Playing Ball

One the more pleasant surprises I’ve encountered in Williamson County is the Franklin Baseball Club (FBC). This is a non-profit vehicle dedicated to facilitating good baseball for the youth of the city. Almost three years ago I put my youngest son William into the 5-6 age group, took a deep breath, and signed up to be a coach. Deep down, I suspected I would get an email saying “Thank you for your willingness to coach but…” I’ve enjoyed coaching William for 3 ½ years now.

Williamson County is an exploding area of Middle TN. Literally, we’re 7th wealthiest in the nation (as of 2017), we have a robust education system, and have a booming jobs market. We’re growing by leaps and bounds. With this influx of talent and growth, it is no surprise that the FBC is run like a machine. I’m amazed at the level of maturity/talent I see in the coaches on the field and the men who govern the board. From schedules, to uniforms, to overall management, the FBC is delivering. And…this is largely a volunteer organization.

Another positive aspect of this FBC culture is the level of male-involvement. Dads have taken a hit in the last 30-40 years, in the US. It is not my purpose here to document that trend but suffice it to say, males often lose their identity and subsequently do not know how to manage their strengths. I’m not seeing that dynamic in this baseball culture. To the contrary, fathers are working with their sons, taking a keen interest in the character/skills development of their boys. They volunteer to coach, provide assistance in running operations and help out where they can. Moms are very active too. What I see is entire families coming out, participating and enjoying this baseball culture.

Yes, you do see tension break out here and there as parents get emotionally engaged. Sometimes I don’t know whether to go LOL mode or be embarrassed. Yes, you do see coaches go over the top. Perhaps a teenage umpire makes the wrong call. Yep, we have all that too. In spite of these realities, the baseball culture is still excellent, at least, so I maintain.  Below is a helpful reminder to anyone who, shall we say, gets a little to zealous.

Baseball Rules

Another aspect I thoroughly enjoy is the friendships that develop among coaching teams. In studying winning teams, it became apparent to me early on that those teams that did very well had great coaching teams. It wasn’t a matter of having one superstar, it was a matter of having a coalition. There are other dynamics that go into a winning team as well: talent among the players, team chemistry, a positive hard-working ethic, and discipline. It also helps to get that player nobody knows about, who turns out to be a game-changer. For instance, last season our final draft pick ended up being the home run leader of the league…!

This season we play as the Brewers in the 7-8 league. It is the Fall season which means we focus more on developing inexperienced players. It is less competitive. We have a good team and I see us getting better still. The coaches, however, are what make the difference. If the coaches do not know how to manage talent, the team wanes. If the coaches know how to manage -and- develop the talent, an inexperienced team can become a power-house.

We have Derek Owen. Derek has the most baseball experience and can size up a given situation very quickly. He is a natural leader and is able to motivate our boys to greater levels of productivity. Derek can go beast-mode in a game and move an entire team forward by his will alone. He is our pitcher, we’re still in a coach-pitch league. We also have Jon Holmes. Jon has developed as a coach and leader immensely. He is the first coach our players see after they hit the ball. He stands guard as our first-base coach and patrols the right side of the field as a defensive coach.

We have two newer coaches, Greg Hagler and Clint Hill. I’m still getting to know both these men but they are solid coaches. Greg coaches 3rd base. 3rd base coaches have to know when to take the risk and send the runner home or when to hold runners at 3rd. We’re playing super aggressive right now and I love seeing Greg send our runners towards home. He also patrols the left side of our field on defense. Clint is the silent one, necessarily. He shags balls for Derek and is technically not allowed to engage the players on the field. He is good with details and I have a sense that his capacity has not been reached.  Me?  I run the dugout.

Jon Holmes is on the far left, then myself, then Clint Hill, and Derek Owen.  This pic was taken early on a Sat. morning…we’re all still waking up.

In addition to the coaches, we have parents who help with organizing snack schedules, practice, and moral. This level of parental affirmation and support is invaluable to making a team work. Parental support is one of those intangibles that adds texture and ambiance to this league.

