Wednesday, October 04, 2006

James: Full-Contact Faith

Our Thursday night small group is delving into the depths of the Letter from James. I have always enjoyed this little letter. And this time through is no exception.

First James dealt with our desires in his discussion of tempation. Our physical desires lead us away from God if satisfied outside his boundaries.

Then he pokes us in the eyes, or their perspective, when dealing with favoritism. We often judge by appearance rather than reality. The men attending the meeting (synagogue) had the external trappings of poverty and riches, yet the only way to know if someone is rich or poor is to check bank accounts.

This week he touches the tongue. You know the "little flame from hell?!?!?" I certainly am to0 "quick to speak" and too "slow to listen." This condition is just the opposite of someone whose religion has worth.

I think I'll name my notes from this experience with James "Full-Contact Faith" since it keeps punching different parts of me. I feel like I'm on the bad end of a Three Stooges routine.

And maybe that was James' point. For spiritually motivated people, we sure are very physically motivated. God keeps calling us to live by the Spirit and according to the spirit not the flesh, to walk by faith and not by sight. Thanks James for slapping me back to reality.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What's In a Name?

Ol' Willie Shakespeare asked this question through Romeo as he approached Juliet at the balcony. Romeo was musing that calling something by another name does not necessarily change the essence of the thing renamed. He was, you'll remember, struggling with the fact that his love had the WRONG last name--that of his family's rival family in the struggle to control a city.

Well, the sense of struggle, self-doubt and reevaluation are no less intense for this pastor as he contemplates the renaming of the church at 614 Florida Street. As two congregations have merged, it has become clear that continuing either former church's name will bring an unintended dampening of the excitement for the whole process. Yet, what will our new identity be?

Many cultures have a tradition of not naming babies until they have been observed for a while and their character becomes clear. Then a name befitting the behavior is attached. While this was the philosophy first adopted by our leadership team, it has become clear you cannot adequitely promote an organization without an identity.

So a label must be attached.

I love the name Touchstone. It reflects the connection to Jesus our cornerstone (Touching the Stone.) Touchstones are used by jewelers to identify the amount of gold in a metalic object. When we come into contact with Jesus, we see ourselves in a true light. This name projects the DNA of a Christ-centered, truth-telling community of faith.

I love the name Hope. For people struggling to survive, this is a perfect name for a community of faith. We offer hope. To be without Jesus is to be "without God and without hope in this world."

But a new label must be attached.

This label will in some measure predict the nature of this new church. All labels do. Naming in the Bible is often a prophetic act, setting the course of destiny for people and groups. Many people were renamed by God in the Bible at a point of life change. (i.e. You were Abram, now you are Abraham; You were Jacob, now you are Israel.)

What's in a name? A lot more than starry-eyed Romeo could have imagined.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

89 Days til Christmas

No, I'm not some advertiser trying to create anxiety so you'll go out and buy something for a gift -- BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE!!!!!!!!

As a pastor, I always start feeling Christmas in late September and early October. This is the time God moves on my heart leading my thoughts and preparation toward this key season in the church year. Christmas comes to me now so I can lead the flock there later.

In addition to this emotional/intellectual Christmas joy, this year I received an early present -- 90 days early. Yesterday, my little E started laughing, belly laughing for no apparent reason. I must tell you there are few sounds that reach my ears as wonderful and purely joyous as that. He kept on laughing...

It was infectious. I laughed too. And joy of Christmas came...90 days early.


I had the honor of sharing a homecoming Sunday at my father-in-law's church this past weekend. The people were welcoming, the food excellent and the music toe-tapping. I had a great time.

Which honestly strikes me a little odd. I am an unconventional pastor leading an unconventional community of faith. See... we don't even use the term "church." I have devoted the past 6 years of my life and service to creating an environment that reaches/connects to those traditional church has not connedted with. We are casual, acoustic, and try to use current tools to help share the message of God's love, power and leadership (a.k.a. grace.)

The idea of homecoming would on the surface seem antithetical to the conscious and constant choice to be other than the usual and traditional. However, as God lead my study and reflection in preparation of this event, I came back to one of those written-in-ink beliefs of mine. (These beliefs have, through trial and error, reflection and experience, become more permanently etched in my soul.) I believe the pomo move of the present is doomed to fail if it does not start in the tradition and history of our particular blend of the Christian experience. We can not have a clear and attainable vision of the future of Christianity (beliefs and behaviors) until we understand where we have come from.

I feel more energized to continue what so many see as progressive and iconoclastic because I see a clear flowing of principles that begin in the New Testament era and continued throughout our particular Wesleyan Blend. I see traditionalists flowing from the Pharisees through to today with a greater concern over the practices of the past and not the principles that propelled the practices.

