Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review: “Reformed and Always Reforming”, by Roger Olson

Overview—Give a brief overview of the book, including its theme, perspective and approach.

"Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology" is Roger Olson's apologetic for what he calls "Post-conservative Evangelical Theology" as well as a shot across the bow at "Conservative Evangelicals". He argues that conservative evangelicals are too tied to modernity and its dependence on rationalistic systematizing and propositional statements on the one hand, and neglecting the role of personal experience and creative theological reflection on the other. In each chapter he takes on a different aspect of theology from postmodernism to open theology.

Critique—Offer a brief critique of the book, including elements of strength and weakness.

Having come from a classic liberal church background to evangelicalism, I felt as I was passing Olson going the other way. He distances post-conservatism from liberalism, but it seems like a distinction without a difference! He has certainly done his homework and interacts with most of the major players on both sides of the fence. However, there is a lot of ax-grinding here. He sets transformation against information as if there was a necessary dichotomy (Jonathan Edwards would disagree). In arguing for the narrative over the propositional, he uses many propositions and no narrative. He belittles conservative evangelicals for belittling post-conservatives evangelicals. All the while he deftly avoids actually arguing for any real positions (is he an "open theist" or not?). He just thinks they should be on the table.

Application—Offer some specific application to your own ministry— demonstrating the value and relevance of the material in this book.

Reading this book was an exercise in frustration. I suppose the application could be two fold. On the one hand, while reading I was sharpened in my thinking and confirmed in my (hopelessly!) conservative evangelicalism. Over and over I felt he was missing the point, as my marginal notes will attest. One the other hand I did have to agree that there is an element in the evangelical church that values right doctrine over right experience. We settle for believing the right things about God, without ever really knowing God. This is a real danger and tragedy. So I was challenged to love God with all my heart, mind, and strength.

Best Quote—Be sure to include the page number where the quote can be found.

Page 34: "Throughout that furor over inerrancy and evangelical identity, I determined to remain evangelical and to allow no one to push me out of that camp while remaining true to my pietistic, Arminian heritage that did not place value on the kind of rational certainty sought by the evangelical movement. It has been a struggle. Now, at age fifty-four and secure in a tenured position at a major Baptist university, I am ready to declare quite publically which side I am on."

Book Review: “Church Distributed”, by Joel Hunter

Ovverview—Give a brief overview of the book, including its theme, perspective and approach.

Joel Hunter, author and pastor, seeks to apply the theological doctrine of the Trinity to church life. The church must be relationally connected, like the Trinity, and outward focused, as we are shown in the doctrine of the Incarnation. Such a church is "distributed". The book begins with a retrospective of Hunter's ministry at Northland and the emergence of the "distributed" philosophy of ministry. With each subsequent chapter the author adds to the definition of a "Distributed Church" in its noun and verbal forms.

Critique—Offer a brief critique of the book, including elements of strength and weakness.

"Church Distributed" was a very thought provoking book. Though I am familiar with the ministry of Northland, it was nice to see the "schematic" and philosophy behind the church. Joel Hunter's writing is marked by a lot of creativity and freshness. He spends considerable time in interaction with contemporary thought and its application to ministry. It was challenging to see his relentless focus on "outside the walls" relationships.

"Church Distributed" also raised a number of questions. Is this a truly Biblical ecclesiology? Is the Trinitarian overlay seen explicitly in the NT? One also wonders how elders and church discipline factor in. Also, is this an historical ecclesiology? Are the three marks (right preaching of the gospel, church discipline, and right sacramental theology) seen in a distributed church? The book could greatly benefit from more practical examples and illustrations. I was constantly wondering exactly what the various points would look like. And is technology (which seems to open important new vistas for ministry) neutral? Would it pass the "test of the catacombs"? What happens when the power goes out?

Application—Offer some specific application to your own ministry— demonstrating the value and relevance of the material in this book.

I was challenged to a greater decentralization of ministry initiatives. I need to encourage church members to develop outside the walls ministries of outreach and service. I am also taking away the deliberate and relentless outward focus of the church. The leadership characteristics of a great leader (Chapter 9) were well worth applying to my leadership style.

Best Quote—Be sure to include the page number where the quote can be found.

