Category Archives: Christian Faith

The Wonder of Waiting

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. – Luke 1:21 NRSV

I have met very few people who enjoy waiting. Yet, here we are again in the season of Advent, with one of it’s major themes being “waiting”. We await the advent of King Jesus. Wait a minute, you may think, hasn’t Jesus already come? Isn’t Christmas the celebration of his birth? His incarnate arrival on earth?

Yes, but of course this is true. Yet, Advent is also about our wait for the return of King Jesus. We await his second coming, even as we remember and celebrate the advent (or arrival) of his first coming. We wait for the consummation of the age. We wait for the kingdom of God, inaugurated in Jesus’ first coming, to fully arrive in his next coming. Come, King Jesus! How we need you today.

As this Advent season takes hold I have been discovering a new understanding of what it means to wait. You see, I’m in a liminal season myself. It’s a time of new beginnings and transitions professionally and personally. While the new chapter of ministry has begun and continues to unfold with all kinds of new discoveries, challenges and opportunities; it feels like the personal transition is a bit delayed. I’ve already begun this new life among Baptists in the Dakotas, but my wife and household have yet to arrive. This was all by design, a choice we made as my beginning took place alongside the beginning of another academic year for my teacher spouse. Knowing her to be the caring and considerate professional she is, I didn’t want her to have to jump ship mid-year on the lively group of first graders she was just beginning to round into form. So, we wait. I wait. What has already begun is not yet fully realized. What has started will one day be continued, be complete – our move, the relocation of our household and partnership to the same location of shared experience yet again.

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When Culture Collides

The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines “culture” as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group”. We are all part of culture, or more than likely a part of several different “sub-cultures”. For example, your cultures might include your family of origin, your family of formation, your work culture, church culture, social culture, educational culture, social media culture, and others.

What cultures or cultural groups do you share an affinity with? These may be variously defined by the kind of music you listen to, how you vote, spend your free time, your choices in media consumption, exercise, worship, what you read, and who you cheer for. But culture runs deeper than surface labels or associations. Culture is felt. It is a core representation of one’s person, the heartbeat we walk to, the song we carry in our heart.

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The Ways We Say “Hello”

It’s been a while since I was faced with saying a general “hello” to a new group of people. I did it 15 years ago when I assumed a new pastoral ministry role with a congregation. I’ve done it since, of course, in meeting new people or small groups. But how do you go about saying “hello” to a group of congregations, pastors and congregants as their regional ministry partner – what we call in our American Baptist tradition – their Executive Minister? That’s the question I’ve been pondering over the past six weeks as I transitioned from the pastorate into a regional judicatory role once again.

Of course I do know some of the “how”. There will be phone calls, zoom calls, emails, texts and messages – maybe even a hand written letter or two. This blog is also a medium I plan to utilize in my hello. But experience tells me that nothing will take the place of, nor be as effective as, a face to face hello. Investing in getting to know someone, or a group/congregation, face to face and person to person(s) is invaluable in the work of ministry. Such encounters teach and show us so much more than the other “stand-ins” can possibly offer. For example, some of the most important ways we communicate are through our facial expression, body language, tone of voice and other non-verbal presentations. You cannot possibly cover all of that by email, text or phone. Even video has its limitations. Some things are simply old school – “hello” is one of those things, in my opinion.

Which means “hello” if done well, requires an investment of time and attention, effort and participation much of today’s culture has found inconvenient and too time consuming. In a day and age when communication is counted in tweets (limited to just so many characters), posts, likes and links; a quality interpersonal “hello” is endangered. Yet the old adage holds, doesn’t it? “You only get one opportunity to make a first impression.”

I spent the past six weeks of “good-byes” in order to be on a good footing for the coming “hellos”. Yet it occurs to me that many (maybe most?) of the people I’m anxious to say hello to, may not feel anywhere nearly as excited about the introduction. That’s the hurdle, sometimes, in regional judicatory ministry. I represent a regional denominational partner, in an interdependent system of congregational polity that is variously valued in today’s world. Some value the connections greatly, and I know I will be warmly welcomed by them as a representative of the greater church, and partner in ministry. Others may be indifferent, lacking understanding of the history, or otherwise occupied with busy lives. I get it. But I’m also praying for the opportunities to make some meaningful initial contacts and introductions that will lead to significant ministry relationships.

