DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Ministry and Presence

I’ve been thinking about the story of Jimmy Carter, who was so free from having to worry about where else he should be and what else he should be doing that he was able to focus fully on the person in front of him.

He spoke as though we had all the time in the world. At one point, an aide came to take him off to the next person he needed to meet. Free from having to decide when the meeting would end, or any other mundane care, really, President Carter could let go of those inner nagging voices and be there. (The Organized Mind)

Is it possible to be this present in our lives and ministries? Not only is it possible; it’s essential.

Here are some thoughts on being present in ministry.

It’s hard. In his excellent book Sensing Jesus, Zack Eswine traces the desire to be present everywhere to the Garden of Eden. We try to act as if we have no limits in space and time. The desire to avoid being present in one place is an age-old temptation that goes as far back as the original sin.

There’s no alternative. There really is no other ministry than ministry right here, with these people, and in this place. Again, Eswine writes:

Our lives, in contrast to God’s, are necessarily physical and local…While spiritual wars rage about and while angels fly, I remain grounded. Battles all at once and everywhere outpace me. Here (and not everywhere) is where I must fight.

The people here are always messy, and this place is by definition limiting. But the only one who is not limited to ministry in a particular location is God, although even He is also working with messy people.

They can tell.  A few years ago, I visited a pastor that I know through his blog. I told him that I appreciated his online sermons. His response surprised me. “I’m glad you enjoyed them, but they’re not for you. I pastor these people in this place, and those sermons are meant for them. Whether or not you appreciate them is irrelevant.”

I like that. I believe that people can tell if we are trying to serve and impress a general audience out there, or if we are rooted in a particular place, committed to a particular people. I can tell when people are half-listening to me. People can tell if we’re half-present while dreaming of a better place that doesn’t actually exist.

It’s at the heart of effective ministry. There is certainly a place for large, regional ministries. But as books like The New Parish teach us, there is a need to locate ourselves in a single community, to be attentive to what God is doing there, and to commit over the long haul to be present and faithful. Like a farmer committed to a plot of land, staying long enough to put down roots, clear the rocks, and pull out the tree roots, we must be committed to one place. I think I remember David Fitch saying that we should generally look at a ten-year commitment to a single place. While not canonical, it’s an idea that makes a lot of sense for most of us.

We are in what could be termed a hard-soil plant. We have moved in the neighborhood, and we are learning the joy and power of being as present as possible in one place, knowing and being known (both equally scary). There is something powerful about being present in one place, as if we have all the time in the world, letting go of the inner nagging voices that we would be better off somewhere else. Again, as Eswine writes, “Here (and not everywhere) is where I must fight.”

Be There

I’ve experienced it. I’ve been talking to someone important, and felt that they are completely present with me. They are not thinking of what they are going to say while I’m talking; they are not in a rush to get to the next appointment. They are completely present. It’s such a rare thing to experience that it’s almost unsettling.

In his new book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Daniel J. Levitin reflects on a time that he met Jimmy Carter when he was campaigning for president.

He spoke as though we had all the time in the world. At one point, an aide came to take him off to the next person he needed to meet. Free from having to decide when the meeting would end, or any other mundane care, really, President Carter could let go of those inner nagging voices and be there.

The secret? In Carter’s case, and also in the case of famous musicians Levitin mentions, it’s assistants who handle distractions so that you can “narrow your attentional filter to that which is right before you, happening right now.”

For those of us without executive assistants, he writes, we need to rely on our own wits in making decisions so that whatever is in front of us is the most important thing we can be doing right now, so that we can let go of the rest. Easier said than done!

I want to reflect on this a little, though, because it’s so important. I want to unpack a few ideas over the next week or so:

  • the importance of being present for ministry;
  • the power of being present compared to the tragedy of being continually distracted;
  • some practical ways to make this happen, and
  • the implications of a God who is always present with us.

I am blogging about this because I need to think about it as much as anyone. Stay tuned, and let me know what you think as I try to unpack some of my thoughts on this important topic.

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

4 Reasons to Pursue Authentic Discipleship

Discipleship isn’t about perfection; it’s about authenticity. Here’s the difference.

Living Sent (For the Relationally Challenged)

What follows are some suggestions as you seek to live an intentionally sent life...

Christianity Can’t Replace My Zoloft

What if “becoming a Christian” doesn’t actually psychologically change us in any real way and that “Sanctification” is really about living and loving in the midst of our brokenness?

Choosing to Live an Unbalanced Life

Question: Is there such a thing as a balanced life when it comes to ministry and family?

I would argue that the answer to this question is a resounding, “No!” Here are just three reasons I believe that...

The Spirit is Willing But the Schedule is Tight

If the Spirit is willing to set up divine appointments, how should we prepare to respond—even when our schedule is full?

