Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Basic Christian Leadership

Some books I enjoy because they change my mind on something; others I enjoy because they reinforce something I already believe. This book falls into the the second category. Stott's Basic Christian Leadership: Biblical Models of Church, Gospel and Ministry is a call for pastors to avoid the various culture-centered models of leadership popular in many churches. The book is filled with well-written nuggets to this end.

From the conclusion:
"Our model of leadership is often shaped more by culture than by Christ. Yet many cultural models of leadership are incompatible with the servant imagery taught and exhibited by the Lord Jesus. Nevertheless, these alien cultural models are often transplanted uncritically into the church and its hierarchy. In Africa it is the tribal chief, in Latin America the machismo (exaggerated masculinity) of the Spanish male, in South Asia the religious guru fawned on by his disciples, in East Asia the Confucian legacy of the teacher's unchallengeable authority, and in Britain the British Raj mentality--the overbearing pride associated with the period of British rule until Indian independence in 1947."

Surprisingly, he left the United States off the list. From what I see, the model of choice in America is one of the following two (preferrably both): CEO and Celebrity.

Stott uses the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians to make his case that leadership in the church has to be humble and servant-centered. The Apostle Paul's poverty, humility, and his suffering were the marks that enabled him to lead in a way that mirrored Christ.

Other nuggets from a mostly good book:
  • "Beware, I beg you, of the temptation to be a popular preacher! I doubt if it is possible to be popular and faithful at the same time. . . . If we compromised less, we would undoubtedly suffer more."

Despite being an Anglican, Stott writes:
  • ". . . some people even murder the English language and call us 'reverend!'"

Another good quote regarding pastors:
  • "Too many behave as if they believed not in the priesthood of all beleivers but in the papacy of all pastors."
These quotes make it sound as though Stott is an anti-cleric. That's not the case at all. He's a pastor writing to pastors, hoping to elevate pastors to the model of leadership he finds in scripture. I had some quibbles with this book, but I could recommend it to any pastor for a quick reminder of the nature of our calling.

Friday, May 26, 2006

BRATPAC at the Wymers

Sunday, May 21st was the beginning of the new year for the Grandview Christian Church BRATPAC (Building Relationships And Telling People About Christ). BRATPAC is the youth group for grades 5 and 6. My middle daughter was promoted into the group. Their first event was to come to our house and have lunch after church in their new BRATPAC t-shirts. There were about 15 youth in all.

They seemed to be having fun together!

Teenage Makeover

This is my firstborn. She has been wearing braces for almost two years . . . until today. Just in time for our move to a Wilmore, where she will have to meet scads of new kids, the doctor removed the braces and the hair stylist removed some hair . . . and now we have our brand new teen. Nice timing, eh?!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A new CD from Susan Cagle

A few years ago my family and I were winding our way through the subways of New York City and we came across this young lady playing with her band. I thought she was great. We bought her "self-produced" cd and listened to it often. That's why I was glad to discover that she has now been signed by Sony and her new cd is out.

It's good, but a little more "pop" than she sounded in the subway and on the cd we first bought. Sony may have taken some of the funk out of her music. Still worth a listen though!

Hi, I'm Johnny Cassian

Our 4th century friend, John Cassian, continues:
1. Acedia (a wearied or anxious heart):
This is an interesting "vice," as it so easily afflicts many of us. Cassian spends a lot of time talking about the importance of work, especially manual labor. It appears that the monks figured out that anxiety and weariness come from idleness and sloth. Cassian appeals to 2 Thessalonians 3:11 to make the connection.

"And so, after such harsh gospel rigor, [the Apostle Paul] finally explains why he said all this: 'For we hear that some of you are walking in disquietude, not working but acting as busybodies.'"

Cassian continues by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:12: "We charge those who are such and beseech them in the Lord Jesus to work in silence and to eat their own bread."

His chapter on Acedia is especially good.
2. Vainglory:
Vainglory is tricky. I'm not completely clear yet on how vainglory and pride differ for Cassian, except that vainglory may be more about being flattered and pride more about thinking one has made spiritual advancements apart from God's grace. Vainglory, according to Cassian, often comes to us following spiritual successes:

"If a person fasts openly, he is struck with vain boastfulness; if he conceals it out of disdain for boastfulness, he is struck with the same vice of pride. Lest he be sullied by the contamination of vainglory, he avoids saying too many prayers under the gaze of the brothers; and, although he does this secretly and no one is aware of his deed, he does not escape the stings of vanity."

3. Pride:
Pride is the big dog of all sins. For Cassian it's at the heart of Satan's fall (though I've never been convinced that much that is said of Satan is scriptural, so much of it coming from tradition that developed after scripture). My favorite paragraph on the effects of pride is below:

"First of all, a person's talking will be loud and his silence bitter; his joy will be marked by noisy and excessive laughter, his seriousness by irrational sadness, his replies by rancor, his speech by glibness, and his words will burst out helter-skelter from a heedless heart. He will be devoid of patience, without love, quick to inflict abuse, slow to accept it, reluctant to obey except when his desire and will anticipate the matter, implacable in receiving exhortations, weak in restraining his own will, very unyielding when submitting to others, constantly fighting on behalf of his own opinions but never acquiescing or giving in to those of others. And so, having become unreceptive to salutary advice, he relies on his own judgment in every respect rather than on that of the elders."

Good stuff. I'm not sure which book I'll read next.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cassian Continued . . .

My reading progresses. Here is a peak at Cassian's Institutes.

The second half of this book contains advice on how to overcome eight major sins. I've just finished the chapter on sadness. He are top quotes from the first few chapters:

"The stomach that has been fed with all kinds of food begets the seeds of lasciviousness, and the mind that is suffocated and weighed down by food cannot be guided by the governance of discretion. It is not an excess of wine alone that ordinarily inebriates the mind. Too much food of any kind makes it stagger and sway and robs it of every possibility of integrity and purity."

"Some strong words of Saint Basil, the bishop of Caesarea, are apropos. He said: "I do not know woman, but I am not a virgin." Well indeed did he understand that the incorrupation of the flesh consists not so much in abstainng from woman as it does in integrity of heart. . . "

"The [madness of greed] is stopped not with wealth, but poverty."

"The sum total of our improvement and tranquillity . . . must not be made to depend on someone else's willing, which will never be subject to our sway; it comes, rather, under our own power. And so our not getting angry must derive not from someone else's perfection but from our own virtue."

Sadness: (easily the weakest so far . . . I suspect monks in the 4th and 5th century weren't very good at grieving)
"Sadness is to be judged beneficial for us in one instance alone--when we conceive it out of repentance for our sins and are inflamed by a desire for perfection, and by the contemplation of future blessedness. Of this the blessed Apostle [Paul] himself says: "The sadness that is in accordance with God works repentance unto lasting salvation, but the world's sadness works death." (2 Corinthians 7:10)

There's a brief look at the work of Cassian. More will follow.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Breaking News

Good news! Cindy and I have accepted an offer on the house. The best part about the offer is that the house should go to a family we really like. It is comforting to know that the house will be in good hands (If you knew where to look in the above picture, you could see our house. This picture was taken from White Rock at the tip of Buffalo Mountain.).

If everything goes well, we should be closing right before we leave for Wilmore. Thanks to everyone for your prayers. This was the biggest concern we had. All the rest is details.

Amazingly, I was relieved and saddened all at once. I'm pleased that we should be able to go to away to Wilmore without having to keep our minds occupied on the details of house selling, house renting, yard mowing, etc . . .. The sad thing is that I'll miss the house, its location, and its view of the mountains. I was reading in the dining area on Monday, looked up at the soft, green, skyward curves of Buffalo Mountain and immediately became sad that we were selling the place.

A double-minded man, who can stand!

Thanks, again, to those of you who have been praying about this. God is faithful.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Most Painful Blog

No, I'm not Scott Hamilton . . .

No, I'm not that guy from American Idol . . .

No, I'm not that guy from Crossing Jordan . . .

These are the three most recent "bald guys on television" that I resemble. If only I could combine the powers of all four of us! Then I would be a minister who could act, sing, and ice skate. There would be no stopping me. The Christian world would be mine . . . ALL MINE!
You can't tell it from this photo, but my oldest daughter, M, is receiving an award at the 8th grade ceremony. She actually received two of them yesterday, one for doing well in writing classes (she's an excellent writer) and one for doing well in social studies. Cindy and I are proud of her for being diligent at school. Her friend, Alison, also received a writing award. Additionally, I am proud of Jeremy, from church, who received the Principal's award. Good kids.

A quick trip to Asheville

It's time to start saying my good-byes to friends. Moving dates approach like old age (quicker than you think). I drove to Asheville on Thursday night to see my friend, Tom Swift. Tom was my first "boss" in ministry. We've been friends ever since.

The drive to Asheville reminded me how fortunate I am to live in such a beautiful place. The trip over Sam's Gap was filled with clouds that were able to appear menacing and playful all at once.

Tom was doing fine. We had supper. We laughed about the ministry (and about ministers). He gave me a copy of his DMin project. As a hospice chaplain he is writing a devotional that might be of some use to people who have accepted their final diagnosis. The devotional is based on the Psalms. The problem he's running into is that once people accept they are going to die, they tend to decline so fast that there is not much time for contemplation. Too soon their mental faculty isn't suited for devotions.

