Archive for category Theology

My Next Horizon

So, I realize I have never actually announced this to the general public, but in case you haven’t heard:

I have accepted a call to be the next head Pastor of Washington New Church in Mitchellville, MD.

For those of you unfamiliar with that church, it is in the area of Bowie, Maryland, in Prince George’s County. It’s about half an hour east of Washington, DC and around forty-five minutes south of Baltimore, MD (well, on a good day, anyway). They have one worship service on Sundays, operate a school, and have been meeting continuously in their current location since 1965, with roots in the Washington DC area that go back to 1846.

I am very excited to be taking on this new role, but I will also miss the many friends I’ve come to know in my three years serving Glenview New Church here in Chicagoland. When I had to close New Way Church in Austin, TX, I finished my ministry there worn down a bit and needing to rebuild my mental and emotional reserves. Church planting is an intense crucible for the soul, to say the least; I loved pastoring in Austin, and love all the people I met there, but trying to build a church from the ground up and maintain it took absolutely everything I had. So pulling back a little bit from that level of responsibility and coming to Glenview to be an Associate Pastor in a larger, well-established congregation was the right move for myself, and for my family. And the people of Glenview have been amazingly loving and welcoming to me and my family. I will be forever grateful.

And now I’ve recharged, and I’ve learned a ton from serving this group, and it’s about time to step back into a primary leadership role. I have served as an assistant in three congregations that ran schools, and I have been the lead pastor of a church I planted myself, but this will be my first time stepping into the lead role in an established, “school society”, church. Anyone who knows me really well knows that I live to learn. I am an expert beginner and an avid explorer of new experiences and competencies. So this is going to be a great adventure.

The plan at this point:

Michael Gladish, the current Pastor there, officially retires on June 30th, and I become the new Pastor on July 1st. In mid-June moving trucks will pull up to the house my family is curremntly renting and haul everything off, probably some time between June 17th and June 20th. Then I, my wife, and my kids will drive to Maryland, to our new home. I will then fly back to Illinois to preach my final sermon for Glenview on June 23rd, and then drive our second car back to Maryland by myself. Before all that, though, we need somewhere to move TO, right? Well, on May 10th I will be flying out to close on a house Gillian and I are purchasing, and to coordinate with contractors on some work we want to get done there before we move in.

In the mean time, I am using as much of my personal time as I can scrape together to go on a crash-course deep-dive to prep for my new role. I’m pouring through budgets, pastor’s reports, strategic plans, bylaws, and other such documents from the last many years of WNC’s history. I’m also rereading a couple of books on pastoral management that I think will be relevant to my new situation, and trying to plow through a stack of about three to six new books on leadership as well. And finally, I am doing a reading survey of teachings in the Word that are relevant to the purpose, function, health, and leadership of churches. That may sound like a lot of work, but actually it’s what I think of as fun. Yeah, I may be a bit broken, but at least it’s in a potentially useful way, right?

One final thing: I am looking at this as an all-in, long-term, heart-and-soul move for me. When I came to Glenview, I had no idea how long or short my stay was here, and could really make no commitment beyond a couple of years. Likewise, when I served in Pittsburgh and in Bryn Athyn, I knew I was signing up for a likely short stay. But this move is different: churches need senior pastors that aren’t looking around for something “better”, and deserve leadership that is all-in. And there are a lot of studies that show lead pastors tend to become most effective in their roles after seven or more years with a group. My aim is to stay with this group as long as I am useful, so long as they will have me. How long is that? I have no idea. I’m not thinking in those terms. Basically, I’m not leaving until either I’ve lead them to a place where they need a different style of leadership, or until I annoy the heck out of them and they ask me to go. The former could easily take a decade; the latter…well, that’s for them to decide I guess. 🙂

So it will be goodbye Polishes, hot dogs dragged through the garden, and Italian beefs, and hello (again) Wawa, and who knows what else. I’m not certain, yet, how good the barbecue scene is in Maryland, but I intend to improve it when I get there. And when the Flyers play the Caps, I’ll be there.

So that’s my news.

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5th Grade Thanksgiving

If it is from God, it is good.
If it is good, it is from God.

This is a video of thanksgiving to the Lord God Jesus Christ for everything loved by the 5th grade at Bryn Athyn Church School, November 20, 2009:

This was presented to the whole school after chapel on the Friday before Thanksgiving.


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Tell Everyone, “Taste and See!”

Fig Tree

Please help me. This Sunday (11/15/2009), at the Society Building (600 Tomlinson Rd, Bryn Athyn, PA 19009) between 12 and 3 p.m., you have the opportunity to participate in an important experiment.

I believe that doing good deeds—“benefactions”—while not the highest form of charity, is nevertheless necessary for the introduction of new people to the Lord’s church. The Lord’s disciples wanted to know when He would come again, and in response He said, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:29-31) This is explained in the doctrines: “When a new Church is being created by the Lord, the good of the natural shows itself first of all, that is, good in external form together with the affection belonging to it and with truths.” (AC 4231) “Good of the natural” is not just the natural good we are born into, but rather is that good we do because of spiritual principles. So as the church is created (as a community, or within an individual) a vital step is doing of good on the natural plane, from a spiritual principle—doing good, not just to “be nice”, but as an act of worship of the Lord and love to the neighbor.

I believe that we cannot evangelize merely by sharing truths. Truth must be wed to good, like oxygen to blood, and so to be heart and lungs to the larger world around us, we must offer not just doctrine, but opportunities to bring doctrine to life. More than once the Lord described the growth of His kingdom using parables about inviting people to a feast, and eating represents making good a part of your life. So it is my theory that the world will be much more receptive of the Lord’s new revelation if it is presented hand-in-hand with opportunities to serve the neighbor. We must not only share the truths of the church with people, but invite them into the life of the church right from the start. Is it a coincidence that the emerging generations of young people in our increasingly “vastating” world say they believe in God but reject churches because they don’t seem to do any good?

Our doctrines say loving the neighbor is serving the good in others. When asked “who is the neighbor”, the Lord didn’t say the person left in the ditch was the neighbor, but the good Samaratan who stopped to help. This Sunday, we have a chance to support a group of Good Samaratans in a natural, powerful way. In developing nations in Africa and elsewhere, people are dying of AIDS. In many of their villages and towns, there are local caregivers who help relieve their pain, help prevent infection, assist with household needs including childcare, etc. Many of them are children themselves. World Vision supports these good Samaratans by providing them with kits of basic supplies that are cheap in this country but dear in theirs.

This Sunday, as an experiment in outreach, as a good deed of charity, as an act of worship, the Bryn Athyn Church and Charity in Action are inviting you to invite everyone you know to help us assemble 1,000 of these kits for World Vision. It takes only a few minutes to assemble a kit, plus maybe one more minute at the end for you to add a personal note of encouragement to your caregiver’s kit. I did this myself a year ago, and can report that the Lord does indeed reward good behavior with delight.

So tell everyone. I hope to see you there.

[This is also appearing as this week’s “Pastor’s Box” in the Bryn Athyn Post. For additional information, see my previous post about this event.]

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Two Hearts

Angel and Devil on Homer's ShoulderMost of the time, we’re unaware of having two wills, because our good and evil selves often agree on what to do, each for its own reasons.

This is not directly taught in the Word (as far as I know), but it’s a logical inference from other teachings. For instance, True Christian Religion 596 (among other places in the doctrines) describes spiritual temptation as combat between our two wills:

…[A] struggle ensues between the internal and the external man, and the victor then controls the other.

The reason why a struggle then ensues is that the internal man is reformed by means of truths, which enable him to see what is evil and false; and these truths are still in his external or natural man. First, therefore, there is dissension between the new will, which is above, and the old will, which is below. Since it is dissension between wills, it is between the pleasures of either, for it is well known that the flesh opposes the spirit, and the spirit the flesh, and the flesh with its lusts must be tamed, before the spirit can act and the person can become a new man. Following this dissension of the wills, a struggle, known as spiritual temptation, takes place.

And New Jerusalem 193 (among other places) says that these days few people experience much spiritual temptation at all:

Since to-day faith is rare because of the absence of charity, the church being at its end, few people nowadays experience any degree of spiritual temptation. As a result it is hardly known what spiritual temptations are and what purpose they serve.

So putting the two together, it seems that many people very rarely experience a conflict between their higher and lower selves. No conflict must mean agreement. And this is actually a good thing, I think. Imagine if every minute decision of every day of your life caused spiritual warfare to break out in your mind! There would be little break at all from spiritual suffering. So here’s an example: this morning I got in my car and drove to the pastor’s office. Why? Well, I think my selfish will (kickin’ it old-school, I might even say my “proprium”!) figured my reputation and wealth might take a hit if I just stopped showing up for work. Besides, my evil will likes it when people think I’m doing a good job. At the same time, I believe, the new will that the Lord is growing within me, based off of my conscience, wanted to drive to work this morning because it loves serving the Lord and other people as a pastor and preacher. It was excited to get to work on things like my proposal for Austin and the next Living Courageously sermon. Now, if the two wills disagreed, then I would have to have duked it out inside myself. Some mornings, that does, indeed, happen, when my evil self decides it can blow off work because it’d rather play video games and eat stromboli all day. But today, I happily got up, got dressed, and drove off to the office without a tinge of internal struggle. This week’s task for people doing the “Living Courageously” program is to regularly ask “Why did I do that?” This is in observance of the fact that the Lord mercifully works with us through these mixed motives of ours. E.g., see Secrets of Heaven 4063:

When people are being spiritually remade (“regenerated”) the Lord keeps them in an intermediate kind of good, a good which serves to introduce genuine goods and truths. But once those [genuine] goods and truths have been introduced, the intermediate good is separated from them. The spiritually reborn person has an affection for spiritual and heavenly matters since these give one feelings of delight and blessedness, whereas the affections of the person who is not spiritually reborn are for worldly and earthly things, and these things give him feelings of delight and pleasure.

…Since therefore our states of life have to be changed so drastically we are inevitably kept for a long time in an intermediate kind of good which partakes both of worldly affections and of heavenly ones. And unless we are maintained in that intermediate good we will no way let heavenly goods and truths enter us.

By the way, if you haven’t, yet, you should check out the Living Courageously program.

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