What do you most want to do? What will you do?

My goal in life is to read and write – and through these activities to make a difference. And along side this WORK, to be near or on the water, with my beloveds.

I think I’m wired the way I am for a reason – all pathology aside. My personality and my gifts and my strengths and my abilities and my experiences and my education and my connections and my unique point of view all somehow work together to make me who I am. (perhaps there’s other stuff in there too…)

A colleague and friend asked me several years ago, “What do you most want to do?”
My answer: “Sit on the porch overlooking the water and write.”
“Well,” he asked after a pregnant pause, “What do you need to do in order to do that?”

What indeed.

I also recognize that the VAST MAJORITY of the world’s population have, do, and probably always will work at things to feed and shelter their families that are in no way connected to their passions and dreams and personality. They do what needs to be done. Perhaps it is expressly western privilege that leads me to think I can and should do otherwise.

And, there is plenty of other meaningful work that I find very rewarding. I LOVE congregational ministry. Sermon preparation and delivery, worship planning and leadership, leadership development, teaching, strategic planning, community engagement, pastoral visitation, EVEN MEETINGS. I find meaning and purpose in all of it. The casual conversations at a Thursday morning men’s breakfast coffee klatch at McDonalds are enjoyable and important. This week I led 16 octogenarians and above in a brief service of Eucharist and Ashes. I could tell by their expressions that this was incredibly important to them, and thus an immensely important way for me to spend an hour of my time.

I don’t want to be one of those people who delays the pursuit of life’s passions for retirement, only to drop dead of a heart attack the next week. My ow grandfather died at age 59 on the dais during the hymn of preparation for the sermon on the Monday of Holy Week. I never knew him, but by all accounts he lived a rich and full life and did the things he found important, worthwhile and meaningful. That’s what matters. Whether he had unfulfilled hopes and dreams for himself and others, I don’t know. That’ll be a good conversation with my own father and uncle soon. A neighbor of mine lost his wife of 50+ years 6 months after moving into the first home they ever owned together – he was career military so they’d always lived in base or government owned housing. He’s going on to live a rich full life, but I wonder if they’d have done something differently had they known. I’ve seen so many clergy suffer severe health problems within 1 year of retiring, as if their body said, “Finally, I can rest long enough to be sick because you’re not dragging me around every which way.”

The most important impact I make is in the lives of my wife and two children. That is completely clear for me. There is no argument that can prevail against it.

AND, I think I have something to contribute to the larger world, to the church, and to the conversation about how leaders in ministry can flourish and thrive in the coming decades. This matters, because communities’ health and well-being is greatly impacted by the organizations and institutions within them. Individual and grassroots resilience can overcome immense dysfunction in local institutions. Even so, everyone benefits when local congregations, nonprofits, education, government and businesses are healthy.

And organizations can not be healthy if their leaders are not healthy.

And it is incredibly difficult to be a healthy leader in the midst of a dis-eased institution.

Thus, supporting leaders in today’s institutions matters. It creates direct impact in the real lives of individuals and households throughout our communities, regardless of population size or demographic diversity.

If I could find a way to impact that system from my study, I would. At present, I don’t know how to do that other than by pastoring a local congregation, serving in nonprofit leadership, offering coaching and consulting, and showing up in local communities. If you or someone you know wants to pay me to research and write perhaps in an international think tank on leadership impact, please let me know.

Until then, I look forward to seeing you in church, in a coworking space, or at the local coffee shop.

The Question of Ministry

“If the question is ministry… the answer is ‘Yes.’” *

1) Proclaim the Gospel – God’s “Good News”
2) Make Disciples of Jesus among all peoples

These two central tasks of The Church are also responsibilities of every local congregation. At their core, they both necessitate regularly dreaming, developing and deploying new ministries.

If “Proclaim the Gospel” is our calling and our goal, then ministry is how we do that – whether preaching, teaching, planning and leading worship, or feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and those in prison. Through time we will need to develop new ways to do these ancient tasks – as we change and the community around us changes – to meet people’s need and ability to hear and respond.

