Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Relentless Rush at #FlinchConference - Part 3 of 4

A month has passed since my time at Flinch Conference. The Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC) has moved on to other events. Focus Retreats and Committee meetings have overtaken the calendar. Time for reflection and experimentation remain fleeting. So it goes.

But I refuse to rush. I plod along, catching my breath and reviewing my notes.

Themes emerge from the various workshops and sessions I attended. For example, the importance and difficulty of partnerships in ministry. Scott Feather, pastor of Gateway Grace Community Church (PA), led an hour-long workshop on the topic. He stressed the need for clear communication among partners (including a written agreement) and win-win situations.

Adam Copenhaver, pastor of Mabton Grace Brethren Church (WA), dedicated two days to building a biblical theology for marriage. On the first day he worked through each book of the Bible and its contribution to a definition (and deviations) of marriage. The second day he entertained various case studies relating to sexual ethics within a church context. On the heels of the Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage, Copenhaver's workshop proved invaluable.

Greg Serafino, pastor of Oceola Grace (IN), and I shared the story of our leadership cohort in the Heartland District. In recent years a small group of pastors has met at various churches to provide insight and encouragement to our fellow pastors. Our friendship and commitment to and Equipping Model of ministry (see Ephesians 4:11-16) set the foundation for our cohort.

As I scanned through my notes, I realized most of them came from the workshops, not the main sessions. My personality lends itself to focused discussion better than the shotgun model of the main celebration, where we jump from song to video to game to announcement to speaker to video to speaker to speaker to song to announcement to dismissal. If my church services followed the same relentless pace, few people would depart feeling refreshed.

Fortunately for me, I had eight hours in the airport to regain my energy, review my notes, and consider the takeaways God had for me: the importance of risk (more on that next), the value of new (and old) connections, and the need for focused discussion on theology and praxis.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bedtime and Other #Flinch2015 Reflections - Part 2 of 4

Making new acquaintances is always one of the highlights of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches' (FGBC) National Conference. At Flinch this year I made several new connections. I shared a bedroom with Aaron, bus seat with Mark, pub bench with Brian, and city stroll with Thomas and Brittany.* With each individual or couple, I shared meaningful conversation about marriage, ministry, theology, hops, and following Jesus. Common bonds are not hard to find when you gather with people who share your sense of purpose.

Aaron and I had made contact via text. He was a friend of a friend who knew I had spare space in my hotel room. Aaron and I split the bill, but he took the bulk of the sleep. On the first night, just before I drifted off, I warned Aaron of my reputation for disruptive flatulence. (Who doesn't have this problem?) Aaron apologized in advance for his disruptive snoring. His claim proved truer than mine: I strained to sleep through the cacophony. Fortunately, while both of us were awake, Aaron and I enjoyed many conversations about theology, pastoral ministry to smaller churches, and partnering with others.

On Friday night Mark and I rode the bus into NYC. The "City Stroll" targeted younger leader, which apparently made room for 36-46 year old, bald men. Mark confided about his tough first year of pastoral ministry. Finding a rhythm and building relationships stretched him. Questions about calling and confidence surfaced. He had recently experienced a breakthrough, which included clarity and renewed energy. When I referred to him the book, Running on Empty, he was quick to jot down the title in his notebook. I always respect a man who travels with a pen and paper.

After disembarking from the bus, a group of seven "young adults" wandered to a pub called the Taproom. I sat across from Brian, who, at the ripe age of 21, was a legitimate "young" leader. Brian shared about his first year of marriage, unconventional Bible training, and expanding taste for IPAs. I devoured his energy while picking at a plate of chicken nachos.

Also at the table with our group was a young married couple. They drank water and ate nothing. So after we left the Taproom, their appetites flared. I accompanied Thomas and Brittany to Shake Shack, only to find it closed. Then we located a restaurant serving Philly Cheese Steaks after midnight. On our walk I learned about Thomas's sports career and call to ministry, Brittany's dysfunctional family and social work (hence the water), and the numerous people they develop in their church. I empathized with Brittany's background, knowing that sometimes the black sheep of the family is the only one that is white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).

