Posted by: strugglinthru | September 22, 2011

New Things

It’s been about a month now so I think I can begin to write about this. I need to write about it. During the last week of August, the local church I worked for fired me from my staff job. I had been there for 40 months.

To suggest that it was painful would be to state the obvious. There were people who I loved and cared for. There were people who I wished would go away. I suppose the later got the better of me.

When I was “asked to resign,” they told me that it was mainly due to the fact that the ministry for youth (grades 6-12) wasn’t functioning as some thought it should. There were also complaints about how I handled some children’s ministry events. What still burns the most is that, over those 40 months, the number of face-to-face complaints I received were zero – ZERO!

No one at the church had the guts to come to me directly to work out these issues. The pastor, I guess trying to appease, allowed for triangulation to occur which shielded me from the gripers and the gripers from me. I still don’t know who complained. They are a faceless, nameless mob.

It stinks. It hurts. But I’m “strugglinthru.”

Posted by: strugglinthru | January 7, 2011

New Things!

Thanks for reading! This post will mainly cover our recent rip to New York City right at the tail-end of the Boxing Day blizzard. But first…

I’ve posted some new items in my other two blogs (Songs of a Sense and Concealed-Revealed) please take a gander at those and offer your thoughts and feedback. These are designed for interaction so have-at-it!

So…the NYC plan was to arrive on the 27th (~11:00 am) and leave on the 30 (~5 pm) all the while taking-in some touristy things including a night at Phantom and two museums. The real story, though, is the trip up.

It started to snow in SC that Sunday (Boxing Day) and we were concerned that we might not be able to even get to Charlotte the next morning. The original plan was to drive up Sunday evening, spend the night with family in Rock Hill (about 15 min south of Charlotte) and then get to the airport EARLY Monday morning for a 7 am flight to Washington, connecting to LaGuardia. Despite the wintry weather, Sunday’s plans went as we expected. We arose at 3 am Monday and drove to Charlotte. The flight to Washington was on schedule.

The pilot of our flight did warn us that the ride might get bumpy as the winds around Washington (now on the western edge of the blizzard) were turbulent. He wasn’t kidding!

As we approached the runway to Reagan, the plane began to pitch; not so much up and down but leaning left and right. I put on my “brave father/husband” face and began heavy praying. I remembered the plane that went into the Potomac many years ago and was not eager to test the float-ability of my seat cushion (yes, I do listen to the safety briefings).

Right before the runway, I remember seeing the Potomac quite closely from the window as the plane gave a final right tilt. Thank you, God for skilled pilots! We touched down square and I was never so glad to hear the roar of those engine baffles! Now the real adventure began.

The first connection was canceled and we were directed to stand in line at the USAirways counter for rebooking. As we stood there with nearly everyone else from several other flights, a nice gentleman handed out business cards with a phone number that had been set-up to assist travelers in rebooking quickly. It turns out that after talking to the nice people on the phone, you still had to wait in line for boarding passes, etc. I simply chose to stand in line.

The best they could do was give us standby spots on a 7:00 pm flight to NY. That we took and then ate and waited.  As time went on it became obvious that nothing was getting into NYC but snow. Laguardia was not going to open and the roads (especially in NJ) were impassable.

Here is my big shout-out to Amtrack! They got their tracks cleared by mid-afternoon and as soon as I discovered this (thanks to fellow stranded passengers at Reagan), I booked four seats on the 7 pm train leaving Union Station. Of course, now we had to get there.

We claimed our baggage (just in time, as it turns out, since two of our four bags were being redirected BACK to Charlotte!) and proceeded to tote everything to the Washington DC metro station to connect to the train. I should add here that we packed for someone else to haul our bags. Only one of our four bags had wheels and that one was operating on only one wheel. Besides our backpacks, each piece of luggage weighed easily 25 pounds!

Amtrack was great and Union Station was beautiful! The only nerve-wrecking point was the wait for the boards to update and notify us which track the train would be on. The five hour trip into Penn Station was a joy (disclaimer: I originally floated the idea of taking the whole trip by train. The time (~21 hours) was simply to long although the cost was comparable. It turns out that it took about 17 hours to get there anyway!).

After finally arriving at Penn Station, we had to now haul our stuff to the subway terminal and find the right train going in the right direction. This is not as easy as it might seem. For all the signage in the subways, it was not clear to us that the train we wanted (C-going uptown) did not run that late but that the E train replaced it as the local uptown. Thankfully, a helpful local gave us directions and, after four missed E trains, we got on at Penn Station and got off at 51st street.

The hotel (Hampton Inn Times Square North) was just around the corner. Now we were hauling our stuff through 3 foot snow banks and slush. 12:30 am, December 28th – we arrived! This Hampton Inn is exceptional! My unpaid advert for this property. When we return, we’ll book here.

I hope your Christmas was restful and peaceful. Although mine was not, I’ve got memories in my mind that will provide peace for quite some time!

Posted by: strugglinthru | December 15, 2010

Restart!

Well, I’ve sensed that God wants me to try this thing again. But this time, a little more focus. Besides this front page, you will notice two other pages above – Songs of a Sense and Concealed-Revealed. I encourage you to check these out and, if their foci interest you, please subscribe!

Posted by: strugglinthru | April 26, 2009

Digging into, and rooting out, our own grime.

In the book, Oswald Chambers; Abandoned to God, the author recounts a time when Chambers was beginning to deal with his own internal sinfulness. Even after being ordained to the ministry, he struggled, not with sinful actions, but with sinful capacity. Chambers remembered an unnamed minister saying, “What any man has done, any man is capable of doing.” This cut Chambers close to the heart. That it would cut us all to the heart. For, in fact, is this not the absolute truth? Let’s examine it in a positive light first, then, I pray, its negative consequences will be seen even more clearly.

Every man, if they have all of their physical capacities, can climb hills. In fact, all of us have within us the capacity to climb mountains. Only a few of us have the desire to train for this or the stamina, mental and physical, to withstand it. Even then, a rare few accomplish the greatest mountain climbing feats on earth.

Or, all of us are given rudimentary training in the medical sciences. Subjects like basic anatomy and chemistry are common in most schools. Yet, only a few pursue this as a field of vocation and even fewer still go on to be skilled surgeons or researchers. Yet, within us all is a capacity to do so. Only the will and desire is lacking. Is this not the same for our sinfulness? Two examples will suffice.

Adolf Hitler is, probably, the most offensive name to come from the twentieth century, though many have rivaled it. His intense racial and ethnic hatred fueled a period of extermination the world had never seen before. Yet, Hitler did not, himself, kill over six million people. Many, what one could call “ordinary” people, did it for him. Examine you own self. Do you not find the glow of some kind of ethnic or racial tension, distrust, or dislike. That glow is just what Hitler fanned into the furnaces of Auschwitz. It resides in all of us. All of us.

The chilling account of the serial killer and sexual predator, Ted Bundy may be even more accurate for us. Using pornography and alcohol, Bundy unwittingly fueled the fire of lust that, for most of us, is merely a glowing coal. The result of that out-of-control blaze was a path of broken families across the United States. We all have the same capacity. What any man has done, any man can do.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Romans 7:28)? Paul knew well this truth and we would be wise to pull back the grimly cloth within us and recognize it, too.  Find the glowing coals and extinguish them with the cleansing water of the Holy Spirit.

Right now, in South Carolina, there is a wildfire burning over 31 square miles of some densely populated real estate. The fire reportedly started from a yard-burn that everyone, including the county fire officials, thought was out. But, somewhere, there was a glowing coal. The sea breeze fanned it back to life and now families are displaced, homes destroyed and lives are ruined. What can we do to extinguish these coals?

Paul, again has the answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:25a)! Later, in chapter 8, verse 26, the apostle says, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” But prayer is only one avenue of attack.

Because the capacity to sin is only a latent quality, action is what is required to root it out. In the example of a wildfire, the ones who wish to prevent such blazes must actively explore and root out any source of flame. Everything must be examined. So it is in our lives. It has been said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” So it is.

Examine yourself. Go to the dark places, but not alone. This is where prayer is so necessary. Prayer strengthens us and calls on powers far beyond our own to arm us and shield us to do the dirty work of cleaning out the grime, dirt and mold of our very natures.

The Spirit stands ready to help. The throne room of the King is in need. Will you dig in?

Posted by: strugglinthru | March 6, 2009

Evangelism and John 3:16

Today was my first attempt at one-on-one evangelism. I was a bit nervous, but I think the nerves came more from curiosity (I wonder what will happen) than from fear (I hope he doesn’t ____ me). The impetus for this event was my class in evangelism; a class I was dreading. I’m so glad that I didn’t back down and drop. The Professor is a wonderful inspiration.
We’ve studied how to use one verse (John 3:16) to explain God’s plan for the salvation for the world. It is a great way to clearly articulate the Biblical plan and, even better, allows for a fair amount of discussion.
The person I shared with today was open to hearing because of some earlier conversations we’ve had. This is key!

One of the negative raps we, as Christians, get is when we’re too “pushy” about our faith. Relationships are key. We need to foster and nurture relationships OUTSIDE of our churches, where people are really hurting and in need of hearing about the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

I’m going to be sharing this technique with an adult Sunday school class this week and I’m stressing the relationship component.
Curious? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you!

Posted by: strugglinthru | February 16, 2009

The Promised Paper-Unchristian

Unchristian. A Personal View:

Evangelism is defined as spreading the message of Jesus Christ (Christianity) to those who have not heard. Before this class, I had no experience in evangelism. However, I appreciate David Kinnaman’s work and understand the importance of this volume as it pertains to the spreading of the Gospel. The following traces each chapter of the book as it might relate to my future evangelism efforts.

The picture of the contemporary Christian as hypocritical is certainly true, as it is true for nearly everyone. It is a human trait to provide a public face masking a private one. The problem is that it is easier to put on a mask rather then concentrate on inward transformation. I agree with the authors that transparency is the corrective. When working in a church setting, it is important to always keep this in mind. As a pastor, I am called to peel away the layers of hypocrisy both in my life and the lives of my church family. Although this transparency can be painful at times, it is the only way to provide outsiders with a true picture of believers striving to transform their lives in a way that honors Jesus.

In the chapter “Get Saved!” the author explores six myths about “how and why people become Christians” (p. 70). The reality checks that Kinnaman provides from his research will be very helpful in developing strategies to evangelize from both within and with-out a church setting. For example, a group of Youth Ministers in my area a designing a large, outdoor evangelism event for the fall of 2009. Kinnaman’s first two myths relate directly to this type of function. We need to be careful that we focus on relationships and mitigate any negative perceptions that the event might generate among nonbelievers.

The section dealing with how outsiders perceive the church as “anti-homosexual” was challenging. It seems that the two most important characteristics that we, as believers, need to cultivate are respect and compassion. Here, the quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer is most helpful, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in the light of what they suffer” (p. 107). Whether we agree or not about the causes of homosexuality or, indeed, any sexual sin; we can, as Christians look with compassion on the suffering such sin creates. It is in suffering that Jesus met those “who need a doctor” (Matthew 9:12) It is in that same suffering that the church must stand. As a pastor, the challenge will be to encourage church members to view everybody, members and non-members, in the same light of suffering.

Over the past few decades, the church has allowed itself to be characterized as rigid, dogmatic, and out-of-step with contemporary culture. I believe that many in the church now see this and are taking steps to rectify the situation. However, it needs to be demonstrated, from the seminaries down to the pews, that Christians are interested in engaging the culture, not to shame it or condemn it, but to change it. The time is past when Christians can hide in their sanctuaries and look out at the world in disdain. The research done by the Barna Group clearly points to the damage done by such an exclusive position. Only radical discipleship, the kind called for by John Stott (pp. 150-152), can hope to change the perceptions of outsiders. As a leader in the church, it will be my job to challenge church members to this kind of discipleship.

Over the same ensuing decades, Christianity has also become confused with conservative politics. Although many Christians do identify with conservative political views, there are many others who see their faith best reflected in the agendas of liberal politicians. Unfortunately, the end result has been strife and bickering that the outsider views as unattractive. Christians can and should be politically active. However, political position statements are not faith creeds nor are they salvational. The faithful Christian should recognize that only Jesus can ultimately save our souls. Government’s job is temporal, not eternal. As a pastor, my job will be to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ; not deliver a political stump speech.

On page 194, Kinnaman offers guidelines for the Christian who desires to take a respectful stance toward outsiders. Of these suggestions, I think that the last two, “Be genuine” and “Be my friend with no other motives” offer the most hope for me. Even in church settings I have a tendency to offer too much ‘spirituality’ when people just need conversation. This is also true of friendships. Although I don’t have any close relationships outside of my work and family, it will be important to remember that friendships are best honored when there are no ulterior motives undermining the relationship.

Ever since I can remember, evangelism meant telling complete strangers about Jesus. Although that is still a necessary component of being a disciple, it is probably not the most effective. Kinnaman has done the church a great service in articulating how outsiders perceive us and how we can best correct these perceptions of being Unchristian. For me, it seems to center around relationships.

Through relationships, outsiders can view the Christian walk firsthand. Within relationships, Christians demonstrate what it means to follow Christ. With time and patience, outsiders can experience the grace and compassion of Jesus. This experience is a far better teacher than reading a book or hearing a sermon.

Posted by: strugglinthru | February 16, 2009

Unchristian

If you’ve read the book by David Kinnaman titled Unchristian (Barna Press) then you might be interested in this paper I’ve prepared for a course in evangelism. It was supposed to answer the question, “How will this book change the way you do evangelism?”

Unfortunately, I’ve never ‘done evangelism.’ As a product of the liberal mainline protestant ‘frozen chosen,’ evangelism was a ‘dirty word;’ only for those ‘crazy Bible-thumping country preachers’…
Anyway…following this post will be the paper. I hope you enjoy it and I welcome your comments. Remember…it is personal property, so don’t use it…thanks 🙂

Posted by: strugglinthru | February 13, 2009

Hello world!

Well, I’m here!

I thought I’d use this format to help clarify my own thinking during my quest for the Masters of Divinity degree.  This will not be a political blog except when politics and theology intersect.  More later…

Questions and comments are always welcome.

In Him,

Mark

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