“Amazing Grace”

I have been waiting for a while to see the movie, Amazing Grace, which opened in theaters last Friday (2/23). We decided to watch it today on our day off. It was worth the wait!

The movie, which tells the story of William Wilberforce’s campaign to end slavery in England, was very well done. Wilberforce, a member of the House of Commons, was influenced by former slave trader, John Newton, who experienced a radical change of heart and went on to write one of the most important hymns in the Christian tradition, “Amazing Grace,” from which the movie gets its name, of course.

Not only was the story well communicated, there was a strong faith element, without being overdone or done poorly. It was also a very inspiring movie. Wilberforce was an example of someone who did the right thing even though it was incredibly hard. He fought for something that very view people agreed with and even fewer people were willing to stand up for. It wasn’t easy for him to do so, but he persevered against all odds, and somehow, he found the courage to fight the battle against human trafficking. And the world is better because of it!

Interestingly, I checked out the weekend’s box office numbers and “Amazing Grace” came in at #10 in its first weekend at the box office. That’s not so good UNTIL you realize that the movie only opened in an unbelievably low 791 theaters! Even more interesting, the movie’s per-theater ticket sales was right up there with the top two movies, but those movies appeared in FIVE times as many theaters. Needless to say, I’m very surprised, and disappointed, that “Amazing Grace” only opened in 791 theaters. It’s a movie that everyone needs to see!

“How Great is Our God” Concert Reflections

Earlier tonight, Joleen and I attended the "How Great is Our God" tour concert at the Bryce Jordan Center on the Penn State campus in State College, PA. Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman (worship leaders) and guest speaker, Louie Giglio, offered an amazing 3-hour worship experience!

I enjoy Tomlin and Redman’s worship music, and Louie is a gifted communicator. There were several things that impacted me. Here are some of them …

Knowing the story behind Matt Redman’s song, “Heart of Worship” (as told by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life), it was especially nice to experience the long live!

The first song to really capture my attention, though, was Redman’s song, “You Never Let Go.” The chorus says …

Oh no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm, oh no, you never let go, in every high and every low, oh no, you never let go; Lord, you never let go of me.” Good stuff! (You can read the complete song lyrics here.)

One of my favorite segments was the singing of Tomlin’s new arrangement of “Amazing Grace” (following Louie’s message). The movie, “Amazing Grace,” which also opened in theaters tonight, includes Tomlin’s version of the great hymn. In fact, if it were not for the concert, we would have gone to see the movie tonight. But it was really awesome to experience this song on the opening night of the movie, too! I was especially moved by the words …

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free, my God my Savior has ransomed me, and like a flood his mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace.

Tomlin’s song, “Indescribable,” is a great song about God. It’s full of powerful words and descriptors of God. The word that grabbed my heart tonight was the word “untamable.” God is untamable. We have a tendency to try to tame God, to shape God in our own image, to bring God down to our level. But God cannot be tamed! He is a big, awesome, and incredible God!

Louie Giglio’s message was amazing. As a preacher/communicator, I had been looking forward to Louie’s message as much as the music, and I was not disappointed! It’s hard to put into words, but Louie’s message, which expanded my view and awe of God, talked about four specific stars in the universe. Louie demonstrated in convincing ways that the earth is a speck in the universe, yet God cares about and is intimately acquainted with every one of us!

And believe it or not, I even thought about my dissertation during the concert. But I need some more time to chew on those things before writing about them, which I hope to do later.

Well, we had looked forward to this concert for a long time. It was definitely worth the wait!

Adoption Group Sessions Completed

The first leg of the journey completed! Last evening, we along with five other families, completed the four group sessions. They consisted of one all-day session and three evening sessions. Some of the topics we covered were the adoption process, positive adoption language, medical information, bonding and attachment, discipline, loss and grieving, and the search for racial identity. It was good to get to know other families who are entering this process.

The next step will be the home visit! It will be an all-day visit to our home by the social worker. We both completed a questionnaire and wrote an autobiography in preparation for this meeting. Our social worker will help us discover from what country we will adopt. And this will determine the paperwork trail that lies ahead. We will be contacted in a couple of weeks to schedule this meeting.

Leadership in a “Fishers of People” Context

Recently, Rev. Dr. Tom Salsgiver, wrote an editorial for our conference publication called, “Keepers of the Aquarium or Fishers of People.” The article got my leadership juices flowing and I started thinking specifically about pastoral leadership in a “fishers of people” context.

Pastoral Leadership In a “Fishers of People” Context
By Randy Willis

Tom Salsgiver recently wrote an article challenging congregations to evaluate themselves to determine whether they are “keepers of the aquarium” or “fishers of people.”

Keepers of the aquarium “care more about their members than those outside the church” while fishers of people understand that their mission is “to bring in those who are unchurched.” There is a world of difference between these two sets of values. “How you answer that question,” Tom concludes, “will determine whether you live – or die” as a congregation. I believe we must be a “fishers of people” community!

The article has caused me to reflect on what pastoral leadership might look like in a “fishers of people” context. Tom notes that expectation of pastoral leadership is very different in the two types of congregations. In keepers of the aquarium settings, pastors are expected to be “personal chaplains for their members,” taking care of the members. In “fishers of people” settings, pastors are free to lead the church to transform their communities for Christ.

How might a leader in a “fishers of people” context use his or her time? I believe leaders must prioritize their time, giving primary attention to the following areas …

  • Cultivating one’s own spiritual growth and development. Leaders cannot be catalysts for spiritual transformation in others if they are not being spiritually transformed themselves!
  • Developing one’s own leadership gifts. Leaders must be learners!
  • Investing adequate time in sermon prep for sermons that are transformational, not just informational. Life change is a core value for transformational leaders!
  • Growing a leadership culture in the local church. Transformational leaders don’t lead alone; they know it takes a crew to complete a mission!

These four areas should ideally comprise most of the pastor’s time. Remaining time may be used for various ministry projects, administrative tasks, meetings, emergency pastoral care (routine visitation would take place as able with the majority of visitation being handled by members), as well as involvement beyond the local church (community, district, conference, etc.).

The Church is God’s means to bring God’s hope and transformation to the world. In order for that to happen, leaders must lead their congregations to be “fishers of people”!

Navigating Life

Today, we concluded our series on “Navigating Life: Doing Life God’s Way!” We believe it was an important series; we certainly hope that it was helpful for the hrist followers in our congregations!

We don’t always collaborate on our sermon series, but this series grew out of a conversation we had while traveling to Tennessee on Christmas morning to visit my family. We think this series was important because we believe that we will either do life God’s way (intentionally) or we will simply drift through life. And there are few things more sad than someone who drifts through life, lost at sea!

Using sailing imagery, we began the series with “Setting the Course.” Asking “Where are you headed?” we looked at John 14.1-6.

Joleen said, “Let’s journey with Jesus,” and Randy focused on trust saying, “It takes trust to do life with God!” Randy challenged listeners to think about the areas of their lives where they need totrust God, and then to release those areas to God.

Our second message was a lot of fun. We talked about “GPS” and asked, “How will you get to where you’re going?” But instead of talking about a Global Positioning System, but God’s Positioning System. Taking our cue from Deuteronomy 6.4-9, Joleen said, “Let’s journey with Scripture, a prayerful approach wherethe Holy Spirit speaks through the Words.” She challenged listeners to consider places where they could put Scripture so that it would be afrequent reminder of God. Randy’s message was, “When we make God thecenter of our lives we are more equipped to do life God’s way!” Randy encouraged listeners to develop their own, unique navigational system incorporating the spiritual disciplines, particularly prayer and Scripture.We divided the next two messages in the series.

Joleen took “Expect Delays,” asking, “What will you do when you encounter obstacles?” Randy took “The Crew” which asked the question, “Who are you traveling with?”After preaching those messages in our respective congregations, we traded places and shared the same messages with each other’s congregations the following week.

Joleen, after reading Matthew 8.23-27 noted that, “Storms will come, but Jesus is in the boat, so you’llweather the storm with a little faith.” Randy’s message, coming from Romans 12.1-8, stated that, “It takes a crew to complete a mission!” Randy challenged listeners to begin asking God what their function in the church might be, and to also begin asking others who know them to help them discover their role and gifting in the church.

