Saturday, November 29, 2008

Advent=Winter Lent

Advent is intended to be "a time between times." Like bleak waiting after dark crucifixion--until the "He is risens!" of bright Easter morning. We are to identify with darkness, hopefulness-tainted-by-fear that our hope is baseless--hopeless; fear that darkness is all-in-all.

Advent is a hallelujah-less time. A reminder time. A reminder that until this season is over, darkness indeed wins, and light lessens with each day. We lose our grip on victory-confidence.

Advent is an adopted , intentional season of despair.
-We confess our doubts--even in our pleading prayers to the Mighty One, who appears anything but mighty.
-We consider, and even participate in the hopelessness of those without Christ's light.
-We wonder if our fears, in this season of darkness, will finally vanquish all hope. We fear perhaps this year the sun will continue to diminish its light-giving until finally...all is dark; forever.

During this season we recognize our desperate solidarity with those who waited 400 years for God to act, and then perished before their eyes could see Hope's coming.

We come to this place with secrets. Doubts, questions, even treasons may lurk in our hearts. Perhaps righteous living seems to have left us empty--unfulfilled. Maybe there is nagging doubt that darkness--sin--would provide satisfaction to our hungry souls?

Advent pulls down the pretentiuosness we hold to. This is a time to admit serpants we'd prefer to dance past, and deny. Now we must pause, identify and own our doubts and fears.

This is Advent, a time between times normal, and festive...or so we hope.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Questions for Parable of the Gym

OK. Many people have been coming to the site since I put the Parable of the Gym up last Saturday. However, everyone seems shy about commenting. So let me try and start you up with the following questions:

First, for those of you who have "studied for the ministry," do you see any truths in Tammy's story? Were your studies what you expected them to be? If you were or are a pastor, does your original call sync-up with the work of being a pastor?

Second, and this is for all of you, what evidences of an insulated/isolated Christian Culture do you see in the novel The Runaway Pastor? What evidences do you see in The Parable of the Gym? What evidences do you see in your own life?

Finally, anyone ticked off about the novel, or the parable? Jump in.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

More of The Runaway Pastor.

Thank you for your responses to the first seven chapters of The Runaway Pastor! I have been overwhelmed by the number of you who have read and responded to the opening chapters of this novel.

Finally, I am posting more of the book. Throughout the first chapters, it has become obvious to you that Trent is hurting. During a later chapter of The Runaway Pastor, Trent is asked to journal a parable that he has been using to describe his troubles with the church. I’d like to use the five parts of this parable to encourage discussion here at .

Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the lead character in this novel are not necessarily those of the author of this blog or novel. (A bit of unofficial lawyer language.)

So click here to read Parable of the Gym: Part One. Meanwhile, I invite you to join the discussion by posting responses here and following along as—one at a time—I publish the five parts of the Parable of the Gym.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Posting more of the Book

I will be posting another portion of The Runaway Pastor this weekend.

For those of you who have read the first 7 chapters, you will have something new to read. And if you haven't yet read these beginning chapters, now is a chance to catch-up before the next portion comes out. Also, you could let your friends know.

Several of you must be passing the word about Runaway on, because people from several states have jumped on board here. In fact, today I found that of the more than 200 individual computers have visited to check out Runaway!

And so this Saturday I will put up more of the book. The next five portions are going to be from Trent's journal entries. (Trent is the lead character in the book.) These will be a good place for you to discuss Trent's thoughts about today's church. Your comments, challenges or thoughts could help me write discussion questions which possibly could accompany the book at publication, or be available on-line once the book is published.

You could also challenge Trent's thinking. (I'll be disappointed if you buy everything he says.) So let your friends who are following this story know that more is coming, and to be prepared for discussion in the comments field.

By the way, if you are having trouble posting comments I'll pass on a comment made earlier by a friend: Just so you know, nobody needs to register in order to comment on your blog. They can "choose an identity" and use (1) a Google/Blogger account, (2) an OpenID account, (3) whatever Name & URL/website they want, or (4) be anonymous. It's all right there above the Publish & Preview buttons.

I'll look forward to seeing your comments here.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Evolution or Revolution?