So I thoroughly enjoyed my homecoming weekend and reviewing the history of one congregation's attempt at spreading the Good News. I rejoice in the principles of lay and women ministries, personal and corporate sacrifice, willingness to adapt and even physically move to meet the needs around, and the proclamation of the truth that God not only looks at us differently through grace BUT actually changes us into the imago Christi through his grace.

Having seen where I have come from helps me see where I am going.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


What a great name for a show, from a pastor's perspective. I mean really. We use the terminology to mean man's existential separation from the God who created us, our willful choice to deny the basic reality of life -- God is God and we are not.

I must admit I am a devoted watcher of this show. Along with L. I have watched the 1st and most of the 2nd season on DVD with plenty of rewinding and reviewing.

I think the show is a great allegory for life. We are all struggling with the closeness of our mortality and our vain efforts to ignore this truth. We are all trying to decide who we can trust and who to form relationships with. While not always consciously, we all wonder if life is determined or random.

Five Years...

9 - 11

2006, not 2001. That day I moved from naive security to knowing insecurity. I couldn't even think about the next day, let alone what life would be like in five years. Today I can picture the future, I am planning again. I can hardly picture the past before that watershed day.

Has it really been 5 years? So much has drifted back to "normal." Except when you fly and can't take hair jell or a cup of coffee.

I suspect we would all like to forget. I'm sure it's the caring thing to do not to show video of the destruction and desperation so as not to reopen the wounds of those who lost loved ones. But I know we need to remember.

In order to progress we need to know where we want to go AND also where we have been.

I wept 9-11-06 as I thought of the knowledge of danger my E will always have. I had so hoped after the fall of the Berlin wall and USSR that my children would not live with the palpable fear I knew as a child waiting for the nukes to hit Charleston, WV. But life is full of danger and there are things to fear. Sorry E. we haven't left you a better world.

Why I Love Weddings

As a pastor I have the solemn, sacred privilege to share key moments in people's lives. Baby dedications, baptisms, conversions, funerals, burials and weddings. These benchmarks measure segments of a person's life, a families life. What an honor to be there.

September 2 I shared in the marriage covenant celebration for two great folks. The bride I have known for some time through my friendship with her father Rod, who now rests with God in heaven. The groom I had never met until a day before the ceremony.

As I enjoyed the rehearsal dinner, meeting him and his family and getting reaquainted with the bride and her family, I had a moment of genuine joy. I am often struck at the joining of two wonderful people and the merging of two great families. It was a feeling that all weddings should have this feeling of welcome.

I love weddings because reciting the vows for brides and grooms to repeat allows me to renew my vows with Lisa taken 12+ years ago. I actually use our covenant ceremony and only adapt it as much as the new man and woman need. I always pray that what the current couple share will be as rich and life altering as our ceremony was. I also pray that our covenant will continue to flourish.

Thank God for the privilege to share in the joining of lives, families and hearts!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Fresh "Look" at the Aaronic Blessing

"May the LORD bless you and keep you,
May the LORD make his face shine upon you,
May the LORD look upon you and give you peace."

E. awoke at 2 am, again. Lisa and I had discussed our dilemna and formulated a family plan. The newly-developing pattern of waking 2 - 4 am and sleeping on Poppa's chest on the couch had steam-rolled into sleeping between Momma and Poppa in our bed. This was a BIG no-no.

Our plan was to let E. stay in his bed, even if it meant some crying (both from E. and us.) But it was 2 am, again. E. was awake and screaming, again. So...I went to his room, laid him down, spoke a few words of reassurance and patted his little head.

He kept screaming and crying.

While keeping vigil in the rocker across the room, I noticed (out of the corner of my eyes) how E. kept looking intently at me. I avoided eye contact, though, by looking down at the floor. This seemed to infuriate and frustrate him. He could see I was present in the room; but, he wanted "face time." Seeing me there wasn't as comforting as seeing me seeing him.He needed intimacy, not presence.

Suddenly, I was the one staring intently through the darkness, my eyes tearfully searching for my Father's face. God was present there. He is everywhere, always present and I'm usually aware of it. But my heart longs for "face time," intimacy.

Then the words I prayerfully recite over E. each night as I lay him in bed took new, deeper meaning. I more fully understood why God instructed Aaron to bless his people this way.

Lord, look upon me. Make your face shine upon me. Then I will experience peace.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Minor League Home Run

Yesterday I hit a homerun.

Well that's the current jargin we pastors/teachers use to describe a really great teaching: content and delivery both excellent. We "De-Coded the DaVinci Code" and spend only a few minutes MythBusting(that's our teaching series title for May 2006.) Most of the high impact moment was a discussion of the canon and why the Gospel of Philip or Thomas or Judas are not included in our Bibles.

I wanted Touchstone Community to know that the church has known about these "gospels" from the beginning and are not trying to supress a secret. It is no secret that the Christian community knows of them. We rejected them as not "measuring up" to the standard of Scripture. I grew up in a community of faith which either didn't know these things or else didn't deem it important enough to teach (Sunday sermons, Sunday School or Bible Study.)

It wasn't overly technical and most commented later that they were glad we had such a firm foundation to our beliefs (as opposed to the fragile, fanciful framework Dan Brown manufactured for his "Fact: page.") I felt used of God to correct a problem that existed in the church of my childhood. I could literally feel the teaching hit the "sweet spot" on delivery!

However, there were less than 30 in the stands. Very minor league ballpark. A bit run down.

Honestly, it gets hard to step up to the plate game to game and swing for the bleachers in this setting. Like all minor leaguers, my day job takes so much time, energy and focus away from my passion--the game.

Then I think of the "great cloud of witnesses."

Like Kevin Costner's middle-aged, minor league home run leader, I may never play in the House that Ruth Built. I may never speak His word to hundreds or thousands. But I am playing for the love of the game, making the most of this opportunity and it still feels great to knock it out of the park.

Monday, May 01, 2006


My eye-sight is 20/400 uncorrected.

Line up four football fields end to end. Place a bill-board on the goal line of the first field which someone with normal vision can read from the end of the last field. I would have to stand on the twenty-yard line of the first field to see it. In other words I literally can't see past the end of my nose without my glasses.

Nearsightedness is dangerous.

Objects are not seen clearly until mere inches from my face. This is why I couldn't ride a bike until third grade when I got glasses. Things literally HIT me before I can see them. (My younger brothers had fun with this for a while.)

My focus is 20/400 or worse and uncorrected.

So my relationships, time money management and spiritual formation blur and fade. I frequently choose the immediate over the important. I focus on things as obstacles instead of opportunities. I mostly re-act rather than act. This, too, is dangerous with only moments to avert disasters that could have been avoided with a little far-sightedness.

Circumstances up close get the energy and attention. Long-term goals, plans and dreams are so unclear they disappear. The eternal gives way to the temporal.

Near-sightedness can be corrected.

Thank God for the times of re-vision He shared with me through Touchstone Community this week. A leader stepped up for our ladies small group citing I needed to be free to pursue other areas of the community's life. I don't have to do everything. A leader is emerging for the Worship Team and again, God is saying, "You can't do everything. Others won't try if you always step in the gaps."

During Sunday Celebration! I heard Him saying to me through me (Aside: It's quite an experience to hear the vox dei speaking through your own mouth...but don't we believe that God speaks through the preaching of the word for our people? Why else stand and share every week. Anyways...), I heard Him saying, "Fall in love with me again. Make knowing me your passion, your pursuit." Through the lens of worship (the Word and sacraments attended by a community with prayer and praise) my inner near-sightedness found correction. Like David before me, coming into the community to worship corrected my focus on nearby inequities and lifted my eyes to God!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Mercy [for] Me

My last blog ended with a personal prayer to follow where ever Jesus leads.

I thought I might follow it up with some passages from Wesley's Covenant Service that always renew my resolve to follow "where ever." Phrases listing the possible outcomes of total surrender in opposite parallels always come to mind. Following is not a "I'll love you forever unless..." kind of deal. It's "I will follow PERIOD"

I almost always recall poinient passages from a Kempis The Imitation of Christ lamenting the many who love Jesus' comforts but FEW who love his cross. Any reflection here is always inspiring and spurs me on to follow where ever trusting He is leading.

But instead of words, however powerful and well-crafted, God renewed my pressed heart today with music -- specifically Mercy Me's "Forever and a Day." I was listening to their CD in my half-hour, Time-Alone-With-God commute to my day job. There was God's word to me.

"Where you lead me, I'll follow. Where you lead me, I'll give my life away. Where you lead me, I'll follow forever and a day."

Also they sing about being caught up "In the Middle" of God's Spirit and what He is doing.

Both of these served as way stations for my weary follower's heart.

Thank you God! You gave Mercy [for] Me!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pressed But NOT Crushed...

Paul was a church planting pastor. He pioneered the work of God in many communities. His words "pressed but not crushed..." certainly come from these experiences.

