...opportunities to lift Jesus up and point others to him? Well, three opportunities, for starters. This Sunday at Furnace Brook we are biting off something that only the Holy Spirit could help us chew. After months of prayerful groundwork we are going to be adding an 11:00 service at Pittsford, in keeping with our mission of making more and better disciples for Jesus.
A flannel graph is simply a board covered in felt-like fabric on which you might place cut out images with tacky backing in order to tell a story and, my teachers had books full of characters and settings for recounting any number of biblical events.
But not all of the biblical events. I remember getting to a place in my Sunday School journey where I began to wonder irreverently what it would look like to tell some of the "juicier" stories in flannel graph. To tell the story of Elisha on the way to Bethel we would need cut outs for a bald prophet, 42 saucy lads, and 2 she-bears with bloody claws and muzzles. Those weren't in the standard set. David and Bathsheba, Ehud's treatment of Eglon, and any number of other events would have, if accurately portrayed, made the flannel board a thing of great scandal.
And I understand why my teachers were not interested in teaching us the more salacious stories in scripture. I get that. But I also appreciate that God gave us an earthy, edgy narrative that makes us squirm and that refuses to be bowdlerized. There are times when reading the word of God that you can almost hear the Author of that word chuckling to himself and muttering "flannel graph this!"
This all came to mind as I was preparing for this Sunday's sermon, in which Rahab comes up. (The first version of that sentence read: "in which I touch on Rahab." I thought better of that wording.)
There will be children in attendance but the biblical record is clear about the fact that Rahab was a prostitute, and this can make the preacher squirm. It doesn't appear to have any narrative significance which, ironically, makes its clear inclusion all the more significant. Rahab was someone who was paid to have sex with men. And she was a woman of great faith whose faith gave her, ultimately, a place in Jesus' lineage.
Let one takeaway be this: how we want to tell the stories, and who we think might be an appropriate audience for the stories, has no bearing on the stories our great Author ends up telling.
If the story that grace is working out in your life contains the sort of details you fear would have no place on a flannel graph, take heart. You will be able to say with Rahab that it is better to have a story that makes it into the "Book of Life," than to have the sort of story that might show up on a flannel graph.
Our mission as a church is to make more and better disciples. It’s that simple. It’s also that hard.
Over time I’ve come to find the old metaphor of the trellis and the vine to be a helpful way of thinking about that mission and the work of the church.
When we see someone put her faith in Jesus Christ for salvation for the first time, or someone who has been a believer taking new steps of radical obedience, that is the growth of the vine that gives us our reason for being.
But the health and extent of the vine depends, at least in part, on the sturdiness and availability of the trellis. For us, the trellis is composed of things like our buildings, staff, website, church management software, sound equipment, etc. These things must never be mistaken for the mission of the church: they are the things we do and invest in for the sake of fulfilling the mission.
Our story as a church could be told in terms of the trellis and vine. There have been seasons in our life as a church where we had a lot more trellis than we did vine. And there have been those heady seasons when it was all we could do to make sure our trellis was keeping up with the vine.
When the folks in North Chittenden left their building in the lovely valley to set up church in a warehouse on Route 7 it was trellis work in the interest of a vine we believed that God would grow.
When the folks in Forest Dale decided to merge with Furnace Brook it was not because the existing vine demanded that sort of trellis, but because we didn’t want the size or health of our trellis to determine the size of God’s vine.
And this is such a season in the life of our church. The addition of a full time staff person is one of the many delightful things that have happened to expand our trellis in anticipation of the vine.
And early indications are that our Invite Your One Sunday on October 22nd is arriving at the same time that a wave of momentum is swelling for us as a church. This is providential and exciting, but it will mean something for our trellis that we didn’t see coming even a month or two ago.