Sitting with a couple of friends. We like to talk about ideas. We were stretching every paradigm available to Kingdom constituents when one of them made a brilliant observation. I won't word it as well as he. But, here is a shot: "Are we speaking of evolution, or revolution?"

By this he was drawing our attention to how change happens in a congregation. If I, as pastor, am leading toward a more organic body--by plugging-in group life, and leading a separate house church--I am working with evolution. Teaching over time. Bending paradigms and tweaking habits.

However, if I take a congregation off in such a tangent that we desert the mission I was called to, and the congregation who called me to it, then I am pushing revolution. Should a revolutionary receive support from that which he or she is overthrowing? Hmmm.

I believe the church is changing, and desperately needs change. I believe it will look much more like the organic house church models, or perhaps like something we haven't imagined. However, I have been asked to teach, lead and love a very teachable, lead-able and lovable people. It is a joy to shepherd where I am.

On the other hand, as my Shepherd calls and leads, I must follow. I believe our faith is purer because of those who have stepped-away from institution and embraced the simple.

In the meantime, I'm grateful for our coffee conversation today. The wisdom shared there gives me sound direction as I continue to follow, lead and pray my way into a future I simply can't imagine. (Further proof that we really do need those around us.)

Grace and peace be with us as we follow the Loving Revolutionary.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Publishing Update

I attended a the Indianapolis Christian Writer's Conference last weekend. It was my first. I learned that it is tougher than ever to get a book published, or even to find an agent to represent you. There is some good news however.

First, my book will be published. More on that later.

Currently I have an agent, and another has my manuscript, and I'm awaiting word. The better news is a major publisher is reading the manuscript. (Note: about 1-3% of what these publishers read, ever gets published. So, this is not a quick or certain process. However, this publisher accepts no unsolicited manuscripts, and mine was certainly unsolicited. So to be this far is very encouraging!)

Also, I have had email conversations with a overwhelmingly successful self-publisher. He has the current best selling Christian title, and no publisher would take the manuscript. His coaching to me is to continue building a following via the internet. This is a slow process, and a new challenge for me.

In my first couple of months online, I've had visitors from 10 countries, and from 29 of the United States. New people look in each day, many for a few seconds, and others for a while. I receive comments on the chapters I've posted, like this one.

I started reading your book just yesterday and have not only finished it today, but have also read all of the blogs and comments up until this one. This may sound silly, but this is the first blog that I've ever read. I've been drawn in. God is using you. I have been challenged and inspired. I agree--your book is for everyone. I'm not a pastor, but I'm married to one. In a way that makes me feel like a pastor since our lives are united as one. I believe that anyone could relate to the characters in your book in some way. I did. Even though I have no idea who wrote this, these messages are very encouraging.

Now, I am moving forward. If no publisher decides to pick up my novel...and maybe even if they offer, I will self-publish with the encouragement of the friend above, as well as several in the business of publishing. I will let you know if or when that happens. In the mean time, your comments, , and your presence as a follower of this blog, and your word of mouth/telling a friend about the novel and the first seven chapters here are helping. Thank you.

If you believe in what is happening, keep praying and letting me know.

Grace and peace to you.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I have often been asked if The Runaway Pastor is a true story, or if it is based upon one. It is based on many true stories.

Many men and women are cut out perfectly for the role of pastoral ministry in this day when "bigger, means better." They are often blessed with the multiple talents of organization, leadership, management, motivation, and institutional development; as well as being gifted with sympathy, the abilities to teach and preach and to make their faith real to "outsiders". These are wonderful people--and rare.

I spend a lot of time thinking these days of smaller, sustainable, organic house churches as a preferable model for some leaders. I am more and more convinced that much of what our success-models have pushed us into, is a lovely and large cruise ship with little ability to maneuver in the post-modern waters of our times. On the other hand, the smaller congregations seem quite adept at relational, conversational, servant-oriented ministry that is so effective in these days.

And don't get me wrong, churches are usually good places with good people. The runaway thing is typically not an issue of some ogre institution chewing up, and spitting out its leaders. No, ministry has simply become a very broad and demanding job emotionally, mentally and physically. And the greater the desire to love a congregation (that for some of us means always pleasing), and to lead a congregation to mega-greatness, the greater the tendency to burn-out.

