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Kill Joy #3 – Unbridled Restlessness

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Here I must say… I see very readily the kind of unbridled restlessness that pervades our world. If I were to speak of all three of these Kill Joys as false gods, or idols I would name them this way:

First, Narcissism – the god of “self”
Second, Pragmatism – the god of the empirical.
And third, unbridled restless – the god of experience.

Our flesh thirsts, hungers, longs for experience. And our culture provides an over-abundance of experiences on which we may gorge our appetites to the point of exhaustion. We have allowed ourselves to be put in an environment of constant over stimulation. All of our senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are given so much stimuli that we become numb to the “ordinary” and special occasions of heightened senses cease to be special occasions.

The way we eat. For many of us, most of us, myself included, hunger is never a real threat. We have refined everything … every taste … from the bitter … to the sweet … to the sour … to the savory. It is all intensified and has even in its most concentrated forms, become mundane. Our addictions to caffeine have moved us from coffee, to soda, to No Doz pills, and now energy drinks that contain unnecessary amounts of caffeine. And it isn’t just caffiene. It’s sweeteners. It’s movies that once satisfied us in black and white, now color, now high definition, now three dimensions. What is next, one wonders? And when will today’s thrillers be tomorrow’s sleepers?

The result of all this “experience” is that we are left with an unbridled restlessness. We simply cannot get enough experience. We cannot see enough, hear enough, eat enough, smell enough or touch enough. So we eat more, listen more, feel more, touch more… and find the emptiness of our lives leaving us desperate for something we cannot even name.

I think Rolhieser has it right when he says that the answer to the restless soul is contemplation. In fact, for those who are at least nominally Christian and would follow after the discipline of Christ himself… contemplation is a must.

For us to remove from the “high places” our gods of self, empiricism and experience, we must shut them out and consider how our very lives as temples of the Holy Spirit are aligned with the heavenly tabernacle… the true temple in which Christ is seated at the right hand of God. That is, by definition, what contemplation is. . . an aligning of temples. The inward temple with the heavenly.

I encourage you to stop pursing self, to stop relying solely on what “works,” to cease from “experience” long enough to examine the Holy Place. To consider the heaven in which Christ sits with all authority over heaven and earth… and from that place acquire (or to inquire of God for) an alignment for the soul.

May we be a people who can contemplate (with temple). May we align our inward Spiritual House for God with the place in which he resides heavenly. May the spirit within us cry out along with the seraphs and the cherubim…. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. Who was, and who is, and who is to come!”

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Guest Post by Bill Wise… The Plate Spinner

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The Plate Spinner

If you have ever been to the circus or seen one on TV then you will be familiar with the guy I will call the Plate Spinner.  He is the guy who has all these plates balanced precariously on the tips of slightly flexible vertical rods.  He has to keep them all spinning, or else they will fall to the ground with a crash.   We watch with anxiousness to see if he can keep them all spinning while continuously adding more plates to the mix.  Well in life we are like the plate spinner. 

As we grow the Ring Master gives us just a few plates to handle, we learn to spin the School plate and the Friendship plate while figuring out our place amongst our peers.  How do we balance being cool and accepted and still enjoy some of the nerdy things we like, and if the secret was out of the bag it might outcast us from the Group.  We learn to spin our personalities and interest to please others, our parents, and ourselves.  We quickly learn we can’t please everyone and though spinning the plates as best we can, inevitably a plate will fall to the ground with a crash.  Maybe we get dumped by our so-called friends or disappoint our parents with our unruly behavior, or don’t make the grades they think we should make.   The Ring Master of course is there to assist us and encourage us; plates will fall and break, but we are young and learning and we just grab a new plate from Ring Masters store box he calls Grace and keep on going.

Well eventually we break through into the teenage years and other plates are added to those we are already spinning.  Oh the joys and heartbreak of the Romance plate, how long can we keep that one spinning before it eventually falls, or maybe we decide to quit spinning it and let that particular plate fall to the ground.  Some of us will try to see how many Romance plates we can collect and spin at once, Watch Out!.  Don’t let the other Romance plates know you’re spinning more than one, lest they all decide to jump ship and fall at once and your left looking like a fool.  We will eventually learn that one Romance plate is all we can really handle, hey that’s the way the Ring Master planned it from the beginning.

