Category Archives: Uncategorized

Daffodil Delight

A few years ago now we purchased a home where a prior owner had planted a varied assortment of daffodils.  These clusters of bulbs gave growth to shoots of green in the early to middle weeks of February, about the time of our move in.  In the ensuing days we would delight in watching how they bloomed, and their varied displays of spring color.  We discovered traditional yellow daffodils, some with a white outer bloom and yellow, almost orange, center; and still more that were miniature versions of the aforementioned traditional yellows.   Clusters of these flowers came forth among the landscaped beds that bordered the back, side and front lawns.  Some clusters even emerged amidst the lawn.  There was no mistaking the fact that the one who had planted them loved her daffodils. 

That first spring of our occupancy happened to coincide with the global pandemic of 2020, which gave the daffodil show even more meaning in my book.  While the world was trying to come to grips with what the pandemic meant, embracing lockdowns and quarantines, our lawn was virtually bursting forth with brilliant color.  It was a not-so-subtle message of hope amidst the news of despair that continued to bombard us. 

This now is the third spring since, and once again the daffodils are doing their thing.  They got off to an early start as warmer weather prompted their cycle of growth this year.  Shoots were emerging in January, with first blooms coming mid to late February, or sooner if in a protected pocket where the warmth of the sun coaxed them forth.  I’ve transplanted most of the lawn bulbs back into the landscaping with mixed results.  All have come up, but some seem to protest their relocation by refusing to bloom.  Still, overall we’ve had a customary show of yellow, white and orange dazzle against the backdrop of a greening lawn and the beige of mulched flowerbeds.

Then, over the past few days, as is typical during an Indiana March, a cold snap has hit.  The immediate impact on the daffodil blooms was an obvious shock that found them with lowered foliage, and drooping heads.  A few flakes of snow rested on the blooms, with more covering the surrounding lawn.  Had our hopeful friends misjudged the timing of their show?  Would they now succumb to an early end? 

Sadly, some – those in the less protected pockets of exposure – seem worse for wear.  Yet, others purposefully bounce back as the sun rises higher and warms their faces.  They once again display their resilience as an early spring flower, combating the less than friendly environs of their stage.  They will not be silent nor allow their contribution to this change in season to be easily thwarted.  Once again, they speak hope into the world for those who will pause long enough to notice.

Hope is a message of near constant need for the human condition.  Hope assuages the uglier messages of despair and doom of which our ears and eyes more often partake.  I wonder, as I contemplate this year’s daffodil show in our lawn if daffodils bloom in Ukraine?  I wonder if they adorn the table tops and bedsides of those who’ve suffered loss, as they often adorn our dining room table?  They are for me a symbol of the need and possibility of persistent hope in the human condition.  May their message be seen and heard with regularity!

2 Comments

Filed under Christian Faith, Hope, Uncategorized

A Christmas Prayer

During Advent this year I have been working through a devotional resource called The Promised One published online by Christianity Today. The reading for Sunday, December 18 contained this line that has stayed with me, “Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story offers us perspective on our own seasons of waiting. We’re reminded that there’s no expiration date on our prayers.

I have always found the inclusion of the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s parents, in Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:5-24, 57-80) to be interesting. There are a couple of Old Testament prototypes that foreshadow their story. Abraham and Sarah, as well as Hannah come to mind. These too were folks who knew what it was to wait in prayer. The specific prayer they had on their hearts, like the prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and many couples yet today; was the prayer for a baby. They longed to conceive and become parents, but were hindered in those efforts due to some cause of infertility. Scripture often pronounces it much more pointedly, stating but “Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.” Have you ever noticed in these instances that it’s usually the woman who is blamed and named as barren? Just saying! Then, to add insult to injury, there’s that comment about their age! It reminds me of trips to the doctor in recent years when his response began “well, at your age”.

But let’s come back to the topic of prayer, and specifically prayer waiting. This line from the devotion, “there’s no expiration date on our prayers” is one that should offer every long suffering prayer warrior hope. Keep praying. Whatever it may be that you are praying about, keep praying.

What lies behind this admonition? Do we “keep praying” in the belief that our prayer will one day be answered as we hope? I’m not sure that’s the rationale. Yes, it worked out for Zechariah and Elizabeth in that their prayer for a baby was finally answered. But there are so many other couples who’ve struggled with infertility that have not had that prayer answered in the same way. So, the admonition to keep praying may not be because prayer will be answered in the way we’ve prescribed, but that prayer will be answered. Prayer will be answered in the way God determines. That may align with our hopes. God may be moved in that direction. But the prayer might also be answered in a different way, an unexpected way.

I suspect the admonition to “keep praying”, as a response to there being no expiration date on our prayers, is an acknowledgement that God’s time is so often not our time. This is where I lift up those Greek words for “time” that we’ve heard, or used, in a sermon: “chronos” and “kairos”. One word speaks to chronology, the sequential measurement of time, as with a calendar; the other speaks to the fullness of time, or God’s time and timing, as with perfect timing or the right time.

The answer to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayer, after untold years of praying and maybe being on the verge of giving up, came in the fullness of time as the incarnation came about. Their unexpired prayer was in the ears and on the heart of God as other events aligned in a perfect timing kind of way. John would come as the forerunner of Christ, to prepare the way. The prayers of this faithful couple would come to fruition in ways they’d never imagined. Zechariahs’ temple discovery was that God hears prayers, and God has a long memory when it comes to those prayers.

