Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bittersweet

My bride and I visited Barbara Davis on Monday. We met her at Jasper’s restaurant in Ellsworth for a long lunch. Our conversation reminisced of days gone by, and as enjoyable as our visit was I battled melancholy and sadness throughout the entire day. Barbara is the widow of my good friend Aubrey.

Out of nowhere came the recollection of calling Butch Wheeler, our deacon chair at the time, and breaking into sobs as I told him of Aubrey’s death. Three days later I was in Maine conducting his funeral. Aubrey had pre-planned everything and had left a request that I sing, “When I Stand in the Presence of the Lord,” so I sang it a cappella. He died July 11, just over three years ago—one week before we were to visit him during our vacation.

Aubrey and I met shortly after I received a call to serve in a church plant in Ellsworth, Maine—twenty-seven years ago. I was painting the trim around the eaves of the church, and when I had reached as far as I could, I set the gallon of white paint on the top step of the stepladder, and proceeded to move it further down the roofline. Yeah, you know where this is going—the gallon of paint wobbled and fell, hitting me on the shoulder, and spilling down the entire length of my body. Just as Aubrey and his pal Neil were pulling into the parking lot!

Over the years at least part of every Shorey vacation was spent with the Davises’. Each time we arrived at their home Barbara would say to us, “Let’s make some memories!” And did we ever: We pulled lobster traps, and boiled the lobsters we caught on shore; we took long, unhurried jaunts around the beaver dam, and on to Partridge Cove; we hunted together (I shot my first deer with Aubrey); we worshiped together.

After the lunch we drove out to their home that is nestled on the rocky edge of Raccoon Cove—they call it Bittersweet. I helped Aubrey clear the house lot many years ago. As I came to the end of the driveway, Aubrey’s pickup truck was parked to my left. It looked lonely, and I wondered if it had been driven since he left us. Entering the house, I immediately went to the living room, and stood staring across the cove toward the rolling, mountainous horizon called “The sleeping giant.” Cadillac Mountain, the giant’s portly belly, beckoned memories of the many times Aubrey and I had sat in that same living room, gazing at the same vista, and talking—sometimes through an entire cycle of the tide. Today, the tide was out and all the water was gone. The cove looked like I felt—like someone had pulled its plug and drained it nearly dry. Moments came and went when I felt like all that missing salty brine was dammed up behind my eyes ready to spill out.

Barbara told us that Harry is doing fine. Harry is the bald eagle that Aubrey fed every morning. Harry once scooped up one of Barbara’s chickens, took it over to the bank, shelled it out, and ate it. Barbara was none to pleased, but she is a very forgiving soul. In spite of Harry’s transgression she still feeds him.

Around five in the afternoon, Sandy and I began a quiet journey back to our cabin on the river. After we had driven a while we revisited the different trails our conversations we had taken during the day. It seemed to ease the void left by Aubrey’s passing.

Also . . .

Bailey took his first kayak ride—slightly against his will. After a few minutes he settled in as we lazily drifted the river. Comfortable and confident he decided he would try to stand on the very small and very slippery bow of the kayak . . . splash! O yes, in two seconds he slid off and was in the water (of course he waited until we were in a stretch where the current was swift). I paddled down river below him, grabbed him by his collar, and hauled him in as he came by me.

Another idyllic, late summer day is behind us. By morning the temperature will drop to the mid-forties. The lunar light glares amid the blackened night sky. Recent and abundant rains have raised the river’s volume—its melodic tune is soothing, spiritual, and endless.

I had a little incident on my bike. I’ll tell it to you in rhyme.

I’ll Ride Again!

I jumped on my bike and was pedaling south.
When an angry hornet flew in my mouth.

In seconds my jaw was a swollen lump.
I looked like Bubba on Forest Gump.

I turned back north, now it’s all up hill,
In a desperate search for some benadryl.

Will lip and throat swell up and close?
And if it does can I breathe through my nose?

I didn’t die, so to God be the glory!
Enjoying the Adventure, signed William V. Shorey!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Which Is It?