We wrapped up the series today with a message on “Course Corrections.” We looked at James 1.1-18 and asked, “What do you do when you get off course?” Joleen suggested that listeners “Admit, ask forgiveness, and adjustonce again to Jesus’ path.” She stated that up until we make a commitment, we should ask, “Is this God’s will?” but that once we makethe commitment, we should affirm, “This is God’s will! Life is a discernment process where we are always open to hear God’s voice.

In Randy’s final message, he said, “When you get off course, return!” The inherent meaning behind the word “repent” is “return.” We must return to God and to what God has called us to be. “Ask God to search your heart for areas where you have gone off course,” Randy challenged listeners, “and ask God for wisdom and help to get back oncourse.”We hope that, by God’s grace, you will be able to follow Jesus more effectively from now on as you seek to navigate life and do life God’sway!

Feel free to ask questions or post comments at the end of this post!

Dissertation :: The journey begins!

We will occasionally post reports on the progress of our dissertation work. For this first report, we wish we had more progress to report than we do. It has been 5 weeks since our class, and while we always need a break after class, we had hoped to be a little further along than we are. But, fortunately, we’re not quite in panic mode yet!

The goal is still to write a (very) rough draft of chapters 1-3 by 03.16.2007, which still gives us four weeks to get it done. In reality, this may very well be the most important part of the entire process. Once we get this draft turned in we can work toward a "proposal hearing" sometime this summer.

Once approved, the next step is to work on projects in our
respective charges, probably summer / late summer / early fall.
Afterward (in the fall) we’ll write the final two chapters, 4-5.
Hopefully, then, in the spring of 2008, we would be ready to "defend"
our dissertations before a committee. If that’s successful, we will
graduate on 05.24.2008, completing a 4.5 year journey!

We are grateful that we have a faculty mentor to work with from the
beginning of this process. Normally students are not assigned mentors
until at least mid-March after
they submit a rough draft of the first three chapters. Fortunately, however, we already have a faculty mentor. Dr. Russell West has agreed to work with both of us. We are very much looking forward to working with him!

Next steps …

Randy is hoping to write a rough draft of Chapter 1
(introduction and overview of the dissertation project) in the next few
days, and then conduct a "review of literature" (i.e. Chapter 2)
related to his topic during the next 3 to 4 weeks. During the fourth
week, he’ll rough out chapter 3, which is about the design of the
proposed project.

Joleen has been doing research to help nail down her topic.
She has an important meeting scheduled on Monday with a pastor in our
Conference whom she thinks has been doing something similar to what she
wants to do and study.

Jesus’ Ministry :: A Lenten Meditation

I recently wrote this piece for the Manor Hill Charge newsletter for Lent …

Jesus’ Ministry
Jesus ministered to the crowds and then he drew the Twelve aside to teach them more. He taught them who he was. He taught them about the kingdom. He took them deeper than he did the crowd. The Twelve (the Core) wrestled with the things that perplexed thecrowd. He mentored and trained them, sending them out in twos to doministry. They came back and talked about that ministry.

How did it go?
Where did you have trouble? Where do you need to grow? How can I help you?

The Twelve were under a rigorous training routine – one thatinvolved every moment of their lives. The Twelve lived and ate withJesus. They traveled with Jesus. They listened to Jesus; they questioned Jesus; they struggled to understand Jesus. When Jesus’ teachings became too difficult and other disciples turned away, the Twelve remained.

The Twelve were not perfect. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Peter turned to the sword, as Jesus responded with healing andsubmission. One didn’t make it; Judas worked against Jesus.

Who are you in this story? Do you want to be one of the Twelve, at the core of God’s Church and it’s ministry, his loving action in the world? Are you in the crowd? Is God asking too much of you and so you chooseto remain in the crowd? Or have you turned away from his demands, hisvoice, his teaching?

As we travel the Lenten journey together, where will you find yourself? Will you draw closer to the One who requires much … even your all? Will you be obedient even when you don’t understand his commands? Will you follow him to the cross?