Category Archives: Christian Faith

A Spirituality of Geography

If you have lived in different regions of the country, or nations of the world, you have likely observed, even at an unconscious level, that geography – or location, some might say “land” – often impacts spirituality. In other words, we are often shaped and formed, even spiritually, by where we live.  The landscape becomes an influence on how we perceive life, interpret the Creator, and participate in our own spiritual identity. 

We hear about this influence of land or region with respect to other aspects of life.  For example, who among us Americans is not familiar with the political moniker of “red” states and “blue” states?  This way of describing political affiliation with a more conservative (red) or progressive (blue) political identity has been in vogue for decades now.  Today we are even hearing about “purple” states!  If pressed, we could most likely color in our own map – a simplified paint by numbers exercise – of where these states are located.

Another influence of geographic location might be correlated to one’s pace of life.  Those who inhabit a more urban landscape with its busy streets, bustling congestion and condensed population are typically more likely to associate with a faster pace to living.  Interpersonal greetings between unfamiliar “strangers” can be rare in these locales.  “Keep your eyes down and go!”, seems the norm.  Whereas those in a more rural part of the country may find affinity with a less hectic pace.  And to not return a “hello” or “good morning” would simply be considered rude.

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Filed under Christian Faith, Cycling, Ministry, Spiritual Formation

Goals Help Us Move Forward

Are you a goal setter? A new year is often a time when persons put some thought into what they hope to accomplish on the blank canvass of a fresh calendar. Whether engaged in with intentionality or as a passing musing while on a long drive, there is something about looking out the windshield into another year that prompts us to reflect. In doing so, we may consider what we want, need, or hope to accomplish with the gift of this next year. Setting a few goals can make a difference toward these thoughts becoming more than mere wishful thinking.

Perhaps you’ve heard about SMART goals? SMART is an acronym that can help one realistically establish direction in goal setting. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. These are the kinds of goals that can propel an individual or organization forward. For example, let’s say I have a goal to get in better physical shape in 2023. Phrased in this way, the goal is admirable, but not too particular from the general “wish” of many people. If I want to improve my goal in a way that fits the SMART framework, I might edit it as follows: In 2023 I will work to lose 10 pounds by June 1, while following a heart healthy diet, exercising 45 minutes 5 days a week, averaging eight hours of sleep per night, using a health app on my smartphone for accountability. With this wording, I’ve created a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goal.

I promise you that there are multitudes of folks with good intentions contemplating gym memberships as the new year begins, but those with SMART goals will likely follow through on those intentions at a much higher rate than those without. So, if this is true of our behavior individually, what about congregationally? Should we, as a church, have goals? Would it help for us to be as specific and thoughtful about our ministry goals as we might be concerning our individual goals? What does a SMART church goal even look like?

We will never know if we don’t attempt to formulate one. Would such a conversation energize your leadership team? Could you, as a leader, bring up the topic and invite others to collaborate with you around it? I’m guessing almost every congregation might benefit from some goal setting in one area or another. Here are some potential general arenas of ministry that might be ripe for goals: Evangelism (introducing others to a relationship with Jesus Christ), Discipleship (helping believers grow in faith formation), Stewardship (educating and shaping disciples in their practices of giving), Missional expression (taking steps as a congregation toward greater outward expressions of ministry with the community), Fellowship (working to build relationships, provide tools for reconciliation as needed, and strengthen true expressions of covenantal community).

Any of those general ministry areas would benefit from reflection on Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound goal setting. So why not have the conversation? Pick one or two areas of ministry that you feel led to work toward together in 2023 and begin formulating goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Be sure to incorporate times of prayer (collective and individual) into the process, so the goals that emerge are led of God. In this process you will unleash imagination, energize participation, and realistically set direction for the coming days, weeks and months.

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Filed under Christian Faith, Leadership, Ministry

Matthew’s version of Ancestry.com

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we encounter a genealogy list. It’s the lineage of Jesus, going back 42 generations. It is listed in three groups of fourteen (Jesus to the Exile, the Exile to King David, and David to Abraham). Ho hum, you might think, as you stumble across all these names; especially if genealogy is not your thing. But let me invite you to linger with this list for a moment. Much as those who dive into Ancestry.com often discover hidden truths, or those who have swabbed their cheek and sent in a “23 and Me” DNA sample learn unknown aspects of their heritage; sitting with Matthew’s version of Jesus’ family tree has its own lessons to reveal.

In addition to such high caliber hall of fame type ancestral names (think Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Hezekiah), there appear the names of five women in Jesus’ genealogy. Not only would it have been uncommon for women to be listed in a patriarchal society, but why the inclusion of these particular women in a male driven system of reporting? What is it that Matthew wants us to know and reflect on as we read names like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (listed simply as Uriah’s wife), and Mary?

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Filed under Christian Faith, Holy Days, Ministry

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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Filed under Christian Faith, Holy Days, Ministry, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Christian Faith, Leadership, Ministry, Pastors, Uncategorized