After much prayer and discussion with leaders in the church we have decided that the time has come for us to go to two services in Pittsford. Starting October 15th we will have a 9:00 service in Pittsford and 11:00 services in both locations. Already we are having people step up to take on responsibilities at Forest Dale and we are putting together a teaching team to assist Pastor Tate with the preaching at 11:00.
We are committing to this arrangement through Christmas and we will evaluate in early December before making a decision about extending the service schedule into the new year.
We are really intent on making more and better disciples for Jesus, and we are cheerfully convinced that adding this service will help us to accomplish that mission.
Honestly, we don’t have a solution for every problem that this creates or an answer for every question that it raises. But we are confident that this is an act of obedience and that the God who has called us will not fail to equip us.
And it's not because they don't have a heart for people who are far from God. It's not because they want to keep the church from growing. And it's not because they're afraid of losing their seat to someone new.
There is no exaggerating how strong an inhibition many of us have when it comes to inviting someone to church. We may be very grateful that someone invited us, but the thought of doing the same for someone else induces shaky sweats and hopeless stammering.
Not all inhibitions need to be overcome (as with the pastor's inhibition regarding skinny jeans: can we get an "Amen!?")
But where our inhibitions are preventing us from being faithful we cannot resign ourselves to being forever checked by our hang-ups. Consider trying the following steps to overcoming your inhibitions in a way that honors God.
1. Fear God more.
In Psalm 34 David makes clear that fearing the Lord is not just the key to turning from evil, but for actually doing good. Think about it. At the root of most inhibitions is a fear: fear of failure, or of embarrassment, or of losing control, etc. If you have not been able to overcome those fears, you can still, wisely, give the place of privilege to a better fear. I could, for instance, overcome my inhibition about crashing a celebrity filled cocktail party, if it was the only way I could escape a lion. And God is the lion that I am right to fear, and right to trust.
2. Get Biblical.
Knowing with confidence what God wants me to do and to avoid doing is a great antidote to knowing with anxiety what my psychological state wants me to do and to avoid doing.
3. Count the cost.
Jesus said that before any great undertaking it is wise and necessary to "count the cost." And he's right (of course), but in some surprising ways. We typically think of a failure to count the cost as leading to reckless behavior. But it also leads to entrenched inhibitions. Our inhibitions say to us "don't risk that. It will cost you too much." And what we need to learn to do is to push back against our inhibition and demand to know "exactly how much could it cost me?" With the inhibition regarding inviting people to church, for instance, we need to be able to ask ourselves, 'what is the worst case scenario here?'
Honestly, the worst case scenario (which is possible, but unlikely) is that the person you invite will respond angrily or derisively. And then ask yourself, 'Is that a cost I can afford?' The answer is likely 'yes.' Counting the cost is deflating to an inhibition.
4. Take yourself lightly.
It was G.K. Chesterton who famously said that "the reason angels can fly is because they take themselves so lightly."
The Psalmist says (paraphrasing) "when I think about all the mind-boggling stuff you've done (bio-luminescent fish, springs from deep places, the Aurora Borealis) I don't even know why you think about me, much less care for me!"
Most inhibitions have, at their root, a little, hidden self-importance. I don't want to risk inviting someone to church because I don't want to look ridiculous if they say no. But I am a flimsy bi-ped with a short life span who is deeply and strangely loved by the God of the universe. No botched social interaction could make me look more ridiculous than I actually am. Taking myself lightly renders my inhibitions impotent.
It’s hard to say goodbye to the summer, to finally give up on our unrealistic expectations about the projects we would accomplish, the fun trips we would take, the family memories we would make.
But even if you’re not one of the people who compulsively pumpkin spices everything between now and Halloween, there’s a lot about this season to enjoy: the weather, the fall sports, the rhythm of scholastic life. If the end of summer is bitter, the treasures of fall can be sweet enough to make it bittersweet.
And it’s also a time when we tend to take a deep breath and manage another running start at doing the things that are important to us. We make the big changes and undertake the big challenges with the beginning of a new school year.