Some pastors are strong in the leadership/management skill sets, and weak in the caring ones. And others, like Trent in The Runaway Pastor, are the other way around. Churches can be filled with wonderful people, but the institution itself demands a very highly gifted and well rounded person to carry-off the gig. Many find themselves incapable, or tired trying to keep up. That, in my opinion, is where the runaways come from.

I can remember like yesterday, conversations with middle-aged and broken pastors, when I was first starting in ministry. I would often come away from such conversations thinking: "I'll never be like that." Or, "Why are they so negative?" It is true that many pastors never run from their ministry, but wish they could. When they signed-up for ministry, they believed they could spend a lifetime caring for others, teaching and speaking about faith. Their spiritual gifts and their training equipped them for this. However, once in the roles of ministry, they found different expectations, and overwhelming stresses.

And the stigma of having a "calling," is a difficult one to break out of. When I was called to serve as a missionary, and signed a career contract, coming home was the most humiliating step I ever took. (It also, however, saved my family.) We left the US as heroes, and returned perceived as embarrassments to the church. Before leaving, I spoke in large churches, three of our university chapels and many district church gatherings. But after returning, we were not even included in the introductions of "former missionaries" at our own district's meetings. (Like Trent, The Runaway Pastor at Baylor's Bend, I understand now that my [cross-cultural and] people-loving skill sets were strong; however my organizational and institutional motivations and abilities were inadequate.)

Many in the church push young people to profess a "calling," and if they ever testify to such a calling, the mold is cast. I remember my boyhood pastors telling me, "If you can do anything else, and know that God would still love you, do it." But once I said I was called, and after leaving for college to study, even my most sincere doubts of such a calling had to be squelched. From early days in college, and throughout my ministry, the only respectable path has been to keep on plugging.

Today, many pastors quit in their early years of ministry, or even before beginning a pastoral career. (There is probably less of a stigma than there used to be, and a deeper belief in God's grace.) A common statistic now is that half of those who do study for ministry, get out during their first 10 years. I know several young men who went to a denominational school to study for pastoral ministry less than ten years ago. Of the group who took the four year course, none of them are pursuing the job of pastor now. One of them--a recent seminary grad--told a family member that his seminary years and college studies were largely wasted. He's getting out now. Others have diverted into such caring ministries as hospital chaplaincies.

Multiple pastors have told me they spend time dreaming of what else they could do to earn a living. There are web sites for pastors looking for a new start. That is another part of the "trapped" feeling. Training in Greek and Hebrew, hermeneutics, preaching, etc. does little for a resume in the "real world." Pastors have told me of scheming to commit enough of a crime to get kicked out of their church, without going to jail or losing their family. Others have told me they wish they could get in the car and drive as far away as their savings could take them. Others have told me they wish they could die, or become debilitated.

And then there are those who do find a way out. Some, with great wisdom realize their skill sets are welcomed in varying 501C3s, the teaching community, or other professional career paths. Unfortunately, affairs, internet pornography, or complete emotional breakdowns have taken many. And perhaps, the leading way out is actually more of a switching of the channel: Some change congregations and home towns once every two, four or six years....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Walk in the Woods

I step into my hiking boots, grab trekking poles, hop into the Jeep and go a mile or so up the road from home for an hour of vacation. It's a trail I've hiked dozens of times, probably more than a hundred. I hike to exercise and to "get away."

The trail rambles up and down some nice ridges. I see my share of wildlife here. Squirrels abound, often I meet a few white tail deer and occasionally a fox. There are plenty of birds, and though their songs are thinning for the year, some will sing all winter.

About a mile into the walk, I realize I cannot steady my mind. I can't focus on my surroundings for more than a few if by some hidden remote control, my brain channel is changed to troubled people in the church, a project that needs attention, or some fear of a potential brewing crisis.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." I begin to pray the words of the Jesus Prayer, slowly repeating the plea over and over. "Jesus...God...have mercy on me..." And after a while, I sense these words coming back to me from the embrace of the breeze and the gentle rain: It's yours, you know. This is only for you right now. Six billion people on earth, and this moment and place are for you. And I realize I am in an amazing place, treasured by a million or more visitors each year. And at this moment, all the trees, the valleys and ridges and bird songs and leaf chattering are for me. No one else is here to listen or see or feel the moist beauty.

My hiking place is the popular Brown County State Park. Spring, Summer and especially Fall it is filled with tourists driving, mountain biking and hiking through it's miles of wilderness trails. Last month tens of thousands of cars poured through its gates, riders oohing and ahing at overlooks. But today, mine is the only car in the West Tower lot. I hike for an hour, and see no other human. And such will be the case for most of my hikes until Spring.

These words I hear, they call me into being. They call me from the world of others, to the world where I Am. O Father, teach me to let go of all of the stuff for long enough to simply be... With you. In You. Alone, and yet wonderfully accompanied. And not "because others count on me." But because You love me, and ask me to enjoy my walks in the woods...while I'm walking in the woods. Alone. With You.

You can follow the links below to some pictures of the park. But you will never see the stark November beauty of the trails unless you leave your car--and worries--for long enough to BE here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tending the Fires

Stubborn fire. Determined fire. Same mystery. I plead with it to roar, and then seek to mellow its force.

The old log cabin I call home is largely heated by a wood stove. It got down into the twenties a couple of nights ago. One of those crisp, starry nights that--like fire--is both inviting and intimidating. And somewhere on the footsteps of evening, I left the stove unattended for a bit too long.

I cracked the door to see if anything yet glowing, and there remained only a few tiny pieces of the last fire. So with kindling snapped off fallen trees from down the hill, bellows kick-started the coals into flickers and finally into full born flame. I added some wood to the fire, closed the door, set the air intakes, and moved on.

Later that evening, the temperature of the room told the tale of an untended fire. This time, in the dark of the woods gathering kindling, I vowed to take no chances. My armload carried enough, then extra, then too much. The next flames would burn all night!

Next morning, in the seventy degree room surrounded by a hard freeze night, I stoked the fire yet again. There were large coals still pulsing behind the glass as I tended the stove I must keep until next March or April.

And this morning again, I keep the fires burning. Rising before others in the home, kindling hope in my mind and stoking silence into my spirit. I must keep warm inside. There are others who count on me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Opinions requested: Sunday Morning Lean

I'd like to hear from some people who attend church, and who don't attend a traditional worship service--both clergy and otherwise. My purpose is to get a feel for how your spirit leans on Sunday morning when you get up.

I just read a comment from an old college friend on my Facebook wall. He said something like, "I'm getting ready for a fantastic Sunday!"

Pastors, is that the way your spirit leans at seven on Sunday mornings? Please try and reflect here on how your prayers, your mood, your overall spirit feels on Sunday mornings. Hopeful? Excited? Fearful? How does your sermon play into this? How does the service prep effect this?

Attenders, could you answer the same questions? You probably don't have a sermon, or may not have done prep for the service; but how do your prayers, mood and overall spirit feel on Sunday mornings as you prepare yourself for worship.

And for those of you who don't go to worship service, perhaps preferring nothing, or a house church, or... How about you?

I'd appreciate readers letting some others know about this "pole." It would be interesting to see how several of you from all three categories weigh-in.

Peace to you.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Leaves Falling Like Snow

A walk in the woods with Mom. Fall air. The wind sounds like a rushing waterfall once the branches empty. It's power bending mighty oaks, and humming its way through the ridge top. Where leaves still cling, the gentler breezes sound like a chattering mountain stream, cascading through its stony course.

Yesterday, my mother and I took a walk through the forest. This is the week most leaves have chosen to loosen their grip, and submit to flight and then rest. We pause, my octogenarian hiking partner having just climbed more than a hundred feet in the last quarter mile; there is no audible breathing as she navigates tall root stair-steps up the last stretch. We pause, the wind holds its breath. We scan the deep valley we've exited, turning past the ridge top to see the one lying behind us as well--and before us in this journey.

We smile. Few words. And the leaves are gliding to the earth from high above. Multicolored reminders of fearless, beautiful surrender. We whisper of the coming snows, the inevitable surrender of this season to the next. And we hike on.