We should be more like the old monks who kept skulls in sight to remind them they are mortal. In the ministry, I've noticed that if you wait for necessity to move you to an assisted living facility, then you've waited too long. You have to go before you have to go.

The same goes when it comes to preparing ourselves for ultimate realities. That's one of the reasons I put silence in most of the Sunday morning services. I know it isn't a lot of silence, but it's a start. Pray. Read the Psalms. Rejoice in the life that we've been given.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Now Discover the Seven Deadly Sins Institute

I've neglected to provide updates on my attempts at reading. I'm not a slow reader, but sometimes I'm an A.D.D. reader. If I set aside large enough blocks I do okay. It takes me a good 30 or 40 minutes, though, to get the "fidget" out of my system. After that I'm a bit more able to hunker down.

Excuses aside, I've completed Now, Discover Your Strengths and found it helpful for giving me new ways to consider things I need to do to facilitate a healthier work environment for staff. Grandview Administrative Minister (the most redundant title we could conjure), John, is off for the next couple of weeks and will be cruising with his wife down the Atlantic Coast and then over to Cozumel. I gave the book to him, because I would value his input on the subject. Now that I think about it, maybe I should have waited until he returned. Healthy staff doesn't read leadership books on vacation!

The thesis of the book is that, for all of us, our areas of greatest potential are our strengths. The authors have developed some specialized language to enable people to discuss strengths with less ambiguity (what does someone mean when someone says, "She's good with people"? there are many possible strengths in that statement). Once we know our strengths, and the strengths of staff, then we can intentionally put people in position to succeed by doing the things they naturally enjoy.

As part of the book I took an on-line survey to help me discover my top five strengths. Number one strength? Adaptability. That concerned me at first, then I almost immediately got used to the idea.

Meanwhile, I've started the workbook, The Seven Deadly Sins by Maxie Dunnam and Kimberly Dunnam Reisman. This is something I'm supposed to be taking time to do each day. I keep forgetting to do it, though. I hope one of the deadly sins isn't forgetfulness. The first week's focus is "Taking Sin Seriously." More (or less) on this workbook as the reading and activities warrant.

Lastly, John Cassian's Institutes is my current reading project. Cassian was an early Christian monk (360-430) who spent time traveling from monk to monk mining the spiritual knowledge and experiences each possessed. I read Cassian's book Conferences back in seminary for Dr. Norris' class, the History of Christian Spirituality. So far the best part of this book is that it is the first one on the DMin list that feels like seminary again. The worst part is that I disagree with Cassian so much more than I used to. The chapter on fasting/avoiding gluttony is good and it inspires me to be better about such things. On the other hand, Cassian seems to believe that it is a bad thing to enjoy the gift of food. I'm not sure that refusing to enjoy God's gifts makes one more spiritual. I suspect that enjoying food in a reasonable and wise fashion is the more spiritual path.

I'll comment much more on this book as I read it. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Odds and Ends

I didn't want to go too long without updating the blog. I presume a good blog needs regular entries.

There isn't much happening right now with the transition to Wilmore. Traffic isn't high on the housefront. There were three lookers on the first two days, then nobody. While I would love for the house to sell quickly, if it did I would wonder if we underpriced it. The thing about selling and buying houses is it's easy to feel you've left money on the table. When I was a real estate broker (that feels like a totally different life) I remember seeing people panic at the last minute, wishing they had been more stubborn and made a better deal.

Today's pictures are of the the worship band as it rehearsed on Sunday morning. The key to making worship run smoothly is practice. There is no way around it. I appreciate the time band members and singers put aside. Commitment is what makes worship as good as it can be. At the worship minsitry team meeting last night(Tuesday night) we discussed how important commitment is for things like greeting and ushering and serving. The maddening roles at Grandview involve recruiting people. People are happy to greet, ush, and serve, but many don't want to commit to it on a regular basis. It makes the recruiter's service difficult.

The other picture is from yesterday (Tuesday) when I was part of career day at Hampton Elementary/Middle School (thanks for asking, Becky, it was fun). Whenever I entered a new classroom I asked the kids to guess what my career was. The most guessed occupation? Tattoo Artist. Amazing. Not a single tattoo in sight and they picked me out of the line-up. The other popular choice was police officer.

In some of the classrooms I was following Miss Johnson City, who remarked that she was being "better received by the boys than the girls." I guess I'll have to ponder that mystery for awhile.

