Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lost In Suburbia



More later about some insights from Sentralized and my hotel room retreat. But for now, a little bit of insight into the drama that resides in the mind of Clint Walker...

Someday, I will have a normal trip. You know, a trip where no mechanical work needs to be done, where nothing is left behind, where I do not lose anything, and am able to simply relax. My trip to Dallas this week, however, was not one of them.

The first day of my trip started out rather smoothly. I made good time while I was driving. I got a Muppets t-shirt at the Loveland Casual Male Big and Tall. I might have even made it a little early....until I ran into a traffic jam about 10 miles north of the tollway.

The tollway, once I got to it, freaked me out. You see, I am a little old school. I am used to a tollway that has toll booths. This one did not. You just drive through and they find your licence plate and bill you. I began to wonder as I drove if there was a sinister plot, or if I was just way behind in my experience of toll roads. 
So, I then arrive at the airport parking. And instead of getting a paper ticket to leave in my car the unmanned gate takes my credit card and then tells me to use the same card on the way out when I leave. Apparently it will figure out when I get back.

Running behind because of the traffic jam, and set off kilter with the whole tollway/parking advances in technology I hustle to get through ticketing and get through the gate. I don't get my carry on bags tagged, and I make my way through security, down to the train, and through the airway to A-28. I talk to the people at the gate about getting a refund on part of my tickets, because I paid double for extra space, and that can be refunded if the flight is not full. I set my stuff down. Somehow, at some point, I left one of the bags I was supposed to bring with me. That bag was my CPAP machine.

It is not until I get off the plane in Dallas that I realize my CPAP is not with me. So, despite my frantic maneuverings all week, I have to sleep without assistance. This is a difficult challenge for me. I have lost a lot of weight since I first got diagnosed with my machine. It was my ten year anniversary with my CPAP machine, and I have rarely slept without it. 

Being without a CPAP creates two problems. First, I don't sleep as well, which makes me less alert, more anxious, and less able to learn at a learning event. Second, I have an emotional and psychological attachment to my machine. I am convinced that any day without it I am taking my life into my own hands, and could die in my sleep. I get jittery and anxious thinking about sleeping without my CPAP machine. For five days I will have to do without it.

I rented a car from E-Z rental for 5 days, and pay as much in taxes as I did for the car. I learned that I loved the Toyota Camry. 

Once I got to hotel, the attendant's first words was, "come talk to us in the morning, and we can get you a new room tomorrow." 

"Why?", I asked.

"Most folks don't like to be in the room next to the front desk and vending machines," he said.

So I went and opened the door.to the room. My nose was assaulted with this odor that smelled a little like urine or cleaner, or both. The room was falling apart. Here are a few of the pictures:





While driving home from a meal, I got lost in yet another tech center/industrial park. These places are so creepy. They are big corporate buildings that are ghost towns at night. I am convinced that these places are full of creepy people hiding in bushes, and the evil spirits of the business elite middle management. At any moment there is going to be some guy with a fetish for overweight pastors jump out from behind somewhere and attack my car so he can have his way with me. Gladly I find my way home.

On my way home from Dallas to Denver, our arrival is delayed for nearly two hours as we circle around in the sky seeking to avoid the thunderstorm that is sitting over the city. A baby vomits two rows up, and a gal behind me is having a nervous breakdown because of the turbulence. We eventually get to the ground.

My bags arrive just fine. Thank God!

I go to the airport lost and found. They told me they had found my CPAP machine. As I get to the booth, the lady says she has given away the machine to someone else, and she has his machine. She will mail it to me overnight tomorrow and I will get it Wednesday. GREAT.

So I go and get my car. I get out on the road. And, while answering my phone I miss my turn. So, I get off at the next exit to turn around. Only...I cannot turn around. And, I need gas. So I wander and wander and wander, seeking a gas station and a way back to the freeway. All I find is miles and miles and miles of 300,000-500,0000 in suburban hell. I am lost in suburbs. I hate the suburbs. I keep driving and driving and driving. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I tell myself I am going to run out of gas in the middle of suburban hell where there are only rich, white people who drive hybrids and talk about how smart Glenn Beck is. "NOOOO. Lord, help me," I pray, "I don't want to die out here in the wretched evil suburbs driving and driving and never finding a gas station.