In our teens we start to learn to handle the Work plate, it’s a tough one and some of us will relish it, keeping it spinning straight and true, and others will apply only enough force to barely keep it spinning, and it is wobbling most the time.   We have started to set the pattern for our adult lives, but it is never too late to learn to be a more diligent spinner, and being diligent in the Work plate, helps keep other plates later in life spinning more easily, like the Food, and Housing plates.

We enter into the adult world and have settled our plates to a nice even balanced spin, we have even settled on a single Romance plate which eventually partners with us to keep the other plates spinning.  We have become One with that plate.  Those can be great years with another Plate Spinner by your side to share the load with.  Ahh but then we add more plates to the mix, the Child plate.  Each plate is precious and beautifully crafted by the Ring Master as he gives you the responsibility of keeping it spinning.  You stand back at times just watching the plates spin in all their glory, just the way they were designed to; some with an artistic flair, or maybe a steady articulate resolve, and others with a competitive streak trying to spin faster than the other plates.  Sometimes the plates will be contrary and no matter how good your spinning technique, there will be times when the plates, having a mind of their own, will just fly off the rod. You leave the other plates behind to reach out and grab and save it before it crashes to the ground.  The Child plate has not yet learned the value of succumbing to you, the Plate Spinner, and thinks it can spin itself and wants so bad to be independent of the rod.  The Child plates are your favorite of all the plates, watching them play and spin, and join with other plates in conversation and games warms your heart like no others.  The Home and Car plates require lots of attention mind you but they are just plates which are necessities, and really pale in comparison to the Child plates. 

As the Plate Spinner you so badly want to present to the Ring Master at the end of your show, Child plates which have matured and performed per their design, and still have the beautiful sheen they had in the beginning.  You would forgo all other plates to make sure these plates spin true.  They are your prized possession, though they hold even more value to the Ring Master, who loves with a greater love than you can imagine. 

It is a tremendous challenge being a Plate Spinner.  You learn a refined technique through those times when all the plates seem to start wobbling at the same time, and maybe even losing a couple of them to the crash and shattering of the hard cruel ground.  As the Plate Spinner you will learn to lean on the Ring Master when you can’t always keep the plates spinning on your own.  He will be there to steady your hand, and applaud you along with the rest of the circus audience when you’re doing a great job!

Alas your time of performing in the circus will eventually come to an end, your time to bid a fond farewell to all the plates you have come to spin and love over the years, as well as the other Plate Spinners you have come to know and cherish over the years.  Their have been so many memories, triumphs and victories, along with mistakes and pitfalls.  You love your plates.  But then up walks the Ring Master and welcomes you into the audience of other circus performers whom have gone before you.  It is time to let other Plate Spinners have their chance, as he tells you “well done my good and faithful Spinner, join me in my Tent of Gold, with mast of pearl and ivory, and seats of ruby and emerald”.  You bow and walk joyfully away with Him treasuring all the time you have had performing in His Circus, the Greatest Show on Earth!

Happy Spinning !

Kill Joy #2 – Pragmatism. (From Rolheiser’s book Shattered Lantern)

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It’s not much of an overstatement to say that Americans worship the God of “pragmatism.” If it works, do it. Rolheiser believes, and I think accurately, that our drive for effectiveness and efficiency is pulling joy out of our lives. Here’s my take.

I have been a first hand victim of pragmatism. I’ve seen it at play in my life both from a financial standpoint, but more importantly relationally. I think that is where it effects us most. It’s difficult to live in a relational world. That is, I think, intentional on God’s part. I think he means for life to be difficult but certainly not impossible when it comes to relationships. It is through the very struggle of relating to others that we grow stronger as human beings, and ultimately as spiritual beings.

If pragmatism is god… and relationships are where pragmatism is most practiced… then I think the use of anger is one of the most exalted altars on which we make our heathen sacrifices. Think of the ways people use anger to get things done… and we do it because, quite frankly, it works.

Violence, passive aggression, manipulation. All pragmatic expressions. Getting what we want through emotional manipulation.

The result is that we miss out on the joy of being who God intended us to be at peace. We also miss out on the joy of letting others be who God made them to be. I have to admit, between narcissism, this one (pragmatism) and what I’ll address in the third post (unbridled restlessness), I think pragmatism has me hammered more than the others.

What about you? How have you seen pragmatism at work in your world? What would life be like if we let God be God instead of “what works”?

