Back to School

This summer, the month of June to be exact, I embarked on a new and very rewarding adventure.  I went back to school!!! I started on my Doctor of Ministry with a concentration in Pastor as Spiritual Leader at San Francisco Theological Seminary.  It was the absolutely most fantastic three weeks I have had in a long time.

I took two classes and a seminar to start off my journey.  The first class I took was “Pastor as Person” where we focused on the themes of our callings, spiritual leadership, spiritual disciplines, and awareness of ourselves in our own unique ministry settings.  We had seven in our class and while it is normally a two week coarse meeting in the mornings, we did it in one week meeting morning and afternoon every day.  It was intense, but we had such a great group.  Our instructor, Dr. Charlene Jin Lee was fantastic.  She really is intuative and utilized a variety of exercises to keep us engaged.  We had three main books for this class and wrote one to two papers a day. It was an excellent class to start off with.

The next two weeks I took “Prayer and Discernment in Pastoral Ministry” from Dr. Luther Smith.  The major focus was looking at prayer and discernment in the pracitce of ministry and leadership.  This was also one of my four required classes for my concentration.  You take six classes total with two being electives.  Luther was amazing as well and while this was a larger class, 14 of us, we broke into two groups when we would go over our reflection assignments.  We had six major books we used for this class with a reflection paper almost every night and a final paper due August 1 of 12-15 pages.  I am working on that now.  I took a few days off to let my brain relax and also work on sermon work for church.

I took the “Dissertation/Project Orientation Seminar” over the last two weeks as well.  While I am not at the point yet to start writing my dissertation, this seminar will help shape how I ask questions and take notes over the rest of my coarse work, to help once I start writing.  I did start working on my problem statement, and this will help as I get closer to actually presenting my proposal.  There are 12 books that I need to order and read for this seminar over this next year.  The great thing about this seminar is that you can take it as many times as you need as you prepare to start writing your dissertation.

Overall I am very enthused about what lies ahead for me over the next four years.  The main group that will benefit from my work will be the church I serve, Delta Community Presbyterian Church and especially the leadership of the church.  But I will also benefit as I learn new ways of doing ministry, gain new friendships, as well as deepening my own skills in writing, speaking, and research.  Once I finish the paper due August 1, I will be preparing for my next series of classes that will happen in January 2017.  It will be two more classes in the required category, getting me back on track for the program.  Many of us began in June as opposed to those that started in January, so to get us all together, this is what has been recommended for me.

I am so thankful for all the prayers that my family, church family, and friends have been lifting for me.  It has been 22 years since I was last a student, and I started out a little rusty, but things feel much smoother now.  I will keep everyone posted on my progress and what my dissertation topic will be.  Blessings to you all!!

God’s Shepherding Hand

So I finished sermon number four in the series God’s Shepherding Hand yesterday, and just completed my Saturday night review of the message for tomorrow.  It has been a really good series in the Psalms.  I started with Psalm 23 which was really good because it helped me to focus on what really connects these particular psalms together.  I followed the readings from the lectionary, so I started with Psalm 23, followed by Psalm 148, Psalm 67, and the one I just finished in Psalm 97.

I picked up on the theme in each of the psalms of God’s shepherding hand, and it is really not something that we spend a lot of time thinking about.  I looked at making the shepherd deeply personal, stressing that we think of him as my shepherd throughout this series.  What is it about my shepherd that means so much to us?  Could it be that we really do need or crave to have someone keeping an eye on us?  Do we forget that God really does take care of us our entire lives?  And then what is required or expected of us as we start claiming God as my shepherd?  It is really a concept I don’t remember hearing any of my professors talk about in seminary.  And over my 20+ years of ministry I have not really thought about it much until now.  Is it the events that have been going on in our church over the last year or so?  Is it maybe what has been going on in my personal life?  Only God really knows the answer to this question, but it is a good one to ask.  I am really glad that we have been looking at this question as well as others over the past four weeks.

Each week I start working on my message on Monday, and after reading through about 4 or 5 translations (usually KJV, NRSV, NIV, ESV, and NASB), I sit down and write my academic outline.  Then I work on the bulletin outline I call the applicational outline.  When I am done with that I complete a discipleship study based on the Scripture for the study.  After reading Sticky Church by Larry Osborn I really like this way of preparing for Sunday.  So my applicational  thoughts were My Shepherd for Psalm 23 looking at how my shepherd provides, my shepherd protects, and my shepherd pursues.  With Psalm 148 we looked at praising my shepherd looking at the heavens lift their praise, the earth lifts praise, and humanity praises the shepherd.  Last week Psalm 67 looked at my shepherd’s blessings and the shepherds ways are known, the shepherds ways are just, and the shepherds ways bring blessing.  This week, with Psalm 97 we are looking at my shepherds glorious reign seeing how his glorious reign is revealed, how his glorious reign is rejoiced, and how his glorious reign is upheld. As I shared earlier, this series has really opened up my own thoughts about the Book of Psalms and why we as Christians should be studying it more in-depth.