I tell our coaches each season that we too are developing. We too are adding character and competence to our persons, just as the players do. Most of the lessons I’ve learned have been from my mistakes. I also learn a lot from fellow coaches on our team as well as opposing coaches.

One of the ongoing challenges we face is to properly assess our players. Some players need and can handle direct challenge very well. Some are wired differently and do not respond as quickly to challenge. Our coaching staff is more on the challenge side and time after time, I’ve seen players rise to that challenge. As I see it, little boys need challenge, they respond well to challenge. This is how God has designed them. However, that challenge has to be framed within the context of relationship.

I’ll close out with some thoughts on the intersection of faith and practice. As Jesus followers, we want to do more than take up space in our cities and consume goods and services. We want to “represent” the King in the way we walk out our faith. That is, we want to serve the city, seek its welfare, and promote its well-being. An isolationist and consumeristic policy does not accord with the gospel. We practice our faith and one expression of that faith is service, service to the city. We help it function well, we bring life to it. I find coaching baseball as ‘one’ outlet to that calling.

On another note, coaching baseball helps me know the people of Williamson County. As a minister of the gospel, this matters. How can I, or our fellowship properly make disciples in Williamson County if we have no clue about the culture? In spite of Williamson County’s great wealth and booming economy, there is still much need here. We are human and regardless of our circumstances, we need the gospel, we need Jesus to give direction to our otherwise rudderless and chaotic lives.

Following Jesus Into This Present Age

We begin today on a shorter sermon series on “Practicing Faith in Williamson County.”  The point here is to be intentional and knowledgeable about how we work out our faith in this present context.  That may take some cultural and sociological work.  That is, in order to love the people you live with, you need to know them.  In order to know them, take time to learn what is important and valuable.  Spend time with your people.  Love your city, work for its welfare.

We need help to do that.

Here then is the good news.  Christians have the “grace of God” at work in them.  They are equipped to penetrate the present age with power.  To this end…they can say “yes” and they can say “no” to dysfunction of any kind.

This grace enables us to live in this present age, even a postmodern age.

Part of living in this present age “epoch” is knowing what that age is.  For instance, postmodernism is suspicious of institutional authority, averse to propositional truth, and reticent to commit.  However, postmodernists are more likely to value authentic relationships, pursue justice, and appreciate grass roots initiatives.

The Kingdom of Jesus moves into the present age and works.  It does not resent the new age, castigate it, or shun it.  As Ed Stetzer notes, “It is common practice for the church to oppose cultural change rather than to change its methods to reach a new culture.”  For this reason, believers can easily resent postmodernism while simultaneously and inadvertently, not see that their thinking/reasoning may well be rooted in a modernist age or another baseline worldview.

Add to this mix, Williamson County TN.  Williamson County is the 7th wealthiest county in the nation and is presently experiencing phenomenal population growth.  People are coming here for three reason:  jobs, education, and quality of life.  This is where we live.

So, the people are coming here and they are projected to continue coming.  What does this mean?  The Lord is in this.  Creativity, talent, and assets are coming in the form of people.  This is something to love.  For Jesus people, it is critical that we not become mere consumers or that we simply isolate.  We want to get to work and represent the king rightly.

 

Tricks

There is a European horse trainer that I really enjoy. His name is Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling. He is able to calm and train horses using body language and what he calls “authentic communication.” I grew up around horses and it is fascinating to see him work. In my life experience, I’ve never seen anyone do this well with horses -and- be able to explain what he is doing.

In one of his videos (you can see them on youtube), he was conducting a clinic. An attendee noted that Hempfling doesn’t use tricks. The attendee implied that he had been taught many tricks but that Hempfling’s approach is legitimate in that he gets to the psychology of the horse and literally communicates with them. His methods then, are based on true understanding of how horses think and behave. He essentially behaves like them in order to communicate with them.

This would be in contrast to, say, using force to convince the horse to do what you want. To use force with horses gets one results. There is no question about that. However, force bypasses the horse’s personality. It ignores that aspect of the horse that feels and senses. Neither the horse’s mind or personality is consulted. To do so is to employ tricks.