I finally find a shopping center. I am somewhere out in north Broomfield, directly south of Littleton. How did that happen? I fill up the car and watch suburbans and German sedans go by, with an occasional pick up truck. A nice gentleman gets me directions to the freeway.

I drove the rest of way home in a driving rainstorm. Winds were at least 40 m.p.h. and there is standing water on the road. I listened to a book called The President's Club. I got home at 2.am. Got to sleep at 3 a.m., and got up at 7 a.m. with the girls. Eventually I was able to get the back up CPAP to work. Praise God. 

I wonder what is in store for me next week

Monday, September 29, 2014

Quick Hits from Efrem Smith's presentation at Sentralized 2014



THE TALK

Efrem Smith is another speaker that I am familiar with from the speaking circuit of my days as a youth pastor and his days on the Youth Specialties circuit. He had always been beloved. And has had a highly notable ministry career.

Smith shared from Revelation 7, and spoke of the multitudes that made it through the Great Tribulation. It was a fascinating talk.

He talked about how "Jesus did not come to earth in the package of the privileged."

Then he shared about how missional living must be grounded in a faith that suffering is redemptive, and that God calls us to be standing with those who are disenfranchised, hurt,and suffering in order to be a part of God's work of redemption.

He said that when we need to "join those in tribulation in order to experience the kingdom of God'

Another popular quote from that talk "A people who are detached from their heritage is an idolatrous people"

TAKE HOME

Suffering with those forgotten and suffering in our backyard, and not just across the world, is central to what it means to be a part of a missional church.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Quick Hits from Mark Sayers presentation at Sentralized 2014




Mark Sayers is a deep thinker, especially when it comes to thinking about culture and where culture is going.

He had a lot to say, but what he really wanted to talk about was the beautiful apocolypse.

What he argues is that we are now in the age of the image. In this age, there is a death of inwardness. In the age of social networking, selfies, and the desire to document and share everything in our lives, we spend less time "becoming" selves and more time creating an image of ourselves that we want others to see and that we want to believe.

He described travelling to New York and watching a whole bunch of people taking pictures with their phones, and nobody living in the moment or connecting with one another. He also shared about the movie "Her" where people had ceased to be connected with one another, but had been completely been drawn into a virtual world of connecting through social networks and other messaging services, but never connecting meaningfully by truly sharing lives and being present with each other. He sees this as a death of society, an apocolypse that is neither some progress to utopia or some Mad Max view of the future. We are just lost in a cult of self.

He shared how more and more a cult of the body, and a worship of the body is also becoming a part of the age of the image and the worship of self.

This increasingly virtual world, Sayers argues, destroys the foundation that the church and Christian mission have been built upon. There is no social framework to connect to and build upon.

He shares that church folks will have to create and do church in different ways, but on the same foundation of the creeds and faith of the past. Churches may need to create the structure for people to connect and to get outside of themselves in order to reach them.


Dan Kimball's Talk at Sentralized 2014


THE TALK

Dan Kimball has been on the speakers circuit for a long time. I have been listening to his presentations in youth ministry and reading his stuff on pastoral ministry and outreach for at least 13 years. One of his most recent connections is as a friend of the Sentralized Conference and the Forge Tribe.

He really challenged those who were listening to do two things.

1. Know our story and why it matters
2. Have a passion for bringing other people to faith, and not get caught up in all of the other "missional stuff" at the expense of evangelism

Kimball argued that many Christians simply don't know their story. He quoted Bill Maher:



What was interesting was how he described how non-Christians and those questioning or hostile to the faith pick out different things in the story to understand the story through.

He says that Christians are familiar with and passionate about the nice and comfortable verses, while non-believers are more tied to the more difficult creepy passages, and interpret the narrative of Christ through the lens of Leviticus or some of the more violent texts of the Old Testament.