I feel hard pressed but am claiming the not crushed part of his quote. Very hard pressed...

After an awesome experience of God's intimate grace and real renewal among the participants of the Lord's Prayer Pathway on Thursday night, I was greatly let down by the low attendance of our Easter Sunday Gathering. It is hard at times not to focus on head counting and attendance when it is off your expectations. The service was encouraging and uplifting other than lower than expected attendance.

Saturday of this week, I received a call that our worship center had been broken into again. This makes 2 break ins and 2 outside thefts (a gas and an electric meter.) This time the intruders took all the sound equipment left from the first robbery. We had to scramble Saturday to clean up, and prepare for an unamplified and unmixed worship time. The loss is around $1500 which we cannot replace any time soon.

I understand, experiencially,what it is to be pressed but not crushed. Some of the assignments in the kingdom are more challenging than others. I also understand why Peter, when hearing Jesus say that he would be crucified one day, turned toward John and asked, "what about him!?!?" So I must also hear Jesus' words of correction for this pressed and crushed attitude, "If I want him to live forever, what is that to you. You follow me."

Lord, help me to follow you where you lead me, whereever you lead me. I'd be lost on my own.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Lord's Prayer (Pater Noster) Pathway

Thursday evening...the meal is over...quietly they follow Jesus out the door and through the valley...up to the silent garden...he prays...

Most Maundy Thursdays have been for me a time to reenact the Last Supper of Jesus and his followers and the initiation on the Meal of Grace (Communion, Eucharist, Lord's Supper.) This is an especially meaningful time to feast at the table of the Lord with his people. Recalling his suffering and ending the gathering in silence as we take down the cross from its place in the worship center, strip it of all decoration, and wrap it in a black shroud and leave the place of suffering and death in the dark.

This year however, Lisa and I felt inspired to focus on what transpired after the Last Supper. There was a very powerful and profound experience to be found following Jesus into the Garden of Prayer. Lisa found a point of inspiration in the experience of David Drury with a Prayer Labyrinth. We simplified the process, and changed some parts of the event to suit our community of faith.

We created a prayer experience in which participants literally walked through the Path laid out in the Lord's Prayer. Each section of the prayer had a stop on this Prayer Pathway for reflection and active, hands-on participation. Participants travelled the Path in a small group from stop to stop. At the end of a time at each stop, the entire gathering recited the Lord's Prayer and then groups moved to the next stop on the Path.

Lisa did a super job creating sacred space for these 5 stops, with intimate candle lighting and appropriate art and activities at separate table/stations. We acted out the first Stop "Lord, teach us to pray..." and the last Stop, "For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." in a center section of seats. For more details for each stop, its activity and emphasis contact me at

We were greatly encouraged by participants from four different area churches. We especially are thankful for the commitments and comments of participants. Many found deep and significant renewal and refreshing during the evening.

I would encourage any community of faith to create such a quiet, reflective Prayer Pathway through which participants can reconnnect with the intimate grace of our Lord!

Lisa and I hope to improve and expand the Lord's Prayer Pathway next year.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Passover Me...

Tonight at sundown Passover begins. During this night, thousands will remember how God delivered them from slavery. They will recall the Lamb's blood that signified to the Death Angel that believers were inside. Only this kept death away.

Tonight, I will remember another Lamb. His blood marks my life. I am not seperated from God because of Him--only because of Him.

Tonight, I remember the darkness and fear.

Tonight, I will again live fully dressed and ready to move.

Tonight, I will determine to live as a free man not a slave.

That's how I'll be Passover Me...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Caught in a Current

As a boy I would swim in Blue Creek which ran just 75 yards from my front door. This tributary of the Elk River (aq tributary of the Kanawha, a tributary of the Ohio) was for the most part shallow and swift. Swimming down stream was not a challenge. Returning to the swimming hole after drifting down stream was. I know what it's like to be caught in a current.

As I look at the dates of my postings here, I see that I am caught in a current. This current is not of water, like those in Blue Creek. It is a current of time. And it runs as swiftly and as shallowly as the ol' Blue ever did.

I go 3 days then 30 days then 2 months between times of quiet reflection (or any reflection for that matter.) Swift and shallow, that's my life. Being a husband, dad, pastor, math teacher, master's student, home owner, brother, and son require quick strokes and rapid motion to keep a balance.

But sitting here frustrated and saddened by the fast pace and shallow depth of my living, I have just caught a glimpse of Odie's Swimmin' Hole. Even on the shallow and swift Blue Creek there are deep, slow places where the water is cool and deep green and the floor is sandy not rocky. Whether dammed up by someone or hollowed out by God himself, swift streams have slow places.

