Jun 30, 2012

Day 1 at General Assembly - Election of the Moderator

Day 1 at the General Assembly began with a Presbyterians for Renewal overview of the business before this year's GA at 7am.

That was the plan.

But since I didn't get into my hotel room until 1am and because I was still on West Coast time, I couldn't fall asleep until 3am East Coast Time, there was no way I was going to make the 7am meeting.

But I really wanted to be there...NOT!!!

The highlight of the day was opening worship.

For many evangelicals who have been at the GA's, that may sound odd coming from a fellow evangelical. Because you see, in most of the previous GA's there is a lot of dancing and pageantry but very little of straight out proclamations of Jesus Christ.

But today's worship, the moderator of the 219th General Assembly, Cynthia Bolbach, unabashedly challenged the church to be about the ministry of Jesus Christ.

It was awesome!

I can't remember the last time I said that from a worship service at a GA. In fact, there have been worship services where I had to walk out because I was so offended at what was being preached.

You can read about the sermon and the opening worship at here.

The Moderator of the 219th GA Preaching at Opening Worship
After opening worship, the commissioners spent the afternoon getting used to the electronic voting system and getting oriented about how they would go about doing their work.

After the dinner break, the main business before the GA was the election of the moderator of the 220th General Assembly.

After four votes, Neal Presa, a pastor from Middlesex, NJ was elected by 52% of the votes.

So here's my take from day 1.

So far so good. I thought Neal did the best job of answering the questions that were asked of the moderatorial candidates. I believe Neal will do a fine job of leading the assembly and being the face of the church for the PC(USA).

Sunday morning, folks will be worshiping at local presbyterian congregations and will gather in the afternoon for the election of the Stated Clerk.

For now, I'm signing off as I'm pretty tired.

Good night and have a blessed Sunday worshiping the risen Christ!

My home for the next week

The Phoenix Phenomenon - A God-thing at GA?

The Pacific Northwest is great for a lot of things:
  • The natural beauty is stunning
  • The air is pure
  • The water is clean
  • People are wonderful
  • The fresh sea food is out of this world
  • Love all the racial diversity of the city
  • Love that people here care about the earth
But there's one thing I really don't like about the Seattle Tacoma area - flying out of Seatac.

The airport is great. The airport is clean. It has a great selection of shops and restaurants.

The thing not so great is there are so few direct flights out of Seatac. Almost every time I fly out to the East Coast, unless I am flying to one of the hub cities, I am always on a connecting flight. And even on a direct flight, the flights back East take all day.

So, when I left my home for Pittsburgh yesterday, I was already not too keen on leaving at noon to arrive at Pittsburgh by 9pm. But when I got to the airport, I was given another surprise. 

My flight kept getting delayed. 

At first, it was for 30 minutes. Then an hour. Then an hour and half. And eventually so late that I would miss my connecting flight out of Chicago. 

So Southwest Airlines put me on a flight to Phoenix where I would have to wait for three hours to catch a flight to Pittsburgh. By the time we landed in Pittsburgh, it was already 12:30am. I didn't get into my hotel room until 1am. 

Ahhh, but I wasn't complaining because the last time I was rebooked through Phoenix one of the most extraordinary events took place.

I met my Ugandan friend, Pastor Jonnes Bakimi, whom I had not seen in over a decade at the Phoenix airport. It was such a gift! What an amazing sweet reunion. 

So, as I head to the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA), I take this rebooking of flights through Phoenix as a token gesture of good things to come at the GA. Perhaps, God will do a God-thing at this year's GA!

Jun 28, 2012

Grow, Proclaim, Be the Body of Christ

As you read this, thousands of presbyterians from all over the country are making their way to Pittsburgh, PA for the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

More than in any recent years that I can remember, there's a lot of conversations about congregations staying and leaving and denominations imploding.

As I read and listen to some of the debates regarding this I can't help but notice that conservative, moderate, and liberal PC(USA) congregations are declining and aging. Conservative, moderate, and liberal PC(USA) congregations have been seeing fewer adult and infant baptisms. That's why the PC(USA) as a whole has been declining in membership while the population of the US continues to increase since 1960's. 

That's a long time! And unfortunately that's a lot of people.

As much as we would like to put our focus on what the "denomination" is doing, the reality is that unless local PC(USA) congregations get better at proclaiming the love of Christ in such a way that people who do not know they are loved come into saving faith, it won't matter what the "denomination" is doing or not doing. 