He also shared how a post-Christian society hears the ancient truths differently, quoting a participant in his church that asked, "Is Jesus a zombie?"

To show how hearing certain exerpts of a story to create a different whole can be done, he used another narrative to show how a story can be deconstructed by selecting different parts of the story to guide one's understanding of the whole.



Kathy Escobar's talk at Sentralized 2014



TALK SUMMARY

Kathy Escobar is the co-pastor of a missional community in the Denver Metro Area. She does a lot of work in bringing about mutuality, equality and justice for people who are often marginalized. She said she seeks to lead a community where "everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable".

She had a lot to say about partnering with people and seeking mutuality with persons in our ministry with them.

To demonstrate the truths of which she speaks of she used three prepositions, and then spoke of how they lead us to different directions in ministry with folks.

Ministry TO people--doing ministry to people is PATERNAL and creates oppression.

Ministry FOR people--doing ministry for people is MATERNAL and creates codependence

Ministry WITH people--is incarnational and creates transformation

She then talked about how people--both in the church and outside of the church need "corrective experiences" that change their trajectory and their view of their life and the world.

TAKE HOME

The to, for, with stuff. She shared a lot more on how all of this works its way out, but that is not in my notes!

Sentralized Talk #3--Geoff and Sherry Maddock



TALK SUMMARY
Geoff and Sherry Maddock have immersed themselves into urban Lexington, KY. Taking cues from Wendell Berry, they have sought to redeem the land and make friends there. Heavily involved in community activism and intentional Christian living, they have a unique story. Much of their presentation was telling their story.

I got a couple of good quotes from their presentation.

"Our greatest sins are nurtured when we worship the wrong things"

"The church is not to be the object of its own affection."

"The neighbors among us wait to be treated as neighbors"--Brueggemann

Check out their website HERE

I wish I had more notes on this topic. Although urban gardening is not my thing, their story was rather interesting.

TAKE HOME

The centrality of being a good neighbor in ministry and church life


Michael Frost's First Presentation of Two--Talk #2 of the Conference.

TALK SUMMARY

Again I did not have good notes on this specific talk.

My favorite quote, "Jesus didn't just die for you, you gorgeous little snowflake,"

He talked about how we try and make missional living and ministry more complicated that it has to be. It is not complicated, although it can be difficult and costly.

Frost shared about an outreach to people in his community. In this outreach, he and the other churches were asked to help the community curb violence in the party district of his community in Austrailia. What he discovered, which he borrowed from a church in England, was to have people in the plaza where all of the problems are with "Street Preacher" t-shirts that were simply there to do three things: Listen, Help, and Care. They found that a lot of problems were nipped in the bud. Also, their most effective ministers in this regard were 60-70 year old women (cause nobody wants to hurt nana in the middle of a bar fight).

He then went on to talk about the church as a body, and some body science. What he reminded his listeners of was that each cell has the entire DNA code of the body as a whole in its little cell. And, when someone looks at a starfish, when a person cuts off a leg a whole new starfish can be regenerated in the same way. In a similar fashion, Frost shared, each believer has the DNA of the body of Christ in them, and through the power of the spirit is equipped to do more than they think they can if they will simply yield themselves, be available, and realize that the gospel is about serving God and neighbor.

TAKE HOME

Missional church leadership is less about a program than it is about an attitude, or an orientation to exist for the other instead of ourselves.

Missional church leadership is not so much about programs but about getting our people in the stream of the Spirit's moving into the world.


Mark Labberton at Sentralized 14--Talk #1



TALK SUMMARY
I had heard a little about Mark Labberton, but had never heard him or met him. He was a thoughtful speaker with some good insights to share.

Early on in the talk he shared the story of Max DuPree and his little granddaughter Zoey. It is also a part of THIS INTERVIEW. In the talk he shares about how Max, who was at a loss on how to help his premature grandchild, was instructed by the nurses to stroke and talk to the baby. In other words, the baby needed voice and touch. He went on to go through Matthew 8, immediately following the Sermon on the Mount, and showed how Jesus offers voice and touch to bring healing. This was a great story, and even more than that a profound insight. It instructs us that people need voice and touch even today.