The idea of playing tricks to make one’s way is…well…found in every discipline and walk of life. It is the essence of deception and shallow living. We could say it this way, the art of employing tricks is making things look different from what they really are. Furthermore, when exposed, the trick is seen to be artificial and fundamentally lacking in substance.

So why play tricks? We’re lazy. It is too hard to engage. It’s easier. It provides temporary cover, a little time. If we are honest, it is also a harder way to live. Compromise and frustration are the ready companions of the trickster.

We’re wired for more. Our souls yearn to be free, to be authentic.

Jesus walks in truth. He is the light. Walking with him is sufficient to playing. It takes time. It takes thought. It takes intentionality. We want to become persons who are real. That means we take up the difficult task of bringing truth into every aspect of our lives. That means we begin to yield to Christ. The trickster yields to his baser nature but when we walk in truth, we yield to our Lord. We also gain the pleasure of walking in truth and integrity.

Healing the Heart

Jesus loves the church. There is no question but that Jesus loves the church, he died for her. So what does it look like when Jesus visits the church?

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The pic above was done by Warner Sallman, admittedly the art is a little dated. Many of us grew up with pictures of Jesus that characterized him as the gentle shepherd to whom little children may run and be received. He is that. This picture, though, does not convey the character of the risen Lord to the church. This is not Sallman’s intention and that is ok. I’m suggesting that the Jesus that visits the churches, like in Rev. 2-3, doesn’t look like this Jesus.

The Jesus that visits the seven churches of Asia Minor is a general. He is the Good Shepherd but his person is multi-faceted. He is also a commander who speaks directly to the troops and calls them to order. He is the warrior-leader who issues ultimatums and warnings and expects that his followers listen. This is how he is presented to the church by the Apostle John in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation.

The lack of preaching and teaching on this aspect of Jesus’ character has left the church in a weakened state. We cannot fathom that Jesus might actually discipline a person, much less a church! To think that Jesus intentionally and lovingly causes pain to someone seems, well, far fetched and mean. However, this is precisely what he does.

In the fall of 2016 Faith Community Church (FCC) partnered with Blessing Point ministries. We asked ourselves the question, “What is Jesus trying to say to our fellowship through our pain?” We had been experiencing a fair amount of pain, frustration, and confusion. Rather than push through, we thought it was time to stop and ask some questions of the Lord. We assume, rightly so, that Jesus will speak to the person or church that approaches him in humility and brokenness (Psalm 51:17).

Theologically, we believe the following things. One, Jesus does not overlook church dysfunction. Two, Jesus relates to a church as he does an individual. Changing pastors, by-laws, church names, church officers, etc. does not in any way absolve a fellowship of sin and dysfunction. Three, until a church corporately repents, she will continue to be under Jesus’ hand of discipline. Four, a church may be under Jesus’ discipline and not know it. Instead of listening to her Master, she may take humanistic approaches to fix her problems. Finally, repentance is the fast track to health and blessing. The pain Jesus sends our way should point us to dysfunction, which, if repented of brings blessing and freedom.

With these things in place, we began to engage in the difficult work of hearing from Jesus. Blessing Point was very helpful in walking us through that process (aka Healing the Heart of your Church). The process essentially consisted of interviewing as many people as possible who have been and are affiliated with our fellowship. We divided our history up into four sections. Teams were tasked with tracking down and speaking with the people who made up each era and asking questions. The questions were designed to ferret out the blessings, challenges, and crises of each era.

The weekend before Thanksgiving we had our Historical Retreat. We brought all the data in and basically put it on the table. We examined the trends of our entire history. Then, and I stress the word “then” our eyes began to be opened. We began to see for the first time trends and patterns that were fairly consistent. A coup early on involved a power struggle between the pastor and the board. This left quiet a mark on the church. We noticed a disturbing trend on a corporate level, namely, prayerlessness. This is not to say we didn’t pray but it is to say, we weren’t desperate, we depended upon our giftedness, our talent, and our human powers. These are just a few things that marked our story.

