Slow Down.

slowdown

Over the past couple of months, through various circumstances, the Holy Spirit has revealed to me that I make decisions too quickly.

That’s right – too quickly.

I know some of you envy that. Yet often what we perceive as a strength is actually a weakness (and vice-versa). I have always been able to make quick decisions (even really big decisions). I think God has used this at times to help me grow in my faith and lead a local church. Nevertheless, I am beginning to recognize that my tendency to make quick decisions often flows out of an impatience with waiting on God.

As I have been intentionally trying to slow down, I came across an excellent book at a Last Stop CD Shop in Sioux Falls. It is called “Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus” by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison. I HIGHLY recommend this book!

Virtually every leadership book I have read calls on the “leader” to make decisions quickly & efficiently. Unfortunately this desire for speed has poisoned the church. I used to think that one of the major weaknesses of the church is the church’s slowness to adapt to change. Although this can be a weakness depending on one’s context – I think the opposite is actually true for many churches (especially church plants). We make major decisions & changes far too quickly – relying on the wisdom of the “lead pastor” or “leadership team” – leaving the congregation in the dark.

In Slow Church, the authors challenge us to make a radical change in our churches: “We need to cultivate rich practices of discernment, where decisions are made not by a single person or a small group of leaders locked up in a boardroom, but by the community as a whole (Page 119).” 

What does this look like practically? I’m not entirely sure. Honestly, I am becoming much more comfortable with not having the answer. We are currently in a season of transition at Renovation Church as our worship leader is stepping down to pursue a different ministry. We have also had some key leaders leave or move on to other congregations. In the past, I would anxiously be trying to figure out a master plan to keep everything moving and trying to drum up momentum.

Not anymore.

In Psalm 46:10, God calls all of us to, “Be still and know that I am God.” The Hebrew phrase translated as “be still” literally means to “stop fighting.” Quit fighting for the right answer, the perfect plan, or the entrepreneurial vision.

Be still.
Become comfortable in the uncertainties.
Learn to love the tension of not knowing the next step.

This is only possible if we actually believe God is sovereign and good. This is only possible if we really believe Jesus is the Good Shepherd of His Church.

Maybe you are going through a season of transition right now… Maybe you are trying to form visionary plans according to your own wisdom… Just maybe the Spirit of God led you to this blog post to invite you on a journey of slowing down.

Quit fighting. Be still. Know God. 

Four Characteristics of True Worship

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This past Sunday I had the honor of preaching through John 12:12-19 – what is commonly referred to as “Palm Sunday.” In this passage we see four characteristics of true worship: Christ-centered, Scripture-saturated, Spirit-empowered, and Witness-creating.

I really enjoyed preaching this message and I pray it challenges you in your faith!

(If you are reading this in your e-mail you will have to go to the actual page to watch the message)

 

The Problem with “Me and Jesus”

Here’s a quick devotional from my message this past Sunday. In the video below I talk about the importance of community in our sanctification. I hope it encourages you in your faith and challenges you to commit to the local church in a deeper way!

(If you are reading this in your e-mail you will have to go to the actual page to see the video)

Chasing Birds

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One of the activities I thoroughly enjoy doing with my daughter Ava is visiting local parks. Since Thursdays are my day off, we spent much of our morning at McHardy Park in Brandon, SD. McHardy Park is a beautiful area with a large grassy expanse. As I was sitting on a bench and watching Ava toss dirt onto her toy truck, she suddenly squealed in delight and took off running.

She was chasing a bird.

Ava was absolutely determined to catch and pet one of the birds in the park. I do not think she realized that her squealing wasn’t helping her cause; nevertheless, once one flew away she would set her sight on a different bird and charge with sheer determination.

As you can imagine, Ava wasn’t able to catch a bird. She eventually got frustrated and then commanded me to catch them for her… which also didn’t work.

This picture reminded me of the way many pastors & church leaders view “success” in ministry (myself included). We set benchmarks for ourselves and become convinced that if we reach a certain number in attendance, giving, discipleship, or leadership development then we will be satisfied. We follow Ava’s lead and charge with sheer determination, only to have both our goals and frustrations increase.

We need to receive afresh the words of the Apostle Paul – especially since he wrote these from prison:

Philippians 4:11-13
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. 
12 I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me. 

The key to contentment is being satisfied with all that Christ is for us. We proclaim from our pulpits that Christ is sufficient but our strategic meetings and longings for “success” directly contradict our confession.

If you reach all the goals you have set for yourself – will you be content because of Christ? If the attendance and giving in your church decrease significantly – will you despair or rejoice because Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever?

I foolishly chase the metrics of success – believing that contentment will come when I am seen as a “successful” pastor. I am taking all of next week off as a “stay-cation” – seeking to be more fully present to my family & God. My primary goal for next week is to taste and see once again how good, glorious, beautiful, and soul-satisfying God is. The key to longevity in ministry is understanding that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

Friends, get off of the performance treadmill. Plead with the Holy Spirit to enable you to treasure Christ above all things. Together let’s seek to rediscover the key to contentment – knowing and being known by Christ Jesus.

