Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What is a Preacher

Tonight on the way back from seeing a movie I wondered to myself what does it mean to be a preacher. As I pondered this idea the first answer that leap to my mind was this; a preacher is a story teller.
Now before you think that this is an over simplification of a complex task I want you to consider the fact that we all have a story, every one of us. Not just an individual narrative, all our stories intersect with multiple other stories. The story of our spouse, our kids, our friends, our co-workers, even the stories of those we do not know impact ours. Further more, our stories have been impacted by the stories of those who have come before us: Ramses II, Alexander the Great, Gregory the Great, Luther, Alexander Hamilton, they all have impacted how we see the world, perceive truth, and measure orthodoxy.
We are, to put it simply, a part of a grand and exponentially complex web of humanities narrative. But not just humanities narrative, we are a part of the divine narrative as revealed and being revealed by God to his creation.
Our job as preachers then is to tell others how there story matters to God and intersects with his story.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I should have listened

Are there certain truths you know twice? Are there things that you were told but you still had to find out for yourself whether or not they were really true or not?
It might be pride. It might be curiosity. Or it might be that I’m just not that smart sometimes but I have had to learn way too many things the hard way. Why am I like that? It is true that listening and believing the testimony of other would have saved me a fair amount of pain but sometimes it not all bad to know things twice.
For most of my life I have known that God loves me. I sang about it in Sunday school and kid’s church. I heard it from my parents and grandparents. When I was seven I even committed it to memory, “For God so loved the world (Dennis) that he gave His one and only Son that whosoever (Dennis) believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
While I knew this – that God loves me – I never really understood the extent of this love, or better stated, the limits of my understanding of His love for all of us, until June 28, 1998.
At 10:17 p.m. on June 27, 1998 Amy gave birth to our first child (Drew) and all was right with the world. At 4:30 a.m. on June 28, 1998 I was standing in the neonatal ICU looking down at my tiny baby boy not knowing whether he would live or if he would die.
How could life change in such a short amount of time? Sleep deprived, exhausted, and gripped by fear I tried to pray but couldn’t. Unable to form words into a coherent request I resorted to repeatedly crying out to the Lord in a simple but frantic one-word prayer: “please”. I said it over and over again in my mind. “Please…Please…Please”
It was into this desperate and painfilled moment that God taught me something about His love. I'll tell you about it next time.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Power and Beauty

Many of the kids had never been on any kind of outdoor adventure. They may have tramped through the wooded lot behind Grandma and Grandpa’s house but for many of them it was the first time they had been in a setting like this.
Most of my suburban raised youth group kids had never been on white water when we arrived in southern WV to ride the New River. With a mix of fear and excitement we loaded up the bus to head down to the launch point and setout on a fun filled day of discovery and exertion.
I have to admit that there are many things about being a youth pastor that I don’t miss, but being on the water with those kids is one of all-time favorite memories. There is something about being in God’s good creation that moves us. But there is something extra special when we embark on an adventure that demands reliance and inspires wonder.
I will never forget the look in Nathan’s eyes as we approached the New River to begin our day of rafting. He could hear the river before he could see it. Puzzlement gave way to nervous excitement as it slowly dawned on him that the powerful roar filling his ears was the first of many rapids we would ride that day.
That day the kids learned many things about their God and they encountered his creation. In our boat we talked about God’s care and concern for us as a mother deer and her fawn came to the edge of the river to drink as we floated through one of the pools between rapids. We discussed God’s majesty as we gazed up at the cliffs that stretched roughly 500ft. above the power. We laughed and played at “jump rock”. And we wondered after the power and might of our God whose strength exponentially exceeded that of the mighty rapids we were negotiating.
A great deal of ministry happened on the river that day and a great deal of worship. On that river we have been in the sanctuary of the Most High. We had enjoyed the presence of God as we encountered the power of white water.

Monday, April 2, 2012

White Water and Wonder

Nature is powerful. Strong winds, driving rain, and swift currents all possess the power to humble the strongest of men and women. Growing up in the hills and hollows of West Virginia gave me first hand experience with nature’s power. Specifically, it taught be the power of rushing water.

Several years ago I attended a denominational event in Morgantown, WV and found myself in the most peculiar conversation. My brother and I, both West Virginia natives were standing outside of the conference center with a ministry colleague from a neighboring state. After a moment of silence this colleague turned to me and asserted, “These people will build houses anywhere! Look! They just stick them on the side of a mountain.”
At first I was taken back by the comment since I am not used to being referred to as one of “those people”. But having gathered my composure I, rather snidely I must admit, asked, “Where should ‘us people’ build our houses? On one of West Virginia’s expansive plains?”
Thankfully my brother was there to save the day. Gently he explained to our friend that mountain people build their dwelling on the hills for safety not convenience. We build above the flood line. Because when a person, house, or car takes on the waters of a flash flood the water wins that battle every time.
In the same way that houses, car, and people are powerless to resist the rushing torrent of white water we as creatures are powerless to control, manipulate, or confound God. When I am confronted with the power of rushing water I am reminded of how mighty God is and needy I am.