It should not bother us that [during different epochs] the Christian faith was perceived and experienced in new and different ways. The Christian faith is intrinsically incarnational; therefore unless the church chooses to remain a foreign entity, it will always enter into the context in which it happens to find itself.
David Bosch, Transforming Mission

And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. Godly Jews from many nations were living Jerusalem at this time . . . they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. Acts 2:4-6

“It should not bother us that [during different epochs] the Christian faith was perceived and experienced in new and different ways,” says David Bosch. But let’s face it. The Holy Spirit has always enabled the Father’s own with the ability to communicate with their culture—in their environment—using their lingo. This disruption in the status quo nearly always caused a raucous, because the Spirit’s new work was interpreted as a dummying down—rather than a demonstration of God’s grace.

Speaking to my own generation, there is often a prevailing attitude that has possessed the churches we attend and even lead. Let me strip away some of the Christian speak and decode what is actually being expressed as the Spirit of God starts moving outside the box we have put Him in: God’s Spirit would never adjust His modes of communication to reach a world that no longer uses King James language; God could not possibly be drawing a people to Himself who are unwilling to pour multiplied millions of dollars into ornate sanctuaries; surely God has no interest in those who consider it a complete waste of money (and even a show of vanity) to spend hundreds of dollars on a single ensemble of “church” clothes; and how dare anyone suggest that our way doing things no longer connects with our culture and is having zero impact on their world.

Now we will go directly to the Scriptures and see that this is nothing new. Give close consideration to Luke’s record of the events of Pentecost, and you will see that the Holy Spirit began to manifest Himself in a new way. And what was the response of those raised in the temple culture? First, bewilderment. Next, they resorted to ridicule, which, to quote Hubert Pierlot, is “the weapon of those who have no other.” Shamelessly, the pious concluded that the unusual work of the Spirit was the babbling of drunks. It never even occurred to them that they were actually hearing “the wonderful things God had done (vs.11),” miraculously spoken in their own languages!

Pentecost brought radical change. God’s people would no longer be a foreign entity cloistered behind the walls of the temple and synagogues. Indeed, the sovereignty of the Spirit of God decreed that Christ’s church would enter into the context in which it happen[ed] to find itself.

Is it God’s desire that the church cower from the context it finds itself in today, living out an existence in a world that once was, or is the dismantling of evangelical churches across America God’s response to at least three decades of its withdrawal from going into the world as He intended? Which is it?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Three years ago Sandy and I were hiking the Pine Mountain Trail. A lot of our conversation revolved around writing. Both of us have kept a journal for many years and find recording our thoughts and journey through life to be helpful and fulfilling. It is hard to put in writing (go figure), but for me, I must write. I guess it is kind of like the musician who has to create melodic chords and discords.

As we trekked along, I began to talk about creating a website to write about some of life’s adventures. Mainly, I wanted to leave a record of my sojourn for my children and those who love me. Our conversation led Sandy to remind me about the weblog she had recently created on Blogger—a free web log provider—to supplement her journaling.

Once again Sandy had become my muse (that happens often), and I began to think about a name for my own blog. I decided on Enjoying the Adventure. The more I thought about it the more I realized I also wanted a theme to run through my posts. I decided on Ledges In Me—a play on words. Let me explain. As I write from our cabin in Maine I can see the gray, solid stone ledges on the west bank of the Penobscot River. Those ledges have been a stopping place for thousands of people over hundreds of years. They remain unchanged. Turbulent water and ice flows have worn off some of their rough edges, but whatever nature has funneled by them and over them for centuries has done little but prove their strength and character. So, like these ledges in MainE (ME), I want ledges in me -- strength of character -- that will remain unchanged and uncompromised by the turbulence of life. As Jesus reminds us, build your house on the rock.

Since that first post, I have written nearly 450 others. By God’s grace I can say that as the ledges I can see from my cabin window have remained unchanged, so too, have the ledges in me. The things that mattered then—matter now.

Here is that original post:

Ledges in Me.

Life around us changes and so must we, but I want to have some ledges in me. I want to have some sturdy places inside that remain constant when all else is changing . . .