Page 96: "The mark of the early church was the pattern of growth that resulted from its immersion in ordinary daily life. The early church was not armed with evangelism tools and strategies, as we are. Christians did not stop their conversations about the faith when they exited the church. In those conversations the ancient Christians included the 'regular world', the people they worked with and lived beside."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Monastic Day at Mepkin Abbey

I've had some questions about the various services at the Abbey so I thought it might be helpful to give you a "day in the life"…

3:00 AM Rise

3:20 Vigils (Office of Psalms and Readings)

4:10 Meditation and Lectio Divina

5:30 Lauds (Morning Prayer)

6:00 Breakfast

6:30 Lectio Divina

7:30 Eucharist

8:15 Terce (Brief Prayer)

Grand Silence Ends

12:00 Noon Sext (Midday Prayer)

12:10 Dinner

12:50 None (Brief Prayer)

5:00 Supper

6:00 Vespers (Evening Prayer)

6:30 – 7:30 Various individual and community activities

7:35 Compline (Final Prayer of the day)

Grand Silence Begins

8:00 Retire

Saturday, June 28, 2008

+the headless monk+

Men of all ages join the monastic community. I saw every decade in a man's life represented. I am sure brothers join the community at various places in their lives and are drawn to monasticism for reasons unique to each.

There are a number of older monks at Mepkin, a couple of which are in their 90's! You can tell which have been in monasticism the longest by how bent over they are. One brother is so bent over that, from the back, with his cowl draped across the back of his neck, he looks like he is headless! Though he is "bowed" in body, he bows deeper still in worship.

Patty told me that the reason some monks are so bent over is from their regimen of fasting in their younger days. I imagine the fasts were so severe that calcium depletion and osteoporosis were the results. Vatican II ended such ascetic practices. Now the monks must have the abbots' permission to fast. I wonder if the older monks think the new generation is "soft".

The older monks have responsibilities like everyone else, tailored to their abilities. Before each service one such brother slowly shuffles along the "desks", turning the pages in the Psalters to the correct pages, marking the various readings with the ribbons, laying the hymnbook open to the right hymns for the service, setting out the responsorial sheets. His gnarled and knuckled hands are as bent as the branches of the ancient oaks of the abbey. And as graceful and beautiful. They lack only the moss that hangs from the oaks' limbs. Give it time.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mepkin Abbey: Day 5 - Friday

Vigils: This morning I got up at 2:42 AM to get ready for vigils. I tried to get to bed early (8 PM) and though I tossed and turned for a while I finally dozed off. When my alarm went off I dragged myself out of bed, showered, dressed, and left my hermitage for church. The moon was full and bright, shining through the moss laden oaks, casting shadows on the moist grass. The walk both helped me to wake up and calmed me. I took a sip of coffee at the refectory and headed to the church.

As I took my seat, Psalm 134 was open before me:

The service began as usually with the bells, standing to face the altar, the "knock", and then bowing to praise the Trinity. The psalm was read and a hymn sung and then we sat. To my surprise the lights were lowered to darkness so all that was seen was the lectern illuminated by six candles. A brother approached the lectern and read a portion of the scriptures and a stanza from Psalm 107. After the stanza we stood to pray and say our "amen". The simplicity and the beauty were stunning – I was so glad I had awakened early and I chided myself for my sloth – depriving myself of this experience all week! Next time!

This rhythm was repeated – scripture, psalm, prayer – until the psalm was completed. A reading from the Rule of Saint Benedict was also given.

Haste has no place here. The readings are given slowly, without theatrics, lest one be distracted to the reader rather than the readings. Brothers took turns reading, waiting for the previous reader to be seated. The silence and slowness affords the opportunity to pray and reflect rather than rushing off to the next item on the agenda.

The "Work of God" (Opus Dei) is not to be done in an "efficient" way. Lots of time is "wasted" because there is no wasted time in spiritual formation. Like the temple rituals of the Old Covenant, the rhythm shapes both those who are serving and the whole community.

We have missed something here. We are slaves to the contemporary, the bandwagon, the dancing bear show of the neo-postmodern church. We are the hollow men, men without chests. I can easily see how one would would join this band of merry men – that is how strong I feel. I have really loved this place. I miss it already and am jealous for the next opportunity. I do need to bring it with me. This is the life we were meant to lead. The rhythm of the day is like the rhythm of the waves and tides of the ocean, powerful, calming, relentless. One has to give oneself to the waves, not fighting against them, but becoming part of the ebb and flow.

