Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Refreshing and Sustaining Weekend

A lot of times I leave for vacation and arrive home in need of another vacation. I’m more tired than when I left. Usually we spend our vacations doing so many activities and keeping so busy that by the time I get home to my own bed, I’m simply exhausted.

My family was away from Bozeman this past weekend, but this wasn’t a trip like that. 

We were at our cabin near Glacier National Park for about 4 days and it was completely refreshing. We were there celebrating my mom’s 60th birthday, so there were lots of people around and we were busy planning for her big party on Saturday. But, other than that, we were able to simply relax and be together as a family. We didn’t go anywhere away from the cabin. We played cards and sat around the campfire. We took walks and rode four-wheelers. The kids rode bikes and hung out in the playhouse. And we ate…a lot.

This was a refreshing and sustaining weekend. 

My soul was restored by the opportunity to just relax and unwind and my battery was recharged for another season of ministry. I desperately needed that and am so grateful for my church allowing me to get away for a weekend. I’m thankful for Gary organizing the worship service and to Jana for preaching. I’m grateful for the Leadership Team being okay with my absence. I’m indebted to a church that continues to do incredible ministry even when I’m gone.

And now, I’m really excited for a summer of ministry together. And my soul is refreshed enough to handle it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Loving Where You Live

Perhaps you knew this already, but Mandy and I just bought a new home. As our kids get older, we were rapidly outgrowing our current home, so we are excited to be in a home that we can live in for the next 10-15 years.

You also might know that I’m pretty passionate about neighborhood ministry—often called Parish Ministry—where you take seriously the geographical location in which God has placed you and seek to be good news and a faithful presence of blessing in that place.

So, naturally, this process of moving to a new neighborhood has me thinking a lot about parish ministry. We tried to be intentionally invested in our place at our former house, through hosting some events for those on our block and in our vicinity. But I was surprised by the number of transient folks on that street—college students and short-term renters. Combined with the fact that we only lived on that block for 5 years, and that means that we weren't as communal and neighborly as we would have hoped to be when we first moved in.

Which has me dreaming about what could be as we have moved from Annie Street to Mountain Ash Avenue.

Who lives here? What demographic are they? What are our neighbors like? Will we like them? What needs can we help meet? Who will we connect with in deep ways?

But, more importantly, this move has me dreaming and scheming about practical and actual ways in which my family might be intentionally pastoral in our new location.

How will we purposefully engage with our neighbors? How will we make our presence known and felt in positive ways? How will we strategically get to know our neighbors so that we can be the good news and share the good news?

Some of the ladies at our church are currently reading a book called The Turquoise Table, about a woman who purposefully placed a turquoise table in her front yard and intentionally looked for activities and events that could get her neighbors to her turquoise table in order to be communal, welcoming, and hospitable with them—the way Jesus would have been.

And I fervently believe we are all called to this sort of relational ministry with our neighbors.

So, what’s your ‘turquoise table’ idea for connecting with, and loving, your neighbors? How could you be more intentionally and faithfully present on your block this summer? Who, in your physical proximity, is God inviting you to connect with that you still never have? What parish ministry is God calling me and my family into on Mountain Ash Avenue in this next season of life?

It will take some effort. It will take some creativity. It will take some time. And perhaps even some money. But loving our neighbors is at the heart of the gospel, so let’s commit to taking this part of the Great Commandment seriously. Let’s commit to this being the summer where we finally meet our neighbors and seek out ways to be a loving presence where God has placed us.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Nothing But The Best

There’s a verse from the book of 2 Timothy that I’ve been mulling over all day. It’s a familiar verse, but one I’ve never thought through in regards to my role as preacher. In Paul’s second letter to his protégé, Timothy, he tells him to, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.” Usually this verse is interpreted through the lens of evangelism—that when we are out in the world, going about our lives and interacting with our community, we should be ready and willing to share the gospel if the opportunity arises. And there is certainly significance in that interpretation, especially for those who are not paid, vocational preachers, with a pulpit to fill and a sermon to deliver each Sunday.

But I am a vocational preacher—and have a 25-minute sermon to deliver each week—so I’ve been wondering how this popular verse carries different importance for professional preachers than it does for the average layperson. And when I read this verse in the New Living Translation—“Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not”—it took on even more significance.

You see…I didn’t preach very well yesterday.

My sermon was too long, it wasn’t researched enough, the transitions from point to point were sloppy, and I was too dependent on my notes. And I even broke my one cardinal rule of preaching: be ruthlessly singular in purpose. In short, it wasn’t my best work.

And at this point in my preaching career, I’ve written and delivered enough sermons to be comfortable with the idea that I won’t knock every sermon out of the park. And I’m generally okay with this idea of occasional mediocrity. But, of course, yesterday happened to be a Sunday where we had about six first-time visitors. I didn’t make the greatest first impression.

Which brings me back to the words of wisdom from Paul to Timothy.

I certainly could have chalked yesterday up to being an ‘out-of-season’ Sunday—an ‘unfavorable’ day to have to preach. We had just moved to a new house, were getting ready to host all sorts of events, and my week was filled with a plethora of extra meetings. It wasn’t that I was unprepared to preach—in fact, I had cut over a page out of my sermon notes on Saturday night. I had enough quantity to my sermon, but hadn’t done enough to enhance the quality. Paul reminds me, however, that the Good News of Jesus is too important—and the art of preaching too significant—to ever give less than my best.

God deserves my best, the members of our church deserve my best, and our visitors most-certainly deserve my best.

And the same is true for all of us, regardless of our profession: God and the world deserve our best. We never know when people are watching or when we might have the opportunity to speak goodness, beauty, or truth into someone’s life. We never know when the quality of our life and our work might make a significant difference in the life of another. So, let’s be prepared, in favorable or unfavorable times, to do our jobs well, steward our words well, and live our lives well—as a testimony to the good work God is doing within us.