What now? We held a Solemn Assembly on Jan. 22, 2017. We read the “Eighth Letter.” This letter consisted of what we believed Jesus was saying to us. Then we publicly brought everything into the light. Representatives stood in for all pastors, board members/elders, and the congregation.  We read letters of repentance where we owned our sin and dysfunction at all levels. What I appreciate about this approach is that the congregation at ALL levels is represented. Following this, we read out what we’re calling the Corporate Covenant. This document consisted of measurable steps of obedience which we believe we are to render to our Lord.

In all my years of ministry, this service was the most powerful. Why? We came ready to do business. We came expecting God and he met us there. The holiness of God was heavy in the room. We sensed that something broke that day. Our worship and community life has been so rich moving forward.

The road in front of us is a rigorous intentional working out of what we believe Jesus desires. We will leave this for another day. Suffice it to say that our fellowship is enjoying sweet communion, great worship, and a renewed sense of mission.

2016 Election

At least once a year our family travels from Nashville, TN to Mansfield, OH. We take I-65screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-2-59-38-pm to Louisville and then pick up I-71 which we take the rest of the way to Mansfield. When we get to Cincinnati I-71 joins I-75 south of the city (in KY) and then north of the city (in OH) the two interstates separate. For that brief time, the two roads converge into one.
I see a striking similarity to the Christian’s relationship to politics. For a time, we travel through this world and we are on the same road as, well, others who believe quite differently.
What I want to do in this blog is speak to some of my perspectives on politics, voting, and the 2016 presidential election. I want to do it from the perspective of someone who is, for a while, walking on the same road as many others who are ultimately headed in a different direction.
When this presidential season began, Ben Carson was the man I thought was best suited for the office of the president. I liked to hear him talk, he was an outsider, he demonstrated wisdom as opposed to mere knowledge and smarts. As a Christian his moral clarity on a few issues resonated with me. He was soon out of the race, I then more or less thought Marco Rubio was the better guy. Why Rubio? He too was a Christian who demonstrated moral clarity on issues while also demonstrating what I thought was a high degree of competency in his knowledge of how things worked. Well, he was soon out. Then it was Trump and Cruz. I preferred Cruz. Trump’s comments against the physical features of other people, his reckless approach to décor, and the steady barrage of insults turned me off. However, he prevailed. He was the nominee.
I was perplexed.
I’ve always voted Republican. I realize to some this may sound odd, to others this may sound wrong-headed. The Republican party has been changing, or so it seems. Perhaps it is not and only I am changing. Maybe both, I don’t know. I couldn’t believe that well-known prominent Christian leaders were coming out and “endorsing” Trump. What are you endorsing? I’m content to place this question along with thousands of other questions I have into the box entitled, “things I don’t understand.”
So now it comes down to Hillary and Trump. Hillary struck me as an insider, a professional, a person intimately familiar with the system. She is definitely more suave and sophisticated then Donald Trump. I do like her fierce independence, her ability to fight for women, her competence in life. She has done a lot for her country. However, she is pro abortion, she is behind same-sex marriage, and in my estimation has a busload of corruption behind her. I’m pretty sure I know what kind of supreme court nominees she would put forward if given the opportunity. This issue matters a lot to me because the court decides on many of the moral issues of the day.
As I compared the two, to me it seemed bad, all the way around. I really didn’t like either candidate. It was funny. What now America? At this point I felt the system pushing me to choose, defend, and fully support a candidate. Isn’t that what we do? Doesn’t it work that way? I declined. As some have said, “both these candidates are deeply flawed.”
Now what? I get the third party way of thinking but I think its fundamentally naive. To vote third party is to vote for someone else indirectly. Intentions do not matter. That is why it seems to me that the wiser course of action is to pick the lesser of the two undesirable actions. Someone might object on purist grounds. Many of my friends did vote third party for reasons of conscience. I have trouble seeing it this way but I do understand having to vote your conscience. I do it too and it doesn’t surprise me that different people have different perspectives.
To recuse oneself from the process and not even vote, to me, is unwise or at worse, cowardly. To protest by, leaving the room and declining to do some good because “I don’t like the options” seems like a sad, uninformed, regrettable way of behaving. But, what do I know? Unto the Lord we render everything we do and if offered in faith, he will receive it.
I walked in for early voting and reluctantly voted for “Donald J Trump.” This may sound strange but in the voting booth I really sensed that God does love Donald Trump. Ok. I walked out and literally said out loud, “what have I just done?”
The evening of the election night I stayed up and watched, thinking, “there is NO way Trump wins this, as in, NO WAY.” He did. I couldn’t believe it! Now, he is the president-elect of the United States of America.
We will see where this goes. I can see how he might do some good with his business skills.
“He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding,” says the prophet Daniel (2:21).
God works in mysterious ways. While he does, let’s hold things loosely and not tie ourselves to political machines or movements. I think we have in America. We are walking through this world and while here, we participate by faith and do the good that we can. However, let’s stay free. Jesus is the only King who can truly rule rightly. As his disciples we reflect well upon our Lord by having him hold that sacred place in our hearts labeled “hope”.

