Monday, October 26, 2015

Let Go Little Leaf

Fall 1Fall2


I wrote this little poem over the weekend as I sat watching trees gently shedding their leaves in a beautiful retreat setting (some of the above pictures try to capture it). Some of the lines are a bit cheesy, but I like that because it has to do with the offense of wonder to the complicated adult mind (of mine) concerned with people’s opinions. I left the lines as they came to me, cheese and all, for those who have enough simplicity and wonder still left in their bones to hear them as knowing.

To hear leaves fall

is to hear their last call

Beautiful Death.


Let go, little leaf

the ground needs you;


not to hold on

but to let go


The only way forward is down.

You have to let to

to be come good soil

to feed Spring’s Feast


The wind blows

makes it so hard to hold on


Let go, dear one

your Maker will catch you

You are part of a bigger story being told


Glorious little leaf!

you are the hands that clap

when God passes by!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Burning Edge of Dawn

As a family we had the blessed privilege of seeing Andrew Peterson in concert last night in Lexington, KY. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost three years since my last one! (see posts here and here).

andrew peterson

Peterson has just released his new album, Burning Edge of Dawn, which is quickly becoming one of my favorites. I found it no surprise that it was born out of a new season of wrestling with darkness and depression.

Like his “ragamuffin predecessor,” Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson shares snippets of his story in between songs. A few of the things he said were so good I had to remember to write them down for further reflection. I will paraphrase a few thoughts here and then comment on them.

First, Peterson commented about the fact that many of his songs revolve around living through a sense of loss, trying to make sense of darkness and depression in light of what he knows about God.

Admitting sadness and brokenness in the Christian life does not mean that Christianity is only about sadness. Sadness is part of being human. What Christianity provides is the opportunity to redeem sadness, to find hope in it with the One who lives with us.

Any form of spirituality that cannot acknowledge and incorporate sadness and darkness into the working of normal everyday life is simply out of touch. As Christians, we have the unique calling upon us to model and live how God indwells and redeems every ounce of human experience, including joy, hope, trauma, sin, sorrow and sadness. Since we live in a culture that has no category for “evil,” often the stories being told are of a “dystopian” nature – a kind of wallowing in darkness with no redemptive meaning (e.g., The Road and The Hunger Games in my opinion).

My favorite moment of the night was when Peterson shared some insight on his authoring the Wingfeather Saga series of novels.

As an author, I had a picture of where I wanted to take my main character, Janner, a picture of where he would end up by the end of the series in book 4. But I realized that in order to do that, I had to ruin his life; I had to take everything away that he loved, everything familiar; I had to take him to the point where he could not see how his story could end well. But then, as an author, I was also able to lift the veil and show him what it was all for, that it was worth it.

I was in tears when I heard this. I long to see my life through the Author’s eyes, one that would help me make sense of why things are so hard, why things go as they do in my story.

This morning as I reflected on Isaiah 53:7-12 in my morning readings, I wondered about the vision that Jesus had in mind that enabled him to live and die as he did.

And in the face of such oppression and suffering—silence.
Not a word of protest, not a finger raised to stop it.
Like a sheep to a shearing, like a lamb to be slaughtered,
he went—oh so quietly, oh so willingly. (Isa 53:7, The Voice)

Then I thought about Hebrews 12:1-4:

So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.

Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.

Consider the life of the One who endured such personal attacks and hostility from sinners so that you will not grow weary or lose heart. Among you, in your striving against sin, none has resisted the pressure to the point of death, as He did. (The Voice)

A significant part of Jesus’ vision (the joy set before him) was enduring suffering, even embracing it, while rejecting the shame of it. Shame causes us to interpret our suffering as “further confirmation of our worthlessness.” What would it look like to interpret it differently? The author of Hebrews goes on to suggest (12:5ff) that we can learn to see it as God’s loving discipline, his shaping us for his holiness. Suffering can uniquely shape us for living the eternal life that Jesus gives, now. It can empty us of all the obstacles to this life.