The best question I was asked was, "Why do you do your job?" It caught me by surprise. "I do it because I believe God called me to do it. If I didn't believe that, I'd do something else in heartbeat." I'm not sure that's the best advertisment for a career on career day.

The kids impressed me. For the most part they listened attentively and asked good questions. Sixth graders are more interactive than Eighth graders, but they were mostly polite. I think the Eighth graders would have listened more intently if I had been a tattoo artist or a bouncer. I guess I'll have to face it, ministry may be fun, but it isn't glamorous.

I'll update you on my reading tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Home, Sweet, Home

This is the house we're trying to sell. The thing that sold us on the house was the amazing view of Buffalo Mountain if offers to the south. It also offers panorama of Unaka Mountain range to the east. Our agent is Lorna Crouch, a member of Grandview.

We've lived in this house for almost 8 years and we're sad to be leaving it behind. It's the only home our youngest daughter has ever known. Our neighbors are very nice. It's close to Grandview, Milligan College, Johnson City Medical Center, ETSU . . . the works.

We're experiencing what others selling their house experience. We've gotten rid of some of the things in our house that were useful, but not necessary, and now it feels bigger and looks neater (and is easier to keep neat). It's a good reminder of how much we have that we don't really need.

As of today, the house has been on the market for only three or four days. We've had three showings, no takers. I'll keep you updated.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Reading Update

I'm slowly trying to get back into the grove of reading in a systematic way. I'll do my best in these blogs to keep you aware of the nature of the books they are asking us to read. The first one, "Leadership and Self-Deception" by the Arbinger Institute was an easy reading business-world attempt to underscore the need for employees to focus on the goals of the company, not the preservation of their own self-images. The lessons apply, though, to all the areas of human life.

The thesis of the book is that we too easily deceive ourselves into believing that "other" people are the source of our unhappiness. Using the example of a husband who pretends not to hear the baby crying in the middle of the night, all while feeling he should get up and tend to the child out of love for his wife, the book points to the need to be faithful to our impulses of service. Once the husband in the book betrayed his sense of responsibility to his wife, he justifies that betrayal by deciding that his wife is just lazy--thereby deceiving himself into believing the wrong person was lazy. This puts the man "in the box" of self-deception, which leads to broken relationships and hard feelings all around. The rest of the book underscores the need to be selfless, focused on the needs of others, and working toward the good of the company/community.

The application to the church is obvious. If we are less concerned with ourselves, with personal offense, and with the shortcomings of others, then we are free to the live call of the Gospel, to be a witness to the power of God in Christ. As A.E.Whitham once wrote (and I paraphrase), "A firefighter who is rushing to put out a fire would take no notice of someone who yelled something offensive." It's too easy to walk around as a victim, when we need to be about the work God has called us to do.

Next in line is, "Now, Discover Your Strenths."

Monday, May 01, 2006

A quick trip to Pittsburgh

On Thursday afternoon I was able to break free of the task of preparing to move in order to drive to Pittsburgh. I wanted to make the trip because Kathleen Norris was lecturing at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but that's only part of the reason. I also wanted to see Nathan. Nathan is a great friend of mine who helps me in ways too many to mention. He suffers through the first reading of almost all of my sermons, listening for problems, heresies, and anything else that might prove disastrous to the sermon itself (and me by extension!). He also has the task of knowing me well enough to ask me hard questions about who I am and where I spend my energy in life.

Nathan and his wife, Fara, proved to be gracious hosts. Thanks to Taylor for giving his bed away to the invader from the south!

On Friday morning I worked on my sermon at Affogato's, a coffee shop near Nathan's house. That place is a favorite of mine everytime I visit. It's the building with the "a" on it.

Then, on Friday afternoon, Nathan, Fara, and I went to hear Kathleen Norris. I wasn't sure what to expect from her. I've never been good at poetry. The truth is that sometimes I find it kind of pretentious and I was afraid that Norris would seem too "poetic" for me to appreciate.

Quite the opposite. Norris selected and read some fantastic poems and had a way of being down-to-earth and ethereal all at once. It's wonderful to watch and listen to someone who loves her craft and has the ability to share that love with those of us who are on the margins.

I said goodbye to Pittsburgh on Saturday morning and was home in Johnson City by 2:30. I immediately went to work on the house, trying to support all the work that had been done in my absence. Cindy and M had worked to make the house look great in preparation for the first showing for selling the house (that took place on Sunday). We put things in storage. We put down fresh mulch. We moved the firewood around the yard. You get the idea.

All-in-all, a great weekend: best friends, great poets, and 14 hours alone in a car to think (or not think), followed by a good day at Grandview on Sunday. Thanks to Cindy for managing the house and the move while I sped to and from Pittsburgh.