Following are five suggestions about how to be successful at using the new season as a launchpad for renewing (or instilling) a spiritual life for your family.
Season with faith
Many of us make the mistake of overdoing it with the “spiritual stuff.” We have a moment where it hits us forcefully that our family is functionally heathen, that no one is really living a life of faith, and that the six year old might be a sociopath. So we try to take things as far as we can in the opposite direction.
And there’s nothing wrong with family devotions twice a day and only enjoying Christian entertainment. But if that’s the goal, it’s how we will measure our success . . . which means that we will constantly feel like we’re failing.
It helps to think of faith as seasoning. The salt is not the meal. Life is the meal and you’re cooking for the family so you are going to be strategic about where and how you’re going to add the salt.
Pray out loud a fleeting blessing over your kids before they get on the bus. Stick a Bible verse in their lunch or their backpack every day or every so often. Bring God up in conversation where it’s appropriate. Tuck them in with a brief prayer or a verse of a song you know from church.
Trust in God’s irrepressible potency, trust that His success is not dependent on the consistency or the ambitious scope of your efforts.
Keep the Sabbath
The season is unbelievably busy. Sunday is a gift from God to a people who will unwisely exhaust themselves and others with a relentless schedule if given the chance.
Give your kids one day a week when the focus is on something else, when they don’t have to feel guilty about not accomplishing something, when the demands of school and sport and cultural engagement are given the stiff arm.
Participating in worship is certainly part of how we keep the Sabbath, and most of us who do it can testify that it establishes a rhythm and provides benefits that stretch well into the week that follows.
Fight for perspective
During the school year it can be easy to lose perspective. The grade on an exam or the final score of a soccer game can seem all-important. School-aged relationships can be volatile, which is too bad considering how big a deal we think they are at the time.
Tell your children that they were made for eternity. Remind them that they are resilient and that they will outlast their grades, their scores, and their social statuses. Teach your children to shrug.
Offer them your umbrella
The best thing you can do for your family is to love Jesus deeply and to practice your faith openly and consistently. Doing so will make you a rock of stability, a steady and deeply rooted person in the midst of a busy season. And your children need that more than you know.
The deeper you go with Jesus the bigger your umbrella and the more room there is under it for others to get the benefit. Eventually your kids will need to develop their own faith for handling all that a season might throw at them. But this fall count it a privilege to spread the umbrella of your faith over your family.
Make delight a verb
It is truly a delightful season, but delight tends to elude those who wait for it to show up. Resolve that you and your family will delight this fall.
Don’t just go apple picking. Decide that you’re going to do your delighting in an apple orchard one day.
And don’t neglect delight’s sister, gratitude. The more you practice the one, the more the other shows up unbidden, perhaps even tasting of pumpkin spice.
Senator Sanders, at a recent confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, who had been appointed to a position in the Office of Budget and Management, you brought a lot of critical scrutiny to Mr. Vought's personal beliefs about Jesus.
We appreciate and share your stated concern for the health of our pluralistic society. But we are concerned that your policing of theological positions poses more of a threat to that pluralism than do the followers of Jesus Christ. As Christian believers, we are convinced that Jesus would have us show courtesy and love to all our neighbors. But we are also convinced that salvation is needed and that Jesus is needed for salvation. This conviction is based on the testimony of Jesus himself, as recorded in the Bible, which is why no one can judge us for this belief without rendering the same judgment on Jesus.
It makes us sad to think that you believe our convictions might disqualify us from participation in the public square. But if forced to choose between your approval and our Savior, with all of his difficult demands and indescribable benefits, we will always choose Jesus.
At the same time, we are patriotic citizens and proud Vermonters who are grateful to you for representing our state in the Senate. It's our privilege to pray for you and to see you blessed, regardless of how you feel about us.
Please reconsider your approach to people of strong faith and good will.