So what will this mean for us as we move forward with our Christian walks?  It really goes well with what our theme was for 2015 here at DCPC, which was Come Grow With Us-Growing the Family of God which was stressing personal spiritual growth and discipleship.  With this series we dug deep.  We concentrated on the anchor of everything we are as Christians, and that is God, my shepherd, being our foundation.  No wavering, no losing focus, but being locked in on the anchor Jesus Christ.  Without that we can’t have the security we need, the security we crave, that eternal security that only Jesus Christ can offer.  If you would like to read the complete sermon series, please email me at pastor@dcpcfamily.org.

 

A Cultivated Life-A Review

I have just finished an excellent book and wanted to share it with you all.  The book is The Cultivated Life-From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy by Susan S. Phillips.  I received the book as a gift in October, but picked it up to read late in March.  I posted about it a few times on my Instagram @revdougs.  Dr. Phillips is executive director and professor of sociology and Christianity at New College Berkeley and will be one of the faculty at San Francisco Theological Seminary for my Pastor as Spiritual Leader Doctor of Ministry.  I am very excited about having her in class after reading this book. It has been a long time since I have written a book review, but I really want you to read this book, so I am going to highlight some of the reasons why.

This book serves as an introduction to Christian spirituality, and if you have never read a book on this topic before, this is an excellent one to start with.  Eugene H. Peterson, who wrote the foreward, had me hooked even before I had read of word of Dr. Phillips.  On page 10 he writes: This is a book written specifically for those of us who are assigned the task of developing an imagination for living the Christian faith with insight and skill in and for a society that is disconnected from the biblical revelation and the Jesus incarnation.  This was exactly what I was searching for to help me make sense of a world that has drastically changed over the course of my 20 plus years of ministry.  Now that I was engaged, what would I learn from this author?

In the Introduction there is a question presented, found on page 15, that starts moving me toward the answer I am seeking. How can we participate in the cultivation of our souls in a ceaselessly striving, circus-like culture that pushes us to be performers and spectators? It is with this question that I am drawn into Dr. Phillips premise that draws upon biblical imagery of cultivation and the narratives that animate it. In twelve chapters Dr. Phillips takes us on a journey using this concept of cultivation.  She defines it on page 35 this way:

The cultivated life is one of persevering in our longing.  In the garden and on the trail, grace collaborates with dedication.  Our completion comes toward us as we move toward it, and this is all part of what Paul calls the “still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Throughout these chapters, which at the end of each one there are at least two or three questions to help us dig deeper, we learn the basics of Christian spirituality.  We learn more about truly listening to others, as well as keeping our own Sabbath times.  In chapter nine she explains what spiritual direction is and why it is important for us as Christians to find our own spiritual directors.  Again, I am not writing a complete review, I am only highlighting a few key parts for myself.  I encourage you to buy and read this book.

If for any other reason, the Appendix makes purchasing this book totally worth it.  It has Guidelines for Practices in these areas:  contemplative listening, Sabbath Living, Lectio Divina, Finding a Spiritual Director, and finally for Cultivating Friendship.  These guidelines are well written and presented in a way that helps them make sense and provide a path for us to follow as we grow deeper in our faith.

 

Rejuvenated By Nature

For the past week I had the chance to relax, renew, refresh, and reboot my spirit and my body at the West Coast Presbyterian Pastor’s Conference held at the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center and Camp in Mt. Hermon, CA.  It was a great week filled with two fantastic speakers, one covering the Old Testament, and the other talking about Spiritual Renewal.  This conference has been held for 45 years, eight days after Easter.  Close to 150 pastors and spouses were there, and for me, it was my third year attending.  I could write on and on about the conference, but I want to focus today on the location and how that affected me the most.

To rejuvenate means “to restore to a former state, make fresh, or new again.”  I purposefully chose that word because too often we forget that when we are constantly burning the candle at both ends, we eventually reach the middle of that candle.  The season of Lent for any pastor is a busy time, and while we make sure that our congregations have their needs met, we forget about our own.  So there comes a point where we need to stop, and look for ways to rebuild our spirits and our bodies back to where they need to be.

Being outside, among the beautiful redwoods at the camp, breathing the fresh air was the start of that process for me.  Spending time listening to the birds and the nature around me lifted me back up and filled me with life again.  Actually hearing the wind moving in and around the trees helped to calm my spirit in a way that only can be done as we get back in touch with God’s creation.  Many of us have jobs that keep us inside for way too long, and then we get in our cars to go home with the air conditioner and radio on to block out the noise of the road, so we miss these opportunities.  We are not really designed to operate that way for long.  We need to break away from the rat race and get back into a place of balance.

I love the words found in the following Psalm:

Psalm 19: 1-4a (NRSV)

“1.) The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. 2.) Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. 3.) There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; 4.) yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

Find life again!  Go, get out and get away.  The beauty and majesty of God’s creation is there to help us remember.  It is speaking to us constantly.  Remember just who really is in control, who provides, who supplies for all of our needs.  God in gracious love for us has granted us places to go and be renewed, rejuvenated, refreshed, and restored.  All we have to do is GO!

