Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ideas for a New Year

I have never been a big fan of making new year's resolutions. I wonder if that's because I haven't been very good at keeping them...

Instead, allow me to throw-out some ideas for spiritual health for the new year:

Daily- take time to read your Bible and pray. There are an abundance of daily devotional guides available at bookstores or even on-line if you prefer an electronic format. We used to call them "quiet times-" it's amazing what a few moments of talking and listening with God can mean for your day.

Weekly- make a commitment to small group Bible study- we call it Sunday School! You can read the material for that week's study, pray for your class leaders, and call an absentee to enrich your experience and strengthen your class.

Monthly- plan an activity to build a relationship. You can make it a lunch or coffee meeting, have a couple over for dinner or go to a movie, be creative! The idea is to be intentional about building or strengthening the relationship-- which opens the door for future ministry opportunities.

Quarterly- do something for someone else! Make a visit, help a neighbor, call the shut-in, share the meal, you get the idea: invest your resources (most importantly TIME)in someone else. Double the pleasure-- take your child or grandchild with you!

Annually- get involved in a mission activity. Take a morning, a day or a week and share yourself with others in the name of Christ. Our church will be providing a wide variety of opportunities for mission involvement this year- find one that's a good fit for your interests and schedule-- or even stretch yourself!

Wishing you a blessed 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

God With Us

I have said many times over the years that my favorite name for Jesus is "Emmanuel- God with us." In this simple title we found the depths of the meaning of Christmas.

My family has certainly experienced this reality as we have dealt with the tragic death of my nephew, Kyle Conrad. My brother and his wife and daughters, my parents, and our part of the clan have been sustained by God's loving care and supported by the prayers, comfort, and love and so many. In times of crisis we experience "God with skin-on" through the presence of others.

Below is a portion of the prayer that I offered at the Sunday celebration service:

Wonderful Counselor, we look to you for direction as we step into a new and different future.

Mighty God, we prayer for strength as we carry our grief and bear one another's burdens.

Everlasting Father, we claim the gift of hope-- confident of your love and that by faith death does not have the last word.

Prince of Peace, bring wholeness to mend our brokenness, joy to overcome our sorrow, and comfort to our weary souls.

Through Christ our Lord... Emmanuel. Amen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent Hymn

Those who know me know that I don't pretend to know much about music... except that I enjoy it! This week I discovered an old (written in 1735) advent hymn with the instruction that it was to be played joyfully. Which reminded me that all of this season is to be played and sung and lived... joyfully.

Hark, the glad sound, the Savior comes,the Savior promised long:
Let every heart prepare a throne, and every heart a song.

He comes the prisoners to release, in Satan's bondage held:
The gates of brass before Him burst, the iron fetters yield.

He comes, the broken heart to bind, the bleeding soul to cure,
And would with treasures of His grace enrich the humble poor.

Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace, Thy welcome shall proclaim;
And heaven's eternal arches ring with Thy beloved name.

Thanks be to God--- joyfully!

Monday, December 6, 2010


We celebrated Thanksgiving a couple of weeks ago but I didn't want to miss opportunity to say "thanks" for your giving! Our November gifts included:

*$36,323.25 in budget gifts (bringing our 2010 year-to-date budget receipts to $423,759.43-- 97% of our ministry budget goal!)

*56 shoe boxes filled-to-the-brim with gifts for children around the world through Operation Christmas Child

*distribution of 10 Thanksgiving meals through Storehouse ministries

*provision of turkey and dressing for Thanksgiving dinner for the residents of Laurel's Edge Senior Living apartments

*75 packages of cake and brownie mixes and 40 personal care items were donated in support of the mission trip to New Orleans to work with Global Maritime Ministries

*$480.51 was received for our world hunger offering which will be distributed through the Baptist World Alliance

*$1,165.00 was received for the benevolence offering after our most recent communion service

*all 25 children we will assist through Angel Tree have already been "spoken for"

On behalf of our ministry partners and as a grateful pastor, let me say again, "thanks for giving!"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Adventures in Being Temporarily Misdirected

We have been in New Orleans less than forty-eight hours and have found ourselves temporarily misdirected on several occasions. Hence, a couple of observations:

It is more fun being temporarily misdirected in daytime than at night.

Maps and mapquest are helpful for the temporarily misdirected but expect too much of the user.

It is comforting, even enjoyable, to be temporarily misdirected with friends.

Being temporarily misdirected can expose you to all sorts of wonderful sights and experiences that might have been missed otherwise.

Today we served lunch for a port safety workers group, tonight we are sharing hospitality ministry with a group of Filipino seafarers, and tomorrow we will help host a series of cruise ship workers. I am glad that our group, and our church, can help support the efforts of Global Maritime Ministries as they share good news... and directions for life... with temporarily misdirected seafarers!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Are We There, Yet?

Last Tuesday night we drove down to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with my family. We packed Priscilla and myself, four kids, and a dog for the 9-10 hour drive to Jensen Beach. It was the first time in a while that we had made the trip with all of us in one vehicle... now I remember why!

Large quantities of questionable coffee helped get us there. Along the way I realized that the "are we there, yet?" queries of children aged 24,21,20, and 14 aren't much different (or less frequent) than when they were 14,11,10, and 4!

On any long journey "are we there, yet" can express the frustration of cramped quarters and weariness. "Are we there, yet?" can also express the eager anticipation of reaching the desired destination.

