Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Discipline of Silence

I carved out a few hours this morning to take a prayer walk near Lake Carnegie. I still remember the first time that I rode my bike out the canal path and arrived at the lake. I couldn't believe how close I lived to an open area of beauty. I have always been one to search for my "spots" and to go there for times of silence. Almost all of my favorite spots in the past were near bodies of water.

Today, I took some time to simply be quiet before God. I was reminded last night in reading Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics IV.3.2 part 1 of how humans evade God and do everything to avoid being encountered by his living Word. I opened my time of prayer asking God to encounter me and to open my heart up to his address. I needed to hear from God, especially after a jam-packed month of February that has featured more than I can begin to document here.

The time of silence was exactly what I needed. I toggled between moments of silence and simple prayers for my family, my future, and my openness to God's Word in my life. At one point, I was walking on the path and I realized that I was listening to my own breathing. How often do I actually slow down enough or remove distractions so that I end up focusing on my own breathing? Rarely. After today, I remembered why I need to carve out intentional times of silence.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Three words...

Tonight, I turned around and looked at Avery. She looked back at me and mouthed three sounds that sounded like "I love you." She then blew me a few kisses. I was absolutely floored. She has never done anything like that before. She has smiled, she has hugged me but she has never voiced "I love you."

I have probably told her 3940830948 times that I love her. For her to initiate the same words back to me was nothing short of pure love. I guess this is a small sample of what God must feel when we express our love back to him.

When is the last time you expressed your love for God? When is the last time you simply said "I love you" to God?

This reflection may not be what I talk about at seminary every day but the profound truth behind this experience outweighs all the volumes of books that I have read and more.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Image of God and Small Groups

I can't even begin to count the number of times I have heard this, "God is a God in community and therefore as humans created in God's image we are made for community." The line of thinking behind this statement is that God is one God in three persons who are eternally in relationship in what Christian's call the Trinity. The description of humans, male and female, created in the image of God has garnered a variety of interpretions. For many small group ministries, the theological foundation for small groups is the notion of "God in community" and therefore we are 'wired' for community.

I have to admit that I have harbored skepticism every time I have heard this interpretation of the image of God and humanity's desire for relationship. I haven't been able to put my finger on it until recently. My main skepticism stems from the fact that I do not believe that this goes far enough. Are small groups only supposed to be meant to be "in community" for themselves? I can already hear the quick response of small groups do service projects both inside and outside the church community. This is true but does that find its foundation in "God in community."

I believe that the Trinity is more than simply "God in community." My guess is that everyone would say that they agree with that statement but I want to draw out a specific idea. My understanding of the Trinity doesn't start with trying to diagram or mathematically posit the relationships between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit apart from what is revealed in Scripture. I have heard many try to liken the Trinity to water (one substance) with three forms (ice, water, steam) but one of the many problems with this approach is this view starts with human thoughts about physical entities as opposed to what is revealed in Scripture.

Starting with Scripture, the Triniatarian relationships are revealed in the Bible as the Father sending the Son and the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit and the relationships between them. What is the purpose of this sending? There are many reasons but the primary reason is for God to rescue humanity from sin (salvation) through Jesus Christ and then to establish his people as the church through the Holy Spirit. From there, the church is sent into the world to participate in God's ongoing mission of reconcilation until Christ comes again.

Small groups are gatherings of individuals by God for community but ALSO to be sent out in mission to whomever God puts them in contact. The foundation for this understanding isn't a desire for more service projects but the very nature of God as a God who sends and accomplishes his Word (which does not return void). This Word is Jesus Christ who embodies the reconciliation between humanity and God and we are gathered together as groups (small groups, local churches, the entire body of Christ) to accomplish this mission.

The next time you hear someone say that we are wired for relationships because we are created in the image of God and God is a "God in community," ask yourself or the speaker, "What do you see as the purpose of that community?" If the answer falls somewhere in the arena of fulfilling God's unique mission for that community in its specific time and place then I believe a fuller picture of the meaning of community has been considered.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


There are few great individuals in the world. I knew one and she was my Aunt Dorothy. Aunt "Dottie" was an inspiration to more people than I can begin to count. She died last night after a long struggle with a series of complications in her body. I just took an hour to type whatever came to my mind about this amazing woman. The one thing that I will share here is that she inspired me years ago to jump from my first job at a medium-sized consulting firm to a start-up company. She told a story about how much her, my Dad, and the rest of their siblings had to fight in Chinatown in NY City to flourish and provide for their families. I do remember her mentioning how they had to take risks to make things happen. I don't remember the exact words she said but I remember thinking "I also have that DNA inside of me and I have a responsibility to own up to that and take risks in my life." I was reminded today by reflecting on her life just how fast life goes and how little time I have to own up to what God has given me to do. Aunt Dottie owned up to her responsibilities and she will always inspire me to own up to mine.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I have a habit of pointing out patterns that I find in presentations by speakers. This applies to preachers, teachers, seminar leaders, etc. I wrote my top list of repeated phrases a few months ago in a blog post. Phrases like "painting in broad strokes" and "unpack" made the list. In fact, I decided just for fun (my kind of ridiculous fun) to use those two phrases (back to back) during my chapel sermon last week.

My habit of pointing out things in sermons came back to bite me. Familiar words from Jesus in Mark 4:24 say "Consider carefully what you hear," he continued. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more."

My measure - pointing out specifics in a sermon

Yesterday, I preached a sermon at my home church and I included what I thought was a throw-away line in the middle of the sermon. I said that salt is "what most of us relate to making food tasty or high cholesterol." I didn't think much of the line. I just wanted to put in a transition to the actual use of the term salt in Matthew 5.

A person pointed out to me later in the day that in fact salt causes high blood pressure not high cholesterol. My initial, internal defensive response was "is it that big of a deal that I said high cholesterol? is that the only thing you heard in the sermon?" Later on, after reading Mark 4:24, I reflected on the fact that my measure of pointing out specific parts of a sermon came back on me.

I am now starting to realize that all of my criticizing of things over the years in the church (poor leadership, specific sermon points, etc) will now be pointed at me as I enter full-time ministry. Writing a sermon, leading a church, doing anything as a full-time pastor is more difficult than I realized when I was a person who showed up on Sunday morning and had a lot of time to point out the problems without offering solutions...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


One of my favorite moments during the day is when my cell phone rings and I get taunted by a friend. Oftentimes, a friend from Virginia will call to remind me that Virginia Tech is superior in some fashion to UVA. I have some other friends who like to remind me of how the New York Mets are not a real baseball team. I have others who like to simply take jabs at me. The list of friends who call me like this isn't large but I can count on numerous calls throughout the week.

Today, I received that type of phone call from a different person. This person happened to be from a potential church where I may be called to serve. He decided to call me in order to taunt me about the weather that we are experiencing here in Princeton, NJ (cold, icy, ridiculous) as opposed to his location. I never would have thought to put "phone taunting" on my list of desired aspects in a church but I now have that on my list!