Jesus with drew to lonely places – but then walked back into the work of ministry. I've got to make that walk back now. It is a good and right walk.

Mepkin Abbey; A few revisions...

Upon reflection I have gone back and changed some of the names of the various people I met at Mepkin. I wouldn't want to betray any confidences. More stuff later.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mepkin Abbey: Day 4 - Thursday

Lauds: This morning I arose and made the 5 minute walk to Lauds. I lingered too long and had to scurry in at the bells. I took my place and settled into the comforting liturgy. St. Romuald was honored today – I'll have to read more about him. I was impressed by the neatness and orderliness of the space - each book and notebook in its place. I am challenged to better order my space at home, especially in my office. Now, if the monks' rooms are similarly in order I will really be impressed!

Lectio Divina: After breakfast I finished reading Revelation and then read 1 John. After my conversations with the Gnostics I thought that would be good. It was.

I am now sitting in a "bird blind" overlooking a large meadow/field. I walked through a wooded forest on a dirt road to get there. It was quite serene and lovely until a wasp/hornet/fly (?) began dive bombing my head. He must have liked by hair gel or thought all the grey was some flower in bloom. I tried brushing him off but he was relentless. I began walking faster to discourage his pursuit, but he somehow marshaled a group of his comrades and soon 4-5 of them began swarming around my head. I picked up a branch and started swatting at them, but they just buzzed more vigorously. I began to run, swatting them away – to no avail! I was in a full run as I cleared the forest and ran into the field, arms and branch frantically waving above my head. I must have been quite a sight! Still the onslaught persisted. I then remembered the sweatshirt in my backpack and dug it out. Covering my head, instantly they were gone! Mental note for the walk home.

I turned back, climbed into the blind and began to pray. It took me a while to clear my thoughts and I realized that you can't go away to escape problems and anxieties. Like the flies, they will find you!

A wasp has been investigating me for a while now. Very unnerving! I try to sit still while he hovers inches away. He lights behind me and whenever I move he takes up his vigil again. He is not a threat (I hope!), but a constant distraction behind me. Even when I can't see him, the high pitched buzzing reveals his glare. Finally he flies away, called to another investigation. Again I remember that anxieties will find you! Must deal with them a different way.

A cool breeze restores the peace. A large "bug", who closely resembles a leaf, ambles by. I think of how good our creator God the Father is, how intricate his creation. Will he not and has he not made provision for me?

I think the blind is facing the wrong direction. I can hear a lot of chirping in the woods behind me, but little in the field before me. Maybe this is a butterfly blind, or a dragonfly blind. Or maybe a wasp blind.

On Order: The monks' "order" could be called a regimen because it is like an army – ordered, ranked, tasked to do the work of God. Each day reveille is called and taps are blown. All for the warfare of grace, the battle of love, the struggle of prayer. I see that in the scriptures – the urgency, the call to arms, the life and death struggle, the band of brothers, each watching to others' back. There is vigilance to vigils. But there is also lauds, vespers, and compline. A time for war and a time for peace.

None: Lunch today was a barley/pea/squash "mush", golden corn, salad (the tomatoes here are delicious!), and a fig. We ate in silence, again, while a brother read to us. It's kind of cool – a midday moment to reset, reflect, and remember.

After lunch comes "none" – a brief time of prayer at the tables standing. We follow a liturgy pamphlet which "Patty" (more about her later) passed out. Jerry and Derrick decline to participate (as usual) and headed for the doom but a sudden rainstorm kept them in. Rather than participate, they just stood at the door, facing outside, waiting for the rain to stop. I thought it rather rude – it was as if they couldn't get out fast enough. Little wonder. I prayed the power of Christ would invade the room.

After we cleaned things up, I had a fascinating conversation with Patty. We had coffee while we waited for the rain to clear. Patty is a 56 year old cancer survivor – a classic "steel magnolia" with a sweet smile and southern drawl. She helps with the gardens and various tasks around the abbey. I can tell there is a lot of love and mutual respect between her and the brothers. She seems to be a kind of a sister and mom to the monks – like a frat mom. Or as she calls it: Snow White and the 29 dwarves!

Brother "Serenity" stepped in and remarked about Jerry and Derrick's behavior. As leader for the "none" service, he found it unnerving to see them not participating but just staring out the door "watching the damn rain"! Seems like monks are not averse to colorful language! The son of an Alabama Southern Baptist preacher (whose eyes lit up when I mentioned "sword drills") – this boy is a long way from home. I'd like to hear more of his story some day. I asked him what his family thought about him. His dad is okay with him being a monk, but his mom is the high strung one who consoles herself that at least he has a relationship with Jesus.

Brother "Serenity" took that name because that is what he wants to become. He, as Patty tells me, is far from serene yet. He is obviously very intelligent with a lot of respect for Eastern thought. He speaks well of Buddhist monks and said if he ever got cancer he would "go east" – Western medicine has a military approach to disease – bombard it! He seems knowledgeable about the politics of Tibet, the Dali Lama, et al. He seems to be looking for inner peace.

Brother "V" stepped in and had an enigmatic request of Patty. Brother V is tall and bearded - a bit of a hick, but warm hearted and gregarious. He asked Patty to keep an eye out for the nephew of one of the monks, who was between jobs. The nephew had arrived as a guest at the abbey to work as craftsman and also to "find his way". He was "On retreat and in retreat" as Brother V put it. Brother V thought that Patty could give him some guidance. We'll see.

It seems like a lot of strays find their way to Mepkin. I haven't met a Roman Catholic retreatant yet! I wonder what kind of stray I am.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mepkin Abbey: Reflections along the way...

What am I learning? What is the Lord Showing Me?
  • Rhythm and ritual do not have to be dry and binding. They can be liberating and focusing.
  • Ordering the hours breeds tranquility and freedom.
  • You can't go somewhere to escape struggles and anxieties, they will find you!
  • Trust God – he is at work. It is not all up to you.
  • I don't want to "run a church" or even "grow a church" for growth's sake. I want to love, honor and glorify the Lord by caring for souls.
  • The exaltation of and total absorption in Christ are the only things that matter.
  • I want to out love everyone! I want my love to grow deeper and deeper for all men, especially those of the household of faith.

Today and tomorrow I...

Today and tomorrow I am at the University of Central Florida Orientation. So, I'll try to update later. Keep you posted. listen

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mepkin Abbey: Day 3 – Wednesday


The morning came cool and clear as I stepped outside at 5:10 AM. I arose at 4:30 (Okay, 4:45 after I hit the snooze button), showered, and packed up to go to lauds. The rain we received between vespers and compline last night was a cool front and now everything is clear. I grabbed a cup of coffee and made my way to the church.

Early morning is my favorite time. I feel sleepy yet content and secure in the structures of the monastic rhythm. I arrived slightly early and took a seat in the retreatants section. Sitting in the quiet as the monks shuffled in, I prayed and quieted my soul. The worship was song and chant and psalms, not dissimilar from Taize. The service is all in English and accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar played by the cantor, a spectacled, bearded man of 50+ years and a clear tenor voice. He starts the chant for his side and then the other side takes up the psalm and the two sides exchange verses antiphonally until the last verse is sung and we bow and sing, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit". I am starting to "get it" and feel more like I am joining in.

After a silent breakfast I read through Revelation 13. I tried to linger on the doxological sections and was again impressed that Christ is the only worthy one to be worshiped throughout eternity – He has all dominion and power and all nations and people will bow before him! Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Eucharist: I sat, again, in the retreatants section and followed along. A different monk shared the homily which was very good on clothing ourselves with the humility of Christ so that Christ gets the glory. I stood around the altar with the community but didn't receive communion, being protestant and all. There is so much to like about the liturgy – its anchor in scripture, its gentle rhythm, its slow pace, unhurried, no concern for segued transitions, and times of prolonged silence for reflection. I am appreciating all of this.

But every now and then there is a "speed bump" – the petitioning of Mary, the "look not upon our sins but upon the faith of your church", etc… I can only go so far.

I passed the peace but passed on the Eucharist – though the priest did say a blessing over me, which was nice.

The have a Labyrinth – a kind of maze-like circle in a large field designed to help one "contemplate" better. Because it was so cool and nice I started walking it. The idea is to center oneself in contemplative prayer. I bailed about ¼ the way though, thinking "This is stupid!". I am really not ready for that level of mysticism.

"I want so to re-connect my relationship with Christ, to recapture the wonder, the simple joy. I desire to be taken up with Christ. I don't want to 'run a Church', I don't want to argue and debate. I want to know and be known. I just want to be with you, Christ. Show me where I got off the path, show me how to get back on. I want to climb down from my head and into my heart. I want to worship in Spirit and truth. Hear my prayer, O Jesus, send your Spirit, be merciful gracious Father."

Supper: I had a cheese sandwich. Provolone and cheddar on wheat with mustard and mayo. Until tonight I've gone with peanut butter. Actually they had some organic peanut butter so I had half a PB sandwich as well.

I had another conversation with Jerry and Derrick – more weirdness. They seem to be very comfortable with their ideas. I discerned their views to be Gnostic combined with pantheism, occult, and spiritism, and "create your own reality new ageism, with a splash of positive thinking ala Anthony Robbins. I think they would agree with the DaVinci Code and other pop-Gnosticism. I need to ask them about the cross and the resurrection. Also about angels and demons. "Protect me, Lord – reveal your Son!"

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mepkin Abbey: Day 2 - Tuesday

Lauds: My alarm went off at 4:15 this morning. I wanted to make the morning "lauds" service at 5:30 AM. As quietly as I could, so I wouldn't wake my housemates, I took a shower, dressed, and made the walk to the church down the gravel roads that connect the monastery sites. The brothers were taking their places in the church for morning prayers and the bells sounded the beginning of worship. I sat in the back to observe (having been totally lost last night) – perhaps I will join in later. I sat and listened as the psalms & liturgy were chanted accompanied by a brother on classical guitar. I enjoyed the early morning sleepy tranquility of listening and praying.

After the service I walked to the Refectory (dining room) for hot coffee (yes!), eggs (protein!), cereal and toast. I read Malachi during "lectio divina" (a time for personal reading and meditation)and thought about the return of my savior: "So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who eagerly waiting for him" Heb 9:28

Eucharist: The service of Eucharist was very beautiful. I left Lectio Divina at 7:30 for the chapel. The Abbot, dressed in purple robes and stole, is a gentle man (who looks like Steve Brown!). The service began and again I sat in back to observe. The homily was an exhortation from Matthew's gospel to remember that the Lord causes the rain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous – so we should be comforted even in our failures that the Lord is merciful to all. "A forgiving spirit is essential to dying well" - I do want to die well, and live well. I may begin sharing in the services today. The community surrounded the large stone table for communion as the Abbot led. 5 or 6 other monks with purple stoles assisted him. We passed the peace and the community processed for communion, some by intinction and some by taking the cup. It was beautiful to observe.

Ordering the day in such a strict way would seem to be binding, yet there is a rhythm and simplicity to it that feels liberating, though I might feel differently this afternoon when I have a headache and I am tired! I'll do some reading this morning until "dinner" at Noon.

I checked out the gift shop this morning after some reading and contemplation in the garden area. The gift shop is a way for the monastery to be self-supporting. The monastery sells eggs and chicken compost (a "must get" for my neighbors!). They also carry various nic-nacs, pottery, mugs, soaps, candles, jewelry, and a small but nice assortment of books. I looked for gifts to bring home and got a couple of ideas.

Sext: I sat with the brothers for Sext (the sixth hour service) and still had a hard time finding my way through the liturgy and so felt awkward. I'd like to be able to immerse myself into the flow of the service so it wouldn't feel so foreign. I think I will try it again tonight. At least when you sit with the brothers, everything is laid out on an angled "desk" in front of you. Having the psalms opened before you is very helpful. The psalter they use is written in a beautiful calligraphy. Just following along is a spiritual experience. I do wish I had my lectionary with me. I also need to find a copy of "Liturgy for Dummies"!

Dinner was served in silence cafeteria style. I had a broccoli/cauliflower/cheese dish, delicious green beans with pecans and spices, stuffed red peppers, salad and cantaloupe. Did I mention that the monks follow a vegetarian diet? As the guests sat in the guest refectory adjacent to the brother's refectory, a brother read from the lives of the saints and from a book about aid workers in Afghanistan after 9/11. Promptly at 12:30 a brother rang a bell and that was it!

I would like to talk with one of the monks about prayer and personal spirituality. I don't see a place for extemporaneous prayer or "wrestling" in prayer as Paul mentions. I'd like to get into their heads and hearts and see what is there. Perhaps the opportunity will present itself.

Supper: 5:00 PM – Trappists are not a chatty bunch, even when the daily 12 hours of silence are over. I did have a conversation with a "newbie" (an "Apostolate") named Leo. Leo is from Greenville – Catholic family – Philippino Mom. I asked him how he had come to Mepkin. After three months he really liked his experience. We had an interesting conversation. I wish it could have been longer.

My conversation with a couple my fellow retreatants, "Jerry" and "Derrick", was even more "interesting". After some brief banter, Jerry described himself as a "Gnostic Catholic". Inquiring further I discovered that he is really into the paranormal and had co-authored a book with Daryl on "twin souls merging" or something like that. I was a bit freaked out as he explained about a lady who was inhabited by the spirit of George Reeves (TV's "Superman"). I tried to share as much of my story (and Christ's!) as I could. We got into all kinds of stuff like visiting psychics and helping aids sufferers to die. Then when we were looking at the Church, Derrick tells me that he and Jerry are "same sex life partners". Okay!

I spent vespers and compline trying to sort that out! I realized that I need to keep things simple – preach Christ and him crucified. Jesus and the cross.

"Lord Jesus, let me see the power of the cross and work! Exalt yourself, O Lord!"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mepkin Abbey: Day 1 - Monday

Having packed the night before I got up early, made some last minute packing changes, kissed Nancy, and got on the road by 7ish. The trip was long but satellite radio and G.K. Chesterton in the IPod were good companions. I finally arrived at the Abbey at about 2:30 PM.

The Abby is in the middle of nowhere and is very Spartan. I poked around the greeting center (closed on Mondays!) and ran into Brother Stephen on his bicycle. Brother Stephen is an older man with a pleasant personality. He asked me If I was a priest. I told him I was a pastor. He playfully asked me what the difference was. I said, "You tell me!"

He showed me the lay of the land and I found my way to my room. I am staying in a little retreat house w/4 rooms, a common bathroom, kitchen, and living rooms. A single wall unit cools the whole house. My room has a single bed, chair, desk, and small chest of drawers. Simple but clean.

Supper consisted of PB&J or cheese sandwiches, salad, and fruit – all self serve. Again, very simple (do I detect a theme?). I went to Vespers and Compline and fumbled my way through the services. The monks chant nearly everything, except the scripture reading. Very beautiful grounds and a river which borders the back of the property. More later!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

More Scuba...

Sunday, June 15th, 2008: We headed to Pompano at about 8:30 AM for our ocean dive. Being a Sunday we listened to Ravi Zacharias for "church". The trip was good and we got to the dock on time. We wolfed down some lunch from a cheesy Deli/Bait Shop. We then got our gear and found a spot in the shade on the boat. We had a full boat – 28 in all. We headed out Hillsborough Inlet and then south to the reef. We tied up to one of the many buoys, all in a line across the length of the reef.

When we finally got in the water the visibility was great – the water was warm but not hot – and the reef was teaming with fish of every size and color. We went down to 30 ft. Again, it was a remarkable experience! Weightless and so close to so many fish. Puffer fish, angel fish, coral formations - it was like swimming in a National Geographic special! My favorite part was watching Jonathan having so much fun looking, swimming, breathing underwater! We both came up after 40+ minutes so thrilled with the experience.

We then moved to the wreck of the S.S. Copenhagen, a cargo ship that wrecked in 1900. The visibility was not as good but we got closer to the reef this time, again staying down 40+ minutes. Jonathan even saw a guppy! We came up excited and exhausted.

When we got to the shore we rinsed and stowed our gear and made the trip home. We called GF & PC and Mom. When we got home Stephen shared his story and Jonathan shared ours. It was a great reunion!

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

We got up early and headed to Williston, Fl, to dive the Blue Grotto, a 100 ft deep spring-fed sinkhole. We were in the second group to dive so we sweated on the dock with all of our gear on. But when we hit the 72 degree water (backwards!) it was absolutely refreshing! We got our equilibrium on a submerged platform and went through our drills. We then descended to "peace rock" at 50' deep. The grotto was dark, but looking back at the sun shining through the blue water was beautiful. Jonathan was scared to go down in the crevices, but he "manned up" and did it.