Reflections after Easter

Easter services are over, decorations are starting to be put away, and thoughts of a few days of rest sound so good to church staffs.  All of the hard work and extra hours of preparation have been worth it as we look back over the past 40 days of Lent.  But what have we spiritually learned about ourselves?  How have we changed?  Are there areas of growth that are needed?  Many questions have been raised, and so I am encouraging a time of reflection on what all of this means for us as disciples of Jesus Christ.

For me, the first area that has really changed is that I am addicted to journaling.  Now don’t get me wrong, I journaled before this, but I see it now as an integral part of how I process my thoughts and how I organize my day.  I bought myself a Moleskine notebook and two Pilot Metropolitan fountain pens and I write every day.  In the process of these past 40 days my handwriting has also improved.  So when we look at how we can reflect, try journaling.  There are no exact rules on how to do it, so just do it.

Secondly, reflect on your devotional life.  I found that my time with God improved this year and I became more focused.  What did I do differently?  My attitude changed.  I no longer looked at what was in it for me, but how can what I am learning benefit others that I come across throughout the day.  I made my devotional time more applicational as opposed to reflective.  As I did that, I did learn more and I grew more, but I also felt freedom to share more of what I was learning.  That is important if we want to meet the needs of those around us.

Third, who are you trying to please?  Part of a study I was involved with over the past year helped me to identify that I was a people pleaser.  Now that is not a bad thing in and of itself, but when that is taking your focus away from what God wants for your life, that is when problems come in.  So put God first in everything.  Aim to please him before even thinking about pleasing the world.  That is when we experience the peace that many of us are seeking. I like these words from the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi when trying to understand where are thoughts need to be focused:

Philippians 4: 4-9 (NRSV)

“4.) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5.) Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6.) Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7.) And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8.) Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9.) Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

So take some time to reflect on where you are in your walk with Christ.  And as you reflect, don’t forget your attitude of gratitude that I mentioned in one of my earlier posts.  A heart full of gratitude can produce a change in ourselves and in the world around us.

 

 

Passing of the Baton

Over the past several weeks I have had the honor and privilege of officiating at two Celebration of Life services and one graveside service.  These individuals were loved by their families, loved by friends, had a solid Christian faith, and were in their golden years.  They lived long, full lives and had seen their families grow.  We shared stories about the influence that they made on their children and so many others.  We laughed, we cried, we started healing the hurts that death inevitably brings.

This morning, at our second service, I baptized a 10 month old.  He is just beginning with his life, his proud parents are glowing as they enter the sanctuary, and the congregation is beaming with joy for the new life coming into the church.  It is a time where we all look forward;  to watch this new life grow, to project where he will go, and what career he will choose.  The sky is the limit, we just need to make sure we offer the guidance needed.

So the baton is passed.  As one runner is finished, a new runner takes off, running their part of this race known as life.

Every morning during my devotional time,  I read several passages and have read them for years.  They never grow old, each and every single time they seem to point me somewhere new in my thoughts or in my actions.  This morning as I was reading  Isaiah 40: 28-31, the idea of passing the baton came to me and so I want to share this passage with you now.

Isaiah 40: 28-31 (NRSV)

“28.) Have you not known? Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29.) He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30.) Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31.) but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Think about the life that you are running right now.  You do not have to run that life alone, relying upon your own strength.  Reach out to the God who can lift you up on eagle’s wings, giving you strength to meet any challenge.

 

 

An Attitude of Gratitude

This Sunday I am preaching from the lectionary reading of Luke 15: 11-32.  A familiar passage, known by almost everyone as The Prodigal Son passage.  Each week I provide a bulletin outline for our attenders to follow along with the sermon and this week I am stressing the idea that if we have bad attitudes, problems occur in our spiritual lives.

That is why I close with stressing the importance of our having an attitude of gratitude for all that God has provided us with.  What led me toward ending the sermon this way actually happened early in the week.  I have started really using Instagram and have found a wonderful new world of people with many of the same interests as I have.  It is through one of those new friends, who also posts scopes on Periscope, that I was challenged in an impactful way for the rest of Lent.

The challenge came from Rita who encouraged her followers on Periscope to take the month of March as a time to journal  why we are grateful for something each day.  She set up #thegratitudeproject, and each day we post something on Instagram with that hashtag.  It has really been challenging for me.  And we have been encouraged to really dig deep into what it is we are thankful for.  My first post @revdougs was my being thankful for my Mom.  My Mom has journaled for close to 80 years  (she is 88) and she journals about her Bible study, her life, mine and my brothers lives, you name it.  I have several of her journals and she has told me there are several boxes waiting for me at her apartment.  I now journal daily using my moleskine notebook as well as my moleskine daily planner.  And each day I have dug deep into what I have gratitude and thankfulness for.  I encourage each and every one of you to do the same.

An attitude of gratitude is not something that is complicated.  We just need to constantly remember that God has blessed each and every single one of us in a unique way.  We have to slow down from the rapid pace of life and truly start listening to ourselves.  What is it that makes us tick?  What gives us that reason for moving forward from one day to the next?  Start spending time defragging your mind from the clutter of the ordinary and opening  yourself to the extraordinary world that God has for each of us.  Journaling is one of the greatest tools to make that happen.