Anam Cara… Soul Friend

Over the past twenty years that I have been in ministry I have had numerous peer mentors, spiritual advisors, and accountability partners but, outside of my spouse, I don’t think that I have ever truly had a Soul Friend. And, truth be told, until recently I had never even heard the term or knew how much I longed for one. 
So, what is a Soul Friend? Someone who willingly joins you on, and helps shape, your Christian journey. A person who intentionally enters into a long obedience in the same direction alongside you, not as an advisor so much as a traveling companion, and who offers spiritual direction during times of crisis or confusion. A brother or sister that shares in and helps you create a sacred space for such things as common prayer and contemplative practices.
The concept comes from the Celtic monastic tradition where an Anam Cara (literally translated Soul Friend) is considered an essential companion on the spiritual path–someone to share your struggles, as well as shape your life, with. In doing so they can become an anchor during a storm as they sit silently with you weathering the waves of grief and confusion all the while refraining from trying to simply fix your situation. What they provide is not answers per se but the ability to help you ask the right questions.

This is what I need. This is what I need to be.

Lunch

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After a bit of a rough, if not unusual, start to the New Year (I was sick yesterday and literally did not step outside all day) and the day (I arrived to find myself part of a meeting about me that was not necessarily bad but somewhat unexpected) I have decided the best thing I can do is slow down and chew on some Scripture before moving on.

A New Year Means a New Beginning for My Blog

So I have been a delinquent blogger for the better half of the last year but my hope plan for 2014 is to simply write something on a daily basis whether it’s profound or not (probably not but you never know).

As this New Year begins my life is still very full. Even as the sawdust from our recent sanctuary renovation is settling and the smell of the new carpet and chairs are fading I am already looking ahead to putting our building to use by focusing on ways in which we can partner with God to build His Kingdom over this next year.

In addition to all of my pastoral responsibilities I also have a wife of almost fifteen years with whom I want to spend more time with, four active children who are getting involved in extracurriculars at a seemingly exponential rate (it’s tiring but also enjoyable to watch as they try new things and discover their unique giftedness), and I am still (yes STILL) working on my doctorate.

All this to say that my life feels more and more complex each and everyday and so my New Year’s Resolution (in addition to a more disciplined devotional routine and writing this blog) is to simplify my life. Easier said than done I know but from a practical standpoint I am resolved to owning less (both by buying less and selling at least half of what I already have) and getting rid of unnecessary distractions such as excess entertainment. And yes, I am also adding to the list the obligatory eat less/weigh less as well.

Anyway, sorry for the hiatus but thanks for following. Hopefully you’ll get to know me better over the next year as I hope to get to know you as well.

“Finding Perspective and Purpose at Hospice”

A couple weeks ago, at the prompting of a friend, I ventured down to our local Hospice House to meet one of the residents who had been struggling with some spiritual needs. I had become very familiar with Hospice a year ago when my mother was losing her battle with brain cancer and was more than happy to assist an organization that had helped me and my family so much during our time of need.

As I walked into what is an absolutely beautiful residence I was brought into the main room where I was to meet a woman who was nearly a century old and who had been living in Hospice Care since the beginning of the year. I’m not sure what I expected but what I got was a warm reception from a godly woman filled with joy, sharp as a tack, and ready to talk to me about Jesus. She had a sense of humor (she started by saying I needed to talk quick because she might not have long) and a state of holiness about her.

After some small talk and sharIng a bit about myself this woman of the faith went on to tell me that almost a year ago she had gone to the store, felt ill, and ended up in the hospital. After being treated for a bout of walking pneumonia she was moved to a nearby nursing home for recovery and when things turned for the worse she was moved into Hospice–never returning to her home an hour away.

Many people would have felt anger or bitterness finding themselves in this situation but not her. She had a sense of spiritual fervor about her as she shared with me how excited she was that after 97 years God was not done with her yet and that she thought her new purpose was to begin a prayer ministry in her new home at Hospice. Not only was she content to be where she was but she was happy. She told me her motto was “If you can’t be home. Be here.”

After an hour and a half of swapping stories with my newfound friend we closed our time in prayer and I definitely felt blessed as she said Amen. Who would have thought that in going to Hospice to minister to others that I would be the one leaving blessed? But that’s how God is and how He works through those who love him. Even after 97 years and in the midst of being faced with her own mortality this dear old saint showed me how life is meant to be lived–with perspective and purpose. May we all follow her example.