We have a cabin in Maine on a river. Up-river, to the north, the Penobscot splits and slides around an island. The lesser water flows around the back side and is shallow; at times you can wade from the mainland to the island. The bigger water flows between our cabin and the island. Millions of gallons of water swing around the head of the island and are forced into a bottle-neck. Sometimes the water comes through violently, but always in a hurry. The year-round rushing water and the ice that leaves every spring are indiscriminate. All that can be moved is. Every year the banks and shore line change. Some trees are viciously scarred; others are whisked away or left leaning into the water. Sand bars come and go. Rocks are tumbled downstream for hundreds of feet. New fishing holes emerge and others disappear. Every summer we cannot wait to see how the view from our cabin will change. Every year it does -- except for one thing: The ledges remain.

For hundreds of years Indians sorted their catch from nets on those ledges. Log drivers stopped to catch their breath, have a smoke, or share a tale. Countless families and romantics have dragged their canoes over the hydro-polished stone to stop and fish, have a picnic, or bask in the sun as the water rumbled by. The Indian's and log driver's way of life is but a memory -- captured in old diaries and faded pictures. Generations have come and gone. The ledges remain.


Life around us changes and so must we, but I want to have some ledges in me. I want to have some sturdy places inside that remain constant when all else is changing: I want to click off many, many more anniversaries with the woman I fell in love with and married. I want to continue to dream with her about far away places and adventures together. I want to take time to listen to my kids (two of them are adults) share their lives -- the good and the painful. I want to affirm my belief in them, always! I want to remain committed to the way of life God has provided for me through a simple act of faith. I want that life to be attractive to others who are searching for the purpose for which they are created. I want to be authentic -- there are enough posers.

So much that surrounds the ledges is more beautiful for a time: soaring pines, the Indian Paintbrush that grows on the banks, the eagles that screech and glide over the water. The beauty of the ledges is not their color -- a drab grey. The beauty of the ledges is not their symmetry -- they are mostly flat and smooth. What is their beauty? The ledges remain.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Going Through An Upheaval?

Then God said, “Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life . . . God blessed them and told them, “Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Genesis 1:26, 28

At one time the whole world spoke a single language and used the same words . . . They began to talk about construction projects. Come, they said, “let’s make great piles of burnt brick and collect natural asphalt to use as mortar. Let’s build a great city with a tower that reaches to the skies—a monument to our greatness! This will bring us together and keep us from scattering all over the world. But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” he said. “If they can accomplish this when they have just begun to take advantage of their common language and political unity, just think of what they will do later. Nothing will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and give them different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other. In that way the LORD scattered them all over the earth; and ended the building of the city. That is why the city was called Babel, because it was there that the LORD confused the people by giving them many languages, thus scattering them across the earth. Genesis 11:5-9


I would like to respond to a question that many others and I have been asked. The basic gist of the question is this, Why are so many churches in Columbus going through upheaval? Maybe your immediate response would go something like this, O well, our church is no different than many others. It’s just the way things are. Although that response may be true, please tell me that you find no comfort in it!

As a whole the institutional church is in deep trouble. Reams of statistical data are available that verify the fact that people and even pastors are abandoning it at an alarming rate. It is shrinking. Another response to the proposed question could be that all the defectors are a bunch of quitters. Or, they just aren’t very committed. Maybe your conclusion is it is all the devil’s doings.

Personally, I don’t think any of those responses are correct on a large scale. I don’t think they come close to telling the whole story. Actually, I think it may God Himself who is dismantling the institutional church.

Let me give you something to think about . . .

Let’s go back to the beginning—to the first and only man directly created by God. What were God’s intentions for Adam and his bride, Eve? In partnership with God, they were to go out into the entire world bearing His image, master all of life, reproduce, and fill the earth. I assume that you also know the story of Adam and Eve’s fall. The Genesis story, from that point on, reveals that man had little intention of carrying out the mission for which God created him. Instead of being God’s image bearers and mastering the entire created world, you see them in lockstep with a common language, a common motivation, and common political agenda. God summarizes their hearts’ desire this way, Let’s build . . . a monument to our greatness—an ignominious goal.

You know the rest of the story—God showed up—and He wasn’t pleased. In an instant He turned their communication to baby talk—Babel. Their self-centered agenda was irreparably disrupted. There would be no great monument to their greatness. No, instead, an unfinished tower. They had failed to count the cost. What resulted from all this confusion? God’s agenda came back into play—He scattered His image bearers over all the earth.