We “Make Disciples” when we help people respond to the call Jesus places on their lives to follow Him (Matthew 4), and then help them grow toward maturity in him (Ephesians 4). As a result of their response to Jesus, they will engage in ministry, and some (many?) will be led to develop new ministries or expand existing ones in new ways.

So to accomplish these most basic goals of our purpose as a church – “Proclaim the Gospel” and “Make Disciples” – we will need to be developing new ministries.

How does this happen?

  • Sometimes we will be brought or become aware of a need, and we will want to respond to it.
  • Other times we will go out, explore and ask questions, thus identifying an opportunity for ministry.
  • And still other times someone will have an interest or passion, and feel prompted to imagine a new ministry emerging in that area.

Our responsibility as a congregation is to nurture and support these developments.

How do we do this?

  • We preach and teach, promote and encourage, that people imagine and explore new ministry opportunities. “Every follower of Christ is ordained to ministry at baptism.”
  • We invite people into conversation to think about what they need to be successful.

Some questions we ask early on:

  • How does it make stewardship use of our resources and assets?
  • How can it make a positive impact in some way?
  • How can we support people as they pursue this idea?
  • How might it impact our other ministries? Confer with those leaders early.
  • How will it help people connect with God, self, each other, their neighbors?
  • Who else might want to be a part of this project?

Some questions we hold till later:

  • Do we have enough people to make this work?
  • Do we have enough knowledge or skill? Do we know how to do it?
  • Do we have enough money or other resources to make this work?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Will everyone want to participate?
  • Will everyone be happy about this?
  • Will we be able to sustain it long term?
  • Did we try it before and it failed? If so, do we know why?
  • What are the obstacles that might prevent success?

Our responsibility is not to find obstacles and reasons why something can’t or shouldn’t happen. Our task is to look and listen for the new things that God desires to do among us (Isaiah 43:19).

Some of our ministries are simply “the things churches do” –worship, teach, pray, fellowship, serve others, study scripture and theology. In these areas there is always opportunity for exploring new expressions that will touch hearts, minds and lives in new ways, even while honoring our heritage and the things that have spoken most deeply to our souls through many decades.

Others may fall outside of what we think of as “traditional” ministries. Keep in mind that Sunday School, so central to 20th century church life, was a novel and disruptive innovation in the 19th century.

Let’s remember also that you and I needn’t have any interest or ability in a particular area in order for us to be encouraging and supportive of someone else’s efforts to start a new ministry. Paul’s teaching about the various parts of the Body of Christ is particularly helpful here (Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12).

We are surrounded by a culture of scarcity, of limited resources, of win/lose propositions. In contrast, the Bible tells us that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24). There is no real lack of resources. There is more than enough to accomplish all that God desires. If we will do our part, make the contribution that is ours to give, then God promises to do the rest. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Malachi 3:10) We have no way of knowing how, when, from whom or where God will make provision. What we do have is this promise: God can do “immeasurably far more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is [already] at work within us.” (Ephesians 3).

Church, as we approach the season of Giving Thanks, and await the Advent of God’s appearing, let us hope and pray that we may be faithful, and in turn that we may…

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)


* Thanks to one of my mentors, Rev. Dr. Larry Ross, for the introductory quote. I have heard him say this repeatedly over the last 15 years, and I think it is such an important starting principle for congregations, judicatories, and other ministries.

Freedom limited by compassion for others

Compassion suggests that we limit our freedom in ways that will help others on their journey toward wholeness. “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”


Freedom limited by compassion for others

The news is filled with events and discussion around freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. The killing of journalists and cartoonists in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo office was directly in response to their exercise of freedom of speech – printing satirical cartoons about a wide variety of issues and figures, including the Prophet Mohamed. Those who carried out the murders said they were offended, and were defending their own religious views.