These divine encounters and newly formed friendships underscore the strength of my Fellowship and its National Conference. It is not a clever or quirky theme (e.g., Flinch (or not); Fellowshift)  that draws us together. Biblical relationships unite us. And if they're truly biblical, we make a point to welcome in new people, as well as reconnect with old allies. Sadly, too many of us do far more of the latter than the former. Newcomers sit on the margins... waiting for next years conference... Margins.

We must remember to welcome new people to our table, bus seat, or bedroom (read the context here). For every new acquaintance has a story. But be warned: some of them snore.

*Names have been altered to protect the innocent!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Church for THEM

The religious faction gaining ground the fastest in American is the "Nones" - those who do not affiliate with any brand of belief. Many of THEM are not adverse to faith in God or antagonistic toward Christians. They simply do not see the relevance of institutionalized religion (See Pew Survey from May, 2015). Regardless of THEIR affections, the church does exist for THEM. For Jesus does not build His church simply to sustain privatized belief. He empowers His church to make God's glory public good.

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Monday, August 3, 2015

Church For WE

Love is no simple task. We cannot manufacture or mechanize love. True love finds its source in Jesus Christ. So the Apostle Paul prays for the Thessalonian church that Jesus would extend and multiply the church's love for one another and all people, just as they learned love from him, Timothy, and Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13). This serves as a model prayer for the church of WE, set on seeing its love expand, include, and reciprocate. Love, Jesus taught, must be the uncontested ethic of the church (John 13:35). Fortunately, at Leesburg Grace there is evidence that We love a lot... and a little bit more.

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blisters and other Flinch Reflections - Part 1 of 4

I had blisters on my heels and the balls of my feet. I'd traversed five miles of pavement in the Big Apple with no socks or sense of direction. I was alone on a balmy day taking a risk for Jesus.

This was the third day of the Flinch Conference for the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. Our leaders had heavily promoted the Saturday excursions (called Riskursions) to New York City. Initially, I had balked at the idea of going to the metropolis. A nap in my air conditioned hotel room sounded rejuvenating. However, because the theme of conference was risk, I boarded the Staten Island Ferry and immigrated from Newark.

The plan was travel with twenty-five other people to Bowery Mission. We agreed to lead chapel and serve food. I was slated to speak at the Mission, discussing the fear of loss and the relentless love of Jesus. But our plans fell through. The Mission double-booked, so our team dispersed. Most of our members divided into family groups or couples. I had come by myself. And after playing the third (and fifth) wheel enough in recent days (and nothing makes me feel lonelier), I ventured out alone.

Lower Manhattan became my refuge. I watched old men playing chess, protesters protesting, homeless people sleeping, cultists chanting, and tourist taking selfies. I posed for my own shot at the Empire State Building, shopped for souvenirs, and ate a Shakburger in Bryant Park.

During my hike many thoughts circled through  my mind. I considered the scale of the city and its diversity of smells, socio-economic levels, and cultural offerings. I noticed the incessant blare of horns and sirens. I pondered the graffiti and garbage in the streets. I looked for landmarks and celebrities. I lamented the blisters on my feet.

And, of course, I thought of risk and the relentless love of Jesus. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. (John 3:16). I can think of no greater risk than the story of Jesus, who came and bled and died.

My blisters are but a flesh wound. By His wounds we are healed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Church for ME

If we're honest, the "what's in it for ME?" mindset pervades the church. Does the music fit MY style? Does the preaching satisfy MY needs? Are the people like ME and will they take care of My kids?

Our culture doesn't help the Me-mentality: we sell selfie sticks and customized ads on Googles. It's all about me. Me. ME.

So if you're going to be a bit self-interested anyway, what's the best thing you can look for in a church? Truth-telling (program-selling).

Fortunately, we tell the truth at Leesburg Grace. And you'll find the best church for ME (or You or Grandma Shirley) is the kind that tells the truth and holds you to it. That's hard work. Hear about it.

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Monday, July 13, 2015

Who's Afraid of God?

It was neither exile nor the threat of loss that caused the elderly John to fall on his face as if dead (Revelation 1:17). Rather, a face-to-face encounter with the risen Jesus siezed John with terror. All other fears melt at the fear of God, whose holy justice and holy love are enough to stop our hearts or keep them beating at His word. Fortunately, God does not wield His power flippantly, but He exercises awesome, loving, and gracious authority over His church. This sermon calls us to bow before the risen Jesus, elevating our awe of Him to eradicate all lesser fears.

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon