Monday, November 09, 2015

Feeling Wheels for Feeling Well

I was reminded of the concept of a "Feeling Wheel" in a recent post from Lifehacker. They suggested using such a wheel for expanding one's vocabulary, citing an English Teacher's blog.

The Feeling Wheel has its origins in counseling and psychology. It can be a helpful tool for pastors who wish to pinpoint their counselee's presenting problem in a helpful way. As we seek Godly Wisdom in a given situation, having the right words can help. We begin in language because after all, "In the beginning was the Word." The Psalmist writes,
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way." Psalm 139:23-24


Monday, November 02, 2015

Mindful... or Thankful?

As more distractions overtake the mundane moments of life, we strive to be more “in the moment” and less tethered to cyberspace or the shackles of shortened attention spans. 

Every week or so, I see a new headline on “Mindfulness” or being “Mindful.” Proponents say that living in the moment will help me relax and discover some kind of inner truth that can only be revealed from washing dishes by hand or breathing deeply 21 times.

Like many things, I’m sure there is some value to what the health and productivity gurus say, though be forewarned (be mindful?) that most of the mindful mandates find their way to Buddhist teaching. Instead, Christians can embrace an attitude that trims away our distractions and tensions by taking us closer to Christ rather than deeper within ourselves.

Psalm 107:1 tells us precisely where to direct our attention, 

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good for his steadfast love endures forever!” 

My mindfulness will be better served in the form of thankfulness. Rather than mindfulness in myself, I’m thankful to the Lord. His goodness is forever, unlike my temporary mindful moment.

Philippian 4:6 addresses anxiety directly and describes the same necessary ingredient, 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” 

We won’t find a cure for anxiety outside of God Himself.

As Colossians 3:15 tells us, there is no place for emptying the mind or the heart. There is no need to find solace in our own breath or zen dish washing. Instead, 

“let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts...And be thankful.”

The Thanksgiving holiday approaches and there is much cooking, traveling, and perhaps shopping on your calendar. When stress arises, will it be a mere moment to be “mindful,” or time to be thankful?

Image: Moyan Brenn

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Word, Walk, & Work: Adapting Eugene Peterson's "Working the Angles" Ministry Model.

Peterson's "Teach, Preach, & Administrate" becomes "Word, Walk, & Work"
This is a simple ministry model, inspired by Eugene Peterson’s “Working the Angles” model of Teach, Preach, & Administrate. Ministry is filled with more, but much of it fits within this paradigm.

Peterson writes, 
"The visible lines of pastoral work are preaching, teaching, and administration. The small angles of this ministry are prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction. The length and proportions of the ministry "lines" are variable, fitting...a wide range of pastoral gifts. If, though, the lines are disconnected from the angles and drawn willfully or at random, they no longer make a triangle. Pastoral work disconnected from the angle no longer given its shape by God." 
I've summarized Peterson's two separate "Preaching" and "Teaching" categories under "Word," and added "Walk" to describe shepherding work. In my triangle, "Administration" becomes "Work." There is no meta-message on vocation versus calling. "Work" just fits better with other "W" words.   

"What do you think? Is this an efficient summary? Does this adapt Peterson's work in a helpful way?

  1. Pastoral Studying not including personal devotion, especially in sermon preparation.
  2. Preaching, with an emphasis on Sundays. 
  3. Teaching, Wednesday Nights, Small Group Studies, etc.

  1. Everyday Shepherding including Hospital Visits, Homebound, Nursing Home, etc.
  2. Pastoral counseling (pre-marital, marital, bereavement, etc).
  3. Encouraging “lost sheep.”
  4. Abiding with people in everyday life— simple conversations that lead to deeper questions and relationships.
  5. Meeting for Coffee, lunch, etc.

  1. Executive functions such as staff meetings, calendar planning, budgeting, capital campaigns, and more. 
  2. This can also include “Parish” functions such as attending a ballgame, banquet, board meeting.
  3. Presbytery / denominational work probably fits in here.
  4. Session meetings fit here and under “Walk” depending on what’s being discussed.

“The Angles”

  1. Scripture: Personal bible study not including sermon prep.
  2. Prayer: Personal prayer not including public prayers.
  3. Spirit Direction: personal wisdom-seeking with mentors, other pastors, self-examination. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Forgotten Toothpaste and Ancient Paths

My wife is usually the toothpaste picker-upper, but this past week the task fell upon me. I stood in the grocery store for a good five minutes before I realized that I didn’t know what kind of toothpaste we used.
I brush my teeth at least twice a day and sometimes more. We’ve probably used the same brand for ten years, but I honestly could not picture the tube in my hand. I had forgotten! I finally picked up some Colgate, not really knowing if it was the “right” kind or not. Later, when we were settling down for the night, Laura confirmed that I had indeed purchased our family brand. I guess some part of me remembered!
I wonder how often God fits into this kinds of “toothpaste” experience. We’ve got the old bible verses, years of church attendance, and a lifetime of faith behind us. But every now and then it seems we just “forget.” It reminds me of a church sign I saw: “If God feels distant, guess who moved!” If we’re not careful, we build our own walls that block our memory and our ability to see faithfully. We begin to miss out on the Spirit’s work in our daily lives. We ignore a few blessings here and there. We’re blind to the bond of Christ between our brothers and sisters.
Our 2015 theme from this year’s ARP General Synod is “Fresh Insight from Ancient Paths.” This theme draws from Jeremiah 6:16,Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls...”
There is much that life will offer us that is not life at all. There is plenty of counterfeit faith to go around. If we hold to the timeless truth of a Savior who is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) then we’ll be able to wade through changing tides in our search for solid ground. We can ask for the ancient paths and find rest.

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Monday, July 06, 2015

Lying Lips & Potbellies

My son made a joke about my “potbelly” the other day. I kindly corrected him, pointing out that my belly is less of a pot. . . and more of a pan!  Regardless, I already knew I was a few pounds over my ideal weight.

I’ve been using an app on my phone to track my meals and exercise. It’s great to see how a brisk walk can add up to calories burned. On the other hand it’s painful to see how a few Reese’s cups can add up to calories earned.

One day, I was one dessert away from messing up my goal for the day. It occurred to me, “My app doesn't have to know about this dessert. I just won’t enter it!”  You already recognize my folly. Who would I be hurting? Who would I really be lying to? I’d only be lying to myself.

The book of Proverbs has much to say about lying. Three of my favorites are:

Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.Proverbs 13:5 A righteous man hates lying: but a wicked man is loathsome, and comes to shame.Proverbs 17:7 Excellent speech becomes not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince.

Each of these verses bears the truth that when we lie, we not only hurt our Creator. We hurt ourselves. We drive a wedge between us and God (12:22), sow self-hate and shame (13:5), or undermine our authority and reputation (17:7).

We all have blind spots where we lie to ourselves-- simple things like diet, exercise or deeper issues: a situation at work, a relationship, an attitude. We’re convinced that no one will notice or care. The “Spirit of Truth” cares (John 16:13).  The harder question might be, “Do we care?”

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Giving Good

The last few weeks have been fertile ground for the Lord’s guidance in my life.  A few of our members and I recently took part in the Florence Flourish gathering, where we learned about the needs facing Florence County.  We’ve studied Financial $tress on Sunday mornings, learning how money is a tool for the Kingdom instead a treasure for us to hide away.  In our Sunday schools and on Wednesdays, the theme of reliance on God’s hand has been central.
This was all on my mind when I read this verse:Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it” (Proverbs 3:27).  I have to keep check on myself whenever that old selfish streak creeps in. I ask, “Are you withholding good?”
The centerpiece to this is “What can we do to help?” We feel overwhelmed, wondering what one person can do to make a difference.  While there is much to learn, there is basic guidance in that simple verse from Proverbs 3:27.

We can break it down three ways:
  1. Do you have good available? You have Time, Money, Influence, or Resources.
  2. Is this good “due” to this person at this time? Are they needy, or just irresponsible?
  3. Are you able to use this good right now? Give sacrificially, but not recklessly.

For me, I consider this verse from the perspective of “whole life.”  I cannot give my time or money to every person or organization that needs help.  I can, however, give my time and money based on where God has place me. Everyone is different, so here’s how it looks for a guy like me:
  1. I’m a musician, so I give money to music ministries I believe in.
  2. I’m a parent, so I give time to places that benefit the health of my child and his friends.
  3. I live in the City of Florence, so I give to groups that help the community.
  4. I’m a part of Effingham Presbyterian, so I give my tithe to the Church. In turn the Church supports other ministries: local, national, and worldwide.

People always ask about specifics, so here they are a nutshell. Our family gives 10% of our paycheck (before taxes) back to the church. If I sell something online, I give 10% to a local ministry in Florence. All proceeds from my Psalms of Lament album go to a local ministry. If I can give my time as “Pastor” without undermining church responsibilities, then I do.  If I can give time as “Dad” without burdening the family, then I do.
My wife has different areas of influence and interest, so her list looks different: Athletics, Education, etc.  There are  seasons where our family is overburdened and we have to say “No” to giving time or non-tithe giving.  But there it is-- nothing too complicated, nothing to boast about, just living life where God has put us; using what God has given us.  Regardless of your income or influence, we can all do the same.  Then, one person really can make a difference.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Colorless Conversations

As we sat around the table, we each talked between bites of sandwiches and sips of water.  Some took notes, others sat and listened. There were pastors (both active and retired), business leaders (both male and female), and laypersons helping out where they had a passion. The nine of us sat in an unplanned but symbolic fashion: black, white, black, white, black, white.  Weeks after Ferguson and days after Baltimore we broke bread together in downtown Florence.

We talked about ideas to build racial harmony in Florence County.  Maybe churches could get together for a joint service? Maybe we could have a community seminar? One leader suggested that since we’re all descendants of Adam and Eve, we should begin greeting fellow members of the community with a hearty, “Hey Cousin!”

We also talked about a simple change we can make right away: “Colorless Conversations.”  When we tell our stories color might logically play a role.  But there are many times when color simply doesn’t matter.  Why not work to make those conversations colorless? Instead of beginning a story with “This black guy said...” or “A white lady did…” just take color out of the conversation.

Scripture speaks of how God has appointed many cultures and nations (Acts 17:26).  The Lord sees the rich, the poor, the powerful, and the oppressed (Proverbs 22:22, 29:13). Perhaps the most significant example of God’s attitude toward His colorful creation comes in Galatians 3:28.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

With Christ as our Redeemer, we go well beyond just being cousins. We’re brothers and sisters looking forward to a wonderful family reunion someday!

Your Cousin (& Brother),
Pastor Brian