Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Cocoon of Selfishness


Noah didn't go to church today, so I had the rare opportunity to drive to church alone. As is typically the case when I am by myself, I got lost in my head. Ironically, in a very "meta" moment I started thinking about what it is that I typically think about. Ouch! That was a bit revealing and rather uncomfortable, because what I usually think about Not me as a person. I'm not going through a mental list of my attributes or my liabilities. Rather, I am constantly thinking about what I need to do, what I want to do, what I have to do, and when I am going to do it.

I...I...I...that is the prevailing pronoun in the soundtrack of my mind.

Now thinking about my responsibilities, obligations, wants, and needs is not a bad thing in and of itself. If I don't plan for things at work and home, then they won't get done. However, if I spend so much time focusing on MY stuff, then there is no room left to thing about anything, or more importantly, anyONE else.

Many, many years ago, when Robert was a youth minister, he preached about "My Favorite Sin." This doesn't mean a sin that we enjoy the most, but the one that becomes "favored" just because it is our default sin; the one we revisit again and again. I have several favorites unfortunately, but selfishness is definitely in the top three and most likely holds the uncoveted #1 spot if I am honest.

I think (hope!) that most people wouldn't describe me as selfish. I try to act non-selfish at worst and selfless at best. I feel I am generally successful at being unselfish in my actions. However, there is constant argument and back-and-forth in my mind. I am having to wage war against my innate desire and thought processes of selfishness. I very much understand and commiserate with what Paul writes in Romans 7: 15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." So, is with the grace of God, I have been moderately success at behaving in an unselfish matter, the next step (or first step?) is to get my head in the game. If my brain is full of "I" and "me" then it can't also be full of "you" and "them." I talk in class often about cognitive resources and working memory. Our brains, as wonderful and complex as they are, can only do so much at one time. I need to open up some synapses and neural pathways to focus more on others in my head, which should naturally result in increased actions as well.

So, all of that had been whirling through my gray matter just on the brief drive to church. Then Robert's sermon focused on this passage (emphasis mine):

1 Peter 4:7-11New International Version (NIV)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

To me, on this date, with my current frame of mind...BOOM! That hit me right where I needed it. To me this passage is all about getting out of my head (so that I may pray) which will lead to loving others deeply. In turn, that results in offering hospitality without grumbling, without thinking about how doing so interferes with my plan and agenda or how it upsets my mental schedule of what should be. To serve others unselfishly isn't about me pulling myself up by my bootstraps, but relying on the strength that God provides. Always. Every time.

That's mind-blowing. That's life-changing. That's empowering. It's also really, really hard. Something about that "dying to self" part really makes the whole thing difficult. However, things worth doing don't usually come easily.

Instead, I'll try to set the "me" aside, roll up my sleeves, and get to God's strength.

P.S., Ironically, hospitality is my spiritual gift---the one I "have received to serve others"--and I haven't been too faithful to flex that muscle either, but more on that later.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Theology of Coffee Cups


These are the coffee cups after church this morning. When I saw them, the used, dirty, with rings of coffee in the bottom mugs, I thought of the story that they tell. There is a definite theology in these coffee cups.

You see, when we first began preparing for the church plant, we met with a small group of four people, in addition to our family of four. Our pre-launch, core group gatherings occurred in our home around a table and around a meal. We read through the book of Acts (the founding of the Church), ate, prayed, dreamed, and planned. One thing that became very important was the notion of hospitality and sharing of food. Therefore, we decided as we planted Tapestry Church that homemade treats and coffee would be a part of every worship gathering. And so it has been.

We started out with styrofoam and waxed coated paper coffee cups. However, it only took a couple of weeks to realize that these cups were thrown away and that was wasteful, both in terms of money and in matters of stewardship of the earth (especially styrofoam!). Not only did we want to manage our resources well, but we desired to be relevant to the community. Our community is VERY green. There are recycling bins and compost bins everywhere. Community gardens, buying local, using reusable bags, eating local, biking and walking, etc. are the very lifeblood of Stevens Point. Therefore, we decided to use real coffee mugs. We thought about buying some with our church name and logo on them, but that seemed wasteful and unnecessary. Instead, we bought a few inexpensive mugs, but mostly just cleaned out our collective cabinets. This resulted in our eclectic, mismatched, make-do assortment of mugs.