As we enter the Advent season we are reminded that life and faith are journeys. As the holiday season seems to begin earlier each year some of us will just be ready to have it over with by the time Christmas arrives. There was a time, especially for baptists, that the introduction of advent themes to worship was a way of "stretching-out" the emphasis on the gift of Christmas. Maybe now it disciplines us in its focus/limit to four Sundays.

May advent force us to ask ourselves the "are we there, yet?" question as we eagerly anticipate the gifts of the season.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Practical Prayer

I am not sure who Frank Colquhoun is but I connected with his prayer:

Make us as ready to listen as we are to talk, ready to listen to your voice in the quietness of our hearts and ready to listen to other people who need a sympathetic ear.

Show us when to open our mouths and when to hold our peace that we may glorify you both in speech and silence through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Too many times my praying is a monologue, me talking to God instead of a dialogue where I stop talking and listen. Sometimes my "listening" to others is simply waiting for my turn to talk.

Lord, help me to listen better--- to you and others.

I found Colquhoun's prayer in The Doubleday Prayer Collection.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fall Gifts

"Thank You, God, for Fall Gifts" is the title of a book we used long ago in Sunday School for preschool-aged children. It is the thought that has been on my mind this week.

Fall gives opportunity to thank God for the beauty of His creation. I read once where Garrison Keillor wrote, "fall has more colors than crayola can put in a sixty-four pack of crayons." The ever-changing palette of north Georgia is an amazing display of God's creative glory.

We even change our menu in the fall. What can be more enjoyable than a bowl filled with slow-cooked chili with a hunk of butter-slathered cornbread at its side? Summer seems to be a season of constant motion. Maybe the early sunset and cooler temperatures allow us to slow down to enjoy the simpler pleasures of food and the family and friends with whom we share meals.

As seasons change, I am also reminded that we go through seasons in our lives. From newlyweds to parents to empty-nesters to "seasoned citizens" we experience the reality that life is not static. However much life may change we are reminded that God is our faithful companion.

The preacher of Ecclesiastes instructs us that "there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." Thank you, God, for fall gifts.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Give Me, Good Lord

My most unexpected blessing from the summer leave in London was the impression made by our visit to Canterbury Cathedral. Today I ran across a prayer by Thomas More, whose martyrdom at the cathedral has inspired saints through the centuries:

Glorious God, give me grace to amend my life, and to have an eye to my end without begrudging death, which to those who die in you, good Lord, is the gate of a wealthy life.

And give me, good Lord, a humble, lowly, quiet, peaceable, patient, charitable, kind, tender and pitiful mind, in all my works and all my words, and all my thoughts, to have a taste of your holy, blessed Spirit.

Give me, good Lord, a full faith, a firm hope, and a fervent charity, a love of you incomparably above the love of myself.

Give me good Lord, a longing to be with you, not to avoid the calamities of this world, nor so much to attain the joys of heaven, as simply for love of you.

And give me, good Lord, your love and favour, which my love of you. however great it may be, could not deserve were it not for your great goodness.

These things, good Lord, that I pray for, give me your grace to labour for.

(as found in Eerdman's Book of Famous Prayers, p. 47)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Just Call Me

Through the course of a week I am called by many names... to my face! Often times someone will ask me, "what should I call you?" That all depends...

Rev. Conrad
is what I am called either by salespeople trying to impress or those few remaining people who rate "clergy" as a profession slightly ahead of car salesman or loan shark.

Mr. Conrad tends to be the choice of teachers, folks in the community who know me in a professional setting, or friends/family of my children.

Dr. Conrad is a title I simply don't respond to-- those who use it are simply trying to impress and don't know my disdain for ministers who like to be called "doctor" but haven't done the work to earn the degree or title.

Jim is just fine for me. It lets me know that people are OK with me as a person, whether or not I may be their minister. For some, it is an open acknowledgment that I can be both friend and minister.

Pastor is a term that it took a surprisingly long time for me to grow comfortable with being called. I have come to appreciate it as a representation of my roles as pastor/shepherd/teacher/preacher/minister/leader (it also picks-up all that white space at the bottom of the job description!).

Pastor Jim may be my favorite title because it comes from the mouths of our children and youth. One of my chief goals in ministry is to be an accessible model for our children. Pastor Jim always gets my attention!

Call me what you will... just call me!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Good Baptist Fashion

The land sale is complete...contracts have been signed, closing documents executed, and the money is "in the bank." Now, what do we do?

In good baptist fashion the congregation has already made decisions on two key issues: the proceeds are to be placed in an account designated for future building needs (our Finance Committee meeting is meeting this week to start the process); and we have sixty days to form a site planning committee to develop a plan for future land and building use that will maximize our remaining space for ministry.

In good baptist fashion the Finance Committee's proposals will be brought to the congregation for input and approval. In good baptist fashion the Site Planning Committee and its recommendations will be discussed and approved by the congregation.

What's missing from this process? One, there is no internal group or individual making decisions for the congregation. Our committees study and recommend- the congregation makes decisions. As pastor, I will have input and provide support- the congregation makes decisions. Second, there is no outside group or heirarchy making decisions for or imposing its will on the congregation. Our association and partner conventions offer support and resources- the congregation makes decisions. All this is in good baptist fashion.

Congregational church government is something of a spiritual democracy. It can be messy, slow, and appear inefficient. For it to work effectively members must be informed, involved, and intentional about seeking God's direction... in good baptist fashion.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Encouraging Day

I preached a sermon yesterday on "Barnabas- the encourager" and came home from church encouraged--- go figure!

I was encouraged by our worship. Sharing communion is always a special occasion-- this one was enhanced for me by Wanda and Phebe's beautiful accompaniments, the reverent service of our deacons, Clint and Alison"s reading of scripture, John's heartfelt prayer, and the singing of our "great choir," the congregation.

I was encouraged by the "coming and goings." It's exciting to know that a college student like Daniel Rice has joined our fellowship as he prepares for missions service. Ken and Carleen Newton have blessed our church in many ways during their time with Kristina and Alexa and we will miss them as they return to Brazil. The missions lunch saw over 100 people "come" for good food and even better fellowship and raise money for those who will be "going" to New Orleans next month to work with Global Maritime Ministries.

I was encouraged by being a "witness" at the closing of our land sale. Our Real Estate Committee: Jimmy Bobo, Dave Cogdell, Scott Conti, Jerry Jansen, and Jim Smith (chair) have served us well in diligently carrying this process to conclusion. By the time the transfers are completed this afternoon we will have paid-off our current mortgage on the land and building and will have over $700,000 "in the bank" towards future plans.

All-in-all quite an encouraging day for this suburban parson. To God be the glory!

Monday, October 11, 2010

What Happens When Deacons "Deac"

There are many models available for how deacons function in a baptist church. Some deacons form a self-perpetuating board of directors. There are churches were deacons become managers of the church- approving decisions from the price of Wednesday night supper to paint colors for the next workday. I was reminded yesterday of the different approach to deacon ministry that we have chosen.

Our deacons meetings are held at 8 a.m. on the second Sunday of each month. (Sundays seemed to avoid most conflicts and an 8 a.m. start means we have to be done in time for Sunday School!) The deacons rotate who will prepare breakfast and share the devotional before the meeting begins. Typically, I share a "people update" and then excuse myself. From there our deacons share needs from their family groups and consider ways to be of service.

What's missing? Business, church business to be more precise. We have committees to take care of business matters. We ask our deacons to take care of people. From time to time we may share word of projects on on "information only " basis, committees don't need approval from the deacons before asking the church's blessing on an idea.

As I left Sunday our deacons were considering the needs of families within our church and some in the community. Sometimes it is as simple as buying food or paying a medical bill- sometimes the deacons must wrestle with how best to address a family's need when a check isn't the most important need.

When our deacons "deac" they do so in a spirit of prayer, humility, and service. I am grateful to share ministry with these fellow servants.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Slowing Down

I was reading through evaluations from my latest class of students in the Introduction to Biblical Literature class I teach on occasion for Shorter University when I ran across the following: "Thanks for telling us to slow down and read the stories in the Bible. No one has ever said that to me." Lord, help me practice what I teach!

Several years ago the Ladies' Sunday School class placed a bird feeder outside my office window for Pastor Appreciation Day. Tricia has faithfully maintained it since. This simple gift allows me opportunity to observe a variety of birds (colorful), chipmunks (cute), squirrels (pests), mice (?), and the occasional "circle-of-life" thing as the hawk swings through the neighborhood. We all need times to retreat and "get away from it all." We can all benefit from a moments a day to "be still."

These random thoughts brought me back to a book of prayers and a remembrance of Psalm 23 for Busy People as written by a believer in TokyoThe Lord is my pace-setter, I shall not rush; He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals, He provides me with images of stillness, which restores my serenity. He leads me in the way of efficiency, through calmness of mind; and His guidance is peace. Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day I will not fret, for His presence is here. His timelessness, His all-importance will keep me in balance. He prepares refreshment and renwal in the midst of activity, by anointing my mind with His oils of tranquility; my cup of joyous energy overflows. Surely harmony and effectiveness shall me the fruits of my hours and I shall walk in the pace of my Lord, and dwell in His house for ever.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Easy Button

Sometime back a "friend" gave me one of those big red "easy buttons." This week I slid a stack of papers on my desk and then heard a "thud." I had broken my easy button! It was just as well... I could never get it to work anyway!

Unfortunately, there is no "easy button" for the living of life. I have found some things, though, that can make it a bit easier:

Prayer helps me stay in touch with God and helps turn my attention from the problems before me to the certainty of His love.

Reading my Bible
helps me find strength in the stories of God and God's people.

Worship keeps me connected with God and with my faith family.

Friends encourage me by their presence and patience.

None of these are majic buttons but together they help make traveling the journey of life just a bit easier.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Makeing Misteaks

I've just finished watching the slide show from our London Study Leave report. The pictures stirred-up so many memories and yes, much gratitude.

But, I must confess, I found myself distracted and frustrated with at least a half-dozen misspellings- many, if not most of them, common words. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Kindred would be appalled!

I have all the usual excuses available to me: I was in a hurry, the technology was new to me, I though I had double-checked before pressing "OK,", where's spell-check when you really need it?!

Some lessons re-learned about making mistakes:

Be careful- we all make them.

Be humble- we all make them.

Be forgiving- we all make them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rights and What's Right

Religion is in the news again-- and in a big way.

The controversy over the proposed mosque/ community center near Ground Zero seems to gain in intensity with each new day. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf now seems to intimate (threaten?) that the fury of Muslim extremists will be unleashed if the site is moved. I can appreciate the Imam's stated intent of a center that would draw people together and enhance the community. I am not as certain that this site, which has proven to be so divisive, is the best place to start the process. In this country Muslims and Baptists, and folks of any religious tradition, have the right to gather freely for worship and to construct places of worship wherever they please (subject to local zoning requirements). Yes, they have the right to build a mosque/community center in New York City near Ground Zero- but is it the right thing to do?

