Category Archives: Pastoral Leadership

from the book of common prayer

I have been giving prayer a lot of thought lately.  Why? Because prayer is a spiritual discipline that requires the participant to be thoughtful about it.  In fact, I pray the least when my heart and mind aren’t engaged in a healthy struggle over my surrender, trust and relationship to God. 

I have the great challenge and privilege of being the pastor to a wonderfully authentic church!  Redwood Hills certainly doesn’t have it all figured out, and that’s not really our goal either.  We’re a simple community whose vision is to be a church who seeks “Hearing…Being…and Serving“, and while this is requires a long journey, I’ve been thrilled to witness so many people engage in this vision and make a point of really exploring what it means to follow Jesus in our culture.

Our current teaching series has been one on Prayer.  We’ve used Jesus’ model for prayer (Matthew 6:4-9) as the back drop and I must say that I’ve both loved teaching on prayer as well as finding myself learning so much for myself.  It’s been a worthwhile challenge to explore prayer and its effectiveness in my relationship to others and God.  I’ve also been reminded of some of the most simple truths about prayer that sometimes we lose track of.  For instance…”God has a knack for wanting to answer our prayers”.  Simple…true…easy to forget.

Last Sunday I read a sentence from Thomas Cranmer’s “Book of Common Prayer”.  

“Almighty God, to whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.”

In NT Wright’s book called, “The Lord and His Prayer”, he makes the reader stop and focus on the words…”all desires known…” and asks the question, how do we respond to this?  Is it a promise, or a threat? 

Think about that for a moment.  If you believe God knows all your desires, then you must also consider how that truth affects the way you approach prayer.  If  we see it as a promise than we’re more likely to be authentic in our prayers, willing to let God’s spirit transform our hearts and minds into His likeness.  But, if we react to this truth as if it’s a threat,well then we’re much more likely to keep prayer a surface level and gaurded one-way conversation. 

This brings me back to the need to be thoughtful about prayer.  It’s our thoughtfulness that forces us to wrestle with these truths and how our inner-most being is responding to them.  I’m trying to see it as a promise that I may pray openly, honestly, and not be afraid to sort through the crap in my heart that desperately needs to be healed, freed, or completely given up.  The funny thing is, that with the extra effort and thought given to how and why I pray, I want to pray more and it all seems to be more simple than before. 

I guess you could say there’s a certain freedom in knowing your heart is completely exposed whether you intend to expose it or not.

Love and Peace.

Advertisements

My appetite for soul slurpees

There are those who say they don’t believe that the Bible contains metaphors.  I’m not one of those people.  The Scriptures are full of metaphorical messages and many are extremely difficult to understand.  If you struggle with understanding the scriptures and wish that they were maybe more literal, then hopefullly you’ll find some comfort in Richard Daulhstrom’s interpretation of  some rather difficult words spoken by Jesus.

“If any man is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink…” Of course, it’s a bit of a rhetorical statement, offered as it was at a time whenon demand faucets and indoor plumbing hadn’t yet been invented, and offered in a place that regular saw temperatures above 100, (or 30 if you’re Canadian). Of course they’re thirsty. The words of Jesus aren’t really words about thirst; the thirst part is presupposed.

 
The real heart of the statement is that when you’re thirsty, you’re to come and drink of Jesus. Now, I love metaphor as much as most people (save some geeky poet friends), but there are times when Jesus’ words frustrate me no end. He talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. What’s that supposed to mean? When His mom comes looking for Him, he turns to the crowd and says, “Who is my mother?” as if He’s forgotten what she looks like. And now this: “if you’re thirsty, come and drink of me.” Unlike some of the most popular parables, Jesus never took the disciples aside in the back room and explained this thirst metaphor. He just hung it out there for us to embrace and practice without offering a stitch of explanation.
 