Aging and declining congregations will continue to age and decline unless they get better at proclaiming Christ and being the church.

It seems to me, we should all focus on getting local churches healthy and growing, helping congregations get better at sharing and proclaiming Jesus Christ in their communities, and being the hands, feet, and lips of Jesus Christ in their communities.

Because, unless our local congregations do this, whether we stay PC(USA) or leave for another denomination, such congregations will still decline and die.

What's the point of that?

Let's grow God's kingdom.

Let's get better at sharing the love of Christ to our neighbors.

Let's get better at demonstrating the love of God to our neighbors.

Let's be the church. 


I've been incognito on the blog front as I have been all about boxes - the packing of, the stacking of, the loading of, the unloading of, and unpacking of - in the last week. My family has moved closer to church.

I will be posting regular updates from the General Assembly of the PC(USA).


James <><

Jun 21, 2012

Thoughts on Leadership and Conflict

As part of my daily readings, I read a page of "The Art of Pastoring" by William Martin.

Let me confess right up front that most of what Martin writes about goes totally contrary to how I am wired and how I view leadership. But I still value what he has to say because almost everything he writes is so not like me. His writing and wisdom about leadership is unlike anything I typically read.

This morning here's what Martin had to say about conflict.

By its very nature
the parish will contain conflict.
Not everyone will appreciate or value
the work of the wise pastor.
Some will choose to see him as the enemy;
someone to be challenged, criticized, and defeated.
Do not subscribe to the illusion inherent 
in such conflict.
If you try to impose your will by force
of your winning personality,
or clever arguments,
or worse, the righteousness of your cause, 
you will reap the whirlwind.
Give the gift that is yours to give,
then withdraw from the conflict.
Your parish will always be beyond
your ability to control.
The opinion of others will forever lie
outside of your capacity to change.
Because you love your own soul,
are content with your own soul,
and accept your own soul,
you have no need to defend or defeat.
The parish returns to the Word and goes on.

What do you think?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Fearless...Read this book

I just got done reading this book.

An amazing book about courage, valor, faith, redemption, and family.

One of the most moving books I've read in a while.

Read it.

Jun 20, 2012

Reflections on Clergy Burnout

I love being a pastor.

That doesn't mean that it's easy.

It's just I know I'm doing what I've been created to do and be. I am most fully alive when I am living out my calling as a pastor.

That's the thing about callings. Whether you are a doctor, teacher, stay-at-home mom, student, etc., when you are doing what God created you to do, you come alive. You live life with passion and purpose.

But that doesn't mean living out one's calling is easy.

Lately, the number of clergy who are burning out, stressed out, experiencing moral failures, etc., has continued to rise.

That's alarming.

I am one who had quadruple bypass surgery when I was only 39.

What is going on?

I recently read an article in the New York Times that said, "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen...Many would change jobs if they could."

There is an actual web page called Pastor Burnout and here's some of what they had to say.
  • 25% of pastor's wives see their husband's work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastor's wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they've experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family's well-being and health.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
So if you're a pastor reading this, as one who is on the same journey with you, let us practice Sabbath as if our lives depended on it...because I think it does. 

Practice boundaries. 
  • It's not your church. It's God's church. You're just a servant worker there. There are things that are outside of your control. Leave them to God. 
  • Go home. Go home at a reasonable hour.
  • Guard your date nights with your spouse and your children.
  • Play hard. That's how God re-creates us. 
If you're a member of the church reading this, pray and encourage your pastors. Tell your pastors how you appreciate them. You never know how far a word of encouragement can go in the midst of stressful situations.

Please protect your pastor's boundaries. Pastors are human. We have families. We have personal needs just like everyone else. 

Jun 19, 2012

Ready to Get Messy?...Grace...Life Way...Blindside

Life Way Christian Book Stores to pull Blind Side from their shelves.

I have no say with what a particular business establishment decides to do or not do with the products it wants to sell.

That's up to them.

Life Way is "owned and operated" by the Southern Baptist Convention. They have every right to do with their business establishment as they please.

One of the reasons why Life Way is pulling the movie is because a Florida pastor will introduce a resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting that "expresses dissatisfaction with 'The Blind Side' and any product that contains explicit profanity, God's name in vain, and racial slur."