In the meantime we will resist your efforts to proscribe Christian belief, and we will resist with all the stubbornness of a Yankee, and all the meekness of Jesus.
Your friends at Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church,
Pittsford and Brandon, Vermont.
I've been wanting to update you all on our recent adventures in providing foster care. I really have. But at 9:30 pm when the last behavior has been corrected, the last pill administered, the last request for water honored, and the last fire (metaphorical, literal, whatever) put out I've just been too tired.
Here's the deal: God called us to do it, equipped us to do it, resourced us to do it. But it isn't always pretty. I haven't always been pretty. I can go from simmering resentment to boiling self-pity to basking in the warm glow of my own fine nobility in the matter of moments. I might hate that I have to change diapers again, but I love working it into conversation. Ughh. God's still got some work to do on my heart.
But what happens in the pastor's home has an effect on the church so I've wanted to update you on a few things.
1. Providing foster care makes me a much better pastor, but it also makes me a much less effective accomplisher of tasks. This has been eating me up at times, but I'm a shepherd whose example is the Good Shepherd who left the 99 for the sake of the one lost lamb. I tend to assign a lot of importance to the things I get done, but in the demands and stress of this adventure God is doing things in my heart and my home that will move our church much further in the right direction than any task might have. Still, I'm looking forward to things straightening out and to me spending more time in the office without my diapered intern.
2. We don't know how long this arrangement will last, but we're game for anything. I have an amazing wife and children.
3. Two year olds with runny noses don't have biological parents and legal guardians. They have biological handkerchiefs and legal napkins.
4. We can't all provide foster care, but we all have a responsibility to the orphan and the widow.
5. "Before the kids came we wasted so much time." This was an observation one of my daughters made in the aftermath of a long day. It has haunted me since she said it.
6. The songs we sing on Sunday will wreck you when you are standing next to a foster child. Good, Good Father? It's so meaningful as to be almost un-singable.
7. It's not all dutiful obedience. There is intense joy in this arrangement.
8. We have mentioned on many occasions that our prayer for Furnace Brook is that we would have a "messy church." What we have meant by that is that we want for the church to be the sort of place where broken people are coming, with all of their baggage, to look for redemption. And what God is showing me is that if I'm unwilling for the pastor's home to be "messy" I shouldn't expect that beautiful mess to be happening at the church either.
9. Before we're done I will have purchased milk from every store in the county that sells the stuff. What time is it? Get-more-milk-o'clock. That's what time it is, all the time.
10. I would hate for our current home life to make anyone feel guilty about the relative comfort and ease that he enjoys. But I would hate it even more if no one felt challenged by our example to take his own steps of obedience to minister to the "least of these."
God bless you all and please pray for us and the souls entrusted to us for this season.
*It's not really a parsonage (church owned housing provided for the use of resident clergy) but you know what I mean.
At the beginning of last month we used this blog to explain the steps that had led us to consider adding a staff position at Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church. And, today we want you to know that we have posted the position and job description on the denominational job board and are actively looking for people to fill the position and help us with our mission of making more and better disciples for Jesus Christ.
Last week we had a potluck meal at the Forest Dale Campus and discussed this development with regard to how it will effect that campus. It was a good discussion and I admire the people of that campus for the change they have endured and the change they are willing to go through now in order to make more and better disciples.
Here are some takeaways from that conversation:
1. We are all in agreement that as good as things are in Forest Dale now, if they are going to get better and if more people are going to attend and find Jesus in that place it will take more pastoral presence and leadership than Pastor Tate is currently in a position to provide.
2. Pastor Tate and the people of the Forest Dale campus have grown attached to each other and the congregation is not looking for someone to take their pastor's place and he is not looking for someone to take them off his hands.
3. An associate pastor could do a lot to move the mission forward at Forest Dale while enhancing the ministry of Furnace Brook Wesleyan at both current locations and any future ones.
4. If you have any questions about the position, and I can not stress this enough, ask Pastor Tate. He will be honest and forthright with you.