In Utah this week the Mormon church held a press conference about their new policy stand – supporting proposed legislation in that state preventing discrimination against people based on race, gender or sexual orientation, including in hiring, housing and other public practices. Along with this, they state a strong preference for policies that also protect the rights of religious people to speak and practice their religious views without retaliation. Depending on which coverage you read, or where you stand on the issues, you see

We in this constitutional democratic republic are accustomed to wrestling between freedom and and its limits based on responsibility to the freedom of others. You may have the right to carry a concealed hand gun, but there are limits to that freedom – you cannot carry it on a public school campus. You may have freedom of speech, but there are limits – you can’t falsly yell “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theatre.

These ideas are so well engrained in us that we sometimes get confused when we think about, discuss and practice our faith. We sometimes forget that Jesus came to establish his Kingdom, which is not a democracy. We pray His prayer, asking that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven – essentially pledging ourselves to living and working for that fulfillment. So what of our freedom in Christ within this kingdom that is coming, and is already here?

I’ve written recently about our freedom in Christ vis-a-vis the Law. Free from and Free for. Here I want us to think about the limits on our freedom based on our compassion for others. Take a look at the text again in 1 Corinthians 8:9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

The gist is this: If exercising my freedom would cause someone else to stumble, then I should limit my freedom to protect them. Each party has responsibility. But if the other person is prevented from exercising restraint because of their own brokenness, then my love (God’s love working through me) would dictate that I should not act in a way that harms that person or causes her to harm herself.

Paul uses an example that is anachronistic for most of us – food sacrificed to idols. There are still places where you can find this, but they are rarer than in Paul’s time. And Paul was writing to people who likely would have practiced this form of food dedication in their daily lives.

We may not be likely to encounter this difficulty. So how will we experience this?

Where does identity lead you?

Our identity in Christ supersedes all others.
No allegiance is more important.
This is the basis for our unity in Christ.


In the Gospel of Mark, 1:14-20, we witness Jesus calling four fishermen (at least one of whom was also a disciple of John the Baptist) to become disciples of his. He does this by rooting the call in their identity – “You are fishermen. I will make you fishers of men.”

Our identity in Christ derives from and is rooted in our identity before Christ, with a continuity that bridges the gap., as Paul says, “4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Cor 5:4). Our transformation is becoming more fully ourselves.

As Paul was writing his early letter to the Corinthians, it was early in his ministry and he believed that Christ would return very soon. This led him to urge people to not try to move from one station in life to another “for the time is short.” (1 Cor 7) Slaves and masters, husbands and wives, whatever your situation, seek to make the most of it. That’s a hard pill to swallow today, because we are so interested in liberation from oppression – as well we should be. If we thought that the world we know were going to end within months, we might set different priorities, as Paul obviously did.

Paul says there is no longer Jew or Gentile, Male or Female, Slave or Free (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). He’s not, of course, speaking literally. Christ does not eliminate these distinctions. He enfolds, encapsulates, eclipses. He takes down “the dividing wall, the hostility” that was rooted in these distinctives. God obviously loves endless variety and complexity, even within the church. Every snowflake and every face and every personality are similarly unique and wondrous. But no longer does our individualism or our group identity become cause or justification for our separation from others, our oppression and rejection of others.

Again, it is important to recall that Paul believed his world was coming to an end shortly: “…in light of the impending crisis…. and the appointed time has grown short…” (1 Cor 7:26, 29) This both energizes and tempers his thoughts on identity. Had he known that we’d still be here 2000 years later waiting for the second coming of Christ, might he have addressed the inequity in relationships, particularly between husbands and wives, masters and servants, differently? We can’t know. We do know that he urged Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother rather than as a slave (Philemon 1:16-17). This may hint at what Paul thought ought to happen more broadly. “Brother in Christ” trumps the identities of “master” and “slave.”

What might this understanding do to our political landscape? Imagine if our politicians who consider themselves followers of Jesus were to join hands as sisters and brothers, owning the truth that their identity in Him trumps any political affiliation, ideology or “ism”?

What if in our social interactions and community conversations we looked first at people as sisters and brothers? Granted, many around us are not professing disciples of Jesus. We are called to love them just as much. For the moment though, let’s just consider those who are. When we look at those across town who are in need, and we realize that many of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ, how does that change our feeling, thinking, and acting?

What relationships do we intentionally cultivate with those who look and live differently from us? Those in whose neighborhoods we would not immediately feel at home? Might Christ be calling us to more than a passive and tacit acknowledgement of our filial love? Might God want a proactive and energetic engagement? What would that look like? Where would we even start?

If we actually took our identity in Christ seriously, how would we disagree differently? How would I listen more and worry less about convincing you of my point of view? Paul is so serious about this that he chastises the Corinthians for suing and taking a fellow Christian to court. Better, Paul says, to let yourself be cheated than to violate your relationship in Christ (1 Cor 6.1 ff). Can we bring forward the fullness of our unique identity AND affirm our unity in Christ?


**  A reflection for “Our Attachment to Identity” From 1 Corinthians 7:29-31   &   Mark 1:14-20 First preached Sunday 1/25/15 @ http://www.StPaulUCCDallas.org

A feast prepared for all people

Sermon Notes 10/12/14      Isaiah 25:1-9      Psalm 23     Philippians 4:1-9


A feast prepared for all people.

God’s feast is for all people – not just the chosen, or the faithful, or the believers. God lifts the veil and sets the table for all people and nations. How have we as church tried to share or limit God’s generosity?

Questions to ask ourselves:

  • Where do I live under the shadow and fear of scarcity?
  • Where do I live the generosity of abundance and enough?
  • Where do I or have I experienced a feast? How does that story help me understand God’s goodness and provision?
  • When have I been welcomed to someone else’s feast? What was that like?

A feast prepared for all people.

When is the last time you attended a feast? How do you know? How do you draw the distinction between a meal, a banquet, and a feast? I suspect that every culture has an image of a feast – usually in honor of an individual or communal life event – a birth, coming of age, marriage or death. In the US we have some 20 & 21st images that often come to mind – the iconic paintings of the First Thanksgiving with American Immigrant Pilgrims in black hats and Native Americans in feather headdresses all gathered around a table overflowing with all kinds of natural bounty. I can’t hear the word feast without thinking of Dr. Seuss and all his Whos down in Whoville celebrating Christmas, and the Grinch carved the Roast Beast. More recent film has given us the Hogwarts feasts with never-ending food that just keeps appearing.

In the New Testament we see Jesus perform his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2). These were celebrations that went on for several days – sometimes as many as 7 days. Jesus uses the image of a feast to illustrate the Kingdom of God in Matthew 22. The point in these two stories as in the passage from Isaiah is similar – God desires that we would relish in the bounty of God’s goodness. Too often, however, we choose the scraps we can produce for ourselves rather than the abundant good that is available to us.

In the passage from Isaiah 25, the prophet recalls how God humbled the proud and powerful. At the same time, God has been “a refuge to those in distress” (25:4). Then comes the promise of ultimate restoration and renewal: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines… (25:6) The feast will be “for all peoples” – i.e. all nations, tribes or people groups. The vision offered starting with Abram and Sarai in Genesis 12 is that all people will be blessed. Yes, God calls a people to be set apart and holy – first Abraham and his descendants, the 12 tribes of Jacob / Israel. Later the church is grafted in to the people of Israel and the covenant is renewed – a New Covenant in water and in blood, in the Spirit and Fire. All of these are not simply because God plays favorites – they are called and formed “to be a blessing”. They are called to communicate that

A feast will be prepared for all people.

This story moves in three stages:

  • We recognize our current state. Are we those of power who have been brought low, or are we the poor and needy who find refuge in the LORD? Perhaps both?
  • We understand and accept that God is calling us to the feast that is being prepared. God wants us to live in abundance and blessing. God continually works and calls out to us. Finally, we come to the end of our striving, and we accept that God loves us and receive the blessings that God has for us.
  • We follow Christ out to the world to proclaim the feast for all and to bring others in.