Let’s consider another example:

But when the Holy Spirit is come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem, and all the believers . . . fled into Judea and Samaria . . . Acts 8:1

Jesus left his band of followers with the mission of intentional global evangelism. His last words, recorded in Acts 1:8, gave clear instructions for the church He was building: it would be birthed in Jerusalem, but spread into Judea, then Samaria, and finally to any place where there were people. Race, speech, skin color, or culture would not be insurmountable barriers for the gospel. Note that the final book of the canon, the Revelation, foretells a day when people from every tribe and tongue would stand redeemed before God.

In chapter 8, Luke’s description of “church” life is telling. He points out that God’s people, instead of evangelizing the world, cloister in Jerusalem. Acts chapters 2 and 4 help us empathize with this decision: they enjoyed intimate fellowship, a sense of shared community, awe-inspiring worship, and the agreement on the ultimate authority in their lives—the apostle’s doctrine (God’s Word). But with all that, their agenda was off base. The temple building had become the church, and God does not dwell in a building made with hands.

In Acts chapter 8, Luke tells us what happened. A great wave of persecution swept over the church in Jerusalem, and all the believers . . . fled into Judea and Samaria. Did you notice that—Judea and Samaria—interesting? Is God serious about The Great Commission? Yes. God’s agenda and purpose remain the same. His people are to go into the entire world bearing His image, and share His message of the hope of redemption. Is the institutional church doing that? A few are—very few. Instead, for the most part, the church has become an institution fixated on building monuments to its own greatness. Evangelism has been reduced to, “build it and they will come.” The competition to “pack em’ in,” warehousing thousands of people instructed to dress the same, speak the same, settle in and settle down the same—rather than get up and get out—has prompted God to act.

One final thought . . .

In Matthew 23 Jesus brought a scathing rebuke and warning to those who had assumed the charge and oversight of God’s people (read Matthew 23, and then come back to this post).

Not a pretty picture was it. Did verse 37 strike you?

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now look your house is left empty and desolate . . . Matthew 23:37

Did you see the change in Jesus’ disposition? Did you see how He went from a rebuke, meant to bring repentance...to a broken heart, when His weighty words fell on deaf ears? Sadly, the temple had become a warehouse for religious people; empty ritual was everywhere-—God could be found nowhere; true Prophets were stoned—-profiteers were welcomed; tradition flourished—God’s Word faded.

Now listen to the eulogy Jesus delivers. Do you see all these buildings? I assure you, they will be so completely demolished that not one stone will be left on top of another! Matthew 24:2

History tells us that the Roman General, Titus, brought Jesus’ prophecy to fulfillment. Jerusalem was sacked, and the temple was completely looted and razed to the ground. Beyond the literal fulfillment of the temple’s destruction, I believe we see a sobering metaphor of the future of the institutional church. The old is going to disappear, because God is going to resume His agenda.

So to answer the question, Why are so many churches in Columbus (and nearly everywhere else) going through upheaval? Could it be that as God did with His people at Babel, as He did with His own in the infant church in Acts, and as He did with the fraudulent religiosity of the temple worship, so too, God is doing today? God is dismantling the church as an institution and returning it to a revolution.

Friday, August 17, 2007

From My Journal -- My Cause: I Am Your Builder

I pulled this post from a couple of years back. I hope you enjoy it.

Enjoying the Adventure,

Bill


We are all builders; building up -- what? Character, ourselves. But what sort of thing is it that we are building? Some of us pigsties, in which gross, swinish lusts wallow in filth; some of us shops; some of us laboratories, studies, museums; some of us amorphous structures that cannot be described. But the Christian man is to be building himself up into a temple of God. The aim which should ever burn before us, and preside over even the smallest actions . . . Alexander Maclaren

Lord, one of your servants penned these words many years ago. As I sit here in this simple framed cabin and look at its structure, to me it is magnificent. It was built to my likings with spartan furnishings. There are gas lights for when it gets dark, a woodstove for when it gets cold. Windows let in sound and light. I stay dry when it rains or snows. It is not built for year-round occupancy, but for a place of respite, reading, and solitude. I don't need the cabin, I can get along without it. I have another home with all the creature comforts. But I am grateful for the attention the builders gave to my desires. I love this place in the wilderness.

Lord, I am reminded of the building You desire to dwell in. I am Your temple. I want to be magnificent to Your eyes, if no one else's, built to Your likings. Open to Your light and sound, comfortable to dwell in. You don't need me, but you desire me. You have a splendid home, but find great enjoyment in the one I am building for You.

I will give attention to what I am building. Speak Your Word and cause that aim to burn in me!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Response Time

I left Maine on Sunday afternoon and drove straight through to Columbus -- less than 25 hours from start to finish. My only stops were to refuel and let Bailey take a little stroll. Yes -- Bailey traveled with me,and I am actually starting to like him. There is evidence he is redeemable. My trip back to Columbus was necessitated in order to respond to some incredible blessings from the hand of God. Let me fill in some of the background . . .

As much as Sandy and I have sought to trust God without reservation, we have really wrestled with all that goes with a significant change of plans. As many of you know, we were ready to head west to plant a church in Montana. Then God, for reasons unknown to us, redirected us away from Bozeman. When this happened, we knew that some people would not understand (how could they? we didn't...), and some may even be critical. But we also knew that "saving face" would never substitute for obedience. Still, I must confess -- both of us wondered what God was up to. To be completely candid -- I feared that I had somehow just plain blown it.

But in the last 72 hours our God, who sometimes chooses to be so quiet, chose to break the silence and reveal to us why we are still in Georgia. He confirmed that He had kept us here, indeed. And once again, our heavenly Father reminded us that His plan always includes things that only obedience will reveal, and you can only be obedient one choice at a time.

We could not be more thrilled with staying in Columbus -- it is home!

Also . . .

In the morning Bailey and I will head back to Maine. I am going to divide the trip back into two days. Lord willing, I will drive to Carlisle, Pennsylvania on Wednesday and then on to the cabin, Thursday. It may be a couple of days before I am able to post again, but until then, Godspeed!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Fire And Ice

Time keeps moving, and another midnight has passed. It is earliest morning, but many hours before the cheerful sun will peak over the horizon. A trio of short logs is slowly returning to dust as they release their pent up energy, and share their warmth. I scoot my chair a little closer to the flames, but it is not quite enough heat. So I just buttoned the top, brass button of my denim jacket, and turned the collar up in back -- my guess is that the temperature is in the low to mid-fifties. iTunes is relaying the pleasant music of Nicola Piovani to my ears, yet I can still hear the sounds of the river below me that flows ceaselessly day and night.

Today (Thursday) was Meg’s last day here at the cabin, and it ended with a bang. She and I took a kayak trip around Birch Island. Later in the day she took a long kayak trip with Josh and a couple of their friends visiting from Massachusetts. When they returned, I had the big blue porcelain pot sitting over an outdoor fire, full of water, and getting ready to boil – we were having Maine lobstah! Ayuh! In a few hours we will say our good-byes as she leaves for her second year of college.

Moments ago I mentioned the temperature. Today I have heard from several friends back in Columbus, Georgia, and they tell me it was 100 plus degrees there -- with a heat index over 110 there! Ugh!

The temperature in Georgia is one hundred degrees?
Here in Maine I think I might freeze!

For Georgians tomorrow -- will it even climb higher?
Here in Maine I put more wood on the fire!


How Ironic, Piovani has finished, and Nora Jones just sang Your Cold, Cold Heart! She followed it up with Come Away With Me.

You gotta love it!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Call To Repentance

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Don’t forget to pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to preach about his secret plan—that Christ is also for you Gentiles. An excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Colossians (4:2-3)

A church which pitches its tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling . . . [We must] play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, and live by improvisation and experiment. Hans Kung, The Church as the People of God

Be diligent in your prayer life. Mind -- alert. Heart – thankful, says Paul, and pray for Timothy and me. What was the gist of the prayer support they desired? Pray that we would have many opportunities to present the gospel to diverse people groups (his reference to “you Gentiles” refers to any people group that was not Jewish)!

Hans Kung flashes forward two thousand years from Paul’s request to the believers in Colosse to the church today. Kung doesn’t mince words (how refreshing), and his quote is worth unpacking for a closer look . . .

Why is it that most churches are not constantly looking for new horizons to export the gospel?

Why is it that so many churches set themselves in a pattern of walling themselves in rather than keep themselves mobile?

Why has Christ’s church traded its mission of being in constant transition for brick and mortar monuments?

Why is it so often the case that when a body of believers is challenged to follow example to risk, improvise, and experiment, like Paul did, the message and its messenger is subverted or viciously resisted?

Why is the current emergent or contemporary church movement being scorned, nit-picked, and derisively caricatured -- when in fact, the “contemporary and emergent” movement is finally bringing the church back to its roots and mission, and struggling with the same issues the early church did (i.e. sanctification, doctrine, and relevance)?

Why is it that the “traditional” church (traditional being a mode of doing things like they have always been done in spite of the fact that there is almost nothing getting done to advance the kingdom) is held up as the standard of measurement, when in fact, nearly every standard that many traditional models measure by, and hold so dearly, were never the standard of measurement used by the New Testament churches of the book of Acts and the Epistles (i.e. worship styles, dress, and a determination to be irrelevant)?


Does anybody else see this, or am I imagining things . . .

The Traditional church often measures success by how many it can sit in its beautiful buildings—the New Testament church measured success by how many feet were carrying the gospel into the ugly world.

The Traditional church measures success by how many people of means in the community are on its roles, and how much money is in its checkbook—The New Testament church was made up of the marginal people in the community and nearly always financially broke (but spiritually wealthy)!

Men’s credentials impress the Traditional church—”faithful men” impressed The New Testament church.

The Traditional church is hopelessly committed to its structure—the New Testament Church was radically committed to its Savior.

A Traditional church is led by the will of the peopleSpirit appointed leaders led the New Testament church.

The goal of most Traditional churches is to “feed” the people—the goal of the New Testament church was to make disciples of Christ.

Is it a fair statement that most part Traditional churches have found it more important to be traditional, rather than Biblical?

Is it time for the “Traditional” church to repent?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Where Are The Wild Men?

Richard,

Your post inspired me!

Tuesday morning Sandy, Meg, and I stopped in at mom's and dad’s house. The girls continued on to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Once there, they window shopped around the quaint little town of Bar Harbor -- it is like stepping back in time -- until it’s time to lay down some cash for a purchase! They took the scenic drive up Cadillac Mountain, and circled the Park Loop. When they returned they reported that the rugged, jagged Maine coastline is still breath taking, no matter how many times you have seen it.

On Tuesday I went to McDonald’s to post a blog, read my e-mail, and click on The Boston Globe to see how the Red Sox did (Curt Schilling pitched his first game after coming off the disabled list -- he lost 4-2). I finished, packed up my computer, and headed back to the cabin, where my brother-in-law met me, and we went snorkeling on the east bank of Birch Island. Impressive bass swam with us, and I also picked up some unique driftwood (actually it was at the bottom of the river, but it is still called driftwood). In the latter part of the afternoon I spent most of my time reading, researching, and meditating. Much of my thought and prayer life was focused on returning to Columbus and beginning new ministry there.

Over the past couple of years I have tried to spend more time with people who do not attend church. Tactfully, I have tried to find out why. With 50 plus SBC churches in Columbus alone, and a host of other evangelical churches, why are so many people completely turned off to church? It should be said that they are not scared off, or intimidated by “super-saints.” From their perspective, today’s brand of piety is hardly considered saintly or intimidating. Truth is, their opinion is that many church people do not respond to life much different than they do, and they are not interested in what “church” has become. They contend that church people have forgotten that “religion” is about redemption and relationships. For the non-church goer -- facilities are really not what they are looking for (although facilities carry a lot of weight for religionists). A couple of questions keep coming up, “Where is Jesus in the churches?" and "What is about Jesus in the churches?" And, “How are Christians really any different than me?"