The Parkview mug is from our former church and we even have a couple of Lutheran mugs from a visit to a local ELCA church when we first moved to town. Some people don't care what mug they get, but some people have a favorite that they try to grab each week. As they have been used week in and week out, they have taken a few dings. Notice the minor chips on these below.



They aren't in perfect condition, but they are still useful and still serve their purpose. I think there is a beautiful message of redemption and how God uses us just in the picture of chipped, but purposeful coffee cups. There is a story in the mismatched patterns and sizes of these mugs that combine for one corporate and communal purpose. There is beauty in the diversity.

But the story doesn't end there. In a world that relishes the quick, easy way and embraces things that can be consumed and disposed of, these mugs need care. They have to be washed and packed away each week. Most of the people at church probably don't give a thought to that. Not that they are uncaring, but they probably just take for granted that the various mugs will be clean and set out on the hospitality table each week. When we first started using real cups, I would pack them up, take them home and wash them, and bring them back each week. Somehow, over time, Robin began to take on the responsibility. However, she washes them at the school where we meet.

She washes them in the teachers' lounge, which has no hot water. She has developed a system of using the leftover hot water that we provide for those who want tea. She fills the lounge sink with the hot water, washes, dries, and repacks the coffee cups. Sometimes Robin has another person or two to help her, but most of the time she just quietly slips away to wash the cups alone. Every. Single. Sunday.

She goes about a quiet, simple ministry with no fuss or fanfare. She is not up front leading music or standing at the door greeting people. Robin just meets an important need in a consistent and reliable way. There's some theology in that too.




Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Day My Blog Blew Up: A Follow-Up


Pull up a chair and get yourself comfy, my few and loyal blog readers. This one's gonna be long-winded, which is why I have put off writing it for months and months. It's also fueled by some significant emotion. I don't feel angry or sad or embarrassed. Mostly I feel a bit resigned, a bit disheartened, and a bit frustrated.

You see, it all started with this little blog post about Beth Moore. That one post has been by far my most popular blog post ever on this blog. Currently it is at 1300 views total and has been viewed over 10 times in the past hour, here 14 months after I first published it. When I pressed the "publish blog" button I did so with a deep sigh and braced myself for the flack that would follow. I was not...umm...err...dissappointed? As you can see from the screenshot above, there are over 61 comments that are still "awaiting moderation." That means that I haven't approved these comments, both positive and negative ones. I did approve many comments--ones that trashed me and ones that were supportive. However, after the comments kept coming and coming and coming, I decided that I would no longer accept any more comments period--good, bad, or otherwise and I posted a final comment to that effect. However, just this past week I have received two lovely emails in response. I do appreciate those.

As I am writing now, with full knowledge that I am long-winded and have a lot ot say about this topic (which is why I have put this blog post off for so long), I think I will break this up into 2 separate posts. The "thesis" of this post will be to share some of the positive and negative comments, some approved and some not, and rebut them. Tomorrow or later this weekend, I'll delve into the more philosophical and spiritual issues at play, including judgment, hypocrisy, criticism, argument, and grace.

For starters, here's a comment that kind of sums up the firestorm:

WOW Pam, bless your heart, did you ever imagine when you were writing that post that so many would be the first to throw a stone.

Yes. Yes, I did. And that makes me kinda sad...that my instinct came to pass. That I anticipated that Christians would respond in judgment and hatred. I heard the term "Christian cannibal" today for the first time and it's unfortunately pretty darn accurate.

