Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Thursday afternoon I head up to Quarryville, PA, just south of Lancaster, to Black Rock Retreat Center for a 20-hour silent retreat with a few other pastors from the Maryland/Delaware state convention. Although I wish it were longer than twenty hours, I'll take what I can get.

Pastoring is fast-paced work, no more so than many other professions, perhaps, but no less so. It's hard to schedule this kind of time away--well, easy perhaps to schedule it, harder to actually take it. There are so many voices that I have to listen to, often saying competing things, and the cacophony can drown out the one Voice that really matters.

I'm hoping that sometime in these 20 hours, I'll get to hear that Voice, even if for only a second.

One second of the Voice is better than hours of other voices.

Laptops are prohibited. This is not sermon planning or preparation time. It's just time for me and the Voice.

Cell phones are allowed but only for checking in at designated times. If that sounds controlling, it's not. Constant availability to everyone also gets in the way of listening to the Voice. I'd leave my cell phone at home if that were an option, but Pam likes me to check in. And it's good for road emergencies. Cell phones are good for those things; when did we let them take over our lives?

If you would, pray for me while I'm listening for the Voice. The retreat begins tomorrow at 4 p.m. and ends Friday at lunch.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Becoming Something

William Cumpiano is a Massachusetts luthier (a luthier is any stringed-instrument maker; Cumpiano makes guitars) who is co-author of Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology, considered to be the Bible of guitarmaking. His guitars, if bought through a dealer, will cost between $5,000 and $7,500, or you can purchase a guitar that he made while teaching his guitar-making classes for about $3,500, or you can have him custom-make a guitar for you, with prices beginning at $4,500 for a steel-string and $5,000 for a classical guitar, and going up depending on your wood choice and appointments. And his waiting list is over 12 months long.

In other words, he's good. It's what he does. He's a luthier.

I've built two guitars. That's what I tell people, that I build guitars as a hobby. I'm not a luthier. I don't know if I'll ever accept that designation, but not yet, not now. I'm not good enough. I don't have enough experience. Not that the two guitars I've made are bad guitars; quite the contrary, they turned out quite nice. Look good, sound good, play well. I'm proud of them.

But two guitars don't give me the right to call myself a luthier.

Cumpiano wrote an article posted on his website entitled "A Pedagogue's Lament: Thoughts about learner's impatience" that I have found to be quite profound and very applicable to so many areas of life. Here's an extended quote from the beginning of the article:

It’s a pity, isn’t it? Nowadays, nobody wants to pay the dues for their art.

Everyone wants to BE something but nobody wants to BECOME something.

Everyone wants to be an expert but no one wants to become one. But you must become before you can be.

It's noble to be a student, a beginner. Whatever happened to the fine old tradition of the "amateur"? The word comes from the French: "lover of.” If you love something, you want to know it deeply. However, that takes time, and effort. And it seems people just don’t want to give things the effort it takes to know something deeply.
It's that second line that has stuck with me. "Everybody wants to BE something but nobody wants to BECOME something."

At the risk of theological inexactitude let me adapt that to say, "Everybody wants to BE a disciple of Jesus but nobody wants to BECOME a disciple of Jesus." It's not an easy thing to achieve. I can't tell you the number of people who, having read a book or two on Jesus or attended a class or two on discipleship, think they have arrived when they have barely gotten started.

They have had a couple of mild successes but what they really need are a few failures. It's the failures that make us humble. It's the failures that remind us how far we have to go. It's the failures that teach us to speak less and listen more, that teach us that a disciple is a learner, always, and even when a disciple teaches a younger disciple, it's not in the guise of a master, but simply as one who has made more mistakes than others have made and thus have more lessons to pass on to the next generation.

A fellow luthier told Cumpiano not to worry too much about it, that the very nature of guitarmaking would take care of it. "It is too complex and too elusive a thing to do. It rewards only the pure in heart, the ones that give themselves completely to it, and ask nothing from it, except the privilege to be allowed to continue."

Is he talking about luthiery, or discipleship?

You don't become a disciple through a casual following of Jesus. It is complex, more than we give it credit for being. Discipleship is for those who give themselves completely to it, and ask nothing from it except the privilege to be allowed to continue.

As followers of Jesus, we're all "amateurs." We do it for the love of it.

And no other reason is good enough.

Frederick Voices

"300 Voices" is over 80 strong right now, but the great state of Maryland is seriously under-represented.


Like, two people.

So here's the deal: I have to be careful about fund-raising within the church because I have an obligation to make sure that all of the church's causes are fully-funded. We have a budget that needed to be cut, and was, drastically so.

So I'm not going to stand up in worship and solicit pledges to "300 Voices."

Not that I think that doing so would hurt our church's finances. Just the opposite, in fact. I believe that generosity breeds generosity. The more we can teach people to be generous, the more they will be generous, and that will benefit a lot of people, including the church.

But that's a bit counter-intuitive, and some people wouldn't understand, and I'd catch some flack because of it. And though I have no problem catching flack, sometimes I get more than I can hold.

So, for the foreseeable future, this is going to have to be done off-line. Not in secret, mind you. We're not trying to hide anything. But this has got to be larger than First Baptist Church, anyway.

So I'm going to need your help. Most of my contacts are FBC people. But you, dear Reader, run in a much wider circle than do I.

So let's add our Voices to the cause of clean water, and let's recruit others too.

This can't just be a Mid-West movement. It's got to go nationwide.

Maryland is our responsibility. Are you with me?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

300 Voices

We've been trying to figure out how to follow up on Water For Christmas. Is this going to be an annual thing? Is it just a Christmas thing? The need for water is continuous, and many who drank the Water For Christmas kool-aid just can't get it out of our minds. We weren't sure we wanted to wait 11 months.

Jody came up with a great idea: we are looking for 300 partners who will commit to $20/month for water. More than that, though, is the desire to create a larger organization who will carry the Water For Christmas movement into their neighborhoods, communities, businesses, schools and churches. We are looking for 300 people who will get the word out and serve the kool-aid to as many people as possible. 300 people giving $20 every month will dig a lot of wells; 300 people getting friends, family, neighbors and colleagues involved in the movement will dig exponentially more wells.

Want to check it out? Want to get involved? Go to

Learn. Commit. Spread the word.

Be part of the movement.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hope's Audaciousness

I was going to title this "The Audacity of Hope," but I'm pretty sure that title has been taken.

This isn't going to be a comment on the new President or his book or the inauguration. I haven't read President Obama's book; I've never read any book written by a politician, especially those written by politicians who are running for office. I've always figured that such books are just part of the campaign shill that make elections so tiresome.

I'm intrigued by the concept, however, that all hope is audacious, and the more hope is needed, the more audacious it is. It was to a people undergoing persecution from the Jews and the Romans that the writer of Hebrews wrote "Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:23)

I have no idea what it is like to live under persecution, not knowing if today you are going to be arrested and charged with treason just because of your faith. Not knowing if, when your son leaves in the morning, you will ever see him again because he might be arrested and killed. Going to church one Sunday and the couple who always sits in front of you is gone and never coming back.

I can't imagine. Most Americans can't. We can't imagine the constant fear like an ever-present intruder who has moved into the guest room and won't leave.

For most of us, hope is not that hard and rarely that audacious. Not that we don't ever have problems, but for most of our lives we have encountered, endured, worked around or pushed our way through them, and we live with a certain expectation that we will always be able to do so.

We are even told not to call problems "problems." They are "challenges to be overcome." They are "opportunities for genius." They are "character-builders." And I'm not being facetious here, for most of our problems really don't amount to much more than challenges to overcome, opportunities for genius, and points at which to grow as a person. So when we are confronted by problems, we may be vexed, we may even be worried because we don't see an answer--but we live with a hope that an answer will come to us. It usually does, and so we live with that hope, and it's not that audacious. Hope that has a track record isn't very audacious.

But to hope when there's no reason to hope, now that's audacious. It's not very reasonable, it's not very practical, it's not very rational, and for that reason it is very audacious. Bold. Reckless. Daring.


Look up "audacious" and you'll see that word. "Fearlessly, often recklessly daring." "Invulnerable to fear or intimidation." That's what audacious hope is.

Christian hope is audacious. Ask the writer of Hebrews, or check out 1 Peter, another epistle written to Christians in persecution. In the midst of fearful circumstances, Christian hope refuses to be cowed.

Not to state the obvious, but in fearful circumstances the easiest thing to be is fearful. The craziest, most reckless, most daring thing to do is to be hopeful. And it is the thing that is most needed.

Because nobody can live long in fear, and nobody can live long without hope.

"Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God." 1 Peter 1:21

Monday, January 19, 2009

Good Planning

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day today.

First African-American President inaugurated tomorrow.

Two good days in a row, not just for African-Americans.

For all Americans.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No Spectators

There was an article in last week's Washington Post about the challenges faced by The Church of the Savior in D.C. as it's founding pastor, Gordon Cosby, retires at 91.

Yes, you read it correctly. Retires at 91. When I'm 91 I'm hoping to have at least twenty years of retirement behind me, although the current state of my retirement fund might necessitate working a few years longer.

But 91? I've only met Gordon Cosby once so I don't claim to know him, but what I know about him leads me to guess that he could never really afford to retire. He doesn't strike me as the kind of person who saves a lot of money. He probably never made much money, and I'm guessing that he probably gave a lot away.

Cosby founded a church which never confused being the church with a building or with a gathering of people for worship. "I'm going to church" is a phrase that for most of us means we are either headed for the church building or it's Sunday morning and we're going to the worship service. For Cosby and the members of Church of the Savior, "going to church" meant going out into an impoverished community and helping people in the name of Jesus.

And they went to church a lot.

The writer of the article, Michelle Boorstein, captured the philosophy of the church well. "A commitment to serious, inward contemplation as well as ambitious social justice work. No spectators. Action over institution."

To be a member of Church of the Savior you have to commit to an inward journey of daily quiet prayer and meditation along with a curriculum of challenging courses on Christianity, and an outward journey of social justice work. You are held accountable for these commitments through your participation in a small group, with whom much of your service is done.

Notice the parallels between their philosophy and First Baptist's discipleship process of Grow in love for God and others (inward journey), Share life together with other Christians (small groups), and Serve others through missional action (outward journey). They just put teeth into their philosophy. We treat ours as kind of a suggestion. That's self-criticism, by the way.

Seriously, and we're no different from most churches in this regard, but we treat this kind of commitment as what the really serious followers of Jesus do. A few may reach this level, but if you don't, don't worry, you can still call yourself a follower of Jesus. As long as you believe the right things and you've been baptized and support the church, you're good.

By contrast, Church of the Savior treats this level of commitment as basic, fundamental, the minimum of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Which sounds more like something that Jesus would say?

In his final sermon, Cosby said, "We've got to move from believing so deeply to doing. We've got to keep in mind the discrepancy between belief and embodiment."

When we define a Christian as someone who believes a certain way, we make it possible for people to be Christian spectators. They believe, but they don't do anything.

I believe that there should be spectators in our church, but they would be people who are investigating this Jesus-thing that we are involved in and trying to make up their mind whether this is something they want to give their lives to.

But once a person makes the decision to be a follower of Jesus, there's no spectating. You move from the stands and into the game, and you play to win. You don't root for others to win, you get on the field and become part of the winning. You get dirty, you get bruised, you suffer setbacks, and you get frustrated. And when there's a victory, you share in the victory.

That just seems basic, doesn't it?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tempting the Fates

My watch was given to me by my parents as a graduation gift when I graduated from Baylor University in 1981. It's a Seiko, and it has never lost a second. It's a great watch, and I have told everyone not to buy me a new watch for Christmas or anniversary or anything, because I won't wear it.

This is a great watch.

The other day I noticed that it had stopped. No big deal; it's been a while since the battery was replaced. I was running errands in Walkersville, so I just decided to pop into Old Towne Jewelers and have them replace the battery.

It's a family business, and they are really nice people. I'm greeted warmly by a woman I don't recognize--maybe a cousin or something--and I tell her what I need done. As she takes my watch, I declare, "That is the greatest watch in the world. I've had it since 1981 and it hasn't lost a second."

Why did I open my big mouth? Usually I'm the friendly introvert, but, no, today I have to exercise my extrovert muscles.

She takes the battery out and puts it on a tester.

Battery is fine.

She puts the battery back in, puts it on some gizmo that detects that the electronics are working. That's good. I guess. I don't know. She puts it into some other gizmo and the second hand starts moving.

For about ten seconds. Then stops.

She puts it in the gizmo again, explaining that it is a strong magnetic field and can unstick stuff. She leaves it in a little longer, and the watch starts working again.

What a relief. Until it stops about a minute later.

"Maybe it just needs a cleaning. When's the last time it's been cleaned?"

Um. I assume it was cleaned before it left Japan in 1981.

But they don't do cleaning at Old Towne. There's a guy up in PA who has been doing all their watch cleanings for years. He's very good. They trust him a lot.

Yeah, but this is the world's greatest watch. I remind the lady of that important fact.

So she writes at the top of the ticket: "This is the world's greatest watch. Please take good care of it."

That should comfort me, but I'm pretty sure she's mocking me.

So the World's Greatest Watch is off my wrist and traveling to Pennsylvania. I'm wearing my running watch, and it's just not the same.

And if the cleaning doesn't work, then the World's Greatest Watch may have to be retired.

But if it does work, then never again will I declare to anyone that it is the World's Greatest Watch.

It will still be, but saying it out loud is obviously a jinx.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


The final tally for Water For Christmas was $59,000. That's remarkable, given that the typical gift was $10. And that on November 1 the WFC total was, um, $0. Nothing. Zippo. Nada. Water For Christmas at that point was just a dream in the minds--no, in the hearts--of some mom's who didn't know what they were doing (according to the professionals) and who didn't know that they didn't know what they were doing.