Then we have Rev. Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville FL. (is anyone else quietly relieved that he's not a baptist?) Rev. Jones and his flock have decided to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary with the public burning of Islam's sacred book, the Q'uran (Koran). Military leaders are concerned that such an act will increase the risk to our troops, diplomats are concerned about the impact on international relations, this baptist preacher wonders how this will help us talk with Muslim co-workers and neighbors about the love of Jesus. In this country book burning is a protected version of the right to freedom of expression and free speech. Again, they have the right, but is it the right thing to do? Personally, I am praying for a hurricane... or at least a large thunderstorm to settle over central Florida.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fans and Fanatics

Almost heaven... football season (sorry, John Denver!). It's time for the south's favorite three-day weekend- high school football on Friday night, college games on Saturday, and the NFL on Sunday. Let's all offer a prayer of thanks for the inventor of the remote (my brother and I were the remote when we were kids).

It was interesting to watch the array of games available over the weekend. Football teams evoke great loyalty with devotees expending large amounts of money on uncomfortable seats, color-coordinated clothing, and official team paraphenalia. There's a lot of conformity accompanying the songs, chants, and gestures that have been passed down through the generations. Radio call-in shows, websites, and coaches' television shows keep the faithful in touch, informed, and "fired-up." Did you know that the nickname for the football team at the University of Arkansas-Monticello is the "Boll Weevils?" The women's sports teams at UA-M are known as the "Cotton Blossoms."

Why is it that church folk who give money, observe the rituals, sing the songs, attend gatherings faithfully, and enjoy talking about Jesus are "fanatics" instead of fans? Go team!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Good works

I must admit that I am not a particularly big fan of actor George Clooney (my wife, on the other hand...). But, while channel-surfing last night, I caught the portion of the prime-time Emmy Awards show devoted to Clooney being presented the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award.

Clooney was recognized for his wide-range of projects to raise awareness and money in response to crises from New Orleans to the Sudan to Haiti. In his gracious acceptance speech he said something that was something of an "aha" moment for me as he expressed the hope "to help find a way to keep the spotlight burning on these heart-breaking situations that continue to be heart-breaking long after the cameras go away."

We tend to surround the grieving family member with love and attention at the time of death and memorial service. But who will be there when the house is deathly quiet a week or so later?

There is much talk this week about the five-year anniversary of the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the gulf coast. Those of us who went to serve alongside the port ministry in New Orleans last year were reminded of the personal stories of pain and loss suffered by residents of the area. Global Maritime Ministries is meeting the needs of those working on the ships and those serving in the community. Would you like to go back with us later this year?

Dave Stewart recently went to Haiti with a group of Baptist Collegiate Ministries students. Dave's impressions were that not a whole lot has changed in the months since the earthquake's initial devastation. Can we continue to pray for the churches in Haiti? Can we continue to give to help finance relief work in the country?

It has been decades since the fall of the communist regime in Bulgaria. Yet, as is all too often the case, it is the poor, the children, the disabled, those on the margins (in this case the Roma/gypsy people) who suffer most intensely. In coming weeks we will be seeing more about the work of hope being coordinated by Ridgway Ministries and Bulgarian Child, Inc.

Some will only go where the cameras are running and the spotlights are shining. Perhaps, as Christians, we serve best when we "let our light so shine before men so that they see our good works and glorify God."

Monday, August 23, 2010


I start my journey most days with a clear destination in mind--- 1115 Shiloh Road in Kennesaw-- otherwise known as "the office." I have been making this trip consistently for about 13 years- sometimes it seems like the Yukon could do it on autopilot.

Yet, it seems that each day brings its own adventure. Timing is crucial since I have to hit "the windows" of peak traffic for each of the three schools I pass before even getting to US 41. To miss "the window" is the equivalent of being sent back to "start."

Before I leave the house I have consulted local television news reports on traffic conditions. Once I am in the car "Captain Herb" is my constant companion. Some mornings I don't even need "Captain Herb" to tell me of a mess on I-75-- traffic has already backed-up on 41-- backed-up on Kennesaw-Due West Road-- backed up to the point I can't even get out of our neighborhood. Ouch!

When I reach 41 I face my next big decision: go through downtown Kennesaw or go around on Chastain Road? Through town and you roll the dice with lane closures, road work, and the train tracks. Around past McCollum Field now leads right into the traffic chaos surrounding Kennesaw State University. Sometimes I feel like the lab rat in the T-maze-- faced with equally undesirable options!

Of course, I am not alone. I am surrounded by other cars and drivers- some evidently not sure of their destinations, others even less patient than I. Some are applying make-up, others eating/drinking breakfast, too many chatting away on cell phones. We're sharing the same roads but going in different directions.

Navigating traffic might not be a bad metaphor for life-- it helps if you have the adequate resources, accurate directions, a little patience, and a good idea of where you're going.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Future Church

Last Saturday Priscilla and I enjoyed the opportunity to fellowship with our young/er/est adult Sunday School class. Jason and Mary Luker's home was filled with conversation on a wide variety of topics. the aroma of some outstanding chowder and gumbo, and the sounds (and activity) of small children. The social was planned for the adults but it was the children that caught my attention.

They were still on my mind I as walked past the crowded rooms of our preschool area the next morning. It was tempting to think, "this is the future of the church." That would be right to a point- but the reality is that these children, and their families, are the church today. There is no waiting for tomorrow!

But their church will be different, different even than the church of their parents. The future church will be more diverse than the churches most of us have experienced. Our church is blessed with members from Kenya, China, Puerto Rico Jamaica, Haiti, and Eritrea. Several of our families have spent significant portions of their lives living overseas. The tapestry of the church will be woven from threads of many different origins.

