Friday, December 03, 2010

Baseball Stuff

Well, here we are in the midst of the Hot Stove League.  I occasionally can get into conversations about football, both pro and college, but my true love is without a doubt, baseball. 

My favorite team is the Atlanta Braves.  Right now, the General Manager Frank Wren is trying to re-tool his team so that it can compete with the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East. 

So often I see an article on the Atlanta Journal Sports pages and I see comments by people who basically suggest the baseball equivalent of acquiring a new Cadillac and giving up a used Volkswagen with 200K miles on it.  They want value and they want to give up nothing to get it.  I read those comments and wonder what game they are watching?  It doesn't seem to be the game I think I am watching in the 21st Century. 

The other thing I see often is a borderline desire to have the "perfect" team.  A 2010 equivalent of the 1927 Yankees.  That was, in my opinion, then, and this is, in my opinion, now.  The beer baron who built the 1920s era Yankees was not dealing with the free agency and unions that now form the back story of this wonderful game.  We might want to see the 1927 Yankees, but in 2010, even the Yankees can't build the 1927 Yankees.  Players have choices at some point where they play and teams have limits on how much they are going to pay.  Would I want Nate McLouth, a disappointment in 2010, to be a key offensive cog on the Braves?  No, but at the present time, I don't think the team has been constructed where he is a key offensive cog. 

Just a thought.  Not intending to be too serious here today.  Just a thought, or maybe a vent on mindlessness. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Personal Story

I was asked to write a little about who I am in story form.  This was my effort.


The river that is Dennis Shaw was created by different streams of varying intensity, width, depth and color.

I am a musician, soldier, nursing attendant, holder and practitioner of graduate degrees in business and theology, son, brother, husband, father, and, at one time, a well trained elite level athlete. Several of the streams that formed me storied that hard work and education can overcome almost any life obstacle. Those same education and industriousness streams understood that what might appear to be fords and crossing points for possible entry into those life streams for me might be denied to others based on gender and race. Justice oozes from the springs of a particular familial creek, diluted at times by less justice based waters, but the minerals and nutrients from that spring are rich and have not been easily diminished. Fairness and equity are core values that have been and are part of my story, in the river I am, in the streams that came to me, and the rivers I flow into.

At 62, I continue to be a student and adult learner. I have learned to speak Spanish in the last ten years. I have a UCC pastor who provides me monthly “supervision”. I am blessed by experienced pastors who said “if you need help, call me” and I called. I confess, I reluctantly responded to God’s call into pastoral ministry. My primary problem was one of unworthiness for the task not understanding that my own life story may be of value to the creator of all life stories. As with all of us, our stories provide us unique and specialized wisdom. I have been well equipped to be a current within the flow of this wondrous river called pastoral leadership, but in truth I am probably only a leaf upon that surface moved at one and the same time by the springs, streams and rain that created and sustained me, buoyed by God’s three-fold fullness of Grace.

This position at Stratmoor Hills may be the most meaningful leadership role I will ever be called upon to accept.

It is both intensely exhilarating and profoundly humbling.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Vision Thing ...

John Fitzgerald Kennedy stood in the Congress in 1961 and cast a vision for lunar travel by the end of the decade. Martin Luther King in 1955 cast a vision for desegregation of the Montgomery Bus System. Like Kennedy, like King, I need to cast the compelling vision for what we need to urgently pursue.

My credibility is "'the operating capital' from which leaders draw in order to advance the vision."

A little scary, eh? I confess: I don't see myself as a vision caster. I see myself more as someone who can take someone else's vision and work it to success, but cast one of my own? I am anxious.

Maybe it isn't my vision .... ?

I feel a gentle urging of the Holy Spirit to get started, to get moving, to exercise a little "holy" impatience.

I believe we have reached a place where we large enough to begin the movement out into starting to realize the vision for who this church is going to be in the 21st Century.

There is a "joke" about a man who is stuck on the roof of his house during a flood and prays to God to rescue him. He turns down two boats and a helicopter and eventually the house collapses, and he drowns. He gets to heaven, angry over the fact God didn't rescue him, and God says "what are you doing here? I sent two rowboats and a helicopter?"

I wonder if we haven’t in the form of the land resources and excellent newly emergent location been given the rowboat and the helicopter. Do we run the risk that God will ask what we are doing here in Heaven prematurely deceased because of our failure to understand the seed corn provided.