Catching up – Scuba Redux

Thursday, June 12th, 2008: Jonathan and I, having taken our scuba classroom sessions went to the YMCA aquatic center to do our first pool dive. The first time we breathed through the regulators underwater was an amazing experience. We went down to the bottom struggling to maintain balance – not too successfully! But there we were – breathing underwater! Our breaths were shallow and the regulators will take some getting used to – but still it was fantastic. We came home so exited – we told Nancy all about it – every bit. Our enthusiasm spilled out all over! We can't wait to go on.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Monastic Humor...

"We ask you, friends, to join us in an ancient monastic practice..."

Back in Orlando

I drove in this afternoon, safe and sound - though minus one wallet (lost in SC). Oh well - I canceled the credit cards on the road, with Nancy's help. A hassle but nothing of real value lost. I stuffed some cash in my pocket (which I NEVER do), so I was able to buy enough gas for the trip home. Janna comes home tonight, so we'll have a real reunion. I'll give you the full skinny on Mepkin Abbey soon. I journaled alot and found it a very healthy experience. I hope to keep up the habit as part of a new regimen.
Thank you all so much for your prayers!

Psalms, walks, candles,...

Psalms, walks, candles, gardens, hymns, monks, graveyards. Details to follow. listen

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I'm walking down the...

I'm walking down the Oak lined Entrance in [...] Abby . The only place I can get cell service, so I'll try to report from here every now and again. listen

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I left at 4:30 to get...

I left at 4:30 to get ready for services which are 5:30, 6:00 is breakfast, 7:30 is lunch(?), followed by a time of personal time, and then it's back to another service at 7:30 and silence finally ends 8:15. listen

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I still haven't figured...

I still haven't figured it out how to hack in to the monk Wi-Fi. So, my post would be sporadic release until Friday but I am journaling the whole experience and hope to update them. Keep praying, thanks. listen

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Mepkin Abbey has no self...

Mepkin Abbey has no self service. So my blog will be updated sporadically. I will try and hack into the Monk's Wifi if I can to give everyone updates. But I'm up here, and I'm hoping for a good week of contemplation. listen

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Lugrato was the first...

Lugrato was the first open water dive on Saturday. 72 degrees of pure crystal clear water. We went down about 50 plus feet and it was an amazing experience. Our wet suits kept us warm and though I have some problems clearing my ears, it all turned out great. listen

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Well, we just got back...

Well, we just got back from our first pool dive. It was incredible. Breathing under water is pretty much the coolest thing I've done so far. We will keep you posted. Bye. listen

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This week Jonathan and I began our scuba course. He is opting for this as his “Senior Trip” that his grandmother offers her grandkids upon graduation. We’ve been going to Diver’s Direct on I-Drive where Ranger Rick (seriously – his name, but don’t laugh – 20+ years as army ranger!) is our instructor. So far it’s just book work. We did get an additional certification in Nitrox diving, so that is pretty cool. The pool dives start tonight at the YMCA Aquatic Center. Saturday we dive Blue Grotto in Williston and Sunday takes us to Pompano for an open water ocean dive.

We are having a good time, though it’s pretty “mathy” thus far. We’ll keep you posted!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Book Review: The Living Church by John Stott

The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor

By John Stott, IVP Books, 2007

Overview—Give a brief overview of the book, including its theme, perspective and approach.

The Living Church is essentially a collection of John Stott's reflections of over 60 years in pastoral ministry. His observations are not the result of technical research, but rather Biblical conviction and pastoral experience. He identifies seven crucial areas of church life (worship, evangelism, ministry, fellowship, preaching, giving, and impact) and applies biblical teaching to the contemporary situation. His "Historical Appendixes" help to give perspective to his comments.

Critique—Offer a brief critique of the book, including elements of strength and weakness.