The church of the future will be more transient. One of the biggest challenges I faced in the early days of my ministry here was the fact that careers brought people to Atlanta... and careers could also take them away! None of these young families (except Billy Ray and Delores) were here when we first arrived 16 years ago. Could we pray that these children will be our future missionaries, scattered like the early church to spread the Good news?

I don't know if the "melting-pot" metaphor holds any more but the church of the future will not be as homogenized as its predecessors. Our community is getting older (senior adult living complexes) and younger (student housing for Kennesaw State University) even as neighborhoods designed for single-family residences are surrounded by multi-family apartment complexes with a growing population of single adults. A church should reflect its community if it has hopes to reach its community.

Yes, the church of the future will look different. Some of us may not even recognize it! The future is bright if these children grow-up knowing that church is a set of relationships where a common commitment to follow Christ trumps all of our differences.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Throw-back church

It has been an interesting first week "back in the saddle." I think I finally felt fully "home" Sunday as we gathered for worship. Familiar faces, new faces (I guess I was a bit of both with my "new look"), and a full-house were quite a welcome.

I am quickly reminded of the many ways our church is connected with our community. I was greeted by back-to-school supplies for Chalker Elementary School. After supper, prayer meeting, and choir practice last Wednesday our sanctuary hosted the community quilting group on Thursday night. Friday night this same space was set-up for the rehearsal for Saturday afternoon's wedding of a couple in the community. Sunday was well, Sunday: deacons and Nominating Committee meeting before Sunday School, Bible Study, worship, and the children's ministry end-of-summer party. Precinct workers were here today (Monday) making preparations for Tuesday's primary election run-off. This Saturday afternoon we will host a one-day revival service for the Kenyan Christian community. We have now marked the calendar for Tuesday, August 24, for the first of the weekly worship services of the Kennesaw State/Southern Polytechnic Baptist Collegiate Ministries.

There once was a time when the church was at the center of the life of the community. The church offered its community its facilities, welcome, and hospitality. These are gifts we may still offer as we seek to be the presence of Christ in our community.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Home. Sounds good... feels better!

Hugs. Tea that's sweet... and cold. Biscuits served with gravy. "Ya'll." The Braves.

I walked through the house to make sure everything was still there (we had, after all, left it in the care of a couple of twenty-something boys). It felt like home.

I've walked through the buildings at church. My office. My desk. My books. The telephone rings and the process of connecting begins. Pen to paper, keyboard to screen, and worship planning and sermon preparation commence. It feels like home.

Home- it's what we know and where we are known. It feels good to be home.

Maybe Dorothy was right...

Monday, July 26, 2010


"My how time flies when you are having fun!" Well, we've had a blast and I can't believe that a month can fly-by as quickly as this one has.

We have seen London from all different perspectives. We've seen it from the heights of the London Eye and from the depths of the tube. We've seen the city from the water and from it's many bridges. We've seen the city from crowded sidewalks and quiet parks. We have experienced the grandeur of St. Paul's and the simple faithfulness of Bloomsbury. We've seen some of England outside the city on speeding trains and comfortable travel buses. I wouldn't say we've seen it all... but we've seen a lot!

Quite honestly, I think it will be weeks, if not months, before I can gain a true perspective on the value of this time away. For now I can know that the stated goals of the study leave (renewal: I have completed my reading; recreation: we've done a lot!; and rest: what was I thinking!?!) have been met and exceeded.

I am ready to be "home"- residence, surroundings, and church. But first, me and my three ladies have to finish packing. I haven't done this much cramming since seminary!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Notable Quotes

The major component of the "study" part of my study leave was a self-selected reading program. I wanted a balance of biblical study, church life, current issues in faith and theology, and a novel. This morning I completed the seventh, and last, book on my reading list. Listed below are the titles I have read this month and a selected quote from each author.

A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren (259 pages). "... we cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through the Bible. Rather, we can say that, for Christians, the Bible's highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God." McLaren is a much discussed (and often cussed) lightning rod for discussion these days on matters of faith, theology, and church.

The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle (163 pages). Tickle, an astute observer of church and culture, theorizes that every five hundred or so years the church goes through a seismic shift. As a result, "First: a new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge. Second: the organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of itself. Third: Every time the the incrustations of an overly established Christianity have been broken open, the faith has spread."

The Acts of the Apostles by William Neil (259 pages). Neil retired as a professor of New Testament studies at the University of Nottingham. "He (Luke, as author of Acts) makes it plain in what follows that he saw in the Pentecostal utterances of the disciples a foreshadowing of the universal mission of the Church, when men of all nations would be brought into a unity of understanding through the preaching of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit."

Home (325 pages) by Marilynne Robinson is a sequel (of sorts) to her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead. This work tells the story of the homecoming a the family prodigal. His aged, Presbyterian minister father tells him, "The grace of God can find any soul, anywhere. And you're confusing something here. Religion is human behavior. Grace is the love of God. Two very different things."

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (240 pages) by N.T. Wright. Wright recently retired as Anglican Bishop of Durham England to retire to full-time teaching and writing. "For Christians it's always a love game. God's love for the world calling out an answering love for us, enabling us to discover that God not only happens to love us (as though this was simply one aspect of his character) but that he is love itself."

Acts (193 pages) by William Willimon, former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University and currently Bishop for the United Methodist Church in North Alabama. Normally I read commentaries as reference sources for particular passages as I do sermon work. In preparation for a series of sermons from Acts I chose the read these two commentaries "from cover to cover." "The notion that only good things happen to faithful people was put to rest on a Friday afternoon at Calvary. Rather, to be gifted by the Spirit must mean the gift of meaning in our struggles, the conviction that God can use whatever abuse, heartache, and tragedy we encounter in our attempts to be faithful to bring about God's purposes."

Small Strong Congregations: Creating Strengths and Health for Your Congregation (320 pages). Callahan, retired professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, is one of the nation's most respected voices on church health and mission. "Small, strong congregations invest their resources in helping people discover community: find roots,places, belonging; discover family and friends."

Focused time for reading is often squeezed-out in the day-to-day routines of pastoring. I am grateful for the opportunity to read some books that have been on my desk and shelves for a couple of years and some new materials just for the trip. I am always glad to share!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Learning the Language

"Mind the gap," "way out," and "the till" are terms that we have become well-acquainted with over the last three weeks. It's nice to be in England where they speak our language, sort of!

Learning "their language" is about more than vocabulary and the conjugation of verbs. It takes time and effort (and some trial and error) to begin to understand the idioms and customs of a culture. A new language is best-learned in the context of its culture rather than by a book or in a classroom in some remote (and more comfortable) setting.

Which leads me to wonder if learning a new language isn't a necessary part of living our faith? Yes, "how can they hear without a preacher?" but how will they understand if the preacher doesn't speak their language? Remember, the gift of the Spirit empowered believers to speak in languages they did not previously know so that all those present could hear (and understand) the Good News in their native tongue.

Learning a new language isn't limited to the study of German, Spanish, or Korean. Some of us might do well to brush-up on our "old folks," or "young people," or "single-adult," or "not-a-baptist." Otherwise everyone in our church would look and sound just like us. Wouldn't that be sad (for those not like us) and boring (for us).

For inquiring minds, "mind the gap" is the caution you hear when stepping from the subway train to the platform, "way out" indicates an exit, and "the till" is the cash register.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


One of my goals for the study leave has been to read sermons by well-known British ministers in the churches where they served. I realize that may sound a little preacher-geeky... but I am what I am! By week's end I will have completed that project.

I couldn't think of a better source for such material than the 12-volume collection, "Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching." Laurita Benjamin kindly copied the introduction/biographical material and five sermons from each of the four preachers I selected. I chose them because of the variety and quality of their preaching and because their churches were still active places of ministry.

David Martin Lloyd-Jones (1899-19181) served for 25 years (1943-1968) as pastor of Westminster Chapel. Lloyd-Jones was successor to the well-known G. Campbell Morgan at Westminster Chapel. The five sermons I read were each expositions of Psalm 73. The verger/custodian wouldn't give me permission to enter the building (I guess he wasn't impressed with my quest) so I read Lloyd-Jones' materials in the courtyard of Westminster Chapel.

Leslie Weatherhead (1893-1976) was for 24 years pastor of City Temple. Weatherhead served this congregation during World War II and was known for his pastoral, life-oriented preaching. I first encountered Weatherhead in college when were were assigned to read The Will of God, which I still find an encouraging resource.

John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles are best-known as the founders of methodism. Wesley Chapel still functions as a strong church in its community in addition to hosting a mission center and housing the Wesley Museum. It has been said, "He led a religious and moral revival of such extent that the character and course of an entire nation were changed."

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
(1834-1892) is my preacher for this week. Known as an evangelist, Spurgeon was pastor pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle for almost forty years. Spurgeon may have been the first mega-church pastor since they built the 6,000 seat Tabernacle to accommodate the crowds that came to hear him preach. He was a "convinced Calvinist" and today's Metropolitan Tabernacle remains a large and active ministry teaching from a reformed perspective. Even after reading Spurgeon I struggle with the whole calvinism/evangelism issue.

I have enjoyed this part of my program. My prayer is that "hearing" these great preachers in their ministry context will have encouraged my faith... and maybe even help to improve my preaching!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Go Green!

Much of my London experience has met expectations. The history buff has certainly had his itch scratched. The believer/churchman has had plenty to do, see, and experience. The people-watcher is in danger of overload.

My biggest surprise so far? I have fallen in love with the parks, gardens, and green spaces!

We've enjoyed some of the "biggies" like St. James' Park with its beautiful flower beds, the vast open spaces in Hyde Park, and the trees of Kensington Park. Most of them have "water features" like the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, the cleverly named "Round Pond" in Kensington Park, or the understated and inviting Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. We plan to visit Regent's Park this afternoon and hope to squeeze-in a trip to Kew Gardens before heading home.

Good things also come in smaller packages. While waiting for the girls to see a movie I came across the flowering beauty of Holland Park in Kensington. Later we discovered the formal beauty of the sunken garden at Kensington Palace. Friday I read in the shadow of a statue memorializing William Tyndale (martyred in 1536 for translating the Bible into English) in the Victoria Embankment Gardens.

Parks and gardens enrich city life in a number of ways. The trees and green spaces literally help provide the city a breath of fresh air through the production of oxygen. Moms and nannies still stroll children along the pathways. Recreational opportunities abound through boating, jogging. cycling, walking, and playing soccer (I haven't seen any frisbee golf, yet). There are swans and ducks and geese to be enjoyed and fed, though dog owners are cautioned not to permit their dogs to "worry or injure the waterfowl." Aesthetically, the flower gardens add a touch of color to the otherwise gray palette of the city. And as the inscription on one park bench read, "everybody needs a place to sit and think."

We all need more green space in our lives.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Plan "B"

It's not often that you find yourself in a book, but there I was- right in the introduction to British theologian N.T. Wright's "Simply Christian." Wright writes (sorry!), "There are two sorts of traveler. The first sets off in the general direction of the destination and is quite happy to figure things out on the way, to read the signposts, ask directions, and muddle through." That's me, at least in London.