Life moves on, full of greening and falling. And I will forever treasure the living I have witnessed in my mother. Very little waterfall bluster, or mountain stream chatter. Exemplary greening and giving and sheltering. And as life has demanded, willing surrender in her selfless beauty. Always giving.

Thank you Mom.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Some assistance please!

I'm going to write some housekeeping stuff here. I would truly love to hear from you on these things.

First, is the new format (white instead of blue) easier to look at? Harder to read? I need your votes.

Second, do you know of any good web masters? I'm planning an eventual addition to this blog--a website where I can keep the book up front, while still posting to to the blog.

Third, How can I make commenting easier? My traffic counter says the readership is growing, and there are a significant number of page views each day, with a better than average amount of time on those pages. The number of followers is growing, and I get regular communication from some of those reading the book or blog. (I've had visits from 7 different countries!) However, the commenting has slowed considerably. (One thing I've heard is that in order to comment, some have had to re-register with Google each time. Hmmm. Sorry. I don't get that, shouldn't be so. You need a user name--whatever you want--and a password.)

Finally, I am still struggling with a decision on how far to go with posting the book here. The goal is readership, which would ultimately be best served by publishing. And the theory is that I need at least a few hundred people who would buy the first edition of the book right away in order to defray at least a portion of the losses I'd have from the initial printing.

One author puts his entire manuscript out there, as I have only in part, and lets it sink or swim. If people like it, he figures they'll pay to purchase it.

(Some have flatly asked: "Why do you want this book to be read?" I feel the book challenges us at some core places, and I've already heard from multiple pastors who have implemented new family priorities, recommitted to their spiritual life, or delegated much of their administration. It is so encouraging to hear of these positive changes.)

It has become obvious that people visit this site for the chapters of the book, with fewer visiting to read the regular posts. That is gratifying, but difficult. I can't continue to post things like "First Seven Chapters," without the obvious redundancy. Suggestions?

Finally, ANY suggestions you have for me would be welcomed.

O well. This has been a fun exercise and gives me a chance to write for more than my journal. Thanks for your presence here.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Some words out of nowhere...

I don't know that I'm a "morning person," or not. But when the time changed last weekend, it seemed like a great chance to hold onto my getting-up time, and maybe cash it in for the day an hour earlier than usual. And so the first few mornings of the week have been extraordinary.

The house is quiet. I can read and refocus, and there is not a peep to be heard. No one is at Facebook, and the chatter from the evening before seems less important after it has slept for the night.

And now is my chance. If anyone is going to listen to me this weekend, or anytime before then for that matter, I need to be listening. And so I read my daily dose of five Psalms, then spend some time in the New Testament, and then------it happens. Like a magnet to the left of my reading chair, my Sunday text begins to beckon from the laptop. Emails waiting for attention scream from a still blackened screen. And there is my ritual of running through the news, Facebook, Google Analytics, and checking in at the blog to see who has left a clue of their visit. (This AM, one new person had become a "follower," and another wrote on Facebook that they were enjoying the blog...and I feel another day of existence is justified for one such as myself.)

Do you ever get on with it before getting up to date with LIFE? Maybe, if you are a pastor or Christian leader, you can relate. Maybe, a healthy dose of step-aways would change a great deal for us---diminish the number of runaways. Can one burn-out when standing in such Light?

So I'm writing my blog for the day...speaking before listening much. Forgive me. It's 6:30, I've been up for more than an hour, and I have done many pressing things already. But I need to darken the screen, and seek some light.

Peace to you...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Lost in the Glare of the Mighty One

Sometimes I glide into the church parking lot on Sunday mornings thinking the primary task of the morning is to deliver a sparkling, inspiring, exegetically precise, and edge of your seat narrative-styled sermon. I've studied, researched, plotted and charted and come away with the perfect delivery method. I feel ready to come in for a landing--straight into the hearts and imaginations of a waiting congregation.