I continue to believe that using the existing property in some way, in order to create grain that properly planted will produce a harvest of fifty, seventy and one hundred fold. I try to listen to both side on this, but at the end of the day, I operate as if my role in this is less about what the decision is, and that we have respectfully listened to each other on this and can reach the decision without splitting the congregation. One of the management books I have recently read says I should be prepared to accept casualties, but I want to minimize the collateral damage on this.

The issue is made more difficult by the fact that in this nearly invisible discussion are people of character, competence, and they have generally made significant contributions to the church who at this point just don't quite agree on what we need to do or the means to accomplish it. I cannot emphasize strongly enough, Grace abounds and as a result they are faithful in their leadership.

Power and authority seem to go "hand in glove." We need to be careful in how we use both. The Bishop laid hands on me and said "take the authority of an Elder." It is my authority obligation to spend my time moving effectively and seamlessly between the watching (in the balcony) and participating (on the dance floor), carefully sorting out the pepper from the fly specks.

If I articulate the urgency of the vision, I am mindful that the assent and commitment will Nehemiah-like, follow.

I have in the last 24 hours placed three critical phone calls to various outside the church resources needed to get our vision started. Pray for me here.

I have asked a retiring pastor who has been through something very similar to what we need to do to be my coach. He has said yes. Pray for both of us here ...

I am mindful that this isn't the 1960s Lunar Landing or a 1950s Paradigm Shift in a racially polarized South ... but that doesn't mean this will be easy. 

Selah ...

Monday, March 01, 2010

Lent as Spiritual Spring Training

The text yesterday just seemed to lend itself to the idea of baseball and focusing on the idea of using Lent as a time of spiritual spring training.  I got the idea here at the Facebook page for The Text This Week (Facebook).  I preached from the Philippians

The Holy Spirit provided us our District Superintendent, Olon Mulford Lindemood who was there for our non-traditional service.  He is a big baseball fan, and I guess just another example of how the Holy Spirit operates ...

I suggested that Paul was proud of the church at Philippi.  He had some thoughts that would help them get through their season but there were a few fundamentals they needed to focus on because their goal wasn't to be good in Arizona or Florida (spring training sites) or as individuals to find themselves playing ball only at Tulsa or Colorado Springs (Colorado Rockies farm sites), but to make it to that Cathedral of Baseball in Denver called Coors Field. 

The big idea was that this is not our final home.  We are called to make this world as good (perfect?) as we can, but at the end of the day, here in this world isn't our final home.  There is tension in the idea. 

Heaven is the place to which we aspire and hope for. 

At the same time, we aspire to make this world better. 

In the movie Field of Dreams the hero meets a father he knew only after life's struggle had changed him.  The son wondered about the father but didn't know him.  In the movie, he meets him and understands better who he was.  His father asks "is this heaven" and the son he doesn't recognize yet says "No, its Iowa".  They go on to say that 'Heaven is where dreams come true.'

Lent is a time for us to pause in our individual journeys and ask ourselves where are we and where are we going. 

A line I wish I had used in the sermon from the movie is about the player who after 5 minutes of Major League fame diverts his attention to be a Doctor.  Our Iowa hero seems to think it is a tragedy that after five minutes in the Majors he turned his back on that life and dedicated his life to caring for others.  The Doctor says "Son, if I'd only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes... now that would have been a tragedy."

I can't help but wonder on this blog if my call to be the pastor at Stratmoor Hills isn't my own version of that conversation ... insert for me the word "pastor" for the word "doctor". 

The doctor talks to our dream field builder about his life as a doctor in a small town:  "This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child."

Wow ... can I ever relate to that ...

I start off talking about how "this world" isn't our home but at the same time recognizing that our calling is to be change agents in this world.  I guess that describes the tension we all feel in preaching and leading a church.  But maybe when we really feel like we are making a difference in our little place in the world, 'the wind doesnt' blow as cold' and "you feel for it, like it was your child."


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Missional Church

I am about 97.3% of the way through a paper I am working on for my Doctor of Ministry project.  It is an aspirational piece on how we move to a more missional model of ministry. 

It has been hard. 

The author of one of the books we read, Alan Roxburgh, suggests that we get ourselves into a zone where things are going well, and you want to stay there. 

Amen to that. 

I have been preaching about getting outside of our walls for several years now, but I think now we are at a place where with the right kind of "oomph" we can make that jump. 

