What I Hope to Get Out of #QNashville This Year

(I wrote this on the plane out here to the Q Conference – haven’t got the chance to post til now)

As I’ve said about most events I attend, I think it’s really important to consider what you hope to gain from the experience. Last year, I was feeling a bit more sarcastic. This year has been pretty hectic and I feel the possibility of going through the motions here. So being intentional about being present and open to receive what the Lord shows me feels necessary and a part of faithful stewardship.

Some first thoughts heading out: I’m not completely settled on being in Nashville. Why Nashville, Gabe? It’s the home of so much of the sub-culture that I … hmm, what word am I looking for … “hate” feels too strong, “am annoyed by” feels a bit light, I don’t know but Nashville feels like it’s contributed to the problem of the Christian sub-culture. I’m sure people will tell me I have it all wrong, there are some really great pockets of counter-culture, etc. I don’t deny this but it’s probably also true for places like Cleveland as well but I doubt Q is headed there ;) (Umm, no offense Cleveland).

In any case, I’m excited that I will likely walk away gaining something completely different from what I initially thought – I welcome this. And sometimes the gain comes months down the road. Still, it’s good to consider what gained up front.

My first two years there, I remember so many of the presentations simply blowing my mind. “I never knew that, thought of that, or cared about that!” In more recent years, I’ve stopped hoping/looking/waiting for that. I find that I risk objectifying/sensationalizing each presenter/presentation. And it’s a poor stewardship.

So here’s what I hope to get:

1. I want to get deeper into the conversation of “serving the common good.”  Some call is the missional church conversation, the justice conversation, Kingdom living, whatever. I want to learn, do, grow, and show others what it means to serve in Jesus’ name for the sake of others, without strings attached.

2. Catching up with friends. Even though I spend countless hours on the phone, I am admittedly terrible at staying in touch. I’m somewhat comforted by the fact that many others are too. But the reality is that you really can’t be great friends with everyone and the great thing is there are wonderful people and allies all over the place. So I’m looking forward to catching up with great friends, making new ones, spending time with allies and having amazing conversations with some people that I may never see again.

3. Though I’m not crazy about adding more books to my reading list, discovering new writers, blogs, sites, etc. is of great value to me. I like to have a sense of what’s out there and I like to be stretched.

4. I can’t relate to everything that is being presented, but it’s good for me to raise my awareness at least on a general level of certain topics and issues that are not in the center of my radar. It’s also interesting to me how through the years, your heart finds an appreciation for certain topics you previously found disconnected/uninterested from.

5. As one who feels his calling is to serve those disenchanted with the Church, specifically the Over-Churched and the Under-Churched, Q is one of the best post-evangelical conversations I have found. Anything I can gain on this front would be so worthwhile to me and to those I serve.

If you’re reading this and attending Q, what are you hoping to gain from our time this year. In the meantime, know that I would love to connect. Find me on Twitter @tg24 or in line for coffee or email me.

 

The Link to my guest-post on The “Boston Marathon Tragedy and Holy Week”

Last week I wrote a post called, “The Boston Marathon Tragedy and Holy Week“ on our Grace Chapel staff blog “Deeper Closer Wider.”

Here’s the intro:

“We find ourselves in the middle of Holy Week one year since the Boston Marathon bombings and I can’t help but see the similarities of the innocent dying at the hands of evil men.

What is it about our depraved hearts that allow for such a propensity to hurt people we don’t even know? How does one convert their soul to follow a self-righteous philosophy of hate, pain and death? What possible narrative could have been created that would have deluded one into thinking such actions contained any virtue or honor? How does one build a bomb whose sole purpose is to kill people cheering for their family and friends at a marathon of all places??”

You can read the rest of the post here.

Why Does God Drown the World? Still Reflecting on Noah – Post 4

I keep thinking and blogging about the movie Noah and have found it to be an appropriate exercise throughout Lent. If you are just stopping in, welcome and consider this your spoiler alert. If you’d like some earlier context, check out earlier posts “Presuppositions and Expectations – Post 1″ & “The Complexity of Calling – Post 2″ and “Justice, Mercy and the Awkward Moment with Ham – Post 3.”

I remember the first time I saw the trailer for Noah and seeing the incredible special effects of the water and destruction. My next thought was something like: “Oh no, now I have to process why God drowned humanity again.”

My second thought was they got Russell Crowe to play Noah so either Kirk Cameron just led him to Jesus [Read more...]

Justice, Mercy and that Awkward Moment with Ham – Reflecting on Noah Post 3

I keep thinking and blogging about the movie Noah and have found it to be an appropriate exercise throughout Lent. If you are just stopping in, welcome and consider this your spoiler alert. If you’d like some earlier context, check out earlier posts “Presuppositions and Expectations – Post 1″ & “The Complexity of Calling – Post 2.”

By far my favorite part of Noah was the tension between justice and mercy. The plot twist of watching a Noah who has either gone mad or is truly convinced that the Creator has called him to consider such extreme action is powerful to say the least. Now we know that Noah is not actually going to kill [Read more...]

The Complexity of Calling – Reflecting on Noah Post 2

Spoiler alert: If you’re like Frank Castanza and need to go in the movie “fresh” then stop reading.
If you haven’t seen it but already engaged, I’ll do my best to not to ruin it completely for you. If you’ve seen it, would love to discuss.

As mentioned previously, I really liked the movie Noah but among my complaints was that it moved slow. Sometimes the slowness of a movie works like with  Drive. But in this case, it was slow and it was difficult to figure out how much time had passed between scenes. If I see it again, maybe I’ll feel different.

I also found the need for the hallucinogens to be annoying as well. I just don’t understand why they were needed to produce Noah’s visions? Earlier in the movie, Noah’s wife, Naameh sprinkles some hallucinogenic pixie dust to help him sleep resulting in his first vision. Then his grandfather Methuselah gives him a drug and he has another. Now my family works a little different but I’ll avoid judging.

My question is why don’t Naameh and Methuselah drug themselves and “vision-check” Noah. “Yes, we too [Read more...]

“Pre-suppositions & Expectations” – Reflecting on Noah Post 1

The other night, my wife and I went to see the new movie Noah. In short, I liked quite a bit about it which I want to share why but it seems most helpful to begin with pre-suppositions and expectations.

If you need a literal re-telling of the Noah story found in say, the NIV/KJV, I’m not sure I know of a movie to recommend. From what I know, all attempts for a literal re-tellings of Scripture come off comical, boring or flat (as in lacking of any creative imagination). I’m not sure any serious reader of Scripture will ever be completely pleased in a screen adaptation of scenes in the Bible.

As I mentioned in my Facebook post:

”…Frankly, it’s very difficult for me to be satisfied with any piece of art that is describing, re-creating, painting, telling, interpreting our sacred Scriptures. Everything from sermon to canvas to film falls short. So given that, what goodness can be found then? And though things like Last Temptation of Christ and “Piss Christ” are offensive, oddly enough, I think this is where some Christian art has failed us as well – because many have settled for a boring and flat retelling of events that our mind’s eye does a far better job with than their storytelling, cinematography, etc. SO, Noah was actually really good for me (not “perfect” mind you). Ok, blog post coming.”

In thinking about this, I found myself wondering why I even wanted to see this movie. It’s wrought with controversy, I don’t need any more and after an intense week, I could really use a laugh. Frankly, would this be worthwhile for the trouble it might cause? I’ll get to that.

Like most, I desire to be fluent with various aspects of culture – you cannot say you love people and [Read more...]

Why Won’t God Join the Search for Malasyia Airlines Flight 370?

Throughout this Lent, I’ve been trying to make myself attentive to the familiar question does God really exist? My mental backdrop of Lent has been Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness which was a time of self-denial, fasting, reflection and eventually, filling, centering and renewal.

I feel anytime I mention my doubt in a blog post or a sermon or a small group discussion that some misunderstand me. So for those that need to hear it (and honestly for those prone to over-react), no I am not really on the verge of abandoning my faith. The purpose of these posts are at least three-fold:
1. I like to explore, reflect, feel, think and process the tension of faith. I like to do the math.
2. I believe confronting my normal and healthy doubts leads to greater faith.
3. And perhaps God would use these words to strengthen your faith as well.

Be warned, it could get darker before we see light.

[Read more...]

What Pastors Never Tell You About Officiating Wedding Ceremonies

I’m in Washington D.C. for a wedding I officiated last night and after the reception, I went on a  leisurely walk around the city. While taking in the sights and the lights, I couldn’t help but reflect on what it’s like to officiate a wedding. I’ve thought about some of these thing a few times but because last night was fairly flawless, it seemed safe to post.

1. It Actually Is Harder than It Looks and There’s Some Pressure.

There are a lot moving parts in a wedding and most couples I marry are getting married for the first time. But just about everyone in the audience knows what it should look like. Also, there really are a lot of distractions during the wedding. Cameraman jumping over altar railings to get the perfect shot, kids crying, uncles who don’t know how to whisper, “Looks like Johnny put on some pounds!” and trying to stay on the same page with the musicians or the sound guy or the wedding coordinator.

More so, the minister is doing just about all the talking and while most of us like to talk, the reality is that we like to talk intelligently and most  who are somewhat self-aware, have a fear of babbling. And we’ve all been to weddings where the officiant rambles on and on. Having known I was heading into ministry since my college years, I’ve often listened to wedding guests critique and complain about ceremonies during the reception. “He just couldn’t shut up.” “Hello, we didn’t come to hear you.” “Her voice was really nasally and she stuttered during that ring part.” I really don’t want to be that guy.

Further, it is such an honor to stand at that altar with a couple but there is also the realization that your face will be in particular wedding pictures forever (I for some reason have a habit of constantly licking my lips or flexing my jaw when couples are reciting their vows, exchanging their rings, lighting unity candle or simply standing there. Knowing there is a tool for “cropping” gives me comfort).

There was a time in my ministry when I would have preferred to officiate a funeral than a wedding. Funerals don’t have to be perfect, weddings have been planned and dreamed about for years. Then you have the dreams of the parents, sisters, grandmothers, aunts close friends who are like sisters, mothers/grandmas and add it all together you have about a millennia of expectation, so no pressure. Then I started getting the hang of it (I credit my sister’s wedding for the epiphany) and used the mediation time to tell the story of the couple, give them a personalized charge and remind them that God is the source of love and when marriages are rooted in Him, there is unconditional love, sacrifice, forgiveness and joy. Knowing what you’re supposed to do really takes the edge off.

2. Each Minister has their own favorite moments of every ceremony.
The highlight of the wedding is to witness the couple exchanging their vows. But there are other moments that you might miss because of the intend focal point.

For me, I love that moment of watching the groom watching the bride coming down the aisle. Many will steal a look at the groom but keep watching the bride, I’m watching them both. The bride is looking at him, she’s looking at her guests, she’s looking at the floor – the groom never stops looking at her. Never.

I also love watching the mother of the bride’s reaction when the bride’s father answers the question, “And so who gives this bride away.” Everyone’s looking at the father and the bride share this moment. Keep an eye on the mom.

Lastly, I always try to glance over at the bridal party and see their reactions throughout the ceremony. Sometimes they’re standing nervously, sometimes they’re frozen, sometimes they look soldiers guarding the altar but many times, they have the “best seats in the house” and often you benefit from their joyful reaction in seeing their closest friends get married.

3. We say that it’s an honor and it really is – Here’s why.
What were the circumstances of being asked to officiate? For those whom you are close to, this works nicely. But for others, context is really helpful. Finding an officiant can be particularly tricky for young couples transitioning out of college and trying to figure out their next steps. You also learn that some people in your congregation never connected to a pastor or they did but he/she moved on.

When you’re asked by someone no longer in your local congregation, you get a whole other set of thoughts and questions. People come and go out of your church and out of your life and while some people leave in anger and frustration, there is a significant number that leave in peace. Maybe they’ve moved, maybe you’ve moved, maybe they needed to find a different community or left not finding community and faith at your church., there are countless reasons. The thing is often, you don’t exactly know where you stand with them. And so when someone calls you up and asks you to be part of the most important day of his/her life, well, now you know.

4. Pre-marriage counseling helps pastors in their own marriages.
Similar to how the wedding ceremony reminds the married guests (and unmarried I suppose) on the beauty and meaning of marriage, the counseling often helps the minister and their spouse.
No one wants to be a hypocrite and there have been numerous times after a counseling session that I’ve returned home and began a conversation with my wife that said, “Hey, this came up in the counseling and it got me thinking …” To which my wife has sometimes replied, “Oh yeah, I think I may have mentioned something similar to that last week.” “Oh right :)”

5. It’s so personal.
Related to the first, when a couple asks you to perform their wedding ceremony and chooses to get pre-marriage counseling, obviously it gets personal. Now I should say that I have had a handful of couples give me the same treatment that they would a car salesman, “Listen Pastor, we just need the keys to drive off the altar, that’s it” but the majority take advantage of the

As a minister, you often get an “insider’s understanding” of people’s lives. Sometimes you’re there at a hospital during the worst moment of a family’s life, sometimes you’re there in the waiting room of the maternity wing celebrating the arrival of a child. Sometimes you sit with people discussing their jobs, their children, their parents, love, faith, future and countless other matters of life.

When it comes to getting married, you hear quite a bit. After all, two lives are going to become one. And this moves you to prayer because marriage is not just about finding someone great and getting some great advice. Marriage is work, sacrifice, and all things rooted in love. And while it’s not an act of God to have a great marriage, rooting your marriage in God’s love is profoundly good and wise.

And while everything that is shared in counseling is always confidential, even as a young pastor who is married also, you start seeing patterns and hearing unique perspectives that shape your own which all add up to better counsel for the next couple and the next one.

The interesting thing is that you don’t begin thinking that it will. You actually think you can do this without getting close. And there’s a responsibility that comes with getting close because now you have to address any issues, problems and concerns that come up and that takes energy, wisdom, thought and time. Hence the dependence on prayer.

As you do this, you now have a shared history. And this is what it makes each couple that gives you access to their lives so special and hopefully, it contributes to a more personal ceremony.

It’s fair to say that most pastors take your wedding seriously and despite looking cool and relaxed, many really are focused on trying to make this ceremony as sacred, personable and special as possible.

Beyond the ceremony, we think about the marriage. Marriage is difficult and we think about you … we thing about what we told you, what we haven’t told you, if we have over-romanticized, over-simplified, over-complicated our marital advice. It’s the biggest day of a couple’s life and it’s brilliant when it goes well and you had the blessing of being a part of it.

God’s grace and strength to those unravelling the mystery of “two becoming one.”

3 Options and My Reaction to the Mark Driscoll Apology

Many have been reacting to Mark Driscoll’s apology letter for the tactics used to get his book Real Marriage on the New York Times Bestseller list.
I wanted to add my reaction too. You can read the apology letter sent to his church but got leaked out here (can you actually have a private letter among a few thousand people? Anyway…)

But first a bit of context. To say it politely, I’ve never connected with Mark Driscoll on any level. His style, personality, theological differences, the hyper-masculinity comes across as more desperate than macho to me and his outright chauvinism have made it easy for me to focus my attention and appreciation elsewhere.

Oddly, over the last ten plus years, a good number of my friends have loved/liked/man-crushed on Driscoll and I’ve had too many conversations that have started with, “Tim, how can you not like him?” Some of them like the Red Sox or the Phillies so yeah, they have many problems.

Among my frustrations regarding Driscoll is how celebrated he is when there is just so much better content and character out there. I’m at the point where I’d rather watch Kirk Cameron in Left Behind than read a Driscoll book (I’ve always preferred comedy to horror).

But despite my intent to not give him any of my attention, his name inevitably shows up on my social media feeds and comes out of my friends’ mouths. “Did you hear Driscoll said Avatar is the [Read more...]

Justice Conference Boston Simulcast – Part 3: NT Wright’s “If It’s Real, It’s Local”

I’ve always felt that If you want to get the most out of the conferences you attend then you need to review your notes and stay in touch with people you’ve met. You can’t be best friends with everyone but it’s great to stay connected with the people you meet along the journey. When possible, I like to watch/listen the recordings of presentations I liked the most and every so often, I even check out the ones I didn’t connect with. It’s amazing how receiving content in a different context alters your perception and understanding.

You can’t think about everything you’ve heard, you can’t blog about everything you liked and though I wasn’t able to take many notes at the Justice Conference (anyone want to share yours with me?), I was able to for N.T. Wright’s presentation. Wow – how incredible was that – can’t wait until it’s released on video.

So deep and rich a presentation but the line that sticks out at me most is “If it’s real, it’s local.”

At first thought, it rings true. Then on second, I wasn’t sure if it was complete enough. After all, there are many things that occupy my mind that are not near to me at all and there are many things that are local to me, that are not that real to me, if I were being honest.

Much of our attention this week has been focused on Malyasia Airlines Flight 370. None of us know [Read more...]