Part of the challenge for a church is that simultaneously we include people who are at each of these three stages. Some folks are just coming to terms with their reality. Others are receiving the call to discipleship and beginning their journey with Jesus. Still others are venturing out of the boat to walk with Jesus to the ends of the earth. And honestly, each of us at that third stage circle back to stages one and two occasionally.

There have been seasons in my life and ministry when I have awoken as from a dream, only to realize that I’ve built a house of cards that is beginning to collapse around me. This can happen in any area of our lives – our profession, our marriage, parenting or other relationships, our physical health. It happens at the personal, communal, national and global scale. When a major financial collapse comes as in 2008-9, what can be said but that people of pride and power built a house of cards using their own cleverness and capacity rather than leaning on the wisdom and power and grace of God. There are multiple explanations for why the collapse happened – globalization, a weak dollar, deregulation of banks and the subprime mortgage fiasco – but any version is still a house of cards horror story with hubris and blind ignorance as the central narrative.

That same scenario could be repeated with any of our crisis and collapse chronicles. Think of the current Ebola crisis, or the efforts to respond to the shifting landscape of militaristic misappropriations of the Islamic faith. We ignore warnings, and the evidence before our eyes, because we think we know best. We desperately want to believe our own version of events. One of our difficulties is that we believe the lie of limited resources. The result is that we often fight over what resources we perceive in a perpetual win/loose downward cycle of decay.

The Truth is completely opposite. We live in a world of abundance, a universe of unimaginable capacity, and serve a God of limitless possibilities. Each of us has limits, certainly. Collectively we are limited too. Even if you and I pool our resources, it won’t be enough to do all we want or desire. BUT… if we will recognize our limitations, accept the grace and power available to us, we will find that we have enough. The path forward is the same for all – the three stages identified above.

The feast is not the end of the story. Isaiah continues: And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. (25:7) A veil of fear and darkness prevents us from seeing God’s abundant provision available in creation and in each other through community. We cannot lift the veil off our own eyes. Only the power of Spirit can do this. We must be willing to let it be lifted. When Jesus said to Lazarus, “Come out!” Lazarus might have chosen to stay in the tomb. (John 11) Even when he did come out there was work to be done: “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (11:44) “Remove the veil of darkness, the covering of death!” And the next scene is a feast – “they gave a dinner for him…” (John 12)

Jesus has now given this ministry to his disciples. We are given the privilege of speaking these word to one another and the world that Jesus has spoken over us:

  • Come out of your tomb – God’s power and our response
  • Have the veil of darkness removed – the support of our community
  • Join in the feast

Now this could all lead us toward a name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel or some Polly-Anna-ish version of our faith that says if we will just believe in Jesus then everything will work out great for us. This of course is not true, at least not in the present physical realm. We know at least three reasons for this:

Paul offers us some very useful counsel at this point as he writes to his friends in the Philippian church in chapter 4:4-9. He tells us how to pray. He assures us not that everything will magically be fixed, but that we will receive peace in heart and mind, even in the midst of difficulty. Then Paul proceeds to tell us how to manage our thoughts, where to focus our attention. He says, “Don’t worry,” but he does not leave it at that. He understands that we have some choices that we can make:

  1. Where we look for strength and security (ourselves or God)
  2. How we respond to situations (Fear and grasping or gratitude and generosity)
  3. How we treat other people (with harshness or gentleness)
  4. What we think about (what is difficult and dark or what is good)
  5. What we do as a result of these thoughts (what we want, or what Jesus has taught us)

When we who are people of faith and have known the goodness of The Lord and the bounty of His feast find ourselves in trouble, Paul offers us a way forward. If we will make ourselves available to others in openness and generosity of spirit, they will tell us where they hurt and struggle and need support. God will then work through us to offer them hope, to welcome them to

the feast that is prepared for all people.