Hospitality (The Ministry of Presence)

I think that the ministry of hospitality is too often misunderstood, underused, and overlooked. It is the act of allowing someone the gift of sacred space and quality time but people often equate it with a clean house and a lot of cooking.The fact is that it is easy to equate hospitality to Martha the busybody from Luke 10 but Jesus pointed out that it was Mary sitting at his feet listening intently to his every word who actually demonstrated it better.

Hospitality is…
– offering someone the gift of quality time
– making someone feel comfortable/valuable even in their own home
– offering someone a cup of coffee and good conversation to go with it
– a listening ear and a closed mouth
– caring for others’ needs before they have to ask for it
– more about “being” with someone than “doing” something for them, although both can apply

I know many people who have ministered through the typical definition of hospitality, an open home and an open heart, there have also been those times when others have gone above and beyond and the overall effect cannot be diminished.

Some examples are…
– putting an old orange recliner in the sanctuary in order to make it possible for a woman with
cancer to worship with us
– sitting with someone on their deathbed so her son could get some rest before the inevitable
– showing up at someone’s house with groceries and/or a willingness to clean
– sitting next to a newcomer at church rather than in the comfort of your close circle of friends
– asking someone how they are doing and then taking the time to listen for the real answer
– a hug
– praying with someone rather than simply for someone
– being willing to do extra cleaning after the fact in order to not require extra effort (taking off
shoes, keeping drinks in the kitchen/foyer, etc.) from others when they are welcomed in
– thinking more of the comfort of others than self
– child proofing (at least to a degree) even if you don’t have kids
– sitting in silence even when it’s awkward as long as it is valuable to another
– learning to communicate with someone from another generation, culture, etc. rather than waiting
for them to learn your ways and your customs in order to find a way to fit in
– showing concern for and attending to someone’s physical and emotional needs before
worrying about the state of their spirituality or citizenship
– waiting, watching, and welcoming

These are just some of the acts of hospitality that I am personally aware of (and more often than not on the receiving end) and I’m sure there are many more to be discovered and tried so, rather than holding onto a narrow definition, let’s expand it together and be Jesus to everyone we come in contact with.

I would love to hear ways that you too have either shown or been shown hospitality and I there is anything else you would add to the working definition. Please respond and share…

Recreated vs. Recreating (The Sin of Choosing to Drink from Dry Cisterns)

Something I have observed both in the Scriptures with the Israelites and in today’s times with the Christian Church is that too often we as human beings spend our time and energy trying to recreate the atmosphere we were in, the emotions we felt, and endorphins we had on the day God began a good work in us rather than allowing God to recreate “us” and renew us on a daily basis.

Too often we would rather “feel” Christian than “be” Christian which can lead to idolatry and idolatry–whether it means putting way to much focus on an inanimate thing, on a certain style of worship, on a certain place of worship, or on reproducing a particular ritual–is a sin.

It’s a sin that I feel comfortable pointing out because it’s a sin that at one time I felt comfortable participating in and perpetuating in my own life. When the “new” feeling of my Christian walk starting wearing off I started to try and reproduce it by going back to the altar I had originally laid down my life on (nostalgia), praying the prayers I once prayed out of conviction though now prayed as if wanting a prescription filled (ritual), and when neither of those worked I tried being around other Christians more, hoping that somehow their “holiness” would somehow rub off on me (proximity vs. praxis), rather than spending the time and effort to develop my own relationship with Christ through fresh prayers and spending time in His Living Word.

Rather than expending all of our effort trying to recreate a temporary feeling and worshipping God falsely (i.e. focusing on The Golden Calf rather than God on the Mountain, The Bronze Snake rather than the God that Saves, and the Gifts of the Spirit rather than the Giver–The Holy Spirit Himself) we need to take down anything in our lives, no matter how good or instrumental they once were in our walk, so that what was once part of our salvation story doesn’t become the stumbling block that keeps us from experiencing further sanctification.

Recreating takes a lot of time and effort but is ultimately fruitless because we are attempting to control God and turn our Christian walk into a life of comfort.

Being Recreated also takes time and effort but the focus is not on trying to control God or how we feel on any given day but, rather, on giving up control and allowing God to lead us into deeper and often more dangerous waters. It doesn’t feel as safe but stepping out of the boat in order to follow Jesus never does. And it never should.