Ezekiel 43:2
and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory (NIV).

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Part 2 Amy’s Tree

My wife loves the out of doors. She love to plant and tend her garden. For her, much like it is for her father; gardening is an act of worship. I know that may sound strange to some but they both experience the profound joy of the Lord when they are laboring in the soil.
One of Amy’s prouder moments of horticultural genius came several years ago when she planted a red dogwood tree in our front yard. We had only been in this particular house for about a year in which time Amy had deemed our front yard, “entirely too bare.”
She loved that little tree. She tended and managed it meticulously, and cared for it religiously. As one year, then two, then three years past that little tree became a striking testament to her work. And then we moved and Amy’s little tree into which she had invested so much time and love had to stay.
Three years later we were back in the town and decided to drive past the house; I actually think Amy wanted to check on the tree more than she wanted to see the house. To her horror her beloved little red dogwood had become diseased and was dead. It was early June and Amy’s little tree was not red and lush the way it should have been. It was gray and sparse. The bark was pealing and it was clear that no life existed in our little tree.
My wife mourned her little tree that day. She mourned the fact that she had not been there to take care of it. She mourned the beauty that had been lost. And as she mourned I was reminded that we all have the potential to be like that little tree.
My mind when to Psalm 1 (the three verses we looked at yesterday). It was obvious from the state of Amy’s little tree that it had been ravaged by disease. The neglect of the current home owns had enabled the disease to spread and what should have been beautiful and full of life had become an ugly shell void of vitality. The tree did not bear fruit in its season. Something had gone terribly wrong.
As we drove past our old house that day the Lord reminded me to remain vigilant. Don’t allow yourself to be diseased by the counsel of the wick. Don’t neglect holy pursuits as you stand in the way of sinners. Don’t be filled with the poison of mockery. But rest in and drink deeply of the delightful provision of the God.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Amy’s Tree

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

One of the first things that any young Bible student learns is the importance of the word like when reading and interpreting the scriptures. This word is very important because it alerts us to the fact that the biblical writer is trying to make a comparison or give and illustration.
These comparisons and illustrations allow us to more quickly understand what the author is trying to teach or tell us by connecting an abstract truth with a concrete example.
In the verses above the Psalmist communicates a very profound truth – when a person delights and meditates on the law of God he / she will be blessed. The Author illustrates this truth by pointing us to a lush and fruitful tree. The tree is a metaphor which anchors the theoretical idea of delight in a way that is both accessible and understandable.
When I consider this analogy I am struck with the fact that there is a causal relationship between the tree’s life source and its productivity. Above the surface of the earth we see the bright green, the strong branches, and the lush fruits. But it is below the surface at the root level where the nurturance for life, health, and strength are attained. This tree bears fruit and remains strong because it is nurtured at the root level.
With this being said, I wonder what kind of “tree” people see when they look at me? Do they see fruit? Do they see health and life? And what does it mean if they do or don’t see these things? It may mean that there is something wrong with my roots.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Part 2 – Why we’re not dog people

God created this world – matter and time, earth and sky, light and darkness, plants and animals (Genesis 1:1-25a). And it was good (Genesis 1:25b). God made human being and gave us the charge to steward and tend all that God had created.
Humans and all of creation worked in harmony and unity. Everything functioned like it was supposed to and all was well. No, it was better than that. It was very good (Genesis 1:31). But then humans sinned and because of our sin we fell away from God and now live in a world that is dominated by sin, struggle, death, and suffering.
This may seem like a stretch to some of you but I think that part of my hesitance about getting a dog is bound up to the fact that this world is not how it is supposed to be. God created it good but we have polluted it. God ordered it perfectly but we have brought disorder to it. But even among the disorder we can see the imprints of God’s handy work.

Romans 1:20 tell us:
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse

But what difference does it make for our family when it comes to getting a dog? I think it makes all the difference in the world. Honestly, I am still not sure we are dog people. But working through this decision has taught me something about what it means to live as a kingdom citizen in a fallen world.
It has taught me that as a child of God I should not fear the effects of the fall so much that I miss out or cause my family to miss out on experiencing the greatest of God’s invisible qualities, love. Whether or not we get a dog isn’t the issue. The issue is how I will choose to live. Will I live a life that marginalizes love to avoid pain? Or will I choose to love freely, even risking pain, as a testament to the overcoming work of God that is manifested in love – even love for His creation.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why we’re not dog people