See here's the thing...have you seen the Blind Side? It was a fantastic movie with a fantastic message. What profanity and racial slur that was there was so minor I can't even remember where in the movie it occurred. What I remember is the story of love, family, commitment, and a faith life that tears down racial and societal barriers. That was the whole point of the movie!!!

The biggest question though is when does our attempt to be set apart from this world become so extreme that we become other worldly rather than merely set apart?

Because unless we are still citizens and fellow journeyers in this world - where people cuss, where people don't even know what it means to take the Lord's name in vain, where people actually do have real problems, where drugs and violence is the rule not the exemption...you know our world - we're not going to be of much use to people living in this world.

How can grace be applied unless we're willing to get messy and dirty?

It's not that we have to praise profanity and the mess sin causes, but unless we're willing to swim deep in the mess of sin, how else does grace break through? It doesn't mean we have to participate in the sin. But we better close enough for God's grace to impact it.

I don't think our calling is to be in isolation and to create a world where there is no mess and no pain, but to take the gospel into the messy dark world and be a part of God bringing order and light and renewal in messy broken places.

That's what I think grace is about. That's what I think our calling is as a church.

Ready to get messy?

Jun 14, 2012

Christian Marriage: A Sacred Rite, Not a Civil Right

There's a lot of conversation these days about the definition of marriage in both the political landscape and certainly in the life of churches like the PC(USA).

As I have been listening in, there is a distinction that must be clarified. Many discuss marriage as a civil right. But I am not so sure that civil rights is the best way to understand Christian marriage.

Let's say that there is a Joe in my congregation who is in his mid forties. Joe has been married for almost 20 years and has three children with his wife.

One day Joe abandons his wife and children and moves in with his co-worker Jane with whom he has been having an affair for the past three years.

Joe comes into the church and explains how for the first time in his life he feels like he has found his soul mate. He always felt trapped in his other life and felt like he was acting out someone else's role and dream. But Jane has freed him from all that and he would love it if the church would marry he and Jane.

Listen, I would not conduct Joe's wedding. Joe abandoned his wife and his children. He abandoned with marriage vows to his wife and to his God. And most likely, I would be counseling his wife and children through this abandonment.

More than that, if I were to marry Joe in the church, then in essence, I would be declaring that both God and the church approve and blesses Joe's adultery and abandonment of his wife and children.

I cannot do that. As a pastor, I cannot be a part of something that God has already determined to be a sin.

Joe and Jane can get married through the civil courts. There is nothing to keep him from doing that. But when Joe shows up at the church and wants a pastor to marry him in the church, that's a whole other thing.

Joe and Jane can be a part of the church. But if they go around saying adultery is fantastic and that everyone should try adultery, or that God now blesses and honors adultery, then we would have lots issues with them in the church.

Precisely because Christian marriage is not a civil right but a sacred rite.

Now let's apply a similar situation with gay marriage.

Let me start by saying that all human beings deserve to be treated with respect and civility. All human beings have civil rights.

Currently, there is nothing to stop a gay couple from getting married in the state of Washington. They can do so with any justice of the peace or courthouse.

Also, I think gay couples have every right to visitation in hospitals, health benefits, etc. These are all issues of civil rights.

But when a gay couple comes to the church to be married, what they are asking is for the church to bless and call good that which the Bible defines as sin.

Again, please hear that this is not about welcoming people. All people are welcome in the life of the church. All sinners - heterosexual, homosexual, all people - are welcome in God's church. But that's the thing, in the church, sin is still called sin.

What is being asked of the church in the current redefinition of marriage debates in the life of the church is to bless and honor homosexual practice. And that is something that the church cannot do.

Because when someone is being married in the church, it is no longer a civil act, but a sacred act.

Christian marriage is a sacred rite. Christian marriage is not a civil right.

Jun 13, 2012

Why I am Comforted in the Midst of Radical and Rapid Change

I have been preparing for the "Beginnings" sermon series as we study the first 11 chapters of Genesis together as a church by dusting off my Old Testament books from seminary and reading through commentaries on Genesis.

I am so excited about what God will teach us through this sermon series about his sovereign plan for each and every one of us.

And we need to hear this message more than ever before as my church and many others in the PC(USA) family find ourselves in a rapidly changing landscape.

Some of these changes are downright frightening because no one can say with any certainty what the future might hold. All that we can say is that the future won't look anything like what it does today.

For church guys like me, that can be pretty unsettling.

It's not an accident that we scheduled the "Beginnings" sermon series at this time. God knew we would need to be reminded of some truths from Genesis.

It's good to know that none of this is catching God by surprise. God already knew this would happen, and God already has a plan for how to lead us in this time.

Thank God for that!!!

That's the whole point of the creation narratives - God has a plan. None of this came to pass by chance or by accident.

God has a plan.

God is sovereign.

Our job is not to come up with a plan, but to listen for God's plan and implement what God desires for each and every one of our lives.

We do that, everything's going to be alright.

It's going to be better than alright. It's going to be awesome!!!

I can't wait to see what God is going to do through all this!

Jun 12, 2012

Consumer or Family? What is Your Relationship with God and his Church?

The customer is always right...

Do whatever you can to gain market share...

Give the people what they want and they will love you...

Such are the rules in a consumer driven society like ours.

One can dislike this reality, but it is what it is. This is how our society works.

For organizations like churches, this puts an interesting twist on how we view what we're supposed to be about.

While consumerism may be the rules by which society engages institutions, the reality is that churches are not, and were never meant to be primarily, institutions. 

The church is to be about relationships. 
  • The relationship of God the Father to his creation, his children.
  • The relationship between his children (those who currently recognize his Fatherhood, and those who don't)
The church is more family not institutions.

I know churches sometimes forget that, and that's why so many (including myself) have issues with the institutionalizing of churches.

But given that many churches forget this reality, the reality still is that the church is to be about relationships.

This has huge implications for who and what the church is to be about in a consumeristic society.

You see, even in our consumeristic society, if an individual is a member of the Ford family, or Microsoft family, etc., they don't make their purchase decisions primarily based on their tastes, but based on their placement in a particular family. 

This is huge.

It is because of this family dynamic that the church can and must continue to say some things we don't want to hear because we need to hear it. 

Hopefully, those aren't the only conversations we're having, but there are necessary times when such conversations must be had.

While it may be easier to draw the crowds by giving people what they want, the church has been called to be a moral compass to point people to our Father so that we can all be encouraged to become who we were created to be.

As we look at our relationship with God and his church family here are some very important questions we ought to consider:
  • Is God your servant of your king?
  • Is God an indulgent father who gives you whatever you want, or a loving Lord who gives you what you need?
  • Is your relationship with God focused on what you might gain here on earth, or for what you will receive in heaven?
If god is your servant, he's not God.

If god is an indulgent father, he's not Lord.

If god is only about what you will gain here on earth, he's not Savior. 

You are family for God is our Father.

Jun 7, 2012

One of the Most Interesting Letters I've Ever Received

One of the things pastor types dread the most are letters addressed to the pastor with no return address.

You have no idea what to expect.

Usually, letters that come without a return address are almost never worth opening. It's usually someone who's got a gripe about you, your ministry, or the church but doesn't have the courage to write their name to it.

Anonymous letters like that suck!!! They suck the life and joy out of you.

I've been a pastor now for about twenty years but I've got to say this was the most interesting letter I've ever received.

I opened the letter and there was a short letter that just read, "Dear Little Church, I pray this is a winner for you." And then there was this scratch off lottery ticket!

I've never bought one of these things before. I'd never played before.

I showed the letter to the other pastors and the office staff and we all had a good laugh.

I was originally going to give the lotto ticket to our finance manager as she's the one who deals with financial things, but she was out to lunch.

So, I decided that the staff would all take turns scratching off a section. Who knows? We just might be winners!

But alas, we were not winners.

Well, we're always winners but we just didn't win anything on the card.

So, to whoever sent us this card, "Thank you!"

Thank you for allowing the staff to have a laugh.

Thank you to our anonymous lotto scratch ticket sender.

You rock!

Jun 6, 2012

Pace of Life that Honors God

My daughter has made the district finals for the 800m race for the past two years for her school district.

800m is a brutal race. For middle school girls the race is too long to sprint the entire way, and if your pace is too slow there is no chance of winning. You have to have a good start in the beginning of the pact, but you can't go too fast. You have to pace yourself at around 90% of your best pace for the rest of the race until the last 200m when you have to go full out!

It is a painful brutal race.

As I watch my daughter run track, it reminds me a lot of ministry.

Ministry is a life-long calling. But too many ministers run the race as if it were the 100m dash. 