The Good

I'll start with excerpts from some of the more positive, or at least thoughtful, comments:

I stumbled across your blog and just had to read it because I have been a BM fan for a long time and now not so much. I haven't completely given up her studies, but I just find that I'm looking for something different sometimes as I'm growing spiritually. There's nothing wrong with Beth if that's what you like. She is long-winded sometimes when I just want a concise statement. I don't always complete the homework, but I do try to at least read it. I have found that I identify with some pastors better than others even though they are all preaching truth. Some preach with more depth, some with humor, some with other things and in different seasons of my life, different things appeal to me. Different strokes for different folks. Nothing wrong with expressing your opinion and quite frankly, no one's opinion is going to stop me from listening to someone I like. I just try to say the person doesn't appeal to me at this time so I won't get some of the comments you received. :-)

Overall, a balanced and kind comment, but how sad that she feels she can't truly state her opinion because she's afraid of the backlash.

You have to do what you feel is best! Don't feel badly about it-everyone loves Beth Moore! I would not worry about it so much-by terming it "breaking up"-but I get the point. I must say that the following she encourages borders on the "cult-like"'s madness to be so attached to Beth! It is my opinion that it borders on being co-dependent. Jesus is who we need to fight for, to depend on and to attach ourselves to. I am sure Beth would agree. : )

I agree, that the attachment is often to Beth and that she herself wouldn't want that. I think this person makes some perceptive and valid comments about the cult-like, codependent issues that surround Beth Moore--that she hasn't created and I am sure, doesn't condone.

I came across this blog because lately I've begun to wonder if women are following Jesus or Beth Moore. Every time I turn around, I hear "Beth Moore" Bible Study. Yes, she may be a wonderful speaker; but this is about Jesus....not Beth Moore. I think the Christian community has made her an idol. Enough said. God gave us his word, let just see what he has to say.

Different version, same sentiment

I am saddened by the comments to Pam's personal blog. This is exactly why we need Pastors Wives Conferences. Obviously, pastors wives are still being held to a standard of perfection (which we are not) and aren't allowed to have opinions about anything. Pam simply wrote from her heart and then gets slandered for speaking what she has been struggling with. Women-before you seek to pass judgements on an issue that one woman has with a particular Bible study, ask yourself if you passed judgement or openly voiced your opinion on the men who set off the bombs at the Boston marathon, or a particular political party, or the person on the side of the street asking for money. We all do it, even I am guilty. We should be supportive, offer suggestions, and ask how we can pray for each other, not be a stumbling block.

I really appreciated this comment. Unfortunately, this poor soul had several other people ream her out for her support of me in reply comments, which I intentionally did not approve because they were so hateful and mean-spirited. I especially liked that she stated that since I am a PW that apparently can't have or express an opinion. She said that because many of the comments were to the effect of "I would expect more of you because you're a PW for crying out loud!" More on that in the next post.

Pam, It's good that you broke up with BM. Your reasoning should have been more along the lines of her lack of theology and improper exegesis of scripture. See

I also received several comments about Beth's lack of theology, taking passages out of context, and interpreting scripture through a historically inaccurate lens. Some people also commented on some of her spiritual practices such lectio divinia, which I personally have no problem with, but I can see why some evangelicals do. It's not a huge deal to me one way or the other though.

The Bad

If Beth Moore's studies and presentation do not appeal to you, just move on. Why do you feel the need to blog about your distaste for her style? It's really disappointing to hear a pastor's wife talking unkindly about someone else in ministry, especially in a public forum. You come across as petty and jealous. Instead of writing this blog maybe you could have spent time praying for all those who minister to women in this country and around the world.

Instead of writing this comment, maybe you could spend time praying for my petty and jealous soul? Yes, I am fully aware that I am responding with snarkiness. Seriously, this commenter is doing exactly what she is accusing me of doing, except with more direct, harsh, and negative words.

Well I love Beth Moore I have had a life like hers and get over yourselves .She has saved more people then you have so before anyone else says something clean up your own back yard before you cast your stones.

First off, this woman doesn't know anything about me. She is making some big assumptions about how many people I have "saved." Secondly, I haven't saved anyone. Neither has Beth Moore. God does the saving. True, He uses people in the process, but the theology in this comment is very incorrect. Also, the statement "I love Beth Moore and I have had a life like hers" is not a fact or an argument. It is an opinion.