Elk Hunt

Battles worth fighting

Here is a letter I wrote for our congregation.

_________________________________

Last week I noticed several wasp nests outside the church entry door.  I do not remember seeing them form, all of a sudden, there they were.  Of all my pastoral duties, I count killing wasps as one of the more fun “obligations.”

I needed to come up with a plan.  I secured some wasp killing tools (two for one) from the True Value store down the street.  Perfect.  I came back and quickly checked to see if they were still there.  Who knows, perhaps they got wind of my scheme and headed out?  They were still there, good.

Now what?  I didn’t want to make a mistake and lose an opportunity so I did a couple of practice shots into the mulch.  It worked.  Ok.  I sized up the nest again.  Thankfully, it was located in a corner of the window so all the spray would be concentrated so as to maximize the impact.  Enough planning, it was time to conduct the mission.

I cut loose with 6-7 seconds of concentrated spray.  For that brief moment in time I ruled the world.  Wasps came tumbling down in confusion and disorientation.  It was pandemonium.  Making sure none of them got away, I continued with some follow-up shots.  Several wasps came back from other missions and they soon joined their colleagues, in death.  I counted over 30 dead wasps and that does not include the generation or so of wasps who were still in the larvae stage.

I still had another bottle of spray.  Now what?  I needed another task, are there any more nests to destroy?  I walked around the entire building looking for more enemies.  Thankfully, I found one more nest.  I killed all these wasps too.  Not bad for a day’s work.

I went back into my office knowing I had done my duty.  It was over.  Truth won that day.

Today I went out again, in the warmth of the afternoon to take a break.  I decided to look over the carnage from last week.  Wouldn’t you know, there were two more nests?  Hmmm.  I repeated my trip to True Value, they still had the same deal going.  I came back and repeated the battle I fought last week.  This time I counted almost 60 dead wasps not counting the ones still in the larvae stage.

Earlier today as I was reflecting on the journey our fellowship is in, I literally thought to myself, how many more difficult fights do we need to fight?  We’re looking at Healing the Heart this month and next.  We’re needing to move to another location.  That will bring its own share of logistical challenges.  We’re fighting to get our Missional Communities up and going.  We’ve literally turned worship upside down.  Youth….?  How do we solve that one?  All of this has or most likely will happen this calendar year.  Not surprisingly, some of our folks are getting tired.

We are hitting things and hitting them hard.  There is a reason we want to be unconscious when a surgeon does his work.  Who wants to feel pain?

When I went out today I was mildly surprised that the nests were back.  I had to go after it again!  Next week, I’ll check yet once more.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to take out some more wasps.

I do not believe FCC will always have to fight this hard.  We got to where we got through years of casual drift.  Now we are taking radical approaches to correct what took a long time to happen.

Please hear me now.  The enemy will hit us in the areas of morale, hope, faith, and courage.  He will suggest to you an easier road of funk, cynicism, unbelief, cowardice, and redeployment although…he will not be so bold as to say those words to you, to us.  It will be a slow unwinding, a sense of impending doom, a hopelessness and the suggestion that “God has forsaken you (corporately).”