Rather than going back to a well that once brought us Living Water, but has now dried up because the water itself has moved on to where we need to go, let us like the Samaritan Woman in John 4 leave behind our water pitchers behind and look to The One who knows everything about us and can fulfill our every need. Anything less is a sin and will not lead us back toward but, rather, away from the saved and sanctified life that we so desire.

“I have decided to follow Jesus. The world behind me the cross before me. No turning back. No turning back.”

Road Trip Tips from an Impatient Dad

So first off, I must confess that I am not the best traveler. In fact, my wife would be the first to say that I’m usually the first person kid to ask, “Are we there yet?” Also, I can have a bit of an attitude which she would describe as pessimistic but I would define as realistic (as a friend from church often says, “trips are about making memories, not having fun.” 😉 Anyway, in case there are any other “impatient dads” out there here are a few tips I can offer after traveling fourteen hours through six states with my wife and four kids over the past two days…

Tip #1 – Always Be Prepared

Now I don’t just mean regular prepared (snacks, screens, etc.) I mean Boy Scout prepared (quarters, dimes, and nickels). That’s right, change can be your best friend and I don’t just mean for tolls. When in doubt I always go to my sure fire standby… A Coloring Contest. It’s a great way to curb the constant bickering, bring about some much needed calm and quiet, and, best of all, all you need is some pieces of paper, a box of crayons, a few parameters, and whatever loose change you have lying around in your ashtray cup holder. Quarters, dimes, nickels, even pennies–it doesn’t matter because the real prize is personal glory and bragging rights (but seriously, you do need some change). For less than $1 you can keep your sanity for sometimes up to an hour and the good news is that as long as you have more change (and kids with a competitive spirit) you can use this tactic again, and again, and again, and again.

Tip #2 – Get in Good with the Guy at the Front Desk

Over the years we have stayed at many hotels that didn’t quite live up to their 2 1/2 star rating and our most recent stay in Dayton, Ohio was no exception. Thankfully though, I’ve learned the old adage that it’s easier to catch flies with honey is actually true. As long as you can keep your cool and make a friend at the front desk what might start out as a nightmare can turn into a nice stay (or at the very least nicer). This proved true last night when we raced to get to our hotel in order to still spend a half an hour in the pool before it was closed and I spent the first few minutes at the front desk waiting while the gentleman on the other side tended to the important matter of making sure that his dinner order was correct. After making chit chat and copying my credit debit card twice (because he copied the wrong side the first time) he sent me on my way to Room 131.

This actually brings up another important rule, let’s call it Tip #2a, which is Never Unpack Your Van Before Checking Out Your Room First. After wheeling our luggage cart down the long corridor and figuring out which direction to swipe our keyless entry card we walked into our non-smoking two double bed room to smell, well, smoke. And, it didn’t exactly smell like it came from regular old tobacco if you know what I mean. So I went back to the front desk and after listening to the excuse that there’s were some rule breakers staying there previously and explaining that, no, spraying a little air freshener would not solve the problem we were swiftly moved to another room on the 4th floor which had a King Size bed (score!) and a fold out couch. This would suit us well because we figured that our youngest could sleep in the big bed with us, my other two girls could take the couch, and we had brought a fold-out cot for my son. Upon opening the couch though we found wadded up dirty sheets with toys in them. Time for another trip to the front desk.

After another apology by him I was assured we would have new sheets delivered ASAP along with a fold-out bed for my son (no charge of course) and he even got the pool guy on the line to say that we could have an extra 15 minutes for our troubles. In the end the bed was big and comfortable (or so my wife told me as she sprawled out on her side while I had a 3 yr. old curled up next to me on mine), the breakfast this morning was good, my son didn’t have to sleep on a cot, and we got wet before bed which which was our goal. Would I recommend this hotel to my friends? No. In fact, I did argue with my wife about leaving a tip the next morning because I didn’t want to reward a poor job (Did I mention I also had to go down for toilet paper and had no towels for the pool???). But am I glad I made a friend at the front desk? Absolutely! Because trust me… It could have been worse. I know. But that’s a tale for another time.

Tip #3 Find Your Happy Place

After a second day full of “He keeps putting stuff on my feet!” and “She keeps kicking my stuff!” despite new seating assignments, I was getting pretty irritable so, for the sake of my wife and the longevity of my children, I plugged my earbuds into my iPhone, put my seat back, covered up with the closest thing around (a nice pink baby blanket), and let Netflix wisp me away to another realm. That is, until the kids noticed and started bantering for both my blanket and my iPhone. 🙂

In the end we made our destination and will enjoy our stay with family until it is time for the return home. I will try to remember my own tips for the way back. You should to. But, even if you try and all else fails, remember to… Pray before you pull out of the driveway, forgive at the end of the day, and always ALWAYS make friends with the guy at the front desk.