I talked with elementary and middle school principals and guidance counselors the last two days.  At least at one site, I was welcome like I was the answer to a prayer.  We sometimes ask the question, how do you know you have been visited or guided by the Holy Spirit.  This morning between 8 and 9, I wonder if I wasn't being given operational guidance on how to measure the presence of the Holy Spirit.

My Holy Spirit Dashboard was all flashing in excitement and enthusiasm. 

If this were a car, I guess that would be "bad" but this wasn't a car.  I WANTED to see the lights go red and the temperature gauge go up and the battery charge numbers go positive. 

It was nice. 

Really nice.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


First Sunday of Lent and after a careful review of the lectionary texts, I decided to preach on temptation. 

The text for the day was Luke 4: 1-13 (NIV).  Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit, is tempted three times by Satan and Jesus wins.  Luke tells us that Satan will return at a time more opportune. (Fans of "Dragnet" can hear the music:  dum-de-dum-dum).

I started with remembering how we used to have those things called "Service Stations" and how when your car pulled up in one of them, a bevy of attendants fell out of their office and washed our windows, checked our air and oil, as well as filled up the car with gas.  People under 30 were excused for not knowing what I was talking about ...

Would it be so simple to get a fill up of the Holy Spirit. 

Can you visualize it?  You pull into the local Holy Spirit Service Station and tell the attendant "fill 'er up, I'll be back in a second". 

Jesus was "full of the Spirit" and arguably, that helped him in his temptation in the desert.

Satan tempts Jesus three times and twice Jesus responds with scripture.  The tempter is one cunning dude, so on the third try, he uses scripture on Jesus.  Jesus, full of the Spirit, rebuffs the gestures and Satan, momentarily defeated rides off to tempt another day. 

We are told quite clearly that Arnold-Like in Terminator"I'll be back" (click to left to see). 

This is the first Sunday of Lent and the passage is the Gospel lesson every three years on that first Sunday, but it is about the beginning of Jesus' ministry, not the end.  What is going on here?

It is part of the Lenten story ... the Journey to Jerusalem with Jesus because at its core, it is about purpose.

Satan is trying in this story to divert Jesus from his purpose.  All three temptations are relevant, but the third one, being saved from death, strikes at overturning the very core of the Jesus Project.  Jesus is here in order to die to free us from our sins.  Jesus is to be the perfect Passover Lamb.  But to be that Lamb, he must consent to his own death.  This passage is about an abortive attempt to divert Jesus from that objective.

Satan:  "I can save you from your divine purpose." 

The reality is that each of us has a project, a purpose, an objective to accomplish on behalf of God, and what are the temptations that lead us astray? 

During the sermon I read from Jonathan Goldstein's midrash-like Ladies and Gentlemen:  The Bible where Eve is tempted by the Serpent.  The serpent is very cunning and Eve is spiritually seduced by making the sinfulness of disobedience seem like "no big deal".  Goldstein is quite clever in his approach.  That is the way we are indeed tempted:  sinfulness is no big deal, right?  In addition, we often aren't tempted by getting these clear on/off, one/zero, black/white choices.  It is rather, by subtle, slow manipulation of the story so that our sinfulness in assenting to the temptation seems like "no big deal."  But all of them divert us from our purpose, our divine purpose. 

In Luke:  Jesus wins. 

But at the end of the Lucan pasage, we are told that Terminator Arnold-Like, Satan could almost say "I'll be back". 

The core Lenten Question is:  when Satan comes back, will we be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Prayer, devotional time, conversation with Christian friends, bible study and mission moments are all ways to pull into that Holy Spirit Service Station and say "fill 'er up". 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Projecting God's Radiance

A few years ago I saw, yes, SAW, Dick Celeste give a speech. Celeste is a former Democrat governor of Ohio, ambassador to India, and currently president of Colorado College. And he spoke in such a way that he quite literally lit up the room. I say saw because of the effect he had on the room. He was a bright light shining in our midst.

Friends of mine were present and said “gee, Dennis, what did you expect, he is after all a politician?”

Well, I didn’t expect the nearly overpowering light he projected into that room, that day.

Celeste was Moses-like in his radiance.

My sermon yesterday was from Exodus 34: 29-35. It is the passage where Moses comes down from his second gifting of the Commandments to discover he is putting out radiance from his exposure to God.

Some things seem to come speak to me in this passage.