I would add that they do not find church-goers doing the following: dressing up to go to a "service," squabbling about their petty preferences, or whether they drink (or do not drink) to have much correlation to their Jesus questions.

Thankfully, many un-churched people remain open to a real relationship with Jesus.

So in the ministry days ahead, I hope to break through -- and break down -- some of those barriers. I am encouraged -- Jesus and the early church did, and Christ’s intentions for the church He would build have not changed. Even slightly. Taking the church (redeemed people) to where people are, rather than thinking they will come to us (the building where we meet), will be the most fundamental change in the way I will try to advance Christ’s kingdom.

As an aside . . .

Have you ever stopped to ask the question, “How in the world did the church move from the grassroots, reproducible anywhere, New Testament model to: Our big buildings, seminaries, professional clergy, choirs, odd governing structures, dress codes, and constitutions? Do you realize that none of those things just mentioned represent a healthy, maturing, or coming of age of Christ’s church -- but instead -- a devolution?

Where are the wild men -- the guys outside the religious institutions -- wearing hair shirts, eating wild locust and honey, and calling the religious to present a life change in congruence with repentance? Where are the firm but hopeful spokesmen for God saying, Prepare the way! A loving God sent a redeemer to rescue you -- from yourself -- and Satan’s prison?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Beauty Of Darkness

The people in Darkness have seen a great light . . .

Last night (Saturday) we lit a fire in the pit before the darkness pushed the last of the light over the back edge of the horizon. Above us, bats darted and zigzagged, chasing down mosquitoes. Faint, high pitched chirps of their radars, barely audible, contrasted with the low rumble of water passing through the cleft between the ledges, and our cheers of, “Get em’ all!”

Around 10 p.m. Matt, a friend of our son Josh, turned his gaze upward and beyond the canopy of pines and oak that surrounded us. His reaction startled us -- he was blown away by the brilliance of the stars sprinkled across the heavens. Matt lives in Jersey and works in the city, so he rarely sees the overwhelming beauty of a night sky—uncompromised by competing man-made light. Immediately, Matt got his camera and tripod and made his way down to the large rocks scattered along the riverbank thirty-five feet below. Once there, he manipulated the camera’s shutter speed to photograph the heavens in the waning light of the moon.

Who but God could have imagined and also created something so mystical, magical, romantic, and spiritual as an evening sky -- using two non-colors—black and white? Experience tells me that very few people ever take the time to gaze at the creativity of God’s celestial artistry. Godly mystics down through the ages have always been awestruck and fascinated by God’s handiwork that can only be seen in darkness.

Would all of us find deeper fulfillment in our creator if we would stop to see how He has created this world to be a 24/7 reminder of how glorious He really is? Have we ever stopped to realize that some of God’s beauty is seen only when all else around us is dark?


Also . . .

Meg’s late Sunday night flight—from Atlanta to Bangor—was delayed. So her arrival time became early Monday morning! At one half hour past midnight, she came through security wearing shorts, a hoody, a bandanna in her hair, and a big smile. Our baby will be with us for a short while before she heads back to the responsibilities of college, and a job at Luigi’s Pizza. But while in Maine her priorities are: a kayak trip, going to Bar Harbor, a lobstah dinner, seeing Nana and Papa, and some snorkeling with dad. In Georgia she began jogging three miles a day, and now she looks forward to taking her runs in the cool air and low humidity of the Pine Tree State.

Once we got back to the cabin I was wide-awake. At 2:30 a.m., just past my feet, the embers of the fire pit glowed orange and red within the ring of rocks. A breeze carried waves of fresh, fifty-degree air -- just cool enough to require long sleeves. Slowly, the moon made its way across the sky from left to right. Working on battery power I began this post, while listening to Stephen Curtis Chapman on iTunes. I selected For the Sake of the Call, a very powerful song, and then The Great Adventure, my favorite song of all time. God seemed to be sitting by the fire with me enjoying the music and atmosphere as much as I was.

Why?

Maybe it was as simple as the fact that one of His own recognized that the phenomenon of fire—a combination of heat, fuel, and oxygen, and that the power of music—a melodic arrangement of eight notes and lyrics, was actually the product of His creative genius. And this child was not taking it for granted.