"Love one another..." So what, Beth Moore is different than many of us? Let's be pro-active in lifting each other up instead of mimicking today's television shows and worldly attitudes that only tear down other people and point out their flaws. Maybe some pastors wife's should get out there and teach and give sound advice and better leadership examples as well instead of sitting home whining and criticizing those who do!!

I love how anonymous people have so many good opinions about better ways that I can live my life. Sidenote: when someone chooses to be anonymous, then his/her opinion ceases to be valid. You have to stand behind your argument.

Your opinion of Beth Moore is just that....your opinion. There is no need for you to spew your nasty venom and try to cast a negative light on her ministry. You of all people being a Pastors wife should welcome any one who is pointing the way to a stronger relationship with Jesus, not trying to put her down just because she has a southern accent! Beth is helping so so many women and I am sure men as well and what are you doing.....writting a blog about the homework, oh my gosh, how horribe! I am glad I came across this so I can at least say my peace about your hurtful words about a wonderful christian sister in Christ. Maybe you should use your time more wisely and be encouraging and uplifting instead oh tearing down the people God has annointed to do His will. I certainly hope and pray you don't discourage anyone from seeking God through Beths bible studies because of your shallow comments. She is a precious child of God and she has helped me and inspired me to seek God and trust.

Obviously this person misunderstood some of my blog. I'm pretty sure that I wasn't putting down Beth's southern accent, since I have a southern accent too. Again, I have a complete stranger telling me how I could be more wisely using my time. And aren't we all "anointed" to do God's will? I don't think that Beth Moore is more called than you or me. Finally, the whole bit about discouraging anyone from seek God through Beth's Bible studies...I just don't even know how to respond to that. That makes me so sad. Not that the person posted that, but that her view of God is such that she apparently thinks that God is so limited that if someone doesn't do a Beth Moore Bible study, she might miss God along the way. Again, the theology throughout this comment is broken.

The Ugly

Pam Terrel,we are all entitled to opinions, that is true. I heard about your personal blog through my mother-in-law, after I told her about Beth Moore. Mind you, my mother-in-law is someone who is struggling to have a meaningful relationship with Jesus, who has been through several abuses in her life and REALLY needs Jesus. I had told her that I've been going to a BM Bible study and I'm learning a lot, that she might want to join me. She was excited about what I told her and said she was coming with me. She decides to google Beth Moore and she stumbles upon your blog. Then she looks at me and says: "This pastor's wife is breaking up with Beth Moore because she's futile and only cares about superficial things. Beth Moore was in Africa and all she could think about was her curler, for God's sake! And if this lady is a pastor's wife, she knows what she is talking about." No need to say she didn't come with me today. Someone here defended you saying that we all expect a pastor wife to be perfect, but I don't think it's about perfection. I believe that a pastor and his family are role models, specially to non-believers. The Bible says "we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses" and I guarantee that when you wrote this article you'd never imagine that you'd push a woman in New Jersey further from God. And I don't know how many others. You are, indeed, entitled to break up with Beth Moore. You are, indeed, entitled to disagree with her. Women in Wisconsin are entitled to not agree with her. Beth Moore will NOT please and cover the needs of all women's on earth. For those women she is not able to help, God will send another vessel. And He'll keep working in His church.

Again, wow! Some of these women are giving me way too much credit and influence if they think my one little blog post, consisting of my one little opinion (that Beth Moore isn't very relevant to the Upper Midwest mindset) can actually push people further from God. God is so much bigger than me and my opinions. Instead I fear that the Christian cannibalism in the comments did more harm than my one simple blog post. But...more on that later.

P.S., Several people mentioned that they were mad that my blog post was one of the first that popped up when they did a Google search on "Beth Moore." As if I had any control of that...The funny thing is that the more they clicked on it and commented, the more they drove it up in Google analytics :-)

Oh! And I will accept and moderate comments on this post. Comments don't have to be positive for me to approve them, so feel free to disagree. However, they must be thoughtful and respectful.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Being Southern Baptist Up North


This past Thursday evening through Saturday morning, we attended our first Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention Pastors and Wives Retreat. Because I usually teach on Fridays, we have never been able to attend this annual event. However, due to a change in my schedule this year, we were finally able to go. The focus is on marriage and we think it is definitely good idea to go to a marriage retreat for a "tune up" every few years. Not only was it a marriage retreat, but also an opportunity to meet and network with other Southern Baptist pastoral couples serving in MN and WI. What an awesome experience it was!