He also shared an article from the County of Los Angeles, who commissioned a study of what made foster parents successful. At the top of the list of common characteristics were people of faith that seemed "called to this" and were honest, loving, and passionate about what they were doing. Again, the gospel becomes powerful and meaningful through a witness of voice and touch.

TAKE HOME 
First of all, there are a couple of great stories to integrate into my teaching and messages.
Second, this value of voice and touch helps me think about and set priorities.
Third, it further challenges me to think even more deeply about whether we are a family are called to foster care.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sentralized Conference: An Overview


Sentralized's Avatar

This weekend I attended the Sentralized Conference in Irving, Texas. It just finished today, and I am going to need some time to work through some of my thoughts on mission, ministry, and translating a lot of what I learned to my context of ministry.

I looked at this weekend as a pilgrimage of sorts. Did I want to find some help to lead my church toward understanding themselves as people who are sent by God to the world? Yes. But I also wanted to be moved, challenged, and revitalized for ministry as I move into the future.

I have to say, I am still a little overwhelmed. The conference was heavy on plenary speakers, and they came at us pretty quickly. Very few of them had clear outlines, or even hooks to tie in what they were saying to. That is not to say they were not good, the speakers were in fact excellent. But there is little about the Sentralized culture that says, "Hey, here are 6 easy steps to changing your church from attractional to missional." Nor should there really be, since that kind of thing does not really work anyway.

The next few days I am going to work at bringing things together, and gathering my notes into some organized whole.

I have also left this conference renewed and inspired. I am leaving Sentralized challenged to make some hard choices, and setting some new priorities. I am a little frustrated with myself for not staying with some of the priorities that I have set in ministry in the past. There are a number of factors that have played into this, but if the church is going to go where it needs to go and if I am going to be the leader I need to be I am going to make some decisions that are going to make people unhappy. So be it.



As I am here, I also began to think about what my passions are. Where do they lie? What am I most excited about. For better or worse, my passion is my family. I have a lot of other things to do and a lot of other people and things I love, but my little family is what I live for. Even if some people would consider devotion to family a "pernicious idol", I think my family is both my first mission field and central to how I need to do missional outreach in my community (through involving my family as key participants in welcoming and loving others in the name of Christ).

Socially, it was hard being here by myself. I am especially sensitive about not fitting in and feeling like I don't belong naturally. This conference was small. Many of the people attending were from Texas and drove in. I stayed at the cheap motel offsite. (They were all offsite). I did not have any relational connections with folks that came. I was unable to find a way to get a hold of someone to find a roommate for the weekend. So, it seemed like people were less willing to make personal and relational connections with me, and that many of them had them previously. It would be like someone who was not of my denomination coming to the ABC of the Dakotas gathering last week. I am not a part of the story that a lot of the folks here shared. Nor do I share their context of life and ministry. Many of them are in urban or suburban contexts. I didn't find many if any seeking to do missional ministry in a small town or rural setting.

More later.....

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review of Framing Faith by Matt Knisley




Framing Faith
Matt Knisley
ISBN 978-0-8499-2187-2
W an imprint of Thomas Nelson
Reviewed by Clint Walker

When I met my wife she would go out for little personal retreats and take pictures. You could tell it was a deeply meaningful experience for her. I figured it was simply a time when she could slow down, be in the moment, and clear the distractions from her mind and heart. And, I am sure it did offer that kind of respite.

In his new book Framing Faith, Mat Knisley takes us deeper into the spiritual lessons that photography can teach us. As an accomplished, professional photographer Knisley uses the metaphor of photography to speak about the spiritual journey. In the process, he also describes at times how the process of taking a picture can be a illumining and spiritual experience. Particularly helpful was Knisley's description of the pace of taking pictures and telling stories, and how both require us to slow down, be reflective, find what speaks to us, and find meaning.

I plan on putting this book on my wife's bookshelf, and letter her read it. And then if she actually does open the book (she might not working full-time and raising a toddler and a pre-schooler), I will be eager to hear how it speaks to her heart.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review of Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley



Fields of God
by Andy Stanley
ISBN 0-8423-8540-1
Tyndale
Reviewed by Clint Walker

One of the highlights of my ministry this year is the development of our stewardship team. Each member of the team has been working their way through a book, and then sharing some of their insights with the rest of the team.

I know Andy Stanley to be a great communicator. I have read several of his books on leadership and vision. Nevertheless, as I read through Fields of Gold I was impressed by the book. Stanley makes a clear case for giving to one's church, as well as being generous as a principle.

In Fields of Gold, Stanley puts a strong emphasis on sowing and reaping, but he does not do this in a creepy, televangelist-like way. He tells the story of a farmer in the middle of the dust bowl who is considering whether to put seed in the ground. Fear that he will lose everything grips him. What will he do?

From that point Stanley launches into a case for being generous with what the Lord has given us. He addresses many of the fears that govern our lives when it comes to money. He also gives helpful step by step instructions in coming up with a giving plan and living our lives with generosity.

For a pastor like me, there are several sermon illustrations in this book, as well as few outlines for teaching on stewardship in a message or a Sunday School class.

I urge anyone who is interested in understanding or communicating about the importance of stewardship and generosity to pick up this fine book.


Monday, September 08, 2014

Book Review of Revangelical by Lance Ford

Revangelical: Becoming the Good News People We're Meant to Be
by Lance Ford
ISBN 978-1-4143-9015-4
Tyndale Momentum
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The contemporary evangelical movement has a unique history and place in American culture and in Christian circles globally. Evangelicalism was born as a middle way between the classically liberal theology of the early 20th century and grass-roots theological movement that responded to it called fundamentalism.

Today evangelicalism is some sort of an identity crisis. At times, the movement has seemed to be captive to political parties, and economic interests. Some folks that should be more accurately labeled as fundamentalist have tried to narrow the understanding of what they thing an evangelical should be-This is especially true in regard to issues such as the creation-evolution debate and women in leadership. At the same time, there are a number of folks that have evangelical sensibilities that have more progressive views on theology and ethics than what is traditionally acceptable in that movement.

Stepping into all of this is Lance Ford, an evangelical Christian who has concerns about the evangelical movement. Ford has less concerns with the hot button issues that the evangelical movement often discusses. Instead, Ford's concerns are more with the heart of evangelicalism. Ford puts it this way, "for many evangelicals, the gospel has been shriveled and shrunken to the point that we have made the great Good News small" (p. 18). His solution is to re-evangelize the evangelical church so that it can be "evangelized all over again by the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven--the gospel that Jesus preached and practiced" (p. 14).

From this point on, Ford really runs a diagnostic study on evangelicalism. Getting under the hood of evangelicalism, Revangelical examines the movement from a number angles. The book urges evangelicals to rediscover their faith as good news for themselves and the world. It both challenges evangelicals to let go of some unhealthy attitudes and habits, and to recommit to having some healthy values that the movement has lost in recent decades. Ford does a wonderful job of making his case with passion and clarity.

I have been in conversation with Lance about his book briefly. I am sympathetic with much of what he has to say. I too grew up in fundamental and evangelical circles. I have great affinity for the movement's commitment to the authority of Scripture and the emphasis on essential value of having personal ownership of one's faith. Unlike Lance and other evangelical leaders, I don't see the need to cling to and salvage the label "evangelical". And, although I would think the term evangelical would be an accurate description of my faith commitments, I have no emotional or personal need to connect to or salvage the "evangelical" movement. I have my work cut out for me in simply seeking to be a Christ-follower.

Having said that, I think this book will be helpful for folks that are committed to being Bible-believing Christians, and yet feel there is something amiss with American Christianity. These folks will sense in Lance that there are others that feel they way they do, and they will in turn be inspired to be a different voice in evangelical circles. A voice that offers something positive and life-changing instead of simply angry and critical. A voice that offers life change instead of political agendas. Those kinds of voices are always welcome, in my opinion.