Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pastors Meetings/Pigeon Forge

Every year in mid-January, our pastors convene for our winter meeting in Pigeon Forge. This is one of my favorite appointments in my yearly calendar as it affords an opportunity for some personal time with pastors and spouses and the content of the meetings focuses on issues that are very relevant and important in ministry. This year's theme was devoted to the pastor's spiritual life. Topics presented by our pastors included journaling, personal prayer, Bible study and devotions, and an interesting presentation by Pastor Jan McKenzie on the topic of 'spiritual formation' which in my view, was summarized in this way: if we get past the terms that concern some, as well as some practices that are not in keeping with sound Biblical theology, there is much to commend attention to the practices of prayer and biblical meditation. While never using the term 'spiritual formation' which is possibly a phrase she was not familiar with, Ellen White frequently wrote of thoughtful reflection including this oft-quoted statement: "It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones." DA pg 83. Sanctified imagination engaging the presence of God and His word. Good counsel from God's servant!

At the pastor's meetings, I was given the opportunity to present a topic of interest to me personally, and that is personal spiritual retreats, an experience that has a solid foundation exampled in the life of Christ who often withdrew to a solitary place for prayer and communion with His Father. Quiet settings in nature are great for such an experience.

The pictures above are of an afternoon walk that a few of us made to the falls just above Sugarlands Visitor Center. There was a heavy mist/light rain for much of the walk but the fellowship was enjoyable, the exercise appreciated, and the Smokies seem to have a wonderful beauty regardless of season or weather conditions.

Following this meeting I winged my way to Florida for the North American Division Prayer Conference and was blessed to be in the setting of church members and those who serve in prayer ministries who have an obvious passionate interest in seeing prayer as more than a small part of our religious experience and practice, but the life-blood - the heart beat - of our faith. There are some great books on prayer and if you're near Nashville, stop in at our Nourish Christian Book store next to the Conference Office and take a look at some of the resources for deepening your personal prayer life.

Peace and Grace in Him,

Friday, January 6, 2012

Day 3 in Denver

The two pictures are of a beautiful sunset, Thursday night, just to the west of Littleton, CO, and of the main academic/classroom building at Denver Seminary. I'm discovering that while the Apple I-phone camera is great for close-ups, it has no zoom feature, so, I do not stand behind the quality of my photography (notice how I blamed the equipment?).

Thursday's class was quite extraordinary in a couple of areas, one being the intentional discussion and dialog between the professor and the class on the 'Sabbath.' Much of evangelical Christianity is discovering the blessing of, what they term, "a" Sabbath, and this was the focus of the class discussion. At one point, the teacher, knowing something about Adventists, asked me what role the Sabbath has in our faith. I replied that it is a central focus in our theology and practice and that I was pleased to observe that evangelical Christianity is discovering the blessings of Sabbath. I reflected further on what this blessing has meant to those who historically have observed it. I would of course, differ greatly on the topic of choosing "a" Sabbath - which is the professor's viewpoint - as opposed to the Biblical reality, which is "the" Sabbath, but I did not argue that point before the class. Perhaps another opportunity will arise to dialog further, now that there seems to be wide agreement that Sabbath is important, even necessary. This seems to be a positive dynamic and I'm seeing it often in evangelical print and discussion, but it includes a risk, and one that we are very familiar with. This agreement will lead, according to "Great Controversy," to the election, enforced by civil law, of "a day" of rest - "a" Sabbath - and this controversy will hinge on this point of "which day can be, should be, 'the' Sabbath. Identifying a specific day, and one that might be enforced by law, seems ludicrous to evangelical Christians; however, the discussion presently, which is "a" Sabbath, and may seem far removed from arguing "the" Sabbath, yet the leap from "a" to "the" is not a very big move.

The 1st day of class the professor asked three of us, who sit together, and asked us only, what single thing defines our denomination. The individual to my right, is a former Conservative Baptist, who has moved toward a more moderate church tradition. The individual to my left, is a Pentecostal pastor who I have developed a friendship with over the past two years as we've been in class together several times. My pentecostal friend replied that his church is defined by missiology/missions. The person to my right said his church was defined by 'grace' and that's what attracted him to it after leaving a rigid environment. When I was asked, I replied that while my church practices "grace," it is "fidelity to Scripture" which defines it best. There may be other answers to that question, but I like the one I gave . . I am aligned with my church by life and practice, because IT is aligned the closest to Scripture of any denomination I am aware of. In my church, grace is operative, and truth matters . . it's a good combination.

Am in my final day of class and today's discussion is much about living 'in community.' This presentation/discussion is about friendship and the obligation we have to each other to build one another up, and to engage with the need to understand, practice, and grow in receiving authentic love, as well as giving it. John 13:34 is the text which defined the discussion.

While much of what I've shared in this week's class seems diverse and disconnected, it is very much about being healthy, growing leaders. Being a good leader, covers a lot of ground!

Sabbath peace!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The picture above was likely the best of a handful I took on Wednesday at Denver Seminary. The view is looking west, from the back of the Denver Seminary campus, which is a small campus, but I learned yesterday, has around 1100 students in it's graduate programs. I took a couple of pictures of the campus but they didn't turn out particularly well. I enjoy the snow glistening off the front range to the west, and the dry, usually clear and sunny weather, make Denver a nice winter locale (except when they get dumped on with 14 inches of snow which happened a few weeks ago!)

Wednesday's class was, as Tuesdays, quite intense. We talked about what a biblical "calling" really means. Does it change? Is it continual or, at a single point in time? Interestingly, we also talked about 'conversion' with some of the same questions. Another topic of the day was "institutionalism." Obviously, we who live and serve within the Church, are part of a large structure. Can organizations and structures limit the purpose and mission and ministry of the individual? We reviewed the life of Francis of Assisi, who, was someone I knew little of, but who lived a life of humble poverty and servitude that was quite remarkable. Another area was reflecting on one of our assigned class text books called "The Spire," which is a very strange read that is the fictional account of a minister who is consumed with ambition and unholy zeal to do what he would suggest is God's will, but is likely serving his own ego.

Lots of lessons and issues to reflect on and much of this class is designed to bring you into close and personal review of who you are. Not what you think you are, what you wish you were, what you hope others see you as, but who and what you really are.
The professor for this class is quite deep; he lectures without notes for six to seven hours at a time, interrupted only by moments of engaging the class in discussion. One of the most interesting statements he made was a brief comment"I have looked into the eyes of the President of the United States on three different occasions, and asked him about his indiscretions." Dr. MacDonald was one of Bill Clinton's counselors and spiritual guides during his presidency. Blessings in the day

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Navigating the Minefields" Day One

Ok. So, when you're driving at 65 mph, at nightfall, hanging your I-phone out the window to capture a beautiful Denver, CO sunset, this is what you get - at least from a very novice photographer such as me! If the sunrise tomorrow is, as expected, as beautiful as this morning, I'll take a couple of shots of the snow covered front range hills just outside my hotel window.

Today's first 8 hour class session was outstanding. Dr. Gordon MacDonald, author of "A Resilient Life," "Going Deep," and probably a dozen other volumes, is our instructor and he wasted no time in having us explore our personal life journeys with the goal of identifying the obstacles, testing moments, when God used circumstances to teach and shape us for the present . . . and the future. I don't think I've ever had a professor begin a class with sharing in detail, his failure points in an otherwise stellar ministry career, but in doing that, Dr. MacDonald, or "Gordon" as he prefers to be called, opened the door for the class to be authentic, real, and genuine; a necessary pre-requisite to learn truth about yourself.

As always, the make up of the class is quite interesting and the richness of backgrounds and life experiences of the students add much to the learning environment. To my knowledge, I am one of eight Adventist students at Denver, with most of us in the D. Min. program, and I believe our interaction and connection with leaders of other faith backgrounds is a positive witness for the church.

Will get a couple of better pics of the school and area tomorrow and post them with my end of day report. Blessings!

Monday, January 2, 2012

A New Year in Denver

It's January the 2nd of a new year and I'm preparing for my first day of my doctoral class which begins in the morning. This is my third January spent in Denver in pursuit of my degree, and tomorrow's class, "Navigating the Minefields of Ministry," with Dr. Gordon MacDonald, promises to be a rich and rewarding study. Gordon MacDonald is a prolific author who has contributed an enormous amount of material in the area of developing leaders who consistently reflect integrity, balance, and a life-time posture of growing in personal relationships, in their ministry, and in their walk with Jesus Christ.

My guess is Dr. MacDonald is in his 70's but he inspires and motivates men and women much younger, and a few that are his own contemporaries, with the challenge of giving your very best until at least you break the 'tape' at the finish line. I'll give a brief daily re-cap/reflection each evening of what I picked up in the class, starting tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, the weather in Denver looks good this week; at least up through week's end when I return home. Last year, my class was held at a retreat center in the mountains above Boulder, and the week was full of cold, blowing snow, and getting sick such that I had to return to Nashville early. Praying for good health this week - for you and me - and praying that your new year is starting out with reason to know God loves you!