I began to wish the night would never end . . .

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Detatched From Reality

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth. For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your real life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all of his glory . . .Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry. Colossians 3:1-4,6

There is a sense in which our lives here at the cabin are a complete contrast to the nearly three decades Sandy and I have been in vocational ministry together. If we are able to stay here until September, it will be the longest period we have ever spent at the river’s edge, and by far the longest time we have been disengaged from day-to-day ministry. No doubt about it – this cabin is a detachment from the reality we have known.

We realize that our present situation is not our “real world.” Here in the quiet, with our books, our Bibles, and our bikes—we are often unsure what day or time it is!

In another sense this is reality for us, because it is an oasis that our loving, heavenly Father ordained in the midst of a tough stretch in our spiritual journeys. But it is not the truest reality. I say that because there is a greater reality that we are very aware of, and it is not as obvious as this beautiful setting that our five senses are conveying to us.

In the text quoted at the beginning of this post, Paul’s words take on a fresh significance for us. We are reminded that everything we are able to touch, taste, smell, feel, and hear—the physical world—is not the truest of realities—it is temporal and fading. One of the great things we have rediscovered during this sabbatical is how susceptible we are to the subtle greed for the good of this life, things that this reality, or life in the physical world, offers. It is a root problem of being human. It is anti-faith.

Paul was godly, but he was also human. Writing from prison, God revealed to him not only how little he had, but also how little he needed. Paul gazed at the same four walls hour after hour, and it seems that the Spirit of God revealed to him how his own environment was a microcosm of the life of every believer. No, his earthly situation was not good, and it certainly provided ample opportunity for him to pine away his life, wishing for better conditions. In his brief letter to the church in Colosse, Paul, with great clarity, warns them of the danger believers face: the seduction of putting all their confidence in the lesser reality of this physical life. By so doing, the life of Christ in them could easily lose preeminence.

Things down here on earth can preoccupy us—particularly the good. It’s easy to get greedy for all the good things of this life—the lesser reality—and believe we can have the best of both worlds. Paul said clearly, “that is idolatry.”

Paul’s warning: We have been given a new life and a new outlook, but our life will always follow our gaze!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Great Big Silvery Moon

Bright sunshine, low humidity, and solitude made today most idyllic. Sandy and I clicked off over twenty miles on our bikes, swam in the river, and did some cooking together. Tonight we went to my sister’s house where most of my family gathered to make s’mores.

Sitting here on the porch of the cabin, as the clock moves toward midnight, I am listening to the wind whisper through the treetops, and the river bubble and gurgle as gravity pulls it south. Tonight, the moon is nearly full orbed, and by sunrise we will wake up to a temperature of 56 degrees.

Voracious reading has gobbled up much of my time here – everything from Louis L’Amoir to Kipling. Using Christian speak -- it is our custom to divide our lives into “secular” and “spiritual” -- my reading has alternated pretty evenly between the two.
Sandy and I hit a couple of bookstores in Bangor, and there are several books, here at the camp, that I am reading for the second and third time. This sabbatical has allowed me to read more casually, yet prolifically. Who knows when I will have an opportunity like this again?

I have also been reading through the book of Colossians every day. Every day something new arrests my attention -- something I missed in my previous readings. Spiritually, Sandy and I are going through a private time. Most of what God is doing, we are not ready to reveal to the world. In one sense we feel like race cars that have been brought into the shop for some fine-tuning. We spend hours talking through layer upon layer of stuff that has been lying dormant for some time. Conversations are often intense, but always marvelously liberating.

For the last few nights I have been watching the moon change from a silver sliver to a glowing ball in the night skies. I know it will go through a cycle, and then the watermelon rind shape will reappear. Our pursuit of God’s truth is like the stages of the moon -- we start with the sliver of a thought, and consider it until we feel it has rounded out to something that is clear enough to see, understand, and somehow put to use. When we come full circle, another sliver appears and the process begins . . . again.

Right now Sandy and I are watching slivers. We know that clarity will come in stages. Soon, much that is seen in part will be seen in full. Out of the darkness – full-orbed truth will be revealed.

Enjoying the Adventure,

Bill