Obviously we need help from others to interpret things this way – safe people to sit with us and hold us when we’re falling apart. As we do that for each other, be that for each other, our lives intertwine and become a tiny beacon we can hold on to when life hurts.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Stepping Into Vision, Part 2: The Job Description

Pastor of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care

(For Introduction and context please See Stepping Into Vision, Part 1)

*Caveat: this is a general description and would necessarily take on more specific, concrete forms in the context of a particular people, place and time. It is also an idealized vision and will be lived into wherever there is opportunity.
CONTEXT FOR POSITION: The Current State of the Church
This leadership position exists to plug holes in an increasingly fragmented and weary Christian existence for individuals and groups, a fragmentation that has arisen in our day as a result of the loss of teaching on the Kingdom of Godand discipleship to Jesus as the heart of the Christian life. The “Christian life” is simply living the inviting life of one of Jesus’ disciples in our day to day world. The goal of the pastor is to work alongside Jesus as he restores his church to strength and vitality as a thriving community of disciples dwelling in Trinitarian circles of sufficiency, nurturing, teaching and manifesting ever greater experiences of Kingdom participation in the midst of everyday life. As Todd Hunter has put it, the Church is made up of “Cooperative friends of Jesus living lives of creative goodness in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

General Description
To help people follow Jesus by living the restful and inviting life of a disciple together with them in the midst of their actual lives. Following the way Jesus did it, the Spiritual Formation pastor will proclaim the availability of the Kingdom of God, teach about what life in the Kingdom is like, and manifest the reality of the Kingdom in a variety of relational contexts in the form of loving service.
Works with a team of pastors/elders to help inject congregational DNA with Trinitarian awareness and participation, evidenced through regular, easy obedience in everything Jesus commanded and restful, joyful living even in the midst of sorrow and pain.
*My identity as a disciple of Jesus is always more primary than any role I might perform, including that of Pastor. The chief thing I bring to those around me is the person I become.
Specific Tasks
(based on three things that Jesus did: proclaiming, manifesting, teaching the Kingdom of God)
  • To demonstrate the availability of the Kingdom by being available. Create space for people to walk with you.
  • Provide opportunities for every person to engage with God where they are, at this present time, apart from any notion of earning anything or proving themselves.
  • Proclaim fervently and frequently the grace of God, that is, God working in our lives to accomplish what we could not accomplish on our own. Related, the principle of indirection invites us to do what we can to present ourselves before God in whatever ways we are able, trusting Him to do what we cannot.
  • to help relocate the life of faith in the life of God’s STORY; to help create a storied culture of disciples where people are able to step into God’s story as full characters, beloved, from right where they are. Cultivation of a safe and sacred container for the work of God in our midst is the aim.
  • to contribute to a storied atmosphere of transparent humility and brokenness as the normal Christian life, especially for leaders.
  • to help oversee the spiritual health of the leadership and congregation, developing means of measuring progress that are Kingdom-based (fruit coming from abiding in the vine).

  • My primary ministry is in who I am and who I’m becoming in the Kingdom of God. As I make myself available to others in a variety of circumstances, ways and means, others are invited into the process as well.
  • to initiate, develop and facilitate “discipleship labs” where disciples can come together (preferably in small groups) to discuss issues coming up in their training (problems, failures, questions, etc.) These would be deeply practical and experimental meetings with a minimal amount of teaching but mostly open dialogue about what disciples are experiencing as we seek to follow Jesus together. Obviously a groundwork would have to be laid first in basic teaching and experience.
  • to facilitate guided group and individual experiences of both the presence and the absence of God; to train disciples in practicing the presence of God as underlying foundation to everything else.
  • Spiritual Direction/Coaching: to counsel individuals and groups, to offer interpretive possibilities, to listen and walk with others through life. The Pastor needs to be accessible to those in need.
  • to meet with individuals one on one to help facilitate receptivity and understanding of the work of Jesus already going on.
  • to organize and facilitate regular retreat opportunities for leaders and laypersons as testing/resting ground.
  • to provide opportunities for people to experiment and test their engagement with disciplines
  • In order for leaders to survive the authority they have been given they must intentionally create space for obscurity, silence and hiddenness. Otherwise, their fame will eat them alive. Therefore, I will seek to engage in “Service Sabbaths” on a regular cycle, agreed upon by the elder team, of 1-3 months in length every 1-2 years (for example). During this time, leaders have no other duties other than simple obscure service (e.g., janitorial work, clerical work, etc.) without pay being interrupted. Teach how this would cure many ego problems. This is Philippians 2 in action (e.g., Henri Nouwen leaving the University life to enter into the obscurity of L’arche); cf. Matt. 20:25-28)
  • to live out and help implement systems and rhythms that enable people to regularly let go of outcomes and rely on the Trinitarian action in and among them. E.g., letting ministries die, service sabbaths, etc.
  • to cultivate a raw, authentic hunger for God in worship, prayer and community; to help create a pervasive atmosphere of worship: attending to God, responding to God, participating with God.
  • to provide regular opportunities for disciples to test the Lord’s words in Kingdom living; to help create safety & margin for failure. To provide instruction and encouragement to put Jesus’ words into practice where we live.

  • to provide Kingdom context for all of human life; to teach about the Kingdom of Godand the kingdoms of men and the ways they intersect
  • to demonstrate and teach the Trinitarian sufficiency as the context for all living, our new family of origin. (develop: The Trinitarian Field of Loving Action)
  • to teach and preach regularly, in a variety of settings, the Kingdom of Godand it’s progressive fullness through the Scriptures culminating in Jesus Christ.
  • Reclaim terms and their surrounding thoughts/feelings/practices that have been lost or corrupted through religious activity: disciple, grace, Kingdom, Gospel, Bible reading, spiritual disciplines, etc.
  • to reclaim the area of lament for the church, providing teaching and experiential opportunities for God’s people to give voice to their pain in the context of safe community.
  • to design, implement and monitor a Kingdom process for developing leaders who are disciples
  • to equip the church to be the church, guided by the Great Commission (Matt 28:28-30): resting in the authority of Jesus, being and making disciples, living lives immersed in Trinitarian fullness, and learning to do everything Jesus said; all within the practice of Jesus’ authority and continual presence.
  • to seek ongoing training by attending special events/conferences (Crosspoint Ministries with Plass/Cofield, Potter’s Inn, EHS/Scazzero, Renovare, Dallas Willard Center, etc.).
  • to pursue Enneagram Certification and grow in using it as a discipleship tool

  • Though there are no formulas or “guarantees” to the spiritual life there are reliable outcomes, just as children reliably grow into adults when provided the necessary conditions for growth. The results we are getting are a natural result of the system we are in. To experience different results we must experience a different system.
  • Restful, easy lifestyles as we learn to partner with Jesus and participate in Trinitarian work.
  • Decrease in external pressure put on God’s people in order to get them to do things.
  • Congregational capacity to hold others’ stories without the compulsion to fix or judge
  • Rich and fervent worship times together
  • Fractured relationships healed and addictions (in their various forms) let go of.
  • Growing hope for our individual and corporate future in God (Rev 22:5)
  • People who pursue ministry guided and equipped by leadership but not controlled.
  • Solid people who are ready and able to simply do what Jesus did and say what Jesus said, in his confident peaceful manner.
  • People who are learning to be sweet and peaceful when they don’t get what they want.

What the Pastor brings to the church is who he is becoming, his transformed and transforming presence. Therefore, it is expected that care be taken regarded hours worked so that restful rhythms of soul care are maintained individually and in relationships. Boundaries between “work” and “home” are sometimes difficult to maintain but must be, for the sake of both. That said, no more than 40-50 hours will be worked each week, with at least one day of rest where there is no “church” activity. Monthly and Quarterly evaluations will keep tabs on this.

Prayer commitment:
As a vital part of this process, the Lord has called me to regular prayer along these lines:
Lord, the church needs shepherds who are, first and foremost, disciples of Jesus learning from him how to live eternally-now.
Make me into a shepherd after your own heart (form me)
Create a place for me to shepherd and care for others in the ways that are congruous and fitting to this Way of life. (form your people)
Have compassion on your people, Lord; we stand in desperate need of your Trinitarian sufficiency

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Stepping Into Vision, Part 1

In the early months of 2014, I felt prompted by the Lord to begin writing down a vision of what I would like to do with my life. This prompting came near the tail end of a long Dark Night of the soul which began in 2001-2002. A large part of this Dark Night involved acknowledging and mourning the death of my most significant vocational dreams (vocation = calling, life’s work). In fact, I was committed for a long time to never dreaming again because it just caused too much emotional pain. I believed (wrongly) that I was “shelved,” set aside as useless after having had my chance at following God into a full time vocation but somehow blowing it. I lost my chance, and with it, in a very real sense, my heart. Unknown to me, however, God had a recovery plan in place.

God, in his goodness, took me on a very different kind of journey than I had anticipated or wanted. It has been fraught with messiness and pain and slowly inbreaking light. Over time, healing began to slowly outweigh sorrow, and as it did I felt courage to pick up certain questions again - Why did God make me? Why am I here? What am I good at? What do I love to do? What do I enjoy? What gives me life? Does my life matter?

When I began writing I thought this would be mainly just a personal discipline, to help me work through thoughts and desires in a deeper way. I didn’t think anyone else would see it, so I felt no pressure to make it conform to what I thought others might want, need or like. The only stipulation from the Lord was that I would not limit desire, that I would allow myself to dream again.

As I chipped away at it for months, words slowly came together weaving a vision for what I would like to do. At first it was just simply titled, “Job Description.” Over several months it began to be obvious that it was a description of a specific Pastoral Vocation. Simply put, it is an articulation of the pastoral way I find myself already walking with my friends and family; it is the natural and easy way I show up in my most intimate relationships.

As I wrote, I became aware of several profound ideas. First, it was obvious to me that the vision was a “pastoral way” I’ve never seen lived out in the Church, even though I’ve seen it somewhat described and modeled through distant mentors and writers (Eugene Peterson & Dallas Willard being by far the most prominent). I have seen faint whispers and glimpses of it, but never to this extent, never this explicit. I knew that if this pastoral way were to find a home with a group of dear Christian believers, it would involve a profound re-envisioning of doing and being the Church. Obviously, I have had to come to terms with the fact that my desires and dreams are tied up inextricably with the life and practices of the Church.

I have come to understand that the message that is being preached in any given local Church will determine the range of ideas and practices within that Church. The "good news" that is proclaimed and/or assumed (these are often contradictory) will determine expectations on leaders and followers alike. What is “success”? What constitutes “failure”? How is Christian maturity gauged? The system we have in place will determine the results we have. If leaders are being burned out and torn up, then it is likely that pressure is on them to get people to do things, to make things happen, to “build God’s Church.” If however, these things are not their responsibility, then we should expect Church to go very differently. What would a Church look like if it were a community of disciples learning together directly from Jesus how to live in the Kingdom of God in the context of their everyday lives? What if we were free from outcomes? What if we didn’t have to get things done or make people do things?

Second, the vision flows from a set of core ideas having to do with discipleship to Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Even though I had been a Christian for over 20 years, I had never seen or understood the primary message that Jesus brought - that the Kingdom of God was now available to everyone who trusts in Him with their lives (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 5:1ff). My encounter with the Kingdom of God came primarily through an experience over many months of a sense of cooperation with God in “one more attempt” to lose weight. I have been heavy almost my entire life, but to my surprise, in late 2012 as I stepped into basic regimens of dieting, food tracking and exercise, I experienced a participation with God in letting go of deeply ingrained habits of turning to food for comfort, especially sweets.

As I rethought key theological terms like kingdom, grace, gospel and discipleship, the pastoral role and the kind of church that would be required for that role to be life-giving, was radically redefined. For example, one of the first things that a disciple learns from Jesus is how to let go of outcomes. What would a pastorate and church look like where this was commonly understood and practiced? The following blogs are my attempt to answer this and other similar questions.

In the blogs that follow I will spell out this vision in more detail. I have also adapted the vision to a resume format, and have been actively seeking to apply to any pastoral positions I can find that would allow room for development of this vision with an actual group of people.

See Part 2: The Job Description