• Moses wasn’t aware that his face was radiant. And when he became aware, he tried to shield it from those around him.

• The radiance made the Israelites afraid.

• After he finished delivering the new commandments, he put a veil over his face.

The ideas for how to unpack this with the congregation came to me pretty early in the week, and it came so quickly, so easily, I kept wondering was I being too shallow? Was this too obvious?

I chose to take the gift that had been given to me and used it as my three points. I really try to resist the idea of "Three Points" because in the history of preaching, a style called "Three Points and a Poem" was normative for years. Every time I get "Three Points" I wonder if I have found them because there ARE three points, or because of the old format.

My key ideas were:

• Like Moses, we often don't realize that we reflect God's glory.

• That reflection of God's glory can make those around us nervous and frightened.

• It isn't clear what Moses was trying to do by putting a veil over his face, but Paul in 2nd Corinthians felt that he wanted to be sure that the nascent church in Corinth understood unlike Moses, reflecting God's glory was a 24/7/365 responsibility.

I did come back to the idea that Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount reminds us we are called to be “The Light of the World” and prepared to light up that world, and not allow ourselves to attempt to cover up that light. How is that for a challenge? Go out and light up the world. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t give us a timeline for mission accomplishment. Two Thousand Years and we are still working on it.

I do find it interesting that as I quasi Journal this, at neither service did I come back to a lingering thought I had when the message came to me: Gee Dennis, what do you expect, he (Celeste) is after all a politician. It seemed like a logical observation was if a politician was capable of being expected to light up a room, isn’t lighting up a room with God's radiance part of what we should expect for ourselves?

Gee Dennis, what do you expect, he/she (insert name) is after all a Christian? I don’t know: what do I expect?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Joy and Renewal at Stratmoor

In 2008, we had one Sunday where we had 100 or more worshippers.  That was Easter.

Last year, we had fifteen Sundays where we had 100 or more worshippers.  That included Easter.

We didn't get a count on the Sunday I was gone to DC, but of the five Sundays in 2010 where we have gotten a count, we have been at or over 100.  That is five out of five.  We haven't gotten to Easter. 

Last week, we had over 120, and yesterday, we had 109.  That was without a lot of the usual and customary crowd.  A number of people were gone to visit family around the country. 

We are at one and the same time in awe, and humbled by what seems to be happening.

I commented to the church leaders yesterday, that we were getting a lot of return visitors in part because of things we had done to make our little church be what we said we wanted to be.  Child care is an excellent example.  We provide quality child care from about 8:45 AM to 12:15 PM every Sunday.  We say we are child friendly and that is one "system" set up where our rhetoric and our execution are in synchronization.  The same is true with providing Children's Church and Sunday School for those twelve and under.  That is not to say that at times getting it all pulled together is easy, it isn't. 

Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to make something look effortless.

The key to this is that God is doing something at our little church.  God's something is taking us to a new, and yes exciting, place.  (I might say:  Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.)  Clearly we need to stay humble about what is happening.  A lot of people deserve a lot of credit, but at the end of the day, God is sending us people who have both gifts as well as crosses that they bear.  We need to be able to receive, and recognize, both.  

The Sermon was drawn from 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11.  Part of the Paul's theme was that after Jesus had been raised, he sought out a series of people to have a sacred encounter with them, the least of which by his own testimony, was Paul himself.  I wonder if that isn't a message for all of us:  We have experienced this Easter moment, and as a result we want to see others to share with them that God is still involved in our lives, faith in God does make a difference, and that God can rescue all of us from a place of darkness and death. 

We can all be raised from a metaphorical as well as a real place of darkness and death.    

God is blessing us with a dramatic change in the life of our little church.  It is a blessing that calls us to be sure and seek out new and exciting ways to involve others in this life of this community ... 

Jesus like, that is the Sharing of the Joy and Renewal of Easter with others around us ... a Sacred Call.  


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Today at CoFA

I know.  If you are looking at the title to this post you are wondering "what the heck is 'CoFA' "?

The Council of Finance and Administration.

In other words, time in Denver talking about money.  Talking about United Methodist Money. 

The good news.  We had hoped (prayed?) for a revenue for 2009 of about $5.2M for the operation of the HQ for all the United Methodist Churches in Utah and Colorado, and most of them in Wyoming.  The better news.  We got in over $5.6M and close to being able to round up to $5.7M.  AND maybe even better news, we only spent $5.0M instead of $5.2M. 