This reminds me of an experience I had more than once in pastoral ministry alongside the prayers of a faithful spouse, most often a wife, who had spent a lifetime of marriage praying her husband would come to know the Lord. Day in and day out, Sunday in and Sunday out, those prayers were lifted up as she kept her daily practices of faith, and took the children to worship, seated alone without her mate. Perchance he would join her at Easter or Christmas, but there was no pretense of a new pattern, until for some reason there was. I can recall two such men, husbands both who had been prayed over faithfully by believing wives, and others they’d conscripted to pray, who finally gave their hearts to Christ and followed in a profession of faith through baptism. No one was more overjoyed than those faithful praying spouses! They had kept praying, believing that there is no expiration date on a prayer.

At Christmas I’ve often felt led to pray for our world, our nation, and other big items in a special way. I guess it harkens back to the angel’s announcement of “peace on earth and goodwill toward humankind”. This year’s Christmas prayer will include some oft repeated prayers of mine from the past year and years. I pray, for example, for peace in Europe, specifically for the people of Ukraine; but also for peace in Myanmar, and in Haiti and all other parts of the globe where war and violence reign. I pray for a more peaceful nation and homeland, where differences in opinion and outlook are not allowed to fester and divide, where statesmanship will again replace partisanship. I pray for migrant people, many on the move to flee violence, to find peace and know a better life. I pray for mercy from the lands where they go, the shores on which they arrive. I pray for health for all, and that we not weaponize or politicize efforts at healthcare, and that their be greater equity for all people to gain access to it. I pray for congregations to be united and at peace, working together in the cause of Christ’s kingdom. I pray for missionaries who take the good news next door, across the state, nation and globe. I pray for pastors who preach, counsel, guide and work among disciples of Jesus – may they be encouraged in their work, and renewed in their energy. And I pray for families who are apart, that they may be together in-person if possible, and through technology if not, or in spirit at the very least.

I pray these prayers, and invite you to add yours, in the conviction that all prayers are heard, and that no prayers have an expiration date. Merry Christmas. What are you waiting in prayer for this year?

2 Comments

Filed under Holy Days, Ministry, Pastors, Uncategorized

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.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Christian Faith, Holy Days, Ministry, Uncategorized

The Importance of Culture in a Pastoral Fit

Last week I wrote a blog post on when cultures collide. I’ve continued to think about the topic of culture, but want to address a more specific aspect as it relates to a church calling a pastoral leader. In this congregational process, which we American Baptists honor as part of our polity, culture can be a determining factor as to whether the call is productive or not.

In working alongside pastoral search committees I have often said that there are two aspects of the cultural fit which a committee, congregation, and prospective pastor must pay attention. One is what I will call the “theological cultural fit”. The second is what I call the “social cultural fit”. Let me explain.

A theologically conservative congregation does not usually want to call a pastor who is not theologically conservative. Similarly a theologically moderate church will probably not do well with a far-right theologically conservative pastor. This may seem like a given, however it’s a conversation that needs to be explored in the search process. Too often persons assume agreement on the basics of Christian doctrine and do not explore the nuances of a topic. For example, I can be a theologically conservative pastor who has a high view of Scripture, sound understanding of soteriology (salvation), traditional views of Christology, missiology and ecclesiology. And I may also affirm the role of women in leadership and ministry, as a conservative pastor or congregation. Yet if I am matched with a pastor, or church, who also espouses a conservative identification, but does not also agree with the view of women in ministry and leadership; there will be tension and strife within this match from day one.

Another arena within the theological cultural fit has to do with one’s understanding of congregational polity and leadership. As an American Baptist I affirm the autonomy of the local church, including it’s right to call whom it discerns God has led to be pastor. I also affirm that the pastor, while called to an office or role within the church, is not to function as as an autocrat but a leader among leaders, working alongside staff and lay leadership (male and female) for the good of the whole. This collaborative style of leadership is one that will not function well within a congregational system that looks to the pastor for authoritative leadership; nor will the authoritative pastoral leader function well in the midst of true congregational polity.

These are but two examples where due consideration of the theological match in the search and call process is critical, and worth more than one conversation. In a time when longer tenured pastoral calls show congregations with greater stability and health, let’s not get in such a hurry that we short-circuit the process and end up repeating it in a couple of years, leaving both a weakened clergyperson and congregation in the wake!

The other cultural fit I identified above is what I termed a “social cultural fit”. By this I mean that the pastor and congregation would do well to come from a shared social understanding or background. The most common example I have used is that a rural congregation is likely to fare better with a pastor who has some understanding of rural life, verses one who’s only life and ministry experience has been urban. The reverse of this is true as well. Of course there will be exceptions to the rule, and we never want to deny someone the capacity to grow and stretch in their appreciation of a different context. Nonetheless, more often than not when we assume the social cultural fit is not that important, in the end it usually proves to have been.

The additional caveat I would include in this post is a combination of the above “fits” as it concerns denominational affiliation. We are clearly living in a day when denominational labels and traditions are not given as much weight as they once were. Congregants choose affiliation with congregations today for a wide host of reasons, with denominational affinity being down the list, especially for younger generations. Pastoral candidates are tempted to do the same. Afterall Baptist is Baptist, right? Well, maybe not!

As a regional judicatory minster who has more than once been called on to mitigate the differences that surfaced between a long established denominational church, and it’s recently called non-denominational, or other denominational pastor; I can promise you that this “fit” is also important. Search committee, pastoral candidate, and congregation take heed. God does work in mysterious ways, but God also works among those who’s streams of spirituality and ministry are most similarly aligned.

6 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Ministry, Pastors, 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.

Continue reading

6 Comments

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