“Meet the Robinsons”

Friday night was "date night," and we went to see the movie Meet the Robinsons. After having seen the previews we decided that we wanted to watch this one. We especially loved the woman with the caffeine patches (which you may have seen in the commercials/previews). No side effects there!

It was a pretty good movie, although it got a bit slow in the middle. Interestingly, though, the movie had a good adoption theme. The movie opens with a young mother placing her newborn child (Lewis) at the door of an orphanage. The story grows out of the Lewis’ desire to find his family after spending his first 13 years in the orphanage. Lewis is an inventor who is always creating things to impress families, but they always blow up in his face (sometimes literally). After 124 failed adoption interviews, Lewis, tired of rejection, decides to find his family from the past, instead of going through more interviews. But a boy from the future finds him first and leads Lewis on a journey into the future to meet the Robinsons.

In addition to the adoption theme, there was also a great message about failure and "failing forward." The movie opened with a lengthy animated clip of an old Disney classic that involved Mickey, Donald Duck, and Goofy building a ship. In the end, it turned out to be a failure, but they celebrated anyway. We didn’t understand why that was shown at first, but after watching "Meet the Robinsons" it made sense. Many, well, all, of Lewis’ early inventions were failures. The Robinsons convinced Lewis that failures are valuable and part of the learning process. Using Walt Disneys words, the family encouraged Lewis to "keep moving forward!"

It’s a good message for all of us. Keep moving forward!

For the love of it!

On Monday, our district had its annual "day apart with the Bishop." Bishop Jane Allen Middleton talked about the recent results of a leadership tool that all the pastors in the conference completed last fall (including five "observers" for each of us, three people from our congregations, a colleague, and our district superintendent). I may say more about this tool, and my results, later.

But for now, I will share about a DVD that the Bishop showed called, "For the Love of It," by Dewitt Jones, a photographer who has worked for the National Geographic (I didn’t find the DVD on the website; I’m guessing it’s no longer available). I have seen one of his DVDs before, the one called Everyday Creativity (in a class at Asbury). Both were excellent!

I took some notes from the one we saw on Monday, which was essentially about enjoying what we do and doing what we enjoy. The following may or may not be exact quotes …

Do I work out of necessity or for the joy of it?

It’s not about finding a new job; it’s about finding a new way of looking at your job.

Begin each day with a full cup. (Jones’ mother)

Hang out with people who are in love with what they do.

Act as if you love what you do.

A bird sings, not because it has an answer but because it has a song (i.e. don’t worry about making a difference; make a contribution).

When you love what you do, you pass it on (i.e. it’s contagious).

Some of these may not make sense out of context. Feel free to ask questions or offer feedback by clicking on "comments."

My favorite concept from this DVD was the "begin each day with a full cup." This is a great concept that has obvious connections for Christ-followers, and perhaps especially church leaders. We must begin each day with a full cup, which means we must find ways to fill our cups!

Adoption paperwork

We made a lot of progress on the required paperwork for the adoption process today. The top priority, at this point, is a pre-application to Americans for International Aid & Adoption (AIAA), which basically puts us on a waiting list for a formal application (after a screening process). AIAA is the agency that we have been referred to, to pursue adoption from South Korea. We will continue to work with our local agency, Adoption Horizons, as well.

We also started and/or completed paperwork for the Department of Immigration and Naturalization, child abuse clearances and criminal background checks, and various other items.

Next on the agenda involves scheduling physical exams and obtaining passports. Also, after Immigration processes our paperwork, they will send us a form that we will take to the nearest FBI office to be fingerprinted. This process will certainly be an interesting experience!

The good news, though, is that the amount of paperwork for Korea is less and easier than other nations, for some reason. With everything else going on this year, we’re grateful for that!

Renovare Reflections

We spent Friday evening and most of the day Saturday at the Renovare conference in Camp Hill, PA. Renovare is the ministry of Richard Foster, best known for his book, Celebration of Discipline, which we both were required to read in seminary in the early 1990s.

The word "renovare" comes from the Latin translation of 2 Corinthians 4.16: That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed [renovare] every day.

It was a good time of spiritual renewal. It was also good to hear Richard Foster teach. Along with Foster, Juanita Rasmus, who pastors St. Johns United Methodist Church, along with her husband Rudy Rasmus, was also  a presenter at this conference. Juanita is a dynamic communicator.

Here are some things I took from the conference …

Spiritual Disciplines — doing what you can do to be empowered to do what you can’t do.

It does not depend on the skill of the instrument but on the grace of God.

Producing "patient endurance" (James 1.2) allow us to be response-able (able to respond).

Between God’s Promise and God’s Provision, is often a Problem (e.g. Joseph, Moses, Saul, etc.).

Westerners go to God primarily with their head and mouth; Koreans go to God primarily with their ears and heart (this one especially caught my attention because we recently decided to adopt from Korea!). It’s the The head/mouth approach is the McDonald’s Drive Thru approach. We pull up to the board, place our order, then drive to the window to get our order.

2 Peter 1.5 "make every effort" — The opposite of grace is works, not effort.

I’ve always loved Mark 1.35-38. Juanita called the disciples’ response "holy distractions" …

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.

Again, it was a good event for us. Many of the events we attend are leadership/personal growth oriented, so it was good to attend an event for spiritual renewal. It came at a good time, too, with the big events of the past week!

Whew! First drafts are in the mail …

Previously, we wrote about our first dissertation-related deadline. We had a little work remaining after the weekend, and we also wanted to read/edit each other’s work before mailing them, so it took a little longer than we had anticipated. It was intense, but it was also a very good first step in the process.

But, today we mailed our first drafts of the first three chapters of our dissertations (i.e. our “proposals”). What a relief!

One thing we’ll mention here is that instead of mailing our proposals to the D.Min. office, we mailed them to our faculty mentor, Dr. Russell West (at his request). This is where having a mentor at this early stage will be very helpful. When we get our work back from Russell in the next couple of weeks, we’ll work on the suggested improvements and then mail them to the D.Min. office. That should help us to be in good shape for the next phase (of preparing the document for our proposal hearing).

Now, a brief word about out topics …

Joleen is studying/developing a model of small group ministry that includes service and outreach as well as Bible study and fellowship.

Randy is studying/developing an approach to shape a leadership culture that will help the church to be more fully engaged in God’s mission.

We’ll take a little breather from the intensity. But, the work goes on and we’ll continue reviewing books and
resources related to our topics. We’ll also work on designing projects (related to our topics) for our ministry
settings. The main goal of the next two to
three months is to improve, expand, and polish our proposals.

Adoption Home Visit Completed!

This morning, we completed another big step in the adoption process. Our home visit is now behind us. A social worker from our adoption agency visited us this morning and spent a few hours talking about our backgrounds, life experiences, and our hopes/plans for the future. We also talked about which country we will adopt from.

Now we can focus on things like gathering copies of birth/marriage certificates, police background checks, child abuse clearances, FBI fingerprinting, physical exams, and other paperwork — steps that are required by various government agencies. And that’s just the first round. There’ll be another round for immigration later in the process. We’re not complaining, though. We understand the paperwork for the country we’ve chosen is much lighter than other countries!

And that brings us, finally, to today’s big news. We are pursuing adoption from South Korea.

Assuming the process goes somewhat according to plan (things are always changing in the world of international adoption, it seems!), we are hoping to bring home our infant child (possibly 8-9 months old) sometime in early 2008 — maybe even between defending our dissertations and graduation!

March Madness: Nothing But Nets

March is a big month for college basketball fans. Locally, the madness will include playing for a great cause. On Saturday (3/31), area youth in grades 6-12 will join together for an evening of sports activity in order to raise money for Nothing But Nets. The event will take place at the Juniata Valley High School gym (pending school board approval), 7:00-10:00 pm.

The United Methodist Church was invited to be one of five founding partners of the campaign, along with NBA Cares, Sports Illustrated, Mark J. Gordon Foundation, and United Nations Foundation.

We need nets! Not hoop nets, soccer nets or lacrosse nets. Not New Jersey Nets or dot-nets or clarinets. We need mosquito nets. Nearly 3,000 kids die each day in Africa from malaria. According to the World Health Organization, transmission of the disease would be reduced by 60% with the use of mosquito nets and prompt treatment for the infected. It costs $10 to ship and install an insecticide-coated net.

Area youth are raising funds for the 3/31 event, asking friends and family members to make a donation to help save lives!

Our first big deadline!

It’s now "crunch time" as we near our first big deadline for our dissertation projects — Friday, 16 March 2007. T-minus 7 days!

We had hoped to be further along than we are but we think we’re still within range of meeting this deadline. 3/16 isn’t actually a hard and fast deadline; it’s more of a guideline. But we’re hoping to get pretty close. Most of our spare time, including our day off on Monday, will be devoted to this task. This first deadline is very important. Getting behind at this stage will force us to play catch up, so we want to stay on track as much as we can.

For this first deadline, we are to submit a rough draft of chapters 1-3 of our dissertation projects. We both have written rough drafts of chapter 1 and are working on chapter 2, which is a pretty intense review of literature related to our topics. The plan, at the moment, is to be pretty well done by Saturday (3/17), and to mail them out on Monday (3/19), after our home visit with the social worker from our adoption agency.

After we submit this first assignment, we’ll continue researching current literature. Over the next few months, we’ll work on polishing the first three chapters, in preparation of a "proposal hearing" later this summer.

One of our next big steps will involve putting together a Research Reflection Team, a group of 4-8 people from our local churches who will meet with us nine times during the rest of the year, to help us process our research and offer feedback along the way. We expect these groups to get started shortly after Easter.

Well, we’ll post our next dissertation progress report after we complete this first leg of the journey! We will try to say more about our specific topics in that report as well.

Road Trip: Abraham’s Adventure

Each year, the Juniata Valley Ministerium conducts weekly Community Lenten services from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday. Each week, we gather in a different church so that most pastors get to host one service and speak in one service (outside their own church).

Tonight, I spoke at the Water Street Evangelical Church. This year we developed a series focusing on several prominent Old Testament stories. I had the opportunity to talk about Abraham, specifically his call.

I had looked forward to this message for several weeks; it was a fun message to share!

When I start out on a journey, I like to know where I’m headed! Normally, I’ll go to mapquest.com, input my starting and ending points, click submit, and get detailed, turn-by-turn directions to where I’m going.

But I’m not sure what Joleen and I were thinking when we moved to PA! We had been married for a year-and-a-half and had just finished seminary when we loaded up a Ryder truck and headed for North East, PA. We were going there to pastor a church, but we didn’t yet have a place to live! It turned out okay but it was a scary few days. I can’t imagine doing that again; the things you do when you’re young!

We like to know where we’re headed, don’t we? Whether it’s a road trip or in life! But, in life anyway, we don’t always know! Fortunately, we can learn a lot from people in the Bible because they didn’t always know where the journey was taking them, either. One such traveler was Abraham.

Read Genesis 12.1-9. God told Abraham to “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.” And at 75 years old, here’s what Abraham did: he “departed as the Lord had instructed.”

God-followers are mobile followers!

Abraham, up in years, was mobile enough to follow God wherever he led. Fast forward 24 years, Abraham is still waiting. In Genesis 17, God renews his covenant with Abraham, who’s now 99 years old: “I am … God Almighty. Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants” (Genesis 17.1-2).

Abraham is still waiting, but he’s still mobile, he’s still traveling! Fast forward another, I don’t know, 10-15 years. By this time, Isaac has been born, and you’d think Abraham is ready to settle down. But in Genesis 22, Abraham, 110-115 years old, and “God tested Abraham’s faith.” Hasn’t the guy been through enough already? Hasn’t his faith been tested enough, hasn’t his character been developed enough? Apparently not. God tests him once again.

Notice Abraham’s response, though. After God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The writer of Genesis reports, “The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac.”

What a great response. Abraham was mobile at 75; he’s still a mobile follower 35-40 years later!

How mobile are you?

Got your traveling bag packed? Here are several essentials I think I’d want to include:

  • Bible – we need God’s Word
  • Compass – Jesus is our true north!
  • Hiking Boots – the terrain isn’t always easy
  • Climbing Rope – God has a thing for mountains!
  • Trail Mix and a water bottle – Jesus is the bread of life and the living water – God knows we’d need nourishment!
  • Dramamine – Jesus liked to take his followers out on the open seas which weren’t always so accommodating!
  • Mobile phone – appropriately named, to stay in contact with others!

What would it look like if we had faith like Abraham?

A writer in the New Testament writes, “It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents” (Hebrews 11.8-9a).

What would it look like if our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, churches were filled with God-followers who were mobile followers?

I want my legacy, our legacy, to be like Abraham’s legacy: “He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.” (Romans 4.21)

O God, thank you for Abraham. He certainly wasn’t perfect; he did some dumb things along the trip. But he hung in there and endured till the end. And through it all, he was mobile. Whenever you called him to do something or to go somewhere, he packed his traveling bag and went without delay! Help us to be mobile followers, too, God, so that we will always go where you send us, whether it’s around the world or across the room! May we go without delay! Amen.

Change

Yesterday I received my copy of the March/April 2007 issue of Interpreter Magazine (a publication of the United Methodist Church) in the mail. The cover story caught my attention: "Changing Communities, Changing Churches."

There are some great stories about United Methodist churches that, faced with the challenge of changing communities, chose to make the changes that are necessary to be effective in ministry in the 21st century.

I love Bishop John R. Schol’s comments about "healthy disruption":

Church people tend to shy away from disruption.

"We want everybody in the church to be happy," a church member once said to me. This is shocking, because Jesus was one of the most disruptive people who ever lived. He turned the religious world upside down. His disruption caused Him to wind up on a cross. We fail to make the connection between healthy disruption and the life of Jesus.

Yes! That reminds me of a message I shared last year on the difference between peacekeepers and peacemakers. Peacekeepers want to make everyone happy. But peacemakers, who know "healthy disruption" is required, want to make everyone healthy!

A sobering statement from the feature article …

Some congregations embrace change as an exciting challenge; others wish it would just go away. Behind it all stands one big question: Will churches reach out to new neighbors, or will they shrink and die?

"The potential exists for a large number of church closings in the coming years," says the Rev. Sam Dixon, who leads the evangelization and church growth staff of the General Board of Global Ministries.

This happens when an aging church is unable to replenish its rolls with newcomers, perhaps out of fear of a changing neighborhood, and its finances and hopes decline, Dixon says. In many instances, clergy members of past generations were trained for pastoral care, focusing on their flocks, rather than as outward-looking evangelists and community organizers.

It’s our choice. We can view the need for change as something to be avoided, or we can view it as an opportunity and challenge to be excited about. Not only must churches change the way they do church, pastors also must change the way they lead. Pastors who minister primarily to members must learn to lead and equip  their churches to do ministry in the world.

There are some great stories of United Methodist churches that chose to change in this edition of Interpreter. I encourage you to check them out. The reality is, we are never immune to the need for change. We either change or we die!