And they did it anyway. Way cool.

Dancing For Water? Are you kidding me? No professional would have come up with that. But a mom did.

Mom's rock.

Wooo Moms!

Angela put a collection jar in her room at the Learning Bee, and raised 58 bucks. Not much? That's clean water for 3 people for 20 years. Tell those three people it's not significant.

It's huge. It's life.

Pam asked her hairdresser if she could put up a collection jar. She said yes, and collected a little more than $30. Twenty years of clean water for 1.5 people. I imagine that half person really appreciates it, being, you know, a half person and everything.

In a country that expects either the government or "The Market" to do everything, this is a good reminder that in the Kingdom of God, it's either going to be regular people making a difference, or no one making a difference.

The New Testament doesn't put much faith in either governments or "The Market." Listen up, Christians.

Someone just jokingly said to me, "Well, now you are going to have to change it to "Water For Easter."

Hmm. May have to run this one by Jody.

Thanks everyone, for making this the best Christmas ever.

We all made a difference.

And a difference was made in us.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Changing Your Mind(set)

Sunday's message referenced an article in the London Times by Matthew Parrish which discussed the Christian worldview and the African worldview. Later someone asked me if I could recommend a book that would help change your mindset.

If it were only so easy.

(Strictly speaking a person's mindset is a part of but different from their worldview, but for the purpose of the message and this post I'm using them interchangeably.)

Worldviews change, but not usually as a result of a person deciding, "I think I'll change my worldview." Often the change is imposed on a person; they have little or no choice in the matter.

Most people are unaware of their worldview. If you were to describe their worldview and call it that, they would respond, "That's not a worldview; that's just the way things are."

There is so much data coming at us from our five senses that, unless our brains were able to somehow sort things out, we'd be unable to function. Remember those times when you are trying to really concentrate on something--writing a letter or balancing your checkbook--but the dog is barking and the T.V. is on and your daughter is talking on the telephone and the neighbor is having a tree cut down and you just want to pull your hair out! Doesn't it drive you nuts? Sure. There's too much data being downloaded. Unless you are able to mentally "zone out" all this extraneous data, you'll never get anything done.

Well, your worldview is what the brain uses to zone most data out so that you can function in the world. Everything that fits into your worldview is allowed in, and everything that doesn't fit gets filtered out, explained away, ignored. What is left therefore just appears to you to be the way things are.

And we are largely unconscious of this happening. So, do worldviews change? Yes, but not often, and not without difficulty.

The first thing that happens is that some data confronts us that we can't ignore, but it doesn't fit. We don't know what to do with it, but we can't leave it alone.

Or, perhaps more accurately, it won't leave us alone. It haunts us. We keep seeing examples of it, and we don't know what to do with it. This is not some small detail; it is something huge that directly challenges the adequacy of our worldview for describing how things really are. All of a sudden, we become aware of something that is undeniably "the way things are" yet doesn't fit with our understanding of "the way things are." And we can't make it fit, no matter what we do.

And you feel like you are going to die. This is what is called "the crisis of belief." At this point some people run like hell back to their previous worldview, shutting their eyes to the this new reality. And in running back to the safety and comfort of their previous worldview, they become rabid fundamentalists--fighting for their worldview and against anyone and anything that would challenge it.

To do that, however, is to step away from faith. Fundamentalists of whatever stripe--Christian fundamentalists, Muslim fundamentalists, Republican or Democratic fundamentalists, Caucasian fundamentalists, Dale Earnherdt, Jr. fundamentalists--are not most notable for their faith but for their certainty. They are absolutely certain they are right. And certainty, not doubt, not even unbelief, but certainty, is the opposite of faith.

But some people take a leap of faith away from the safety of their previous yet suddenly inadequate worldview. For some it is a step away from one worldview and immediately into another one, but for others, it is a step into the abyss as they search for something that fits.

In either case, once discovered there is an "aha" and a feeling of rebirth. There may also be a feeling of anger toward those who taught them something that they now feel is just completely wrong. Not always, but sometimes.

But the world is never the same. And when you look back on your "crisis of belief" you find that you are grateful that you were gloriously disturbed.

I'm not sure you can decide to change your mindset, but you can decide to expose yourself to more of the world than what you currently know. Read something completely different. Make friends with someone from a different culture--with the Internet that is probably easier than ever, but it may just mean getting to know someone from a rural culture or an urban culture, or someone from a different religious or political perspective. Travel more, whether to the next state or another country, but don't just go to the touristy places. Go to where real people live and work and love and die, and talk. Realize that they don't see the world the way you do, and be curious about that.

This is part of the Christian journey--to move from a "this world" mindset to Christ's mindset. "Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus..."