Morning Prayer – Sunday, December 23, 2012

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Our Father

The one in heaven. Your name is holy and above all other names. I pray Lord for your kingdom to come within me and around me … that I would respond to you just as the angels in heaven do. I think you Lord for my physical provisions for today… food, clothing, shelter. Thank you. As I think of my state, I also ask for forgiveness and also for the grace to forgive others. And finally, Lord, I pray that you would lead me in such a way that I am rescued. Lead me away from the things that tempt me and away from the devil himself.

I thank you most Holy Spirit for the comfort you provide. May I be a sharer today of that very comfort. I pray Father, for the strength you provide. May I be a good steward of that strength. I pray Jesus, for the grace that comes through the sacrifice of your body. I pray that I be that body today.

Holy Trinity, I pray today that as we convene for the sake of your worship that we would be fully prepared to lead people into your presence. I apologize for our shortcomings, our lack of reverence or awe as we stand in your presence today. But as always, God, I pray that you would pardon your servants who are not clean according to the rules of your heavenly sanctuary. May all those today whose hearts seek you find you by your grace.

Amen.

Let the Pastor Grow: An Argument for Multiple Staff Ministries

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My first pastorate was at a small church in Oklahoma. Morris, Oklahoma to be exact. Morris isn’t on the way to anything. If you end up in Morris, it’s because that’s where your grandmother lives or some other relative that for whatever reason likes to live in a place that’s on the way to nowhere. It’s a great little town of about 1400 people (if I remember correctly). In Morris, I worked alone. And boy did I. I worked alone because that’s what I knew. While I was there… it never occurred to me to build a base of volunteer staff that could help accomplish more than what I could do alone.

I visited the sick alone. I preached alone. I did the bulletin alone. I sat in my office…. alone.

Then the opportunity came for me to go work at the Carbondale Church of Christ. I was there for about 7 years. To date, the longest stint I had working anywhere. When I first started, my eyes were opened the joy of working with an administrative assistant! Paul was absolutely fantastic. The problem was, I had no idea how to help her help me. In fact, even if I had, I would have quickly learned that Paula was the “church” secretary and not my administrative assistant. While there, I had two short term associate ministers to work with. Both were positive experiences for the most part. But still, I had no idea how to help them help me or to help them help the church.

Then off to Illinois I went. Once again, the only paid staff at a church of about 160 near Peoria. It was there that I think I began to settle into a depression of loneliness. Roy Campbell was fantastic at what he did in terms of church administration, but he wasn’t on staff for ministry. He wasn’t my helper. And I didn’t use his company to my advantage (or his really). In a self-imposed isolation I began to flounder. I was only there for two years. I needed people. I needed help. I needed to grow as a pastor.

Five years ago, I moved to Hutchinson Kansas where I know pastor Crossroads Christian Church: A Place to Start Life Over. Here I was blessed with an opportunity to work with an administrative assistant (who actually is here to help us!) as well as three other full-time ministerial staff. I was not only enamored with the idea of working with multiple staff… I was desparate to get out of a rut of loneliness and isolation in my working environment.

One thing I have learned over the years… and through all these experiences. That is… every pastor needs a partner. . . or even multiple partners. Were I ever to return to working in a small church environment. Which I suspect I will do someday. It will be my goal to surround myself with volunteers who can help me and whom I can help to help themselves and the ministries of the church. Here at Crossroads, we have developed a volunteer staff that has increased our effectiveness exponentially! Not only are they helping us in ministry, but the program has become a great outlet to help each of them to grow spiritually as well (at least I think they would agree!)

So… if you are working in a small church environment and are the proverbial “Lone Ranger.” Can I encourage you to find a volunteer staff that can come alongside and help you in your ministry. Use that opportunity to mentor. In doing so, you will grow as a pastor and will help the church to grow as well.

If you build a volunteer ministry staff program, I would encourage you to make sure that they are empowered to to do the job you have given them to do. Give them a desk or an office if you can. Give them status on the bulletin, on the web-site and through other communication avenues. Make sure they know and the church knows that their work is valued and they have full “staff” status (for whatever that’s worth!)

Through this you’ll find that you also are less lonely, less isolated, less frustrated and free to move into areas of ministry that would never be possible for a “Lone Ranger.”

That’s all for now. See you later.

Kill Joy #1- Self Absorbsion (Synopsis of a point made by Ron Rolheiser in “Holy Longing”)

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First of all, I have to admit, I don’t know how to spell absorbsion. My spell check wants me to “absorb ions”. But I’m feeling electrically neutral today so there will be no ion absorbsion. I’ll just switch to narcisism. Okay… apparently, I can’t spell that either… it’s also got the red line of idiocy. So let’s go with self-focus. There we go. No red line.

