Monthly Archives: June 2013

General Assembly

This past week I was preparing for and then attending the General Assembly of the our denomination (PCA).  It was held in the beautiful city of Greenville, SC which I enjoyed despite spending most of my time inside.  So here are some of my thoughts in retrospect:

1.  Visitor Status:  Through most of the official business meetings I was not present.  I registered as a visitor, not a commissioner (with the responsibility and privilege of voting).  I went primarily went for networking purposes and had a great time connecting with a variety of people.  While it is important for leaders to analyze, debate, and vote as we tackle various items of business, I’m so glad I was able to spend the time interacting with people.  As I shared about our upcoming work in Worcester there were good question, thoughtful suggestions, and many who prayed right then for our work.  Doing the “work” of the general assembly encompasses both attending meetings and building relationships.  I was much more effective in the second category this year.

2.  Take off the margins:  In conversation with an older man who has been around the PCA for a while, he said, “If you take the 5% who are on either far margin of the PCA, we have a wonderfully centered and strong denomination”   I have a relatively short history with the PCA and in most institutions it is the controversial or cantankerous that make the most noise.  It was a great reminder to think about the wonderful center of the PCA and this was my experience in my face to face interactions.  At times it is hard to know how to describe the PCA, other than it’s theology, but I think I have a better idea through the slice of people I interacted with in Greenville.

3.  Strength and Weakness:  Being a Presbyterian church has its strengths (rich theology, stable governance, vetted leadership) as well as its weaknesses (slow paced, overly academic, pride).  I know these more on the level of the individual church and it was interesting to see them play out denominationally.  I think the checks, balances, and avenues to address disagreement built into the governing structure of the PCA are necessary and rather helpful.  The other side though is that we can get bogged down.  In witnessing debate, it was amazing how much time it took to work through certain issues pertaining to our theology while much less attention was paid to some of the ministries of the denomination.  It is good that we have the systems to work through disagreement and move change, but there are trade offs.

Next door

photoWhile we are on the southern fringe of the city if you walk out the doors of Trinity (our church in Providence), you will find it all:

-Our building is connected to that of a DNA sequencing company, Nabsys.
-Across the street is the Garrahy Judicial Complex which houses superior, family, district, and worker’s compensation courts.
-The RI Department of Youth, Families, and Children is a block past the court house
-Brown’s medical school, labs for molecular biology, research center for diabetes and weight, as well as the continuing education department are also a block or two away.
-Night clubs, attorneys, restaurants, cafes, banks, real estate offices, financial firms, a mechanic, Providence Preforming Arts Center, Narraganset Brewing Company, the Providence Children’s Museum, Planned Parenthood, Desire Gentleman’s club, Providence Bus Station, Johnson and Wales Providence Campus,  and countless other businesses and institutions are accessible in a short walk (2-7min).

So in a few blocks we find a microcosm of the best and worst of Providence.

Why are people at court?  Crime?  Hoping to settle conflict?  Is the attorney there to make money, make a name, and or seek a just society?  Is there a recent immigrant cleaning the building after hours, providing for the family?

Are those walking the streets at two in the morning because the clubs just let out, because of cocktails after the musical ended late or is there a researcher finally leaving the labs after an extended series of experiments, a medical resident headed in for an odd shift?

Do women come to planned parenthood because it is the only health care provider they can afford?  Do they come for an abortion?  Two blocks away other mothers laugh and chase their kids through the children’s museum.  Two blocks away families come apart and are stitched back together through the government’s intervention via social workers and a complex system of care and rehabilitation.

What does it mean to be this church, on Clifford Street in the midst of it all?

I’m preaching on Psalm 48, about Zion the city of God this coming Sunday and should have some more thoughts by then.

Compartmentalization – the positives


Sunset at Duck Harbor on Cape Cod

My ability to compartmentalize life is both a weakness and a strength.  I can be like a filing cabinet where I pull out the “counseling folder” as I deal with deep sadness in someone’s life.  Afterwards I put that folder away and move onto something else with a generally positive attitude.  I can seem naively optimistic, uncaring, or disconnected from people’s struggles.  Escapism, checking out – these are the dangers of my ability to “turn off” (to some degree) my thinking and emotions on a certain subject.  Apart from God’s grace this is the way I’ll deal with difficulty and stress, becoming fragmented and not appropriately loving others as God would have me.

The other side of my ability to compartmentalize is that I’m able to disconnect and step out from under the burdens finding rest from pressure and anxiety.  Ultimately I need to decompress by trusting God.  He is the one who does not sleep.  He is the one who does not go away on vacation.  He is the one who’s shoulders can carry the weight of all this world’s sin and sadness.  So when he tells me to rest, to go away, I try to listen.  When he tells me to care, to mourn, to hurt, I try to listen.

As we head into church planting I am tempted towards anxiety more than ever before.  So it is good for me to listen to God’s voice that tells me to care and to relax.  I try and trust him while getting all the mileage I can out of my laid back disposition without going over the cliff.

Being away for a week, I was able to rest in many ways and when we returned to church on Sunday morning, our relaxed state was noticed.  I guess that I was carry a visible weight of stress without realizing it.  A phrase I came across recently, “exhaustion as a status symbol” has stuck with me.  To some degree I have embraced the lies, “Because I’m busy I’m important.”  “Because I’m busy, things will work out right.”  “Because I am busy, I am secure.”  At other times in life I’ve been pulled towards the lie that freedom is zero responsibilities.  Every commitment is a chain and only when they are broken will I experience life.  I fluctuate between different distorted understandings of happiness, rest, and work.  And as I write, here is what I need to come back to:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
Psalm 121

Don’t trust the ducks

I want to have my ducks in a row.  I’m working on a proposal document outlining our efforts to begin a church in Worcester and I want to get it “just right.”  The color scheme will flow through the document, the graphics dazzle and the language eloquently convey the need and opportunities connected with planting in Worcester.  A clear plan, compelling vision, demonstrable goals, and thoughtful strategies for ministry in Worcester all vie for my attention as I think about the next thing to write.  Why?

Here’s a preview of the proposal document that I’m developing.

Underneath my desire for excellence, enjoyment of the creative process and excitement about the work ahead of us I think there is a misplaced trust.  While in theory I know that only God can build a church.  In our own efforts and strength we can’t accomplish anything, yet this freaks me out.  I don’t want to live in the reality of my own powerlessness and by necessity entrust myself to God.  So, I try so hard to have all my ducks in a row.  While excellence, creativity and excitement are laudable virtues I can’t be driven by confidence in my own efforts, as this is actually a fundamental distrust of God.  So as I work today and going forward, I still do my best to have the ducks in a row but do not put my hope there.  Instead, there is a God who “can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.”  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Preview of “Worcester proposal”

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