First off, the retreat portion was good. The leaders for the weekend were a couple who teach via sketches and drama. It could have easily veered into cheesy territory, but it didn't. The sketches went from humorous to insightful and it was obvious that they really understood the unique stesses that church and ministry place on a marriage. After the sketches, there were topics for small group and table discussion. While we didn't necessarily learn anything new, we were reminded about what we do know and the things that we sometimes get to busy with. We were encouraged to think about how we communicate with each other and how powerful our words are. They can so easily build up or tear down. We were also reminded about how little interruptions can sneak in and how the domesticity of marriage can slowly overtake the friendship and love parts. And we took time to write out how our spouses bless us, something that can be improved, and spent time praying for each other. Those are all such important things they sometimes fall to the wayside in the busyness of life.

We also met a lot of really great couples. However, in talking with the other pastoral couples, I realized that there are some big differences about being a Southern Baptist up North versus one in the Bible Belt.

Previously, Robert had pastored churches only in the Bible Belt in Alabama, Texas, Missouri, and Louisiana, so this is a whole different ball game. The Upper Midwest is considered "frontier territory" for evangelical churches. Here are a few key differences:

  • Most of the churches are small, less than 100 members/regular attenders. I don't know the exact numbers, but I suspect that the greatest majority of churches are about 50-75 on a typical Sunday. Not very many SBC mega-churches here. In fact, a mega-church would probably be in the 200-300 range.
  • Because of the above fact, all but two pastors that I talked with were bivocational. Most of them worked full-time in addition to being the full-time lead pastor of their church.
  • Not only that, but every single wife I talked to also worked, typically full-time as well. This is a huge contrast to SBC wives in the Bible Belt. And we were the rarity in that we only have two kids. Most couples have 4+ children, plus both parents working full-time, plus full-time pastoring. You can see how that can be uber-stressful.
  • The amount of diversity amazed me. Such events down south would be mostly white folks, with a few African-Americans. I would guess that a full 1/3 of the 90-100 attendees were international--from China, Russia, Ukraine, Korea, Laos, Liberia, as well as other Latino, Asian, Eastern European, and African countries. They are planting international churches mostly in the Twin Cities, Madison, and Milwaukee areas.
  • In addition to the international population, another 1/3 of the pastors are from the south. The accents were scattered around the room and I kept trying to peg where each person was originally from. A lot more Southerners have come up, but don't embrace the winters and don't last. There tends to be a high turnover. My thoughts? If God calls you, He equips you, but that's probably a different post for another day.
  • Because of the limited finances of most pastoral couples in the frozen tundra and the limited resources from the MWBC, we depend on the graciousness of a partnership with Texas Baptists who funded the entire weekend, from the speakers to the lodging and the food. Thanks, Texas Baptists!

Because of the fact that we are in a largely unchurched and/or non-evangelical area, churches are small and often not even self-supporting for years. While our church is now self-supporting, it certainly can't pay Robert a living wage yet. We have to rely on my full-time salary and Robert's additional part-time job to make ends meet. So this is where we have renewed appreciation for the North American Mission Board and the Annie Armstrong offering. Almost every church, and certainly every church plant (which we were!), have been the beneficiary of financial support through NAMB.



Also, through the Texas WMU (Women's Missionary Union) all of the wives were given an awesome special gift through WorldCrafts. Here's my necklace made by a Muslim sheepherder in India. So beautiful and much cherished!

We had a wonderful weekend of renewing our marriage and spending some quality time alone together. It was also fun to meet lots of people who know, live, and understand the unique joys and stresses of church planting and pastoring in a frontier territory. And for those of you who read this and are Southern Baptists, thank you so much for supporting all the wonderful things that are happening in Minnesota and Wisconsin through your prayers, tithes, and offerings. I can assure that this fine group of folks is doing great things here for God's glory.