How We Became a “Fair Family”

This past September, soon after school began, the phone rang and after answering it I was a bit perplexed. The voice on the other end was quickly telling me where I needed to be and which collar I needed to bring the be the next evening. I didn’t understand what she was talking about and thought she had the wrong number for one main reason… we don’t own a dog. Apparently though that fact had not crossed my nine year old son’s mind because he had in fact signed up for Dog Training through the local chapter of 4-H. After explaining the situation the woman in charge graciously offered to let my son train her dog. I saw this as a blessing because he has always wanted a dog and here was his opportunity to at least be a partial owner for a temporary basis.

As someone who grew up with dogs (not to mention cats, chickens, guinea hens, pigs, and even a pet bat and baby chipmunk at one point) I understood his wanting to have a dog but, because of our constant travel (plus trying to care for the four kids we already have) it just wasn’t practical. We do have a cat but, unlike a dog who needs instant attention, exercise, and an outdoor potty, with a cat you can pretty much put out a bag of food, leave the toilet seat up, and lock the door on your way out. No, we couldn’t have a dog but maybe just maybe this would be the next best thing. I mean, what’s a few weeks of traveling back and forth to the Fair Grounds if it means my boy can be happy. Win-win! Or so I thought.

What I thought would last for maybe eight weeks turned into eight months. Thankfully a couple in our church who liked dogs and loved my kids offered to take him as much as they could. Before I knew it the months had passed and pretty soon school and, I presumed, Dog Training was coming to an end. That’s when the word “Fair” first started to circulate and I soon realized what this would entail. Now at first I didn’t give it a second thought because we typically travel in the summer and had actually missed the last four Fairs and knowing how busy our summer was I figured this would be number five. After looking over the calendar to see that I was speaking at Quizzing Nationals one week and then teaching teens at camp the next followed by a short respite and then back to back weeks of travel/vacation I realized that I was only home for one full week–Fair Week.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Fair and grew up helping out every year at the Rodeo myself but I had heard the stories of Fair Families who were always coming and going and waiting and watching and sweating and sneezing and (you get the picture). After having to sleep in a small cabin with six others during the previous week’s heat wave I was looking forward to a little bit of rest (and a whole lot of AC) but that’s not what was in the cards. Instead, we found out this past week what it’s like to wait for shows, work on agility, wait, wait, and wait some more. We found out the ins and outs of subjective judging, that just because can eat an entire funnel cake topped with peanut butter cups doesn’t mean that you necessarily should, and we were also thankful to get some insider scoop about what we needed to do and not do to get through it all.

At the end of the day week my son had successfully made it through all the hoops and hurdles, both figuratively and literally, and walked away with three 4th Place Ribbons, one 3rd Place Ribbon, a 25 cent stuffed animal that he one for only $5.00 and a smile on his face. On the way home he told me about how excited he was not only to do it all again the next year but that he planned on accepting offers from church friends to show their pigs, chicken, and even a sheep. And that’s all it took. Apparently we are now and forever (or at least until he moves onto his next phase) a “Fair Family”. Please pray for me…

Speaking at Bible Quiz Nationals

This week I am the Chapel Speaker for Free Methodist Bible Quiz Nationals where roughly 500 students from around the country come and compete to see who absorbed, memorized, and can regurgitate all that thy have learned this past year.

I was honored to be asked to speak but I also felt a little unqualified because every person in the auditorium this morning had something in common–they have all had more Bible Quizzing experience than me. I quizzed my senior year of high school 22 years (ahem) a while ago and, because my teammates didn’t stick with it, I didn’t even get to finish the season and never got to go to Nationals even though I had won every individual round that I had competed in.

And so, as I prepared to address these young men an women with their brains bursting at the seams with newfound biblical knowledge, I thought that I had better be able to give a good reason why THEY should listen to ME. And then it him me… my tenure as a Quizzer wasn’t very long but the impact of those passages that I had studied way back when have shaped my life, formed my ministry, and continue to impact me to this very day!

And so I look forward to sharing again tomorrow, not because I can quote as many verses or can boast as many trophies but, because I get to stand before 500 young men and women and imagine how THEIR lives will be impacted thanks to the time an effort they have taken to hide God’s Word in their heart and how much better we will all be because of it.