Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Seasons ARE Changing!

Snow on the mountain peaks after the rain
The leaves are all yellow now here in the Anchorage area. Some are still hanging on the branches but most of them are on the ground. The overnight temperatures are dipping. For the past week or so, I've had to scrape frost off my windshield in the morning. A quick squall yesterday left snow on the mountain tops. Its only a matter of time before that snowline finds its way down. 

I hate to say this friends but the seasons are changing and winter is coming.

Many people who find out that I am serving in Alaska after living most of my life in the Philippines, cannot wrap their heads around the fact that my family and I are loving it here. "How do you do it?", they ask. "You must be be miserable.", they say. But we say, "No. We love it here. Alaska is home for us now, or at least for the foreseeable future. So we have to adapt." And I feel that we have adapted well.

Running in layers
Adapt is what we do when seasons change. I employ this principle in my running since I run outdoors all year long. When seasons change, I adapt and dress appropriately. I ran in shorts and a short sleeved shirt all summer. Now that the temperatures have dipped, I've added long-sleeved shirt that I can still shed when I get hot. Pretty soon, I'll be busting out my tights and gloves and having my shoes "re-studded" for traction. Never run in cotton, though. Cotton holds water. It'll drench you in the summer and freeze you in the winter. I go for the synthetic fabrics that wick-out moisture, keeping me mostly dry in any condition. Wool is great for winter running. If you're interested, here's a helpful online guide to running wear for different conditions: http://www.runnersworld.com/what-to-wear

Adapt is what we do when seasons change. Now the seasons are definitely changing in our life as a denomination and as the church, the body of Christ. There are many challenges to ministry and being the church today that call us to change the way we think and do things in order to thrive and keep fulfilling our mission. There are many pressing issues that we need to deal with head-on. The world we live in and the circumstances of mission and ministry are ever changing. We can choose to be miserable and complain about our situation. Or we can choose to adapt and thrive in these changing circumstances.

Our call is to be adaptive leaders. Here's a link to an article summarizing the work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky on Adaptive Leadership. This article has been helpful for me in this new role. It might just be helpful for you too.

What are changes in your own context that are calling you and your church to adapt? My prayer is that you would be able to adapt well and continue being the hands and feet of Christ in the community where you are planted.

Your fellow disciple,

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Learning from Spawning Salmon

I just got back from a trip to visit our churches in Southeast Alaska. What a great experience it was to connect with folks from the UMC of Sitka, First UMC of Ketchikan, and Juneau churches: Aldersgate UMC, Douglas Community UMC and Northern Light United Church (Methodist-Presbyterian). My heart has been warmed to hear and witness the wonderful things God is doing in and through these churches as they engage their mission field for Christ! I am inspired by the dreams and visions they have to change the world starting with their communities. I am encouraged by their sense of hope in the midst of difficulties that each of their faith communities is facing. I am humbled by and truly grateful for the radical hospitality shown to me in all of these places.

The trip was also filled with deep lessons for life and ministry. I will be writing about these in the next couple of blog posts. Let me start with this one today:

When I was in Sitka, Pastor Ferdie Llenado and two of his sons brought me to a creek where salmon were spawning. I had never seen salmon spawning before so this was a treat for me and I made sure to capture it on video. And then the reality struck me: What a powerful metaphor for what we are called to do and be as a church!

In order to spawn, thousands of adult salmon need to swim upstream to be able to deposit their eggs where they would be safe. This is an older generation of salmon willing to swim against the current (I'm assuming it is easier to swim with the current than it is against it!) just to make sure that the next generation would be safe.

And then it gets more powerful. After they lay their eggs in the gravel of the creek bed, these older salmon die. In the video you will see grayish, decomposing carcasses. How I wish there was a way to capture the stench on video to make the experience more complete for you. With the smell and the visual, it hit me that these "salmon of today" were willing to make the long, hard journey upstream, knowing that it would lead to their death, because they wanted to make sure that their species would survive, thrive and continue playing their role in the continued balance of the Eco-system.

What are the ways that God is calling us "salmon of today" to swim upstream, against the normal current, the normal ways of doing church that we've gotten used to, in order for a new generation of Christians to not only survive but thrive? What are the ways that God is calling us to "die to ourselves" so that new life can happen in our churches and in our denomination? Can we be selfless, like these spawning salmon, not thinking of themselves, but of those coming after them and ultimately the mission of their species? Are we willing to put to death practices and structures that are no longer relevant, even if we love them so much and they are our comfort zones? Are we willing to be uncomfortable, to be inconvenienced, to exert the extra effort to swim upstream, to live with the stench of decay for a while, in order to make more disciples of Jesus Christ who would continue in our mission of transforming the world?

Shall we swim upstream together?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Quiet Center

Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead,
Find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed:
Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see
All the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be.

I love these words from the hymn "Come and Find the Quiet Center" by Shirley Erena Murray. They remind me of my constant need to center myself in God before I engage the busyness and the business of the day. It is so easy to get caught up with the demands of our to-do lists and our chores, places to go to, people to meet and schedules to keep. With the continuing advancement of information technology, the temptation is stronger than ever to dive into our work first thing in the morning. And that just dictates how the rest of our day would go, doesn't it? It doesn't slow down from there. We continue on that dizzying pace until we are ready for bed. And even from bed, we find ourselves checking that last email, that last text message, that last post.

When I said yes to taking this new role, one of the first things I did was contact people I knew who were either former or current Superintendents. I asked them for tips, pointers and general words of wisdom. There was a variety of responses, ranging from the technical, the practical, to the spiritual. Yet one common piece of advice I got that resonated among all their messages was this: Pay attention to your soul. Do not neglect your spiritual life. Be disciplined in your spiritual practices.

I am thankful for those words of advice and have taken them seriously. I begin my day with God in scripture and prayer. Some days are easier than others. But I try. Sometimes I falter and I reap the consequences of an "un-centered" start throughout the day. And so I try my best to take time for God daily. My devotions today reminded me of how God provided manna daily to the Israelites in the wilderness and everyday they had to go out and gather this flaky substance from the ground for their food. In a practical sense, it was for food to satisfy their hunger. But in a deeper sense, it cultivated a habit of depending on God daily. It was meant to center them daily on the wonderful truth of God's grace. "Give us this day our daily bread."

Running is another practice that takes care of not only my body but also my soul. It has become, for me, a spiritual discipline. I do not use headphones and listen to music when I run and so I am able to listen to my breathing, my heartbeat and the pounding of my feet on the ground. I find it soothing when those three seem to be in sync, following a certain rhythm. Running allows me to process things, to think through a difficult situation or marinate on a sermon. It also relieves stress. When I am not able to run, I am cranky and out of sync.

Friend, I know that you, too, lead a very busy life. Amidst the busyness, may you find time to take care of your soul. I pray the words of this hymn as a blessing for you: May you find the quiet center in the crowded life you lead. May you find room for hope to enter and the frame where you are freed. May you find time and space to clear the chaos and the clutter. May your eyes be cleared to see the things that really matter. May you find peace and simply be. Amen.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Studying the Map

Map of the last race I ran
I used to never study the map of a course before a race. It's because I knew my running buddy Stephen did that. And since I ran my first three marathons with him, I never bothered. I would maybe look at the map a couple of times, just to have a sense of where the course would take us. But I seldom paid attention to the details.

That changed during my last race, which I ran without Stephen. I felt that I had to have a better grasp of the courses' intricacies. And because it was a longer distance than I had ever ran before, I paid close attention to where the climbs were, where the aid stations were located and where the flats and downhills were situated. I had to plan for these. I had to know where the inclines and declines were, and how long they were so I could pace myself. I had to know where the drink stations were so I could regulate may liquid intake. I had to know what food and drink was available at the aid stations so that I knew what to bring.

Studying the map paid off! It helped me plan and strategize. Knowing that there was an aid station every 2 miles helped me manage my hydration. I used to get cramps after mile 20 because dehydrated. Learning the map kept me cramp-free.

Panoramic view of Lake Junaluska
Last week, I attended the Training of New District Superintendents and Directors of Connectional Ministry in Lake Junaluska, NC. It was great time of learning and of connecting with fellow "newbies". It was also a renewing time of retreat and reflection on this new role that I am now two months into.

Aside from gaining friends and meaningful connections with colleagues, my greatest takeaway from my time at Lake J was that it allowed me to "study the map" of what it means to be superintendent in the Alaska Conference. The training gave me a better sense of the scope of the job. It gave me a better understanding of my role as "chief missional strategist" for our conference. It helped me plot when the busy "uphill" times would be in the calendar as well as the easy "flats" where I can relax and restore. It also helped me take stock of the "aid stations"- resources I have available, people I can contact for help and guidance, and agencies I can tap into for resourcing.

In Luke 14, Jesus talks about "studying the map", when it comes to being a disciple. He challenges everyone who wants to follow him to count the cost of discipleship. "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'"(Luke 14:28-30, NRSV).

My week at Lake J certainly led me to "study the map" and "count the cost" of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in this role. What about you? What maps for the different races of life do you need to study right now?

Whatever race of life you're in right now, may God lead you to study your maps diligently, allowing you to count the cost, run the race and finish strong.