Right now my family is in a bit of an uproar. My wife, two sons, and daughter all want a dog but I am refusing to get one. Now before all the “dog people” start extolling the virtues of canine companionship let me explain myself.
I live in a place where you can legitimately expect it to snow in 6 of the 12 months out of the year. Our yard is just a slightly bigger than a postage stamp and we already have two indoor animals. A skittish hamster named Snowball and a rotund, ill-tempered, and neurotic cat named Holly Chaffins (yes our cat has a last name that is different than ours. I will explain sometime. It's a riveting tale).
While my family assures me that they will take care of the dog I know that this dog will demand much more work and attention than both Snowball and Holly Chaffins put together. The dog will need walking in the dead of winter. It will need to be boarded when we travel – which is quite often since we do not live near family. The dog will be messy which will necessitate constant clean-up both outside and inside. The dog will need training which will take time and effort. The dog will cost money: vet bills, food, boarding, grooming, and the list goes on and on. But none of these things are the real reason I don’t want a dog.
The real issue is the sense of mourning associated with loss. So here is the confession. I don’t want a dog because if we get a dog I will get attached to him/her and when he/she dies I will mourn the loss. But isn’t this wrong-headed? Am I allowing the reality of sin and the fall to keep me and my family from experiencing the love and joy of His creation?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Living the Resurrection

Today I choose to bring life to things. I choose to shine the light of Christ's life on those around me. There is so much death, literally and figuratively, in this world. I choose to bring the resurrection power of Jesus with me today. To embody it.
The only way that resurrection hope can be manifested is if something dies. I choose to die to myself today. I choose to put to death the lust of the flesh, pride, false humility, and greed. I choose to journey with someone who is in some small way walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
I can only do what I can do. God will have to be God because all I can be is Dennis. But today I choose to really as one who has been changed by the resurrected Christ can. And because of that change to be a source of light and life to another.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Time and Energy

Do you remember when you thought you were busy but you really were not. I sure do. I remember being in high school and thinking that I was busy. But I really wasn't. Then when I arrived at college I thought I was busy but I wasn't busy then either. I seemed to have so much more time then than I do now. But the reality is that I have the same amount of time now as I did then I just have more responsibilities now and more demands on my time today than I did in years past.
The reality is that we all have a limited amount of time and energy. So we have to make choices. We have to decide where we will go and what we will do. We must decide who we will invest in and with whom we will journey in community.
I am becoming more and more aware of this fact the older that I get. Choices are inevitable and as we grow and excell our opportunities will exceed our ability to take part in those opportunities. And here is where our true values are exposed. We value what we invest in. We spend our time, our money, our energy, our resources, and our attentions on things that we value.
So here is what I am going to do. For one week I am going to attempt to track everything I do - what I spend, where I go, and with whom and in whom I invest. You see I think I value certain things but I wonder if I really do value those things or if I am self-deceived into thinking I am someone I really am not.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Here I sit on New Years morning. The sky is over cast. Amy is in the kitchen switching out our old dishes with the new ones she received as a Christmas gift (from her mom, not me); both boys are still in bed, and Makayla is playing a video game. And I am sitting in my chair taking inventory of this past year.
All told 2011 was a pretty good year. I know that there were things and time that were less than stellar but I really cannot think of anything too bad right now. Most of my work days consisted of writing, reading or studying for my job at RBC Ministries. I started my Doctorate at Talbot School of Theology in June (which is why I did no blogging after the middle of April last year). And my family are all healthy and happy. Life is good.
But as I sit here pondering on this gray morning, I wonder what the Lord will have for me in 2012. I wonder what needs to change in me. Simply put, what am I going to use my time energies and talents toward in 2012.
The reality is that all of us have a limited amount of resources. I can only read so many books and articles so what I am going to read. I can only spend time with so many people so who will I make time to spend time with. I only have so much money, what will I spend it on. All of these thoughts are rolling around in my mind as I consider life-change and personal growth in 2012.
As I process all these thoughts and feelings I am reminded of the teachings of Jesus. He commands us to love - holistically love God and selflessly love neighbor (See Deut. 6:4; Matthew 22:37-40; 1 Corinthians 13; John 3 & John 17). It seems that everything Jesus says goes back to love.
This is what I know. I was lost and God, in the person of Jesus Christ and via the power of the Holy Spirit, came looking for me. He found me and adopted me into his family. And as a part of his family he has called me and commissioned me to invite others to came and be a part of his loving family.
So this year I want to be more concerned about communicating the loving message of hope and less concerned keeping rules and building protective hedges around pet dogmas. This year I am going to try to love God more fully, love others in Jesus' name more effectively, and utilize my gifts and abilities to help others love better.
I want to write more...some here...some in other publications and places
I want to take better care of myself...
I want to nurture the spiritual lives of my family...
So here we go! Looking forward to a great year.