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Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Round-Up

2014 has been a full year. In my 12th year at Good Shepherd, we undertook a sanctuary and youth building renovation project; I was fortunate to be invited on a ministerial trip to Scotland; I tried to establish some new patterns of regular writing and recording (music); I continued to try to incorporate regular exercise into my life. Challenges included two beloved church staff leaving (and trying to cover their vacancies for most of the 4th quarter), the renovation campaign (did I mention that already?), and maintaining regular health and exercise...did I also mention that? :)

Some highlights of preaching, writing, travel, health, etc... follow:

Sermon Series: "It is Written"
I don't always preach in series, but when I do, I often enjoy the cumulative effect of building on a theme or digging deep into a topic. Early in the year, having read an article about some "Red-Letter Christians"* who found Jesus' teaching at odds with other scripture (whether Paul or the Old Testament), I did an extended series looking at a number of places where Jesus quoted the Hebrew scriptures and used them as the basis of his own teaching and ministry. It was a fascinating study for me and the congregation seemed to get a lot out of it as well. (*Note: this view does not describe all so-called "Red-Letter Christians"; some, like Tony Campolo, simply want to take Jesus seriously and use this designation to point to all the things Jesus did say... turns out, though, for the critics of the Old that those red letters also encompass pretty much the whole scope of the Old Testament being spoken out of Jesus' mouth.) That study led right into Acts for Pentecost, and I just stayed there all summer with the "Into the World" series (link).

Individual Sermons: three sermons stood out as "most downloaded" as well as most meaningful to me. They all were part of the series mentioned above (and really framed that whole series), but did more even than track the theme of Jesus' use of Hebrew/OT scripture. All coming from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, these represent much pulling together of my own thinking and real-life experience (in ministry and as a human being). The accompanying graphic (included here) captures much of it, but I commend these sermons to get a sense of what developed.
Also, see the short overview of all three (also with links) on my blog HERE.

  1. "The Space between Truth and Grace" (Matthew 5:17-26)
  2. "Fulfilling the Word: Vows" (Matthew 5:27-37)
  3. "Fulfilling the Word: Neighbors and Enemies" (Matthew 5:38-48)
Testimonies: this was a year of meaningful testimonies shared in and with the church; some are included below; I started to note "this is amazing!" next to them, but they are all amazing and really significant testimonies of God's goodness!
  • Mark Katibah (audio link, 5 min) - "How have you seen the goodness or greatness of God through our church? (shared on Nov 9 for "Church Matters, pt. 1"; page link)
  • Shannon Klar (audio link, 23 min) - "What does it look like to encounter God's goodness and greatness and be changed?" (shared on Nov 16 for "Church Matters, pt. 2"; page link)
  • Ray Ball (audio link, 7 min) - as part of our Christmas "Behold the Lamb of God" concert, I asked Ray to share part of his testimony to illustrate God's deliverance
  • Bentley Ball (audio link, 12 min) - as part of our Christmas "Behold the Lamb of God" concert, I asked Bentley to share part of her testimony to illustrate what it is like to wait on God (both the faith and the struggle)
Scotland Reflections (index): a ministerial trip to Scotland proved to be one highlight of the year, particularly as related to theological/personal/ministry reflection. The main part of my blogging this year was thoughtful reflection on my time in Scotland, particularly around themes of change, culture, and community.