The Essential Secret of Preaching

The key to effective preaching is not mastering certain techniques; it’s being mastered by certain convictions.

Top 100 Christian Blogs

To make this list of top Christian blogs, I gathered and inspected about 500 Christian blogs and ranked them using a variety of factors.

Themelios 39.2

The Gospel Coalition just released the latest issue of Themelios, which has 190 pages of articles and book reviews.

Soaking in the Gospel

I’m tired of conferences. In twenty plus years of ministry, I’ve been to every conference imaginable, and then a few more. Don’t get me wrong: I see the value of conferences, and I understand why people like them, but I feel about them the same way I feel about cucumbers: I’ve had so many in my life that I don’t care to have many more.

That’s why you may find it strange that I attended The Gospel Coalition Atlantic Regional Conference in Prince Edward Island a few weeks back. I was invited as a speaker, and when I heard who the other speakers are, I knew I had to go because I had a sense of what the conference would be like.

Ray Ortlund, pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, and Scotty Smith, also a pastor in Nashville, headlined the conference, along with their wives, Charlene and I, and Brent and Mary Kassian. Here are some things I appreciated about this conference:

The size — With 140 or so people attending, it was easy to make friends and to speak to anyone who attended. It felt homey rather than overwhelming.

The hospitality — The staff of Grace Baptist Church in Charlottetown went out of their way to make us feel at home. Prince Edward Island hospitality is great. (See also: PEI lobster and Cows Ice Cream.)

Scotty and Darlene Smith

Scotty and Darlene Smith

The speakers — I’ve been reading Ray Ortlund’s book on the gospel, and I’ve long appreciated Scotty Smith’s written prayers. I’ve even interviewed Scotty, and his answer to my last question is gold:

Q: What encouragement would you give to pastors in the trenches?

A: As Jack Miller taught me, live as close to Jesus as you can. Constantly preach the gospel to yourself. Walk closely with a “gospel posse”. Risk or rust for the rest of your life. Love one spouse well the rest of your life. Never be surprised to discover how broken the bride of Jesus is; how immature and selfish you can be; or how much God loves you in Jesus. Ache for heaven and serve in this moment.

The minute that I heard that Ray Ortlund and Scotty Smith were speaking, I knew I would have to be there, because I knew what they would be talking about. Which leads me to the final thing I appreciated:

The gospel — Some conferences are lecture halls. This conference was like a three-day soak in the gospel. Both Scotty and Ray unpacked the gospel and their own lives so that we weren’t talking theology; we were experiencing it. Early on, Scotty made the remark that the gospel is the end to all posing and pretending, and then he went on to model that truth. His openness combined with the beauty of the truth created an atmosphere in a conference I haven’t experienced before. Ray’s teaching on creating a gospel culture in a church is superb.

I always need to soak in the gospel. For a number of reasons, I was acutely ware of this need before the conference. I’m so glad that God provided just what I needed right when I reeded it.

Keep an eye on the website for the conference audio. It was definitely one of the highlights of my summer.

Update: Session One by Scotty Smith has now been posted.

Random Reflections from Three Weeks Away

Some random reflections from three weeks away:

I am way too connected. Maybe you are too. We camped for two weeks in Restoule, Ontario, where there is no cell phone coverage from my cell phone company — although, to my disgust, their competitor has just installed a tower. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to get away from email and social media. I’ve barely read a blog post or tweet in a month, and I’ve enjoyed it.

Now that I’m back, I’m beginning to engage with social media again. I’ve cut back a lot, though, in what I’m going to read. Because…

A diet of blogs and tweets can lead to shallow thinking. I agree with Tim Sanders, who writes in Love is the Killer App about the importance of digesting books (full meals) rather than magazine articles and blogs (between-meal snacks or “Ideas Lite”), never mind news media (“candy and soda: fun to eat, but hardly appropriate to live on”). I need fewer snacks and soda (blogs, tweets, and articles), and more room to think and read in substantial ways.

It’s fine to read for pleasure. While on holiday, I indulged in a book by one of my favorite authors: A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan. I wouldn’t normally read this type of book, except on vacation, because it has no utilitarian value. As is normally the case, books that lack utility often end up being more useful and though-provoking than ones that set out to be useful. I’m beginning to add books to my reading list for the sheer joy of reading. Its making my reading habits a lot more enjoyable than before.

Vacations give needed perspective. I find that vacation allows time to take a step back and think about the issues that have been begging for attention. I took time to think through our ministry, some key relationships, and my use of time, all without setting out to do so. I came home with a lot greater clarity than when I began our vacation.

I needed to experience grace. I’m going to write more about this on Thursday.