While a good start is important, if you go too fast at the start, you've got nothing left to finish the race.

And we've all seen that way too many times in ministry leaders. Their pace is unsustainable. Their pace is unhealthy. And bad things happen. Ungodly things happen.

So let me say it loud and clear:


Giving your best to God also means giving your best to your family and friends. 

Giving God your best includes stewarding your body with a healthy diet, rest, and play that your body needs. 

Giving God your best includes maintaining a regular schedule of study.

Working at church and on church things 24/7 is ungodly. 

We were not created for such a pace.

And when we fool ourselves into thinking that we are more than human bad things happen.

For all our sake, and for the glory of God, please pace yourself for the long-haul. 

God called you to be a minister for the rest of your life. 

Jun 5, 2012

Ingredients for Spiritual Maturity

There are two ingredients necessary for spiritual maturity: God's word and God's community.

There have been times when we believed that the one's who were closest to God were the desert monks and the contemplatives who remove themselves from people and community.

While times of isolation and quiet are necessary - especially in today's busy lives, we need to find quiet moments for ourselves and God - isolation cannot be the end all of times with God.

Quiet times with God must lead to making us more effective servants and ambassadors for Christ in relationship with other people.

To help us to grow in the faith, God has given to us his word to provide the truth we need to grow, and God has given to us his people to provide the support we need to grow.

If we apply ourselves to God's word regularly and regularly connect with other believers, we will learn to trust God even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Jun 4, 2012

Wise Words from a Wise Mentor Revisited

Love God and let your people know that you love God.

Love your people and let your people know that you love them.

Work hard and let your people know that you work hard.

These were the words one of my mentors gave to me when I was starting out as a pastor.

These are principles that I have tried to live by.

As I have been doing this pastor thing for over 20 years now, these words have different meaning for me than they used to.

I used to think that what my mentor meant was that I was to "tell", "verbalize", and go out of my way to "show" these things. But I am now beginning to think that that's not what my mentor meant.

The way a wise pastor goes about demonstrating these things to their congregation is by being these things and not so much by telling these things.

A pastor loves God and let's people know that you love God by loving God. The pastor's life is all about being in love with God. And just as it is unmistakable to "see" someone in love, it is impossible to miss someone who is madly in love with God.

This is also true about loving people. People know when they are genuinely loved and cared for.

The area that has gone the most dramatic transformation is in my understanding of the last advice: Work hard and let your people know that you work hard.

I remember reading about pastoral giants who would wake up before the crack of dawn and who would stay late into the night and how their people would pass by the pastor's study see their pastor working hard by candle light. These writings would talk about how much their people were encouraged and strengthened by their pastor's hard work.

For a guy already with work-a-holic tendencies, that's all I needed to read.

That's the type of life I wanted to emulate.

A quadruple bypass, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease later, I see things differently.

It's not about how many hours. It's all about how effectively I work. You could be in the office 24/7 letting your health, family, and life go to pot and still not be very effective in the office.

The thing about church work is that it will always be there, no many how hours you put in.

An effective pastor/leader recognizes what he/she must get done and pours their energy and concentration on those things and gets them done as effectively as possible.

And a wise pastor knows when to call it a day and go home to be present with their family, tending to their physical and emotional health.

There will be a hundred voices clamoring for your time. But a wise pastor/leader learns to listen and obey the inner voice that tells him, "Go home."

Jun 2, 2012

Golf Bug

One of the nice things about living in Texas was that you could play golf all year round. There was a golf course about five minutes from the church office so I used to play about once a week with some of the men from church.

However, ever since I moved to the Pacific Northwest I haven't been playing at all. The last time I played a round was about two years ago. More than anything, it's because I haven't had time. Also, I'm not sure about playing when it's cold and wet.

After a string of about 10 straight days of sunny days, I dug out the golf clubs and went out for the first time in two years...and you know what? I love this game!

I've got the golf bug and, to boot, the Pacific Northwest is one of the prettiest places to play.

It's Not About You/Me

It's not about you/me.

Whenever we forget this simple truth things get really ugly, really fast.

But it's amazing how quickly we forget this simple truth.

You would expect children to behave this way because this is a truth must be learned.

But you don't expect adults to behave this way.

If you've ever been around churches, organizations, institutions, this is a reality that merits repeating on a regular basis.

So let me say it again for all our sake.

It's Not About You/Me!!!