And then wake-up calls catch me in the lobby. On a day like yesterday I hear for the first time of a son on meth, a sister-in-law with cancer, a daughter-in-law with cancer, a 7 year old with cancer, a teenage daughter who has moved in with a boyfriend, a weeping woman struggling to do what is right when it is so hard, a dear friend--now living in a nursing facility tell me he's hanging in there, a woman with a recurring tumor who is now facing another round of expensive surgeries, and a man who's defibrillator saved him, and he seems a bit shook.

Only moments later, Psalm 107 stormed into our service. I had already cut the 43 verses down to a tidy 9, when I recognized the robbery I was preparing in the form of a responsive reading. Who says worshipers can't focus through 43 verses--two full pages of a Psalm? And so we read them, hearing of the plights we get ourselves into, and the repeating "Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble," and with a crescendo declared in unison: "Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love..."

And together, a room full of people confess the mighty deliverance of our Lord. We are reminded to "cry out to the Lord." And at the end, all proceed to the front of the room--clutching their cares and towing their brokenness--and take the broken bread, dipping it into the cup. To Life! La Chaim!

Afterward, we file out; hugging, holding hands, sharing tears, facing fears and bearing the cancers and heartbreaks and one another out of the room. We have weak shoulders. We can't carry these things alone. But we share One Heart, a given one. And that is everything.

Slipping back into the car, I realized my sermon was far from spectacular. Perhaps that was because I left much of it out--at least a couple hours worth of study time--dumped in the shadow of something brighter. It got lost in the glare of the Mighty One. And I'll settle for that any day.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

First Seven Chapters, and feedback.

One of the most gratifying aspects of putting The Runaway Pastor out here, is all of the comments and communications I've received. It's amazing.

(Once again, here is the link for the first seven chapters:

One way this has happened is by getting an email, or telephone or Facebook communication from someone telling me they are reading the book...following it right here at this blog.

Another amazing thing has been the range of readers. It's a cool thing to look at your blog "Followers" list, and see it grow, especially when the people there are complete strangers.

And then when friends I haven't seen or spoken to for a decade or so, come on board and tell me they are intrigued, it's just flat-out fun.

And talk about fun, it is kind of unbelievable to go to my web counter service, and see that 10, 20, 30 or more people went to the site the day before, and to see the percentage of those who were first time visitors.

Why does this mean so much to me? I believe the message of the book--in its entirety--is important. As you read on, you will learn a lot about Trent's hopes and fears for the church...and I believe they reflect a major portion of our society. The church is changing, and Trent's actions are a symptom--not of the end of the Church, but of a renewal. And that birthing, as with all birthings, involves pain. However, I want to emphasize that Christ's Church is not in trouble. It is only changing.

Once again, my plan is to develop a following for this book, in order to get it published. Christian authors and publishers are telling me that here, on the internet, is the place to gather a market for a book. So if you are interested in what is happening here, tell your friends, and I need your continued feedback via: Email, Comments to posts at this blog, and more people becoming "followers." (It is also helpful when you set up the RSS feed, so that you are notified when there is something new here.)

Some of you are asking just how much of this novel I plan to put up on line for free. I don't know. I do know that once I can be certain of a few hundred copies being ordered, I can proceed with a first edition, and not lose so much in the process. So I'm told this process takes time, but that it will indeed grow if there is a legitimate interest. Either way, I'm OK.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Diminished doom and grins replace whining.

Last evening at our church's Trunk R Treat was a great time. I had my discussion with my friend who had the bone to pick. Wow, let me emphasize friend. "Bone to pick with you meetings" can really jaundice a great friendship, and the dread, or sense of doom can overshadow deeper truth: That we are one in Christ. And so, we sat and spoke about our disagreement over how I am handling the situation, next to a fire, smiling and being kind. And a child came to us with s'mores. I suppose to that child we looked like the friends we are, rather than an argument.

As I walked across the parking lot, between goblins and princesses, I also noticed the wager of email-war I mentioned yesterday--loving on the people around her, and being the incredible person she is.

Weaknesses. A commonality in the body of Christ. All of us broken and picked-back-up. All of us with passions that sometimes get in the way of our kingdom family ties. But after it all--I'm trying to remember--the next time Doom comes to call, it is probably exaggerating its own power. And the Mighty One has won another skirmish in my spirit.