When these negative emotions and beliefs creep up on us, we have to fight against them.  The target of such temptation is our identity.  If we come out from under our identity in Christ, we lose confidence and bearing.  We literally do not know who we are and where we are going.  So, when these things come against us we run back to what God has done for us and who we are in his sight.  God has placed us in Franklin.  He has blessed us.  He is leading us now.  We are not left as orphans without his leadership.  We are not abandoned.  The things which we are battling are good and right.  We must fight and God is literally for us!

No, the fight will not always be as difficult or wearisome.  But, there is a time for war and there is a time for peace.  We are in a time of war.  The wasps have got to be killed, every last one of them.

I love being your pastor,

 

David

 

Summer Vacation 2016

Grand Prismatic Spring

 

Our family went on a vacation in July 2016. It was incredible.

We put nine persons in our 2004 Chevy Suburban. A lady from our fellowship, Julie Hall, went with us. We put two luggage carriers on top of the vehicle and used a hitch rack to haul our gear. We drove over 5,000 miles and camped throughout our journey.

Why did we do this? The president declared all federal lands and parks free for families with fourth graders for the 2015-2016 school year. This got our attention. Then we asked the question, why not? Why not just go for it? The more we thought about it the more attractive the idea became. The idea of experiencing travel on this scale as a family, seeing the sights of our country, and experiencing God in a new way was enough to put the plan into motion.

I’ll briefly detail the route. We left Franklin July 10 and arrived at my Uncle and Aunt’s place in Philadelphia MO that evening. The Bontragers are always hospitable and they were more than happy to put us up that night. The cooking and the setting of rural Philadelphia MO was wonderful. The next morning, we were off again. That evening we made Lake Herman State Park in Madison SD. My cousin, Ivan Yoder, and his family met us there and we camped out at the park. The next morning Ivan made breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hash brown. It was lovely. We enjoyed a great time of food and fellowship between our families. The next morning, July 12, we were off again.

We left Madison SD and made Devil’s Tower WY that evening. Wow! Seeing that edifice come up out of the ground (so to speak), seemingly unrelated to anything around it was wonderful. My children hiked up the boulder section to get to the base, I joined them there and got some pics. The campground there was full so we stayed at a nearby campground for $56 that night. We all just loved the weather! The air is so devoid of humidity. The nights are cool and the days are warm but not so warm that it is miserable.

The next morning we were off again, headed to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone was probably the most diverse Park we visited. The nights were in the low 30s two days before we got there! Actually, three days before we arrived it had snowed. We saw bison, moose, elk, deer, bear, osprey, ravens, and much more fauna. The thermal hot springs, Old Faithful, waterfalls, and beautiful mountainous terrain was incredible. Grand Prismatic Spring was beautiful (see pic above)! We stayed at Yellowstone three nights. I didn’t sleep well due to cooler temps at night. Everyone else was fine though.

We stayed at a KOA in Fillmore UT after Yellowstone. The goal here was to rest a little. Our experience is, if you are trying to stay frugal, a KOA is not the way to go. We paid almost $140 to stay there two nights. We paid less than that to stay two nights in a hotel using priceline. If you stay at an RV park, you get the same amenities and basically pay $20 per tent.

After Fillmore Utah, we drove through to Death Valley. This was my favorite part of the trip. Temps were around 119. It was hot! However, it was also beautiful. The austerity of Death Valley was amazing. We visited the Devil’s Golfcourse, Natural Bridge, Badwater Basin, Dante’s View, and Zabrieske’s Point (wow!). We caught a sunset there.

Imagine the beauty and rawness of Death Valley juxtaposed with the baseness of Las Vegas. We stayed in Vegas two nights to get cleaned up and rest. After enjoying all these scenic parks and hearing from God continually, we were confronted with the obscenity of the lights and signs of Vegas. Yuck. We stayed at Silver Sevens. The help was ok. I was glad to get out of there.

From Vegas we went to Hoover Dam. It was hot. The Dam was incredible. Seeing the concrete and reading the story of its construction was sobering. From Hoover Dam we were off to Grand Canyon.