Music: one of the goals/habits I cultivated in 2014 was trying to regularly write or record music; I called this "Sundays for Singing," trying to post something each Sunday. I certainly didn't generate a post weekly, but it did get the wheels turning again. Here are a few unpolished examples:
  • "Temple Song" - about Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple in John 2; first guitar-arrangement of this original piano song with my friend, Gerrit Dawson; please excuse the "Christmas jammies"
  • "Say Something" - a radio cover my daughter wanted to do; it was a blast just singing/playing with her!
  • "Friend of Sinners" - a worship song by Red Mountain Music to a text by Augustus Toplady; another highlight because my daughter played drums with me
Health/Fitness - Just a few benchmarks to mark where I am. Still running and walking regularly, though I've put some weight back on this year. (here are last year's data)
  • Jan-Dec: approx. +20 lbs :(  ...but still down 30 from pre-2013
  • 340 workouts in 253 hours
  • 204,000 total calories burned
  • 655 mi. running + 470 mi. walking = 1125 total miles
  • Longest Run: 13.1 mi. (in 2:24:21)
  • Fastest Runs: gonna beat these all in 2015!
    • 1mi: 7:54 min/mi - a slight uphill... 7:27 going the other direction... so prob should average those together :)
    • 5k: 9:38 min/mi (not sure why this is slower than the 5mi except that I only tried the 5k route a handful of times and have run the 5mi course a hundred or more times)
    • 5mi: 9:02 min/mi
    • 8mi: 10:47 min/mi
    • 10mi: 11:10 min/mi
    • 13.1mi: 11:00 min/mi

Monday, December 22, 2014


Sorry for the hiatus! We've been without a music director or admin assistant since September and writing blog posts is one of the things that got squeezed out of my schedule.  :(

I hope to do an end-of-year round up and then be fully staffed sometime in January and back to posting! I'll be on the road teaching and leading in several retreats and conferences in January and hope to reflect on those.

In the meantime...

MINISTRY OPENING: We are looking for a Director of Music Ministries. Please take a moment to read this description of our very special and unique church and share the link with anyone you think might be a good fit. We are looking for the right person of faith to share our vision for worship and music - we'll work out all the other details! E-mail music.search@gspc.net with resumes or for more information.

Monday, September 15, 2014


The trip to Scotland was not only enjoyable and wonderful in and of itself; it also occasioned significant reflection, as demonstrated in a number of blog posts. Here is an index of those posts.

Friday, September 12, 2014

family connections

It took going to Scotland to fully realize a vision back home.

A couple of years ago I I overheard a wistful conversation in the restroom between two older pastors. They were talking about the "old presbytery" and how everyone knew each other better. And not only each other, they also knew each other's families - spouses and children. I remember pondering at the time what that might look like in our large and spread out metro presbytery, and what effect those kind of relationships might have on the character and challenges of our particular group.

As I reflect on my 12 years in this presbytery, I think I have done a good job at seeking out and cultivating relationships with other pastors. But that takes intentionality (and reciprocity); getting to know each other's families is another order of relating altogether. So, while I had once imagined it, I had not experienced such a thing or its blessings.

And then I was invited on this Scotland Connection trip: 12 pastors, mostly from NC and the region. And we were encouraged to invite spouses, not only for the week-long conference, but to plan time before or after. While my spouse was not able to come, the great majority did come with husband or wife. One couple even rounded out their honeymoon with the time in Scotland!

What I did not anticipate (and if I had, I probably would have worked very hard to make it possible for my wife to come) was how meaningful it was to get to know my colleagues in the context of their family relationships. Over the course of the week, I think I had meaningful conversation with just about every person on the trip, and the glimpse you get into a person's faith and life in family relationship is so much richer and complete than the typical sighting across the presbytery meeting or committee table. Even those colleagues whom I know fairly well are known primarily in our role as fellow presbyter and pastor.

To interact with those same colleagues as husband, wife, father, or mother - was an unexpected treasure. Even those of us who came 'single' shared photos and stories of families and loved ones back home. To share in meals, travel, jokes, weather, and much more in the shared context of faith, ministry, and life was so wonderful. To share in one couple's 10th anniversary with a time of worship and prayer together was profoundly moving. To share deep stories of faith-formation and even rekindle old friendship was surprisingly poignant. All of it was, as one friend put it, sacred.

...which brings me full circle to the presbytery. At least 6-7 of the colleagues from the Scotland trip are in my presbytery. I know that whether we work on committees together, worship together, or debate one another - we will do so in the context of a shared experience and deeper relationship. I light up when I see them across the room. I want to hear how their families are doing. It seems to me that this is how it should be in the church, whether our local churches or the large connected gathering we call the presbytery.

I wonder if there are ways we can cultivate those kinds of experiences and relationships in the presbytery moving forward. I think it would significantly refocus our conversations, our ministry and mission, and our life together. That's a vision I plan to hold out and hope for!

