ve been burned out. Not to the point of walking away or self-inflicted sabotage, but there have been times in my ministry that I’ve had no emotional reserves to draw from, no spiritual strength to share… I was running on empty. I hope I can apply some of this book to the way I do ministry so that’s not an issue in the future. I want to do ministry for a long time. But if that’s going to happen in a healthy way, it starts with my communion with Christ. It’s too easy for me to slip into ‘make sure everyone’s happy with me’ mode where I’m too concerned with meeting everyone else’s expectations.
The earliest church leaders were recognized as those who ‘had been with Jesus’. Their ministry flowed out of their relationship with Him. If our ministry flows from anywhere else, the well’s going to run dry sooner or later. If you’re in ministry, do yourself a favor (not to mention the people you’re leading) and make sure your communion with Him is filling you sufficiently for the work at hand. If it’s not… it’s not Jesus’ fault. Back up and remember how to simply ‘be with Jesus’. Rediscover your identity in Him (not in your job title). Stop trying to carry the load alone. Find someone you can trust and work through the book together.
Somewhat related posts from a few other voices:
You’ll Never Be Balanced from Mark Batterson
Ten Personal Growth Questions from Perry Noble
“Professional Christian”  from Tim Schmoyer

An Unwanted Visitor

I’m sitting in my office today, feeling a bit paranoid. I can’t quit checking the floors, looking to see if anything’s creeping around in the corners or behind the shelves… because, when I went out into the common area of our offices today, I found a little strand of slither laying beneath a chair – Pituophis catenifer sayi. If that’s too cryptic, I’ll translate: I found a freaking bullsnake in the office!

This really presents a problem for me, because I absolutely hate snakes. I have long subscribed to the ‘only good snake is a dead snake’ school of thought, but our facilities manager sort of likes them. He’s a retired Naval officer, so I really don’t want to get on his bad side by bludgeoning something with which he has some bizarre emotional bond. He’s also one of our elders here and I don’t really want to get flagged for ‘conduct unbecoming’ or ‘incorrect handling of the snake’ or something like that. Plus I don’t want to look like a total pansy, freaking out over a 9 inch snake. (Or was it 19, it seems to be growing as I write.) It actually was one of this year’s brood (they typically hatch in late summer) so it wasn’t very big, but that fact offers little comfort to my mind as I think of the myriad of spaces where these little ones can get to.

I realize the complete lack of rational thought that is implicit in my fear of snakes. If I were a Vulcan, that may do me some good, but as a verifiably flesh and blood member of humanity… they creep me out and no amount of rationality has been able to change that. All the ‘baby steps to conquer your fears’ stuff? Worthless. I’ve looked at pictures of snakes, watched videos of people playing with snakes, stared at snakes through glass, laughed at the zoologist lady who wanted me to touch the snake (and shunned my kids who actually did touch said snake)… but I’m still not a snake guy. My dreams tonight will most likely include me getting bit by a random snake – probably right after a pegasus ride or that floating thing we all do…

My brother kept a python in his foot locker in the Marine barracks for a while, and he’s picked up snakes that kill people… seemingly no fear there. My dad stepped on a coiled rattler in cut-offs and deck shoes once and stood there while someone not named me brought him a shovel. (Just to be clear, the rattle snake wasn’t wearing cut-offs – that would be my white legged father. By the way, dad, those cut-offs were cut way too off.) I stepped on a little garter snake once and almost wet myself, while my wife looked on and laughed (though she did try to stop me first).

With the scales and the slithering and the flicking of the tongue… I mean, seriously, if you’re going to sense me, just look or even listen. If you’re a dog, maybe even smell me, but to sense me with your ribbony tongue? It’s just creepy.

We’ve been here for 5 years now, and had 3 snakes found in the building that I know of – all within the last 10 days. Now, I’m not brushing up my resume just yet, but if we turn into that kind of church, I may have to head for Ireland (big fan of St. Patrick’s snake handling approach there).

Curious? or Ignorant.

“But they didn’t understand what he was saying, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.”

When Jesus told his closest disciples that he was about to be killed and resurrected, this was the confusion that ensued.  They weren’t getting it.  They’d missed his point, but the more discouraging thing is that they let their fear keep them from understanding.  How many times had they had to ask Jesus to clarify?
 But now, they contented themselves with continuing on in ignorance.  They put a period on the end of the statement, when they should have asked the question.  Instead of asking him to explain, the conversation moved into a comparison of their own positions.  “Which one of us is greater?”  Without a clear understanding of what Jesus was about to do, the disciples resorted to posturing for power within their group.  I wonder if we’re very different…  How far are we from repeating the disciples’ folly?

I love how Jesus redirects their thinking: stop worrying about who’s the greatest and just serve.  He takes a child in his arms and compares relating to this child with relating to him.  And here’s where I see a little twist: kids ask questions.  When they don’t know something, they ask.  I dropped my 3 oldest kids off at school this morning.  It was the first day of the new school year.  New teachers, new rooms, new classmates…  There’s a lot of ‘new’ that affects them each differently – but what I truly hope is that their curiosity conquers their fears.  I hope they’ll dig deep into what they do not know, because in the digging they’ll learn and grow.

The church today cannot afford to let our curiosity die.  If we’re unclear about what Jesus is up to in our world today, we need to ask.  Wouldn’t you rather be known for curiosity than ignorance?  Refuse to let your fear keep you from understanding.  Don’t be content to continue riding along in ignorance.