We stayed at an Airbnb in the desert for two nights. It was a simple plot of land, you packed everything in and everything out. Our host, David, was very helpful. The sunset and sunrise there was beautiful. Grand Canyon the next day was wonderful. As I walked up to Mather Point I was struck at the vastness of the canyon. I had seen pics but… We actually spent very little time at Grand Canyon.

The next day we were off to see the Petrified Forest. It wasn’t much of a forest. There were some petrified logs on the ground throughout the park. The Painted Desert was so colorful and other-worldly, almost. We took plenty of pictures. There was evidence of Native American construction. Some paintings and designs were on the rocks, all indicative of a people group that once flourished there. The Painted Desert was my second favorite place to visit.

From the Painted Desert it was to Gallup NM to Amarillo TX to Little Rock AR to home on July 25, fifteen days after departure.

This then was the route we took. The camping was fun but challenging. The first few times set up/tear down took over an hour! My older boys weren’t coordinated yet and the distraction of running off to play proved to be too much. With some practice we got it all down to 30 minutes. I built a chuck box to hold our utensils, pans, plates, and silverware. My Coleman stove didn’t work after the first time. I still don’t know why. We had an additional burner which served us well the rest of the trip. My wife did an excellent job managing meals and preparation.

One unexpected joy from this trip was talking with other people. Not everyone wants to talk but we did. We would often exchange advice and experience with other people doing what we were doing. This proved to be very helpful. We camped next to a family at Yellowstone and had a wonderful time just talking and interacting about the Park. There is an entire culture of people who travel, camp, or do RV living. I found that foreigners were the least likely to want to interact. I suppose the objective is to see things, not talk to the people. Nonetheless, I enjoyed talking with people.

What did I learn? I learned how to serve my family better. I learned how to ignore personal comfort to see that everyone else was ok. If my wife and I were working/pushing, things were getting done. If we relaxed, things didn’t get done.  As the Master says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I found this to be true.

Early mornings I would get out of the tent or not, spend time with the Lord and enjoy the approach of the day. It was quieter out there, away from city lights and lots of people. The Lord reminded me how easy life is when you are single-minded. For me, media distracts and blocks a single-mindedness. It was so refreshing to not do social media. I read through the Minor Prophets and was able to grasp the messages, it seemed, with much more clarity.

We want to do this again albeit on a smaller scale. Lets see how it goes.

Sunday School at Faith Community Church

Our congregation took a turn June 5, 2016. Since our early days in 1978 we have had a regular practice of meeting on Sunday mornings for Sunday School. What happened June 5? It was our last Sunday to do Sunday School.

What I want to do is briefly summarize why we did this and speak to where we are headed.

Sunday School first began in England in the late 1700s. The original design was to educate children who worked and did not have access to formal schooling. Sunday School evolved from that to become what it is today, a Bible study for the church.

Our fellowship averages between 70-80 people on a given Sunday. Apart from the morning worship service, Sunday School has traditionally required the largest amount of time and resources. We lined up nursery workers for children ages 0-3 and teachers for the following children’s age groups (3-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17). Sometimes we would add or subtract a class given attendance and need. We then had an adult Sunday School class. Not surprisingly, Sunday School was the biggest ministry of our church! We have been blessed to have so many diligent and willing volunteers to teach and recruit workers through all these years.

So why would we do away with this ministry?

There are several reasons. One, the biblical model for the discipleship of children rests with the parents (Eph. 6:1-4). In the context of the home the parents both teach and model the gospel for their children. Within the predictable patterns of the home, children can be immersed in the expressions of a biblical faith. Within the home children receive verbal instruction attended with consistent expressions which they can imitate. Eventually, they leave their homes and innovate as they live out the gospel in homes of their own.

Two, without realizing it, our primary energies and resources are going to ourselves! Bible study is good and Christian education is good. But what are we communicating about discipleship if the balance of most of our resources go toward Sunday School? Discipleship, we believe, is more than accruing information about the Bible. Teaching and information is a critical part of discipleship but it is not discipleship in and of itself.