5. In a year's time we would like to be at two services in Pittsford and busting at the seams in Forest Dale and we have a vision for how this position could help us get there. But we are open, even at this point, to suggestions about how to change the job description, for instance. None of us in leadership have ever done this before and we are using all of our resources (including prayer) to make the wisest decisions we can but we would be fools to ignore good suggestions from the people of the church. So let us know what you're thinking.
6. Every big change in the life of a church feels like a catastrophe even if we believe it is a good catastrophe. There is always a period of uncertainty, a delicate season when we could still turn back, when we've counted the cost but can only guess at the possible benefits. That's where we are now, and we've been there before. And, if we remain obedient, we will be here again. It's one adventure after another when you throw your lot in with the Kingdom on the march.
Ten years ago we were two different churches, one of which was meeting in a building that few of you have ever been in. A lot has changed.
For one thing, I've gotten older. My kids remark frequently on the number of gray hairs showing up on my head. Who needs a mirror when you have a frank child?
But I've noticed something strange and strangely thrilling. I am getting older, and my joints are getting stiffer, and my hair is surely graying: in other words I am experiencing pained growing. But the church I get to lead is experiencing growing pains. And I can't tell you how much better that is.
I want to fill you in on some of what that means for us as a church as we boldly dare to fulfill our mission of making more and better disciples for Jesus.
1. The merger has been more successful than we could have hoped. Despite all of the obstacles, we have found our footing at the Forest Dale Campus and the culture has changed there in some notable ways. We are poised now for dramatic success. I can't tell you how amazing this outcome is. None of us had ever done anything like this before. There were no local examples for us to follow. And many such mergers fail. Praise the Lord for what He has done here!
2. The board, after much prayerful deliberation has decided to pursue a long-term lease with our landlords in Pittsford. You can pray that we would be able to arrive at favorable terms with them.
Our hope is that leasing, as opposed to buying or building, will free our resources up to be devoted to ministry.
3. We can see now, in retrospect, that at the time when the merger was taking place we were already in a position where we were understaffed. Back in April there were already more people than one shepherd could effectively minister to, and more stuff than one leader could handle. And then we took on the merger.
If we were slow to pick up on this it wasn't because we had an inflated view of our leadership capacity. It's helpful to understand that just ten years ago I had a full-time job outside the church just to make ends meet and I didn't have an office, not even in the home (unless you count the computer in the hallway.) Every step we've taken has been a step into uncharted territory and those are hard steps to take.
But the board sees that if we are going to grow going forward, if we are going to be able to not only reach people with the gospel, but effectively disciple them, we will need more staff, more undershepherds for a growing flock.
So we are working on a job description and many of the details are still unclear but we are hoping that this new position will feature some particular responsibility for Forest Dale as well as a church-wide role.
We will keep you informed as that position becomes more defined and as we begin to consider candidates to fill it.
We will remain one church in two locations . . . at least until we are one church in three locations. Or more.
Because I am confident that within a year we will have two services at Pittsford and we will be having discussions about how to deal with the crowding at Forest Dale and then it will be on to starting services in other locations.
I have never been more excited about what God is doing in our church and I want you to be as excited as I am.
If you have any questions or suggestions please feel free to contact me at any time, by email or by phone.
We are not of "those who shrink back" . . . except when we are. Sometimes when the life of faith asks difficult things of us we quail and lose heart. In those moments of decision we want for obedience and faith to win out over fear and doubt. We don't want to be haunted by regret. We want all the blessings that come from being obedient to Jesus.
Please take the time to watch this riveting short film and then answer the following questions.
1. What is the thing God is calling you to that is your equivalent of the ten meter platform?
2. What is the thing God is calling your church to that is ten meters above the water?
3. What about the leapers in the movie surprised you?
4. What surprised you about those who failed to leap?
5. What other observations or spiritual applications do you have to make after watching the film?
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog