Sharpening the Ax

This morning, during my morning walk and prayer time, I remembered the language/imagery I’ve heard used for things like reading, personal growth, and even spiritual disciplines, “sharpening the ax.”

When chopping down a tree with an ax, a sharp ax is better than a dull one!

So, if you’re chopping down a tree with an ax and your ax gets dull, as it naturally will, it’s worth the time to stop chopping and start sharpening so that you will be able to finish the job. Sharpening your ax makes the rest of your work more effective!

In leadership, the idea is that learning, growing, and developing your knowledge and skills improves your ability to lead. This is a challenge for pastors, especially when they get bombarded with many different tasks (i.e., the tyranny of the urgent).

When bombarded on all sides, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of spending time to sharpen the ax. After all, the time spent sharpening could be used to get stuff done, right? But how effective can we be if we’re working with a dull ax?

In our case, we could add adjusting to parenthood and new ministries, as well as recovering from doctor of ministry programs, to the tyranny of the urgent to our list of challenges.

But we must keep our axes sharp. The work of leading God’s church is demanding, and it requires a sharp ax!

Investing in God

Everyone invests in something. We invest our time, energy, and money in things in which we expect a good return (be it financial, emotional, or spiritual).

Christ-followers invest their lives — their time, energy, and money — in God. But sometimes we wonder if our investment is really worth it.

One day, Peter, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, reminded Jesus that he and the other disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus. He wanted to know, “What will we get?โ€ Part of Peter’s question involved trying to determine if the investment was worth it.

Jesus assured Peter that the return on his investment would be more than he could imagine. Jesus said, โ€œeveryone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19.27-30).

The reality is, God is worthy of our whole heart and life. The old Anglo-Saxon word for worship is “worthship.” Worshiping God involves acknowledging God’s worth. The God who sent his son into the world to save it is worthy of our praise. The God who took our place on the cross is worthy of our worship. The God who comes alongside of us and fills us with God’s power is worth honoring.

God is worth our investment. In fact, investing in God and God’s work (with our time, energy, and money) is the best investment we can ever make!

“Circle of Prayer” Requests

Each week, United Methodists in more than 950 churches in Central and Northeastern Pennsylvania pray for 10 randomly selected churches (listed on the conference website). The whole process should take about a year and a half.

Centre Grove is on the list for the coming week, starting tomorrow, July 26, 2009, going through Saturday, August 1. We learned we were up next last Monday, and on Tuesday, Centre Grove’s Church Council named several prayer requests, which I’ve arranged in the following four areas …

May God help Centre Grove …

Depend on God
We pray for a strong sense of God’s presence and leadership in the life of our church, that we will depend on God for strength, wisdom, courage, and unity.

Develop the Five Practices
Church Council is actively engaging Bishop Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (see all posts marked Five Practices). Please pray that we will lead our congregation to practice Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity.

Make Disciples
We are currently working on Intentional Faith Development. Please be in prayer that we will develop a more effective way of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Turn Consumers into Contributors
As we live out God’s mission in the world, pray that people in our congregation will move from being consumers to being contributors. Contributors give of themselves and get involved in the church’s mission. We need contributors to engage our community in ministries that help people discover and experience the love and good news of Jesus Christ.

Thank you for your prayers!

HealthMiles Level 4

Yesterday, I reached Level 4 (of 5) in the HealthMiles walking incentives program, less than six months after signing up. That leaves me plenty of time (six months) to reach the final level (Level 5). At my current pace, it should take up to four months.

I reached Level 4 on day 7 of the 28 day marathon I blogged recently. The challenge, involving 2,830 people from across The United Methodist Church, is going very well. I am doing as well or better than I expected and am running with the leaders, so far.

HealthMiles, which is now available to individuals (not just organizations), is an excellent program. I like the instant feedback (by uploading my steps to the HealthMiles website), the focus on cumulative activity, and the ability to track progress at the website. The financial incentives are a nice touch as well.