Abandoned by God

We all go through seasons where God seems distant – almost as if He has abandoned us. In John 11:1-37, we are introduced to three of Jesus’ closest friends: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Lazarus is on the verge of death so Mary & Martha send a message to Jesus to come heal his friend. On hearing this message, Jesus intentionally stays away and allows Lazarus to die.

He could have prevented it… but he didn’t.

How do we respond when it seems that God is not listening to our prayers? What do we do when the person we have been praying for actually gets worse rather than better?

These are the questions I wrestled with in the message today at Renovation Church. You can watch the message below (P.S. – We have upgraded the sound quality of our Facebook live stream – it is 1,000% better… and not I’m not exaggerating!) If you are reading this in your e-mail you will have to go the actual page to see the video.

Forged in Fire: Suffering & Christianity

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I’m not a big fan of television. I don’t have moral reasons against it, I just find it horribly boring most of the time. There are two shows that I will watch when they are on: The Walking Dead (of course) and Forged in Fire.

Forged in Fire is a contest show that awards money to the person who has forged the strongest blade. Many people view bladesmiths as an ancient career of the past but these men & women are beyond impressive with their craft! The finalists are given the task of re-creating a famous weapon from history. Each of them returns to their workshops, labors over the intricate details of their blades, and then returns to the show to have the blade tested.

Each person’s blade appears beautiful and well-crafted. The blades are tested through a series of stress tests. Each test is intense and has the power to shatter the blade and expose the blades imperfections. Every blade looks beautiful until it is under the scrutiny of pressure.

Might I suggest this is a perfect illustration of the Christian faith?

Peter, one of the leaders in the early church, describes the Christian faith this way:
You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7) 

Suffering, trials, and conflict reveal the true condition of our faith. If we are not deeply rooted in the Scriptures, committed to authentic community, and living by the power of the Holy Spirit we will not be able to endure these “stress tests.”


Are you going through a trial right now? What are you learning from God as a result? Let me know by leaving a comment, I’d love to hear from you! 

To the People of My Church – Dave Greenlee

greenlee, dave

This past Sunday at Renovation Chuch, Dave Greenlee shared his testimony as part of the service. He graciously sent me the manuscript and gave me permission to share it on my blog – it is below!


To the People of My Church
Renovation Church – Garretson, SD
Dave Greenlee
Sunday, July 8th

People my age have a term for my testimony today. It is called “lay witness”. Lay as in layman, as in I’m not an expert and certainly not a Bible scholar; and witness because it a story about my own personal experiences.

I especially want to point out some special times in my life when I have experienced God’s grace in helping me make a decision or to get me through a difficult time. God’s grace is something that I haven’t earned and am not worthy to receive. Nonetheless, I am convinced that these times are real and they are special. Often, I observe them in my rear-view mirror.  If I recognize God’s hand when a special time happens, it makes me want to do a better job of “listening”. As I describe these special times I’m going to raise my hand as we sometimes do to praise God in our music. What I am saying is “this is not just lucky. This is from God”.

For example, I was born in the US, where we can be Christians without being persecuted. This is lucky, but I don’t think it is God’s intent for only some of us to be exposed to Christianity. I was raised by two wonderful parents who took me to church from an early age. It was First Baptist Church of Sioux Falls.  In those days, First Baptist was a group of people who were shepherded by Dr. Roger Fredrickson, my friend and pastor. <raise hand> The people of First Baptist started the Firehouse Ministry, Glory House and Sunrise Manufacturing, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for SD. Books have been written about these people and their times. I accepted Christ as my Savior and was baptized when I was 11 years old. For as long as I can remember, I have known that there was a God, and that Christ came to die for our sins. Sunday school was OK, but I especially benefited from the Scouting program at First Baptist. We went camping at Lewis and Clark, Newton Hills, and Lake Shetek. When I was 15, I got to go on a wilderness canoe trip in the Boundary Waters through the Sommers Canoe Base, near Ely, MN. God in nature was all around me, and this was huge in my life.

The next summer later, I got a job at the Canoe Base. I worked on the “base staff”, and also received swamper training so that when I turned 18, I could join the “trail staff” as a Wilderness Guide. Scouts came from all over the country, and we took them out on 10-day trips. Over a summer we might take out 5-6 groups. It was hard work but exhilarating, as we paddled hundreds of miles on the lakes, and portaged all our gear between the lakes. There are no roads, no boats, no airplanes, no buildings, no electricity, no cell phone coverage. <raise hand>

In 1969, three of my guide buddies and I took a couple Scout crews out and then left on a trip of our own – the trip of a lifetime. We drove to Winnipeg, took a float plane to Norway House, paddled the Hayes and God’s Rivers, met a few Cree Indians in small settlements like God’s River Narrows and Shamattawa. We eventually got to York Factory, an abandoned fur depot on Hudson Bay. Then we paddled around Marsh Point in the ocean waters of the Bay, and back upstream on the Nelson River for 5 days where we came to “mile 352” of the Canadian National Railroad.  In the middle of the night, we flagged the train returning from Churchill, and took it back down to Winnipeg. The trip took us over a month. I felt a strong sense of God in my life, but I was also pretty full of myself.