While this frustrates me, it’s also true that these open ended statements are part of what makes the Bible livefor every generation. Because everything’s not spelled out, we need to wrestle with it, pray about it, talk about it, contextualize it, and hold our answers with enough boldness to explain why believe them, and enough humility to discard them when more light shines on our convictions and shows us we need to shift. So, realizing that we don’t have the privilege of Jesus sidebar interpretation, here’s how this living word has been speaking to me lately:
 
First of all, I reiterate that the issue isn’t whether or not I’m thirsty; thanks be to God I am, and most of the time. I thirst for intimacy in my marriage, meaning in my work, healing of my soul, authentic relationships with my adult children. I thirst to be informed by truth and grace as I fulfill my responsibilities of a shepherd. I thirst for sanity in world, peace, justice, beauty, hope.
 
If those were the limits of my thirsts then learning to drink from Jesus would be simple because these are good thirsts and a good drink will quench a good thirst. My problem, though, is that interwoven with those few noble thirsts are lots of other things, uglier things. I thirst to be adored, to be left alone, to be comfortable, to be so wealthy and secure that I need never depend on anyone again, least of all God. I thirst for relational autonomy way too often. I thirst for the stimulation of the city, and the beauty of the mountains. I thirst to expand my sphere of influence, and to move to the middle of nowhere, where I can fish, cook, climb, and be the master of my own universe.
 
What a mess of thirsts! And herein lies the hope of Jesus words, the point for me at which they begin to make sense. It’s encouraging that Jesus doesn’t moralize about my thirsts, casting judgement on my desires. I can already hear some of you accusing me of heresy here, but don’t light the fire yet. For too many centuries, the church has wrongly assessed that our problems stem from our desires. But I can’t find Jesus running around ranting about our desires anywhere in the gospels, even the non-canonical ones!
 
Instead, His invitation is related to what we do when the pangs of any thirst are born in our hearts, never mind whether the thirst comes from our wounded, rebellious soul, or our deepest longings for the world God created. In both cases the admonition is the same: if you’re thirsty, come to Jesus. This is profoundly liberating for me because I’m learning to link my relationship with Jesus with all my thirsts, not just my healthy ones, but the unhealthy ones too.
 
It’s also counterintuitive. The gnawing unhealthy thirsts tell me that they won’t be satisfied with anything less than an unhealthy beverage, the soul equivilant of a monster slurpee when what I really need is fresh squeezed OJ. Of course, this is where faith comes in. This is where I’m learning to interact with Jesus and find some measure of satisfaction in Him, both when I’m thirsting for healthy intimacy, and when I’m lusting for pleasure or escape. Somehow, the turning to Christ in the midst of my unhealthy thirsts has the effect of changing my appetites; not instantly, and not entirely, but subtly and slowly. Thanks be to God, I’m slowly losing my appetite for soul slurpees.
 
The methodology Jesus had mind for “drinking of Him” remains a mystery because I don’t think He had a methodology in mind. He wants us to wrestle with this stuff. For me, a born and bred Baptist, it’s taken nearly half a century to discover that this “drinking of Christ” works best for my sould when I pray daily prayers from a book like this one, which is a decidedly non-Baptist practice. “Coffee with God” is what I call it, and it’s become increasingly important to my mornings, not in a legalistic way, but in some sort of better way. It entails brewing a pot of French Press and then sitting (outside or in, depending on seasons) with Jesus as I pray the daily prayers, drawn from the Psalms, and pour out my heart. I do this because of all my thirsts, and for this reason, I’m learning to thank God for this holy and unholy juxtaposition of desires because together they lead me to the water of Christ I’d never have found if I weren’t thirsty.

These are some wise and relevant words that really encouraged me as I read them early this morning.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Can you relate to this? What do you find yourself thirsting for? 

Love and Peace.

Being the church, or chasing cool?

In the last week there have been two blogs that seemed to have made their way into my stream of thought.  One is by my friend over at Spiritfarmer who provides a thoughtful, funny and provocative rant about churches who have subtle ways of saying all other churches suck, but theirs. 

It’s a post (Read Here) worth your time.

The other is a video blog from pastor Ed Young who leads the Fellowship Church in Dallas.  Fellowship is a huge church known for it’s creative talks which deal with topical issues such as sex, parenting, money, and marriage.  Last year I wrote a blog about Pastor Young and his message to the Fellowhip staff about not ever planting churches within the area of Fellowship church.  He claimed then that those who do that are “church pirates”.  It remains the most read post of my short blogging career for some reason…

Recently, Young decided to video himself while driving to illustrate a point about pastors “chasing cool” by swearing and talking crudely.  While I understand what he’s getting at and believe he makes some good points.  I find it very funny that the master of creating a church service which delivers “cool” to the people each Sunday would warn against such a thing.  Here’s the video…

Let’s be honest here.  The fact that pastors are being included into the discussion of “chasing cool” in terms of how they lead and shepherd their churches is not a good thing.  Both these blogs have forced me to look at my leadership, pray for pure motives, and make some changes about the way I think and approach my church.  It’s an easy trap to fall into these days…especially in my Seattle / Eastside culture defined by it’s high achievments. 

I find myself thinking today not about what is cool, but rather what is relevant.  I believe media and creative teaching series’ have there place in today’s church, but the reality is that there is nothing more relevant in all the universe than Jesus and the Gospel. 

It’s with that thought that I also challenge the person who’s seeking a church to attend…a faith community to journey with…or maybe even an intentional community to live with.  Stop gauging your attendance or ability to commit on how cool the church or pastor is.  These things will certainly catch your eye and draw you in, but if many of us are honest about why we’re desiring church…it’s because we want to know how to contextualize God’s word into our everyday living. 

We want more than happiness…we want to be whole.  We don’t really want entertainment…we want to know how to cultivate true contentment.  We want more than priciples…we want to Truth.

But in order for this to happen, those of us who pastor have to stop thinking about how to make empty seats full, and lead those who are commited to the church into authentic disciple-oriented lives.  They will then be the ones to “build” the church by “being the church” within their workplace and neighborhoods.  As well, the people who come each week should stop with their demands to be entertained and stroked.  Stop the mental church shopping where visions of bigger kids programs, sermon props, and state of the art media convince you to “chase cool”.

I guess the last thing I should say is that I can see how this might seem like a small church guy ranting against the big churches who have the resources to afford certain things we don’t.  That’s not it.  I know of plenty of big churches who have a missional approach to their existence, and small churches who emphasize cool more than being the church.  Size doesn’t matter when it comes to being the church, or chasing cool.  The point of the blog is to encourage every pastor or church goer who reads this, to be thoughtful about what their true hopes and intentions are for leading and attending church.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Am I making too much out of this idea of chasing cool?

Love and Peace.

prayer and compassion

The title of this post tells you of my heart for the church.  I’ve been fairly silent in the blogosphere lately…partly because of some vacation and then a mission to the St. Bernard Parish, but also because I’ve been a bit discouraged lately with church leadership and taking time to understandGod’s direction for the Redwood Hillls community.  When I get this way I tend to unplug a bit and try to listen more than I talk. 

Prayer and compassion.  Switch the two and the church is nothing more than a non-profit.  Replace compassion with outreach programs and we often find ourselves busy “doing” church rather than having a true sense of corporate and individual mission.  It’s a fine line that requires constant examination.

I suggest that there is nothing more important for the church to both engage in and display, than prayer and compassion.  By prayer, I mean  the corporate sense.  People coming together in homes, sanctuaries, chapels, and church classrooms to pray together for the protection and mission of their church.  It’s something that I’m imagining for my church and praying that people will soon respond to my call for a community that prays together.

If I were to ask my friends who aren’t a part of a church community to “list several words that come to your mind when I say Church”…they would likely list things such as “anti-gay, anti-abortion, exclusive, money-hungry, consumed with their own buildings, and irrelevant“.  Just today, a friend told me I was crazy for believing that God loves me!  It breaks my heart knowing that people have so rarely seen God’s love, that they assume there can be no divine love given for their own lives! 

Compassion is essential to the life of every Christian and church vision!  Outreaches which attempt to draw people to an event won’t cut it, unless we are also willing to come to them in genuine relationship.  Talking “love” is pointless unless the church is willing to explore the implications of God’s grace.  Compassion is no small thing…it takes constant consideration and sacrifice.  The church can’t control what they deem to be true compassion…we must promote and allow people to practice it on their own, while making corporate prayer the driving force behind our actions.

Prayer and compassion…two very difficult disciplines ,but so important to the life and future of the church.  Question is…are we willing to engage in both of them?

Love and Peace.

My own personal Jesus

I wanted to share with you a great post by Richard Dahlstrom.  Richard is a pastor in Seattle and blogs at Pastoral Musings from Rain City.  I strongly encourage you to read his stuff from time to time!  Anyway, today he shared some thoughts about something that I have struggled with for several years now. 

The notion of “inviting Jesus into our hearts to be our personal Savior”, became something I could no longer completely embrace, but at the same time, I knew not to just throw out my belief of a personal savior.  I’ve shared this struggle from time to time in my teachings at Redwood Hills, but never with the clarity that Dahlstrom does in this post.  I hope that you’ll take a minute to thoughtfully read this and then feel free to share your thoughts and questions about it.

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times if you’ve anywhere near the church over the past 50 years. “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior”. The phrase personal savior didn’t appear out of thin air. There are countless encounters in the Bible between God and individuals. God meets Jacob, more than once, in order to shape him as God’s child. God meets Moses personally. David compares God to a shepherd who cares for each sheep personally, and Jesus takes up that same theme with his story about leaving the 99 sheep to go after the one who didn’t show up for church 🙂 It’s because of all this that I want to be careful not to denigrate the phrase “personal savior”. There’s perhaps nothing more comforting in our faith life than the understanding that Jesus walks with us personally, guides us, comforts us, cares for us, heals us, transforms us.

And yet…

This piece of the faith, which plays so well in our individualistic culture, is in reality more of a sub-plot in God’s story than a main theme. The sub plot of your attendance at a baseball game might be your discovery of garlic fries. They’re good and as you enjoy them you might start a discussion with your friend, right there in the top of the 8th inning, about the cholesterol fighting merits of eating garlic. But your friend, as he distances himself from you in the interest in inhaling fresh air, will probably point out that the bases are loaded and there are two outs, and “we didn’t come here to eat garlic fries, we came here to watch the game!”

And so it goes. “We didn’t come to Jesus to get a personal savior. We came to Jesus to join a profound story that will end with a reversal of the global curse.” Global Curse means, precisely, that the curse is more than just personal. There’s a problem in the world and the problem isn’t just my thought life, or my finances spinning out of control. The problem isn’t just that I need a little help with my marriage, or the kids, or some career guidance. The problem is bigger. How big???

Of course, the great promise of Christianity is this (as one author has put it): “The answer of Christianity (is that) everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.” We’re invited to Jesus not because we’ve personal problems that need fixing (though we do), but because the world is broken. I’m invited to step into the grand project of sowing seeds of hope in the world, offering a foretaste of what will be when Christ reigns fully and finally.

This is why I don’t like the phrase “accept Christ as your personal savior”. It’s not an untrue statement, as much as it’s the garlic fries at the baseball game. If all I do is sit by the snack booth and eat fries, I’ve missed the point. So it is for us, when we gather for worship and sing songs about all Jesus means to me…me…me, neglecting the grand cosmic transformation that’s unfolding, of which we’re invited to play a part. If I miss this, I remain entrenched the the kingdom of this world, singing songs about personal salvation and renewal, and comforting myself that I’m going to heaven when I die.

This is why I’m inclined to talk about sin as more than personal. It’s not just that I’ve failed God somehow – it’s that I’m part of global system that boasts genocide, sexual trafficking, and AIDS epidemic, gross economic inequalities, health issues, environmental issues, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. There’s a better story on the way…and it starts now, when I turn to Christ and become part of the solution.

Love and Peace.

When tables collide

communion_table_by_pastorbuhro_on_f

Yesterday I returned home from a short tw0-day trip to eastern Washington where I attended the annual conference held for pastors of our denomination.  It had been a few years since I had made the trek over and I was looking forward to seeing some old friend and hopefully connect with some new pastors. 

Looking back on the experience I can say that it was worth the time and cash to attend.  I was encouraged by some of my conversations…confused by the overall lack of vision spoken…excited about the increasing number of pastors who are planting churches.

There was one moment on Tuesday morning where the day started with a brief time of prayer and communion.  I emphasize brief since the majority of the morning was dedicated to the “business” meeting that takes place each year.  You know the routine…department reports, finances, voting on positions…the usual church business stuff. 