I tend to get a lot of steps simply because I move a lot. A few days ago, Ethan’s first words after waking up in the morning (which I heard via the baby monitor) were, “Daddy, walking” (and I get most of my steps while he’s asleep!). ๐Ÿ™‚

Occasionally, Ethan will stop in his tracks, lift up his shirt near his right hip, look at his imaginary pedometer, and call out a number, then continue walking. As we’ve said before, some things are better caught than taught.

Anyway, one more stop (in the first year), Level 5. One step at a time.

We’re Not in Jerusalem Anymore!

I recently read a piece written by the President-elect of Asbury Theological Seminary in which Dr. Timothy C. Tennent reflected on the cultural changes that are impacting seminary education.

Tennent writes (emphasis and paragraph breaks added for readability) …

Jerusalem and Athens are symbolic of one of the key shifts in theological education today. Like Tertullian, many of us would prefer to proclaim the gospel โ€“ symbolically speaking – from the security and stability of the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. Many of us yearn for a time to return to when God’s word was more-widely acknowledged and respected. We remember a day when our culture enjoyed far greater stability.

However, most all of us realize that we can no longer prepare ministers with this as our primary paradigm. Instead, we are called to be faithful to the gospel in the midst of the raucous, pluralistic, experimental, skeptical environment of “Mars Hill of Athens.” The Apostle Paul proclaimed the gospel not from the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, but from Mars Hill of Athens.

Traditionally, seminary education prepared men and women to occupy places of cultural and religious stability. Graduates were sent to communities where a large percentage of the people either attended church or gave assent to the broad contours of the Christian world-view. Many of the ethical parameters of the Judeo-Christian world-view were widely embraced.

Today, this kind of Christendom arrangement has collapsed. We are no longer in Jerusalem. We are in Athens. We are no longer on the Temple Mount, but on Mars Hill. This means that we must prepare men and women for a different kind of engagement in the Western World.

Our society represents a more profoundly-missional context than anything we have previously imagined. Seminaries which have specialized in preparing pastors and teachers need to also prepare evangelists and church planters. We need a more robust theological and missional training for our students than ever before.

Tennent is addressing theological education for pastors, but the point is, our (Western) world has changed before our eyes. We must be prepared to communicate the message of Jesus Christ in a culture that is less receptive than ever. We must be prepared to preach in Athens!

Four Week Marathon

Beginning at midnight tonight, 2,830 people from across The United Methodist Church will begin a 4-week challenge. The challenge is open to members of the denominational health insurance plan, HealthFlex, who are participating in the HealthMiles rewards incentive program.

As weโ€™ve blogged before (see Racking Up HealthMiles), we are participating in the HealthMiles program, which involves wearing a pedometer to count the number of steps we take. We upload our steps to the HealthMiles website via USB cable to earn rewards.

The HealthMiles program allows organizations to conduct organization-wide challenges once a year. A couple weeks ago, we received an email inviting us to participate in the first ever HealthFlex-wide challenge, a 4-week challenge that begins tomorrow (7/15). Twenty minutes after the email went out, I was the 70th person to sign up. When registration closed last night, a total of 2,830 people had signed up.

The challenge will track the number of steps each participant takes over the next 4 weeks. There will be both individual and team components. Teams will be determined by conference relationship (in addition to a college and the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits). There are 32 teams in the challenge.

Team results will be determined by the average number of steps per day for each team member. Individual results will be determined by the total number of steps. There is a 30,000-step/day cap (my sense in reading the rules is that the cap is to deter people from cheating).

Each member of the winning team will receive 250 HealthMiles (i.e., reward points); 100 HealthMiles will go to each person of the second place team. In the individual competition, the top 50 people will receive a cash prize ($100 for first place, $75 for second, $50 for third, and $25 goes to those who place 4-50).

Iโ€™m excited about the challenge. I’ve been raring to go ever since the challenge was issued. I have at least three personal goals …

  1. To help my team (Central Pennsylvania Conference) win the team competition!
  2. To test my endurance and consistency (i.e., to pace myself and to rack up as many steps as possible every day)!
  3. And while there’s *always* someone out there who can do more, I’m playing to win! ๐Ÿ˜€

Part of the fun is that participants will be able to chart their progress and placement during the challenge at the HealthMiles website. Participants can also post comments on the chat page and with 2,830 participants, that could be interesting!

Well, I’ll write about the experience at the finish line (unless I decide to blog along the way, periodically). In the meantime, let the challenge begin!

Ethan the Drummer

Ethan has always enjoyed music and he’s always seemed to have rhythm. When we first brought him home from Korea, he would often bounce (in rhythm) to music, the sound of the washing machine, and even to Mommy filing her nails.

Recently, Ethan started using pens or serving spoons, or other things like the round containers in the photos below, as drumsticks and all kinds of different things are drums.

On Sunday, we went to the craft show at S. B. Elliott State Park. While we were waiting to eat, Ethan heard the band start up on the other side of a building where we were standing, and he said, “drum,” which I interpreted as saying, let’s go see where it is.

Here are some shots of today’s jam session …


IMG_3034Years ago, we named this blog “Willis Wired” simply to indicate our online presence. But recently, I’ve been thinking about all the wires that seem to be required in our real lives.

Up till now, we’ve tossed our various wires, cables, adapters, and power cords in a bag, but we’re getting to the point where we need a better system for keeping track of the them, which might need to include labeling them so we remember what they all go to!

Today, I took a photo of some of the wires, cables, and adapters that we have around the house (not including the ones that are currently connected somewhere). In this photo, there are different kinds of USB cables, chargers, adapters, video cables, and audio cables that connect different kinds of devices.

It makes me wonder how things will develop as new technology continues to emerge. Even as a growing number of devices go wireless, I wonder if the different types of wires/cables/adapters will eventually become more universal or will they continue to multiply? (I’m guessing the latter.)

Is you world becoming more “wired,” too?

Overhearing Ethan

It’s always been interesting to listen to Ethan’s chatter when he’s “alone.” We hear him chattering when he wakes up in the morning. Sometimes he rehearses his newest words. He went through a phase where he was counting things, so we’d hear him count. Of course, he often says, “Mommy” and “Daddy,” and sometimes the names of other people he knows. Occasionally, he calls, “Randy.” ๐Ÿ™‚

One day during our recent vacation, the three of us laid down for an afternoon nap, except Ethan didn’t actually nap (thankfully, he entertained himself in his pack-n-play while we did).

During that nap time, though I heard a couple things. First, it sounded like he was praying, though, I didn’t catch the words. And sure enough, after a little while, he said, “amen.”

In other interesting chatter, Ethan said, “Ethan, no!” (not sure where he picked that up!) ๐Ÿ˜‰

For good or bad, listening to the chatter of children provides instant feedback on what your child is absorbing!

Our Covenant Groups

A couple months ago, we wrote about becoming Provisional Elders in The United Methodist Church, which took place at Annual Conference last month.

Over the course of the next two years, leading up to ordination as Full Elders, we’ll have some work to do. One part of the process is to work with a Covenant Group, composed of our clergy mentor, another Full Elder, and four members from each of our churches.

Our two Covenant Groups will actually meet together with our two clergy mentors every other month over the next two years. We will meet individually with our mentors on the alternating months. Our meetings will be guided by a learning covenant that each of us will put together with our mentors in the next few weeks. The purpose of the group is to provide support and feedback.

We had our first group session last night, which was primarily introductory. We also settled on a book to study together in the months ahead — Simple Church by Thom Rainer. It is a book about developing a clear focus for the church’s discipleship process.

Google Books has a preview that includes the first 50+ pages of the book (also, has a PDF of chapter 1 available.) And last month, Thom Rainer posted a reflection on his blog in which he restates the purpose the book and reflects on the impact it has had in the three years since it was published.

We are looking forward to this part of the process. We are grateful to those who have committed to making this part of our journey meaningful — we believe it will be an important part of our ongoing growth as Christ-following leaders!