I would be remiss to say that these “hellos” are from ground zero. I do already know some of the partners and faces I hope to deepen connection with. The members of the Executive Minister search committee and other staff have already been welcoming from a distance. Now that distance has been bridged and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and serve side by side. What a great opportunity awaits.

I’m sure my “hello” will be different from others. I’ll perhaps not do it quite like the last person, or the one before that. I’m just going to be me and not try to be someone I’m not. So, “hello” ABC of the Dakotas, this Midwestern Indiana grandson of a farmer and small business owner, son of a self-employed hard working dad, husband to a dedicated elementary teacher, father of three and grandad of the three more, looks forward to making your acquaintance. I’m eager to learn what God is up to in your lives, your congregation or ministry, and your community. And I’m hopeful as I learn more about our Dakota Mission, including how we can serve together to advance the Kingdom of God throughout this region and beyond.

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The Ways We Say “Thanks”

Expressing thanks can and does take many forms in the diversity of the human population. There is a part of our inner being that causes us to want to express gratitude toward those who have done something for us, meant something to us, impacted our life, or helped us along life’s way. Yet, the ways we give expression to this need for thanks giving are as unique as our personalities and DNA.

Let’s consider some of the ways the sharing of thanks takes form:
Gift giving is a common means employed. The gift is symbolic of whatever gratitude needs to be acknowledged. People can spend vast amounts of time pondering just what the right gift should be. There’s a bit of risk here, because the spirit in which gifts are given and received are not always aligned. Gifts given with all sincerity can be overlooked or under appreciated, making the gesture fall short. As a rule, I think all gifts (even those that perplex the recipient) should be received with graciousness.
Cards can be a frequent expression of gratitude. In cleaning out some files recently I discovered a whole group of cards and notes I’d received. Reading back through them was a trip down memory lane. I not only relived the event, but did so in connection with those with whom it was shared – those who sent the cards.
Hand Written Notes might companion a card, giving it an even more personalized stature. Or such notes might be in place of a card. This medium is rare in today’s world where texts and instant messages have taken over. A hand written note conveys an investment of time and self that warms the heart. The notes that are homemade have carried special meaning for me – whether sent from a grandson or a friend.
Verbal expressions are another means of thanks. These can be informal, as in “I want to tell you what that meant to me”, or formal – in the context of a speech or public acknowledgement. When shared interpersonally, face to face, such efforts span the chasm between people in a way I assume makes God smile.
Acts of Kindness or Service make the list. Have you ever been taken out to eat as an expression of thanks? Had someone step in to take care of a chore or task that is usually yours? This type of thanks giving is a primary language for some.
Bonuses or Monetary gestures are often employed in the business world. The intent is to show someone that their worth is valued, and their service acknowledged. These are practical, bottom line kinds of gestures which can be greatly appreciated and helpful. One hopes they are companioned by some of the softer expressions referenced above.
Receptions, Parties, and Gatherings are also often used for such thankful sharing. We are social beings and find reasons for coming together around food and fellowship, to commemorate friendship and relationships that have built into our lives.

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The Ways We Say Goodbye

I have long been a student of human behavior. Even as a kid I can remember thinking about how people said goodbye in such different ways. Whenever Dad called the house from work and one of us kids answered, he was pretty cut and dry. He stated the purpose of his call, asked his questions and hung up. I hardly ever remember my dad formally saying goodbye. Even when I watched him at work, taking orders over the phone, he would conclude the call with something like, “Well, Ok then” and drop the receiver.

My mother made much more of a production of saying goodbye. She would insist on a hug and kiss on the cheek, and demand reciprocation. She lingered over the goodbyes she gave her children and grandchildren. You could not in good conscience depart her home without participating in the goodbye ritual.

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Filed under #change, Christian Faith, Family, Leadership, Ministry, Pastors