Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 Devos in Review

For many years I've used a simple journaling format with my daily devotions: writing down a passage or verse of Scripture; noting what it is in that reading that catches my attention; writing down how it applies to me that day, and writing a short prayer. The whole thing is usually about half a page long. It goes by the acronym SOAP for Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. (If you'd like to learn more about it, check out this post.)
I also make an index as I go of the scripture passages I've written about with several keywords that point to the theme of the reflection. One fun side-benefit is that at the end of the year I can collect all of the keywords and display them in a Wordle  where the most commonly used words show us in larger font size. The three images attached show what my devotional keywords were in 2015. The first one below uses all the words, the second just the 20 most common words, and the one above has the top 5 words by frequency.
(You'll notice that my most common keyword this year was "pipe." No, I've not been moonlighting as a plumber, "pipe" is just my personal shorthand for a core metaphor for faith and life. Briefly: to be human is to be like an L-shaped pipe, connected to God at the top, with love, joy, peace, forgiveness and all good things flowing *down* into us from God and *out* from us to bless our neighbors.)
I wanted to share this with you to encourage you in your own devotional life. (New Years... fresh starts... resolutions and all that.) First of all, of course, just to spend some intentional time each day with the Lord. And in addition, I highly recommend some kind of writing practice that lets you see your faith life over time and find good words again at a later date - for yourself or for others!
And while you're at it... and annual spiritual "year in review" is a pretty good practice too.


All keywords:
Top 20:

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Message 100 - Book Review

I was very pleased to receive a copy of The Message 100 by Eugene Peterson for review a while back.  I'm happy to recommend it, first and foremost because The Message version itself is hugely beneficial for reading, and second because the new arrangement of the books of the Bible that you find in The Message 100 has some valuable features as well.

A quick word about the translation itself. I like to refer to Peterson's excellent work as a "rendering" of scripture. Though based on the original language manuscripts, Peterson allows more freedom in bringing it into English than one would use in a formal translation. His rendering is at least a paraphrase, and at times makes moves that I would have to call interpretations. But the vitality and vibrancy of his version is so helpful in "hearing" scripture that I am always enthusiastic to recommend it to people for general reading and as a companion for formal Bible study. Reading The Message has improved my "scholarly" understanding of scripture, but more importantly, helped the Lord shape my heart in wonderful ways.

This new version makes two significant changes in how a reading Bible is organized. First, it divides the text into 100 readings. That simple change gives you an encouragement to read the whole Bible (who doesn't want to get to 100?) while at the same time avoiding the problems associated with so many other "read through the Bible" plans which is simply this: failure. I don't know how many times have I gotten behind in some daily reading plan and faced the decision to either skip a batch of readings and "press reset" to (FAIL!) or binge-read as fast as possible in order to "catch up" (faking success = FAIL!)  The 100 version invites you to keep at it and take your time. It's a grace goal... one that comes with a finish line but without a deadline.  How cool is that?

The second change in the 100 version is more significant, and more subtle.  In many places, the books of the Bible have been re-ordered.

Finally, Acts follows Luke as the sequel it was written to be! But that's just the start...

Anyone who's ever tried to read the Bible "cover to cover" has run into the Kings-Chronicles issue. You work your way through 1st and 2nd Kings and then here comes 1st and 2nd Chronicles going back over the same territory you just finished. It's confusing and a bit frustrating to feel like you are "re-reading" all that stuff, even if you are aware of the significant differences between Kings and Chronicles.  Some reading plans deal with this by interweaving the two tellings, and that helps especially if you read the various Prophets along the same timeline as well. (Wayne Cordeiro does an excellent job of this in his Life Journal materials.) In The Message 100, Peterson leads you through Kings first, and then introduces Chronicles after you've gone through much of the prophetic literature and spent time in Exile with Daniel. That brings you to the point in the story when the Chronicles were written as a way to re-engage the people's history in a new situation. That one change actually gave me a new appreciation for the first eight, tedious, chapters of genealogy in Chronicles. (Actually, not so much a "new" appreciation as a "first ever" one.) After all they've been through and the ruin they brought on themselves as a people, the listing of ancestors up to the present survivors returning from exile has a way of saying "... and we are still here!  After all this, all these generations, we are still here!"  The placing of Chronicles helped me to catch that.

Another notable re-ordering is placing the Gospel of John in a final section along with the letters of John and Revelation. With the similarity of voice and vision in these books, it's intriguing to think about the way that reading them together will cast light on each of them.

I'm also intrigued by the decision to put Job in between Genesis and Exodus as part of the section on "Beginnings." No explanation is offered, but to me it helps to suggest a similarity in genre of the two books as something different from what we moderns think of as "history."  And I think it also works as a way of "setting the stage" for the story of Scripture as both Genesis and Job get us thinking about the challenge we face in the human condition.

Each of the 100 readings has an introduction written by Peterson.  They are very helpful in keeping you oriented towards what's going on and what the readings are pointing towards. Especially here in these introductions can you hear the voice of Peterson the pastor, and some of the material is even drawn from his sermons. Another great gift he offers us.

The one thing I wish for that's not in the book is some commentary on his decisions for re-ordering the books of the Bible. But aside from that it's another wonderful piece of work from a man who has made a great contribution to the faith and life of many people, myself included.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Blog In Review - 2015

Fellow blogger and ELCA Pastor/rabble-rouser Clint Schnekloth invited folks to offer a year in review blog post and offered to compile them on his own blog so here goes!  

The Church Isn't Dying, It's Just That The Bubble Has Finally Burst (The end of inflation.)

(Church) Life Can Be Different (Imagine one service per month?)

Maybe the "dones" are done with the "form" of church we offer them.  (Walking away can also be walking towards.)

Is the Kingdom of God a Gated Community? (No key to the Pearly Gates?)

2014 in Devotions (Common themes and helpful tools.)

And a perennial favorite from years ago that still gets traffic...

Luther on House Churches (It's time we acted on his proposal.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Church Isn't Dying, It's Just That The Bubble Has Finally Burst

I was talking to a family member about what "the end of Christendom" means and came up with an analogy I thought would be good to share.

After the burst of the housing bubble and the great recession, I think the whole "bubble" idea is pretty familiar to folks. You have something - like home prices - that has a normal, reasonable level but then gets super-inflated way beyond that point by other stuff. So when the "other stuff" gets removed, the bubble bursts and things drop back to where they would have been all along. What makes this tough is that the "inflating" process can go on for a long time and people get used to it, expecting it to go on, but the "burst" is sudden and wreaks havoc on things.

Similarly, the Christian church has been inflated - arguably for about 17 centuries - because the culture has "pumped people into it" in various ways. But now we are experiencing the burst of that bubble and while it's pretty traumatic and sudden (by historical standards) it's not really the case that the church is "dying" any more than the housing market died. Rather, it's simply returning to something more in line with what it would have been *without the cultural subsidy to inflate it.*

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

House Churches and the ELCA?

There's been some house church activity in my ELCA denomination over the years and now there's a one-day conference coming up to explore this direction October 23-24! If you've followed this blog much, you know that's a topic near and dear to my heart. I've got 55 posts with that tag... so far, and pretty much started this blog in April 2007 in order to advance this conversation. I'll be there. Care to join me?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

(Church) Life Can Be Different

What if.... you had a community that gathered once a month for "the show" and three times a month to *unpack* all the amazing goodness from that gathering? Hear the hymns and songs again and pour over the *words* in them to share how it touched their hearts... Chew on and really digest the message from the preacher and "work the words into your life" (The Message, Luke 6:48-49)...

What do you think... would we see people growing *more* as disciples with this pattern, or would we see *less* discipleship than we are getting now?

And as icing on the cake, would we see more exhaustion from the very people we look to to help feed and lead us, or less?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Christians are not called to be "good people."

For my daily devos this morning I wrote a longer reflection than usual. It's based on this verse from Romans 12:2

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect."

In a nutshell, what I came around to is simply this: Jesus does not call Christians to just "be good people" and "live good lives." He calls us to give up our lives.  That's counter-cultural, not only for a corrupt culture, but even for a culture that's basically "good."

Here's the "long version" from my devotional journal.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Maybe the "dones" are done with the "form" of church we offer them.

This is something I wrote, pulled from a different online conversation about the "dones" (people who are still believers but are "done with church") but I thought I'd drop it here as well. Apologies for the lack of context.

"I wish I could attribute this quote, but I've forgotten... "Many people are leaving the church, not because they have lost their faith, but in order to preserve it."  Might be Reggie McNeal or Brian McLaren. (What's up with those McGuys?)   

Faith and community are not to be separated.  But the *form* that a faith community takes can vary hugely.  Like water taking on the shape of it's container.

Conventional, institutional church is a *form* that faith community has taken in recent generations. This *form* has become a barrier and a threat to the faith of many.  And even to those of us born in and *native* to the form, the burden of *maintaining the form* in the midst of post-Christendom has become too heavy to bear.  Hence the "dones" who are yet believers, and are "shaking off" the (current form) "dust" from their feet.

Fortunately, our most familiar form is not the only option.  House churches, Missional Communities and other things that don't even have useful labels/terms for them yet.

This is the road I am taking. Part of the shape of the old form is good professional incomes for seminary graduates like me and my wife.  That's not likely to be common in new forms. Oh well. So be it. Lay down your life and all that. It's what I signed up for.  :)"

Friday, June 5, 2015

Common Cause Communities and their LA Hatchery

Another group that's caught my attention is Spencer Burke's "Hatchery" in L.A. Their focus is on non-traditional church-planting and their core concept is "Common Cause Communities" which can be contrasted with teaching/attractional/Sunday morning mode congregations (and compared to 3dm Missional Communities for those of you familiar with that language.)

Common - Common faith in the way of Jesus
Cause - Outwardly focused on a shared cause to rally around
Community - to deepen relationships

If you're interested in new models or alternatives to traditional seminary, I encourage you to check them out.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Fired Up? Pentecost Sermon 2015

"Eldad and Medad are prophesying....
I preached at Gethsemane yesterday for Pentecost. Had some fun interpreting the Eldad and Medad story and suggesting that we needed some fire not just on our heads and in our hearts but also... elsewhere.


5.24.15 Sermon - Fired Up - Pastor Tim, Pentecost, 1002 Service from Gethsemane on Vimeo.

Friday, May 22, 2015

You Shall... Good News?

Here's a little something we Lutherans like to call "Law and Gospel" from my daily SOAP devos this morning:

Monday, April 6, 2015

Is the Kingdom of God a Gated Community?

One of the Daily Texts verses today includes the statement “I have the keys of Death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:18) It reminded me of something important about interpretation that I like to pass along when I get a chance, so I’m going to run down a rabbit hole here for a bit.
The little English word “of” can mean a LOT of different things and the reader/hearer is absolutely required to *interpret* the word and *choose* from different options. Most of us do that easily and subconsciously on the fly, so we’re not even aware that we’re interpreting.
For example: “house of sticks” means house *made* of sticks.
But “love of money” means love *directed towards* money.
And “love of your dog” means the love *felt by* your dog for you.
Except when it means the love *felt for* your dog by you.
Now, watch how this can have a huge impact on how you interpret.
In Matthew 16:19 Jesus refers to the “keys of the Kingdom. What does “of” mean there? The keys “to” the Kingdom? Could be. That would imply that the Kingdom is locked and you need the key to get in, though. Hmmm…
Or, it could mean the keys *belonging to* the Kingdom. That’s a whole ‘nother thing there. If you have these “Kingdom keys” what do you think you might be able to lock… or unlock? Might it be the “gates of Hades” that Jesus refers to in the previous verse?
“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Mt. 16:18b
You’ve got to admit… a gate isn’t likely to "prevail” against you if you have the key that can open it. ;)
Popular culture has latched onto the “pearly gates” image from Revelation 21:21 in a way that has even us thinking of heaven as a gated community. Seriously… a gated community!?!? If you don’t have a key yourself you better be on good terms with Saint Peter, right! After all he has the “keys *to* (?) the Kingdom” right?
Well, how about this instead. What if the only “gated community” that even exists is Hell/Hades/Death, and the *problem* is not “How can I possibly get *into* heaven when I’m locked out?” but rather, “How can I possibly get *out* of H/H/D when I’m locked IN?
Sit with that image for a minute, and then see how it feels to consider that the Kingdom keys have unlocked the gates and no one can ever be locked in again.
Pearly gates that are locked, or gates of Hades unlocked – which image resonates more powerfully with what you know as the message of Jesus?
It is, of course, a matter of interpretation. Gotta keep an eye on those great big theological words like “of.”