My natural inclination is to be a bit more (my kids would probably say a lot more) in control. In our time here, though, I have come to accept the fact that tube maps, street maps, internet directions, and agreed upon rendevous times are approximations or guides at best. I am learning that plans are good but flexibility is essential.

Like the other day in my unplanned journey along the East Thames path. My walk was costing me more steps and more time than I had anticipated. And then I looked-up and saw the beautiful Southwark Cathedral. Built in the 13th century it is not nearly as large, or well-known, as its sisters at Westminster or St. Paul's. I loved wandering through the flower-filled courtyards and was awed by its beautiful interior.

The I heard a voice call the cathedral's visitors to prayer. It was a simple service: a reading of the scripture of the day from the lectionary; a brief, guided time of prayer for personal concerns; a prayer by the minister; and an invitation to pray "as Jesus taught His disciples, each in his own native language."

There I was, in the quietness of that moment, connected to God, the scriptures, those present around me, the church universal, and to you, at home. I hadn't planned on that.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Found in Translation

Tuesday we visited the British Museum. Another "wow" experience!

My favorite stop was the Rosetta stone. I am in good company since this is considered the most visited item in the museum's vast collection.

Short version: the Rosetta stone is a 1700 pound slab of black granite found in the Nile River delta by French troops in 1799. The monument contained a decree issued in approximately 196 BC praising the accomplishments of the king. The unique aspect is that the inscription is in three languages: one known (ancient Greek), one lesser known (ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs), and one almost unknown (Egyptian demotic script). By the way, the stone came to the British Museum in 1802 after the defeat of Napoleon. (The Egyptian government has requested its return... I wouldn't hold my breath on that one!)

Scholars could use the language they knew best (Greek) to understand and translate the languages that were to that time, beyond their understanding. This opened-up a whole new opportunity for translating other ancient near-eastern texts. Which, by the way, has helped biblical scholars gain a better understanding of the world of the ancient Hebrews and the context of the development of the Old Testament scriptures.

I can't help but think that the idea of God, and even the Bible, is beyond the understanding of some of our friends and neighbors. What if our lives (the known) could serve as the Rosetta stone that could help them translate/understand the language of love that they don't yet understand?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sights and Sounds

I think I've found my favorite spot in London-- South Bank Centre. The city has developed a wonderful terraced walkway along the Thames River that provides a beautiful view of the river, a panoramic view of the city, and a great spot for one of my favorite pastimes- people watching.

From my perch I could sip coffee, read a commentary on Acts, and watch the world go by: families, student groups, crying/squabbling/laughing children, old folks sharing an ice cream, and young couples whispering secrets.

This is no quiet place: horns are honking, bicycle bells are ringing, river barges are sounding warning, and the rumble of the tube/subway is ever present. You can walk across the Thames and hear a four-piece string quarter, steel drums, an African flute-like instrument (not a vuvuzela!), and a guitarist. To stay in any one place for long exposes you to more languages and dialects than can be discerned.

I overhear two young English businesswomen laughing as they walked and one snidely says to her friend, "Oh my gosh- I thought maybe you had become a born-again Christian or something!" I am reading in the second chapter of Acts about how the gift of the Spirit allowed everyone to hear of the wonders of God in their own language...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Morning

It's Sunday morning... and it feels a little weird.

Typically on Sunday morning I get -up, get dressed, and my mind is focused on responsibilities for the day. When I arrive at church I move into "what needs to be done mode," thinking about my sermon, preparing for people, and wondering, when the telephone rings, if it will be a visitor asking for service time or a Sunday School teacher calling in sick.

None of that today. Instead, I will be the newcomer. Instead I will have to fight the urge to evaluate how others have handled their Sunday responsibilities. Instead, my praying is not so much what can God do through me as it is what will He do for me. This morning I am reminded that there is blessing in receiving, as well as giving.

Priscilla says I don't sit well in church.

Friday, July 9, 2010

St. Paul's Cathedral

Thursday afternoon we visited St. Paul's Cathedral. Wow!

The building itself is an imposing structure than dominates the London skyline. In the busy-ness of the city there is this constant reminder of the presence of God. Maybe even a reminder of the abiding presence of God since believers have worshipped at this site for over a thousand years.

Elizabeth, Shadae, and I climbed the 528 steps to the highest level of the dome and enjoyed an astounding view of the city--- once we caught our breath!

The Cathedral's purpose is to glorify God in its worship, service, and even its architecture. They seem to have renewed their commitment to the enhancement of worship through the visual arts by adding contemporary paintings and other pieces to the statuary and artwork of the centuries. Maybe we inheritors of the puritan tradition have missed/lost something through the removal of art from our tools for worship.

As an added treat we were able to listen-in on the London Symphony Orchestra as they rehearsed for a concert to be held at the Cathedral later in the evening.

Priscilla and I stayed for the evensong service. It has been a busy and hectic week. There was rest for the spirit in the liturgy of scripture, prayer, and song.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Finding My Way

I found myself lost again today as I made my way around London. No big surprise to those of you who know me.

My plan was to find St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church and -a quiet place to read. St. Martin's Church, with its columned portico, towering spire, and white/walnut/center-aisled interior, is the model for many colonial-style places of worship in the U.S.

Yes, I had a map. Well, it was a subway map with some notes scribbled on it. Maps are a lot like dictionaries. They are most helpful when you already know where you are and where you are going. I think I was reading it upside down.

So I had another first-in-a-lifetime experience. I swallowed hard, stepped to the counter, ordered a venti Caramel Machiatto (I think there was some coffee in it), and read my book at a Starbucks. Not my first trip to the store, just my first time to sit down, monopolize a table for and hour and a half, and nurse a hot beverage. All in all, not bad.

Yes, I've asked for directions. The first person in London from whom I sought assistance turned-out to be a deaf mute. Later, a gentleman listened patiently, nodded politely, and smiled warmly before responding a some central European dialect. Then I found someone who spoke my language in a dialect I could understand. He was from San Francisco and was as lost as I was!

Fortunately, I didn't encounter any danger in my wanderings... except for one near-miss at an intersection. I keep looking the wrong way for on-coming traffic.

I kept thinking that what I needed was an interpreter for my map or a companion who knew his way around. To be most successful on my journey I needed a guide... someone who knew his way around, had first-hand knowledge, and maybe even cared that I had a positive experience on my journey.

Everyday we encounter folks who have lost their way on life's journey or maybe they've ended-up somewhere they didn't intend to be when they hit the sidewalk. Maybe they just need a guide... someone to interpret the instructions, share their experiences, and lend a caring hand.

By the way- I did find St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church and found it to be the place of beauty and worship I had hoped... and needed.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Sunday provided quite a contrast in worship experiences.

Sunday morning we shared communion with about 125 members and guests of historic Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. The service featured traditional hymns, and elegant duet by two young Chinese women, a thoughtful sermon from Pastor Simon Perry, and a meaningful service of the Lord's Supper led by Pastor Ruth Goldbourne. Bloomsbury has held services at this location since 1848. It is now primarily an older congregation seeking to meet the needs of its community while many of its members drive-in from the suburbs to maintain that commitment. They have tea and biscuits for a time of fellowship after each service.

Sunday afernoon we traveled to the Dominion Theatre (which currently hosts the big stage Broadway-style production of "We Will Rock You-" based on the music of Queen) to worship with HillSong London. There were probably 1,500-2,000 primarily young folks present in this, the middle of their three Sunday afternoon services. Music was high-energy with a 7-member praise team, 6-member band, and top-notch lighting and visual effects. And I must not forget the smoke machine.

Older and younger. Hymns and praise songs. Organ and band. Traditional and lights & smoke. Historic building and rented theatre. All for the glory of God.


Friday we took our first train trip out of town to visit historic Canterbury. I assured the girls that at some point in their academic careers they would read "A Man for All Seasons" and Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." They were not impressed.

Cathedrals were important to cities for their economic and social considerations in addition to spiritual concerns. If a cathedral had the good fortune of housing the relics of a saint more pilgrims would come to express their piety and along the way visit with friends and family, buy a variety of goods, rent rooms and enjoy themselves. Local businesses were indeed blessed.

Some things haven't changed. The train station and bus depot deposit today's pilgrims/tourists right in front of a modern courtyard-style shopping mall. After you wind your way through the shopping opportunities you find yourself on cobblestone streets worn smooth by the faithful over the centuries. (Augustine was the first Bishop of Canterbury and the construction of the cathedral itself begain in the 11th century). Like any good tourist site, pilgrims exit the cathedral grounds through a nicely-equipped gift shop. (I found a new preacher for my collection!)

Us baptists aren't too big on saints. But there is something impressive about the faith of a man who would stand-up to the power of the king-- even at the loss of his life. Beckett's martyrdom occurred in a cathdedral built as an expressiojn of faith and devotion by generations of craftsmen. As we toured the facility we could look up into the massive spans of the ceiling and look down at the imprints of the faithful who crawled on hands and knees to the memorial.

Beckett gave his life. Crafsmen gave their talents. Church folk and civic leaders gave their money. Pilgrims offerred their worship. All gave as an expression of faith in the One who gave His all.

London Observations

*This was supposed to have posted Thursday, Jul 1-- see observation #2.

1. Man-capris aren't just for Orlando.

2. Computers can be frustrating anywhere.

3. Four people (3 females) and one bathroom don't make for a fast get-away.

4. The distances between stops on a subway map are not drawn to scale.

5. You can live without a cell phone... it's actually sort of nice!

6. So far on BBC- America we've seen episodes of Judge Judy, Friends, Project Runway, and CSI. No wonder folks have such warped impressions of the United States.

7. We've walked around Westminster Abbey this afternoon. The statues of 20th century martyrs makes we wonder how far we'd go for our faith.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reflections on Vacation Bible School

Well, three days down and two to go for Vacation Bible School 2010. Saddle Ridge Ranch has certainly provided a wild-ride! Today we had 174 children present (Tuesday was our high with 186!) and 83 workers-- a total of 256 participants. To put this in perspective we had 179 participants in our Sunday morning worship service!

But my reflections go back further than just this week. As I watch children sing and create and stand in awe of youth and grandparents and everyone in between who have shared their time and energy I think about my days in Vacation Bible School. The music was a bit slower (and softer), the lessons a little less glitzy. and for some reason I remember making belts in crafts (not sure how that fit into the curriculum!) but the message of God's love has not changed. I heard the message of God's love in the stories, read from it in the Bible, marveled at accounts of missionaries sharing it around the world, and experienced in the acceptance and encouragement from our leaders.

Is there a chance that 20-30-40 years from now a frazzled mother will recall a song from this week and contact a local church to register her child for Bible school? Or maybe that a young minister will remember this week as he (or she) prepares summer plans? Or some grandparent will remember the love she was shone and volunteer to work in VBS?

I sure hope so!