So what can the bad news be?  I am actually not sure. 

We had dug ourselves a $1M (that is M for MILLION) hole over the last five to six years with spending more than we took in.  Nod if you think that sounds like the Federal Government since say, 1933 or so?  We had lost our line of credit (long story) and we had no where else to go but a more responsible fiscal policy:  cut spending and raise revenue

We did both in 2009. 

We targeted spending to be cut from $6.05M to $5.25M and we spent even less than that.  Wow.

We attempted to raise revenue from a previous year of $4.5M to $5.2 and we got even more than that.  Dare I say wow again? 

Wow, wow. 

And we did this in an economic downturn. 

Wow, wow, wow! 

I think part of what happened is that people listened to us in June when we talked, and they said "that makes sense, we can abide by what they are doing" e.g, lowering spending, raising revenue. 

I think another part of it is they, the 270 local United Methodist Churches in Utah, Colorado and most of Wyoming, have trust and faith in our Bishop ... Bishop Elaine.  If optimism is infectious, we catch it from her.  I know I do ...

Is there a third part? 

I don't know .....

Monday, January 18, 2010

What are you doing here Martin?

What are you doing here Martin?

My sermon yesterday was a conversation intertwining Elijah, Martin Luther King, Junior, and prayerfully and hopefully, those who heard the sermon.

The text was the passage where Elijah has left Jerusalem out of fear for his life from Ahab and his wife Jezebel (1 Kings 19: 9b-13). Elijah has just been part of the demonstration of God’s power over the Baal priests but he seems terrified by a note from Jezebel that basically said “I will see you dead tomorrow”.

Exodus like, Elijah leaves the Kingdom of Anxiety created by Jezebel and Ahab, and is sustained in the desert by God. Exodus like, Elijah goes to the mountain to receive God’s word. Exodus like, Elijah goes to “the” cave (as opposed to “a” cave, thus an Exodus Echo of where Moses sees God’s glory) and God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” That could mean many things, but my read was that Elijah wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

Elijah responds with a “pity party” list of all the problems back in Jerusalem, most of which simply are not true.

And to think that this guy would be on the Israelite Mount Rushmore if ever there was one!

God provides a demonstration of God’s glory by passing by in the form of wind and storm, but he speaks to Elijah in the form of what the King James Version calls “A small still voice.” It is really closer to the idea of a spoken silence. Talk about a hint of the luminous but I digress.

Sadly, the repeated question God asks of Elijah again following the demonstration and God speaking in the silence is met with the same pity party response: "I am all alone, and it is just terrible back in Jerusalem."

Talk about a guy not getting it! Hold the work order on that Israelite Mount Rushmore carving. 

Martin Luther King, Junior when asked by God with a different emphasis on the words “What are you doing here, Martin” got it in 1954 Montgomery.

In his book Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King lays out what was on his mind when he got to Montgomery, and being a major civil rights leader was not at the top his top 10 list of things to do for a while. He felt a pressing need to get his PhD, energize and lead his new congregation, and basically get his feet on the ground. But the qualities of leadership that would cause him to be recognized later by the nation was obvious to those around him, and he quickly was catapulted into leadership. He was able to answer God’s question of “what are you doing here Martin” with an answer that said “whatever you tell me Lord”. He listened to the small, still voice of God that Elijah just seems tone deaf to.

I posed at the end of the sermon three thoughts, and I am not normally a “three points and a poem” preacher, but it seemed to work this week.

God is with us in our travels in our personal wildernesses. Sometimes we are sent there by God, as with Moses and Martin, but sometimes we get to that wilderness by our own doing and a lack of faith in God’s power, like Elijah here.

God chooses the means and medium of demonstration. We call out for dramatic demonstrations, but at times, God speaks quietly and softly, and maybe even in the silence of the moment.

Finally, the question of “what are you doing here” is a good one for us to ask ourselves on a more regular basis. Sometimes, the question may be pointed at a response that like Elijah we should see is suggesting maybe we are not where we are supposed to be. I wonder if that is a strong emphasis on the word “here” in that question. But other times, the emphasis shifts to the “what” and perhaps more importantly the “you”. "What are YOU doing here, Martin" might have been the 1954 question from God. Martin responded with wonder and Grace and power that is to this day inspiring. 

What are YOU doing here kind and gentle reader? What are YOU, doing here?