Finally, in assessing where we are, it has become apparent to us that we need to cultivate more missional DNA. What is that? We speak here of the posture of a fellowship toward the outside world. Do we speak a language that is understandable? Do we have patterns that are translatable? Are we answering questions that an outside world is asking? Does our fellowship have a culture that is pointed outward? By missional DNA we mean embracing and practicing habits that give local expression to the “Go” in Matt. 28.

These are the reasons for the change.

However, doing away with Sunday School is not enough. I like to think of it this way. One vehicle worked for a season but the season ahead calls for a different vehicle. The new vehicle for our fellowship is what we’re calling the missional community. What will this look like? This will be a non-Sunday gathering of believers from a particular area who meet together to do worship, community, and mission. This will be the expression of an Acts 2:42 kind of Christianity.

We believe that discipleship will be more efficient in this context as opposed to a Sunday School context. This vehicle will have the added benefit of greater flexibility when it comes to “connecting with the unengaged.” As we move forward our energies and resources are going towards equipping leaders to lead in this missional community context.

As I like to tell our people over and over, salvation comes from the Lord, not a vehicle! We put no trust in strategies or plans. Our trust is in the Lord and in him we put our hope. With the Lord as our strength we proceed forward by faith.

Theological Madness

I was reading the other morning in Jeremiah.

Before I get into what I read, let me say something about reading the prophets. I fight pretense, I hate it, I despise it. Yet, it crops up again and again. When the Lord speaks to us there is no room for games, play, pretending. When I read the prophets I feel the lack of a gap between me and the Lord. It is like he is in my personal space. You know, like when you get down on your child’s level and say, “Look in my eyes.” The point at which they make eye contact is the point at which they listen.  Reading the prophets is to hear his voice so directly that confusion cannot be present.

In Jeremiah 21:2 we read this from the Message Bible “Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, has waged war against us. Pray to God for us. Ask him for help. Maybe God will intervene with one of his famous miracles and make him leave.”

When I read this I was literally astonished! I couldn’t believe the audacity of the petitioner, Zedekiah. He was asking the prophet Jeremiah to intercede on his behalf.  Before we get into the historical context let me sketch a few examples from every day life which might capture the dynamics behind this request.

One, the baseball player rounds third, forgets to touch the bag, but continues to run on, crosses home plate, and is called out. He then turns to the umpire and asks if maybe he could be called “safe”, just this one time. Two, the taxpayer has not figured his taxes correctly. He owes more than he thinks he does. So, he calls the IRS and asks if, in light of his mistake, he could skip paying the part he thought he didn’t owe. Three, the boyfriend repeatedly ignores the texts, calls, and emails of his girlfriend. Then, he comes back to her and acts like everything is good.

For years the prophets have been warning Judah about her dysfunctional behavior. God had graciously warned them over and over. He appealed but to no avail. They literally didn’t listen. Now God was bringing the consequences to Judah. Their response, “Hey, is there some way we could skip the consequences part?” It is madness in itself to think this way.

What is at issue is this, “I want to receive grace without repenting.” In order to be safe, the runner has to touch third. In order to be fine with the IRS, the taxpayer has to pay what is due. In order to have a good relationship with his girlfriend, the young man must maintain trust with her.

Have you heard the expression, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”?

Here it is. God respects himself too much to disregard his own ways. This is why he is God. He doesn’t go along with dysfunctional behavior. He never goes co-dependent on someone. He is the only healthy person in the room, so to speak. He will not allow his own people to hurt others, themselves, apart from his voice and discipline.

Is grace still available? Yes it is. But there must be repentance first!

It seems to me that the Christ speaks to us all the time, in loving correction. He speaks through people, circumstances, and through pain in our lives. Rather than stopping to consider what he is saying and attributing what we are hearing to him, we keep plugging along. So what happens? There is a level of disconnect. We slip into theological foolishness and say things like, “Ouch, Lord, that hurts, is there any way you can take this away without me having to square with the past?”

By paying attention to the source of the pain and repenting of it, we can find a way of escape. This is building our houses on rock. Let’s regard his voice as more important than the fleeting pleasure of doing it my way. By continuing in bad behavior we will certainly continue being stuck.