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 in Devotions

Here's a visual summary of the themes in my personal devotions over the last 12 months:

If you prune that down to the top 20 words, it looks like this:

And if you go all the way down to the top 5 words, you see this:

Not that you really need to know that much about what's been on my heart for the last twelve months as I read and reflect on Scripture of course, but I wanted to share with you the tools I've found that have made this little look-back reflection possible.

First, I've been using a simple journaling format that I learned from Wayne Cordeiro at New Hope in Hawaii.  It uses a SOAP acronym to provide structure (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) and help keep things simple.  I've written more about that before.  What I may not have mentioned is that the journal invites you to create a Table of Contents as you go, and for each entry to record a title and some keywords that identify the themes in what you've written.  Here's what mine looks like:

I've been using this journaling tool for several years now and have begun using the keywords as a window into the past.  (The Table of Contents is also a HUGE asset when you need to find a verse on a topic for yourself or someone else.)

With that list of words as raw material, you can visualize it as above using the website Wordle. Paste your text into the box and BOOM!  A word cloud where the words that appear most frequently are shown in larger font.  Wordle gives you a lot of flexibility on how the visual is created... fonts, colors and alignment etc.  But you can also limit the number of words that will be shown from your content, which is how I made the three versions above.  (You can also make a Wordle from a document, or even from a website.  Try pasting in a whole book of the Bible sometime to see some interesting things about the topics that book is engaging.)

If you're not doing daily devos, I encourage you to start and I recommend the Life Journal as a great tool.  It's been a huge blessing to me!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Musing on Metrics

A clergy group I belong to on Facebook got started talking about metrics and I chimed in (just a little bit). Thought I'd share some of that here for those who are interested:

"Metrics may not do a good job of telling the whole story, but they tend to tell you if there's a story you should be paying attention to."

"Much of the 3dm approach lends itself to metrics, which I appreciate:

Number of people in huddles.
Number of huddles meeting.
Number of people who are able to lead huddles.
Number of second, third... generation huddles.
Number & generation of Missional Communities."

"One key metric that anyone working in Post-Christendom should be tracking is adult baptisms. I think that one metric is like the canary in the coal mine if we dare to look at it.

For conventional congregations, I went so far as to develop an measure of "Evangelical Effectiveness" based on that: Number of Adult Baptisms per year per 100 people in worship. (Normalizes for the size of the congregation.)

I tried to get that metric placed in use in my Synod years ago - at least as a way of discovering the congregations that are *actually* effective in conversion growth. I was thinking if we knew which ones they were, we might be able to hear their stories and learn from them. Unfortunately, the proposal was met with disinterest and resistance I'm sorry to say.

(You can read more about that on my blog.)

"Going off in another direction... sometimes we measure what we do because it's easier to measure than other things that might be intrinsically more important. Butts and bucks are easy to count & so are adult baptisms for that matter. But we're trying to make disciples and help people *mature* in faith. What could we look at as "metrics" for maturity?

Many people stop pursuing that because they think things like maturity cant be measured. True enough. But they can be *evaluated.* Lots of "squishy" things can be evaluated... you just need to find a way to metri-fy it.

For example, years ago when I was (FINALLY!) getting my depression diagnosed, the doctor gave me a little inventory. "How often do you think about thus-and-such?" "How many times per week do feel XYZ?" and so on. Scaled responses like Never - Rarely - Sometimes - Often - All the time. He *scored* the inventory and that was a part of the diagnosis.

We *could* do discipleship growth assessments... if we dared.

Imagine an assessment about the presence of the following traits in your attitudes and behavior: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness...

Are those things *more evident* this year than when you took the inventory last year?

For the truly courageous, we give the inventory to the five people closest to us and let THEM do the eval!

Ready to have your kids and spouse weigh in on the question "Has (your name here) become more patient over the last year?" Does (name) have more self control?"

Monday, November 24, 2014

Resonating with Brokenness?

I pursue a practice of daily devotions (note: pursuing is not the same as achieving) and when my devos are suitable for public view I often post them on my Feral Pastor Facebook page.  A recent post there that touched on the experience of brokenness, and how "cheering people up" is often not the best approach, seemed to get more attention that most.  Maybe that's just because simply naming the reality of brokenness has a powerful resonance with a lot of people.  Whatever the reason, I thought I'd also post that reflection here in case it was a blessing to others.