Okay. . . Kill Joy # 1 is self focus… or self obsession. (goody! no red lines there either).

I can actually think of about three different things that prove the point … at the same time providing motivation for us to do something besides think about ourselves.

1). “Make my joy complete.” Absorb the full section of Scripture here: then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Php. 2:2-5). See? Paul’s joy is complete not by being absorbed with himself but by being absorbed with the body and the attitude of Christ. He is joyful when he is like-minded with the body, when he shares the same love, when he is unified in purpose and spirit with other believers. He is joyful when his motives are not selfish, ambitious or empty. He is joyful when he considers others above himself. He is joyful when he looking to the interests of others.

Try it.

2) Augustine once said that we will never be at rest until we are at rest in him. Is this not what Jesus meant when he said “If you obey my commands, myself and the Father will come and abide with you.” And what is his command but that we “love one another.” The logic is solid. If we love each other, then the love of God himself resides in us. And where love resides, we also find ourselves at joy.

The Christmas season proves this… so does nesting season after a child is born into this world. I remember when my kids were first born and Ginger and I were spending time in the hospital. There were no agenda items, no to-do’s more important than just abiding. And abide we did. We were filled with the interest of our new baby and we were at peace. We were at joy. The same with Christmas. Christmas is a time to just abide in Christ… to abide with one another. There is no need to be somewhere, to hurry, to focus on self. And for a day or two or three, the world is joyful.

By the way… I did a study on suicides over the holidays. During Christmas itself, suicides actually go DOWN! It’s only after the holidays are OVER that people get back to their life consuming depression.

3) Personal experience as a counselor. I don’t do much counseling anymore. Okay, let me rephrase. I don’t do counseling anymore. Crossroads is blessed with Kevin Guffey…. a man with a passion for counseling. Unfortunately, when I do counseling with people, they tend to leave my office crying. And I’m left with an expression on my face that says simply, “What?” However, one of the things I do know is that in those few occasions when I have been able to successfully counsel someone I have helped direct them to some form of service for someone else.

I guess I would say we just don’t have time to have problems of our own when we’re focused on helping someone else. That’s my counsel for the day.

Conclusion:

If we stop being so focused on ourselves, we’ll be more likely to find the joy we’ve been missing.

Preview… The three things I am going to address are 1) self-obsession, and then in parts two and three — Pragmatism and Restlessness. And, by the way, I blatantly stole these ideas from Ronald Rolheiser’s book “Holy Longing.” See you next time.

Theological Physics and an Apology for the Existence of God (Part 2)

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Okay, so you saw in the Genesis 1 account which I believe to be both mythical and true simultaneously, that light was created before the very things that we would normally consider to be light ‘sources.’ This is important. Why? Because it shows that concept precedes reality. Or, function precedes form.

In essense, what I am saying is that light does not ultimately rely on it’s physical forms or sources to exist. Light exists because God, the ultimate non-contingency called it into being. He said, “Let there be light.” And there it was. Only later did he create the sun, moon, stars, and separate light out and put it in its varoius form to be emanated from its various “sources.”

Now for something more profound. Scripture tells us that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. God is light. God created light. God created light before he created the physical forms that emanate it. Therefore the light that emanates from all “sources” is greater than the sources themselves. Now let’s apply that same logic to something else Scripture says God is.

God is love. God created love, God created love before he created the physical forms that emanate it. Therefore the love of God that emanates from all earthly “sources” (i.e. you and me) is actually greater than the sources themselves. Is it not true that Scripture tells us that God pours his love into our hearts by his Holy Spirit? This is divine love and it emanates form us and from an earthly viewpoint, it would appear that we are the source of that love. But quite to the contrary, God is the source off love, he pours it into our hearts and we merely shine it.

Isn’t it great to know that a God who can call light into existence before there was any matter to project that light can also call love into existence that we may project something that is far greater than ourselves.

In conclusion…

All things are contingent upon God. God is, therefore, the ultimate non-contingent.

As such, God called things into being in such a way that function precedes form. Light before Sun. Love before Humanity.

But as light emanates from the Sun though God is the source, so love emanates from us and the Holy Spirit is the source.

God is real. His love is big. And we need them both.