Back in college at the University of Redlands, I worked on my degree in Environmental Science, and protested the Viet Nam war. At least part of me thought God was guiding me. I applied for a draft deferment as a Conscientious Objector, and Dr. Fredrickson wrote me a letter of support. In those days, Quakers were generally respected as pacifists, but Baptists, not so much. One of the elders from First Baptist sent me a quote, “War will exist until that distant day when the Conscientious Objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the Warrior does today.”  John F. Kennedy

I was worried about the draft, and my number was 40, so I was going to be called as soon as I graduated and lost my 2S deferment. At my college was a Physics professor named Dr. Albert Baez. His daughter was and is Joan Baez, a folk singer involved in Viet Nam protests, and who married David Harris, and activist who was in jail as a draft resistor, that is, for refusing to be drafted. Looking back, I guess because I knew that since Dr. Baez was a real person in my life, maybe Joan Baez would be a real person who would let me ask her for some advice. So, I drove to the Los Altos hills, found a commune and worked for a couple hours with some people who were digging a cistern. When I asked about Ms. Baez, a guy told me she was often around but not today. He gave me directions to her home. When I got there, I walked through a gate and found her out in the yard on a blanket with her son Gabriel. She was kind enough to talk with me about my concerns. She told me going to jail was not a good solution for anyone. As it turns out, I didn’t have to make a difficult decision for jail, Canada, or the military.  I got the 1-O (conscientious objector) deferment and before I could perform “alternative service” the draft and the war ended. <raise hand>

That same year, I got married to a girl I met in college (University of Redlands), and started an internship with Jack Dangermond and his Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). I worked there four years, and along the way, graduated with a BA in Environmental Science. I picked up skills in making maps and geographic databases with the computers of the day. When my oldest son Tad was just 6 months old, we decided to leave California and get back to the Midwest. I had no job prospects – just a very strong feeling that the Midwest would be a better place for my family and the confidence that everything would work out. I went to job interviews where I showed people my maps and they gave me a blank look – ahead of my time? It all seems pretty naïve and very risky in retrospect. After a couple weeks staying with my parents in Iowa, the importance of a job became clear. I set up an interview at the EROS Data Center, where I met Dr. Fred Waltz. Fred looked at my high-tech maps and told me “the people here don’t know it yet, but they need the skills you have.” He offered me a job as a “machine operator” that started at $6.05 / hour. <raise hand> The machine turned out to be a million-dollar image processing computer in Dr. Waltz’ Data Analysis Lab. I got to work with Geologists, Foresters, Soil Scientists, Hydrologists, Land Planners, and Atmospheric Physicists – we learned how to study the earth using newly developed tools for Satellite Remote Sensing and Digital Image Processing. It was an exciting time.

Over the years, I went to church once in a while, mostly to give my kids an example of how good people live and what good people do. There were a few “special times”, often during our canoe trips to Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. If God was talking to me, I wasn’t being a very good listener. A recurring theme in my life was that when I felt God’s presence in my life, I would say “OK, Thanks. I’ll take it from there” as if I don’t need God to help me. That is, until I do…

My wife and I separated, and were divorced when the kids were 10, 13, and 16. It was not my finest hour, and my kids were disappointed in me to say the least. On the plus side, my ex-wife and I did a good job focusing on the needs of the kids, and that helped us all to get through a difficult time. After the boys graduated from high school and had gone to college, and Meghan was finishing high school and living with her Mom, I married the love of my life, Sue.  This time I got it right. Sue is smarter than me and has a wry sense of humor. She can more than match my dominating personality. She has filled our life with Arabian horses, Afghan Hounds, free range chickens, and a big garden. Our kids, her two and my three, are grown up and flourishing. We are truly blessed. Now in our mid-sixties, we have dumped our day jobs to grow cold-hardy grapes and make award winning wine.  We built a winery up on the hill, and I even got to help my son Chet as he laid tile, painted, and trimmed out the building.

About 5 years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night. On the night-stand was a flyer that had come in the mail. It was from the Rescue Church and it said there would be an organizational meeting to discuss a new church in Garretson. Talk about a wakeup call. I remember thinking, and maybe saying out loud “OK, I get it. I’m supposed to do this.”  We met in the back of Annie’s (now Omar’s) and the rest is history. <raise hand>

In 2016, Pastor Tyler baptized me in a stock tank across the street at the Legion. These days, I often find myself saying “we are blessed” (e.g. by the view from our winery, by the rain we just got, by our health, by our sons and daughters, by our grandkids…). When someone asks me how I’m doing, I usually say “better than I deserve”. This time I think I got it right.

Dear Lord,

Help us to listen for those special times, and to respond to them by submitting to your plan for us. Help us to do your work, even if is outside our comfort zone.

In Jesus name,

Amen