God, lead me beside still waters and restore my soul...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Messy Floors

As a way to support myself, my wife and child, I teach at an area middle school. Often I post from Room 303 during my lunch. Just like today...

I just looked up to see bits of paper, pencil shavings, and some abandoned projects scattered all over the floor. After two of my three classes, this room is a disaster. I wish the kids were neater. I urge them to be neater. They seldom are.

But this messy floor is hard evidence that the learning process has been plodding along in this room. Learning is messy. Even school or "book-learnin'." The more involved the learning project, the greater likelihood of a mess.

So, too, with spiritual formation. It is a messy process. Finding wholeness and holiness is messy business. There are falls, spills, scrapes, debris, mess.

I could have clean floors in Math 303, but little learning. We can have neat, tidy communities of faith, too, if no real spiritual formation is taking place. May I always be blessed with messy floors. The eternity of my brothers, sisters and me are worth all this mess.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Finding Your Story in THE Story

By request, here is an audio version of Touchstone Community's Teaching Time from Sunday, January 15, 2006 entitled, "Finding Your Story in THE Story." (Click on title to hear)

Synopsis: My life, my story, is part of THE story God is telling in the Bible.

The stories of practically all cultures follow a distinct pattern that I refer to as "The Story WAVE." First there is exposition or introductory material that lasts only a brief portion of the whole story. It just "gets you into" the story by introducing characters, time and place setting and the conflict. Then the majority of the story gives us the rising action in which characters seek to resolve the conflict through a series of complications or obstacles. This action reaches the climax or resolution when the problem is solved and the conflict ends. The anti-climax simply ties up a few loose strings in a brief way. Even TV shows and movies (which are really visual stories) follow this WAVE. All stories follow this pattern...

...except the story that is the Bible.

Instead of a WAVE the Bible story follows a Boomerang pattern. I first realized this distinct and unique pattern under the ministry of Kevin Myers. His copyrighted "Bible Boomerang" teaching points this out brilliantly. Using that idea of a story that moves away from a beginning, turns 180 degrees and returns to the start, we see the Bible story. Now the Bible story has parallel beginning and ending and building a people sections and a dramatic turning point. We discover his directing history from "God and man united in peace and love" to "man ruining it all" through "God building a people to bring Jesus to us" to the "birth, death and resurrection of Jesus" which turns the corner back to "Jesus building a people to bring us to God" and finally "God and man united in peace and love." Our life right here and now are part of God's story.

Read-Thru-The-Bible Challenge

2006 has been designated "The Year of the Bible" by our community of faith. We are challenging everyone who attends Touchstone Community to take up the challenge to read through the entire Bible, beginning with their first encounter with us.

So many people are skeptical of the Bible and the claims it makes about itself and the claims Christ-followers make about it (these are not always the same, you know.) Many think of it as a mythology, a book of "begats" and written about times too distant to connect relevantly to our current situation in life. Many refer to quotes that parents or more likely grandparents have made from the Bible like "Spare the rod, spoil the child," which are not from the Bible (it's from Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac.)

My through the Bible for yourself and examine it for yourself. I dare you!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

FUBU Christianity

I teach public school in the inner-city. Many of my students were FUBU apparell. I have come to learn that FUBU is an acronym For Us, By Us. The five original creaters of this now multi-million dollar corporation were African-Americans from Queens, NYC. They were upset that someone outside the inner-city was producing and profitting from the sale of urban clothing. So they started making cloths For Us, By Us-- the inner-city consumer.

FUBU has been accused of exclusivity. Some take the For Us, By Us to be a racial statement. Some feel only urban kids should wear this urban gear. But this negative speculation is just that--speculation.

But the phrase For Us, By Us certainly provokes some thought. Especially to a pastor like me who dreams and works and prays for a community of faith that reaches those "church-as-usual" has not reached. I am constantly concerned that our gatherings, outreaches, events, bridge-building efforts are for those still outside the community of faith. I believe that the church, Community of Faith (COF,) exists for those not yet a part of it. So I much of Christianity in America is FUBU -- For Us, By Us?

Do we seek to be served with styles we enjoy, buildings that make us comfortable, a level of holiness that reaches just to our level of living?

How are we reflecting Jesus who expressly declared he came not to be served (consumer mentality) but to serve (servanthood?)

Dear Jesus, the Father's Suffering Servant, grant that I may never see my community of faith as FUBU. May we every day and in every way live for Them, the unreached, and like Paul do everything I can to connect to them and through this connection connect them to you. May my life and my community be FOBY -- For Others, By You. Amen.