As both an observer of and change agent in church ministry, Stott's overview of what matters in ministry is time-tested. Stott's strength has always been his biblical foundations. As a student of the Word, the Bible is always Stott's starting place. His compassion for an ever-changing world drives his desire to be contemporary. Keeping these two tensions in balance (a "Radical Conservatism" as he says) have been Stott's strong suite throughout his ministry. I find it difficult to point out specific weakness, for the book is what it was meant to be; convictions of a life-long pastor. I suppose he could have offered more practical examples and anecdotes for his points, but that would have dated what may become a warm-hearted ecclesiology text for years to come.

Application—Offer some specific application to your own ministry— demonstrating the value and relevance of the material in this book.

When trendiness is the order of the day in church ministry, Stott reminds me to "keep the main things the main things". A book like The Living Church is a touchstone to keep one oriented and grounded in ministry. However, I was challenged in his section on preaching to remember that all "expository" preaching is not a running commentary on a long passage, but rather it is an opening up of the biblical text. There is more than one way top exposit a text. Stott helps me remember balance in ministry, tethered neither to past traditions nor new trends, but to God's Truth.

Best Quote—Be sure to include the page number where the quote can be found.

p. 84 - "So how shall we persevere in loving the unlovable? Only, I think, by remembering how precious they are. They are so valuable that the three persons of the Trinity are together involved in caring for them. I find it very challenging, when trying to help a difficult person, to say under my breath: 'How precious you are in God's sight! God the Father loves you. Christ died for you. The Holy Spirit has appointed me your pastor. As the three persons of the Trinity are committed to your welfare, it is a privilege for me to serve you.'"

Cover View

Monday, June 9, 2008

Book Review:

"Comeback Churches"
by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Broadman and Holman, 2007

Overview—Give a brief overview of the book, including its theme, perspective and approach.

In Comeback Churches, the authors compile research data from more than 300 churches in America that were declining only to "comeback" with new growth and vitality. The authors sifted though the research to discover factors that were common to the comeback churches. Such factors include worship and preaching, evangelism strategies, mobilizing the laity, and connecting people through small groups. The authors suggest that in applying such principles and strategies many plateaued and declining churches can also make a comeback.

Critique—Offer a brief critique of the book, including elements of strength and weakness.

Comeback Churches, like other books of its type (Breakout churches, Leading Turnaround Churches, etc…), finds common factors (mentioned above) that churches should deliberately apply. These factors come as no surprise. In fact they seem like common sense. The difference is that comeback churches are relentlessly deliberate in their pursuit of change in these areas. Having read a number of resources in this area, I would say that Comeback Churches serves as a more complete compendium as it addresses a wider spectrum of issues. Its weakness may be an overall pragmatic approach to change in church ministry and a church-as-business model. Having said that, the authors do a better job than most in emphasizing the spiritual issues underlying growth.

Application—Offer some specific application to your own ministry— demonstrating the value and relevance of the material in this book.

I particularly appreciated the chapter on "Comeback Change Agents: New or Renewed Leaders". I was not surprised to read that 60% of comeback churches had a change at the senior pastor level. What was encouraging was that 40% of comeback churches changed without changing their senior pastor. The crucial ingredient was getting a pastor with a renewed vision, whether that was the current leadership or new leadership. This is precisely what I need, a renewed vision.

Best Quote—Be sure to include the page number where the quote can be found.

Page 176: "Nobody changes until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change"

Trying out the technology...

Hey – this is my attempt to post via email. I know I can always “jott” via cell phone, but that limits me to 30 seconds of transcription. I am hoping to blog via email on my Palm TX when I am away from my computer. So let’s see how this goes…

Friday, June 6, 2008


While I am away we will be recruiting people to help out in various areas. One crucial area is that of leading worship. God has provided some great friends to help us while I am gone.

Our secretary, Jaime Largaespada and her husband Jarrett are worship leaders at our one of our sister churches, Westwood Church. They have agreed to come over a few Sunday's this summer to lead worship for us. You will love meeting them!

I have also made arrangements with Jennifer Styne, who is with "Cross Ministries" to lead worship for us for a few Sundays. Cross Ministries comes alongside churches who are without a pastor for whatever reason and provide anything and everything from music, pulpit supply, children's ministry, etc… You may remember Jennifer as the sweet gal who joined us in worship at our missionary conference meeting at Wendy's. Jennifer will be bringing her whole music team with her.

Thanks so much for all the prayers – I'll be keeping you posted!

Pastor Tom