I happened to walk in the auditorium a little late.  They had already begun to serve communion.  I sat in the very back so not to be a distraction to anyone.  While sitting there and observing all that was happening, I couldn’t help but take notice to two tables.  One table was placed up on the stage.  On it were bottles of water, microphones, reports, and laptops.  The other table was on the floor and placed on it were the stacks of communion trays.

One was a business table and the other, the Lord’s table.

Two very different tables, representing very different things.  The truth is, that one table is vital to the church body while the other has too often been made more important than it needs to be.  It was in these few minutes of sitting and watching that I wondered to myself…which table are we pastors most familiar with? Is pastoral leadership becoming more about money, numbers, and meetings?  Are we becoming more familiar with the business table than the other, which represents surrender…sacrifice…repentance…and shared experiences?

Now, I know at first that may seem like a critical statement.  I only ask the questions since I know myself and how easy it is to make my ministry about church business and not seek the life of a shepherd.  In my experiences there have been many who have sat me down at one table and trained me to build crowds and manage budgets, but few have been a constant voice teaching me that my calling is formed at other table where truth and grace…and hope and healing are lived. 

We live in a day and age where the business table cannot be avoided.  We need it.  But, the Lord’s table is where we should want to be found.  It’s there that egos are checked and hearts are shaped.  I can only hope and pray that when my career as a pastor is done, that many more younger pastors will know which table is most important to their ministry and influence. 

Love and Peace.

Be a voice…maybe even an angry one

Yesterday while eating my lunch I did what I often do when eating lunch by myself, reading either the Seattle Times or the NY Times.  I chose Seattle Times mainly because I wanted to check in on some local sports.  Part of me wishes I hadn’t read it at all…

The front page held the story of a rural family who had endured many years of trouble and abuse.  That all ended last week when the wife refused to come home to her husband for fear of being abused again.  She told him she would come the next day to get her things and their five kids.  The kids didn’t survive the night as their father shot and killled each of them before killing himself.  It turns out that the state new their was abuse going on in the house, but never protected the kids…this whole story of broken families and systems makes me very angry!

Every day there are horrible stories breaking that none of us really want to listen to, but if we don’t…we certainly become either ignorant, numb or we never find ourselves angry.

This morning, I’m thinking about an old U2 song called “Silver and Gold”.  It’s a song about slavery and as I was listening to a live version of it the other day I noticed that he breaks from the song…begins to speak out against apartheid and you can hear that Bono’s voice is being heard.  His voice is full of anger toward the inequality and violence that made apartheid such an evil existence in our world. 

At the end of the song, Bono asks the crowd, “am I bugging you?  I don’t mean to bug you!”  It’s as if he knows that he can’t help but being a voice of hope to the world, but at the same time there would be so many that would rather he just perform…just entertain…just keep to singing. 

Most of us know that Bono has become a loud voice in our world.  He’s angry toward injustice, hate, disease, and the way the wealth of the world chooses not to listen.  I’m sure many would still rather hear him sing than speak of hope and justice…

I woke this morning angry.  It’s not that I’m grumpy or emotional, but there’s an anger stirring in me about five children being shot to death by their father.  I’m angry at the mom for thinking of her own self and not going home to protect her kids.  I’m angry most of all about the growing world of domestic violence and that it continues to be something the church (mine included) are simply too silent about!

Jesus certainly showed us when anger confronts injustice, that healing and restoration can happen.  He became angry towards the silence of the religious leaders as they ignored a crippled man on the Sabbath.  His anger lead to complete healing for the man, and the Bible paints the picture of it all taking place in the presence of their silence and hardened hearts. 

This image of Jesus’ anger leading to healing is a message to the church.  It tells us once again that the church exists for the world, not the world existing for the church!  There’s a big difference between both ways of thinking…

Being a voice in this world isn’t easy.  I certainly know that if you begin to speak out about things, people will be annoyed and even call into question your faith, theology, and motives.  So to that I say…don’t try and be the next Bono, because you’re not.  Try and search the scriptures and understand what they say about God and His mission in our broken world.  Pray that your heart will be filled with a compassionate anger and that your voice will lead to action from you and the others who are influenced by what or who you feel convicted to speak for.

Love and Peace.