Friday, September 05, 2014

just get over it

A few weeks ago I arrived in Scotland in the middle of the Fringe Festival - a super-enormous art/music/drama/more street festival (claims to be the largest in the world!) that sprawls all over downtown Edinburgh for the month of August. After meeting my host, Michael Mair, and dropping my bags off at his home, we ventured back into the city to take in a bit of the festival.

After surveying some of the options listed at the "Half-Price Hut" and the phone-book size listing of shows for the month (unfortunately listed alphabetically instead of by time/location) and the phone app (more helpfully by time/location, but with a spotty connection), we settled on a show called "The Onion of Bigotry" that was showing at St. John's Episcopal as part of their corner on the festival, sub-titled the Just Festival. Just about every public open area had Fringe acts and just about every church, club, building with any group meeting space had Fringe acts. St. John's had decided to offer their sanctuary space, but line up shows that were all justice-oriented.  Check out this packed calender for only the St. John's venue during August!

Photo by Sandrine Cazalet
We watched The Onion of Bigotry, a dramatic-musical survey by the John and Gerry Kielty of political and religious sectarianism in England and Scotland over the last 500 years. Anticipating something much more depressing and somber, it was actually a respectful (and delightfully enjoyable?!; semi-Monty Python-esque) race through a significant amount of upheaval, intrigue, and fighting. Four actors, without set or even many props, represented historical figures as well as the Catholic or Protestant Church, and any other number of people and entities. It was an ingenious crash-course in that regions stake in Western European history. As one reviewer said, "This would be brilliant as a presentation to school-children of any age." (I'd agree, including adults of any age!)

BUT... having created so much education and buy-in to their presentation, the clever group got to the end and asked this question: "What shall we do?" And the answer: Just get over it.

It was cute; people sang along to the final song by that name. We left entertained and captivated. But as Michael and I rode the bus back out to his house and I began to process, I thought, "What an unhelpful and disappointing answer to a very important question raised after such a well-done education and engagement with a group of people!"  I've heard that line quipped by friends on both sides of an intense issue: "Why don't they just get over it!" The sub-text is either "their position is so ridiculous that surely they will come to their senses and just let that pointless view go"; OR, "the whole argument is so ridiculous that surely we just need a grown-up to come tell these kids to move along." The latter is the sense I got. These artists had summarized the whole era of political and religious fighting and were saying, "We're more enlightened than that now; just move along."

What "just get over it" misses - and to me this is a critical miss - is that NO ONE just gets over something, not an emotionally-charged stance, not a wounded-response counteraction, not an adult OR childlike opinion, not grief or loss, and especially not a deeply held conviction. In each case, feelings must be confronted or reconciliation sought or forgiveness extended or beliefs examined. And that kind of work is necessary and difficult, especially in relationship (close or broken) with another. I would even go so far as to suggest that "just get over it" creates barriers, animosity, and hurt rather than removing them!

The kind of questions and actions that invite real change (interesting that we are back to change) are ones like these:
  • Can we get together and talk? I'd like to understand your beliefs and viewpoint better.
  • How did you arrive at your position? Do you ever feel misunderstood?
  • Would you be willing to hear another viewpoint and help that person clarify any misunderstandings between you?
  • Are there things we can agree on and do together despite our disagreement on _____?
Just a start... it's not a magic formula and it's not easy. But I believe it's a far better approach than "just get over it." A few years ago, when folks in my home state (and congregation) were debating a controversial amendment to be voted upon, I wrote this: listening and understanding the other deepens community, and that is of benefit to everyone. (more)

While I appreciate the education and information I took away from The Onion of Bigotry, I think there was a real missed opportunity to challenge listeners to something more than "just get over it."

Addendum: prompted by good feedback in the comments

A completely different illustration comes to mind: someone facing an obstacle (something to get over). If I laugh at them, yell at them, ignore them, (get the crowd to sing a song about them!), etc.. - it doesn't help and may hinder. If I actually go with, push up, pull up, lead around, (pray for!), or remove the obstacle - literally or figuratively... that's helpful and relational and community building.

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